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Catholic cathedral vandalized in California with 'white power,' 'BLM,' and swastikas

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).-  

A Catholic cathedral in California was defaced overnight, with swastikas, an upside-down cross, and other messages spray-painted on the church’s doors and entryways.

“This morning our beloved Cathedral was defaced with pentagrams, upside down crosses, white power, swastikas, BLM, etc. It reminds us to pray for my brethren in Iraq that are facing persecution. Pray for the criminals who did this,” St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon, California said in a statement posted on Facebook Sept. 26.

The cathedral is the seat of the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of San Diego, an Eastern Catholic diocese of roughly 70,000 Catholics.

A video posted by the cathedral on Facebook showed numerous, seemingly opposed, symbols spray-painted on the church’s edifice and doors: swastikas, “White Power” and “WP,” alongside upside down crosses, “BLM,” standing seemingly for Black Lives Matter,” and “Biden 2020.”

Some symbols were indecipherable, others represented slogans or ideologies not ordinarily associated with each other, raising questions about what might have motivated the vandalism.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of more than 600,000 people. Headquartered in Baghdad, the Chaldean Catholic Church counts among its members Catholics in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Syria, and in numerous Western countries. The Church has grown in the U.S. in recent decades, amid an influx of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East.

The vandalism comes amid a spate of similar incidents at Catholic churches that has lasted for months. Earlier this week a man burned pews in an arson attack in a Florida Catholic church, and a man with a baseball bat damaged a crucifix and several doors at a Texas seminary.

Last week a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was destroyed in a Texas cathedral.

Also last week, a parish in Midvale, Utah, saw back to back attacks. St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Church had its namesake statue beheaded followed by burglary on subsequent nights.

“Sometime last night our statue of St. Therese of the Child Jesus outside of the Main Church was broken and vandalized. We are currently in contact with the police,” the parish wrote on its Facebook page on Monday, September 14. The statue was pushed off its pedestal and the head was broken off. A planter by the statue was also smashed.

The parish urged people to “pray for the person who did this, that they may get the help they need,” and said the vandalism was an “unfortunate situation.”

On Tuesday, the parish once again reported vandalism. 

“As an update to our parishioners, we are upset to report that one of the houses on our parish property was vandalized and broken into last night,” said the parish in a Tuesday post to its Facebook page.

A historic church built by St. Junipero Serra was burned in California this summer, in a fire being investigated as arson. A Florida man was arrested for setting flame to a parish church in the Orlando diocese.

Fires have been started and statues of Jesus, Mary, and saints have been beheaded or destroyed at parishes across the country, while in California numerous public statues of St. Junipero Serra have been torn down, defaced, and destroyed.

While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.

The eparchy could not be immediately reached for comment.

 

Trump: 'Faith in God' helps unite nation

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- President Donald Trump invoked faith as an enduring force for national stability and resilience during times of trial in a statement released by the White House on Saturday.

“Our great Nation was founded by men and women of deep and abiding faith—a faith that has stood the test of time,” Trump said in a presidential message to mark the inaugural National Day of Prayer and Return on Sept. 26.

The message was released to coincide with “The Return, A National and Global Day of Repentance" organized by some Pentecostal Protestant groups in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. The event is timed to fall 40 days before the U.S. general election.

“On this inaugural National Day of Prayer and Return,” Trump wrote in his message, “the First Lady and I join millions of Christians here in the United States and around the world in prayer, as we turn our hearts to our Lord and Savior.”

In an apparent reference to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and months of demonstrations and civil unrest across several U.S. cities over racial justice issues, Trump said that faith was an important support for civil and national unity.

“The trials and tribulations the American people have faced over the past several months have been great,” Trump said. “Yet, as we have seen time and again, the resolve of our citizenry—fortified by our faith in God—has guided us through these hardships and helped to unite us as one Nation under God.”

Several U.S. cities have seen violent protests in recent months following the police-involved deaths of Black Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“As we continue to combat the challenges ahead of us,” said Trump, “we must remember the sage words of President George Washington during his first Presidential Address: ‘propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.’” 

“As a country and a people, let us renew our commitment to these abiding and timeless principles,” said Trump.

On Wednesday, Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz called for unity and prayer in the city following the announcement of the grand jury’s decision to indict one of the police officers involved in Taylor’s death. 

Taylor, 26, was killed March 13 in Louisville during a police raid of her apartment. Taylor, a Black woman, was shot five times by the police after her boyfriend initially fired at the officers who breached Taylor’s apartment’s door to execute a warrant. The officers involved were white. An issue of contention is whether, and how loudly, the officers announced themselves when entering the apartment.

“There is no question that our nation’s original sin of racism continues to destroy the lives of persons of color and that racism extends through so many systems of our society... educational, economic, religious, housing, criminal justice, voting, and employment,” said the archbishop. 

On Wednesday evening, the city of Louisville saw widespread protests which descended into violence in some places. Two police officers were shot and 127 people were arrested.

On Thursday, Kurtz offered prayers for the wounded officers and reiterated calls for peace.

“As our community deals with the challenges of the sin of racism and affirms the first amendment rights of those who protest, I again join with people of faith and good will to plead for peace and the rejection of violence,” Kurtz added.

“I am reminded of a statement that Pope Francis shared in his weekly audience in early June,” Kurtz said, quoting the pope saying “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence, and so much is lost…let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn.”

Russia seeks to bar foreign-educated religious leaders from teaching, preaching

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders in Russia are expressing concern about a bill that would restrict the ability of Russian religious ministers who receive religious education abroad to teach or preach in Russia.

The bill calls for “recertification” in Russian educational institutions of pastors and “personnel of religious organisations” who have received religious education abroad, ostensibly with the goal of preventing the spread of “extremist ideology” from abroad, the Barnabas Fund reports.

The bill was proposed in the Federal Assembly and approved for first reading Sept. 22, but the reading has been postponed.

Father Kirill Gorbunov, vicar general for the Archdiocese of the Mother of God at Moscow, told RIA Novosti, according to Asia News, that priests ministering from Russia who were educated elsewhere should be informed about the history, culture and religious traditions of Russia, and should not disseminate extremist ideas in their preaching.

However, he said it is the Church’s responsibility to regulate this, not the state’s— and the Catholic Church has no tolerance for extremist ideas, he said.

The attempt by the Kremlin to regulate what is being taught to religious leaders "does not provide for effective solutions, rather it would lead to inextricable contradictions.”

In addition to Catholics, Russsian Buddhists typically study abroad as part of their formation, Asia News reported.

The bill comes amid several years of deteriorating religious freedom in Russia.

In 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a new set of laws that would restrict evangelization and missionary activity to officially registered Church buildings and worship areas.

Anti-terrorism measures, catalyzed by the 2002 Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity, have given Russian police powers to disrupt private worship services, to arrest and detain individuals handing out unapproved religious materials, and to outlay any publish preaching without prior approval from Russian authorities.

In 2017, the country’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist group. Judges ordered the closure of the ecclesial community’s Russian headquarters and almost 400 local chapters, and the seizure of its property.

As of August 2020, over a thousand homes have been searched, nearly 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged, a few dozen convicted, and ten are currently serving time, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports.

Before Communism came to Russia, a majority of the country’s citizens were Eastern Orthodox Christians. During the reign of communism, the government attempted to destroy the Church by blowing up buildings and killing priests, religious sisters, and anyone who resisted them.

Once the government gained control of the Russian Orthodox Church, they appointed their own agents as hierarchy, who would then turn people in who came to the Church seeking baptism.

The seeds of distrust planted at that time still run deep, and the Russian Orthodox Church maintains its ties to the government today. 

On Sept. 16, USCIRF held a virtual hearing on the state of religious freedom in Russia and Central Asia, warning that “vague and problematic” definitions of "extremism" in Russian law give the authorities wide latitude to interfere in the religious sphere.

Catholic 'influencers' are using TikTok for community and evangelization

Over half of the social media platform TikTok's users are between ages 10 and 29, and Catholic-tagged items have hundreds of millions of views. "Catholic TikTok" is filled with diverse creators posting videos about church teachings, real-life struggles and news takes.

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Our responsibility

Scripture for Life: No matter how individualist our culture, it is still a culture, a way of organizing our common life. We both inherit and construct our society.

'Were we really children?' Soviet memories of WWII's searing horrors

Book review: Originally published in Russian in 1985, now in English, Svetlana Alexievich's Last Witnesses listens to adults looking back on their experiences as children during World War II in the Soviet Union.

Remembering Joe Fagan, 'a lion in the world of community organizing'

Appreciation: Former priest Joe Fagan, who died Sept. 2 at age 80, helped build Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the toughest and most enduring action groups in the country.

Iraqi archbishop who preserves historic manuscripts nominated for Sakharov Prize

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul has been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for his work to preserve hundreds of historic manuscripts from destruction by the Islamic State in 2014.

Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel, a Dominican, has worked since at least 1990 to preserve manuscripts and other historic documents from the Mosul area.

The Sakharov Prize is awarded by the European Parliament to those dedicated to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought.

The other nominees this year are the democratic opposition in Belarus; environmental activists in Honduras; and a group of LGBTI activists in Poland.

The prize winner will be announced Oct. 22.

Archbishop Najeeb was born in Mosul in 1955. He took simple vows with the Dominican order in 1981, and was ordained a priest in 1987.

The next year he became archivist of the Dominican convent in Mosul, and in 1990 he founded the Center for the Digitization of Eastern Manuscripts.

In 2018 he was confirmed as Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, and he was consecrated a bishop and installed in January 2019.

He spoke to CNA about his work in 2017: “First, we save them (the manuscripts) physically, materially. We bring them to safety and bring them with us at the peril of our lives, of course. But, we also electronically copy them and number them.”

“I did not save this history just because I am a Christian. I saved this because I am human and everything that is human interests me, like the lives of human beings and of a human being become much more valuable when he has roots.”

Since 2007 Archbishop Najeeb and those who help him have moved and protected manuscripts from likely destruction at the hands of Islamist extremists. So far, the group has digitally preserved more than 8,000 previously unpublished manuscripts, dating from the 10th to the 19th centuries.

“Culture and civilization were born here and today it is a bath of blood and the destruction is almost complete and total, but even with all of this we keep the hope for a better future,” Archbishop Najeeb said.

Since 1750 the many manuscripts had been kept in the library of the Dominican monastery in Mosul. They were moved from the monastery starting in 2007, amid the backdrop of increased violence against Christians and other minorities at the hands of extremist groups.

Because of the violence, which included the killing of priests, for safety the Dominican brothers began quietly to move from their church. They continued to say Mass and the sacraments, but were physically living more than 18 miles away in Bakhdida.

Not to draw attention to themselves they dressed in civilian clothes and came and went discretely to celebrate Mass in caves, “like the first Christians did in the catacombs at the beginning of the Christian era,” Archbishop Najeeb said.

It was during those next few years that the brothers began to bring progressively the manuscripts out of the convent in Mosul.

Then, in 2014, the Islamic State arrived in Mosul. Under threat of death unless they converted to Islam, Christians fled the city. Stopped at checkpoints on the roads, Islamic State took everything, so they were forced to leave with only the clothes they were wearing.

Archbishop Najeeb and his brothers made it safely past the checkpoints. Then, just ten days before Islamic State invaded Bakhdida, he rescued many of the manuscripts again, this time bringing them to Erbil, where they have remained.

The documents include more than 25 subjects, including theology, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, history, and geography, many of which date back “to the 10th, 11th, and 12th century in Aramaic,” Archbishop Najeeb said.

They also have documents in Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, and more: “All of this makes up our collection and heritage, not only Christian but also in the international communion for the whole of humanity,” he explained.

Archbishop Najeeb noted that preserving the manuscripts is far more important than merely having a record of history and an archive of historical objects, but something vital for the education of future generations as well.

“In fact, the manuscripts and the archives of these ancient document make up our history and are our roots. We cannot save a tree without saving its roots. The two can bear fruit,” he said.

“So, it is important, all of these archives. This history is a part of our collective archives, our past, our history. And these we absolutely had to save, as our children.”

Vandal takes baseball bat to Catholic seminary in Texas, but none harmed

Denver Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- A man who wielded a baseball bat on the grounds of a Catholic seminary in Texas damaged a crucifix and several doors, but caused no harm to seminary students. The seminary asked for prayers for the unknown perpetrator and warned against a rush to judgment.

“Assumption Seminary in San Antonio received damage to an outdoor crucifix and five glass doors of the discernment house on campus during an act of vandalism which occurred at just after 10 p.m. on September 24,” Jordan McMorrough, communications director for the San Antonio archdiocese, told CNA Sept. 25. “San Antonio Police Department officers are currently investigating the incident and are searching for a suspect.”

“First and foremost, all of our seminarians and all the people at the seminary are safe,” Father Hy Nguyen, rector of Assumption Seminary, said Sept. 25. “We ask for your prayers for this misguided person, and for the safety of the Assumption community.”

An unidentified man who held a baseball bat was observed walking up to the dormitory building, Nguyen said. The man hit the glass doors several times. Though law enforcement was notified immediately, the suspect fled the area before police arrived, according to the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s statement.

Photos provided by the archdiocese appear to show damage to the feet of a statue of Jesus Christ crucified. A San Antonio Spurs NBA jersey was placed around the head of Jesus. The statue is adjacent to Our Lady’s Chapel, beside the discernment house.

In a Sept. 25 post on its Facebook page, the seminary said “since we do not yet know who the person is or their motives, please refrain from rushing to judgment but please pray for us and for the perpetrator.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio reflected on the event.

“This disturbing event can lead us to know that Jesus on the Cross gave us His Body and Blood, His whole being, for our salvation,” he said Sept. 25. “It is a reminder that we are called to love one another as He loved us.”

“We pray for the person who committed this painful act; he is in our prayers,” the archbishop continued. “As with many other things that have been happening in this regard, may our hurt lead us to love even more, and even better. We assure our seminarians of our prayers and our support as we seek resolution to this.”

Clean-up of the vandalism began on Friday morning.

Assumption Seminary concentrates on formation of men for Hispanic ministry and church leadership. It has students from dioceses around the U.S. The San Antonio archdiocese serves about 800,000 Catholics in a regional population of over 2.6 million people, according to 2018 figures.

Recent months have seen numerous acts of vandalism and destruction at Catholic churches across the United States, including arsons and graffiti.

In July, a man crashed a minivan into a Florida Catholic church and then started a fire inside the building.

In Los Angeles, San Gabriel Mission church, founded by St. Junipero Serra, also burned in a fire being investigated for arson. Numerous statues of the saint have been vandalized or destroyed, most of them in California.

Several other churches across the country have been set aflame, and statues of Jesus or Mary have been toppled or decapitated.

While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.

President Trump plans to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 04:20 pm (CNA).-  

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett Saturday to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A source close to Barrett told CNA Friday that the judge, who met with Trump this week, expects to be nominated to the post.

Several news outlets, including CNN and the NY Times, reported Friday that they had received confirmation of Trump’s intention from the White House.

Trump is not known to have interviewed other candidates for the job, but sources stressed that the president could change his mind, even while he is reportedly indicating that Barrett is his selection.

Born in New Orleans, the eldest of seven children, Barrett graduated from Rhodes College before receiving a full scholarship to Notre Dame Law School where she graduated first in her class.

Barrett went on to clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, before going into private practice. She returned to Notre Dame Law School and taught classes in 2002 before becoming a professor in 2010.

Barrett has praised Scalia as an intellectual mentor and for his dedication to textualism, which holds that the Constitution should be interpreted with the context in which it was written.

In a November 2016 event in Jacksonville addressing a previous vacancy on the Supreme Court, Barrett stated that Scalia “resisted the notion that the Supreme Court should be in the business of imposing its views of social mores on the American people,” and that he thought it should be “up to the people to decide” things in the Constitution that weren’t explicitly banned or permitted.

Barrett’s selection is widely anticipated, with many media outlets touting her as the leading candidate for the nomination. She has already faced concerted media scrutiny and criticism for her Catholic faith.

During her 2017 nomination hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned her on her personal faith and values, saying that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

Just weeks after she was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett was added to President Donald Trump’s list of potential future Supreme Court picks, and was rumored to have been one of the finalists to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy upon his retirement in 2018.

Barrett and her husband have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti. In a 2019 interview at a Notre Dame alumni event in Washington, DC, Barrett said that raising children is “where you have your greatest impact on the world” and that she could imagine no greater thing.

Amid renewed scrutiny of Barrett’s personal life and beliefs, and facing the likelihood of a tough confirmation process if nominated, Princeton University Professor Robert George highlighted anti-Catholic tropes again being used in criticism of the judge.

“One would have hoped that having brought shame on themselves last time, and blunted their spear on Judge Barrett by attacking her religion, they would be more careful this time about exposing their bigotry to public view. But no,” he said on Twitter.

During Barrett’s confirmation hearings, questions were also raised about Barrett’s association with the lay organization People of Praise.

People of Praise has been referred to in the media as a “cult,” and criticized for a practice, which has since been changed, that called leaders “heads” and “handmaidens”--both of which are references to Biblical passages.

But the group is an ordinary expression of the Christian desire for community and holiness, Bishop Peter Smith, a member of the organization, told CNA, and not a cause for concern.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of a “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” following Vatican Council II.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant”- an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Covenant communities- Protestant and Catholic- emerged across the country in the 1970s, as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity.