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Church in Venezuela hit hard by ongoing economic, political crisis

February 11, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 11, 2020 / 03:48 pm (CNA).- As the people of Venezuela continue to suffer severe food and medication shortages due to hyperinflation, the Church is also affected, said Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino last week.

“We’re suffering the same hardships, the same shortages the Venezuelan people are suffering,” Urosa, who is the Archbishop Emeritus of Caracas, Venezuela, said in a Feb. 6 interview with the Spanish edition of the Italian publication Bussola Quotidiana.

Under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, power outages, and hyperinflation. Some 4.5 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

Urosa explained that the gasoline shortage has made it difficult for priests and bishops – especially those from the interior of the country – to travel and do their pastoral work.

In addition, evening meetings and liturgical events are not currently possible, due to the lack of electricity, transportation, and security, he said. This has hampered the life of the Church, which previously saw a great deal of activity and events in the evenings.

“Parishes are getting by, thanks to the good will of some of the faithful,” Urosa said. “The pastors are accompanying their people, although currently the Church is suffering from the emigration of a lot of priests for health reasons or problems with coping, because they’re upset by this situation of constant political turmoil.”

Although the number of catechists and pastoral workers who have been forced to flee the country is “a real tragedy,” Urosa said, “the Church hasn’t come to a stop” and continues to serve and accompany Venezuelans as much as possible.

The cardinal asked Catholics around the world to pray for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing tensions in Venezuela. He also called on foreign governments to support Maduro’s opponents.

Urosa faulted Italy for supporting Maduro’s government, “which has brought Venezuela to ruin, has a large number of political prisoners and has violated human rights.” He said he finds it hard to believe “that a democratic government like Italy’s isn’t supporting the democratic opposition headed by interim president of the republic, Juan Guaidó.”

Last January, Juan Guaidó, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president of the country, after president Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term, having won a contested election in which opposition candidates were barred from running or imprisoned. Guaidó and the Venezuelan bishops held Maduro’s second term to be invalid, and the presidency vacant.

More than 50 countries, including the United States, have recognized Guaidó as interim president. The United States and the European Union have adopted economic and diplomatic sanctions against Maduro and his government.

In the interview, Urosa warned that conditions in Venezuela are growing worse: “18 months ago, one U.S. dollar was worth 60 Venezuelan bolivars. Today, one dollar is worth more than 75,000 bolivars. There’s horrific inflation and it’s the government’s fault, because the government runs the national economy.”

“It’s shameful that there’s a gasoline shortage in an oil producing country,” he said. “The government ought to resign just for that, for having ruined our oil industry, they should go and we Venezuelans should insist there be a change in government.”

With hyperinflation, a severely damaged economy, and the imprisonment of those who oppose the government, he said, “we’re in a situation that’s getting worse and worse. So we have to work very hard to democratically achieve a change in government.”



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Cardinal Dolan making pastoral visit to Cuba

February 10, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Havana, Cuba, Feb 10, 2020 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is in the midst of a visit to Cuba, having been invited to the country by its bishops and its president.

During his Feb. 7-12 visit, he is saying Mass at the Havana cathedral and at the Basilica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre; meeting with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Giampiero Gloder; visiting Catholic charities and a seminary; and meeting with president Miguel Diaz-Canel.

According to the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Dolan “accepted the invitation after consultation with the United States State Department and the Holy See.”

Diaz-Canel had met Cardinal Dolan in 2018, and while in New York to speak to the United Nations, he met with the cardinal and gave him a statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

Accompanying the cardinal are Bishop Octavio Cisneros, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn; Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of the New York archdiocese’s Catholic Charities; Wanda Vasquez, Hispanic ministry director for the archdiocese; and Fr. Leopoldo Perez, Christopher Ljungquist, and Richard Coll of the US bishops’ conference.

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista. Since the revolution, relations between the US and Cuba have been frigid.

Relations improved under the Obama administration, but many of the reforms were reversed shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The US bishops said that president Trump’s changes to US policy on Cuba would end up weakening human rights on the island.

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in solidarity with the bishops of Cuba and the Holy See, has long held that human rights and religious freedom will be strengthened through more engagement between the Cuban and American people, not less,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces said in June 2017.

Bishop Cantú said Trump was correct that serious human rights concerns remain in Cuba.

“The Cuban government must be urged to respect religious freedoms and to extend greater social, political and economic rights to all Cubans,” he said. “The fruits of investment in Cuba should benefit individuals and families, and not the security forces.”

Cuba has seen some increase in religious freedom in recent years.

Under communism churches and schools were closed, and priests were exiled or assigned to re-education camps. The Church was driven underground until religious tensions in the country began to ease in 1991. St. John Paul II then visited the island in 1998. Pope Francis played a role in the 2015 restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.


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Peruvian woman sues for right to euthanasia

February 10, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Feb 10, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- A terminally ill Peruvian woman filed a lawsuit Friday requesting that the state recognize a right to euthanasia.

The Peruvian ombudsman’s office presented the case on behalf of Ana Estrada Feb. 7.

Walter Gutiérrez Camacho, the ombudsman, said that his office is representing Estrada because of “our role as guarantor and promoter of fundamental rights so that the free and informed will of a person to decide to cease his life is repected and guaranteed, when by certain conditions, as in this case, their human dignity is gravely and irreversibly affected.”

Voluntary euthanization of a person with intolerable pain is the criminal offense of homicide in Peru, and can be penalized with up to three years imprisonment.

Estrada, 43, has polymyositis, a chronic muscle inflammation, which has left her paralyzed.

Peru’s Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will hear the case.

The ombudsman’s office argues that the prohibition of voluntary euthanasia violates one’s right to live with dignity, and that the courts have “recognized and developed fundamental rights intimately tied to the right to death in dignified conditions,” such as “the right to dignity, to integrity, to a dignified life and the free development of personality.”

It also claims that Peru’s treaty obligations oblige it “to respect, protect, and guarantee the aforementioned rights.”

At a press conference announcing the suit, Gutiérrez said: “We mold the stories of our lives with our decisions, and it does not make sense that in the last chapter of our life we are not allowed to make the decision” to die.

Estrada told Reuters that she wants a right to euthanasia “to avoid the suffering,” and “because this is about how I live my life, about liberty. I do not feel free right now. I don’t have the freedom to choose over my own body.”

Euthanasia or assisted suicide have been legalized in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and in some parts of the US and Australia.

In this 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, St. John Paul II taught that “euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.”

He reflected that there was a growing temptation “to have recourse to euthanasia, that is, to take control of death and bring it about before its time, ‘gently’ ending one’s own life or the life of others. In reality, what might seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless and inhumane. Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the ‘culture of death’, which is advancing above all in prosperous societies, marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and by society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value.”


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Francis fills two episcopal vacancies in Chile left by sex abuse scandal

February 6, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Santiago, Chile, Feb 6, 2020 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis on Wednesday appointed bishops to the dioceses of Osorno and San Bartolomé de Chillán, both of which had been left vacant in 2018 amid the sex abuse scandal of the Church in Chile.

On Feb. 5 Bishop Jorge Enrique Concha Cayuqueo, O.F.M., was named Bishop of Osorno, and Father Sergio Hernán Pérez de Arce Arriagada, SS.CC., was named Bishop of San Bartolomé de Chillán. Both had been serving as apostolic administrators of their new respective sees.

The chanceries of both Osorno and  Chillán had been raided in September 2018 amid an investigation into sexual crimes against minors committed by members of the Church.

The Diocese of Osorno had been vacant since the June 2018 resignation of Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid, who had been accused of covering up abuses of Father Fernando Karadima.

And the Diocese of San Bartolomé de Chillán fell vacant in September 2018 with the resignation of Bishop Carlos Eduardo Pellegrín Barrera, S.V.D., who had been accused of a sexual crime.

Six Chilean sees remain vacant.

Bishop Concha was born in 1958, and took solemn vows in the Order of Friars Minor in 1983, and was ordained a priest in 1986. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile in 2015.

During Bishop Concha’s tenure as apostolic administrator of Osorno, he worked for reconciliation and renewal in the diocese and for improved relations with the faithful.

He said that he understood this job as “the search for peace, for unity, for rapprochement among all. I initiated dialogue, listened to a lot of people, visited all the communities, was always open for them to ask questions and made myself available to people. ”
Bishop Concha also reorganized pastoral and social ministries, optimizing economic and human resources.
Fr. Perez was born in 1963, and made perpetual vows with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1989; he was ordained a priest the following year.

Beside working in formation and counseling at schools and in youth ministry in various assignments,  Fr. Pérez de Arce was the provincial superior of his congregation from 2005 to 2011. He served as president of the Conference of Religious Men and Women of Chile from 2011 to 2014. During the same period, he was a member of the National Council for the Prevention of Abuse and Accompaniment of Victims of the Chilean bishops’ conference.

The abuse committed by Karadima became the focus of attention in Chile after the 2015 appointment of Bishop Barros to Osorno. Barros had been accused of covering up Karadima’s abuses.

Pope Francis initially defended Barros, saying he had received no evidence of the bishop’s guilt, and called accusations against him “calumny” during a trip to Chile in January 2018. He later sent Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to investigate the situation in Chile.

After receiving Scicluna’s report, the pope apologized, said that he had been seriously mistaken, and asked to meet the country’s bishops and some survivors in person.

In May 2018 he met with Chile’s bishops and asked all of them to offer their resignations, to be accepted or rejected later. He rebuked them for systemic cover-up of clerical abuse and called them to make deep changes.

Chilean officials have investigated 120 allegations of sexual abuse or cover-ups involving 167 Church officials or church workers, Reuters has reported.


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Death of indigenous Argentine children prompts plea against indifference

February 6, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Salta, Argentina, Feb 6, 2020 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- The head of an indigenous ministry team in Argentina has called on Catholics not to be indifferent to the plight of suffering indigenous people, but to make an effort at outreach, encounter, and prayer.

“The indigenous reality is alien and distant, especially for those who live in the big cities, due to the great diversity and expanse of the national territory,” said Deacon Eduardo Bertea, a member of the indigenous pastoral team for the Diocese of Orán in Salta, Argentina.

Bertea spoke to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, after local media outlet Infobae reported last week the deaths of six children from the Wichí ethnic community due to poverty and malnutrition. The Wichí are an indigenous group in the Salta province in the country’s north.

Responding to the news, Salta governor Gustavo Adolfo Ruberto Sáenz declared a “social and health emergency” for six months, to prioritize initiatives in the areas of comprehensive health, identifying emergency cases, and undertaking actions to reverse this situation, according to local reports.

One of the major challenges facing the Wichí people is a lack of access to clean drinking water.

Government minister Ricardo Villada told local media that the government is working to assemble food packages, establish a water purification plant, and arrange for the construction of rainwater collection cisterns.

Deacon Bertea, who has 30 years of experience ministering to indigenous peoples, explained that the rainy season threatens the Wichís annually.

“The infrastructure is very shaky: there are bad roads, unreliable communications, no access to safe drinking water and unreliable health services. But this is nothing new, it happens every year,” he said.

Wichí communities face threats from new genetically modified crops, as farmland encroaches on their territories, Bertea said.

“They live under the constant threat of being evicted from their homes because the still don’t hold the title to these lands,” he explained.

Many of these communities also face discrimination and cultural separation from much of society, he added.

The Diocese of Salta’s indigenous people ministry seeks to promote the dignity of the Wichís and similar communities, the deacon explained.

“It seeks their recognition as children of God, going beyond government welfare,” he said, adding that the ministry seeks to “promote the recognition of the fundamental rights of these communities, for example water, a vital element; access to land and its natural resources; and that the indigenous are not treated as the object of welfare benefits, but that they’re listened to, that it’s a two-way conversation.”

Bertea invited Catholics in Argentina to get to know indigenous communities and to “recognize them as brothers, in imitation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as she did with the indigenous Juan Diego.”

“All Christians are called to listen to the [indigenous peoples], to have an attentive ear and an open heart…to listen to their cries, their claims, their wisdom,” he said.



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Venezuela tops foreign policy agenda in State of the Union

February 5, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump used the State of the Union address on Tuesday evening to highlight U.S. commitment to restoring democracy in Venezuela, inviting the opposition leader to attend as a guest of honor.

Juan Guaidó, leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly and recognized by the U.S. as the interim president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, watched the speech from the House Gallery on Tuesday.

“Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland,” Trump told Guaidó. “All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom!  Socialism destroys nations.  But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.”

Venezuela has been torn by violence, upheaval, widespread hunger and hyperinflation under the Nicolas Maduro regime. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country is expected to total 6 million by the end of the year.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, praised the move.

“By inviting Interim President Juan Guaidó and the Special Envoy for Intelligence and Law Enforcement Mr. Iván Simonovis, one of Venezuela’s longest held political prisoners of the Maduro narco-dictatorship, the Trump Administration has sent a clear message that the U.S. will continue to stand with the Venezuelan people as they work towards a free and democratic Venezuela,” Rubio said in a statement released shortly following the speech Tuesday.

“I think the message tonight was very clear, and that is the freedom and the wellbeing of the people of Venezuela still remains a top and important priority for this president,” Rubio said in a video statement. 

“I have all the confidence in the world that the day is coming when Venezuela will be free and democratic again.”

Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, said that condemning Maduro was a “complex” issue and that she “is absolutely concerned with the humanitarian crises that’s happening.”

“I think it’s important that any solution we have centers the Venezuelan people and centers the democracy of the Venezuelan people first. I am very concerned about U.S. interventionism in Venezuela, and I oppose it,” the freshman congresswoman said.

Maduro was inaugurated for a second term as president of Venezuela last year following contested 2018 elections, but the bishops’ conference has said his election was invalid.

Guaidó declared himself the interim president of the country in January of 2019, and promised a transitional government and free elections. He was received by the Holy See on a visit in February, where the Vatican expressed its “grave concern” for a “just and peaceful solution” to the country’s crisis.

The country’s bishops’ conference has repeatedly called for free and fair elections for new leadership, a call backed by the Holy See.

Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, the archbishop-emeritus of Caracas, has blamed the regime for “a terrible ruin which is growing more and more” in the country, and that if the Maduro administration “truly had love for Venezuela they would have already left power.”

Guaidó was a guest at the White House on Wednesday as well, with discussion expected on a democratic transition of power in the country.