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Kansas Catholic Conference says Medicaid expansion needs pro-life revisions

Topeka, Kansas, Nov 19, 2019 / 12:17 am (CNA).- As Kansas considers expanding its Medicaid program, the state’s Catholic Conference said its support is contingent upon the establishment of pro-life safeguards.

Last week, the Special Committee on Medicaid Expansion - a joint House and Senate panel - held two days of hearings discussing an expansion of KanCare.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said in his Nov. 12 testimony that the conference cannot support the legislation unless it explicitly excludes the expansion of abortion coverage, includes conscience protections for healthcare organizations and individuals, and a state constitutional amendment is enacted to clarify that abortion is not a natural right.

There are currently an estimated 400,000 people enrolled in Medicaid in Kansas. The Medicaid expansion bill would extend eligibility to an additional 130,000 low-income adults and children, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

April Holman, executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a coalition supporting the expansion, said there is an insurance gap where people cannot afford private health insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Weber said the current healthcare system needs to be revised, noting that hospital emergency rooms are required to accept all patients, and therefore become the primary healthcare access point for many uninsured people, which raises costs for everyone.

Even for those with health insurance, he said,  rapidly rising deductibles may lead to “crushing debt.”

But while the system needs to be updated, Weber said the proposal for Medicaid expansion presents “scientific and ethical” concerns.

The Kansas Catholic Conference will not support a Medicaid expansion proposal unless it clearly excludes expanding abortion coverage and includes conscience protections for healthcare institutions and professionals, he said.

In addition, the conference believes Kansas must adopt a state constitutional amendment clarifying that abortion is not a “natural right.” The conference believes this is necessary due to the Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt ruling earlier this year, in which the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a “natural right.”

Weber said the ruling established a right to “virtually unlimited abortion” and used radical language that may provide a legal gateway into physician-assisted suicide and irreversible gender transition procedures.

“This ruling raises the specter of publicly funded surgical and chemical abortion,” he said. “The medical community, not an unfettered and unregulated abortion industry, best provides authentic healthcare for vulnerable women and babies.”

During the hearing, the special committee approved a motion by Rep. Will Carpenter (R-El Dorado) to enable health care providers to decline treatments for reasons of conscience, and stating that the proposed expansion of Medicaid would not broaden abortion access, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

 

China defends detention of Muslims in Xinjiang

Urumqi, China, Nov 18, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Chinese government is defending its policy of mass detention and re-education of Muslims in the country's northwest as an appropriate measure against terrorism, following a New York Times report that showed the direct involvement of senior government officials in ordering the policy.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, criticized the newspaper’s report Nov. 18, saying it smeared China’s efforts against extremism, but not disputing the authenticity of the leaked documents, The Times reported Monday.

The Xinjiang government said the earlier Times article was “completely fabricated by hostile forces at home and abroad … America’s New York Times has again fabricated and concocted fake news about Xinjiang. This is nothing more than getting up to its old tricks, and is completely unworthy of refutation. This despicable conduct will surely be met with the contempt of wiser minds in the international community.”

The Times reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping laid the groundwork for the development of the mass detentions in a series of private speeches to officials in 2014 in which he called for “absolutely no mercy” toward 'terrorists'.

In Urumqi on April 30, 2014, Xi said that “the psychological impact of extremist religious thought on people must never be underestimated. People who are captured by religious extremism — male or female, old or young — have their consciences destroyed, lose their humanity and murder without blinking an eye.”

In another speech in Xinjiang, Xi stated: “There must be effective educational remolding and transformation of criminals … even after these people are released, their education and transformation must continue.”

According to the Times, 403 pages of documents, nearly half of which were speeches from Xi and other leaders, were leaked to it “by a member of the Chinese political establishment who … expressed hope that their disclosure would prevent party leaders, including Mr. Xi, from escaping culpability for the mass detentions.”

Among the documents, the Times said, are a model script for officials encountering returning university students who ask what has happened to their disappeared family members.

In the script from officials in Turpan, 120 miles southeast of Urumqi, the students were to be told that if their family members “don’t undergo study and training, they’ll never thoroughly and fully understand the dangers of religious extremism … No matter what age, anyone who has been infected by religious extremism must undergo study.”

The students would be told to “treasure this chance for free education that the party and government has provided to thoroughly eradicate erroneous thinking, and also learn Chinese and job skills,” which “offers a great foundation for a happy life for your family.”

If the students asked if their relatives had committed any crime, they were to be told that while they hadn't, “it is just that their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts … freedom is only possible when this 'virus' in their thinking is eradicated and they are in good health.”

The documents also detail the government's reaction to officials deemed to be inadequately zealous in the repression of the Uighurs.

Wang Yongzhi was appointed to run Yarkant county, 830 miles southwest of Urumqi, in 2014. Wang had detention facilities built which housed 20,000 people, but expressed misgivings about the policy, and released some 7,000 internees. After that, he was “detained, stripped of power and prosecuted” in 2017, according to the Times.

Xinjiang has experienced some terrorist attacks, including a massive knife attack at a train station in 2014 in which 31 people were killed and 141 wounded, but the Chinese government has repressed reports about the extent of the attacks, the Times reports.

The main victims of the Chinese crackdown on Muslims in the region are an ethnic group called the Uighurs. An estimated 1 million Uighurs have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang in the past three years, as part of a widespread effort by the government to “Sinicize” religion in the country.

Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uighurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The Chinese government at one time denied the camps even existed, but has since shifted to defending its actions as a reasonable response to a national security threat.

Government officials from the region said in July that the area's re-education camps for Muslims have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

Uighurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

During a Sept. 23 UN event on religious freedom, US vice president Mike Pence mentioned that “the Communist Party in China has arrested Christian pastors, banned the sale of Bibles, demolished churches, and imprisoned more than a million Uighurs in the Muslim population,” and a fact sheet issued by the White House said the administration “is deeply concerned” for the interned Uighurs.

And the US State Department hosted a panel on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Sept. 24 to draw attention to the “human rights crisis in Xinjiang,” where partipants heard first-hand accounts of repression of Muslim groups in Xinjiang.

John Sullivan, deputy secretary of state, said at the panel that “The UN must seek the immediate, unhindered, and unmonitored access to Xinjiang for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The United Nations, including its member states, have a responsibility to stand up for the human rights of people everywhere, including Muslims in Xinjiang. We urge the UN to investigate and closely monitor China’s rights abuses, including the repression of religious freedom and belief.”

“We cannot be the only guardians of the truth nor the only members of the international community to call out China and demand that they stop,” Sullivan stated.

Pakistan is among the few Muslim-majority countries to have warned against the escalating persecution of the Uighurs.

The US Commerce Department in October added 28 Chinese organizations to a blacklist barring them from buying products from US companies, saying they cooperate in the detention and repression of the Uighurs.

Washington DC drops bill to legalize sex trade

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A bill to legalize the buying and selling of sex in Washington, DC, will not move forward after widespread opposition and concern that the bill lacked enough support of the city council to be passed. 

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318) would have made the capital the first city in the United States to fully legalize prostitution. 

Councilman David Grosso (I-At Large), who authored the bill, said that he knew it would be an “uphill battle” to become law in D.C., but that he has not given up the issue. The Washington Post reported that Grosso thinks the bill should instead be placed on the ballot in the district and voted on by city residents. 

On November 1, Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who leads the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which hosted a hearing on the bill, told local media WAMU9 that the council would not vote on B23-0318 this year. 

“There were incredibly sharp divisions about what the path forward would look like,” said Allen. “It did not seem to be consensus at all, and I don’t hear the support from my colleagues.”

Despite the lack of further action on the bill, Allen said that he thought it had sparked a “very important conversation” that had given “a lot of voice to a community that is already very marginalized.” 

On October 17, D.C. Council held a 14-hour hearing that included passionate testimony from people on both sides of the issue. Testifying against passing the bill included the Archdiocese of Washington, former sex workers, and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and current sex workers in DC were among the many who testified in favor of the bill’s passage. 

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) reported that the majority of the feedback his office had received about the bill was negative. He rejected claims that he had somehow rigged the DC Council to be against the legalization of prostitution. 

Mendelson said the controversy over B23-0318 was “unusually large” and that it is very rare for a hearing to stretch 14 hours with many people opposed to the bill.

“We will continue to look for ways to best serve the interest of victims,” said Mendelson. “Addressing the issue of prostitution again in this form seems unlikely.”

Venerable Fulton Sheen to be beatified in December

Peoria, Ill., Nov 18, 2019 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Peoria announced Monday that Venerable Fulton Sheen will be beatified Dec. 21 at the city's Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

Sheen had been ordained a priest of the diocese in that cathedral Sept. 20, 1919.

“It seems entirely fitting that the Beatification will take place at the end of this 100-year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood,” the Peoria diocese stated Nov. 18.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was 24 when he was ordained a priest.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen was a beloved television catechist during the 1950s and '60s in the United States. His television show “Life is Worth Living” reached an audience of millions.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgated a decree July 6 recognizing a miracle attributed to Sheen's intercession, which allowed for his beatification.

The miracle involves the unexplained recovery of James Fulton Engstrom, a boy born apparently stillborn in September 2010 to Bonnie and Travis Engstrom of the Peoria-area town of Goodfield. He showed no signs of life as medical professionals tried to revive him. The child’s mother and father prayed to Archbishop Sheen to heal their son.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

The beatification follows legal battles in civil courts over the location of Sheen's body.

His corpse was transferred to the Peoria cathedral June 27 after a protracted series of suits.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

In September 2014, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended Sheen’s cause on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Peoria cathedral.

Our Lady unites the divided into the faithful, Cordileone says

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Mary unites all of God’s children, sparking conversions among those of different faiths, said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco on Saturday, Nov. 16.

The archbishop pointed to Mary as a force for conversion and unity among different peoples at the first-ever Mass of the Americas in the Extraordinary Form, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. 

“This Mass we celebrate today, the ‘Mass of the Americas,’ speaks profoundly to the power of our Mother to unite her children,” said Cordileone in his homily. “She stands there in every generation of the Church, interceding to her Son for her children, actively leading them to him, united as one in him.” 

The Mass of the Americas is a “twinned tribute” to both Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It was commissioned by the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, and was first celebrated Dec. 8, 2018, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since its debut, it has gone on a “Marian unity tour” throughout North America, which included a stop in Washington, DC. 

The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship’s website states that it is an organization dedicated to “open[ing] the door of Beauty to God” through providing resources for “more beautiful and reverent liturgies” as well as “energizing a Catholic culture of the arts.” 

It was no accident that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as a mixed-race woman who could appeal both to native Mexicans and the Spanish settlers, and that her image resulted in the conversion of an entire country, explained Cordileone. 

“She appeared at a time of great conflict, turbulence and bloodshed, to form a new Christian people for her Son, not by the sword nor by human sacrifice, but by the love of a mother who identifies herself with her children,” he said. 

“After [the apparition] Mexico became Catholic: Our Lady of Guadalupe unites the Old World and the New, and so a new Christian people is formed from the two, a mestizo people; a new Christian civilization is born from the union brought about by her who is venerated as both la Morenita and la Inmaculada,” the archbishop said.

Cordileone also spoke about how the Church is open to all, regardless of their material worth, and that it is a chance for people to satisfy the innate human hunger for beauty. The archbishop pointed to the Extraordinary Form liturgy, music, and vestments as a form of assisting humanity in their desire for beautiful things. 

“Perhaps what the poor most lack in their lives is beauty: being dignified by that beauty which ennobles and elevates the soul, assuring them of their equal dignity as a fellow child of God whom God created in His image and likeness,” said Cordileone. 

Poverty, said the archbishop, is not just limited to a lack of material goods. “There is also spiritual poverty, a poverty of the soul. The absence of beauty and prevalence of the ugly eventually corrupts a soul, leading to spiritual misery,” he said.

Evidence of this spiritual poverty is found in increasing rates of depression, “irrational intolerance” of people with differing views, and predation of the less fortunate, he said. Despite living in the United States, “the most affluent society in the history of the world,” America is still overrun with “Anger, division, injustice and depression.” 

The Church’s three transcendentals of beauty, truth, and goodness are one way to combat this divide.

“We are happy to come together today to offer something beautiful to God and to express our love for the Mother of His Son: we give our best, because we are motivated by love, which settles for nothing less,” he said. 

“And here our Blessed Mother is once again uniting us: the poor with the well-to-do and the in between, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”

Pope, Abu Dhabi crown prince make joint commitment to improving health of the poor

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nov 18, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- In a joint statement signed Monday, Pope Francis and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, committed to helping improve the health of those who live in impoverished communities.

The statement was signed in Abu Dhabi on their behalf Nov. 18 by Archbishop Francisco Padilla, apostolic nuncio to the United Arab Emirates, and Mohamed Mubarak Al Mazrouei, the crown prince's undersecretary.

“We reaffirm our mutual cooperation towards the improvement of the health and wellbeing of communities in need,” they said. “This cooperation stems from a belief that every person, no matter their background, has the right to live a dignified and healthy life.”

The statement was made on the occasion of the Reaching the Last Mile forum held in Abu Dhabi, an initiative of Al Nahyan's that works to eradicate preventable diseases like polio, malaria, and guinea worm disease from poor communities.

Such preventable diseases often spread as a result of “the poverty and social vulnerability of the most marginalized members of society,” the statement noted.

The pope and the crown prince called for renewed efforts on the parts of states to improve the health and medical resources available to all of their citizens, including the most marginalized. They also called on the international community to commit to improving the health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations throughout the world.

“One such area of focus is the fight to end Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), which affect more than 1.5 billion of the world’s population,” they said.

According to the World Health Organization, NTDs are “a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries.”

“Faced with diseases that today can be monitored, prevented and eliminated, there is a need for greater efforts on the parts of all to coordinate available resources in order to achieve adequate solutions,” Pope Francis and Al Nahyan said.

“This will also demand an interdisciplinary, socio-medical and environmental approach. Guaranteeing the right to treatment for all people is paramount. We therefore fully support the Reaching the Last Mile Fund and its work in treating and monitoring of NTDs, and in the future will continue to collaborate on other global health initiatives,” they said.

“Finally, we trust in the solidarity of all people who understand the sufferings of those in situations of great need in neglected and disadvantaged parts of the world, so that this needless scourge afflicting humanity may be eradicated once and for all.”

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Pope Francis visited the city in February, to promote interreligious dialogue and give support to the UAE's Christian minority. He was invited by Al Nahyan, and while there he signed a peace declaration on human fraternity with Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, which stated that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

What the cluck? Chick-Fil-A sauces Christian charities

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 01:45 pm (CNA).- American fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A has announced it will stop donating to two large faith-based charitable organizations, after years of criticism from LGBT groups.

On Monday, the Chick-Fil-A Foundation announced the organizations it would donate to in 2020. Notably, the foundation will no longer donate to the Salvation Army or to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Instead, the foundation has pledged $9 million each to Junior Achievement, Covenant House International, and local food banks near new Chick-Fil-A locations. 

“The Foundation will no longer make multi-year commitments and will reassess its philanthropic partnerships annually to allow maximum impact,” said the Chick-Fil-A Foundation in a press release. “These partners could include faith-based and non-faith-based charities.” 

Previously, the Chick-Fil-A Foundation had donated to support the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and had signed multi-year commitments with each organization. According to a statement provided to Business Insider from Chick-Fil-A, those deals were fulfilled in 2018 and were not renewed. 

The donations to Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes were earmarked for specific programs that would assist underprivileged children.

Both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army promote the Biblical belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Fellowship of Christian Athletes includes on its application for employment the organization's belief that God does not approve of same-sex relationships or premarital sex. 

The Salvation Army denies allegations that it is an anti-gay organization, and says that its charitable services are available to all, regardless of sexual orientation. 

Chick-Fil-A has faced considerable controversy regarding its past charitable donations. In 2012, after the founder of Chick-Fil-A stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, there were calls for a nationwide boycott of the chain. This boycott largely failed, and Chick-Fil-A is now the third-largest restaurant chain in the country in terms of systemwide sales, trailing only McDonald’s and Starbucks. 

After the outcry in 2012, Chick-Fil-A announced that it would no longer be supporting some  organizations link to traditional views on marriage through its WinShape Foundation. The chain continued to provide support for both the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

Chick-Fil-A’s donation history has been cited in efforts to block the restaurant from opening locations in San Antonio and Buffalo’s airports. The opening of the company’s first restaurant in United Kingdom was met with extended protests by LGBT campaigners. The owners of the U.K. shopping center hosting the Chick-Fil-A announced that the lease would not be renewed after the six month trial. 

Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays to give the chain’s workers a chance to attend religious services and be with their families.

Lawsuit filed over latest New York abortion law

Albany, N.Y., Nov 18, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Several pro-life organizations in New York have sued the state over a law they say targets pro-life and religious employers, barring them from reflecting their core beliefs in hiring policies.

“No government has the right to tell pro-life or religious organizations they must hire someone who doesn’t agree with their core mission,” Ken Connelly, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, said Monday. ADF is representing the plaintiffs in the case.

On Novemebr 14, a New York-based crisis pregnancy center and Baptist church, along with a national association of pregnancy care centers, filed a lawsuit over New York’s new law SB 660, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on November 8. 

The law bars employers from enforcing certain codes of conduct or belief in the workplace with regard to “reproductive rights,” and requires them to inform employees of their right to abortions without fear of any workplace retaliatory action.

The law, plaintiffs say, singles out pro-life and religious employers by refusing to exempt them. It forces these organizations to continue employ people who may have publicly defied the mission of an organization—for example, an employee at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center who has an abortion, or a church employee who publicly opposes the teachings of that church on abortion or marriage.

“New York is directly demeaning religious pro-life pregnancy centers and other faith-based organizations—like religious schools, Catholic hospitals, and even churches—by ordering them to violate their beliefs in key personnel and leadership decisions,” Connelly said.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include CompassCare, a Rochester-based pregnancy center, First Bible Baptist Church in Hilton, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), an association of pregnancy care centers which has 41 member centers in New York.

Under SB 660, employers are prevented from taking adverse action against employees for “reproductive health” decisions such as having abortions. In addition, they cannot require employees to sign any document conditioning their employment upon such decisions, such as workplace codes of conduct prohibiting having an abortion.

This would mean that religious institutes and pro-life organizations, among others, could not institute workplace codes of conduct prohibiting abortion, nor could they terminate the employment of employees for having an abortion, in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure, or vasectomy.

Under the law, employers would have to notify employees of their rights in this regard, in workplace handbooks.

“SB 660 intentionally and by design sacrifices the associational, speech, and religious freedom of employers in New York State—including religious non-profits, churches, and schools— to the government’s desire to promote abortion rights by gutting the ability of pro-life employers to hire to their pro-life missions,” the plaintiffs’ brief states.

“To fulfill their missions, Plaintiffs hire employees who agree with, personally adhere to, and effectively convey organizational beliefs regarding reproductive health decisions, including but not limited to decisions related to abortion, contraceptive use, and sexual morality,” the brief says.

The bill was supported by Planned Parenthood as a measure that would protect women’s access to abortion.

“Gov. Cuomo’s message to pro-life New Yorkers is loud and clear: The abortion agenda of Planned Parenthood trumps the lives of the unborn, and anyone who disagrees will be forced to bow to the state’s orthodoxy by force of law,” Connelly said.

A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo told CNA that the governor “enacted the law to ensure employers cannot discriminate or interfere in the personal medical and reproductive health care decisions of employees, and we will vigorously defend the law and the important protections it provides to all New Yorkers."

The spokesman called the lawsuit "frivolous and quite frankly ridiculous, and we expect it to be dismissed by the court."

Cuomo, a Catholic, has signed into law a series of pro-abortion bills in 2019, of which SB 660 is the latest.

On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the state legislature passed—and Gov. Cuomo signed—the Reproductive Health Act (SB 240) to applause from observers in the gallery. The law granted almost unlimited access to abortion in New York.

The law codified Roe to keep abortion legal if the decision is overturned by the Supreme Court, and allowed abortions after 24 weeks gestation in cases of a lack of “fetal viability” or when the mother’s health is at risk—a broad exemption that critics said could allow for many abortions-on-demand up until the birth of the child.

Doctors would not have conscience rights to object to performing abortions, and abortions could be performed by non-doctors under the law, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York noted after the law’s passage.

Albany bishop Edward Scharfenberger warned that Catholic legislators’ support for the bill “threatens to rupture” their “communion” with the Church, and separately wrote Gov. Cuomo that “[a]lthough in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should ‘stand with Pope Francis,’ your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our Church.”

This year, Cuomo also signed a law requiring contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in employee health plans.

Witnesses better than initiatives in parish-based evangelization, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 09:57 am (CNA).- Having a lot of parish initiatives is not the best way to reach people on a deeper level, Pope Francis said Monday, adding that evangelization is about giving a witness to personal encounter with Christ.

“Our parishes are invaded by many initiatives, where often, however, it does not affect the lives of people in depth,” he said Nov. 18 in the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI hall.

Speaking to Catholics who take part in “parish cells,” small, neighborhood-based prayer and study groups in Italy, he said, “you too are entrusted with the task of reviving, especially in this period, the life of our parish communities.”

“This will be possible insofar as [parishes] become, above all, a place to listen to the Word of God and celebrate the mystery of his death and resurrection,” he explained. “Only from here can we think that the work of evangelization becomes effective and fruitful, capable of bearing fruit.”

He noted that many people, for different reasons, are no longer attending their parish, arguing that “it is therefore urgent that we recover the need for the encounter to reach people where they live and work.”

“If we have encountered Christ in our lives, then we cannot just keep it for ourselves. It is crucial that we share this experience also with others; this is the main road to evangelization,” he said. “When the encounter is the fruit of Christian love, it changes lives because it reaches the hearts of people and touches them in depth.”

Parish cells are a ministry begun by Msgr. Michael Eivers, an Irish priest who served as a missionary in Nigeria before becoming a parish priest in Miami. Eivers died in 2017 at the age of 87. Parish cells can now be found around the world.

The pope urged Catholics to “never tire of following the paths that the Spirit of the Risen Lord” puts before them, including initiatives which allow for a deep witness of Christian discipleship, but he warned against expecting to always see the fruits of one’s evangelical labors.

Though it is human to want to see positive outcomes and results, he reminded Catholics that there is no promise from the Lord they will see them.

“Jesus did not tell the disciples that they would see the fruits of their work. He only assured that the fruits would endure. This promise also applies to us,” he stated.

“Do not hold back any fear of the new, and do not slow down your steps [among] the difficulties that are inevitable in the way of evangelization,” he added.

“When one is a missionary disciple, then enthusiasm can never fail!”

Pope Francis calls use of nuclear weapons 'immoral' ahead of Japan trip

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 05:01 am (CNA).- In a video message to the country of Japan Nov. 18, Pope Francis said he prays that the power of nuclear weapons will never again be used in the world.

Japan “is very aware of the suffering caused by war,” the pope said in his native Spanish. “Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history. Using nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Pope Francis will be in Japan Nov. 23-26, part of a six-day trip which will begin in Bangkok, Thailand.

In addition to Tokyo, the pope will travel to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he is expected to speak about peace and against the use of nuclear weapons at memorials to the victims of the 1946 atomic bombings.

He will also meet with victims of Japan’s “triple disaster,” when a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The theme of the visit to Japan is “protect all life.”

In his video message, Francis said “this strong instinct, which resonates in our hearts, to defend the value and dignity of every human person, acquires particular importance in the face of threats to the peaceful coexistence that the world has to face today, especially in armed conflicts.”

Pope Francis has been vocal in his opposition to nuclear arms throughout his pontificate. In a message to the United Nations in March 2017, he said their total elimination is both “a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative.”

Catholics make up less than .5% of people in Japan, a largely secular country where most of the population identifies as Buddhist or Shinto.

The pope said cooperation between religions is important for peace, and he hopes his visit will encourage people “on the path of mutual respect and encounter that leads to a safe and lasting peace that does not go back in time.”

“Peace is that beautiful, that when it is real, it does not recede: it is defended with teeth,” he said.

Francis is also expected to speak about care for the environment while in Japan. He said he wants to promote a protection of life “which includes the earth, our common home,” symbolized in the beauty of Japanese cherry blossoms.

He will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981.

This will be Francis’ 32nd international trip in his over six years as pope. Japan and Thailand will be his seventh foreign trip of 2019, and 10th and 11th countries visited this year.