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Pope Francis urges dialogue in face of ongoing jihadist violence in Burkina Faso

Vatican City, Nov 14, 2019 / 07:10 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged interreligious dialogue in Burkina Faso Wednesday as ongoing violence by jihadist groups has killed more than 750 people in the West African country this year. 

“I address a special thought to dear Burkina Faso, who for some time has been tried by recurrent violence,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 13.

At least 38 people died and 60 were injured in an attack on Canadian mining company convoy, Semafo, Nov. 6.

“I entrust to the Lord all the victims, the wounded, the numerous displaced persons and those who suffer from these tragedies. I appeal for the protection of the most vulnerable,” the pope said.

Violence involving jihadist groups -- some affiliated with al Qaeda or the Islamic State -- has killed at least 755 people in Burkina Faso between January and October 2019, according to Reuters.

Attacks on Burkina Faso’s gold mines have provided the armed groups with new sources of funding.

Following the most recent attack, Pope Francis appealed to civil and religious authorities “to multiply their efforts, in the spirit of the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Brotherhood, to promote interreligious dialogue and harmony.”

In May 2019, ten Catholics were murdered by gunmen in one week. During Mass, attackers shot and killed five men, including the priest, and then burned down the Catholic church in Dablo. The following day,  gunmen killed four more Catholics during a religious procession and then burned the Marian statue.

Following the wave of violence against Catholics this year, Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of Dori, Burkina Faso told the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need of an attack that occurred on July 27, 2019:

“When the people of the village of Bani had gathered together to speak among themselves, the Islamists arrived and forced everybody to lie face down on the ground,” he said. “Then they searched them. Four people were wearing crucifixes. So they killed them because they were Christians.”

The bishop said this was the fifth attack against Christians in Burkina Faso in 2019.

“Today their main target appears to be the Christians and I believe they are trying to trigger an inter-religious conflict,” he said.

“If the world continues to do nothing, the result will be the elimination of the Christian presence in this area and quite possibly in the future from the entire country,” Bishop Dabire said.

Pope Francis names Spanish Jesuit head of Vatican's economy secretariat

Vatican City, Nov 14, 2019 / 04:47 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Nov. 14 appointed Spanish Jesuit Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, following the expiration of Cardinal George Pell’s term in February.

From Merida, Spain, Guerrero, 60, will begin his term as prefect in January 2020.

Pope Francis established the Secretariat for Economy in 2014 as part of his financial reform of the Vatican. Its task is to oversee the financial aspects of both the Roman Curia and the Vatican City State administration, including a review of financial reports.

The position of prefect of the economy secretariat has been empty since Feb. 26, when Pell was confirmed to no longer hold the position via a tweet from Alessandro Gisotti, then-interim Holy See press office director.

Pell, who is in a prison in the Australian state of Victoria following his 2018 conviction on five counts of sexual abuse, was the first prefect of the Secretariat for Economy. The cardinal took a leave of absence as prefect starting in June 2017, when he returned to Australia to face trial.

Pell’s five-year-term as prefect was to have expired in February 2019. His resignation was not noted in the Vatican’s daily news bulletin, so it is believed his term lapsed and was not renewed, and he was not removed from office.

Guerrero, who has been a Jesuit since 1979, has a degree in economics from the Autonomous University of Madrid, as well as degrees in theology and in philosophy and letters.

Ordained a priest in 1992, since 2017 Guerrero has been in Rome serving in the positions of general counsellor and delegate of the superior general for the interprovincial houses and works of the Jesuits.

From 2014-2017, he was treasurer and project coordinator of the Jesuits in Mozambique.

“This call was something completely unexpected. Initially, it filled me with anxiety, and I felt quite numb,” Guerrero said in an interview with Vatican News published Nov. 14.

“But I welcome it with humility, with confidence in the Lord and in the team that is already working in the Secretariat for the Economy. I will collaborate in the service of this mission by offering the best of myself.”

According to Vatican News, Guerrero, who speaks Italian, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, asked Pope Francis to not require his ordination as a bishop, so that after his term as prefect he can return to normal religious life.

“I come to this task from outside the Vatican Curia, and I will be entering a new world,” the priest said. “I thank the Holy Father for allowing me to carry out this mission as a Jesuit, so that I can continue to remain a Jesuit when this service ends.”

“I hope to contribute to the economic transparency of the Holy See, and to help to use efficiently the goods and resources that are at the service of the important evangelizing mission of the Church,” he told Vatican News.

 

Catholic group to start holistic addiction recovery home in Kentucky 

Lexington, Ky., Nov 14, 2019 / 03:12 am (CNA).- A Kentucky diocese is leasing a tenantless building to a Catholic charity to create a holistic recovery program for people in the area struggling with drug addictions.

“It's an exciting possibility,” said Jenny Ramsay, co-founder and director of Catholic Action Center (CAC), the homeless service agency in Lexington which will be helping run the new program.

“Our [clients] need it so desperately … This place is welcoming, and it includes the holistic approach with environmental sustainab[ility],” she told CNA.

The Diocese of Lexington announced Friday that the Catholic Action Center is beginning a three-year lease on the Cliffview Retreat and Conference Center in Lancaster. The facility will be known as Divine Providence Way at Cliffview, and CAC will have an opportunity to purchase the property at the end of the lease.

The Catholic Action Center will be in charge of developing a holistic environment for the addiction recovery center. This will include recreational therapy, such as music and art. The medical side of the recovery efforts will be run by Mountain Comprehensive Care, a mental health and addiction center based in eastern Kentucky that has partnered with CAC for the past two years.

The program will also offer job training through Bluegrass Community and Technical College, which will take place at a specific satellite campus for the beneficiaries. There, the clients will have access to educational opportunities including culinary art, sustainable living, building and maintenance, and information technology.

Ramsay said the building and maintenance program will focus on skills like carpentry and solar panel installation. She said the IT program will teach some basic coding and other entry-level IT skills.

The program will be environmentally sustainable, Ramsay said, relying on green energy from solar panels and incorporating beehives, chicken coops, and greenhouses.

“We are creating the environment at Cliffview, which will include sustainable agriculture. Holistic care of the people includes the fact that their environment needs to be something that renews them,” she said.

“We're human beings and we all have different brokenness, but we all relate and can be healed through [a holistic approach] … We're not going to say that one size fits all, but when we engage with the earth and engage the mind, body, and spirit, then changes happen,” she added.

The idea for Divine Providence Way was developed after staff members at the Catholic Action Center witnessed a need for greater addiction care among the homeless population.

The initiative comes amid an ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. Kentucky has been among the states hit hardest by the epidemic. From 2012-2017, more than 6,700 overdose deaths were reported in the state, according to data from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. In 2017,  Kentucky had a drug overdose rate of 37.2 deaths per 100,000 people, the fifth-highest in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We see the individuals, we see the overdoses, we see the challenges,” said Ramsay, when asked about the opioid crisis.

Founded in 2000, the Catholic Action Center is an initiative inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. According to its website, the organization has served more than 5.5 million meals and distributed over 2.5 million items of clothing. The agency has also covered 90 funerals for clients who had no families.

Ramsay stressed that it is a Christian’s duty to care for all people, even those struggling from addiction and currently abusing drugs. She said it is an example set by Christ.

“As Catholic Christians, we're called to address [this] and to...help those in need,” she told CNA. “Knowing that we may have the opportunity to help others in a unique situation, we couldn't turn our back on [them].”

“Jesus said feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty. He didn't say feed the hungry who are sober,” she added.

What people with intellectual disabilities can teach us about friendship

South Bend, Ind., Nov 14, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- When French Catholic Jean Vanier brought two men with intellectual disabilities to live with him in his home, he did so more out of a sense of religious duty than anything else.

But as time went on, he began to realize that what the men needed was not help, but friendship. In the founding of his L’Arche (The Ark) homes for people with intellectual disabilities, friendship became the pillar of what those communities were and are all about.

“In short, Vanier had discovered they shared a common world,” Professor Stanely Hauerwas said in his keynote address on Nov. 8 at the University of Notre Dame’s annual conference sponsored by the De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Hauerwas, a theologian and the Gilbert T. Rowe professor emeritus with joint appointments at Duke divinity school and Duke law school, was a personal friend of Vanier, who died at the age of 90 earlier this year.

“I don't know where we would be without such witnesses today. It's remarkable,” Hauerwas said of his friend.

In L’Arche homes, core members are permanent residents who have intellectual and other disabilities, while assistants are adults and trained caregivers who live in L’Arche communities with the core members, typically for a one-year commitment at a time.

As the L’Arche website states, being an assistant is primarily about being a friend.

“In the communities of L'Arche, we live and journey together, men and women with disabilities and those who feel called to share their lives with them,” Hauerwas said.

“We are all learning the pain and joy of community life where the weakest members open hearts to compassion and lead us into deeper union with Jesus. We are learning to befriend them, and through and with them to befriend Jesus.”

Friendship with people with disabilities is often hindered by fear and false perceptions on the part of non-disabled people, Hauerwas noted.

“We are fragile creatures whose vulnerabilities produce fears that make our being befriended by the disabled frightening,” Hauerwas said.

This is in large part because people with disabilities have the gift of honesty, Hauerwas said - they are unimpressed by accolades and accomplishments, and are only interested in you as yourself.

“Such fears do not go away, even if we have been befriended by the disabled. That is why, as I will suggest, that friendship must be communal because only a community who is made of those aware of their limits can create the peaceful space for all to flourish, disabled and abled alike.”

The false assumption that people with disabilities are suffering can hinder friendship with these people, Hauerwas noted.

“As (Brian Brock, an author on disability) points out, ironically, those who are severely intellectually disabled do not struggle with their disability because they're wondrously free from pondering what others suppose them to lack,” Hauerwas said.

“Brock is challenging the presumption that those who are labeled intellectually disabled suffer from being intellectually disabled. They suffer from the attitudes and behaviors of those who imagine how they would feel if they were intellectually disabled. In short, we project on the disabled how we think we would regard our lives if we were them,” he said.

“But because people who are mentally disabled are not people other than who they are, they accordingly can and do enjoy who they are,” he added.

Brock, whose own son Adam has Down syndrome and is autistic, notes in his writings that knowing Adam has led him to a deeper theological understanding of what it means to accept the gift of people with intellectual disabilities.

“(Brock) understands the Christian Gospel to offer a way of life that enables our ability to live as vulnerable beings who have made peace with our limits and are able to delight in the unexpected,” Hauerwas said.

“Such a way of life can be joyous and free because we seek no longer to be gods, but to be content, to be creatures whose flourishing does not mean we will not suffer, but as the stories of scriptures often make clear, it is through suffering and vulnerability that we discover our place in God's story.”

Throughout his life, Vanier testified to the real friendships he had with his friends with disabilities. Some people still doubt whether such friendships were possible, because they believe that friendship necessitates an equality in agency, Hauerwas noted. He then provided several examples of stories of friendship between assistants and core members, or the family members of the disabled, to show how such friendships are possible.

“Vanier's friendships with the core members with whom he lived stands as a stark reminder that friendship between people who are intellectually disabled, and those that are not, is an actual reality,” Hauerwas said.

Hauerwas drew several examples from Patrick McInerney, an English anthropologist who lived for 15 months in a L'Arche home and wrote of his experiences in a paper entitled: “Receiving the gift of cognitive disabilities: recognizing agency in the limits of the rational subject.”

McInerney, not unlike Vanier at the beginning of his work, started at L’Arche presuming that the core members did not have agency like non-disabled people.

“He encountered Rachel who was making random hand gestures. Sarah who was rolling herself around and around in her wheelchair. And Martha, who spoke constantly but did not seem to make sense. McInerney assumed such women were incapable of active engagement with the world,” Hauerwas said.

But he eventually came to see these women in a different light, and realized that their agency comes from their own acknowledgment of their vulnerabilities and dependency on others.

In one example, Maria, a long-term assistant, told McInerney about an experience with core member Sarah, who could not communicate verbally. Maria was given the task of bathing Sarah, but was having difficulties.

“Maria confesses she did not know what she was doing. But she assumed that neither did Sarah know what she was doing. Finally, however, after some time, Maria figured how to help Sarah bathe herself. She (later said) to Sarah: ‘And you just sat there very patiently and quietly letting me make error after error. When I finally worked out what the right thing to do was, you looked at me dead in the eye and then you laughed at me,’” Hauerwas said.

“Through these exchanges, the core members’ gifts of the heart are discovered,” he added.

In another story of friendship and encounter, Hauerwas recalled Hilary, an assistant who watched a core member smiling and swaying and enjoying herself in front of a full-length mirror. Hilary said she realized that Sarah was not able to care whether other people might consider this behavior self-obsessed, and so she was free to love and enjoy herself.

“Sarah really loves herself and she helps me to start loving myself,” Hilary told McInerney.

The lessons learned from accepting one’s life as a gift, and accepting others’ lives - including those with disabilities - as a gift, leads to a system of ethics that stands in stark contrast to ethicists like Peter Singer, who believes that people with disabilities are of limited moral value to society, Hauerwas noted.

The lives of people with intellectual disabilities “have more in common with unruly saints of the Church, according to McInerney, than the rational agents such as Peter singer assumes. Those who have learned to be their friends, friends with people like Sarah, value the way they transgress assumed norms of behavior and express the value of a liminal community.”

“I think that my own view is that if in a hundred years Christians are identified as those people who do not kill their children or their elderly, we'll have done a pretty good job, but that's the challenge,” Hauerwas said.

In one final example of friendship, Hauerwas recalled the friendship between a core member Eric and Vanier. Eric was blind, deaf and could not speak, but Vanier knew he could still communicate through touch.

“That is what they did day after day. They held and washed his body with respect and love. Slowly but surely they were able to communicate with him and he communicated with them,” he said.

Vanier reflected on this friendship “by suggesting what Jesus commands us to do is to be befriended by the weak those in need, the lonely.”

“For when the poor, the weak and the lonely claim us as friends, they prevent us from falling into the trap of power, especially the power to do good,” Hauerwas said. “To be befriended by the poor and the disabled saves us from the presumption we must save the savior and the church.”

CRS provides relief to Bangladeshis affected by Cyclone Bulbul

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov 13, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- After the dissipation of Cyclone Bulbul, Catholic organizations have provided aid to the victims in Bangladesh, and assessed the immediate and long term needs of those recovering from the storm.

The cyclone made landfall in India's West Bengal state Nov. 9. It has heavily affected the coastal areas of Bangladesh and India, claiming at least 20 lives, according to the Guardian.

Authorities said more deaths would have occurred if it was not for the sake of increased evacuation efforts, the BBC reported.

Snigdha Chakraborty, Catholic Relief Services’ manager for Bangladesh, commended the efforts but said victims are still in need of more aid.

“While there are many people who will need significant support following this storm, the government’s robust preparedness activities have paid off. Most people were able to get into evacuation shelters and out of harm’s way,” she said Nov. 10.

The storm has damaged thousands of homes and nearly 500,000 acres of crops, Al Jazeera reported. It had also shut down the Kolkata airport in India and Bangladesh’s two largest ports, Mongla and Chittagong.

After evacuation efforts, more than 2 million people were forced to spend a night in a shelter.

Chakraborty expressed concern that the shelters will not be a sufficient fix for the long run, noting that some of these places do not have a safe water source. CRS said people need shelter repair support and farmers will need compensation for their damaged crops.

“We are concerned that the cyclone shelters are not sufficient for anything more than a very short stay. People are eating snack food and bread as the shelters have no facilities to cook,” Chakraborty said.

“Families will be in the shelters at minimum another two days under heavy rains, and for the people who return to find their homes damaged or destroyed, they are looking at even longer displacement … Caritas Bangladesh has provided their shelters with water jars sufficient through today, but this will be a critical need for the next few days.”

CRS has partnered with Caritas Bangladesh, both of which helped with evacuations. Among the 300 operational shelters, Caritas Bangladesh opened 40 cyclone shelters.

Chakraborty said that while CRS has continued efforts along the coasts, there are territories that are hard to reach inland. She said some damages have yet to be assessed.

“Right now, we are very focused on the badly affected Sathkhira and Khulna districts on the coast, which continue to experience heavy rain and high winds,” she said.

“Staff have not yet been able to reach some of the remotest locations due to ongoing rains, heavy winds and damaged roads. Initial reports in Khulna indicate significant crop losses and partial or total damage to poorly constructed houses. And we have early information about significant seas surges in remote areas of Sathkhira, but hope to get confirmation tomorrow.”

Chakraborty applauded the evacuation efforts on behalf of the government and volunteers. She said more needs to be done to support victims but lives were saved by following the evacuation protocol.