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Christian leaders in Africa mark 30 years since Rwandan genocide

null / Credit: Elisa Finocchiaro via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

ACI Africa, Apr 17, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Members of the Africa Christian Professionals Forum (ACPF) have expressed their solidarity with the people of Rwanda as the landlocked central African country marks 30 years since the Rwandan genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were murdered.

“The Africa Christian Professionals Forum (ACPF), dedicated to promoting and protecting the sanctity of Life, Family Values, and good governance, extends its solidarity to Rwanda as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the genocide,” officials of the organization said in their Sunday, April 7, statement.

ACPF members join “Rwanda’s government, her citizens, African Union member states, and the global community in remembering the tragic loss of innocent lives,” the statement continued.

Recalling the events of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which lasted approximately 100 days, ACPF officials said: “Thirty years ago, humanity witnessed unspeakable violence, resulting in countless innocent deaths.”

“Today, we pause to reflect on the immense suffering endured by victims and their families, offering our deepest condolences to all affected,” they added.

​​The ACPF said the 30th anniversary of the genocide needs to inspire humanity to commit to seeking lasting peace.

“As we mark this solemn anniversary, let us recommit to creating a world where such atrocities never recur,” they said. “May the memories of the victims inspire us to tirelessly pursue peace, tolerance, and understanding.”

ACPF officials also called on the international community “to reaffirm its commitment to preventing genocide and mass atrocities, promoting justice, human rights, and dignity for all.”

In the April 7 statement, the Christian leaders in Africa said they “commend Rwanda’s resilience and determination in rebuilding, fostering unity, and reconciliation, offering hope to all.”

The 1994 Rwandan genocide was reportedly triggered by the deaths on April 6, 1994, of the country’s president, Juvenal Habyarimana, alongside his counterpart in Burundi, President Cyprien Ntaryamira. The two presidents, both Hutu, were returning from peace talks between the Hutu and the Tutsi when their plane was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board.

In May 2023, Pope Francis dismissed from clerical duties a Rwandan Catholic priest considered to be a mastermind in the genocide. 

Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, who was serving in France’s Diocese of Evreux, was accused of playing an active role in the genocide in different parts of Kigali while he was pastor of Holy Family Parish in the Archdiocese of Kigali.

In November 2006, a military tribunal in Rwanda found Munyeshyaka guilty of rape and involvement in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi and sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment, KTpress reported.

This article was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

Cardinal Goh of Singapore hopes Pope Francis’ visit will ‘spur a renewal’ in the country

Cardinal William Goh of Singapore celebrates Mass at the city-state's Indoor Stadium on July 4, 2015. / Credit: Archdiocese of Singapore

CNA Newsroom, Apr 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Following the announcement of Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to the Asia Pacific region later this year, Cardinal William Goh, archbishop of Singapore, has expressed his hope that the Holy Father’s visit to the city-nation from Sept. 11–13 “will bring renewed fervor to all Catholics in Singapore.” 

In a media release, Goh encouraged the Catholic population of Singapore to unite and pray for the Holy Father’s upcoming visit. “Let us, as a community, pray for the continued health and safety of the Holy Father and ask the Lord to grant us a truly meaningful and grace-filled visit,” he said. 

Pope Francis’ visit will come 10 years after Goh outlined his 10-year pastoral plan for the Catholic Church in Singapore. 

At a 2014 meeting held with approximately 750 parish ministry representatives, Goh stated that the Church may appear vibrant because of “so many Masses, baptisms, confirmations,” but it nevertheless faces challenges, including the declining practice of faith among local Singaporeans. 

“Half of the Catholics go to church. The Church is full thanks to the migrants,” he said.

To help Singaporean Catholics to spiritually prepare “to meet Jesus through Pope Francis’ pastoral visit,” the Archdiocese of Singapore also recently launched a dedicated website containing prayers, online resources, and other updates regarding the coming of the Holy Father in September. The website also unveiled the archdiocese’s chosen trifold theme of “Unity, Hope, and the Cross” to mark the occasion of the 2024 papal trip. 

To date, there are about 395,000 Catholics living in the country who belong to diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Masses are predominantly celebrated in English but are also available in Mandarin, Tamil, and other Southeast Asian or European languages for local and expatriate communities. 

Though the Catholic Church is relatively young and diverse, and it is growing in numbers in a place of political peace where religious tolerance toward institutions and individuals is mandated by the law, Goh hopes Pope Francis’ visit will spur a renewal and strengthening of faith, conversion of heart, and missionary spirit within Singapore’s Catholic communities.   

Dominic Nalpon, a Singaporean theology student based in Rome, shares Goh’s sentiment that external factors, such as the numbers of Catholic faithful, do not necessarily indicate a “booming” Church. 

“Singapore is probably the most Western country in Asia, which is not in and of itself a bad thing, but we are also the most affluent, and I think there is a correlation between affluence and a decline in faith or religiosity,” Nalpon said. “I think that the challenge is that we can easily fall into the external practices of faith but without having a grounded relationship with the Lord. I think that’s the hardest issue.”   

One of the highlights of the pope’s visit to Singapore will be the papal Mass expected to take place on Sept. 12. 

The last and only other time a pontiff visited Singapore was in 1986 when Pope John Paul II made a five-hour stopover in the country and celebrated Mass with thousands of people at the national stadium. 

Rome to host World Meeting of Parish Priests in preparation for Synod on Synodality

Statue of St. Peter in front of St. Peter's Basilica. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 17, 2024 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The World Meeting of Parish Priests for the Synod on Synodality will be held April 29–May 2 in Sacrofano, Rome, and will reflect on the theme “How to Be a Synodal Local Church in Mission.”

With a view to the second and last session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held at the Vatican next October, the General Secretariat of the Synod has invited a number of parish priests to travel to Rome.

Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod and coordinator of the initiative, explained that it is “a meeting of listening, prayer, and discernment promoted by the General Secretariat of the Synod and the Dicastery for the Clergy, together with the Dicastery for Evangelization and the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches.”

The meeting also responds “to the recommendations of the participants in the first session of the Synod of Synodality, held in October 2023, who suggested listening more to the voice of the parish priests.”

As Marín explained, the objective will be to “listen to and enhance the synodal experience that they are having in their respective parishes and dioceses” as well as “enable dialogue and the exchange of experiences and ideas.”

Another purpose of the meeting is to “provide materials that will be used in the drafting of the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) for the synod’s second session, together with the summaries of the consultation coordinated by the bishops’ conferences and the results of the theological-canonical study carried out by five working groups formed by the General Secretariat of the Synod.”

The number of participants was determined according to a criterion similar to that used for the election of members of the Synod Assembly by the bishops’ conferences (approximately 200). However, given the requests received from some bishops’ conferences, the number of participants will be greater than 200.

In selecting participants, bishops’ conferences and Eastern Catholic Churches were asked to take into account, as far as possible, those “who have significant experience with the perspective of a synodal Church” as well as “favor a certain variety of pastoral contexts of rural or urban origin or specific sociocultural contexts.”

On the last day of the gathering, May 2, the parish priests will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican and the meeting will end with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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

Pope Francis: St. Pius X was a Pope near to people who suffer

Pope Francis pens the preface for a new book by Fr. Lucio Bonora on Pope St. Pius X, and praises the early 20th century Pope for the depth of his catechesis and opposition to World War I.

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Pope Francis appeals for release of prisoners of war

Pope Francis turns his attention to prisoners of war, prays for their freedom and denounces the tortures many of them are subjected to.

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Pope at Audience: Temperance won't rob our joy, but will fill us with happiness

During his Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis focuses on the fourth and final cardinal virtue of temperance, saying that our ability to have power over ourselves will help us savour all we have in life, in a much more meaningful and joyful way, akin to sipping a glass of wine, rather than drinking it all at once.

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Pope Francis mourns Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Sáenz of Bogotà

Pope Francis remembers the 'self-sacrificing' pastor of the late Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Sáenz, Archbishop Emeritus of Bogotà, Colombia, who passed away at age 91 on Monday.

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Appeals court rules against West Virginia ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’

The Court of Federal Appeals (Lewis F. Powell Courthouse) and the skyline of Richmond, Virginia, from the foot of the Virginia Capitol grounds, Richmond, Virginia. / Credit: Acroterion|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 17:55 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court has blocked a West Virginia law titled the “Save Women’s Sports Act” that prohibits biological males from competing in female sports in the state.

The 2-1 decision was issued by a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. The decision extends an already existing block on the law and sends the case back to a lower court for further consideration.

This is the latest development in B.P.J v. West Virginia State Board of Education, a case in which a 13-year-old child who identifies as a girl is alleging that the West Virginia law violates Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination.

The 13-year-old, who is a biological male named Becky Pepper-Jackson, is being represented by the ACLU of West Virginia. Pepper-Jackson is seeking to compete in a school track and cross country program.

The Fourth Circuit Court said that the lower court, which had upheld the West Virginia law in a January ruling, erred by ruling to allow the law to go into effect.

The law, signed by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice in April 2021, declares that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex” because “there are inherent differences between biological males and biological females.”

The law states that allowing biological males in competitive female sports would “displace” female athletes from those spaces.  

The circuit court’s Tuesday ruling said that Pepper-Jackson has demonstrated that if implemented the law “would treat her worse than people to whom she is similarly situated, deprive her of any meaningful athletic opportunities, and do so on the basis of sex.”

Based on this, the panel ruled that the case be “remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment for B.P.J. on her Title IX claims and for further proceedings (including remedial proceedings) consistent with this opinion.”

Italy’s prime minister backs stricter ban on surrogacy: How Europe differs from U.S. on issue

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is seen on the set of the TV show “Porta a Porta” at Rai Studios, on April 4, 2024, in Rome, Italy. / Credit: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is urging Parliament to adopt a stricter prohibition on surrogacy — a practice that has been illegal in the country for two decades and can already result in jail time and financial penalties.

Speaking at a conference in Rome, Meloni called surrogacy “inhuman” and referred to it as “uterus renting.” She encouraged the Italian Senate to pass legislation that would make it a crime for Italians to procure surrogate parenting abroad — a proposal that has already passed the parliament’s lower chamber. Under current law, surrogacy is only illegal when done within the country’s borders.

“No one can convince me that it is an act of freedom to rent one’s womb,” Meloni said at the conference, according to NBC News.

“No one can convince me that it is an act of love to consider children as an over-the-counter product in a supermarket,” Meloni added. “I still consider the practice of uterus renting to be inhuman; I support the proposed law making it a universal crime.”

The messaging against surrogacy promoted by Meloni, who is a Catholic, is in line with the arguments recently made by the Vatican regarding the Church’s opposition to surrogacy. 

In a document published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on April 8, the Vatican body argues that the practice of surrogacy violates both “the dignity of the child” and “the dignity of the woman.”

“The woman is detached from the child growing in her and becomes a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others,” the document reads. “This contrasts in every way with the fundamental dignity of every human being and with each person’s right to be recognized always individually and never as an instrument for another.”

How the United States differs from Europe on surrogacy 

In the United States, both paid and unpaid surrogacy are legal in almost every state. Although the legal specifics vary from state to state, only two states expressly prohibit paid surrogacy: Nebraska and Louisiana. Unpaid surrogacy in those states is still legal in certain cases.

Michigan had prohibited paid surrogacy until earlier this month when Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation to legalize and regulate paid surrogacy. This reversed a 36-year-old prohibition on the practice.

The country’s liberalized approach to surrogacy differs vastly from most European countries, the majority of which either prohibit surrogacy altogether or allow only unpaid surrogacy. 

In Italy, for example, both paid surrogacy and unpaid surrogacy are illegal. Other European countries that ban all forms of surrogacy include Spain, Germany, France, Finland, Norway, Austria, and Switzerland, among others.

Numerous countries in Europe allow unpaid surrogacy in some cases but always prohibit paid surrogacy. This includes the United Kingdom, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Greece. 

Only a handful of countries in Europe allow paid surrogacy, such as Ukraine and Russia. A few countries, such as Ireland, do not have specific laws that either prohibit paid surrogacy or permit it.

Biden administration to mandate employers grant leave for workers to obtain abortions

null / Credit: Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 16:22 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is set to change federal regulations regarding pregnant workers’ fairness to mandate employers make “reasonable accommodations,” including granting leave, for workers to obtain abortions.

The new rule, which is set to take effect 60 days from its publication on April 19, is part of the commission’s efforts to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), according to a final EEOC rule change announcement.

The final rule expands the scope of accommodations that employers must make for “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” to also include workers’ decisions about “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”

The rule applies to all public and private employers with 15 or more workers and is contingent on the accommodations not presenting an “undue hardship on the operation of the business of the covered entity.” 

The commission said the rule change is part of its effort to “carry out the law” in accordance with the PWFA, which was passed in 2022.

The 19th, a pro-abortion nonprofit, celebrated the rule change, saying that, “at a minimum,” it means employers must provide unpaid time off for abortion.

After first announcing the planned change in the Federal Register in August 2023, the commission allowed 60 days for public comment. During that time the commission received 54,000 comments against the inclusion of abortion and 40,000 in support.

Despite the 54,000 comments against it, the EEOC said it would move forward with the rule change. The commission said that though it “recognizes these are sincere, deeply held convictions and are often part of an individual’s religious beliefs,” it believes that the decision to include abortion is “consistent with the plain language of the statute, congressional intent, and federal courts’ interpretation of the statutory text.”

“The commission agrees with comments expressing support for inclusion of abortion in the proposed definition of ‘pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions’ for which a qualified employee could receive an accommodation, absent undue hardship,” the EEOC said.

EEOC Commissioner Kalpana Kotagal said the change is consistent with the PWFA and “advances the promise that pregnant and postpartum workers should not have to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

The PWFA was supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) when it was being considered by Congress, despite some concerns at the time that the bill could be used to force employers to pay for abortion expenses.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky expressed such concerns, with a spokesperson telling CNA at the time that “the bill could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

One of the comments submitted to the EEOC against the inclusion of abortion was a 20-page joint statement issued by the USCCB and the Catholic University of America.

Signed by three USCCB attorneys and Catholic University President Peter Kilpatrick, the statement said the rule change presents dangers to human life, religious liberty, and free speech.

“In passing the PWFA,” the statement said, “Congress had no intention to create conscience problems for employers.”

“Although the USCCB and Catholic University share the goals of better supporting pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, we are deeply concerned about the EEOC’s insertion of a right to abortion-related accommodations into a legal regime where it has no place,” the joint statement said.

The commission claimed that concerns about employers’ religious objections were unwarranted because, it noted, “nothing in the PWFA shall be construed ‘by regulation or otherwise, to require an employer-sponsored health plan to pay for or cover any particular item, procedure, or treatment.’”