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Christians face the pandemic in Palestine

Rome Newsroom, Jul 15, 2020 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- Facing the global coronavirus pandemic, Palestine has “the special and unique challenges of being under colonialism and a touristic country,” a Palestinian Catholic from the Bethlehem area told CNA.

Rula Shomali, communications officer at the Latin Catholic Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told CNA that Palestinians, and especially Palestinians Christians, face unusual challenges while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“With a state of low income and poor resources, and a country that has fought colonialism for years, it is difficult to fight two colonizations at once; the Israeli occupation and COVID-19,” she said.

In recent weeks, coronavirus infections skyrocketed in the West Bank. As of July 9, there were 4,673 infected people and 22 deaths from COVID 19 in the West Bank. At the end of May, there had been only 400 infections and two fatalities. The renewed spread of the infection is jeopardizing the Palestinian Authority's efforts to counter the epidemic.

Shomali said that “we are already living in a large open prison, having the checkpoints and the wall surrounding our area. Having to deal with its consequences everyday leaves us in the same situation that the lockdown and quarantine measures have imposed.”

She added that “as a Palestinian working in Jerusalem, I have to cross the checkpoint every day to pass from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. To be able to do so, I should have a specific and valid permit.”

“During the outbreak” – Shomali recounted - “all the permits stopped, and the checkpoint was closed. My colleagues and I weren't able to reach our offices, and it took some time for the Patriarchate to arrange our coming to work.”

Working from home was also hard, because “our internet connection is very slow, and our laptops do not have access to everything we need. I had a three months old baby girl! (now she is six months!) which makes working from home harder than I thought. My other colleges have sisters and brothers who had exams and online classes with only one laptop at home, which made the progress of work slower.”

Three months of lockdown seemed at first to defeat the spread of the infection. But numbers in recent weeks show that the pandemic is still spreading in Palestine.

“One of Palestine's current risk factors is the intense social mixing, us living in overcrowding urban slums and camps, inadequate sanitation, and our specific cultural and faith practices that let people interact frequently,” explained Shomali.

She stressed that “family gatherings at wedding and funerals are the major reason that prevented the Palestinian government from protecting its people from the second wave of COVID-19.”

In addition to that, “people find it difficult to change their social behaviors suddenly. Some think of it as inappropriate to meet someone and not shake hands, or congratulate someone and not to kiss, or to leave someone and not to hug. These are the things we were raised doing: social gatherings and crowding!”

The new outbreak of pandemic took place in an area in downtown Hebron, called H2, which is administered by the Israeli government. Shomali said that “the Palestinian government has no authority there, so many people held weddings and funerals uncontrollably.”

Shomali noted that Palestinian authority has taken preventive measures to counter the infection, “despite the Palestinian low-income economics, and the lack of major health facilities and tools.”

She said that “since March 2020, the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the government imposed a closure on the Bethlehem area and asked people to go under lockdown after returning a Greek group who was on tour in Bethlehem, that was found to be infected with COVID-19.”

The proclaimed state of emergency measures resulted in the closure of many organizations and institutions, and so many employees and workers lost their jobs. The government, Shomali, said, “implemented various protective measures” and at the same time “raised awareness through TV channels and social media.”

Shomali said that life in Palestine is “definitely harder. I live 10 minutes away from my parents, and I can't visit them because of the restrictions and because of my fear of infecting them. Also, since March, I couldn't reach my office. The business stopped in the Bethlehem area. We are facing a critical financial situation, as some of us stopped receiving salaries, and others received small percentages of it. We pay rent, have loans, bills, and other fees, besides our daily expenses of food, and other necessary needs for my toddler.”

Before the COVID pandemic, life in Palestine was “simple,” while “during the outbreak of COVID-19, we stuck at home, we worked and studied online.”

“Many families had a hard time doing so due to the lack of laptops or smartphones in the house and poor internet connection. Many lost their jobs and couldn't afford to pay the bills, rent, and so. Our allowance for food and cleaning products increased, as we are home all the time, and it was during winter, so we needed more food! Besides all that, our anxiety increased, and we suffered sleep deprivation, it was hard to get a new routine during the pandemic.”

Shomali said that “many people couldn't afford to buy their basic needs, as their business stopped, they lost their jobs - as Bethlehem is considered to be a tourist town and its income mainly depends on tourism.”

The coronavirus outbreak also affected the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “As well as struggling with the effects of decades of military and economic occupation, the pandemic left us with severe adverse impacts on our income, that many couldn't pay school fees, which is one source the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem depends on for the salaries of its teachers and employees,” Shomali said.

Shomali also noted that “a big part of our challenge as Palestinians living in a small community is not only the social visiting and the risk of infecting each other but also misinformation and rumors spreading on social media which have generated panic and mistrust among people, who their attention was diverted from the outbreak response and prevention and the great work done by the health-care workers, to passing down rumors and false information.”

Pope Francis makes mission founded by St. Junipero Serra a minor basilica

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has elevated a California mission church founded by St. Junipero Serra to the rank of minor basilica. The San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura was granted the title by the pope in an announcement from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Wednesday, the feast of St. Bonaventure.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez announced the mission’s new status on July 15, before celebrating daily Mass at the mission garden, together with Los Angeles auxiliary Bishop Bobert Barron, and the mission’s pastor. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Mass was celebrated outdoors and livestreamed.

“When the Pope designates a basilica, it means this is holy ground,” Gomez said.

“Something beautiful and important in the history of salvation happened here. A basilica is a place where the mercy of God has been proclaimed in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a place where sinners have been saved and saints have been made, and the Kingdom of God has moved forward.”

The designation is granted to churches around the world in recognition of their special pastoral and liturgical significance in Catholic life, and their closeness to the pope. The San Buenaventura Mission remains an active parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, serving approximately 1,400 families. It is the 88th U.S. church to receive the title, and the first in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The request for minor basilica status was presented to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the discipline of the Sacraments in 2014 by the mission’s pastor, Fr. Thomas Elewaut.

Elwaut welcomed the announcement on Wednesday, calling it “a joyous occasion” for local Catholics.

“Archbishop Gomez notified me on the eve of St. Junípero Serra’s feast day, July 1, that Mission San Buenaventura is elevated to a Minor Basilica. On behalf of our parishioners, I am most grateful to His Holiness, Pope Francis for this recognition and to Archbishop Gomez for his unwavering support for this petition which began in 2014,” said Fr. Elewaut.

“This is truly a joyous occasion for our parish – an honor that stretches beyond the Mission even beyond the Archdiocese – as well as our city and county and a worthy way to celebrate the feast day of St. Bonaventure today.”

The mission was founded by St. Serra on Easter Sunday 1782, the ninth and last mission established by the Franciscan saint. Many of Serra’s missions form the cores of what are today the state’s largest cities— including as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

An advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, Serra was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of native people, from whom there was an outpouring of grief at his death in 1784.

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis during a visit to the United States in 2015.

Bishop Barron said he was “absolutely delighted” by the news.

“This is a tribute to our great Archdiocese of Los Angeles and an acknowledgement of the splendid evangelical work that has taken place at the mission for over two hundred years. May God be praised!”

The announcement of the elevation of the San Buenaventura Mission comes days after a fire devastated another local mission founded by St. Serra. Early Saturday morning, a four-alarm fire destroyed the roof and interior of the 249-year-old San Gabriel Mission church, founded in 1771.

Despite Serra’s record defending indigenous peoples, statues of the saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past.

Rioters pulled down a statue of St. Serra in the state capital of Sacramento on July 4. On June 19, statues of the saint were torn down in San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

In June, the San Juan Capistrano Mission and its neighboring church removed statues of Serra from their outside displays to preserve them from being targeted.

On June 29, Gomez wrote that while “those attacking St. Junípero’s good name and vandalizing his memorials do not know his true character or the actual historical record,” increased security precautions meant that some California churches would “probably have to relocate some statues to our beloved saint or risk their desecration.”

On July 14, the University of San Diego, a Catholic university, announced that it would take down its statue of the saint, in response to Gomez’s letter.

Catholic bishop in India charged with rape tests positive for coronavirus

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur, who has been charged with the rape of a nun, has tested positive for coronavirus. The announcement comes as his bail was cancelled after he failed to appear at trial.

The bishop has been charged with raping a nun repeatedly over the course of two years, allegations he denies.

Officials of India's Punjab state, where Bishop Mulakkal resides, announced July 14 that he had tested positive for coronavirus. He is displaying symptoms of Covid-19, The Indian Express reported.

A court in Kerala had on July 13 cancelled his bail and issued a warrant for his arrest. He had failed to appear before the court both that day and July 1.

The court in Kerala has ordered that he appear before it Aug. 13.

The bishop did not appear at court in the beginning of July saying that Jalandhar was within a coronavirus containment zone. But prosecutors demonstrated that according to the city's administration, his residence was within the containment zone on July 1, according to Hindustan Times.

The Tribune India reported July 9 that a priest of the Jullundur diocese claimed Bishop Mulakkal had sought permission from the district administration to travel to Kerala for the court hearing and was denied. Both Jalandhar's Deputy Commissioner and a local health official denied receiving such a request.

Bishop Mulakkal's lawyer had tested positive for coronavirus July 3, and the bishop then began a 14 day quarantine July 6.

The Kerala High Court dismissed a petition July 7 to dismiss the case against Bishop Mulakkal. A trial court had dismissed a similar petition in March.

The bishop's charges stem from a member of the Missionaries of Jesus who has said he raped her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad, in Kerala. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed in June 2018, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.

The Missionaries of Jesus is based in the Jullundur diocese, and Bishop Mulakkal is its patron.

Bishop Mulakkal was arrested in September 2018 amid protests calling for a police investigation of the allegation. He was subsequently released on bail.

The bishop has claimed the allegations were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with her cousin's husband.

The bishop was charged in April 2019 with rape, unnatural sex, wrongful confinement, and criminal intimidation. He faces imprisonment of 10 years to life if found guilty.

A witness in the case against the bishop, who is also a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, told investigators Sept. 9, 2018 that from 2015 to 2017 she participated in sexual video chats with the bishop, having been pressured by him, and that he groped and kissed her April 30, 2017, at a convent in Kannur.

This second alleged victim did not wish to press charges, but there have been calls for police in Kerala to bring a suo motu case against Bishop Mulakkal.

Bishop Mulakkal was temporarily removed from the administration of his diocese shortly before his arrest.

Texas pro-life Democrat wins run-off primary election

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A pro-life Texas state senator won his Democratic primary race on Tuesday, after being the target of aggressive negative campaigning - including ethnic slurs from pro-abortion groups.

Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) of Texas’ 27th district won his primary runoff against Sara Stapleton-Barrera on Tuesday, receiving 53.6% of the vote to Barrera’s 46.4%.

Lucio, of Mexican descent, has served in the Texas state senate since 1991. He has voted for legislation to ban dismemberment abortions, to bar taxpayer funding of abortion, and to improve Texas abortion reporting.

During his 2020 campaign, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC and the pro-abortion Texas Freedom Network referred to him as “Sucio Lucio” in direct mail campaigns and online, literally meaning “dirty Lucio.” The term “sucio” has historically been used as an anti-Mexican slur.

Some critics of Lucio said the term was used in reference to his political tactics, but Lucio, along with his son who is a state representative, said it is offensive in the region of his South Texas district.

Rep. Eddie Lucio III in a press release condemned the “derogatory and racial slurs” against his father.

“These big special-interests groups from outside our border community should comprehend the deeper connotations behind the word 'sucio' ('dirty Mexican') and the association with a person of Hispanic descent,” he said.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville also issued a statement saying that the reference was “derogatory,” noting that “‘Sucio’ is an unacceptable word when associated with a Mexican American family name.”

Lucio advances to the general election, where he will face off with Republican nominee Vanessa Tijerina who was arrested in June and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and a DWI.

In an interview with CNA last week, Lucio said his pro-life views were informed by his upbringing in a Catholic family of ten who attended St. Joseph parish in West Brownsville.

He told CNA that he was attacked for his pro-life views, but that he wouldn’t be deterred. “I don’t make any excuses for that, and I don’t apologize for that,” Lucio said.

He added that his pro-life views “from conception until natural death” bring him in opposition at times to both political parties, as Democrats “will support a woman’s right to an abortion” while Republicans may vote against expanding Medicaid or in support of the death penalty.

Susan B. Anthony List, which contributed mail and digital ads in Lucio’s favor, said they were “thrilled” over his victory, especially since Barrera supported abortion until birth.

Lucio, said the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser, “is a Democrat who has bucked his party’s abortion extremism” and who “will continue to faithfully represent the interests of pro-life Texans who believe in commonsense limits on abortion that protect unborn babies and their moms.”

Cardinal Dolan blesses the remains of immigrants who died from coronavirus

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan blessed July 11 the remains of over 200 Mexican immigrants who died from coronavirus complications in New York.

The Archbishop of New York led the liturgy on Saturday at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. There were the cremated remains of 220 people, which are now being transported to Mexico for burial.


Today I prayed for and blessed the ashes of more than 230 Mexicans who died of the coronavirus. The Consul General, Jorge Islas Lopez, was here and the remains are being taken back to Mexico for burial.

— Cardinal Dolan (@CardinalDolan) July 11, 2020  

"I send them our love and our sympathy and our prayer. These good people have become a part of our home and family but they never forget you back in Mexico. They love you very much," said Dolan, according to ABC 7.

According to the New York Times, the state has more than 430,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, over half of which occurred in New York City. As of Tuesday, coronavirus complications have caused 32,092 deaths across the state and 22,808 of those deaths occurred in the city.

The cardinal prayed over the immigrant’s remains and blessed them with holy water. Organizers noted that burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy.

The private service only included a small number of attendees as many of the deceased individuals did not have family here in the U.S.

Jorge Islas Lopez, the Consul General of Mexico, helped organize and attended the event. He will escort the ashes back to Mexico, where they will be reunited with the families. 

"Many of them died alone because they didn't have family here. We planned with their families in Mexico and will lay them to rest with the dignity and respect they deserve," Lopez said, according to ABC 7.

"These families suffered because they weren't able to be with their loved ones at the time of death," said Dolan. "And now to know that they've had God's blessing here at the cathedral and that they're going to be accompanied to their home in Mexico, with the hope of their eternal home in heaven and that we've sought the intercession of their madre, Our Lady of Guadalupe, it means a lot to me."