Cardinal Nichols & Archbishop Tartaglia joint statement to mark anniversary of Abortion Act

In a rare joint statement, the presidents of the Catholic Bishops’ conferences of both England and Wales and Scotland are marking the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act by noting the deep prevailing unease over its implementation while calling for a new discussion grounded in respect for the intrinsic value of life. 

The anniversary of the Royal Assent of the 1967 Act falls on Friday 27th October. Since then, there have been more than 8m abortions in the UK, many of them of disabled babies. 

Statement on Abortion

This statement, published by the Catholic Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland is addressed primarily to the Catholics of our countries, but more broadly to all people who seek to uphold the dignity of human life and protect the unborn child. The anniversary of the 1967 UK Abortion Act provides an opportunity to reflect on abortion through the experiences of women and families over the past 50 years, in light of medical and social advances and the ethical issues involved.

1. The 50th Anniversary of the Abortion Act

The Abortion Act was passed fifty years ago, in part to address the problem of illegal abortions. In 2015 alone, in England and Wales, 185,824 abortions took place. In Scotland, in the same year, there were 12,134. Even despite the concerns raised at the time, it would, perhaps, have been difficult to predict that the number of abortions in our countries would have increased to such an alarming level. With this, there has also been a significant broadening and interpretation of the grounds on which abortions can be carried out. In spite of these statistics, few truly consider that abortion is desirable or the best solution to a pregnancy which may be challenging on account of many different possible factors. Indeed, there is widespread unease among many people who recognise that a woman’s decision to have an abortion carries with it tragic consequences. At the same time, there are strong voices that advocate a woman’s choice. Together, these different views express something of the complexity and dilemmas surrounding abortion and its legislation.

2. What does it mean to choose?

Over these last fifty years, we, the Catholic Bishops of Scotland, England and Wales, have spoken consistently in favour of the intrinsic value of human life and of the good of the child in the womb and the good of the mother. The lives of both are precious, valued and to be protected. This position differs considerably from that of those who hold that the freedom to choose in the question of abortion must focus on the good of one of these lives alone.

During these fifty years, the appeal to freedom of choice in our society has become increasingly centred on the resolution of dilemmas and difficulties according to their emotional impact and our immediate desires. This is a very narrow understanding of choice which ignores any reference to more fundamental values. In this, a subjective desire is often claimed to be a rightful choice. This inadequate interpretation has become a dominant factor which shapes our society’s conversation about marriage, gender, family and indeed abortion. Following slogans is never a firm basis for good decisions. Rather, we hold that such decisions require a grounding in good formation and sound perspectives which both adhere and aspire to important truths about what is genuinely good.

In making choices, we should always seek to do that which upholds human dignity in the service of human life. Our choices should be the fruit of mature consideration, fully informed of the consequences and implications of our action. We have the gift of free will and also the capacity and responsibility to exercise it well, unless something inhibits our freedom. Good decisions and choices are difficult to make if we are under pressure, frightened, alone, and deeply unsure about what to do.

Each individual’s choice must take into account the wider ramifications of their decisions which, inevitably, have a profound effect beyond the person making them. In the case of abortion, decisions and choices need to acknowledge the duty to cherish human life and to foster its flourishing beyond the circumstances of any one person, however challenging these may be.

3. Recognising the difficulty of decisions

Deciding to have an abortion is a grave decision. The process of decision making occurs in diverse circumstances and is influenced by different considerations: a perceived threat to mental or physical health; not knowing how to cope with the situation of being pregnant; being alone or pressurised; not knowing where your support will come from; the diagnosis of disability for the child in the womb; knowing that a child will bring extra financial burden on already stretched means. The issue of abortion not only has consequences for mothers, but also affects fathers, both in terms of taking responsibility to protect and care for the children they have conceived and in coping with the impact of abortion. In such situations, the capacity to exercise choice can be compromised with a consequent limitation on a person’s moral culpability.

Echoing the teaching of Pope St John Paul II, in his letter The Gospel of Life, paragraph 99, Pope Francis has written of those who have had an abortion:

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonising and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.” (Letter to Archbishop Fisichella for the Year of Mercy, 1 September 2015)

Both Popes, however, recognise the burden of guilt that often accompanies the decision to destroy a human life in the womb. Both speak insistently of the unfailing mercy of God for all who turn to Him in repentance and with a desire for forgiveness. As Pope St John Paul II said:

“If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.” (The Gospel of Life, paragraph 99)

4. The Intrinsic Value and Worth of Every Human Life

The 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the truth about the dignity of human life and the vitality and potentiality of the child in the womb. The Church’s consistent affirmation that human life begins at conception emphasises this unique beginning of human existence. The challenge that faces our society today is to recover an understanding of the immeasurable good of each unborn child and to value his or her life with even greater respect.

A particular contradiction occurs in relation to the legislation permitting the abortion of an unborn child diagnosed with a disability.  The law of the United Kingdom permits the abortion of a child with disability up to birth and stands in stark contrast to the protection and respect shown to people who experience disabilities after they are born. The past fifty years have witnessed a deepening of society’s respect and understanding for people with disability, and legislation has helped disabled people achieve fulfilling lives. The witness of those who compete in the Paralympic games shines out as a way in which people with disability excel and compete, using their gifts to the full. We hope that greater reflection and consistency in the approach to unborn children with disabilities will lead to a change in understanding, with greater protection provided through new legislation.

In comparison with 1967, the prenatal care of unborn children has improved remarkably. Indeed, the survival and healthcare of premature babies has seen significant medical breakthrough and advances. We hold in high esteem all those who dedicate their lives to serving in antenatal and special care baby units for their commitment to nurturing human life in its early stages.

The 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act invites further reflection on how women are supported and helped during pregnancy. In comparison with fifty years ago, our society and Church have a much greater acceptance of single mothers, and often provide assistance for those who need it. Much more, however, needs to be done.

We recognize that there has also been an erosion of respect for those with conscientious objections against abortion. This has affected members of the medical and healthcare professions who face increasing difficulty in being able to combine their dedicated professional work with their personal conviction. So much talent is being lost to important professional areas. Personal conscience is inviolable and no-one should be forced to act against their properly formed conscience in these matters. This is something which needs greater debate in our society. Most recently we have witnessed the possibility of pharmacists losing their right not to dispense abortifacients if it is against their conscience or religion.

5. Learning to respect life

Parents and educators in schools have a particular duty to help shape the values and attitudes of children and young people. Against the dominant cultural trend that often sees abortion as being about “the right to an obvious and free choice,” there is an urgent need to teach about the inviolability of human life, from conception to its natural end, and to help everyone appreciate the value of every human life, without exception.

We thank those generous young people who strive to promote pro-life values. They are a real encouragement and inspiration, in the Church and in society. It is vitally important for young people to gain a deep understanding of the meaning of human sexuality and the place of the sexual relationship as an expression of love within marriage. We know that formation in chastity helps young people to flourish in a mature and genuine way. The Church’s continuing work in developing programmes of Love and Relationships Education will help young people to appreciate the beauty of a sexual relationship in the context of marriage, and the gift of parenthood as a vocation in the Lord.

6. Giving thanks and looking ahead

We have the highest regard for every woman who, in difficult and adverse conditions, has made the courageous decision to continue her pregnancy and give birth to her child. We thank the charities, and those who donate to them, for their solidarity and support.

It is our desire and aim that those who face agonising decisions surrounding pregnancy should be fully informed of both the positive alternatives which would enable them to keep their child and the tragic consequences of abortion.

We are grateful to all those who work through our political system to protect human life from the moment of conception. We urge those who seek to reform the current abortion legislation to continue their good work.

We are aware that people of all faiths, and of many different convictions, uphold the duty to protect the unborn child. This 50th anniversary needs to bring about a new debate to change attitudes towards human life in the womb, to promote what it means to make good and authentic choices, and to protect and care for mothers and their children.

As Catholics, we urge that, throughout our countries, prayer and fasting be used for the protection of human life, especially for life within the womb, for all expectant mothers, for fathers and families. We ask the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St Raymund Nonnatus, the patron saint of childbirth, midwives, children, pregnant women.

Let the final word come from Pope Francis, preaching in 2005 on the Feast of St Raymund, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires:

“All of us must care for life, cherish life, with tenderness, warmth…to give life is to open our heart, and to care for life is to give oneself in tenderness and warmth for others, to have concern in my heart for others. Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing…So, go forth and don’t be discouraged. Care for life. It’s worth it.”

Vincent Cardinal Nichols, president, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales & Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president, Bishops’ Conference of Scotland

23 October 2017 

ENDS

Posted in abortion

Who could be on the new pathway to sainthood?

Chiara Petrillo

[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis yesterday declared a third category of holiness recognizable by the Catholic Church that could have far-reaching consequences for the way sainthood is viewed in the contemporary age.

In his motu propio or papal edict dated July 11, entitled Maiorem Hac Dilectionem — “Greater Love Than This” — Francis defines a new class of saint:”Those Christians … who …have offered their life voluntarily and freely for others and have persevered in this to death.” The title of the edict — so far available only in Latin and Italian — comes from Jesus’ words in John 15:13, that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.

The pope writes: “It is certain that this heroic offering of life, suggested and sustained by charity, expresses a true, full and exemplary imitation of Christ and, therefore, is worthy of that admiration which the community of the faithful have usually reserved for those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.”

It is the first major change to sainthood procedures in centuries. Until yesterday there were two categories of sainthood, and a third way of declaring holiness without the need of either category.

The two usual categories — into which virtually all saints recognized by the Church fall — are martyrdom (in which a person is killed out of odium fidei, or hatred of the faith) and virtue, that is, a person whose life that displays the virtues of Christian life to a heroic degree. Both of these require documentary evidence and proof of miracles.

The third is not a category of sainthood, but a process, known as an “equipollent” or “equivalent” canonization, in which the pope can bypass the usual processes and procedures and simply declare a person to be a saint because, in effect, he can be absolutely sure he or she is. Pope Benedict declared Hildegard of Bingen a saint, as did Pope Francis with Peter Faber, without the need for a process because the People of God recognize them as such (See CV Comment).

Fr Mychal Judge

What Francis has done now is to introduce a third category of holiness: neither a martyr nor someone who displays heroic virtue but who freely volunteers their life to save others. There are three essential criteria:

  1. There must be “the free and voluntary offering of life and the heroic acceptance out of charity of certain death in a short term” as well as “a link between the offering of life and the premature death.
  2. There must be the “practice of the Christian virtues, at least to an ordinary degree, before the offering of one’s life, and then until death”.
  3. There must be the fame and signs of sanctity after death, and therefore the need for a miracle as a result of his or her intercession.

The edict is the result of a longstanding discussion within the Congregation of Causes for Saints, which carried out an in-depth study of the new proposal in early 2014. After extensive consultation, the cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes approved the new measure in 2016.

Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, congregation secretary, said the addition is meant “to promote heroic Christian testimony, (that has been) up to now without a specific process, precisely because it did not completely fit within the case of martyrdom or heroic virtues.”

What kind of testimony could the edict cover? Archbishop Bartolucci gives the example of Christians who willingly put their lives at risk by, for example, serving people with highly infectious diseases, and then dying of that disease.

Another example might be Chiara Petrillo, a 28-year-old Italian woman who refused treatment for carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, while pregnant because it would have risked the life of her unborn child. She died in 2012, nearly a year after giving birth, when the cancer had become terminal and treatment was ineffective.

Or there is Fr Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar and New York Fire Department chaplain who rushed to the scene of the twin towers following the 9/11 attacks, and was the first recorded death that day.

Blessed Oscar Romero

At Crux, John Allen gives the example of two Catholic missionaries killed in Burundi in 2011, Croatian sister Lukrecija Mamić and Italian layman Francesco Bazzani. They were not killed out of odium fidei — in fact, the killers were likely to have been Catholics also — but because they were in the way during the robbery of a convent.

But despite the dangers, lawlessness and phenomenal risks involved in choosing to live in that corner of Burundi, says Allen, “they  chose to stay there, among some of the world’s most forgotten and exploited people, because their faith compelled them to do so. To use the language made popular by Pope Francis, they risked their lives, and ultimately gave them up, to serve victims of a “throw-away culture” on the peripheries of the world.”

Allen points out that the new edict also cuts through a longstanding difficulty with many of the martyrdom cases, which involve examining often mixed or dubious motivations on the part of the killer.

Thus the cause of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador slain at the altar in 1980 after speaking out against the army’s repression of the poor, was for a long time held up by those who argued that his death was the result of political disagreement, rather than “hatred of the faith” (again, Romero’s killers were Catholics, at least culturally).

Another example given by Allen: when St John Paul II canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest who volunteered to take the place of a stranger in the Auschwitz death camp in 1941, some theologians and canonists objected on the grounds that Kolbe wasn’t put to death for his religious convictions. When John Paul canonized him in 1982, he termed the Polish priest a “martyr of charity”, which is a good name for the new category of saint Francis has now declared.

In short, says Allen, Francis “may have untied a theological knot that’s long hobbled efforts to venerate the memory of contemporary victims of anti-Christian persecution.”

In reminding the world that love for others is the primary feature of any saint, Francis has also put self-sacrificial giving at the heart of the Christian witness. The men and women he will be raising to the universal altars alongside the martyrs and the heroically virtuous are a sign of contradiction to the ethic of autonomy and the me-first obsessions of our culture.

Posted in Pope Francis, saints

Cardinal Nichols on Finsbury Park mosque attack: “I am appalled”

Following a brutal attack on Muslims leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park last night that left one dead and ten injured, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, today said:

Together with people all over this country I am appalled at the deliberate attack on people leaving their late night prayers, as the end of their day of fasting, at the mosque in Finsbury Park. I have assured the leadership of the Mosque and the Muslim Welfare Centre of our prayers and support.

Violence breeds violence. Hatred breeds hatred. Every one of us must repudiate hatred and violence from our words and actions. We must all be builders of understanding, compassion and peace, day by day, in our homes, our work and our communities. That is the only way.

The cardinal is adding his voice to that of other religious leaders (see Guardian here). The prime minister, Theresa May, said this morning: “This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship and like all terrorism, in whatever its form, it seeks to drive us apart. We will not let this happen.”

Posted in Cardinal Nichols

Pope Francis message for first ‘World Day of the Poor’

(At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy in November last year, Pope Francis in his message ‘Misericordia et Misera‘ instituted a World Day of the Poor to be marked on the 33th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which this year is 19 November. Ahead of that day, the Vatican today issued this, the Pope’s first message, in which he urges that, in the week before that Sunday, parishes and other Christian communities “make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” with the poor.)

Pope Francis with homeless guests for birthday breakfast, December 2016 (Photo: Greg Burke).

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the First World Day of the Poor

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, 19 November 2017

Let us love, not with words but with deeds

1. “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).  These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard.  The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.  Love has no alibi.  Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.  The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly.  It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).

Such love cannot go unanswered.  Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins.  Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour.  In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.

2.  “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him” (Ps 34:6).  The Church has always understood the importance of this cry.  We possess an outstanding testimony to this in the very first pages of the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter asks that seven men, “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (6:3), be chosen for the ministry of caring for the poor.  This is certainly one of the first signs of the entrance of the Christian community upon the world’s stage: the service of the poor.  The earliest community realized that being a disciple of Jesus meant demonstrating fraternity and solidarity, in obedience to the Master’s proclamation that the poor are blessed and heirs to the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3).

“They sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).  In these words, we see clearly expressed the lively concern of the first Christians.  The evangelist Luke, who more than any other speaks of mercy, does not exaggerate when he describes the practice of sharing in the early community.  On the contrary, his words are addressed to believers in every generation, and thus also to us, in order to sustain our own witness and to encourage our care for those most in need.  The same message is conveyed with similar conviction by the Apostle James.  In his Letter, he spares no words: “Listen, my beloved brethren.  Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor man.  Is it not the rich who oppress you, and drag you into court? … What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?  Can his faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body; what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead’ (2:5-6.14-17).

3. Yet there have been times when Christians have not fully heeded this appeal, and have assumed a worldly way of thinking.  Yet the Holy Spirit has not failed to call them to keep their gaze fixed on what is essential.  He has raised up men and women who, in a variety of ways, have devoted their lives to the service of the poor.  Over these two thousand years, how many pages of history have been written by Christians who, in utter simplicity and humility, and with generous and creative charity, have served their poorest brothers and sisters!

The most outstanding example is that of Francis of Assisi, followed by many other holy men and women over the centuries.  He was not satisfied to embrace lepers and give them alms, but chose to go to Gubbio to stay with them.  He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion: “When I was in my sins, it seemed a thing too bitter to look on lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them and I showed them mercy.  And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of mind and body” (Text 1-3: FF 110).  This testimony shows the transformative power of charity and the Christian way of life.

We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience.  However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.  Our prayer and our journey of discipleship and conversion find the confirmation of their evangelic authenticity in precisely such charity and sharing.  This way of life gives rise to joy and peace of soul, because we touch with our own hands the flesh of Christ.  If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist.  The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.  Saint John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: “If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness” (Hom. in Matthaeum, 50.3: PG 58).

We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude.  Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.

4. Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.  It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20).  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal.  Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness.  Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace.  Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).

Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty.  Precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor.  If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization.  At the same time, I ask the poor in our cities and our communities not to lose the sense of evangelical poverty that is part of their daily life.

5.  We know how hard it is for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is.  Yet in myriad ways poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration.  Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money.  What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few, and generalized indifference!

Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world.  Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned.  There is a poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work.  There is a poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favours.  There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive.  To all these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.

All the poor – as Blessed Paul VI loved to say – belong to the Church by “evangelical right” (Address at the Opening of the Second Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, 29 September 1963), and require of us a fundamental option on their behalf.  Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: they are hands that bring hope.  Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality, and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity.  Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange, with no “ifs” or “buts” or “maybes”: they are hands that call down God’s blessing upon their brothers and sisters.

6. At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need.  To the World Days instituted by my Predecessors, which are already a tradition in the life of our communities, I wish to add this one, which adds to them an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.

I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.  They are our brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father.  This Day is meant, above all, to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter.  At the same time, everyone, independent of religious affiliation, is invited to openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity.  God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded.

7. It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, which falls this year on 19 November, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.  They can invite the poor and volunteers to take part together in the Eucharist on this Sunday, in such a way that there be an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the following Sunday.  The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha, when the Innocent One, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates and reveals the fullness of God’s love.  Jesus’ complete abandonment to the Father expresses his utter poverty and reveals the power of the Love that awakens him to new life on the day of the Resurrection.

This Sunday, if there are poor people where we live who seek protection and assistance, let us draw close to them: it will be a favourable moment to encounter the God we seek.  Following the teaching of Scripture (cf. Gen 18:3-5; Heb 13:2), let us welcome them as honoured guests at our table; they can be teachers who help us live the faith more consistently.  With their trust and readiness to receive help, they show us in a quiet and often joyful way, how essential it is to live simply and to abandon ourselves to God’s providence.

8. At the heart of all the many concrete initiatives carried out on this day should always be prayer.  Let us not forget that the Our Father is the prayer of the poor.  Our asking for bread expresses our entrustment to God for our basic needs in life.  Everything that Jesus taught us in this prayer expresses and brings together the cry of all who suffer from life’s uncertainties and the lack of what they need.  When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he answered in the words with which the poor speak to our one Father, in whom all acknowledge themselves as brothers and sisters.  The Our Father is a prayer said in the plural: the bread for which we ask is “ours”, and that entails sharing, participation and joint responsibility.  In this prayer, all of us recognize our need to overcome every form of selfishness, in order to enter into the joy of mutual acceptance.

9. I ask my brother Bishops, and all priests and deacons who by their vocation have the mission of supporting the poor, together with all consecrated persons and all associations, movements and volunteers everywhere, to help make this World Day of the Poor a tradition that concretely contributes to evangelization in today’s world.

This new World Day, therefore, should become a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers, allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel.  The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.

From the Vatican, 13 June 2017

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua

Posted in Pope Francis, Pope Francis address, poverty/poor

Bishops issue voter guidelines ahead of ‘pivotal’ general election

[Austen Ivereigh] In advance of what they describe as a “pivotal” general election on 8 June, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued their customary considerations to help voters decide in conscience whom to vote for, suggesting 10 issues to raise with their local candidates.

As always, the bishops urge everyone with a right to vote to do so. They say: “Please do vote. Your vote is a matter of conscience. It is your judgement about all that God wants of us, both personally and as a society.”

But in their pastoral letter to be read in all parishes this Sunday, the bishops turn to Pope Francis’s magna carta, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, to draw out general considerations to guide voters’ thinking at this time. They stress the importance of leaving this earth in a better state than we found it, of bolstering families as the primary vehicle of God’s mercy, as well as human fraternity and solidarity.

Noting how “these broad principles impact directly on many of the practical issues being debated at this time” the bishops  point to what they call “a pivotal moment in the life of our nations as we prepare to leave the European Union”, observing that the outcome of the election will help to determine the shape not only of Brexit but of post-Brexit Britain’s place in the world — including whether the Kingdom itself remains united.

The bishops stress in particular ten issues.

On Europe, they flag the rights of UK citizens following Brexit, as well as human and workers’ rights in future trade deals. On migration and asylum they urge a “fair migration system” that is “respectful of the unity of marriage and family life” and ask future governments to commit to and expand the UK’s current pledge to take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

They also urge political support for efforts to fight modern slavery and assist its victims, and say they want to see the parties committing to helping poorer countries and to assisting religious, including Christian, minorities facing persecution abroad.

The bishops also ask for candidates to protect the family and oppose euthanasia, urge urgent prison reform to deal with the unprecedented levels of suicide and violence, and call for action to help those in poor housing and struggling to make ends meet. The bishops of England and Wales also urge support for Catholic schools as part a commitment to parental choice in the education of their children.

They conclude the letter with a prayer: “Lord grant us wisdom to act always with integrity, seeking the protection and flourishing of all, and building a society based on justice and peace.”

The Catholic bishops’ letter, which can be downloaded in PDF here, follows the pastoral letter issued over a week ago signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

They, too, stress the significance of the historical moment, arguing that the election takes place “against the backdrop of deep and profound questions of identity,” and offers a rare opportunity “to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country and a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

A recent study by St Mary’s University in Twickenham suggests that the decline in Anglicanism has “stabilized” on the back of an upsurge in patriotism which has made it more acceptable to own up to being Christian.

Last Sunday the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, pre-empted the bishops’ conference pastoral by issuing his own ten-point election letter which differs substantially from it. The letter makes no mention of Pope Francis, Europe or asylum and immigration, but asks of candidates: “How will they strengthen Britain’s Christian patrimony, its history, classics and values, whilst curbing fundamentalism in its various forms, scientific and religious, and promoting a fruitful dialogue between faith and reason?”

In Scotland, meanwhile, Catholic bishops have also penned a letter to be read at all 500 Catholic churches there. According to a preview summary sent out today by the Scottish Catholic media office, the bishops say society will be judged on how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

The letter highlights life, marriage and family, poverty, asylum, and religious freedom, while urging Catholic voters to “remind our politicians that abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are always morally unacceptable.” The bishops will also ask voters to ensure their candidates are “committed to the right of people not to be forced to act against their conscience.” The letter concludes: “Our nation, our Parliament, and our Government will be judged on how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Posted in General Election 2017

Cardinal Nichols calls for ‘prayer, solidarity & calm’ after Westminster terrorist attack

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who is Archbishop of Westminster and president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, said this morning:

Yesterday’s attacks in Westminster have shocked us all. The kind of violence we have seen all too often in other places has again brought horror and killing to this city.

I know you will lead people in prayer, especially for those who have lost their lives and those who have lost one they love. Pray for Aysha Frade, killed by the car on Westminster Bridge. Her two children attend St Mary of the Angels Primary School. Pray for them and for their father. And please remember the young French students who have been injured.

We remember too all who have been injured, and those who care for them.

We pray in particular as well for Keith Palmer, the police officer who died, and for his family, thanking God that so many show such brave dedication to keeping our society safe.

Let our voice be one of prayer, of compassionate solidarity, and of calm. All who believe in God, Creator and Father of every person, will echo this voice, for faith in God is not a problem to be solved, but a strength and a foundation on which depend.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has sent a message to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, assuring the nation of his prayers.

Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack in central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy.

Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, His Holiness invokes divine strength and peace upon their grieving families, and he assures the nation of his prayers at this time.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Secretary of State

Posted in terrorist attacks