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Salvadoran archbishop thanks president for promise not to approve pro-abortion constitutional changes

Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador. / Presidencia SV

San Salvador, El Salvador, Sep 23, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The Archbishop of San Salvador thanked Saturday the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, for his commitment not to approve abortion, gender ideology, or euthanasia in the constitutional reforms outlined by his government. 

In his homily at a Sept. 18 Mass for the nation’s bicentennial, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, who is also president of the Salvadoran bishops’ conference, said that “we want to take this moment to thank the president of the republic for the commitment he has expressed not to amend those articles of the Political Constitution relating to respect for human life from its conception to the final phase of human existence, in a natural way.”

The prelate also thanked Bukele "for his commitment not to approve euthanasia, as well as his commitment to defend respect for marriage as a bond established by God between a man and a woman."

The archbishop was responding to a Sept. 17 Facebook post by Bukele saying, “I have decided, so that there is no doubt, not to propose any type of reform to any article that has to do with the right to life (from the moment of conception), with marriage (keeping only the original design, a man and a woman) or with euthanasia.” 

A coalition of 75 pro-life and pro-family organizations had on Sept. 13 asked Bukele to reject such proposed reforms. And more than 26,000 people signed an online petition launched by CitizenGO which warned of the dangers in the proposed reform.

The constitution of El Salvador recognizes in Article 1 "as a human person every human being from the moment of conception."

The proposed reform was intended to add the term "in general", which could open the doors to the decriminalization of abortion.

In addition, it sought to impose euthanasia by establishing "the right to a previously consented death with dignity."

The proposed reform also aimed to eliminate the mention of the union between "a man and a woman" in Article 33 which talks about family relationships, and adds to Article 32 that the family will be protected "whatever form it may take."

The Salvadoran bishops’ conference expressed Sept. 13 its opposition to any attempt to open the door to abortion, euthanasia, or gender ideology.

However, pro-life groups have warned that the proposed constitutional reform, with the modifications offered by Bukele, still opens the door to gender ideology and threatens religious freedom.

The Salvemos a la Familia platform urged in a recent statement that there be no change to “Articles 25, 26, 57 and 58 of the current Constitution in relation to the fundamental right of religious freedom and the right of parents as the first, primary and irreplaceable educators of their children to decide the education that they consider most appropriate.”

More companies speak out against Texas’ pro-life law

null / Pe3k/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

Yelp, an online directory for food and businesses, is reportedly planning to “double match” employee contributions to pro-abortion groups opposing the new Texas Heartbeat Act, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which went into effect on Sept. 1, prohibits most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and is enforced through private lawsuits. Women who have an illegal abortion cannot be sued under the law.

More companies have begun speaking out against the law in recent days, and Yelp will now reportedly double match employee donations to Planned Parenthood, or similar organizations, in October. Yelp did not respond to CNA’s request for a comment by publication.

When the Texas law originally went into effect on Sept. 1, few companies were quick to speak out. 

Ride-hailing services Lyft and Uber were two of the earliest corporations to enter the debate. Lyft, in a Sept. 3 statement, said the law “is incompatible with people’s basic rights to privacy, our community guidelines, the spirit of rideshare, and our values as a company.”

Now, however, a new collaboration of brands and organizations have signed a joint statement against the pro-life law, called “Don’t Ban Equality in Texas: It's time for companies to stand up for reproductive healthcare.” The companies say that restricting abortion goes against their values and is “bad for business.”

Yelp was one of the 52 companies to sign the statement, along with Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s Homemade inc., Bumble, Lyft, VICE media group, and others. The companies stated that “restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of our workers and customers.”

According to the joint statement, abortion restrictions cause economic losses which cost the state of Texas $14.5 billion. The statement added that “nationally, state level restrictions cost state economies $105 billion dollars per year,” citing the Institute for Women’s Policy research.

“The future of gender equality hangs in the balance, putting our families, communities, businesses and the economy at risk,” the statement said.

According to the Washington Post, “according to people familiar with the matter, Starbucks and Microsoft Corp. declined to be included in the statement.

The CEO of, Marc Benioff, told ABC News in an interview that his company would help Texas employees move out of the state “if they don't like where they are.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported that it viewed an email from the CEO of Dell Technologies to employees, which said, “There is a lot happening in Texas right now. We’re all feeling it.” 

The email from CEO Michael Dell reportedly said that “There’s much we still don’t know about how all of these laws will ultimately play out.”

In response to the Texas law going into effect, President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas. The Justice Department subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court over the law, saying the state acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions.”

This week, a Texas doctor was sued by two non-Texas residents after he admitted to performing an abortion in violation of the state law. The case appears to be the first legal action taken under the law. 

USCCB, Catholic Charities ramp up efforts to welcome Afghan refugees

Afghan refugees are being processed inside Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Sept. 8, 2021. / Olivier Douliery/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Denver Newsroom, Sep 23, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

Over the next several months, the USCCB and Catholic Charities locations across the U.S. will welcome upwards of 7,500 refugees from Afghanistan.

The USCCB is one of nine resettlement networks in the United States, and it partners with 45 Catholic Charities agencies across the country to provide resettlement services.

“For the past few weeks, we've been trying to coordinate and help ready our network to be able to respond to an increased number of vulnerable Afghans being resettled throughout our network,” said Rachel Pollock, director of resettlement services for the USCCB Office of Migration and Refugee Services.

The influx of refugees is a result of the recent departure of United States forces from Afghanistan. Many refugees fled the country during a two-week period between when U.S. President Joe Biden announced the end of the war in Afghanistan Aug. 14 and the Taliban’s deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The United States then scrambled to deploy more military units to Kabul to facilitate its diplomatic and humanitarian evacuation.

In an interview with CNA, a refugee, who cannot be named for security reasons, shared that she had to leave Afghanistan because her husband worked for the U.S. Army for eight years as an interpreter.

“It was dangerous for anyone who worked with the U.S. because the Taliban saw them as traitors to their country and traitors to the religion of Islam,” she said. “If someone is a traitor, he has no right to be alive. My husband’s life was in danger.”

The refugee and her husband spent two days and one night outside the Kabul airport, and a couple days inside the airport with “scarce water and food,” she said.

“The Taliban were beating us with wooden stakes and firing on us to control the people,” she said.

The refugee left her family members and a “country where we were free together,” she said, referring to the time before the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan.

“It’s painful to leave home,” she said. “I only share my tears with my daughter and husband.”

While she was able to leave Afghanistan because of her husband’s work, she is faced with starting over in the U.S., with little-to-no communication with her family back home out of fear for their safety.

“There was no time for people to get their affairs in order, to say ‘goodbye,’” said Stephen Carattini, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington.

Carattini, who has worked in refugee resettlement since 2004, said this time is different from what he has experienced over the last several years of helping to resettle refugees.

“This is very traumatic,” he said. “We're talking to people who were in Kabul just last week or two weeks ago under those terrible circumstances at the airport, and who have been separated from loved ones. This is all happening in real time, so prayer is critical and vital for the people of Afghanistan, for these folks who have been forced to flee their homes under such dramatic circumstances.” 

Previously, Carattini said, Catholic Charities would have received notification that refugees were arriving at the airport in the U.S., so they could organize housing, provide culturally appropriate food, and even greet them at the airport. With the pace and scale of the evacuation this time, they are having to move much more quickly in locating resources and preparing for their arrival.

“Since 2008, we’ve settled over 4,000 men, women and children from Afghanistan in our diocese, and typically, in the last few years, we've been resettling approximately 350 a year,” said Carattini. “Now, obviously we're in a different world. In the last two months alone, we’ve received over 200 Afghan SIV holders, and we’re anticipating a significant number to come.” 

Pollock thinks the refugees will begin traveling to their final destination—where Catholic Charities will be awaiting their arrival—in the next couple weeks. When the refugees arrive, volunteers and employees of Catholic Charities will help them secure housing, reconnect with family members, enroll in school, find employment, and begin life anew in the United States.

“We’ll all have to work together to build as much capacity as we possibly can,” she said. “It’s not often that we get to respond to a crisis of this magnitude in our local communities. It’s a great opportunity to put into practice our commitments. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to embrace, to respond to the call, to respond with love.”

According to the White House, the United States airlifted more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan before the withdrawal of U.S. forces was complete. The refugees arrive in the U.S. through various military bases, where they go through processing, which includes both security and health screening.

Pollock said the USCCB becomes involved once the processing has been completed, to help determine where in the Catholic Charities network is best for the family.

Currently, only refugees with a current Special Immigrant Visa are eligible for benefits and financial assistance through Catholic Charities. Refugees designated as “parolees,” either because they are an asylum seeker or because their SIV had not been processed, do not have access to the same benefits.

Obtaining a SIV is a years-long process which requires referrals from the military, background checks, security clearance, letters, and an interview, among other steps, said Tom Mrosko, director of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Cleveland.

“The goal was to evacuate all the SIVs, the folks that were pending SIV status, and then about 50,000 other individuals through a humanitarian parole process,” said Mrosko. “So you have the typical SIV and refugee side of things that is occurring in tandem with these parolees, but without having the ability to work right away, nor with some of the financial resources that an SIV or refugee would receive the minute they get here. We’re really trying to think outside the box.”

Cleveland, like other Catholic Charities locations, is relying heavily on the generosity of the community to find free or very low rent accommodations for those who are arriving.

“This is a different type of challenge, but the support for us has been tremendous,” Mrosko said.

They are also preparing to support the mental health of the refugees.

“I would imagine a lot of these individuals will be grieving what they’ve lost and who they’ve left behind just two weeks ago,” Mrosko said. “I’m sure mentally they weren’t preparing for an evacuation quite like this.”

In addition to having immigration lawyers and Department of Justice accredited representatives, Catholic Charities in Cleveland has counselors and psychologists on staff, as well as a Survivors of Torture Program to support any individual who has been tortured outside the U.S.

“This is right in line with Catholic social teaching, it goes back to the Gospel that we should provide safety and comfort and food to those in need,” Mrosko said. “We’re all created in the image of Christ and there’s a dignity in all of us, no matter where you are from.”

For Catholic Charities in the Diocese of La Crosse, providing an opportunity to recreate is another key priority. They are working alongside the USCCB to establish Morale, Wellness and Recreation centers at Fort McCoy, one of the military bases receiving refugees from Afghanistan. The goal of the MWR is to provide a place where people can build community with other refugees and have space to relax, said Karen Becker, director of marketing for Catholic Charities in La Crosse.

“One of the things we're going to be doing as a wellness center is offering women a space where they can come and have afternoon tea, and be able to build female relationships; and have people play with their children to give them a little bit of respite and mental health care as well,” Becker said. “There's a lot of trauma in these folks' lives, and whatever normalcy we can try to offer back to them is part of what we do.”

The kids at Fort McCoy are starting to recognize Becker’s truck, she said, because she often brings soccer balls, sidewalk chalk, games, and other toys with her, all of which have been donated by community members.

“I have seen such an incredible outpouring of generosity,” Becker said. “We asked for diapers, and we got boxes and boxes and boxes of diapers. The next day, I asked for flip-flops and I got inundated with flip-flops. When it rained, we had people bringing us rain ponchos.”

At Fort McCoy, base officials determine which buildings are available for housing and other services for the refugees. Then a team of relief organizations, Catholic Charities among them, come in to establish “neighborhoods,” Becker said, which include an MWR, a Red Cross distribution site, medical services, and other supplies.

“Many times, when we look at where we provide services in a disaster, we think, ‘Let's give them food, let's get them clothing, let's get them housing, and those are the very basic needs, but, on top of that then comes being able to offer humor, and human connection,” she said.

Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma is planning to resettle 25 to 50 families of the 800 refugees who are expected to arrive in Oklahoma in the coming weeks. Though the number seems small in comparison to other locations, it is a “really big deal for those 25 to 50 families,” said Father Brian O’Brien, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

“We saw the pictures, we saw what was happening and is still happening in Afghanistan—people who didn't get on those planes are being arrested and killed,” said Father O’Brien. “That's these people. If they were still there, that's what would be happening to them.”

Additional locations are needed to welcome refugees, said Father O’Brien, because some of the places that would have said “Yes”, California and the Gulf coast, are not able to because of recent hurricanes and wildfires.

“Normally, those places would be onboard and ready to go, but they don’t have housing because the housing is being used by displaced people,” he said. “It’s very complex and fast moving, and it shows our interconnectedness that we often take for granted.”

Father O’Brien said the effort is about the goodness of the Church and her willingness to help people.

“Most will have obviously never been to the United States, and many won't speak English, but they're fleeing for their lives and we have a chance to help them,” said Father O’Brien. “We’re in this because we love people and we want to help them in whatever way we can. It’s what Jesus would have us do.”

How Texas Catholics pushed to expand support for mothers

null / Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2021 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

In addition to two major pro-life bills, the Texas Catholic Conference has successfully pushed for better support  for pregnant and postpartum mothers and their families. This reaffirms that pro-lifers care about women and families, and not only unborn children, says the conference’s executive director. 

“I think from a Catholic perspective, it's very clear. And at the legislature, the legislators on both sides of the aisle are very aware that the Catholic bishops support the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death,” said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, in an interview with CNA on Wednesday. 

Allmon noted that the state’s Catholic dioceses operate about 40 of more than 200 pro-life pregnancy centers in Texas, assisting women and their children for up to five years after birth. The conference itself has consistently advocated for policies that would directly assist women and their families, she added. 

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops is the public policy arm of the state’s bishops. Texas has 15 Catholic dioceses, as well as the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

While much notice has been given to the recently-enacted “Heartbeat Act” in Texas, which bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, Allmon said that other pro-life legislation was passed during the state’s last legislative session. In addition to the Heartbeat Law, the legislature passed a “trigger ban” on abortion that will go into effect should Roe v. Wade be overturned at the Supreme Court. 

Thus, the state’s Catholic dioceses knew they had to be prepared to support women in unexpected pregnancies, who might no longer have abortions because of the laws. 

“Many of our dioceses have engaged deeply in the ‘Walking With Moms in Need’ program that USCCB has launched,” she said. The program is meant to help parishes reach out to and assist local women in unexpected pregnancies. Texas dioceses have been working since early in 2021 on a deeper engagement with the program, she said.

The Texas Catholic Conference “aggressively” supported the state’s expansion of Medicaid benefits for women who have just given birth, Allmon said. 

Previously, mothers in the state were able to receive Medicaid benefits until their child was 60 days old; that eligibility period has now been expanded to six months.

The previous 60-day limit was problematic, Allmon explained, as many postpartum issues -  especially those related to mental health - do not manifest themselves until at least 60 days after women give birth. Allmon said she hopes to eventually see the six month period extended to one year of coverage, but is still “really grateful” for the current expansion. 

“Our strategy was a holistic strategy at looking at ways to support, of course, unborn life, but also how to help families choose life,” she said. “Medicaid access is a really important part. We also support expansion and improvement of the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid expansion in general.” 

Additionally, the most recent state budget passed included a 25% increase for the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which supports mothers and their families until the child is  three to five years old. 

“The services that are provided are supportive and life affirming, so that women who are facing overwhelming pregnancies know that they are going to have support to parent the child or to place the child for adoption,” said Allmon. “And so that program was funded at a hundred million dollars for the biennium.” 

That money goes, in part, to the Catholic Charities affiliates throughout the state of Texas, which provide services such as parenting classes and counseling, diapers, formula, financial planning, and other necessities for newborn children. Some affiliates use private donations to expand these services until the child is 5 years old. 

“It's very comprehensive and making sure that families are able to get the support that they need, that's kind of tailored to their situation,” said Allmon. 

The existence of these programs “destroys the narrative that we’re just about birth, because that’s clearly beyond birth,” she said, calling that narrative “ridiculous,”. 

“Abortion bills are among our top priorities, but not our only priorities.”  

This article was updated on Sept. 24.

Pelosi defends her support for legal abortion: ‘God has given us a free will’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at her weekly Capitol press briefing, Sept. 23, 2021 / EWTN News Nightly

Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2021 / 10:45 am (CNA).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday responded to her archbishop, who had said an abortion bill she is working to pass is tantamount to “child sacrifice.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act, legislation that would override state abortion laws and allow for abortions in some cases throughout all nine months of pregnancy, is set to be voted on in the House tomorrow, Sept. 24. Pelosi declared earlier this month that she would bring the bill up for a vote in the House. Her local ordinary, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, said the bill “is nothing short of child sacrifice,” in a statement on Tuesday.

When asked about Cordileone’s comments at her Thursday press briefing in the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi responded that “it’s none of our business how other people choose the size and timing of their families.”

“The archbishop of the city of that area, of San Francisco, and I had a disagreement about who should decide this [family size and timing]. I believe that God has given us a free will to honor our responsibilities,” she said in response to the question from Erik Rosales, Capitol Hill correspondent for EWTN News Nightly.

The House will vote on the abortion legislation on Friday. Pelosi previewed the vote at her briefing, noting that “this is a very exciting day for some of us in the Congress.”

“Every woman everywhere has a constitutional right to basic reproductive health, yet for years that has been questioned by some,” she said.

Pelosi brought the bill up for a vote following Texas’ pro-life “heartbeat” bill going into effect Sept. 1. The law restricted most abortions following the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It is enforced through private civil lawsuits.

“The Texas law goes beyond a discussion of a woman’s right to choose. It’s about vigilantes and bounty hunters, and something that is so un-American. And it has evoked a response, okay? It’s unconstitutional and unjust,” Pelosi stated on Thursday.

The Women's Health Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), recognizes the “statutory right” of women to have abortions, and would block many state pro-life laws, such as ultrasound and waiting period requirements before abortions. It overrides prohibitions on “pre-viability” abortions, and allows for late-term abortions without “meaningful” limits, the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned, thus imposing "abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy."

In addition, the bill would require taxpayer funding of abortion and could force health care workers to participate in abortions against their consciences, the conference has said.

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said that the bill “is surely the type of legislation one would expect from a devout Satanist, not a devout Catholic.” He called on Catholics to fast and pray for the bill’s defeat.

In the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, Rosales asked Pelosi to respond to Cordileone’s statement as a “Catholic.”

“I’m Catholic. I come from a pro-life family,” she said.

She noted that she had five children in just more than six years. “For us, it was a complete and total blessing, which we enjoy every day of our lives,” she said, before adding it was “none of our business” to make such decisions for other families.  

In July, Pelosi cited her Catholic faith before she justified the policy of federal funding of abortion. In response, Archbishop Cordileone stated that “no one can claim to be a devout Catholic and condone the killing of innocent human life, let alone have the government pay for it.”

New Brunswick mandates COVID vaccine pass, but Catholic dioceses take differing approaches

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception seen amid Saint John, New Brunswick. / Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.

Fredericton, Canada, Sep 23, 2021 / 10:10 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Saint John, New Brunswick has said proof of vaccination will not be required for Mass or the other sacraments, though it will comply with provincial rules requiring such proof for other indoor gatherings. Other dioceses in the province, those of Moncton and Edmundston, have said they will require proof of vaccination to attend Mass.

“No person will be turned away from Mass, nor any other Sacrament,” Natasha Mazerolle, communications director for the Diocese of Saint John, told CNA Sept. 22. New provincial rules requiring proof of vaccination will, however, apply to other indoor events at diocesan churches, like conferences, workshops and fundraisers, she said.

“The Diocese of Saint John continues to do its utmost to protect both the physical and spiritual needs of its faithful,” said Mazerolle. “It takes the directives of public health seriously and understands the need to make sacrifices to protect the common good, and to be prudent in slowing the spread of the virus. It also recognizes that the faithful are not to be excluded from the Sacraments for any reason, and that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (and indeed what is most needed to help us face these challenging times).”

Mazerolle said “worship services (including Catholic Mass) are not directly mentioned in the government regulation.” She added “an individual’s right to practice their religion is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Under canon law, well-disposed Catholics typically have the right to receive the sacraments at appropriate times.

“The Code of Canon Law is very clear on this,” said Mazerolle, citing canon 843, which says, “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.”

Provincial government rules which took effect Sept. 21 required proof of vaccination to access certain events, services, and businesses. Violation of the law could result in fines between $172 and $772 Canadian, about $135 to $605.

The rules apply to those 12 and older, including those seeking to attend “indoor organized gatherings.” Explicitly mentioned are weddings, funerals, conferences, workshops, and parties, excepting parties at a private dwelling.

“The regulations published on the Government of New Brunswick’s website do not mention worship services or Mass,” Mazerolle said. “While there can be many interpretations, the diocese defers to what has been officially written in the regulation under the Public Health Act and posted on the Government of New Brunswick’s website.”

In a Sept. 17 letter, Bishop Christian Riesbeck of Saint John pledged close cooperation with public health authorities to implement parish-level policies that will “ensure that all faithful can continue to worship Jesus and receive the Sacraments in full safety and care for one another and the common good.”

“Vaccination is proving to be the best way to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and its variants, which are on the rise and threaten to overwhelm the hospital system, seriously impacting the level of care medical professionals can provide to the ill and the vulnerable in our province,” Riesbeck said.

The bishop cited the Vatican COVID-19 Commission’s joint document with the Pontifical Academy for Life, which said, “we consider it important that a responsible decision be taken in this regard, since refusal of the vaccine may also constitute a risk to others.”

“I encourage you in charity to be vaccinated against Covid-19 if you have not already done so,” he said, referring by name to the Covid-19 vaccines which have received full approval from Health Canada.

“I once again urge each person to prayerfully consider vaccination, and to discern a decision that will best protect themselves, their loved ones, and the common good,” Riesbeck continued. “We also recognize that the decision to vaccinate must never be coerced, and that some individuals, for matters of health or conscience, may choose not to receive the vaccine.”

The bishop’s letter encouraged Catholics to “remain ever conscious of our mission to spread the joy of the Gospel throughout our diocese and face these new challenges with our gaze fixed firmly on Jesus, who walks with us and never abandons us.”

The Diocese of St. John serves over 115,000 Catholics at 28 parishes, St. Thomas University Fredericton, and an Ordinariate community. Its territory borders the U.S. state of Maine.

New Brunswick’s total population numbers over 750,000 people, about half of whom are Catholic.

There have been 49 Covid-19-related deaths in New Brunswick out of some 3,600 total cases since the pandemic began. There are now 557 active cases, compared to January’s peak of 348. The province recently witnessed its largest single-day report of new COVID cases. About 26 people in the province are currently hospitalized, 15 of whom are in intensive care.

Almost 87% of New Brunswick residents have at least one vaccine dose, while 78% are fully vaccinated. The oldest residents, who tend to be most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections, are also the most likely to have been vaccinated.

A Sept. 21 bulletin of the Diocese of St. John reported that the provincial health minister has asked faith communities to aim for a 90% vaccination rate. The diocese said that the health minister has asked faith leaders to survey their congregation about their vaccination status.

“This survey will be distributed at Masses this coming weekend, September 25-26, to be completed prior to leaving Mass and left with the parish,” the St. John diocese said. The parish will forward the results to the diocese and will be required to keep a record at the parish.

“If the results of the survey demonstrate that the 90% vaccination rate has not been met, further restrictions on gatherings may be mandated by the province,” said the bulletin.

The diocese cited Sept. 20 press conference remarks by New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs. He said that failure to reach a 90% vaccination rate could mean a return to social distancing and reduced capacity requirements.

As of Sept. 22, masks will be mandatory in all public spaces. These rules explicitly include places of worship.

While the Diocese of St. John is only requiring proof of vaccination for some church events, and not Mass and the sacraments, the neighboring Archdiocese of Moncton is more strict. It will require proof of vaccination from those age 12 and older attending all religious celebrations, including Masses, baptisms, weddings, funerals, parish and pastoral meetings, catechesis, and social meetings.

Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton on Sept. 17 asked for these measures to be implemented “not only to respect the government's request but above all to help stop the spread of the virus among our population.”

“We would not want one of our places of worship to be the location of a COVID exposure due to our negligence,” Vienneau said. “The Minister of Health is counting on our cooperation.”

The archbishop said volunteers are expected to be at the church doors to ask attendees for full proof of vaccination and to collect their names. This list can be used again each Sunday to avoid repeated requests for proof of vaccination from repeat visitors.

“This list may eventually be requested by the government,” the archbishop noted.

Parish employees who do not seek vaccination must wear a mask at all times and take a COVID test periodically. Any parish office visitor may be asked to wear a mask if not vaccinated.

There are about 108,000 Catholics in the Moncton archdiocese out of 215,000 people total.

The Diocese of Edmundston on Sept. 17 announced measures similar to those of the Moncton archdiocese. The diocese is predominantly French-speaking and its territory covers the northwest of New Brunswick, with about 44,000 people, almost all Catholics, living in its territory.

The Diocese of Bathurst, a predominantly French-speaking diocese in the province’s northeast, serves about 95,000 Catholics in 51 Christian communities in 12 parishes. It had no public statement on a response to the provincial rules.

The provinces of Alberta and Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, are also mandating proof of vaccination to enter some venues. Nova Scotia will begin to mandate proof of vaccination Oct. 4, but that mandate does not apply to places of worship, the Canada-based site Global News reports.

Prominent Catholic leaders have backed vaccination. Pope Francis, along with six cardinals and archbishops from the Americas, recently worked with the Ad Council to produce a public service announcement promoting the use of COVID-19 vaccines.

While most Catholics in the U.S. and Canada have received COVID-19 vaccinations, vaccine mandates have prompted debates among some Catholics about conscientious exemption, the risks and benefits of the available COVID-19 vaccines, and the ethics and legality of vaccine mandates imposed by governments and employers, including some U.S. Catholic dioceses.

In a December 2020 note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and therefore “must be voluntary.” It said that the morality of vaccination depends on both the duty to pursue the common good and the duty to protect one’s own health, and that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”

The Vatican will require all visitors and personnel to show a COVID-19 pass proving they have been vaccinated, have recovered from the coronavirus, or have tested negative for the disease in order to enter the city state beginning Oct. 1. However, this requirement does not apply to Catholics attending liturgical celebrations at the Vatican. People will be allowed to access a liturgy “for the time strictly necessary for the conduct of the rite,” while also following distancing and masking rules, a Vatican City ordinance published Sept. 20 said.

Pope Francis to bishops: The saints spread the Gospel, not a ‘social program’

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2021 / 09:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis invited Europe’s bishops Thursday to not just worry about secularization and a growing lack of faith, but to do something about it by introducing people to the joy of an encounter with Jesus.

“So many people are induced to feel only material needs, and not a need for God,” the pope said at a Sept. 23 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. “Certainly, we are ‘preoccupied’ by this, but are we really ‘occupied’ with responding to it?”

“It is easy, but ultimately pointless, to judge those who do not believe or to list the reasons for secularization,” he underlined. “The word of God challenges us to look to ourselves. Do we feel concern and compassion for those who have not had the joy of encountering Jesus or who have lost that joy? Are we comfortable because deep down our lives go on as usual, or are we troubled by seeing so many of our brothers and sisters far from the joy of Jesus?”

Pope Francis addressed 39 bishops from Europe during a Mass for the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE). The Mass marked the opening of the CCEE’s plenary assembly, which is taking place in Rome Sept. 23-26.

In his homily, Francis reflected on a reading from the Book of the Prophet Haggai.

“Those words – ‘Reflect on your ways!’ – are challenging because today, in Europe, we Christians can be tempted to remain comfortably ensconced in our structures, our homes and our churches, in the security provided by our traditions, content with a certain degree of consensus, while all around us churches are emptying and Jesus is increasingly forgotten,” he said.

He urged them to think about how many people have lost their hunger and thirst for God, because “there is no one to awaken in them a hunger for faith and to satisfy that thirst in the human heart, that ‘innate and perpetual thirst’ of which Dante speaks (Par., II, 19) and which the dictatorship of consumerism gently but insistently tries to suppress.”

Pope Francis also warned about seeing the faith as “a relic of the past,” which he said happens when people have not seen Jesus at work in their own lives.

“Often this is because we, by our lives, have not sufficiently shown him to them,” he told the bishops and others present.

“God makes himself seen in the faces and actions of men and women transformed by his presence,” he said. “If Christians, instead of radiating the contagious joy of the Gospel, keep speaking in an outworn intellectualistic and moralistic religious language, people will not be able to see the Good Shepherd.”

Francis explained that people “will not see the One whose incredible passion we preach: for it is a consuming passion, a passion for mankind. This divine, merciful and overpowering love is itself the perennial newness of the Gospel.”

“It demands of us, dear brothers, wise and bold decisions, made in the name of the mad love with which Christ has saved us.”

According to Pope Francis, “Jesus does not ask us to make arguments for God, but to show him, in the same way the saints did, not by words but by our lives.”

The saints, he said, “were not concerned about dark times, hardships and those divisions that are always present. They did not waste time criticizing or laying blame. They lived the Gospel, without worrying about relevance or politics.”

With the gentle strength of God’s love, the saints “built monasteries, reclaimed land, enlivened the spirit of individuals and countries,” the pope continued. “They did not have a ‘social program,’ in quotes, but the Gospel alone.”

“Let us help today’s Europe, faint with weariness – this is the sickness of Europe today – to rediscover the ever youthful face of Jesus and his Bride. How can we fail to devote ourselves completely to making all people see this unfading beauty?” he concluded.

Catholic cardinal says Haiti's 'catastrophic situation' led Haitians to U.S. border

Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langlois speaks during a Caritas Internationalis webinar, Sept. 21, 2021. / Screenshot.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 23, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Chibly Langlois has said that the “catastrophic situation” in Haiti caused by poverty, violence, and natural disasters has led to Haitians seeking asylum at the U.S. border.

The Catholic cardinal, who was injured in Haiti’s recent earthquake, is also a leader in the recovery efforts for the island nation facing the consequences of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, aggravated by widespread poverty and gang violence.

“The people of Haiti are suffering, believe me,” Langlois said on Sept. 21.

The Haitian cardinal spoke in French with live interpretation into English at a webinar organized by Caritas Internationalis in Rome.

Thousands of migrants from Haiti encamped in Del Rio, Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border this week.

The Biden administration responded by bringing more federal personnel to the border, placing many Haitians on expulsion flights, and busing others to immigration processing centers in El Paso and Laredo, Texas.

The Washington Post reported Sept. 22 that the U.S. government is preparing to nearly double the number of Haitians being deported from Texas to Haiti.

Meanwhile, Mexico has offered asylum to 19,000 Haitians so far this year, according to the Associated Press.

Langlois, 62, became the first Haitian to become a Catholic cardinal in 2014. He said that Catholics in Haiti are on the frontlines serving those in need as they suffer themselves.

“The Church is present practically everywhere in the country. Wherever you look around the country -- where poverty is rife, where violence is spreading, where catastrophes take place -- the Church is present and the church is a first responder,” Langlois said.

“But the church also suffers because we too are a victim of these natural catastrophes.”

At the webinar, Cardinal Langlois launched an appeal to all his Catholic brothers and sisters, as well as all people of goodwill, to come to the aid of Haiti to help the country emerge from the serious poverty that made the country susceptible to more damage when natural disasters strike.

In Haiti, 1.5 million people are in need of assistance after the earthquake, the cardinal said.

“And the entire world speaks about the poverty in Haiti,” he said, repeating that the natural disasters combined with the widespread poverty has created a “catastrophic situation” in the Caribbean state.

The cardinal also thanked people for their prayers after the earthquake.

“Yes, I was a victim during the earthquake, and I can tell you that to see something falling all around you is something quite breathtaking. And to escape … is another miracle,” Langlois said.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti about 90 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince on the morning of Aug. 14. It was stronger than the 2010 earthquake from which the island is still recovering.

The earthquake killed at least 2,207 people with more than 12,260 people sustaining injuries, according to a USAID report published on Sept. 7.

Two days after the quake, Tropical Storm Grace made landfall in Haiti overnight, flooding the country with as much as 15 inches of rain in a single day in certain areas.

More than 100,000 homes were destroyed, as were at least seven churches. A Catholic rectory in the diocese of Les Cayes, where Cardinal Langlois serves as bishop, was severely damaged causing three fatalities: one priest and two employees.

Haiti has also been battling a spike of gang violence and kidnappings for ransom this year.

The Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince said in a statement in April that gang violence had reached “unprecedented” levels in the country.

“Now the church of Haiti, in effect, is very much in the frontlines considering the situation we live in the country today. You’ve got ongoing violence, attacks, a considerable amount of stress,” Langois said

The Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home in July by a group of gunmen.

The violence has also directly touched the Church. Ten Catholic leaders were kidnapped in Haiti on April 11 by one of the several criminal groups operating in the country.

Four Haitian priests and a nun as well as one French priest and one nun were among the kidnapped, who were not released by their captors until April 30.

“This earthquake struck a country that was hard hit by COVID-19 and in an economic crisis, and in a political crisis after the assassination of the president,” Aloysius John, the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, said at the webinar.

“Haiti has perhaps become a forgotten emergency,” John said.

“We cannot turn a blind eye on Haiti. People are suffering … and the needs are tremendous in the country and international support is more than ever indispensable. So we need to reach out to the Haitian people in need,” he said.

Court rejects challenge to UK’s Down syndrome abortion law

Heidi Crowter speaks outside the High Court in London England, July 6, 2021. / Don’t Screen Us Out via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

London, England, Sep 23, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The High Court in London rejected on Thursday a landmark challenge to a U.K. law allowing abortion up to birth for disability.

In its Sept. 23 ruling, the court declared that a law allowing abortion up to birth for disability was not discriminatory.

The challenge was brought by Heidi Crowter, a woman with Down syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, a mother whose son has Down syndrome.

Speaking after the verdict, Crowter, a 26-year-old from Coventry, in central England, said: “I'm really upset not to win, but the fight is not over. The judges might not think it discriminates against me but I'm telling you that I do feel discriminated against.”

“This is a very sad day but I will keep on fighting,” she said. “I won't give up. Let's do this!”

Lea-Wilson, a 33-year-old from West London, said: “People with Down syndrome face discrimination in all aspects of life. This ruling condones discrimination by cementing the belief in society that their lives are not as valuable as the lives of people without disabilities.”

“I do not regret bringing this case because I believe it has helped raise awareness around the wonderful lives of people with Down syndrome and their families’ lives,” she added, “and helped to dispel some of the negative, outdated, and prejudiced attitudes that are prevalent in society and the medical profession.”

“As Aiden's mother, I will continue to fight and I will look to appeal this judgment with Heidi because everyone should be equally valued regardless of the number of chromosomes that they have,” Lea-Wilson said.

Section 1(1)(d) of the the U.K.’s Abortion Act 1967 permits abortion up to birth if “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

There were 3,083 abortions on the basis of disability recorded in England and Wales in 2020, 693 of them following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome -- an increase from 656 in 2019.

Jason Coppel, a senior barrister representing Crowter and Lea-Wilson, told the High Court in July that Crowter had been “the subject of abuse because of her disability and believes that the existence of a law allowing abortion up to birth for babies with DS [Down’s syndrome] is a contributory cultural cause of this type of abuse.”

The claimants, who are supported by the group Don’t Screen Us Out, have crowdfunded more than $147,000 for the case.

Lea-Wilson told CNA in May that she was inspired to take part in the case after seeing Crowter discussing the law on television.

She said that the disability rights campaigner’s words resonated with her following the birth of her second son, Aidan, in June 2019.

“I had discovered that Aidan would likely be born with Down syndrome when I was 34 weeks pregnant, and then was asked repeatedly if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy,” she said.

“Suddenly the way I was treated changed from an excited parent expecting a second child, to a woman facing a great tragedy who had to make a ‘choice’ -- to abort my pregnancy or not.”

“I have two sons who I love and value equally, so I cannot understand why the law does not value them equally.”

Speaking to supporters outside the High Court on July 7, Crowter said: “The judges need to know that we are not suffering and our parents and family don’t suffer. The doctors need to hear this, they need to hear from people like me and learn more about life with Down’s syndrome.”

“My fight for justice and equality has brought us here today to change a law that makes me think I shouldn’t have been born.”

“When the law changes for us then we will have won the fight.”

Archbishop Gallagher at UN: 'Racism can and must be defeated'

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican secretary for relations with states. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

New York City, N.Y., Sep 23, 2021 / 01:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s foreign minister on Wednesday addressed heads of state at the United Nations, noting that the Church is “engaged in combating all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

“Racism is rooted in the erroneous and evil claim that one human being has less dignity than another. This not only disregards the truth that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ but also the foundational ethical summons to act toward “one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” said Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States at the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Archbishop Gallagher addressed the UN high-level meeting Sept. 22 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, an agreement between states to address racism and racial discrimination. 

“Universal human rights are indivisible and interdependent and thus cannot exist in opposition,” he noted. “Laws and norms that seek to root out discrimination and intolerance must therefore respect the right to freedom of opinion, thought, religion, and conscience. Monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance should never become a justification for States to violate the human rights of minorities or to censor minority opinions.”

“Racism can and must be defeated through a culture of encounter, fraternity, and solidarity,” Archbishop Gallagher said. 

“While adopting international agreements and declarations such as the Durban Declaration are an important and necessary step, they must lead to real change through implementation by governments as well as through education and ethical media reporting, providing fact based and objective information in ways that respect the dignity of all and do not foster a divisive ‘us against them’ mentality.”

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action called for affirmative action to ensure equal opportunities for victims of racism and discrimination, as well as compensation for victims of racism, among other measures. 

In addition to racial discrimination, Archbishop Gallagher also noted that religious discrimination and persecution remains a serious problem throughout the world, though “The Durban Declaration rightly expresses concern about intolerance, hostile acts, and violence against religious groups.”

“In recent years, we have witnessed an overall rise in religious persecution by both State and non-State actors,” he said.  

“Individuals and entire populations are discriminated against because of their faith while perpetrators often enjoy impunity. Some religious minorities in certain regions even face extinction, including Christians who represent the most persecuted group globally.”

He also highlighted the “insidious practice of eugenics.”

“Today, we could say that a eugenic mentality often lurks behind artificial procreation techniques and the dark sides of pre-natal diagnostics, where the idea that there are human beings of inferior value because of disability, sex, or other traits often leads to the denial of their right to life,” he said.

“Such a mindset entrenches principles of discrimination squarely opposed to the Durban Declaration and cannot be ignored.”