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Pence to Notre Dame graduates: Bring values into the workplace

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 16:08

South Bend, Ind., May 22, 2017 / 02:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence challenged University of Notre Dame graduates on Saturday to promote human dignity and the sanctity of life in the workplace.

“I urge you, as the rising generation – carry the ideals and the values that you’ve learned at Notre Dame into your lives and your careers,” Pence told the graduates, praising the university for its rich traditions of defending human life and religious liberty in the face of persecution.

The vice president delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on March 20. He called on the graduates to “be exceptional from this day forth.”

Pence commended the university’s defense of religious liberty, noting that it was among the plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“Just as Notre Dame has stood strong to protect its religious liberty, I’m proud that this President just took steps to ensure that this university and the Little Sisters of the Poor could not be forced to violate their consciences to fully participate in American civic life,” Pence said in reference to the lawsuits.

“I’m so proud that the University of Notre Dame has stood without apology for the sanctity of human life,” he continued, pointing to the university’s efforts to uphold human dignity, through its educational initiatives, social commitment and focus on ethics and culture.

Around 100 students walked out of Pence’s speech on Saturday, according to an estimate by the university reported by CNN. They reportedly did so to represent racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ persons and others who they said would be adversely affected by the administration’s policies.

Pence, formerly a member of the U.S. Congress and the governor of Indiana, was baptized Catholic, but by 1994 he called himself a “born-again, evangelical Catholic.” He had begun attending an evangelical megachurch with his family in the 1990s.

He has recently described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

Pence has a long history of pro-life and religious freedom advocacy, but has also quarreled with Catholic bishops over immigration matters.

As governor of Indiana, he tried to halt the state’s participation in the U.S. refugee resettlement program as he, along with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, questioned the security of the program. This came in the wake of deadly terror attacks in Paris in November of 2015, where a terrorist who was reportedly one of the perpetrators had allegedly entered Europe by posing as a Syrian refugee, according to reports at the time.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, now Cardinal of Newark, had directed Catholic Charities Indianapolis to resettle a Syrian refugee family during that time. He met with Governor Pence in December. Pence’s office said after the meeting that the governor “respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time.”

Pence’s speech at Notre Dame continued the tradition of presidents and vice presidents speaking at the university and receiving honorary degrees.

In May of 2009, President Barack Obama became the ninth U.S. president to have an honorary degree from the university. He spoke amidst controversy over his staunch pro-abortion record.

Then-Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a strong statement saying that Notre Dame “conferred an unnecessary and unearned honorary law degree on a man committed to upholding one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our nation’s history [Roe v. Wade].”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic who supported abortion as a U.S. senator and who was in an administration that issued the controversial contraception mandate, received an honorary degree from the university last year.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the local diocese, said the university should not have honored a politician with “gravely irresponsible” positions on abortion and marriage that are at odds with Church teaching.  

“We should seek to honor those who act to protect human life and dignity from conception to natural death, who respect true marriage and the family, who promote peace, justice, religious freedom, solidarity, the integral development of the poor, the just treatment of immigrants, and care for creation,” he stated last March. “We should not honor those who may be exemplary in one area but gravely irresponsible in another.”

In his speech this weekend, Vice President Pence called for the university to continue to foster a free discussion of ideas, as free speech has been curbed in much of academia.

“Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed – where opposing views are debated and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear,” he said, adding that the university “is an exception” and is “an island in a sea of conformity.”

Many schools have “speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness,” he said, which “are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. And they are wholly outside the American tradition.”

Pence also exhorted the university’s graduates to “have faith.”

“Strive every day to lead for good with courage and conviction.  Live your life according to the precepts and principles that you have learned and seen here at Notre Dame,” he said.

“And in all that you do, have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you – because He never will.”


Sanctions on Syria's military a good step, Christian advocate says

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 12:35

Washington D.C., May 22, 2017 / 10:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that issues additional sanctions against supporters of Syria’s Assad regime, and those providing arms for the regime.

“This bill is a big step in the right direction,” Phillippe Nassif, executive director of the group In Defense of Christians, told CNA.

The House passed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act May 17, issuing additional sanctions on the Assad regime and its “backers,” especially human rights violators and those involved in the trade of weapons or weapons parts with the regime. Those supporters could include Russia and Iran, international allies of Assad.

The Syrian civil war is now in its sixth year, and over 400,000 have died, with over 11 million displaced from their homes, including 5 million registered refugees. Civilian witnesses have given testimonies to the carnage – hospitals bombed, chorine gas bombs unleashed, and starvation are only some of the atrocities that have been inflicted.

Christian leaders in the area have denounced the trafficking of weapons into Syria as something which helps the conflict continue. Wednesday’s bill at least claims to target those supporting the Assad regime’s air force and those doing business with the regime.

The bill also directs the State Department to assist those investigating war crimes in Syria.

Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced the arms trade. In his September 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress, he emphasized that Christians must ask “why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?”

“Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade,” he said.

Last July, in a video message promoting peace in Syria, he lamented that “while the people suffer, incredible quantities of money are being spent to supply weapons to fighters.”

Some of the arms suppliers “are also among those that talk of peace,” he said. “How can you believe in someone who caresses you with the right hand and strikes you with the left hand?”

House leaders cited recent atrocities committed by the Assad regime as a further motive of the sanctions – the deaths of over 90 civilians by sarin gas back in April after pro-government forces bombed a neighborhood in Idlib, and the Saydnaya military prison run by the Assad regime where Amnesty International estimates that up to 13,000 prisoners were executed in five years, along with repeated torture.

These atrocities, along with the repeated bombings of hospitals and killing of humanitarian workers and obstructing aid convoys trying to reach vulnerable populations, call for action, members of Congress insisted.

“If you’re supporting this murder – if you’re enabling the Butcher in Damascus to continue waging that sort of violence against his own people – you’re going to face consequences,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated on the House Floor on Wednesday.

“This bill would sanction anyone who provides material support for the Assad regime,” he explained. “We want to go after the actual hardware that keeps his war machine running: the planes and bombs that terrorize the Syrian people, and the spare parts and oil that keep everything running.”

Supporters of the bill expressed their hope that sanctions would drive parties toward international peace negotiations.

“IDC hopes that these steps will result in the swift resolution of the conflict, the substantial defeat of ISIS, Al Qaeda affiliates, and Iranian backed extremist groups in Syria and the Middle East; promotes stability in Lebanon and Jordan; and end the human rights catastrophe, now in its sixth year,” Nassif stated.

“For there to be peace in Syria, the parties must come together,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated. “And as long as Assad and his backers can slaughter the people of Syria with no consequences, there is no hope for peace.”

For sanctions to really work, however, they must be enforced and the perpetrators who are being targeted must be publicly shamed.

The bill does allow the president the flexibility to suspend the sanctions if serious peace negotiations are taking place and the violence against civilians in Syria has stopped. It also directs the president to report to Congress on the names of all those responsible for serious human rights abuses.

However, the actions could also show hypocrisy from the U.S., some claim, as it is set to approve a $300 billion arms deal with ally Saudi Arabia which, according to Hillary Clinton’s emails unearthed by WikiLeaks, has covertly funded the Islamic State in the past.

Justice Alito warns seminarians religious liberty is in danger

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 05:04

Philadelphia, Pa., May 22, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his address to graduating seminarians on Wednesday, United States Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. emphasized the importance of religious freedom and the dangers it faces today.

Religious freedom means that “no one is forced to act in violation of his own beliefs,” Alito said, according to Catholic Philly. “Most of my life Americans were instilled in this,” he added, and urged the audience “keep the flame burning.”

Alito gave the keynote address at the concursus ceremony for the graduating class of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia May 17, where he also received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honorus Causa, from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

He was awarded the degree “in testimony to and recognition of his many outstanding contributions to society … especially in protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life, the full responsibilities of the human person and promoting true justice and lasting peace,” Archbishop Chaput said.

Alito, 67, is a practicing Catholic from an Italian family in Trenton, New Jersey, and was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush, where he has served since January 2006.

He wrote the majority opinion for the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case, in which the court allowed for closely-held, for-profit corporations to be exempt from a regulation its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law's interest, according to the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

He also wrote a dissent from the majority opinion in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, in which the Supreme Court held that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage.

Prior to his address, in an interview with the St. Charles Borromeo blog Seminarian Casual, Alito again spoke about religious freedom as well as the effect his faith and family has had on his career.

Religious freedom is “one of the most fundamental rights” in the United States, Alito said, and the founding fathers “saw a vital connection between religion and the character needed for republican self-government.”

“What the founders understood more than 200 years ago is just as true today,” he said, though “(t)here is cause for concern at the present time.”

In his Obergefell dissent, Alito said he “anticipated that… 'those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.’”

There is already evidence of this happening, he said, such as in a case the Supreme Court declined to hear, in which a pharmacy was being forced to sell emergency contraceptives despite their religious beliefs against them. He said he anticipates even more struggles for religious freedom in the years to come.

“This is not an easy time to be a priest, but priests are desperately needed,” he said.

In particular, priests of the 21st century are needed to “express what is essential about the faith in a way that registers with a culture that speaks a different language. It is a daunting task, but that is essentially what was done by brave priests in the past who took the faith to every corner of the globe,” he said.

“One priest who especially stands out in my memory is the pastor of the church in New Jersey that we attended before moving to Washington. He had a marvelous way of speaking to the parishioners in a way that was seemingly simple but attractive and ultimately profound.”

When asked how his Catholic faith has shaped him, Alito said his faith provides him meaning and purpose.

“The title of a book by Tolstoy has been translated as What Then Should We Do? My faith gives me an answer. It would be terrible to think that life has no meaning, that we are going nowhere, and that what we do until we die is a matter of indifference. That is what tortures so many today.”

He added that the strong family values with which he was raised influenced the way he raised his own family, and that he is grateful for a career that allows him some flexibility to be able to spend time with his family.

“Nothing on this Earth is more important to me than my family,” he said.

“I have been fortunate to have jobs that allowed me to control my work schedule to a very great degree,” he said. “Very few people today have this luxury, and it is hard for busy people to balance work and family life. Our society needs to do a better job of making this possible.”

Despite pleas from bishops, immigration arrests soar in 2017

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 06:19

Washington D.C., May 20, 2017 / 04:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Immigration arrests have risen sharply in 2017 compared to the previous year, after the Trump administration unveiled stricter immigration policies, which were decried by the U.S. bishops.

In the first 100 days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on the subject, immigration arrests are up almost 40 percent compared with the same time last year.

According to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations deportation officers made 41,318 immigration arrests between Jan. 22 and April 29, 2017, more than 400 arrests per day and up from 30,028 made between Jan. 24 and April 30, 2016.

“These statistics reflect President Trump’s commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board,” ICE’s acting director Thomas Homan stated.

In January, President Trump had directed in an executive order that his administration intended on enforcing federal immigration law, and called for a wall be constructed on the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the construction of additional immigrant detention centers and the hiring of new immigration officials.

Then in February, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memoranda implementing the order.

The new DHS rules called for, among other things, speeding up deportations, the construction of new immigrant detention facilities, enforcement of federal immigration law by local law enforcement officers, and the publication of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, the New York Times had reported.

Also, undocumented parents living in the U.S. who attempt to have their children smuggled into the country could be prosecuted for human trafficking under the new DHS rules.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee warned that the rules would target vulnerable persons along with criminals.

“Taken together, these memoranda constitute the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as ‘priorities’ for deportation, thus prioritizing no one,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Tex. stated after the rules were issued.

With local police officers enforcing federal immigration law, this could disrupt their relationships with immigrant communities, the bishop continued, as immigrants could not be “fearful of cooperating…in both reporting and investigating criminal matters.”

ICE reported that the rise in arrests was a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policy where criminals would primarily be targeted for arrest, but other undocumented persons, if discovered, would also be detained.

Almost 75 percent of those arrested in 2017 – 30,473 persons – were convicted criminals, ICE said, with convictions ranging from homicide and assault to drug-related charges. “Non-criminal arrests,” meanwhile, jumped to 10,800 in 2017, compared to 4,200 at the same time in 2016.

“ICE agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security, which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens,” acting director Thomas Homan stated. “However, when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law.”

“We are a nation of laws, and ignoring orders issued by federal judges undermines our constitutional government,” said Homan.

Bishops of dioceses along the U.S.-Mexican border signed a joint statement in February calling for the dignity of immigrants to be respected.

“Immigration is a global phenomenon arising from economic and social conditions of poverty and insecurity,” U.S. and Mexican bishops stated. “It directly displaces entire populations causing families to feel that migration is the only way to survive.”

“The migrant has a right to be respected by international law and national law as he/she faces the violence, criminality, and inhuman policies of governments as well as the world’s indifference,” they continued. “Regardless of one’s migration condition, the intrinsic human dignity that every person possesses must be respected in the person of the migrant.”

“They are commonly subjected to punitive laws and are often mistreated by civil authorities in their countries of origin, the countries through which they travel, and the countries of their destination. It is essential that governments adopt policies that respect the basic human rights of undocumented migrants,” they stated.


A new path for Philadelphia’s historic seminary?

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 21:06

Philadelphia, Pa., May 19, 2017 / 07:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid plans for the future of the Philadelphia archdiocese’s historic Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, the seminary and Neumann University have announced a feasibility study into a possible affiliation agreement.

“While this agreement does not presuppose that the seminary will definitely affiliate with Neumann, it does allow both institutions’ academic leaders and others to meet openly and to discuss how such an affiliation agreement may work to benefit both institutions,” said the May 18 announcement signed by Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior of Philadelphia, the seminary’s rector, and university president Rosalie M. Mirenda.

The seminary’s board of trustees in May 2016 recommended that Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia explore the possibility of affiliating the seminary with a local Catholic college or university.

The agreement between the seminary and Neumann University followed “an exhaustive and thorough process,” the announcement said.

Neumann University, located in Aston, Penn., about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia, is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. It has about 3,000 students enrolled total, 2,000 of whom are full-time undergraduate students. It is named for St. John Neumann, who served as Bishop of Philadelphia in the 1850s.

The seminary has been exploring whether to affiliate with a university and move its campus to new buildings on or nearby a partner institution’s campus.

In June 2016, Bishop Senior told that a plan to remain at the seminary’s present site would require $50 million in renovations to its upper campus. The seminary features massive three-story stone structures that date back 100 to 145 years. Its maintenance costs alone are $500,000 per year and still fall short of needs, he said.

“Is it really the best thing to put all that money into those buildings?” the bishop asked.

The seminary enrollment was at 128 in 2013, including seminarians from other dioceses and from religious orders, and increased to 142 in 2014.

Enrollment increased 20 percent in 2015 and 13 percent in 2016, with 160 students enrolling in fall 2016.

Pope Francis stayed at the seminary during his 2015 visit to the United States.

Planned Parenthood to close its only Wyoming clinic this summer

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 08:01

Cheyenne, Wyo., May 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The only Planned Parenthood office in Wyoming will close along with another five offices in the organization’s Rocky Mountain region, though officials said it would still exercise a presence in the state.

The organization’s Casper clinic opened in 1975 and served about 480 clients each year. While Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S., the Casper clinic’s services include abortion referrals, not abortions themselves. The clinic is set to close July 21.

North Dakota is the only other U.S. state without a Planned Parenthood location.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains official Adrienne Mansanares, speaking to the Casper Star-Tribune, said the organization looked at the services and financial health of the Wyoming clinic. Most Planned Parenthood patients in the state go to the Fort Collins, Colorado location.

The Casper clinic has been staffed by a part-time manager and a traveling nurse who visits from northern Colorado.

Planned Parenthood will continue its presence in the state through the Wyoming Abortion Fund, which connects women to abortionists. The organization will continue to offer sex education resources, and its advocacy work will also continue in collaboration with NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming.

“The political footprint and the education we provide will continue to remain,” said Mansanares.  

Whitney Phillips, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the capacity of other Casper providers to supply comprehensive reproductive health care was a factor in the decision to close the clinic. Patients are being referred to several other providers in Casper.

Planned Parenthood’s Rocky Mountain region includes Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and southern Nevada. The Longmont and Parker, Colorado offices will also close, as will New Mexico offices in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, and Farmington.

In a May 17 statement, Phillips said the closures are “difficult but necessary organizational changes” driven by a desire for long-term sustainability.

“This strategic decision will allow us to maintain a fiscally solvent operation that will keep our doors open to patients in the region for the long term,” she said.

The organization’s abortion work has always been controversial, but it has come under severe scrutiny since 2015, when undercover journalists with the Center for Medical Progress recorded Planned Parenthood staff and leaders appearing to plan the sale of aborted baby parts and fetal tissue for profit, which is illegal under federal law.

The Center for Medical Progress videos strengthened efforts to defund the abortion provider, which has received about $500 million in federal funding each year for non-abortion services. Planned Parenthood and its allies responded to the videos with a multi-million dollar publicity campaign to control the damage.

Two videos released in July 2015 appeared to show Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains vice president and medical director Savita Ginde negotiate the sale of aborted baby parts.

The Planned Parenthood affiliate also recently settled a civil lawsuit alleging that two of its employees failed to comply with Colorado law by performing an abortion on a 13-year-old girl who was sexually abused. The lawsuit said employees neglected to report the abuse of a minor to authorities or obtain consent from her parents prior to performing the abortion.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains also contested a 2013 lawsuit by the former executive director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding $14 million of taxpayer subsidies that the group received from the state despite a Colorado constitutional amendment prohibiting the use of tax dollars to fund abortions.

In November 2015, a man fatally shot three and wounded nine in attacks at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. He was later ruled mentally unfit for trial. One victim’s widow, who was wounded in the attack, filed a lawsuit charging that the clinic should have had better security given the history of attacks on clinics.

The first Catholic church in 60 years is being built in Cuba

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 18:30

Tampa, Florida, May 18, 2017 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Funded by a parish in Florida, a new Catholic church is being built in Cuba and is the first the island nation has seen in 60 years.

Father Ramon Hernandez, pastor of St. Lawrence church in Tampa, said he and his parishioners are happy to see how their funds have financed the project, and said he looks forward to the inauguration Mass taking place early next year.

Saint Lawrence provided $95,000 in donations for the church's construction in Sandino, Cuba, located in the western corner of the country.  

The new church, alongside a refurbished synagogue in Havana, shows Cuba's progress in religious freedom since Fidel Castro ushered in communism during his revolution in the 1960s. Atheism was established as the belief system for the entire state, and many religious leaders were faced with persecution. In 1992, however, Cuba was made a secular state.  

“Cuba is changing,” Fr. Hernandez said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The priest is a native Cuban who celebrated Mass in churches hidden in the homes of faithful families. He left the country in the 1980s.

The new church will be called the Parish of Divine Mercy of Sandino, and will be led by Father Cirilo Castro. The 800 square foot building will have a maximum capacity of 200 people. An estimated 40,000 people live in the coastal town. The town's main industries involve citrus fruits, coffee, and fish.

The idea for the project was first conceived in 2010 by St. Lawrence's former pastor, who wanted a greater spiritual connection between Cuba and Tampa. Tampa and Cuba have already had strong ties over the importation of tobacco in the late 19th century.

During a visit to Tampa last month, Fr. Castro said that the roof was the last piece of the structure, expected to be installed by the end of June. The pews and the altar will be added over the next few months in preparation for the first mass taking place either in January or February of 2018.

The completion of Divine Mercy of Sandino marks a significant step towards religious freedom and amends to the faiths oppressed in previous years. Religions like Mormonism and Islam have also been given room to grow.

“I see the stories of persecution of freedom of religion in Cuba but we now have a mixture of religions,” said José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba's ambassador to the United States in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times last week.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom acknowledged that churches have been dissembled and religious leaders have been arrested even within the past year. But the report reveals that nearly 70 percent of Cuba’s population is Catholic and additional five percent is Protestant, showing a greater attachment to the faith despite government meddling into religious affairs.

Religious persecution still lingers, but developments in religious freedom have notable increased, and this church is one of many planned to be erected in Cuba. Two other Catholic churches are currently under construction in Havana and Santiago. 

Bono thinks Christian artists need to be way more honest

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:08

Washington D.C., May 18, 2017 / 03:08 pm (CNA).- If you’re an ardent fan of U2, you may know that lead vocalist Bono loves the Psalms. The 57-year-old Irish musician has spoken out several times about the inspiration that he draws from reading the Biblical hymns.

And now, Bono says the Psalms offer a lesson for aspiring Christian musicians: If you want to create real art, you need to be way more honest than is typical of the “Christian music” genre.

“Creation screams God’s name. So you don’t have to stick a sign on every tree,” he said in a new video interview, released last month.

The Irish rock icon rejected the idea that music or art must be explicitly labeled Christian and limited to overtly Christian messages in order to glorify God.

“This has really, really got to stop. I want to hear a song about the breakdown in your marriage, I want to hear songs of justice, I want to hear rage at injustice and I want to hear a song so good that it makes people want to do something about the subject.”

Bono’s comments came in a five-part video clip series released by Fuller Studio, a group that promotes “resources for a deeply formed spiritual life.”

In another part of the series, Bono said that what he has learned from years of reading the Psalms is the importance of listening and honesty.

He pointed to the Biblical figure of King David, to whom the Psalms are attributed.

After falling in love with a married woman named Bathsheba, King David commits adultery with her and then arranges a plot to kill her husband, a soldier, to cover up the subsequent pregnancy.

The evils committed by King David are “mind blowing,” Bono said, and yet he was able to find grace and redemption.

The honesty of giving expression to the real things that are going on in one’s life is the key to good art, he said, encouraging Christian musicians that their goal is to create art, not advertising.

“I want to argue the case for artists or potential artists who might be listening in on our conversation and are not giving expression to what’s really going on in their lives because they feel it will give the wrong impression of them.”

“Brutal honesty,” he went on to say, “is the root. Not just to a relationship with God, but it’s the root to a great song. That’s the only place you can find a great song. The only place you can find any work of art, of merit.”


This new technology could produce babies from skin cells

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:02

Washington D.C., May 18, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Within the next 10-20 years, a new and controversial fertility technology called in vitro gametogenesis could make it possible to manipulate skin cells into creating a human baby.

However, this groundbreaking research has caused push-back from some critics, like Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, who says IVG would turn procreation into a transaction.

“IVG extends the faulty logic of IVF by introducing additional steps to the process of manipulating the origins of the human person, in order to satisfy the desires of customers and consumers,” Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA in an email interview.

“The technology also offers the possibility of introducing further fractures into parenthood, distancing children from their parents by multiplying the number of those involved in generating the child, so that 3-parent embryos, or even more parents, may become involved,” he continued.

IVG has been successfully tested by Japanese researchers on mice, which produced healthy babies derived from skin cells.

The process begins by taking the skin cells from the mouse’s tail and re-programing them to become induced pluripotent stem cells. These manipulated cells are able to grow different kinds of cells, and are then used to grow eggs and sperm, which are then fertilized in the lab. The resulting embryos are then implanted in a womb.

Although similar to in vitro fertilization, IVG eliminates the step of needing pre-existing egg and sperm, and instead creates these gametes.

But many experts in the reproductive field are skeptical of its potential outcomes and ethical compromises.

“It gives me an unsettled feeling because we don’t know what this could lead to,” Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the University of California, Davis, told the New York Times.

Knoepfler noted that some of the potential repercussions of IVG could turn into “cloning” or “designer babies.” Other dangers could include the “Brad Pitt scenario,” in which celebrity’s skin cells retrieved from random places, like hotel rooms, could be used to create a baby.

Potentially anyone’s skin cells could be used to create a baby, even without their knowledge or consent.

In an issue of Science Translational Medicine earlier this year, a trio of academics – a Harvard Law professor, the dean of Harvard Medical School, and a medical science professor at Brown – wrote that IVG “may raise the specter of ‘embryo farming’ on a scale currently unimagined, which might exacerbate concerns about the devaluation of human life.”

They added that “refining the science of IVG to the point of clinical use will involve the generation and likely destruction of large numbers of embryos from stem cell–derived gametes” and the process “may exacerbate concerns regarding human enhancement.”

Fr. Pacholczyk also pointed to further concerns, saying IVG disrupts the uniqueness of every individual’s sex cells.

“I.V.G raises additional concerns because of the way it manipulates human sex cells. Our sex cells, or gametes, are special cells. They uniquely identify us,” Fr. Pacholczyk stated.

“It is most unfortunate that overwhelming parental desires are being permitted to trump and distort the right order of transmitting human life,” he continued.

Fr. Pacholczyk said that processes like IVG “enable a consumerist mentality that holds that children are ‘projects’ to be realized through commercial transactions and laboratory techniques of gamete manipulation.”  

The Catholic Church teaches that IVF and similar reproductive technologies are morally illicit for several reasons, including their separation of procreation from the conjugal act and the creation of embryos which are discarded.

Pope Francis recently spoke out against the destruction of human embryos, saying that no good result from research can justify the destruction of embryos.

“Some branches of research use human embryos, inevitably causing their destruction. But we know that no ends, even noble in themselves – such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society – can justify the destruction of human embryos,” the Holy Father said May 18.

Although IVG has proven successful in mice, there are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out before it is tested on humans, and will entail years more of tedious bioengineering.

However, Fr. Pacholczyk hopes that potential parents will come to realize that children should not products that can be ordered or purchased by consumers, and should rather be seen as a gift.

“Turning commercial laboratories to create children on our behalf is an unethical step in the direction of treating our offspring as objects to be planned and created in the pursuit of parental gratification, rather than gifts received from the Lord.”

Venerable Stanley Rother's remains re-interred ahead of beatification

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 08:01

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 18, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The remains of Venerable Stanley Rother were exhumed last week and moved to a chapel in Oklahoma City in preparation for the beatification Mass of the first US-born martyr.

“The witness of Father Rother’s life and death has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to me as a seminarian, priest and now as a bishop. I consider it a great gift to be entrusted with overseeing the continuation of his cause for beatification and canonization begun by Archbishop Beltran,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said after the May 10 service.

“His beatification is an unexpected blessing for Oklahoma and for the United States as we celebrate this ordinary man from humble beginnings who answered the call to serve an extraordinary life. His witness will continue to inspire us for generations.”

The body of Fr. Rother, who served as a priest in Guatemala, was taken from Holy Trinity Cemetery in his home town of Okarche, Okla., to the chapel at Resurrection Cemetery in Oklahoma City.

Before his body was exhumed, his family led a prayerful procession to the gravesite. Fr. Rother's remains were later removed form the vault, and examined by medical professionals and verified, as required by the process of beatification.

The martyred priest's body was then placed in a new casket with golden vestments, along with a document signed by those in attendance. A ribbon was wrapped around the casket, sealed with the archdiocese's seal in wax.

The Salve Regina was sung as the casket was re-interred, and a prayer service followed.

“It was a holy day. Father Rother’s presence was felt by many, and we are blessed as the Catholic Church in Oklahoma to present Father Rother’s life to the world,” Archbishop Coakley commented.

A temporary sign now marks Fr. Rother's original gravesite in Okarche, located about 40 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, where the original vault and casket have been re-buried, and a permanent memorial marker is planned.

Fr. Rother's Mass of Beatification will take place Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. It will be said by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and concelebrated by Archbishop Coakley.

Fr. Rother was born March 27, 1935 in Okarche and entered seminary soon after graduating from Holy Trinity High School.

Despite a strong calling, Rother would struggle in the seminary, failing several classes and even out of one seminary before graduating from Mount St. Mary's in Maryland. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1963.

He served for five years in Oklahoma before joining the Oklahoma diocese's mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous persons where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

The work ethic Fr. Rother learned on his family’s farm would serve him well in this new place. As a mission priest, he was called on not just to say Mass, but to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers' co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings, and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Rother remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point; Fr. Rother was constantly seeing friends and parishioners abducted or killed.

In January 1981, in immediate danger and his name on a death list, Fr. Rother did return to Oklahoma for a few months. But as Easter approached, he wanted to spend Holy Week with his people in Guatemala.

The morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Fr. Rother's rectory. They wished to disappear him, but he refused.

Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

Though his body was buried in Okarche, Fr. Rother's heart was enshrined in the church of Santiago Atitlan where he served.

Fr. Rother's cause for beatification was opened in 2007, and his martyrdom was recognized by the Vatican in December 2016, which cleared the way for his beatification.

'We cannot rest' while Christians are being persecuted, advocates say

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 21:41

Washington D.C., May 17, 2017 / 07:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians around the world have been models of forgiveness amidst persecution, but Western Christians must support them, religious leaders insisted at a world summit last week.

“We cannot rest, we cannot be content, we certainly can’t be complacent knowing our sisters and brothers are being oppressed, imprisoned, and killed,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. stated in his May 12 keynote address at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.

“When fellow Christians suffer, we suffer too. Injustice, this extraordinary injustice, should arouse in us the need to speak,” he continued.

Last week’s D.C. summit, hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, featured more than 600 Christian leaders from 130 countries, including those who have suffered persecution in countries like Syria, North Korea, Iraq, Egypt, and Cuba.

The gathering was meant to shed light on narratives of Christian persecution amidst totalitarianism, secularism, tribalism, or religious extremism, and enable leaders to collaborate on pushing for religious freedom and tolerance.

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the summit on Thursday, as well as Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church. Cardinal Wuerl delivered the keynote address on Friday.

Catholic and Orthodox leaders at the summit emphasized that Christians play a vital role as religious minorities in African and Asian countries, acting as peacemakers and bridge-builders in societies fraught with sectarian strife.  

Fr. Douglas al-Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic priest who was kidnapped and tortured for several days in 2006 by terrorists in Iraq, spoke to CNA about the continued Christian witness of forgiveness there, despite the mass displacement of communities at the hands of the Islamic State and the betrayal by their neighbors.

Christians are unique in the sense that they are the only group that is practicing widespread forgiveness, Fr. Bazi said. “Because even (with) what’s happened to us, we are still believing in the future, we are still believing in life, we are still looking forward to live together again.”

Fr. Bazi is now serving in New Zealand, thousands of miles from his former parish in Erbil, Iraq where he ministered to Christian refugees of ISIS. He runs Project 52, which helps disabled children in Iraq with the goal of having them adopted by families in New Zealand.

“My body is in New Zealand, but my heart is still in Iraq,” he said.

When ISIS overran large parts of Northern Iraq in 2014, Christians were given an ultimatum to convert to Islam, leave, or die, and many fled eastward to Erbil.

Now, after ISIS forces have been driven back from the Nineveh Plan and most of Mosul, many refugees have returned to see their homes damaged or destroyed, and their furniture stolen.

One family spent a night in their home but were kept awake by their neighbor yelling that they were infidels, Fr. Bazi said. “No ISIS anymore, but still the mentality of terrorists…the radical way,” he said.

“So my people, again and again, they are between two fires, to live in camps, or to go back again to hell, I mean Mosul.”

As Christians move back into their homes there, “the trust between people, actually, is completely lost,” he admitted. Yet Christians will forgive, and in time the relationships may be mended.

It is imperative that the Christians who can stay in Iraq do so, he maintained, as they will serve as a necessary “bridge” between minorities. “(If) we don’t have Christians, we don’t have examples of forgiveness in Iraq,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Christians are caught in the middle of a proxy war that has raged since 2011 with no immediate end in sight. They co-existed with Muslim neighbors for centuries, but that balance stands to be upset as refugees are forced to flee their homes for elsewhere within Syria or to other countries.

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church told CNA of how the Church there helps those in need, the majority of whom are Muslims.

“We do that, not only because it’s our mission, it’s our faith that teaches us to help everyone,” he insisted, “but also because we want to invest in our future with these people, these our neighbors, our countrymen, women, and our future is together.”

Fr. Alexi Chehadeh, director-general of ecumenical relations and development for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, rejected the idea of dividing Syria into Alawite, Sunni Muslim, and Christian sections.

“We are against this,” he said. “We want a unified Syria under one flag,” adding that he wished “that Muslims and Christians are living together in peace and harmony.”

However, not all Christians around the world are setting an example of neighborliness, tolerance, and forgiveness. “Some of the conflict involving Christian groups and some of the persecution is coming from Christians,” Dr. Timothy Shah told CNA.

Shah is the director for international research of the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

He pointed to examples of Christians persecuting other Christians in Russia, Mexico, Latin America, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine.

In Mexico, for instance, Protestant families have been driven from their villages for their beliefs. “You’re talking about people whose lives are drastically affected,” Shah said. “This simply should not be happening in an era where the Holy Father talks about the ecumenism of blood.”

In Russia, the Supreme Court just outlawed Jehovah’s Witnesses from publicly practicing their faith. In Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has backed “laws restricting conversion,” he said.

Through his rhetoric, the cardinal “is not, let’s be candid, practicing, I think, the kind of spirit of brotherhood with non-Catholic Christians that I think the Holy Father has himself clearly embodied, both when he was archbishop in Argentina and also as Pope,” Shah continued.

Yet there is also a palpable “sense of hope that Christians really can respond effectively” to persecution, he said, citing the recently-released report “Under Caesar’s Sword” which documents how Christians around the world have decided to respond to persecution, many times through non-violence, dialogue, and forgiveness.

Despite the witness to charity of fellow Christians in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, the Western Church must do much more to help them through prayer, charitable giving, and advocacy, speakers at the summit insisted.

Cardinal Wuerl compared the duties of Christians in the West to help their persecuted brethren to Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry his cross.

“Just as Simon of Cyrene stepped forward to help Jesus carry his cross, and for that reason has forever been indelibly imprinted in the iconography of the Christian world, so my brothers and sisters do we have to find ways of stepping forward,” he stated in his Friday keynote address at the summit.

“Life has not greatly improved” for Christians living in the shadow of ISIS, he maintained, as many of the displaced are still homeless and dependent on aid groups for their basic needs.

“Together, alone, individually, collectively, whenever the opportunity presents itself, and even when it is inconvenient, we must lift up our hearts in prayer, our hands in help, and raise our voices in witness,” he said.

In Iraq, for Christians to have a future they must be considered equal citizens under the law, Fr. Bazi explained, and Western Christians can help by pushing for the overturning of Article 2 of the Iraqi constitution, which declares that “Islam is the official religion of the State” and that “no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”

The article states that the constitution “guarantees” freedom of religion, but Fr. Bazi said that since it prohibits any laws contradicting Islam, Sharia law largely applies in practice, and there is no religious freedom.

He hoped the Trump administration could press Iraq to change that article, and that Pope Francis and President Trump will discuss the future of Christians in the Middle East in their upcoming meeting on May 24 at the Vatican.

In Syria, the international community must help provide more aid to those displaced by the conflict as they cannot yet return to their homes and “the churches are overwhelmed with the services they are offering,” Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II told CNA.

But there also must be a lasting end to the conflict through an end to the arms trade and the international community coming together on a peace agreement, he said. Otherwise people will not be able to return to their homes.

“In Syria, particularly, the Russians and the Americans are flexing their muscles there, the Iranians and the Saudis are fighting there,” he said, and Israel and other countries have an interest in the outcome of the conflict. “Unless all these groups come together,” he said, “and agree on a plan, I don’t think peace will be restored.”

Furthermore, groups like ISIS sell oil from Syria and Iraq to Turkish companies and other third parties, including Europeans, and this must stop, he insisted.

As a world leader, the U.S. has a key role in fighting religious persecution around the world, former congressman Frank Wolf told CNA, but in the “past several years” international religious freedom has been “kind of ignored” by members of both parties in Congress.

The Trump administration must make some key hires to ensure that religious freedom has a prominent place in American diplomacy and foreign policy, he said, including the appointment of an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

The previous ambassador, Rabbi David Saperstein, who served during President Obama’s second term, was a “model” for this position, he said, and the next ambassador must have direct access to the Secretary of State and the President, when necessary.

A new law, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which expands upon the previous 1998 law, mandates religious freedom training for foreign service officers. This will be key for embassies to be seen as “islands of freedom” as they were traditionally viewed during the Cold War, especially in Soviet bloc countries, Wolf explained.

If the training is put into practice, and members of Congress have access to a Prisoners of Conscience List, they can have information on persons detained by foreign governments for their religious beliefs and can request to visit these prisoners when they travel abroad.

Asked about the lack of advocacy for persecuted Christians worldwide, Wolf was blunt: “I think the church in the West has failed.”


Archdiocese speaks ahead of Netflix series on murdered nun

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 18:32

Baltimore, Md., May 17, 2017 / 04:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- No one knows who killed Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik.

A young nun who was on a year’s leave of absence, Sister Cathy, as friends called her, was murdered sometime while running an errand on the evening of November 7, 1969. She was 26 years-old.  

Her body was found in a dump two months later, though authorities have never been able to identify her killer.

This summer, a Netflix documentary series called “The Keepers” is reopening the case, talking to witnesses and examining the evidence before the case goes cold forever.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Sr. Cathy are precarious.

A member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame since the age of 18, Sr. Cathy and her friend Sister Helen Russell Phillips both took a leave of absence in 1969 and moved out of the convent into an apartment together.

A thoughtful and well-liked teacher, Sr. Cathy had taught English at Archbishop Seton Keough Catholic High School for several years before transferring to Western Public High School in 1969.

The chaplain of Keough at the time, Fr. A. Joseph Maskell, was later accused by former students of numerous counts of rape and sexual abuse during his time at the school, which first came to light through accusations made in the early 1990s. Fr. Maskell was subsequently removed from ministry, and fled the United States in 1994. He was never charged with a crime before his death in 2001.

Fr. Maskell has been a longtime suspect in Sr. Cathy’s death. Former students of Sr. Cathy believed she knew about the abuses of the priest, as many of the young women felt comfortable confiding in her. Many believe that Fr. Maskell, who was also the chaplain of the Baltimore police at the time, murdered Sr. Cathy to keep her quiet and used his connections to cover up his crimes.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has always denied claims of a widespread conspiracy to cover up Sr. Cathy’s death and to hide the crimes of Fr. Maskell, and it maintains that the archdiocese had no prior knowledge of the sexual abuse of Fr. Maskell or his connection to Sr. Cathy until the ‘90s, when several victims came forward. There is no hard evidence to suggest that the archdiocese was involved in a cover-up of the case.

“Suggestions of a cover-up by the Archdiocese are speculative and false,” the archdiocese said in a recent statement outlining talking points before the release of the Netflix series.

“The Baltimore Sun has retracted its ‘errors’ for reporting that certain police supervisors suggested Archdiocesan interference in 1969-70 since the people cited had actually retired before (sometimes years before) the relevant time-frame,” the archdiocese said.

“The Sun also noted the numerous police officials who stated they knew of no such interference. There is no suggestion that the Archdiocese interfered in any way when the subsequent investigations were occurring in the 1990s. The Archdiocese reported the initial sexual abuse allegation to the authorities in 1993, removed Maskell from ministry and held a public meeting in 1994, and has been transparent with an Independent Review Board since that time.”

Baltimore City police began working the case, focusing on suspects in the Catholic Church. The Baltimore County police took over the case when Sr. Cathy’s body was found two months after her disappearance.

According to reports, she was found with trauma to the head, possibly from a hammer. The discovery of her body barely made the news - the local papers were on strike at the time.  

Because the alleged abuse of Fr. Maskell had not been reported to the archdiocese or the authorities in 1970, when Sr. Cathy’s body was found, Fr. Maskell was not originally investigated as a suspect in the case.

Earlier this month, local media reported that the Baltimore County police exhumed Fr. Maskell’s body to conduct DNA testing, ahead of the Netflix series that closely links him to Sr. Cathy’s murder.

There were few others investigated as possible suspects when the case opened in 1969.

On the night of Nov. 7, 1969, when Sr. Cathy disappeared, she had driven to Catonsville to cash a check, and then went to a bakery in the Edmondson Village Shopping Center. When she didn’t return after what was supposed to be a brief errand, concerned roommate Sr. Helen Phillips contacted Fr. Gerard Koob, a close friend and alleged romantic interest of Sr. Cathy.

Fr. Koob and a friend drove to the women’s apartment, and after talking to Phillips and hearing nothing from Sr. Cathy, they contacted the authorities to report her as a missing person.

Koob, now a Methodist minister, was thoroughly questioned by authorities at the time. His story that he had been at the movies with a friend that evening before learning of Sr. Cathy’s disappearance has held, and he has passed two lie detector tests regarding his whereabouts that night.

Lacking leads and new evidence, the case went cold around 1975, but was picked up again in 1992, after a woman named Jean Wehner came forward and reported that she had been abused at the hands of Fr. Maskell.

The archdiocese removed Fr. Maskell from ministry and sent him away for counseling and evaluation. Having no hard evidence against him, he returned to ministry in 1994.

At that time, Wehner revealed to police that Fr. Maskell had taken her to see Sr. Cathy’s body to “show her what happened to people who crossed him,” according to the Washington Post, and several other abuse victims came forward to accuse the priest.

The Baltimore County police then questioned Fr. Maskell about the case, but he denied both the allegations of murder and of sexual abuse. He was permanently removed from ministry by the archdiocese in 1994, and he fled to Ireland in 1996 without the knowledge of the archdiocese.

The archdiocese has offered to each victim an apology and an opportunity to meet with the archbishop, and has offered to pay for counseling assistance for anyone who may have been abused by Fr. Maskell. Some victims have sought direct financial assistance through a voluntary, pastoral mediation program established by the archdiocese. To date, the archdiocese has provided over $97,000 in counseling assistance and over $472,000 in direct financial assistance to those who may have been abused by the priest.

“It became a healing process for a number of them,” Sheldon Jacobs, an attorney for the victims, said of the settlements reached in 2016.

“Quite a few of them thought it was a cathartic experience,” he told The Washington Post.

The archdiocese said that it was willing to provide comment and to answer questions for the producers of the new Netflix series about the case.

“Unfortunately, the producers asked very few questions of the Archdiocese before releasing the series and did not respond to the Archdiocese’s request to receive an advanced copy of the series. Advanced copies were provided to media outlets,” the archdiocese notes on its website.

Ahead of the series, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has published answers to several frequently asked questions regarding the case of Sr. Cathy, and has reiterated the importance of its “zero tolerance policy” and sexual abuse screening and prevention training for its volunteers and employees.

The seven-part Netflix series “The Keepers,” directed by Ryan White, is set to debut on May 19.

Cardinal Mueller to graduates: 'Dare to be great'

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:01

Front Royal, Va., May 17, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With God’s grace, you can accomplish great things, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller challenged young Catholics at Christendom College last weekend at their 2017 commencement ceremony.

“The summary of all natural and Christian anthropology is to say, ‘Dare to be great in the grace of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen’,” Cardinal Mueller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, told undergraduate students of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

Cardinal Mueller, the college’s 2017 commencement speaker, was the celebrant and homilist at the baccalaureate Mass on May 12 and received an honorary doctorate from the college before his commencement address. He is also the president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” appointed to that post and as prefect of the CDF by Pope Benedict XVI.

“Gerhard Cardinal Mueller has been a strong, consistent voice in defense of the Church’s perennial teaching in the midst of so much confusion in our modern world,” the college’s president Dr. Timothy O'Donnell stated before the prelate’s appearance.

The cardinal focused his May 13 address on “Christian anthropology,” and exhorted the graduates “to be salt and light in the midst of the contemporary world.”

The Christian, he insisted, can only bring about the Kingdom of God on earth by performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy through God’s grace, not solely through his own merits.

“No, the Kingdom of God is grace, and grace brings the Holy Spirit in the world, a new spirit, the spirit of charity that sanctifies and assists, the spirit of understanding, of love, that changes our hearts and introduces in all human relations a movement of freedom,” he explained.

This movement of the Holy Spirit, he continued, includes the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and “other gifts and charisms.”

Through these virtues and gifts, men can be “collaborators with God in the bringing about of His Kingdom,” he said, where “the Church, with the arrival of the Messiah, carries out her mission in the Holy Spirit to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

He warned against seeing Christianity as a “bourgeois” practice of “interiority, only love of neighbor, and individual philanthropy” where salvation is reduced “to the world alone in the sense of social and purely humanitarian NGOs.”

However, he also taught against seeing God’s kingdom “only as above and outside of the world.”

Rather, he continued, “reverence toward God and the responsibility for the world are inseparably connected in Christ, Who did not come into this world to free us from the world, but to lead men and the world to their authentic destiny in the salvific plan of God.”

This does not mean the rejection of non-Christians who perform “good works,” he insisted, as “it would appear wrong to divide in an exaggerated manner Christianity from the rest of humanity.”

“Whomever does the good, even if they do not yet recognize God explicitly, is the mediator of the goodness of God,” he said. “For us grace and nature are belonging together, and are not in a contradiction. Grace and nature, faith and reason, must be distinct (but) not separate.”

Cardinal Mueller also exhorted those in attendance to be on guard against totalitarian ideologies that set themselves up against the vision of God and the Church.

Many ideologies of the 20th century were totalitarian in that they sought to establish their own vision of creation, a “humanism without or humanism against God,” he said.

Forms of totalitarianism exist today, he explained, like “the concept of designing one’s baby,” and the promotion of “euthanasia for those who are too tired to live, or who have become un-useful up to the sociological laboratories that want to make humanity happy with their political and economic theories, but in reality only enslave to their fantasy for omnipotence.”

Christians must fight injustices in the world in the name of human dignity, he insisted.

“Nobody may divert their gaze while the number of souls who go hungry grow, are deprived of their rights and recused to slavery, while the trauma of the refugees arriving on the European shores and the American border increase, and while being in a unified world, the risks and the challenges of globalizations are ever present,” he said.

“At the foundation of this dignity,” he added, “are the rights to lodging, food, and clothing, as well as the right to earn a living for himself and for the well-being of his family.”

The cardinal also warned against what Pope Francis has called the “ideological colonization” of the developing world, where developed countries try to force programs like abortion, birth control, sterilizations, and the approval of same-sex marriage onto developing countries.

Cardinal Mueller called this “an aggressive importation of a deformed image of the human person of the so-called ‘society of well-being’.”

These “developing cultures” cannot be ignored or trampled underfoot, he said, as “variety enriches,” which is also “the message of Pentecost when all peoples in diverse languages announce together the great works of God in the language of love.”

Christians, he insisted, must not only confess God with words, but work to do His will “by holding faithful to the Gospel and benefitting from its resources.”

“Not everyone who cries or confesses ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the Father’s will by taking a strong grip on the work at hand,” he continued. “Now the Father wills that in all men we recognize Christ our brother and love Him effectively in word and in deed.”

“By thus giving witness to the truth, we will share with others the mystery of the Heavenly Father’s love,” he concluded.

“As a consequence, men throughout the world will be aroused to a lively hope, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that some day at the last they will be caught up in peace and utter happiness in that fatherland radiant with the glory of the Lord.”


What the littlest children can teach us about suffering

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 05:02

Denver, Colo., May 17, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “There will be saints among the children.”

So said Pope Pius X, when he lowered the age that children could receive their First Holy Communion. Previously, children had to be 10 or 12, now they are typically in second grade, or about seven or eight years old, though exceptions are made for some who are even younger.

Last weekend, Pope Francis canonized Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the child visionaries of the Fatima Marian apparitions. Bucking tradition, these shepherd children are the first children who were not martyrs to be canonized by the Church. Both died before age 12.

Austin Ruse, Catholic author and president of C-Fam, a family research institute, believes that Pope Francis may have just “opened the floodgates” to scores of saints from the littlest among us.

Several years ago, Ruse was struck by the stories of three children he knew - either personally or peripherally - that all seemed to have a common theme: “little children who died young, suffered greatly, and brought many people to Christ and his Church through their suffering.”

“They were just profound stories and they needed to be told,” he said in an interview with CNA.

In his recent book, “Littlest Suffering Souls,” Ruse tells of the short but significant lives of six children, three of them contemporary children whose families he has met.
Suffering, with ‘countless graces’

One of those children was Brendan Kelly, whose family went to Ruse’s parish, and whose funeral Ruse attended. While he had never met Brendan, Ruse had been praying for him.

Brendan was born to a devout Catholic family in Virginia. His parents, Frank and Maura, met while working in the George H.W. Bush White House in 1990.

Brendan was born with Down syndrome, and a seemingly innate love for Jesus. By the age of two, he loved to kiss crucifixes and statues of saints.

It was also at that age that a test confirmed Brendan had leukemia. He began a series of intense and painful treatments that would become an off-and-on part of the rest of his life.

“But along with the suffering would come countless graces,” Ruse noted.

One of the biggest graces was the “mystical” friendship that Brendan would develop with the pope at the time, Pope John Paul II.

Former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a family friend, personally delivered a photo of Brendan to Pope John Paul II while on a state visit to the Vatican. Once Brendan found out the pope was praying for him personally, he started praying for the pope personally too - every night.

Some time later, Brendan was offered a wish from the Make a Wish Foundation, the group that grants wishes to very sick children - typically a visit to Disneyland, or something along those lines.

But Brendan wanted something different.

“Me meet pope!” the toddler exclaimed. The Make-a-Wish officials were not convinced that this request was coming from the little boy, and so they shooed his parents out of the room. After an hour of questioning, Brendan didn’t waiver.

And so he did meet the pope - at the age of four, Brendan was granted an audience with Pope John Paul II. Not satisfied with the standard brief meeting and shaking of hands, Brendan stood by Pope John Paul II as he greeted everyone in the audience that day. As the pope was leaving, Brendan shouted “Bye, Pope!” and was able to shake hands one last time with the spiritual giant and his personal hero.

Other incredible moments of grace and signs of God’s presence occurred throughout Brendan’s short life. On one occasion, one of Frank’s friends, Peter O’Malley, was in the midst of a terrorist attack at Taj Mahal Palace in 2008.

In his moment of crisis, O’Malley knew who to call for prayers. Brendan prayed, and O’Malley escaped unharmed that night, when 164 people were shot.

His parish priest, Father Drummond, said he was first struck by Brendan’s faith and “absolute joy” as he was preparing him for communion and confession. When Father told him he would get to wear the black and white vestments of an altar boy, “He got a faraway look in his eyes and said quietly, ‘I love those’.”
Throughout his short life, Brendan would suffer bouts of leukemia, and grueling treatments. Before each one, his parents would ask him for whom he would offer his suffering - and he always had an intention.

One of his most frequent intentions was Bella Santorum, Rick Santorum’s daughter, who was born with a rare genetic disorder, Trisomy 18. She was only supposed to live a few months, but Brendan offered his suffering for her throughout his entire life. “Bella, I love you,” he would repeat during moments of pain. She is still alive today, some nine years longer than she was expected to live.

“(Brendan) very early on grabbed onto the idea of offering up his suffering, and he always would do it cheerfully, even though it was unbelievably painful, or it made him incredibly sick, he just knew that throwing up for the tenth time, this time is going to be for somebody, and it was useful,” Frank told CNA.

At the same time, he was a normal boy. He didn’t want to be sick, he loved to play with his siblings and be the life of the party. And he could school anyone in trivia from his favorite T.V. show “The Office.” He could name the season and the episode of any quote from Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute that his family could lob at him.

And so, when sick from leukemia and quarantined for a bone marrow transplant as a teenager, Brendan and his family played office trivia through a small, grainy T.V. - the only way they could communicate during the sterile procedure. Soon a crowd of doctors and nurses joined in the fun.

But it was his profound faith and joyful personality that impacted almost everyone he met, and that drew people to him.

“He wasn’t just this always smiley, (disabled) little child,” Frank said. “He would have very profound conversations with people, and say things that would profoundly impact people.”

When he passed away in 2013, at the age of 16, the line at his wake had to be cut short after three hours of people filing past to pay their final respects to Brendan.

“We had to go outside and thank everybody because it was too long, and there was almost an equal number of people at the funeral Mass the next day,” Frank said.

Since that day, they’ve had hundreds of requests for prayer cards of Brendan.

Frank said it has been a “surreal” experience to have a child whose impact is so great that there are people asking for his prayers.

He said he hopes that people who read Brendan’s story and are experiencing suffering themselves understand that they are never alone.

“Brendan never felt alone, and he knew that people were praying for him, starting with Pope John Paul II to the builders who were working on our house, to people he never knew,” Frank said. Even people in other countries who had never met Brendan had offered their prayers.  

A witness amid the ‘culture of death’

Another suffering soul, Margaret Leo, also had a dad who worked in the Washington, D.C. political scene. Leonard Leo is the executive vice president of the Federalist Society - a law organization to which several federal and Supreme Court justices belong. He also worked for President George W. Bush’s administration at one time.

Though Margaret suffered throughout her life from spina bifida and related complications, she bore everything with a cheerful smile and a simple but profound faith. Her photo now sits on the desk of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ruse names the people impacted by these suffering souls in his book intentionally.

These were not peasant children, like Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, Ruse noted, and that’s important.

“They were born into influence and affluence, into a modern day (moral) desert, and they have a message for the modern day desert - all lives are worth living, there are no useless lives, even short, painful lives have a great deal of meaning,” Ruse said.

“We live in an age that people call the culture of death, aimed largely at the defenseless: children, the elderly, the disabled, the intellectually disabled, and these children are witnesses to the fact that all lives are worth living, even ones that are judged not to be worth living.”

It’s something that Margaret’s mom, Sally, hopes that people understand as they read her daughter’s story.

“Especially because such a high percentage of children with spina bifida and other disabilities are aborted these days, and we barely even ever see them,” she told CNA.

“If that wasn’t the case, we would see these kids walking around, we would see kids with braces or crutches or Down syndrome all the time, but 80-90 percent of them are killed, they’re not even given the chance.”

But in Sally’s experience, “It was a gift.”

Margaret taught them about faith and love in the simplest of ways. She gently pestered her dad until he became a daily Mass attendee. She would ask people when they were going to baptize their new baby, or if they had been confirmed.

“Her faith would invariably come up in any discussion that was more the perfunctory, and it would have an impact on people,” her father, Leonard, told CNA.

But she wasn’t a mystic, her parents insist. She just had a strong attraction to holy and beautiful things, and an intense but simple joy that was attractive to those around her. She loved coloring, and being involved in her siblings’ antics, and holding babies.  

“In other words, you wouldn’t necessarily go away thinking, ‘Oh wow, I just met a saint.’ But she would say to you, ‘Hi, how are you? How was your day? How was your birthday? When’s your confirmation?’ She wanted to know about you, which was really what touched people most about her, because you don’t necessarily find that among strangers,” Sally said.

“Charity and kindness and friendship, but at its most pure and most intense level,” Leonard added.

Margaret’s spina bifida meant that she had to have titanium rods placed in her back to straighten her spine. But instead, Margaret’s back bent the titanium rods - so much so that they ended up protruding from her neck. Despite it all, Margaret did not complain.

“It’s ok,” she would cheerfully say, even when it was clear that it was not.

Today, Leonard keeps the rods on his desk - “to remind me what a real bad day looks like.”  

After Margaret passed away and her story spread, the Leos were surprised at the impact their simple but faithful little girl was having on the people around them. When Ruse published an article about Margaret, they received hundreds of requests for a prayer card of her.  

What continues to draw people to Margaret is how she suffered with joy and trust in God, Leonard said.

“I think at some level that when we’re faced with adversity and suffering, we wish that we could be filled with joy, and we could be able to confront it in a way that brings us closer to God and closer to other people, and make the very best of it,” he said.

“And so when you saw her, it was impossible not to be reminded of the fact that we should be filled with joy, we should be thankful to God. As her tombstone says, we should be praying and thanking God without ceasing.”

Tears of inspiration

The third contemporary little suffering soul whose story Ruse tells is that of Audrey from France.

Although her parents were lukewarm Catholics when she was born, Audrey was “spiritually precocious” from a young age.

She practiced mortification by carrying home her school pencils in her shoe. She begged to receive Holy Communion at the age of five. Upon examining her, her priest found her ready to do so, because she understood that Holy Communion is Jesus, “And I want to receive Jesus.” She insisted that her family say grace before meals and a prayer for vocations every night.

She was also sure from a young age that she had a Carmelite vocation, “Caramel” as the little girl pronounced it.

This surprising faith scared Lillian, Audrey’s mom, who wasn’t sure where Audrey was getting her ideas.

“Follow her,” a priest told Lillian.

But she was also scared that her daughter’s spiritual maturity meant great trials were ahead - and they were. At a very young age, Audrey was diagnosed with leukemia.

When Lillian broke the news to Audrey, “She got this very wise, very gentle sort of look” and told her mother that they were “going to do what Jesus says. We’re going to be like the birds in the sky, and we’re just going to take one day at a time.”

“I can’t say that without weeping,” Ruse said.

And indeed, “Littlest Suffering Souls” is a book that will make you weep. But not in a sad way.

“We’re not crying out of sadness, we’re crying out of inspiration,” Ruse said.

“They’re neither tears of joy nor sadness, they’re some other kind of tear, that I don’t have the name for, but it’s just being moved by these inspiring stories.”

Audrey battled leukemia for several years, and, like Brendan, made it on the personal prayer list of Pope John Paul II after her dad was able to hand him a photo of her.

Audrey too offered her sufferings for specific intentions, and, like Brendan, people began flooding her with prayer requests. She had a special heart for vocations, and prayed especially for her Uncle Mick - who is now a priest today.

A bone marrow transplant for Audrey eventually proved ineffective. Knowing she was near death, her family took her to Lourdes, and then to Rome, where she was able to meet Pope John Paul II.   

They spoke together for several minutes, captured by a photo of Audrey’s swollen head next to the bent-down head of the now-Saint.

While no one knows what was said between the two of them, for the rest of the day, John Paul II could be heard around the Vatican muttering her name: “Audrey, Audrey, Audrey.”

She also asked to be confirmed, and insisted that the party be an “elegant” event - one of her favorite words, but one that she meant in beautiful simplicity, rather than extravagance.

In her final weeks, which she was able to spend at home, Audrey spent hours in the family’s chapel, where the bishop had allowed them to keep the blessed sacrament. She told her grandma that she spent her days praying and waiting.

She passed away at 3 p.m., the hour of mercy, on August 22, 1991, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. Her father Jerome had prayed she would pass away on a Marian feast day.

Audrey’s cause for canonization has been opened, and her story has spread throughout France and indeed throughout the world. Seminarians pray for her intercession for their vocations. A Carmelite convent in Spain has her First Communion dress on display, with permission of the family.

Lessons learned

The suffering of children is a difficult subject, but one that captures the attention of all, Ruse said.

“It seems to us to be profoundly unfair that children suffer, and that’s a common human reaction,” he reflected.

“Moreover, the reaction of these particular children to their suffering and maladies is confounding to those of us who cannot even handle the simple contradictions of the day very well,” he said.

“The simplest things can vex us, and yet these are kids who had bone marrow transplants and while they had them, Audrey was singing songs to Mary, and Brendan was offering his suffering for others - they’re just astounding.”

At the end of his book, Ruse offers what he believes are several lessons that can be learned from the stories of little suffering souls - forbearance, simplicity, a love for God, particularly in the Eucharist.

Moreover, he said, we learn that each life has dignity.

“Our modern man might see a child suffering from leukemia who has died young and see nothing but a misbegotten tragedy, a life with no meaning,” he wrote.

“In the simplest terms, modern man is wrong. The Littlest Suffering Souls stand as witnesses to the proposition that all human life has meaning and dignity, even and especially those lives we may not fully understand.”

Who is Callista Gingrich? The woman set to be new Vatican ambassador

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 13:31

Washington D.C., May 16, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump has chosen Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, according to reports.

Callista Gingrich is the president of both Gingrich Productions in Arlington, Va. and the charitable non-profit Gingrich Foundation, and is a former Congressional aide.

She is also a long-time member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and explained, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at, how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.

He noted that he had attended Masses at the National Shrine where Callista sang in the choir, and she “created an environment where I could gradually think and evolve on the issue of faith.”

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2011, he also cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to the U.S. as a “moment of confirmation” for him. At vespers with the Pope, where Callista sang in the Shrine choir, Newt recalled thinking that “here is where I belong.”

The couple worked on a documentary together that was released in 2010, “Nine Days That Changed the World,” that focused on Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland when the former Soviet bloc country was under a communist government.

The documentary explained how the Pope invigorated the faith of the Polish people in Jesus Christ during his pilgrimage there, and how the visit precipitated the fall of Communism.

In an Easter message posted on the website of Gingrich Productions, the couple noted that “we should remember the many threats facing Christians today,” including “a growing secularism, which seeks to place human desires ahead of God and His will,” and “radical Islamism” that “seeks to destroy Christianity across the globe.”

“But in the face of this evil, we remember the words of Saint John Paul II, who throughout his papacy urged us to, ‘Be not afraid’,” the statement continued.

As ambassador, Gingrich would follow Ken Hackett, the former head of Catholic Relief Services who served during President Obama’s second term as president.

In a January interview with CNA, Hackett opined that there would be areas of difference and of collaboration between the U.S. and the Holy See under the Trump administration.

One of the possible areas of tension might be on immigration and refugees, as Trump criticized Pope Francis on the campaign trail in 2016 after the Pope said a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border and urged everyone to pray for conversion of hearts over the suffering of forced migration.

Trump, who repeatedly promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and make the Mexican government pay for it, said last February that the Pope was a “pawn” of the Mexican government and “is a very political person, I think he doesn't understand the problems our country has.”

He also issued an executive order shutting down refugee admissions for four months at a time when Pope Francis has taken in refugees and U.S. bishops have called for the country to continue accepting refugees fleeing violence.

Meanwhile, there are other possible areas of collaboration between the U.S. and the Holy See, Hackett said in January, including on human trafficking, peace in the Middle East, a solution to the worsening crisis in Venezuela, and efforts to alleviate global poverty.

President Trump and Pope Francis will meet at the Vatican on May 24.


Free speech protects printer from promoting gay pride fest, Ky. court rules

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 02:02

Lexington, Ky., May 16, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Backers of a print shop owner who declined to print gay pride T-shirts because of his religious beliefs praised a Kentucky court’s decision that his free speech rights protect him from a discrimination complaint.

“Americans should always have the freedom to believe, the freedom to express those beliefs, and the freedom to not express ideas that would violate their conscience,” said Jim Campbell, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. “Today’s decision is a victory for printers and other creative professionals who serve all people but cannot promote all messages.”

The case concerned Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, a small print shop in Lexington, Ky.

“I want God to find joy in what we do and how we work, how we treat our employees, and the messages we print,” said Adamson. “So if someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, I want you to help promote something,’ I can’t promote something that I know goes against what pleases Him.”

Adamson has declined to create T-shirts that promote strip clubs, violence, and sexually explicit videos. He has served other clients regardless of sexual orientation.

In 2012 the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization asked him to print shirts for the local gay pride festival. He said he could not support the event and referred the organization to other printers.

The group filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban Country Human Rights Commission. The commission ruled that Blaine had violated a local anti-discrimination ordinance and ordered him to attend diversity training.

Blaine’s legal challenge to the commission won a favorable decision in Fayette Circuit Court, a ruling which was upheld by the Kentucky Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision May 12.

“The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else’s property,” said appellate court’s Chief Judge Joy Kramer, UPI reports.

The judge said the shop offers the service of promoting messages but its decision not to promote certain conduct was “pure speech.”

Judge Jeff Taylor, writing in a dissent, said the ruling would make the anti-discrimination ordinance meaningless.

Other backers of Blaine included the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief in the case.

“It doesn’t matter what the speech is – pro-gay, anti-gay, pro-immigration, anti-immigration – the government can’t force you to print it,” Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund, said May 12.

“Free speech is most important on the most divisive issues,” he said. “That is the last place the government should ever be allowed to demand conformity.”

Some anti-discrimination laws have placed heavy fines on some businesses involved in weddings, including florists and cake bakers, if they declined to aid in same-sex ceremonies.

Such laws have also shut down Catholic adoption agencies.

Trump administration expands pro-life Mexico City Policy

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 18:23

Washington D.C., May 15, 2017 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin implementing an expanded Mexico City Policy, which pro-life leaders hailed as a key step to curtailing abortion funding.

The expansion means that more forms of foreign funding will be directed to go to organizations that do not perform or support abortions overseas.

“With the implementation of Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, we have officially ceased exporting abortion to foreign nations,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the announcement on Monday.

Back in January, President Donald Trump reinstated the “Mexico City Policy” which prohibits U.S. funding of non-government organizations that perform or promote abortions, through family planning funds.

The repeal or reinstatement of that policy is typically one of the first actions a new president takes once in office, and is usually a sign of their support for abortion or for the pro-life cause during their presidential term.

The policy was begun by Ronald Reagan in 1984, repealed by Bill Clinton in 1993, reinstated by George W. Bush in 2001, repealed by Barack Obama in 2009, and again reinstated by President Trump in January, on the same week that Vice President Mike Pence addressed the March for Life in person.

However, Trump also instructed the Secretary of State to expand the Mexico City Policy. Now, Secretary Rex Tillerson has released the plan to put this expansion into action. Entitled “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” the plan extends the ban on funding of abortion supporters to other forms of foreign aid like global health assistance.

In a press release, the State Department explained that this ban on funding of abortion supporters would apply to “international health programs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, malaria, global health security, and family planning and reproductive health.”

All in all, $8.8 billion in foreign aid would be covered under the expanded policy, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List said.

However, some funding would not be affected by the stipulations, the State Department said.

Funding not affected by the policy change would include “global health assistance to national or local governments, public international organizations, and other similar multilateral entities,” along with “humanitarian assistance, including State Department migration and refugee-assistance activities, USAID disaster and humanitarian-relief activities, and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) disaster and humanitarian relief.”

The overall amount of foreign aid would not be cut under the policy, the State Department insisted, and “funding previously obligated will not be affected as a result of this policy.”

“The United States remains deeply committed to supporting health programs around the world,” the agency stated.

Pro-life leaders applauded the Trump administration for expanding the Mexico City Policy.

“This humane policy seeks to respect and protect the precious lives of unborn girls and boys from the violence of abortion,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said.

The policy change “simply ensures our hard-earned tax dollars are used by other health care entities that act consistently to save lives, rather than promoting and performing abortion,” Dannenfelser said. “Abortion is not health care.”


North Korean defector: Despite horrific persecution, Christianity is growing

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 18:03

Washington D.C., May 14, 2017 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Although the North Korean government is doing everything it can to suppress Christianity, the faith continues to spread, said a defector and missionary who called for prayers and action to increase religious freedom in the country.

“It is my prayer that all the international Christian communities will pray for those North Korean Christians to really help and engage them to spread the Gospel, not only through the works of the underground Church network, but also through the government and request for this religious freedom that they are earnestly praying for,” Kim Chung-seong, a North Korean defector, told reporters through a translator on Friday.

Kim is a Christian missionary, and spoke at the first annual World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. The summit was held on May 11-12 and featured Christian religious leaders from Protestant denominations, Orthodox churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. Persecuted Christians themselves were also present to give their testimonies.

Overall, Christians from around 130 countries and territories were represented at the summit, as well as representatives of Christian advocacy groups like Open Doors USA and Voice of the Martyrs. The summit was hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Vice President Mike Pence delivered the keynote address on Thursday, and pledged that “protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.” He promised his prayers and support for persecuted Christians everywhere, as well as support for members of other faiths persecuted for their beliefs. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. gave a keynote address on Friday.

Kim, who also spoke at the summit, is now part of a daily Christian radio program in South Korea, broadcasting Christian material into parts of North Korea. Kim came to South Korea in 2004, according to Reuters.

Along with his radio program, part of the Far East Broadcasting Company, he also helps send Gospel messages, Christian music, and world news smuggled into North Korea through USB drives and SD memory cards, he said.

“However, the most important work is to fill the North Korean peoples’ minds with Jesus Christ, because the truth will set you free,” he said on Friday. “It’s my earnest prayer that the truth will set each of my North Korean brothers and sisters free.”

The Communist dictatorship of North Korea is regarded as among the worst human rights violators in the world. “Freedom of religion or belief does not exist and is, in fact, profoundly suppressed,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in its 2017 annual report.

“The North Korean government relentlessly persecutes and punishes religious believers through arrest, torture, imprisonment, and sometimes execution,” USCIRF stated. “Once imprisoned, religious believers typically are sent to political prison camps where they are treated with extraordinary cruelty.”

The group Open Doors UK in a recent report said North Korea is the “worst place on earth for Christians” because the totalitarian state does not tolerate dissenters, forcing everyone to worship the country’s leader, currently Kim Jong-un.

There are an estimated 300,000 Christians amidst a population of 25.4 million there, and an estimated 50-75,000 Christians are in the country’s labor camps, Open Doors claimed.

After Christian missionaries entered the country and began to spread the Gospel, “they were all blacklisted and red-flagged” by the government, Kim Chung-seong said, and “more than half of them are in hard labor prison camps throughout the country.”

Yet despite poor conditions and the threat of imprisonment, the number of Christian believers in North Korea is growing, Kim said, and their faith is strengthened through persecution.

“The one thing that the North Korean regime fears the most, and is afraid of, is the spreading of the Gospel,” he said. “Because the Bible and the Gospel speaks the truth. Once the light shines in the dark room, there is light in the room.”

When Christians gather for prayer or worship, “it’s on a family level” to avoid detection by authorities, Kim said. Christians leave their houses and “we retreat either to the riverside, the mountainside, somewhere remote.”

“We cannot go into any building,” he added.

The government uses a “façade” network – the Korea Christian Association – to discover who Christians are in the country, and many “are taught to believe that this Korean Christian Association is real,” he said. The association also delivers “falsified information” to the international community to pretend like there is religious freedom and religious pluralism in North Korea.

“They [the government] will do anything to prevent the spread of the Gospel in North Korea. [But] as you can see, we cannot block the sunlight with our hand,” Kim said.

He asked for prayers for the Christians in North Korea, especially for “this freedom that we can find in Jesus Christ.”

“And please pray for the two nations to be unified,” he implored.

New pledge aims to amplify Catholic opposition to death penalty

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., May 14, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA).- A Catholic pledge against the death penalty cites Pope Francis’ stand as a motive to increase Catholic action against capital punishment.

“Catholics and all like-minded individuals need to sign it; it is a pledge that will go about urging people to educate, advocate, and pray for an end to capital punishment,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida said.

The bishop, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, told a press call May 11 that he had signed the anti-death penalty pledge from the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Bishop Dewane said the pledge will encourage parish priests to talk more about the death penalty.

“It is a matter of life, so they need to be talking about it,” he said.

Pope Francis’ comments on the death penalty feature prominently in the pledge.

“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to fight…for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms,” the Pope said in Oct. 23, 2014 remarks to the International Association of Penal Law.

The pledge commits the signer to educate himself or herself and the community about the death penalty’s injustices, “including the ways it risks innocent life, fails victims’ families, and contradicts the Catholic Church’s pro-life teaching.”

The signer pledges to advocate for the dignity of all life and to be “actively working to end the death penalty in my state and in my country.” The signer also pledges to pray “for mercy and healing for all who are involved in the criminal justice system.”

Among the other backers of the pledge is Marietta Jaeger-Lane, whose daughter was murdered in 1973. She rejected claims that the death penalty brings closure to victims’ families.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about God’s idea of justice. When I see Jesus’ life in Scripture, I see someone who came to heal us, to restore the life that has been lost to us,” she said. “I have signed this pledge, and I believe that the Catholic community can be the one to end the death penalty.”

Karen Clifton, the Catholic Mobilizing Network’s executive director, said the network launched the pledge “to amplify the Church’s work to end the death penalty.” She said there is growing opposition to the death penalty, especially following the April executions in Arkansas, where the governor tried to execute eight men in 11 days, and ended up executing four of them.

Clifton said the effort amplifies Pope Francis’ call while continuing the work of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network is a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

The pledge is located at

Latest migrant tragedy prompts call to address root problem

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 20:36

Washington D.C., May 11, 2017 / 06:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After hundreds more migrants perished last weekend in the deadly Mediterranean passage to Europe, one Catholic expert insisted that the root causes of migration need to be addressed.

“The real tragedy is that these deaths are preventable,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services.

“We need to ensure safe passage for all refugees and migrants, but also address the reasons people are migrating in the first place,” he stressed.

The United Nations’ refugee arm reported on Tuesday that 245 were feared dead or missing from two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend, adding to an already steep death toll for migrants headed for Europe from North Africa.

One of the boats carrying migrants, a rubber dinghy, sank on Friday with 132 on board, and “some 50 people were rescued” while 82 others “are feared dead or missing,” the U.N. Human Rights Council said.

Meanwhile, another ship sank off the coast of Libya on Sunday. Seven people were reportedly rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard, while 163 others were feared dead or missing.

Overall, more than 1,300 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in 2017, the UNHRC said, while “over 43,000 refugees and asylum seekers have used the Central Mediterranean route to reach Italy,” including over 6,000 just last weekend.

Conditions on the boats have become even more dangerous than before, as migrants face overcrowding on small crafts along with other perils.

“I am profoundly shocked by the violence used by some smugglers,” Filippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, stated on Sunday. He added that crowding on the ships – and the conditions of the ships themselves – are serious concerns.

“The increasing numbers of passengers on board vessels used by traffickers, with an average of 100 to 150 people, are also alarming and the main cause of shipwrecks, and risks are increased by the worsening quality of vessels and the increasing use of rubber boats instead of wooden ones,” Grandi stated.

For migrants headed to Europe from sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean Sea crossing is not the only perilous aspect of journey north. Some don’t even make it to the coast but are trapped and sold as slaves in Libya and Niger, according to the International Organization for Migration and reported by Al Jazeera.

Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva, stated back in April that migrants have “become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

The migration routes to Europe are deadly, but there’s a serious reason why people are still choosing to make this trip, O’Keefe explained.

“Poverty, conflict, unresponsive governments, and climate change are driving millions of people from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to seek safety and opportunity in Europe,” he said.

“The US must do more to negotiate solutions to conflict, fund programs to fight hunger and poverty, and help the poor adapt to climate change.”