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Supreme Court overturns NY church restrictions, Brooklyn bishop says religion 'essential' during pandemic

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 01:23 pm (CNA).-  

The Supreme Court said Wednesday night that NY state restrictions  during the coronavirus pandemic are a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free religious exercise. After the ruling the Bishop of Brooklyn, whose diocese was a plaintiff in the suit, said that religious worship should be considered an essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion in a Wednesday night decision, which temporarily bars restrictions on religious worship that were enacted Oct. 6 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The court’s ruling is temporary, as lawsuits filed by the Diocese of Brooklyn and by Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York will continue, though the Supreme Court’s Nov. 26 decision is likely to weigh heavily in the outcome of those cases.

The state’s restrictions forbade the attendance of more than 10 people at religious services in state designated “red zones, and 25 people in “orange zones.”

“In a red zone, while a synagogue or church may not admit more than 10 persons, businesses categorized as ‘essential’ may admit as many people as they wish. And the list of ‘essential’ businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, camp grounds, garages, as well as many whose services are not limited to those that can be regarded as essential, such as all plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics and all transportation facilities,’ the Court’s majority opinion found.

“These categorizations lead to troubling results,” the decision added.

“Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue,” the court wrote.

“...even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the decision concluded.

The 5-4 decision found newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett deciding with the majority, while Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s three liberal judges in dissent.

In a statement Thursday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said he is “gratified by the decision of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case.”

“I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship.”

““Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks. We have taken our legal battle this far because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”

 

Vatican diplomat: Lockdowns revealed ‘glaring contradiction’ in attitudes towards migrants

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Coronavirus lockdowns revealed a “glaring contradiction” in attitudes towards migrants, a Vatican diplomat said Thursday.

Addressing the Council of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 26, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič said that migrants were both resented and relied upon as essential workers amid the pandemic. 

“It is regrettable that, while migrants’ labor is in high demand and welcomed to compensate for labor shortages, they also are often rejected and subjected to resentful, utilitarian attitudes by many in receiving societies,” he said. 

“This sad reality is a glaring contradiction that stems from placing economic interests over the interests of the human person. This tendency became particularly evident during the COVID-19 ‘lockdowns,’ where many of the ‘essential’ workers most affected were migrants.”

Jurkovič, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, noted that Pope Francis said that migrants can be a gift to society in his new encyclical, “Fratelli tutti.” 

The Slovenian archbishop expressed concern about a recent rise in child migrants, many of whom are separated from their families.

“This is of particular concern for the Holy See and should sound as an alarm bell for the whole international community,” he said, urging governments to adopt policies that prioritize the best interests of migrant children “at all times and at all stages.”

He also highlighted the need to increase access to healthcare for migrants and for countries to cooperate in caring for internally displaced people.

Jurkovič concluded: “As Pope Francis has said, the world will emerge either better or worse after the pandemic. What is certain is that migration will be playing an ever-increasing role in our societies. Therefore, now is the time to rethink the parameters of human coexistence through the lenses of human fraternity and solidarity.” 

“In this regard, the successful integration of migrants is essential if they are to make their meaningful contributions to our societies, cultures and to economy. At the same time, integration is a two-way process and presupposes that those who arrive are also open to integration, respecting the culture and values of their new home, neighbors and country.”

A day earlier, the archbishop addressed the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Geneva. In his speech, Jurkovič noted that the Holy See was among the first states to sign the 2008 convention, which forbids the use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs.

He welcomed new signatories of the treaty, but lamented that the international community was “still far behind” the goal of increasing the number of parties to the convention to 130, set five years ago.

“What is even more regrettable and concerning, however, is the fact that cluster munitions continue to be used in some conflicts today, inevitably giving rise to new victims and contamination,” the archbishop said Nov. 25.

He argued against any steps that would undermine a commitment to “universalization” of the convention. 

He said “the Holy See wishes to take this occasion to renew its appeal to all states outside the convention to consider joining in the global efforts to building together a more secure world. We owe this to the too many victims of the past and to the potential victims whose lives we can protect by the full implementation of the convention.”

Warning of donor harassment, Trump administration backs foes of Calif. disclosure rule

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to review a challenge to a California requirement that charitable organizations disclose their major donors to the state attorney general, siding with groups like the Thomas More Law Center that say the requirement will make their donors vulnerable to retaliation, harassment, and violence.

The move from the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office drew praise from John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

“Charitable entities shouldn’t be required to disclose confidential donor information to state officials who do not need it and who fail to adequately protect donor identities from disclosure to the public,” Bursch said Nov. 24. “We are pleased that the United States agrees that this case presents critically important issues that the Supreme Court should decide immediately. Forced donor disclosure is a threat to everyone and discourages both charitable giving and participation in the marketplace of ideas.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is backing the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center’s complaint in the case. The center promotes issues related to religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of human life, Alliance Defending Freedom said in August 2019. Another challenger to the California rules is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which tends to take conservative or libertarian positions on questions of economics and other issues, including opposition to labor unions.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to grant a hearing on the case, which was victorious in federal district court but suffered a defeat in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

“As this court’s precedents make clear, compelled disclosures that carry a reasonable probability of harassment, reprisals, and similar harms are subject to exacting scrutiny, which requires a form of narrow tailoring,” said the brief to the Supreme Court. The solicitor general’s office said the appeals court ruling “compromises important associational interests protected by the First Amendment.”

“Petitioners alleged that their contributors had in the past suffered harassment, reprisals, and similar harms because of their association with petitioners,” the brief said. Disclosure would likely “expose their substantial contributors to those harms, and thereby deter those contributors and others from making future contributions.”

At issue is a matter of non-profit tax forms and the crucial information they contain.

Qualified tax-exempt organizations already must submit to the IRS a Form 990 federal information form, including the names of “all substantial contributors” in a section called Schedule B. Substantial donors are defined as those who give $5,000 or more to the organization in a year or 2% of total annual contributions. However, the information about these donors must be kept confidential on pain of civil and criminal law.

Non-profits that ask for donations in California must file their tax returns with California’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, administered by the state attorney general, currently Xavier Becerra.

Beginning in 2010, the California attorney general said that disclosures must include this Schedule B. The incoming U.S. vice-president Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, and the rule change began under her predecessor Jerry Brown.

Both the Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation have alleged that there is a high risk their information will be made public and disrupt their freedom of association.

Alliance Defending Freedom alleged that in March 2012, the California Attorney General’s Office began to “harass the law center and demand the names and addresses of its major donors even though the center’s donors, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even assassination attempts from ideological opponents.”

The legal group said that for those associated with charities like the Thomas More Law Center that “speak on contentious matters,” the disclosure of donor information “poses an imminent danger of hate mail, violence, ostracization, and boycotts.”

“Only the most stalwart supporters will give money under such a toxic cloud. Most will reasonably conclude that the risk of association is too great, with the result that groups who make the most threats will effectively shut down those with whom they disagree,” said the legal group’s request for Supreme Court review.

“Charities will continue to find as-applied exemptions impossible to achieve, and support for groups advocating contentious ideas will dry up,” the legal group said. “This Court should intervene now while there are still dissenting voices left to save.”

The request said California law has “deprived charities of resources, chilled their speech for nine years, and blocked dissemination of their ideas in our Nation’s most populous state.”    

Alliance Defending Freedom has cited the Supreme Court’s 1958 ruling in the case NAACP v. Alabama, which ruled against the Alabama Attorney General’s demands that the civil rights group produce its membership list or cease operations. The restrictions on the group crippled the organization in Alabama at a key time when black Americans sought to secure civil rights.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The district court found that California’s required disclosures were not “substantially related” to its interest in regulating charities, as auditors and attorneys seldom use the Schedule B section when they audit or investigate charities. Even when the information was relevant, it could be obtained from other sources. The disclosure requirement was not narrowly tailored.

The district court said petitioners presented “ample evidence” that their contributors had previously suffered “harassment, reprisals, and similar harms” when their involvement became known. The California attorney general’s office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of Schedule B forms.” This failure included making hundreds of the forms available on its registry website.

The court of appeals, however, overturned the district court. It said confidentiality measures had been tightened and said California had a compelling interest in policing fraud in charitable organizations, and disclosing major donors advances this interest, Reuters reported.
It compared the rule to political disclosure cases such as Doe v. Reed, where the Supreme Court said that the disclosure of the names of people who signed a petition referendum was relevant to state interests in protecting the electoral process.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s summary of the case said, “the California Attorney General’s office has a history of posting supporter’s information online and offers no protection against employees, contractors, or summer interns downloading, e-mailing, or printing supporters’ names and addresses and then disclosing them publicly.”

“We’ve already seen how publicly revealing political donors with the intent of doing harm (or 'doxing') can ruin careers and corrode civil discourse,” the legal group said. “Givers would have good reason to fear being doxed—especially in today’s toxic cultural climate.”

The Thomas More Law Center's president and chief counsel is Richard Thompson, who came to prominence for opposing prominent assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian. Thompson co-founded the law center in in 1998 with Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza who continues to be a prominent Catholic philanthropist. Alliance Defending Freedom said about 5% of donors to the law center are California residents.

Besides issues related to religious freedom and family values, the law center’s website also provides resources for critics of the Common Core curriculum. It names other key issues as “confronting the threat of radical Islam” and “defending national security.”

The similarly-named Thomas More Society, based in Illinois, is not connected to the law center.

For its part, Americans for Prosperity was founded in 2004. It has had strong financial support from two wealthy brothers, David and Charles Koch, whose combined net worth is in the billions of dollars.

Cardinal Nichols urges UK government to reconsider cut to foreign aid budget

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 10:35 am (CNA).- Cardinal Vincent Nichols urged the U.K. government Thursday to reconsider a proposed cut to its foreign aid budget. 

In a letter to MPs released Nov. 26, the president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales expressed concern at the proposed cut in overseas aid from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.

“In today’s figures that amounts to a cut of around £4 billion [$5.3 billion] in spending on help to the world’s poorest people,” he wrote. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced Nov. 25 that the government intended to abandon its commitment to the 0.7% target contained in the Conservative Party’s 2019 general election manifesto.

He insisted that cutting the overseas aid budget by a third was a temporary measure that was necessary as the country faced its worst recession in more than 300 years.

He added that the U.K. would remain the second biggest spender on overseas aid among the Group of Seven industrialized nations.

Senior Conservatives have threatened to block the cut and Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, resigned in protest.

In his letter, Nichols acknowledged the pressures on government officials responding to an economic emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“A clear measure of a nation’s greatness is the manner in which it responds to the needs of its poorest. The same is true for the response to poverty between nations. If we truly wish to be a great nation, then cutting the overseas aid budget is a retrograde step,” the archbishop of Westminster said. 

 

My letter to MPs about the reduction in overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income. In these extraordinarily difficult times, we should not step back from our responsibilities to the world’s most vulnerable people. I hope compassionate and wise counsel will prevail. pic.twitter.com/qma6Z8vOAc

— Cardinal Nichols (@CardinalNichols) November 26, 2020  

“The great tragedies of forced mass migration and human trafficking must be tackled at their source. Carefully targeted and well-managed overseas aid programs are an essential part of this effort. In the face of these catastrophes, this is no time to reduce the U.K.’s contribution or effort.”

Christine Allen, director of Cafod, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said: “At a time when international solidarity and cooperation across borders is needed more than ever, it is deeply alarming that the government has chosen to turn its back on the world.”

“Aid spending on tackling global poverty must not be treated as a charitable favor to the world, but as Britain’s moral duty.”

“Britain became one of the world’s wealthiest nations due to its long history of colonization and use of fossil-fuelled industrialization.”

She continued: “We recognize the economic challenges we face at home, but when the government has increased spending on defense, there can be no argument to reduce spending on the means to tackle conflict and its causes.”

“Yet despite our wealth, this government has decided to take money from the world’s poorest.”         

In his letter, Nichols quoted Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Fratelli tutti,” which argued that poverty in one part of the world will end up affecting the whole planet.  

He added: “Promises were made by all parties on aid spending at the last election. In these extraordinarily difficult times, we should not now step back from our responsibilities to the world’s most vulnerable people, especially as combating the spread of COVID-19 will necessarily mean richer countries supporting poorer ones in purchasing vaccines for their people and helping to roll out mass vaccination programs.”

“Combating COVID-19 is an international endeavor and we cannot neglect those countries that benefit from our aid. I hope that compassionate and wise counsel will prevail.”

China claims papal critique over Uyghurs has 'no factual basis at all'

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- Following Pope Francis’ mention in passing of the Uyghurs as persecuted in a new book, the Chinese foreign ministry said the claim is groundless.

“I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi -- what ISIS did to them was truly cruel -- or Christians in Egypt and Pakistan killed by bombs that went off while they prayed in church,” Pope Francis is quoted as saying in the book, “Let Us Dream,” according to the AP.

An estimated 1 million Uyghurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in China’s Xinjiang region. Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

Neither Pope Francis nor the Holy See has publicly commented in an official capacity on the situation.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to Pope Francis’ mention of the Uyghurs by saying that there was “no factual basis at all” to the pope's comment.

“People of all ethnic groups enjoy the full rights of survival, development, and freedom of religious belief,” Zhao said at a daily briefing, according to AP.

Researchers at an Australian think tank found recently that re-education camps in Xinjiang have expanded in the past year, despite reassurances from the government that a majority of detainees had been released.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute said it had “identified and mapped more than 380 suspected detention facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, highlighting ‘re-education’ camps, detention centres and prisons that have been newly built or expanded since 2017.”

The Chinese government has defended its policy of mass detention and re-education as an appropriate measure against terrorism.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a resolution in October to declare China’s actions against the Uyghur population as a genocide. Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who co-sponsored the resolution, emphasized the importance of human rights. 

"For far too long, the Chinese government has carried out a despicable campaign of genocide against millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims," said Cornyn. "This resolution recognizes these crimes for what they are and is the first step toward holding China accountable for their monstrous actions.”

“Stopping a genocide is consistent with our national security and our values, and it starts by standing up and speaking the truth,” said Menendez.

Bishop hopes new Italian missal will help Catholics rediscover beauty of Mass

Rome, Italy, Nov 26, 2020 / 08:40 am (CNA).- As the Church in Italy prepares to introduce its new translation of the Roman Missal on Sunday, the bishop in charge of its creation hopes the changes will help Catholics rediscover the beauty of the Mass.

After Italy experienced the temporary suspension of public Masses due to the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, Bishop Claudio Maniago said “it has become more evident that the celebration of the Eucharist is truly the culmination and source of all the life and mission of the Christian communities, which are called to live and transmit the message of hope and peace of the Gospel from generation to generation.”

In a Nov. 26 interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language partner agency, Maniago said “the hope, therefore, is that, by welcoming the new edition of the missal, the desire to take this opportunity to rediscover the beauty and fruitfulness of the celebration of the Eucharist, in which she experiences and announces to everyone that Christ is alive, may arise in the Italian Church.”

Maniago is the bishop of Castellaneta and president of the Italian bishops’ conference’s liturgy commission, which was responsible for putting together the third edition of the Roman Missal.

The Roman Missal is the book containing the texts and prayers for the celebration of Mass throughout the year. The new Italian translation will be used for the first time at Masses on Nov. 29, the First Sunday of Advent and the start of a new liturgical year. 

The project has taken years, with the Vatican giving final approval of the translation in June 2019.

Most of the changes from the second to third edition are in the words of the priest, including several changes from “voi fratelli” (brothers) to “voi fratelli e sorelle” (brothers and sisters). But there are also changes to lines in the Our Father and the Gloria.

The reason for the changes, Maniago said, was to have “a greater fidelity to the Latin text, so that its original meaning would not be altered, but rather it should be more and more specific.”

He pointed to the change in the Our Father. “This text so dear to Christians would not have been altered, if not to underline the deeper meaning of the prayer that Jesus taught, that is, to show the fatherhood of God,” the bishop said.

The new edition translates the penultimate line of the Our Father, “ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem” (lead us not into temptation in Latin), as “non abbandonarci alla tentazione” (do not abandon us to temptation). The previous version had translated it as “non ci indurre in tentazione” (lead us not into temptation).

In the Gloria, the line “in térra pax homínibus bónae voluntátis” (on earth peace to people of good will) will be translated as “pace in terra agli uomini, amati dal Signore” (peace on earth to men, loved by the Lord). Previously it was translated “pace in terra agli uomini di buona volontà” (peace on earth to men of good will).

Maniago said that, though the changes will be uncomfortable at first, he believed Catholics would welcome the new translation with “the awareness that the missal is not a book like any other, but the text that preserves the Church’s obedience to the Lord, who asked us to celebrate in his memory the text that rules every Mass so that it is faithful to this tradition.”

“The rite [of the Mass] is not just a set of words to be said, but on the contrary, by its nature, it has a variety of styles of communication, which permit us to aspire to the involvement of the whole person,” he said.

He described the Roman Missal as “an indispensable tool,” which “guides a harmony of gestures and words with which all the faithful of the assembly are involved in the experience of peace and mercy of the Passover of Jesus.”

Pro-life student in midwife program receives apology and payout

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- A pro-life undergraduate student in a midwife program has received an apology and payout after she faced suspension. 

The Daily Telegraph reported Nov. 24 that Julia Rynkiewicz, a  25-year-old Catholic, had reached a settlement with the University of Nottingham in the U.K. 

She was blocked from entering her program’s hospital placement phase after the university learned of her leadership of a pro-life student group. She faced a four-month-long fitness-to-practice investigation in 2019.

The university overturned its decision in January, but Rynkiewicz sought an apology.

“The settlement demonstrates that the university’s treatment of me was wrong, and while I’m happy to move on, I hope this means that no other student will have to experience what I have,” she told the Telegraph.

“What happened to me risks creating a fear among students to discuss their values and beliefs, but university should be the place where you are invited to do just that.”

Concerns were raised about Rynkiewicz’s fitness to practice as a midwife after she was seen tending a booth at a school fair in her position as president of Nottingham Students for Life (NSFL), an approved pro-life student group that supports life from conception to natural death.

The Students’ Union had initially denied affiliation to NSFL, but overturned its decision in July 2019 following the threat of legal action.

Rynkiewicz said that she received a letter from officials at her midwifery school days after the fair, saying that a formal complaint had been filed against her.

A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham said: “While all universities take fitness-to-practice considerations extremely seriously, the university has offered an apology and settlement to Ms Rynkiewicz and is considering how we might approach such cases differently in future.”

“The university and Students’ Union supports the rights of all students to bodily autonomy and access to safe, legal abortion services, which is the position in law.”

“Universities should be spaces to debate, discuss and disagree points of view, and with more than 200 student societies, covering the full range of beliefs and perspectives, we are confident this is the case at Nottingham.”

Catherine Robinson, a spokeswoman for Right To Life UK, welcomed the university’s apology.

“The fact that this happened at all though, is a strong indication that the university does not take its commitment to debate and discussion seriously,” she said.

Referring to a recent survey which suggested that more than a fourth of U.K. students censor their opinions because they clash with those of their institutions, she added: “Worryingly, 38% of students fear their future careers would be adversely affected if they express their true opinions.” 

“So long as universities continue to discriminate against mainstream views, pro-life and others, debate and discussion will continue to be stifled and students will increasingly fear reprisals from their university.”

Vatican diplomat: ‘Pursuit of Truth’ necessary for inter-religious dialogue

Rome Newsroom, Nov 26, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- At an event in Saudi Arabia this week, a Vatican diplomat emphasized the importance of religious freedom and said that “authentic encounter” among religions can take place only in the context of the “pursuit of Truth.”

Human dignity is the premise which allows dialogue among different cultures, but “the pursuit of Truth” is what permits “an authentic encounter between various religions confessions,” Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič said in Saudi Arabia Nov. 22.

Jurkovič spoke at the presentation of a book entitled “The promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue as an instrument for peace and fraternity” in the city of Jeddah.

The permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva said that “when human dignity is protected, men and women are at liberty to devote themselves with an unhindered conscience to seek the Truth.”

“The divine spark present in all human beings makes them also capable of receiving the Truth, which they must be free to seek and to express, both singularly and collectively,” he added. “Thus, religious freedom is one of the most fundamental among the inviolable rights, because it comes from the inherent necessity of men and women to nourish their spirit.”

Jurkovič argued that religious tolerance can be an important first step toward peace, but “mere tolerance is not enough.” It is more fruitful to facilitate relationships among religious traditions based on the concept of “mutual brotherhood,” because “this affords the ability to render an account not only for actions made, but also for those omitted,” he said.

“In this regard, we are called to more than peaceful coexistence, but also to strive for mutual enrichment through dialogue,” he urged, saying that dialogue required both the “right to speak” and “the duty to listen to what the other says.”

The nuncio said that these essential components of dialogue arose from two “intrinsic characteristics that every human being possesses, namely, that each person is the bearer of human dignity and shines with ‘a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.’”

This “ray of Truth” derives from God’s act of creation, which in Christian terminology is described as “imago Dei, the image of God,” he explained.

Jurkovič said: “Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual and bodily composition. They are part of His plan and, therefore, must not be deprived in any way either of their humanity, which is the source of one’s dignity, or of their right to seek and express Truth.”

The diplomat also underlined that peace and justice must go hand-in-hand, drawing attention to the classic definition of justice: “‘iustitia suum cuique distribuit,’ justice renders to each person his or her due.”

“Since we all share the same human nature, and therefore equal dignity, justice demands rendering respect for the rights of every person. The protection of fundamental human rights of the individual, therefore, matters for the whole of society and, consequently, everybody has the duty to work towards this objective,” he stated.

It is a great cultural challenge to construct peace, he said, but it is both an urgent and an exciting challenge.

“We -- Christians, Muslims and all believers -- are called to offer our specific contribution: ‘We live under the sun of the one merciful God… Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun,’” he said, quoting St. Pope John Paul II’s 1982 address to Muslim religious leaders.

“May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this land, blessed with an abundance of sunlight, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter,” he concluded.

Catholic bishops appeal for ‘peaceful solution’ to crisis in Belarus

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 04:35 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Belarus appealed Wednesday for a “peaceful solution” to the crisis that has gripped their country since a disputed presidential election in August.

In a Nov. 25 message, issued in Belarusian and Russian, the bishops said that, after months of protests and crackdowns, the crisis was deepening. 

“Violence does not stop, blood continues to be shed, society is divided. This does not foretell us a happy future, for, as Christ said, a house divided against itself cannot stand,” the bishops said.

They noted that Belarus -- a country of 9.5 million people bordering Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine -- previously enjoyed a reputation for harmony between its different religious and ethnic groups. 

“The Catholic Church, guided by the Gospel and the social doctrine built on it, opposes and condemns violence, lawlessness, injustice and untruth,” they said. 

“The Church calls for a peaceful solution to the problems that arise, through dialogue in the spirit of love for God and neighbor, with observance of God’s and human laws.”

The bishops echoed Pope Francis’ comments after reciting the Angelus on Sept. 13. 

Without mentioning any nations by name, the pope said: “While I urge the demonstrators to present their demands peacefully, without giving in to the temptation of aggression and violence, I appeal to all those who have public and governmental responsibilities to listen to the voice of their fellow citizens and to meet their just aspirations, ensuring full respect for human rights and civil liberties.”

“Finally, I invite the ecclesial communities living in such contexts, under the guidance of their Pastors, to work in favor of dialogue, always in favor of dialogue, and in favor of reconciliation.”

Protests erupted in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Aug. 9 after the government’s electoral officials announced a landslide victory for Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference, was prevented from returning to the country on Aug. 31. The archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev had spoken out in defense of protesters and said he feared the country was heading towards civil war. 

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, visited Belarus in September in an attempt to resolve the impasse. But Kondrusiewicz remains barred from his homeland. 

Earlier this month, Lukashenko received the Holy See’s new ambassador to the country, Archbishop Ante Jozić. 

The state-owned new agency BelTA reported that Lukashenko told the nuncio that Belarus and the Vatican enjoyed “special relations.”

But on Nov. 19, the Prosecutor General of Minsk issued an official warning to Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, an auxiliary bishop of Minsk-Mohilev, over comments he made on Facebook. Kasabutsky had criticized the authorities for destroying a memorial to a young man reportedly killed by security forces.

In their message on Thursday, the bishops emphasized that their mission was to build the Kingdom of God and that the Church “cannot be used by anyone for political purposes.”

They urged Belarusians to show solidarity with each other to build “a united, not divided, Belarus.”

They said: “We call on Catholics and all people of good will to continue to offer their prayers for a speedy and peaceful solution to the crisis, for blessed are the peacemakers and those who seek justice, as Christ says. May good defeat evil.”

Bishop urges prayer after Diego Maradona's death

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack at the age of 60. Maradona is regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, and was recognized by FIFA as one of two Players of the Century. After Maradona’s death, one Argentine bishop has encouraged prayer for the athlete’s soul.

"We will pray for him, for his eternal rest, that the Lord offers him his embrace, a look of love and his mercy," Bishop Eduardo Garcia of San Justo told El1 Digital.

Maradona’s story is “an example of overcoming,” the bishop said, noting the humble circumstances of the athlete’s early life. “For many children who are in dire straits, his story lets them dream of a better future. He worked and reached important places without forgetting his roots.”

Maradona was captain of the Argentine soccer team that won the 1986 World Cup, and was a highly successful professional soccer player in Europe.

Despite his talent, substance abuse problems kept him from reaching some milestones, and kept him from playing in much of the 1994 World Cup tournament, because of a suspension from soccer.

He battled drug addiction for decades, and suffered the effects of alcohol abuse as well. In 2007, Maradona said that he had stopped drinking and had not used drugs for more than ywo years.

Bishop Garcia noted the work for the poor that occupied Maradona’s time in his later years.

Also on Wednesday, the Holy See’s press office said that Pope Francis remembered “with affection” meeting Maradona on various occasions, and had remembered the soccer superstar in prayer.