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Smallness can be a blessing, Pope Francis tells Greece's Catholic minority

Pope Francis meets with clerics, religious, consecrated persons, seminarians, and catechists at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Dionysius the Areopagite in Athens, Dec. 4, 2021. / Vatican Media

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 13:40 pm (CNA).

The smallness of a Christian community can be a sign of closeness to God, Pope Francis told members of Greece’s tiny Catholic minority in Athens Saturday evening. He reflected on the example of St. Paul in evangelizing ancient Greece and proclaiming that their pagan culture held the seeds of Christian faith.

“So, dear friends, I would tell you this: Consider your smallness a blessing and accept it willingly. It disposes you to trust in God and in God alone,” the pope said in remarks to bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists at Athens’ Cathedral Basilica of St. Dionysius the Areopagite.

“Being a minority – and do not forget that the Church throughout the world is a minority – does not mean being insignificant, but closer to the path loved by the Lord, which is that of littleness: of kenosis, of abasement, of meekness,” he continued. “Jesus came down even to becoming hidden in the weakness of our humanity and the wounds of our flesh. He saved us by serving us.”

While Christians can often be “obsessed with external appearances and visibility,” St. Paul teaches that the Kingdom of God “does not come with signs that can be observed.” Rather, “it comes secretly, like rain, slowly, over the Earth.”

Greece’s 10.7 million people are predominantly Eastern Orthodox. Only about 50,000 are Catholic. The pope arrived in Greece for a three-day trip on Saturday after a two-day visit to Cyprus.

In his Saturday evening remarks, Pope Francis emphasized St. Paul’s trust in God and his wise approach towards the Greeks he evangelized. The apostle knew that God had already planted the seeds of evangelization before him, and saw “the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith.”

“Paul proclaimed the God unknown to his hearers. He thus was able to present the face of a God, who in Jesus Christ sowed in the heart of the world the seed of resurrection, the universal right to hope,” said the Roman Pontiff.

“When Paul proclaimed this good news, most of them laughed at him and went their way,” the pope said. However, some Athenians joined the apostle and became believers, including the cathedral’s namesake, St. Dionysius. “A small remnant, yet that is how God weaves the threads of history, from those days until our own,” the pope remarked.

Pope Francis praised Greece as “a land that is a gift, a patrimony of mankind, on which the foundations of the West have been built.”

“All of us are sons and daughters of your country, and in her debt: without the poetry, literature, philosophy and art that developed here, we would not be familiar with many aspects of human existence, or be able to respond to many profound questions regarding life, love, suffering, also death,” he told the gathering.

“At the dawn of Christianity, this rich heritage gave rise to an inculturation of the faith, carried out, as if in a ‘laboratory,’ thanks to the wisdom of many of our Fathers in the faith, who by their holiness of life and their writings remain a beacon of light for believers in every age,” he added. St. Paul helped inaugurate “this encounter between early Christianity and Greek culture.”

“He began this work of synthesizing those two worlds. He did it in this very place, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles,” said the pope.

Pope Francis found in the apostle two attitudes that can help contemporary Christians enculturate the faith. First, St. Paul showed “confident trust” in God. Some philosophers who encountered his preaching in Athens considered him a “charlatan” and brought him to the Areopagus not simply to “offer him a platform,” but “to interrogate him” about his “new and strange teaching.” According to the pope, Paul was “being put to the test.”

“This was not a moment of triumph for Paul,” Pope Francis explained. “He was carrying out his mission in a difficult situation. Perhaps, many times along the way, we too feel weary and even frustrated at being a small community, a Church with few resources operating in a climate that is not always favorable.”

“Think about Paul in Athens. He was alone, in the minority, unwelcome and with little chance of success. But he did not allow himself to be overcome by discouragement. He did not give up on his mission. Nor did he yield to the temptation to complain,” said the pope.

“This is very important: watch out for complaints,” he emphasized. “That is the attitude of a true apostle: to go forward with confidence, preferring the uncertainty of unexpected situations rather than the complacency that comes from the force of habit. Paul had that courage.” This courage was “born of trust in God,” who “loves to accomplish great things always through our lowliness.”

As shown by St. Paul, an attitude of acceptance “does not try to occupy the space and life of others, but to sow the good news in the soil of their lives.” This approach, the pope said, “learns to recognize and appreciate the seeds that God already planted in their hearts before we came on the scene.”

“Let us always remember that God always goes before us, God sows before we do. Evangelizing is not about filling an empty container; it is ultimately about bringing to light what God has already begun to accomplish,” Pope Francis said.

St. Paul did not proselytize but based his work on the meekness of Christ. He did not approach the Athenians with the attitude that they were all wrong, as if to say, “Now I will teach you the truth.” Rather, he accepted their religious spirit, invoking their altar dedicated to “an unknown god.”

“The Apostle dignified his hearers and welcomed their religiosity,” the pope said. “Even though the streets of Athens were full of idols, which had made him ‘deeply distressed,’ Paul acknowledged the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith.”

“The Holy Spirit always does more than what we can see from the outside. Let us not forget this. In every age, the attitude of the apostle begins with accepting others,” said Pope Francis. He encouraged Christians “to cultivate an attitude of welcome, a style of hospitality, a heart desirous of creating communion amid human, cultural or religious differences.”

“The challenge is to develop a passion for the whole, which can lead us – Catholics, Orthodox, brothers and sisters of other creeds, including agnostics, anyone – to listen to one another, to dream and work together, to cultivate the ‘mystique’ of fraternity,” said the pope.

Being a small Church, he said, “makes us an eloquent sign of the Gospel, of the God proclaimed by Jesus who chooses the poor and the lowly, who changes history by the simple acts of ordinary people.”

The Church is not called to have “the spirit of conquest and victory, impressive numbers or worldly grandeur,” he said.

“All this is dangerous. It can tempt us to triumphalism,” said the pope.

“We are asked to be yeast, which rises patiently and silently, hidden within the dough of the world, thanks to the constant work of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

“The secret of the Kingdom of God is in the little things, often quiet and unseen,” the pope reflected.

Pope Francis apologizes for mistakes of Catholics in meeting with Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens, Greece

Pope Francis speaks to His Beatitude Ieronymos II and other Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens Dec. 4. / Vatican Media

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis apologized for the ways Catholics have contributed to division with Orthodox Christians during a meeting with Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens on Saturday.

“Shamefully, patriarch, — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion,” the pope said on Dec. 4.

“In this way, we let fruitfulness be compromised by division,” he added. “History makes its weight felt, and here, today, I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics.”

Pope Francis spoke during a live-streamed meeting with leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church, including His Beatitude Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, in the throne room of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece.

When Pope Francis arrived at the archbishopric, an Orthodox cleric started to protest, shouting “Pope, you are a heretic! Pope, you are a heretic!” before he was taken away by police.

Last month, a Greek Orthodox metropolitan, Andreas of Konitsa, spoke out against Pope Francis’ visit to Greece, also calling the pontiff a heretic.

The incidents reflect a longstanding suspicion of the pope in some corners of the Greek Orthodox Church. Pope John Paul II also tried to bring healing to the Catholic-Greek Orthodox rift during a controversial 2001 visit to Greece, the first by a Catholic pope in over 1,000 years.

John Paul II’s visit, during which he apologized for the sins of Catholics against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, was also strongly protested.

Francis is traveling to Athens Dec. 4-6, after spending two days in Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus. He will also visit the Greek island of Lesbos, where he met Ieronymos II for the first time during a 2016 visit to the island. The two also met privately Dec. 4.

The populations of both Greece and Cyprus are predominately Orthodox Christian. Pope Francis also met Cypriot Orthodox leaders in Nicosia on Dec. 3.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Pope Francis told Greek Orthodox hierarchs Dec. 4 that despite the deep divide which still exists between Catholics and Orthodox, “we are comforted by the certainty that our roots are apostolic and that, notwithstanding the twists and turns of time, what God planted continues to grow and bear fruit in the same Spirit.”

“It is a grace to recognize one another’s good fruits and to join in thanking the Lord for this,” he said.

Francis reflected on the old olive trees which can be found in both Italy and Greece, noting that they “unite us” and remind him of the roots Catholics and Orthodox share in their apostolic founding, prior to the division which followed the Great Schism of 1054.

“Underground, hidden, frequently overlooked, those roots are nonetheless there and they sustain everything,” he said. “Saint Paul speaks of them when he stresses the importance of being ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles’ (Ephesians 2:20).”

Unfortunately, after the first centuries bore good fruit, especially in Hellenic culture, “worldly concerns poisoned us, weeds of suspicion increased our distance and we ceased to nurture communion,” the pope said, quoting St. Basil the Great, who said “that true disciples of Christ are ‘modeled only on what they see in him.’”

Pope Francis also invoked the Holy Spirit and his gifts of communion, wisdom, and consolation. “I pray that the Spirit of love will overcome every form of resistance and make us builders of communion,” he stated.

Quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Homily 15 on the Song of Songs, Francis added that “Indeed, ‘if love truly casts out fear and fear is transformed into love, then we will discover that what saves is unity.’”

“On the other hand, how can we testify before the world to the harmony of the Gospel, if we Christians remain separated?” he asked. “How can we proclaim the love of Christ who gathers the nations, if we ourselves are not united?”

“Many steps have already been taken to bring us together. Let us implore the Spirit of communion to spur us to follow his lead and to help us base communion not on calculations, strategies and expedience, but on the one model to which we must look: the Most Holy Trinity.”

Pope Francis decries global ‘retreat from democracy’ in Athens speech

Pope Francis addresses a meeting with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece, Dec. 3, 2021 / Vatican Media.

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis lamented a global “retreat from democracy” in a speech on Saturday in Athens, the cradle of Western civilization.

The pope was speaking to political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 4, hours after arriving from Cyprus.

“Here democracy was born. That cradle, thousands of years later, was to become a house, a great house of democratic peoples. I am speaking of the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples,” the pope said.

“Yet we cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy.”

The pope arrived in Greece after a two-day visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In a packed itinerary, he met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece will be equally frenetic, with scheduled meetings with Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, migrants on the island of Lesbos, and young people.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis made a daylong visit to Lesbos on April 16, 2016, after which he took 12 refugees back to the Vatican.

He is the first pope to visit mainland Greece since John Paul II, who in May 2001 became the first pope to visit the country in 1,291 years.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

After a farewell ceremony at Larnaca International Airport in Cyprus, the pope departed for Athens. Following an official welcome at the airport, he traveled to the city’s Presidential Palace, where he paid a courtesy visit to Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Afterward, he met with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

In his live-streamed address, which cited the Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle, the pope stressed that democracy requires the participation of all citizens.

“It is complex, whereas authoritarianism is peremptory and populism’s easy answers appear attractive,” he said.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

“In some societies, concerned for security and dulled by consumerism, weariness and malcontent can lead to a sort of skepticism about democracy.”

“Yet universal participation is something essential; not simply to attain shared goals, but also because it corresponds to what we are: social beings, at once unique and interdependent.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope said that another aspect of skepticism about democracy was the loss of faith in institutions.

“The remedy is not to be found in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises or in adherence to forms of ideological colonization, but in good politics,” he said.

“For politics is, and ought to be in practice, a good thing, as the supreme responsibility of citizens and as the art of the common good. So that the good can be truly shared, particular attention, I would even say priority, should be given to the weaker strata of society. This is the direction to take.”

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

The pope quoted Alcide De Gasperi, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, who said in 1949 that “There is much talk of who is moving left or right, but the decisive thing is to move forward, and to move forward means to move towards social justice.”

The pope commented: “Here, a change of direction is needed, even as fears and theories, amplified by virtual communication, are daily spread to create division.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Let us help one another, instead, to pass from partisanship to participation; from committing ourselves to supporting our party alone to engaging ourselves actively for the promotion of all.”

Greece has a long southern coastline along the Mediterranean Sea and is a popular destination for migrants trying to enter the European Union, a political and economic bloc of 27 member states.

In his address, the pope acknowledged that migration brought new pressures to the local populace, especially in Greece’s islands.

“This country, naturally welcoming, has seen on some of its islands the arrival of numbers of our migrant brothers and sisters greater than the number of their native inhabitants; this has heightened the difficulties still felt in the aftermath of the economic crisis,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Yet Europe also continues to temporize: the European Community, prey to forms of nationalistic self-interest, rather than being an engine of solidarity, appears at times blocked and uncoordinated.”

He went on: “In the past, ideological conflicts prevented the building of bridges between Eastern and Western Europe; today the issue of migration has led to breaches between South and North as well.”

“I would like to encourage once again a global, communitarian vision with regard to the issue of migration, and to urge that attention be paid to those in greatest need, so that, in proportion to each country’s means, they will be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated, in full respect for their human rights and dignity.”

PHOTOS: The funeral of Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Order of Malta’s 79th Grand Master

The funeral of Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Order of Malta’s 79th Grand Master, takes place at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta, Dec. 3, 2021. / Martin Micallef/Maltese Association Order of Malta via Flickr.

Valletta, Malta, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Fra’ Matthew Festing, the 79th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, was laid to rest in the crypt of a cathedral in Malta’s capital city following his state funeral on Friday.

When his coffin arrived at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta on Dec. 3, a loud clap of thunder sounded, the order’s British association reported.

Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi, the pope’s special delegate to the Order of Malta, celebrated the live-streamed Requiem Mass. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Msgr. Jean Laffitte, the Prelate of the order, concelebrated.

Those present included Malta’s President George Vella and Prime Minister Robert Abela, as well as Fra’ Marco Luzzago, Lieutenant of the Grand Master.

In his homily, Tomasi said: “Through the choice of becoming a Knight of Justice, Fra’ Matthew dedicated his life to the mission of the order, a mission that has remained constant through the centuries: tuìtio fidei et obsequium pauperum, the defense of the Faith and service to the poor.”

“After nine centuries, the mission of the order continues to inspire and it advances on the main road of the Church, faithful to its teaching and to all those who like Fra’ Matthew — and may he rest in peace — tried without fear of their limits to implement the Gospels’ message.”

Festing served as the Grand Master of the lay religious Catholic order, founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century, from 2008 to his resignation in 2017. He died in Malta on Nov. 12 at the age of 71.

Following the Requiem Mass, he was interred in the Crypt of the Grand Masters in St. John’s Co-Cathedral, becoming the order’s 12th Grand Master to be buried in the crypt and the first for hundreds of years.

Pro-life legal experts say they're encouraged by justices' questions in Dobbs abortion case

Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Three legal experts are expressing optimism for a pro-life victory in the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationside.

“I am hopeful that the court will take the opportunity in Dobbs to correct the grievous error of Roe v. Wade, and get the court out of our nation's abortion politics,” Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, told CNA after the Supreme Court heard arguments on Dec. 1.

The case involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks and centers on the question of “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb. 

In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that states could not ban abortion before viability, which the court determined to be 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. In 1992, the court largely upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If Roe is overturned — one possible outcome of the Dobbs case — abortion law would be left up to each individual state. 

“Today the court did a great job articulating its constitutional role: not to pick winners and losers on divisive issues like abortion, but to remain ‘scrupulously neutral,’ as Justice Kavanaugh said,” Severino tweeted just hours after the arguments. “The way it works out will look different in different states, but the Court should let the people decide.”

Although the arguments were held in December, the Supreme Court generally releases decisions in high-profile cases, such as this one, at the end of its term in June. 

Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA

“I am very encouraged by oral argument and the prospect of a favorable decision this summer, but we should keep up our prayers for the justices,” legal scholar Erika Bachiochi told CNA.

Bachiochi serves as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a senior fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she founded and directs the Wollstonecraft Project.

She identified one part of the oral arguments that she found surprising.

“Although I suppose shouldn’t have been, I was surprised by Justice Sotomayer’s naked pro-abortion rhetoric, especially with regard to her question concerning the ‘religious’ source of a 15-week abortion ban,” she said. “Does she really not know the science of fetal development?” 

During the oral argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Scott G. Stewart, the solicitor general of Mississippi.

“How is your interest anything but a religious view?” she asked. “The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It's still debated in religions.”

She added, “So, when you say this is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that's a religious view, isn't it — because it assumes that a fetus' life at — when? You're not drawing — you're — when do you suggest we begin that life? Putting it aside from religion.”

In anticipation of the oral argument, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, documented information about 15-week-old unborn babies, who can, among other things, already exhibit whether they prefer sucking their right or left thumb.

Earlier this year, Bachiochi, together with law professors Teresa Collett and Helen Alvaré, filed an amicus brief representing 240 women scholars and professionals and various pro-life organizations in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

In a piece published by the National Catholic Register, Alvaré, a professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, found the oral argument “promising for the pro-life cause.”

But, she added, “it would be impossible to cram into the few minutes of an oral argument all the reason, facts, principles, analyses — and hopes — of 50 years of pro-life argumentation,” she wrote. “There was no time to call out abortion advocates’ lies, more lies, and made-up statistics. No time to show that women have not depended upon abortion for their dignity and freedom, but that the opposite is true. No time to detail the miraculous, the beautiful humanity of the unborn.” 

“Based strictly upon the oral arguments, it is clear that Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan will vote to uphold abortion rights,” she said. “It is more difficult to pronounce where the remaining Justices might fall, but their comments were largely promising.”

Hong Kong bishop consecrated in Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

Bishop Stephen Chow's ordination as bishop in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 5, 2021 / Screenshot from livestream

Rome Newsroom, Dec 4, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan was ordained a bishop in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday.

“As a successor to the Apostles by the grace of Almighty God, I request your constant prayers that I may always be loyal to God’s will as a shepherd to the People of God in Hong Kong, and faithfully carry out my duties,” Chow said at the Mass on Dec. 4.

Cardinal John Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, presided over the Mass. Cardinal Joseph Zen and auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha were co-celebrants.

“Through the Bishop’s wisdom and prudence, it is Christ himself who leads you in your earthly pilgrimage toward eternal happiness,” Tong said in his homily, according to the diocese of Hong Kong.

“He has been entrusted with the task of bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, and with the ministry of the Spirit and of justice,” he said.

During the Mass, Chow laid face down on the floor in total surrender to God as the congregation recited the Litany of the Saints in Cantonese.

Bishop Chow said in a brief speech at the end of the Mass that he wanted to help “foster healing and connections” in the Catholic community in his "beloved hometown."

“As the bishop, it is my desire to be a bridge between the government and the church in Hong Kong and between the Catholic Church, fellow Christian denominations, and other religions,” he said.

“It is through sincere connection with one another, including within our own diocese that emphatic understanding can be established, appreciation can be fostered, respect and trust can be deepened, and hopefully collaboration can become a living culture in our community."

Chow also read aloud an excerpt from a letter that he recently received from Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J. The archbishop emeritus of Ottawa-Cornwall wrote: “Given the history of the church in China and Hong Kong, Catholicism can no longer be seen as a foreign religion, but as integral to Hong Kong society."

More than 6,000 people tuned in live to watch Chow’s consecration Mass on YouTube.

Among those watching the livestream were priests and seminarians in Italy from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), who have launched a prayer campaign for the newly consecrated bishop.

Father Gianni Criveller, who is helping to organize the campaign at the PIME missionary seminary in the Italian city of Monza, told UCA News that he knows that Bishop Chow will face “great difficulties and challenges.”

“The long-awaited consecration of the bishop calls for prayer and solidarity. Bishop Stephen has a very difficult task ahead of him humanly. In fact, it seems nearly impossible. However, we believe in the power of prayer and in the communion of those who entrust their lives to the Lord Jesus,” he said.

Pope Francis appointed Chow to be bishop of Hong Kong in May. Before his appointment, Hong Kong had been without a permanent bishop since January 2019.

Chow, 62, previously served as the provincial of the Jesuits’ Chinese Province. In that role, he led the Jesuit order in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China as the Vatican-China deal was first signed and during the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy protest movement.

Born in Hong Kong in 1959, Chow went on to study in the United States, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, before entering the Society of Jesus in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 25.

During his Jesuit novitiate, he obtained a licentiate in philosophy in Ireland and then returned in 1988 to Hong Kong, where he was ordained to the priesthood on July 16, 1994.

Chow continued his studies at Loyola University in Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in organizational development in 1995. He spent the next five years working as a campus minister, vocations director, and ethics teacher at Wah Yan College in Kowloon and Hong Kong.

In 2000, Chow began a doctoral program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education studying development and psychology. He graduated with a Doctorate in Education in 2006.

The following year, he made his final vows in the Jesuit order and worked as an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong from 2008 to 2015 and Jesuit Formator from 2009 to 2017. He also served as the president of the Chinese Jesuit Province’s education commission since 2009 and the Hong Kong Diocesan Council for Education since 2017.

Chow began his role as provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus on Jan. 1, 2018.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

With the 2020 passage of new “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad in its definitions of terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion. Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

On April 16, authorities in Hong Kong sentenced several Catholic pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to prison sentences under the new security law.

“Hong Kong is going through perhaps the most dramatic phase of its history and has almost disappeared from the radar of international attention. However, those who love Hong Kong have not forgotten it,” Criveller said.

Report: Hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits filed against New Jersey Catholic priests during 2-year window

Theodore McCarrick arrives at Dedham District Court on Friday morning, Sept. 3 for his 9 a.m. arraignment / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Boston, Mass., Dec 3, 2021 / 21:30 pm (CNA).

At least 820 sex abuse lawsuits have been filed against New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses and religious orders in the past two years — including some 180 in the past month alone, according to an analysis by news outlet NorthJersey.com.

About 250 of the lawsuits, representing 30% of the total, involved priests, with religious sisters and lay church employees also named as abusers, the analysis showed.

The flood of civil complaints came during a two-year period New Jersey provided under the 2019 Child Victims Act to allow victims who otherwise would have been barred by the state’s statute of limitation to file lawsuits. The two-year “lookback” window closed on Nov. 30.

More than 1,200 lawsuits were filed in all. About two-thirds of these were filed against Catholic dioceses and religious orders.

Among the findings by NorthJersey.com:

  • The Archdiocese of Newark, the largest of New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses, accounted for the most abuse lawsuits, with 432.

  • The Diocese of Trenton had the next highest total, with 182 suits, followed by the Diocese of Paterson with 85. The Diocese of Metuchen was named in 70 lawsuits, and the Camden Diocese had 54.

  • The Order or St. Benedict of New Jersey, which runs the local Delbarton school in Morristown, was the most sued among New Jersey’s religious orders, with 36 suits and another case pending.

  • Twenty-three lawsuits were connected to Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, which is run by the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers of North America. That religious order, however, can’t be sued, the website reported, per a nationwide settlement agreement that happened years ago.

  • The Salesians of Don Bosco, which runs Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, have been sued 19 times. Five of those lawsuits were connected to the high school.

  • Disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was named in 10 lawsuits, the most recent of which was filed on Nov. 24.

  • McCarrick’s predecessor as the head of Newark Archdiocese, Peter Gerety, is named in two lawsuits. The most recent suit, filed on Nov. 16, accuses Gerety of abusing a girl from 1984 to 1989. The alleged abuse, starting when she was just 5 years old, allegedly took place at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NorthJersey.com reported.

  • While many of the alleged abusers have died, several are still alive and could be prosecuted. One of these defendants is Father Benoît Guichard, FSSP, who is accused by a woman of sexually assaulting her when she was a child, a claim that Guichard has denied through his attorney. Another is former Ridgefield Park priest Gerald Sudol, who was named in seven lawsuits.

  • Two priests were named in at least 20 lawsuits each: John Capparelli, of the Newark Archdiocese, and Timothy Brennan, a former teacher at the Delbarton school. Both men have died.

Under the Child’s Victim Act, people alleging sexual abuse as children can still file lawsuits up to age 55 or within seven years of when they first realized the abuse caused them harm, according to the Associated Press. Prior to the signing of the law, child victims had to file by age 20 or two years after first realizing the abuse caused harm. 

Archbishop Aquila urges Catholics to 're-acquire a biblical worldview' this Advent

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver says a Mass of diaconal ordination in 2020. / Archdiocese of Denver, photography: A&D Creative LLC

Denver, Colo., Dec 3, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

In a pastoral note for Advent, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver urged Catholics to seek a way of seeing the world informed by the Bible and the story of salvation brought about by Christ’ death and resurrection. 

“God is inviting us...to move beyond ideologies in order to ‘put on the mind of Christ and re-acquire a biblical worldview,” Aquila wrote in the letter

“This proclamation of what God has done in Christ, known in theological circles as the kerygma, is meant to do more than be an interesting re-telling of events that happened in the distant past...the first element needed for the renewal of the Church is not strategic planning, changes to structure or doctrine. The initial battle is for our minds and hearts; it is a question of worldview, a question of how we see,” Aquila continued.

From the feast of Christ the King through Christmas, the entire Archdiocese of Denver is “going on retreat together,” Aquila said, with the goal of  “systematically unpacking the story of salvation” through the homilies Catholics will hear each Sunday. 

“Even lifelong Catholics receive Communion, baptize children, get married, and go to Mass every Sunday without ever really coming to a deep awareness of the point of it all,” Aquila said, explaining why he chose to focus on the topic of salvation in particular. 

Aquila noted that “our Church no longer benefits from carrying out its life and mission in a Christendom culture...One which, while imperfect in its own ways, had an imaginative vision for reality that arose from and largely aligned with Christian beliefs.”

Instead, Christians today find themselves in a missionary context, “increasingly at odds with the broader society.”

Aquila noted that while all human beings will inevitably ask and attempt to answer life’s biggest questions, the Gospel message— the answer to all of life’s biggest questions— is not merely a result of human thinking, but rather comes from God. 

“Our earth-shattering profession is that God himself has provided answers to these questions that are rooted in our being. Revelation, found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, gives us the answer. These present not disconnected individual lives, but a story of salvation – the Father’s love for humanity,” Aquila wrote. 

“More than a confusing collection of disparate books, if you have eyes to see, you discover in the pages of the Bible a narrative, told by God to humanity, of why he made us, what happened to interrupt his plan and how he came to win his world back.”

The story of salvation, Aquila wrote, is about how God created the universe out of love, how humanity was captured by sin, how Christ came to rescue humanity, and how each and every person has been given a chance to offer their own response to Christ’s love. 

When Catholics see the world from a biblical perspective, “we come to consider the span of our lives as a brief but essential moment in a grand epic narrative, unfolding from long before we were born and continuing long after we go into eternity. We accept that no life is an accident; you and I have been chosen, intentionally, to play a definite part in this epic adventure.”

“We see clearly who God is: that he is Lord, and he is for us, so we can trust him. We recognize that everything he has done to rescue us means that we matter, he loves us more than we could have ever imagined. We understand that the mission and identity of the Church, in all she teaches and celebrates, are oriented to help God get his world back by rescuing his children from sin and death…to bring us home.

“We begin to see on both sides of the veil, to have an eye and a heart on eternity and to see our daily lives in light of the supernatural mysteries of our faith. Whatever difficulties life presents, we have the courage to hold fast to the truth that God is always on the move, he is not worried about the state of things, and he wins in the end.”

A temptation among many people today is to let a secular or ideological worldview inform one’s perspective of the Gospel or “what the Church should do,” adapting and changing the difficult teachings of Christ. 

“Jesus does not gain a single disciple by his followers watering down or adapting his Gospel on his behalf, in order to make it, and therefore him, seemingly more palatable,” Aquila said. 

“We have only to look at his teaching on the Bread of Life in John 6 as confirmation. Jesus told his followers the Eucharist was his body and blood and he let them walk away when it wasn’t something they could accept.”

Aquila concluded by quoting Pope Francis’ exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism… is the fruit of an anxious…lack of trust,” (Evangelii Gaudium 85).

Catholic doctors thank Portugal's president for vetoing euthanasia bill

Credit: sfam_photo/Shutterstock. / null

Lisbon, Portugal, Dec 3, 2021 / 16:21 pm (CNA).

The Association of Portuguese Catholic Doctors on Tuesday thanked President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for vetoing the euthanasia bill passed by the Portuguese parliament in November, and reaffirmed that as healthcare providers "they cannot be agents of death."

The Portuguese parliament approved a first version of the euthanasia bill in early 2021. But in March Rebelo de Sousa vetoed the text as unconstitutional. The parliament approved a second version Nov. 5, which was then vetoed by the president Nov. 29.

The Catholic doctors thanked the president in a Nov. 30 statement, reaffirming that human life must be defended "in all circumstances" and stressed that "doctors cannot be agents of death."

“As Catholic doctors, we want to continue caring for all the sick, including those at the end of life, who are more fragile. We will continue to fight for them, to treat them and give meaning to every moment of their life, also giving meaning to the oath that we took as professionals and making visible the Christian faith that we share,” they said.

In vetoing the bill for the second time, Rebelo de Sousa asked the parliament to clarify "what appear to be contradictions in the law on one of the grounds for resorting to assisted death."

The new version of the bill “maintains in a regulation the requirement of a 'fatal disease'” to request euthanasia, but “extends it, in another regulation, to an  'incurable disease,' even if it’s not fatal, and in a 'serious illness.’"

The AMCP stated that the reasons indicated by the president, "namely, the lack of clarification of some expressions used," show "the inconsistency of a hastily reformulated text with the intention of getting it passed during a time when the government is very fragile."

The law was "reworked in 25 hours, to take advantage of a favorable makeup of the parliament which is coming to an end,” the doctors charged.

The Portuguese parliament passed the euthanasia law in its last session before being dissolved for failing to approve the 2022 state budget.

According to the association, since 2015, lawmakers “have deliberately not listened to the protests of civil society, the National Council on Ethics for the Life Sciences and other bioethics associations, joint statements of religious conferences and unanimous condemnations of the Physicians of the Order and other associations of healthcare professionals.” 

“Euthanasia has already been rejected by the Assembly of the Republic, vetoed by the Constitutional Court and now returned without being enacted by the President of the Republic. The facts speak for themselves: despite the insistence of its advocates, there is no good law on euthanasia. This veto marks the end of a legislative process, leaving a bad memory,” the federation said.

The civic movement Stop Euthanasia stated in a communiqué that the time has come for the political parties to make their legislative agenda for the parliamentary elections known to the Portuguese, especially in relation to the problem of euthanasia.

According to Stop Euthanasia, this makes it "very important for the Portuguese to vote."

In addition, the organization stated that it is “extremely urgent to coordinate with the NHS [National Health Service], invest in palliative care and promote better medical care that allows a truly dignified death for all the most fragile and vulnerable in Portuguese society."

"We are waiting for more humanizing policies that put the person at the center of decisions and the life of society," they concluded.

Benedictine nuns in Missouri honor Christ the King with new album

null / Courtesy of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

Kansas City, Mo., Dec 3, 2021 / 15:06 pm (CNA).

After the harrowing experience of shootings at their abbey in rural Missouri, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles resolved to record an album for Christ the King in thanksgiving for His protection and governance.

“We were talking about a CD dedicated to Christ the King last year, realizing it was a feast we had not yet covered in our recording history. It seems a tumultuous time on so many levels, we thought that focus on Christ as our true leader and Prince of Peace was apt for these days. This was drilled home especially after some unfortunate incidents at the Abbey,” Mother Cecilia, abbess of the community, told CNA.

“In March, we had a series of three shootings at the Abbey, and one of the bullets entered my room, five feet from my bed. The incidents really lit a fire under us to get going on the CD we had discussed, since we realized the power of the protection of Christ and His angels over our Abbey. So the CD is also an act of gratitude to Christ our King and to all the many people who have shown their love and concern for us.”

The generosity of the abbey's benefactors has allowed the closing of the road alongside the property, “and a wall in front of our property was installed for our protection,” Mother Cecilia explained.

“We see in it a symbol of the spiritual protection Christ our King is always giving us, and it was appropriate to hail Him as the 'inexpugnable wall' in the ancient chant of Christ the King, the Laudes Regiae, sung at Charlemagne’s coronation over 1220 years ago.”

Christ the King at Ephesus is the latest offering from the chart-topping community of nuns, who have also released seasonal albums for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter; and in honor of saints and the Eucharist.

The album includes 20 songs, from well-known works such as “the traditional and melodic Christus Vincit, as well as To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King,” to pieces which have significance to the abbey, such as Catherine Maguire’s King of Kings, which Mother Cecilia noted “was sung at the high school graduation of a priest friend of the community.”

“We could not leave off The King of Love My Shepherd Is, nor Palestrina's Jesu Rex Admirabilis, familiar to many through its inclusion in The Sound of Music,” the abbess said.

“Byrd’s Non Nobis was always the starting piece for the Burke family singers. It was the father’s idea, in order to keep the kids humble! Vexilla Christus Inclyta was written for the Office of Christ the King by Fr. Vittorio Genovesi, and it was released by Pius XI the day after his publication of Quas Primas, extending the feast of Christ the King as a universal feast.”

Also included is St. Robert Southwell's The Bonnie Prince. The Jesuit priest and poet's work is set to the music of Auld Lang Syne.

Christ the King at Ephesus is the first album that the nuns have recorded in their new abbey church, which they have now been using for three years.

“We finally got to [record] in this edifice that is not only beautiful, but offers amazing acoustics, which was a real boon for the process - which has been a whirlwind!” Mother Cecilia related.

The album was recorded over two days in September, and was released the following month.

The recording and sound engineering was done by William Crain of BRC Audio in Kansas City, the abbess said. “We did the editing and production, and Will brought it all together along with the mastering.”

Life in the community is marked by obedience, stability, and "continually turning" towards God. They have Mass daily according to the ancient use of the Roman rite, and chant the psalms eight times a day from the 1962 Monastic Office.

The nuns also support themselves by producing made-to-order vestments, as well as greeting cards.

Since the abbey's last album release, its church has been built, as has a guest house for families and those wishing to make a silent retreat. The community's foundress, Sr. Mary Wilhelmina, “went to her heavenly reward at 95 years old,” Mother Cecilia added. The abbess said Sr. Wilhelmina's “life and the amazing circumstances of her death” were both “a grace beyond our imaginings.”

The community has been blessed with abundant vocations in recent years, Mother Cecilia said.

A group of eight sisters was sent to found a daughter house in southern Missouri, and “We now number 55 Sisters between the two houses, and young women continue to knock on our door,” she related.

The sisters at the daughter house “are living in a temporary residence, and one which does not lend itself to growth. So the construction of this monastery is imperative, as we have no more room here at the abbey either. We certainly do not want to turn away young women who are called to this life on account of no space!”