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Human rights groups decry effort to promote abortion in pandemic response

CNA Staff, Jun 3, 2020 / 05:57 pm (CNA).- A total of 434 human rights organizations from 16 countries have released a manifesto condemning the push from external groups to promote abortion in their nations during the coronavirus pandemic.

The “International Manifesto for the Right to Life” was delivered this week to the foreign ministry offices of Costa Rica, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.

It repudiates the U.N.’s Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19 for Ecuador, which requires “safe, legal abortion” as a condition for aid.

The plan claims to be “humanitarian aid” but “includes a $3 million allocation to train health care personnel in so-called 'safe and legal abortion,' in violation of the Constitution and Ecuadoran laws,” the manifesto says.

The manifesto also rejects the “Joint Statement on Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Promoting Gender-responsiveness in the COVID-19 Crisis” signed by representatives of 59 countries – including Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru – which promotes access to abortion.

The International Manifesto for the Right to Life argues that there is a major disconnect between the efforts to promote abortion and the broader society’s focus on safeguarding human life amid the coronavirus crisis. Many of the countries in question have protections in their constitutions, criminal codes, and civil codes to protect human life of the moment of conception, the document notes.

Instead of advocating for pro-abortion policies, the right to life manifesto calls for a “focus on public policies based on human dignity, and for effectively putting an end to any attempt to interfere with or attack the sovereignty of our countries, in particular coming from the U.N. and its principal agencies.” It pointed specifically to the United Nations Population Fund, UN Women, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Martha Villafuerte, a representative of Ecuador for the Family, argued that international aid “must come without conditions or financial coercion.” She noted that Ecuador currently has the highest level of coronavirus deaths per capita recorded in Latin America.

“[I]t is unacceptable to try to take advantage of the situation to slip in through the back door a crime that the Constitution rejects,” she said.

Luis Losada, director of CitizenGO Campaigns for Latin America, called the U.N. effort to promote abortion in Ecuador a textbook example of “ideological interference.” A CitizenGO petition opposing the international pressure for abortion has garnered more than 32,000 signatures.

“[The international interference] violates the statutes of the United Nations that expressly commit it to not interfere in national policies or legislation, respecting the sovereignty of nations,” Losada said. “It violates the Constitution of Ecuador that protects the right to life from the moment of conception. And it violates the parliamentary debate (in Ecuador) that took place last year on the proposal to decriminalize abortion, which fortunately did not succeed.”

Losada said the U.N.'s humanitarian proposal is “an insult not only to the sovereignty of Ecuador but to that of the rest of the countries in the region, which take note of the impunity with which this interference is being done.”

“[T]he government of Ecuador must defend its sovereignty, national dignity, the Constitution and the right to life by rejecting this illegal and immoral proposal by the United Nations,” he said.


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

More than 300,000 attend Argentina's online March for Life

CNA Staff, Jun 1, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Argentina’s digital March for Life May 30 drew 390,000 participants on Facebook alone, according to preliminary numbers from march organizers.

The pro-life effort came on the heels of a promise from Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez to again push for a bill to legalize abortion in the country’s legislature. That legislation was on the verge of being introduced in March when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the country, forcing its postponement.

Current law in Argentina prohibits abortion, except when the mother’s life or health is determined to be in danger, or in cases of rape.

In a controversial move, Fernandez’ appointee as Minister of Health, Ginés González García, issued new protocols on abortion Dec. 12 2019, widening the circumstances for a legal abortion.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Senator Silvia Elías de Pérez, a pro-life leader in the country’s legislature, stressed that "today's march has been very positive.”

The senator said that a 2018 bill that would expand legal protection for abortion in Argentina was defeated in part because of  “a huge number of Argentinians who throughout the country came out to defend their ideas, their rights, to say that in Argentina every life matters and that being born in Argentina should not be a right only for those who are wanted.”

Argentina’s May 2018 March for Life events drew an estimated three million participants in multiple cities across the country.

The 2020 digital march, Elías de Pérez said, can serve “as a new point of departure” helping pro-life groups to “get back on track again, back to work, because we have to take up the fight again.”

The senator lamented that “it is extremely sad, dramatic, that in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, in which we are fighting for people’s lives, it still occurs to a government to send (to the legislature) this kind of anti-life initiative.”

“So what’s important once again is to put our minds and passion at the service of this cause, which is the noblest of all because it means fighting for the preservation of the human race, understood as preserving life in all its stages” she said.

The digital march, which lasted about two hours on Facebook and YouTube, featured the participation of well-known pro-life leaders, including Mexican actor and producer Eduardo Verástegui.

The actor said that in all the pro-life forums he participates in, “the message I always give is to take the word pro-life to its fullest meaning.”

"Of course we have to defend life in the mother's womb, defend the most important and fundamental right, the right to be born, because if you’re not born you can’t enjoy any other right," he said. "But we pro-lifers don't stop there, because after that, who's next? Homeless children, there shouldn’t be one more child on the street, and that depends on us, on everyone,” Verástegui said.

The Mexican movie star also urged eradicating the crime of human trafficking as well as helping teens addicted to drugs and abandoned or abused mothers.

To be pro-life, he continued, is to care “for the lives of the sick who don’t have the resources to pay for a good doctor, for adequate treatment,” and to advocate “for the lives of those who are falsely accused and in prison.”

Defending life also means, Verástegui said, doing something for “the lives of the elderly who are abandoned in a nursing home, sad to death because not even their family members come to see them.”

“To be the voice of those who have no voice, to defend those who cannot defend themselves” is to be pro-life,” he emphasized.

A version of this story was first publish by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Venezuelan bishops: Country’s situation is ‘unacceptable’

CNA Staff, May 31, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- The Venezuelan bishops published an exhortation May 28 calling for “a consensus among all and an inclusive national accord” to save the country from “immense national, material, institutional and social catastrophe.”

Under the socialist administration of President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, power outages, and hyperinflation. Some 4.5 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015.

In their message, “A voice is heard of someone crying bitterly,” the bishops said that “the country is near economic bankruptcy of profound proportions” which “it won’t be able to come out of, unless all people definitively demand answers from the authorities and the entire political, social and cultural leadership, and a national emergency is declared.”

The bishops underscored “it is unacceptable for the situation we’re living in to continue,” and that what is most urgent in view of “the immense catastrophe” in all areas is “far reaching moral action, an ethical shake-up, and a socio-political convergence” that sets the country on the right course.

The bishops pointed out that change will not be achieved "by eliminating those who think differently", but "including all political factors and the different institutions in the search for concerted solutions", along with a  "new spiritual climate and renewed leadership” that will ward off corruption.

"Disunity and perennial confrontation aggravate the situation and sink us further as a people," they said.

Given the situation, the bishops called for “an inclusive long range national accord to save Venezuela from the extremely grave crisis it is engulfed in and to initiate processes to rescue and recover the country socially, politically and economically.”

"Economically we see the country adrift, without economic plans in view of the possibility of companies closing down and many workers losing their jobs; the same is true of workers in the informal economy (that operates outside the system) which is the majority of them. Without daily sustenance, there will be more hunger and suffering in families,” the bishops alerted.

"The moral unsustainability of the current situation requires that radical change," they stressed.

"The best contribution that we as citizens can make to the country is that working from  our social institutions, we participate in the search for a way out (...). This will imply new political leadership that guides the country towards progress and lets go of suffocating and toxic ideologies that create suffering and death. Thus, hope will be reborn with a merciful and Samaritan disposition,” the country’s bishops proposed.

The situation in Venezuela is "very problematic" the bishops said, due to  COVID-19 pandemic the country is experiencing, in addition to "the ravages of serious economic, political and social problems that are intensifying every day.”

"The presence of the pandemic has only made more evident the numerous shortages the people are suffering from, as well as the inability to provide adequate responses to them, besides the partial solutions which are necessary but insufficient, since these ills must be pulled up from the roots."

The bishops noted that the lockdown and social distancing have "managed to stop the spread of the disease for a time," but in the last week, "the number of those infected has increased alarmingly."

Although the majority of the population “has behaved in a very civic-minded manner,” abiding by the prevention protocols, nevertheless “an immense cry” can be heard from the millions “without economic resources, food, medicine, work, adequate supply of electricity, running water, transportation, cooking gas and fuel.”

"It is necessary to prepare, as soon as possible, with the broad participation of all social sectors, a roadmap to lift the lockdown that includes making it easier for workers to get to their jobs, reactivating the economy and commerce, the progressive opening of the churches for liturgical celebrations, in compliance with the prevention protocols that the health emergency calls for," the bishops said.

They also stressed that the “crisis cannot be managed only as a weapon of social and political control” where human rights violations are allowed.

Social unrest due to “the numerous shortages has been expressed in various protests that at times have been repressed with violence, but hunger can’t be contained with repression,” they pointed out.

At the conclusion of their message, the Venezuelan bishops pointed to Venerable Dr. José Gregorio Hernández--soon be beatified--as a model who “encourages and inspires us to follow the path he took as a man, doctor and Christian committed to his people.”

“José Gregorio is a symbol of the unity of the country and the path of hope. May the Virgin of Coromoto, the patroness of Venezuela, bless us at the culmination of this month of May dedicated to so many Marian devotions and may she intercede before God for the end of the disease and the deep crisis we are going through,” the bishops said.


A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Salesians in Bogota aid poor families hard hit by COVID lockdown

Bogotá, Colombia, May 28, 2020 / 08:21 pm (CNA).- Salesian ministries in Bogota, Colombia, have joined forces to feed the families of the children and young people they serve at the Saint Francis de Sales Oratory youth center, which they run in the poor, crime ridden Las Cruces neighborhood.

In late March, the government ordered a lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown left many street vendors, recyclers, cleaning staff and other laborers out of work.

With the lockdown extended into June, many poor families are finding themselves running out of food and funds for other necessities.

While the government has offered some support to those in need, many people are still in serious need of assistance.

To respond to this need, especially for food, the Salesian Leo XIII School community has partnered with the Salesian Ladies’ Divine Child Center, the Order of Malta and a local food bank to offer care packages with basic necessities and food to families in need.

Leading the Salesian effort is Marcos Chero, a Peruvian teacher at the Leo XIII School.  Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Cheo said he was motivated to take on the project after successfully working with the school in 2017 to deliver 700 care packages to the victims of devastating flash floods and landslides that took place in the town of Mocoa in the country’s southwest.

“If we were able to put together care packages three years ago, with this situation we’re going through, why can’t we do it again?” Chero said.

In the initial effort, school parents, alumni, teachers and other members of the Salesian community were able to deliver 200 care packages to needy families in the area. They were then joined by the Salesian Ladies’ Divine Child Center. Several additional food distributions for 80-120 families have taken place in the weeks that followed, with the next one scheduled for June 6.

The National Police have been making the deliveries, taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chero said the plan going forward is to make deliveries every three weeks “because we know that the coronavirus situation is going to last a long time. And so we’re always looking for help, we’re knocking on doors, seeking out institutions and businesses to collaborate with us.”

Chero himself received training as a boy at a Salesian oratory in Peru and admired the spirit of the congregation founded by St. Don Bosco “to work for the very poor and abandoned.”

“There’s a very beautiful saying of Don Bosco that has marked me, and I take it as a motto, an insignia, which is, ‘The Lord has put us in this world to serve others’,” he shared.

The teacher said he is also planning a project to raise funds to buy the technology so students can participate in distance learning, which is currently limited.

The Divine Child Center, founded by the Salesian Ladies Association, is staffed by lay women volunteers who put on sporting and cultural activities and provide formation in values, helping children and young people living in the poor areas of Bogota become good citizens and avoid the dangers of the street.

The Salesian Ladies is a non-profit organization founded in 1968 in Caracas, Venezuela, by Salesian priest Fr. Miguel Gonzalez. Through Christian education and evangelization, these Catholic women help low income people especially women, young people and children who are abandoned, in dangerous situations, or in jail.

They currently run 33 centers in Colombia, in addition to another 145 centers in 27 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.


Costa Rican bishop disappointed in legalization of gay marriage

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 04:29 pm (CNA).- A Costa Rican bishop has warned that although same-sex marriage has been legalized in the country, the Catholic Church will continue to proclaim the truth of God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.

Despite the change in law, Bishop José Manuel Garita of Ciudad Quesada said May 26, “we will not tire in showing the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman. Nor will the Church cease to proclaim the plan willed by God in creating man and woman, even though the times, fashions, pressures and ideologies dictate otherwise.”

In a January 9, 2018 decision, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that Costa Rica must legalize gay marriage. The Costa Rican government had asked the court for an advisory opinion on gay marriage and other issues.

Critics at the time argued that the decision was non-binding and was a violation of Costa Rica’s national sovereignty.

Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice then issued a 6-4 decision in August 2018 declaring unconstitutional the portion of the nation’s family code that prohibited gay marriage. The court gave the National Assembly 18 months to conform the country’s laws to permit same-sex unions.

The National Assembly did not enact legislation on the matter, so the relevant section of the family code was automatically eliminated on May 26, 2020, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said the change “will bring about a significant social and cultural transformation which will allow thousands of people to get married in front of a lawyer.”

However, Bishop Manuel contended that legally redefining marriage does change the inherent meaning of the institution.

“As Christians, we know that the family based on man and woman has a dignity and a mission,” he said.

He stressed that no one, regardless of sexual orientation, should be denied food, housing, work or health care, but added that “to achieve these and other rights the sacred foundation of marriage must not be touched.”

“We too have a right for what is sacred to a great majority of our society to be respected,” he said.

On May 15, the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference had issued a statement for International Family Day, lamenting the spread of an ideological colonization that “discredits the value of the person, life, marriage and the family,” resulting in a loss of clarity around the truth “that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman fulfills a complete social function, because it is a stable commitment and makes fertility possible.”

The bishops acknowledged that “in a democratic and pluralistic society like ours, legal recognition can be given to people of the same sex who live together,” but said it would be “unjust if such recognition were to equate the union of same sex persons with that of marriage.”

“Not wanting to discriminate against homosexual people does not authorize the state to confuse the natural order of marriage and the family,” they said.


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.