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Pope Francis asks prayers for victims of ‘perverse plague’ of trafficking

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Human trafficking is “brutal, savage and criminal,” Pope Francis said, but often it seems like people see it as a sad, but normal fact of life.

Dutch police search a Spanish truck at the border after nine immigrants were rescued from the freezer of the vehicle in early February in Hazeldonk, Netherlands. The truck driver was arrested as a suspect of human trafficking. (CNS photo/Marcel van Dorst - MaRicMedia, EPA)

Dutch police search a Spanish truck at the border after nine immigrants were rescued from the freezer of the vehicle in early February in Hazeldonk, Netherlands. The truck driver was arrested as a suspect of human trafficking. (CNS photo/Marcel van Dorst – MaRicMedia, EPA)

“I want to call everyone to make a commitment to seeing that this perverse plague, a modern form of slavery, is effectively countered,” the pope said July 30, the U.N.’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

After reciting the Angelus with thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked them to join him in praying a “Hail Mary” so that Jesus’ mother would “support the victims of trafficking and convert the hearts of traffickers.”

In his main Angelus address, Pope Francis focused on the parables from the day’s Gospel reading: the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price.

Both parables involve “searching and sacrifice,” the pope said. Neither the person who found the treasure in the field nor the merchant who found the pearl would have made their discoveries if they were not looking for something, and both of them sell all they have to purchase their treasure.

The point of the parables, he said, is that “the kingdom of God is offered to all.It is a gift, a grace but it is not given on a silver platter. It requires dynamism; it involves seeking, walking, getting busy.”

Jesus is the hidden treasure, the pope said, and once people discover him they are called to put following him before all else.

“It’s not a matter of despising all else, but of subordinating it to Jesus, giving him first place,” the pope said. “A disciple of Christ is not one who is deprived of something essential, but one who has found much more, has found the full joy that only the Lord can give.”

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Vatican’s U.N. nuncio urges action on poverty beyond economics

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UNITED NATIONS — Saying poverty is the greatest challenge facing humanity, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations called on nations to seek solutions to poverty not only based on economics but to also address personal, social and environmental factors that contribute to it.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza said that the world must also end conflicts and violence, which are major contributors to poverty. He made the comments during a presentation Feb. 6 to a meeting of the U.N. Commission for Social Development. Read more »

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U.N. Refugee Olympic team: A victory cheer for all refugees

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Catholic News Service

RIO DE JANEIRO — Glued to the improvised screen set up on the patio of the Caritas house, the refugees yelled and they cried. But most of all, they cheered. They cheered for their two Congolese colleagues, Popole Misenga, 24, and Yolande Mabika, 28, who were competing in judo as part of the United Nations’ Refugee Olympic team. Read more »

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Catholic activists, pope say more work needed after U.N. climate change pact

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PARIS — German Msgr. Josef Sayer prayed over a crowd of environmental activists at Saint-Merri Catholic Church, where they had joined for Mass after two weeks of intense lobbying in and around the U.N. climate change conference.

Environmentalists hold a banner that reads, "Standing and Determined for the Climate," during a Dec. 12 protest near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the U.N. climate conference ended. (CNS photo/Mal Langsdon, Reuters)

Environmentalists hold a banner that reads, “Standing and Determined for the Climate,” during a Dec. 12 protest near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the U.N. climate conference ended. (CNS photo/Mal Langsdon, Reuters)

“We have to start and struggle again, and it is a harsh way in front of us,” Msgr. Sayer told Catholic News Service minutes after the Mass at the 16th-century church Dec. 13, the day after the climate conference produced its final agreement.

He and other Catholic groups varied as to which of their summit ambitions had been met and which had not, but all of them contended that their struggle to save the environment was just beginning, and they called for further mobilization.

The same day, after reciting the Angelus at the Vatican, Pope Francis said the agreement required a “concerted commitment” to continue forward.

“In the hopes that it guarantees particular attention to the most vulnerable populations, I urge the entire international community to continue the path undertaken with care, in a sign of solidarity that becomes ever more constructive,” Pope Francis said.

The conference in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget ran one day longer than expected in an effort to produce an agreement. Catholic activists had lobbied for the inclusion of human rights protections and lowering the threshold for the earth’s temperatures to be more in line with scientific research. They also advocated for adequate financing for poor countries to adapt to cleaner energy, and the phasing out of fossil fuels.

Bernd Nilles, who served on the Vatican’s official delegation to the climate change conference, said because the issue of human rights for indigenous and other vulnerable people had made it only to the preamble and not in the new accord’s binding body, some nations might say ‘“Yes, we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so we build major hydroelectric, or major dams and we move all these people.’”

“It will give us a lot of headaches in the future because governments now can take climate action by ignoring the local population,” Nilles told Catholic News Service at Saint-Merry.

Genevieve Talbot, who lobbied at the Paris talks for the Canadian Catholic organization Development and Peace, concurred that “the human rights aspect should have been included in the operative part” of the text, as well as the issue of food security.

“In fact in the operative part, we no longer mention food security, but rather food production, which is quite worrisome: It means that in order to ensure food security, (greenhouse gas) emission can increase,” Talbot told CNS in an email from Montreal, where she returned after the conference.

Michel Roy, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, said that despite the new accord’s “essential connection between climate change, poverty eradication and equitable access to sustainable development,” it was “regrettable that human rights are not at the core,” adding “we should avoid vested interests prevailing over the common good.”

On another key issue, what the highest threshold should be for the earth’s heat, some Catholic groups heralded what they saw as a major feat. Throughout the two-week conference, the groups had referred to scientific studies showing that limiting global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would benefit millions of the world’s people by reducing adverse weather disasters, such as floods, drought, typhoons and rising sea levels.

The accord’s “long-term goal is well below 2 degrees Celsius, which is a great step,” said Talbot.

Talbot and Chloe Schwabe, who lobbied for Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns at the U.N. conference, lamented a lack of guidelines or enforcement mechanisms in the agreement to ensure nations would comply with the new temperature thresholds laid out only as aspirations in the new agreement.

“The 1.5 Celsius degree temperature rise target will only help achieving climate justice if all countries do their fair share,” said Talbot.

“Ensuring there is enough ambition to stay below 2 degrees and meet the overall 1.5 goal will be a challenge,” Schwabe added.

Another long-term goal of Catholic and other activists in Paris, to wean the world off fossil fuels, whose extraction and burning are responsible for the global warming that the summit ostensibly aimed to curb, was not met, said Nilles, secretary-general of the international Catholic development coalition CIDSE, an alliance Catholic development agencies based in Brussels,.

The final text of the accord set no clear limits on greenhouse gas-emitting fuels, said Nilles, something he blamed on several big industry countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United States.

“I was a member of the Holy See delegation, so I could clearly see how Saudi Arabia and others were working really hard to undermine a strong agreement because by phasing out fossil fuels, we take their blood line away,” he said.

He expressed disappointment that the financing measures that the accord laid out to help developing nations adopt cleaner sources of energy were “built on hope that industries and companies will invest,” and not enough on public funds.

“So it is not that we will take public money in our hands and we will help these vulnerable countries,” he said.

Schwabe agreed that the climate accord’s lack of public financing for adaptation to alternative fuels was a problem.

“Adaptation is already necessary for some countries and vulnerable communities,” she said. “We must make sure there is enough money in place to assist communities on the front lines of climate change to adapt to the impacts of climate change we already witness.”

In light of the Paris agreement, and ahead of U.N. climate talks scheduled for next year in Morocco, Catholic groups said further mobilization on a widespread scale would continue to be vital.

“What we have on the table is not sufficient,” Msgr. Sayer said of the new climate accord in general.

“We have to start immediately to put all our forces together from the civil society, from the politicians, from the officials in the companies and also from the shareholders — they have not to think about the short-term profit, but about the long term,” he said. He noted with a smile that he was headed to Germany “to further advocate for climate justice at home.”

“Everybody here is super tired and yeah, the team deserves to have a break,” added Nilles, who said he had spent the day after the accord was announced demonstrating for climate justice along with thousands of other activists on Paris streets.

“But then we must come with renewed energy, to continue mobilizing for climate justice. This is not the end,” he said.

By James Martone  Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho Esteves at the Vatican.

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Commentary: No one should be hungry during the Christmas season

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In early December, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) stopped feeding 1.7 million Syrian refugees.

 

For two weeks these poor, battered fellow human beings who had fled the misery of civil war, and the barbarism of the “Islamic State,” were told there is no money available for food; children, women and men went hungry

 

A Kurdish refugee child from the Syrian town of Kobani sits in front of a tent Oct. 18 in a camp on the Turkey-Syria border. Catholics have expressed concerns about bloodshed in the Middle East and see cause for action against the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Kai Pfaffenbach,

A Kurdish refugee child from the Syrian town of Kobani sits in front of a tent Oct. 18 in a camp on the Turkey-Syria border. Catholics have expressed concerns about bloodshed in the Middle East and see cause for action against the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Kai Pfaffenbach)

The WFP has been providing food assistance for 1.85 million Syrian refugees living in the host countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

 

However, on Dec. 1 the WFP reported that it had run out of money to fund its electronic voucher program for 1.7 million Syrian refugees because many donor nation commitments were not being fulfilled.

 

Ten days later the WFP announced that following an unprecedented social media campaign, government donors had given over $80 million, thus allowing reinstatement of food assistance to the 1.7 million Syrian refugees for the rest of the month. This funding will also allow the WFP to meet some of the refugee needs in January.

 

But then what?

 

According to the WFP, Syrian refugees in camps throughout the region are ill prepared for the harsh winter, especially in Lebanon and Jordan, where many children are bare foot and without proper clothing. Many tents are drenched in mud, and hygiene conditions are worsening.

 

In addition to the Syrian region, the WFP and other international aid agencies like Catholic Relief Services, are desperately trying to respond to four other simultaneous level-3 emergencies, the U.N.’s most serious crisis designation – in Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the African nations plagued by the Ebola outbreak.

 

According Eric Mitchell, director of government of relations for Bread for the World, an anti-poverty Christian lobbying organization, the U.S. government needs to fully fund the Food for Peace program. He said Congress has authorized $2.5 billion, but that the budget for fiscal year 2015 actually only funds the program at $1.4 billion.

 

Mitchell added that Congress should allot significantly more money for food vouchers that can be immediately used in local markets, as compared to the more expensive and time consuming transfer of food on cargo ships.

 

He said excellent long-term programs like Feed the Future, which help to sustain long-term agriculture development and security, need to also receive increased funding from Congress.

 

As a Christmas gift to desperately hungry people, please contact your congressional delegation urging them to work for the improvements listed above.

 

And consider making a Christmas donation to the Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org) or the World Food Program (www.wfp.org).

 

But what about after the Christmas season? What will happen to the 805 million hungry brothers and sisters of ours then?

 

What we do, or fail to do, to help answer these life and death questions, will determine how seriously, how faithfully, we take the birth of Jesus – Emmanuel, “God with us.”

 

 

 

Magliano, a syndicated social justice and peace columnist, lives in the Diocese of Wilmington.

 

 

 

 

 

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Aid agencies, artists work to help 2.5 million Syrian refugees, including children

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Catholic News Service

ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — As Syria’s civil war hurtles into its fourth year, hopes of returning home soon seem far off for the 2.5 million refugees sheltering in neighboring countries, like Jordan. Syrians are soon expected to overtake Afghans as the largest refugee population in the world, according to the United Nations.

A boy cries as he stands amid rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo March 6. (CNS photo/Hosam Katan, Reuters)

Top U.N. officials warn that the grinding conflict will leave a generation of 5.5 million children in and outside Syria physically and emotionally scarred. But American street artist Samantha Robison is working hard to change that.

A Washington, D.C. native, Robison and her team of international artists paint alongside the refugee children, encouraging them to remain strong and positive in Jordan’s Zaatari camp.

Covered in splashes of paint in every color of the rainbow, Robison encourages a 9-year-old Syrian girl named Zeinab to express her future dreams through painting on a recycled tent tarp.

“I am drawing a bird flying in the air. To me, it represents the freedom we want,” the enthusiastic child said as she drew.

Peaceful demonstrations protesting the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted three years ago and were soon met by sniper fire from government troops before bursting into all-out civil war.

Robison said the young Syrian refugees at Zaatari remember the start of the conflict, but now look to the future.

“Yes, commemorate the three years, but also remember where they’ve come from and how much they’ve accomplished,” she said.

“Honor the human dignity and the next generation and the future of Syria. I think is where a lot of the energy needs to be focused,” she added, speaking of the children.

Zaatari is now the second-largest refugee camp in the world and Jordan’s fifth-largest city. Just more than half the 120,000 refugees there are under the age of 18.

Robison encourages the children to use their imaginations as they draw and paint and not to use well-known cartoon characters in their illustrations.

“What does your dream village look like? Draw yourself saying hello to children in other countries,” she urges them.

In the process, they magically transform dull canvas tents, metal trailers, schools and other facilities into colorful and creative works of art. Healing and hope come to the children and their families.

She encourages them to explore their creativity and have the space to just be children, something the civil war back home — full of bombings, the death of family members, and assaults — has robbed them of.

“Painting for these kids is fun and gives them a way to express themselves while putting them back in touch with themselves as children. It’s not about working or making ends meet,” said Leah O’Bryant, a Washington state artist working with Robison’s AptART organization in the camp.

“That’s something that kids take for granted in other places, but isn’t always possible here. They are expressing some intense emotions, but they are also just having fun. That’s one of the most important things that we do,” she said.

Syrian children along with women are among the most vulnerable of those fleeing the conflict, international aid workers say.

“The images on TV often show Syrian men fighting, but among the refugees, the heart of the story is women and children, who make up nearly 75 percent of the refugee population,” Caroline Brennan, Catholic Relief Services’ senior communications officer, told Catholic News Service March 17.

Brennan regularly visits CRS field work in Jordan and Lebanon. CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, aids 250,000 Syrian refugees across the Middle East region.

“Because they make up such a large percentage of the population, our services are predominantly supporting women and children, especially those in towns where the vast majority live as urban refugees, by providing for their basic needs for survival and health care,” Brennan said.

“Given the enormity of needs for women and children, we focus on education for children and counseling for mothers and children. Issues of trauma are so significant,” Brennan said.

She said CRS medical workers have observed that 45 percent of Syrian refugee children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and 60 percent from depression.

“Going to school helps children stay at their school level, have a place to go during the day and enables them to claim some semblance of childhood. Counseling is a big component of that, not only for those children, but their mothers. The mothers are caring not only for their children who are traumatized, but also making major decisions for their families in a way they were not necessarily making back home,” Brennan said.

A Syrian refugee mother who identified herself only as Reem said she struggles with her new role as the female head of her household.

“My husband divorced me recently, and my father died shortly afterward. I have to be strong and protect myself and my children. This is contrary to Middle Eastern culture,” the young woman emphasized.

Other Syrian female refugees say their husbands are also absent. They are either fighting back home or have been killed or abducted in the conflict.

“A glass might drop. It doesn’t even break, and the children are crying and shaking. Older children are wetting the mattress. The issues are severe,” Brennan said.

“The mothers are desperate to know how to care for children suffering from trauma when they have their own issues they are wrestling with. Our counselors are there to help,” she said.

 

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Vatican officials address U.N. panel looking at abuse of children

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VATICAN CITY — Testifying before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, a Vatican representative acknowledged the horror of clerical sexual abuse and insisted the Vatican was serious about protecting children.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said the church recognizes abuse of children as both a crime and sin, and the Vatican has been promoting policies that, “when properly applied, will help eliminate the occurrence of child sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel.”

The archbishop spoke in Geneva Jan. 16 during the committee’s annual session to review reports from states that signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Holy See signed the treaty in 1990.

“There is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children,” the archbishop said. “Such crimes can never be justified, whether committed in the home, in schools, in community and sports programs, in religious organizations and structures.”

Pope Francis, in a homily at his early morning Mass the same day, spoke generally about the shame of the “many scandals” perpetrated by members of the church. Those who abuse and exploit others, he said, may wear a holy medal or a cross, but they have no “living relationship with God or with his word.”

Instead of giving others “the bread of life,” he said, they feed them poison.

Archbishop Tomasi told the committee that, in December, Pope Francis approved the establishment of an international commission to promote child protection and prevent abuse. He said Vatican City State recently updated its laws to define and set out penalties for specific crimes against minors, including the sale of children, child prostitution, the military recruitment of children, sexual violence against children and producing or possessing child pornography.

In late November, the Vatican responded in writing to questions from the committee about its last report on compliance with the treaty; much of the Vatican response involved explaining the difference between the Vatican’s direct legal jurisdiction over Vatican City State and its moral and canonical influence over Catholics around the world.

“Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican,” Archbishop Tomasi told the committee. “They are citizens of their own state and fall under the jurisdiction of that state.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said in a statement Jan. 16 said that questions posed by the committee and others “seem to presuppose that bishops and religious superiors act as representatives or delegates of the pope, something which is without foundation.”

Since responding in November, Archbishop Tomasi told the committee, “a citizen of Vatican City State has been place under investigation for alleged sexual crimes committed against children outside the territory of Vatican City State.”

Asked by the committee about the case, Archbishop Tomasi declined to give details because the investigation is still underway, but he said it would be handled “with the severity it deserves.”

The archbishop was referring to Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who the Vatican removed as nuncio to the Dominican Republic in August after he was accused of paying for sex with boys in the Caribbean country.

Father Lombardi confirmed Jan. 11 that the former nuncio was being investigated canonically by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and also was the subject of a criminal investigation by Vatican City State legal authorities.

The Geneva committee asked Archbishop Tomasi whether Archbishop Wesolowski would be extradited, but Archbishop Tomasi said that, as a diplomat, he would be tried at the Vatican, under Vatican civil laws.

Archbishop Tomasi acknowledged that “abusers are found among members of the world’s most respected professions, most regrettably, including members of the clergy and other church personnel.”

Abuse by clergy, he said, is “particularly serious since these persons are in positions of great trust, and they are called to levels of service that are to promote and protect all elements of the human person, including physical, emotional and spiritual health. This relationship of trust is critical and demands a higher sense of responsibility and respect for the persons served.”

In the days before the U.N. committee meeting, organizations representing victims of clerical sex abuse and others continued to make public criticisms of the Vatican and to claim that it had direct responsibility for handling or mishandling cases of abuse around the globe.

Archbishop Tomasi told Vatican Radio, “The criticisms are easy to make and sometimes have a basis in reality; any crime is an evil, but when children are involved it becomes even more serious.”

At the same time, he said, “the accusation that the Holy See has blocked the carrying out of justice seems to be unfounded.”

The Committee on the Rights of the Child broadcast the session live on the Internet.

Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the former sex abuse investigator in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also appeared before the U.N. committee and answered questions, specifically about canon law and Vatican policy in dealing with allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

One of the committee members told him and Archbishop Tomasi that Vatican procedures “aren’t very transparent and the victims don’t take part” in the proceedings.

The Holy See knows “there are things that need to be done differently,” Bishop Scicluna said, particularly to address concerns about whether a local church has covered up cases of alleged abuse.

“States need to take action against the obstruction of justice,” no matter who is involved, he said. “Only the truth will help us move on.”

Religious orders and dioceses are required to investigate allegations and inform the doctrinal congregation about suspected abuse, Bishop Scicluna said, “but it does not substitute or override domestic laws” in force where these people are, “where the sexual abuse of a minor is rightly seen as an egregious crime.”

“Religious orders and dioceses have to follow domestic laws about disclosure,” Bishop Scicluna said, and this fact “needs to be pointed out and said very clearly.”

Bishop Scicluna and Archbishop Tomasi were asked several times why the Vatican had not made it obligatory for local bishops and religious superiors to report every case of suspected abuse to civil authorities whether local law required reporting or not.

Bishop Scicluna said he believed a more effective strategy would be to educate all Catholics about their rights and responsibilities concerning abuse.

Committee members asked repeatedly about the total number of accusations made against Catholic clergy around the world and about the results of investigations on every level.

Bishop Scicluna said the Vatican has “no statistics on how cases developed. That does not mean it should be this way. It is in the public interest to know the outcomes of the procedures” and know if a priest or other church employee was “found guilty, found innocent or not proven guilty” although there was enough evidence to be concerned about the person’s interaction with children.

 

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Pope backs effort to rid world of land mines

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI called for continued efforts to rid the world of land mines so that people could be free to walk the earth without fear of injury or death.

“I encourage all those who are working to free humanity from these terrible and insidious devices,” the pope said, as he expressed his closeness to all victims and their families.

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