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Coronavirus: Priests in Peru fund oxygen plant to meet shortage

May 7, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, May 7, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Two priests in a rural area of Peru aimed to fight the coronavirus pandemic by finding a way to supply oxygen tanks, much needed for medical treatment, to their region.

The recent death of two doctors from coronavirus in Iquitos, Peru, underscored the hard-hit region’s shortage of medical equipment and medications. Both doctors died because of the lack of oxygen to treat them.

The Medical Corps of Hospital III of Iquitos and the Medical College of Peru said in a joint statement last month that there is a shortage of medications in the Loreto region, and its capital Iquitos is “one of the cities hardest hit by the infection.”

“We don’t have medications” to treat coronavirus patients and “not enough oxygen tanks, pressure gauges and refilled tanks,” they reported.

One doctor was in intensive care at Loreto Regional Hospital and the other at a hospital under the country’s universal health insurance program, both in Iquitos, the Medical College of Peru said on social media.

Fr. Raymond Portelli, a parish pastor in Iquitos, along with the diocesan administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Iquitos, Fr. Miguel Fuertes, decided to start a fundraising campaign to acquire an oxygen plant for the city.

Portelli himself is a doctor caring for COVID-19 patients.

To purchase the machinery, they needed to raise about $118,000.

The city does have an oxygen plant, but it only produces between 100 and 160 tanks a day. The dean of the Medical College of Peru, Miguel Palacios, told local media that quantity is not enough and that current production would need to be tripled.

The priests’ campaign was launched the morning of May 3 on social media, and in less than a day, they had raised about $300,000.

Both priests thanked contributors, and said that thanks to the amount collected, a “high capacity” plant could be purchased for Iquitos.

Portelli added that Fuentes is currently in Lima coordinating with a specialist for the acquisition of the plant.

“Pray a lot that this work can be accomplished quickly. May God bless all who have contributed. We hope to continue to cover all the expenses,” he added.

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



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Priest in Costa Rica bakes bread to help families in need

May 4, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

CNA Staff, May 4, 2020 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- When he was just 15 years old, Fr. Geison Gerardo Ortiz Marín had to quit school and find a job to help support his family.

Faced with a difficult economy, Ortiz’s family was struggling financially. He quit school and found a job opportunity at a neighboring family’s bakery, where he worked for five years.

The priest told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, that he learned important life skills from the job, such as “knowing what it is to meet a schedule, getting up at dawn and working overtime. In short, it was an enriching experience.”

He took those life skills with him when he entered seminary at age 21. He has now been a priest for 10 years and serves as pastor of Saint Rose of Lima parish in Ciudad Queseda in northern Costa Rica.

Recently, however, Ortiz has returned to his roots as a baker to raise funds for the needy in his parish during the coronavirus pandemic.

Public Masses were suspended a month ago in Costa Rica due to the pandemic. As the lockdown continued, the priest could see the financial strain mounting on members of the community.

“A lot of people starting knocking on the rectory door asking for help, while the parish and local charitable groups weren’t getting any income from the collection,” he explained.

So Ortiz began baking. He uses around 55 lbs. of flour each workday to bake different kinds of bread, rolls and other items. A bag of baked goods sells for 1500 colones, or about $2.65.

“With 1500 colones here we can buy perhaps a 5-pound package of rice,” he said, adding that he has been able to help about 60 families so far.

In addition, a local bake sale was able to raise extra funds, he said, which have ensured that anyone who has knocked on the rectory door has left with a package of rice, sugar or beans.

No one has been sent away empty handed, the priest said.

“I work all day long baking bread, selling it, and in the evenings I celebrate the Eucharist. I always tell the Lord, ‘Thank you for the true bread that gives eternal life, which is the greatest of riches and is what I want our people to have, receive, taste and feel’,” he said.

Ortiz encouraged other priests to find creative ways to help serve those in need during the challenging times presented by the pandemic.

“I believe that this is a special moment,” he said. “God has allowed me to return to my origins. God has allowed me to help meet the needs of our brothers. This is a moment in which the Lord is allowing us to live in solidarity and to reach out in a very special way.”


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Cardinal Urosa: Coronavirus makes terrible crisis in Venezuela even worse

April 29, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Venezuela’s prolonged social, political and economic crisis has only been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the archbishop emeritus of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, charged Tuesday.

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

In response to the threat of the virus, the government imposed a nationwide stay at home order March 17. According to government statistics, to date there have been 329 cases of COVID-19 with ten deaths. The country is ill prepared to handle the crisis, with chronic shortages of medical supplies, and many doctors have left the country.

“The national reality is terrible,” and the government has no answers, Urosa said in an April 28 statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

While the cardinal acknowledged the lockdown has prevented the spread of the virus, he pointed out that “the quarantine has hurt a great many people because the economic, social and logistical conditions in the country weren’t taken into account,” including “the extremely serious problem of the gasoline shortage for transport, especially for food.”

In some cases, crops are rotting in farmers’ fields due to lack of fuel to transport them to market.

Especially hard hit, the cardinal said, are “informal” workers who are paid off the books,  and who are now  “barely surviving,” and only with “the help of family members, social organizations and the Church.”

On April 25, Venezuelan vice president Delcy Rodríguez announced state intervention and oversight of several food supply companies in order to control the prices of 27 products for 180 days.

Urosa criticized the intervention, calling it “an extremely serious mistake, since it will probably result in greater shortages. Price controls are acceptable, but intervening in efficient businesses is not. The government can’t even manage to supply gasoline.” “The state-run petroleum industry has collapsed, and now Venezuelans’ food is in danger!” 

 “The current government doesn’t have any answers for such elementary things such as the extremely serious problem of the gasoline shortage” and runaway inflation. “In the last 40 days, the dollar has doubled in value, which is undoubtedly the fundamental cause of the spike in prices,” the cardinal said.

Urosa decried political persecution, which “has gotten worse since March because amid the quarantine, the government has ramped up the repression. During these weeks the government has jailed, even without due process, many political activists, especially from the inner circle of Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly and leader of the Venezuelan opposition.”

Guaidó declared himself the nation’s interim leader Jan. 23 last year following Maduro’s inauguration for a second term. Maduro won a May 2018 presidential election, which was boycotted by the opposition and has been rejected by much of the international community. The United States was swift to recognize Guaidó as interim president, eventually followed by over 60 countries. Both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan bishops’ conference declared Maduro’s reelection to be invalid.

With the military firmly in support of Maduro, however, opposition protests calling for his resignation have failed to oust the leader.

On March 30, Guaidó charged that the Maduro regime had unleashed a new wave of harassment against his close collaborators. Andrea Bianchi, the wife of close associate Rafael Rico, was kidnapped, beaten and then left naked on a highway. Two others, Rómulo García and Víctor Silio were also picked up and later charged with possession of marijuana and a handgun.

The NGO Venezuelan Program for Education-Action in Human Rights reported that during the state of emergency, 34 people have been arbitrarily arrested and attacks against politicians, journalists and healthcare workers have increased.

“The bishops have always strongly criticized the political repression by the government and once again I call for the release of all political prisoners. They are even in greater physical danger because of the pandemic situation we’re going through,” Urosa stressed.

On March 26, “the Trump administration unsealed sweeping indictments against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and members of his inner circle on narcoterrorism charges, a dramatic escalation in the U.S. campaign to force the authoritarian socialist from power,” even offering “a $15 million reward for information leading to his capture or conviction,” the Washington Post reported. time.

In response, the Maduro regime activated a plan against the Venezuelan opposition called “Operation Bolivarian Fury.”

The archbishop emeritus denounced these recent “threats of violence by the government against Venezuelans. Maduro himself has spoken of a supposed ‘Bolivarian fury’ as a threat against members of the Venezuelan opposition in case of international problems. That’s illegal, unconstitutional and unacceptable from every point of view. That threat of violence is intolerable.” 

The cardinal said the government has used the quarantine simply as an opportunity to strengthen its social and political control.

On April 25, the Maduro regime placed shipping containers on the Caracas-La Guaira highway to prevent demonstrators from other cities who have been protesting the shortages of food, water and electricity in other cities from getting to the capital.

“Why restrict the right to free transit?” the cardinal asked.

The Maduro regime also blocked the highway in February 2019 to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the country from Colombia.

Guaidó charged April 24 on Twitter that “a dictatorship of corrupt and incapable people has brought us to a crisis where farmers are losing their crops while families are starving to death in the barrios. They turned the richest country in the region into a hell. They’ll leave here, the sacrifice has been enough already.”

As signs of hope, Urosa pointed to ongoing work of Caritas Venezuela and the creative ways the clergy has reached out to the faithful through social media. “Our message is one of encouragement, trust in God, solidarity and hope in this dark hour,” he said.

 Catholics “have an unshakeable faith in God who is love,” who had died and risen and “has shown us the merciful face of God.” “We’ll come out of this,” the archbishop said, “the suffering we are experiencing has united us closer to God and opens to us the gates of heaven.”

The archbishop encouraged Venezuelans to always stand in solidarity with each other and “to be the face of God to those in need. God is love and is with us. Let us join ourselves to him and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy in this painful hour.”


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


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Vancouver archbishop donates to coronavirus vaccine research

April 28, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Apr 28, 2020 / 05:17 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver has announced that he is donating to the University of British Columbia’s research toward a COVID-19 vaccine.

“May the search for COVID-19 solutions also be a moment of solidarity, of collaboration, and of growing together as a visible sign to the world of the healing and reconciliation so needed right now,” Archbishop Miller said April 27 as reported by the B.C. Catholic.

Ryan Thomas, a special advisor to the archdiocese, told CNA that Archbishop Miller wanted to express, through his donation, the Catholic Church’s support for science and medicine that contribute to the common good.

“The Church— as Pope Francis has said from the beginning of his pontificate— is called to go out, we’re called to engage, not called to retreat,” Thomas told CNA.

“From a scientific standpoint, that means identifying the research that is worthy of our investment, that meets the high standards that we have to protect life,” he said.

Thomas declined to specify the amount of the donation, but said that it was in the thousands of dollars.

The global effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine includes at least 50 other research teams, the university says, many of which in the U.S. and Canada have received government funding and are being conducted by large pharmaceutical companies.

Pro-life leaders have warned in recent months that among the many COVID-19 vaccines currently in development worldwide, in some cases researchers are using old cell lines derived from the cells of aborted babies.

It was important to Archbishop Miller, Thomas said, that the Church be seen to be promoting research into a vaccine that Catholics can support in good conscience.

A group of Evangelical Christians and Catholics in Vancouver began to rally around the idea of supporting a vaccine that corresponded to Christian ethical standards, and eventually presented the idea of supporting UBC’s research to Archbishop Miller.

Thomas said Miller made sure to inquire about whether UBC’s vaccine research makes use of aborted fetal cells, which it does not.

Dr. Wilf Jefferies, the project’s lead researcher, told CNA via email that his research team is currently in the process of validating the potency of vaccine candidates in preclinical trials, in order to assess their potential toxicity before trying them in human subjects.

The UBC lab is using immune-boosting components called adjuvants in its vaccine candidate, with the hopes of reducing the dosage of vaccine required for complete protection against the disease. In addition, Jefferies hopes that UBC’s vaccine will continue to provide protection against COVID-19 even if the virus mutates over time.

“I am heartened by the unity and kindness that is being demonstrated during this pandemic,” Jefferies told CNA.

“I think the response by the archdiocese is an affirmative and practical way to address the critical need in our society to develop a vaccine…I am sincerely humbled by the support we have received from the archdiocese and from other groups and individuals.”

So far, Jefferies’ lab has received grants from the government-funded Michael Smith Health Research Foundation and the Sullivan Urology Foundation affiliated with the University of British Columbia, as well as a number of private donations.

There are at least 1,000 clinical trials currently taking place around the world to test potential COVID-19 vaccines.

A group of pro-life leaders in a letter to the Trump administration earlier this month reiterated that development of a COVID-19 vaccine should avoid unethical links to abortion.

“No American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience,” reads the April 17 letter to Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Fortunately, there is no need to use ethically problematic cell lines to produce a COVID vaccine, or any vaccine, as other cell lines or processes that do not involve cells from abortions are available and are regularly being used to produce other vaccines,” it continued.

The letter’s signers include Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities; the heads of three other bishops’ conference committees; and leaders of many other Catholic and non-Catholic groups.

The Pontifical Academy for Life has noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis personae strongly criticized aborted fetal tissue research. However, as regards common vaccines, such as those for chicken pox and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), that may be derived from cell lines of aborted babies, the Vatican said they could be used by parents for “grave reasons” such as danger to their children’s health.

In a 2017 document on vaccines, the academy noted a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others… especially the safety of more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”



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Brazil’s Supreme Court rejects effort to legalize abortion in Zika cases

April 27, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Apr 27, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).- A majority of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal has voted against an intervention seeking to decriminalize abortion for expectant mothers diagnosed with the Zika virus.

The judges convened a virtual plenary session April 24 to hear arguments for and against the “Direct Action on Unconstitutionality-ADI 5581,” a legal intervention filed with the court by the National Association of Public Defenders.

While the court has until April 30 to vote on the matter, 7 of its 11 members have already voted in opposition, effectively rejecting the measure.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil but previous Supreme Court rulings have declared it a “non-punishable crime” in cases of rape, a proven risk to life of the mother and, as of 2012, babies diagnosed with anencephaly.

The Zika virus garnered international attention in 2015 after areas of Brazil noted a spike in cases of the birth defect microcephaly – a condition marked by abnormally small heads, brains, and developmental delays – following a recent outbreak of the virus in areas of northeastern Brazil.

Research on the virus suggested a link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and severe neurological birth defects, including microcephaly and incomplete brain development.

However, some experts criticized what they described as technical and scientific flaws of the premise behind ADI 5581.
The Union of Catholic Jurists of Rio de Janeiro issued an official statement arguing that a causal relationship was never established between Zika virus and the microcephaly outbreak that occurred in Brazil.

Raphael Câmara, an obstetrician at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said that when an attempt was made in 2016 to allow abortion in Zika cases, little was known about the virus.

“Since then, we have answers to many of the issues raised in ADI-5581 in support of allowing abortion,” Câmara said. “The first fact is that recent studies show that fetuses of infected mothers are affected only 5 to 14% of the time, with the majority having mild problems, as shown by research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“In addition, a study recently released by the CDC showed that 73% of Brazilian labs have a low accuracy rate for diagnosing the Zika virus, so the request is meaningless because we cannot talk about someone ‘infected with Zika’, but rather ‘maybe infected by Zika.’ Is it based on this inaccuracy that we will kill fetuses?” the obstetrician continued.

Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, pro-life groups in Brazil had spoken out against efforts to expand abortion in the country. A CitizenGo petition against the legal action drew more than 184,000 online signatures.

The Brazilian Bishops’ Conference had also opposed the attempt, calling on Catholics to defend life and oppose abortion. The conference wrote an open letter and also wrote privately to the Supreme Court, reiterating the duty to value the inviolable gift of life.

In 2017, the conference stated, “It does not belong to any public authority to selectively recognize the right to life or who will live or die. This discrimination is evil and exclusionary.”


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Digital. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.



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Argentine archbishop proposes measures to open country’s churches amid coronavirus pandemic

April 21, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Denver Newsroom, Apr 21, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- An Argentine archbishop has proposed 13 measures that would aim to allow churches to reopen churches during the coronavirus pandemic while reducing the risk of contagion.

The proposal is an effort to balance safety and the need for Catholics to receive the Eucharist, Archbishop Víctor Fernández of La Plata said this week.

In response to the pandemic, Argentina has been under lockdown since March 20. According to John Hopkins University, there are 3,031 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 145 deaths in the country.

Fernández said that although the Church is providing material sustenance to those hardest hit by the pandemic “when we think about sustaining the interior life of the faithful and encouraging its growth, we find ourselves in the serious difficulty of seeing them deprived of the Eucharist for a long time, and we can also foresee that this situation could last for several months.”

In a letter dated April 19 and addressed to the conference’s executive committee, the bishop said the Second Vatican Council teaches that “no Christian community is built up if it is not rooted and centered on the celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” and that Saint John Paul II emphasized that the Mass “rather than an obligation, should be felt as a requisite deeply inscribed in Christian existence.”

Fernández said the letter he sent puts together the suggestions of several bishops and that it is understandable “that many of the faithful are calling on us to find some way to make the Eucharist accessible again.”

“We tell them that they can experience other forms of prayer, and they do, but as Saint John Chrysostom has said “’You can also pray in your home, however, you cannot pray the same way you do in church where the brethren are gathered together.’”

Fernández noted that Pope Francis “teaches that God ‘in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter.’ It’s good that our faithful have learned that and so it’s not the same thing for them,” he said, adding that Catholics are eager “the food of the love that is the source of supernatural life.”

“It won’t be easy to prove that this situation is lasting too long, nor can we simply wait till the pandemic is completely over,” the prelate noted.

“We know that exposing yourself to infection is irresponsible especially because it involves exposing others to infection and indirectly could lead to a public health crisis that we don’t want to see in our country,” he said.

Aiming to send “a clear message to our People of God to show that we’re truly concerned and that we intend to take some steps that would allow us to resolve this situation as soon as possible,” without neglecting “the health concerns of the authorities” Fernández proposed a series of obligatory measures to celebrate the Eucharist publicly:
1) Keep a distance of two meters between people to the side, front and back. This will require removing or closing off half the pews in the church.
2) No more than two people per pew.
3) Once the pews are occupied in that manner, no more people are to be allowed to enter the church.
4) In the churches where there is usually a lot of people in attendance, the number of Masses should be increased so the faithful can spread themselves out over Saturday and Sunday at different times. Given the prevalence and closeness of churches this will not involve using transportation.
5) Mass should not be celebrated publicly at the most frequently visited shrines due to the difficulty of establishing appropriate controls.
6) There should be no line for communion, instead the Eucharistic ministers should go to the people positioned at the ends of the pews and place the Eucharist in the hand.
7) Every Eucharistic minister should wash his hands with soap before and after and apply alcohol gel.
8) The sign of peace and any physical contact should be omitted.
9) Mass should last no more than 40 minutes.
10) People should leave the church progressively, not all at once, and avoid greeting each other.
11) No intentions should be taken at Mass time, only those previously received by phone, mail or messages.
12) Those people who because of their age are prevented from attending may receive Communion at home.
13) The dispensation from the Sunday obligation should be temporarily maintained so that people who prefer to exercise extreme caution don’t feel obliged to attend.

The archbishop also pointed out in his letter that “if the economic impact has to be foreseen, it’s also appropriate to place a value on those things that provide consolation and strength to people during hard times.”


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.