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Updated: 1 hour 39 min ago

Can you teach the truth and not be a hater? This ministry for gay Catholics says yes.

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 05:14

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 13, 2017 / 03:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a country where gay marriage has gained widespread acceptance – both culturally and legally – in the past several years, it can be difficult for pastors or others in ministry to stick to the Church’s teachings on the subject without feeling like a bigot or a hater.

Difficult, but certainly not impossible, said leaders at the Truth and Love conference this week in Phoenix.

The conference was co-hosted by the Diocese of Phoenix and Courage International, the Church’s ministry to people who experience same-sex attraction. Pastors and others in ministry positions from throughout the country came for talks and resources on how better to teach the Church’s truth with love.

“The idea of these conferences is to provide resources, perspective and vocabulary for people in ministry. These are specifically for clergy, diocesan parish staff, or those in fields like psychology or social work – people that are going to be on the frontline of the field hospital,” Fr. Philip Bochanski said, referencing an analogy from Pope Francis, who called the Church is a type of field hospital.

“These are the people who are going to be doing pastoral first-aid and spiritual triage, they’re that first point of contact for people,” Fr. Bochanski told CNA.   

Fr. Bochanski has worked with Courage for a number of years, and was recently appointed executive director of the ministry after the previous director, Fr. Paul Check, was assigned as rector of St. John Fisher Seminary in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

This is the second time the ministry has hosted a conference specifically for clergy and those in ministry, Fr. Bochanski said. By and large, these people have good intentions but are unsure of how to share the teachings of the Church on homosexuality with love.  

“I think the problem is that the culture says that on this issue, you can’t do both – that somehow being faithful to the Church’s teaching makes you a bigot or a hater, or an unreasonable person,” he said.

“But the culture promotes a misplaced compassion, where pastoral ministers can be afraid to say the wrong thing, and so they don’t say anything, or they speak ambiguously or incompletely,” he said.

“So we’re trying to overcome that worry and fear on their part and to give them perspective and tools to help them to be faithful and more compassionate to the people that they’re serving.”

The Truth and Love conference got its name from scripture, when St. Paul tells the Ephesians to “live the truth in love.” It featured presentations on various topics including preaching the truth, what kind of vocabulary to use, and testimonies from people who experience same-sex attractions and have found freedom and happiness in the Church.

While these conferences geared toward priests and ministers are relatively recent, the members of Courage have been meeting at annual conferences for about 30 years.

The Courage apostolate was founded in New York City in 1980 when a small group of Catholic men with same-sex attraction who wanted to live chaste lives according to Catholic teaching met with the priest Fr. John F. Harvey, the apostolate’s first director. The group’s five goals are chastity, prayer, fellowship, support and service.

The group also has a ministry outreach to parents and spouses, called EnCourage. Dioceses can work with Courage to set up local chapters of both ministries.

Fr. Bochanski said the apostolate has seen a significant increase in interest for local chapters particularly since the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2015. Since then, about 20 new dioceses have expressed interest in starting new local chapters of Courage.

“From a secular, cynical perspective, it would be easy to say the legal issue is decided, the cultural issue is closed, Courage and the Church can just go away,” Fr. Bochanski said.

“But from the perspective of the Church, we’re realizing that it’s becoming impossible not to speak up about this, and I think bishops are realizing the Church cannot just be a church that says ‘no’. And if at times we do have to say no to behavior – never to people – it’s in order to help them say a bigger ‘yes’,” he said.

“If we say ‘we believe this is not the way’, it’s because there is a way that’s going to lead to happiness. And I think bishops have reached out to us because they’re realizing in the cultural situation in which we’re living, they need to have a coherent response to these questions, and they see in Courage and our approach to pastoral care the best way to provide that.”

The Courage apostolate is currently present in five continents and 15 countries. The Truth and Love conference included speakers from Mexico and attendees from other countries including Canada, Denmark, and India.

Fr. Bochanski said this diversity shows the universal need for the apostolate and message of Courage and the Church.

“I think it demonstrates the need in the universal Church for some understanding not just of the ‘issues’ but of real people and the desires of the human heart, and how it is that God wants us to welcome and accompany people by listening to their desires and helping them to see how their desires can be filled in Christ.”

More information about the Courage apostolate can be found at: https://couragerc.org/

 

In Texas legislature, second thoughts about 'no-fault' divorce

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 18:30

Austin, Texas, Jan 12, 2017 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Changes to divorce law are up for consideration in the Texas legislature, with supporters saying it is too easy to dissolve a civil marriage.

“There needs to be some type of due process. There needs to be some kind of mechanism to where that other spouse has a defense,” said Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican from Fort Worth.

“I think people have seen the negative effects of divorce and the breakdown of the family for a long time,” he added, saying he thought his bill would help reverse the trend.

The bill would remove insupportability, meaning “no fault,” as a grounds for divorce, the Austin-based NBC affiliate KXAN News reports. Rep. Krause had also filed the bill in the 2016 legislative session.

A spokesperson for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops said the conference supports legislation that discourages divorce, including the proposal to end “no-fault” divorce.

“No-fault divorce laws typically ease the divorce process, rather than encouraging spouses to seek spiritual guidance or professional counseling to enrich their marriage,” the spokesperson told CNA Jan. 12.

“However, in situations of domestic abuse or violence, Church personnel and services should be focused on providing safety and protection to those who are being abused or the victims of violence. No one deserves to be hurt, especially by a supposed 'loved one.' Any laws that support marriage must also recognize the right for a person to be safe in his or her own home.”

One skeptic of the proposal was Slav Talavara, a family lawyer, who told KXAN that about 90 percent of his divorce cases invoke “no-fault” grounds. He said disallowing those grounds would add the need to blame someone to an already difficult process.

All 50 states allow some form of no-fault divorce. New York was the last state to legalize no-fault divorce, in 2010. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, divorce can be sought only on “no-fault” grounds.

Texas law recognizes six categories of “fault-based” divorces: adultery, cruelty, abandonment and a felony conviction, living apart for at least three years, or confinement to a mental hospital.

Rep. Krause has filed a separate bill to extend the waiting period for divorce from 60 days to 180 days in cases where the family includes a child under 18 years of age, a child still in high school, or an adult disabled child living in the household.

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops supports that bill as well. A spokesperson said it would “provide more time for counseling and other support to protect marriages.”

Looking for family history? Boston archdiocese is digitizing Catholic records

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 17:29

Boston, Mass., Jan 12, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- If you've been wanting to learn more about your family tree, a new online database is making the search easier with digitized Catholic parish records in the Boston area dating from 1789-1900.

Announced on Tuesday, the New England Historic Genealogical Society has partnered with the Archdiocese of Boston, collaborating their resources with the church’s sacramental records in an effort to create a mega treasury of information available to the public online.

“The whole 19th century was a time of waves of immigration to Boston, and this project will make it easier to study that era and for people to trace their family history back to Europe,” said Jean Maguire, the genealogical society’s library director, according to the Catholic Herald.

“We have a lot of parishes to cover,” Maguire said, referencing the 150 parishes that will be included in the database.

The digitizing project began when the Boston archdiocese’s archivist, Thomas Lester, noticed the wear and decay on some of the Church’s older records – some of which are over 200 years old.

“Pages are brittle and flaking, bindings are coming unstitched, some are just falling apart. Of course, we try to restore them, but we can’t do it fast enough,” Lester said.

“So we looked into scanning all of them, that way if we can’t save books we can at least save the information.”

According to the genealogical society, the project will tackle 400,000 hand-written pages and 10 million names, with plans to digitize about 5,000 volumes of the Church’s index records. The online database will also eventually include information from every parish in the Boston archdiocese, even the parishes which no longer exist.

“We work…to conserve any damaged volumes, evaluate records, decipher obscure entries, and carefully guide our transcriptionists so their work is as accurate as possible,” the NEHGS stated on their site.

“This painstaking process ensures faithful transcriptions – a critical factor for family historians and researchers.”

According to both organizations, this is the biggest parish record digitizing project within any single U.S. diocese.

Most of the documents have been recorded in Latin, although the immigration period influenced documentation in other languages, including Italian, French and Polish.

The program will also include a companion website, which will host information about the early growth of Catholicism in Boston. It also details the history of persecution, integration, and the establishment of the Church in New England, complete with a timeline, photos, and maps of the area.

As the records are uploaded onto the site, families who are curious about their ancestors will be able to find traces of their history through sacramental records, which offers information about names and dates, including marriage witnesses or baptismal godparents.

Currently, the database has published the sacramental records from four parishes online in a volume-by-volume format, which includes documents from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Holy Trinity, Immaculate Conception, and Our Lady of Victories. These records mainly include marriage certificates, baptismal records, death census, and confirmation recordings.

To make the search easier, the site has included an instructional video to guide the users, and there are also plans to make a “search by name” feature available by the end of the year.

Looking forward, the archivists believe it will take a few years to fully complete the digitizing process.

Currently, the records online are being offered for free, but as more information becomes available, users will need a paid membership to the genealogical society.

St Louis archbishop foresees dire effects of proposed abortion law

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 17:02

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 12, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Giving civil rights protection to abortion would undermine respect for life and threaten the religious freedom of Catholic institutions, the Archbishop of St. Louis has said in a strong criticism of a proposed city bill.

“City ordinances should respect all people, including women facing unplanned pregnancies, unborn children, and people who desire to live their lives in accordance with their religious convictions,” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said Jan. 10.

“Protection and care for human life at all stages of development from conception until natural death is a fundamental moral value shared by Catholics as well as many other people of faith,” he added.

The bill would add “reproductive health decisions” to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance concerning housing and employment. If the proposal becomes law, the city Civil Rights Enforcement Commission would be empowered to consider complaints.

Archbishop Carlson said the bill is “vague and ambiguous” and could pose “terrible consequences” for religious institutions.

“For example, a Catholic school or Catholic Charities agency could be fined by the City of St. Louis for not employing persons who publicly promote practices such as abortion,” he said. Catholic institutions could also be fined for refusing to cover abortion in employee health insurance plans.

“This proposed ordinance seeks to make St. Louis a sanctuary city for abortion, an act that kills innocent unborn children,” the archbishop added. “This is not what our city should stand for; rather, St. Louis should be a sanctuary for life and compassion, especially compassion for mothers and their developing children.”

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s proposed city ordinance, Board Bill 203, specifically protects decisions “related to the use or intended use of a particular drug, device or medical service, including the use or intended use of contraception or fertility control or the planned or intended initiation or termination of pregnancy.”

Archbishop Carlson charged that the bill would “force the people of St. Louis to be complicit in the profound evil of abortion.”

“This would be a flagrant violation of religious liberty and individual rights of conscience,” he said, urging St. Louis citizens to oppose the proposal.

Alderman Megan-Ellyia Green, the bill sponsor, said the amendment would clarify that women “should be free to make reproductive choices they want to make without consequences from their employer or landlord,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says.

According to Green, the bill would not limit a religious institution from firing an employee who advocates abortion.

Archbishop Carlson, however, was adamant, saying the Archdiocese of St. Louis “cannot and will not comply with any ordinance like Board Bill 203 that attempts to force the Church and others to become unwilling participants in the abortion business.”

“There is no room for compromise on such a matter. This is a matter of fundamental religious and moral beliefs,” he said.

The archbishop added that archdiocese would help provide spiritual and material assistance to all in need, “especially the poor and those women facing crisis pregnancies who feel they have no one else to turn to for help.”

The bill is pending before the Housing Committee, though no hearing has been set.

Persecution of Christians has risen for the fourth straight year

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 05:18

Washington D.C., Jan 12, 2017 / 03:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Global persecution of Christians has risen for the fourth year in a row and is on a “rapid rise” in Asia, the advocacy group Open Doors UK warned on Wednesday in its annual report on Christian persecution.

“Religious nationalism is sweeping the globe according to figures released today as part of the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List,” said Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland.

“Persecution levels have been rising rapidly across Asia and the Indian subcontinent, driven by extreme religious nationalism which is often tacitly condoned, and sometimes actively encouraged, by local and national governments.”

On Wednesday, the group Open Doors released its annual World Watch List on the state of global persecution of Christians. The list ranks the countries where the worst persecutions of Christians are taking place based on information gathered from field workers and “independent experts.”

Open Doors was founded in 1955 by a Dutchman named Brother Andrew who smuggled Bibles into Communist Eastern Europe. Since then, the organization has grown to aid Christians in 50 countries by sending them Bibles and other needed materials, and speaking out for their well-being.

Overall persecution of Christians has risen from last year, Open Doors UK noted, stating that “Christians are being killed for their faith in more countries than before.”

“Christians living in these countries need the support of their family, the body of Christ, to help them stand firm in their faith,” they stated.

Pakistan had the most fatal attacks against Christians, “even more than Northern Nigeria,” the report noted. Mexico also saw a violent spike in the killings of 23 Christian leaders in 2016, including the abductions of several priests. The country has seen 15 priests killed since the election of current President Enrique Pena Nieto in 2012.

For the 16th consecutive year, Communist dictatorship North Korea was determined to be the “worst place on earth for Christians,” Open Doors UK said. There are 300,000 Christians amidst the population of 25.4 million.

Christians there suffer from a totalitarian police state that closely monitors their actions and requires them to worship the ruling family, the report said. They must pray privately. Those discovered by the state to be Christian may end up in harsh labor camps where an estimated 50-75,000 Christians currently suffer.

“Every day was as if God was pouring out all ten plagues on us simultaneously,” revealed one Christian women who was held captive in the camps but escaped. “That’s how hard it was. But God also comforted me and brought a secret fellowship into existence. Every Sunday we would gather in the toilets and pray.”

All top 10 countries with the worst persecution of Christians are in Asia and Africa. Somalia ranks second on the list, followed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Somalia, ranked the second-worst country for persecution of Christians, “has persecution levels nearly as high as in North Korea,” Open Doors UK noted.

“Islam is Somalia's state religion and all Christians come from a Muslim background,” they explained, meaning that for converts to Christianity, if their conversion is discovered, it can mean persecution and even a “rushed beheading.”

“If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they are unlikely to live to see another day,” Lisa Pearce stated. There are only hundreds of Christians in the country with a population of over 11 million.

At least 12 Christian converts were killed in Somalia in 2016, the report said. The country is ruled by a “tribal system” and is “basically lawless,” which means that entities like the militant group al-Shabaab can “persecute Christians with impunity.”

Afghanistan is number three on the list, another tribal country where being a Christian is illegal. The Islamic republic of Pakistan is fourth, where more Christians were recorded as killed for their faith in 2016 than any other country. There are almost 4 million Christians there amidst the population of over 196 million.

An estimated 700 Christian women and girls were abducted in 2016, many of them raped and forced to marry Muslim men. The country’s strict blasphemy laws – which carry a death sentence – enable mob violence against Christians and accusations of blasphemy committed with impunity.

Persecution of Christians has had a disturbing increase in Asia, Open Doors noted, including in the world’s second-most populated country of India where there are 15 attacks against Christians every week, and probably more than that number since some attacks are not reported by fearful victims.

There were “at least ten” abductions of Christians there in 2016, ten rapes of Christian women, and over 800 physical attacks on Christians, the report said. Laos, Bangladesh, and Vietnam have also seen greater persecution of Christians by religious nationalists.

In the Middle East, Christians have been “caught in the crossfire” of wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. “The Saudi-backed civil war in Yemen has reduced the country to a waste land, with many Christians caught in the crossfire, such as the 16 people killed in an attack on a Christian care home for the elderly and disabled,” the report said.

Other problems of persecution include Islamic extremism in sub-Saharan Africa, and attempts to destroy the homes of Christians who have been driven away by violence, in the hopes that they permanently resettle elsewhere.

 

Pray for Dylann Roof's victims – and his conversion, S.C. bishop says

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 18:08

Charleston, S.C., Jan 11, 2017 / 04:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The death sentence announced this week for mass murderer Dylann Roof prompted the local Catholic bishop to call for prayer, for both the victims and Roof. The bishop also reiterated Catholic opposition to the death penalty.

“Please continue to pray for the victims, survivors and families of the Emanuel AME Church shooting. Please also pray for Mr. Roof and his family. May he acknowledge his sins, convert to the Lord and experience His loving mercy,” Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston said Jan. 10.

Roof, 22, was convicted on charges related to the killing of nine people at Charleston’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. Victims at the historic black church included senior pastor and state senator Clementa C. Pickney. The churchgoers had welcomed the man, who sat next to the pastor during their Bible study.

Roof had authored handwritten manifestos endorsing white supremacy

He was found guilty of 33 federal charges including hate crimes, obstruction of religious practice, and firearms-related charges. He was sentenced to death on Tuesday.

Roof represented himself during the penalty phase of the trial. He said he aimed to prevent his legal team from introducing evidence concerning his psychological history, denying he had any mental illness. He delivered what the Charleston Post and Courier described as a disjointed and convoluted five-minute statement.

Melvin Graham, whose sister Cynthia Hurd died in the shooting, reacted to the death sentence.

“This is a very hollow victory because my sister is still gone,” he said, according to the Post and Courier. “I wish that this verdict could have brought her back, but it can’t. What it can do is send a message to those who feel the way he feels that this community will not tolerate it.”

Bishop Guglielmone reflected on the need to care for the victims and their families.

“Although we oppose the death penalty in modern society, our Catholic faith sustains our solidarity with, and support and prayers for, the victims of the Emanuel AME Church massacre and their relatives. We commit ourselves to walk with these family members, as well as the survivors, as they continue to heal from the trial and this tragedy.”

The bishop also voiced concern about the death penalty.

“Instead of pursuing death, we should be extending compassion and forgiveness to Mr. Roof, just as some of the victims’ families did at his bond hearing in June 2015,” he said.

One of those who spoke at the time was Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old murder victim Ethel Lance, according to the Washington Post.

“I forgive you,” she told Roof at the June 2015 hearing. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

For Bishop Guglielmone, Catholic opposition to the death penalty is rooted in God’s mercy.

“We are all sinners, but through the Father’s loving mercy and Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice upon the Cross, we have been offered the gift of eternal life,” he said Jan. 10.

“The Church believes the right to life is paramount to every other right as it affords the opportunity for conversion, even of the hardened sinner.”

 

Baby left at Minnesota cathedral now safe and healthy

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 08:09

Minneapolis, Minn., Jan 11, 2017 / 06:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the night of Jan. 4, Nathan Leonhardt was locking up the Cathedral of St. Paul in Minneapolis when he found something extraordinary.

Inside the church doors was a newborn baby boy. Shortly after 6 p.m., local police officers received a call that the baby had been abandoned at the Cathedral.

“I was speechless. I froze for what seemed to be 10 seconds, but it was probably more,” stated Leonhardt, according to the Catholic Herald.

“They picked a good spot to drop him off. It’s a church – we love children,” Leonhardt continued.

Upon the police officers’ arrival, Sgt. Charlie Anderson said that “everybody in that call instantly fell in love” with the child, according to CBA Minnesota.

“In this job you see so much bad in people. Violence, death and destruction. It’s just nice to have a call like this every once in a while, to remind you why you wear the badge,” Sgt. Charlie Anderson stated.

Fr. Ubel baptized the child while waiting for the responders, and named him Nathan John, after the Cathedral custodian who found him. It is Fr. Ubel’s hope that the child will be adopted by a Catholic family. The baby is now in the care of the Ramsey County Child Protective Services.

“The fact that this child was left off at a Catholic church is not an insignificant detail to me,” stated Fr. Ubel.

This case was also something particularly special for Sgt. Anderson, who had been married at the Cathedral of St. Paul and also attended the seminary there for a few years. He is also a father of three children, saying that the call “tugged at his heartstrings.”

When the police arrived at the Cathedral, they knew that they had to makes sure the baby was warm before they transferred him to the Children’s Hospital. According to Sgt. Anderson, the group of responders gathered together for group hug and made sure the baby had enough heat.

But, the officers didn’t go home after that. Instead, they went shopping for the child and bought him some essentials that were delivered to the hospital.

“We picked up some onesies, a bouncer seat, some booties, a monkey hat, a Sophie giraffe toy that all my kids loved,” Sgt. Anderson said.

Although the baby seemed to have been born prematurely, weighing about 5 pounds, he is now safe and in good health. The police are not opening an investigation into the case, and Sgt. Anderson wants the mom to know that she is not in trouble.

In the future, Sgt. Anderson hopes that he will be able to see the child again, saying that the incident will stay with him forever.

“I’ll always think of him. And hopefully one day if that opportunity presents itself, I can think of nothing better.”    

 

 

How an unusual lawsuit could affect a Catholic hospital's religious liberty

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 05:04

Paterson, N.J., Jan 11, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic hospital faces an anti-discrimination lawsuit for cancelling a surgery to remove a uterus from a female who identifies as a man. The surgery was meant to treat gender dysphoria.

“This case involves whether a Catholic hospital can be compelled to perform a procedure that violates its sincerely-held religious beliefs,” Matt Sharp, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA.

“Our nation has long provided broad exemptions for organizations like this – for example, protecting them against being compelled to perform abortions,” he added. “Those same protections should extend to organizations that decline to be part of the procedures like the one sought here – procedures that not only raise religious concerns, but that many doctors and psychiatrists also believe pose serious long-term risks to the patients.”

Sharp spoke in response to the legal case of Jionni Conforti, who had scheduled a hysterectomy at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J. in 2015. The hospital canceled the procedure on the grounds it would violate the ethical and religious directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Conforti’s lawsuit said a surgeon at the medical center had initially approved the surgery, which removes a uterus, as had Medicaid. However, a hospital administrator later barred it.

“I felt completely disrespected,” Conforti said, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit said physicians claimed the hysterectomy was medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria and to reduce the risk of cancer related to Conforti’s hormone treatments.

The lawsuit charges that the hospital violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws. It also cited guarantees in the hospital’s own patient bill of rights which guaranteed medical services without discrimination based on “gender identity or expression,” the New Jersey news site The Record reports.

Sharp, however, said that subjecting Catholic hospitals and other organizations, “who merely seek to continue to peacefully operate consistent with their religious beliefs as they have done for decades, to costly lawsuits not only hurts the organizations themselves, but also the thousands and thousands of people in the community who benefit from their services every year,” he said.

“Every hospital and physician should be free to make sound moral and ethical decisions as to the best treatments for their patients,” he added. “There are serious questions about the long term results of so-called sex reassignment surgery. Whether based on their sincerely held religious beliefs or ethical considerations, hospitals and physicians should not be compelled to perform these procedures by legions of state or federal bureaucrats.”

Sharp said that state non-discrimination laws which include gender identity as a protected category “have been repeatedly used to target religious organizations and threaten them with costly fines, and even jail time, if they don’t forfeit their religious freedom and disavow their beliefs about the immutability of sex.”

US bishops: Immigration is a chance for hospitality, unity

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 02:04

Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics should be working to create a “culture of encounter” that shows charity and empathy to immigrants, said leaders of the U.S. bishops in a message this week.

“Our brothers and sisters who are forced to migrate suffer devastating family separation and most often face dire economic conditions to the point they cannot maintain a very basic level of living,” said  Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop José H Gomez of Los Angeles.

“Refugees flee their countries due to war and persecution which inspires them to risk everything for an opportunity to live in peace.”

Cardinal DiNardo is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Gomez is the vice-president. Their message was released for National Migration Week, a time set aside for reflection on the struggles, benefits, and shared realities of migrant families.

In concordance with Pope Francis' recent intentions, the statement voiced hope for a “culture of encounter,” conducive to unity and shared aspirations.

In recent years, families of refugees have been seeking asylum from countries in conflict, such as Sudan and Syria. Thousands of Iraqi Christians have been displaced under ISIS' persecution, mostly to refugee camps.

The pain and suffering of migrating families are an opportunity for mercy, said the Catholic leaders. ABC News reported on one couple who helped more than 100 Christian refugees relocate to America from Iraq.

Appealing to America's heritage as a melting pot, both Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Gomez called for reflection on the mercy shown to earlier generations of immigrants.

“As Catholics in the United States, most of us can find stories in our own families of parents, grandparents or great-grandparents leaving the old country for the promise of America,” they said, encouraging Americans to sympathize with people who have similar stories as their own forefathers.

Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Gomez also commented on overcoming the struggle of integration in the past. They said that “fear and intolerance” have tested the melting pot, but that we as a country have prevailed to be a society of inclusion.

“Whether immigrating from Ireland, Italy or countless other countries, previous generations faced bigotry,” they said, urging that National Migration Week be used as an opportunity to work for both secure borders and an embrace of the most vulnerable.

 

 

 

Senate report says online ad site hid child sex trafficking

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 19:22

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2017 / 05:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As a new Senate report alleges that the advertising site Backpage.com covered for child sex traffickers, Backpage defends its record of working with law enforcement against trafficking.

“How could such a horrific, morally bankrupt business model find success in our America?” Nacole S., a parent of a child who was trafficked for sex on Backpage.com, testified before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Tuesday.

“It is time to accept that child sex trafficking has entered the digital age,” she said, noting the internet has become a “hotbed for the ugliest human behaviors…at the forefront of which are websites like Backpage.com.”

The Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations released its report on “Backpage.com's knowing facilitation of online sex trafficking” on Monday, after almost two years of investigations into the company and its practices.

Backpage.com is a website for public ad postings, similar to other sites like CraigsList. It features an “adult” posting section, and it is here where, according to the subcommittee’s report, much of suspected child sex trafficking in the U.S. allegedly travels through Backpage ads.

Online child sex trafficking has skyrocketed in the last few years, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saying reports of suspected incidents went up 846 percent between 2010 to 2015, cited in the senate report. The center says the spike is “directly correlated to the increased use of the Internet to sell children for sex.”

“In 2013, it (Backpage) reportedly net more than 80 percent of all revenue from online commercial sex advertising in the United States,” the report noted, and again citing the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, “73 percent of the suspected child trafficking reports it receives from the public involve Backpage.”

Backpage, for its part, announced it closed up its “adult” section on Monday after the report was released, claiming the action resulted from “an accumulation of acts of government censorship using extra-legal tactics” and defending its record of working with law enforcement to fight trafficking.

“It undermines efforts by Backpage.com to cooperate with law enforcement and provide information to identify, arrest and prosecute those who engage in human trafficking,” the statement added.

Backpage.com's CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested in October in Texas on a warrant issued by California for accusations of pimping and attempting to pimp a minor. He was exonerated in a Sacramento County Superior Court in December.

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court denied to hear a case against Backpage of three women who claimed they were forced into sex trafficking through ads posted on the site, Reuters reported. The lower court decision, which stands, said that the company is protected under the Communications Decency Act and is not liable for content posted by third parties.

In Monday's report, the Senate investigation found that for years, Backpage.com officials had “sanitized” ads for criminal offenses like sex trafficking of minors, by removing conspicuous words like “teenage” and “amber alert” and “lolita,” but keeping those ads on the site.

Backpage officials did this manually, but also created an automated system to filter out those keywords, the report alleged, and the system operated that way for years.

When someone would try to post an ad on Backpage with those words, the automated system would tell them not to use the word but they could still post an ad with different language.

“By October 2010, Backpage executives formalized a process of both manual and automated deletion of incriminating words and phrases, primarily through a feature called the 'Strip Term From Ad Filter',” the report stated, adding that according to Backpage executives, they were editing 70 to 80 percent of the advertisements in the “adult” section of the website.

The filter “changed nothing about the true nature of the advertised transaction or the real age of the person being sold for sex,” the report said, but “thanks to the filter, Backpage's adult ads looked 'cleaner than ever.'”

The subcommittee had subpoenaed Backpage officials for a Nov. 2015 hearing but the officials dodged the request, resulting in the first civil contempt action by the Senate in over 20 years being leveled.

In 2016, a federal court ordered Backpage to send the subpoenaed documents to the subcommittee.

“They put profits ahead of vulnerable women and children,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), chair of the subcommittee, said of Backpage on Tuesday.

“Advertisements were deliberately sanitized to conceal evidence of child prostitution, to conceal evidence of child trafficking. We know Backpage has hid its systematic editing practices from the public for years while convincing the courts and Congress it was just a host for third party content, entitled to an immunity under federal law for that reason,” he continued.

“These are not the practices of an 'ally' in the fight against human trafficking. These are the practices of a corporation intent on profiting from human trafficking – and human misery – and profit they have, at the expense of countless innocent victims.”

Backpage has touted its record of cooperating with law enforcement, providing a list of previous statements from the FBI and local police departments thanking them for their assistance in catching pimps responsible for trafficking postings on its site.

Portman, however, said at the hearing “we know now” that Backpage's claims of cooperation with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were “misleading.”

“It seems likely that Backpage has been breaking the law as it exists right now,” he said, and “based on the evidence we've collected” he and Sen. Claire McCaskill (R-Mo.) “will promptly consider” referring the matter to the Department of Justice.

Parents of child sex trafficking victims testified of the violence and trauma their children endured, along with the emotional trauma of family members.

Parent Nacole S. described how her daughter, during high school, suffered from stress and decided to leave home to make an attempt at “finding herself.” She traveled to Seattle and at a teen homeless shelter met a 22 year-old woman posing as a teen who brought her into a sex trafficking ring.

Her daughter was “repeatedly raped, beatened, threatened, and treated like a sexual object every day,” Nacole testified through tears, “while being posted as an ad on Backpage.”

“When we finally got Natalie back,” she said of her daughter, “the young girl we found wasn't the same Natalie that left our home months earlier.”

“Our new dream is simple,” she said, “to live in an America that doesn’t stand aside while little girls…are sold online like a commodity, purchased with all the same convenience that you would expect as an order on Amazon.”

Kubiiki P., mother of a child sex trafficking victim, revealed that her daughter was trafficked for months on the site. Even after she was recovered, sexually explicit pictures of her daughter were still surfacing in ads on the site.

Kubiiki called Backpage “many times” and “explained that I was the mother of the child pictured in these sexually-explicit ads. I explained that my child had been horribly sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by being trafficked on Backpage through these ads,” she said in her written testimony before the subcommittee.

She asked them to promptly remove the pictures, yet the company ignored her requests to take down the pictures of her daughter, only doing so after a period of time. A court later ordered that the trafficker of her daughter, who was “in and out of jail,” pay restitution to her daughter, but the trafficker never paid and Kubiiki had “no process” through which to collect the money.

She wanted Backpage.com to pay restitution “for being involved and profiting from the escort ads” featuring her daughter, but said the court rejected her case.

Thomas S., who also testified on Tuesday, lamented that “children have become a bargaining chip” today, “collateral damage in a huge industry of modern convenience that we enjoy online.”

“I've been disgusted and shocked by the commitment and stance that Backpage.com has taken. That Backpage somehow thinks it has the right to sell my child, and that the First Amendment gives them that right to do so and there’s nothing anyone can do about it,” he said.

“I can't believe the contempt and lack of humanity they’ve taken,” he added. “Backpage hides behind the Communications Decency Act (CDA), and they collect their money, all the while pretending to support the lofty, high-minded principals of the First Amendment. Even more amazing is that they usually win (in court).”

“Children are not acceptable collateral damage,” he concluded. “They are our hope, our future, America’s conscience.”

The storied life of San Antonio's Archbishop Flores

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 18:46

San Antonio, Texas, Jan 10, 2017 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop emeritus Patricio Fernandez Flores of San Antonio died Monday at the age of 87, prompting many to remember his role in supporting Mexican-American and Latino Catholics.

One response came from Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who succeeded Archbishop Flores as Archbishop of San Antonio and who remembered him as “my good friend and mentor.”

“Archbishop Flores lived a long and good life and through his priesthood and ministry he touched many people with his love for life and his love for Jesus Christ,” the Los Angeles archbishop said Jan. 10. “He was a beautiful example for me of a priest and a bishop. I will always be grateful for his generosity and kindness to me.”

The former San Antonio archbishop died Jan. 9 from pneumonia and congestive heart failure at the Padua Place residence for retired priests in the city he served.

He was the first Mexican-American to become a U.S. bishop. His life was marked by advocacy for Mexican-Americans and civil rights –and a harrowing hostage situation when he was held captive for nine hours.

Archbishop Flores also hosted St. John Paul II’s visit to San Antonio on Sept. 13, 1987 and rode with him on the popemobile in front of the Alamo. The visit included a Mass for a crowd of 330,000 people, the largest public gathering ever held in Texas.

The future archbishop was born July 26, 1929 in Ganado, Texas, 35 miles northeast of Victoria. He was the sixth of nine children born to migrant workers Patricio Flores and Trinidad Fernandez de Flores. He wanted to be a priest from a young age and often prayed the rosary while walking up and down the road in front of his family’s house, a statement from the Archdiocese of San Antonio says.

He grew up 17 miles from the nearest Catholic parish, in an area with poor roads. Without reliable transportation to get to Sunday Mass, the family would pray the rosary regularly.

The family regularly attended liturgies said by a missionary priest, who gave Flores religious instruction. Acting on his own initiative, the boy then began to teach catechism to area children.

During the summers, the family sometimes all worked picking crops in the field. They lived on an 82-acre farm, growing okra, corn, and cotton, and often prayed as a family for rain. Some years they would travel throughout the state to pick crops.

Flores also took up music. As a teenager he staged entertainment events to raise funds to fight discrimination against Mexican-Americans in education. The efforts helped pay for a legal case that won marginalized Mexican-American children the right to attend the regular public school.

During his studies to prepare for seminary, he was arrested for arson. Police attempted to force a confession from him before he was exonerated.
 
He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Galveston in 1956 and served at several Houston-area parishes.

During his life he became prominent in the Cursillo movement and co-founded PADRES, an association of priests that aimed to address problems Hispanics faced in the Church and in society. As a bishop, he founded the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio and the National Foundation for Mexican-American Vocations.

Archbishop Gomez said Archbishop Flores was “a pioneer and role model not only for me but also for a generation of Hispanic priests and Latino leaders.”

“He knew the struggles of Hispanics in this country, and he was a friend to the farmworker and a voice of conscience for dignity and human rights. He taught all of us to celebrate our heritage and traditions and encouraged us to share our faith and values proudly and to become leaders in our communities.”

Archbishop Flores was ordained a bishop in 1970, serving initially as Auxiliary Bishop of San Antonio. He was appointed Bishop of El Paso in 1978, then named by St. John Paul II as Archbishop of San Antonio the following year.

In 1981, he co-founded Catholic Television of San Antonio. He served on several bishops’ committees concerning immigration and Latin America, and he also chaired the Texas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

On June 27, 2000 Archbishop Flores was held hostage for nine hours in his chancery office by a man with a fake hand grenade. The man, born in El Salvador but a legal U.S. resident, had been arrested for driving with a suspended license and feared he would be deported. The man surrendered.

Archbishop Flores retired in 2004. That year, he reflected on his priesthood.

“I’ve spent 48 years as a priest, and I have loved it all. If I had the chance to start all over again, I would not hesitate,” he told Today’s Catholic newspaper. “I might have prepared better academically and in some other ways. But I have literally found great satisfaction in simply being a priest – being a bishop is simply assuming additional responsibility.”

“I have found it very challenging and very satisfying. So I’ve been happy at it and will continue to be happy.”

The archbishop received many honors and recognitions. He was the subject of a 2007 documentary “A Migrant’s Masterpiece”, which considered his life in the context of Latino history in Texas and the Texas civil rights movement.

Funeral services will be held at San Antonio’s San Fernando Cathedral.

For Somali refugees, Catholic agencies 'welcome the stranger'

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 08:03

St. Paul, Minn., Jan 10, 2017 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Somali couple with three children is seeking a new life in Minnesota thanks to a Catholic Charities’ resettlement program that cites a Christian imperative for its work.

“Now the family is together and thankful for their new home. While they are learning about Minnesota and adjusting to the cold weather, they have a place to live and food in the cupboards,” Julia Jenson, Catholic Charities St. Paul-Minneapolis director of external affairs and communications, told CNA.

The family comes from the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda, which hosts 100,000 Somalis who have fled conflict at home.

The Catholic agency’s case management staff has helped them and other refugees find affordable housing, helped their children enroll in school, and helped them find English language classes and medical care.

“We are the frontline for helping them find a place to live, establish a relationship with a landlord… getting them established with basic food and clothing, helping their kids get connected to school, helping them get connected to the available public benefits,” said Laurie Ohmann, senior vice president of client services and community partnerships at Catholic Charities of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

According to Ohmann, a refugee is a “stranger in a foreign land.” They have very basic needs like a connection to someone they trust.

“I think that’s one of the first things we offer them,” she told CNA.

For Ohmann, the agency’s motive for refugee resettlement is clear.

“It’s an issue of human dignity and supporting their participation in our economic and cultural life,” she said.

She cited the principles of Catholic social teaching and Pope Francis’ prominence in “welcoming the stranger and working with the poor and the vulnerable in our community.”

The agency helps refugees fleeing some form of persecution or violence. Most people the agency has recently resettled have been from Somalia or from the Burmese Karen ethnic group who are fleeing conflicts at home. It helped resettle 317 refugees in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, while State of Minnesota figures indicate about 2,500 refugees arrived in the state from overseas from Jan. 1-Oct. 31, 2016.

“It’s amazing to me to see what they are escaping and also the environment in which they’re living when they’re in some of these large refugee camps,” Ohmann said.

Most resettled refugees already have some personal tie to the U.S. Sometimes they can rely on these personal ties, but other times they lack support.

The agency has been working in refugee support since the close of World War II. At present, the agency contracts with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and reaches an agreement about the number of people to resettle. Catholic Charities of Winona also helps resettle refugees in Minnesota.

Ohmann acknowledged some Americans’ safety concerns about refugees.

“I’ve always believed it’s really important to name the fear, and to see some facts that help place your fear in context,” she said.

“I know that people are very worried about the vetting requirements of refugees.”

She said part of Catholic Charities’ practice has been to help people understand the vetting process.

“If folks believe some of the hyperbole, they wouldn’t understand that there’s been a lot of background checking before someone ever comes here,” Ohmann said.

Sometimes refugees face challenges in integrating into U.S. society.

“Like other resettlement agencies around the country, Catholic Charities is doing its best to help refugees get on their feet within the first 90 days of their arrival to Minnesota,” Ohmann added. “Given the trauma they've endured and the significant language and cultural shifts, all refugees face challenges in making ends meet and in adjusting to life in the U.S. for some period of time.”

“From our experience, most refugees – with time – become integrated members of our community,” she said.

Among those aided by Catholic Charities affiliates was Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the 20-year-old who in November drove a car into a crowd at Ohio State University then started to stab passersby before he was shot and killed by a campus police officer. The attacker hurt 11 people, one critically.

Artan had come to Dallas as a refugee from Somalia in June 2014 and stayed in Dallas with his six siblings and his mother for about three weeks before moving to Columbus, Ohio. They had been aided by Catholic Charities of Dallas after vetting by the U.S. State Department.

Dave Woodyard, the Dallas agency’s president and CEO, said there was nothing that stood out about Artan during his brief stay there.

“We help hundreds of people over the years and thousands are coming to America through all types of different agencies to seek comfort and aid and unfortunately bad things can happen in any walk of life and this is an example of one horrific action,” he said, according to Fox4News.com.

Ohmann said that refugees are “the most thoroughly vetted and screened people to come to the U.S.” and face the highest level of scrutiny.

“Any additional changes that might limit admission solely based on national origin, race or religious affiliation would be against the values of the immigrant nation of the United States,” she said.

“Catholic Social Teaching invites us to join in solidarity with others who are vulnerable and to see them as members of one human family,” she added. “Refugees have suffered tremendously. Our nation was founded to receive the tired, the poor and those yearning to breathe free. Refugees are yearning to be free people. They are source of great opportunity for this nation and will continue to contribute greatly to our country as refugees have before them.”

 

One of the largest collections of Ethiopian religious texts is now in DC

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With a recent gift of more than 600 handmade leather manuscripts, the Catholic University of America is now home to one of the most important collections of Ethiopian religious manuscripts in the United States.

The collection includes Christian, Islamic, and “magic” texts. It is the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside of Ethiopia.

Dr. Aaron M. Butts, a Professor of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literature at Catholic University, said in a statement that the manuscript collection “provides unparalleled primary sources for the study of Eastern Christianity” and reaffirms the school’s standing as one of the leading places to study Near Eastern Christian language, literature, and history.

The manuscripts are handmade of goat, sheep, or calf hides, and most of them date to the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

In total, the collection includes 125 Christian manuscripts, such as psalters, liturgical books, and hagiographies. Within the 215 Islamic manuscripts of the collection are Qurans and commentaries on the Quran.

The collection also contains more than 350 so-called “magic” scrolls – Christian prayer talismans. Each talisman, Butts told CNA, is handwritten by a “debtera” – a lay person or cleric in the Ethiopian Church, and contains the name of the person for whom it is written.

The scrolls are worn around the neck, and are created to help the wearer with a certain kind of ailment, such as headaches. Many of these talismans are dedicated to women’s ailments – such as childbirth or painful menstruation – and Butts said it is clear that some of these “magic” scrolls have been passed down through the generations from mother to daughter.

Butts also noted that at various times in Ethiopian history, use of these prayers has been discouraged within the Ethiopian Church. Because of this status, as well as the domestic, personal nature of their use, he continued, not much research has been done on these devotional tools.

Many of the manuscripts in the collection, including the “magic” scrolls, contain intricate illuminations and other decorations on the scrolls.

According to Butts, the collection’s age is fairly typical for Ethiopian manuscripts. He explained that while many Western and Middle Eastern manuscripts can date back centuries and even more than a millennium, Ethiopian scripts tend to be much more recent, in part because Ethiopians still use the manuscripts in daily life for prayer and reading, and also because the alternating rainy and dry climate destroys the hides.

The manuscripts will be stored at CUA’s Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR), a research auxiliary of the Semitics department. The donation expands the already-impressive collection of more than 50,000 books and journals as well as antiquities, photographs, and archival materials documenting early Christianity in the Middle East ICOR houses.

The new collection, valued at more than $1 million,  was donated to Catholic University by Chicago collectors Gerald and Barbara Weiner. Butts told CUA that the couple wanted the Ethiopian people to use the scrolls for prayer, along with making the manuscripts available for study by students and researchers.

The Washington, D.C. area is home to one of the largest Ethiopian populations outside of Ethiopia, and there are several Ethiopian Orthodox and Ethiopian Catholic churches, along with cultural centers, in the area. CUA officials are currently working with the community to coordinate the scrolls’ use.

This group in Congress defends religious liberty. Who are they?

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 02:02

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- You may not have heard of it, but a group of members in Congress advocates for public prayer and religious freedom amid some of the most pressing concerns to people of religious belief today.

The Congressional Prayer Caucus, founded in 2005, announced Monday that it will be getting a new co-chair.

“Prayer is a source of strength and hope for so many Americans – a source we must recognize and protect,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) stated after being selected Jan. 9 to serve as the House co-chair of the caucus.

“Though politics can be divisive at times, prayer should be a uniting force for Congress and for our nation. I look forward to serving the caucus and fighting to protect one of the foundations of our First Amendment,” Walker continued.

What is the Congressional Prayer Caucus and what is its purpose?

There are hundreds of member caucuses, committees, and taskforces on Capitol Hill that pursue various legislative goals in the U.S. Congress, from the Congressional Black Caucus to the House Freedom Caucus.

The Congressional Prayer Caucus, founded in 2005 by former Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), advocates for the free exercise of religion in the U.S. In the last congressional term, it had over 90 members from both parties and both houses of Congress.

After Rep. Forbes’ time in Congress ended this past year when he lost his re-election bid to a primary challenger, Rep. Walker was picked to take his place as House co-chair. Walker has previous served in Christian ministry, including at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C.

“Freedom of conscience is part of who we are as a nation, and we must preserve this fundamental freedom in our nation. That's why I founded the Prayer Caucus,” Forbes stated. “Today, the strength and size of the Caucus is a testament to the importance of protecting and preserving our nation's Judeo-Christian heritage.”

The Senate co-chair is Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who has spoken out for religious freedom both in the U.S. and internationally. He co-sponsored the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016 that was signed into law in December, and led a move to have language changed in a government naturalization study guide from “freedom of worship” to “freedom of religion.”

Some examples of the caucus’ work in past years include advocating for the freedom of religious groups and charities to serve and evangelize in public places such as secular college campuses or military hospitals, defending the freedom of non-profits to make employment decisions based on religion, and working to ensure that “In God We Trust” remains the U.S. national motto.

Some of the caucus’ goals for 2017 will be religious freedom cases of schools and non-profits.

They will be advocating for protections for doctors and hospitals who conscientiously refuse to provide services such as abortions or contraceptives. They will also push to ensure that religious universities are protected from discrimination lawsuits in their hiring decisions and from supposed Title IX infractions.

Perhaps the highest-profile religious freedom case today would be the lawsuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor against the HHS contraception mandate’s “accommodation” which the Supreme Court sent back to the lower courts, instructing both sides to work out a solution.

Other cases involve government regulations that conflict with the freedom of religious schools to operate according to their beliefs. For example, Wyoming Catholic College cut off its reliance on federal funding for student loans and grants in order not be subject to Title IX anti-discrimination interpretations that could force any school receiving federal funding to take actions that would violate their religious mission.

In another case, guidance from the Obama administration last year instructed schools to, in accordance with Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, “treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex,” which school districts or parents could find morally objectionable.

In a recent case, the administration’s mandate that doctors and hospitals perform gender-transition procedures and abortions – and that religious groups cover these procedures in their health plans -- was challenged in court by the Catholic Benefits Association and the Diocese of Fargo.

“By redefining ‘sex’ to mean both ‘gender identity’ and ‘termination of pregnancy,’ the Obama administration is not only trying to sidestep Congress and impose radical new healthcare mandates on hospitals and employers, it is creating a moral problem for Catholic employers that must be addressed,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Catholic Benefits Association, stated.

Americans think religious freedom is a big priority

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 23:44

New Haven, Conn., Jan 9, 2017 / 09:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom continues to enjoy strong backing from most Americans, a new survey says.

“Majorities of Americans – regardless of party – have embraced religious freedom and have rightly rejected the false notion that it is something negative,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said Jan. 9. “They overwhelming support the protection of our first freedom, the free exercise of religion.”

The Catholic group sponsored a Marist Poll survey of 2,729 U.S. adults conducted in December 2016.

Almost 90 percent of survey respondents saw protecting religious freedom as a priority. Overall, 57 percent described it as an “immediate priority” and another 32 percent considered it an “important” priority.

Another 65 percent of respondents said religious freedom should be protected even when it conflicts with government laws, while 25 percent said it should not. By partisan breakdown, 74 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of politically unaffiliated respondents, and 60 percent of Democrats backed religious freedom in cases where there is a legal conflict.

The poll also considered views of Supreme Court appointments.

Eighty percent of respondents said it is an “immediate” or “important” priority to appoint Supreme Court justices who will interpret the constitution as “originally written,” and not according to what they think the constitution means today.

The Marist Poll survey claims an overall margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal society that has over 1.9 million members worldwide.

 

'They are the Church': Nearly 13,000 college students attend SEEK 2017

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 17:27

San Antonio, Texas, Jan 9, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s not every day that 13,000 college students come together to pray, participate in the sacraments, and learn more about their faith.

But that’s exactly what happened last week, as students from more than 500 colleges across the country and around the world traveled to San Antonio, Texas for the SEEK 2017 conference.

Presented by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), the Jan. 3-7 conference gave young people the opportunity for fellowship, worship and talks by international Catholic speakers.

“It’s kind of encouraging to see that there’s people trying just like you are,” said Cynthia Lopez, a sophomore at Northern Arizona University.

Lopez told CNA that she was not initially going to attend the conference. She signed up for the biennial event on the last day of registration because her campus’ FOCUS Missionary invited her.

“Sometimes you do feel like you’re alone in the world,” Lopez said, “like you’re the only college student trying to be holy, but it’s like no you aren’t, look around you.”

“It’s hard to be holy and saintly at a secular university,” she said. The SEEK 2017 conference, she added, taught her to build up a support system.

Melissa Golus, a senior at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas said SEEK 2017 is “giving you the tools that you need to know in order to go back to your college, even if you’re the only one at your campus that has that faith, it’s okay. It’s okay for you to go out and maybe invite other people to join you.”

In response to being surrounded with so many other young people, Golus said, “It’s amazing.”

“You don’t see that kind of thing in this world, like, this is the kind of stuff that’s put on the hush hush because it’s amazing to see this many people that passionate about God.”

The theme of this year’s SEEK conference was “What Moves You.” Each day began with Mass and more than 300 priests concelebrated with the archbishops in attendance.

Students then broke off into separate women’s and men’s sessions to engage in a fun battle of the sexes and learn more about authentic masculinity and femininity.

Throughout the afternoon, the students were able to visit various vocational and ministry-related booths set up around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. They also attended breakout sessions which allowed them to hear from more than 35 prominent Catholic speakers about relatable topics such as “Who Am I to Judge? - How To Respond To Relativism With Logic and Love.”

In Jeff Cavins’ two talks: “Jesus & the Modern-Day Disciple” and “How to Read the Bible as a Disciple,” the Biblical scholar stressed the importance of creating a personal relationship with Christ and seeing Him in everyday life.

“I started to realize that many people today don’t have in their mind a picture of what it means to be a disciple in a practical way,” he told CNA.

Cavins said one of the things that young people are missing is the personal relationship with God.

“That part of being conscious of the fact that I am really following him through everyday, that He is with me, and that this isn’t make up stuff. I’m not making stuff up. It’s not theory. He’s with us right now and He wants us to continue His mission,” he said.

Recently, Cavins teamed up with Ascension Press to create an online video series called “Encountering the Word.” He said, “I think that the key right now is to reach this generation that is coming to SEEK.”

 “They’re the game changes. They’re the ones that are out there in the world. They’re not the future Church, they are the Church.”

Curtis Martin, the founder and CEO of FOCUS, told CNA that a college campus is “the most leveraged place in the culture.”

“If you wanted to change everything, you need to go there first,” Martin said. The future youth ministers, married couples, teachers, priests, etc, he added, are all passing through their universities now.

Right now, there are more than 550 FOCUS full-time missionaries on 125 college campuses in 38 states and even as far as Austria.

Martin said the idea that “one person could be so on fire for love of Christ, they would invest their lives in a handful of others, and just love them and invite them to do the same,” can be done and should be done everywhere.

In February 1997, Curtis Martin and Dr. Scott Hahn announced the start of FOCUS on ‘Mother Angelica Live!’ At that point, the organization did not even exist, but Hahn said, “it’ll have to exist after we announce it.”

During their episode, Mother Angelica was so excited about the new initiative that Martin said she told the viewers to give their money to FOCUS.

“We raised about 10,000 dollars that night and that was the start,” he said.  

At that time, Archbishop Charles Chaput – then the archbishop of Denver – invited FOCUS to find a home in his diocese.

“In those early days,” Archbishop Chaput said, “it already looked like it would be successful from the very beginning but not in the same scale that it is now.”

According to FOCUS, their first National Conference in 1999 held only 25 students. “Now it’s nearly 13,000 at this gathering,” the archbishop said.

“It’s wonderful to see it. It’s been a lot of years but it’s certainly borne fruit in ways beyond my imagination, anyway.”

Curtis Martin explained to CNA that this year’s SEEK numbers represent, “only about 25 percent of the students involved in our program and represents maybe two or three percent of our alumni.”

“So there are actually tens of thousands more people out there who are also on mission with us,” he said, “That gives me great hope because we live in a world that needs more missionary disciples.”

Dr. Scott Hahn said that at the SEEK conferences, “the joy of the Lord is what people experience here more than anything else.” The key to the New Evangelization, he said, is the joy of the Gospel like Pope Francis says.  

“All you have to do is enjoy being Catholic,” because that’s what other people are really looking for, Dr. Hahn said. “And in the process,” he added, “you’re really extending friendship.”

“It’s not just 13,000, it’s the hundreds of thousands that will be reached by these 13,000.”

After attending SEEK 2017, Arturo Rodriguez, a student at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, said that now he’s “just really inspired to show that inspiration towards others so that I can cheer them up and so that I can see that inspiration and just get closer to God himself.”

Rodriguez said his favorite part of the conference was the Eucharistic Adoration on Thursday night, in the main hall, with all 13,000 people.

“It was the best Adoration I’ve ever attended,” he said.

More than 4,000 confessions were also heard that night.

Rodriguez said that when he goes home, he is going to seek out whatever opportunities are offered at his college so he can be even more involved in his faith.

During the other nights of the conference, students attended a comedy show by Michael Jr. and a concert by the folk rock band, The Oh Hellos.

Curtis Martin said that although he may not know everyone at the SEEK conference now, “Our hope would be everybody here is known, loved and cared for by someone else in the name of Jesus Christ.”

“People need to know that they were made to be amazing.”

He said too many people are settling for mediocrity. “Jesus Christ made you for a purpose. He’s waiting for you to live radically for him.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I never thought ???? that there are so many real Catholics in the ???????? that have their faith so ????????. Amazing. God bless America!!! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/seek2017?src=hash">#seek2017</a></p>&mdash; ks. Maciej S?y? (@xmslyz) <a href="https://twitter.com/xmslyz/status/817588601072603136">January 7, 2017</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Just saw a priest crowd surfing at the Oh Hellos Concert. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OnlyAtACatholicConference?src=hash">#OnlyAtACatholicConference</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SEEK2017?src=hash">#SEEK2017</a></p>&mdash; Giancarlo Bernini (@Gian_Bernini) <a href="https://twitter.com/Gian_Bernini/status/817596335306186752">January 7, 2017</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">If Jesus isn&#39;t the Lord of all, he isn&#39;t the Lord at all. - Curtis Martin <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/seek2017?src=hash">#seek2017</a></p>&mdash; Kevin Cotter | FOCUS (@KevinRCotter) <a href="https://twitter.com/KevinRCotter/status/817757971098857473">January 7, 2017</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I think it&#39;s safe to say that this has been the best week of my life. <a href="https://twitter.com/SEEKConference">@SEEKConference</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/seek2017?src=hash">#seek2017</a></p>&mdash; mitchell davis (@davismitchell14) <a href="https://twitter.com/davismitchell14/status/817742307013361664">January 7, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Planned Parenthood conned millions from public health programs, report suggests

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 18:21

Washington D.C., Jan 7, 2017 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Audits showing Planned Parenthood’s alleged misuse of federal funds are further proof that the organization should be barred from receiving federal money, pro-life advocates say.

“The extent of waste and abuse in the nation’s family planning programs, and specifically in those operated by Planned Parenthood, is beyond disturbing,” Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan stated upon the release of a joint report by the institute and the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom on abortion clinics overbilling taxpayer-funded health programs.

“Congress should do what the House of Representatives has twice voted to do: end taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s most profitable abortionist, once and for all,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Steven H. Aden stated.

The report, titled “Profit. No Matter What,” is based on dozens of external audits and reviews of Planned Parenthood affiliates. It was authored by Catherine Glenn Foster, a senior fellow in legal policy at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

It was released on Wednesday, the same day that the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives released its over 400-page final report on abuses and possible lawbreaking by abortion clinics, universities, and tissue procurement companies in the fetal tissue trade.

Planned Parenthood has a spotty track record, Donovan said, pointing to previous reports on the organization’s alleged abuses.

“This report joins earlier findings on issues of human trafficking, failure to report statutory rape, alleged violations of fetal organ trafficking laws, and other profound concerns that reinforce the need for Congress to reallocate funds to agencies that respect human life and put women first,” Donovan said of Wednesday’s report.  

The CLI-ADF report is the fifth annual report by the groups on audits of taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and other “family planning” clinics. The latest report includes new federal and state audits of family programs and clinics.

The “research strongly suggests that Planned Parenthood and its affiliates are engaged in a pattern of practices designed to maximize their bottom-line revenues through billings to complex, well-funded federal and state programs that are understaffed and rely on the integrity of the provider for program compliance,” the report noted.

Overall, “nearly all” of 51 audits of Planned Parenthood affiliates in 12 states showed that affiliates were overbilling Medicaid and other publicly-funded health programs, costing taxpayers millions. “Title XIX-Medicaid overpayments” at these affiliates amounted to over $8.5 million.

And the waste and fraud may be much greater than that amount, the report claimed:

“The weight of evidence indicates that waste by Planned Parenthood affiliates may be widespread, and suggests that such policies may be the result of, at a minimum, a policy of benign neglect over billing practices organization-wide by Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s headquarters in New York City.”

Abortion clinics in some cases will have abortion-related services – or abortions themselves – paid for by Medicaid or state family planning programs. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from funding abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

Clinics will do this by utilizing “fragmentation” or “unbundling” billing to have abortion-related services like counseling or a pre-abortion examination paid for with public dollars, the report found.

Even abortions themselves may be billed to Medicaid. “In New York alone during one four-year audit period, it appeared that hundreds of thousands of abortion-related claims were billed unlawfully to Medicaid,” the report noted.

One Nebraska audit found a Planned Parenthood clinic spending federal funds on abortion-related expenses, and physician fees for a doctor who only performed abortions. Over $3,500 in taxpayer funds were used for abortion services there.

Other instances of abuse by clinics included giving prescription drugs to clients without a physician’s authorization, “billing for services that were not actually rendered,” “duplicate billing,” and “failing to pay the bills for which an affiliate had already been reimbursed with taxpayer funds.”

In California alone, one 2004 audit found that Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties had overbilled contraceptive and Plan B products by $5.2 million.

“Three federal audits specifically identify Planned Parenthood – and only Planned Parenthood – as the problem in state family planning program overbilling,” the report noted.

What should be done about Planned Parenthood?

The organization must be defunded of taxpayer dollars, CLI and ADF both insisted. Also investigations of the organization should examine allegations of clinics “double-dipping” by receiving funds or payments from clients or organizations and still billing Medicaid for those services provided.

Those allegations were made in a previous ADF report on Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen Foundation grants.

Back in August of 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office responded to requests by members of Congress and opened an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s use of taxpayer funds. A previous GAO investigation found that from 2010-12, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates received over $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars from federal and state funds.

Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider, with over 300,000 abortions performed annually.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) announced Thursday that in budget reconciliation legislation that is under consideration, taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood would be redirected to community health centers that do not provide abortions.

President-Elect Donald Trump made the defunding of Planned Parenthood one of his promises to pro-life voters on the campaign trail in 2016.

 

Architect of Steubenville's Catholic revival dies at 85

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 12:56

Steubenville, Ohio, Jan 7, 2017 / 10:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, the former president and chancellor of Franciscan University of Steubenville, passed away on the morning of Jan. 7, after an extended illness, at age 85.

The university’s current president, Father Sean O. Sheridan, said in a statement that Fr. Scanlan was “rightfully credited with revitalizing the Catholic and Franciscan mission of the University.”
 
“During his tenure as president from 1974-2000, his ideas, guided by the Holy Spirit, turned things around at the struggling College of Steubenville and led to its prominence as Franciscan University of Steubenville,” he said.

“Father Mike wisely surrounded himself with friars and dedicated people who helped him to carry out the Franciscan University mission. He also spent time with the students, listened to their concerns, and prayed how he might help them. He emphasized the importance of academics, particularly theology – now, by far our largest major – and stressed the role of campus ministry and student life in the daily lives of the students.”

Born Vincent Michael Scanlan in 1931 in Cedarhurst, Long Island, New York, Fr. Scanlan would go on to graduate from Harvard Law School and serving as Staff Judge Advocate in the U.S. Air Force before entering the Franciscan Third Order Regular. He made his first profession of Franciscan vows in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964.

After being named acting dean of the College of Steubenville, he eventually became president of the college in 1974, a role in which he served until 2000.

“Over the next 26 years, he transformed the College into Franciscan University of Steubenville and gained for it a worldwide reputation for both excellence in academics and its passionate Catholic faith environment,” the university said in a statement.

“His success helped spark a restoration of authentic Catholic education in the United States and beyond, with many colleges and universities renewing their Catholic identity and new schools imitating his emphasis on Catholic Church teaching.”

Fr. Scanlan is widely credited with creating the Catholic atmosphere present at the campus today, establishing faith households for students, and developing new academic programs, particularly emphasizing the theology program, which has become the largest undergraduate Theology Program at any U.S. Catholic university. 

He also started the university’s study abroad program in Austria, established a pre-seminary program at the campus, and helped the university pay off its entire debt and double its enrollment.

In 1989, Franciscan University, under the leadership of Fr. Scanlan, became the first U.S. Catholic college or university whose theology faculty and priests publicly took the Oath of Fidelity to the teaching authority of the Church, a practice that continues to this day. 

Fr. Scanlan was also known as a pro-life leader, as well as an early leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal movement, and wrote 16 books and booklets. He hosted Franciscan University Presents for 18 years on EWTN and started the university’s summer youth  conference series, which would grow to nationwide impact.

From 2000-2011, Fr. Scanlan was chancellor of the university, before retiring to the Third Order Regular Sacred Heart Province’s motherhouse in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

When asked in a December 2013 interview what he considered his greatest accomplishment, Father Scanlan said, “Living the life faithfully, living the [Franciscan] rule, being a Franciscan, being able to be sent wherever God wants you and serve his people. This is what is most important.”

Tributes remembering the lasting impact of Fr. Scanlan poured in after his death.

“He made the name of a small, relatively unknown, Franciscan University of the United States resound throughout the entire Catholic Church,” said Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap., Preacher to the Papal Household

“Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, was a dynamo of evangelical energy who knew that the renewal of Catholic higher education was a critical component of the New Evangelization,” said George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“His personal witness, exuberant manner of life, and ability to communicate the Gospel in a joyful way made major contributions, not only to Franciscan University, but to the entire Catholic Church in the United States—indeed, to the World Church.” 
 
Dr. Scott Hahn, noted Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Steubenville, recalled Fr. Scanlan’s spiritual fatherhood. 

“I experienced his fatherhood in many ways. He baptized our three youngest sons, and two of them are now discerning priesthood. I don’t think that’s coincidental,” Hahn reflected. “The day I met him he showed such love to my wife, Kimberly, who was not Catholic. She had been suffering after a miscarriage. He prayed over her – and soon we conceived again – and a short while later, Kimberly became Catholic.”
 
Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, host of EWTN Live, recalled attending one of the Steubenville summer conference shortly after being ordained.

“This was a great witness to a young priest such as I,” he said, noting that he would later go on to become friends with Fr. Scanlan.

One time, he recalled, Fr. Scanlan “shared some of the difficulties, challenges, and pain of taking his role as a leader. Then he pulled out a photograph of a severely deformed young man that he knew, saying, ‘Compared to him, I don't have any real problems.’”

“This indicated the mature Christian approach to life that made it possible for him to maintain a healthy perspective on life's problems,” Fr. Pacwa said. “I will never forget that.”
 
 
 

Can reality make us happy? A Catholic event in NYC takes on the question

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 05:02

New York City, N.Y., Jan 7, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Reality has never betrayed me.”

Those were among the words of Monsignor Luigi Giussani on his deathbed.

The priest, who as a theologian and the founder of the international Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, was convinced that God and his Catholic faith could be found within the realities of everyday life.

The question of whether happiness, and God, can truly be found in reality is the theme of the upcoming New York Encounter event, the movement’s 9th annual cultural event in the United States.

Communion and Liberation (CL) is a movement in the Church which has “the purpose of forming its members in Christianity in order to make them coworkers in the Church’s mission in all areas of society,” according to the movement’s website. It was founded in Italy in 1954 by Fr. Giussani.

“We all have the intuition that life, even with all its hardships, is fundamentally good,” the event’s website reads. “And yet, we have a hard time relating to many aspects of life: family, work, politics, society, even our own bodies and the very food we eat.”

“What are we missing? Why do we often perceive reality as disappointing? What can help us reconcile with reality and engage life as it is?”

Those are the questions the Encounter will explore said Maurizio Maniscalco, the event’s president.

“Is there anything ‘more real than reality’? And yet the very word ‘reality’ sounds empty, or even abstract...Life will always be a mystery with its joy and pain, hopes and shattered dreams. Is there a path, a destination, a destiny that keeps it all together?” he told CNA.

The Encounter is set to take place Jan. 13-15 at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City, is free, requires no registration, and is open to people from all walks of life.

“New York Encounter is just a human encounter that hopes to break the walls we’ve built between us, in ourselves, and between us and what surrounds us, between us and reality as it happens if it doesn’t coincide with what we had in mind,” Maniscalco said.

The Encounter will explore these question about reality with speakers and performances from people of various fields and walks of life – artists, actors, medical professionals, priests, astronauts and businessmen. Some of this year’s presenters include Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York Times editorialist David Brooks, and Matt Malone, S.J., President & Editor in Chief of America Media. It will also feature photography exhibits as well as exhibits on the life of founder Msgr. Giussani.

Also new this year is the New York Encounter app, which is available for download both through the Apple App Store and Google Play store.

It’s one thing to try to explain Encounter, but it’s really best to “come and see,” Maniscalco told CNA.

“The Encounter is one of those things that is a little hard to explain. You have to experience it, you have to ‘Come and See,’” he said.

“Three days of dialogue, challenge, beauty to launch us back into our daily life with curiosity and desire. Come and see!”

More information about the event can be found at: http://www.newyorkencounter.org/what-is-new/

One Congressman's plea to the US: Don't abandon Iraq's Christians

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 18:35

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christian survivors of the ISIS genocide have serious humanitarian needs, but their faith remains strong, one congressman said after his visit to displaced Christians in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The faith of Christians, “every one of them,” has grown “stronger” since ISIS militants forced them from their homes in Northern Iraq and in and around Erbil where they have been living for over two years, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told CNA in an interview.

Rep. Smith, chair of the House global human rights subcommittee, recently traveled to Erbil, Iraq to visit with survivors of the ISIS genocide there, most of them Christian. He also met with religious leaders and U.S. and United Nations officials.

The faith of the Christians, he said, “has been tested in fire, and they are not capitulating, just the opposite. They love the Lord, and they love the Blessed Mother.”

Currently around 70,000 displaced Christians are living in and around Erbil in the Kurdistan Region, some of them waiting to return to their homes in Mosul or the Nineveh Plain but others looking to depart the region.

Rep. Smith said the “biggest takeaway” from his trip to Iraq just before Christmas was “the unmet need” for humanitarian aid of the tens of thousands of Christians who are relying largely upon charities like the Knights of Columbus for their needs, which include food, blankets, and medical care.

In March of 2016, the U.S. had declared that ISIS was committing genocide in Iraq and Syria against Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims.

Despite Christians being recognized as genocide victims, which should provide them with special humanitarian relief and refugee status, that has not happened, Rep. Smith said.

Displaced Christians in the region had not received any aid from U.S. aid agencies or the United Nations in two years, said Steve Rasche, the legal counsel and director of IDP resettlement programs for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil. Rasche gave a testimony before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in September of 2016.

“Humanitarian aid has not flowed to these individuals,” Rep. Smith said, and neither do they have “access to an asylum interview, so if they can’t go back, they can come here.”

“It is winter. It is cold,” he warned of the situation the refugees face, in danger of sickness during the wet winter. “Disease has been mitigated to a large extent, but that can change.”

During his visit, Smith said, he saw the camp of about 6,000 displaced persons was “clean” and “run by selfless Christian leaders” including Archbishop Bashar Wada of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.

The leaders, who serve displaced persons of all faiths – including Yazidis and Muslims – “want nothing more than to help those who have been hurt by this genocide. It is absolutely Matthew 25.”

“The diocese is doing an unbelievable job with almost nothing,” he added, but the U.S. needs to step up its humanitarian assistance. Poland and Hungary already have, he pointed out, with the Hungarian government opening an office with a budget of over $3 million euros to aid persecuted Christians.

Rep. Smith related how displaced persons and one bishop – the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf – told him they felt abandoned by the U.S. “No one’s come to any of these places and just asking, ‘How are the Christians doing?’” Smith noted, saying his delegation “did just that.”

Furthermore, he added that the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide is reportedly considering leaving Christians out of their list of recognized victims of genocide by ISIS.

And yet the faith of the Christians and their leaders remains strong.

The bishops in the region are “true leaders of the faith,” Rep. Smith said, with each bishop acting not only as the “spiritual leader” of the people but also obtaining “the material support to help people live.”

Smith related one instance where he met with a group of internally-displaced families and asked the priest present to lead a group prayer. The priest prayed the “Our Father” in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

“It was moving, and I think all of us were moved by that when he prayed,” he said.

To deal with the pressing humanitarian problem and better ensure that genocide perpetrators are punished, Smith and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have introduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act in Congress.

Among other things, the bill would ensure that the genocide victims receive what is due them – humanitarian relief, asylum interviews if they wish to leave the country, and punishment for the perpetrators of genocide so that people feel secure enough to return to their homes.

It would provide a “P-2” designation for the victims of ISIS genocide, expediting their refugee resettlement process if they wished to leave the region.

It would also strengthen the “prosecutorial” case against the genocide perpetrators, broadening the ability of the U.S. to prosecute genocide perpetrators living in the country. The bill has been endorsed by all former U.S. Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, Smith said.

He has also sponsored a resolution to set up an ad hoc war crimes tribunal in the region, which he says could be far more effective than the International Criminal Court which has made only two convictions in over a dozen years, both of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Two Iraqi Christian leaders, Sister Diana Momeka and Fr. Benham Benoka, told CNA previously that some Christian homes in the Nineveh Plain region were liberated from ISIS control, but when Christian residents returned to their homes, they found destruction, vandalism, booby traps, betrayal by their neighbors, and threats telling them they had no place anymore in the region.

Rep. Smith said that in Erbil, the bishops told him many Christians have not yet returned home because they are not convinced that it is secure yet.

“And I think that dashed a ‘maybe we return in a year, in half a year,’” he said of the previous optimism that Christians could return home soon.

 

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