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Court halts scheduled federal executions

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 02:35 pm (CNA).-  

A federal court on Monday ordered a delay of the first scheduled federal execution in 17 years, along with other executions scheduled for this week, saying that the drug with which the federal court planned to commit the executions would likely cause extreme pain and suffering, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

On July 7, several U.S. bishops joined a statement of more than 1,000 faith leaders opposing the resumption of federal executions. And last week, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and several other bishops asked President Donald Trump to commute the death sentence of one federal inmate, who was scheduled to be executed on July 17. Tobin told the president that he knew the condemned inmate personally.

On July 13, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an injunction preventing the execution of Daniel Lee, 47, who was scheduled to die Monday afternoon at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The judge said that the federal government’s plan to execute Lee and other prisoners with pentobarbital was likely unconstitutional because “the scientific evidence before the court overwhelmingly indicates that the 2019 Protocol is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”

Chutkan wrote in her ruling that medical experts and witnesses of past executions testified that using pentobarbital for executions causes panic and the feeling of drowning, because of a buildup of fluid in the lungs.

“Eyewitness accounts of executions using pentobarbital describe inmates repeatedly gasping for breath or showing other signs of respiratory distress, and indicate that flash pulmonary edema is common and extremely painful,” Chuktan wrote.

The judge’s ruling is not final, it means that Lee can continue to challenge the proposed method of execution in court.

Lawyers for the federal Justice Department have appealed the ruling with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last summer, Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons to resume execution of federal prisoners on death row for the first time since 2003.

The inmates scheduled for execution are Daniel Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Alfred Bourgeois, convicted of the murders of children and adults and, in some cases, torture.

On July 9, Cardinal Tobin sent a letter to Trump on Thursday asking for clemency for Dustin Honken, who was convicted of the murder of five people, including a single mother and her two daughters aged ten and six years old, in 2004.

“I have known Mr. Honken for seven years,” Cardinal Tobin said, noting that he visited Honken several times a year at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, while Archbishop of Indianapolis from 2012 to 2017.

“His present spiritual guide, Father Mark O’Keefe, OSB, confirms that the spiritual growth in faith and compassion, which I had witnessed in our meetings some years ago, continues to this day,” Tobin wrote.

On July 7, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates who is the apostolic administrator of Joliet, Illinois, all joined more than 1,000 faith leaders in calling for a stop to scheduled executions of four federal death row inmates.

“As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions,” the statement read.

“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the faith leaders stated.

Bishop Pates issued his own statement in addition to the joint letter, saying that “[t]he Church believes that just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

Honken committed murders in Iowa; the state’s four Catholic bishops sent a letter on July 1 to Trump, asking for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

Tobin said on Thursday that Honken’s crimes are “heinous,” but that his execution “will do nothing to restore justice or heal those still burdened by these crimes.”

“Instead, his execution will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways,” Tobin wrote, noting that the use of the death penalty makes the United States an “outlier” in the world. 

“If his death sentence is commuted, Mr. Honken expects to spend his remaining days in prison,” Tobin wrote.

“By commuting this death sentence, you would help stem the tide of anger and revenge that threatens our country,” he told the president.

 

China sanctions U.S. religious freedom ambassador over Uyghurs

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- The Chinese government announced sanctions Monday against the U. S. ambassador for religious liberty as well as lawmakers who have repeatedly spoken out against the oppression of China’s Uyghur population. The country also issued sanctions against the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The sanctions against Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), were issued in retaliation for sanctions announced by the Trump administration last week against four Chinese officials as well as the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

Xinjiang is a province in northwestern China. It is home to most of the country’s Uyghurs.

The terms of the sanctions on the U.S. diplomat and legislators are not clear. On Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the United States of “interfering in China’s international affairs,” and defended the situation in Xinjiang as a domestic issue.

“I must point out the Xinjiang affairs are China’s internal affairs and the US has no right to interfere,” said Hua. 

Hua requested that the United States “immediately withdraw its wrong decision and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs or undermining China’s interests,” and that China “will make further reactions based on the development of the situation.” 

Reports by U.S. government agencies and human rights groups estimate anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs are now in a system of more than 1,300 detention camps set up by Chinese authorities, ostensibly for “re-education” purposes. Survivors have reported indoctrination, beatings, forced labor, and torture in the camps. China initially denied the camps existed, but was forced to officially admit their existence in 2018.

In a statement confirming the Chinese action July 13, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  said that “the United States will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.” 

The U.S. sanctions were announced July 9, citing  the individual’s “connections to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which reportedly include mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious abuses targeting Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, and other ethnic minorities in the region,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

The sanctions forbid any US national from engaging in business with the four officials and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. Any assets the officials held in the United States have been frozen, and they cannot visit or move to the United States. 

Rubio, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, made light of the sanctions, tweeting “I guess they don’t like me?” with a link to an article about the sanctions. 

The Florida Senator has been an outspoken supporter of the Uyghur population. In March, along with fellow target of sanctions Cruz, Rubio co-sponsored the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and in May he co-sponsored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. 

Cruz, who in 2018 co-sponsored a resolution condemning China’s persecution of religious minorities, also made jokes about the sanctions. 

“Bummer. I was going to take my family to Beijing for summer vacation, right after visiting Tehran,” tweeted Cruz on Monday. 

In a more serious response, Cruz said the Chinese Communist Party was “terrified and lashing out” by issuing the sanctions.

“They forced over one million Uighurs into concentration camps and engaged in ethnic cleansing, including horrific forced abortions and sterilzations,” said Cruz. “These are egregious human rights atrocities that cannot be tolerated.” 

Cruz added that he had no plans “to travel to the authoritarian regime that covered up the coronavirus pandemic and endangered millions of lives worldwide.” 

In February, Brownback said that China was the “best in the world” at religious persecution, and has been engaged in a “war with faith.” 

A June 29 report by AP found numerous Uyghurs have been imprisoned for the offense of having too many children, and women reported that there were frequent pregnancy checks, forced abortions, and forced implantations of IUDs and other contraceptive methods by Communist authorities. 

One expert told the Associated Press that the forced birth control campaign is “genocide, full stop.” 

“It’s not an immediate, shocking, mass-killing-on-the-spot-type genocide, but it’s a slow, painful, creeping genocide,” Dr. Joanne Smith Finley, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

China has engaged in an extensive network of detention camps for religious and ethnic minorities. The Chinese government claims that the camps are purportedly to prevent the spread of terrorism in the region. Numerous leaked files have revealed that many are sent to the camps for the “crimes” of following traditional Islamic practices like fasting, or for conspicuously religious dress. 

A leaked manual for the operation of the camps showed that there is a heavy emphasis on assimilating the Uyghur population into the customs of the Han ethnic group. This includes forced intermarriage between Uyghur women and Han men.

US Catholic bishops lament end to federal limits on payday loans

CNA Staff, Jul 13, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The revocation of restrictions on payday lenders by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau exposes poor and vulnerable persons to 'predatory and abusive lending practices', the US bishops' conference said last week.

On July 7 the CFPB removed requirements that lenders ensure borrowers can repay a loan before issuing it, and limited how many successive loans could be taken out by a borrower.

“The USCCB has long advocated for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule to prevent payday loan abuses to protect poor and vulnerable people. I am deeply disappointed by their final rule that strips away even the basic requirement that loans be made only when people can afford them, setting up workers and families to fail,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the US bishops' domestic justice committee said July 10.

He called payday lending “modern day usury,” saying the loans “are structured in a way that makes it nearly impossible for borrowers to repay in the short timeframe, often with triple-digit interest rates. The practice exploits the financial distress of vulnerable people and communities for the sake of profit, contributing to an economy of exclusion.”

Archbishop Coakley commented that the coronavirus crisis has heightened the importance of “economic protections and just lending practices.”

“We must work to ensure that those facing financial hardship are met with economic policies that promote the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good. We encourage the U.S. Congress to take up measures to protect consumers and restrain predatory lending,” he concluded.

The payday lending industry lobbied for the rules to be rescinded; the CFPB has found that the industry collects between $7.3 and $7.7 billion dollars annually from the practices that would have been barred.

The CFPB has said that the “legal and evidentiary bases” for the rules, which had been announced in 2017, were “insufficient.” According to the bureau, the rescission “will help to ensure the continued availability of small dollar lending products for consumers who demand them.”

Kathy Kraninger, director of the CFPB, said July 7 that “our actions today ensure that consumers have access to credit from a competitive marketplace, have the best information to make informed financial decisions, and retain key protections without hindering that access.”

According to Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI), 12 million Americans take out payday loans per year, at an average interest rate of 391 percent.

Grothman is consponsor of the the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act of 2019, a bill that would limit the interest rate on payday and car title loans. The bill would expand the 2006 Military Lending Act rate cap - which only covers active military members and their families - to all consumers. It would cap all payday and car-title loans at a maximum of a 36% APR interest rate.

Several states have already capped the interest rate at 36% or lower.

The Church has consistently taught that usury is evil, including in numerous ecumenical councils.

In Vix pervenit, his 1745 encyclical on usury and other dishonest profit, Benedict XIV taught that a loan contract demands “that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious.”

In his General Audience address of Feb. 10, 2016, Pope Francis taught that “Scripture persistently exhorts a generous response to requests for loans, without making petty calculations and without demanding impossible interest rates,” citing Leviticus.

“This lesson is always timely,” he said. “How many families there are on the street, victims of profiteering … It is a grave sin, usury is a sin that cries out in the presence of God.”

Italy predicts decline in births following coronavirus

Rome, Italy, Jul 13, 2020 / 10:37 am (CNA).- According to Italy’s national statistics institute, the country is likely to see a significant decline in the number of babies born in the period following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their 2020 annual report, Istat, Italy’s national statistics institute, predicted that the climate of uncertainty and fear caused by the coronavirus may result in 10,000 fewer births in Italy over the course of the rest of 2020 and 2021.

The report also noted that if the predicted rise in unemployment is included in the calculating factors, it is predicted that in the worst case, births may drop to just around 396,000 in 2021 – a decrease of nearly 24,000 from 2019.

The Istat report also noted that “Italy is a country with permanent low fertility,” with birth rates continuing to decrease since the first decades of the 20th century.

In a report on Italy’s 2019 fertility rates published July 13, national data show that Italy registered 420,170 births in 2019, a historic low since Italian unification in 1861.

Continuing a 10-year decline, the birth rate among Italians went down an additional 4.5% from the previous year, for a total of 19,000 fewer births.

Italy also had a slight uptick in deaths in 2019 and the number of Italians who moved abroad rose by 16.1 percentage points.

Istat’s 2020 annual report also recorded data about how Italians spent their time during the national lockdown March 9 through May 18.

According to the survey, nearly 43% of Italians said they prayed at least once per week during lockdown. Of these, 22% prayed every day. Forty eight percent reported not having prayed at all during that period.

Pre-pandemic, Italy’s labor market was still seeing the effects of the 2008 recession, with the report noting that particularly men, young people, those with less education, and southern Italy have “not yet recovered the employment levels and rates of 2008.”

“The photograph of the pre-pandemic labor market shows growing inequalities,” it stated.

Pope Francis has several times addressed the problem of falling birth rates in western countries.

Reflecting on the challenges facing families during a Jan. 8, 2018 address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, he said it is urgent “that genuine policies be adopted to support the family, on which the future and the development of states depend. Without this, it is not possible to create societies capable of meeting the challenges of the future.”

“Disregard for families has another dramatic effect – particularly present in some parts of the world – namely, a decline in the birth rate. We are experiencing a true demographic winter,” he exclaimed. “This is a sign of societies that struggle to face the challenges of the present, and thus become ever more fearful of the future, with the result that they close in on themselves.”

Italian bishop condemns mafia usury as ‘new slavery’ for families 

Rome Newsroom, Jul 13, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Mafia loan sharks have exploited the economic downturn creating a hidden “new slavery” of usury within communities, an Italian bishop said Sunday.

Bishop Giovanni D’Alise of the southern Diocese of Caserta issued the warning following reports that some parents had been forced to send their children to work off family debts to local mobsters. 

“I tell my communities and priests and all those in Caserta who have business dealings, to all the baptized who work more actively for the common good, to keep their eyes open,” D’Alise told the Italian newspaper Avvernire on July 12.

Organized crime, especially loan sharking, has been on the rise following the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With many businesses and industries closed for weeks or months in some areas, local mob figures were often used as lenders of last resort for struggling families.

The bishop, whose diocese is in the Campania region of Naples, said that “under our eyes unthinkable things are happening.”

D’Alise’s comments were based on a report from Caserta’s Chamber of Commerce, which found  that loan sharks were demanding children to be sent to work to pay off their parents’ debt as Italy’s economy worsens as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“If there are sons or daughters of a working age, legally, adults or minors, the loan shark asks the father to use them in a firm close to him, but which cannot be traced back to him," Tommaso De Simone, the Caserta Chamber of Commerce president told Avvenire July 10.

Usury in southern Italy has grown “exponentially” in recent months due to the country’s lockdown, according to De Simone.

The Catholic Church has frequently condemned the practice of usury, or the loaning of money while charging unreasonable rates of interest.

“It's a serious sin, because you make money by taking advantage of other people's needs. This is anti-human and anti-Christian,” Bishop D’Alise said.

In this case, Italian media reports that the loan sharks are linked to the Camorra, a mafia group based in Naples. 

“Now I have the impression that a new slavery is emerging. Just as the Camorra crept in and hid among us, so did the usury,” the bishop said.

“Many workers are increasingly exploited; we even go now to sons and daughters. Boys who are sent to work instead of adults, to pay off the debts incurred by parents,” he said.

The Archbishop of Naples Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe called the Neapolitan Camorra mafia “another possible epidemic” in a homily during a livestreamed Mass in May.

“There are those who are good at making a fortune in times of epidemic. … Let’s move, intervene immediately, because the underworld is faster than our bureaucracy. The Camorra does not wait. It is up to us to get rid of all [criminal] organizations. We must overcome and affirm the right to hope,” Cardinal Sepe said May 2.

The Neapolitan mafia has been known to take advantage of an economic downturn by lending their money -- earned by illicit means, like drug trafficking -- to businesses who cannot pay the money back.

“When the money cannot be returned, the Camorra takes advantage of that. Because of the money the Camorra can acquire management of the business. From that moment on, the Camorra will use that company as a conduit to launder its own illicit money," Naples police officer Alfredo Fabbrocini told EuroNews July 10.

De Simone said that loan sharks often have “the face of a friend, a benefactor, who helps you when everyone else has abandoned you. That gives you money right away, when you need it.”

“As long as you have properties, the usurer lends you money. Loans that can hardly be repaid: not so much and not only for the obviously very high interest, but because when, as in the quarantine, there is no economic income, the further loan you need to eat on one side and to pay the installments of the debt on the other,” he explained.

“Children often pay for their families. I have no names to indicate, but from the stories of many economic operators, disgusted by what is happening,” he said.

For Bishop D’Alise, the root of the problem of usury is a failure to uphold human dignity. Because of this, the Italian bishop likened it to the issue of racism in the United States. 

“In both cases a person is worthless,” he said. “I still have before me the image of the policeman holding George Floyd with his knee. It crushed him, not only physically.”

He said that the Church’s response needs to be “effective solidarity” that can recognize this dignity and support those most in need.

“What is required of the Church is a strong exercise of solidarity, each for what he can, but that is a sensitive and effective solidarity. Often we do not realize how much goodness, but also how much evil there is between us. And kids cannot pay the price,” he said.

Italian bishop condemns mafia usury as ‘new slavery’ for families 

Rome Newsroom, Jul 13, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Mafia loan sharks have exploited the economic downturn creating a hidden “new slavery” of usury within communities, an Italian bishop said Sunday.

Bishop Giovanni D’Alise of the southern Diocese of Caserta issued the warning following reports that some parents had been forced to send their children to work off family debts to local mobsters. 

“I tell my communities and priests and all those in Caserta who have business dealings, to all the baptized who work more actively for the common good, to keep their eyes open,” D’Alise told the Italian newspaper Avvernire on July 12.

Organized crime, especially loan sharking, has been on the rise following the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With many businesses and industries closed for weeks or months in some areas, local mob figures were often used as lenders of last resort for struggling families.

The bishop, whose diocese is in the Campania region of Naples, said that “under our eyes unthinkable things are happening.”

D’Alise’s comments were based on a report from Caserta’s Chamber of Commerce, which found  that loan sharks were demanding children to be sent to work to pay off their parents’ debt as Italy’s economy worsens as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“If there are sons or daughters of a working age, legally, adults or minors, the loan shark asks the father to use them in a firm close to him, but which cannot be traced back to him," Tommaso De Simone, the Caserta Chamber of Commerce president told Avvenire July 10.

Usury in southern Italy has grown “exponentially” in recent months due to the country’s lockdown, according to De Simone.

The Catholic Church has frequently condemned the practice of usury, or the loaning of money while charging unreasonable rates of interest.

“It's a serious sin, because you make money by taking advantage of other people's needs. This is anti-human and anti-Christian,” Bishop D’Alise said.

In this case, Italian media reports that the loan sharks are linked to the Camorra, a mafia group based in Naples. 

“Now I have the impression that a new slavery is emerging. Just as the Camorra crept in and hid among us, so did the usury,” the bishop said.

“Many workers are increasingly exploited; we even go now to sons and daughters. Boys who are sent to work instead of adults, to pay off the debts incurred by parents,” he said.

The Archbishop of Naples Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe called the Neapolitan Camorra mafia “another possible epidemic” in a homily during a livestreamed Mass in May.

“There are those who are good at making a fortune in times of epidemic. … Let’s move, intervene immediately, because the underworld is faster than our bureaucracy. The Camorra does not wait. It is up to us to get rid of all [criminal] organizations. We must overcome and affirm the right to hope,” Cardinal Sepe said May 2.

The Neapolitan mafia has been known to take advantage of an economic downturn by lending their money -- earned by illicit means, like drug trafficking -- to businesses who cannot pay the money back.

“When the money cannot be returned, the Camorra takes advantage of that. Because of the money the Camorra can acquire management of the business. From that moment on, the Camorra will use that company as a conduit to launder its own illicit money," Naples police officer Alfredo Fabbrocini told EuroNews July 10.

De Simone said that loan sharks often have “the face of a friend, a benefactor, who helps you when everyone else has abandoned you. That gives you money right away, when you need it.”

“As long as you have properties, the usurer lends you money. Loans that can hardly be repaid: not so much and not only for the obviously very high interest, but because when, as in the quarantine, there is no economic income, the further loan you need to eat on one side and to pay the installments of the debt on the other,” he explained.

“Children often pay for their families. I have no names to indicate, but from the stories of many economic operators, disgusted by what is happening,” he said.

For Bishop D’Alise, the root of the problem of usury is a failure to uphold human dignity. Because of this, the Italian bishop likened it to the issue of racism in the United States. 

“In both cases a person is worthless,” he said. “I still have before me the image of the policeman holding George Floyd with his knee. It crushed him, not only physically.”

He said that the Church’s response needs to be “effective solidarity” that can recognize this dignity and support those most in need.

“What is required of the Church is a strong exercise of solidarity, each for what he can, but that is a sensitive and effective solidarity. Often we do not realize how much goodness, but also how much evil there is between us. And kids cannot pay the price,” he said.

Catholics hold pilgrimage to grave of Venerable Augustus Tolton, first African American priest

Denver Newsroom, Jul 12, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The fourth annual Quincy pilgrimage honoring Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest, took place Thursday with the intention of overcoming racism.

Fr. Daren Zehnle, the founder of the Quincy pilgrimage and pastor of St. Augustine parish in Ashland, Ill., said Tolton pastored beyond racial barriers.

“He saw the dignity of people made in the image and likeness of God. That was a turning point for what he did. That is one of our goals - to help people rediscover that basic approach to other people is to see in them Christ the Lord and to try to minister to Jesus in that other person as best as we can,” Zehnle told CNA.

July 9 marked the 123rd anniversary of Tolton’s death. The mile-long pilgrimage in Quincy, Ill., began outside of St. Peter Catholic school and ended with a series of prayers at Tolton’s grave at St. Peter Catholic Cemetery. The pilgrimage is meant to spread the knowledge of Venerable Tolton and to pray for the advancement of his cause for canonization.

Fr. Zehnle said the death of George Floyd had a profound impact on him. In response, he prayed at Tolton’s grave during the protests. He then decided for this year’s pilgrimage to place an emphasis on overcoming racism.

“I knew as soon as that happened that I need to go pray at Father Tolton’s grave… We need Father Tolton’s help with this one. [Then] maybe a week or so later, I wrote a prayer asking God to help us overcome racism through Father Tolton’s intercession,” he said.

Fr. Zehnle first began the pilgrimage four years ago after he returned from his studies in Rome and entered parish life in Quincy. His arrival coincided with the 130th anniversary of Tolton’s return from Rome to Quincy, and he decided to host a pilgrimage to celebrate the holy man’s life. As parishioners enjoyed the pilgrimage, Fr. Zehnle decided to continue the event on the anniversary of Tolton’s death.

“I think anyone who comes into contact with Tolton’s story, you don't have to read a lot about him before suddenly there's something about his life, but just sort of grabs you and brings you into it,” he said.

Around 30 people attended the event for the first two years, but in the third year, shortly after Tolton was declared Venerable, 150 people attended the event. This year, 145 people prayed at Tolton’s grave.

Fr. Zehnle said a majority of the pilgrimage attendees have a standing devotion to Tolton. He said the holy man had a profound impact on Quincy and is remembered as a person dedicated to human dignity. He said that when parishes were divided on ethnic lines, the priest welcomed all people to Mass regardless of their ethnicity.

“He never shied away from ministry to people, without any consideration for what this color of their skin was. He served people because he was Catholic because they came to him needing help and whatever form that was. It's an honest approach to life,” he said.

Fr. Tolton was born a slave in Missouri April 1, 1854 to Catholic parents, Peter Paul and Martha Jane.

Peter Paul escaped shortly after the beginning of the Civil War and joined the Union army, dying shortly thereafter. Martha Jane then escaped to Illinois in 1862 with Augustus and his siblings, Charley and Anne.

Augustus went to Rome in 1880 to attend a seminary of the Congregation for Propagation of the Faith. He was ordained a priest in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran on Holy Saturday 1886, and was sent back to serve in Illinois in the Diocese of Alton. He worked at a parish in Quincy, but met with opposition from a white priest, and in 1889 secured permission to transfer to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In Chicago he founded a black parish, Saint Monica's. He died July 9, 1897 from heat stroke and heart failure, at the age of 43.

The Chicago archdiocese opened Fr. Tolton’s cause for canonization in 2010. In June 2019 he was declared Venerable, an acknowledgement that he lived a life of heroic virtue.

‘Always forward!’: San Gabriel fire is a call to mission of hope, says Archbishop Gomez

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).-  

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez has called for Catholics to find hope and a renewed sense of mission amid a “season of sickness and death.” Gomez preached a Sunday morning homily at the Chapel of the Annunciation, on the grounds of the historic San Gabriel Mission Church which was severely damaged by a fire early Saturday morning.

“Yesterday’s fire was heartbreaking. Let’s thank God that nobody got hurt. I thank God this morning, too, for this opportunity to pray with you and to mourn with you,” Gomez said in his July 12 homily.

“In this long season of sickness and death since the coming of the coronavirus, this is one more trial, one more test. We ask the Lord to grant us comfort and consolation. We ask him to strengthen and increase our faith.”

The fire at St. Gabriel is being investigated by local and federal authorities, who have yet to determine the cause of a July 11 fire that destroyed the 249-year-old church’s roof and much of the historic church building. Because the mission church was under renovation, many of its historic and devotional objects had been removed, and were not inside when the building burned.

“The Lord is all mercy and love and tenderness toward us, and we know that he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that he will turn our mourning into joy. We know this. We believe in his promises,” Gomez said.

“But right now, in this moment, we are sad for what we have lost.”

The San Gabriel fire is one of several fires and acts of vandalism at churches across the country this weekend. On Friday, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was vandalized in Queens, New York. Another statue of Mary was set on fire early Sunday morning outside a Boston parish. Police are investigating both incidents.

On Saturday, in Florida, a man drove a minivan into the front of Queen of Peace Catholic church in Ocala, poured gasoline in the foyer and set fire to the building while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass. Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. 

The fire also comes after numerous statues of St. Junipero Serra have been torn down in California: at the state capitol in Sacramento, in Los Angeles, and in San Francisco, while protestors have called for similar statues to be moved or torn down in other cities. While Serra, a Franciscan missionary priest, is regarded as a founder of California and an evangelist to indigenous people, some critics say he was complicit in human rights abuses in the eighteenth century. His supporters say Serra defended the rights and dignity of native people.

Gomez said that the fire at San Gabriel was especially painful as “this destruction comes as we are getting ready to celebrate the 250th anniversary of this great mission.”

“But this fire changes nothing,” said the archbishop. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”

“You trace your roots all the way back to the beginnings of the Christian faith in California, before the founding of the United States. In fact, you are one of the few Catholic communities in this continent that can claim to be founded by a saint.”

As he prayed to St. Serra Saturday night, Gomez said, he recalled that the saint also “knew sufferings every day in his service to the Gospel.”

“I thought, 'what would St. Junípero tell us this morning?' And I remembered his beautiful little prayer: ‘Let us bear every hardship for the love of You and the salvation of souls. In our trials, may we know that we are loved as Your own children.’ Let’s make that our prayer this morning, my brothers and sisters.”

Noting the words of St. Paul in the readings of Mass, in which the apostle says “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us,” Gomez said the readings of the day were a call to faith, hope, and action.

“He made us for glory — not for pain, not for sorrow!” Gomez said.

“We can’t give in to this sadness. We need to make this a moment for purification and renewal of our mission — renewal of the Mission of San Gabriel and renewal of the mission that is each one of our lives.”

“St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his Word to this land,” said Gomez. “Now it is our turn to make sure his Word is proclaimed to the next generation. We can’t harden our hearts or become distracted by the anxieties and temptations of the world.”

“St. Junípero would tell us today: “Siempre Adelante!” Always Forward, and don’t look back.”

Statues of Mary vandalized in weekend of Catholic church attacks

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2020 / 10:50 am (CNA).- Boston police are investigating an arson attack on a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary Saturday night, the second attack in the U.S. on a statue of the Virgin Mary in two days, and during the same weekend in which two Catholic church fires are being investigated for arson.

Police were called to reports of a fire on Bowdin Street in the Dorchester neighborhood Boston at around 10 p.m. on July 11.

Local police confirmed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin, located outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish, had been set on fire and suffered damage. Local police and firefighters responded to reports that an unknown individual had set fire to plastic flowers in the hands of the statue, causing smoke and flame damage to the face, head, and upper body of the statue.

The fire at St. Peter’s is the latest in a series of fires and acts of vandalism which have struck Catholic churches in the last two days.

On July 10, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that New York City police were investigating the vandalization of a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens.

Security footage shows an individual approaching the 100-year-old statue shortly after 3 a.m. Friday morning and daubing the word “IDOL” down its length.

Fr. James Kuroly, rector and president of Cathedral Prep, called the incident “an act of hatred.”

“Obviously, this tragedy saddens us deeply but it also renews our hope and faith in the Lord as he has shown his goodness in the many people who have already reached out to us,” said Fr. Kuroly. “We are sincerely grateful for the help we have received as well as the prayers. Please continue praying for those who committed this act of vandalism and hatred toward Our Lady and the Church.”

In addition to the attacks on the two statues of Mary, on Saturday morning sheriffs in Marion County, Florida, reported that deputies were called to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, which was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.

Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest, after reportedly admitting to crashing a minivan into the church and then setting it on fire.

According to a Saturday evening statement from the sheriff's office, Shields poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and ignited it, after crashing his minivan through the parish's front door. Shields then drove away in the minivan, leading officers on a short chase before he was stopped. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. 

Also on Saturday, a fire ravaged the San Gabriel mission in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a 249-year-old mission founded by St. Junípero Serra.

Gomez called the mission the “historic cornerstone and the spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community here.”

Federal and local officials are still investigating the cause of the fire at the San Gabriel mission, with no determination yet made. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating the possibility that the fire was an arson attack.

Also this weekend, San Diego police officials said that a fire at Calvary Baptist church at 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning was “suspicious” and was being investigated by the department’s Metro Arson Strike Team.

Calvary is an historically African American church, though its website says it has become a “multi-cultural faith community” in recent years.

Culture is about ‘creating, not destroying’ says sculptor

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 12, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Tired and heartbroken at seeing statues get pulled down and vandalized, Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz wracked his brain to come up with a compromise that would both preserve the artwork, and acknowledge the flawed nature of many historical figures. 

Schmalz has been a sculptor for 30 years and is perhaps best known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculpture and the "Angels Unaware" statue dedicated to migrants in St. Peter’s square. He told CNA that he believes sculpture is a unique and powerful method of preaching. 

He said it made him upset “beyond belief” watching the news and seeing statues of figures such as Christopher Columbus and St. Junipero Serra be torn down. 

“I know the amount of time that is spent working on each sculpture and a lot of these sculptures were done a century ago and the skill level, the time that it's been put into that--just on a simple work ethic and good craftsmanship and time and love that is put into it,” he said. 

“To see that being pulled down and destroyed just really breaks my heart,” Schmalz added. 

Sculpture, he said, is different from other art forms, as unlike a play or a piece of music, it is intended to be permanent.

“Its basic presence is that of time enduring,” he said. He told CNA that seeing what he called “a random mob” destroy statue after statue felt like watching “wanton violence against our culture.” 

The statues, Schmalz said, are  works of art being used as scapegoats for the country’s perceived historical sins.

“They’re visual ambassadors of that history, and to destroy it--[its] absolute arrogance.” 

Instead of destruction, Schmalz is advocating for more creation.

“I'm a sculptor, I'm a creative, I create, I do not destroy, and I wish more people would follow the role model of creating rather than destroying,” he said. 

Creation, Schmalz explained, is far more difficult than destruction. Some of the statues that were destroyed took years to make, “and they’re toppled in 15 minutes.” 

“I want to be in a culture that is one of creating, not one of destroying. And, and what I say is that if you have a problem with that sculpture, let's create more sculptures, let's create more stuff.”

And creating “more stuff” is just what Schmalz is doing. 

He sculpted what he has dubbed the “Monument of Oppression”--a sculpture of two arms extending outward behind a barred window--which he says he hopes could be installed as a “supplementary sculpture” beside controversial works of art, offering it as a compromise that could save more works of art from destruction. 

The Monument of Oppression would be “a layer of art on top of a layer of art,” and would serve as a reminder that there is a complicated history behind many notable persons which should be marked. 

As a sculptor, and as one who concentrates on religious-inspired art, Schmalz rejected the idea that statues of a European-styled Jesus should be taken down, but did say that there should be a wider embrace of images of Christ as various ethnicities, saying he has himself made many African-styled images of Christ and the Holy Family, including an African-American crucifix for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. 

“Jesus does not have a color. Jesus doesn't necessarily care,” he said. “Artwork is a bridge for people. And so if I have the opportunity to make a Jesus for a European place, fine. And an African-American Corpus should be in Atlanta, Georgia, because there's so many people of African descent there.” 

The depiction of Jesus as various ethnicities “has nothing to do with anything, but making artwork that fits the audience and you have the painters doing the same,” he said, noting that Jesus was often depicted in the clothing of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, and that the actual Last Supper “probably wouldn’t have had a European table and chairs.” 

“It doesn't matter,” he said. 

“Artwork is a communication, and that has to be spoken in a language that people could understand.”