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Bishops ask for peace after white nationalist rally turns deadly

Catholic bishops called for peace after three people died and several others were injured following clashes between pacifists, protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11 and 12.

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Morning Briefing

Morning Briefing: Students heading back to school; Catholic bishops condemn white supremacist rally; Australian Church warns of same-sex coercion for schools

Sudanese bishop: papal visit to South Sudan possible in 2018

NCR Interview: Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala said Aug. 11 that recent discussions with the Vatican gave him hope that Pope Francis will be able to visit South Sudan next year. 

Game after joyous game, baseball lifts the spirits

Washington may be a swamp and the White House at new lows, but this summer the D.C. team, the Nationals, romps on a field of dreams. Homers are common, whiffs rare.

Genocide of Christians continues in Middle East, says new U.S. report

IMAGE: CNS photo/Suhaib Salem, Reuters

By Josephine von Dohlen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Trump administration renews its commitment to the protection of religious minority groups threatened by the Islamic State in the Middle East, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the preface of the annual State Department report on international religious freedom, released Aug. 15.

"ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled," Tillerson said in a statement Aug. 15. "ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities."

Since the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the State Department documents the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries around the world, reporting to Congress the "violations and abuses committed by governments, terrorist groups, and individuals."

Ambassador Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, which produces the report, spoke about it in a news conference Aug. 15, saying the report is used to create a fact base for U.S. government decision-making.

Kozak reported that while conditions for many do remain critical, there are signs of hope for the future.

"ISIS is being defeated," Kozak said. "Since the defeat of ISIS in great chunks of Iraq, it means that religious minorities can return to their liberated towns and villages and the next challenge is to see that they have security and that their homes are rebuilt."

Over the past 15 years, the number of Christians has fallen from between 1.4 million and 800,000 Christians to 250,000 Christians in Iraq today, with two-thirds being members of the Chaldean Catholic Church and nearly one-fifth members of the Assyrian Church of the East, according to the report. In Syria, less than 10 percent of the entire population is Christian.

"There is a growing consensus on the need to act, the genocidal acts of ISIS awakened the international community to the threats facing religious minorities," Kozak said.

One way the U.S. responds to the threats of IS, as the Islamic State also is known, is through the Global Coalition, which was founded in 2014 as a group of 68 members, formed specifically for the purpose of reducing the number of threats from IS through military and other campaigns against the militant group, as well as providing humanitarian assistance to both Iraq and Syria.

"In the areas liberated from ISIS, the preferred option is to return people to their traditional villages and areas because we don't want to uproot communities that have been there for thousands of years and take them elsewhere, if we can help them with the security and other means that they need to be able to resume traditional role as the valued members of their own societies," Kozak said.

Kozak told the press that the U.S. has a "good record" in fighting against genocide, stating that the U.S. is in the process of "defeating the perpetrators of genocide pretty soundly" in Iraq and elsewhere, as he discussed the legal and moral obligations of countries working to combat genocide.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry first used the word genocide to describe the IS attacks in Iraq and Syria against minority religious groups such as the Christians, Yezidis and the Shiite Muslims back in March 2016.

Trump recently nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to the post of ambassador at large for international religious freedom, whose position would allow him to work with the office of international religious freedom in the U.S. State Department to support religious freedom throughout the world.

In his weekly video address in April, President Donald Trump reminded America of the country's commitment to religious freedom.

"From the beginning, America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship," Trump said April 14. "Sadly, many around the globe do not enjoy this freedom. ... We pray for the strength and wisdom to achieve a better tomorrow -- one where good people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience."

In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its own report covering the 2016 calendar year and up to February 2017. Separate from the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, the commission offers similar recommendations to the administration and to Congress on the state of religious freedom worldwide.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Bishops ask for peace after white nationalist rally turns deadly

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Bourg, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the aftermath of a chaos- and hate-filled weekend in Virginia, Catholic bishops and groups throughout the nation called for peace after three people died and several others were injured following clashes between pacifists, protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11 and 12.

A 32-year-old paralegal, Heather D. Heyer, was killed when a car plowed into a group in Charlottesville Aug. 12. The driver was identified as James Alex Fields, who allegedly told his mother he was attending a rally for President Donald Trump. Reports say the car allegedly driven by Fields plowed into a crowd during a white nationalist rally and a counter-rally the afternoon of Aug. 12.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said early Aug. 14 the "evil attack" meets the legal definition of domestic terrorism and suggested pending federal charges for Fields, who was arrested and was being held without bail. Fields was formally charged Aug. 14 by a Charlottesville judge with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.

Outside the Charlottesville courthouse where Judge Robert Downer handed down the charges and Fields appeared via video link from jail, white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed, but there were no arrests.The same day, anti-racism rallies were held in several cities.

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, was one of the first to call for peace following the violence in Charlottesville late Aug. 11, which only became worse the following day.

On the evening of Aug. 11, The Associated Press and other news outlets reported a rally of hundreds of men and women, identified as white nationalists, carrying lit torches on the campus of the University of Virginia. Counter-protesters also were present during the rally and clashes were reported.

The following day, at least 20 were injured and the mayor of Charlottesville confirmed Heyer's death later that afternoon via Twitter after the car allegedly driven by Fields rammed into the crowd of marchers. Two Virginia State Police troopers also died when a helicopter they were in crashed while trying to help with the violent events on the ground. CNN reported that 19 others were injured and remained hospitalized Aug. 14 but were listed in good condition.

"In the last 24 hours, hatred and violence have been on display in the city of Charlottesville," said Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in a statement on the afternoon of Aug. 12. "I earnestly pray for peace."

Charlottesville is in Bishop DiLorenzo's diocese.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the events "abhorrent acts of hatred" in an Aug. 12 statement. He said they were an "attack on the unity of our nation."

Virginia's governor declared a state of emergency Aug. 12 when violence erupted during the "Unite the Right" white nationalist protest against the removal of a statue of a Confederate general, Gen. Robert E. Lee. But the trouble already had started the night before with the lit torches and chants of anti-Semitic slogans on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

"Racism is evil," President Trump said in an Aug. 14 statement. "And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. ... As I said on Saturday (Aug. 12), we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America."

Trump was excoriated by many across the country for his Aug. 12 statement, because he condemned hatred, bigotry and violence "on many sides" in Charlottesville and did not specifically target white supremacists then, his critics said.

Other groups, including many faith groups, seeking to counter the white nationalist events showed up during both events. Authorities reported clashes at both instances.

"Only the light of Christ can quench the torches of hatred and violence. Let us pray for peace," said Bishop DiLorenzo in his statement. "I pray that those men and women on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully."

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, which covers Northern Virginia, tweeted on what was happening in Charlottesville and followed up with a lengthy statement, calling the events "saddening and disheartening."

"The more we read about the demonstration of racism, bigotry and self-proclaimed superiority made it seem as though we were living in a different time," said Bishop Burbidge, noting "much progress made" since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. "And yet, there are some who cling to misguided and evil beliefs about what makes American unique and remarkable."

He condemned "all forms of bigotry and hatred," denouncing "any form of hatred as a sin."

"We must find unity as a country. Unity does not mean we all believe the same things," Bishop Burbidge said. "We must be united by a shared interest in freedom, liberty and love for our neighbor. ... Without respect for each other, even when we adamantly disagree, we will see more violence and discord in this great nation."

On Twitter, Jesuit Father James Martin also denounced racism as a sin and said: "All Christians, all people of faith, should not only reject it, not only oppose it, but fight against it."

Other bishops quickly followed in denouncing the violence.

"May this shocking incident and display of evil ignite a commitment among all people to end the racism, violence, bigotry and hatred that we have seen too often in our nation and throughout the world," said Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis, Tennessee, in an Aug. 13 statement. "Let us pray for the repose of the souls of those who died tragically, including the officers, and for physical and emotional healing for all who were injured. May ours become a nation of peace, harmony and justice for one and all."

Chicago's Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said Aug. 12 via Twitter: "When it comes to racism, there is only one side: to stand against it."

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia called racism the "poison of the soul," and said in a statement that it was the United States' "original sin" and one that "never fully healed."

He added that, "blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity."

On Aug. 13, Cardinal DiNardo, along with Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a statement saying: "We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love's victory over every form of evil is assured."

Several other U.S. bishops issued statements or tweeted messages condemning racism, white supremacy and the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori expressed sorrow about the events in a tweet, saying, "Our deepest prayers go out to those killed and wounded in Charlottesville. We must all work together to end the scourge of racism, and unite for the common good of all. Racism must be countered with love & respect."

"We all watched the violence in Virginia this weekend with sadness and disgust," Bishop Donald J. Hying of Gary, Indiana, tweeted. "The destructive evil of racism, Nazism and supremist ideologies that have no place in any human society."

He added, "We join both our prayers and our condemnation to that of millions of people in our country and world who want to build an authentic civilization of life and love."

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said the Catholic men, women and children of the archdiocese of Newark, "people who trace their roots to every continent of the world and represent every race and ethnicity" viewed with horror the events in Charlottesville and condemned "the racism and vicious rhetoric that contributed to this tragic moment in our nation's history."

"We stand in prayer and solidarity with all people of goodwill and we witness to our Christian calling to 'love your enemies ... that you may be children of your heavenly Father."

"Hatred & vile racist actions defile the USA. Such activity is NEVER justified. Those who planned these acts must be denounced & defied," said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in a tweet.

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, tweeted: "Pray for an end to the evil of racism. And pray, especially today for its victims. Pray for justice and mercy in our nation."

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond said what took place in Charlottesville "demonstrates again the racism, hatred, and violence that exists in our world today. This can never be justified and is contrary to Gospel values."

He urged Catholics "to stand united against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism. We must be prophetic in speaking about and living the values of Jesus."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope entrusts to Mary victims of disasters, conflict, social tension

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a week in which natural disasters, war and racial conflicts dominated the headlines, Pope Francis prayed that Mary would bring peace to a divided world.

After reciting the Angelus prayer on the feast of the Assumption, the pope asked Mary to obtain "for everyone consolation and a future of serenity and harmony."

"To Mary, Queen of Peace -- who we contemplate today in the glory of paradise -- I entrust once again the anxieties and sorrows of the people who suffer in many parts of the world due to natural disasters, social tensions or conflicts," the pope told thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square Aug. 15.

Pope Francis did not name any specific location, but as he spoke, the search for survivors continued in Sierra Leone after a devastating mudslide engulfed the outskirts of the capital, Freetown, killing more than 300 people. Flooding and landslides also struck southern Nepal, killing at least 70 people.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, clashes between white nationalists and protesters resulted in the death of three people, including a 32-year-old paralegal, Heather D. Heyer, who was killed Aug. 12 when a car plowed into a group protesting the white nationalist rally.

In his main Angelus talk, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading, which recalled Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

The joy felt by Elizabeth and the child in her womb reflects the interior joy Christians feel in Christ's presence, the pope said. "When Mary arrives, joy overflows and bursts from their hearts because the invisible yet real presence of Jesus fills everything with meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people. Everything!"

In response, Mary proclaims the Magnificat, her hymn of praise to God for his great works. Pope Francis said it is the hymn of "humble people, unknown to the world, like Mary, like her husband Joseph as well as the town where they live, Nazareth."

God accomplishes "great things with humble people," the pope said, inviting people in St. Peter's Square to reflect on the state of their own humility.

"Humility is like an empty space that leaves room for God. A humble person is powerful because he is humble, not because he is strong. This is the greatness of humility," he said.

The joy Mary brings because she brings Jesus to the world gives all Christians "a new ability to pass through the most painful and difficult moments with faith" as well as the "ability to be merciful, to forgive, understand and support each other."

"Mary is a model of virtue and faith," Pope Francis said. "We ask her to protect and sustain us that we may have a faith that is strong, joyful and merciful. May she help us to become saints, to meet her one day in paradise."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Catholics on Guam pray for peace amid threats by North Korea

IMAGE: CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters

By Tony C. Diaz

HAGATNA, Guam (CNS) -- The Catholic Church on Guam is urging its members and all people on the island to be prayerful and stay centered in Christ amid threats of missile attacks by North Korea.

Coadjutor Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes of Agana asked all priests to promote prayers of peace at all Masses Aug. 13 as tensions continue, following threats by North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un to attack this American territory in the Marianas Islands.

"In your Masses this Sunday, especially in the prayer of the faithful, please offer prayers for peace between our nations, just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action," Archbishop Byrnes said in a message to all priests of the Archdiocese of Agana Aug. 11.

"Please also offer prayers for the men and women of our military, especially those whom we host on Guam, that they might find grace for diligence and courage as they execute their respective duties," he said.

Guam has long had a high strategic military importance to the United States because of its location in the Marianas Islands and has been home to several U.S. military bases for many decades. B-52 bombers were regularly deployed from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and '70s.

Residents of this predominantly Catholic island community first woke up to the alarming news of North Korea threats to Guam Aug. 9. The archdiocese issued a message to all Catholics and the community in general that same day urging everyone to "stay grounded in the peace of Christ."

"Look to God during these difficult times when world peace is threatened and pray always," the archdiocese said.

That message by Father Jeff San Nicolas, the coadjutor archbishop's delegate general, cited the Gospel of John: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."

The archdiocese also echoed the message of Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo asking everyone to remain calm and trust that the security of the island is in good hands with local and national defense forces in place to address such threats.

In his Aug. 11 message, Archbishop Byrnes said, "Ever since being appointed the Coadjutor Archbishop of Agana, I have been both struck and encouraged by Isaiah 33:2-6. ... It speaks to our current situation very well:

"O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble. At the tumultuous noise peoples flee; when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered, and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers; as locusts leap, it is leapt upon. The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion's treasure."

"We have strong encouragement from the Lord Jesus, to trust that our Father is the source of our salvation both spiritually and practically," the archbishop continued. "Jesus is still on the throne, and we can be confident that He will work out his will in every situation," the archbishop also told the priests."

He added, "We do not 'put our trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no help' (Psalm 146:3). The Lord himself is the source of our stability in any time."

The archdiocese also encouraged people to join an Aug. 13 rosary rally and pray for peace during a celebration of the 100th year anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima in the capital of Hagatna.

The rally was organized by Catholic laypeople as part of a worldwide call for praying the rosary in the public square.

The Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense planned to make a presentation on emergency preparedness related to the North Korea threat for clergy, Catholic school administrators and chancery staff Aug. 17.

The presentation had been scheduled even before the threat by North Korea but the archdiocese asked that it be held sooner because of current developments.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.