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Families are a radical witness to hope in modern society, Archbishop Gomez says

South Bend, Ind., Jun 19, 2019 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The Christian family must become a “radical” sign against a climate of despair and isolation Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said Tuesday.

Gomez, who serves as the vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered the speech June 18 as part of a four-day conference on Liturgy and the Domestic Church at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

“Our society has rejected what twenty centuries of Christian civilization considered a basic fact of nature — that most men and women will find their life’s purpose in forming loving marriages, working together, sharing their lives, and raising children,” Gomez said.

The archbishop explained that in previous decades preserving and promoting the family involved a cluster of issues, including divorce, cohabitation, contraception and abortion, same-sex relationships, and the sexual confusion of society. Now, he argued, the basic human imperative to marry and have children is being abandoned.

“Many young people are debating whether it is ‘ethical’ to have kids in an age of global warming. There is an even larger conversation going on among millennials about the ‘value’ of starting a family,” Gomez said.

Just Google that simple question: ‘Should I have kids?’ It is sad, the results that come back. Not only that. It is sad how many people are asking these kinds of questions.”

“The truth is this: for whatever reasons, people have already stopped having children.”

Gomez said that the decline of birth rates, and the rejection of the concept and worth of family, is a sign of more than just selfishness: it is an indication of despair. Without minimizing the importance of climate change, Gomez said, a cultural narrative of coming dystopia has emerged, in which children are considered to be better off having never been born.

“These same kinds of bleak scenarios are being spun out daily in newspapers and magazines, in books, in the media, in classrooms,” Gomez said, and it is the mission of the Church, expressed through the witness of the Christian family, to respond.

“The question for us is: how are we going to live as Christians in this culture, and how are we going to raise our children and evangelize this culture? In these times, what case can we make for marriage, for the family, for children?”

In the Los Angeles archdiocese, he said, a community of more than five million Catholics was baptizing 50,000 infants every year. “These are not just numbers,” Gomez said, “these are souls, entrusted by God to our care. As a pastor, I do not want a single one to be lost.”

It is vital, he said, to discover and promoted the “Domestic Church” of the family, rooted in a parish able to sustain and support them.

“In my opinion, forming small faith communities is crucial,” Gomez said, while insisting that continuous sacramental and faith formation was essential to the life and mission of the Church.

“When we marry a couple or baptize a child — we need to see that as the beginning of a relationship. We need to find ways to nurture that relationship, to support that child and that couple, to help them grow in their love of Jesus and their commitment to living the Gospel in their families.”

Formation of families in the faith is, Gomez said, central to the Church’s mission at a time when the Gospel message is once more seen as antithetical to the culture.

“We need to rediscover the radical ‘newness’ of the Christian message about the family,” he said.

“Before Christianity, no one had ever spoken about marriage in terms of a love that lasts a lifetime, or as a calling from God, or as a path that can lead to holiness and salvation. It was a new and thrilling idea to speak of man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’ and participating in God’s own act of creating new life.”

The simplicity of the family, mirroring the hidden life of Christ in the Holy Family of Nazareth, offers the opportunity to evangelize by a witness to hope and to authentic human happiness – something which society is losing along with the will to have children.

“The first Christians evangelized by the way they lived. And the way they lived was to be in this world but not of this world. They lived the same lives as their neighbors, but in a different way,” Gomez said.

“They rejected birth control and abortion and welcomed children in joy as a gift from God and treated them as precious persons to be loved and nurtured and brought up in the ways of the Lord.”

“The first Christian families changed the world — simply by living the teachings of Jesus and his Church. And my friends, we can change the world again, by following the same path.”

Pope Francis: The Holy Spirit unites the Church, despite sin and scandal

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2019 / 03:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that the Holy Spirit unites and grows the Church despite human limitations, sins and scandal.

“The Holy Spirit is the creator of communion, the artist of reconciliation … He builds the community of believers by harmonizing the unity of the body and the multiplicity of its members,” Pope Francis said June 19 in St. Peter’s Square.

The Holy Spirit “makes the Church grow by helping it to go beyond human limits, sins and any scandal,” he said.

Dedicating his Wednesday catechesis to the Acts of the Apostles’ account of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Pope Francis reflected on how the Holy Spirit transformed and strengthened St. Peter.

“On the feast of Pentecost, it is Peter who speaks, the rock on which Christ chose to build his Church,” he said. “His word, weak and even capable of denying the Lord, when crossed by the fire of the Spirit gains strength and becomes capable of piercing hearts and moving to conversion.”

“God in fact chooses what is weak in the world to confound the strong,” Pope Francis said, quoting St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

“The Church is thus born of the fire of love -- of a ‘fire’ that flares up at Pentecost, which manifests the strength of the Word of the Risen One imbued with the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Pope Francis explained that this fire symbolically expresses God’s work of warming, illuminating, and testing hearts, and His care in purifying and revitalizing human works.

“The Spirit of God moves hearts to welcome the salvation that passes through a person, Jesus Christ, the One whom men nailed to the wood of the cross and whom God raised from the dead,” the pope said.

“As Benedict XVI said, ‘This is Pentecost: Jesus, and through Him, God himself, comes to us and draws us into himself,” he added.

“Let us ask the Lord to let us experience a new Pentecost, which expands our hearts and tunes our feelings with those of Christ, so that we proudly proclaim His transforming word and bear witness to the power of love that calls to life all that it encounters,” Pope Francis said.

Mexican bishops: The violence must end

Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 19, 2019 / 12:06 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders in Mexico have spoken out against continuing violence in the country and called on governmental authorities to focus on ending the bloodshed and establishing stability and peace.

“In recent times, we have experienced situations of great violence, which have been a true Calvary for citizens and many families in various parts of the country, to which we see no end,” said Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola of Monterrey, secretary general of the Mexican Bishops' Conference in a June 13 statement.

On behalf of the Mexican bishops, he lamented the atmosphere of violence and fear, saying, “we are once again calling on the competent authorities to address this wave of insecurity which has been growing in our country.”

“To our faithful and society in general, we ask you to not be indifferent in face of the pain of others, and let us continue to build peace,” he added. “As a Church we pray and work incessantly for the reconstruction of the social fabric.”

In the past week, two university students have been killed in Mexico City, adding to the growing violence of recent months.

Official figures indicate that the first three months of 2019 were the most violent on record in Mexico. Of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, 15 are located in Mexico, according to the Citizen Council on Public Safety and Criminal Justice.

The Catholic Multimedia Center, an organization that has been internationally recognized for its investigations into the violence against and murders of priests, lamented the continued bloodshed in the country.

“The cold statistics that swell the numbers of the fallen make us brutally face the reality that indicates to us that here it no longer matters who dies. That here it no longer matters why they die. That here it matters even less who the murderers are,” the center said in a recent post online.

The group criticized the Mexican authorities for their “ineptitude,” saying, “Thousands continue to die under the incompetent watch of those who swore to eradicate this pandemonium of grief and despair.”

If government officials are unable to restore peace in Mexico, they should resign, the Catholic Multimedia Center said.

“They should resign because they have allowed impunity to continue to feed hundreds of criminals who kill for a few coins, knowing that little will be done to capture them.”

The group pledged to “be the voice of the thousands who have fallen victim to this inhumane and irrational violence, to no longer ask but to demand the authorities stop the violence and the pain; that impunity and corruption be stopped, in short, that they get to work and if they can't, they should resign.”

Bishop Miranda voiced prayers for all those affected by the ongoing violence.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe, our mother, shelter us under her mantle, protect us from the darkness, guide our steps on the path of peace and help us to recognize each other as brothers,” he said.
 

Quebecois bishops: prohibition on religious garb will 'fuel fear and intolerance'

Quebec City, Canada, Jun 18, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Canadian province of Quebec passed a law Sunday prohibiting future government employees “in positions of authority” from expressing their beliefs through religious symbols during office hours.

The law passed June 16, previously known as Bill 21, does not mention any religion in particular, and would include, for example, hijabs for Muslim women and crosses for Christians. It covers covers judges, police officers, teachers, and other public figures, the BBC reports.

“We believe that Bill 21, as it stands now, will fuel fear and intolerance, rather than contributing to social peace. We therefore call on members of the government and all Quebecers to promote important amendments to this project, in order to seek more to welcome than to exclude, to understand that to reject,” Quebec’s Catholic bishops wrote in a statement issued in French June 14.

Existing employees are exempt from the new legislation. Some critics of the law claimed it particularly targets Muslim women, but Jewish organizations have also spoken out against it.

Quebec has previously sought to assert the secularity of the state and ban religious symbols. The province issued a ban in 2017 on religious full-face coverings, but it is was suspended by a judge last June.

The bishops of Quebec expressed concern about the law, especially as it relates to teachers.

“The measures affecting teachers reveal a lack of knowledge about religious life in society, as well as its cultural connotation. This lack of knowledge seems to us fueled by prejudices and fear. Rather than defuse them, these measures exacerbate them.”

“On a daily basis, [religious] people build a better society through their benevolent acceptance of others, their active solidarity with excluded and poor people, their hope for the future and their concern for peace,” the bishops noted.

The bishops pointed out that the clothing and symbols of certain religious traditions are often misunderstood as being a “tool of propaganda,” and that the new law will only encourage “unjustified mistrust.” They also expressed worry that representatives of a secular state will now be the ones to determine what is and isn’t a “religious sign.”

“Certain traditions incite or force the faithful to put on particular clothes or symbols, generally as a sign of humility. This phenomenon seems to be misunderstood, especially when we automatically consider any religious sign worn by a person as a tool of propaganda whose function is to convert those who see it,” the bishops wrote.

“Mistrust inspired by certain dress practices related to a particular religious identity may be exacerbated by the discretion of some other religious groups to use explicit signs. For example, Christianity, which remains the declared religious affiliation of the vast majority of the population in Quebec, does not require its faithful to wear specific clothing or symbols.”

The Archdiocese of Montreal had issued a statement in April saying that the crucifix represents the Christian roots of the country and does not need to be removed in a religiously pluralistic society.

“As a sign revered by Christians, the crucifix remains a living symbol. It symbolizes openness and respect toward all peoples, including toward other faith communities and religious traditions, which rightfully adhere to their own signs and symbols,” said Archbishop Christian Lépine.

Europe, too, has also seen debate over religious symbols in recent years. In 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union upheld a ban on religious symbols in the work place. The court ruled that it is not directly discriminatory for a workplace to ban “any political, philosophical or religious sign” if the ban is based on internal company rules requiring neutral dress.

A ban on teachers wearing religious headscarves was ruled unconstitutional in a German court in 2015. In Austria and the German state of Bavaria, full-face veils are banned in public. France banned religious symbols and veils in schools in 2004.

In 2013, four Christian British Airways employees won a legal case in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled their employer engaged in illegal discrimination for telling them they could not wear their crosses.

Church in Scotland urged to update sex abuse reporting and prevention protocols

Glasgow, Scotland, Jun 18, 2019 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- A Scottish Catholic organization set up to prevent, report and audit allegations of sexual abuse within the Church can do even more to “rebuild trust” following the sex abuse scandals, an independent review board has found.

The review, conducted by the Independent Review Group (IRG), was a follow-up to a major review undergone by the Church in Scotland in 2014 and 2015, led by Andrew McLellan. That review concluded with the publication of the “McLellan report”, which included a set of recommendations on how to make the Church "a safe place for all,” according to the BBC.

The recently-conducted review by the IRG examined how well the Church had implemented the recommendations of the McLellan report, and where there was still room for improvement.

Baroness Helen Liddell, who headed the IRG review, said that the Church had made "a good start” in addressing and safeguarding against sex abuse, but that more could be done, the BBC reported.

The group recommended that the Church review and strengthen its current safe environment service, the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service (SCSS), as well as provide more accessible, robust support for survivors of abuse.  

The SCSS provides training to diocesan and religious leaders on sex abuse prevention standards in accordance with the bishop’s standards as well as national standards, and facilitates an annual audit of compliancy with national sex abuse prevention standards, according to their website.

The site also contains several downloadable resources, information on upcoming training sessions, and an audit from the bishops of Scotland on abuse allegations that occurred between 1943 to 2005. The IRG recommended the SCSS become more independently sourced, and that any audits conducted by the group be independently reviewed, according to The Press and Journal.

It also recommended that each of the eight dioceses in Scotland have a clear plan and public statement on what resources and support are available for survivors of abuse, as well as an independent person to which survivors can be referred for support and counsel. The IRG also recommended including survivors in groups that make decisions about sex abuse reporting and prevention.

The IRG statement from the review noted that the bishops need to be open to learning from the information that is gathered in abuse audits if they are to move forward in making the Church a safer place for children and vulnerable groups.

“Improvement in policy and openness to learning from the audit process will start to shift culture,” the group stated.

“Commitment to create a dedicated, independent safeguarding service which supports the development needs of the eight dioceses; drives consistency; is empowered to independently investigate concerns or complaints and can act without bias in all its affairs is critical to rebuilding trust with congregations and the general public,” the IRG added.

Liddell said that the problem of sexual abuse in the Church will only be solved through a “change in culture” and with the “vigour” necessary to implement this change.

“There needs to be a change in culture, in capacity, in capability and that needs training, learning, reflection, the utmost transparency, and it needs leadership,” she said, according to The Press and Journal.

“We have found a willingness to adopt that change, but true progress can only come about as a result of deep analysis of strengths and weaknesses,” she added.

Bishop Joseph Toal, who leads the SCSS, said he was grateful for the IRG’s work and that he would give it “serious consideration,” The Press and Journal reported.

“We are determined to apply what we learn, both from the steps we have already taken and from the IRG’s report, and to ensure that the highest standards of safeguarding practice are met throughout the Church in Scotland.”