26 March 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

French Catholic Church asked people to light candles a the windows to mark support to healthcare employees.
Christophe Petit Tesson/Maxppp/PA Images

The University of Notre Dame announced that Kathleen McChesney will be this year’s recipient of its Laetare Medal, the most prestigious award given to an American Catholic. McChesney was an executive assistant director of the FBI and has been a leading expert for the Church as it grappled with the clerical sex abuse crisis. In 2002, McChesney helped establish and lead the US bishops’ Office of Child Protection. She is known for emphasizing the need to listen to victim-survivors and setting up independent investigatory bodies.

While virtually all US bishops, heeding the advice of public health officials, have suspended public liturgies indefinitely, Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Knights of Malta, challenged the closure of churches and suspension of liturgies. “In combating the evil of the coronavirus, our most effective weapon is, therefore, our relationship with Christ through prayer and penance, and devotions and sacred worship,” Burke wrote on his website. “That is why it is essential for us, at all times and above all in times of crisis, to have access to our churches and chapels, to the Sacraments, and to public devotions and prayers.” In Fort Worth, Texas, Bishop Michael Olson suspended public liturgies but mandated the distribution of Holy Communion after the Mass to people in their cars. “Communion will be distributed outdoors using the social distancing of a MINIMUM OF SIX FEET,” the bishop’s decree stated. “People are … to wait in their cars until they are beckoned forth by an usher after Mass, one car at a time.” In most dioceses, parishes began live-streaming Masses on quickly launched YouTube channels or Facebook Live.

Catholic bishops in Poland have urged their Church to do more to promote the safeguarding of water as a "moral cause", at a time when many parts of the country already run short at certain times of the year. “Poland possesses the lowest stocks of natural water of all European countries,” said Archbishop Wiktor Skworc of Katowice and fellow-prelates from the southern Silesia region. “Added to that, climate change is blurring the borders between seasons, alongside a lack of sufficient rainfall. Agriculture, fruit-farming, transport, tourism and everything connected with these areas of life are suffering as a result". The pastoral message was circulated for Sunday's World Water Day in the heavily industralised, coal-mining Silesia, which includes some of Europe's most polluted districts.

The Pope has expressed solidarity with Croatians, after a Sunday morning earthquake, the worst for 140 years, brought down the spire of Zagreb's Catholic cathedral and left dozens injured and at least one death. The quake, measuring 5.3, also damaged numerous other historic churches in the capital.

Lebanese churches have offered buildings and accommodation for those infected by the coronavirus and needing quarantine. Bishop Michel Aoun of the Maronite diocese of Byblos has made his summer residence available. Fr Fadi Tabet, head of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, has offered the Betania Harissa Hotel – normally used by pilgrims to the shrine – to the Lebanese health authorities. The virus has hit Lebanon’s Jesuit community, with 11 priests testing positive for Covid-19. They are now isolated, each in his own room, in the Jesuit house of Monot, and have started a spiritual retreat marked every evening by prayer and biblical reflection, shared digitally with people outside the community.

The bishops of Southern Africa have made a commitment to increase the dissemination of information and act on the protection of minors and vulnerable people from human trafficking. This was the focus of a Conference on Human Trafficking at the Arrupe Jesuit University in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, on 18 March. It was organised by the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching and involved delegates from the Inter-regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa, representatives of governments of Zimbabwe and the US, Christian and Muslim faith leaders and survivors of trafficking. Delegates heard stories from victims tricked into believing they were taking up lucrative job opportunities in the Middle East who were then enslaved, only to face rejection by their own relatives and communities once they escaped. 

Christian communities are diminishing in Syria, according to Fr Victor Assouad, a Syrian Jesuit and assistant to the Jesuit Father General for Western Europe. He has described them as “fragile” with people “exhausted” and geared towards emigration. It would be encouraging to see Christians returning home from overseas, said Fr Assouad, and he reported that the bishops of Aleppo recently called for this. However, he felt, “the wounds caused by nine years of war are enormous; two thirds of the population, about 6.5 million people, were forced to leave their homes, and about five million fled abroad to Lebanon, Jordan and to Europe”. In Aleppo, “the four years of siege and bombings reduced Christian numbers from 150,000 in 2011 to the current 35-40,000”.

The Oberammergau Passion Play that was to be performed this year, has been postponed until 2022. This is only the fourth time since 1633 that it has not taken place every tenth year. In 1770 Emperor Maximilian forbade all passion plays in Bavaria as he was convinced that “the greatest mystery of our religion has no place on the stage“. In 1920 it was cancelled because of the large numbers of soldiers killed in action in the First World War. In 1940 the Second World War was in progress.

Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad of Iran has appealed to Pope Francis for help to lift US-led international economic sanctions against Iran, allowing for the delivery of medical supplies to the country, where the coronavirus epidemic has been particularly deadly. The ayatollah was one of two Muslim clerics who were invited to participate as observers during the Synod on the Middle East in 2010.

After months of a standoff pitting a section of the clergy and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Juba in South Sudan against the Vatican over the transfer of Bishop Stephen Ameyu from Torit to Juba, the new Archbishop was installed on Sunday 22 March. Pope Francis appointed Bishop Ameyu to Juba on 12 December, but ethnically-based protesters made allegations to the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples regarding the personal life of Bishop Ameyu and threatened to disrupt the installation. This passed off peacefully, though protesters say they are still not reconciled to the appointment.  The Archbishop emeritus of Juba, Paolino Lukudu Loro, emphasised the need for “reconciliation and healing” at the installation, and said, “After 45 years of serving the Catholic Church as Apostolic Administrator, Bishop and Archbishop and a priest, I am free at last.” 

In Chicago last Sunday, Cardinal Blase Cupich ordered the churches of the city to ring their bells calling people to prayer five times each day. At 9 a.m., people are asked to pray for those infected with the virus, at noon for health care workers and those attending the sick, at 3 p.m. for first responders and essential workers, at 6 p.m. for people of all nations and their leaders, and at 9 p.m. for those who have died. 















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