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In first-ever event, UN commemorates religious victims of violence

New York City, N.Y., Aug 22, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The United Nations General Assembly has designated Aug. 22 as the first-ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

“On this Day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement.

The General Assembly condemned acts of violence against religious minorities and reiterated its support for the right to freedom of religion, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Over the past few months, we have seen increasing numbers of attacks against individuals and groups targeted simply because of their religion or belief,” Guterres said. “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

He particularly noted the worrying trend of attacks targeting places of worship, and minority religious communities being attacked because of their faith.

“We must resist and reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred,” he said.

The United Nations is working on a new initiative to counter hate speech as well as a new action plan to safeguard religious sites, Guterres said.

In recent years, observers have voiced alarm at ongoing religious-based persecution in countries around the world.

In its annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that “despite two decades of tireless work to bring an end to religious-based discrimination, violence, and persecution, innumerable believers and nonbelievers across the globe continued in 2018 to experience manifold suffering due to their beliefs.”

A report earlier this year commissioned by the British Foreign Office found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and that persecution against them is on the rise.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the UN for recognizing the serious threat posed by contemporary religious persecution, while highlighting the need for further action.

“All people have the right to peacefully live out their faith, and we can never forget those who have faced persecution for doing so,” said Kelsey Zorzi, president of the United Nations’ NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and international director of advocacy for global religious freedom at ADF International.

She welcomed the UN’s decision to create a day commemorate victims of religious persecution, while adding that “remembrance alone is not enough.”

“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world. We therefore urge all countries to ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” she said.

Tony Perkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council, also called for additional action to prevent religious persecution across the globe.

“Commemorating victims of violence based on religion or belief is critical, but that’s only the beginning of the world’s work to achieve justice for the survivors of past tragedies, like the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq by ISIS,” he said.

“We must also recognize and work together to halt the continuing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and Christians in Burma and violence against Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram.”

In first-ever event, UN commemorates religious victims of violence

New York City, N.Y., Aug 22, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The United Nations General Assembly has designated Aug. 22 as the first-ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

“On this Day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement.

The General Assembly condemned acts of violence against religious minorities and reiterated its support for the right to freedom of religion, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Over the past few months, we have seen increasing numbers of attacks against individuals and groups targeted simply because of their religion or belief,” Guterres said. “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

He particularly noted the worrying trend of attacks targeting places of worship, and minority religious communities being attacked because of their faith.

“We must resist and reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred,” he said.

The United Nations is working on a new initiative to counter hate speech as well as a new action plan to safeguard religious sites, Guterres said.

In recent years, observers have voiced alarm at ongoing religious-based persecution in countries around the world.

In its annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that “despite two decades of tireless work to bring an end to religious-based discrimination, violence, and persecution, innumerable believers and nonbelievers across the globe continued in 2018 to experience manifold suffering due to their beliefs.”

A report earlier this year commissioned by the British Foreign Office found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and that persecution against them is on the rise.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the UN for recognizing the serious threat posed by contemporary religious persecution, while highlighting the need for further action.

“All people have the right to peacefully live out their faith, and we can never forget those who have faced persecution for doing so,” said Kelsey Zorzi, president of the United Nations’ NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and international director of advocacy for global religious freedom at ADF International.

She welcomed the UN’s decision to create a day commemorate victims of religious persecution, while adding that “remembrance alone is not enough.”

“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world. We therefore urge all countries to ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” she said.

Tony Perkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council, also called for additional action to prevent religious persecution across the globe.

“Commemorating victims of violence based on religion or belief is critical, but that’s only the beginning of the world’s work to achieve justice for the survivors of past tragedies, like the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq by ISIS,” he said.

“We must also recognize and work together to halt the continuing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and Christians in Burma and violence against Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram.”

Real reform in the Church requires a faithful laity, priest says 

Auckland, New Zealand, Aug 22, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- For the Catholic Church to be renewed, the entire body of Christ - especially the laity - must strive to live the faith devoutly.

This was the message of Father Roger Landry, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, at a Eucharistic assembly in July.

“While in history, reforms have been championed by popes, bishops, founders of religious orders and their spiritual sons and daughters, the real reform of the Church happens when lay people assimilate it and live it,” he said.

“The Church is not made of marble, wood, bricks and glass, but of men, women, boys and girls, who build their lives firmly on Christ the cornerstone and Peter the rock on whom Jesus constructed the Church.”

Landry spoke during the Auckland Eucharistic Convention on the weekend of July 12 at the Sacred Heart College in New Zealand. Speakers at the event also included Emeritus Bishop Denis Browne of Hamilton, founder of the conference, and Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland.

During his speech, Landry noted that there is much discussion about a renewed Church, particularly following recent scandals within the Church.

He pointed to the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the “universal call to holiness” and noted that the Gospels include the images of Christians as salt, light, and leaven.

“They are particularly meaningful images because they speak not only of the deep involvement and the full participation of the lay faithful in the affairs of the earth, the world and the human community, but also and above all, they tell of the radical newness and unique character of an involvement and participation which has as its purpose the spreading of the Gospel that brings salvation,” he said, quoting St. John Paul II.

At the time of the New Testament, salt had three purposes: preserving food so it would not spoil, enhancing flavor, and combining with animal dung to create fuel.

Similarly, he said, Christians should preserve the world from sin, reflect God’s glory, and bring others to the goodness of redemption.

“Jesus calls us to be his instrument to prevent the earth from going to corruption, from dying. We’re supposed to keep the world and others good,” he said. “As Salt of the Earth, we’re called to be God’s instrument for bringing good out of the evil we encounter, to help even those who were given over to evil to start producing something good.”

“We, as salt of the earth, are called to give flavor so that others can ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord,’ we’re supposed to bring joy,” he said.

Light is another important metaphor, Landry said, especially in a world darkened so deeply by grief, despair, sin, physical pain, and emotional wounds. Like Christ, the Christian should warm people from the cold and dispel darkness.

“He has come and mercifully taught us in such a way that we may walk as children of the light and be true children of the light. So the Christian life is supposed to be luminescent, like the lights on a landing strip at an airport on a foggy night that help planes land,” he said.

“Similarly, light gives off warmth, and Christ has come into the world to warm us by his love, to burn away whatever in us is frigid or tepid, so that we in turn may warm others by the fire of divine love.”

Leaven is an important metaphor, Landry said, because it teaches us that just a small number of devout Christians can have a significant impact on the world.

“We know that leaven works unseen, doesn’t call attention to itself, but it does its work all the same. Much of the most important work of Christians happens through example - by our cheerfulness, by the powerful transforming influence of good friendship, by the encouraging smiles and deeds that others need when they are down,” he said.

He pointed to the example of the early Japanese Christians, who kept the Catholic faith alive for centuries after the priests in the country had all been martyred.

Missionaries in the 1800s found hundreds of Catholics in a village in northeastern Japan. In place of Mass, the Catholic families would gather every Sunday to pray the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and an Act of Contrition.

The villagers had been instructed by previous missionaries to be steadfast and to wait for more “fathers” to come after the initial missionaries were martyred. The early priests had taught the people how to recognize the four marks of the Catholic Church: belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, devotion to Mary, the papacy ,and the priesthood.

“So great was the trust in God and in his Church by those who were being killed in the 1600s that they prepared the people for the time when Catholic priests would return to Japan, and their simple instructions were passed down by the kakure Kiristan, the clandestine Christians, for a dozen generations,” Landry said.

‘Gospel Truth’ for August 25, 2019

Listen to this week's edition of our reflections on the Gospel reading for the twenty-first Sunday in ordinary time, where Jesus tells his disciples to strive to enter through the narrow gate, prepared by the late Jill Bevilacqua.

Reflections for the XXI Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the twenty-first Sunday in ordinary time. He says that Jesus clearly explains that anyone who follows him through the narrow gate of sacrificial serving and sharing love will be saved.

US Bishop says death penalty is an “attack on human dignity”

As the US state of Texas executes a man on death row, Bishop Frank Dewane of Florida reasserts the Catholic Church’s stance on the death penalty.

Hong Kong student leader: Catholics have an important role in peaceful protests

Hong Kong, China, Aug 22, 2019 / 12:12 am (CNA).- As massive protests continue in Hong Kong, one student leader says Catholics have an important role to play in encouraging demonstrators to remain peaceful in asserting their demands.

“The protests last Sunday [were] very peaceful, peaceful protests. And very luckily, there were no major conflicts between the police and the protestors,” Edwin Chow, acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, told CNA in an interview.

Despite the threat of violence from police and growing concern about a potential crackdown by Chinese authorities, an estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong last Sunday for a largely peaceful demonstration in the pouring rain.

The largest protest has so far this year has been an estimated 2 million-strong crowd on June 6. At some of the protests, police and some protesters have resorted to violence.

“From June to the previous protest, almost every time, the police have used tear gas and bullets. But this time, for this weekend, actually the police did not use any tear gas and they didn't have any serious clash between the protesters and the police,” Chow said.

Protesters continue to demonstrate against the use of excessive force by the police, as well as the potential for Hong Kong to begin extraditing suspected criminals to stand trial in mainland China.

The bill proposing extraditions to China, which was introduced in Hong Kong’s government in February, has been indefinitely suspended, but Christians in Hong Kong remain worried that the Chinese Communist government will continue to find ways to persecute those who are helping Christians in mainland China, where freedom of religion is severely restricted.

“The Chinese government is suppressing the Church in mainland China, and so we are worried that when we have communication with the mainland Church, maybe one day the Chinese government will also arrest the Hong Kong people to suppress Hong Kong people,” Chow said.

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students organized members to attend the protest and also held a prayer meeting before Sunday’s march. Chow said many more protests are already planned for August, and early next month students are planning to “strike” on the first day of class.

“My class will start on the 2nd of September, but actually the student union, most of the university students, we are planning to have a strike on that day. That is a must, I think, this will happen. We will go on strike.”

Chow, a student studying Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, told CNA last week that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government.

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

“It's a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal...so that's why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, our strengths, our power becomes stronger,” he told CNA last week.

Chow said he believes the protestors are changing their tactics to try to be less disruptive. A number of protests held in the last few weeks in the city’s busy international airport caused a lot of noise and disruption, he said.

“So the protestors adjusted their strategy. They think that a peaceful protest maybe can gain more support. I think due to the previous clash, and too much violence, maybe we have lost some support, so we want to gain it again,” Chow explained.

“And also I think the main theme of the protests is...police violence; it's hard to convince people that we are against violence when we use violence. So I think this is the main reason why this protest this weekend was [more] peaceful.”

Chow believes that Christians groups can play an important role in encouraging protestors to remain peaceful and not be carried away by emotion.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down. Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again.”

Chow said there is an interesting protest set to take place this Friday, wherein protestors plan to form a human chain as part of the demonstration.

“This week, almost every day we have protests,” he said.

“For tomorrow, the secondary students also have their own protest, their own assembly...it's a very busy month, very busy, these two months for Hong Kong people. Because actually, we almost protest every day.”

Chow said the Catholic clergy have been very supportive. The Federation invited bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen to celebrate Mass on June 16, in front of the government headquarters.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has also been very active in going to the protest sites, supporting the young people, and vocally supporting the protestors. Bishop Ha took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after one rally.

“Other ordinary Catholics, some of the older Catholics, they also join in our activities,” Chow said. “So you can see that not only the teenagers are supporting, participating in the whole protest, but the older people, some adults...they also join, they also support the whole protest.”

In the US, the Archdiocese of San Francisco Chinese Ministry and the Office of Human Life & Dignity are inviting the faithful to a prayer vigil for Hong Kong at 6:30 pm on August 26 at St. Anne of the Sunset Church in San Francisco. The service is set to include scripture readings, Eucharistic Adoration, and Benediction.

Caritas India responds to country’s monsoon disaster

Father Paul Moonjely, executive Director of Caritas India, told Vatican News how through its partners at the local diocesan level, they are trying to reach out to people hit by floods and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rains.

Benin Bishops say political mediation continues

The Bishops of Benin say they are continuing with their mediation efforts to resolve the political crisis in the country that followed disputed elections in April. Their statement comes after some media outlets reported that the Church had withdrawn from negotiations.

Young people work for peace at World Youth Parliament

Young people from around the world take part in the 5th World Youth Parliament, hosted at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, in Spain.