Nairobi, Kenya, Nov 26, 2015 / 02:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In light of recent terror attacks in Kenya and abroad, Pope Francis began the second day of his trip to Africa stressing the need for interreligious leaders to work together for peace.  I… Read more

Nairobi, Kenya, Nov 26, 2015 / 12:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Thursday praised Kenya’s traditional family values, particularly their respect for children and the elderly. He also made an appeal for the youth to use these values as a guid… Read more

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 25, 2015 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last week Thailand hosted the first international Asian conference for deaf Catholics, which explored the pastoral challenges to integrating the deaf into the Church’s life. “This conference is a unique gathering of pastors, religious, and laity who dialogue with their unique way of using sign language, sharing their daily life experiences of faith in the conservative cultures of Asia,” Fr. Peter Teerapong Kanpigul, chaplain of the Deaf Catholic Association in Thailand, told CNA. “The scope is to to re-examine the situation so as to foster deeper understanding of pastoral challenges facing the deaf, in integrating them into liturgical and social life, both in the Church and in society.” “Ephatha – Be Opened” was held Nov. 13-19 at the Catholic pastoral center in the Sam Phran District, about 25 miles west of Bangkok. The conference gathered more than 100 participants from Thailand, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Macau, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Sri Lanka, as well as the UK and US. “The aim is also to promote better understanding and network with dioceses, interpreters, and sign languages, which vary from country to country, so as to foster and strengthen the apostolate of a participatory Asian Church to bolster the new evangelization,” Fr. Kanpigul added. He noted that “There is a need for sensitization to cultural integration and the complex nature of sign languages, because the deaf become partly separated from the mainstream, participatory society.” The meeting was hosted by Thai Deaf Catholic Association together with the Thai bishops’ conference. Fr. Kanpigul stressed that the deaf “don’t need our sympathy; rather they need to feel accepted. The recognition of their space and rights offers them a chance to be welcomed as one flock, which invites us to magnify and broaden our outlook, dialoguing about the complex challenges of hearing disabilities.” In many Asian countires the deaf suffer isolation and marginalization due to cultural taboos, language, and ignorance, to the point of assuming that a hearing disability is a punishment for sin. But many of the deaf in Asia lost their hearing ability due to sickness in youth. Father Charles Dittmeier, director of the deaf development program in Cambodia, told CNA, “deafness is an invisible disability, and so no one sees it and no one understands it, and most people don’t have experience with deaf people, or how the disability affects them and how to deal with it. Deaf persons are everywhere, they are standing in line behind us in supermarkets, but nobody knows until you start using sign language.” “Deaf people learn through their eyes, not through their ears, so there is a need to train catechists and teachers to instruct visually,” Fr. Dittmeier, a priest from the United States who has worked with the Maryknoll missionaries for more than 30 years in India, China, and Cambodia, reflected. He has been involved in developing communications methods for the deaf, and is competent in more than six sign languages. He acknowledged that the Church has provided many good schools for the deaf, while hoping that more will be done in the future. “It’s fundamental that dioceses recognize the deaf people out there, and seek ways to integrate them,” he said. “Pope Francis is urging more and more that we make an inclusive Church, welcoming the people who are on the margins: and deaf people truly are on the margins.” In March 2014 Pope Francis held an audience with the deaf and the blind, encouraging them to be witnesses of Chrsit and to build a culture of encounter. Another key speaker at the Thai congress was Fr. Cyril Axelrod, a Redemptorist, who is the world’s only deaf and blind priest. He expressed hope that Pope Francis will further examine the challenges facing deaf persons, and help to open up vocations to the priesthood and religious life for those with hearing and other disabilities. Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak of Bangkok, Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu, emeritus Archbishopof Bangkok, Msgr. Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, Fr. Watchasin Kritjaroen, director of the  Pontifical Mission Society, Thailand, and Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, encouraged the conference’s participants in their passion to be evangelizers. Read more

Aboard the papal plane, Nov 25, 2015 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Before his plane landed in Kenya on Wednesday, Pope Francis confirmed to reporters that he would indeed visit Mexico early next year. Valentina Alazraki of Mexico’s Noticieros T… Read more

Nairobi, Kenya, Nov 25, 2015 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis began his trip to Africa in Kenya, where he praised the “young and vibrant nation” and encouraged Kenyans to continue working for peace in their country. “Exper… Read more

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2015 / 04:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For a veteran runner who’s completed 21 marathons, one bishop sees a deep connection between his Catholic faith and running, and says this connection can even evangelize young people. … Read more

Washington D.C., Nov 24, 2015 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- As the U.S. plans to increase its intake of Syrian refugees to 10,000 next year, Americans – including Catholics – are trying to balance national security concerns with compassion for the refugees.    “Americans need to understand that responding to a core tenant of our faith to provide a compassion and care to suffering people like Syrian refugees and maintaining national security are not mutually exclusive – it is not an either or proposition,” said Dr. Susan Weishar, a migration fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute who directed immigration and refugee services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for 14 years.   “A rigorous, multi-layered, and lengthy vetting and security clearance procedure is in place to screen refugees,” she said in a statement to CNA. “As the leader of the free world, the wealthiest democracy on the planet – the U.S. must not turn its back on the Syrian refugees.”   However, there are intelligence gaps that could jeopardize the vetting process for refugees, warned Seth G. Jones, who directs the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation.    “I actually think the U.S. needs better intel collection in Syria. So I would actually push more resources to setting up a technical architecture in Syria, and then resources for human collection in Syria,” he told CNA.   An arduous screening process   The Obama administration has announced its plan to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. next year. The U.S. has only accepted around 2,000 Syrian refugees total since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and 1,682 of those were in fiscal year 2015.   A spokesperson for the State Department acknowledged at a Nov. 23 daily press briefing that “certainly, we’re going to have to ramp up our personnel in order to process these because it’s such a rigorous and long process to get these people processed and placed.”   Many Americans have expressed deep concerns about terrorists and extremists infiltrating the resettlement program, especially after Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris killed 130 and injured several hundred. Several of the attackers are believed to have entered Europe through Greece, though it is not certain if they entered as refugees.    In the wake of the attacks, U.S. Catholic bishops have asked Americans not to scapegoat all Syrian refugees as possible terrorists and to remember their dire humanitarian plight.    “These refugees are fleeing terror themselves – violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, the auxiliary bishop of Seattle who chairs the bishops’ committee on migration, on Nov. 17 at the U.S. Catholic bishops’ fall general assembly.    Over 30 governors have announced their refusal to accept Syrian refugees in their states. The House passed a bill last week to pause the resettlement program for refugees from Iraq and Syria until intelligence agencies could verify their status. Forty-seven Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the bill.   Debate on the policy hinges on whether the resettlement process is itself secure, and whether an increase to 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016 will compromise security standards.   Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are actually resettled. Most remain near their countries of origin, hoping to return home. And of this tiny percentage who are resettled elsewhere, a small portion are sent to the U.S.   For these, priority is given to the most vulnerable persons like victims of torture, female-headed households, or those with severe and pressing medical needs.    There are two ways for a refugee to enter the U.S.: travel to the border and claim asylum upon arrival, or through the refugee resettlement process. The United Nations ultimately determines where refugees will be resettled based on the urgency of their case and where they currently have family.    If they are picked for the U.S., they still must undergo a rigorous security check. It is an arduous 21-step process of interviews and background checks conducted across multiple government agencies that takes 18 to 24 months to complete.    The State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Simon Henshaw, called it “the most intensive security screening of any travelers to the United States” in a Nov. 19 special briefing.   The process includes biometric and biographic checks, fingerprinting against FBI databases, and one-on-one interviews with the Department of Homeland Security, which has the discretion to deny admission to refugees on national security grounds. Syrian refugees are also subject to “additional screening,” the State Department has claimed.    Refugees are “accompanied by resettlement agencies every step of the way,” Weishar said, and are assigned a case manager who is “very hands-on, client-centered.”   “Since refugees go through several interviews, they have to be consistent in their answers,” said Kevin Appleby, director of the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at a Nov. 23 Capitol Hill briefing on refugee vetting and resettlement.   “If there’s inconsistencies, then it’s a red flag. So if they don’t say the same thing to the same question,” he added, “then they’re knocked out [of the process] until something else can be confirmed.”   “If the U.S. doesn’t have complete confidence in the case,” they won’t take it, Weishar added.   “The resettlement program is probably the last program that someone who wants to commit harm would want to try to use to get to the United States,” said Brittany Vanderhoof, policy counsel for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, at the Nov. 23 Capitol Hill briefing.    The likelihood of someone passing through the program who plans to do harm in the U.S. is “very, very small,” she continued.   And the administration’s planned acceptance of 10,000 Syrian refugees is a “goal, not a requirement,” she said. If refugees have “significant security concerns,” their cases will not be accepted just to meet the goal.   Even with the increase to 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, the U.S. is “basically hand-picking” the cases, Weishar said, since there have been more than 4 million total Syrian refugees since the beginning of the country’s civil war in 2011. There is even “concern that it [the resettlement process] has been too lengthy,” she noted.   Concerns remain   Still, despite migration experts saying the interview process is secure, others are concerned about the lack of intelligence available from Syria and how that intel gap might affect the refugee vetting process.    Biographical and biometric information on refugees is checked against law enforcement and intelligence databases, the State Department has said, but not everyone is confident in the current databases on Syria.   Jones explained that the intelligence collection in Syria is not as good as it has been in other countries like Iraq, and this problem could definitely affect the refugee resettlement process.    “We’re so much more limited on what we know in Syria because we’re not there,” he said. Thus, there is less available intelligence to confirm or contradict details in a refugee’s interview with U.S. authorities.    “The issue is not that somebody is suspicious and they get sent through,” he said, noting that agents would not allow an obviously suspicious individual entry to the U.S.    “The issue is if there’s no information on someone and they get interviewed, so there’s no disconfirming evidence that they’re anybody other than who they say they are, and their background, you can’t disprove it.”   It is normal for there to be intelligence gaps in the refugees’ countries of origin, he noted, but Syria presents an abnormal case with Salafi jihadist groups there plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland. “That is, in my view, what makes this different,” he explained, that there are national security risks in Syria not present in many other countries.    This risk is balanced against the fact that refugees have historically not been responsible for major terror plots in the U.S. “The terrorism threat for refugees has historically been limited. It’s not been zero. It’s been relatively limited, especially with the major plots,” he noted.    “I would say, based on the threat that refugees have historically posed, and based on the risks, I wouldn’t put them high. I’d put them probably in a more medium category,” he concluded.    He also suggested the possibility of a “limited security assessment” of refugees by the FBI or DHS after they have lived in the U.S. for a short period of time – perhaps six months.   Imperfect solutions   Dr. Rochelle Davis of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, who has worked to resettle Iraqi refugees, admitted that the intelligence is not perfect, but said it rarely is for refugees from war-torn and unstable countries.    “We may not know detailed information” about the last 20 years for each person, she noted, explaining that the plentiful intelligence available on Iraqi refugees from the Ba’ath Party archives and the U.S. military presence there was ultimately a “unique situation” in refugee resettlement   However, she noted, the U.S. accepts tens of thousands of refugees each year from Syria and other countries. “We’re not going to know everything about them, but we do spend a lot of time trying to figure out as much as we can about them,” she said.    “We have entrusted our intelligence agencies to do this process,” she said. Since 2011, the U.S. has let in almost 800,000 refugees and “we really have no cases of domestic terrorism being carried out. So clearly they’ve been doing a good job.”   While the debate continues over the resettlement program for existing refugees, there are many other Syrian Christians and Muslims who fled the violence in Syria but are not classified as refugees.    Why? Because they have not gone to the U.N. refugee camps and applied for refugee status. Thus they are not receiving U.N. aid and cannot be resettled elsewhere.   Many are afraid to go to U.N. camps because of security concerns, said Michael La Civita, chief communications officer of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.    They fear attacks within the camps themselves, “reprisals” from terror groups like ISIS, who “absolutely detests” refugees for fleeing their caliphate, he added.   Others simply don’t have the necessary identification documents and passports for resettlement because they had to leave their homes under threat of sudden death, he said.   As a result, a whole group of persons are living in “limbo” in countries neighboring Syria like Lebanon and Jordan. The men are unemployed and the families are dependent on relatives, friends, or local churches for aid. In Lebanon, some mothers have resorted to prostitution just to feed their families.    “Their world has come to an end,” La Civita said. “These are very, very tight-knit communities that were shattered overnight.” Families are fearful of their own neighbors and of the general security situation where they are living. For many, moving to another country is simply a “pipe dream.”    Read more

Accra, Ghana, Nov 24, 2015 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the papal visit to Africa, the continent’s bishops have sent Francis a message of welcome. They emphasized the importance of the family in African society and the need for peace in regions suffering terrorism and violent conflict. “As representatives of the Church in Africa we warmly welcome the Holy Father, Pope Francis, as he makes his first apostolic visit to our continent,” said the standing committee of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). They prayed for the success of the Pope’s visit and for God’s “abundant blessings.” The statement was issued at the close of the bishops’ conferences symposium held in Accra, Ghana Nov. 16-20. Pope Francis will be visiting Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic Nov. 25-30. “We rejoice that the Holy Father’s visit, coming so soon after the Synod on the Family, will strengthen the faith of our peoples in the Church as Family of God and confirm us in our long-cherished Christian and African values,” the bishops’ committee said. They stressed that the family is “the fundamental and indispensable pillar” of life in society, the Catholic News Agency for Africa reports. “We call on all the people of our continent and on all our governments to commit themselves to the sustenance of African families, and protect the fundamental values of our cultures. We reiterate our commitment also to the sustenance and promotion of the institutions of marriage and the family and confirm our unshakeable belief in the sanctity of human life.” The bishops’ communique welcoming the Pope also responded to recent terrorist attacks in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. “We condemn all acts of terrorism that have occurred in any part of the world and urge the perpetrators and their sponsors to stop,” they said. The bishops prayed for the dead and for consolation for those who are grieving their deaths. They cited attacks in France, Lebanon, and Mali, as well as attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Libya, and Burkina Faso. The bishops voiced support peace efforts in African countries with violent conflicts. “We appeal in the name of God to all parties involved in the conflicts in these areas to lay down their arms and embrace the path of dialogue and peace for the sake of posterity,” the committee said. The bishops praised a memorandum of understanding between SECAM and the African Union, saying it will advance efforts to secure development, human rights, and peace in collaboration with the union’s 54 member states. The bishops urged all of Africa to reconcile with one another and to reconcile with God, “our Merciful Father.” “It is only by this means shall we find God’s mercy borne of harmonious co-existence and development,” they said. They prayed that the Virgin Mary will “intercede for us all in our prayers so that our continent, Africa, may experience true love, justice and peace.” Read more

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2015 / 10:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday a preliminary hearing of the five individuals accused of leaking and disseminating confidential financial documents was held in the Vatican, with the next hearing set to begin Nov. 30. The defendants are Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, Italian PR woman Francesca Chaouqui, Nicola Maio (Vallejo’s secretary), and journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi. The Nov. 24 preliminary hearing for what has been dubbed by media as “Vatileaks 2.0” began at 10:30 a.m. and lasted just over an hour. On Nov. 21 the Vatican announced that it would officially be pressing charges against the five for their role in obtaining, leaking and publishing private information and documents regarding Holy See finances. Msgr. Vallejo, Chaouqui and Maio have been accused of working together to form “an organized criminal association” with the intention of “disclosing information and documents concerning the fundamental interests of the Holy See and the (Vatican City) State.” On Nov. 2 Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui were arrested in connection with the leaks, and are believed to have passed the documents on to Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, who published separate books on the information earlier this month. Both are former members of the Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA). The commission was established by the Pope July 18, 2013, as part of his plan to reform the Vatican’s finances. It was dissolved after completing its mandate. For their part, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi have been charged with illegally procuring and subsequently releasing the private information and documents. Specifically, they are accused of “urging and exerting pressure, particularly on Msgr. Vallejo,” to obtain the private documents and then publish books on the content. The leaking of documents was officially criminalized by the Vatican in 2013, when Nuzzi published a book containing confidential information given to him by Pope Benedict XVI’s butler in what came to be known as the first “Vatileaks” scandal. All defendants were present inside the courtroom for the Nov. 24 hearing with lawyers “dall’ufficio,” referring to legal representation given to those who don’t already have it.    The court consisted of Giuseppe Della Torre, President of the Vatican tribunal; Judges Piero Antonio Bonne and Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, as well as Alternate judge Venerando Marano.   The prosecution, the Office of the Promoter of Justice, was represented by Promoter of Justice Gian Piero Milano, and Adjutant-promoter Roberto Zannotti. After the accusations were read aloud, Della Torre announced that Nuzzi and Vallejo had each requested an additional, hand-picked lawyer, and that the request would be forwarded to President of the Court of Appeals. According to Nuzzi’s twitter account, his request to be represented by his usual lawyer has already been denied. Two objections were then raised in the court, one by Vallejo’s lawyer that the time needed to prepare evidence for the defense was insufficient. Fittipaldi himself asked to make a statement in which he protested the charges brought against him, saying they violated his freedom as a journalist to publish news. His lawyer then requested that his indictment be reconsidered for lacking a clear statement on his alleged crimes. Zannotti responded immediately to the second objection by saying that the intention of the charge is not to violate Fittipaldi’s freedom as a journalist, but rather to hold him accountable for the means in which he obtained the documents and information, which was stated in his indictment. After a 45 minute deliberation of the objections the court reconvened, and rejected them both. They announced that the next hearing will take place Monday, Nov. 30, at 9:30 a.m., with several other hearings set to take place throughout the week. It was noted that all hearings will take place in the morning, and that afternoon sessions would be called only if needed. During Monday’s hearing the defendants will give their testimonies, beginning with Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui. The testimonies of Maio, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi will be given later. Journalists present inside the courtroom reported that both Nuzzi and Fittipaldi seemed to be more at ease during today’s hearing, whereas Vallejo, Maio and Chaouqui were described as being “agitated” and “tense,” particularly the latter two. Read more

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2015 / 07:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has appointed Msgr. Steven Lopes, a Catholic priest from California, as the new bishop who will head the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States and Canada.   Bishop-elect … Read more

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