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Palestine asks Vatican to defend Jerusalem’s status quo

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Palestinian Foreign Affairs minister, Ryadh al Maliki, met officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State Feb. 16, asking the Holy See to amplify its voice defending the status quo in Jerusalem.
 
“It is important to understand that the situation of Jerusalem also deals with Christians,” the minister told CNA after the meeting, during a short briefing with journalists in the State of Palestine’s recently opened embassy to the Holy See.

“We would like the Holy See lead a conference of Christians in the Middle East, in order to make their voice stronger.”
 
Minister al Maliki met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and then with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican “minister for foreign affairs.
 
Al Maliki reported that the meetings “shed light on the implication of President Trump’s decision to ‘award’ Jerusalem as capital of Israel, with the decision to transfer the US Embassy to Israel to the city.”
 
Trump’s decision, al Maliki said, “had the effect of connecting the city with only the Jewish world, setting aside the city’s connections with Christian and Muslims.”
 
This “also jeopardizes the negotiations,” concerning peace between Israel and Palestine, “because the issue of the status of Jerusalem was put off the table,” he said.
 
Al Maliki maintained that Palestine “wants to keep the conflict a a political level,” while Trump’s decision brings the issue to “a religious level.” He said  the status of the city is relevant to all religions which “recognize themselves in the city of Jerusalem.”
 
According to al Maliki, the Holy See expressed concern during the talks, and both parties agreed that the status quo of Jerusalem should be respected, and that the future of Jerusalem “must be negotiated and not imposed.”
 
The Holy See has made several recent statements regarding Jerusalem: Pope Francis made his latest appeal to respect the status quo in Jerusalem at the end of his Dec. 6, 2017 general audience.
 
On Dec. 10, the Holy See Press Office issued a communiqué reiterating that the Holy See maintained its position on the peculiar character of the Holy City, and stressed the importance of maintaining a compromise on the city’s status.

“Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace,” and “guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two states within internationally recognized borders,” the statement said.
 
Minister Al Maliki stressed that the State of Palestine “recognized the Holy See’s efforts,” but asked the Holy See to further raise its voice.
 
Al Maliki said he asked the Holy See to take the lead of a conference of Christians in order to shed light on the fact that Christian denominations have an interest in Jerusalem.
 
“It is also important,” al Maliki said “to give a signal to the Christians in the Holy Land, who feel abandoned and under pressure.”
 
He said that, after President Trump’s decision, the Israeli government has started to increase pressure on Palestinian Christians, “making their life harder,” by “imposing taxes, freezing the bank accounts and confiscating properties.”
 
According to al Maliki, this pressure aims at “changing the sacred character of the city, and to turn the city into a Jewish one.”
 
In particular, al Maliki is referring to a recent decision of Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor, to begin assessing municipal taxes on some church properties.  

In a joint statement, the Churches of Jerusalem stressed that this decision “goes agaist the historic position throughouth the centuries of the Churches and the Holy City of Jerusalem,” and that the measure “undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardises the Church’s ability to conduct its ministry in this land on behalf of its communities and the world-wide church.”
 
According to al Maliki, neither Cardinal Parolin or Archbishop Gallagher objected to the idea of a conference under the Holy See’s lead. However, no decision has yet been made.

Science – not sabotage – behind Filipino 'Rash Wednesday' mystery

Manila, Philippines, Feb 16, 2018 / 01:41 pm (CNA).- After some Filipino Catholics developed mysterious rashes on Ash Wednesday, the Diocese of Caloocan investigated to determine the cause of the skin irritant.

While sabotage was initially suspected as a possibility, the reason behind the rashes turned out to be less sinister and more scientific – the ashes had been overcooked, which increased their level of acidity, resulting in rashes and blisters when mixed with water and applied to the skin.

“They call it overcooked charcoal turned into caustic ashes that produce high acidity when mixed with water,” said Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan, according to Manila Bulletin.

During Ash Wednesday Mass at the San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan, Philippines, some worshipers noticed a burning sensation when the ashes where applied to their foreheads. Later, they developed a blistering rash where the ashes were touching their skin.

Not all the parishioners suffered an adverse reaction, however, which led Bishop David to suspect that a toxic component may have been introduced to only some of the containers, UCA News reported.

After reports of parishioners being burned, the ashes were pulled from use, and Bishop David promised to investigate the cause of the problem.

“Rest assured that we will not leave a single stone unturned in order to find out what caused this unfortunate incident,” he said.

However, a review of security footage found that no one had tampered with the ashes.

Instead, chemical tests determined that the ashes had an unusually “high level of acidity,” the Manila Bulletin reported.

He said the palms are usually burned in clay pots, but because of this year’s high quantity, more palms were gradually added to the mixture, and some were burned for too long.

When mixed with water, the caustic ashes became acidic, with the highest acidity levels separating to the top. As a result, the first people in line to receive ashes on their foreheads were exposed to the most acidic portion.

“Not all were affected because the liquid part that turned acidic surfaced and became [the] cause for blisters. The rest who got just moist ashes suffered only minor rashes that disappeared as soon as the substance was washed off,” said Bishop David.

With the cause of the rashes discovered, the prelate said the most important goal was to treat those who had been harmed.

“What matters for us is that we are able to apply the proper medication – silver sulfadiazine on people who have been affected.”

 

Catholic Studies founder Don Briel remembered for his fidelity to Christ

Bismarck, N.D., Feb 16, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Dr. Don Briel, who held a chair in liberal arts at the University of Mary and who had founded the first Catholic Studies program, at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, died Thursday night.

The University of Mary has confirmed to CNA the news of Briel's Feb. 15 death.

Briel was 71, and had been diagnosed with two untreatable acute leukemias Jan. 19. He had been in hospice care at his home.

In recent weeks he has been the subject of tributes for his contribution to the renewal of Catholic higher education in the US, most notably through this founding, in 1993, of the Catholic Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn. That program was the inspiration for similar programs at both Catholic and public universities across the country.

Briel remained at the University of St. Thomas for 20 years, and in 2014 he was given the Blessed John Henry Newman Chair of Liberal Arts at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

At the University of Mary, he helped develop a Catholic Studies program, developed its Gregorian Scholars Honors Program, and taught at its Rome campus.

Briel's doctoral work focused on Bl. John Henry Newman, “whose vision of university education had a profound impact on my vision of what was necessary in our own time, [through] his insistence that the purpose of university was to form the mind and habit of students, which enables them to see things in relation and make judgments about reality,” as he told The Catholic Spirit in the weeks preceding his death.

In a Jan. 24 homage to Briel at First Things, George Weigel included his founding the Catholic Studies program among the three seminal moments for Catholic higher education in the US since World War II.

Weigel described Briel's work as, in part, an effort “to repair the damage that was done to institutions of Catholic higher learning in the aftermath of Land O’ Lakes.”

At the Land O'Lake conference in 1967, Catholic universities also began to distance themselves from the hierarchy of the Church, insisting on their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of any kind, lay or clerical.”

“But there was, and is, far more to Don Briel’s vision, and achievement, than damage-repair,” Weigel wrote. “Nourished intellectually by John Henry Newman and Christopher Dawson, Briel has aimed at nothing less than creating, in twenty-first-century circumstances, the 'idea of a university' that animated his two English intellectual and spiritual heroes.”

Weigel characterized conversion “to the truth of Christ and the love of Christ as manifest in the Catholic Church,” and thereby the conversion of culture, as what “Don Briel’s life-project [is] all about.”

John and Madelyn Dinkel, who studied under Briel in Rome, wrote to him after his illness that “Your course taught us that following Christ through truth, beauty, and goodness is something always to strive for. You taught us that being a saint will not be easy, but that it truly is the only way worth living. Dr. Briel, your course did teach us this, but most importantly, your character, your virtue, and your Holy Christian example, taught us this during our time abroad.”

Briel is the subject of a recently published festschrift, Renewal of Catholic Higher Education: Essays on Catholic Studies in Honor of Don J. Briel. Edited by Matthew Gerlach, the book includes reflections from Catholic Studies professors, alumni, and scholars.

In the weeks preceding his death, Briel exhibited a profound peace and a sense of gratitude.

In an interview with Maria Weiring of The Catholic Spirit conducted Feb. 8, he said that when told he had a month to live, “I felt great peace about this. I had always prayed that I would have some advance knowledge of dying, and my ideal time frame was actually one month. It’s time enough to focus on the reality of death; it’s not too short, and it’s not too long.”

“The thing is, that if I hadn’t had this incidental appointment with this surgeon, I wouldn’t have known, and therefore I wouldn’t have had this knowledge, which I had always prayed for. So there seems to be providence in it, on every aspect of the diagnosis and my experience of it.”

He characterized his time as spent primarily in prayer and in greeting friends: “I do read, but it’s more [a] time of this combination of prayer – an intensification of prayer – and seeing so many former students and colleagues.”

“I have to say that I look forward to death, not with a sense a great success, but a sense of the privilege, again, of having been invited into the work that has had these remarkable results … This is not my work, it’s not our work, it’s God’s work, and to have been given this possibility to assist in realizing this great educational vision has been the great privilege of my life.”

Youth look forward to sharing hopes, concerns in pre-synod meeting

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2018 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the pre-synod meeting set to take place next month, several young participants voiced excitement to meet with peers from all over the world to exchange ideas and talk about life's major questions.

“This is a step the Church is making to listen to all youth,” said Stella Marilene Nishimwe, a participant in the pre-synod gathering. “It will give us an opportunity to say everything that we think. This is an opportunity that we must really take.”

A young Burundi woman living in Italy, Nishimwe told journalists that she believes the March gathering is “something that God wants from the Church, to do something new for all the youth of the world.”

“Because youth from all over the world, whether they are Catholics or from other religions, we have the same questions,” she said, adding that she thinks it is important that the Church wants to walk with youth “in this world with so much pain, with so many questions that don't have answers.”

She said that what she mainly wants to share is the experience of “the life that we live.” Namely, “we want to find happiness, like everyone in the world, we want to live in unity, we want to feel at home in all parts of the world. We want to really find a path together...in this synod, I really want this.”

Nishimwe was one of four panelists at a Feb. 16 news conference on the upcoming pre-synod meeting, which will be held March 19-24 in Rome with some 300 youth from various backgrounds and countries throughout the world.

The event is a precursor to the October Synod of Bishops on “Faith, Young People and the Discernment of Vocation,” and will include youth in different states of life and from different vocations. Priests, seminarians and consecrated persons will also participate, as well as non-Catholics.

Special attention will also be given to youth from both global and existential “peripheries,” including people with disabilities, and some who have struggled with drug use or who have been in prison.

At the end of the gathering, notes of the various discussions will be gathered into one comprehensive concluding document, which will be presented to Pope Francis and used as part of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or “working document,” of the October synod.

Alongside Nishimwe at the news conference were Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops; Bishop Fabio Fabene, the synod dicastery’s undersecretary; and Italian youth Filippo Passantino.

In comments to journalists, Passantino said participants are expecting to hear “an echo of their requests, of their needs, of their proposals” in the meeting, not only in the synod hall, “but also on social media, so that social media can become [a] great and luminous reflection to shine on their problems.”

Social media will also play a key role in the pre-synod gathering, which is being promoted on various platforms such as Facebook and Twitter with 15 special hashtags.

Passantino, who has helped to promote the event on social media, said many young people have shared their experiences, and that so far, most of the testimonies and questions posted have been related to problems such as finding work and building meaningful relationships in an increasingly superficial world.

He stressed the importance of youth being able to listen to one another and share their experiences, saying that “we will be listened to, but we must and we want to listen to all those situations of difficulty.”

The pre-synod meeting will kick off Monday, March 19, with an audience with Pope Francis, marking the 5th anniversary of the start of his papal ministry. True to form, Francis during the audience will take questions from young people from all five continents.

In the afternoon, participants will be divided into language groups, which throughout the week will discuss different themes outlined in the preparatory document for the synod, which was released Jan. 13, 2017.

Each session will include five questions to help guide discussion. The questions will focus on various topics, such as the search for meaning, technology, vocational discernment, politics and volunteer work.

Entertainment and moments of prayer will also be included. On Friday, April 23, participants will pray the Way of the Cross while walking to the Roman catacombs of San Callisto. On Saturday, they will spend the morning at the Pontifical Villa in Castel Gandolfo and in the evening will have a celebration with youth from the Diocese of Albano.

The event will conclude with Palm Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square, which also marks the diocesan celebration of World Youth Day, this year dedicated to the theme: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Participants in the gathering were selected by local bishops conferences for both the Roman and Eastern rites, and for those involved in movements, associations and ecclesial movements. Students at Catholic schools and universities will also attend.

In comments to journalists, Cardinal Baldisseri said the pre-synod gathering is not “an isolated event,” but is rather “a phase on the journey of preparation for the Synod of Bishops in October.”

The first step was the questionnaire that was sent out to bishops’ conferences worldwide, and which was also posted online in order to make it more accessible to young people. It was released in June 2017 for people ages 16 to 29, of all faiths and backgrounds, asking about lives, attitudes and concerns about the world.

According to Baldisseri, some 221,000 youth participated, with the majority being in the younger age bracket. Europe was the continent most highly represented, with Central and South America coming in second, and Africa in third.

The answers to the questionnaire will be one of four key ingredients in the October synod, he said, with the other three being the website for the questionnaire and social media accounts where youth can leave testimonies and answer questions; a September 2017 seminar on youth that took place in Rome; and the final document of the pre-synod meeting.

The pre-synod gathering will be “very, very important for the synod,” Baldisseri said. It aims to ensure that young people are heard and understood, so that the synod is not just an event “about” youth, but “with” them.

The meeting will seek to define specific pastoral projects and outreach plans. Parents, educators and priests will also be present to listen to what the youth are saying and be better equipped to address the problems and situations they encounter.

An exchange of cultural experiences and different religious backgrounds will also be encouraged.

In order to help young people unable to participate in the Rome gathering to have a voice in the discussion, special Facebook groups have been created based on language, which Bishop Baldisseri said will allow those not present to follow the discussion and interact with their peers from around the world.

Links to all social media pages, as well as the hashtags that will be used, can be found on the synod website: www.synod2018.va

From North Korea to Catholicism: Mi Jin’s answered prayer

Seoul, South Korea, Feb 16, 2018 / 09:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During her childhood in North Korea, Mi Jin Kang never believed in the existence of God, until one person began to spark her curiosity.

“From school education, I learned that religion is a drug,” Mi Jin told CNA, “However, I heard the story of God from a girl that I met in North Korea before my escape. This was the first step to belief.”

“Before escaping North Korea, the story of God was a curiosity and miraculous,” said Mi Jin who decided to escape North Korea in 2009, at the age of 40.

“When I escaped from North Korea, I prayed with my two hands,” remembered Mi Jin, “When my prayer to God at the moment of escape was answered, I decided to be a child of God.”

“It was especially this prayer to God at the moment of escaping from North Korea that led me to be a believer during the process of settling in South Korea.”

Though she did not share details of her escape, many North Korean defectors are helped to South Korea by a network supported by Chinese Christians.

In South Korea, an order of Korean religious sisters taught Mi Jin and other North Korean defectors about the Catholic faith. Mi Jin learned about Saint Therese the Little Flower from the sisters.

At her baptism, Mi Jin took a new Christian name, as is the custom for Korean Catholics. She became Teresa.

“I wanted to be like Saint Teresa, who lived a faithful life,” Mi Jin said.

When Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014, Mi Jin was invited by the Korean bishops to see  Pope Francis face-to-face, in the front row of the beatification Mass for 124 Korean martyrs. She also attended to Pope’s Mass in Seoul’s historic Myeongdong Cathedral.

“I got to experience the glory of a Mass close to the Pope,” said Mi Jin.

Mi Jin now works as a journalist in South Korea at the Daily NK, helping others to understand what life is like inside the world’s most opaque country.

Mi Jin told CNA that American Catholics can help North Koreans. “I think it is necessary to provide humanitarian assistance for people who are in need in North Korea. I also hope that support for organizations who are broadcasting to reach out to residents in North Korea, such as Daily NK, can help it go smoothly.”

Mi Jin especially encouraged prayer for North Korea. “I hope that Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea realizes economic democratization for North Korean's true freedom and life by giving up nuclear weapons.”

She also “hopes to see the unification Korea as the relationship between North and South Korea has developed in a positive way like recently.”

Mi Jin told CNA that she has been watching the Pyeongchang Olympic Games everyday. Her favorite event to watch is skiing.

Hyo Jeong Kim assisted with translation for this story.