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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 12 min 7 sec ago

For former abortion workers, kindness changes hearts

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 02:29

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2018 / 12:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Myra Neyer used to work a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood Baltimore. Today, she has left the abortion industry and is a pro-life advocate.

Instrumental to her conversion and decision to leave was a 40 Days for Life sidewalk counselor who gave her a rosary when she asked for one. She says this sidewalk counselor was far kinder than other protestors who had been outside her clinic.

“You don’t know where we’re coming from,” said Neyer. “Just be gentle.”

Neyer spoke at a Jan. 18 press conference in Washington, D.C. held by “And Then There Were None,” a nonprofit group that helps abortion clinic workers leave the industry.
 
The organization was founded by Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left her job in 2009. Through monetary assistance, emotional, social and spiritual support, and help in finding a new job, Johnson said the organization has helped more than 400 people leave the abortion industry, including seven physicians.

Johnson said that the “overwhelming majority” of And Then There Were None’s clients were completely unaware that they were applying to work in an abortion clinic. The former clinic workers echoed this statement.

One woman said that she did not know her clinic performed abortions until two weeks into her employment, when she was told she was going to assist with a surgical procedure - which turned out to be an abortion.

“Former clinic workers are the biggest threat to Planned Parenthood,” said Johnson, explaining that when one worker leaves a clinic, oftentimes their colleagues follow. Several of the women present at the Jan. 18 event had five or six colleagues leave the abortion industry after they had decided to quit.

When a clinic worker contacts And Then There Were None seeking to leave the abortion industry, they are assigned a client manager, who becomes their main contact and support during their transition. Throughout the year, there are retreats for former clinic workers to come together and assist each other in the healing process.

“These are normal women,” said Johnson, “that were caught up in something that is not normal.” She said that it was important for pro-lifers to remember that the people working in abortion clinics are humans and should not be dehumanized.

Johnson stressed that it is important for pro-life demonstrators to be kind to clinic employees and to avoid hostility and harassment. She credits a sidewalk counselor at her former clinic for helping her leave the industry.

She suggested that sidewalk counselors have some sort of job bank resource to help provide potential employment options for clinic workers who choose to leave the industry.

More information about And Then There Were None can be found at the group’s website.

Pray against 'powers of darkness,' Cardinal Dolan tells pro-life marchers

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 18:36

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2018 / 04:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the fight against abortion, it is crucial to recognize the reality of evil and the importance of prayer, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said on the eve of the annual March for Life.

The power of evil in the world, he said, is “stronger than any in creation save one, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who called Himself ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’”

“That’s why we come to this place of prayer to commence our project, a home the powers of darkness are scared of, a house where Mary is our Mother, where Jesus dwells, and where we are with family,” he said. “We come to admit realistically that there are powers of darkness in a culture Pope Francis calls ‘throwaway’ and St. John Paul termed ‘of death.’”

Cardinal Dolan delivered the homily at the Jan. 18 Mass of the Vigil for Life, which took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The Vigil for Life is held each year on the night before the March for Life, an annual event on or near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

The march routinely draws hundreds of thousands from across the country to witness to the dignity of every human life.

In his homily, Cardinal Dolan said that observers of the march – now in its 45th year – have compared it to the “peaceful yet so effective protests for civil rights organized by the prophetic pastor,” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“(L)ike the Reverend Martin Luther King, our prayers and witness are about civil rights, the civil right to life and to equal protection under the law, guaranteed by our constitution, for the most fragile, marginalized, and threatened – the tiny, innocent baby in the womb,” he said.

“Like Pastor King, our belief in the dignity of the human person and sacredness of all human life propels us to concern for human life wherever, whenever, and however it is threatened, from racial antagonism to justice for immigrants, from the war torn to the hungry.”

The cardinal pointed to the March for Life as a means of advocating for the unborn and showing that “millions, mostly young people, share a passion for a belief that the little baby has civil rights.” It is important for the nation’s lawmakers to see the strength of the pro-life movement, he said.

“Our elected representatives, executive and legislative, and the judiciary they appoint, need to see, and hear, and feel the grassroots power and sincere voices of millions who lack the cash of the abortion industry, who can’t find many in Hollywood to support them, who can’t seem to get a hearing on campus, and who are told not to even consider running for office in some states.”

The lawmakers need to hear “that we’re not going to give up, that reason and the grand American tradition enshrined in our foundational documents are on our side, and that our love for babies, their struggling moms and dads, and our passion for a society to assist and protect all vulnerable life will keep us at it,” he said.

He also noted that the march is a powerful way “to fight the temptation we must admit – the temptation to discouragement.” With the message of the pro-life movement ridiculed and harassed by much of the media, academia, entertainment industry and one of the two major political parties, the fight can at times feel lonely, he said.

Cardinal Dolan said that in his home state of New York, abortion is legal until birth and can be funded with taxpayer dollars, while those with conscientious objections can find their jobs threatened.

“What a paradox and heavenly sign that the Sisters of Life were founded in such a pro-abortion state!”

Despite challenges, the pro-life movement has reason for hope, the cardinal said.

He encouraged those present to be “apostles of life, apostles armed not with money, not with hate or destructive words, but armed, as our Holy Father exhorts, with love and joy.”

New HHS department created to protect religious freedom

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 18:21

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2018 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will work to ensure the protection of religious freedom and conscience rights for Americans, government officials announced Thursday.

“The state should not force people to go against their integrated view of humanity,” said the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, Roger Severino, at a Jan. 18 press conference.

This new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which falls under the HHS Office for Civil Rights, will focus on the enforcement of existing laws on rights of conscience and religious freedom. It will also provide an outlet to field Americans’ complaints of any discrimination they have experienced in the field of healthcare.

For examples, doctors or nurses who have been forced to participate in an abortion or an assisted suicide that violates their moral convictions will be able to file a complaint directly on the HHS website.

Sarah Hellwege, a nurse-midwife, spoke at the press conference announcing the new division. She said that she experienced discrimination in an interview process because of her membership in a pro-life medical association.

The number of these types of conscience complaints to HHS has increased dramatically since President Donald Trump’s election. Ten complaints were filed with HHS during the eight years of the Obama administration, whereas there have been 34 since November 2016.

Severino told EWTN News Nightly that he attributes this surge in complaints to “pent up demand” and that this new division has been established “to assess complaints, see which ones are meritorious, and to vindicate the interests of justice as the law requires.”

Also speaking at today’s announcement was Montse Alvarado, the Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who explained to CNA what this new division will mean for Catholic healthcare professionals across the country.

“For the past 10 years we have had attacks on conscience that manifested themselves particularly for the Catholic community in the area of healthcare and healthcare providers with individuals and institutions,” she said.

“Because Catholics play such a large role, they finally will have a place to bring their grievances to try to solve things and bring common sense solutions that are so important without having to resort to litigation. And if they do need to litigate them, they will have a partner in this division.”

Several other government officials and religious figures spoke at the press conference announcing the new division.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy noted a concern from his state of California, where a new law forces pregnancy centers to provide information about local abortion providers. This Supreme Court will hear this case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, this year.

Representatives from HHS cited President Trump’s executive order last May as an impetus for the new HHS division. The executive order called on all executive departments and agencies to “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech” to the extent permitted by law. The order specifically requested that the Secretary of Health and Human Services address conscience-based objections.

Earlier this week, President Trump recognized National Religious Freedom Day, saying in a Jan. 16 proclamation, “No American – whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner – should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.”

When asked by EWTN News Nightly about the likelihood of the new department surviving in future administrations, Severino responded, “It would be very difficult to undo the division. This is a foundational civil right. Everybody should be in favor of civil rights for all and that includes our first civil right, which is our right to free expression of religion and conscience. This is enforced through our laws that have been passed by bipartisan congresses and presidents in both parties that have been with us for decades. Those are not going to go away and we have to enforce those laws fully.”

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will enforce existing protection statutes over which the Office of Civil Rights already has authority. This includes the Weldon Amendment, which stipulates that states receiving federal funds cannot discriminate against health plans that do not cover or pay for abortions. The division will also enforce Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act on assisted suicide.

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions,” said Severino in a press release.

For Americans who are concerned that they have experienced a violation of their conscience rights, Severino told CNA, “We are going to make it as user-friendly as possible, so that people know that the doors are open and that every complaint will be treated appropriately and given the attention it deserves and then those that require enforcement will be handled appropriately.”

“We encourage anyone who believes that their conscience rights have been violated in a healthcare context to reach out to us. They are free to file a complaint. To get more information from our website, just google ‘Office for Civil Rights HHS’ and just add the word ‘conscience.’”

 

Arkansas bishop skips pro-life march over death penalty concerns

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 18:00

Little Rock, Ark., Jan 18, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock has said he will not attend the local March for Life because its keynote speaker opposed Catholic appeals for clemency for prisoners on death row.
 
The march’s keynote speaker Attorney General Leslie Rutledge “has good anti-abortion credentials but otherwise is decidedly not an appropriate pro-life speaker,” said Bishop Taylor’s Jan. 17 letter, addressed to the people of the diocese. The bishop charged that Rutledge “worked tirelessly to secure the execution of four criminals who posed no further threat to society.”
 
“You will recall that the Diocese of Little Rock was very vocal in appealing for clemency for these four men, but we were opposed at every turn by Attorney General Rutledge,” the bishop continued. “For this reason, I asked Arkansas Right to Life to choose a more appropriate keynote speaker, indicating that I could not participate in what was supposed to be a pro-life event otherwise. But Arkansas Right to Life has refused to do so.”
 
Bishop Taylor encouraged Catholics to attend one two Masses for Life to be held Jan. 21 at the Little Rock Cathedral.
 
Catholic bishops have always taken part in the march and have led prayers, though the event is organized by Arkansas Right to Life. Bishop Andrew J. McDonald of Little Rock, who retired in 2000 and passed away in 2014, supported the establishment of the local March for Life 40 years ago, the diocesan newspaper Arkansas Catholic reports.
 
Arkansas Right to Life sent CNA a Jan. 17 statement saying the march would go on as planned.
 
“Arkansas Right to Life is a single-issue organization dedicated to seeking protection for the lives of innocent unborn children,” it said, voicing hope that everyone who shares its views will “support and attend the march, regardless of their views on other issues in which Arkansas Right to Life does not take a stand.”
 
Bishop Taylor’s letter said he looked forward to seeing as many people possible at the cathedral “as we pray for an end to abortion in this country and that all human life may be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death.”
 
He said the Church teaches “a consistent ethic of life in which human life and human dignity must be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between.”
 
“This means, among other things, that all lives have inherent God-given dignity. Even people who have been sentenced to death possess this dignity, which is why capital punishment must be abolished,” he said.
 
At Little Rock’s 2017 Mass for Life, Taylor wrote that “it is important for us to remember on this right to life weekend that the right to life is a seamless garment encompassing all of life, from the first moment of conception to natural death, and that any violation of human life and human dignity is contrary to our faith and must be actively opposed.”

In 2013, he testified against the death penalty before Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee, saying “no one will be fully secure until we reject everything that threatens human life or degrades human dignity. Jesus' teaching about the sanctity of life is a seamless garment.”

The term “seamless garment” was popularized by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who advocated that abortion be treated as one issue among others which threaten the dignity of human life, including the treatment of immigrants and the elderly, the death penalty and nuclear proliferation.
 
Bernadin’s view has sometimes been criticized for appearing to diverge from the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II, who said in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae that “among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable.”
 
The state of Arkansas had initially planned to execute eight inmates before the end of April 2017. Three of the prisoners received stays of execution from the Arkansas Supreme Court, while one received a preliminary injunction from federal district court, the Death Penalty Information Center says.
 
In a March 1, 2017 letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Bishop Taylor had asked the governor to commute eight death sentences to life without parole.
 
“Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death,” the bishop said.

 

How this OneLife LA speaker is 'made for greater'

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 15:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 18, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Karen Gaffney has swum the English Channel, is the president of a global non-profit, and has an honorary doctorate.  She’ll share her story in Los Angeles this Saturday, at an annual event designed to celebrate human dignity.
 
She’ll also share the obstacles she’s had to overcome.

“You see, I have Down syndrome, and most of the general public thinks that’s a bad thing. Even the medical community, who should know better, sometimes says it’s a bad thing,” Gaffney told the National Catholic Register in a recent interview.

“They want to screen us out before we are born, because they don’t think we are ‘made for greater.’ I don’t think they have the right to do that,” Gaffney added.

Gaffney will speak at OneLife LA, a Jan. 20 walk and celebration sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  She’ll be joined by actress Patricia Heaton, Bishop Robert Barron, and evangelist Damon Owens.

Beginning in downtown LA, the event will start with a mile-long walk, leading to music, food, and speakers at Los Angeles Historical State Park.

Gaffney told the National Catholic Register that she hopes participants will walk away with an understanding that all lives are made for greatness, even lives with disabilities.

“I will be happy if people come away from the event wanting to learn more about Down syndrome and wanting to talk more about Down syndrome ... I want people to show by their actions that all lives really do matter,” she said

Gaffney found out she had Down syndrome when she was 6 years old. Her parents told her she would face challenges but not impossible obstacles.

“Yes, it is hard to live with Down syndrome, but isn’t it hard to live with any kind of disability?”

She explained the difference faith has made in her life.  “It was my junior year at St. Mary’s, and all the classes were getting very hard for me … Then in a religion class, I remember the teacher talking about how we live our lives, and she said that all lives are a gift from God, and what we do with our lives is our gift back to God.”

Gaffney is the founder of a non-profit group advocating for social inclusion of people with Down syndrome, called the Karen Gaffney Foundation.

She speaks often about the dangers prenatal tests pose to babies with Down syndrome.

“I always tell them that the prenatal-testing industry targets Down syndrome because it is the easiest test for them. If you can count to 27, you can evaluate the test!” she said.

Prenatal testing for Down syndrome made headlines last summer, when CBS News reported a dramatic decrease in the Down syndrome population of Iceland due to an increase in abortions.

“Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion,” tweeted CBS News in August.

Actress Patricia Heaton tweeted in response, “Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.”

According to CBS News, 80-85 percent of pregnant women in Iceland take a prenatal test, and nearly 100 percent of women carrying a child with Down syndrome undergo an abortion.

When asked about the recent news, Gaffney said she was disappointed in some of the reports by CBS, but was also thankful for positive news coverage about people with Down syndrome.

“This summer, I read a story about a 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome who is a good open-water swimmer like me,” she said, noting how the boy and his father saw two young girls being pulled out to sea in Italy.

“They both dove in, and each one swam for one of the girls; they reached them and were able to bring them to safety, just as the lifeguards got there…Now, I wonder what the mother of that little girl thinks when she hears from someone in the medical community who says Down syndrome is ‘not compatible with life.’”

Survey: Americans overwhelmingly favor limits on abortion

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:12

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2018 / 09:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Most Americans, including those who identify as “pro-choice,” support limiting abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy, at most, a new survey says.

“It is hardly surprising that after 50 million abortions in this country, an overwhelming majority of the American people want substantial limits,” Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said Jan. 17.

“This survey shows clearly that the ‘pro-choice’ label can no longer be assumed to mean support for abortion on demand,” Anderson added. “Nor can abortion be thought of as a partisan issue since majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans all agree that it should be substantially restricted. It is high time that our political debates reflected this national consensus and used it as a starting point.”

The survey found that 76 percent of Americans support limiting abortion to no more than the first trimester of pregnancy, with 92 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Democrats agreeing. About 60 percent of self-described “pro-choice” respondents supported such limits.

Only 12 percent of Americans said the procedure should be available at any point in a woman’s pregnancy, while 11 percent supported abortion up to six months into pregnancy.

Restrictions on abortion face legal hurdles due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 ruling in the Roe v. Wade decision, which required permissive abortion laws nationwide.

The data drew on a Dec. 4-7 survey of 1,267 adults in the continental U.S. and another of 1,350 adults Jan. 8-10. The surveys were conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus fraternal Catholic society. They respectively claim a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 and 2.7 points.

About 52 percent of respondents agreed that abortion does more harm to a woman than good in the long run, compared to 29 percent who said it improves a woman’s life. The belief that life begins at conception was professed by 47 percent.

Abortion is “morally wrong” according to about 56 percent of respondents. Moreover, 64 percent said it is wrong for abortions to be sought because the unborn child has genetic conditions such as like Down syndrome.

The study also found that abortion plays a role in elections, with about 40 percent saying the issue is a “major factor” in their choice of candidates. Nearly 76 percent of Republicans identified as “pro-life,” compared to 41 percent of independents and just 25 percent of Democrats.

A majority of respondents said that medical professionals and organizations with moral objections should not be forced to perform abortions or provide insurance coverage for the procedure. About 60 percent opposed using tax dollars to pay for abortion.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans say laws can protect both a mother and her unborn child, a figure that has held steady in Marist survey results since 2009.  

 

Knights of Columbus praise increased US aid for persecuted Iraqis

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The federal government has pledged $55 million in aid for religious and ethnic groups that have faced ISIS persecution in Iraq’s Ninewa Province, drawing praise from the Knights of Columbus, a supporter of humanitarian efforts in the region.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced last week that the government will provide $75 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for aid to Iraq, including the $55 million earmarked for communities of Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. Future contributions from USAID will depend on the success of new accountability and transparency measures at the UN, according to the announcement.

The earmarked funds will help to rebuild communities in areas of Ninewa Province previously controlled by ISIS. According to USAID, the money will be used to restore basic services, like water, sewage, and electricity, as displaced religious minorities return to the region. Most of Ninewa’s religious minorities, including the majority of its Christian population, fled Mosul over the last decade. The Yazidi population had been persecuted by ISIS, and many Yazidi women were sold into sex slavery or killed.

The province, located in the northern part of Iraq, contains the city of Mosul, an ISIS stronghold until July of 2017, when it was decimated in the Battle of Mosul, which ousted ISIS and liberated the city.  Mosul has still not recovered from the battle, which lasted for more than nine months.

Last year, speaking at the In Defense of Christians summit, Vice President Mike Pence promised to provide assistance for Christian communities in the Middle East that were at risk of being wiped out.

Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus issued a statement Wednesday saying that the group is “grateful” for the increased funding, and that they look forward to continue collaboration with NGOs and government agencies to support Christians and other groups persecuted by ISIS.

“We are grateful for the actions of the American government in this regard, and look forward to continuing to work with our government and those affected by the genocide to ensure that needed relief reaches those most in need, and that these communities survive for generations to come,” the statement read.

The Knights also praised the funding increase, saying that the United States is now treating the genocide of Christians in the Middle East in a manner similar to other genocides, and will help to continue to weaken ISIS’ influence in the area.

“In addition, the U.S. government's actions bring America's foreign aid into line with our country's response to previous genocides and will also help defeat ISIS' overall strategy of eliminating minorities from the Middle East,” Anderson said.

In August 2017, the Knights of Columbus pledged more than $2 million to rebuild the Christian town of Karamdes, which was decimated by ISIS.  The group has raised more than $11 million to support Christian refugees, especially in Iraq and Syria.  In 2016, the Knights, in partnership with In Defense of Christians, led a successful effort to persuade the US government to designate ISIS persecution of Christians and other minorities a genocide.
 

 

New Los Angeles ministry aims to help families of the imprisoned

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 18:49

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 17, 2018 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Families with loved ones in prison are feeling isolated, and a new initiative of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is setting out to change that.

Deacon Paulino Juarez and Deacon Louis Roche, both of the archdiocese, have headed up a new ministry that reaches out to families of the incarcerated and raises awareness in local communities of the suffering and challenges that these families face.

“I was a chaplain for 19 years, and during this time I saw all of these troubles of the inmates and their families, too, because sometimes they really don’t have any support – not just from official agencies and offices in the county, but also sometimes from the Church and their communities,” Deacon Juarez told CNA.

“They are isolated and rejected. After all of these years, we decided to do something to support these families and create a place where they feel welcomed,” Juarez continued.

The new program, which is part of the Archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, was launched Jan. 12 with a blessing which took place at the pastoral center of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in North Hollywood.

The parish’s associate pastor, Fr. Jeff Baker, led the blessing and opening ceremony for the Ministry of Assistance to the Families of the Incarcerated. The program reaches out to families in the counties of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.

According to Deacon Roche, the ministry takes place every Friday, where families of the incarcerated are welcome to seek any kind of aid. Usually, these families are referred to the ministry from other parishes or chaplains, but they do not have to be Catholic to participate in the program.

“We provide these families with food, clothes, resources as far as getting them identification cards and getting them medical help. Some people need help with substance abuse, so we are trying to pair these families with resources that they need,” Deacon Roche said.

“We are seeing these people face-to-face and aren’t just giving them a number to call. We are trying to take people from beginning to end and making sure we see results. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, and getting these people what they really need,” Roche continued.

In addition, Juarez said that part of their goal is to “break the cycle.” Because some of the inmates have children, the ministry is also trying to put the kids through school, so they have better opportunities in the future.

Both deacons have found that the majority of these families suffer greatly from isolation and rejection, and are really looking for a community of support.

“The day that we did the opening, one of the mothers of a man who had just been sentenced to the death penalty shared with me her experience of going to his church with her daughters. When people realized who she was, they moved from the pews,” Juarez said.

“They really feel not welcomed, and this was the kind of experience that they had on a daily basis. We want to stop that – we want to create consciousness within the community that these people are suffering, too.”

Roche stated he believes that “It’s part of our responsibility to take the needs of the people to church. We want to make progress and to make sure these people are getting what they need,” Roche said.

People of faith, especially Catholics, have the responsibility to put their faith into action, Juarez noted. When suffering people in the church community feel like outsiders, then he said it becomes the Christian’s duty to help them.

“The Gospel – the Good News – is for everyone. This is what Jesus did – he looked for people on the outside,” Juarez said.

While the LA ministry has only been running for a short time, the deacons have seen an overwhelming response, saying there is a universal need for this particular service.

“We would like to invite more dioceses into this ministry. We just started, but we already know that in every parish there are families who are in this situation,” Juarez said.

“There really is a need for this ministry and to take sensibility to the community that these people exist, that they are suffering, that they are our brothers and sisters, and we should do something for them.”

Why do some young people leave the Church? A new study investigates

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 17:29

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2018 / 03:29 pm (CNA).- A national two-year study released this week offers a look at why young people are leaving the Church as early as age 13.

The study was released today by St. Mary’s Press and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA).

Of those who left the Catholic Church, the median age for doing so was 13 years old, the study found. Seventy-four percent of the 214 former Catholics interviewed said that they decided to leave the Church between the ages of 10 and 20.

“We heard young people describe the beginnings of their questioning and doubts as early as fifth grade, some even younger,” said John Vitek, one of the principal authors of the study.
 
Vitek, who is the president and CEO of St. Mary’s Press, told CNA that this finding may surprise many adults “because many of the young people also told us that they never talked about their doubts and questions with their parents or their Church leaders.”

Young ‘Nones’

Many of the young former Catholics interviewed now fall into the category of “Nones” -  or people who have no religious affiliation. Thirty-five percent of the participants told the researchers that they no longer have a religious affiliation, whereas only 14 percent would label themselves as atheist or agnostic.

These results align with previous Pew Research Center findings that the “Nones” are a growing category in the U.S. The CARA researchers cite a 2015 Pew study that the number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. increased by 19 million between 2007 and 2014.

In addition, 21 percent of young Catholics who left the Church responded that they are now “born again” or evangelical Christian.

Although the “Nones” represented the largest category of former Catholics, Vitek said that “the vast majority of young people who disaffiliated from the Catholic Church still believe in God and most still desire some type of religious community with which to affiliate.”

Reasons for leaving

The study, Going, Going, Gone! The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, is based on a national survey and interviews with 214 former Catholics between the ages of 15 and 25.

“This study was all about young people telling their stories of why they left the Church in their own words, uncensored and unfiltered,” explained Vitek in a press release on the study.

CARA researchers identified patterns among the young people’s personal stories and described three archetypes for their Catholic disaffiliation: the injured, the drifter, and the dissenter.

The “injured” are young people who experienced a hardship or tragedy in which God seemed to be absent. Despite their prayers, their parents divorced or ill family members died, for example.

One young man told the researchers that he remembers family and loved ones praying  for his grandfather with lung cancer, “everyone is praying for him, probably over 150 people. Personally praying for him and still there was nothing done to help him and that was my first skepticism.”

The “drifter” is one who typically had trouble connecting their identity as a baptized Catholic to their concrete life experiences in the real world. They struggled to articulate why being Catholic matters, so they just drifted away from the Church.

The researchers noted the influence that parents can have on this drifting away from the Church and that a family unit can drift together when parents feel inadequate to explain why the faith matters.

Reachers encountered a more active rejection of the faith in those in the “dissenter” category. Some of these young people cited disagreement with Church teaching on birth control, same-sex marriage, and sexuality as the precipitating force for their departure.

Notably, only two percent of respondents cited the clergy sex abuse scandal as a reason they left the Church.

Vitek explained to CNA that there can be intersections between these three common categories, saying, “a young person may first have a disruptive experience that causes them to feel hurt or broken in some way, that brokenness might lead the young person to begin to question and doubt their faith, and their unresolved doubt may lead them to drift away.”

A final decision?

Before they left their faith, the young former Catholics were involved in the Church to varying extents. Twenty-eight percent told CARA that they rarely or never attended Mass at the time when they considered themselves Catholic. Only 17 percent surveyed said that they attended Mass weekly when they were Catholic. Three-fourths of the respondents never attended a Catholic school.

Eighty-seven percent of these former Catholics said that their decision to leave the Church is final.

Vitek noted that “this is a response given at a particular point in their life and they can’t predict the future. So there is always hope for the believing community.”

Studies do show, however, that “(m)ore and more, once a person chooses to disaffiliate from the Church they are not re-affiliating later in life,” he added.

As for what the Church can do to prevent young people from rejecting their faith, Vitek recommends, “We need to create a place where young people can freely wrestle with their questions of faith, including their doubt…”

“We found that young people want to talk about their faith but they aren’t sure if they can without judgment,” he said.

Join the 9 Days for Life campaign of prayer and action

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US Conference of Catholic Bishops have beefed up their social media presence for the 9 Days for Life novena, calling Catholics not only to prayer but to action within communities, both virtual and local.

The novena takes place Jan. 18-26, and includes the Jan. 22 National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children (the anniversary of Roe v. Wade) and the 44th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19.

“As Catholics we are proud to have our voices heard in support for the protection of life. We welcome every human life,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.

“Please join me and my brother bishops in prayer and action during these nine days for life. Together we can help to build a culture of life in which every human life is cherished,” said the cardinal in a recent video on the People for Life Facebook page.

Cardinal O’Malley then encouraged individuals to join the bishops in a “digital pilgrimage” by downloading the 9 Days for Life smartphone application, which allows its users easily to share on social media the prayers, sacrifices, and other actions conducted in support of life.  

The novena also includes a daily reflection, intercession, and challenge to follow throughout the nine days. The application will remind the participant of that day’s prayer schedule, opportunities for sacrifice, and challenges to take the pro-life message even further.

Anne McGuire, the USCCB’s Assistant Director for Education and Outreach for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, encouraged Christians to take action and to engage in this year’s virtual pilgrimage.  

“Wherever we are, wherever the Lord places us, we are called to be witnesses to [life]. So many of us are on social media … it can be an incredible opportunity to share that Gospel of life,” McGuire told CNA Jan. 16.

The novena outlines different actions people may take to support life, whether it is through parish or private prayer gatherings, fasting from coffee, or participating in a local march for life. McGuire expressed hope that this year people will share this experience by sharing a selfie or a short video on their social media accounts using #9daysforlife.

McGuire said the 9 Days for Life app also includes pro-life images that easily transfer to the social media platform of the person’s choice or pro-life frames which may be added to an individual’s Facebook profile.

She clarified that the primary goal of 9 Days for Life is an end to abortion, but other pro-life intentions are also encouraged. She said this year’s novena will intercede for “Share the Journey,” an international campaign in support of victims of human trafficking.

However a person decides to support life this year, McGuire said it is responsibility of Christians to aid a culture conducive to human life.

“It’s incumbent upon us to work to protect human life and to cherish it, both in the sense of defending it from the attacks as well as, again, following John Paul II’s call to build a culture of life and a civilization of love,” she said.

Trump to address March for Life via livestream

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 15:50

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2018 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. President Donald Trump will address participants in the 45th national March for Life via live video, the White House confirmed Wednesday.

The march, held annually on or near the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, recognizes the lives lost since abortion became legal nationwide and celebrates the dignity of every human life.

The march typically draws crowds of several hundred thousand from across the country. It includes a rally with speakers and live music. This year, the theme of the march is “Love Saves Lives.”

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush addressed the March for Life while in office via telephone or remote loudspeaker. Trump will be the first sitting president to address the march via live video.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Va., announced earlier this month that Catholic marchers may gain a plenary indulgence by their participation, if they fulfill the usual conditions, which include Mass, confession, and prayers for the Pope’s intentions.

Who cheats? The demographics of faith and infidelity

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 17, 2018 / 04:00 am (ACI Prensa).- Last week, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens admitted to an extramarital affair with his former hairdresser, although he denied allegations that he subsequently blackmailed her.

Greitens issued a joint statement with his wife saying that they had dealt with the affair privately, while his attorney issued a statement denying the blackmail allegations.

The allegations came as a surprise to many, given Greitens’ public persona as a family man, and a devout follower of Judaism.  Critics have accused the governor of hypocrisy, and he recently cancelled a statewide tour promoting a new state tax plan.

But recent data shows that Greitens’ infidelity is not the norm among religiously active people.

According to data gathered from the recent General Social Survey (GSS) by NORC, a non-partisan research institution at the University of Chicago, people who attended religious services at least semi-regularly were less likely to cheat on their spouses than people who attended religious services once a year or less.

The data was analyzed in a blog post by Wendy Wang, director of research with the Institute for Family Studies.

Wang said that while the data didn’t indicate whether the type of religious service played a role, “it’s a fact that people who regularly attend religious services are less likely to cheat.”

“I think it’s interesting how your faith could play a role in your relationship,” Wang told CNA. “It probably has something to do with what the church or the synagogue is teaching you. A lot of religions emphasize the importance of family, marriage stability, so that’s probably why it has such an impact,” she said.

The data showed that attendance at religious services was the strongest factor among both genders that indicated a low likelihood of infidelity.

On the whole, factors that indicate chances of infidelity varied widely between the two genders, Wang noted. For example, race and age were strong determining factors of the chances of infidelity among men, while for women, political party identification and family background were significant determining factors.

However, religious service attendance remained a significant factor for both genders, even when controlling for other variables, Wang said.

Family background was also a strong determining factor in indicating whether someone might cheat, Wang said. While it was a stronger determining factor for women, family background played a significant role overall in determining whether people were likely to cheat.

“Overall, Democrats, adults who didn’t grow up in intact families, and those who rarely or never attend religious services are more likely than others to have cheated on their spouse. For example, 15% of adults who grew up with both biological parents have cheated on their spouse before, compared with 18% of those who didn’t grow up in intact families,” Wang wrote.

“I don’t know the reasons why exactly, but we do see that people who grow up with both parents married to each other, they’re less likely to cheat,” Wang told CNA. “I think it is important to see how a steady family, a stable marriage actually could help even in your children’s marriage quality.”

Wang’s research also indicated that cheaters - both men and women - are more likely to be divorced or separated than non-cheaters.

“Men who cheated are more likely than their female peers to be married. Among men who have cheated on their spouse before, 61% are currently married, while 34% are divorced or separated. However, only 44% of women who have cheated before are currently married, while 47% are divorced or separated,” Wang wrote in her post.

However, the data doesn’t indicate whether men are more likely to remain married to the spouse whom they cheated on, or to remarry after infidelity, Wang said.

“Basically the question is who’s more likely to forgive their cheating spouse? I don’t have numbers for that,” Wang said. “What I see here is we definitely see a consequence for cheating.”

Part of the reason for the discrepancy among marriage rates after infidelity could be the differing reasons why men and women cheat, Wang said. Cheating men may more often act out of physical impulses, while women who cheat may be more likely to be emotionally involved in their affairs, and more likely to divorce as a result of them, she said.

“That might explain some of the gender difference there, but it’s hard to say,” she said.

Overall, Wang said that the data and analysis are important, especially as more accusations of sexual misconduct come out against celebrities and politicians, many of whom are married.

“That’s why I was interested to take a look and see the data; it is amazing to see how things have changed in a few months,” Wang said.

Wang said what couples can take from the analysis is that “there’s consequences to cheating...I just wanted people to be aware that there’s consequences to cheating and it’s very detrimental to a relationship.”

Catholic college contingents head to the March for Life

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 45th annual March for Life will take place in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19, and hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend. Many of the marchers will be students from Catholic universities, who will, in some cases, skip class to march for an end to abortion.

Here are some of the schools that will be well-represented at Friday’s march:

Nearby Christendom College, cancels all scheduled classes on the day of the March for Life, so that all students and faculty are able to attend. Christendom is located in Front Royal, Virginia, about an 80 minute drive from the National Mall. Christendom students have attended each March for Life since the school’s founding in 1977.

Franciscan University of Steubenville, which also cancels day classes on the day of the March, will send roughly a quarter of its student body--about 500 students--to the March for Life this year. In a press release, the school said that they will be sending eight busses on the five-hour journey to DC, with additional students and alumni making the trek on their own.

The University of Notre Dame likely is the winner of the sheer numbers game. The school says it is preparing to bring over 1,000 people from the greater Notre Dame community--including students from nearby St. Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, graduate students, and faculty--to Washington, D.C. for the March. In 2017, there were about 700 Notre Dame students at the March.

North Dakota’s University of Mary, which led the marchers at the 2017 March for Life, also will send a contingent of students on the two-day drive from Bismarck to the nation’s capital. In 2016, the group from North Dakota was trapped in the snow for over 16 hours, which resulted in a “snow Mass” that went viral on the internet. About 145 students, faculty, and staff will attend this year’s march.

On the other end of the travel spectrum is the Catholic University of America, whose students will only have to take a short metro ride to go to the March for Life. CUA plays host to the Vigil for Life Mass on the eve of the March for Life, and thousands of people descend upon its campus each year in the lead-up to the March. In order to successfully handle the influx of pilgrims, the school has a pro-life hospitality ministry, staffed by student volunteers.

Trump issues statement promoting religious liberty

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 18:15

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- US President Donald Trump issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 16, 2018, as “religious freedom day.” This date was chosen as it is the 223rd anniversary of Virginia’s enactment of the Statute for Religious Freedom.

In his proclamation, Trump said that “Faith is embedded in the history, spirit, and soul of our Nation,” and that the day was intended to celebrate the religious diversity in America. Trump spoke of how the nation's forefathers came to what is now the US “seeking refuge from religious persecution” and believing that “freedom is not a gift from the government, but a sacred right from Almighty God.”

He noted that in 1786, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, which said that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” This bill would inspire the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Trump touched on his efforts to preserve religious freedom in the United States, and said that it was “unfortunate” that past policies had infringed on this right. The president said that he attempted to address this issue with an executive order early in his presidency, and that “No American – whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner – should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.”

The president said that the United States is the “paramount champion” for religious freedom worldwide, and that the U.S. will keep fighting against extremism, acts of terror, and violence against people due to their religious beliefs.

He condemned the “genocide waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” against religious minorities in the region, such as the Yazidi, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Additionally, Trump said that “we will be undeterred” in efforts to put into place policies that promote religious freedom worldwide and to ensure that people are not persecuted for their beliefs.

“Faith breathes life and hope into our world. We must diligently guard, preserve, and cherish this unalienable right,” said Trump.

Here's the newest basilica in North America

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:59

Arlington, Va., Jan 16, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- St. Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria, the first permanent Catholic parish in Virginia, has a new name and a new designation for the new year. It was announced Sunday that the Holy See had decreed the building to be a minor basilica, and the church will now be known as “The Basilica of Saint Mary.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington announced during the 8:30 a.m. Mass Jan. 14 that he had recently received a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments which decreed that the building would be a minor basilica. The parishioners broke into applause at the news.

The Basilica of Saint Mary is located in Alexandria, Va., fewer than 10 miles south of Arlington.



“Within our Catholic Church, this is indeed a great news, and it’s a very thorough process,” Burbidge said. Burbidge joked that the pastor of St. Mary’s, Fr. Edward Hathaway, inquired about the process to pursue the title “about three minutes” after he was named Bishop of Arlington last year.

“We are overjoyed and humbled by the recognition of St. Mary’s as one of the major churches in the world,” said Fr. Hathaway.

The designation of the building as a basilica means that the parish “has a special relationship with the Holy See,” and Burbidge emphasized that this was a “great honor” for the church. St. Mary’s was chosen due to its importance in the community, its history as a parish, and its significance in the history of the United States.

The Basilica of Saint Mary is the 84th basilica in the United States, and the first in the Diocese of Arlington. Throughout the world there are just under 1,800 minor basilicas, and there are four major basilicas in Rome.

The parish was founded in 1795, a time when Catholicism was heavily restricted in Virginia, with Catholics barred from voting or holding public office. The first donor to the church was George Washington, who was not Catholic; though his close aide, Col. John Fitzgerald, was. The president gave the parish the equivalent of $1,200 today.

The church moved to its current location in 1810, and the current building was dedicated in 1827. The site of the original church is now the parish's cemetery.

Now that St. Mary’s has been recognized as a minor basilica, it will be outfitted with an umbraculum, a canopy of yellow and red silk; a tintinnabulum, a bell mounted on a pole which is used when the Pope visits a basilica; and the display of the papal symbol of the keys of St. Peter.

As a basilica, St. Mary's has a new seal, which includes the umbraculum and the papal keys. It has adopted the motto Omnes cum Petro ad Jesum per Mariam, or “All with Peter to Jesus through Mary.”

 

Three signs indicate that a church has been designated as a basilica: an ombrellino (umbrella), tintinnabulum (bell to alert the Pope’s arrival) and the display of the Papal Symbol on church furnishings. More about @stmaryoldtown, now #StMaryBasilica! https://t.co/UtGIeZWGTt pic.twitter.com/Bw6ZOWV5Ir

— Diocese of Arlington (@arlingtonchurch) January 15, 2018


 

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and a parishioner of St. Mary’s, appeared on EWTN’s “Morning Glory” radio program on Tuesday to discuss what this means for his home parish.

According to Pecknold, the historical significance of a basilica is that it is where an emperor would sit. Nowadays, given the relative lack of emperors, the designation of a basilica is more of a symbol of a church’s connection to Rome.

“It shows our special connection to the See of St. Peter,” said Pecknold. He said the process began about a year ago, and that the Vatican moved remarkably fast in making its decision.

“It was exactly a year from the beginning of our application to the end – of a great result,” said Pecknold. “We were absolutely thrilled that the Vatican worked so quickly. I think our case was strong,” he added.

The Basilica of Saint Mary will celebrate its 220th anniversary in 2020.

How one Hawaiian Catholic family got ready for the missile that never came

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 07:00

Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan 16, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It started out as a regular Saturday morning for most Hawaiians, including Dallas and Monica Carter and their five children.

Monica was getting breakfast ready for the kids before a busy day when the warning blared across smartphone screens throughout the island:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

It was the same kind of warnings Hawaiians are used to receiving for tsunamis and hurricanes - the kind of warning they’re used to heeding.

“That was quite terrifying, of course,” Dallas Carter, a theology lecturer for the Diocese of Honolulu, told CNA. Immediately, Dallas and Monica sprang into action, albeit in different ways.

Looking back, “it was a great dynamic to see how we reacted together but in different ways to the same crisis,” he said.

Dallas said he had four thoughts once he had processed the alert. The first was: “Oh (no) I haven’t gone to confession yet!” It was Saturday, and the family often goes on Sundays before Mass.

“Number two was, ok, how do I do this perfect contrition thing? Number three was we have to get the kids praying rosary, and number four was ‘where’s my whiskey,’” he recalled.

Soon after the initial warning, Dallas ran to the neighbors to see if they had gotten the same alert, and checked on some elderly neighbors while formulating a possible plan to get his family to the shelter of his concrete classroom.

When he ran back inside the house, he found that his wife had placed the family’s Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in the middle of the breakfast table, and all of the kids were praying the rosary. She had not long ago read a story about Jesuits in Hiroshima who were spared during the atomic bomb, and was inspired to start praying the rosary in part because of their story.

“My wife did probably the more important thing and she prayed,” he said.

“She said we can try to get to the classroom, but if the bomb hits, we’re goners, but what we can do is pray,” Dallas recalled. “The best possibility (of surviving) isn’t my concrete classroom, the best possibility is that the Blessed Mother provide us a miracle.”

Mariah, 11, the eldest of the Carter siblings, was awoken by her nine-year-old brother who ran into her room telling her there about the bomb threat.

“I remember thinking what’s going on? I literally just wanted to pray, I wanted to pray,” Mariah told CNA.

“I concentrated so hard on the rosary, I was like ‘come on Mary I know you can do this,’” she said.

Dallas said his 9 year-old son kept asking if they were going to die, and he wasn’t sure how to answer, objectively.

“That’s the first time in our lives that my kid asked me that, and I didn’t know what to say,” he said. Dallas and Monica tried to comfort their son by telling him it was an adventure that the whole family was on together.

After a few minutes, the family caught a glimmer of hope amidst the initial terror when Dallas called to check in on his parents, who were skeptical of the alert in the first place. Because they don’t have smartphones, they weren’t used to receiving alerts in that way, and thought it somehow must have been a fluke.

Furthermore, the missile sirens, which were tested on a monthly basis on the island, had not gone off at all, another sign that perhaps not all was as dire as it seemed.  

Desperate for news, Dallas ran to his truck to turn on the radio. Instead of hearing static, or more warnings, he heard a football game and talk radio - nothing out of the ordinary.

The family started to breath a little easier, but they would wait - along with the rest of the island - for another 30 minutes before they got the official all-clear. They would later learn that the false message was an error on the part of an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.  

After that, most of the rest of their plans for the day fell through - its hard to go about your business after thinking your obliteration imminent.

The next day was Sunday, and his family’s parish was packed, a phenomenon he has personally dubbed the #MissileConversions. The pews were filled, and the line for confession was out the door. Friends from throughout the island said their parishes were the same.

Even though the crisis was a false alarm, Dallas said he and his family joined the confession line anyway, as a way of giving thanks for being able to go to confession again.

In his homily, the priest tried to bring a little levity to the grave situation that had caused so many to fill the pews out of a strange mix of subsequent fear and gratitude, Dallas said.

“He said you know that bible verse where it says Jesus will come again like a thief in the night? Well it looks like he almost came like a thief in the morning,” Dallas recalled.

Afterward Mass, the whole parish community had a barbeque at the beach.

“Yesterday’s beach session with friends and family was just the right amount of post-missile scare therapy,” he said.  

The harrowing experience also taught Dallas a few things in terms of material, and more importantly, spiritual, preparation.

Materially, he said, he found his hand-held radio and placed it in a prominent place on his desk, so that he wouldn’t have to run out to his truck in an emergency situation.

Spiritually, he said he learned: “Don’t play around with grace. Be in the state of grace, be prepared,” he said.

“And it doesn’t mean to get on your knees and don’t take shelter, but have the spiritual part ready. Don’t forget to recourse to the greatest resource we have in situations like that, which is prayer, especially to the Blessed Mother who isn’t going to let her children suffer and go through something that isn’t the will of God,” he said.

On a lighter note, he said he also learned: “Have the whiskey more readily available. I’d have the rosary in one hand and my favorite whiskey in the other.”

 

Meet the spiritual powerhouses of the pro-life movement

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 04:01

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2018 / 02:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Walk along in the March for Life and you may see them: a swarm of women – many of them young – dressed in long blue habits, white veils blowing in the breeze.

They are the Sisters of Life and they have  a message for women and for the pro-life movement: “You are not alone.”

“We really see ourselves primarily as a spiritual entity that intercedes for and upholds the work of the pro-life movement,” explained Sr. Mary Elizabeth, SV, Vicar General of the Sisters of Life.

She also said she hopes that the pro-life movement knows that they can depend upon the Sisters’ prayers and support: “They are not alone and they have a family of Sisters who love them very much and are praying for them daily.”

Joseph Zwilling, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of New York, where the Sisters of Life were founded, said he believes the Sisters of Life have already made a tremendous impact on the culture since their founding. “It’s about 25 years later and the Sisters of Life are growing, they’re thriving and they’re everywhere” he told CNA.

“Help Wanted: Sisters of Life”

While it may be impossible to quantify the full impact of the Sisters’ prayers and efforts, Zwilling said, “I truly believe that they have helped through their prayer, through their example, they’ve helped to change people’s minds and hearts about this issue.”

“I think that in the long run that’s going to be their greatest contribution.”

The Sisters’ journey began in 1990 with a newspaper column by then-Cardinal John O’Connor of New York. “This really was the brainchild of Cardinal O’Connor,” Zwilling said.

In the 1990s Cardinal O'Connor was a prominent leader in the pro-life movement in the Church and in the country, and saw the issue of abortion as one of the most pressing need of the time. Before acting, the cardinal reflected on the long history within the Church of the Holy Spirit giving life to religious communities able to meet these these challenges.

Cardinal O’Connor suggested  in his column that it was time for another order able to respond to the challenges of abortion. The piece was titled simply: "Help Wanted: Sisters of Life.”

Eight sisters answered the call, formally founding a community on June 1, 1991. During this time, they lived temporarily with the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate in the Bronx, praying, fasting, attending Eucharistic adoration, and discerning their vocations.

Sr. Josamarie, SV, was one of these first women to join the Sisters of Life. “None of us had been religious sisters before,” she said of herself and the other seven women who were part of the initial novice class. Moreover, God “called us from various things” – the young women had such backgrounds as scientists, college professors, and librarians.

As the sisters prepared themselves for a life of prayer and ministry to the most vulnerable in society, Cardinal O’Connor also introduced the Sisters of Life to members of the pro-life movement, including Mother Teresa.

Today, the order is thriving, with more than 100 Sisters, whose average age is mid-30s.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth joined the Sisters of Life in 1993 after graduating from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, having heard the cardinal talk on campus during her junior year. Already involved in pro-life activism, Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained that she “wanted to be part of the solution, offering other options to women” who felt like they had no options and turned to abortion out of desperation.

A Life of Prayer

The foundation of the Sisters of Life ministry and daily life is prayer and contemplation, explained Sister Mary Elizabeth. “Our spirituality is Eucharistic-centered and Marian,” she told CNA. In each of their convents, the Sisters participate in Mass and spend a Holy Hour in Eucharistic adoration daily. In addition, the sisters gather together to pray the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day.

As part of the group’s Marian focus, the Sisters of Life also pray a rosary together “to support the works of the pro-life movement in our country and throughout the world each day.”

The Sisters of Life also draw upon the example of Mary in their spirituality, and from there, the way they engage other aspects of their lives: “A deep part of our spiritual life is living out a spiritual maternity, and so we take Mary as our model.” Sister Mary Elizabeth said the sisters’ goal is to carry Christ’s presence with them and to echo Mary’s “yes” to life and to Christ.



The Sisters of Life from The Sisters of Life on Vimeo.

One of the examples of Mary’s maternity they seek to emulate is her decision to journey forth and visit her cousin, Elizabeth, after the Annunciation. “Just as at the Visitation the presence of Jesus in Mary radiated out” and filled her cousin with joy, Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, “so we can have the same life and power dwelling within us and radiating out from us to touch all those women that we encounter every day who are pregnant and in need and hopefully them with joy and with hope.”

The sisters also seek to bring the example of Mary’s receptivity and welcome into the way they treat people – by recognizing the unique dignity of every person. When sisters encounter someone, Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, “we’re not in a rush, we’re not in a hurry.” This patience and attention, she continued, is “deeply rooted in our belief that every human person is created as a unique manifestation of God.”

“It’s a way we live out our spiritual maternity,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth noted.

As a contemplative and apostolic order, however, their prayer life does not stop at the sanctuary doors, but carries over into their ministry, too. “Our prayer kind of fuels our apostolic efforts, and then our apostolate brings us back to prayer,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth noted. “We can bring all those people we are working with to the Lord throughout the day.”

A Mission to Save Lives

The ministry of the Sisters of Life’s apostolate is focused upon the defense of human life at all stages. Sisters in each of the convents participate in a range of missions, from ministry with women facing crisis pregnancies or regret after an abortion to study of bioethics and theology.

At the center of the Sisters of Life’s apostolate is the Holy Respite Mission, a sanctuary in the Upper West Side of Manhattan for pregnant women in crisis situations to come and live with the sisters, join in the community and prayer life of the sisters, and stay until they are ready to go back into the world after the birth of their child. Women typically stay with the sisters between six months and a year.

Just a few blocks uptown lies the sisters’ Visitation Mission, which offers “practical support and compassion to women who are pregnant and find themselves in a crisis,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained. “Most of the women that come to us have been abandoned by everyone and are unsure of what they’re going to do.” The Sisters of Life serve around 1,000 women each year.  

The sisters, along with a crew of volunteer lay helpers called the Co-Workers of Life, provide women with the practical support they need. “We provide everything,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth elaborated, from physical needs like diapers, bottles, strollers, cribs, baby clothes, and maternity clothes, to other forms of aid like helping women find safe housing, moving help, navigating challenges with college administrators or employers, writing resumes, and finding jobs.

In addition, some Co-Workers of Life open their homes as a safe space for women in crisis and offer their friendship and support. Even simple gestures like talking or texting with expectant mothers can be an immense help for women with few other sources of support.

“They’re being pressured into having an abortion by their family, by their friends, by the medical community, their employers – it’s really outrageous,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth said. “They just need someone who’s supporting them and encouraging them in their decision to keep their child.”

Another important service the Sisters of Life provide is hope and healing outreach to women who have had abortions. “From the beginning, Cardinal O’Connor was very sensitive to those who had suffered the wounds of abortion,” explained Sr. Josamarie. Many women, she continued, feel pressured into abortion and then are left to suffer through the emotions alone afterwards.

Sisters provide opportunities to “work through” feelings of grief, anger and other emotions by counseling women, as well as offering specialized retreats where women also have access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, in addition to someone who will listen to them as they process their experience.

“It’s our experience that women hold this secret and don’t speak about it to others,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth added on the experience of post-abortive women. “It’s a tremendous burden that they handle alone.”

Finally, the sisters engage in a range of outreach and evangelization activities through their retreat center in Stamford, Conn., and their presence at pro-life and Catholic events such as World Youth Day, the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the Walk For Life in San Francisco. These activities compliment the education work the sisters do through their pro-life library, their support of the Respect Life/Family Life Office for the Archdiocese of New York, research in their House of Studies in Maryland, and talks on college campuses and in parishes.

With their lives dedicated to the defense of life every day of the year, the Sisters aim to revitalize a love for life in the world.

Their hope, Sister Mary Elizabeth said, is to be “a spiritual force that generates a new culture of life within the minds of hearts of men and women across the world.”

If the thousands of lives they touch every year are any indication, they are well on their way.

This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 27, 2017.

Florida lawmakers consider mandatory ‘marriage prep’ guide

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 02:00

Tallahassee, Fla., Jan 16, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill presented to the Florida House of Representatives on Jan. 8 would require couples to review a state-published “Healthy Marriage Guide” before tying the knot.

“The statistics have been staggering over the years for divorces and kind of the subsequent problems that go along with that, like children who don’t have families that are put together,” said Republican Representative, Clay Yarborough, according to CBS 47.

Yarborough introduced the bill to the state House days after Republican Kelli Stargel introduced a version of it to the Senate.

The legislation would establish the Marriage Education Committee, who will be appointed by Florida’s Senate president, state speaker of the house, and the state’s governor. The six-person committee would develop the guide, serving a maximum term of one year.

Couples would be required to read the guide as a prerequisite for a marriage license. The guide would cover communication skills, fiscal control, conflict management, spousal abuse, and parenting responsibilities.

Additionally, the guide would offer marital advice and resources for extra premarital education or for potentially failing marriages.

The legislation’s supporters say that money for the project will be funded by private sources, but the financial backers have not been clearly identified.

If passed, the act would take effect in July 1, 2018.

What Eminem has to say about post-abortion regret

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 16:37

Denver, Colo., Jan 15, 2018 / 02:37 pm (CNA).- After an abortion,men and women can experience deep feelings of sadness and emptiness, suicidal thoughts, dreams of the aborted child, trouble with intimacy and difficulty bonding with future children, according to an expert in the field.

Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel and the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, told CNA Jan. 11  these experiences are “a big secret” nobody wants to address, which sometimes prevents women and men who have been involved in an abortion from talking about their difficulties.

“There's a lot involved there,” she said, explaining that many abortion clinics and post-abortion websites will tell women that having an abortion was a good thing, but minimize adverse reactions by saying “we understand you might be feeling bad.”

However, Thorn –  a certified trauma counselor and a member of the member of the Pontifical Academy for Life – said that despite apparent reassurances that feelings of sadness and regret are no big deal, the reality is that post-abortion, men and women both are “haunted by this experience.”

According to a recent report from the Guttmacher Institute, some 56 million abortions were performed globally each year between 2010-2014, with 25 percent of all pregnancies during those years ending in abortion.

The highest number of abortions took place in developing nations, as well as many eastern European countries. While the number of annual abortions in developed nations dropped significantly during the years of the study, it rose in underdeveloped nations, mostly due to population growth, according to the study.

But despite the relative silence on the post-abortive experience, some celebrities have spoken out about the profound pain and regret they feel over past abortions, some of which took place years ago.

Among the high-profile personalities who've addressed the issue are Eminem, Sinead O'Connor, Nicki Minaj, Kid Rock, and Kenny Rogers.

In his new album “Revival,” released Dec. 15, 2017, Eminem includes a song called “River,” telling the story of a man who had an affair with a woman, and the couple’s choice to end a pregnancy through abortion.

The chorus of the song talks about the pain he feels, and his desire for forgiveness from the “sins” of his past: “I've been a liar, been a thief/Been a lover, been a cheat/All my sins need holy water, feel it washing over me/Well, little one/I don't want to admit to something/If all it's gonna cause is pain/The truth and my lies now are falling like the rain/So let the river run.”

Later, in the last verse of the song, he speaks to both the woman and the baby, saying: “I made you terminate my baby/This love triangle left us in a wreck, tangled/What else can I say? It was fun for a while/Bet I really woulda loved your smile/ Didn't really wanna abort, but – it/What's one more lie, to tell our unborn child?”

Similarly, in her 2012 track “Autobiography,” Nicki Minaj refers to an abortion she had at 16. In the song, she asks her child for forgiveness, saying “I'm trapped in my conscience/I adhered to the nonsense, listened to people who told me I wasn't ready for you.”

“But how the – would they know what I was ready to do? And of course it wasn't your fault (no)/It's like I feel you the air, I hear you saying 'Mommy don't cry, can't you see I'm right here?' (yes)/ I gotta let you know what you mean to me, when I'm sleeping, I see you in my dreams with me.”

In his song “Abortion,” released in 2000, Kid Rock talks about the grief of a father after an abortion that is so great he contemplates suicide, saying “I've never heard you cry I've never seen you whine...I must die to get to you...where's my gun...”

Kenny Rogers released the song “Water and Bridges” in 2006, in which he sings about decisions that are “much too late to change.../How a father could have held his son/If I could undo what's been done/But I guess everyone is living/With water and bridges.”

Thorn said Sinead O'Connor was the first artist she ever heard sing about abortion in her 1990 track “My Special Child,” which talks about the sadness she experienced after she had an abortion after a relationship broke down.  

Each of the sentiments expressed by these artists “are common experiences,” Thorn said, explaining that men and women can have different reactions to abortion based on their biology and experiences of pregnancy.  

For women between the ages of 11-19, Thorn noted that their brains haven't finished developing, and they operate mostly out of the amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain. Many young women who have abortions, then, “make this decision out of fear.”

A woman's brain can't fully process trauma until 25, when the corpus callosum, which is “the linker between the right brain and left brain,” becomes fully active, Thorn said, explaining that in the early years of her pro-life work, she couldn't understand why most of her calls were from women around 25 years old.

“I thought that was the weirdest thing in the world,” she said, noting that it wasn't until several years later when she learned more about brain research that she understood women were calling “because now they can process it.”

For the woman who's had an abortion and is struggling with the decision, “we have to remember that she's a mother who lost her child in a traumatic and unnatural fashion,” Thorn said. “Society says abortion is a simple medical procedure, but we don't talk about what really happens.”

In terms of biology, Thorn said pregnant women go through something called “microchimerism,” in which cells from the child pass to the mother. And in cases of abortion or miscarriage, women carry more cells from those children than children they give birth to.

“These cells are part of biological knowledge, someone's missing,” she said, explaining that the feelings could come up at any time, even years later, but at a certain point there is a “trigger-incident', and I'm suddenly aware that that abortion was an offending event.”

The sense of loss that comes after is enormous, she said. And while globally abortion is discussed as something that “solves a problem” as simple as a fixing a bunion, “it's much, much deeper, and that knowledge of the cells makes a difference.”

“The sadness, this sense of responsibility, 'I did this.' Those are all parts of her experience,” Thorn said, adding that many times a woman will have a second or third abortion because “she's compelled to get pregnant again. It's a biological thing. She started the cycle of pregnancy and all the changes that go with it, and didn't finish it.”

And it's not just women. Men also have a biological experience, she said, and can tell that a woman is pregnant before she herself knows “because our scent changes...at four weeks we smell different.”

If the woman is with her partner during pregnancy, his body also undergoes “the whole raft of changes, hormonal and other things.” Men, she said, frequently experience “couvade,” also called “sympathy pregnancy,” in which they have some of same symptoms as the expectant mother.

As the end of the pregnancy gets nearer, the man's hormones “go crazy,” Thorn said. “His testosterone drops, his estrogen goes up, he gets more of a bonding hormone and he gets a nursing hormone for at least six weeks. We don't talk about that. But those are real, physiological changes.”

She said there are many men who would have tried to stop the abortion of their child if they'd had the chance. “They would have put their life in front of a car, and they grieve deeply, deeply.”

There are the men who wanted the abortion and later regret it, there are men who wanted to keep the baby but were told it wasn’t not their decision, and there are men who were never told about a pregnancy and didn't find out until years after the abortion and are “blown out of the water,” Thorn said.

“For men, in a sense the grief for men is difficult because they're told that they should have no feelings about this. It's her body, it's her life, it's none of your business, so he doesn't have a place to turn,” she added.

In the end, “they turn to drugs, they turn to pornography because they swore they'll never touch a woman again, depression, all kinds of things.”

She said it's important for men to have a voice in the discussion because “biologically they are changed by the pregnancy, there's a physiological thing going on here. He can't control that, that's biology. God is turning him into a father.”

Suicide is also frequent and strong temptation for both men and women post-abortion, she said, recalling stories she's heard of men with seemingly perfect lives who jumped from bridges and no one understood why until a friend or relative revealed that there had been an abortion that the man “had never recovered from.”

Thorn said that just a few years ago in Milwaukee there was a murder-suicide prompted by an abortion in which a man killed his girlfriend and then killed himself after she had an abortion he did not want.

Many men who would have tried to stop the abortion of their child but couldn't do it at times confess to having “violent thoughts” because “they couldn't protect” their baby, Thorn said. “It's this sense of male impotence, not sexual impotence, but that men are protectors, and they really struggle with that.”

Women, especially during the teen years, “are ten times more likely to attempt suicide after an abortion in the months that follow, that first six to eight months,” Thorn said. “That tells you the depth of the woundedness.”

After those first months, “denial kicks in,” she said, noting that while women will say they are doing fine, “they're emotionally very numb.”

Commitment also becomes an issue for men and women after abortions, she said, explaining that “only about 30 percent of couples survive abortions as a couple.”

If they move on to another relationship, they often won't tell their partners about feelings of betrayal or regret, “and that's going to be an intimacy killer in the bedroom, because she doesn't trust men – the one she was with forced her to have an abortion – and he doesn't women, it was his fiance that had his child aborted, so this is a huge wound.”

Women suffering from an abortion loss will often go into a “shut-down” phase, she said, noting that it is these women who become staunch defenders of abortion, and are the loudest voices arguing that it’s a woman's right.

“That's another way to cope,” she said. Pointing to various stories of people who have left the abortion industry, Thorn noted that “almost all of them had their own abortions first or during that time. It's a way to cope with what they've done; I need it, other women must need it, so I'm going to protect that right.”

“It's a very incredibly deep sadness and women never forget. They have the biology that makes it impossible to forget, it's always a part of them,” she said, adding that in her experience, the people who have found help and healed from past abortions “never support abortion again.”

Abortion can also affect parenting and one's relationship with future children, because women who don't heal after an abortion “don't bond very well in a different pregnancy. They're very over protective, but sometimes they're emotionally distant from their child.”

Fathers, on the other hand, “are overly committed to the child and become enmeshed, they really sort of take the role of the mother and push the mother away.”

Other family members, such as siblings or cousins, are also affected by abortion, she said, noting that she has met many people who grew up with a strong sensation that they should have had a brother or sister, and only later found out that an abortion had taken place.

In her view, Thorn said there is not enough discussion or awareness about the effects of abortion “because it's an uncomfortable piece, because there are so many abortions and people do not want to talk about it.”

“But what we're seeing in these songs is people are finding a way to tell their story to somebody in hopes that somebody's listening, and that's part of the healing process, is an opportunity to tell the story,” she said.

The fact that so many songs are being sung about the topic is “an indication that people are looking for a way to speak the truth about what happened,” she said, “and that's a way to do it if that's your talent and your gift.”

 

If you or someone you know is suffering after abortion, confidential non-judgmental help is available:

Call Project Rachel's national toll-free number: 888-456-HOPE(-4673) or visit HopeAfterAbortion.org.

Spanish-speakers may visit EsperanzaPosaborto.org”

Help is also available for men at http://menandabortion.info/

 

 

A look at world's 50 most anti-Christian countries

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 13:55

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2018 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There are more than 215 million persecuted Christians worldwide according to the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors USA's annual ranking of the 50 worst countries for violence and persecution against Christians.

The report found that one in twelve Christians worldwide are victims of violent persecution. Open Doors USA cites the spread of radical Islam and increasing religious nationalism as the two major drivers of global Christian persecution.

North Korea tops the list of worst offenders, as it has for the past 16 years. Although the communist North Korean government claims to provide freedom of religion in its constitution, no one can be openly Christian within the atheist state without facing arrest, re-education in a labor camp, or, in some cases, execution.

Despite the danger, Open Doors USA finds that there has been tremendous growth in underground Christianity in North Korea in the last two decades. The report estimates that there might be up to 300,000 Christians living clandestinely in North Korea.

Afghanistan comes in a close second in this year’s World Watch List ranking. Afghan citizens in this 99 percent Muslim country are banned from becoming Christian. Open Doors USA reports that underground Christians in Afghanistan have been killed by their own family members, who viewed the Christian conversion as a shameful apostasy.

Islamic oppression continues to be a growing concern for many Christians around the world. For eight of the top ten countries on the World Watch List, Islamic extremism is the primary cause of Christian persecution.

Islamic militancy has been on the rise in Somalia, where Christians, if discovered, are often martyred. Christians in Egypt, India, Libya, and Kazakhstan also experienced increased persecution since last year’s report.

Pakistani Christians experienced the most documented violence according to the report. Islamic militants in Pakistan specifically target Christians. A suicide bomb on Easter Sunday 2016 killed 74 people and injured hundreds more.

In addition to the spread of radical Islam, the report identified a rise in religious nationalism and intense persecution in central Asia as major trends in the persecution of Christians. Hindu nationalism has increased in India and Nepal, as has Buddhist nationalism in Burma and Sri Lanka. And persecution of Christians in central Asian nations, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, is intensifying under nationalist, pro-Islamic governments.

Also included on the list were Mexico and Colombia, where organized crime and corruption were cited as the source of Christian persecution.

Open Doors USA documented that 3,066 Christians were killed; 1,252 were abducted; 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List.

The World Watch List includes specific prayers requests for each of the top 50 countries, recalling Open Doors USA's founder Brother Andrew’s faith in the power of prayer to aid those who are suffering afar: “Our prayers can go where we cannot … There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”

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