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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: 2 hours 33 min ago

Proposed Texas budget would defund abortion providers

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 18:42

Austin, Texas, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Texas House passed a budget on Friday that strips Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers of funding through any state program.

“Rather than chasing, kind of reactively, after Planned Parenthood, this is a comprehensive budget policy and ethic that pro-life Texans don’t want to subsidize abortion providers,” Emily Horne, legislative associate with Texas Right to Life, explained to CNA.

The budget proposal, passed by the Texas House and Senate, now moves to a joint conference committee which will be made up of members of both chambers. They will then finalize the budget.

Texas Right to Life has warned that although the budget has passed both chambers with pro-life provisions, those provisions could be removed by the committee, and so they will be fighting to ensure the provisions stay intact.

Although past efforts were successful to block funding of abortion providers in certain state health programs, there were still funds going to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers through community assistance and HIV screening programs, Horne said.

She compared the funding to a “whack-a-mole game” where if abortion providers were defunded in one state program, another source of funding would be intact. So the wording in the budget is broad, to “apply this logic and ethic to the whole budget,” she said.

The budget proposal also increases funding for the “Alternatives to Abortion” program by $20 million – a “huge increasing in funding” that was “very needed,” Horne said.

The program provides resources, hotlines, and referrals to pregnancy centers for expectant mothers, but also funds adoption agencies and maternal health providers – basically “funding all the alternatives” to abortion, Horne said.

There are also parenting classes offered under the program, and 10 hours of these classes would be required for mothers to receive certain assistance like diapers and formula, Horne said. The program also provides career development for working mothers, such as interview prep and resume-building classes.

It’s the “social side of trying to support women,” she said.

The U.S. Congress has also worked to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding – mostly from Medicaid reimbursements and Title X family planning grants.

The U.S. House has voted to defund Planned Parenthood, after undercover videos surfaced in 2015 showing doctors and officials discussing prices for fetal tissue from aborted babies with actors posing as prospective tissue harvesters. The House has also voted to let states choose not to fund Planned Parenthood through disbursement of Title X funds.

Defunding of Planned Parenthood was also included in the American Health Care Act, the recent health care bill that failed to make it to the House floor for a vote.

San Bernardino bishop prays for school community after deadly shooting

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 17:16

San Bernardino, Calif., Apr 10, 2017 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After two people were killed in a shooting at a classroom in a San Bernardino elementary school on Monday, the city's bishop is praying for the victims and the school community.

“I'm praying for the victims&entire school community after today's tragic shooting@NorthPark Elem.May God console us in this time of sorrow,” Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino tweeted April 10.

A gunman opened fire this morning in a classroom of North Park Elementary School. Police have said the two victims are adults, a woman and the suspected shooter, and that two students are in critical condition.

The police chief Jarrod Burguan said the incident is suspected to be a “murder-suicide” attempt, the BBC reports.

There have been several shootings at schools in the United States in recent years.

In December 2013 an individual opened fire at Arapahoe High School in the Denver suburb of Centennial, and in December 2012 a gunman killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as well as his mother and himself.

San Bernardino is also the site of a December 2015 mass shooting in which a couple killed 14 and wounded 21 others at a social services facility.

Why married priests won't really fix the shortage

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 18:02

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 1970, there was one priest for every 800 Catholics in the United States.

Today, that number has more than doubled, with one priest for every 1,800 Catholics.

Globally, the situation is worse. The number of Catholics per priest increased from 1,895 in 1980 to 3,126 in 2012, according to a report from CARA at Georgetown University. The Catholic Church in many parts of the world is experiencing what is being called a “priest shortage” or a “priest crisis.”

Last month, Pope Francis answered a question about the priest shortage in a March 8 interview published in the German weekly Die Zeit. The part that made headlines, of course, was that about married priests.

“Pope Francis open to allowing married priests in Catholic Church” read a USA Today headline. “Pope signals he's open to married Catholic men becoming priests” said CNN.

But things are not as they might seem. Read a little deeper, and Pope Francis did not say that Fr. John Smith at the parish down the street can now ditch celibacy and go looking for a wife.

What the Holy Father did say is that he is open to exploring the possibility of proven men ('viri probati,' in Latin) who are married being ordained to the priesthood. Currently, such men, who are typically over the age of 35, are eligible for ordination to the permanent diaconate, but not the priesthood.

However, marriage was not the first solution to the priest shortage Pope Francis proposed. In fact, it was the last.

Initially, he didn't even mention marriage.

Pressed specifically about the married priesthood, the Pope said: “optional celibacy is discussed, above all where priests are needed. But optional celibacy is not the solution.”

While Pope Francis perhaps signals an iota more of openness to the possibility of married priests in particular situations, his hesitance to open wide the doors to a widespread married priesthood is in line with his recent predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the longstanding tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

So why is the Church in the West, even when facing a significant priest shortage, so reticent to get rid of a tradition of celibacy, if it is potentially keeping away additional candidates to the priesthood?

Why is celibacy the norm in the Western Church?

Fr. Gary Selin is a Roman Catholic priest and professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. His work Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations was published last year by CUA press.

While the debate about celibacy is often reduced to pragmatics – the difficulty of paying married priests more, the question of their full availability – this ignores the rich theological foundations of the celibate tradition, Fr. Selin told CNA.

One of the main reasons for this 2,000 year tradition is Christological, because it is based on the first celibate priest – Jesus.

“Jesus Christ himself never married, and there’s something about imitating the life our Lord in full that is very attractive,” Fr. Selin said.

“Interestingly, Jesus is never mentioned as a reason for celibacy. The next time you read about celibacy, try to see if they mention our Lord; oftentimes he is left out of the picture.”

Christ's life of celibacy, while compatible with his mission of evangelization, would not have been compatible with marriage, because “he left his home and family in Nazareth in order to live as an itinerant preacher, consciously renouncing a permanent dwelling: 'The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,'” Fr. Selin said, refering Matthew 8:20.

Several times throughout the New Testament, Christ praises the celibate state. In Matthew 19:11-12, he answers a question from his disciples about marriage, saying that those who are able by grace to renounce marriage and sexual relations for the kingdom of heaven ought to do so.

“Of the three manners in which one is incapable of sexual activity, the third alone is voluntary: ‘eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs [emphasis added].’ These people do so ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,’ that is, for the kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming and initiating,” Fr. Selin explained.

Nevertheless, it took a while for the “culture of celibacy” to catch on in the early Church, Fr. Selin said.

Christ came to earth amid a Jewish people and culture who were instructed since their first parents of Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28, 9:7) and were promised that their descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). Being unmarried or barren was to be avoided for both practical and religious reasons, and was seen as a curse, or at least a lack of favor from God.

The apostles, too, were Jewish men who would have been a part of this culture. It is known that among them, at least St. Peter had been married at some time, because Scripture mentions his mother-in-law (Mt. 8:14-15).

St. John the Evangelist is thought by the Church fathers to be one of the only of the 12 apostles who was celibate, which is why Christ had a particular love for him, Fr. Selin said. Some of the other apostles likely were married, in keeping with Jewish customs, but it is thought that they practiced perpetual continence (chosen abstinence from sexual relations) once they became apostles for the rest of their lives. St. Paul the Apostle extols the celibate state, which he also kept, in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8.

Because marriage was such an integral part of Jewish culture, even for the apostles, early Church clergy were often, but not always, married. However, evidence suggests that these priests were asked to practice perfect continence once they had been ordained. Priests whose wives became pregnant after ordination could even be punished by suspension, Fr. Selin explained.

Early on in the Church, bishops were selected from the celibate priests, a tradition that stood before the mandatory celibate priesthood. Even today, Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, most of which allow for married priests, select their bishops from among celibate priests.

As the “culture of celibacy” became more established, it increasingly became the norm in the Church, until married men who applied for ordinations had to appeal to the Pope for special permission.

In the 11th century, St. Gregory VII issued a decree requiring all priests to be celibate and asked his bishops to enforce it. Celibacy has been the norm ever since in the Latin Rite, with special exceptions made for some Anglican and other Protestant pastors who convert to Catholicism.

A sign of the kingdom

Another reason the celibate priesthood is valued in the Church is because it bears witness to something greater than this world, Fr. Selin explained.

Benedict XVI once told priests that celibacy agitates the world so much because it is a sign of the kingdom to come.

“It is true that for the agnostic world, the world in which God does not enter, celibacy is a great scandal, because it shows exactly that God is considered and experienced as reality. With the eschatological dimension of celibacy, the future world of God enters into the reality of our time. And should this disappear?” Benedict XVI said in 2010.

Christ himself said that no one would be married or given in marriage in heaven, and therefore celibacy is a sign of the beatific vision (cf. Mt 22:30-32).  

“Married life will pass away when we behold God face to face and all of us become part of the bridal Church,” Fr. Selin said. “The celibate is more of a direct symbol of that.”

Another value of celibacy is that it allows priests a greater intimacy with Christ in more fully imitating him, Fr. Selin noted.

“The priest is ordained to be Jesus for others, so he’s able to dedicate his whole body and soul first of all to God himself, and from that unity with Jesus he is able to serve the church,” he said.

“We can’t get that backwards,” he emphasized. Often, celibacy is presented for practical reasons of money and time, which aren’t sufficient reasons to maintain the tradition.

“That’s not sufficient and that doesn’t fill the heart of a celibate, because he first wants intimacy with God. Celibacy first is a great, profound intimacy with Christ.”

A married priest's perspective: Don't change celibate priesthood

Father Douglas Grandon is one of those rare exceptions - a married Roman Catholic priest.

He was a married Episcopalian priest when he and his family decided to enter the Catholic Church 14 years ago, and received permission from Benedict XVI to become a Catholic priest.

Even though Fr. Grandon recognizes the priest shortage, he said opening the doors to the married priesthood would not solve the root issue of that shortage.

“In my opinion, the key to solving the priest shortage is more commitment to what George Weigel calls evangelical Catholicism,” Fr. Grandon told CNA.

“Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, vocations come from a very strong commitment to the basic commands of Jesus to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Wherever there’s this strong evangelical commitment, wherever priests are committed to deepening people’s faith and making them serious disciples, you have vocations. That is really the key.”

He also said that while he’s “ever so grateful” that St. John Paul II allowed for exceptions to the celibate priesthood in 1980 – allowing Protestant pastor converts like himself to become priests – he also sees the value of the celibate priesthood and does not advocate getting rid of it.

“...we really do believe the celibate vocation is a wonderful thing to be treasured, and we don’t want anything to undermine that special place of celibate priesthood,” he said.

“Jesus was celibate, Paul was celibate, some of the 12 were celibate, so that’s a special gift that God has given to the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Joshua J. Whitfield is another married priest, who resides in Dallas and is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He recently wrote about his experience as a married priest, but also said that he would not want the Church to change its celibacy norm.

“What we need is another Pentecost. That’s how the first 'shortage' was handled. The Twelve waited for the Holy Spirit, and he delivered,” Fr. Whitfield told CNA in e-mail comments.

“Seeing this crisis spiritually is what is practical. And it’s the only way we’re going to properly solve it…. I’m simply not convinced that the economics of (married priesthood) would result in either the growth of clergy or the Church.”

A glance at what the priest shortage looks like in the United States

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the largest diocese in the United States, clocking in at a Catholic population of 4,029,336, according to the P.J. Kenedy and Sons Official Catholic Directory.

With 1,051 diocesan and religious priests combined, the archdiocese has one priest for every 3,833 Catholics – more than double the national rate.

Despite the large Catholic population, which presents both “a great blessing and a great challenge”, Fr. Samuel Ward, the archdiocese's associate sirector of vocations, told CNA he doesn’t hope for or anticipate any major changes to the practice of priestly celibacy.

“I believe in the great value of the celibate Roman Catholic priesthood,” he said.

He also sees great reason for hope. Recent upticks in the number of seminarians and young men considering the priesthood seems to be building positive momentum for vocations in future generations.

The trend is a national one as well – CARA reports that about 100 more men were ordained to the priesthood in 2016 than in 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, there was a difference of only 4.

In the Archdiocese of New York, the second largest diocese in the United States, there is a Catholic population of 2,642,740 and 1,198 diocesan and religious priests, meaning there is one priest for every 2,205 Catholics.

“I think we’re probably like most every other diocese in the country, in that over the past 40-50 years, the number of ordinations have not in any way kept pace with the number of priests who are retiring or dying,” said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese.

It’s part of the reason why they recently underwent an extensive reorganization process, which included the closing and re-consolidation of numerous parishes, many of which had found themselves without a pastor in recent years.

“Rather than wait for it to hit crisis mode we wanted to be prudent and plan for what the future would look like here in the Archdiocese of New York,” Zwilling said.

Monsignor Peter Finn has been a priest in New York for 52 years, and as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary for six years in the early 2000s, he has had several years’ experience forming priests. While he admits there is a shortage, he’s not convinced that doing away with celibacy would solve anything.

“After 52 years of priesthood I’m not really sure it would make any big difference,” he told CNA.

That’s because the crisis is not unique to the vocation of the priesthood, he said. The broader issue is a lack of commitment – not just to the priesthood, but to marriage and other vocations of consecrated life.

Fr. Selin echoed those sentiments.

“It goes deeper, it goes to a deep crisis of faith, a rampant materialism, and also at times a difficulty with making choices,” he said.

So if marriage won’t solve the problem, what will?

Schools, seminaries, and a culture of vocations

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, on the other hand, has not experienced such a drastic shortage. When compared with other larger dioceses in the country (those with 300,000 or more Catholics), the St. Louis Archdiocese has the most priests per capita: only 959 Catholics per priests, in 2014.

John Schwob, director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese, said this could be attributed to a number of things – large and active Catholic schools, a local diocesan seminary, and archbishops who have made vocations a pastoral priority.

“...going back to the beginning of our diocese in 1826, the early bishops made repeated trips to Europe to bring back religious and secular priests and religious men and women who built up strong Catholic parishes and schools,” he told CNA. “That has created momentum that has continued for nearly 200 years.”

These three things also ring true for the Diocese of Lincoln, which has a smaller population and a high priest-to-Catholic ratio: one priest for every 577 Catholics, which is less than one third of the national ratio.

As in St. Louis, Lincoln's vocations director Fr. Robert Matya credits many of the diocese's vocations to Catholic schools with priests and religious sisters.

“The vast majority of our vocations come from the kids in our Catholic school system,” Fr. Matya said.

“The unique thing about Lincoln is that the religion classes in all of our Catholic high schools are taught by priests or sisters, and that is not usually the case … the students just have greater exposure to priests and sisters than a kid who goes to high school somewhere else who doesn’t have a priest teach them or doesn’t have that interaction with a priest or a religious sister.”

The diocese also has two orders of women religious – the Holy Spirit Adoration sisters (or the Pink Sisters) and discalced, cloistered Carmelites – who pray particularly for priests and vocations.

Msgr. Timothy Thorburn, vicar general of the Lincoln diocese, said that when the Carmelite sisters moved to the diocese in the late '90s, two local seminaries sprang up “almost overnight” - a diocesan minor seminary and a seminary for the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

“Wherever priests are being formed the devil is going to be at work, and cloistered religious are what we would consider the marines in the fight with the powers of darkness, they’re the ones on the frontlines,” Msgr. Thorburn told CNA.

“So right in the midst of the establishment of these two seminaries, the Carmelite sisters... asked if they could look at building a monastery in our diocese.”

A commitment to authentic and orthodox Catholic teaching is also important for vocations, Msgr. Thorburn noted.

“I grew up in the '60s and '70s and '80s, and many in the Church thought if we just became more hip, young people would be attracted to the priesthood and religious life … and the opposite occurred. Young people were repelled by that,” he said.

“They wanted to make a commitment, they wanted authentic Catholic teaching, the authentic Catholic faith, they didn’t want some half-baked, watered down version of the faith; that wasn’t attractive to them at all. And I’d say the same is true now. The priesthood will not become more attractive if somehow the Church says married men can be ordained.”

Pope Francis' solutions: Prayer, fostering vocations, and the birth rate

Pope Francis, too, does not believe that the married priesthood is the solution to the priest shortage. Before he even mentioned the married priesthood to Die Zeit, the Pope talked about prayer.

“The first [response] – because I speak as a believer – the Lord told us to pray. Prayer, prayer is missing,” he told the paper.

Rose Sullivan, director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, and the mother of a seminarian who is about to be ordained, agrees with the Pope.

“We would not refer to it as a ‘priest shortage’ or a ‘vocation crisis.’ We would refer to it as a prayer crisis. God has not stopped calling people to their vocation, we’ve stopped listening; the noise of culture has gotten in the way,” she said.

“Scripture says: ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’ So the question would be, are we listening? And I would say we could do a much better job at listening.”

Another solution proposed by Pope Francis: increasing the birth rate, which has plummeted in many parts of the Church, particularly in the west.

In some European countries, once the most Catholic region of the world, the birth rate has dipped so low that governments are coming up with unique ways to incentivize child-bearing.

“If there are no young men there can be no priests,” the Pope said.

The vocations of marriage and priesthood are therefore inter-related, said Fr. Ward.

“They compliment each other, and are dependent upon one another. If we don’t have families, we don’t have anything to do as priests, and families need priests for preaching and the sacraments.”

The third solution proposed by Pope Francis was working with young people and talking to them directly about vocations.

Many priests are able to trace their vocation back to a personal invitation, often made by one priest, as well as the witness of good and holy priests that were a significant part of their lives.

“A former vocation director took an informal poll, and he asked men, ‘What really got you thinking about the priesthood?’ And almost all of them said 'because my pastor approached me',” Fr. Selin related.

“It was the same thing with me. When a priest lives his priesthood with great joy and fidelity, he’s the most effective promoter of vocations, because a young man can see himself in him.”

Msgr. Thorburn added: “There is no shortage of vocations.”

“God is calling a sufficient number of men in the Western Church, who by our tradition he gives the gift of celibacy with the vocation. We just have to make a place for those seeds to fall on fertile ground.” 

As wave of executions draws near, Catholics in Arkansas pray for an alternative

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 08:01

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 9, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Even though legal options have run out, Catholics in Arkansas are still pushing back against a wave of eight executions set to start on Easter Monday, April 17.

“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,” wrote Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock in a March 1 letter to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson against the execution of the eight men scheduled to be killed in April.

Beginning April 17 the state of Arkansas will execute eight men in the span of 10 days.

Their names and scheduled execution dates are Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward (April 17), Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson (April 20), Marcel Williams and Jack Jones, Jr. (April 24), Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams (April 27).

No death row inmate has been executed in Arkansas since 2005. There are 34 death row inmates in the state.

The executions were originally scheduled in October 2015 after the state legislature passed a law legalizing the anonymity of the sources of a three-drug cocktail of lethal injections that sedates, paralyzes, and stops the heart of the person upon whom it is used. The men’s attorney filed a lawsuit alleging that concealing the drugs’ sources could obfuscate whether or not the inmates had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. After a stay was granted and a county court ruled the law unconstitutional, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law. The United States Supreme Court opted not to hear the case.

Hutchinson then rescheduled the executions. According to the Arkansas Catholic, the state has spent $24,226.40 on the drugs used in the scheduled executions.

The eight executions are taking place before the state’s supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the execution process, expires.

The state’s supply of potassium chloride, used to stop the heart, expired Jan. 1, 2017. However, Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a Feb. 28 article that he was confident the state could procure more potassium chloride in time for the executions.

The state also permits the use of a single-drug method of execution.

Catholic teaching has long permitted the state’s use of capital punishment as an act of justice and to keep a community safe from a dangerous wrongdoer, given that the gravity of the crime merits such a harsh response and that the guilt of the inmate is certain.

While this teaching has not changed, writings by St. John Paul II and his successors have critiqued the practice’s use in the modern era. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II wrote that “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means.”

Bishop Taylor referenced these papal critiques of the death penalty in his plea that the state of Arkansas halt the executions.

“Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means – hence this appeal to you,” the bishop argued.

The bishop also pointed out some practical arguments against the death penalty’s use in the state, including that the punishment is frequently applied inconsistently, even among similar crimes; that the death penalty is more costly than other sentences; and that more than 139 death row inmates from 36 states have been exonerated since 1973, after evidence showed their innocence.

He also pointed out that in an overwhelming majority of death row cases, no DNA evidence exists to ensure the inmate’s guilt, and the inmates are too poor to afford their own attorney.

Bishop Taylor recognized Hutchinson’s duty to execute the state’s laws, including that of the death penalty, but also reminded him that he is also subject to a “higher law, the divine law.”

“As governor you have the power to commute these sentences to life without possibility of parole and so I appeal to you to do so – and not only out of concern for these eight men, but also out of concern for the damage that the death penalty does to all of us as a society,” the bishop wrote.

While the bishop’s letter has not stopped the upcoming executions, Catholics in the state are not halting their protests or prayers.

The Benedictine Sisters of the St. Scholastica Monastery will hold a novena for the prisoners who will be executed and their clemency, and are inviting Catholics to join them by coming to pray daily April 9-17 at the monastery’s cemetery.

In addition, on Good Friday, a non-partisan ecumenical group, the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, will host a rally in front of the state capitol against the mass executions.

 

Don't send a mother who fled drug cartels back to Mexico, archdiocese pleads

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 07:32

Cincinnati, Ohio, Apr 8, 2017 / 05:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. immigration authorities should show mercy on a detained Catholic mother with a special needs child, who fled Mexico when drug cartels began to persecute her family, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said this week.

The archdiocese emphasized that Maribel Trujillo-Diaz has a pending asylum case, has no criminal record in the U.S., and is caring for her four children, one of whom has seizure-causing disabilities and requires special care.

“We urge that our elected and administrative officials exercise mercy for Maribel,” the archdiocese said April 6.

A parishioner and lector at St. Julie Billiart Parish in Hamilton, Trujillo-Diaz fled Mexico in 2002. She entered the U.S. illegally, but has a pending asylum case based on the fact that her family is being targeted by Mexican drug cartels.

Trujillo-Diaz and her family refused to work for a local Mexican drug cartel. Her father was kidnapped by the cartel last year, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

“We fully respect the Department of Homeland Security’s duty to enforce our immigration laws, and we recognize that this is not an easy task,” said the archdiocese. “At the same time, it is clear that the common good cannot be served at this stage by separating this wife and mother from her family.”

Trujillo-Diaz regularly reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. At her Monday April 3 appointment, the archdiocese said, she was told she could remain at home as her case was further reviewed.

On April 5, ICE officials arrived at her brother’s house as she was preparing for work and took her into custody for imminent deportation.

The Cincinnati archdiocese called her detention “cruel and unacceptable,” praising Trujillo-Diaz as “a devoted wife and mother and outstanding member of her church and community.”

“Maribel has made a life in Ohio based on positive contributions to her church and her community. She has no criminal history,” the Cincinnati archdiocese said. “She is a lay leader at her parish, whose members are surrounding her with prayers that she be permitted to remain with them and her family.”

“Maribel’s children, ages 14, 12, 10 and 3, are all U.S. citizens,” the archdiocese said. “Her 3-year-old daughter has recurring seizures and requires the attention and care of her mother.”

Kathleen Kersh, Trujillo-Diaz’s lawyer, said she is the only person who can care for her 3-year-old, having received medical training to detect and treat seizures. Another child suffers from early-onset diabetes.

An ICE spokesperson said the woman’s appeal efforts had been exhausted.

“Maribel Trujillo’s immigration case has undergone review at multiple levels of our nation’s legal system and the courts have uniformly held that she has no legal basis to remain in the United States,” the spokesperson said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Trujillo-Diaz became subject to deportation in 2014 when the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed her appeals. Last year her lawyer filed an effort to re-hear her case, citing her father’s kidnapping.

She was close to deportation in previous years. Thousands of area Catholics and other supporters rallied then to ask authorities to allow her to stay.

Last year, immigration officials, acting under prosecutorial discretion, decided she was low priority and no threat to public safety.

Her lawyer said at her March 6 check-in, officials implied they would seek her deportation.

“They told her, and this is exactly what they said: ‘We have a new president now. I don’t know if you are aware’,” Kersh said.

“I think the Trump administration is only looking at numbers and not looking for those people who are criminals or are a threat to public safety,” Kersh continued.

In a February letter, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati had spoken on behalf of Trujillo-Lopez.

“Our church and our community gain nothing by being left with a single-parent household when such a responsible and well-respected family can be kept together,” he said, citing Catholic teaching’s emphasis on the family as “the highest organization of human society.”

The archdiocese is asking Ohioans to contact U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Gov. John Kasich to encourage them to ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop Trujillo’s deportation.

 

 

Philly priest charged with stealing $500k for concerts, dinners, casinos

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 18:07

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 7, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- A Philadelphia monsignor is being charged with embezzling more than half a million dollars from the priests’ home where he served as rector, and using that money on lavish dinners, casino visits and Philadelphia Pops concerts.

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania have charged Msgr. William A. Dombrow, 77, with four counts of wire fraud.

Over the course of nine years, he allegedly siphoned off some $535,000 from the Villa St. Joseph, a church-owned retirement home for elderly priests and those who have been stripped of ministerial faculties after being found credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

Prosecutors say he had sole access to the account for the facility in Delaware County, “which was funded by gifts from wills and life insurance proceeds that were intended for the archdiocese.”

Last summer, the archdiocese was alerted by Sharon Savings Bank to irregular activity taking place in the Villa account.

Archdiocese officials said the account was immediately frozen, and Msgr. Dombrow’s faculties and responsibilities were restricted.

Msgr. Dombrow’s lawyer, Coley Reynolds, said in a statement that the priest is “deeply and sincerely remorseful…of his conduct.” According to CBS, Reynolds emphasized that Msgr. Dombrow is cooperating with the investigation and “hopes to someday redeem himself.”

The priest is charged in a manner that indicates he is cooperating.

He is expected to plead guilty and could face a sentence of up to 80 years in prison, in addition to fines.

What Catholic leaders had to say about US missile strikes in Syria

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 17:20

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo expressed regret and disappointment at Thursday’s U.S. missile strikes in Syria, saying he hoped for “a political solution.”

“We were very sorry,” Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo responded to Thursday’s night’s missile strike by the United States on a Syrian government airbase near Homs, in retaliation for what the U.S. said was a chemical attack conducted by government forces on civilians.

The archbishop had hoped the U.S. “would have done something toward peace and reconciliation and a political solution” in Syria, and would first have investigated to prove that forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were indeed responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

The U.S. launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Syrian airbase near Homs on Friday morning (local time), destroying several warplanes and killing six. Several civilians were injured, but all of those killed and seriously injured were soldiers. The missiles were launched from two destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea.

President Trump said the attack was in response to the deaths of dozens of Syrians from poison gas on Tuesday following a bombing in the Idlib province by Syrian government forces.

About 98 have died so far from the gas and over 5,000 are injured, a doctor on the ground in the area, Dr. Ahmad Dbais from the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, told CNA. They showed symptoms of exposure to sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent, and not chlorine, he said.

Trump blamed Assad and his forces for conducting a chemical weapons attack – a violation of international law and a war crime. Assad for his part has denied the culpability of Syrian forces in the deaths, and his Russian allies said that Syrian bombs had hit buildings where Syrian rebels were manufacturing chemical weapons, spreading the gasses.

The Syrian airbase used for Tuesday’s bombing was targeted on Thursday by U.S. forces, President Trump noted.

“Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children,” the President stated from Mar-a-Lago, Fla. on Thursday night. “Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.”

Russia's military was informed of the strike in advance, the Pentagon has said.

Leading U.S. bishops called Friday for a political solution to the conflict in Syria. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and the head of the International Justice and Peace Committee, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, issued the joint statement.

“The use of internationally banned indiscriminate weapons is morally reprehensible,” they stated of the chemical attacks. “At the same time, our Conference affirmed the call of Pope Francis to attain peace in Syria 'through dialogue and reconciliation.'”

“The longstanding position of our Conference of Bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution. We ask the United States to work tirelessly with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.”

In late 2012 and throughout 2013, several reports came out of Syria alleging the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the Syrian people. In September 2013, UN chemical weapons inspectors confirmed that sarin was used in one of the attacks taking place Aug. 21, 2013. Estimated death tolls from these attacks range from at least 300 to as many as 1,500 killed. Over 3,600 people were wounded in the attacks.

On September 7, 2013, Pope Francis held a vigil for peace in Syria and other conflicts around the world. “Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace,” Pope Francis said of the vigil.

After criticism of the attacks from the United States and the international community, U.S. and Russian delegations helped to strike an agreement in September 2013 requiring Syria to disclose its chemical weapons and facilities to the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The organization moved to shut down and dispose of the facilities and weapons, and by the end of 2014, Syria’s chemical weapons were declared destroyed, along with 24 of the 27 chemical weapons production facilities.

However, U.S. intelligence reports indicated that Syria had not disclosed the entirety of its program to inspectors. Furthermore, reports kept surfacing of continued use of chemical agents in attacks against civilian targets in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2015 and 2016, the OPCW and UN partners conducted a fact-finding investigation into some of these attacks.

The group concluded it had “sufficient evidence” that the Assad regime targeted civilians with chlorine gas – a chemical weapon that was not specifically required for destruction by the previous agreement, but which is nevertheless banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The OPCW and UN panel also concluded that the Islamic State had used a “sulphur-mustard” chemical weapon in Syria in 2014 and 2015.

Archbishop Jeanbart expressed his wish that the U.S. had investigated first to ensure who were the perpetrators of Tuesday’s deaths by gas before taking military action.

“Of course, if the government in Syria has used the gas and chemical weapons, we agree that he shouldn’t do [this] and he must be punished,” he told CNA. “But I am afraid they didn’t have time to check and to make sure that he [Assad] did it himself.”

“What is making us unhappy and sad is that this strike has come too quickly,” he added. “They would have been able to do it any time later. They would have been able, in this situation, to ask Russia make pressure on the government to withdraw, and perhaps it could have been a reason to impose and oblige Bashar Assad to step out.”

“But I do not understand what happened, and it has been more destruction and more sadness and more terror coming to our people.”

By citing the responsibility borne by those in positions of political authority, Pope Francis “expects some kind of political response,” Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, explained to CNA of Pope Francis’s appeal to the conscience of political leaders responsible for Tuesday’s atrocities.

Pope Francis was probably looking for the international community to “exert some pressure” on the perpetrators, he added, and this could include the proportional use of force.

Thursday night’s missile strike showed a “judicious use of force,” he said. Action was needed “to enforce international law and international treaties” on the use of chemical weapons.

While “one would prefer” that there be “international concerted action” instead of one world power – in this case, the U.S. – taking action, some variables could have prompted a unilateral action here, he explained.

First, the response to the use of chemical weapons – an attack on an airbase used to launch bombings in the region – needed to be swift and a surprise in order to be successful, he said, and an international action would have taken time to form – if it formed at all.

Also, he noted, the world was watching – in particular, North Korea and China. Amid North Korea’s ballistic missile test launch this past week, the Trump administration showed that it may act “in a more decisive manner” when international interests are at stake, Capizzi said.

With Chinese president Xi Jingping visiting the White House this week, Thursday’s attack could function as a message to China to hold North Korea in check.

However, there must be measures taken to prevent Thursday’s attack from morphing into a greater military struggle in the region, Capizzi acknowledged, especially as the situation in Syria has grown more complex in recent years with the involvement of Russia.

As history has shown, “small, limited uses of force on the international level can expand,” he reflected.

Pro-life, religious freedom leaders cheer confirmation of Neil Gorsuch

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 13:08

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life and religious freedom advocates cheered the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch on Friday to the U.S. Supreme Court, filling an almost 14 month-long vacancy.

“As Catholics, we welcome the confirmation of a judge whose record adheres to the Constitutional right to free exercise of religion without government bullying and whose scholarship affirms the inherent dignity in all people,” Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said on Friday.  

Judge Gorsuch of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was tapped by President Donald Trump on February 1 to fill a vacancy left on the bench by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

While President Barack Obama had nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. circuit court, to fill Scalia’s seat, the Republican-led Senate refused to vote on his confirmation, saying they would wait until after the presidential election to confirm a nominee from the new president.

Trump had promised on the campaign trail to nominate a pro-life judge. While refusing to directly answer if he supported the repeal of Roe v. Wade, he said in the final presidential debate in October “if that [repeal] would happen, because I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life justices…it [the legality of abortion] will go back to the individual states.”

Pro-life leaders praised the confirmation. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, stated that “the swift fulfillment of President Trump’s commitment to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices is a tremendous win for the pro-life movement.”

“November exit polls showed that 1 in 5 Americans prioritized the Supreme Court nomination when casting their vote, and with a majority of 57 percent of those voters casting a vote for Donald Trump, it is clear that the majority of American voters wanted a strict constructionist,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said on Friday.

The Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Judge Gorsuch on April 7 after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ditched the parliamentary rules of requiring a 60-vote majority to bring confirmations of Supreme Court judges to the floor for a vote.

Senate Democrats had initially gathered enough votes to filibuster the confirmation – which would have blocked a vote on Gorsuch from taking place – but McConnell chose the “nuclear option” of changing the rules to require only a simple majority of votes in the 100-seat chamber to end the filibuster, rather than the usual 60 votes.

His predecessor, former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, had broken precedent and used the “nuclear option” to confirm judges to the lower federal courts and executive branch nominees.

Advocates of religious liberty said Gorsuch will offer much-need support to freedom of religion, which is suffering from an “erosion.”

“A Supreme Court justice, like Judge Gorsuch, who understands and values our founding documents, and hews closely to their meaning will help ensure that all Americans can continue to prosper and that we, as Catholics, remain free in exercising our religious principles,” said Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor with The Catholic Association.

On the Supreme Court, the first religious liberty case Gorsuch will hear will be on April 19 with oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley. That case involves a church’s eligibility for a state reimbursement program as it looks to make safety upgrades to its playground which is used by members and nonmembers of the church.

Opponents say that according to a Missouri state law, churches cannot benefit from taxpayer funds in cases like this because doing so would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

However, Trinity Lutheran Church and its lawyers are arguing that the Constitution does not require religious entities to be penalized simply because they are religious. The playground in question is for the entire community, not just members of the church, they say.

Another case that the Supreme Court has not taken up yet is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the state’s civil rights commission ruled that a Lakewood, Colo. cake artist could not decline to serve a same-sex wedding on the grounds of his religious beliefs. The court could take up that case now that Gorsuch is confirmed.

 

With 20-week abortion ban, Iowa set to join national trend

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 12:27

Des Moines, Iowa, Apr 7, 2017 / 10:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With stronger abortion restrictions advancing in the state legislature, Iowa is close to becoming the 20th state to bar abortion after 20 weeks.

The Iowa House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks into pregnancy, require a three-day waiting period for abortion, and require an ultrasound for women considering an abortion.

Last month, the Iowa Senate approved the 20-week abortion ban, but it must now review and approve provisions the House added such as the three-day waiting period and other changes.

Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the bill. At a pro-life rally, he pledged to be “a strong advocate for the unborn.”

The Iowa Catholic Conference, in an action alert on the Iowa Senate’s version of the bill, said the legislation would update state law to “reflect the advances made in saving the lives of infants over the past 40 years.”

“Unborn children at 20 weeks post-fertilization, once considered too young to survive, are now doing so at an increasing rate,” the conference said. “An abortion will no longer be performed at or beyond that point (under the legislation) unless there is a serious threat to the long-term health or life of the mother.”

State Rep. Shannon Lundgren, the bill’s floor manager, also spoke in favor of the bill.

“Today we make a stand for our unborn girls and boys who will become men and women,” she said. “This is the first of many bills that I hope we pass as legislators to defend our unborn children.”

Nineteen other states have bans on abortion after 20 weeks, the Associated Press reports.

The House bill, passed by a 55-41 vote, would also require a woman seeking an abortion to be given a chance to view the ultrasound and hear the baby’s heartbeat. She would also be given information about adoption.

All Democrats and one Republican voted against the bill. Opponents said the medical community was not consulted and said that the bill was unnecessary given declines in the abortion rate.

The Iowa Catholic Conference noted that most states that neighbor Iowa have a 20-week abortion ban in place. Another neighbor, the state of Missouri, will consider a ban this legislative session.

“We are concerned Iowa might become a destination for late-term abortion providers without this legislation,” the Catholic conference said on its website in an action alert about the Senate bill.

A coalition of Republican legislators tried to pass a six-week abortion ban, the period after which a heartbeat is detected. They lacked the votes to pass it.

The Iowa House has also approved a non-binding amendment stating the legislature’s interest in protecting all unborn life.

 

What does it mean to be a 'pro-life' police officer?

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 05:02

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Ultimately, this report is about the sanctity of all human life.”

This remarkable line opens up an international police group's flagship document on how to improve incidents of officer-involved shootings and the kinds of non-armed crisis situations that take place regularly across the United States.

“The essence of policing is the preservation of life,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., told CNA.

“That's why we exist; life is very precious, and we have to remind ourselves of that.”

This ethic of protecting human life extends even to the use of force in responding to incidents, Wexler argued: “Everything should be what we have to do to preserve human life – especially in the area of use of force.”

This principle, that human life is sacred has found itself at the core of PERF's work as an independent research and policy organization that looks at best practices in policing, as well as assistance, education and advice for law enforcement agencies.

With the idea that “the sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does” at the center of the organization's 30 Guiding Principles on the Use of Force and training guide, the group is already revolutionizing the way police departments approach policies on force and the response to crisis situations.

Keeping everyone safe

The pro-life approach to police work is part of a years-long project undertaken by PERF, which has more than 2500 members from around the globe.

Wexler explained that the organization was inspired to readjust their recommended policies and training after high-profile cases of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere sparked a national conversation on the appropriate force.

“We needed to take a hard look at what we were doing,” he said.

It's hard to capture the scope of the issue of police-involved shootings in the United States, because there is no data or source of official reports that's collected on a national level.

FBI Director James B. Comey explained in a 2015 speech at Georgetown University that the federal agency can't even investigate the issue because “reporting by police departments is voluntary and not all departments participate. That means we cannot fully track the number of incidents in which force is used by police, or against police, including non-fatal encounters, which are not reported at all.”

This means that any information available is at best unreliable, and hampers both investigating and addressing the issue, the director said.

In its report, PERF pointed to attempts by journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post to help fill this void of data by documenting the number of people killed in officer-involved shootings in the United States. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., also collects data on allegations of police misconduct, including shootings, at the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.

PERF furthermore noted that according to the data collected by the Washington Post, nearly one-third of fatal police-involved shootings in 2015 could have a significant potential for de-escalation, either because the subject killed was mentally ill, unarmed, or armed with a weapon that was not a firearm.

Wexler was assisting colleagues in Scottish police departments when these issues rose to public prominence in 2014. It occurred to Wexler that these colleagues – most of whom are not armed in departments in the United Kingdom – still must respond to and stay safe when dealing with incidents involving weapons like bats or knives, without the option of deadly force.

“For me it was an epiphany,” Wexler said. He asked himself, “If they can do it, why can't we?”

PERF had researchers spend time studying police tactics in Scotland as well as in special emergency units in New York City and other departments around the United States. While the organization’s later research made a point not to blame most of the officers at the center of these events, PERF reassessed the training and policies surrounding the use of force in challenging situations.

“It really got us to think about how to re-engineer use of force policy and training,” Wexler said.

The result of their research was a document outlining guiding principles on the use of force and a training guide to teach officers how to better diffuse situations where de-escalation is possible. The guiding principles document notes that in most non-firearm cases “the threat is not immediate and the officers will have options for considering a more methodical, organized approach,” and many lives have the potential to be saved.

All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that.

It is this potential for saving lives – and not only the lives of civilians who interact with the police – which is the focus of the revised guidelines and tactics. PERF's research states that changing approaches to incidents can increase officer safety, too.

“Rather than unnecessarily pushing officers into harm's way in some circumstances, there may be opportunities to slow those situations down, bring more resources to the scene, and utilize sound decision-making that is designed to keep officers safe, while also protecting the public,” the report states.

In its findings, the document emphasizes the sanctity of human life as well as administering life-saving aid, transparency in reporting officer-involved shooting, use of less lethal options, and promoting effective means of managing mental illness in crisis situations.

The documents also criticize “line in the sand” policies and other training and field tactics which they found escalated, rather than calmed, crisis situations not involving firearms.

Wexler also said the principles of proportionality and effective communication are key to protecting the lives of all involved.

“All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that,” emphasizing the importance of teamwork, tactical skills and crisis intervention. “What's really important is the safety of the officer and the safety of the person you're dealing with.”

From the church to the streets

These policies aimed at respecting the dignity of life are not just formulated in an abstract environment, but with feedback from around the world.

“We have consulted with literally hundreds of police officers and police departments. We met and studied best practices around the country,” Wexler said.  

The research organization consulted with hundreds of police chiefs for over two years, and looked at countless case studies and reports to put together their findings and then their training program.

“We would not be recommending something if we didn't think it would work, and we've seen enough cases in the United States and in other countries where some may already be doing it or are in the process of implementing it.”

One of the other sources Wexler and PERF president, Scott Thompson, consulted in putting together the report was the archbishop of the largest city in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

“The person who we thought would really be interested in this concept was Cardinal Dolan in New York,” Wexler recalled. “We went to see Cardinal Dolan because we thought our principles, and in particular that principle, would be very significant to him.”

Cardinal Dolan was elected as the chairman-elect of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life activities beginning his term as chair in 2015.

“We had a really good meeting and he really understood and embraced” the core principle of protecting life, Wexler said. “It was something he could be very supportive of.”

There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations.

PERF mentioned that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has also lent his support in helping the group's training programs for the Chicago Police Department.

While the police policy guidelines have been met with support among the hundreds of departments who worked with PERF, the organization’s focus on prioritizing the sanctity of the lives of all persons involved in police incidents has not been without controversy.

“There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations,” Wexler acknowledged.

When PERF first released its guidelines in March 2016, it was met with harsh criticism from both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done,” the organizations said in a joint response to PERF’s initial report.

A year later, however, national police organizations have started to adopt consensus principles that echo many of the ideas emphasized by PERF.

In a document laying out “National Consensus Policy” on the use of force, released in January 2017, 11 national police organizations – including the FOP and IACP – emphasized the importance of de-escalation policies, “reasonably prudent” responses, and less-lethal force. The policy also asks that departments around the country openly state that the “policy of this law enforcement agency is to value and preserve human life.”

While Wexler said he could not comment on these adaptations, he did say the shift in focus to emphasize the dignity and value of all lives – even in the most challenging situations – is a “difficult” shift in perspective: “The changes we're recommending are probably some of the biggest changes in police tactics that we’ve seen in 25 years.”

And the size of the policing community in the United States – more than 18,000 departments – only adds to the challenge.

Still, while the values and emphasis in police policy might still face some debate, PERF's training and concrete policies have met with wide acceptance.

“We've had no pushback from our training,” he said, pointing to the hundreds of departments who have come to their training workshops in New Orleans, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.

With this support in the year since putting out the guidelines and what they've seen in the research process, Wexler is confident that they can create a culture that defends the sanctity of human life in all aspects of its police work.

“I'm optimistic that in five years, this will no longer be controversial,” Wexler said. “This will be the way people handle these situations.”

On immigration, 'sanctuary' is not the ultimate solution, bishop says

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 02:48

Denver, Colo., Apr 7, 2017 / 12:48 am (CNA).- Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver didn’t tell a group of Hispanic parishioners at St. Mary Parish in Greeley, Colo., that the Catholic Church would deny sanctuary to an individual who needed help, but he didn’t want that question to be the sole focus of the community, either.

“What we are trying to do [as a Church] is work from now so that we never come to the point of being in the situation where a family is living in a church basement,” he said. “We want to prevent that situation before it occurs.”

The bishop said this Tuesday, Mar. 28, at the first of three meetings organized by Centro San Juan Diego, together with the Consuls General of Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, to inform the community of the current immigration policies, offer advice on what steps to take if they should find themselves in a crisis, and to confirm their solidarity with the immigrant community.

When asked about sanctuary, or sensitive locations, as immigration laws define it, the bishop said that it’s a Christian duty to help someone in need, and that “we aren’t going to close the door on anyone,” adding that “the Church is your home.”

“But we have to ask ourselves if this is the best solution for a family,” he stated, “because in reality, they will be living for months completely confined in a room.”

The bishop said that the informational sessions and legal advice were preventative steps, so that “hopefully we don’t arrive to this situation [of needing to provide refuge].”

Checks and balances

Cheryl Martinez-Gloria, director of the immigration program for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, clarified that little has changed with President Donald Trump’s executive order in January that sought to expand enforcement priorities and expedited removal.

“We are still operating under the same enforcement as we were under the Obama administration,” she said, attributing the fear and confusion of many immigrants to the “bad information out there.”

According to Martinez-Gloria, because of a lack of funding, which can only be approved by a vote of Congress, ICE is limiting priorities of enforcement to what they were under President Barack Obama’s administration, which include convicted felons, gang members, drug traffickers and those with final orders of deportation.

With regard to expedited removal, Martinez-Gloria said this procedure has existed in US law since 1996, but has been limited to those who are either at the border or within 100 miles of the border. The Trump order sought to expand expedited removal to apply it to anyone in the United States who has been here less than two years.

“That would imply a change in federal regulations, which could take months, a year or years,” she said.

“There are three elements to our government,” she explained, “the power of the president, the power of the legislature and the power of the courts. And all three have to be in agreement. This is the balance of our system.”

“Have faith in the balance of powers,” she said.

The lawyer also advised those attending to never “assume that just because he or she has been contacted by immigration that they are necessarily going to be deported.”

“You continue to have rights,” she said, “despite the circumstances.”

Be prepared

All three representatives of the consulates presented, including Juan Fernando Valey, Consul General of Guatemala; Jeremías Guzmán Barrera, Deputy Consul General of Mexico; and Eduardo Barandiarán, Consul General of Peru.

Valey began his presentation with a general warning against believing lawyers who will “fix your immigration” status for $5,000. He suggested getting legal advice and referrals from the consulates, or from Catholic Charities.

According to a presentation of the consulate of Mexico, immigrants are advised to be prepared with an emergency plan in the case they are detained. Most importantly, have a plan for who will take care of their children, and who will have legal guardianship of them.

The deputy consul gave some advice on how to act when one encounters civil authorities. For example, when an official comes to your house, don’t attempt to run away, stay calm and know that they can’t enter your home without a warrant.

If you are detained, he continued, don’t answer any questions without consulting a lawyer, ask to call your consulate, don’t sign anything, don’t lie and never give authorities false documentation.

Other general words of advice included not breaking any lawful regulation, particularly driving without a license and drinking and driving, and to avoid fights and anything that could put you into contact with authorities in a negative manner.

 

Originally published in the Denver Catholic.

 

US leaders tell persecuted believers: 'You are not alone'

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 18:25

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2017 / 04:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom advocates at the United States capitol on Thursday sent a message of solidarity to all those imprisoned or tortured for their religious beliefs.

“You are not alone. We are here with you, and we together will fight for your freedom,” Kristina Arriaga, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, stated April 6 to two prisoners she sponsored as part of a forthcoming project on “prisoners of conscience.”

Under the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, signed into law in December by President Barack Obama, the commission was directed to make a list of persons throughout the world who have been tortured, killed, imprisoned, have disappeared, or were placed under house arrest because of their religious beliefs or advocacy.

The commission monitors religious freedom around the world and makes policy recommendations to the State Department.

On Thursday members announced that a “prisoners of conscience” list is being created, and that they will seek public input from non-government organizations on information about persons who could be included on the list. There will be forms provided for organizations to complete, Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the commission, announced.

The list will be used for advocacy for the release of prisoners by foreign governments or non-state actors, Fr. Reese explained. “Public inattention can often lead to more persecution,” he said. Pictures of the prisoners and personal information can also help “put a face” to persecution around the world, he added.

“USCIRF strongly believes that it is essential to highlight the very personal dimensions and cruel costs of violations of freedom of religion or belief. These are human beings. We want to put a human face on these violations of religious freedom.”

Included on the list are members of the “Baha’i Seven,” leaders of the Baha’i religious minority in Iran who have been imprisoned since 2008, and Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert from Islam who worked at an orphanage in Iran and was convicted of “propagating against the Islamic regime and collusion intended to harm national security,” according to USCIRF.

Commissioners brought attention to various prisoners they themselves have sponsored. Fr. Reese sponsored Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, who has been detained since 2007.

He chose to sponsor the patriarch for ecumenical reasons, he explained, but also to draw attention to a little-known country with a poor human rights record.

“We’re hoping that this gives it a face, this gives it more attention, so that it’s simply not ignored by the media or by government officials or by anybody who can put the spotlight on the problems in Eritrea,” he explained. “For Christians, these are our brothers and sisters in Africa who are suffering because of their faith.”

Patriarch Antonios was elected patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in 2003, but was forcibly removed by the government in 2007 after “he called for the release of Christian prisoners and refused to excommunicate 3,000 of his parishioners who opposed the government,” Fr. Reese explained.

The patriarch is “reportedly being denied medical care despite his suffering from severe diabetes,” he added.

“Eritrea is known as the North Korea of Africa,” he explained to CNA. The government imprisons thousands for their religious beliefs or advocacy and “uses torture and forced labor” to exert control.

“Arresting the Patriarch, that’s like arresting the Pope! And deposing him – Napoleon did that,” Fr. Reese said. “This is the level of abuse of freedom of religion in this country. And it’s not only him [the patriarch], it’s the other clergy that are being harassed and persecuted.”

Kristina Arriaga sponsored two members of the “Bahá’í Seven,” a group who were “tending to the spiritual and the social needs of the Bahá’í” before they were arrested by the Iranian government in 2008, labeled as heretics, convicted for “espionage and spreading propaganda against the regime”, and sentenced to at least 20 years in prison.

There have been over 200 Bahá’í leaders killed since the 1979 Iranian revolution, she said.

Arriaga sponsored two women of the seven – Mahwash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi. They shared a cell in a Tehran prison. One, Fariba, wrote a “whole book of poetry” smuggled out through “scraps of paper,” Arriaga said.

“Their name may sound foreign to all of us, but they want the same things we do, to live according to their deeply held convictions, to be with their families through the good times and the bad times, to be there for births and celebrations and weddings and deaths and funerals, but they can’t,” she said.

“Fariba and Mahvash, Your voice was indeed taken away. Until you are freed, we – all of us here – will lend you ours,” she added.

Philly archbishop praised for revamping city's Catholic schools

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 05:02

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 6, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic schools in Philadelphia have seen a revitalization in finances and quality of education thanks to the initiative of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, says a group that collaborated with him on the effort.  

“While fund-raising certainly helped, the faith and wisdom of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput was equally important,” the Faith in the Future foundation said.

“He recognized the passion of lay leaders – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – for these schools and he empowered them to take action.”
 
The archdiocese began a partnership in 2012 with the Faith in the Future to increase fundraising and new leadership in overseeing Catholic school management.

“We need to have ongoing interest on the part of the donor community – not only Catholics but people who share our commitment to education – the ongoing support of the archdiocese of course, and our people and our pastors are all included,” Archbishop Charles Chaput said at the time, according to the Catholic Philly.

The foundation is now in charge of 17 high schools and four special education schools. The program started off in 2012 with nearly 13 million dollars in donations and has increased to 19.4 million in 2016. In a recent column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the group's leaders lauded Archbishop Chaput for his part in the growing success of the city's Catholic schools.

Faith in the Future works to fund the school's operational deficits then reinvests the surpluses into new programs. The organization also oversees improvements to operations and market strategies to further promote enrollment.

In the beginning of 2012, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was planning on closing 44 elementary schools, four high schools, and displacing nearly 24,000 students. Among other challenges, the archdiocese felt heavy financial strains from organizational issues and abuse scandals.

“The resources simply don't exist. Many of our parishes are financially strained. The archdiocese itself faces serious financial and organizational challenges that have been developing for many years and cannot be ignored,” Archbishop Chaput had told the Catholic Standard & Times.

As part of the revamping initiative, many schools have undergone significant transformation. West Catholic was reborn as West Catholic Preparatory High School, and has since doubled its enrollment – adding engineering and technology programs as well as a partnership with Drexel University. The U.S. Department of Education also accepted Our Mother of Consolation into the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, which is an award recognizing academic excellence. Both schools were originally among those slated to close.

The foundation's CEO, Samuel Carter, said that only three schools are now running on deficits. Carter noted they have accumulated a surplus over the past three years, and funds are being channeled back into new technologies and programs.

In a February 2016, Faith in the Future announced that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will extend their contract until 2022. At the announcement, Carter pointed to an information system that tracked the market analysis of potential students in order to better market the school’s qualities. He also discussed the increased strategies for access to assisted funding from areas like BLOCS or the Maguire Foundation, according the Catholic Philly.  

Besides increased funds by donors and better school organization, expansions to the EITC and OSTC of Pennsylvania’s tax systems have made tuition assistance more readily available for families. Both of the programs apply tax breaks or credits to businesses who provide a charitable donation. Businesses are able to receive 75-90 percent state tax credit for any amount up to $750,000.

Last year, Philadelphia's Catholic school system saw 93 percent of their graduates attend college, and more than half were awarded with at least one scholarship. As reported by Catholic Philly, Archbishop Chaput expressed his gratitude for the foundation, the lay community’s involvement, and the Catholic identity guiding the schools.

“The foundation’s zeal for excellence in management, guided by a strong Catholic identity, has served our high schools and schools of special education exceptionally well. I'm confident the foundation will continue to strengthen our educational system for the benefit of the region’s children,” the archbishop said.

A new civil rights ruling may create religious liberty problems

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 02:08

Chicago, Ill., Apr 6, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Both employers and employees who don’t believe marriage is an institution between a man and a woman could be affected by a federal appeals court ruling that sexual orientation is protected by federal civil rights legislation barring discrimination on the basis of sex.

“There is a concern that if an employer simply expresses its belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, an employee might complain that the employer created a ‘hostile work environment’ that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation,” Jim Campbell, senior counsel for the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA April 5. “This risk poses concerns for religious employers.”

Expressing religious views against or in favor of some forms of behavior could come to be treated as illegal discrimination in the workplace.

“Someone might argue that a religious employee who simply expresses her view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman creates a ‘hostile work environment’ based on sexual orientation,” Campbell said.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Tuesday ruled that sexual orientation is protected against discrimination by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The 8-3 ruling is unprecedented in a federal appeals court and conflicts with other courts, possibly setting up a Supreme Court hearing.

The appeals court ruled on the case of Kimberly Hively, a teacher at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Indiana. She charged that the school denied her a full-time job after she was seen kissing her then-girlfriend in the school’s parking lot.

The school denied discriminating against the teacher, saying that its policies specifically bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That factual question is distinct from the question over the interpretation of the law, the Associated Press says.

The 1964 law bars discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. Other courts have said Congress meant the word to refer to whether a worker was male or female and held it was erroneous to claim the legal meaning of the word “sex” included sexual orientation.

Chief Judge Diane Wood, writing the majority decision, said the case was “no different from the claims brought by women who were rejected for jobs in traditionally male workplaces, such as fire departments, construction, and policing.”

“The employers in those cases were policing the boundaries of what jobs or behaviors they found acceptable for a woman (or in some cases, for a man),” she said.

Judge Diane Sykes, writing in the dissent, said the ruling imparted “a new or unconventional meaning” to the text of the law, arguing the court is not authorized to update the text to respond to “changed social, economic, or political conditions.”

Campbell sided with the dissent, saying that the court “rewrote the statute to mean something that neither the original understanding nor the text of the statute supports.”

He said the judicial branch “rewrote a federal statute to accomplish something that Congress never intended.”

The law cited in the decision, the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s Title VII, does have an exception for some religious organizations, limiting the impact of the court’s decision.

Campbell said employers who perform secular work will rarely have a religious belief that “precludes them from employing someone who is in a same-sex relationship or is experiencing same-sex attraction.”

“But in limited circumstances, that might happen, and the religious freedom of those employers will be adversely affected,” he added.

He suggested that religious employers not protected by religious exemptions should make a distinction between discriminating against gays and lesbians “because of their status as such.” They could still implement codes of conduct against certain behaviors, which should not be unlawful.

Even these distinctions might not be sustainable under law.

“Unfortunately, however, the U.S. Supreme Court so far has been unwilling to distinguish between status and conduct in the context of sexual orientation.”

Other regulatory forces already appear to share the assumption of the Seventh Circuit.

Under the Obama administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held “sex stereotypes” like “the belief that men should only date women or that women should only marry men” constitute illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.

Maryland bishops join fight against human trafficking

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 20:02

Baltimore, Md., Apr 5, 2017 / 06:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Maryland's bishops united in voicing their concerns over the evils of human trafficking, announcing their sponsorship of a statewide initiative aimed at raising awareness of the issue.  

“The evil of human trafficking is an international, national and local scourge, and a grave violation of the dignity and freedom of all its victims,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington said in an April 3 statement.

“As people of faith, this grave injustice cries out for a response.”

According to the U.S. State Department, upwards of 800,000 victims of trafficking are brought through the U.S. borders every year. Up to 17,500 individuals are also trafficked into the country annually. Globally, the number spikes into an estimated 20 million victims, according to the International Labor Organization.  

The bishops lamented that the state of Maryland also sees a number of trafficked victims, due to Interstate 95, which acts as a hub to other cities, especially with the Baltimore Washington International airport nearby.

The bishops' statement, titled Proclaiming Liberty to Captives, highlighted the duty of Christians to “break the yoke of modern-day slavery,” by raising awareness and supporting organizations that aid victims.

Many efforts are already in place, which rescue trafficked victims and prosecute the perpetrators, such as Maryland's Human Trafficking Task Force, who rescued almost 400 victims from trafficking in 2014.

The bishops voiced their support of these initiatives, and also announced their own sponsorship of regional trainings that will raise awareness of human trafficking around the state.

“The Catholic bishops in Maryland pledge to devote the resources of the Church to support, unify and expand these efforts wherever possible,” the bishops stated.

“To assist in those efforts, the Catholic Church will sponsor regional trainings throughout the state beginning in the spring of 2017, at which we will bring together national, state and local experts who will provide participants with effective tools for combating human trafficking in our local communities.”

As many victims are not aware of their own captivity, the bishops underscored the importance of these new training programs that would help individuals recognize and identify the signs of a trafficked victim.

“Perhaps the most distressing aspect of human trafficking is the cloak of silence gripping its victims,” the bishops said, noting that many victims are vulnerable, poor, or runaways.

“Often, victims are not even aware they are being exploited,” they said, and asked that Catholics in Maryland attend the new training sessions “to recognize, set free, embrace and empower our brothers and sisters who are victims of human trafficking.”

The Maryland bishops are not alone in their concern over the staggering number of human trafficking victims. Pope Francis has also spoken out against the evils of trafficking, calling the injustice a “shameful wound.”

The Holy Father also used his 2015 World Day of Peace address to speak out against trafficking, asking individuals to not “become accomplices to this evil,” but to “have the courage to touch the suffering flesh of Christ.”

“Our commitment to addressing this issue reflects the commitment of the world-wide Church and especially Pope Francis, who from the start of his papacy has spoken passionately about this 'plague on the body of contemporary humanity,'” the bishops said.

The Maryland bishops urged local communities to learn more about human trafficking awareness through the new training programs, and also asked individuals to pray for the end of trafficking.

“We urge Catholics in Maryland to take advantage of these trainings in order to shine a light on this issue.”

Chemical attack in Syria 'shocks the soul,' says top US bishop

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 18:52

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2017 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious and political leaders have renewed calls for peace as they decried dozens of reported civilian deaths by poison gas this week in the Syrian conflict.  

“The chemical attack in Syria on April 4 shocks the soul. The many innocent lives targeted by these terrible tools of war cry out for humanity’s protection,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Wednesday.

At least 70 people, including children, were reportedly killed in Idlib, Syria on Tuesday by deadly gas after the neighborhood of Khan Sheikhoun was bombed, reportedly by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There have been around 200 reported chemical attacks in Syria, the medical care group UOSSM noted. The conflict there has lasted six years. Last year, the UN reported that Syrian government forces and ISIS had used chemical weapons on multiple occasions in 2014 and 2015. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime and violates international law.

“If confirmed, this would constitute the single largest chemical weapons attack in [Syria] since the attack on Eastern Ghouta in August 2013,” Kim Won-Soo, the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said of Tuesday’s incident.

UOSSM, which had doctors working in the targeted area, reported that victims of Tuesday’s bombing were showing symptoms of asphyxiation, foaming of the mouth, and “severe Dyspnoea.”

“Medical facilities are overwhelmed with patients and unequipped to handle chemical attacks of this magnitude,” they stated, adding that “many area hospitals have been put out of service, further complicating the situation.”

Dr. Monzer Yazji, president of UOSSM USA, reporting seeing a “major shortage in doctors, staff, and facilities inside Syria” in a trip there last week. “The attack today has left us all paralyzed. We are unable to properly treat the injured,” Dr. Yazji said.

Reporting on the attack, one activist witness said white smoke covered the vicinity after a bomb dropped, according to Reuters.

However, the Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons on the area, and its Russian allies have claimed that a bomb hit a rebel-held factory manufacturing chemical weapons, which then dispelled the gas.

The UN on Tuesday reported that details of the attack were “still coming in” and that “the attack had reportedly been carried out through an air strike on a residential area” but “the means of delivery could not be confirmed.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday condemned the “chemical weapons attack” which he said was “the third allegation of the use of such weapons in the past month alone.” President Donald Trump said the attack “crossed a lot of lines” in a Wednesday joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden, with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

“While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism,” he said of the Syrian president. “Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions,” he added, saying that “as the self-proclaimed guarantors to the ceasefire negotiated in Astana, Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.”

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians also condemned the attack.

“IDC condemns in the strongest terms the brutal violence and tactics of torture being used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the support of Russian and Iranian forces against civilians in Syria,” IDC executive director Philippe Nassif stated.

Religious and political leaders have called for prayer, for the perpetrators to be held accountable, and for a peaceful end to the conflict which has lasted for over six years.

“In this season of Lent when Christians draw near to the suffering of Christ, let us match the horrific indifference shown for innocent life with a fervent prayer for love to break through the evil,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Let us also match our prayer with a faithful witness to suffering so that no life at risk is forgotten.”

Pope Francis condemned the attack and offered his prayers “for the victims and their families.”

“I appeal to the conscience of those who have political responsibility, locally and internationally, so that this tragedy may come to an end and relief be brought to that beloved population who for too long have been devastated by war,” he said.

The use of poison gas on civilians is a war crime, but under international criminal law the perpetrator is not known right now with complete certainty, Professor Robert Destro, an international law expert at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, explained to CNA.

“We need to know who did it,” he insisted. “There are certain things that you are just not allowed to do.”

There are several actions countries could take to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable, he said, one approach being to use international criminal law, filing an indictment against the guilty party in an international criminal tribunal.

However, for this to take place, world leaders like the U.S., China, and Russia would have to come together, as “the U.S. cannot hold them responsible by itself.”

The international community must start meeting to determine not the best interests of particular countries, he said, but rather “what is in the best interest of people who live in the neighborhood” in Syria.

A letter from the Pope to the US president sunk in the Titanic

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 05:02

Denver, Colo., Apr 5, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the fateful voyage that embarked from Southampton and never made it to New York City, a passenger on the RMS Titanic named Major Archibald Willingham Butt was tasked with a special mission.

He was to carry a letter from Pope Pius X and personally deliver it to United States president William H. Taft.

But the 45-year-old major perished along with more than 1500 other passengers the night of April 15, with the contents of the letter never to be known.

Born in 1865 in Augusta, Georgia, Major Butt began a career in journalism after graduating from the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee. He later worked as first secretary of the United States Embassy in Mexico. During the Spanish-American war, he joined the army and was later appointed in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt as his military aid. When President Taft was elected, Major Butt was kept on staff and promoted to the rank of major in 1911.

By the next year, his health began to deteriorate – some speculating that this was due to him wanting to stay neutral and supportive amid tense political rivalry between Taft and Roosevelt, the latter of whom was planning a re-election campaign.

On a leave of absence, Major Butt embarked on a six-week tour of Europe in March of 1912 with his friend, artist Francis Millet. President Taft gave the major a letter to deliver to Pius X while in Rome, which he did on March 21. In return, Pius X gave him a letter to deliver to the president, according to the U.K. National Archives.

The major boarded the RMS Titanic in Southampton on April 12.

When the ship struck an iceberg in the waters of the Atlantic on the evening of April 15, he was seen in the smoking room, playing cards with Millett, the two ostensibly making no attempt to save themselves. Other sources, however, report his heroism.

According to Biography.com, The New York Times reported survivor Renee Harris as saying that he helped the sailors place women and children safely into lifeboats – even threatening bodily harm to any man who tried to circumvent the process.  

“Women will be attended to first or I'll break every...bone in your body,” he told one such unfortunate gentleman, according to Harris. The major helped “frightened people so wonderfully, tenderly, and yet with such cool and manly firmness. He was a soldier to the last,” Harris reportedly said.

Pope Francis to Chicago: Let peace heal your city

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 02:12

Chicago, Ill., Apr 5, 2017 / 12:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As violence continues to plague the city of Chicago, Pope Francis has sent words of encouragement, solidarity and hope to the people who live there.

“The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations – and it can heal Chicago,” the Pope said in a letter to the local archbishop, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.

“Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers,” Pope Francis said.

“Sadly, as you have told me, people of different ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds suffer discrimination, indifference, injustice and violence today. We must reject this exclusion and isolation, and not think of any group as ‘others,’ but rather as our own brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis’ words come amid a rising toll of murders and violent crimes in Chicago over the past few years. On March 30, seven people were killed in gang-related violence which occurred in three separate instances. Among those killed was a pregnant woman.

Over the past 15 months, some 900 murders have been reported in the city of Chicago, according to USA Today. Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel has condemned the violence, calling the most recent killings “evil.”

In an effort to respond to these violent acts, Cardinal Cupich announced a Walk for Peace that will take place in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on Good Friday, April 14.

The cardinal announced the peace walk at a news conference on Tuesday, where he was joined by the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, Monsignor Michael Boland, as well as the president and CEO of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Fr. Scott Donahue.

Pope Francis praised the event and said he would be with the participants in spirit.

“As I make my own Way of the Cross in Rome that day, I will accompany you in prayer, as well as those who walk with you and who have suffered violence in the city,” wrote the Holy Father.

Cardinal Cupich also announced a new series of anti-violence programs in Chicago, which will be funded with $250,000 from his discretionary charitable account, according to America Magazine.

“Broad gestures and sweeping rhetoric will not solve the problem. We need to do this person by person,” the cardinal stated.

While the way towards peace efforts is “not always easy,” Pope Francis emphasized that peace should be the only response to violence. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said that human conflict can only be resolved through love.

“I urge all people, especially young men and women, to respond to Dr. King’s prophetic words – and know that a culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results,” Pope Francis said.

Openness of minds and hearts will be required to move forward in peace, and this attitude should be taught in homes and schools, the Holy Father said, urging the citizens of Chicago to reject fear.

“I pray that the people of your beautiful city never lose hope,” Pope Francis wrote, and, “that they work together to become builders of peace, showing future generations the true power of love.”

 

 

 

What the Knights of Columbus founder can tell us today

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:02

New Haven, Conn., Apr 4, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When parish priest Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, he showed that holiness has a timeless quality, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has said.

“It’s not hard for us to see that Fr. McGivney was a priest of charity and mercy. Pastoral charity permeated his priestly ministry: he was filled with love for his parishioners; engaged with their needs; involved in their moments of joy but also times of loss and sorrow,” Archbishop Lori, Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, said March 29.

The archbishop spoke on the 135th anniversary of the founding of the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., the church where Fr. McGivney founded the Catholic fraternity that now has 1.9 million members worldwide.

Archbishop Lori reflected on the life of Fr. McGivney, who died in 1890 at the age of 38.

“How many confessions he heard within the walls of this church and how many people’s hearts did he open to the mercies of God,” he said. “It’s not too surprising, then, that when the Knights were founded in this very church their first and abiding principle would be charity – not the ersatz charity that talks big but does little – but a true love and concern for the orphan and widow and the outcast.”

“Did he not implant a culture of encounter in the Knights of Columbus 135 years ago?” the archbishop asked.

For Archbishop Lori, Fr. McGivney’s life showed the virtues of the Christian that Pope Francis would later describe as fostering a “culture of encounter,” being a “missionary disciple,” showing “accompaniment” and reaching out to those on the peripheries.

“Fr. McGivney was a missionary disciple. He was no stuffy cleric sitting in his overstuffed rectory waiting for people to call,” the archbishop said. “No, he was a disciple, a follower of the Lord, who loved him, believed in him, and preached the Gospel with conviction.”

The priest’s prayer and preaching “drove him outward and onward into the community where he ministered as a good shepherd, built bridges everywhere he could, and brought Christ to people and people to Christ.”

“There is something timeless about people who are holy,” said the archbishop. “They are timeless – but not as a work of art is said to be timeless. Holy people are such because their lives speak to each new generation, including times and seasons very different from their own.”

Archbishop Lori also reflected on the approach of Pope Francis towards Christian spirituality.

When Pope Francis speaks of the encounter with Jesus Christ, he does not mean a superficial meeting but rather “a true and deep meeting of minds and hearts.” The Pope “encourages us to allow the heart of Christ to speak to our heart, and to draw us into real intimacy with himself and his heavenly Father.”

“We encounter the Lord when we enter heart and soul into the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when we worthily receive the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, and when we pray privately, allowing the Lord’s voice to echo in our hearts,” the archbishop said.

Forced abortion in China cost a UN agency millions in US funds

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 19:55

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2017 / 05:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States has ended funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), saying the agency's support for Chinese population control programs violates an amendment banning funds for partners of coercive abortion or sterilization programs.

“This determination was made based on the fact that China's family planning policies still involve the use of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization, and UNFPA partners on family planning activities with the Chinese government agency responsible for these coercive policies,” the U.S. State Department said in a letter to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker.

The move ends $32.5 million in funds for the 2017 fiscal year, Reuters reports. The money will instead go to the State Department’s Global Health Programs fund. Those monies are used by the U.S. Agency for International Development to support family planning and maternal and reproductive health.

In 2015, the U.S. government was the fourth-largest voluntary donor to the Population Fund, giving $75 million.

The population fund said the claims were erroneous, saying its entire work “promotes the rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.” It said its work has saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities.

The Kemp-Kasten Amendment bars funding for any organization or program that the U.S. President determines to support or participate in coercive abortion or sterilization programs.

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers founder and president Reggie Littlejohn, a longtime critic of the Population Fund, said the fund “clearly supports China’s population control program, which they know is coercive.”

Littlejohn had called for further investigation into the Population Fund at a March 23 panel her organization held at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Her remarks cited several instances of coercion in abortion and sterilization.

She cited a sterilization campaign begun in April 2010 in  Puning City in China’s Guangdong Province, which set a goal of sterilizing 9,559 people. Littlejohn charged that those who refused were detained, along with their family members.

She also cited a May 4, 2016 article from BBC News, “Reinventing China’s abortion police,” which describes a Chinese official in Shaanxi province as a “birth-control enforcer” screening women for illegal pregnancies and telling women who cannot afford the fines to have an abortion.

The coastal province of Shandong is particularly strict, with illegal detentions for those accused of having children without official approval.

“Under China’s One (now Two) Child Policy, women have been forcibly aborted up to the ninth month of pregnancy,” Littlejohn said April 4. “Some of these forced abortions have been so violent that the women themselves have died, along with their full term babies. There have been brutal forced sterilizations as well, butchering women and leaving them disabled. Where was the outcry from the UNFPA? In my opinion, silence in the face of such atrocities is complicity.”

In 2002 the U.S. ended federal funding for the Population Fund after an investigation under then-Secretary of State Colin Powell found that it was complicit with Chinese officials’ coercive implementation of the country’s one-child policy.

The Obama administration had restored this funding in 2009.

Women’s Rights without Frontiers offers a support network to Chinese women pressured to abort or abandon their daughters, providing monthly support for up to a year. It aims to combat the practice it characterizes as “femicide” or “gendercide,” the selective targeting of baby girls for abortion.

Littlejohn has said the Chinese government should implement a similar program to save baby girls.

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