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French cardinal deplores ‘democracy gone mad’ in nation’s presidential race

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Catholic News Service

France’s Catholic primate has condemned the current presidential campaign as his country’s “worst ever” and urged Christians to help prevent democracy from “losing its sense.”

“Left and right rivaled each other and had their radical wings, but there was also a center. Now, left and right have stepped back, and the main candidates are divided by other unclear criteria. I have the impression our voters are totally lost,” said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, is pictured before the start of Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, is pictured before the start of Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In an interview with Poland’s Catholic Information Agency (KAI), published April 26, Cardinal Barbarin said France was witnessing “the twilight of its existing political system” as citizens sought out “leaders closer to the people in their economic and social realities.”

“Democracy seems to be losing its sense and being cast adrift by media shabbiness,” Cardinal Barbarin added. “This has been our worst-ever election campaign, characterized by the unforgivable accusations, total critiques, violence, chaos and the misleading of voters.”

In the first round of French elections April 23, Emmanuel Macron, founder of En Marche!, a center-left political movement, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, emerged as the two top vote-getters. They will face off May 7, when voters will choose who will be president for the next five years. Candidates from the mainstream Socialist and Republican parties will not be in the final round.

Cardinal Barbarin said the success of Le Pen, who has vowed to take France out of the European Union and give French nationals priority over foreigners in jobs, welfare, housing and education, reflected a “destabilizing trend” also visible in other parts of Europe and the United States. He spoke of a “form of democratic terrorism,” which stripped candidates of their dignity by establishing a right “to know everything, whether proved or unproved” about them.

“It seems we’re dealing with a democracy gone mad,” the cardinal said. “Although statesmen still exist, they’re unable to get through today’s campaign mechanisms, where everything is decided by the art of winning. Those who win are just electoral animals, not competent, rational politicians.”

Catholics traditionally make up two-thirds of France’s 67 million inhabitants, although only a small proportion attends Mass.

In a book-length message last October, “Recovering the sense of politics,” the bishops’ conference said “weariness, frustration, fear and anger” in the country had fueled “profound hopes and expectations of change,” but also cautioned against “a search for facile, emotive options.”

Cardinal Barbarin told KAI the Catholic Church should appeal to citizens not to vote “for people with pretty eyes, who can make stars of themselves with media support.”

“This is a time of decadence, and decadence means certain forms and structures are nearing their end,” he said.

“As Christians, we yearn for social order, peace and harmony, a state based on principles of welfare and participation, where all can make contributions and citizens are subjects of the political community,” he said. “But the problem in today’s France is the rising disappointment and anger of those who feel ill-treated, rejected and forgotten.”

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All Catholics must take faith, witness to the public square, bishop says

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In his famous work “Democracy in America,” published in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “Where education and freedom are the children of morality and religion … democracy … makes better choices than anywhere else.”

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, made the case March 9 that those words remain true nearly two centuries later, and that Catholics need to engage in the public square.

He made the comments in an address to more than 1,000 Catholics gathered for Minnesota’s first Catholics at the Capitol event.

Organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the education and advocacy event drew Catholics from every region of the state.

A member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Conley noted that the Minnesota Capitol stands at the confluence of streets named for two prominent American leaders: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Irish-born Archbishop John Ireland, St. Paul’s first archbishop.

“Those two streets on which the Capitol stands,” he said, “should remind us of two fundamental and important truths: that democracies depend on believers to witness prophetically to virtue, to truth, to goodness and to beauty; that believers have a critical and important role to play in the public life for the common good, to build a culture of life and a civilization of love; and we must do all of this as … missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Your state needs your faith and your witness.”

He told Catholics that democracy’s success depends on the “generous participation of believers.”

“Secular activists argue that our faith should stay out of the public square, that debates over public policy shouldn’t involve religious perspectives, (and) that we have no right to bring faith into the voting booth, or into the Capitol, or into the media,” he said.

But, he said, America’s Founding Fathers saw things differently. “”The Founding Fathers believed that well-formed believers were essential and critical for maintaining the social contract underlying the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

He pointed to the words of President John Adams, written in 1798 to soldiers of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Public religious faith provides the ability to make moral judgments, which are rooted in a sense of common good rather than the individual good or personal gain,” Bishop Conley said.

He said in the first part of the 20th century, Catholics were observed to have kept their faith out of their political engagement, as they viewed it as a private or family matter “with no political implications.”

“But our faith is more than a family matter. Our faith is not private,” he said. “Our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is teeming with political implications, and we cannot live our faith in Jesus Christ as a private affair. We cannot be afraid to challenge our democracy with the truths of the Gospel. In fact, our democracy depends on that challenge.”

He said that our faith upholds a vision of the common good under which all people can flourish.

“The Gospel calls the world to objective standards of truth,” Bishop Conley said. “The Gospel promotes human dignity and protects the family and orders justice. Jesus Christ tells us what freedom is, what justice is, what it means to have peace and what it means to prosper. The Founding Fathers knew that the American Experiment would depend on the public faith of religious believers, and they knew that democracy itself depends on people of faith.”

During the last election cycle, many American Catholics considered themselves “politically homeless” because their values didn’t fit easily in either the Democratic or Republican parties. While it’s true that neither party represents a Catholic worldview, Catholics should not feel “homeless,” Bishop Conley said.

“Catholics do not have a political party, but we do have a political home,” he said. “Catholics are not politically liberal or politically conservative; we are simply Catholics, disciples of Christ and his Gospel. Our mission in the public life is to be faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ and his church, and the truths he’s revealed to us.”

“Our political home is our eternal home, the city of God,” he said. “Because of that, our political mission in this world is to build a culture of life, a civilization of love.”

He said Catholics are meant to be prophetic voices who speak the word of God and trust in its power. He quoted G.K. Chesterton: “When the world is upside down, prophets are the ones who stand on their heads to see things as they are.”

“Today, in a world that is upside down, God calls us to stand on our heads … to see things as they are and to speak the truth,” he said, pointing to abortion and other life issues, marriage, and the need to help people who are poor, immigrant, refugees or incarcerated.

Speaking truth might mean that Catholics lose friends, he said. “If we are faithful witnesses to the church’s teaching, we will make our neighbors from every political party unhappy and uncomfortable,” he said.

Catholics also need to trust in God’s providence, he said. Success is measured by fidelity, not results, and God may use people’s efforts in ways they may never see.

“The time in which we live is a very difficult one for Catholics and for our nation,” Bishop Conley said. “May we together work for the kingdom of God, for justice, for truth, for charity. May we do all of this as disciples of Jesus Christ and may we trust in the Lord, who calls us to be holy above all things, who has a plan for each one of us, and who knows how that plan will unfold in his glory, in the providence of eternity.”

 

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Hong Kong cardinal surrenders to police to help end street protests

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HONG KONG — Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, joined the civil disobedience movement organizers who surrendered to police Dec. 3, with a hope to end the present occupation campaign that has lasted more than two months.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, leaves the police station after surrendering to police Dec. 3. Cardinal Zen asked faithful to pray for the democracy in the city after he stayed at the police station for an hour, documenting his involvement in the Occupy Central movement. (CNS photo/Francis Wong)

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, leaves the police station after surrendering to police Dec. 3. Cardinal Zen asked faithful to pray for the democracy in the city after he stayed at the police station for an hour, documenting his involvement in the Occupy Central movement. (CNS photo/Francis Wong)

Cardinal Zen remained at the police station for an hour. As he left, he asked people to pray for democracy in the city.

The Occupy Central movement, a civil disobedience campaign to block roads in central business area, was initiated by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, and the Rev Chu Yiu-ming, a Baptist pastor, in an effort to force the Hong Kong and Chinese governments to allow true democracy in the city. The protesters feel government authorities have handpicked candidates for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Cardinal Zen had said on his blog in late November that struggling for democracy may be a long road, but a “miracle may take place, like David hurls a stone to hit down Goliath. And no one would expect that the Berlin Wall fell down all of a sudden 25 years ago.”

The cardinal, 82, is a supporter to the Occupy Central movement. Last June, he launched a walking campaign, walking 52 miles over seven days in different areas in Hong Kong, to ask more people to join an unofficial referendum on democratic reforms.

 

Benny Tai also turned himself in to police Dec. 3. He told reporters after he left the police station that it was time to promote civic education in different platforms, instead of continuing the occupation, as insisted on by the student group.

 

Recently, protesters and the police had clashed violently. Many academics said police used excessive force to clear the roads.

 

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Pope Francis arrives in South Korea, calls for peace, democracy and social justice

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Catholic News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — Starting his first visit to Asia, Pope Francis urged South Korean political and civic leaders to seek peace on their divided peninsula and strengthen their nation’s commitment to democracy and social justice.

“Peace is not simply the absence of war, but the work of justice,” the pope said Aug. 14 in a speech at Seoul’s Blue House, the official residence of President Park Geun-hye.

Addressing some 200 government officials, Pope Francis noted that the country, divided between North and South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, “has long suffered because of a lack of peace,” and he praised

“efforts being made in favor of reconciliation and stability.”

Pope Francis arrives with South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a welcoming ceremony in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul Aug. 14. The pope will beatify Korean martyrs and participate in the sixth Asian Youth Day during his five-day visit to South Korea. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives with South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a welcoming ceremony in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul Aug. 14. The pope will beatify Korean martyrs and participate in the sixth Asian Youth Day during his five-day visit to South Korea. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Introducing the pope before his speech, President Park said the war “still casts a shadow” over Korea, “dividing not only the country but so many families.”

Tensions with communist North Korea have risen markedly in recent years, especially over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear arms. Less than an hour before the pope’s plane landed in Seoul, North Korea fired three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan in the latest of a large number of missile tests it began launching in March.

Pyongyang had already refused the church’s request to send a delegation of Catholics to the South for the pope’s visit.

“Korea’s quest for peace is a cause close to our hearts, for it affects the stability of the entire area and indeed of our whole war-weary world,” the pope said.

Speaking in English in public for first time as pope, he told diplomats in the audience, who included envoys of other Asian countries, that they faced the “perennial challenge of breaking down the walls of distrust and hatred by promoting a culture of reconciliation and solidarity.”

That task, he said, “demands that we not forget past injustices but overcome them through forgiveness, tolerance and cooperation.”

Pope Francis practiced some diplomacy of his own earlier in the day. As his plane entered Chinese airspace, the first time any papal flight had passed over the country, he sent a telegram of prayers and greetings to China’s President Xi Jinping.

The Vatican and the Chinese government have struggled over issues of religious freedom, including the pope’s right to appoint bishops, and have not had diplomatic relations since shortly after China’s 1949 communist revolution.

In a statement faxed to news agencies, China’s foreign ministry acknowledged the pope’s telegram and said its government is willing to work with the Vatican to improve bilateral relations.

The pope’s gesture was undercut by Korean press reports that Chinese authorities had arrested young people planning to attend an Asian Youth Day event with Pope Francis. A spokesman for the South Korean committee organizing the papal visit confirmed that some Chinese had been unable to travel to Korea.

“Maybe it’s because of the Chinese local situation or some complicated situation in China,” Father Heo Young-yeop told reporters Aug. 14, but said he would not say more out of “fear for the safety” of the Chinese youths in Korea after they return to China.

In his speech to the South Korean authorities, the pope noted some of their country’s domestic problems, including “political divisions, economic inequities and concerns about the responsible stewardship of the natural environment.”

Addressing such challenges, he said, requires that the “voice of every member of society be heard, and that a spirit of open communication, dialogue and cooperation be fostered.” He also expressed hope for the strengthening of Korean democracy, which replaced authoritarian rule in the late 1980s after a popular movement in which Catholics played a prominent role.

The pope urged the leaders to show special concern for the “poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice, not only by meeting their immediate needs but also by assisting them in their human and cultural advancement.”

He said South Korea, the world’s 13th-largest economy, should be a “leader also in the globalization of solidarity which is so necessary today: one which looks to the integral development of every member of our human family.”

President Park met Pope Francis’ plane in the morning at a military air base south of Seoul. Both of them voiced hopes that the pope’s Aug. 14-18 visit would help promote reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

Also greeting the pope’s plane were family members of some of the 300 people killed in the April sinking of the Sewol ferry.

“My heart aches for you,” the pope told them. “I remember the victims.”

Other relatives were demonstrating during the pope’s visit, demanding that the government appoint an independent investigation of the disaster.

In the afternoon, the president welcomed the pope to the Blue House, named for the color of the tiles on its roof, where the two leaders reviewed an honor guard before meeting in private with a few advisers. In the customary exchange of gifts, Pope Francis presented President Park with a panoramic map of Rome, one of only 300 copies engraved and printed by hand to mark the jubilee year 2000.

President Park gave the pope a piece of embroidered fabric as an example of traditional Korean craftsmanship.

 

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