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Bishops urge president to hold peace talks in Cameroon conflict

Yaoundé, Cameroon, Feb 17, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Bishops from around the world have signed an open letter to the Cameroonian president asking that he participate in proposed peace talks meant to bring an end to conflict between the government and Anglophone separatists.

“We are motivated by our concern about the suffering of unarmed civilians, and the stability and prosperity of Cameroon,” 16 bishops from outside Cameroon wrote in a Feb. 17 letter coordinated by the Global Campaign for Peace and Justice in Cameroon. Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport was among the signatories.

“We believe the proposed Swiss-led talks offer the best path to an appropriate political solution through inclusive negotiations,” the bishops continued. “The success of these talks will be critical in Cameroon’s journey towards ensuring peace and your legacy as an effective leader in a troubled region. It is our sincere hope that all interested stakeholders will join these talks and show a spirit of cooperation, pragmatism, and realism to ensure these negotiations succeed.”

They added that “only true peace will allow Catholic dioceses, clinics, and schools to once again minister safely to the blessed congregants and citizens of Anglophone Cameroon.”

The Cameroon crisis is rooted in conflict between the English- and French-speaking areas of Cameroon. Unrest has been ongoing since 2016, when the country’s Anglophone community began protests to demand the return of federalism after the government increased the use of French in schools and courts.

Some 3,000 people have died since the fighting began. According to the UN, there are an estimated 679,000 internally displaced people in Cameroon, and 60,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria.

At least 600,000 children have been unable to attend school in the Anglophone Southwest and Northwest Regions, with most schools having been shut down.

The bishops told president Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for 37 years, that “there will be no military victory for any side. A lasting solution to Cameroon’s problems must come from a mediated process that includes Anglophone armed-separatist groups and non-violent civil-society leaders. If all parties treat each other as they wish to be treated, a solution is possible.”

They noted that a Major National Dialogue held in October 2019 was laudable, but had not stopped the violence.

The dialogue had proposed that the Anglophone regions be given greater self-government, and the elction of local governors. In addition, Biya had ordered that charges against some 300 people held in connection with the Anglophone conflict be dropped, and opposition leader Maurice Kamto was released after nine months of imprisonment.

At least 22 people were killed in an attack on Ntumbo, a village in the Northwest Region, Feb. 14. Separatists blamed the government for the attack, but the government has denied involvement.

The area that is now Cameroon was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire's defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961.

There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Southern Cameroons.

Cameroon held parliamentary elections Feb. 9, which the local bishops noted took place in a calm atmosphere, but with low turnout.

The Cameroonian bishops noted that “four months after the holding of the Major National Dialogue, which proposed solutions for ending the crisis” in the Anglophone reigions, “we are still not satisfied with the situation in these regions.”

They added that “insecurity persists in spite of everything and has prevented many citizens living in these areas from exercising their civil rights.”

Catholics provide pastoral, physical aid in the face of coronavirus

Beijing, China, Feb 17, 2020 / 05:50 pm (CNA).- While the coronavirus outbreak continues, Catholics have sought to provide aid and pastoral care to those threatened by its spread.

In mainland China, the death toll of coronavirus has reached 1,771, and more than 70,600 have been infected in the country.

Jinde Charities, a government-recognized Catholic group in China, has provided $132 million worth of aid to support medical treatment by additional protective clothing, emergency masks, goggles, and disinfectants.

“Given the continuing severity of the epidemic, the provision of medical supplies such as protective clothing and masks to designated hospitals remains a top priority,” the charity said, according to a Feb. 12 statement.

“At present, the entire society, including the Chinese Catholic Church, is fighting the epidemic to save people,” the statement further read.

Father John Baptist Zhang, head of Jinde Charities, said there is more work to be done and urged the universal Church to provide more aid.

“We need brothers and sisters from the universal Church to join us in the fight against the plague of the human race by making use of the universal strength of the Catholic Church and by donating funds or medical supplies,” he said, according to UCA News.

The Vatican also donated 700,000 disposable respirator masks earlier this month.

Originating in Wuhan in China's Hubei province, the new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Most of the reported cases of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, are in China, but it has spread to 26 countries, with about 600 cases outside China. There have been four deaths outside mainland China, in Hong Kong, France, the Philippines, and Japan.

Numerous governments have imposed heavy travel restrictions in response to the outbreak. More than 780 million people in China are facing some form of travel restraints.

Several countries have also refused entry to tourists who have been in China.

The Westerdam cruiser stayed at sea for almost two additional weeks after visiting Hong Kong, a city with about 50 cases of coronavirus.

They could finally disembarked in Cambodia on Friday after the ship had been denied entrance in Taiwan, Guam, Thailand, and the Philippines. No one on board the ship was reported to have contracted the virus.

Among the 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, a priest of the Apostolate of the Sea of the United States of America was also stuck on board. The priest, who has asked to remain anonymous, provided both spiritual and counseling services to the passengers.

Doreen M. Badeaux, secretary-general of the Apostolate of the Sea of the United States of America, told ACI Prensa that the passengers were very frightened so the priest decided to "write a novena for the Coronavirus and those who attended Mass daily on board began to pray it every day.”

Besides saying daily Mass and hearing confessions, the priest also offered counseling services and pastoral care to any passenger regardless of their faith.

“During a time of such tension, it is very important to have a priest on board. The crew on board always has to be professional and not show their own stress or concern for passengers. But with the priest, the staff can relax and speak frankly, knowing that he will not share what they say,” Badeaux said.

"I think it reminded people to relax, pray and think about the people around them, realize that everyone was literally 'in the same boat', and be patient with the process," he further added.

In last Sunday Mass as Philly archbishop, Chaput retires with gratitude

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 17, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles Chaput has been a diocesan bishop for 31 years. For most of that time, his people have known where to find him on Sunday afternoon or evening: hearing confessions and offering Mass in his cathedral.

Chaput celebrated this weekend his last Sunday Mass as a diocesan bishop.

At the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Chaput told his parishioners he is grateful to them, and pointed following Jesus Christ as the pathway to truth and happiness.

“I’ll still be around, I’m not dying, I’m just retiring,” Chaput said Feb. 16, just days before the Tuesday installation of his successor, Archbishop-designate Nelson Perez.
 
In a homily that stayed tied to the Mass readings, characteristic of Chaput’s preaching style, the archbishop cited the second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, saying it captures his experience of ministry to the Church in Philadelphia.
 
“What eye has not seen and ear has not heard and what has not entered the human heart: what God has prepared for those who love him,” St. Paul wrote. “This, God has revealed to us, through the Spirit.”
 
Chaput thanked the congregation for “the gift of your presence in my life.”
 
“God bless you,” he concluded.
 
The archbishop described his successor Perez, until recently the Bishop of Cleveland, as “a very good man” who “will serve you well as archbishop.”
 
“I am very grateful to those who have supported me at this Mass,” he said, thanking the choir, cathedral rector Father Gerald Gill, and the cathedral community.
 
“Some of you are regular Mass attenders at this Sunday night Mass,” he said. “I’m very grateful for your presence. It really is the highlight of my week.”
 
“It’s hard for you to believe, isn’t it? Looking at you is the highlight of my week. I must have a very bad week,” he joked, before turning serious. “It’s been a very important part of my life, I’m very grateful to you.”
 
In his homily, Chaput reflected on divine law and God’s revelation.
 
“One of the problems with the commandments is we think of them as laws or rules. What they really are is a pattern of life,” Chaput said. “They’re not there to test us to see if we’re good, because we know we’re not, right? The commandments are there to show us how to be good.”
 
“God is telling us if you want to be happy, then don’t steal. If you want to be successful, you won’t bear false witness. If you want to have successful marriages, you won’t commit adultery,” the archbishop explained.
 
“We have freedom to choose whether or not to be good,” he said. At the same time, he emphasized that Christians can’t keep the commandments on their own, but must depend on God’s grace. Some struggle and sin again and again, “sometimes because we depend on ourselves rather than God.”
 
“Think about the most difficult (sins) for you: gossip, adultery, not to kill, not to anger,” Chaput said, stressing the importance of the commandments.
 
“What’s at stake here is our salvation, our eternal life, or our eternal damnation,” he added. stressing the importance of the commandments.  “You and I determine our future by what we choose: life--following the commandments—or death. Good or evil.”
 
On Sunday’s gospel, the archbishop warned of the “danger of scandal.”
 
“One of the biggest sins that you and I can commit is leading someone else into sin,” he said. “It’s bad enough we lead ourselves into sin. But it’s much worse if we lead ourselves into sin, and through that lead someone else into sin.”
 
Chaput said he couldn’t state it any clearer than Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
 
Archbishop Chaput asked the congregation: “When’s the last time you led somebody into sin by your sin?”

As an example, he mentioned the sexual temptations facing young people who are dating, temptations through which they can lead one another into serious sin.
 
“It’s really awful because they’re leading somebody they love into serious sin, as well as committing it themselves,” he said. Others teach children to use foul language by their example, or lead people into “patterns of selfishness” shown by their own lives.
 
Not following the commandments has an impact on the lives of people who are very important to us, and can lead them away from God.
 
The reading from Gospel of Matthew also teaches us how Jesus sees himself, Chaput said. While the law given to Moses stresses “you shall not kill,” Jesus elevates this to say that whoever is angry with his brother will also be under God’s judgment.
 
“Jesus is telling us that he has authority over the commandments, and that he calls us to a greater level of obeying them than Moses called the Jewish people to,” Chaput said.

“That’s what he means when he says your righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. Because he calls us not only to follow the commandments literally but to apply them across the board in our lives.”
 
“Even though most of us don’t kill other people, all of us here are angry with others. And we can’t curse them, or say, ‘go to hell,’ and really mean it,” the archbishop said. “Jesus ratchets it up and calls us to a greater intensity in following (the commandments).”
 
When Jesus says a man looking at a woman with lust commits adultery, Chaput said the conclusion “isn’t that we shouldn’t go ‘that far,’ we shouldn’t go down that path at all.”
 
Jesus’ use of exaggerated language, such as recommending someone cut off his hand rather than sin, makes the point of the seriousness of the matter.
 
“It would be better for us, really, that we don’t have a hand than that we sin,” said Chaput. “And we take sin so casually in our life.”
 
“Does Jesus really mean we can’t divorce and remarry? Is it all that bad?” he asked, referring to Jesus’ own teaching that remarriage after divorce is adultery.
 
“Jesus’ words are very clear and it really seems that he doesn’t allow exceptions for any of us,” said Chaput.
 
Jesus does not only reject false oaths, but his call to “let your ‘yes’ mean yes” is something that “calls us to integrity and truth in our ordinary relationships, and not just when we make vows and solemn promises.”
 
“Jesus was very serious about the Ten Commandments and invites us to do the same,” said Chaput. “We ask the Lord to give us a love for the commandments. We don’t see them as a burden, but as a pathway to joy and peace and great happiness in our lives.”
 
Pope Francis accepted Chaput’s retirement and appointed his months after the archbishop turned 75, when bishops customarily submit letters of resignation to the pope.

 

New Hong Kong bishop to be announced within weeks

Hong Kong, China, Feb 17, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Priests in the Diocese of Hong Kong are expecting the announcement of their new bishop within the next two weeks. 

“We have been told to expect an announcement within the next ten days or so,” a senior priest in Hong Kong told CNA Feb. 15. The priest confirmed that Rev. Peter Choy Wai-man is the expected appointee. 

“I think by the end of the month we should see something official,” the priest added.

The Hong Kong diocese has been without a permanent leader since the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung in January 2019.

On Jan. 17, CNA reported that the Vatican had selected Rev. Peter Choy Wai-man as Hong Kong’s new bishop but had decided to delay the announcement of Choy’s appointment indefinitely. 

The delay was reportedly because of local and Vatican concerns that Choy is seen as sympathetic with the mainland Chinese government, while many Catholics in Hong Kong are supportive or engaged in pro-democracy protests taking place in the region.

Echoing those concerns, one Hong Kong priest described Choy to CNA as a “pro-Beijing hawk.”

A second senior cleric in the diocese told CNA that despite those concerns, Vatican and Chinese authorities have agreed to Choy’s appointment, and concerns over a backlash among local Catholics have apparently subsided.  

“I think the coronavirus business has had at least something to do with it,” he told CNA. “It is not as simple as cause and effect, but it has contributed. Initially, the worry was it might feature in the street protests and [the announcement] was delayed at least until after the [Chinese] New Year [Jan. 25], which was very heavily restrained this year.”

“Now, with schools closed and public demonstrations much less on the agenda, there is a sense that the time is right.”

Fr. Choy was born in Hong Kong in 1959, and ordained a priest in 1986. Since Oct. 2017, he has served as one of four vicars general of the Diocese of Hong Kong, appointed with responsibility for the bishop’s office, the ongoing formation for both clergy and laity, and leading ecumenical and interreligious dialogue for the diocese. Choy also serves as the dean of Hong Kong’s seminary.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun SDB, who led the Diocese of Hong Kong from 2002-2009 and is a critic of the Vatican’s relationship to the Chinese government in Beijing, talked with CNA on Friday about the appointment. 

Zen said that Choy’s nomination could widen a growing divide among Chinese Catholics. 

“There is a group of young Catholics [in Hong Kong] who are very strongly against this nomination” he said. The cardinal added that they hoped the Vatican might revisit the decision before it was publicly announced.

“The Catholic establishment [in Hong Kong] is divided,” Zen said. “They say that the future bishop needs the blessing of Beijing.”

The cardinal mentioned broad support among local Catholics for Hong Kong auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who is associated with the protestors on the island, and has appeared at several demonstrations.

Last month, CNA reported that Bishop Ha had been initially selected by the Vatican to lead the Hong Kong diocese, but the decision was reversed after Ha was pictured at the front of a pro-democracy street demonstration.

“We have an auxiliary bishop, Bishop Ha, [who is] very good, and really a wise leader of the community during these last months,” Zen said. 

“But I know that the actual pontifical delegate, Cardinal Tong, he receives instructions from the Vatican and must follow those instructions – I suppose they are always on the line of compromise.”

CNA reported last month that Cardinal Tong had recommended against an announcement of Fr. Choy’s appointment until the political situation on the island had stabilized.

On Jan. 16, CNA asked Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See Secretary of State, about the selection of Fr. Choy to lead the Hong Kong diocese, and about the decision of the Vatican’s decision to delay announcing the appointment.

On Feb. 15, a spokesman for Cardinal Parolin told CNA that the cardinal had no comments on Fr. Choy’s reported selection or on the timing of any announcement of a new Bishop of Hong Kong.

 

Priest with brain tumor 'embraces it willingly' for victims of clergy abuse

Indianapolis, Ind., Feb 17, 2020 / 03:41 pm (CNA).- When Fr. John Hollowell went to Mayo Clinic for brain scans after what doctors thought was a stroke, he received a shocking diagnosis. The scans revealed that instead of stroke, he had a brain tumor.

While it is a serious diagnosis, Hollowell, a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said he believes the tumor was an answer to prayer.

“When the scandals of 2018 broke out, most of you know that they have affected me deeply, as they have most of the Church,” he wrote in his blog, On This Rock.

“I prayed in 2018 that if there was some suffering I could undertake on behalf of all the victims, some cross I could carry, I would welcome that. I feel like this is that cross, and I embrace it willingly.”

Hollowell was ordained in 2009 and serves as pastor of St. Paul the Apostle parish in Greencastle as well as pastor of Annunciation parish in Brazil, Indiana. He is also the Catholic chaplain at DePauw University and Putnamville Correctional Facility.

The plan for Hollowell’s treatment involves the removal of the tumor via brain surgery, and then both radiation and chemotherapy.

Hollowell said that while his treatments will not be as harsh as those for some other kinds of cancer, he still wants to offer up each day of his recovery, chemotherapy, and radiation for victims of clergy abuse.
“I would love to have a list of victims of priestly abuse that I could pray for each day. I would like to dedicate each day of this recovery/chemo/radiation to 5-10 victims, and I would like, if possible, to even write them a note letting them know of my prayers for them,” he said.

He encouraged victims, or those who know of a victim, to write to him with the victim’s name (with their permission) and with an address where he could send them a note when he prays for them.

He added that he would like to include in his prayers those victims who have been helped by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and asked that SNAP send him names of victims for whom he can pray.

Hollowell said he was grateful for his many “wonderful” doctors at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere who have been part of his care thus far.

“Each person has played a key role in this process, and I am very thankful and amazed by the state of medicine in the US in 2020,” he said.

Ultimately, the priest said he was “very much at peace.”

“Other than time in the hospital, the only effects of this tumor that I have had are 5 episodes of spasm/seizure that have each lasted 90 seconds. I also realize I am blessed to have uncovered it through this process vs. finding out about the tumor down the road after it had grown more in size,” he wrote.

“You all will be in my prayers, as I pray daily for the salvation of all the souls of those who live and study within my parish boundaries,” he added. “May Our Lady of Lourdes watch over and intercede for all those who are sick or suffering in any way!”