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Trump admin proposal a last-ditch effort to offer religious groups SBA loans

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 02:34 pm (CNA).- A proposal made on the last day of the Trump administration would make religious businesses eligible to receive loans from the Small Business Administration, removing previous restrictions.

The U.S. Small Business Administration published a proposal Jan 19. that would remove five restrictions that “run afoul of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. All five provisions make certain faith-based organizations ineligible to participate in certain SBA business loan and disaster assistance programs because of their religious status,” the proposal’s summary states.

“Because the provisions exclude a class of potential participants based solely on their religious status, the provisions violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. SBA now proposes to remove the provisions to ensure in its business loan and disaster assistance programs the equal treatment for faith-based organizations that the Constitution requires,” the summary adds.

If passed, the proposal would allow religious businesses to qualify for SBA loans, though it is unclear if it would also allow churches and other houses of worship also to be eligible, the Washington Post reported.

The SBA proposal cites two Supreme Court cases as precedent for removing the religious exclusions from SBA loan qualification criteria.


In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Supreme Court ruled that a playground resurfacing grant that excluded churches and religious organizations was unconstitutional. The court said the grant violated the Free Exercise Clause, which “`protect[s] religious observers against unequal treatment' and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for `special disabilities' based on their `religious status.' ”

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Supreme Court repealed a state court decision to block religious schools from a scholarship program. While the state argued that it had an interest in preventing the religious use of the funds, the Supreme Court ruled that “Status-based discrimination remains status based even if one of its goals or effects is preventing religious organizations from putting aid to religious uses.” The SBA also noted that its proposal also follows the 2017 executive order from President Trump entitled Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty. The order stated that “Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government” and added that the executive branch would enforce such protections. Furthermore, the removal of religious restrictions also follows a decision by the Trump administration to allow religious organizations to apply for the Payment Protection Program, a coronavirus relief program that provided billions of dollars in pandemic relief to businesses and non-profits, including thousands of Catholic parishes, schools, and other religious organizations.

The proposal is likely to spark a heated debate about religious freedom under the Biden administration. While the Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment ensures the free practice of religion, the Establishment Clause prohibits the US Congress establishing a religion by law.

The SBA is collecting public comment on the proposal until Feb. 18. Afterward, the Washington Post reports, the determination of the proposal’s future falls to Biden-appointed administrator Isabel Guzman.

San Francisco archbishop responds to Pelosi: 'No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion'

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 21, 2021 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of San Francisco on Thursday responded to the Speaker of the House accusing pro-life Trump voters of being sellouts.

 

In a Jan. 18 podcast with former senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that support of pro-life voters for former President Donald Trump was an issue that “gives me great grief as a Catholic.”

 

“I think that Donald Trump is president because of the issue of a woman’s right to choose,” she said of abortion, implying that pro-life voters boosted Trump to victory in 2016. She added that these voters “were willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue.”

 

On Thursday, Pelosi’s archbishop responded to her comments on abortion and voting.

 

“No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Pelosi’s home diocese, in a statement issued on Thursday. “Our land is soaked with the blood of the innocent, and it must stop.”

 

Pelosi has long supported abortion despite her Catholic faith. In 2008, she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” regarding when life begins, “over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.” She said that her Catholic faith “shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.” 

 

On Thursday, Archbishop Cordileone clarified that "Nancy Pelosi does not speak for the Catholic Church."

 

“And on the question of the equal dignity of human life in the womb, she [Pelosi] also speaks in direct contradiction to a fundamental human right that Catholic teaching has consistently championed for 2,000 years,” Cordileone said.

 

The archbishop added that Pelosi’s use of the phrase “right to choose” in reference to abortion “is a smokescreen for perpetuating an entire industry that profits from one of the most heinous evils imaginable.”

 

In 2010, the previous archbishop of San Francisco—George Niederauer—called Pelosi’s support for abortion “entirely incompatible with Catholic teaching.”

 

Pelosi signaled in August that she intends to bring up spending bills in 2021 that do not include the Hyde Amendment—thus allowing for taxpayer-funded abortions in Medicaid. It is unclear if Democrats would have the votes in both chambers of Congress to ultimately repeal Hyde.

 

Cordileone, in his statement on Thursday, said he would “not presume” why individuals voted for Trump. “There are many issues of very grave moral consequence that Catholics must weigh in good conscience when they vote,” he said.

 

Cordileone also supported Archbishop Jose Gomez—the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference—who issued a statement of prayer and congratulations to new President Joe Biden, and who noted areas of agreement and disagreement between Biden and bishops.

 

Gomez, in his statement upon Biden’s inauguration, reiterated that ending abortion is the “preeminent priority” of the conference due to its threat to families and the sheer number of abortion victims.

 

The language on abortion received opposition from within the conference, including by Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago who issued a scathing statement of criticism of Gomez’s words, CNA reported.

 

Cordileone on Thursday thanked Gomez for restating the conference’s priority and added that just because abortion is a “preeminent” concern does not mean it is the “only” concern of the conference.

 

“In his inaugural speech yesterday, President Biden gave a moving call to unity and healing,” Cordileone said, and added that Pelosi’s accusations against pro-lifers were “not the language of unity and healing. She owes these voters an apology.”

 

“Christians have always understood that the commandment, ‘Thou shall not kill,’ applies to all life, including life in the womb,” Cordileone said. “Pope Francis continues this unbroken teaching.”

How a helicopter crash brought a soldier back to the Catholic faith

Rome Newsroom, Jan 21, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- As a self-proclaimed atheist in his early 20s, Private Dillon Beatson said that the only time he spoke of religion was with ridicule. But when his helicopter crashed during a training mission in the Middle East, he found himself crying out to God.

“It is funny how fast and slow it went at the same time,” Beatson said in an interview with Colm Flynn of EWTN News.

“I was holding on to something and we crashed down on the left, and I got launched into the sand. The helicopter was still moving forward. It was pushing me into the sand. The propeller blades were spinning around. It was incredibly loud and I thought: ‘This is it.’ … It was when I called out to God and said: ‘God, please don’t let me die.’” 

Beatson, who at the time served as a radio operator in the Australian army, said that he was surprised at his spontaneous impulse to pray.

“At the time it confused me ... because I didn’t believe in God. I thought he was a fairytale. It really started me on a soul-searching journey,” he said.

A fellow soldier died in the crash. Beatson, who was unharmed, said that that moment led him to a years-long search for the meaning of life.

“I was baptized Catholic and I went to a Catholic primary school for the first couple of years of schooling, but I wouldn’t say that I was very religious at all. I had very little knowledge about who God was, who Jesus was,” he said.

By the time that he had graduated from high school in Australia, he, like many of the millennial generation, was a “religious none,” or a person who declares that they do not belong to any religious denomination.

He said that he spent many weekends “getting ridiculously drunk” at parties and that the only time that he spoke of religion was when he was making fun of people’s faith or “bashing religious institutions.”

Beatson attributed his decision to return to Mass to his close encounter with death. He enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program and was confirmed in the Catholic Church in August 2019.

“I just went into the Latin Mass -- I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Latin Mass -- and I just fell in love,” Beatson told The Catholic Leader newspaper in Australia. 

“I sort of feel like my childhood was robbed in a way, that I didn’t get to grow up with the love of Christ, and didn’t get to have a lot of the teachings and morals instilled in me from a young age.”

Now that Beatson is a practicing Catholic, he said that he considers the faith to be “a treasure” that he wants to share with others.

“My life is different now because I am not just living for myself anymore. I am trying to -- obviously failing a lot -- but I am trying to live my life for Christ. I am trying to come to know him and to love him more … to allow his love and his light shine through me. And I just feel so at peace,” he told EWTN.

“In today’s culture -- especially young men -- we are fed a lot of lies about what young men should be. And really the best example for a man is our Lord Jesus. It is just such an incredible feeling and an incredible love. His love and his grace really changed my life and it can change your life too.”

Dr. Fauci promises repeal of Mexico City Policy

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Biden administration will repeal the Mexico City Policy in the “coming days,” White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told board members of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, January 21.

 

“It will be our policy to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the United States, as well as globally,” Fauci told an executive board meeting of the World Health Organization on Thursday. 

 

“To that end, President Biden will be revoking the Mexico City Policy in the coming days, as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world,” Fauci said. 

 

Fauci is serving as President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor on COVID-19, in addition to his continued role as director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He was attending the WHO board meeting on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration. 

 

At Thursday’s meeting, Fauci confirmed that the United States would not be leaving the World Health Organization. In 2020, the Trump administration began the process of withdrawing from the organization. 

 

Pro-life groups have criticized WHO for supporting abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Sept., 2020, WHO officials advocated for countries to continue allowing abortions during the pandemic, in statements on “International Safe Abortion Day.”

 

The “Mexico City Policy,” referred to by its detractors as the “Global Gag Rule,” was first introduced in 1984. It has traditionally barred U.S. family planning assistance from going to foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortions.

 

The Trump administration expanded the policy to apply to billions of dollars in global health assistance, and has sought to apply it to some government contracts.  In addition, the administration cut funding for the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2019 because of its pro-abortion advocacy.

 

Typically, one of the first acts of a newly-sworn-in president is to either repeal or reinstate the Mexico City Policy. Democratic presidents have repealed the policy, while Republican presidents beginning with Reagan have introduced it or reinstated it. 

 

Supporters of the policy have told CNA that it prevents taxpayers from having to support  international groups that promote abortions and abortion ideology in developing countries, even those where abortion is illegal.

 

On Wednesday evening, White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not give details when asked by EWTN News what Biden plans to do with the Mexico City Policy.

 

“Well, I think we’ll have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days,” Psaki said, before adding that Biden is a “devout Catholic.”

 

The Biden administration is also expected to take a number of other actions rolling back pro-life policies in its first days. Punchbowl News reported on Wednesday that the administration also planned to “disavow” the Geneva Declaration, an international statement of the U.S. and 31 other countries declaring that abortion is not a human right.

 

Fauci added that the United States will “work constructively with partners to strengthen and importantly reform the WHO, to help lead the collective effort to strengthen the international COVID-19 response and address its secondary impacts on people, communities, and health systems around the world.” 

 

“The United States sees technical collaboration at all levels as a fundamental part of our relationship with WHO, one that we value deeply and will look to strengthen going forward,” said Fauci. 

 

Fauci added that “The Biden Administration also intends to be fully engaged in advancing global health, supporting global health security and the Global Health Security Agenda, and building a healthier future for all people.”

U.S. bishops applaud Biden's actions on immigration

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference applauded President Joe Biden for halting some deportations and preserving the DACA program on his first day in office.

“We applaud President Biden’s restoration of the DACA program, and we also strongly encourage him and the U.S. Congress to immediately enact legislation that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., stated on Thursday.

 

Archbishop Gomez is the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), and Bishop Dorsonville is the chair of the conference’s migration committee.

 

President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, to delay deportations of and allow a legal work permit for eligible undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Around 800,000 people have benefited from the program.

 

The Trump administration in 2017 sought to wind the program down, accepting no new DACA applications, and gave Congress a six-month time frame to enact parts of the program in law. After Congress failed to pass such legislation in six months, the administration moved to end DACA but courts ruled against the administration’s deadline.

 

In June, 2020, the Supreme Court said t the administration’s procedure by which it sought to end the program was unlawful.

 

The court sent the case back to the administration, which announced it would continue not accepting any new DACA applications during a review of the program. The administration also only granted one-year renewals of DACA status for existing recipients.

 

On Thursday, Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville called for a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” or those eligible for the DACA program.

 

Biden’s transition team has promised he would send an immigration bill to Congress that would, among other acts, offer a path to citizenship for “Dreamers” and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.

 

In addition, Bishop Dorsonville on Thursday applauded other immigration actions by Biden, including a reversal of a 2017 Trump executive order that expanded and intensified immigration enforcement and deportations of undocumented immigrants.

 

In addition, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday declared a 100-day halt to deportations of certain undocumented immigrants.

 

“Wednesday’s actions by the new Administration are important first steps toward ensuring that immigration enforcement in our country is balanced and humane,” Bishop Dorsonville said. “Too many people have experienced harsh and heavy-handed enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border and within the U.S. interior, causing families to be needlessly torn apart.”

 

“Our Catholic faith recognizes the right of nations to control their borders, but we can still uphold the rule of law without denying refuge to the vulnerable, all while recognizing the importance and necessity of family unity,” he said.

 

Among his first actions as president on Wednesday, Biden also took executive action to end the travel ban from certain Muslim-majority and African countries, and halt border wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

Catholic Relief Services hailed Biden’s proposed pathway to citizenship for TPS holders, saying that the policy would protect “vulnerable people and families” from countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti.

 

“Based on our presence in Latin America and our Church partners there, we know these countries are not prepared to reintegrate their citizens and are overwhelmed from the consequences of natural disasters, insecurity, and COVID-19,” CRS executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy Bill O’Keefe told CNA.

 

Ex-Vatican bank president given 9-year prison sentence for money-laundering

Rome Newsroom, Jan 21, 2021 / 09:47 am (CNA).- The former president of the institute commonly known as the “Vatican bank” has been given a sentence of eight years and 11 months in prison by the Vatican court.

The sentence was handed down at a hearing on Thursday by the president of the Vatican City State tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone. The conclusion of the trial, which began in 2018, marks the first time that the Vatican has issued a prison sentence for financial crimes.

Angelo Caloia, 81, was president of the Institute for Religious Works -- also known by its Italian initials, IOR -- from 1989 to 2009.

Caloia, and his lawyer, 97-year-old Gabriele Liuzzo, received the prison sentence for the crimes of money-laundering and aggravated embezzlement. They were also ordered to pay a fine of 12,500 euros ($15,204).



Liuzzo’s son, Lamberto Liuzzo, 55, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 8,000 euros ($9,731) for money-laundering. He was acquitted of the charge of self-laundering.

The sentences were given in the first instance, meaning that the defendants, who were not present at the hearing, may appeal. Caloia’s lawyers confirmed on Jan. 21 that they had lodged an appeal.

The Vatican court also ordered the confiscation of the 32 million euros ($39 million) which had already been seized from Caloia and Liuzzo’s IOR accounts and ordered compensation be paid to the IOR and its Italian-registered real estate company, SGIR, to the amount of about 23 million euros ($28 million), as part of a separate civil suit.

The exact amount of the damages to be paid will be determined in the civil court.

The three defendants were also permanently banned from holding public office.

According to a report by the HuffPost in December, the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, had requested an eight-year sentence for Caloia and his 96-year-old lawyer at the final two hearings of the trial on Dec. 1-2, 2020.

The Vatican court ordered Caloia and Liuzzo to stand trial in March 2018. It accused them of participating in “unlawful conduct” from 2001 to 2008 during “the disposal of a considerable part of the institute’s real estate assets.”

Caloia and Liuzzo were acquitted on Jan. 21 of charges of embezzlement and aggravated embezzlement related to the sale of 29 of the IOR-owned properties between 2001 and 2008.

The HuffPost said that the two men allegedly sold the IOR’s real estate assets to themselves through offshore companies and firms in Luxembourg via “a complex shielding operation.”



Former IOR director general Lelio Scaletti, who died on Oct. 15, 2015, was part of the original investigation, launched in 2014 after complaints were lodged by the IOR.

In February 2018, the institute announced that it had joined a civil suit, in addition to the criminal proceedings, against Caloia and Liuzzo.

The trial began on May 9, 2018. At the first hearing, the Vatican court announced plans to appoint experts to assess the value of properties that Caloia and Liuzzo were accused of selling at below-market rates, while allegedly making off-paper agreements for higher amounts to pocket the difference.

The Institute for Religious Works was founded in 1942 under Pope Pius XII but can trace its roots back as far as 1887. It aims to hold and administer money designated for “religious works or charity,” according to its website.

It accepts deposits from legal entities or persons of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State. The main function of the bank is to manage bank accounts for religious orders and Catholic associations.

The IOR had 14,996 clients as of December 2019. Nearly half of clients are religious orders. Other clients include Vatican offices, apostolic nunciatures, episcopal conferences, parishes, and clergy.

U.S. bishops praise Biden's repeal of travel ban

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2021 / 08:45 am (CNA).- After President Joe Biden on his first day in office revoked a travel ban from certain Muslim-majority and African countries, leading U.S. bishops praised the move.

 

 “We welcome yesterday’s Proclamation, which will help ensure that those fleeing persecution and seeking refuge or seeking to reunify with family in the United States will not be turned away because of what country they are from or what religion they practice,” stated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

 

Cardinal Dolan chairs the religious freedom committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), and Bishop Dorsonville chairs the conference migration committee.

 

On Wednesday, President Biden had issued a proclamation revoking President Trump’s executive order from 2017, along with several of Trump’s ensuing actions to restrict travel into the U.S. from several predominantly Muslim and African countries. Biden’s proclamation was among his first executive actions while in office.

 

Biden said that travel bans “are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all.”

 

The initial 2017 action by President Trump-- was considered by some to be essentially a “Muslim ban,” a continuation of his promise on the campaign trail to shut down travel into the U.S. by Muslims, purportedly for security reasons.

 

At the time of the initial ban, the USCCB said it “targets Muslims for exclusion, which goes against our country's core principle of neutrality when it comes to people of faith.” 

 

Since the original order, the administration later added other countries to the list that were not Muslim-majority nations, including African countries. The travel ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018.

 

Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Dorsonville said that reversing the travel ban would help refugees and victims of violence.

 

“We look forward to working with this new Administration in accompanying immigrants and refugees and continuing the welcoming tradition, which has helped make the United States the diverse and prosperous nation it is today,” they stated.

 

Other Catholic groups praised President Biden’s proposed actions on immigration on his first day in office.

 

Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), tweeted on Wednesday of the “Muslim Ban” that “[i]t’s only fitting that this be among the first Trump policies to go.”

 

“The ‘Document on Human Fraternity’ from @Pontifex and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb calls on us ‘to unite and work together’ and ‘advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters,’” she tweeted.

 

Biden on Wednesday began a series of other executive actions on immigration, including the preservation the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and declaring a halt to border wall construction.

 

In addition, Biden’s transition team promised he would send an immigration bill to Congress that would, among other acts, offer a path to citizenship for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.

 

That policy would protect “vulnerable people and families” from countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti from deportation, said Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

 

“Based on our presence in Latin America and our Church partners there, we know these countries are not prepared to reintegrate their citizens and are overwhelmed from the consequences of natural disasters, insecurity, and COVID-19,” O’Keefe told CNA in a statement.

 

 

Pope Francis sends condolences after 32 killed in suicide bombings in Iraq

Rome Newsroom, Jan 21, 2021 / 08:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said on Thursday that he was praying for the victims of two suicide bombings in Baghdad, which took place less than two months before his scheduled visit to Iraq.

At least 32 people died after two suicide bombers detonated explosive vests in a market near Tayaran Square in central Baghdad on the morning of Jan. 21. An estimated 100 other people were wounded.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, sent a telegram on behalf of Pope Francis to Iraqi President Barham Salih expressing the pope’s condolences.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the bomb attacks on Tayaran  Square in Baghdad this morning. In deploring this senseless act of brutality, he prays for the  deceased victims and their families, for the injured and for the emergency personnel in attendance,” states the telegram sent Jan. 21.

“Trusting that all will continue work to overcome violence with fraternity, solidarity and peace, Pope Francis invokes upon the nation and its people the blessing of the Most High.”

The bombing took place a day after the Vatican released a statement indicating that the papal trip to Iraq would take place “subject to variations” on March 5-8.

In a television interview on Jan. 10, Pope Francis had expressed doubt about whether the trip would be able to take place with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

If the trip takes place as planned, Francis will be the first pope to visit Iraq, which is still recovering from the devastation inflicted by the Islamic State.

Pope Francis said in 2019 that he wanted to visit the country soon. A papal visit to Iraq has been under study by the Vatican for several years, but until recently the country was deemed a security risk.

Seventeen Catholic bishops met on Jan. 19 at the headquarters of the Chaldean patriarchate in Baghdad to discuss plans for the highly anticipated papal visit.

Major General Khaled Al-Muhanna, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, said on Jan. 21 that no group had claimed responsibility for the attack. But according to the New York Times, the bombers might have been in some way affiliated with the Islamic State.

It was the first suicide bombing to take place in Iraq since Jan. 2018, the Associated Press reported.

The Islamic State, which at its height controlled roughly 40% of the territory in Iraq, had lost 95% of its territory in Iraq and Syria by Dec. 2017, according to the Wilson Center.

If the trip to Iraq goes ahead, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Christian communities in the Nineveh Plains, which were ravaged by the Islamic State from 2014 to 2016, causing many Christians to flee the region. The pope has repeatedly expressed his closeness to these persecuted Christians.

After the papal trip to Iraq was announced in December, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told CNA that he believed that the pope’s visit had “the potential to change the trajectory of the Christian presence in Iraq from one of a disappearing people to one of a surviving and thriving people.”

Since the Islamic State occupied parts of northern Iraq in 2014, the number of Christians living in the formerly occupied areas has declined from 102,000 to 36,000.

Some displaced Christians have returned to the Nineveh Plains as their homes were rebuilt, but more Christian families left the region than returned to their hometowns last year, according to a report by Aid to the Church in Need.

Economic instability and continued security challenges have been the forces driving this continued emigration. 

Iraqis have been protesting against government corruption and the lack of economic opportunities since October 2019. The coronavirus pandemic and collapse of oil prices in 2020 have further weakened the country’s economy.

“For the present, what we need most is economic opportunity for the people, some path to dignified livelihoods,” Warda said.

“This is what we hope the international community can most understand at this time.”

Pope Francis recognizes heroic virtues of pioneering French geneticist Jerome Lejeune

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis recognized on Thursday the heroic virtues of Jérôme Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome.

The step, announced on Jan. 21, means that Lejeune can now be referred to as “Venerable.” 

Heroic virtue is one of the requirements for beatification in the Catholic Church. A verified miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession is also usually required.

Lejeune was born on June 13, 1926, in Montrouge, in the southern Parisian suburbs. In 1958, he deduced that Down syndrome was caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.

He dedicated the rest of his life to researching treatments to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.

He firmly opposed the use of prenatal testing to identify unborn children with Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities for abortion. 

When he received the prestigious William Allan Award for his work in genetics in 1969, he gave an impassioned speech opposing abortion. 

“For millennia, medicine has striven to fight for life and health and against disease and death. Any reversal of the order of these terms of reference would entirely change medicine itself,” he said. 

“It happens that nature does condemn. Our duty has always been not to inflict the sentence but to try to commute the pain. In any foreseeable genetical trial I do not know enough to judge, but I feel enough to advocate.”

After the speech, which received a cool reception, he reportedly told his wife: “Today, I lost my Nobel Prize in medicine.”

In 1994, Pope John Paul II named Lejeune as the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The physician died just 33 days later in Paris, on April 2, 1994, at the age of 67.

The Fondation Jérôme Lejeune in Paris welcomed the progress in Lejeune’s cause, describing it as “an immense joy.”

But it said that the news came at an “alarming” time for respect for life in France, with the advance of a new bioethics bill that would further dehumanize “the embryo, the youngest member of the human species.”

“Jérôme Lejeune had led this fight for the respect of the embryo throughout his life, as a historical opponent of the Veil Law which legalized abortion in France in 1975, and as a researcher and physician, he had seen from the first bioethics law in 1994, just before his death, where in vitro fertilization and research on the embryo would lead us,” the foundation said.

The pope also advanced seven other causes on Thursday.

He recognized the Italian priest Giovanni Fornasini (1915-1944) as a martyr killed in hatred of the faith. Fornasini served in the resistance during the Second World War and was shot dead by a Nazi soldier. 

The pope recognized the heroic virtues of six other candidates. 

They included Elizabeth Prout (1820-1864), founder of the Passionist Sisters, who served impoverished workers in England’s deprived industrial towns. Prout, also known by her religious name Mother Mary Joseph of Jesus, is buried alongside Ignatius Spencer and Dominic Barberi, two other candidates for canonization who played major roles in the revival of English Catholicism in the 19th-century.

The pope also acknowledged the heroic virtues of the Italian priests Fr. Michele Arcangelo Maria Antonio Vinti (1893-1943) and Fr. Ruggero Maria Caputo (1907-1980). 

He also recognized the heroic virtues of Santiago Masarnau Fernández (1805-1882), a pianist and composer who established the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Spain. 

Also recognized was the Italian seminarian Pasquale Canzii (1914-1930), who died at the age of 15 while studying for the priesthood.

The final candidate recognized by Pope Francis was Adelaide Bonolis (1909-1980), an Italian lay woman who founded the Opere di Assistenza e Redenzione Sociale, an organization offering social assistance.

Croatia’s Catholic bishops commend victims of pandemic and earthquakes to Virgin Mary

CNA Staff, Jan 21, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Croatia’s Catholic bishops on Tuesday commended “victims of the coronavirus pandemic and destructive earthquakes” to the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

In a statement issued on Jan. 19, at the end of their plenary meeting in the capital, Zagreb, the bishops mourned those who had died of the virus and natural disasters in the country. 

“We commend the entire homeland and all its citizens, especially the Archdiocese of Zagreb and the Diocese of Sisak, wounded by earthquakes, and all the victims of the coronavirus pandemic and destructive earthquakes, to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Most Faithful Advocate,” the bishops said.

A magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck Zagreb on March 22, 2020, injuring 27 people including a teenage girl who died of her injuries. Then on Dec. 29 a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit central Croatia, killing seven people and injuring 26 others. 

The bishops said: “Although we had hoped that the year 2021 would restore our much-needed security, a series of earthquakes first struck our capital city of Zagreb in March, and then the Banja region and Diocese of Sisak in December of last year.” 

“Parts of cities and villages were destroyed. Unfortunately, some also lost loved ones in the earthquakes. Many families were suddenly left without anything. Those who had previously lived in the safety of their own homes found shelter in halls, campers, or container houses.” 

“Many churches in the Archdiocese of Zagreb and the Diocese of Sisak were destroyed or damaged, while the cathedrals in Zagreb and Sisak suffered extensive damage and had to be closed for worship.”

Amid the earthquakes, the coronavirus has stalked Croatia’s four million-strong population, 86% of whom are Catholic. More than 227,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 4,738 have died from the virus as of Jan. 21, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

“Every day we witness that the pandemic has left severe consequences on every aspect of life, especially among the sick, elderly, and infirm confined to solitude,” the bishops said.

“Families have not been spared, either, some of whom, in addition to the economic instability that has affected everyone, are facing an increase in family problems, including violence. The entire society has been afflicted: educational institutions, social and cultural life, the economy, as well as everything else that defines the life of a community.”

The bishops acknowledged that the coronavirus had also restricted Church life.

“Liturgical and general pastoral life has been greatly limited. For a time, we could not celebrate Mass with the people and even today we do so under restricted conditions,” they said.

“It has not been possible to conduct parish catechesis in the customary manner, celebrate First Communions or Confirmations. There have been limitations on the customary blessing of families and many religious gatherings. A number of our parishes have encountered new pastoral challenges and material difficulties.” 

But the bishops stressed that there were also “positive indicators,” including a strengthening of “family spirituality and communal prayer” and the sharing of the Gospel message online. 

The bishops noted that the coronavirus vaccine had been “a focus of public attention” in recent weeks. They urged Catholics to consider Pope Francis’ positive assessment of the vaccine, as well as Vatican statements clarifying ethical questions “that protect freedom of conscience and personal responsibility in deciding whether to receive the vaccine.”

Concluding their message, the bishops said: “Dear brothers and sisters, in Sunday Eucharistic celebrations, in daily and persevering prayer, let us continue to find the deepest inspiration and strength for our own confrontation with difficulties and for effective love toward our neighbors.”