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Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza

Statue of Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza, Monastery of Saint Bartholomew-Saint Anthony, Vicenza, Italy
Image: Statue of Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza | Monastery of Saint Bartholomew-Saint Anthony, Vicenza, Italy | photo by Claudio Gioseffi

Saint of the Day for October 27

(c. 1200 – 1271)
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Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza’s Story

Dominicans honor one of their own today, Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza. This was a man who used his skills as a preacher to challenge the heresies of his day.

Bartholomew was born in Vicenza around 1200. At 20, he entered the Dominicans. Following his ordination, he served in various leadership positions. As a young priest, he founded a military order whose purpose was to keep civil peace in towns throughout Italy.

In 1248, Bartholomew was appointed a bishop. For most men, such an appointment is an honor and a tribute to their holiness and their demonstrated leadership skills. But for Bartholomew, it was a form of exile that had been urged by an antipapal group that was only too happy to see him leave for Cyprus. Not many years later, however, Bartholomew was transferred back to Vicenza. Despite the antipapal feelings that were still evident, he worked diligently—especially through his preaching—to rebuild his diocese and strengthen the people’s loyalty to Rome.

During his years as bishop in Cyprus, Bartholomew befriended King Louis IX of France, who is said to have given the holy bishop a relic of Christ’s Crown of Thorns.

Bartholomew died in 1271, and was beatified in 1793.


Reflection

Despite oppositions and obstacles, Bartholomew remained faithful to his ministry to God’s People. We face daily challenges to our faithfulness and duties as well. Perhaps Bartholomew could serve as an inspiration in our darker moments.


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Catholic doctor honored for service during COVID-19 pandemic

Major Daniel E. O'Connell, MD, MPH, receives the 2021 Catholic Doctor of the Year Award on Oct. 26, during the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ annual Mass for Catholic Healthcare Professionals. / Mission Doctors Association.

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 26, 2021 / 18:39 pm (CNA).

A neurologist who responded to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City in 2020 has been awarded this year’s Catholic Doctor of the Year Award. 

Major Daniel E. O'Connell, MD, MPH, received the award Oct. 26 during the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Mass for Catholic Healthcare Professionals. 

“Dan had shared his journey at the height of COVID in New York, and his service really stood out,” said Elise Frederick, Executive Director of the Mission Doctors Association, which bestows the award. 

“Being able to let one’s faith lead in an environment where you are surrounded by others who share your faith is one thing, but doing so, quietly witnessing your values in such critical and challenging times takes a true leader.”

O’Connell was raised in the Catholic Church, and he said his Catholic faith is integral to his medical career. 

“I certainly cannot see myself doing medicine without my Catholic Christian foundation,” he said. “I think that is a major driver— if not the ultimate driver— for me doing it, because I can’t imagine being a physician without that foundation.”

He attended public schools until medical school.

“I specifically sought out a Catholic medical school, which I think is somewhat unique in the modern era,” O’Connell said. “I never had that Catholic school experience, and...I wanted my grounding as a physician to be of Catholic origin.”

He attended medical school at the University of Loyola in Chicago. O’Connell said he found that Loyola emphasized ethical treatment of patients, with a grounding in Catholic spirituality. 

He recalled the first day of an anatomy class. Medical students learn anatomy from individuals who have donated their bodies postmortem to the school. O’Connell remembers a Catholic priest blessed the cadavers, and prayed for the souls of the individuals who had donated their bodies. 

“And there was a pledge to treat these cadavers … with the utmost respect,” O’Connell said. “I thought that was a great initial grounding, moving forward in our training as physicians with that Catholic mindset of respecting the human person, the dignity of the human person.”

Today, O’Connell is a practicing neurologist, with a specialization in neuro-oncology and pain management. He is also a medical officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

He first got involved in the military in college, through Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. After college, O’Connell enrolled in the Individual Ready Reserve. 

His first assignment with the IRR was in 2019 to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, in response to a shortage of medical personnel in the state. 

On April 4, 2020, O’Connell was asked to deploy within 24 hours to New York City, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He met with other reservists at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. 

“And from there, within a day's time or so, we took buses up to a deserted Times Square,” he said. 

O’Connell was familiar with New York City, because he did his internship in internal medicine at New York Medical College. 

“It [did] not even feel like New York,” he said. “It totally changed my perception of the city. It was a ghost town when we arrived, and entirely deserted.”

O’Connell assumed he would serve at the Javits Convention Center, which had been converted into a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients. But active duty military were helping to run that. 

“The greatest need turned out to be in the surrounding community hospitals, and the various boroughs of New York City, which are extremely dense in population, and — especially in areas where we were assigned— are disproportionately impacted by the COVID crisis for a number of reasons,” he said.

O’Connell was assigned to serve at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, which he said was the second-most hit hospital in the city at the time. His work was limited to the ninth floor, which was a medical surgical unit that had been converted into a medical ICU. 

He said the floor had about 30 rooms that held about 60 patients. He remembers the hospital drilled holes into the walls for wires to pass through from patients in the rooms to machines in the hallway. 

“That's how sort of desperate the situation was,” O’Connell said. “Temporary ventilators had to be put into the rooms, and they had to put IV lines— because there was no space in the rooms themselves, they're not built to be a medical ICU — in the hallway outside.”

O’Connell is a neurologist, but his training included a year of internal medicine and three years of inpatient neurology. Still, he wasn’t certain how his skill set would translate to the needs of the patients before him. 

“I did not know what to expect initially, but I was assigned to a floor team along with residents,” he said. “And, believe me, the last thing I wanted was to be a resident again. For anyone who knows anything about medicine, they can understand why. It was certainly a humbling experience.”

“The nurses and the respiratory therapists, in my opinion, did the bulk of the work, because the care [was] largely supportive.”

He said the majority of his time was spent doing essentially grunt medical work, though he did perform the occasional neurology exam. Between four and six days a week, O’Connell would check on patients, and help treat any conditions they suffered in addition to COVID-19. Many of his initial patients were older, and had medical conditions that were frequently exacerbated by the coronavirus. 

O’Connell spent two months at Lincoln Hospital in New York City, and he estimates several dozen of his patients died from COVID-19 related respiratory compromise, or from worsening comorbidities in the setting of COVID-19 infection, during that time. By the end of his deployment, the number of COVID-19 patients on his floor had dropped substantially, allowing for a smooth transition of military reservists out of the hospital.

It has been more than a year since O’Connell’s deployment for the COVID-19 pandemic, and he is still processing the experience. 

“My analogy is the 100 year flood,” he said. “It's something that you don't expect at all, but that you try to have some level of preparation for.”

“But one of the reasons why I joined the military reserves is to have an opportunity to assist, should something like this happen, as a military medical doctor.”

O’Connell said he struggled to accept the Catholic Doctor of the Year Award, because he believes respiratory therapists and nurses were the true heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he dedicated the award to them. 

“They're really the ones assisting us with the COVID crisis, because...there is no cure for COVID, so to speak,” he said. “There's no treatment that you can give, in real time, for an acute COVID infection that will kill the virus immediately. Because of that, the needs are one of making the patients as otherwise healthy as possible, to diminish the likelihood of multisystem organ failure and other comorbidities.” 

Still, O’Connell hopes his witness will encourage other doctors to let their faith guide their careers. 

“Serving in a mission doctor capacity doesn't always mean traveling to the opposite side of the world, to a remote location and helping individuals,” he said. “You can also do that locally.”

Mission Doctors Association will begin accepting nominations for its 2022 Catholic Doctor of the Year Award in January. 

Past recipients of the Catholic Doctor of the Year Award include general surgeon and active missionary sister, Sr. Deirdre Byrne, who was a first responder on 9/11; and Dr. Tom Catena, a Catholic international missionary doctor. The award was given to ‘All Catholic Healthcare Workers’ in 2020.

In India, Cardinal Alencherry again rejects allegations of illegal land deals

Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly / Emmanuel Parekkattu via Wikimedia (CC BY SA 4.0)

Kochi, India, Oct 26, 2021 / 17:21 pm (CNA).

Cardinal George Alencherry and his spokesman continue to reject claims of illegality in controversial land deals in the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. They say Indian federal officials’ new money laundering investigation is revisiting claims that previous investigations have found baseless.   

Father Abraham Kavilpurayidam, the spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, said the probe of the cardinal “is no doubt an attempt to target him and tarnish the image of the church.” A local court has exonerated the cardinal and a special Kerala police team found the accusations were baseless.

“Cardinal Alencherry is being persecuted through no fault of his own. The cardinal surely will come out of it clean,” he said, according to UCA News.

The spokesman cited an October 2020 report in which “a special team of Kerala police’s Crime Branch probed all the allegations thoroughly and gave him a clean chit.” The police investigation into allegations of misappropriated funds resulted in a court report recommending the dismissal of the case. It was based on “a mistake of the facts.”

However, the Indian government’s financial crimes investigator, the enforcement directorate, is now looking into these deals, and India’s high court has thrown out the cardinal’s petition to dismiss other charges.

In late 2019 Alencherry, along with the former financial officer of the archdiocese and a real estate agent, had faced charges in Ernakulam District Court that the cardinal sold archdiocesan land at undervalued prices, for a loss of $10 million.

In August, this district court dismissed the charges, saying there were no prima facie grounds to proceed.

Kavlilpurayidam characterized the new probe as “part of a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the cardinal and the church he heads.” According to the spokesman, the probe is based on the allegation that Alencherry received money that was not accounted for.

Though the district court dismissed one case, the cardinal faces a trial on seven similar charges alleging conspiracy, breach of trust, fraud, and other charges related to the land deals. Alencherry had petitioned the Kerala High Court to throw out the cases, but the court dismissed his petition.

Kavlilpurayidam said the charges aim “to discredit the cardinal before the public and also the vibrant church he heads.”

Alencherry is the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which has a synod of bishops as its governing body. The Church, based in the southern India state of Kerala, is an Eastern Catholic Church. There are some 2.3 million Syro-Malabar Catholics in India.

The cardinal’s archdiocese had sought to settle a major loan from South Indian Bank by selling three acres it owned in Kochi. However, it has only received a third of the sale value of the property.

Tax authorities levied a fine of over $1 million against the archdiocese because the documented sale price was far lower than the market rate, The Hindu, an Indian daily, reports. This adds to a previous fine for alleged financial discrepancies.

In July 2019, another Church spokesman said that Alencherry acted in good faith in the land deals and had the support of the Vatican.

Father Abraham Kavilpurayidathil, then-press officer for the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala, told CNA that in his view, the land deal was more complicated than is usually reported, and that Alencherry's actions were an effort to make the best decisions in an unexpected situation.

When the broker did not receive the money the diocese expected in the deal, the cardinal asked the broker to register in the archdiocese’s name two of the broker’s own plots of land, as security for the money owed the archdiocese.

“By doing so, in fact, Cardinal Alencherry tried his best to save the archeparchy from the loss in the land sale deed,” the spokesman told CNA in 2019. He characterized any failings as “technicalities” that could be internally remedied.

The archdiocese’s financial council gave permission for the sale, though not the synod of bishops which would usually need to approve a sale of this size.

In November 2017 the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly’s canonical presbyteral council had publicly accused Alencherry of involvement of dubious land deals. The council’s representatives charged that the cardinal, two senior priests, and a real estate agent sold land at undervalued prices, for a loss of $10 million. They accused the cardinal of bypassing the canonical body's authority.

The Vatican withdrew Alencherry's administrative authority in June 2018, appointing a temporary administrator to lead the diocese in his place, while the cardinal formally remained the archbishop. The apostolic administrator sent reports back to the Vatican about diocesan finances.

In June 2019, the Vatican restored the cardinal to his administrative duties, ordering him to submit monthly budget reports and other relevant documents to the Syro-Malabar permanent synod and to comply with all civil laws.

The reinstatement drew some protests, but the scope of these protests was disputed. The Associated Press reported that several hundred priests protested the Vatican's decision. 

Kavilpurayidathil, however, told CNA that only one priest took on a hunger strike in protest of the cardinal. This priest was supported by some priests, but not hundreds.

The Church spokesman had claimed that the allegations against Alencherry are part of a coordinated attack against the cardinal. He said these were attempts at defamation of the cardinal by “a small group who constantly demands that he should resign.”

“For this purpose, somebody forged a few documents that show cardinal transacted money to business firms, that he has membership in famous clubs, that he convened business meetings along with some other bishops of the Latin Church of Kerala in a commercial institution,” Kavilpurayidathil told CNA.

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Orthodox leader discusses religious freedom, climate change with Biden

null / Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2021 / 13:40 pm (CNA).

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I discussed religious freedom and climate change with U.S. leaders on Monday in Washington, D.C., and announced an interfaith initiative to encourage vaccination against COVID-19.

After the Orthodox patriarch met with President Joe Biden on Monday, Oct. 25, the White House stated that the two leaders “discussed efforts to confront climate change, steps to end the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of religious freedom as a human right.” 

Bartholomew also met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday. A State Department spokesperson said afterward that the two “discussed the U.S. commitment to supporting religious freedom around the world.” Their discussion also included the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey.

“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed that the reopening of the Halki Seminary remains a continued priority for the Biden Administration,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. 

Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople since Oct. 22, 1991, is viewed as “first among equals” of the various Eastern Orthodox churches. On Monday, President Biden congratulated him on his 30th anniversary as patriarch, and Pope Francis in an Oct. 22 letter expressed gratitude for his “profound personal bond” with Bartholomew. 

The 81-year-old Orthodox leader was hospitalized on Sunday as a precaution, after suffering from exhaustion upon arriving in the United States, but he was released on Monday. Bartholomew is scheduled to be in the United States until Nov. 3, and on Oct. 28 he will be receiving an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame.

The Orthodox patriarch also announced a new interfaith initiative to encourage COVID-19 vaccination on Monday.

After meeting with Biden, Bartholomew told the press that Biden is “a man of faith and vision" who “will offer to this wonderful country and to the world the best leadership and direction within his considerable power.” 

Bartholomew said that he would be working alongside Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Muslim and Jewish leaders to encourage vaccination against COVID-19. 

“We shall make an appeal to the whole world to facilitate the vaccination of everybody,” he said, emphasizing the need to vaccinate the world’s poorest, “so that everybody may be safe.” 

"The president accepted our common initiative with great satisfaction,” he said. 

Speaking with Secretary Blinken, the patriarch said that he was “grateful to the American administration, the administration of the United States, for the continuous support for the Ecumenical Throne and its ideas and values which we try to protect, struggling at the same time to survive in our historic seat in Istanbul.”

Bartholomew met with Biden ahead of Friday, Oct. 29, when Biden and his wife Jill will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Why the next bishop of Hong Kong has a giraffe in his coat of arms

Hong Kong Bishop-elect Stephen Chow Sau-yan. / Screenshot.

Hong Kong, China, Oct 26, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Hong Kong is famous for having long been one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. It is one of the last places on earth one would expect to find a giraffe.

Yet for the incoming bishop of Hong Kong, the animal from the African savannah has significant symbolic value, so much so that he decided to feature the tallest living animal in his episcopal coat of arms.

The coat of arms of Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong. Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.
The coat of arms of Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong. Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.

Bishop-elect Stephen Chow Sau-yan, the former head of the Jesuits’ Chinese province, is scheduled to be consecrated as a bishop in the city’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 4.

Ahead of his episcopal ordination, the Diocese of Hong Kong shared an image of the incoming bishop’s coat of arms with CNA, along with an explanation of the crest that Chow provided to the local diocesan newspaper of some of its less traditional imagery.

One of the coat of arms’ most notable features is not only the inclusion of a giraffe in itself, but that the animal’s long neck extends out beyond the bounds of the shield.

For Chow, this long neck symbolizes being able to see the big picture.

“Short-sightedness can cause fear in oneself. Looking with vision can help one calm down,” the bishop-elect told the Sunday Examiner.

Chow also noted that giraffes are known for having big hearts to pump enough blood to their heads, and can therefore be considered a symbol of generosity. A giraffe’s heart can weigh up to 25 pounds and has a thick left ventricle.

The Jesuit priest, who formerly served as a teacher at Wan Yan College, said that this idea of a giraffe being a symbol of having a generous heart and a broad perspective was something that he shared with his students.

“I received some pictures of giraffes from students which were posted in my office in Wan Yan College,” he said.

The tradition of Catholic bishops and popes having a coat of arms dates back to the heraldic tradition of the Middle Ages.

Traditionally each non-papal shield is topped with a galero hat above a cross and surrounded by tassels — green for bishops and red for cardinals — with a scroll containing the bishop’s motto beneath.

Along with the giraffe, Chow’s shield also includes some traditional Christian imagery, including a dove, a biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit, and a sun containing the IHS monogram for the name of Christ, which is the symbol of the Jesuit order. Pope Francis also has this symbol on his episcopal crest.

Chow’s episcopal motto, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” (“For the greater glory of God”), is another nod to his Jesuit identity.

In the shield’s center is a multicolored Celtic knot, which the diocese said was a symbol of “unity in plurality.”

Beneath the rainbow-colored knot is a red suspension bridge, more specifically Hong Kong’s Tsing-Ma Bridge.

Chow described the inclusion of the bridge as a symbol of the mission of the Church to form a bridge for different parties to meet each other.

“The bridge itself is for people to step on. Without people walking, the bridge is not useful anymore,” he said.

Commentary from the Asia News outlet noted the selection of the Tsing-Ma Bridge over the city’s famous Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest cross-sea bridge, which was built from 2009 to 2018 to connect Hong Kong and Macau with mainland China.

The Tsing-Ma Bridge, in contrast, connects two islands within Hong Kong territory itself. Asia News suggested that this could signify “bridge-building” within Hong Kong’s internal divisions.

Like the rest of Hong Kong’s population, the city’s Catholic community has faced challenges and division in the wake of the government crackdown on pro-democracy protests of a controversial extradition law in 2019 and against the local government’s decision to push a national security law in 2020.

Chow said at a press conference the day after his appointment last May that he thought that “listening and empathy” were very important to heal divisions, adding that “unity is not the same as uniformity.”

“I really have no big plan, grand plan of how to unify, but I do believe there is a God, and God wants us to be united,” Chow said.

Canadian diocese requires COVID-19 vaccination to attend Mass

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2021 / 11:10 am (CNA).

A Catholic diocese in Canada will be requiring proof of vaccination and identity verification for anyone age 12 or older to attend Mass or other events held at parishes. 

“Effective October 22, 2021, it will be mandatory for all persons 12 and older wishing to attend Masses or Services in our churches to demonstrate proof of vaccination by using the Vaccine Passport: NLVaxPass or by showing proof of vaccination by presenting their QR code before entering our churches,” said an Oct. 15 letter from Bishop Robert Anthony Daniels of Grand Falls to the priests and pastoral leaders of the diocese. 

The Diocese of Grand Falls is located in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Its territory is approximately half of the island of Newfoundland. 

The province enacted its vaccine passport system on Oct. 22, requiring residents to download an app and present proof of vaccination to enter “non-essential businesses.” 

Houses of worship, along with yoga studios, hair salons, bowling alleys, wedding receptions, indoor restaurants, bingo halls, bars, and hockey arenas are all locations where proof of vaccination is required.

Those who have recently turned 12 will have a three-month “grace period” to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before being subject to the vaccine passport system at churches, the diocese said.

Per Bishop Daniels’ letter, those wishing to attend Mass in the diocese have to download the NLVaxPass app, or print out a physical copy of their vaccine QR code to show the ushers before they can enter the church. A different app, NLVaxVerify, will be used by the ushers, greeters, or other volunteers to verify vaccination status upon entry. 

Once vaccination status is verified, a person will then have to show an identification card to go to Mass. For anyone 19 or older, this must be a photo identification. 

“The name on the identification must match the name on the COVID-19 Vaccination Record QR code or other form of proof of vaccination,” said Daniels. If the names and birthdays do not match, ushers are instructed to request an additional ID card. 

Daniels said he had asked the province's Ministry of Health and Community Services “to verify that this step will be necessary.” 

He noted that in certain cases where “it will be a burden for those attending to provide proof,” churches may allow entry with restrictions “for pastoral reasons.” Examples of these situations include funerals and weddings, he noted. 

Despite the implementation of the vaccine passport, capacity at Masses in the Diocese of Grand Falls is still limited to 50%, congregational singing is prohibited, clergy and parishioners must wear non-medical masks at all times, physical distancing is required, and all who enter the church must write down their information for potential contact tracing. 

These restrictions, said Daniels, will be lifted “for those parishes/churches complying with the Vaccine Passport Mandate.” He added that the health ministry “has assured us that we will be notified in a timely manner to effect those changes in our parishes.” 

To speed up the process of verifying vaccination statuses before Mass, parish offices may keep a record of the vaccinated. This can only be done with the consent of each person, however. 

“This is all new to us; there will be a learning curve and there will be glitches,” said Daniels. “Our patience and the patience of our parishioners will be tested. But we cannot let the pandemic win.” 

“Our people need access to the Sacramental life of the Church especially now. Together we can make this work,” he said. 

The other two dioceses in the province have taken different approaches to implementing the vaccine passport system.  

The Archdiocese of St. John’s in Newfoundland, the oldest Catholic jurisdiction in English-speaking North America, has not released public statements concerning the vaccine passport. 

The Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador is requiring vaccine verification “for all non-faith-based gatherings on Church Property beginning on October 22nd,” according to an Oct. 19 letter from Bishop Bart van Roijen.

“This includes any events where parish facilities are rented out or used by third party groups,” he said. “It is the parish’s responsibility to ensure that all groups using their facilities are compliant with proof of Public Health’s Proof of Vaccination mandate, this includes the verification of the person’s personal identification.” 

Masks and physical distancing will still be required, said van Roijen. 

“I would like to extend my gratitude to the priests, ministers, and employees for your cooperation in keeping our parishes safe from the spread of the virus,” he said. “Your attention to these protocols is gratefully appreciated.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Newfoundland and Labrador has reported 1,964 cases of COVID-19, with 15 deaths. There is presently one person reported in the hospital with the disease.

In September, the Archdiocese of Moncton in New Brunswick announced a vaccine mandate for anyone age 12 or older at gatherings in churches, rectories, or community centers of the archdiocese. Several days later, the archdiocese said it would not require proof of vaccination at Masses, baptisms, and prayer groups.

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