Friday, September 30, 2022

Catholic priest dispels rumor of church vandalism in India

 Catholic priest dispels rumor of church vandalism in India

Catholic officials in the northern Indian state of Punjab have clarified that an attack on a church could be the work of burglars, dispelling doubts about a possible hate attack.

Police confirmed that a fiberglass sheet was found missing from the window of the Catholic church at Nadanpur village in Jalandhar district on the morning of Sept. 29.

The incident drew parallels with last month's incident at a church in the Tarn Taran district that was vandalized by anti-social elements, but Father John Paul, in charge of the church clarified that it could be the burglars who also targeted two houses in the same locality on the previous night.

“Kindly refrain from connecting it to previous incidents of the recent past,” Father Paul said.

Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias, the apostolic administrator of the Jalandhar diocese, in a letter addressed to priests, nuns and laity, urged them not to entertain any rumor that may vitiate the atmosphere, but rather work together for peace and harmony.

Senior Superintendent of Police Swarandeep Singh said no complaint was registered yet and people should refrain from spreading rumors.

The Tarn Taran incident was a case of church vandalism reported on Aug. 31 where the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus were damaged by unknown people who also set fire to the car belonging to Father Thomas Poochalil, parish priest of Infant Jesus Catholic Church, Patti.

A day before the incident, Giani Harpreet Singh, head of Akal Takht, one of the highest seats of power for the Sikhs, had condemned alleged forced conversions by Christian groups in Punjab province and demanded a law against such activities. 

Earlier, a group of armed Nihang Sikhs reportedly disrupted an event organized by Christians at a village in the Amritsar district on Aug. 28.

The growing number of churches and churchgoers in the Sikh-majority state in north India has led to sporadic friction with Sikh religious organizations who accuse Christians of using forceful and fraudulent means of conversion.

Punjab, bordering Pakistan, is a Sikh-majority state.

The rate of conversion to Christianity is on the rise in recent decades and it is said that Christians now constitute 10 percent of Punjab's population of 28 million.

A modest proposal from the Philippines might trigger a new Catholic era

 A modest proposal from the Philippines might trigger a new Catholic era |  Crux

Life, as the famous John Lennon saying goes, is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. 

In a similar fashion, we might say that news is what happens while you’re paying attention to something else.

This summer, Catholic chatter was dominated by ultimately baseless rumors that Pope Francis was about to resign. 

In the meantime, a conversation was unfolding in the Philippines with potentially seismic significance, which flew almost entirely under radar.

In July, the Filipino bishops considered a proposal to petition Rome for the creation of a personal prelature to provide pastoral care for the roughly 12 million Filipinos living outside the country, who constitute one of the world’s largest diaspora communities. The focus would be in particular on the roughly three million Filipino overseas workers, meaning temporary migrants who leave the country to work in order to send remittances back home.

A “personal prelature” is a structure in church law first proposed at Vatican II, designed to mobilize clergy and laity to carry out specific functions without respect to geographic boundaries. At present the lone personal prelature is Opus Dei, though the Vatican offered to create another in 2012 for the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X to bring the group back into communion with Rome, which they refused.

Pope Francis recently tweaked the rules governing Opus Dei, but the substance of the personal prelature remains intact.

The idea of creating one for Filipinos has been around for at least a quarter-century, since a Filipino priest now living in San Diego first floated it in a doctoral dissertation. The country’s bishops created an ad-hoc commission to study the possibility in 2020.

During their July session, the bishops decided to take another year to consult with bishops and bishops’ conferences in countries where the prelature might set up shop, meaning places with significant Filipino populations, and also to tap Filipino chaplains serving in various settings around the world.

Here’s why this matters.

Since time immemorial, the dominant principle of organization in the Catholic Church has been geographical – the pastor rules his parish and the bishop his diocese, both of which are defined by territory. Bishops’ conferences and federations of those conferences are organized nationally and continentally. Even religious orders, which deliberately exist outside the diocesan structure, usually are organized into territorial provinces.

Yet increasingly, we live in a world in which geography, if not quite irrelevant, is at least relative. In the second half of the 20th century, accelerating mobility and ease of travel ate away at geography’s hold on social life, and, in the 21st century, the emergence of digital culture has further weakened it.

Over the centuries, Catholicism has generated new pastoral models to respond to just such changing conditions. The birth of the great monastic communities came out of the disintegration of the Roman empire, just as the mendicant orders in the 12th and 13th centuries aimed to evangelize the new urban centers, and many missionary communities were a response to the Age of Discovery.

Today, most experts would say there’s a similar need to generate new models to respond to a less territorially defined social situation. The personal prelature is such an instrument, but its potential application has been frozen in place for decades for reasons having more to do with politics than pastoral logic.

To begin with, it’s a commonplace in Catholic life for any new impulse to be seen with suspicion. Once upon a time, religious orders were accused of jeopardizing ecclesial unity by creating a “parallel church” and undermining the authority of local bishops, which are precisely the same accusations leveled against new entities of various stripes today.

Of course, the charge isn’t entirely unfounded – there are plenty of examples of new outfits that have proven divisive and thumbed their noses at anyone who tries to call them on it. However, the question is whether that’s inherent to the structure, with experience suggesting the answer is “not necessarily.”

Moreover, because Opus Dei conventionally is seen as conservative, more liberal Catholics have tended to be axiomatically hostile to the whole concept of a personal prelature. (In retrospect it’s probably just as well the traditionalists spurned the Vatican’s deal, because it might have become impossible to walk that perception back.)

In turn, that’s what’s so intriguing about the Filipino proposal.

First of all, the lion’s share of Filipino overseas workers are in the Middle East, with more than a quarter in Saudi Arabia alone, where there’s no real “local church” in the conventional sense to undermine. Where the church is more developed, such as pockets of Europe, North America and Australia, the avowed aim of the prelature would be to integrate its members into local parish and diocesan life, which is a consummation most bishops would devoutly wish in the context of declining Mass attendance and vocations.

Second, nobody sees the Filipino diaspora as political. I mean, there’s no Da Vinci Code-style potboiler out there about mad Albino monks from the Philippines whipping themselves into a murderous frenzy and trying to hijack the church, is there?

In other words, should the Filipino proposal be adopted, it might break the political logjam and allow the Catholic Church to become more nimble in a post-geographical cultural milieu, triggering an era in which personal prelatures and other related structures become as familiar as conventional religious orders.

That’s probably not as sexy as a papal resignation, but it has the potential to be every bit as consequential in the long run.

Archbishop says sign language helps in connecting with people in crisis

 Challenge for archbishop: Finding words to heal an inconsolable Uvalde

Celebrating a Mass for the Uvalde community on the first night after the Robb Elementary School shooting, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller called the children in attendance to the front of the church to communicate with them directly, but didn’t receive any feedback.

At that moment, the archbishop of San Antonio, Texas, knew he needed a way to communicate with the children other than the spoken word. After asking the Holy Spirit for guidance he decided to try sign language, which he had taken up a few months earlier and knew only a few words.

García-Siller then started signing the children messages related to peace that they eventually mimicked. Days later at another special intention Mass following the May 24 shooting, García-Siller again called the children up to the front of the church, and taught them the words “peace,” “love,” and “Holy Spirit” in sign language.

“Sometimes we don’t know what to say, how to console people, express how we feel, and so sometimes we can just do the signs and live a day at a time,” García-Siller told Crux after the Mass.

García-Siller’s intention for learning sign language this past spring was to serve the archdiocese’s deaf community. As it turns out, it also helped him navigate multiple crises this summer.

First, it was the Uvalde shooting where 21 people were killed. Then in June, after 53 migrants were found dead in an abandoned tractor trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio, he used sign language to say words like “love” and “thank you” to the survivors he visited in the hospital.

Now, months after those tragedies, García-Siller continues to use and learn sign language. It’s something he expects will continue to be a part of Catholic life in the archdiocese for all parishioners.

“Not only for the deaf, but sometimes we don’t know how to communicate and sign language could be a great vehicle because it’s based in words and letters, but also with symbols, with signs, and we can connect in great ways,” García-Siller said. “It’s been a tremendous thing and I am very excited.”

“It has caused a very powerful reaction,” he continued. “The sense that we are communicating, that we are in touch, that in some way you’re building a bridge for people to express what they’re going through.”

The archbishop had the desire to learn sign language, recognizing that celebrations in the archdiocese often included interpreters for the deaf parishioners, and that “if we want to really include them, they need to know that I want to communicate with them more directly.”

“The motivation was the needs of the people and to communicate with them, and to understand them because understanding them makes it easier to communicate, and if they are speaking in sign language to me, if I don’t understand them it will not be a good service on my part,” García-Siller said.

When his sign language classes began the instructors were going to start by teaching him his name. He instead chose, somewhat providentially given future circumstances, to learn the word peace, explaining to Crux that he believes that his call is to be an instrument of peace.

Effective Sept. 25, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church is the home parish for the deaf community in the archdiocese, where García-Siller and others will preach and minister. In announcing the designation in late August, the church’s pastor, Father José Ramón Pérez-Martínez said that by this, the church “intends to strengthen the accommodation and resources for the deaf community.”

For the rest of the archdiocese, García-Siller continues to explore when and how to appropriately incorporate sign language into Mass. He highlighted that it’s beneficial when engaging children, in moments where there is a dialogue or call and response, and during the homily.

He noted he has also seen the benefit of using sign language during a bilingual Mass, because it allows him to reach both the Spanish and English speaking communities, as well as the deaf community. It connects the parishioners, and he doesn’t have to repeat the same thing in three languages.

García-Siller emphasized, though, that the main objective with sign language is to serve the deaf community.

“The main point has to be it’s a language of people that we need to honor and serve,” García-Siller said. “That is your objective, and as a consequence it can build up unity — you can connect people in crisis.”

French bishops warn allowing euthanasia would upset ethical balance

Bishops' Conference of France - Wikipedia

France’s Catholic bishops warned President Emmanuel Macron’s government that “immoral legislation” to allow euthanasia risked overturning the country’s “ethical equilibrium.”

“Over decades, a balance has been found in avoiding relentless treatment and promoting palliative care — this ‘French path’ has gained a following and says something about our country’s ethical heritage,” said the 10-member executive council of the bishops’ conference.

“Our caregivers, who must face so many concrete difficulties sustaining our health system, often express how much they are attached to this balance — it gives honor to their profession and meaning to their commitment,” bishops said.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, our society made weighty sacrifices to save lives, particularly of the most fragile, even over-isolating the sick or elderly to preserve their bodily health. How can it be possible, just a few months after this great national mobilization, that society now gives the impression of seeing no other answer to life’s fragility than active help in dying and assisted suicide?” the bishops asked in a statement the weekend of Sept. 24-25.

The French government plans to legalize euthanasia by the end of 2023.

The bishops said France’s National Consultative Ethics Council, which cleared the way for the proposed legislation, had also said palliative care should first be made available nationwide “before any reform.”

“Listening to patients, families and palliative care actors, we see how the essential need of the greatest number is to be considered, respected, helped and accompanied — not abandoned. Isn’t actively assisted living what everyone deeply expects, rather than actively assisted dying?”

In mid-September, Macron launched a national debate on legalizing euthanasia, in line with pledges before his April reelection. He hopes to draft legislation after receiving recommendations from a Citizens’ Convention next March.

Similar legislation was voted down in 2021, and French doctors can currently keep terminally ill patients sedated until death under a 2016 law, but without assisting their suicide.

If enacted, the proposed law, which has enjoyed majority support in opinion polls, would make France Europe’s sixth country to allow euthanasia and assisted dying, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Spain. Parallel laws are being considered in several other countries, including Germany and Portugal.

In their statement, the bishops said “authentic democratic discernment” required listening seriously and calmly to a range of opinions, including those of different religious traditions.

“The end of life question is too sensitive and delicate to be dealt with under pressure,” added the statement.

Diocese of Rome explores history, holiness of wine

The TOP Chateauneuf du Pape Tours, Excursions & Activities |

“From the Song of Songs to the Wedding at Cana, from the Benedictine monks of Burgundy to the birth of Barolo. From wine as an emblem of rural life to a symbol of celebration. A journey, between aromas and flavors, anecdotes and curiosities.”

This is the description of a four-part wine tasting series that the Vicariate of Rome’s Office of Pastoral Care of Leisure Time, Tourism, and Sport is offering throughout October and November.

Previous editions of the event “The vine and the branches,” had great success, but it was cancelled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is returning to the Diocese of Rome this fall with a cycle of four lessons about wine based on scripture, history, and art.

Lessons will be held every other week, and the course will be led by Marco Cum, a theologian and famed sommelier from the European School of Sommelier.

The meetings this year will be held in the Trieste quarter of Rome, at the San Saturnino parish on Via Avigliana, on alternate Thursdays at 8 p.m.

The first lesson will take place Oct. 6, and will explore the verse from the Book of Isaiah, “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things.”

The lessons will delve into ancient oenology and study the Abbey of Cluny, widely considered a place of symbolic importance in European winemaking history. Excerpts from Song of Songs will also be studied during the lesson, and the wines tasted will include the Georgian Saperavi red and a Pinot Noir.

On Oct. 20, an analysis will be made of the passage in the Gospel of John from which the course gets its name, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.”

That course will focus on the figure of Marquise Juliette Colbert, a Frenchwoman, a Servant of God, and philanthropist who moved to the Italian Piedmont and who was known for her works of charity, and for founding two religious orders.

She is also credited, among other things, with developing the modern form of the Barolo wine from Piedmont, considered one of the finest Italian reds on offer today.

As the story goes, Colbert, whose husband Carlo Tancredi Falletti di Barolo was a nobleman with French roots, devoted much of her life after marriage to charity, but she also overhauled their estate’s vineyards, which annually produced a Nebbiolo red, but used a poor aging and storage process.

Thanks to Colbert’s intervention, and her knowledge of French wines, a local enologist named Paolo Francesco Staglienò came aboard and he changed the production method, transforming the wine from sweet and sparkling to dry and aromatic.

This new wine reportedly took the name “Barolo” in 1843 and drew the attention of local noblemen, one of whom, the Count of Cavour, was so impressed that he converted his cellars for its production throughout the region. It is now a staple of fine dining and a customary high-end offering.

This version of history crediting Colbert and her husband for the Barolo’s development, despite its prominence, has been challenged by some wine critics, but as the Italians say, se non e’ vero, e’ ben trovato, roughly translating as, “if it’s not true, at least it sounds nice.”

During this lesson, in addition to Barolo, a white Arneis will also be tasted.

The next course will take place Nov. 3, and will be dedicated to the theme of wine in art. 

The course will close Nov. 17 with the biblical story of the Wedding at Cana, recounted in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, and the tasting of two spumante, a champagne and a Moscato d’Asti – a sweet, bubbly after-dinner wine.

Participants in the course must pay a fee of 150 euro for entry to cover the costs of the wine tastings, description cards, snacks, and a course certificate, as well as a personalized ceramic coaster.

Rare 1,000-year-old Gospel manuscript returned to Greece from U.S.

 Rare 1,000-year-old manuscript returned to Greece from US |

A U.S. museum has returned a valuable 1,000-year-old Christian manuscript to a monastery in northern Greece it was looted from by Bulgarian forces more than a century ago together with hundreds of other documents and artifacts.

The 11th century gospel was formally presented Thursday at the Eikosiphoinissa Monastery, in a ceremony attended by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, and officials from the Museum of the Bible in Washington.

According to the Archdiocese of America, the Greek manuscript is one of the world’s oldest handwritten gospels, and is believed to have been made in southern Italy.

It was donated to the museum in 2014 after being bought at auction. Museum officials subsequently identified it as one of the manuscripts stolen from the monastery in 1917 and informed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, of their desire to return it.

Elpidophoros on Thursday praised the Museum of the Bible for its “courtesy in recognizing where (the manuscript) belongs and returning it.”

“A historical injustice has been redressed,” he said.

The gospel was stolen with another 430 valuable manuscripts by marauding forces from neighboring Bulgaria, who also took hundreds of other religious artifacts. Most are still missing.

The monastery, which dates to the 8th century, was burned in 1943 by Bulgarian occupation forces allied with Nazi Germany during World War II. It has since been rebuilt and now functions as a convent.

Pope Francis to visit Kingdom of Bahrain in November

The Vatican confirmed Wednesday that Pope Francis will travel to the Kingdom of Bahrain, a Muslim island nation in the Persian Gulf, from Nov. 3–6.

The possibility of a papal trip to the Islamic monarchy was mentioned on the pope’s return flight from Kazakhstan on Sept. 15.

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, confirmed on Sept. 28 that Pope Francis will visit Awali and the capital city of Manama for the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.”

Further details and the full trip schedule will be published at a later date.

Bahrain, located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar, has a population of 1.7 million people. The population is nearly 70% Muslim, with the majority belonging to the Shiite branch of Islam, the country’s state religion.

Christians, at approximately 210,000 people, make up 14% of the overall population, followed by Hindus at 10%. 

There are an estimated 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India. 

Awali, a small municipality about 12 miles south of Manama, is the location of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, which was consecrated on Dec. 10, 2021.

The ark-shaped Catholic cathedral seats 2,300 people and was built as part of a 95,000-square-foot complex. The church was the idea of Bishop Camillo Ballin, the vicar apostolic of Northern Arabia, who died in 2020, shortly before he could see his project completed.

The title of Our Lady of Arabia was approved in 1948. A small chapel in Ahmadi, Kuwait, was dedicated in her honor on Dec. 8 that year.

In 1957, Pius XII issued a decree proclaiming Our Lady of Arabia the main patron saint of the territory and of the Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait.

In 2011, the Vatican officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia the patron saint of the vicariates of Kuwait and Arabia.

Later that year, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.

Pope Francis says that he tried to help Ukraine, Russia prisoner swap

 Pope Francis meeting with Jesuits in Kazakhstan, Sept. 2022

Pope Francis has said that he was involved in a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking to Jesuits during his trip to Kazakhstan earlier this month, the pope said a Ukrainian military chief and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s religious adviser came to him with a request for help.

“This time they brought me a list of more than 300 prisoners. They asked me to do something to make an exchange,” Pope Francis said, according to a transcript published by the Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica on Sept. 29.

“I immediately called the Russian ambassador to see if something could be done, if an exchange of prisoners could be speeded up.”

The pope did not specify when these conversations about a prisoner swap occurred. He spoke about the exchange in a private conversation with 19 Jesuits in Nur Sultan on Sept. 15 — six days before Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine and Russia had conducted a prisoner swap involving nearly 300 people.

Zelenskyy said that the exchange had been under preparation for a long time. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres specifically thanked Turkey and Saudi Arabia for their roles in facilitating the prisoner swap, which involved the return of 215 Ukrainians and 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians. It was the largest prisoner exchange since the war began.

In his meeting with the Jesuits, Pope Francis also recalled how he attempted to call Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

He said: “I recall that the day after the start of the war I went to the Russian Embassy. It was an unusual gesture; the pope never goes to an embassy. He receives the ambassadors personally only when they present their credentials, and then at the end of their mission on a farewell visit. I told the ambassador that I would like to speak with President Putin, provided he left me a small window for dialogue.”

The pope underlined, “from the first day of the war until yesterday, I spoke constantly about this conflict, referring to the suffering of Ukraine.” He later added that in his public statements, he has called “the invasion of Ukraine an unacceptable, repugnant, senseless, barbaric, sacrilegious aggression.”

Pope Francis also said that he believes “international factors … contributed to provoking the war.”

“I have already mentioned that a head of state, in December last year, came to tell me that he was very concerned because NATO had gone barking at the gates of Russia without understanding that the Russians are imperial and fear border insecurity. He expressed fear that this would provoke a war, and this broke out two months later,” the pope said.

Among the Jesuits who met with Pope Francis in Kazakhstan were priests who served as missionaries in Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. 

Father Bogusław Steczek, the superior of the Russian Region of the Society of Jesus, told the pope of the Jesuits’ pastoral work in Moscow, Kirov, St. Petersburg, Tomsk, and Siberia. 

“We are working on geographical, cultural, and religious frontiers,” Steczek said. “Now, in order to go forward with courage, we ask your apostolic blessing.”

Supporters of statue of St. Michael the Archangel in small French town vow to fight removal order

 In Sables-d'Olonne, a vote in favor of maintaining a statue of Saint Michael  - Paudal

After a French court confirmed the removal of a statue of St. Michael from a seaside town, supporters have vowed to continue their fight to keep it standing.

On Friday, Sep. 16, the Court of Appeal in Nantes ruled in favor of removing a statue of St. Michael in the town of Les Sables-d’Olonne in the Vendée.

The court decision was made against the wishes of more than 90% of participants in a consultation held by the town’s mayor, Yannick Moreau, last March. 

On Sept. 29, the feast day of the archangel, one supporter posted an image of the statue on social media, writing “A thought for the statue of Saint-Michel in Les Sables D’Olonne in Vendée which, according to the court of Nantes, must be removed in the name of ‘secularism’ while the people of Sablais in a popular referendum have voted to maintain.”

According to a report in Le Figaro, the municipality will now take the legal fight to the Conseil d'État. The Council of State is the supreme court for administrative justice in France.

The statue was installed in 2018 opposite the church of St. Michael. It was initially at a school of the same name from 1935 until 2017.

In 2021, a complaint was filed by the “Libre Pensée de Vendée,” a group that advocates secularism and “free thought” and initially opposed the statue’s installation.

The concept of secularism — laïcité — has been a fixture of French law since 1905. At that time, the Third Republic officially established state secularism, causing a subsequent wave of anti-Catholicism, which included the end of government funding for religious schools, mandatory civil marriage, and the removal of chaplains from the army.

The group cited a 1905 law on the separation of church and state. Article 28 prohibits the display of religious images in public spaces, except for places of worship, cemeteries, monuments, or museums. 

On Dec. 16, 2021, a hearing at the Court Appeal in Nantes decided that the statue must be unbolted within six months. 

According to the ruling, although the statue is in the forecourt of a church, “the square on which the statue was installed is not a building used for worship,” and the statue must therefore be removed in accordance with 1905 laws.

Demonstrations have been held to protest the removal of the statue, according to local media reports.