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Stay hopeful patriarchs urge Mideast faithful
BEIRUT (CNS): Amid Lebanon’s political and economic strife and uncertainty in the Middle East, Catholic patriarchs urged the faithful to forge ahead in hope at Christmastime. 
At least two patriarchs expressed concern about Lebanon’s failure to form a new government since parliamentary elections in May 2018. In his Christmas message, Bechara Cardinal Rai of Lebaon, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, denounced the stalling and procrastination as a “crime.” 
Politicians “do not care about the enormous financial losses suffered by the state and the Lebanese people,” he said in his message from Bkerke, the Maronite Patriarchate north of Beirut. 
In his Christmas message from Beirut, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan was equally urgent in his tone regarding issues surrounding Lebanon’s governmental paralysis. “Instead of a joyous atmosphere, Christmas this year comes rather in a very sad state of mind,” he said. 
“We raise our voices and call on all politicians to bear the responsibility of their indolence in obstructing the formation of the government,” Patriarch Younan said. 
“The consequences of such stagnation are alarming and very dangerous on the entire nation and particularly on the common people,” he said.
Irish president signs abortion law
DUBLIN (CNS): Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, signed new abortion legislation into law on December 20 paving the way for wide-ranging access to abortion in the country. Although takes effect on January 1, by mid-December only eight per cent of family doctors had signed up to provide the terminations.
In a May 2018 referendum, voters opted by a margin of 2 to 1 to lift the country’s constitutional protection of the right to life of unborn children. The new law will permit abortion on demand up to 12 weeks’ gestation. It also will permit abortion up to 24 weeks on unspecified grounds for the health of the mother, and up to birth where the child is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition that means he or she may not live long after birth.
According to figures released by the Department of Health, just 200 of some 2,500 family doctors have signed up to provide abortions. Many have expressed concern that while the law recognises a limited right to conscientious objection, doctors could be forced by the law to refer a patient to another doctor who will provide the abortion.
The Irish Bishops’ Conference said it was “dismayed that, for the most part, the voices of those who voted against abortion in May’s referendum have been ignored.”
A physician, Ruth Cullen, of the Pro-Life Campaign, said the new law “represents the abandonment of authentic human rights for a slogan called ‘choice’ that is nothing more than a code word for the taking of innocent human life.”
She said, “When the hard truth of the new law begins to break through the rhetoric, the public will start to rethink what has happened.”
Vatican opens medical clinic for the homeless
VATICAN (CNS): Just before Christmas the Vatican announced it had opened a new medical clinic for the homeless and the poor, expanding services previously offered in a small space just outside St. Peter’s Square. 
The Merciful Mother Clinic, which has three fully equipped examination rooms, an office and a waiting room, occupies space previously used as a secondary Vatican post office just beyond the northern arm of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square. 
The new clinic is next to the bathrooms and showers opened for the homeless in 2015; a year later, with the help of volunteers, services were expanded to include barbers and doctors once a week. 
The clinic will be open Monday, Thursday and Saturday, according the December 22 announcement from the office of Konrad Cardinal Krajewski, the papal almoner. 
It said that on Monday mornings, podiatrists will be on duty to provide medical attention to patients with foot problems, something very common among the homeless.
Wearing black in solidarity with persecuted Christians
HONG KONG (AsiaNews):  Hundreds of Protestants in Hong Kong turned up for prayer services dressed in black on December 23, in solidarity with Christians facing persecution in mainland China.
The idea spread via online social media and the action was to be repeated on December 30. According to the five Protestant groups that organised the action, at least 47,000 people were reached.
One participant said, “We want(ed) to let mainland Christians know that we have learned of what has happened and we strongly support them.”
In recent weeks, three unofficial Protestant Churches have been closed: the Zion Church in Beijing, the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, and the Rongguili Church in Guangzhou. 

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