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Why the Knights of Columbus will resettle Iraqi Christians

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 16:55

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 4, 2017 / 02:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The urgency of the problems facing displaced Iraqi Christians has driven a new campaign by the Knights of Columbus to resettle an entire village in their homes, says a spokesman for the Knights.

The roughly 200,000 Christians still in Iraq – down from 1.5 million in 2003 – “are increasingly feeling a sense of hopelessness over the situation,” Andrew Walther, vice president of communications for the Knights of Columbus, told CNA on Thursday.

Even with Islamic State swept out of most of Iraq, many Christian families who lived in Mosul or on the nearby Nineveh Plain are not yet able to return to their homes, three years after being displaced by the group.

With their lives as internally displaced persons surpassing the three-year mark, “it was made very clear that if there weren’t concrete steps that showed people that moving home was possible in the next 30 to 60 days, there was a very good chance that many of them would just leave for other countries in the region, for wherever they could go,” Walther said.

The Knights of Columbus announced this week that it was beginning a $2 million drive to raise and donate money to resettle an entire village of families in Karemlesh, a town on the Nineveh Plain 18 miles outside Mosul. Most of the families are Chaldean or Syriac Christians, with some Shabak families, Walther said.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced the drive during his annual remarks on Tuesday at the 135th annual international convention of the Knights of Columbus. The group is an international Catholic men’s organization with over 1.9 million members in councils all over the world.

“Now we will ensure that hundreds of Christian families driven from their homes can return to these two locations and help to ensure a pluralistic future for Iraq,” Anderson said on Tuesday announcing the drive.  100 percent of the funds raised would go to help Christians rebuild their homes.

The Islamic State swept through large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, giving families of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities an ultimatum – convert to Islam, die, or leave.

“When ISIS took the town, everybody fled,” Walther said, and militants began their campaign of cultural genocide: burning homes, desecrating parishes, destroying Christian symbols, and even digging up the body of a local priest to desecrate his grave.

“They wanted not just to erase the Christians from the town, they wanted to erase whatever was reminiscent of Christianity from the town as well,” Walther said.

Many Christians fled eastward to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where around 70,000 Christians were living in and around the city of Erbil, dependent upon aid groups for their basic needs.

Since 2014, the Knights have already provided over $13 million in aid to Christians in Iraq and Syria who have suffered persecution, most notably at the hands of Islamic State.

The Knights also helped produce a report for the U.S. State Department, which requested it, detailing the violence and forced displacement inflicted upon Christians in Syria and Iraq. The report helped lead to the State Department declaring in March of 2016 that Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic State has since been forced back from much of the territory it gained, including the Nineveh Plain and Mosul. “With the departure of ISIS as a meaningful military force, you have a lot of new opportunities, in terms of rebuilding and resettling, that you didn’t have six months ago, three months ago,” Walther said.

Now, however, many Christians have still not been able to return to their homes, which were vandalized, damaged, or destroyed by Islamic State militants. Their future is in question as they are currently living as displaced persons in Kurdistan. The situation is so bleak that local Church leaders are saying that if something is not done to remedy the problem, Christians could leave Iraq for good.

If that is the case, it would be an ideological victory for Islamic State, whose “program was the de-Christianization of Iraq, the total obliteration of any religious minorities,” Walther said.

Furthermore, with Christians gone, it could further destabilize Iraq by helping eliminate religious pluralism. “Christians are an enormous example of forgiveness, and they’ve been praised by imams in Iraq, by television commentators in Egypt, for this capacity of forgiveness,” Walther said.

And if the Christians have no more roots in the land where they have lived for centuries, a priceless cultural vestige could be gone as well.

The government of Hungary has already given $2 million to move around 1,000 families back to the town of Telskuf, Walther said, providing a working example that such a plan can be successful.

“We have a proof of concept, we know this can work, and we know that if it worked in Telskuf, there’s no reason that it wouldn’t work in a town also in Nineveh that is also predominately Christian that also has its population in Erbil,” he said.

The money would go to provide materials for Christians to repair their homes from the destruction that Islamic State inflicted. “The families are actually putting their own lives back together with a little bit of assistance,” Walther said. “The idea is to make these houses habitable.”

And although a goal of $2 million is lofty, it is entirely within reach if parishes and communities all over the world pitch in, Walther said.

“An individual can do this,” he said. “A prayer group can do this. 20 people put in $100, you can send somebody home. This is one of those things where people can do a concrete, tangible action that is a meaningful step in saving Christianity in the Middle East.”

“It’s a model that can allow Christianity to be transplanted back to where it was,” Walther said. “It’s an early step, but it’s an important step if Christianity is going to survive in Iraq.”

Donations to the project can be made at www.christiansatrisk.org or via phone at 1-800-694-5713. Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law, the Knights said.

Study finds more Americans are approving of polygamy

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 08:02

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new poll shows that seventeen percent of people in the U.S. now find polygamy to be morally permissible, citing an increase of acceptance among non-religious people as a major factor.

“Though polygamous societies often justify their lifestyle on religious grounds, it is Americans who do not identify with any religion who are most accepting of the practice,” said Andrew Dugan, an analyst for Gallup.

“Between 2011 and 2017, 32 percent of Americans who do not associate with a particular religion or have no religion at all said polygamy was 'morally acceptable,'” he said in a July 28 statement.

In a Values and Beliefs poll issued May 3-7, Dugan commented that while public opinion hasn't shifted greatly on certain moral issues such as abortion, polygamy's approval rating has steadily increased 10 percent since 2003.

Despite the practice of polygamy being often found in fundamentalist sects of religion, it grew most of its acceptance from non-religious people due to LGBT and pro-abortion advocacy gaining cultural traction.  

Yet no legislation has yet been passed in polygamy's favor, with the state of Utah in fact passing a bill increasing the penalty for convicted polygamists.

Statistically those actually practicing polygamy are usually in small sects of the Muslim and Mormon faith, but Dugan suggested that the raising sympathy has been a byproduct of the media.

He pointed that the approval rating really only increased after a polygamy reality show started to air in 2010. Now in the middle of its seventh season, Dugan said the show “Sister Wives” has drawn sympathy from the public by humanizing a polygamist family.

Additionally, Dugan said the increase after 2010 followed a change in the meaning of the word, switching from patriarchal and masculine centered idea to a gender neutral definition – a married individual has more than one spouse.

He doubts the practice of polygamy has increased much, but expressed it is the results of “the general tendency for those who are less religious to be more liberal on social issues.”

Civilta Cattolica inspired counterproductive debate, American critics say

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 00:08

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2017 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A prominent Jesuit publication’s essay on American religion and politics continues to provoke responses from critics concerned its two authors fundamentally misunderstand the situation of Catholics in the United States.

“Their essay is bad but important,” said New York Times columnist Ross Douthat Aug. 2, saying its apparent intention is to warn about Catholic support for “the darker tendencies in Trumpism” like xenophobia, stigmatization of enemies, the “prosperity-gospel inflected worship of success,” and a “crude view of Islam.”

For Douthat, however, the authors’ understanding of American religion “seems to start and end with Google searches and anti-evangelical tracts.” In his view, secularization and political polarization have made the place of Catholics in the U.S. “more difficult and perplexing.” Both Catholic support for Trump and more radical Catholic critiques “are not the culmination of the Catholic-evangelical alliance but rather a reaction to its political and cultural failures — and the failures of liberal religious politics as well.”

On July 13 the Jesuit-run journal La Civilta Cattolica published an analysis piece co-authored by its editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor who is editor-in-chief of the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of Vatican City.

The piece, titled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism” made a number of claims, alleging that many conservative Christians have united to promote an “ecumenism of hate” in policies that contradict Pope Francis’ message of mercy. They claimed that that “Evangelical fundamentalists” and “Catholic Integralists” are being brought together in a “surprising ecumenism” by a shared desire for religious influence in politics.

Douthat said the essay’s authors seemed to be motivated by “fear and ignorance.”

Their attack on Trump-friendly positions expands and conflates “very different political and religious tendencies, indulging in paranoia about obscure theocratic Protestants and fringe Catholic websites, and ultimately critiquing every kind of American religious conservatism.” Their critique includes “the largely anti-political Benedict Option and the pro-life activism fulsomely supported by Francis’ papal predecessors.”

“None of this makes any sense,” Douthat said. “The post-1970s evangelical-Catholic alliance has been flawed in various ways, but it is neither theocratic nor illiberal.”

He said both American Catholics and Protestants feel “their leaders and thinkers have spent decades rallying to the republic, trying to bring about its moral and political renewal … only to see republican virtues decaying, liberalism turning hostile to religious faith, and democratic capitalism delivering disappointment and dislocation.”

Douthat saw an increase in “disillusionment and homelessness” among Catholic thinkers. Older Catholic approaches to politics seem to be out of energy and influence. Western liberalism seems “at once hostile to traditional religion and beset by internal contradictions,” which seems to make the moment “ripe for serious Catholic rethinking.”

In both the rhetoric of Pope Francis and among unsettled American Catholics are hints that American politics is in a transition point. Douthat argued that Fr. Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa missed this.

“In their evident paranoia about what the Americans are up to, you see a different spirit: a fear of novelty and disruption, and a desire for a church that’s primarily a steward of social peace, a mild and ecumenical presence, a moderate pillar of the establishment in a stable and permanently liberal age,” Douthat claimed, saying that those who desire such a Church need to do better to understand “why so many of their flock, in Europe and the United States, find this vision insufficient to the times.”

Catholic commentator George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, questioned the decision to publish the essay.

Writing at First Things Aug. 2, Weigel noted that La Civilta Cattolica is often read because it is vetted by the Secretariat of State. Its articles are assumed to have “quasi-official” status and are commonly believed “to reflect the cast of mind of the current pontificate.”

“What kind of vetting did this misbegotten article get? Were any knowledgeable experts on U.S. Catholicism or American evangelical Protestantism consulted on what the overseers must have known would be an incendiary piece?”

If the article really represents the views of the Secretariat of State, Weigel asked, he questioned how to interpret the speech of apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Cristoph Pierre, whose address to the U.S. bishops “bears no resemblance to the wasteland of madcap pseudo-theology and hatred.”

Weigel approvingly summarized other critics of the article for an “ill-informed misrepresentation of American religious history”; for “surreal descriptions” of 21st century Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism; its “obsessions with marginal figures in contemporary American religious life”; and its “misreading” of how religion informs public debate in the U.S.

He suggested that the journal and the credibility of the Secretariat of State could be better served by severing the connection, warning that the interpretations of the article “raise deeply disturbing questions about the competence of both parties.”

The New York Times depicted the Civilta Cattolica essay as “A Vatican Shot Across the Bow for Hard-Line U.S. Catholics.” The essay has drawn defenders in publications such as Commonweal Magazine and the National Catholic Reporter.

However, the editors of Commonweal Magazine, themselves unsympathetic to U.S. Catholic conservatism, are also among the critics.

In a July 25 editorial, they described the essay as “a mishmash of wild and erroneous claims, made in a disjointed, almost impenetrable style,” whose authors “seem woefully ignorant of American religious history.” They said the essay was a “lost opportunity” to criticize the partisan use of religion in a way that might engage “those who do not yet have ears to hear.”

Proposed legal immigration limits draw strong criticism from US bishops

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 18:21

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2017 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Senate proposal for immigration limits backed by President Donald Trump would hurt family unity and exclude too many vulnerable people, the U.S. Catholic bishops have said.

“Had this discriminatory legislation been in place generations ago, many of the very people who built and defended this nation would have been excluded,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration.

Bishop Vasquez voiced strong opposition to the legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.). The proposed bill is called the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, also known as the RAISE Act.

The legislation announced on Wednesday would cut by half the number of legal immigrants the U.S. accepts each year. It would limit green cards for foreign nationals seeking to reunite with their families, and halve the number of refugees allowed to enter the country. The diversity visa lottery, which gives visas to countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S., would also be eliminated, National Public Radio reports.

“The United States supports families and should not throw up obstacles to their unity,” Bishop Vasquez said Aug. 2, charging that the legislation “would have our nation turn its back on this long and storied tradition of welcoming families setting out to build a better life.”

The bishops objected to the permanent cap on the number of refugees who are allowed safe passage through the country, saying this would prevent the flexibility needed to respond to humanitarian crises.

“As a Church, we believe the stronger the bonds of family, the greater a person’s chance of succeeding in life. The RAISE Act imposes a definition of family that would weaken those bonds,” Bishop Vasquez said.

The bishops urged the Senate to reject the measure and asked Congress and the president to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

“I believe that such reform must recognize the many contributions that immigrants of all backgrounds have made to our nation, and must protect the lives and dignity of all, including the most vulnerable,” said Bishop Vasquez.

President Donald Trump said the bill would reduce poverty, increase wages, and save “billions and billions of dollars” in taxpayer money. The bill would bar new arrivals from receiving welfare.

The president said the proposal would favor applicants “who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.”

The prospects for the bill’s success are not clear and at least two Republican senators are likely opponents, National Public Radio reports.

Knights of Columbus 'modernize' Fourth Degree uniforms

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 16:56

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 3, 2017 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The classic ceremonial hats and capes of Fourth Degree members of the Knights of Columbus that you may have seen at Mass or at parish events will now be getting a major alteration.

“This fraternal year, we make another historic change. The Board of Directors has decided that the time is right for a modernization of the Fourth Degree uniform,” Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson announced on Tuesday at the Knights’ 135th annual international convention in St. Louis, Mo.

 

Aaaand the new color guard unis, which are getting some attention on social media... pic.twitter.com/vALB7QVSix

— Matthew Hadro (@matthadro) August 3, 2017  

The Knights of Columbus is an international Catholic men’s organization with over 1.9 million members worldwide. The organization promotes four virtues of fraternity, unity, charity, and solidarity among its members.

The Fourth Degree uniform is worn by those who have reached the highest levels of the Knights of Columbus, are at least 18 years of age and have been a Third Degree member in good standing.

Each degree is associated with one of the four virtues of the Knights, with patriotism being associated with the Fourth Degree.

Members of the Fourth Degree serve in honor guards for liturgical processions or in color guards at ceremonial events, hence the distinctive nature of their uniform.

The uniform of the Fourth Degree has changed throughout the history of the Knights, as previous versions included a top hat and a tuxedo with tails. However, it has remained relatively the same since 1940 – a plumed chapeau which can be worn with plumes of different recognized colors, a tuxedo, a cape, and a ceremonial sword.

Now, however, the Knights will be leaving behind the classic uniform for a “modernized” version, a blue blazer with the Fourth Degree emblem and dark gray slacks, a blue Fourth Degree tie, and a beret.

Vice supreme masters processed into Mass on Tuesday at the convention wearing the new uniform. Anderson then officially announced the change while delivering the annual report of the Supreme Knight.

The board of directors for the Knights decided for the change, Anderson said, to “modernize” the dress uniform that is typically worn at ceremonial or solemn events.

“On a limited basis, assemblies may choose to continue using the traditional cape and chapeau for color corps at public events and for honor guards in liturgical processions,” Anderson said on Tuesday.

“However, the preferred dress for the Fourth Degree – including color corps and honor guards – is now the new uniform of jacket and beret.”

Will Democrats’ future include pro-lifers? The debate continues.

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading Democratic Party campaigner has signaled openness to pro-life candidates, continuing months of controversy over the party’s future.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in charge of helping Democratic congressional candidates, told The Hill there would be no “litmus test” for candidates on abortion when it comes to funding their campaigns.

The comments drew support from Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America.

“We have been advocating for years that the Democratic Party needs to open itself up to the viewpoints of more than 20 million pro-life Democrats,” Day said Aug. 1.

“Our party, which advocates for diversity and inclusion, has been sending mixed messages about inclusion for its pro-life members,” said Day, adding the statement shows “that Democrats are serious about winning again."

Democrats for Life cited the loss of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, traditionally strong Democratic states, in the 2016 presidential election. The states are “very pro-life,” the organization said.

Lujan’s remarks focused on winning a majority of 218 votes in the House of Representatives, which would require winning 24 seats in the 2018 elections.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” he told TheHill.com. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

“We’ll need a broad coalition to get that done,” he said. “We are going to need all of that, we have to be a big family in order to win the House back.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List and an advisor to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign, said the Democratic party’s official abortion stand has cost it.

“Democrats’ extreme pro-abortion platform has lost more votes than it has gained and led to defeat in the last two election cycles,” she said, citing a Gallup poll reporting that 32 percent of Democrats consider themselves pro-life.

At the same time, Dannenfelser said Lujan’s comments are “not the same as concrete policy endorsements.”

“Only changes in the party platform that represent majority views and momentum, like that of the Pain-Capable bill, will signify true change,” she said, referring to a bill that bars abortion when the unborn child is believed to feel pain.

Pro-abortion rights groups, however, criticized Lujan’s comments and downplayed any claimed advantage in backing pro-life candidates.

NARAL Pro-Choice America national campaigns director Mitchell Stille rejected as “sadly mistaken” any claim that President Trump and Republican candidates won in 2016 because of opposition to abortion.

The Democratic Party’s abortion support was a focus of controversy in the early 2017 campaign of Health Mello, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, Neb.
 
In mid-April former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez publicly supported Mello. Mello had supported abortion restrictions in the past as a state senator, and was endorsed by Nebraska Right to Life in 2012, but received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska in 2015.

Mello had pledged not to do anything as mayor that would restrict “access to reproductive health care.” Nonetheless, pro-abortion rights groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America criticized the Perez and Sanders endorsements as “politically stupid.”

DNC chair Tom Perez responded to criticism by appearing to strongly reject any openness to pro-life candidates.

“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” he said April 21. “This is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”

At the time, a DNC aide told The Hill this statement did not represent a litmus test.

Dannenfelser said Aug. 1 that some Democrats are starting to recognize their vulnerability on abortion, even though “abortion lobby leaders are beside themselves over the mere suggestion that a pro-life Democrat be permitted to run.”

In 2006, the last time the Democrats won the House of Representatives from Republican control, the party recruited and supported several pro-life Democrats.

What a missionary to North Korea told the Knights of Columbus convention

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 17:20

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 2, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Service to the poor on the peripheries of society was a theme of the 2017 Knights of Columbus States Dinner held Tuesday evening in St. Louis.

“I stand before you in deep gratitude for your love and concern for hearing the cry of the poor,” Fr. Gerard Hammond, M.M. told those in attendance at the States Dinner at the annual Knights of Columbus international convention Aug. 1.

“May we always embrace those who need our mercy and compassion.”

Fr. Hammond, a Maryknoll missionary to North Korea, received the Gaudium et Spes Award from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at the dinner.

The award, named after Vatican II's pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, is the highest honor bestowed by the Knights of Columbus and is given to persons “for their exemplary contributions to the realization of the message of faith and service in the spirit of Christ.”

St. Theresa of Calcutta was the first person to receive the award in 1992. On the award medal is an image of Venerable Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, comforting a widow and an orphan.

The Knights of Columbus is a worldwide Catholic men’s organization founded in 1882 by Fr. McGivney “to strengthen the faith of Catholic men” and to “protect their families,” in the words of Supreme Knight and CEO Carl Anderson. Since its founding it has grown into an international organization with over 1.9 million members.

This week, around 2,000 Knights from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe meet in St. Louis for the 135th international convention. The theme of this year’s convention is “Convinced of God’s Love and Power.”

Fr. Hammond received his award for his missionary work in North Korea. He has made 50 trips into the country since 1995 to treat patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

Although he is not allowed by the North Korean government to proselytize, he still tries carry out his priestly mission through serving the sick as an “apostle of peace” and to bring “hope for the voiceless.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, introducing Fr. Hammond at the dinner, said that in the spirit of Gaudium et Spes, Fr. Hammond “has taken upon himself the ‘griefs and anxieties’ of those who are ‘poor and afflicted,’ as he seeks to share with them, through compassionate action, the ‘joys and hopes’ of faith in Jesus Christ.”

Fr. Hammond has “exemplified the call of Pope Francis to go to the peripheries,” Archbishop Lori said.

“God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself ‘became poor’,” the archbishop said. “The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor.”

Later on Tuesday evening, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow and former personal secretary to Pope St. John Paul II, praised the Knights for spreading the messages of mercy and the Gospel all over the world.

“The Knights of Columbus embraced the message of Divine Mercy proclaimed by the Pope from Kraków, and they proclaim this message in a world affected by various forms of injustice and violence,” he said in his remarks at the dinner.

Pope Francis has taught us to see to see “the other,” our neighbor,” as a “gift,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, said on Tuesday at the dinner.   

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he said that the two men who passed by the wounded man were “looking to self-interest, looking to other things.” The Good Samaritan, however, “tosses aside any consideration except love of neighbor. His help and generosity is excessive.”

Furthermore, he said, Christ teaches that “there is no more boundary when it comes to ‘who are you neighbor to’?” The Knights of Columbus live this teaching out, he said, helping everyone – the immigrant, the refugee, or the Christian displaced from their home.

Cardinal DiNardo also urged those in attendance to join in solidarity with Eastern Rite Catholics who are fasting before the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. He asked Latin rite Catholics to pray and fast for persecuted Christians in the days leading up to the Assumption.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Vatican sent a message to the convention assuring those in attendance of the “good wishes” and prayers of Pope Francis.

“The Holy Father has often observed that in our own day a new world war is being fought piecemeal, as an ungodly thirst for power and domination, whether economic, political, or military, is leading to untold violence, injustice and suffering in our human family,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said in his written message delivered at the opening business session of the convention.

Pope Francis, he said, “has asked Christians everywhere, truly convinced of the infinite power of God’s love, to reject this mentality and to combat the growth of a global culture of indifference that discards the least of our brothers and sisters.”

Cardinal Parolin asked the Knights to “respond generously to this challenge” through working for the “sanctification of the world from within” in their lay vocation.

He also noted Pope Francis’ appreciation for the Knights upholding “the sanctity of marriage and the dignity and beauty of family life,” as well as the organization’s aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

Knights of Columbus to raise $2 million to rebuild Iraqi town

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 12:10

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 2, 2017 / 10:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Knights of Columbus on Tuesday announced it will raise and donate $2 million to re-settle Iraqi Christian families displaced by the Islamic State in their home town of Karemlesh on the Nineveh Plain.

“The terrorists desecrated churches and graves and looted and destroyed homes,” Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said in his Aug. 1 remarks announcing the $2 million project.

“Now we will ensure that hundreds of Christian families driven from their homes can return to these two locations and help to ensure a pluralistic future for Iraq,” he said. In order for Iraq to have such a future, he said Christians must be treated as “free and equal citizens” and not suffer the “religious apartheid” of previous years.

Anderson addressed the 135th annual convention of the Knights of Columbus held in St. Louis, Mo. Aug.1-3. 90 bishops and 12 cardinals were present, along with Knights councils from all over the world.

The Knights of Columbus is an international Catholic men’s organization founded, in Anderson’s words, to “strengthen the faith of Catholic men” and “protect their families.” Over 1.9 million are members of the organization, founded in 1882 by Venerable Fr. Michael J. McGivney.

The four pillars of the organization are charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism.

An international aid organization as well, the Knights’ Christian Refugee Relief Fund has provided over $13 million in aid to persecuted Christians since 2014, mostly in Iraq and Syria. In 2014, forces of the Islamic State overran large swathes of Syria and Iraq, killing or displacing many Christian families.

The group has since been forced back, losing much of its territory, including the Nineveh Plain where many Christians lived.

Around 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003, but that number has fallen to below an estimated 250,000. The situation for Iraqi Christians is so dire, Anderson said, that “without substantial assistance” in the next two months, many of them might leave Iraq for good.

Christians have lived in the area for centuries, tracing their communities back to almost the beginning of Christianity. Some speak Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken, and various ancient shrines existed in the region, including the tomb of the prophet Jonah which was destroyed by Islamic State.

“These Christian communities are a priceless treasure for the Church and for humanity,” Anderson said on Tuesday. He called the Knights’ drive to raise money for them a “concrete step” to aid the beleaguered Christians.

The amount of $2 million would also match the donation of the government of Hungary, which has helped resettle around 1,000 families in the Iraqi village of Telskuf.

The Knights will partner with the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil to help rebuild Karemlesh, which is just 18 miles east of Mosul.

Anderson said that while the town was controlled by Islamic State, homes were vandalized or destroyed and churches were desecrated. “We will give them and many others hope for the future,” he said.

The Knights will also partner with the U.S. bishops' conference to sponsor a national day of prayer and a “week of awareness” for persecuted Christians, starting Nov. 26.

Those wishing to make a tax-deductible donation to the project for Karemlesh can do so at www.ChristiansAtRisk.org, or by phone at 1-800-694-5713. 100 percent of the donations will go to the project.

In his annual address, Anderson noted other work the Knights had accomplished, including more than $177 million in donations and over 75 million volunteer hours.

Local Knights councils had responded to various disasters and tragedies, including providing drinking water and sandbags to families in Louisiana after over 60,000 homes had been flooded by record rainfall, Anderson said. The Knights provided more than $100,000 in emergency relief after Hurricane Matthew caused hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in damage in the Caribbean and the United States.

The Knights also worked to provide for the spiritual life of families, he said, as the family which Fr. McGivney grew up in “was a true domestic Church.”

He said that Knights councils had organized pilgrimages in various dioceses for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and had introduced a spiritual program for men based on a pastoral letter by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, “Into the Breach.”

Knights had also organized “Warriors to Lourdes” pilgrimages, taking wounded veteran soldiers to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes for healing.

Anderson called the Knights to stand against the “polite persecution” of secular society, quoting Pope Francis.

First human embryos edited in the USA. Here's why it's problematic.

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Researchers in Oregon have announced that they have successfully altered genes in a human embryo for the first time in the United States, but Catholic ethicists warn that the procedure was morally objectionable for many reasons.

“Very young humans have been created in vitro and treated not as ends, but as mere means or research fodder to achieve particular investigative goals,” said Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Director of Education for the The National Catholic Bioethics Center, in a statement to CNA.

“Their value as human beings is profoundly denigrated every time they are created, experimented upon, and then killed. Moreover, if such embryos were to grow up, as will doubtless occur in the future, there are likely to be unintended effects from modifying their genes,” Fr. Pacholczyk continued.

A team of scientists led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov at Oregon Health and Science University announced this week that they used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species.

Researchers in China have also announced that they have used the technology on embryos, but the edited genes were only present in some of the embryonic subject’s cells.

While researchers laud the breakthrough as a step towards the birth of genetically modified humans and the potential ability to treat inherited genetic diseases, the embryonic humans created and tested in both the US and Chinese experiments were all destroyed within a few days of the procedure. If allowed to survive, the subject embryos would have carried the edits they received in their own egg and sperm cells, and thus have the ability to pass those edited genes down to future generations.

CNA also spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in February about CRISPR technology more broadly, and the ethics surrounding the technique. He stressed that while Catholics “need to be attentive to where the dangers are” surrounding CRISPR technology generally, he cautioned Catholics not to “automatically consider any kind of gene editing to be automatically a problem.”

He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders. He also noted that there “could be limited situations that could exist where the germ line could be legitimately edited. In other words, making changes to sperm, to eggs, or to early embryos as a way of potentially addressing diseases – inheritable diseases and so forth.”

However, permitting edits to germ line cells - such as embryos, eggs, and sperm – could also be “very dangerous on multiple levels,” DiCamillo warned. Since the technology is so new, patients or their descendants could experience a range of “unintended, perhaps harmful, side effects that can now be transmitted, inherited by other individuals down the line.” An embryo who experiences gene modification could also carry and pass on edited genes.

Echoing similar concerns, Fr. Pacholczyk pointing as well to the guidance from the National Academies of Sciences' 2017 report on human gene editing. In the report, he said, the scientists point out that this kind of gene editing is controversial “precisely because the resulting genetic changes would be inherited by the next generation, and the technology therefore would cross a line many have viewed as ethically inviolable.”

Fr. Pacholczyk  also stressed the importance of limiting gene editing to therapeutic purposes, with the subject's best interests in mind. He stated that human beings should never be subjected to the research without themselves or their guardians being offered informed consent and without the treatment being ordered to the patient’s health and healing.

In the cases in Oregon, however, the parents of the children created were not able to give valid consent because ethical consent “by definition excludes any approval of directly causing their death or otherwise using [subjects] as mere means to an end.”

“These experiments were nontherapeutic, as the goal was ultimately to destroy the embryos,” Fr. Pacholczyk continued. “Consent is particularly important when dealing with very vulnerable research subjects, and human embryos are among the most vulnerable of God’s creatures.”

Currently, Food and Drug Administration regulations require that all embryos who experience gene editing are later destroyed.

Furthermore, to be ethical, any applications or experiments utilizing CRISPR or other gene editing technology cannot use any other methods in its process which are themselves intrinsically immoral, Fr.Pacholczyk said. The Catholic Church forbids immoral methods of removing spermatozoa and ova from the body outside of intercourse and conception of new human beings through in vitro methods because both techniques dissociate procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 02:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 2, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Star-gazing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Catholics think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian martyr who was cooked to death by the Romans on an outdoor grill.

But every August, Catholics have the chance to see a meteor shower named in his honor.

The Perseids meteor shower, also called the “tears of St. Lawrence,” is a meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which drops dust and debris in Earth’s orbit on its 133-year trip around the Sun. (The comet poses no immediate threat to Earth, at least not for several thousand years.)

As Earth orbits the Sun, it hits pieces of left-behind debris from the comet, causing them to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

This creates a prolific meteor shower that can best be seen in the Northern Hemisphere from late July to early August, usually peaking around Aug. 10, the feast of St. Lawrence.  

During it’s peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.

The name “Perseids” comes from the constellation Perseus, named for a character in Greek mythology, and the radiant of the shower or the point from which it appears to originate.

The name “tears of St. Lawrence” came from the association with his feast day and from the legends that built up around the Saint after his death.

Saint Lawrence was martyred on Aug. 10, 258 during the persecution of the emperor Valerian along with many other members of the Roman clergy. He was the last of the seven deacons of Rome to die.

After the pope, Sixtus II, was martyred on Aug. 6, Lawrence became the principal authority of the Roman Church, having been the Church's treasurer.

When he was summoned before the executioners, Lawrence was ordered to bring all the wealth of the Church with him. He showed up with a handful of crippled, poor, and sick men, and when questioned, replied that "These are the true wealth of the Church."

He was immediately sent to his death, being cooked alive on a gridiron. Legend has it that one of his last words was a joke about his method of execution, as he quipped to his killers: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

Catholics began calling the meteors the “tears of St. Lawrence,” even though the celestial phenomenon pre-dates the saint.

Some Italian lore also holds that the fiery bits of debris seen during a meteor shower are representative of the coals that killed St. Lawrence, and some traditions hold it that if one waters a basil plant and sets it out on the night of the meteor shower, they will find coal chips underneath the plant next day from St. Lawrence’s tears.

Anyone in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to view the “tears of St. Lawrence” best after midnight on Aug. 11-12 this year. The meteors will shower from various points in the sky rather than from one particular direction.

For the best viewing, it is recommended to go to a rural area away from light pollution.

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