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Polish president Duda visits Marian shrine after narrow election win

CNA Staff, Jul 14, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Andrzej Duda visited Poland’s national Marian shrine Monday following his narrow presidential election victory.

Duda attended evening prayer at the shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa at Jasna Góra Monastery July 13 after he emerged as the victor in a run-off with Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski.

Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), won a second term as president with 51.03% of the votes, with his challenger gaining 48.97% -- a difference of 422,630 votes in a country with a population of almost 38 million.

According to local media reports, Duda was present during the Call of Jasna Góra (Apel jasnogórski), a prayer addressed to Mary, Queen of Poland, that is recited at 9pm every evening at the shrine. 

Shrine custodian Fr. Waldemar Pastusiak is reported to have acknowledged Duda’s presence, praying: “We thank you for his presence here at Jasna Góra. We thank you for his witness of faith. On the threshold of the second term, we are giving him into Your hands, Mary, and all the matters of our homeland, believing that You will always be present with him.”


Podobnie jak 5 lat temu, tuż po wyborze, na #JasnaGóra przybył @prezydentpl Andrzej Duda. Weźmie udział w wieczornej modlitwie Polaków #ApelJasnogórski. To kolejna pielgrzymka głowy państwa polskiego do #Sanktuarium

— JasnaGoraNews (@JasnaGoraNews) July 13, 2020  

Częstochowa auxiliary bishop Andrzej Przybylski also spoke, local media noted, saying: “God bless our beloved homeland, Poland, all Poles. Bless the president of the most glorious Republic in this new stage of his national service.”

“Listen, God, to the great desire of Your and our Mother, Queen of Poland of Częstochowa, that we, her Polish children, may live in harmony and unity, that we may have God in our hearts, for only He can enable us to truly love and reconcile, to wisely bond Poland together and to spiritually revive it.”

Western media reports have portrayed the 48-year-old Duda as the favored candidate of the Catholic Church. On June 10, he signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”

But in the run-up to the first round of the presidential election, the Polish bishops’ conference sought to avoid being drawn into partisan debates.

In May, the bishops addressed a dispute about whether the election should go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic. 

They called on lawmakers to resolve the issue while upholding the principles of Poland’s constitution, emphasizing that they were not seeking to engage in “purely political disputes over the form or timing of election, let alone to advocate this or that solution.”

The Polish bishops’ conference had published no official response to the election result as of July 14.

Duda visited Jasna Góra shortly after his first presidential election victory in 2015. He also visited the shrine in March this year to take part in prayers to end the coronavirus pandemic.

'Pope Francis' hospital boat delivers aid to pandemic-hit Amazon

Rome Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A hospital boat named after Pope Francis has been delivering medical aid along the Amazon River as rural communities struggle amid Brazil’s devastating coronavirus outbreak. 

“This vessel has already done great miracles in the lives of our riverside people, bringing health and hope,” Franciscan Brother Joel Sousa told the Brazilian bishops’ conference news portal.

Since the boat was inaugurated in July 2019, the medical crew has carried out 46,000 medical consultations in the communities along the Amazon River. However, in the face of Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak, the crew has shifted its focus to prevention and testing.

“We couldn’t be out of this fight. We got together, reorganized ourselves in our service so that together we could also fight against COVID-19,” Sousa said.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Brazil hard. With nearly 1.9 million COVID-19 cases, Brazil has the second highest number of recorded pandemic fatalities in the world after the United States. 

At least 72,833 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil as of July 14, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced July 7 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Vatican News reported July 14 that Pope Francis has donated four ventilators to Brazil to treat those who have contracted the virus. One of them, sent to a hospital in Marabá, a municipality in the state of Pará, will be “used especially for the Indigenous peoples,” according to the local bishop.

Despite their isolation, communities along the Amazon River have not been shielded from the outbreak. The virus has spread after two cities along the mouth of the river, Belem and Macapa, experienced outbreaks in the spring.

“We are mainly treating flu-like symptoms and mild, outpatient COVID-19 symptoms. The doctor performs the consultations and we also deliver medicines to the local health department,” Sousa said.

The hospital boat is staffed by medical volunteers, crew members, and Franciscan friars. It was founded by the Fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi in the Providence of God, in partnership with their local diocese and the Brazilian government.

The Brazilian Franciscans were inspired to create the floating hospital when Pope Francis visited their healthcare facility during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. During the visit, the pope encouraged Friar Francisco Belotti to expand his religious order’s charitable works into the Amazon region.

The boat, 105 feet in length, contains an operating room and analysis laboratory, and is able to provide a range of medical services, including X-rays, vaccinations, electrocardiogram, mammograms, and ultrasounds. The hospital began treating its first patients Aug. 18.

In a letter marking the boat’s launch on Aug. 17, Pope Francis, who has often spoken of the Church as a “field hospital,” said that the Church can also now be seen as a “hospital on the water.”

“Just as Jesus, who appeared walking on water, calmed the storm and strengthened the faith of the disciples, this boat will bring spiritual comfort and calm to the worries of needy men and women, abandoned to their fate,” Pope Francis said.

This report has been updated to include the popes donation of four ventilators to hospitals in Brazil.

Pro-life Texas Democrat says racial slurs won't stop his pro-life advocacy

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 08:25 am (CNA).-  

A pro-life Texas state senator running for re-election says he won’t be deterred by racial slurs directed against him by pro-abortion groups.

State senator Eddie Lucio, representing Texas’ 27th district in the southern tip of the state, is a Catholic pro-life Democrat from a Mexican-American family. As one of ten children who grew up attending St. Joseph Catholic church in West Brownsville, he told CNA that his upbringing “taught us family values and also to respect the sanctity of life.”

“I don’t make any excuses for that, and I don’t apologize for that,” he said of his advocacy on life issues.

Senator Lucio has been a member of the state senate since 1991, having previously served two terms in the state house. His 2020 Democratic primary race extended into a runoff in May, when he received just under 50% of the vote in a three-way race to advance to the general election.

Lucio is vying with candidate Sara Stapleton Barrera for the party’s nomination for the November general election in the July 14 runoff election; Barrera has received the endorsement of pro-LGBT and pro-abortion groups.

Pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC and the Texas Freedom Network have repeatedly referred to Lucio as “Sucio Lucio” in direct mailing campaigns and online, calling him “dirty” in an apparent reference to his politics; the term, he and others have said, is offensive to Hispanics.

“It’s been used in the past to describe a ‘dirty Mexican,’” Lucio told CNA. “I take it hard for someone to use an adjective that speaks badly of my surname that I’m very proud of. My dad was a very decent, hard-working man who contributed so much to his fellow man.” Lucio said his father was a disabled American veteran who fought in World War II in North Africa and Italy.

The groups “appropriated this offensive term, without consideration of its racist undertones, and it’s wrong to use the term to describe any person of color,” Lucio said. The opposition, he said, is “wanting to defeat me because I am pro-life.”

In a press release, Lucio’s son—a state representative—condemned the “derogatory and racial slurs.”

On July 3, the Mexican American Legislative Council said that political campaigns should “steer clear of political name calling that plays on racial, sexist, homophobic, ableist, and every form of discrimination when our country is working for social justice.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville also spoke out against the use of the term in a July 3 statement.

“While not surprised that Planned Parenthood would attack State Senator Eddie Lucio’s pro-life record, I am deeply discouraged that Texas Freedom Network and others would join in this malicious kind of attack, using such derogatory language to disparage him and his family,” Bishop Flores said.

Lucio appreciated Bishop Flores’ statement, noting that he voted in lock-step with the policy prescriptions of the Texas Catholic Conference last term.

“I’m very grateful to him [Flores], and I hope that we can continue to echo the sentiments of the conference of bishops because I truly believe that they represent what’s right for our society,” he said.

Lucio says that growing up in Texas, he experienced racial discrimination first-hand.

When he arrived at a South Texas university in the 1960s, Lucio said he sat at the front of the classroom in his first-period class. The professor told him “very abruptly, and in kind of a loud voice” to stand to the side.

“What he said after that, I’ll never forget,” Lucio said. The professor instructed Mexican students to sit at the back of the classroom, while telling “black athletes” to sit in the middle, and white students to sit in the front of the classroom.

In another instance in southeast Texas, Lucio said he was told by a motel there was no vacancy despite an empty parking lot outside. “So I figured it out, that it was because of me that we weren’t going to get any rooms there,” he said.

This experience, he said, has prompted him to fight against discrimination of anyone. And this also entails learning to respect areas of genuine disagreement on policy, without resorting to name-calling as Planned Parenthood did.

“I don’t want anyone, regardless of color, regardless of religious preference, regardless of our differences—we’re human beings and we certainly deserve to be treated equally,” he said. “But,” he continued, “we also have to respect religious freedom, we have to respect things that sometimes, people don’t want to.”

Lucio says that the “biggest issue,” for him, is the issue of protecting human life— at all stages. “I support life from conception until natural death,” he said, which puts him at odds with both political parties.

“Democrats will support a woman’s right to an abortion,” he lamented, “but if the baby’s born, will throw themselves in the fire to see that they get education, health care, everything else that goes with it,” he said. “And then they’re against the death penalty, most of them,” Lucio said.

“Republicans,” he said, “are pro-life, which I’m very happy about, but sometimes there are some Republicans that we find are so hard, and so far to the right, that they don’t want to vote to expand Medicaid or to add more dollars to education or health care when it’s needed in our state.”

“And they’re for the death penalty,” the senator lamented.

Speaking of his efforts to put faith before party, Lucio said: “I try to be different, and I am different in a sense,” he said.


‘The situation is truly dreadful’: Church choirs struggle to survive pandemic

CNA Staff, Jul 14, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Musicians in England are warning that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to inflict lasting damage on the country’s church choirs.  

Charles Cole, the director of two Catholic choirs in London, said that children’s choirs were among the worst affected.

“The situation is truly dreadful for all singers: for professionals, their livelihood is at risk, and for amateur singers there will be an acute sense of loss. However, nowhere will the impact be felt more than in children’s choirs, which I am particularly concerned about,” he told CNA.

Cole, the director of the London Oratory Junior Choir and the London Oratory Schola, sounded the alarm last month in an article for the New Liturgical Movement website.

He noted that a nationwide lockdown, imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19, had silenced the nation’s choirs. But as lockdown measures were eased, the government continued to impose strict limitations on singing, based on disputed scientific advice that the activity poses a high risk of transmitting the coronavirus. 

“Britain’s choral tradition is now under major threat due to the UK government’s proposed guidance which will make it difficult or impossible for choirs to meaningfully rehearse or perform,” he wrote.

The latest U.K. government guidelines, updated July 9, forbid group singing inside churches. Small groups of professional singers are permitted to sing outside in front of worshippers, who must also be outdoors.  

Cole explained why the restrictions were likely to have a severe impact on boys’ choirs.

“Children’s choirs are especially vulnerable at the present time, because you can’t simply put the process of growth and development on ice,” he said. 

“It’s like failing to tend a lawn, which takes years to get right, but a relatively short amount of time to ruin. For boys’ choirs in particular, the situation is exacerbated by the process of changing voices: boys only get to sing in their prime as trebles for a couple of years at most, so what many are losing under lockdown is irrecoverable.”

Cole said that online rehearsals were a poor substitute for face-to-face meetings. 

“My own choirs, the London Oratory Schola and the London Oratory Junior Choir, have had frequent and regular online rehearsals and they have maintained a rigorous routine which we hope will stand us in good stead when we resume,” he said. 

“However, it is simply no replacement for standing side by side, blending voices together and creating an ensemble sound. Choral singers are no more meant to be isolated from one another than any human beings are.”

Cole wrote to government officials emphasizing the need for urgent action, but was disappointed by the response.

He said: “Children’s choirs in many cases will face a long process of rebuilding. In my letter to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), I estimated that if the damage continues, the process of recovery could take 3-5 years for a boys’ choir like the Oratory Schola, which covers an age range of 8-18, and all four voice parts.”

“Unfortunately the form response I received from the DCMS made no reference to children’s choirs and I fear that the point was lost. Several MPs also received the same letter which failed to address the specific issues.”

Cole was among the signatories of a letter from more than 200 leading figures in the music world published in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday. It said that the work of church musicians was “under serious threat, with some professional choirs already facing permanent disbandment.”

The pianist Matthew Schellhorn told CNA that Church leaders, charities and politicians had a shared responsibility to ensure that choirs survived the pandemic. 

“The situation for musicians is dire, and particularly lamentable for those in churches, whose work has been doubly hit by the cancelations they have endured and the closure of churches,” he said. 

“There is a lack of certainty over singing in a church setting. Church leaders, charities, and government have a joint responsibility to respond to the plight of the arts sector.” 

The charity Friends of Cathedral Music and the Ouseley Church Music Trust has launched a Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund, which is seeking to raise $1.3 million for cathedral choirs in need.

The two groups conducted a survey which found that many U.K. choral foundations required additional financial support to survive the next few months. 

“The U.K. is the only country in the world where the tradition of daily sung liturgy in cathedrals has been so widely maintained. This precious inheritance is now clearly at risk,” they said. 

The Church Commissioners, a body managing the property assets of the Anglican Church of England, have promised to match the funds raised. 

But choirs are likely to struggle as long as scientific advisers deem singing to be a dangerous activity. The government has reportedly commissioned new research into droplet transmission by singers to determine whether the current restrictions should be eased. But there is no indication when choral singing will be allowed to resume in churches.

Cole said: “We live in a society in which liability is everything, and no risk is deemed acceptable. Stringent measures may or may not keep us safe, and certainly the jury is still out on this. But what is beyond any doubt is the fact that they stifle and impede the ability of our choirs to sing, and indeed survive.” 

“Choirs are absolutely integral to the liturgy, which they adorn and beautify to help make it truly worthy of God. They also draw in the faithful and lead them to prayer. Our choirs are essential, and we need to prioritise their return without equivocation and without delay.”

Vatican diplomat urges solidarity in face of growing world hunger

Vatican City, Jul 14, 2020 / 06:35 am (CNA).- According to a new report from the United Nations, an estimated 690 million people went hungry in 2019 -- 10 million more than in 2018.

Published July 13, the newest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report said that billions of people do not have access to nutritious food, usually due to high costs and low affordability.

Addressing hunger and related problems “takes just policies,” Msgr. Fernando Chica Arellano told Vatican News. 

Arellano is the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

He called for greater international cooperation in the face of the report’s findings. “The world has to invest in peace, solidarity, and justice,” he said.

The report was produced by five UN agencies: FAO, the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the foreword of the report, the agencies caution that the 2015 objective to reach zero hunger by 2030 is “still off track.”

The report also predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic will have caused 130 million more people worldwide to have chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

Arellano stressed that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated already existing problems related to food security and malnutrition.

To reduce hunger requires reducing poverty, which takes peace, cooperation, and solidarity, he said.

As a starting point for the Church, Arellano emphasized the need for ecological education and spirituality, as addressed in the sixth chapter of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’.

According to the UN report, Asia has the greatest number of undernourished people, followed by Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The number of hungry people has been rising since 2014, the report shows, though the overall percentage is relatively stable at 8.9%, growing at the same rate as the global population.

The report said that if current trends continue Africa is expected to have more than half of the world’s chronically hungry people by 2030.

There are issues of concern beyond securing enough food to survive, the report highlighted, such as undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and obesity. 

It also noted the problems for children especially in having access to nutritious food, and the additional problems caused by diseases from malnutrition.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis made a donation to the World Food Programme as the organization works to feed 270 million people this year amid rising hunger caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Vatican announced July 3 that Pope Francis would donate 25,000 euros ($28,000) as “an expression of his closeness to those affected by the pandemic and to those who are engaged in essential services for the poor and weakest and most vulnerable people in our society.”