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Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed indefinitely

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre will remain closed until further notice. It is the first time in nearly 700 years that the holy site has closed for an extended period due to disease. 

The church building, which houses the tomb of Christ and the site of the crucifiction, was first closed to pilgrims and other visitors on Wednesday, March 25. Initially, the closure was only expected to last for one week, but religious and Israeli government officials agreed that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the global pilgrimage destination should not reopen. 

"The initial understanding is that this order is valid for one week, although nobody knows how long this crisis will take," Wadie Abu Nassar, a spokesperson for the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, told Reuters. 

Nassar said that if the church is still closed to the public at Easter, some sort of celebration will be arranged in line with the governmental guidelines and restrictions. Easter is celebrated on April 12 for Latin Rite Catholics and April 19 for Eastern Churches using the Julian calendar-- both dates are observed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

If this were to happen, said Nassar, pilgrims would still not be allowed in, but the denominations that share custody of the church would coordinate to ensure that there are no more than 10 people gathered at one time. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is unique among religious sites as it is partially controlled by several different Christinan Churches. The Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Armenian Apostolic Church each share control of the building, and other Orthodox Churches also celebrate divine liturgy at the site. 

The last time the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed for an extended amount of time was 1349, during an outbreak of the Black Death in Jerusalem. 

The church, which was first consecrated in the year 335, has been closed for short periods of time in the subsequent millennia due to war or other disputes. In 2018, to protest a proposed tax increase on churches, the site was closed to the public for about three days before reopening. 

Other religious sites, including the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, have also closed due to the Israeli government’s new restrictions aimed at preventing people from catching COVID-19. 

Authorities in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, closed the Church of the Nativity in early March after four cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in the town. The Church of the Nativity was built over the birthplace of Jesus Christ. All tourists were subsequently banned from entering Bethlehem.

Israel has taken a proactive approach in its attempts to contain the spread of COVID-19. On March 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that anyone entering the country would be forced to quarantine for a 14-day period. That announcement resulted in the cancelation or abrupt end to many pilgrimages, as travelers scrambled to secure flights back to the United States. 

Israel has recorded more than 4,000 cases of COVID-19, with 15 deaths.

Rome’s De Donatis is first cardinal known to have coronavirus

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, has tested positive for coronavirus. He is the first cardinal known to have the virus.

The cardinal has been admitted to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome with a fever. He is reportedly in good condition, and his close collaborators are reported to be self-isolating, according to a statement from the Vicariate of Rome.

“I feel serene and confident amid this trial,” the cardinal said in a statement March 30. “I entrust myself to the Lord and to support from the prayers of all of you, dear faithful of the Church in Rome.”

“I live this moment as an occasion given to me in Providence so that I can share the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters. I offer my prayers for them, for the whole diocesan community and for the inhabitants of the city of Rome,” the cardinal added.

While Pope Francis is the Bishop of Rome, the day-to-day leadership of the diocese is provided for by De Donatis, who enjoys broad vicarious authority delegated by the pope.

The cardinal, 66, was chosen by Pope Francis in 2014, while not yet a bishop, to offer the Lenten spiritual exercises to the Roman Curia, a job traditionally given to a cardinal. In 2015 he became an auxiliary bishop in Rome, and became vicar general of Rome in 2017. He was created a cardinal in 2018.

One Catholic bishop is known to have died from the virus, which is a global pandemic, and several have been diagnosed with it, among them is New Orleans' Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Nearly 100 priests are reported to have died of the virus.

 

During coronavirus, German cardinal opens seminary to feed homeless

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne has opened the archdiocesan seminary to feed and shelter the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic. The seminary had been partly emptied due to renovation works and students were sent home and classes suspended in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The cardinal first announced the project on Sunday, March 29. “I have decided to open up our seminary for the homeless while our seminarians are gone due to the corona restriction,” Woelki said on Sunday.

“We want to offer warm meals and access to restrooms and showers to those who have nobody to turn to these days in Cologne.”

The seminary opened its ministry to the homeless on Monday, offering meals in a dining hall with 20 individual tables, so that those coming in could be served while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.

CNA Deutsch, Catholic News Agency’s German language sister organization, reported March 30 that food is being catered by the archdiocese’s general vicariate and that hygiene and safety standards are being overseen by Malteser, the medical organization of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

In addition to food, the seminary is providing access to showers to both men and women, with facilities open Saturdays to men between 11am and 1pm, and women between 1pm and 2pm. The archdiocese says that it expects to serve between 100-150 people.

Although homeless shelters remain open in the city, social distancing and other measures taken to halt the spread of coronavirus have added to ordinary difficulties faced by the homeless. In Cologne, Caritas have highlighted that those who rely on begging in the streets now have far fewer people whom they can ask for assistance.

"Many of the people on the street are just hungry and have not been able to wash for days," Woelki said on Monday.

The seminary is being partly staffed by volunteers from the archdiocesan youth center, as well as theology students from the schools in Cologne, Bonn and Sankt Augustin.

“Earlier today I had the chance to welcome the first 60 guests to our (temporarily) rededicated seminary,” Woelki said Monday via Twitter. “Many are in great need. But how inspiring it was to see the young volunteers and the sense of community.”

"Our congregations are not only worship congregations, but also always Caritas congregations, and every baptized Christian is not only called to worship and to profess faith, but also to charity," the cardinal said, adding that the Church’s call to service can never be suspended.

The archdiocese also announced Sunday that is providing medical treatment for six Italian coronavirus patients in need of intensive care. The patients were airlifted out of northern Italy, the region hardest-hit by the virus, by the German air force and the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Cardinal Woelki called the medical treatment “an act of charity and international solidarity” with the Italian people.

Pope Francis warns of a coronavirus ‘genocide’ if economy prioritized over people

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 11:16 am (CNA).- In a private letter to an Argentine judge, Pope Francis is reported to have warned that government decisions to prioritize the economy over people could result in a “viral genocide.”

“The governments that face the crisis in this way show the priority of their decisions: the people first. ... It would be sad if they opted for the opposite, which would lead to the death of very many people, something like a viral genocide,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter sent March 28, according to America Magazine, which reported it had obtained the letter.

The pope sent a handwritten note in response to a letter from Judge Roberto Andres Gallardo, the president of the Pan-American Committee of Judges for Social Rights, Argentine news agency Telam reported March 29.

“We are all concerned at the increase … of the pandemic,” Pope Francis wrote, while praising some governments for “adopting exemplary measures with priorities that are well targeted at defending the population” and serving “the common good.”

The pope also said he was “edified by the response of so many people, doctors, nurses, volunteers, religious, priests, who risk their lives to heal and defend healthy people from contagion,” Telam reported.

Pope Francis recounted in the letter that he has been in discussions with the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development to “prepare ourselves for what follows” the global coronavirus outbreak.

“There are already some consequences that must be faced: hunger, especially for people without permanent work, violence, the appearance of usurers (who are the true plague of a social future, dehumanized criminals),” he wrote, according to Telam.

The pope’s letter also cited the economist Dr. Mariana Mazzucato, whose published work argues that state intervention can drive growth and innovation.

“I believe [her vision] can help to think about the future,” he wrote in the letter, which also mentioned Mazzucato’s book “The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy,” according to America Magazine.

To combat the spread of the coronavirus, at least 174 countries have implemented COVID-19 related travel restrictions, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

Argentina was one of the first Latin American countries to implement strict coronavirus restrictions prohibiting entry to foreigners on March 17 and implemented a 12-day mandatory quarantine on March 20.

There have been 820 documented coronavirus cases in Argentina and 22 deaths from COVID-19.

“The choice is to take care of the economy or take care of lives. I chose to take care of lives,” Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said March 25, according to Bloomberg.

Global documented coronavirus cases have surpassed 745,000 confirmed cases, of which more than 100,000 cases are in Italy and 140,000 in the United States, reports the Italian Ministry of Health and Johns Hopkins University respectively.

 

NYC mayor threatens 'permanent' closure of churches defying coronavirus ban

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday, March 27 threatened to “permanently” shut down houses of worship that continue to hold public services in violation of the city’s ban on gatherings of any size. 

The mayor cited a "small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues,” that are continuing to hold religious services despite a prohibition on anyone being within six feet of a person they do not live with. The restrictions were made in an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has infected thousands of New Yorkers and has killed over 1,000 people in the state. 

De Blasio warned that if these communities were found to be holding religious services, “our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.” 

The religious congregations would also be subject to other punishments for continued defiance of the stay-at-home order, de Blasio added. This “additional action” that would be taken includes fines, as well as “potentially closing the building permanently.”

Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, which cover all five boroughs of New York City, suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14 and March 16, respectively. New York’s “stay-at-home” order was issued on March 22, and was recently extended through April 15. 

De Blasio’s threat to shut down religious buildings “permanently” provoked criticism from religious liberty experts, his legal authority to do so.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Further, the New York State Constitution states, “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind.” 

"Mayor de Blasio surely didn’t mean what he said, because there’s no way he or any other government official would ever have the power to shut down a church, synagogue, or mosque permanently,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. 

Rienzi said that, given the context, the mayor “appears to be talking about the temporary need to ensure proper social distancing in a time of crisis,” which Rienzi said was a “valid governmental interest.” 

Rienzi called the phrasing of de Blasio’s comments “unfortunate,” and said they were not helping to soothe the fears of religious groups, particularly as those same religious groups are providing emergency relief work to those impacted by COVID-19. 

“Right now, we need religious groups and the government to continue working together to keep everyone as safe as possible,” said Rienzi. “The First Amendment will protect against any needless targeting of religious groups in a time of crisis.”

Six sisters from same Italian convent have died, as coronavirus spreads among religious orders

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 09:06 am (CNA).- Six sisters in one northern Italian convent have died of coronavirus, and nine sisters are being treated in the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, according to Italian media. Coronavirus is spreading among several religious houses in Italy.

An outbreak in the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity Mother House in Tortona, Italy led half of its 40 sisters to test positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

“Many times as Little Missionary Sisters of Charity we have set ourselves the goal of sharing the lives of the poor and the least, the fragile lives,” Sister Gabriella Perazzi told Vatican News.

“At this moment we share the lives of many people, who throughout Italy and all over the world, experience this fragility in the face of something that comes and upsets the life of a family, like that of a religious community,” she said. “I believe that the Lord calls us today to serve here, in this precariousness.”

After the Red Cross evacuated 19 sisters in the community to a hospital on March 12, the remaining Little Missionary Sisters of Charity were placed under quarantine in another residence.

Sister Gabriella and one other sister remained behind in the Mother House to tend to six elderly sisters who had not tested positive for the coronavirus, but suffer from other health problems.

“We stayed because these sisters need assistance and our motherhouse is for us a sort of retirement home where the [sisters] come after a life spent in service,” she said. “We have remained at our own risk.”

The motherhouse in Tortona is closely connected to the order’s founder, St. Luigi Orione, 1872-1940, who also founded the Sons of Divine Providence, an order of priests and brothers, dedicated to the care of the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported on March 27 that nine sisters remained hospitalized in Tortona’s COVID-19 hospital, and four have been discharged.

The six Little Missionary Sisters of Charity to have died of COVID-19 are Sister Maria Annetta Ribet, 85, Sister Maria Cristina Fontes, 91, Sister Maria Filomena Licitra, 98, Sister Maria Ulisia Felici, 86, Sister Maria Caterina Cafasso, 82, and Mother Maria Ortensia Turati, 89.

The coronavirus can spread quickly in a religious order because of their shared community life. In two Rome convents, at least 58 religious sisters have tested positive for the coronavirus.

A religious community of the Daughters of San Camillo, dedicated to care for the sick, had 40 sisters test positive for COVID-19, one of whom was hospitalized on March 20.

The Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul, which has a convent in Rome, had 19 sisters out of 21 test positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.

A missionary order of priests in Parma, the Xaverian Missionary Fathers, have seen 16 elderly priests and brothers die since February 29, however the religious community could not confirm that all of these deaths were due to COVID-19.

“Adding to the fact that given the health emergency in the city, and having us an internal assistance service with one of our medical confreres, we thought we would not aggravate the workload of the hospital, believing that we would manage it on our own,” Fr. Rosario Giannattasio, superior of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers’ Italian province told Avvenire March 27.

The deceased Xaverian priests and brothers had previously served as missionaries in Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda, Congo, Sierra Leone, and Bangladesh.

More than 10,000 people in Italy have died of COVID-19 according to the Italian Ministry of Health. Among the dead are at least 79 diocesan priests in Italy.

 

USCCB domestic justice chairman welcomes coronavirus aid bill

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development has praised congressional efforts to offset the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City issued a statement in response to the passage Friday of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), which provides more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus and relief.

“We are in a time of twin crises and united purpose: during the worst global public health crisis in our lifetimes, we are also experiencing what may be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Coakley said in a statement released March 28.

“Yet, around the world, we are united in common purpose of caring for the sick, pursuing a cure, and lifting the human spirit.”

Coakley highlighted the essential service of people working to keep society safe, healthy, and functioning during the pandemic, singling out supermarket workers and healthcare professionals for special praise, calling them “tireless and inspiring.”

The archbishop also noted the “long hours and late nights” Congress required to reach bipartisan agreement on the CARES stimulus package. At several points, congressional leadership were lock in debate about the act’s provisions, especially $500 billion made available to the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to ensure corporate liquidity, and Democrat demands that abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood be eligible for small business relief.

The CARES Act was passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives on Friday and signed into law by President Donald Trump later that day. It had previously passed the Senate on March 25 by a margin of 96-0.

The act authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.

Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.

The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.

Coakley noted that while “nothing is perfect,” “given the extraordinary needs of the moment, this $2.2 trillion package is the most expensive single piece of legislation in American history.”

“We are grateful for many provisions that will help the poor and vulnerable, including several provisions that will help employers retain their workers, and provisions that will help the many people who unfortunately have been laid off and will need immediate income when present circumstances make getting a new job much more difficult,” he said Saturday.

“It is good that there will be direct financial assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, and that there will be an infusion of financial resources for hospitals and charitable institutions which will be asked to do more than ever during this crisis.”

But, Coakley said, “there are some areas where aid and relief can improve.”

“We will continue to advocate for those most in need, for food security, for the homeless, for prisoners, for the sick who have large medical bills, for all Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, and for those who have lost friends and loved ones.”

The archbishop particularly expressed his “disappointment” that some aid and relief measures were not extended to undocumented migrants living in the United States, and said that it is “extremely concerning that testing and access to health care coverage was denied to certain immigrants.”

“The health and wellbeing of all in this crisis is threatened if anyone is categorically excluded from getting help,” said Coakley.

Referring to Pope Francis’s homily and Apostolic Benediction, delivered to an empty St. Peter’s square on Friday, Coakley noted the pope’s chosen gospel of the disciples witnessing Christ calm the storm.

“Now is a time of great anxiety and distress. We are less in control than we thought.  This Lent is a time to return ever more to our faith, to trust in the Lord even in the midst of all this trouble. As Pope Francis said, the Lord ‘will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.’”

Pope Francis: Trust in the mercy and justice of God

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Monday that the Church can trust in the mercy and justice of God.

“Each of us has our own stories. Each of us has our own sins. And if you do not remember them, think a little: you will find them,” Pope Francis said March 30 in his daily Mass broadcast.

“Let us look to the Lord who acts with justice, but is very merciful. Let us not be ashamed of being in the Church: let us be ashamed of being sinners. The Church is the mother of all,” he said.

In his homily, the pope compared the lives and circumstances of two women described in the day’s Mass readings: Susanna and the woman caught in adultery.

The first reading from the Book of Daniel describes a “beautiful and God-fearing woman”, Susanna, who is falsely accused of infidelity by two elders and ultimately justified after Daniel’s examination of the deceitful old men.

The Gospel of John describes an encounter between Jesus and a woman charged by the scribes and Pharisees of committing adultery. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” and then to the woman: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Pope Francis said: “The innocent and the sinner. The Fathers of the Church saw a figure of the Church in these women: holy, but with sinful children."

“Both women were in a dark valley … one fell into the hands of hypocrites and the other into the hands of the corrupt," he said.

Francis noted that both women, the innocent and the sinner, faced a death sentence. The woman accused by the corrupt was “an innocent woman, falsely accused, slandered,” while the one condemned by hypocrites was a sinful woman.

“What does the Lord do with these people? To the innocent woman, he saves her, he brings justice. To the sinful woman, he forgives her. To the corrupt judges, he condemns them; to the hypocrites, he helps them to convert,” the pope said.

“In the first case, the people praise the Lord; in the second case, the people learn what God's mercy is like,” he said.

Francis said that the corrupt put themselves in the place of God and “were unable to ask for forgiveness.”

“May each one of us, seeing how Jesus acted in these cases, entrust ourselves to God's mercy and pray, trusting in God's mercy, asking forgiveness” the pope said.

In his livestramed Mass from the chapel in his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, the pope prayed for people who are paralyzed by fear because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“May the Lord help them to stand up, to act for the good of all society, of the whole community,” he said.

“Because God guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley -- the valley of sin --  I fear no harm for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage,” Pope Francis said at the end of his homily.

Strive for Clarity and Compassion

Clarity grows with the spirit of acceptance and the purifying of the mind. With this vision that is the result of a pure heart, we can see with clarity through all the illusions and self-deceptions, all the games the ego plays. But this clarity separates the one who sees with it from the crowd. Don’t we like to feel that we are right and better and then to feel our little ego magnified by the self-righteous people around us? We reinforce and flatter each other by targeting someone weaker who may be innocent or who has been caught doing something wrong. Our anger at the victim hides our own shame. It takes the courage of such clarity to break with the crowd and stand for the truth. But the Gospel reminds us, perhaps warns us, that being clear and being compassionate doesn’t equate with social success.

—from the book Sensing God: Learning to Meditate during Lent by Laurence Freeman, OSB

 
 

Pope Francis prays for those who weep from coronavirus loneliness or loss

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- In his Sunday homily, Pope Francis said it is a grace to weep with those who weep as many people suffer from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many cry today. And we, from this altar, from this sacrifice of Jesus -- of Jesus who was not ashamed to cry -- ask for the grace to cry. May today be for everyone like a Sunday of tears,” Pope Francis said in his homily on March 29.

Before offering Mass in the chapel of his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, the pope said that he was praying for people who are weeping because of coronavirus loneliness, loss, or economic hardship.

“I think of so many people crying: isolated people in quarantine, lonely elderly people, hospitalized people, people in therapy, parents who see that since there is no salary they will not be able to feed their children,” he said.

“Many people cry. We too, from our hearts, accompany them. And it won't hurt us to cry a little with the Lord's weeping for all of his people,” he added.

Pope Francis focused his homily on one line from the Gospel of John’s account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus: “And Jesus wept.”

“How tenderly Jesus weeps!” Pope Francis said. “He cries from the heart, cries with love, cries with his [people] who cry.”

“The cry of Jesus. Perhaps, he wept at other times in his life - we do not know -- certainly in the Garden of Olives. But Jesus cries for love, always,” he added.

The pope said that Jesus cannot help but to look upon people with compassion:“How many times have we heard in the Gospel this emotion of Jesus, with a phrase that is repeated: 'Seeing, he had compassion.’”

“Today, facing a world that suffers so much, in which so many people suffer the consequences of this pandemic, I ask myself: ‘Am I capable of crying as … Jesus is now? Does my heart resemble that of Jesus?'” he said.

In his livestreamed Angelus address, Pope Francis reflected again on the Gospel account of the death of Lazarus.

“Jesus could have avoided the death of his friend Lazarus, but he wanted to make our pain for the death of loved ones his own, and above all he wanted to show God's dominion over death,” the pope said.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days, Francis explained. Lazarus’ sister Martha runs to meet Jesus and says to him: "If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

“Jesus replies: ‘Your brother will rise’ and adds: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.' Jesus shows himself as the Lord of life, the One who is capable of giving life even to the dead,” the pope said after quoting the Gospel.

“Have faith! In the midst of crying, you continue to have faith, even if death seems to have won,” he said. “Let the Word of God bring life back to where there is death.”

Pope Francis said: “God's answer to the problem of death is Jesus.”

The pope called on each person  to remove “everything that tastes of death” from their lives, including hypocrisy, criticism of others, slander, and the marginalization of the poor.

“Christ lives, and whoever welcomes him and adheres to him comes into contact with life,” Francis said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to be compassionate like her Son Jesus, who made our pain his own. Each of us is close to those who are in affliction, become for them a reflection of the love and tenderness of God, who frees us from death and makes life victorious,” Pope Francis said.