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Vatican flags at half-staff in solidarity with coronavirus victims

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2020 / 04:15 am (CNA).- Vatican flags are flying at half-staff on Tuesday in solidarity with the victims of the coronavirus in Italy and worldwide.

“Today, in solidarity with Italy, the Holy See will display flags at half-mast in mourning to express its closeness to the victims of the pandemic in Italy and in the world, to their families, and to all those who generously struggle for its end,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told journalists March 31.

Pope Francis met with the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the Vatican the day prior as the Italian government attempts to confront an outbreak which has led Italy to have the highest number of coronavirus mortalities in the world.

More than 11,500 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy after a total of 101,739 people have been documented by the Italian Ministry of Health as infected with the coronavirus. Throughout the world, more than 37,800 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Italy was the first country outside of China to implement a mandatory lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Conte announced the lockdown on March 9, and has since said that the national quarantine will be extended beyond the original April 3 deadline.

The Italian government has suspended all public religious gatherings, including funerals, throughout the country, and all restaurants, schools, and non-essential businesses remain closed.

Pope Francis also met with the mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi on March 28 at the Vatican. The Holy See did not release any further details about either of the private meetings.

Lazio, the Italian region in which Rome is located, has had 2,914 documented cases of COVID-19, including Rome’s vicar general, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis.

There have been six coronavirus cases connected to Vatican City. The Holy See has tested at least 170 employees for COVID-19, according to the Holy See Press Office, which confirmed that Pope Francis does not have the coronavirus on March 28.

Vatican liturgies for Holy Week and Easter will take place without the presence of people this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will be broadcast live for those quarantined at home.

Pope Francis prays the Church will welcome the homeless during coronavirus

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2020 / 04:14 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed Tuesday for all those who do not have homes to go to during the coronavirus pandemic, that people may be aware of this reality and that the Church will welcome them.

“Let us pray today for those who are homeless, at this moment when we are asked to be inside the house,” he said March 31, “so that society will become aware of this reality and help, and the Church welcome them.”

Pope Francis is offering his private morning Masses in the chapel of the Santa Marta guesthouse for all those affected by the coronavirus. Every day he prays for a particular intention related to the viral outbreak before the start of Mass.

In his homily, the pope reflected on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world, which he said is prophesied in the day’s first reading.

“We have to get used to looking at the crucifix in this light, which is the truest, it is the light of redemption,” he said.

In the first reading for March 31, from the Book of Numbers, one sees God’s wrath, Pope Francis explained. Angry at the complaints of the people, God sent serpents which bit the Israelites and many of them died.

The snake is an “image of evil,” Francis said. The people then turn to Moses and repent of their sins, asking him to beg the Lord to take the snakes away.

Moses prayed for the people and God told him to put a bronze snake on a metal rod, and those who look at it will live, the pope recounted.

This might look like idolatry, but it is a prophecy of when Jesus will be raised on the cross for our sins, he explained.

“Jesus lifted up: on the cross. Moses makes a snake and lifts it up. Jesus will be lifted up, like the serpent, to give salvation,” he said.

He noted Jesus’ words to the doctors of the law in the day’s Gospel passage: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own.”

“But the heart of the prophecy is precisely that Jesus made himself [our] sin for us. He did not sin: he became sin,” he explained.

Francis quoted from the first letter of St. Peter: “He carried our sins upon himself.”

“And when we look at the crucifix, we think of the Lord who suffers: all that is true,” the pope said, encouraging people to meditate on the truth that at the moment he was lifted onto the cross, Jesus made himself the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The crucifixion was torture, “but the truth which comes from God is that He came into the world to take our sins upon himself to the point of becoming sin. All sin. Our sins are there,” the pope argued.

“It is not easy to understand this,” he concluded. “Just contemplate it, pray, and give thanks.”

 

Rome’s De Donatis is first cardinal known to have coronavirus

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, has tested positive for coronavirus. He is the first cardinal known to have the virus.

The cardinal has been admitted to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome with a fever. He is reportedly in good condition, and his close collaborators are reported to be self-isolating, according to a statement from the Vicariate of Rome.

“I feel serene and confident amid this trial,” the cardinal said in a statement March 30. “I entrust myself to the Lord and to support from the prayers of all of you, dear faithful of the Church in Rome.”

“I live this moment as an occasion given to me in Providence so that I can share the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters. I offer my prayers for them, for the whole diocesan community and for the inhabitants of the city of Rome,” the cardinal added.

While Pope Francis is the Bishop of Rome, the day-to-day leadership of the diocese is provided for by De Donatis, who enjoys broad vicarious authority delegated by the pope.

The cardinal, 66, was chosen by Pope Francis in 2014, while not yet a bishop, to offer the Lenten spiritual exercises to the Roman Curia, a job traditionally given to a cardinal. In 2015 he became an auxiliary bishop in Rome, and became vicar general of Rome in 2017. He was created a cardinal in 2018.

One Catholic bishop is known to have died from the virus, which is a global pandemic, and several have been diagnosed with it, among them is New Orleans' Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Nearly 100 priests are reported to have died of the virus.

 

Pope Francis warns of a coronavirus ‘genocide’ if economy prioritized over people

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 11:16 am (CNA).- In a private letter to an Argentine judge, Pope Francis is reported to have warned that government decisions to prioritize the economy over people could result in a “viral genocide.”

“The governments that face the crisis in this way show the priority of their decisions: the people first. ... It would be sad if they opted for the opposite, which would lead to the death of very many people, something like a viral genocide,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter sent March 28, according to America Magazine, which reported it had obtained the letter.

The pope sent a handwritten note in response to a letter from Judge Roberto Andres Gallardo, the president of the Pan-American Committee of Judges for Social Rights, Argentine news agency Telam reported March 29.

“We are all concerned at the increase … of the pandemic,” Pope Francis wrote, while praising some governments for “adopting exemplary measures with priorities that are well targeted at defending the population” and serving “the common good.”

The pope also said he was “edified by the response of so many people, doctors, nurses, volunteers, religious, priests, who risk their lives to heal and defend healthy people from contagion,” Telam reported.

Pope Francis recounted in the letter that he has been in discussions with the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development to “prepare ourselves for what follows” the global coronavirus outbreak.

“There are already some consequences that must be faced: hunger, especially for people without permanent work, violence, the appearance of usurers (who are the true plague of a social future, dehumanized criminals),” he wrote, according to Telam.

The pope’s letter also cited the economist Dr. Mariana Mazzucato, whose published work argues that state intervention can drive growth and innovation.

“I believe [her vision] can help to think about the future,” he wrote in the letter, which also mentioned Mazzucato’s book “The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy,” according to America Magazine.

To combat the spread of the coronavirus, at least 174 countries have implemented COVID-19 related travel restrictions, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

Argentina was one of the first Latin American countries to implement strict coronavirus restrictions prohibiting entry to foreigners on March 17 and implemented a 12-day mandatory quarantine on March 20.

There have been 820 documented coronavirus cases in Argentina and 22 deaths from COVID-19.

“The choice is to take care of the economy or take care of lives. I chose to take care of lives,” Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said March 25, according to Bloomberg.

Global documented coronavirus cases have surpassed 745,000 confirmed cases, of which more than 100,000 cases are in Italy and 140,000 in the United States, reports the Italian Ministry of Health and Johns Hopkins University respectively.

 

Six sisters from same Italian convent have died, as coronavirus spreads among religious orders

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 09:06 am (CNA).- Six sisters in one northern Italian convent have died of coronavirus, and nine sisters are being treated in the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, according to Italian media. Coronavirus is spreading among several religious houses in Italy.

An outbreak in the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity Mother House in Tortona, Italy led half of its 40 sisters to test positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

“Many times as Little Missionary Sisters of Charity we have set ourselves the goal of sharing the lives of the poor and the least, the fragile lives,” Sister Gabriella Perazzi told Vatican News.

“At this moment we share the lives of many people, who throughout Italy and all over the world, experience this fragility in the face of something that comes and upsets the life of a family, like that of a religious community,” she said. “I believe that the Lord calls us today to serve here, in this precariousness.”

After the Red Cross evacuated 19 sisters in the community to a hospital on March 12, the remaining Little Missionary Sisters of Charity were placed under quarantine in another residence.

Sister Gabriella and one other sister remained behind in the Mother House to tend to six elderly sisters who had not tested positive for the coronavirus, but suffer from other health problems.

“We stayed because these sisters need assistance and our motherhouse is for us a sort of retirement home where the [sisters] come after a life spent in service,” she said. “We have remained at our own risk.”

The motherhouse in Tortona is closely connected to the order’s founder, St. Luigi Orione, 1872-1940, who also founded the Sons of Divine Providence, an order of priests and brothers, dedicated to the care of the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported on March 27 that nine sisters remained hospitalized in Tortona’s COVID-19 hospital, and four have been discharged.

The six Little Missionary Sisters of Charity to have died of COVID-19 are Sister Maria Annetta Ribet, 85, Sister Maria Cristina Fontes, 91, Sister Maria Filomena Licitra, 98, Sister Maria Ulisia Felici, 86, Sister Maria Caterina Cafasso, 82, and Mother Maria Ortensia Turati, 89.

The coronavirus can spread quickly in a religious order because of their shared community life. In two Rome convents, at least 58 religious sisters have tested positive for the coronavirus.

A religious community of the Daughters of San Camillo, dedicated to care for the sick, had 40 sisters test positive for COVID-19, one of whom was hospitalized on March 20.

The Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul, which has a convent in Rome, had 19 sisters out of 21 test positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.

A missionary order of priests in Parma, the Xaverian Missionary Fathers, have seen 16 elderly priests and brothers die since February 29, however the religious community could not confirm that all of these deaths were due to COVID-19.

“Adding to the fact that given the health emergency in the city, and having us an internal assistance service with one of our medical confreres, we thought we would not aggravate the workload of the hospital, believing that we would manage it on our own,” Fr. Rosario Giannattasio, superior of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers’ Italian province told Avvenire March 27.

The deceased Xaverian priests and brothers had previously served as missionaries in Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda, Congo, Sierra Leone, and Bangladesh.

More than 10,000 people in Italy have died of COVID-19 according to the Italian Ministry of Health. Among the dead are at least 79 diocesan priests in Italy.

 

Pope Francis: Trust in the mercy and justice of God

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Monday that the Church can trust in the mercy and justice of God.

“Each of us has our own stories. Each of us has our own sins. And if you do not remember them, think a little: you will find them,” Pope Francis said March 30 in his daily Mass broadcast.

“Let us look to the Lord who acts with justice, but is very merciful. Let us not be ashamed of being in the Church: let us be ashamed of being sinners. The Church is the mother of all,” he said.

In his homily, the pope compared the lives and circumstances of two women described in the day’s Mass readings: Susanna and the woman caught in adultery.

The first reading from the Book of Daniel describes a “beautiful and God-fearing woman”, Susanna, who is falsely accused of infidelity by two elders and ultimately justified after Daniel’s examination of the deceitful old men.

The Gospel of John describes an encounter between Jesus and a woman charged by the scribes and Pharisees of committing adultery. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” and then to the woman: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Pope Francis said: “The innocent and the sinner. The Fathers of the Church saw a figure of the Church in these women: holy, but with sinful children."

“Both women were in a dark valley … one fell into the hands of hypocrites and the other into the hands of the corrupt," he said.

Francis noted that both women, the innocent and the sinner, faced a death sentence. The woman accused by the corrupt was “an innocent woman, falsely accused, slandered,” while the one condemned by hypocrites was a sinful woman.

“What does the Lord do with these people? To the innocent woman, he saves her, he brings justice. To the sinful woman, he forgives her. To the corrupt judges, he condemns them; to the hypocrites, he helps them to convert,” the pope said.

“In the first case, the people praise the Lord; in the second case, the people learn what God's mercy is like,” he said.

Francis said that the corrupt put themselves in the place of God and “were unable to ask for forgiveness.”

“May each one of us, seeing how Jesus acted in these cases, entrust ourselves to God's mercy and pray, trusting in God's mercy, asking forgiveness” the pope said.

In his livestramed Mass from the chapel in his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, the pope prayed for people who are paralyzed by fear because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“May the Lord help them to stand up, to act for the good of all society, of the whole community,” he said.

“Because God guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley -- the valley of sin --  I fear no harm for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage,” Pope Francis said at the end of his homily.

Pope Francis prays for those who weep from coronavirus loneliness or loss

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- In his Sunday homily, Pope Francis said it is a grace to weep with those who weep as many people suffer from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many cry today. And we, from this altar, from this sacrifice of Jesus -- of Jesus who was not ashamed to cry -- ask for the grace to cry. May today be for everyone like a Sunday of tears,” Pope Francis said in his homily on March 29.

Before offering Mass in the chapel of his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, the pope said that he was praying for people who are weeping because of coronavirus loneliness, loss, or economic hardship.

“I think of so many people crying: isolated people in quarantine, lonely elderly people, hospitalized people, people in therapy, parents who see that since there is no salary they will not be able to feed their children,” he said.

“Many people cry. We too, from our hearts, accompany them. And it won't hurt us to cry a little with the Lord's weeping for all of his people,” he added.

Pope Francis focused his homily on one line from the Gospel of John’s account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus: “And Jesus wept.”

“How tenderly Jesus weeps!” Pope Francis said. “He cries from the heart, cries with love, cries with his [people] who cry.”

“The cry of Jesus. Perhaps, he wept at other times in his life - we do not know -- certainly in the Garden of Olives. But Jesus cries for love, always,” he added.

The pope said that Jesus cannot help but to look upon people with compassion:“How many times have we heard in the Gospel this emotion of Jesus, with a phrase that is repeated: 'Seeing, he had compassion.’”

“Today, facing a world that suffers so much, in which so many people suffer the consequences of this pandemic, I ask myself: ‘Am I capable of crying as … Jesus is now? Does my heart resemble that of Jesus?'” he said.

In his livestreamed Angelus address, Pope Francis reflected again on the Gospel account of the death of Lazarus.

“Jesus could have avoided the death of his friend Lazarus, but he wanted to make our pain for the death of loved ones his own, and above all he wanted to show God's dominion over death,” the pope said.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days, Francis explained. Lazarus’ sister Martha runs to meet Jesus and says to him: "If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

“Jesus replies: ‘Your brother will rise’ and adds: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.' Jesus shows himself as the Lord of life, the One who is capable of giving life even to the dead,” the pope said after quoting the Gospel.

“Have faith! In the midst of crying, you continue to have faith, even if death seems to have won,” he said. “Let the Word of God bring life back to where there is death.”

Pope Francis said: “God's answer to the problem of death is Jesus.”

The pope called on each person  to remove “everything that tastes of death” from their lives, including hypocrisy, criticism of others, slander, and the marginalization of the poor.

“Christ lives, and whoever welcomes him and adheres to him comes into contact with life,” Francis said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to be compassionate like her Son Jesus, who made our pain his own. Each of us is close to those who are in affliction, become for them a reflection of the love and tenderness of God, who frees us from death and makes life victorious,” Pope Francis said.

'COVID-19 knows no borders': Pope Francis calls for global ceasefire

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appealed for a global ceasefire on Sunday as countries work to defend their populations from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The current emergency of COVID-19 … knows no borders,” Pope Francis said March 29 in his Angelus broadcast.

The pope urged nations in conflict to respond to an appeal made by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on March 23 for an “immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” to “focus together on the true fight of our lives,” the “battle” against the coronavirus.

The pope said: “I invite everyone to follow up by stopping all forms of war hostility, promoting the creation of corridors for humanitarian aid, openness to diplomacy, attention to those in a situation of greater vulnerability.”

“Conflicts are not resolved through war,” he added. “It is necessary to overcome antagonism and differences through dialogue and a constructive search for peace.”

After first appearing in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the coronavirus has now spread to more than 180 countries.

The UN Secretary General said that a global ceasefire would “help create corridors for life-saving aid” and “bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” He pointed out that refugee camps and people with existing health conditions are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses.”

Guterres appealed in particular to those fighting in Yemen to end hostilities, as UN humanitarian advocates fear the potentially devastating consequences of a Yemeni COVID-19 outbreak because the country already faces a significant humanitarian crisis.

Both the Saudi-led forces and Iran-aligned Houthi movement fighting in Yemen both responded to the UN appeal for a ceasefire on March 25, according to Reuters.

“The joint commitment against the pandemic can lead everyone to recognize our need to strengthen fraternal bonds as members of a single family,” Pope Francis said.

The pope also appealed for government authorities to be sensitive to the vulnerability of prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I read an official memo from the Human Rights Commission that talks about the problem of overcrowded prisons, which could become a tragedy,” he said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a warning on March 25 about the potentially devastating effects COVID-19 could have in overcrowded prisons and immigrant detention centers around the world.

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said.

“With outbreaks of the disease, and an increasing number of deaths, already reported in prisons and other institutions in an expanding number of countries, authorities should act now to prevent further loss of life among detainees and staff,” she said.

The High Commissioner also appealed for governments to release political prisoners and to implement health measures in other facilities where people are confined together, such as mental health facilities, nursing homes, and orphanages.

“At this moment my thoughts go in a special way to all people who suffer the vulnerability of being forced to live in a group,” Pope Francis said.

“I ask the authorities to be sensitive to this serious problem and to take the necessary measures to avoid future tragedies," he said.

Vatican does coronavirus testing, says Pope Francis does not have virus

Vatican City, Mar 28, 2020 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The Vatican said Saturday Pope Francis does not have the coronavirus, and that recent testing of 170 Holy See employees for COVID-19 resulted in only one new case.

This brings the total number of coronavirus cases connected to Vatican City to six, papal spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement March 28.

“I can confirm that neither the Holy Father nor his closest collaborators are involved,” the spokesman stated.

The six positive cases include a priest who lives in the same Vatican guesthouse as Pope Francis. The priest, an official of the Secretariat of State, was put into isolation as soon as he presented symptoms of COVID-19, Bruni said.

Tests were carried out on those the official had been in physical contact with and later other Holy See employees were also tested “as a precaution,” bringing the total tested to 170, the spokesman said.

According to Bruni, only one other test came back positive from those tests – a Holy See employee who was in close contact with the Secretariat of State official.

The spokesman said other precautionary measures have been carried out, such as additional sanitation.

The Secretariat of State official is not in critical condition but has been admitted to a hospital in Rome for care and observation, Bruni added.

The Vatican’s first case of the coronavirus was found after a patient tested positive in the city state’s outpatient health facilities March 5. The facilities were then closed for one day to allow for their sanitation.

Of the next three cases to have been discovered, two are employees of the Vatican Museums and one is a warehouse employee.

Bruni told journalists March 24 that these four coronavirus patients “had been placed in solitary confinement as a precaution before they tested positive and their isolation has already lasted for over 14 days; currently they are being treated in Italian hospitals or at home.”

Pope Francis’ schedule has lessened during the coronavirus pandemic, though he continues to have some meetings in the apostolic palace, from where he is also livestreaming his weekly Wednesday general audience and Sunday Angelus during Italy's lockdown.

March 28 the pope met with Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, as well as other Vatican officials.

U.S. Bishops’ Chairman for Domestic Justice and Human Development Praises Lawmakers for Historic Emergency Legislation on Coronavirus Relief

WASHINGTON— Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, praised members of Congress and the President for passing and signing into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), a historic package of emergency relief for those suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. He expressed gratitude for the enormous aid in the bill and noted issues that merit further assistance in the future.

Archbishop Coakley’s full statement follows:

“We are in a time of twin crises and united purpose: during the worst global public health crisis in our lifetimes, we are also experiencing what may be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, around the world, we are united in common purpose of caring for the sick, pursuing a cure, and lifting the human spirit. It is inspiring to see the tireless efforts of health care providers, supermarket employees, and others who are working to keep us safe and healthy. Videos from Italy show people singing to their neighbors from their balconies. Although they must stay home, they found a way to offer beauty and hope.  

“Our government has been hard at work as well. Members of Congress and the President are to be commended for working together through long hours and late nights to reach a bipartisan agreement that provides emergency relief to millions of Americans who are suffering. Given the extraordinary needs of the moment, this $2.2 trillion package is the most expensive single piece of legislation in American history.

“We are grateful for many provisions that will help the poor and vulnerable, including several provisions that will help employers retain their workers, and provisions that will help the many people who unfortunately have been laid off and will need immediate income when present circumstances make getting a new job much more difficult. It is good that there will be direct financial assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, and that there will be an infusion of financial resources for hospitals and charitable institutions which will be asked to do more than ever during this crisis.  

“Nothing is perfect, and there is already discussion of a future round of legislation that will be needed as the crisis continues. There are some areas where aid and relief can improve. We will continue to advocate for those most in need, for food security, for the homeless, for prisoners, for the sick who have large medical bills, for all Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, and for those who have lost friends and loved ones. It was disappointing that certain aid and relief was not extended to the undocumented, and extremely concerning that testing and access to health care coverage was denied to certain immigrants. The health and wellbeing of all in this crisis is threatened if anyone is categorically excluded from getting help.

“On Friday, Pope Francis offered a profound reflection on the Gospel story of Jesus calming the storm at sea. Now is a time of great anxiety and distress. We are less in control than we thought. This Lent is a time to return ever more to our faith, to trust in the Lord even in the midst of all this trouble. As Pope Francis said, the Lord ‘will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.’ We ask the Lord once more to tell us: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Mt. 28:5). And at the urging of Pope Francis, we should accept the advice of St. Peter: ‘Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.’ (1 Pet. 5:7).”

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Pope Francis, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Domestic Justice and Human Development, COVID-19, CARES Act.

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