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UK urged to sanction Nigerian officials for failing to protect persecuted Christians

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- A new report Wednesday urged the U.K. to sanction Nigerian officials accused of turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christians.

The report, published July 8 by Competere, a trade law and economic policy consultancy, highlighted the persecution of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt states. It urged the U.K. government to use new powers to penalize individuals who are complicit in the violence.

Shanker Singham, CEO of Competere, told CNA: “Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced that the U.K. will no longer be a safe haven for those who engage in gross human rights violations. This is to be welcomed.” 

“The U.K. now has the tools to deal with human rights violations such as those being perpetrated in Nigeria against Christians in the Middle Belt. It is crucial that the full force of U.K. sanctions is brought against Nigerian officials who are guilty of collusion in these heinous acts.” 

On Monday, the U.K. announced its first sanctions under a new initiative seeking to punish human rights abuses around the world. The government imposed sanctions on 49 individuals and organizations connected to “notorious human rights violations.” The sanctions are the first issued by the U.K. independently, rather than through the United Nations and European Union.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said July 6: “From today, the ground-breaking global regime means the U.K. has new powers to stop those involved in serious human rights abuses and violations from entering the country, channeling money through UK banks, or profiting from our economy.”

The Competere report, “Integrating Foreign Policy, Development Policy and Human Rights Objectives: Christian Persecution in Nigeria,” chronicles recent attacks on Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt states of Taraba, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Adamawa.

It notes that Christians in the Middle Belt, many of whom are farmers, have faced attacks from three groups: Boko Haram, the Islamic State in the West African Province, and Muslim Fulani herders. 

It cites a report published last month by the U.K. All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, which questioned whether the violence amounted to genocide.

It says that the response of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has been to “deny, ignore, and deflect.”

“The willful blindness of the administration is seen by many in Nigeria and internationally as complicity with, and enabling of, the killings,” it asserts.

The report comes days after the president of the European bishops’ commission promised persecuted Christians in Nigeria that he would advocate for increased support from the European Union. 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who leads the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), wrote a letter to the Nigerian bishops stating that the commission will seek EU assistance and cooperation with the Nigerian authorities to combat persecution.

The Competere report notes that the U.K. sends $2.5 billion in aid per year to Nigeria, the equivalent of approximately $1 million a day.

“It is crucial that this be conditional on appropriate responses from the Nigerian government,” it says. 

The report challenges the government to apply to Nigerian officials the U.K.’s version of the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which allows it to freeze assets, impose travel bans and apply other sanctions to human rights offenders.  

It says: “The U.K.’s enhancement of its criminal law to allow promoters of persecution to have their assets frozen and to stop them from enjoying the hospitality of the donor countries themselves is a welcome development.” 

“Now the U.K. must prove that in the protection of human rights, it has the moral high ground.”

Pope Francis calls on Christians to recognize the face of Christ in migrants

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2020 / 06:05 am (CNA).- Pope Francis offered Mass Wednesday asking the Virgin Mary to help Christians recognize the face of Christ in each migrant and refugee.

“As we undertake to seek the face of the Lord, we may recognize Him in the face of the poor, the sick, the abandoned, and the foreigners whom God places on our way. And this encounter becomes for us a time of grace and salvation, as it bestows on us the same mission entrusted to the Apostles,” Pope Francis said in the Casa Santa Marta chapel July 8.

“May the Virgin Mary, Solacium migrantium, ‘Solace or Comfort of Migrants,’ help us discover the face of Her Son in all our brothers and sisters who are forced to flee from their homeland because of the many injustices that still afflict our world today,” the pope said in his homily.

Invoking the new Marian title added to the Litany of Loreto in June, Pope Francis prayed for the migrants who are in detention camps in Libya and elsewhere who are often subject to abuse and violence.

He recommended words of Christ that can be used as a part of one’s daily examination of conscience: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The pope said: “The encounter with the other is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us. It is He who knocks on our door, hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, seeking an encounter with us and requesting our assistance.”

Pope Francis offered Mass at his residence to mark the seventh anniversary of his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only the staff of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Department for Promoting Integral Human Development were in attendance. 

“Today’s responsorial Psalm urges us always to seek the Lord’s face: ‘Rely on the mighty Lord, constantly seek His face,’” he said. “This quest is a fundamental attitude in the life of all the faithful, who have come to realize that the ultimate goal of their existence is the encounter with God.”

During his homily, the pope told the story of his encounter with an Ethiopian migrant during his visit to Lampedusa in 2013, recalling that he later found out that his translator at the time had “distilled” the migrant’s story because of the intensity of the suffering recounted.

“This happens today with Libya,” he said. “They give us a ‘distilled’ version. The war is bad, we know it, but you cannot imagine the hell they live through there in those detention camps. And these people only came with hope to cross the sea.”

Pope Francis has frequently spoken out about the plight of migrants detained in Libya this year. On June 14 the pope called on the international community to “take their plight to heart” and to identify pathways and means to provide them with the protection that they need for a dignified condition, adding that the health situation with the coronavirus pandemic has aggravated the migrants’ already precarious conditions.

Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, is located 160 nautical miles from the Libyan capital of Tripoli. It is a primary destination for migrants from Africa seeking entry to Europe.

Pope Francis visited the Mediterranean island on July 8, 2013. The trip, his first pastoral visit outside Rome, signaled that concern for migrants would be at the center of his pontificate.

The pope quoted part of his Lampedusa homily in the livestreamed Mass. He said: “The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.” 

“In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.”

The pope then responded with a reflection on how the Apostles’ lives were transformed by their encounter with Christ.

“The personal encounter with the Lord, a time of grace and salvation, immediately entails a mission: ‘As you go, Jesus tells them, make this proclamation: The kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” he said. “Encounter and mission cannot be separated.”

Bishop's brother appointed brother bishop in Savannah

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2020 / 05:35 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Fr. Stephen D. Parkes as the next bishop of Savannah, Georgia, Wednesday.

The Holy See press office announced July 8 that Parkes, a priest of the Diocese of Orlando, would succeed Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, who was appointed archbishop of Atlanta in March.

Parkes, 55, currently serves as pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Longwood, Florida. His older brother, Gregory Parkes, is bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

A day of great joy as my brother, Fr. Stephen Parkes, is appointed Bishop of Savannah by Pope Francis! Blessed to be brothers. Blessed to be brother Bishops! #courageouslyliving @DioStPete pic.twitter.com/yYxTDSVGVi

— Bishop Parkes (@BishopParkes) July 8, 2020  

The bishop-elect was born on June 2, 1965, in Mineola, New York. He attended Massapequa High School in New York and gained a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He worked in business and banking before pursuing a vocation to the priesthood.

In a 2015 Legatus Magazine interview, he said: “After college I started working for a bank. I always felt that I was seeking something more. I knew that I wasn’t fulfilled working for the bank, and I felt God was calling me to a life of service to the Church.”

“It wasn’t a quick, easy decision. I attended a weekend discernment retreat, but it took me two years before I picked up an application for seminary.”

He studied philosophy and theology at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Orlando on May 23, 1998. 

His first appointment was as parochial vicar to Annunciation Catholic Church in Longwood. In 2005, he was named parochial administrator at Most Precious Blood Church in Oviedo, Florida.

From 2004 to 2011, he served as spiritual director for Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Parkes was appointed pastor at Annunciation Catholic Church in 2011. A speaker of both English and Spanish, he has served as spiritual director of the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida since 2009, and as Dean of the North Central Deanery from 2010.

The Diocese of Savannah covers 37,038 square miles in the state of Georgia, with a total population of  2,934,000 of which 75,603 are Catholic, according to a July 8 press release from the USCCB.  

The diocese announced July 8 that his episcopal ordination and installation will take place at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, the feast of St Padre Pio.

In a message to members of the diocese Wednesday, Diocesan Administrator Fr. Daniel F. Firmin wrote: “We are deeply grateful to our Holy Father for this gift to our diocese.”

“How fortunate we are to welcome a seasoned and gifted pastor! In his 22 years of priestly ministry, he has served in parishes, directed souls, and was the campus minister at the University of Central Florida for nearly a decade. His pastoral zeal and concern are immediately evident when meeting him.”

‘It meant a great deal to her’: the Catholic faith of the woman voted ‘greatest Black Briton’

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- She was voted the “greatest Black Briton.” A statue of her stands opposite the Houses of Parliament. Her heroic life is taught to students in England as part of the National Curriculum. Yet few people know that Mary Seacole was a Catholic convert.

There may be a good reason for that: although the 19th-century businesswoman who cared for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War is a celebrated figure today, little is known about her journey to Catholicism. 

Jane Robinson, author of a 2004 biography of Seacole, told CNA: “I was unable to find out much about Mary’s Catholic faith myself, but given that she was a convert, I can only assume that it meant a great deal to her.” 

“It’s frustrating that in this, as in many areas of her personal life, information is scant. She obviously considered it to be a private affair.”

Seacole was born in 1805 in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father was a Scottish lieutenant in the British Army and her mother was a Jamaican “doctress” who taught her how to treat illnesses using herbal remedies. 

She traveled to Britain in the 1820s, and worked as a nurse in the Caribbean and in Central America. She treated patients suffering in the cholera epidemic of the time.

When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, Seacole tried to join a contingent of nurses but was refused. She decided to travel independently to set up an establishment called the “British Hotel,” offering “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers.”

Catholic author and broadcaster Joanna Bogle told CNA: “Mary Seacole never sought to be a nurse -- she was a well-to-do business lady who ran a shop selling snacks and sweets to the officers.”

“She was certainly kind and helped sick soldiers, offering them comfort and doing what she could for them, and sometimes offered some of her family remedies, learned from her mother and grandmother in Jamaica.” 

“Above all, she offered the strength of her faith, and the warmth of her heart: there are touching accounts of her holding dying soldiers, and saying ‘Mother is here…’ She became known affectionately as ‘Mother Seacole’ and years later, living in London, would recall with tears the poor dying soldiers whose last hours she had shared.”

When the war ended in 1856, Seacole returned to England with little money and in poor health. Prominent supporters, including the Duke of Wellington and William Howard Russell, war correspondent of the London Times, raised funds on her behalf. 

Fr. Stewart Foster, the archivist of the Diocese of Brentwood in southeast England, told CNA that Seacole was received into the Church in 1860, at the age of 55. It appears that she became a Catholic in England, but because her reception occurred after the publication of her autobiography she left no record of her reasons for embracing the Catholic faith, which was remerging in Britain after centuries of suppression.

When Seacole died in 1881, she was buried in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, northwest London. Her gravestone, which was restored by the Jamaican Nurses Association in 1973, describes her as “A notable nurse who cared for the sick and wounded in the West Indies, Panama and on the battlefields of the Crimea.”

The restoration of her grave was part of a wider rediscovery of her life, which had been all but forgotten in the decades after her death. 

In 2004, Seacole came top of a list of 100 great Black Britons. The poll took place after a BBC series asked viewers to vote for the “100 Greatest Britons,” but no Black people were included in the top 100.

Following the poll, Seacole was the subject of a television documentary, several biographies, and an exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum. A portrait was discovered and placed in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A statue of Seacole was erected in the grounds of St Thomas' Hospital, London, in 2016. The statue, which faces the Palace of Westminster, was believed to be the first of a Black woman identified by name in Britain. 

Reflecting on Seacole’s selfless service during the Crimean War, Bogle said: “I remember reading that when men are dying they often call for their mothers. It is apparently something noted by many nurses over the years.” 

“I am rather moved by the thought of kindly Mother Seacole responding to the cry of a dying soldier, so that at least he felt loved and caressed… and perhaps somewhere in all of that is the thought that surely Our Lady heard their cries.”

Catholic builds a shrine to St. Junipero Serra on the site of destroyed Sacramento statue

Denver Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).-  

After rioters pulled down a statue of St. Junipero Serra in Sacramento on July 4, a local Catholic told CNA that she felt compelled to clean the spot where the statue once stood, to pray there, and to defend the 18th-century missionary’s legacy.

"I know enough about him to know that he was not a bad man, and that he doesn't deserve the inaccurate histories that were being portrayed in our local media. I'm not going to be silent about that when given an opportunity." Audrey Ortega told CNA.

Ortega, a homemaker from Sacramento and a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, set up a makeshift shrine to Serra on the statue's empty plinth July 5, and led other Catholics in cleaning graffiti from the site.

On July 4, a rioter burned the face of the Serra statue with an ignited spray from an aerosol can, before a crowd pulled the statue from its base using tow straps. After the statue fell, members of the crowd struck it with a sledgehammer and other objects, dancing and jumping upon it.

Ortega said it hurt her especially that the rioters waited for the cover of darkness to destroy the statue, which according to an eyewitness took less than ten minutes to accomplish before the rioters scattered.

St. Serra’s detractors have accused him in recent years of perpetrating abuses against Native Americans. The statue, installed on the grounds of California's state capitol in 1965, was the third figure of the missionary saint to be torn down by crowds in California in recent weeks.

Ortega was not present at the protest, but watched the coverage that evening on the local news. She resolved to go to the site to, in her words, put "something beautiful on this marred, awful place."

Her 12-year-old son had made a simple wooden cross for their family's door during Holy Week, she said. She decided it would be an appropriate item to use to honor Serra, along with holy water, an Our Lady of Guadalupe candle, and holy dirt from Chimayo, New Mexico.

Ortega said she was scared at first to approach the former statue site— which is now little more than a "stump" with rebar sticking up, she said— but soon had her "prayer spot" set up on the stump with a lit candle, and she began to pray the rosary and the stations of the cross.

"I was just praying for peace, and praying for the safety of everybody involved," she said. "I'm standing on firm ground as a Catholic...I don't want to live with anger or bitterness in my heart. That's what caused the statue to be torn down in the first place."

She said praying the stations of the cross at the site was particularly powerful for her.

"I felt so connected to the sufferings of Christ, and to the sufferings of St. Serra, because I do know his story of how he suffered, of the deprivation he went through and the sacrifices he made," referring to Serra’s practices of self-mortification and the health issues he endured as a missionary in New Spain.

During the eighteenth century, Serra founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California.

Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Critics have lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism and said the missions engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Serra himself was abusive.

But Serra’s defenders say the priest actually was an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights.

While Ortega was praying at the stump July 5, a reporter from the Sacramento Bee approached Ortega and asked to interview her about why she was there. The reporter later posted the video, which shows Ortega passionately speaking in defense of Serra, online.

“Pope Francis canonized him in 2015. He’s not going to canonize a rapist. There were rapists, yes, but it was not St. Serra,” Ortega said in the Sacramento Bee video.

Serra specifically advocated for the rights of Native peoples, at one point drafting a 33 point "bill of rights" for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements and walking all the way from California to Mexico City to present it to the viceroy.

Serra often found himself at odds with Spanish authorities over treatment of native people, and point to the outpouring of grief from native communities at his death.

Ortega lamented the fact that the statue was removed with due process, or a rational discussion. She said the groundskeepers have told her that the statue has been recovered, but she does not know if there are plans to put it back up again.

"The city has to decide: are we going to pretend like this isn't happening? Or are we going to do better than this?" she said, suggesting that the city could hold a community forum to talk about the issue.

"At least people are now learning [Serra's] story, even if it's a little late for this statue," she laughed.

On July 6, Ortega said she decided to go and scrub graffiti from the plinth, which she and her children did for two hours straight. She said many passers-by, including some state employees, thanked them for what they were doing.

Today, she said, the plinth looks nearly back to normal thanks to the cleaning efforts. But she worries that, because of the apparent inaction of the city government, it may be vandalized again.

A statue of Serra was torn down by demonstrators in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on June 19, and one was torn down in Los Angeles on the same day. Other California cities have moved Serra statues to avoid their toppling, or plan to do so.

Ortega said she plans to pray at the statue site for a few minutes each day for as long as she can.

"Anybody can walk around the capitol grounds and pray the rosary and pray for peace. And anybody can go and pray at the Serra statue, or pray the stations of the cross like I did...you can do that without a permit and without drawing...counter protestors."

In a July 5 statement, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said that while “the group’s actions may have been meant to draw attention to the sorrowful, angry memories over California’s past,” their “act of vandalism does little to build the future.”

“All monuments are imperfect as are our efforts to live up to America’s founding ideals. The primary task is to build up our community, not tear it down,” the bishop added.

 

Tucson diocese again halts public Masses to curb rise of coronavirus cases

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 12:08 am (CNA).- As cases of COVID-19 spike in Arizona, the Diocese of Tucson has once again suspended the public celebration of Mass to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“I wish to inform you that after a careful review of the medical situation, and hearing the recent concerns of our Governor and civic leaders on television, I have been advised by Diocesan leadership to suspend public worship,” Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson announced July 1.

“This returns us temporarily to those protocols we were following just prior to the reopening of our parishes. You should anticipate a suspension of approximately four weeks but the matter will be reviewed daily and the suspension could be for a shorter or longer duration.”

According to KVOA, Arizona health officials reported 3,352 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Total cases reported have now surpassed 100,000, with nearly 2,000 deaths. As of Tuesday, about 25% of tests were coming back positive, a number that experts say far exceeds the 5% goal indicating adequate testing levels.

“Those who follow national news are aware that the State of Arizona has been referenced across the nation for our substantial spike in Covid-19 cases,” Weisenburger said.

“When the pandemic began I stressed that a primary factor on reopening would be the ability of our hospitals and medical personnel to respond adequately to the sick,” he noted, adding that the medical community has now said they are at a crisis point, with changes needed to prevent shortages in care.

The Diocese of Tucson had reopened Catholic parishes with added precautions on May 29, after parish-based public gatherings, including Masses, had been suspended beginning March 16 as part of national efforts to flatten the curve of the pandemic.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson area has been hit particularly hard in the spike following the state’s reopening, pushing the healthcare system to the brink of being overloaded and forcing some patients to seek medical care at out-of-town hospitals. Residents of Pima County suffering from COVID-19 have been sent to hospitals in Albuquerque, San Diego, and Las Vegas.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County health director, said the availability of beds in intensive care varies throughout the day, but, as of Monday, there are about 11 remaining beds in the Tucson area that are staffed with a critical care physician.

“We are in a critical situation right now. That doesn’t mean we’re unstable because you can be critical and stable. But our numbers keep increasing,” Cullen said, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

She said hospitals are referring patients when the staff does not believe long-term care can be adequately provided at their facility. Cullen said officials have discussed an alternate care site in Pima County, but no pop-up hospitals have yet been erected.

Bishop Weisenburger said parishes in the diocese will offer livestreaming videos of Mass online, noting that the only public Masses will be funerals and weddings, which will have a limit of 10 persons in the congregation. He said confessions will only be heard outdoors.

“The protocols we instituted for our parishes at the time of our reopening were sensible, thorough, and implemented with care and sensitivity,” he said. “When we are able to open up once again these protocols will be reinstated. But for now, where it is safe, pastors will arrange for an outdoor distribution of Holy Communion after members of the faithful have observed a Mass via technology.”

The bishop called for solidarity with those who are sick, scared, or unemployed, as well as the healthcare workers treating those who have been infected. He expressed his appreciation for the clergy and ministers who have fulfilled their vocations with fidelity and zeal even in the midst of the pandemic.

He also encouraged prayer for a quick resolution to the pandemic and asked Catholics to be examples of good social health practices.

“Let us pray that this suspension is brief and that we can soon be in one another’s company,” Weisenburger said. “Let us also be unified in our resolve to lead the way in battling this pandemic. The witness and example of our lives and the intensity of our prayers will surely help to heal the world.”