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Flying to Colombia to encourage peace, pope also prays for Venezuela

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Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO COLOMBIA — Flying to Colombia, with a flight plan changed to avoid Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean Sea, Pope Francis told reporters that Colombia and its neighbor, Venezuela, were in his prayers.

Pope Francis boards the plane in Italy for his trip to Colombia Sept. 6. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via EPA)

The Sept. 6-10 visit to Colombia “is a bit special,” the pope said, because he is going “to help Colombia go forward in its journey of peace.”

The pope also told reporters the flight would take him over Venezuela, and “we will say a prayer for Venezuela that it can have dialogue, dialogue among all, for the stability of the country.”

Venezuela, Colombia’s eastern neighbor, has been the scene of protests and severe shortages of food and medicine for months as President Nicolas Maduro has tried to consolidate his power and rewrite the nation’s constitution. More than 100 people have died in the protests since April.

Alitalia’s original plan for the more than 12-hour flight to Colombia was to cross the Atlantic, then fly over U.S. territorial waters and Puerto Rico, the Antilles and Venezuela before landing in Bogota, Colombia.

As the flight was about to take off, Vatican officials said there had been a change of plans because of Hurricane Irma. They said the new flight path would go over Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago as well.

On the eve of the trip, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the visit to Colombia coincides with “the beginning of a process of peace after 50 years of conflict and violence.” The pope wants to encourage Colombians “so that after so much mourning, so much destruction, so much suffering, the Colombian people and the Colombian nation can know a new reality of peace and harmony.”

The motto of the pope’s visit, “Let’s take the first step,” purposefully uses the plural because “everyone must feel involved in this process, this itinerary, and concretely translate it” into action, the cardinal told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Pope Francis will highlight some of the ways of doing that, he said, by insisting on “the sacredness of life, respect for life always and everywhere, the theme of the dignity of the person, of human rights.”

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Polish archbishop says Vatican will recognize Medjugorje visions

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Catholic News Service

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish archbishop who inspected Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Medjugorje shrine for the pope predicted the Vatican will soon recognize its Marian apparitions.

Pilgrims pray in front of a statue of Mary in 2011 on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga, Poland, who inspected the shrine for Pope Francis, predicts the Vatican will soon recognize its Marian apparitions. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has passed all documentation to the Secretariat of State, everything suggests the apparitions will be accepted before the year ends,” said Archbishop Henryk Hoser.

“It’s difficult to believe the six visionaries have been lying for 36 years,” the archbishop said. “What they say is coherent, and none is mentally disturbed, while the apparitions’ faithfulness to church doctrine is also a powerful argument for their authenticity.”

The archbishop spoke as he completed a report from his spring mission to the hilltop shrine, which has not been officially recognized by the church despite 2.5 million pilgrims annually.

He told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI, he had found an “exceptional atmosphere” of “spiritual creativeness” at Medjugorje, characterized by “prayer, silence, meditation, Eucharist, adoration, fasting and reconciliation.”

He added that the shrine was seeing “huge dynamic growth,” in contrast to older sanctuaries in Portugal, France and Poland and had succeeded in remaining “a true place for pilgrims” while “eliminating tourist elements.”

“Everything is moving in a good direction. My mission wasn’t aimed at closing Medjugorje down, but at evaluating whether pastoral work is being properly organized there in line with church teaching,” Archbishop Hoser said.

“My conclusions are that it is, and my impression is highly positive,” he told KAI.

Six teenagers claim to have seen the Virgin Mary June 24, 1981, near Medjugorje. Since then, they have reported more than 42,000 apparitions at the site, which was largely untouched by the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

 

Local bishop doesn’t agree

In April, the then-prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, told KAI ageny it still could “take a long time” for the Vatican to rule on the apparitions, despite Archbishop Hoser’s pastoral visitation.

Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, the local ordinary, has consistently dismissed the Medjugorje apparitions as false, like his predecessor, Bishop Pavao Zanic, and appealed to bishops abroad not to support pilgrimages there.

However, in March, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, defended the shrine as “Europe’s largest confessional,” and said he counted on the Vatican to appreciate its evangelical potential in generating “conversions and acts of grace.”

Pope Francis told reporters traveling with him from Fatima, Portugal, in May that the most important fact about Medjugorje is “the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact” that thousands of pilgrims go to Medjugorje and are converted. “For this there is no magic wand; this spiritual-pastoral fact cannot be denied.”

The spiritual fruits of the pilgrimages, he said, are the reason why in February he appointed Archbishop Hoser to study the best ways to provide pastoral care to townspeople and the pilgrims.

Speaking to reporters May 13, Pope Francis gave no indication of when a final pronouncement about the alleged apparitions would be made. However, the said that a commission set up by then-Pope Benedict XVI had spent years investigating the phenomenon and tended to believe the apparitions in that first week of the summer of 1981 may have been real, but the continued reports of apparitions are questionable.

Furthermore, Pope Francis told the press, “personally, I am more ‘mischievous.’ I prefer Our Lady to be a mother, our mother, and not a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time; this is not the mother of Jesus.”

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Pope, Catholic leaders urge prayers after terrorist attacks in Spain

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Catholic News Service

Spanish church leaders urged prayers and national unity after two terrorist attacks left at least 19 people dead.

Pope Francis, U.S. bishops and others weighed in with prayers and rejection of the Aug. 17 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, where cars drove into pedestrians. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attacks. Fourteen were killed in Barcelona; one pedestrian and five suspects were killed in Cambrils.

Medics move an injured person after a van crashed into pedestrians in the Las Ramblas district of Barcelona, Spain, Aug. 17. Terrorists killed at least 12 and injured more than 50 others. (CNS photo/Quique Garcia, EPA)

“People are deeply shocked and saddened by this totally random event,” said Msgr. Josep Ramon Perez, dean of Barcelona’s Catholic cathedral. “While many are naturally asking what’s happening to the world to make such things possible, many also recognize that the most important response is to pray for peace.”

Thousands attended a midday vigil Aug. 18 in Barcelona’s Plaza de Catalunya, attended by Spanish King Felipe VI and government and political party leaders from across the country. Spanish police asked mourners not to bring bags or backpacks to the vigil, which was accompanied by parallel commemorations in Madrid and other cities, as well as at the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels.

Barcelona Cardinal Juan Jose Omella interrupted his retreat Aug. 17 to return to his city and be close to his people. The Archdiocese of Barcelona released photographs of him visiting victims of the attack at the hospital.

In a message to Cardinal Omella, Pope Francis denounced the “cruel terrorist attack” in Barcelona and said such “blind violence,” which sows death and pain, is “a great offense to the Creator.”

The papal message, sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, included prayers for the eternal repose of the dead, and for their families.

Pope Francis, it said, also prayed that God “would help us continue working with determination for peace and harmony in the world.”

In an interview Aug. 18, Msgr. Perez said Barcelona’s cathedral and neighboring churches had been closed after the attack as part of a security lockdown, forcing visitors and pilgrims to remain inside until late evening.

“The terrorists who carried out this action have nothing to do with ordinary people here,” Msgr. Perez said, noting that “local Muslims are just as shocked and horrified as everyone else.”

Candles, flowers and messages of solidarity were placed in memory of victims at various city locations.

Meanwhile, the Tarraconense bishops’ conference, grouping Catholic bishops from Spain’s Catalonia region, said members were “completely dismayed” by the “barbarity of the attack and the contempt it implies for human life and its dignity,” adding that Barcelona and its inhabitants had always been “committed to the cause of peace and justice.”

In an Aug. 18 interview with the Spanish church’s COPE news agency, Cardinal Ricardo Blasquez, president of the Madrid-based bishops’ conference, said Spaniards would be “especially beaten” after the Barcelona outrage, which had “inflicted a wound on everyone.” He urged citizens to remember that Muslims were “the main victims” of Islamic State and not to “criminalize” them for the attack or “identify terrorism with Islam.”

“Far from being terrorist violence, the true road to building a future of peace, now and forever, lies in respect for all people,” Cardinal Blasquez said.

Following the first attack, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, said the bishops’ conference “unequivocally condemns this morally heinous act and places itself in solidarity with the people of the Archdiocese of Barcelona and Spain at this terrible time of loss and grief.”

“Terrorist attacks on innocent civilians can never be justified,” he said. “To directly attack innocent men, women and children is utterly reprehensible.”

The attack is the latest of several in which trucks and vans had been driven at high speed through pedestrian zones in Europe.

In an Aug. 18 message, Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the bishops’ conference in neighboring France, said the Barcelona atrocity was “an insult to the Creator,” and would unite Catholics in their determination that “evil will not have the last word.”

In Nice, France, in July 2016, 86 people were killed and 458 injured in a similar attack with a 19-ton truck.

The Las Ramblas attack was Spain’s worst since March 2004, when Islamist militants detonated 10 bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800.

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Conflicts and drought mean famine looms for 20 million Africans

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Catholic News Service

Conflict and drought are threatening more than 20 million people in four countries with the prospect of famine, and the U.N. has called this food crisis the largest humanitarian crisis since the world body was formed more than 70 years ago.

A man walks by a dead cow in Dong Boma, South Sudan, April 12. Up to 20 million people in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and northeast Nigeria face the prospect of famine this year. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Additional resources and funding are needed “to pull people back from the brink of famine” in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria, the U.N. Security Council said in an Aug. 9 statement that commended efforts by international donors to provide humanitarian assistance for the crises in these countries.

Catholic church officials and representatives of Catholic aid agencies spoke with Catholic News Service about the enormous efforts being channeled into meeting the needs of those most vulnerable.

Governments “are reducing aid, while needs are skyrocketing,” said Elizabeth Carosella, who works for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services in Abuja, Nigeria.

Humans cannot control the weather patterns, such as drought. But increasingly, aid officials find access to areas of need blocked by ongoing conflicts or inaccessible because of poor infrastructure.

Yemen situation ‘horrific

Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for CRS, was Save the Children’s country director in Yemen until mid-2014. He called the situation in Yemen “horrific,” a famine that is entirely man-made. Seventy percent of the country’s 14 million people need some form of humanitarian aid.

Yemen has relied entirely on imported food since 1991 and “now it is sealed off from the rest of the world,” Farrell said. Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2015, which includes a Saudi-led blockade of the country.

Yemen’s food system has collapsed, Farrell said, noting that even hospitals have been bombed, and it is “as difficult to get medical supplies into the country as it is to get food in.”

The World Health Organization reports 436,000 cases of cholera in Yemen.

Bishop Paul Hinder, who heads the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, told CNS that the blockade of Yemen hinders the reconstruction of the destroyed sanitary system.

“As long as the minimal infrastructure in many parts of the country is not functioning, we cannot expect that the cholera can be stopped” or that “the starving people” can be properly fed, Bishop Hinder said.

“Without bringing people again around the table” to agree on a cease-fire, “there will be only killing and destruction with disastrous consequences for the civilian population,” he said.

“As the church is reduced to a tiny group without any structure, little can be done from our side at present,” he said.

“As I believe in the power of the prayer, I can only ask the faithful around the world to keep in mind the suffering people in Yemen — Muslims as well as the few remaining Christians, including the Missionaries of Charity,” Bishop Hinder said.

2 million face famine in South Sudan

In South Sudan, nearly 2 million people are on the cusp of famine, Farrell said, and it is hard to get food to the hungry because the country has “virtually no infrastructure.” South Sudan, a country slightly smaller than Texas, has only 12,000 miles of road, which is “more like track than road,” said Farrell, noting that”the lack of infrastructure can’t be separated from the conflict.”

In the fertile land of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, which has avoided the drought afflicting other parts of the country, little grows because of the war, he said. And even if the residents were still able to grow mangoes and papayas in this “breathtakingly beautiful place,” there are no roads to get any excess food to people outside, he said.

“Fresh food rots because it takes weeks to get it out of there with tracks to follow instead of roads, and one can expect frequent ambushes along the way,” Farrell said.

In distributing food airdropped by the World Food Program, CRS finds “some places very difficult to get to because of active conflict,” he said. Other places are unreachable for many months because of flooding. People often walk four or five miles to food distribution points in South Sudan, he added.

About 200,000 of the 2 million internally displaced people in South Sudan are in U.N.-run camps, Farrell said. The rest have fled into the bush or into neighboring communities, “and they all want to go home to their land.”

Farrell said the tragedy of South Sudan “tires me out more and fills me with more sorrow” than even Yemen’s situation did. In 2013, two years after gaining independence from Sudan, South Sudan was caught up in a civil war.

“South Sudan is a new country, rich in resources, and all this suffering is preventable,” said Farrell, who is based in the capital, Juba.

“Education is what matters most for young people because they will be the new leaders,” he said. Instead, because of the conflict and violence, all efforts need to be directed into emergency feeding programs, “while 75 percent of women in the country cannot read or write,” he said.

Maryknoll Father John Barth, who is based in Eastern Equatoria state, told CNS South Sudanese “are giving up hope and moving to the camps in northern Uganda by the thousands; I see them along the road when I drive back and forth across the border.”

Uganda is hosting about 1 million refugees from South Sudan. They move because “they have no food,” Father Barth said.

Teachers and others with government jobs have not been paid their monthly salaries in five months, and “even if they had been paid it would be the equivalent of about $6, because the 500 percent inflation has ruined the value of the South Sudanese pound,” Father Barth said.

In Nigeria, 5 million need emergency food aid

In northeastern Nigeria, the effects of violent conflict as well as changing weather patterns have exacerbated poverty and led to 5 million people in need of emergency food aid, Carosella told CNS, noting that deaths from famine-related causes have already occurred in Borno state. Since 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million forced to flee their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency, aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

Carosella said while the severity of the region’s hunger crisis is caused by conflict, the shorter rainy season of recent years has dramatically reduced harvests, and much of Lake Chad has dried up, partly because of shifting climate patterns.

Many of those forced to flee the violence have sought refuge among communities in remote rural areas, she said, noting that these communities are themselves among the most vulnerable in the region and depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Remote rural communities hosting people displaced by Boko Haram attacks have been “immensely generous despite their own poverty,” she said.

Carosella said Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, “used to be a trade hub, but its markets have been destroyed” by the Boko Haram attacks.

“People have lost their livelihoods and now can’t afford food and have no access to even basic services,” she said.

Even where food can be found, it is unaffordable for most people, she said.

Sometimes a very malnourished woman will sell part of her food ration for cash that will enable her to transport a sick child to a clinic, Carosella said.

“Having to make that choice is something no one should have to face,” she said.

She told of a 24-year-old woman she met at a hospital in Maiduguri.

“She fled her village with her four children, all under 5 years old, after seeing her husband and parents slaughtered” in an attack by Boko insurgents, Carosella said.

One of her children died in the 32 days it took her to walk to the hospital, where her “malnourished children were able to be rehabilitated,” Carosella said. “She was looking for livelihood opportunities when I met her,” she said, noting that “there are so many women in similar positions.”

Continuing conflict in Somalia

Somalia’s “continuous conflict and instability,” along with changing weather patterns, are responsible for its current crisis, Lane Bunkers, CRS country representative for Kenya and Somalia, told CNS.

The conflict started in 1991 when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre, then turned on each other. Today, the security threat posed by al-Shabab activity in south-central Somalia makes it difficult for CRS and others running emergency food programs to reach remote rural communities, Bunkers said.

Somalia is a “very undeveloped country that relies on rain, with rain-fed pasturelands,” and there has been insufficient rain for two years in a row, Bunkers said.

Drought conditions in Somalia are expected to continue, and recovery will not be until at least 2018, CRS said in a statement. More than 766,000 people have been displaced by the drought since November, it said.

In south-central Somalia, which includes the capital, Mogadishu, CRS has civil society partners to channel its resources for humanitarian relief.

“Somalia has very well-organized communities,” Bunkers said, noting that local communities have “stepped in to fill the void in education and health services” in partnerships with international nongovernmental organizations.

Somalis are “entrepreneurial people in a desperately poor country,” which has exceptionally active markets, Bunkers said. This is “born out of necessity” in a country that has had no functioning government for close to three decades, he said.

Somalis’ “wealth is held in their herd of animals,” Bunkers said, noting that in times of drought, men leave women and children behind and follow their goats, sheep or camels, seeking water and grazing land.

“It’s very rare to resort to killing animals for food” in Somalia, Bunkers said.

To help families where animals are already in distress, some relief agencies “pay the farmer for his goat and have him slaughter it so that his family has something to eat,” he said.

“The farmers are then able to use the cash at the markets to replenish their livelihoods,” he said.

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‘Agony and pain’ after hundreds killed by mudslide in Sierra Leone

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered his condolences and his prayers to the people of Sierra Leone after flooding and a major mudslide Aug. 14 led to the deaths of hundreds of people and displaced thousands.

Residents and rescue workers search for survivors after a mudslide in Regent, Sierra Leone Aug. 14. (CNS photo/Ernest Henry, Reuters)

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time,” said a message sent to Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of Freetown by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Pope Francis “prays for all who have died, and upon their grieving families and friends he invokes the divine blessings of strength and consolation,” said the message, which was released by the Vatican Aug. 16. The pope also “expresses his prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much-needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”

In an Aug. 16 telephone interview from Freetown, Ishmeal Alfred Charles, who is managing Caritas’ emergency response, told Catholic News Service, “There is so much agony and pain here.”

“The burials start today,” he said, noting that he was on his way to a mortuary to help people identify the bodies of their loved ones.

Caritas’ emergency team of 10 medics and about 30 voluntary helpers “needs more resources,” Charles said. “We have exhausted all that we have, and the needs are overwhelming.”

The team got to the scene of the mudslide early Aug. 15 and “in the first 10 minutes we were there, 11 corpses,” including six children, were brought into the tent they had set up to register victims, he said.

One of the survivors is a 16-year-old girl “who had been at a friend’s house watching movies when she called her mother to ask if she could stay over because it was getting late,” Charles said.

“Her mother agreed on the condition that she return home early the next morning. When she woke up and walked home, there was nothing there,” he said. “She is her family’s only survivor.”

Visiting the hard-hit town of Regent, about 15 miles east of Freetown, President Ernest Bai Koroma described the devastation as “overwhelming” and pleaded for international assistance.

Soon after the disaster struck, Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, published an appeal to donors.

“More than 300 people were killed and property was destroyed” in the mudslide, CRS said. At least 100 homes were covered and more than 600 people were still missing early Aug. 16.

“The death toll is expected to rise,” the CRS appeal said. “Families affected by the Sierra Leone landslide need food, shelter, water and clothing,” which CRS and its partner Caritas will strive to provide.

     

Contributing to this story was Bronwen Dachs in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Catholics on Guam pray for peace amid threats by North Korea

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HAGATNA, Guam — The Catholic Church on Guam is urging its members and all people on the island to be prayerful and stay centered in Christ amid threats of missile attacks by North Korea.

Coadjutor Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes of Agana asked all priests to promote prayers of peace at all Masses Aug. 13 as tensions continue, following threats by North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un to attack this American territory in the Marianas Islands.

A woman in a hotel in Tamuning, Guam, reads the Pacific Daily News with the headline “Missile Watch.” Aug. 12. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

“In your Masses this Sunday, especially in the prayer of the faithful, please offer prayers for peace between our nations, just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action,” Archbishop Byrnes said in a message to all priests of the Archdiocese of Agana Aug. 11.

“Please also offer prayers for the men and women of our military, especially those whom we host on Guam, that they might find grace for diligence and courage as they execute their respective duties,” he said.

Guam has long had a high strategic military importance to the United States because of its location in the Marianas Islands and has been home to several U.S. military bases for many decades. B-52 bombers were regularly deployed from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s.

Residents of this predominantly Catholic island community first woke up to the alarming news of North Korea threats to Guam Aug. 9. The archdiocese issued a message to all Catholics and the community in general that same day urging everyone to “stay grounded in the peace of Christ.”

“Look to God during these difficult times when world peace is threatened and pray always,” the archdiocese said.

That message by Father Jeff San Nicolas, the coadjutor archbishop’s delegate general, cited the Gospel of John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The archdiocese also echoed the message of Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo asking everyone to remain calm and trust that the security of the island is in good hands with local and national defense forces in place to address such threats.

In his Aug. 11 message, Archbishop Byrnes said, “Ever since being appointed the Coadjutor Archbishop of Agana, I have been both struck and encouraged by Isaiah 33:2-6. … It speaks to our current situation very well:

“O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble. At the tumultuous noise peoples flee; when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered, and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers; as locusts leap, it is leapt upon. The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”

“We have strong encouragement from the Lord Jesus, to trust that our Father is the source of our salvation both spiritually and practically,” the archbishop continued. “Jesus is still on the throne, and we can be confident that He will work out his will in every situation,” the archbishop also told the priests.”

He added, “We do not ‘put our trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no help’ (Psalm 146:3). The Lord himself is the source of our stability in any time.”

The archdiocese also encouraged people to join an Aug. 13 rosary rally and pray for peace during a celebration of the 100th year anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima in the capital of Hagatna.

The rally was organized by Catholic laypeople as part of a worldwide call for praying the rosary in the public square.

The Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense planned to make a presentation on emergency preparedness related to the North Korea threat for clergy, Catholic school administrators and chancery staff Aug. 17.

The presentation had been scheduled even before the threat by North Korea but the archdiocese asked that it be held sooner because of current developments.

— By Tony C. Diaz

 

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Venezuelan cardinal rejects U.S. military intervention

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A Venezuelan cardinal rejected the possibility of foreign intervention in the country following U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to pursue a military option.

“The crisis we Venezuelans are suffering is so serious that now an external problem arises: the threats of a military option by President Trump,” Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas said.

Demonstrators gather at a roadblock July 26 to protest President Nicolas Maduro’s government. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

The cardinal spoke Aug. 13 after celebrating the 150th anniversary of the consecration of his archdiocese’s cathedral Aug. 13. He rejected the assertion that foreign military intervention could solve the crisis Venezuela is experiencing.

“I, and I am sure all the Venezuelan bishops, reject all foreign military interference, such as the Cuban one present for some time in Venezuela,” Cardinal Urosa said, “and I do not agree with the threat of a military option.”

After a meeting Aug. 11 with Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and H.R. McMaster, national security adviser, Trump told journalists that a military intervention was “certainly something that we could pursue.”

“Venezuela is a mess. It is very dangerous mess and a very sad situation,” Trump said. “The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

Elections for seats on a constituent assembly were held in Venezuela July 30 amid massive protests and international outcry. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s push for the assembly, comprised mainly of his supporters and designed to rewrite the nation’s constitution, has led to violent demonstrations in which more than 100 people have died.

Cardinal Urosa said a foreign military intervention would not solve the real problem, which is a “social, political and economic crisis we suffer that is becoming more serious.”

“The ones who must solve this current crisis are we Venezuelans and especially the government that created it,” the cardinal said.

     

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Ex-Vatican diplomat: U.S., North Korea must return to negotiating table

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The United States and North Korea must return to the negotiating table and focus on improving the quality of life of their people rather than on the might of their advanced weaponry, said a former Vatican diplomat. Read more »

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West Bank priests stress nonviolence amid Israeli occupation protests

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — With tensions still high in the Old City following weeks of violence, Father Firas Aridah completed his work at the Latin Patriarchate early so he could leave Jerusalem for his West Bank parish before any possible violence began.

“There were many (Israeli) police and soldiers, closing many roads,” Father Aridah said in a phone interview once he was back in Jifna’s St. Joseph Parish July 28.

Palestinians react as a stun grenade explodes in a street in Jerusalem's Old City July 27. (CNS photo/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

Palestinians react as a stun grenade explodes in a street in Jerusalem’s Old City July 27. (CNS photo/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

Friday afternoon prayer in Muslim tradition is considered especially significant and is required of all Muslim men. Often during volatile periods, prayers at the contested Al-Aqsa Mosque compound have been followed by demonstrations. Sometimes the tensions spread to other sections of Jerusalem, or even to the West Bank.

For Father Aridah and other parish priests in the West Bank, the challenge is to emphasize the Christian tradition of nonviolence while supporting their young parishioners’ desire to oppose the Israeli occupation.

Father Aridah said he counsels young people not to throw stones at the young Israeli soldiers who sometimes come near their village on patrols or in search of men wanted by the army.

“The problem is with the (Israeli) government, not with the soldiers,” he said. “Violence is not acceptable from either side. With this conflict, Israel is losing its image as a democratic state. I tell the young men that we are not with this violence. If we do not accept for Israel to behave this way, then how can we accept it from our side? Wherever God is represented in our life, we should have no violence.”

If word that someone might be considering taking part in a violent demonstration reaches him, the priest makes a beeline to that home for a conversation. The way to best serve their society, he advises them, is to get an education, to bring a new vision to Palestinian life.

“I don’t want to see blood in my parish,” Father Aridah said. “If we want to see (real) results, I tell (the young people) to be educated. I (tell them) to serve your people well, do well in the university, then go get a job in society and tell the world (about our situation), but do nothing with violence. If we want to resist, we resist with education.”

As he prepared to leave for a new parish in northern Israel, Father Aktham Hijazin of the Annunciation Parish in Beit Jala spent his last Sunday with his parish saying his good-byes. He said the majority of Palestinians, including his parishioners, are proponents of nonviolent opposition to the Israeli occupation. His parishioners did not take part in the clashes in neighboring Bethlehem, he said.

Following the tenets of their Catholic faith, he said, “They are not interested to take part in any violent act.”

In Ramallah, West Bank, Father Ibrahim Shomali noted that though he did not take part, members of his parish as well as clergy from the Melkite and Greek Orthodox churches did participate in peaceful demonstrations in Ramallah, away from the flashpoints with Israeli soldiers.

He said he has made it clear to his parishioners that, even while under Israeli occupation, violent confrontation is not acceptable. Even if Israel settlers attack Palestinian farmers and villagers, violence is not justified, he added.

As Christians, he said, people must respect all holy places and respect the holiness of Al-Aqsa for Muslims.

“We resist with our prayers and with our Bible and with respect of the human person,” Father Shomali said. “If you can love your enemy, you can have more power over them and get stronger to ask for your rights.”

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound has been the focal point of Palestinian-Israel confrontation for decades. To Muslims it is Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary where, according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. To Jews it is holy as the Temple Mount, where, according to Jewish tradition, the two biblical temples stood. In the Gospels, this is where Jesus lashed out against the money-changers when he came to Jerusalem on Passover.

On July 14 outside one of the compound gates, two Israeli policemen were murdered by three men from an Israeli Arab town. The men had smuggled guns into the compound; Israeli police shot and killed them. Israel responded by erecting metal detectors and other security measures outside the compound, sparking protests, some violent, by Muslims.

A week later, a Palestinian snuck into the Israeli settlement of Halamish and killed three members of an Israeli family during their Shabbat dinner. An off-duty soldier shot and injured the attacker.

Israel eventually removed the metal detectors at the Al-Aqsa compound and replaced cameras with “smart cameras” that have face recognition capabilities and can detect weapons.

“The place is holy for the three religions, Muslims, Christians and Jews, so we should (all) be able to raise our praise to God,” said a Catholic priest, who asked not to be named. “This may be possible when a peace agreement is reached.”

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Salvadoran pilgrimage to mark centennial of Blessed Romero’s birth

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By Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Salvadorans plan to walk more than 90 miles in three days to mark the centennial of Blessed Oscar Romero’s birth.

People participate in a late-March procession to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the killing of Blessed Oscar Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador. A pilgrimage to celebrate the slain archbishop's 100th birthday will be held Aug. 11-13, with pilgrims walking from San Salvador to Ciudad Barrios, where he was born. (CNS photo/Rodigro Sura, EPA)

People participate in a late-March procession to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the killing of Blessed Oscar Romero in San Salvador, El Salvador. A pilgrimage to celebrate the slain archbishop’s 100th birthday will be held Aug. 11-13, with pilgrims walking from San Salvador to Ciudad Barrios, where he was born. (CNS photo/Rodigro Sura, EPA)

Participants will leave the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador Aug. 11 and are scheduled to arrive in Ciudad Barrios, the eastern city where Blessed Romero was born, Aug. 13.

The pilgrimage, “Caminando hacia la cuna del Profeta” (“Walking toward the prophet’s birthplace”), will go through four dioceses — San Salvador, San Vicente, Santiago de Maria and San Miguel.

Blessed Romero was born Aug. 15, 1917, and that centennial date will be marked by a Mass at San Salvador’s cathedral. Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzatti of Santiago, Pope Francis’ special envoy to the celebration, will be the main celebrant.

Masses also are scheduled in other parts of the country. On Aug. 12, in the western Santa Ana diocese, Archbishop Leon Kalenga Badikebele, apostolic nuncio to El Salvador, will deliver the homily at a commemorative Mass, while Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, a close friend of Blessed Romero, is scheduled to give a presentation on the archbishop’s life and work.

When it announced the activities July 31, the Salvadoran bishops’ conference stated that, as far back as three years ago, it “invited all the worshippers, Salvadorans and of the world, to prepare for this centennial to remember Blessed Romero as a man, a pastor and a martyr.”

The murdered priest was beatified May 23, 2015, in San Salvador. In a letter to the gathering, read before an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the event, Pope Francis described Blessed Romero as “a voice that continues to resonate.”

Ordained April 4, 1942, in Rome, the Salvadoran religious leader was appointed archbishop of San Salvador Feb. 23, 1977, and was gunned down after Mass at a hospital chapel March 24, 1980, a day after a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers to obey what he described as God’s order and stop carrying actions of repression.

The archbishop’s March 30 funeral at the cathedral, attended by more than 200,000 mourners, was interrupted by gunfire that left 30-50 people dead.

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