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Church leaders and scholars to explore St. John Paul II’s ‘natural law legacy’

Pope John Paul II in 1996. / Vatican Media

Warsaw, Poland, May 13, 2022 / 08:57 am (CNA).

Church leaders and scholars will gather in Poland next week to explore the “natural law legacy” of St. John Paul II.

Keynote speakers at the May 18-19 event co-hosted by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw and Ave Maria School of Law include the Polish pope’s biographer George Weigel, Princeton professor Robert George, and Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule.

Also scheduled to speak are the Dutch Cardinal Willem Eijk, Warsaw Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, and Latvian Archbishop Zbigņevs Stankēvičs.

Topics at the conference will include John Paul II’s vision of natural law, his contribution to biotechnology and human rights, and human rights in a secularized society.

Among the moderators will be Alejandro Bermúdez, the executive director of CNA and the ACI Group, Joan Lewis, the former EWTN Rome bureau chief, and Solène Tadié, the National Catholic Register’s Europe correspondent.

John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyła on May 18, 1920, survived the Nazi occupation of Poland and helped to lead the Church’s resistance to the oppressive communist regime that followed.

The first non-Italian pope in 455 years, he made more foreign trips than all previous popes combined and played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, the communist states of Central and Eastern Europe.

He led the Church from 1978 to his death in 2005. During his almost 27-year pontificate, he wrote 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, and 45 apostolic letters, as well as giving hundreds of catechetical addresses at his weekly general audiences.

Charles de Foucauld: The miracle that paved the way for his canonization

François Asselin | Charles de Foucauld / EWTN | Public Domain

Vatican City, May 13, 2022 / 06:44 am (CNA).

Late on Nov. 30, 2016, François Asselin got a call from his construction manager.

“Listen, François, there has been an accident,” he heard on the other end of the line.

One of the entrepreneur’s employees, a carpenter named Charle, had fallen from a ceiling vault in the chapel of St. Louis high school in Saumur, western France.

The 21-year-old man, known publicly only by his first name, had fallen 50 feet onto the armrest of a church pew.

“This piece of wood went through his abdomen and under his heart and out the back. He impaled himself on the wood,” Asselin explained to EWTN News during a sit-down interview in Paris.

Asselin’s wife, Marie-Claire, immediately began praying for the young carpenter. She also sent a text message to the family’s priest at Charles de Foucauld Parish and to the Fraternity of Mary, Immaculate Queen, explaining the situation and asking for prayers.

The accident occurred on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the death of Charles de Foucauld. The French explorer who became a Catholic missionary in Algeria had been beatified in 2005.

Charles de Foucauld. Public domain
Charles de Foucauld. Public domain

Hundreds of people at the parish and in the fraternity prayed for the young man’s healing through the intercession of the Catholic priest and hermit, who was killed in the Sahara in 1916.

After Charle, an alternative spelling of Charles, fell, he remained conscious, and stood and walked to look for help.

He was rushed to the hospital, where he was operated on, but “no vital organ had been touched, [there were] no aftereffects, either of the brain or physical,” his employer said.

The doctors who examined the carpenter agreed that the impaling, together with a fall from such a height, would usually cause the body’s organs to burst.

Asselis said: “Three days later, I tell you, I was in his hospital room, he was talking to me like I am talking to you. The following week, eight days later, he was released from the hospital, and two months later, he was back to work as a carpenter in the company as if nothing had happened.”

When the Catholic entrepreneur learned the details of the incident from Charle, he was amazed to hear the young man tell him that when he began to fall, he “lay flat, put my head in my hands, and abandoned myself.”

To Asselis, Charle’s words echoed the celebrated prayer of Charles de Foucauld beginning “I surrender myself to you.”

“If we look up the Prayer of Abandonment of Charles de Foucauld, you will find these key words,” he said, explaining that what made it even more remarkable to him was that “Charle was not baptized, Charle did not know Charles de Foucauld at all.”

Asselis said that following the recognition of the miraculous healing of Charle, many people have written to Charles de Foucauld Parish in Saumur asking for intercessory prayers in hopes of receiving their own miracle.

“And then sometimes it doesn’t work out there, and that’s complicated to understand,” he admitted.

“I humbly admit that this is the case, but we must not be dismayed,” he said. “We can see that prayer can work miracles and here prayer has worked a beautiful miracle.”

Solène Tadié contributed to this report.

The Vatican and Moneyval: What’s changed?

The Vatican flag. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, May 13, 2022 / 06:18 am (CNA).

After around 10 years and five progress reports, Moneyval has announced that the Holy See’s financial system will now be subjected to regular checks. The decision was disclosed in the European anti-money-laundering watchdog’s annual report.

Does this upgrade mean that all previous issues have been resolved? There is certainly an attempt to establish a narrative in which the new management of the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog (ASIF) has brought significant benefits. But a closer reading of Moneyval’s assessment offers a contrasting point of view.

First, it is necessary to understand how Moneyval’s evaluation rounds of the Holy See work. The procedures are explained on the organization’s website, albeit in somewhat technical language.

There, we read that “states or territories which have received compliant or largely compliant ratings in the six core recommendations in their evaluation report are only required to provide a biennial update of their progress in meeting the deficiencies identified in their mutual evaluation report or in taking other action to enhance their AML/CFT [anti-money laundering/counter financing of terrorism] regime.”

According to the procedures, “when the Plenary [Moneyval’s decision-making body] is satisfied with the progress reported, it shall adopt the biennial report. In case concerns are formulated, the Plenary shall adopt the report and place the state or territory in regular follow-up, applying, if appropriate, any of the steps of the compliance enhancing procedures.”

This step takes place when “when an assessed state or territory received partially compliant or non-compliant ratings in any of the six core recommendations or when the Plenary considers appropriate.”

Moneyval’s latest report on the Vatican was generally positive, though with some critical issues.

In particular, the general evaluations of the system’s effectiveness were divided into 11 “immediate outcomes.” These have four grading scales: from the lower part, there is “low” and “moderate,” and in the upper part, “substantial” and “high.”

The Holy See did not receive a “low” or a “high.” Of the 11 ratings, six leaned towards the low end (“moderate”) and five toward the high end (“substantial”).

The items tending to the upper part referred, among other things, to the legal framework developed over the years, which certainly cannot be attributed to the current ASIF management. The watchdog changed its name in 2020, but it did not make substantial changes to a structure that was already functioning and even doing so well, judging from previous reports.

The latest report contained a critical assessment of the effectiveness of money-laundering probes and strong criticism of the conduct of investigations that led to the current Vatican trial over the Secretariat of State’s management of funds.

The investigations led to the seizure of foreign financial intelligence units’ papers, prompting the Holy See’s suspension from the secure information system of the Egmont Group. This was only reversed after a protocol was established between the court and the authorities.

In its annual report, Moneyval dedicates a section to the Vatican.

On the positive side, it says: “The report states that the jurisdiction’s authorities have a generally good high-level understanding of their money laundering and financing of terrorism threats and vulnerabilities. In fact, in a range of areas, there is a detailed understanding of risk.”

But it adds that “domestic cases which have raised a red flag for potential abuse of the internal system by mid-level and senior figures (insiders) for personal or other benefits have not been addressed within the national risk assessment.”

Moneyval also takes note of money-laundering investigations until October 2020, which continued “partly because of late responses from foreign counterparts to requests for assistance and partly because of under-resourcing on both prosecutorial and law enforcement sides, where there has been an insufficient specialization of financial investigators.”

The watchdog believes that the Vatican’s court lacks specialists who should be employed to enable more in-depth investigations. Moneyval observes that “results in court have been modest with only two convictions for self-laundering.” But it says that “recent developments … in this area are encouraging.”

The report “highlights as well the importance given to confiscation as a policy objective, which is illustrated by the adoption in 2018 of a robust framework for non-conviction-based confiscation — which has since been used in a high-profile case.”

Therefore, Moneyval notes, “the Holy See (including the Vatican City State) has a domestic mechanism in place that allows to give effect to United Nations’ sanctions without undue delay.” But it adds that “some delays persist in transposing such designations into national lists.”

The Institute of Works of Religion (the IOR, often called “the Vatican bank”) is described as “the only authorized institution” and is also rated positively. The report says that the IOR “has a sound understanding of its money laundering and financing of terrorism risks.”

Regarding the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog, it says: “The supervisor has a good to a very good understanding of the risk profile of the authorized institution and its most recent inspection took place in 2019. Coverage and quality look to be very good, including consideration of risks presented by insiders.”

Finally, “the report compliments the national authorities for efforts invested in rendering constructive and timely international co-operation.” It concludes that “the Holy See (including the Vatican City State) will be subject to Moneyval’s regular follow-up reporting process as a result of the positive report.”

In practice, there is nothing new compared to the progress report. Indeed, there is not much new even when compared to the legal framework set up by the old management of the Vatican’s financial intelligence authority.

The report refers to a period that includes October 2020 and starts from all the reforms carried out under the direction of Tommaso Di Ruzza and the presidency of René Brülhart. It is ironic that, despite international recognition for the work done under them, the two men are now standing trial at the Vatican and the ASIF has joined the proceedings as a civil party.

Furthermore, the positive opinion on the IOR came in the wake of the favorable judgment already contained in the first Moneyval report on the Vatican in 2012. The report said that the institute sometimes exceeded the required standards.

Again, there is a narrative that gives much credit to the IOR’s subsequent management. At the same time, Paolo Cipriani and Massimo Tulli, the director and deputy director of an IOR that made large profits, went on trial in the Vatican and were sentenced in two degrees of judgment for mismanagement. (An appeal is ongoing.) At the same time, the two were acquitted of the charges in Italy.

In his 2019 Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis praised the Vatican’s progress toward financial transparency. Broadly speaking, the reform of the Vatican financial system had crystallized by 2020, benefiting from all the work previously done to this end.

Undergoing regular Moneyval follow-up procedures is not a promotion for the Holy See. After years of positive evaluations, it is instead a mild upgrade. Following this change in status, the next Moneyval report only will say whether the Holy See is continuing to build a money-laundering prevention system that adheres to international standards.

Vatican confirms Pope Francis will visit 3 cities in Canada in July

Pope Francis meets members of the First Nations at the Vatican on March 31, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, May 13, 2022 / 04:15 am (CNA).

The Vatican confirmed on Friday that Pope Francis will visit three cities in Canada during the last week of July.

The pope will travel to Edmonton, Quebec City, and Iqaluit on July 24-30, the Holy See press office said on May 13.

The pope had announced last month that he planned to meet indigenous peoples in Canada this summer for the feast of St. Anne on July 26.

“You have brought the living sense of your communities here in Rome. I will be happy to benefit again from meeting you by visiting your native lands, where your families live,” he said during a meeting with Canadian Indigenous leaders at the Vatican on April 1.

The Canadian bishops said last year that they would welcome Pope Francis’ visit as a “pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.”

The pope’s full schedule in Canada will be published in the coming weeks, the Vatican said.

In Canada, Francis is expected to issue an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church for the abuses committed against Indigenous students in Catholic-run residential schools.

The Canadian bishops said on May 13 that Pope Francis would leave Canada on July 29, landing in Rome on July 30.

Bishop Raymond Poisson, the bishops’ conference president, said: “We are immensely grateful that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation to continue the journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples of this land.”

“In late July, Pope Francis will have the opportunity to visit Indigenous Peoples here in their homeland, as he promised when he met them recently in Rome. We pray for the health of the Holy Father as we undertake the intensive planning for this historic visit.”

This story was updated at 7:24 a.m. MDT with the information from the Canadian bishops.

‘Everyone was crying’: An eyewitness recalls the attempted assassination of St John Paul II

Pope John Paul II collapses after being shot on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square. / Audycje Radiowe/YouTube.

Vatican City, May 13, 2022 / 03:47 am (CNA).

On May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II and critically injured him. The pictures of the pontiff in a blood-soaked cassock in a jeep went around the world. David DePerro, who was nine years old at the time, saw the assassination attempt at close range.

In an interview, the now 50-year-old speaks about how he experienced the attack and explains why he only talks about it decades later.

Markus Vögele: On May 13, 1981, you were in St. Peter’s Square when Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II. From what distance did you see the assassination attempt?

David DePerro: We were close enough to the assassination attempt for the priest in our group to see the gun itself.

And what exactly did you see?

The pope had spent a long time working through the crowd, shaking the hands of all those crowded to the alley barrier. A few minutes later, the vehicle came around to the other side of the alley across from us. As the pope was greeting those people, I heard the sound of firecrackers popping. It was very confusing. At some point, the crowd descended into confusion and grief. Everyone was crying. I was in shock but I could not cry and I felt guilty about that. An annoying voice came on the loudspeaker to pray in Italian. My little sister was scared and wanted Mom. They took all of our camera film as evidence. It took hours to get back on our bus, which came into St. Peter’s Square to get us. The crowd across from us had descended on the gunman. I did not see this, but there are many things I know without having seen them myself because we were all in the same group and saw different things and talked about them later. 

David DePerro, who lives today in Virginia. Magda Gorman, (c) 2022
David DePerro, who lives today in Virginia. Magda Gorman, (c) 2022

One of the bullets fired at the also hit a tourist you knew.

Rose [Hall] was a member of our group. She was not at the front but was standing further back away from the alleyway and the vehicle. Her elbow was resting on the shoulder of the religious sister in our group — that was the elbow that the bullet went through. It was sad to leave her behind. But the L’Osservatore Romano from that time has a photo with her visiting John Paul in his hospital room, so I am glad she got to do that. My father tells me that we had a prayer service in our later stop in Assisi to pray for Rose and the pope. 

Immediately after the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, the cameras were confiscated and not returned to their owners. Do you have any memorabilia from that day?

One of the rare photos we have is a great side-by-side photo of my older sister Lisa and the Holy Father John Paul from that day. My sister Lisa died last year. We have photos that we bought from L'Osservatore Romano showing each of us in different angles with the pope from that day. I was in the background of a photo in Die Aktuelle from July 1981. The pope is seen slumped in the arms of his attendant, and I am in the background wearing a blue hat. The hat was, sadly, later lost. The headline of the article asked if the shooting of the pope was related to the Third Secret of Fatima. The Vatican revealed in May 2000 that it was related and described that relationship.

The assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II took place on the anniversary of the Marian apparition in Fatima. In 1917, three shepherd children are said to have seen the Blessed Mother and to have received three secrets from her.

The secrets of Fatima encompass the children’s vision of hell (and personal promise of heaven), the prayers for Russia and the ending of the war, and finally, the pope struck down, among other disturbing visions. Indeed, when John Paul was in the hospital, he asked to see the Fatima records. He turned to the Blessed Mother, he turned to the Fatima children. I was only nine when the pope was shot. So Jacinta and Francisco and Lucia, the sainted Fatima children, are my special comfort, my special companions. That is the outcome of May 13, 1981.

A plaque marks the spot in St. Peter's Square where St. John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
A plaque marks the spot in St. Peter's Square where St. John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

How did your pilgrimage actually come about?

We were a busload of American tourists from Leighton Barracks in Würzburg, West Germany. My father was the logistics officer for the air defense artillery missile battalion. My mother and two sisters and myself were in St. Peter’s Square. Dad was not in St. Peter’s Square that day because he went to his ancestral village. But he remembers many things that he saw after the shootings, and he also remembers what he heard secondhand about the day itself. 

You were a nine-year-old at that time. Did anything change in your life as a result of that day?

Only after many decades did I start speaking about what I saw that day. I’ve spent decades processing this, learning how to stay safe and keep others safe, how to recover from trauma. I had no counselors or therapists in the early days back then. Shootings are no longer rare, they are in the news all the time. Children are traumatized and even their own parents and teachers (and counselors) do not know what they are really feeling and what to say to them. The most important thing is to listen to the child and not try to tell the child what to feel.

Did anything change in your life as a result of that day in May 1981?

As a result of that day in 1981, I am a person who sees the action of God in history. I feel the pain that children feel when they are witnesses or victims of violence. I search for the meaning of events. I search for how healing can be obtained. I try to reconcile justice with mercy and forgiveness. As life goes on, there is more to forgive, and it is harder to forgive. It is even harder, as life goes on, to forgive myself too. The example of John Paul is like a ghost that haunts. He forgave his attacker because he felt the hand of God in his affliction, he saw God’s plan. He trusted that plan.

How will you spend May 13 this year? 

The Blessed Lady of Fatima spoke through these children: she asked us to pray for Russia. The Church and the people have forgotten to do that. Maybe that’s why all this madness is happening. A few years ago, I started to teach myself Russian, to study Russian history, and to meet ordinary Russian people in America. I deepened my understanding of the events I saw that day. On May 13, I will follow Mary’s request. I will pray for Russia. I will pray the rosary and make many other private prayers.

This interview by Markus Vögele was first published by CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language news partner.

The modern miracle of Fatima

Image of Our Lady of Fatima in Lisbon's cathedral. / Kate Veik/CNA

Fatima, Portugal, May 13, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

While men in the trenches of World War I faced chemical gasses and industrialized weaponry that wrought unprecedented human carnage, an Angel of Peace appeared with a message.

“Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me: My God I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You,” the angel told three children in rural Portugal in that first of several supernatural encounters that would take place over the course of 1916 and 1917.

When the Virgin Mary appeared to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco on May 13, 1917, she requested, “Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.”

The Great War did come to an end in 1918, but the story and secrets of Fatima continued to unfold after the first world war until the fall of Communism in 1989. The Virgin Mary entered into the bloodiest century in human history with a message of peace and prayer.

In many ways the events at Fatima encapsulate the history of the 20th century, and in the long history of the Church, they will be remembered for their deep connections to the most important milestones of the last century.

Today a piece of the Berlin Wall stands in the Fatima square as a permanent monument to the apparition’s connection to 1989. The Bolsheviks’ October Revolution took place the same year as Fatima’s “Miracle of the Sun,” and the Virgin Mary specifically requested that the pope consecrate Russia to Mary, in union with the bishops of the world.

In Fatima’s museum, there is a rosary made from pieces of the Berlin Wall, a gift made by a Portuguese emigrant on May 13, 1991. There is also the ring that Pope John Paul II donated to Our Lady of Fatima in gratitude for her protection during the attempt on his life on May 13, 1981, a date that coincided with the anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. The ring had a special meaning to the pope; Cardinal Stephen Wszynski had given it to him at the beginning of his papacy in 1978. The pope also offered the bullet from the assassination attempt, which fit perfectly into Our Lady of Fatima’s crown.

World War II was also predicted by Our Lady of Fatima.

“God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI,” recorded Lucia in her third memoir.

“Fatima is undoubtedly the most prophetic of modern apparitions. The first and second parts of the ‘secret’ . . . refer especially to the frightening vision of hell, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Second World War, and finally the prediction of the immense damage that Russia would do to humanity by abandoning the Christian faith and embracing Communist totalitarianism,” wrote the former Secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith Tarcisio Bertone.

Lucia dos Santos, the principal Fatima visionary died in 2005. Her niece, Maria dos Anjos, is still living across the street from Lucia’s little house in Fatima. Now 98 years old, Anjos’ life has spanned all but three years of Fatima’s modern history.

“When she visited us Lucia always said ‘Pray the rosary every day. That is what Our Lady asked,” Anjos told CNA.

Anjos also told CNA how much the city of Fatima has changed in her lifetime. Life across Europe has changed completely since 1917, she said. For one thing, children no longer work as shepherds.

Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto did not travel far within their short lifetimes. They lived simple, austere, and faithful lives. Both died of the Spanish flu pandemic that killed between 50 and 100 million people in the early 20th century.

In perhaps the most poignant symbol of a changing world, what was once the pasture of poor shepherds is now an international pilgrimage destination where people from South Korea, India, Australia, and all over the world come together seeking the sacred.

This article was originally published on CNA on July 18, 2018. Maria dos Anjos is now 102 years old.

German bishops' president asserts 'the need to develop the Church's teaching'

Bishop Georg Bätzing at the closing press conference of the spring plenary meeting of the German bishops’ conference. / Martin Rothweiler/EWTN.TV.

Denver Newsroom, May 12, 2022 / 17:23 pm (CNA).

The president of the German bishops’ conference has expressed his belief that Church teaching needs further development, in response to critique of the synodal path in that country.

The statement came in the latest instance of epistolary exchange between Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver.

“Our Church needs change in order to faithfully carry out her mission and take the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of our time. And the urgent need for change also includes the need to further develop the Church's teaching. Such is my conviction,” Bishop Bätzing wrote in a May 5 letter to Archbishop Aquila.

The assembly of the synodal path has voted in favor of documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to teaching on homosexual acts.

Germany’s “Synodal Path” is a process that brings together lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: how power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women. When the German bishops launched the process, they initially said that the deliberations would be “binding” on the Church in Germany, prompting a Vatican intervention that rejected such claims.

In May 2021, Archbishop Aquila wrote that the synodal path’s first text put forward "untenable" proposals for changes to Church teaching. He was among the drafters of an April 11 open letter that warned the synodal path may lead to schism, now signed by more than 100 bishops, six of whom are cardinals. And on May 2 he wrote to Bishop Bätzing reiterating that the synodal path challenges, and even repudiates, the deposit of faith.

In his May 5 response, the Bishop of Limburg maintained that the synodal path is an appropriate response to clerical sex abuse.

“Based on intensive discussions with those affected and intensive scientific studies on the occurrence of abuse of children and young people by clerics in our country, we had to painfully accept that there are multi-dimensional systemic factors in the Catholic Church which favour abuse. Uncovering these and doing our utmost to overcome them is the starting point of the Synodal Path in Germany, and it is reflected in the four priority areas to be worked on,” he wrote.

“Your argumentation that bishops have made mistakes in dealing with abuse and instead of taking responsibility for it, they now want to fundamentally question the doctrine of the Church in Germany, is, from my humble insight, frighteningly one-line and unfortunately does not do justice by far to the complex reality of the structures in the Catholic Church that facilitate abuse,” Bishop Bätzing wrote to Archbishop Aquila.

He added, “I am glad and appreciate the fact that your opinion is by no means shared by all the faithful and bishops, even in the Church in the United States. This is clearly communicated to me again and again.”

“I take your objections seriously,” he said, “because they indicate concern and at the same time that we also in the Catholic Church worldwide live in a thoroughly plural situation of different social life worlds and theological assessments.”

These situations “require exchange, critical dialogue and a new understanding and communication with each other, of course on the basis of what belongs to the revealed unchangeable heritage of the Church's faith,” Bishop Bätzing wrote. 

“That is why I am so extraordinarily grateful for the open way in which Pope Francis has designed the World Synod on Synodality. Everyone should be able to participate, have their say and contribute their views. This is a great approach we in Germany support very much.”

Haitian priest denounces Dominican Republic's border fence

A border crossing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic near Jimaní in November 2014. / Jos1950 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 12, 2022 / 13:33 pm (CNA).

A Haitian priest has said a border wall being built by the Dominican Republic to stop Haitian emigration “is not the solution” to the problem.

“Building a wall between countries is not the solution, it’s important to build bridges,” Father Pénès Célestin, a priest of the Diocese of Jérémie, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister news agency.

"I invite Dominicans and Haitians to build bridges," he said.

Haiti has seen a surge of violence in recent years. There were as many as 1,200 kidnappings last year, and President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021. Poverty in the country, considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, has progressively worsened following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2021.

Fr. Célestin told ACI Prensa that “insecurity, violence, hunger, and kidnappings” have increased in Haiti and access to education has become increasingly difficult. Many schools, especially in and near the capital, have closed because of gang violence.

Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, whose economy is among the fastest growing in the region.

This situation has led many Haitians to seek a better future in the neighboring country, in many cases illegally. 

Dominican President Luis Abinader announced in 2021 the construction of a border fence to impede illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and the movement of stolen vehicles.

Fr. Célestin, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Mexico and serving as a priest in Guadalajara, commented, “It’s normal for Haitians to seek a better life anywhere in the world, it’s human. As long as there are those offering a better life to Haitians, that is, their children, they will continue to leave the country,” he said.

He pointed out that the cost of living in his native country "is increasing considerably," and that many people don’t have enough to eat or drink.

Fr. Célestin stressed that “God's will is that everyone lives well and is saved.”

‘It’s a way to keep people in fear’: Chinese Catholics react to Cardinal Zen’s arrest

Cardinal Joseph Zen. / Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock.

Rome Newsroom, May 12, 2022 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Chinese Catholics from the mainland see this week’s arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen in Hong Kong as an act of intimidation and a signal from the authorities of worsening conditions to come.

“It’s a way to keep people in fear,” Peter, a Chinese Catholic, told CNA on May 11.

Peter, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said that he saw the election of John Lee as the new Hong Kong chief executive on May 8 as a key reason behind the arrest of the 90-year-old Catholic cardinal and other democracy supporters.

He suggested it was a gesture from Lee “that shows that he’s loyal to the party and he’s going to be tough on forces that are against the party.”

“So [Lee] wants to demonstrate that he is loyal” to Beijing and, at the same time, that “he is a man of action,” he said, noting there is a Chinese proverb that goes something like “a new governor has to show his muscle and strength.”

Lee, who is a baptized Catholic, formerly served as Hong Kong’s security chief and “played a leading role in the crackdown on the pro-democracy protests,” according to the Eurasia Group.

He will officially begin his five-year term on July 1. Lee succeeds Carrie Lam, also a Catholic, who held the post since 2017.

“This probably foretells that in the future Hong Kong will become less free, more controlled,” Peter said. “And the Catholic Church in Hong Kong as an organized institution will be carefully, closely watched.”

Other Chinese Catholics have expressed both fear and sadness at Zen’s arrest.

“Cardinal Zen is known as a voice of truth,” another Chinese Catholic told CNA with the request to remain anonymous.

The source said that the cardinal was seen as someone unafraid to share what is happening to the Catholic community, particularly regarding the underground community on the mainland, rather than “repeating what someone else has told him to say,” as can be the case with other clerics.

Zen was born into a Catholic family in Shanghai in 1932 during the years of the Chinese Communist Party insurgency against China’s Nationalist government.

At the age of 16, he fled Shanghai for Hong Kong a year before the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949.

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, many Catholics were arrested for refusing to comply with government campaigns to eliminate foreign influence and nationalize private schools. China severed diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951.

Zen was ordained a Salesian priest in 1961 and later served as the Salesian provincial superior for China, teaching philosophy and theology in seminaries in the country from 1989 to 1996.

John Paul II named him a coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong in 1996, a year before the British handover of the Hong Kong colony to China. Zen became the bishop of the diocese in 2002, a post he held until his retirement in 2009.

As bishop emeritus, Zen has been an outspoken voice as both a strong supporter of democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong and a fierce critic of the Vatican’s provisional agreement with Chinese authorities signed in 2018.

In a blog post in 2018, the Chinese cardinal called the Vatican-China deal an act of “suicide” and a “shameless surrender” to Beijing on the Vatican’s part.

After Beijing imposed its national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020, Zen told CNA that the Catholics who had been arrested under the new law’s provisions were “simply putting into practice the social teaching of the Church.”

“In this moment, democracy means freedom and human rights, human dignity,” Zen said.

The cardinal was released on bail on May 11, hours after the news broke that he had been arrested.

Eric Yan-ho Lai, a Catholic researcher from Hong Kong who is currently a fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, wrote on social media that the arrest of Cardinal Zen was reminiscent of the persecution of Catholic clerics after the Chinese Communist Revolution.

He said that Zen’s arrest “echoed the arrest of Cardinal Kung Pin-mei, who was jailed by the Communist Party as he refused to surrender to the state controlling the Church in the 1950s.”

At the time, Pope Pius XII highlighted the suffering of Catholics in China in his encyclical Evangelii praecones in 1951.

The pope wrote: “We have learned that many of the faithful and also nuns, missionaries, native priests, and even bishops have been driven from their homes, despoiled of their possessions and languish in want as exiles or have been arrested, thrown into prison or into concentration camps, or sometimes cruelly done to death, because they were devoutly attached to their faith.”

“Our heart is overwhelmed with grief when We think of the hardships, suffering, and death of these our beloved children.”

In Hong Kong, a person praying at a church at the time of Zen’s arrest told AFP that Catholics fear that religious freedom could be suppressed in Hong Kong in the future.

AFP quoted the Hong Kong-based Italian missionary Franco Mella as saying: “The arrest of Cardinal Zen is a blow for the entire church in Hong Kong, China, and the world.”

Charleston's new bishop will draw on experiences with diverse cultures

Father Jacques Fabre-Jeune, who will be consecrated and installed as Bishop of Charleston May 13, 2022. / Doug Deas/The Catholic Miscellany

Denver Newsroom, May 12, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The bishop-elect of Charleston is set to become the first Black bishop in the diocese’s 200-year history when he is installed this Friday, May 13.

An immigrant, a former missionary, and a polyglot, Bishop-elect Jacques Fabre-Jeune will also be the second bishop of Haitian origin in the U.S., and the first to be the head of a diocese.

Fabre-Jeune told CNA that he prays that he would be "a good servant" and "the image of Jesus for the people that God has put under me, so that I can serve them with sincerity, with humility, and of course with love."

He also said he plans to serve and love everyone in the diocese, drawing on Catholicism’s universality “​​to go beyond languages, beyond culture.”

"As a bishop, our first responsibility is to take care of everyone — we call them souls — that is in the diocese. That's our responsibility,” Fabre-Jeune told CNA.

He said he believes his years as a missionary, going into other cultures with an evangelizing spirit, will be an asset in his role as bishop.

Fabre-Jeune was born in Port-au-Prince in 1955, one of six siblings; his father worked as a carpenter. Fabre-Jeune’s parents wanted a safer and more stable environment in which to raise their children, and got an opportunity to come to the United States to do factory work. Fabre-Jeune’s mother went to the U.S. first, followed by the rest of the family four years later.

Fabre-Jeune said his mother, who led the local Legion of Mary group, helped to instill a love of the faith in him, and he felt a call to the priesthood when he was 11 years old. The call faded after he arrived in the U.S. at age 16, but reawakened during his college years at St. John’s University in New York. He said the example of priests he got to know in New York, including the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, helped to model the priestly life for him.

After graduating from St. John’s, Fabre-Jeune joined the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, also known as the Scalabrinians. The Scalabrinians were originally founded to support spiritually missionaries going to South and North America, and today its members do much to serve refugees and immigrants.

Being an immigrant himself, Fabre-Jeune said he felt called to the Scalabrinians, and to serve fellow immigrants. His novitiate took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he learned to speak Spanish fluently. And in fact, Fabre-Jeune speaks five languages in total — English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Haitian Creole — English being his third.

He was ordained to the priesthood in Brooklyn, New York, in 1986 at the age of 30. At his first parish assignment, he worked with many Haitians and Hispanics, and later served as chaplain to Haitian refugees in Guantanamo Bay from 1990 to 1991. He served as pastor of a parish in the Dominican Republic from 1991 to 2004.

After he arrived in Georgia in 2006, he served as parochial vicar for two parishes. Fabre-Jeune has administered the San Felipe de Jesús Mission in Forest Park, Georgia for the past 12 years, a congregation that he described as “99% Mexican.” While administering the mission, Fabre-Jeune also served as the director of the Hispanic Charismatic Renewal and a member of the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s finance council.

Kathleen Merritt, Director of the Office of Black Catholics and Native American Ministry at the Charleston diocese, told CNA that the diocese’ Black Catholic community is “energetic and hopeful” about Fabre-Jeune’s appointment.

The history of Black Catholicism in the area predates the creation of the diocese itself, going back to the 18th century, when enslaved people and refugees from Haiti came to the area. Bishop John England arrived in 1820 and assigned a priest to minister to the plantations and build churches to minister to the many Black Catholics. After the Civil War, Bishop Patrick Lynch established St. Peter's Church as the first parish for the newly emancipated. Later on, during the era of segregation, Bishop Paul Hallahan decreed that diocesan schools would accept students of all races.

Today, the diocese includes about 4,000 Black Catholics as of the latest parish census, Merritt said.

“Our new bishop has put a spark in not just Black Catholics and other minorities but almost everyone,” Merritt said.

“Having a Black bishop may result in more vocations within the Black community because our Black youth will now see and associate with a shepherd that looks like them.”

Still, she said, the numbers of Black Catholics in the diocese has dropped since the 1980s with the closing of parishes, schools, and difficulties associated with 1989’s Hurricane Hugo. But there are at least five predominantly Black parishes open in the diocese today, she said.

Fabre-Jeune’s appointment was made public Feb. 22. He succeeds Bishop Emeritus Robert Guglielmone, who retired upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston was established in 1820 and covers the state of South Carolina. More than 5 million people live within the diocese, an estimated 10% of whom are Catholic.

When the news of Fabre-Jeune’s appointment as bishop reached his siblings, all of whom now live in the U.S., he said they all thought about how their mother — who has since died, along with their father — would have been overjoyed by the news.

Fabre-Jeune said he has received a warm and gracious welcome so far in Charleston, which he said reminds him of Haiti in certain ways, especially the palm trees, a famous symbol of South Carolina. Fabre-Jeune chose a palm tree as an image for his episcopal coat of arms.

"I love people and feel that I've been loved, and I hope it will be the same" in Charleston, he said.

Fabre-Jeune will be consecrated and installed as Charleston’s bishop on May 13.