U.S. Church News

Tiananmen anniversary prompts renewed calls to address human rights abuses

By  Catholic News Service

Students at the University of Hong Kong clean the "Pillar of Shame" statue June 4, 2021, during the 32nd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989. (CNS photo/Lam Yik, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Chinese government in Beijing again banned an annual candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre because the Communist Party "cannot tolerate the truth of its actions in 1989 being recognized anywhere," said the head of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong.

The committee was recently founded to defend religious freedom and other basic human rights in Hong Kong.

"The true intent of the ban is made clear by the vindictive prosecution and imprisonment of Hong Kong democrats for honoring the victims of June 4, 1989, last year," committee president Ellen Bork said in a June 3 statement. "The world's democracies must respond as if Hong Kong is the front line of China's assault on freedom around the world -- because it is."

Police said they had to cancel the event this year and last year because of social distancing rules put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.

The protesters killed in Tiananmen Square in mainland China in 1989 used to be remembered in Hong Kong with an annual candlelight vigil in the city's expansive Victoria Park, attended by crowds as big as 130,000, all holding flickering candles.

Seven Catholic churches scheduled Masses for June 4 at the time the vigils would normally occur.

"Annual calls by democratic governments for an official Chinese accounting of the dead and an end to punishment of Chinese citizens for even private discussions of the events of June 4 have achieved nothing," said Bork.

"There must be political and economic consequences imposed on China's government for mounting repression in Hong Kong," she added.

Bork and the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong also have spoken out about the recent imprisonment of Catholic media tycoon and philanthropist Jimmy Lai. He was recently sentenced to 12 months in jail after being found guilty of unauthorized assembly.

Ucanews.com reported he was among nine activists in court April 16 who earlier were found guilty of charges relating to pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Lai, 73, has donated millions of dollars to Catholic causes and has been the biggest financial backer of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong, ucanews.com reported.

At a June 4 event in Washington sponsored by the Chinese Democracy and Human Rights Alliance, the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said: "We remember Tiananmen each year because it is too important to forget and too dangerous to recognize inside China."

"While the Chinese Communist Party survived the seismic political shifts that brought down the Berlin Wall and Eastern European and Soviet communism, we must nevertheless recommit today -- and for as long as it takes -- to the freedom of every man, woman, and child living in China," he said.

"We must dare to hope ... the Chinese Communist Party's cruelty, depravity and selfish governance need not be forever," Smith added. "We will always stand with the oppressed -- not the oppressor -- no matter how long it takes."

The pro-democracy protest in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square in April 1989 began as a student-led occupation calling for political and economic liberalization.

After several weeks, when negotiations between the protesters and the government failed, Communist Party officials sent in a column of tanks and armed troops into Tiananmen Square June 4 and fired on civilians. The night ended in bloodshed.

China has written Tiananmen Square out of its history books and, according to news reports, routinely bans posts and keywords that mention the incident.

Some estimates put the death toll from the bloody crackdown as high as 10,000.

The Wall Street Journal reported late June 4 that "thousands of people in Hong Kong defied a huge police presence and threats of jail to commemorate" the massacre.

'Solidarity in Freedom' is theme of USCCB Religious Freedom Week June 22-29

By  Catholic News Service

Eric and Anne Waxman recite the rosary while participating in a roadside prayer rally marking Religious Freedom Week at St. James Church in Setauket, N.Y., June 24, 2020. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invites Catholics "to pray, reflect and act to promote religious freedom" during Religious Freedom Week, which is set for June 22-29 and has as its theme "Solidarity in Freedom."

"Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity," the USCCB said in a June 2 news release about the annual observance.

"It means thinking and acting in terms of community," it said, quoting Pope Francis' encyclical "Fratelli Tutti." "Religious freedom allows the church, and all religious communities, to live out their faith in public and to serve the good of all," the release added.

The first day of the observance is the feast of two English martyrs who fought religious persecution, Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher. The week includes the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, and ends with the feast of two apostles martyred in Rome -- Sts. Peter and Paul.

Each day of the week focuses on different religious liberty topics of concern for the U.S. Catholic Church. Resources prepared by the USCCB for Catholics to "Pray -- Reflect -- Act" on the day's theme can be found at: www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek. The topics are:

-- June 22: Adoption and foster care -- "Pray that children waiting to be placed in a loving home and the caregivers who serve those children will find strength and support from the church."

-- June 23: Catholic social services during the pandemic -- "Pray that God would continue to grant Catholic institutions the wisdom and courage to serve a world suffering the effects of the COVID pandemic."

-- June 24: The Equality Act -- "Pray that the dignity of all people will be respected in our country," including "people of faith."

-- June 25: Church vandalism -- "Pray that Christian witness in the face of attacks on our churches will convert hearts to faith in Jesus Christ."

-- June 26: Catholics in Nicaragua -- "Pray for our Catholic sisters and brothers who are suffering in Nicaragua."

-- June 27: Conscience rights for medical professionals -- "Pray that governments would respect the consciences of all people who care for the sick and vulnerable."

-- June 28: Pope Francis' solidarity with beleaguered Christians in Iraq -- "Pray for Christians in Iraq and that people of all faiths in the land of Abraham may live in peace."

-- June 29: Free speech -- "Pray that Christians will have the courage to speak the truth with kindness and clarity, even in the face of adversity."

The USCCB resources aim "to help people understand religious liberty from a Catholic perspective, pray about particular issues and act on what they learn by advocating for policies that promote religious freedom," the news release said.

"Through prayer, education and public action during Religious Freedom Week, the USCCB hopes to promote the essential right of religious freedom for Catholics and for those of all faiths," it added.

Catholics can connect with the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty by texting FREEDOM to 84576 to sign up for First Freedom News, the committee's monthly newsletter.

Lumen Christi Award nominees called Catholic Church's 'hidden heroes'

By  Catholic News Service

Catholic Extension's Lumen Christi Award is seen in this undated photo. This year's 34 nominees for the award "show the enormous breadth of the Catholic Church across the country," said a May 24, 2021, announcement on the nominees. They include clergy, lay leaders, religious and community groups. (CNS photo/Rich Kalonick, Catholic Extension)

CHICAGO (CNS) -- The 34 nominees for Catholic Extension's 2021-2022 annual Lumen Christi Award are "as varied as the church itself and have shown great resolve during this most difficult year," said the Chicago-based organization.

The award -- which is Latin for the "Light of Christ" -- is Catholic Extension's highest honor, and is bestowed on a missionary working in the United States.

Those up for the award have been nominated "as hidden heroes of the church who are serving their communities selflessly to bring faith and hope to the forgotten corners and peoples of our country, inspiring those around them to be the 'Light of Christ' as well," a news release said.

"This diverse group of clergy, lay leaders, religious, and community groups show the enormous breadth of the Catholic Church across the country," it added.

Catholic Extension supports 86 dioceses across the country and annually asks bishops of those dioceses to nominate their most inspiring people for the annual Lumen Christi Award.

The full list of nominees, announced May 24, as well as their stories can be found at https://www.catholicextension.org/lumen-christi-award.

The 44th annual nominees include two religious sisters in Knoxville, Tennessee, who serve a Hispanic community recently impacted by tornadoes; a pastor in Jackson, Mississippi, who ministers to a Native American community ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic; and a laywoman in Arkansas who provides health services to thousands of uninsured people, among many more.

"This past year has been filled with struggle and hardship, especially for the poor and vulnerable, but these selfless nominees continued to put others first and led with great faith and courage," said Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension.

Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension, a Chicago-based papal society, raises funds to help build faith communities and churches in poor Catholic dioceses.

Each Lumen Christi Award nominee receives $1,000 in support of his or her ministry, and the award recipient is given a $50,000 grant with the honoree and nominating diocese each receiving $25,000 to enhance their community and ministry.

Last year's winner was Father Ron Foshage, a missionary priest ministering in the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas. A member of the Our Lady of La Salette religious congregation, he was honored for "his tireless work" in bringing people in the community together regardless of color or religion.

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