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CDC report finds one in four young adults contemplate suicide

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- Over a quarter of young adults aged 18-24 have seriously contemplated suicide over the last month, a new Centers for Disease Control survey has found. 

The report, titled “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020” was published on August 14. The data was collected from adults across the United States in late June. 

Tommy Tighe, a marriage and family counselor and host of the Catholic mental health podcast “Saint Dymphna’s Playbook,” told CNA that he found the data to be “really heartbreaking, though expected.” 

After months of extended lockdowns across the country, and anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic, Tighe said “our baseline level of anxiety has gone up during this experience.” 

“Trying to live with this higher baseline has certainly impacted our ability to tolerate frustration and stress.”

According to the CDC, “40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).”

Those figures rose considerably among certain groups. Nearly three out of four adults aged 18-24 and slightly more than half of adults aged 25-44 reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom” in the survey. Among Hispanics, 52.1% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental health symptom related to the pandemic, as well as two-thirds of respondents who had less than a high school diploma. 

Fifty-four percent of essential workers surveyed said they had experienced at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom related to COVID-19. 

Of all respondents, 10.7% reported “having seriously considered suicide” in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. That number rose to 25.5% of respondents aged 18-24, to 18.6% of Hispanic respondents, and to 15.1% of non-Hispanic black respondents. Just over 30% of “self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults” and 21.7% of self-reported essential workers said that they too had seriously considered suicide in the last month. 

Tighe said the bleak figures reflected a lack of mental health awareness in wider culture and a lack of access to services.

“Mental health symptoms and healthy coping skills to combat those symptoms are ignored by our culture at large, and thus many of us are left utterly unprepared for dealing with an experience of this magnitude,” he said. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, schools of all levels throughout the country closed to in-person instruction. For graduating seniors at colleges and universities--most of whom are in the 18-24 age group--this meant that their final semester of college was spent online. Many students had their jobs or internships canceled due to the unstable economic effects of the pandemic. 

James Marafino, a Catholic social worker in the Washington, DC area, told CNA that these factors have certainly played a role in the feelings reported by 18-24 year olds.

“This is the age when [young adults] are going to college and finding employment,” Marafino told CNA. “This is one of their first experiences with independent living, and they are managing a pandemic most likely on their own.”

“This would cause significant mental/emotional distress. They may feel their lives are on hold or delayed, and do not know when they can ‘resume their lives,’” he said. 

Sophia Swinford, the founder of Catholic Mental Health, a nonprofit organization aiming to increase awareness and access to mental health resources for Catholics, told CNA that she is concerned that the stigma surrounding suicide prevents people, particularly those of a religious faith, from getting help. 

“It’s ironic--‘stigma’ comes from a word that refers to a mark or brand on a slave, and it is from this word that we get ‘stigmata,’” said Swinford. “So maybe it is precisely the ‘stigma’ around these people’s sufferings that should make it clear we are called to serve Christ in them.” 

Swinford called the rates of suicide and suicidal idelation a “social failure.” 

“We as a society have failed those individuals, and it’s about time we start to give serious discernment to how we can change that,” she said. 

Both Tighe and Marafino told CNA that they believe it is important to reach out to one another during this time. 

“We need to talk to each other and see how people are doing,” said Marafino. “We live in a time when we have technology to be in consistent contact with each other.” 

Spirituality plays a role in mental health as well. 

People need to “pray for each other like everything depends on it,” said Tighe. He also suggested that people facing stress set aside time to “pause, breathe, pray, medidate,” and to take note of their feelings without judgment. 

Tighe suggested taking a break from media and other settings that heighten anxiety is also important. 

“Remember to take breaks from upsetting content,” Tighe added.

“Social media really works against us. If we’re trying to work on our anxiety, we need to pay attention to the impact it is having on us and take breaks when needed.”

Christian advocacy group hails Israel-Emirates deal

CNA Staff, Aug 14, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- An advocacy group for Christians and other religious minorities living in the Middle East has praised an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Aug. 13. 

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced the diplomatic accord, and released a statement on the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel which included a provision that Israel will “suspend declaring sovereignty” over some areas of the West Bank. 

In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklini called the agreement a “historic step in the peace process” in a statement released on Thursday. UAE is now the first Persian Gulf state and, after Egypt and Jordan, the third Arab nation, to have open diplomatic relations with Israel.

“We are pleased that Israel is suspending plans to annex new areas of the West Bank, as the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land have voiced their concern about this issue,” said Baaklini.

Baaklini, however, said that there is still “much more work to be done” for advancing the cause of religious freedom in the Middle East, and that he hopes that Christians in the area are not ignored during the process. 

“We encourage all parties to Middle East Peace Talks to continue to consult with the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land in these negotiations,” he added. 

“IDC hopes that this is a positive step towards establishing a fair and lasting peace among all Middle Eastern nations,” he said.

In February last year, Pope Francis made an historic trip to the UAE, the first by a pope to the Arabian peninsula. While there, Francis signed a joint document on human fraternity with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb. The document condemned “all forms of violence, especially those with religious motivation,” and committed the two leaders “to spreading authentic values and peace throughout the world.”

The UAE has strict laws governing religion, including the death penalty for Musilms who convert to another religion.

Following Thursday’s announcement, leaders from Egypt, Oman, and Bahrain co-signed a letter of support for the agreement. Oman and Bahrain presently do not have embassies in Israel and neither country has ever recognized Israel. 

"I thank Egyptian President al-Sisi, and the governments of Oman and Bahrain, for their support of the historic peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which is expanding the circle of peace and will be good for the entire region,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 14. 

Other states in the region have criticized the accord. Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted the country’s foreign ministry calling the agreement a “strategic act of idiocy” and “dangerous.” 

A spokesperson for Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian government “rejects and denounces” the agreement. 

“The Palestinian leadership rejects the actions of the Emirati government, considering it to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem and [the] al-Aqsa [mosque in Jerusalem],” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Mauritius oil spill: Catholic cardinal says local villages are suffering

Rome Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 10:31 am (CNA).- After a damaged ship leaked more than 1,000 tons of oil off the coast of Mauritius, the Bishop of Port-Louis is worried about the consequences for local fishing villages who depend on the dying sea life in the island’s coral reefs.

“Many families are afflicted by a lingering stench; fishermen and all those who earn their living on the sea, suffer particularly,” Cardinal Maurice Piat said in a diocesan statement Aug. 11.

All Mauritians have been touched by the “ecological disaster,” Piat said, adding that the communities in Mahébourg, Rivière-des-Créoles, and the villages of the east coast of the island have been particularly affected.

The oil spill came from a Japanese cargo ship that ran aground on a reef in late July, cracking its hull. On Aug. 13 the Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said that almost all of the remaining oil has now been removed from the damaged ship.

The cardinal said that there has been serious ecological damage to the bay, coast, and islets. Mauritius is known for its clear blue waters and rich biodiversity, which includes 1,700 species of marine life living in its lagoons and coral reefs.

Piat expressed gratitude to the local volunteers and civil society groups who organized to clean up and protect beaches, and encouraged more Christians to volunteer.

“I appeal to all Christians who can and especially to young people,” Piat said. “If you want to get involved in this cause, you can register with the Ministry of the Environment.”

Mauritius is a small island nation located off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The whole country is 790 square miles with just over 1.2 million people. It has one diocese and one apostolic vicariate.

Pope Francis visited Mauritius nearly one year ago during his apostolic visit to three East African countries.

In Mauritius, the pope urged civil leaders not to let the country’s economic development come at the expense of the poor and the environment.

Pope Francis encouraged the Mauritian leaders to “promote a change in the way we live, so that economic growth can really benefit everyone without the risk of causing ecological catastrophes or serious social crises.”

Arlington diocese launches online-only Catholic school

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Arlington is launching a new virtual school for families who want a Catholic education but are worried about sending their children back to in-person classes this September as the country still comes to grips with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School was announced on August 12, in a press release from the Diocese of Arlington. The school, which is named after the patron saint of the internet, aims to be fully operational on September 8. 

Like most Catholic schools, St. Isidore of Seville will have Mass every week, along with daily prayer and preparation for the reception of sacraments. Unlike most Catholic schools, St. Isidore will have no in-person instruction, by design. 

The school will serve students in kindergarten through grade eight, and class sizes will be capped at 23 people.

“We hope this new virtual school provides parents concerned about their children returning to the classroom an option they are confident will meet the high standard of excellence they have come to expect throughout our schools,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington in a statement announcing the school. 

Students at St. Isidore will be taught from the same curriculum as their brick-and-mortar peers in the diocese. 

Burbidge praised the “great creativity and flexibility” among the Catholic school community in the diocese “that has made this new endeavor a reality.” 

Dr. Joseph Vorbach, the Superintendent for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Arlignton, told CNA that the school came about with the assistance of Burbidge during the planning process for re-opening. All of the diocese’s schools will have in-person instruction this coming school year, although some will do a hybrid model of in-person and e-learning. 

Vorbach said there was a realization “that there may be some families who are committed to Catholic education, but not ready to have their child go back into the brick and mortar school building,” as well as teachers who are at increased risk of coronavirus due to various factors.

“It started to coalesce around the idea that, ‘maybe we could develop a virtual school,’” Vorbach told CNA. This virtual school would be able to address both the needs of families, as well as “take advantage of the talents of teachers who find themselves in that situation.” 

Burbidge, he said, was “very supportive,” and that much work was done very quickly to get things ready before the school was announced. 

Tuition is set at $6,000 per year before financial aid--lower than the Catholic rate for diocesan elementary schools--and Catholic families with children at other Catholic schools in the diocese who move their children to St. Isidore will be able to apply their current financial aid discounts. Rebates will also be available if the school’s max capacity of 207 is reached. 

Tuition for other Catholic schools in the diocese varies school-to-school and depends on the number of children sent by a family, and if the family is Catholic and lives within the parish; it can be as high as $11,000 under some circumstances, and as low as $6,200 in others.

The first priority for enrollment at St. Isidore’s will be local Catholic families who were attending other schools in the diocese, said Vorbach. After diocesan families have registered, consideration will be given to those from outside the diocese who are interested in a virtual Catholic learning environment. Standard tuition is the same for all families.

Families who enroll at St. Isidore are committing for virtual education for the entirety of the 2020-2021 academic year, said Vorbach. However, their child’s slot at their previous diocesan school will be reserved for the 2021-2022 academic year if they wish to return to in-person instruction in the following Autumn. 

Vorbach told CNA that the diocese had conducted a series of surveys on virtual learning during the last semester to identify the best practices for a potential hybrid or all-online model for the coming school year. 

“The St. Isidore model is the beneficiary of everything that was learned during the spring, both in terms of technical components, as well as pedagogical components, and so on,” said Vorbach. 

“In the past, you couldn't say necessarily that anybody or any school had really tried to work through ‘What's the Catholic identity of a virtual school look like, and how do you do that?’’ Vorbach told CNA. 

The challenges of running a virtual Catholic school were unprecedented, said Vorbach. He told CNA he was not sure if there is any other entirely-virtual Catholic school in the country, except the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School (ADOM-VCS). That school was founded in 2013. 

Unlike St. Isidore of Seville, which is for full-time online students in elementary and middle school grades, ADOM-VCS offers both full-time online programs as well as “blended learning” programs with archdiocesan schools for all grades.   

“In the spring, through the creative efforts of a lot of teachers and administrators, we saw all kinds of ways in which the Catholic identity and the particular Catholic identity of different parish schools was highlighted, reinforced, strengthened,” he said. 

While St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School is set to go for the coming school year, Vorbach told CNA that he is not sure if the school will continue on for years to come. 

“We want to evaluate the service--the niche, if you will--that this school provides,” said Vorbach. 

If things go smoothly, and it makes financial sense to continue the school in the future, “we can really seriously look at it as a component of a thorough, flourishing Catholic education going forward in the future,” he said. 

After Beirut blast, what some Lebanese Christians are doing to help their neighbors

Denver Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Last Tuesday, Julie Tegho and her husband Hicham Bou Nassif were enjoying an ordinary day at their local mall in Beirut, Lebanon. Without warning, they felt what seemed like an earthquake, followed by a mighty blast that shattered the glass all around them.

“For a second I thought the mall was falling on our heads,” Tegho told CNA. “The sound was so strong and deafening that it took us a couple of seconds to realize we had to leave the mall, because it was such a tremendous shock."

The massive explosion in the port area of Lebanon’s capital on Aug. 4 overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

The ABC Mall where the couple was during the blast is located less than a mile from the port, the epicenter of the explosion.

Tegho and Bou Nassif were on different levels of the mall when the explosion hit, and struggled for several minutes to find each other in the ensuing chaos and deafening alarms. The blast had knocked out cellular coverage, making communication that much more difficult.

When Tegho did find her husband, he was bleeding from his forehead. She says they walked from the mall to her parents’ nearby home, to deal with his wound, and later they took him to the hospital.

“It’s only when we started walking that I started to grasp the magnitude of the blast, and we realized it was not just a car bombing, it was something much bigger," she said. “It was just a post-apocalyptic scene.”

Bou Nassif, an assistant professor of government who teaches at a college in California,  is now recovering with several stitches.

The windows of the couple’s house, located further from the blast, were blown out, but their house did not suffer serious damage. Tegho said her sister, who was babysitting, was able to shield their months-old baby from the flying glass.

Tegho, a high school social studies teacher, said she believes there is not a single person in Beirut that was not affected in some way by the disaster— whether they had their home or business damaged or destroyed, had a family member injured or killed, or were themselves a casualty.

Her cousin, who was much nearer to the port, managed to escape serious injury, she said. The school where Tegho teaches has been completely destroyed, she said.

As of Aug. 12, more than 200 people are confirmed dead, more than 5,000 injured and hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless. The UN Refugee Agency has also reported that at least 34 refugees were among those killed in the blast.

Volunteers have been clearing rubble from houses since the day after the blast, Tegho said.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud has estimated that the explosion has caused as much as $10-15 billion in damages and as many as 300,000 people to be temporarily displaced from their homes, according to the BBC.

Many buildings and warehouses along the docks were completely destroyed, and the explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius.

Bou Nassif said because of where the blast occurred, the worst of the damage happened to majority-Christian neighborhoods. The adjacent areas included Beirut’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.

As a result, he said, most of the aid is coming from Christian aid agencies, as well as the Maronite Catholic Church.

The Philos Project, a group that advocates for Christians in the Near East, as part of a broader goal of religious pluralism in the region and of educating Western Christians on their situation, is one such Christian organization helping those affected by the disaster in Lebanon.

Tegho said she and her husband are spearheading an initiative called Human Chain, which she said was formed in October 2019 to help the poor in the midst of protests against the government.

"In the aftermath of the disaster, we realized we could use our Human Chain network to help in relief efforts," she said.

Tegho said the main goal of the Human Chain at the moment is helping to ensure people’s homes are safe to occupy, and they have a functional living space and bathroom.

“This is where volunteers have been doing most of the work, because there has been no government involved in that [effort,” she said.
“Helping to remove the debris, making sure people who have lost everything have places to go to whether it's the church, whether it's friends, family, et cetera. But it's still too soon for those houses to be rebuilt.”

In addition to delivering food aid, Tegho and Bou Nassif have been helping to clear the rubble and ensure their neighbors do not end up on the streets.

They are also hoping to raise $30,000 for relief efforts through a GoFundMe campaign.

Tegho said the Philos Project has set up a fund of $10,000 to help the Human Chain in its humanitarian efforts. Philos is encouraging donations to its Action Fund on its website.

Bou Nassif said the best way to help the people of Lebanon is to donate to Christian agencies, rather than to the Lebanese government.

“You give money to the Lebanese state, you're not giving money to any poor person in Lebanon, Christian, or not. You're giving money to Lebanon politicians,” he opined.

On Aug. 10, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government, adding that it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.” The Prime Minister and the rest of the government subsequently resigned later that day.

Though millions of dollars of aid has poured in from Western governments, Bou Nassif said he trusts the Christian agencies much more than the government to distribute aid to the poor.

"Some money will come from governments, but the money that will come immediately, before this is resolved, will be coming from churches, concerned citizens, people with the Christian minority in Lebanon," Bou Nassif said.

“The biggest actors are the Maronite Church, the Lebanese Red Cross, the local Catholic relief or rescue organizations; they should be helped to help people,” he said.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of the explosions, but investigators believe they may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. Lebanon’s security service warned against speculations of terrorism before investigators could assess the situation.

Bou Nassif told CNA that the widespread sentiment throughout the city is that Hezbollah, a hardline Islamic party in Lebanon, is to blame for the accident.

Sixty percent of Lebanon’s people are Muslim, evenly split among Sunni and Shia, and nearly 35% of the country’s population is Christian, most of whom are Maronite Catholic Christians. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Other Christian aid agencies, as well as the Red Cross, have been active in the city following the disaster.

Despite damages to their own facilities, Catholic Relief Services has provided relief to the victims of the explosion. Caritas Lebanon has offered water and hot meals at several locations throughout Beirut. Caritas health care centers have also opened, and a mobile medical unit and mental health team have been available to the public.


Korean cardinal to consecrate Pyongyang Diocese to Mary on Assumption

CNA Staff, Aug 14, 2020 / 12:38 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, has announced that he will consecrate the Diocese of Pyongyang to Our Lady of Fatima on the Solemnity of the Assumption.

“In this meaningful year, marking the 75th anniversary of [Korean] Liberation and the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, I decided to dedicate the Pyongyang Diocese to Our Lady of Fatima through careful prayer and discernment,” Cardinal Yeom wrote in a message for the Assumption feast published on the archdiocesan website.

“I hope that the North Korean Church will be able to praise the Lord again in joy and peace as soon as possible through the protection and help of Our Lady,” Yeom said.

It will be the first consecration of the Pyongyang Diocese to Our Lady of Fatima since the diocese was established in 1927, according to the cardinal. The dedication will take place in a Mass in Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral on August 15.

The Marian feast on August 15 has a special place in the historical memory of the entire Korean peninsula as it coincides with “Liberation Day,” the date that Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule. It is the only Korean public holiday celebrated in both North and South Korea.

“I hope that the day will come soon when we will be able to share the joy and happiness of the Assumption with our North Korean brothers and sisters,” Yeom said.

The South Korean cardinal said that he asked Pope Francis for a special blessing for the Diocese of Pyongyang and that the pope will ask for the Virgin Mary’s protection on the date of consecration.

Cardinal Yeom serves as both the Archbishop of Seoul and the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

“In the midst of the division of North and South Korea following liberation and the vortex of the Korean War in 1950, all of our nation suffered beyond words,” Yeom said.

“Religious people had to face greater suffering. Throughout the Korean War, all cathedrals in North Korea were closed and the monasteries were disbanded. In addition, priests, religious, and Christians were mercilessly arrested and suffered torment or killed,” he said.

The suffering of Christians in North Korean continues today. A report published by the United Nations human rights commission on July 28 details sexual violence, forced abortion, and torture of women in North Korea’s prisons.

The report is based on interviews with North Korean women who were detained in North Korea between 2009 and 2019 after attempting to escape by crossing the Sino-Korean border. An informal network of Christian groups and NGOs run an “Underground Railroad” to bring these North Korean escapees out of China, where they face repatriation, to safety.

“If one is found to have gone to a South Korean church while staying in China, they are dead. I therefore tried hard not to reveal my life in China. I was beaten up as a result. I was beaten to a level that my rib was broken. I still feel the pain,” one North Korean defector testified to the UN Human Rights staff.

Cardinal Yeom said that there is not a single active priest in North Korea. “As the head of the Seoul Archdiocese and the Pyongyang Diocese, I believe that God's special grace is necessary to resolve this unfortunate reality,” he said.

The cardinal asked Korean Christians to support and practice evangelization with determination so that North Korean Catholics can someday enjoy the freedom of faith as a fruit of this Marian dedication.

“We must also ask Our Lady, the Queen of Peace, for true peace in our society,” he said.

In a message for the 2020 Day of Prayer for the Reconciliation and Unity of the Korean People, Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon of Uijeongbu stated that “To nurture peace on the Korean Peninsula, not an easy task, it is essential that the two Koreas join hands.”

He added that peace on the peninsula must be achieved by the Korean people, rather than by the powers surrounding the peninsula.

The bishop urged the South Korean government to arrange for the reunification of separated families, reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex,  resume tourism to Mount Geumgang in North Korea; and develop an inter-Korean railway connection project.

He called it “most important” that a peace agreement be reached, with an official declaration of the end of the Korean War. “Such developments will have to be followed by an authentic peace treaty and new international relations,” he stated.



Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe

Stained glass in Our Lady of Czestochowa Grotto (Sorrowful Mother Shrine) | photo by Nheyob
Image: Stained glass in Our Lady of Czestochowa Grotto (Sorrowful Mother Shrine) | photo by Nheyob

Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe

Saint of the Day for August 14

(January 8, 1894August 14, 1941)


Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe’s Story

“I don’t know what’s going to become of you!” How many parents have said that? Maximilian Mary Kolbe’s reaction was, “I prayed very hard to Our Lady to tell me what would happen to me. She appeared, holding in her hands two crowns, one white, one red. She asked if I would like to have them—one was for purity, the other for martyrdom. I said, ‘I choose both.’ She smiled and disappeared.” After that he was not the same.

He entered the minor seminary of the Conventual Franciscans in Lvív–then Poland, now Ukraine– near his birthplace, and at 16 became a novice. Though Maximilian later achieved doctorates in philosophy and theology, he was deeply interested in science, even drawing plans for rocket ships.

Ordained at 24, Maximilian saw religious indifference as the deadliest poison of the day. His mission was to combat it. He had already founded the Militia of the Immaculata, whose aim was to fight evil with the witness of the good life, prayer, work, and suffering. He dreamed of and then founded Knight of the Immaculata, a religious magazine under Mary’s protection to preach the Good News to all nations. For the work of publication he established a “City of the Immaculata”—Niepokalanow—which housed 700 of his Franciscan brothers. He later founded another one in Nagasaki, Japan. Both the Militia and the magazine ultimately reached the one-million mark in members and subscribers. His love of God was daily filtered through devotion to Mary.

In 1939, the Nazi panzers overran Poland with deadly speed. Niepokalanow was severely bombed. Kolbe and his friars were arrested, then released in less than three months, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1941, Fr. Kolbe was arrested again. The Nazis’ purpose was to liquidate the select ones, the leaders. The end came quickly, three months later in Auschwitz, after terrible beatings and humiliations.

A prisoner had escaped. The commandant announced that 10 men would die. He relished walking along the ranks. “This one. That one.”

As they were being marched away to the starvation bunkers, Number 16670 dared to step from the line.

“I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.”
“Who are you?”
“A priest.”

No name, no mention of fame. Silence. The commandant, dumbfounded, perhaps with a fleeting thought of history, kicked Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek out of line and ordered Fr. Kolbe to go with the nine. In the “block of death” they were ordered to strip naked, and their slow starvation began in darkness. But there was no screaming—the prisoners sang. By the eve of the Assumption, four were left alive. The jailer came to finish Kolbe off as he sat in a corner praying. He lifted his fleshless arm to receive the bite of the hypodermic needle. It was filled with carbolic acid. They burned his body with all the others. Fr. Kolbe was beatified in 1971 and canonized in 1982.


Father Kolbe’s death was not a sudden, last-minute act of heroism. His whole life had been a preparation. His holiness was a limitless, passionate desire to convert the whole world to God. And his beloved Immaculata was his inspiration.

Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe is the Patron Saint of:

Drug addiction

Click here to read more about Saint Maximilian Kolbe!

The Franciscan Saints

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Lebanese scholar: The West cannot afford to abandon Lebanon

Denver Newsroom, Aug 13, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A Lebanese academic and aid worker told CNA on Thursday that if Western nations fail to help Lebanon recover from the explosion that rocked Beirut last week, the effect on regional and global security could be disastrous.

“There are very tangible, concrete, strategic reasons why looking the other way as Lebanon sinks is very bad for the West itself,” Habib Malik, Associate Professor of History at Lebanese American University, told CNA in an interview.

“Lebanon is reeling and in very bad shape. And keeping in mind what's at stake, both on the humanitarian level, but beyond that on the strategic level, I don't think ignoring Lebanon anymore should be an option.”

A massive explosion in the port area of Lebanon’s capital on Aug. 4 overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

As of Aug. 12, more than 200 people are confirmed dead, more than 5,000 injured and hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless.

Lebanon was already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as economic woes brought on by corruption, Malik said. Lebanon was already suffering high levels of public debt and low employment.

The Syrian civil war and ensuing refugee crisis also has hit Lebanon hard, with UN figures estimating the number of displaced Syrians in Lebanon at 1.6 million.

Bishop Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles had in May of this year warned that if Lebanon, one of the few democratic nations in the Middle East, became a failed state, that would have dire consequences for its Christian community and for wider regional stability.

Though some foreign countries, such as France, have pledged millions of dollars in aid for Lebanon, Malik cautioned that other countries wishing to help, such as the United States, should be wary of pledging money directly to the Lebanese government.

“The last thing Lebanon now needs is money or aid coming through government channels or through the political parties,” Malik said. “Any real aid from well-meaning sources should go through very carefully vetted NGOs.”

Malik said he recommends a local NGO called NAWRAJ that normally works with isolated outlying Christian villages near the Syrian and Israeli borders.

“And now of course, they have prioritized helping in Beirut, but I know that they are honorable, they are credible, they are independent, they are fine people,” Malik said.

He also recommended an NGO called Ashrafieh 2020 that is helping to rebuild one of the predominantly Christian neighborhoods in Beirut. Beit el Baraka is another NGO that Malik has personally vetted, he said.

Malik is also a consultant for the Philos Project, a group that advocates for Christians in the Near East as part of a broader goal of religious pluralism in the region and of educating Western Christians on their situation. Philos has set up a fund of $10,000 to help a local initiative called the Human Chain with its humanitarian efforts. Philos is encouraging donations to its Action Fund on its website.

Though Lebanon endured a 15-year civil war starting in 1975, in recent years it has emerged as a relatively peaceful and pluralistic society of the Middle East. Sixty percent of Lebanon’s people are Muslim, evenly split among Sunni and Shia, and nearly 35% of the country’s population is Christian, most of whom are Maronite Catholic Christians. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Sources have told CNA that Hezbollah, a hardline Shiite Islamic party with significant political sway in Lebanon for the past 30 years, is widely suspected to be poised to profit from the explosion disaster.

“Further neglect of Lebanon actually directly undermines Western interests in the Arab Levant and in the Arab middle East, because the Iran axis represented here locally by Hezbollah, it is in their interest that Lebanon collapse, that the people become destitute and become completely desperate,” Malik continued.

“So that then, China could step in and throw us a lifeline of a few billion dollars, which the Lebanese, the exhausted Lebanese at that point, would have no choice but to accept. And that would mean China would then acquire a deepwater seaport, the first one ever in the Mediterranean. They would be then the gatekeepers of that port,” he said.

Investigators believe the explosion may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. According to reports, the chemicals had sat in the port, neglected, for over six years.

On Aug. 10, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government, adding that it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.” The Prime Minister and the rest of the government subsequently resigned later that day.

Anti-government sentiment in Lebanon had most recently bubbled over in October 2019, when thousands of peaceful protestors took to the streets to challenge government corruption and mismanagement of finances. At the time, Pope Francis sent his encouragement to the mostly young protestors.  

Malik recently wrote an op-ed for the journal of the Institute of Religion and Democracy expounding on his political analysis of the post-explosion situation.

“The stench of corruption at the highest levels mingled pungently with the odors from the burnt-out hangars as well as the dust from destroyed buildings, businesses, and apartments in the stricken city,” he wrote.

“It is safe to assume that all the governments, presidents, and political leaders in power over the past six years knew about the deadly ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut port. No one lifted a finger to remove this lethal time bomb or even warn the public about it. Whether it was colossal negligence, or complicity with those storing this explosive material for whatever military or terrorist purposes, the result is the same: criminality of the highest degree at the highest levels of government.”

In terms of cleanup and relief, Malik said large piles of rubble have been moved to the side of city streets, but no one has yet been able to clear the rubble out of the city. 

Multiple Lebanese survivors of the blast have told CNA that majority-Christian neighborhoods have borne the brunt of the damage from the explosion.

Some international Christian aid agencies, as well as the Red Cross, have been active in the city following the disaster.

Despite damages to their own facilities, Catholic Relief Services has provided relief to the victims of the explosion. Caritas Lebanon has offered water and hot meals at several locations throughout Beirut. Caritas health care centers have also opened, and a mobile medical unit and mental health team have been available to the public.

Malik said although the Maronite Catholic Church is doing a lot to help survivors, the Churches— both Catholic and Orthodox— themselves are in great need since their buildings have been so badly damaged. The Maronite eparchs of the United States have similarly  been pleading for prayers and aid for the people of Lebanon.

“We have a number of churches and hospitals that happen to overlook the Beirut port area. That's kind of a scenic view in normal times, but they were just in the direct line of the blast, as you can imagine. And so huge damage has been sustained by these establishments, to the homes, the churches, and so on,” Malik said.

Malik recommended Christians and people of good will reach out directly to Beirut churches to ask them what they need.

“There are Protestant churches, Orthodox churches, Catholic churches, there's everything in Beirut. And ask them directly for their needs. And they will actually tell you,” he said.

Malik said despite the monumental rebuilding task ahead, it has been refreshing to see many young people taking to the streets to volunteer and help their neighbors.

“These volunteers are mostly of the new generation of youth. These people have come from all over the country and across the sectarian divides to help,” he said.

“And they're very genuine about it. And the refreshing thing about these people is that they have no political ties, they are not beholden to any of the clan leaders or party leaders.”

Pope Francis appealed for prayers for the Lebanese people in his Wednesday audience on August 5.

“Let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon, so that, through the dedication of all its social, political, and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing,” he said via livestream from the Vatican.


US Senator asks attorney general to fight anti-Catholic vandalism

CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- A United States senator has asked the nation’s attorney general to intensify efforts to fight the vandalism that has been carried out against Catholic places and statues throughout the country in recent months.

“The trend of desecrating Catholic spaces and property must stop,” U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) wrote in an August 11 letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“Catholics are under attack in America,” he said, referencing “at least nineteen attacks on Catholic churches, statues, businesses, cemeteries, parishioners, and personnel” since May.

In recent weeks, several Catholic churches have faced attacks and acts desecration. Last month, church in Ocala, Florida was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass. A California mission founded by St. Junipero Serra was also burned in a fire and is being investigated as an arson case, while several statues of Serra have also been pulled down.

A statue of the Virgin Mary was beheaded at a parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In Boston, a statue of Mary was set on fire, and in Brooklyn, a statue was tagged with the word “IDOL” in black spray paint.

Other states, including Colorado and Missouri, have seen similar acts of vandalism. While some attacks on statues, most notably in California, have been committed in public by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified, nor have motives been determined.

“These crimes span from coast to coast and show no sign of ending,” Senator Kennedy said, noting that minority groups including Middle Eastern Christians who have fled their homelands to escape persecution have also been targeted.

“Christians have historically been and continue to be one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world,” the senator said. “To escape religious oppression, the pilgrims took a treacherous journey across the Atlantic to America, setting the stage for the eventual creation of the United States.”

America’s Founding Fathers believed religious liberty to be essential to the new nation, securing it with the First Amendment’s protections, Kennedy said. “We cannot let a handful of people destroy this fundamental right.”

He asked Attorney General Barr to work actively to prosecute those responsible for recent acts of desecration, as well as to prevent further vandalism.

“I am confident you will act swiftly and carefully in bringing an end to this injustice,” the senator concluded.

Pro-life Democrats hail Minnesota primary win

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 13, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- One of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress won a primary victory in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District on Tuesday.

In contrast to the struggles faced by pro-life Democrat candidates in other parts of the country, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) defeated two primary challengers in the August 11 election, garnering 75% of the vote. He will face Republican Michelle Fischbach, who is the state’s former lieutenant governor, in the general election in November. 

Peterson, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, narrowly won reelection in 2018 by a vote of 52 to 48 percent. The 7th District has been targeted by Republican campaigners, and is currently labeled a toss-up for November. The district voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. 

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) President Kristen Day told CNA that her organization was “delighted” at Peterson’s win.

“He is an unusual species: a Democratic representative in a deep red district that overwhelmingly voted for Trump in 2016. He has an impressive record representing his constituents, especially farmers,” said Day. 

Day pointed to Peterson’s victory as proof that “pro-life Democrats are on the rise,” and are “tired of being silenced, marginalized, and pressured to violate our conscience on a matter of human rights.” She said that DFLA is working to find candidates on local levels “who feel emboldened to speak out” about abortion. 

“Stopping abortion extremism is urgent,” said Day. “Now is the time to save our Party.” 

Peterson’s victory in the primary comes months after fellow pro-life Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) was defeated in a hotly contested primary battle against challenger Marie Newman in March. Newman made her support for abortion rights the centerpiece of her campaign. 

Peterson and Lipinski were friendly during their time in Congress; in 2015, Peterson gave Lipinski his extra ticket to Pope Francis’ address. With Lipinksi’s primary loss, there are now fewer than five Democrats in Congress who identify as pro-life. 

Day told CNA that she wishes to see the Biden campaign reach out to pro-life Democrats, who she says number 21 million people.

“Vice President Biden, as a Catholic, should be willing to at least ask for our vote,” said Day. “Senator [Kamala] Harris, as a Baptist, should take the lead of her congregation, which encourages its members to ‘engage in meaningful dialogue on abortion with openness and Christian compassion.’” 

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform included, for the first time, a plank advocating for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment prevents the use of taxpayer funding for abortions. 

Biden counted himself among the bipartisan supporters of the Hyde Amendment for over 40 years before switching his view on the issue overnight in June 2019.