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New book aims to help Catholics find Christ in the coronavirus pandemic

Victoria, Canada, Jan 17, 2021 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- When Father Harrison Ayre looks back on 2020 and the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the phrase that immediately comes to his mind is ‘dazed and confused.’ 

“I look back and I think to myself, ‘Oh, I could have put [that] more pastorally here and there,’” Fr. Ayre said. “But I’m also quite forgiving of myself in that regard because I think we were just all dazed and confused and no one knew what to do, because virtually everyone has no experience with a worldwide pandemic to base this off of.”

Fr. Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria in Canada, and co-host of the podcast ‘Clerically Speaking.’ His diocese initially suspended public Masses in March of 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Despite the early days of lockdown being a challenging and scary time in so many ways, Father Harrison remembers something else that happened during that time.  

“For me personally, it was actually a time of great spiritual renewal,” he said. “My prayer life was never as good as it was in those three months of kind of initial lockdowns and closures. It was a really a time of intimacy with the Lord, and praying - really interceding for the Church.”

A big part of that spiritual renewal involved the Bible. 

“The Bible is not just a historical document that tells us about the past, but rather it's something living. God is speaking to the Church today through the events of scripture. Scripture is always pumping, alive.” 

The situation of global lockdown caused Fr. Ayre to read certain Bible passages with fresh eyes. For example, the story of Israel’s exile to Babylon, in the Old Testament. 

“They lost the temple, they lost the kingship, they lost their land...Everything that made them, the Jewish people, the chosen people of God, was removed from them,” he said.

“And in that process of that absence from everything, they actually came to a deeper appreciation of who God was and it purified them...It helped them see that God is not just the God of our land. This is the God of the universe. This is the true King. And they came back with a renewed energy and a renewed life into their vocation to be the light to the world.”

Fr. Ayre said the Church is a new Israel, and we can look at the events of Israel to help us try to understand what is happening in the Church today. 

“This is not new in the history of God's working with his people. He does this with Israel,” he said. “This has happened in history before too in the Church, with other plagues and churches closed down. This is not a unique moment. This is how God often acts to bring us to an even deeper vigor.”

“There's a deep hope here for renewal, for the Church, if we can open our hearts to listen.”

Fr. Ayre’s experience of spiritual renewal is something he hopes to share with the world through a new book - “Finding Christ in the Crisis: What the Pandemic Can Teach Us.” He co-wrote the book with Michael Heinlein, his editor at the Our Sunday Visitor publication Simply Catholic.

Fr. Ayre said the book was inspired by conversations he and Michael had during the initial lockdowns.

“We were just noticing … reactionism to a lot of things that were happening, instead of quiet receptivity,” Fr. Ayre said. “Sometimes there were perhaps some unhealthy attitudes manifesting itself. That's not always a bad thing, per se. It's not a judgment, it's just a revelation.” 

As the two talked more and more about it, they decided to create a series of articles that could publish on the Simply Catholic website. But Fr. Ayre said it didn’t seem like it was enough. 

“As we kind of talked about more and more, we said, ‘no, this needs to be like a resource that you can hand out to people.’ We just want this to be a tool to help build hope and to build up the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love.”

“Finding Christ in the Crisis” was published in the fall of 2020. The book was written in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but Fr. Ayre hopes it can serve as a resource for Catholics navigating other crises in the life of the Church. 

“The Church is not immune to crises,” he said. “And so we just hope and pray that this is asking that big question, ‘where is Christ in this?’”

Fr. Ayre emphasized that we can be realistic about the difficulties of this time, while still maintaining the virtue of Christian hope. 

“I think there is a balance there... But when we do feel down or alone or discouraged - that those feelings won't go away, per se, but the Christian faith says that this is where the cross is at work,” he said. “Often that's the place where Christ actually might be showing his closeness to us.”

“But the cross is still a cross. When we say that the cross is really the source of hope as a Christian, it doesn't remove the pain of the cross. It just inserts God's presence into that pain.”

“When we're feeling discouraged alone, angry...It only becomes a problem when we don't do that rooted in Christian hope, which is not wishful thinking. But rather to say, I recognize the presence of Christ here. When I'm discouraged, Christ is suffering that with me because he has taken on our humanity to suffer this with me. When I'm feeling alone, the Lord is alone with me, so that I'm actually really not alone.”

“Finding Christ in the Crisis” is available on Amazon and Our Sunday Visitor. 

This interview originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. Listen to the interview below, beginning at 3:30. 


CNA Newsroom · Ep. 89: Taking Back the Year

British Columbia hospice to be evicted over euthanasia opposition 

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- A hospice in Delta, British Columbia is laying off all staff next month as they will be evicted from their building due to their opposition to euthanasia.

The Delta Hospice is a 10-bed hospice. It is operated by the Delta Hospice Society, an organization which was founded in 1991. The hospice is located a one-minute drive away from a hospital which provides euthanasia.

Last year, the Delta Hospice Society was informed that they would be losing $1.5 million in funding from the Fraser Health Authority, a public health care authority in British Columbia, as well as its permission to operate as a hospice, in February 2021. This was due to their refusal to offer “assisted dying,” the Canadian legal term for euthanasia.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized federally in Canada in June 2016. Religious hospitals are not forced to provide euthanasia, but no such conscience rights exist for secular institutions like the Delta Hospice Society.

Angelina Ireland, president of the Delta Hospice, told CNA on Thursday that she thinks her organization has “clearly been targeted to make an example of how you will not defy a government directive.”

“If the government tells you to do something, you’d better do it,” she told CNA. “And then if you don’t do it, then they’ll basically just shut you down and destroy the society that you’ve built for the last 30 years.”

“We were only 10 beds. We are hardly high profile. We hardly matter,” said Ireland. “We have always been committed to palliative care.”

The Delta Hospice Society lost a court case when they attempted to block the membership of euthanasia activists in the organization. They are appealing and hoping the Canadian Supreme Court will take up their case.

The hospice's case regarded its efforts to hold a meeting and vote on proposed changes to its constitution and bylaws that would define its Christian identity and exclude the provision of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in June that the hospice had acted wrongly in its attempts to define its Christian identity and to exclude euthanasia, because it had not been indiscriminately approving new applications for membership during 2020.

The hospice's actions were challenged by three of its members, Sharon Farrish, Christopher Pettypiece, and James Levin, who are in favor of euthanasia.

And while Delta Hospice is about to lose its physical building, Ireland said that her group’s work in promoting a peaceful natural death will continue.

“We've been in society for 30 years and for the last 10 of those, we had a facility,” she told CNA. “So what we will do is we will go back to our roots, and we will continue to do what we did for 20 years. We went directly to the community, directly to people's homes.”

“Without the building, we don’t stop being a society and we don’t stop advocating and doing the kind of work we’ve always done,” said Ireland.
Ironically, Ireland mused it may be “safer” to do exclusively home visits.

“If people are entering facilities that offer euthanasia, and they can’t get away from it, it may be a safer place, a safe space for them to have support and help in their own home,” she said.

“So we will continue to do that. That has been the purpose of our society from the beginning,” said Ireland, “And we will just soldier on and go back to our roots.”

COVID-19 outbreak at Portuguese nursing home run by religious sisters

Evora, Portugal, Jan 14, 2021 / 09:22 pm (CNA).- A convent of Conceptionist Sisters in the Archdiocese of Évora, Portugal is experiencing a major COVID-19 outbreak, and the local bishop is asking for prayers for the sisters and the elderly they serve.

According to a January 14 statement from the archdiocese, 14 of the 16 religious sisters have been affected by virus, as have 12 workers of the residence for the elderly “Nossa Senhora do Paço” (Our Lady of the Palace) and several residents.

“I am extremely concerned with the worrying news regarding the Conceptionist Nuns from the Immaculate Conception Monastery of Campo Maior, as well as the residents they serve,” said Archbishop Francisco Senra Coelho. “We are currently awaiting further tests while all of the nuns remain isolated in their own cells.”

The archbishop asked the whole archdiocese to join in prayer for a quick recovery for the whole community.

According to the superior of the Conceptionist community in Campo Maior, “there is only one sister who has more severe symptoms, such as a high fever and body aches. The rest have some cough and the initial fever is gone.”

“At the moment we are all isolated, each in her cell,” she continued. “The two sisters who tested negative provide us with our meals and the city hall (in Campo Maior) is being excellent with us, it is supporting us in everything we need.”

Among the 14 infected nuns, the youngest is 26 years old and the oldest is 77.

The religious congregation runs the preeminent nursing house in the region, and formerly ran an outpatient program for lonely elders, who make up a significant part of the local population.

The outpatient program has been shut down since April 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a record-breaking surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases since Christmas, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa ordered the country into a total lockdown starting on Friday, January 15.

The government is considering exceptions so a presidential election can take place on January 24.


Canada’s Supreme Court says archdiocese is responsible for orphanage abuse

CNA Staff, Jan 14, 2021 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- Canada’s highest court has ruled that the Archdiocese of St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador will be responsible for Mount Cashel Orphanage child abuse lawsuits against the Congregation of Christian Brothers.

On Thursday, Canada’s Supreme Court announced that it rejected a final appeal of the archdiocese, which had argued that it should not be held responsible for abuse by the congregation (also known as the Christian Brothers of Ireland), because it was the lay group of brothers and not diocesan priests in charge of the orphanage.

The court did not provide a reason for its decision.

According to the CBC, the decision ends a 21-year court process for a case involving four men, who served as “test cases” for about 60 men total, who suffered abuse as children at Mount Cashel Orphanage between the 1950s-1970s. The abuse was uncovered in a 1989 investigation known as the Hughes Inquiry.

The Archdiocese of St. John’s will now be responsible for paying any outstanding settlements with the men since the Christian Brothers of Ireland went bankrupt nine years ago. The CBC reported that the archdiocese will now be responsible for paying roughly $2.61 million in damages for the four victims in the case.

“As this judgement has just been received, the Archdiocese will need to review and analyze it with its legal counsel before providing any further comment,” the Archdiocese of St. John’s said in a statement posted to its website on January 14.

“The Archdiocese of St. John’s has immense sympathy for those who suffered abuse at Mount Cashel Orphanage and we ask that all join with us in praying for healing for those who suffer as a result of abuse.”

Blessed Edmund Rice founded the Presentations Brothers, later called the Christian Brothers, in Ireland in 1808. They were founded as an order of men dedicated to education of poor children, and the Brothers became renowned for their schools all over the world.

Beginning in the 1980s, numerous accusations of child abuse in schools and homes run by the Christian Brothers emerged in multiple countries, including the United States, Ireland, Australia and the U.K. as well as Canada.



Catholic women launch campaign spiritually to adopt seminarians as Argentine seminary closes

San Rafael, Argentina, Jan 12, 2021 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- A group of Catholic women in the Diocese of San Rafael have launched a campaign to adopt the seminarians affected by the closure of the local seminary.

The campaign was launched by the association called "Madres del pañuelo celeste" (Mothers of the blue scarf,) a reference to the scarf that identifies the Catholic pro-life movement in Argentina. They said that campaign is especially needed since the future of the San Rafael seminarians is uncertain.

On July 27 the Bishop of San Rafael, José María Taussig, announced that, by order of the Vatican, the Santa María Madre de Dios Seminary would be closed by the end of 2020 and the seminarians would be relocated to other Argentine dioceses.

The seminary was at the center of a conflict after the bishop announced that, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Communion could only be received standing and in the hand. The seminary’s formation team was perceived as opposing the bishop for continuing to give Communion on the tongue.

The seminary was well known in the diocese and in Argentina, because of the large number of diocesan priests who had been trained there. It closed at the end of November 2020, without providing any alternative to the more than 20 seminarians, who had to return back to their families.

In a statement sent to ACI Prensa, the Catholic group explained that there are two ways to join the spiritual adoption of seminarians. The first is “a direct adoption, by means of which a person calls or sends a WhatsApp message and a seminarian will be assigned to that person or family to pray for him, while the seminarian prays for his adopters.”

The second way “is to become part of a movement that was born in the United States and is called ‘Seven sisters.’ In this approach, groups of seven women offer a weekly hour of Adoration to the Blessed Sacrament for the seminarian or adopted priest.”

“Between the seven, an hour of Eucharistic Adoration is completed each day for the adoptee and his intentions,” they noted.

They explained that the purpose of this campaign “is to accompany seminarians in the difficult situation they have been left in after the closure of the Santa María Madre de Dios Seminary, support them in their suffering, discernment and in their search for a solution that will allow them to fulfill their priestly vocation.”

Colombian bishop, 74, dies from COVID-19 complications

Bogotá, Colombia, Jan 12, 2021 / 04:57 pm (CNA).- The Colombian diocese of Santa Marta announced on Tuesday that Bishop Luis Adriano Piedrahita Sandoval, 74, died January 11 of complications from COVID-19.

“With deep sorrow and pain, but with our hope placed in Our Lord Jesus Christ, conqueror of death and sin, we communicate to you that at 5:15 p.m. our bishop, Monsignor Luis Adriano Piedrahita Sandoval, has been called to the House of the Father,” the diocese said in a statement.

The bells of all local churches will toll on Tuesday, the diocese said. Funeral arrangements for the bishop have not yet been announced, but will include stringent social distancing requirements and other safety protocols.

Luz Marina Medina, communication director for the Colombian Bishops Conference, confirmed to ACI Prensa that Piedrahita Sandoval is the first Colombian bishop to die of COVID-19.

“We pray for the repose of his soul, and we also pray for another bishop in very serious condition also in Santa Marta, Bishop emeritus Ugo Puccini,” Medina said.

Bishop Piedrahita Sandoval was born on October 7, 1946 and was ordained a priest on October 29, 1972. In 1999, he became auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Cali, and on August 5, 2014, Pope Francis appointed him Bishop of Santa Marta, on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

After a new spike in COVID-19 cases – with up to 400 deaths per day - many parts of Colombia have returned to lockdowns.

President Iván Duque announced that vaccinations would begin in January, but Minister of Health Fernando Ruiz said on January 10 that “no date is set” because no arrangements have been solidified with vaccine suppliers.


Catholic bishops reject proposal to decriminalize abortion in Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Jan 11, 2021 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- The Dominican bishops’ conference issued a statement Sunday rejecting a proposal to decriminalize abortion under certain conditions in a newly revised penal code being debated in the Dominican Congress.

“Life is the first civil right that is mentioned in our Constitution in its art. 37, which reads: ‘The right to life is inviolable from conception to death.’ Life is a right prior to all legislation. Without life there are no possibilities to enjoy any other right,” the bishops said in the Jan. 10 statement.

Despite the fact that the nation's constitution rejects the possibility of legalizing abortion, radical feminist activists have been trying to de facto legalize it via a "decriminalization" using the penal code.

“According to our own Constitution, the State cannot apply the death penalty even to the worst offenders, since it says: 'The death penalty may not be established, pronounced or applied, in any case.' So, how to accept that in our country abortion is consecrated, in the so-called three causes, in which innocent creatures are killed, the nasciturus (the unborn child)?” the bishops' document says.

In December 2020, the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, told the left-leaning Spanish newspaper El País that  “I disagree, as does the majority of the population, not only in the Dominican Republic but also in the world, with free abortion, but I do think that there must be grounds that allow the interruption of the pregnancy. That has been the official position of our party.”

The Dominican congress, with the president's support, is debating legalizing abortion in the cases pertaining to “the health of the mother,” rape, and "severe fetal malformation."

According to the bishops' conference, “Incorporating abortion into our legislation, in any circumstance, is a flagrant constitutional violation, and a blow to the social and democratic state of law. Approving the so-called three grounds would be a serious violation of the right to life that could only be based on a wrong interpretation of the Constitution.”

“We are shocked to know that in our society there are those who think that sacrificing innocent children under euphemistic names such as 'a decision about one's own body,' 'women's empowerment' or 'sexual and reproductive rights' can be seen as part of authentic progress.”

Regarding "therapeutic abortion," the bishops explain that "Medical ethics indicates that in the case of complications in a pregnancy, efforts should be made to save mother and child and never see the premeditated death of one of them as an easy way out, as established in the official protocols of the Ministry of Public Health, which have been used in public hospitals in our country for many years."

“Let us promote the approval of a Penal Code in accordance with our Constitution, one that shows to the world that Dominicans love life, and that motherhood is one of the great treasures that the Dominican woman and our Nation have.”

Venezuelan Bishop, 69, dies of COVID-19

Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 8, 2021 / 03:12 pm (CNA).- The Venezuelan Bishops' Conference (CEV) announced Friday morning that the 69-year-old Bishop of Trujillo, Cástor Oswaldo Azuaje, has died of COVID-19.

Several priests across the country have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic reached the country, but Azuaje is the first Venezuelan bishop to die from the disease.

Azuaje was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, on October 19, 1951. He joined the Carmelites and completed his formation in Spain, Israel and Rome. He professed as a Discalced Carmelite in 1974, and was ordained a priest on Christmas Day, 1975, in Venezuela.

Azuaje assumed several leadership responsibilities within his religious Order.

In 2007 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Maracaibo, and in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Bishop of Trujillo.

“The Venezuelan Episcopate joins in grief over the death of our brother in the episcopal ministry, we remain in communion with Christian hope in the promise of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” the brief statement says.

Venezuela has 42 active bishops.

Virtual pilgrimage to Mexico's monument of Christ the King announced

Guanajuato, Mexico, Jan 8, 2021 / 09:45 am (CNA).- The traditional youth pilgrimage to the monument of Christ the King on the “Cerro del Cubilete” (Dice Cup Hill) in Guanajuato, Mexico, will take place virtually Jan. 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The youth pilgrimage, carried out for almost four decades and organized by the “Movimiento Testimonio y Esperanza” (Witness and Hope Movement), gathers around 50,000 young Catholics each year.  

Young members of the movement Young members of the movement "Testimonio y Esperanza" at the Cubilete Mountain / Testimnio y Esperanza/CNA

The statue of Christ the King that crowns the “Cerro del Cubilete” measures 75 feet and was erected in 1950 as a tribute to the martyrs of the Cristero War. At the beginning of the 20th century, the persecution by the Mexican government against the Catholic faith, which included the prohibition of religious congregations, limitations on worship and even the prohibition of a priest dressing as such, reached a point where civilians of various parts of the country took up arms.

The Mexican government responded with an even greater repression, and the murder of priests and laity. Among the martyrs of the Cristero War was the San José Sánchez del Río, murdered at the age of 14 and canonized by Pope Francis in 2016.

The Cristero rebels were known for their shouts of "Long live Christ the King!" and "Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!"

The statue of Christ the King stands where a smaller one was destroyed by dynamite in 1928 by the government of Plutarco Elías Calles.

 The “Cerro del Cubilete” is also significant in that it marks the country’s geographical center. Considered one of the most historically important religious sites in Mexico, the shrine sits at 8,461 feet above sea level.

It serves as a symbol to unite the nation’s Catholics after the scars of the anti-Catholic period, and embodies the country’s history of religious belief in the power of Christ and as a defiance to suppressors of religious freedom. 

In a statement, the organizers pointed out that "aware of the current situation that exists throughout the country, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the whole world" they decided to "carry out this event virtually - not in person.” 

The virtual pilgrimage will be broadcast through the Facebook page of “Movimiento Testimonio y Esperanza,” the Facebook page of “Cubilete Oficial,” and from the YouTube channel of “Movimiento Testimonio y Esperanza.”

The broadcast will begin Jan. 30 at 11:45 a.m. EST.

Mexican bishops call for peace in the US after violence at the Capitol

CNA Staff, Jan 7, 2021 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Secretary General of the Mexican Bishops Conference made a call on behalf of the Mexican episcopate for peace to prevail in the United States.

In a tweet from his official account, Bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola said that the Mexican bishops “regret the events and the deaths occurred at the United States Capitol," and added that “democracy and the rule of law need to prevail over the acts of violence.”

“To the dead and infected by the pandemic, let's not add more victims of riots, insurrections and wars,” he said.

Mexican media has been heavily covering the events at the US Capitol and the rocky transition of power from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden. With a heavy dependency on the U.S. economy and international politics, events in America have become regular top news in the country for the last two months.