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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://bit.ly/3icyN9V

Malteser International, relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta: https://bit.ly/2DHPBX8

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

Missio, Pontifical Mission Societies, in English https://bit.ly/2DtbFoH and Spanish: https://bit.ly/2PvKkVs

AVSI, Catholic-based foundation: https://donorbox.org/lebanonemergencyrelief

 

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Priest's 100-mile bike ride raises COVID-19 aid for parish -- and hope

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Brooklyn

By Ian Alvano

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father Christopher Heanue started his morning July 27 by celebrating Mass at 5 a.m. and then took off on a 100-mile bike ride.

It wasn't just any ride. Father Heanue called his journey "100 Miles of Hope," which was a fundraiser to help support his parish, Holy Child Jesus, in Richmond Hill, New York, in the Brooklyn Diocese. He is the administrator and a parochial vicar of the parish in the New York borough of Queens.

Holy Child Jesus has faced some challenging months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the food pantry and parish outreach programs in particular affected.

Joined by parishioners Paul Cerni and Tom Chiafolo, Father Heanue, 32, did the ride to provide hope and optimism in addition to raising money.

"I was very, very nervous entering into the ride. The week before, I read some articles about how to prepare for a century ride," as a 100-miler is called by cyclists, Father Heanue told Catholic News Service. "One of the main components that the writers kept saying was that you need to have a whole week of good rest."

Father Heanue wasn't sleeping well during the week leading up to the ride because he was so nervous. In fact, the best sleep he got was the night before the ride.

"I'll tell you all of the fears and all the nervousness and anxiety that I had entering into the ride seemed to dissipate once we began," said the priest, who was ordained in 2015 for the Brooklyn Diocese.

The ride took place on a very hot day, and Father Heanue said many people were praying for him and the other two riders. The trio left Queens around 5:45 a.m. and arrived at their destination, Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton on Long Island, around 4 p.m.

The total amount of bike time was around seven hours and 45 minutes, according to Father Heanue. The rest of the time was filled with stops for breakfast, lunch and water breaks.

Father Heanue said he has driven the same route to the Long Island church but on a bike everything was more eye-opening and gave him a new perspective. He mentioned the change of neighborhoods you see while biking -- and hoping for flat terrain and no hills to make the ride easier. He called the ride an "extraordinary experience."

One Bible verse accompanied Father Heanue along the way -- Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Father Heanue said he had never been on such a long bike, but he took up the challenge to not only ask for support and prayer but also to ask for donations for the parish and its outreach programs.

"We set up a GoFundMe page and I started with a goal of $1,000. That quickly was raised. I raised it and tried for $5,000 and in three days we hit $5,000. I tried for 10,000 and today we're at about $9,400," he said when he spoke to CNS July 28.

As of Aug. 6, he had raised over $20,000 with his GoFundMe page -- https://www.gofundme.com/f/100-miles-of-hope -- and through Facebook and GiveCentral.

As he was bicycling in the heat and humidity, "exhausted and sweaty," he said, he was thinking about the fundraiser, then got a text about a donation." "It was quite an inspiration for me, and I mentioned it to the guys that someone else just donated!"

When asked if he had ever done a long bike ride for a charity before, Father Heanue chuckled. "I've never ever done that. I wouldn't consider myself to be very athletic or sports driven. This was something I picked up more recently through the coronavirus pandemic. I almost found it to be more safe than walking on the street."

He got into biking because he enjoys the peace and tranquility it offers. He also described some of his training before his long journey.

"I started riding 10 miles or started bicycling to my parents' home, which was five miles, then five miles back again (to his parish). Then I tried to increase the distance and ride from my parish to our local beach, which is called Rockaway Beach, which is about 14 miles away. I would sit on the boardwalk for a bit and bicycle back. So that was 28 miles."

The farthest Father Heanue got in his training was a 52-mile round-trip ride. He admitted he felt awful afterward, which only added to his nervousness.

Father Heanue saw the 100-mile ride as a challenge and an accomplishment.

"Hopefully, it inspires people to challenge themselves but to realize they're not doing it alone. Through this pandemic we've felt very lonely, it's been very isolating and we've had to find new ways to create community," he said. "The church was closed so the priests went online. We took to Facebook and live streaming. We took to Zoom calls to keep a sense of community because we realized how much we need each other."

He added that he believes many times we are weak and fall into sin but by motivating and pushing ourselves, it'll bring us to fulfillment and a better spiritual life. And he hopes his journey encourages people in this way too.

At the end of the interview with CNS, Father Heanue gave a little insight about who he was biking and praying for. The priest had in his heart a young boy who had lost his father because of COVID-19, a couple who was having pregnancy issues, and a woman who had just lost her child through complications of her pregnancy.

So he rode 100 miles for hope, as he dubbed the journey from the get-go, raising funds for a worthy cause and generating prayers for those who needed them.

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Weapons must be set aside for peace to flourish, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yuriko Nakao, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For peace to flourish, weapons of war must be set aside, especially nuclear weapons that can obliterate entire cities and countries, Pope Francis said on the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

"May the prophetic voices" of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki "continue to serve as a warning to us and for coming generations," he said in a written message sent Aug. 6 to Hidehiko Yuzaki, governor of the Hiroshima prefecture, who led a peace memorial ceremony.

The pope's message and others were published on the Hiroshima For Global Peace website: hiroshimaforpeace.com.

In 1945, during World War II, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima Aug. 6 and on Nagasaki Aug. 9 in an effort to get Japan to surrender. The cities were decimated and, by year's end, at least 200,000 people had died from the blasts or the aftereffects.

Those who survived, called hibakusha, were honored at the Aug. 6 ceremony, and the pope greeted them as well as the organizers and others taking part in the ceremony.

"I was privileged to be able to come in person to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during my apostolic visit in November last year, which allowed me to reflect at the peace memorial in Hiroshima and at Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki on the destruction of human life and property wrought in these two cities during those terrible days of war three-quarters of a century ago," the pope wrote.

"I continue to hold in my heart the longing of the peoples of our time, especially of young people, who thirst for peace and make sacrifices for peace. I carry, too, the cry of the poor, who are always among the first victims of violence and conflict," he said.

"It has never been clearer that, for peace to flourish, all people need to lay down the weapons of war, and especially the most powerful and destructive of weapons: nuclear arms that can cripple and destroy whole cities, whole countries," the pope said.

Reiterating what he said in Hiroshima in 2019, Pope Francis wrote that the use of atomic energy for war and the possession of nuclear weapons are both "immoral."

The pope ended his message with "abundant divine blessings" for all those commemorating on this "solemn anniversary."

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Vatican says baptisms that used a modified formula are not valid

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Changing the words of the formula for baptism render the sacrament invalid, said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Specifically, a baptism administered with the formula "We baptize you ..." instead of "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is not valid because it is the person of Christ through the minister who is acting, not the assembly, the congregation said.

The doctrinal congregation's ruling was published Aug. 6 as a brief response to questions regarding the validity of baptisms using that modified formula.

The congregation was asked whether a baptism was valid if it had been performed with a formula that seeks to express the "communitarian significance" and participation of the family and those present during the celebration. 

For example, it said there have been celebrations administered with the words, "In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

A baptism administered with this kind of modified formula is not valid, the congregation said, and the baptisms would have to be redone for those individuals who had been baptized with the improvised wording.

The correct formula in the Rite of the Sacrament of Baptism spoken by the bishop, priest or deacon is: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

The doctrinal congregation said modifying "the form of the celebration of a sacrament does not constitute simply a liturgical abuse, like the transgression of a positive norm, but a 'vulnus' (wound) inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ's action, and in the most grave cases rendering invalid the sacrament itself." 

The changes to the formula seem to have been made to emphasize the communal aspect of baptism and the participation of those present as well as "to avoid the idea of the concentration of a sacred power in the priest to the detriment of the parents and the community that the formula in the (Roman Rite) might seem to imply," it said.

Instead, such changes have "debatable pastoral motives" and the formula handed down by tradition remains fundamental because "the sacramental action may not be achieved in its own name, but in the person of Christ who acts in his church, and in the name of the church," it said. 

"Therefore, in the specific case of the sacrament of baptism, not only does the minister not have the authority to modify the sacramental formula to his own liking," it said, "but neither can he even declare that he is acting on behalf of the parents, godparents, relatives or friends, nor in the name of the assembly gathered for the celebration."

"When the minister says, 'I baptize you '' he does not speak as a functionary who carries out a role entrusted to him, but he enacts ministerially the sign-presence of Christ," it said.

It is really Christ himself who baptizes and has the principal role in the event being celebrated, it said.

The temptation to modify the sacramental formula "implies a lack of an understanding of the very nature of the ecclesial ministry that is always at the service of God and his people and not the exercise of a power that goes so far as to manipulate what has been entrusted to the church in an act that pertains to the tradition," it said.

The doctrinal statement was signed by Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, congregation prefect, and Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, congregation secretary. The congregation said Pope Francis "approved these responses" June 8 and ordered their publication.

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Editors: Links to the doctrinal note can be found online in English: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2020/08/06/0406/00923.html#rispostein

In Spanish: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2020/08/06/0406/00923.html#rispostees

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Update: 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.

Pope Francis also expressed his condolences in a message read at Hume's funeral Aug. 5.

Saddened to learn of Hume's death, Pope Francis sent "the assurance of his prayers to his family and to all who mourn his loss," said the message, written on behalf of the pope by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

"Mindful of the Christian faith that inspired John Hume's untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland, His Holiness commends his noble soul to the loving mercy of almighty God," the cardinal wrote.

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

Archbishop Martin and Bishop McKeown presided over the funeral Mass, according to Vatican News Aug. 6. 

In his opening remarks, Bishop McKeown said Hume's vocation in life "was to be a peacemaker for the good of others. Because of his past we can face the future."

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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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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]

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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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]

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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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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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]