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Chinese bishop and priests evicted over ‘fire safety’

January 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Beijing, China, Jan 17, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Chinese officials have evicted members of the clergy, including a bishop, from their homes and are closing Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Fujian. While the officials cited “fire safety standards” as the reason for the evictions, all the clergy and churches affected have refused to join the Communist-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

The CPCA, the state-run Catholic Church, entered into an agreement with the Vatican in 2018, regularizing the status of its bishops. While the terms of the agreement have not been released, it has widely been reported that it gives the Communist party effective veto power over future episcopal appointments. 

The deal was intended to regularize the status of the so-called underground Church in China, which had always been in communion with Rome, despite decades of persecution by the Communist government. While the Vatican has said that underground clergy are not obliged to join the CPCA, government authorities have escalated policies and enforcement actions aimed at bringing all religious practice under Communist control.

According to a Jan. 16 report by AsiaNews, Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, auxiliary bishop of Fujian has been evicted from the curia and clergy house and is now homeless. 

The priests who lived in the house were also evicted, reportedly due to “security reasons” and noncompliance with fire regulations.

Chinese government officials reportedly cut electricity and water supply to the chancery building in an effort to encourage the clergy to leave the building. The building, which is 10 years old, was built in compliance with all relevant permits. 

Bishop Guo and his priests have refused to join the state-run Church, and thus have not been approved by the Chinese government. 

Guo was the Vatican-recognized bishop of the underground Diocese of Mindong until the conclusion of the recent Vatican-China deal. Following that agreement, which gave communist officials the right to enforce “sinicization” on local Catholic practice, the Holy See recognized the communist-approved Bishop Zhan, who had previously been considered an excommunicated schismatic, as the diocesan bishop, and compelled Guo to accept the position of auxiliary bishop in his diocese.

AsiaNews also reported Thursday that “at least five” parishes in the Diocese of Fuijan have been closed due to “fire safety standards” despite prior compliance with permits and regulations. One of these parishes has 10,000 communicants, and another has roughly 3,000. 

The priest of these now-shuttered parishes, who have all refused to join the CPCA, are now homeless. 

On January 13, the Chinese government closed a retirement home administered by the Little Sisters of Mercy and Charity. The home, which housed 30 people, has been open for 20 years and had operated without major issues. Now, some of the residents do not have anywhere to live, and others have gone to live with relatives. 

In the city of Suanfeng, a parish that was closed for “fire safety” reasons was re-opened after a CPCA priest was appointed to the parish. There were no repairs made to the building to bring it up to any sort of code during the time it was closed, says AsiaNews.

A little less than half of the “underground” priests–20 out of 57–from the Diocese of Fujian have declined to join the CPCA, despite urging from Bishop Zhan. The priests are reluctant to sign on with the CPCA as they do not wish to be affiliated with an entity of the Chinese Communist Party.

In June, the Vatican issued “pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China.” While recognizing the need to continue efforts to normalize relations between the Catholic community and government authorities, the document “respects the choice” of priests who refuse to register with the state.

“For some time, requests have been received by the Holy See from Bishops in mainland China for a concrete indication of the approach to be adopted in relation to the obligation of presenting an application for civil registration,” the document says, noting that “many pastors remain deeply disturbed [at] the modality of such registration.”

The Holy See also noted that the act of registration “requires, almost invariably, the signing of a document in which, notwithstanding the commitment assumed by the Chinese authorities to respect also Catholic doctrine, one must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China.”

If, the Vatican said, “the text of the declaration required for the registration does not appear respectful of the Catholic faith,” priests should specify – in writing if possible, or else in front of witnesses – that the declaration is made only to the extent it is “faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”

“At the same time, the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions.”

Guo has previously been arrested for refusing to participate in public events with Zhan. In February, Guo told the New York Times that “we must obey Rome’s decision,” and that “our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”


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Vatican picks Hong Kong bishop, delays announcement

January 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Hong Kong, China, Jan 17, 2020 / 07:06 am (CNA).- The Holy See has delayed announcing its pick for the next bishop of Hong Kong, CNA has learned, amid concerns that local clergy and lay Catholics will see Rev. Peter Choy Wai-man as too sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government.

The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without permanent leadership since January 2019, when Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died unexpectedly. Since Yeung died, the diocese has been led temporarily by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Yeung’s predecessor, who retired from the post in 2017.

Senior Church officials in Rome, Hong Kong, and mainland China have independently confirmed to CNA that a decision to appoint Fr. Choy as Hong Kong’s next bishop has received final approval in Rome. Choy is presently one of four vicars general in the Hong Kong diocese. CNA requested comment from Choy on his appointment, but no answer was received by time of posting.

Choy’s appointment has not been announced because his elevation could be perceived as a rebuke of the ongoing political protests on the island province, several Vatican and Hong Kong diocesan officials have told CNA.

Sources in Hong Kong and Rome have told CNA that Cardinal Tong himself has advised against announcing Choy’s appointment.

“The situation [in China and Hong Kong] is very delicate and no one wants to make things more difficult. It will be announced [when it can be] and that’s all there is,” a senior curial source in Rome told CNA about the appointment. CNA requested comment from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See Secretary of State, on the decision to appoint Fr. Choy, and the decision to delay public announcement, but no response was received by time of posting.

For much of 2019, Hong Kong has seen wide-scale protests against the Chinese and local governments. The demonstrations began after Communist-backed authorities attempted to impose a new law on the province, allowing for extradition to the mainland. That proposed law has since been abandoned, but the protests continue.

Choy is known to be close to Cardinal Tong, and is said to have a good working relationship with Chinese government authorities, both on the island and on the mainland. He was reported to have attended a meeting with the cardinal and Carrie Lamb, Hong Kong’s chief executive, during the height of the protests.

Fr. Choy was born in Hong Kong in 1959, and ordained a priest in 1986. Since Oct. 2017, he has served as one of four vicars general of the Diocese of Hong Kong, appointed with responsibility for the bishop’s office, the ongoing formation for both clergy and laity, and leading ecumenical and interreligious dialogue for the diocese. Choy also serves as the dean of Hong Kong’s seminary.

Choy was widely rumored to have been a leading candidate to head the diocese at the time of Bishop Yeung’s death. Several priests on the island told CNA that it seemed Yeung was preparing Choy for leadership before he died.  

“Fr. Peter was considered the inside candidate from the beginning,” a senior Hong Kong priest who was close to Bishop Yeung told CNA, who requested anonymity, citing concerns about ecclesiastical and government authorities. 

“He was a great friend of Bishop Michael [Yeung], and there’s no doubt he would have wanted him as his successor.”

“For some reason, his name was held up because of some vague accusations. They could never prove if they are true, or if this is just the way diocesan priests eat up other diocesan priests here.”

Concerns both on the island and in Rome about how Choy’s appointment could be received relate to his perceived closeness to the government, and his distance from the pro-democracy movement, which has sizeable lay Catholic involvement. 

Among Hong Kong Catholics, there have also been rumors about Choy’s private suitability for leadership.

“There’s a concern about a lack of gravitas,” a priest close to the Hong Kong chancery told CNA, saying that many would worry Choy would be unable to stand up for the Church locally.

Another senior local cleric offered a more unsparing assessment of Choy’s reputation in Hong Kong, describing him as a “pro-Beijing hawk,” and a “sworn enemy of [Cardinal] Zen.”

“His elevation is just further proof of how the Holy See is selling the faithful down the Yangtze, or in this case Pearl River,” the senior cleric told CNA.

Both predicted that the appointment would trigger an outspoken denunciation from Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Tong’s predecessor as Bishop of Hong Kong, and an outspoken critic of the 2018 Vatican-China deal.

“When the announcement is finally made, [Cardinal Zen] will go crazy,” one told CNA. “One of the things he’s been fighting against is an appointment that could be seen as an appeasement [of the government], and that’s how this will be translated.”

Sharp divisions among the local clergy and faithful are heavily influenced by the political situation, especially following the attempted crackdown by the mainland government, and after the 2018 Vatican-China deal, which reportedly gave Communist authorities the right to propose and approve new episcopal appointments.

The other front-running candidate for the vacant Diocese of Hong Kong had been the current auxiliary bishop of the diocese, Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who is publicly associated with the protestors on the island, and has appeared at protests and demonstrations.

CNA was told by senior clerics in the diocese that before his death, Yeung had intended to ask that Choy he appointed as a second auxiliary bishop, to balance Ha’s more antagonistic posture to the mainland government.

“Bishop Yeung wanted to have two auxiliaries,” one Hong Kong chancery official explained to CNA. “They would have been like a ying-yang: one very tall and forceful [Ha], the other rather meek and withdrawn [Choy], but they were both very close friends of the bishop [Yeung].”

The same source explained that similar concerns, and factionalism among diocesan clergy, led Yeung to appoint four vicars general to serve at the same time – an unusual move.

“Yeung had these four vicars general instead of one, they each brought something different to the table and it was to appease all the different factions among the clergy. The clergy here are very divided on many different things: age, friendships from seminary, and on politics,” the priest said.

There are more than 300 priests in Hong Kong, most of them members of religious orders. They serve a diocese of more than 600,000 Catholics.

A senior source close to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome told CNA that Bishop Ha was the Vatican’s first choice to succeed Yeung, and that Pope Francis had formally approved his appointment, only to have to reverse the decision before it was announced.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of People is responsible for recommending episcopal appointments in China, together with the Secretariat of State. 

“Months ago, Bishop Ha was already nominated – his name had gone into audience [with Pope Francis] and come out with approval. It wasn’t yet published when he was in the front lines of a major demonstration and [Cardinal Fernando] Filoni [then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples] had to reverse the decision,” the Vatican official told CNA.

“What happened was that this would have flown in the face of the whole political attempt to stabilize the place of the Church in China. There was no option but to reverse the decision.”

While, for now, the announcement of Choy’s appointment is considered to be delayed, the Vatican could still reverse course if political circumstances don’t change, as it has once already for the same position.

“Yeung was always a pragmatist, he was a halfway point between [his predecessors] Zen and Tong: Tong, we used to say, thought nothing was wrong with the mainland, Zen thought nothing was right with the mainland,” a senior priest on the island told CNA.

“[Fr.] Peter will, I should probably still say ‘would,’ be more in the Tong line and Ha with Zen, but in the current climate you are bound to get one or the other.”


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Founder of Protestant movement returns to Catholic Church (updated)

January 15, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Punalur, India, Jan 15, 2020 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- The founder of a prominent non-denominational movement in India has returned to the Catholic faith of his baptism, after more than a decade as a Pentecostal pastor and traveling preacher.

Sajith Joseph, 36, was confirmed Dec. 21, 2019 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Punalur in the southern Indian state of Kerala. His family and nearly 50 other members of his movement were received into, or came back to, the Catholic Church the same day.

Joseph is the leader of Grace Community Global, which he founded in Kerala in 2011.

The group will now be under the jurisdiction of  Bishop Selvister Ponnumuthan of Punalur as a Catholic association, with the permission of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, which is responsible for international associations of the faithful. Joseph’s Facebook page describes Grace Community Global as “an ecumenical movement of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.”

The group has around 2 million followers in 30 countries, and reaches many people through its televangelism programs.

Fr. Prasad Theruvath, OCD, was asked to act as chaplain to the group; he has served as the secretary of the Kerala bishops’ commission for inter-church dialogue.

Fr. Theruvath told CNA that a process of sorting out how the members of Grace Community Global want to proceed has begun. Most of the members are Protestant, but the group is also followed by Oriental Orthodox Christians, as well as Hindus and Muslims.

Those who do not want to continue with the group under its new Catholic identity will return to their “mother churches,” but there are many others who want to join the Catholic Church, he said.

They are trying to proceed with prudence, Fr. Theruvath explained, by “slowly preparing” those seeking conversion. “We are in the initial stages, [there is] lots of work to do.”

About the future of Grace Community Global, Joseph said that “the system has changed, but the function is the same.” Under the direction of the Kerala bishops, the group will continue their conventions and Sunday fellowship gatherings.  

Joseph told CNA he founded Grace Community Global while he was teaching in a Protestant seminary. He said he was “seeing the difference between Catholic theology and Protestant theology” through his studies, especially of early Church history.

He was reflecting a lot on Christian unity, he said, and he began the non-denominational group, intentionally calling it a “community” rather than a denomination or church.

“I was trying my level best to bring unity to Pentecostal groups through Grace Community Global,” Joseph explained, adding that he eventually realized this unity was “impossible because of the difference of doctrines.”

He came to see there is a “gap” in Protestant history which can only be filled by being a part of the apostolic Church, he said.

“Studying Church history made me rethink the beliefs I had. Then… the theological, doctrinal unity made me think secondly about Catholicism and Catholic theology. So, my theological convictions made me come back to Catholicism and the Catholic Church.”

What followed were four years of discussions with the bishops of Kerala, canonists, theologians, and eventually the Vatican, Joseph stated.

Joseph was born into a Catholic family, but when he was 16 years old his parents left the Church to join the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal ecclesial community.

Joseph was moved to become a preacher; by the age of 19, he was already preaching to small groups of people in Kerala.

He studied Protestant theology and became pastor of an Assemblies of God community. He taught at a Protestant seminary for a period, and started traveling to preach.

In 2011, he started Grace Community Global, which he led for several years before discovering that the unity he was seeking could be found in the Catholic Church.  

Around the time he started Grace Community, when Joseph was 28 years old, he had a powerful experience in prayer, he said, including a vision of Christ crucified and an altar, which he believes was revealing to him the truth of what Christ suffered on the cross, and his presence in the Eucharist.

“As a Protestant pastor, I was not able to digest that image [of an altar],” he said, noting that he wondered why God was showing him this.

According to Joseph, this experience left him with “a great boldness to pray for the sick,” leading him to start his healing ministry.

Fr. Theruvath said Joseph has the supernatural gift of healing, an extraordinary charism received through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The priest said “the Holy Spirit is working through this.”

“God is doing amazing things here!” Joseph rejoiced.


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Sydney archbishop encourages relief donations amid Australia fires

January 13, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Sydney, Australia, Jan 13, 2020 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney urged Mass attendees Sunday to pray for an end to the Australia fires, which have destroyed thousands of homes, and to donate to those affected.

The bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia have killed at least 28, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. More than 2,400 square miles are now on fire, and some 38,600 square miles have burned.

“We gather in the shadow of a drought that has now lasted for three years and a bushfire season already the most intense in our country’s history,” Archbishop Fisher said during his homily at Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney Jan. 12.

“[We] stand with all those suffering the destruction of drought and fire, and all those assisting them.”

He applauded the efforts of volunteers and offered prayers for those who have lost property and lives.

“Our mettle as a community is being tested by fire,” he said.

“Together let us pray for a great outpouring of water from the heavens to cleanse our land of destruction and revivify both the bush and our hearts,” he added.

The archbishop applauded the humanitarian efforts of Catholic organizations throughout the country and encouraged parishioners to donate during a special collection at Mass on Jan. 26, Australia Day.

Archbishop Fisher pointed to the feast of the Baptism of Christ, saying this “baptism by fire” will cause the community to become stronger than before.

“Through the inferno of these past weeks, the spirit of our people was not consumed. Rather, their hardiness and goodness were on display.”

“If baptismal waters call us to higher ideals, they also purify us for living those ideals. Fire, too can test our mettle, even refine what is there,” he said. “As our nation passes through this baptism of fire, it can emerge stronger and greater than before.”

“Key Church agencies in welfare, health and education, are working with local parishes, CatholicCare services and St Vincent de Paul conferences to ensure a co-ordinated and effective response,” he said.

“The Church in Australia will direct collections on the Australia Day weekend to the St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal, so that we can maintain this momentum and long continue to demonstrate human and Christian solidarity.”

The St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal will provide victims with essential items, like food and clothing. It will also help victims cover unexpected bills and offer emotional support.

National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society Claire Victory encouraged people to offer financial donations, noting that the organization does not have the “capacity to sort and store additional furniture, clothing or other items in the affected areas right now.”

“We are present, at the service of those communities, providing personal and practical support and referral to professional services,” she said in a Jan. 8 statement.

“Right now, cash is needed,” she added. “Cash is the most useful contribution at this point in time.”


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Lima archbishop offers ‘clarification’ on controversial Eucharist remarks

January 13, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Jan 13, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- After controversial remarks last week, the Archbishop of Lima said Thursday that he did not intend to undermine the importance of prayer in the presence of the Eucharist.

“It is essential for us to maintain a level of entering and contemplating the mystery of the Lord made bread for us, the mystery of the transubstantiation as we call it more technically, which means the real presence of the Lord,” Archbishop Carlos Castillo Mattasoglio said Jan. 7.

Castillo’s remarks came after he told Lima’s synodal assembly Jan. 7 that “no one is converted with the tabernacle.” At that meeting, Castillo said that while Pope Francis has mentioned contemplation of the Eucharist as a source of spiritual growth, “no one is converted with the tabernacle. We are all converted from meeting people who ask us questions and who are human dramas where the possibility of encountering the Lord arises.”

“I can later sit before the tabernacle and pray and all that, and surely; but it is very rare that I have illumination in a passive state…Contemplation is extremely important but to the extent the faith has been transmitted, somebody communicated the faith to me,” Castillo added.

“We are all believers because someone announced the Gospel to us, from our mother who made the sign of the cross, the grandma. the dad, the aunt, classmates at school, the Christian community or the singing group…It’s in human relationships where the Lord is hidden, that his presence appears and we welcome him,” Castillo added.

The archbishop’s remarks, posted on YouTube, became a source of controversy in Peru, where they were seen by some Catholics to downplay the importance of the Eucharist, or the power of prayer.

After his comments were published, Castillo offered a “clarification,” explaining that “some people were a bit surprised by a point I made in the morning. What I said was, let’s say, before the tabernacle you don’t find your vocation, a vocation is found in life. And the tabernacle, as you know, is the place to visit where the permanent presence of the Lord is under the forms of bread and wine, and there the Real Presence.”

“Pope Francis said here in Trujillo that when one has a vocation, the vocation is always received in life,” Castillo added.

Castillo, who was a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, became Lima’s archbishop March 2, 2019.

Castillo’s remarks were intended as a commentary on a Jan. 20, 2018 discourse from Pope Francis to priests and consecrated religious in Trujillo, Peru. In that speech, the pope discussed the importance of prayer before the Eucharist.

“Sit down a while and allow him to look at you and remember those times he looked at you and looks at you. Allow yourselves to receive his gaze. This is the most precious possession of a consecrated person: the Lord’s gaze,” Francis said in his remarks.

The pope added that the Lord finds and heals believers in the difficult circumstances of their own life, and from those circumstances, brings them to contemplate him in the presence of the Eucharist.

That, Castillo claimed Jan. 7 in his clarification, is the point he had been trying to make.

The “first encounter with the vocation and the successive kerygmatic encounters are in life and in often terrible situations and sometimes also very beautiful situations, but they aren’t, let’s say, in a moment where I’m alone and there’s a kind of look from the Host at me and me at the Host.”

The archbishop’s clarification, however, also raised a concern about the role of contemplation in life.

“And we have to take into account something that is very important: all that which are  sacraments are signs the Lord has left to remember life and to live life more deeply, to nourish life, but not to replace it.” 

Nevertheless, Castillo added, “I can’t then say tomorrow we all go to the tabernacle and we only devote ourselves to be before the tabernacle, because that’s the truest part of life. [Because] who’s cooking?  And who’s preparing something to eat? So if we see things that way, with [contemplation] as the greatest thing there is, and the only thing that is, be careful.”

Pope Francis has referred to the importance of praying before the Eucharist.

In September 2018, speaking to the bishops in mission territories, the pope explained that a bishop, being a successor of the apostles, is called by Jesus to remain with him and therefore “before the tabernacle he learns to entrust himself to and to trust in the Lord,” because “there he finds his strength and his confidence.”

On Jan. 31, 2019, the pope recalled Don Bosco, the founder of the Salesians, and said that for the priest to look at reality “with the eyes of a man and with the eyes of God,” he has to spend “ample time before the tabernacle”

At Midnight Mass, Dec. 24, 2019, Pope Francis also spoke of the importance of contemplating Christ in the Eucharist present in the tabernacle.

“Today is the right day to draw near to the tabernacle, the crèche, the manger, and to say thank you. Let us receive the gift that is Jesus, in order then to become gift like Jesus. To become gift is to give meaning to life. And it is the best way to change the world: we change, the Church changes, history changes, once we stop trying to change others but try to change ourselves and to make of our life a gift,” the pontiff said.



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Iranian nuncio appeals for negotiation, not revenge

January 7, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Tehran, Iran, Jan 7, 2020 / 11:25 am (CNA).- As tensions escalate between Iran and the United States following the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the pope’s diplomat in Tehran is appealing for dialogue.

Archbishop Leo Boccardi has served as apostolic nuncio to Iran since 2013. Speaking to EWTN News from Tehran, Boccardi said he has been keeping the Vatican updated on the situation on the ground in Tehran with regular dispatches to the Secretariat of State.

“I believe that the words of the Holy Father have been an invitation to moderation, to dialogue, to negotiation to get through the tension and to see, to hope, that there are none of these … acts of revenge,” Archbishop Boccardi told EWTN News Jan. 6.

The pope called for dialogue and self-control in the “terrible air of tension” in his Angelus address Jan. 5.

Archbishop Boccardi said he does not foresee immediate implications for the small population of Christians living in Iran due to the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani, saying it is not a religious conflict. “It is a war that is unfolding between Iran and another particular opponent who has a name and surname,” Boccardi said.

US President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, as well as Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, at the Baghdad International Airport Jan. 3.

The airstrike followed an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and U.S. officials claim that Soleimani had planned additional attacks against Americans. The US State Department had designated Soleimani a global terrorist in 2011.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani pledged revenge for the drone attack that killed Soleimani, and Trump threatened in a tweet Jan. 4 to target Iranian cultural sites if Iran were to strike any Americans, a move which Pentagon officials later rejected. Chants of “Death to America” were heard at Soleimani’s funeral Jan. 6.

“Good politics is at the service of peace, the whole international community must put itself at the service of peace, not only in the region but in the whole world,” Archbishop Boccardi said in an Italian Vatican Radio interview Jan. 3.

“The appeal is to lower tension, call everyone to negotiation,” he said. “We must believe in dialogue.”

Boccardi said that a peaceful Middle East is the responsibility of the international community. The nuncio said “pacta sunt servanda” (agreements are to be kept) is an important rule for diplomacy, and underlined that the rules of law must be respected by everyone.

“We must ‘arm ourselves’ with other weapons which are those of justice and goodwill,” he said.

Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, echoed the nuncio’s sentiment, calling for prayer, prudence, and dialogue.

“I have to say personally that I am very shocked by hearing the words ‘taking revenge,’” Sako told EWTN News Jan. 6.

“We are very lucky to be Christian because our culture and our education and our mentality is a mentality of peace, respect, and life, and not of blood and taking revenge,” the Iraqi cardinal said.

Sako said that he believes that Europe can be a bridge to aid with dialogue between Iran and Iraq, as well as with the United States.

“The international community has a responsibility for what is happening in the region in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran now. They should help people to sit together and to dialogue in a civilized way and to look for a political solution … not fighting, and threatening people and so on,” he said.

“And I ask all of our Christians to pray for us and to keep us in their prayers,” he added.



Alan Holdren contributed to this report.


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Church in India won’t host next Asian Youth Day

January 6, 2020 CNA Daily News 4

New Delhi, India, Jan 6, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Church officials in India have said the nations will not host the 2021 Asian Youth Day as planned, ucanews reported Monday.

“Our country was given the responsibility of hosting Asian Youth Day … After consultations with higher authorities, it was decided that it was better to call off the event as the present scenario does not allow us to hold the program,” Bishop Nazarene Soosai of Kottar, head of the Indian bishops’ youth commission, told ucanews Jan. 6.

India’s ruling political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has been increasingly hostile to religious freedom for minorities.

Bishop Soosai commented, “We had hoped that there would be a change of government in 2019, but that did not happen and the present situation does not look good either.

The BJP came to power in 2014, and strengthened its majority in the 2019 general election.

Asian Youth Day is an event held for young Catholics in Asia every few years. The first Asian Youth Day was held in Thailand in 1999.

The most recent iteration took place in Indonesia in 2017. At the conclusion of that event, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay announced that India would be hosting the following Asian Youth Day, which was then anticipated to take place in 2020.

The recent report of ucanews said the Indian Asian Youth Day was to have taken place in October 2021.

Fr. Chetan Machado, an official of the Indian bishops’ youth council, told ucanews that “there are several practical reasons why this event was cancelled. A major reason was the granting visa to our visitors from neighboring countries … the present situation does not permit us to host this program.”

Asian Youth Day was held once before in India, in 2003 in Bangalore.

According to the 2019 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, “religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend” in 2018.

The commission said India’s “history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives—including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities—that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign.”