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Nicaraguan dictator Ortega verbally attacks pope, calls Church ‘the perfect dictatorship’

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega / Photo credit: Flickr Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan) | Government Website Open Information Announcement (CC BY 2.0)

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 13:54 pm (CNA).

The dictator of Nicaragua, former guerilla fighter President Daniel Ortega, verbally attacked Pope Francis and said that the Catholic Church is “the perfect dictatorship” during a public event Sept. 28 in Managua, the country’s capital.

In his speech marking the 43rd anniversary of the founding of the National Police, Ortega questioned: “Who elects the priests, the bishops, the pope, the cardinals, how many votes, who votes for them? If they’re going to be democratic, they must begin by electing the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, with the vote of the population, with the votes of Catholics.”

“Let the population elect them and not all of them imposed [on the people], it’s a dictatorship, the perfect dictatorship. It’s a tyranny, the perfect tyranny,” he continued.

After calling the pope a “holy tyrant,” the Nicaraguan dictator asked: “With what authority do you speak to me about democracy? How many votes did the bishop have from the population to be appointed bishop?”

This is not the first time that Ortega has publicly attacked the Catholic Church. In September 2021, he insulted the Catholic bishops, calling them “terrorists,” “demons in cassocks,” and men in “satanic cassocks.”

On that occasion, as well as in yesterday’s event, the dictator accused the bishops of being behind the 2018 protests and promoting a coup d’état against him.

Ortega’s remarks come almost two weeks after Pope Francis said that there is dialogue with the Nicaraguan government, although “right now there are problems.”

Persecution of the Church in Nicaragua

Ortega’s remarks came a day after Santa Lucía-Boaco parish in the Diocese of Granada reported that “the Nicaraguan government denied our pastor, Father Guillermo Blandón, re-entry into our country.”

The newspaper La Prensa reported Sept. 11 that the Nicaraguan Immigration and Foreigners Office prevented Father Juan de Dios García, vicar of the Santo Cristo de las Colinas parish, from returning to the country after having traveled to the United States.

On Aug. 19, the police abducted in the middle of the night the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, from the chancery where he had been forcibly confined by riot police for over two weeks and took him to Managua, where he remains under house arrest.

According to local media, the prosecution has supposedly indicted him but the charges are unknown.

On Sept. 15, the European Parliament approved by a vote of 538 to 16 a resolution demanding the immediate release of the bishop.

The night Bishop Álvarez was seized, the other priests, seminarians, and a layman who were confined in the chancery with him were also taken away and are being held in the El Chipote prison, known for torturing opponents of the regime.

Those imprisoned there are Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Diaz, Sadiel Eugarrios, and Raúl González; seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas, all from the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Another priest who is being held in El Chipote is Father Oscar Benavidez of the Diocese of Siuna.

These prisoners have also reportedly been indicted but for what crimes is unknown.

In other attacks, the Ortega dictatorship expelled in March the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

The former auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, has been living in exile in the United States after it became known that Ortega’s government had very probably ordered his assassination.

In addition, the Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, were expelled in July and were welcomed in neighboring Costa Rica by the bishop of Tilarán-Liberia. The Religious of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were expelled this month and returned to Mexico, where the congregation was founded.

In fewer than four years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the target of 190 attacks and desecrations according to the investigative report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018-2022)” by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory.

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

Salvadoran Education Ministry dismisses official who endorsed kids’ TV show with gender ideology

null / itakdalee/Shutterstock

San Salvador, El Salvador, Sep 28, 2022 / 14:38 pm (CNA).

El Salvador’s Ministry of Education has dismissed the official responsible for allowing a children’s program with gender ideology to be broadcast on national public television, following an uproar from parents.

The Ministry of Education (MINED) dismissed Sept. 26 the director of the National Teacher Training Institute (INFOD), Carlos Rodríguez Rivas, in wake of the controversy caused by a segment of the educational program “Let’s Learn at Home,” which introduced minors to the topics of homosexual, lesbian, and bisexual sexual orientation.

“The MINED has decided to carry out an in-depth restructuring of INFOD to promote changes that allow an education adhering to our reality and with the vision of this government ... We also inform you that the current director of INFOD has been removed from his position,” a Sept. 27 statement from the government explained.

“We are clear that we must always be vigilant for children, protect their mental health and promote family values that are the basis of Salvadoran society,” the MINED continued.

The ministry “also takes on the commitment to review all programs that come from abroad, so as to not allow materials that violate our principles or are contrary to the vision of the country we want to build.”

Hours before the announcement, El Salvador’s public television Channel 10 decided to terminate the agreement with INFOD “due to non-compliance with educational standards,” including the inclusion of “unauthorized sexual content.”

The Parents’ Alliance, a civil society movement in defense of the family in El Salvador, welcomed the removal of the director of INFOD.

“This was thanks to the complaints from all the committed families and parents in El Salvador. This precedent makes it clear to us that the Parental PIN must be a reality, we must protect our children from ideologies contrary to human dignity,” the parents group said on its social media.

The concept of a Parental PIN is that parents of schoolchildren must be informed in advance by the school of any workshop, talk, subject, or activity dealing with topics of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, feminism, or diversity, and can then give or withhold their consent.

Sara Larín, founder of the VIDA SV Foundation in El Salvador, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, on Sept. 27 that the dismissal of the director of INFOD “is good news for all good Salvadorans who have denounced the perverse Social Studies material, not only in the Channel 10 program, but in the textbooks given to children.”

Larín charged that the content in children’s textbooks still “talks about terms such as sexual orientation, sexual identity, sexual pleasure, eroticism, and masturbation from a gender ideology perspective.”

According to the pro-life leader, teaching this type of material “puts students at risk of sexual and emotional abuse when a public school teacher dares to address these issues with minors without the consent of their parents.”

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

Church in Nicaragua asks for continued prayers for abducted bishop and priests

Bishop Rolando Álvarez / Photo credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

Denver Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Matagalpa has asked the faithful to continue praying for its bishop, Rolando Álvarez, the priests, seminarians, and the layman who were arrested and abducted in the middle of the night by the police of the Nicaraguan dictatorship, led by President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

In a Sept. 26 Facebook post, the Diocese of Matagalpa asked the faithful to continue “praying for our pastor, Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, priests, and laity who were with him in the Matagalpa chancery until the early hours of Aug. 19” when they were taken away by police.

“Bishop Álvarez, in his pastoral work in the Diocese of Matagalpa, of which he took possession on April 2, 2011, has chosen the preferential option for the poor, the sick, the young, those who suffer adversity, and the rural population, to whom he has shown his closeness through prayer and pastoral visits,” the post said.

“We’re praying for him,” the diocesan post concludes.

Álvarez, along with the others, was prevented by the Ortega riot police from leaving the chancery in Matagalpa from Aug. 4 to Aug. 19, when the police abducted him and took him in the dead of night to Managua, where he remains under house arrest.

According to local media, the prosecutor has supposedly indicted the bishop, but the charges against him are unknown.

On Sept. 15, the European Parliament approved a resolution by a vote of 538 to 16 demanding the immediate release of the bishop.

The night the bishop was taken into custody, other priests, seminarians, and a layman were also arrested and are currently being held in the El Chipote prison, known for torturing opponents of the regime.

Those imprisoned there are Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Diaz, Sadiel Eugarrios, and Raúl González; seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas, all from the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Another priest who is being held in El Chipote is Father Oscar Benavidez of the Diocese of Siuna.

These prisoners have also reportedly been indicted, but for what crimes it is unknown.

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

Authorities reach agreement to reopen Catholic chapel at Colombian airport

The Catholic chapel in El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Colombia. The airport announced Aug. 26, 2022, that the space would be modified and used as a place “where all religions will be welcome.” / Photo credit: Pexels

Denver Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic chapel that had been closed at the El Dorado International Airport will reopen after an agreement was reached between Church authorities in Colombia and the administrators of the air terminal, the bishop of Fontibón, Juan Vicente Córdoba, announced Sept. 22.

OPAIN, the management company that operates the airport located in Fontibón, a Bogotá suburb, announced Aug. 26 that the oratory that used to function as a Catholic chapel was going to be converted into a “neutral” place of worship.

The Diocese of Fontibón, which served the chapel, was forced to remove all liturgical furnishings and symbols and vacate the premises.

Representatives of the Catholic Church as well as politicians and civil society leaders criticized the decision. Catholics opposing the move organized a march to the airport and the recitation of the rosary outside the closed chapel to demand it be reopened.

At the time, Córdoba pointed out in a video that the diocese had an agreement with OPAIN to operate the chapel until 2037. The bishop  disclosed that it was closed after the Government Secretariat of the Bogotá Mayor’s Office requested and notified OPAIN “to get the Catholic Church out of there and apportion it to all religions.”

Now, almost a month later, Córdoba confirmed that the Catholic oratory will remain there and that a place will be opened for other religions.

The agreement was reached after a meeting between the president of the board of directors of OPAIN, Mauricio Ossa, and his work team, and Córdoba and the president of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Luis José Rueda of Bogotá.

In his statement, the bishop of Fontibón said that “after calmly, openly, clearly, and humbly analyzing everything related to the topic of the Catholic Oratory of El Dorado Airport, we reached a very good agreement for the glory of God and the good of the citizens.”

“After hearing from each other the necessary clarifications,” OPAIN decided to continue to lease free of charge to the Diocese of Fontibón “the El Dorado Airport Catholic Oratory and the Air Bridge Oratory,” the prelate explained.

Córdoba also announced that an interreligious room will be built for other creeds. The prelate expressed his gratitude for the solidarity of Catholics and non-Catholics.

The Catholic chapel will open in the next few days, as the place is currently undergoing renovations.

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

Pro-life caucus forms in Colombia’s Congress in aftermath of legalization of abortion, assisted suicide

null / Credit: Pixabay

Denver Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

This week it was announced that 54 members of Colombia’s Congress, including representatives and senators, joined the new pro-life caucus created to defend life, family, and religious freedom.

The announcement of the formation of the new multiparty caucus was made in a statement posted on social media Sept. 21 by several parliamentarians and by the United for Life organization.

Its creation was approved by the steering committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, accepting the request of congressmen from various political parties, including the Conservative Party, Fair and Free Colombia, Democratic Center, Liberal Party, Radical Change, Green Alliance, and the Social Party of National Unity.

The statement explained that this new caucus “will give continuity to the efforts made by the Pro-Life Caucus that was constituted in the year 2020.”

“It will be made up of congressmen supporting the protection of life from conception to natural death, the safeguarding of the family in accordance with the provisions of Article 42 of the Political Constitution, and the defense of the guarantees for the exercise of freedom of religion and worship in the context of recent national and international events,” the statement explained. 

In a video posted on Twitter, the members of the pro-life caucus stated that “there is a major commitment to life, family, and religious freedom.”

The new pro-life caucus is made up of 25 representatives and 29 senators. Its members include Yenica Sugein Acosta, Daniel Restrepo, Teresa Enriquez, Juan Espinal, Mauricio Giraldo, and Luis Miguel López.

In February, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled 5-4 to decriminalize abortion up to six months, or 24 weeks of pregnancy.

By a 6-3 vote, the Constitutional Court decriminalized assisted suicide in May. 

In late August, Colombian authorities dismantled the Catholic chapel in El Dorado International Airport located outside Bogotá to turn it into “a space for worship and neutral reflection.”

Just days ago, a member of the Liberal Party introduced a measure in the House of Representatives to dismantle the Catholic chapel in the capitol building where the Congress meets and turn it into a “a space of neutral worship,” despite the fact that there is already a space set aside for interreligious services.

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

Ortega dictatorship expels another religious congregation from Nicaragua

null / Image credit: James (Unsplash)

Denver Newsroom, Sep 22, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua has expelled the Religious Sisters of the Cross, thus continuing its attacks against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.

“Today, victims of the harassment and threats of the dictatorship, the Religious Sisters of the Cross (founded in Mexico) who had been in Matagalpa for years doing spiritual work left the country,” Nicaragua Informa reported Sept. 18 on Facebook.

The nuns of this congregation describe themselves on their website as “eucharistic contemplative women.”

The nuns served in the Diocese of Matagalpa — whose bishop, Rolando Álvarez, is under house arrest in Managua — and dedicated themselves to praying the rosary in the cathedral and promoting adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Mexico-based congregation reported yesterday on Facebook that the last nuns had arrived from Nicaragua.

A source close to the congregation, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that “their departure was due to the pressure exerted by government workers to know where each contribution the sisters received came from, even the smallest small donations.”

The source said the demand was absurd, because the nuns, like the parishes, subsisted “from the offerings that our faithful give.”

In addition, “the residence permit of the foreign sisters was not renewed and they had to leave the country” before the rest of the sisters.

The source explained that “the religious community, which leads a semi-contemplative life, couldn’t sustain itself with just three sisters, since their charism is to maintain constant adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. For this reason, their superiors saw that it was best to close the house they had here in Matagalpa.” 

The source said that “the only three sisters that remained are the three in the photo that was uploaded a short time ago.”

“There were always between six or more nuns. They had begun leaving months before, especially those whose residence permits were not renewed,” the source added.

This is the second religious congregation expelled by Ortega. In July, the Missionaries of Charity were forced to leave Nicaragua.

In March of this year, the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, was expelled.

The former auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, has been living in exile in the United States after it became known that Ortega’s government had very probably ordered his assassination.

In recent months, several priests have been arrested and others continue to be harassed by the regime, which hasn’t hesitated to ban religious processions.

The outrages of former guerrilla fighter Ortega were condemned in a resolution approved Aug. 12 by the Organization of American States. The Ortega regime withdrew from the OAS in April.

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

Eight churches damaged by Sept. 19 earthquake in Mexico

Santiago Apostle Parish in Tangamandapio, Mexico, was damaged by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 19, 2022. / Photo credit: Facebook Apóstol Santiago, S. Tangamandapio

Denver Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A Catholic church in Tangamandapio and seven other Catholic churches were damaged in the state of Michoacán by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico on Monday, Sept. 19.

According to the Facebook page “Diocese of Zamora, Michoacán: history, art and tradition,” the earthquake that took place at 1:05 p.m. local time damaged several places of worship but did not claim any lives of the faithful.

“Let’s be ready to support our parishes in repairing the damage incurred, for the well-being and safety of the faithful who come to these places” and “to restore [the churches’] former appearance,” the diocese encouraged.

The following damage was reported:

  • A crack occurred in the façade of St. James the Apostle church located in Tangamandapio. 

  • The façade of St. Michael the Archangel church in Tacátzcuaro partially collapsed.

  • The side entrance of the St. Joseph Chapel in Cotija was also damaged.

  • The interior ceiling of St. Francis of Assisi church in Corupo partially collapsed.

  • The cross of the bell tower of St. Francis of Assisi church in Zamora was cracked.

  • Some pieces fell from the interior walls and from the threshold of St. James the Apostle church in Sahuayo.

  • Cement blocks broke loose and fell on the sanctuary and the nave, and cracks were seen inside St. Peter the Apostle church in the town of Paracho.

  • Some cracks appeared in the belltowers of the Lord of Miracles Shrine in San Juan Nuevo, which caused the local priests to close access through the main door of the church.

Anniversary of other major earthquakes

The earthquake’s epicenter was 49 miles from the town of Coalcomán in the state of Michoacán.

So far, two people have reportedly died.

The earthquake, which was felt in other parts of the country such as Mexico City, occurred on the anniversary of two other major earthquakes in 1985 and 2017, which claimed many lives.

According to the BBC, for the anniversary of the two great earthquakes, a national earthquake drill had been carried out one hour before Monday’s earthquake.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also issued an alert.

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

Blessed Sacrament chapels at gas stations along highway are ‘oasis’ for Brazil travelers

Mass in the Chapel of Nossa Senhora Unatadora dos Knots and Sagrada Familia, in Várzea Grande, in Mato Grosso state, Brazil. / Photo credit: Rede Marajó

Denver Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A major gas station chain in Brazil is building chapels for the Blessed Sacrament on the country’s highways to be an “oasis” for travelers.

Although it’s normal for travelers to stop at a service station or gas station to fill the tank of their vehicle, eat something, or rest, in Brazil there are some stations that have chapels where travelers can adore the Blessed Sacrament, go to confession, and attend Mass.

Chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth along the Belém-Brasília Highway in Brazil. Photo credit: Red Marajó
Chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth along the Belém-Brasília Highway in Brazil. Photo credit: Red Marajó

Speaking with ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language sister news agency, Janeth Vaz, director of Rede Marajó, a chain of highway service stations in Brazil, said that the chain has built seven chapels at its stations with the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle because “faith is the first value of our company.”

Vaz said that “having the chapel is a privilege, but having the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel is a great blessing.”

“The heart of Marajó is the chapel and we know that the One who is in the chapel is the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.

“Today we have seven chapels, but we want to continue building where there are none ... so the Blessed Sacrament can be there,” because it makes “a very big difference,” she said.

Rede Marajó has more than 30 years of experience and describes itself as the “only one” that serves the entire 1,200-mile-long Belém-Brasília Highway, which takes an average of 30 hours’ driving time to cover. In addition, the gas station chain is “the largest Shell distributor” in the country.

Currently, the chain has 19 stations in the states of Pará, Tocantins, Goiás, Mato Grosso, and Minas Gerais.

Vaz said that she comes from a Catholic family that attended Mass “sporadically” but after participating in a charismatic renewal group, she “fell in love” with the Catholic Church.

She added that today she is a great devotee of the Virgin Mary and that although her husband “resisted” at the beginning is now the greatest promoter of the effort to build chapels.

Janeth Vaz at the inauguration of the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart, in Santana do Araguaia, Pará state, Brazil. Photo credit: Rede Marajó
Janeth Vaz at the inauguration of the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart, in Santana do Araguaia, Pará state, Brazil. Photo credit: Rede Marajó

Her husband “said that one day he would build me a church in the backyard, because I went to church a lot. I told him: ‘Yes, you will, but the one who will participate will be more you than me.’ And that’s what happened,” she recalled.

The spouses built the first chapel at the Nova Olinda station in 1992, and the apostolic administrator of the diocese gave them permission to have the Blessed Sacrament.

Every time a new chapel is built, “the first thing we do is go to the parish priest, who asks the bishop for permission to have the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.

Later on, they built other chapels in Aparecida de Goiânia, Goiás state; Belém and Santana do Araguaia, Pará state; Frutal and Centralina, Minas Gerais state; and Várzea Grande in Mato Grosso state.

They all offer Mass every week and, at some of the chapels, a priest meets with the faithful to hear their confessions, give them spiritual advice, and pray with them.

The Rede Marajó company director said that building these chapels over the last 30 years is “a grace” and the work of the Holy Spirit, because although it’s easy to start, persevering in the effort is not so simple.

Her children, who now run the gas station chain, are continuing with the project.

“They, much more than me, want these chapels and for people to pray there. It was something we instilled and it remained in their hearts,” she said.

An oasis for truckers and travelers

Vaz explained that the idea of building chapels came from thinking about truck drivers, who spend a lot of time on the roads, and said that the chapels are dedicated to Our Lady under her different Marian titles.

The businesswoman said that the priests who go to celebrate Mass at the stations give rosaries to the truck drivers and that they receive them “happily,” because “they love the Virgin” and feel her care for them.

Two truckers saved from suicide thanks to the chapels

“It feels like an oasis in the middle of the desert for them. This oasis has already saved at least two truckers from suicide,” she recounted.

The first truck driver arrived at the Nova Olinda station at night “very desperate” and “with a gun” because he “wanted to take his own life.”

When he saw him, the night watchman took him to the chapel of Our Lady of Graces and he stayed there for a while.

“When he left he was completely different and he no longer had the intention of committing suicide, and he said that he was even going to get rid of the weapon,” she recalled.

The other case occurred recently at the Belém station, in the chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth, when a truck driver who visited the chapel met a priest and decided not to commit suicide.

Vaz recounted that on that day the visiting priest “thought the sanctuary lamp next to the tabernacle had gone out,” so he went into the chapel to light it and saw a man crying.

“The priest identified himself and asked if he could help. The man said that he had gone into the chapel with the idea of taking his own life, but he had told God: ‘If I find a priest here who hears my confession, I’ll change my mind.’ It was just then that the priest came in and the man talked, the priest prayed with him, and he changed his mind,” she related.

Finally, Vaz said that the company encourages its employees to live the Catholic faith and that at all of their gas stations, even those that do not yet have a chapel, they offer a monthly Mass.

In addition, she said that every morning the workers pray together with the aid of the liturgy of the day.

She explained that the employees “aren’t obliged” to pray, but “everything stops until the prayer takes place.” However, Vaz noted that the vast majority participate, because “there is a great unity between Catholics and non-Catholics.”

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

300,000 youths make pilgrimage to Virgin of Itatí in Argentina

The pilgrim image of Maria de Itatí and the multitude of pilgrims in front of the basilica at the Shrine of the Virgin of Itatí in the Archdiocese of Corrientes, Argentina, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. / Photo credit: Itateñas News

Denver Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Under the theme “Together with Mary, we meet again as a synodal Church,” more than 300,000 young people from northeastern Argentina made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Virgin of Itatí in the Archdiocese of Corrientes on Saturday, Sept. 17.

The youths representing different dioceses gathered together again in person after two years, expressing concerns, expectations, and a commitment to the reality that they have to live in that region of the country.

“We are experiencing a true festival of brothers because we are family. A Church that journeys, makes noise, as Pope Francis proposes to us,” said Marianela Villar, the coordinator of youth ministry for the Diocese of Posadas.

The young people walked the more than six miles between Corrientes and Itatí, accompanied by 100 support vehicles.

“We are celebrating that the youth embrace our Mother who cares for and protects them. She shows the way, giving us strength and hope every day,” Villar said.

In this encounter with the Mother of Itatí, the pilgrims arrived at Mary’s shrine expressing their joy: “We feel great joy in our hearts because after two long years of waiting and disorientation, we can once again shelter under your mantle,” a teen from the province of Entre Ríos commented excitedly.

Bishop Hugo Nicolás Barbaro of San Roque de Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña, who gave the homily for the central Mass of the 43rd pilgrimage to the shrine, said that “the Virgin is not indifferent to a child who allows himself to be corrupted.”

“Listen to her sweet motherly voice; she wants you to be happy, capable of loving,” for you to share “the richness of your healthy, good life,” he encouraged.

“I place myself in your hands, Mother; guide me so that I may always do the will of God. You are the cause of my joy, of my peace. Do not ignore our supplications, Mother; deliver us from all danger, oh glorious and blessed Virgin,” the prelate prayed.

Some of the young pilgrims commented: “We look forward to this time with hope and joy. We want, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to walk together, build bridges, and embody the solutions proposed by our region.” 

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

Priest calls attempt to close Colombia Capitol building chapel ‘persecution of the Church’

A proposal to convert the Catholic chapel located in the capitol building where Colombia’s Congress meets into a “neutral place of worship” is “persecution of the Catholic Church,” said Father Raúl Ortiz. / EWTN News/YouTube screen shot

Denver Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

The proposal by Congressman Juan Carlos Losada to convert the Catholic chapel located in the capitol building where Colombia’s Congress meets into a “neutral place of worship” is “persecution of the Catholic Church,” said Father Raúl Ortiz, director of the Department of Doctrine, Promotion, and Unity of the Dialogue of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference.

On Sept. 14, Losada, a member of the Liberal Party, announced on Twitter that he had introduced a proposal in the House of Representatives to transform “the Mary Help of Christians chapel located in the National Capitol into a neutral place of worship.”

The document was introduced Sept. 13 and was signed by Congressmen Alirio Uribe of the Historical Pact (President Gustavo Petro’s leftist coalition) and Luis Alberto Albán of the Commons Party, the political expression of the now officially disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The attempt to close this Catholic chapel has been rejected by several members of Congress and Catholic leaders, who have expressed their opposition on social media with the hashtag #LaCapillaSeQueda (the chapel stays).

The move takes place three weeks after the Catholic chapel at El Dorado International Airport was closed to be converted into “space for neutral reflection” for all religions.

Juan Vicente Córdoba, the bishop of Fontibón, the Bogotá suburb where the airport is located, said the company that manages the airport closed the place of Catholic worship following the notification of the Secretary of Government of the Mayor’s Office of Bogotá, which asked the company “to get the Catholic Church out of there and apportion it to all religions.”

Speaking to EWTN News, Ortiz pointed out that “lately we are witnessing a wave of interventions regarding religious freedom,” based on a “misinterpretation of the public policy on religious freedom” of 2018.

The priest said that this misunderstanding “leads some people to think that places of Catholic worship that are found in the public buildings of the state,” such as Congress, “have to be suppressed so that the neutrality that a state should have is not compromised.” 

In addition, he pointed out that the congressmen seek to convert Catholic centers into “places of neutral worship,” “but we know that freedom of religion means that that neutral worship does not exist.”

“There is the neutrality of the state, yes, but neutral worship does not [exist] because the form of worship is the identity of a person in his relationship with spirituality. So there are no neutral forms of worship; there are rather interreligious spaces,” he explained.

In the case of Congress, Ortiz said that “the paradox of this matter” is that in addition to the Catholic chapel, “there has been an interreligious place for some years” in the building with a lectern, a Bible, and books of other religions.

“So, there we are realizing that this is rather a persecution of the Catholic Church. We consider it that way,” the priest said.

Response of the Catholic Church

In the interview with EWTN News, the priest said that the Catholic Church in Colombia has called on the Directorate of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior “for Catholic places of worship to be respected.”

Ortiz explained that the Church’s claim to the chapel is based both on the rights acquired over that space — “because the Catholic Church has managed this place of worship for many decades” — and on the principle of proportionality, because “the vast majority of parliamentarians are Catholics.”

The priest asked the faithful to continue defending their Catholic identity, which includes places of worship, because in these places “we meet in liturgical assembly.”

“Also those that have been built or have been adapted in those places that serve the public; for example, at the airport, perhaps in hospitals, in prisons, in Congress,” he added.

Ortiz said that “they are public places, but with private chapels for Catholic worship. So, that’s why we must identify ourselves as Catholics and go on defending ourselves; of course, within the framework of dialogue and within the framework of religious freedom.”

The priest pointed out that it’s not necessary to suppress the rights of Catholics to defend the rights of others.

“Instead of suppressing places of worship, what the state would have to do, if it wants to defend the religious diversity of Colombia, would be to create new interreligious spaces and not suppress those that already exist,” he said.

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