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Sin starts with giving in to small temptations, Pope Francis warns

Vatican City, Apr 4, 2020 / 03:51 am (CNA).- Before we commit a sin, there were usually small temptations which we let grow in our soul, eventually making excuses for ourselves and our fall, Pope Francis said during Mass Saturday.

“That process which makes us change our hearts from good to bad, which takes us downhill,” he said April 4, is “something which grows, slowly grows, then infects others and ultimately excuses itself.”

Speaking from the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta, the pope advised first seeking forgiveness, and then reflecting on the temptations which preceded your fall into sin, considering also whether you have led others to sin.

“When we find ourselves in a sin, in a fall, yes, we must go to ask the Lord for forgiveness, it is the first [step] that we must take,” he urged.

But then ask yourselves, he said: “How did I come to fall there? How did this process start in my soul? How did it grow? Who have I infected? And how in the end did I justify myself for falling?”

Francis argued that “the devil is cunning” and usually tempts people to sin gradually: “it starts with a little thing, with a desire, an idea grows, infects others and ultimately, justifies itself.”

This process of temptation is illustrated in the day’s Gospel from St. John, he said.

In the Gospel, the chief priests and the Pharisees have met to discuss Jesus, who is causing them anxiety because through his signs, many Jews have begun to believe in him, and they feel they must do something.

The high priest Caiphas said Jesus should be killed, defending the decision with his prophecy, saying “it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people.”

Quoting the Gospel, Francis said “from that day therefore they decided to kill him.”

He explained that the Pharisees and chief priests justified killing Jesus to themselves, because if they did not, the occupying Romans “will destroy our temple and our nation,” but what brought them to this decision was a gradual process that “began with small concerns in the time of John the Baptist and then ended in this assembly.”

After this meeting, “everyone went home quietly,” the pope noted. They felt this was the decision they had to make.

This, the pope said, is “a figure of how temptation operates in us.”

Before Mass, Francis had noted that in difficult times, such as the present coronavirus pandemic, people are given the opportunity to do good.

But there are also plenty of people, he said, who take advantage of the moment for their own profit.

“Let us pray today that the Lord give us all a righteous conscience, a transparent conscience, which can be seen by God without being ashamed,” he urged.

In his homily, the pope recalled once again that behind every sin there is temptation, “which started small, which has grown.”

“All of us, when we are overcome by temptation, end up calm, because we have found a justification for this sin, for this sinful attitude, for this life not according to the law of God. We should have the habit of seeing this process of temptation in us,” he advised, adding that “the Holy Spirit enlightens us in this inner knowledge.”

 

Palm supplier sees business halved by coronavirus cancelations

Denver, Colo., Apr 3, 2020 / 11:55 pm (CNA).- Thomas Sowell and his wife own Southeast Palm and Foliage in Astor, Florida, in the middle of the state, about 40 miles west of Daytona Beach.

“It's in the middle of nowhere, actually,” Sowell told CNA in January.

Sowell isn’t Catholic, but his business supplies palms to hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country— in every state, as well as in Canada— not to mention the many Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran communities that also use palms.

Last year, the Sowells’ farm shipped over four million palm leaves.

“There's not many of us that do this. There's not many people, not many companies do what we do,” Sowell told CNA.

“I know that there have been, over the past, say, 50 years, quite a few other companies embark upon this, but for whatever reason they couldn't hang in there with it. It's really difficult.”

Sowell never imagined how difficult this year’s harvest would turn out to be.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, and with Mass suspended through Holy Week in every Catholic diocese in the United States, the Sowell’s business is taking a hit.

“We had an incredible number of cancellations up until two weeks ago,” he told CNA April 2.

Most of his orders for Palm Sunday come in during January, he said. This gives the palm suppliers the chance to harvest the palms, package them, and refrigerate them so they stay fresh before they’re shipped.

Normally, some of the biggest challenges to Tom’s business are natural, such as hurricanes and flooding. In terms of the weather, this was a great harvest year, he said, and they were able to gather all the necessary palms to fulfil the Palm Sunday orders they originally had. The process of cutting, cleaning and preparing the strips of palm is incredibly labor intensive.

But then, as the coronavirus pandemic took a hold in the US, parishes started canceling those orders.

“So here we are with an incredible amount of palms left over that were scheduled to be prepared and shipped...we just lost that,” Sowell said.

Altogether, Sowell said his family will likely ship fewer than half the palms they did last year.

“It's unbelievable. It's hard to grasp what's going on globally,” he said.

Though Sowell also uses leftover palms to create ashes for Ash Wednesday, he has such a large enough stockpile of ash— eight to ten years worth, in fact— that he said it doesn’t make sense to burn any more palms, especially since ash doesn’t go bad.

All the extra palms are currently in a dumpster on his property. The only thing he can really do with them, he said, is use them as fertilizer for next year’s crop.

“So we'll just take them out, spend a few days to drive through the areas where they came from and just scatter them back out again,” he said.

Kate Olivera contributed to this report.

Apostolic Nuncio: Covid-19 pandemic could be catastrophic for Syria

With 9 years of conflict that has killed over 380,000 people and accounted for more than 12 million displaced persons and refugees, the situation in Syria has become even more desperate, with the coronavirus pandemic looming large, says the Holy See’s Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari.

Covid-19: U.S. Bishops warn against patient discrimination

The United States Catholic Bishops issue a statement calling for equal access to health services without discrimination during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Church’s response to Covid-19 in Ecuador

A Comboni missionary in Ecuador describes how the coronavirus emergency is overwhelming society in Guayaquil. The dead accumulate in the streets, people are hungry, and it is impossible to maintain quarantine in the poorest areas.

U.S. religious freedom ambassador calls for release of prisoners of conscience

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. religious freedom ambassador on Thursday called on governments to release prisoners of conscience during the new coronavirus pandemic.

“In this time of pandemic, religious prisoners should be released.  We call on all governments around the world to do so,” Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said on April 2 during a conference call with reporters.

He said that the “very crowded, unsanitary conditions” faced by some prisoners is a nightmare scenario during a pandemic.

“These are people that should not be in jail in the first place,” he said. “They are simply in jail for peacefully practicing their faith, and yet various regimes put these peaceful prisoners in jail.”

An official U.S. list of global prisoners of conscience was mandated under the 2016 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission that makes policy recommendations to the State Department, is charged with creating the list. USCIRF says the list is “in formation.”

Brownback did note specific areas of concern for prisoners of conscience, however, he praised Iran’s furloughing of 100,000 prisoners of conscience, but added that some “high-profile religious prisoners” are still detained there.

In China, as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities are detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province (XUAR) in the country’s northwest.

Although the country has officially reported only 76 COVID-19 cases in the region, diaspora groups are concerned that the actual number of cases is much higher—and of the potential for the disease to spread in the mass internment camps where hunger and torture have been reported.  

Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong members have also been imprisoned for their faith in China, and should be released, Brownback said.

He also called on the government of Vietnam to release 128 prisoners of conscience, for Russia to release “nearly around 240 prisoners of conscience,” Eritrea to release 40 prisoners, and for Indonesia to release more than 150 people detained for violating the country’s blasphemy laws.

When asked by reporters if he was concerned about any countries in particular, Brownback responded “Iran, simply because it’s got hit big early and you’ve got a number of notorious prisons that are there that are quite overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.”

“North Korea has a very high number [of prisoners],” Brownback said, who “would be under exceeding exposure to COVID.”

Vulnerable religious populations elsewhere could also be at risk of the pandemic, he said, including Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh. “When we talk about a crowded place,” he said, “if COVID got going there it would just spread like wildfire.”

A Nigerian cardinal, he said, also commented that the country would not have the resources necessary to deal with a serious outbreak.

USCIRF has also voiced concerns that governments could use the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities, or violate freedom of religion.

The commission issued a fact-sheet on March 16 outlining some of its concerns, including Muslim Uyghurs being forced to work on factories around China despite health concerns, churches in South Korea subject to harassment for their alleged role in spreading the virus, and Saudi Arabia issuing a travel ban on a predominantly Shi’a Muslim province.

But on Thursday, Brownback said that, according to “anecdotal information,” governments around the world were not citing the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities.

He said that “fortunately the reporting that we are seeing is that governments are, by and large, not doing that and in some cases being more lenient towards religious minorities.”

He also called on churches and religions around the world to practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of the virus.

“I haven’t been to mass myself in several weeks, and it’s the longest period I’ve gone without going to mass, and I think people should be doing this to stop the spread of the virus,” Brownback said.

Filipino seminary shelters tourists trapped on holiday

CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2020 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- A Filipino seminary has opened its doors to over a dozen trapped tourists, who have been stranded since a mandatory lockdown was extended last month.

Saint Joseph Seminary in Puerto Princesa is providing shelter to 18 people now stranded in Palawan province following a forced extension to their holiday.

The tourists began their vacation March 11, but government orders placed Palawan on a more enhanced lockdown, canceling all domestic and international flights March 17-April 12.

Instead of returning home, the travelers were staying at guest houses until they ran out of money for food and lodging. Local officials then asked help from the Vicariate Apostolic of Puerto Princesa.

“I told them that we are ready to help and they can stay as long as they need shelter. The seminary will be open to cater to the needs of people in a similar situation, especially in this time of crisis,” said Father Roy Vasquez, the seminary rector, according to the UCA News.

While resources are limited, the priest expressed hope for future donations and gratitude for those who have been kind enough to share already.

“Of course, our resources are limited. So, eventually when they run out, we will ask for help or donations. But so far people are sharing their blessings, so we are really very thankful,” he said.

Pope at Mass: the fight against temptation

Pope Francis offers his Mass on Saturday morning at the Casa Santa Marta for those who are tempted to take advantage of the current crisis. In his homily, he explains the process of temptation.

NY Catholic nursing homes in 'desperate need' of supplies to fight coronavirus

New York City, N.Y., Apr 3, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- The threat of the coronavirus has hit nursing homes of the Archdiocese of New York especially hard, with families now being advised to bring their loved ones home if possible.

Fr. John Anderson, vice president for mission integration at ArchCare, a “post-acute delivery system” of the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA on Friday that the system’s CEO has advised families with loved ones in ArchCare nursing homes to bring them home if they can be cared for there.

NBC News reported on Thursday that ArchCare’s nursing homes have been especially hard-hit by the crisis, with more than 200 COVID-19 cases among residents.

“Our nursing homes are desperately in need of PPE [personal protective equipment],” Fr. John Anderson told CNA.

As to whether families are starting to bring their loved ones home, “I have not seen a lot of that going on,” Fr. Anderson told CNA on Friday.

ArchCare serves 9,000 people each day in nursing homes, a long-term care program, and a specialty hospital.

New York City has become the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic, with the number of confirmed cases skyrocketing from more than 5,700 cases on March 20 to more than 57,000 confirmed cases and 1,584 deaths as of April 3.

Yet a lack of PPE—particularly in nursing homes—poses a critical problem for chaplains. The shortage is so acute in the region that health care staff have been asked to use one mask all week long when they would previously have changed it between patients.

The health department “asked us to not only use it [the mask] all week, but to do whatever we can to use it the week after,” Fr. Anderson said.

Availability of PPE makes the difference between chaplains’ ability to have a face-to-face visit with a sick patient, or to stand in the doorway a safe distance away, he said. Without PPE, priests cannot administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick which requires the direct anointing of the patient with blessed oil.

“Chaplains are there to pray,” he said, but “can only spend so much time with a patient” during the crisis.

Two ArchCare chaplains have tested positive for COVID-19, he said, but other archdiocesan priests have volunteered their services, “very willing to help.” The archdiocese is also monitoring the situation for elderly nuns in convents, who are more susceptible to the virus.

Another difficulty is families of sick patients not being able to visit them in the hospital or nursing home—“hard to see,” Fr. Anderson said.

There are also no funerals, but simply burials with up to 10 people who can attend, spaced apart.

With Easter approaching, nursing home residents and hospital patients may not be able to attend Mass in person but are still ministering to patients as best they can.

“We have gotten palms” for nursing home residents, Fr. Anderson said ahead of Palm Sunday, with accompanying prayer cards in English and Spanish. Priests will also offer Holy Week Masses in a chapel to be filmed and projected onto living room TVs for the elderly patients.

The Order of Malta is making Easter cards for residents in one program, Fr. Andreson said, while the Knights of Columbus are also making Easter cards for patients.

“Folks have been very generous and have really come forward,” he said.

New York uses budget bill to legalize commercial surrogacy during coronavirus

CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The state of New York legalized commercial surrogacy as part of a budget bill passed on April 3. The law was condemned by the state Catholic conference. There are now just three states where commercial surrogacy is not legal. 

“The action by the legislature and governor to legalize monetary contracts for surrogate motherhood stands in stark contrast to most other democratic nations across the globe,” Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference said in a statement Friday.

“[Other countries] have outlawed the practice because of the exploitation of women and commodification of children that inevitably results from the profit-driven surrogacy industry,” she said.

The New York State Catholic Conference represents the bishops of New York state in matters related to public policy. 

Gallagher criticized the inclusion of legal commercial surrogacy in a budget bill during the COVID-19 pandemic. New York has more cases of coronavirus than any other U.S. state, and has seen nearly 3,000 people die from the disease. 

“We simply do not believe that such a critical legal and moral decision for our state should have been made behind the closed doors of a Capitol shut off to the public,” she said. “The new law is bad for women and children, and the process is terrible for democracy.” 

In January, Gallagher was critical of the bill, calling it “a dangerous policy that will lead to the exploitation of poor, vulnerable women, and has few safeguards for children.” There are no safeguards such as residency requirements and background checks for surrogate parents, the conference points out.

“The surrogacy legislation is designed mainly to benefit wealthy men who can afford tens of thousands of dollars to pay baby brokers, at the expense of low-income women,” said Gallagher in a January 8 statement. 

Previously, New York was one of four states that prohibited contracts that would pay surrogate mothers to carry and deliver an unrelated child that would be then placed with a different family. 

Louisiana, Michigan, and Nebraska are the only states that now do not allow commercial surrogacy.

Gestational surrogacy typically uses a “donor” egg, rather than the surrogate’s ovum, to avoid legal complications if the surrogate were to decide she no longer wants to surrender the child to the “intended parents.” 

The donor egg is then fertilized and implanted in the surrogate using in-vitro fertilization (IVF). 

Regarding the practice of IVF, the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2376 teaches that:

“Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’”

Previously, all surrogacy in New York was known as “altruistic” surrogacy as the surrogate mother could not be paid for carrying the child. 

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), said that the passage of commercial surrogacy was a move to “bring New York in line with the needs of modern families, while simultaneously enacting the strongest protections in the nation for surrogates.” 

Under the new law, those wishing to use a surrogate must pay for her life insurance during the pregnancy and for one year after giving birth, and the “intended parents” must pay for legal counsel for the surrogate mother. Surrogates must be at least 21 years of age. 

Paulin has worked on legalizing commercial surrogacy for 14 years, and first introduced legislation to legalize the practice in 2012. 

She said her bill would provide “the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents.” 

Surrogacy costs range from $55,000 to nearly a quarter of a million dollars. 

In addition to the legalization of commercial surrogacy, the budget bill also banned plastic foam containers and flavored vaping products, instituted new paid sick leave requirements, expanded wage mandates, and introduced new policies that make it more difficult for third parties to qualify for ballots. 

The legalization of commercial surrogacy goes into effect on February 15, 2021.