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Pope Francis decries ‘barbaric attack’ on concertgoers in Manchester – updated

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Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — Pope Francis decried the “barbaric attack” on concertgoers in Manchester, adding his voice to Catholic leaders dismayed at what British officials said was the deadliest case of terrorism since 2005.

In a telegram sent to English church officials on Pope Francis’ behalf, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the pope “was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life” after a suicide bomb killed at least 22 people and injured another 59 at Manchester Arena May 22. Many concertgoers at the Ariana Grande concert were teenagers, young adults and families.

Two women wrapped in thermal blankets stand near Manchester Arena in England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing May 22. At least 22 people, including children, were killed and dozens wounded after an explosion at the concert venue. Authorities said it was Britain's deadliest case of terrorism since 2005. (CNS photo/Jon Super, Reuters)

Two women wrapped in thermal blankets stand near Manchester Arena in England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing May 22. At least 22 people, including children, were killed and dozens wounded after an explosion at the concert venue. Authorities said it was Britain’s deadliest case of terrorism since 2005. (CNS photo/Jon Super, Reuters)

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The pope “expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence,” the telegram said, as “he commends the generous efforts of the emergency and security personnel and offers the assurance of his prayers for the injured, and for all who have died.”

“Mindful in a particular way of those children and young people who have lost their lives, and of their grieving families, Pope Francis invokes God’s blessings of peace, healing and strength upon the nation.”

In Britain, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and other Catholic leaders offered prayers for the victims of the attacks and their families.

“My shock and dismay at the horrendous killing of young and innocent people in the Manchester Arena last night is, I know, shared by all people of goodwill,” Cardinal Nichols said in a May 23 statement posted on the Westminster archdiocesan website. “I know, too, that Catholics and many others will be praying earnestly for those who have been killed, for the bereaved and for grieving loved ones.

“We pray in support of all those working so hard in response to this tragedy: the police and security forces, hospital staff, neighbors and friends and for all the people of Manchester. May God, in his mercy, strengthen and sustain us and keep us firmly united in the face of all evil.”

The terrorist attack took place within the Diocese of Salford, which incorporates most of Manchester and much of northwest England.

Bishop John Arnold of Salford offered a lunchtime Mass May 23 at St. Mary’s, a popular city-center church close to Manchester Arena.

In a statement the same day, he said: “The citizens of Manchester and the members of the Catholic community are united in condemning the attack on the crowds at the Manchester Arena.

“Such an attack can have no justification. I thank the emergency services for their prompt and speedy response which saved lives,” he continued. “We join in prayer for all those who have died and for the injured and their families and all affected by this tragedy. We must all commit ourselves to working together, in every way, to help the victims and their families and to build and strengthen our community solidarity.”

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, whose diocese covers southern parts of Manchester, wrote to his clergy, urging them to pray for the victims and their families.

“Let us also keep in our prayer the police and emergency services, together with all hospital staff and chaplains,” he said in his letter.

The bishop added: “Together with church and religious leaders in Greater Manchester, I ask the prayers of your parishioners for peace and solidarity in all our communities that the hate which inspires such indiscriminate violence may be overcome by that love which faith and prayer inspires in our hearts. I hope the days ahead, overshadowed by this atrocity, will lead us all to such prayer and active charity.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Bishop Arnold to assure him of the prayers of Catholics in the United States.

“Words are not enough to convey the deep shock and sadness with which Catholics and all people of goodwill in the United States learned of the horrible attack which took place yesterday at England’s Manchester Arena,” said his letter, released May 23 in Washington. He mentioned “the unspeakable loss of life, terrible injuries, and untold trauma to families — especially to children.”

“Evil, as dense and dark as it is, never has the last word,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote. “As we prepare to celebrate the new dawn of Pentecost again, may the Easter words of the risen Christ, ‘Peace be with you,’ settle deep into the hearts of the citizens of your great country.”

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Trump arrives in Holy Land, visits Church of the Holy Sepulcher — updated

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Following his official welcome to Jerusalem by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump began his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Western Wall.

Details of the visits to the holy sites had been a carefully guarded secret until the last moment, but from early May 22 the alleyways of the Old City were closed to both residents and tourists, and the main thoroughfares leading to the Old City were closed off to all traffic.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 22. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 22. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Under tight security and led by the traditional kawas honor guard announcing the way with the thumping of their ornamental staffs, the president made his way by foot through the Old City’s alleyways to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed at the entrance of the church courtyard by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Theophilos III; Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land; and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. The president spoke briefly to the religious leaders and stopped at the entrance of the church for a group photograph after also speaking to a few other religious.

Trump, who also was accompanied into the church by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent about 30 minutes in the church, which encompasses the area where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and later rose from the dead. At the entrance of the church is the stone of unction, where tradition holds that Jesus’ body was laid out and washed after his crucifixion. Inside the central rotunda is the newly renovated Edicule, where Jesus was buried.

The delegation then walked the short distance to the Western Wall plaza, where Trump was greeted by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall. Wearing the traditional Jewish kippa or skullcap, Trump walked alone to the wall, where he placed his hands on the stones for several minutes. He then placed a note with a prayer into a crack in the wall, a Jewish tradition. Melania and Ivanka Trump visited the women’s section of the wall separately, and the first lady spent a few minutes silently in front of the wall, touching it with her hand.

Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in the contested Old City of Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital city.

The Western Wall, considered the holiest site for Judaism today as a remnant of the retaining wall of the Biblical Jewish Temple, also surrounds the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, where the Jewish temple once stood and the location of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Avoiding any symbolic controversy involving the issue of the city’s sovereignty, the Trump administration insisted the visit to the sites be private, vexing Israel by Trump’s refusal to be accompanied by Israeli political leaders to the Western Wall.

Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israel had not allowed a Greek Orthodox Scout marching band to accompany the delegation to Church of the Holy Sepulcher as planned because of the Palestinian flags on their uniform. A spokesman from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Israeli involvement in the matter, suggesting that it might have been a U.S. security issue.

In a visit that encompasses both political and religious symbolism, Trump spent two days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with King Salman and other Muslim leaders. He was scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas May 23 in Bethlehem, West Bank, and was expected to urge the Palestinian leader to take productive steps toward peace.

According to media reports, he did not plan to visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity because of an exhibit there supporting hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

In statements upon his arrival in Israel, Trump spoke warmly about the U.S.-Israeli bond and his deep sense of admiration for the country. He also spoke of the need to unite against “the scourge of violence.”

“We have the rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people by defeating terrorism,” Trump said at the welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. “But we can only get there by working together. We love Israel. We respect Israel and I send your people the warmest greeting from your friend and ally, from all people in the USA, we are with you.”

The next leg of his first overseas trip as president is slated to include a visit to the Vatican as well as to Brussels.

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Sydney archbishop: No comment for now on allegations about Cardinal Pell

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SYDNEY — Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal George Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public.

Until police decide how to proceed, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he will not be commenting on the case.

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

“Justice must be left to run its course,” Archbishop Fisher said in a statement May 17.

Archbishop Fisher said Cardinal Pell, currently head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, “has cooperated in every way with multiple police, parliamentary and Royal Commission investigations.”

“Everyone supports just investigation of complaints, but the relentless character attacks on Cardinal Pell, by some, stand the principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty on its head,” Archbishop Fisher said. “Australians have a right to expect better from their legal systems and the media. Even churchmen have a right to a fair go.”

Last July, allegations surfaced in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. featuring several people who accused Cardinal Pell of sexual assault; at least one of the accusations had been found to be unsubstantiated by an Australian court in 2002. Some accusations dated to the late 1970s, when Cardinal Pell was a priest in Ballarat, Australia.

He served as archbishop of Melbourne 1996-2001 and archbishop of Sydney 2001-2014 before being asked to serve at the Vatican.

At the time the allegations surfaced, Cardinal Pell dismissed them as “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign,” and a statement issued by his office said that “claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong.”

In October, Australian police questioned Cardinal Pell in Rome regarding the accusations.

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Commission reportedly thought the first alleged visions at Medjugorje were real

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The commission that now-retired Pope Benedict XVI established to study the alleged apparitions of Mary at Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, reportedly voted overwhelmingly to recognize as supernatural the first seven appearances of Mary in 1981.

The sun sets behind a statue of Mary on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in this 2011 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The sun sets behind a statue of Mary on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in this 2011 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

However, according to a report published by the website Vatican Insider, the commission was much more doubtful about the thousands of alleged visions that have occurred since July 4, 1981, and supposedly continue to this day.

Two of the 17 commission members and consultants thought the alleged visions after the period of June 24-July 3, 1981, were not supernatural, while the other members said it was not possible to make a judgment.

The commission said it was clear that the six alleged visionaries and a seventh who claims to have begun receiving messages from Mary in December 1982 were not given adequate spiritual support.

Vatican Insider published its piece on the report May 16, three days after Pope Francis spoke about some details of the report to journalists traveling with him from Fatima, Portugal.

The Vatican press office May 17 declined to comment on the Vatican Insider piece.

Speaking to journalists May 13, Pope Francis said that, regarding the Medjugorje commission’s work, “three things need to be distinguished.”

“About the first apparitions, when (the ‘seers’) were young, the report more or less says that the investigation needs to continue,” the pope said, according to the English translation posted on the Vatican website.

“Concerning the alleged current apparitions, the report expresses doubts,” he said. Furthermore, “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.”

Pope Francis said his “personal opinion” is that “these alleged apparitions have no great value.”

The real core of the commission’s report, he said, 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 Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga to study the best ways to provide pastoral care to townspeople and the pilgrims.

According to Vatican Insider, 13 of the 14 commission members present at one meeting voted to recommend lifting the Vatican ban on official diocesan and parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje.

The commission also recommended turning the town’s parish Church of St. James into a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight. The move, the commission said, would not signify recognition of the apparitions, but would acknowledge the faith and pastoral needs of the pilgrims while ensuring a proper accounting of the financial donations pilgrims leave.

The commission’s role was to make recommendations to the pope; its report is not an official church judgment on the apparitions. Pope Francis told reporters May 13 that “in the end, something will be said,” but he gave no timeline.

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Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Bishops from across Latin America condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages that have left thousands hungry.

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: "Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her." Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages  (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: “Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her.” Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

“We are worried and pained by the deaths, the violence, the lack of the most basic goods, the divisions, the violation of human rights,” said Auxiliary Juan Espinoza Jimenez of Morelia, Mexico, secretary general of the Latin America bishops’ council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

Bishop Espinoza spoke during CELAM’s assembly in San Salvador, which brought together Catholic representatives from 21 Latin American countries plus delegations from the United States and Canada. The meeting, which ended May 12 and was themed “A poor church for the poor,” dedicated special attention to the situation in Venezuela.

The conference appointed a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission will be headed by Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez of Cumana, Venezuela, president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference.

“The bishops, presidents and delegates of the episcopal conferences of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have placed our minds and hearts with our brothers and sisters in Venezuela,” the bishops said in a letter that was read at the meeting. “We want to express to all citizens, and especially those in the Catholic Church, our closeness, solidarity and support, at the same time that we transmit a voice of hope in Christ, way, truth and life.”

The South American country of 31 million has been besieged by a deep political crisis since President Nicolas Maduro moved to expand his power, including taking over the functions of the opposition-controlled congress and, more recently, pushing for the constitution to be reformed.

Weeks of large-scale street demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, leaving nearly 40 people dead and drawing international condemnation. The country has struggled with a deep economic recession and runaway inflation that has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. A survey by a Venezuelan university found about 75 percent of the population had lost an average of 19 pounds last year because of the lack of food.

Bishops Espinoza urged the church to respond to the crisis by providing supplies. “We call on the diocesan communities of Latin America and the Caribbean to initiate initiatives of charity with our Venezuelan brothers and to think about ways to make them effective, despite obstacles that may arise,” he said.

“The Catholic people of Latin America and the Caribbean know well that, in the most difficult moments of their history, we must turn to God with all pity to move forward,” the letter said, urging all churches to “pray for this brother and sister country for a prompt and definitive reconciliation and social peace.”

Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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Priest kidnapped in Yemen pleads for help in a video

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen more than a year ago, in a video message pleaded for the Indian government and the Catholic Church to do more to secure his release.

Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen more than a year ago, is seen in a screen grab from a YouTube video. (CNS)

Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen more than a year ago, is seen in a screen grab from a YouTube video. (CNS)

The video was posted on YouTube by the news site Aden Time May 8; the heavily bearded and very thin Father Uzhunnalil is shown seated with a cardboard sign in his lap with the date April 15, 2017. A similar video was posted in December.

An official at the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes Yemen, said May 9 the person in the video is the kidnapped Salesian, but he would not comment further. Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar, is away from the vicariate headquarters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on a pastoral visit.

Father Uzhunnalil was kidnapped in Aden March 4, 2016, in an attack in which four Missionaries of Charity and at least 12 others were killed at a home for the aged.

In a meeting May 3 with Salesian novices studying in Italy, Pope Francis once again offered prayers for the kidnapped priest.

In the new video, Father Uzhunnalil began by stating his name and date of birth and thanking “my dear family people” for their messages of concern, which he said he has received.

Without describing his captors or referring to them as such, he said, “they are treating me well to the extent that they are able.”

“My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalization as early as possible,” he said.

Father Uzhunnalil said his captors have contacted Indian government authorities “several times” and the replies, which he said he has seen, were “very, very poor.”

“They also contacted the bishop, bishop of Abu Dhabi,” he said. “There, too, the response was not encouraging. Neither the bishop nor the Indian government authorities ask them what they really want to get me released. It is a poor response, and I am sad about that.”

Asking his family and friends to pressure the authorities, he said, “Please, please, do what you what you can to get me released. May God bless you for that.”

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Head of French bishops welcomes Macron’s election

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PARIS — The head of the French bishops’ conference welcomed the election of President-elect Emmanuel Macron and said he hoped June legislative elections would not place the country “in an ungovernable situation.”

Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French bishops’ conference, told Vatican Radio May 8 that French Catholics had also been left “divided like the rest of French society” and said he counted on Macron and his new government “being able to function.”

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrates at his victory rally near the Louvre in Paris May 7. (CNS /Christian Hartmann, Reuters)

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrates at his victory rally near the Louvre in Paris May 7. (CNS /Christian Hartmann, Reuters)

“Macron has been elected in an important manner; we must hope he succeeds for the good of our country, otherwise it will be catastrophic,” said Archbishop Pontier.

“Priorities for his new five-year term must include struggling against unemployment, which is so destructive for families, for prospects and for projects, as well as the necessity of staying in Europe and giving this Europe the means of retaining the respect of every people.”

Macron won the second-round presidential ballot with 66.1 percent of votes against 33.9 percent taken by Marine Le Pen, head of France’s National Front. Macron ran on a pro-market platform that included support for the European Union and cuts to public administration, as well as lower corporation taxes and measures to defend secular values.

At 39, the new president is France’s youngest head of state for two centuries. He swept to victory just a year after setting up his 200,000-member movement, En Marche! (On the move).

In a May 3 interview on his diocesan website, Archbishop Pontier said the Catholic Church had sought to encourage “reflection and discernment” among voters, rather than “taking sides for one or another candidate.”

However, the French daily Le Monde said May 4 that the church’s refusal to back Macron against Le Pen had “provoked a deep discontent among the faithful.” France’s highest-circulation Catholic newspaper, La Croix, declared support for Macron and accused church leaders in a May 5 editorial of lacking will “to put an end to extremism.”

Born in Amiens, northwest of Paris, Macron was educated at Jesuit-run La Providence high school, before studying at the capital’s prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration and joining Rothschild and Cie Banque in 2008 as an investment banker.

In 2007, he married his former La Providence drama and literature teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, who was 24 years older and had three children from a previous marriage.

Macron worked as an economic adviser to President Francois Hollande and was appointed economy minister in 2014, deregulating some branches of industry and liberalizing Sunday trading. He resigned last August to pursue his presidential bid.

French writer Samuel Pruvot, who interviewed the new president at length for a book, said Macron sought baptism at age 12 under the influence of his Jesuit teachers, but viewed the Catholic faith “more intellectually than spiritually” and would “distance himself as much as possible from church, faith and Catholicism” as president.

“He’ll be diplomatic with the church, treating it like an elderly aunt whom he hasn’t seen for a long time, and who’s left his life, but for whom he still retains some affection,” Pruvot told the Catholic online portal Aleteia May 4.

“Macron recognizes there’s a law of God and a law of people, which aren’t the same and reflect a different hierarchy of values. … He recognizes this, but doesn’t adhere to it, since he considers that the truth is inaccessible and one must simply seek a consensus so people can calmly live together.”

In a joint declaration published May 5 in La Croix, 38 Catholic organizations urged voters not to support Le Pen and warned that the National Front’s program posed “a danger to democracy, social peace and Europe’s future.”

However, leaders of France’s pro-family “La Manif Pour Tous” movement, whose nationwide protests against same-sex marriage, assisted suicide and other liberal changes have been supported by some Catholic bishops, warned citizens that Macron would “continue the anti-family policy” of Hollande.

Both Macron and Le Pen visited Catholic cathedrals in Rodez and Reims respectively during their final day of campaigning May 5. Polling experts said both attracted a substantial number of Catholic votes.

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Pope urges Venezuela’s bishops to stay close to suffering people

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While violent protests continue to break out in the streets of Venezuela, Pope Francis urged the country’s bishops to remain close to the poor and needy.

“My dear brothers, I encourage you to not allow the beloved children of Venezuela to be overcome by mistrust or despair, for these are the evils that penetrate people’s hearts when they do not see prospects for the future,” the pope wrote in a letter May 5 to the country’s bishops.

Demonstrators rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 3. Two days later, Pope Francis urged the country's bishops to remain close to the poor and needy. (CNS/ Reuters)

Demonstrators rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 3. Two days later, Pope Francis urged the country’s bishops to remain close to the poor and needy. (CNS/ Reuters)

Venezuela has descended into chaos after years of food shortages and economic turmoil under embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Despite expressing a willingness to negotiate with the opposition, he has been accused of tightening his grip on power and suppressing any threat to his rule.

Protests began after March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the country’s parliament, in which the opposition had a two-thirds majority following the 2015 elections. The unprecedented ruling transferred legislative powers to the Supreme Court, which is comprised of judges nominated by Maduro.

Although the Supreme Court restored parliament’s authority after local and international outcry, protests against Maduro’s government continued to escalate.

Venezuela’s bishops have been vocal against the dire conditions and denounced the government’s attempts to change the constitution in order to remain in power, saying that the plan seeks to impose “a totalitarian, militaristic, police, violent and repressive system that has given rise to the evils suffered by our country today.”

“We make our own the pain of the Venezuelan people and say: ‘Enough of so much repression!’” the bishops said in a letter published May 5.

The bishops also called on the people to continue “to raise their voice in protest without falling into the game of those who, while generating violence, want to bring the country into greater confrontation in order to aggravate the situation and stay in power.”

According to Reuters, as of May 6 the protests had resulted the deaths of 37 people, including a 20-year-old demonstrator who was shot in the head.

In his letter to the bishops, Pope Francis said that he is “following the situation of the beloved Venezuelan people with great concern” and the rising numbers of people killed or wounded “do not help to solve the problems, but only provoke more suffering and pain.”

He thanked the Venezuelan bishops for their “continued call to avoid any form of violence, to respect citizens’ rights and to defend human dignity and fundamental rights.”

The pope also conveyed his solidarity with the nation’s priests, religious men and women and laypeople who “suffer for lack of food and medicine,” noting that “some even have endured personal attacks and violent acts in their churches.”

“I wish to express my solidarity with each of you and thank you for your closeness to the flock entrusted to you, especially with the poorest and neediest, as well as for your initiatives to promote solidarity and generosity among Venezuelans,” he said.

Calling on the nation’s bishops and clergy to continue promoting peace, Pope Francis urged them to remain united, adding that “communion among yourselves and your priests will enlighten them to find the right path.”

“I offer my prayers to the risen Lord so that he may pour upon you, my dear brothers, and over the beloved people of Venezuela his abundant Easter gifts of peace which he himself, victorious over death, granted the apostles, freeing them from all fear,” he said.

     

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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New head of Knights of Malta to lead reform efforts

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Catholic News Service

ROME — The new lieutenant of the grand master of the Knights of Malta will lead efforts to reform the order following a tumultuous period that brought to light many of the ancient institution’s internal disputes.

Fra' Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, right, is seen during the oath ceremony at Santa Maria in Aventino in Rome April 30. He was elected April 29 to lead the Knights of Malta for a one-year period, and will work on a constitutional reform that "will address potential institutional weaknesses," the order said in a press release. (CNS photo/Order of Malta via EPA)

Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, right, is seen during the oath ceremony at Santa Maria in Aventino in Rome April 30. He was elected April 29 to lead the Knights of Malta for a one-year period, and will work on a constitutional reform that “will address potential institutional weaknesses,” the order said in a press release. (CNS photo/Order of Malta via EPA)

Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre, elected April 29 to lead the Knights of Malta for a one-year period, will work on a constitutional reform that “will address potential institutional weaknesses,” the order said in a press release following the election.

“The recent crisis has shown some weaknesses in the checks and balances in governance,” it said. “”The reform will take this into consideration.’”

Born in Rome, Dalla Torre has been a member of the order since 1985 and held several prominent roles in the order’s hierarchy. Following the death of the 78th grand master, Fra’ Andrew Bertie, he served as lieutenant ad interim prior to the election of Fra’ Matthew Festing. 

Dalla Torre’s election closes a difficult chapter in the order’s history and tensions that lead to Festing’s resignation Jan. 24 at the behest of Pope Francis, who had established a commission to investigate his removal of the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.

Festing refused to cooperate with the investigation and insisted the firing was a sovereign act outside the Vatican’s jurisdiction, although the knights take a vow of obedience to the pope.

Although Boeselager was reinstated as grand chancellor, the public spat drew unwanted attention to internal disputes rather than to the order’s priorities of providing humanitarian relief, encouraging dialogue and assisting migrants and refugees.

The Knights of Malta have 13,500 members, as well as 80,000 volunteers and 25,000 medical professionals providing relief and humanitarian aid in 120 countries.

Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel, current grand hospitaller of the order, said the crisis “has been troublesome for our donors,” many of whom “decided maybe not to help us anymore because they thought we were fighting against the pope, which is not true.”

“So now we have to restore this trust,” he said Feb. 2 following Boeselager’s reinstatement.

The reform now led by Dalla Torre, the Knights of Malta said, will “also focus on strengthening the order’s spiritual life” and on efforts to increase the number of its professed members.

“Consultations have already begun and all members of the order have been invited to offer their suggestions,” the order said.

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Catholic leaders urge Israel to meet Palestinian hunger strikers’ demands

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17.

The prisoners are seeking an improvement in their prison conditions and an end to administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold prisoners almost indefinitely without having to charge them with a crime.

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said the prisoners are asking that their human rights and dignity be respected according to international law and the Geneva Convention.

“We urge the Israeli authorities to hear the cry of the prisoners, to respect their human dignity, and to open a new door toward the making of peace,” the bishops said in a statement released April 29. “The aim of this desperate act is to shed light, both locally and internationally, on the inhuman conditions in which they are detained by the Israeli authorities.”

The bishops affirmed the need to apply international law to the conditions of incarceration of political prisoners and condemned “the use of detention without trial, all forms of collective punishment, as well as the use of duress and torture for whatever reason.”

“Furthermore, we can never forget that every prisoner is a human being and his God-given dignity must be respected,” said the bishops.

Freeing prisoners will be a “sign of a new vision” which could mark a new beginning for Israelis and Palestinians, they said.

“As Christians, we are sent to work for the liberation of every human being, and for the establishment of a human society in which there is equality for all, Israelis and Palestinians,” they said.

According to reports in the Israeli press, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said 300 of the hunger strikers have agreed to start taking food, although none of their demands has been met. Palestinians maintain the 1,500 prisoners are continuing their water-and-salt only fast.

The political prisoners are demanding improved visitation rights for family members, better access to phone calls and medical care. Some 6,500 Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli jails for alleged offenses ranging from murder to throwing stones.

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