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Ecuadorian bishops congratulate their country's first woman to win an Olympic gold medal

Neisi Dajomes. Credit: Ecuadorian Olympic Committee.

Quito, Ecuador, Aug 2, 2021 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

The Ecuadorian bishops congratulated on Twitter Neisi Dajomes, the country’s first woman to win gold in the Olympics, for her victory: "Thank you for infecting us with your enthusiasm and joy! God bless you!"

Dajomes, 23, won the gold medal in weightlifting in the 76 kg category (the lifter’s body weight)) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Aug. 1.  The athlete said, “this medal is thanks to God.”

The 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021, but retain the original year to avoid confusion as the games are held every four years.

Dajomes is the third Ecuadorian athlete to win a gold medal for Ecuador, following Richard Carapaz in cycling in Tokyo in July this year; and Jefferson Pérez in race walking in Atlanta in 1996.

The Ecuadorian Olympic Committee relayed on Twitter these words from Dajomes: "I went through a hard time, I lost my mother and recently my brother Javier Palacios, for whom I am here, and all my achievements are dedicated to their memory."

"I thank my country for the good vibes they sent me ... This medal is thanks to God," she added.

Dajomes told the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio that losing her mother and brother "have been trials God put me through to get here.”

Ecuadorian priest awarded by city for feeding hundreds of the needy daily

Father Wilson Malavé Parrales. Credit: Parroquia San Agustín Guayaquil Padre Agustinos via Facebook.

Guayaquil, Ecuador, Jul 28, 2021 / 18:19 pm (CNA).

The Mayor's Office of Guayaquil on Sunday awarded Fr. Wilson Malavé Parrales, director of the Lord of Good Hope Soup Kitchen for the Brother in Need, with the Urban Heroes Medal of Merit. 

The July 25 award ceremony commemorated the 486th anniversary of the founding of the city.

The Archdiocese of Guayaquil said that the soup kitchen run by Fr. Malavé started nine years ago by feeding 80 homeless people every day in the downtown area. It currently offers meals to about 550 people Monday through Friday.

“The award is a tribute to the effort of all the brother volunteers who support the 'Lord of Good Hope' work of charity that has brought together all the prayer groups and benefactors in these difficult times that we are going through where there is a lot of migration, dysfunctional families, and increased drug or alcohol use,” said Fr. Malavé, who also serves as pastor of St. Augustine church.

The people served by this work of solidarity with food, clothing or a place to wash up are elderly, migrants, single mothers, street vendors, the disabled, and the homeless.

"People receive Christ through a pot that’s full of love, it’s not food but the love of those who donate the little or lot they may have for their neighbor," the priest said.

Archbishop calls for unity at Peruvian bicentennial 

Archbishop José Antonio Eguren Anselmi. Credit: Archdiocese of Piura.

Piura, Peru, Jul 28, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

The Archbishop of Piura on Tuesday encouraged working for unity in Peru and reminded the faithful that neither hatred nor violence are the way to the future, as the nation celebrates its bicentennial.

"Without denying the seriousness of many problems and the injustice of many situations, it is essential to proclaim that hatred and violence are never the way," Archbishop José Antonio Eguren Anselmi preached July 27 during a Mass celebrated for the Peruvian bicentennial at the Piura cathedral.

Peru declared its independence from Spain July 28, 1821.

Archbishop Eguren declared in his homily that “only love and constructive personal effort can get to the bottom of problems. Hence the importance of rejecting today and always, all forms of violence that are always anti-Christian, and any ideology that has hatred and struggle as engines of history and as false means to achieve social justice.”

The archbishop said that "the current situation we are living in has once again exposed, with painful rawness, the greatest weakness that Peruvians have: disunity."

"Today it pains us to see a country divided, in confrontation, polarized and agitated, and what’s most dangerous, threatened in its democratic coexistence and in its fundamental freedoms by a totalitarian minority," he lamented.

Peru has been in political crisis in recent years. A two-round presidential election was recently won by Pedro Castillo of Free Peru, a socialist party, by a margin of fewer than 45,000 votes. 

In his homily, Archbishop Eguren explained that “authentic unity is only achieved in the truth, never in lies. Lying only leads to disunity, mistrust, violence, confrontations, and moral and economic poverty. Only in the truth can one live and govern, never in falsehood and deception,” which is why it is "so important that the electoral processes are clean and transparent."

The archbishop said that “unity is achieved when politics is conceived as an eminent form of charity and service, and through it the dignity of the human person is promoted and defended, with all its demands, including the transcendent and eternal, and not as a way to achieve power to serve one's own or ideological horizons.”

The Archbishop of Piura stressed that unity is achieved “when rulers and politicians are aware that undermining faith in God, and not respecting the human right to religious freedom in the long run turns against man himself and against fraternal human coexistence, and in the case of Peru, it turns against its national identity, since our country is a Christian people, identified with Christ and his Mother, the Virgin Mary.”

"We beg Jesus Christ, the Lord of History, to bless, protect, and in the current circumstances, unite, defend and heal our beloved Homeland, from the delicate situation we live in, where the critical health situation that still affects us and has been aggravated by the moral evil of many, all of which strikes the poorest with special cruelty,” Archbishop Eguren continued.

“We remember today in our prayers, the more than 195,000 Peruvians who have died during the pandemic. Never again should a genocide such as the one we have experienced happen among us, which has surpassed all the combined deaths from ten years of terrorism and those of the War of the Pacific,” he said.

Archbishop Eguren remarked that José de San Martín, the liberator of Peru, "would tell us today that we should reject all forms of totalitarianism," which is an "ominous system where a political group usurps the role of the sole guide, as well as the freedom of  persons-citizens, and man and the people become objects, notwithstanding all the verbal declarations and promises.”

"In totalitarianism, a political group seeks to perpetuate itself in power, as well as to violate the right of the people to elect their own rulers through free and fair elections," he stated.

“Likewise, the state ceases to be 'our common home' where everyone can live according to the principles of fundamental equality, and is transformed into a tyrant state that claims to be able to dispose of people's lives, in the name of public utility, which is nothing else, in reality, but the search for interest and privileges for a privileged caste.”

Archbishop Eguren added that San Martín would surely also “ask us today to work for a Peru freed from the scourge of corruption, that which weakens democracy and its institutions, and that, although it affects us all, especially affects the poorest and most needy.”

“Dear brothers: In this celebration of the bicentennial, and despite all that we have and are experiencing, let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope and the joy that springs from our faith in the Lord and who gives us the strength to live. Let us never think that our work and efforts down here are completely useless.”

The archbishop stressed that Peruvians “have the highest responsibility to build a just and reconciled Peru where the spirit of the Beatitudes is lived.”

Colombian bishops: Euthanasia is a danger for the frailest and most vulnerable

Gagliardi Photography/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 28, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Colombian Bishops’ Conference decried the July 22 ruling of the Constitutional Court that expanded access to euthanasia to non-terminally ill patients. It said this practice not only offends the dignity of persons but is a "serious danger to the frailest and most vulnerable in our society.”

"The practice of euthanasia constitutes a serious offense to the dignity of the human person and encourages the corrosion of fundamental values of the social order," the bishops said in a statement posted Monday on the conference website. 

The bishops explained that expanding “the range of populations or cases in which euthanasia could be requested, as the current court order does, or extending it to other modalities, far from promoting a supposed right, would constitute a serious danger for the frailest and most vulnerable in our society, on whom the weight of the possible taking of their lives would hang, threatening personal freedom.”

The Constitutional Court ruled 6-3 on July 22 to expand access to euthanasia to patients undergoing intense suffering due to a serious and incurable illness or bodily injury. With that decision, it is no longer required that a patient be terminal to request euthanasia, as a 1997 ruling by the same court provided.

According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, the Court established that euthanasia will no longer be a crime “when it is carried out by a doctor with free and informed consent, prior to or after the diagnosis of the passive subject of the act, and provided that the patient suffers intense physical or mental suffering, originating from bodily injury or serious and incurable illness.”

The court stated that within the framework of “respect for human dignity, a person cannot be forced to continue living, when he suffers a serious and incurable disease that causes intense suffering, and has taken upon himself the autonomous decision to end his existence in the face of conditions that he considers incompatible with his conception of a dignified life.”

In 2015, the Ministry of Health issued some provisions for the application of the 1997 ruling; and on July 1 this year, the agency issued a resolution which explains and updates the procedures to exercise the "right to die with dignity," legitimizing the application of euthanasia in the country.

In their statement, the Colombian bishops said that “conditions of serious illness or those related to the end of life must be faced with the greatest of  care and respect, since they are painful situations that put the entire person and family members to the test and which demand, as in no other circumstance, the exercise of personal freedom and the accompaniment of society.”

"We believe that the realities of human fragility and vulnerability must be taken up with an attitude of solidarity, confident that mutual care can make the intention to voluntarily take one's life lessen, even in cases where, based on current medical knowledge, physical healing is no longer possible,” the bishops stated.


They then proposed four ways to achieve this attitude of solidarity.

The bishops noted “[t]he concern of the State to guarantee adequate health care to people suffering from bodily injury or serious and incurable illnesses, or who are terminal, especially when it comes to the poorest."

They also emphasized the need to "help with financial resources and psychosocial intervention the most vulnerable families and caregivers."

"The therapeutic efforts of health care personnel to adequately treat pain and respect the dignity of the patient until the moment of his natural death” are needed, the bishops said.

They urged promotion of “the virtues of citizenship by all social classes, to ensure affective and effective care for those most in need."

The bishops also stressed that "a fraternal and supportive community is achieved when we are capable of overcoming individualism and making our lives converge around common values."

"Conceiving human autonomy as a sovereign power of determination does not favor the construction of a social order in which we can feel like neighbors, all traveling in the same boat," they warned.

The Colombian bishops expressed their desire “with the favor of God, who is always gracious and merciful, we may continue to discover the best ways to respect the right to life of every person and to strengthen the bonds of social friendship among all Colombians.”

At least 12 priests in Mexico have died from COVID-19 in two months

Dominican Nuns of the St. Catherine of Siena Monastery in Mexico City / Dominican Nuns of St. Catherine of Siena/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 27, 2021 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The most recent report from the Catholic Multimedia Center (CCM) shows that at least 12 priests and a Mexican nun have died from the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico in the last two months.

In total, five bishops, 232 priests, six men religious, nine women religious and 12 deacons have died in Mexico during the pandemic.

The Archdiocese of Guadalajara has been the hardest hit, with 25 priests who have died of the disease.

In its analysis, the CCM noted the absence of "an official report of bishops who have been vaccinated" against COVID-19 in Mexico.

In addition, the organization points out the "absence of a census by diocese and archdiocese that allows a general overview of permanent deacons, priests, local ordinaries and auxiliary bishops, as well as nuns who have been vaccinated."

"This is a great void given the need to verify the guarantees that allow a safe return to the churches and also of those who are in charge of a community,” the CCM report states.

According to figures from the Mexican government, as of July 25, more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the country, with more than 238,000 deaths. Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 109,000 active cases in the country.

The government classifies the intensity of the pandemic according to red, orange, yellow and green traffic signals. During the first half of July, 19 out of 32 states were classified in the less restrictive epidemiological green category; now, only three states are classified thus.

Currently, the state of Sinaloa on the central Pacific coast is in the red zone, while 13 states are in the orange zone and 15 are in the yellow zone.

According to the Mexican Ministry of Health, as of July 24, more than 23.9 million people had received full doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The government’s goal is to have over 107 million people fully vaccinated by December, out of an estimated total population of 130.2 million.

US bishops and priests in the Cuban diaspora send video message back home

Fernando Medina/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 26, 2021 / 16:10 pm (CNA).

In an eight-minute video, about 30 American bishops and priests of the Cuban diaspora sent their prayers and a message of support to protesters on the island. 

Bishop Nelson Jesús Pérez, archbishop of Philadelphia and the son of Cuban parents, said in the video: “This is a message for the Cuban people who are suffering these moments of difficulty, injustice, oppression and lack of respect for human rights. Know of our prayers, our love, our affection and solidarity with all of you. May Our Lady of Charity hear our prayers, protect you and bring peace.”

Bishop Felipe de Jesús Estévez of Saint Augustine, Florida, of Cuban origin, said that "charity unites all those born in Cuba." He also asked Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of the country, to "save Cuba."

The Cuban-American auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Newark,  Manuel Aurelio Cruz, expressed his "respect and unity with my Cuban people." 

“I know the pain, the suffering of our people, and the time has come for our homeland to have freedom. Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, save, save our Cuban people. Amen,” he said.

“As a Cuban, I am faithfully praying for all of you. From the diaspora, we are asking only one thing:  Our Lady of Charity, save your people in Cuba,” said Fr. Fernando Hería, a Cuban priest and rector of the National Shrine of the Our Lady of Charity in Miami.

Msgr. Willie Peña, a priest of Cuban origin and pastor of the St. Bernadette church in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and host of the Spanish language “As the World Turns” program on EWTN, assured his compatriots that “we are with you in prayer and solidarity."

“I send you a hug with all my heart. Keep on standing because we are with you. Our Lady of Charity, save Cuba!” he added.

Msgr. Mario Guijarro de Corzo, a Cuban priest and pastor of St. Peter the Martyr church in Verona, Puerto Rico, said that “the Cuban people have the right to live in freedom, to live in democracy, to seek their prosperity, to a change of life.”

"For Cuba it’s time, and that is why we’re asking Our Lady of Charity to save Cuba," he added.

Fr. José Luis Menendez, pastor of Corpus Christi church in the Miami archdiocese, said that “at this very special moment in our history, perhaps more than ever we must be united in heart, in mind and in prayer, at the feet of the Virgin, so that our homeland, once and for all, may achieve the longed for freedom.” 

Fr. Juan Sosa, who serves in the St. Joseph parish in the Miami archdiocese, said, “I believe that everything we have to do must be done at the feet of the Virgin, because she is the Mother who accompanies us wherever we may be.”

Fr. Manny Alvarez of St. Therese of the Little Flower parish in Coral Gables, Florida, said he was connected “with your Cuban roots and with every one of you by the priestly fraternal bonds, praying for each one in this difficult moment.”

“To my dear Cuban people, all my support and my prayers. The truth sets you free. Love conquers all. Love of God, country, the family. Our Lady of Charity, save Cuba,” said Fr. Carlos Céspedes, who serves at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami.

Cuban priest Fr. Enrique Corona, from St. Agnes parish in New Jersey, also sent a message. “I am with all Cubans, inside and outside of Cuba. We are here to let you know that you are not alone.”

Fr. José Enrique López, from St. Gregory parish in the Miami archdiocese, told his compatriots that "the Lord is the God of justice." 

"Your cause is just, the Lord is with you," he added.

Fr. Roberto Ayala, from St. Matthew parish in the Miami archdiocese, said, “I ask God to give you the energy, the words, the courage, so that you can go forward. Know that we are with you.”

For his part, Fr. Salvador Díaz-Guerra, a priest of St. John Bosco parish in Miami, said: “Dear Cuban brother… take courage because God is on the side of those who make a homeland. Our Lady of Charity, save Cuba. Long live free Cuba!”

Fr. Delvis Mederos, who resides in Miami, told Cubans that "freedom is knocking on your doors." 

"Only in the Lord and with the help of the Virgin is your strength," he added.

Fr. Esney Muñoz Díaz, from St. Michael the Archangel parish in Miami, told Cubans that "you’re not alone." 

“The road is long and hard but Christ is with us. May Our Lady of Charity accompany you.”

Fr. Alfred Cioffi, professor of biology and bioethics at St. Thomas University in Miami, spoke to his brother priests in Cuba, to tell them that they are with them "in prayer."

And Fr. Ricardo Ortega, from Annunciation of the Virgin Mary parish in New Jersey, encouraged his compatriots to continue "defending your own right to truth, justice, and love between brothers and compatriots."

Fernando Karadima, former priest whose sex abuse scandal rocked Chile, dead at 90

Fernando Karadima / Chilean Judicial Branch

Denver Newsroom, Jul 26, 2021 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Fernando Karadima, an influential former priest in Chile whose sexual abuse of minors prompted major questions about episcopal cover-ups, has died at the age of 90. Allegations that Karadima’s protégés helped cover up his abuse entangled Pope Francis, and resulted in massive controversy and sweeping changes to the makeup of the country’s bishops.

Local media reported that while the cause of Karadima’s death was unknown, he had previously been treated for heart problems. According to Reuters, while one news report said that Karadima died Monday, CNN Chile showed a death certificate indicating that he died the night of Sunday, July 25. He had resided most recently at a nursing home in Chile.

“We closely accompany the surviving victims and their families, asking the merciful God to heal the pain caused to all those who have suffered,” the Archbishopric of Santiago said in response. “At the same time, as the archbishopric we reaffirm our commitment to continue working to promote healthy and safe environments within the Church.”

Karadima was a highly influential Santiago-area priest who for decades led a lay movement from his parish in El Bosque. He is considered to have personally fostered around 40 vocations to the priesthood, and some of these men became bishops.

Karadima himself has denied the allegations of sex abuse, and he never faced a trial under Chilean law for his alleged crimes because of the statutes of limitations. He was convicted in a church court and was later laicized.

As details of his abuse became known, several prominent Chilean bishops stood accused of systematically covering up his abuse, and of doing the same for other accused priests.

On a 2018 visit to Chile, Pope Francis publicly contended it was “calumny” to claim that Karadima’s protégé Bishop Juan Barros had collaborated in abuse. The pope said that he had seen no evidence of this. After drawing rebukes, he soon apologized to Karadima’s victims and investigated the matter. He then said he had been misinformed, sought a meeting with some victims, and demanded that scores of Chile’s bishops submit their resignations to him.

Karadima was found guilty of sexually abusing minors in a canonical process handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011. Because of his advanced age and poor health, he was ordered to “retire to a life of prayer and penance, in reparation (for his crimes) as well for the victims of abuse.”

In September 2018, Pope Francis laicized Karadima, expelling him from the clerical state in a move the Vatican described as an “exceptional measure” taken in response to the “exceptional damage” done by the priest’s crimes.

In March 2019, the Court of Appeals of Santiago ordered the Santiago archdiocese to pay 300 million pesos - about $439,000 - to three victims of Karadima who said the former priest abused them over a period of years when they were minors 

The Santiago archdiocese accepted the court ruling and voiced hope the action could help restore trust and prevent further mishandling of abuse. The archdiocese said the ruling showed the necessity of making “deep reforms” to prevent other failures. The ruling could mean many more civil lawsuits against the Church.

Karadima victims Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and José Andrés Murillo had filed the lawsuit against the archdiocese in 2013 for “moral damage.” The public testimony of the men, especially Cruz, was instrumental in bringing the Chilean abuse crisis to international attention.

In a July 26 statement posted to Twitter by Cruz, the three men responded to his death.

“Everything we had to say about Karadima has been said. He was one more link in the culture of abuse and cover-up in the Church,” they said. “We are at peace, and we are only moved to continue fighting so that these crimes do not happen again, and for so many people who have lived through it and who still do not have justice.”

Protests against the promotion of Bishop Juan Barros, alleged to have been one of Karadima’s protégés and protectors, helped turn the Chilean sexual abuse crisis into a global concern for the Church. The matter escalated during a papal visit to the country in January 2018, during which Pope Francis made his public defense of Barros. 

Those remarks drew serious rebukes, including one from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, chair of the pope’s commission on sexual abuse. Pope Francis apologized for the tone of his remarks, while initially insisting on the innocence of Barros.

The Pope then sent Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, an expert on clerical sexual abuse allegations, to investigate the claims against Barros. Scicluna produced a lengthy report on the matter, leading to a more thorough papal apology and major efforts to change and reform the leadership of the Catholic Church in Chile.

In April 2018, Francis sent a letter to Chile’s bishops saying that he had made “serious errors in judgement regarding the matter,” which he attributed to “a lack of truthful and balanced information.” After crisis meetings over several days in May 2018, the pope expressed his anger at evidence of systematic attempts to suppress and ignore allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the country. Some 34 Chilean bishops submitted their resignations, and the Pope accepted at least eight of them.

In March 2021 Pope Francis appointed Cruz, a victim of Karadima, to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

“I am very grateful to Pope Francis for trusting me with this appointment. I deeply appreciate it,” Cruz said in response.

In 2015 Cruz had sought to send a letter to Pope Francis through Marie Collins, then a member of the pope’s sexual abuse commission. The letter included Cruz’s report that Barros and others had witnessed Karadima abusing or kissing him but did nothing to stop it. In April 2015, Collins delivered this letter to O’Malley and asked the cardinal to deliver it to Pope Francis.

In February 2018, Collins told the Associated Press that O’Malley gave assurances that the letter was delivered during the September 2015 papal visit to Philadelphia. Collins said O’Malley “told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”

Victims have argued that Cardinals Francisco Javier Errázuriz and Ricardo Ezzati, who both served as archbishops of Santiago, were responsible for covering up Karadima’s crimes. In March 2019 Pope Francis accepted Ezzati’s resignation as archbishop—a resignation originally submitted with the other Chilean bishops. Ezzati had faced allegations of covering up abuse by other priests, though he denies ever covering up abuse.

In a 2018 lawsuit, Cruz and the two other Karadima victims with him charged that Errazuriz had committed perjury in the civil suit for compensation for damages filed against the Archdiocese of Santiago.

Cardinal Errazuriz served for a time on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, a special advisory body. He left that council in 2018, telling local media it was the end of his term. He has been accused of misinforming the Pope about the role of Barros in concealing Karadima’s abuse.

CRS warns of ‘hunger pandemic’ afflicting the elderly in Cuba

July 11, 2021: Cubans protest in Havana / Domitille P/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 26, 2021 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

The director of the Hispanic Development Unit of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Ana Gloria Rivas-Vásquez, called for Catholics around the world to help Cuba, especially its elderly, afflicted by what she calls a "hunger pandemic."

“In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a hunger pandemic in Cuba. The people most affected are the elderly. The people of Cuba are aging and around 20% are older people,” Rivas-Vásquez told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner July 25, the day the Church inaugurated the first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly.

According to 2017 data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 20% of the population of the countries of Barbados, Cuba and Uruguay was 60 years old or more, and 6 to 7% of the population was 75 years old or more.

The commission’s data also indicated that the island became the first aging economy in the region since 2010 due to various factors, including a sustained decline in fertility and a sustained net loss in emigration versus immigration.

The Cuban government itself reported that at the end of 2020, 21.3% of its population was over 60 years old. Some estimates indicate that in the near future, one-third of the island's inhabitants will be seniors.

In this context, CRS has been working closely with Cáritas Cuba for about 30 years to help the vulnerable population, including the elderly.

Both humanitarian agencies currently have a feeding program for older adults in the dioceses of Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Holguín.

Rivas-Vásquez indicated that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this "program for the elderly, which was initially carried out in soup kitchens, is now carried out individually, house by house."

“We also bring food to people who are in isolation after being infected with the virus, which makes logistics even more difficult. However, thank God, Caritas Cuba has a network of volunteers who help these people who need it so much,” she added.

The Catholic Relief Services director said "there’s a shortage of food, hygiene supplies and personal health protection equipment" in Cuba.

Massive protests took place across Cuba from July 11-12. Protesters shouting “Freedom!” also cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has blamed the United States for the country’s economic problems, as the Castro brothers before him had done. The United States has maintained an economic embargo of exports to Cuba since 1960. However, the U.S. State Department stated on July 23 that the embargo “allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba, and the U.S. government expedites requests to export humanitarian or medical supplies to Cuba.”

Given the situation, Rivas-Vásquez said that "what we want is to increase the help we provide to Caritas Cuba, because the elderly are the most affected by the crisis."

“We do everything possible so that the food reaches our partner agency. We work in more than 100 countries around the world and we are always looking for ways to get help to those most in need. We have nearly 80 years of experience in many different environments,” she explained.

Rivas-Vásquez said that CRS has "very generous Catholic and non-Catholic donors in the United States," but that today they want "to reach more people to help us, especially with our brothers and sisters on the island."

Donating responds to “the call of the Gospel, to help others,” she said. “We thank in advance for all the financial help, because without that we would not be able to do our job. But we also always ask for prayer.”

The Church accompanies the people in ther legitimate claims, priest says of Cuba protests

A man waves a Cuban flag during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, July 11, 2021. - Thousands of Cubans took part in rare protests Sunday against the communist government, marching through a town chanting "Down with the dictatorship" and "We want liberty." Credit: Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images.

Camagüey, Cuba, Jul 23, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

The Church is accompanying those protesting Cuba’s communist government, according to a priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey.

“I will speak about the part of the Church that I know, the one that touches me closely in this effort to accompany the people in their legitimate claims. Above all, we are welcoming, where people can speak without fear, dream of the future, think and imagine the Cuba they want. We commit ourselves to everyone in these works and we try to guide them from Gospel criteria. So that the Cuba that is reborn is in accordance with God. A Cuba that promotes the fullness of the human being that Christ revealed to us,” Fr. Fernando Luis Gálvez, pastor of San José de Lugareño parish in Camagüey, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, July 22.

Fr. Gálvez, 33, said that the clergy in Camagüey tried to be "a father" to their parishioners amid the demonstrations that began July 11 across Cuba.

“With such a Church, the future can proceed in the ways of God, otherwise the future will most likely be alien to the Gospel. If we do not accompany this rebirth, we would be mortgaging the future of the Church and therefore the salvation of future generations,” Fr. Gálvez stressed.

Protesters cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and at least 100 were arrested.

“Cuba is a country in a state of collapse … When we watch national television it looks like an average country. When someone lies about many things, nothing they say is credible anymore. It is a deplorable situation,” charged Fr. Gálvez. Every day he hears "laments and complaints," he added.

“There’s nothing we can say is okay. There’s no food, no medicine, no efficient medical services, no transportation, and no properly functioning  institutions. Nothing works and almost nothing that is needed and sought out can be found. I experience this in the towns I serve as pastor, and it’s practically the same throughout the nation,” he explained. 

The protests drew a violent response from Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who ordered law enforcement to crack down on them.

Díaz-Canel denied July 14 that there was repression going on. However, videos posted on social media showed agents beating and arresting protesters.

“The image of those groups of ‘civilians,’ sent and protected by the communist government, armed with clubs and stones, scares me. It’s a terrifying image, totally reprehensible. So much manipulation scares me, so much intolerance of free expression, so much hatred,” the priest said.

In the context of the protests, Fr. Gálvez noted that he is seeing a Cuba that is “vigorous, with a desire for change, hopeful, with a fighting spirit,” despite the “pain and disappointment of the past and present.”

“The latest events and the government's response have awakened many who still didn’t see things clearly, who doubted, who perhaps still believed in the benefits that were only proclaimed in words. The government's violent response has been the clearest evidence of its identity. And the feeling that the people are experiencing, now in enforced silence, is: ‘no more.’ And this is the beginning of a path that sooner or later will bring change,” he continued.

The priest told ACI Prensa that in "the small towns he serves pastorally there were no demonstrations, but in some parts of the diocese there were, and I know and esteem a lot some of the detainees."

“It is precisely because of this personal knowledge that I am absolutely convinced of the human quality of many of the protesters. They are just people who love Cuba very much. There are many of them whose love for God has led them to a commitment to those who suffer, a commitment to justice, to the truth,” Fr. Gálvez said.

In addition, he said that "there are still people who have gone missing … For them we continue praying, looking for them, making demands. Others are already in their homes awaiting trial under trumped up charges. This situation is sad and very uncertain," he added.

Fr. Gálvez told ACI Prensa that he is a close friend of Fr. Cástor Álvarez Devesa, a priest who was beaten, detained during the demonstrations, and later released.

“It was 24 hours of great anguish. He wanted to know what had happened to him. Where did they take him? What are they doing to him? What will be the consequences? We were afraid for him, who had already been violently attacked during the demonstration,” he said.

According to Fr. Álvarez, “he wasn’t physically abused inside the police station. Although his arrest was already arbitrary in itself. Fr. Castor was faithfully fulfilling his priestly mission: to care for his children,” he continued.

Fr. Gálvez told ACI Prensa that "the government censors everything, including the Church."

“I don't want to talk more about this now, because it is very painful. I have marks on me and I still can’t discover the future consequences for my life and ministry. I ask you to pray for the freedom of the Church in Cuba. May we be faithful to our Christian conscience,” continued the priest.

Fr. Gálvez believes that “the clergy could be more committed to solving the real problem. The root of the problem.”

“It’s easier to give out medicine, food, etc. We are looking for fewer inconveniences. But all that’s over. I no longer have anything to give. All I have left is my voice. That I can give. And I will use it to demand justice,”  he pledged.

The priest also said that this demand for justice is related to the right to decent work and, therefore, to a better life.

“So that they, by themselves, can buy their food and get their medicines and whatever needs they may have. In Cuba we all have basic needs right now. So this material charitable service isn't enough. You have to go to the root of the problem. What are the causes of this precarious situation? There we would have to reflect and face the consequences for the good of all,” he said.

Fr. Gálvez stressed that the "unity of the Cuban Church is in Jesus Christ" and that "faith and morals unite us."

“The rest is up for discussion. That’s diversity, not division. God speaks to each one and suggests fields of action according to the needs of the people entrusted to us. That is what we would have to discern at this dramatic moment,” he stressed.

Finally, the priest said that he always remembers the Cross of Christ in order to overcome the dark hours.

“The Cross, I always invite you to contemplate the Cross, which is not resignation. The Cross since that Good Friday is the greatest paradox in history. There, by reflecting within ourselves, we could find paths and facet them with supernatural forces,” he concluded.

Venezuelan president rejects Vatican letter calling for dialogue 

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro speaks at a rally in Caracas in support calling a constituent assembly, May 23, 2017. / Marco Salgado/Shutterstock

Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 23, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, called "garbage," "poison," full of "hatred" and "cynicism" a letter that the Vatican Secretary of State sent to a Venezuelan business leader encouraging dialogue to overcome the crisis in the country.

Under Maduro’s socialist administration Venezuela has been marred by violence and political and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, power outages, and hyperinflation. Over four million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

In a July 21 televised event, Maduro said that “when everyone is talking about production, uniting for Venezuela, overcoming the economic crisis,  here comes a totally unknown priest, I don't know if he’s a monsignor or a bishop, and he read a letter supposedly from Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, who was the Vatican's ambassador here in Venezuela.”

Cardinal Parolin was apostolic nuncio to Venezuela from 2009 to 2013, during Hugo Chávez' last years as president. In 2013 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Parolin Vatican Secretary of State.

The cardinal’s June 23 letter was addressed to Ricardo Cusanno Maduro, president of Fedecámaras, the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce. The letter was announced during the 77th annual assembly of the organization, and addresses "issues about the future of the country's economy and its relationship to peace.”

According to the weekly Colombian magazine Semana, the letter was read at the event by Bishop Ricardo Aldo Barreto Cairo, an auxiliary bishop of Caracas.

For Maduro, the Vatican text is “a letter that was a compendium of hatred, poison, quarreling, cynicism, it’s ridiculous; a letter truly full of hatred, a national disaster, the letter from Pietro Parolin.”

“What does the Vatican foreign minister have to do with the assembly of a Venezuelan business organization? I ask, what does he have to do with it? Explain that, Pietro Parolini (sic),” Maduro questioned.

Maduro also said that the letter "totally unsettled the atmosphere (of negotiations)," was a "disaster" and that “the letter that Pietro Parolin supposedly sent was rubbish. I don’t know that he sent it.”

In the letter sent to the Fedecámaras assembly, Cardinal Parolin said he is aware of the organization's commitment “to the economic and social development of the country, and the efforts they are making to promote a more just, democratic, productive and entrepreneurial Venezuela, in which true social justice reigns.”

"Like you, I consider it important that civil society also be the protagonist of the solution to the current crisis in that beloved country, a solution that will only be provided if Venezuelans, and especially those who have some kind of political responsibility, are willing to sit down and negotiate, in a serious way, on specific issues that respond to the true needs of Venezuelans, and for a set period of time," the letter continues. 

For cardinal Parolin "this requires political will on the part of those involved, willingness to let the common good prevail over private interests, and the responsible support of civil society and the international community."

"Therefore, I encourage you to support all initiatives that promote understanding and reconciliation among Venezuelans," the cardinal wrote.

"If negotiations like the ones mentioned are successful, great generosity and patience will be necessary, since the current crisis will not be resolved immediately, but multiple efforts and sacrifices will still be necessary on everyone’s part," he continued.

"I assure you of my prayers so that the meeting is fruitful and that, through the intercession of Blessed Dr. Hernández, all of us, with generosity of spirit, know how to put the good of our neighbor, the common good, above our personal interests," Cardinal Parolin said.

For several months, representatives of the Maduro regime and the opposition have been negotiating about setting up talks that could take place in August in Mexico, and could have the Norwegian government as an intermediary.

However, in recent days government officials came to the house of opposition leader Juan Guaidó with the intention of arresting him but were thwarted because his wife, Fabiana Rosales, got on Twitter to report it, causing neighbors to react and prevent his arrest.

While that was happening, former opposition assemblyman Freddy Guevara got a message out on Instagram from his car the moment he was surrounded by masked officials who took him into custody.

The government accuses Guevara of terrorism, treason, and criminal association, and his supposed ties to the death of 26 people in a Caracas neighborhood, who according to the government were part of gangs that sought to overthrow Maduro.

The accusations against Guevara - which his legal defense team has called as false - are for the government consistent with the conditions that Maduro set for talks to take place.

Maduro's conditions to go to Mexico are that the United States and the European Union lift all sanctions against Venezuela, that all political parties recognize the legitimacy of his government, and that “all sectors renounce violent plans with criminals, coups, the assassination of officials and other avenues of violence.”

On July 22, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, met with Guevara's family and collaborators, who informed him of the opposition leader’s "arbitrary arrest and his delicate state of health."

"We demand from the Venezuelan dictatorship full respect for his rights and his immediate release," Almagro said on Twitter.