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Pope Francis calls for a Christian economy based on community

Pope Francis meets members of the Global Solidarity Fund in a room adjacent to the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, May 25, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 25, 2022 / 06:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday called for the creation of a “new kind” of economy based on Christian values and community, not communism or the Enlightenment.

Speaking to members of the Global Solidarity Fund at the Vatican on May 25, the pope urged the creation of an economy in support of the people.

“Look also for a new kind of economy,” he said. “The economy must be converted, it must be converted now. We have to convert from the liberal economy to the economy shared by people, the community economy.”

In off-the-cuff comments, Francis said: “We cannot live with a pattern of economics that comes from liberals and the Enlightenment. Nor can we live with a pattern of economics that comes from communism. We need ... a Christian economy, let’s say. Look for the new expressions of the economy of this time.”

In this area, the pope praised the progress of young economists, especially women, naming the Italian-American economist Mariana Mazzucato.

The Global Solidarity Fund is a network helping to connect development groups, philanthropists, and investors with marginalized people around the world, including migrants.

Pope Francis said he liked it when people went to the peripheries to help others, “simply because Jesus went to the peripheries: He went there to show them the Gospel.”

“The peripheries, be they of the body, be they of the soul; because there are people who are somewhat well off but their souls are broken, torn: go with them too; [there are] so many people who need closeness,” he said.

In brief written remarks, which the pope handed out at the meeting, he focused on the concept of “solidarity.”

“It is one of the core values of the Church’s social doctrine,” he said. “But to become concrete it must be accompanied with closeness and compassion toward the other, the marginalized person, toward the face of the poor, the migrant.”

Cardinal Zen: ‘Martyrdom is normal in our Church’

Cardinal Zen offers Mass on May 24, 2022 after appearing in court in Hong Kong. / Screenshot from livestream of Mass

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 05:44 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen offered Mass after his court appearance in Hong Kong on Tuesday and prayed for Catholics in mainland China who are facing persecution.

In his homily on May 24 after pleading not guilty to charges of failing to register a pro-democracy association, Zen chose not to speak about his legal case, but to highlight how Catholics in some parts of China cannot attend Mass right now.

The 90-year-old retired Catholic bishop of Hong Kong prayed in Chinese for his “brothers and sisters who cannot attend the Mass in any form tonight — for they have no freedom now,” Reuters reported.

The authorities in Shanghai and Beijing have issued the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions in the world this spring, stopping people from leaving their apartment compounds for any reason, including religious worship.

Additionally, Catholics under the age of 18 are not legally allowed to attend any public Mass in mainland China and local authorities have cracked down on China’s underground Catholic community in recent years.

On the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, Zen said that the Holy See “made an unwise decision” to enter into a provisional agreement with the Chinese Communist Party government when it did.

“There is an urge to unify those above the ground and those underground but it seems that time is not ripe yet,” Zen said, according to AFP.

“The Vatican may have acted out of good faith, but they have made an unwise decision.”

The day after Zen’s arrest by Hong Kong authorities on May 11, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he hoped that the cardinal’s arrest would not complicate the Holy See’s dialogue with China.

The Vatican has shied away from public criticism of the crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong since it first entered into the provisional agreement with China in 2018.

Zen offered Mass in a Hong Kong Catholic church with about 300 people in the congregation. The cardinal also live-streamed the Mass on his Facebook page, which received thousands of views in less than 24 hours.

His trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 19.

“Martyrdom is normal in our Church,” Zen said. “We may not have to do that, but we may have to bear some pain and steel ourselves for our loyalty to our faith.”

The Vatican finance trial is shedding light on the Secretariat of State

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on May 20, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 25, 2022 / 05:20 am (CNA).

With 10 defendants, the Vatican finance trial might be better handled as three different trials. Yet there is a common thread: the role of the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most powerful dicastery.

The trial’s three latest hearings took place last week. On May 18-19, Cardinal Angelo Becciu answered questions from the Vatican’s promoter of justice (prosecutor), civil parties, and other lawyers.

During the lengthy interrogation, in which moments of tension were not lacking, Becciu underlined at one point that he “strongly doubts that the [Vatican’s] auditor general could have known the accounts of the [Secretariat of State’s] office.”

It is worth remembering that the trial’s origins lie in a report by the auditor general, who is responsible for financial audits of Vatican entities.

Becciu argued that the auditor could not have known the situation in detail because “the Secretariat of State was completely autonomous from a financial point of view.”

“To violate its autonomy, a specific mandate from the pope was needed,” Becciu said, “but that never happened. Indeed, in 2016, there was a rescript delivered to us by Cardinal Parolin which reaffirmed this autonomy.”

The year 2016 was a critical one. There were growing tensions between the Secretariat of State and the Secretariat for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. A major flashpoint was the economy secretariat’s decision to enter into an auditing contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers, which allowed the company also to audit the Secretariat of State’s accounts.

The Secretariat of State is a governing body that enjoyed special financial autonomy and, above all, confidentiality in its financial statements. Therefore, tensions were very high until the Holy See renegotiated the terms of the auditing contract.

Later in 2016, Pope Francis issued the motu proprioI beni temporali” (“The temporal goods”). It sought to better separate supervisory and administrative functions within the Vatican, removing some of the Secretariat for the Economy’s responsibilities and returning them to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA).

“The Secretariat of State was a dicastery, but a sui generis [unique] dicastery,” Becciu explained. “The norms originated from it; therefore, it could not undergo the norms.”

Pope Francis effectively put an end to this peculiarity of the Secretariat of State in 2020, when he decided to transfer responsibility for the administration of funds and investments from the Secretariat of State to APSA. This move arguably weakened the governing body.

But the governing body also had a specific role in helping the Roman Curia. During previous interrogations, Becciu emphasized that the annual Peter’s Pence collection brought in around 50 million euros (about $54 million). But the Holy See’s deficit was higher. It was therefore necessary, he suggested, to make investments to give the Holy See greater liquidity.

The investments were overseen by the Secretariat of State’s administrative office, which had established a complex financial architecture over the years, using various current accounts, including some located abroad, and always seeking out investments of a particular type.

This was also the case for the investment in a luxury London property, at the center of the trial, which Becciu said was overseen by the administrative office. “If there were critical issues and [his deputy Monsignor Alberto] Perlasca did not tell me, he was guilty of a grave fault,” Becciu said.

Peter’s Pence was not the only source of funds used to fill holes in the Vatican budget. The Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly known as the “Vatican bank,” makes an annual donation to the Holy See. For several years, the IOR’s check had been for 50 million euros, mainly intended to “cover the expenses of Vatican Radio and the nunciatures.”

But in 2012, when the IOR’s assets were 86.6 million euros (around $93 million), the contributions began to decline in line with a drop in profits, finally settling at around 30 million euros ($32 million).

The Secretariat of State, as the central body of the Holy See, was called on not only to manage itself economically and make investments, but also to help the Holy See survive financially. Yet, as later events showed, it was not equipped for this demanding task.

Tirabassi, an official who worked for more than 30 years in the Secretariat of State, shed further light on the dicastery’s workings when he was interrogated on May 20.

He also emphasized that the Secretariat of State had a budget separate from those of other dicasteries. But only in recent times was that budget discussed with the Secretariat for the Economy. The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, which operated from 1967 to 2016, mainly had a budgetary control function.

Tirabassi explained that when he arrived at the Secretariat of State, there was an Obolo Fund — Peter’s Pence is known in Italian as the “Obolo di San Pietro” — with an office in the dicastery dedicated to collecting donations.

The donations were managed by opening dedicated accounts in various banks and correspondent institutions (such as the IOR, APSA, Credito Artigiano, and Poste Italiana.) Within the IOR alone, “there were about 70 to 80 accounts outstanding.”

In the mid-1990s, this arrangement gave way to a more streamlined management of Vatican finances.

In light of the increasingly complicated requirements for financial transparency, managing all the accounts became too demanding. Thus, it was decided to make the resources converge in a single fund called the “Obolo Fund.” The Vatican’s promoter of justice described it as a “current account plan.”

“The Holy See was in difficulty,” recalled Tirabassi. “Moreover, the debt cost the Secretariat of State a lot. New accounting management was then suggested, dematerializing the existing accounts and enhancing the liquidity obtained from active assets.”

A new investment policy arose, increasingly focused on real estate assets, particularly acquiring buildings to house nunciatures, which are one of the highest costs.

The term “Obolo,” therefore, does not refer exclusively to Peter’s Pence, which the Secretariat of State has not managed for some time. In this instance, it refers to the fund managed by the Secretariat of State, which retained the name “Obolo” though it concerns the dicastery’s resources.

Becciu has repeatedly asserted that the Secretariat of State only used “its assets” for investments in the London property, rejecting suggestions that the annual sums raised by the Peter’s Pence collection were used.

Yet, even if the Peter’s Pence collections had been used, it would not have been illegal. The Obolo di San Pietro, an ancient institution, has been seen as a means of supporting the Holy See since at least the 19th century. Its primary purpose, therefore, is to support the institution, while also helping the poor.

Could it be possible that, in the incident that triggered the finance trial, the auditor general misunderstood the Vatican’s structures and their raison d’être? If that were the case, the whole process would have to be rethought.

Misunderstandings have been constant in these years of economic reform. A purely financial view tends to overlook the distinctive history and structures of the Holy See, which contain a series of checks and balances settled over time.

The Holy See has always tried to adhere to global standards without betraying its specificities. The risk now is that the Holy See is simply borrowing international norms without creating its own jurisprudence. If that is the case, then whatever the outcome of the trial, the Holy See will be institutionally weakened.

Pope Francis: ‘Ours is the age of fake news, collective superstitions, and pseudo-scientific truths’

Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 25, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 25, 2022 / 04:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that Catholics today are living in an “age of fake news, collective superstitions, and pseudo-scientific truths.”

Reflecting on the Book of Ecclesiastes at his general audience on May 25, the pope suggested that the 21st century was marked not only by scientific knowledge but also what he called a “cultured witchcraft.”

“It is no coincidence that ours is the age of fake news, collective superstitions, and pseudo-scientific truths,” he said.

Speaking off the cuff, he went on: “It’s curious: in this culture of knowledge, of knowing everything, even of the precision of knowledge, a lot of witchcraft has spread, but cultured witchcraft.”

“It is witchcraft with a certain culture but that leads you to a life of superstition: on the one hand, to go forward with intelligence in knowing things down to the roots; on the other hand, the soul that needs something else and takes the path of superstitions, and ends up in witchcraft.”

The pope used the Italian word “stregoneria,” which can be translated as “witchcraft,” “sorcery,” or “black magic.”

Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 25, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 25, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The pope’s live-streamed catechesis was the 11th in a cycle on old age that he began in February. He entered St. Peter’s Square in a white jeep, stopping to invite children in brightly colored clothes to join him for part of his journey among the pilgrims.

The jeep drove up to a raised platform in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the 85-year-old was helped to exit the vehicle and walk up to the white chair where he gave his address. The pope, who has made public appearances in a wheelchair since May 5 due to knee pain, used a cane.

In his reflection, Pope Francis focused on the famous refrain in Ecclesiastes — also known as the Book of Qoheleth — that “everything is vanity.”

“It is surprising to find in Holy Scripture these expressions that question the meaning of existence,” he said. “In reality, Qoheleth’s continuous vacillation between sense and non-sense is the ironic representation of an awareness of life that is detached from the passion for justice, of which God’s judgment is the guarantor.”

“And the book’s conclusion points the way out of the trial: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man’ (12:13). This is the advice to resolve this problem.”

Pope Francis said that old age brought the challenge of “disenchantment,” which had to be resisted because of its “demoralizing effects.”

“If the elderly, who have seen it all by that time, keep intact their passion for justice, then there is hope for love, and also for faith,” he said.

“And for the contemporary world, the passage through this crisis, a healthy crisis, has become crucial. Why? Because a culture that presumes to measure everything and manipulate everything also ends up producing a collective demoralization of meaning, a demoralization of love, a demoralization of goodness.”

The pope said that collective demoralization sapped humanity’s will to act.

“In this form — cloaked in the trappings of science, but also very insensitive and very amoral — the modern quest for truth has been tempted to take leave of its passion for justice altogether. It no longer believes in its destiny, its promise, its redemption,” he commented.

“For our modern culture, which would like, in practice, to consign everything to the exact knowledge of things, the appearance of this new cynical reason — that combines knowledge and irresponsibility — is a harsh repercussion.”

“Indeed, the knowledge that exempts us from morality seems at first to be a source of freedom, of energy, but soon turns into a paralysis of the soul.”

Pope Francis said that the Book of Ecclesiastes captured this dynamic, in which “an omnipotence of knowledge” leads to “an impotence of the will.”

He noted that the early Church described this condition as “acedia,” which he said was not simply laziness or depression, but “the surrender to knowledge of the world devoid of any passion for justice and consequent action.”

He said: “The emptiness of meaning and lack of strength opened up by this knowledge, which rejects any ethical responsibility and any affection for the real good, is not harmless.”

“It not only takes away the strength for the desire for the good: by counterreaction, it opens the door to the aggressiveness of the forces of evil.”

“These are the forces of reason gone mad, made cynical by an excess of ideology.”

The pope noted that “weariness” was a hallmark of contemporary society.

“We were supposed to have produced widespread well-being and we tolerate a market that is scientifically selective with regard to health,” he said.

“We were supposed to have put an insuperable threshold for peace, and we see more and more ruthless wars against defenseless people.”

“Science advances, of course, and that is good. But the wisdom of life is something else entirely, and it seems to be stalled.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis urged the elderly to help combat demoralization.

“They will be the ones to sow the hunger and thirst for justice in the young,” he said.

“Take courage, all of us older people! Take courage and go forward! We have a very great mission in the world.”

“But, please, we must not seek refuge in this somewhat non-concrete, unreal, rootless idealism — let us speak clearly — in the witchcraft of life.”

A summary of the pope’s catechesis was then read out in seven languages.

Addressing English-speaking Catholics, he said: “I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from Nigeria, Lebanon, and the United States of America.”

“In the joy of the Risen Christ, I invoke upon you and your families the loving mercy of God our Father. May the Lord bless you!”

In his closing remarks, Pope Francis lamented a school shooting in Texas.

A gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, southwest Texas, on May 24, killing at least 19 children and two adults.

The pope said: “My heart is broken for the massacre at the elementary school in Texas. I am praying for the children and the adults killed and their families.”

“It is time to say enough to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons. Let us all work hard so that such tragedies can never happen again.”

His words were greeted with applause by pilgrims.

Pope Francis: ‘My heart is broken’ over Texas elementary school shooting

Pope Francis prays with journalists on the papal flight en route to South Korea on Aug. 14, 2014. / Alan Holdren/CNA.

Vatican City, May 25, 2022 / 03:08 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that his heart was broken by the killing of at least 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Texas.

Speaking at the end of his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 25, he said: “My heart is broken for the massacre at the elementary school in Texas. I am praying for the children and the adults killed and their families.”

“It is time to say enough to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons. Let us all work hard so that such tragedies can never happen again.”

His words were greeted with applause by pilgrims.

The pope was speaking after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, southwest Texas, on May 24, killing 21 people.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that officers were believed to have killed the shooter, a local 18-year-old identified as Salvador Ramos.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donnelly said on May 25: "We are witnessing a sickness, and the face of evil. We continue to pray for these blessed children and other wonderful people who were killed and their families. We are crushed by this loss."

Ambassador Chiara Porro, the Australian ambassador to the Holy See, responded: "Australia grieves with you. Our heartfelt condolences to all those affected by the horrific shootings."

”The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said on May 24 that the country was facing an “epidemic of evil and violence.”

“There have been too many school shootings, too much killing of the innocent,” said the USCCB’s public affairs director Chieko Noguchi in a statement.

“Our Catholic faith calls us to pray for those who have died and to bind the wounds of others, and we join our prayers along with the community in Uvalde and Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller.”

“As we do so, each of us also needs to search our souls for ways that we can do more to understand this epidemic of evil and violence and implore our elected officials to help us take action.”

Hours before the general audience, Archbishop Garcia-Siller appealed to Pope Francis to pray for the victims of the shooting in his San Antonio archdiocese.

He tweeted: “Holy Father Pope Francis, say some prayers for the souls of our little ones killed today and two teachers. Uvalde is in mourning. The families are having a very dark time. Your prayer will do good to them.”

He added in Spanish: “Gracias por ayudarnos. Queremos ser como Jesús. Cuente con nuestra oración” (“Thank you for helping us. We want to be like Jesus. Count on our prayers”).

Texas elementary school shooting: US Catholic bishops lament ‘epidemic of evil and violence’

State troopers stand outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. - An 18-year-old gunman killed 14 children and a teacher at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, according to the state's governor, in the nation's deadliest school shooting in years. / Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 02:45 am (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops said on Tuesday that the country was facing an “epidemic of evil and violence” after a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Texas.

In a statement issued on May 24, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) urged citizens to “implore our elected officials to help us take action.”

The USCCB issued the statement after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, southwest Texas, killing 21 people.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that officers were believed to have killed the shooter, a local 18-year-old identified as Salvador Ramos.

The statement from the USCCB’s public affairs director Chieko Noguchi said: “There have been too many school shootings, too much killing of the innocent. Our Catholic faith calls us to pray for those who have died and to bind the wounds of others, and we join our prayers along with the community in Uvalde and Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller.”

“As we do so, each of us also needs to search our souls for ways that we can do more to understand this epidemic of evil and violence and implore our elected officials to help us take action.”

Responding to the shooting on May 24, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller tweeted: “God have mercy on our children, their families, their communities. Darkness is dense with one more shooting in our country.”

“Let us help one another to spark light and warmth. May we keep each other in company. Prayers are needed.”

The U.S. bishops deplored mass shootings in New York State and California earlier this month.

In a May 16 statement, the USSCB said that it continued to “advocate for an end to violence,” citing the Church’s consistent appeals for “rational yet effective forms of regulation of dangerous weapons.”

The USCCB spoke out after a gunman killed 10 people and injured three others on May 14 at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a shooter killed one person and wounded five others on May 15 at a church in Laguna Woods, California.

America loses its only Trappist brewery, amid competitive beer market 

null / Courtesy of Spencer Brewery

Denver Newsroom, May 24, 2022 / 17:27 pm (CNA).

The first and only certified Trappist brewery in the U.S. has said that it will close, citing a lack of financial viability. The monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts say they will find other ways to support their life of contemplative prayer.

“After more than a year of consultation and reflection, the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey have come to the sad conclusion that brewing is not a viable industry for us and that it is time to close the Spencer Brewery,” Spencer Brewery said on its Facebook page May 14.

“We want to thank all our customers for their support and encouragement over the years,” the brewery added. “Our beer will be available in our regular retail outlets while supplies last. Please keep us in your prayers.”

The brewery was launched in 2014 to help provide a new source of revenue for the monks. It is just one of St. Joseph’s Abbey's endeavors. 

The Trappist monks are formally known as the monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, an order more than 900 years old. They follow St. Benedict’s counsel that stresses the importance of both prayer and work.

“All our activities that we do are to support our lives of prayer. Beer was a particularly interesting and engaging activity, but we’re not here for the beer,” Spencer Brewery’s director, Father William Dingwall, told The Boston Globe.

The brewery launched in 2014. Its peak production was 4,500 barrels of beer, about 60,000 beer cases, its website reports. The brewery had hoped to expand to produce 10,000 barrels of beer annually.

Its beers were distributed domestically in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. Foreign distribution reached eight countries. 

Dingwall said that it’s understandable the brewery’s closure announcement has surprised those outside the community, but “it’s something we’ve been mulling over for the past couple of years.” 

While the brewery generated “a great deal of interest,” Dingwall said, he thought the beer market “started to change radically” and the abbey’s brewery faced more competition from craft breweries.

The monks were not willing to open a tap room, a profitable effort for many brewers. Dingwall said the brewery was located in the middle of their abbey property just a few hundred yards from the monastery and the church.

“The brothers were not in favor of adding that kind of business at the entrance to the monastery,” Dingwall told the Boston Globe.

Brewery production has ceased and Spencer Brewery will sell its equipment and any raw materials at auction. Its beers could remain on store shelves for a few months.

The Spencer Brewery website explains the monks’ approach to prayer and to work: “As Trappists, we seek to live somewhat separate from the world so that we may engage fully with our monastic community life of work and prayer. This prayer encompasses liturgies open to the public, as well as our individual prayer time, spiritual reading, study and meditation.”

St. Joseph’s Abbey hosts guests at its small retreat house and has a gift shop. It produces other products to support its 44 community members. These products include fruit and wine jellies, jams, and preserves. Its Holy Rood Guild makes and sells liturgical vestments.

The community has six brothers in initial formation, according to the abbey website.

The Cistercian order was founded in France in 1098. The Trappist community at St. Joseph’s Abbey has roots in a group of monks that arrived in North America in 1803, in the wake of the French Revolution. Its monks founded a monastery in Nova Scotia. After suffering two major fires in the late 1800s, the community moved to Rhode Island.  Another major fire in 1950 made 140 Trappist monks homeless, at which point they moved to Spencer.

The International Trappist Association has about 20 abbey members and seeks to help members produce goods and ensure high-quality products. Its website lists 13 abbeys that sell their own beer. However, the list includes both Spencer Brewery and Achel, which ceased to be a Trappist beer in 2021. 

The Trappist association website also lists three abbeys that produce their own liqueurs and two that produce their own wine. Other Trappist products include bread, cheeses, olive oil, chocolate, cookies, honey, liturgical vestments, skin care products, and household cleaning products. 

“Any economic enterprise undertaken by member communities is marked by prayer, an attitude of responsibility, and silence,” International Trappist Association said. “The Trappists, both monks and nuns, participate in management as well as production.” 

In Belgium, the beers produced at Achel Brewery no longer bear the Trappist label after the monks of Achel Abbey left in early 2021. Its last monks left for Westmalle Abbey, which also runs a brewery. At the same time, the Achel beers are still brewed under Trappist supervision and the monks have invested in a larger brewhouse.

The International Trappist Association says it will certify beer with its brand if it is brewed within the abbey grounds by the monks or under their supervision, “with business practices proper to the monastic way of life.” The brewery must not take priority over the monastery's primary work and way of life, and should be non-profit. Any funds gained through the beer will be used for the monk's living expenses, charitable causes, or for upkeep of the monastery itself.

Cistercian monks at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire became the first Trappist brewery in U.K. history when they first started beer sales in 2018. 

Trappists aren’t the only monks to try their hand at brewing.

A community of mostly U.S.-born Benedictine monks at the Monastery of Saint Benedict at Norcia, Italy began brewing in 2012. They launched their own Belgian-style beers under the name Birra Nursia and expanded sales to the U.S. in 2016. In 2017 a major earthquake killed hundreds of people and was soon followed by a major tremor that destroyed the Benedictines’ historic home, the Basilica of St. Benedict. However, their brewery was left mostly intact. They have continued to sell beer to fund the building of their new monastery.

Tiananmen memorial Masses won’t be held in Hong Kong this year amid security law concerns

Protesters in Hong Kong march against the extradition bill in July 2019. / Jimmy Siu/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, May 24, 2022 / 16:58 pm (CNA).

A Catholic group in Hong Kong will not be holding Masses this year to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, citing concerns that doing so could run afoul of the Beijing-imposed national security laws under which several Catholic leaders have been arrested. 

The Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications Office told the Hong Kong Free Press May 24 that some staff and members of the Justice and Peace Commission of The Hong Kong Catholic Diocese had expressed concern about this year’s remembrance services, and thus the decision was made not to hold a remembrance Mass on June 4. 

“Because frontline staff and some of the members of the Justice and Peace Commission of The Hong Kong Catholic Diocese are concerned about whether holding this even [sic] will be in breach of the implemented national security law, therefore [we] won’t hold a June 4th commemoration mass,” the office said.

“According to the Catholic faith, there can be different ways to commemorate those who died. Holding masses are of course one of the means, but praying for those who died in private or in small groups is very meaningful as well.”

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have, historically, largely enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, there is a history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government. In mainland China, people have not been allowed to hold official commemorations of the “June 4th incident” in Tiananmen, but Hong Kong has long held annual vigils to commemorate its victims.

During the 1989 clash between protestors and Chinese troops, tanks rolled into Beijing’s main city square and military forces opened fire on university students and other citizens calling for democratic reforms. The exact number of people who died in the massacre is not certain, but could be hundreds or even thousands. A diplomatic cable from the British ambassador to China at the time said that at least 10,000 people were killed, while the regime claimed that 241 people died and 7,000 were wounded.

In 2020, Hong Kong police curtailed a vigil for the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, citing public health concerns related to COVID-19 — which would have marked the first time in 30 years that a vigil for Tiananmen had not taken place in Hong Kong. 

Still, thousands of people reportedly climbed over police barriers into a park, lighting candles and observing a moment of silence for the Tiananmen victims. Elsewhere in Hong Kong, some protesters blocked streets and clashed with police, while others gathered in other parts of the city, chanting in favor of democracy. 

Last year, at least seven churches in Hong Kong offered candlelight vigil Masses on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Diocese of Hong Kong’s Justice and Peace Commission announced that the churches will each offer a Mass for the Dead on the night of June 4.

However, 2021 marked the second year in a row that authorities forbade a public commemoration of Tiananmen in Hong Kong, ostensibly because of COVID-19 restrictions. Hong Kong police declined to tell the Free Press whether they would allow public commemorations this year. 

The typical organizer of the city’s annual Tiananmen vigils, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, disbanded last September following a members’ vote, the Free Press reported. The Chinese government has not specifically said whether commemorating Tiananmen would be a violation of the security laws. 

Millions of citizens of Hong Kong, including many Catholics, have in recent years participated in large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which came to a head during summer 2019. 

Beijing has in recent years tightened control over the island territory and cracked down on dissent. With the July 2020 passage of “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Several prominent Catholic figures have been arrested for apparent violations of the new security laws, which criminalize new categories of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Anyone convicted under the law will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

Those arrested include media mogul Jimmy Lai, a Catholic and billionaire who was detained last August and was sentenced in December 2021 to 13 months in prison on a charge of unlawful assembly, stemming from his participation in the annual Tiananmen Square vigil.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, was charged in court on May 24 with four other prominent democracy advocates who were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees. The nonagenarian Zen was arrested by the authorities in Hong Kong on May 11 and was released on bail later on the same day. His trial is set to begin Sept. 19.

Father Vincent Woo, a priest of the Diocese of Hong Kong and a canon lawyer, recently said that he has observed that many Christian leaders are reluctant to speak out against the CCP’s actions, for fear of being detained, or worse, by civil authorities.

19 children and 2 adults killed in Texas shooting at elementary school

State troopers stand outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. - An 18-year-old gunman killed 14 children and a teacher at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, according to the state's governor, in the nation's deadliest school shooting in years. / Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images

Denver Newsroom, May 24, 2022 / 15:29 pm (CNA).

A gunman killed at least 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, about 90 miles west of San Antonio, on Tuesday.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said May 24 the shooter, a local 18-year-old, has died, believed to have been killed by responding law enforcement. He identified the attacker as Salvador Ramos, saying he was armed with a handgun, and possibly a rifle.

The governor added, “It is believed that two responding offers were struck by rounds, but have no serious injuries.”

Some students and staff are being treated in nearby hospitals.

The incident is believed to be the worst school shooting since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in which in the attacker killed 26.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio tweeted, "God have mercy on our children, their families, their communities. Darkness is dense with one more shooting in our country. Let us help one another to spark light and warmth. May we keep each other in company. Prayers are needed."

And Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth has tweeted, "Let us pray for the families of these children killed or traumatized by this evil action and let us take serious steps forward in protecting vulnerable life and promoting justices for the safety of our children."

This story was updated at 11:25 p.m. MDT.

Central American bishops support Nicaraguan clergy in face of persecution

Daniel Ortega celebrates his re-inauguration as president of Nicaragua, Jan. 10, 2012. / Cancilleria del Ecuador via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Lima, Peru, May 24, 2022 / 15:03 pm (CNA).

The bishops’ conferences of Costa Rica and Panama expressed their solidarity with the people and Catholic clergy of Nicaragua, who have been suffering persecution from the government of President Daniel Ortega.

On May 20, the state-owned Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Mail eliminated the television channel of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference from its programming.

In addition, Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa and Father Harvy Padilla, pastor of the Saint John the Baptist church in Masaya, have been followed and harassed by the government’s police.

Álvarez, who is in charge of communications for the bishops’ conference and the Catholic channel, said that what the government wants "is a mute Church, that doesn’t announce the hope of the people" and doesn’t denounce "personal sin and structures of injustice.”

"The Word of God is not chained," the bishop said during a May 21 impromptu press conference at Holy Christ of Esquipulas parish on the outskirts of Managua.

In a May 21 statement, the bishops of Costa Rica  prayed that "the Risen Lord would grant the Nicaraguan people the gift of peace, so they can have a climate of calm and brotherhood."

The Costa Rican bishops also assured their Nicaraguan counterparts of their "prayer, especially in times of trial." 

"We pray to God to allow them to remain faithful to their mission and grant them a spirit of wisdom," they said.

They also called on the Catholic people of Costa Rica "to lift up in prayer the people of Nicaragua and the bishops of that nation.”

"We reiterate the need for our Central American peoples in general to work together in the search for the common good, peace and social justice," the bishops wrote.

The Panamanian bishops also expressed  their solidarity with Bishop Álvarez "at this time when he is experiencing persecution for being a prophet in the face of the difficult situation due to the sociopolitical crisis that the Nicaraguan people are experiencing.”

“We join in prayer so that the persecution of Bishop Rolando and Father Harvy Padilla, pastor of the Saint John the Baptist Parish in the city of Masaya, who has also been restricted from living and celebrating the faith in an environment of freedom and peace, will end,” the bishops said May 21.

The Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference also issued a statement stating that they are “going through difficult times as a nation" and that their duty "is to announce the truth of the Gospel."

“We accompany each brother who is associated with the sufferings of Christ through prayer and we invoke the Holy Spirit to be the one who illuminates the minds and hearts of all Nicaraguans,” the bishops said May 22.

There have been tensions in recent years between some Catholics and supporters of Ortega, who previously led the country for over a decade after the Sandinistas' 1979 ouster of the Somoza dictatorship. Ortega has again been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

Ortega's government has accused many bishops and priests of siding with his opposition.

A crisis began in April 2018 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protesters were killed by security forces.

Security forces have killed at least 320 protesters, with hundreds more arrested.

Since the protests began, there has been a series of attacks against clergy, churches and church facilities targeted by pro-government bands.

The apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua was expelled in March.