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Priests and volunteers deliver 15,000 food baskets amid coronavirus pandemic

March 30, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Lima, Peru, Mar 30, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Priests and volunteers have distributed more than 15,000 food baskets to Peruvians unable to work during the nation’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown. They say they aim to distribute 15,000 more.

Fr. Omar Sánchez Portillo, secretary general of Caritas Lurín and leader of region’s Beatitudes Community, announced March 26 the distribution of 15,000 food baskets to families living on metro Lima’s south side. Lurín is a southern district of Lima, Peru.

“Today we’ve already distributed 15,000 food baskets in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of South Lima. And we’re going for another 15,000!” the priest said March 26.

Sanchez manages a home for orphans in Lurin, in addition to a homeless shelter. Earlier this month, he began an online fundraiser for cleaning supplies and other provisions needed for the facility. He said because of the success of the fundraiser, he was able to purchase food for distribution in the region.

He began another fundraiser when several families approached Caritas, “asking us for help so they could have something to eat because these are people who work as street vendors and motorcycle taxi drivers and unfortunately they don’t have anything to eat because they’re out of work.”

For roughly four dollars per basket, his organization is able to assemble enough staples to replenish the food stores of hungry families.

Sanchez described one family assisted by his group, in which nine family members had been quarantined while the family’s father had been hospitalized. The family had run out of food by the time Caritas brought them a food basket.

Thanks to the group’s donors, Sanchez said, “we gave them a little statue of Our Lady of Aparecida donated by some good friends from Brazil…. We’ll keep on going!”

The delivery of food baskets is being undertaken in coordination with public health authorities, in order to avoid crowding at the headquarters of the Beatitudes Community.

Volunteers reportedly stay quarantined on the premises so as to avoid possibly infecting their families or other citizens.

The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency starting March 15, limiting travel in the country, closing public institutions and private businesses and issuing a 15 day stay-at-home order for all residents. However, on March 26 it announced the order would be extended to April 15.

While isolation and social distancing measures are expected to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, day laborers have been especially hard hit financially.

There are 950 coronavirus cases in Peru and 24 deaths.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


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Peruvian bishop rescinds permission for confession by phone

March 20, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Caraveli, Peru, Mar 20, 2020 / 05:48 pm (CNA).- A Peruvian bishop has rescinded permission for priests of his diocese to hear confessions by telephone, just five days after authorizing them to do so.

Bishop Reinhold Nann of the Diocese of Caravell, Peru said March 15 that priests of his diocese could hear sacramental confessions by telephone, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and obligatory social isolation in Peru. Nann added that no public Masses or religious services could take place in his diocese.

On Friday, however, the bishop announced that the possibility of confessions by telephone “is annulled” in light of Vatican guidance on the subject of confession issued earlier the same day.

That guidance called for “prudent measures to be adopted in the individual celebration of sacramental reconciliation, such as the celebration in a ventilated place outside the confessional, the adoption of a convenient distance, [and] the use of protective masks.”

The guidance “did not make mention of confession on the telephone,” Nann said, which is why he had rescinded the possibility.

Earlier this week, Fr. James Bradley, an assistant professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America, criticized the idea that confession could be offered through the telephone. “The nature of confession, like all the sacraments, involves a personal and ecclesial encounter with Jesus Christ, who is the Word made Flesh. A virtual reality can never replace the reality of the incarnation. We can deepen our faith through watching a livestream of Mass, but we all know: it’s not the same as being physically present,” Bradley told CNA.

The canon lawyer also noted secondary concerns which should be considered when discussing new or adapted forms of sacramental ministry.

“There are also practical issues that relate to the nature of the sacrament of confession. A telephone call or online meeting raises serious concerns about privacy, anonymity, and safeguarding,” Bradley said.

Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap, a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, also told CNA that “physical presence is absolutely needed for the validity of the enactment of the sacrament.”

“The reason I say that is because the sacrament is the action of Christ performed by the minister, and for that action to take place, the priest and the penitent must be in communion with one another, in a physical manner.”

Weinandy told CNA that confession is an “interpersonal exchange.” The physical presence of confessor and penitent point to the significance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

“The sacraments flow from the Incarnation, and because of that, there has to be a bodily presence of the one who is enacting the sacrament, and the one who is receiving the sacrament. They’re doing the sacrament together,” Weinandy said.

“The Incarnation sets the framework for the sacramental order. Sacraments by their very nature, are incarnational signs that effect what they symbolize and symbolize what they effect, and one must be a part of that sign and reality to participate in the sacrament,” he said.

In the 17th century, the Church declared that confession by letter would be invalid. More recently, in 2011, papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, responded to the proposition that sacramental confession might one day take place by iPhone app.

“It is essential to understand well that the sacrament of penance requires necessarily the rapport of personal dialogue between penitent and confessor and absolution by the present confessor,” Lombardi said at the time.

One cannot speak in any way of ‘confession by iPhone,’” Lombardi added.

Priests in some parts of the world have devised creative ways to offer the sacrament of confession during the pandemic, among them “drive-up” confessionals and confession through a rectory window.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, contributed to this report.



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Chilean bishops concerned by political inaction amid anti-government protests

March 16, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Santiago, Chile, Mar 16, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The Standing Committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference has expressed its concern over the time that has gone by since the outbreak of protests in the country without lawmakers making decisions to address the demands made by the public.

Anti-government demonstrations began in mid-October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

A number of churches across Chile have been attacked and looted amid the demonstrations.

Protest marches in Chile often start our peacefully, but end up with clashes between the police and masked protesters, who often turn to attacking churches as well as public and private property.

Police and demonstrators have clashed and the police have used excessive force in  an attempt to restore order, resulting in hundreds of eye injuries due to the use of rubber bullets. At the end of December the death toll from the protests stood at least 27, according to the AP.

The committee said that “almost five months have gone by and Chile’s awakening has not been addressed with the speed and effectiveness expected in such grave matters as the unjust distribution of income, employment instability, minimum wages and pensions, the urgent need for access to healthcare, the just valuation of women in society and the protection of the most vulnerable groups, among other issues.”

“We see that the main demands of society … have been put off in the priorities of those who make the decisions in Chile,” the bishops pointed out.

The prelates said that they shared  “people’s reasonable discontentment with regard to the role that the authorities, legislators, and political and social leaders are assuming in face of these dramas.”

“We don’t understand why the necessary corrections that are promised aren’t making progress with the desired speed. The level of the political debate is disappointing with partisan squabbling and infighting, special interests or those of certain sectors of society, that are holding back agreements and accomplishments that would help the common good. Chile demands a fruitful dialogue in a context of civic friendship,” they stated.

The committee pointed out that the episodes of violence “always harm the poorest people and violate people’s rights, are continuously reoccurring in various parts of the country and create a climate of fear and uncertainty which is doing grave harm.”

“We can’t let ourselves be overcome by this spiral of violence and terror. Democracy is a good that we must all care for,” they said.

The protests have put pressure on the administration of President Sebastián Piñera to introduce reforms, in addition to calling for the drafting of a constitution to replace that adopted in 1980 under Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

This demand was accepted by the country’s politicians in November 2019 and an agreement was created to go forward. The first step will be a citizen plebiscite, to be held April 26.

Voters will have to decide whether they want a new constitution, and if so, what kind of body should work on it: a Mixed Constitutional Convention composed of an equal number of legislators and representatives of the citizens, or a “Constitutional Convention” comprised only of people chosen by the citizenry.

The Standing Committee asked people to “calmly and confidently prepare” for that vote and that “for our vote be informed, it’s necessary to know (the problems), to reflect and discern on a personal, family, and communitarian level.”

The bishops encouraged people to work in community on the resources posted on the their website which will help them “understand how worthwhile it is to be present and participate in all the country’s important decisions.”

The Standing Committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference encouraged people to “not be afraid and to renew our hope in Jesus in this time of Lent which looks to the Resurrection of the Lord.”

“We can’t let ourselves be carried away with despair and fatalism. Let us continue to pray to Our Lady of Mount Carmel for Chile, for peace and justice, which are the pillars of a society that puts at the center the life and dignity of the person and the promotion of the common good,” they concluded.


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Venezuelan bishops’ conference backs pro-democracy marches, calls for change

March 11, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Caracas, Venezuela, Mar 11, 2020 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets March 10 in Caracas and other cities to demand democratic change, amid the ongoing economic, political and social crises in the country under the regime of President Nicholas Maduro.

“Today, March 10, the Venezuelan people have returned to the streets demanding their rights and manifesting their desire for a change of direction in the economy and the political order to permit democracy,” the president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, Archbishop José Luis Azuaje of Maracaibo, said in a statement

“The deterioration in the quality of life, which has led us to get by as best we can, without electricity, without water, without just compensation for our work, without gasoline, without peace, without family” has created “social instability and greater poverty,” the bishop added.

The march was led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and organized to present to the National Assembly a call for free and fair presidential elections.

As  Guaidó led the marchers toward the National Assembly building, they were blocked by security forces.

Police used teargas to turn back the marchers before they reached the National Assembly. Opposition party lawmakers held an impromptu, but legally valid, outdoor session of the legislative assembly in a nearby city square.

In January 2019, Guaidó, as 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.

Much of the international community consider Maduro’s re-election illegitimate. Nearly 60 nations led by the United States have recognized Guaidó as the country’s acting president, but with the backing of the military, Maduro is firmly entrenched and Guaidó has no practical power other than the popular support he can muster.

The communications office of the interim president described a statement of demands passed during the impromptu legislative session, the National Conflict Statement, as “a legal instrument,” which following its passage, creates laws “to provide a response to the country’s social needs.”

The document has a legal character and compliance would be obligatory should a transitional government actually be constituted.

Azuaje said that the country can’t continue to go down the spiral of deterioration. Therefore “structural changes are needed in politics, the economy and the leadership that go beyond ideological interests or to holding on to power at all costs,” he pointed out.

“Hence the challenge to continue to build a citizenry that facilitates a more just and free society, which permits the promotion and protection of the dignity of the human person and encourages  integral human development,” Azuaje noted.

The bishop also expressed his dismay that an unnamed member of Maduro’s government called for a “countermarch,” and he criticized the people “who have had to bow to official purposes for different interests.”

“Sent by their superiors, the military establishment has been present on a large scale since March 9, on different streets and avenues in the cities that belong to civil society, but are blocked by those who should be the servants of the people,” the bishop lamented, urging the country’s military forces “to fulfill their mission to safeguard and protect the people.”

The president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference added that “we’re all Venezuelans and we have to respect each other, find ways to understand each other, and meet each other as brothers.”

“Violence leads us to the destruction of what’s left of the social fabric,” he stressed.

Venezuela has been torn by violence, upheaval, shortages of basic necessities and food stuffs, widespread hunger, power and water supply outages 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.


A version of this story was first published by Aci Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.