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Australian court hears further testimony in Cardinal Pell abuse hearing

Melbourne, Australia, Mar 24, 2018 / 04:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- New accusations were brought forward and others were dropped this week, during a pre-trial hearing in an Australian court regarding abuse allegedly committed by Cardinal George Pell.

The committal hearing for the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy took place at the Melbourne Magistrate Court, and will allow magistrate Belina Wallington to determine whether there is enough evidence for a jury trial.

The total number of charges brought against Pell are not public, although some of the charges previously brought against Pell date as far back as 1961. In January, a key charge against Pell was dropped after the complainant died of leukemia.

Pell, 76, is being represented by four lawyers and intends to plead not guilty if his case goes to trial. He has said that “the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Last summer, Pope Francis granted Pell a leave of absence from his duties as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy while the claims are investigated. Pell is also a member of the Pope’s council of nine cardinal advisers.

Prosecutors said March 23 that some charges against Pell will be dropped because a witness is unable to testify because they are “medically unfit to give evidence.”

The court also heard this week from family members of people against whom Pell allegedly acted inappropriately at a public swimming pool, a showering area, a movie theater, and a church. Other witnesses denied having ever seen Pell acting inappropriately.

The Vatican has refrained from stating a judgement or opinion on the Pell case, pending the outcome of the investigations by the Australian court.

The cardinal's hearing, which began March 5, is scheduled to conclude March 29.

Youth say they want a Church that's transparent, up-to-date

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2018 / 09:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the end of a week-long meeting held at the Vatican, young people from around the world have urged the Church to be more authentic, modern and creative in the way it interacts with young people, and in addressing controversial contemporary issues.

“We want to say, especially to the hierarchy of the Church, that they should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community,” the youth delegates said in the final document of this week's pre-synod meeting in Rome.

“A credible Church,” they said, “is one which is not afraid to allow itself be seen as vulnerable.”

The document, released March 24, is the product of a week-long discussion with some 300 young people from different cultural and religious backgrounds, who gathered in Rome for a March 19-24 pre-synod meeting, which is a precursor to the October synod of bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Youth were divided into 20 different languages groups, in which they reflected on a several questions throughout the week. Those who weren't able to attend the meeting took part via social media, specifically through six different Facebook groups in different languages, which were moderated by other youth and discussed the same topics addressed in the Rome gathering.

Between the Rome gathering and social media participation, some 15,300 young people took part in the discussion. Drafting groups were tasked with taking the conclusions of the 26 different groups and compiling them into one comprehensive text.

An initial draft was written and presented to the group Thursday, and several of the youth participants made comments. Adjustments were made and the final draft was approved Saturday morning. It will be given to Pope Francis during his March 24 Palm Sunday Mass, which also marks the diocesan celebration of World Youth Day.

The 16-page document is divided into three sections: the challenges and opportunities of young people; faith, vocation, discernment and accompaniment and the Church’s formative and pastoral activities.

According to the document's introduction, it is not intended to be “a theological treatise” and nor was it written “to establish new Church teaching.” Rather, it is meant to serve as “a compass” for bishops in their October discussion as they seek to understand the reality of youth today.

The text said that young people want to be listened to and taken seriously, and noted that they often seek communities that are supportive and which “empower them,” giving them a sense of identity and belonging.

"Young people look for a sense of self by seeking communities that are supportive, uplifting, authentic and accessible: communities that empower them," the document said, while noting that for some religion is now “a private matter,” and said that at times, it seems that “the sacred appears to be something separated from our daily lives.”

“The Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism,” they said, adding that “sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of 'it has always been done this way.'”

Rather, the text said “we need a Church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards.”

“Sadly not all of us believe sainthood is something achievable and that it is a path to happiness," the document said.

Young people, they wrote, “are deeply vested in and concerned about topics such as sexuality, addiction, failed marriages, broken families as well as larger-scale social issues such as organized crime, human trafficking, violence, corruption, exploitation, femicide, all forms of persecution and the degradation of our natural environment.”

However, one paragraph mentioned that  among young people there is clear disagreement on certain “controversial” Church teachings dealing with issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, the permanency of marriage, and the priesthood.

The paragraph noted that many don't understand Church teaching on these issues, and that of those who do, not all of them are in agreement. Young people “may want the Church to change her teaching as a result, or at least have access to a better explanation,” they said, but “even so, they desire to be part of the Church.”

Other young Catholics, the document said "accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but also to proclaim them with greater depth of teaching."

Youth disagree on the topic of migration, the document said, but converge on the need to promote social justice, saying “although we acknowledge our common call to care for the dignity of every human person, there’s no consensus on the question of welcoming migrants and refugees.”

They also pointed to specific challenges such as globalization, an increase in secularism, racism, the difficulties faced by people in countries where Christianity is a minority, and the increasing number of Christian martyrs.

“As we grapple with these challenges,” they said, “we need inclusion, welcome, mercy and tenderness from the Church – both as an institution and as a community of faith.”

On new technologies, they outlined both the benefits and the risks, noting that while there are endless possibilities for increased connection, education and knowledge, there is also the danger that technology leads to “isolation, laziness, desolation and boredom.”

They also pointed to poor uses of technology such as online pornography, which “distort a young person's perception of human sexuality” and creates a “delusional parallel reality that ignores human dignity.”

In this regard, the document at one point makes two key suggestions, first encouraging the Church to view technology, particularly the internet, as a “fertile place for the new evangelization.” Reflections on this point, they said, “should be formalized through an official Church document.”

Second, they requested that the Church “address the widespread crisis of pornography, including online child abuse, and the toll it takes on our humanity.”

On the role of women, the youth said women are still not given equal spaces in the Church or in society, and questioned how and where women can “flourish” in these environments. They said the role of women often isn't clear, and asked the Church to specify what their role entails.

The document stressed that youth want to be taken seriously, and that despite often being accused of not having a vision for life, young people do envision a better future for themselves.

“Sometimes, we end up discarding our dreams,” the said, adding that “we are too afraid, and some of us have stopped dreaming. At times, we have not even had the opportunities to keep dreaming.”

Young people, the document said, “value the diversity of ideas in our global world, the respect for others' thoughts and freedom of expression.” At the same time, youth want to preserve their cultural identity and “avoid uniformity and a throw-away culture.”

They said that many young people frequently feel “excluded for being Christians in a social environment that is adverse to religion,” and highlighted the need to “encounter ourselves and others” in order to form deep bonds.

False images of Jesus – that he is out-of-date, distant or rigid – often make young people unattracted to him, making Christian ideals seem “out of reach to the average person,” they said. “Therefore, for some, Christianity is perceived as an unreachable standard.”

"Ultimately, many of us strongly want to know Jesus, yet often struggle to realize that He alone is the source of true self-discovery, for it is in a relationship with Him that the human person ultimately comes to discover him or herself," the document said.

"Thus, we have found that young people want authentic witnesses – men and women who vibrantly express their faith and relationship with Jesus while encouraging others to approach, meet, and fall in love with Jesus themselves."

Scandals within the Church damage the confidence young people have in it, the delegates said, but stressed that the Church can still play a “vital role” in ensuring that youth are accepted, and no longer marginalized.

In terms of vocation, youth said the concept is still “abstract” to many, and therefore doesn't cross their minds.

“Young people understand the general sense of bringing meaning to life and being alive for a purpose, but many do not know how to connect that to vocation as a gift and call from God,” they said, and voiced their desire for mentors who are able to accompany them with wisdom and without judgment.

Youth also voiced their desire for more authenticity, transparency and openness in the Church's life and structures, saying at one point that “a credible Church is one which is not afraid to allow itself be seen as vulnerable.”

“We want to say, especially to the hierarchy of the Church, that they should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community,” they said, adding that the Church should also be “sincere in admitting its past and present wrongs, that it is a Church made up of persons who are capable of error and misunderstanding.”

The document encouraged the Church to be firm in condemning scandals such as sex abuse and the “mismanagement” of power and wealth. If the Church does this with humility, they said, it will “undoubtedly raise its credibility among the world's youth people.”

Young delegates also voiced their desire for a Church that is capable of spreading its message through modern means of communication and which is also able to answer young peoples' questions in a way that isn't “watered-down” or “prefabricated.”

Rather, “we the young Church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing without taboo.”

The document underlined a desire that youth would become leaders in their communities, and asked that young leadership programs offering continual formation and development be established. Specific mention was made of the lack of young female role models in the Church, who also with to contribute with “their intellectual and professional gifts.”

Youth said they want to be “met where they are,” stressed the need for the Church to find “new and creative” ways of encountering people outside of the usual setting, such as in bars, coffee shops, gyms, stadiums or cultural centers.

They asked the Church to engage with “the right instruments,” which the document listed in bullet-point format as having a multimedia approach; service in movements or charities; beauty and the arts; adoration and contemplation; testimonies and the synod process itself.

Going beyond practical, functional and institutional decision-making roles, youth said that ultimately, they want to be “a joyful, enthusiastic and missionary presence within the Church.”

Kentucky Senate votes to restrict common abortion procedure

Frankfort, Ky., Mar 24, 2018 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Kentucky State Senate passed a bill Thursday that would ban dilation and evacuation abortions after the 11th week of pregnancy, with the exception of a medical emergency.

Were this bill to become law, it would be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the US.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the state’s Senate March 22, with 31 votes in favor and only five against. Now the bill will move to the House of Representatives, where it will once again be voted on. An earlier version of the bill also passed by a wide margin in the state’s House.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is pro-life and is likely to sign the law once it reaches his desk. This, however, will not happen for at least a few more days as both the state House and Senate are on recess until Tuesday.

“We welcome any effort to highlight the gruesome nature of abortion, and work towards the day when all unborn life is respected and welcomed into the world,” Jason Hall, executive director of the Kentucky Catholic Conference, told Catholic News Agency.

Dilation and evacuation is used in 16 percent of abortions in Kentucky. It is mainly used during the second trimester of pregnancy.

Kentucky has one abortion clinic in the entire state, which was nearly closed last year.

If this bill were to become law, it would most likely face legal opposition from pro-abortion groups before it could actually be enforced. Similar abortion restrictions in Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have been struck down.

Chilean pregnant mothers pay unique tribute to unborn children

Santiago, Chile, Mar 24, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pregnant mothers carrying children, volunteers, and staff of the Chile United Foundation celebrated the Day of the Unborn Child and Adoption on March 22 in front of Chile's presidential palace.

For four years the NGO has gathered there to hand out carnations to passersby and to give them a message of hope, as a tribute to the unborn children they carry in their womb.

Chile passed a law  Sept. 23, 2017 permitting abortion if an unborn child is judged to be “non-viable,” if a pregnancy poses risk to the life of the mother, and in cases of rape.

Initiatives like Chile United’s celebration demonstrate that it is necessary to “continue working day and night with more effort than ever to be there for the woman in that crucial moment,” Veronica Hoffman, executive director of Chile United, told ACI Prensa, the Spanish-language news partner of CNA.

“When you give emotional support, welcome, and accompany her, women decide to continue with pregnancy,” Hoffman said.

“What we are calling for today is to strengthen support programs nationwide,”she added.

Chile United has programs of support for women and their children, but the recently passed abortion law also requires government support for women who chose to continue with a pregnancy.

The Chile United Foundation has been working for 19 years for the development of social and cultural values for human progress in the country. Their efforts include a support program for women in crisis pregnancies, which has supported the birth of some 5,000 children, such as Yasna Gonzalez's child.

Yasna told ACI Prensa that after overcoming cervical cancer, she went through a difficult pregnancy with her fourth child when she was 43. Her husband and some of the children reproached her, and even her boss at work advised her to abort.

In a moment of anguish, she said she found the Chile United Foundation. “They gave me everything, all the love, the emotional support, to be able to have my child,” she said.

Today Yasna tearfully recalls that period, but “I see my child who's already six and he is everything for me, he's my little piece of heaven,” she said.

Another woman at the demonstration told ACI Prensa that she is 38 weeks pregnant, she does not have any relatives in Chile, and she already has a seven-year-old child.

For her, the Chile United Foundation is “like a family” that has protected her, helped her to find a job and, and provided material assistance.

Passerby Kristli Guerrero was delighted to get the carnation. “What they're doing is a beautiful thing and there ought to be more awareness, more programs,” she said.


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

What the 'Great Firewall' might signal for Vatican-China deal

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2018 / 09:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Chinese government tightens control over Christian groups in the country, experts caution that Beijing is positioned to further restrict religious freedom, using the model of government-run social media.

While introducing more restrictive rules on religious practice, President Xi Jinping's repeatedly stated goal has been the “Sinicization” of religions, or to diffuse “religious theories with Chinese character” into the five official religions supervised by the government, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

On March 22, China instituted a major change in its religious oversight by abolishing the State Administration for Religious Affairs and shifting direct control to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). As a result, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will now be under the day-to-day direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This is similar to another bureaucratic change in China earlier this week, that gave the CCP direct control of movies, television, books, and radio.

“They are folding the state into the party … It is one thing when the party does that with regards to the media, but there is something particularly ironic now in the sense that you have a department of an avowedly Marxist atheist communist party that is going to be managing religious affairs,” said Freedom House’s Senior Research Analyst for East Asia, Sarah Cook.

“Now the Bishops' Conference is even less explicitly autonomous and more clearly directly managed by an atheist communist party department,” said Cook. This change could result in more pressure for religious entities in China to make clear that their first and foremost allegiance is to the party and not to their religion.

The UFWD is the CCP’s “soft power” instrument for “winning the hearts and minds” for China’s political goals at home and abroad, according to the Financial Times. It seeks to manage groups outside of the CCP, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjian, ethnic minorities, and religious groups.

The UFWD is “basically trying to make sure that these entities are also in some way following the party line even though they are not part of the communist party itself,” explained Cook.

China has long been known for its strict control of information, through means including internet access restriction and the creation of alternative social media platforms that are completely controlled by government surveillance and censorship.

So while Twitter is inaccessible in China – blocked along with Google, Facebook, and YouTube by “the Great Firewall” – one can express himself in 140 characters or fewer on the Chinese website “Sina Weibo” instead, as long as the message is not critical of President Xi Jinping.

Critics fear this model could increasingly be adopted in the realm of religion as well.

The Vatican has been in negotiations with Xi’s regime on the appointment of bishops. Some speculate an agreement will resemble the Vatican’s deal with Vietnam, in which the Holy See picks bishops from a selection of candidates proposed by the episcopal conference, which, as of this week, is more directly controlled by the CCP.

As the Vatican considers the possibility of a deal with the Chinese regime, China-watchers are warning technology companies that engaging directly with the Chinese government could lead to their complicity with censorship and surveillance, or lead to the arrest of Chinese citizens.

One early example of this was Yahoo, which provided sensitive information about writers to the Chinese authorities. More recently, Apple removed VPN software that helped Chinese citizens circumvent its Great Firewall from its China App Store.

Formerly, technology “companies had good faith that by going in there [China] they really were helping to provide these open platforms for communication ... It would be very difficult to make that argument right now,” explained Shanthi Kalathil, the director of the International Forum for Democracy Studies at a panel on PEN America’s new report on social media censorship on March 19.

“All of the trends are pointing in a negative direction. The intent of the Chinese government is clear that anybody that does go in will absolutely not have the space to provide what these companies may profess to be providing on paper. We know enough now about both the censorship machine as well as Xi Jinping's intentions – I think that's been made quite clear,” continued Kalathil, referring to the increase in censorship, surveillance, and punishment of Chinese social media users in the past three years.

China has increasingly used its control of domestic social media alternatives to criminalize internet users who express dissenting opinions.

In China, people talk about how “it used to be that we afraid that our account would be closed or our posts would be deleted. Now we are afraid that we are just going to be taken away. Some are sentenced to administration detention for a few days, but there are a good number of people who have been sentenced to very long prison terms," Cook said at the panel.

The trends in freedom of religion are similarly pointing in a negative direction under Xi Jinping.

An analysis published by a Chinese Communist Party think tank scholar in 2012 identified both religion and “internet freedom” as future threats to China’s rise. The years that followed saw crackdowns on both freedom of the internet and religious freedom.

No member of the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to practice a religion. In March, the same parliamentary meeting that gave Xi Jinping lifelong rule also granted the atheist Communist party direct oversight of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to the latest reports, a deal between the Vatican and Beijing could be signed as early as next week.


Papal Foundation responds to multi-million dollar hospital grant controversy

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 23, 2018 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Controversy over a $25 million grant from The Papal Foundation to a Rome hospital at the request of Pope Francis has prompted the foundation to say some claims about the issue are inaccurate, but that it will review its mission and take corrective measures where necessary.
The Philadelphia-based foundation said March 22 that its executive committee and board made “an inadequate effort” to address and correct “the anonymous, inaccurate and misleading information related to the grant request” as well as “unsubstantiated claims that called into question the integrity of the request by the Holy See and of members of the board.” These claims created “confusion and unnecessary division among the membership of the Foundation.”
“This unfortunate chapter, which distracted from the great success of The Papal Foundation to serve the Holy See and the global Catholic Church, also served to highlight the need for a time of serious self-reflection by the Foundation,” the organization said.
The Papal Foundation said it is committed to taking any necessary corrective measures. It pledged to provide members with the facts of the grant and a clear understanding of the foundation’s mission and governance. It also committed itself “to renewing its bond of trust with the Holy See.”
The foundation was not able to respond to questions from CNA by deadline.
Since 1990, the foundation has given over $100 million in service to the Catholic Church, working in union with the Pope “to bring the love of Christ to a world in need.” Grants are made for needs that are particularly significant for the Pope, and often go to Third World institutions and organizations. They typically do not exceed $200,000 per grant.
The foundation is governed by a board of trustees comprised of the eight cardinals residing in the U.S., who serve as ex officio members. They approve the seven bishops and archbishops and nine laypeople who serve as elected members.
In summer 2017 Pope Francis asked Cardinal Donald Wuerl for a $25 million grant through the foundation for the Church-owned hospital Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, which specializes in researching and treating skin diseases. However, the Holy See has since declined half the grant after objections from some board members. The critics went to the media, resulting in news coverage that questioned the integrity of the hospital and the wisdom of the foundation’s grant-making process.
The board’s audit committee had questioned the $25 million grant and no lay members voted in favor of it, the National Catholic Register reported in February.
Opponents of the grant said due diligence was not followed, citing reports that the hospital leadership had been accused of embezzlement, fraud and bankruptcy. In 2013 a priest who was its chief executive through 2011 was arrested for allegedly taking money from the hospital and running up a massive debt.
Tens of millions of euros had allegedly been diverted from the hospital, while it allegedly evaded taxes on hundreds of millions euros. Financial police said its debt was 845 million euros, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported in 2013.
The foundation said it is re-evaluating its mission, its approach to grant-making, and its relationship with the Holy See. These actions are the result of the foundation’s “intensive, six-month review and approval of a special request by the Vatican for assistance with a three-year financial reform plan for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata in Rome.”
The Holy See has expressed “full support” for the review of the foundation and is working to assist the review process, The Papal Foundation reported. In addition to declining half the grant, the Holy See has postponed a papal audience until the foundation’s review process is complete and until the foundation members and stewards agree upon the foundation’s “mission, governance structure and relationship to the Holy See.”


California high school student planning pro-life walkout

Sacramento, Calif., Mar 23, 2018 / 01:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students at a public school in California are organizing a pro-life walkout, similar to the recent walkouts over gun control, in honor of unborn babies who have been aborted.

The pro-life walkout will take place at Rocklin High School in Rocklin, Calif., a Sacramento suburb, April 11.

The walkout, similar to the recent walkouts over gun control in honor of the Parkland shooting victims in Florida, and will last 17 minutes. The event will be promoted by students with #life.

The organizer of the walkout, Rocklin High student Brandon Gillespie, said he hopes the event will “honor all the lives of the millions of aborted babies every year,” according to local news.

“We encourage students across the country to participate in a stand for #life,” Gillespie said in a March 22 Tweet.

Gillespie noted that he was inspired by his history teacher, Julianne Benzel, to jumpstart the pro-life walkout.

Benzel recently highlighted the nationwide walkouts over gun control in her classroom and asked her students to consider what the limits might be over protests on school grounds and if there was a double-standard.

“If schools, not only just our school and our administration, but across the country are going to allow one group of students to get up during class and walk out to protest one issue, would they still give the same courtesy to another group of students who wanted to protest… abortion?’ Benzel told Fox & Friends.

“If you’re going to allow students to get up and walk out without penalty, then you’re going to have to allow any group of students that wants to protest,” Benzel continued.

Soon after her classroom discussion, Benzel was placed on paid administrative leave after a few students and one parent filed a complaint to the school against her.

District spokesperson Diana Capra said that Benzel was “not penalized or placed on leave because of her viewpoints,” but her leave was “due to complaints from parents and students involving the teacher’s communication regarding…the student-led remembrance activities.”

Despite the controversy, Rocklin students are moving forward with their pro-life walkout in a few weeks and have encouraged other students around the nation to join the walkout for life.

Gillespie met with Rocklin High School's principal the morning of March 23, but has yet to announce any updates to the walkout's status since then.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I just got done with the meeting with my principal. I will be updating the status of the <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#life</a> walkoout soon.</p>&mdash; Brandon Gillespie (@bgillie13) <a href="">March 23, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Saint Paul film highlights Christian hope in the face of persecution

Dallas, Texas, Mar 23, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA).- Actors and filmmakers at the red carpet premiere of “Paul Apostle of Christ” said the film’s portrayal of Christian persecution in ancient Rome is a timely reminder that people around the world continue to suffer for their faith.

“I know about the Christian persecution that is happening to this very day … I want the world to know … the Coptic, the Chaldean, the Assyrian Christians who were murdered,” Jim Caviezel, who plays Luke in the film, told CNA at the premiere.

“Here we are. We are on a red carpet, we are making a movie. It’s very nice, but right now there are people that are struggling and suffering,” reflected T.J. Berden, one of the film’s producers.

The film is dedicated to people who are persecuted for their faith. Berden told CNA that he hopes the film’s dedication helps audiences to “remember that there are people right now going through this. Send up a prayer. Think about them. Offer something up.”

“What we go through here, especially in the United States, for our faith pales in comparison to what people in the early Church went through and what people around the world go through in terms of persecution,” said Rich Peluso, executive vice president of AFFIRM Films, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment that develops faith-based and inspirational films.  

“Paul Apostle of Christ”  is set during Emperor Nero’s persecution of the Christian community in Rome. “People were being used as candles all over Rome and being burned alive, and yet he [St. Luke] was able to take a stand in the face of evil. He must have believed in the very words of Paul, ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain,’” said Caviezel.
In the midst of this suffering, the film follows first-century couple Priscilla and Aquila as they wrestle with the question of whether the Christians should flee the city to protect their community or remain to be a witness to the Romans.

This question, faced by persecuted Christian communities throughout the ages, has repeatedly captured the imagination of screenwriters and artists. In the 2010 film “Of Gods and Men,” Cistercian monks take a vote as to whether or not they should stay in Algeria and risk martyrdom at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, as do the nuns in Francis Poulenc’s opera, “Dialogue of the Carmelites,” set during the French Revolution. Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil spoke recently about how Christians in Iraq today faced the same question as ISIS attacked their communities.

Director and Screenwriter Andrew Hyatt told CNA that this decision is one of the authentic struggles highlighted in the film. Hyatt said that he sought to put Paul’s writing into its historical context through the film.

“Paul lived an experience. If he was writing anything, it was because someone needed to hear it and that was probably somebody in his community. There was no idea of this Bible thing or someday billions of people will read this. It was more that it had to come out of a need, so I really wanted the dialogue and the Scripture to be weaved together in a way so that it felt like an authentic, lived thing,” said Hyatt.

“Saint Paul definitely teaches an entire life of conversion, an entire life of proclamation, an entire life of love and dedication to our Lord Jesus Christ and to do everything possible to proclaim Christ’s love to the rest of the world,” said Bishop Edward Burns at the March 20 premiere in his Dallas diocese.
Paul Apostle of Christ opens in theaters throughout the U.S. on Friday, March 23.

In South Sudan, 'the body of Christ is bleeding,' bishop says

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2018 / 12:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday an ecumenical delegation from South Sudan met privately with Pope Francis and again invited him to visit the war-torn nation, which they said is in desperate need of hope as the situation becomes more dire.

“We are here as an ecumenical body...we came as Christians to show that the body of Christ is bleeding,” Bishop Paride Tabani told CNA March 23.

The people, he said, “[need] hope. They need healing, they are crying for peace, which cannot be brought by arms, but by love, by a sense of compassion, a spirit of love and forgiveness which God has shown to us, especially now.”

“We would like that this Easter would also be a resurrection of people from their suffering.”

Tabani, Bishop Emeritus of Torit in South Sudan, was part of a 9-person delegation from the Council of Churches of South Sudan (SSCC) who met the pope in a private March 23 audience at the Vatican.

Members of the delegation included bishops and leaders of different Christian denominations in South Sudan, including Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians, among others. They updated Pope Francis on several joint initiatives of the council to provide humanitarian aid and prompt international leaders to intervene in finding a solution to the conflict.

In a March 23 press briefing after the meeting, Rev. James Oyet Latansio, secretary of the SSCC, described the meeting as “familiar,” and said they sat and talked with each other about a variety of issues.

South Sudan has been plagued by civil war for more than four years. The conflict has split the young nation on several fronts, dividing those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Discussion at the Vatican meeting focused largely on the humanitarian crisis and the situation of the more than 2 million South Sudanese refugees who have fled to surrounding countries, as well as the need to fill the post of deceased bishops, some whose dioceses have been vacant for years.

They also touched on when a possible papal trip might take place. Francis had intended to visit the war-torn nation last year alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. However, the trip was postponed due to security concerns.

According to the delegation, the pope expressed a strong desire to go, but gave no specific date.

In his comments to CNA, Bishop Tabani said the pope “is willing to go, but there have been negative reports and even in the Vatican…they told him the situation is not so good.”

According to Tabani, the situation on the ground is so desperate that people are nearly begging the pope to come as a sign of hope and consolation. He said that during their meeting, he reminded Francis how St. John Paul II in 1993 visited Khartoum in the midst of a violent genocide.

“That gave hope to the people, and then people became very courageous,” Tabani said, adding that with more than 2 million people are living as refugees, now is the time for another papal visit.

“People are dying from hunger, the economic situation is really bad...the people are eager to have consolation, and they are asking 'when will the Pope come?'” he said, explaining that in the meeting, Pope Francis told the delegation that “my heart is bleeding for the people in South Sudan,” and asked them to pray that the conditions would change, allowing him to come.

More than 2 million civilians have fled the country in the four years since violence broke out. Neighboring Uganda has so far taken in more than 1 million refugees from South Sudan, leaving resources strained.

In comments to CNA, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Guru, Uganda, who was also part of the ecumenical delegation that met the Pope, said the situation is out of control. Many people had to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and the majority of refugees, who face a worsening humanitarian crisis, are women, children and elderly.

“You have the youth who don't have enough food, they don't have enough medical support. What they get is the minimum. Some have died of malaria, some have died from other things like cholera, and then they don't have the facilities to prepare the children for the future, education,” he said.

Odama said the Ugandan government is willing to help and has pitched in with some NGOs, but lacks the resources to sustain the increasing influx of refugees while also supporting their own citizens who live in poverty.

In northern Uganda near the West Nile area, there are more than 300,000 people living in one camp, he said, explaining that this area “is the most difficult, because the government of Uganda has found itself in a certain level that it cannot afford, because its resources are also limited.”

“So to care for its own citizens and at the same time for refugees, it becomes very heavy. This is where the biggest challenge is.”

Both Bishop Tabani and Archbishop Odama voiced gratitude to Pope Francis for holding the Feb. 23 day of prayer and fasting for peace in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.

They also asked that the pope appoint more bishops, because many bishops have died and none have been re-appointed. Tabani, who retired early to launch a project aimed at providing education to refugees and promoting peaceful coexistence, said his successor died five years ago and has not been replaced.

Tabini said that upon hearing their requests, Pope Francis did not immediately make any promises or guarantees. “He just listened,” the bishop said, adding that “it's good to be a good listener...this is what I like.”


Cardinal Dolan says Democrats have abandoned Catholics

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2018 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an op-ed published Friday in the Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York lamented that the Democratic Party’s shifting principles have effectively shut out and alienated orthodox Catholics.

Dolan cited the Democrat’s current opposition to school choice programs and tax credits for education, along with their unwavering support for abortion rights, among the reasons why he is disappointed with the party in its current state. Dolan said believes that the Democrats of today have abandoned many of the tenets that made the party attractive to Catholics generations ago.

In the past, Dolan explained, when waves of Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, their respect for the sanctity of life and their concern for the poor led them to embrace the Democrats, who welcomed them to the party. Dolan even recounted his own grandmother warning him that, “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.”

“Such is no longer the case,” Dolan wrote, which is a “cause of sadness to many Catholics.” himself included.

He pointed to the party’s recent refusal to support incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who is one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, in a tight primary race.

Lipinski, himself Catholic, narrowly won the Democratic primary this past Tuesday against a challenger who made abortion rights central to her campaign. Last April, DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement that “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” and that this was “not negotiable.”

Perez was criticized for this stance by party leaders, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Recent polling showed just under a quarter of Democrats believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

Dolan was particularly critical of a proposed New York law titled the “Reproductive Health Act,” which he says would “morbidly expand” the “most radical abortion license in the country.” The New York State Assembly is overwhelmingly Democrat.

“For instance, under the proposed Reproductive Health Act, doctors would not be required to care for a baby who survives an abortion. The newborn simply would be allowed to die without any legal implications,” wrote Dolan.

What’s more, Dolan explained, is that he feels the Democrats are making it harder for low and middle-class children to get an education at a Catholic school.

“In recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children,” said Dolan. The cardinal said this type of legislation impedes the mission of these schools to serve poor, often immigrant, children.

Dolan admitted that while he has “ had spats and disappointments” with politicians from both major political parties in the United States, he is particularly upset by the Democratic Party’s swing in a direction that excludes people like his grandmother.

“But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.”