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Catholics provide pastoral, physical aid in the face of coronavirus

February 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Beijing, China, Feb 17, 2020 / 05:50 pm (CNA).- While the coronavirus outbreak continues, Catholics have sought to provide aid and pastoral care to those threatened by its spread.

In mainland China, the death toll of coronavirus has reached 1,771, and more than 70,600 have been infected in the country.

Jinde Charities, a government-recognized Catholic group in China, has provided $132 million worth of aid to support medical treatment by additional protective clothing, emergency masks, goggles, and disinfectants.

“Given the continuing severity of the epidemic, the provision of medical supplies such as protective clothing and masks to designated hospitals remains a top priority,” the charity said, according to a Feb. 12 statement.

“At present, the entire society, including the Chinese Catholic Church, is fighting the epidemic to save people,” the statement further read.

Father John Baptist Zhang, head of Jinde Charities, said there is more work to be done and urged the universal Church to provide more aid.

“We need brothers and sisters from the universal Church to join us in the fight against the plague of the human race by making use of the universal strength of the Catholic Church and by donating funds or medical supplies,” he said, according to UCA News.

The Vatican also donated 700,000 disposable respirator masks earlier this month.

Originating in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, the new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Most of the reported cases of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, are in China, but it has spread to 26 countries, with about 600 cases outside China. There have been four deaths outside mainland China, in Hong Kong, France, the Philippines, and Japan.

Numerous governments have imposed heavy travel restrictions in response to the outbreak. More than 780 million people in China are facing some form of travel restraints.

Several countries have also refused entry to tourists who have been in China.

The Westerdam cruiser stayed at sea for almost two additional weeks after visiting Hong Kong, a city with about 50 cases of coronavirus.

They could finally disembarked in Cambodia on Friday after the ship had been denied entrance in Taiwan, Guam, Thailand, and the Philippines. No one on board the ship was reported to have contracted the virus.

Among the 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, a priest of the Apostolate of the Sea of the United States of America was also stuck on board. The priest, who has asked to remain anonymous, provided both spiritual and counseling services to the passengers.

Doreen M. Badeaux, secretary-general of the Apostolate of the Sea of the United States of America, told ACI Prensa that the passengers were very frightened so the priest decided to “write a novena for the Coronavirus and those who attended Mass daily on board began to pray it every day.”

Besides saying daily Mass and hearing confessions, the priest also offered counseling services and pastoral care to any passenger regardless of their faith.

“During a time of such tension, it is very important to have a priest on board. The crew on board always has to be professional and not show their own stress or concern for passengers. But with the priest, the staff can relax and speak frankly, knowing that he will not share what they say,” Badeaux said.

“I think it reminded people to relax, pray and think about the people around them, realize that everyone was literally ‘in the same boat’, and be patient with the process,” he further added.


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Leak from Xinjiang shows some Uyghurs are detained for family size

February 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Urumqi, China, Feb 17, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- A leaked document from a county in China’s northwest details the personal information of some 3,000 Uyghurs. It gives violation of birth control policies as the most common reason for their “re-education”, often alongside other reasons.

The “Karakax List” is a 137-page spreadsheet from the government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where an estimated 1 million Uyghurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps. Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The document, believed to have been prepared in May or June 2019, was recently shown to several news outlets, including the BBC and the Wall Street Journal.

The Karakax List contains information regarding some 3,000 Uyghurs in Karakax County, about 800 miles southwest of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

It shows that 484 persons were interned for re-education, only 12 of whom had no recorded reason for their detention. There were eight categories of the reasons for internment.

“No single coding category was dominant, even though violations of birth control policies constituted the most commonly cited reason for re-education, often along with other (typically religion-related) reasons,” Adrian Zenz, a Xinjiang researcher and senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, wrote in a recent paper analyzing the document.

Of the 484 detained persons, 149 had violated birth control policies.

From the late 1970s until 2015, China allowed most couples to have only one child. Since 2015, most couples have been permitted two children.

The Washington Post reported in October 2019 that women in Kazakhstan who say they had been detained in Xinjiang said they were forced to have abortions, had contraceptive devices implanted involuntarily, or were raped.

Other commonly cited reasons for internment in the document were that the persons were untrustworthy (116 persons), religion-related (101), and that they had overseas links (94).

Only 24 had committed a formal crime.

According to Zenz, “based on the principles of presumed guilt (rather than innocence) and assigning guilt through association, the state has developed a highly fine-tuned yet also very labor-intensive governance system whereby entire family circles are held hostage to their behavioral performance – jointly and as individuals.”

“Ongoing mechanisms of appraisal and evaluation ensure high levels of acquiescence even when most detainees have been released from the camps,” he added.

The researcher said that “driven by a deeply religio-phobic worldview … the state has established a system of governance that fully substitutes trust with control.”

Among the data recorded in the Karakaz List are whether an individual has worn an Islamic veil; whether they have a beard; how often they pray; how their family members act; whether they have applied for a passport; and whom they contact.

The Chinese government has defended its policy of mass detention and re-education as an appropriate measure against terrorism.

The government at one time denied the camps even existed, but has since shifted to defending its actions as a reasonable response to a national security threat.

Government officials from the region said in July 2019 that the area’s re-education camps for Muslims have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

Uyghurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

The US Commerce Department in October 2019 added 28 Chinese organizations to a blacklist barring them from buying products from US companies, saying they cooperate in the detention and repression of the Uyghurs.


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Hong Kong, Singapore cancel public Masses amid coronavirus

February 15, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Hong Kong, China, Feb 15, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- All public Masses in Hong Kong are canceled through Feb. 28 amid the threat of the spreading of coronavirus.

Cardinal John Tong Hon, apostolic administrator and bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, announced Feb. 13 that all public Masses from Feb. 15-28 would be suspended.

The Archdiocese of Singapore has taken a similar step, suspending all public Masses from Feb. 15 until further notice.

Hong Kong is home to around 500,000 Catholics out of a total population of over 7 million, while in Singapore Catholics make up 300,000 of the city-state’s 5.6 million people.

“The Church, being a member of society, has the duty to maintain public hygiene and promote the common good. Therefore, Parish Priests, the other parish clergy and the faithful are to strictly comply,” Tong said, adding that follow-up measures would be announced before Feb. 28.

Tong encouraged the faithful to watch Sunday Mass online, make a spiritual Communion, reflect on the Sunday liturgical text, read the Bible, or say the rosary each Sunday.

He also suggested that the faithful watch ferial Masses online, or make or Lenten devotions or spiritual exercises, such as the rosary, the Angelus, and daily prayer.

“Parish churches and affiliated chapels are to remain open to the faithful for personal prayers and visits to the Blessed Sacrament,” Tong said.

“Parish churches may also arrange for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament daily or on specific days, so that individual members of the faithful may take part and pray that the coronavirus infections will be contained as soon as possible.”

Tong added that all other Church-related activities, with the exception of weddings and funerals, are to be suspended as well.

In Singapore, Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye wrote in a Feb. 14 pastoral letter that “the cancellation of Masses does not mean that Catholics can excuse themselves from fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Day of the Lord holy.”

“They should try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio,” he added. He asked that people please check the archdiocesan website for the broadcast’s time.

“Following the broadcast of the Mass will help you to receive the Lord spiritually,” he said. “You can also gather as a family for the Liturgy of the Word by spending time in prayer, reading the Word of God of the Sunday Liturgy and interceding for the world that this Covid-19 virus will be contained and eradicated. Even if you cannot gather together as a family to worship, you should individually spend at least half an hour in quiet time to pray and especially read the Word of God.”

Originating in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, the new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

As of Feb. 13, authorities worldwide have diagnosed more than 63,000 cases of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 1,300 people have died. Most of the reported cases are in China, but it has spread to over two dozen countries worldwide.

In Hong Kong, there are at least 50 cases of the disease and one death reported. As of Friday, Singapore has recorded 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19, TodayOnline reports, with 17 discharged from hospital and six in intensive care.

Several countries, including Italy, have suspended flights from Hong Kong, which has an open border with mainland China.

Hong Kong last week issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering from mainland China, NPR reports. The city has set up a large number of mass quarantine camps to isolate victims, many in residential areas, which have led to protests.

The New York Times reports that about 7,000 medical workers in Hong Kong have gone on strike, demanding that Hong Kong fully close the border with the mainland.

Schools in Hong Kong remain closed until March 16 and the government has given its 176,000 government employees the option of working from home until Feb. 23.

The Vatican has sent between 600,000 to 700,000 face masks to three provinces in China since Jan. 27, according to the Global Times. Pope Francis prayed for people infected by the coronavirus during his Sunday Angelus prayer on Jan. 26.


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Australian bishops: religious discrimination bill has merit, but flaws should be fixed

February 14, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Canberra, Australia, Feb 14, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Australia’s Catholic bishops have welcomed changes to a proposed religious discrimination bill to protect religious believers and institutions from discrimination and needless legal action, but they said more work is necessary for an Australia-wide law.

“The draft laws are an important way to help people of faith and the organizations they establish as communities of faith to manifest their religious belief in the service of others,” Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement, said in his Jan. 31 submission to the Australian government on behalf of the bishops’ conference.

The bishops offered suggested changes but said they support the intent of the legislation because of their concern “to ensure that the rights of Catholics and other people who have a religious faith or none are not discriminated against because of their beliefs or activities.”

Australia’s ruling Liberal-National Coalition government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also wants to ensure that groups which reject same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status. The bill’s provisions also aim to stop employers from policing employees’ expression of their religious views in their spare time.

The Catholic bishops of Australia had criticized the first version of the bill, saying it did not go far enough to protect religious freedom, a “crucial component of a free society.” They said this freedom includes worship but also public expression of beliefs in charitable work, hospitals, social services, education, and engagement in public life.

They faulted the second draft, in part, because it gives weaker protections to religious employees of small business than to employees of large companies, and no protections whatever to government employees.

Allowing religious discrimination to avoid “unjustifiable financial hardship” to employers, they said, would render religious freedom not a universal human right but “something which depends on where a person works.” The provision would allow boycotts, sponsorship withdrawals and similar pressure to create such financial hardships on employers that would then be used to justify discrimination against a religious employee.

Stronger federal protections are needed for healthcare workers and institutions with conscientious objections, the bishops said, especially in states or territories that do not recognize this “universal human right.”

“Catholic healthcare agencies decline to provide some particular services because of their religious ethos, but where services are offered they serve all people equally,” the bishops said, citing the record of Catholic institutions in the country.

More than 60% of Australians profess a religious faith and more than 20% are Catholic. The Catholic Church provides about 10% of the country’s health care services and is the largest non-government grouping of hospitals and elder services and community care services. Its social services help more than 450,000 Australians annually, while 1,700 schools educate 760,000 students and two Catholic universities serve 46,000 students.

Australia’s many organizations run by religious communities need assurance that they can continue to operate in accordance with their beliefs, the bishops said. The legislation has a complicated task to ensure it does not unintentionally curtail religious freedom, such as by requiring a religious organization to “employ a person who was opposed to its religious and ethical beliefs.”

“Religious schools, health services and welfare agencies need to be able to hire staff who support their religious mission and to set employee conduct stand,” said Australia’s bishops. They said it is “alarming” that some political parties seek to amend legislation to ensure that proposed protections will have “little effect” in their state. They backed a universally applicable law.

The bishops faulted the current law’s treatment of religious objections simply as exceptions or exemptions, which wrongly give the impression that “religious freedom rights are somehow subordinate to other concerns.” They praised the proposed legislation for putting forward “a positive expression of the right to religious freedom.”

Michael Stead, an assistant bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and chair of its religious freedom reference group, has also praised the bill but called for changes.

The Anglican Church sees the second draft as a “significant improvement.” However, it suggested that the bill’s definition of a religious body was “very clumsy” and should be defined as “a body which has the purpose of advancing religion” regardless of whether it is a charity. This would be a more satisfying way to determine which religious bodies may still prefer staff of the same religion.

At the same time, Stead said the definition is still limited to non-profit entities and would not protect commercial service providers such as Christians who bake cakes, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.

The Australian Human Rights Commission, a government-funded but independent NGO, has said that while it supports the prohibition of religious discrimination, it objected that its provisions “provide protection to religious belief or activity at the expense of other rights.” The bill is not an appropriate way to apply international human rights law and its provisions limit other human rights in a way that is “unnecessary and disproportionate or otherwise inconsistent with international law.”

The commission backed religious protections in employment decisions only where it is an “inhterent requirement of the job,” like a religious minister. Where religious bodies provide a public service with government funding it should be done “in a non-discriminatory way.”

Ed Santow, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, said the bill does not protect “the entire community equally.” The exemptions are too broad and protect “the right to religion for some at the expense of religious equality of others,” he objected.

Stead, the Anglican bishop, said there are precedents for many religious protections. He said criticisms of protections of religious speech put forward by the Australian Human Rights Commission and LGBT advocacy groups were “so extreme as to be laughable.”

“The kind of ‘right to be a bigot’ cited in some submissions is not the reason why religious communities are asking for these protections,” he said. “We want them to ensure religious people are not going to lose their job, be excluded from courses or professional bodies merely because of expressing religious beliefs.”

Stead characterized the proposal as “a sensible balance between the right of freedom of religion with other rights.”

The Australian Medical Association said the bill would allow some doctors to suffer employment discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Dr. Chris Moy, chair of the association’s ethics and medical-legal committee, said current law allows doctors to conscientiously object, including to matters like contraception provision, but changes could allow them to “just walk away” from patients.

Ghassan Kassisieh, legal director of the LGBT group Equality Australia, characterized protections for religious organizations as a “blanket exemption” in elder care, hospitals and charity services. He objected that the bill would ban only statements which “seriously intimidate,” while the current law bans “when degrading or humiliating things are said in the workplace, or in schools or during the provision of services.”

For Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, the proposal would ensure that people “can’t be the subject of a discrimination act complaint for the mere statement of religious belief.” Employer conduct codes cannot constrain employees from making “non-malicious non-vilifying statements of religious belief in their spare time.”

“People of religion would, I think, rightly consider saying what they believe is a necessary part of their religiosity,” he said, according to The Guardian.

The proposed legislation follows controversy over the treatment of Israel Folau, a devout Christian and professional rugby star, who was fired by Rugby Australia in May 2019 after a post on Instagram. The post listed “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” above the statement “Hell awaits you.”

Folau cited the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, saying he was expressing a Biblical idea. Upholding his religious beliefs, he said, “should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club or country.”

Some religious group opposed protections.

“We don’t discriminate and don’t believe others should have the right to discriminate or, in fact, engage in any bigotry in the name of religion,” said Bronwyn Pike, chief executive of the Uniting Church’s Victoria and Tasmania community services group Uniting Vic.Tas.

Pike told SBS News the bill is “a stalking horse for people who want to promulgate homophobic and misogynist views in the name of religion.”

There are strong signs that the opposition is unlikely to support the government’s bill, The Guardian reports.

In November, opposition leader Anthony Albanese told the Labor caucus, “we support freedom of religion but we don’t support increasing discrimination in other areas.”

However, Porter has claimed there are a variety of views inside the Labor Party. He said suggested changes can’t detract from the bill’s central purpose “to protect Australians of religion from real world circumstances … which detract from their ability to be free from discrimination based on their religion.”

In the United States, a strong push against religious freedom protections has drawn millions of dollars in grants to university programs, legal groups, and LGBT and pro-abortion rights groups. Catholic adoption agencies in some states have been shut down or barred from taxpayer funds because they cannot in good conscience place children with same-sex couples. Lawsuits and legal complaints have targeted professionals in the wedding industry whose religious beliefs bar them from serving same-sex ceremonies.

There have been few U.S. proposals to protect employees from hostile employment action based on their religious statements outside of work.


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Syro-Malabar archdiocese opens sainthood cause of Vincentian founder

February 6, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Kochi, India, Feb 6, 2020 / 01:59 pm (CNA).- The cause for beatification of Father Varkey Kattarath, founder of the Vincentian Congregation, was opened Wednesday at a ceremony in India.

Fr. Kattarath founded the congregation, modeled on St. Vincent de Paul’s Congregation of the Mission, in 1904. The community’s charism is evangelization, particularly of the poor.

He was declared a Servant of God Feb. 5 at the headquarters of the Vincentian Congregation in Kochi. The cause was requested by the congregation, which is based in the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly.

Fr. Kattarath, born in 1851, was serving as a parish priest when he learned that his bishop wanted to start a community like the Congregation of the Mission. The bishop had visited the congregation’s mother house in Paris in 1895, and he returned to Ernakulam with a copy of its rule.

In 1904 the priest founded a residence for priests, and he was relieved of parish responsibilities. He lived with two fellow priests, but the community was dispersed with the bishop’s permission in 1913, according to the Vincentian Congregation’s website.

The community was revived in 1927 when three Ernakulam priests approached their bishop saying they wanted to live consecrated life. He directed them to Fr. Kattarath, and the congregation was re-formed.

The priest made his first profession in 1929, and perpetual profession in 1931. He died later that year.

Fr. Kattarath also served as a chaplain to convents, and cared for the ill.

The Vincentian Congregation says it has two bishops, 555 priets, and 184 professed seminarians.