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Catholic News Update Asia


GLOBAL : UN investigators call on Vatican to do more to stop abuse by Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, Vatican City (NCR Online via C N U A) While acknowledging Vatican-mandated reforms in the handling of clerical sexual abuse, four U.N. special rapporteurs urged the Vatican to make it mandatory that church officials everywhere report abuse allegations to civil authorities.The four human rights experts, volunteers who investigate and make recommendations on behalf of the U.N. Human Rights Council, also expressed "concern about the continued efforts of members of the Catholic Church to undermine legislative efforts to improve the prosecution of sexual abuse against children in national courts" and to lobby legislatures "to preserve the statute of limitations on these crimes."

Representational Image - UN Photo / Rick Bajornas / Loey Filipe

The report, sent to the Vatican in April and published on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights June 21, was written by special rapporteurs working on the promotion of truth, justice and reparation; on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and on the rights of persons with disabilities. Vatican law requires church officials to follow local laws that mandate reporting of allegations to police and other civil authorities, and even when not required to do so, they are encouraged to report the crimes. However, in explaining the lack of a blanket mandate, Vatican officials frequently have maintained that in some countries the reporting of an allegation could lead to persecution rather than the fair prosecution of a crime. The rapporteurs noted positively Pope Francis' decision in 2019 to waive the obligation of secrecy for those who report having been sexually abused by a priest and for those who testify in a church trial or process having to do with clerical sexual abuse, and they applauded the Vatican civil court's decision to prosecute a priest accused of abusing a fellow student at a minor seminary in the Vatican. While they said it is important that the church allows reporting to police of suspected cases of sexual abuse, they insisted the reporting should be obligatory. "In addition," they said, "we are seriously concerned about persistent allegations of obstruction and lack of cooperation by the Catholic Church with domestic judicial procedures in order to prevent accountability of perpetrators and the provision of adequate reparations to victims." The rapporteurs asked the Vatican "to establish, at its earliest convenience, an investigative mechanism to clarify and establish the truth about all allegations of sexual violence committed against children" by Catholic priests around the world. "Such a mechanism," they said, "must be independent, autonomous from church authorities and in conformity with international standards."

HOLY FATHER : "Deacons are the guardians of service in the Church" By Robin Gomes (Vatican News via C N U A) Pope Francis on Saturday met a group of permanent deacons from Rome Diocese and spoke to them about their role, which he said is not a substitution for a priest or a bishop. “The generosity of a deacon who spends himself without seeking the front lines smells of the Gospel and tells of the greatness of God's humility that takes the first step to meet even those who have turned their backs on Him.” This is how Pope Francis envisages the role of a permanent deacon among the People of God in the Church. He made the comment on Saturday during a meeting with some 500 people, including permanent deacons from his Diocese of Rome, along with their families.

Pope meets permenent deacons of Rome Diocese along with thier families. (Vatican Media) In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry – bishops, priests and deacons. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Latin-rite Church has restored the diaconate “as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy”. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons, while those not planning to be ordained priests are permanent deacons. Permanent diaconate can be conferred on a single or married man. If he is married, he must be so before receiving the diaconate. Logic of lowering and service - In his address to the group, Pope Francis explained that the main path of the ministry of the deacon is indicated in Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which says that the diaconate is “not for the priesthood but for service." The Pope explained that this difference, which in the previous conception reduced the diaconate to a passage to the priesthood, “helps to overcome the scourge of clericalism, which places a caste of priests 'above' the People of God”. And if this is not overcome, clericalism will continue in the Church. Precisely because deacons are dedicated to the service of the People of God, they remind us that in the ecclesial body no one can elevate himself above others. In the Church, the logic of lowering must be applied. “We are all called to lower ourselves because Jesus lowered Himself” making “Himself the smallest and the servant of all.” The Holy Father said, “Please let us remember that for the disciples of Jesus, to love is to serve and to serve is to reign. Power lies in service, not in anything else.” Since deacons are the guardians of service in the Church, the Pope said, they are the guardians of true "power" in the Church, so that no one goes beyond the power of service. Speaking about what he called a "constitutively diaconal Church,” the Pope told his permanent deacons that if they don’t live this dimension of service, their ministry will become sterile and will not produce fruit, but will slowly become worldly. Deacons remind the Church that it should have "a heart that burns with love and serves with humility and joy.” “The generosity of a deacon who spends himself without seeking the front lines,” Pope Francis said, “smells of the Gospel and tells of the greatness of God's humility that takes the first step to meet even those who have turned their backs on Him." Charity and administration - Even though the decreasing number of vocations to the priesthood demands the commitment of deacons to tasks of substitution, the Holy Father said, that does not constitute the specific nature of the diaconate. The Vatican Council emphasizes that permanent deacons are above all "devoted to the offices of charity and administration," as in the early Christian centuries. He noted that in the great imperial metropolis of Rome seven places were organized, distinct from the parishes and distributed throughout the city's municipalities, in which deacons carried out widespread work on behalf of the entire Christian community, especially the "least of these," so that, as the Acts of the Apostles says, no one among them would be in need. Not “half priests” - Pope Francis said that Rome Diocese is trying to recover this ancient tradition with the diakonia ('service' in Greek) in the church of San Stanislaus, in Caritas and in other areas in the service of the poor. This way, he said, deacons will never lose their bearings, becoming "half- or second-category priests" and "fancy altar boys," but will be caring servants, excluding no one, ensuring that the love of the Lord touches people's lives in a concrete way. Hence, the spirituality of deacons could be briefly summed up as “availability inside and openness outside.” “Available inside, from the heart, ready to say ‘yes’, docile, without making one's life revolve around one's own agenda; and open outside, looking at everyone, especially those who are left out, those who feel excluded.”

Profile of a deacon - Pope Francis said he expects three things from his deacons. They should be humble, without showing off like a peacock or putting themselves at the centre. Secondly, by being good spouses and fathers or grandfathers, they will give hope and consolation to couples in difficulties who will find in their “genuine simplicity an outstretched hand.” Finally, the Pope urged them to be “sentinels” who know not only how to spot those far away and the poor but who also to help the Christian community spot Jesus in the poor and the distant, as He knocks on our doors through them.

HOLY FATHER : Evangelization requires us to follow unexpected paths By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ (Vatican News via C N U A) At the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis starts a new cycle of catechesis on themes from St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, highlighting the problems faced by the Christian communities in Galatia. Pope Francis began a new cycle of catechesis at the General Audience on Wednesday, dedicated to themes proposed by Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians. In the Epistle, noted the Pope, St. Paul makes many biographical references that allow us to understand his conversion and his decision to place his life at the service of Christ. He also touches on important subjects such as freedom, grace, and the Christian way of life – topics that “touch on many aspects of the life of the Church in our times.” The Holy Father highlighted that it is an important and decisive letter, not only for getting to know St. Paul better, but above all, for showing the beauty of the Gospel.

Pope Francis salutes the faithful gathered at the General Audience on Wednesday - (Vatican Media) St. Paul’s work of evangelization - The first feature from the Letter to the Galatians, the Pope pointed out, is the “great work of evangelization” by the Apostle who visited its communities at least twice during his missionary journeys. Providing some context to the Letter, Pope Francis explained that though it is uncertain which geographical area Paul was referring to, or the date that he wrote the letter, the Galatians were an ancient Celtic population who settled in the extensive region of Anatolia, with Ancyra as its capital (present-day Ankara in Turkey). In this region, St. Paul relates that he was obliged to stay due to illness, the Pope said. However, St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, provides a spiritual motivation, noting that “they went through the region of Phry’gia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). Explaining further, the Holy Father said that these two facts are not contradictory as they indicate that “the path of evangelization does not always depend on our will and plans, but requires a willingness to allow ourselves to be shaped and to follow other paths that were not foreseen.” “What we do see,” continued the Pope, “is that in his indefatigable work of evangelization, the Apostle succeeded in founding several small communities scattered throughout the region of Galatia.” Pastoral concern amid crisis - Pope Francis went on to highlight Paul’s pastoral concern, when, after founding the Churches, he discovered that some Christians who had come from Judaism had started to sow theories contrary to his teaching. These Christians argued that even the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the Mosaic Law, and, by implication, the Galatians would have to renounce their cultural identity in order to submit to the norms and customs of the Jews. On top of that, these adversaries of Paul claimed that Paul was not a true apostle and therefore had no authority to preach the Gospel. Pope Francis noted the uncertainty that filled the hearts of the Galatians in the midst of this crisis, especially since they had come to know and believe that the salvation brought about by Jesus was the beginning of a new life, in spite of their history that was interwoven with slavery, including that which subjected them to the emperor of Rome. Not far removed from today - Bringing the situation into the present day, Pope Francis remarked the presence of preachers who, especially through the new means of communication, present themselves as “keepers of the truth” on the best way to be Christians, instead of announcing the Gospel of Christ. He lamented that these preachers strongly affirm that the true Christianity is the one that they adhere to – a Christianity that is often identified with the past – and proffer as a solution to the crises of today, a return to the past “so as not to lose the genuineness of the faith.” Today too, as then, the Pope added, “there is a temptation to close oneself up in some of the certainties acquired in past traditions.” Pointing out that the teaching of Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians “will help us to understand which path to follow,” the Holy Father underlined that it is the “liberating and ever-new path of Jesus, Crucified and Risen.” “It is the path of proclamation, which is achieved through humility and fraternity; it is the path of meek and obedient trust, in the certainty that the Holy Spirit works in the Church in every age,” the Pope said.

OPINION : Thomas Merton's wisdom for a church in crisis by Daniel P. Horan OFM (Ncr Online via C N U A) Today marks the start of the 17th biennial conference of the International Thomas Merton Society. This year's conference theme, "Thou Inward Stranger," comes from a line in one of Merton's poems. It was selected by the planning committee (of which I am a part) to frame the academic and pastoral reflections that will be presented in the coming days on contemplation, the manifold forms of alienation that exist personally and collectively in our world, and ways the wisdom of the Christian tradition and Merton's own prodigious contributions might help us respond to the challenges of our day.

Thomas Merton , the Trappist Monk

Naturally, I have been thinking a lot about Merton, his work and legacy as this conference has drawn nearer. But in the wake of last week's meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the imprudent insistence of many bishops on forging ahead in drafting a document ostensibly targeting President Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians with the threat of withholding the sacraments, I found myself returning to some of Merton's writings from the mid-1960s that focused on ecclesial and social crises of the era. He opens his 1964 essay "The Christian in Diaspora" with a reflection on a then-recently published book by the renowned German theologian Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner titled The Christian Commitment. The first line of Merton's essay reads: "It is no secret that the Church finds herself in crisis, and the awareness of such a fact is 'pessimism' only in the eyes of those for whom all change is necessarily a tragedy." He continues, "It would seem more realistic to follow the example of Pope John (and of Pope Paul after him) and to face courageously the challenges of an unknown future in which the Christian can find security not, perhaps, in the lasting strength of familiar human structures but certainly in the promises of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. After all, Christian hope itself would be meaningless if there were no risks to face and if the future were definitively mortgaged to an unchanging present." It's striking how timely those opening observations are 57 years later. Indeed, the church, at least within the United States, is facing a crisis. And, as I have written here before, part of what contributes to the crisis is the refusal of many bishops to recognize the ongoing creative power of the Holy Spirit. Instead, they double down on their own sense of self-assurance and the mistaken belief that they — and they alone — are responsible for the success or failure of Christ's church. This is part of what I see playing out in their reduction of the Blessed Sacrament to an idolatrous token of political partisan approval or as a blasphemous weapon to be used in controlling the people of God. When you think everything is all up to you and forget that it is only God's place to judge the fittingness of an individual Christian, then you start to do some really inappropriate things, like rejecting the inherent synodality of episcopal collegiality or the expressed instructions of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to take a more responsible theological, canonical and pastoral course. There is a dangerous irony in the crisis that besets the U.S. church, which is what I believe alarmed Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the doctrinal congregation, and led to his warning the U.S. bishops; namely, that the primary role bishops serve is to symbolize and safeguard communion of the local churches with the universal church. This is why the presider names both the local bishop and the pope in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. And this is what the fracturing of the U.S. bishops' conference and the breakdown of episcopal collegiality threatens. This is dangerous not because a single politician or group of public figures receiving the Eucharist according to their consciences threatens the coherence of sacramental theology or causes grave scandal, as some bishops insist, but because many of the culture-warrior bishops themselves are signaling that they are increasingly less interested in maintaining communion with one another and with the bishop of Rome. And that is a real ecclesial crisis. If, as I believe it is the case, part of what motivates these kinds of episcopal judgments and behaviors is fear of change and loss of power, perhaps Merton's reading of Rahner's reflection on the modern "diaspora situation" of the church today, which describes Christianity's relationship to the modern world as noninsular and diffusive, can be instructive. Rahner argued that Christendom and the Christian cultural hegemony of the Middle Ages, which some people nostalgically pine for, is not only gone but is also impossible to retrieve. More than half a century later, we still hear Christians, including some church leaders, speak as if such a context could and ought to be recovered. Rather than attempting to reconstruct a past that may or may not have ever existed, Rahner argued that the Holy Spirit continually renews the church and world, which is a sign of what Merton calls "valid Christian hope." Accordingly, Merton argued that recognizing this valid Christian hope has two significant implications. First, church leaders today need to "admit that the diaspora situation is one where clerical action will be frustrated and impeded, and to accept this fact is not, for Rahner, to admit defeat. On the contrary, refusal to accept this means that the Church's energies in the diaspora will be dissipated in useless and frantic struggles to assert clerical authority where that assertion has relatively little apostolic meaning or usefulness, and where much greater good would be done by another approach." In this way, Merton offers a prescient and keen diagnosis of the current actions of church leaders in the United States today, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's instruction to proceed "by another approach." The second implication is that this context of "diaspora" requires the laity to fully embrace their baptismal vocation as full members of the body of Christ. There is no hermetically sealed Christian enclave in which to seek refuge, because it is up to all Christians to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and to be "missionary disciples," as Pope Francis explains in Evangelii Gaudium. The church is, after all, all the baptized united in the Holy Spirit (Lumen Gentium) and therefore it is not merely up to a powerful and exclusive clerical elite alone to do the work of Christ in the world. Such a distorted ecclesiology, while still popular in some circles, reflects neither the ancient tradition as found in the New Testament and among early church theologians, nor in the current church teaching as expressed by the Second Vatican Council. Paradoxically, many of the bishops who espouse this worldview fear the ecclesial and social reality as it actually is and, in their efforts to grasp onto what they consider issues able to restore their power and authority, they actually concretize their decreasing relevance. Returning to the International Thomas Merton Society conference theme this week, one might reasonably assume that a commitment to the Gospel and Christian faith in a secular world could lead Christians to be strangers in society. But, sadly, what we see with certainty on display today with the church in crisis is a large number of American bishops actively choosing to become strangers in their own community of believers.

Franciscan Fr. Daniel P. Horan is the Duns Scotus Chair of Spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he teaches systematic theology and spirituality. Follow him on Twitter: @DanHoranOFM.

PAKISTAN : The lay faithful, evangelizers in the suburbs - FIDES, Karachi (Agenzia Fides via C N U A) "There is an urgent need to reach our parish faithful, stay in contact with them, pray with them and make them feel that the Church cares for them and is close to them in every need or difficulty. In fact, the churches and chapels of my parish are full on Sundays but only ten percent of the total number of Catholics in the area participate. We must also look and think of all the others: this is why the lay missionaries will help us": with these words Fr. Arthur Charles, parish priest in the Church of St. Anthony in Karachi, reports to Fides that he has conferred the solemn missionary mandate on 19 lay faithful, including 5 women, involving them as pastoral workers in the local Church.

A woman weeps during service at St. Mary’s Church in Quetta. Credit: Sara Faruqi/Herald

Fr. Arthur Charles, one of the senior priests of the Archdiocese of Karachi, took care of the formation of these laity for eight months in the light of the fundamental contents of the Catholic faith and prepared them by organizing study sessions of the Sacred Scriptures, of the Catechism of Catholic Church, of the Sacraments and of the Pastoral care. Recounting this experience, he tells Fides: "In our territory the parishes have immense extension and the priests and catechists need the help of other pastoral workers because we often fail to reach all our parishioners, in the suburbs and in the villages. This is why I came up with the idea of involving lay pastoral workers". Speaking of the responsibilities of pastoral workers, Fr. Charles remarks: "Each pastoral worker has decided to dedicate two hours every day to home visits. A short prayer time is requested with each family, 15 to 20 minutes, in which the Gospel is read and prayed for the family. Families can freely make an offer. Pastoral workers, then, seeing the local situations, can report particularly needy families to the parish priest so that they can help them with special charitable initiatives". Fr. Arthur Charles observes: "There are many areas in our parishes where there are several Protestant and Pentecostal pastors who, with their preaching, can distance our families from the Catholic faith. We hope that, thanks to the visit of our pastoral workers in the most distant areas, our faithful will be able to take root and strengthen themselves in faith, hope and charity". The parish priest adds: "For the next four months I will personally accompany the pastoral workers and meet them to listen to their experiences and the challenges they encounter, I will guide them and continue to take care of their formation". "I hope that in the future - he concludes - through this initiative we will have good candidates to carry out the ministry of Catechists and, thanks to the good works of these pastoral workers, it will also open the way for the ministry of married acolytes and deacons in the Church in Pakistan" -

SOUTH KOREA : "The Pope's visit to North Korea would be a turning point for peace" Mgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik, Daejeon (Agenzia Fides via C N U A) He is the first Korean bishop in the Roman Curia: Lazarus You Heung-sik, 69, was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy by Pope Francis. He was ordained a priest for the diocese of Daejeon, and became coadjutor in the same diocese in 2003 and took full responsibility two years later. The new Prefect was at the head of the Peace Committee of the Korean Bishops' Conference and went to North Korea four times. Keeping in mind prayer and the hope of peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, he gave the following interview to Agenzia Fides.

Your Excellency, with what sentiments did you welcome your appointment as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy? The appointment was really unexpected for me. When the Pope communicated his will to me, in my prayer and reflection, I humanly felt a certain inadequacy in taking on such an important task. However, as I continued praying, I perceived that gradually in my heart the voice increased that God's love and mercy were certainly greater than my imperfection. Above all, Saint Andrew Kim Taegon and many other Korean martyrs came to mind, who always said "Yes" to the will of God and the Church without any hesitation, loving God and one’s neighbor to the end. Therefore, asking for their intercession, I joyfully said my "yes" to God through the Holy Father. From that moment, until the publication, I entrusted, confident in the infinite love of the Lord, all that I have achieved as a priest and bishop to the mercy of God; I thanked the Lord for "what happened in the relationship between him and me". Even the time of the spiritual exercises focused on "knowing how to let go", helped me to realize, in the light of faith, what the Lord was asking of me, and I believe that this abandonment to the will of God and following him wherever he calls us, is the indispensable modus vivendi for Christ's disciples. During those exercises I experienced in God's grace that his mercy is much greater than my weakness. Now I am carving the words of Christ in my heart: "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lk 9:62), to prepare me for the new mission for which the Church called me. The universal Church needs priests and "holy priests": what will be the criteria with which you will carry out your work in the Holy See? I studied in Rome and I know the situation of priests in Korea and also in Asia in general. But in order to better know the situation of the priests who give their service in the world, I will try, in particular, to do my best to listen patiently and respectfully to their voice, welcoming their anxieties and their desires. I agree with the thought of many faithful who argue: "Without the renewal of priests, there is no renewal of the Church". The holy priests renew the Church, and show the most beautiful face of her. As we all know well, it is very important to form priests who know how to bend over the human pain of so many brothers, willing to wash one another's feet and who live fraternal love like the Good Samaritan, just as the Holy Father emphasized in his wonderful Encyclical Letter "Fratelli Tutti". Such good priests do not come out of nowhere: here is the need to continue on a serious path of constant ongoing formation, which helps them to live their pastoral ministry serenely, face the challenges of the world with courage, and above all rediscover the precious value of fraternal love that they can experience with their confreres. It is also a vocation for me to live fraternal love among priests, forming a priestly family with them. Priestly celibacy, which we have all accepted as a gift from the Father, does not require us to live our ministry as orphans, but we know that we are happily integrated into a large family, the priestly one, where one can experience friendship and communion. The words that Pope Francis often addresses to priests and seminarians, whom I listen to willingly, have always renewed and edified me, reminding me that my main task to be a "good Shepherd" and to do my best to strive to live my ministry, in communion with all the others. In fact, I believe that it is an important aspect to be able to give future priests the possibility of also living a formative experience together with men and women religious, as well as with the lay faithful. The Church is a family, therefore in our journey from a synodal perspective, such a possibility will certainly guarantee mature future priests and, why not, also saints.

Photo - FIDES

What does the first Korean Bishop at the head of a Dicastery of the Roman Curia mean? What specific contribution can you make? I believe it is the call of all bishops, successors of the Apostles, to take direct responsibility for the Diocese on the one hand and for the Universal Church on the other. The Holy Father, recognizing that the Holy Korean Martyrs lived a life consistent with their faith, that is, evangelized by living fraternal love, in a concrete and exemplary way, as a child of this blessed land, fertilized by their blood, called me to collaborate closely, to spread their witness of heroic faith in today's world. I am aware that it is an arduous and highly responsible task to assist the Holy Father in this special Dicastery, which wishes to offer attention and particular care to the priests, deacons and seminarians of the world. Trusting in the help of the Holy Spirit and in profound communion with Pope Francis, I feel the deep desire to love, serve and encourage them; therefore, I will do my best to live as a disciple of the Lord, enlightened above all by the logic of the Gospel, which prompts me to be a brother and friend of priests. I was so encouraged by the message of good wishes that a Bishop friend sent me in these days: "Lazarus, congratulations on your appointment as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. I would just like to remind you that if there is a sad priest, you will be responsible". My hope is that all priests live with joy, zealously serving the People of God, especially the marginalized and the poor. Do you hope and think that a trip by the Pope to North Korea is possible? Do you think you can make a contribution in this sense? Last October 2018, when the President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in was received by Pope Francis in audience, he sent the Pope an invitation from Kim Jong-un, leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, for a possible apostolic journey to that nation. The Pope then replied that he was available to visit North Korea when he would receive a formal invitation from the Pyongyang authorities. In those days I was participating in the Synod of Bishops on the theme of young people and, when I learned the news of the Holy Father’s availability, I was really moved. Since then, I have constantly prayed for the Pope's visit to North Korea. Nearly ten million Koreans live in forced separation due to the division between South and North. The confrontation that exists on the Korean Peninsula is one of the greatest sufferings of humanity today. It should be noted that the area which is called the “Demilitarized Zone” (DMZ) between the South and the North is ironically the most militarized zone in the world. I am convinced that a possible visit to Pyongyang could represent a turning point, which will allow us Koreans to dialogue and understand each other better, starting with small things and ending with big ones, and maybe even reaching the reunification of the South and the North. In concrete terms, the Holy Father's mediation could be a propitious opportunity to put an end to the conflict, the result of the mutual distrust between the two parts of the Peninsula which has been prolonged for too many decades. For my part, I pray and try to do what I can, in the hope of seeing the opening of at least a small window to be able to understand each other, overcoming the current situation of tension and opposition. Humanly there seems to be little hope, but since God is omnipotent, I try, by praying to Him, to welcome all that can be useful for the promotion of peace. In taking on the new mission in the Church, if I can give my support for the restoration of peace in the Korean Peninsula, I will do so willingly.

THAILAND : Evangelization and dialogue with Buddhists in the north of the country, for the common good - FIDES, Bangkok (Agenzia Fides via C N U A)"It is important to continue the dialogue of life between Catholics and Buddhists in Thailand", says Mgr. Anthony Weradet Chaiseri, Archbishop of Thare and Nonseng, in the north-eastern region of Thailand, to Fides. The interreligious dialogue between Catholics and Buddhists is an integral part of the pastoral plan of the Catholic Church in Thailand, immersed in a nation and in a cultural and religious environment marked by Buddhism: starting from this observation in recent days, Archbishop Chaiseri met Sutham Suthammo, Buddhist abbot of the Forest Monastery in Kesetsrikhun in Nong Phai. "The Church wants to promote and strengthen relations with the representatives of the local Buddhist community", said Mgr. Chaiseri to Fides.

Photo - FIDES

"A stronger collaboration with the Buddhist community can help us work together for the common good, peace, harmony and development", he added. "There is no friction or tension between the Catholic and Buddhist communities in the country because Thai society is open and tolerant, but we need to deepen the collaboration between the two communities of faith", underlined Mgr. Chairri. Suthammo, a Buddhist monk, said that "the Buddhist community wants to undertake some common development projects to help those in need during the Covid-19 pandemic", in collaboration with other faith communities. "We look forward to making further joint efforts for mutual understanding and carrying out joint projects that can help people in these difficult times", he added. Thailand is the second largest Buddhist country in the world after China. The Catholic mission in Thailand began 350 years ago, in a country with a large Buddhist majority. Of the 69.5 million citizens, almost 95% are Buddhists. Catholics represent less than 1% of the population.

U. K. : The Catholic marriage maze by Clifford Longley (The Tablet via C N U A) The present teaching of the Catholic Church that marriage is indissoluble has a complex history. Might a better understanding of the scriptural basis of the teaching and historical context of its formulation help release some of the hurt and scandal that current marriage discipline creates? The marriage of Boris Johnson to Carrie Symonds in Westminster Cathedral has scandalised many Catholics. This is not because of ­prejudice against either of them, though spite may have entered in here and there, but because, in ignoring his previous marriages, it seemed a flagrant contradiction of the Church’s witness to the indissolubility of marriages. Yet there may be something prophetic in that uncomfortable outcome, if it causes Catholics to look again at what marriage really is and what indissolubility really means.

Image - File Photo

These are rocks on which many lives have been painfully bruised. Part of the adverse reaction to the Johnson marriage was driven by a sense of unfairness: the strict rigours of the Catholic marriage discipline, with its complex web of hurdles and dispensations – the Catholic marriage maze – allowed this particular couple to marry. Many are not so lucky. Behind all this are serious questions about how God works in the domain of human affairs, domestic and marital but also social and political. In other words, about what Catholics call grace. At the end of his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis mentions five individuals who have inspired his own spiritual journey: Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and Charles de Foucauld. The moving force in all of their lives was God’s gratuitous power. God is present wherever love is, wherever there is hungering and thirsting after righteousness. King and Tutu, both ministers in their own Christian communities, were not validly ordained according to Catholic canon law; Gandhi was not even a baptised Christian – yet God used him and empowered him. God’s grace is not governed by canon law or only expressed through the Church’s seven sacraments. The Spirit bloweth where it listeth. What if we apply this insight to marriage? The Catholic marriage package, so to speak, comes as a tightly entwined mix of contract law and sacramental discipline, largely untouched since the 24th session of the Council of Trent in 1564. To benefit from the grace that flows from the Sacrament of Matrimony – “to perfect that natural love” as the council put it – couples in which at least one is a Catholic have to have their marriage contract blessed by their parish priest, or witnessed by someone authorised by the Church. Otherwise the contract is invalid and the grace of the sacrament is withheld. Their “natural love” is not “perfected”. If this was not such familiar territory, it would seem preposterous to suggest that the Church can turn grace on and off like a tap, telling God where he can or cannot intervene. Yet that in effect is what Trent did: for a very good reason, as the council documents explain. Men, it says, were accustomed to taking to themselves secret wives, in what were known as clandestine marriages; and then later on, they were marrying again publicly, rejecting the first wife. That was clearly a grave injustice to women, which needed to be stopped. Until Trent, the first marriage was based solely on mutual consent: the only grounds in the Western Christian tradition for the creation of a marriage contract. What Trent did was to impose additionally the official registration of marriages, and make this a necessary condition for the marriage to be recognised in law. Henceforth, Church and state would know for certain who was married and to whom. English law took the same path, for the same reason, in the Marriage Act of 1754. Indeed, the clergy invented the concept of “living in sin” in order to shame people away from the habit of clandestine marriages. There was also an anti-Catholic element to the legislation in England, for the only registrars of valid marriages were the clergy of the Church of England, to whom recusant Catholics were forced to turn to gain legal recognition for their own marriages. Today, every priest knows of couples with children in his parish whose marriages are not recognised as valid in the eyes of the Church. Maybe one of them has been married before. The indissolubility of a valid and consummated marriage, which became the fulcrum of the Catholic doctrine of marriage after Trent, meant that in spite of their civil divorce they were still married to their first spouse – however unrealistic that may look in practice – and the second relationship was therefore adulterous. It follows naturally that God’s grace is not available for the fostering of adultery. But that is not how it works in the real world. There are many “invalid” but fully functioning marriages in the Catholic community. Do these couples occasionally quarrel? Do they reach out to one another afterwards for forgiveness and healing, showing mercy and compassion? Do they care for each other in sickness and in health? Do they seek righteousness together (whatever they call it)? And is God completely absent from such scenarios, withholding his helping and healing grace? The increasingly ineffective effort to deny Holy Communion to such couples looks like an attempt to block the sacramental grace of the Eucharist from reaching where it may be most needed. If God is love, then God is pres­ent where love is: as God was present in the lives of Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi, just as it was in the lives of Francis of Assisi and Charles de Foucauld. The Council of Trent’s intentions were good, even as it tried, with extraordinary presumption, to dictate to God where grace could flow. But clandestine marriage is no longer the problem it was 457 years ago, and the protection of women no longer requires the indissolubility of marriage. In defending indissolubility, Trent rejected the so-called “Matthean exception”: two ­passages in St Matthew’s Gospel where marital infidelity is given as justification for divorce and remarriage. Like a lot of Trent, this was intended to refute Martin Luther’s teaching. But the actual words of Jesus that Matthew quotes throw a curious light on the absolutist ban on divorce that Trent regards as what Christ intended. Again, the context is the need to protect women from exploitation by men. The King James Version, no doubt unintentionally, hints at the context in which Jesus spoke: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.” “Putting away” is the clue. In first-century Israel, divorce was common. A man (and only the man) had the right to expel his wife from house and home, and to take another wife in her stead. Her only means of survival was to find another man, but the blame for this, Jesus was clear, lay with the first husband. This is a society which has still not quite formally repudiated polygamy – Herod, for instance, had several wives – and divorce in a poly­gamous society would have been unusual. A man could simply add a second or third wife to the first. Divorce in the patriarchal monogamous society that Israel had become by the first century AD had exceptionally harsh consequences for women. Jesus’ teaching against divorce served the cause of justice. Nobody supposes that he had in mind the tortuous processes of securing an annulment of marriage via the marriage tribunal system that the Catholic Church has resorted to, to address hard cases. The Catholic Church has been mesmerised – some would say, paralysed – by Trent’s teaching on marriage. Has it outlived its usefulness? Does it still serve the cause of truth, love and justice? Or has it become an instrument of oppression whose victims are mainly women? The post-Tridentine concept of legally enforced indissolubility seems anachronistic. The desire to stay attached to the person one loves is entirely natural, and occurs in every society, past and present. The loss of such a person, from whatever cause, is one of the most painful psychological traumas there is. Does that trauma need aggravating by law? Most of what used to be regarded as Christian sexual morality has fallen away in Western societies, but infidelity is still regarded as one of the least forgivable of sins. This is just as true when the relationship that has been betrayed is not recognised by law. Does the Church really maintain that it has been given this power over God’s actions, or that it can control and direct God’s loving grace by the exercise of canon law: where to apply it, and where to switch it off. Canonists and theo­logians no longer believe the relationship between the law of the Church and God’s grace is as clear-cut as Trent supposed. So is the Catholic Church’s marriage discipline, the marriage maze, that has become the source of such fury in recent weeks, based on a theological fallacy? Clifford Longley is The Tablet’s chief leader writer.

U. S. : “Eucharistic document seeks to deepen 'awareness,' 'amazement'” Abp. Jose Gomez, President, USCCB (CNA via CNUA) The U.S. bishops are seeking to deepen “awareness” of the Eucharist with their new teaching document, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference stated on Monday. “As bishops, our desire is to deepen our people’s awareness of this great mystery of faith, and to awaken their amazement at this divine gift, in which we have communion with the living God,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), stated on Monday. “That is our pastoral purpose in writing this document.” At their annual spring meeting last week, the U.S. bishops voted decisively to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist. Of those bishops who voted, nearly three-fourths, 168 bishops, voted in favor of drafting a formal statement on “the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.” Fewer than one-quarter, 55 bishops, voted against the motion, while six bishops abstained from voting.

Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Archbishop Gomez said the proposed document will focus on “the beauty and power of the Eucharist.” “The Eucharist is the heart of the Church and the heart of our lives as Catholics,” he said. “In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ himself draws near to each one of us personally and gathers us together as one family of God and one Body of Christ.” Following the bishops’ vote, the USCCB doctrine committee will begin drafting the document, with regional meetings and consultations to follow, Gomez explained. The bishops will consider the full document at their fall meeting in November. A proposed outline of the document, advanced by the USCCB doctrine committee, included various sections on the Church’s Eucharistic teachings, including the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Sunday as a holy day, the importance of the works of mercy, and worthiness to receive Communion. It is being advanced as the bishops also voted to launch a three-year Eucharistic Revival initiative, which will begin in 2022 and is planned to culminate in a national Eucharistic congress in 2024. The USCCB’s working group to deal with Biden’s election recommended that the bishops issue a teaching document on the Eucharist. The group also cited previous plans of the conference to launch a three-year Eucharistic Revival initiative, as well as the USCCB’s 2021-2024 strategic plan “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ.” A teaching document would supplement these two initiatives, the working group said. Such a document, while addressed to all Catholics, was needed to clarify the problems of Catholic public officials advocating policies contrary to Church teaching on grave moral issues, the working group said. Biden, a Catholic, supports taxpayer-funded abortion and the Equality Act, and has advanced pro-LGBT policies through his administration. The proposed document includes a subsection on “Eucharistic consistency,” or worthiness to receive Communion. The Church teaches that Catholics conscious of serious sin since their last confession cannot approach to receive Communion. Archbishop Gomez on Monday asked Catholics to pray for the bishops as they draft and consider the document. “I invite everyone in the Church to pray for the bishops as we continue our dialogues and reflections. I pray that this will be a time for all of us in the Church to reflect on our own faith and readiness to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist,” he said.

VATICAN : To the elderly, “God sends his angels to console your loneliness” Pope Francis By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ (Vatican News via CNUA) Pope Francis reassures the elderly that God is always with them in his message for the first-ever World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. He also reminds them of their vocation to preserve our roots and to pass on the faith to the younger ones. Pope Francis on Tuesday released a message for the First World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly ahead of the date of the celebration which is scheduled for 25 July. The theme chosen by the Pope for the inaugural commemoration is “I am with you always” (Mt 28: 30).

Plenary Indulgences granted by Pope Francis on the First World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly The Holy Father addressed the theme from the Gospel of Matthew to all Grandparents and the elderly, reminding them that this is the promise the Lord made to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. “The whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!” the Pope said, identifying with the elderly, as one of them. Comfort amid the pandemic - The Pope’s message comes amid the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected everyone, especially elderly people. Many, Pope Francis noted, “fell ill, others died or experienced the death of spouses or loved ones, while others found themselves isolated and alone for long periods.” “The Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time,” the Pope said, “He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic.” Illustrating this, he recounted the story of St. Joachim, the grandfather of Jesus, who, according to tradition, was consoled by a messenger of the Lord when he felt estranged from those around him. The Lord sends angels, messengers through His words - Even at the darkest moments, the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to remind us that He is with us always, the Pope assured. These angels, he continued, will at times have the face of our grandchildren, while at other times, “the face of family members, lifelong friends or those we have come to know during these trying times, when we have learned how important hugs and visits are for each of us.” At the same time, the Lord also “sends us messengers through his words, which are always at hand” the Pope noted, inviting the elderly to “try to read a page of the Gospel every day, to pray with the psalms, to read the prophets.” He added that “the Scriptures will also help us to understand what the Lord is asking of our lives today. For at every hour of the day, and in every season of life, he continues to send labourers into his vineyard.”

Photo - Vatican Media

The vocation of the elderly - The Holy Father went to recall the words of Jesus to the disciples when he asked them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20) Addressing these words to the elderly, he highlighted that this helps them better understand that they have the vocation “to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young, and to care for the little ones” irrespective of their age, if they are alone or have a family, if they work or not or if they are grandparents or not. The Pope underlined that there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to grandchildren. Further encouraging the elderly to “set out and undertake something new” in spite of the doubts and questions they might have, he reminded them that Jesus himself heard a similar question when Nicodemus asked him “how can a man be born when he is old” (Jn 3:4) It can happen, “if we open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit, who blows where he wills. The Holy Spirit whose freedom is such that goes wherever, and does whatever he wills,” the Pope said. Emerging from the crisis - Reflecting on collective efforts to put an end to the pandemic, Pope Francis stressed that we will not emerge from the present crises as we were before, but either better and worse. He noted that “no one is saved alone” and we are all indebted to one another because “we are all brothers and sisters.” In this regard, he went on to insist that the elderly “are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow” where, together with their children and grandchildren, “will live once the storm has subsided.” The Pope insisted that all of us must “take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies” and the elderly, better than anyone else, can help to set up three of the pillars that support “this new edifice,” which include dreams, memory and prayer. Dreams, memory and prayer - Recalling the words of Prophet Joel, “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men will have visions” (Joel 3:1), Pope Francis said that the future of the world depends on the covenant between young and old because “who, if not the young, can take the dreams of the elderly and make them come true?” For this to happen, “it is necessary that we continue to dream,” said the Pope. “Our dreams of justice, of peace, of solidarity, can make it possible for our young people to have new visions; in this way, together, we can build the future.” Explaining further, the Pope said that “dreams are intertwined with memory.” The Pope then turned his thoughts to the painful memory of war and the importance of helping the young to learn the value of peace. He stressed that those among the elderly that experienced the suffering of war must pass on the message because keeping memory alive and sharing it with others is a true mission for every elderly person. “Without memory, however, we will never be able to build; without a foundation, we can never build a house. Never. And the foundation of life is memory,” he said. Finally, Pope Francis spoke on prayer, recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s words: “the prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others.” He reminded the elderly that their prayer is “a very precious resource; a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need” that “inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore” especially in these times “as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic.” Concluding, the Holy Father held up the example of Blessed Charles de Foucauld to the elderly, explaining that the story of his life “shows how it is possible, even in the solitude of one’ s own desert, to intercede for the poor of the whole world and to become, in truth, a universal brother or sister.” He, therefore, asked the Lord that through his example, “all of us may open our hearts in sensitivity to the sufferings of the poor and intercede for their needs.” “May each of us learn to repeat to all, and especially to the young, the words of consolation we have heard spoken to us today: “I am with you always”! keep moving forward! May the Lord grant you his blessing,” the Pope said.

VIETNAM : Church mobilizes to help those suffering from ongoing Covid-19 crisis - Vatican News (C N U A) As the situation in Vietnam continues to worsen, members of the Catholic community across Vietnam continue their aid work for those suffering the consequences of Covid-19. Whilst many countries around the world begin easing their Covid-19 restrictions, the situation in Vietnam continues to worsen. On Monday, 13,483 positive cases were registered and of these 1,714 were in Ho Chi Minh City alone. As a result, Catholic communities in the local archdiocese have mobilized to offer their assistance.

A street artist walks past a mural depicting Covid-19 frontline workers along a street in Hanoi, Vietnam (AFP or licensors) Tân Trang Parish - Father Joseph Ðinh Van Th?, vicar of Tân Trang Parish, called on the faithful to pray and perform works of charity. The parish has organised special food distributions for those most in need. These include, amongst others, rubbish collectors, the elderly, the ill, and those living in the poorest areas. Fr Joseph explains that "many families face great challenges, but we always have faith in God. We pray for peace for everyone and for the end of the pandemic. And we thank those who with their generosity help us bring this aid in a spirit of charity and love." St Martin's Parish - In St. Martin's Parish, Fr. Peter Vu Minh Hùng had already opened Quán Com 2000, a soup kitchen in which the poor can receive a bowl of rice for the symbolic price of 2,000 dong (the equivalent of a few US cents), in 2016. Because of the pandemic, the soup kitchen was forced to close, but reorganised itself as a place in which to distribute rice to the poor and needy, including those who make a living selling lottery tickets or driving motorcycle taxis. Between 500 and 600 people arrive for delivery each day, with Fr. Peter Vu Minh Hùng himself participating in food preparation. Xuân Hi?p Parish - Salesian Fr. Joseph Nguy?n Tru?ng Th?ch, vicar of Xuân Hi?p Parish, has organised the distribution of food parcels to which the Department of Charity and Social Works of the Vietnamese Jesuit Province also contributes. The parish has also set aside small sums of money to support those who are struggling to pay their water and electricity bills or to buy medicine. Hoàng Mai - In one of the areas hardest hit by Covid, the parish of Hoàng Mai itself has had to experience quarantine in recent days. But even this hardship has not stopped the spirit of charity, with families sharing food and masks. The Catholic Church in Vietnam - Vietnam has the fifth largest Catholic population in Asia, after the Philippines, India, China and Indonesia. There are about 7 million Catholics in Vietnam, representing 7.0% of the total population, and the Church is present with 27 dioceses (including three archdioceses) that include over 2,200 parishes and more than 2,500 priests. A government census of 2019 shows that Catholicism, for the first time, is the largest religious denomination in the country, surpassing Buddhism.

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