UK bishops call for prayers as Boris Johnson admitted to intensive care

London, England, Apr 7, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Westminster led calls for prayers for Britain’s Prime Minister on Monday after Boris Johnson was admitted to an intensive care unit. 

Johnson tested positive for coronavirus 11 days ago and was taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, on Sunday for worsening symptoms.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols issued an appeal for prayers for the Prime Minister in a tweet April 6.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a personal fight on his hands against the vicious coronavirus and needs our prayers. Let us pray for him, all who are suffering and our NHS workers caring for them,” wrote the cardinal, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

In comments to CNA, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said: “Seeing the Prime Minister stricken and incapacitated by the very threat we are presently battling surely reminds us of how we are all in this struggle together.”

“We are all praying for Boris Johnson at this time. As Christians, it is the communion of the saints which reminds us how our lives are so bound together. A doctrine which is shining through these days of isolation and confinement in a common struggle."

The official account of the Catholic National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady at Walsingham echoed Cardinal Nichols’ call for prayer, tweeting Monday: “We need to pray for our Prime Minister.”

Johnson announced that he had tested positive for the virus March 27. He went into self-isolation but continued working. On April 5, he was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital suffering from “persistent symptoms.”

Downing Street said in a statement April 6: “Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the Prime Minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the intensive care unit at the hospital.”

“The PM is receiving excellent care, and thanks all NHS staff for their hard work and dedication.”

The Prime Minister's spokesman said April 7: “The Prime Minister has been stable overnight and remains in good spirits. He is receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance.”

“He has not required mechanical ventilation or non-invasive respiratory support.”

The Department of Health said April 6 that 5,373 of those hospitalized in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus had died as of 5pm local time on April 5.


Notre Dame Cathedral to broadcast crown of thorns veneration on Good Friday 

Paris, France, Apr 7, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- One year after the world watched the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris burn, the Archbishop of Paris will display the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns for veneration during a Good Friday broadcast.

“When Mary is at the foot of the cross, she knows that from the most absolute evil God can always draw a much greater one," Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris said in an online press conference on April 7.

“I do not see any meaning in the cathedral fire or the COVID-19 epidemic. On the other hand, I know that God can bring much greater out of the misfortune that strikes us,” he said.

The Good Friday meditation before the crown of thorns will be broadcast live from inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. local time April 9, days before the first anniversary of the fire.

Archbishop Aupetit will lead a meditation on the Passion of Christ inside the cathedral in the apse behind Notre-Dame’s Pietà. He will be joined by Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre-Dame and Auxiliary Bishop Denis Jachiet.

French actors Philippe Torreton and Judith Chemla will read texts by Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, and St. Teresa of Calcutta, while violinist Renaud Capuçon will provide musical accompaniment.

The archbishop said at the press conference that he had originally planned to have a street procession with the relic in Paris, but this was no longer possible due to the strict coronavirus measures in France.

On Holy Thursday, Aupetit will bless the city of Paris with the Blessed Sacrament at noon from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Montmartre, which overlooks the city.

Under coronavirus quarantine, a priest in Paris blessed his neighbors with a rooftop benediction last week.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">?? Bénédiction de la ville de Paris depuis le toit de l&#39;église Saint François-Xavier ! ⛪? <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Confinementjour18</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVIDー19</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Notre-Dame de Chrétienté (@ndchretiente) <a href="">April 3, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Paris has been under lockdown since March 17 with all non-essential trips from home banned except for a visit to the grocery store or doctor’s office.

With nearly 100,000 coronavirus cases documented in France, the country’s lockdown measures have been extended until at least April 15, the anniversary of the Notre-Dame fire.

More than 8,900 people have died in France from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

France’s coronavirus measures have delayed the reconstruction efforts at Notre-Dame de Paris.

The removal of the melted scaffolding on the cathedral’s roof scheduled to begin March 23 cannot take place under the country’s coronavirus measures, according to the French newspaper, Libération.

The scaffolding, which was present on the building prior to the April 15 fire due to restoration work, fused together during the blaze. There are an estimated 551 tons of metal still on top of the cathedral.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris formerly displayed the crown of thorns for veneration each Friday during Lent at 3 p.m. and all day on Good Friday. This tradition was moved to Paris’ Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois this year as the damaged Notre Dame Cathedral remains closed to the public.


Turin Shroud to be displayed via livestream on Holy Saturday amid pandemic

Turin, Italy, Apr 6, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Catholics around the world will be invited to pray virtually before the Turin Shroud on Holy Saturday as the world struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Church officials have said.

The Shroud, which bears the image of a crucified man and has been venerated for centuries as Christ’s burial cloth, will be displayed via livestream at 5pm local time April 11. 

Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia will preside over a liturgy from the chapel of Turin cathedral where the Shroud is kept in a climate-controlled vault. It will be broadcast live on television and social media. 

The archbishop said he was responding to thousands of requests from people asking to venerate the Shroud amid a global crisis that has so far claimed nearly 70,000 lives. 

"Thanks to television and social networks," he said, "this time of contemplation will make available to everyone throughout the world the image of the sacred cloth, which reminds us of the Lord's passion and death, but also opens our hearts to faith in His resurrection.”

He said he hoped that the ceremony would give strength to those suffering amid the pandemic. 

"Yes, the love with which Jesus gave us his life and which we celebrate during Holy Week is stronger than any suffering, every illness, every contagion, every trial and discouragement,” he said. “Nothing and no one can ever separate us from this love, because it is faithful forever and unites us to him with an indissoluble bond."

Turin is located in northwest Italy, not far from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, which has led to nearly 16,000 deaths and a nationwide lockdown since March 10. 

Archbishop Nosiglia announced last year that the Shroud would be displayed in December 2020 when Turin hosts an annual meeting organized by the Taizé Community. This would be the fifth time that the Shroud has gone on public display since the year 2000. 

The last time the Shroud was presented to the public was in 2015. Pope Francis prayed before the relic during a visit to Turin on June 21 that year. Afterwards, he described it as an icon of Christ’s love. 

“The Shroud,” the pope said, “attracts people to the face and tortured body of Jesus and, at the same time, urges us on toward every person who is suffering and unjustly persecuted.” 


Bergamo bishop: In coronavirus, churches as mortuaries an ‘act of tenderness’

Rome, Italy, Apr 3, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- The bishop at the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak has said churches are serving as makeshift mortuaries as there are so many dead bodies “you do not know where to put them anymore.”

In an interview with CNA’s Italian-language partner agency ACI Stampa, Bishop Francesco Beschi of the Diocese of Bergamo said the use of churches “is an act of tenderness towards people who die alone and [whose] bodies are likely to remain piled up.”

The presence of the bodies in the church “is a gift of respect and concern,” he added.

The confirmed number of COVID-19 deaths across Italy as of April 2 was 13,915, according to Italian health officials. Of these, 2,060 deaths confirmed to be from the coronavirus occurred in the wider Bergamo province during the month of March.

The bishop said deaths are “multiplying,” and while many people are dying in hospital, there are also many who die at home, and who are not registered in official coronavirus death counts. 

According to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal April 1, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Italy is likely much higher than official counts show.

Especially in the hardest-hit northern regions of the country, many people who have died outside the hospital were not tested for the coronavirus, especially large numbers of elderly living in nursing homes.

According to the WSJ report, in the city of Bergamo in March 2020 there were 553 deaths overall, among these, 201 confirmed coronavirus deaths. By comparison, in March 2019 there were only 125 total deaths in Bergamo.

“All of this is accompanied by very deep feelings,” Beschi noted.

He said one of the priests of his diocese confided in him the difficulty of losing his father to the coronavirus while his family is separated and under quarantine: “there is no funeral, he will be taken to the cemetery and will be buried, without anyone being able to participate in this moment of human and Christian piety which is now so important because it is missing.”

“Furthermore, when the patient is taken away from home with an ambulance and hospitalized among the infected or placed in intensive care, family members no longer see him, no longer hear from him, they cannot even speak to him by phone,” he added. 

“The sorrow is immense.”

Among the many victims of COVID-19 in Bergamo are priests, the bishop said, stating that at least 25 priests of his diocese have died from the virus since March 6.

He said he finds it a comforting sign, however, that 60 priests with the coronavirus seem to be on the mend.

The Bergamo diocese has more than 700 priests and Beschi said he is “in constant contact” with them through messages of support and paternal affection.

“There is an inner force even wider and deeper than evil: this is the faith that is the sap in the roots of the people of Bergamo,” the bishop said, addressing Catholics and victims of the coronavirus.

The faith, he said, “will be the firmness on which to rebuild families, on which to restart work, on which to force the lever to lift an economy crushed to the ground, on which to have the strength to heal emotional wounds, on which to lean to revisit a grief that has only been swallowed up, on which to stand to look toward the horizon and start again.”

Offering a word of hope, Beschi said “these days extend shadows of death over our common life and our families and, at the same time, we cannot help but recognize the signs of spring.”

“The resurrection is the flower that blooms and anticipates the joy of being able to taste its fruit one day. It is the bud that is blooming.”

“To die like Christ and with Christ, in the events of our life, is to make the power of love dwell in our dead,” he stated. “We do not have the strength of the love of Christ but he confers it on us.”

The bishop said Italy has been through many crises, and people always say “we must learn from mistakes, we must not repeat them.”

He added that he does not have an answer for the many losses the families of his diocese are facing and will face after this pandemic.

The two decisive elements, he said, are solidarity in sharing and the exercise of personal responsibility. “If we manage to grow, at least a fruit will have come from this terrible story.”


Italian bishops offer Mass for coronavirus victims, including 87 priests

Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Bishops throughout Italy visited cemeteries last week to pray and offer Mass for the souls of those who died after contracting the coronavirus. Among the 13,915 coronavirus deaths in Italy, at least 87 have been priests.

“Hear Lord the pain that rises from this land that we still believe blessed … We believe that in the death on the cross of your Son Jesus and in his burial, every cross, every death, every burial is redeemed from abandonment, from darkness, from nothing,” Bishop Francesco Beschi said March 27 in a cemetery in Bergamo, a hard-hit northern Italian city where 553 people died in March.  

In Beschi’s diocese of Bergamo alone, 25 diocesan priests have died after contracting COVID-19.

“This week I went to the cemetery with the desire to become a voice of prayer and pain that has no chance to express themselves and remains enclosed not only in our homes, but above all in our hearts. In some ways … it is as if our cities had become a large cemetery. Nobody is seen anymore. Disappeared. We can see each other through the media and social media, fortunately, but the city is deserted,” Beschi said in his homily via livestream March 29. 

Italy has entered its fourth week of a national mandatory lockdown. On April 1, the Prime Minister  Giuseppe Conte announced that the country’s quarantine deadline has been extended to April 13, but noted that the lockdown will not end until “the curve subsides.”

There have been more than 115,000 documented cases of coronavirus in Italy and 13,915 mortalities as of April 2 according to the Italian Ministry of Health.

Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the Italian bishops conference, reported a total of 87 priest mortalities as of March 31. However, this number could be higher; some religious orders, such as the Xaverian Missionary Fathers in Parma, did not test the 16 elderly priests who died in their residence last month.

Three quarters of the diocesan priests reported dead were over the age of 75. The youngest priest to die was 45-year-old Fr. Alessandro Brignone of Salerno. The Southern Italian priest had participated in a Neocatechumenal Way retreat in early March after which many participants tested positive for COVID-19.

The Diocese of Milan reported two new deaths attributed to coronavirus last weekend: Fr. Cesare Terraneo, 75, and Fr. Pino Marelli, 80, bringing the diocesan death toll for priests to 10. 

The Diocese of Bolzano, on Italy’s border with Austria, has lost four priests to COVID-19, most recently Fr. Heinrich Kamelger, 85, Fr. Anton Matzneller, 83, and Fr. Reinhard Ebner, 71, who had served as a missionary in Brazil.

New deaths were also reported in the Italian dioceses of Vercelli, Turin, La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato, Nuoro, Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Udine, and Cremona.

The Bishop of Cremona, Antonio Napolioni, was hospitalized for pneumonia caused by COVID-19 for ten days but was released on March 17. 

After returning home to continue recovering, the bishop spoke with Pope Francis over the phone, and said he made a joke with the pope about the consequences of being “shepherds who smell of their sheep,” according to Vatican News.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, tested positive for coronavirus on March 30, and the Diocese of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso reported that Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo had a confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 31.

Other bishops in Italy, France, Burkina Faso, China, and the United States have also tested positive for COVID-19, and Bishop Angelo Moreschi, 67, died in the Italian city of Brescia on March 25 after contracting the coronavirus.


Cardinal urges that amid coronavirus the poor be released from ‘tomb’ of loans, debt

Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus crisis is an opportunity for the wealthy, and wealthy countries, to forgive the debt of poor persons and countries, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples preached Sunday.

“Where are the tombs of society right now? Where are we lifeless?” Cardinal Luis Tagle asked during his homily in a Mass said March 29 at the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome, reflecting on Christ's raizing of Lazarus to life.

“Where do we smell, where is our stench?” he continued. “There are many people who are losing their jobs, especially the daily wage earners. And that lack of resources and the poverty could be one tomb right now of many poor people. Could those who can afford it, go to those tombs and release the poor people who owe them money? Release them from their loans, release them from their debts.”

“And we even appeal to rich countries, at this moment, can you forgive the debts of the poor countries, so that they could use their dwindling resources to support their communities, rather than to pay the interest that you impose on poor countries? Could the coronavirus 19 crisis lead to a jubilee, forgiveness of debt, so that those who are in the tombs of indebtedness could find life? Untie them, release them,” he exhorted.

Cardinal Tagle said that the day's Mass points to that fact that Christ “will triumph over death.”

“Let me reflect on this part of the Gospel: this illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God. Jesus said this when he had been told of the sickness of Lazarus … Can we say the same thing now?  Can we with Jesus say, this coronavirus pandemic is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God? Even when we see the rising number of dead people. And we are in solidarity with those who are grieving, grieving. But Jesus is inviting us to faith.”

He recalled the resurrection of the dead, prophesied by Ezekiel, and asked, “how do we find life in the midst of signs of death?”

“Who will open our eyes to see signs of life when there are so many signs of death? It is God, Jesus, but we need faith. I thnk one good thing about this Covid-19 virus – I say again with all sympathy to those who are grieving – but with the eys of faith we see also life. Many of us think that if we pay the highest premium of insurance? No. your insurance cannot ensure everlasting life.”

“This virus is making us aware that all our successes and inventions, good as they are in themselves, they do not guarantee life. So people are now turning to faith, to God,” the cardinal reflected.

Cardinal Tagle noted that Christ went to Lazarus' family “to express solidarity, sympathy, but beyond that, Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus. And in the creed, we say he went the place of the dead. This going to the tomb of Lazarus is a prefiguration of his own entry to the place of the dead. We even say he descended into hell, the place of the dead, in order to restore life, commnion with God; the place of isolation becomes a place of communion.”

Martha, he recalled, was embarrased to let Christ go to Lazarus' tomb, saying there would be a stench.
“But Jesus can stand our stench. Jesus says I can handle that; where is he buried? Don't worry. And he goes to the tomb and calls him out back to life.”

“My brothers and sisters, what are your tombs?” Cardinal Tagle asked. “Where do we stench? Where do we smell?”

After discussing debt forgiveness, the cardinal likened spending on armaments to a tomb: “Many countries spend so much country for arms, for weapons, for their national security, can we stop wars please? Could we stop producing weapons please? Could we get out of that tomb and spend the money for real security?

“Now we we realize we don't have enough masks, when there are more than enough bullets. We don't have enough supplies of ventilators, but we have millions of pesos, dollars, euros, spent on one plane that could attack people. Could we have this permanent ceasefire, and in the name of the poor, let us release money for real security, education, housing, food?”

Cardinal Tagle exhorted: “Those of us who have been living more than four days in the tombs of anger, jealousy, lack of forgiveness, por favor, get out of that. And start talking, untie your mouth, but not for gossip, but for a word of love, a word of forgiveness. Time is short. We don't know how long life will last. So get out of that tomb, meet your friends, meet people and utter words of forgiveness, understanding. Untie your heart, let it beat again. Let the heart of stone now be a heart of flesh, let it live.”

“And like Jesus, weep, because we love. And if we with Jesus visit our tombs and the tombs of other people, bringing life because of faith, we hope his tears would become tears of rejoicing. And Lazarus will sing again. It is true. This illness is for the glory of God. For today, please share with your families and your loved ones, your tombs, and see how Jesus is leading you out of the tomb, leading us to life.”


Damage to miraculous crucifix during pope’s blessing ‘not serious’

Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2020 / 10:48 am (CNA).- The 16th-century crucifix which was present in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing last week was reportedly damaged by rain, but the priest in charge of the church where the cross traditionally hangs said it has not been seriously harmed.

Fr. Enrico Maria Casini, who is in charge of San Marcello al Corso in Rome, told CNA April 2 the damage to the miraculous crucifix from rain “is not serious,” from what he understands, and is expected to be returned to the church for Easter.

According to a Vatican source, the crucifix was not as badly damaged as some initially suggested and will be on public display again during the pope’s Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica April 5, as well as during the pope’s other Holy Week liturgies.

The wooden crucifix was moved from San Marcello al Corso to the Vatican March 25. Pope Francis prayed before the crucifix during his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter’s Square March 27 for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the holy hour and blessing, which was broadcast live, rain could be seen running down Christ's body on the crucifix.

One Italian report characterized damage to the crucifix as including swollen wood, peeling paint, and eroding plasters.

The crucifix was venerated as miraculous by Romans after it was the only religious image to survive unscathed from a fire that completely gutted San Marcello al Corso May 23, 1519.

Fewer than three years later, Rome was devastated by the “black plague.”

Upon the request of Rome’s Catholics, the crucifix was taken in procession from the convent of the Servants of Mary in Via del Corso to St. Peter’s Square, stopping in each quarter of Rome.
The procession continued 16 days, August 4-20, 1522. When the crucifix was returned to San Marcello, the plague had disappeared from Rome.

The crucifix has since processed to St. Peter’s Square every Roman Holy Year – around every 50 years – and the crucifix has engraved on its back the names of each pope to have witnessed those processions. The last name engraved is that of St. John Paul II, who embraced the crucifix during the “Day of Forgiveness” during the Jubilee Year 2000.


Pro-life leaders: N Ireland legal abortion thwarts protection for vulnerable

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- As the British Parliament's permissive abortion law takes effect in Northern Ireland, pro-life leaders strongly criticized the law, pointing to the coronavirus response as proof of the need to protect the lives of the most vulnerable.

“Every unborn baby matters regardless of age or ability, gender or background. He or she has the right to be protected in a community where everyone belongs and deserves our respect,” the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said March 31. “Every woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy matters too. She has a right to be cared for within a community where she is protected from any pressure to abort her baby.”

“As the number of deaths caused by Coronavirus continues to rise, news reporters frequently remind us that behind the statistics are real people. Their lives matter regardless of age or ability, gender or background,” said the bishops, noting the heavy government investment in treating patients and protecting medical staff.

“Against this background, we are saddened and dismayed at the Government’s decision to introduce extreme regulations for the delivery of abortion services in Northern Ireland,” they said, citing an “overwhelming will” among the people of the region to “protect the life of every human being.'

Previously, Northern Ireland’s laws only permitted abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, or where there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Backers of the law said it had saved over 100,000 lives by avoiding the permissive law that took effect in other parts of the United Kingdom in 1967.

The new law and accompanying regulations took effect March 31. They mean no explicit legal protections for unborn children up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, compared to legal abortion allowed up to 24 weeks in other parts of the U.K. In some respects the law is more permissive than the rest of the U.K.

Doctors, registered nurses, and registered midwives may perform abortions under the rules. In situations where pregnancy is believed to risk a woman's physical or mental health, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. There is no time limit where the pregnancy is deemed a risk to the life of the mother or in cases where the unborn child is deemed to have a fatal abnormality or a substantial risk of severe mental or physical impairment.

The Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life has focused on the responses to the government's late 2019 consultation on the new abortion law. About 79% of respondents voiced opposition to any abortion in Northern Ireland.

Bernadette Smyth, director of Precious Life, said, “thousands of pro-life people throughout Northern Ireland responded in total opposition to a change in the law.”

“Yet, we have seen this week, that the U.K. Government are willing to ignore the results of its own consultation because they are so bloodthirsty and devoted to destroying and killing human lives through abortion in Northern Ireland, even at a time of unprecedented national crisis,” Smyth continued. “People are outraged, upset and hugely frustrated that their democratic voice has been ignored.”

“It is horrifying to learn that one of the most permissive, extreme and inhumane abortion regimes in Europe will be introduced to Northern Ireland by the British Government,” she said. “This is in spite of the fact that our elected representatives returned to Stormont in January and at a time when the U.K. has been brought to its knees by the Coronavirus pandemic.”

“And right in the middle of a national crisis, when people in Northern Ireland and across the world are uniting under the shared understanding that all human life is precious and must be protected, the British Government are still intent on killing and destroying innocent and vulnerable human life in Northern Ireland,” she said.

The Catholic bishops too said the consultation process had been “utterly ignored.”

While Precious Life is circulating petitions asking legislators to repeal the abortion provisions, the bishops said members of the Northern Ireland assembly have some influence. However, their remarks suggested repeal would be very difficult.

Politicians and others opposed to the regulations should not “meekly acquiesce to their promulgation,” they said. Where the regulations exceed the 2019 Act of Parliament, legislators can repeal them.

The traditionally Protestant and pro-U.K. Democratic Unionist Party also criticized the new abortion law.

Paul Givan, DUP Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly said they were “the most extreme, radical, abortion laws anywhere in Europe.”

“It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen,” he said, objecting that the laws were introduced despite the return of devolved government to Stormont.

While abortion is typically a devolved issue of local control, the British Parliament legislation was passed during an absence of a local government. The parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly could have blocked the law from taking effect, but failed to reach any governing agreement due to a dispute between the two leading governing parties, the DUP and the second-largest party, the nationalist Sinn Fein. The nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party also walked out of a final critical meeting.

Besides the Catholic bishops, leaders in the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches had called on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene to block the abortion legislation.

The nationalist parties traditionally draw support from Northern Ireland's Catholics. Sinn Fein has turned towards backing legal abortion, while some SDLP leaders have made comments welcoming the changes.

Caoimhe Archibald, a Sinn Féin MLA, said it was “only right and proper that woman can access abortion services without having to travel, that they are free to be able to have healthcare in a modern and compassionate way”.

Among the nationalist critics of the new regime is Peadar Tóibín, leader of the new political party Aontú.

“The right to life is a human right. It is the most important human right that anyone of us have. With out the right to life no other human right can be guaranteed,” he said April 1.

“The current crisis has seen society radically change its behavior, to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. This is something that we in Aontú have always understood,” he said. Sometimes we all have to limit our personal choice and autonomy to protect the lives of others. The slogan 'my body, my choice' rings particularly hollow now when we realize that in reality we are all in this together.”

Tóibín cited the Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast's statement in response to the coronavirus pandemic that “Every Life Matters.”

“The hypocrisy is breathtaking,” he said. “The abortion law that Sinn Féin helped introduce will directly end thousands of live.”

Tóibín was deputy whip of Sinn Fein's delegation to the Republic of Ireland legislative body known as the Dail, and still holds a seat in that body. However, he was pushed out from the party over his support for the unborn and opposition to legal abortion. Like the nationalist party Sinn Fein, Aontú competes in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

He charged that the Westminster-based Parliament, Sinn Féin and the SDLP leadership had “forced abortion on demand into the north of Ireland against the wishes of the people.”

“I say forced, because every opinion poll in the north stated that the majority of men and women sought that the issue of abortion would be decided, not in London but in the north of Ireland. It was not just public opinion that held this view. Legally it was a devolved matter. It was for the elected representatives of the north to decide,” he said.

He objected that Sinn Féin had rejected its nationalist stand against British legislation in Ireland and had instead “openly lobbied for Westminster to legislate for abortion on demand in the north.”

“For the first time in 200 years of republicanism, its leadership went cap in hand to London and demanded that it legislate for Ireland over the heads and against the will of the people,” he charged.

Across all Ireland, pro-life advocates have voiced concern about possible changes to government policy to allow at-home abortions using abortion pills during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum effectively legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland by a vote of over 66% in favor of removing constitutional protections recognizing the unborn baby's right to life as equal to the mother's.

The new law also requires the recognition of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.


Nautical ministry helps abused Filipino sailors amid coronavirus

Glasgow, Scotland, Apr 1, 2020 / 05:33 pm (CNA).- Last year, a maritime charity rescued a group of migrant workers from an abusive situation aboard a fishing vessel in Scotland. The men recently returned home, but the non-profit continues to provide aid in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Filipino crew worked upon Serenity, a ship owned by a Scottish fishing company, which hires a large portion of migrant workers from countries like the Philippines. The men were believed to be harassed for their nationality.

Apostleship of the Sea, or Stella Maris, helped remove the five Filipino crew members from the ship, assisted them with a safe house in Glasgow, and provided them with spiritual support. The abused sailors had been in their contracts between two and five months before they were removed from the boat in August 2019.

Skipper Gordon Hadden verbally harassed and discriminated against these members. The skipper admitted to striking one of the men, placing him in a headlock, and pushing him against the railings of the ship. He was fined £2,000 for harassment and an additional £1,000 for the assault.

The men then reached out to Stella Maris and were soon put in contact with Joe O’Donnell, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Glasgow and a port chaplain for Stella Maris.

Martin Foley, the charity’s chief executive officer and European regional coordinator, told CNA that while the case was investigated by the police the men were visited regularly by O’Donnell for spiritual support.

“Our colleagues at the Fishermen’s Mission advised the men to disembark from the boat for their own safety and from there, the police were called and the guys were moved to a hotel and then transferred to a safe house in Glasgow and that’s when Deacon Joe got involved,” he said.

“Deacon Joe visited the men on a regular basis, praying with them, transporting them to Mass, organising excursions and generally providing as much hospitality as possible.”

The organization also administered financial assistance to the men’s families in the Philippines. Foley said, although the men had been rescued from an abusive situation, they were prohibited from accessing other work while the case was under investigation.

“One of the injustices of their situation was that they were legally barred from working whilst their case was being investigated. Yet the only reason they travelled to the UK in the first place was to work,” he said.

According to the Scottish Catholic Observer, one of the Filipino crewmen, who asked to remain anonymous, described the situation as very difficult but said “it would have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the support and assistance from Stella Maris.” He said the organization treated them like family.

“Deacon Joe has been there for each of us every step of the way … He made sure we were alright and has always been in touch to help with our worries,” he said.

“One of the highlights came when he arranged for Bishop John Keenan of Paisley to come and visit us. We would love to return to Scotland one day, and Stella Maris will always have a place in our hearts.”

After eight months in Scotland, the men have recently returned home, but they are now placed under quarantine.

Foley said the charity has a particularly important role to play during the coronavirus outbreak and emphasized difficulties faced by seafarers at this time. He said there have been numerous reports of sailors who have been denied shore leave and been confined to their vessels.

“This is a time of great uncertainty for seafarers, fishermen and their families. With over 90% of world trade being moved by ship, it is the People of the Sea that keep the global economy and supply chains functioning. Seafarers and fishermen should be counted among the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“In Manila … Stella Maris is providing free accommodation and food for 120 seafarers who are unable to leave Manila due to the lockdown situation there.”

He said the ministry has had to alter its ministerial duties as countries have increased COVID-19 prevention methods. He said, while the chaplains and volunteers have been barred from accessing the ship, the organization has had to provide spiritual support online and had welfare packages delivered to the boats.

“As we move towards Holy Week and the celebration of Easter – a time when we would normally transport seafarers to Mass or celebrate liturgies on board their ships - we consider it particularly important to provide seafarers and fishermen with spiritual support, including signposting to faith resources online,” he said.


English bishop ‘shocked’ by permission for at-home medical abortions

London, England, Mar 31, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The British government’s plans to allow women to have early abortions at home without medical supervision during the coronavirus crisis will “further endanger women”, a bishop has said.

Bishop John Sherrington said he was “shocked” by the move, which the government had first announced, then quickly rescinded, before introducing once again.

Bishop Sherrington, the English and Welsh bishops’ spokesman on life issues, said: “We understand why the government wishes to keep women away from hospital at this time but are shocked to hear that the Secretary of State for Health plans to introduce temporary measures to allow telemedicine and early DIY abortion at home without any medical supervision present.”

He continued: “These measures fundamentally change access to abortion in England and Wales for the foreseeable future. Whilst these are emergency times, these measures further endanger women who, for example, are rushed into decisions by abusive partners and act without any proper consultation.”

“They diminish the seriousness with which these decisions should be taken and the physical and psychological dangers of the administration of these drugs at home.”

A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone blocks the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. Misoprostol is taken up to two days later, and induces labor.

Women in Britain are already allowed to take the second drug at home, after ingesting the first at a medical clinic and after obtaining the approval of two doctors, as required by law.

Bishop Sherrington accused the government of contradicting itself over whether it was “essential” for women to attend a clinic.

He said: “On Monday Lord Bethell (Health Minister) said ‘We believe it is an essential safeguard that a woman attends a clinic to ensure that they can be seen alone’. Why is it no longer essential? Why was it not discussed in Parliament between Monday and Wednesday?”

The Westminster auxiliary bishop urged officials to publish a time limit on the measure as it had for other emergency legislation.

“Along with all those who cherish and uphold the value of human life, the Church will be vigilant to see that these measures, if introduced, are rescinded as soon as possible so that the present, albeit unsatisfactory, law is followed,” he said.

ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization, described the new measures as the most significant change to abortion in England since the practice was legalized in 1967.

Robert Clarke, ADF International’s deputy director, commented: “Exposing vulnerable women to home abortions is a decision which has been taken much too lightly by the government.

“This exception to the abortion law could have a long-lasting effect on how abortion is handled in the United Kingdom, leaving those who are most vulnerable at most risk. If abortion providers thought the law needed changing, there are proper and democratic ways to approach this.”