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Update: Lebanon's Catholic leaders seek help; here's where you can donate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Aziz Taher, Reuters

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BEIRUT (CNS) -- As Lebanon's Catholic leaders appealed for help for their country, international and U.S. organizations appealed for donations for Beirut, capital of a country already suffering from a severe economic downturn.

"The church, which has set up a relief network throughout Lebanese territory, now finds itself faced with a new great duty, which it is incapable of assuming on its own," said Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch. He called for a U.N.-controlled fund to be set up to manage aid for the reconstruction of Beirut and other international assistance to aid the stricken country.

In Lebanon, Maronite Catholics are the largest Christian group. In the United States, two Maronite bishops noted that the explosions, which left more than 130 people dead and more than 300,000 homeless, "turned Beirut into an apocalyptic city. Hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, and much more (are) destroyed, leaving people feeling hopeless and helpless."

"We ask for your support for our brothers and sisters at this difficult time and in response to this catastrophe," said the statement, signed by Bishops Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and A. Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles.

"We urge you to pray for Lebanon, and we ask for your support for our brothers and sisters at this difficult time and in response to this catastrophe. We appeal to all nations, all people of goodwill, to stand in solidarity with the Lebanese. We hope and pray Lebanon will regain stability and initiate a path of recovery toward peace and justice for all."

In Beirut, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan appealed to all people of good will: "Here is Beirut, crying out for help!" He said all Syriac parishes would use everything at their disposal to help.

"We value all relief, aid and assistance provided to those affected, especially for Beirut residents and its suburbs," he said, also appealing for prayers and referring to the victims as martyrs.

In a statement from the Melkite Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus, Patriarch Joseph Absi also referred to those who died as martyrs.

"The time now is not for the sharing of responsibilities nor for disputes, but for the tireless work to reduce the repercussions of the national catastrophe and to ... reject differences and work together to avoid the worst," he said.

Here are some Catholic agencies where you can donate to help the citizens of Lebanon:

Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Vatican agency: https://cnewa.org/campaigns/lebanoncrisis/

Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization for Catholic charitable agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, Development and Peace, CAFOD: www.caritas.org/2020/08/explosions-in-beirut/

Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation: https://www.churchinneed.org/beirut-acn-offers-emergency-food-aid/

Malteser International, relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta: www.malteser-international.org/en/donation.html

Jesuit Refugee Service: https://www.jrsusa.org?form=lebanonresponse

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Update: Catholic leaders call for prayers, help after massive Beirut blasts

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- Lebanese were reeling after a massive explosion at Beirut's port destroyed homes, businesses and livelihoods across the capital, and Catholic leaders immediately took action and called for international support.

Aid groups say the blast Aug. 4 threatens to open a new humanitarian crisis in an impoverished nation that hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and is already struggling to stay afloat amid an economic collapse and soaring rates of poverty and unemployment. The explosion destroyed numerous apartment buildings, potentially leaving many homeless at a time when Lebanese have lost their jobs and savings due to the currency crisis.

Lebanon's top Catholic cleric, Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, has called for a U.N.-controlled fund to be set up to manage aid for the reconstruction of Beirut and other international assistance to aid the stricken country.

"Hundreds of families are homeless. All this is happening and the state is in an economic and financial situation which makes it incapable of dealing with this human and urban catastrophe," he told Vatican News.

"The church, which has set up a relief network throughout Lebanese territory, now finds itself faced with a new great duty, which it is incapable of assuming on its own," said Cardinal Rai, urging for help "without any political consideration, because what happened is beyond politics and conflicts."

"It is unclear who is behind the blast, but what is certain is that there were explosive materials which turned Beirut into an apocalyptic city. Hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, and much more (are) destroyed, leaving people feeling hopeless and helpless," wrote the two U.S. Maronite prelates, Bishops Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and A. Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles.

"It saddens us to see Lebanon, once designated by Pope St. John Paull II as being 'more than a country, it is a message,' a message of conviviality between Christians and Muslims, between East and West. This country is at the verge of a failed state and total collapse," their statement read.

"We urge you to pray for Lebanon, and we ask for your support for our brothers and sisters at this difficult time and in response to this catastrophe. We appeal to all nations, all people of goodwill, to stand in solidarity with the Lebanese. We hope and pray Lebanon will regain stability and initiate a path of recovery toward peace and justice for all."

Damage was sustained by several Catholic agencies, including the CNEWA/Pontifical Mission and Caritas Lebanon, but staff were safe. A nearby Franciscan church and friary were reportedly destroyed, but there was no loss of life.

"It is a terrible and disastrous situation and today we live in a total confusion," said Rita Rhayem, director of Caritas Lebanon, whose staff immediately took action to bring relief to those affected by the explosion.

The Caritas confederation is also launching an emergency plan coordinated by the general secretariat of Caritas Internationalis to immediately assist victims.

"The situation is critical and this is the first time that we have experienced a situation of such great magnitude, it is apocalyptic, but we don't stop, and we will carry on in order to help all those in difficulty, " Rhayem said in a statement.

"There are a lot of dead and a lot of injured, and the health situation is likely to worsen quickly, as the toxic gases can cause additional health problems. Caritas Lebanon is preparing for this, but its health centers have no means to face this kind of situation, and rescue operations are made even more difficult by the lack of electricity," Rhayem explained, underlining the severity of the situation.

In an Aug. 5 statement the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said its members were following the situation "with great concern and sorrow."

"We raise prayer for the souls of the dead and for recovery of the injured people, and we pray for stability and prosperity of Lebanon and express our solidarity with all citizens of Lebanon in these difficult times," the leaders said in the statement.

Praying for the victims and their families, Pope Francis also asked for prayers "for Lebanon so that with the effort of everyone in society -- political and religious -- it may face this tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the serious crisis it is experiencing."

A Beirut Mass live-streamed on Twitter by Rayane Moussallem caught the moment the massive explosion went off. It showed a priest waving a censer full of incense during the Mass when suddenly the church violently shook and debris from the ceiling flew down, hitting the fleeing priest. Glass and other material littered the church's marble floor. The priest reportedly is fine following the blast.

But thousands of shocked Beirut residents were badly hurt by flying glass and broken doors and furniture resulting from the blast.

Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired teacher who has lived near the port for decades, said it was "like an atomic bomb" had gone off.

"I've experienced everything, but nothing like this before," even during the 1975-1990 civil war, she told the French news agency AFP. "All the buildings around here have collapsed. I'm walking through glass and debris everywhere, in the dark."

"I lived the 15 years of civil war and the Israeli wars on Lebanon, but I never witnessed such a devastating explosion," tweeted Fadi Daou of the Beirut-based Adyan Foundation, which promotes solidary in the midst of diversity. "I can say the third of Beirut is destroyed, with hundreds of victims and thousands of wounded."

While Beirut "is sad, missing hundreds of its children dead or disappeared, thousands of wounded, tens of thousands of displaced ... it will resurrect by the solidarity and resilience of its people," he added.

The Save the Children charity said that "the incident could not have occurred at a worse time." Lebanon faces unimaginable economic and social devastation in its wake.

Lebanon's Red Cross reported that at least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded, but it expected the toll could rise further as many remained missing.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said a state of emergency should be declared in Beirut for two weeks, adding it was "unacceptable" that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored in a port warehouse for six years without safety measures. He vowed that those responsible would face the "harshest punishments."

However, many question why such large quantities of a lethal chemical would be held in the center of the Lebanese capital so close to homes, shops and a major highway. Experts like Anthony May, a retired explosives investigator with U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told CNN that only 2 tons of ammonium nitrate caused the huge devastation in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

He and other foreign explosive experts believe that the massive pinkish-orange smoke plume seen from the blast is not consistent with ammonium nitrate, which gives a yellow hue. They believe that "military explosives" such as munitions and high velocity materials were also present and wonder why they were stored in such a vulnerable, but highly important site.

Estimates suggest some 85% of the country's grain was stored at the now-destroyed silos at the port; only 3% of the port now remains. Concerns have been raised about how Lebanon will continue to import nearly all of its vital goods with its main port devastated.

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Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.

 

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Pope calls for prayers for Lebanon after deadly explosion in Beirut

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a massive fire triggered a deadly explosion in Beirut, Pope Francis called for prayers and a united effort to help Lebanon overcome "this serious crisis." 

"Let us pray for the victims and their family members, and let us pray for Lebanon so that with the effort of everyone in society -- political and religious -- it may face this tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the serious crisis it is experiencing," the pope said Aug. 5 at the end of his general audience.

The morning after a devastating explosion rocked the city's port area Aug. 4, at least 100 people were reported dead, more than 4,000 others were injured, and more than 100 people were missing. Rescue workers continued to search for survivors under the rubble.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse that had caught fire.

The shock waves from the explosion flattened nearby structures, shattered glass and shook buildings throughout the city in the tiny Mediterranean nation already devastated by the coronavirus and its worst financial crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

A recent report by the U.N. World Food Program said almost 50% of Lebanese citizens -- along with 63% of Palestinian refugees and 75% of Syrian refugees in the country -- were worried they could find enough food.

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Explosion in Beirut adds suffering to Lebanon's dire situation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- Hospitals in the Lebanese capital are overwhelmed with those suffering injuries from a massive explosion in Beirut's port, causing widespread damage the city and rocking the tiny Mediterranean nation already devastated by the coronavirus and its worst financial crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

"People won't be able to rebuild their homes, businesses, livelihoods. There are reports of hospitals turning away patients because they don't have the capacity," said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher with Human Rights Watch.

"Even before this blast, there have been shortages of medical equipment, protective gear. The health care capacity was already overstretched. I don't know how hospitals are going to be able to handle these additional injuries," she added. Initial reports say the explosion was caused by highly explosive materials seized from a ship stored at the port.

Lebanon's dire economic crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is pushing people into a struggle for survival, Catholic and other humanitarian agencies warn, as growing numbers of families can no longer afford the basic food, electricity, hygiene, water and cooking fuel needed to live. On top of that, power cuts last up to 20 hours a day.

With Lebanon's currency collapse by 80% of its value since last October, spiraling inflation and unemployment running about 55%, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association/Pontifical Mission's Michel Constantin explained that Lebanon does not have a social safety net, but the Catholic Church is reaching out to help the destitute.

An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA/Pontifical Mission works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to address pastoral needs and deliver humanitarian aid.

"People have lost their jobs, are stuck at home with no employment and are getting hungry. We are distributing food, life-saving items such as medicines, food and milk for children for families who have lost jobs. Not to fight poverty, but to save lives," Constantin told Catholic News Service by phone from Beirut.

"This crisis hits everybody -- Lebanese families, Palestinian and Syrian refugees alike. We will start seeing children dying from hunger before the end of the year," warned Jad Sakr, acting country director of Save the Children in Lebanon.

A recent report by the U.N. World Food Program said 50% of Lebanese citizens -- along with 63 percent of Palestinians and 75 percent of Syrians in the country -- had expressed doubts they would find enough food over the previous month.

For many Lebanese, aspects of the COVID-19 crisis also recall painful memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, said American Emily Redfern volunteering with Fratelli Project, supported by CNEWA/Pontifical Mission and a partner reaching those in need.

"If we offer a choice between hygiene or food boxes the families will all choose food ... every time," Redfern explained. Speaking of the head of a household in one family she said, "He's too proud to accept help, it's a good thing his wife is not, otherwise I don't know how they would be eating."

"CNEWA/Pontifical Mission made an appeal in New York in coordination and partnership with the Oriental Congregation in the name of the pope for the victims of COVID-19 in our area (Mideast)," Constantin said.

He said the agency was choosing to help "the poorest of the poor, not the disadvantaged, but the ones one who cannot make it alone. Our partners have screened those in extreme need of life-saving items," Constantin said of his group's operations, based in Beirut, but covering Syria, Iraq and Egypt in addition to Lebanon.

So far, donations of about $500,000 have been received and are being used in all four countries struggling from coronavirus outbreaks; those countries also have conflict, economic woes, and are housing refugees from regional wars.

CNEWA/Pontifical Mission's Constantin said he and nine others are also serving on a crisis cell team under the leadership of Lebanon's top Catholic cleric, Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch. Team members help the church to better "identify and prioritize needs," while appealing for assistance from Lebanese in the diaspora, foreign governments as well as Catholic and international nongovernmental organizations.

"We have created a network in Lebanon to help families in need and keep any family from dying of hunger," Cardinal Rai told Vatican Radio recently. "Half of the Lebanese population lives without the food they need, and many are out of work."

Caritas Lebanon, St. Vincent de Paul and other institutions as well as parishes are part of this cooperative network.

Rita Rhayem, who directs Caritas Lebanon, warned that the international community has largely remained silent as organizations struggle to aid not only Lebanese, but also Syrian refugees and migrant workers.

Caritas helps provide housing assistance and food to refugees and shelter to foreign domestic workers evicted by employers who can no longer afford their services, but the Catholic humanitarian agency also must seek resources for this aid.

"The last couple of months have been really challenging for Caritas Lebanon: The number of beneficiaries has tripled while the people who used to support us can no longer do so," Rhayem told a July news conference presenting Caritas Internationalis' annual report in Rome.

 

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Missing Mass: Social isolation keeps elders safe but lonely

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tristan John "Teejay" Cabrera, courtesy Unbound.org

By Bronwen Dachs

In communities around the world, the social isolation that keeps elders safe from the coronavirus but precludes going to church is proving extremely difficult for many. In some remote areas, younger generations are helping their elders.

In the Philippines, near Quezon City, 55-year-old Melinda Garcia used to help her 100-year-old mother, Julita Santiago, who is blind in her left eye and uses a wheelchair, get to their nearby chapel every day. Now both women are required by local restriction orders to stay indoors.

"Even on days when there is no Mass, I would go to the chapel so that I will not feel bored at home," Santiago said. "Now, I spend my days doing personal prayers and taking sight of the surroundings outside my front door."

Also in Quezon City, 73-year-old Rosalina Barra said she feels "so stressed out, afraid and worried" because she lives alone. While she listens to Masses on the radio, she misses the pre-pandemic times when she could "pray quietly inside the church because I feel at peace there."

In a remote area of northwestern Tanzania, people older than 70 in the Village Angels of Tanzania project do not know anyone infected with COVID-19 and have difficulty grasping "what it's all about," said Sister Dativa Mukebita, a Franciscan Sister of St. Bernadette.

About 20 people ages 16-30 repair houses among other caregiving activities for the 80 elderly people served by the project in two villages in Ngara District. With cellphones and Wi-Fi, the younger people quickly understood the importance of wearing masks and other COVID-19 precautions, Sister Mukebita said, noting that they made masks for themselves and for others too.

But without access to the internet, television, newspapers or radio, "all the elderly know about the coronavirus is what we tell them," she said.

"We have told them it is a reality and educated them on what to do to keep safe," but they find the social distancing particularly difficult, she said.

The project's main aim is to reduce the loneliness and isolation of the elders in a country with few provisions such as nursing homes or pensions for the poor, Sister Mukebita said. Connecting the elders with young people with little education or skills in an area with very few jobs is mutually beneficial, she said.

The youths, who receive a stipend for providing support and companionship to the elderly, are careful to wash their hands and stick to the new health protocols when they deliver food once a week, she said. In fact, the pandemic has prompted them to take extra care in checking up on the older people's well-being, she said.

The deliveries include vegetables that the young people grow, Sister Mukebita said.

Often during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis has called on young people to reach out to their grandparents or the elderly who may be lonely or on their own. Most recently he did this during his Angelus address July 26, the feast of Sts. Joachim and St. Anne, Jesus' grandparents.

"Use the inventiveness of love, make phone calls, video calls, send messages, listen to them and, where possible, in compliance with health care regulations, go to visit them, too. Send them a hug," he said.

In San Pedro, Guatemala, 65-year-old Cecilia Bixcul attended Mass twice a week before COVID-19 put an end to that. Unable to read, she now relies on her grandchildren to read prayer cards to her so she can keep up with her devotions.

Bixcul lives with her daughter, who lost her teaching job during the lockdown, and three grandchildren. The money she earns from handwashing clothes for people in her community -- a job she's done since she was 12 -- helps keep the family afloat.

"I would like everything to be normal again, I am praying to God for that," she said.

Bixcul is one of more than 30,000 elders who receive cash transfers and direct services from Unbound, a Catholic-founded nonprofit organization that works with families around the world.

In Kibagare in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, 67-year-old Benetta Muhinda runs a small business from the one-room home she shares with four of her grandchildren. Her income from selling charcoal briquettes that she makes by mixing charcoal dust, water and soil is now very small, but she has no option but to keep working during the pandemic, she said.

Muhinda, who raises her grandchildren on her own and cannot read, said she suffers in being unable to go to church to practice her faith. Attending Mass was particularly important because she could listen, while at home there is no one to interpret the Bible for her, she said.

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Vatican workers who meet public tested for COVID-19 antibodies

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Vatican employees and workers who have contact with the public are being tested for the antibodies for COVID-19, said the new director of the Vatican department of health and hygiene.

"For now, the study has had good results in that no one has been shown to be a carrier of the antibodies," Andrea Arcangeli told the Vatican newspaper in an interview published Aug. 3.

People being tested included Vatican police, members of the Swiss Guard, staff at the Vatican Museums and in the Vatican's warehouses and shops, said Arcangeli, a medical doctor who started his new position in August after serving the department since 1999. He was on the medical team offering emergency care for St. John Paul II in the few months before his death in 2005.

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in Italy, the Vatican named Arcangeli to be its special commissioner to help handle the city-state's emergency response.

Following what other countries were doing, he said, starting in March, the Vatican also stopped all routine medical services at its health clinic, which serves Vatican residents, employees and retirees, and focused all its efforts on urgent care.

People who suspected they had symptoms of COVID-19 were advised to not use the health clinic, but to go instead to a special mobile medical unit that had been set up exclusively for COVID-19 testing to help reduce the possibility of spreading the virus, he said.

"Fortunately, we did not see many patients suffering from COVID-19," he said.

Their first positive case was confirmed by the Vatican March 6. It was a priest from Bergamo who had first gone to the health clinic for a routine pre-employment exam and later tested positive, leading the clinic to temporarily close for special cleaning and to order a preventative quarantine for those who had come into contact with the priest at the Vatican. 

Arcangeli said the other cases of Vatican employees and residents who tested positive for the coronavirus were all handled by Italian hospitals because the Vatican health clinic is not a hospital and offers only general and specialized tests and outpatient care. 

But the health service did do blanket testing of Vatican employees and residents who would have been in contact with the people found to be positive, he added.

The Vatican has said it registered 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees and residents, regardless of where they were tested. All 12 tested negative by early June.

"Right now, we are doing specific antibody tests on all personnel that are in direct contact with the public," he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibodies develop between one to three weeks after infection by the novel coronavirus, but current studies are still looking into how long people carry the antibodies, which, in some lab tests, have been present at least three months after infection.

Arcangeli said they are ready for any eventual resurgence in the fall. There is a greater understanding about the disease "and, therefore, all the doctors are more prepared," he said.

The clinic can help people who suspect they might be infected but it will continue to refer people who test positive to local Italian hospitals for care, he said.

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Bishops from Japan, U.S. call Catholics to work for nuclear disarmament

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

CLEVELAND (CNS) -- The path to true peace requires the world to abolish nuclear weapons, an American bishop and a Japanese archbishop said as the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings at the end of World War II approached.

Speaking during a 30-minute webinar Aug. 3, Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, and Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, Japan, reiterated long-standing calls by the bishops' conferences of both countries that the world must reverse the path toward a renewed arms race because of the threat it poses to God's creation.

"As long as the idea that weapons are necessary for peacemaking persists, it will be difficult to even reduce the number of nuclear weapons, let alone to abolish nuclear weapons. It would be ideal if the U.S. and Japan could truly reconcile with each other and work together for the abolition of nuclear weapons," Archbishop Takami said.

Recalling the words of Pope Francis, who during his visit to Japan in November 2019 called the world to remember its moral obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons, Bishop Malloy said that all nations must "find the means for complete and mutual disarmament based on a shared commitment and trust that needs to be fostered and deepened."

The bishops expressed concern that the world has overlooked the massive destructiveness of nuclear weapons as experienced in Japan in 1945 when U.S. atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima Aug. 6 and Nagasaki three days later.

Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor of international politics at The Catholic University of America, hosted the prerecorded online event, introducing it with an overview of Catholic peacebuilding efforts in Japan and the United States.

She said church-based efforts are rooted in Catholic theology, which holds that just peace is possible through a sustained commitment to achieve nuclear abolition. She said the threat of nuclear war has grown in recent years as international arms control treaties have been abandoned and more nations seek to add such weapons of mass destruction to their arsenals.

Archbishop Takami, president of the Japanese bishops' conference, opened his remarks by explaining how he is a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki, his hometown and the center of Japan's Catholic faith community. He was in his mother's womb at the time.

"I did not witness the horrific scenes that unfolded immediately following the bombing myself. But my maternal grandmother suffered burns all over her body and died a painful death after one week without receiving any medical attention," the archbishop said.

He recalled that two of his aunts died as a result of the bombing. "My married aunt's body was never found and her husband also died," he said.

Another aunt, a nun, was working outdoors when the bomb detonated. "She was exposed to the hot blast and was in pain for 12 days before dying," he said.

At Nagasaki's Urakami Cathedral, where 24 parishioners were preparing to receive the sacrament of reconciliation when the bomb exploded, little remained standing, he said.

Of the 12,000 parishioners about 8,500 died, the archbishop added. The bombing was "spiritually damaging" to many parishioners, who he said lost their faith and left the church.

Archbishop Takami drew widely from the words of St. John Paul II, who visited the two cities in 1981, delivering an urgent appeal that all people commit to a future without nuclear weapons.

The speech prompted the Japanese bishops' conference to designate the period from Aug. 6-15 each year as 10 Days of Prayer for Peace starting in 1982. During the time people are called to pray, reflect and act on behalf of peace, he said.

"Pope Francis went one step further and declared that the possession and use of nuclear are immoral," the archbishop added, describing one of the pontiff's address during his visit. "The pope stressed the need for unity and working together toward a world free of nuclear weapons and committed the church to the goal."

In response to Pope Francis' appeal, Bishop Alexis Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima July 7 launched the Nuclear-Free World Foundation in collaboration with three peace organizations to support people working toward the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was approved in 2017 by a majority of United Nations member states. The Holy See became one of the first entities to ratify the agreement.

The fund will support peacemakers' work until 50 nations ratify the pact. Through July 7, 39 nations had ratified it, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs reported.

Bishop Malloy said the U.S. bishops remain dedicated to the vision for disarmament expressed in their 1983 pastoral letter "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response."

The document committed the bishops, he said "to shaping the climate of opinion which will make it possible for our country to express profound sorrow over the atomic bombing of 1945. Without that sorrow, there is no possibility of finding a way of repudiating future use of nuclear weapons."

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can lead people to understand the "tremendous human suffering and human cost" that can occur when nuclear weapons are used in war, he said.

Bishop Malloy also cited the words of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," in which the pontiff called all people to see the world as a gift from the love of God."

Later, the pope in Japan, Bishop Malloy added, reminded the world of the threat nuclear weapons pose to creation and to human dignity, thus making their possession and use immoral under Catholic teaching.

The prelates concluded the webinar with prayers in Japanese and English, respectively, seeking peace, reconciliation and understanding among all people.

The webinar was produced by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network and its Project for Revitalizing Catholic Engagement in Nuclear Disarmament and the Berkley Center for Religion Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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Film director switches formats, writes book on grandpa's WWII heroism

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Thomas Nelson

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jon Erwin, in tandem with older brother Andrew, has directed movies with Christian themes over the past decade, including "October Baby" "I Can Only Imagine" and "I Still Believe."

But between movies, Erwin collaborated with William Doyle to write the book of his grandfather's service in World War II: "Beyond Valor: A World War II Story of Extraordinary Heroism, Sacrificial Love and a Race Against Time," which will be published Aug. 18.

Erwin's grandfather, Henry "Red" Erwin, received the Medal of Honor for his efforts in picking up a burning phosphorous bomb that had ignited prematurely and heaving it out of the B-29 "superfortress" aircraft. The bomb would have not only wiped out his aircraft and its crew, but wreaked havoc on a formation of B-29s headed to a mission over Japan.

Erwin, in a phone interview with Catholic News Service, said it was the first Medal of Honor OK'd by President Harry Truman; Red's mission took place the day after Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death.

"He was really burned," Erwin said of Red, a lifelong Methodist he called "Granddad" growing up. One of Red's duties aboard the aircraft was to drop phosphorus bombs through a chute in the aircraft's floor. The one that ignited prematurely came back up through the chute and Red fully absorbed the flames.

"I was laying on the deck, and I was in sheer agony," Red recalled in "Beyond Valor." "(Crewmates) Bill Loesch and Herb Schnipper got the first aid kit down, and I told Herb to give me a syrette of morphine. But they wanted to keep giving me morphine, and as the plane's first aid man, I knew that was dangerous. I was mortally afraid they were going to give me too much morphine." He told his crewmates, "You're going to kill me if you give me more morphine."

"He was praying to God and to his mother," Schnipper remembered.

"Starting with a colonel who was on board the plane," Erwin told CNS, "they were so moved by the extreme level of sacrifice and heroism he displayed, they woke up (Gen.) Curtis LeMay the next morning, who was like the (Gen. George) Patton of the Pacific, and used his abrasiveness to get it (the Medal of Honor request) to Washington immediately." Truman gave quick approval.

"LeMay really was insistent that he wanted to pin the medal around my grandfather's neck before what they thought was his death," Erwin said. But Medals of Honor don't grow on trees, and next to none were to be found in the Pacific.

But there was one in a display case at Pearl Harbor, Erwin said. "It was a very long flight (made by) a secret crew. They smashed the window ... and they got it to the general's office and he pinned it on my grandfather's neck just seven days after the incident."

Erwin added there was serious doubt about Red's survival due to the extent of his injuries. He had third-degree burns; the flaming bomb seared off an ear and obliterated his nose. But Red Erwin didn't die. He underwent numerous skin grafts and surgeries as well as arduous physical rehabilitation over the next two years, and he lived 57 years after war's end, until 2002. He died at age 80.

One big part may have been Red's wife, Betty. Before the incident, Erwin said, "he was a good-looking guy. He was terrified at what she would think. ... A lot of guys thought their wives would disown them. ... He was down to about 85 pounds and had already endured about two dozen surgeries. But she touched the only unburned portion of his cheek, kissed him and said, 'I love you.'"

Erwin's father, Henry Jr., kept Red's story alive in 2006 with his self-published book "When Courage Calls: The Red Erwin Story," but now Erwin says that "on behalf of the family," he considers himself to be "the custodian of the story." And, as a filmmaker, he's not about to let the movie rights go.

His one regret: "I didn't really listen to his stories like I should have. I wasn't listening, and I wasn't as interested in the Greatest Generation and the war that they fought and the times that they lived in. I would give anything to go back and have those conversations now."

"Folks, take the time to sit down and listen to your grandparents," he advised.

However, over 15 years, Erwin discovered crewmates and others who knew his grandfather to help fill in the story and flesh out his portrait of Granddad. Grandmother Betty "knew what I was up to," he said, but she never allowed him to read the love letters they exchanged during the war; he saw them only after she'd died a few years ago.

One thing he learned anew in writing the book" "Going up and beyond the call of duty is something we can all apply to what Jesus said. 'If you go one mile, go two.' Do more than what is required of you. It's one of the defining characteristics of being a Christian."

 

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Update: German author says retired Pope Benedict is 'extremely frail'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sven Hoppe, pool via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An author with a long and close relationship to retired Pope Benedict XVI told a German newspaper that the 93-year-old retired pope is "extremely frail."

Peter Seewald, the author who has published four wide-ranging book-length interviews with the retired pope, was quoted in the Aug. 3 edition of the Bavarian newspaper Passauer Neue Presse.

Seewald said he visited with Pope Benedict Aug. 1 to present him with a copy of the authorized biography, "Benedict XVI: A Life."

The retired pope lives in the Mater Ecclesia monastery in the Vatican Gardens. Seewald said he visited with the former pontiff there in the company of Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict's personal secretary.

Passauer Neue Presse reported Seewald describing Pope Benedict as "extremely frail," and as saying that while he is mentally sharp, his voice is barely audible.

The Vatican press office said late Aug. 3 that Archbishop Ganswein insisted there was no reason "for particular concern" over the retired pope's health "other than that of a 93-year-old who is overcoming the most acute phase of a painful, but not serious, illness" -- herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles.

Pope Benedict had traveled to Regensburg, Germany, in late June to visit his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who was ill and died July 1. Seewald reportedly told the newspaper that Pope Benedict returned to the Vatican "seriously ill" and that he was suffering from a painful case of shingles on his face.

The newspaper also reported that, according to Pope Benedict's spiritual testament, he wants to be buried in the grotto under St. Peter's Basilica in the chapel where St. John Paul II originally was laid to rest before being moved upstairs to the St. Sebastian Chapel in the basilica after his beatification in 2011.

In 1981, Pope John Paul had called him to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The two worked closely for the next 24 years, until St. John Paul's death in 2005.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

John Hume, who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, dies at 83

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul McErlane, Reuters

By Michael Kelly

DUBLIN (CNS) -- Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, has hailed political leader John Hume as a "paragon of peace" for his key role in bringing an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Hume, 83, died early Aug. 3, his family said in a statement.

As a young man Hume trained for the priesthood, before becoming a community activist and later a politician highlighting the plight of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s, when discrimination in employment and housing was rife.

Archbishop Martin -- who, like Hume, was born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, said, "A great sadness has descended on my home city of Derry today as we learn of the death of one of our greatest sons, Mr. John Hume.

"That sadness ripples out to every corner of Ireland and all around the world, where the mere mention of the name of John Hume evokes admiration, respect and thanksgiving for a life dedicated to peace and social justice.

"Today we are remembering a paragon of peace, a giant of a statesman whose legacy of unstinting service to the common good is internationally acclaimed, even though it is still perhaps only unfolding," the archbishop said.

Hume is credited with convincing the Provisional IRA to declare a cease-fire in their conflict with the British in 1994 and with being the key architect of the Good Friday peace agreement four years later.

Archbishop Martin said that "as a priest working in Derry, I came to know John as a man whose convictions were rooted in a deep faith, in prayer and practical Christianity."

Hume's commitment to peace building was recognized in 1998 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize along with David Trimble, then the most influential politician in the Protestant community in Northern Ireland. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI conferred Hume with papal knighthood .

Archbishop Martin said this honor was "in recognition of his commitment to peace, reconciliation, nonviolence and social justice."

"John put Catholic social teaching into practice -- sometimes at great personal cost and risk -- working ceaselessly for a process of reconciliation through which the dignity of every human person is recognized and upheld," he said.

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry described Hume as "one of the greatest peacemakers and champions of social justice of our time."

"He dedicated his life to the welfare of this community, at no small cost to himself. His name became a byword for dedication to the cause of peace, whatever the obstacles or criticisms," Bishop McKeown said.

Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor also praised Hume.

"Motivated by a strong personal faith and responding to the needs of the community, John was a champion of human rights," said Bishop Treanor.

"John Hume uniquely shaped a new and prophetic political narrative which enabled the decommissioning and disarmament of weapons and generated an infrastructure for a peace process that led to the Good Friday Agreement, and the foundations of a new politics that is his lasting legacy," Bishop Treanor said.

Irish President Michael Higgins said, "All of those who sought and worked for peace on our island of Ireland, and in the hearts of all, will have been deeply saddened by the passing of John Hume, Nobel Peace laureate and statesman.

"Whatever the loss to all on this island, to his family his loss is greatest. To his wife Pat, his children, and all those who loved him, Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy," Higgins said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Hume "stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means."

"With his passing we have lost a great man who did so much to help bring an end to the Troubles and build a better future for all," Johnson said.

Hume is to be buried Aug. 5 after a Mass in St. Eugene Cathedral in Londonderry. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, members of the public will not be permitted to attend, but the funeral will be broadcast live by the national broadcaster RTE.

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]