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US troop withdrawal poses new challenges to Afghanistan’s Christians

Mass for U.S. military personnel at a forward operating base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2001. / U.S. Navy photo by chief photographer's mate Johnny Bivera (Public Domain).

Rome Newsroom, Aug 3, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).

As the U.S. is winding down its operations in Afghanistan after 20 years, there is much concern about the situation of the Church in the country. There is only one Catholic church in Afghanistan, located in the Italian embassy in Kabul, and consequently shut down as long as the embassy remained closed during the pandemic.

Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution defined the country as an Islamic republic. It is forbidden to preach the Gospel in public or to convert to Christianity.

This is the reason why missionaries and Catholics in Afghanistan rarely speak on the record: they apply some necessary prudence in a challenging environment. CNA spoke with them and agreed to their requests for anonymity.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II established a mission sui iuris, or independent mission, in Afghanistan serving some 210 Catholics with three priests.

But there are other missionaries in Afghanistan. The Jesuits entered the country in 2004 and set education as one of their primary goals. The Missionaries of Charity came that same year to provide humanitarian assistance in the war-torn country.

The U.S. decision to leave Afghanistan opens the way for the return of the Taliban, posing new challenges for the country’s Christians.

According to local sources, it isn’t easy to describe the current situation in Afghanistan. But sources say that “beyond the waged war, there is seemingly an information war. Both of the conflicting parties claim their successes, and in both cases, it is hard to assess them.”

The sources note that Western media tend to say that the Taliban are regaining territory and influence. At the same time, Afghan government officials claim that all the districts that fell into the Taliban’s hands were rescued.

Yet the Catholic community will not leave unless it is “obliged to.” Local Catholics underscore that their mission in the territory began long before U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan.

For example, the Barnabite Fathers went to Afghanistan in 1934, and this is why it was natural to entrust the mission sui iuris to them. They will certainly stay in the country as long as they are permitted to, looking out any for possible openings

One of these openings might be the Taliban’s reported intention to ask for and accept the help of everyone to rebuild Afghanistan, NGOs included. This would not exclude Catholic NGOs, which would be a sign of hope.

But the most problematic scenario is that Afghanistan will get trapped in civil war. The scenario is furtherly complicated by as yet unverified rumors that foreign jihadists are moving to the country.

Local Catholics have no other hope than that the neighboring countries -- Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Iran -- will help Afghanistan in its transition, as “it is their interest that Afghanistan remains peaceful.”

Manila’s Catholic dioceses cancel public Masses amid rise in COVID-19 cases

Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted Parish Church in Maricaban, Pasay City, in the Philippines. / Judgefloro via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0).

Manila, Philippines, Aug 3, 2021 / 03:10 am (CNA).

Catholic dioceses in the Metro Manila area of the Philippines have suspended public Masses for three weeks amid a rise in COVID-19 infections.

The news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines reported on July 31 that Masses would be online-only until Aug. 20.

Manila archdiocese, as well as its suffragan dioceses of Cubao, Novaliches, Pasig, Parañaque, and Kalookan, have dispensed Catholics of their obligation to attend Sunday Mass.

The Philippines, a country of 108 million people, has recorded 1,605,762 coronavirus cases and 28,093 deaths as of Aug. 3, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Officials fear a surge in the Delta variant of the coronavirus first identified in India. Reuters reported on Aug. 2 that there were more than 8,000 recorded infections a day from Friday to Monday.

The capital region, which has a population of almost 13 million, is currently under general community quarantine with additional restrictions. It will move to the more stringent enhanced community quarantine on Aug. 6-20.

Bishop Honest Ongtioco of Cubao said: “Let us continue to support the preventive measures being implemented by the government to slow down the surge of the virus.”

“We encourage the faithful to stay at home and stay safe. We will reopen our churches for public worship on Aug. 21, if conditions improve.”

In the diocese of Parañaque, which covers the cities of Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Muntinlupa, funeral and wake Masses will be permitted while public Masses are suspended.

Bishop Jesse Mercado of Parañaque said that churches would remain open for personal prayer while following health regulations.

“We continue to storm heaven with our prayers especially in this uncertain situation of our time,” he said. “May our prudent and faithful observance of our protocols ensure the safety of our family and country.”

On July 30, Manila archdiocese issued a prayer for protection against the Delta variant composed by Cardinal José Advíncula, who was installed last month as Manila’s archbishop, succeeding Cardinal Antonio Tagle.

The prayer reads:

Dear God, our loving Father,
we ask You to extend Your hand over us
to protect us especially from harm,
from the threat that is
brought about by COVID-19
especially by this new Delta variant.
We ask You also to continually guide
and enlighten those who take care
of our health, the government,
our doctors, our nurses, those that are
working especially in the hospitals
and all the frontliners so that
they may continue their work in order
to safeguard the health of the community.
This we ask of You through
Christ our Lord. Amen.

Catholic schools proud of US Olympic medalist Katie Ledecky


Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

American Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky will be leaving Tokyo with four medals, making her the most decorated female swimmer of all time - and her Catholic alma maters are proud.

In the Olympic games in Tokyo, Ledecky, 24, won the gold medal in the first-ever women’s 1,500-meter freestyle, as well as in the 800 free. Ledecky had won the 800 meter freestyle at both the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, and took the silver in the 400 free and in the 4x200 freestyle relay.

Ledecky is a native of Maryland and an alumna of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls independent Catholic school in Bethesda. She was joined on Team USA by fellow Stone Ridge alumna Phoebe Bacon. Bacon, 18, competed in her first Olympics and placed fifth in the 200 backstroke. 

In a statement provided to CNA, administrators at Stone Ridge expressed their delight in their Olympian alumnae. 

“Stone Ridge is incredibly proud of these alumnae athletes, not only for what they accomplish in the sport of swimming, but for the values and character they represent,” head of school Catherine Ronan Karrells said. . 

Karrells noted that the school community has seen the two swimmers train and compete for years, “consistently inspired by their dedication to hitting their goals in the pool while also fully embracing the academic, community, and spiritual components of their education.” 

Andrew Maguire, the school’s athletic director, called Ledecky and Bacon women who “have taken their humble and faith-based roots with them to this Olympic stage and it has proven to serve them well.” 

He said that while students at Stone Ridge, “Katie and Phoebe both led by example with their passion for representing (the school) and their incredible competitive drive for achieving at a level far greater than their peers.” 

Ledecky and Bacon will be “role models for future U.S. Swimmers,” said Maguire, and that he cannot wait to welcome the two back to campus in the future. 

“I am so proud of them for setting their athletic goals as high as possible and putting in the work and commitment to achieve those goals - both swimmers deserve all of the accomplishments and accolades they achieve and both will always be Stone Ridge Gators,” Maguire said. 

In an interview with NBC immediately following her victory in the 800 free, Ledecky laughed at the idea that she had just finished her last swimming competition. She noted that the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris are only three years away, and even hinted that the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles could be in her future. 

The Catholic Standard reported that Ledecky and Bacon were paired as “buddies” at their Catholic elementary school, Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland. Their families both attend the parish, which sports a sign out front praising its parishioners’ success in the pool. 

Msgr. Peter Vaghi, who is the pastor of Church of the Little Flower, said that he was “so very proud of these two daughters of our parish and school,” and that the parish would be praying for them while they were in Tokyo. 

Stone Ridge, meanwhile, held a pep rally for its pair of Olympians on July 23, and sold shirts cheering them on. 

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, who formerly administered Little Flower School and reside in the parish’s convent, were “particularly fired up” after both women qualified for the Olympics. 

Ledecky has long spoken about how her Catholic faith has kept her grounded, saying that she finds the Hail Mary to be a “calming” prayer and prays it before races. 

In 2016, she told the National Catholic Register that she appreciates the “consistency” of Catholicism and has a particular devotion to Mary. 

“I’ve counted on my faith to give me strength through both training and competition — but also in school, with my family and everyday life,” she said in 2016. 

“So while my goals in the pool have changed, my faith remains something that’s consistent and something I can always rely on,” said Ledecky. 

'Go, Syd, Go!': Catholic high school ready to cheer on Sydney McLaughlin at Tokyo Olympics

Olympic track star Sydney McLaughlin with Sister Percylee Hart RSM, the principal of Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains, NJ. McLaughlin graduated from the school in 2017. / Union Catholic Regional High School

Boston, Mass., Aug 2, 2021 / 17:13 pm (CNA).

Olympic track star Sydney McLaughlin will have her entire New Jersey high school cheering - and praying - for her when she competes for a gold medal in Tokyo on Tuesday night. 

Students and staff of Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains will join a crowd of supporters at a local tavern to watch the live broadcast of McLaughlin’s 400-meter hurdle race, scheduled to take place at 10:30 p.m. EST.

“The students are very excited and we’re all praying for her,” Sister Percylee Hart RSM, the school’s principal, told CNA in an Aug. 2 interview.

“And not that she wins, but that she does her best and that she doesn't get injured,” Hart added. “She has her whole life ahead of her and we just want her to be her best.”

Olympic track star Sydney McLaughlin with Sister Percylee Hart RSM, the principal of Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains, NJ. McLaughlin graduated from the school in 2017. / Union Catholic Regional High School
Olympic track star Sydney McLaughlin with Sister Percylee Hart RSM, the principal of Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains, NJ. McLaughlin graduated from the school in 2017. / Union Catholic Regional High School

McLaughlin, 21, of Dunellen, NJ, competed in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro while still in high school, finishing 17th. She enters Tuesday’s competition as the reigning world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles.

McLaughlin has been outspoken on her Instagram account about her faith in Jesus Christ. After breaking the world record on June 28, McLaughlin posted a photo of herself with the caption, “The face of a woman who is in awe of God.”

“The goal of my life is to glorify [God] in everything that I do, and to be more like him every single day when I wake up,” McLaughin said in a video she posted online earlier this year. 

Hart told CNA that humility is one of McLaughlin’s most outstanding qualities. Even after she burst onto the international track and field scene, Hart said, she wanted to be treated like an ordinary student, not an Olympian. 

“In addition to being faith-filled, if someone said, ‘Hi, Sydney,’ she would always take the time to say hello back,” Hart said. 

McLaughlin and her family are not Catholic, yet they chose Union Catholic based on its mission, “which was compatible with their mission as a family,” Hart explained. McLaughlin graduated in 2017 and her three siblings have also attended the school.

Hart said McLaughlin is spreading “the good news of salvation” by being so open about her faith.

“She is such a role model for our families and the parents are just thrilled that they can hold her up as an example to their children,” Hart said. “The students who are here now want to be like her.”

Their pride and admiration will be on display Tuesday night at the Stage House Tavern in Mountainside for the latest in a series of spirited viewing parties held throughout McLaughlin’s Olympic run. 

“Now we're going to a restaurant that can hold a large number of people,” Hart said. 

“We'll be able to view together, and there's just something magical about that, that sense of community,” she added. “We could be sitting in our living rooms, but to gather as the UC community and shout out, ‘Go, Syd, go!’ is just awesome.”

Archbishop Cordileone schedules monthly Traditional Latin Mass at cathedral

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco

San Francisco, Calif., Aug 2, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has instituted a monthly Traditional Latin Mass at San Francisco’s Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, and has been leading the faithful in a Litany of Reparations for abuses against the Eucharist.

The monthly Mass will be held on First Wednesdays at 3 p.m., “an auspicious hour for this Mass, remembering the moment Our Lord Jesus Christ died to save us from sin and death,” said Executive Director of the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Worship and Divine Music, Maggie Gallagher, Aug. 1.

The first of the Masses, on Aug. 4, falls on the feast of St. Dominic, and so will be said in the Dominican rite.

Archbishop Cordileone’s establishment of the monthly Masses was in response to “requests from the faithful and the overwhelming response to the first Latin Mass in July.”

The announcement comes soon after Archbishop Cordileone allowed the continuation of Traditional Latin Masses in his diocese as guidance pertaining to Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

Archbishop Cordileone told CNA July 16 that “The Mass is a miracle in any form: Christ comes to us in the flesh under the appearance of Bread and Wine. Unity under Christ is what matters. Therefore the Traditional Latin Mass will continue to be available here in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and provided in response to the legitimate needs and desires of the faithful.”

Gallagher said that last Friday Archbishop Cordileone led the faithful “in a Litany of Reparations for abuses against the Most Holy Eucharist.”

She stated that “more than 900 of you registered for this ancient and sacred and holy tradition: through prayer and fasting, we can help repair the most fundamental damage in the world: the desecration of what is Sacred and Holy.”

Gallagher said that Archbishop Cordileone is committed to leading the faithful in the litany through “the USCCB deliberations at the end of this year.”

“He asks us all to pray for all the bishops (yes including your least-favorite ones!) that the Spirit of God may give them the wisdom to discern how to revive the Catholic reverence for the Holy Eucharist,” she said. 

Archbishop Cordileone has been a strong advocate of the USCCB drafting a document with a clear teaching on the Eucharist.

In a statement provided to CNA in May, Archbishop Cordileone said he was “deeply grieved by the rising public acrimony among bishops and the adoption of behind-closed-doors maneuvers to interfere with the accepted, normal, agreed-upon procedures of the USCCB.”

“Those who do not want to issue a document on Eucharistic coherence should be open to debating the question objectively and fairly with their brother bishops, rather than attempting to derail the process,” he added.

The bishops had extensive debate before voting to authorize the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist. A proposed outline of the document, provided by the doctrine committee, included the Church’s teachings on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Sunday as a holy day, the Eucharist as sacrifice, and worthiness to receive Communion.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June voted to move forward on several action items, including a draft of a teaching document on the Eucharist.

All are invited Aug. 27 to recite the Litany of Reparation in honor of the Blessed Sacrament with Archbishop Cordileone, Gallagher said. 

Gallagher said that the Benedict XVI Institute has created a prayer book of the litany for those who want to join in prayer at home. “This book is also very suitable for use at Eucharistic Adoration and for prayers before and after the Mass,” she added.

Spanish Supreme Court rules divorced-and-remarried religion teacher must be reinstated 

Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Madrid, Spain, Aug 2, 2021 / 16:23 pm (CNA).

Spain’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a religion teacher whose declaration of suitability to teach religion was withdrawn by the Archdiocese of Valladolid because her life “was not in accordance with the postulates of Christian life” must be reinstated.

The teacher was married in the Church and had two daughters by in vitro fertilization. She subsequently attempted to contract a second marriage without having sought a declaration of nullity. At the time of her dismissal, the teacher was living with a third partner, a divorced man with three children.

In 2018, several parents of students at the school where the teacher taught complained to the archbishop about the teacher's way of life.

According to an agreement between the Spanish state and the Holy See, in order to be a religion teacher in Spain the candidate must receive a “ecclesiastical declaration of suitability” from the local bishop, who can withdraw this permission for legitimate reasons.

This applies to public as well as Catholic schools, as students in public schools in Spain can opt to take religion classes. 

The archdiocesan official who oversees the teaching of religion pointed out to the teacher the irregularity of her situation and encouraged her to seek an annulment and to regularize her marital situation to maintain the required ecclesiastical declaration of suitability to teach the Catholic religion.

However, the teacher didn’t take any steps to regularize her situation, and so the Archdiocese of Valladolid withdrew the declaration of suitability and the missio canonica, necessary to teach religion, because her life "was not in accordance with the postulates of Christian life.” 

Accordingly, the Ministry of Education of the autonomous regional government of Castile and León followed through and dismissed the teacher from her position.

However, the Supreme Court overturned the dismissal July 28, ruling that the Ministry of Education will have to reinstate her in her job as a religion teacher because in the court’s opinion "the fundamental rights of the worker were violated." The Supreme Court’s decision also obligates the Ministry of Education to pay the teacher the salary she stopped receiving after her dismissal.

The Code of Canon Law stipulates that “those who are designated teachers of religious instruction in schools, even in non-Catholic ones, are outstanding in correct doctrine, the witness of a Christian life, and teaching skill.”

In addition, “the local ordinary has the right to appoint or approve teachers of religion and even to remove them or demand that they be removed if a reason of religion or morals requires it.”

The Spanish bishops’ conference requires that the candidate must be baptized in the Catholic Church, have the corresponding civil and ecclesiastical degree, and the Ecclesiastical Declaration of Suitability that supposes "correct doctrine and the witness of a Christian life.” The declaration  can be revoked by the bishop “when any of the considerations for which it was granted ceases to be fulfilled and will not be valid in other dioceses.”

US bishops welcome emergency resettlement of Afghans


Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Leading U.S. bishops on Friday welcomed Afghan nationals to the United States who had assisted the United States’ military, diplomatic, and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.

As part of the official withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the United States expedited the immigration process for certain Afghan nationals and their families who had helped the U.S. forces, diplomatic corps, and government humanitarian personnel in the country. Afghans assisted as translators and interpreters, or provided security and transportation.

The first flight of nationals from Afghanistan with Special Immigrant Visas, as part of the expedited process, arrived in the United States on Friday.

“We are proud to have the opportunity to welcome and assist those who have kept Americans safe in Afghanistan,” stated Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, in a joint statement on Friday.

“By working with the United States, each of these individuals have put their lives and those of their family and friends at risk,” the bishops stated. “As they now leave everything behind to begin new lives here, the many sacrifices they’ve made should not go unacknowledged.”

Earlier in July, President Biden announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that was planned to conclude by August 31. As part of that announcement, Biden said his administration would work to expedite the immigration process for certain Afghani nationals who had helped the United States’ operation in Afghanistan as interpreters and translators.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stated that it would be involved in helping resettle the nationals.

“The Catholic Church teaches that each person is created in the image and likeness of God and that we must uphold the inherent dignity of every person,” Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville stated.

The bishops quoted Pope Francis’ call to welcome migrants and refugees, as “an invitation to overcome our fears so as to encounter the other, to welcome, to know and to acknowledge him or her.”

On Monday, a senior State Department official told reporters that the agency would also be granting “Priority 2” or “P-2” designation to certain Afghan nationals for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The designation would be reserved for those who assisted or worked for the U.S. government, U.S. forces, or government programs in Afghanistan, but who were not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa.

Afghan members of a U.S.-based media or non-governmental organization could also be eligible for a P-2 designation.

Special Immigrant Visas were granted to Iraqi and Afghan nationals, their spouses and children following since the 2006 authorization of a humanitarian program by Congress to help resettle Afghans who had assisted U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. The USCCB says it helped the U.S. government resettle some of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders, of the more than 73,000 who ultimately received the visas.

For Afghans who were in the final stages of the Special Immigrant Visa process, the United States announced on July 14 they would receive an emergency relocation. A bipartisan emergency supplemental appropriations bill passed by Congress on July 29 also authorized an additional 8,000 visas for the Special Immigrant Visa program.

NFP expert: Natural Family Planning ‘empowers’ Catholic couples with fertility knowledge 

Unsplash (CC0 1.0).

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 2, 2021 / 14:57 pm (CNA).

Natural Family Planning (NFP) “empowers” women with “extremely valuable” information about their bodies, according to a Catholic OB/GYN and NaProTechnology surgeon. Dr. Naomi Whittaker listed the medical benefits it offers during EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on July 29.

Last week, the U.S. bishops promoted Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. The week began on the 53rd anniversary of Pope St. Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae encyclical, which emphasizes the beauty of human sexuality and warns against the dangers of contraception. NFP methods cooperate with this teaching by allowing couples to plan their families by charting the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s cycle after observing a variety of physical symptoms, such as basal body temperature.

According to Whittaker, NFP is “empowering women and couples with the knowledge of their fertility and their cycle.” She called this knowledge “extremely valuable” and stressed that it “can be used in multiple ways.”

NFP can help couples avoid pregnancy instead of birth control methods or devices that pose risks and side effects, she said. But NFP is also “totally unique” in that it can also be used to achieve pregnancy, Whittaker said. 

Whittaker added that NFP enables women to become active participants in their health care.

“A woman’s educated on what’s normal, what’s abnormal, and how to plot this down” or track “this data scientifically,” Dr. Whittaker said. “When she sees something’s abnormal, she’s able to bring this information to a doctor” and “be proactive.” This can even help couples who suffer from infertility.

Whittaker stressed that her NFP patients “often know more about the menstrual cycle than many doctors.” 

As a NaProTechnology surgeon, Whittaker explained how she works with her patients’ NFP charts.

“I’m trained to interpret this NFP data that women collect and I use this to understand women’s health issues,” she said. “And sometimes the treatment does include surgery.”

She told viewers that they can “think of this as plastic surgery of the pelvis.” 

“NaProTechnology surgery treats the underlying condition to restore health, instead of masking symptoms with birth control, for example,” she emphasized.

On a more personal note, she said she first encountered NFP “the hard way.”

“When I was young, I had shame and resentment of my cycles and fertility and I ended up on the pill,” she revealed. When she learned about NFP, “everything changed.” 

The “science is really what brought me into this and opened my eyes to the beauty of fertility,” she said.

She called the timing providential.

“God timed this in a pivotal moment in my life when I was in the middle of medical school,” she said. “And it changed my entire career path, to pursue NaProTechnology.” 

She felt called to “give the incredible gift of fertility appreciation and healing to women to empower them.”

Motherhood only strengthened her conviction, she said.

“This coincided with my path to becoming a mother,” she said. “And then my becoming a mother led me to become even more passionate, to help give that gift of motherhood to other women.” 

For more information about NFP, go to the U.S. bishops web page, or Whittaker’s Instagram, which offers additional resources for couples who are interested.

Recently CNA Newsroom podcast spoke to Catholic couples dealing with infertility. Listen to the episode here:

Ecuadorian bishops congratulate their country's first woman to win an Olympic gold medal

Neisi Dajomes. Credit: Ecuadorian Olympic Committee.

Quito, Ecuador, Aug 2, 2021 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

The Ecuadorian bishops congratulated on Twitter Neisi Dajomes, the country’s first woman to win gold in the Olympics, for her victory: "Thank you for infecting us with your enthusiasm and joy! God bless you!"

Dajomes, 23, won the gold medal in weightlifting in the 76 kg category (the lifter’s body weight)) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Aug. 1.  The athlete said, “this medal is thanks to God.”

The 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021, but retain the original year to avoid confusion as the games are held every four years.

Dajomes is the third Ecuadorian athlete to win a gold medal for Ecuador, following Richard Carapaz in cycling in Tokyo in July this year; and Jefferson Pérez in race walking in Atlanta in 1996.

The Ecuadorian Olympic Committee relayed on Twitter these words from Dajomes: "I went through a hard time, I lost my mother and recently my brother Javier Palacios, for whom I am here, and all my achievements are dedicated to their memory."

"I thank my country for the good vibes they sent me ... This medal is thanks to God," she added.

Dajomes told the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio that losing her mother and brother "have been trials God put me through to get here.”

NY archdiocese warns priests not to grant religious vaccine exemptions


Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2021 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of New York has instructed priests not to grant religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that doing so would contradict the pope.

“There is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine,” stated a July 30 memo from the archdiocese’s chancellor, John P. Cahill, to all pastors, administrators, and parochial vicars in the archdiocese.

“Pope Francis has made it very clear that it is morally acceptable to take any of the vaccines and said we have the moral responsibility to get vaccinated. Cardinal Dolan has said the same,” the memo stated.

By issuing a religious exemption to the vaccine, a priest would be “acting in contradiction to the directives of the Pope and is participating in an act that could have serious consequences to others,” the memo stated.

A screenshot of the memo was circulated on social media this weekend. CNA confirmed the memo’s accuracy with the archdiocese and with a priest of the archdiocese on Monday.

In a television interview in January, Pope Francis said, “I believe that, ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.” In a December 2020 note, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” The Vatican congregation acknowledged “reasons of conscience” for those refusing a vaccine.

Vaccine mandates have begun to be announced at places of employment in the United States. The Catholic health care network Ascension will mandate coronavirus vaccination for employees, physicians, volunteers, and vendors, although it has promised some health-related and religious exemptions.

Some Catholic institutions have stated their support for conscience exemptions to vaccine mandates, or have provided materials for individuals with religious objections to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The National Catholic Bioethics Center lists a form letter on its website for individual Catholics seeking religious exemptions from vaccine mandates.

“The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a person may be required to refuse a medical intervention, including a vaccination, if his or her informed conscience comes to this sure judgment,” the letter states, adding that the Church “does not prohibit the use of any vaccine, and generally encourages the use of safe and effective vaccines as a way of safeguarding personal and public health.”

The Catholic Medical Association, a national network of Catholic doctors and health care workers, stated on July 28 that it “opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment without conscience or religious exemptions.”

The New York archdiocese’s memo began by acknowledging the “sincere moral objection” of some individuals to receiving COVID-19 vaccines, “due to their connection to abortion.”

“This concern is particularly acute among people who are strongly pro-life and very loyal to the teaching of the faith,” the memo stated.

The archdiocese further stated, “Any individual is free to exercise discretion on getting the vaccine based upon his or her own beliefs without seeking the inaccurate portrayal of Church instructions.”

Priests, however, “should not be active participants to such actions” by granting religious exemptions, the memo stated.

“Imagine a student receiving a religious [vaccine] exemption, contracting the virus and spreading it throughout the campus. Clearly this would be an embarrassment to the archdiocese. Some even argue that it might impose personal liability on the priest,” the memo said.

Currently, three vaccines have been given an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – those produced by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. While all three vaccines were tested on cell lines derived from elective abortions decades ago, only one of the vaccines – Johnson & Johnson – was directly produced using the controversial cell lines.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has stated that the use of the vaccines with connections to the questionable cell lines is “morally acceptable,” but that Catholics should seek “ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines” when available.

In its December 2020 note, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith further stated that vaccination must not be mandatory.

“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent,” the congregation stated.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has stated that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use.

“[I]f one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen,” the USCCB said in March. “Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”