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Brexit could complicate Good Friday Agreement, says Irish bishop


Catholic News Service

DUBLIN — April 10 marks the 20th anniversary of the historic Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland. The peace deal effectively brought an end to “The Troubles,” which had cast a sectarian shadow over Northern Ireland for three decades and resulted in the deaths of more than 3,500, the majority of whom were civilians.

The Agreement saw the removal of British Army security checkpoints and watchtowers along the 310-mile border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, making cross-border travel much more accessible and increasing trade. Read more »

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Have you heard? A U.N. treaty, backed by Vatican and U.S. bishops, has banned nuclear weapons


Catholic News Service

The passage of a United Nations treaty banning the possession of nuclear weapons comes at a time when the majority of world’s nations are frustrated with the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

Even with such a pact, years in the making, there is no timeline for total disarmament, arms control experts told Catholic News Service. Read more »

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European church leaders concerned ‘Brexit’ vote might fracture unity across continent


Catholic News Service

OXFORD, England — European Catholic leaders expressed concern that the decision by United Kingdom voters to leave the European Union threatened unity across the continent, but they also cautioned the EU bloc to rethink its values and priorities.

A European Union flag and British Union flag are seen at Parliament Square in London June 19. Voters in the United Kingdom voted June 23 to leave the European Union. (CNS photo/Neil Hall, Reuters)

A European Union flag and British Union flag are seen at Parliament Square in London June 19. Voters in the United Kingdom voted June 23 to leave the European Union. (CNS photo/Neil Hall, Reuters)

The concerns arose after voters decided June 23 to exit the EU by 52 percent to 48 percent. The decision led Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his resignation and sent shock waves through world financial markets.

In London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the vote must be respected and that the United Kingdom is setting out on a “new course that will be demanding on all.”

“Our prayer is that all will work in this task with respect and civility, despite deep differences of opinion,” he said in a statement the morning after the vote. “We pray that in this process, the most vulnerable will be supported and protected, especially those who are easy targets for unscrupulous employees and human traffickers. We pray that our nations will build on our finest traditions of generosity, of welcome for the stranger and shelter for the needy.

“We now must work hard to show ourselves to be good neighbors and resolute contributors in joint international efforts to tackle the critical problems our world today,” he added.

Anglican Archbishops Justin Welby of Canterbury and John Sentamu of York said in a joint statement that citizens must “re-imagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others.”

They called for society to remain “hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers” while expressing concern that some immigrants and residents on non-British ethnicity “will feel a deep sense of insecurity.”

The leaders called for citizens to embrace diversity across the U.K. and affirm “the unique contribution of each and every one.”

The president of the Polish bishops’ conference was similarly diplomatic. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan told the country’s Catholic information agency, KAI, that while the conference respects the voters’ decision, “we can’t forget unity is better than division, and that European solidarity is an achievement of many generations.”

“For Christians, the building of unity between peoples, societies and nations is a key summons, ordained by Christ himself,” he said. “We’re convinced this Christ-like unity is the true source of hope for Europe and the world.”

Cautioning that the EU’s “methods of functioning” included “many worrying features,” the archbishop said he remained hopeful “the union of European nations, built on Christ” would still prevail in a “civilization of love.”

However, retired Archbishop Henryk Muszynski of Gniezno, the former primate of Poland, criticized the outcome, warning that the EU’s “purely declaratory notion of solidarity” would have to be “rethought from the beginning.”

“’Brexit is the outcome of separatist, populist and egotistic tendencies, shown at both personal and social level, which have been discernible for a long time in Europe. I fear this decision won’t serve Great Britain, Europe or the world,” the prelate told KAI.

During his flight June 24 at the start of a three-day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis told journalists the referendum “expressed the will of the people,” and said it imposed a “great responsibility” on everyone to “ensure the well-being and coexistence of the whole European continent.”

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community marked the outcome by displaying a “Prayer for Europe” on its website, which invoked God’s help “in committing ourselves to a Europe of the Spirit, founded not just on economic treaties but also on values which are human and eternal.”

In Germany, the Catholic Church’s youngest ordinary, Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg, told KNA Catholic news agency the vote was a “step backwards for a united Europe,” while in neighboring Austria Bishop Agidius Zsifkovics of Eisenstadt described it as “a wake-up call for a new European humanism.” He said he hoped the dream of European unity would not be “buried by self-serving gravediggers.”

“We must warn against the rise of provincial mentalities and group egoisms. Transnational problems and challenges cannot be solved nationally,” Bishop Zsifkovics told the Kathpress news agency.

“We’ll be exposed to numerous dangers if we don’t work together for a Europe which cares about its children, stands fraternally by its elderly, protects those seeing its help and promotes and respects the rights of individuals.”

France’s Catholic La Croix daily said the four-month campaign around the referendum had unleashed “often alarming passions.” The newspaper added that the vote would oblige Europeans “to revise their clichés” and force EU leaders to contain the possible “contagion” of parallel referendum demands in other member-states.

The Belgian church’s Cathobel news agency suggested in an online commentary the vote had “damaged the dream of Europe” enunciated by the EU’s post-World War II Catholic statesmen — Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Paul-Henri Spaak and Alcide de Gasperi — and would fuel “the rise of extremist party populism” visible during the refugee crisis.

“The end of an adventure also marks the beginning of a new one, if a dream is damaged, we must give birth to a new dream,” Cathobel said.

In France, Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet of Strasbourg said he was left with “feelings of sadness” that “what we have long fought for has been contradicted.” He said he hoped the vote would “create a clarification” rather than just “destabilizing the European project.”

“I’ve repeatedly said we should work for a future which is more European than national, but on condition this Europe is an entity we can identify with,” Archbishop Grallet said in a June 24 interview on the French bishops’ conference website.

“I don’t know what the English will say now, how they will propose to exit and what their first moves will be,” he said. “But we must be realists: we will not build Europe against its peoples, without gaining popular support and a responding properly to their anxieties. Europe may look like a beautiful project; but we should remember it’s still highly fragile.”

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London cardinal calls U.K’s welfare reforms ‘a disgrace’


LONDON — Welfare reforms in the United Kingdom are leaving people hungry and destitute, said Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols of Westminster.

He called the harm caused by government austerity policies to the poor “a disgrace” in an interview with the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper. The interview appeared Feb. 15, one week before he was to be elevated to cardinal during a ceremony in Rome.

“People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure,” said Cardinal-designate Nichols.

“But I think what is happening is two things, one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart,” he said. “It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.

“And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive,” he continued. “So if applicants don’t get it right, then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing, with nothing.”

He added: “For a country of our affluence that, quite frankly, is a disgrace.”

The government’s welfare reforms are aimed at forcing millions of people who are capable of work, but who are living off unemployment benefits payments, back into the workplace.

The measures have been accompanied, however, by a proliferation of more than 400 food banks to answer a demand for food and other necessities, often from people whose welfare payments have stopped but who have not yet received payment for work.

In response to the comments by Cardinal-designate Nichols, the government’s Department for Work and Pensions issued a statement saying that the welfare system was in dire need of reform because it was “trapping the very people it was designed to help, with around 5 million on out-of-work benefits and millions of children growing up in workless households.”

“Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities … making 3 million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty,” said the statement.

It added: “It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending 94 billion pounds a year on working-age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”


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