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Vatican diplomat urges solidarity in face of growing world hunger

Vatican City, Jul 14, 2020 / 06:35 am (CNA).- According to a new report from the United Nations, an estimated 690 million people went hungry in 2019 -- 10 million more than in 2018.

Published July 13, the newest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report said that billions of people do not have access to nutritious food, usually due to high costs and low affordability.

Addressing hunger and related problems “takes just policies,” Msgr. Fernando Chica Arellano told Vatican News. 

Arellano is the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

He called for greater international cooperation in the face of the report’s findings. “The world has to invest in peace, solidarity, and justice,” he said.

The report was produced by five UN agencies: FAO, the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the foreword of the report, the agencies caution that the 2015 objective to reach zero hunger by 2030 is “still off track.”

The report also predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic will have caused 130 million more people worldwide to have chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

Arellano stressed that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated already existing problems related to food security and malnutrition.

To reduce hunger requires reducing poverty, which takes peace, cooperation, and solidarity, he said.

As a starting point for the Church, Arellano emphasized the need for ecological education and spirituality, as addressed in the sixth chapter of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’.

According to the UN report, Asia has the greatest number of undernourished people, followed by Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The number of hungry people has been rising since 2014, the report shows, though the overall percentage is relatively stable at 8.9%, growing at the same rate as the global population.

The report said that if current trends continue Africa is expected to have more than half of the world’s chronically hungry people by 2030.

There are issues of concern beyond securing enough food to survive, the report highlighted, such as undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and obesity. 

It also noted the problems for children especially in having access to nutritious food, and the additional problems caused by diseases from malnutrition.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis made a donation to the World Food Programme as the organization works to feed 270 million people this year amid rising hunger caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Vatican announced July 3 that Pope Francis would donate 25,000 euros ($28,000) as “an expression of his closeness to those affected by the pandemic and to those who are engaged in essential services for the poor and weakest and most vulnerable people in our society.”

Lourdes offers digital pilgrimage as shrine struggles without pilgrims

Rome Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- As global coronavirus cases have surpassed 13 million, Lourdes is offering a digital pilgrimage this week to pray for the sick on the anniversary of its final Marian apparition.

The Marian shrine will livestream the rosary in 10 languages, Mass for multiple time zones, and a procession with the relics of St. Bernadette July 16. 

Lourdes has been known as a sanctuary for the sick for more than a century. The shrine contains a spring which is said to have miraculous healing properties.

July 16 marks the 18th and final apparition at the Lourdes’ grotto in 1858. St. Bernadette said of the event: “I saw only the Virgin. I have never seen her so beautiful.”

After months without pilgrims, the sanctuary is facing a forecasted loss of $9 million and is struggling to preserve the jobs of its 320 employees, who have already shortened their hours.

Mgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, rector of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, launched an appeal upon the shrine’s reopening.

“For 162 years, Lourdes has been a place of friendship centered on the poor and sick, an unparalleled school of life, service and prayer. It is a spiritual jewel that never ceases to give meaning and hope to our lives,” he said.

“The resources of the sanctuary are reliant on the pilgrims who visit the site. Without them, without their offerings and donations, Lourdes cannot exist. The sanctuary was hit by these economic difficulties just after it had returned to financial equilibrium.” 

“It is therefore a real call for help that the sanctuary is sending out to all those who love Lourdes and who consider this place to be part of our spiritual heritage.”

The Lourdes sanctuary typically receives three million international pilgrims and visitors each year, including more than 50,000 sick and disabled people. All pilgrimages were canceled during the two months that the Marian shrine was closed and safety measures and travel restrictions have limited the number of people able to visit this summer. 

“The countless testimonies and prayer intentions that have come to us confirm that the role of this sanctuary is to be a beating heart of prayer for the world and with the world,” Dumas said.

New Ebola outbreak in DRC prompts Catholic aid

CNA Staff, Jul 14, 2020 / 12:32 am (CNA).- Caritas Spain has announced that it will donate more than 23,000 euros – about $26,000 – to Caritas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to fight a new outbreak of Ebola in the country.

The Catholic relief and development agency in the African nation has activated a response plan to contain the spread of the epidemic and to raise awareness in the local population on how to prevent infection.

Just last month, the World Health Organization had declared an end to the previous Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That outbreak, which lasted just short of two years, killed more than 2,200 people.

Now, however, a new outbreak has been identified across the country, in the northwestern province of Equateur.

Ebola is a deadly virus that is primarily spread through contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains and occasional bleeding. The disease can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases.

The Ebola outbreak strains a health care system already under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 8,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, with 200 deaths, although health officials suggest these numbers are likely low due to limited testing abilities.

According to Caritas, the mortality rate for coronavirus is 2.5%, but for Ebola is more than 50%.

In addition, the country also currently experiencing its worst measles epidemic in history, very high rates of malnutrition, and the escalation of violence in some regions.

Caritas Spain had been soliciting private donations for the last two years to fight the previous Ebola epidemic.

The Spanish charity plans to allocate more than 23,000 euros to support the efforts of Caritas DRC, mainly in Equateur, with an awareness and prevention program to benefit an estimated 5,000 people.

Training will focus on about 1,000 community leaders, including heads of religious denominations, pastoral workers, heads of business and transportation associations, and youth leaders.

Caritas said its target information campaigns will also include a special focus for women, who are often more exposed to infection, as they generally buy and prepare food, care for the sick, and make preparations for funerals.

Other target groups include truck drivers, merchants, taxi drivers, and other occupations in which individuals interact with large numbers of people each day.

This new Ebola epidemic marks the 11th in the country’s history since the disease first appeared in 1976.

An outbreak in 2014-2016 in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people and spread briefly to Spain, the US, and the UK.

Efforts to contain the disease during the previous two-year epidemic were hampered by misinformation and distrust on the part of local communities, who in some cases retaliated against health teams by attacking them. Several hundred attacks on medical centers and staff were reported in 2019, according to the BBC. The attacks limited many of the health services that non-governmental organizations were able to provide.


Catholics in US called to solidarity with Japan ahead of atomic bomb anniversary

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- For the upcoming anniversary of the detonation of two atomic bombs on Japan, the US bishops have encouraged Catholics to pray for peace alongside the Church in Japan.

Issued by the USCCB’s Committee for International Justice and Peace, a statement was released July 13, a few weeks ahead of the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“August 6 and 9 mark the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first, and one hopes the last, times that atomic weapons are employed in war,” the bishops said.

“The 21st century continues to witness geopolitical conflicts with state and non-state actors, increasingly sophisticated weapons, and the erosion of international arms control frameworks. The bishops of the United States steadfastly renew the urgent call to make progress on the disarmament of nuclear weapons.”

Since St. John Paul II visited Japan in 1981, the Catholic Church in Japan has observed Ten Days of Prayer for Peace beginning Aug. 6. For the 75th anniversary, the USCCB has encouraged Catholics in the United States to join Japan in prayer by offering intentions of peace at Mass Aug. 9.

“The Church in the U.S. proclaims her clarion call and humble prayer for peace in our world which is God’s gift through the salvific sacrifice of Christ Jesus,” they said.

The only wartime use of nuclear weapons took place in 1945's Aug. 6 attack on Hiroshima and Aug. 9 attack on Nagasaki by the United States.

The Hiroshima attack killed around 80,000 people instantly and may have caused about 130,000 deaths, mostly civilians. The attack on Nagasaki instantly killed about 40,000, and destroyed a third of the city.

Pope Francis visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima in November 2019. There, he spoke against nuclear arms and promoted international harmony, noting that peace will not be ensured by a threat of nuclear war.

“A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons, is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere,” he said. “Our response to the threat of nuclear weapons must be joint and concerted, inspired by the arduous yet constant effort to build mutual trust and thus surmount the current climate of distrust.”

In February, Pope Francis once again spoke against nuclear arms and the Committee of International Justice and Peace reemphasized the Pope’s position. They said fear is not a stable enough platform to sustain peace.

“Recently, we, the bishops of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace re-affirmed the Holy Father’s call to ‘renewed effort to bring about a world of peace and justice that is not based upon fear or the threat of nuclear annihilation but justice and human solidarity.’”

“Fear, distrust, and conflict must be supplanted by our joint commitment, by faith and in prayer, that peace and justice reign now and forever.”


Georgia abortion heartbeat law banned by federal court

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- A federal court on Monday said a Georgia state law that prohibits abortion anytime after the detection of a fetal heartbeat is unconstitutional.

The ruling came in a lawsuit against the 2019 law filed by state abortion providers and abortion advocacy group.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones wrote that “The Supreme Court has repeatedly and unequivocally held that under no circumstances whatsoever may a state prohibit or ban abortions at any point prior to viability.”

Of the Georgia law, “The Court is left with no other choice but to declare it unconstitutional,” Jones wrote.

The ruling is not surprising. Pro life advocates have expected that the Georgia law was passed in part with the intention of challenging the constitutionality of Supreme Court judgments that find or support a constitutional right to abortion, especially 1973’s Roe vs. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.

Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp said Monday the state would appeal the court’s ruling, which could lead to a Supreme Court hearing of the case.

“Georgia values life and we will keep fighting for the rights of the unborn,” Kemp said in a July 13 statement.

In May 2019, Kemp said upon signing the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act that it is “a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, that all life is worthy of protection.”

The law was blocked by a judge through a temporary order before it took effect. Abortion is currently legal in Georgia until the 20th week of a pregnancy.

The Catholic bishops of Georgia supported the legislation and thanked the governor for signing it into law.

Actress Alyssa Milano had called for a widespread entertainment industry boycott of the state of Georgia in response to the law’s passage. However, the boycott failed to materialize.

The court’s decision also touched upon a provision of the Georgia law that declared unborn babies at all stages of development the protections extended to “persons” in state law. Jones called the provision “unconstitutionally vague,”

“The State Defendants have been unable to articulate what this will mean for Plaintiffs and Georgians more generally,” Jones wrote.

Also in federal court on Monday, a DC judge suspended a requirement that women to must visit a physician in order to obtain abortion-causing drugs.  The judge said that during the pandemic, the requirement causes a “substantial obstacle” to women seeking abortions and must therefore be overturned.

"Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm," U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang wrote in his July 13 decision.

The decision does not allow mifepristone, an abortifacient, to be purchased over the counter. Rather, it allows medical providers to have the drug mailed or delivered to patients for as long as the federally declared public health emergency lasts, according to the Associated Press. FDA rules ordinarily require a patient to pick up a tablet of mifepristone at a medical office, and to be given information about risks associated with the medication.

Chuang’s decision came in a lawsuit filed in May by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, the Associated Press reported. The judge’s argument noted that other medications which must typically be taken in a doctor’s office can be taken at home during the pandemic.



Judge strikes down HHS rule on ‘abortion surcharge’ in health plan exchanges

Washington D.C., Jul 13, 2020 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- A federal judge has struck down a rule from the Trump administration requiring greater transparency for health insurance plans within the Affordable Care Act marketplaces that cover elective abortions.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled against a regulation introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services to require insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act to issue a separate bill and collect a separate payment for coverage of elective abortion.

Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act mandates that if a qualified health plan covers elective abortions, it must do so by collecting a payment separate from the standard premium, and depositing that payment into a separate account. The regulation was included as a compromise in the law to ensure it received the support necessary for its passage.

Critics, however, argued that Obama-era enforcement regulations were so permissive as to render the rules meaningless, allowing health insurers to collect an abortion surcharge without separately identifying it on monthly invoices or collecting it separately.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2014 found that many insurers were ignoring Section 1303’s requirements.

Pro-life advocates have called for greater transparency in order to prevent a “hidden abortion surcharge” which many enrollees may be unaware of when choosing a plan.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would require insurance to issue a separate bill and collect a separate payment for the abortion coverage.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland sued over the new regulation, saying it caused confusion and could lead insurance companies to stop covering elective abortions in order to avoid increases in cost and complications.

Judge Blake said the Affordable Care Act did not specify how to ensure abortion coverage payments would be separate. She said the Department of Health and Human Services failed to explain why its process was a more fitting solution than the previous regulations.

HHS did not comment on the ruling, but said it is reviewing the decision, the Washington Post reported.


After a devastating fire, Mission San Gabriel community vows to rebuild

Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 13, 2020 / 04:37 pm (CNA).- Reprinted with permission from Angelus News.

The fire that ravaged Mission San Gabriel Arcángel church in the predawn hours of Saturday, July 11, left behind a haunting scene.

In a matter of minutes, the mission’s 230-year-old roof was nearly gone. The sunlight pouring down through the holes revealed the charred planks that had crashed down on the church’s pews. The altar, along with the mission’s bell tower and museum were spared, but the thick adobe walls were blackened.

As bad as the damage is, it could have been worse. Because the church had been undergoing renovations, much of the artwork in the sanctuary, including historic paintings and other devotional artifacts, had been removed prior to the fire.

But for Anthony Morales, tribal chief of the San Gabrielino Mission Indians and a parishioner of San Gabriel, the damage was more than material.

“These are my roots,” said Morales, holding back tears as he surveyed the scene just hours after the fire had been contained. “This is my church. All my ancestors are buried in the cemetery next door. Six thousand of my ancestors are buried on these grounds, and this is the church that they built. It’s just very devastating.”

The devastation was just the latest blow to be suffered this year by Los Angeles’ oldest Catholic outpost.

As 2020 started, preparations were underway to celebrate a “Jubilee Year” leading to the 250th anniversary of St. Junípero Serra’s founding of the mission Sept. 8, 1771.

But that was before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the shutdown of California churches and a lockdown of the economy. Just several weeks before the fire, mission officials had decided reluctantly to postpone the jubilee plans for a year, while continuing work on much-needed renovations and improvements to the church.

As the church reopened for public Masses, along with others in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, waves of anti-racism protests had broken out across the country, protests that included attacks on public monuments and statues to controversial figures in U.S. history, including statues of St. Junípero, like those found on the mission’s campus.

Last month, statues to the California missionary were toppled in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, and the weekend before the fire, a long-standing St. Junípero statue outside the state Capitol building in Sacramento was felled.

That same weekend before the fire, San Gabriel staff had quietly removed one of St. Junípero’s statues from public view to keep it safe from possible vandalism.

The July 11 blaze at San Gabriel was part of a weekend that saw churches vandalized in other parts of the country. Statues to the Virgin Mary were damaged in Queens, New York, and in Boston; in Ocala, Florida, a man drove a minivan into a Catholic church before pouring gasoline in the foyer and setting fire to the building.

While there was no immediate word on the cause of the fire, investigators from a regional task force and from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent Saturday afternoon in the front of the mission, where the fire is believed to have started, City News Service reported July 12.

Local Catholics who showed up at the mission the next day to pray were suspicious. The timing of the fire, and the broader attacks on St. Junípero statues and other church properties, was too much of a coincidence for them.

“We don’t know how it happened, but it seems like the Church is under attack. There’s a lot of resentment and a lot of anger,” said Miguel Sanchez, president of the local “Knights of Bikes” chapter.

Sanchez and his fellow motorcycle-riding Knights of Columbus members were among the dozens who gathered outside the damaged church Sunday morning despite nearly triple digit temperatures to pray the rosary. Some came from as far as Orange and San Diego counties after word about the gathering spread through social media.

One of those was Barbara Quigley, a teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Downey. She said the lessons of her fourth-grade California history class were worth keeping in mind.
“I’m not a stranger to teaching my students that a lot of the missions have gone through earthquakes and fires, and they’ve been able to rebuild,” said Quigley, who drove from Anaheim to join the prayer group on Sunday morning.

“So I have full faith and confidence that our church will be able to restore the mission. It won't be the same, but [the mission] will still stay and we’ll be resilient.”

Resilience was the theme that morning inside the mission’s Chapel of the Annunciation, where the mission’s pastor, Father John Molyneux, CMF, made a bold pledge to Archbishop José Gomez.

“You will be back to celebrate our 250th anniversary in a rebuilt church,” Father Molyneux promised the archbishop at the start of Mass.

Archbishop Gomez had visited the mission just after the fire was contained and came back the next day to celebrate the Sunday Mass and to show solidarity with grieving parishioners.

In his homily, he sounded a hopeful tone.

“This fire changes nothing,” the archbishop said. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”

Archbishop Gomez invoked the intercession and example of the mission’s founder, St. Junípero, a Spanish missionary who advocated for the rights of California’s native peoples, including the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, who built San Gabriel.

“St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his word to this land,” he said. “Now it is our turn to make sure his word is proclaimed to the next generation.”

After the Mass, Kathleen and Elizabeth Chelling said they were encouraged by the archbishop’s message.

“I think that for a lot of years, there has been this kind of complacency in a lot of Catholic circles,” said Kathleen, who drove up from Orange County with her sister to participate in the rosary and stayed for Mass.

“I hope that these difficult times can serve as a wake-up call,” she added. “If you look at a lot of the saints’ lives, a lot of them came from time periods of difficulty. Instead of turning into despair or bitterness or walking away, they used it as motivation to go deeper.”

A tragedy like the fire, she added, “is a reminder of how deeply Jesus is needed.”

In a time of pandemic and economic recession, the task of rebuilding the historic church in time for the anniversary on Sept. 8 of next year will be daunting. But by the end of the Mass, the archbishop seemed ready to take Father Molyneux at his word.

“We are going to celebrate the 250th anniversary next year — for sure,”

Archbishop Gomez told parishioners, who responded with cheers. “And this is the beginning of the next 250 years.”


Congressmen want 'disturbing' death of Michael Hickson investigated

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Two members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the death of Michael Hickson, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a doctor informed his wife that he did not have a quality of life due to his brain injury and quadriplegia.

Mr. Hickson’s wife, Melissa, recorded a doctor at St. David’s South Austin Hospital in Austin, Texas, explaining that he would not be pursuing aggressive treatment of Hickson’s coronavirus due to his assessment of Hickson’s quality of life. Other patients who received the treatment, the doctor explained, were able to walk and talk, unlike Hickson. 

Hickson died on June 11, after being denied food, water, and medical treatments for five days. He died of complications related to coronavirus. He had contracted the coronavirus in the nursing home where he lived. 

On Saturday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), called for an investigation into Hickson’s death.

“My office is looking into this highly troubling story, where doctors appear to have denied potential life-saving treatment while saying aggressive treatment wouldn’t ‘help him improve’ & ‘right now, his quality of life . . . he doesn’t have much of one,’” Roy said on Twitter on July 11. 

On June 29, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) also tweeted that he found the audio recorded by Mrs. Hickson to be “very disturbing.”

“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Hickson’s death at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center should be immediately investigated,” he added. 

CNA requested comment from both congressional offices on either Hickson’s case or the calls for an investigation into St. David’s South Austin Hospital, neither responded by time of press. Castro and Roy’s districts are located near Austin, where Mr. Hickson died. 

A statement from St. David’s South Austin posted on their website in June offered condolences to the Hickson family, and assigned responsibility for decisions about Mr. Hickson’s care with his court-appointed guardian, Family Eldercare. 

"The loss of life is tragic under any circumstances. In Mr. Hickson’s situation, his court-appointed guardian (who was granted decision-making authority in place of his spouse) made the decision in collaboration with the medical team to discontinue invasive care,” said the statement.  

“This is always a difficult decision for all involved. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Hickson’s family and loved ones and to all who are grieving his loss.”

As of July 13, the statement from the hospital was no longer on their website. 

An updated statement emailed to CNA on July 2 from DeVry Anderson, M.D., the chief medical officer of St. David’s South Austin, claimed that Mr. Hickson was not treated differently due to his disability. 

“This was not a matter of hospital capacity. It had nothing to do with Mr. Hickson’s abilities or the color of his skin. We treat ALL patients equally. This was a man who was very, very ill and in multi-system organ failure. His legal guardian and his doctors worked together, consulting pulmonary and critical care specialists, to determine a care plan that was best for him,” said Anderson. 

Anderson described Mr. Hickson as “very, very ill” upon his arrival at the hospital, and in addition to COVID-19, he also had pneumonia in both lungs, a urinary tract infection, and sepsis. 

“Despite aggressive treatment and one-to-one care, Mr. Hickson went into multi-system organ failure,” said Anderson. He also developed “a number of complications,” including aspiration of the contents of his feeding tube.

“Aspiration has the potential to be fatal, especially for a patient in a weakened physical state, like Mr. Hickson, and this was the reason his tube feedings were discontinued,” he added.

Court halts scheduled federal executions

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 02:35 pm (CNA).-  

A federal court on Monday ordered a delay of the first scheduled federal execution in 17 years, along with other executions scheduled for this week, saying that the drug with which the federal court planned to commit the executions would likely cause extreme pain and suffering, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

On July 7, several U.S. bishops joined a statement of more than 1,000 faith leaders opposing the resumption of federal executions. And last week, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and several other bishops asked President Donald Trump to commute the death sentence of one federal inmate, who was scheduled to be executed on July 17. Tobin told the president that he knew the condemned inmate personally.

On July 13, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an injunction preventing the execution of Daniel Lee, 47, who was scheduled to die Monday afternoon at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The judge said that the federal government’s plan to execute Lee and other prisoners with pentobarbital was likely unconstitutional because “the scientific evidence before the court overwhelmingly indicates that the 2019 Protocol is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”

Chutkan wrote in her ruling that medical experts and witnesses of past executions testified that using pentobarbital for executions causes panic and the feeling of drowning, because of a buildup of fluid in the lungs.

“Eyewitness accounts of executions using pentobarbital describe inmates repeatedly gasping for breath or showing other signs of respiratory distress, and indicate that flash pulmonary edema is common and extremely painful,” Chuktan wrote.

The judge’s ruling is not final, it means that Lee can continue to challenge the proposed method of execution in court.

Lawyers for the federal Justice Department have appealed the ruling with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last summer, Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons to resume execution of federal prisoners on death row for the first time since 2003.

The inmates scheduled for execution are Daniel Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Alfred Bourgeois, convicted of the murders of children and adults and, in some cases, torture.

On July 9, Cardinal Tobin sent a letter to Trump on Thursday asking for clemency for Dustin Honken, who was convicted of the murder of five people, including a single mother and her two daughters aged ten and six years old, in 2004.

“I have known Mr. Honken for seven years,” Cardinal Tobin said, noting that he visited Honken several times a year at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, while Archbishop of Indianapolis from 2012 to 2017.

“His present spiritual guide, Father Mark O’Keefe, OSB, confirms that the spiritual growth in faith and compassion, which I had witnessed in our meetings some years ago, continues to this day,” Tobin wrote.

On July 7, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates who is the apostolic administrator of Joliet, Illinois, all joined more than 1,000 faith leaders in calling for a stop to scheduled executions of four federal death row inmates.

“As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions,” the statement read.

“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the faith leaders stated.

Bishop Pates issued his own statement in addition to the joint letter, saying that “[t]he Church believes that just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

Honken committed murders in Iowa; the state’s four Catholic bishops sent a letter on July 1 to Trump, asking for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

Tobin said on Thursday that Honken’s crimes are “heinous,” but that his execution “will do nothing to restore justice or heal those still burdened by these crimes.”

“Instead, his execution will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways,” Tobin wrote, noting that the use of the death penalty makes the United States an “outlier” in the world. 

“If his death sentence is commuted, Mr. Honken expects to spend his remaining days in prison,” Tobin wrote.

“By commuting this death sentence, you would help stem the tide of anger and revenge that threatens our country,” he told the president.


China sanctions U.S. religious freedom ambassador over Uyghurs

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- The Chinese government announced sanctions Monday against the U. S. ambassador for religious liberty as well as lawmakers who have repeatedly spoken out against the oppression of China’s Uyghur population. The country also issued sanctions against the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The sanctions against Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), were issued in retaliation for sanctions announced by the Trump administration last week against four Chinese officials as well as the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

Xinjiang is a province in northwestern China. It is home to most of the country’s Uyghurs.

The terms of the sanctions on the U.S. diplomat and legislators are not clear. On Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the United States of “interfering in China’s international affairs,” and defended the situation in Xinjiang as a domestic issue.

“I must point out the Xinjiang affairs are China’s internal affairs and the US has no right to interfere,” said Hua. 

Hua requested that the United States “immediately withdraw its wrong decision and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs or undermining China’s interests,” and that China “will make further reactions based on the development of the situation.” 

Reports by U.S. government agencies and human rights groups estimate anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs are now in a system of more than 1,300 detention camps set up by Chinese authorities, ostensibly for “re-education” purposes. Survivors have reported indoctrination, beatings, forced labor, and torture in the camps. China initially denied the camps existed, but was forced to officially admit their existence in 2018.

In a statement confirming the Chinese action July 13, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  said that “the United States will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.” 

The U.S. sanctions were announced July 9, citing  the individual’s “connections to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which reportedly include mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious abuses targeting Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, and other ethnic minorities in the region,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

The sanctions forbid any US national from engaging in business with the four officials and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. Any assets the officials held in the United States have been frozen, and they cannot visit or move to the United States. 

Rubio, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, made light of the sanctions, tweeting “I guess they don’t like me?” with a link to an article about the sanctions. 

The Florida Senator has been an outspoken supporter of the Uyghur population. In March, along with fellow target of sanctions Cruz, Rubio co-sponsored the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and in May he co-sponsored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. 

Cruz, who in 2018 co-sponsored a resolution condemning China’s persecution of religious minorities, also made jokes about the sanctions. 

“Bummer. I was going to take my family to Beijing for summer vacation, right after visiting Tehran,” tweeted Cruz on Monday. 

In a more serious response, Cruz said the Chinese Communist Party was “terrified and lashing out” by issuing the sanctions.

“They forced over one million Uighurs into concentration camps and engaged in ethnic cleansing, including horrific forced abortions and sterilzations,” said Cruz. “These are egregious human rights atrocities that cannot be tolerated.” 

Cruz added that he had no plans “to travel to the authoritarian regime that covered up the coronavirus pandemic and endangered millions of lives worldwide.” 

In February, Brownback said that China was the “best in the world” at religious persecution, and has been engaged in a “war with faith.” 

A June 29 report by AP found numerous Uyghurs have been imprisoned for the offense of having too many children, and women reported that there were frequent pregnancy checks, forced abortions, and forced implantations of IUDs and other contraceptive methods by Communist authorities. 

One expert told the Associated Press that the forced birth control campaign is “genocide, full stop.” 

“It’s not an immediate, shocking, mass-killing-on-the-spot-type genocide, but it’s a slow, painful, creeping genocide,” Dr. Joanne Smith Finley, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

China has engaged in an extensive network of detention camps for religious and ethnic minorities. The Chinese government claims that the camps are purportedly to prevent the spread of terrorism in the region. Numerous leaked files have revealed that many are sent to the camps for the “crimes” of following traditional Islamic practices like fasting, or for conspicuously religious dress. 

A leaked manual for the operation of the camps showed that there is a heavy emphasis on assimilating the Uyghur population into the customs of the Han ethnic group. This includes forced intermarriage between Uyghur women and Han men.