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Archbishop calls on Peruvian president to rid his administration of ties to Shining Path

Pedro Castillo, who was inaugurated as president of Peru July 28, 2021. / Credit: ANDINA/Prensa Presidencia.

Piura, Peru, Sep 13, 2021 / 17:19 pm (CNA).

Archbishop José Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura called Sunday on the president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, to rid his cabinet of people linked to the Shining Path, a communist rebel group.

The Shining Path was founded in the 1960s, and began armed conflict in 1980. Tens of thousands have died in the ensuing violence.

During a Sept. 12 Mass, Archbishop Eguren said that “We Peruvians should not forget, for an instant what this intrinsically perverse ideology embodies, as well as the immense suffering it has caused in the recent history of our country, much less allow it today to be able to seize total power.”

"Therefore: Mr. President, clean up your cabinet!" he urged.

Since being elected president of Peru, Castillo and his entourage have been accused of ties to the Shining Path.

Once Castillo took office, criticism increased because of the people he appointed to various posts in his administration.

In recent weeks, the president of the Council of Ministers, Guido Bellido, has been accused by the local press of subscribing to “Gonzalo Thought,” the ideology of Abimael Guzmán, the founder of the Shining Path, whose nom de guerre was Chairman Gonzalo.

Peruvian congresswoman Patricia Chirinos also charged that, during a conversation, Bellido told her, "you just need to be raped."

In addition, the Peruvian daily El Comercio revealed Aug. 29 that a hitherto unpublished police report from 2004 shows that Iber Maraví, the current Minister of Labor and Employment Promotion, had been accused of belonging to the Shining Path.

Archbishop Eguren noted that on Sept. 12 “we also celebrated a very beautiful Marian feast. Nothing less than the feast of the ‘Holy or Sweet Name of Mary’” and that on that same feast day in 1992 “the leader of the Shining Path, Abimael Guzmán, who died yesterday, was captured.”

"Along with him fell the principal members of his communist, terrorist, genocidal, and murderous gang, which caused the massacres of entire communities of poor inhabitants of our Andes and jungle regions in the 1980s and 1990s," he recalled.

The Shining Path’s violence, he continued, reached "people in the cities, including the elderly, pregnant women and children, who were cruelly murdered."

Archbishop Eguren also pointed out that "the day Guzmán was captured was also one year after the start of the campaign ‘Peace in Peru is well worth a Rosary.’”

"This campaign was conceived and promoted by Bishop Ricardo Durand Flórez S.J., a great Peruvian bishop who, throughout his life and ministry, worked hard for the poor according to the Gospel," he said.

The Archbishop of Piura said that "thanks to the powerful intercession of Holy Mary, whose sweet and holy name was invoked incessantly in those times of anxiety and fear, the beginning of the end of an era of terror, violence, destruction and death began." 

The prelate lamented that "twenty-nine years later, we see with indignation and great concern that the diabolical and insane terrorism of the Shining Path is walking around the palace of government with impunity."

"Characters with a dark history of corruption and ties to terrorist movements occupy positions in the government and in Congress," he warned, noting that "they also denigrate the dignity and respect due to women."

“Therefore, we must invoke the 'Most Holy and Sweet Name of Mary', especially with the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary, so that the grace of God that emanates intensely from Our Most Holy Mother, dissipates the darkness of the danger and evil that the Shining Path-Modavef-Conare represents.”

This group, Archbishop Eguren charged, "using democracy, in which it does not believe, threatens to seize power, and impose its violent and totalitarian ideology on us to destroy the freedom and independence of Peru."

With the capture of its founder in 1992, the Shining Path began to pull back and got involved in drug trafficking in inhospitable regions of Peru and to create a political arm called the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF).

In May 2021, Peru’s bishops condemned a mass killing of 16 people perpetrated by Shining Path about 180 miles north of Ayacucho.

The still existing cells of the Shining Path also reportedly extended their reach to a group of school teachers called CONARE, the National Reorientation Committee of the Unitary Union of Education Workers of Peru.

Since Castillo’s victory in the  2021 presidential election, there have been accusations of various links between his party, Free Peru, and MOVADEF.

In its platform, Free Peru states that “to say we’re on the Left while not recognizing ourselves as marxists, leninists or mariateguistas is simply to work for the those on the Right dressed up with the highest hypocrisy.”

Bishops report 95 attacks on Catholic churches in US since May 2020

The door of St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon, Ca. / null

Denver Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

There have been at least 95 reported incidents of vandalism of Catholic churches across the United States since May 2020, according to a report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty.

Incidents include arson, the destruction of statues, and the defacement of church buildings and gravestones with swastikas and anti-Catholic language. 

“Whether those who committed these acts were troubled individuals crying out for help or agents of hate seeking to intimidate, the attacks are signs of a society in need of healing,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Maimi, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote in a July 2020 statement. 

“In those incidents where human actions are clear, the motives still are not. As we strain to understand the destruction of these holy symbols of selfless love and devotion, we pray for any who have caused it, and we remain vigilant against more of it,” the bishops wrote. 

The latest incident included in the report took place Sept. 5. Vandals graffitied a door and two signs at a Catholic church in Louisville, Colo., about 20 miles northwest of Denver.

Incidents occurred across 29 states.

The report referenced 12 incidents in California since May 2020, including the defacement and removal of a statue of St. Junipero Serra in October 2020, and arson in July 2020 that destroyed parts of a 249-year old mission church in San Gabriel.  

The report also cited 14 incidents in New York, including anti-Catholic and anti-police graffiti on the exterior of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in January. 

In some cases, dioceses have requested increased security following vandalism.  

The Diocese of Brooklyn requested increased police presence in May, after two incidents of vandalism at church properties in three days. A statue depicting the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus was discovered vandalized outside the diocesan administrative offices, with Christ decapitated. A crucifix display outside a parish was also found toppled over, with an American flag outside the rectory burned. Both incidents were investigated as potential hate crimes. 

“We are definitely concerned that there is a pattern of hate crimes against Catholics,” said Msgr. Anthony Hernandez, the moderator of the curia for the diocese, in a statement following the attacks. 

“Our nation finds itself in an extraordinary hour of cultural conflict,” Archbishops Wenski and Coakley wrote. 

“The path forward must be through the compassion and understanding practiced and taught by Jesus and his Holy Mother. Let us contemplate, rather than destroy, images of these examples of God’s love. Following the example of Our Lord, we respond to confusion with understanding and to hatred with love.”

‘A willingness to start with ‘yes’’: How one Catholic school graduated its first student with Down syndrome

Pastor of St. Augustine's, Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. (right) and admissions director Paula O'Dea (left) hand Abby Aguedelo her diploma on graduation day. / Wendy Agudelo

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

Tears flowed down the faces of Abigail “Abby” Agudelo’s classmates, as earlier this year she became the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from St. Augustine’s School in Andover, Massachusetts. 

“We know other parochial schools in Massachusetts are striving to do the same today,” Abby’s mother, Wendy Agudelo, told CNA in an interview in August. “And because of Abby’s experience, other families who desire a Catholic school education for all of their children, including those containing a family member with special needs, are now looking at parochial school education as opportunistic.”

Because of her own mother’s strong Catholic faith, Wendy Agudelo had always wanted a Catholic education for all of her children. She also hoped Abby would have an academic path with “full inclusion,” and would not be placed in a classroom separate from other students. 

After Abby’s time in public preschool, however, her mother was not certain of a combination of Catholic education and full classroom inclusion.

“We noticed a divide between what we wanted for Abigail and what the school felt she should receive given her diagnosis,” she said in an email to CNA. 

It was during Agudelo’s search for a school that then-St. Augustine principal Paula O’Dea and pastor Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. stepped into the breach, and decided that St. Augustine’s would accommodate Abby's needs. 

“When Abby and her wonderful parents first made their inquiry to us at St. Augustine School about enrolling, the principal and I were concerned that we might not have available all that Abby would need for a successful experience,” Gori told CNA in an email. “We and Abby's parents all agreed to give it a try and that there would be no hard feelings if things didn't work out.” 

Gori said that Abby’s parents were “right all along” in believing that Abby would thrive at St. Augustine’s. “We received from her as much or more than she did from us,” Gori said. “It was a delight and a blessing every day and every year to have Abby at St. Augustine School.”  

Wendy Agudelo told CNA that, in general, parochial schools may not have a significant amount of resources. She noted organizations that exist to educate and support parochial schools interested in broadening their demographics. She named the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion and the FIRE Foundation as a few examples of these groups.

“Not every parochial school, or administrator for that matter, is interested in this path,” Wendy Agudelo said. “It comes with its set of challenges, but also great reward.”

She said that those who choose the path that St. Augustine’s School chose “ultimately earn the greatest return on investment.” 

“Nine years ago,” Paula O’Dea told CNA, “we didn't have any teachers with a moderate disabilities certification. Now, we have a lot of teachers with that as their second degree, and we'll have two full-time special ed teachers on site.” O’Dea is currently admissions director for St. Augustine’s.

O’Dea, who was the school’s principal at the time of Abby’s entrance, believes that St. Augustine’s was the only elementary school in the Archdiocese of Boston to accept a student with Down syndrome.

She told CNA that in Abby’s time at public school, her parents observed her in the corner of the classroom with a special education teacher, “not really being included in anything in the classroom.”

When Abby first arrived at the school, O’Dea said the school decided that, in order to properly live out its Catholic mission, it needed to find ways to support any student who wanted to attend. 

The school partnered with local Merrimack College to hire a student studying moderate disabilities as a subsidized, full-time teacher to support Abby. O’Dea said the school’s decision was a success, because it was affordable and effective for Abby. St. Augustine continues to have a “Merrimack Fellow” today.

O’Dea said that hiring the Merrimack Fellow was “a very small investment financially for us to have such a great outcome in the end.” She says she would recommend it as an alternative to hiring a full-time special education teacher for the classroom. 

Abby’s parents said that they stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the administration and staff throughout Abby’s schooling. They encouraged teachers at every grade level to gain more professional development and experience with special needs through local conferences and workshops. 

While working full time, both of Abby’s parents spent much of their time at St. Augustine’s volunteering at Kindergarten centers, the lunchroom, as a chaperone on numerous field trips, and as active guild members helping to run events and fundraisers.

Wendy Agudelo said that partnering and collaborating with the school “every step of the way” bore amazing results.  

“In my opinion,” Agudelo said, “it’s not about available resources as much as it is a willingness to start with ‘yes’ and work together towards a shared goal.” 

“We’re not alone and believe that the more families know, the more armed with opportunity they become,” she said. “We’re very, very fortunate to have found such great academic partners for our children, but pepper in some serious faith and a sprinkling of compassion, and nothing is impossible!” 

“Abby’s achievement is very impressive,” said Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, to CNA. “But the biggest impact is the effect she had on the entire school community.  They all were blessed to have her as a classmate or student.”

Former Archbishop of Canterbury opposes proposed UK assisted suicide law

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (left) at the 2012 London Paralympic Games / rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org

Denver Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 14:03 pm (CNA).

A prominent Anglican archbishop has added his voice to those of several Catholic bishops in England and Wales opposing the legalization of assisted suicide. 

Lord Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of Wales, has expressed doubt that, under a proposed assisted suicide law, doctors would be delivering accurate prognoses to justify the prescription of lethal drugs to patients. He stated his concerns about the law in a statement published on the British Medical Journal website.

Williams said he fears that pressure on “overstrained families” and “overstretched medical systems,” combined with a lack of adequate palliative care, will lead to desperate people feeling as though they have no choice but to end their own lives. 

“We should note that fear of such pressure within the medical system may discourage seriously ill patients from seeking appropriate medical help; the issues of doctor-patient trust involved are real,” Williams wrote. 

Williams noted that ​​”those resisting legal change include religious believers and unbelievers alike, as well as a large proportion of those most directly involved in end-of-life care and palliative medicine – i.e those most immediately concerned with and responsible for the management of pain and distress.” Several U.K. doctors have also expressed concern that a terminal prognosis could be accurate enough to justify a lethal prescription.

A bill currently in the U.K. Parliament sponsored by Molly Meacher, Baroness Meacher, would permit physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live. Lethal procedures would require the approval of two doctors and a high court judge.

The Assisted Dying Bill 2021 is set for its second reading in the House of Lords, with a full debate Oct. 22. It is the latest in a long line of attempts to legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales, and some pro-lifers believe that this bill poses the greatest challenge yet.

Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002-2012. His predecessor, George Carey, had asserted strong support for assisted suicide just days before. 

Care Not Killing, a U.K. pro-palliative care group, welcomed Williams’ statement. 

“We welcome Lord Williams' timely intervention and strong criticism of attempts to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia, which evidence from around the world suggests would lead to widespread discrimination against the elderly and disabled people as safeguards are eroded or simply ignored,” said Dr. Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing.

“We only have to look at the Netherlands and Belgium which introduced laws for terminally ill mentally competent adults or those suffering unbearable pain to see what can happen,” Macdonald said. He claimed that both countries now “regularly kill” people with disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental health problems, “and want to extend this further to those tired of life.”

Assisted suicide is presently illegal in England and Wales, and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961. In 2015 the British parliament rejected a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis, by a vote of 330 to 118. Parliament has consistently rejected efforts to change the law.

Bishop John Sherrington, an auxiliary of Westminster and Lead Bishop for Life Issues at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, noted in a Sept. 8 open letter that “Catholic teaching opposes assisting suicide, since life is a gift to be cared for and preserved until its natural death.”

“The Church is clear that we cannot directly choose to take the life of another, even if they request it,” he said. “The solidarity of praying and caring for the most vulnerable at this fragile time of their lives is a profoundly Christian act which imitates Our Lady’s prayer at the cross and Christ’s service to the weakest.”

Bishop Sherrington cited Pope Francis’ warnings against false compassion and treating “a human person as a problem.”

“True compassion does not marginalise anyone, nor does it humiliate and exclude – much less considers the disappearance of a person as a good thing,” he said, quoting Pope Francis. 

“Whilst there are clear arguments to support Catholic teachings, it is important to remember that this position is not only a matter of faith but also human reason,” the bishop wrote.

The bishops of the United Kingdom have on several occasions affirmed their support for high quality end-of-life care, which includes spiritual and pastoral support for the dying and their families.

Our Duty Of Care, a group of concerned medical professionals who oppose the legalization of assisted suicide, stated in a briefing to the British Medical Association this week that the alleged “right to die” translates in practical experience to a “duty to die,” as many patients feel pressured to end their lives to relieve their loved ones of the burden of their care. 

“Assisted suicide and euthanasia have harmful consequences on patients and doctors. The two principles of dignity and autonomy are actively compromised by: Premature death due to compromised personal autonomy, particularly poor mental health; Premature death due to elder abuse or other forms of social pressure for monetary gain. Socio-psychological pressure of being a ‘burden,’” the briefing stated. 

“For all these reasons, proposals to accept physician assisted suicide or physician-administered euthanasia should be rejected, and a realistic and authentically compassionate approach reaffirmed.”

Filipino bishops condemn country's 'murderous and corrupt public order'

President Rodrigo R. Duterte. / Ace Morandante, Wikipedia Public Domain.

Dagupan, Philippines, Sep 13, 2021 / 13:19 pm (CNA).

Three archbishops in the Philippines condemned Sunday what they described as “a murderous and corrupt public order” in the country.

In a Sept. 12 pastoral message the archbishops of Nueva Segovia, Lingayen-Dagupan, and Tuguegarao in northern Luzon urged the faithful to resist the “culture of murder and plunder.”

“We have a moral duty to resist and correct a culture of murder and plunder as much as the prolonged pattern of hiding or destroying the truth,” read the prelates’ statement.

The statement was signed by Archbishops Marlo Peralta of Nueva Segovia, Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, and Ricardo Baccay of Tuguegarao.

The Church leaders lamented the spate of drug-related killings in the country and attacks on journalists, members of the political opposition, lawyers, activists, and priests.

“Since the past five years, more than thirty thousand poor Filipinos have been killed in the campaign against illegal drugs,” read the bishops’ statement.

“Journalists have been killed, political opponents have been murdered, court judges have been assassinated, priests have been shot and critics have been bullied and threatened,” it added.

“The killers are at large and the blind supporters of these murderers applaud the killers,” said the prelates.

“How may we describe the present social condition of our nation?” they asked.

“It is like living in the valley of death—killing of drug users and opponents; helpless death in the pandemic, death by governance without vision, death by shameless corruption that seems to break all records,” they said.

The Church leaders, however, called for non-violent actions, saying that it is “the only morally acceptable resistance.”

“Non-violent resistance, such as peaceful assemblies of dissent or sober discussions of social issues guided by the Gospel or rallies for honesty and heroism, is the path we must always choose,” they said.

They also lamented what they called the inadequate response of the government to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 35,000 people in the Philippines.

“The poor are slowly dying from joblessness due to ridiculous confusing quarantine classifications. Incompetence kills people. Ineptitude kills nations and economies. Hunger kills slowly,” said the bishops.

“Bullets kill. Viruses kill. Governance without direction kills. Corruption kills. Trolls kill with fake news. Hunger kills,” they added.

“When will the killings stop? The poor pay for the corruption of the powerful. The nation is sinking in debt,” read the bishops’ statement.

The Church leaders called for a “full investigation” into reports of corruption in the use of government funds intended for pandemic response.

They also called for free elections scheduled next year, saying that it will “allow the selection and change of representatives” and is “the most effective way to make political authority accountable.”

“This is not the time for despair but courage,” said the bishops.

“This is not the time to be quiet but to stand up for God. Against the tide of murders and plunder, let us bear witness to truth and life,” they said.

In its 2021 report released early this year, Human Rights Watch said the Philippine government’s “drug war” killings intensified in 2020.

“Drug war” killings in the Philippines in 2020 increased by more than 50 percent during the early months of the pandemic, according to the report.

The police reported in November that since Rodrigo Duterte became president, nearly 8,000 alleged drug suspects had been killed during police operations.

Domestic human rights groups and the governmental Commission on Human Rights believe the actual toll is triple that figure.

Philippine rights monitors reported in 2020 that more than 160 political activists had been killed since Duterte became president in 2016.

Archbishops criticize ‘outrageous’ claims against St Junipero Serra

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco (left) and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles (right) / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2021 / 12:04 pm (CNA).

A California bill to replace a statue of St. Junipero Serra at the state capitol unfairly slanders the saint’s legacy, two archbishops claimed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Sunday, Sept. 12. 

Last month, California lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to pass Assembly Bill 338, which would replace the statue of St. Junipero Serra at the state capitol with one honoring local Indigenous populations. The bill text claims that Serra and his missions were responsible for a host of atrocities against native peoples. 

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, becoming the first saint to be canonized on American soil. A Franciscan friar from Spain, he left a prestigious university chair in Majorca for what is now the United States in 1749, founding a system of missions to evangelize the Indigenous in modern-day California. He celebrated more than 6,000 baptisms and 5,000 confirmations.

The bill text states that “[Indigenous] history and contributions have been relatively ignored, written with great discrepancies and false mythologies.” 

“One of the greatest gaps between history and reality has been the retelling of the mission period in Native American history and the role of Franciscan friar Junípero Serra,” the bill states, claiming that Serra oversaw the mission system which included “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women.”

These claims about Serra are false, said Archbishops Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, in their op-ed. 

“While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people,” they wrote.

The archbishops wrote that the lawmakers drew from “a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.” That book, “A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions,” is cited in the bill as “a more accurate and complete account of the period.” 

“As leaders of the state’s two largest Catholic communities, we serve thousands of native Californians who trace their faith to ancestors who helped build the missions,” they said. “We understand the bitter history of native exploitation. But history can be complicated and facts matter.”

The archbishops described Serra as a “complex character,” but one who “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.” 

Serra, the archbishops noted, traveled 2,000 miles to Mexico City when he was aged and infirm “to demand that authorities adopt a native bill of rights he had written.”

“Mr. Newsom knows California history well enough to see that the claims against Serra aren’t true,” they said. “In 2019 he apologized for the state’s history of injustice against native people, acknowledging that it was California’s first governor, Peter Burnett, who launched what Burnett called ‘a war of extermination.’”

That “war of extermination,” the archbishops pointed out, began more than 60 years after Serra had died. 

“The destruction of the state’s native people happened long after he was gone and many of the missions had been taken over by the government,” they said. 

The statue of St. Junipero Serra was toppled by protesters in June 2020, and has since been in a storage area. Instead of replacing the statue, however, the archbishops proposed adding an additional statue at the capitol to honor the state’s Indigenous populations. 

“How we choose to remember the past shapes the people we hope to be in the future,” they said. “We can think of no better symbol for this multiethnic state committed to human dignity and equality than to place two statues at the California Capitol—one celebrating the living heritage of California’s indigenous peoples, another reflecting the faith and leadership of their defender St. Junípero Serra.”

Catholic bishops in Thailand prepare for synod on synodality

Bishop Silvio Siripong Charatsri says Mass at Sacred Heart Seminary, in Sriracha, Thailand, June 13, 2015. / Antonio Anup Gonsalves/CNA.

Bangkok, Thailand, Sep 13, 2021 / 11:29 am (CNA).

Church leaders in Thailand are preparing for the 2023 synod on synodality, as the Vatican released a preparatory document for review by dioceses over the next six months.

Francis Xavier Kriengsak Cardinal Kovithavanij of Bangkok has announced that the archdiocese will start next month the first phase of the process, which will involve consultation meetings and reflection sessions.

He said an online “pre-synodal” gathering will later be held to come up with proposals to be submitted to the Thai bishops' conference.

Cardinal Kovithavanij made the announcement following the orientation meeting on Sept. 8 ahead of the forthcoming synod at the diocesan level.

The cardinal explained that the 2023 synod of bishops will be different from previous meetings, because it will involve the whole Church through a process of “listening and discernment.”

The 2023 synod will have to go through diocesan, national, and continental phases before culminating in the universal Church phase in Rome in October 2023.

Cardinal Kovithavanij said Thailand’s bishops will have to undergo a “period of discernment” on the proposition it will receive from dioceses before coming up with a document that will be submitted to the Vatican.

The Vatican released Sept. 7 a preparatory document and handbook for the synod on synodality, to be reviewed by all Catholic dioceses over the next six months.

The 22-page preparatory document, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”, is accompanied by a 42-page vademecum for the diocesan phase.

The handbook includes prayers, a description of synodality, the objectives of the synodal process, and the main questions to which the local Catholic communities are asked to give feedback.

It underlines that dioceses should focus on “maximum inclusion and participation” among baptized Catholics in the diocesan synod process.

The preparatory document has been released for a period of “pre-synodal discernment” that will influence a second draft of the text to be published before June 2023.

According to the Vatican, the preparatory document is “a tool to facilitate the first phase of listening to and consulting the People of God in the particular Churches” for the diocesan phase of the synod.

During the diocesan phase, each bishop is asked to undertake a consultation process with the local Church, from Oct. 17 to April 2022.

The vademecum says that dioceses should organize local gatherings for “synodal consultation,” and also enable individuals to give their feedback directly to the diocese.

Pope Francis to Slovakia’s Jewish community: ‘Your sufferings are our sufferings’

Pope Francis attends a meeting with the Jewish community in Rybné Square in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal visit pool.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 10:19 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday recalled the great suffering endured by the Jewish community in Slovakia during the Holocaust, and encouraged Jews and Christians to be united in condemning violence and anti-Semitism.

“Dear brothers and sisters, your history is our history, your sufferings are our sufferings,” the pope told Slovakia’s Jewish community in the capital, Bratislava, on Sept. 13.

“Now is the time when the image of God shining forth in humanity must no longer be obscured. Let us help one another in this effort,” he said at the live-streamed meeting.

Francis noted that “in our day too, so many empty and false idols dishonor the Name of the Most High: the idols of power and money that prevail over human dignity; a spirit of indifference that looks the other way; and forms of manipulation that would exploit religion in the service of power or else reduce it to irrelevance.”

“But also forgetfulness of the past, ignorance prepared to justify anything, anger and hatred,” he added.

“I repeat: let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity he created, will never be profaned.”

Pope Francis met around 180 members of the Jewish community in Rybné Square, which sits just north of the Danube River in the Old Town area of Bratislava. The square was part of the city’s former Jewish quarter.

Bratislava had a large Jewish minority for centuries, with the first record of the Jewish community in the city dating to 1251.

In 1930, 15,000 Jews lived in Bratislava, which at that time had a total population of 120,000. In the late 1930s, the community was threatened by anti-Semitic riots and attacks on synagogues. The Slovak State, created in March 1939, also introduced discriminatory measures against the Jewish minority.

During World War II, almost all of Bratislava’s Jews were deported to concentration camps or labor camps. Around 11,500 of the more than 15,000 Jews then living in the city were murdered in the Holocaust.

Today, Bratislava has the largest Jewish community in Slovakia, numbering around 500. Slovakia, with a population of 5.5 million, is a majority Catholic country.

Pope Francis told the Jewish community he came to Rybné Square “as a pilgrim, to visit this place and be moved by it.”

“For centuries [the square] was part of the Jewish quarter. Here the celebrated rabbi Chatam Sofer labored. Here a synagogue stood alongside the Cathedral of the Coronation,” he said, adding that the architectural setting was “an expression of the peaceful coexistence” of the Jewish and Christian communities, “and a striking sign of unity in the name of the God of our fathers.”

“In later times, however, God’s name was dishonored: in a frenzy of hatred, during the Second World War more than 100,000 Slovak Jews were killed. In an effort to eradicate every trace of the community, the synagogue was demolished,” the pope said.

At the start of the encounter, Francis heard testimony from one of the around 3,500 Holocaust survivors from Slovakia, the 79-year-old professor Tomáš Lang.

Lang, who was born in May 1942, was saved from the Holocaust by nurses who hid him and other children in a hospital ward after his father died fighting in Ukraine and his mother died on a death march in Germany.

The nurses wrote the names of infectious diseases on the doors to the wards to deter armed men from entering. The hospital was later bombed and only 15 children and one nurse survived.

Lang, who said he had now been married 55 years and had two children and six grandchildren, explained that he had always been sorry that he could not find the nurse to thank her.

“I am of the generation that survived because of brave men who did not capitulate in the face of evil and, risking their lives, hid us until liberation,” he said. “For the past 20 years, I have dedicated myself to the history of the Shoah in southern Slovakia. I write a memento for the future, so that the past never happens again.”

The Ursuline nun Sr. Samuela also spoke at the event. She recounted several stories of times the congregation of sisters managed to hide Jewish children and adults in Slovakia, saving their lives.

“We are grateful that our sisters -- who have perceived the sacredness of every human being, created in the image of God -- have had the grace to do something to save the lives of these people,” she said.

Francis referenced the Holocaust Memorial, erected in 1996 on the site of a synagogue that was destroyed in 1969. The black wall, etched with a silhouette of the synagogue, is inscribed with the Hebrew and Slovakian words for “remember”: “Zachor” and “Pamätaj.”

“For some of you, this Memorial of the Shoah is the only place where you can honor the memory of your loved ones. I join with you in this,” he said. “Memory cannot and must not give way to forgetfulness, for there will be no lasting dawn of fraternity unless we have first shared and dispelled the darkness of the night.”

“This Square,” he continued, “is also a place where the light of hope shines forth. Each year you come here during Hanukkah to light the first lamp on the menorah. Darkness is dispelled by the message that destruction and death do not have the last word, but rather renewal and life.”

The pope recalled a 2017 meeting in Rome between members of the Jewish and Christian communities of Slovakia, after which a commission for dialogue with the Catholic Church was established.

Thanking them for their dialogue with Christians, he said: “It is good to share and make known the things that unite us. And it is good to advance, in truth and honesty, along the fraternal path of a purification of memory, to heal past wounds and to remember the good received and offered.”

“Our world needs open doors. They are signs of blessing for humanity,” he added.

“Here in this land of Slovakia, a land of encounter between east and west, north and south, may the family of the children of Israel continue to foster this vocation, the summons to be a sign of blessing for all the families of the earth. The blessing of the Most High is poured out upon us, whenever he sees a family of brothers and sisters who respect and love each other and work together.”

“May the Almighty bless you, so that, amid all the discord that defiles our world, you may always be, together, witnesses of peace. Shalom!” he concluded.

Pope Francis met with the Jewish community during the first full day of a four-day visit to Slovakia, which will take him also to the cities of Prešov, Košice, and Šaštín before returning to Rome on Sept. 15.

Before arriving in Slovakia on Sept. 12, Francis spent part of one day in Budapest, Hungary, where among other events he met with leaders of Hungary’s Protestant Christians as well as representatives of the country’s Jewish communities.

In that meeting, he denounced “the threat of anti-Semitism still lurking in Europe” and recalled the life of Miklós Radnóti, a Jewish Hungarian poet who was killed in the Holocaust.

“Imprisoned in a concentration camp, in the darkest and most depraved chapter of human history, Radnóti continued until his death to write poetry,” the pope said.

Francis also encouraged unity, stating that “the God of the covenant asks us not to yield to separatism or partisan interests. He does not want us to ally ourselves with some at the expense of others.”

“Let it never be said that divisive words come from the mouths of religious leaders, but only words of openness and peace. In our world, torn by so many conflicts, this is the best possible witness on the part of those who have been graced to know the God of the covenant and of peace,” he added.

Pope Francis visits former ‘Bronx of Slovakia’ transformed by Mother Teresa’s nuns

Pope Francis visits the Bethlehem Center in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal visit pool.

Bratislava, Slovakia, Sep 13, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday visited a center in Slovakia run by Mother Teresa’s nuns.

The pope toured the Bethlehem Center in Bratislava on Sept. 13, during his four-day visit to the central European country.

The center, established by the Missionaries of Charity in 1997 in a former kindergarten, provides shelter, food, and assistance to the homeless who need long-term care and would otherwise die in the streets.

The Missionaries of Charity came to Slovakia following Mother Teresa’s visits to the country and established their work of mercy in Petržalka, a neighborhood characterized by vast Soviet-style buildings.

Situated on the periphery of Bratislava, the block was once called “the Bronx of Slovakia” due to the local drug trade.

The block has found new hope in the two-floor former kindergarten building, which has a garden that is a green island amid a sea of concrete.

Prior to the live-streamed papal visit, there were few articles written about the center -- even in Slovakian. That is because the nuns want no publicity about their work.

The pope was welcomed to the center by the community’s superior, who showed him around the complex. He greeted homeless people assisted by the center as members of a children’s choir performed songs in the courtyard.

In a brief address to those gathered outside, he thanked the center’s supporters.

“I also thank the moms and dads and all the kids who are here,” he said. “The Lord is with us when we are so happy together. But also in moments of trial, he is always with us. He accompanies us especially in the bad times.”

Missionaries of Charity at the Bethlehem Center, Sept. 13, 2021. Papal visit pool.
Missionaries of Charity at the Bethlehem Center, Sept. 13, 2021. Papal visit pool.

In the center’s guest book, he wrote: “I thank the Sisters of Charity for their testimony. I thank those who collaborate with them. I pray for you. Please do the same for me.”

Before departing for a meeting with Slovakia’s Jewish community, he recited a Hail Mary with those present and gave them his blessing. He left behind a gift of a porcelain image of the Madonna and Child holding a symbolic bunch of grapes.

The center is simply decorated. On its white exterior wall is a stylized portrait of Pope Francis with the words “We do not forget to pray for you” in Italian and Slovakian.

Inside, there are bare and well-kept rooms, with wooden furniture and photos of Mother Teresa everywhere. By the stairs leading up to a chapel, there is a crucifix with the inscription “I thirst” in Slovakian.

A crucifix with the words ‘I thirst’ at the Bethlehem Center in Bratislava, Slovakia. Andrea Gagliarducci.
A crucifix with the words ‘I thirst’ at the Bethlehem Center in Bratislava, Slovakia. Andrea Gagliarducci.

Fr. Juraj Vittek, pastor of the nearby Holy Family church, said: “Not only do the nuns go under the bridge, in the most infamous and difficult places, to recover the homeless who need help. They also live in the most extreme poverty, without owning anything. And the homeless feel this testimony as credible.”

The parish, which includes the Bethlehem Center, is large, comprising about 55,000 people -- half of the inhabitants of the district, which is the largest in Central Europe. Nevertheless, the presence of the Bethlehem Center is as discreet as that of the sisters who work there.

Vittek said: “There are six to eight nuns, depending on the period. None of them is Slovakian. Currently, there are two Polish nuns, one from Bangladesh, one from Sri Lanka, one from India. But they often change. I have been a parish priest here for six years, and I have already seen three mother superiors.”

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

The sisters live entirely on donations and any funds they receive have to be spent again. It is almost a mystery how the center continues to operate on this basis.

It is not possible to count how many people have passed through the center. As soon as someone is better, they leave the Bethlehem Center and another person occupies their room. Some stay a week, others a few months. Nobody remains forever, but some also come back to help.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

The sisters do not have a doctor in the facility. None of them is a nurse. But they have collaborators: volunteers who lend their time. And doctors are called in the case of an emergency.

The sisters also help those they welcome to reintegrate into society. They assist them as they look for a job and ensure they can continue to live a dignified life.

Fr. Juraj Vittek with Milan. Andrea Gagliarducci.
Fr. Juraj Vittek with Milan. Andrea Gagliarducci.

Some also begin a path of Christian initiation, like Milan, a middle-aged man with alcohol problems. After recovery, he left the center, began working, and lived for a while with his brother.

Continuing to struggle, he decided to embark on his Christian initiation, accompanied by Fr. Vittek. Milan will be confirmed soon, and the parish priest will be his godfather.

The center is also a reference point for the poor, who come in large numbers to receive food and help. The parish supports the center, with even children helping to distribute aid to the poorest.

"The chapel fills up on Saturday afternoon,” said Vittek. “Even the guests of the center participate in large numbers. And it is beautiful to preach here: it is enough to talk about the Gospel. There is no need to prepare sophisticated things. The poor immediately grasp the meaning of the Gospel. They live it.”

Pope Francis: We need ‘creativity of the Gospel,’ not ‘a defensive Catholicism’

Pope Francis addresses bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists in St Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal trip pool.

Bratislava, Slovakia, Sep 13, 2021 / 05:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Slovakia’s Catholics on Monday that the Church should respond to secularization with the “creativity of the Gospel,” not “a defensive Catholicism.”

Speaking to clergy and lay people in St. Martin’s Cathedral in the capital, Bratislava, on Sept. 13, the pope encouraged Catholics to draw inspiration from Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who translated the Bible into the Slavonic language.

“Isn’t this what Slovakia also needs today? I wonder. Isn’t this perhaps the most urgent task facing the Church before the peoples of Europe: finding new ‘alphabets’ to proclaim the faith?” he asked.

“We are heirs to a rich Christian tradition, yet for many people today, that tradition is a relic from the past; it no longer speaks to them or affects the way they live their lives.”

“Faced with the loss of the sense of God and of the joy of faith, it is useless to complain, to hide behind a defensive Catholicism, to judge and blame the bad world. No, we need the creativity of the Gospel.”

The 84-year-old pope, who is making his first international trip since undergoing surgery in July, looked at ease as he delivered his live-streamed address in the capital’s largest church, located beneath the imposing Bratislava Castle.

Slovakian bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists listened on headsets to a live translation of the speech, which the pope delivered in Italian, frequently stopping for off-the-cuff remarks on everything from the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky to the importance of short homilies.

He said: “This is the first thing we need: a Church that can walk together, that can tread the paths of life holding high the living flame of the Gospel.”

“The Church is not a fortress, a stronghold, a lofty castle, self-sufficient and looking out upon the world below.”

“Here in Bratislava, you have a castle and it is a fine one. The Church, though, is a community that seeks to draw people to Christ with the joy of the Gospel -- not the castle. She is the leaven of God’s Kingdom of love and peace in our world.”

He said that the Church must strive to be humble, like Jesus.

“How great is the beauty of a humble Church, a Church that does not stand aloof from the world, viewing life with a detached gaze, but lives her life within the world,” he said.

“Living within the world, let us not forget: sharing, walking together, welcoming people’s questions and expectations. This will help us to escape from our self-absorption, for the center of the Church ... is not the Church.”

He continued: “We need to become immersed in the real lives of people and ask ourselves: what are their spiritual needs and expectations? What do they expect from the Church? It seems important to me to try to respond to these questions.”

He offered three words to help guide Catholics: freedom, creativity, and dialogue.

He noted that many people were afraid of freedom, saying: “We would rather get along by doing what others -- perhaps the masses, or public opinion, or the things that the media sell us -- decide for us. This should not be. And today so many times we do the things that the media decide for us.”

He recalled the biblical episode in which the Israelites asked if they were better off living in servitude in Egypt, with a guarantee of onions, than wandering exhausted in the desert.

He also referred to the story of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece “The Brothers Karamazov,” who rebuked Jesus for giving humans freedom, insisting that what they needed was bread.

He said: “Sometimes in the Church too this idea can take hold. Better to have everything readily defined, laws to be obeyed, security and uniformity, rather than to be responsible Christians and adults who think, consult their conscience and allow themselves to be challenged. That’s the beginning of casuistry, all regulated…”

“In the spiritual and ecclesial life, we can be tempted to seek an ersatz peace that consoles us, rather than the fire of the Gospel that disturbs and transforms us. The safe onions of Egypt prove more comfortable than the uncertainties of the desert.”

“Yet a Church that has no room for the adventure of freedom, even in the spiritual life, risks becoming rigid and self-enclosed. Some people may be used to this. But many others -- especially the younger generations -- are not attracted by a faith that leaves them no interior freedom, by a Church in which all are supposed to think alike and blindly obey.”

He continued: “Dear friends, do not be afraid to train people for a mature and free relationship with God. This relationship is important.”

“Perhaps this will give us the impression that we are diminishing our control, power, and authority, yet the Church of Christ does not seek to dominate consciences and occupy spaces, but rather to be a ‘wellspring’ of hope in people’s lives.”

The pope urged bishops and priests to be attentive to their flock’s need for freedom as the country undergoes rapid changes.

“For this reason, I encourage you to help set them free from a rigid religiosity,” he said. “Get out of this, and let them grow free.”

“No one should feel overwhelmed. Everyone should discover the freedom of the Gospel by gradually entering into a relationship with God, confident that they can bring their history and personal hurts into his presence without fear or pretense, without feeling the need to protect their own image.”

“To be able to say: ‘I am a sinner,’ but to say it sincerely, not beat our chests and then continue to believe we are righteous. Freedom.”

“May the proclamation of the Gospel be liberating, never oppressive. And may the Church be a sign of freedom and welcome.”

Pope Francis recalled receiving a letter from a bishop complaining about the pope’s representative in his country.

The letter said: “We were 400 years under the Turks and we suffered. Then 50 under communism and we suffered. But the seven years with this nuncio were worse than the other two.”

The pope commented: “Sometimes I wonder: how many people can say the same about the bishop they have or the parish priest? How many people? No, without freedom, without fatherhood, things don’t work out.”

After reflecting on the need for creativity, Pope Francis appealed to clergy to limit homilies to around 10 minutes -- a point he has made frequently since his election in 2013.

The spontaneous appeal prompted the audience to applaud. When the noise died down, the pope observed that the clapping had begun among a group of nuns, who, he joked, “are victims of our homilies.”

Emphasizing the need for dialogue, the pope referred to an episode in the life of the Slovakian Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec, who died in 2015. When he mentioned the cardinal’s name, he drew another strong round of applause.

The pope said: “He was a Jesuit cardinal, persecuted by the [communist] regime, imprisoned, and sentenced to forced labor until he fell ill. When he came to Rome for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, he went to the catacombs and lit a candle for his persecutors, imploring mercy for them.”

“This is the Gospel. This is the Gospel. It grows in life and in history through humble and patient love.”