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Bishops of Puerto Rico express their solidarity with Cuban bishops’ 'desire for freedom'

Fernando Medina/Shutterstock

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

The Puerto Rican Bishops’ Conference expressed its solidarity with the desire of the Cuban bishops “to be heard, for peace, freedom, sincere dialogue and freedom of speech to address the major problems” confronting the island nation.

"From Puerto Rico we join in their hopes for a Cuba that, in peace and brotherhood, will achieve the desired changes for a more decent and happy life," the Puerto Rican bishops wrote in a statement published earlier this month.

The message of the Puerto Rican bishops was published as a show of support for their Cuban counterparts, who three days before the planned Nov. 15 nationwide demonstrations supported the people’s right to publicly express "their discontentment over the deterioration of the economic and social situation" on the island.

In their Nov. 12 message, the Cuban bishops also pointed out that the solution will not be reached with "impositions, nor by calling for confrontation."

The Cuban bishops implored “that the paths of understanding, reconciliation and peace be paved so that the various proposals on the present and future destiny of Cuba find an area of common sense, tolerance, fraternity and harmony; and a harmonious and civilized dialogue be established in which the best solutions to the challenges that concern them can be found” in a Cuba in great distress.

Recently, activists and priests in various places in Cuba have denounced the persecution, harassment, and the militarization of the streets to prevent the peaceful marches for freedom in Cuba called for Nov. 15.

The protests were also intended to repeat the massive and historic demonstrations of July 11. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets and raised their voices that day for the first time in decades to demand the end of the communist dictatorship established by the late Fidel Castro 62 years ago and today led by his successor Miguel Díaz-Canel.

According to the Center for Incident Reports of the Foundation for Pan-American Democracy (FDP), part of a Florida-based NGO whose mission is to publicize cases of abuse and persecution in Cuba, since Nov. 15, there have been 108 people arrested and 131 under surveillance in various cities on the island.

Given the situation, the bishops of Puerto Rico urged the faithful to also pray for their brother bishops’ desire for "a gesture of clemency" for "the imprisoned" to be fulfilled.

“We echo their call for non-violence and non-confrontation. We pray for all the Cuban people so that, in these moments of so much anguish, upheaval, pain, and material scarcity as well as a lack of rights and freedoms, they know how to embrace the Christian discourse of peace, love and hope in a Provident and attentive God," they wrote.

Finally, they asked Our Lady of Charity for her intercession and sent a "strong fraternal and supportive embrace."

“Together with you, we pray to Our Lady of Charity who has also made herself known in our homeland due to the devotion of so many dear Cuban brothers and sisters who live in our midst. May she accompany you in your concerns as pastors and intercede for a Cuba, joined together in brotherhood, unified and clothed with true hope,” the Puerto Rican bishops concluded.

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

Colombian court lifts ban of video by influencer Kika affirming traditional marriage

Colombian influencer Erika "Kika" Nieto / Screenshot from ADF International tweet

Mexico City Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

The Constitutional Court of Colombia has overturned a lower court’s decision that forced Colombian influencer Erika “Kika” Nieto to take down a video in which she expressed her Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“No one should be censored or fear criminal penalties for expressing their beliefs,” said Santiago Guevara, a lawyer for Nueva Democracia, an NGO that with the support of the Christian legal defense organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, represented Nieto.

“Together with Kika, we are delighted that the Court has reversed this censorship decision. Kika stood firm during this ordeal to defend everyone's freedom to share their beliefs," Guevara said. 

Kika Nieto, who is a Christian, has faced legal proceedings since April 2020, initiated by José Francisco Montufar Rodríguez, a lawyer and LGBTIQ+ activist.

Montufar Rodríguez demanded that the Colombian courts censor a video in which Nieto said: “It is my opinion that God made us all, and created man and created woman so that man is with woman and woman is with man and that's it.”

“What we have done after that, as man with man and woman with woman, I don't think is right. However, note this: I tolerate it,” Nieto added.

In the recording, posted in 2018 under the title “My most sincere video,” Nieto answered questions from her followers.

After Montufar Rodríguez filed a complaint about the views of the Colombian influencer, a court ordered the young woman to remove the video and denied her the right to free speech. Then, on Nov. 23, the Constitutional Court overturned that decision and dismissed the lawsuit.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, Guevara said that although his client is once again free to share her convictions, the defense is disappointed by some details of the Constitutional Court ruling.

"Although the lower court’s ruling that violated Kika's rights has been  overturned, [the Court] did not rule on the content of those rights," Guevara lamented.

"This criticism is based on the fact that, regardless of whether the (plaintiff’s) petition for judicial protection was declared admissible or not, the truth is that the Court was expected to reaffirm the precedent set in SU-355 of 2019 and point out that what was expressed by Kika in her video was protected by her fundamental rights to free speech and religious freedom,” he said.

“In this regard, the Court left out an analysis of absolute relevance," he Nieto's lawyer explained.

SU-355 involved a journalist claiming in a YouTube video that “Kika Nieto hates gays even if she says otherwise.” The case distinguished between the subjective opinions of free speech and the requirement of news reporting to be based on objective verifiable facts.

Guevara said that although the ruling is “final” for this specific case, “regarding the rights that we sought to protect, both those of the plaintiff and Kika’s, there is no position of the Court on the underlying issues that closes the debate definitively.”

“Therefore, if a similar case is presented, this judgment does not set a precedent for how to resolve it, except in procedural matters … it would have been appropriate to have a precedent that would give clear and bolstered protection to free speech when court rulings are issued based on religious beliefs,” he said.

Guevara explained that the court “resolved the case by focusing on  procedural matters. It considered that the requirements of immediacy and subsidiarity of the legal action weren’t met, since the plaintiff didn’t first resort to (other avenues) and filed long after the events took place.” 

He continued: “Therefore, it was decided to declare the petition for protection inadmissible, which has a positive effect, since the lower court ruling that violated Kika's rights was overturned, but the court made no pronouncement on the content of those rights.”

In that regard, the lawyer for Nueva Democracia stated that this shouldn’t be considered a victory for free speech and freedom of religion.

“Although Kika can repost her video because the ruling that unjustifiably censored her was overturned, the truth is that this is due to procedural reasons. There is no decision here that allows us to affirm that the Court ruled in favor of freedom of religion and free speech,” he reiterated.

Guevara criticized the Constitutional Court for not giving Nieto’s case "the importance it deserved.”

"We were dealing with a case that obviously violated free speech, religious freedom and there was a Court precedent (SU-355 of 2019) and none of that was taken into account," he added.

Tomás Henríquez, ADF International Area Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, declared that "if we value a free society, protecting the right to speak freely is paramount."

“We welcome with satisfaction the Court's decision to overturn the ruling censoring Kika Nieto. However, we regret that the underlying issue of censorship wasn’t addressed and affirm the right of everyone to speak freely. We must always choose debate over censorship,” he said. 

“Ultimately, people and democracy suffer when voices are silenced,” he added.

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

Relic of Saint John Paul II stolen from historic basilica

Blessed Sacrament Basilica in Buenos Aires, Argentina. / Flickr/Luis Alveart (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov 22, 2021 / 13:07 pm (CNA).

The rector of the Polish Catholic Mission in Argentina, Father Jorge Jacek Twarog, reported Sunday that the relic of Saint John Paul II, which was kept in Blessed Sacrament Basilica in Buenos Aires, was stolen.

The relic, which came to Argentina from Poland in 2016, consists of a drop of the blood of Saint John Paul II held in a small square shaped case with a golden frame and mounted on a metal representation of the pope’s papal coat of arms.

It was personally given to Twarog on August 19, 2016 by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow, at the Archbishop's Palace in the former capital of Poland.

The basilica’s pastor, Father Rafael Cáceres Olave and the Catholic community are taking all measures to find the relic and praying that it is retrieved soon.

Pro-life Catholic is surprise winner in first round of Chile’s presidential elections

José Antonio Kast. / Official Facebook page.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 22, 2021 / 01:30 am (CNA).

José Antonio Kast, a Catholic politician who supports socially conservative policies and a free market economy, won a surprise victory on Sunday in the first round of Chile’s presidential elections.

He will now face a run-off against Gabriel Boric, the leader of a leftist coalition, on Dec. 19.

Kast, 55, the son of German Catholic immigrants who started a successful sausage business, is the father of nine children and has always been an outspoken supporter of the right to life of the unborn, traditional marriage, and the rights of parents concerning the education of their children.

He is also a member of the Schoenstatt Catholic movement, which was founded in Germany in 1914 and has a strong presence in Chile.

Kast started his political career as a congressman representing the center-right Democratic Union. In 2016, he left the party and became an independent until 2019, when he founded his own movement, Republican Action.

When Kast ran for president for the first time in 2017, he gained just 6% of the vote, running with the slogan “Fewer taxes, less government, pro-life.”

According to local analysts, Kant’s unexpected victory is a reaction to the crisis produced by violent protests that started in October 2019, driven by demands for higher salaries, improved pensions, and greater state participation to level the economic field.

The conservative Sebastián Piñera, the outgoing president, was forced into calling a plebiscite that decided in favor of re-writing the current constitution.

Chile was until recently regarded as the most stable and developed country in Latin America. But the ongoing violent protests moved many Chileans to vote for Kast, who promises stability, economic recovery, and support for traditional values.

Kast was projected to win 28% of the votes, followed by former protests leader Boric with 25%. The U.S.-educated libertarian Franco Parisi placed in third, with 14% of the votes, although he didn’t fly back to Chile from the U.S. for the elections.

Due to his conservative message, critics have called Kast “the Chilean Trump” and “the Chilean Bolsonaro,” after the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. They have also highlighted that he received support from several retired military officers and his oldest brother held ministerial positions during the infamous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Kast presents himself as the leader of a new political movement in Chile based on three pillars: freedom, the strength of the traditional family, and the defense of law and order. Unlike Trump and Bolsonaro, Kast is known for his polite manners and respect for his ideological rivals and critics.

During a late-night off-the-cuff speech following his victory, Kast told a crowd of supporters: “The first thing is to give thanks to God, because this has been a peaceful day... and after God, I want to thank my family, my wife, and each one of my children.”

100 years ago Jesus protected Our Lady of Guadalupe in a bomb attack

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico. / David Ramos/CNA

Mexico City Newsroom, Nov 20, 2021 / 09:22 am (CNA).

A century ago, in 1921, there was an attack perpetrated against Our Lady of Guadalupe in the old basilica in Mexico City, in which the Marian image was protected by a crucifix.

“Nov. 14 marks the 100th anniversary of the terrible attack against the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe. They wanted to destroy her blessed image,” Father Eduardo Chávez, doctor in Church history and general director of the Institute of Guadalupan Studies, told CNA's sister agency ACI Prensa.

"We also commemorate 100 years of the wonderful testimony of Jesus, since it was he who covered, cared for and protected his mother and our mother Saint Mary of Guadalupe," said Chávez, who is also postulator of the cause of canonization of St. Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin Mary appeared.

On Nov. 14, 1921, a bomb exploded that a man had hidden in some flowers that he placed in the basilica.

“Around 10:30 in the morning, a dynamite bomb went off hidden among the flowers. The damages were at the steps of the altar, which are made of marble, the brass candlesticks, and the Sacred Image of our Crucified Lord, that fell to the ground and was left bent,” indicates the story that is in the back of the current basilica, with the crucifix and the photos that were taken after the attack.

The explosion bent the crucifix, which is now is ​​known as "Santo Cristo del Atentado," or "Holy Christ of the Attack.”

"Testimony of this is the Christ who is bent and that we have here in the Basilica of Guadalupe itself as a testimony of the immense love of God, of the marvelous love of God for her and for all of us who still have her here,” Chávez said.

The story recalls that the glass of the painting that protected the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe "did not even crash" after the explosion.

The attack was the prelude to what years later would be religious persecution in Mexico, during the government of Plutarco Elías Calles.

Chávez told ACI Prensa that the Virgin of Guadalupe "takes away our fear" and "gives us the faith and hope to live in love."

The priest recalled that “the most holy image of Guadalupe carries Jesus in her womb, in her immaculate womb. It is the center of the same image and that is why it is a sign of the Church.”

In this sense, he explained, "when trying to destroy the image, they tried to destroy the Church itself and they could not because this comes from God."

“Just as Saint Mary of Guadalupe, in her marvelous image, is the work of God, so the Church is also the work of God. Christ is the head of this blessed church that proclaims truth, justice, love, forgiveness, mercy, what our people need so much today,” Chávez said.

"Since they could not destroy the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, we must never destroy it in our hearts, in our family, our community, our Church," Chávez said. "The Virgin of Guadalupe is here to give us Jesus Christ our Lord, her beloved Son, He who is the center of the Church."

Religious freedom advocates ‘appalled’ as State Department removes Nigeria from watch list

The flag of Nigeria on a military uniform. / Bumble Dee/Shutterstock.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 18, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

After the U.S. State Department released its list of countries with the most egregious religious freedom violations this week, human rights advocates expressed shock that Nigeria was removed from this year’s list.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement on Nov. 17 saying that it was “appalled” at the State Department’s “unexplainable” decision to treat Nigeria as a country with no severe religious freedom violations.

In its own annual religious freedom report, USCIRF found that Nigerian citizens faced violence by militant Islamists, as well as discrimination, arbitrary detentions, and capital blasphemy sentences by state-sanctioned Shariah courts.

Kidnappers in Nigeria targeted Christians for abduction and execution, at least 11 churches were attacked in the country’s Middle Belt, and the local chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Adamawa State was beheaded by Boko Haram fighters in 2020, according to the report.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja called on Nigeria’s Catholics to pray the rosary for an end to “the irrational killings and attacks resulting in internally displaced people.”

David Curry, the CEO of Open Doors USA, said that his organization had documented thousands of killings of Nigerian Christians in the past decade.

“In no other country on earth do we see such a sustained level of outright violence directed towards a Christian community, and the situation has only deteriorated over the past 12 months. The Nigerian government has stubbornly refused to address this violence,” Curry said.

Last year, the then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is making a Nov. 18-19 visit to Nigeria to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, has yet to give a public explanation as to why the State Department removed Nigeria from this designation this year.

“Each year the Secretary of State has the responsibility to identify governments and non-state actors, who, because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act,” Blinken said in a statement on Nov. 17.

“In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” he said.

This year, the State Department has designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as the Countries of Particular Concern for religious freedom violations.

Russia was a new addition to this list in 2021 after religious freedom conditions in the country deteriorated in 2020.

The USCIRF has highlighted Russia’s detention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, large number of criminal blasphemy cases, and enforcement of repressive laws and policies on religion in Russian-occupied Crimea.

The State Department also placed Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom in 2021, and designated al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern.

“The challenges to religious freedom in the world today are structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched. They exist in every country,” Blinken said.

“They demand sustained global commitment from all who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo. They require the international community’s urgent attention.”

Sam Brownback, the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador, called the removal of Nigeria from the State Department’s list of religious freedom concerns “a serious blow to religious freedom in both Nigeria and across the region.”

“Just when we should be doing everything possible to stop the relentless violence that’s targeting Christians and others, we do the opposite,” Brownback, Senior Fellow at Open Doors USA, said.

“This rewards the Nigerian government for tolerating severe religious freedom violations and sends a message to extremists that their actions will continue to go unpunished. People of faith in Nigeria will bear the fallout of this decision, and that’s unacceptable.”

Meet 3 Servants of God who just advanced toward sainthood

Photo credit: From left to right: Servants of God Charlene Marie Richard, Auguste Robert Pelafigue, and Joseph Ira Dutton / Screenshots taken from USCCB livestream

Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2021 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Three servants of God are advancing toward sainthood: a 12-year old diagnosed with cancer who offered up her suffering, a man with a special devotion to the Sacred Heart, and a Civil War veteran who joined St. Damian of Molokai in his ministry to lepers.

On Nov. 17, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted to advance on the local level the causes of beatification and canonization for Servants of God Charlene Marie Richard, Auguste Robert Pelafigue, and Joseph Ira Dutton.

Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette, La., and Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu requested the votes during the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore. Under Church law, diocesan bishops promoting a sainthood cause must consult with the regional bishops before the cause can advance.

“We are not asked to approve the cause,” Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ canonical affairs and Church governance committee, said. “Rather [what] we are invited to do is to observe, related to the cause, any advancements of views of social, religious, or even political significance.”

Here is a look at the new candidates for sainthood:

Servant of God Charlene Marie Richard

Born on Jan. 13, 1947, Richard was raised in a Louisiana town of the same name: Richard. Growing up, she cherished her family, her Catholic faith — with a special devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux — and basketball. The second of 10 children, she reportedly “played Mass” with her brother, John Dale.

In middle school, the young Cajun girl was diagnosed with terminal leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and lymphatic system. She responded to the illness by offering up her pain and suffering for others.

Every day, the child asked the priest who ministered to her on her deathbed, “Father, who am I to offer my sufferings for today?”

Richard died 16 days after her diagnosis on Aug. 11, 1959. She was just 12 years old. Bishop Deshotel officially opened the cause of canonization for Richard, also known as the “little Cajun saint,” in January 2020.

“I ask the approval of the conference in pursuing this cause of this innocent child who has proven to be an inspiration to all of us in our human condition as we carry the cross of illness,” Bishop Deshotel said. 

Servant of God Auguste Robert Pelafigue

Like Richard, Pelafigue also lived in Louisiana. Born on Jan. 10, 1888, near Lourdes in France, he moved as a toddler with his family to Arnaudville, La.

Those close to him called him “Nonco” for “Uncle.” A representative of the Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue Foundation, Charles Hardy, said that he earned the nickname because he was "like a good uncle to everyone who came into his (circle) of influence."

That circle of influence was a large one. A teacher, Pelafigue joined the faculty of the Little Flower School in Arnaudville as the only lay member after teaching in public school. At the same time, he joined The Apostleship of Prayer, an organization with French roots dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

According to Hardy, who spoke at the ceremony where Bishop Deshotel opened the cause of his canonization in 2020, “Nonco was known for his passionate devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

“He devoutly attended daily Mass and served wherever he was needed,” Hardy said. “Perhaps most inspiringly, with a rosary looped around his arm, Nonco traversed the highways and byways of his community, spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

He also walked along rural roads visiting the sick and less fortunate, refusing rides from his neighbors as an act of penance for the conversion of souls and for those in purgatory.

Even on his weekends, Pelafigue worked tirelessly. He taught religion to public school students and organized the League of the Sacred Heart, which produced monthly pamphlets about the special devotion. Pelafigue also put together plays around Christmas and other feasts that often highlighted the Sacred Heart.

Pope Pius XII later awarded Pelafigue in 1953 with the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice medal. 

“Mr. Pelafigue has organized the League of the Sacred Heart with some 1,200 members and 101 promoters. He goes out on foot to visit the fallen away and invites them to prayer of the league,” his pastor at the time, Fr. Daniel Bernard wrote, according to The Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue Foundation. “He teaches in the Catholic School, teaches Catechism to the public school children – all out of love of God – with no pay. He organizes religious programs for the encouragement of the weak and edification of the strong. He has been in this parish, another priest. He is most humble. He attends Holy Mass and receives Holy Communion daily. He assists at all Masses on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation.”

“In a word,” Bernard added, “he is a living example of the REAL CHRISTIAN.” 

On the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on Jun 6, 1977, Pelafigue passed away at the age 89 years old. 

Servant of God Joseph Dutton

Ira Joseph Dutton was born on April 27, 1843 in Stowe, Vermont, to Protestant parents. Four years later, his family relocated to Janesville, Wisconsin.

This Servant of God fought in the Civil War for the Union Army where he was elevated to the rank of captain with the 13th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment Infantry. After he was discharged in 1866, Dutton faced a new set of challenges: a failed marriage to an unfaithful woman and a drinking problem.

Dutton “perhaps had what we might call now PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder,” Bishop Silva told the bishops.

He volunteered to bury the dead left on the battlefields at a site now known as the National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. He later worked at a distillery in Alabama, built railroads in Memphis, and settled claims for the War Department.

In the early 1880s, Dutton resolved to do penance for his past. He entered the Church on his 40th birthday and accepted Joseph as his baptismal name. After he joined a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, he realized that he was called to a more active life.

Inspired by the story of St. Damien of Molokai, he left his belongings behind to travel to Hawaii, and, in 1886, joined Father Damien in ministering to those with leprosy. St. Damien called his new friend “Brother” and, before dying, stressed, “I can die now. Brother Joseph will take care of my orphans.”

In 1889, the priest died of leprosy, but Dutton remained in Molokai, running the Baldwin Home for boys​​. Dutton’s work attracted the attention of U.S. presidents, including Woodrow Wilson. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt diverted a fleet of battleships to sail past Molokai in honor of him.

Dutton died just before his 88th birthday, on March 26, 1931. His grave is located next to St. Damien’s in Kalawao. 

In May, Bishop Silva moved forward with the cause for canonization for Dutton who, before passing away, concluded, “It has been a happy place — a happy life.”

Editor's note: An earlier verison of this story incorrectly stated that Dutton suffered from Hansen's disease.

Cuban bishops back freedom of expression ahead of protests

A protest of Cuba's communist government in Havana, July 11, 2021. / Domitille P/Shutterstock

Havana, Cuba, Nov 12, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The Cuban bishops’ conference on Thursday indicated its support for the right of citizens to express themselves freely, without fear of intimidation and reprisals, shortly before marches protesting the island’s communist government planned for Nov. 15.

“Every person deserves esteem and recognition of his dignity, for his condition as a human being and a child of God, for being a free citizen, a person with rights and duties. Consequently, every Cuban should be able to freely and respectfully express and share their personal opinions, thoughts or convictions, even when they disagree with the majority,” the conference stated Nov. 11.

A “Civic March for Change”, a peaceful demonstration in several cities of Cuba that seeks to repeat the protests which took place across the country July 11-12, has been announced for Nov. 15.

The bishops lamented that in recent weeks “the increase in a climate of tension and confrontation that is not healthy nor benefits anyone."

"Any act of violence between us, whether physical, verbal or psychological, seriously wounds the soul of the Cuban nation and contributes even more to the sorrow, suffering and sadness of our families," they said.

“A wounded soul is in no condition to build a future of hope. Violence contradicts the will of God, as Christ has said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God’,” they added.

The bishops consider there is “an increasing urgency for the involvement of Cubans in a national project that involves and motivates everyone; that takes into account the differences, without exclusions or marginalizations.”

"We think that it is necessary to implement mechanisms where, without fear of intimidation and reprisals, everyone can be heard and the dissatisfaction be channeled, in the face of the harsh daily realities that overwhelm so many, especially the most impoverished and vulnerable," they continued.

The Cuban bishops said that it is "indispensable to implement the necessary changes, so long desired, that favor a decent and happy life here for all the sons of this land of ours."

The bishops urged “everyone to spare no effort so that the way to understanding, reconciliation and peace is paved; in such a way that the various proposals on the present and future destiny of our country, find an area of common sense, tolerance and concord, and a harmonious and civilized dialogue is established in which the best solutions to the problems that concern us can be found. "

"How much would so many Cuban families and the Church itself be grateful, and how much social tension would be diminished if there were a gesture of clemency for those still under arrest for the events of last summer!"

Prisoners Defenders, a Spanish NGO that provides legal defense for human rights,  reported Nov. 4 that Cuba has detained 683 political prisoners in the last 12 months.

In addition, the NGO said it has been possible to determine there were 591 active cases during the month of October, and that of that group, 370 remain in prison since the protests of July 11.

Protests took place across Cuba July 11-12. Protesters cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and thousands were arrested.

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.

Cuban priests urge authorities not to repress planned protests

The Cuban flag. / Steward Cutler via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Havana, Cuba, Nov 11, 2021 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

A group of Cuban priests signed a letter addressed to the Cuban authorities Wednesday urging them not to use violence against marches protesting the island’s communist government planned for Nov. 15.

“We don't want to see police beating and mistreating their own people again. We don't want blood spilled again, we don't want to hear gunshots again. No, because that’s not the way that will take us to the Cuba that we need and that we all want,” the priests said in their Nov. 10 letter posted on Facebook.

“Those of us who signed this letter are Cubans, Catholic priests called to be shepherds of our people, we want only the good of our country, we want a Cuba where justice, freedom and peace reign,” they said.

“While it’s true that no Cuban should raise his hand against his compatriot for the mere fact of thinking differently, much less the police who by vocation have the duty to set an example of good citizenship to the entire population, who exist to take care of citizens and protect public order.”

“Don’t hit the protesters because both you and they live amid so much scarcity and misery. Don’t slander them as mercenaries, because both you and they have fathers, mothers, friends, acquaintances, who gave everything for an ideal and who today have nothing. Don't stop them from marching peacefully because both you and they want to live without fear of speaking your mind, without fear of being watched,” they wrote.

A “Civic March for Change” has been announced for Nov. 15, a peaceful demonstration in several cities of Cuba that seeks to repeat the protests which took place across Cuba July 11-12. 

The marches are a grassroots movement not promoted by any particular group or organization on the island.

The priests who signed the letter, some of whom are in Cuba, are Alberto Martín Sánchez, Castor Álvarez Devesa, Alberto Reyes Pías, Rolando Montes de Oca Valero, Lester Zayas Díaz, Jorge Luis Pérez Soto, Jorge Luis Gil Orta, Fernando Gálvez Luis, Kenny Fernández Delgado, Ramón Rivas, Danny Roque Gavilla, José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre and Deacon Maybgl Gómez Hernández. 

Bishop Manuel Aurelio Cruz, an Auxiliary Bishop of Newark, also signed the letter. A Cuba native, Bishop Cruz fled the country for the US as a child with his parents in 1966.

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.

Pope Francis' upcoming meeting with Indigenous delegation a step toward healing, Canadian bishops say

Memorial in Ottawa, Canada, in tribute to 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential School in Kamloops, June 1, 2021. / meandering images/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 10, 2021 / 11:37 am (CNA).

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released further details of its upcoming trip to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis alongside representatives from the country’s Indigenous populations. 

The group will include 25 to 30 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis elders, knowledge keepers, survivors of residential schools, and young people, along with a “small group of Canadian bishops,” according to a CCCB press release issued Nov. 10. The delegates will come from throughout Canada, “representing multiple faith and linguistic backgrounds.” 

The meetings with Pope Francis and other officials will be held from Dec. 17-20. An exact schedule is not yet available. 

The trip to the Vatican was first announced in June 2021, shortly after the discovery of numerous unmarked gravesites near or at the locations of former residential schools. On Oct. 27, Pope Francis said that he intends to visit Canada in the future. 

“The journey towards healing and reconciliation is a long one, but we believe this will be a significant milestone in the Catholic Church’s commitment to renewing, strengthening and reconciling relationships with Indigenous Peoples across the land,” CCCB President Bishop Raymond Poisson of the Diocese of Saint-Jérôme and of Mont-Laurier said in a statement. 

“With this delegation, we hope to walk together in a new way, to listen with humility, and to discern the next steps that the Church can take to support residential school survivors, their families, and their communities,” he said.

Canada’s residential school system operated from the 1870s until the last school closed in 1996. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were separated from their families and sent to the schools, established by the federal government and run by Catholics and members of Protestant denominations, to force assimilation and strip them of familial and cultural ties.

The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an estimated 4,100 to 6,000 students died as a result of neglect or abuse in the schools. 

The theme of the Vatican trip is “Indigenous Peoples and the Church: Walking Together Toward Healing and Reconciliation,” something decided upon by both the bishops and the Indigenous partners, the bishops conference said. The theme was chosen “around the principles of mutual trust, respect, and a shared desire to move forward for a more hopeful future,” the CCCB said.

In Canada, Indigenous populations that historically populated the region south of the Arctic are referred to as “First Nations.” The “Métis” communities share both Indigenous and European heritage. 

Once in the Vatican, the group will request a formal papal apology for past abuses at Catholic-run residential schools. They will also have the chance to discuss “their hopes and expectations for his eventual pilgrimage to Canada.” 

In addition to the apology, the Indigenous leaders plan to ask Pope Francis for the release of all records that relate to the residential schools, and for the return of any Indigenous items from Canada that the Vatican may possess in its archives.

The CCCB said the delegation is the result of “ongoing dialogue with the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and other Indigenous leaders,” and the Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis “will participate in private meetings with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis delegates respectively to hear their personal stories of the lasting legacy of residential schools.”

Information about the individual delegates, as well as a finalized schedule, will be released in the coming weeks, the CCCB said. 

Individual bishops, religious orders, as well as the CCCB, have issued apologies for the role the Church played in operating the schools. The Canadian government, as well as other Christian churches, have similarly apologized. Pope Francis declined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s request for an apology in 2018.