ROME—With so much going on in Rome and the United States of late, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the Catholic Church is a global institution, with priests and missionaries present virtually in every country, and with papal representatives accredited to local governments in over 180 nations.
In the daily grind of breaking news, where Pope Francis and Donald Trump dominate headlines, it’s valuable to take a step back to look at what’s going on around the world, much like the head of the Catholic Church does when he delivers his urbi et orbi blessing directed to the city and the world.
Whether it’s migration, social violence, clerical sexual abuse or the Scouts, different issues have international scope, and sometimes the Church responds to them in a local way.
Immigrants and refugees are suffering in many places, not just the U.S.
In Israel, 14 11-year-old Filipino boys, born in Israel to immigrant workers, are about to be expelled because they don’t have legal residence.
Jesuit Father David Neuhaus, Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, sent a letter to the Minister of the Interior urging him to stop their deportation.
“You have decided that there is no place for them in the State of Israel,” he writes. “These young people were all born here, they speak almost exclusively Hebrew, they consider this country as their homeland and have only a dream: to build their home here, contributing to the development and prosperity of our country.”
In the letter, he speaks of Philippine President Manuel Quezon, under whose mandate the country received more than 1,300 Jews who fled from Europe, saving them from Nazi death camps.
“Dear Mr. [Aryeh] Deri, I am not only commending Mr. Quezon to your scholarly attention but rather am appealing to you as a Jew, as an Israeli and as a human being in the name of 14 eleven-year-old children,” Neuhaus wrote.
The children’s grandparents, he continued, arrived in Israel to take care of the elderly, disabled and sick, doing so with devotion and love.
“Many of them left their elderly parents, disabled and sick relatives, to take care of us,” the priest wrote.
In the United Kingdom, the government has decided to close its program for child refugees stranded in Europe, known as the Dubs scheme for the man who proposed the amendment to the UK’s immigration bill.
The original expectation was that the government would help relocate 3,000 minors who arrived in Europe unaccompanied through countries such as Spain, Greece or Italy. However, only 350 children will be accepted, 200 of whom are already in England.
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said he was “shocked and saddened” at the government’s announcement.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One, the Anglican prelate said that parents don’t “casually wake up one day” and decide that the easiest thing is to send their children off by themselves.
Unaccompanied migrant minors, Welby said, are the symptom of a more extreme situation, and urged for the vulnerability of these children to be recognized: “the alternative is they will be trafficked.”
“It’s not going to stop them being trafficked, and they will end up in brothels, they will end up in places they will be exploited, ill-treated, manipulated and very often finally killed.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster also protested the decision made by the government of Theresa May, saying that by repealing the so-called Dubs Amendment, the Government is seen as “abandoning its statutory and moral duty to take effective action for the protection of vulnerable, unaccompanied child refugees.”
He shared his statement via Twitter:
I urge the Government to work with renewed vigour, internationally and at home, to assist vulnerable child refugees https://t.co/kbjfeuDbBl
— Cardinal Nichols (@CardinalNichols) February 12, 2017
On the first day of the month, hundreds had gathered at the beach in Barbate, a coastal town in the province of Cádiz, Spain, to pray for Samuel, a six-year old child from Congo who received that name after he was found dead late in January.
Gabriel Delgado, director of the diocesan migration section, led the prayer, beginning by reading a message from the bishop of Cádiz y Ceuta, Rafael Zornoza Boy.
“This morning, more than ever, we must wake up from the selfish anesthesia of comfort and individualism that characterizes human relations to unite our strength in prayer and action. Let’s say out loud the word that best expresses what we see and feel: Shame!” Zonroza Boy wrote in his message.
Trying to re-energize a dialogue between the government and the opposition, Pope Francis suggested both parties to hold a meeting in the Vatican this past January. On Friday, members of the opposition said they hadn’t ruled it out.
Soon after, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, of Caracas, said the possibility is no longer on the table because the Church believes the conditions needed for an eventual dialogue are not yet guaranteed.
Talking to a local radio, he said that on Dec. 1 the Vatican had “very clearly” expressed disappointment with the government of President Nicolas Maduro. One of those conditions was the release of political prisoners as a “sign of good will.”
Not only were prisoners not released, but the government actually added names to the long list, including Leopoldo López, one of the most popular politicians in the country, and Antonio Ledesma, mayor of Caracas, the capital city.
On the same day, Veppex, a group for Politically Persecuted Venezuelans in Exile, sent a letter to the pope urging him to abandon the talks because they’re only “strengthening the prevailing dictatorship” governing the country.
They also call the dialogue a “farce” which maintains a regime that “oppresses a people that dies of hunger.”
Due to lack of medicine, Venezuelans are dying in hospitals from curable diseases, from a strong case of the flu to an untreated scraped knee.
During a recent visit to Spain, Archbishop Ubaldo Santana, former head of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, told news weekly Alpha and Omega that “there is already a bloodbath of considerable proportions in Venezuela.”
“We’re talking about 30,000 people murdered a year, and if we don’t manage to find peaceful ways to understand each other, that number can increase,” Ubaldo Santana said.
In addition to the increased violence and lack of willingness to dialogue by the government of Maduro, the local church has increasingly been the target of ideological attacks, a direct response from the appeals made by priests and bishops to put an end to the crisis.
Archbishop Diego Padrón, current president of the bishop’s conference, said that the church will not be intimidated by the attacks. Since Dec. 29, two bishops, a monastery and two churches have been attacked, either by government supporters or the military, with Masses being interrupted.
From Francis’s Argentina: sexual abuse and gender are issues there too
On Thursday, the pontiff called Rufino Varela, a 52-year old man who was abused by a priest in Buenos Aires, a member of the Christian Brothers who worked at a local high-end school called Cardinal Newman.
For five years beginning when he was 11, a man who worked as a housekeeper in Varela’s house sexually abused him. When he was 16 he talked about this with a priest, who instead of helping him, took him to his room, where he hit the minor with a whip and eventually abused him.
When he was done, according to Varela, the priest said: “You’re now in peace, this is a secret between us and God.” The abuser died in 1997.
Last year, Varela went public with the allegations, reportedly because the school refused to issue a public apology. He has since then said there are several similar cases.
Francis called Varela on his mobile phone after receiving a letter from Paula Aranoa, the victim’s cousin, in which she explained what her relative had gone through.
The survivor made the call public through Facebook, where he posted that he’d gone mute when he realized who was on the other side of the line. “We spoke for several minutes about very important things that I’ll keep in my heart forever,” he wrote.
Varela also said that he wanted to extend the pope’s blessing to all those who are walking in the fight against abuse and mistreatment. “I feel a lot of hope! Thanks Pope Francis!”
Talking to EFE, he added that he felt like the most important person from whom he needed a message had come through via phone. “I believe it’s the most important call of my life,” Varela said.
Among other things, he said Francis had apologized in the name of the Church for what he had experienced. Varela said he spoke to the pope about feeling abandoned by the Church and the media, and about the vulnerability of other survivors.
Priests of the Christian Brothers have been accused, and many found guilty, of sexually abusing minors in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Also in Argentina, Cardinal Mario Poli, handpicked by Pope Francis as his successor as archbishop of Buenos Aires, announced the Church will no longer support the Boy Scouts because of the institution’s support of “gender theory” and abortion.
When he was appointed to Buenos Aires, Poli was the spiritual leader of the group at a national level, and several Scout groups were present when he took possession of the diocese.
However, after Archbishop Héctor Aguer, of La Plata, announced the diocese was no longer going to sponsor the Scouts for these reasons, Poli sent him a letter acknowledging that in fact, the movement had lost its “foundational Christian values.”
In the letter, Poli wrote about “the advancement of gender ideology” reaching its peak during the last National Assembly, where it was voted to redefine the definition of family. It’s no longer “formed by a man and a woman” who have children, but “by people,” in order to be inclusive towards same-sex couples.
“To sustain this change, they clearly used the principles and ideas of gender ideology, including the ‘right to abortion’,” Poli wrote.
This change, he argued, was adopted as a way of accepting Argentina’s educational legislation, which was modified after gay marriage was passed in 2010. It was done so despite the fact that in the country, 96 percent of the Scouts are Catholic.
According to the website of Argentina’s Education Ministry, the “denaturalization of gender stereotypes” began in 2010, when Pope Francis’s home country legalized gay marriage, the first nation in Latin America to do so.
Scouts Argentina released a statement on Saturday, in which they “categorically deny” that the organization has broken its relationship with the local Catholic church. They also deny asserting abortion as a right, acknowledging, however, that they did modify the text of their educational project because they’re respectful of “all the religions” of the different Scouts, and because “‘spirituality’ is a key and indissoluble part of the Scout method.”
Talking to local media on Sunday, Juan Manuel Salvado, executive director of Scouts Argentina, claimed that the change in the constitution wasn’t in support of gay marriage but mindful of children that only have a mother or a father.