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Pope at daily Mass: Draw near to those who suffer

(Vatican Radio) “Compassion,” “drawing near,” “to restore.” At the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis prayed to the Lord, that He might give us “the grace” to have compassion for all those who are suffering; to draw near to these people in order to “take them by the hand” to restore them to the place of “dignity that God wills for them.”

The Holy Father was reflecting on the Gospel, from St Luke, which tells how Jesus raised the son of the widow of Naim from the dead.  He explained how, in the Old Testament, the poorest of the slaves were precisely the widows, the orphans, the strangers and the foreigners. And the recurring invitation is to “care” for them, to ensure that they are inserted into and are part of society. Jesus is able “to see the details,” because He sees with the heart; He has compassion:

“Compassion is a sentiment that gets involved, it is a sentiment of the heart, of the viscera, it involves the whole person. It’s not the same as “pain,” or of [saying] “How sad, poor people!”: No, it’s not the same. Compassion gets involved. It is “suffering with.” This is compassion. The Lord is involved in the lives of a widow, of an orphan. “But say there” [people might say]… You have a whole crowd here, why don’t you talk to the crowd? Leave them… Life is like that… Those are tragedies that just happen…” No. For Him, that widow and that dead orphan were more important than the crowds He was speaking to and that were following Him. The Lord, with His compassion, was involved in this case. He had compassion.”

Compassion, then, pushes us “to draw near,” the Pope said: you can sometimes see many things, without necessarily drawing near to them. But, he said:

“Drawing near is touching the reality. Touching. Not looking at it from a distance. He had compassion—the first word. He drew near—the second word. Then He performs the miracle. Jesus does not say, ‘So long, I’m continuing on my way.’ No. He takes the child, and what does it say? ‘He restored him to his mother.’ To restore: the third word. Jesus performs miracles to restore, to return people to their proper place. And that is what He did with the redemption. He had compassion—God had compassion—He drew near to us in His Son, and He restored all of us to the dignity of children of God. He has re-created all of us.”

The exhortation is “to do likewise,” following the example of Christ, to draw near to the needy, not to help them “from a distance” because they might be dirty, or need a shower, or smell bad”:

“So often we see the news on TV, or the cover of the paper, the tragedies… ‘But look, in that country the children don’t have enough to eat; in that country the children are forced to be soldiers; in that country women are enslaved; in that country… Oh, what a calamity! Poor people…’ Many pages are written in the novel, in the TV shows that come after. And this is not Christian. And the question I ask now, looking at everyone, including myself, is, ‘Am I able to have compassion? To pray? When I see these things, that they bring to me at home, through the media… am I moved in the depths of my being? Does my heart suffer with those people; or do I feel pain, do I say, “Poor people,” and the like?’ And if you can’t have compassion, ask for the grace: ‘Lord, give me the grace of compassion.”

Nigeria: The Catholic Bishops’ statement on the issues affecting the Church and their country

The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria are calling on the federal and state governments to urgently address situations of injustice and give every Nigerian a sense of belonging. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria made this appeal in a communique at the end their recent second plenary for 2017 in  Jalingo.

In the statement, the bishops addressed several challenges facing the country. They cited among others, protests and agitations, which exploit the grievances of different segments of the country; violence perpetrated by armed herdsmen, Boko Haram militants and other groups. The bishops commended the vast majority of Nigerians for “standing together and remaining law-abiding citizens in the face of many difficulties, challenges and even provocation,” the statement read in part.  “We condole with the victims of terrorism, natural disasters, conflicts and violent crimes, while we continue to pray for the deceased. The solidarity shown by many Nigerians to those affected by the recent floods that affected some parts of the country is a sign of hope for our common peaceful co-existence. We equally commend the assistance rendered by individual Dioceses and other humanitarian agencies to the displaced and distressed persons. We appeal to the Government to carry the Church along in the work of the rehabilitation of such persons.”

Please find below the full statement…

 

OUR HOPE IN DESPAIR: TOWARDS NATIONAL RESTORATION

A Communiqué issued at the End of Second Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Centre, Jalingo, Taraba State, 7-15 September 2017.

1. PREAMBLE
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, held our Second Plenary Meeting of the year at St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Centre, Jalingo, Taraba State, from 7 to 15 September 2017. Having prayerfully reflected on the issues affecting the Church and our country, we now issue this Communiqué.

2. URGENT NEED TO ADDRESS GRIEVANCES
Our country is currently passing through a phase that is marked by tension, agitation and a general sense of hopelessness and dissatisfaction. This we believe is as a result of years of injustice, inequity, corruption, and impunity. There are agitations in many sectors of the country against the one-sidedness in appointments to key institutions and sensitive national offices, against marginalisation, and unfair distribution of resources and amenities. There are also allegations of cases of selective application of the rule of law. In his inaugural speech as civilian President of Nigeria on 29 May 2015, the President sent out a message of hope and of his commitment to national integration and cohesion. He said:“Having just a few minutes ago sworn on the Holy Book, I intend to keep my oath and serve as President to all Nigerians. I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody. A few people have privately voiced fears that on coming back to office I shall go after them. These fears are groundless. There will be no paying off old scores.”

More than two years later, the reality on ground and the verdict of most of our people across the nation – irrespective of religious affiliation, ethnic group or social status – point to the contrary. The inability of the Government to address the inequitable situation in the country has provided breeding ground for violent reactions, protests and agitations, which exploit the grievances of different segments of the country. We call on Government at all levels to urgently address these anomalies, remove everything that smacks of injustice, and give everybody and every part of our country a sense of belonging. We insist that merit and ability should be the primary criteria in making appointments and genuine needs the criteria for the distribution of amenities. We also urge the Government to be always sensitive to the multi- religious and multi-ethnic configuration of the nation.

As Catholic Bishops, we affirm that the legitimacy of every Government derives from its ability to listen to the legitimate yearnings and genuine cries of the people and honestly seek to address them. We therefore urge the Government at all levels to engage the aggrieved sections of the citizenry in a conversation worthy of a democracy. We are concerned that the deployment of soldiers in the midst of already restive youths could increase the nervousness among the populace with the potential of igniting a fire that could turn into an uncontrollable conflagration. On the other hand, we enjoin all aggrieved persons and groups to employ peaceful means within the framework of the existing laws of the land to express their grievances or even exercise legitimate pressure on the Government. Care must be taken by all to avoid actions and utterances capable of causing yet another armed conflict in the nation or any of its parts.

We demand fair treatment from those State Governments in the North that deny some of our Dioceses their rights to own landed properties for mission work by their refusal to issue them with Certificates of Occupancy. People of different religions need to co-exist, communicate, and be allowed to freely practise their respective religions everywhere in this country.

Furthermore, the other members of the political class in all the arms of government have, as a matter of urgency, to reduce drastically the immodest cost of running government in this country. If for no other reason, they have to do this as a sign of solidarity with most of their compatriots for whom the basic necessities of life – feeding, clothing, shelter, healthcare, energy, quality education – have almost become unrealizable dreams.

3. ARMED HERDSMEN AND THEIR THREAT TO SECURITY
The continued havoc caused by armed herdsmen in various parts of our country, can no longer be treated as mere clash between pastoralists and farmers. For apart from wanton destruction of farmlands and crops, some of these armed herdsmen are known to have laid siege on entire villages, killing, maiming, kidnapping, and raping. Besides, there are also reports that some of them are foreigners who have entered the country without proper checks by the competent authorities. Such persons are therefore to be considered a great threat to our national and individual security and their activities treated as acts of terrorism. We demand that adequate and prompt action be taken and be clearly seen to have been taken to stop their onslaught.

4. SOME LIGHT IN THE MIDST OF DARKNESS Along with other groups in Nigeria, we acknowledge the modest success recorded in the ongoing fight against corruption, the substantial curtailing of the activities of Boko Haram, and the release of some of the Chibok Girls. We note the positive report about the economy gradually coming out of recession. Nevertheless, we expect the Government to put in place economic policies and strategies that will make positive impact on the lives of our people, thereby reducing hardship and advancing the socio- economic welfare of citizens.

We commend the vast majority of Nigerians for standing together and remaining law-abiding citizens in the face of many difficulties, challenges and even provocation. We condole with the victims of terrorism, natural disasters, conflicts and violent crimes, while we continue to pray for the deceased. The solidarity shown by many Nigerians to those affected by the recent floodsthat affected some parts of the country is a sign of hope for our common peaceful co-existence. We equally commend the assistance rendered by individual Dioceses and other humanitarian agencies to the displaced and distressed persons. We appeal to the Government to carry the Church along in the work of the rehabilitation of such persons.

5. NATION-BUILDING: A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY Since the founding of our country Nigeria, too much attention seems to have been focused on “sharing the national cake” rather than on “baking that cake” by first building a strong and stable nation. The task of nation-building is a responsibility that rests on all the citizens of the country. We therefore call on all Nigerians to put more effort into working for the common good according to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. Individuals as well as smaller groups ought to have enough space for development while all contribute to the commonweal. Irrespective of nomenclature, we sincerely believe that most Nigerians earnestly desire a truly federal system of government that enhances the welfare of all citizens. This would not only address the allegations of marginalization, but also make the fight against corruption more successful.

Nevertheless, no matter what system of government we adopt, without a true conversion of heart by all and the readiness to make sacrifices for the common good, especially by persons in public office, we shall only be reshuffling our problems without solving them and shifting the epicentres of our national tragedies.

6. HIGH QUALITY EDUCATIOIN FOR ALL
As a Church, we reaffirm our commitment to the integral development of the citizens of Nigeria, especially through the provision of quality education. In this regard, we once more call on all State Governments to return to the old tradition by which Church and State collaborated in the provision of high quality education for all our citizens.

We also enjoin the Federal and State ministries and departments of education to ensure adequate and comprehensive curriculum for Christian Religious Studies (CRS), in such a way that individual right to religious freedom and the right of the Church to teach and disseminate the Christian faith is not infringed upon. We totally condemn the so-called Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and dubious Maternal Health techniques that are not only contrary to divine law but also would encourage immorality. All health related programmes ought to show respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life, every human life, from conception to natural death.

We note with great concern the ongoing strikes among various members of professional groups in our country. We appeal to the federal government to honour all legal agreements with these organisations so as to limit the grave damage that is already being done to our society.

7. CHRISTIAN COMMITMENT TO NATION- BUILDING
In our journey towards national restoration, the role of Christians, the Clergy as well as theLaity, is fundamental. As priests, our commitment to Christ in our total and obedient self-giving to him through prayers and service of our brothers and sisters not only makes us grow in holiness but also contributes immensely to the restoration of our nation. While not permitted to participate in partisan politics, clerics are urged to foster among people peace and harmony based on justice (cf. Canon 287). The lay faithful, on the other hand, are expected and encouraged to bear witness to the Gospel in their private, public and political lives. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “The Mission of the lay faithful is… to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competence and fulfilling their own responsibility” (Deus Caritas Est,22).We therefore earnestly call on the Lay Faithful to intensify their efforts in bringing the light of the Good News to those places only they can reach. They are by their life of witness to bring Christ into the temporal order such as politics, business, and in their places of daily engagements (Christifideles Laici 42). By their vocation they are to challenge government policies that negate fundamental human rights and their individual and collective right as Christians.

8. THE MODERN MEDIA AS ALLY We observe that modern media, especially social media, can be effective means of information, education and evangelization. We, however, notethat rather than tap their great potential benefits for expanding knowledge, many, especially our youth, have become exposed to such negative dimensions of the social media as organs for crime, the dissemination of hate speeches, slander,for peddling outright falsehood and misinformation. In these difficult times, we appeal to our people to be more circumspect and positive in the use of information obtained from and disseminated through the modern media.

9. THE MARIAN YEAR – PRAYING FOR PEACE IN NIGERIA
The Catholic Church in Nigeria declared the year 2017 a Marian Year, in honour of the Centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal. We invite all Christ’s Faithful to participate actively in this national celebration and to its solemn conclusion scheduled to take place in Benin City from 12 to 14, October, 2017. During this celebration we shall re-consecrate Nigeria to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In doing so, we entrust Nigeria to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Nigeria, asking her to intercede on our behalf to stabilize the Nigerian ship of state. May she also obtain for us all the blessings and graces that we need as a nation. May she pray for us to attain peace in our hearts, unity, and tranquility.

10. GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR EVENTS IN THE CHURCH
We are grateful to God for the appointments, ordinations and installations of new Catholic Bishops in Nigeria: Most Rev Donatus AKPAN, ordained and installed Bishop of Ogoja Diocese on 7 July 2017; and Most Rev Hilary DACHELEM, ordained and installed Bishop of Bauchi Diocese on 17 August 2017.
We heartily congratulate them and warmly welcome them into the CBCN. We are grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for the appointment of a new Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido FILIPAZZI. We welcome him to Nigeria and pray that his tenure be blessed with a resounding pastoral and spiritual growth for our Church and the nation.
We thank the Holy Father Pope Francis for intervening directly to definitively resolve the crisis in Ahiara Diocese, which has lingered for nearly five years. We urge all the priests and the lay faithful of Ahiara Diocese to unconditionally embrace the paternal gesture of the Holy Father.

11. CONCLUSION: OUR HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT US
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria,do hereby make a passionate appeal to all our Christians and the rest of Nigerians not to lose hope. We may be traumatized but we shall not be broken (cf. 2Cor.4:8).We advise that Nigerians look at themselves and the country in a better light. Much cheering news abounds in the land amidst the suffering and hardship, the pain and the feeling of helplessness. We are hopeful that Nigeria will survive the present hardship and will become the better for it. “And our hope does not disappoint us” (Rom 5:5). We all are stakeholders in the Nigerian project. We must therefore work hand in hand with a better understanding of ourselves to build the Nigeria of our dreams.

We welcome back our President, Muhammadu Buhari, from his medical leave. We thank God who brought him back safely to the country to continue to work assiduously for the betterment of our land.

May Our Lady Queen of Nigeria continue to intercede for us now and forever. Amen.

Most Revd Ignatius Ayau KAIGAMA President (CBCN)
Archbishop of Jos

Most Revd William A. AVENYA
Secretary (CBCN)
Bishop of Gboko

Togo: Catholic bishops join calls for constitutional reform

The Catholic bishops of Togo have issued a Pastoral Letter adding their voice to calls for constitutional refom in the country and a return to the 1992 constitution that sets presidential term limits. In their just-released letter the bishops urged for a return to that constitution to resolve the on-going crisis.  “Constitutional reforms are of particular importance, without which it is impossible to bring peace and social cohesion in our country", said the bishops.

Thousands of people across the small West African nation have been demonstrating for term limits on President Faure Gnassingbe, who has been in power since his father died in 2005, after 38 years in power.

The protests began in August, when security forces killed at least two people and injured several others.

The government last week introduced a draft bill on constitutional reform in parliament in an effort to contain the growing anti-government protests.

The Episcopal Conference of Togo condemned the use of excessive force to quell the demonstrations as well as the incitement to ethnic hatred spread through social media. It called on the army to remain neutral "avoiding any intrusion into the political debate, in accordance with the Constitution". After urging political leaders, including the opposition, as well as ordinary citizens not to give in to the calls for violence, the Bishops concluded by inviting everyone to pray for peace.

In another development, the head of Togo's parliament said on Tuesday (18 Sept.) that the country will hold a referendum on presidential term limits and other constitutional reforms in the coming days after a government bill failed to get sufficient backing to become law,

(Source Fides, Reuters)

Vatican holds seminar on young people ahead of 2018 Synod of Bishops

(Vatican Radio)  The Vatican released a statement on Tuesday regarding preparations for the 15th Ordinary Synod of Bishops to take place in October 2018.

In the statement, the Secretariat General of the Synod of Bishops said an international seminar on the condition of youth in the world was held on 11-15 September 2017 at the Jesuit General Curia.

Some 82 young people from around the world attended the event, as well as various experts and pastoral workers.

The statement said the sessions reflected on several themes, including "the young and identity, the young and otherness, the young and planning, the young and technology, and the young and transcendence."

Please find below the original statement:

From 11 to 15 September 2017, at the Auditorium of the Jesuit General Curia, an International Seminar on the condition of youth in the world was held in preparation for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The young, faith and vocational discernment, to be held in October 2018.

The Seminar was attended by 82 people invited from the five continents: 21 young people, 17 experts from ecclesiastical universities, 15 experts from other universities, 20 formators and youth and vocational pastoral workers, and 9 representatives of entities of the Holy See. From a geographical perspective, 52 participants were European, 18 from the Americas, 7 Asian, 4 African, and one Australian. Of particular interest was the presence of young people from different geographical, socio-cultural and religious contexts: they contributed actively to the study days, also introducing and concluding the event with their life experiences and reflections. Since the Seminar was also open to all those interested in the theme, around 50 guests also took part, including some young people.

During the sessions, respected professors communicated on the themes set out in the programme: the young and identity, the young and otherness, the young and planning, the young and technology, and the young and transcendence. A session was dedicated to each theme; the morning sessions were introduced by a biblical meditation and each communication was followed by a wide-ranging and inclusive debate, then furthered in the linguistic groups working in Italian, English, French and Spanish.

The first session, which took place on Monday afternoon, opened with greetings from Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and a biblical reflection by the Rev. Fr. Giulio Michelini, O.F.M. Five young people then gave compelling testimonies, regarding issues such as concrete situations of war, the recovery of values, facing daily challenges, commitments and life decisions. Finally, Professor Alessandro Rosina and Professor Cecilia Costa introduced the works.

The first of the themes, which regarded identity, was examined in the second session, in the morning of Tuesday 12, in which two communications were given: Young men and women today in search of identity, by Msgr. Philippe Bordeyne; and The places that form the identity of the young, by Dr. Chiara Amirante. In these contexts several other themes emerged, including the importance of education in the formation of a complete identity that responds to the need for guidance and reconciliation shared by many young people.

The theme of planning was the subject of two communications during the third session in the afternoon: Young people and work, by Professor Leonardo Becchetti, and Young people and migration, by Professor Rosa Aparicio Gómez. The interweaving of these two aspects emerged, since many young people migrate from their own countries not only in order to flee from situations of violence or war, but also to build a better future that would appear to be foreclosed in their places of origin.

The fourth session, in the morning of Wednesday 13, considered the theme of otherness through two communications: Young people and social engagement, by Professor Alvin Ang; and Young people and political engagement, by Professor Angela Cristiana Calvo. It was shown that, due to general mistrust in the world of politics, the young prefer to engage at a social level in projects of solidarity.

The theme of technology was examined in the fifth session on Wednesday afternoon, with two communications: Young people and future scenarios of technological development, by Fr. Eric Salobir, O.P.; and Young people and anthropological aspects of technological development, by P. Ferdinand Muhigirwa, S.J. It emerged that the relationship of young people with new media technologies opens up new horizons that, on the one hand, cause complex problems at anthropological, moral and relational levels, while on the other offering interesting paths for evangelisation.

Transcendence was the theme of the sixth Session on Thursday morning, developed in two communications: Young people, the sacred and faith by Professor Franco Garelli; and Young people and the Church, by Professor María Marcela Mazzini. The interventions illustrated how the search for the transcendent is experienced today by young people not only through various forms of spirituality, but also within the Church which, open to listening to young people, in many cases presents the person of Jesus in an engaging manner.

In the seventh session, a summary of the work of the various language circles was presented and Prof. Eugenio Gaudio, rector of “La Sapienza” University of Rome, held a conference on young people and the university.

In the eighth and final session, an overview was given and perspectives for the forthcoming Synod were indicated. The young people presented a video in which they summarised their experience, which may be summed up in the phrase: “We are a family, let’s listen and grow together”. From this slogan there emerges the desire of young people to find in the Church a home, a family and a community where they can develop their life choices and contribute to the common good. Subsequently, Professor Alessandro Rosina and Professor Cecilia Costa presented a general summary of the work, in which they highlighted the premises and conditions for accompanying the new generations, as well as the Church’s commitment and desire to respond to the demands of young people to be protagonists in building a better world. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri concluded the proceedings by thanking the participants and confirming that the Church, listening to young people, wishes to be stimulated by them with a view to the missionary renewal invoked by Pope Francis.

The Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels used during the Seminar remain open, with the hashtag Synod2018, also after the completion of the works.

Catholics and WCC discuss peace-building and migration

(Vatican Radio) Peace building and the care of migrants have been at the top of the agenda during a meeting of the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church.

The dialogue group, which was established in 1965, met from September 12th to 15th in Lisbon. The 20 member group, was hosted by the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and supported by the Portuguese bishops’ ecumenical commission.

Anniversary visit to Our Lady of Fatima

The meeting included an encounter with leaders of local Churches and a visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima during this anniversary year marking the centenary of the apparitions and the canonisation of two of the shephard children who saw the visions.

The main focus of discussions was the role of culture, religion, and dialogue in peace-building and the challenges and opportunities for ecumenical cooperation in support of migrants and refugees. The aim of this work, which will be supported by experts within the Vatican and the World Council of Churches, is to explore the possibilities for greater partnership and practical collaboration.

Witness to justice and peace

Regarding the vital work of peace-building, the group acknowledged that culture, religion and even dialogue can be misused to spark violence and conflict. That’s why there is a growing awareness among faith communities of the need to build on successful examples of ecumenical cooperation and to strengthen the witness of the Churches for a just peace.

Culture of openness and inclusion

Similarly, the urgent task of welcoming, protecting, integrating and empowering migrants and refugees requires a common response by all churches and cooperation with others working in this field, the group said. In particular they stressed that member Churches are committed to strengthening a culture of openness and inclusiveness, in order to combat racism and the rejection of refugees.

Please find below the full statement at the conclusion of the Joint Working Group meeting in Portugal

The Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church (JWG) established in 1965 to monitor and strengthen cooperation, met from September 12-15, 2017 at the Mother house of the Congregation of the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Lisbon with the support of the Ecumenical Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Portugal headed by Bishop D. Manuel da Silva Rodrigues Linda. The meeting included an encounter with representatives of churches in Lisbon and a visit to the Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima during the centenary celebrations.

The role of culture, religion, and dialogue in peace-building and the challenges and opportunities for ecumenical cooperation concerning migrants and refugees were discussed in depth at this meeting in light of the teachings of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel. During the current mandate (2014 – 2021), the 20-member JWG is chaired by the two co-moderators Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste from the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, Diarmuid Martin.

The JWG formed two theme groups on peace-building and the concerns of migrants and refugees. These groups work both between and during plenary meetings to address the issues before them, identify possibilities for greater partnership and practical recommendations for collaboration. Their work is accompanied by staff of the Holy See and the WCC with particular expertise in these areas of work.

The goal of the peace-building group is to identify the positive contributions churches can make together to the resolution of conflicts and prevention of violence. The group recognizes the fact that culture, religion and even dialogue can be misused to spark violence and conflict. There is a growing awareness among faith communities that peace-building needs the constructive involvement of the churches. It is important to build on already existing successful examples of ecumenical cooperation and to identify new possible ways in which the churches can witness to just peace.

The current situation of migrants and refugees is a significant “sign of the times.” It requires a common response by all churches and their cooperation with others working in the field. Churches are called to strengthen their collaboration in welcoming, protecting, integrating and empowering refugees and migrants. While migration has always been part of human history, the current reality of forced migration, the rejection of refugees and racist attitudes in many places are of growing concern for churches. The churches are committed to strengthening a culture of openness and inclusiveness.

The JWG will present pastoral recommendations for the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC on both issues. The aim of these recommendations is to bring the churches to greater unity in addressing areas of vital concern.

New JPII Pontifical Institute for Matrimonial & Family Sciences releases statement

(Vatican Radio)  The newly-created John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Sciences on Tuesday released a statement regarding Pope Francis' Motu Proprio Datae summa familiae cura.

The Motu Proprio was released on Tuesday, establishing the Institute to carry forward the work of the two recent Synods of Bishops and the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

The 'media notes' statement is signed by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Grand Chancellor of the Institute, and Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, its President.

It discusses the inspiration and sources behind the Holy Father's Motu Proprio, as well as how the project is to be implemented.

Please find below the original statement:

Rome, September 19, 2017

MEDIA NOTES ON THE MOTU PROPRIO OF POPE FRANCIS SUMMA FAMILIAE CURA THAT CREATES THE JOHN PAUL II  PONTIFICAL THEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE FOR MATRIMONIAL AND FAMILY SCIENCES - SEPTEMBER 19,2017

1.  The Apostolic Letter with which Pope Francis has created the new John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute reveals his desire to honor two sources that were his inspiration.

(a) The first is the new social and cultural vista in which matrimony and the family seek to be consistent with their original calling. The process of recognizing and reflection on these two institutions during the recent Synods has made evident the necessity of a “renewed awareness of the Gospel of the Family and of new pastoral challenges that the Christian community is called on to answer.”

(b) The second source is the "farseeing intuition of Saint John Paul II" who strongly supported the creation of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family as a key institution dedicated to research and to specialist formation at a university level and having a special connection with the Apostolic See.  This legacy, far from having lost its driving force, is to be "even more clearly recognized and valued for its fruitfulness and importance today."

2. These two sources led to have led to the special message of the Letter:

(a) On the one hand, there is the direct involvement of Pope Francis that reflects the two described sources.  He "signs on" to the subject and reveals his deep belief in (i)the crucial nature of the question, (ii) the new vitality of a reflection on the faith, and (iii) discernment of the human condition, all of which the Church is called on to bring to the world.

(b) As well, the Pope has entrusted the task of respecting both the continuity and the newness of this undertaking to the same persons who are now engaged in safeguarding a great legacy and making it bear fruit.  The academic officers of the predecessor institution (Grand Chancellor, President, Governing Council) are the ones called on to formulate the regulations, structures and operations of the new Theological Institute, at both the main campus and the various Sessions around the world, in the twofold context of continuity and renewal.

(c) This approach eliminates the possibility of an agenda-driven interpretation that sees the Pope's action as a departure from the inspiration that moved Saint John Paul II, or even as a sign that the Pope has lost confidence in the existing institution, its leadership or its faculty.  Indeed, these are the very persons who are called to guide the new Institute on the necessary path of adaptation and restructuring that is called for by the Holy Father. 

3. Implementation of this project is to be studied and shared by various persons according to their respective capabilities.

(a)  Broadly speaking, the institutions involved in ovrsight of the project will be the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, and the Pontifical Academy for Life  (SCF, art. 4, par. 3).  More directly, the academic community of the Pontifical Lateran University will be most closely involved in this integration and cooperation, the terms of which will be decided on "by common agreement." (SCF art. 5)

(b) With respect to the expansion of the institute's teaching and research capabilities, the Motu Proprio grants independence to its academic officers and approves its granting of degrees jure proprio (SFC, art. 4, par. 3)---Doctorates, Licences and Dilomas (which can be supplemented, in accordance with university custom and following applicable regulations, with first and second level Master's degrees.)

4. There are two elements in the Motu Proprio that can be pointed to as examples of the new approach to discernment and ecclesial practice:

(a)  The centrality of the family along path of ‘pastoral conversion’ of our communities and of missionary transformation of the Church’ requires us, in reflecting upon matrimony and the family at the academic level, never to lose sight of a pastoral perspective, or of the need for attention to the hurts of humanity’” (See EG, 26-32, LG, 11).

(b) “The health of the family is crucial for the future of the world and of the Church.” (SFC citing AL n.32). Evangelizing the marriage covenant between man and woman and caring for the family amid the changes in social ties and civil structures today are strategic necessities for the mission of the Church. (See SFC, art. 2)

Hence the fundamental questions that the new Institute must consider:  how do we shape a transformation of the witnessing practice of our Gospel faith so that it shows forth in the Church the beautiful and heartening image of the “one great family” created by God’s love?  How can we improve the understanding and communication of the faith to where they become true leaven, anthropological and even cultural, of the truth that the creative and salvific love of God brings to the transmission of life and to life’s meaning?

5.  A theological Institute born of this vision must be able to carry out its mission with all the means necessary for it to become a “true center of academic and reference excellence” endowed with “pontifical” character. (SFC art. 2)

(a) This calls it to additional areas of commitment necessary to carry out its mission, that is, not only to the “new dimensions of its pastoral task and its ecclesial mission” but also to developments in human sciences and in anthropological culture.  The creation of a “theological “center of excellence and reference in the field of the “sciences” of matrimony and the family thus comports, by definition, a commitment to the broadening of the pastoral horizon of the question and to care for the resulting adaptation of its anthropological and cultural direction.

(b) One encouraging sign of a widespread desire to support (even financially) a faith-filled consideration of a secular humanistic environment has been given to the renewed Institute.  We expect that a new Chair for the study of the interaction between Christian and secular thought will soon be established.  This "Gaudium et Spes" Chair will be analogous to the already existing Woytila Chair.

6. The Pope writes that "It will be necessary however for the inspiration that gave life to the to the predecessor Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family to continue to make fruitful the wider field of endeavor of the new Theological Institute, helping to make it more responsive to the present-day demands of the Church's pastoral mission.(SFC art. 1)

(a) That understanding has now been fully brought to bear on the “acceptable time” (“kairos”) in the Church today, and is fully reflective of a dynamic of transformation in ecclesial structures and mission.  This implies special attention as well to the global anthropological importance of the questions “connected with the fundamental alliance between man and woman in their care for generation and all of creation.” (SFC art. 2)

(b) Clearly the Institute will be concerned with an openness that, while implicit in theological reflection on marriage and the family, is not yet organically developed with respect to their deeper social and ecclesial effects.  The innovative character of this approach, which reclaims the full spectrum of the biblical theology of the creation—and of the mission—of man and woman, will be seen and carried out in ever greater detail.

(c) It is precisely to this broader vision, which appreciates the difference and the human covenant between man and woman as it relates to care for our common home and to the building up of history through generation, that the synodal maturation of this question, confirmed by Amoris Laetitia, has led us.  And now it must guide the new Institute that Pope Francis has entrusted to us, generously and confidently.

+ Vincenzo Paglia

Grand Chancellor

Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri

President

Pope sends greetings to former Vatican Radio director

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday sent greetings to Jesuit Father Antonio Stefanizzi, a longtime director of Vatican Radio who was celebrating his 100th birthday.

In a telegramme, signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope recalls the many years of fruitful and generous service that Fr Stefanizzi dedicated to developing the outreach of the Holy See’s media and communications.

Fr Stefanizzi was appointed director of Vatican Radio in 1953, just two decades after its foundation by Italian scientist and inventor, Guglielmo Marconi.

In the following years, Fr Stefanizzi oversaw the setting up of a new transmission centre, north of Rome, which Pope Pius XII visited for the inauguration in 1957.

As the Radio continued to grow, Pope John XXIII also visited the transmission centre in 1962, as did his successor, Pope Paul VI in 1966. To cope with an increasing number of different language programmes, the production centre of the Radio was moved, in 1970, from its original site in the Vatican gardens to its current location in Palazzo Pio.

At the same time, Fr Stefanizzi also oversaw the development of more sophisticated audio and video systems for St Peter’s Basilica and the setting up of a radio station, Radio Veritas, based in the Philippines, to broadcast across the region in a variety of Asian languages.

While Fr Stefanizzi stepped down as technical director of Vatican Radio in 1973, he continued to work through the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and was especially involved in the development of satellite technology, leading to the installation of two satellite dishes in the Vatican in the mid-1990s.

In 1990, Fr Stefanizzi was also appointed Secretary General of the fledging Vatican Television Centre and was involved in the development of the ‘World Vision’ global coverage of major papal events such as the Christmas or Easter Masses and the ‘Urbi et Orbi’ messages.

Today, Fr Stefanizzi lives at the Jesuit residence in Rome for the elderly and infirm, one of the oldest members of the community there.

S. Lanka Muslim centre’s initiative to help understanding of Islam ‎

A Muslim centre in Sri Lanka recently dedicated a day people of other faiths to help them learn about Islam in a nation that is witnessing renewed violence against Muslim.  The Centre for Islamic Studies (CIS) organized an ‘Open Mosque Day’ at Colombo’s historic Akbar Mosque in order to promote understanding and appreciate diversity.  Christians, Buddhists and Hindus could visit the centre to learn about the Islamic religion and traditions in Sri Lanka. 

Bridging the gap

“This is a positive effort, worthy of note,” noted Venerable Diyakaduwe Somananda Thero of the Buddhist temple Baddegewaththa Viharaya after visiting the CIS. “It comes at a crucial time to dispel certain misconceptions about Islamic traditions,” he told AsiaNews. “Today many act and think badly about Muslims."

Hindu priest, Rahumananda Sharma from the Sri Karumari Amman Kovil temple in Panchikawatte was equally positive about the CIS initiative. He hoped "the CIS will organize guided tours in other mosques.”  “All of the nation's population should have the opportunity to participate in events like this. This is very important," he told AsiaNews. 

The ‎‘Open Mosque Day’ was devoted to learning about Muslim values ​​and traditions, and countering bias among non-Muslims.

Several Buddhist and Catholic women observed that earlier they had wrong ideas about Muslim customs on women and marriage.  “Now, however, we understand that this is part of their religion."  When they asked about why women wore the Islamic veil, they were told it is “the immense beauty of women, who must protect their body."

Participants were divided according to English, Tamil and Sinhalese language groups with a guide each.  The visitors were explained the purification rite of the washing of hands and feet, shown the prayer room (with separate areas for men and women) and some prayers.

Shifan Rafaideen, one of the guides, was pleased with the CIS initiative. "As a Muslim, it is important to participate in the process of raising awareness. Giving the right information and eliminating biases is the greatest work a Muslim can do," Rafaideen added.   (Source: AsiaNews)

UN-backed research estimates some 40.3 million people live as slaves globally

More than 40 million people were trapped as slaves last year in forced labor and forced marriages, according to the first joint research by key anti-slavery groups to estimate the number of victims worldwide of modern day slavery.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), human rights group Walk Free Foundation, and International Organization for Migration said 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016 - but added this was a conservative estimate

Forced labour, forced marriage

The report of the joint research released on Tuesday during the United Nations General Assembly, estimated 24.9 million people were trapped working in factories, on construction sites, farms and fishing boats, and as domestic or sex workers, while 15.4 million people were in marriages to which they had not consented.

Almost three out of every four slaves were women and girls and one in four was a child, with modern slavery most prevalent in Africa followed by Asia and Pacific, said the report.

"Forced labourers produced some of the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and they have cleaned the buildings in which many of us live or work," the groups said in the report, stressing the crime was prevalent in all nations.

The findings mark the first time the groups collaborated on an international estimate and prompted calls for stronger labour rights, improved governance of migrants, action to address root causes of debt bondage, and better victim identification.

The report found more than a third of the 15 million victims of forced marriage were aged under 18 when wed, and nearly half of those were younger than 15. Nearly all were female.

Child labour

The ILO also released a separate report showing 152 million children were victims of child labor, which amounted to nearly one in every 10 child worldwide, with almost half of those engaged in hazardous work.  More than two-thirds of these children were working on a family farm or in a family business, with 71 percent overall working in agriculture.

The calculation of forced labor included the private economy, forced sexual exploitation and state-imposed labor.  Half of forced laborers were victims of debt bondage, who were made to work to repay a debt or other obligation, and nearly four million adults and one million children were victims of forced sexual exploitation.

"The vast majority of forced labour today exists in the private economy. This underscores the importance of partnering with the business community ... to eradicate forced labour in supply chains," the report said.

According to ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, the message that the joint research sends out is that “the world won’t be in a position to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals unless we dramatically increase our efforts to fight these scourges.”  “These new global estimates can help shape and develop interventions to prevent both forced labour and child labour,”  Ryder added.   (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Pakistani Christian man sentenced to death over blasphemy

(Vatican Radio)  A Christian man has been sentenced to death by a court in eastern Pakistan for blasphemy after he allegedly sent a Muslim friend a poem on WhatsApp that insulted Islam, a lawyer said on Friday.  James Nadeem of Lahore was charged in July last year after his friend, Yasir Bashir, complained to police that he received a poem on the messaging app that was derogatory toward the Prophet Mohammed and other holy figures. 

"Framed"

The accused “was handed a death sentence by the court on Thursday on blasphemy charges,” defence lawyer Riaz Anjum told AFP, alleging that his client was been framed by Bashir.   Anjum said his client intended to appeal against the verdict, passed on Thursday by a sessions court in the town of Gujrat.   He said Nadeem “has been framed by his friend who was annoyed over his [the accused's] affair with a Muslim girl.”  He said the trial was held inside a prison due to security reasons after local clerics had threatened the accused and his family.

Controversial blasphemy laws

Insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan is a crime punishable by death, while offending the ‎ Koran, Islam's holy book, incurs life imprisonment. The blasphemy laws remain an extremely sensitive issue in ‎the predominantly Muslim nation and they have ‎drawn intense criticism even within the country.  Rights ‎organizations say the law is often misused to settle personal scores.‎

A tally by Al Jazeera showed that right-wing vigilantes and mobs have taken the law into their own hands, killing at least 69 people over alleged blasphemy since 1990.

Perhaps, Pakistan’s most famous blasphemy victim is Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced ‎to death in 2010 for insulting Muhammad, an allegation she denies.  Pakistan's Supreme Court ‎adjourned her death sentence appeal on October 13 last year, after one of the 3 ‎judges recused himself ‎from the case.‎

Former Punjab governor Salman Taseer and Catholic ‎minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both assassinated in ‎2011 after they defended Asia Bibi and spoke out ‎against her death sentence and the misuse of ‎the blasphemy laws.‎‎

Earlier this year, a mob in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan beat up a student, Mashal Khan, to death after accusing him of blasphemy over social media.  The incident caused an outrage across the country, with calls for the blasphemy law to be amended.  An investigation into the case later cleared the victim of all blasphemy charges. 

In 2015, Muslims beat to death a Christian couple and burned their bodies in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

In June, 30-year-old Taimoor Raza was sentenced to death for allegedly committed blasphemy on Facebook, in the first such case involving social media. 

In May, a 10-year-old boy was killed and five others were wounded when a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy for allegedly posting an offensive image on social media.

Last month, a Christian youth was arrested on blasphemy charges after he allegedly desecrated the Koran in Wazirabad town in eastern Punjab province.  Police said they rescued him from being lynched by an angry mob.  The man is now awaiting trial.