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Cardinal Cupich: A world without nuclear weapons is ‘not some utopian dream’ 

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 11:08 am (CNA).

Ahead of important international meetings this week, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago urged President Joe Biden and other world leaders to work for “a world without nuclear weapons” as a “moral necessity.” 

Cardinal Cupich wrote an op-ed published in The Hill on June 11, before Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on June 16 in Geneva. American and Russian diplomats are expected to begin negotiations on eventually replacing the 2010 New START nuclear arms control treaty, according to Politico. The two nations each control around 6,000 nuclear weapons each - about 90% of the world's total stockpile.

Cupich wrote that at Thursday’s summit between Biden and Putin, “top on the agenda should be establishing a climate in which the Review Conference can succeed in reducing the nuclear threat.” He argued that the moment “could not be more urgent.” 

“Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to all life on Earth,” Cupich wrote. “Working toward a world without nuclear weapons, in which vigorous international monitoring and enforcement mechanisms verify compliance, is not some utopian dream. It is, rather, a practical and moral necessity.”

The United States and Russia, as the two countries controlling most of the world's nuclear weapons, “have unique responsibilities in taking the lead to eliminate the nuclear threat,” he said.  

The New START nuclear arms control treaty was set to expire in February before the Biden administration agreed to extend it for another five years. The United States and Russia are expected to discuss what will replace the treaty in 2026. The 2010 agreement limited the number of strategically-deployed nuclear warheads for each country and allowed 18 annual on-site inspections of nuclear facilities by the other country.

Other bishops - including Pope Francis - have advocated for a world without nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, the Catholic bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki applauded the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while expressing regret that more countries - including their own - did not sign it. 

“As Catholic bishops and Japanese citizens of the A-bombed cities, we share Pope Francis’ confidence that a world free of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary ‘to protect all life,’” Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki and Bishop Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima wrote in a joint statement on Jan. 22.

The UN treaty - which went into effect in January - marked the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than twenty years. It was signed by 86 states, including the Holy See. But the world’s main nuclear powers - including the United States - did not ratify the treaty. 

During a 2019 visit to the site of the 1945 atomic bomb detonation over Nagasaki, Pope Francis said, “This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another.”

“Peace and international stability,” Pope Francis said, “are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”

Cardinal Tagle chokes up while recalling grandfather’s migration story

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is moved as he recalls his grandfather at a Vatican press conference, June 15, 2021. / Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Vatican City, Jun 15, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle choked up Tuesday while sharing the story of his grandfather’s migration journey from China to the Philippines as a child.

Speaking during a Vatican press conference June 15, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said that visiting refugee camps in Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, and Bangladesh, reminded him of his migrant roots.

“In them, I saw my grandfather who was born in China, but was forced to leave his homeland as a young boy with his uncle for the Philippines in search of a better future,” Tagle said, pausing for a short time as he became visibly emotional.

The Filipino cardinal explained in a letter for Easter 2017 that his maternal grandfather was born in China, but his mother sent him to live in the Philippines because of her poverty.

Tagle also spoke about his Chinese roots in a 2017 book.

“I think some Chinese characteristics have passed onto me, even though my grandfather spent most of his life in the Philippines,” he said.

“I remember certain practices he observed, such as honoring his mother by offering her food, putting it in front of her photograph, with a few sticks of incense, or setting off fireworks to welcome the New Year, or offering a lot of food during family meals.”

At his grandfather’s request, Tagle studied the Chinese language for a time in his boyhood, though he said in the book he regretted that he did not stick with it.

The cardinal’s mother, Milagros Gokim, is Chinese Filipino and his father, Manuel Topacio Tagle, is ethnic Tagalog. They are both in their early 90s and still live in the Philippines.

They raised Tagle and his younger brother Manuel Gokim Tagle Jr. in a devoutly Catholic home. Both worked at a bank.

Tagle, who also goes by his nickname of “Chito,” spoke about his personal experience with immigration during a press conference ahead of the June 20 conclusion of “Share the Journey,” a four-year global campaign by Caritas Internationalis.

Through “Share the Journey,” national Caritas agencies organized events and initiatives with the goal of promoting a culture of encounter with migrants and refugees.

Tagle has been president of Caritas Internationalis since 2015.

Before being appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in December 2019, the 63-year-old cardinal was archbishop of Manila for nine years.

During the June 15 presser, Tagle described his emotional meetings with refugees over the last six years.

In reference to his visits to the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps in Bangladesh in 2018 and 2019, he said: “I remember that I had mixed feelings. A part of me rejoiced that they were being given the attention they deserved as human beings. But at the same time, a part of me continued to be sad because I wondered if this was a permanent state of life for them or temporary.”

He said he could not imagine how parents in that situation respond if their children ask them what the future holds.

“The Share the Journey campaign has been a great moment of encounter, solidarity, and for us, memory, and above all an expression of love. An expression of the love of the Church for people on the move. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, followers of other religions, and those with no religion were received as human persons,” Tagle said.

“At a time when COVID-19 should lead to global solidarity, and at the same time when the States are more concerned with protecting their own citizens, with the risk of intensifying selfishness and the fear of strangers, the end of Caritas Internationalis’ global campaign is a call to continue to share the journey with migrants, especially at this most difficult moment,” he said.

“The campaign formally ends, but the mission continues.”

Burkina Faso names street in honor of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Michael Crotty unveils the new sign of Pope Benedict XVI Street in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. / Fr. Paul Dah.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jun 15, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A cardinal in Burkina Faso said Sunday that the naming of a street after Pope emeritus Benedict XVI “brings hope” to the country, Africa, and the world.

Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo was speaking at a June 13 ceremony unveiling the newly named Rue Pape Benoît XVI (Pope Benedict XVI Street) in the capital, Ouagadougou.

The thoroughfare was previously called street 54.160, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It is the location of the country’s apostolic nunciature.

Ouédraogo described Benedict XVI, who served as pope from 2005 until his retirement in 2013, as a great pastor whose name “brings hope to Burkina Faso, to Africa, and to the world and promotes the spirit of dialogue, reconciliation, justice and peace in the hearts of all people.”

“Let us make this street a place where peace awakens faith,” the archbishop of Ouagadougou added.

Archbishop Michael Crotty, the apostolic nuncio in Burkina Faso and Niger, said that the naming of the street was “a sign of gratitude to the pope, now emeritus, who established the apostolic nunciature in Ouagadougou on June 12, 2007, and on the same day appointed Archbishop Vito Rallo as the first apostolic nuncio resident in the country.”

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa with a population of 20 million people, around 19% of whom are baptized Catholics.

The Irish-born nuncio thanked Ouagadougou city council for the honor bestowed on the pope emeritus, adding that the street was also significant because “the rectorate of the Catholic University of West Africa (UCAO) is also located on Benedict XVI Street.”

“I am personally pleased that from now on the headquarters of UCAO will bear in its address the name of Pope Benedict XVI, known for his intelligence and intellectual strength, as well as for his dedication to the search for truth,” he said.

Archbishop Michael Crotty, Armand Béouindé, and Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo / Fr. Paul Dah.
Archbishop Michael Crotty, Armand Béouindé, and Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo / Fr. Paul Dah.

Archbishop Crotty explained that having a diplomatic mission was both a statement and a commitment “to deepen and strengthen bilateral relations, and there is no better way to do so than to be physically present.”

“Indeed, in the nine months since my arrival here in Burkina Faso, the greatest joy for me in being Pope Francis’ representative is to make him present wherever I go, a presence made possible by Pope Benedict XVI who established this diplomatic mission of the Holy See to Burkina Faso and Niger here in Ouagadougou,” he commented.

“I hope that these links between us will bear fruit in favor of peace and reconciliation for our world,” he said.

Benedict XVI, 94, now lives in retirement in Vatican City. As pope, he visited Burkina Faso’s neighbor, Benin, in 2011, but did not travel to Burkina Faso.

Armand Béouindé, the mayor of Ouagadougou, described Benedict XVI as “a man who has always worked for reconciliation between peoples, for interreligious dialogue, and for faith.”

“The renewal of the identity of this street will further implant in the collective memory of our population the name of an eminent personality that is Pope Benedict XVI,” he said.

Béouindé added that Benedict XVI “not only allowed the establishment of a strong diplomatic relationship between Burkina Faso and the Holy See, but also it is thanks to him that the apostolic nunciature was built in 2007.”

The mayor said that his administration heeded the request of the pope’s representative in the country “to name the street in front of the main gate of the nunciature, which also houses the rectorate of the Catholic university, to be Pope Benedict XVI Street.”

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

Record number of abortions recorded in England and Wales in 2020

578foot via www.shutterstock.com.

London, England, Jun 15, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

A record number of abortions took place in England and Wales in 2020, according to new statistics.

The figures, released June 10, showed that there were 210,860 abortions last year, the highest number since the Abortion Act 1967 was introduced.

A pro-life group said that the figure -- an increase of 1,341 from the previous peak in 2019 -- marked “a devastating surge” in abortions after the government allowed women in England to complete medical abortions at home in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Robinson of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said: “This year’s figures show a devastating surge in abortion numbers. The statistics reveal a catastrophic loss of unborn life arising from the government’s dangerous policy on abortion.”

The statistics, published by the Department of Health and Social Care, indicated that 3,083 abortions took place in 2020 on grounds of disability.

The charity Right to Life UK said that 693 of these abortions were due to Down syndrome, an increase from 656 in 2019.

It added that there were also 35 abortions on the basis of cleft lip or cleft palate in 2020. Both conditions can be corrected by surgery.

The charity also said that 65 “selective termination” procedures took place, where doctors abort an unborn child carried by a mother expecting multiple babies.

Right to Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said: “It is a national tragedy that 210,860 lives were lost to abortion in England and Wales last year. Every one of these abortions represents a failure of our society to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies.”

“Last year we came together as a nation and made great sacrifices to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19. Sadly, at the very same time as protecting one group of vulnerable people, we as a society have also ended thousands of young vulnerable lives through abortion.”

The government has held a consultation over whether to make the new rules on at-home medical abortions permanent.

Bishop John Sherrington, lead bishop for life issues of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, called earlier this month for the temporary measure to be rescinded.

He said: “Last year, the Catholic Church responded to the Department of Health and Social Care’s open consultation on whether the temporary policy to permit ‘at-home’ abortions should become permanent.”

“We continue to oppose any proposed change to make permanent legislation which has proven to be dangerous and fatal for pregnant women, and which has resulted in the tragic and needless loss of thousands of unborn lives.”

Poll: Regular Mass attendees say politicians who oppose Church teaching on grave matters ‘create confusion’

CNA stock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 15, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

A poll by a Catholic advocacy group released on Tuesday found that, among Catholics who attend Mass regularly, the vast majority say that Catholic politicians who take policy positions contrary to Church teaching "create confusion" among the faithful. 

The poll, conducted by CRC Research on behalf of the advocacy group CatholicVote, found that 83% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass say public officials with stated positions contrary to Church teaching “create confusion and disunity.” Nearly three-quarters, 74%, of regular Mass-goers say that these officials should not present themselves for Communion.

The poll was conducted from June 1-8, 2021, and surveyed 600 respondents. Respondents were nearly evenly split along party lines, with 49% saying they supported former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, compared to 51% who supported President Joe Biden.

Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, said in a statement on Tuesday that “Catholic politicians who advocate for policies considered ‘gravely immoral’ create confusion and discord among believers.” 

“Catholics’ concern about the flouting of Catholic social teaching by public leaders is less about politics and more about the integrity of the faith, along with reverence and respect due the Holy Eucharist,” Burch said. 

“This polling data should bolster the confidence of Catholic bishops as they prepare to discuss how to recover an understanding of the beauty and richness of the sacrament – among all Catholics. The data is very clear: Bishops have an obligation to act,” he stated. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. bishops will meet virtually at their annual spring general assembly. On Thursday, they are scheduled to deliberate and vote on whether to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist. 

Although the deliberations are expected to include the topic of worthiness to receive Communion - including for pro-abortion Catholic politicians - the vote itself will simply focus on whether to begin drafting the document on the Eucharist. 

The document, a proposed outline of which CNA obtained several weeks ago, provides a comprehensive overview of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. It covers topics such as the Real Presence, Sunday as a holy day, Mass as sacrifice, the importance of the works of mercy, and “Eucharistic consistency” - worthiness to receive Communion. 

“The document will include the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness to the faith,” the USCCB doctrine committee stated in the draft document proposal.

In the poll, 72% of respondents said the bishops “should discuss” admission to Communion “for Catholic public officials who promote grave moral evils.”

Among Catholics who attend Mass regularly, 88% “believe it is important for Catholic bishops to teach and lead others in matters of the faith,” CatholicVote reported. Meanwhile, 82% “believe public officials who identify as Catholic but openly advocate for policies hostile to Church teaching are hypocritical.”

Biden is only the second baptized Catholic to hold the office of president of the United States. He frequently discusses the influence of his Catholic faith, but ran on a pro-abortion policy platform that called for taxpayer-funded abortion. 

He recently submitted a budget request to Congress that did not include the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid. Biden’s budget request was the first since President Clinton’s in 1993 to not include Hyde Amendment provisions. The amendment has been passed into law each year since 1976 as a rider to budget bills. In 1993, an amended version of Hyde was eventually included in appropriations bills and signed into law.

The CatholicVote poll also found that 91% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass are eager to do so again as Churches re-open from COVID closures or restrictions. 

The issue of distributing Communion to Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on grave evils such as abortion and euthanasia has come under newfound debate recently. Individual bishops have been speaking out in recent months about admission to Communion. 

In May, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois said that the issue “has taken on heightened urgency with the election of President Biden, a Catholic who promotes the evils of abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.”

According to canons 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law, he said, “a person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord’ and that those ‘who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion’.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco wrote in a May 1 pastoral letter that any Catholic cooperating with the evil of abortion should refrain from receiving the Eucharist - especially Catholic public officials who advocate for abortion. “You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” he wrote, addressing those politicians. “Please stop the killing.”

In an April 14 column on Eucharistic coherence, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver wrote that “the Eucharist is a gift, not an entitlement, and the sanctity of that gift is only diminished by unworthy reception. Because of the public scandal caused, this is especially true in the case of public officials who persistently govern in violation of the natural law, particularly the pre-eminent issues of abortion and euthanasia, the taking of innocent life, as well as other actions that fail to uphold the church's teaching regarding the dignity of life.”

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, in a Feb. 1 online forum, spoke against denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. 

“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders the Eucharist, based on their public policy stance, can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument, and by dialogue and reason, but rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue [of abortion],” he said.

International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest unveils official hymn

Cardinal Péter Erdő at a press conference for the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, June 14, 2021. / IEC 2021 Budapest

Budapest, Hungary, Jun 15, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).

Cardinal Péter Erdő unveiled Monday the official hymn of this year’s International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest.

The Primate of Hungary presented the hymn at a press conference on June 14.

Organizers described the song as a “refreshed version” of a hymn from 1938, the last time that the Hungarian capital hosted the International Eucharistic Congress.

Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, also introduced a new video featuring the conversion stories of three young people in Budapest.

/ IEC 2021 Budapest.
/ IEC 2021 Budapest.

The 52nd International Eucharistic Congress will take place on Sept. 5-12.

The congress was originally scheduled to take place in 2020 but was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pope Francis is scheduled to be the principal celebrant of the closing Mass in Heroes’ Square at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 12.

At the press conference, Erdő also welcomed 12 congress ambassadors, including artists, musicians, singers, and poets, who will offer their witness to the transformative power of the Eucharist.

Wisconsin Catholic school victorious in reopening case

GUNDAM_Ai/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2021 / 17:10 pm (CNA).

The Wisconsin state supreme court ruled in favor of a Catholic school last week in its case against a local prohibition on in-person learning during the pandemic.

“It's a big win and people should be rejoicing nationally because of the use of the state constitution to provide additional protection to the religious education of children,” one of the appellate attorneys in the case, Erick Kaardal, told CNA. 

The case of St. Ambrose Academy against executives of Dane County, Wisconsin, was officially decided on June 11. 

Citing dangers of the pandemic, county public health official Janel Heinrich issued an emergency order last August which prohibited in-person learning at all county schools grades 3 to 12. 

St. Ambrose Academy announced last August that it and other Catholic schools were seeking the immediate revocation of the emergency order, “citing harm to ‘parents, children, and schools across the County.’” They cited “freedom of conscience” clauses in the state constitution to make their case. 

St. Ambrose said it had worked with county health officials to produce a 35-page plan to reopen safely that fall, before the order was issued.

The court initially issued a preliminary injunction in September 2020, temporarily stopping the county from enforcing the order. The court’s official ruling was delivered on Friday, in a 5-3 decision in favor of the schools.

In the majority opinion,Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley ruled that “local health officers do not have the statutory power to close schools,” and said that the prohibition on in-person education “infringes the Petitioners' fundamental right to the free exercise of religion.”

Kaardal, special counsel at the Thomas More Society, told CNA on Monday that Heinrich's policy was disappointing for many reasons, but emphasized the exemption of certain grade levels. “The University of Wisconsin-Madison could continue to meet in-person if it wanted to,” he said. “So, it seemed that the policy didn't make sense at a lot of levels.”

Kardaal said the “big message for Catholic schools across the country” is that the U.S. constitution and the state constitutions protect their right to exist and to operate according to their religious tradition. 

“We need to be resourceful as Catholics to make sure to use the courts to protect ourselves when the government overreaches and tries to close down, modify, alter, or change our Catholic schools,” he told CNA.

In the interview with CNA, Kaardal said that Friday’s decision provides a model for other courts to follow. 

“The Wisconsin supreme court was very resourceful in finding a way to protect Wisconsin religious school students and their parents and protect that decision-making process,” he said.

Kaardal compared the significance of the St. Ambrose Academy case to the case of the Brooklyn diocese against New York state pandemic restrictions. 

The U.S. Supreme Court said last November that New York state restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic were a violation of First Amendment protections of religious exercise. 

“That was one big case,” Kardaal said, referring to the high court’s ruling in favor of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “And I think this is the second big case, out of the Wisconsin supreme court, saying you can't shut down Catholic schools during a pandemic.”

Kaardal told CNA that the Wisconsin case is memorable because “it basically, in a blanket way says during a pandemic you can't close down religious schools - you got to find another way.”

Update: Meeting between Pope Francis and President Biden did not happen

Pope Francis greets then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Vatican in this April 29, 2016. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2021 / 16:55 pm (CNA).

In a story June 14, 2021, about Joe Biden and Pope Francis, the Catholic News Agency, based on information provided by a source, erroneously reported that the U.S. President would meet with the pope on June 15. According to Vatican sources June 15, there is no meeting currently scheduled between Pope Francis and President Joe Biden.

A corrected version of the story is below:

President Joe Biden’s attendance at early morning Mass with Pope Francis was nixed from an early plan for the first meeting of both leaders, a reliable Vatican source told CNA.

President Biden is currently in Europe for several high level meetings, offering a potential opportunity to meet with Pope Francis. According to Vatican sources June 15, there is no meeting currently scheduled between the two men.

The President’s entourage had originally requested for Biden to attend Mass with the pope early in the morning, but the proposal was nixed by the Vatican after considering the impact that Biden receiving Holy Communion from the pope would have on the discussions the USCCB is planning to have during their meeting starting Wednesday, June 16.

The U.S. bishops are slated to vote on creating a committee that would draft a document about Eucharistic coherence.

President Biden is in Europe for several high-level meetings. After attending the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, he traveled to Brussels, Belgium. He wil then fly to Geneva, Switzerland, for his scheduled summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.

Then U.S. Vice President Biden met with Pope Francis for the first time in September 2015, when the pope visited the United States to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The following year, on April 29, 2016, Biden went to the Vatican for a summit on regenerative medicine, where he praised Pope Francis and advocated for a global push to cure cancer.

Biden opened his speech at the Vatican by recalling how, while visiting the United States the previous September, Pope Francis had comforted him after the loss of his eldest son Beau, who passed away the previous summer at the age of 46 from brain cancer.

CNA launches daily news podcast made for smart speakers

CNA

Denver Newsroom, Jun 14, 2021 / 16:02 pm (CNA).

Catholic News Agency has launched a new audio news update, designed specifically for smart speakers. 

Catholic News” is a two-minute audio briefing of CNA’s top stories of the day, powered by artificial intelligence. It’s now available every weekday on smart speakers and podcast platforms. 

“This is state-of-the-art stuff,” said Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency. 

“Our hope is that this product will help today’s Catholics stay informed about what’s happening at the Vatican, and the Church around the world,” Bermudez said. 

“‘Catholic News’ draws on the expertise, resources, and integrity that readers have come to expect from Catholic News Agency. It provides a brand-new and extremely convenient way to consume CNA’s award-winning reporting,” he said. 

Those wishing to listen can ask a smart speaker - any smart speaker - a special launch phrase. 

For a Google Home speaker, the phrase is “Hey Google, play Catholic News.” For those who own an Alexa device, the phrase is similar, “Alexa, open Catholic News.”

Listeners can also search for “Catholic News” and subscribe on any podcast app. 

“Catholic News” joins the CNA podcast lineup that also includes “CNA Newsroom,” an award-winning weekly news and storytelling podcast that launched in 2018. 

Visit catholicnewsagency.com/smartspeakers for more information. 

First Nation leaders ask Canadian Catholics to skip Mass to protest abuses of Indigenous

Memorial in tribute to 215 Indigenous children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school. / meandering images/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2021 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

First Nation leaders are encouraging Canadian Catholics to skip Mass in response to historic abuses at Catholic-run schools for Indigenous children.

“Something that everybody and every Christian can do is have that show of solidarity and not show up for church on Sunday,” said Felix Thomas, chief of the Kinistin Saulteaux Nation, to Canadian media on Friday, June 11. The Kinistin Saulteaux Nation, a First Nation community, is located northeast of Saskatoon, the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. 

“If it’s not this Sunday,” said Thomas to Catholics of skipping Mass, “pick a Sunday.” 

Thomas was referring to Pope Francis having not issued a formal apology for the Church’s role in Canada’s residential schools. The remains of 215 Indigenous children were recently discovered in unmarked graves at the site of a former Catholic-run boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia. 

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. A 2015 report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission claimed that anywhere from 4,100 to 6,000 Indigenous children died at the schools as a result of neglect or abuse.

Thomas hoped that the proposed liturgical boycott would send a message to Church authorities that Catholics in Canada are upset at the Kamloops school findings. 

Since the discovery at Kamloops, there have been demands for Pope Francis to issue a formal apology. In response, Bishop Fred Henry, the retired bishop of Calgary, pointed to previous formal apologies by Canadian bishops over the residential school abuses. Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto also said that a formal papal apology would require a papal trip to Canada, involving significant logistical difficulties. 

Pope Francis, at his Sunday Angelus on June 6, expressed sorrow over the findings at Kamloops and emphasized the need for a “turn away from the colonizing model.”

Another tribal leader, David Pratt, said that he does not think that Pope Francis has “gone far enough.” 

Pratt is the vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, an organization which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. In Canada, some Indigenous groups are known as “First Nation.” 

“They have to apologize,” he said of the Church. “I know some people say it’s not important, but we believe it’s really important. There has to be an acknowledgment of the wrongs done by the Catholic Church.”

Pratt told Canadian media that there was “no excuse for (the Church) not accepting their role” in the residential school system. He said the lack of apology from the pope has compounded the pain of survivors of residential schools and their families, particularly since many members of First Nations are Catholics. 

“Many of our people are practising Catholics as well,” said Pratt. “They need to hear the leader of their church recognizing the harms that they’ve done to them,” he added.

Individual bishops in Canada, as well as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and individual religious orders, have repeatedly apologized for the role played by the Church in operating the schools.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, a church run by the same religious order that formerly operated the Kamloops Indian Residential School - the Oblates of Mary Immaculate - was vandalized on Saturday. 

The phrases “release the records” and “killers” were spray-painted on the door of St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Parish overnight. The parish was founded by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order that ran the Kamloops residential school from 1893 until 1969. 

Kamloops, the city where the school was located, belonged to the Archdiocese of Vancouver until the Diocese of Kamloops was created in 1945.

Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver issued a “statement of commitment” to the First Nations of Canada on June 2, following the discovery of the remains. 

In the statement he expressed his “deep apology and profound condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated by this horrific news,” and pledged full transparency with regards to any archival records of residential schools.

The following day, Bishop Peter Nguyen of Kamloops issued a similar letter, apologizing for the Church’s role, and pledging to develop “a long-term pastoral approach” for reconciliation and healing.