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Updated: 2 hours 33 min ago

Arlington priest reveals former KKK membership, takes voluntary leave of absence

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 16:57

Arlington, Va., Aug 22, 2017 / 02:57 pm (CNA).- An Arlington priest revealed Monday that he was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan before converting while in prison, and has asked for a temporary leave of absence from ministry.

The Diocese of Arlington released a statement saying that Fr. William Aitcheson, a parochial vicar at St. Leo Catholic Church in Fairfax, Va., wrote an article in the diocesan newspaper “with the intention of telling his story of transformation” from being a Klan member to abandoning his racist beliefs and becoming a Catholic priest.

“He left that life behind him 40 years ago and since journeyed in faith to eventually become a Catholic priest,” the diocese said.

“He voluntarily asked to temporarily step away from public ministry, for the well-being of the Church and parish community, and the request was approved.”

In the wake of the recent white nationalist rally at Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12, Fr. Aitcheson wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald of his past membership in the Ku Klux Klan and “despicable” acts like burning a cross on someone else’s lawn and writing threatening letters. His article was entitled, “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace.”

According to the Washington Post report of Aitcheson’s arrest in 1977, he was an “exalted cyclops” in the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and was charged with six cross-burnings in Prince George’s County, Md., as well as one count of making bomb threats and two counts of making pipe bombs.

The New York Times reported that he was convicted of criminal misdemeanor for burning a cross in the yard of a black family in College Park, Md. and was sentenced to 90 days in prison.

In his article for the Herald, Fr. Aitcheson said that although he was baptized and raised a Catholic, he did not practice the faith as a young man. But after leaving the “anti-Catholic” Klan, he came back to the Church, “a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.”

He entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nev. in 1988. He came to the Arlington Diocese in 1993. The Arlington Diocese stated that “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

“While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry,” he wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald. “I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington stated that “while Fr. Aitcheson’s past with the Ku Klux Klan is sad and deeply troubling, I pray that in our current political and social climate his message will reach those who support hate and division, and inspire them to a conversion of heart.”

“Our Lord is ready to help them begin a new journey, one where they will find peace, love, and mercy. The Catholic Church will walk with anyone to help bring them closer to God,” he said.

While we believe in God’s forgiveness, we should not forget the sins of our past, Fr. Aitcheson wrote.

“Our actions have consequences and while I firmly believe God forgave me – as he forgives anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness – forgetting what I did would be a mistake,” he said.

The recent rallies of white nationalists in Charlottesville, held to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, included Klan members and neo-Nazis, and featured racist chants. On August 12, a 20-year-old man from Ohio drove a car into the counter-protest to the rallies, killing one and injuring 19.

“The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget,” Fr. Aitcheson said of the rallies.

He wrote that the hate manifested in the rallies “should bring us to our knees in prayer.” Catholics should condemn racism “at every opportunity” and pray for its victims, and pray for the conversion of those holding racist beliefs, he said.

“If there are any white supremacists reading this, I have a message for you: you will find no fulfillment in this ideology. Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside,” he wrote. “I encourage you to find peace and mercy in the only place where it is authentic and unending: Jesus Christ.”

 

This church sheltered 800 people during the Barcelona terror attack

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 16:26

Barcelona, Spain, Aug 22, 2017 / 02:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid the horror and chaos of the Aug. 17 terrorist attack in Barcelona, more than 800 people found shelter in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi.

The Gothic church, situated in the historic center of Barcelona, is next to one of the streets exiting Las Ramblas, the popular tourist area where a van plowed into a crowd on Aug. 17, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

Jordi Sacasas, the basilica's archivist, told CNA that he was with the church sacristan and several other people in the basilica archives when the attack took place. From the balcony of the archives, they could see people stampeding.

“When we saw this, we went down to the church doors and brought in those fleeing. Police orders were for people to take shelter, and as the basilica has a large entrance, we could offer shelter to a lot of people,” he said.

Once the doors were closed, the basilica employees worked to calm the terrified masses. “We were providing information in French, English and Italian over the church's sound system, since the majority of the people were tourists and we had a person who could speak several languages…We were providing information that the regional government and the police were sending us, so there would be clear information.”

Local businesses also showed their solidarity with those taking refuge inside the church, offering food and drink during the three-hour lockdown before the police allowed people to leave the area.

“One bakery almost emptied its shelves bringing us bread, sandwiches. A cafe brought us water. What was impressive and so moving was the solidarity of people in such dramatic moments,” Sacasas said.

Church employees also worked to help those who were injured from falling in the stampede that resulted from the attack.

“We cared for the injured who were hurt as they fled, especially the older people, because the emergency services were overwhelmed with more serious injuries,” he said.

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, built in the 14th century, has a long history of welcoming those in need. It has previously opened its doors to immigrants, offering them use of its facilities.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Aug. 17 attack. Police said they had shot and killed the suspected driver of the van, while also arresting several other individuals believed to be possibly involved in a local terror ring. One of those arrested said that the larger plot had involved the bombing of several major monuments, including the iconic Sagrada Familia basilica.

 

Michigan nun killed in hit-and-run remembered for her faith

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 13:46

Saginaw, Mich., Aug 22, 2017 / 11:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Michigan nun Sister Joseph Marie Ruessman of the Alma Sisters of Mercy, who was killed in a hit-and-run on Thursday, was remembered for her fidelity to Christ, tireless hard work in her community, and her joyful laugh.

“I think her faith and her relationship with Christ was everything,” said Sister Mary Sarah Macht, RSA, of the Alma Sisters of Mercy in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, according to the Morning Sun.

“She’s a person who is the epitome of the person who works behind the scenes. Just because she was quiet, doesn’t mean she wasn’t sharp. She was just a very fine lawyer,” Sister Macht said, recalling that Sister Joseph Marie had the “best” laugh.

Sister Joseph Marie, 64, was last seen the night before she died, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at St. Mary's of the Assumption Cathedral in Saginaw, where many members of the Alma Sisters of Mercy were attending the final vows of fellow sisters.

The next morning, she was riding her bike around 7 a.m. on Michigan Avenue, when a car hit Sister Joseph Marie and fled the scene. Pieces from the vehicle were found next to her body.

She was discovered alive but unresponsive not long after the incident by pedestrians, who then called 9-11. Police and EMS workers arrived around 7:20, and she was then transported to MidMichigan Medical Center.

The police are now investigating the event as a hit-and-run and are offering a $500 reward for relevant information that would lead to the person responsible for driving the car.

Sister Joseph Marie died from sustained injuries later that night around 8 p.m., surrounded by members of her religious order and family, who prayed and sang hymns next to her hospital bed.

“Any time, to be with someone during that process, is a profound experience,” said Sister Macht. “This is the way He called her home, and we had the privilege of being with her in that.”

Sister Joseph Marie’s funeral took place on Monday at Our Lady of Grace Chapel in Alma, and she was laid to rest at the cemetery of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in DeWitt.

These priests were martyred for refusing to violate the seal of confession

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 08:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 22, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In recent years, some Catholics have been concerned by pushes from governments in locations such as Louisiana and Australia who challenge the secrecy of the sacrament of confession, asking that priests betray the solemnity of penitents’ confessions when they hear of serious crimes in the confessional.

However, Catholics should not be afraid, because keeping the secrecy of the sacrament of confession is one of the most important promises priests make.

The code of canon law states that “the sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” Priests who violate this seal of confession are automatically excommunicated.

Priests take this solemnity of the seal of confession very seriously; these four priests who died protecting it are witnesses to the extreme lengths to which priests are willing to go to protect the seal of confession.

St. John Nepomucene

Born in Bohemia, or what is now the Czech Republic, between 1340 and 1350,  St. John Nepomucene was an example of the protection of sacramental secrecy, being the first martyr who preferred to die rather than reveal the secret of confession.

When he was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Prague, the now- saint servedas confessor of Sofia of Bavaria, the wife of King Wenceslaus. The king, who had infamous outbursts of anger and jealousy, ordered the priest to reveal the sins of his wife. The saint's refusal infuriated Wenceslaus, who threatened to kill the priest if he did not tell him his wife’s secrets.

King Wenceslaus and John Nepomucene came into conflict again when the monarch wanted to seize a convent in order to take its wealth and give it to a relative. The saint prohibited its seizure because those goods belonged to the Church.

Filled with rage, the king ordered the torture of the saint, whose body was then thrown to the Vltava River in 1393.

St. Mateo Correa Magallanes

Saint Mateo Correa Magallanes was another martyr of the seal of confession. He was shot in Mexico during the Cristero War for refusing to reveal the confessions of prisoners rebelling against the Mexican government.

He was born in Tepechitlán in the state of Zacateca on July 22, 1866 and was ordained a priest in 1893. Fr. Matteo served as chaplain in various towns and parishes and was a member of the Knights of Columbus.

In 1927, the priest was arrested by Mexican army forces under General Eulogio Ortiz. A few days later, the general sent Father Correa to hear the confessions group of people who were to be shot. After Fr. Mateo finished administering the sacrament, the general then demanded that the priest reveal what he had heard.

Fr. Mateo responded with a resounding “no” and was executed. Currently, his remains are venerated in the Cathedral of Durango.

He was beatified Nov. 22, 1992 and canonized by St. John Paul II May 21, 2000.

Fr. Felipe Císcar Puig

Fr. Felipe Císcar Puig was a Valencian priest who is also also considered a martyr of the sacramental seal because he was martyred after keeping confessions secret during the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War.

During the war, revolutionary and republican forces engaged in violent battles for power, and many Catholics were targeted. This was especially true of the coastal province of Valencia, on the Mediterranean sea.

The Archdiocese of Valencia indicated that, according to the documents collected, Father Císcar was taken to a prison near the end of August 1936. There, a Franciscan friar named Andrés Ivars asked that Fr. Císcar hear his confession before the friar was executed be firing squad.

"After the confession, they tried to extract its contents and before his refusal to reveal it, the militiamen threatened to kill him,” says an archdiocesan statement by a witness to the event.  The priest then replied, “Do what you want but I will not reveal the confession, I would die before that.”

"Seeing him so sure, they took him to a sham court where he was ordered to reveal the secrets.” Fr. Císar remained committed to his position, stating that he preferred to die, and the militiamen condemned him to death. Fathers Felipe Císcar and Andrés Ivars were taken by car to another location where they were shot on September 8, 1936. They were 71 and 51 years old, respectively.

Both Felipe Císcar and Andrés Ivars are part of the canonization cause of Ricardo Pelufo Esteve and 43 companions.

Fr. Fernando Olmedo Reguera

Fr. Fernando Olmedo Reguera was also a victim of the Spanish Civil War who opted to die rather than break the secrecy of confession.  

Born in Santiago de Compostela Jan. 10, 1873 and ordained a priest in the Capuchin Order of Friars Minor on July 31, 1904, Fr. Olmedo was killed Aug. 12, 1936. He served the order as its provincial secretary until 1936, when he had to leave his convent due to the severe religious persecution in the area.

Fr. Olmedo was then arrested, and beaten in prison. He then was pressured into revealing the confessions of others, but Fr. Olmedo did not give in. According to reports, he was shot at a 19th century fortress outside of Madrid by a populist tribunal. His remains are entombed in the crypt of the Church of Jesus of Medinaceli in Madrid, and he was beatified in Tarragona Oct. 13, 2013.

In wake of violence, archbishop urges Catholics to foster racial peace

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 05:02

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 22, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Responding to violence caused by the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Archbishop of Los Angeles said the message in this week's Gospel is one of inclusion, no matter a person's race or nationality.

“We heard those beautiful words from the prophet Isaiah in the first reading: 'For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,'” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said Aug. 19.

“Today's readings remind us that God wants his Church to be the home for all peoples – to be one family that welcomes men and women of every nation, every race, every language and every culture,” he said during at the installation Mass for Monsignor Kevin Kostelnik at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels.

On Aug. 11, hundreds of white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue. The demonstration began on Friday night, where they waved Confederate flags and yelled phrases such as “you will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.”
 
On Saturday morning, Aug. 12, the group was met by opposing protesters, ranging from religious leaders to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. After convening at Emancipation Park, violence ensued when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one women and injury 19 more people.

In response to this, Archbishop Gomez spoke of the need to acknowledge God's desire to be with all his children, which he said overcomes ideologies that oppose the dignity of the human person.

Archbishop Gomez referenced the Canaanite woman in the reading of the Gospel of Matthew, and said that it was her faith that was “the key to belonging to God,” not where she was born, her skin color, or the language she spoke.

He said this was a radical teaching both during Jesus' time as well as our time, but that God's universal family united in his mercy is a message we must all form our lives to.

“We are all brothers and sisters. We are all children, born of the Father's mercy. St. Paul tells us today that Jesus came – 'that [God] might have mercy upon all.'”

Referring to the St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, Archbishop Gomez said that God desires “the reconciliation of the world,” which means the Church has an obligation to be a “true sign and instrument of healing and unity.”

“We need to work to overcome all the forms of racial thinking and racist practices that are still realities in our society.”

He identified the racism in the country as new type of racism, one built on fear and in reaction to what is happening in the economy and society. This fear, he said, has produced more anger and bitterness, resulting in a greater division.

At the end of his homily, Archbishop Gomez urged Catholics to face this challenging time with the faith of the Canaanite woman: “She was desperate but she never doubted in God’s love, or in God's goodness. She kept talking to Jesus, kept praying. She said, 'Lord, help me!'”

Amid nationwide controversy, St Junipero Serra statue vandalized in L.A.

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 02:03

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 22, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A statue of St. Junipero Serra in a Los Angeles public park appeared to have been vandalized last week in a time of national debate about historical statues.

The statue portrays the Franciscan friar in a favorable light, with his arm on the shoulder of an indigenous child. The park is across the street from the Mission San Fernando in Mission Hills community of Los Angeles. The mission was founded by Fr. Fermin Lasuen, another Franciscan, in 1797.

A picture of the statue was circulated on social media, showing it spray-painted red with the word “murder” written on the priest in white.

City officials did not confirm to Los Angeles news station CBS2 that the photo was authentic or that the statue was cleaned. However, a CBS2 reporter at the scene said there was red paint on the arm of the priest’s statue and a swastika on the statue of the child.

St. Junipero, a Franciscan missionary from Spain, founded nine Catholic missions in California in the late 1700s. His missions helped convert many native Californians to Christianity and taught them new technologies.

Most of the missions he founded would go on to become the centers of major cities in the state, as did other Franciscan-founded missions. The priest carried on his work despite a painful wound to his leg.

He died in 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Carmelo in what is now California

St. John Paul II beatified Father Serra in 1988. Pope Francis canonized the priest Sept. 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

“He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life,” Pope Francis said. “He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters.”

“Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people,” the Pope added.

In Los Angeles last week, passerby Cristian Mendoza criticized the vandalism.

“Everyone’s entitled to their own public opinions and thoughts,” Mendoza told CBS2. “But once it gets to this level I don’t think it’s right.”

CBS2 quoted another passerby, Christian Ramirez, who said he thought the statue should be taken down and replaced with a statue he thought would show “appreciation to the native people that live here.” He suggested it represented a “violent history.”

Several California legislators have unsuccessfully pushed to remove the statue of St. Junipero Serra from the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Some of St. Junipero Serra’s critics object to the forced confinement of some indigenous peoples in the missions he founded, as well as corporal punishment inflicted there, saying they are causes to dismiss the saint. Some also criticize his association with Spanish colonialism.

His defenders note St. Junipero Serra’s defense of native peoples at a time when Spanish soldiers and other officials could easily abuse them. At one point, he opposed the death sentence for a man who had killed one of his fellow missionaries in an uprising.

Many native peoples attended his burial and openly wept at his death.

The vandalism of the saint’s statue comes amid controversy over the fate of statues honoring leading figures of the Confederate States of America and the Reconstruction era.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, several hundred demonstrators gathered from around the country on Aug. 11 to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a city park. The rally drew white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. Many waved the Confederate battle flag and at least one demonstrator waved a Nazi flag.

The demonstration was set to continue the next day, attracting many counter-protesters. Both groups skirmished with each other, leading authorities to declare the assembly unlawful and to order the crowds to disperse.

An hour later, one rally attendee, 20-year-old James Alex Fields, allegedly drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and seriously injuring several others.

The incident prompted many peaceful responses, as well as some attacks on Confederate statues and other public monuments.

A statue of St. Joan of Arc had been vandalized in New Orleans by an unknown person or persons sometime in late April or early May, with graffiti reading “tear it down.” It followed controversy in the city about the removal of monuments to the Confederacy and the Reconstruction era.

In Baltimore, the oldest U.S. statue of the explorer Christopher Columbus, erected in 1792, was also vandalized this month. A video posted to YouTube claiming responsibility for the incident blamed Columbus for “a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas.”

Many such statues were set up by U.S. Catholics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to mark his role in opening the New World to Europeans, at a time when many leading Americans denigrated Catholic figures.

Vatican astronomer: solar eclipse recalls beauty, truth of creation

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 13:23

Owensboro, Ky., Aug 21, 2017 / 11:23 am (CNA).- As Americans prepare to view a total solar eclipse passing from Oregon to South Carolina, the director of the Vatican observatory has reflected on what the event can teach us about God and his creation.

An eclipse “reminds us of the immense beauty in the universe that occurs outside of our own petty set of concerns,” Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, told Time magazine. “It pulls us out of ourselves and makes us remember that we are part of a big and glorious and beautiful universe.”

Brother Guy is in Hopkinsville, Ky., 80 miles southwest of Owensboro, one of the places where the Aug. 21 total eclipse will last the longest.

The eclipse reflects that “God chose to make a universe that was rational, so that we could predict these eclipses with enormous precision,” he said.

In addition, it shows that God made creation beautiful: “it is not only that the eclipse occurs just when it is supposed to, but that, along with the delight that our calculations are right, there is the delight at seeing the beauty that comes, that we can experience, while we are underneath this eclipse.”

The tradition of appreciating eclipses is a long one in the Catholic Church.

In the eighth century, St. Bede the Venerable, an English monk, described how a solar eclipse is caused by the moon hiding the sun's light from earth.

At Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., another point of totality for the eclipse, the campus is holding a viewing and presentations by Vatican observatory officials.

On Aug. 20, the college's new Daglen Observatory was inaugurated, and Fr. Christopher Corbally, SJ, president of the National Committe for Astronomy for the Vatican, spoke on the history of astronomy, science, and the Church.

 

The crowd is growing as people are packing into the @BenedictineKS gym to catch a speech by a Vatican Astronomer #SolarEclipse2017 @kq2 pic.twitter.com/s3nW7AwSul

— Brooke Anderson (@bandersonKQ2) August 21, 2017  

The following morning, Fr. Paul Gabor, SJ, vice director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group, gave a presentation on the history of eclipses in human thought and observation, and how records of the phenomena have yielded scientific advances.

An exorcist talks about 'Annabelle' and the power of evil

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 17:48

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 20, 2017 / 03:48 pm (National Catholic Register).- What children read, what they see on the screen, can inspire them toward greater faithfulness. Conversely, Father Robert warns, it can lead them into the sordid world of the occult, even opening them to demonic possession.

Father Robert is not exaggerating. A priest for more than 10 years and an experienced exorcist, he knows firsthand the unintended consequences when children or adults open the door to demonic activity. “Oftentimes,” he says, “[demon possession] begins because kids get curious after reading Harry Potter.” He explains that kids want the unusual powers that they see depicted on the screen.

One former Satanist whom Father Robert knew personally, a man who has turned away from his past life and embraced the Catholic faith, had begun his descent into Satanism at the age of nine or 10, when he began playing a game called “Bloody Mary.” From that simple beginning, he gradually became involved with others who were Satanists.

Respecting Confidentiality

An important part of Father Robert's ministry is training other priests at the Vatican's official Exorcism Institute in America. From across the country and around the world, Catholic priests come to the Institute to learn the secrets of this ancient rite, so that they too can exorcize demons and evil spirits. The nature of the work that Father Robert and the Institute are involved in is so hazardous that he has requested that the National Catholic Register not publish his full name or reveal his location.

A Decidedly “Catholic” Horror Film

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Father Robert at a recent media preview of New Line Cinema's latest horror production, “Annabelle: Creation,” which opens nationwide on August 11. Directed by David F. Sandberg (director of the short film “Lights Out”), “Annabelle: Creation” is actually a prequel to the highly successful 2014 release of “Annabelle” – which is itself a prequel to the 2013 cult favorite “The Conjuring” and the more recent “Conjuring 2” (2016). Father Robert had seen them all, and he agreed that “Annabelle: Creation” was largely faithful to the Catholic Church's teachings with regard to possession and exorcism.

By Invitation Only: Satan Only Goes Where He Is Invited

Father Robert explained that the devil will only go where he is invited. He talked of two cases he knew of personally in which two young women, not realizing the gravity of their request, had invited “any spiritual being” to help them. The consequence was that they exhibited symptoms of demon possession and required an exorcism.

The writers of the film, Father Robert noted, had done their homework – they understood that the demon could only enter the home of dollmaker Samuel Mullins and his wife Esther if it was invited. In “Annabelle: Creation,” Esther and Samuel Mullins are mourning the loss of their beloved daughter Bee. Miranda Otto, who portrays the mother Esther in the film, explained,

Like most parents, they are devastated. But unlike most, they decided that they would do anything to have her back...absolutely anything at all. Basically, they prayed, calling out to any kind of power that would allow them to see her or feel her presence in any way. But by doing so, they evoked certain spirits that are not the kind you would welcome into your home.

Twelve years after the tragic accident, the grieving parents seek comfort by opening their home to Sister Charlotte and several girls from an orphanage that has been closed. When one of the girls peers into the closet and sees the possessed doll, Annabelle, the doll sets her sights on the girls and unleashes a storm of terror.

A Few Inaccuracies

Father Robert and I agreed that “Annabelle: Creation” was, for the most part, faithful to the Catholic understanding of exorcism. There were, however, a few scenes which caused us both to raise an eyebrow:

A Sister heard confession? – Most particularly, there was a scene in which Sister Charlotte, played by the talented Stephanie Sigman, listens to the confession of one of her young charges. Granted, there were differences from a regular confession: The Sister and the young girl sat back-to-back, not in a confessional. But the concept of confession was renewed when Sister Charlotte said, “Well, for your penance....” Particularly during the time period of the film, Father Robert considered it highly unlikely that a Sister would ever put herself in the position of appearing to perform a sacramental function that requires a priest.

Sister Charlotte wore a contemporary religious habit. – Based upon the clothing styles, classic automobiles, and the Victorian farmhouse, it would seem that “Annabelle: Creation” is set in the early 20th century. However, Sister Charlotte wears what appears a contemporary religious habit – with a knee-length skirt and a simple headpiece which exposed her hair. When I asked director David Sandberg and actress Stephanie Sigman (Sister Charlotte) about that during our interview, both seemed surprised, explaining that they had looked at photos of nuns in different habits and had chosen a simple costume which would make it easier to act the role.

Disposal of the possessed object – In “Annabelle: Creation,” two priests come to the home to bless the doll Annabelle and to sprinkle it with holy water before it is sealed away in a Scripture-lined closet. Good as far as it goes, Father Robert thought, but he was adamant that an exorcist would never leave the possessed object there intact, to be found by someone in the future. “You would take the curse off the object,” he explained. “You could burn it or take it apart; but it would be decommissioned somehow.”

As an example of a possessed object, Father Robert described a crucifix that hangs in his office which was burned from the bottom during an exorcism, the fire consuming the corpus and leaving only the arms of the crucified Christ. “It had a plastic corpus on it,” he explained. “The cross itself was blessed. It was put in the room with a woman who practiced Brujería witchcraft in Mexico. In the middle of the night, the cross caught fire. I decommissioned it. I would never permit anyone else to get near it, because it could be used in the future for something wrong.”

The scarecrow scene, and the Tasmanian devil – A scene in which a scarecrow was possessed by the evil spirit and moved from its original position seemed unlikely, according to Father Robert. Similarly, he was unconvinced when the demon began to grow and assumed a physical likeness of what he called a “Tasmanian devil.”

Only by invitation! – In one scene, a child becomes possessed when she finds herself in the presence of a demon that manifests itself as a little girl. Father Robert rejected the idea that an evil spirit could inhabit the body of a child who happened to be in its presence – since, as he explained earlier, an evil spirit will only enter a person if he is invited.

Five Signs of Possession

Father Robert listed five signs which may indicate that a person is suffering spiritual attack:

1.Hidden knowledge. If a person has knowledge which he or she should not have, such as private information which is known by only a few people, that may signal demonic possession.

2.Languages. A possessed person may be able to speak in an unfamiliar language which he or she would not normally know.

3.Superhuman strength. Father Robert reported one case in which a young girl who was 5'4” tall and weighed perhaps 110 pounds was able to throw a number of big guys off of her, preventing them from holding her down during the exorcism ritual.

4.Extreme aversion to the sacred. A person who is possessed may be unable to look at a crucifix, or to touch a rosary which has been blessed. Father Robert knew of one woman who couldn't be in the presence of a cross of St. Benedict, or to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

5.Levitation. Father Robert had personal knowledge of a case in Louisiana, in which a person was seated in a chair and, powered by the evil spirit, was able to levitate with the chair and proceed down the hall.

“Annabelle: Creation” opened in theaters across America on August 11. Despite the small inconsistencies which Father Robert noticed, the film is respectful of faith. The film does an effective job of building tension, and there are repeated “frights”; but it is not really gory and depends on spiritual and psychological effects rather than blood. It's likely to enjoy wide distribution among fans of the horror genre. Rated “R”, it seems unsuitable for small children; but others can attend, confident that their faith will not be challenged.

 

This article was originally published at the National Catholic Register.

Court okays Ark. ban on Planned Parenthood's Medicaid money

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 05:02

Little Rock, Ark., Aug 19, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Arkansas may block tens of thousands of dollars in Medicaid funding from going to Planned Parenthood, a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said.

“All patients should have access to ethical, quality and responsible health care, and should never be beholden to a company that is only seeking to protect its profits,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in response to the decision, the Associated Press reports.

According to Rutledge, the Aug. 16 ruling found that Planned Parenthood and the three patients could not contest the state's determination “that a medical provider has engaged in misconduct that merits disqualification from the Medicaid program.”

The 2-1 panel ruling comes two years after the state ended its contract with the organization over videos filmed by undercover investigators that appeared to show involvement in the illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit.

While federal law bars federal funding for most abortions, and Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S., the organization receives federal money for other services.

In Arkansas, in the fiscal year before the contract was terminated, Planned Parenthood had received $51,000 in Medicaid funds. The organization runs health centers in Fayetteville and Little Rock.

The ruling said that the unnamed patients who filed the legal challenge to the defunding decision did not have the right to file a challenge. It did not directly address the state’s reasoning for terminating the contract. The ruling vacated a U.S. district judge’s order that continued payments to Planned Parenthood patients.

Judge Michael Melloy authored a dissenting opinion in the ruling, noting that several federal courts have blocked other states’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. He said the patients have a right to challenge the contract termination.

The case could go to the Supreme Court. Planned Parenthood said it is evaluating its options to challenge the ruling, which will take effect in one to two weeks.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson had ended the contract on the grounds he believed there was evidence of wrongful conduct.

He called Wednesday’s decision “a substantial legal victory for the right of the state to determine whether Medicaid providers are acting in accordance with best practices.” The ruling also affirmed the state’s prerogative to make judgments on the Medicaid program, he added.

Videos from the Center for Medical Progress appeared to show Planned Parenthood and other leaders in the abortion industry involved in the procurement of fetal tissue and unborn babies’ bodies for sale, which is illegal under federal law.

The videos energized abortion foes' push to defund Planned Parenthood. For its part, the abortion provider and its allies dedicated millions of dollars in a campaign to counter the videos' impact and charged that the videos had been heavily edited.

No, Pope Francis did not beatify Roberto Clemente

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 17:14

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Aug 18, 2017 / 03:14 pm (CNA).- Sports fans in the U.S. and beyond may be disappointed to learn that reports of baseball Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente being recently beatified by Pope Francis are nothing more than fake news.

Vatican officials confirmed to the Washington Post that rumors of Pope Francis beatifying the Pittsburgh Pirates star are false.

The rumors appear to have originated with a Christian News Wire post late last month, and were slowly picked up by other media outlets and social media accounts.

The Christian News Wire article quotes Richard Rossi, who has been pushing for Clemente’s canonization after directing a film about the baseball star’s life, entitled “Baseball’s Last Hero.”

At the center of the claims is former Olympian high jumper Jamie Nieto, who played Clemente in the film. Nieto broke his neck in a back flip accident in 2016, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. After months of rehab, he was able to walk about 130 steps down the aisle with his bride on his wedding day.

According to the article, Rossi claimed that he had foreseen the healing in a vision, and had written to Pope Francis about it, and that the Pope agreed to beatify Clemente if the healing were to take place. Normally, one Vatican-approved miracle is necessary for beatification, and a second miracle is necessary for canonization, when the Church officially recognizes someone as a saint.

But while enthusiastic fans may be willing to take Rossi’s alleged claims at face value, the Vatican follows a very specific, formal process in determining the validity of an alleged miracle, with a commission of theologians and scientific experts examining the facts of the case.

When it comes to medical miracles, the Vatican must determine that the healing could not possibly have had any therapeutic or natural explanation, in order to ensure that the healing could only be attributed to divine intervention.

In Nieto’s case, however, doctors said there was a small possibility that he would be able to walk again, and he then spent months in rehab, working toward that goal.

The Vatican also must confirm that the healed person prayed exclusively to the potential saint in question, thereby determining that it was that individual’s intercession before God that resulted in the miraculous healing.

However, in the AP story detailing Nieto’s steps down the aisle for his wedding, the former Olympian does not mention praying to Clemente at all, instead saying, “I’ve worked really hard to get to this point.”

This is not the first time that false rumors have circulated regarding Clemente’s sainthood status. In early 2015, Catholic News Wire claimed that his canonization cause had received a “papal message of support.”

The article included a photo of a letter that it claimed was a show of support from Pope Francis for Clemente’s canonization cause.

However, the letter was in fact from an official at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and did not convey a papal message of support, but rather instructed Rossi that the local bishop, not the Pope, is the correct person to contact about potentially opening a canonization cause.

Translated into English, it reads:

“Distinguished Mr. Rossi, Recently you addressed a letter to Pope Francis calling attention to the figure of Roberto Clemente. Given the specific competence of this congregation, this letter was sent to this dicastery. In this regard, I wish to inform you that the competent authority to introduce a cause of beatification is the bishop where the person has died. Hence you would have to address your request to the Bishop of San Juan in Puerto Rico. Wishing you God's blessing, Fr. Boguslaw Turek.”

Clemente, a devout Catholic, was known for both his immense talent on the ballfield and his extensive charitable efforts. He died in a 1972 plane crash on his way to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was 38 years old at the time of his death.

With a legacy marked by his Catholic faith and humanitarian work, it is possible that the legendary right fielder could have his canonization cause opened. But the process would be lengthy, and each official step would be announced through authorized Church channels.

A beatification of the baseball star would undoubtedly be a highly anticipated event, especially on the largely Catholic island of Puerto Rico, where Clemente grew up. Sports fans can rest assured that should such a high-profile beatification occur, an official announcement would be made with enough notice for them to follow along, or even attend the historic event.

 

Richmond’s Bishop DiLorenzo passes away at 75

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 12:16

Richmond, Va., Aug 18, 2017 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo of Richmond has passed away at the age of 75.

“Please pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop DiLorenzo, for his family and friends, and for the people of the Diocese of Richmond,” said the Richmond diocese’s vicar general, Monsignor Mark Lane.

“He was a faithful servant of the Church for 49 years and a Shepherd of the Diocese of Richmond for 13 years.”

In the neighboring Diocese of Arlington, Bishop Michael Burbidge also called for prayers.

“May we be united in our prayer for Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, Bishop of Richmond, and his eternal peace,” the bishop said on Twitter.

Bishop DiLorenzo passed away at St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond on Thursday evening.

Bishop DiLorenzo was born in Philadelphia on April 15, 1942, the eldest of three children, his biography on the Richmond diocese’s website says. After studying at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia ordained him to the priesthood in May 1968. His service in the Philadelphia archdiocese included positions as high school chaplain and religion and biology teacher.

He began studies in Rome in 1971, earning a license in sacred theology from the Academy Alphonsiana in 1973 and a doctorate in sacred theology in 1975 from the Angelicum. Upon his return to the U.S., Father DiLorenzo was appointed chaplain and associate professor of moral theology at Immaculata College in Pennsylvania. He then served as vice-rector and rector at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Pope John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Scranton, Penn. in 1988, where he served for five years. After becoming apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Honolulu, he became Bishop of Honolulu in October 1994. He was installed as Bishop of Richmond in 2004.

His work at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops include membership of its administrative committee its doctrine committee, and its ad hoc committee on bishops’ life and ministry. He was chairman of the conference’s Committee on Science and Human Values. He helped launch a series of teaching brochures on the relationship of science and religion and on bioethical issues like genetic testing and screening of embryos.

He had submitted his resignation upon reaching age 75, in accord with canon law.

There are about 220,000 Catholics in the Richmond diocese.

 

FOCUS expands to 15 new campuses this year

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 08:23

Denver, Colo., Aug 18, 2017 / 06:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has announced that it will expand to 15 new campuses for the 2017-2018 school year.

This brings the total number of campuses with a FOCUS presence up to 137.

“I firmly believe God has called me to share this great joy He has given me through this experience to others, and I am absolutely delighted to now be able to do that through FOCUS!” said Natalie Larkins, a first-year FOCUS missionary at Western Kentucky, in a press release.

The new campuses for the upcoming academic year are Bowling Green State University (Ohio), Indiana University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Louisiana State University, Slippery Rock University (Pennsylvania), University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Rochester (New York), University of Southampton (England), University of Southern Mississippi, University of Toledo (Ohio), Valparaiso University (Indiana), West Chester University (Pennsylvania), Western Kentucky University, and Western Michigan University.

A campus outreach ministry, FOCUS works to inspire and equip college students to know, love and share their faith through intentional virtue-based friendships.

Missionaries stationed at campuses throughout the country and internationally invite students to grow in their faith through Bible studies, small groups, events, mission trips, and one-on-one discipleships.

FOCUS has more than doubled its campus presence since 2011.

The organization is hoping to again double the number of campuses it serves within the next five years, with a goal of reaching 250 FOCUS campuses by 2022.

New petition calls for pro-life support against nuclear warfare

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 22:01

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As political tensions increase between the United States and North Korea, one pro-life group began a petition urging nuclear disarmament around the world.

Rehumanize International is asking pro-life advocates to join them in the fight against nuclear arms by signing a letter directed to President Donald Trump and attending an anti-nuclear weapons march outside the White House on Sept. 9.

“And with many pro-lifers around the world who understand that nuclear weapons can never be tools of a Just War, we call on the Trump administration and the governments of all nuclear-wielding nations to dismantle and destroy their nuclear arms!” read the letter, which was posted on Change.org Aug. 11.

Concern over nuclear warfare has recently escalated as North Korea has refused to halt its reported efforts for increased nuclear power as well as intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

Among many smaller ballistic missile tests this year, North Korea last month tested its second intercontinental missile since the country was established, inciting the U.S. to increase economic sanctions against it.

Last week, North Korea mentioned the possibility of targeting U.S. territory Guam, but as of Aug. 16 the country's main news agency said the plans have been paused.

Linking pro-life support to anti-nuclear arms advocacy, the letter begins by stating that nuclear war is opposed to human dignity and demands that more responsibility be taken to end it.

“As supporters of the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings from conception to natural death, and the intrinsic right to life of every member of our human family, we call for an end to nuclear warfare,” the letter read.

“We demand that our executive branch of government be more accountable for our existing nuclear arsenal and sign on to the U.N. treaty for nuclear disarmament.”
 
The U.N.'s 1968 Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons required its signatories to refrain from acquiring nuclear arms, besides the five countries who had attained them before 1967, including the U.S., the U.K., France, China, and Russia. The treaty went into effect in 1970, and was renewed indefinitely in 1995.

The letter is currently open for signatures which can be done electronically on Change.org. They will then be sent to President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence as well as French, British, and United Nation leaders. Among other organizations, the American Solidarity Party and Feminists for Nonviolent Choices have both expressed support for the petition as well as the upcoming march.

“We will join together as powerful pro-life voices who work tirelessly to build a culture of life,” Ruhimanize executive director Aimee Murphy said in an Aug. 17 statement, “as we call on our government to make the truly pro-life policy declaration to condemn the usage of nuclear weapons, no matter who wields them.”

Guam's Catholics pray for peace amid ongoing threats from North Korea

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 19:11

Hagatna, Guam, Aug 17, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the face of North Korea’s threats to bomb the island of Guam, the Catholic faithful have gathered in parishes across the US territory to pray for eased tensions between the two nations.

With more than 80 percent of Guam’s 162,000 population identifying as Catholic, large groups of clergy, religious, and lay persons gathered to offer Mass, rosaries, and other prayers for relief to the pressure between the United States and North Korea.

The world has seen tensions rise between the U.S. and North Korea in recent years, continuing to test ballistic missiles and develop its nuclear options, facing opposition from the world’s leaders and even recent sanctions from the United Nations.  

The coadjutor archbishop of Agaña asked the clergy of the country’s 26 churches to promote peace and offer prayers during Sunday Mass on August 13.

“In your Masses this Sunday, especially in the prayer of the faithful, please offer prayers for peace between our nations, just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action,” said Archbishop Michael Byrnes in an August 11 statement.

Additionally, hundreds of parishioners responded to an invitation by the Archdiocese of Agaña to pray a rosary at the old Spanish government palace, and rallies commemorating the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima took place all across the country.

Guam has faced threats before, but the recent round are particularly intense and explicit. However, priests and lay leaders say prayer brings comfort and hope, recognizing that God is in control of the situation.

The Gospel messages “tell our people that God is in control of what is happening and if we have faith and believe in God all this rhetoric and war possibility here on Guam will be taken care of by God,” said Monte Mesa, vice-chairman of the Guam Visitors Bureau, according to ABC News.

North Korea has been aiming to lengthen their missile range, in what many political leaders have speculated is in ultimate attempt to reach U.S. soil. Last month, the country tested its second intercontinental ballistic missile, leading the U.S. to call for additional economic sanctions.

In response to President Donald Trump’s threat to “bring fire and the fury” if tests continue to pose a risk to American safety, Pyongyang said via an August 9 statement by the Korean Central News Agency that they were “examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam.”

Some 3,000 miles from North Korea, on the southern end of the Mariana Islands, the 210-square mile piece of land is a strategic presence for the U.S., due to its proximity to Asia. Guam has a large number of bases, housing around 7,000 U.S. service members, as well as aircraft carriers, which were a significant force during the Vietnam War.

In an August 16 statement, KCNA said the country is pausing the potential attack on Guam while continuing to monitor U.S behavior. United States officials have still expressed concern.

 

 

Planned Parenthood investigator claims victory in Washington State appeal

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 17:49

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2017 / 03:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Lawyers for Planned Parenthood investigator David Daleiden claimed a victory on Wednesday as the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court sent back a lower court's ruling against him.

“The Court of Appeals, by reversing this decision and remanding this case back to District Court, has prevented a serious threat to the public's right to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Peter Breen, special counsel for the Thomas More Society who argued the appeal for Daleiden.

David Daleiden is the project lead at the Center for Medical Progress, the group that released undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials and others in the abortion industry, as well as interviews of a former clinician for a tissue harvester.

The videos claimed to report on the transfer of fetal tissue of aborted babies from clinics to tissue harvesters for research purposes.

Daleiden and other citizen journalists created a fake medical supply company company and adopted fake identifications to pose as representatives of a fetal tissue procurement company looking to possibly do business with Planned Parenthood clinics. They discussed possible prices for fetal tissue of aborted babies.

Compensation for fetal tissue of aborted babies that is used for research is allowed under federal law for, provided the amount of compensation is not for “valuable consideration” and is “reasonable,” to cover operating expenses like storage and transfer.

In the particular case decided on Monday, Daleiden had requested to view records from the University of Washington’s acquisition and use of fetal tissue of aborted babies for research in their Birth Defects Research Laboratory.

According to his lawyers, Daleiden requested that the names and personal contact information of persons in the records not be made public, but the university sued to block even more information like the job titles and departments from being made public.

“The government employees and the abortion personnel are seeking to force heavy redactions in public documents about their work procuring, processing, and transferring the organs and tissue of aborted human fetuses, in connection with the school’s taxpayer-funded Birth Defects Research Laboratory,” the Thomas More Society stated.

“Such heavy redactions render these public documents useless for investigative purposes,” the group said of the additional requested redactions.

A district court ruled in the university’s favor, issuing an injunction on the additional information being made public. Daleiden’s lawyers appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Monday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously ordered the lower court to explain further why it had allowed censorship of the public records.

The “Doe Plaintiffs” – or the persons whose information was contained in the records – would have to prove both that they “were engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment” and that they faced a “reasonable probability” of harm which could threaten their First Amendment rights, due to backlash once the records were made public, the court said.

The Ninth Circuit kept in place a temporary injunction on release of the information, to allow the district court time to find if the plaintiffs’ claims met the standards for the information to be censored.

“We remand for the district court to address how disclosure of specific information would violate the constitutional or statutory rights of particular individuals or groups of individuals,” the ruling said.

Theologian Pia de Solenni appointed Orange County chancellor

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 16:44

Orange, Calif., Aug 16, 2017 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Moral theologian and cultural analyst Dr. Pia de Solenni has been appointed chancellor for the Diocese of Orange in California, effective Aug. 28.

“Pia is an inspirational and well-respected theologian and has proven herself a thoughtful and humble leader within our Church,” said Bishop Kevin Vann in a statement announcing the appointment.

“We are blessed as a Diocese to benefit from her expertise, passion, and faith. I look forward to the many gifts that she will continue to bring to bear in service to the people of Orange.”

As chancellor – the diocese’s highest senior lay position – de Solenni will be the head administrator and secretary of the Curia, official archivist and record keeper, and aid in protecting the integrity of the faith. She will help support the administrative and ministry efforts of the bishop, and will advise the bishop on various writings and questions involving doctrine and dogma affecting the Church’s local work.

Currently, de Solenni serves as a theological consultant to the Office of the Bishop, as well as associate dean of the Augustine Institute’s satellite campus at the Christ Cathedral in Orange. She holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.

An expert on moral issues pertaining to bioethics, culture, and women’s issues, she has given commentary for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, as well as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, among others.

With more than 1.3 million Catholics, the Diocese of Orange is the 12th largest diocese in the United States.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve the Diocese of Orange as Chancellor. I am very grateful to Bishop Vann for his confidence in me and for giving me this opportunity,” de Solenni said.

 

Archbishop Gomez: Make Oscar Romero's mission your own

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 08:02

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 16, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 100th birthday of Blessed Oscar Romero was a time for Los Angelenos to reflect on the martyred Salvadoran bishop's virtues and how his vision can be made a reality today.

“One hundred years after his birth, Blessed Oscar Romero still inspires us for his humility and courage – for his love for the poor and his witness of solidarity and service to others, even to the point of laying down his life,” Archbishop Jose Gomez said at an Aug. 13 Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral marking the centenary of Romero’s birth.

“Our brother, Blessed Oscar, had a vision for a new society – the society that God wants – a society in which God’s gifts are shared by everyone, and not only the few,” he continued. “We want to carry that vision forward in our own times, and in our own society.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador was born Aug. 15, 1917.

Amid El Salvador’s bloody civil war, the archbishop preached the importance of Christian love. At a time when government-aligned death squads would kill and abduct opponents of the government, he was a strong critic of government violence against the poor, human rights violations, and corruption, despite many death threats.

He was assassinated March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador. Right-wing death squads are suspected in his death.

Pope Francis declared Archbishop Romero a martyr in February 2015, then beatified him in May 2015.

There were three relics of the slain archbishop at the Mass in Los Angeles: the microphone he used to celebrate Mass at the San Salvador cathedral; an autographed photograph he gave to a woman religious who assisted him and was present the day he was murdered; and a piece of cloth with his blood from the day he was assassinated. Many Salvadorans were in attendance.

Archbishop Gomez told the congregation: “we want to ask this great saint to help all of us to live with new faith, new hope and new love.”

“We ask him to intercede for us – to give us courage to continue his project, his ‘revolution of love’,” the archbishop continued, saying that Romero “walked in the company of Jesus and in the company of his people.” He served his people “with a pastor’s love, with a father’s love”

“God gives each of us a mission. It is not just for bishops, like Monseñor Romero,” said the Los Angeles archbishop. “Each one of us, in our own way, is called to build the Kingdom of God.”

Archbishop Gomez cited Romero’s own words: “Let each one of you, in your own vocation – nun, married person, bishop, priest, high-school or university student, workman, laborer, market woman – each one in your own place live the faith intensely and feel that in your surroundings you are a true microphone of God.”

The archbishop emphasized the need for “total confidence in God” despite times of troubles and trials, as in the Gospels when the apostles were at sea in a powerful storm. Even when they saw Jesus approaching on the water, they think he is a ghost.

“We can get anxious about our future or worrying about the things in our lives, that we can think that God is not there for us. But he is,” said Archbishop Gomez. St. Peter was fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but began to sink when he thought about his human limitations and the storms around him.

Despite the struggles and challenges Romero faced, he kept his eyes on Jesus Christ.

“Let us carry the Gospel message of love and mercy, truth and justice into every corner of our world,” said the archbishop. He invoked the patron of El Salvador, Our Lady of Peace, asking that she guide her children “to know the freedom, justice and peace that Blessed Oscar Romero gave his life for.”

The archbishop voiced prayers for those in El Salvador who suffer violence, and those who live in poverty throughout Central America and Latin America, especially for those in Venezuela.

US State Department recognizes ISIS genocide in religious freedom report

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 18:57

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom advocates were heartened by the State Department recognizing in its annual religious freedom report released Tuesday the genocide of Christians by the Islamic State.

“As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and even death,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated at the Aug. 15 release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom report.

“Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled,” he said. “ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

The annual State Department report is mandated by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which created the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department and worked to make promoting religious freedom a part of U.S. foreign policy.

The 2016 report makes explicit reference to the “genocide” of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims at the hands of the Islamic State, or “Daesh.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry had said in March of 2016 that “in my judgement, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

In 2014, Islamic State militants conquered large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria, forcing religious and ethnic minorities in the region to stay and convert to Islam, leave, or die.

Reports documented that Islamic State committed mass killings of Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and others, as well as enslaving women and children. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians partnered to release a massive report documenting Islamic State atrocities committed against Christians.

As Islamic State has been driven from towns in northern Iraq, the inhabitants have returned to find their homes vandalized and their churches desecrated or destroyed.

“America’s promotion of international religious freedom demands standing up for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” the preface to the State Department’s report stated.

Tillerson added that in addition to Christians being targeted for genocide in Iraq and Syria, they have also been targeted by Islamic State militants in Egypt.

“The protection of these groups – and others subject to violent extremism – is a human rights priority for the Trump administration,” he said.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., welcomed Tillerson’s statement as an even more forceful pronouncement of genocide than was made by the previous administration.

Tillerson, Shea said, “forcefully clarified that ISIS has the ‘specific intent’ of destroying the Christian community, along with the other two minorities.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the author of the update to the original International Religious Freedom Act, also praised Tillerson for specifically recognizing the atrocities committed against minorities under Islamic State.

“I want to commend Secretary Tillerson for focusing on those who have been victims of genocide,” he said. “These groups are looking for help and leadership, and I am proud that after eight years of denial and foot dragging, this report positions the United States to become a world leader in helping those who need it most.”

Tillerson, in his remarks unveiling the report on Tuesday, also focused on the persecution of minorities in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Pakistan, Sudan, and Bahrain.

In Iran, for instance, 20 persons were executed by the state in 2016 for apostasy charges including “waging war against God,” he said. Baha'i leaders are still imprisoned for their religious beliefs in the country, where the state religion is Ja’afari Shia Islam.

In Turkey, religious minorities have seen their rights infringed upon by the government, which has also imprisoned Pastor Andrew Brunson who should be released, Tillerson said.

“Turkey continues to unjustly imprison Dr. Andrew Brunson without charges, and I appreciate Secretary Tillerson reminding the world of this. It is important for America to be clear about the human rights abuses happening around the world,” Sen. Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

Tillerson also named Saudi Arabia as a violator of human rights and religious freedom, as punishments like prison and lashings are given to persons for charges of apostasy, atheism, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam.

“We urge Saudi Arabia to embrace greater degrees of religious freedom for all of its citizens,” Tillerson stated to the U.S. ally.

China is another well-known human rights violator, torturing and detaining thousands of citizens for their religious beliefs, including Uyghur Muslims and the members of Falun Gong, Tillerson said.

However, the secretary did not also mention that Christians are persecuted by the government there. State-sanctioned destruction of churches, or removing crosses from churches, has become commonplace in some provinces, and state officials have hampered parents from bringing their children to church.

In addition, the Vatican and the Chinese government have been working on an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the state-sanctioned Church, although critics like Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, say the atheistic government will continue to meddle in the elections of bishops.

Smith said the report “rightly shows that China’s religious freedom conditions are among the world’s worst.”

“The Chinese government is an equal opportunity abuser of the rights of Protestants, Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners – all who face imprisonment and torture for practicing their faith,” he said.

Calling the report “a step in the right direction,” he also commended the reporting on other countries, such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Nigeria. and Syria, “with individuals who simply want to worship in peace being beaten, jailed, tortured or worse.”

“The more difficult step will be to place these countries or non-state actors like ISIS and Boko Haram on the U.S. blacklist of severe religious freedom violators,” he said.

This would include updating the “Countries of Particular Concern” list, which is comprised of countries the State Department deems where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place and the government is either the instigator, actively complicit, or is powerless to stop the abuses.

The creation of the list was mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act as a way to hold violators of religious freedom accountable. Actions can be legally taken against such countries if the State Department places them on the CPC list, like imposing sanctions.

With the rise of non-state terror groups like Islamic State and Boko Haram, Smith’s bill created the “Entities of Particular Concern” designation for violators of religious freedom that are not themselves states and who are active in multiple countries.

The State Department currently has designated China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs.

Pakistan does not occupy a place on the list despite leading the world in the number of prison sentences for blasphemy, which can carry a death sentence.

Also, Tillerson did not mention Russia in his remarks, despite the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission that advises the State Department, asking that it be added to the CPC list as one of the worst violators of religious freedom.

In its annual report earlier this year, the commission pointed to the criminalization of certain non-sanctioned religious beliefs in the Russian mainland, and the treatment of minorities in the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula as serious abuses that merited Russia’s place on the CPC list. Recently, Russia’s supreme court rejected an appeal of the outlawing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the Trump administration’s selection earlier this summer of an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, who is charged with monitoring abuses of freedom of religion abroad and promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy.

President Donald Trump nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a former U.S. Senator, for the position. Lankford expressed his desire that Brownback be confirmed for the position soon.

'Forgive them' – powerful words from father of Charlottesville victim

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 16:49

Charlottesville, Va., Aug 15, 2017 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia involving white supremacy groups and counter-protesters, the father of the woman who was killed after the rally spoke out against hatred and offered a different message: forgiveness and love.

“I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, 'Forgive them. They don't know what they're doing,'” Mark Heyer said Monday, according to USA Today.

“I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this,” he said.

Mark Heyer is the father of Heather Heyer, the 32 year-old woman who was fatally hit by a car after the “Unite the Right” rally near the University of Virginia on Saturday. The rally drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, who were protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the park downtown.

Heather was among the group of counter-protesters who were standing against the Unite the Right rally, which also included various religious leaders and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Heather grew up near Charlottesville and was a paralegal at Miller Law Group. The law firm called Heather an “irreplaceable asset,” and noted her “big heart for people.” She was known in her community for standing up for the marginalized in society.

“She was a strong woman who had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone, and she tried to stand up for that,” her father said.

“With her, it wasn’t lip service. It was real… it was something that she wanted to share with everyone,” he continued, saying “she had more courage than I did.”

Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, also noted her daughter’s passion for others, saying that “it was important to her to speak up for people who were not being heard.”

The driver of the car that hit Heather is 20-year old James Alex Fields, who is now facing multiple charges including a hit and run, second-degree murder, and counts of malicious wounding. He drove his car into several other cars while crowds of people were crossing the streets after the rally, injuring dozens of people. A total of 19 victims were hospitalized.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice issued a joint statement on Sunday, condemning the “evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

They also prayed for Heather, and two other victims who were Virginia State troopers, saying “let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.”

While devastated with the loss of his daughter, Mark Heyer hopes that her death will cause bigger waves of change.

“I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people's hearts.”

New Texas law axes insurance coverage for elective abortion

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 16:45

Austin, Texas, Aug 15, 2017 / 02:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law in Texas removes elective abortion coverage from the standard package of health insurance benefits offered in many plans, a move that pro-life advocates hailed as a victory for those who do not want to subsidize abortion.

“As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” said Governor Greg Abbott upon signing House Bill 214 into law on Tuesday.

“This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.”

Under the new law, elective abortions will not be covered in standard private or state employee health insurance plans, nor in public plans subsidized by the Affordable Care Act.

Abortions deemed to be necessary in cases of medical emergency will still be covered in standard plans, and optional separate coverage for elective abortions may be purchased by those who are interested.

“This isn’t about who can get an abortion. It is about who is forced to pay for an abortion,” said Rep. John Smithee, lead author of the bill.

The law was signed during a special legislative session. It had been approved by the House in a 95-51 vote last week, and by the Senate in a 20-10 vote on Sunday.

More than half of U.S. states limit coverage of abortion under the Affordable Care Act.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, denounced the law, saying it will negatively impact women who “need” abortions.

Another bill signed into law by Abbott on Tuesday requires doctors and health care offices to report additional details about abortion complications.

State Sen. Donna Campbell said during a debate on the legislation last month that “collecting this data is important to guarantee best medical practices.”

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