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Seeking God together will bring Christians closer to each other, pope says

The pope told the Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims that “we need to press forward with humility and patience, and always together, in order to encourage and support one another, for this is what Christ desires.”

Pope Francis sends aid to migrants at Belarus border and victims of typhoon in Philippines

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Jan. 5, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has sent 100,000 euros (around $114,000) in aid to migrants at the border between Poland and Belarus, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced on Jan. 18 that the pope had also given the same sum to victims of a devastating storm in the Philippines.

The Vatican department said in a press release that the pope had earmarked the funds for migrants living in freezing winter conditions along the roughly 250-mile border separating Poland and Belarus.

It said that the money would also help Caritas Poland, the country’s biggest charitable organization, “to address the migratory emergency on the border between the two countries.”

The border crisis flared up last summer when thousands of people, largely from Middle Eastern countries, sought to enter the European Union by crossing the Belarus-Poland border.

The Polish government and the EU accused Belarus of helping the migrants to gather at the frontier and enter Poland, an EU member state since 2004. The Belarusian government, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, denied the claim.

Polish officials argued that Belarus, a landlocked Eastern European country, fomented the crisis in response to sanctions imposed by the EU after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election in August 2020.

The border crisis has also affected Lithuania and Latvia, both EU member states neighboring Belarus.

Poland responded to the crisis by declaring a state of emergency in the area, fortifying the border, and repelling groups seeking to force their way across with tear gas and water cannons.

The Belarusian government appeared to take steps to de-escalate the crisis in November. Almost 4,000 Iraqi citizens have been repatriated from Belarus, Iraq’s foreign minister said on Jan. 16.

Médecins Sans Frontières announced earlier this month that it had withdrawn its teams after Polish authorities repeatedly denied them access to migrants living in a forested border area in sub-zero temperatures.

“We are concerned that the current policy of restricting access to aid organizations and volunteer groups could result in yet more migrants and refugees dying,” it said on Jan. 6.

“These policies are yet again another example of the EU deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people to seek asylum at its borders.”

Papal funds will also help relief efforts in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Rai struck the southeast Asian country in December.

The tropical cyclone, known locally as Typhoon Odette, killed more than 400 people and has affected more than 7 million others, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Vatican dicastery said that the funds would be sent to the worst-affected dioceses with help from the apostolic nunciature in the Philippines.

“It is intended to be an immediate expression of the Holy Father’s feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement towards the people and territories affected,” the dicastery said, recalling that the pope prayed for victims at his Sunday Angelus on Dec. 19.

“This contribution, which accompanies the prayer in support of the beloved Filipino population, is part of the aid that is being activated throughout the Catholic Church and that involves, in addition to various episcopal conferences, numerous charitable organizations,” it said.

Pope Francis' secretary of state tests positive for COVID-19

The Vatican's Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, substitute secretary for general affairs, are both insolation after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Vatican asks bishops to invite local Protestant and Orthodox leaders to participate in synodal path

Cardinal Kurt Koch and Cardinal Mario Grech. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA and Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 04:05 am (CNA).

The Vatican has issued a letter asking Catholic bishops to invite local Orthodox and Protestant leaders to participate in the diocesan stage of the two-year process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

Cardinal Mario Grech, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, wrote a letter together asking Catholic dioceses to embrace the “ecumenical dimension” of the synodal process.

“The dialogue between Christians of different confessions, united by one baptism, has a special place in the synodal journey,” said the letter highlighted by the Vatican on Jan. 17.

“Indeed, both synodality and ecumenism are processes of ‘walking together.’”

Offering “some practical suggestions to ensure the ecumenical dimension of the synodal journey,” the cardinals encouraged bishops to reach out to leaders of other Christian communities in their area.

“After identifying the main Christian communities present in the area, [the bishop] should prepare and send a letter to their leaders (or better visit them personally for this purpose),” their letter said.

The bishops should then invite local Christian leaders to send delegates to pre-synodal diocesan meetings and submit written reflections on questions included in the preparatory documents.

National bishops’ conferences are likewise asked to invite representatives from other Christian communities and national councils of churches to participate in the synodal process.

The Synod on Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of “listening and dialogue” that began in October 2021. The first stage is a diocesan phase expected to last until Aug. 15.

The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents. At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.

The letter, signed on Oct. 28, was referred to in a Vatican press release on Jan. 17 ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place on Jan. 18-25.

The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer is “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

Cardinal Grech and Cardinal Koch said: “Like the Magi, Christians too journey together (synodos) guided by the same heavenly light and encountering the same worldly darkness.”

“They too are called to worship Jesus together and open their treasures. Conscious of our need for the accompaniment and the many gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we call on them to journey with us during these two years and we sincerely pray that Christ will lead us closer to Him and so to one another.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity shared a prayer which it said could be added to the other intentions of the Week of Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
as the Magi journeyed towards Bethlehem led by the star,
so by your heavenly light,
guide the Catholic Church to walk together with all Christians during this time of synod.
As the Magi were united in their worship of Christ,
lead us closer to your Son and so to one another,
so that we become a sign of the unity that you desire for your Church and the whole creation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ahead of trial, Finnish MP facing jail after tweeting Bible verse says case a test of religious freedom

Päivi Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015. / Screenshot from ADF International’s YouTube channel.

Helsinki, Finland, Jan 18, 2022 / 03:15 am (CNA).

A former government minister facing jail after tweeting a Bible verse said that her trial next week will be a test of religious freedom.

Päivi Räsänen, a physician and mother of five, explained that she had a “calm mind” ahead of the criminal trial beginning on Jan. 24.

“I trust that we still live in a democracy, and we have our constitution and international agreements that guarantee our freedom of speech and religion,” said Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015.

“If I win the case, I think that it is a very important step for freedom of speech and religion. I think it’s not only important for Finland but also in Europe and other countries.”

“If I’m convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be the censorship.”

“So, now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows.”

According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that is supporting her, Räsänen could be given a two-year prison sentence for the tweet, after the Finnish Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against her on April 29, 2020.

The MP could also face additional jail time if convicted of two other alleged offenses relating to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet and on a 2018 television program, the group said.

The Prosecutor General charged Räsänen with incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

ADF International noted that Räsänen’s comments did not violate Twitter’s policies or the rules of the national broadcaster that screened the 2018 program, which is why they remain available on their platforms.

Finland is a country with a population of 5.5 million people, bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Around two-thirds of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.

The 62-year-old MP, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.

“The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church,” she told the journal First Things in 2020.

Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.

Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was also charged for publishing Räsänen’s 2004 pamphlet “Male and Female He Created Them.”

The International Lutheran Council issued a statement in July 2020 describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen as “egregious.”

It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

Paul Coleman, ADF International’s executive director, said: “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society.”

“Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies. These sorts of cases create a culture of fear and censorship and are becoming all too common throughout Europe.”

“We hope and trust the Helsinki District Court will uphold the fundamental right to freedom of speech and acquit Päivi Räsänen of these outrageous charges.”

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Filipino community in Los Angeles celebrates 500 years of the Santo Niño de Cebú

Attendees at a Mass for the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Calif., Jan. 16, 2022. / Victor Alemán/Angelus News

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 17, 2022 / 17:42 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles said Mass Sunday in honor of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, celebrating the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú.

“Today, we especially entrust ourselves to the Divine Infant, Santo Niño, as we continue to give thanks to God for opening the door of faith to the people of the Philippines, five hundred years ago,” the archbishop said during his Jan. 16 homily at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“And of course, we also recall that shortly after the door of faith was opened, the first Filipinos to come to America, arriving at Morro Bay, in 1587. It is beautiful to think about it and to reflect that Filipinos were here, worshipping and working in our country long before our country had a name.”

He added that “we give thanks to God today also for the rich Catholic heritage of the Philippines that has become such a beautiful part of our Catholic life here in Los Angeles, and in America.”

The Santo Niño de Cebú is a statue that was given to Juana, wife of the king of Cebu, after their 1521 baptism. It is widely venerated in the Philippines, and is now housed in the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City.

Preceding the Mass, Filipino traditions were displayed on the cathedral plaza, and images of the Santo Niño were blessed during the Mass.

During his homily, Archbishop Gomez reflected on the wedding at Cana, saying that through the miracle performed there Christ “wanted to show us that the marriage of man and woman is a symbol of how much God loves each one of us.”

“God loves all of us, you and me, without conditions and without exceptions. God delights in you! You are a special treasure to him. This is the amazing truth of our Catholic faith.”

As a result, he said, “God has a mission for your life,” a vocation.

“Each one of us, no matter who we are, has a part to play in building up God’s kingdom of love and life. And it’s also interesting because that’s the meaning of the servants in today’s Gospel.”

“Like those servants, we need to fill the water jars of our lives with the waters of love, with the waters of good works, works of mercy and service. And we do that in simple and ordinary ways. In our daily lives. Jesus wants to work with us, and through us. Through our good works, through our works of love. In our families. In our places of work. In our society,” Archbishop Gomez said.

“And this is the water that he will transform — that he will turn into new wine … But as we know, my dear brothers and sisters, everything starts from our obedience to the word of Jesus. This is especially — as we reflect on today’s passage of the Gospel — what Mary tells us in the Gospel today, when she tells the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ This is the key to the Kingdom. This is the key to holiness, to our vocation. To entering into the divine life — to do the will of God, to do whatever Jesus tells us.”

The day preceding the Mass, a food drive was held at Our Lady of Loretto parish in the city’s Historic Filipinotown. The food drive was organized by the Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council and the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Community Advisory Council.

Jesuit journal criticized for article supporting assisted suicide bill in Italy

null / nito/Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy, Jan 17, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Almost 60 organizations have criticized an article supporting the passing of an Italian bill to legalize assisted suicide, which was published last week in the Catholic, Jesuit-run journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

A group of 57 associations, mostly based in Italy, have signed a statement voicing their opposition to the article, titled “The Parliamentarian Discussion on ‘Assisted Suicide.’”

The article was part of the periodical’s Jan. 15 edition, but published online on Jan. 13.

La Civiltà Cattolica, founded in 1850 and published twice a month, is produced by the Jesuits in Rome and approved before publication by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

“We cannot remain convinced by an article published today in La Civiltà Cattolica on the subject of assisted suicide norms,” the Jan. 13 statement said. “It is surprising, in fact, that an authoritative publication, from which one expects an echo of the Magisterium of the Church, risks positions that — albeit indirectly — may in fact give field to that ‘culture of waste,’ from whose negative effects Pope Francis constantly calls out.”

In the statement, the organizations argue that the assisted suicide bill also gives an opening to the legalization of euthanasia in Italy.

“The protection of life and the support of those who suffer is a battle of reason and civilization, which should, therefore, affect everyone, and should certainly move those who bear in name the ideal of a Catholic civilization,” the statement continued.

In the La Civiltà Cattolica article, Father Carlo Casalone, SJ, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a moral theology professor at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, argues that what he considers to be a serious cause for concern in a proposed referendum on euthanasia and assisted suicide in Italy, as a reason for lawmakers to support a bill for assisted suicide legislation.

The referendum, which seeks to decriminalize assisted suicide for adults, has a “huge flaw,” according to Casalone.

Both assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in Italy, where the criminal law says, “anyone who causes the death of a man, with his consent, is punished with imprisonment from six to fifteen years.”

“The request [of the referendum] is to repeal the related sanctions, except in cases of minor age, mental illness or alteration of conscience, and consent obtained by deceit or extorted by violence,” Casalone wrote. “The result would be to allow murder without subjecting it to conditions other than those that guarantee the validity of the consent.”

Casalone said there is no guarantee that further legislative constraints would be applied if the referendum should pass, and this would allow even a healthy person to commit medically-assisted suicide after meeting the requirement of consent.

If the Italian court will allow the referendum to be put to vote, Casalone posited that there will be a high level of support among the Italian public, given the large number of signatures in support of the referendum.

The referendum petition had over 1.2 million signatures when it was submitted to Italy’s supreme court in October 2021.

The priest argued that the bill on assisted suicide, which parliament is scheduled to vote on in February, could be a way to ensure the law includes conditions in its application.

“At this juncture, the PdL [bill] could constitute a barrier, albeit imperfect and itself problematic,” he said.

Debate on the legislation started in mid-December in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, and is expected to go to vote in February.

Opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Italy, including pro-life and pro-family group Pro Vita e Famiglia, hope the bill will be voted down.

In La Civiltà Cattolica, Casalone questions whether the assisted suicide bill may be “an acceptable ‘imperfect’ law.”

While acknowledging that the law under discussion “diverges” from the Catholic Church’s teaching on the illegality of assisted suicide, he suggests that the law could be tolerated if “motivated by the function of embankment in the face of a possible more serious damage.”

Casalone also said he believes the sinking of the bill or inaction by legislators would deal another blow to the credibility of Italy’s institutions “in an already critical moment.”

“In the current cultural and social situation, it seems to the writer that support for this PdL [legislative bill] does not conflict with a responsible pursuit of the possible common good,” he stated.