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Vatican:    Vatican flags at half-staff in solidarity with coronavirus victims

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2020 / 04:15 am (CNA).- Vatican flags are flying at half-staff on Tuesday in solidarity with the victims of the coronavirus in Italy and worldwide.

“Today, in solidarity with Italy, the Holy See will display flags at half-mast in mourning to express its closeness to the victims of the pandemic in Italy and in the world, to their families, and to all those who generously struggle for its end,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told journalists March 31.

Pope Francis met with the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the Vatican the day prior as the Italian government attempts to confront an outbreak which has led Italy to have the highest number of coronavirus mortalities in the world.

More than 11,500 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy after a total of 101,739 people have been documented by the Italian Ministry of Health as infected with the coronavirus. Throughout the world, more than 37,800 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Italy was the first country outside of China to implement a mandatory lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Conte announced the lockdown on March 9, and has since said that the national quarantine will be extended beyond the original April 3 deadline.

The Italian government has suspended all public religious gatherings, including funerals, throughout the country, and all restaurants, schools, and non-essential businesses remain closed.

Pope Francis also met with the mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi on March 28 at the Vatican. The Holy See did not release any further details about either of the private meetings.

Lazio, the Italian region in which Rome is located, has had 2,914 documented cases of COVID-19, including Rome’s vicar general, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis.

There have been six coronavirus cases connected to Vatican City. The Holy See has tested at least 170 employees for COVID-19, according to the Holy See Press Office, which confirmed that Pope Francis does not have the coronavirus on March 28.

Vatican liturgies for Holy Week and Easter will take place without the presence of people this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will be broadcast live for those quarantined at home.


Europe:    Britons rededicate England to the Blessed Virgin Mary

London, England, Mar 30, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- More than half a million people took part Sunday in the rededication of England to Our Lady Sunday, organizers have said.

The English bishops had originally asked Catholics to gather in churches and cathedrals for the rededication at noon March 29. They were forced to change their plans when the government imposed a lockdown across the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

They invited Catholics instead to follow the rededication ceremony live from their homes on the website of the Catholic National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady in Walsingham, Norfolk. So many logged on that the site crashed. Another website broadcasting the ceremony, churchservices.tv, also crashed. Organizers then asked viewers to follow the event on YouTube.

During the ceremony, Catholics recited an Act of Entrustment of England to Mary. The Act reaffirmed England’s status as the “Dowry of Mary”, a title dating back to at least the 14th century.

In a homily after the rededication, shrine rector Msgr John Armitage said: “When our bishops decided three years ago to undertake this rededication, they could never have foreseen the extent of our need at this time. Today we undertake this dedication in the ‘eye of the storm’.

“We have long pondered and treasured the words of Pope Leo XIII to an earlier generation of bishops: ‘When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.’ In the hour of our need Our Blessed Mother has indeed returned to England.”

In a message before the ceremony, Pope Francis said he prayed that the rededication would “inspire all to persevere in the urgent task of sharing the joy of the Gospel with the men and women of our times".

"As they strive to bear witness to the beauty of our Catholic faith, to promote unity between Christians and to proffer the merciful love of Jesus to the poorest of our brothers and sisters," he urged them "to draw wisdom and strength from the example and intercession of the country’s many confessors and martyrs.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, posted a video of himself reciting the rededication prayers at home.

“Today is the day we rededicate ourselves to Our Blessed Lady,” he wrote on Twitter. “This act of dedication asks of us to make a gift of ourselves to her. We ask for her protection, her mantle of love cast over us and our nations.”

Before the coronavirus outbreak, 299 churches, schools and organizations had signed up on a rededication map on the official website. After the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings, more than 2,000 individuals added their markers to the map.

Organizers said that a total of 382,000 people took part in the ceremony via livestreams. They explained that when they took into account the data from the map sign-ups, this brought the figure over 500,000. They added that this was a conservative estimate, as EWTN Great Britain also livestreamed the ceremony via Facebook, YouTube and its website.



Europe:    UK government reverses policy yet again, will allow at-home medical abortions

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 05:34 pm (CNA).- Amid the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and strict social distancing orders in the United Kingdom, the UK government has announced that women will be allowed to perform medical abortions at home until the coronavirus crisis ends.

The announcement drew dismay from pro-life groups in the country, pointing out that medical abortions, procured with a pair of pills, are dangerous for women even when done after a fac-to-face consultation with a doctor.

“It is unconscionable that the Government is contradicting their stance, yet again, to allow women to be taking both stages of the medical abortion at home,” Liz Parsons, Director of Advocacy for the UK pro-life charity Life, said March 30.

“It is an absolute disgrace that the abortion lobby should take advantage of the terrible situation we find ourselves in, with Covid-19, to instigate the biggest change to the 1967 Abortion Act we’ve seen in years, without any public consultation.”

Women seeking medical abortions will be allowed to take both abortion pills— mifepristone and misoprostol— at home up to the tenth week of pregnancy, according to a government spokeperson. Doctors would mail the pills to the patient after consulting with them with by telephone or video link.

UK abortion law had previously mandated that abortions only be carried out in a hospital, by a specialist provider or at a licensed clinic, with the approval of two doctors.

The government’s decision to allow women to take both abortion pills at home will be limited to to two years or until the end of the coronavirus crisis, the spokesperson said Monday.

“These significant changes will make it nearly impossible to discover underlying mental health issues, coercion or abuse, leaving these women without the real help and support they desperately need,” Parsons continued.

“The baby in the womb is one of the most vulnerable human beings in our society. We urge the Government to listen to its own advice and continue to put vulnerable people first.”

A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. Misoprostol is taken up to two days later, and induces labor.

Women in the UK are already allowed to take the second drug at home, after taking the first at a medical clinic and after obtaining the approval of two doctors, as required by law.

The newest legal changes come after U.K.’s Department for Health on March 23 announced that the country’s abortion laws were changing to allow women to complete a medical abortion at home, and then hours later retracted the announcement.

The change would have applied nationwide but only had practical effect in England. Home administering of medical abortions is already permitted under Scottish and Welsh law, The Week reports.

After the retraction, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the government has no plans to change abortion regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing ire from Members of Parliament and a number of pro-abortion medical groups in the UK.

The Mayo Clinic lists potential risks of medical abortion as including incomplete abortion, heavy and prolonged bleeding, infection, and fever, among other potential complications.

UK pro-abortion groups last week reiterated their support for telemedicine abortions. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had been recommending a nationwide expansion of abortion drug accessibility through the use of telemedicine since before the COVID-19 outbreak, most recently during December 2019.

“This would have reduced pressure on an already overwhelmed health system, limited risk of coronavirus infection for women, their families and healthcare professionals, while ensuring safe and timely access to abortion care,” a Wednesday joint statement from the RCOG and the Royal College of Midwives reads.

“Inaction is reckless and risks the health and wellbeing of women and frontline [National Health Service] workers.”

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children UK, a pro-life group, launched a national and international campaign calling for abortions to be halted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This radical and most disturbing policy would...have placed more women at risk,” John Smeaton, Chief Executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children UK, said last week.

“The removal of any direct medical supervision overseeing the use of both abortion pills could have seen a rise of physical and physiological complications experienced by women.”


US:    Dioceses announce staff cuts, but federal aid could help

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As Catholic dioceses and parishes begin to cut staff during the coronavirus pandemic, they could be eligible for unprecedented federal relief to keep their employees on their payrolls.

Bishops across the United States have suspended public liturgies and closed church buildings in response to state-issued public safety policies, and Catholic leaders have warned of an immediate revenue shortfall. Consequences of that shortfall include staff reductions, furloughs, and decreased hours.

The Diocese of Buffalo, which had already declared bankruptcy last year and announced plans for a reorganization, said on March 19 that it was “accelerating” the reorganization process for its Catholic Center. In all, 21 positions are being eliminated and three more positions moved from full-time to part-time staff.

Employees whose positions were eliminated are eligible to apply for unemployment compensation and will have health insurance until the end of April.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh had also begun a process of reorganizing before the coronavirus pandemic. A long-term decline in mass attendance and donations was exacerbated by new clergy sex abuse allegations made in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 the diocese began closing parishes and consolidating others.

On March 26, the diocese warned that “cost-cutting methods, including layoffs at the parish and diocesan level may be needed.” The diocesan newspaper, Pittsburgh Catholic, in continuous publication since 1844, saw all of its positions terminated and operations have been suspended indefinitely. The diocese also started an emergency fund.

Staffers at parishes in Pittsburgh and Trenton, New Jersey, meanwhile, told CNA that they had already been furloughed or laid off.

Riley McCullough, media coordinator for the Catholic Community of Wexford in the diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA she had been furloughed on March 27.

“None of us are the exception to the impacts of this pandemic,” she said. “None of us are the exception to our lives being changed.”

On March 24, the Diocese of Joliet cut wages and hours for diocesan and parish employees, the Joliet Patch reported.

“Precipitating this decision are the anticipated losses in revenue to our parishes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the governmental restrictions undertaken to halt the spread of the disease,” the diocese stated. The action was also taken “to avoid laying off diocesan or parish employees as a result of the crisis,” the diocese stated.

In Boston, blogger Rocco Palmo tweeted on Sunday evening, the archdiocese has advised parishes to make long-term financial plans and that staffing reductions might be necessary, as the archdiocese could only provide them limited and temporary financial relief.

Many parishes are not equipped for online giving and dioceses are already facing hefty financial settlements for clergy sex abuse lawsuits. In the diocese of Pittsburgh, “only about 10% of our parishes are set up for online giving,” stated communications director Jennifer Antkowiak in a March 26 release. 

The diocese set up an emergency fund for the coronavirus crisis, as did other dioceses and archdioceses such as Trenton and Chicago. However, in anticipation of reduced incomes, dioceses and parishes have already begun cutting or furloughing staff.

But as dioceses across the country work to scale back payrolls, one lawyer who works with religious institutions says that new federal policies that could pay for employee leave and provide emergency loans to non-profits, and bishops and pastors should consider their options before making any major staffing decisions.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Eric Kniffin, a partner in the religious institutions practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, told CNA on Monday. “Congress is essentially bribing businesses and nonprofits to keep people on payroll, making extraordinary, unprecedented offers.”

Kniffin referred to two new laws passed by Congress before members left Washington, D.C. for the next several weeks, in the new coronavirus pandemic.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18, provides for up to 12 weeks of paid leave. It offers to pay the salary of workers on leave for 12 weeks and pay the employer’s share of health insurance premiums.

The government foots the bill, Kniffin stressed, by providing a tax credit to employers that covers their Medicare tax, their share of the employee’s health insurance premium, and the employee’s pay.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed Congress last Friday and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, makes small business loans available to non-profits at two-and-a-half times their monthly payroll, Kniffin said. 

The loans can turn into grants under certain conditions: if they are used to cover payroll, mortgage or rent, and utility payments, if they are spent within eight weeks of issuance, and if the employer maintains payroll for one year by keeping the same number of employees and not reducing wages by more than 25%.

Even if dioceses and parishes are not able to maintain these conditions over time, there are formulas to determine loan forgiveness, Kniffin said.

Under another provision of the law, taxpayers can make a $300 donation to the charity of their choice and use it as a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on their 2020 taxes.

“These laws are brand new, and so of course it’s important to make sure how they apply to individual organizations,” he said. “But every ministry ought to take a close look at these before they start making big payroll decisions.”


Asia - Pacific:    Priests arrested for public Mass celebrations during coronavirus shutdowns

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Amid lockdowns responding to the coronavirus pandemic, at least three priests were arrested Sunday for celebrating Mass publicly, in alleged defiance of government orders banning religious gatherings during the pandemic.

In Uganda, Fr. Deogratius Kiibi Kateregga was arrested March 29 for celebrating Mass at St Joseph’s Catholic Parish in Mpigi, Uganda. There were reportedly at least 15 Catholics in attendance at the Mass.

The priest is well-known in Uganda, and came to national notoriety after a televised 2018 sermon at the memorial Mass for a Ugandan musician, Mowzey Radio, who died from injuries sustained in a bar fight.

Local officials said the priest was arrested along with seven other Catholics and was detained at the Mpigi police station.

“He was found preaching in the church in contravention of the presidential directives,” said Herbert Nuwagaba, the Mpigi District Police Commander.

“We want him to tell us why he is doing this," Godfrey Matovu, the Mpigi District Internal Security Officer, told the Daily Monitor.

The priest was released after parishioners protested on his behalf at the police station, according to local media reports.

On March 18, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni suspended religious and cultural gatherings for at least 32 days in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. Uganda currently has 30 cases of the coronavirus.

In India’s Kerala state, two priests, two seminarians, and three religious sisters were charged with violating government orders after a Mass celebrated in a chapel at the minor seminary of the Congregation of Missionaries of Faith in the Wayanad district of Kerala.

All seven were released after their arrest, according to UCA News, with a warning not to repeat their actions.

Father Manoj Kakkonal, a spokesman for the Mananthavady diocese, told UCA News that the arrest “seems to be a case of misunderstanding," because the Mass in question was celebrated inside the seminary chapel. The priests and seminarians are residents of the seminary, UCA News reported. 

The police were reportedly called after neighbors saw the religious sisters arrive at the chapel.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi instituted a 21-day lockdown on March 24.

Another arrest took place in Kerala on March 23, when Fr. Paul Padayatti from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Koodapuzha celebrated a requiem Mass at which more than 100 people attended. Kerala officials also said there have been two other incidents where authorities issued warning to priests conducting Mass.

As of March 29, India has reported 980 cases of COVID-19 and 24 deaths related to the outbreak, according to the New York Times.


Middle East - Africa:    Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed indefinitely

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed last week and has no definite timeline for reopening. This is the first time in nearly 700 years the holy site has closed for an extended period due to disease. 

The church building, which houses the tomb of Christ and the site of the crucifixion, was first closed to pilgrims and other visitors on Wednesday, March 25. Initially, the closure was only expected to last for one week, but religious and Israeli government officials agreed that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the global pilgrimage destination should not reopen. 

"The initial understanding is that this order is valid for one week, although nobody knows how long this crisis will take," Wadie Abu Nassar, a spokesperson for the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, told Reuters. 

Nassar said that if the church is still closed to the public at Easter, some sort of celebration will be arranged in line with the governmental guidelines and restrictions. Easter is celebrated on April 12 for Latin Rite Catholics and April 19 for Eastern Churches using the Julian calendar-- both dates are observed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

If this were to happen, said Nassar, pilgrims would still not be allowed inside, and the denominations that share custody of the church would coordinate to ensure that there are no more than 10 clerics and other leaders gathered inside at any time.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is unique among religious sites as it is partially controlled by several different Christian Churches. The Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Armenian Apostolic Church each share control of the building, and other Orthodox Churches also celebrate divine liturgy at the site. 

The last time the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed for an extended period was 1349, during an outbreak of the Black Death in Jerusalem. 

The church, which was first consecrated in the year 335, has been closed for short periods of time in the subsequent millennia due to war or other disputes. In 2018, to protest a proposed tax increase on churches, the site was closed to the public for about three days before reopening. 

Other religious sites, including the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, have also closed due to the Israeli government’s new restrictions aimed at preventing people from catching COVID-19. 

Authorities in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, closed the Church of the Nativity in early March after four cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in the town. The Church of the Nativity was built over the birthplace of Jesus Christ. All tourists were subsequently banned from entering Bethlehem.

Israel has taken a proactive approach in its attempts to contain the spread of COVID-19. On March 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that anyone entering the country would be forced to quarantine for a 14-day period. That announcement resulted in the cancelation or abrupt end to many pilgrimages, as travelers scrambled to secure flights back to the United States. 

Israel has recorded more than 4,000 cases of COVID-19, with 15 deaths.


Americas:    Priests and volunteers deliver 15,000 food baskets amid coronavirus pandemic

Lima, Peru, Mar 30, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Priests and volunteers have distributed more than 15,000 food baskets to Peruvians unable to work during the nation’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown. They say they aim to distribute 15,000 more.

Fr. Omar Sánchez Portillo, secretary general of Caritas Lurín and leader of region's Beatitudes Community, announced March 26 the distribution of 15,000 food baskets to families living on metro Lima’s south side. Lurín is a southern district of Lima, Peru.

“Today we’ve already distributed 15,000 food baskets in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of South Lima. And we’re going for another 15,000!” the priest said March 26.

Sanchez manages a home for orphans in Lurin, in addition to a homeless shelter. Earlier this month, he began an online fundraiser for cleaning supplies and other provisions needed for the facility. He said because of the success of the fundraiser, he was able to purchase food for distribution in the region.

He began another fundraiser when several families approached Caritas, “asking us for help so they could have something to eat because these are people who work as street vendors and motorcycle taxi drivers and unfortunately they don’t have anything to eat because they’re out of work.”

For roughly four dollars per basket, his organization is able to assemble enough staples to replenish the food stores of hungry families.

Sanchez described one family assisted by his group, in which nine family members had been quarantined while the family’s father had been hospitalized. The family had run out of food by the time Caritas brought them a food basket.

Thanks to the group’s donors, Sanchez said, “we gave them a little statue of Our Lady of Aparecida donated by some good friends from Brazil…. We’ll keep on going!”

The delivery of food baskets is being undertaken in coordination with public health authorities, in order to avoid crowding at the headquarters of the Beatitudes Community.

Volunteers reportedly stay quarantined on the premises so as to avoid possibly infecting their families or other citizens.

The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency starting March 15, limiting travel in the country, closing public institutions and private businesses and issuing a 15 day stay-at-home order for all residents. However, on March 26 it announced the order would be extended to April 15.

While isolation and social distancing measures are expected to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, day laborers have been especially hard hit financially.

There are 950 coronavirus cases in Peru and 24 deaths.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Vatican:    Rome’s De Donatis is first cardinal known to have coronavirus

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, has tested positive for coronavirus. He is the first cardinal known to have the virus.

The cardinal has been admitted to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome with a fever. He is reportedly in good condition, and his close collaborators are reported to be self-isolating, according to a statement from the Vicariate of Rome.

“I feel serene and confident amid this trial,” the cardinal said in a statement March 30. “I entrust myself to the Lord and to support from the prayers of all of you, dear faithful of the Church in Rome.”

“I live this moment as an occasion given to me in Providence so that I can share the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters. I offer my prayers for them, for the whole diocesan community and for the inhabitants of the city of Rome,” the cardinal added.

While Pope Francis is the Bishop of Rome, the day-to-day leadership of the diocese is provided for by De Donatis, who enjoys broad vicarious authority delegated by the pope.

The cardinal, 66, was chosen by Pope Francis in 2014, while not yet a bishop, to offer the Lenten spiritual exercises to the Roman Curia, a job traditionally given to a cardinal. In 2015 he became an auxiliary bishop in Rome, and became vicar general of Rome in 2017. He was created a cardinal in 2018.

One Catholic bishop is known to have died from the virus, which is a global pandemic, and several have been diagnosed with it, among them is New Orleans' Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Nearly 100 priests are reported to have died of the virus.



Europe:    During coronavirus, German cardinal opens seminary to feed homeless

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne has opened the archdiocesan seminary to feed and shelter the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic. The seminary had been partly emptied due to renovation works and students were sent home and classes suspended in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The cardinal first announced the project on Sunday, March 29. “I have decided to open up our seminary for the homeless while our seminarians are gone due to the corona restriction,” Woelki said on Sunday.

“We want to offer warm meals and access to restrooms and showers to those who have nobody to turn to these days in Cologne.”

The seminary opened its ministry to the homeless on Monday, offering meals in a dining hall with 20 individual tables, so that those coming in could be served while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.

CNA Deutsch, Catholic News Agency’s German language sister organization, reported March 30 that food is being catered by the archdiocese’s general vicariate and that hygiene and safety standards are being overseen by Malteser, the medical organization of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

In addition to food, the seminary is providing access to showers to both men and women, with facilities open Saturdays to men between 11am and 1pm, and women between 1pm and 2pm. The archdiocese says that it expects to serve between 100-150 people.

Although homeless shelters remain open in the city, social distancing and other measures taken to halt the spread of coronavirus have added to ordinary difficulties faced by the homeless. In Cologne, Caritas have highlighted that those who rely on begging in the streets now have far fewer people whom they can ask for assistance.

"Many of the people on the street are just hungry and have not been able to wash for days," Woelki said on Monday.

The seminary is being partly staffed by volunteers from the archdiocesan youth center, as well as theology students from the schools in Cologne, Bonn and Sankt Augustin.

“Earlier today I had the chance to welcome the first 60 guests to our (temporarily) rededicated seminary,” Woelki said Monday via Twitter. “Many are in great need. But how inspiring it was to see the young volunteers and the sense of community.”

"Our congregations are not only worship congregations, but also always Caritas congregations, and every baptized Christian is not only called to worship and to profess faith, but also to charity," the cardinal said, adding that the Church’s call to service can never be suspended.

The archdiocese also announced Sunday that is providing medical treatment for six Italian coronavirus patients in need of intensive care. The patients were airlifted out of northern Italy, the region hardest-hit by the virus, by the German air force and the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Cardinal Woelki called the medical treatment “an act of charity and international solidarity” with the Italian people.


Vatican:    Pope Francis warns of a coronavirus ‘genocide’ if economy prioritized over people

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 11:16 am (CNA).- In a private letter to an Argentine judge, Pope Francis is reported to have warned that government decisions to prioritize the economy over people could result in a “viral genocide.”

“The governments that face the crisis in this way show the priority of their decisions: the people first. ... It would be sad if they opted for the opposite, which would lead to the death of very many people, something like a viral genocide,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter sent March 28, according to America Magazine, which reported it had obtained the letter.

The pope sent a handwritten note in response to a letter from Judge Roberto Andres Gallardo, the president of the Pan-American Committee of Judges for Social Rights, Argentine news agency Telam reported March 29.

“We are all concerned at the increase … of the pandemic,” Pope Francis wrote, while praising some governments for “adopting exemplary measures with priorities that are well targeted at defending the population” and serving “the common good.”

The pope also said he was “edified by the response of so many people, doctors, nurses, volunteers, religious, priests, who risk their lives to heal and defend healthy people from contagion,” Telam reported.

Pope Francis recounted in the letter that he has been in discussions with the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development to “prepare ourselves for what follows” the global coronavirus outbreak.

“There are already some consequences that must be faced: hunger, especially for people without permanent work, violence, the appearance of usurers (who are the true plague of a social future, dehumanized criminals),” he wrote, according to Telam.

The pope’s letter also cited the economist Dr. Mariana Mazzucato, whose published work argues that state intervention can drive growth and innovation.

“I believe [her vision] can help to think about the future,” he wrote in the letter, which also mentioned Mazzucato’s book “The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy,” according to America Magazine.

To combat the spread of the coronavirus, at least 174 countries have implemented COVID-19 related travel restrictions, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

Argentina was one of the first Latin American countries to implement strict coronavirus restrictions prohibiting entry to foreigners on March 17 and implemented a 12-day mandatory quarantine on March 20.

There have been 820 documented coronavirus cases in Argentina and 22 deaths from COVID-19.

“The choice is to take care of the economy or take care of lives. I chose to take care of lives,” Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said March 25, according to Bloomberg.

Global documented coronavirus cases have surpassed 745,000 confirmed cases, of which more than 100,000 cases are in Italy and 140,000 in the United States, reports the Italian Ministry of Health and Johns Hopkins University respectively.



US:    NYC mayor threatens 'permanent' closure of churches defying coronavirus ban

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday, March 27 threatened to “permanently” shut down houses of worship that continue to hold public services in violation of the city’s ban on gatherings of any size. 

The mayor cited a "small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues,” that are continuing to hold religious services despite a prohibition on anyone being within six feet of a person they do not live with. The restrictions were made in an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has infected thousands of New Yorkers and has killed over 1,000 people in the state. 

De Blasio warned that if these communities were found to be holding religious services, “our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.” 

The religious congregations would also be subject to other punishments for continued defiance of the stay-at-home order, de Blasio added. This “additional action” that would be taken includes fines, as well as “potentially closing the building permanently.”

Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, which cover all five boroughs of New York City, suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14 and March 16, respectively. New York’s “stay-at-home” order was issued on March 22, and was recently extended through April 15. 

De Blasio’s threat to shut down religious buildings “permanently” provoked criticism from religious liberty experts, his legal authority to do so.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Further, the New York State Constitution states, “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind.” 

"Mayor de Blasio surely didn’t mean what he said, because there’s no way he or any other government official would ever have the power to shut down a church, synagogue, or mosque permanently,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. 

Rienzi said that, given the context, the mayor “appears to be talking about the temporary need to ensure proper social distancing in a time of crisis,” which Rienzi said was a “valid governmental interest.” 

Rienzi called the phrasing of de Blasio’s comments “unfortunate,” and said they were not helping to soothe the fears of religious groups, particularly as those same religious groups are providing emergency relief work to those impacted by COVID-19. 

“Right now, we need religious groups and the government to continue working together to keep everyone as safe as possible,” said Rienzi. “The First Amendment will protect against any needless targeting of religious groups in a time of crisis.”


Vatican:    Six sisters from same Italian convent have died, as coronavirus spreads among religious orders

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 09:06 am (CNA).- Six sisters in one northern Italian convent have died of coronavirus, and nine sisters are being treated in the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, according to Italian media. Coronavirus is spreading among several religious houses in Italy.

An outbreak in the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity Mother House in Tortona, Italy led half of its 40 sisters to test positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

“Many times as Little Missionary Sisters of Charity we have set ourselves the goal of sharing the lives of the poor and the least, the fragile lives,” Sister Gabriella Perazzi told Vatican News.

“At this moment we share the lives of many people, who throughout Italy and all over the world, experience this fragility in the face of something that comes and upsets the life of a family, like that of a religious community,” she said. “I believe that the Lord calls us today to serve here, in this precariousness.”

After the Red Cross evacuated 19 sisters in the community to a hospital on March 12, the remaining Little Missionary Sisters of Charity were placed under quarantine in another residence.

Sister Gabriella and one other sister remained behind in the Mother House to tend to six elderly sisters who had not tested positive for the coronavirus, but suffer from other health problems.

“We stayed because these sisters need assistance and our motherhouse is for us a sort of retirement home where the [sisters] come after a life spent in service,” she said. “We have remained at our own risk.”

The motherhouse in Tortona is closely connected to the order’s founder, St. Luigi Orione, 1872-1940, who also founded the Sons of Divine Providence, an order of priests and brothers, dedicated to the care of the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported on March 27 that nine sisters remained hospitalized in Tortona’s COVID-19 hospital, and four have been discharged.

The six Little Missionary Sisters of Charity to have died of COVID-19 are Sister Maria Annetta Ribet, 85, Sister Maria Cristina Fontes, 91, Sister Maria Filomena Licitra, 98, Sister Maria Ulisia Felici, 86, Sister Maria Caterina Cafasso, 82, and Mother Maria Ortensia Turati, 89.

The coronavirus can spread quickly in a religious order because of their shared community life. In two Rome convents, at least 58 religious sisters have tested positive for the coronavirus.

A religious community of the Daughters of San Camillo, dedicated to care for the sick, had 40 sisters test positive for COVID-19, one of whom was hospitalized on March 20.

The Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul, which has a convent in Rome, had 19 sisters out of 21 test positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.

A missionary order of priests in Parma, the Xaverian Missionary Fathers, have seen 16 elderly priests and brothers die since February 29, however the religious community could not confirm that all of these deaths were due to COVID-19.

“Adding to the fact that given the health emergency in the city, and having us an internal assistance service with one of our medical confreres, we thought we would not aggravate the workload of the hospital, believing that we would manage it on our own,” Fr. Rosario Giannattasio, superior of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers’ Italian province told Avvenire March 27.

The deceased Xaverian priests and brothers had previously served as missionaries in Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda, Congo, Sierra Leone, and Bangladesh.

More than 10,000 people in Italy have died of COVID-19 according to the Italian Ministry of Health. Among the dead are at least 79 diocesan priests in Italy.



US:    USCCB domestic justice chairman welcomes coronavirus aid bill

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development has praised congressional efforts to offset the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City issued a statement in response to the passage Friday of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), which provides more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus and relief.

“We are in a time of twin crises and united purpose: during the worst global public health crisis in our lifetimes, we are also experiencing what may be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Coakley said in a statement released March 28.

“Yet, around the world, we are united in common purpose of caring for the sick, pursuing a cure, and lifting the human spirit.”

Coakley highlighted the essential service of people working to keep society safe, healthy, and functioning during the pandemic, singling out supermarket workers and healthcare professionals for special praise, calling them “tireless and inspiring.”

The archbishop also noted the “long hours and late nights” Congress required to reach bipartisan agreement on the CARES stimulus package. At several points, congressional leadership were lock in debate about the act’s provisions, especially $500 billion made available to the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to ensure corporate liquidity, and Democrat demands that abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood be eligible for small business relief.

The CARES Act was passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives on Friday and signed into law by President Donald Trump later that day. It had previously passed the Senate on March 25 by a margin of 96-0.

The act authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.

Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.

The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.

Coakley noted that while “nothing is perfect,” “given the extraordinary needs of the moment, this $2.2 trillion package is the most expensive single piece of legislation in American history.”

“We are grateful for many provisions that will help the poor and vulnerable, including several provisions that will help employers retain their workers, and provisions that will help the many people who unfortunately have been laid off and will need immediate income when present circumstances make getting a new job much more difficult,” he said Saturday.

“It is good that there will be direct financial assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, and that there will be an infusion of financial resources for hospitals and charitable institutions which will be asked to do more than ever during this crisis.”

But, Coakley said, “there are some areas where aid and relief can improve.”

“We will continue to advocate for those most in need, for food security, for the homeless, for prisoners, for the sick who have large medical bills, for all Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, and for those who have lost friends and loved ones.”

The archbishop particularly expressed his “disappointment” that some aid and relief measures were not extended to undocumented migrants living in the United States, and said that it is “extremely concerning that testing and access to health care coverage was denied to certain immigrants.”

“The health and wellbeing of all in this crisis is threatened if anyone is categorically excluded from getting help,” said Coakley.

Referring to Pope Francis’s homily and Apostolic Benediction, delivered to an empty St. Peter’s square on Friday, Coakley noted the pope’s chosen gospel of the disciples witnessing Christ calm the storm.

“Now is a time of great anxiety and distress. We are less in control than we thought.  This Lent is a time to return ever more to our faith, to trust in the Lord even in the midst of all this trouble. As Pope Francis said, the Lord ‘will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.’”


Vatican:    Pope Francis: Trust in the mercy and justice of God

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Monday that the Church can trust in the mercy and justice of God.

“Each of us has our own stories. Each of us has our own sins. And if you do not remember them, think a little: you will find them,” Pope Francis said March 30 in his daily Mass broadcast.

“Let us look to the Lord who acts with justice, but is very merciful. Let us not be ashamed of being in the Church: let us be ashamed of being sinners. The Church is the mother of all,” he said.

In his homily, the pope compared the lives and circumstances of two women described in the day’s Mass readings: Susanna and the woman caught in adultery.

The first reading from the Book of Daniel describes a “beautiful and God-fearing woman”, Susanna, who is falsely accused of infidelity by two elders and ultimately justified after Daniel’s examination of the deceitful old men.

The Gospel of John describes an encounter between Jesus and a woman charged by the scribes and Pharisees of committing adultery. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” and then to the woman: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Pope Francis said: “The innocent and the sinner. The Fathers of the Church saw a figure of the Church in these women: holy, but with sinful children."

“Both women were in a dark valley … one fell into the hands of hypocrites and the other into the hands of the corrupt," he said.

Francis noted that both women, the innocent and the sinner, faced a death sentence. The woman accused by the corrupt was “an innocent woman, falsely accused, slandered,” while the one condemned by hypocrites was a sinful woman.

“What does the Lord do with these people? To the innocent woman, he saves her, he brings justice. To the sinful woman, he forgives her. To the corrupt judges, he condemns them; to the hypocrites, he helps them to convert,” the pope said.

“In the first case, the people praise the Lord; in the second case, the people learn what God's mercy is like,” he said.

Francis said that the corrupt put themselves in the place of God and “were unable to ask for forgiveness.”

“May each one of us, seeing how Jesus acted in these cases, entrust ourselves to God's mercy and pray, trusting in God's mercy, asking forgiveness” the pope said.

In his livestramed Mass from the chapel in his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, the pope prayed for people who are paralyzed by fear because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“May the Lord help them to stand up, to act for the good of all society, of the whole community,” he said.

“Because God guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley -- the valley of sin --  I fear no harm for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage,” Pope Francis said at the end of his homily.


Vatican:    Pope Francis prays for those who weep from coronavirus loneliness or loss

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- In his Sunday homily, Pope Francis said it is a grace to weep with those who weep as many people suffer from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many cry today. And we, from this altar, from this sacrifice of Jesus -- of Jesus who was not ashamed to cry -- ask for the grace to cry. May today be for everyone like a Sunday of tears,” Pope Francis said in his homily on March 29.

Before offering Mass in the chapel of his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, the pope said that he was praying for people who are weeping because of coronavirus loneliness, loss, or economic hardship.

“I think of so many people crying: isolated people in quarantine, lonely elderly people, hospitalized people, people in therapy, parents who see that since there is no salary they will not be able to feed their children,” he said.

“Many people cry. We too, from our hearts, accompany them. And it won't hurt us to cry a little with the Lord's weeping for all of his people,” he added.

Pope Francis focused his homily on one line from the Gospel of John’s account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus: “And Jesus wept.”

“How tenderly Jesus weeps!” Pope Francis said. “He cries from the heart, cries with love, cries with his [people] who cry.”

“The cry of Jesus. Perhaps, he wept at other times in his life - we do not know -- certainly in the Garden of Olives. But Jesus cries for love, always,” he added.

The pope said that Jesus cannot help but to look upon people with compassion:“How many times have we heard in the Gospel this emotion of Jesus, with a phrase that is repeated: 'Seeing, he had compassion.’”

“Today, facing a world that suffers so much, in which so many people suffer the consequences of this pandemic, I ask myself: ‘Am I capable of crying as … Jesus is now? Does my heart resemble that of Jesus?'” he said.

In his livestreamed Angelus address, Pope Francis reflected again on the Gospel account of the death of Lazarus.

“Jesus could have avoided the death of his friend Lazarus, but he wanted to make our pain for the death of loved ones his own, and above all he wanted to show God's dominion over death,” the pope said.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days, Francis explained. Lazarus’ sister Martha runs to meet Jesus and says to him: "If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

“Jesus replies: ‘Your brother will rise’ and adds: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.' Jesus shows himself as the Lord of life, the One who is capable of giving life even to the dead,” the pope said after quoting the Gospel.

“Have faith! In the midst of crying, you continue to have faith, even if death seems to have won,” he said. “Let the Word of God bring life back to where there is death.”

Pope Francis said: “God's answer to the problem of death is Jesus.”

The pope called on each person  to remove “everything that tastes of death” from their lives, including hypocrisy, criticism of others, slander, and the marginalization of the poor.

“Christ lives, and whoever welcomes him and adheres to him comes into contact with life,” Francis said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to be compassionate like her Son Jesus, who made our pain his own. Each of us is close to those who are in affliction, become for them a reflection of the love and tenderness of God, who frees us from death and makes life victorious,” Pope Francis said.


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