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In India, Catholic priest jailed for alleged hate speech after political remarks stir controversy

Flag of India at the Angelus address in St. Peter's Square on January 17, 2016. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Jul 28, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest in southern India who made political remarks, including criticism of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has been arrested for alleged hate speech.

The priest, Father George Ponnaiah, denies the charges, and has suggested that videos criticizing his remarks were deceptively edited. He apologized for any hurt he may have caused.

“My speech has been edited and circulated on social media to show that I hurt the sentiments of Hindu brothers and sisters,” Father Ponnaiah said, according to UCA News. “None of us on the dais said anything hurting religious sentiments. If my speech hurt anyone, I apologize wholeheartedly.”

Ponnaiah is a vicar of the Diocese of Kuzhithurai in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu. He was arrested July 24 and detained by a trial court for 15 days, as police filed criminal charges against him for his July 18 remarks. Some Hindu activists had threatened to stage protests on July 28 if the priest was not arrested.

The diocese’s administrator rejected any form of disparaging comments, but also said the diocese would provide legal aid to Ponnaiah.

His alleged controversial remarks came at a meeting in Arumani in Kanyakumari district, attended by Christian and Muslim leaders and representatives of various organizations. The meeting had been convened to condemn closures of churches, bans on conducting prayer meetings, and denial of permits to build churches.

The meeting also aimed to pay tribute to Fr. Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Father Stan Swami, who spent the last eight months of his life jailed on terror charges for his activism on behalf of Indian society’s lowest castes. The Jesuit died in early July at the age of 84. He had several health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, and had recently been admitted to a Mumbai hospital under a court order after he was infected with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

Ponnaiah, who is secretary of the Democratic Christian Forum, said that several political leaders “should not forget that they did not get any Hindu votes. They should not forget that their victory was the alms given by Christians and Muslims casting their votes.” The priest reportedly claimed that the Tamil Nadu state legislator M.R. Ghandi, a BJP member, was the lead suspect in the 1982 Mandaikadu religious riots that killed seven people, the Times of India reports.

The priest’s remarks were publicized in a video that went viral. He reportedly criticized leaders of the state’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government and leaders of the BJP, which others have criticized for extreme Hindu nationalism. Ponnaiah criticized PJB leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, UCA News reports.

His critics also claim he made disparaging remarks about the personified goddess “Mother India” and the Hindu religion.

Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai, the current apostolic administrator of the priest’s diocese, said he was not sure if Ponnaiah really made the statements attributed to him, but voiced disapproval of these remarks.

“The priest is head of an association called the Democratic Christian Forum and all the comments attributed to him were made in his personal capacity,” the archbishop told UCA News.

Pappusamy said the Church and its staff always work for greater harmony and peace between people and religious communities of different backgrounds, adding “we believe in universal brotherhood.”

The archbishop said he could not speak to Ponnaiah to know the facts of the situation, but added that he has approved legal help for the priest.

“The diocese will fight the case legally and an attorney has been appointed to move bail for the priest,” he said.

The priest is accused of violating several laws: promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence and language; insulting religion or religious beliefs with deliberate malice to outrage the feelings of any class; and creating or promoting ill will between classes. 

He also faces charges that he conducted the meeting in violation of health protocols that aim to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

As of 2020, the anti-persecution charity Open Doors ranked India as the 10th worst persecutor of Christians worldwide. It said persecution of religious minorities has increased since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party gained power in 2014, with thousands of such incidents every year. It accused the ruling party of allowing extremists to attack Christians with impunity.

Hate crimes against Christians in India increased by 40% in the first half of 2020 despite a three-month nationwide lockdown, according to a report last year from the ecumenical group Persecution Relief. That report ranked Tamil Nadu the second-worst state in India for such crimes, with the worst being Uttar Pradesh state.

Vatican unveils official image of 2022 World Meeting of Families

Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, S.J., with the official image of the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome. / Screenshot from Diocesi di Roma YouTube channel.

Rome, Italy, Jul 28, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican unveiled Thursday the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families in Rome.

The image, painted by the Slovenian Jesuit Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, was released July 28 by the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life and the Diocese of Rome, which will host the event on June 22-26, 2022.

“This mystery is great,” the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families in Rome. / Work of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, 2021.
“This mystery is great,” the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families in Rome. / Work of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, 2021.

The image, entitled “This mystery is great,” features the Wedding at Cana, the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

The wedding is depicted in the background of the painting, with the bride and groom standing behind a veil on the left, and Jesus and Mary on the right. Before them is a servant pouring wine.

Rupnik, the director of the Centro Aletti in Rome, is best known for overseeing the renovation of the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, which reopened in 1999 after three years of work.

He redesigned the Knights of Columbus’ Holy Family Chapel in New Haven, Connecticut, in 2005. He also designed the mosaics in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

In a video exploring the new painting’s meaning, Rupnik said: “For us Christians, the family is the expression of a sacrament, which is marriage. And this changes its meaning completely, because a sacrament always implies transformation.”

He continued: “It is within natural life that the Holy Spirit brings about the transformation of the way of existence. And he does so by transfiguring natural life, not by denying it, but by embracing it and transforming it, because the primacy is no longer of nature, but of the relation.”

“So to set up this image, on the occasion of this great gathering of families, I thought about where I should start from.”

“What I felt was important was to show the novelty of the family according to the Church, according to baptism, according to life in Christ, according to the new man.”

The priest said that he was inspired to depict the servant pouring wine as St. Paul the Apostle by the writings of the Syriac poet-theologian St. Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521).

The saint wrote: “After the wedding feast, Paul went in and saw / the veil spread out there, he took it and pulled it away from the beautiful couple. / In this way he uncovered and revealed to the whole world Christ and his Church / whom the prophet Moses had depicted in his prophecy.”

A July 28 press release explained that in the painting, St. Paul is drawing back the veil from the bride and groom, and exclaiming, regarding the wedding, “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church!” (Ephesians 5:32).

Rupnik created the image using vinyl paint on plaster mounted on a wooden square with sides of approximately 30 inches.

The first World Meeting of Families took place in Rome in 1994 at the behest of St. John Paul II. It was also held in the Eternal City in the year 2000. The meetings take place every three years and the most recent gathering was in Dublin, Ireland, in 2018.

The 10th World Meeting of Families will be the third time that Rome has hosted the event. It was originally scheduled for June 2021, but was postponed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be held at the end of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, which marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia. The Year, which began on March 19, will last for 15 months, culminating with the gathering in Rome.

Pope Francis has called for local gatherings to be held across the globe at the same time as the meeting in Rome.

The Vatican published the event’s official prayer in April and the logo earlier this month.

In his reflection on the image, Rupnik recalled that the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948) once wrote that “in Christian traditions, marriage has not been explored yet, because we have included it too quickly into family, however according to nature.”

The priest said: “I hope that, through this text and also through this small image, we can understand that for us Christians, the family is the expression of the Sacrament and that it has an ecclesial dimension, therefore it is inseparable from the Church.”

“In it, the bond of blood cannot compete with our participation in the blood of Christ, even if it is easy for the blood according to nature to prevail and not the blood of the Eucharist.”

He continued: “But, as another great father, [the 14th-century Byzantine mystic] Nicholas Cabasilas, puts it: ‘We are truly blood relatives of Christ.’ Our parents gave us blood, but our blood is not the parents’ blood. As soon as they gave it to us, our blood is no longer theirs. While we are nourished by life, that is, by the blood of Christ that becomes ours.”

“Therefore, for Christians, the family is an expression of the sacrament and of ecclesiality, and it indicates how in this world man lives when he is united with God. It becomes an expression of the divine humanity of Christ.”

Vatican says 5th Catholic bishop consecrated under China agreement

crystal51/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, Jul 28, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A Vatican spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the fifth bishop to be created under the 2018 Vatican-China deal has been ordained.

Anthony Li Hui was appointed coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Pingliang by Pope Francis on Jan. 11, according to spokesman Matteo Bruni.

Bruni said that Bishop Li was ordained in the Cathedral of Pingliang, in the province of Gansu, on July 28.

Pingliang, in north-central China, has a wider metropolitan population of more than two million people.

According to UCA News, the 49-year-old Bishop Li was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming, president of the state-sanctioned Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

Bishops’ conference vice president Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai and Bishop Nicolas Han Jide of Pingliang were concelebrants.

Representatives of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a state-endorsed organization founded in 1957, were also present.

Li was born in 1972 in Mei county in the province of Shaanxi. He was ordained a priest for Pingliang diocese in 1996. He also studied the Chinese language at Renmin University in Beijing.

Starting in 1998, Li worked at the secretariat office of the Chinese bishops’ conference and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in Beijing.

Before his appointment as bishop, Li was secretary of the Chinese bishops’ conference.

In October 2020, the Vatican and China renewed their provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops for another two years.

Bishop Antonio Yao Shun of Jining, in the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia, was the first bishop consecrated in China under the terms of the Sino-Vatican agreement, on Aug. 26, 2019.

Bishop Li is the third bishop to be consecrated since the deal’s renewal.

Colombian bishops: Euthanasia is a danger for the frailest and most vulnerable

Gagliardi Photography/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 28, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Colombian Bishops’ Conference decried the July 22 ruling of the Constitutional Court that expanded access to euthanasia to non-terminally ill patients. It said this practice not only offends the dignity of persons but is a "serious danger to the frailest and most vulnerable in our society.”

"The practice of euthanasia constitutes a serious offense to the dignity of the human person and encourages the corrosion of fundamental values of the social order," the bishops said in a statement posted Monday on the conference website. 

The bishops explained that expanding “the range of populations or cases in which euthanasia could be requested, as the current court order does, or extending it to other modalities, far from promoting a supposed right, would constitute a serious danger for the frailest and most vulnerable in our society, on whom the weight of the possible taking of their lives would hang, threatening personal freedom.”

The Constitutional Court ruled 6-3 on July 22 to expand access to euthanasia to patients undergoing intense suffering due to a serious and incurable illness or bodily injury. With that decision, it is no longer required that a patient be terminal to request euthanasia, as a 1997 ruling by the same court provided.

According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, the Court established that euthanasia will no longer be a crime “when it is carried out by a doctor with free and informed consent, prior to or after the diagnosis of the passive subject of the act, and provided that the patient suffers intense physical or mental suffering, originating from bodily injury or serious and incurable illness.”

The court stated that within the framework of “respect for human dignity, a person cannot be forced to continue living, when he suffers a serious and incurable disease that causes intense suffering, and has taken upon himself the autonomous decision to end his existence in the face of conditions that he considers incompatible with his conception of a dignified life.”

In 2015, the Ministry of Health issued some provisions for the application of the 1997 ruling; and on July 1 this year, the agency issued a resolution which explains and updates the procedures to exercise the "right to die with dignity," legitimizing the application of euthanasia in the country.

In their statement, the Colombian bishops said that “conditions of serious illness or those related to the end of life must be faced with the greatest of  care and respect, since they are painful situations that put the entire person and family members to the test and which demand, as in no other circumstance, the exercise of personal freedom and the accompaniment of society.”

"We believe that the realities of human fragility and vulnerability must be taken up with an attitude of solidarity, confident that mutual care can make the intention to voluntarily take one's life lessen, even in cases where, based on current medical knowledge, physical healing is no longer possible,” the bishops stated.

 

They then proposed four ways to achieve this attitude of solidarity.

The bishops noted “[t]he concern of the State to guarantee adequate health care to people suffering from bodily injury or serious and incurable illnesses, or who are terminal, especially when it comes to the poorest."

They also emphasized the need to "help with financial resources and psychosocial intervention the most vulnerable families and caregivers."

"The therapeutic efforts of health care personnel to adequately treat pain and respect the dignity of the patient until the moment of his natural death” are needed, the bishops said.

They urged promotion of “the virtues of citizenship by all social classes, to ensure affective and effective care for those most in need."

The bishops also stressed that "a fraternal and supportive community is achieved when we are capable of overcoming individualism and making our lives converge around common values."

"Conceiving human autonomy as a sovereign power of determination does not favor the construction of a social order in which we can feel like neighbors, all traveling in the same boat," they warned.

The Colombian bishops expressed their desire “with the favor of God, who is always gracious and merciful, we may continue to discover the best ways to respect the right to life of every person and to strengthen the bonds of social friendship among all Colombians.”

Irish Jesuits apologize for ‘shameful’ mishandling of abuse case

Belvedere College, Dublin / Pjposullivan via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Denver Newsroom, Jul 28, 2021 / 10:07 am (CNA).

Following the leak of the Irish Jesuits’ draft inquiry into sexual abuse committed by a deceased member, the order on Monday acknowledged its “shameful” mishandling of the case. 

“Decisions were made that should never have been made and decisions that should have been made were not. There are no excuses,” a July 26 statement from the Irish Jesuits reads. 

Father Joseph Marmion, SJ taught at Belvedere College in Dublin from 1969 to 1978, and died in 2000. The Irish Jesuits confirmed in March 2021 that Father Marmion had abused boys “sexually, emotionally and physically” at the school in the 1970s. 

Following that announcement, the order said it engaged with survivors and intended to find a detailed chronology of Fr. Marmion’s abuse as well as the order’s response.

In a statement this week, the Irish Jesuits admitted that Fr. Marmion’s case was mishandled, and called it “shameful."

“What has emerged in terms of the story of Marmion’s abuse, and subsequent handling of his case is shameful for us Jesuits and must be very difficult for survivors to read,” the Society of Jesus in Ireland stated.  

“We are profoundly sorry for the terrible wrongs that were done to survivors. We again ask forgiveness of all those impacted by Joseph Marmion’s abuse.”

A victim who was 13 years old at the time of the abuse contacted the Irish Jesuits in 2019, the order said. Fr. Leonard Moloney SJ, Provincial of the Order, met with the man, who asked that his abuser, Marmion, be named publicly. 

The order said it has been in contact “over many years with others who were abused” by Marmion as young students. The survivors wanted “a robust process that would address the whole truth of what happened and how it was allowed to happen,” the Jesuits said.

The order engaged two “independent restorative justice practitioners,” Barbara Walshe and Catherine O’Connell, to help aid former students who had suffered abuse. The order also prepared a report on the Jesuits’ “knowledge, actions and omission” related to the abuse case. The Irish broadcaster RTE obtained a copy of the draft report this week. 

According to the Irish Times, the draft states that a “credible” allegation of abuse was brought against Marmion as early as 1977, but the gardaí, or Irish state police, were not notified. 

Marmion was given other assignments after the allegation came to light, including being appointed chaplain to St. Vincent’s Private Hospital in Dublin in 1990. 

“We recognise that these subsequent appointments should not have been made,” the Irish Jesuits said in their March statement. 

The full contents of the confidential report has not been released, though the Jesuits said “it may be published at a later date,” the Irish Times reported.

While acknowledging the inadequacy of words, the order stated its hope that “acknowledging fully the role we played as an Order in allowing this abuse to happen and go on for so long, will be the beginning of a new way for us of taking responsibility for our failings.”

Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela calls Holy Year ‘a time of grace and encounter’

Santiago de Compostela cathedral / artem evdokimov/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jul 28, 2021 / 09:05 am (CNA).

The Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela emphasized the graces of the current Jubilee Year at the shrine of St. James the Apostle, in a homily on Sunday, the saint’s feast day.

In his July 25 homily, Archbishop Julián Barrio Barrio of Santiago de Compostela called the Holy Year "a time of grace, healing and encounter," according to Vatican News.

In Barrio’s homily, he highlighted the unifying benefits to praying to St. James.  He said that the saint could help the people of Spain maintain a “fraternal coexistence.” 

The feast of Saint James the Apostle fell on a Sunday this year, which means that pilgrims may gain an indulgence by visiting through the cathedral’s Holy Door. The beginning of the Jubilee Year of Compostela in Spain launched on December 31, 2020, and was set to continue for a year. However, because of the pandemic, Pope Francis decided it would continue through 2022.

This theme of this year’s jubilee is “Come out of your land! The Apostle is waiting for you!” 

The name comes from Pope Francis’s letter to Archbishop Barrio last year in which he wrote: "Following in the footsteps of the Apostle, we leave our self, those certainties to which we cling, but with a clear objective in mind, we are not wandering beings, always revolving around ourselves without getting anywhere.” 

“It is the voice of the Lord that calls us and, as pilgrims, we welcome it in an attitude of listening and seeking, undertaking this journey to meet God, others and ourselves,” the pope wrote.

Barrio made references to the coronavirus pandemic by praying for all victims, frontline workers and the deceased. “The mission of the Church,” he said, “is to lead people to God, but also to urge all people of goodwill to become aware of the root from which evils come, so that they may remedy the injustices and deplorable conditions in which many people live.”

The archbishop prayed that through the intercession of St. James, people would find hope and embrace “the liberating novelty of Christianity to give credible answers” to existential questions. 

Barrio said that Western civilization is in need of Christ because it has an “impoverished soul” which sees life as meaningless. Christianity gives all hope, he said, because it offers “love and solidarity” through the charity of God, “who abandons no one.”

During a Holy Year, when the feast of Saint James falls on a Sunday, the Holy Door in the cathedral remains open for the whole year, and pilgrims can gain a plenary indulgence for themselves, for someone who is ill or for a deceased person. 

To do so, pilgrims must visit the cathedral and fulfill the general conditions for receiving an indulgence: going to confession, receiving Communion, praying for the pope’s intentions, and possessing an interior detachment from sin.

Pilgrims have been making the journey to Santiago de Compostela for more than a thousand years to commemorate the life and sacrifice of James the apostle. The tradition of the Holy Year in Santiago de Compostela dates back to 1122, when Pope Callixtus II first allowed for a plenary indulgence for pilgrims to the shrine. 

The cathedral was completed in 1211 and houses the relics of St. James in its crypt. It is the destination of the “Camino de Santiago” pilgrimage route.

Catholic bishops: New N Ireland abortion intervention is ‘gravely disquieting’

Ray Dumas via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jul 28, 2021 / 06:35 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops said on Tuesday that the British government’s direction to make abortion services available in Northern Ireland by March 2022 is “gravely disquieting.”

In a statement issued on July 27, the bishops lamented the move by Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. / Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).
Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. / Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

Lewis issued a formal direction on July 22 requiring the Northern Ireland Executive and Department of Health to introduce full abortion services in the region by March 31, 2022.

The bishops said the step was the latest in a series of decisions by the British government, based in Westminster, London, that threatened “the fragile balance of relationships at the heart of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement,” which ended the 30-year conflict known as The Troubles.

“Sadly, some of our local political parties seem content to welcome this unilateral move by Westminster on an issue which is of fundamental importance to local voters, while rightly challenging such unilateral impositions on other issues,” said the bishops, who included the Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin.

They continued: “In unilaterally imposing this direction on the local Northern Ireland Assembly to provide abortion services, it is as if the Westminster government, and those local parties who have supported them, believe the answer to the issue of providing compassionate care for a woman and her unborn child in pregnancy can be framed simply and exclusively as a ‘healthcare issue.’”

“Absent from the discussion however are the thousands of unborn children, who have no legal protection and whose humanity is excluded from the political equation. It is for this reason that the argument for the protection of all human life can never be abandoned or referred to human rights experts alone.”

“Westminster has imposed an unjust law. Christians, and all people of goodwill, can never stand silently by and fail to raise their voices at any attempt to ignore completely the fact that unborn children are human beings worthy of protection.”

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but abortion law is considered to be a devolved issue under the control of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

But due to the suspension of the regional government, the British parliament decriminalized abortion in Northern Ireland in October 2019 and obliged the U.K. government to create legal access to abortion in the region.

Before March 31, 2020, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life was imperilled or if there was a risk of long-term or permanent, serious damage to mental or physical health.

Northern Ireland’s abortion law now allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions up to 24 weeks are legal when the mother’s physical or mental health is determined to be at risk. Abortions up to the point of birth are legal in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal abnormality.

In March 2021, the U.K. government signaled its intention to unveil new regulations enabling Lewis to direct the Northern Ireland Department of Health to commission more widespread abortion services -- prompting criticism from the bishops.

Officials set out the measures in a statutory instrument -- a form of secondary legislation allowing government ministers to legislate on day-to-day matters -- known as the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021.

Although Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has not commissioned services centrally, health trusts are offering abortions.

According to the Department of Health, 1,556 abortions have taken place in Northern Ireland, which has a 1.9 million population, since the law changed in March 2020.

The bishops’ latest statement was issued in the name of Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher, and Armagh auxiliary Bishop Michael Router.

The bishops noted that Northern Ireland Assembly elections are due to take place by May 5, 2022.

“As our society prepares in coming months to engage in the ultimate expression of democratic participation -- the election to our local Assembly -- we encourage all Catholics, and those share our view on the inviolability of all human life, to reflect carefully on the issues raised by this succession of unilateral impositions by the Westminster government,” they wrote.

“We encourage everyone who believes in the equal right to life and compassionate care for a mother and her unborn child to ask local candidates and political parties to explain their position on these interventions and on this most fundamental of all issues.”

5 things you need to know about Blessed Stanley Rother

Blessed Stanley Rother during a carnival. Courtesy of Archdiocese of Oklahoma City Archives.

Denver Newsroom, Jul 28, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Not much is popularly known about Blessed Stanley Rother, the small town Oklahoma native who was declared blessed in September 2017 by the Catholic Church.

One of the newest blesseds, he became a priest and missionary at a parish in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. He served the local Tz’utujil people at the time of the Guatemalan civil war, where he was on a hit list and eventually assassinated on July 28, 1981.

These are five things you need to know about this American on the path to sainthood who died 40 years ago today.

  1. Blessed Stanley Rother is the first American-born martyr. 

Aside from the North American Martyrs, such as Isaac Jogues, Blessed Stanley Rother is the only martyr associated with the United States. And he is the only martyr born in the United States. 

  1. He translated the New Testament into the Tz'utujil language. 

Stanley struggled academically in the seminary, especially with Latin, and eventually switched seminaries. Despite his seminary struggles, He learned both Spanish and Tz’utujil while in Guatemala where his desire to serve led him to learn the languages to connect with the people he was serving. 

  1. He was a jack of all trades.

Though not academically gifted, Blessed Stanley Rother possessed skills as an electrician, plumber, and farmer, which he used to aid his people by repairing machinery and helping them implement new techniques to better their farming. He also built many buildings for the community, such as a school, hospital, and a Catholic radio station. 

  1. Blessed Stanley Rother came back to his Guatemalan parish, saying “A shepherd cannot run from his flock.”

Blessed Stanley Rother faced danger to his own life in Guatemala, since his name was on a hit list. For safety, he returned to Oklahoma, where he said these words.  He went back to Guatemala for Holy Week to serve his parishioners despite the danger. Less than four months later, he was killed.

  1. Blessed Stanley Rother’s Tz’utujil parishioners have his heart. 

“At the parish, his presence is everywhere — his heart and his blood are in the church, the room that he was killed in has been converted into a chapel in his honor, the parochial school has been named after him. Blessed Rother is well-known all over town,” said Fr. Josh Mayer, a priest of the diocese of Gallup, following a visit to Guatemala in 2019 on Rother's feast day.

After Blessed Stanley Rother’s martyrdom his body was returned to Oklahoma for burial. His Guatemalan parishioners enshrined his heart, however, since they wished to keep a part of their beloved priest.

Fire engulfs 163-year-old Catholic church in Scotland

St. Simon’s, Partick, in Glasgow, Scotland. / Lirazelf via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Glasgow, Scotland, Jul 28, 2021 / 04:05 am (CNA).

More than 30 firefighters tackled a devastating fire at a Catholic church in Glasgow, Scotland, in the early hours of Wednesday.

One person was rescued after the firefighters were called out following reports of a fire at St. Simon’s, Partick, on July 28.

Photos shared on social media showed flames shooting out of a church window and into the street.

The incident occurred two days after a Catholic priest was attacked by a man wielding a glass bottle as he prayed at a cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city.

Scotland’s Health Minister Humza Yousaf referred to the assault as he expressed his sympathy for the Catholic community following the fire.

“What a devastating couple of days for Catholics in Scotland,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “First a cowardly attack on a priest in his place of worship, followed by this. I know St. Simon’s had a special place in the Polish community’s heart.”

“Solidarity with our Catholic community in Scotland.”

Pope Francis is expected to visit Scotland “for a very short time” in November, a spokesperson for the country’s bishops’ conference said earlier this month.

The pope is likely to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, on Nov. 1-12.

According to the parish website, St. Simon’s is the third-oldest Catholic church in Glasgow after St. Andrew’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s in the city’s East End.

It was opened in 1858 by Fr. Daniel Gallagher, an Irish priest who taught Latin to the explorer David Livingstone, enabling him to enter medical school.

The church, originally called St. Peter’s, was used by Polish soldiers during the Second World War and became known as the Polish Church. Masses in Polish continue to be celebrated at the church.

The church was fully restored between 2005 and 2008 for its 150th anniversary.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “We were alerted at 2.40 a.m. on Wednesday, July 28 to reports of a fire within a church on Partick Bridge Street, Partick, Glasgow.”

“Operations Control mobilised six fire appliances including two height appliances and more than 30 firefighters are in attendance and working to extinguish the fire.”

“One person was assisted from the property and given precautionary treatment at the scene. Adjacent properties have been evacuated as a precautionary measure and nearby residents are advised to keep windows and doors closed due to smoke.”

“Road users should avoid the area to allow access for emergency service vehicles and due to road closures.”

“Crews are expected to remain in attendance for some time.”

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Hong Kong’s new bishop says he wants to bring unity. Why are local Catholics divided?

Hong Kong’s Bishop-elect Stephen Chow, S.J. / Society of Jesus, Chinese Province

Rome Newsroom, Jul 28, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Hong Kong’s bishop-elect Stephen Chow has said that he wants to bring unity to his divided diocese when he assumes leadership later this year.

To achieve this goal, the incoming bishop will need to address differences among Catholics in Hong Kong, heightened by varying reactions to the local protest movement.

Joseph Cheng, a Hong Kong Catholic and retired political science professor, told CNA that Catholic institutions have been a major source of some of these divisions.

Hong Kong is a city filled with Catholic institutions, from hospitals to schools and universities. The universities, in particular, have formed a number of democracy activists, shaping the firm beliefs in justice and freedom that drove them into the streets.

But the desire to preserve these institutions has also led other Catholics to want to keep quiet, according to Cheng, who left Hong Kong in July 2020 and now lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Joseph Cheng. / Courtesy photo.
Joseph Cheng. / Courtesy photo.

“The Catholic Church runs many important services for Hong Kong people, especially primary schools, secondary schools. Some of them are the most prestigious in Hong Kong in the territory. There are a number of hospitals and social service centers, welfare agencies run by the Church,” he said.

“Now all these service institutions are mainly funded by the government. So the Catholic Church in maintaining these services has to depend on financial support from the government. And there is a natural tendency ... for these agencies to want to maintain an acceptable relationship with the government, a cooperative relationship with the government.”

This was not always the case, as the diocese of Hong Kong launched a suit against the government in 2004 after an amendment passed requiring “school-based management,” something that Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop of Hong Kong at the time, called a “conspiracy” by the government to take control of Catholic schools from the Church.

Other Catholics have responded to the dramatic changes that have occurred in Hong Kong since 2019 by entering into a “survival mode.”

Cheng said that many Catholics in the territory are middle class with good jobs and similarly have a tendency to accommodate the deteriorating situation.

“That is to say, well, since you can’t do much, you have to keep your head low. You have to simply accommodate, keep quiet, lie low, and survive,” he said.

“Then of course at the same time, many Catholics are idealists,” he noted. “They are concerned with the universal values that they cherish and they would like to uphold those values. They would like to continue to advocate social justice. They would like to continue to criticize the injustices that they see, the injustices of the authorities that they object to.”

More than a million people in Hong Kong, including a number of prominent Catholics, participated in pro-democracy protests of a controversial extradition law in 2019 and against the local government’s decision to push a national security law in 2020.

Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon imprisoned for his role in the pro-democracy movement, is a Catholic. But so too is Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, who backed the contentious national security law.

Church leaders in Hong Kong are therefore faced with these broad divisions within the community, while recognizing that “solidarity is even more valued in times of difficulty,” Cheng said.

Chow, the incoming bishop of Hong Kong, is himself a product of decades of education, teaching, and administrative leadership in Catholic schools within and outside of Hong Kong.

The Jesuit bishop-elect has identified these tensions and divisions within Hong Kong and said at a press conference the day after his appointment that he thought that “listening and empathy” were very important to heal divisions, adding that “unity is not the same as uniformity.”

“I really have no big plan, grand plan of how to unify, but I do believe there is a God, and God wants us to be united,” the 61-year-old said.

Chow also told journalists that he did not think it would be wise to comment on especially controversial issues, particularly relating to China, the day after his appointment.

“That would be rash,” he said. “But it is not because I am afraid, but, I think, I believe that prudence is also a virtue.”

Nearly a year after the passage of the national security law, an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State said that he was not convinced that speaking out on the situation in Hong Kong “would make any difference whatever.”

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, said: “One can say a lot of, shall we say, appropriate words that would be appreciated by the international press and by many parts of the world, but I -- and, I think, many of my colleagues -- have yet to be convinced that it would make any difference whatever.”

Hong Kong is at a turning point in its history, and Cheng believes that people will remember how the Church responded.

“This is a testing time,” he said, “And Hong Kong people, Chinese people, in the future will look back at these testing times and invariably they will say: What was the position of the Catholic Church? What was the position of the pope during these very difficult times?”