Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Colombian court lifts ban of video by influencer Kika affirming traditional marriage

Colombian influencer Erika "Kika" Nieto / Screenshot from ADF International tweet

Mexico City Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

The Constitutional Court of Colombia has overturned a lower court’s decision that forced Colombian influencer Erika “Kika” Nieto to take down a video in which she expressed her Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“No one should be censored or fear criminal penalties for expressing their beliefs,” said Santiago Guevara, a lawyer for Nueva Democracia, an NGO that with the support of the Christian legal defense organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, represented Nieto.

“Together with Kika, we are delighted that the Court has reversed this censorship decision. Kika stood firm during this ordeal to defend everyone's freedom to share their beliefs," Guevara said. 

Kika Nieto, who is a Christian, has faced legal proceedings since April 2020, initiated by José Francisco Montufar Rodríguez, a lawyer and LGBTIQ+ activist.

Montufar Rodríguez demanded that the Colombian courts censor a video in which Nieto said: “It is my opinion that God made us all, and created man and created woman so that man is with woman and woman is with man and that's it.”

“What we have done after that, as man with man and woman with woman, I don't think is right. However, note this: I tolerate it,” Nieto added.

In the recording, posted in 2018 under the title “My most sincere video,” Nieto answered questions from her followers.

After Montufar Rodríguez filed a complaint about the views of the Colombian influencer, a court ordered the young woman to remove the video and denied her the right to free speech. Then, on Nov. 23, the Constitutional Court overturned that decision and dismissed the lawsuit.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, Guevara said that although his client is once again free to share her convictions, the defense is disappointed by some details of the Constitutional Court ruling.

"Although the lower court’s ruling that violated Kika's rights has been  overturned, [the Court] did not rule on the content of those rights," Guevara lamented.

"This criticism is based on the fact that, regardless of whether the (plaintiff’s) petition for judicial protection was declared admissible or not, the truth is that the Court was expected to reaffirm the precedent set in SU-355 of 2019 and point out that what was expressed by Kika in her video was protected by her fundamental rights to free speech and religious freedom,” he said.

“In this regard, the Court left out an analysis of absolute relevance," he Nieto's lawyer explained.

SU-355 involved a journalist claiming in a YouTube video that “Kika Nieto hates gays even if she says otherwise.” The case distinguished between the subjective opinions of free speech and the requirement of news reporting to be based on objective verifiable facts.

Guevara said that although the ruling is “final” for this specific case, “regarding the rights that we sought to protect, both those of the plaintiff and Kika’s, there is no position of the Court on the underlying issues that closes the debate definitively.”

“Therefore, if a similar case is presented, this judgment does not set a precedent for how to resolve it, except in procedural matters … it would have been appropriate to have a precedent that would give clear and bolstered protection to free speech when court rulings are issued based on religious beliefs,” he said.

Guevara explained that the court “resolved the case by focusing on  procedural matters. It considered that the requirements of immediacy and subsidiarity of the legal action weren’t met, since the plaintiff didn’t first resort to (other avenues) and filed long after the events took place.” 

He continued: “Therefore, it was decided to declare the petition for protection inadmissible, which has a positive effect, since the lower court ruling that violated Kika's rights was overturned, but the court made no pronouncement on the content of those rights.”

In that regard, the lawyer for Nueva Democracia stated that this shouldn’t be considered a victory for free speech and freedom of religion.

“Although Kika can repost her video because the ruling that unjustifiably censored her was overturned, the truth is that this is due to procedural reasons. There is no decision here that allows us to affirm that the Court ruled in favor of freedom of religion and free speech,” he reiterated.

Guevara criticized the Constitutional Court for not giving Nieto’s case "the importance it deserved.”

"We were dealing with a case that obviously violated free speech, religious freedom and there was a Court precedent (SU-355 of 2019) and none of that was taken into account," he added.

Tomás Henríquez, ADF International Area Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, declared that "if we value a free society, protecting the right to speak freely is paramount."

“We welcome with satisfaction the Court's decision to overturn the ruling censoring Kika Nieto. However, we regret that the underlying issue of censorship wasn’t addressed and affirm the right of everyone to speak freely. We must always choose debate over censorship,” he said. 

“Ultimately, people and democracy suffer when voices are silenced,” he added.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

10 saintly quotes to reflect on this Thanksgiving

null /

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

A thanksgiving should be made to God each and every day, according to the saints in heaven. In special celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, here are 10 saintly quotes on the importance of gratitude.

1. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “The best way to show my gratitude is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.”

2. St. Gianna Beretta Molla: “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.”

3. Pope St. John Paul II:Duc in altum! (Put out into the deep!) These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence.”

4: St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “Jesus does not demand great actions from us, but simply surrender and gratitude.”

5. St. Josemaría Escrivá: “Get used to lifting your heart to God, in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day. Because he gives you this and that. Because you have been despised. Because you haven’t what you need or because you have. Because he made his Mother so beautiful, his Mother who is also your Mother. Because he created the sun and the moon and this animal and that plant. Because he made that man eloquent and you he left tongue-tied … Thank him for everything, because everything is good.”

6. St. Teresa of Ávila: “In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.” 

7. Blessed Solanus Casey: “Thank God ahead of time.” 

8. St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier: “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” 

9. St. John Vianney: “Believe and adore. Believe that Jesus Christ is in this sacrament as truly as He was nine months in the womb of Mary, as really as He was nailed to the Cross. Adore in humility and gratitude.”

10: St. Francis, in his “Canticle of the Sun”: 

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,

especially through my lord Brother Sun,

who brings the day; and You give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!

Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;

in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful ...

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve Him with great humility.

Petition seeks to return St. Junipero Serra statue to ‘place of honor’ at Catholic university

An illustration of Saint Junipero Serra. / Public domain.

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 24, 2021 / 18:04 pm (CNA).

A statue of Saint Junipero Serra must return to the Loyola Marymount University campus, an alumni group has said in a letter and petition to the president of the Los Angeles-area Catholic university.

St. Junipero Serra “recently completed the lengthy and rigorous examination process involved in becoming a canonized saint,” Marcos Chavira, a Loyola Marymount University 1995 graduate, said in an open letter to university president Timothy Snyder, posted at the Renew LMU website.

“Regardless of what any committee may recommend to you, we hope your decision about this statue does not further erode our Catholic identity,” Chavira said.

He cited Pope Francis’ words about Serra during a Sept. 23, 2015 canonization Mass. Serra “sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” the pope said.

Chavira’s letter to Snyder cited recent comments from Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.

Serra “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends,” the archbishops wrote in a Sept. 12 essay for the Wall Street Journal. “At age 60, ill and with a chronically sore leg, Serra traveled 2,000 miles to Mexico City to demand that authorities adopt a native bill of rights he had written.”

The statue dates back to the 1990s, when it was placed outside the campus library as a gift of William H. Hannon, a Catholic philanthropist and passionate admirer of Serra. Hannon was a major benefactor of the campus, an honorary trustee, and regent emeritus. Many campus buildings are named for him at the university, which claims affiliation with both the Society of Jesus and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

In a Nov. 24 statement to CNA, the university said: “In summer of 2020, the statue of Rev. Serra on LMU's Westchester campus was removed to conduct repairs. When the campus reopened from the pandemic in fall of 2021, the university convened a task force to invite feedback from the community and to develop recommendations on future plans. No final decisions have been made, and the university remains committed to a thoughtful process of open dialogue.”

Chavira said Snyder’s choice to remove the statue was “one more step you have made towards LMU losing its distinctive identity and becoming just like any secular school.”

“With all due respect to some on campus who see things differently, the statue of St. Junípero Serra should be returned to a place of honor,” Chavira said. “The saint’s statue should be accompanied by exactly the same contextualization, historical perspective, and critical evaluation that accompanies all the other statues, plaques, memorials, and quotations in stone on campus from figures including Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the Virgin Mary.” 

“That is to say, none,” Chavira added. “For these figures, we do not publicly document their real or alleged sins, or the sins of those associated with them, near their sites of commemoration.”

Renew LMU has objected to the new mission statement of the university’s liberal arts college, which dropped wording that expresses a “commitment to Roman Catholicism and the Judaeo-Christian tradition.” The alumni group was also critical of the university for allowing a student group to hold an on-campus fundraiser for Planned Parenthood at the campus’ Roski Dining Hall.

Chavira referred to this event in his letter.

“If a Planned Parenthood fundraiser can be held at LMU in Roski, certainly a statue of this country’s first Hispanic saint canonized by the first Hispanic pope can be in a place of honor and respect at LMU,” he said. “If you wish to have the statue placed inside, so as to lessen the likelihood of vandalism, it should be in a place of high visibility as it was before. We suggest putting it in Roski.”

Renew LMU has asked supporters of the Serra statue to add their name to Chavira’s letter at its website, The alumni group describes itself as “an alliance of students, alumni, faculty, donors, and other LMU supporters who seek to strengthen LMU’s Catholic mission and identity.” CNA sought comment from RenewLMU but did not receive a response by deadline.

Serra, a Franciscan friar from Spain, left a prestigious university chair in Majorca for what is now the United States in 1749. He founded a system of missions to evangelize the Indigenous in modern-day California. He celebrated more than 6,000 baptisms and 5,000 confirmations, and the missions are at the historic center of many of the state’s cities.

While he was lionized through much of the 20th century, critics have since lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism. They said the missions engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Serra himself was abusive.

Serra’s defenders point to the priest’s advocacy for native people and a champion of human rights. They note that he often found himself at odds with Spanish authorities over mistreatment of native people, and the native communities themselves showed an outpouring of grief at his death. They said Serra is wrongly blamed for injustices that came after his death.

Last year, the death of Minnesota man George Floyd during his arrest by a police officer, who was later convicted of his murder, led to racial tensions, protests against police brutality, and riots. In California, protesters and vandals targeted statues of Serra on the grounds that he represented colonialism and oppression of Native Americans. Some state and local lawmakers renewed previous efforts to remove images of Serra from public parks and other official places, and many succeeded.

The Los Angeles-area San Gabriel Mission, which Serra founded in 1771, burned in a devastating fire on July 11, 2020. The alleged arsonist, 57-year-old John David Corey, faces two felony counts in connection with the fire. He was known to the mission and had quarreled with staff members in the past. He reportedly harbored anger toward the Catholic Church.

On Nov. 4, Loyola Marymount University hosted a discussion about Serra linked to the observance of Indigenous Heritage Month, the university news site LMU This Week reported. 

At the discussion Robert M. Senkewicz, emeritus history professor at Santa Clara University, cited both a letter from Serra seeking mercy for indigenous people who had attacked a mission and another letter instructing harsh punishment for indigenous people who had left a mission and were returned by force. He depicted the Catholic mission presence and the Spanish military presence as mutually reinforcing and said Catholic evangelization efforts accepted the use of force. Mexican and Californian representations of this time of history erased the indigenous peoples’ experiences, Senkewicz said.

Cecilia González-Andrieu, a Loyola Marymount professor of theological studies, said that the missions are now in mainly Latino neighborhoods, but she said there is no devotion to Serra at these places. Edgar Perez, a member of the Gabrielino-Tongva people, said the mission system planted the seeds for policies to separate indigenous people from their language and religion and lands. Serra is an integral part of that history, he said.

Than Povi Martinez, a sophomore dance major at Loyola Marymount from the Tewa Pueblo People of San Ildefonso in New Mexico, said Serra’s statue should be permanently removed. According to LMU This Week, she said the statue represents pain and racism and such representations trigger trauma.

Among the critics of Serra are the Indigenous Student Union of LMU. A petition on attributed to the group had 243 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. The petition said Serra’s statue should “stay off of our LMU campus.”

“One of our founding goals at ISU has been the removal of the Junipero Serra statue on LMU’s campus,” the petition said. “We see this as just one step acknowledging that LMU currently resides on stolen land of the Tongva Tribe and taking action towards making our campus a safe and welcoming place for Indigenous people and others of marginalized identities and backgrounds.”

“We demand that the statue stay off campus and that the education surrounding Christian colonization be conducted through a different, more intentional manner that centers the lives of our community members of Indigenous and/or marginalized backgrounds,” the group continued. “If the university is truly committed to ongoing efforts to increase diversity and inclusion within our institution, the Junipero Serra statue would be kept off our campus.”

Dr. Reuben Mendoza, an archeologist and professor at California State University-Monterey Bay, who has studied the missions for more than 25 years, told CNA last year that Serra was motivated by a missionary zeal to bring salvation to the Native people through the Catholic faith, rather than by genocidal, racist, or opportunistic motivations.

“Serra writes excitedly about how he had finally found his life's calling, and that he would give his life to these people and their salvation,” Mendoza said.

Fr. Tom Elewaut, pastor of the Old Mission Basilica of San Buenaventura in Ventura, told CNA last year that indigenous people are not uniformly critical of Serra.

“There is substantial evidence that among the Chumash that St. Junipero Serra is revered and respected for his contributions to our country,” said Elewaut. “Their voices have not been heard or respected. Their voices should have equal weight and import.” 

Some indigenous Americans, both in Ventura and Santa Barbara, are “appalled by the character assassination of St. Junipero Serra,” the priest reported.

Few Americans blame God for suffering in the world, new survey finds

A woman prays the rosary. / siam.pukkato/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2021 / 16:17 pm (CNA).

A new study by the Pew Research Center found that few Americans blame God for suffering in the world. Instead, Americans are more likely to blame suffering on random chance, the actions of others, or society at large. 

The survey included questions about both religious or spiritual belief, and the meaning of suffering. Respondents who expressed a belief in God, or a higher power, were subsequently asked if they blame God when bad things happen in the world. 

Nearly 75% of respondents who expressed a belief in God, or a higher power, said they “rarely” or “never” feel angry with God in the face of suffering. Protestants in the historically Black tradition and older Americans were more likely to say this, the survey found. 

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

Fewer than 15% of those same respondents said suffering in the world makes them doubt God’s existence, omnipotence, or kindness. The survey found that doubt as a response to suffering was somewhat more common among young adults, Democrats, and religiously unaffiliated Americans. 

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

Similarly, few of those same respondents said they believe suffering in the world is a punishment from God. Only 4% believe “all” or “most” suffering is a punishment from God, while 18% said “some,” and 22% said “only a little” is a punishment from God, the survey found. 

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

The survey found that more than 70% of all respondents believe suffering in the world is mostly a consequence of people’s own actions, while 80% of respondents who expressed a belief in God or a higher power believe suffering in the world is mostly a consequence of people’s own actions, not from God. 

Slightly more than half of those respondents believe God allows human suffering as part of a larger plan, with Evangelical Protestants most likely to hold that belief. 

The survey included questions ranging from beliefs about the purpose of suffering, to beliefs in the afterlife. This was reportedly the first time the Pew Research Center attempted to pose some of these philosophical questions to U.S. adults, the survey stated. Pew asked Americans to share their views both in their own words, and by selecting from a list of options. 

Painting at center of George Floyd controversy stolen from Catholic University

A pieta painting, "Mama," by artist Kelly Latimore, has been displayed outside the law school chapel at The Catholic University of America since February 2021. It was stolen on Nov. 23, 2021. / The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2021 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

A pieta painting displayed at The Catholic University of America’s law school that some see as depicting George Floyd in the place of Jesus was stolen Tuesday night, the school announced.

But in an email Wednesday, Nov. 24, President John Garvey said the artwork — which sparked a social media backlash and an ongoing petition drive demanding its removal  — has been replaced by a smaller version of the same painting that previously hung in the school's campus ministry office.

Titled "Mama," the painting, by artist Kelly Latimore, was installed in February outside the chapel at the university's Columbus School of Law.

Lattimore has said the painting was commissioned to “mourn” Floyd, but when asked by an interviewer if the figure in the pieta is Floyd or Jesus, he responded ambiguously, answering “yes.” 

Floyd, 46, was killed in police custody in May 2020, sparking nationwide protests. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, was later convicted on three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison.

“Many see the male figure as George Floyd,” Garvey said in the email, “but our Law School has always seen the figure as Jesus.”

In response to media coverage of the painting earlier this week, the university has received a “substantial number of emails and phone calls,” Garvey said.

“Some critics called the image blasphemous because they saw it as deifying or canonizing George Floyd. Some comments that we received were thoughtful and reasonable. Some were offensive and racist. Much of the criticism came from people unconnected to the University,” he said.

Garvey wrote that as the controversy developed, the university issued a statement, which he included in his email.

“The icon ‘Mama’ is a pieta depicting Mary and her Son, Jesus Christ. The letters in the halo are Ὁ ὬΝ, which is shorthand in Greek for ‘I Am.’ The letters are used in icons only in connection with Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” the earlier statement said.

“There are those who would like to see George Floyd as the male figure in the icon. That is not how we read it. The image represents to our community a good-faith attempt to include religious imagery on campus that reflects the universality of the Catholic Church,” the statement said.

A group of CUA students started a petition to take down the painting because they “believe they are disrespectful, and sacrilegious.” The petition, which started on Tuesday, Nov. 23, had nearly 2,500 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. 

Garvey said would not be ordering the school to take down the painting because of his “no cancellation” policy. 

“It has been the University’s policy, throughout my time as President, not to cancel speakers or prevent speech by members of the community,” Garvey said in the email.

"We hope to continue to build on campus a culture that engages in thoughtful dialogue and debate, not the sort of bully tactics epitomized by this theft," he added.

Ethics committee authorizes first assisted suicide in Italy

null / Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy, Nov 24, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Italy said that life must be “protected and defended” after local health authorities in Italy gave the green light to the country’s first legally obtained assisted suicide.

The ethics committee of the health service of the Italian city of Ancona ruled on Nov. 23 that a 43-year-old Italian man met the requirements of a 2019 law de-criminalizing assisted suicide in Italy under certain conditions.

It is now up to the Ancona court to decide whether the 43-year-old quadriplegic, identified only as Mario, can proceed with a medically assisted suicide in accord with his personal wishes.

Speaking after the decision, Fr. Massimo Angelelli, head of the Italian bishops’ health office, said: “Life is a received good, which must be protected and defended, in all its conditions.”

“Nobody can be called to be the bearer of the death of others. Human conscience prevents us from doing this,” he added.

Mario was paralyzed in a car accident 11 years ago. In 2020, he filed a lawsuit against the Ancona health service for refusing to evaluate whether he met the conditions for assisted suicide as defined in a ruling the year before.

The Italian court’s 2019 decision decriminalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for patients who have an “irreversible” condition and are experiencing “intolerable suffering.”

The ruling came after the court considered the case of Fabiano Antoniani, a DJ who died in 2017 at the age of 40 at a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. Antoniani had quadriplegia and was left blind after a car accident in 2014. He also required assistance for eating and breathing.

Mario won his lawsuit on appeal in July, with a civil court in Ancona, central Italy, ruling that the local ethics committee had to evaluate his eligibility for assisted suicide. The committee’s decision on Mario’s case was published on Tuesday.

In its decision, the Ancona ethics committee raised concerns about whether the drug he had requested, and the quantity specified, were medically proper. It also noted that how the drug would be administered had not been specified.

A legal representative for Mario said on Tuesday that they would provide, “in collaboration with an expert, the details of the methods of self-administration of the drug suitable for Mario, based on his conditions.”

The theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he was “hoping against hope that it remains possible [for Mario] to rethink the decision for death.”

“Whoever is deciding to put an end to his life can change his opinion and accept to live if he sees himself placed in a relationship of love,” Forte said. “Experienced in that relationship, even the pain that is no longer remedied by palliative medicine can become acceptable.”

The archbishop also pointed to statements by the Pontifical Academy for Life, “which has exhorted to ‘not minimize the seriousness of what Mario has experienced,’ together signaling that in no way should he be ‘encouraged to take his own life.’”

The Ancona ethics committee’s decision comes as Italy’s parliament considers whether to hold a referendum to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide after a petition gathered more than a million signatures this year.

A commission in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, is expected to review the referendum request on Nov. 29, after the discussion was postponed several times.

Report declares treatment of Christian minority women and girls a ‘human rights catastrophe’

A Coptic Orthodox church in Old Cairo, a historic area of the Egyptian capital. / Sun_Shine via Shutterstock.

London, England, Nov 24, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A report issued on Wednesday declared the treatment of Christian minority women and girls in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia a “human rights catastrophe.”

The study, “Hear Her Cries,” published by the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Nov. 24, said that, “at its most extreme,” forced conversions could amount to “genocide.”

The report, released on Red Wednesday, an annual commemoration raising awareness of anti-Christian persecution, highlighted cases in countries including Egypt and Pakistan.

It also focused on Nigeria, which was controversially removed from this year’s U.S. State Department watchlist of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom.

The study found numerous cases of forced kidnapping and exploitation in Egypt, that Christians account for 95% of women and girls seized by Islamists in Nigeria, and that 70% of those forcibly converted and married in Pakistan are Christians.

ACN described the report as “the first of its kind to focus on the phenomenon of young women who are seized, because both their sex and religion makes them vulnerable to abduction and assault.”

Michele Clark, a human rights advocate who has studied the plight of Coptic Christian women, told CNA on Nov. 24 that the report was significant because it revealed the scope of the problem.

“I think the report makes a very important contribution, because it expands the focus on these abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages, from just single country reports to a much broader, much more global perspective,” said Clark, a retired adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University, in a phone interview.

“We can pick this up and realize, ‘Wow, this is not just happening in one place.’ This is happening in many, many places around the world. It’s happening in the Middle East. It’s happening in Central Asia. It’s happening in Africa. And so shedding a light on the scope of the problems is a very important contribution.”

Aid to the Church in Need.
Aid to the Church in Need.

The report was compiled by ACN’s U.K. branch, which has launched a petition calling for action to stop the sexual enslavement of Christian women.

The text was presented at an online event chaired by the human rights campaigner Caroline Cox. Speakers included Michele Clark and Fiona Bruce, the British Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The report, which includes case studies from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Pakistan, said that “evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has provided the perfect breeding ground for acts of sexual violence.”

“Research showed that vulnerable converts in lockdown with their families are at a greater risk of general abuse, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region,” it noted.

The report argued that “instances of systemic abduction, sexual violence, forced marriage and conversion of Christian women in countries such as Nigeria, Iraq and Syria can be categorized as genocidal by nature.”

It recalled that one element of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is the existence of “measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

“There is thus a link between the girls and young women who are the focus of this study and the convention, which categorizes genocide as ‘acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,’” the report said.

Clark told CNA that her own experience of documenting abuses committed against Coptic women in Egypt suggested that the problem was growing.

“There is definitely an increase in reported caseload,” she said. “There’s also an interesting increase in asylum applications outside of Egypt for young women who are fleeing for fear of abductions, and forced conversions, and forced marriages. And these asylum applications are being accepted in host countries because it’s a recognized phenomenon.”

“So I’m seeing that, very slowly, very gradually, there is a recognition that this is an issue that needs to be treated seriously, and that it needs to be addressed, because of the deep, deep personal tragedies that are represented in every single case.”

Around 10% of Egypt’s estimated 104 million population is Christian, with around 90% belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is part of the Oriental Orthodox communion and traces its roots to St. Mark the Evangelist.

The country’s Christians suffer various forms of discrimination. A report earlier this month said that teachers at a school in Minya Governorate, Upper Egypt, ordered Christian students not to wear crosses, while inflicting violence on the schoolchildren.

The ACN study said the Egyptian authorities were “highly dismissive” of cases of forced abduction and conversion of Christian women.

It quoted a former member of a kidnapping gang that targetted Coptic girls, who described how the abductions were “meticulously orchestrated” and led to the girls being passed to Salafist groups that forced them to convert.

“The former gang member also stated that kidnappers are paid handsomely by these groups, and that police officers have conspired to report these young women as missing rather than abducted,” said the report, which added that incidents were under-reported in the media.

Clark said she was hopeful that governments were beginning to take the problem seriously.

“The acknowledgment of other governments is absolutely essential. We can’t allow perpetrators to think that they can continue with impunity and that nobody really cares what they’re doing,” she said.

Asked how individual Christians could contribute to ending the exploitation of women and girls, she said: “The power of prayer, first, is so important in what we do. And then when you move beyond that, I would suggest that you become informed [about the situation].”

“I know that in the United States, we have Coptic women who have been asylees. These are families and young women which can benefit from friendship and support. Find out what is going on in your own particular community. Are there families that can benefit from a friend? This is a very important step in any kind of recovery process and feeling whole again.”

Congressman Smith: Nigeria's removal from U.S. watch list a 'retreat' from fight against religious persecution

Rep. Chris Smith. Public Domain. / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).

The decision to remove Nigeria from the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” was “totally unjustified,” and a backwards step in the fight against religious persecution, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith said in a speech Nov. 23.

“Despite the fact that Fulani militants are systematically targeting and slaughtering Christian farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt as well as attacking non-Fulanis throughout the country with the apparent complicity or at least indifference of Nigerian authorities — a record that landed Nigeria on the CPC list last year — the State Department no longer identifies Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), nor even places Nigeria on its Special Watch List,” Smith said.

The New Jersey Republican, the author of several bills related to religious freedom including the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, called the Biden administration’s decision “a retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution.” 

Each year, the U.S. Department of State releases a list of countries with egregious religious liberty violations. In its most recent report, released Nov. 15, Nigeria was not included

The decision to exclude Nigeria from this list has angered religious freedom advocates. 

Two days after the release of the report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement saying that it was “appalled” at the State Department’s “unexplainable” decision to treat Nigeria as a country with no severe religious freedom violations. 

The USCIRF, which also publishes an annual report on religious freedom, found that Nigerian citizens are at risk of violence by militant Islamists, as well as discrimination, arbitrary detentions, and capital blasphemy sentences by state-sanctioned Sharia courts.

Smith noted that the removal of Nigeria from the list of CPCs “coincided with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Nigeria — when he should have been confronting President [Muhammadu] Buhari on his record.” 

This removal, he said, is “appalling,” and could serve to worsen the situation in the country.  

“The failure to hold Buhari to account—indeed to reward him by withdrawing the CPC designation—will only embolden Fulani militants,” he said. “The Nigerian government has also failed to protect Nigerians from other extremists such as Boko Haram, Ansaru and Islamic State West Africa.”  

Smith, who has led multiple hearings concerning the situation in Nigeria, said he “couldn’t be more disappointed in Secretary Blinken.” 

“You can’t give President Buhari a passing grade when he has utterly failed to protect religious freedom, including and especially that of Christians,” he said. “A core principle of any robust democracy is respect for human rights, including religious freedom.”  

Synod on Synodality organizers want local stage to focus on one fundamental question

Cardinal Mario Grech, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. / Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome, Italy, Nov 24, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Mario Grech warned Italian bishops on Tuesday against the temptation to use the Synod on Synodality to further objectives other than the goal of listening to the People of God.

The General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops said Nov. 23 that there is a “risk — or perhaps the temptation — of wanting to overload the synodal process with other meanings and objectives, of wanting to add things to be done to achieve further results, beyond the shared experience of listening to the People of God about synodality and the synodal Church.”

“This risk especially concerns those who thought of a synodal path before the proposal formulated by the General Secretariat of the Synod,” he added.

The cardinal spoke at the Italian bishops’ 75th Extraordinary General Assembly, taking place in Rome on Nov. 22-25.

The Italian bishops’ conference launched its own four-year national synodal process before the Vatican announced last spring that the Synod of Bishops on synodality would take place with a two-year consultative preparatory phase involving all Catholic dioceses worldwide.

In Germany, a “Synodal Way” has also been taking place since 2019. The process was recently extended until 2023 after its plenary session ended abruptly in October following votes in favor of a text endorsing same-sex blessings and a discussion of whether the priesthood is necessary.

Grech thanked the more than 200 Italian bishops gathered in the Ergife Palace Hotel and Conference Center in Rome for “harmonizing” their synodal process with the worldwide synod in light of the “annoying” overlapping of times.

“The virtuous realization of the synodal process by the Churches that are in Italy will be an example to the other Churches and to the other episcopates. On the other hand, everyone knows with what insistence the Holy Father requested that a Synod of the Italian Church be held,” he noted.

Pope Francis opened the first phase of the two-year consultative process leading to the Synod of Bishops on synodality last month. The diocesan phase will last until Aug. 15, 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023 ahead of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

In his speech, Grech highlighted that there was no questionnaire included with the Synod on Synodality preparatory documents released last September, “to avoid any misunderstanding about the consultation, which cannot and will never be a poll.”

The cardinal underlined that there is only “a single fundamental question” to guide the consultative process: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?”

Grech said that the other questions listed at the end of the handbook were only “thematic points to be explored.”

“These are not 10 questions — then we would be back to the questionnaire — but aspects of the one fundamental question,” he said.

“I repeat: it is better that the People of God in our Churches confront themselves with the fundamental question, rather than talking about anything, without foundation and above all without direction,” Grech added.

“What matters is to mature a true synodal mentality; to understand that truly ‘the Church is constitutively synodal,’ that is, that the People of God walk together, not only because they walk, but because they walk knowing where they are going — toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom — and therefore it questions itself about the road to travel, listening to what the Holy Spirit is telling the Church.”

Pope Francis: Digital revolution forces us to rethink what it means to be human

Pope Francis takes a selfie with pilgrims at the April 1, 2015 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2021 / 05:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has said that technological innovations have created the need for a renewed reflection on essential questions about what it means to be human, based on Scripture, the classical tradition, and wisdom from non-European cultures.

In a video message sent on Nov. 23 to the Pontifical Council for Culture, the pope said that “the new changes brought about by the digital revolution and the incredible developments in the sciences … force us to rethink what it is to be human.”

“Today, a revolution is underway — yes, a revolution — that is touching the essential nodes of human existence and requires a creative effort of thought and action. Both of them. There is a structural change in the way we understand generation, birth, and death,” Pope Francis said in the video.

“The specificity of the human being in the whole of creation, our uniqueness vis-à-vis other animals, and even our relationship with machines are being questioned.”

Pope Francis highlighted what he called the “fluidity of the contemporary cultural vision.”

“It is the age of liquidity,” he said.

He suggested that the current “fluidity” is a marked difference from the time of the Second Vatican Council, when a secular, immanentist, materialist humanism at least shared a common basis with Christian humanism “on some radical questions related to human nature.”

“However, the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et spes is still relevant in this respect. It reminds us, in fact, that the Church still has much to give to the world, and it obliges us to acknowledge and evaluate, with confidence and courage, the intellectual, spiritual, and material achievements that have emerged since then in various fields of human knowledge,” the pope commented.

The Pontifical Council for Culture held its plenary assembly this week with the theme “Rethinking Anthropology — Toward a New Humanism.” The council holds the assemblies every two or three years to reflect on major issues and cultural realities in contemporary societies.

In his video message, the pope said that questions about human identity are being posed in a decisive manner in the 21st century.

“What does it mean today to be a man or a woman as complementary persons called to relate to one another? What do the words ‘fatherhood’ and ‘motherhood’ mean?” he asked.

“And again, what is the specific condition of the human being, which makes us unique and unrepeatable compared to machines and even other animal species? What is our transcendent vocation? Where does our call to build social relationships with others come from?”

Pope Francis pointed out that the Bible offers “the essential coordinates to outline an anthropology of the human person in relation to God, in the complexity of the relations between men and women, and in the nexus with the time and the space in which we live.”

“Biblical humanism, in fruitful dialogue with the values of classical Greek and Latin thought, gave rise to a lofty vision of the human person, our origin and ultimate destiny, our way of living on this earth,” he said.

The pope added that, while this fusion of ancient and biblical wisdom remains “a fertile paradigm,” a new creative synthesis is also needed with “the contemporary humanistic tradition and that of other cultures.”

“I am thinking, for example, of the holistic vision of Asian cultures, in a search for inner harmony and harmony with creation. Or the solidarity of African cultures, to overcome the excessive individualism typical of Western culture. The anthropology of Latin American peoples is also important, with its lively sense of family and celebration; and also the cultures of Indigenous peoples all over the planet,” Francis said.

“In these different cultures, there are forms of humanism which, integrated into the European humanism inherited from Greco-Roman civilization and transformed by the Christian vision, are today the best means of addressing the disturbing questions about the future of humanity.”

Pope John Paul II founded the Pontifical Council of Culture in 1982 as a way of fostering dialogue between the Church and contemporary cultures. In 1993, he combined the council together with the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-believers.

Today, the council is dedicated to creating a space for Catholic dialogue with the sciences, humanities, economics, digital culture and artificial intelligence, sports, cultural heritage, the arts, and music.

“Now more than ever the world needs to rediscover the meaning and value of the human being in relation to the challenges we face,” Pope Francis said.