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Get serious about human rights for people with Down syndrome, Vatican tells UN

New York City, N.Y., Mar 21, 2018 / 05:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The promotion of targeted abortion and other practices mean U.N. member states and agencies are not serious about protecting people with Down syndrome, the Holy See’s representative to the United Nations has said.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza on March 20 decried “the eugenic trend of ending the lives of the unborn who show some form of imperfection.”

Despite international conventions protecting the disabled, including their right to life, “so many members of the international community stand on the sidelines as the vast majority of those diagnosed with Trisomy-21 have their lives ended before they’re even born,” the archbishop said in a side event at the U.N. in New York City.

“Rather than stop it, some in the international community are abetting it,” he charged.

He cited a U.N. Human Rights Committee member who said during an official meeting that if a woman is told her unborn child has Down syndrome or some other permanent handicap, “it should be possible for her to resort to abortion to avoid the handicap as a preventive measure.” Defending those with disabilities, this committee member said, “does not mean that we have to accept to let a disabled fetus live.”

“Is such a position consistent with the U.N.’s concern to leave no one behind and to protect the rights of those with disabilities?” the archbishop asked.

Archbishop Auza heads the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, which sponsored a side event to for World Down Syndrome Day ahead of its March 21 observance.

The side event, held during the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, considered questions such as “Are girls and boys with Down Syndrome being left behind?” and whether homes, rural villages and cities have room for those with Down syndrome.

Auza cited then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s March 21, 2012 remarks reaffirming that people with Down syndrome are entitled to full human rights and freedoms.

“Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down Syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others,” Ban said. “Let us build an inclusive society for all.”

According to Archbishop Auza, Pope Francis has countered eugenic trends targeting the unborn by advocating authentic love.

“(N)ot that false, saccharine and sanctimonious love, but that which is true, concrete and respectful,” the Pope said in Oct. 21, 2017 remarks. “To the extent that one is accepted and loved, included in the community and supported in looking to the future with confidence, the true path of life evolves and one experiences enduring happiness.”

Archbishop Auza cited a U.S. television show’s claim that Iceland was on the verge of “eliminating” Down syndrome, meaning the elimination of people with Down syndrome. The show said 100 percent of parents of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome chose abortion. This is almost the case in other countries, a phenomenon which some critics have called “genocide.”

“Here at the United Nations there is much sincere talk and normally passionate action to fight against any form of discrimination,” Auza said, specifically citing work to end discrimination against women and the disabled. The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he noted, seeks to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities,” including those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

“But as firm as these commitments are in principle, in practice many states, U.N. agencies and members of civil society tolerate gross violations of these commitments,” he lamented. “The international community says that it wants to leave no one behind and to defend the rights and equality of women and girls, for example, but then refuses to do anything when data show that the youngest girls are being systematically discriminated against in the womb, as in the case of sex selective abortion.”

The archbishop cited studies that indicate up to 160 million unborn girls have been targeted for abortion.

“The inconsistency, however, is even more pronounced when we turn to what is happening with those prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome,” he said.

The Holy See’s permanent observer mission co-sponsored the event with the Pujols Family Foundation, the Center for Family and Human Rights, the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, and the film “Summer in the Forest,” which will be released soon.

How one organization helps the Church welcome Catholics with disabilities

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2018 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Around 14 million Catholics in the U.S. are living with a disability.

Since 1982, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) has been working to make sure those Catholics are welcomed as members of the Church and have opportunities to participate in the faith.

“The goal of NCPD is to ensure that people with any disability…can actively and meaningfully participate in the faith by using their gifts and interests,” said Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

“By virtue of baptism, everyone belongs to the body of Christ, and our work is to make sure that we are doing that with the proper attitude and spirit to make sure everyone can feel at home in their parishes,” she told CNA.

The organization works in in a variety of ways to “affirm the dignity of every person,” Benton said.

For example, they support people with Down syndrome by supporting campaigns that fight against discriminatory legislation, such as disability-selective abortions, while also working with individuals with Down syndrome as they prepare for sacraments and take an active part in the their faith.

“We remind church communities that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are agents of evangelization and people gifted in their own right,” Benton said.

Founded in light of the 1978 document, “Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops of People with Disabilities,” the group has been promoting the pastoral guidelines for individuals with disabilities, particularly through access to the sacraments and Church life.

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability is a collaborative organization made up of various councils to serve people who live with physical, intellectual, sensory, mental or emotional disabilities. They also partner with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop Kurtz serves as their episcopal moderator.

“We work very closely with the bishops and the offices at the USCCB,” Benton said, noting that the bishops currently do not have a disabilities office, so the NCPD plays a huge role in this area.

One of the organization’s primary tasks is working closely with publishers to provide resources for catechists and leaders who are working directly in faith formation, but they also are involved in a number of different councils and speaking engagements around the nation.

The ministry provides catechesis, resources, spirituality and awareness building tools, trainings, conferences, and ministry models to dioceses throughout the country, and additionally offers online tools such as YouTube training videos.

“We are really set up to support the people in the dioceses, and even directly in parishes, to provide the support, resources, and training that the church might need,” Benton said.

She noted that the NCPD played a major role in the revision to the “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments,” which now aids priests, catechists and Church leaders in preparing the proper reception of the sacraments for individuals with disabilities.

While primarily ministering in the U.S., the disability resource group also works internationally with the Vatican and other groups. Esther Garcia, the outreach director for organization, said that she works with minorities, such as Asian, African, and Hispanic groups within the Church.

“The NCPD is working to ensure we are meeting the needs of families with disabilities in the Hispanic community,” Garcia said.

“We are all children of God…and it is our responsibility as a Church to provide resources and ways to ensure that [those with disabilities] have ways to receive the sacraments,” Garcia continued.

Moving forward, Benton told CNA that they are currently working on an app for sacramental preparation and Mass attendance for people with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

“We are always trying to develop resources that can easily be made available.”


Boko Haram frees most schoolgirls abducted last month

Kano, Nigeria, Mar 21, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, terrorist group Boko Haram returned at least 76 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped in a raid last month.

More than 30 girls are still missing, some of whom are allegedly still being held, while others have reportedly died, possibly of thirst, according to reports from the New York Times.

On Feb. 19th, Boko Haram raided a girls’ technical school in Dapchi, a small town in northeastern Nigeria. Witnesses said the militants stormed the school and herded 110 students into trucks and drove away.

Father Maurice Kwairanga, who coordinates the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) for the Nigerian Diocese of Yola, told CNA last month that in the wake of the kidnapping, “deep sorrow has descended on the once sleepy…town” of Dapchi.

Residents of Dapchi told the New York Times that they were “very, very happy” for the return of so many of the schoolgirls.

They added that when the militants dropped off the girls, they gathered several residents around them to warn them that the girls should not be allowed to return to school.

Of the girls still being held by the militants, sources told the New York Times that one of them, Leah Sherubu, is a Christian who has refused orders to convert to Islam.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group based in northeastern Nigeria. The group launched an uprising in 2009 hoping to impose strict sharia law on the country. It has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, targeting security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. In 2015, the group pledged allegiance to ISIS.

The group has carried out numerous attacks, suicide bombings, and kidnappings in recent years, including a 2014 raid during which militants abducted 276 schoolgirls. Of those girls, dozens have been freed, though more than 100 are still missing.

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari said on Twitter that the recent release of the Dapchi girls came as a result of “backchannel” negotiations and that no ransom was paid.

The government has faced harsh criticism in the wake of the Dapchi kidnapping, and Fr. Kwairanga told CNA last month that while Buhari campaigned on a platform of eradicating terrorism, confidence in the government is “waning.”

According to the New York Times, advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls expressed relief at the return of the Dapchi girls, but added that they want the negotiations surrounding their release investigated.

The latest group of freed Chibok girls were released in May in exchange for as many as six suspected militants who were not identified, though some reports say the militants were high-ranking commanders in Boko Haram. There are also rumors of a large ransom paid, which critics fear could encourage more kidnappings.

Pope Francis has assured Nigerians of his prayers and recently met with a Boko Haram abduction survivor in a private audience. Nigerian Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme has also urged the world to pray the rosary for an end to Boko Haram’s violence.


Sacraments are the best spiritual armor – Bishop Olmsted

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 21, 2018 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a Lenten reflection, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said spiritual war needs spiritual amor, and the best armor is accessed through the sacraments.

"The sacraments, then, are the armor of choice in this spiritual war," he wrote in a March 20 column at the Catholic Sun.

“Through them, Jesus continues to heal, to forgive, to strengthen and to sustain us in our fight against the devil and his minions."

He said this spiritual war is a crucial battle, where the devil and his demons are determined to attack the souls of the faithful. Pointing to the ideology of secular culture, he said the devil's hostility can be seen in society's view on sin, heaven, hell, and repentance.

"This spiritual war against the devil and his minions has crucial consequences in our daily life with an outcome that determines our eternal destiny. The devil does all in his power to destroy the work of God in us."

This is a great and dramatic battle for souls, he said, and it needs the help of a God who encounters Christians in the present with living sacraments. But Catholics must be willing to embrace sacramental grace with the proper disposition, he said.

Taken from the Latin term sacramentum, he said the word originally referred to an oath Roman citizens would swear upon entering the military. He said, as soldiers, the men promised to defend the empire from from whatever force threatened it.

Likewise, Christ promised to accompany his Church, he said. "In a distinct way, he fulfills this promise through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. So, whenever a sacrament is celebrated, Christ is there to fight along our side for our salvation."

However, he said the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of Catholics, who should receive these rites with repentance and faith.

"A sacrament can be validly given and received but still may not be fruitful. Sadly, it is an outcome that seems to be widespread today."

“Repentance from any attachment to sin is essential to conduct one’s life in harmony with the purpose of the Sacraments, i.e. to increase divine life within us. Therefore, renunciation of sin and the devil is essential for receiving the true spiritual values of the Sacraments.”

And where faith is strong there is transformation, but where faith is dismal the fruits will be vague, he said.

"When we participate with sincere faith in prayer and the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of Scripture and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we do so with greater awareness and expectations of encountering the living God, an encounter that changes us for the better."

Bishop Olmsted expressed hope that Catholics may finish this Lenten season with spiritual fruit and a freedom from evil.

"During Holy Week we will be reminded of the battle that our Lord waged and is still waging in us members of his Mystical Body. May this season of Lent be a time to free our spiritual life from the evil one. And may the fruits of the great spiritual struggle - sacrifice, prayer, fasting and the witness of our faith - hasten the coming of the Kingdom of God."

Bishop, five priests arrested in Brazil, accused of embezzling Church funds

Brasilia, Brazil, Mar 21, 2018 / 01:58 pm (ACI Prensa).- A Catholic bishop, five priests and other administrative officials in the Brazilian state of Goiás have been arrested on accusations of embezzling more than two million reales (about $600,000) from the Catholic Church.

Bishop José Ronaldo of the Diocese of Formosa was among those arrested March 19, as part of operation “Caiaphas.” Among other findings, the operation discovered 70,000 reales (about $21,000) in cash in a cabinet with a false bottom. The cabinet belonged to Fr. Epitácio Cardoso Pereira, in the Planaltina township.

In wake of these developments, Pope Francis on March 21 appointed the Archbishop of Uberaba, Paulo Mendes Peixoto, as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

According to prosecutors, the embezzled money comes from tithes, donations, stipends for baptisms and weddings from churches. Authorities said the diversion of money has been going on since 2015 when the bishop took possession of the Diocese of Formosa.

Judge Fernando Oliveira Samuel said that the money “was systematically diverted by order of José Ronaldo and also approved by the rest of the clerics.”

According to authorities, legal wiretaps suggested that Bishop Ronaldo and four other priests purchased a ranch to raise livestock and a store where lottery tickets are sold.

“In addition to that, it is possible that the vehicles acquired by the diocese were intended for Fr. Moacyr Santana’s personal use in the city of Posse,” the judge added.

The public prosecutor in charge of the case, Douglas Chegury, said that similar irregularities occurred when Bishop Ronaldo was in the Diocese of Janauba.

Authorities began investigating the current case in December 2017 when members of the faithful complained that monthly expenses for the bishop’s residence had gone from 5,000 reales ($1,520) to 35,000 reales ($10,600) since Bishop Ronaldo assumed the diocese.

Consequently, the local faithful requested an open disclosure of the diocesan accounts. When the bishop refused, they said they would boycott church collections until the measure was taken.

Bishop Ronaldo claimed at the time that there were  "no improprieties" and that he did not take any of the money collected.

ACI Digital, the Portuguese language sister agency of CNA, repeatedly sought the reaction of the Diocese of Formosa but did not receive a response by press time.

The Secretary General of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Leonardo Steiner, issued a press release March 20 stating that “In face of the jailing of the bishop of the Diocese of Formosa in Goiás State, the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference expresses its solidarity with the clergy and faithful of the diocese, reminding the brother bishop that justice is to abandon oneself, trusting in the merciful will of God.”

“The truth of the facts must be established with justice and transparency, considering the good of the particular church and the bishop,” the conference said.

The bishops of Brazil asked ”all the faithful of the Church to remain united in prayer to be true witnesses to the Gospel.”