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Argentine bishops’ commission opposes government’s technical assistance to sex workers

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ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 18:50 pm (CNA).

In a Sept. 20 post on X, the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference requested that the agreement made between a government agency and an association of “sex workers” be rescinded, warning that it “fails to comply with the abolitionist legal framework of the Argentine state.”

The term “abolitionist” here means the state is committed to abolishing prostitution. Argentina has passed laws against prostitution and human trafficking in 1913, 1936, 2008, and 2012.

The agreement for technical assistance was made between the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) — which operates under the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation — and the Network of Sex Workers of Latin America (RedTraSex).

The commission recalled the words of Pope Francis in the prologue to the book “Crucified Women: The shame of trafficking told from the street” by Father Aldo Buonaiuto: “Any form of prostitution is a reduction to slavery, a criminal act, a repugnant vice that confuses making love with venting one’s instincts by torturing a defenseless woman.”

The commission stressed that “all organizations and entities of the Argentine state must respect the abolitionist principle of prostitution to which our country adheres” and pointed out that the law states that “any form of prostitution is a reduction to slavery.”

This legal framework, explained the bishops’ commission, is mandatory for all agencies of the Argentine state.

This framework includes Law 26.842, the U.N. Convention for the Suppression of Human Trafficking and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, and Article 6 of the U.N. Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. 

According to Art. 75 Sec. 22 of the Argentine Constitution, international treaties signed by the state have the force of constitutional law.

Furthermore, the commission noted that according to the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation “the Argentine state has assumed the national and international commitment to take all appropriate measures to suppress all forms of trafficking in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.” 

Consequently, the Justice and Peace Commission called on CONICET to “rescind said agreement.”

The signing of the agreement took place Wednesday morning at the Workers’ Innovation Center (CITRA). Researcher Cora Arias explained that this agreement is the formalization of a process that began in 2021.

At that time, CONICET linked up with RedTraSex to provide research experience and study methodologies, and thus develop studies to respond to the worries and concerns that the association had about the working conditions of “sex workers.”

As a result of this process, Wednesday morning a regional report carried out this year on working conditions and human rights violations of sex workers in Latin America and the Caribbean was presented.

What is a technical assistance agreement?

A technical assistance agreement is a connection that, through a research group, CONICET carries out with a company or public agency. The purpose is to provide technical collaboration in some area it specializes in.

Technical assistance consists of the provision of knowledge, which is generally in the public domain, but highly specialized.

In this case, the agreement with RedTraSex is made through CITRA, an entity under CONICET and the Metropolitan University for Education and Work (UMET).

According to CITRA’s website, this consists of a research, innovation, and development center associated with trade unions to produce scientific and technical capabilities, with the perspective and participation of workers.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Mexican diocese denounces hacking of several of its social media accounts

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ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

Different social media accounts related to the Diocese of Irapuato in the Mexican state of Guanajuato were hacked and inappropriate content was posted on the accounts.

“We want to inform you that in recent days, six Facebook accounts related to the Diocese of Irapuato and Our Lady of Solitude Parish have been hacked. We condemn this attack on our social media,” wrote Father Efrén Silva Plasencia, spokesman for the diocese, in a statement posted on Facebook Sept. 16.

The hacked pages were: Diocese of Irapuato Cathedral, Cathedral of Irapuato Altar Servers, Diocese of Irapuato Pastoral Ministry for Liturgy, María Goretti Academy, Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Solitude, and St. Michael the Archangel Parish-San Miguelito.

Plasencia explained that “an attempt was made to restore them, but it wasn’t possible. In recent days inappropriate content has been uploaded to some of these pages.”

The bishop of Irapuato, Enrique Díaz Díaz, said at his Sunday Zoom press conference posted on Facebook that they have not yet found the person responsible for the attack or the motive for the hacking.

“These pages are related to the diocese, but they are not those of the diocese. So I have no idea where this could come from or if it is from someone who could cause us harm. Apparently yes, because by uploading such explicit, lurid content, it does become suspicious, but I wouldn’t know from whom,” he said.

While the pages of the Diocese of Irapuato Cathedral and María Goretti Academy remain active and also continue to share inappropriate content, the accounts of the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Solitude and St. Michael the Archangel-San Miguelito were taken down from Facebook after several complaints.

The accounts of Cathedral de Irapuato Altar Servers and Diocese of Irapuato Pastoral Ministry for Liturgy have already been restored.

Given the impossibility of restoring some of the accounts, the diocese urged followers and users to “help by reporting these pages to Facebook so that said platform can deactivate them.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

‘Destruction’ of ethnic Armenians is imminent, experts warn

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan speaks during a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh at the United Nations headquarters on Sept. 21, 2023, in New York City. The security council held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. / Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 18:08 pm (CNA).

The “destruction” of an enclave of 120,000 Armenian Christians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is imminent, warns Siobhan Nash-Marshall, a U.S.-based human rights advocate.

“The impact of the recent attacks and subsequent disarmament will almost certainly result in the destruction of the people of Artsakh,” Nash-Marshall told CNA.

In 2011, Nash-Marshall founded the Christians in Need Foundation (CINF) to help Armenian Christians in the region and in 2020 she started a school for children and adults in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nash-Marshall said that as the Azeri government seeks to further assert its control over Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, the ethnic Armenians will be forcibly removed.

“There are those Artsakhtsi who will not leave their homeland — those lands that their people have inhabited for millennia. They will be forcibly removed or worse,” Nash-Marshall said.

For those Armenians who choose to leave, Nash-Marshall said they “will bear permanent scars akin to those of the descendants of genocide survivors.”

What happened?

Though internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is made up almost entirely of Christian ethnic Armenians who claim self-sovereignty under the auspices of the Republic of Artsakh.

On Wednesday, ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to lay down their arms and dissolve their military forces following a short but intense Azerbaijan offensive on Sept. 19.

The attacks, which included rocket and mortar fire, were perpetrated by Azerbaijan under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev.

In just over one day, over 200 Armenian Christians were killed, including 10 civilians, and many more were injured, the New York Times reported.

According to the Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the attacks also forced over 10,000 people, including women, children, and elderly, to evacuate their homes.

Ruben Vardenyan, former Artsakh state minister, called on the United Nations Security Council, which will be meeting Thursday afternoon, to take “concrete steps” to protect the Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The U.N. Security Council must go beyond mere calls for action. No more empty rhetoric; we need concrete steps,” Vardenyan said in a Thursday X statement. “Currently, 120,000 Armenians are facing a dire situation, with hundreds killed, wounded, and missing. We urgently require a U.N. mission to be dispatched to Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Vardenyan said that without aid from the international community, “the risk of massive ethnic cleansing will inevitably increase.”

The Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh, who have been cut off from receiving supplies because of an Azeri blockade of the Lachin Corridor, are in urgent need of food, medicine, and doctors.

“It is imperative that you take action now!” Vardenyan said. “We implore you to show that words carry weight and that aggression and the use of force cannot lead to lasting peace. Dictators must be held accountable for the suffering they inflict upon humanity, and hatred directed at any ethnic group, in this case, Armenians, is unacceptable.”

Why the fighting?

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades.

Since December 2022, the single road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor, has been blockaded first by Azeri-aligned protestors and then by the Azeri military.

The blockade has resulted in what Vardenyan has previously called a “humanitarian catastrophe,” due to a critical shortage of food and essential supplies.

For the first time since November 2020, the tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into outright military conflict on Tuesday, with Azerbaijan unleashing missile strikes and offensives on Artsakh.

Nash-Marshall said she thinks it is likely that the Azeri government will continue its blockade of the Lachin Corridor.

“The blockade, in my understanding, was a means for Aliyev. It locked up the people he wants to destroy,” Nash-Marshall said. “Now that he has invaded the lands of those whom he wants to destroy, will he open up the door of their prison?”

She also said she fears the Azeri success will encourage them to begin construction of a proposed railway cutting through the Zangezur Corridor in Armenia’s Syunik province.

“Another part of me is worried about the precedent that Aliyev’s violation of the cease-fire … that is the blockade of Lachin [sets],” Nash-Marshall added. “Will Aliyev begin construction of the Zangezur Corridor in Syunik?”

United Nations Security Council holds emergency meeting

The United Nations Security Council, at the request of France, held an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon to address the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

During the meeting, which took place in New York City, representatives from 16 different nations, including the U.S., Russia, and China, condemned the violence unleashed during the conflict, especially the violence against civilians.

The representatives also applauded the cease-fire but cautioned that more must be done to protect the human rights of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Catherine Colonna, French minister for Europe and foreign affairs, said that “what is at stake is the possibility for the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh to be able to live with their rights, history, and culture being respected.”

“France has taken note of the statement of President Aliyev made yesterday, affirming his wish to live in peace with the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and to preserve their rights,” Colonna said.

Colonna went on to say that “if Azerbaijan really wants to arrive at a peaceful and negotiated solution it must here and now provide tangible guarantees” including that Azerbaijan commit to not use deadly force against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, to grant amnesty to the authorities who surrendered, to allow international humanitarian aid into the region, and most notably, to “re-establish unconditionally and without delay traffic on the Lachin Corridor.”

Also present at the emergency meeting were the foreign affairs ministers of both Armenia, Ararat Mirzoyan, and Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov. The two ministers accused each other’s nations of violating international law and of being responsible for the outbreak of violence.

Despite France’s demands, Bayramov did not make any additional guarantees, only reiterating Aliyev’s position that the Azeri government wishes to peacefully reintegrate the people of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan.

How is the international community responding?

Speaking to more than 15,000 people in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 20, Pope Francis said he was troubled by the news he received about Nagorno-Karabakh, where “the already critical humanitarian situation is now aggravated by further armed clashes.”

“I make my heartfelt appeal to all the parties involved and to the international community to silence the weapons and make every effort to find peaceful solutions for the good of the people and respect for human dignity,” the pope said at the end of his Wednesday general audience.

In the United States Congress, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who called an emergency hearing to address the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in early September, called on President Joe Biden to take immediate action to help the Armenians in the region.

“Now more than ever, President Biden must immediately push the United Nations Security Council to establish a mandate and peacekeeping mission to protect the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Smith said in a Wednesday press release.

“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are in a moment of grave danger,” he went on. “They have been forced to disarm and surrender their independence to a ruthless dictator whose government has repeatedly committed horrific abuses against them over many years, expressed its will to ethnically cleanse them, and even initiated a genocide by starvation with the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.”

“Tragically, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called the Biden administration’s bluff that it ‘will not tolerate’ an attack,” Smith added. “I urge President Biden to immediately dispatch diplomats and expert observers in the Nagorno-Karabakh region to monitor the situation and immediately report any atrocity or abuse. The Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh have, as ever, every right to continue to live in their ancient homeland — and to do so in safety.”

Catholic peace organization condemns sexual enslavement of Mozambican Christians

A group of women and children guarded by security forces in Mucimboa da Praia of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province in early September 2023. / Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

ACI Africa, Sep 21, 2023 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

Reports have emerged of Islamist jihadists operating in Mozambique forcefully converting abducted Christian women into Islam and sexually enslaving some of them.

In an interview with ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, the director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute confirmed reports of a leaked internal circular, purportedly from the leadership of the Islamic State, allegedly advising the group’s fighters in the Southern African country to also kill those who refuse to convert to Islam.

“We have confirmed from the people in Cabo Delgado that indeed, it is true; the fighters are turning Christian women into sex objects and forcing them to convert to Islam,” Johan Viljoen said in the Wednesday, Sept. 20, interview.

“We condemn any attempt to force people to change their religion,” Viljoen added. “We condemn the Islamists for forcing women into sex slavery. It is a reprehensible violation of human rights.”

The leaked Islamic State internal circular, reported by Cabo Ligado, shows the terrorist group advising its members to conduct medical tests on nonvirgin enslaved women before distributing them among fighters and killing those who refuse to convert to Islam.

The advice is based on allegations that the kidnapped women are infecting the ISIS fighters with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

“Captured women with AIDS who do convert can be released for a ransom or killed if they refuse to become Muslims,” the circular reads. “Those who convert to Islam and are confirmed free of the disease can be given [to ISIS members].”

The document notes that nonvirgin women should all take tests before they are given away as slaves to ISIS members.

Armed men belonging to the Islamic State — referred to as Al Shabaab in Mozambique — have been attacking innocent civilians, mostly targeting Christians, since 2017.

The conflict has also been hinged on glaring socioeconomic disparities between Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, and the marginalized north, especially Cabo Delgado, where fighting is concentrated.

Terrorists have also made inroads into neighboring provinces of Nampula and Niassa, where they continue to attack civilians. In the latest attack, 11 Christians were reportedly separated from the Muslim population in the embattled Cabo Delgado province and executed.

Reports indicate that more than 800,000 people in these Mozambican provinces are still displaced despite the return of some civilians and a heavy military presence.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

Senate confirms military appointments, bypassing pro-life blockade by Tuberville

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, speaks during a hearing to examine the nomination of USAF General David Allvin for reappointment to the grade of general and to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force on Sept. 12, 2023 at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2023 / 16:20 pm (CNA).

The United States Senate began confirming military appointments one by one on Wednesday to bypass a pro-life blockade led by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, which has been holding up the usually routine process since February.

Military promotions and appointments to fill vacancies are normally approved in large blocks through the unanimous consent of the Senate, but one senator refusing to consent forces the chamber to take the votes up individually. Tuberville has blocked unanimous consent for seven months in protest of the Department of Defense’s pro-abortion policies. 

A new policy adopted last year provides paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for service members to obtain abortions, which was meant to increase access to abortion for anyone living in or stationed in states that impose restrictions on the procedure. It also covers travel costs for spouses or dependents to obtain abortions.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 83-11 to confirm its first individual military appointment since Tuberville’s blockade began: Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Senate confirmed two more appointments individually on Thursday — Gen. Randy George as Army chief of staff and Gen. Eric Smith as commandant of the Marine Corps — but it’s unclear whether other nominees will get individual votes anytime soon. 

The blockade has caused a backlog of more than 300 appointments. 

Before Wednesday’s vote, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the blockade forced leadership “to confront his obstruction head on” by holding a vote but added that “this cannot continue.” He said the appointment would be confirmed, the DOD policy would remain in place, and Tuberville “will have accomplished nothing.” 

“What Sen. Tuberville is doing will set the military and the Senate down a path to vote on every single military promotion,” Schumer said. “It will make every single military officer’s promotion subject to the political whims of the Senate and even of one senator. It will change the nature of our nonpolitical military. It will hamstring the Senate and further bog down this body and make it harder for us to legislate.”

Tuberville responded to Schumer’s comments when speaking on the Senate floor later that day, saying that the Senate “could have confirmed these nominees a long, long time ago” but that Democrats have instead “spent months complaining about having to vote.” He said he will continue his blockade but blamed the backlog on Schumer for not holding any individual votes on the appointments. 

“My hold is still in place,” Tuberville said. “The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place. If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It’s as easy as that.”

After the confirmation, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin thanked Schumer for holding the vote and criticized Tuberville for continuing his blockade.

“Sen. Tuberville’s continued hold on hundreds of our nation’s military leaders endangers our national security and military readiness,” Austin said in a statement. “It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees.”

Austin said Brown “will be a tremendous leader of our joint force and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity” and that the nominees are “well-qualified” and “apolitical.”

Federal law prohibits DOD funds from being “used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” Although the statute does not expressly prohibit funding for travel to obtain an abortion, some Republicans have argued that such funds violate the statute. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice told the DOD that such funding is permissible under the law.

Republicans have introduced legislation that would expressly prohibit agencies from funding ancillary expenses related to obtaining an abortion, but those efforts have failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Seton Shrine’s new additions offer interactive encounter with first American-born saint

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is opening a new $4 million state-of-the-art Seton Shrine Museum and Visitor Center on Sept. 22, 2023. / Credit: Seton Shrine

Charlotte, N.C., Sep 21, 2023 / 15:46 pm (CNA).

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is opening a new $4 million state-of-the-art Seton Shrine Museum and Visitor Center on Sept. 22, offering visitors an interactive encounter with the first American-born canonized saint.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774–1821), a widowed mother, opened one of the first free Catholic schools for girls in the United States and established the first order of women religious in the country — the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph — on the very grounds where her shrine and the new museum and visitor center are located. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

 A view of the interior of the Seeker gallery at the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine
A view of the interior of the Seeker gallery at the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine

The shrine includes St. Elizabeth Ann’s original “Stone House” and “White House” as well as the basilica. With the addition of the museum and visitors center, pilgrims to the shrine now have the opportunity to immerse themselves in her life by walking in her footsteps where she lived and served, and through interactive displays and exhibits in the museum that are rich in American history and the history of the Catholic Church in America.

What was formerly the provincial entrance near the basilica has been transformed into a modern and welcoming visitor center, seamlessly connecting visitors to the gift shop and museum galleries. Inside, the galleries paint an intimate portrait of Mother Seton through dozens of artifacts, visual storytelling displays, and digital interactive exhibits.

The museum houses three core galleries: the SEEKER exhibit, which delves into Mother Seton’s troubled childhood, fairytale marriage, bankruptcy, widowhood, and conversion to Catholicism; the SERVANT exhibit, which explores how Mother Seton founded a new community of consecrated religious and pioneered a way for women in America to serve God; and the SAINT exhibit, which provides insights into the dedicated efforts of thousands of Americans across four generations for Mother Seton to be declared a saint.

A commonplace book, one of several artifacts in the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine
A commonplace book, one of several artifacts in the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine

“One of my favorite exhibits is an exhibit which consists of a digital touch screen, showcasing the 14 Sisters of Charity communities,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the shrine. “The impact exhibit allows visitors to look all around the world at all the past and present missions that the hundreds of sisters have worked in over the years, showcasing the huge impact they’ve had in serving the poor. And it all came from a woman who decided to start a school after she was widowed and invited other women to join her.”

Judge notes that Elizabeth Ann Seton never set out to build a huge network. “That’s the beauty of it. If we are faithful one step at a time, that is available to all of us. The impact exhibit helps make that clear. Her life and work developed into so much more than founding a school. By a simple yes, so much good has been done,” he told CNA.

In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum also features two special exhibits that will be on display for a limited time.

The first is “Fancywork: Early American Needlework from St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School,” an exhibit with more than 20 pieces of needlework dating from the early 1800s to the 1870s and the stories of the students behind the works.

The "Fancywork" exhibit at the Seton Shrine highlights needlework done by students in the late 1800s at St. Joseph’s School. Credit: Seton Shrine
The "Fancywork" exhibit at the Seton Shrine highlights needlework done by students in the late 1800s at St. Joseph’s School. Credit: Seton Shrine

The second is “Getting in the Habit: Iconic Clothing of the Daughters of Charity,” which displays dozens of historic artifacts that explore the ranging apparel of the Daughters of Charity throughout the years, exhibited by the Daughter of Charity Province of St. Louise, Provincial Archives. 

“This story from 200 years ago is worth telling today through this state-of-the-art facility,” said Tony Dilulio, director of programs for the shrine and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Dilulio coordinated the experts involved in the lighting, exhibits, and design — many of whom also created landmarks such as presidential libraries.

One of the interactive exhibits features the legacy of the Daughters of Charity, highlighting missions from around the globe. Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Seton Shrine
One of the interactive exhibits features the legacy of the Daughters of Charity, highlighting missions from around the globe. Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Seton Shrine

“I would love to challenge every visitor to be a ‘servant saint seeker.’ To seek God as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did. To work as diligently as she did her whole life, and to be a saint!” Dilulio added.

With the addition of the new museum and visitors center, the shrine anticipates a significant increase in pilgrims, which averages 60,000 visitors annually.

“We need models and intercessors, and she’s par excellence,” Judge said. “We’re hoping that through these exhibits people get to know her a bit. She’s a very relatable saint. In order to relate to someone you have to know something about them. We hope this museum allows people to relate to her and get to know her better and seek her intercession in their lives.”

The Mass, blessing, and dedication Sept. 22 will be presided over by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. More information on the Seton Shrine Museum can be found on the shrine’s website.

Pro-life students harassed by ‘mob’ after VP Kamala Harris talk in North Carolina

Lydia Taylor (blue shirt), and other student pro-life protesters from across the state of North Carolina traveled to North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro on Sept. 15, 2023, to demonstrate outside of Vice President Kamala Harris's speech calling for the expansion of abortion access. / Credit: Students for Life of America

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 14:53 pm (CNA).

A group of pro-life students who participated in a demonstration at a North Carolina college last week during a visit to campus by Vice President Kamala Harris say they were escorted off campus by police for their own safety after being harassed by a large crowd.

Harris’ speech at North Carolina A&T University on Sept. 15 was part of her “Fight for Our Freedoms College Tour,” an effort to mobilize college students to vote and support the Democratic agenda on a variety of issues, including the expansion of abortion. 

Before the event, a number of students holding signs with pro-life messages such as “abortion hurts women” and “fight for our freedoms” gathered on the Greensboro, North Carolina, campus.

According to members of the group, they engaged in positive dialogue with students on campus. When the vice president’s speech was over, however, things got ugly.

A video shared on X shows a crowd of young people stealing signs from the pro-life activists who were brought together by the group Students for Life of America.

One young man can be seen taking the Students for Life group’s marker and sign and writing “BLM,” otherwise known as Black Lives Matter, on it. The crowd cheered as he raised the sign and danced around. 

Two others can be seen on video holding up signs that say “F*** dem kids,” while the crowd is heard chanting the same. 

Other profanities could be heard being shouted at the pro-life group. Photos from the protest show the pro-life group being taunted with obscene hand gestures. The group also claims they were “twerked on” (a type of suggestive dancing), which several photos confirm.

One of the Students for Life of America student leaders, Lydia Taylor, told CNA Wednesday that as the “mob” closed in on her and was waving signs in her face, the police intervened. 

“They immediately came in and said, ‘We have to go now’ and pulled us out of the mob. We were forced to leave a lot of our stuff behind,” the 20-year old said. 

The group ended up retrieving a bull horn, microphone, and some speakers but lost some of their signs and materials that are used at other pro-life demonstrations.

“It was so chaotic,” she said.

Taylor, who organized the group of about 10 pro-life students from across the state, is a student at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, about an hour and 20-minute drive away from where the protest took place.

When she heard about the vice president’s plan to talk about expanding abortion access at college campuses in states across the country, including her own, she felt called to spring into action. 

“We need to go and stand up against her pro-abortion extremism, especially since she supports abortion with no restrictions up until the moment of birth,” she said.

During her speech at the university, Harris called for greater access to abortion in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“One does not have to abandon their faith, or deeply held beliefs, to agree that the government should not be telling [a woman] what to do with her body,” Harris said, taking issue with what she called “extremist so-called leaders” passing state pro-life laws. 

The vice president criticized those laws, especially those being passed without rape and incest exceptions, calling them “immoral.”

“What the [Supreme] Court took away, Congress can put back in place. Congress can pass a law that puts back in place the protections of a case called Roe v. Wade, which gives you the right to make decisions for yourself,” she told the crowd, urging them to vote for lawmakers who will do so. 

Taylor told CNA that before the crowd of students harassed them, her group had many positive conversations with students attending the vice president’s event on campus.

“We changed at least 10 minds and have connected with students there that are interested in starting a pro-life group, which was incredible,” she said.

Other university students approached Taylor expressing support for the pro-life cause, she said.

It was after the talk that things went south.

“I think it’s interesting that it went peacefully before the Kamala Harris event, but after hearing her speak, immediately, the first thing they did was come and harass us and vandalize our signs,” she said.

After someone wrote “Black Lives Matter” on the pro-life group’s sign, Taylor said: “Hey, we actually agree that Black lives do matter, and the abortion industry is targeting Black lives, and we’d love to have a peaceful conversation with you.”

But the crowd, which she said numbered in the hundreds, just became more aggressive.

CNA reached out to the university for a comment but did not receive a response.

Who are the Chinese bishops attending the Synod on Synodality?

Credit: FreshStock/Shutterstock / null

Rome Newsroom, Sep 21, 2023 / 09:54 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Thursday that two bishops from mainland China have been added as official delegates in the upcoming Synod on Synodality assembly.

Bishop Antonio Yao Shun of Jining and Bishop Joseph Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun will travel from China to Rome to participate as full members of the Oct. 4–28 Synod of Bishops on the topic of “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”

The bishops join Taiwan Bishop Norbert Pu of Kiayi and Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow, the bishop of Hong Kong, who were already announced as synod delegates in July.

The Vatican publicized the addition of the two mainland Chinese bishops during a press conference on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Vatican-China deal, the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops between the Holy See and Beijing on Sept. 22, 2018.

It is not the first time that Beijing has approved bishops from the mainland to participate in a Synod of Bishops. Chinese Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai and Bishop Yang Xiaoting of Yan’an attended the first half of the youth synod in 2018 before suddenly leaving the synod early without explanation. Both bishops had close ties to the government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and stayed in Vatican City’s Santa Marta guesthouse, where Pope Francis resides.

One of the bishops attending this year’s assembly was the first bishop consecrated in China under the terms of the Vatican-China agreement. 

Here is what we know about the two Chinese bishops who will come to the Vatican for the 2023 Synod on Synodality assembly: 

Bishop Joseph Yang Yongqiang was ordained as a bishop with Vatican approval in 2010 and has served as the bishop of Zhoucun in mainland China’s Shandong Province since August 2013.

Yongqiang, 53, participated in the 2023 National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body that is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s united front system, where it was decided that the Catholic Church should integrate its thought with the party and unite more closely to Xi Jinping, according to the official website of the Catholic Patriotic Association. 

He is the vice president of the Chinese-government-sanctioned Catholic bishops’ conference and was elected as a leader of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in December 2016. At his episcopal ordination, Yongqiang told UCA News that he saw the potential to increase dialogue with the underground Catholic community.

Last year, Yongqiang led a meeting presenting how Catholics must study the spirit of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

Yongqiang was born into a Catholic family in Shandong’s Boxing County in 1970 and studied for the priesthood in Shanghai’s Sheshan seminary before he was ordained in 1995.

He worked for the provincial Catholic Patriotic Association and Chinese Church Affairs Committee in 2005 while he taught at the Holy Spirit Major Seminary in Jinan.

Earlier this month, Yongqiang attended a study session on how to implement the new “Measures on the Management of Religious Activity Sites,” government restrictions that ban the display of religious symbols outdoors, require preaching to “reflect core socialist values,” and limit all religious activities to government-approved religious venues, according to China Aid.

Bishop Antonio Yao Shun was the first bishop consecrated in China under the terms of the Sino-Vatican agreement, on Aug. 26, 2019. He is the bishop of Jining in China’s Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia. 

Before his appointment, Yao, now 58, had served as the secretary and later vice director of the liturgical commission overseen by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops since 1998. He returned to the Diocese of Jining in 2010 to serve as vicar general.

Born in Ulanqab in 1965, Yao is a native of Inner Mongolia. He both studied and taught at the national seminary in Beijing. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1991, Yao completed a degree in liturgy in the United States at St. John’s University in Minnesota from 1994 to 1998. He also spent some time pursuing biblical studies in Jerusalem.

The New York Times has reported that the Vatican had approved Yao as the successor of Bishop John Liu Shigong in the Diocese of Jining in 2010, but the Chinese government refused to approve him, even after Bishop Liu died in 2017 at the age of 89. 

However, Chinese researchers have pointed out that Yao is not one to speak out critically about the Chinese government.

“The Communist Party feels comfortable with him,” Francesco Sisci, a Beijing-based researcher on Chinese Catholicism, told the New York Times in 2019. “They don’t want someone doing agitprop against them.”

Synod 2023: Participants to include two bishops from mainland China, Archbishop Paglia

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on Feb. 20, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Two bishops from mainland China and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia of the Pontifical Academy for Life are among several additions to who will participate in the Synod on Synodality assembly next month.

The leadership of the synod on Thursday released the final list of participants for the first session of the assembly, which will begin Oct. 4 and end Oct. 28.

Bishop Giuseppe Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun in Shandon Province and Bishop Antonio Yao Shun of Jining, in the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia, were nominated by Pope Francis from a list approved by the Chinese government, Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, undersecretary of the synod, told journalists Sept. 21.

The two bishops from mainland China are late additions and will participate together with Archbishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong and Bishop Norbert Pu of Kiayi, Taiwan, who were already on a list of synod members published by the Vatican in July.

Two Chinese bishops also took part in the 2018 youth synod.

Archbishop Paglia, who leads the Vatican academy on life issues, was also added to the list of synod members as a pontifical nomination.

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who recently concluded his term as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, will no longer participate in the synodal assembly, San Martín said, noting that Ladaria had asked Pope Francis directly to withdraw.

The Vatican also published Thursday a general schedule for the October assembly, which will begin with an opening Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 4 and close with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29.

Each week’s work will include a day off for participants on Sunday, as well as Masses and other times of prayer, including a half-day pilgrimage, praying the rosary in the Vatican Gardens, and a prayer service dedicated to migrants and refugees.

On Oct. 28, members with voting rights will express their approval or disapproval of a document summarizing the three and a half weeks of proceedings.

The other new additions to the synod assembly are:

  • Cardinal Paulo Cezar Costa of Brasilia from the episcopal conference of Brazil

  • Sister Mary Theresa Barron, OLA, president of the International Union of Superiors General

  • Sister Maria Nirmalini, AC, superior general of the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel

  • Margaret Karram, president of the Focolare Movement

Newly added as experts and facilitators:

  • Andrew Spiteri from Australia

  • Sister Christina Danel, superior general of the Congregation of Xavières, from France

  • Péter Szabó from Hungary

  • Eva Gullo from Italy

  • Father Mario Antonelli from Italy

Where is St. Matthew? A visit to his tomb

The statue of St. Matthew above the crypt altar beneath the cathedral of Salerno, Italy. / Credit: Berthold Werner/Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Sept. 21 marks the feast day of St. Matthew, also known as Levi, an apostle of Jesus and, according to tradition, the author of one of the four Gospels. 

Surprisingly little is known for certain about Matthew’s life, even though his Gospel is so crucial for the Church. The manner of Matthew’s calling by Jesus is well known — Matthew was a Jew but worked as a tax collector for the Romans in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee, making him a pariah among his own people. When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, Matthew gave up his presumably materialistic life as a tax collector to follow the Lord. 

Jesus’ calling of Matthew led some religious authorities of the Jewish community to wonder: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To which Jesus responded: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, however, that no further reference is made to Matthew in the Gospels, except in the list of the Apostles, and “of Matthew’s subsequent career we have only inaccurate or legendary data.” It appears though, according to a number of other ancient sources, that he evangelized for at least a decade and a half in Asia. 

Matthew’s earthly body is purported to lie in the crypt beneath the cathedral of Salerno, Italy. In the crypt, a bronze St. Matthew made by Michelangelo Naccherino in 1606 sits above the altar. The saint is shown writing the Gospel with a book resting on his left knee and a pen in his right hand. At his left side, an angel hands him an inkwell as he writes his Gospel. 

Alfano I, the archbishop of Salerno from 1058–1085, completed the crypt in 1081 and placed Matthew’s body in the sepulcher. The renovation in the early 17th century was carried out by architects Domenico and his son Giulio Cesare Fontana. 

According to legend, St. Matthew’s intercession helped to protect the city in 1544 from the dreaded pirate Ariadeno Barbarossa, supreme commander of the Turkish military fleet, when a storm that had been prayed for by devotees to St. Matthew in Salerno blew Barbarossa’s fleet away from the city. 

Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox churches celebrate St. Matthew on Nov. 16, along with St. Fulvianus, a prince who is recorded in some traditions as converting from paganism after Matthew’s martyrdom.

Pope Benedict said in 2006 that “in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvelous effects in their own lives.