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Pope Francis in Vilnius, the 'city of mercy'

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis will arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 22. During his first day in the city, the pope will take a walk in the streets of the Old City, and he will head toward the Gate of Dawn, one of the ancient points of access to the Lithuanian capital. There, he will pray the Rosary and deliver a speech before an icon of Mary Mother of Mercy.
 
The speech and the rosary were not initially part of the pope’s schedule in Vilnius. They were a last minute addition to program, and a very meaningful one.
 
Inessa Caukaskien, a member of the Vilnius pilgrimage center, told CNA that “the Gate of Dawn is one of the most ancient and important place of pilgrimage in Lithuania.”
 
The Icon of Mary Mother of Mercy is a significant object of devotion. One of the few icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary without the infant Jesus in her arms, it was painted between 1620 and 1630, and dressed and crowned of silver in the 18th century.
 
The painter is unknown, but the pilgrimage center records more than 8,000 graces obtained thanks to the prayers offered in front of the icon.
 
It was first known as the painting of the Madonna of the Gate of Dawn Chapel. It was Pope Pius XI who decreed that the name of the icon would become the Icon of the Holy Mother of Mercy.
 
St. Faustina Kowalska lived briefly in 1929 at the convent of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Vilnius, attracted by this veneration. It was in Vilnius that St. Faustina envisioned for the first time her devotion to Divine Mercy.
 
Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that “Sr. Faustina and the image of Divine Mercy are tangibly put together with the Holy Mother of Mercy icon by the fact that the shrine was the first place where the original image of Divine Mercy was exposed for a public veneration.”
 
He added that “the strong tie with the image of Divine Mercy and the Mother of Mercy Chapel continues to this day, marking Vilnius very much as a City of Mercy.”
 
“When Saint John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, Grusas continued, “he mentioned the cities where she has been, and among them was Vilnius. He gave a mandate of being apostles of mercy and to continue to spread that message, which is what we are continuing to try to do. This is the city where through St. Faustina, with the help of Bl. Sopocko, we spread around the world the message of mercy, we continue to proclaim that message today.”
 
St. John Paul II was linked to the Holy Mother of Mercy, too. There is a reproduction of the Icon in the Lithuanian chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica.
 
“That image,” Grusas told CNA, “is very much beloved by St. John Paul II. As a matter of fact, when he was elected pope, he went to the Lithuanian Chapel to pray in front of the reproduction of the icon. There, he prayed for his papacy. When he came to Vilnius, he also brought his cardinal’s zucchetto here, to fulfill a promise he had made to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, we have in the sacrity both Cardinal Wojtyla’s zucchetto and also his papal zucchetto, which he left as well.”
 
John Paul II kicked off his Sep. 4, 1993 visit to Lithuania with the rosary in the Chapel of the  Gate of Dawn. Pope Francis, then, will do the same.
 
The pope is also scheduled to go to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, where the original image of Merciful Jesus painted under St. Faustina indications is exposed and where perpetual Eucharistic adoration take place.
 
In this way, Pope Francis will honor his visit to the “city of mercy.”

 

Legal challenge to abortion law in Northern Ireland delayed

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sep 21, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A legal challenge to the prosecution of a Northern Irish woman who allegedly procured abortifacient medication for her underage daughter which was to have begun Thursday has been adjourned.

Declan Morgan, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, said Sept. 20 that “dealing with the case in the absence of understanding the Public Prosecution Service response to the Supreme Court would be entirely inappropriate.”

Abortion is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health. Abortion pills are illegal in Northern Ireland.

In June, the UK Supreme Court threw out a case challenging Northern Ireland's abortion law, saying the commission which brought the case does not have standing to do so. However, the judges also said the current law violates the European Convention on Human Rights by banning abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, and incest.

Morgan has delayed the hearing challenging the law, directing prosecutors to respond to the Supreme Court's indications within two weeks.

The woman faces two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying the pills with intent to cause a miscarriage under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

She had purchased the pills online in July 2013 for her 15-year-old daughter.

Bernie Smyth, a spokesperson for the pro-life group Precious Life, said outside the Belfast court that “the importance of this case is to send a very clear message out to the people in Northern Ireland, to women in Northern Ireland who would feel maybe their only option is to purchase very dangerous illegal abortion pills and we are saying there is another way.”

“It is vitally important that we uphold the law here in Northern Ireland,” iNews reported Smyth as saying.

Elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, and Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

In its June 2018 judgement, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that banning the abortion of unborn children with serious, but not fatal, abnormalities is compatible with the ECHR.

Northern Ireland's abortion law could be taken up by either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is currently suspended. The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party, is opposed to changing the law. Sinn Féin, another prominent party in Northern Ireland, backs a liberalization of the abortion law.

British prime minister Theresa May has said abortion should be a devolved issue for Northern Ireland. But Labour MP Diana Johnson is expected to introduce next month into the British Parliament a bill to decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland.

Catholic groups aid Philippines in wake of Typhoon Mangkut

Cebu, Philippines, Sep 21, 2018 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following a powerful typhoon that struck several Northern provinces in the Philippines late last week, Catholic relief groups are working to provide essential post-storm aid.

Typhoon Mangkut made landfall at Baggao in the province of Cagayan Sept. 14, bringing with it winds of 125 mph. At least 88 people have been killed and more than 60 are missing, according to Time.

UCA News reported that the typhoon has brought damage to 30 provinces across the Philippines and more than 264,000 people have been affected, including over 37,000 displaced individuals.

The most damaged regions are Cagayan Valley, a major source of the country’s corn and rice, and Benguet, a landlocked area known for its agriculture and mining. In some areas, residents have lost access to food, clean water, and other necessities.

Catholic Relief Services said an estimated 1.6 million farmers and fishermen have been affected, and up to 90 percent of the area’s corn and rice crops have been destroyed.

Due to landslides caused by the typhoon, many mountain communities remain isolated, and more damage is expected to be found as emergency teams gain access to these areas.

“We are having difficulty reaching distant barangays (villages) because of boulders, debris and landslides along the roads. The soil is still saturated and unsettled and we are concerned about additional landslides,” said Aprilynn Villamar, an emergency program officer with CRS.

“Some families in evacuation centers are not sure where they will go or how they will rebuild their houses. There are evacuees who are showing signs of shock. This is the most devastating thing they've ever experienced.”

Catholic Relief Services is sending water purification and storage kits to areas hit by the typhoon, and said shelter kits and cash assistance will follow shortly.

Caritas Internationalis has launched an appeal in Rome for financial relief efforts in the Philippines, saying, "After the storm has passed people will need help to restore their livelihoods.”

Pope's Baltics visit to honor those who sacrificed for freedom

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of his visit to the Baltic states Sept. 22-25, Pope Francis praised liberty and said his trip would honor those who have sacrificed for the freedom the countries now experience.

In a video message to the people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia Sept. 20, Francis said freedom, “as we know, is a treasure that must be constantly preserved and handed down, as a precious heritage, to the new generations.”

His visit coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Baltic states, which were part of the Russian Empire until 1917 and gained independence in 1918.

They became part of Soviet Union in 1940-1941, endured Nazi domination in 1940-1944, and were returned to the Soviet Union in 1945. In 1991, they regained democratic independence, and have been members of NATO and the EU since 2004.

The pope said his visit “will honor all those whose sacrifices in the past have made possible the liberties of the present.”

“In times of darkness, violence and persecution, the flame of freedom is not extinguished, but inspires the hope of a future in which the dignity given by God to each person is respected and we all feel called to collaborate in the construction of a just and fraternal society,” he said.

Today a sense of solidarity and service to the common good is more important than ever, he continued, saying he hopes his visit will be a source of encouragement to people “inspired by the deepest spiritual and cultural values inherited from the past,” who are working to relieve suffering and promote peace and unity.

Pope Francis’ four-day visit to the Baltics will include the usual meetings with authorities, with priests and religious, and with youth. He will also celebrate three Masses, one in each country.

He will also pray a decade of the rosary in the chapel of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, which contains an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of Mercy – an important shrine and place of pilgrimage in Lithuania.

In Latvia, he will stop to pray at the tomb of St. Meinhard in the now-Lutheran cathedral in Riga. And in Tallinn, Estonia, he will visit the cathedral where the first Estonian martyr, a Jesuit, was last seen alive.

He will participate in ecumenical prayer meetings in Latvia and with youth in Estonia, where there are only around 5,000 Catholics in a population of 1.3 million. About 16 percent of the population is Eastern Orthodox and about 10 percent are Lutheran. Around 54 percent identify as non-religious.  

In Latvia, Lutheranism accounts for about 34 percent of the population of just under 2 million and Catholics make up 25 percent, primarily in the eastern portion of the country.

He will travel by helicopter to the other side of Latvia, to the Marian shrine at Agrona, where he will celebrate Mass. He will also make stops at several markers of historical significance in the three countries.

Indian bishop accused of rape arrested

Kochi, India, Sep 21, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur was arrested by Kerala police Friday over allegations that he raped a nun repeatedly over the course of two years. The bishop denies the accusations.

The Sept. 21 arrest was made in Kochi after three days of interrogation. The bishop will be brought to court Saturday, the BBC reports.

Mulakkal, 54, wrote to the Vatican last week asking to be relieved of administration of his diocese; his request was granted, and Bishop Agnelo Gracias, an Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Bombay, was appointed apostolic administrator of Jullundur Sept. 20.

A nun, who is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, has said that Bishop Mulakkal raped her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad, in Kerala. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed June 29, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.

During his questioning by police, Bishop Mulakkal made several inconsistent statements, India Today reported.

According to India Today, the bishop claimed he did not stay at the Kuravilangad convent May 5, 2014, when the nun alleges she was first raped by him, but that he visited the convent, while he stayed the night at a convent in Muthalakodam.

“When police cross-checked this information with his driver and another nun who made entries of his visit in the register, they found that the bishop and his driver actually stayed in the Kuravilangad convent on the said day,” the Uttar Pradesh-based outlet reported.

A nun in the Muthalakodam convent denied he visited them, and data from the bishop's mobile phone indicated he was present at the Kuravilangad convent that night.

A group of seven nuns, most of them Missionaries of Jesus, began protesting state and Church inaction over the matter Sept. 8 in Kochi.

Bishop Mulakkal has claimed the allegations were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct, the bishop told UCA News. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with her cousin's husband.

Three more women have accused the bishop in recent days of sexual misconduct against them, but the Missionaries of Jesus' superior general maintains that the bishop is innocent. The congregation is based in the Jullundur diocese, and Bishop Mulakkal is its patron.