Browsing News Entries

Russia seeks to bar foreign-educated religious leaders from teaching, preaching

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders in Russia are expressing concern about a bill that would restrict the ability of Russian religious ministers who receive religious education abroad to teach or preach in Russia.

The bill calls for “recertification” in Russian educational institutions of pastors and “personnel of religious organisations” who have received religious education abroad, ostensibly with the goal of preventing the spread of “extremist ideology” from abroad, the Barnabas Fund reports.

The bill was proposed in the Federal Assembly and approved for first reading Sept. 22, but the reading has been postponed.

Father Kirill Gorbunov, vicar general for the Archdiocese of the Mother of God at Moscow, told RIA Novosti, according to Asia News, that priests ministering from Russia who were educated elsewhere should be informed about the history, culture and religious traditions of Russia, and should not disseminate extremist ideas in their preaching.

However, he said it is the Church’s responsibility to regulate this, not the state’s— and the Catholic Church has no tolerance for extremist ideas, he said.

The attempt by the Kremlin to regulate what is being taught to religious leaders "does not provide for effective solutions, rather it would lead to inextricable contradictions.”

In addition to Catholics, Russsian Buddhists typically study abroad as part of their formation, Asia News reported.

The bill comes amid several years of deteriorating religious freedom in Russia.

In 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a new set of laws that would restrict evangelization and missionary activity to officially registered Church buildings and worship areas.

Anti-terrorism measures, catalyzed by the 2002 Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity, have given Russian police powers to disrupt private worship services, to arrest and detain individuals handing out unapproved religious materials, and to outlay any publish preaching without prior approval from Russian authorities.

In 2017, the country’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist group. Judges ordered the closure of the ecclesial community’s Russian headquarters and almost 400 local chapters, and the seizure of its property.

As of August 2020, over a thousand homes have been searched, nearly 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged, a few dozen convicted, and ten are currently serving time, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports.

Before Communism came to Russia, a majority of the country’s citizens were Eastern Orthodox Christians. During the reign of communism, the government attempted to destroy the Church by blowing up buildings and killing priests, religious sisters, and anyone who resisted them.

Once the government gained control of the Russian Orthodox Church, they appointed their own agents as hierarchy, who would then turn people in who came to the Church seeking baptism.

The seeds of distrust planted at that time still run deep, and the Russian Orthodox Church maintains its ties to the government today. 

On Sept. 16, USCIRF held a virtual hearing on the state of religious freedom in Russia and Central Asia, warning that “vague and problematic” definitions of "extremism" in Russian law give the authorities wide latitude to interfere in the religious sphere.

Iraqi archbishop who preserves historic manuscripts nominated for Sakharov Prize

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul has been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for his work to preserve hundreds of historic manuscripts from destruction by the Islamic State in 2014.

Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel, a Dominican, has worked since at least 1990 to preserve manuscripts and other historic documents from the Mosul area.

The Sakharov Prize is awarded by the European Parliament to those dedicated to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought.

The other nominees this year are the democratic opposition in Belarus; environmental activists in Honduras; and a group of LGBTI activists in Poland.

The prize winner will be announced Oct. 22.

Archbishop Najeeb was born in Mosul in 1955. He took simple vows with the Dominican order in 1981, and was ordained a priest in 1987.

The next year he became archivist of the Dominican convent in Mosul, and in 1990 he founded the Center for the Digitization of Eastern Manuscripts.

In 2018 he was confirmed as Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, and he was consecrated a bishop and installed in January 2019.

He spoke to CNA about his work in 2017: “First, we save them (the manuscripts) physically, materially. We bring them to safety and bring them with us at the peril of our lives, of course. But, we also electronically copy them and number them.”

“I did not save this history just because I am a Christian. I saved this because I am human and everything that is human interests me, like the lives of human beings and of a human being become much more valuable when he has roots.”

Since 2007 Archbishop Najeeb and those who help him have moved and protected manuscripts from likely destruction at the hands of Islamist extremists. So far, the group has digitally preserved more than 8,000 previously unpublished manuscripts, dating from the 10th to the 19th centuries.

“Culture and civilization were born here and today it is a bath of blood and the destruction is almost complete and total, but even with all of this we keep the hope for a better future,” Archbishop Najeeb said.

Since 1750 the many manuscripts had been kept in the library of the Dominican monastery in Mosul. They were moved from the monastery starting in 2007, amid the backdrop of increased violence against Christians and other minorities at the hands of extremist groups.

Because of the violence, which included the killing of priests, for safety the Dominican brothers began quietly to move from their church. They continued to say Mass and the sacraments, but were physically living more than 18 miles away in Bakhdida.

Not to draw attention to themselves they dressed in civilian clothes and came and went discretely to celebrate Mass in caves, “like the first Christians did in the catacombs at the beginning of the Christian era,” Archbishop Najeeb said.

It was during those next few years that the brothers began to bring progressively the manuscripts out of the convent in Mosul.

Then, in 2014, the Islamic State arrived in Mosul. Under threat of death unless they converted to Islam, Christians fled the city. Stopped at checkpoints on the roads, Islamic State took everything, so they were forced to leave with only the clothes they were wearing.

Archbishop Najeeb and his brothers made it safely past the checkpoints. Then, just ten days before Islamic State invaded Bakhdida, he rescued many of the manuscripts again, this time bringing them to Erbil, where they have remained.

The documents include more than 25 subjects, including theology, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, history, and geography, many of which date back “to the 10th, 11th, and 12th century in Aramaic,” Archbishop Najeeb said.

They also have documents in Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, and more: “All of this makes up our collection and heritage, not only Christian but also in the international communion for the whole of humanity,” he explained.

Archbishop Najeeb noted that preserving the manuscripts is far more important than merely having a record of history and an archive of historical objects, but something vital for the education of future generations as well.

“In fact, the manuscripts and the archives of these ancient document make up our history and are our roots. We cannot save a tree without saving its roots. The two can bear fruit,” he said.

“So, it is important, all of these archives. This history is a part of our collective archives, our past, our history. And these we absolutely had to save, as our children.”

Vandal takes baseball bat to Catholic seminary in Texas, but none harmed

Denver Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- A man who wielded a baseball bat on the grounds of a Catholic seminary in Texas damaged a crucifix and several doors, but caused no harm to seminary students. The seminary asked for prayers for the unknown perpetrator and warned against a rush to judgment.

“Assumption Seminary in San Antonio received damage to an outdoor crucifix and five glass doors of the discernment house on campus during an act of vandalism which occurred at just after 10 p.m. on September 24,” Jordan McMorrough, communications director for the San Antonio archdiocese, told CNA Sept. 25. “San Antonio Police Department officers are currently investigating the incident and are searching for a suspect.”

“First and foremost, all of our seminarians and all the people at the seminary are safe,” Father Hy Nguyen, rector of Assumption Seminary, said Sept. 25. “We ask for your prayers for this misguided person, and for the safety of the Assumption community.”

An unidentified man who held a baseball bat was observed walking up to the dormitory building, Nguyen said. The man hit the glass doors several times. Though law enforcement was notified immediately, the suspect fled the area before police arrived, according to the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s statement.

Photos provided by the archdiocese appear to show damage to the feet of a statue of Jesus Christ crucified. A San Antonio Spurs NBA jersey was placed around the head of Jesus. The statue is adjacent to Our Lady’s Chapel, beside the discernment house.

In a Sept. 25 post on its Facebook page, the seminary said “since we do not yet know who the person is or their motives, please refrain from rushing to judgment but please pray for us and for the perpetrator.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio reflected on the event.

“This disturbing event can lead us to know that Jesus on the Cross gave us His Body and Blood, His whole being, for our salvation,” he said Sept. 25. “It is a reminder that we are called to love one another as He loved us.”

“We pray for the person who committed this painful act; he is in our prayers,” the archbishop continued. “As with many other things that have been happening in this regard, may our hurt lead us to love even more, and even better. We assure our seminarians of our prayers and our support as we seek resolution to this.”

Clean-up of the vandalism began on Friday morning.

Assumption Seminary concentrates on formation of men for Hispanic ministry and church leadership. It has students from dioceses around the U.S. The San Antonio archdiocese serves about 800,000 Catholics in a regional population of over 2.6 million people, according to 2018 figures.

Recent months have seen numerous acts of vandalism and destruction at Catholic churches across the United States, including arsons and graffiti.

In July, a man crashed a minivan into a Florida Catholic church and then started a fire inside the building.

In Los Angeles, San Gabriel Mission church, founded by St. Junipero Serra, also burned in a fire being investigated for arson. Numerous statues of the saint have been vandalized or destroyed, most of them in California.

Several other churches across the country have been set aflame, and statues of Jesus or Mary have been toppled or decapitated.

While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.

President Trump plans to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 04:20 pm (CNA).-  

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett Saturday to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A source close to Barrett told CNA Friday that the judge, who met with Trump this week, expects to be nominated to the post.

Several news outlets, including CNN and the NY Times, reported Friday that they had received confirmation of Trump’s intention from the White House.

Trump is not known to have interviewed other candidates for the job, but sources stressed that the president could change his mind, even while he is reportedly indicating that Barrett is his selection.

Born in New Orleans, the eldest of seven children, Barrett graduated from Rhodes College before receiving a full scholarship to Notre Dame Law School where she graduated first in her class.

Barrett went on to clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, before going into private practice. She returned to Notre Dame Law School and taught classes in 2002 before becoming a professor in 2010.

Barrett has praised Scalia as an intellectual mentor and for his dedication to textualism, which holds that the Constitution should be interpreted with the context in which it was written.

In a November 2016 event in Jacksonville addressing a previous vacancy on the Supreme Court, Barrett stated that Scalia “resisted the notion that the Supreme Court should be in the business of imposing its views of social mores on the American people,” and that he thought it should be “up to the people to decide” things in the Constitution that weren’t explicitly banned or permitted.

Barrett’s selection is widely anticipated, with many media outlets touting her as the leading candidate for the nomination. She has already faced concerted media scrutiny and criticism for her Catholic faith.

During her 2017 nomination hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned her on her personal faith and values, saying that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

Just weeks after she was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett was added to President Donald Trump’s list of potential future Supreme Court picks, and was rumored to have been one of the finalists to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy upon his retirement in 2018.

Barrett and her husband have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti. In a 2019 interview at a Notre Dame alumni event in Washington, DC, Barrett said that raising children is “where you have your greatest impact on the world” and that she could imagine no greater thing.

Amid renewed scrutiny of Barrett’s personal life and beliefs, and facing the likelihood of a tough confirmation process if nominated, Princeton University Professor Robert George highlighted anti-Catholic tropes again being used in criticism of the judge.

“One would have hoped that having brought shame on themselves last time, and blunted their spear on Judge Barrett by attacking her religion, they would be more careful this time about exposing their bigotry to public view. But no,” he said on Twitter.

During Barrett’s confirmation hearings, questions were also raised about Barrett’s association with the lay organization People of Praise.

People of Praise has been referred to in the media as a “cult,” and criticized for a practice, which has since been changed, that called leaders “heads” and “handmaidens”--both of which are references to Biblical passages.

But the group is an ordinary expression of the Christian desire for community and holiness, Bishop Peter Smith, a member of the organization, told CNA, and not a cause for concern.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of a “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” following Vatican Council II.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant”- an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Covenant communities- Protestant and Catholic- emerged across the country in the 1970s, as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity.

 

Black Pentecostal leaders: Amy Coney Barrett 'persecuted' for charismatic faith

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).-  

A letter released Friday by Black Pentecostal and charismatic Christian leaders has decried criticisms of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s charismatic Catholicism, ahead of her possible appointment to the Supreme Court.

“Today we stand with, and speak in defense of, Judge Amy Coney Barrett,” the Sept. 25 letter said.

“As black Christians we will not stand by in silence as our sister in the faith is persecuted for the ‘political crime’ of her beliefs,” said the letter, which was signed by numerous clergy members, scholars, and religious leaders.

Barrett, said the letter, should be judged for her record as a lawyer, law professor, and judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals, not her religious beliefs and affiliations. Barrett is a reportedly a member of the People of Praise, an ecumenical charismatic organization based in South Bend, Indiana.

The judge’s affiliation with People of Praise has come under the spotlight as President Donald Trump prepares to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. The group has been repeatedly referred to as a “cult” and has been falsely accused of inspiring the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The letter, entitled “A Black Defense of Freedom of Conscience and Amy Coney Barrett,” was published by the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.

The letters signatories acknowledged that while they do not know if Barrett will be nominated for the Supreme Court, “we do know that attacks on her Christian beliefs and her membership in a charismatic Christian community reflect rank religious bigotry that has no legitimate place in our political debates or public life.”

“If Judge Barrett’s belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in the moral convictions associated with the historic Christian faith disqualifies her for an office of public trust, then our American values of individual freedom and the right to follow one’s conscience are simply hypocrisy,” the letter said, adding that religious tests for public office are banned in the U.S. Constitution.

“Those who say that Judge Barrett’s charismatic Christian faith--or ours--is a threat to the Constitution are themselves enemies of the Constitution. They are enemies of the freedom of the individual,” the signatories added.

“Such behavior cannot be tolerated.”

Rev. Eugene Rivers III, director of The Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies and himself a Pentecostal minister, told CNA that “There’s an increasingly hostile environment for people of faith.”

“One of the cases that forced us to act was the disgraceful treatment of Professor Barrett. It was the disgraceful, unjust, unfair treatment of our sister of faith,” Rivers added.

“We felt it was absolutely essential, that as men of faith--or particularly as Black men of faith--that we needed to vigorously stand up and philosophically and politically defend the right of conscience and religion that’s part of our Constitutional order.”

Black men, said Rivers, are “acutely sensitive” to the persecution of the innocent.

“Few people could be more innocent and generous,” said Rivers.

“This loving mother, devoted wife, committed Christian. And so, as men, we felt that we were morally obligated to defend our sister.”