Browsing News Entries

The Feast of Saint John Vianney – a model for priests

Ars, France, Aug 4, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- The patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney, died Aug. 4, 1859. A century later, Pope John XXIII reflected on the life of the saint, and what it means to be a holy priest.

In contemplating the life of St. John Vianney, one immediately thinks of a priest who lived out great penance, and whose “only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of the souls of his neighbors,” John XXIII said.

The saintly pope reflected on the life of Vianney in an encyclical titled Sacerdotii nostri primordia. The encyclical was written in 1959 for the 100th anniversary of Vianney’s death.

After struggling with his studies, St Vianney was ordained a priest in 1815. Shortly afterward, he was assigned to Ars, France, near his hometown of Dardilly.

There, he spent a majority of his priesthood. He was noted for his dedication to the poor, his counseling to those in need, and for founding La Providence, an orphanage for girls.

The saint was well-known for his dedication to the Sacrament of Penance. He would make himself available for confession for up to 16 hours daily.

In his encyclical, Pope John XXIII called St. Vianney a model of priestly holiness.

“[The priest] is no longer supposed to live for himself…He must be aflame with charity toward everyone. Not even his thoughts, his will, his feelings belong to him, for they are rather those of Jesus Christ who is his life,” he wrote, quoting a sermon from Pope Pius XII.

“St. John Mary Vianney is a person who attracts and practically pushes all of us to these heights of the priestly life,” John XXIII further added.

The pope highlighted the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which he said Vianney exemplified.

“His example in the various works of priestly asceticism still points out the safest path to follow, and in the midst of this example, his poverty, chastity and obedience stand forth in a brilliant light,” the pope said of Vianney.

“What great benefits are conferred on human society by men like this who are free of the cares of the world and totally dedicated to the divine ministry so that they can employ their lives, thoughts, powers in the interest of their brethren!”

Pope John XXIII said St. Vianney, who was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, clearly lived a life of poverty. He noted the saint’s heavy mortifications – restraining himself from food, sleep, and other personal belongings. 

“This detachment from external goods enabled him to offer the most devoted and touching care to the poor,” said the pope.

“He passed a life that was almost completely detached from the changeable, perishable goods of this world, and his spirit was free and unencumbered by impediments of this kind, so that it could always lie open to those who suffered from any kind of misery.”

Similarly, Pope John XXIII wrote, the preservation of chastity breaks the restraints of self-interest and grants a person greater dedication to those in need.

“St. John Mary Vianney has this pertinent comment to make in this regard: ‘A soul adorned with the virtue of chastity cannot help loving others; for it has discovered the source and font of love –God.’”

The pope also pointed to Vianney’s dedication to the virtue of obedience. The saint, he said, had desired a contemplative life rather than the heavy burden of pastoral duties, but he still remained obedient to the bishops.

“All his life he longed to lead a quiet and retired life in the background, and he regarded pastoral duties as a very heavy burden laid on his shoulders and more than once he tried to free himself of it,” the pope said.

While God never allowed him to achieve this goal, it was certainly God’s way of forming the saint in the virtue of obedience, he said.

He also highlighted Vianney’s prayer life and devotion to the Eucharist, as well as his commitment to the Sacrament of Confession.

Pope John XXIII said Vianney “habitually restrained his own will” to further dedicate himself to the Church. He expressed hope that this fire for the Church which consumed Vianney may also consume all priests.  

“It is said that St. John M. Vianney lived in the Church in such a way that he worked for it alone, and burned himself up like a piece of straw being consumed on fiery coals. May that flame which comes from the Holy Spirit reach those of Us who have been raised to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and consume us too.”


This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 3, 2018.


John Hume remembered as Northern Ireland's great peacemaker

CNA Staff, Aug 3, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Retired politician and Nobel laureate John Hume, a major leader in the effort to secure peace in Northern Ireland, died Monday at the age of 83. Many leaders in the region praised his success in responding to one of Europe’s longstanding conflicts.

“I was leader of a great team of people, all of whom have been totally committed to peace and stability on our streets, and all of whom have done everything in their power, as I’ve said repeatedly, have spilt their sweat, not their blood, to bring about peace and stability on our streets,” Hume said in his 2001 speech in which he resigned as leader of the heavily Catholic and nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.

He is the only person to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Ghandi Peace Prize, and the Martin Luther King Award. Some have compared to him Martin Luther King, Jr., including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Irish broadcaster RTE News reports.

In 1998 Hume and David Trimble, leader of the strongly Protestant Ulster Unionist Party, were joinly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Northern Ireland, secured under the Good Friday Agreement.

“Too many lives have already been lost in Ireland in the pursuit of political goals. Bloodshed for political change prevents the only change that truly matter: in the human heart,” Hume said in his Nobel Lecture in Oslo in 1998. “We must now shape a future of change that will be truly radical and that will offer a focus for real unity of purpose: harnessing new forces of idealism and commitment for the benefit of Ireland and all its people.”

Trimble, a former first minister of Northern Ireland, credited the success of the Good Friday Agreement because of its architecture and process for making right decisions. He praised Hume’s trust in the effectiveness of a bottom-up approach.

He recounted that the laureates and their allies came together to celebrate after the Nobel Prize ceremonies.

“When the ceremony was over and we retired to the hotel, we found that hotel was assuming that the one party would be in one room and the other party would be another room,” Trimble told the PA news agency.

“We said no, we’re going to relax and celebrate the achievement together with all our companions that had come with each of the parties there.”

In prior decades, Hume’s outreach to paramilitary groups and to politicians could be deeply controversial, especially his outreach to the illegal Irish Republican Army’s political wing Sinn Fein in the 1980s. He also sought to gain allies among American politicians and Irish-American leaders to move towards peace in a conflict that had killed some 3,000 people.

Hume’s 1994 meeting with then-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein led to a key declaration committing to democratic, peaceful means to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Though a 1994 ceasefire broke down in 1996, a second ceasefire begun in 1997 led to multi-party talks at Stormont, the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The talks were chaired by U.S. Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) and led to the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998.

Conflict in Northern Ireland dates back centuries, but its 20th century framework was set in 1921-22 with a treaty that partitioned the island of Ireland into the six counties of Northern Ireland and the 26 counties of the Irish Free State. Irish nationalists were themselves riven by bitter civil war after the treaty and the partitioning, though the 26 counties later became fully independent in the late 1940s as the Republic of Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, differences between nationalists who backed a unified Ireland and unionists who supported the United Kingdom split strongly along religious lines, and Protestants tended occupy a place of social and economic privilege. In the 1960s, Catholics began to push strongly for civil rights, voting rights, police reform, and an end to discrimination. Tensions turned violent in 1968, after civil rights demonstrators faced violent opposition from their opponents, police inaction, and even violence from the violence.

The period known as The Troubles featured riots, violent attacks, bombings and retaliation from Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups, as well as involvement from the Royal Ulster Constabulary police, intervention from the British military, and mass internment of civilians.

Hume, taking inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr., sought a peaceful resolution.

He had entered the seminary at Maynooth but did not pursue the Catholic priesthood. He became a French teacher and married his wife Patricia in 1960. He founded Derry’s Credit Union and at the age of 26 became national president of the Irish Credit Union Movement, RTE News reports.

Hume became a civil rights leader to help Catholics secure equal rights and housing.

This led him to politics. He was elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland as an independent in 1969, but became a founding member of the SDLP the next year. The parliament was suspended in 1972 because it could not maintain order in The Troubles. Hume would later be elected to the restored Northern Ireland Assembly, then serve in the European Parliament from 1979 to 2004, and the U.K. Parliament from 1983 to 2005.

Benedict XVI in 2012 named him a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great, recognizing “his outstanding services to Catholic social teaching in the area of peace.”

In his later years he suffered from dementia and memory problems. He died Aug. 3 after a brief illness at a nursing home in the Northern Ireland city of Derry, also known as Londonderry.

“It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: We shall overcome,” said his family in a statement about Hume’s death.

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said Hume was “one of the greatest peacemakers and champions of social justice of our time.”

“He dedicated his life to the welfare of this community, at no small cost to himself. His name became a byword for dedication to the cause of peace, whatever the obstacles or criticisms,” he continued. “His first- hand experience of injustice and violence and his broad European vision emboldened him to persevere in building bridges and friendships.”

Noting Hume’s seminary discernment, McKeown said Hume “always retained that strong Christian sense of being called to be a peacemaker.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, who comes from Derry, said he was “hugely influenced” by Hume.

“For me, like many other pupils of Saint Columb’s College, John Hume was considered one of our heroes and role models. When I went to study for the priesthood at Maynooth I was happy to know that he too had once been a seminarian for the Diocese of Derry,” the bishop said Aug. 3. “But John’s vocation was to serve God and his community as a layman, and he totally devoted his energies to that vocation – to relieving poverty, challenging injustice and providing decent living conditions for all.”

“Later, as a priest working in Derry, I came to know John as a man whose convictions were rooted in a deep faith, in prayer and practical Christianity,” he continued. “John put Catholic Social Teaching into practice – sometimes at great personal cost and risk – working ceaselessly for a process of reconciliation through which the dignity of every human person is recognised and upheld.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood praised Hume, saying: “His life’s work brought to an end the seemingly intractable historical arc of bitter conflict between the neighboring islands of Britain and Ireland.” In reflecting on Hume’s work, he said, “never has the beatitude rung truer - blessed be the peacemakers”.

The Republic of Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin said of Hume, “During the darkest days of paramilitary terrorism and sectarian strife, he kept hope alive. And with patience, resilience and unswerving commitment, he triumphed and delivered a victory for peace.”

Gerry Adams, former president of the nationalist party Sinn Fein, praised Hume’s “courage to take real risks for peace.”

“His decision to meet with me in September 1986, following an invitation from Fr. Alex Reid, was a breakthrough moment in Irish politics,” said Adams. “John’s agreement to examine the potential of building an alternative to conflict was the mark of a political leader genuinely prepared to look at the bigger picture and to put the wider interests of society above narrow party politics.”

Arlene Foster, the Northern Ireland’s first minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said Hume was a “giant in Irish nationalism.”

“John left his unique mark in the House of Commons, Brussels and Washington. In our darkest days he recognized that violence was the wrong path and worked steadfastly to promote democratic politics,” she said.

Former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair, who also worked on the Good Friday Agreement, said Hume was “a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past.”

"His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and he will rightly be remembered for it. He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen,” said Blair. "Beyond that, he was a remarkable combination of an open mind to the world and practical politics.”

Hume’s funeral Mass is scheduled to take place at the Cathedral of Saint Eugene in Derry at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 5.


Editor's note, 10:03 4 Aug. 2020: A previous version of this story misidentified Sen. George Mitchell as a New Mexico senator and had an incorrect time line of the ceasefires in the 1990s.

Warsaw cardinal laments ‘desecration’ of Christ statue with rainbow flag

CNA Staff, Aug 2, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A Polish cardinal has urged protesters to respect religious sensibilities after they attached a rainbow flag to a historic statue of Christ in the capital, Warsaw.

In a statement published on the Polish bishops’ conference website July 29, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz deplored the protesters’ decision to target the statue outside Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście, one of the city’s best-known streets.

The statue, which depicts Christ carrying the cross and pointing to the sky, sits on a plinth inscribed with the words “Sursum corda” (Lift up your hearts) -- a message that has encouraged Poles during some of the darkest times in their history.

Placed outside the church in 1858, it remained standing during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The Nazis, who destroyed up to 90% of the city’s buildings in response to the Uprising, eventually toppled the statue.

A photograph from the time shows the broken statue lying amid rubble with its finger pointed to the “Sursum Corda” inscription above, which was seen as a sign of God’s providence amid the Nazi occupation.

Nycz, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw, said: “The desecration of the historic statue of Christ ‘Sursum corda’ at Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw caused pain to believers, parishioners of the Holy Cross Church and many residents of the capital, for whom the statue of the Savior carrying the cross became a symbol of hope in the most difficult days of the Uprising.”

“I appeal for respect for the religious feelings of believers regardless of their views. Let us stop using acts of vandalism and crossing borders in public debate.”

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was pictured praying at the foot of the statue on July 29. In a statement on his Twitter account, he wrote: “There is no consent to profaning national and religious symbols in the name of any ideology. The values they symbolize, important to millions of Poles, are a heritage that is subject to special protection. You cannot become an aggressor under the guise of supposed equality.”


Nie ma zgody na profanowanie symboli narodowych i religijnych w imię żadnej ideologii. Wartości, które symbolizują, ważne dla milionów Polaków, są dziedzictwem, które podlega szczególnej ochronie. Nie można pod płaszczykiem rzekomej równości stawać się agresorem.

— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) July 29, 2020  

On the night of July 28-29, activists dressed in black attached a rainbow flag to the statue’s arm and a scarf with an anarchist symbol across Christ’s face, leaving behind a card containing their LGBT rights manifesto. Protesters also targeted other prominent monuments in the city.

The incident took place weeks after a hard-fought presidential election narrowly won by the incumbent, President Andrzej Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).

On June 10, Duda signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”

Sebastian Kaleta, Poland’s vice-minister of justice, referred the statue incident to the prosecutor’s office, arguing that it broke laws related to offending religious feelings and profaning national monuments. 

The Polish daily newpaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported July 30 that the prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation.

Scottish government may face legal challenge over redefinition of ‘woman’

CNA Staff, Aug 1, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- A feminist group said Friday that it may launch a legal challenge over new rules to increase female representation on public boards in Scotland, arguing that they redefine the term “woman” to include men. 

In a press statement July 31, the group For Women Scotland said it had sent a legal letter to ministers accusing the Scottish government of exceeding its authority by changing the definition of “woman.”

The complaint focuses on the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act 2018, which sets a “gender representation objective” for the boards of listed Scottish public authorities, which must ensure that 50% of non-executive members are women. 

The Act of the Scottish Parliament became law on March 9, 2018. The government published statutory guidance on the Act on June 2, 2020.

The statutory guidance states that, under the Act, the term “woman” may also refer to a person who presents as a transgender woman. To qualify, a person would not be required “to dress, look or behave in any particular way,” but they would be expected to be “continuously living as a woman, such as -- always using female pronouns; using a female name on official documents such as a driving license or passport, or on utility bills or bank accounts.”

The guidance insists that “This provision only relates to the meaning of ‘woman’ in the Act. This does not have the effect of creating a new legal definition of woman in any other context.”

For Women Scotland, a national women’s rights group, said it had sought legal opinion from Aidan O’Neill, QC, and warned the government that it may seek a judicial review over the guidance.

The letter sent to ministers argued that the law relating to “equal opportunities” is regulated by the U.K. Parliament’s Equality Act 2010 and is therefore reserved to Westminster.

“The Scottish government has acted outwith its competence by confusing the distinct protected characteristics of ‘sex’ and ‘gender reassignment.’ The Equality Act only allows for measures for those persons who share a protected characteristic, not for merging different protected characteristics,” the press statement said.

“The redefinition of ‘woman’ includes persons who may self-identify as women, but who the Equality Act would characterize as male. It also excludes persons who would be characterized as female, i.e,. those women who self-identify as men.”

The letter also suggested that the guidance was incompatible with European Union law, “which only makes provision for the possibility of workplace-related ‘positive action’ in relation to inequality between the sexes.”

Marion Calder, For Women Scotland’s spokeswoman, said: “It beggars belief that the Scottish government has introduced new legislation that contravenes the very essence of what a ‘woman’ is in law. This is just the introduction of self-identification of sex by the back door.”

German military bishop says US wants to 'hinder' International Criminal Court

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 31, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The military bishop of Germany says that U.S. soldiers should be held accountable to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes. A Catholic University law professor said that while international cooperation for justice is important, the U.S. is not a signatory to the treaty that created the international court.

“The rule of law, and with it peace between peoples and nations, is at stake,” wrote Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of the Catholic Military Episcopal Office of Germany on July 30.
He called it “tragic and contrary to American tradition” that the U.S. has announced sanctions against ICC officials who have attempted to investigate members of the U.S. military and CIA for alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

“If the U.S. succeeds in its attempt to hinder the International Criminal Court’s investigations in Afghanistan, it will provide Russia and China arguments for doing as they please in their areas of influence, for instance, in Hong Kong or with the Uyghurs, in Syria, Eastern Ukraine and on the Crimea,” he added.

In November 2017, the ICC first announced that it planned to investigate U.S. soldiers for alleged war crimes from the war in Afghanistan. In March, the court’s appeals chamber approved the investigation to go forward.
On June 11, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced economic sanctions against ICC officials involved with the investigation “and against others who materially support such officials’ activities.”

Pompeo also expanded visa restrictions on officials involved in the investigation.

“The ICC cannot subject Americans to arrest, prosecution, and jail. The U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC,” Pompeo said.

Antonio Perez, a law professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, told CNA that in principle, the statement by Overbeck “articulates a view about the nature of international law that, in large respects, isn’t really inconsistent with the overall Catholic position,” 

Enforcing justice to establish international peace is part of Church teaching, Perez said. For centuries, the Church has taught that “true international order requires justice,” and rejects the notion that it is “only the will of states that defines international law.”

“You can’t have peace without justice, and you can’t have justice without some kind of adjudication,” he said.

But the U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute, which binds party countries to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

While President Bill Clinton signed the treaty, he did not send it to the senate for ratification because of concerns about whether the court would function fairly. He recommended his successors not submit the agreement to the senate “until our fundamental concerns are satisfied.”

President George W. Bush eventually revoked the Clinton administration’s signature of the treaty.

The court has been criticized as unjust because it lacks jury trials, and is sometimes said to defy conventions of procedure that have become standard in criminal trials. Some legal scholars say the court undermines Constitutional sovereignty, and that if the U.S. submitted cases to its authority, it would concede the ICC’s right to bring charges in other cases.

Normally under international law, a party is not bound by a treaty it is not party to, Perez said, but the ICC is now saying it can apply its statutes to the conduct of U.S. soldiers and CIA personnel in Afghanistan.

“That’s clearly something with which the United States disagrees,” Perez said, noting that many other countries disagree with that assertion of authority as well.

As a matter of practice, the U.S. has often declined to accept the authority of international tribunals, and has since 1984 not accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, or World Court, an organ of the United Nations.

Regarding the application of Church teaching on international treaties to the present circumstances, the situation is more complex than Overbeck makes it out to be, Perez said.

“The Catholic position in practice in resolving particular international conflicts has been much more nuanced,” Perez said. It must be applied to each individual circumstance, he said, and does not offer one single “absolutist” answer.

“The tradition isn’t a system that gives you absolute answers in concrete cases. It’s much more complicated than that,” Perez said.

Thus, “if somebody gives you an absolutist answer, you should be careful with that.”

Furthermore, he said, Overbeck’s statement is the voice of one German bishop and not of the Holy See.

And while “not perfect,” the U.S. military has actually had an “extraordinary record” in prosecuting human rights violations—relative to other countries, Perez said.

However, President Trump’s recent decision to pardon Eddie Gallagher—a Navy SEAL convicted and sentenced by a military jury last summer of posing for a picture with the corpse of a dead ISIS militant—did not help its reputation on the world stage, Perez said.

Pardoning known war criminals after a military judgment “tends to undercut the U.S. position that we should have primary jurisdiction to prosecute our own soldiers,” he said.

For his part, Overbrook said that since the U.S. government claims “it is the responsibility of the U.S. judiciary to take action against U.S. soldiers,” it “must go ahead and do so.”

Neither the U.S. bishops' conference nor the U.S. Archdiocese of Military Services responded to requests for comment from CNA.


Coronavirus, mental health, and the spiritual life: A priest psychologist offers tips from St. Ignatius

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Since 2014, Fr. Roger Dawson has run a retreat house in the idyllic countryside of north Wales. When the U.K. went into lockdown in March, he was forced to cancel retreats. But he was determined to find a new way of offering spiritual direction.

After talking to other priests at St. Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre, he launched a telephone service for those struggling to cope with the pressures of the coronavirus crisis.

He said the service was “extremely well received,” with around 150 people taking part in one-to-one conversations with clergy.

Dawson, who served in the British Army for nine years before training as a clinical psychologist, told CNA that the phone conversations revealed common problems. He also discussed how the Catholic faith can alleviate them.

The most common experience was fear. Dawson said this was to be expected because of the deadly nature of COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of more than 46,000 people in the U.K. -- the third highest recorded death toll in the world.

But he suggested that the official response to the crisis could have a long-lasting psychological impact.

“In order to get people to comply, the government frightened people. That may well have been necessary, but the difficulty is that once you frighten people, it’s really quite difficult to unfrighten them. People haven’t necessarily got all the knowledge or skills to identify what the risks are,” he said.

He recommended meditating on the Gospels as a way of combating fear, highlighting Matthew 5, in which Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes.

He also encouraged people to reflect on Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “Be not afraid.” This didn’t mean that nothing bad would ever happen to followers of Jesus, he said, but rather that “Not even death can destroy the love of God.”

The psychology of crisis

Dawson said that one helpful way of looking at the pandemic was through “personal constructive theory,” a concept pioneered by the American psychologist George Kelly in the 1950s.

“What personal construct theory is saying is that we’re basically meaning-makers,” he said. “As a result of our experience, and what we’ve learnt and been told, we build mental maps that help us to navigate our way around the world, and to understand ourselves, our situation and other people. And wise people are people who have very sophisticated and detailed maps.”

He continued: “What happens in a crisis is that something happens, new information comes in, that simply does not fit this map, and one of the things that’s so destabilizing for people is not just the event itself, but ‘I can’t make sense of this. I thought I was safe and I’ve discovered I live in a highly dangerous world.’”

“All your expectations about what the future would hold, or how these relationships work, or how people relate to you or treat you, totally changes and it needs a different map in order for the person to navigate the experience. At the beginning of the crisis, they haven’t got a map that works for this experience.”

Dawson said this process could be seen in the biblical story of the road to Emmaus, where Jesus presents the disciples with a “new map” to understand the events in Jerusalem.

But accepting a new map required “a lot of psychological energy,” he explained, and often people experience anger or despair before they do so.

“In some ways, that’s what we’re having to do spiritually all the time,” he said. “Any Catholic who simply resolutely holds on to the map that they were given when they were catechized for their First Holy Communion isn’t going to get very far in their spiritual lives and grow and deepen in their knowledge and understanding of God, because those maps are for young children, not for adults who’ve got to cope with the world and life experience.”

“So a lot of what we’re doing at St. Beuno’s is helping people to deepen their understanding of God and be changed, and think about things differently, and live differently and live more deeply, with a better map.”

What we need to thrive

Dawson noted that another common experience during the pandemic was depression. He said that a concept known as “self-determination theory” could help to explain why.

“Self-determination theory is a theory about human flourishing and conditions needed for people to thrive,” he explained. “The theory quite simply states that we have basic psychological needs, in the same way that we have basic physical needs.”

“These are: the need for a sense of autonomy -- to have some sense of control and agency in your life and environment; the need for a sense of relatedness -- to be connected with people who care about us, love us and who will talk to us and show interest in us; and a need for a sense of competence -- that is, to be doing the things we’re good at or, if we’re asked to do things we’re not good at, we’re getting the support and help from other people to get the scaffolding so that we can achieve.”

“If these needs are met, people thrive, reliably and predictably. The crisis has deprived people of their sense of autonomy. It’s deprived people of a lot of their relationships or, in many cases, put things under severe strain. And it’s deprived people of doing things they’re good at.”

Dawson cited a University College London study which found that both depression and anxiety levels have fallen as the lockdown has eased.

“You probably would expect people’s reaction to fear to settle down. Part of it’s biologically driven because the adrenaline and cortisol which fires up the system just calms down after a while. So you would expect people to get used to the anxiety and for it to settle. But the absence of depression and the absence of anxiety doesn’t equal flourishing,” he said.

Dawson described his own experience during the crisis as one of “attrition.” He compared it to a four-and-a-half month tour of duty he undertook in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and a five-month stint in the Falkland Islands shortly after the war between Argentina and the U.K. in 1982.

Since he arrived at St. Beuno’s (pronounced “St. Bye-no’s”), he has regularly climbed Snowdonia, the highest mountain in England and Wales.

He said: “For the months of April and May, which were beautiful here, I’ve been able to see those mountains but not go there. So there’s that sense of attrition, of being cut off from things that refill the tanks.”

Missing the sacraments

Dawson said that Catholics faced a specific challenge during the lockdown: the absence of the sacraments. He suggested that for many people this was a “traumatic” experience.

“The thing that I think is so powerful about our sacramental system is that it makes our faith physical and flesh and blood,” he said.

“All of our sacraments are to do with flesh and blood, not just in terms of the Eucharist. It’s another flesh-and-blood person who anoints you. It’s a flesh-and-blood person who speaks the words of absolution. This is the way that our faith is made incarnate. For the faith to be made disincarnate like that I think for many will have been traumatic.”

Yet, he said, this period of deprivation could be an opportunity for spiritual growth.

“The thing about a crisis is that it forces us to rethink things. Any crisis has the potential to reveal deeper truths -- I mean that both spiritually and psychologically. So the challenge is to trust that God is in this with us and to hold on until whatever the graces are that God is going bring out of this are revealed. It’s a long Good Friday and Holy Saturday, though,” he explained.

The impact on children

Dawson said that the lockdown could have an especially detrimental impact on children. A report from the Childhood Trust last month concluded that the pandemic put children at risk of developing serious mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress, with acute challenges for those living in poverty.

“Most of a child’s world is taken up with school and family -- that’s usually 80-90% of most children’s world,” Dawson said.

“Now, when school is taken out of the equation and when you lose access to all of your friends, that’s extraordinarily difficult. I think we can expect this to have both emotional impact and cognitive impact. By that I mean an impact on both cognitive development and in terms of education, and social and emotional consequences. Six months is a long time for a child.”

He said that the crisis had exposed the chasm between the “comfortable” and the “uncomfortable,” and that Catholics should be inspired by Catholic social teaching to challenge the status quo.

‘Hard consolation’

Dawson suggested that the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola could also shed light on what people have experienced during the coronavirus crisis. In particular, he highlighted the saint’s teaching about “consolation” and “desolation.”

He said: “Consolation is, classically, marked by increases in faith, hope and love. Typically, there’s energy and joy and life that go with that. Desolation is the reverse: heart-sinking despair, closing in on ourselves, often focusing on ourselves, and decreases of faith, hope and love, feeling less trusting and confident.”

“Now, the thing about consolation is that it normally sounds like a nice feeling, and it often is. But it isn’t always. There’s what Ignatius calls ‘hard consolation,’ which is the consolation of being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing even though it might be really, really tough.”

“So someone could be at the bedside of a friend who’s dying painfully of cancer, but they’re aware that God’s with them, and they’re aware that they’re in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.”

He gave the example of Mary standing at the foot of the cross.

“She didn’t know what the future was, didn’t know what God was up to, but she was with her Son, with God, trusting, faithful, and waiting for the future to reveal itself. Because as Christians we believe that that future will be good and hopeful. That’s the ground for our hope,” he said.

For those who had mainly experienced desolation during the crisis, he said it was important not to blame oneself for it, but rather to learn from it.

“The temptation in desolation is to give up all the other things, so to stop praying, stop your normal religious practices. But you keep faithful to those, trusting that it will pass.”

He also recommended returning to previous sources of consolation, such as friends, family, and nature.

He said he had found consolation in the nature surrounding St. Beuno’s, where the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins lived and studied in 1874-7.

“I’m in an incredibly beautiful environment here at St. Beuno’s, and just simply going out and looking closely at some of the plants in the gardens: it grounds me. These are small instances of consolation which might not radically change my psychological or spiritual state, but it does remind me of the beauty and wonder of creation,” he said.

English Catholic bishops: Church backs vaccination to protect the most vulnerable

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 03:45 am (CNA).- The Catholic Church supports vaccination because it helps to protect society’s most vulnerable people, bishops in England said Thursday.

In a three-page paper issued July 30, the bishops said they wanted “to provide clarity and assurances to Catholics about Church teaching and moral issues regarding vaccination.”

They wrote: “The Catholic Church strongly supports vaccination and regards Catholics as having a prima facie duty to be vaccinated, not only for the sake of their own health but also out of solidarity with others, especially the most vulnerable.”  

“We believe that there is a moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others.”

The bishops said that the vulnerable included “those affected by immunodeficiency, pregnant women and their unborn children.”

The bishops acknowledged the “distress” that Catholics faced when considering whether to allow their children to be given vaccines developed using tissue derived from aborted babies.

They said that the Church was opposed to the production of such vaccines.

“Nevertheless, the Church teaches that the paramount importance of the health of a child and other vulnerable persons could permit parents to use a vaccine which was in the past developed using these diploid cell lines,” they wrote.

They cited a 2017 note from the Pontifical Academy for Life, which said that “all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.”

The bishops said the Church was praying for those seeking to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 673,000 lives worldwide as of July 31.

“We hope that ethical sourcing of such a vaccine is possible,” they wrote.

The document was signed by Bishop Paul Mason, lead bishop for healthcare of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and Bishop John Sherrington, lead bishop for life issues. Mason is Bishop of the Forces and Sherrington is an auxiliary bishop in Westminster diocese.

The paper noted that Sherrington had written to U.K. officials in July 2019 calling on the government “to promote the future production of vaccines using material from non-human cells or ethically sourced human cells.”

In response, the Department of Health and Social Care said: “In cases where it can be proven that they are equally effective and as safe as the original vaccine, manufacturers have introduced alternatives to the human diploid cells. However, this has not been the case for rubella, rabies or hepatitis A vaccines.”

“Please be assured that new human fetal tissue will not be used to make these vaccines. Moreover, the Department is not aware of any new vaccines being produced using human diploid cells.”

The bishops concluded by encouraging Catholics “to commit to protecting the most vulnerable in our society, one method of which is effective vaccination.”

Kidnapped priest remembered for his love of Syrian people

Rome, Italy, Jul 29, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Seven years after his kidnapping in Syria, Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio was remembered in Rome Wednesday for his love of the Syrian people and his dedication to peace and justice.

Dall’Oglio was abducted from the city of Raqqa by Islamic State militants in July 2013. The Italian Jesuit priest had served in Syria for more than 30 years at the time of his kidnapping. It is unknown if he is still alive. There were unconfirmed reports of his execution in 2013.

“My appeal is to not forget Syria,” Dall’Oglio’s older sister told journalists at a press conference in Rome July 29.

“Paolo was kidnapped because he had heard that his mission was to be alongside the Syrian people,” Immacolata Dall’Oglio said.

The Syrian Civil War, which began in March 2011, has killed an estimated 380,000 people, and created more than 7.6 million internally displaced people and more than five million refugees.

“To remember Paolo today is to remember his Syrian people,” Fr. Camillo Ripamonti, president of the Italian center of the Jesuit Refugee Service, underlined.

Dall’Oglio had a “bond” with the Syrian people, a people who, after nine years of war, are still “waiting for justice and peace,” Ripamonti said.

In the 1980s, Dall’Oglio restored the ruins of the 6th-century Syriac Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian. In the early 1990s he established an interfaith monastic community dedicated to Muslim-Christian dialogue.

In 2012, the Syrian government expelled him for his criticisms of President Bashar al-Assad and his government. Dall’Oglio initially ignored the expulsion order, but then left Syria at the request of his bishop.

Dall’Oglio returned to a rebel-controlled territory in eastern Syria in late July 2013 in an attempt to negotiate peace between Kurdish and Islamist groups. He was abducted on July 29, 2013.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, president of the Vatican’s Ratzinger Foundation, said Dall’Oglio’s commitment to the people of Syria was the same commitment of men and women religious who have been martyred. He added that it continues to inspire many people, “especially Muslims, with whom he has been able to teach us to dialogue and be in solidarity for the search for justice and peace.”

“His memory is alive, it is a presence which inspires, to deep ideas and thoughts, to courage and commitment…”

Dall’Oglio would regularly contribute articles to the Italian magazine Popoli. He also wrote and collaborated on several books.

Paolo Ruffini, head of Vatican communications, called Dall’Oglio “a great communicator, a great journalist.”

“Thanks to Fr. Paolo for the witness he continues to give us,” he said.

In January 2019, Pope Francis met with the family of the kidnapped Jesuit priest at his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta. The private visit included Dall’Oglio’s mother, four sisters, and a brother.

Catholic bishops fear Scotland's hate crime law could criminalize Bible and Catechism

CNA Staff, Jul 29, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Catholic bishops have said that proposed hate crime legislation in Scotland could criminalize the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

In a statement issued July 29, the bishops argued that the Scottish Government’s new Hate Crime and Public Order Bill could lead to censorship of Catholic teaching.

“We are also concerned that section 5 of the Bill creates an offense of possessing inflammatory material which, if taken with the low threshold contained therein, could render material such as the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other texts such as Bishops’ Conference of Scotland submissions to government consultations, as being inflammatory under the new provision,” they said.

The bishops made the comments in a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, which is scrutinizing the bill. The bill was introduced by the Scottish Government April 23. 

The proposed legislation creates a new crime of stirring up hatred against any of the protected groups covered by the bill, which include race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.

The bishops cited their recent submission to the government on the proposed revision of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, in which they set out the Church’s teaching “that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, and that male and female are complementary and ordered towards the creation of new life.” 

They said: “Such pronouncements, which are widely held, might be perceived by others as an abuse of their own, personal worldview and likely to stir up hatred.” 

The bishops also noted that recently public figures have been accused of “transphobia” for arguing that men cannot become women and vice versa. They include the “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who lives in Scotland. 

“Many have also been accused of hate for using pronouns corresponding with an individual’s biological or birth sex. The freedom to express these arguments and beliefs must be protected,” they wrote.

Commenting on the bishops’ submission, Anthony Horan, director of Scotland’s Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “Whilst acknowledging that stirring up of hatred is morally wrong and supporting moves to discourage and condemn such behavior, the bishops have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offense, which they fear, could lead to a ‘deluge of vexatious claims.’”

He continued: “A new offense of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church inflammatory. The Catholic Church’s understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, could fall foul of the new law. Allowing for respectful debate, means avoiding censorship and accepting the divergent views and multitude of arguments inhabiting society.”

The Scottish Government proposed the bill in response to an independent review of hate crime laws led by the retired judge Lord Bracadale. The government argues the bill modernizes, consolidates and extends existing hate crime legislation. It also abolishes the offence of blasphemy.

In their submission, the bishops said they had no objection to the proposal to abolish the common law of blasphemy, which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years.

But the bishops said they were concerned the bill could feed “cancel culture.”

“The growth of what some describe as the ‘cancel culture’ -- hunting down those who disagree with prominent orthodoxies with the intention to expunge the non-compliant from public discourse and with callous disregard for their livelihoods -- is deeply concerning,” they wrote.

“No single section of society has dominion over acceptable and unacceptable speech or expression. Whilst the legislature and judiciary must create and interpret laws to maintain public order it must do so carefully, weighing in fundamental freedoms and allowing for reasonably held views, the expression of which is not intended to cause harm.”

Controversial Dutch bill would allow assisted suicide for healthy people over 75

CNA Staff, Jul 28, 2020 / 10:13 am (CNA).- A proposal in the Netherlands to allow assisted suicide for healthy individuals over the age of 75 has drawn criticism for offering death rather than social support to people who are lonely and depressed.

Dr. Gordon Macdonald, head of the UK-based alliance Care Not Killing, called the proposal “deeply troubling.”

“The slippery slope is real and the Dutch euthanasia law has already been massively extended,” he said in a statement.

Assisted suicide became legal in the Netherlands in 2002 for terminally ill adults who are mentally competent. Since then, the law has been expanded to encompass individuals with non-terminal chronic illnesses and disabilities, as well as mental health problems. Children as young as 12 and seriously ill infants may also be euthanized.

Currently, the quickest growing category of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands is people suffering from a mental illness but no physical impairment, Macdonald noted.

“To now consider extending the euthanasia law to people who are just tired of life, and may well be depressed, is highly irresponsible, immoral and dangerous,” he said.

Earlier this month, a Dutch MP submitted a bill to allow healthy individuals over the age of 75 to request assisted suicide, if they have had a “strong death wish for at least two months,” according to

Opponents of the legislation have argued that it preys on lonely and possibly depressed elderly people, who need support and resources rather than offers of suicide.

The KNMG Royal Dutch Medical Association has voiced opposition to the proposal, as have both Christian parties in government. reports that the legislation must be reviewed by the Raad van State judicial advisory committee before a potential debate and vote next year.

A 2016 attempt to pass a similar bill also faced opposition.

Assisted suicide laws in the Netherlands have been a subject of controversy, as critics argue that safeguards intended to protect the vulnerable are not always followed.

Earlier this year, a doctor in the Netherlands was cleared of murder after euthanizing a woman with advanced Alzheimer’s who repeatedly said that she did not want to die.

Macdonald warned that the latest proposal “would further liberalise the most liberal assisted dying laws in the world and risks introducing euthanasia on demand for anybody at any time.”

“No doubt those advocating for this change will try to talk about safeguards, but these are illusionary and temporary,” he said.

Care Not Killing, the alliance which Macdonald heads, unites more than 40 health care groups, disability rights organizations, faith-based groups, and other entities to promote palliative care and oppose the weakening of safeguards against euthanasia and assisted suicide.