– Tej Francis

Gaza City

Gaza Exodus: Helping Christians caught in a crisis

(CNA) With fewer than 1,000 Christians in a population of 1.8 million, the Christian population in Palestine’s Gaza Strip today is less than half of what it was 10 years ago.

“They are — of all the Christian groups in the Holy Land — certainly by far the group that’s facing the most difficulty,” Robert Nicholson, president and founder of the Philos Project, told CNA.

Nicholson is currently leading an initiative to help Gazan Christians.

“Christians are often forgotten in this conflict,” he said. “They are really caught between forces that are much bigger than them … They’re looking for stability, they’re looking for freedom.”

The Christian minority in Gaza, which is mostly Greek Orthodox, also faces discrimination from the Muslim majority, according to Nicholson.

Witnessing this struggle led Nicholson to start the Gaza Exodus initiative, which seeks to help reunite Christian families divided by the Green Line.

“We’re working with the Israeli and Palestinian governments to get their status normalized, to help them reunite with their families who are still in Gaza and to provide some basic level of financial support for them to make this transition,” Nicholson told CNA in October.

The Gaza Exodus initiative raised more than $20,000 in a three-month campaign at the end of 2019 to reunite four Christian families for Christmas.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Critics: Utah bill on confession would criminalize priests, not counter sex abuse

(CNA) A Utah legislator’s proposal to remove protections for priests and other clergy who hear confessions of the sexual abuse of minors has drawn significant criticism from Catholics and other commentators.

“The motivation for the bill is understandable, to uncover and stop the abuse of children, but H.B. 90 will not have this intended effect,” said Jean Hill, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Peace and Justice Commission.

Removing the clergy exemption would be “making it a crime for the priest to maintain the Seal of Confession,” Hill said in a column for the Jan. 17, 2020 edition of the Intermountain Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. The proposal “could permanently destroy the relationship between our priests and ourselves in the confessional, without furthering the stated goal of the legislation.”

The proposed legislation “places a Catholic priest in the untenable position of violating state law and facing criminal penalties, or violating canon law and facing excommunication,” Hill added.

Like Kniffin, Hill suggested removing legal protections for clergy would be counter-productive.

Ponce, Puerto Rico

Tabernacle retrieved intact from church destroyed by earthquake in Puerto Rico

(CNA) Precariously resting on the edge of an altar leaning forward from the impact of the earthquake that struck Puerto Rico, a tabernacle was retrieved intact from a church in Puerto Rico and brought to safety.

In the early hours of Jan. 7, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the island, the last of a series of quakes that began Dec. 28. The earthquake left one dead, various people injured, serious damage to the infrastructure, and a power outage on the island. A state of emergency was declared.

El Visitante said the rescue of the tabernacle, and the Eucharist within it, took place at dawn, minutes before an aftershock left the church in ruins. “As if the tremor was waiting for the Eucharist to leave in order to continue the destruction.”

The tabernacle was in a chapel “in the left nave of the church. The early morning tremor destroyed the chapel, making the altar tilt forward. The tabernacle didn’t fall to the ground. It was almost suspended in the air lightly held up on the leaning altar.”

The tabernacle was rescued by the pastor Fr. Melvin Díaz and Fr. Orlando Rivera along with the faithful. Rivera used to work at the church but now lives in Peñuelas, a town near Guayanilla.

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