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Alasdair MacIntyre: True friendships are rare, but possible

South Bend, Ind., Nov 17, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- For Aristotle, the definition of perfect friendship was so narrow that precious few could achieve it.

In order to have a perfect friendship between two people, Aristotle said that both must be models of goodness and virtue, willing the good of the other and loving each other for their own sake.

He also thought these levels of virtue and goodness could only be achieved by a narrow slice of the population: namely, the Greek male elite. Women, non-Greeks, productive workers, and slaves were, in Aristotle’s mind, unable to achieve the levels of virtue and goodness necessary for such friendships.

Such people could have other kinds of friendships, Aristotle said – friendships of utility or pleasure – but they could never have perfect friendship.

It was this view of friendship with which moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre took issue in his Nov. 8 address at the di Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s 20th annual conference, which this year had the theme of friendship.

“For (perfect) friendships, so Aristotle tells us, we have to be good in ways and to a degree that...if we’re honest, many of us know that we’re not,” MacIntyre said.

“Aristotle allows that...we can, without being good, participate in friendships of mutual utility or of shared pleasure, but even this should be depressing for many of us,” he added, “for what we need on the most important occasions when we need friendship...are friendships sustained by a good deal more than the possibility of mutual utility or of shared pleasure.”

MacIntyre pointed to other still unsatisfactory definitions of friendship, such as that from Dale Carnegie, who wrote the 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

But what Carnegie suggests will not help one have real friends, MacIntyre said, but will manufacture “a certain kind of superficial sociability, a sociability which no one of integrity could confuse with friendship.” Such friendships, he added, might be compared to someone who is a Facebook friend and nothing more.

Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other hand, concludes that “yes there are friends, but it’s error and deception regarding yourself that led them to you, and they must have learned how to keep silent in order to remain your friend.”

With these different definitions and ideas of friendship, what then does it mean to truly be a friend? While hoping to broaden the scope of friendship beyond that which is available to the Greek male elite, MacIntyre said there are still many types of relationships that, while friendly, are not true friendships.

Such relationships include, for example, those between coworkers, where a certain amount of friendliness is helpful in achieving common goals and completing tasks together, or relationships between parents and children, between siblings, or between members of groups such as rock climbers, people in a choir, or members of a surgical team, MacIntyre said.

Those in such relationships “only care for each other because they are collaborators in some particular role. They do not care for each other as she or he is in themselves, apart from whatever role they happen to be playing at any particular time. This alone is sufficient to distinguish such relationships from friendships,” he added.

With such relationships being so prolific in our lives, MacIntyre said some may be tempted to wonder what the use is of another kind of friendship after all.

In his response to this question, MacIntyre said that because human beings are dependent rational animals who need to be able to make good judgements about themselves and the world in order to flourish, a key element of true friendship then is the ability to tell one another the truth.

“Insofar as our minds are not so informed, we’re liable to go astray in a variety of ways, to be victims of ignorance, arrogance, deception and self-deception. We become unable to flourish and we become unable to recognize that we are unable to flourish. We make bad decisions, for we can hope to avoid bad decision making only by deliberating in the company of a certain kind of other,” he said.

This other - a true friend - must not only be a “perceptive inquirer” and “scrupulously truthful,” they must “care enough about us and about our flourishing as human agents to insist on us, too, being truthful, so with their help, we may become able to correct our mistakes and to free ourselves from our illusions.”

True friendships must also be uncalculating of the costs and benefits of the relationship, and must be relationships in which “each friend genuinely cares both for the other and for the good of the other and finds in this caring a sufficient reason for acting as she or he does,” MacIntyre added.

St. Thomas Aquinas, MacIntyre noted, was also able to “correct” some of Aristotle's deficiencies in his definition of friendship by recognizing that people possess various virtues in varying degrees, and that grace and charity can account for some of the ways baptized persons act that go beyond either their natural inclinations towards virtue or their moral education in the virtues, which allows for a broader understanding of friendship.

“So a more recognizable portrait of humanity emerges - and one sometimes wonders how many people Aristotle had actually met,” MacIntyre said.

This more recognizable view of humanity is “one in which moral education has become the work of a lifetime, and moral failure in this or that respect is a recurrent and characteristic feature of our lives. It matters, of course, that Aquinas writes as a Christian theologian and therefore is someone for whom their sinfulness is one of the key facts about human beings,” he added.

This more flexible view of humanity also allows that good friendships can be schools of virtue, rather than just something that occurs between two people who have already achieved perfect virtue, because these friendships are “a means to self-knowledge. Friendships survive and flourish...only if each friend can rely on the other's truthfulness. And without the self-knowledge that is one result of such truthfulness we're all of us apt to become victims of our own self-indulgent fantasies,” he said.

An additional key element of a true friendship is that it is a gift, MacIntyre said. A gift is freely given, and must be received. This means that one must be open to the possibility of friendship with others, and recognize the opportunity of friendship when it occurs.

This requires a responsiveness to others, as well as a willingness to be surprised or disappointed along the way, he noted. It means letting go of pride, or of greed or an unnecessary competitiveness with others, he added.

“Yet what above all else stands in the way of openness to friendship is insincerity,” MacIntyre said. An insincere person is an actor of sorts, he noted. An insincere person is not necessarily a liar, but they have convinced others and sometimes themselves that they are something or someone that they are not.

“An insincere person invites others to respond not to their reality, but the sometimes impressive fiction that they have constructed. So the other is put at a disadvantage and when the invitation extended to the other is or includes an offer a friendship, what is offered cannot, in fact, be friendship. For one is being invited to care for a fiction, not for a real human being,” he said.

A final characteristic of a true friend is that they care not only for their friend, but for all that their friend cares about, MacIntyre said, quoting Aquinas: "When the man has friendship for someone for his sake, he loves all belonging to it, whether children, servants or related to him in any way."

“Indeed, so much do we love our friends, but for their sake we love all who belonged to them,” MacIntyre said.

And so with these defining characteristics of a good friendship, they still may be difficult to find in today’s world, MacIntyre said, but they are possible and necessary for human flourishing.

“Each of us needs such others if we are able to deliberate well and to make good choices. Each of us needs such others if we are to achieve the self-knowledge without which we can’t flourish.”

Pope Francis: The poor, unborn, and elderly are neglected in the frenzy of modern life

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- On the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that the poor and most vulnerable can be left behind in the frenetic haste and self-centeredness of the modern world.

“How beautiful it would be if the poor could occupy in our hearts the place they have in the heart of God,” Pope Francis said in his homily Nov. 17.

“In the frenzy of running, of achieving everything right now, anyone left behind is viewed as a nuisance. And considered disposable. How many elderly, unborn, disabled and poor persons are considered useless,” he said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the 3rd annual World Day of the Poor with the theme “the hope of the poor will never be disappointed.”

“Amid so many penultimate and passing realities, the Lord wants to remind us today of what is ultimate, what will remain forever. It is love, for ‘God is love,’” he said.

Pope Francis warned that there is a great temptation in today’s world to try to know and to do everything “right now” that can cause one to lose sight of what is most important: “We no longer find time for God or for our brother and sister living next door.”

“How often do we let ourselves be seduced by a frantic desire to know everything right now, by the itch of curiosity, by the latest sensational or scandalous news, by lurid stories, by the screaming those who shout loudest and angriest, by those who tell us it is ‘now or never,’” Pope Francis said.

“To us, these are front page news, but the Lord puts them on the second page,” he said. “That which will never pass away remains on the front page: the living God, infinitely greater than any temple we build for him, and the human person, our neighbor, who is worth more than all the news reports of the world.”

The pope explained that the antidote to frantic haste is the Christian virtue of perseverance.

“Perseverance entails moving forward each day with our eyes fixed on what does not pass away: the Lord and our neighbor,” he said. “Let us ask that each of us, and all of us as Church, may persevere in the good and not lose sight of what really counts.”

Following the Mass and Angelus prayer, Pope Francis will share a free lunch with nearly 1,500 poor people invited to dine in the Paul VI Hall and nearby colleges. A medical clinic set up in St. Peter’s Square also offered free medical services to those in need in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor.

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the medical clinic Nov. 15 and announced the creation of a new 4-story homeless shelter right off the St. Peter’s Square colonnade, which he called “the Palace of the Poor.”

The homeless shelter, staffed by the Sant'Egidio community, will have two floors of dormitories that can sleep 50 men and women, a kitchen to provide breakfast and dinner, and a recreation area for fellowship, educational programs, and psychological counseling.

“The poor person who begs for my love leads me straight to God,” Pope Francis said.

In his Angelus address, the pope thanked Catholics in dioceses and parishes around the world for their work in solidarity with the poor, which he said gives hope to the most disadvantaged.

“The Lord calls us to collaborate in the construction of history, becoming, together with Him, peacemakers and witnesses of hope in a future of salvation and resurrection,” he said.

Pope Francis established  the World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. It is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, one week before the Feast of Christ the King.

“The poor facilitate our access to heaven: this is why the sense of the faith of God’s People has viewed them as the gatekeepers of heaven,” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“Even now, they are our treasure, the treasure of the Church,” he said. “For the poor reveal to us the riches that never grow old, that unite heaven and earth, the riches for which life is truly worth living: the riches of love.”

Development of prison catechesis program draws strong support

Houston, Texas, Nov 17, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- It took a Catholic evangelist just three days to raise the funds online for an apologetics and faith formation curriculum to distribute to prisons— a place where he says Biblical apologetics are sorely needed.

Michael Gormley, host of the podcast “Catching Foxes” and adult faith formation director for St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in the Houston area, told CNA that the goal of the curriculum is to weave the Gospel message with apologetics and Catechesis.

“There's such a need for Biblical apologetics [in prison],” he said.

“The majority of people are leaving the Catholic faith either for an anti-Catholic fundamentalist Christian faith, or for Islam. Islam is mostly big in the jails...and we have almost zero presence in jails. And it's shocking, it's just shocking.”

Gormley said the goal is to adapt a faith formation series that he originally created for Ascension Press.

He said he hopes to adapt the series to be more relevant to men and women in prison, offering instruction for those who want to learn more about Catholicism about how to frame their lives around Christian discipleship. He said he hopes to reach inmates who have already been inspired by prison ministry volunteers to say, “I’m interested in this Catholic thing, what’s next?”

“My hope is to be able to pull out a coherent curriculum from beginning to end, chopping the videos up and maybe adding new things into the mix as we go,” he said.

Gormley said the opportunity recently came “out of nowhere” to buy the rights to the series from Ascension, so he launched a GoFundMe page to raise the $10,000 necessary— and it took him only three days to reach the initial goal.

In fact, it only took one minute of the fundraiser being live for one donor to offer $5,000— half the funds needed.

Gormley stressed that although the campaign had reached its initial funding goal, the GoFundMe is still accepting donations because more is still needed to allow the project to continue.

Any additional funds beyond those used to buy the rights to the series, he said, will go directly to printing DVDs— Internet-based videos aren’t an option for prisons— as well as for workbooks and other production costs.

“On top of your donation dollars to all your different nonprofits, and churches, and charities, really keep an eye to prison ministries,” he said.

He said there are around 110 prison units in Texas, but only one full-time Catholic chaplain.

Gormley said he goes with a group to a prison every Monday, offering a few hours of instruction and Catechesis as well as a Communion service for the Catholic inmates. He said working with inmates has changed the way that he, an educator in the faith and an evangelist, goes about sharing his faith.

“It totally changed how I do everything in my life. From being a dad, to teaching my faith, living as a witness, evangelization, it turbocharged everything, because you see grace working right in front of your eyes.”

Gormley told CNA last month that the first time he went on a retreat at a prison, through a group called Kolbe Prison Ministries, he went to a maximum security unit in Texas.

The Jim Ferguson Unit, located in Midway, Texas, has a maximum capacity of 2,100 men and mainly houses violent and gang-affiliated prisoners.

Gormley said he remembers showing up for his first retreat at 5:00 in the morning, and he and his fellow participants prayed the prayer to St. Michael before going inside because they had heard that a group of “Satanist” inmates were cursing them and their ministry.

“When you walk into these prisons, you realize you're going in to serve, at least in my case, violent offenders, many of whom are of the population where there's a high recidivism rate,” he said.

“The beautiful thing about prison ministry, at least from my limited experience, is that 2 hours into the actual retreat, I was shocked at how mundane everything was,” he continued.

“There were guys that were super talkative, guys that were disengaged, guys who were listening and quiet, guys that were dominating the conversation, and everything in between, just like a normal men's retreat. And it was that...the men quickly became very normal in my eyes from the labels that they were beforehand.”

The vast majority of the inmates participating in the retreats, he said, are non-Catholic, and he said a significant majority of those non-Catholics are “fiercely anti-Catholic.”

A large number of Latino inmates that Gormley has encountered, who may have grown up Catholic, are now “extremely anti-Catholic,” he said.

The retreats are based on testimonies that are tied to larger themes, he said. In his role as a table facilitator at the retreats, Gormley leads discussions and often fields questions and challenges from inmates about aspects of the Catholic faith.

“Every single story is insane, amazing, sad, heartrending,” he commented.

Every single man he met in the unit, with one exception, had inadequate fathers, whether by neglect, abandonment, abuse, or a combination. Almost every one of the men joined gangs, because “if they didn't have fathers, they needed brothers.” Most of the men were abandoned by the gangs they joined, too, he said.

Gormley related the story of a man in the Ferguson Unit who had joined a white supremacist gang before being locked up.

At one of the prison retreats, the inmate stood up and told the other men at the prison that he was sorry for getting into fights with his black and Latino prison mates, because he realized on a prison retreat a year ago that he didn't hate people of different races— he hated his father, who had abandoned him years earlier.

He said he forgave his father a year ago, and then asked the other prisoners to forgive him. An African-American inmate then stood up and gave the man a hug, amid tears and applause from the other inmates.

“The whole rest of the retreat was like that, stories like that,” Gormley said.

 

As Pope Francis calls for a 'synodal' Church, some US dioceses are holding synods

Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- As some U.S. dioceses convene local synods to discuss topics ranging from the family to evangelization, bishops are preaching the need to discover a true sense of synodality.

Pope Francis has called in recent months for a more synodal Church, suggesting that “synods,” or gatherings intended for discussion and discernment of the Church’s direction, are an important aspect of an engaged and missionary Church.

At the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, CNA spoke with bishops who have recently held synods or are preparing to hold them, asking them to explain what “synodality”is and  how the Holy Spirit was present at their gatherings.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit told CNA that a synod, to be an authentic exercise of discernment, has to begin with prayer, and interior conversion on the part of attendees.

A synod is not a democratic assembly to draw up a five-year plan, he said, but something much greater—a “vehicle” for the Holy Spirit to renew the church, if participants engage prayerfully to discern the will of God.

In November 2016, the Archdiocese of Detroit held a synod for the first time in almost 30 years.

Hundreds of people from around the archdiocese gathered to share thoughts on how the archdiocese could proclaim the Gospel better than it already was.

Several months afterward, Vigneron published his letter “Unleash the Gospel” as a result of the synod, outlining a pastoral plan for evangelization. Some critiques of the church he included in his letter were “a worldly notion of the church,” “fear,” and “spiritual lethargy,” while prescriptions included “docility to the Spirit,” “confidence in God,” and “apostolic boldness.”

Ultimately, the synod concluded that evangelization needs to become the very “form” of the Church in coming years, Vigneron said.

The archbishop added that the reason the archdiocesan synod was so successful was because of prayer and docility to the Holy Spirit.
 
“A synod in the history of the Church has been a privileged vehicle for the working of the Holy Spirit,” Vigneron told CNA.

Two years before the Detroit synod even took place, prayer groups were formed at the parish level to pray and fast for the upcoming gathering, asking the Holy Spirit to be present at the synod.

“We had some very extended periods of prayer and formation for anyone who was going to be a participant in the synod,” Vigneron said. “To come into the synod, a person has to undergo a conversion.”

The very “template” of a synod, he said, “is the Holy Trinity,” not a “democratic assembly.” In a synod, the bishop acts in the role of God the Father as the “leader,” allowing the lay faithful to act as a “communion of persons” while not hindering “his own setting of a direction,” he said.
 
As a result of the Detroit synod’s docility to the Holy Spirit, there has been an abundance of spiritual fruit in the archdiocese, Vigneron said.
 
“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” he told CNA on Tuesday, nearly three full years after the gathering. It “galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the church is preparing for a synod in 2021, through prayerful discernment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda told CNA.

In recent years, the archdiocese has dealt with the resignation of its archbishop, bankruptcy, and fallout from a serious sexual abuse crisis in the region.

Several years ago, in 2015, then-Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned after the archdiocese was charged with mishandling sexual abuse cases.

The years-long efforts to deal with the pressing clergy sex abuse crisis put other important priorities such as evangelization on the “back burner,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a June letter announcing the synod.
 
Now the church needs to turn toward these priorities without abandoning its work of rebuilding from the abuse crisis, he said.
 
“Without losing sight of either the critical importance of our Catholic schools or the urgency of creating safe environments and engaging in outreach to those who have in any way been harmed by the Church, we now need to be deliberate in moving forward on other fronts,” Hebda wrote.
 
A diocesan synod, Hebda said, draws from the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law and can be “a tool for the bishop to engage the People of God (laity, clergy, consecrated men and women, and bishops all walking together) in exercising the responsibility that flows from our common baptism, always in the hope of strengthening the communion that is the Church.”
 
In preparation for the synod, 20 listening and prayer events have been scheduled, seven of which have already taken place, Hebda told CNA. He plans to attend each session, with auxiliary bishop Andrew Cozzens attending most of them.
 
Each gathering lasts around three hours, he said, the first half of which is spent in guided prayer followed by small group discussions for the second half. Discussions feature participants sharing their view of God’s blessings and challenges in their lives, and where God is leading the church.
 
Attendance at the sessions has been greater than expected, Hebda said, and the results of the meetings will be collated for discussion at the parish level next fall.
 
Some of the main points of discussion have been concern for baptized Catholics who have drifted away from the faith—especially among youth and young adults—as well as “connecting catechesis and evangelization” and “the importance of liturgy as a means of drawing people to the truth of the faith,” Hebda said.
 
He emphasized trying to help the lay faithful listen to the Holy Spirit and to discover the “gifts” God is bestowing upon the lay faithful, and “seeing that as a possibility for really hearing what it is that the Lord wants us to know and to do.”
 
Healing from the abuse crisis has also been a point of discussion at the meetings, Hebda said, as at most events attendees hear from a “victim survivor of abuse.”

 

Pope Francis: Women’s voices are needed in Vatican leadership

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Saturday that more women are needed in positions of leadership in the Vatican.

“We must move forward to include women in advisory positions, also in government, without fear,” Pope Francis said Nov. 16 in a meeting with the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

“Yes, of course, also as heads of dicasteries,” the pope said, adding that he had considered two women for the appointment last week of the new prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy for which Francis ultimately selected Spanish Jesuit Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves.

Pope Francis said that it is important to always remember: “The place of women in the Church is not just as functionaries.”

“Women’s advice is very important,” he said. “The role of women in ecclesial organization, in the Church, goes further and we must work on this as well because a woman is the image of ‘Mother Church.’”

Pope Francis commended the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life for having two women under-secretaries in their leadership. Both women are married with children.

The pope told the Vatican dicastery -- created in 2016 to promote the pastoral care of the family and the mission of the lay faithful -- not to “clericize the laity.”

He reflected: “So many times it happened in the other diocese [Buenos Aires], a parish priest came and told me: ‘I have a wonderful lay person, he knows how to do everything, everything. Do we make him a deacon?’”

Francis lamented that too often he sees permanent deacons become “first-class altar boys or second-class priests” rather than “custodians of service.”

“This, on clericalization, is an important point,” he said.

With the papal audience, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life headed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell concluded its first Plenary Assembly Nov. 13-16 on the identity and mission of the laity in the world.

The pope told the dicastery staff to “feel with the heart of the Church,” and to move from thinking from a local perspective to a universal perspective.

“The dicastery of which you are a part should, above all else, help the many disciples of Christ to live in daily life in conformity with the baptismal grace they have received,” he said.

“There are so many lay faithful in the world who, living their faith with humility and sincerity, become great lights for those who live next to them,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican Museums opens exhibit with newly restored Renaissance Marian paintings

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Vatican Museums opened Thursday an exhibit of recently restored paintings of the Virgin Mary by early Renaissance painter Carlo Crivelli.

“The Vatican painting gallery has the privilege of having three large scale paintings by Crivelli,” Vatican Museums’ Curator Guido Cornini told CNA.

“Crivelli is a relatively rare artist, so not many collections in the world may claim the presence of a nucleus of more paintings together,” he said.

The restorations were made possible by members of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, the fundraising branch of the Vatican Museums that started in the United States in 1983.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See co-hosted the exhibition opening at the Vatican museums in celebration of the 35 years of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See.

“U.S. Patrons fund approximately 80 percent of all restoration projects at the Vatican Museums,” U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich said at the exhibit opening Nov. 13.

“Through their work, the Patrons ensure that the unique spiritual and cultural mission of the Vatican Museums continues to flourish, and that these works of art endure and inspire millions each year and for generations to come,” she said.

Each year the Vatican Museums curators put together a “wish book” of art pieces in the museums that most urgently need restorations. This is then sent to donors, who can commit to funding the restoration of a particular work of art.

For the Crivelli pieces, the restoration process consisted of many stages, Cornini explained.

“It is more than presenting the painting with a superficial cleaning,” he said. The restorer, diagnostic laboratory, art historian, and/or archeologist must work together to determine the best means of restoration and then execute it in meticulous process that can take over a year.

“You have to get through a long ... phase in which more historical information is being gathered both through the archives and compare this with a careful reading of the literature existing on that particular panel painting and then you prepare the proposal of a ‘therapy’ to follow, much like you would do with a medicine," Cornini said.

The restoration of the Crivelli paintings involved removing the “over-painting” from previous restorations to recover the original vibrant colors under the surface.

Carlo Crivelli (1463-1494) was an early Renaissance painter from Venice, known for his use of gold in the late Gothic style.

Crivelli used many of the latest innovations in painting at the time, but on the other hand, his style displays a nostalgia for medieval art, Cornini explained.

Perhaps his best known pieces are “The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius” (1486) and “Saint Thomas Aquinas” (1476).

The three newly restored pieces of art on display in the exhibit are a five-panel polyptych, “Madonna and Child with Saints” (1481), “Madonna and Child” (1482), and a “Pieta” (1488-1489).

“We are blessed with having these three important pictures, which were restored in past months, and we are now able to present them ... with the different histories behind each of them,” Cornini said.

The curator added that the three paintings mark the different stages in the development in Crivelli's style.

The exhibit, “Crivelli’s gold,” is on display in the Vatican’s Pinacoteca Museum Nov. 14 until Jan. 21, 2020.

Rachel Lanz contributed to this report.

Pope Francis names Archbishop Gabriele Caccia ambassador to the United Nations

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Saturday named Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia the next Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York.

“I hope to be able to fulfill well the new task Pope Francis has entrusted to me, seeking to bring the light of Catholic social teaching to the discussions and debates of the international community,” Caccia said of his appointment Nov. 16.

Archbishop Caccia will succeed Archbishop Bernardito Auza, whom Pope Francis appointed Apostolic Nuncio to the Kingdom of Spain and to the Principality of Andorra in October.

Caccia has spent nearly 30 years in the Vatican’s diplomatic service working in nunciatures in Tanzania, Lebanon, the Philippines, and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in Rome.

Most recently, Caccia has been serving as the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines since September 2017.

He studied at the Vatican’s Diplomatic School, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, where he earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) and at the Pontifical Gregorian University for a a Licentiate in Canon Law (JCL). Prior to this, he served three years as a parish priest in his home diocese, the Archdiocese of Milan.

Pope Benedict XVI ordained Caccia a bishop in 2009 and named him Apostolic Nuncio in Lebanon. His episcopal motto is “We have believed in the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16).

Caccia will arrive in New York to assume his new position as Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations on January 16, 2020.

“The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations will greatly benefit from his rich diplomatic experience and impressive priestly and human qualities,” Archbishop Auza said of his successor.

“In the two years he has spent in my home country the Philippines, he has endeared himself so deeply to the Filipinos,” he said.

Archbishop Caccia will be the seventh Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations since the Holy See became a Permanent Observer State at the UN in 1964.

The Holy See’s mission at the United Nations is of key importance for the Holy See’s diplomatic work. It aims to communicate the Catholic Church’s centuries of experience to assist the U.N. in realizing peace, justice, human dignity, and humanitarian cooperation and assistance.

“Next year, the United Nations will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding,” Caccia said. 

“I look forward to helping the Holy See assist the United Nations in renewing its commitment to the pillars of its Charter, preventing the scourge of war, defending human dignity and rights, promoting integral development, and fostering respect and implementation of international law and treaties,” he said.

US bishops and Knights of Columbus voice solidarity with Iraq, Lebanon

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops and the Knights of Columbus have professed their solidarity with the people of Iraq and Lebanon, telling the Catholic patriarchs of the region that they are praying and working for peace and security.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States and the Knights of Columbus stand in prayerful solidarity with you and your people at this difficult time,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services U.S.A., and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said in a Nov. 13 letter.

Broglio signed the letter in his role as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Anderson heads the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, with close to 2 million members worldwide.

“Today, in Lebanon and Iraq, we are witnessing critical moments as protests grow against corruption and foreign interference,” Anderson and Broglio’s letter said. “We pray that the effect of these protests will be a more just society for all the citizens of these two countries.”

Their Nov. 13 letter was addressed to the leading Catholic patriarchs of the region: Cardinal Bechara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites and All the East; Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Primate of the Syriac Catholic Church; Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch of the Greek Melkites; Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans; and Gregory Petros XX Ghabroyan, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio stressed the need for an outcome in Iraq and Lebanon that respects “the sovereignty and autonomy of these two countries.”

Protests in Iraq began in Baghdad Oct. 1 and have spread to the south of Iraq. They are dominated by young people who object to the poor response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for reform of the country’s sectarian power structure. They want the resignation of the Iraqi government, the Associated Press and Reuters have reported.

More than 300 Iraqis have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Anderson and Broglio’s letter cited Pope Francis. In the Oct. 30 Wednesday general audience, the pope called for the Iraqi government to “listen to the cry of the people who are asking for a dignified and peaceful life.”

On the matter of events in Lebanon, Anderson and Broglio acknowledged “growing instability” there but noted that the protests have generally not suffered from violent opposition.

They echoed the pope’s Oct. 27 Sunday Angelus address, in which he said that a resolution to the Lebanon crisis would work “for the benefit of the entire Middle East Region, which suffers so much.”

Protests in Lebanon began Oct. 17 after the government announced a new tax on internet-based calls made over WhatsApp. Lebanon has high levels of public debt and low employment. Protesters called for the removal of corrupt government officials.

Government riot police intervened after Hezbollah supporters attacked and injured non-sectarian protesters Oct. 24-25.

On Nov. 12 one protester, a supporter of Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, was shot dead in an altercation with soldiers. The soldier who fired on him has been detained.

Several leading politicians have warned that the protests are comparable to previous times of serious tension.

Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister Elias Bou Saab said the situation is “very dangerous,” Reuters reports. The unrest reminded him of the start of the country’s devastating civil war, which lasted from 1975-1990.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio cited the words of Pope John Paul II: Lebanon “is more than a country, it is a message of freedom and example of pluralism for East and West.”

“We pray that peace and security may come to this region, and that those who have suffered so much may be able to rebuild their lives in an environment consistent with their rights to human dignity,” they added.

“We continue also to watch closely and with concern the situation in other countries in the region where so many have suffered from war and violence, and in the case of Christians, have been targeted often simply for professing their belief in Christ.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 destabilized the region and led to many Iraqis - Muslim, Christian and others - fleeing their country. A March 2011 revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad quickly drew support from the U.S. and regional powers, with Russia and others siding with Assad against the rebels. The resulting civil war, which is ongoing, has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions to become internally displaced persons or refugees who fled abroad.

As of Oct. 31 there were about 1 million U.N.-registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone, a country of fewer than 6.9 million residents. Its political and social systems are a sometimes delicate, always complex balance of rival factions splitting the loyalties of Christians and both Sunni and Shia Muslims.

In 2014, the Knights of Columbus launched an advocacy campaign for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The organization has given about $25 million to support persecuted religious minorities from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region.

The fraternal organization launched a successful effort to secure the U.S. State Department’s recognition of the Islamic State group’s crimes against Christians, Yazidis and others in Iraq and Syria as genocide. In 2016 the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution declaring that the Islamic State group had committed genocide. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry recognized the group’s actions as genocide as well.

Advocates of the official designation said it could aid investigation and indictment of those responsible for genocide and would emphasize the obligations of the U.S. government under international conventions against genocide.

In a separate Nov. 15 opinion essay at the New York Post, Anderson said that a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East would be catastrophic.

“What happens in the next few weeks in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is crucial for Mideast Christians — and the stability and pluralism of these countries and the wider region,” he said.

While Christians made up about 20% of the population a century ago, they are now 5% or less, he said.

“In Iraq, protesters are demanding an end to sectarian government and equal citizenship for all regardless of ethnicity or religion,” he said, blaming protester deaths on “Iran-backed militias.”

“The future of the Iraqi state hangs in the balance,” he continued. “Either it will become more sectarian under the influence of its more powerful neighbors — or it will become the pluralistic country sought by thousands marching in the streets, including Christians.”

In Lebanon, Anderson said, Christians fear an economic collapse that could result in the fall of the largely Christian Lebanese Army, resulting in crisis and mass emigration.

“Many Christians persecuted elsewhere in the region have fled to Lebanon,” Anderson said. “If Lebanon were to lose its gift for pluralism, that could spell the end of the concept in the rest of the region.”

Anderson also objected to incursions from Turkey in northeastern Syria.

He said the U.S. must play a “decisive” diplomatic role and must make the wellbeing and physical security of Christian communities in the Middle East “a permanent agenda item in all U.S. aid and military assistance discussions with regional governments.”

Pope Francis braves rain to visit homeless in St. Peter’s Square

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- On a rainy Friday in Rome, Pope Francis popped over to St. Peter’s Square to greet the poor and homeless receiving treatment at a mobile medical clinic this week.

A now-annual tradition leading up to the World Day of the Poor, the mobile clinic offers free visits with specialists to Rome's poor and homeless population.

During his brief “Mercy Friday” visit to the clinic Nov. 15, which took place around 4:40 p.m., Pope Francis also greeted and thanked the health care workers and doctors who donated their time to the clinic this week.

According to a Vatican press release Nov. 15, the health clinic has been seeing hundreds of patients each day, most of whom hear about it through word of mouth.

During his visit, Pope Francis was greeted with applause from the patients in the lobby and medical offices.

“The Holy Father spoke with everyone; a smile and a word of support for each,” the press release states.

He also said a short prayer during the encounter.

The services offered include general medicine, cardiology, infectious diseases, gynecology, obstetrics, podiatry, dermatology, rheumatology, and ophthalmology. A laboratory for clinical analysis is also present.

Afterward the pope stopped for a few minutes at a new location of the Apostolic charity office, located just outside St. Peter's Square on extra-territorial Vatican property.

Pope Francis established the annual World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016.

This year, the pope will celebrate the third World Day of the Poor with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 17, followed by a lunch at the Vatican with over 1,000 poor and homeless people invited as guests.

The theme is taken from Psalm 9: “The hope of the poor shall not perish forever.”

US House oversight committee hears testimony on abortion regulation

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee heard testimony Thursday on abortion from a new mother, as well as a mother who aborted her child because of a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“I am here today as a mom, fighting for a future for her kids in which rights are not dependent on whether a person is wanted, but upon their humanity,” Allie Stuckey, a conservative Christian commentator, told members of the committee Nov. 14.

“With broken hearts, we knew that the greatest act of love that we could undertake as her parents would be to suffer ourselves instead to end the pregnancy, grant Libby peace, and spare her tiny, broken body a short life full of pain,” Jennifer Box, a mother of three who aborted one of her daughters, Libby, who was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, said.

Missouri’s abortion law, and the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, were in the spotlight at the hearing in the Democratic-controlled House on “State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care.”

Ahead of the hearing, the committee said that states "have been taking draconian steps to restrict their residents’ access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion."

The committee heard the testimony of five witnesses, four of whom are supportive of abortion rights.

Both Box and Dr. Colleen McNicholas, OB/GYN, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, spoke to state laws or policies that they said were designed to coerce all abortion clinics in the state into closing.

Missouri enacted a law earlier this year that criminalized abortions after eight weeks gestation, and banned abortions conducted solely because of the baby’s race, sex, or diagnosis of disability. If the eight-week ban were to be overturned in court, that would “trigger” other bans set up in the law at 14, 18, and 20 weeks.

Currently, Missouri has just one abortion clinic open, and that is solely because of a court order.

In June, the state’s health department refused to reissue a license for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic after it submitted a “statement of deficiencies” to a court; the state cited an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” by the clinic in its investigation, along with “failure to meet basic standards of patient care” and lack of compliance with state safety regulations.

In one case, the state said, the clinic would not have been prepared to handle a case of “severe hemorrhaging” of a female patient that she later suffered at a hospital. The clinic also agreed to perform extra pelvic exams on women before refusing to do so, the state said.

The clinic did submit a “Plan of Correction” but it did not sufficiently address all the stated deficiencies, the health department said. The state’s Administration Hearing Commission conducted a hearing on the matter in October, and the clinic will remain open until a final decision is made.

McNicholas said on Thursday that the state “weaponized” the licensing process, and that officials “admitted under oath” that they targeted Planned Parenthood for extra scrutiny. Planned Parenthood did not want to perform the “extra” pelvic exam on patients that was unwarranted, she said.

In a later exchange with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), McNicholas was questioned about efforts to fight against protecting babies who survive botched abortion attempts.

“There is no way to oversimplify the medical conditions” of second trimester abortions, she said, noting that the “Born-Alive” act which would require doctors to give standard medical treatment to babies surviving abortions makes such botched abortions seem like a “real thing.”

Stuckey testified in the minority.

Abortion advocates used to advertise “safe, legal, and rare” for the procedure, but now they champion abortion-on-demand through nine months of pregnancy, Stuckey said, despite evidence that doctors can feel a baby’s heartbeat at six weeks gestation, and that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks, and survive outside the womb as early as 21 weeks.

“In speaking of abortion, its defenders ignore the existence of the child entirely,” Stuckey said. “I am here as a woman who believes that female empowerment, equality and freedom are not defined by her ability to terminate the life of her child.”

“I’m here as a human being, horrified by the violence, the oppression and the marginalization of a defenseless people group based solely on where they reside, the womb,” Stuckey said.

Her testimony followed that of Box, who said she aborted her daughter because of a “fatal fetal diagnosis.”

In her testimony in February before a Missouri state house committee, Box said her daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 18. She said she was first informed that he daughter was at “high risk” of the chromosome abnormality when she was 13 weeks pregnant, in a May op-ed for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the baby “would likely die within minutes or hours of birth,” if not before.

Most babies with Trisomy 18 die before birth, and only around ten percent survive the first year of life. Abortion rates are high for babies with fetal chromosomnal abnormalities such as Trisomy 18.

Fearing her daughter would have to endure a “life of immediate and repeated invasive medical intervention,” Box said she and her husband chose to procure an abortion.

However, she did not have insurance coverage for the abortion, Box said. According to the Guttmacher Institute, private insurance in Missouri only covers abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. A Catholic hospital which delivered her two other children refused to perform the abortion.

“My actual abortion procedure was the most compassionate care I have ever received from a. physician,” Box said. “Jake and I left that day knowing that we made the most loving and merciful choice for our daughter.”

In her op-ed in the Post-Dispatch, Box said she recently discovered she was pregnant but would not find out the results of pre-natal tests until she was 24 weeks pregnant. At the time, Missouri had just enacted several bans on abortions, including at 20 weeks post-gestation.

“When we got to the car I sobbed, ‘At 24 weeks it will be illegal in Missouri to have an abortion,’” Box wrote. “I don’t want to fly to Colorado to end this pregnancy if something goes wrong.”

“I speak for Libby,” she said on Thursday. “It is an honor to share her name with this committee and the country today. Libby Rose Box.”

“I have a rose tattoo above my heart so that she is with me every day. I am her mother, and she is my daughter and will always be my daughter. I made decisions from day one as her mother, and then made the most important decision of Libby’s life when together with my husband, we decided to terminate the pregnancy. It was a sacred, painful, personal decision.”

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, testified that “it’s not lost on me” that abortion is under its gravest threat “on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when some women first gained the right to vote.”