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Bishop Cantu calls for diplomacy to ease U.S.-North Korea differences

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Diplomacy and political engagement are necessary to resolve the differences between the United States and North Korea and avoid a military conflict, the chairman of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M.,  chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace,  talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington last March. The bishop wrote an Aug. 10 letter to Tillerson calling for diplomatic efforts to avoid a war between the U.S. and North Korea. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington last March. The bishop wrote an Aug. 10 letter to Tillerson calling for diplomatic efforts to avoid a war between the U.S. and North Korea. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Writing Aug. 10, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, echoed a recent call from the Korean bishops’ conference to support talks to secure the peaceful future of the Korean Peninsula.

Bishop Cantu acknowledged that the escalating threat of violence from North Korea’s leaders cannot be “underestimated or ignored,” but that the “high certainty of catastrophic death and destruction from any military action must prompt the United States to work with others in the international community for a diplomatic and political solution based on dialogue.”

The letter follows days of back-and-forth threats between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump has threatened to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” in response to Kim’s warnings of imminent attacks on the U.S. Meanwhile, Kim has said his country was preparing to fire missiles into waters around Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with two military bases.

The angry talk between the leaders has escalated since the Aug. 5 passage at the United Nations of new economic sanctions threatening to cut off a third of North Korea’s exports. Russia and China, two of Pyongyang’s few economic trading partners, supported the sanctions. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also adopted a statement expressing “grave concern” over North Korea’s actions related to the development of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.

From North Korea came an announcement that the country is reviewing plans to strike U.S. military targets in Guam with medium-range ballistic missiles to create “enveloping fire.” In response, the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, in an Aug. 9 statement said everyone there should “stay grounded in the peace of Christ. Look to God during these difficult times when world peace is threatened and pray always.”

“Please pray that the Holy Spirit will instill in the leaders of our country and all the nations the virtues of wisdom and understanding to promote peace rather than war.”

The statement, issued by Father Jeffrey C. San Nicolas, a spokesman for the archdiocese, also reiterated what Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, has advised, that al on the island “remain calm and trust that the security of our island is in good hands with local and national defense forces in place to address such threats.”

“This is the time for all of us to come together,” the priest said. “If a family member, co-worker or neighbor is troubled, take time to talk to them, pray for them and remind them of the providence of Our Lord. We place our complete trust in our God.”

In his letter Bishop Cantu said his committee agreed with the stance of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea in its support for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for humanitarian and military talks with North Korea.

“In solidarity with the Catholic Church in Korea and the efforts of the South Korean government, we urge the United States to encourage and support these talks,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “This avenue, unlike most others, offers the Korean Peninsula a future free from military conflicts or crises, which could simultaneously threaten entire nations and millions of lives in the region.”

A former Vatican diplomat supported such talks.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 9, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said that “instead of building walls and creating dissidence or admitting the possibility of recourse to violence,” both countries must have a constructive approach that benefits the people.

A former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts tasked with monitoring and implementing North Korea sanctions also called for calm and a negotiated solution to the differences between the two countries.

George A. Lopez, chair emeritus of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told Catholic News Service Aug. 10 the interests of both countries can be addressed at the negotiating table.

“We need somebody to talk about what are the underlying security needs of both North Korea and the United States and is there a forum to talk about that,” Lopez said. “If the U.S. issued a simple pledge that we seek no first use against North Koreans, we seek some way to bargain this out, you’d get some response to that.”

Asian nations want stability rather than uncertainty and that will require that talks get underway to assure the peaceful co-existence of both countries, Lopez said. “So how do we get there?” he asked.

Bishop Cantu’s letter reminded Tillerson that “this crisis reminds us that nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction do not ensure security or peace. Instead, they exacerbate tensions and produce and arms races as countries acquire more weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to intimidate or threaten other nations.”

The bishop also cited a call in July by agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals.

A joint declaration released by the USCCB and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with other nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Bishop Cantu and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, conference president, signed the statement.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace organization, said the organization was praying that both nations would step away from potential confrontation. She said Aug. 9 Pax Christi expected to release a statement on the situation within days.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Pope’s children’s hospital is fixing past problems, says cardinal overseer

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While there had been problems and complaints in the past, the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital was working resolve them, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, who oversees the hospital.

Pope Francis blesses a sick child in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 15, 2016, during a meeting with patients and workers of Rome's Bambino Gesu children's hospital. Responding to an Associated Press investigation, a top Vatican official said there had been past problems at the hospital, but that the current administration was making a "serious effort to resolve them." (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis blesses a sick child in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 15, 2016, during a meeting with patients and workers of Rome’s Bambino Gesu children’s hospital. Responding to an Associated Press investigation, a top Vatican official said there had been past problems at the hospital, but that the current administration was making a “serious effort to resolve them.” (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

In responding to an investigative report by the Associated Press, the cardinal told the AP July 4 there had been past problems at the hospital, but that the hospital’s current administration, put in place in 2015, was making a “serious effort to resolve them.”

The AP reported July 3 that the Vatican formed a commission in 2014 to study workers’ complaints and concerns about unsafe medical protocols, overcrowding and a culture that emphasized practices that might reap greater revenues.

An external audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2014 determined the hospital’s mission “had been modified in the last few years” by emphasizing expansion and revenues without adequate governance, according to the AP.

In January 2015, the Vatican assembled a team to conduct an announced onsite inspection of the hospital. That team, led by U.S. Sister Carol Keehan — a Daughter of Charity and president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association — determined the commission’s report was unfounded and praised the quality of care at the hospital.

Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, confirmed in a written statement July 3 that “After hearing complaints about care at the hospital three years ago, the Holy See moved quickly and decisively to study them seriously. After collecting the criticism, a clinical team was commissioned to look at the accusations and visit the hospital. The team found an exceptional level of care at the hospital, and that the accusations were unfounded.”

“The sole critical note concerned inadequate space in intensive care units, something hospital officials are aware of and working to improve,” Burke wrote.

He said the church “welcomes any efforts to help improve that care in its hospitals, including reports of practices that might be below standard. No hospital is perfect, but it is false and unjust to suggest that there are serious threats to the health of children at Bambino Gesu.”

Cardinal Parolin told AP that some of the problems reported by former and current hospital staff in 2014 had been “truly unfounded,” but that “there was an attempt, and there is currently an attempt and serious effort to resolve” those problems that had been confirmed.

Meanwhile, the hospital’s president, Mariella Enoc, told the AP July 4 that the climate at the hospital had become “more serene” since she was appointed by Cardinal Parolin in early 2015. She said she was calling for more open communication and urging people to come forward with any problems in order to talk “and not keep it inside and then have it explode.”

Enoc was appointed after the resignation of Giuseppe Profiti, who had been president of the hospital since 2008. He left less than a year into a renewed term right before the January 2015 onsite Vatican inspection of the hospital, amid rumors that a significant amount of money from the foundation supporting the children’s hospital was used to help finance the remodeling of the apartment of former Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Profiti and Massimo Spina, former treasurer of the hospital, were then subjected to a Vatican investigation in connection to the financing case.

In November 2015, Cardinal Parolin put in a new board of advisers at the Bambino Gesu Foundation with a new set of statutes aimed improving the fundraising body’s transparency.

In December 2015, Pope Francis established a special pontifical commission to study entities operating in the name of the Catholic Church in the field of health care. The body, under the guidance of Cardinal Parolin, who also named Enoc as one of its members, aims to study and propose ways to increase efficiencies, improve governance and collaboration, and protect the religious mission and charisms of the clinics, hospitals or institutes.

When Pope Francis met with staff and patients of the Bambino Gesu hospital Dec. 15, 2016, he emphasized how all those working in the field of health care must help their patients and be on guard against falling down the slippery slope of corruption that begins with special favors, tips and bribes.

“The worst cancer in a hospital like this is corruption,” he said. “In this world where there is so much business involved in health care, so many people are tricked by the sickness industry, Bambino Gesu hospital must learn to say no. Yes, we all are sinners. Corrupt, never.”

 

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Bishop urges Tillerson to use diplomacy to resolve simmering Congo crisis

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to undertake diplomatic efforts to ensure that democratic elections are carried out by the end of the year to avoid continued strife and the possible outbreak of civil war.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

In a May 1 letter to Tillerson, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, the committee chairman, shared the concern of the Congolese Catholic bishops’ conference that an agreement between the country’s government and opposition parties governing a presidential election in 2017 was not being followed.

The Congolese bishops voiced their concern over rising tension in Congo in an April 20 statement after President Joseph Kabila unilaterally nominated Bruno Tshibala as prime minister over the objection of opposition parties.

Tshibala, a former member of the largest opposition party, was named prime minister of a new transitional government established to organize a presidential election by the end of the year after Kabila refused to step down when his second term in office expired in December.

Kabila has said, however, that the government needs more time to overcome the massive logistic and financial challenges to holding an election. The opposition maintains that Kabila is trying to cling to power beyond his constitutional mandate.

Demonstrations in December resulted in at least 40 deaths at the hands of government forces.

The Catholic bishops’ conference helped negotiate Dec. 31 what has been called the St. Sylvester Accord. The agreement called for elections in 2017, after which Kabila would step down. Kabila’s appointment of Tshibala violates that agreement, the bishops said.

Bishop Cantu said Congo could resolve its electoral crisis this year by holding free and fair elections that would lead to the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s 57-year history or it could descend into autocracy, riots or perhaps civil war.

U.S. diplomacy could head off violence and instability, the committee chairman said.

The Congolese bishops “used their moral authority” to become involved in the talks to create conditions of “peaceful, constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis,” Bishop Cantu explained in his letter.

“It’s not the church’s place to take on a political role by applying pressure on the political parties to resolve the crisis and protect democracy and the common good. The Congolese people need the international community, the United Nations and the regional countries to work together to convince the Congolese government to prepare inclusive, free and fair elections, as called for by the constitution to allow civil society and the common good for the country to flourish,” Bishop Cantu said.

Bishop Cantu urged Tillerson to “deploy the diplomatic and development resources at your discretion to ensure that the government honors its constitution and the democratic principles on which it is built.”

“An investment in diplomacy and promotion of good governance will save many millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping expenditures in the long run,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “It will also rescue millions of people from needless suffering.”

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Bishop briefs Tillerson on church’s interest in building the ‘common good’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration, the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church’s efforts toward building “the common good.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“After some small talk about Texas,” the two spoke about the Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico, and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from Texas.

Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson know “that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don’t have ulterior motives,” and explaining the bishops’ peace and justice committee’s work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East.

Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for reducing the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, which are at odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump administration.

“I have concerns,” he said in an interview with Catholic News Service, but said the meeting with Tillerson was about establishing a relationship that can help the church advocate for policy issues to help the common good.

“We bring a unique perspective,” said Bishop Cantu. “One of our principles in Catholic social teaching is the common good and that goes beyond our own church needs.”

Bishop Cantu said he talked about the church’s efforts in Congo and South Sudan and the need for stability in such places. U.N. agencies said in February that famine and war in the area are threatening up to 5.5 million lives in the region.

Because of the church’s humanitarian agencies, its solidarity visits, and long-term contact with local governments and populations around the world, the church lends a credible voice, Bishop Cantu said.

“He expressed that he was eager to have open lines of communication with us and to listen to our perspective on things,” Bishop Cantu said.

“The two areas we especially touched on were the Middle East and how to rebuild in Iraq and Syria. And the second topic that he wanted to hear our perspective on is the immigration issue, particularly how to reach out to Central America and Mexico,” said Bishop Cantu.

He said he emphasized to Tillerson the importance of having countries where religious minorities have a say in the government and of investing in rebuilding countries. The proposed Trump administration budget has been criticized for its plans to slash funding for the State Department up to 28 percent, or $10.9 billion. The cuts would greatly affect the department’s Food for Peace Program, which reduces hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, while proposing a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase in military spending.

Bishop Cantu said he left information with Tillerson about the church’s concerns with the proposed budget.

“We’re concerned about the very steep increase in the military budget, the cutting back on foreign aid, we’re very concerned about that. I did want to emphasize how important development is in regions that need to be stabilized,” he said, “that those are wise investments of time and funds.”

The meeting also included a discussion about Christians in the Middle East, Bishop Cantu said, “and that Christians don’t want to live in a ghetto. … They believe it’s important that they live in an integrated society that is safe and secure,” to have a voice in local, regional as well federal government. He said he also emphasized “the fact that the (Catholic) church in the Middle East can act as a voice between the Sunnis and the Shia” and the importance of the church remaining in places such as Iraq and Syria.

“Any wise government official wants to listen to the voice of people who have a stake in different areas and to listen to the wisdom of experience,” Bishop Cantu said. “We have our brothers and sisters there, the church, who do live there. The fact is that … we bring a trusted voice.

“We bring some wisdom to the conversation,” he added. “Our vision is to build a society that’s stable, that’s just, that’s peaceful, and ultimately, that’s the goal of the state department … and so I think that’s why our voice is valuable to them.”

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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U.S. bishops’ official urges Tillerson to back two-state solution in Mideast

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. government should continue to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and avoid actions that would undermine results, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The brother and relatives of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammad Rajabi weep during his Jan. 7 funeral in Hebron, West Bank. Rajabi was killed by Israeli forces. A prominent U.S. bishop urged the U.S. government to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (CNS photo/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)

The brother and relatives of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammad Rajabi weep during his Jan. 7 funeral in Hebron, West Bank. Rajabi was killed by Israeli forces. A prominent U.S. bishop urged the U.S. government to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (CNS photo/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)

Drawing on his observations from a January trip to the Holy Land, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, committee chairman, wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and urged him to continue to work for a peace agreement “that respects the human dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians and advances justice and peace for all.”

Bishop Cantu told Tillerson that Israeli settlements were an obstacle to peace.

“Settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian lands undermines a two-state solution, destroying the homes and the livelihoods of Palestinians as well as the long-term security and future of Israelis,” he said.

The bishop spoke of his Jan. 14-19 visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with bishops from Canada and Europe. In a statement at the end of the visit, the bishops said Christians have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, because “this de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians … but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace.”

In his Feb. 1 letter, Bishop Cantu reminded Tillerson that 2017 marked 50 years of “a crippling occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, crippling for both peoples.”

He also spoke of problems created by the Israeli security barrier, a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. If completed as planned, the separation wall would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank.

“The Cremisan Valley is home to a Salesian monastery, convent and school, and the agricultural lands of 58 Christian families who live in nearby Palestinian towns,” Bishop Cantu said in his letter. “The building of the wall constricts residents’ movement, impairs access to their lands, separates Christian institutions from those they serve, and encourages Christian emigration.

“The Cremisan Valley is emblematic of the alarming number of Palestinians who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Settlement expansion, confiscation of lands and the building of the separation wall on Palestinian lands violate international law and undermine a diplomatic solution,” he said.

Bishop Cantu also mentioned President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would erode the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and is a threat to pursuing peace and ending conflict. Its impact would incite and destabilize the area, compromising U.S. security,” Bishop Cantu said.

The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act authorized funding for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem by 1999. However, the act contained a provision to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv if it was in the best interests of U.S. national security. U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush pledged to move the embassy, then kept it in Jerusalem so as not to inflame tensions.

Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, said Jan. 23 that the administration is studying the situation.

Bishop Cantu told Tillerson the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would continue to engage the State Department on international issues, but that getting a peace agreement for Israel and Palestine would “require arduous work.”

“It has been 50 years of tumult and turbulence, of egregious injustices and random acts of violence. However, the United States has always provided leadership and support to the peace process,” Bishop Cantu said.

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Pope denounces ‘homicidal madness’ after attacks in Berlin, Ankara

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Expressing his condolences to victims and their families, Pope Francis called for an end to terrorism following a string of deadly attacks in Berlin and Ankara.

Similar to an attack with a truck that took place in July in Nice, France, a tractor-trailer veered into the crowded Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin and plowed through bystanders, killing 12 people and wounding nearly 50.

A mourner prays in front of a makeshift memorial Dec. 20 at the scene where a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market the previous day in Berlin. The terrorist attack killed at least a dozen people and injured nearly 50 as it smashed through tables and wooden stands. (CNS photo/Hannibal Hanschke, Reuters)

A mourner prays in front of a makeshift memorial Dec. 20 at the scene where a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market the previous day in Berlin. The terrorist attack killed at least a dozen people and injured nearly 50 as it smashed through tables and wooden stands. (CNS photo/Hannibal Hanschke, Reuters)

In a Dec. 20 telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, the pope prayed for the families of the dead and the wounded, “assuring his closeness in their pain.”

“Pope Francis joins all people of good will who are working so that the homicidal madness of terrorism does not find any more room in our world,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

Cardinal Parolin said the pope received news of the attack with “profound emotion” and joined the families of the victims in their mourning and “entrusts the dead to the mercy of God.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, said news of the attack in Berlin had “deeply shocked me” and called on the people of Germany to “hold together and stand united as a society.”

“The violence on the Christmas market is the opposite of what visitors were seeking. My compassion goes to the relatives of the dead and injured. For all of them, I will pray,” he said Dec. 20.

Police detained an asylum-seeker from Pakistan who was near the attack. However, as of Dec. 20, authorities said they are unsure whether he was the driver of the truck.

The attack in Berlin occurred not long after the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, by a lone gunman during the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara.

Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty Turkish policeman, shot Karlov several times, shouting “Allahu akbar (God is great). Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”

The gunman was later shot and killed by police. Several family members and the gunman’s roommate were detained by investigators seeking a possible connection with terrorist groups.

Cardinal Parolin conveyed the pope’s condolences to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, saying he was “saddened to learn of the violent attack in Ankara.”

“In commending his soul to almighty God, Pope Francis assures you and all the people of the Russian Federation of his prayers and spiritual solidarity at this time,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

The Vatican also told journalists that Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, telephoned the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, to “express his condolences for the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.”

 

 

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Kerry says Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that atrocities carried out by the Islamic State group against Yezidis, Christians and other minorities were genocide, the first U.S. declaration of genocide since Sudanese actions in Darfur in 2004.

A man in Cairo Feb. 16 denounces the killing of Egyptian Christians in Libya. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said atrocities carried out by the Islamic State group against Yezidis, Christians and other minorities were genocide, the first U.S. declaration of genocide since Sudanese actions in Darfur in 2004. (CNS photo/Khaled Elfiqi, EPA)

A man in Cairo Feb. 16 denounces the killing of Egyptian Christians in Libya. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said atrocities carried out by the Islamic State group against Yezidis, Christians and other minorities were genocide, the first U.S. declaration of genocide since Sudanese actions in Darfur in 2004. (CNS photo/Khaled Elfiqi, EPA)

Kerry said he was not judge and jury, but the Islamic State had self-defined itself as genocidal because of its actions against Yezidis, Christians, Shiite Muslims and other minorities.

A 66-member coalition is “working intensively to stop the spread of Daesh,” Kerry said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. He said the world must “marginalize and defeat violence extremists, once and for all,” so they were not replaced by another extremist group with a different acronym.

“We must recognize and hold the perpetrators accountable,” Kerry said in a March 17 statement that included a litany of atrocities such as rape and murder. He said Christians often were given the choice of converting to Islam or death, which was a choice between two types of death.

Kerry said military action to defeat Islamic State was important, but so were other actions. He said the coalition against Islamic State was working to strangle the group’s finances and to ensure that people who fled would someday be able to return.

On March 14, the House of Representatives, in a bipartisan 393-0 vote, approved a nonbinding resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities being carried out by Islamic State militants against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria. They gave Kerry until March 17 to decide whether to make a formal declaration of genocide.

The European Parliament passed a similar resolution in February.

State Department spokesmen had said Kerry was studying volumes of information before deciding on the genocide information. Last October, they hinted that a genocide designation was coming for the Yezidi minority in the region, but not for Christians. The comments led to a firestorm of protest from Christian groups that resulted in the congressional action.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked U.S. Catholics to sign a pledge calling for an end to the slaughter of Christians and members of other religious minority groups in the Middle East.

“As a people of faith, we must convince the U.S. Department of State to include Christians in any formal declaration of genocide,” he said March 14, just days before Kerry’s deadline.

In his remarks, Kerry said the U.S. government did not have total access to everything going on but was basing its decision on intelligence and military sources and outside groups.

On March 10 in Washington, the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians issued a 278-page report containing contains dozens of statements collected from Feb. 22 through March 3 from witnesses and victims of atrocities carried out by Islamic State forces. The incidents included torture, rapes, kidnappings, murder, forced conversions, bombings and the destruction of religious property and monuments.

In Beirut, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan commended the “courageous and clear resolution.” He said adopting the resolution would “help the (world’s) first Christian communities survive in their homeland of the Middle East.” He made the remarks before leaving March 17 to visit Homs, Syria, his fourth visit since the liberation of the city.

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U.S. bishops’ committee chair hails framework on Iran’s nuclear program as a step to peace

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WASHINGTON — The adoption of a framework related to Iran’s nuclear program by the United States and other countries is an important step in “advancing a peaceful resolution” to the questions surrounding the program, the chairman of the U.S. bishop’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector checks the uranium enrichment process inside Iran’s Natanz plant last year. The chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace has praised the framework reached with Iran last week as "a step toward peace." (CNS/EPA)

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector checks the uranium enrichment process inside Iran’s Natanz plant last year. The chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace has praised the framework reached with Iran last week as “a step toward peace.” (CNS/EPA)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said April 8 in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and April 13 in letters to every member of Congress that the framework was a milestone in the long-standing negotiations to curb the “unacceptable prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons.”

Copies of the letters were released April 14 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The framework was announced April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, and involved Iran and what is often referred to as the “P5+1,” or the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — plus Germany.

The talks have been criticized by some members of Congress, who argue that Iranian officials cannot be trusted to abide by any deal and that any agreement with Iran could be disregarded once President Barack Obama concludes his term Jan. 20, 2017.

Bishop Cantu wrote that despite the challenges in reaching an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, “it is vital to continue to foster an environment in which all parties can build mutual confidence and trust in order to work toward a final accord that enhances peace.”

“For this reason, our committee will continue to oppose congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multiparty agreement more difficult to achieve and implement,” the letter continued. “The alternative to an agreement leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the church.”

The letter cited the words of Pope Francis, who prayed Easter Sunday that the framework “may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

“We share the Holy Father’s hope,” Bishop Cantu wrote.

The bishop called for a final agreement to secure peace in southwestern Asia and to “ensure its full implementation.”

“As we have noted in the past, Iran has threatened its neighbors, especially Israel, and contributed to instability in the region. We hope this agreement is a first step in fostering greater stability and dialogue in the region,” the letter said.

As congressional representatives received the letter, an advertisement supporting the framework was published in the April 13 edition of Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill.

More than 45 Christian leaders signed the ad, including Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby Network; Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who is executive director of Pax Christi USA; Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International; and Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.

 

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U.S. asks Vatican for help in relocating Guantanamo detainees

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY —U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Vatican counterpart Dec. 15, and asked him to support the Obama administration’s efforts to close the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, met with Kerry for an hour, according to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. Ken Hackett, the U.S. ambassador of the Holy See, was also present at the meeting.

Kerry underscored the “commitment of the United States to close the Guantanamo prison and the desire for the Holy See’s support in the search for appropriate humanitarian solutions for the current detainees,” Father Lombardi said.

The main topic of Kerry’s discussion with Cardinal Parolin was the “situation in the Middle East, and the commitment of the United States to avoid a worsening of tensions and an outbreak of violence, as well as the commitment to promoting a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” Father Lombardi told reporters.

Kerry was in Rome as one stop of a European tour dedicated largely to reviving peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome later the same day.

Father Lombardi said the two secretaries of state also touched briefly on other subjects, including the civil war in Eastern Ukraine and the Ebola epidemic.

 

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Vatican starts hiring freeze, forbids overtime

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican announced an immediate end to new hires, wage-increases and overtime in an effort to cut costs and offset budget shortfalls.

Pope Francis, with input from the Vatican’s central accounting office, also determined that volunteers could be used to help provide the labor needed to make up for the hiring freeze and eventual attrition.

Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a letter, dated Feb. 13, to the heads of all Vatican offices, institutions and agencies.

He said the budget forecast for 2014 “necessitated the immediate adoption of some measures needed to contain” personnel costs. In its last published report, the Vatican said it had a slight budget surplus of $2.7 million in 2012 after experiencing one of its largest budget deficits of the past decade in 2011.

The secretary of state’’ letter said the budget forecast expected a cash shortfall for 2014, prompting the pope to approve several measures that would apply to all Vatican dicasteries, offices, institutions and bodies; the measures were to start immediately and stay in effect until further notice.

The new measures included:

• Banning new hires, both on temporary and permanent contracts, including a freeze on filling current and future vacant posts.

• Temporary contracts, including third-party contracts, will not be renewed when their terms are up, unless there is a “specified” and “documented” need.

• There will be no more raises, promotions or new appointments for existing employees even where posts are available.

• Overtime is to be considered an “exception” and the frequent or “habitual recurrence” of workers clocking overtime “is forbidden.”

• Departments are encouraged to help fill vacancies by notifying the secretary of state of existing personnel who could be transferred to another office.

The letter asked that employees “generously take on” the workload and duties left when their colleagues leave or retire.

It also said that volunteers would be “a useful way” to cover “temporary and specific work needs.”

The majority of the Holy See’s annual expenditures are related to wages and other personnel costs for about 2,800 people. Its revenues come from contributions from dioceses and religious orders, returns from the Holy See’s financial investments and profits from the Vatican bank’s investments.

There is a separate budget for Vatican City State, which employs nearly 1,900 people, and receives substantial revenues and profits from the Vatican Museums and Vatican post office.

Base starting salaries for most workers in 2009 ranged from about $1,600 to $2,600 a month and are tax-free.

 

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