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Under financial pressure, Rockville Centre diocese sells pastoral center, closes several schools

St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, New York. Credit: Nassau Crew via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

Rockville Centre, N.Y., Apr 15, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

In the wake of bankruptcy filings, the Diocese of Rockville Centre in March announced the sale of its $5.2 million pastoral center to help pay creditors. It also announced the closure of three more grammar schools on Long Island, noting additional financial troubles from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Father Eric Fasano, the diocese’s vicar general, the move from the pastoral center will save costs.

“The sale and our relocation will have no effect on our ministry. In fact, the operating efficiencies that will result are expected to free resources that can be directed to those with the greatest need,” Fasano said March 26.

The property at 50 North Park Avenue in Rockville Centre includes a five-story building and a parking lot with space for about 58 cars. It has been sold to Synergy Holding Partners LLC.

The diocese had begun marketing the building in 2018 after it determined it was no longer cost effective. The diocese said it does not currently use all the space in the building. It plans to move to offices better suited to its needs.

The sale was approved by the bankruptcy court. All proceeds from the sale will go exclusively to creditors, the diocese and the official committee of unsecured creditors have agreed.

The diocese will remain in the building until Aug. 31.

In October 2020 the diocese announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after more than 200 new clergy sex abuse lawsuits being filed against the diocese. Bishop John Barres said the diocese would not be able to carry out its spiritual, charitable, and educational missions if it had to shoulder “the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases.”

New York State’s 2019 Child Victims Act allowed for sex abuse lawsuits to be filed in past cases where survivors had not yet taken action, long after the statute of limitations had expired.

The coronavirus pandemic and accompanying restrictions have decreased diocesan revenues by as much as 40%, The NonProfit Times reports.

Last month the diocese announced the closure of three schools at the end of the current school year, saying the pandemic and its effects placed “significant burden” on schools that were already struggling.

Saint Raymond School, founded in 1927, was run by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the campus of the parish of Saint Raymond in East Rockaway. Enrollment in nursery school through eighth grade had declined 49% to 130 students at the start of the 2020 school year. Last school year was subsidized by $330,000 from the parish and the diocese.

Saint Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead was founded in 1950 and originally run by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its enrollment in nursery school through eighth grade now stands at 209, a decline of 35% over five years. It relied on a $1 million parish subsidy in the last five years to stay open, plus another $272,000 from the parish and the diocese in the 2019-2020 school year.

Saint Christopher School in Baldwin has been staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph since 1925. Its student enrollment of nursery school through eighth grade fell 41 percent from 2015, totaling only 179 students at the start of the 2020 school year.

Despite the parish efforts to manage costs, school operations needed a $350,000 subsidy each year.

Sean P. Dolan, the diocese’s director of communications, said March 16 that the diocese is “deeply saddened” by the closures. Dolan said enrollment declines and the effects of the pandemic on parish offertory collections and school fundraising mean that it is not feasible to keep the schools open.

“The Diocese of Rockville Centre thanks the dedicated and committed principal and teachers, both lay and religious, who have taught in these schools,” he said.

The diocese said students from the closed schools would be welcomed into other schools.

The three schools add to seven other grammar schools that have closed in the past year because of declining enrollments.

The diocese still operates over 30 parish and regional elementary schools. According to 2018 figures on the diocese’s website, over 13,700 students were enrolled in Catholic elementary schools in the diocese and over 10,500 enrolled in nine Catholic high schools. The enrollment figures include Catholic schools not run by the diocese.

The diocese’s territory on Long Island includes the counties of Nassau and Suffolk. It serves some 1.4 million Catholics out of 3 million residents, one of the largest dioceses by population in the U.S. The diocese has about 130 parishes.

‘Refugee resettlement has effectively been halted’: Catholics implore Biden to accept more refugees

Syrian refugee family at a camp in Passau, Germany - August 2015 / Jazzmany/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic organizations expressed dismay that the United States this year could admit the lowest number of refugees in decades. 

According to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that assists refugees, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the United States in the current fiscal year. Although President Biden promised to raise the limit on the number of refugees accepted by the United States, he has yet to issue the final orders to implement that.

In February, Biden pledged to raise the refugee cap to 62,500 - nearly four times the current cap of 15,000. 

While he included that number in a proposed Presidential Determination - part of the administrative process for allowing refugees to come to the United States - he has yet to issue a final version of the determination. Catholic groups told CNA that they want Biden to issue a final determination. 

Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee, told CNA on Wednesday that he is “absolutely” disappointed with the Biden administration on refugee admissions.

“We are very disturbed that without a presidential determination, refugee resettlement has effectively been halted,” Canny said. 

“We know that there were hundreds of refugees prepared to come to the United States,” he added, but with no determination issued yet, “those refugees are not moving.”

Canny said that he is “certainly disturbed” by the slow pace of refugee resettlement. He said it is “not clear” why Biden has not made refugee resettlement a priority. 

Canny told CNA that he believes the United States can easily welcome additional refugees - and that it is the duty of a Catholic to do so. 

“We believe as the Catholic church that we need to do our part to welcome these people to our country,” Canny said. “And we are prepared certainly as a Church in the United States to assist and support refugees that the government allows into the country.”

Catholic Relief Services has also pushed for Biden to increase the United States’ refugee intake.

“We urge the administration to issue a formal Presidential Determination meeting its stated objective of increasing the number of refugee admissions this fiscal year,” Bill O’Keefe, Catholic Relief Services’ executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy, told CNA on Wednesday. 

O’Keefe noted that refugees are “fleeing war, persecution and extreme violence,” and “often lack access to adequate healthcare, housing, food and water” - conditions which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The U.S. handpicks refugees who resettle here, and they go through multiple layers of interviews and security checks,” said O’Keefe.  “As the world’s most prosperous nation, we should be doing as much as possible to help refugees, including resettling our share of the most vulnerable.”

Biden in February issued an executive order stating goals of reforming the refugee assistance program and increasing the number of refugees accepted to 125,000 per year.

“President Biden’s Executive Order sends a message loud and clear: refugees are welcome in the United States of America,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated after the order was issued.

The Trump administration progressively lowered the ceiling for refugee acceptance to the record-low of 15,000 for the 2021 fiscal year, and reportedly admitted fewer than 12,000 refugees in 2020. 

After vandalism, Houston parish welcomes back refurbished Our Lady of Guadalupe statue

Our Lady of Guadalupe. / Sacred Heart Cathedral Knoxville via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2021 / 12:53 pm (CNA).

A Catholic parish in Houston held an inauguration ceremony this week for a refurbished statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that had been vandalized late last year.

The ceremony, held April 11, was attended by parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church. The statue was adorned with flowers, ABC13 news reported.

In December of 2020, the Our Lady of Guadalupe statue was shot with at least six bullets, reported parishioners. Witnesses of the attack said the perpetrator was wearing a black hat and a red suit.

In early February, the statue was repaired and brought back to its home.

“Good morning brothers and sisters in Christ,” a February 2 Instagram post from the Queen of Peace Catholic Church account read. “Please be advised that the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe is now back at QOP. Thank you all so much for your prayers and may our Lord God bless you and bless the hands that repaired her.”

The attack follows a string of other vandalism incidents this year.

On Saturday March 13, Saint Joseph’s Parish on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. was vandalized with graffiti.

In early January, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Catholic Church in Abbeville, La., was attacked in a similar manner. A statue of Saint Therese of Lisieux was found spray-painted on with an upside-down cross, the word ‘satan’, and a pentagram.

In early February three angel statues at St. Pius X Church in El Paso were found toppled over and broken.

Soon-to-be-beatified Italian woman pioneered faith-based feminism

Armida Barelli. / Archdiocese of Milan

Rome, Italy, Apr 15, 2021 / 12:11 pm (CNA).

Armida Barelli, a lay Catholic leader who formed “generations of conscious and motivated women” in the faith, will be beatified after the Church approved a miracle attributed to her intercession.


Born in Milan in 1882, Barelli came of age at a time when Italy’s first secular feminists emerged from the women’s suffrage movement, adding calls for divorce rights and more non-religious schools to their campaigns.

She served as president of the National Girls Youth of Catholic Action for more than three decades, helping young women to be formed in “a Eucharistic spirituality” and to recognize their equal “baptismal dignity” with men, according to the vice postulator for her sainthood cause, Ernesto Preziosi.

“She had a unique way of enhancing ‘the feminine genius’,” Preziosi said.

“Ultimately, hers was not a feminism seen in the wake of the secular and socialist movements then present; for her and for the young women gathered in the National Girls Youth of Catholic Action, the dignity and freedom of women had a spiritual foundation, nourished by formation,” he said in an interview with CNA’s Italian-language sister news agency, ACI Stampa.

“In fact, she mobilized thousands of young women -- without following in the footsteps of secular feminism which was then in the process of spreading -- helping them to find their baptismal dignity and substantial freedom with recognition of equal dignity with men, all rooted in a Eucharistic spirituality,” he said.

Barelli was raised in an upper class family in Milan, where she was educated by Ursuline nuns in primary school before being sent to a boarding school in Menzingen, Switzerland run by the Francsican Sisters of the Holy Cross.

She refused multiple advantageous marriage proposals arranged by her parents, feeling drawn instead to dedicate herself to the Lord and serving the poor, particularly orphans and children of prisoners.

Under the spiritual guidance of Franciscan Fr. Agostino Gemelli, Barelli discerned a lay vocation as a Third Order Franciscan in 1910.

Blessed Cardinal Andrea Ferrari, the archbishop of Milan, asked her to help found the city’s Catholic women’s chapter of Catholic Action and then recommend her abilities to Pope Benedict XV.

At first, Barelli did not especially want to accept her archbishop’s invitation to lead the women’s group, Preziosi said. “But then noticing the difficulties with which the young women lived at that time, she accepted the challenge and went on to work tirelessly, reaching unimaginable results … in the formation of the Catholic laity.”

Barelli met with Pope Benedict XV in 1918 for a private audience in which he appointed her as president of National Girls Youth of Catholic Action.

Serving in that role from 1918 to 1946, Barelli formed “generations of conscious and motivated women,” Preziosi said.

Known as Ida to her friends, Barelli had an strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which helped to spread among the Catholic women she encountered.

“For her, the Sacred Heart is the 'Heart of the King', the merciful love of Christ, which invests every human action,” Preziosi said.

“She lived her faith with ever greater depth, a faith that led to an encounter with Christ himself, loved and present. It is a faith that is simple and strong at the same time, lived as a response to the call of the Lord,” he said.

Barelli went on to help found the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, collected a fund to open an orphanage in northern China, and founded the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ together with Fr. Gemelli.

She died in 1952 after suffering for three years from a progressive chronic illness. Barelli’s cause for sainthood was opened by the Archdiocese of Milan in 1960. Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed her Venerable in 2007 in recognition of a life of heroic virtue.

On Feb. 20, 2021, Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to Barelli’s intercession, paving her upcoming beatification.

The miracle involved the healing of Alice Maggini, who was hit by a truck while riding her bicycle in 1989 in Prato, Italy after which the doctors predicted severe neurological repercussions.

Maggini’s family invoked the intercession of Barelli, who was then a Servant of God, and Maggini was completely healed in a scientifically inexplicable way and did not suffer any later consequences of the injury up until in death in 2012.

The current president of Italy’s Catholic Action, Matteo Truffelli, welcomed the news that Barelli will soon be declared a “Blessed.”

“Traveling down unexplored paths in the proclamation of the Gospel, Armida met thousands of young women, arousing in all of them a creative, daring, courageous and enthusiastic faith, and stirring in them the desire to involve many other people in this mission,” Truffelli said.

“In the diocesan associations of Catholic Action, there have been and still are numerous examples of women like Armida, who have continued her legacy over the years by carrying on with contagious enthusiasm their ‘elder sister’s’ work of evangelization.”

Preziosi said: “The testimony of Armida Barelli is that of a Christian laywoman who takes her life in hand, who loves the Church, who allows herself to be questioned by her time and spends her entire life proclaiming the love of God, which she saw in the Sacred Heart. A woman who, serving a great ideal, shows us the way to a conscious Christian vocation.”


Pope Francis to Brazil's bishops: the Risen Christ is 'our strength, our unity'

Pope Francis at his general audience address in the library of the Apostolic Palace April 7, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Apr 15, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday encouraged Brazil’s bishops to be united to each other and to their faith in the risen Christ, who will help them get through the COVID-19 situation in their country.

“Our faith in the risen Christ shows us that we can get through this tragic moment. Our hope gives us courage to get up. Charity urges us to cry with those who cry and to give a hand, especially to those most in need, so that they smile again,” Pope Francis said in an April 15 video message to the general assembly of the Brazilian bishops’ conference.

“It is possible to overcome the pandemic, it is possible to overcome its consequences. But we will only succeed if we are united,” he added.

Brazil has had over 13.6 million total coronavirus cases, and is ranked third in the world for number of cases, after the United States and India.

The health secretary of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state, has warned that a collapse of the healthcare system “is imminent,” as cases surge in the country, and the supply of intubation drugs to sedate patients is expected to run out, according to Reuters.

Brazil has recorded almost 362,000 deaths due to the virus.

In his video message to Brazil’s bishops, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to those mourning the loss of a loved one.

“Young and old, fathers and mothers, doctors and volunteers, holy ministers, rich and poor: the pandemic has excluded no one in its wake of suffering,” he said.

He noted that some bishops in Brazil have died from COVID-19.

“I ask God to grant the deceased eternal rest and to give comfort to the afflicted hearts of the relatives, who many times have not even been able to say goodbye to their loved ones,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also emphasized that the “proclamation of the victory of the Lord Jesus over death and sin still resonates among us. The Easter announcement is an announcement that renews hope in our hearts: we cannot give up!”

“As we sing in the Easter Sunday Sequence: ‘Life and death fought in a singular battle / and when life is dead, he rises triumphant,’” he said. “Yes, dear brothers and sisters, the one who has succeeded is by our side! Christ has conquered! He has conquered death! Let us renew the hope that life will triumph!”

The pope recalled something he said during his visit to Brazil in 2013, when he referred to the story of Our Lady of Aparecida.

“I commented that this image that was found broken could serve as a symbol of the Brazilian reality,” he said.

Quoting his 2013 speech to Brazil’s bishops, he said, “What was separated regains unity ... In Aparecida, from the beginning, God gives us a message of recomposing what is separated, of reuniting what is divided. The walls, ravines and distances, which also exist today, are destined to disappear. The Church cannot neglect this lesson: the Church must be an instrument of reconciliation.”

The mission of the Church in Brazil is to be an instrument of reconciliation and unity, Francis stated, urging the bishops to put aside their divisions and disagreements.

“It is necessary to find ourselves in the essential. With Christ, through Christ and in Christ, in order to be able to rediscover ‘the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace (Eph 4,3),’” he said.

He said only by uniting themselves with Christ will pastors be able to inspire the Catholic faithful, other Christians, and all men and women of goodwill.

“Always Jesus! There is our base, our strength, our unity.”

Anthony Fauci, Chelsea Clinton to speak at Vatican health conference

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, conducted by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, at the White House Jan. 21. / Alex Wong / Getty Images

Vatican City, Apr 15, 2021 / 11:39 am (CNA).

Anthony Fauci, Chelsea Clinton, and Deepak Chopra are among the featured speakers at a Vatican conference being held in May on the interplay of mind, body, and soul in healthcare.

The Vatican announced the conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation April 15.

“Exploring the Mind, Body & Soul: How Innovation and Novel Delivery Systems Improve Human Health,” will take place virtually May 6-8.

It will feature the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, along with celebrities active in medical philanthropy, global health advocates, policymakers, physicians, and religious leaders.

The Vatican conference’s website lists more than 100 speakers including Kerry Kennedy, Cindy Crawford, John Sculley, Brandon Marshall, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for Communications.

“Together, they will focus on advances in medical innovation and seek to catalyze the creation of new, interdisciplinary approaches and partnerships for curing disease and improving health, wellbeing and understanding human uniqueness,” the conference website states.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will co-host the summit with Monsignor Tomasz Trafny and Robin Smith, president of the Cura Foundation and author of “Cells are the New Cure.”

A statement sent out by the Holy See Press Office said that the conference organizers will also promote a roundtable on “Bridging Science and Faith” that will explore “relationship of religion and spirituality to health and wellbeing.”

“The discussion will deal with the deeper meaning of human existence and seek areas of convergence between the humanities and the natural sciences,” it said.

This is the fifth international health conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the CURA Foundation. The fourth conference, “United to Cure,” hosted at the Vatican in 2018 had Katy Perry, Deepak Chopra, and Peter Gabriel as speakers.

The first conference in this series took place in Vatican City in 2011 and focused on advances in adult stem cell research.

This year will be the first time that it is taking place completely online. The Vatican announcement said that priests, pastoral healthcare workers, and students from pontifical and Catholic universities worldwide are invited to participate in the conference.

Archbishop Gomez: Gospel is the answer to the 'new religion' of secularism

Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2021 / 10:21 am (CNA).

True social justice is rooted in the Gospel and not in a secular materialist vision, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles told Catholic activists on Thursday.

“We are followers of Jesus Christ! We are not liberals or conservatives. The Church is not a political party and we are not activists. We are Catholics,” the archbishop told Catholic activists in Minnesota at a virtual conference.

Archbishop Gomez, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, delivered his remarks virtually on Thursday for Minnesota’s “Catholics at the Capitol” Day, hosted by the state’s Catholic conference.

Speaking to Catholics who are advocating for public policies at the state capitol, Gomez said that Catholics must present the Gospel as an alternative to an “aggressively secular” culture that replaces religion with politics.

Pope Francis, he said, has warned against “reductive anthropological visions” that diminish human dignity. Gomez added that these visions are manifested in some “critical theories and ideologies” today.

“Even though America has become very secular, the religious impulse has not died. In fact, among our cultural and political leaders and some of our neighbors, politics has become their new religion,” Gomez said.

Subsequently, he said, “our politics have become so cruel and uncompromising, and so lacking in mercy and hope.” Even “well-intentioned” secular policies of social justice cannot lead to true human flourishing, he noted.

“Without God, our politics is reduced to a kind of power struggle among competing interests,” he said. “And sadly, as we know, it is always the poor and vulnerable who are left to suffer at the hands of the powerful and privileged.”

In contrast to this secular vision, the Church cannot act like a non-governmental organization, but must rather be informed by the Gospel with Catholics living lives of faith and prayer.

“Our vision for social justice is distinctive. It is distinctive because we believe that the human person is a child of God, and because we believe that God has beautiful plan of love for every human life,” he said.

“In the Catholic vision, social justice is not about personal identity, or group power, or getting more material goods,” he said.

“True social justice is about building a society where people can be good, a society where people can love one another and take care of one another, where they can find God and know that they are made for heaven. And true social justice can never be obtained without simple human kindness, compassion, and forgiveness,” he said.

Gomez’s address was originally scheduled to be delivered to an in-person gathering. However, Thursday’s event was held virtually due to local unrest following the shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20 year-old Black male, by a Minneapolis police officer on Sunday.

Wright was pulled over by police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. As the reason for the traffic stop, police claimed he was driving a car with expired tags; officers subsequently tried to arrest him upon discovering he had an outstanding arrest warrant.

After Wright resisted arrest and entered his car, former officer Kim Potter shot him – claiming that she had intended to fire her taser instead. Wright drove several blocks, attempting to evade police, before crashing and dying at the scene of the crash.

The officer, Kim Potter, resigned this week and has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Four days of protests ensued after the killing of Wright, with local authorities imposing a curfew and the state deploying the National Guard. Meanwhile, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is currently on trial for the killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

Addressing Thursday’s gathering, Archbishop Gomez offered his prayers for peace and justice, for the families of those involved in the shooting, and for “the whole Church in Minnesota.” The Church is committed to fighting racism, he said.

“Racism, as we all know, is a grave sin, a spiritual disease, and a social injustice. We need to stand together as one Church to eradicate this evil from our own hearts, from the hearts of our neighbors, and from the structures of our society,” Archbishop Gomez said.

Citing Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Gomez said that the Gospel must be the “wellspring” for Catholics in public life.

“If we believe that God is our Father, then we must believe and act as if all men and women are our brothers and sisters,” he said. “If we believe that Jesus died for the love of every person, then we know that ‘no one is beyond the scope of his universal love,’ as the Pope writes.”

However, today’s “aggressively secular” culture seeks to drive this vision out of the public square, he said, noting the “growing censorship of Christian viewpoints on the internet and social media.”

He exhorted Catholics to pray and frequent the sacraments.

“I want to urge you to keep praying and to keep going deeper into the sources of our faith — the Gospels, the writings and lives of the saints, the Eucharist and the sacraments,” he said.

“These are for us, as the Pope says, the ‘wellspring of human dignity and fraternity.’”

Cardinal Parolin: ‘War is the antithesis of fraternity’

Cardinal Pietro Parolin's video message to Climate Adaptation Summit Jan. 25, 2021. YouTube Screenshot.

Vatican City, Apr 15, 2021 / 08:08 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s secretary of state on Thursday encouraged nations to pursue arms control and nuclear disarmament as a means to promote peace and fraternity among all people.

In a video message for an online event on fraternity, multilateralism, and peace April 15, Cardinal Pietro Parolin stated that “it is not rhetorical to say that war is the antithesis of fraternity.”

He said the Holy See strongly encourages States to work toward lasting agreements on disarmament and arms control.

“If the affirmation that we are all brothers and sisters is valid, how can nuclear deterrence be the basis of an ethic of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples?” Parolin stated.

The high-level online event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Order of Malta to the United Nations, the International Catholic Migration Commission, the Pontifical Lateran University, the Caritas in Veritate Foundation and the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs.

Other speakers during the online meeting included heads of UN agencies and international organizations, and Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Cardinal Parolin said in his address at the opening of the event that “the huge sums of money and human resources allocated to armaments make us reflect.”

“The disproportion between material resources and human talents dedicated to the service of death and the resources dedicated to the service of life is a cause for scandal,” he said.

Parolin referenced Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti, which is about human fraternity.

“To fully understand the concept of fraternity and its declination in the multilateral diplomatic action of the Holy See, it may be useful to go back to the start of Pope Francis’s pontificate,” he said.

“It will be remembered that fraternity is the first theme to which the pope referred on the day of his election, more than eight years ago, when he expressed this desire: ‘Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity.’”

According to Parolin, “all the subsequent actions and activities of the Pontificate were a natural and coherent consequence of a path oriented towards this.”

“In multilateral action, fraternity translates into the courage and generosity to freely establish certain common objectives and to ensure the fulfillment throughout the world of some essential norms, by virtue of the Latin phrase pacta sunt servanda,” he continued.

“Today, unfortunately, there is an urgent need to strengthen the dissemination and promotion of respect for humanitarian law,” the cardinal said, explaining that humanitarian law aims to safeguard “essential principles of humanity” in the context of war, which is “inhumane and dehumanizing.”

Humanitarian laws do this, he said, by “protecting the civilian population and banning weapons which inflict suffering as atrocious as it is useless.”

'What I can do is love': This Catholic sister is a missionary to refugees in Greece

Sr. Victoria Kovalchuk with a refugee girl in Athens, Greece in April 2021. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Apr 15, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Sr. Victoria Kovalchuk wanted to be a missionary in South America, but God had other plans for the Catholic convert from Crimea, who is now helping the refugee population in Greece.

“My dream was Brazil,” she said in an interview with EWTN News in Athens. “I didn’t go to Brazil and I think now it will not be [a] big problem if I will not go there because I really fell in love with Greece.”

“And this is the best place for this time which God gave me,” she said. “This is the place where he speaks to me through the country and through the people that I am working [with] every day.”

A Holy Spirit Missionary sister, 38-year-old Kovalchuk and other members of her community serve the refugee and migrant community in Athens together with employees and volunteers of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

She said she has no power to change the physical and political situation of asylum seekers in Greece, “but what I can do is love.”

“I tell them: I came here to be with you in your situation. When you cry, I will be with you. When you laugh, I will be with you. I can show you a little bit of love that I have.”

The sister said she also tries to teach people about the origin of her love, that “Jesus is the one who brought me here, who put this love inside me and [allows] me to leave my family and my country…”

During the refugee crisis of 2015 and 2016, Greece saw the arrival of over 1 million refugees.

While the number of people entering the country in 2020 was drastically lower, there were still over 15,000 new arrivals, mostly from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, at the end of 2019, Greece was hosting over 186,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors. Most of these are on the country's eastern islands off the coast of Turkey.

In 2020, fires at camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos displaced thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom escaped to Athens, taking up refuge in Victoria Square, Sr. Kovalchuk said.

Refugee children play in a square in Athens. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA
<p>Refugee children play in a square in Athens. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA</p>

The square is often called Afghani Park now, after the Afghan refugees who live there. The sister said it is a meeting place for women and children.

“Mostly we are working with the Afghani people, who are Muslims. And of course, also, we have Christians and we have Catholics from Cameroon,” she said.

She does not call them refugees and migrants, she stated. “These are my friends and these are ... the people of God, of my God who created them, who loved them and, of course, I would like them to know him.”

From Crimea to Greece

Kovalchuk was born in Crimea in the 1980s and baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Though her family did not practice the faith, she said there were always signs of God’s presence in her life.

She recalled a specific moment from her childhood, when she borrowed a children’s Bible from the library. She did not want to return it, but knowing she would have to, she started to copy out the Bible stories in a notebook.

Kovalchuk never finished writing down the stories, and, she confessed, she never returned the Bible to the library.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Bibles again appeared on store shelves and in shops and her grandmother bought one.

“And I remember I was so impressed by this book that I used to bring it to the kitchen to open the very first page and start reading,” she recalled.

“I could not understand anything,” she continued. “I closed the book and I said, ‘one day I will read it.’ ... And thanks to God, I have read it and continue to read it. But even through this experience I can see God was somehow close and was already acting in my life.”

The missionary sister discovered the Catholic Church through her love of the French language and culture. When she read French novels, she was introduced to the features and vocabulary of Catholicism.

“So I just wanted to see how the French people pray and what was the Mass and remembering one of the books, even of Alexandre Dumas, I was reading about [the] ‘Te Deum’ and I felt I want[ed] to know what is this ‘Te Deum?’”

Polish girls at her university brought her to their Catholic chapel, where she attended her first Mass on July 8, 2001.

She said she wanted to stay forever. But knowing she had been baptized Orthodox, she at first had doubts about whether it was right to join the Catholic Church.

Kovalchuk came to realize converting was not so much a change -- she still believed in the same God -- as a discovery of something, a deepening of God’s presence in her life through the sacraments.

Soon after becoming Catholic at the age of 18, she began to feel a desire to enter religious life, which she did after finishing university. Before Kovalchuk’s superior asked her to come to Greece, she was serving in Ukraine.

English lessons and rag dolls

When refugees fled the Moria camp on Lesbos after the fires last year, some of them were living for days or weeks in Victoria Square, Kovalchuk said.

She and other volunteers would go there every day to play with the children and to tell the women about the center they run which has showers and a place to wash clothes.

The center also has a shop with free second-hand clothing and a social worker who answers questions and shares other resources for refugees and migrants.

The volunteers and sisters give language lessons in Greek, French, and English. During the COVID-19 pandemic the lessons have been done via video call.

They also offer activities and classes for children, many of whom are not in school, and otherwise do not have things to occupy them.

Sr. Kovalchuk also took up a Ukrainian tradition: making rag dolls called motanka.

“Our refugee kids do not have any toys and nothing to play with. This is actually the best place for my dolls,” she said, estimating that she has made and given out around 500.

The sister recycles leftover donated clothes, those in too poor a condition to be worn, to make her dolls.

She said the kids like to sit with her and watch her make the dolls, or even learn to make them alongside her.

Sr. Victoria Kovalchuk shows off some of the Ukrainian rag dolls she made from old clothes in Athens, Greece. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA
Sr. Victoria Kovalchuk shows off some of the Ukrainian rag dolls she made from old clothes in Athens, Greece. / Alexey Gotovsky/CNA

“They choose different color of the dress, of hair. And I think this is also very important and a little bit, like, therapeutic,” she said, because the children do not have opportunities to make choices in their day-to-day life, even about small things like what they want to wear.

She said, “So for them, it brings a lot of joy even if they can choose their own way, their own style.”

“And when I see the smiles, the happiness of these children who actually have nothing,” she said, “who sometimes are hungry, who cannot come to the shop and can ask, ‘mommy, buy me this doll or mommy, buy me this car. Or give me this or give me that,’ but they are happy with the simple stuff.”

Despite differences in language, culture, and religion, Kovalchuk said she feels respected and appreciated by those she helps

Families she visits will set a table and bake bread or make tea to serve her.

The children, unprompted, will bring her water when the weather is hot, or share their cookies with her. When sitting on the ground, they will bring her a paper bag to sit on.

“And this is very touching and this helps me to see how God takes care of me also through them, although they are different nationalities and different religions,” she described.

“But these kids, they are just satisfied and then they will hug me and then they will kiss me. And this is the best [thing that] I can get as a reward, these signs of love as a response.”

“My journey here started maybe first of all from my need, my personal need to meet and rediscover God again in my life and in my vocation,” the sister said. “And those people they helped me here. So this is mutual: I try to help them in the way that I can, just being with them and then, they help me a lot.”

Members of Congress want a vote to protect abortion survivors – will they get one?

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Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Members of the House are once again trying to bring up a vote on legislation protecting infant survivors of abortions.

On Wednesday, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) filed a discharge petition to force a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act; the bill would require infants surviving abortions to receive the same standard of care as other prematurely-born babies.

Not all states publicize data on abortions. According to one data request from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, reported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, 143 babies survived abortion attempts in the United States between 2003 and 2014; the CDC added that the number may have been an underestimate.

For 2019, Florida reported that two babies survived abortion attempts; between the years 2013 and 2019, 23 babies in Florida were reported to have been born alive during abortions.

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) supports the “Born-Alive” legislation.

“There should be no bill easier for Congress to pass than one that makes clear that killing newborn babies is wrong and will not be tolerated,” stated Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications for the USCCB’s pro-life committee.

“Infants who are born alive after an abortion attempt should be given the same degree of care to preserve their life and health as would be given to any other newborn baby,” Talalas stated.

Members sought to bring up a vote on the legislation in the previous Congress, but Democratic leadership stymied the attempts more than 75 times, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) claimed.

The bill introduced on Wednesday, a version of which was introduced last Congress, requires babies surviving abortion attempts to receive the same standard of care that other children born prematurely would receive. Health care staff present for the botched abortion are required to give the care, and report failure to provide the care to law enforcement.

Failure to give the required care or to report a violation is punishable by fines or up to five years imprisonment under the legislation. Mothers of children who survive abortions and are not resuscitated can have a civil cause of action for the failure to provide the care to their child, and are protected from prosecution under the bill.

In order for the discharge petition to successfully bring up a vote on the bill, however, 218 members need to sign it. In the previous Congress, 205 members – including three Democrats and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) who switched party affiliations in 2019 – signed the discharge petition.

A 2002 law that passed both houses of Congress, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, recognized unborn children as persons but did not include provisions requiring care for infant survivors of abortion.

Cammack is a freshman congresswoman endorsed by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. She recently told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that, while she was in her mother’s womb, doctors advised her mother to have an abortion due to medical risks from the pregnancy.

“She had something inside of her that told her that everything was going to be okay,” Cammack said of her mother’s decision to choose life. “And that, to me, is the most powerful, impactful thing that really has shaped my views on this.”

As of Wednesday evening, 169 members had signed the new discharge petition.