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The devastating but little-noticed DRC refugee crisis

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dec 8, 2017 / 03:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Every day, thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are forced to flee their homes.

In recent months, violent clashes have escalated, creating a massive refugee crisis that has gone largely unnoticed in much of the Western world.

“Political and ethnic tensions have forced millions of Congolese to leave their homes in the past year alone. The vast majority of these people are internally displaced within the country, while a minority have become refugees upon fleeing to neighboring countries,” said Amakala Constantin Sodio, the Kinshasa-based Catholic Relief Services country representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Congo-Brazzaville.

Sodio told CNA Dec. 8 there has been a “rapid escalation” of conflicts in the regions of Kasaï, Tanganyika and South Kivu in 2016 and 2017. This has put 4.3 million people into a crisis situation, facing emergency levels of food insecurity.

More than 1.7 million people have fled their homes this year alone. The U.N. has classed the country refugee situation as Level 3, equal to Syria, Iraq and Yemen in its humanitarian need.

The situation is far from stabilizing. At least 14 U.N. peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers were killed in an attack in North Kivu province Thursday night, believed to have been carried out by a rebel group.
 
“It's a mega-crisis. The scale of people fleeing violence is off the charts, outpacing Syria, Yemen and Iraq,” said Ulrika Blom, the country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, according to the BBC.

“If we fail to step up now, mass hunger will spread and people will die. We are in a race against time,” Blom added.

New armed conflicts, an intensification of current conflicts, and the delay in elections has helped drive the crisis, according to a report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Lambert Mende, the country’s minister of information, disputed the report and said that displaced people number less than 1 million. He said displaced people were in fact returning from nearby countries, the BBC reports.

About 5,500 Congolese people flee their homes each day, the report said. There are 4 million displaced people in the country and over 7 million who lack adequate food.

The average life expectancy in the country is under 60 years old, and more than 75 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day.

Amid the current crisis, Catholic Relief Services aims to provide a rapid response to aid at-risk communities.

“With an initial focus on emergency response, CRS also carries out development programs focused on health, hygiene, nutrition, and agricultural interventions,” Sodio said. “CRS’ local partnerships and staff presence across the country ensures our ability to rapidly start up projects and reach people in remote areas.”

The Catholic relief agency has 182 staffers in the country and aided 1.3 million people with $27 million in resources programming in 2017, in collaboration with its partners.

The humanitarian emergency is complex and there are no simple solutions, Sodio said.

“Improvements to the quality of life of people displaced will happen slowly as countrywide efforts are made to strengthen local systems, so they may safely return home to rebuild dignified lives,” he said.

CRS has been in the country since 1961 and has maintained a continuous presence since 1993.

Sodio cited the words of Barbara Forbes, a DRC-based International Development Fellow at Catholic Relief Services, who noted that many Congolese refugees are expected to be among the 45,000 people resettled in the U.S. in 2018.

“Personally meeting refugees in the community is a great way for Americans to maintain perspective on this issue,” Forbes said.

“Americans can help these refugees thrive by offering them jobs and volunteering to drive them to medical appointments or explain their household bills,” she added. One refugee in the U.S. had told her of her dreams to go to college on a basketball scholarship and study law.

Such personal connections with refugees make clear the importance of advocacy for increased acceptance of refugee resettlement in the U.S., according to Forbes.
 

DOJ investigates Planned Parenthood for fetal tissue sales

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2017 / 03:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a formal investigation of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions, for their role in the alleged sale of baby body parts.

“The Justice Department’s investigation of Planned Parenthood is a major turning point in the battle to hold the nation’s largest abortion business accountable,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said Dec. 8.

“Evidence shows Planned Parenthood sought to squeeze every last opportunity for cash from the sale of hearts, brains, lungs, and livers of aborted children… that ends now,” Dannenfelser continued.

The Justice Department confirmed Dec. 7 they were formally looking into allegations against Planned Parenthood for the illegal sale of aborted baby body parts.

The investigation comes two years after undercover journalist David Daleiden released footage of Planned Parenthood employees negotiating the price and monetary compensation of fetal tissue from aborted babies. The footage also includes conversations from representatives of StemExpress, a company that provides biological material for medical research company.

“Over two years ago, citizen journalists at the Center for Medical Progress first caught Planned Parenthood’s top abortion doctors in a series of undercover videos callously and flippantly negotiating the sale of tiny baby hearts, lungs, livers and brains,” said Daleiden Dec. 8, according to Fox News.

“It is time for public officials to finally hold Planned Parenthood and their criminal abortion enterprise accountable under the law,” he continued.

While federal law allows compensation for fetal tissue to be used for research purposes, the amount of money received from clinics is not allowed to be of “valuable consideration,” and should only cover the costs of transportation and preservation.

Planned Parenthood and other clinics were recommended to the Justice Department for investigation by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in December 2016, after publishing the “Human Fetal Tissue Research: Context and Controversy” report.

Grassley reported that the committee found “substantial evidence” suggesting that Planned Parenthood and other parties “may have violated” the law by charging more money for fetal tissue and baby body parts than was actually recommended.

Stephen Boyd, the Justice Department assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, originally requested the unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee from the 2016 report. Last month, the FBI additionally requested these documents for investigative purposes.

“The Department of Justice appreciates the offer of assistance in obtaining these materials, and would like to request the Committee provide unredacted copies of records contained in the report, in order to further the Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of that report based on the full range of information available,” stated Boyd, according to Fox News.

Planned Parenthood has denied accusations of breaking the law.

In US, abortion rates reach new low

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2017 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that abortion rates in the country are at a historic low since the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973.

According to the study, abortion rates have fallen 22 percent between the years of 2005-2014. In 2014, the CDC cited 653,639 performed abortions, while over 1.4 million abortions took place in 1990.

“The CDC report indicates the percentage of abortion rates declined across all race, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds, which means pro-lifers are continuing to make great strides in protecting women and the unborn child,” Kathleen Neher, the president of the National Catholic Social Workers Association, told CNA.

The study included both surgical abortions and chemical abortions, which include abortifacient pills that end a pregnancy before 8 weeks gestation.

A number of different factors are playing into the overall decline in abortions. The CDC reported that “the proportion of pregnancies in the United States that were unintended decreased from 51 percent in 2008 to 45 percent during 2011–2013.” It pointed to increased use of long-acting contraceptives such as IUD and hormonal implants as one reason for this decrease.

However, another factor is the declining birthrate in the U.S. The National Center for Health Statistics found that the number of babies delivered in the U.S. has declined by about 1 percent over the past few years. It said that 3,941,109 babies were born in the U.S. in 2016, which was 37,388 fewer babies than were born in 2015.

Fertility rates hit a record low in the U.S. in 2016, bringing the number of births to 62.0 per 1,000 women, compared to the previous 62.5 births.  

“People are choosing less frequently to be parents, and women who are pregnant are choosing less frequently to abort the baby,” said James Studnicki, a statistics expert from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, according to The Hill.

While Neher considers the overall decline of abortions to be a positive sign, she had additional concerns about the high number of women living in poverty who are still choosing abortion.

“This is a concern, as various factors contribute to these decisions – the day-to-day complexities of economic challenges, and the break-down of the family in our society, often leaving women to make these choices on their own,” Neher said.

“The response to this is to support and offer women alternative choices,” she continued, saying efforts to promote alternatives should include support for adoption, prenatal care, housing, and connecting women to programs that care for the dignity of both mother and child.  

The number of abortions could potentially hit an even lower rate in the year to come. Of the abortions performed in 2014, about 1.3 percent took place after 20 weeks gestation. The practice of abortions after 20 weeks could be outlawed if the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act becomes a law. The bill has passed the House but is currently pending in the Senate.

While the CDC numbers do show an overall decline in abortions, the study is limited in its findings. States are not obligated to report their abortion data, and California, New Hampshire and Maryland did not include their numbers in the report.

 

Pope Francis says Our Father is poorly translated

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a video series for Italian television network TV2000, Pope Francis said that “lead us not into temptation” is a poorly translated line of the Our Father.

“This is not a good translation,” the Pope said in the video, published Dec. 6. “I am the one who falls, it's not (God) who pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall. A father doesn't do this, a father helps us to get up right away.”

He noted that this line was recently re-translated in the French version of the prayer to read “do not let me fall into temptation.”

The Latin version of the prayer, the authoritative version in the Catholic Church, reads “ne nos inducas in tentationem.”

The Pope said that the one who leads people into temptation “is Satan; that is the work of Satan.” He said that the essence of that line in the prayer is like telling God: “when Satan leads me into temptation, please, give me your hand. Give me your hand.”

Just as Jesus gave Peter his hand to help him out of the water when he began to sink, the prayer also asks God to “give me your hand so that I don't drown,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope made his comments in the seventh part of the “Our Father” television series being aired by Italian television network TV2000.

Filmed in collaboration with the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, the series consists of nine question-and-answer sessions with Pope Francis and Fr. Marco Pozza, a theologian and a prison chaplain in the northern Italian city of Padua.

In each of the sessions, Fr. Pozza asks the Pope about a different line in the Our Father prayer, and the Pope offers his insights. A preview of the series was presented at the Vatican's Film Library by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano, head of the Secretariat for Communications.

The show also led to the publication of a book titled “Our Father,” which was released by the Vatican Publishing House and Italian publisher Rizzoli Nov. 23, and is based on Pozza's conversations with the Pope in the video series.

Each of the first eight episodes of the series begin with an excerpt from conversation between the Pope and Pozza, which is followed by a second conversation between Pozza and another guest. The final episode will consist of the priest's entire conversation with Pope Francis.

In his question to Pope Francis on the line “lead us not into temptation,” Pozza noted that many people have asked him how God can lead someone into temptation, and questioned what the phrase actually intends to say.

The question is one of the reasons the French bishops decided to make a request for a new translation of the Our Father that they believe conveys the meaning more clearly.

According to the French episcopal conference, the decision to make the change was accepted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in June 2013.

The new translation, released Dec. 3 to mark the first day of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, now reads “ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation,” meaning, “do not let us fall into temptation,” versus the former “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,” or “lead us not into temptation.”

The Pope’s remarks do not change the translations of liturgical texts. Such a change would begin with a resolution by an episcopal conference in English-speaking countries.

In a previous episode of the “Our Father” series, Pope Francis said “it takes courage” to recite the prayer, because it means calling on someone else and truly believing that “God is the Father who accompanies me, forgives me, gives me bread, is attentive to everything I ask, and dresses me better than wildflowers.”

“To believe is a great risk,” and means daring to make the leap of faith, he said. Because of this, “praying together is so beautiful: because we help each other to dare.”

Vatican nativity scene, Christmas tree unveiled

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 08:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an inauguration ceremony Thursday, the Vatican officially unveiled this year’s nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, also lighting the 69-foot Christmas tree for the first time this year.

In an audience with the tree and nativity donors Dec. 7, Pope Francis reflected on the symbolism found in the two Christmas traditions, which he said are “signs of the compassion of the heavenly Father, of his participation and closeness to humanity” even in its “very difficulties.”  

The branches of the tree, “reaching upward,” remind us to reach for “the highest gifts,” he explained. And in “the simplicity of the crib we meet and contemplate the tenderness of God” as manifested in the Child Jesus.

This year’s Vatican nativity scene was created by artisans in a local workshop and donated by an ancient Benedictine Abbey, the Sanctuary of Montevergine, which lies near Naples.

A special detail of this year’s scene: in one corner hangs a replica of the icon of Our Lady of Montevergine, a nod to the abbey which donated it. The original image, which is 12 feet tall, hangs in the chapel of the Sanctuary of Montevergine.

Outside of the traditional nativity figures of Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, the Wise Men, shepherds, an angel, and animals, the other figures are represented in the act of performing the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy, such as burying the dead, visiting the imprisoned, and clothing the naked.

The approximately 6 1/5-foot-tall figures are made of colored terracotta and dressed in traditional eighteenth-century Neapolitan costumes. The whole scene is built on a platform about 861-square-feet in size.

In a change from past years, this one includes a technological element; visitors can connect to a special Wi-Fi access point in St. Peter’s Square and scan a QR code to watch a video to learn more about the nativity.

The Christmas tree is a northern European tradition which has only recently become more common in Italy. The tradition to have a tree in St. Peter’s Square was begun by St. John Paul II in 1982.

This year’s tree, which comes from Poland, is 69-feet tall and about 60 years old. Its tip was lost when it was struck by lightning several years ago.

It was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk and cut down by a local forestry service, which transported it by truck over more than 1200 miles in 12 days to reach Rome, traveling mostly by night, when traffic is less dense.

The ornaments which decorate the spruce were created by children with cancer and their parents from several hospitals in Italy, as well as by children from Italian zones affected by earthquakes the past two years.

The ornaments were created in clay by the children and then reproduced using synthetic materials which can stand up to the weather in St. Peter’s Square.

The nativity and tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until Jan. 7, 2018, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.