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What the 'Great Firewall' might signal for Vatican-China deal

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2018 / 09:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Chinese government tightens control over Christian groups in the country, experts caution that Beijing is positioned to further restrict religious freedom, using the model of government-run social media.

While introducing more restrictive rules on religious practice, President Xi Jinping's repeatedly stated goal has been the “Sinicization” of religions, or to diffuse “religious theories with Chinese character” into the five official religions supervised by the government, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

On March 22, China instituted a major change in its religious oversight by abolishing the State Administration for Religious Affairs and shifting direct control to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). As a result, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will now be under the day-to-day direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This is similar to another bureaucratic change in China earlier this week, that gave the CCP direct control of movies, television, books, and radio.

“They are folding the state into the party … It is one thing when the party does that with regards to the media, but there is something particularly ironic now in the sense that you have a department of an avowedly Marxist atheist communist party that is going to be managing religious affairs,” said Freedom House’s Senior Research Analyst for East Asia, Sarah Cook.

“Now the Bishops' Conference is even less explicitly autonomous and more clearly directly managed by an atheist communist party department,” said Cook. This change could result in more pressure for religious entities in China to make clear that their first and foremost allegiance is to the party and not to their religion.

The UFWD is the CCP’s “soft power” instrument for “winning the hearts and minds” for China’s political goals at home and abroad, according to the Financial Times. It seeks to manage groups outside of the CCP, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjian, ethnic minorities, and religious groups.

The UFWD is “basically trying to make sure that these entities are also in some way following the party line even though they are not part of the communist party itself,” explained Cook.

China has long been known for its strict control of information, through means including internet access restriction and the creation of alternative social media platforms that are completely controlled by government surveillance and censorship.

So while Twitter is inaccessible in China – blocked along with Google, Facebook, and YouTube by “the Great Firewall” – one can express himself in 140 characters or fewer on the Chinese website “Sina Weibo” instead, as long as the message is not critical of President Xi Jinping.

Critics fear this model could increasingly be adopted in the realm of religion as well.

The Vatican has been in negotiations with Xi’s regime on the appointment of bishops. Some speculate an agreement will resemble the Vatican’s deal with Vietnam, in which the Holy See picks bishops from a selection of candidates proposed by the episcopal conference, which, as of this week, is more directly controlled by the CCP.

As the Vatican considers the possibility of a deal with the Chinese regime, China-watchers are warning technology companies that engaging directly with the Chinese government could lead to their complicity with censorship and surveillance, or lead to the arrest of Chinese citizens.

One early example of this was Yahoo, which provided sensitive information about writers to the Chinese authorities. More recently, Apple removed VPN software that helped Chinese citizens circumvent its Great Firewall from its China App Store.

Formerly, technology “companies had good faith that by going in there [China] they really were helping to provide these open platforms for communication ... It would be very difficult to make that argument right now,” explained Shanthi Kalathil, the director of the International Forum for Democracy Studies at a panel on PEN America’s new report on social media censorship on March 19.

“All of the trends are pointing in a negative direction. The intent of the Chinese government is clear that anybody that does go in will absolutely not have the space to provide what these companies may profess to be providing on paper. We know enough now about both the censorship machine as well as Xi Jinping's intentions – I think that's been made quite clear,” continued Kalathil, referring to the increase in censorship, surveillance, and punishment of Chinese social media users in the past three years.

China has increasingly used its control of domestic social media alternatives to criminalize internet users who express dissenting opinions.

In China, people talk about how “it used to be that we afraid that our account would be closed or our posts would be deleted. Now we are afraid that we are just going to be taken away. Some are sentenced to administration detention for a few days, but there are a good number of people who have been sentenced to very long prison terms," Cook said at the panel.

The trends in freedom of religion are similarly pointing in a negative direction under Xi Jinping.

An analysis published by a Chinese Communist Party think tank scholar in 2012 identified both religion and “internet freedom” as future threats to China’s rise. The years that followed saw crackdowns on both freedom of the internet and religious freedom.

No member of the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to practice a religion. In March, the same parliamentary meeting that gave Xi Jinping lifelong rule also granted the atheist Communist party direct oversight of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to the latest reports, a deal between the Vatican and Beijing could be signed as early as next week.


Papal Foundation responds to multi-million dollar hospital grant controversy

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 23, 2018 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Controversy over a $25 million grant from The Papal Foundation to a Rome hospital at the request of Pope Francis has prompted the foundation to say some claims about the issue are inaccurate, but that it will review its mission and take corrective measures where necessary.
The Philadelphia-based foundation said March 22 that its executive committee and board made “an inadequate effort” to address and correct “the anonymous, inaccurate and misleading information related to the grant request” as well as “unsubstantiated claims that called into question the integrity of the request by the Holy See and of members of the board.” These claims created “confusion and unnecessary division among the membership of the Foundation.”
“This unfortunate chapter, which distracted from the great success of The Papal Foundation to serve the Holy See and the global Catholic Church, also served to highlight the need for a time of serious self-reflection by the Foundation,” the organization said.
The Papal Foundation said it is committed to taking any necessary corrective measures. It pledged to provide members with the facts of the grant and a clear understanding of the foundation’s mission and governance. It also committed itself “to renewing its bond of trust with the Holy See.”
The foundation was not able to respond to questions from CNA by deadline.
Since 1990, the foundation has given over $100 million in service to the Catholic Church, working in union with the Pope “to bring the love of Christ to a world in need.” Grants are made for needs that are particularly significant for the Pope, and often go to Third World institutions and organizations. They typically do not exceed $200,000 per grant.
The foundation is governed by a board of trustees comprised of the eight cardinals residing in the U.S., who serve as ex officio members. They approve the seven bishops and archbishops and nine laypeople who serve as elected members.
In summer 2017 Pope Francis asked Cardinal Donald Wuerl for a $25 million grant through the foundation for the Church-owned hospital Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, which specializes in researching and treating skin diseases. However, the Holy See has since declined half the grant after objections from some board members. The critics went to the media, resulting in news coverage that questioned the integrity of the hospital and the wisdom of the foundation’s grant-making process.
The board’s audit committee had questioned the $25 million grant and no lay members voted in favor of it, the National Catholic Register reported in February.
Opponents of the grant said due diligence was not followed, citing reports that the hospital leadership had been accused of embezzlement, fraud and bankruptcy. In 2013 a priest who was its chief executive through 2011 was arrested for allegedly taking money from the hospital and running up a massive debt.
Tens of millions of euros had allegedly been diverted from the hospital, while it allegedly evaded taxes on hundreds of millions euros. Financial police said its debt was 845 million euros, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported in 2013.
The foundation said it is re-evaluating its mission, its approach to grant-making, and its relationship with the Holy See. These actions are the result of the foundation’s “intensive, six-month review and approval of a special request by the Vatican for assistance with a three-year financial reform plan for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata in Rome.”
The Holy See has expressed “full support” for the review of the foundation and is working to assist the review process, The Papal Foundation reported. In addition to declining half the grant, the Holy See has postponed a papal audience until the foundation’s review process is complete and until the foundation members and stewards agree upon the foundation’s “mission, governance structure and relationship to the Holy See.”


California high school student planning pro-life walkout

Sacramento, Calif., Mar 23, 2018 / 01:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students at a public school in California are organizing a pro-life walkout, similar to the recent walkouts over gun control, in honor of unborn babies who have been aborted.

The pro-life walkout will take place at Rocklin High School in Rocklin, Calif., a Sacramento suburb, April 11.

The walkout, similar to the recent walkouts over gun control in honor of the Parkland shooting victims in Florida, and will last 17 minutes. The event will be promoted by students with #life.

The organizer of the walkout, Rocklin High student Brandon Gillespie, said he hopes the event will “honor all the lives of the millions of aborted babies every year,” according to local news.

“We encourage students across the country to participate in a stand for #life,” Gillespie said in a March 22 Tweet.

Gillespie noted that he was inspired by his history teacher, Julianne Benzel, to jumpstart the pro-life walkout.

Benzel recently highlighted the nationwide walkouts over gun control in her classroom and asked her students to consider what the limits might be over protests on school grounds and if there was a double-standard.

“If schools, not only just our school and our administration, but across the country are going to allow one group of students to get up during class and walk out to protest one issue, would they still give the same courtesy to another group of students who wanted to protest… abortion?’ Benzel told Fox & Friends.

“If you’re going to allow students to get up and walk out without penalty, then you’re going to have to allow any group of students that wants to protest,” Benzel continued.

Soon after her classroom discussion, Benzel was placed on paid administrative leave after a few students and one parent filed a complaint to the school against her.

District spokesperson Diana Capra said that Benzel was “not penalized or placed on leave because of her viewpoints,” but her leave was “due to complaints from parents and students involving the teacher’s communication regarding…the student-led remembrance activities.”

Despite the controversy, Rocklin students are moving forward with their pro-life walkout in a few weeks and have encouraged other students around the nation to join the walkout for life.

Gillespie met with Rocklin High School's principal the morning of March 23, but has yet to announce any updates to the walkout's status since then.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I just got done with the meeting with my principal. I will be updating the status of the <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#life</a> walkoout soon.</p>&mdash; Brandon Gillespie (@bgillie13) <a href="">March 23, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Saint Paul film highlights Christian hope in the face of persecution

Dallas, Texas, Mar 23, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA).- Actors and filmmakers at the red carpet premiere of “Paul Apostle of Christ” said the film’s portrayal of Christian persecution in ancient Rome is a timely reminder that people around the world continue to suffer for their faith.

“I know about the Christian persecution that is happening to this very day … I want the world to know … the Coptic, the Chaldean, the Assyrian Christians who were murdered,” Jim Caviezel, who plays Luke in the film, told CNA at the premiere.

“Here we are. We are on a red carpet, we are making a movie. It’s very nice, but right now there are people that are struggling and suffering,” reflected T.J. Berden, one of the film’s producers.

The film is dedicated to people who are persecuted for their faith. Berden told CNA that he hopes the film’s dedication helps audiences to “remember that there are people right now going through this. Send up a prayer. Think about them. Offer something up.”

“What we go through here, especially in the United States, for our faith pales in comparison to what people in the early Church went through and what people around the world go through in terms of persecution,” said Rich Peluso, executive vice president of AFFIRM Films, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment that develops faith-based and inspirational films.  

“Paul Apostle of Christ”  is set during Emperor Nero’s persecution of the Christian community in Rome. “People were being used as candles all over Rome and being burned alive, and yet he [St. Luke] was able to take a stand in the face of evil. He must have believed in the very words of Paul, ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain,’” said Caviezel.
In the midst of this suffering, the film follows first-century couple Priscilla and Aquila as they wrestle with the question of whether the Christians should flee the city to protect their community or remain to be a witness to the Romans.

This question, faced by persecuted Christian communities throughout the ages, has repeatedly captured the imagination of screenwriters and artists. In the 2010 film “Of Gods and Men,” Cistercian monks take a vote as to whether or not they should stay in Algeria and risk martyrdom at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, as do the nuns in Francis Poulenc’s opera, “Dialogue of the Carmelites,” set during the French Revolution. Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil spoke recently about how Christians in Iraq today faced the same question as ISIS attacked their communities.

Director and Screenwriter Andrew Hyatt told CNA that this decision is one of the authentic struggles highlighted in the film. Hyatt said that he sought to put Paul’s writing into its historical context through the film.

“Paul lived an experience. If he was writing anything, it was because someone needed to hear it and that was probably somebody in his community. There was no idea of this Bible thing or someday billions of people will read this. It was more that it had to come out of a need, so I really wanted the dialogue and the Scripture to be weaved together in a way so that it felt like an authentic, lived thing,” said Hyatt.

“Saint Paul definitely teaches an entire life of conversion, an entire life of proclamation, an entire life of love and dedication to our Lord Jesus Christ and to do everything possible to proclaim Christ’s love to the rest of the world,” said Bishop Edward Burns at the March 20 premiere in his Dallas diocese.
Paul Apostle of Christ opens in theaters throughout the U.S. on Friday, March 23.

In South Sudan, 'the body of Christ is bleeding,' bishop says

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2018 / 12:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday an ecumenical delegation from South Sudan met privately with Pope Francis and again invited him to visit the war-torn nation, which they said is in desperate need of hope as the situation becomes more dire.

“We are here as an ecumenical body...we came as Christians to show that the body of Christ is bleeding,” Bishop Paride Tabani told CNA March 23.

The people, he said, “[need] hope. They need healing, they are crying for peace, which cannot be brought by arms, but by love, by a sense of compassion, a spirit of love and forgiveness which God has shown to us, especially now.”

“We would like that this Easter would also be a resurrection of people from their suffering.”

Tabani, Bishop Emeritus of Torit in South Sudan, was part of a 9-person delegation from the Council of Churches of South Sudan (SSCC) who met the pope in a private March 23 audience at the Vatican.

Members of the delegation included bishops and leaders of different Christian denominations in South Sudan, including Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians, among others. They updated Pope Francis on several joint initiatives of the council to provide humanitarian aid and prompt international leaders to intervene in finding a solution to the conflict.

In a March 23 press briefing after the meeting, Rev. James Oyet Latansio, secretary of the SSCC, described the meeting as “familiar,” and said they sat and talked with each other about a variety of issues.

South Sudan has been plagued by civil war for more than four years. The conflict has split the young nation on several fronts, dividing those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Discussion at the Vatican meeting focused largely on the humanitarian crisis and the situation of the more than 2 million South Sudanese refugees who have fled to surrounding countries, as well as the need to fill the post of deceased bishops, some whose dioceses have been vacant for years.

They also touched on when a possible papal trip might take place. Francis had intended to visit the war-torn nation last year alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. However, the trip was postponed due to security concerns.

According to the delegation, the pope expressed a strong desire to go, but gave no specific date.

In his comments to CNA, Bishop Tabani said the pope “is willing to go, but there have been negative reports and even in the Vatican…they told him the situation is not so good.”

According to Tabani, the situation on the ground is so desperate that people are nearly begging the pope to come as a sign of hope and consolation. He said that during their meeting, he reminded Francis how St. John Paul II in 1993 visited Khartoum in the midst of a violent genocide.

“That gave hope to the people, and then people became very courageous,” Tabani said, adding that with more than 2 million people are living as refugees, now is the time for another papal visit.

“People are dying from hunger, the economic situation is really bad...the people are eager to have consolation, and they are asking 'when will the Pope come?'” he said, explaining that in the meeting, Pope Francis told the delegation that “my heart is bleeding for the people in South Sudan,” and asked them to pray that the conditions would change, allowing him to come.

More than 2 million civilians have fled the country in the four years since violence broke out. Neighboring Uganda has so far taken in more than 1 million refugees from South Sudan, leaving resources strained.

In comments to CNA, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Guru, Uganda, who was also part of the ecumenical delegation that met the Pope, said the situation is out of control. Many people had to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and the majority of refugees, who face a worsening humanitarian crisis, are women, children and elderly.

“You have the youth who don't have enough food, they don't have enough medical support. What they get is the minimum. Some have died of malaria, some have died from other things like cholera, and then they don't have the facilities to prepare the children for the future, education,” he said.

Odama said the Ugandan government is willing to help and has pitched in with some NGOs, but lacks the resources to sustain the increasing influx of refugees while also supporting their own citizens who live in poverty.

In northern Uganda near the West Nile area, there are more than 300,000 people living in one camp, he said, explaining that this area “is the most difficult, because the government of Uganda has found itself in a certain level that it cannot afford, because its resources are also limited.”

“So to care for its own citizens and at the same time for refugees, it becomes very heavy. This is where the biggest challenge is.”

Both Bishop Tabani and Archbishop Odama voiced gratitude to Pope Francis for holding the Feb. 23 day of prayer and fasting for peace in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.

They also asked that the pope appoint more bishops, because many bishops have died and none have been re-appointed. Tabani, who retired early to launch a project aimed at providing education to refugees and promoting peaceful coexistence, said his successor died five years ago and has not been replaced.

Tabini said that upon hearing their requests, Pope Francis did not immediately make any promises or guarantees. “He just listened,” the bishop said, adding that “it's good to be a good listener...this is what I like.”


Cardinal Dolan says Democrats have abandoned Catholics

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2018 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an op-ed published Friday in the Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York lamented that the Democratic Party’s shifting principles have effectively shut out and alienated orthodox Catholics.

Dolan cited the Democrat’s current opposition to school choice programs and tax credits for education, along with their unwavering support for abortion rights, among the reasons why he is disappointed with the party in its current state. Dolan said believes that the Democrats of today have abandoned many of the tenets that made the party attractive to Catholics generations ago.

In the past, Dolan explained, when waves of Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, their respect for the sanctity of life and their concern for the poor led them to embrace the Democrats, who welcomed them to the party. Dolan even recounted his own grandmother warning him that, “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.”

“Such is no longer the case,” Dolan wrote, which is a “cause of sadness to many Catholics.” himself included.

He pointed to the party’s recent refusal to support incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who is one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, in a tight primary race.

Lipinski, himself Catholic, narrowly won the Democratic primary this past Tuesday against a challenger who made abortion rights central to her campaign. Last April, DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement that “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” and that this was “not negotiable.”

Perez was criticized for this stance by party leaders, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Recent polling showed just under a quarter of Democrats believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

Dolan was particularly critical of a proposed New York law titled the “Reproductive Health Act,” which he says would “morbidly expand” the “most radical abortion license in the country.” The New York State Assembly is overwhelmingly Democrat.

“For instance, under the proposed Reproductive Health Act, doctors would not be required to care for a baby who survives an abortion. The newborn simply would be allowed to die without any legal implications,” wrote Dolan.

What’s more, Dolan explained, is that he feels the Democrats are making it harder for low and middle-class children to get an education at a Catholic school.

“In recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children,” said Dolan. The cardinal said this type of legislation impedes the mission of these schools to serve poor, often immigrant, children.

Dolan admitted that while he has “ had spats and disappointments” with politicians from both major political parties in the United States, he is particularly upset by the Democratic Party’s swing in a direction that excludes people like his grandmother.

“But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.”


Cardinal Tong says opposing Vatican-China deal is 'unreasonable'

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal John Tong Hon has voiced support for a proposed deal on the appointment of bishops between the Vatican and China, saying he believes the Chinese government has generally become more tolerant, and an accord would help bring further openness and unity to the Church.

Tong is the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, and spoke at a March 22-23 conference titled “Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation” taking place at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

Tong is one of two Chinese cardinals, the other being his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen. While Zen has consistently been an outspoken critic of the proposed deal, Hon holds a different opinion.

In an interview with a small number of journalists, one of which was CNA, Hon said opposition to the accord is “unreasonable,” because the deal aims at unity. He called the agreement “far-sighted” and said at times, sacrifice is necessary in order for Catholics to become “members of one family.”

The deal – which would allegedly follow the model of the Vatican's agreement with Vietnam, allowing the Holy See to pick bishops from a selection of candidates proposed by the government – is rumored to be “imminent.”

In a recent blog post, Cardinal Zen indicated that the agreement could be signed as early as March 23 (tomorrow) or March 27. If the deal is reached, Zen said he would “retire in silence” and would “hide and pray,” but that he would not oppose the pope.

In his interview with journalists, Cardinal Hon said he didn't want to speculate about when the deal might come, but said he was “optimistic” it would eventually happen.

Below are excerpts of Cardinal Hon's conversation with journalists:

Q: This conference is addressing the presence of Christianity in China. From your perspective, what is the current situation for Christians there? Some say there is persecution and an increase in restrictions for religions, but others say the situation has improved. What is your take?

I am a Hong Kong citizen. Hong Kong belongs to one country, is a part of China, yet Hong Kong, after 1997, is one country run under two systems, meaning Hong Kong still continues to be a capitalistic administration, and China is under the socialist system for 50 years. So we are doing the same things as before. Regarding China, I am also a foreigner, so that means I'm not an insider. I can offer my impression with a limited knowledge of China...In a general picture I think China has already greatly improved, so sometimes you find this tightening in this part or that part, but China is huge. You cannot use this to describe...If we have a very far-sighted vision about China, I think China is [becoming] more civilized, closer to the outside world. And then I think the general situation, in the present, is better. Those would be my remarks.

Q: So your perception is that China is more open to religion, is more tolerant?

In the future also it should be, not the other way. Because the people can come out from China, now most of the people like to come to Hong Kong or outside of China for a week, so their eyes are opened after seeing the outside world. So they of course have higher expectations. And also the officials, knowing, they are not stupid, they know the expectations of most of the common people, and although on one hand they want to exercise their authority over the common people, but at the same time they have to compromise. So from time to time, sometimes [there's] a tightening, but other times [there's] a loosening policy. But in the long run China will be more and wider open, there is no other way. If I were the officials, I would do similar things. So I am optimistic.

Q: In your opening remarks you spoke about the importance of dialogue and communication between Chinese authorities and Christianity. This reminded me of your remarks in February about a deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops and allowing the Church to be registered in China. You said you were optimistic if it followed the Vietnamese model. Some say it won't follow this model. Are you still optimistic?

Yes, I'm still optimistic, because I always, this is my belief, whatever is reasonable can last for a long time. Whatever is unreasonable will fade out or has to be changed. You can see from the whole of human history, even the history of China. Even Mao, Mao was so cruel, so strong, but finally...and also the cultural revolution created a lot of chaotic situations in China, but finally those situations have been changed. So there is no other way.

Q: So in this case 'reasonable' would be the deal, and 'unreasonable' would be against it?


Q: A lot has been said in the media about your predecessor, Cardinal Zen, who has spoken out a lot against this deal. What is your opinion about this and what it says about the current dynamics in China?

This is a free world, everybody can express their own opinion. Everyone can use their own mind, their wisdom, to discern. So when you open your eyes and also open your ears, you can hear many, many different voices. So this is a free world. What can you say? We, as persons, we respect everybody as a person. So different opinions, up to your own wisdom to discern. That's my [opinion], which I received from my teacher, it's the lesson I learned.

Q: How is Pope Francis received in China? In the West he's very popular even among non-Catholics. Is it the same in China?

Yes. Generally speaking, he's loved by Catholics and non-Catholics.

Q: What's the appeal?

He's a humble person. The first thing is that he is really humble, and a humble person will be loved by many people. If you are proud you get a lot of enemies. This is also biblical teaching by our Lord Jesus. So we have to be humble. Jesus humbled himself and came down to earth and finally received crucifixion, suffering. So humility is important, that's one thing. And second, he has a far-sighted vision. He's not only seeing [now], but how to achieve the reign of God. The reign of God is to make humanity whole, to be one family, and we are all brothers and sisters, the whole world. Also through the negotiations promoted and advocated by the Second Vatican Council...Sometimes we can lose something so we can achieve friendship and set an example for all others and all other people, so finally we become friends, and then eventually we become all members of one family. At that time the reign of God will be implemented on earth...I was trained here 50 years ago at the Urbanianum. At that time the Second Vatican Council was being held, and I witnessed the grand closing ceremony. And right away I was ordained a priest with more than 60 classmates by Pope Paul VI. So that is what we were taught, and we have also what we were taught to believe in. So if you don't believe that, that it's only looking for [certain] things, that's your business, that's not my faith. And finally, we have to pray for the Church in China.

Q: People have been talking about a deal with China for years, and now it seems that is pretty sure...

I don't want to make any guess, it's up to God's will.

Q: But if it does happen, is there something about Francis' pontificate or diplomatic style that would allow the deal to happen? Is there something about the way he does diplomacy that would make the deal more likely than in the past?

If there's any breakthrough, it's God's will, I don't want to make any speculation. I'm not a prophet, I only follow our dogmatic teaching in the Church, and also the teaching of the constitutions issued by the Second Vatican Council. What I have learned in teaching in seminary, we pray for the Church in China, but I don't want to make any speculations...during the year, almost three years ago, during the year of divine mercy, the Church in China, particularly, during that period, was also very happy to respond to the appeal made by the Holy Father. So it shows that they are very positive about the Holy Father because they follow the instructions given by the Holy Father.

Lenten campaign invites fallen-away Catholics back to confession

Pittsburgh, Pa., Mar 23, 2018 / 12:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Through an annual initiative called “The light is on for you,” dioceses throughout the U.S. have opened their doors to welcome fallen away Catholics back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“It’s an opportunity to reach out to people who may not be regularly thinking about confession and for it to spark their interest,” said Father Nicholas Vaskov, executive director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“This is sort of the apex of a long journey back to a regular practice with their faith. They’ve come to a point to realize without this it’s not going to be complete, just that desire to be one with God,” he told CNA.

“The light is on for you” is present in dioceses including Arlington, Va., Washington, D.C., Boston, San Jose, and Dallas. Participating dioceses pick a night in Lent when every church has a priest available for confession, some with several nights throughout the Lenten season.  

For at least the sixth year in a row, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has also had one night in Lent when every church is open for confession. Since February, the diocese has promoted the event on radio stations, bus shelter signs, and social media.

As the pastor at St. Mary of Mercy Parish in downtown Pittsburgh, Father Vaskov heard confessions for three hours on March 22. Despite 10 inches of snow, he said people still lined up for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, including both Catholics who frequent the sacrament and those who had not been in years.

“I think it is a powerful experience for many who come… so often, and last night was no different, people who [had been] 10, 20, 30, even 40 years away from the sacraments” returned to confession.

The event is promoted especially as an opportunity for fallen-away Catholics to return to the sacraments without pressure, said Father Vaskov, who worked with radio stations and ad buyers to promote advertisements tailored to this audience.

The ads sought to respond to the reasons that people give for leaving the Church, such as a bad experience with a priest or why confession is necessary for forgiveness.

This opportunity is especially important during the time of Lent, said Father Vaskov, adding that confession nourishes spiritual strength and health all the more when accompanied by the disciplines of Lent.

Additionally, he said, confession accompanies a meditation on Christ’s suffering at the cross and Christ’s conquering of sin to renew our relationship with God.

“We are meditating so much during these days on the passion of Christ. … And the beauty of restoring that relationship of being one with Christ in his suffering and restoring that relationship with God through the sacraments so that there is nothing preventing us from being one with him.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, whose diocese hosts the event twice a year, said one of the greatest joys a priest can experience is the bringing fallen-away Catholics back to fold of the Church.

“We are here to welcome people back, to offer mercy and to help them experience God’s love,” Bishop Zubik said in a 2018 Lenten press release.

“One of the most rewarding experiences that any priest can have is to hear the Confession of someone who may have been away from the Church for decades, and to have a role in lifting that burden of guilt and restoring the person to spiritual wholeness.”


Amid political pressure, Nebraska works to prevent abortion funding

Lincoln, Neb., Mar 22, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following reports that some Title X funds have wrongly gone to abortion-related expenses, Nebraska is considering stronger budget restrictions, but some legislators are resisting.

“It has long been a policy that we do not use taxpayer dollars to fund abortions,” Gov. Pete Ricketts told CNA March 22. “What we have seen in Nebraska is that these Title X dollars, according to a couple of our audits, have been used to fund abortions.”

“Nebraska is a pro-life state, and that our budget ought to reflect that,” Ricketts said. “I believe that abortion is inherently wrong, so personally I do not want to see those dollars to go to that, but in general even those who are pro-choice understand that it’s bad policy to have federal tax dollars fund something that is so controversial and really ought not be funded by fed tax dollars.”

Gov. Ricketts backs proposed budget language that would require clinics that receive Title X funds to be “objectively independent” from abortion providers, meaning they have “legal, physical and financial separation.”

The unicameral legislature narrowly voted to pass the $8.8 billion budget bill, L.B. 944, to the second round of debate, the Omaha World Herald reports. On March 21 a vote for cloture, to end debate on the bill, failed by three votes. Three members of the Appropriations Committee were recorded as “present not voting,” Sens. Kate Bolz, Anna Wishart, and Tony Vargas, who is Catholic.

Under the legislature’s current rules, which legislators may suspend by vote, the budget bill must advance by Friday, March 23.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, told CNA that some legislators are under political pressure to remove the provision.

“Overall, a majority of Nebraska state legislators have pro-life values, and want to provide support for mothers and protect unborn children,” he said. “As we’ve seen throughout the country, we’ve noticed that some legislators seem to be succumbing to the pressure of abortion lobbyists and special interest groups. That is always a pressure of which to be aware.”

The 2015 and 2016 Nebraska statewide audits found that abortion-related expenses were wrongly funded using taxpayer dollars, according to a summary from Marion Miner, the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s associate director for pro-life and family issues.

The expenses included a nearly $2,000 payment for abortion-related physician fees through Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Such misappropriations would put federal funding to the state at risk given federal rules against funding abortion, state auditor Charlie Janssen told the Appropriations Committee in Feb. 8 testimony.

Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln has backed the proposed policy, saying it “protects the health clinics’ ability to provide the best healthcare for men and women by ensuring that Nebraska’s Title X dollars are not compromised.”

Ricketts said the state budget rules “can ensure that those health care dollars that we’re getting from the federal government are not being used to provide or subsidize abortion.”

“That is something that is not unwarranted in our budget,” he said, pointing to similar provisions barring funding for biomedical research involving human fetuses.

He compared the limits to other rules like the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funding for overseas organizations that promote or perform abortions.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, however, objected to the ban on funds for abortion providers and characterized it as a policy statement.

“What social policy is going to be in the budget next?” she said, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports. “We could talk about gambling and helmets and property taxes and environmental issues. Let's just put it all in the budget and then we don't have to have bills or committee hearings.”

About $1.5 million in Title X grants goes through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, aiming to provide services like well-woman exams, STD testing and treatment, HPV testing and vaccinations, and contraception. The leading grant recipient is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which receives about $300,000 per year, according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

“Whether it is direct or indirect, tax payer money should not go to abortion services,” said Venzor. “The pro-life provision in the state budget simply keeps these clinics accountable and ensures that taxpayer dollars are not used for the killing of unborn life.”

In January, the Omaha World-Herald said the provision would cut funding from Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said the money helps its clinics serve about 8,000 patients. Its clinics in Omaha and Lincoln also perform abortions.

Ricketts told CNA it was “absolutely false” to claim the funding rules would limit women’s services.

“The exact same amount of dollars will be spent after we pass this bill, with this budget language in it, as was being spent before,” he said. “Anybody is able to apply for those dollars.”

“The clear majority of legislators want to have this Title X language in there,” Ricketts said. He accused three members of the appropriations committee of voting the bill out of committee then working to undermine it.

“They’re playing reckless games with the budget process. If they had a problem with this bill, they ought to not have voted for it out of committee,” he said. “The legislature still has time to address this. They still have plenty of time to go back and pass this bill.”

Venzor encouraged voters and legislators in other states who want to implement similar restrictions on Title X money to contact the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

“We’re all working hard across the country to defend life and advance the common good, and we should learn from each other,” he said.

US House passes spending bill which continues funding Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2018 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The stopgap omnibus funding bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, despite heavy criticism from the US bishops and conservative members over the continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood, among other things.

The bill passed March 22 by a vote of 256-167.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) released a scathing letter after the vote.

“This omnibus is nowhere close to what Republicans promised to fight for,” said Meadows.

“When the American people sent us to Congress, their message was loud and their mandate clear: Secure the border, [...] Defund Planned Parenthood; Cut wasteful spending; ‘Drain the swamp and change the unsustainable way Washington, D.C. does business. This budget embraces the polar opposite of these principles.”

Last year, Planned Parenthood received over half a billion dollars in federal funding.

The inclusion of federal funding for Planned Parenthood was not the only controversial thing about the bill. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappoint[ed]” that the Conscience Protection Act (CPA) was not included in the appropriations bill, and said that members of Congress who did not support the CPA were extremists.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, said that "The CPA is an extraordinarily modest bill that proposes almost no change to existing conscience protection laws on abortion—laws that receive wide public and bi-partisan support.”

“The CPA simply proposes to provide victims of discrimination with the ability to defend their rights in court to help ensure that no one is forced to participate in abortion. Those inside and outside of Congress who worked to defeat the CPA have placed themselves squarely into the category of extremists who insist that all Americans must be forced to participate in the violent act of abortion. We call on Congress not to give up until this critical legislation is enacted."

Prior to the vote, many congressmen took to Twitter to complain about the bill’s large size (over 2,000 pages), the limited amount of time they had to read the bill before they were to vote on it, and specific programs that were still going to be receiving federal funding.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), joked that “It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni...wait, what?”


It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni...wait, what?

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 21, 2018


Later he tweeted a list of the things the bill funded that he found objectionable, including $51 million appropriated for “international family planning and reproductive health.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), speaking on Fox News, said this may be the “worst bill I’ve seen in my time in Congress.”

“I don’t think we told the voters when we were running for the job [...] that we were going to continue to fund Planned Parenthood, we were going to restrict Second Amendment liberties, let some bureaucrats take away your Second Amendment rights, not a court of law.”

The omnibus bill now moves to the Senate, where it must be approved before the end of Friday to avoid a government shutdown.