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Bishops in Nigeria release books on marriage, family life

Ibadan, Nigeria, Feb 19, 2018 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Nigeria's Ibadan ecclesial province recently launched two books addressing marriage and family life within the country, drawing particular attention to the respect for human life from conception to natural death.

According to CEO Africa, the book launch took place at the John Paul II Centre at the University of Ibadan. The occasion featured various speakers, and included a prayer for the family, a choir, and a “eulogy of God” presentation.

The two books presented at the event were titled Marriage and Family: the Teachings of the Catholic Church, and A Catechism on Human Life: from Conception to Natural Death. The books were penned by the bishops of the Ibadan province in an effort to support and strengthen marriage and family life within the country.

The event was chaired by Dr. Juliana Iyabo Olusanmi, who said the books served as an “eye-opener” to the various issues surrounding married and family life. She also noted that the books are aimed at correcting “moral values in the society which will further preserve the sanctity and dignity of human life.”

Among those in attendance at the book launch were Archbishop Gabriel 'Leke Abegunrin of Ibadan, his five suffragan bishops, and Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo III, who is Alake, or king, of the Egba, a Yoruba clan.

Archbishop Abegunrin addressed those gathered, emphasizing unity within the nation. He also pointed to the books as resources to boost the quality of family life and strong marriages – not only within Nigeria, but also around the globe.

Others commenting on the books, including Fr. Michael Banjo, saw them as ways to fight against the practice of abortion and contraception within the country, which he said threatens the sanctity of human life. He also applauded the books’ sections on same-sex marriage and their defense of human dignity.

Pope accepts resignation of disputed Nigerian bishop

Ahiara, Nigeria, Feb 19, 2018 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis accepted the resignation Monday of a Nigerian bishop who had been rejected by many of the priests of his diocese since his appointment more than five years ago.

In June 2017 Pope Francis met with clerics of the Diocese of Ahiara and demanded that they accept the bishop appointment that had been made, or face suspension and loss of office.

In accepting Bishop Peter Okpaleke's resignation Feb. 19, Pope Francis chose not to take action against the clergy of Ahiara, saying they have since expressed repentance.

At the same time, Pope Francis appointed as apostolic administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of Ahiara Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia.

Bishop Okpaleke's resignation letter was sent to the Vatican Feb. 14.

Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara in December 2012 by Benedict XVI. However, the Ahiara diocese is dominated by the Mbaise ethnic group, and as an outsider from the nearby Diocese of Awka, Okpaleke was rejected by much of Ahiara's clergy and laity, who wanted one of their own to be appointed bishop over them.

The Mbaise are among the most Catholic of Nigerian peoples, with 77 percent of the diocese's population of 670,000 being Catholic. Nearby dioceses range between 19 and 70 percent Catholic.

However, Awka, Bishop Okpaleke's home city, is located in the state of Anambra. Ahiara, on the other hand, is located to the south in Imo state. The Mbaise have often asserted that the Nigerian hierarchy favors Anambra.

Many members of the tribe resent what they call the “Anambranization” of the Church in southeast Nigeria, believing there to be corruption within the Church in Nigeria and a “recolonization” of the Mbaise.

The Mbaise also have a high number of priestly and religious vocations, many of whom end up serving as missionaries in Western nations. The diocese has seen at least 167 priestly ordinations since its establishment in 1987. Because of this, many had hoped that one of their own would fill the two-year episcopal vacancy in the Ahiara diocese.

After Bishop Okpaleke's appointment, his Mbaise opponents blocked access to Ahiara's cathedral for his episcopal ordination, forcing the prelate to instead be consecrated and installed outside his new diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri, May 21, 2013.

In July 2013, shortly after his election, Pope Francis named Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja as apostolic administrator of Ahiara in a bid to resolve the problem; however, the effort proved to be unsuccessful.

In his letter of resignation, Bishop Okpaleke remarked that the situation in the Ahiara diocese “unfortunately … to the best of my knowledge has not improved.” He has remained in Awka since his espiscopal consecration.

Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life,” he wrote. He said that he thus believes that remaining Bishop of Ahiara “is no longer beneficial to the Church,” as his apostolate would not be effective “where a group of priests and lay faithful are very ill disposed to have me in their midst.”

Exercising the ministry in a diocese where priests who are supposed to be my immediate and closest collaborators, brothers, friends and sons are at war with one another, with the laity and with me as their chief shepherd would be disastrous and a threat to the salvation of souls – including my own soul.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said in a Feb. 19 letter to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, that Pope Francis had received 200 letters of apology from clerics of the Ahiara diocese. The congregation responded to each priest who wrote.

The congregation added that with the appointment of a new apostolic administrator, Pope Francis “wants to point out that He continues to have a special and particular concern for the Diocese of Ahiara.”

“For the time being, the Pope does not intend to provide normal Governance to Ahiara and reserves the right to evaluate its spiritual and ecclesial progress before He makes another decision.”

In a Feb. 14 pastoral letter, Bishop Okpaleke characterized opposition to his appointment as a “Refusal to give the Holy Spirit a chance” and announced his decision to offer his resignation.

He included a call to repentance, saying he wanted “to invite those who have remained in permanent opposition to have an authentic 'sensus Ecclesiae' (i.e. staying with the Church in love), to renew the spiritual bond and to refrain from being guided by ideologies, motivations and ideas that neither belong to Christ nor to the Church.”

Obedience is central to discernment, the bishop wrote, and “it involves trust that God is leading the Church.”

“I invite any dissenting priests to re-examine their initial motivations for becoming priests in the Catholic Church. Repentance and reconciliation are very urgent!”

In a Feb. 19 statement, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples confirmed that in their letters expressing “obedience and fidelity”, some of the Ahiaran priests who wrote to Pope Francis also said they would have “psychological difficulty” in collaborating with Bishop Okpaleke after years of conflict.

The congregation urged each priest involved to “reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ” and voiced hope that in the future, they would never repeat such “unreasonable actions opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff.”

“The Holy Father, who accompanies with prayer this new phase in the life of the Church in Ahiara, hopes that, with the new Apostolic Administrator, the local Church will recover its vitality and never again suffer such actions that so wound the Body of Christ.”

Archbishop of Erbil: Christians in Iraq are ‘scourged, wounded, but still there’

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2018 / 04:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Without an end to this persecution and violence, there is no future for religious pluralism in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East for that matter,” said Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in a speech at Georgetown University on Feb. 15.

The Chaldean Archbishop spoke of the state of Christianity in Iraq today and what both Muslim and Western leaders can do to help protect religious minorities and rebuild their communities.

“We Christian people, who have endured persecution in patience and faith for 1,400 years now face an existential struggle. It is possibly the last struggle that we will face in Iraq,” said Warda at an event hosted by Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

After an attack by ISIS displaced more than 125,000 Christians, Warda said that there is a core of the faithful who will not leave their ancestral homeland in the Nineveh plains in Iraq.

In a single night, ISIS took nearly everything from the bishop’s flock, leaving them “without shelter, without refuge, without work, without properties, without monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the things that give our lives dignity,” Warda said.

“And, yet, we are still there, scourged, wounded, yet still there,” he noted.

“So few of us are left, some estimate 200,000 Christians or less,” continued the Chaldean bishop. “While it is true that our numbers are small, the apostles were much smaller.”

When speaking of the suffering of his people, the Archbishop also spoke of forgiveness.

“We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them in the name of Christ.”

He said he believes that this message of forgiveness is something Christians can witness to their Muslim neighbors in the Middle East.

“We say this to our Muslim neighbors, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours ...We pray for your healing. Let us heal our wounded and tortured countries together,” he said.

Warda called on Muslim leaders to acknowledge that changes need to be made to protect religious minorities.

“It is not enough to say, ‘ISIS does not represent Islam.’ We need more.”

“I would encourage Muslim countries to come and step forward in helping by rebuilding Christian villages, Yazidis villages, to show some sign of solidarity,” Warda said.

As an example of this, he acknowledged the work of the United Arab Emirates: “Since the ISIS attack, they’ve been with us helping all -- Catholics, Yazidis, Muslims.”

“There is a fundamental crisis within Islam itself and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for Christians in the Middle East,” he said.

“We’ve been hearing some courageous voices from Islamic leaders concerning the need of change and the need to address this issue openly. It should be encouraged.”

He also stressed the importance of “honesty and respect” in inter-religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Warda is working towards sustainable solutions to rebuild his community in northern Iraq. He sees hope in the new Catholic University of Erbil, which recently opened its doors thanks to the financial support from the Italian bishops conference.

“We, Christians who have the good news and the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ, I think that we could offer something. We can open our schools, open our educational centers even to those who tortured us and to tell them, ‘Please, listen to who we are and let us know who you are. Within educational institutions, we really have the chance to know each other better well and grow in tolerance and respect for each other,” Warda told EWTN.

Christian and Muslim students study together at the Catholic University of Erbil, which will someday host up to 700 students. Today there are currently 82 students studying  economics, international law, English literature, accounting, and other degrees.

Dr. MaryAnn Cusimano Love visited the Catholic University of Erbil last year. She told CNA that she saw firsthand in Iraq “the courageous work that the Church is doing,” and encouraged Christian groups to give direct aid to Archbishop Warda.

“We can keep him in our prayers, we can give him our direct aid, and continue to keep them in solidarity whether our governments are or not,” she said.

When it comes to the crisis facing religious minorities in Iraq, Archbishop Warda stressed: “We Christians should not remain passive or simply pray for the best, we too have a critical role to play.”

Archbishop Warda also called on Catholics in the West for spiritual, moral, political, and material support for Iraqi Christians as they rebuild.

“How will the West react? My question is not rhetorical. The Christians in the Middle East want to know the answer.”

 

Why did we forget how to date? New documentary aims to find out

Boston, Mass., Feb 18, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- It was about 10 or so years ago when Kerry Cronin, a professor at Boston College, noticed something was up with the way her young students were dating – or, rather, not dating.

It was the end of the year and she was talking to a group of bright, charismatic students who were full of plans for their future. Cronin asked her students if graduation meant some difficult conversations with their boyfriends or girlfriends – and she got blank stares.

“(They) were just really stellar people, beautiful inside and out, and had all kinds of charisma and everything and almost none of them had dated at all in high school or college,” Cronin told CNA. “And I thought wait, what? What’s going on?”

Further conversations with students proved to her that this group of seniors was not an anomaly, but the norm.

“I started talking to them about hookup culture and how that had impacted dating, and what I realized was that the dating social script was sort of gone,” she said.

And so, like any good professor, Cronin turned the problem into an (extra credit) assignment that she gave to her senior capstone class the following year.

While her students all thought it was a good idea, none of them had asked someone on a date by the end of the semester.

“And I realized they had no idea what I was talking about,” Cronin said.

So she tweaked the assignment to include a set of rules that students had to follow – ask a legitimate romantic interest out on a date. In person. Keep the date 60-90 minutes. Go out to ice cream or coffee – something without drugs or alcohol. You ask, you pay – but a first date should only cost about $10 anyway. The only physical contact should be an A-frame hug.

The idea caught on, and pretty soon these “Cronin dates” were the talk of Boston College. Today Cronin travels the country, speaking to college students about how to date, and continues to give the dating assignment in her classes.

Her renown as the ‘Date Doctor’ reached the ears of Megan Harrington and her colleagues, who were looking to create a documentary about dating in today’s world.

“We had put together a pitch at dinner, and there were 14 women at dinner, two were married and the rest were single, and a lot of us just didn’t know when the last time we went on a date was,” Harrington told CNA. “And we were kind of saying, what is going on?”

After hearing about Cronin, Harrington and her team decided to feature the dating assignment in their new film “The Dating Project” – part dating how-to, part dating documentary.

Besides Cronin’s dating assignment, the film follows five single people of varying ages and backgrounds who are looking for love – two college students, Matt and Shanzi; Cecilia, a 20-something living in Chicago; Rasheeda, a 30-something living in New York; and Chris, a 40-something from Los Angeles.

“Dating, at least here at (Boston College) has kind of a broad, uncertain, ambiguous definition,” Matt says in the film.

“Definitely hooking up is more common on a college campus,” Shanzi adds.

The uncertainty and ambiguity is a constant thread in every storyline. Cecilia wishes her Tinder date would tell her what he wants, Rasheeda can’t remember the last time she was on a real date, or what that even means. Chris is so overwhelmed by online dating he’s not sure where to begin.

The moniker “hooking up” is a term young people have embraced, Cronin noted in the film, because it could mean anything from making out to having sex, and everyone gains some social status from being able to say they “hooked up.”

Cronin tries to help her students see that it’s braver – and ultimately better – to get to know a person before becoming physically intimate with them, something the hook-up culture gets backwards.

“They don’t build great habits for marriage and family. It’s easy to let someone see your body. It’s hard to let someone see you,” she said.

Harrington said she was “shocked” at the amount of pressure on college kids to be very physical in relationships, “and I think that carries over when you get out of college, this pressure to fit in.” “I knew it was there and it’s not a new thing, and technology has just made it easier,” she added.

Cronin said that while the hook-up culture is prevalent, she’s found that most students are unhappy with that status quo and are looking for a way out.

“They want the way out but nobody’s offering it to them,” she said.

That’s why the rules for her dating assignment are so important, she noted. It’s not that she wants to return to the 1950s or some other bygone era, she added, but there are good things to be gleaned from these “dating scripts” of yesteryear.

“The rules are to help you so that you know what you’re doing,” Cronin said. “You’re not asking someone on an uber romantic date, this isn’t a candlelit dinner with violins and flowers, this is just a cup of coffee, just to see.”

She put together the “rules” from what she remembered of her own days of dating, as well as advice from friends and feedback from students who have done the assignment, Cronin said.

The students, she added, welcome the dating guidance.

“I am amazed at how much this generation of young adults wants coaching in all areas of their life,” she said. “They are hungry for coaching, and they responded so well to these rules I was amazed. In some ways I have no idea why they would do this, but then they do and they’re happy and they want people to help them navigate situations where they need to be brave.”

Two of the three production companies involved in “The Dating Project” are Christian companies – Paulist Productions and Family Theater Productions. Most of the single people featured in the film end up talking about their faith and values at some point, some more explicitly than others.

Rasheeda is the most outspoken about her Christian faith in the film. At one point, she expresses dismay that she can’t seem to find a man who shares her values and wants something out of dating besides a sexual encounter.

Harrington, herself a Catholic, told CNA that faith wasn’t necessarily meant to be a central theme of the film, but faith and values are a topic that inevitably come up during the dating process, and each person in the film talked about it to the extent they felt natural.

What the film does show, Harrington said, is that Christians are not really any better at dating in the modern world than anyone else is.

“It’s very apparent that even in the Christian world, in this area of life – dating and relationships – we’re just as lost as anyone else, we’re really not leading the way,” she said. “I think it’s just as difficult for Christians as it is for anyone else.”

Both Cronin and Harrington said that dating sites and apps are not bad in and of themselves, but they should be viewed as a tool.

“Use it as a tool to meet someone in person, because meeting in person is how you get to know someone,” Harrington said.

“The danger with apps is that people can become objects and we become consumers, and you’re swiping left and swiping right. Part of what is bad is that some people use them for just a hookup or sexual experience,” she added.

“The thing I think with any app is – have a plan, and that plan should be in line with your values and should result in you getting to meet someone face to face and having a conversation,” she said.

Cronin said the most heartening thing about her dating assignment has been that it gets students talking to each other about what they really want dating and relationships to look like.

“It’s one thing to give out an assignment to 25 students and that’s great, but what I was really heartened by is that most of those students go home to their resident halls and talk to their roommates and their friends about it,” she said.

“Within maybe two or three semesters of giving this assignment way back when, people were talking about it so actively and that was really wonderful, it ended up being one of the best thing about the assignment, because people knew about it, and it just gave people permission to go on casual, non-intense...dates,” she said.

She added that she hopes that this documentary will accomplish the same thing.

“My hope for this movie is that it will just get people to talk about our crazy fears and our crazy anxieties and why we hide so much and what it is we really want,” she said.

Harrington added that she hoped the film would encourage people to examine and re-evaluate their own relationships and dating behaviors.

“I think that the change has to come individually, we have to change ways in which we’re seeing people as experiences instead of as human beings,” she said. “You have to make a decision of changing a behavior that isn’t bringing out the dignity of the human person.”

“And if you’re of a faith, it has to be your relationship with God strengthening that and saying ok, I’m made in the image and likeness of God, and so is the other person,” she said. “So in order to change the dating culture, we have to change our own behaviors and look at the ways that we’re engaging with people.”

“The Dating Project” will show on April 17 in select theaters throughout the country. More information can be found at: https://www.thedatingprojectmovie.com/

Pope on first Sunday of Lent: Now is the time for conversion

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2018 / 09:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Lent is a time to face our temptations and be converted by the Gospel, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on the first Sunday of Lent.

His reflections were based on the passage in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert for 40 days.

Jesus goes into the desert to prepare for his mission on earth, the Pope said.

While Jesus has no need of conversion himself, he must go to the desert out of obedience to God the Father and "for us, to give us the grace to overcome temptation."

“For us, too, Lent is a time of spiritual ‘training’, of spiritual combat: we are called to face the Evil one through prayer, to be able, with God’s help, to overcome him in our daily life,” he continued.

Immediately after he is tempted, Jesus goes out of the desert to preach the Gospel, which demands conversion from all who hear it, the Holy Father said.

“(Jesus) proclaims, ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel!’ — believe, that is, in this Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand. In our life we always have need of conversion — every day! — and the Church has us pray for this. In fact, we are never sufficiently oriented toward God, and we must continually direct our mind and our heart to Him."

Lent is the time to have the courage to reject anything that leads us away from God and repent, Francis noted, “but it is not a sad time!”

“It is a joyful and serious duty to strip ourselves of our selfishness, of our ‘old man,’ and to renew ourselves according to the grace of our Baptism,” he said.

During Lent, we must listen to the call of Christ and be converted, recognizing that true happiness lies in God alone, Francis said.

He concluded his address with an appeal to Mary:

“May Mary Most Holy help us to live this Lent with fidelity to the Word of God and with incessant prayer, as Jesus did in the desert. It is not impossible! It means living the days with the desire to welcome the love that comes from God, and that desires to transform our life, and the whole world.”