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Pope Francis in Slovakia: Our Lady of Sorrows teaches us compassion for the suffering

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the esplanade of the National Shrine in Šaštin, Slovakia, Sept. 15, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 15, 2021 / 04:46 am (CNA).

At Slovakia’s national Catholic shrine on Wednesday, Pope Francis said that Our Lady of Sorrows is a model of how to live the faith with compassion and care for the suffering.

“Mary, Mother of Sorrows, remains at the foot of the Cross. She simply stands there. She does not run away, or try to save herself, or find ways to alleviate her grief,” the pope said during Mass on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Here,” he said, “is the proof of true compassion: to remain standing beneath the Cross. To stand there weeping, yet with the faith that knows that, in her Son, God transfigures pain and suffering and triumphs over death.”

On the final day of his visit to Slovakia, Pope Francis offered the live-streamed Mass outside the country’s National Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in the young town of Šaštín. According to local authorities, around 60,000 people attended the Mass.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Francis, who himself has a special devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, said in his homily: “In contemplating the Sorrowful Mother, may we too open our hearts to a faith that becomes compassion, a faith that identifies with those who are hurting, suffering and forced to bear heavy crosses.”

The basilica in Šaštín was built to honor the image of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, a figure so important to the people of Slovakia that Pope Pius XI declared her the country’s patroness in 1927.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The image of the Virgin Mary has also attracted pilgrim visitors such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II. The Polish pope offered Mass for 200,000 people in front of the basilica on July 1, 1995, during the second of the three trips he made to Slovakia as pope.

Pope Francis began his first visit to the Catholic-majority country on Sept. 12, after spending most of the day in Budapest, Hungary, where he celebrated the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress and met Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

atican Media.
atican Media.

In Slovakia, he met political authorities, bishops, religious, and priests in the capital city of Bratislava. He also visited a center for the poor and homeless run by the Missionaries of Charity in one of the city’s most impoverished suburbs.

The pope later met with young people, celebrated a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, and spoke to the minority Roma community in the Luník IX ghetto in eastern Slovakia.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his homily on Sept. 15, Francis urged Slovakians to follow the example of Mary when she visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, living their faith as a mission to be carried out.

“For you, the Slovakian people, the Blessed Virgin is a model of faith: a faith that involves journeying, a faith inspired by simple and sincere devotion, a constant pilgrimage to seek the Lord,” he said.

“In making this journey, you overcome the temptation to a passive faith, content with this or that ritual or ancient tradition,” the pope continued. “Instead, you leave yourselves behind and set out, carrying in your backpacks the joys and sorrows of this life, and thus make your life a pilgrimage of love towards God and your brothers and sisters.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Thank you for this witness. And please, persevere on this journey. Do not stop,” he said, to an outbreak of applause.

Pope Francis also said that the “faith cannot be reduced to a sweetener to make life more palatable,” urging Slovakian Catholics to not remain lukewarm about Jesus and to be “signs of contradiction” within the world.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Slovakia needs “Christians who can demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel by the way they live,” he said. “Christians who are weavers of dialogue where hostility is growing; models of fraternal life where society is experiencing tension and hostility; bringers of the sweet fragrance of hospitality and solidarity where personal and collective selfishness too often prevails, protectors and guardians of life where the culture of death reigns.”

“In contemplating the Sorrowful Virgin Mary, may we too open our hearts to a faith that becomes compassion, a faith that identifies with those who are hurting, suffering, and forced to bear heavy crosses,” he said.

“A faith that does not remain abstract, but becomes incarnate in fellowship with those in need,” he concluded. “A faith that imitates God’s way of doing things, quietly relieves the suffering of our world and waters the soil of history with salvation.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord always preserve in you wonderment and gratitude for the great gift of faith. And may Mary Most Holy obtain for you the grace of a faith that ever sets out anew, is deeply prophetic and abounds in compassion.”

Papal visit pool.
Papal visit pool.

Before Mass, Pope Francis prayed with Slovakia’s bishops inside the basilica, reciting a prayer of entrustment to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.

“Mother of the Church, Consoler of the Afflicted, with confidence we turn to you, in the joys and struggles of our ministry,” they prayed. “Look upon us with tenderness and open your arms to embrace us.”

“Queen of the Apostles, Refuge of Sinners, you know our human limitations, our spiritual failings, our sorrow in the face of loneliness and abandonment: with your gentle touch heal our wounds.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

After Mass, the last appointment of his trip before returning to Rome, Pope Francis gave his final message, noting that “the time has now come for me to take leave of your country.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In this Eucharist, I gave thanks to God for having allowed me to come among you and to conclude my pilgrimage in the devoted embrace of your people, celebrating together the great religious and national feast of your Patroness, the Virgin Mother of Sorrows.”

“I am grateful to all who, in different ways, have cooperated in this pilgrimage, above all by their prayers,” he said. “I carry you in my heart.”

Urgent prayers needed for kidnapped Nigerian priest

Father Benson Bulus Luka was kidnapped from his parish residence in Nigeria’s Kafanchan Diocese on Sept. 13, 2021.Kafanchan Diocese / Kafanchan Diocese

Kafanchan, Nigeria, Sep 14, 2021 / 20:00 pm (CNA).

Prayers are being sought for the quick and safe release of a Catholic priest, Father Benson Bulus Luka, kidnapped from his parish residence in Nigeria’s Kafanchan Diocese.

“It is with great pain that we announce to you the kidnapping of our Priest, Rev. Fr. Benson Bulus Luka,” the Chancellor of Kafanchan Diocese, Father Emmanuel Uchechukwu, said in a statement shared with ACI Africa Sept. 14.

As Fr. Uchechukwu explained, “The sad event occurred on Monday, September 13, 2021 at about 8.45 p.m. He was abducted from his residence at St. Matthew's Catholic Church, Anchuna, in Zango Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State.”

Fr. Uchechukwu urged “intense prayer” for the priest’s safe return.

“While we solicit for an intense prayer for his quick and safe release, we equally wish to call on all and sundry to refrain from taking the laws into their hands,” Fr. Uchechukwu said. “We will use every legitimate means to ensure his quick and safe release.”

Nigeria has been experiencing insecurity since 2009 when the Boko Haram insurgency began with the aim of turning the country into an Islamic state.

Since then, the group, one of largest Islamist groups in Africa, has been orchestrating indiscriminate terrorist attacks on various targets, including religious and political groups, as well as civilians.

The insecurity in the country has worsened, also, due to the involvement of predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also referred to as the Fulani Militia, who have been clashing frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.

In his Sept. 14 statement, the Chancellor of Kafanchan Diocese implored, “May Jesus crucified on the Cross, listen to our prayers and hasten the unconditional release of His Priest and all other kidnapped persons.”

The latest abduction of Fr. Benson Bulus Luka follows a series of other kidnappings of members of the clergy in Africa’s most populous nation.

In April, gunmen kidnapped Father Izu Marcel Onyeocha, a member of the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Claretians). He was later freed.

In May, St. Vincent Ferrer Malunfashi Catholic Parish of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese was attacked and two priests kidnapped. One of them, Father Alphonsus Bello, a 33-year-old Fidei Donum priest incardinated in Nigeria’s Kaduna Archdiocese, was killed. The other priest, Fr. Joe Keke, 75, was later released.

In July, a priest serving in Nigeria’s Maiduguri Diocese, Father Elijah Juma Wada, was abducted and later escaped after spending nine days with his captors.

Last month, Catholic Bishops in Nigeria decried the rise in cases of abductions, killings, and property destruction, calling upon the government to “take full responsibility for the present culture of violence.”

“Deaths in the hands of kidnappers, killer herdsmen, bandits, terrorist groups have made Nigeria one of the most terrorized countries in the world,” members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) said in an Aug. 26 statement.

While recognizing the efforts being made by relevant authorities to tackle insecurity in the West African nation, Catholic leaders underscored the need for the Muhammadu Buhari-led government “to show more strategic commitment and sincerity in this fight and take full responsibility for the present culture of violence and impunity in the country.”

“The Government must be balanced and seen to be so in its response to the challenges of insecurity in every segment of the citizenry,” the Catholic Bishops in Nigeria said in their communiqué following their Aug. 19-27 second Plenary Assembly held in Nigeria’s Enugu Diocese.

Judge temporarily blocks New York vaccine mandate, lacking religious exemption, for medical workers

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Syracuse, N.Y., Sep 14, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A federal court on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against a New York state COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which disallowed religious exemptions, after a group of anonymous medical professionals filed suit against the governor and her administration. 

Then-governor Andrew Cuomo announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all medical workers in the state in August, with a deadline of Sept. 27 to be fully inoculated. The mandate covers staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, adult care facilities, and other care settings, and did not include a religious exemption.  

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group, is representing a group of 17 medical professionals who claim the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and who have chosen to remain anonymous. They are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the mandate. 

In the ruling from the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, issued Sept. 14, Judge David Hurd wrote that the New York Department of Health is “barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward.” 

The state has until Sept. 22 to respond to the temporary restraining order. 

The Thomas More Society says the plaintiffs include doctors, nurses, a medical technician and physician’s liaison, and that they are “now facing termination from employment, loss of hospital admitting privileges, and the destruction of their careers, unless they consent to be vaccinated against their will with vaccines that contradict their sincere religious beliefs.”

Many states have introduced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and teachers. President Joe Biden announced last week that he had directed the Department of Labor to draft a rule that would require employees at all companies with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or face weekly testing. 

Bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection to cell lines derived from fetal tissue likely derived from a baby aborted decades ago. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested on the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the cell lines both in production and testing.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoing guidance from the Vatican, has since stated that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of their remote connection with abortion, but if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love."

The bishops of South Dakota and of Colorado have explicitly expressed support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions, while in contrast, many bishops in California, as well as in Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia, have instructed clergy not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines, stating that there is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds. 

The Chicago archdiocese, along with the Diocese of El Paso, has introduced its own vaccine mandate for employees.

The five bishops in Wisconsin in late August issued a statement encouraging vaccination against COVID-19, while maintaining that people ought not be forced to accept a COVID vaccine. The bishops added that, in the cases of Catholics conscientiously objecting to receiving a vaccine, clergy should not be intervening on their behalf. 

Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample and Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly have both decreed similar policies, stating that any Catholic seeking an exemption places the burden on the individual’s conscience rather than on Church approval, and thus priests of their dioceses are not allowed to vouch for the conscience of another person in seeking an exemption from a vaccine mandate. 

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, has been vocal about its opposition to mandatory immunization for COVID-19. While acknowledging that reception of COVID-19 vaccines is morally permissible, the center has maintained support for the rights of Catholics to refuse the vaccines because of conscience-based concerns.

Thousands demonstrate outside Mexico's Supreme Court to defend life, reject abortion

The facade of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in Mexico City. / Fernando Gutierrez Ortega/Shutterstock.

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 14, 2021 / 18:19 pm (CNA).

More than 2,500 people demonstrated Monday outside the Mexican Supreme Court building in Mexico City to defend life and oppose abortion. 

Speaking with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Rodrigo Iván Cortés, president of the National Front for the Family, said, "we counted at least 2,500 people, from various states of the Republic” at the Sept. 13 protest.

They came from “Chiapas, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Guanajuato, Puebla, Querétaro, Mexico, Veracruz, and Mexico City. We are extremely happy,” he said.

Last week the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation twice ruled against pro-life articles, once in Coahuila state’s penal code, and in Sinaloa’s constitution. It is now taking up the question of conscientious objection to abortion for medical professionals.

Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court building held up banners, blue pro-life flags, Mexican flags, and images of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, and shouted slogans for life and against abortion.

Doctors and leaders from pro-life organizations spoke at the event.

Cortés noted that the rally outside the Supreme Court was attended by "many young people, and that fills us with hope.”

Attendance was achieved despite the fact that the authorities tried to make it impossible for people to get there. People “were held back in various areas and not allowed to proceed toward our meeting point," he said.

Physicians were there who told the crowd gathered in downtown Mexico City “that it is their duty, their Hippocratic Oath, which has been said for more than 25 centuries, that doctors are there to save lives, not take them away.”

Elective abortion has been legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City and the states of Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. In general, abortion is illegal in the rest of the country, but in most cases there are exceptions for rape and the life of the mother. The penalties and scope of the laws vary from state to state. 

On Sept. 7, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation invalidated several articles that protected life from conception in the penal code of the state of Coahuila, opening the door to legal abortion.

The ruling is expected to have wide-ranging effects throughout Mexico.

And the Supreme Court on Sept. 9 ruled against the protection of life from conception in the constitution of the state of Sinaloa. The decision invalidated an article that read that "the State protects the right to life from the moment an individual is conceived."

The court began Sept. 13 discussing a challenge to the constitutionality of the right to conscientious objection by healthcare professionals, which could force them to participate in abortions against their will.

In the initial decisions made in this session, the SCJN recognized the right to conscientious objection and noted that it does not restrict the right to health.

British doctors’ union drops opposition to assisted suicide

null / GagliardiPhotography/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 17:02 pm (CNA).

In a significant shift, the trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, is no longer officially opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide.

In a Sept. 14 announcement, the British Medical Association adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue, following a vote at its annual representative meeting. A plurality of representatives, 49%, were in favor of moving to the “neutral” position, while 48% were opposed and 3% abstained. 

With its new official position, the association will neither campaign for nor against policies that would legalize various forms of euthanasia. It had previously been opposed to assisted suicide since 2006. 

John Chisholm, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) medical ethics committee, noted in a Sept. 14 statement that “far from remaining silent on the issue, we will continue to represent the views, interests and concerns expressed by our members."

Chisolm noted a responsibility to uphold conscience rights for doctors, should doctor-prescribed suicide become legal in the United Kingdom. 

"Assisted dying is a highly emotive and sensitive topic that inspires a broad spectrum of views and opinions both across the wider public and among the medical profession, for whom any change of law would have a profound impact,” he said.

In the United Kingdom, “assisted dying,” “euthanasia,” and “physician-assisted suicide” are illegal. Residents seeking to end their lives in these procedures must travel to the Swiss clinic Dignitas. In 2019, 42 people from Great Britain traveled to Dignitas to end their lives, which was an increase from 24 in 2018. 

The British doctors’ association was moved to consider changing its official position on the matter following a survey of members published in October 2020. According to the survey, 40% of respondents said the organization “should actively support attempts to change the law,” and 21% of respondents argued for the “neutral” position on assisted suicide. One-third of respondents advocated for the association to maintain its opposition stance. 

Furthermore, half of the respondents said that the United Kingdom should allow for doctors to prescribe drugs that would kill their patients. 

The recent vote concerned a motion stating, “In order to represent the diversity of opinion demonstrated in the survey of its membership, the BMA should move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying including physician-assisted dying.”

With a “neutral” position on assisted suicide, the BMA joins the Royal College of Nursing as well as the Royal College of Physicians. The Royal College of Nursing adopted a neutral position on the issue in 2009, while the Royal College of Physicians did so 10 years later in 2019. 

Numerous attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the United Kingdom have failed, most recently in 2015. Parliament, however, is once again considering whether or not to legalize the practice. 

A bill sponsored by Molly Meacher, Baroness Meacher, would permit physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge. Meacher is a crossbencher and chair of Dignity in Dying, which advocates for euthanasia and assisted suicide in the U.K.

The Assisted Dying Bill 2021 is set for its second reading in the House of Lords with a full debate Oct. 22.

Many organizations, including the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the advocacy group Not Dead Yet UK, have spoken out against the bill. 

America's return to God after 9/11 didn't last long, priest says

The then-remaining section of the World Trade Center surrounded by rubble, Sept. 27, 2001. / Bri Rodriguez/FEMA News Photo

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 16:19 pm (CNA).

Twenty years ago, Father John A. Perricone sat down at his desk in the rectory of St. Agnes Catholic Church in midtown Manhattan and began to write.

“I sit here writing this piece coughing on the fumes of hell,” is how he began.

It was Sept. 14, 2001. Three days earlier, Islamic terrorists crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center, setting off a cataclysmic chain reaction that killed more than 3,000 people and reduced the iconic Twin Towers to a smoldering, toxic pile of rubble.

Then a professor of philosophy at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Father Perricone lived at St. Agnes, a historic parish located across the street from the Chrysler Building and a half block from Grand Central Terminal.

Like other city residents, and the nation as a whole, he was still struggling to process what had just happened. Others felt compelled to write about the tragic loss of life, or the heroism of first responders.

Father Perricone wrote about evil.

“Though I sit some one hundred blocks from ground zero of Manhattan Island, the winds shift and billows of that smoke of death stretch all the way to my room at St. Agnes rectory — and to every one of you, wherever you sit in this beloved nation of ours, now supine before an Islamic monster,” he wrote.

“For the evil that growls at us now sits on the doorstep of every person in America, and of the world. More importantly, it proves to over-intellectualized Americans that indeed evil exists. It kills. It corrupts. It demands a daily war against it, sometimes even requiring our blood.”

A prolific writer and lecturer, Father Perricone shared his words with friends and others in his social circle. But his reflections weren’t widely read until Saturday, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when Crisis magazine published his essay, “9/11/01: Hell in Manhattan,” for the first time.

In an interview with CNA Tuesday, Father Perricone said that re-reading his writing 20 years later, he was struck by how mistaken he had been at the time to believe that 9/11 would somehow bring America to its senses about the reality of sin and evil, and the need for God.

“I thought naively … that maybe this jolt, like Pearl Harbor, might help people to see things differently and to shake off some of this grinding secularism that was pulverizing their souls,” he said.

“And I was completely wrong.”

Father John A. Perricone is a professor of philosophy and a prolific writer and lecturer. Courtesy of Father John A. Perricone
Father John A. Perricone is a professor of philosophy and a prolific writer and lecturer. Courtesy of Father John A. Perricone

Father Perricone recalled how his noon Mass at St. Agnes that Sept. 11 was packed with people, many of them caked in ash from the towers’ collapse.

The need to pray and the desire for God remained strong for many days and weeks, he said. But it proved ephemeral.

Writing 20 years ago, he observed, “Words like ‘sin,’ ‘Satan,’ ‘saintliness,’ and ‘virtue’ have all been made to sound slightly eccentric by secularism’s totalizing reach. It is no surprise that it has tunneled deep within religion itself. More than a few priests are slightly embarrassed by the vocabulary of religion.”

What was true in 2001 is even more true today, he believes, after two decades marked by a steady loss of faith and ever-rising secularism.

“I never thought our beloved America would worsen, but it has,” Father Perricone told CNA. “I mean, not by degrees, by magnitude.”

How so?

“We’re still addicted to that notion that evil is just a psychological syndrome,” he explained, ‘[that] evil is simply not evil, it’s some social mechanism gone wrong.”

That is not now, and has never been, the Catholic worldview, he noted.

Today, Father Perricone resides at Sacred Heart parish in Clifton, New Jersey, and he celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Jersey City.

Many of those who attend his Masses are Catholics in their twenties or thirties with only hazy memories of 9/11. What draws these young adults to the Traditional Latin Mass?

“The absolute certitude of the Catholic faith, the granite-like truth that the Church has preached for 2,000 years and never changed,” he replied. “They’re hungry for that.”

That desire suggests that, deep down, many today still search for answers that secularism can’t provide. But redeeming our culture will take time; there are no “quick fixes,” Father Perricone emphasized.

“We need those great, heroic bishops, like John Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great, Leo the Great. At that time, at the dying of the Roman Imperium, they were the superstars. The people were led by their bishops; they adored them. … They looked to them for their strength, and they looked to them for rebuilding.

“And, indeed, Western civilization was rebuilt,” he said.

“We desperately need that today.”

Catholic Hong Kong activist honored at prayer breakfast  

Hong Kong.Hong Kong media tycoon and founder of Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai Chee Ying arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court, May 18, 2020. / Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic democracy advocate was honored in absentia on Tuesday at a Catholic gathering in Washington, D.C., while he remains imprisoned in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, a media entrepreneur and Catholic pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong, was given the Christifidelis Laici award on Sept. 14 by organizers of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. The award is named for Pope John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the mission of the laity in the world.

Lai “believed that we are created for truth and that it is our job to speak the truth,” said William McGurn, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board who accepted the award on Lai’s behalf on Tuesday. “His publications told the truth about China & Hong Kong.”

“He is a man of extraordinary means, serving ordinary men and women longing for freedom,” said Joseph Cella, a board member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

Lai has been imprisoned for 10 months in Hong Kong, having long supported the pro-democracy movement there and having cited his Catholic faith in support of his efforts.

An entrepreneur, he founded both Next magazine, a Chinese weekly publication, and Apple Daily, a pro-democracy publication critical of the Chinese mainland government. Apple Daily shut down publication earlier this summer, after its accounts were frozen and top leadership was arrested.

In 1997, he converted to Catholicism and was baptized by the now-retired bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen.

Lai's conversion, at the time the United Kingdom handed over sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, was “like a small green shoot breaking through the concrete,” McGurn said of the time.

Hong Kong had previously maintained its own legislature and democratic form of government under the “one country, two systems” agreement, as the U.K. prepared to hand sovereignty of the region to China. However, the Chinese mainland government had sought greater control over Hong Kong in recent years before imposing a sweeping national security law on the region in 2020, bypassing the island’s legislature. The act followed months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Under the new law, a person convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces would receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

Lai was arrested in August 2020 over his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and remained on the island to face his charges. People had urged Lai – who is also a British citizen – to leave Hong Kong before he would be arrested, McGurn noted.

“If you thought that [leaving] was ever a possibility, you don’t know Jimmy Lai,” McGurn said.

Released on bail, he was arrested again later in the year, and was charged in December with breaching the terms of a lease for his company, Next Digital Media.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal on Feb. 9 denied Lai bail, but allowed his legal team the possibility of applying again for bail. He has remained in prison for 10 months.

During his prison term, he has applied the Rule of St. Benedict – “ora et labora,” or “prayer and work,” McGurn noted.

“When he’s not reading the classics of the faith,” McGurn said of Lai, “he has a job folding paper into envelopes.” Some fellow prisoners have even been baptized during his term, McGurn said.

“While Jimmy may be stuck in prison, his soul remains free,” he said.

Two months after Cuba protests, religious leaders continue to demand justice for detainees

The Cuban flag. / Steward Cutler via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Havana, Cuba, Sep 14, 2021 / 15:19 pm (CNA).

Two months after protests of Cuba’s communist government, the Cuban Conference of Men and Women Religious has denounced irregularities in the proceedings against those detained for demonstrating.

Protests took place across Cuba July 11-12. Protesters cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and thousands were arrested.

CONCUR Support Services noted Sept. 9 “the need for strict compliance with the law by applying the law in favor of the accused” and that the cases against peaceful protesters ought to be “freely dismissed.”

The organization noted "with regret" the "repeated refusals" of the authorities "to the changes in preventive measures requested by the lawyers, as well as not considering the evidence presented for this purpose."

CONCUR protested “the difficulty, and in many cases even the impossibility, of the lawyers to meet with their clients due to the complex epidemiological situation of the country and the prisons,” as well as “the detainees’ limited communication with their families.”

The organization of religious men and women also decried "the slow process of investigating the facts, as well as the scant evidence of the alleged crimes."

Prisoners Defenders, a Spanish NGO for the legal defense of human rights, reported Sept. 2 “that the number of detainees on the island from July 11 to July 17, a period during which it was not legally required to press charges to hold the defendants, was more than 5,000 detainees at a minimum.”

"Higher estimates from our team could put the figure between 6,000 and 8,000 detainees," the NGO said.

The Prisoners Defenders’ study was based "on the analysis of more than 100 interviews with people affected by the arrests, out of a total of more than 550 arrest records collected" by the organization.

The report published by the NGO also shows “that the number of people who remained under arrest after that time frame in police stations and prisons, through orders limiting their freedom decreed by prosecutors or through court rulings” exceeded 1,500 people.

Of those 1,500 cases, Prisoners Defenders said it was possible to verify 381 cases of people convicted and sentenced on political grounds.

“Of the trials held to date, the study shows that the vast majority, at least greater than 85%, were held summarily, and in particular trial by the Summary Process by Direct Evidence predominated, as Lisnay María Mederos Torres, Chief Prosecutor of the Criminal Procedures Directorate of the State Attorney General's Office already stated on Cuban television, a process that is of a police and not judicial nature, whereby the accused go to trial without the need for a prosecutor or a lawyer, and where they can receive prison sentences ranging from months to several years depending on the number of crimes charged, provided that each crime charged does not exceed the penalty of one year in prison," the organization explained.

According to the Spanish NGO "all the defendants who have undergone summary proceedings have suffered arbitrary deprivation of liberty, just attending to the process used."

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.

Maronite Catholic patriarch welcomes Lebanon’s new government

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite Patriarch, at the Vatican March 5, 2013. /

Rome Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics has welcomed the formation of a new Lebanese government after 13 months of political stalemate.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai congratulated Prime Minister Najib Mikati, President Michel Aoun, and the new cabinet of 24 ministers in a social media post that wished the government success in carrying out reforms and improving the living conditions for all Lebanese people.

The formation of a government paves the way for a potential papal visit to Lebanon.

Pope Francis previously said that he wanted to visit Lebanon once its leaders formed a government.

“His Holiness the pope will visit Lebanon but after a government is formed. And this is a message to the Lebanese, that we must form a government so that everyone can gather... to revive Lebanon with our friends,” Lebanese politician Saad Hariri said after a private meeting with the pope in April.

A Vatican official confirmed in June that the pope intended to visit Lebanon once it successfully formed a government, adding that the trip could take place at the beginning of next year.

Rai was in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, for the International Eucharistic Congress when the news of the formation of a new government was announced on Sept. 10.

The Lebanese cardinal had been calling on the country’s political leaders for months to overcome partisan interests and form a government to help the country amid its economic crisis.

Lebanon’s new ministers face the challenge of coming into power at a time when three-quarters of the population live in poverty and there are widespread shortages of medicine, fuel, and food.

The World Bank has described Lebanon’s financial situation as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.”

It estimates that country’s real GDP contracted by more than 20% in 2020, with surging inflation and high unemployment.

Lebanon’s currency has plummeted in 2021. By June, the Lebanese pound had lost 90% of its value since October 2019.

In recent months, the state has only been able to provide electricity for less than two hours a day.

Speaking at a Vatican day of prayer for Lebanon this year, Pope Francis said: “In these woeful times, we want to affirm with all our strength that Lebanon is, and must remain, a project of peace. Its vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet, where different communities live together, putting the common good before their individual interests.”

The pope hosted the day of prayer for Lebanon with Catholic and Orthodox leaders from the country on July 1.

“Here I would reiterate how essential it is that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests. Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many. No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations,” the pope said.

“Stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and profits. The Lebanese people must be given the opportunity to be the architects of a better future in their land, without undue interference.”

Beloved granny whose Catholic faith went viral on EWTN dies at 107

Nancy Stewart / EWTN News Nightly

Clonard, Ireland, Sep 14, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Granny Nancy lived through two World Wars, survived the pandemic, and was born before her country – the Republic of Ireland – began. But she is perhaps best known for her Catholic faith.

Nancy Stewart’s story and her love of God went viral last year, when the 107 year old spoke with EWTN correspondent Colm Flynn in an interview that reached five million views on social media. Since then, she has appeared in additional news media reports and has grown an online presence. But on Friday, Nancy’s family revealed that she had passed away to meet the God in heaven that she so loved while on earth.

On Sept. 10, her granddaughter, Louise Coghlan, announced that “My other half of my heart went to heaven this morning at 6am.”

“The last 3yrs living with my best friend was out of this world,” Louise tweeted. “We laughed, we loved & we drank an awful lot of tea! We hope we made you smile! you were my best friend & I’ll never forget you gran.”

Born in 1913, Nancy was recognized as one of Ireland’s oldest women. She cherished every moment of her life as a gift from God.

“I do, I love it, and I love to know what’s going on,” she told Colm in 2020. “I”m well cared for, thanks be to God. The Blessed Virgin and all the saints and angels have looked after me from toe to heel and from heel to head.”

She witnessed great tragedies, including her husband’s death in a 1989 car crash, while they were driving to Mass. But she still lived life to the fullest and spent her time collecting money for children in Africa and for the poor. She dedicated her life to prayer.

“I have three rosary beads here on my arm, from three different people,” she said, showing the rosaries to Colm. “I say them several times here where I’m sitting on an armchair.”

“I say a lot of prayers now, for people I don’t know,” she added. “I ask God to mind them.”

On Sept. 10, Colm remembered Nancy’s life fondly. 

“We are so sad to hear the news today of the passing of dear old Nancy Stewart, at 107 years of age,” he wrote. “From the small village of Clonard in Ireland, Nancy captured the hearts of everyone she met, including me. She was a granny to all of Ireland during Covid, regularly uploading messaging of encouragement, positivity, and faith to social media with the help of her devoted granddaughter Lousie.”

“May her granddaughter Louise, and all her family, find strength and comfort during this difficult time knowing the joy and happiness she brought to so many,” he concluded. “Rest in peace, Nancy, and enjoy your heavenly reward.”

Earlier this year, in January, Nancy revealed to The Irish Catholic that she had a goal of attending online Masses in each of Ireland’s 32 counties. She accomplished that goal, the Irish Post reported on Sept. 13, and surpassed it. She was invited to attend Mass virtually in other countries, too, including the U.K. and the United States.

While Nancy outlived her husband and two twin daughters, she left behind three daughters, a son, and 84 grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren, according to the

She would have turned 108 on Oct. 16. The Independent reported her as saying on her birthday last year: “I don't feel 107. I feel half that, to be honest. It's all about good food, good friends, and always looking on the bright side of life. I think that's the secret to a good life.” 

She added, “When God wants me, he will come and take me but for now, I will keep enjoying my life.”

Louise documented many of her adventures with Nancy on her Facebook page, “Living and Laughing with Lou.” On Sept. 10, she remembered her grandmother in a special Facebook post.

“I love you granny,” she wrote. “You were my world for so long & for so many others, but now we must let god, my dad & all the angels & saints be blessed with your presence. Forever the other half of my heart, forever my reason to smile even when I feel low.”

Louise also spoke at Nancy’s burial on Sept. 12. She later shared the contents of a “letter of love” that she wrote with Nancy, addressed “To the people of Ireland and all across the world,” in anticipation of her upcoming 108th birthday. 

“Life has been very unusual in the last 16 months or so, but we have survived and we have coped,” Nancy began the letter. “And that is the main thing I am here to remind you all.”

Referencing the pandemic, Nancy focused on a message of hope.

“In life we will learn, as I have on so many occasions, that resilience and patience are vital to see your way through a troublesome passage,” the letter continued. “In my lifetime, I've been through many tough times that I wish to recall, but even though the ache is in my memory of the pains and struggles, I choose to focus on the good, the positive, the other side of the story, the part where I survived.”

She added: “Whenever you struggle, just think to yourself, if Granny Nancy can survive and come through wars, pandemics, times of poverty, straying as well as losing many members of my family and friends, you can too,” she encouraged. “And that is why we're writing this letter, to give you hope to keep going.”

At the funeral Mass, which was live streamed on Sept. 12, Louise stressed, “With Granny seated now in heaven, we now know we have someone very special to pray to when in times of need.” Granny Nancy was, she later described, a “real-life miracle.”