Catholic News in Europe

Reykjavik, Iceland, Aug 16, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent article from CBS News proclaims that “few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.”

The operative word here is “births.”

Has Iceland discovered, through some groundbreaking technology and research, a cure to the chromosomal abnormality? No.

How do you “disappear Down syndrome” then, as one of the article’s taglines states?

You “disappear” people with Down syndrome.

“Iceland isn't actually eliminating Down syndrome. They're just killing everybody that has it. Big difference,” tweeted actress Patricia Heaton, who has been outspoken about her pro-life beliefs.

“There is nothing to celebrate in Iceland's ‘eradication’ of babies born with Down syndrome through abortion,” stressed Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a network of 1,800 pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women and connect them with resources throughout the country.

“These are precious human beings hand-crafted in the image of God, and no government or person on earth has the authority to rob persons with Down syndrome of their lives,” Godsey told CNA. “Down syndrome is not a death sentence, and it is monstrous to suggest otherwise.”

Every pregnant woman in Iceland is given an option of a prenatal test that can detect Down syndrome with 85 percent accuracy. “Nearly 100 percent” of pregnancies that tested positive for Down syndrome were aborted, CBS reports.

While prenatal testing is not required in Iceland, healthcare providers tell every pregnant woman that the test is an option. The country, which has a population of 330,000, usually sees only one or two children a year born with Down syndrome – often the result, the article reports, of faulty testing.  

Other countries “aren't lagging too far behind” in Down syndrome abortion rates, the article states. “The United States has an estimated (abortion) rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it's 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015).”

The CBS article included some discussion of the ethical dilemmas that prenatal screening and abortion of babies with Down syndrome present.

Geneticist Kari Stefansson said for the piece, “My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society – that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.”

But when asked what this means for society, he cautioned: “It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling. And I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable…You're having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”

“I don't think there's anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision,” he said.

The article also admits that while people born with Down syndrome are at risk for various other health problems, many people with Down syndrome also live full and healthy lives, and are able to live independently or semi-independently, hold jobs, and have relationships.

“Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”

Perhaps the best argument against the eradication of Down syndrome is Augusta, the cute little seven-year-old pink-clad girl peering out from the pages of the CBS article. Her mother, Thordis Ingadottir, took the test when she was pregnant with Augusta, but it failed to detect Down syndrome.

Now, Ingadottir has become an advocate for people with Down syndrome.

“I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That's my dream,” Ingadottir told CBS. “Isn't that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?”

Godsey told CNA that parents whose children have Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities need love and support – not abortion.

“(These parents)...deserve love and support that will benefit their growing families, and abortion fails categorically to deliver on its false promises to benefit families, individuals and society as a whole,” he said.  

Godsey added that almost anyone who knows someone with Down syndrome would be completely against its elimination.

“As anyone who knows a person with Down syndrome can tell you, these beautiful people are an absolute joy to their families and communities. The world grows exponentially poorer as we kill innocent babies for the ‘crime’ of failing to match up to our self-aggrandizing expectations.”

The joy of life with a family member who has Down syndrome was celebrated CBS in a different article, published to mark World Down Syndrome Day in 2015. It was a column by Marguerite (Maggie) Reardon, a senior writer at CNET, about when she found out her daughter would be born with Down syndrome.  

For a long time, she considered abortion, though her husband was against it. What changed her mind was the day she found a community of other people with Down syndrome and parents of children with Down syndrome.

She’s still an exhausted, stressed out parent, she wrote, but that’s not because her child has Down syndrome. It’s because she has two little kids who keep her busy.

“It's true my daughter has some developmental delays. And she receives a bevy of therapies through Early Intervention to help keep her on track,” she said.

“But she's also wonderful. She has a twinkle in her eye and an infectious grin that makes even the most miserable looking people on the subway smile when she stares them down. When she puts her head on my shoulder as I rock her to sleep each night, my heart melts no matter what kind of day I've had.”

“I do think she is more special than other children, but it's not because she has Down syndrome. It's because I'm a completely biased and doting mother who thinks no one could possibly be as adorable, bright or funny as my own child,” she wrote. “And her name is Margot.”


Posted: August 16, 2017, 9:22 am

Glasgow, Scotland, Aug 15, 2017 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism are on the rise in Scotland, and a leading Catholic spokesman has said the government must take more specific action to combat the trend.

“Were any other type of crime to be dominated so completely by a single type of behavior, we might expect a targeted strategy to emerge, promoted by the authorities as a response to a particular problem,” said Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, in a forthcoming essay for The Scotsman.

Kearney compared the need for a targeted strategy to campaigns against mobile phone use while driving or drunk driving. These specific actions are targeted, rather than a generic campaign for “safe driving.”

“The approach is sensible and logical: before a problem can be tackled, it must first be identified and addressed,” he said. “Surprisingly, this doesn’t happen when it comes to religious intolerance and the criminal behavior which goes with it.”

There were a total of 719 charges related to religious prejudice in Scotland in 2016-2017, an increase from 642 in the period of 2015-2016.

Roman Catholicism was the most frequent target of abuse, making up 57 percent of these charges, numbering 384, in the latest period – an increase from 299 in 2015-2016. Catholics make up about 17 percent of the population.

Kearney suggested the figures show that Scottish society “remains scarred by past hatreds and tumults.” His Scottish Catholic Media Office is accountable to the Bishops Conference of Scotland.

Church leaders are expected to meet with Annabelle Ewing, the community safety minister. Kearney said recent exchanges in parliament indicated “the government’s unwillingness to adopt a name and shame approach to religious hate crime.”

He said cabinet secretary Angela Constance gave a “vague” response to concerns.

The figures regarding the crimes come in the Scottish government’s latest report, “Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2016-2017.”

Charges of religious aggravation were concentrated in Glasgow. In about half of all prejudice-related charges, the accused was under the influence of alcohol. About 41 percent of all charges involved accused perpetrators under the age of 30. Police officers were targeted for religiously aggravated abuse in about 44 percent of the charges.

Other religions were also targeted. There were 165 charges motivated by prejudice against Protestantism in 2016-2017, a slight increase from the previous period, and 113 charges involving anti-Islam prejudice, a slight decrease from the previous period. Anti-Jewish charges numbered 23.

About half of the charges came under laws targeting sectarianism in soccer. The Scottish Labour Party has proposed to repeal those laws, with support from several other parties in Parliament.


Posted: August 15, 2017, 7:50 pm

Funchal, Portugal, Aug 15, 2017 / 11:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A tree fell on a crowd taking part in the largest religious festival in Portugal's Madeira region on Tuesday, killing 12 persons and injuring 52, according to local press reports.

The 200 year-old tree fell on the crowd at Nossa Senhora do Monte parish in Funchal, the capital of Portugal's autonomous region of Madeira, an archipelago in the Atlantic ocean, Aug. 15.

The faithful were preparing to celebrate a procession in honor of Madeira's patronness, Our Lady of Monte. Bishop Antonio José Cavaco Carrilho of Funchal said Mass before the procession, which was cancelled.

The Portuguese government is providing medical support to the victims.

Madeira has declared three days of mourning in light of the tragedy.

Archbishop Jorge Ferreira da Costa Ortiga of Braga tweeted, saying, “Faith is not life insurance, but a secure life. My prayers are for the victims of Funchal and for their families.”


A fé não é um seguro de vida, mas uma vida segura. A minha oração pelas vítimas do #Funchal e seus familiares. #tragédia #Madeira #Senhora

— D. Jorge Ortiga (@djorgeortiga) August 15, 2017  

Posted: August 15, 2017, 5:44 pm

Athens, Greece, Aug 15, 2017 / 03:03 am (Church Pop).- Every year, on the Orthodox feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, a monastery on a Greek island experiences a miracle – dozens of snakes come to 'venerate' an icon of Mary.
In a phenomenon that has reportedly been happening for hundreds of years, black snakes begin appearing on the Greek island of Kefalonia between Aug. 5 and Aug. 15, the days when the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the dormition of the Theotokos (Mother of God).

According to tradition, the miracle of the snakes began in 1705, when nuns of the monastery were about to be attacked by pirates.

Legend has it that the nuns prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary, asking her that she turn them into snakes to avoid capture. Other versions say that the nuns prayed that the monastery be infested with snakes so as to scare away the pirates. Either way it happened, they were spared.

Since then, the small black snakes, known as European Cat Snakes, appear every year just before the feast, and make their way to the walls and entryways of the Church to 'venerate' the silver icon of Mary known as the Panagia Fidoussa, or the Virgin of the Snakes.

The snakes' patterning can produce a small black cross on their head, and they have a forked tongue, adding to the legend that these snakes are marked by the sign of the Cross.  

In recent years, the faithful have taken to transporting snakes to the church in jars and bags, to protect them from being run over by unwitting motorists.

The usually-aggressive snakes are reportedly docile and calm during these days, when they are welcome in the church for Mass and prayers, and disappear from the island completely after the feast until the next year.

Reportedly, the only years the snakes have not appeared on the island were during World War II, and in 1953, the year of a massive earthquake. Locals now take the lack of the snake's appearance as a bad omen.

Every year, the island celebrates the Theotokos and the miracle with a Snake Festival.

Posted: August 15, 2017, 9:03 am

Glasgow, Scotland, Aug 13, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Workers building a three-mile tunnel under the streets of Glasgow, Scotland have a special patron, and a statue of her sits just outside the train that carries them underground each day.


St Barbara watches over Glasgow tunnel workers.

— Catholic Observer (@SCO_NEWS) August 8, 2017


“St Barbara is the patron saint of tunnellers and Costain, our contractor, has many experienced staff on site who have worked on projects such as the Channel Tunnel,” said a Scottish water spokesman, according to the Scottish Catholic Observer.

“Every tunneller invokes the protection of St Barbara at the start of a shift and thanks her at the end. That’s why there’s a statue of St Barbara placed at the start of the workings,” the spokesman continued. “No tunnelling project of this scale would be complete without its statue of the patron and tunnellers demand that St Barbara is present with them underground.”

The tunnel, which is scheduled to be completed next year, will remove waste water from the city.

The Scottish Catholic Observer reports that the statue of St. Barbara will be moved to a new tunnel project when the current one is finished.

St. Barbara was a third-century martyr who lived in the Phoenicia region. When her father discovered that she had converted to Christianity, he tried to kill her. However, according to tradition, a series of miracles allowed her to escape.

Eventually, her father caught and imprisoned Barbara. He turned her over to the local prefect, who tortured her, however, the saint remained true to the faith. According to tradition, Christ himself appeared to her and healed her wounds.

After repeatedly refusing to renounce her Christian faith, St. Barbara was sentenced to death by beheading. Numerous miracles were reported to have taken place at her tomb.


Posted: August 13, 2017, 10:11 pm

Rome, Italy, Aug 12, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One hundred years ago, at the height of a cultural about-face in Russia, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal, predicting and encouraging prayer for Russia's conversion.

Years later, a well-known and beloved Russian Orthodox icon known as Our Lady of Kazan, commonly referred to as “the protection of Russia,” would become tied to the site of the Fatima apparitions, where Mary predicted that “the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

Looking back into Russia's history, it's clear that that the Virgin Mary has had a very strong cultural influence in the country – from its religion to its art and architecture.

In fact, before the revolutions of 1917 which overthrew the Russian Empire and led to the establishment of the Soviet Union, Russia was colloquially known as the “house of Mary,” since there were more shrines and churches dedicated to Our Lady than in any other country at the time.

According to veteran Vatican analyst Robert Moynihan, who has an extensive knowledge of Russian culture, the majority of Russian icons depict Mary with the child Jesus.

An icon, he explained, “is a sacramental, as it were, which allows the reality of the person depicted to be perceived in prayer and in meditation.”

“(So) in looking at these icons the Russian people are communing with the Virgin Mary, and they have a profound relationship on a spiritual level with Mary.”

And there are unarguably far more varieties of icons depicting the Virgin Mary in Russian iconography than any other figure. Most Russian icons depicting Mary are divided into four broad groups: the Eleusa (The Tenderness), the Odigitria (The Guide), the Oranta (The Sign), and the Akathist (The Hymn).

Many of the world's most famous icons today are images of Mary found to be miraculous, including the Vladimir, Smolensk, Kazan and Cz?stochowa images.

Aside from Poland's Cz?stochowa icon, each of these are from or are currently found in Russia.

Our Lady of Kazan is by far one of the most famous images in Russian Orthodoxy, and it has a unique history linking it to the Catholic Church and to the Fatima apparitions.

The icon itself dates back to at least 1569, when it was found in the town of Kazan, located roughly 500 miles east of Moscow. At the time, the area was caught in a conflict between the Volga Tatars and the Tsardom of Russia

According to tradition, one night a little girl had a dream in which Our Lady appeared to her and told her to go to the ruins of a church that had been burnt down, and “there you will find my image.”

The child's mother refused to let her go out, arguing that it was too dangerous. However, after having the dream for two more consecutive nights in a row, Our Lady said she would become upset if the girl didn't go.

So the next morning, the child's mother accompanied her to the church, where they saw a golden light amid the ashes. When they brushed the soot away, they saw that they were holding an image of Mary and the Child Jesus, and that it was glowing.

As they were holding it, a blind man in the area was said to have regained his sight, and the image became known as a miraculous icon. Word of the event spread and eventually reached the tsar in Moscow, who asked that the image be brought to the capital.

“Over the centuries the icon became known as the 'protection of Russia,'” Moynihan said, explaining that whenever Russia would engage in war, the tsar would call the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the patriarch would then lift the icon in front of the army and pray for Russia's protection, and although the country suffered great loss, “Russia was never conquered.”

The icon was eventually placed in Moscow's Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, which sat directly across the street from the Kremlin.

However, in 1918, after the Bolsheviks came to power, the icon was taken from the church and sold to an art dealer in Warsaw, and it end up in the possession of an English nobleman who hung the image on the wall of his house in London.

Years later, in 1950, a Russian Orthodox bishop happened to be visiting the house and recognized the image, telling the owner he was in possession of “the protection of Russia.”

After his death, the icon was purchased from the estate by the Blue Army of Fatima – an international organization dedicated to spreading Our Lady of Fatima's message – in the 1960s, and in the 1970s a chapel was built to house the icon at the Fatima shrine in Portugal.

So the Kazan image ironically ended up in the same place from which Our Lady in 1917 asked the three shepherd children to pray for Russia, asked that it be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, and predicted that it would be converted.

When St. John Paul II was elected Bishop of Rome in 1978, he had wanted to return the icon to Russia, but it was impossible while the country was under communist rule.

So when the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, within a few days the Polish Pope called the Vatican's ambassador to Portugal and asked that the Kazan icon be brought to him in Rome, so that he could carry it back to Russia.

Moynihan, who had already developed a strong interest in Russia at that point, began to become curious about the image as plans for a papal trip to Russia fell through.

At one point he asked St. John Paul's secretary if the story about Our Lady of Kazan was true, and in response was told that it was in fact true, and he was invited to come see the image for himself in his apartment.

“I stood in front of the icon on the mantle piece in the Pope's study, and I felt a sense of vertigo,” Moynihan said, “because looking at the eyes of the icon, I felt that Mary was both tender and severe, and was both present and distant, and was both in time and out of time.”

However, the Russian Orthodox Church did not want to icon to be returned during a papal visit for fear that it would seem like a triumphant return for the Catholic Church, and not for the Orthodox.

In the end, the icon was handed over in 2004, by Cardinal Walter Kasper, then the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then the Archbishop of Washington, who traveled to Moscow and placed it in the hands of Patriarch Alexey II.

Moynihan reflected on the icon's importance for the Russian people.

“It seems to me that there is a profound veneration in Russia for eternal things, for the eternal motherhood of Mary, and that this is still percolating in the dusty soil of the communist ideology,” he said.

Describing it as kind of “holy grace that is attached to the icon of Kazan,” he said this grace “is still working its way through the history of Russia,” and thanks in part to St. John Paul II, “this story is still not finished.”

Posted: August 12, 2017, 10:02 pm

Munich, Germany, Aug 11, 2017 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church in Germany is “spiritually impoverished and in decline, yet rich in material means.”

That is the diagnosis of Anian Christoph Wimmer, editor of Catholic News Agency's German edition.

Writing in the U.K. Catholic Herald Aug 10, Wimmer said the Church in Germany at present suffers from an unhealthy combination of “dwindling spiritual influence and major financial clout.”

“On the one hand, the official figures paint a stark picture of continuing decline in terms of Church membership, Mass attendance and participation in the sacraments,” he said. “On the other hand, the German Church is enormously wealthy and continues to wield significant influence both at home and abroad, not least in the Vatican.”

According to the German Bishops' Conference, 160,000 Catholics left the Church in 2016, while only 2,574 converted. The number of priests fell by 200 to 13,856. The numbers of people receiving the sacraments of confirmation and marriage is also in decline. Although the bishops' conference does not count the number of confessions, Wimmer said the sacrament has “to all intents and purposes disappeared from many, if not most, parishes.”

While one might expect the Church to use its wealth to evangelize secular society, Wimmer commented, “this is the one thing that appears to elude the Church in Germany, so flush with money: its core business of spreading the Gospel and watching over the sheep, helping a growing flock better to know, love and serve God.”

The numbers of Germans at Sunday Mass in the 1950s and 1960s were stable at 11.5-11.7 million per year, attendance dropped to 2.5 million in 2015. The overall population of Catholics in Germany is 23.8 million.

The Church is one of the largest employers in Germany and the churches can still be maintained is because of its financial wealth. Germany’s tax system means that registered Catholics pay eight or nine percent of their income tax to the Church. This totaled almost $7.1 billion in 2016, a record.

What is more, many activities of the Church are fully or partly funded by the states, including educational institutions and even the salaries of most bishops. These commonly run to a monthly income of more than $11,700.

“Thanks to the booming German economy, the departure of many thousands of Catholics every year has not (yet) put a dent in the ecclesial coffers,” said Wimmer.

Church attendance is lowest in historically Catholic regions along the Rhine, with the dioceses of Aachen and Speyer reporting only 7.8 percent of Catholics attending Sunday Mass. Mass attendance is high in diaspora communities in former East Germany, Saxony or Thuringia, where attendance is closer to 20 percent. Some parts of Bavaria, Pope Benedict XVI's home, also show “signs of life.”

“The faith has evaporated,” Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, Archbishop emeritus of Munich and Freising, told Wimmer.

Would-be reformers have many proposals.

“Some propose that the Church tax should be abolished. They seem to assume that if money will not solve the problem, then the absence of it will,” said Wimmer, who suggested that this idea has some merit but is rarely thought through.

Another proposed solution is “an appeal for more heterodoxy” and advocacy to abolish priestly celibacy, admit women to the priesthood, and other changes.

Instead, Wimmer endorsed the recommendation of Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, who spoke about true renewal on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation:

“The first and foremost step on this path is the daily struggle for sanctity, listening to God’s Word and being prepared to start the reform of the Church with oneself. For that is what reformation means: renewal from within the faith, restoration of the Image of Christ, which is imprinted in us in baptism and confirmation,” the bishop said.

“Where that is granted to us, by the grace of God, where this succeeds, we will also make the people of our time once again curious about the faith that carries us. And then we will also be able to bear witness to the hope that fulfills us.”

Posted: August 11, 2017, 9:26 pm

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Aug 10, 2017 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Recent changes in U.K. politics have meant a renewed push against Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws, advocates say.

“It is so incredibly important to lobby for life at this present point in time because of the stark threat to unborn children here as Northern Ireland faces a great deal of political instability,” said the Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said that Northern Ireland is under pressure to change these laws. Foster said the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – her party, which became a key part of Northern Ireland’s governing coalition in the last U.K. elections – would do “everything in our power” to safeguard current laws. 

Speaking to Youth for Life NI, Precious Life’s youth organization, she also discussed the need to improve perinatal hospice care.

Foster’s DUP is traditionally strongly Protestant and anti-Catholic, but also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. According to the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald, the party has attracted support from some Catholics.

Unlike other parts of the U.K., Northern Ireland’s laws only permit 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.

The U.K.’s equalities minister Justine Greening has said that Northern Irish women who travel to England for abortions will be able to have them for free under the National Health Service.

Labour MP Stella Creasy of London, who was key in securing the free abortions, spoke at a Family Planning Association event in Northern Ireland Aug. 8. She has said she plans to push for funding the travel expenses of Northern Irish women seeking these abortions.

Precious Life’s Youth For Life NI group also met with leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party, the other pro-life parties in Ireland. The lobbying effort aimed to remind them that “without the right to life, all other rights are meaningless,” Precious Life said.

“Unborn children cannot speak for themselves so they need us to be their voice – it was vital that we made our voices heard unequivocally loud and clear to ensure that our politicians protect the right to life of all unborn children,” Precious Life said.

There is also a strong push to repeal the Republic of Ireland’s strongly pro-life Eighth Amendment of its national constitution.


Posted: August 10, 2017, 10:23 pm

Granada, Spain, Aug 10, 2017 / 12:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Spanish state prosecutor has dismissed a ‘hate crime’ complaint against the Archbishop of Granada after an LGBT activist group claimed he had preached hate against transgender people in a homily.

According to EFE news agency, the case was thrown out because the Granada prosecutor’s office could not find sufficient cause to bring legal action against Archbishop Francisco Javier Martínez of Granada.

In February, the activist group “Observatory against LGBT-phobia” filed a complaint against the archbishop, claiming that he “promoted hate speech against LGBT persons” in a homily in which he lamented the introduction of gender ideology to young children in school.

“There is a short-sightedness and lack of intelligence” in introducing this ideology to children, the archbishop said in his homily at the time.

“We are equal in dignity...but we are not interchangeable,” he said of biological differences between men and women.

In their complaint, the activist group asked the judge to prosecute the archbishop “in an express and exemplary way, in order to put an end to this unjust scourge of hate speech.”

The prosecution said the case was dismissed in part because of freedom of speech found in the Spanish constitution, according to EFE.

A similar complaint was filed against another archbishop in 2016, when feminist and LGBT activist groups accused Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, Archbishop of Valencia, of hate speech following a homily in which he warned of attacks against the family that came from “movements and actions of the gay lobby, ideologies such as radical feminism or the most insidious of all, gender ideology.”

A court in Valencia dismissed the case in September 2016, citing the cardinal’s freedom of speech.


Posted: August 10, 2017, 6:37 am

Rome, Italy, Aug 9, 2017 / 03:04 am (Church Pop).- As Iraq and surrounding areas face the destruction of many of the region’s archaeological treasures, one priest and his fellow Dominicans are preserving the area’s history and culture through an archive of Christian and other religious manuscripts.

“First, we save them (the manuscripts) physically, materially. We bring them to safety and bring them with us at the peril of our lives, of course. But, we also electronically copy them and number them and by doing this, the book or manuscript becomes immortal,” Fr. Najeeb Michaeel told CNA.

“In reality, I did not save this history just because I am a Christian. I saved this because I am human and everything that is human interests me, like the lives of human beings and of a human being become much more valuable when he has roots.”

Fr. Najeeb Michaeel is a Dominican friar and priest from Iraq. In 1990 he created the Center for the Digitization of Eastern Manuscripts to help digitize documents and archives of letters, paintings, and photos.

Since 2007 Fr. Najeeb and those who help him have moved and protected manuscripts from likely destruction at the hands of Islamist extremists. So far, the group has digitally preserved more than 8,000 previously unpublished manuscripts, dating from the 10th to the 19th centuries.

“Culture and civilization were born here and today it is a bath of blood and the destruction is almost complete and total, but even with all of this we keep the hope for a better future,” Fr. Najeeb said.

The question today is why we do not work to protect these villages, and to keep these things from destruction, he asked, and urged people to try to influence their governments to protect these historical places.

This collection of manuscripts “presents a small selection to say to the world, here are our roots, you need to help us, you need to help protect us. We do not have the right, as an international community, to sell arms to kill one another and not at the same time promote culture and the rights of man.”

Since 1750 the many manuscripts had been kept in the library of the Dominican monastery in Mosul. They were moved from the monastery starting in 2007, amid the backdrop of increased violence against Christians and other minorities at the hands of extremist groups.

Because of the violence, which included the killing of priests, for safety the Dominican brothers began to quietly move from their church. They continued to say Mass and the sacraments, but were physically living more than 18 miles away in the village of Bakhdida.

To not draw attention to themselves they dressed in civilian clothes and came and went discretely to celebrate Mass in caves, “like the first Christians did in the catacombs at the beginning of the Christian era,” Fr. Najeeb said.

It was during those next few years that the brothers began to progressively bring the manuscripts out of the convent in Mosul.

Then, in 2014, the Islamic State arrived in Mosul. Under threat of death unless they converted to Islam, Christians fled the city. Stopped at checkpoints on the roads, Islamic State took everything, so they were forced to leave with only the clothes they were wearing.

Amazingly, Fr. Najeeb and his brothers made it safely past the checkpoints. Then, just ten days before Islamic State invaded Bakhdida, Fr. Najeeb rescued many of the manuscripts again, this time bringing them to Erbil, where they have remained.

The documents include more than 25 subjects, including theology, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, history, and geography, many of which date back “to the 10th, 11th, and 12th century in Aramaic, which is the language of Jesus Christ, which is our mother tongue all the way to today,” Fr. Najeeb said.

They also have documents in Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, and more: “All of this makes up our collection and heritage, not only Christian but also in the international communion for the whole of humanity,” he explained.

Rome hosted an exhibit and conference on just a small sample of the many photos and manuscripts June 10-17.

This exhibition was “just a small fragment of what we have in Iraq with respect to manuscripts and archives and materials and photos, because we have as well the largest deposit of photos in Iraq,” Fr. Najeeb explained.

The more than 10,000 photos “tell the story of the past: the face, the work and much more,” he continued. “Even the archaeology. And we have many archaeological documents in cuneiform as well, very ancient.”

Since 2009 the Dominicans in Iraq have also partnered with Benedictine monks, who also help with the supply of equipment and organizing internships.

Their internship program has about 10 young university students, Fr. Najeeb said, which provides “practical information for true professionals in the field of the restoration of manuscripts, for their protection and digitization, and also the process of storing them and protecting them with sophisticated technology to be able to officially protect them in a scientific way.”

Fr. Najeeb noted that preserving the manuscripts is far more important than merely having a record of history and an archive of historical objects, but something vital for the education of future generations as well.

“In fact, the manuscripts and the archives of these ancient document make up our history and are our roots. We cannot save a tree without saving its roots. The two can bear fruit,” he said.

“So, it is important all of these archives. This history is a part of our collective archives, our past, our history. And these we absolutely had to save, as our children.”


Charles-Henri Huyghues Despointes and Alexey Gotovskiy contributed to this story.

Posted: August 9, 2017, 9:04 am

Lourdes, France, Aug 8, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A government proposal in the United Kingdom to set up an anti-extremism commission could unjustly affect faithful Christians, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury has warned.

The present is “a time when our own country faces uncertainty about its calling and struggles to define arbitrary values which might preserve society now confronted by aggressive ideologies and homicidal terror,” Bishop Davies said during his homily at a July 31 Mass.

He was speaking to English pilgrims at Lourdes, and addressed the proposal by Prime Minister Theresa May's Consverative minority government to establish a Commission for Countering Extremism.

This commission, meant to counter Islamist extremism, is to “stamp out extremist ideology in all its forms” and identify extremisms which undermine British values.

May has said that “there is clearly a role for government in tackling extremism where it involves behaviour that is or ought to be criminal. But there is also a role for government to help people and build up organisations in society to promote and defend Britain’s pluralistic values.”

A similar effort by David Cameron's Conservative government to promote “British values” in schools was received by Catholic Voices UK as a potential harm to sincere religious believers and to Catholic schools. Bishop Davies at that time warned, “our values cannot be arbitrarily formulated by any passing generation of politicians even if they have the best intentions.”

In his homily at Lourdes, the bishop noted that there is confusion in the UK over what constitutes extremism, citing a recent poll that found “1 in 3 Britons now regard the claims of Christianity and even the person of Jesus Christ as representing extremism.”

“It is even possible that the very faith in Christ on which our nation was built, might become a focus of the Government’s counter-extremism agenda,” he lamented.

In the face of this, Christians are called to acknowledge that “we know of no moderation … in our following of Christ and in all that contributes to the good of society, recognising how we are all called to the extremes of charity; of virtue; of grace; of unswerving adherence to goodness and truth, to the high goal of holiness in which lies our ultimate happiness.”

This, he said, is the heart of the Second Vatican Council's teaching:”an utterly inclusive message, that we are all called to holiness which is the perfection of love, the complete happiness of becoming a saint.”

“This was the first calling of the English people and it is the divine vocation which can now shape our lives, our families and the whole future of our society.”

The bishop did warn against a “destructive extremism” which seeks to de-construct marriage, family, and human identity, and which “calls for medical experimentation with no reference to ethical boundaries; that decrees the unborn may live only to terms fixed by man, demands legal protections be removed from the sick and the aged.”

“It is such extremism which surely threatens the foundations of society.”

The “extreme agenda” of Christ and the Church is “the call to the perfection of charity and the fullness of the Christian life which today we share,” he concluded.

Posted: August 8, 2017, 11:01 pm

Motherwell, Scotland, Aug 7, 2017 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A chaste life and closeness to Christ is the vocation of every Christian, Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell has said in response to questions about ministry to people with same-sex attraction.

“Our saints are our models in this journey of faith and life, and it is good to be led by the example of their commitment to fulfilling God’s will rather than our own particular desires,” Bishop Toal said July 26. “As Catholics we pray always for the wisdom to make wise choices and to be guided by Christ rather than the world around us.”

He cited recent questions about possible approaches to pastoral care to people who experience same-sex attraction, noting that the apostolate of Courage has been recommended to him. This ministry “encourages those who live with same-sex attraction to live a chaste life - which is also expected of all heterosexual Catholics who are not married - supported by the sacramental and prayer life of the Church.”

“Many scoff at this option as unrealistic in today’s societies in which intimate same-sex relationships are condoned and have been afforded the status of marriage in some countries, but that is the way of life proposed in the Church’s tradition and the Church invites her children to abide by it,” he continued.

“Whatever situation one finds oneself in in life the Church wishes us to remain close to Our Lord and constantly invites us to seek a life of true fulfilment.”

The statement came in response to coverage of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexual acts in England and Wales, the Catholic Herald reports.

One priest’s statement on the anniversary, Father Paul Morton of St Bride’s Parish Church in Cambuslang, in the Scottish county of Lanarkshire, drew media attention for a Facebook post that was taken as a warm welcome for those who identify as gay.

“We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up,” Fr. Morton said, adding “there should be no place in our language or our attitude which allows for prejudice or exclusion.”

The Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion, recently voted to allow same-sex weddings in its churches.

Posted: August 7, 2017, 10:58 pm

Cardiff, Wales, Aug 7, 2017 / 04:19 pm (CNA).- How does a pub make up for mistakenly trying to kick out a group of celebrating seminarians? By naming a beer after them and calling it the “Thirsty Priests.”

Tim Lewis is the PR Manager for Brains, the company which owns the City Arms Pub in Cardiff, Wales.

He said that re-naming one of the seminarian’s favorite beers was a small thank you for the group’s good humor in being mistaken as a bachelor party and nearly kicked out of City Arms Pub.

“We wanted to do something as a ‘thank you’ to the priests for taking the misunderstanding in such good spirits,” said Lewis, according to Wales Online.

Described as a “rich, warming ale with a clean, rewarding finish,” The Rev James beer was renamed the “Thirsty Priests,” with the added slogan “saving souls and satisfying thirsts.” It was added to the pub’s tap this past weekend.

While celebrating the July 29 ordination of Father Peter McClaren, a group of seminarians dressed in their cassocks entered the City Arms Pub, only to be turned away by staff members who mistook them for a bachelor party.

“The staff thought they were a stag. We do have quite a few issues on the weekends with parties wearing fancy dress so it is our policy to turn them away,” said assistant manager Matt Morgan, according to the BBC.

But as the seminarians were about to leave the bar, the manager overheard them praying, and, realizing the establishment’s mistake, invited the men back in for a round of beers on the house.

The seminarians took the error in good humor, and were warmly received by staff and customers for the rest of their time at the pub. The whole affair was amusing, noted the seminarians, and the men were encouraged by the positive interaction with the community – which also enabled the locals to engage the seminarians in questions about the Church.

Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff, who is also a fan of City Arms Pub, said he was happy to hear about the seminarians' interaction with the community, noting that “Priests are of the community and for the community they serve.”

Adding to the amusement of the evening, one member of the group, Reverend Robert James – who was ordained a deacon last June – was partial to a beer resembling his own name. The Rev James, a popular ale on the bar’s menu, is now rebranded at the establishment in honor of the seminarians.

The Archdiocese of Cardiff applauded the pub for its good humor over the viral news, jokingly adding that “a number of our clergy, including the Archbishop of Cardiff, frequent your bar so don’t turf any more out please!”


Posted: August 7, 2017, 10:19 pm

Venice, Italy, Aug 6, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While Antonio Vivaldi's “Four Seasons” echoes in concert halls and elevators around the world, for some, his greatest masterpieces are not the scores resonating spring, summer, fall and winter, but rather his sacred music.

Although less known, Vivaldi's sacred music compositions, according to a researcher and expert on the musician's life, is probably his greatest contribution to music – featuring an altogether unprecedented combination of deep spirituality and the contemporary trends of the time.

And this profound personal spirituality was rooted in what is likely a little-known fact for many: Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.

“I'm going to give you the most bizarre idea. Think of the Pope, who represents priests, spiritual things, and then you've got Jimi Hendrix, a superb guitarist. You put them together and you've got Vivaldi,” British researcher Micky White told CNA Aug. 1.

It's a combination altogether “bizarre,” she said. “Vivaldi the priest, deeply spiritual, comes out in his music. Jimi Hendrix Vivaldi you've heard in the Four Seasons; it's the most bizarre piece of music.”

“It's timely, a priest wrote it,” and it's meshed with the modern style of the day –  a combination of two things that are essentially “polls apart,” she said. “That's what makes him stand out among anybody. Bach wasn't a priest, Mozart wasn't a priest, nor was Beethoven, but Vivaldi was.

In listening to Vivaldi, it's obvious that he was a very faith-filled man, she said, “you hear it in his music, you listen to it.”

White, who left a thriving greeting card company in England and moved to Venice to pursue an increasing interest in researching Vivaldi's life, has become an expert and point of reference on the musician.

Not only has she published a book, “Antonio Vivaldi: A Life in Documents,” as the fruit of her research, but she was a consultant for a new display on his life called “Viva Vivaldi: The Four Seasons Mystery.”

The exhibit, located just behind St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, provides attendees with an indoor video-mapping show done with immersive HD images, surround sound and scent special effects such as scent and wind. It opened to the public May 13 at the Diocesan Museum, and will stay open during 2018.

One of the most famous Baroque composers, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, affectionately known by many in his time as “the Red Priest” due to his auburn locks, was born in Venice in 1678.

His father, who was an instrumental figure in his life (pun intended), was a professional violinist, and taught his son how to play as a young child. The two then went on tour together throughout Venice, giving Vivaldi an extensive knowledge and even mastery of the violin from a young age.

In 1693, at the age of 15, he began studying for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1703 at the age of 25, and shortly after was appointed chaplain and Violin Master at a local orphanage called the Pio Ospedale della Pieta, or the Devout Hospital of Mercy.

The orphanage, called the “Pieta,” was founded in 1492 by a poor friar as a home for abandoned babies. Young children were typically raised by older girls already at the center, and while the boys were taught a specific trade and ousted at the age of 15, the girls were trained as musicians if they had the ability. If not, they were taught a different trade, such as reading or sewing.  

The most talented of the girls stayed on and became members of the hospitals renown orchestra and choir. Vivaldi worked at the hospital from 1703-1715, when he was voted off the faculty. He was voted back in 1723, and remained until 1740, composing some of his most famous works during that time.

However, after just a year of being a priest, Vivaldi requested a dispensation form celebrating Mass due to his poor health. From birth he had been afflicted with a serious, unknown, health condition thought to be a form of asthma.

All that is known about the mysterious illness comes from the letter Vivaldi wrote asking for the dispensation, in which he referred to it as a “tightness of the chest.”

According to White, “it would have been very hard for Vivaldi to give up saying Mass. It would have been his own decision, a decision of nobody but himself, and he also gave up a good salary.”

She pointed to rumors alleging that he had been kicked out of the priesthood or even excommunicated, saying they “are so ignorant and so stupid,” because if one actually looks to the facts, the rumors are “not proven.”

She also addressed rumors that Vivaldi had abused the choir girls as the reason he was kicked off the Pieta faculty in 1715. These rumors, she said, “not only are they not true, they're impossible.”

Not only would Vivaldi have never been welcomed back in 1723, but many of the girls who remained in the orchestra stayed until they were 70 or even 80 years old. The hospital was also overseen by several governors, so had there been abuse, Vivaldi would have been kicked out right away, “so that doesn't add up,” White said.

People often make assumptions about the past or judge by their opinions, telling others that “'it must be like this' or 'so and so said that,'” White said, adding that when this happens “you go from bad to worse.”

But when she first started digging into her research on Vivaldi and putting the information into context,  “then everything made sense,” she said, because “research is a matter of fact, it's not a matter of opinion, and it's not a matter of ideas, it's fact.”

She insisted that his priesthood was likely an essential element of his music. Even after stepping down from his liturgical duties, Vivaldi never stopped being a priest, White said. “Once a priest always a priest.”

“He was ordained, he was a priest his whole life (and) his spirituality comes out in his music, all you have to do is listen and you'll hear it.”

Although in poor health, Vivaldi made great strides in his musical career. He continued to write a variety of compositions, and received many commissions from all over Italy and Europe, for which he traveled frequently.

During one jaunt in 1722, Vivaldi moved to Rome, where he was invited to play for Pope Benedict XIII before moving back to Venice in 1725.

The various pieces he wrote throughout his career include several different types of concertos – from violin to orchestra – arias, sonatas, operas and sacred music.

But according to White, while the Four Seasons, written around 1721, and his many operas are what made Vivaldi rise to fame in his day, “sacred music is on another plane compared all the other compositions. It's the empire of composition itself that comes from faith.”

Among the sacred scores written by Vivaldi are the Gloria, the Credo, the Stabat Mater, the Magnificat, Dixit Dominus and Laetatus sum, among others. The “Laetatus sum,” specifically, was written by Vivaldi at the age of 13 in 1691.

White said that while these are the known liturgical and sacred works, “there's a lot, lot missing.”

Given his 38 year career at the hospital, there are likely many, many works of Vivaldi that have never been discovered, she said. For example, “I'm sure that he wrote full Masses, absolutely positive,” but they are likely all lost.

Despite the success he enjoyed during his career, Vivaldi died in poverty in Vienna July 28, 1741. He had moved to the Austrian country after meeting Emperor Charles VI, to whom he had dedicated his Opus 9 work, in 1728.

The emperor was so impressed with Vivaldi's work that he gave the musician the title of Knight, a gold medal and an invitation to Vienna. However, the emperor died shortly after Vivaldi's arrival several years later, and with no royal connection or steady income, Vivaldi became impoverished and died from an infection at the age of 63.

According to White, the greatest legacy that Vivaldi left can be summed up in one word: “music.”

“Music comes out of him, it doesn't come out of his brain, it just pours out of him. It's like a waterfall,” she said.

While his sacred and classical music might seem outdated in a society enthralled with artists such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, White said Vivaldi is so versatile in his style that he can mesh with well with contemporary music as well as the older

“Vivaldi could do a rock concert quite easily, and Vivaldi can appeal to everyone,” she said. “Vivaldi, he's alone, he's absolutely unique. You talk about the Baroque style, and the romantic style...Vivaldi cuts that whole suede.”

With the “tremendous energy” present in his music, Vivaldi is truly one of a kind and is difficult to imitate, she said. “He doesn't fit anywhere, and he fits everywhere.”

Posted: August 6, 2017, 10:02 pm

Rome, Italy, Aug 4, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just eleven miles east of Rome lies the site of excavations of another ancient city, one which thrived in the last few centuries before Christ, but, overshadowed by Rome, eventually died out – though not before having its own thriving Christian community.

The city, Gabii, was first occupied by small groups of settlers in the early Iron Age (9th-8th century B.C.). It eventually grew into a full-fledged city with walls and large public buildings, peaking around the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.

Evidence shows that it then began to shrink, probably because of competition from Rome, but archeologists working on the site have recently uncovered the remains of a tower of a church, and believe the city to have been a center for Christianity, if an unusual one, in the early centuries of the Church.

“We know that there was a thriving Christian community and that it had a bishop as early as the 5th century, which is kind of unusual for a community of this size,” said Nicola Terrenato, a professor for the University of Michigan and coordinator of the excavations.

“So it probably means that even if it was a small community it was considered very important because of the glory that Gabii had in the past,” he told CNA.

The Diocese of Gabii was suppressed in 1060, but it was made a titular see in the late 20th century. The Titular Bishop of Gabii is currently Sebastian Taltavull Anglada, who is auxiliary bishop of Barcelona.

Because Rome has been continuously inhabited, the city exists in layers upon layers of construction and reconstruction over the years. These many layers can make it hard to investigate and map the early growth of the city. Gabii, by contrast, died out sometime in the 9th or 10th century AD.

Because the two cities emerged around the same time, researching Gabii and what it looked like when first formed can shed light on the beginnings of the city of Rome as well.

“We chose Gabii for excavation for a variety of reasons. This is a site that had not been excavated previously, so you had a whole city that you can investigate. But even more importantly, this is a site that really illustrates well the birth and the decline of the ancient city,” Terrenato said.

One of the goals of the excavations, however, is to find out if Gabii had a bishop’s residence and a cathedral in the early part of the Middle Ages. Whether there was ever a cathedral is still an unsolved question, but the excavations did uncover a church dedicated to St. Primitivus, an early Christian martyr in Rome.

The bell tower of the church, converted into a watchtower later in the Middle Ages, is still visible at the site. Excavations have also revealed a large stone-block construction, which is an early example of the Roman monumental architecture.

“This is a stone that Gabii was famous for in antiquity,” Terrenato said. “A high quality volcanic tufa was quarried inside the city and initially outside the city and beautiful buildings could be built out of beautiful blocks.”

“It was even used in the Forum of Augustus in Rome and the city probably thrived on a trade of this kind of stone.”

Another conspicuous ruin remaining is that of an ancient temple, attributed to Juno. In the late 1700s an archaeologist uncovered a large cache of statues at Gabii, many of which are now in the Louvre after they were carried off from Rome by Napoleon.

Besides the nearly 40 statues and busts from Gabii at the Louvre, there is also an ancient altar called “Altar of the Twelve Gods” dating to the 1st century AD.

New excavations were launched in 2007 by the multi-institutional Gabii Project, led by Nicola Terrenato and the University of Michigan, which collaborates with Yale University, the University of Glasgow, Charlton University, and the University of Dallas.

Professors from these institutions bring both undergraduate and graduate students to the site to learn and work, Terrenato explained. On average there are around 70 people on-site each day.

One of these is Andrew Johnston, an assistant professor of classics and history at Yale, who first began working at the site while a graduate student and who now leads trench excavations.

“So in addition to the research questions that drive us here at the Gabii project, one of our priorities is to train the next generation of North American archaeologists,” he said.

“One of our goals is to train students in a wide range of methodologies and tools of modern archaeology,” he continued.

Not just working at the site, “but also in various labs supervised by specialists in ceramics, osteology, zooarchaeology, environmental archaeology, to teach students about all of the kinds of evidence and data that we are hoping to collect as we excavate – not just exposing the architecture like this, but looking for other kinds of evidence that can tell us about wide range of activities that were taking place at the city in antiquity.”

Posted: August 4, 2017, 9:01 am
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