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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Oregon father one of two men killed trying to protect fellow passengers

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Catholic News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. — On a crowded Portland commuter train May 26, a Catholic father of four stepped forward to calm a tense situation. He was that kind of guy.

Rick Best, a 53-year-old member of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, Ore., was stabbed to death May 26 when trying to defend two young women from a man who yelled epithets at them aboard a commuter train, said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. (CNS/courtesy Best family)

Rick Best, a 53-year-old member of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, Ore., was stabbed to death May 26 when trying to defend two young women from a man who yelled epithets at them aboard a commuter train, said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. (CNS/courtesy Best family)

Rick Best defended two women being accosted by a passenger yelling hate speech about Muslims and other groups. Best, a 53-year-old member of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, Oregon, would die for his noble deed.

In less than a minute, he and Namkai Meche, another defender, were slain, slashed in the neck in front of horrified onlookers. A third man survived the knife attack.

Best’s funeral Mass is set for June 5 at Christ the King Church.

The accused killer, 35-year-old Jeremy Christian, had been on a racially charged rampage. With a history of police run-ins going back 15 years at least, he was caught on camera in April, draped in an American flag and repeatedly yelling bigoted epithets during a demonstration in Portland. On his Facebook page, he posted a photo of himself performing the Nazi salute and declared himself a white supremacist.

The day before the killings, Christian hurled a bottle at a black woman at another rail station.

On the unseasonably warm afternoon of May 26, one of the young women who became Christian’s focus on the packed train was wearing a hijab; the other was black.

When the bloodied train stopped at the next station, Christian escaped, but police captured him soon after. He remained in custody in Multnomah County Jail, indicted on two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of intimidation and one count of being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.

Best was pronounced dead at the scene. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, a 23-year-old graduate of Reed College in Portland, died later at the hospital. Injured in the attack and recovering was Micah David-Cole Fletcher, a 21-year-old student at Portland State University.

Best leaves a wife, Myhanh Duong Best, and four children: boys ages 19, 17 and 14, and a 12-year-old daughter.

A veteran who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during a 23-year career in the Army, he had worked as a technician for the city of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services since 2015.

His supervisor, Kareen Perkins, told KGW-TV: “He was always the first person you would go to for help. I’ve talked to most of his co-workers today, and several of them said it’s just like Rick to step in and help somebody out.”

Best and his wife, who is from Vietnam, met at Portland Community College. He retired from the Army as a platoon sergeant in 2012. Living in the suburban town of Happy Valley, he decided the local government needed refreshing and in 2014 ran unsuccessfully for the Clackamas County commission, refusing to accept campaign donations.

In a prepared statement, Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample sought to comfort a city shocked by the brutal slayings. The metropolitan area of more than 1 million averages about 20 murders per year.

“Pray for those who may now feel unsafe in moving freely about a city that truly welcomes people of all cultures, faith traditions and walks of life,” Archbishop Sample said. “Pray for those whose hearts and minds may be hardened to the love of God and act out in such violent and hateful ways.”

He said “profound gratitude is owed to those who bravely stepped forward to protect the young women who were being vehemently harassed.”

During a Memorial Day homily at a cemetery not far from the Best home, Archbishop Sample told hundreds of worshippers May 29 that Best learned in the Army what it means to put one’s life on the line for others.

Best and Namkai Meche, the archbishop said, gave themselves in defense of the defenseless. In that, the archbishop said, the men closely followed Jesus.

Christ the King Parish is in shock, but has mobilized to support the Bests.

“This family is so faith filled,” Deacon Jim Pittman, who served for years at Christ the King, told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland’s archdiocesan newspaper. The Bests came to Sunday morning Mass May 28, just 40 hours after the killings.

Deacon Pittman has been meeting with the family. “I told the kids, ‘Your dad died in the way Christ told us to,’” he said. Eric, the oldest, told Deacon Pittman that he is not yet ready to forgive, but does not feel hate.

Deacon Pittman told Eric and the other children it is all right to cry. “That’s what our dad always told us,” responded Eric, who was taking a lead in making arrangements for his father’s funeral.

“They are just the nicest family ever,” said Evans Brackenbrough, a La Salle Prep student who attends Christ the King youth group with two of the Best children. “There is nothing bad in any of the kids.”

At the light rail station, a massive memorial has sprung up. Flowers, candles and chalked prayers cover the area. Citizens stand and weep, even if they did not know anyone involved. One visitor to the vigil site, Tami Soprani of St. Patrick Parish in Portland, tried to explain the feeling.

“You see someone stand up for what we all believe, and that is very powerful, very emotional,” Soprani said.

 

Langlois is editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.  

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Atlanta archbishop to lead U.S. bishops’ new task force on race

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta has been appointed as chair of a new task force of the U.S. bishops to deal with racial issues brought into public consciousness following a series of summertime shootings that left both citizens and police officers among those dead.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta  has been named to lead a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' task force to deal with racial issues. (CNS file / Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta has been named to lead a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ task force to deal with racial issues. (CNS file / Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

The task force’s charge includes helping bishops to engage directly the challenging problems highlighted by the shootings. Task force members will gather and disseminate supportive resources and “best practices” for their fellow bishops; actively listening to the concerns of members in troubled communities and law enforcement; and build strong relationships to help prevent and resolve conflicts.

“By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities,” said a July 21 statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In addition to creating the task force and appointing its members, Archbishop Kurtz also called for a national day of prayer for peace in our communities, to be held Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver.

Archbishop Gregory is a former USCCB president. Other task force members are Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for African-American Affairs; Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who is president of the National Black Catholic Congress.

The day of prayer, according to a July 21 USCCB announcement about the task force’s formation, will “serve as a focal point for the work of the task force.”

The task force’s work will conclude with the USCCB’s fall general meeting in November, at which time it will report on its activities and recommendations for future work.

“I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “The day of prayer and special task force will help us advance in that direction.”

The task force will have bishop consultants, including Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is USCCB vice president, as well as bishops whose jurisdictions have experienced extreme gun violence, or who otherwise bring special insight or experience on related questions. An equal or smaller number of lay consultants with relevant expertise will be appointed soon thereafter, the USCCB announcement said.

“I am honored to lead this task force which will assist my brother bishops, individually and as a group, to accompany suffering communities on the path toward peace and reconciliation,” said Archbishop Gregory in a July 21 statement. “We are one body in Christ, so we must walk with our brothers and sisters and renew our commitment to promote healing. The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else’s; it is our own, in our very dioceses.”

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Gunmen kill nuns, elderly and disabled; priest missing in Aden, Yemen

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Four Missionaries of Charity and 10 to 12 other people were killed March 4 after uniformed gunmen entered a home the sisters operate for the elderly and disabled in Aden, Yemen.

Several news outlets reported 16 people were killed, including patients.

Four members of the Missionaries of Charity were killed March 4 along with elderly residents of a home the sisters operate in Yemen, a Middle East country just south of Saudi Arabia. March 4 in Yemen, by gunmen ( CNS file photo)

Four members of the Missionaries of Charity were killed March 4 along with elderly residents of a home the sisters operate in Yemen, a Middle Eastern country just south of Saudi Arabia. March 4 in Yemen, by gunmen ( CNS file photo)

The superior of the Missionaries of Charity at the home survived by hiding, according to the Vatican’s Fides news agency. Father Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian Salesian priest who had been living at the home since Holy Family parish in Aden was sacked and burned in September, was missing after the attack.

Yemen has been experiencing a political crisis since 2011 and is often described as being in a state of civil war with members of the Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities vying for power; in the midst of the tensions, terrorist groups have been operating in the country, including groups believed to be associated with the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Although most Christians have fled the country, a handful of Salesian priests and about 20 Missionaries of Charity chose to stay and continue their ministry.

Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes Yemen, told AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency, that at 8:30 a.m. March 4, “persons in uniform” broke into the Aden compound, killing the guard and all employees who tried to stop them. “They then reached the sisters and opened fire.”

Two of the sisters killed were Rwandan, one was from India and one was from Kenya, the bishop said. Father Uzhunnalil apparently was kidnapped, he added.

“The signal was clear: This has to do with religion,” Bishop Hinder said.

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Caritas volunteer killed by mortar fire in Aleppo, Syria

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VATICAN CITY — A young volunteer for Caritas Syria was killed in continued violence there.

Elias Abiad, 22, who had been volunteering for the church agency since 2014, was hit by mortar shells Feb. 13 in Aleppo, reported Fides, news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Civilians carry belongings recovered from a site hit by what residents said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in Aleppo, Syria, last fall. A Caritas worker was killed this week in continued violence there. (CNS photo/Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)

Civilians carry belongings recovered from a site hit by what residents said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in Aleppo, Syria, last fall. A Caritas worker was killed this week in continued violence there. (CNS photo/Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)

Michel Roy, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, said in a statement to Abiad’s family that his death “reminds us of the continuing daily tragedy of Syria and the urgent need of cease-fire and peace.”

Bishop Georges Abou Khazen of Aleppo said continued bombings caused another four people to die and more than 15 people to be injured the same night Abiad died.

“These bombings are carried out by groups called ‘moderate opposition’ and, as such, are defended, protected and armed, but in reality do not differ from other jihadists except for the name,” Fides reported the bishop as saying.

While many people have been fleeing from the armed conflict that has devastated the country the past five years, the Maronite archbishop of Damascus is building new churches in the city as a “gesture of revolt against death and destruction”

One chapel was inaugurated recently and two more were set to be completed in the coming months, reported Fides Feb. 15.

The building projects represent a concrete “sign of hope and confidence in the future of the church in Syria” in this “year of mercy and of great suffering,” Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar said in a report to the news agency.

He recalled the 2013 death of a deacon killed near a church by flying shrapnel. The event prompted the archbishop to tell his priests that they had every right to leave the city.

But, he said, they all told him, “You remain, and we will remain, too” and since then, the priests still “cling to their mission under the bombs.”

These priests, he said, represent “the winning card and the guarantee of the future of a martyred Christianity that refuses to die.”

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Pro-life leaders condemn killings at Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic

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 COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A priest who celebrates Mass every Friday morning on a sidewalk near the Planned Parenthood clinic targeted by a lone gunman Nov. 27 said the shooter’s actions were the antithesis of the pro-life cause.

“We want the conversion of Planned Parenthood, not their destruction,” said Father Bill Carmody, the longtime Respect Life director for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. “The pro-life movement has no place for violence.”

People pray during a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church Nov 28, the day after a gunman opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. Police say Robert Lewis Dear killed three people during the shooting rampage and hours-long standoff at the clinic and was later taken into custody. (CNS photo/Isaiah J. Downing, Reuters)

People pray during a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church Nov 28, the day after a gunman opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. Police say Robert Lewis Dear killed three people during the shooting rampage and hours-long standoff at the clinic and was later taken into custody. (CNS photo/Isaiah J. Downing, Reuters)

The attack on the clinic in northwest Colorado Springs left three people dead, including a police officer, and nine others wounded. The clinic reported that none of its employees or patients was among those killed or seriously wounded in the Black Friday attack.

The clinic sits near a busy shopping center that includes a grocery store, a bank and several other businesses. After the attack broke out around 11:30 a.m., local time, patrons and employees of the businesses “sheltered in place” for nearly six hours while police tried to contain the alleged shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, 57. The standoff ended with Dear’s arrest at 4:52 p.m., local time.

Among those killed was Garrett Swasey, a police officer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and father of two.

The clinic is the frequent site of prayer vigils and other activities, in addition to the pro-life Masses, leading several national media outlets to speculate that Dear was a member of the pro-life movement.

However, Father Carmody said he did not recall ever having seen or spoken to Dear. On the day of the shootings, he had celebrated his usual weekly Mass, but he said that he and others in attendance departed shortly afterward because of the snowstorm hitting the region.

“We were long gone” before the attack started, Father Carmody told The Colorado Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper of Colorado Springs.

Others who regularly pray outside the clinic also said they did not recall seeing Dear at any pro-life events.

Law enforcement officials would not discuss a motive for the shootings because their investigation was still underway. Dear was scheduled to appear in court Nov. 30.

According to The Gazette daily newspaper, Dear previously lived in South Carolina and North Carolina and had arrest records in both states. Voting records show that Dear maintains a residence in Hartsel, a small town about 120 miles west of Colorado Springs, The Gazette reported.

“Yesterday, our community experienced an act of pure evil at the local Planned Parenthood clinic,” Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs said in a statement. “As Pope Francis recently reminded us, ‘The path of violence and hate can never solve the problems of humanity.’”

The National Right to Life Committee’s president, Carol Tobias, said her organization “unequivocally condemns unlawful activities and acts of violence regardless of motivation. The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal.”

Bryan Kemper, youth outreach director for Priests for Life and founder of Stand True, said in a Nov. 27 statement that “although we do not know the details behind the gun violence at Planned Parenthood in Colorado, it is important to say that we are against all violence against our fellow human persons.”

“From the abortionist, the workers, the patients, the children scheduled to die or anyone at that Planned Parenthood, all of their lives are precious and worth saving,” he said. “All of them are loved by God and deserve our prayers. I am sickened by the violence there today just as I am sickened by the violence there every day.”

Judie Brown, president of American Life League, said that “despite aggressive attempts of some news media to tie this brutal and egregious act to pro-life causes, there is no evidence supporting their case and these attempts are simply irresponsible.”

“We abhor and condemn all acts of terrorism, all acts of savagery against the innocent — born and preborn — and we call upon our fellow Americans to do likewise,” she said in a Nov. 30 statement.

Brown urged people to “to look beneath the surface of escalating violence in this nation” to see that “the violent act” of surgical abortion is at the root of it, which “the media ignores.”

By Veronica Ambuul, Ambuul is editor of The Colorado Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

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Pope offers condolences to families of Israeli teens found dead

July 1st, 2014 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis expressed his participation in the “unspeakable suffering” of the families of three kidnapped Israeli teens whose bodies were found June 30 in Hebron, West Bank.

In a statement conveying the pope’s condolences, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, called the killings “terrible and dramatic.”

“The assassination of innocent people is always an execrable and unacceptable crime and a serious obstacle on the path toward the peace for which we must tirelessly continue to strive and pray,” Father Lombardi said.

“Pope Francis participates in the unspeakable suffering of the families struck by this homicidal violence and the pain of all persons afflicted by the consequences of hatred,” Father Lombardi said, and he “prays that God might inspire all with thoughts of compassion and peace.”

After the boys’ bodies were found, Israeli military launched what it described as “precision strikes” on 34 sites in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Defense Forces said the strikes were in response to 18 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel June 29-30.

The three teens were kidnapped in mid-June as they were hitchhiking home from their school in Gush Etzion, a cluster of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, near Bethlehem. Israeli officials accused Hamas, which recently formed a coalition government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of being responsible for the abduction.

Abbas condemned the kidnapping, and Palestinian security forces were coordinating with the Israelis to find the kidnappers.

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, had asked anyone with information about the kidnapping of the three teens to come forward and help return the youths to their families. At the same time, June 25, he called on the Israeli army to keep its reaction and its search methods proportionate.

“Kidnapping three Israeli young people is not fair, and is against human rights and human dignity. We are opposed to this; this is not the right way to make peace,” he told Catholic News Service. But “the reaction of the Israeli army is disproportionate to what happened.”

At that point, he said, Israeli army forces had arrested some 600 Palestinians in their search for the youth; others estimated 400 were arrested.

 

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Vatican decries killings of three young Israelis

June 30th, 2014 Posted in Vatican News Tags: ,

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“The Holy See Press Office has just made the following declaration at 9:34 p.m. Rome time:

The news of the killing of three young Israelis who had disappeared is terrible and dramatic. The assassination of innocent persons is always despicable and unacceptable, and a very serious obstacle to that peace to which we must continue untiringly to commit ourselves and for which we must pray. Violence calls for more violence and feeds the mortal circle of hatred.  Pope Francis unites himself to the indescribable pain of the families stricken by this homicidal violence and to the pain of all people stricken by the consequences of hatred, and asks God to inspire in all thoughts of compassion and peace.

“[The three teens — Eyal Yifrach, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Frenkel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen — disappeared late June 12 or early June 13 from the Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion in the West Bank, according to the Israeli military.]”

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