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Scranton, Pa., Apr 30, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Religious intolerance and violence are being fueled by a polarized society and fanned by social media, Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton told CNA.
Bambera, who is the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told CNA that he is worried about the state of interreligious dialogue and ecumenical work.
“Certainly, our world, our country, our people, seem more polarized than ever before,” said Bambera. “There seems to be less of a tolerance for those who are ‘different’–and I use different in quotes–from those who are looking at them and passing judgment.”
The bishop told CNA that increased understanding and dialogue has suffered a backslide over the last few decades.
“The last half of the last century was so focused on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue,” said Bambera. This was not because dialogue was a “novel thing,” but “because it really helped us to recognize that which was similar, that which is different, and come to a much more harmonious sense of relationship and rapport with one another.”
Now, Bambera thinks that there is a need to “re-energize” interreligious cooperation for the present generation, citing Pope Francis’ recent call for increased dialogue.
This dialogue is especially needed in light of recent events.
In the last six weeks, there have been acts of violence targeting the three major Abrahamic faiths. The March 15 shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killed 50 muslims. On Easter Sunday, bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed 253. On Saturday, a shooting at a synagogue near San Diego, CA killed one and injured three.
The shooters in the mosque and synagogue attacks both engaged in online forums and released “manifestos” prior to their arrests. The prevalent use of social media worries Bambera.
Despite being a “wonderful tool” for individuals and organizations to spread positive messages, the bishops warned that this is by no means always the case.
“As much as it can lead to good, it also has the potential (…) at times to be misused,” he said. “And I certainly think that has been the case related to many of these unfortunate situations.”
On social media, a person can be exposed to “erroneous information” about a particular faith or group of people. Constant online reenforcement of misinformation and stereotypes can lead to people blindly accepting what they are being told without doing any further research, he explained. Predjudice and hate, Bambera said, are often rooted in untruths; increased dialogue between actual members of religious faiths, he explained, can be a crucial part in combatting the rise of violence and hate.
Despite the current climate, Bambera said there is cause for hope in the coming generation, pointing to the universal anger and pain in response to recent attacks on houses of worship, which he said “captured the attention of the entire world.”
Leaders around the world condemned the attacks as assaults on “basic human values.”
Bambera told CNA that a presence by law enforcement was now a sad fact of annual Eastertide celebrations in Scranton, something he called unthinkable a decade ago.
He said that many of his parishioners expressed gratitude for the increased security, confiding to him there fears that attacks on religious celebration was becoming a fact of life.
While the security may be “unsettling” reminder of current dangers, he said, “we can’t live without fear” and that American Catholics had to rely on each other in facing a common fear in the name of God and of peace.
“We have a right to freely worship as we want to, and we ought not let extremists prevent us in any way from doing that, because then they win,” he said.
Glasgow, Scotland, Apr 30, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Police in Glasgow are investigating vandalism committed Monday at St. Simon’s parish, an attack the archdiocese has called ‘shameful’.
Local police announced on Twitter “significant vandalism was carried out” in the church April 29 between 1:30 and 4 pm.
The Archdiocee of Glasgow called it “a shameful attack on a much loved church,” adding: “Let’s find those responsible and send out the message loud and clear that this kind of action is unacceptable”.
Statues were smashed, religious displays and flowers strewn about, and the sanctuary violated.
The vandalization comes just a few days after anti-Catholic graffiti was sprayed at a bus stop outside Holy Family parish in Mossend, just a few miles north of Motherwell. Windows at the parish school were smashed in last month.
Scotland has experienced significant sectarian division since the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century, which led to the formation of the Church of Scotland, an ecclesial community in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition which is the country’s largest religious community.
Sectarianism and crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism have been on the rise in Scotland in recent years.
In Glasgow, Protestant marches have faced rising opposition after a priest was assaulted while one passed by his parish last summer.
An April 2018 poll of Catholics in Scotland found that 20 percent reported personally experiencing abuse of prejudice toward their faith; and a government report on religiously-motivated crime in 2016 and 2017 found a concentration of incidents in Glasgow.
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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Apr 30, 2019 / 12:54 pm (CNA).- When Francisco Javier Olivera was born, his mother offered him to the Virgin Mary, praying that he would become a missionary in Asia.
Olivera’s mother told him about the consecration after he was ordained a priest in Japan 22 years ago. Since then, he has served as a missionary, not only in Japan, but in China and Mongolia as well.
Fr. Olivera was born in Salamanca, Spain, 47 years ago. He is a diocesan priest working with the Neocatechumenal Way and has been a missionary for 28 years.
In an interview with Religión En Libertad, Olivera said his priestly and missionary vocation grew “little by little,” influenced by a series of missionaries and catechists who stayed at his family’s house.
He also believes that his mother’s prayers made a difference.
“She offered me to Our Lady to be a missionary in Asia. I didn’t know that, she told me in Takamatsu, [Japan] when the celebration of my ordination was over,” the priest said.
The priest said that Japan has been his toughest assignment, because there “you felt more loneliness, even being in a parish,” while China impressed him very much since “the people have a lot of curiosity and if there were freedom it would be amazing.”
After four years of living in Mongolia, he said he still finds the assignment “quite difficult because of the language, the cold, the pollution, the culture, and especially because of all the legal impediments we have, which are many.”
The Catholic Church arrived in Mongolia in 1992, when three missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were sent to the country following the arrival of democracy and safeguards for religious liberty in the country’s constitution.
Later, other congregations of priests and religious arrived, as well as lay missionaries. Today, there are just over 1,200 Catholics.
“The parishes are young in every respect, many young people are being drawn to the Church…We already have the first Mongolian priest ordained two years ago and now we have a deacon,” Olivera explained.
Olivera works with a team of lay missionaries and families in the Neocatechumenal Way. He celebrates Mass each day, studies Mongolian, and teaches Japanese at a company where he tries to “take advantage of the occasion to talk about God, especially through songs.” He also teaches biblical catechesis at the local parish.
Conversions are not frequent, he said, but he has seen people “drawing close to the Church, especially through all the various social works being carried out – assistance to the impoverished elderly, poor and abandoned children.”
“Without a doubt, the love the missionaries are showing is gradually attracting the [locals].”
As an example, the priest recalled a young man who “was searching for God in beauty.” One day, the man entered the Catholic cathedral, where he saw a group of elderly women praying. Moved by the beauty of the scene, the young man decided to be baptized.
“Some people think that this life is crazy, but I desire it for myself,” Olivera told Religión en Libertad. “If it’s getting a bit crazier, better yet, the more we see that it is God who is behind it.”
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.