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Pope: Stop the war in the Middle East, don't allow it to spread

In a message to Muslims for the conclusion of Ramadan, Pope Francis shares his desire for peace in Palestine, Israel, Syria and Lebanon and appeals to all men and women of goodwill to not “allow the flames of resentment, driven by the ominous winds of the arms race, to flare up", calling on leaders to stop the fighting and prevent a possible spread of the war.

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El Paso bishop criticizes Texas border efforts, laments ‘anti-immigrant’ rhetoric

Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso speaks at the “Responding to Changing Realities at the U.S. Border and Beyond" conference, hosted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic University of America on April 11, 2024. / Credit: Photo courtesy of The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 12, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso criticized a Texas law that increases the state’s role in deterring illegal immigration to the United States and denounced “anti-immigrant” rhetoric that he said is rising in the country’s two major political parties.

Seitz, who chairs the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), commented on the Lone Star State’s new law during an immigration conference jointly hosted by the Catholic University of America and the USCCB. The April 11 event was titled “Responding to Changing Realities at the U.S. Border and Beyond.”

SB 4, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in December 2023, makes illegal border crossing a state crime and allows state police to arrest people who enter the United States illegally through Texas. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has sued the state over the law based on allegations that it usurps the federal government’s authority to enforce laws related to immigration. 

“We’re concerned that this leads to profiling — racial profiling as well,” Seitz said. “It puts fear into every immigrant no matter what their immigration status may be.”

The bishop questioned the constitutionality of the law and how it could be effective without the cooperation of Mexican authorities. He further argued that the law threatens the right to seek asylum by denying the “opportunity to be processed … to see if their claims to asylum are legitimate or not.” 

“[We] hope and pray the courts will not cave to the political pressure,” Seitz said.

During his discussion at the conference, the bishop was critical of “anti-immigrant” rhetoric and approaches to policy, which he said now exists in “both parties.” He claimed the media has “misrepresented” the situation at the border, which he said has also stoked anti-immigrant sentiment.

“You’re not going to see chaos [at the border],” Seitz said. “You’re going to see lots of fences and wires and things like that.”

The bishop, who works with migrants and hosts a shelter on his property in the diocese, spoke positively of the individuals with whom he has interacted. 

“I meet these people every day,” Seitz said. “They’re some of the most peaceful, patient family-oriented people I’ve ever met.”

Speaking to CNA following his remarks at the conference, Seitz said the Catholic Church provides a “beautiful balance” for ensuring the dignity of migrants is respected and that countries can maintain their borders. 

“The Church says nations have a right to a border and they have a right and a responsibility to control their border,” the bishop explained. “So we don’t have a problem with that.” 

Seitz said, however, that the answer cannot be “to close off the possibility of a legitimate flow across the border.” 

“People have a right to migrate when there is a need,” the bishop added. 

Other speakers at the conference echoed similar concerns about policy and rhetoric. 

Father David Hollenbach, a Jesuit priest and research professor at Georgetown University, cited messages in Scripture about welcoming strangers and argued that the United States has a moral obligation to assist migrants and refugees because the country has the capacity to help in a way that poorer countries do not. 

“These people are created in the image and likeness of God,” Hollenbach said during a panel discussion. 

Another speaker, Sister Sharlet Ann Wagner, executive director of the Newcomer Network at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., branch of Catholic Charities USA, said during a panel discussion that politicians are “using immigrants as political footballs.” 

Although Wagner acknowledged that some local communities have “unanticipated costs” when dealing with the influx of migrants, she said most are of prime working age and desire to work. 

“This is an investment that will pay off,” Wagner said.

Although the conference focused mostly on an obligation to assist migrants in coming to the country, some Catholics have expressed a more cautious approach to the influx of people who have entered the country between official ports of entry.

Chad Pecknold, a professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, who was not a part of the conference, told CNA that the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas on immigration provide “a sound and reasonable guide for these discussions.” 

Referencing Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae,” Pecknold recalled that the doctor of the Church “teaches that while hospitality should be offered to the wayfarer passing through, political communities must ensure that those ‘entering to remain’ demonstrate a commitment to the customs, language, religion, and mores of their commonweal.” 

“Every human being having dignity does not immediately and obviously supersede the sovereignty of nations,” Pecknold added. “Statesmen have a sacred duty to safeguard the political common good of their country, and this will sometimes mean restricting who can legally enter and remain in their countries,” he noted.

Pope Francis to travel to Indonesia, Singapore, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on March 22, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Apr 12, 2024 / 06:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will travel to the Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Singapore later this year, the Vatican announced Friday.

The 11-day multi-country voyage from Sept. 2–13 will be the longest international trip of Francis’ papacy.

The trip announcement comes after the 87-year-old pope has slowed down his travel schedule in recent months as health issues have forced him to cancel some public appearances. Francis, who often uses a wheelchair, has not traveled internationally since September 2023.

Indonesia

Pope Francis’ first stop will be Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population in the world. The country’s 229 million Muslims make up more than 12% of the global Muslim population. Nearly all of Indonesia’s Muslims are Sunni.

Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta welcomed the news that the pope will visit Indonesia from Sept. 3–6.

“Catholics throughout Indonesia want to shake hands with the pope one by one, but we all know that is impossible,” Suharyo said in a video message announcing the visit.

More than 29 million Christians live in Indonesia, 7 million of whom are Catholic. Pope Paul VI visited the country in 1970 and Pope John Paul II traveled there in 1989.

“Hopefully, with this visit, Indonesian Catholics will become more courageous in voicing the truth and become an example for people of other religions in terms of truly religious life, namely love above all, as the pope always emphasizes,” the Indonesian cardinal told UCA News.

Papua New Guinea

Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit Singapore, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea after John Paul II.

The pope will visit the cities of Port Moresby and Vanimo in Papua New Guinea from Sept. 6–9.

Papua New Guinea is a country of nearly 9 million people on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. The other side of the island consists of two Indonesian provinces. Papua New Guinea is a nation of considerable cultural diversity, comprised of hundreds of ethnic groups indigenous to the island with 851 Indigenous languages spoken in the country.

Nearly all Papua New Guinea citizens are Christians, and 26% of the population is Catholic.

East Timor

The pope’s next stop on his Southeast Asia tour will be Dili, the capital city of East Timor, from Sept. 9–11.

East Timor is a small country on the island of Timor. It gained independence from Indonesia in 1999, following decades of bloody conflict as the region vied for national sovereignty.

More than 97% of East Timor’s population of 1 million people is Catholic. It is one of only a few Catholic-majority countries in Southeast Asia.

A Catholic bishop from East Timor, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, received the Nobel Peace Prize together with the country’s second president, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta, in 1996 for their efforts to reach a peaceful and just end to fighting in the country.

The Vatican confirmed in 2022 that Belo has been under disciplinary restrictions since September 2020 due to accusations of sexual abuse of minors.

Singapore

Pope Francis will conclude his trip with a visit to the island country of Singapore from Sept. 11–13.

Singapore has the highest GDP per capita in Asia and the second-highest population density of any country in the world. The Archdiocese of Singapore has a diverse population of 395,000 Catholics, offering Masses predominantly in English, Chinese, Tamil, as well as other languages from Southeast Asia.

Nearly 75% of Singapore’s population is ethnic Chinese, according to the 2020 census, which also lists 13% of the population as ethnic Malay and 9% ethnic Indian.

The U.S. Report on International Religious Freedom states that among ethnic Indians in Singapore, 57.3% are Hindu, 23.4% Muslim, and 12.6% Christian. The ethnic Chinese population includes Buddhists (40.4%), Christians (21.6%), Taoists (11.6%), and 25.7% with no religion.

Pope Francis has long expressed interest in visiting Indonesia and other neighboring island nations in Southeast Asia. A papal trip to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said that the pope’s full schedule for this apostolic journey will be published at a later date.

New film about writer Flannery O’Connor shows ‘God can deliver his grace in any way’

Maya Hawke as American writer Flannery O'Connor in the 2024 film "Wildcat." / Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A new film depicting the life of American writer Flannery O’Connor, whose work reflected her Catholic faith and frequently examined questions of faith, morality, and suffering, will be released in theaters on May 3. 

"Wildcat" follows O’Connor as she struggles with a lupus diagnosis at age 24, the same disease that took her father’s life, and dives into an exploration of beliefs. Actress Maya Hawke portrays O’Connor, and her father, Ethan Hawke, directed, co-wrote, and produced the film.

The inspiration for the movie came from Maya Hawke, who created a monologue from entries in O’Connor’s “Prayer Journal” for an audition for Juilliard, to which she was accepted. After performing her monologue for her family, they were blown away. She said that ever since, she’s had a personal connection with O’Connor and eventually asked her father to help her make the movie.

Executive producer Eric Groth, a Catholic and the CEO of Renovo Media Group and president of ODB Films, told CNA in an interview that he was drawn to the movie because “we [his company] really love to bring beautiful, good, and true stories front and center and that certainly focus on things of a Catholic nature.”

“I hadn’t read a lot of Flannery, I had read a little bit, but I was very intrigued by her and who she was and how important she was in the 20th century as an author,” he added. “And I was very fascinated by the fact that there hadn’t been a lot of things produced about her or her stories.”

However, what attracted him the most to the film was the “family element.” 

“I love that Ethan and Maya were doing something as a father and daughter and even Ethan’s wife, Ryan, was one of our lead producers and all of Ethan’s other kids found their way into the film as well,” Groth said.

Groth pointed out that he believes this story is important to tell today because “the culture can really learn from her.”

“I think she had a really great ability to converge all her faith with what she was living out in her day,” he explained.

The producer shared that in his eyes, O’Connor “kind of flips grace on its head. We kind of put God in a box and think if God is going to deliver grace it’s going to come through this really nice channel … I think Flannery says, ‘Look, God can deliver his grace in any way, any time, any fashion.’”

He continued: “People need to know that God is there, God is present, and we can look and see that God’s grace comes from all different things.”

Groth hopes that viewers will “walk away with a tremendous appreciation” for the 20th-century Gothic-style writer.

“She saw the messiness of the world, and that messiness — God is in the midst of it, that God enters into it and that our lives are messy,” he said. “I want people to walk away seeing somebody who saw that and understood it. I want them to walk away seeing a young woman who suffered terribly from a disease that ultimately took her life, but that she pressed on.”

He added that he hopes the audience will see that “we’re called to seek that relationship with God and it’s going to be difficult at times, but also that we can be victorious and that we can look to see how God’s going to deliver grace to us in all kinds of ways.”

Watch the trailer for “Wildcat” below.

Many Ukrainians without power after deadly Russian strikes

Authorities say hundreds of settlements in Ukraine are without power after Russian drone and missile strikes that killed at least five people.

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Pontifical Biblical Commission wraps up annual plenary assembly

Suffering and illness in the Bible were the main themes of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Biblical Commission which concluded on April 12, a day after an audience with Pope Francis.

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A sad day

Our Editorial Director comments on the European Parliament vote on the inclusion of the right to abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

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Archbishop Paglia: EU Parliament vote on abortion favors strong over the weak

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has criticised a recent decision of the EU Parliament to include access to abortion in the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights as "a step backward culturally," saying it prioritises self-interest over community welfare.

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Solemn proclamation of Jubilee set for Ascension Thursday

Pope Francis is set to preside at the celebration of Holy Mass for the Solemnities of the Ascension, Pentecost, and the Most Holy Trinity, with the latter also being observed as the first World Day of Children.

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Pope grants indulgences for participants in Eucharistic Revival

The Apostolic Penitentiary, acting on a mandate from Pope Francis, issues grants of indulgence for participants in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and the National Eucharistic Congress, taking place in the United States this summer as part of the National Eucharistic Revival.

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