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Catholic bishops: New N Ireland abortion intervention is ‘gravely disquieting’

Ray Dumas via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jul 28, 2021 / 06:35 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops said on Tuesday that the British government’s direction to make abortion services available in Northern Ireland by March 2022 is “gravely disquieting.”

In a statement issued on July 27, the bishops lamented the move by Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. / Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).
Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. / Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

Lewis issued a formal direction on July 22 requiring the Northern Ireland Executive and Department of Health to introduce full abortion services in the region by March 31, 2022.

The bishops said the step was the latest in a series of decisions by the British government, based in Westminster, London, that threatened “the fragile balance of relationships at the heart of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement,” which ended the 30-year conflict known as The Troubles.

“Sadly, some of our local political parties seem content to welcome this unilateral move by Westminster on an issue which is of fundamental importance to local voters, while rightly challenging such unilateral impositions on other issues,” said the bishops, who included the Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin.

They continued: “In unilaterally imposing this direction on the local Northern Ireland Assembly to provide abortion services, it is as if the Westminster government, and those local parties who have supported them, believe the answer to the issue of providing compassionate care for a woman and her unborn child in pregnancy can be framed simply and exclusively as a ‘healthcare issue.’”

“Absent from the discussion however are the thousands of unborn children, who have no legal protection and whose humanity is excluded from the political equation. It is for this reason that the argument for the protection of all human life can never be abandoned or referred to human rights experts alone.”

“Westminster has imposed an unjust law. Christians, and all people of goodwill, can never stand silently by and fail to raise their voices at any attempt to ignore completely the fact that unborn children are human beings worthy of protection.”

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but abortion law is considered to be a devolved issue under the control of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

But due to the suspension of the regional government, the British parliament decriminalized abortion in Northern Ireland in October 2019 and obliged the U.K. government to create legal access to abortion in the region.

Before March 31, 2020, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life was imperilled or if there was a risk of long-term or permanent, serious damage to mental or physical health.

Northern Ireland’s abortion law now allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions up to 24 weeks are legal when the mother’s physical or mental health is determined to be at risk. Abortions up to the point of birth are legal in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal abnormality.

In March 2021, the U.K. government signaled its intention to unveil new regulations enabling Lewis to direct the Northern Ireland Department of Health to commission more widespread abortion services -- prompting criticism from the bishops.

Officials set out the measures in a statutory instrument -- a form of secondary legislation allowing government ministers to legislate on day-to-day matters -- known as the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021.

Although Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has not commissioned services centrally, health trusts are offering abortions.

According to the Department of Health, 1,556 abortions have taken place in Northern Ireland since March 2020, when the law changed.

The bishops’ latest statement was issued in the name of Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher, and Armagh auxiliary Bishop Michael Router.

The bishops noted that Northern Ireland Assembly elections are due to take place by May 5, 2022.

“As our society prepares in coming months to engage in the ultimate expression of democratic participation -- the election to our local Assembly -- we encourage all Catholics, and those share our view on the inviolability of all human life, to reflect carefully on the issues raised by this succession of unilateral impositions by the Westminster government,” they wrote.

“We encourage everyone who believes in the equal right to life and compassionate care for a mother and her unborn child to ask local candidates and political parties to explain their position on these interventions and on this most fundamental of all issues.”

5 things you need to know about Blessed Stanley Rother

Blessed Stanley Rother during a carnival. Courtesy of Archdiocese of Oklahoma City Archives.

Denver Newsroom, Jul 28, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Not much is popularly known about Blessed Stanley Rother, the small town Oklahoma native who was declared blessed in September 2017 by the Catholic Church.

One of the newest blesseds, he became a priest and missionary at a parish in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. He served the local Tz’utujil people at the time of the Guatemalan civil war, where he was on a hit list and eventually assassinated on July 28, 1981.

These are five things you need to know about this American on the path to sainthood who died 40 years ago today.

  1. Blessed Stanley Rother is the first American-born martyr. 

Aside from the North American Martyrs, such as Isaac Jogues, Blessed Stanley Rother is the only martyr associated with the United States. And he is the only martyr born in the United States. 

  1. He translated the New Testament into the Tz'utujil language. 

Stanley struggled academically in the seminary, especially with Latin, and eventually switched seminaries. Despite his seminary struggles, He learned both Spanish and Tz’utujil while in Guatemala where his desire to serve led him to learn the languages to connect with the people he was serving. 

  1. He was a jack of all trades.

Though not academically gifted, Blessed Stanley Rother possessed skills as an electrician, plumber, and farmer, which he used to aid his people by repairing machinery and helping them implement new techniques to better their farming. He also built many buildings for the community, such as a school, hospital, and a Catholic radio station. 

  1. Blessed Stanley Rother came back to his Guatemalan parish, saying “A shepherd cannot run from his flock.”

Blessed Stanley Rother faced danger to his own life in Guatemala, since his name was on a hit list. For safety, he returned to Oklahoma, where he said these words.  He went back to Guatemala for Holy Week to serve his parishioners despite the danger. Less than four months later, he was killed.

  1. Blessed Stanley Rother’s Tz’utujil parishioners have his heart. 

“At the parish, his presence is everywhere — his heart and his blood are in the church, the room that he was killed in has been converted into a chapel in his honor, the parochial school has been named after him. Blessed Rother is well-known all over town,” said Fr. Josh Mayer, a priest of the diocese of Gallup, following a visit to Guatemala in 2019 on Rother's feast day.

After Blessed Stanley Rother’s martyrdom his body was returned to Oklahoma for burial. His Guatemalan parishioners enshrined his heart, however, since they wished to keep a part of their beloved priest.

Fire engulfs 163-year-old Catholic church in Scotland

St. Simon’s, Partick, in Glasgow, Scotland. / Lirazelf via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Glasgow, Scotland, Jul 28, 2021 / 04:05 am (CNA).

More than 30 firefighters tackled a devastating fire at a Catholic church in Glasgow, Scotland, in the early hours of Wednesday.

One person was rescued after the firefighters were called out following reports of a fire at St. Simon’s, Partick, on July 28.

Photos shared on social media showed flames shooting out of a church window and into the street.

The incident occurred two days after a Catholic priest was attacked by a man wielding a glass bottle as he prayed at a cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city.

Scotland’s Health Minister Humza Yousaf referred to the assault as he expressed his sympathy for the Catholic community following the fire.

“What a devastating couple of days for Catholics in Scotland,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “First a cowardly attack on a priest in his place of worship, followed by this. I know St. Simon’s had a special place in the Polish community’s heart.”

“Solidarity with our Catholic community in Scotland.”

Pope Francis is expected to visit Scotland “for a very short time” in November, a spokesperson for the country’s bishops’ conference said earlier this month.

The pope is likely to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, on Nov. 1-12.

According to the parish website, St. Simon’s is the third-oldest Catholic church in Glasgow after St. Andrew’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s in the city’s East End.

It was opened in 1858 by Fr. Daniel Gallagher, an Irish priest who taught Latin to the explorer David Livingstone, enabling him to enter medical school.

The church, originally called St. Peter’s, was used by Polish soldiers during the Second World War and became known as the Polish Church. Masses in Polish continue to be celebrated at the church.

The church was fully restored between 2005 and 2008 for its 150th anniversary.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “We were alerted at 2.40 a.m. on Wednesday, July 28 to reports of a fire within a church on Partick Bridge Street, Partick, Glasgow.”

“Operations Control mobilised six fire appliances including two height appliances and more than 30 firefighters are in attendance and working to extinguish the fire.”

“One person was assisted from the property and given precautionary treatment at the scene. Adjacent properties have been evacuated as a precautionary measure and nearby residents are advised to keep windows and doors closed due to smoke.”

“Road users should avoid the area to allow access for emergency service vehicles and due to road closures.”

“Crews are expected to remain in attendance for some time.”

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Hong Kong’s new bishop says he wants to bring unity. Why are local Catholics divided?

Hong Kong’s Bishop-elect Stephen Chow, S.J. / Society of Jesus, Chinese Province

Rome Newsroom, Jul 28, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Hong Kong’s bishop-elect Stephen Chow has said that he wants to bring unity to his divided diocese when he assumes leadership later this year.

To achieve this goal, the incoming bishop will need to address differences among Catholics in Hong Kong, heightened by varying reactions to the local protest movement.

Joseph Cheng, a Hong Kong Catholic and retired political science professor, told CNA that Catholic institutions have been a major source of some of these divisions.

Hong Kong is a city filled with Catholic institutions, from hospitals to schools and universities. The universities, in particular, have formed a number of democracy activists, shaping the firm beliefs in justice and freedom that drove them into the streets.

But the desire to preserve these institutions has also led other Catholics to want to keep quiet, according to Cheng, who left Hong Kong in July 2020 and now lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Joseph Cheng. / Courtesy photo.
Joseph Cheng. / Courtesy photo.

“The Catholic Church runs many important services for Hong Kong people, especially primary schools, secondary schools. Some of them are the most prestigious in Hong Kong in the territory. There are a number of hospitals and social service centers, welfare agencies run by the Church,” he said.

“Now all these service institutions are mainly funded by the government. So the Catholic Church in maintaining these services has to depend on financial support from the government. And there is a natural tendency ... for these agencies to want to maintain an acceptable relationship with the government, a cooperative relationship with the government.”

This was not always the case, as the diocese of Hong Kong launched a suit against the government in 2004 after an amendment passed requiring “school-based management,” something that Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop of Hong Kong at the time, called a “conspiracy” by the government to take control of Catholic schools from the Church.

Other Catholics have responded to the dramatic changes that have occurred in Hong Kong since 2019 by entering into a “survival mode.”

Cheng said that many Catholics in the territory are middle class with good jobs and similarly have a tendency to accommodate the deteriorating situation.

“That is to say, well, since you can’t do much, you have to keep your head low. You have to simply accommodate, keep quiet, lie low, and survive,” he said.

“Then of course at the same time, many Catholics are idealists,” he noted. “They are concerned with the universal values that they cherish and they would like to uphold those values. They would like to continue to advocate social justice. They would like to continue to criticize the injustices that they see, the injustices of the authorities that they object to.”

More than a million people in Hong Kong, including a number of prominent Catholics, participated in pro-democracy protests of a controversial extradition law in 2019 and against the local government’s decision to push a national security law in 2020.

Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon imprisoned for his role in the pro-democracy movement, is a Catholic. But so too is Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, who backed the contentious national security law.

Church leaders in Hong Kong are therefore faced with these broad divisions within the community, while recognizing that “solidarity is even more valued in times of difficulty,” Cheng said.

Chow, the incoming bishop of Hong Kong, is himself a product of decades of education, teaching, and administrative leadership in Catholic schools within and outside of Hong Kong.

The Jesuit bishop-elect has identified these tensions and divisions within Hong Kong and said at a press conference the day after his appointment that he thought that “listening and empathy” were very important to heal divisions, adding that “unity is not the same as uniformity.”

“I really have no big plan, grand plan of how to unify, but I do believe there is a God, and God wants us to be united,” the 61-year-old said.

Chow also told journalists that he did not think it would be wise to comment on especially controversial issues, particularly relating to China, the day after his appointment.

“That would be rash,” he said. “But it is not because I am afraid, but, I think, I believe that prudence is also a virtue.”

Nearly a year after the passage of the national security law, an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State said that he was not convinced that speaking out on the situation in Hong Kong “would make any difference whatever.”

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, said: “One can say a lot of, shall we say, appropriate words that would be appreciated by the international press and by many parts of the world, but I -- and, I think, many of my colleagues -- have yet to be convinced that it would make any difference whatever.”

Hong Kong is at a turning point in its history, and Cheng believes that people will remember how the Church responded.

“This is a testing time,” he said, “And Hong Kong people, Chinese people, in the future will look back at these testing times and invariably they will say: What was the position of the Catholic Church? What was the position of the pope during these very difficult times?”

Boston auxiliary bishop reveals why he voted against Eucharistic document

Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Jul 27, 2021 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

An auxiliary bishop of the Boston archdiocese on Sunday revealed why he voted against a motion of the U.S. bishops’ conference to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist.

Bishop Mark O’Connell, an auxiliary bishop of Boston, said in a July 25 statement that he believed the Eucharistic document would lead to greater polarization. Bishop O’Connell published his statement in the bulletin of St. Theresa parish in North Reading, Massachusetts, as a response to a parishioner’s question about denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. 

During the U.S. bishops’ virtual spring meeting in June, they debated a proposal to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist. The proposed document outline covered the Church’s Eucharistic teaching on a number of points, including the need for Catholics to live out the Church’s teaching in public before and after receiving Communion. 

Some bishops critical of the proposal said it would be interpreted as a call to deny Communion to specific pro-abortion politicians, and would thus result in greater political polarization.

“I fear the whole process of writing the document will lead to more and more opportunity for some bishops and writers to further polarize our people,” Bishop O’Connell wrote. He said “it is not up to me (or you)” to deny anyone Holy Communion, adding that the decision rests with each individual bishop. 

In written responses to CNA’s questions after the publication of his letter, O’Connell said he sees the discussion of denial of Holy Communion to certain public figures as focusing too heavily on abortion, to the detriment of other issues.

The topic has been hotly debated in some quarters with the election of Joe Biden, a Catholic who supports abortion and attends Mass regularly, to the presidency. 

The June vote among the bishops on the Eucharistic document was conducted by secret ballot. The final results of the vote on whether to begin drafting the document - a motion which required only a simple majority to pass - was 168 bishops in favor, 55 opposed, and 6 abstentions. 

During the virtual meeting, several dozen bishops spoke explicitly for or against the proposal, but O’Connell is one of the few bishops to publicly reveal and explain his vote following the results. 

O’Connell acknowledged that although President Biden attends Mass regularly, some of his policy positions are at odds with Church teaching - most notably his support for taxpayer-funded abortion. 

However, he said, “I do not think a letter about the Eucharist is the correct place to address this issue.”

He noted that “there are more appropriate ways, and they are delineated in Canon Law.” He did not, in his letter, elaborate on what those more “appropriate ways” are. 

O’Connell told CNA he had in mind a bishop’s canonical authority to determine the pastoral response in his particular diocese. 

In his letter, Bishop O’Connell laid out several reasons why he voted against drafting the document in June. He said he believed the discussion ought to have taken place in person rather than during a virtual meeting. 

O’Connell elaborated to CNA that he did not feel comfortable expressing his concerns during the virtual meeting, and that he felt the discussion that took place was not adequate. 

While some bishops had moved to change the parliamentary rules of the meeting to allow for unlimited debate time on the motion of the Eucharistic document, that effort failed in a vote on Wednesday. Nevertheless, while debating the motion to draft the Eucharistic document, bishops were allowed to speak in their normal five-minute time slots long after the conference meeting was scheduled to wrap up on July 17.

“If we need to speak with each other about how individual bishops should approach public figures in their dioceses we should do that directly and in person and over time - not just make some vague reference to it in a document on the Eucharist,” Bishop O’Connell told CNA. 

“To me, putting this into the document distracts from anything else in the document and is a roundabout way of not having a serious discussion on this critical issue,” he said. 

A proposed outline of the Eucharistic document, made available to bishops in advance of the spring meeting, made no mention of public figures and Communion. However, the conference’s doctrine committee - charged with drafting the document - included a letter with the proposed outline, saying the document would include a “special call for those Catholics who are cultural, parochial, or political leaders to witness to the faith.”

O’Connell wrote in his letter that he has “no faith that the document finally produced would be read except for the section on Eucharistic Consistency and then, as with most things, through the lens of the politics of the media on either side of the question.”

The bishop did not lay out his own opinion of whether or not Biden should be admitted to Holy Communion, instead noting that “Canon Law leaves it to his individual bishop and pastor to speak with him and that is a private conversation.” 

Bishop O’Connell said he wished to refocus the conversation away from “who should be denied” the Eucharist, and toward “who should receive” the Eucharist. 

“As a priest and a bishop giving Holy Communion, I accept the humble ‘Amen’ of our Catholics as they approach the Altar and I leave judgement on specific individuals to the private conversations with their pastors,” he concluded. 

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, and as such must be received worthily. 

Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

The Catholic Church has always taught that abortion is a grave sin. In a 2004 memo to then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that a politician consistently campaigning for and voting for permissive abortion laws constitutes formal cooperation with evil. Biden has publicly advocated for protection of abortion in law, including the codification of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide. 

The next canon, 916, exhorts the individual receiving Communion to be aware of his own worthiness, and to go to confession if conscious of grave sin.  

“I think we should further explore that Canon which applies to everyone including the President and take it out of politics,” Bishop O’Connell told CNA. 

“We are all unworthy to receive, let that unworthiness be the source of our unity,” he said. 

Other bishops, such as canon lawyer Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, have also emphasized the importance of personal discernment and examination of conscience on the part of all Catholics before they approach Holy Communion. 

“If they are conscious of grave sin, they shouldn't go to communion,” Paprocki told CNA in March. 

He noted that this is true not only for politicians, but for all Catholics. However, he added, a failure to consistently apply Canon 915 - that those persisting in “manifest grave sin” ought not be allowed Communion - causes confusion. It “gives rise to scandal, in that it leads to the impression that grave sins may not be so grave after all if there are no consequences for committing them,” he said. 

CNA asked O’Connell about the possibility of scandal in cases where a pro-abortion Catholic politician continually presents himself for Holy Communion, despite having been admonished by his bishop or pastor not to do so without first recanting his support for abortion. 

“Calling abortion ‘the’ preeminent issue instead of ‘a’ preeminent issue, allows other issues to go too far down the ladder - such as immigration, euthanasia, the rights of workers, priority for the poor, racism, torture,” O’Connell responded to CNA. The U.S. bishops’ conference has referred to abortion as a “preeminent priority,” due to the scale of abortions per year, the gravity of the evil and the effect of abortion on women and families.

“We need to preach the Magisterium to our people in its fullness and not be confined to one issue while acknowledging that abortion is indeed a key issue and a grave evil. There are politicians in both parties acting scandalously on many issues, but some look the other way because of their political alignment,” Bishop O’Connell said. 

The U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee will now lead the process of drafting the document, with input from other conference committees. A draft of the document could be ready to be debated, amended, and voted on by the bishops at their November meeting - which is currently planned to be held in-person in Baltimore, Maryland.

In November 2020, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. told a reporter that he would not deny pro-abortion politicians Holy Communion if they were to present themselves for the sacrament at Mass. The new bishop of Biden’s home diocese of Wilmington has not yet publicly spoken on this issue. 

Cardinal Gregory reportedly withdraws permission for Tridentine Mass at National Shrine

Cardinal Raymond Burke gives the final blessing during the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage Mass in Rome on Oct. 25, 2014. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2021 / 16:10 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has reportedly withdrawn permission for a solemn pontifical Mass that was to be offered August 14 in D.C.

A pontifical Mass is celebrated by a bishop in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The Mass, scheduled for the vigil of the Solemnity of the Assumption, was to be offered by at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Paulus Institute, a group dedicated to promoting the sacred liturgy, organized the event, which was to be broadcast by EWTN. On its Facebook page on July 27, the institute announced that permission for the Mass was rescinded by the Archbishop of Washington.

"Cardinal Wilton Gregory has withdrawn the permission he had given to Archbishop Thomas Gullickson to celebrate a Pontifical Solemn Mass on August 14," Donna Bethell of the Paulus Institute said in a statement to CNA on Tuesday. Cardinal Gregory, she said, "cited Traditionis custodes as the reason, without further specificity."

The Archdiocese of Washington did not immediately respond to a confirmation request by CNA on Tuesday afternoon.

According to Pope Francis’ July 16 apostolic letter Traditionis custodes (“Guardians of the liturgy”), it is a bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in his own diocese.

The Aug. 14 Mass at the shrine was to be celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, titular archbishop of Bomarzo and retired papal nuncio to Switzerland.

In a July 16 letter to priests, Cardinal Gregory said he would “prayerfully reflect” on the pope’s letter “in the coming weeks,” in order “to ensure we understand fully the Holy Father's intentions and consider carefully how they are realized in the Archdiocese of Washington.”

"In the interim, I hereby grant the faculty to those who celebrate the Mass using the liturgical books issued before 1970 to continue to do so this weekend and in the days to come, until further guidance is forthcoming,” he stated.

The pope’s letter further stated that if groups wish to gather for the Traditional Latin Mass in a bishop’s diocese, he is to determine that they believe in the validity of the liturgical reform of Vatican II and the Church’s Magisterium. He is further “to designate one or more locations” where attendees of the Traditional Latin Mass may gather, but that the locations must not include “parochial churches.”

Although the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located within the territorial bounds of the Archdiocese of Washington, it is not a diocesan church. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, as Washington archbishop, is ex officio chairman of the shrine’s board of directors.

This article was updated on July 27 with a statement from the Paulus Institute.

At least 12 priests in Mexico have died from COVID-19 in two months

Dominican Nuns of the St. Catherine of Siena Monastery in Mexico City / Dominican Nuns of St. Catherine of Siena/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 27, 2021 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The most recent report from the Catholic Multimedia Center (CCM) shows that at least 12 priests and a Mexican nun have died from the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico in the last two months.

In total, five bishops, 232 priests, six men religious, nine women religious and 12 deacons have died in Mexico during the pandemic.

The Archdiocese of Guadalajara has been the hardest hit, with 25 priests who have died of the disease.

In its analysis, the CCM noted the absence of "an official report of bishops who have been vaccinated" against COVID-19 in Mexico.

In addition, the organization points out the "absence of a census by diocese and archdiocese that allows a general overview of permanent deacons, priests, local ordinaries and auxiliary bishops, as well as nuns who have been vaccinated."

"This is a great void given the need to verify the guarantees that allow a safe return to the churches and also of those who are in charge of a community,” the CCM report states.

According to figures from the Mexican government, as of July 25, more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the country, with more than 238,000 deaths. Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 109,000 active cases in the country.

The government classifies the intensity of the pandemic according to red, orange, yellow and green traffic signals. During the first half of July, 19 out of 32 states were classified in the less restrictive epidemiological green category; now, only three states are classified thus.

Currently, the state of Sinaloa on the central Pacific coast is in the red zone, while 13 states are in the orange zone and 15 are in the yellow zone.

According to the Mexican Ministry of Health, as of July 24, more than 23.9 million people had received full doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The government’s goal is to have over 107 million people fully vaccinated by December, out of an estimated total population of 130.2 million.

Catholic sisters dedicate lives to telling the elderly ‘You’ll never be alone’

Sr. Constance Veit, LSP / EWTN News In Depth

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Ahead of the inaugural World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly this past Sunday, the communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor described how the order cares for the elderly as people of inherent dignity and worth.

Sister Constance Veit, the communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, told EWTN News In Depth on July 23 how she and her sisters live “to assure the elderly that they'll never be alone, they'll never be abandoned.”

“First of all, we say to them, each of us says to them, ‘I will always be with you,’” she explained. “But then, we hope that our presence will be a reminder to them that God is always with them. It doesn't stop with us, but our whole hope and our whole effort is to bring the presence of Christ to them.”

Sister Constance said she rejoiced over the first annual World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, instituted by Pope Francis on Sunday, the feast day of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne. She explained what the day meant for the elderly and for the Little Sisters, an order that runs homes worldwide for the elderly in need. 

She defined the Little Sisters as an “international congregation” with homes for the elderly worldwide “where we welcome them into our home and they become family to us.”

“To see the elderly being honored and recognized in this way is a very deep joy for me,” Sr. Constance said during an interview with EWTN News In Depth on July 23. “It’s something I've noticed about Pope Francis's pontificate from the beginning, how often he speaks about the elderly and how often he encourages young people to connect with their elders.”

She had the opportunity to thank the pope personally in 2015, when he visited the United States.

“I rehearsed all day what I was going to say to him, and what I said to him was to thank him for the attention that he’s bringing to the elderly,” she recalled.

She said that Pope Francis’ focus on the elderly touched her in a personal way.

“By my vocation, as the Little Sister of the Poor, I've given my life to the Church and to the elderly – specifically to the elderly – because that's our sole apostolate.” 

The Little Sisters of the Poor began in France in 1839, when the order’s founder, Saint Jeanne Jugan, offered her bed to an elderly woman who was blind and lying paralyzed in the cold. Today, the order serves in 30 countries, with 27 homes in the United States.

Because the sisters care for the low-income elderly, they trust in God for financial support. While many homes in the U.S. are eligible for Medicaid and might draw from other forms of income -  such as pensions from the residents - that still “usually only covers about half of our expenses,” Sr. Constance said.

“For the rest, we have a tradition since the beginning of the congregation of going out into the community and begging for alms,” she said. Today, this is mostly accomplished through the mail or online, she said, but there are still sisters “who go out on a regular basis out into the community to markets, to businesses to ask for gifts in kind.”

These donations, she said, are “really what sustains us.”  

According to Sr. Constance, God “always seems to come through” financially. But now, the sisters are facing a new challenge: the challenge “in the area of caregivers.”

“The ongoing challenge just, I would say pre-pandemic and let's hope post-pandemic that it comes to an end, there is a certain amount of ageism in society,” Sr. Constance cautioned. 

She noticed a shortage in healthcare workers and caregivers for the elderly.

“There are real shortages in the workforce, with geriatric-trained physicians, social workers, psychologists, nurses, all the way down to the level of nursing assistants, who are the real ones who do the bulk of the hands-on care in our homes,” she said.

While it’s a complex issue, she said that caregivers are “not recompensed enough” and “there aren't incentives to go into geriatrics.”

“It's not encouraged enough for people to choose eldercare as a profession, and so, increasingly, as the elderly population is growing and growing by leaps and bounds, it's going to become more of a crisis, the lack of care of trained caregivers,” she said.

But the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly gave her hope.

“For me, I'm using it as an opportunity to raise people's awareness of the gifts that the elderly can offer,” she said. 

Pope Francis “has three key words with the elderly: dream, memory, and prayer,” Sr. Constance said, as she summarized the gifts that the elderly can contribute. 

With “dream,” she said, “I think what he means by that is that the elderly still have a vision or a dream about what they wish for life, for society, for the world” and that they should “share that with young people, to inspire young people.”

And with memory, Sr. Constance stressed that the elderly can help young people “have a sense of history and memory” or “a memory to help them appreciate where we come from, how we got to where we are, the impact of events.”

The elderly can also change the world through prayer, she said.

“That is really beautiful because even an elderly person who's living alone, who might be housebound, who might be isolated, they might not have direct contact with younger people, but they can always offer their prayers for the needs of the world,” Sr. Constance said. 

“That's what we tell our residents, particularly those who are very infirm,” she said: “they still have the opportunity to offer their sufferings and their sacrifices for the needs of the world.” 

Gold medalist weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz inspires the Philippines with her victory and Catholic devotion

Filipina weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz proudly displays her Olympics gold medal and the Miraculous Medal, a devotional medallion depicting the Virgin Mary. / Hidilyn Diaz's Instagram Stories

Manila, Philippines, Jul 27, 2021 / 12:55 pm (CNA).

Philippine Catholic bishops congratulated the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, not only for her victory but for her show of faith and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Diaz's triumph came in the women’s 55-kilogram weightlifting event on July 26. She also set an Olympic record after lifting a combined weight of 224 kilograms.

After completing her final lift in a very close competition, Diaz held her hands to her face, burst into tears and clutched at her Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary hanging from her neck.

“Thank you, Lord, thank you Lord,” she cried repeatedly after the winning lift.

Later on the podium at the medals ceremony, Diaz pointed heavenward after singing the Philippine national anthem, then made the Sign of the Cross before stepping down and shouting “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” (“Long live the Philippines!”)

Diaz’s inspirational victory and public display of her Catholic faith touched the hearts of church leaders and Filipino Catholics watching from home and quickly went viral on social media.

“We admire her devotion to the Blessed Mother as she carried in her victory her great faith in God,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the country’s bishops’ conference. “Hidilyn is a true weightlifter who draws her strength from her love for the country and her deep Catholic faith.”

Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila said Diaz has given inspiration to all Filipinos.

“Thank you, Hidilyn, for the tremendous honor you have bestowed on our country,” he said via Church-run Radio Veritas.

“Your success gives light, inspiration, and hope to all of us, especially in these difficult times,” he continued. “Thank you for the testimony of your strong faith in God and deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thank you for reminding us that there is no real success if it does not come from God.”

In a media interview on July 27, Diaz said her Miraculous Medal was given to her by friends before she departed for Tokyo earlier this month.

“They prayed a novena for nine days before my competition," she told reporters, adding that she prayed a novena herself and is grateful for all the support her “prayer warriors” have given her.

A novena is a popular Catholic spiritual devotion consisting of the recitation of a set form of prayer for nine consecutive days, in petition for a divine favor or in preparation for a liturgical feast or as participation in an important event such as a Year of Jubilee.

Diaz said the religious medal is “a sign of our prayers and faith in Mama Mary and Jesus Christ,” adding that her faith in God is the major reason for her success. 

Diaz is the fifth of six children of a poor trike driver in a small village in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga.

In previous media interviews, the future Olympic gold medalist said that when she was a child she wanted to be a banker so that her mother would stop complaining about the lack of money.

A cousin, however, introduced the then-10-year old girl to weightlifting by training her with makeshift barbells made from plastic pipes with cast concrete weights at either end.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People of the bishops’ conference said Diaz’s victory showed that Filipinos can rise up to any challenge with God's help.

“[S]he has shown to us that the Filipino can. We can rise up from all challenges in life. We can surmount all obstacles," said the bishop.

Catholic priest attacked with glass bottle while praying at cathedral in Scotland

St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. / Gastao at English Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Edinburgh, Scotland, Jul 27, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest escaped without injury on Monday after he was attacked by a man wielding a glass bottle as he prayed at a cathedral in Scotland.

The archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh said on July 27 that the “violent and unprovoked assault” took place at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh after the man asked the victim if he was a priest.

“Yesterday morning (Monday 26 July) a priest sitting alone praying in a pew at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh was subject to a violent and unprovoked assault by a man carrying a glass bottle,” said the archdiocese.

“Just prior to the attack the man had asked him if he was a priest. When the priest replied that he was, the man attempted to hit him on the head with the bottle, before chasing him to the back of the cathedral.”

“The bottle broke on the ground and the man continued using it in his assault. The priest managed to fend him off with a chair before the attacker ran out of the cathedral. The priest escaped without injury.”

The archdiocese, which covers Scotland’s capital city and surrounding areas, urged anyone with information to contact Police Scotland.

According to Scottish media, a spokeswoman for the national police force said that officers were called at 9:35 a.m. on July 26 following a report of a 35-year-old man being assaulted.

“Officers attended and the victim did not require hospital treatment,” she said, adding that police inquiries were ongoing.

Pope Francis is expected to visit Scotland “for a very short time” in November, a spokesperson for the country’s bishops’ conference confirmed earlier this month.

The pope is likely to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, on Nov. 1-12.

Catholics are a minority in Scotland, comprising just 16% of the total population of 5.5 million people. But the Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said in 2019 that Catholics were “disproportionately targeted in terms of religiously aggravated offending.”

In 2018, there were four assaults on priests in Scotland, the Catholic Parliamentary Office said.

The Scottish government report “Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2017-2018” found that Catholicism was “the religion that was most often the subject of reported abuse, with 319 charges for 2017-18,” out of a total of 642 charges.

Another report, “Hate Crime in Scotland 2019-20,” said that there were 660 religiously aggravated charges recorded in 2019-20 -- 24% higher than in 2018-19.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published data in November documenting more than 500 hate crimes against Christians in Europe in 2019.

Incidents included attacks against Catholic priests, arson attacks on Catholic churches, the destruction of images of the Virgin Mary, vandalism of a pregnancy counseling center, and the theft of consecrated Eucharistic hosts from tabernacles.

In total, there were 595 incidents against Christians documented by OSCE. Of these, 459 were attacks against property, and 80 were attacks against people.