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Catholic snakebite clinic in India saves thousands of lives each year

Patna, India, Oct 16, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- In most religious orders’ novitiate year, prospective sisters study and pray. Sister Crescencia Sun, however, had another habit to acquire: killing venomous snakes.

In rural Bihar, about 4,500 people die of venomous snake bites each year. When the Sisters of Our Lady of Missions arrived in the Indian state in the 1990s to educate young girls, the sisters realized that God was calling them to another mission – a medical snakebite clinic.

“Initially, we didn't have in mind to open the snakebite clinic, but because the people, so many of them suffered from snakebites and … many people were dying, we trained our sisters to learn this because they are nurses already,” Sister Crescencia Sun told CNA.

During the hot summer, the sisters treat 40-50 patients per day at their snakebite clinic, saving the lives of thousands of snakebite victims each year.

“In this place, many people are bitten by snakes … such as cobra, vipers, russell vipers, and krait to name a few,” Sr. Sun shared at the “Women on the Frontlines” symposium in Rome Oct. 16.

The symposium – hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See – highlighted religious sisters’ work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.

“Women religious are among the most effective and vital partners we have on the frontlines in fragile communities around the world,” Callista Gingrich, US ambassador to the Holy See, said at the symposium.

“Women religious are often the last beacons of hope for millions of people who otherwise would not have a voice. They serve the displaced and the desperate, frequently at the risk of personal harm, in places where governments have failed and humanitarian organizations struggle to operate,” Gingrich said.

Sister Sun told CNA that, at first, she found the work at the snakebite clinic to be very emotionally draining.

“The first three months that I stayed there, I saw very many people dying of snake bites. I was very sad, and I said: 'Maybe this is not the mission for me,'” Sun shared.

“But, you know, when you see the people keep coming, then you get the courage, and I prayed to God everyday 'Lord, if this is what you want me to do, you are the one to give me the courage and the strength,’” she said.

Apart from treatment, the sisters work in preventative education, explaining to people in the surrounding villages the danger and how to protect themselves from the snakes.

“Hindus worship snakes, so they do not kill them, even when they become victims of snakebites. So during summer, we work 24/7 day and night,” she said.

Because of poverty, many of the patients they see live in huts made of bamboo and grass with a type of mud floor that can attract venomous creatures, particularly in the summer and rainy seasons.

“We have many stories of people telling us that when they get up in the morning, they just put their foot down from their bed and that is where they were bitten by a snake,” Sun said.

To keep themselves safe, the sisters have also trained dogs to detect the presence of snakes.

“I was very much afraid of snakes. But, being in Bangalore for my novitiate, training to become a religious, in that area we also have plenty of snakes and cobras. That is where I learned how to deal and even have killed a number of snakes, so when I came here, that was a kind of preparation for me,” she said.

In 2018, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Our Lady of the Missions treated more than 6,000 snakebite patients at their snakebite clinic in Kanti, Bihar.

“I believe that God uses us religious as instruments and miracles take place because God heals,” Sister Sun said.

UN set to elect slave state to human rights committee

Geneva, Switzerland, Oct 16, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Mauritania, the west African nation where slavery remains a widespread practice, is expected to be voted on to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee on Thursday. 

According to its website, the UNHCR is “an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.”

The UNHCR membership spaces are allocated according to different regions of the world, with some regions only having as many candidate nations as there are slots to fill. For this election, there are four African countries--Libya, Mauritania, Benin, and Sudan--seeking election to the four spots on the Human Rights Committee reserved for African nations. This means that they are essentially guaranteed to be elected the committee on Oct. 17. 

Mauritania made slavery illegal in 1981, but did not criminalize the practice of owning slaves until 2007. It was the last country to abolish slavery. According to a 2012 CNN report, only one slave owner had been prosecuted for owning another human being since the practice was made illegal. 

While the Mauritanian government officially denies that slavery is ongoing in the country, Mauritanian watchdog groups allege that one out of every two members of the country’s Haratine ethnic minority group are enslaved, and that as many as 20% of the population is enslaved. The exact number of slaves within the country is unclear, and estimates range from 90,000 to 500,000. The Global Slavery Index esptmates more than 140,000 people are currently enslaved in the country.

Salvery in the country is most often found being enforced on farms and in homes. According to media reports, slave owners give away people as gifts, and enslaved women are regularly sexually assaulted by their owners. 

In a report jointly authored report by UN Watch, the Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Mauritania, Libya, and Sudan were all rated as “unqualified” for the committee, and Benin was evaluated as “questionable.” Libya, Mauritania, and Sudan were criticized for their authoritarian governments, limits on freedom of the press, and for their “negative” UN voting records. 

The report singled out Mauritania for its history of corruption, ethnic discrimination by government actors, slavery, human trafficking, child labor, and criminalization of homosexuality. The country’s current president, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, was elected in June of this year despite reports of irregularities in the voting process. The country’s internet was shut down to quell protests that erupted after the elections. 

In addition to slavery, Mauritania is subjec to a range of other human rights concerns. The United Nations estimates that over one third of Mauritanian women are married before they reach the age of 18, and female genital mutilation is commonplace. Sex outside of marriage is not legal in the country, and women who were raped can face prosecution if they report their assault to the police.

A State Department official told CNA that the U.S. “hopes that ultimately only suitable candidates will be supported and confirmed for election to the Council.” 

“We hope that the new members of the Council will follow through on their commitments to improving human rights conditions in their countries,” said the official. 

While the election for the African slate is uncontested, a UN voting nation is not required to actually vote for a country to join the UNHCR if it does not wish to. 

“Voting nations can and should refrain from electing rights abusers to the UN’s highest human rights body,” said Hillel Neur of UN Watch.

Legal assisted suicide puts people with disabilities at risk, report finds

Washington D.C., Oct 16, 2019 / 01:24 pm (CNA).- Leaders in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded the National Council on Disability for its recent research on the risks of assisted suicide for people with disabilities.

“Every suicide is a human tragedy, regardless of the age, incapacity, or social/economic status of the individual,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida.

Naumann is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Dewane heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“The legalization of doctor-assisted suicide separates people into two groups: those whose lives we want to protect and those whose deaths we encourage,” the bishops said. “This is completely unjust and seriously undermines equal protection under the law.”

Last week, the National Council on Disability released findings of a national investigation into the effects of assisted suicide laws on people with disabilities.

In its examination, the council said it found “that the most prevalent reasons offered by someone requesting assisted suicide are directly related to unmet service and support needs.” The agency called on lawmakers to remedy these unmet needs through changes in legislation and funding.

It added that in states where assisted suicide is legal, “safeguards are ineffective and oversight of abuses and mistakes is absent.”

In the U.S., assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and in Montana by a court ruling. A law allowing it in Maine will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The National Council on Disability is an independent federal agency that advises lawmakers on how policies and practices affect those with disabilities. The council’s report, entitled “The Danger of Assisted Suicide Laws,” was released Oct. 9 as part of its series on bioethics and disability.

The report found that state regulations intended to prevent abuses in the practice of assisted suicide sometimes fall short. It pointed to instances of insurance companies denying costly, life-sustaining medical treatment while covering deadly drugs.

In addition, doctors rarely refer for a psychological evaluation before prescribing lethal drugs, the report found, despite the fact that depression is a leading factor in requesting assisted suicide.

Financial pressure may compromise patient freedom in making end-of-life choices, the report added, and misdiagnoses of terminal diseases may lead patients to end their lives under the mistaken assumption that they are close to death.

Neil Romano, chairman of the National Council on Disability, said in a press release that while fighting cancer, he was once given weeks to live. But today, years later, he is alive and thriving.

“I know firsthand that well-intending doctors are often wrong,” he said. “If assisted suicide is legal, lives will be lost due to mistakes, abuse, lack of information, or a lack of better options; no current or proposed safeguards can change that.”

“Assisted suicide laws are premised on the notion of additional choice for people at the end of their lives, however in practice, they often remove choices when the low-cost option is ending one’s life versus providing treatments to lengthen it or services and supports to improve it,” Romano stressed.

The agency’s report also documented suicide contagion in states that have legalized assisted suicide and pointed to an easing of safeguards initially intended to prevent abuses.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal for two decades, the report noted that the practice has been expanded to include non-terminal illnesses, such as arthritis and diabetes.

The National Council on Disability opposed the legalization of assisted suicide. It called for federal investment into long-term services and supports as an alternative to assisted suicide. It also urged further research “on disability related risk factors in suicide prevention, as well as research on people with disabilities who request assisted suicide and euthanasia.”

In their statement, Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Dewane urged lawmakers and medical professionals to take seriously the recommendations in the report.

“The human rights and intrinsic worth of a person do not change with the onset of age, illness, or disability,” they said.

“We must do what we can to uphold the dignity of life, cherish the lives of all human beings, and work to prevent all suicides.”


Poland's ruling party accused of trying to ban sex education

Warsaw, Poland, Oct 16, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The governing party in the Polish parliament has introduced a bill that could criminalize some forms of sex education in schools.

The Law and Justice Party (PiS), which won a majority in the country’s recent elections, is supporting a “Stop Pedophilia” law in the Sejm, the lower house of the country’s parliament. The law would criminalize the “promotion of underage sexual activity” by folding it under existing treatment of other crimes against minors. 

Currently, Polish schools do not offer formal sex education but, according to Reuters, are charged with providing courses aimed at helping students “prepare for family life.” How the courses are organized and administered differs between local authorities.

Opposition MPs have said that the bill leaves sex education teaching open to possible penalities including up to five years in prison for potentially encouraging sexual acitivty among children. MP and Now! Party member Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus told Reuters that the bill was a “gesture towards ultra-Catholics and the Church,” and accused the government of promoting a false narrative of “culture and civilizational war” in the country.

PiS legislators have insisted that such concerns are overblown. Marcin Ociepa, a PiS MP, said in a recent radio interview that the bill only prevents teachers and others from encourgaing children under 15 “to have sex or to conduct other sexual activities” and that claims that teachers could go to prison were “overinterpetations.” 

Bishop Ignacy Dec of Swidnica was recently quoted in a Polish newspaper expressing concern about sex education programs. 

“It is worrying that some local authorities are introducing to pre-schools and schools sexualisation programs recommended by the World Health Organization, which just harm children and youths,” he said.

The law is due for introduction in the Sejm on Oct. 16 and expected to be considered by the country’s Senate as early as Friday.

The legislation is part of a broader popular effort to remove sex education. More than 200,000 people participated in Marches for Life and Family in 130 cities across Poland in June, in protest of sex education in schools.

The Catholic Church in Poland supported the marches, and the Polish Bishops’ Conference thanked the faithful for participating in the marches at their plenary meeting in June.

According to the conference press office, the bishops “warned against the promotion of ideologies inimical to natural law and Christian values and against the attempts at introducing such ideologies to schools under the guise of sexual education.”

In August, the leader of PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, praised the Archbishop of Krakow for speaking out against attempts to redefine marriage and impose gender ideology in Poland.

Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, in an August 1 homily on the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, said that “our land is no longer affected by the red plague” of Communism but that a new “rainbow plague” threatens “to control our souls, hearts and minds.”

Earlier this month, Jędraszewski compared the rise of LGBT identitarian politics to Poland’s former communist regime, calling it  “the next great threat to our freedom,” and “of a totalitarian nature.” He said that the movement, like that of communism, stems from a “radical rejection of God.”

“As a consequence of this rejection, a new vision of man is being proclaimed in which he becomes a caricature of himself,” said the archbishop. 

In June, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued a document titled “Male and Female he Created Them” which discussed the rise of LGBT and gender ideology, saying that they presented “a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism” and promoted “the possibility of the individual determining his or her own sexual tendencies without having to take account of the reciprocity and complementarity of male-female relationships, nor of the procreative end of sexuality.”

With regards to school programs on sex and sexuality, the Congregation said that the relationship between parents and school “has entered into crisis.”

“The school must respect the family’s culture. It must listen carefully to the needs that it finds and the expectations that are directed towards it.”

Analysis: A pink dolphin, a carved image, and inculturation at the Amazon synod

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- At a “moment of Amazon spirituality” Oct. 16, in a church just down the street from St. Peter’s Square, a woman told the Amazonian folk tale of a pink river dolphin who seduced a village girl.

The story, and the conversation that ensued, is a poignant example of questions raised about the Vatican’s Amazon synod, and about the meaning of calls to “inculturate” the Gospel.

She was seated on a low stool, on a cloth mat, in the aisle leading to the sanctuary of Santa Maria in Traspontina, a Carmelite Church built five centuries ago. Two indigeneous people sat behind her. Between them was a now-controversial wooden figure of a pregnant woman, along with carved bowls filled with water, pieces of woven netting, and small carved statues.

The storyteller’s version of ancient mythical story in the Amazon goes like this:

There is a pink river dolphin deep in the Amazon. When he hears the sound of drums, he sometimes emerges from the water, to enter villages and to dance with village people. He takes to land to seduce young women in the villages.

To young girls the dolphin appears as a handsome stranger, a foreigner, a white man. To everyone else he still looks like a dolphin.

Eventually, the mysterious stranger seduces a young woman from the village. In some tellings, she becomes pregnant. In other versions, she simply falls in love. But in every case, she finds herself compelled to the river. She has fallen under a spell. If the spell can’t be broken, sometimes by a local shaman, she will throw herself into the river, and there she will become a mermaid.

When she finished telling her story, the storyteller asked those gathered in the church to share what the story means to them.

“What does it mean to you?” is not the same question as “What does it mean?” Both questions have merit, of course. And mythical and folkloric tradition has a place in every culture, in which new meanings and ideas can emerge from old stories.


At today’s Amazon spirituality gathering at Santa Maria in Traspontina. #AmazonSynod

— JD Flynn (@jdflynn) October 16, 2019  

Still, the critics of the liturgies, ceremonies, and rituals surrounding the Amazon Synod say those events have been plagued by ambiguity, by a sort of postmodern subjectivism, and by an absence of the proclamation of the Gospel and reference to sacred revelation.

Some of that criticism is hyperbolic and overwrought. And, in fact, synod-connected events expressing Amazon spirituality, including the controversial Oct. 4 tree-planting attended by Pope Francis, have included readings from scripture, obviously Catholic prayers, and reflections or preaching on the saving mystery of Jesus Christ.

But the identifiably Christian aspects of the rituals have often taken place alongside unidentified images and sculptures, and with the incorporation of rituals of unclear origin. That has led to confusion.

Journalists asking “What does this mean?” have heard, in response, another question: “What does this mean to you?”

On Oct. 16, a journalist asked for clarity at a Vatican press conference about the carved image, first seen at the tree-planting ceremony, and featured at other events connected to the synod. The image had been described by at least one western Catholic journalist as the Virgin Mary and by Getty International as a pagan goddess.

Fr. Giacomo Costa, a synod spokesman, said the image is not the Virgin Mary, but a female figure representing life. Paolo Ruffini, a Vatican communications officially, said that in his personal view, the image seems like that of a tree, which is, he said, a kind of “sacred symbol.”

Ruffini committed to learning more, but offered a qualifier that has become a familiar line at the Amazon synod: “We know that some things in history have many interpretations.”

A journalist asking bishops about the image Oct. 7 got a more nebulous answer.

“We all have our own interpretations: the Virgin Mary, the Mother Earth...probably those who used this symbol wished to refer to fertility, to women, to life, the life present among these Amazonian people and Amazonia is meant to be full of life. I don’t think we need to create any connections with the Virgin Mary or with a pagan element,” Bishop David Martínez De Aguirre Guinea of Peru said at a Vatican press conference.

Among the journalists, observers, and other interested parties watching the synod, there are clearly two perspectives on the carved image, and the controversy surrounding it.

One camp seems to say that this kind of ambiguity represents the ordinary process of inculturation. They see in the ambiguity the complicated reality of proclaiming the Gospel in an unfamiliar context, and they are eager to affirm points of similarity between Amazonian spirituality and Christianity. If a carved image highlights those points, they say, it should be celebrated, even if every question doesn’t have a clear answer. Being unduly dogmatic, they suggest, is a kind of hostility to the good will of the synod and its participants.

The other camp, those who would usually be classified as conservatives, are more skeptical. They have begun to ask whether the synod’s participants have thought through the limits of inculturation, or the consequences of ambiguity on issues that seem close to religious syncretism or even tacit consent to functional idolatry.

That camp is concerned that legitimate inculturation has been reduced to an ambiguous and undirected blending of Christian and local customs, with very little rational explanation of the theology behind emerging praxes. Some ask whether the result of such a process can really be Christianity at all.

The more skeptical observers say that the Catholic Church teaches that subjective reflection must be complemented by rational analysis and coherent proclamation, especially in the context of religious practice, where meaning, fundamentally, is derived from revelation. They say that while inculturation is important, the haphazard blending of customary and Christian symbols leads to religious rituals that can only be interpreted subjectively.

While the lines among the various camp followers are clear, it’s not clear what most of the synod participants think, in large part because the flow of information at the Amazon Synod is tightly controlled, and the messaging from the press office has for the most part seemed curated.

Even the synod participants who have talked about inculturation, and the controversy surrounding the image and the Amazon spirituality events, have not done so with particular theological depth.

At an Oct. 12 press conference, Bishop Rafael Cob García of Ecuador told CNA that inculturation is a process, not something that happens overnight.

Inculturation requires “trying to get into their frame of mind, and then, after a very long time, you can see what is connected with the Gospel,” Brazilian Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino added.

This is done always, he said, “with reference to Christ.”

Bishops have not commented on the desired results of inculturation, or the principles that should guide it, or way to prevent it from becoming syncretistic, or undermining evangelization. Their failure to do so has made the skeptical camp all the more skeptical.

What bishops have explained is that inculturation, however they understand it, takes a long time.

“If you follow a long pathway, trying to understand and respect, to the point of understanding the soul of their spirituality, then you get really interesting results,” Vasino said. “To understand, we must delve deeply.”

Catholics at the Vatican synod may soon give more thought to the story of the pink dolphin.

They’ll ask whether the synod fathers have been attracted by the idea of inculturation without seeing its dangers. They’ll wonder if the Church must throw herself into a river to understand how the story of a rapacious pink dolphin is “connected with the Gospel.” The answers have not yet been forthcoming.


This princess saint was not Harry Potter’s owl: St. Hedwig of Silesia

Wrocław, Poland, Oct 16, 2019 / 11:20 am (CNA).- Readers who find this story through a search engine probably were looking for information about Hedwig, Harry Potter’s snowy owl.

St. Hedwig of Silesia was not an owl. But read on anyway: she was a princess, a wife, a mother, and a builder of bridges between the German and Polish people. And her husband’s name was “Henry the Bearded.”

St. Hedwig, whose feast is Oct. 16, lived in the 13th century and received a good education in her youth at a convent in Bavaria. She is recorded to have said that knowledge plus holiness of life leads to greater glory for souls in heaven.

Hedwig “became known as a helper of poor people and after her canonization, she became a beloved patron saint of the same groups of people,” Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski, auxiliary bishop of Wroclaw, told CNA.

She came from a holy family: Hedwig’s sister Gertrude was the mother of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

While still a girl, Hedwig moved to the lower part of Poland, the region called Silesia, to marry Duke Henry I the Bearded. Together they had seven children, only two of whom lived to maturity.

St. Hedwig loved the Eucharist, prayer, and reading and meditating on scripture. In her own household she had scripture read aloud during meal times. Despite her wealth as a duchess, she practiced serious asceticism: she fasted, ate plain food, and lived with few personal possessions.

After her children were grown, Hedwig devoted herself to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, especially helping the poor, sick, hungry, widows, orphans, and expectant mothers.

Unlike other princesses of the time, Hedwig helped people with her own hand, and not through her servants. She also gave shelter to sick and disabled people in her castle.

A biographer of Hedwig wrote that the poor followed her everywhere she went, as if she was their mother.

She would also visit and bring food and other items to the imprisoned and send money to people who could not repay their debts. She used her position as a duchess to defend and intervene on behalf of prisoners and people sentenced to death so that they would receive lighter sentences or be freed.

St. Hedwig was responsible for bringing the Cistercian Order to Silesia. She had a monastery and several churches, including the first, built in the region. One of these churches, in modern-day Trzebnica, where she is buried, is now a shrine to the saint, who was canonized in 1267. The shrine is a popular place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world.

The monastery connected to this church is still active and is considered to be the largest existing 13th-century building in Central Europe.

Hedwig lived in that monastery near the end of her life, and though she did not take religious vows, lived in community with the religious sisters there. Tradition at the monastery says that she would pray a lot, to the point of sometimes locking herself in the chapel overnight.

The saint also had a strong love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and would carry a statue of Our Lady around with her, using it to bless the sick, some of whom it is said were afterward healed. She was buried with this statue, and tradition says when her tomb was opened years later, the fingers gripping it were not decomposed.

Images and statues of St. Hedwig usually depict her holding a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, feeding the poor, or holding a church.

St. Hedwig, as a Bavarian, became a symbol of “Catholic and Christian living” in the region, and how Germans and Polish could could live together as members of one Church, Bishop Siemieniewski said.

In Wroclaw, Poland, there is an important statue of St. Hedwig next to a monumental bridge. This symbolizes, he said, the bridge she formed between the neighboring nations of Germany and Poland.

She is also beloved by Czech people. “St. Hedwig is considered a mother to the Silesian people, and Silesia meant, in older times, ‘home for many nations,’” he explained.


Brazilian bishop: Lack of holiness among clerics an obstacle to vocations

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- A bishop in Brazil who is a member of the Amazon synod said Wednesday he believes a major obstacle to increasing priestly vocations in the region is a lack of personal holiness among the ordained, rather than the discipline of celibacy.

Bishop Wellington de Queiroz Vieira of Cristalandia said Oct. 16 that the proposal to combat priest shortages in the Amazon region by ordaining mature, married men – called viri probati  – to the priesthood does not address a greater problem.

Noting that he does not speak for all synod fathers, but that he knows many of them share his views, de Queiroz said the real obstacles to increasing local priestly vocations are scandals and a lack of holiness in bishops, priests, and deacons.

Bishop de Queiroz, 51, spoke at a press conference on the Amazon synod, which is taking place at the Vatican Oct. 6-27, and is addressing the Church’s ministry in the region. His Diocese of Cristalandia was elevated from a territorial prelature in July; it is located in Tocantins state, which includes both part of the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado savanna.

The bishop said clergy need to be close to their people as Pope Francis says: “But very often we do that, but do not convey the perfume of Christ. And we are not able to convey the real message.”

Instead, clerics often drive people away from Christ, he said, or very easily are “proclaimers of ourselves.”

“We are not always holy priests and holy bishops in our own Churches,” he said, adding that before talking about changing as a Church, people should think about changing themselves.

Bishop de Queiroz said the instrument to reawaken vocations lies in the holiness of the evangelizers. “I am convinced that if I live a holy life, I will not lack ordained ministers,” he said, because young people are looking for models of holiness and will be drawn to it when they see it.

“We have an obligation to provide examples of holiness.”

He described holiness as including simplicity of life, openness to dialogue, respecting differences, unwavering proclamation of the Christian life, compassion for those who suffer, charity, and accepting challenges.

The bishop said he thinks there should be consideration of another solution to priest shortages in the Amazon, which is an unequal distribution of priests. He said in some areas there is a higher concentration of priests than in others, but they lack a “missionary spirit” to leave and travel to the more remote and challenging areas of the Amazon. “We need to change this mentality,” he said.

Pope Francis: God has a universal desire for salvation

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2019 / 10:01 am (CNA).- God wills the salvation of all persons, Pope Francis said in his General Audience Wednesday, refelcting on the Acts of the Apostles.

God “wants His children to overcome all particularism in order to be open to the universality of salvation,” the pope said Oct. 16 in St. Peter's Square.

“This is the aim: to overcome particularism and open oneself to the universality of salvation, because God wants to save everyone. Those who are reborn by water and the Spirit - the baptized - are called to come out of themselves and open themselves up to others, to live close together, in the style of living together, which transforms every interpersonal relationship into an experience of fraternity.”

He said St. Peter is “the witness of this process of 'fraternization' that the Spirit wants to trigger in history, citing Peter's vision in which he was told to eat animals that were impure in Jewish law.

“With this fact, the Lord wants Peter no longer to evaluate events and people according to the categories of the pure and the impure, but to learn to go beyond, to look at the person and the intentions of his heart,” Francis said. “What makes man impure, in fact, does not come from outside but only from within, from the heart. Jesus said this clearly.”

After his vision, St. Peter preached “the crucified and risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins to whoever believes in Him” to the household of Cornelius, a gentile, and baptized there.

“This extraordinary fact – it is the first time that something of this type has happened – becomes known in Jerusalem, where the brothers, scandalized by Peter’s behaviour, harshly reproach him. Peter did something that went beyond what was usual, beyond the law, and for this reason they rebuke him,” the pope stated.

“But after the encounter with Cornelius, Peter is more free from himself and more in communion with God and with others, because he has seen God’s will in action in the Holy Spirit.”

Because of this, St. Peter can “understand that the election of Israel is not the reward for merits, but the sign of the gratuitous call to mediate the divine blessing among pagan peoples.”

For Pope Francis, St. Peter teaches “that an evangelizer cannot be an impediment to the creative work of God … but one that fosters the encounter of hearts with the Lord.”

He asked: “How do we behave with our brothers and sisters, especially with those who are not Christians? Are we impediments to the encounter with God? Do we hinder or facilitate their encounter with the Father?”

The pope concluded, saying: “Today we ask for the grace to allow ourselves to be astonished by God’s surprises, not to hinder His creativity, but to recognize and encourage the ever new ways in which the Risen One pours out His Spirit into the world and attracts hearts.”

Pope puts virtue and family at center of World Food Day message

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis voiced his concerns about the world’s approach to food, and called for a global attitude of virtue towards nutrition in his World Food Day message to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization on Wednesday, Oct. 16. 

The theme of this year’s World Food Day is “Our Actions Are Our Future. Healthy Diets for a #ZeroHunger World,” which Pope Francis said he hoped would serve as a reminder that throughout the world, people are not eating in a healthy manner.  

“It is a cruel, unjust and paradoxical reality that, today, there is food for everyone and yet not everyone has access to it, and that in some areas of the world food is wasted, discarded and consumed in excess, or destined for other purposes than nutrition,” the pope said in a message sent to the Director General of the UNFAO, Mr. Qu Dongyu, on Oct. 16.

Francis said that while steps have been taken to help solve the issues of malnutrition and hunger, the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has not yet been fully implemented worldwide.

While 820 million people in the world suffer from hunger, nearly the same number of people are overweight-- these he said were ”victims of improper dietary habits.” 

“We are in fact witnessing how food is ceasing to be a means of subsistence and turning into an avenue of personal destruction.” 

The pope said he was concerned that obesity is to be found not only in rich countries, but in poorer countries where people are imitating diets that come from other more developed areas, and damaging their health in the process.

“Due to poor nutrition, pathologies not only from the imbalance caused by ‘excess,’ often resulting in diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other forms of degenerative diseases, but also by ‘deficiency,’ as documented by an increasing number of deaths from anorexia and bulimia,” said Francis. Anorexia and bulimia are eating disorders. 

To fight this, the pope called for a “conversion in our way of living and acting,” and said that improved nutrition is “an important starting point.” He said that the only way to fight these “nutritional disorders” is by creating a lifestyle that is “inspired by gratitude for the gifts we have received” along with “the adoption of a spirit of temperance, moderation, self-control, and solidarity.” 

By embracing these virtues, Francis said that people will become more concerned for one another, and “grow in a fraternal solidarity that seeks the common good and avoids the individualism and egocentrism” that perpetuates societal ills. This will further lead to a healthier relationship with oneself, others, and the environment. 

The pope said the family, particularly farming families, has a “primary role to play” in accomplishing this societal shift. The family, he said, teaches how to embrace the earth, without abusing it. Through the family, “we also discover the most effective means for spreading lifestyles respectful of our personal and collective good,” Francis added. 

He praised the “increasing interdependence of nations” as a way for people to put aside other interests and create a sense of trust and friendship, particularly related to food concerns. Citing his environmental encyclical letter Laudato Si, he said that there needs to be a promotion of institutions and initiatives that assist the poor with access to basic resources, and that the current system is failing the neediest. 

In his message, Francis criticized “the logic of the market” and the quest for profit, which he said resulted in food being “regulated to a mere commercial product subject to financial speculation,” instead of being seen as something with “cultural, social and indeed symbolic importance.” 

Instead of taking this view of food, Francis suggested shifting views so that care of the human person is more of a concern than a profit margin. This approach, he said, will result in more effective programs that will solve the issues of hunger and obesity. 

“When priority is given to the human person, humanitarian aid operations and development programs will surely have a greater impact and will yield the expected results,” said Pope Francis.

“We must come to realize that what we are accumulating and wasting is the bread of the poor.” 

Vatican communications official: Carved figure at Amazon synod not Virgin Mary

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2019 / 07:18 am (CNA).- Fr. Giacomo Costa, a communications official for the Amazon synod, said Wednesday a wooden figure of a nude pregnant woman, which has been present at events related to the synod, is not the Virgin Mary, but is instead a female figure representing life.

“It is not the Virgin Mary, who said it is the Virgin Mary?” Costa said Oct. 16 at a press conference for the Amazon synod, a meeting taking place in the Vatican Oct. 6-27 on the ministry of the Church in the region.

Costa referred to a controversial image of a female figure which was part of a tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican Oct. 4. The same figure has been present in the vicinity of the Vatican at various events happening during the synod, under the “Casa Comun” initiative.

The wooden figure of a pregnant woman has been described as both a Marian image and as a traditional indigenous religious symbol of the goddess Pachamama, or Mother Earth.

When told “many people have said” the woman is a figure of the Virgin Mary, Costa added “‘many have said,’ okay, as you like, but I have never heard that.”

“There is nothing to know. It is an indigenous woman who represents life,” he stated, adding that his information commission will look for more information about it, but “it is a feminine figure” and is “neither pagan nor sacred.”

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican communications dicastery, said Wednesday he sees the figure as “representing life.”
“Fundamentally, it represents life. And enough. I believe to try and see pagan symbols or to see... evil, it is not,” he said, adding that “it represents life through a woman.” He equated the image to that of a tree, saying “a tree is a sacred symbol.”

Ruffini said that interpretation is his personal opinion, and he was not speaking as the head of Vatican communications or synod communications.

He added that “We know that some things in history have many interpretations” and he would look for more information about the image and inform journalists about what he finds out.

Cristiane Murray, vice director of the Holy See press office, added that more information about the wooden figure should be sought from REPAM or the organizers of the events where the image has been present.

Mauricio Lopez, REPAM's executive secretary, told CNA after the press conference that he could not comment on the press conference, directing CNA to Costa's remarks, as the "official spokesperson" of the Synod.

REPAM (the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network), a group backed by the bishops’ conferences in Latin America, describes itself as an advocacy organization for the rights and dignity of indigenous people in the Amazon. The network is involved in operations for the synod assembly and is one of 14 groups on the organizing committee of the Casa Comun initiative, which is promoting more than 115 events hosted by a loose network of groups, connected in varying degrees to the Catholic Church.