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Syriac Catholic patriarch ‘horrified’ after seeing Iraqi ‘ghost towns’

By

Catholic News Service

BEIRUT — The Syriac Catholic patriarch said he was horrified to see widespread devastation and what he called “ghost towns” during a recent visit to northern Iraq.

People climb on a vehicle to flee the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, Iraq Dec. 2. (CNS photo/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)

People climb on a vehicle to flee the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, Iraq Dec. 2. (CNS photo/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)

Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan wrote in an email to Catholic News Service that there was little left in some of the communities that he toured Nov. 27-29 and that “the emptiness of the streets except for military people … the devastation and burned-out houses and churches” was shocking.

About 100,000 Christians — among them more than 60,000 Syriac Catholics — were expelled from the Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014 as the militants campaigned to expand their reach into Iraq.

Patriarch Younan also called for understanding from the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump about the plight and ordeal of all minorities, including Christians affected by violence in the region.

The patriarch told CNS about “walking through the Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles and witnessing the extent of devastation as if we had entered ghost towns!”

Graffiti and inscriptions “expressing hatred toward Christian symbols and doctrine were seen everywhere” on walls near streets, outside and inside houses and churches, he wrote.

“Aside from the looting, destruction of and damage to buildings, we discovered that the terrorists, out of hatred to the Christian faith, set fire to most of the buildings, including churches, schools, kindergartens and hospitals,” the patriarch’s message said, noting that only Christian properties were targeted.

In Qaraqosh — once inhabited by more than 50,000 Christians — the patriarch celebrated the Eucharist Nov. 28 “on an improvised small altar” in the incinerated sanctuary of the vandalized Church of the Immaculate Conception. That church, which had 2,200 seats before its desecration by Islamic State, was built by parishioners in the 1930s.

In this 2014, file photo, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan listens to a question about the Islamic State at the National Press Club in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

In this 2014, file photo, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan listens to a question about the Islamic State at the National Press Club in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Few people could attend the liturgy, among them a few clergy and some armed youth and media representatives, the patriarch said.

“In my short homily, I just wanted to strengthen their faith in the redeemer’s altar and cross, although both were half broken behind us. I reminded them that we Christians are the descendants of martyrs and confessors, with a long history dating back to the evangelization of the apostles,” he wrote.

“I had the intention after its restoration five years ago, and still have it, to ask the Holy Father, the pope, to name this church as a minor basilica,” the patriarch added.

In addition to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, all of the churches the patriarch’s delegation visited, including St. Behnam and St. Sarah Monastery, which dates to the fourth century, sustained significant damage or were destroyed.

In opening the trip Nov. 27 in Irbil, which escaped being occupied by the militants, Patriarch Younan celebrated Mass for more than 800 displaced people at Our Lady of Peace Syriac Catholic Church. Located in the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, where many of those uprooted from the Ninevah Plain sought refuge, the church recently opened to serve refugees.

Concelebrating the liturgy were Syriac Catholic Archbishops Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and Ephrem Mansoor Abba of Baghdad and 20 priests. Patriarch Younan said he felt “mixed feelings” among the worshippers, who were pleased that the Islamic State group had been forced out of the Ninevah Plain during the current Iraqi military campaign, but also were saddened because of the “horrendous state” in which the militants left their communities.

The patriarch also said he met with the faith community, religious leaders and nongovernmental organizations to discuss the future of Christianity in northern Iraq.

Based on “what happened in recent times,” the patriarch noted, “it was the overall opinion that none would dare to return, rebuild and stay in the homeland, unless a safe zone for the Christian communities in the Plain of Ninevah is guaranteed.”

He called for a “stable, law-abiding and strong government” to support the establishment of an eventual self-administrative province under the central government of Iraq.

“I therefore reiterate what I have been saying for years. We, Christians in Iraq and Syria, feel abandoned, even betrayed, by the Western politicians of recent times,” Patriarch Younan said.

“We have been sold out for oil and forgotten because of our small number compared to the ‘Islamic Ummah’ (Islamic nation) in which we have lived for centuries.”

The patriarch urged the “so-called ‘civilized world’ to uphold its principles and to seriously defend” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he described as “vital for our survival.”

“It is time to stand up and condemn those regimes that still discriminate against non-Muslim communities, with (their) excuses such as … ‘our law, our education and governing system’ are based on our ‘particularities of culture, history and religion,’” the patriarch continued.

Patriarch Younan expressed his “strong hope” that the Trump administration “will understand our plight and the ordeal of all minorities, including Christians.”

“It is time that the United States be respected around the world,” and most particularly in the Middle East, as “a nation of hope and freedom and not a land of opportunism.”

By Doreen Abi Raad

 

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Dec.1, World AIDS Day: In South Africa, stigma still keeps HIV patients from treatment

By

Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Each week, 2,000 women ages 15-24 are infected with HIV in South Africa.

In poor communities, young women are mostly infected through sex with older men who provide for them and, while testing is easy and readily available, few men get tested until they are seriously ill.

A child at an orphanage for those infected with HIV attends a candlelight prayer on the eve of World AIDS Day in Kathmandu, Nepal, Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Narendra Shrestha, EPA)

A child at an orphanage for those infected with HIV attends a candlelight prayer on the eve of World AIDS Day in Kathmandu, Nepal, Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Narendra Shrestha, EPA)

“Men have told me that the reason for this is that the clinics are mostly staffed by women and that women talk too much,” said Dr. Annette Houston, who works for Hope, an HIV outreach project with international Catholic funding.

Houston works at a pediatric HIV clinic in Delft, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. She told CNS unless HIV-positive women and girls are taking antiretroviral drugs, if they contract HIV while breastfeeding they can pass on the virus to their babies. Houston said she sees an “urgent need to persuade breastfeeding women to come for testing every three months.”

In trying to get HIV-positive men to get treatment, Doctors Without Borders and other organizations have begun setting up HIV clinics primarily for men.

Pauline Jooste, who oversees Hope’s community outreach projects, said being HIV-positive still carries a lot of stigma for men and women. She said some mothers will not tell their children that they, too, are infected.

In an interview at Hope’s office in Blikkiesdorp, a temporary settlement area within Delft where 15,000 people live in corrugated tin shacks, Jooste said that, to understand the reluctance to talk about being infected, “you need to bring it home.”

When health officials ask women when they plan to tell their children they have HIV, “when he or she is old enough is the answer you hear,” Jooste said.

Pauline Jooste, who oversees a South African HIV outreach project with international Catholic funding, walks with Gerald Flagg, a community worker, at the organization's Blikkiesdorp premises near Cape Town Nov. 15. (CNS photo/Bronwen Dachs)

Pauline Jooste, who oversees a South African HIV outreach project with international Catholic funding, walks with Gerald Flagg, a community worker, at the organization’s Blikkiesdorp premises near Cape Town Nov. 15. (CNS photo/Bronwen Dachs)

“Imagine how difficult it must be to tell a teenager she is HIV-positive and wait for her to ask, ‘So how did you get HIV, Mom?’” she said.

At Delft clinic, “we try to initiate conversations” between mothers and their HIV-positive children, Houston said, noting that children should know their HIV status by the time they are 10 or 11 years old.

“Often, the mother is battling with anger or shame and needs someone to talk to,” she said. “We give mothers and children books that they can read together that can help children understand what HIV is and how to live with it.

“Sometimes the children know, but they don’t tell that they know, which creates an unhealthy dynamic in the family,” she said.

South Africa’s HIV epidemic is among the most severe in the world. According to U.N. estimates, 6.4 million people, 12.2 percent of South Africa’s population, are HIV positive.

Dominican Sister Alison Munro, director of the AIDS office for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said about 3.4 million people are on antiretroviral drugs.

The risk of HIV transmission is enormously reduced when those infected take antiretroviral drugs regularly, Sister Munro said in a telephone interview from Pretoria.

Orphans and other vulnerable children are the main focus group of the AIDS office and “we are working on getting as many tested and on treatment” as possible, she said.

Sister Munro said South Africa has 41 orphan programs funded by PEPFAR, the U.S. government initiative to provide AIDS relief, and there are more than 100 other programs in dioceses and parishes across the country.

Until 2008, when a new health minister was appointed, South African officials infuriated AIDS activists by questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and holding back on providing antiretroviral drugs. But Houston said that, since then, “I’ve seen kids born with HIV finish high school and go to college, which is so rewarding.”

The drive to have everyone who tests HIV-positive on medication brings with it the danger of developing drug resistance, she said, noting that in the past treatment was provided to HIV-positive patients only when they became at risk of developing AIDS.

“There’s no coming back from drug resistance,” Houston said, noting that church and other programs work hard to ensure that people adhere to their treatment regimen.

Avoiding drug resistance “is our biggest challenge now, and we can’t leave children in a situation where they take drugs on an ad hoc basis,” she said.

Hope project staff sometimes move children into temporary care so that their HIV treatment can be managed while the project works to bring stability to their home environments, Houston said.

“Sometimes the mother needs to go for drug or alcohol rehabilitation,” she said, noting that substance abuse is very common in South Africa’s poor communities.

Adherence to a medication regimen among teenagers “is notoriously bad, but this is not unique to HIV,” Houston added.

Jooste said the Hope project services up to 40,000 people a month. She said HIV-positive patients in Blikkiesdorp and other areas are given reference letters for health centers, shown where to go and “told to look out for our health workers wearing red shirts that say Hope.”

The project’s community workers check that patients comply with their medication needs and even accompany those with no income to government offices, where they can apply for social grants, Jooste said.

“A lot can be achieved when you have someone speaking on your behalf,” she said.

Blikkiesdorp, which means tin-can town in the Western Cape language of Afrikaans, has an unemployment rate of about 65 percent, and most residents are on a list for free government housing. Many who live in the area are immigrants from Somalia and Congo and fear attacks on foreigners.

“We never ask for identification documents; we are here to serve everyone,” Jooste said, yet immigrants “don’t even come to our regular family health days where clinics bring their general services to our premises.”

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French archbishop criticizes bill that would make anti-abortion websites illegal

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PARIS — The president of the French bishops’ conference wrote French President Francois Hollande to express his worries about fast-tracked legislation that would extend illegal interference on abortions to websites. Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president, said the bishops think the legislation questions the very foundations of liberties in France, and he urged Hollande to not allow the bill’s passage.

The archbishop said the idea of illegal digital interference could have an impact on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. Referring to the oft-used French expression for abortion, “voluntary pregnancy interruption,” Archbishop Pontier added that the bill would make it less “voluntary,” simply because it would make it “less and less free,” calling it a “serious infringement to democratic principles.”

Earlier this fall, the French government presented a draft law regarding the creation of illegal digital interference on abortion. France’s National Assembly passed the bill Dec. 1, and the Senate is expected to consider it Dec. 7, with a final vote in February. If it passes, it would condemn websites for “intimidating and/or putting psychological or moral pressures” in order to dissuade someone from getting an abortion. The text modifying an already existing abortion law raised acrimonious political debates in France.

Politicians backing the legislation say it is mostly aimed at websites that look very similar to official or neutral websites, but do everything to discourage women from getting an abortion, thus tricking users with disinformation. The bill would institute penalties of up to two years of incarceration and a 30,000-euro ($31,820) fine.

Laurence Rossignol, France’s minister for families, said it is time for the government to react to websites offering biased information. Opponents say it would violate free speech.

In the Nov. 22 letter, released Nov. 28, Archbishop Pontier said the legislation does not take into account a woman’s distress regarding her decision to get an abortion, especially since the abolition of a mandatory one-week waiting period earlier this year.

“In other words, women don’t find … official support to their questions in conscience,” said Archbishop Pontier. He said websites are more than ever an essential part in helping women find some answers.

“Some of our fellow citizens, joined in associations, have decided to give their time, particularly through digital instruments, to listening to hesitant or distressed women regarding a possible choice for abortion,” he wrote.

The success of such listening websites “proves that they fill a need. Must we worry? Many women turn to these sites after an abortion because they need a place to put words on what they lived. Others persevere in their plan to abort. Finally, others decide to keep their child. This diversity of expression and behavior is made possible by this place of liberty that are these websites. Their positioning calls for reflection, and this is precisely what they are being criticized for (in the legislation). It’s as if they should adopt at once a favorable positioning toward abortion. However, such a grave matter cannot be constrained in militant positions,” the archbishop wrote.

“Should we necessarily exclude every alternative to abortion to be considered a model citizen? Can the slightest encouragement to keep one’s child … be called a ‘psychological and moral pressure?’” he asked.

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Catholic leaders in Holy Land pray for those hit by wildfires

By

Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land expressed solidarity with those affected by regional wildfires, which continued to burn after five days.

“We thank God for the fact that the majority of human injuries were light; we express our solidarity with those who suffer from physical or material damage,” they said in a Nov. 25 statement.

A plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire near Nataf, Israel, Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

A plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire near Nataf, Israel, Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

“Our country needs the fire of love which unites people, expands hearts and thoughts and enables a safe life full of faith, justice and love,” they said.

By Nov. 28 security officials said most fires were under control; of the 90 fires that broke out throughout Israel and the West Bank, 40 were suspected arson, they said, adding they believe the outbreak of the initial fires was due to a combination of negligence, accidents and dry, windy weather after a two-month drought.

Local mosques and Christian institutions made themselves available for those evacuees in need of a place to stay, though the majority of the people stayed with family and friends or in hotels.

The fires broke out Nov. 22 and spread across the countryside, damaging hundreds of properties and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, 60,000 of those in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Haifa, Israel’s third -largest city. Firefighters also battled flames in several Arab and Druze villages, including a village outside of Nazareth, and several communities outside of Jerusalem, including the Neve Shalom community, where Jews and Arabs live together.

Haifa is home to a large population of Christian residents who make up 14 percent of the city’s inhabitants. The numerous brush fires in the city did not affect the neighborhoods where the majority of Christians and Christian institutions are located.

At the same time in a sign of rare regional cooperation with its Arab neighbors, Israel received assistance in form of personnel and equipment from Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in addition to other countries, including the United States, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Italy and Russia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for his assistance, and the Israeli press reported that Jewish settlers from Halamish, one of the hardest-hit communities, came out to thank the Palestinian firefighters who had helped battle the flames.

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Castro’s death spurs prayers for peace in Cuba, condolences from pope, Miami archbishop

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WASHINGTON — In a video message, Cuban President Raul Castro announced the Nov. 25 death of his 90-year-old brother and longtime Cuban leader and Communist icon whom many in Latin America know by just one name: Fidel.

“It is with great sorrow that I come before you to inform our people, friends of our America and the world, that today, November 25, 2016, at 10:29 p.m., the commander in chief of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz passed away,” said his brother Raul, who took over control of the island in 2006, after Fidel Castro, became too sick to govern.

Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures to Pope John Paul II during the pope's arrival ceremony at Jose Marti Airport in Havana Jan. 21, 1998. Castro, who seized power in a 1959 revolution and governed Cuba until 2006, died Nov. 25 at the age of 90. (CNS photo/Zoraida Diaz, Reuters)

Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures to Pope John Paul II during the pope’s arrival ceremony at Jose Marti Airport in Havana Jan. 21, 1998. Castro, who seized power in a 1959 revolution and governed Cuba until 2006, died Nov. 25 at the age of 90. (CNS photo/Zoraida Diaz, Reuters)

Until that year, Fidel Castro had ruled Cuba in some form since 1959, the year he led a revolution that toppled the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Over the years, he survived attempts to be toppled by others, including the United States. He gained fame throughout Latin America, where many saw him as a David-against-Goliath figure each time he denounced the commercial, “imperialist” interests of the U.S. as attempts to rob the region of its riches.

But for others Castro was a menace and a dictator, particularly those whose properties were seized when his regime nationalized homes and businesses on the island nation without compensation. Over the decades, he was accused him of a range of wrongdoings, from unjust imprisonment to executions to religious persecution. Others lauded him and pointed to Cuba as a model for other Latin American countries to emulate in the areas of education, medicine, and gender and racial equality. Many also blamed the U.S. embargo against Cuba, not Castro’s governance, for the island’s financial woes.

Recognizing the complexity of the different feelings the Cuban leader evoked in life, and now in death, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, where many Cuban exiles live, released a brief statement Nov. 26.

“His death provokes many emotions, both in and outside the island. Nevertheless, beyond all possible emotions, the passing of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity, asking for peace for Cuba and its people,” Archbishop Wenski said.

He repeated the words later that day during a Mass “for peace in Cuba” at the Ermita de la Caridad in Miami, a shrine devoted to the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba, and a place, he said, built by the sacrifices of Cubans in exile.

“On the eve of this first Sunday of Advent … we have learned that Fidel Castro has died,” Archbishop Wenski said during the homily. “Each human being, each one of us, will die and we will all be judged one day. And now it’s his turn.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration restored diplomatic relations with the island in 2015, expressed “a hand of friendship to the Cuban people” in a statement but also recognized the range of feelings surrounding the leader’s death.

“We know that this moment fills Cubans, in Cuba and in the United States, with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” he said.

In an interview with Spanish radio COPE, the president of the Cuban bishops’ conference, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago, said that each time there’s a change of government,  there’s a change for a country, but in this case, there hasn’t been a change in the presidency.

“The figure of Fidel has been so significant, so influential, that it will always have an impact on society,” he said.

In a telegram in Spanish, Pope Francis extended his condolences to Raul Castro on the “sad news” of “the death of your dear brother.” The pope, credited with the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba, also expressed condolences to the government and to the Cuban people, and said he was offering prayers.

Though Raul Castro has publicly expressed admiration for Pope Francis, the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government can be described as a work in progress.

Catholics, like other religious groups in the country, witnessed the seizing of church properties, including schools, churches and other centers used for religious gatherings, following the 1959 revolution. Some locales were closed; others were put to nonreligious uses.

Priests and religious suspected of being against the revolution were jailed or expelled and practice of the Catholic faith dwindled on the island, particularly when the nation, under Soviet influence, was for a period an officially atheist country.

In recent years, however, the government allowed physical reconstruction of church buildings and some properties were returned to the care of the church.

In 2015, the government granted permission for the construction of a new Catholic church on the island, something it hadn’t allowed in more than five decades.

In 1998, then Pope John Paul II paid a visit to the island that many credit with loosening religious limitations in Cuba. Since then, each pope who has visited the island also met with Fidel Castro, even after he ceded power.

Fidel Castro was last seen in public Nov. 16 when he met with the president of Vietnam. In the video announcing his death, his brother said Fidel Castro’s body was to be cremated, as he had wished.

Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist party, announced nine days of national mourning from Nov. 26 until Dec. 4. His ashes, the newspaper said in an online article, will travel through some parts of Cuba, and mourners are expected to pay their respects during rallies that have been organized in his honor. His ashes will ultimately be interred at St. Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, where Cuban national leader and Latin American icon Jose Marti is buried.

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Rwanda bishops ask forgiveness for Catholics’ role in 1994 genocide

November 22nd, 2016 Posted in Featured, International News

By

Catholic News Service

MONTREAL — The Catholic bishops of Rwanda asked forgiveness for Catholics’ role in the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed.

The letter was published to coincide with the end of the Jubilee of Mercy. All the bishops in the country signed the three-page document, which was read in every church Nov. 20.

A boy takes part in a torchlight march for the victims of the Rwanda genocide, in Brussels, Belgium, in this 2014 file photo. In a letter to mark the end of the Year of Mercy, Rwanda's Catholic bishops asked forgiveness for Catholics' role in the genocide, in which more than 800,000 people -- mostly Tutsis -- were killed. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

A boy takes part in a torchlight march for the victims of the Rwanda genocide, in Brussels, Belgium, in this 2014 file photo. In a letter to mark the end of the Year of Mercy, Rwanda’s Catholic bishops asked forgiveness for Catholics’ role in the genocide, in which more than 800,000 people — mostly Tutsis — were killed. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

Written in Kinyarwanda, it should soon be translated in English and French, Rwanda’s other official languages.

In 14 points, the bishops ask forgiveness for the role that some members of the Catholic Church played during the genocide, especially for the pastors that “sowed seeds of hate,” said French Catholic newspaper La Croix.

Criticized for its proximity with the Hutu regime at that time, priests and religious are still facing justice for what they did before and during the genocide. However, Catholic authorities, both in Rome and in Kigali, have always said that they never ordered killings.

Bishop Philippe Rukamba of Butare, president of the Rwandese bishops’ conference, told Radio France Internationale that forgiveness was mostly asked for all Christians involved in the genocide, not so much for the church as an institution.

During the 1994 Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, St. John Paul II spoke out against the violence that started after the attack on the plane carrying the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi. For the centenary of the Rwandese church in 2001, bishops from all of the country’s nine dioceses expressed regrets. At that time, many deemed these apologies were not enough.

Bishop Rukamba also told RFI that the bishops of Rwanda would again ask forgiveness in 2019, for the genocide’s 25th anniversary.

From April to July 1994, between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. Some massacres occurred in churches.

 

Vaillancourt is editor of Presence info in Montreal.

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Benedictine abbey in England displays St. Thomas More’s hair shirt

By

Catholic News Service

BUCKFAST, England — The hair shirt worn by St. Thomas More as he contemplated a martyr’s death in the Tower of London has been enshrined for public veneration.

The folded garment made from goat’s hair was encased above an altar in Buckfast Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in southwest England.

St. Thomas, a former lord chancellor of England, wore the shirt while he was incarcerated in the Bell Tower of the Tower of London while awaiting execution for opposing the Protestant reforms of King Henry VIII.

He was beheaded July 6, 1535, after telling a crowd gathered on London’s Tower Hill that he was “always the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

An encasement of a hair shirt worn by St. Thomas More as he contemplated a martyr's death in the Tower of London, before his 1535 beheading, is on display at the altar of England's Buckfast Abbey Nov. 18 photo. (CNS photo/Luke Michael Davies, courtesy Buckfast Abbey Media Studios)

An encasement of a hair shirt worn by St. Thomas More as he contemplated a martyr’s death in the Tower of London, before his 1535 beheading, is on display at the altar of England’s Buckfast Abbey Nov. 18 photo. (CNS photo/Luke Michael Davies, courtesy Buckfast Abbey Media Studios)

Benedictine Abbot David Charlesworth told Catholic News Service Nov. 21 that the shirt had not been shown in public before.

He said that although the shirt was a secondary relic, he believed it was of greater significance than a body part, or primary relic, because it was directly linked to the religious convictions of the saint.

“What this relic represents is St. Thomas More’s faith,” Abbot Charlesworth said. “This relic says something about who Thomas More was as a Christian … it is a major relic. It is linked to his life of conversion and his identification with the sufferings of Christ.”

Abbot Charlesworth said St. Thomas was a man of conscience who was “standing up for freedom” against a tyranny that was trying to dictate to people what they could or could not think.

Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth, the diocese in which Buckfast is situated, said he hoped the shrine would become an international pilgrimage destination. He said there was a huge cult dedicated to St. Thomas in countries as diverse as Germany and South Korea.

The bishop noted that St. Thomas also had global significance as the patron of statesmen and politicians, a title bestowed on him by St. John Paul II in 2000, as well as patron saint of lawyers.

St. Thomas was a man who manifested “huge integrity” and faith at a time of crisis, Bishop O’Toole said. He “gives us a pattern of what individuals can do through personal integrity and through the living out of their faith in very concrete and practical ways.”

St. Thomas is recorded as wearing a hair shirt when he was testing a possible vocation to the monastic life at the London Charterhouse, a Carthusian monastery, when he was in his early 20s.

The rough uncomfortable cloth is meant to encourage self-control, to serve as a penance for past sins and to unite the wearer with the passion of Christ.

Although St. Thomas went on to marry and father four children, he continued to wear the shirt in private, sometimes beneath his robes of high office.

He gave up public office when King Henry asserted supremacy over the church in England so he could annul his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon and wed Anne Boleyn, his mistress.

St. Thomas was condemned for high treason after he refused to take an oath attached to the Act of Succession, which recognized any children of the marriage of Henry and Anne to be rightful heirs to the throne.

The day before his execution, the saint gave his hair shirt to Margaret Giggs, his adopted daughter, and it remained in her family until 1626, when it was bequeathed to a community of exiled English Augustinian nuns in Louvain, Belgium.

The nuns later relocated to Devon and, when their priory closed in 1983, they handed the shirt to the Diocese of Plymouth.

In 2011, now-retired Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth asked the monks of Buckfast to put the shirt on display so it could be venerated by the public. In October, the shirt was placed in a sealed case in a side chapel in the abbey church.

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South Korean Catholics demand president’s resignation over scandal

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean Catholics have demanded that President Park Geun-hye step down over a scandal that has been coined “Choi Soon-sil gate.”

Ucanews.com reported that from a diocesan level to even seminarians, the church in South Korea has been vocal in its calls for Park to resign after news broke that her friend, Choi Soon-sil, allegedly manipulated the president to gain access to secret documents and purportedly embezzle funds through nonprofit foundations.

South Korean university students carry candles and placards that read "Park Geun-Hye Step Down" Nov. 15 in Seoul. The South Korean president is embroiled in scandal involving a longtime friend. (CNS photo/Yang Ji-Woong, EPA)

South Korean university students carry candles and placards that read “Park Geun-Hye Step Down” Nov. 15 in Seoul. The South Korean president is embroiled in scandal involving a longtime friend. (CNS photo/Yang Ji-Woong, EPA)

At least 10 dioceses have called for Park’s resignation and held Masses praying for the country.

On Nov. 7, Auxiliary Bishop Simon Ok Hyun-jin of Gwangju presided over the Mass with archdiocesan priests and called upon Park to resign. Following the Mass, Bishop Ok led some 1,000 Catholics to the May 18 Democracy Plaza in downtown Gwangju. Along the way, they shouted for Park’s resignation because of the scandal, which has already seen Choi arrested and charged.

The same day, the Cheju Diocesan Committee for Justice and Peace held a Mass in memory of Baek Nam-ki, a farm activist who died recently, and criticized Park for failing the state administration.

On Nov. 9, Bishop Vincent Ri Pyung-ho of Jeonju presided over a cathedral Mass dedicated to the recovery of democracy. At the Mass, Bishop Ri indirectly asked for Park’s resignation when he said: “All walks of life in Korea are asking President Park to pull out of state administration.”

Two days later, Daejeon and Masan dioceses held similar Masses, and the Masses continued Nov. 11, reported Ucanews.com.

On Nov.14, the Seoul Archdiocese and Uijeongbu and Suwon dioceses held a joint Mass at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Plaza. Again the scandal-riddled leader was urged to resign.

Around 850,000 people attended a rally demanding Park’s resignation in Seoul Nov. 12.

In an effort to diffuse the scandal, Park has fired her closest aides and repeatedly apologized to the public.

Park has so far given no indication she will resign but, if she does, she would be the first elected South Korean president to not finish a five-year term. If Park does not resign, she may be impeached by parliament over the scandal, say some analysts.

She is the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee who was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979.

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Mexican priest kidnapped, found alive with signs of torture

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — An outspoken priest who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz was found alive, but with signs of torture.

Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish in Catemaco, a town known for witchcraft, some 340 miles southeast of Mexico City, was reported missing Nov. 11, sparking unrest and the ransacking and burning of the city hall by residents impatient with the police response.

Police officers guard the municipal building in Catemaco, Mexico, Nov. 14  after it was set on fire following the disappearance of Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish. The outspoken priest, who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz, was found alive, but with signs of torture. (CNS photo/Oscar Martinez, Reuters)

Police officers guard the municipal building in Catemaco, Mexico, Nov. 14 after it was set on fire following the disappearance of Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz, pastor of Twelve Apostles parish. The outspoken priest, who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz, was found alive, but with signs of torture. (CNS photo/Oscar Martinez, Reuters)

A statement from the Diocese of San Andres Tuxtla said Father Sanchez was found “abandoned” Nov. 13 “with notable signs of torture.”

Father Aaron Reyes Natividad, diocesan spokesman, told local media that Father Sanchez had received threats via WhatsApp and Facebook, while the doors to the church also appear to have been opened with force. He denounced crime and corruption in Veracruz, where a former governor is currently on the lam for funneling millions of dollars of state money into shell companies, and also rallied residents against high electric bills.

“He was nervous, but nothing stopped him,” Father Reyes told Veracruz news organization blog.expediente.mx.

“We think that a lot of what happened has to do with what the padre said in his sermons,” Father Reyes said. “He gave the names of those responsible for insecurity, stealing from the community and generating poverty.”

The abduction and torture of Father Sanchez marked another case of clergy coming under attack in Mexico, where at least 15 priests have been murdered in the past four years, according to the Centro Catolico Multimedial. Many of the investigations in the killings have left church officials unhappy, but were reflective of a country in which nearly 94 percent of crimes go unreported or uninvestigated, according to a survey by the state statistics service.

In Veracruz, which hugs the country’s Gulf Coast, Fathers Alejo Jimenez and Jose Juarez were kidnapped and killed in September in the city of Poza Rica. Authorities said the priests had been drinking with their attackers prior to falling victim, a version rejected by church officials.

Another priest, Father Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen, was kidnapped and killed in the western state of Michoacan less than a week later. The Michoacan government initially released video footage purportedly showing him in a hotel with a teenage boy, but the family and church officials disputed the claims, forcing a retraction.

Church officials are at a loss to explain the attacks against them, though nearly 150,000 people have died since the country started cracking down on drug cartels and organized crime a decade ago. Priests in rough areas, such as Veracruz, have fallen victim to crimes, and it’s thought the motives for some of the murders include the nonpayment of extortion, robbery and pastors not allowing those in the drug trade to serve as godparents in baptisms.

“The aggressors have lost their respect for God and lost respect for priests, too,” said Father Alejandro Solalinde, an activist priest in southern Mexico on issues of migration and the target of threats from organized crime.

“This priest (in Veracruz) will not return the same,” Father Solalinde said. “He’s going to live in fear, going to live with the effects of this trauma.”

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Dutch cardinal says papal encyclical on gender theory might be needed

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Catholic News Service

 

OXFORD, England (CNS) — The spread of gender theory is misleading so many Catholics that a high-level document may be required to correct the errors of the ideology, a Dutch cardinal said.

            Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht, Netherlands, said a papal encyclical or other magisterial document “might appear to be necessary” to counter the spread of the new theory that gender can be determined by personal choice rather than by biology. Read more »

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