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Mexican bishop, Caritas staffer say situation serious, complicated after quake

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MEXICO CITY — A Catholic bishop and a Caritas worker in Mexico said the situation was extremely serious after the Sept. 19 earthquake, and much aid would be needed.

“The situation is complicated, because the first earthquake (Sept. 7) had already affected thousands of people in Chiapas and Oaxaca,” Alberto Arciniega, head of communications for Caritas Mexico, told Catholic News Service Sept. 20. “The church is continuing to assist those dioceses, but with what happened yesterday, the emergency situation is being re-evaluated to get a more exact assessment of the aid that is needed.”

People mourn Sept. 20 near caskets containing the bodies of victims who died after the roof of a church in Atzala, Mexico, collapsed in the Sept. 19 earthquake. (CNS photo/Imelda Medina, Reuters)

The Vatican announced Sept. 21 that, through the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development, Pope Francis is sending an initial $150,000 to aid Mexico. Money will be distributed by the nuncio to dioceses most affected.

Arciniega said all the dioceses in Mexico were collecting food, water and other necessities for victims of the quakes. He said they were seeking economic support from inside and outside the country.

“We know it is a serious situation, and international aid is being requested,” Arciniega told Catholic News Service.

“Rehabilitation and reconstruction will take time and will be expensive,” he added. “Thousands of people have been left homeless, and many churches have been damaged.”

The magnitude 7.1 quake that hit Sept. 19 was not as strong as the earlier magnitude 8.1 quake, but the second quake was centered in Puebla state, just southeast of Mexico City, as opposed to in the Pacific Ocean. Arciniega said Puebla and Morelos states and Mexico City were worst hit in the second quake, which killed more than 230 people.

In Morelos, just to the south of Mexico City, damage was widespread. Gov. Graco Ramirez put the death toll at 73.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has visited the municipality of Jujutla, where houses were reduced to rubble.

Oscar Cruz, spokesman for the Diocese of Cuernavaca, based in the Morelos state capital, said “the damage is worse … in many towns that are even poorer.”

At least 89 parishes in Morelos state suffered damage or were destroyed, according the National History and Anthropology Institute, which is responsible for Mexico’s older churches. The Cuernavaca cathedral, which dates to the 1500s and been undergoing restoration activities, also suffered damage and parts of it cannot be used, Cruz said.

Parish residences also were damaged, leaving priests homeless, Cruz said. A pair of priests were injured by falling debris; one was still hospitalized Sept. 21.

The diocese has started collecting goods for those left homeless.

“People have been extraordinary,” Cruz said. “This has been an extraordinary moment of solidarity. People are coming out and saying, ‘I want to help.’”

Bishop Ramon Castro of Cuernavaca has been touring the hardest-hit towns of Morelos. The bishop and the state governor had been at odds in recent years of social policies promoted by the governor and the bishop’s refusal to stop condemning violence and corruption in the state.

The pair have put aside their differences in the wake of such a disaster, Cruz said.

“There’s no working together” on the relief effort, “but we’re not getting in each other’s way,” Cruz said.

Mostly, priests and the bishop “have been trying to be close to the people,” he added.

Earlier, Arciniega shared audio of an interview with Bishop Castro, who noted that parishes in his diocese had been collecting items to send to victims of the Sept. 7 earthquake in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Now those items, if they were not destroyed in the Sept. 19 quake, will be used locally, the bishop said, adding, “but it will not be enough.”

Arciniega was in Oaxaca when he spoke Sept. 20. He said the Sept. 19 earthquake was felt there, but apparently did not cause damage.

“People (in the south) are worried that the assistance will stop because the cameras and newscasts are focusing on Mexico City. There is fear that the aid will stop and the emphasis will be on the center of the country,” he said.

He added that it was raining in Tehuantepec, an area of Oaxaca damaged in the first earthquake, which killed nearly 100 people.

“That makes the housing situation more complicated. Not only did people’s homes collapse, but now it’s raining, so people are in shelters, they need food. They are setting up community kitchens. We are continuing to evaluate how much the diocese can do to help itself and requesting aid from other dioceses and from outside the country.”

     

Contributing to this story were David Agren in Mexico City; Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru; and Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

Mexicans pitch in to help after earthquake

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Mexican church leaders offered prayers and urged generosity after an earthquake struck the national capital and its environs, claiming more than 240 lives, including at least 20 children trapped in a collapsed school.

Rescue personnel remove rubble Sept. 20 at a collapsed building while searching for survivors after an earthquake hit Mexico City. The magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Sept. 19 to the southeast of the city, killing hundreds. (CNS photo/Claudia Daut, Reuters)

The U.S. bishops joined them in prayer, asking for the protection of “Our Lady of Guadalupe, comforter of the afflicted and mother most merciful.”

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake Sept. 19 added to the misery of Mexicans who suffered a magnitude 8.1 earthquake 12 days earlier. That quake left nearly 100 dead in the country’s southern states and left thousands more homeless.

“We join the pain and grief of the victims of the earthquake, which occurred today … in various parts of our country,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a Sept. 19 statement. “Today, more than ever, we invite the community of God to join in solidarity for our brothers who are suffering various calamities that have struck our country.”

Mexicans have responded to the earthquake with acts of solidarity. The telephone system was overwhelmed and traffic snarled as power outages affected traffic lights. In hard-hit neighborhoods, people poured in, armed with buckets and shovels to help clear rubble from collapsed buildings, where people were trapped. Others were quick to donate food and drink to those assisting.

“Once again we are witnesses to the people of Mexico’s solidarity,” the bishops’ statement said. “Thousands of hands have formed chains of life to rescue, feed or do their small part in the face of these emergencies.”

Caritas chapters across the country opened collection centers to help those harmed by the earthquake. In Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera asked all parishes in the impacted areas, along with priests religious and laity to “collaborate with the authorities in order to assist people that have been affected and show Christian solidarity,” said an article published in archdiocesan newspaper Desde la Fe.

Dioceses in Puebla and Morelos, south of the capital, reported widespread damage to churches. Caritas Mexico, the church’s aid organization, reported at least 42 people dead in Morelos and 13 deaths in Puebla, where a dozen churches also collapsed.

Damage was widespread in parts of Mexico City, where at least 27 buildings collapsed, said President Enrique Pena Nieto.

A private school collapsed in Mexico City, trapping students ranging from kindergarten to junior high school. The Associated Press reported at least 25 students and teachers died, with others remaining unaccounted for.

As often happens in disasters, authorities expected the death toll to rise, because people could have been trapped in buildings when they collapsed.

At his general audience Sept. 20, Pope Francis prayed for victims and rescue personnel, invoking Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico.

“In this moment of suffering,” he said, “I want to express my closeness and prayers to the entire Mexican population.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City expressed his sympathy to the relatives of those who had lost loved ones in the earthquake. He urged parishes, religious and the lay faithful to work with government authorities to “aid people who have been affected and demonstrate Christian solidarity.”

The quake epicenter was in Puebla, southeast of Mexico City. Earthquakes usually affect Mexico City as much of it is built on a former lake bed and buildings sway in the soft soil, even though the epicenters are in distant states. That phenomenon allows an earthquake warning to sound, giving people approximately a minute to evacuate their buildings. The alarm did not sound Sept. 19, however.

“It totally frightened me,” said Pedro Anaya, a small-business owner.

He decided to help, joining the hundreds of people hauling away debris from a collapsed apartment building in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.

“I saw that my family was OK so I came to help,” he said.

     

Contributing to this story was Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru.

Pope prays for victims of Mexico quake

September 20th, 2017 Posted in International News Tags: , ,

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VATICAN CITY — As search and rescue operations continued in central Mexico, where more than 200 people died after a strong earthquake Sept. 19, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims.

An injured woman is assisted in Mexico City Sept. 19 after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit to the southeast of the city, killing hundreds. (CNS photo/Carlos Jasso, Reuters) S

“May our mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe, with great tenderness be near the beloved Mexican nation,” the pope said in Spanish Sept. 20 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“Yesterday, a terrible earthquake struck Mexico, I see there are many Mexicans among you today, resulting in numerous victims and material damage,” the pope told the crowd in the square. The quake, measuring 7.1, caused extensive damage in Mexico City and in neighboring states.

“In this moment of suffering,” he said, “I want to express my closeness and prayers to the entire Mexican population.”

“Let us all raise our prayers together to God so that he may welcome into his bosom those who have lost their lives and comfort the wounded, their families and all those affected,” Pope Francis said. “We also ask prayers for all the relief and rescue personnel who are lending their help to all the people affected.”

     

 

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Guatemalan bishops condemn lawmakers’ attempt to gut campaign finance laws

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GUATEMALA CITY — The Guatemalan bishops’ conference has condemned the country’s congress for gutting campaign finance laws at a time when accusations of corruption and electoral irregularities are implicating the president and others in the political class.

Protesters take part in a Sept. 14 rally against finance laws approved by congress in Guatemala City. Placard reads “Everyone get out.” (CNS photo/Fabricio Alonso, Reuters)

The bishops expressed “their condemnation of this unspeakable and arbitrary act, which promotes impunity and rewards corruption,” along with “their condemnation of one of the most ignominious acts committed by congress.” The document was published Sept. 14 and signed by conference president, Bishop Gonzalo de Villa Vasquez of Solola-Chimaltenango.

On Sept. 13, lawmakers in Guatemala quickly approved a law that softened penalties for campaign finance violations and limited the kinds of contributions that could be investigated. Those convicted of crimes could pay nominal fines rather than serve prison sentences.

Guatemala’s constitutional court provisionally suspended the law Sept. 14, but protesters had taken to the street anyway something encouraged by the bishops’ statement. Social media critics used the hashtag “Black Wednesday,” to mark the day the law was approved.

President Jimmy Morales, a comedian-turned-politician, canceled official celebrations for the Sept. 15 Independence Day, citing street protests. Such protests and investigations by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG, forced Morales’ predecessor from office in 2015 and helped pushed Morales, a political neophyte, into power on a platform of clean government.

Morales, however, has been caught up in scandals, including accusations his campaign did not declare all campaign donations.

The CICIG, established by the government and United Nations to pursue impunity after the country’s civil war, also has presented evidence of tax evasion against the president’s brother and son.

Morales recently tried to expel the CICIG commissioner from the country, a move condemned by many in Guatemala, including the bishops, but was blocked by the courts.

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Salesian priest recounts his kidnapping in Yemen, imprisonment

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was sitting in a room in an unknown location, one of several he had been relocated to during his 18-month imprisonment, when he received some unexpected news.

Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was released Sept. 12 after having been kidnapped 18 months ago in Yemen, kneels at the feet of Pope Francis during a Sept. 13 meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Those who kept me came to where I slept (and said), ‘I bring you good news. We are sending you home. If you need to go to the bathroom, go. Take a shower, but quickly.’” Father Uzhunnalil told reporters Sept. 16 at the Salesian headquarters in Rome.

The Salesian priest from India was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. On that day, four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack by uniformed gunmen.

Seeing a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters seated at the news conference in Rome, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his condolences. However, the memory of the four sisters’ martyrdom still proved too difficult to bear.

Silence filled the room as the Salesian priest covered his eyes, tears streaming down his face while doing his utmost to hold back emotions that he thought he could contain.

“I thank God Almighty for this day, for keeping me safe, healthy, clear minded; my emotions were in control until now,” he said after regaining his composure. 

“I don’t want to speak too much about the sisters because I get too emotional,” he said.

Although reports following his kidnapping suggested the attack was carried out by the so-called Islamic State, Father Uzhunnalil said his captors never identified themselves.

Knowing very little Arabic, Father Uzhunnalil said he spoke to the militants with the few words he knew: “Ana hindiin” (“I am Indian”). To this day, the Indian priest still wonders why he was the only one spared in the slaughter.

“Why they did not kill me, why they didn’t tie my hands, I don’t know,” he said. “Perhaps they wanted some ransom or whatever it is. I only believe that maybe God had put that into their heads when I said, ‘I am Indian,’ and they made me sit there while they killed the others, the sisters.”

After leaving him in the trunk of the car, the militants ransacked the chapel taking the tabernacle, wrapping it with the altar linen and placing it near the kidnapped priest. With his hands unbound, Father Uzhunnalil carefully moved the linen and found “four or five small hosts,” which he kept to celebrate the Eucharist the first few days of his capture.

After his short supply ran out, he said, he continued reciting the Mass prayers when alone despite not having bread and wine.

“I peacefully was able to say my Eucharist all from memory, although bread and wine wasn’t available. But I prayed to God to give me those items spiritually,” Father Uzhunnalil said.

He spent most of his days praying for the pope, his bishop, his Salesian brothers, and “certainly those sisters, all those persons whom God had called” on the day of his abduction.

Father Uzhunnalil said he found consolation in the words of a hymn, “One day at a time, sweet Jesus.”

“Just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do. Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, help me today, show me the way, one day at a time,” he would sing to himself in the solitude of his room.

On Sept. 11, Father Uzhunnalil was given the news of his liberation. After traveling for hours blindfolded, the priest along with two of his captors waited in the car.

Several hours later, his captors told him “some arrangements weren’t done” and they headed back.

Not understanding the church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity and the “unity of God in three persons,” Father Uzhunnalil recalled, one of his captors said, “You might have prayed to the third God, now you must pray to the second God so tomorrow can go well.”

Returning to his cell, he slept briefly when he was rustled out of bed in the middle of the night Sept. 12 and taken on the same long ride, his head once again covered. He was then moved to another vehicle where a person pulled up his picture on a cell phone and asked the priest, “Is this you?”

After confirming his identity, the driver drove for more than a day through the desert and told him: “Now you are free, now you are safe.”

Father Uzhunnalil was then taken to the Omani capital of Moscat where he received medical treatment, fresh clothes, and a shaving kit.

While he knows few details about arrangements for his release, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his gratitude to those who helped secure his liberation, including Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, the government authorities of India, and the Vatican, including Pope Francis whom he met the day after his release.

As Pope Francis entered the room Sept. 13, the Salesian knelt before him and kissed his feet. Visibly moved by the gesture, the pope helped him up and kissed his hands.

Before blessing Father Uzhunnalil, the pope embraced him and said he would continue to pray for him as he had done during his imprisonment.

“In that meeting, the pope kissed my hand. I never deserved it,” he said. “I’m only grateful to God for his blessings, I’m sure he prayed much for me.”

Even his captors, Father Uzhunnalil said, knew of the pope’s efforts and inadvertently gave him a reason to hope.

“One of the captors told me, ‘The pope has said you will be freed soon but nothing is happening still.’ From that, I knew that the whole world was there, the whole church was there, the world was worried for me. So, I am grateful,” he said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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London cardinal calls detonation on train ‘another cowardly attack’

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LONDON — Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster described the attempted bombing of a rush hour Tube train in London as “yet another cowardly attack” and said he was praying for the 22 people being treated for burns and other injuries.

The device detonated Sept. 15 on a London Underground train but failed to explode as intended.

An injured woman is led away following a blast caused by an improvised explosive device on a London Underground train Sept. 15. The blast injured more than a dozen people and is being treated as terrorism by police investigators. (CNS photo/Luke MacGregor, Reuters)

It nevertheless shot a “wall of fire” through carriages, injuring passengers, including a 10-year-old boy. No one was killed.

Cardinal Nichols later issued a statement to express his horror at the fifth terrorist attack in the U.K. this year.

“I am dismayed at yet another cowardly attack on innocent people, including young children, as they were commuting to work and school this morning,” said Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“I pray for all who were injured in the blast and in the ensuing stampede, and for all who were affected by the incident,” he said. “May God grant them and all Londoners peace and strengthen our resolve to stand against such evil acts.”

The cardinal, whose diocese covers the Parsons Green station where the attack took place, also praised the emergency services who tended to the victims as well as the residents and workers in the area who offered them safety and comfort.

Cardinal Nichols said: “The generous actions of those who rushed to tend to the wounded and those who were in shock demonstrate all that is good in humanity as a small number seek to divide our society. We should all be alert, but remain calm.”

The bomb, placed inside a builder’s bucket and covered by a shopping bag, was described as an “improvised explosive device” by police.

It included a timer, indicating that the bomber left the device on the train before it was meant to explode.

Detectives say they have identified the bomber using CCTV images but have so far declined to name him publicly.

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Belgian Brothers of Charity reject Vatican order to stop euthanizing patients

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Catholic News Service

Belgium’s Brothers of Charity Group, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients, has rejected a Vatican order to stop offering euthanasia.

In a Sept. 12 statement, the organization said it had not been given a chance to explain its “vision statement and argumentation.”

Activists take part in an anti-euthanasia protest Feb. 11, 2014, in Brussels. Assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalized in traditionally Catholic Belgium in 2002 A group of psychiatric care centers run by a Catholic religious order in Belgium is rejecting a Vatican order to stop euthanizing “nonterminal” mentally ill patients on its premises. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

It added that it “always took into account shifts and evolutions within society,” and “emphatically believed” its euthanasia program was consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

“In our facilities, we deal with patients’ requests for euthanasia for mental suffering in a nonterminal situation with the utmost caution,” said the organization, whose board members include Herman Van Rompuy, a former European Council president and former Belgian prime minister.

“We take unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients’ requests for euthanasia seriously. On the other hand, we want to protect life and ensure euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility of providing a reasonable treatment perspective to the patient,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, a Sept. 12 statement from Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity in Rome, said he “deplores the fact that there is no willingness to negotiate” the text of the vision statement on the part of the Belgian organization.

“He does not understand that a board of directors does not want to take into account experts from the field that have expressed clear objections to the text,” the statement said.

An initial deadline of the end of August to settle the disagreement was delayed until Sept. 11, the statement explained, to allow further negotiations to take place.

But it said that the scheduled talks were “shot down” because Professor Rik Torfs, a former rector of Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven called into mediate the dispute, “could no longer put his trust in the Brothers of Charity organization in Belgium.”

The statement said: “The superior general remains open to dialogue, provided that this dialogue is about the content of the vision text, and thus whether or not to apply euthanasia within the walls of the institutions of the Brothers of Charity, and not about a ‘modus vivendi’ (agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist until a final settlement is reached).

“He will however resubmit the current situation to the competent authorities in the Vatican before taking further action,” it said.

The Belgian church’s Cathobel news agency said Sept. 12 the Brothers of Charity Group lay chairman, Raf De Rycke, a former economics professor, had agreed euthanasia requests would now be examined “with greater circumspection than previously,” but conceded that the order’s hospitals were not yet ready to accept more restrictive guidelines.

The agency added that at least three organization members had not declared their attitude to the Sept. 12 announcement, despite “claims of unanimity.”

In August, Brother Rene Stockman told Catholic News Service that Pope Francis gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity reverse its policy by the end of August. He said brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group must each sign a joint letter to their superior general declaring that they “fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end.”

Brother Stockman told CNS that if the group refused to bow to the ultimatum, “then we will take juridical steps in order to force them to amend the text (of the new policy) and, if that is not possible, then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity.”

He said if any of the brothers refused to sign the letter upholding Catholic teaching against euthanasia, “then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law.”

Geert Lesarge, press secretary of the Brussels-based Belgian bishops’ conference, criticized the decision and reiterated support for the Vatican Sept. 13.

He told Catholic News Service that attempts by Torfs to mediate the dispute had failed. He said church leaders were ready to debate “matters of principle,” but not “medical practices at specific hospitals.”

Assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalized in traditionally Catholic Belgium in 2002, a year after the neighboring Netherlands, and euthanasia deaths are increasing by 27 percent annually, according to Health Ministry data.

At least a dozen patients in the Brothers of Charity care are believed to have requested euthanasia over the past year, with two transferred elsewhere to receive deadly injections.

The Brothers of Charity Group is considered the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, where they serve 5,000 patients a year.

Besides Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia and assisted suicide are also legal in Luxembourg and deemed “nonpunishable” in Switzerland. Poll data suggest most Europeans favor euthanasia laws if backed with safeguards.

     Contributing to this story was Simon Caldwell in Manchester, England.

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Being vulnerable is being human, pope tells young people

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Catholic News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia — Proudly showing off their costumes for television cameras before Pope Francis arrived, dozens of young people with Down syndrome and other developmental challenges were obviously proud and pleased.

Pope Francis, smiling broadly, was obviously delighted by the precision of the traditional Colombian songs and dances they performed for him Sept. 7 outside the Vatican nunciature, where he was staying.

Young people with Down syndrome and other developmental challenges show off their costumes for Pope Francis and television cameras outside the Vatican nunciature in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 7. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

But the atmosphere changed when one of the young women spoke.

Just to make sure everyone heard her, the pope asked the “beautiful Maria” to repeat what she had said.

“We want a world in which vulnerability is recognized as essential to the human person,” Maria repeated. Vulnerability, “far from weakening, strengthens and dignifies us” and is “a common meeting place that humanizes us.”

Pope Francis seconded what Maria said, insisting vulnerability is part of “the essence of being human.”

“We are all vulnerable, everyone,” he said. Some people are particularly vulnerable in their feelings and reactions to other people, so no one sees that vulnerability. Other people have vulnerabilities that are obvious.

Either way, the pope said, that vulnerability must be “respected, caressed, cared for as much as possible.”

Pope Francis ended the brief meeting by leading the young people in reciting a Hail Mary. And, to his usual “please, do not forget to pray for me,” he added, “because I am very vulnerable.”

     

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Forgive your aggressors, pope tells victims of Colombia’s civil war

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Catholic News Service

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia — If just one victim of Colombia’s civil war forgives his or her aggressor, it can set off a chain reaction of hope for reconciliation and peace, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass Sept. 8 in Villavicencio, a city filled with those who fled their homes during the war and with former fighters trying to start over, Pope Francis pleaded for honesty and courage.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Catama field in Villavicencio, Colombia, Sept. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

At the beginning of the Mass, he held up two heroic examples of those who gave their lives to “rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness”: Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez, who was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948.

Pope Francis beatified the two at the Mass, which was celebrated in the middle of a broad field, typical of the area’s cattle ranching terrain.

In his homily, the pope acknowledged that, during 52 years of war, many at the Mass suffered horrors.

“How many of you can tell of exiles and grief,” he said.

The Christian call to reconciliation is not something abstract, the pope said. “If it were, then it would only bring sterility and greater distance.” It requires acknowledging the truth and letting victims speak.

And “when victims overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace,” he said. “What is needed is for some to courageously take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so. We need only one good person to have hope. And each of us can be that person.

“This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and conflicts. This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices,” Pope Francis insisted. Reconciliation must be accompanied by a firm commitment to change the inequalities and behaviors that fueled the war for decades.

Celebrating Mass in an area known as the gateway to the Amazon, the pope said he could not ignore the need for reconciliation with the natural environment.

“It is not by chance that even on nature we have unleashed our desire to possess and subjugate,” he said. To the delight of many in the crowd, he quoted the famous Colombian singer and peace activist, Juanes: “The trees are weeping, they are witnesses to so many years of violence. The sea is brown, a mixture of blood and earth.”

     Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Defend life, equality, unity, pope tells Colombians at Mass in Bogota

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Catholic News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia — Consolidating peace in Colombia will mean overcoming “the darkness” of inequality and a lack of respect for human life, Pope Francis said.

“Here, as in other places, there is a thick darkness which threatens and destroys life,” the pope said in his homily at a late-afternoon Mass Sept. 7 in Bogota’s Simon Bolivar Park.

Pope Francis passes Colombia’s flag with a rosary on it as he greets the crowd before celebrating Mass at Simon Bolivar Park in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Colombian authorities said more than 1.1 million people gathered in the park for the Mass. Many of them were soaked in a rainstorm before the pope arrived, but as Mass began, bits of blue sky began to appear.

Still, preaching about the Gospel story of Jesus’ first encountering Simon Peter after the fishermen had fished all night without luck, Pope Francis spoke about the “turmoil and darkness” of the sea as a symbol for “everything that threatens human existence and that has the power to destroy it.”

For Colombia, just starting to recover from more than 50 years of civil war, and for many other nations as well, the pope said, the threats come from “the darkness of injustice and social inequality; (and) the corrupting darkness of personal and group interests that consume in a selfish and uncontrolled way what is destined for the good of all.”

The threats include “the darkness of disrespect for human life which daily destroys the life of many innocents, whose blood cries out to heaven; the darkness of thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority; the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims,” he said. But “Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness.”

In society, in politics and in the church, Pope Francis said, people can get “tangled up in endless discussions” about what went wrong and whose fault it is. But the only way forward is to follow Jesus, obeying his command to cast out the nets, which means taking responsibility for personal conversion and changing the world.

“Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him,” Pope Francis told the crowd, which included Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife.

Jesus wants people to leave behind their fears, “which paralyze us and prevent us (from) becoming artisans of peace, promoters of life.”

The people of Colombia, he said, are called to continue their conversion to peace and respect for all the nation’s people. That can happen only by promoting unity, “working for the defense and care of human life, especially when it is most fragile and vulnerable: in a mother’s womb, in infancy, in old age, in conditions of incapacity and in situations of social marginalization.”

Jesus calls people “out of darkness and bring us to light and to life,” the pope said. “He calls everyone, so that no one is left to the mercy of the storms,” asking the strong “to carry the most fragile and promote their rights.”

After the Mass, Pope Francis was scheduled to greet bishops from neighboring countries, including from Venezuela, which is in the midst of a social, political and economic crisis.

Venezuelan Cardinals Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas and Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida told reporters Pope Francis also invited them to discuss the crisis with him.

“We have the highest inflation in the world, an inflation of 700,000-800,000 percent,” Cardinal Urosa said. It is “a truly desperate situation. There are people who eat the garbage; yes, there are people who eat garbage, and there are people who die because there is no medicine.”

He said the bishops also wanted to tell the pope more about “the serious political situation, because the government is doing everything possible to establish a state system, totalitarian and Marxist.”

Cardinal Porras added, “I think that this meeting is a real gift that the pope is giving to all of the Venezuelan people through the bishops who are here.”

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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