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Nine Catholic bishops with COVID-19 die in a single week

Rome Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- In the past week, nine Catholic bishops have died worldwide after testing positive for COVID-19.

Between Jan. 8 and Jan. 15, bishops across three continents died as a result of the coronavirus. The deceased bishops ranged in age from 53 years old to 91. Five of the bishops died in Europe, where a new strain of COVID-19 has led many countries to implement further restrictions.

Four bishops died on the same day, Jan. 13: Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, who was 70 years old; Bishop Moses Hamungole of Monze, Zambia, who died at the age of 53; 87-year-old Bishop Mario Cecchini of Fano, Italy; and Cardinal Eusébio Oscar Scheid, the 88-year-old retired archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Tartaglia tested positive for COVID-19 after Christmas and was self-isolating, but Glasgow archdiocese stressed that the cause of his death was currently unclear.

Bells tolled across the Colombian diocese of Santa Marta on Jan. 12 to honor Bishop Luis Adriano Piedrahita Sandoval, 74, who died on Jan. 11 of complications from COVID-19. Bishop Cástor Oswaldo Azuaje of Trujillo, 69, became the first bishop from Venezuela to die after contracting the virus on Jan. 8.

Bishop Florentin Crihalmeanu, the 61-year-old bishop of the Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Cluj-Gherla in Romania, died on Jan. 12. He was remembered by his eparchy as “a diligent, meek, and humble soul.”

Polish Bishop Adam Dyczkowski, emeritus of Zielona Góra-Gorzów diocese, died on Jan. 10 at the age of 88 and Italian Archbishop Oscar Rizzato died at the age of 91 on Jan. 11. Rizzato had served as papal almsgiver under both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis expressed his condolences following the death of Cardinal Scheid in a telegram on Jan. 14.

“I offer fervent prayers to welcome him into eternal happiness and console him with hope in the resurrection and to all those who mourn the loss of their beloved pastor,” the pope wrote.

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Rabbi: Polish Catholic Church’s Day of Judaism is a ‘holy day’

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Chief Rabbi of Poland on Thursday described the Catholic Church’s annual Day of Judaism as a “holy day.”

Speaking at a livestreamed press conference on Jan. 14, Rabbi Michael Schudrich expressed gratitude for the annual commemoration observed by Polish Catholics since 1998.

“The Day of Judaism in the Church for me, a Rabbi, is a holy day,” he said at the press conference, which unveiled the theme for this year’s commemoration on Sunday, Jan. 17.

The theme will be “Life and death. ‘Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.’” The quotation is from Deuteronomy 30:15 and the theme reflects the loss of life worldwide as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The Day of Judaism is held at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held annually on Jan. 18-25. In Poland, the Catholic Church also observes a Day of Islam at the end of the ecumenical week.

In his address, Schudrich, who was born in New York City and whose grandparents emigrated from Poland to the United States before the Second World War, noted that the Day of Judaism was inspired by St. John Paul II. 

The Polish pope, who led the Church from 1978 to 2005, strengthened ties between Catholics and the Jewish community. He described Jews as “our elder brothers” and became the first pope to make an official visit to a synagogue, in Rome in 1986.

Schudrich said that one of the most important things he learned from John Paul II was that if you are secure in your own faith then knowing about other faiths can be an enriching experience.

The 65-year-old has served as Chief Rabbi since 2004 and is credited with helping to inspire a “Jewish renaissance” in the country, which was home to more than three million Jews before the Holocaust. 

In 2010, he was invited to travel with Polish president Lech Kaczyński and other dignitaries to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. Schudrich declined because the flight was on the Sabbath. The plane crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing all 96 people on board.

Also speaking at the press conference was Bishop Rafał Markowski, an auxiliary bishop of Warsaw and president of the Polish bishops’ council for religious dialogue.

He noted that the Church was engaged in three principal forms of dialogue: ecumenical, interreligious, and with the modern world. While dialogue is not easy, he said, it is necessary for identifying common values that are worth fighting for.

Bishop Romuald Kamiński, head of the diocese of Warszawa-Praga, said that the Day of Judaism helped Catholics to learn about their Jewish brothers’ faith in God and their difficulties.

He said that Poles, in particular, had a responsibility to ensure that the creative contribution of Jews to the country’s history is remembered and made known to the next generation.

The focus of this year’s commemoration is in the diocese of Warszawa-Praga, where the day will be marked with meetings, a moment of prayer at a Jewish cemetery, and a liturgy of the word with addresses by both Catholics and Jews, ending with a concert. The day will also be observed in other dioceses across the country.

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Catholics remember Shahbaz Bhatti 10 years after his assassination in Pakistan

Rome Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The diocese of Rome will host a memorial Mass on Friday for Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic politician in Pakistan assassinated by an Islamic terrorist group 10 years ago.

Bhatti served as Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs from 2008 to 2011. He advocated for four member seats for religious minority candidates in Pakistan’s senate and spoke out against religious persecution, especially the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

At the time of his death, he was the only Christian in Pakistan’s federal cabinet. He was gunned down by members of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan while driving in Islamabad on March 2, 2011, after receiving death threats for more than a year.

Following his death, Catholic bishops in Pakistan called for the pope to recognize him as a “martyr and patron of religious freedom.”

The diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi opened Bhatti’s cause for beatification in March 2016. Among the testimonies documented was that of Bishop Anthony Lobo, who gave an interview to Fides News Agency shortly before his death in 2013.

He said that Bhatti “decided to play an active part in politics in order to protect the country’s Christians and other minorities.”

“A man of great commitment, he decided not to marry. He lived a life of celibacy. He had no possessions and saw his activity as a service. I believe that Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was a dedicated lay Catholic martyred for his faith.”

Religious freedom in Pakistan has worsened in the 10 years since Bhatti’s death, according to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The U.S. State Department has designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for violating religious freedom since 2018.

This week Open Doors’ World Watch List ranked Pakistan among the top five countries where Christians face the worst persecution in the world.  

When Bhatti took office as Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, he said that he had dedicated his life to the “struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom, and to uplift and empower the religious minorities’ communities.” He added that he accepted the post for the sake of the “oppressed, down-trodden and marginalized.”

“Jesus is the nucleus of my life and I want to be His true follower through my actions by sharing the love of God with the poor, oppressed, victimized, needy, and suffering people of Pakistan,” he said.

As a member of Pakistan’s ministerial cabinet, he supported religious minorities in several ways, including launching a national campaign promoting interfaith relations. In 2010, he led the organization of a National Interfaith Consultation in Pakistan which resulted in a joint declaration against terrorism.

Before his career in parliament, he founded Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance movement, which fought against blasphemy laws used to persecute religious minorities, particularly Christians.

Bhatti had begun to receive death threats in 2009, but they increased in 2010 after he showed support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. Bibi remained on death row until her acquittal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in October 2018.

Bhatti was 42 years old when he was killed by gunshots while traveling by car to work in Islamabad.

In a video he recorded before his death, Bhatti had said: “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community ... and I will die to defend their rights.”

Pope Francis said in 2018 that Bhatti’s “sacrifice is bearing rich fruits of hope” in Pakistan.

The pope added: “The words of Jesus apply also to him: ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’”

Archbishop Gianpiero Palmieri, vice-regent of the diocese of Rome, will offer the memorial Mass for Bhatti at the Church of St. Bonaventure in Rome on Friday evening. Paul Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti will share his testimony after the Mass. A collection will be taken at the Mass for a mission school in Pakistan. 

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‘This was a historic moment’: England’s personal ordinariate celebrates its 10th anniversary

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 05:35 am (CNA).- Ten years ago today, Msgr. Keith Newton was preparing to be ordained a Catholic priest at Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of Catholics in England and Wales. It would be an ordination like no other. 

The date was Jan. 15, 2011. Up until Dec. 31, Newton had been an Anglican bishop. The next day, he was received into the Catholic Church. On Jan. 13, he was ordained a deacon. Now, he was about to become a Catholic priest. 

But not only that: at the ordination ceremony he would be appointed to oversee an entirely new structure within the Catholic Church: the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the ordinariate’s creation, Newton recalled that he was asked to keep his ordination date a secret until after he was received. He worried that no one would be present for the ceremony, at which two other former Anglican bishops -- John Broadhurst and Andrew Burnham -- would also be ordained as Catholic priests. It turned out that Newton was quite wrong.

“The cathedral was absolutely packed to the doors,” he said in a Jan. 14 interview with CNA. “It was at our ordination Mass that a letter was read out from Cardinal Levada [the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], announcing that the Holy Father had appointed me as the Ordinary.” 

“And the ordinariate was erected with the title of Our Lady of Walsingham -- and nobody knew that beforehand.”

Newton, a 68-year-old Liverpudlian, described the day as “pretty emotional.”

“The excitement was palpable. There were a lot of people who had come to the Mass who were going to come with us, who were still Anglicans but were hoping to be received eventually. And there were lots of local Catholics as well,” he said.

The then Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster began his homily with the words: “Many ordinations have taken place in this cathedral during the 100 years of its history. But none quite like this.”

“This was a historic moment,” Newton reflected, “not only because we were three serving bishops -- other Anglican bishops had been previously received into the full communion of the Catholic Church -- but because we were being received into this new structure which Pope Benedict had set up which allowed you not just to become a Catholic but actually to bring something that had nurtured you in the faith into the Universal Church.”

Benedict XVI had authorized the creation of personal ordinariates for groups of former Anglicans in his 2009 apostolic constitutionAnglicanorum coetibus.” 

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, covering England, Wales, and Scotland, was the first to be established. It was followed by the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, for the United States and Canada, on Jan. 1, 2012, and the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, for Australia and Asia, on June 15, 2012.

As Newton is married and has three children, he was unable to be ordained as a Catholic bishop. But this was no obstacle to his appointment as an Ordinary.

“To all intents and purposes it is like being the bishop,” he explained. “The only things I can’t do that a bishop can do is to ordain people to the diaconate and the priesthood and to consecrate the chrism.”

“My jurisdiction is slightly different in that it’s not immediate. It’s vicarious on behalf of the Roman pontiff. But I’m an equal member, as an Ordinary, of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales.”

Like a bishop, he can wear a miter. But he pointed out that the miter is not, in fact, reserved for bishops.

“Miters and crosiers are not signs of being a bishop. They are actually signs of jurisdiction. Abbots wear miters and carry crosiers,” he said.

“I’m an Ordinary because an Ordinary is a person who has jurisdiction over an entity. In the Church of England, for instance, an Ordinary doesn’t even have to be a clergyman because at Westminster Abbey the Ordinary is the Queen.”

Newton spent the first 58 years of his life as an Anglican. Born in 1952, he was ordained as a Church of England clergyman in 1976. In the latter half of the 1980s, he served as the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Blantyre, Malawi. In 2002, the archbishop of Canterbury ordained him as an Anglican bishop.

These experiences prepared him to take on the challenge of launching a new structure in the Catholic Church with minimal resources.

“It was starting off from absolutely nothing,” he said. “The first six months were taken up with preparing laity and priests for reception into the Catholic Church, which took place around about Easter of that year, 2011.”

“And then the preparation for clergy to be ordained later in the summer. They had a crash course, from Ash Wednesday until their ordination. And then after that, there was a two-year process of continuing formation. But they were ordained early so that they could pastor the groups they brought in. That was the whole idea.”

At the same time, Newton had to ensure that former Anglican clergy ordained as Catholic priests had someone to live and something to live on. Despite popular notions about the vast wealth of the Catholic Church, Catholicism in England, at least, operates on a shoestring.  

“That was a great headache in the first few months, to make sure that everybody had sufficient money to live on and somewhere actually to live,” he said. “But it all worked out in the end.” 

In its first 10 years, the ordinariate has grown in some places and “withered away” in others, Newton said. The group has a church in London, where Newton is based, and another in Torbay, Cornwall. But the ordinariate doesn’t have the money to purchase other churches of its own across Britain.

“So what’s happened over the 10 years is that we’ve started to work more with local dioceses in running parishes on behalf of the diocese as well as the local ordinariate group,” Newton noted. 

“There are about 25 or 30 parishes in England and Wales that we are the parish priests of on behalf of the diocesan bishop. This gives a way of financing and a place for them to live.”

The ordinariate has its own approved liturgy, incorporating the sonorous prayers of Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury. But Masses in parishes run by ordinariate priests aren’t always celebrated according to the Ordinariate Use.

Ever since the ordinariate’s creation, critics have accused it of being “top-heavy” with clergy. Newton said that was a fair criticism, but pointed out that ordinariate priests serve not only ex-Anglicans but also the wider Catholic community through the parishes.

Another common criticism is that the ordinariate has failed to attract the number of Catholic-minded Anglicans that it was expected to 10 years ago. Again, Newton accepted that there was some truth to this.

“If you look at the Church of England, probably many Church of England people just followed what their local parish did and didn’t really have the sort of deep feelings about union with the Catholic Church that many of the priests had,” he reflected.

As an Anglican drawn to the Catholic faith, Newton felt frustrated that Catholic-Anglican dialogue didn’t appear to be leading to greater unity between the two communions. 

“In fact, not only was it not coming to anything, but the distance between the Catholic Church and Anglican Church just seemed to be getting larger rather than smaller,” he said. 

“So when the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, published the apostolic constitution, it was for us an answer to prayer. It was the fulfillment of our hopes that we could be in union with the Holy See and yet still honor the background which had nurtured us in the Christian faith.”

Newton noted that ordinariate members were “slightly nervous” when Benedict XVI resigned in 2013, just two years after founding the ordinariate. Would his successor take the same interest in the new structure?

Newton said that Pope Francis turned out to be an “encouraging” figure, although there were few Anglicans in his native Argentina.

“He’s promoted a missal for us. He’s changed some of our norms to enlarge our mission. So it continues in the same way, really. It’s part of the Catholic Church now. It’s a constituent part, a structure which belongs to it,” he said. 

“We still relate to the Holy Father through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and they’re still very supportive.” 

The ordinariate received a morale boost in October 2019, when the pope canonized John Henry Newman.

“To see Newman’s image above some St. Peter’s Square, a person who -- rather more dramatically than us, I imagine -- had also been an Anglican clergyman and made the journey to full communion, to be canonized as a saint was an amazing experience. And of course he’s also our patron, so that’s also doubly important for us.”

Newton said that since the canonization more Anglican clergy had contacted the ordinariate inquiring about the possibility of becoming Catholic priests. 

“They’ve been younger priests rather than older ones,” he said. 

The coronavirus crisis has forced the ordinariate to put its 10th anniversary celebrations on hold, though Newton will celebrate a Solemn Mass and Te Deum on Jan. 16, livestreamed from the ordinariate’s London church at noon local time.

The ordinariate has set out its vision for the years ahead in the document “Our Calling and Our Mission.” It focuses on strengthening the ordinariate’s communal life, vocations and formation, and evangelization.

Newton believes that the ordinariate can make a distinctive contribution to the “new evangelization,” a term popularized by Pope John Paul II.

“I think we can always remind the Catholic Church that evangelization is a lot more than simply getting lapsed Catholics back to church,” he said. “Often that’s the sort of language we hear when actually the Great Commission is to go out to everybody.” 

“And in our country, you have many people who’ve got no faith, or have lapsed from any practice of the faith, and our evangelization is about all of them.”

“And I think that’s one of the things that former Anglicans understand. When we were Anglican priests, we had a ministry to the whole parish, not just to the congregation. And I think that’s an aspect of evangelization that we ought to keep in front of people.”