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Rely on God the Father's love, Sister of Life advises youth leaders

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 13:50

Chicago, Ill., Jan 8, 2018 / 11:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The love of God the Father is an inexhaustible source of fulfillment for the human heart, Sr. Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life said Thursday at a Catholic youth leadership conference in Chicago.

“So many blessings are coming at us at every second of every day,” Sr. Madonna said Jan. 4 to an audience of approximately 8,000, “and the source of each and every one of these blessings is the blessing the Father gives me with himself.”

Sr. Madonna gave one of the keynote speeches on the third day of the Student Leadership Summit, an event hosted biennially by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students which aims to train young people to be effective evangelists. The theme selected for this year’s conference, which ran January 2-6, was “Inspire & Equip.”

Sr. Madonna is vocations director for the Sisters of Life, a New-York based religious order founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal John O’Connor. Much of their ministry centers around aiding pregnant women and providing healing to those who have had abortions.

“Help us to receive the Father’s love anew, more deeply than we’ve ever received it before,” Sr. Madonna prayed at the start of her talk.

Sister Madonna told the story of a couple named Matt and Lucy, friends of the Sisters, who found out shortly before their wedding that Matt had been diagnosed with cancer and had been given a year to live. The two cancelled their honeymoon in order to begin treatments.

Around the end of Matt’s treatments, doctors urged Lucy to abort their newly conceived child, fearing anomalies due to Matt’s chemo.

Instead, Matt and Lucy “began to pray,” trusting in God. In the end, she said, the only anomaly the child was born with was that two fingers were fused to the palm in such a way that his hands formed the sign for “I love you” in sign language.

“It was remedied with a simple surgery, but Matt and Lucy received it as a message from their Father, brought to them through a son, the Gospel in miniature,” Sr. Madonna said.

However, even in the cases of great defects at a child’s birth, “the Father is saying, ‘I love you’ even more.”

She highlighted the uniqueness of the Father's love, saying it makes for a relationship like no other. This love “goes to the extremes, indwelling.” She emphasized that only mortal sin can separate human beings from this love.

“When we sever ourselves like this, he holds onto our blessing, and awaits our return,” she said, referencing the parable of the prodigal son.

She told the story of Dr. Michael Brescia, whom the Sisters of Life honored this year with their annual Cardinal O’Connor award. Brescia developed a treatment for kidney disease  in 1966, paving the way for the development of ongoing dialysis. Brescia was offered $1 billion to keep his discovery a secret for one year while a patent was developed.

She related a conversation Brescia had with his Italian immigrant father at the time. Brescia’s father, she said, was overcome with joy to know that 50,000 lives a year could be saved by his son’s discovery, but was dismayed to hear of the delay Brescia had accepted.

“‘Don’t think of this world,’” she said Brescia’s father urged. “‘You would let 50,000 people die?’”

Brescia published his discovery the next day. Sr. Madonna said that despite the invention now being worth $60 billion, he never gained anything from it financially. However, “he’s the richest man I know,” she said.

“Lasciare,” she said, using the Italian word for “release” or “let go” that Brescia’s father had spoken to him in urging his son to give up the discovery. “We too have to let go of so many things,” she said, “that keep us from the blessing that is ours.”

Referencing the “discernment of spirits” developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, Sr. Madonna said that “so often, we hand desolating thoughts and lies a microphone, and we set them on the stage of our hearts.”

“It’s like, ‘Wow, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard about myself. Say it again, just this time in surround sound,’” she said.

“Let these thoughts be taken captive,” she urged listeners.

She told a story from a sister in Romania who had worked at an understaffed orphanage, where babies had stopped crying because there was no one there to respond.

“There are places in our hearts that have not yet cried out to the Father because of a lack of faith,” she said. “We have a good Father, and he hears you.”

“Tonight, we break the silence,” she said, as FOCUS staff prepared the stage for adoration.

Speaking to CNA after her talk of how she herself first came to deeply encounter this love, Sr. Madonna told a story of time she had spent praying with the book of Genesis.

“I had a powerful meditation with the the Scripture of Jacob and Esau receiving the blessing of their father,” she said. In this story, Jacob dresses as Esau to receive his father’s blessing. “Sometimes, I feel like I have to dress up, or be someone else, or impress, or pretend, so that he can bless me.”

“Something happened in my heart where I realized basically how sorrowful that is, how far that is from what the Father is actually offering me,” Sr. Madonna stated. “Through the prayer, I felt like the Father wanted my empty hands, and wanted my heart as it is.”

Speaking to CNA on the connection between accepting God the Father’s love, the focus of the SLS conference, Sr. Madonna said that this love changes how we view those we encounter.

“Once we’ve received our own lives as a gift, and once we recognize that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and is a communication of him,” Sr. Madonna told CNA, “when I encounter another person, I recognize that they were brought into being by God all-mighty, and are beloved of him. He loves them. They are communicating something to me that was actually entrusted to them by him and it’s unique.”

“When I know that, and live it, then every person is going to know that they’re special, they’re worthy of my time. I desire to know their hearts and be with them in solidarity.”

“We have to tell people; we have to invite them.”

Speaking to CNA on how this evangelization of the Father’s love relates to the work of the Sisters of Life, Sr. Madonna drew on the Blessed Mother.

“When we receive Jesus, and we allow him to be conceived in our hearts as she did at the Annunciation, and then when we go out, like the Visitation, and we meet these women who are pregnant, we hope that, just like John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, we hope that something would leap in these women, that they would recognize Christ come to them, that they would experience this joy, the Holy Spirit, coming upon them.”

Participating in the March for Life? There’s an indulgence for that.

Sun, 01/07/2018 - 18:01

Washington D.C., Jan 7, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics participating in the 45th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19 will be able to receive a plenary indulgence for doing so, the local Church has announced.

“In virtue of the authority granted by our Holy Father, Pope Francis… a plenary indulgence can be obtained under the usual conditions…by the Christian faithful who are truly penitential and compelled by charity, if they take part in the sacred celebrations, along with the great assembly of people, throughout the whole course of the annual event that is called ‘March for Life,’” announced a Dec. 20 letter from the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington.

The document was signed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, who together encouraged their brother bishops with the hope “that you will share this information with those entrusted to your pastoral care.”

Individuals who wish to obtain the plenary indulgence must engage in the events hosted by the March for Life in Washington, D.C.: the youth rally, Mass at Capital One Area, the adult and family rally at St. Matthews Cathedral, or the Prayer Vigil for Life at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In addition, the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence must be met: that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, have complete detachment from sin, and pray for the Pope's intentions. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, up to about twenty days before or after the indulgenced act.

The letter also noted that “the aged, sick and all those who due to grave reason are not able to leave home” are also able to receive the plenary indulgence so long as they “spiritually join themselves to the holy ceremonies, while also having offered prayers and their sufferings or the ailments of their own life to the merciful God.”

An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven.

The March for Life, an annual peaceful protest against abortion, has taken place for the past 44 years in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., to publicly oppose the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion across the country.

The march remains one of the largest political protests in the United States today.

Last year, hundreds of thousands of pro-life individuals were gathered in solidarity and prayer in the fight against abortion. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the 2017 event, making him the highest ranking White House official to ever speak at the March for Life.  

This year, the theme for the 45th annual March for Life is “Love Saves Lives.”

The March will take place at the National Mall Jan. 19 and include speakers such as Pat Tebow, the mother of professional football and baseball player Tim Tebow. Other keynotes include former NFL player Matt Birk, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, and Sr. Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life.

“May the efforts of all across this great nation to lift up the value and dignity of each life continue to bear fruit,” the letter said, adding, “May we all experience God’s blessings in this noble undertaking.”

National Migration Week spotlights journey of immigrants

Sun, 01/07/2018 - 07:21

Washington D.C., Jan 7, 2018 / 05:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 2018 National Migration Week observed by the U.S. bishops’ conference will focus on the theme, “Many Journeys, One Family,” highlighting the experience of migrants who are forced to leave their homes.

With more than 65 million people worldwide displaced from their homes, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, expressed hope that the week will educate Catholics on migration and encourage the faithful to share in the struggles of immigrants.  

“National Migration Week allows for reflection upon the biblical teaching concerning welcoming the newcomer and allows us to share the journey with our brothers and sisters who have been forced from their homes,” said the bishop in a Jan. 5 statement.

This year, National Migration Week falls Jan. 7-13. Its theme coincides with the “Share the Journey,” global immigration campaign hosted by Caritas Internationalis.

Observed by the U.S. bishops for nearly 50 years, this week will also help educate Catholics about the ethnically diverse communities within the Church, and how the Church has served immigrants throughout the years.

As part of this year’s National Migration Week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is taking part in an immigration awareness event at The Catholic University of America.

Scheduled Jan. 11, the event is entitled “On the Margins: At the intersection of Catholic Thought and Migration,” and will feature Catholic experts including Ashley Feasley, director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the bishops’ conference, and V. Bradley Lewis, a philosophy professor at CUA faculty fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology.

In addition to the bishops’ conference, the panel discussion will be sponsored by The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology.

One panel at the event will focus on the stories of children, examining how current migration policies in the U.S. affect DREAMERs and DACA recipients. Attendees will have an opportunity to migrant children’s stories: their reasons for migrating, the experiences of their journeys, and examples of how they’ve been received in the U.S.

Another panel will analyze immigration in the context of Catholic social teaching, and consider how this tradition has affected the bishops’ development of U.S. policy. It will also look at how migration has been a major issue in the Pope Francis pontificate.  

A live stream of the event will be featured at:


How can young adults change the world? Share the Gospel, FOCUS founder says

Sat, 01/06/2018 - 17:37

Chicago, Ill., Jan 6, 2018 / 03:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- If young adults proclaim the Gospel with clarity and conviction, they can produce spiritual fruits that can reach billions of people, Curtis Martin of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students has said.

“The key there is: do we have the heart to commit to it?” Martin asked an audience of some 8,000 people Jan. 5.

Martin is the founder and Chief Evangelization Officer of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), a nationwide group of missionaries whose primary aim is to evangelize students on college campuses.

He spoke at the closing keynote at the Student Leadership Summit 2018 (SLS18), a conference FOCUS hosts every two years to train young adults and other leaders to spread the Gospel effectively. Attendance at this year’s Chicago summit numbered around 8,000 attendees.

“This generation of Catholics is responsible for this generation of people,” Martin said. “Brothers and sisters, dig deep in divine intimacy, gather your friends close to you and love them in a crazy sort of love in authentic friendship, and then go out and reach the world by sharing both faithfulness and fruitfulness.”

“When you do, you set the world on fire,” he said.

“Accept the love and mercy of Jesus Christ,” Martin added. “Stop trying to earn his love. You can’t, he just loves you. Then respond to his love out of thankfulness. But the second part of that is not just to love Jesus and follow him, but to imitate him, to embrace his mission. And his mission was to reach the world.”

He encouraged summit attendees to commit their current energy to spreading the gospel by investing in others and to take part in “small groups living in authentic friendship that want to pursue Christ radically.”

“Every single person on earth,” he said, “was created to be a canonizable saint. Not necessarily canonized, that’s up to the Church. Canonizable.”

“Which isn’t actually a word yet, but we’re working on it.”

Martin voiced his desire to “go deeper” in love of Christ with his wife and his FOCUS colleagues, saying “I would love to follow Christ big-time. But I’m weak. I need your help.”

In following Jesus, Martin said, there are two important aspects of his life to note: he “made the extraordinary ordinary” and he encouraged his disciples to be “radically, radically generous.”

More important, however, was that Jesus “rendered the ordinary extraordinary.”

“Jesus loved the few people in his life so amazingly. And everybody in this room can do that.”

For Martin, Mary was the prime example of this. According to the gospel, when Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth, simultaneously “Mary and John the Baptist are both filled with the Holy Spirit.”

He pointed to how long Jesus waited to begin his ministry. While an observer knowing he was the savior of the world might wonder why Jesus took so long, Martin said he was “sharing life every day with the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

“Mary is the most evangelized person in all of history,” Martin said. He invited the crowd to imagine the acts of kindness Jesus and his Mother would have performed in their daily lives as Mary raised him.

“Mary was also the first evangelist,” Martin told CNA. “She went and shared Jesus with Elizabeth and John the Baptist which such power that they were filled with the Holy Spirit when they heard her voice.”

In his keynote address, Martin noted that Jesus’ launch of his public ministry included the selection of a small group of 12 as his followers.

“He shared the vision of wanting to change the world with them, and invited them to total commitment to him, and to one another, and to the mission,” he said. “This power of divine intimacy, to know God, and to share life with others who know God, in authentic friendship, this becomes the engine that allows us to reach the world in a single generation and in every generation.”

Both faithfulness and fruitfulness were Martin’s emphasis.

“We started with two part-time staff and 20 students,” Martin told CNA, “and it’s been snowballing every year, because we really believe that God is inviting Christians not just to live faithfulness, but to live fruitfulness. So that fruitfulness has been bearing fruit, obviously, over the last twenty years.”

Martin himself had a conversion experience as a student at Louisiana State University. He was not a practicing Catholic when was invited on a retreat during which he went to Eucharistic Adoration.

“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, if that’s God, everything in my life has to change. And if it’s not God, I should get everybody out of the room, because they’re worshiping bread.’ I mean, there really is no middle ground when it comes to the Eucharist.”

Looking to the example of St. John Paul II, Martin reflected on the future Pope who would “love everybody” but he “also loved a few.” He noted his habit as a priest, begun in the 1940s, of taking small groups of young people out into the mountains.

When the future Pope was a parish priest in Poland, took ten families and began teaching them what would become known as theology of the body. From among these small groups, Martin said, came a couple for whom he said the wedding and became godfather for their children, to whom he gave the the sacraments. After becoming Pope, John Paul would host them for weeks in the summer at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo.

“He never stopped loving them,” Martin said. “This one priest, loving a few people, set off a chain reaction.” The future Pope “learned the power of authentic friendship and lived it for the rest of his life, even in the midst of doing extraordinary things.”

He urged those listening to follow the example of deliberate, authentic friendship as a means of evangelization.

“When you begin to pray specifically for guidance,” Martin said, “God will bring names and faces to you, and then you can go and begin praying for them, intentionally, that they’ll become great saints. And then sit with them and talk to them, and share your desire to be a great saint.”

“And if they were to accept the invitation to run with you, then just run,” he told the summit.

Want to know the history behind the Feast of the Epiphany?

Sat, 01/06/2018 - 15:01

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While the hustle and bustle of Christmas ends for many people on Dec. 26, throughout Christian history Christmas lasts for twelve days – all the way until Jan. 6.

This feast marking the end of Christmas is called “Epiphany.”

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men, but also in his baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana.

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany – as Epiphany is known in the East – commemorates the manifestation of Jesus' divinity at his Baptism in the River Jordan.

While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the next Sunday, overlapping with the rest of the Western Church’s celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

However, the meaning of the feast goes deeper than just the bringing of presents or the end of Christmas, says Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Catholic priest and founding executive director of the Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture.

“You can't understand the Nativity without Theophany; or you can’t understand Nativity without Epiphany.” The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season, he said.

“Our human nature is blinded because of sin and we’re unable to see as God sees,” he told CNA. “God reveals to us the revelation of what’s going on.”

Origins of Epiphany

While the Western celebration of Epiphany (which comes from Greek, meaning “revelation from above”), and the Eastern celebration of Theophany (meaning “revelation of God”), have developed their own traditions and liturgical significances, these feasts share more than the same day.

“The Feast of Epiphany, or the Feast of Theophany, is a very, very early feast,” said Fr. Carnazzo. “It predates the celebration of Christmas on the 25th.”

In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.

Over time, the Western Church separated the remaining feasts into their own celebrations, leaving the celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate primarily the Visitation of the Magi to see the newborn Christ on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the Eastern Churches' celebration of Theophany celebrates Christ’s baptism and is one of the holiest feast days of the liturgical calendar.

Roman Traditions

The celebration of the visitation of the Magi – whom the Bible describes as learned wise men from the East – has developed its own distinct traditions throughout the Roman Church.

As part of the liturgy of the Epiphany, it is traditional to proclaim the date of Easter and other moveable feast days to the faithful – formally reminding the Church of the importance of Easter and the resurrection to both the liturgical year and to the faith.

Other cultural traditions have also arisen around the feast. Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, told CNA about the “rich cultural traditions” in Spain, France, Ireland and elsewhere that form an integral part of the Christmas season for those cultures.

In Italy, La Befana brings sweets and presents to children not on Christmas, but on Epiphany. Children in many parts of Latin America, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain also receive their presents on “Three Kings Day.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Catholics celebrate “Women's Christmas” – where women rest from housework and cleaning and celebrate together with a special meal. Epiphany in Poland is marked by taking chalk – along with gold, incense and amber – to be blessed at Mass. Back at home, families will inscribe the first part of the year, followed by the letters, “K+M+B+” and then the last numbers of the year on top of every door in the house.

The letters, Bunson explained, stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”

In nearly every part of the world, Catholics celebrate Epiphany with a Kings Cake: a sweet cake that sometimes contains an object like a figurine or a lone nut. In some locations lucky recipient of this prize either gets special treatment for the day, or they must then hold a party at the close of the traditional Epiphany season on Feb. 2.

These celebrations, Bunson said, point to the family-centered nature of the feast day and of its original celebration with the Holy Family. The traditions also point to what is known – and what is still mysterious – about the Magi, who were the first gentiles to encounter Christ. While the Bible remains silent about the wise men’s actual names, as well as how many of them there were, we do know that they were clever, wealthy, and most importantly, brave.

“They were willing to take the risk in order to go searching for the truth, in what they discerned was a monumental event,” he said, adding that the Magi can still be a powerful example.

Lastly, Bunson pointed to the gifts the wise men brought – frankincense, myrrh and gold – as gifts that point not only to Christ’s divinity and his revelation to the Magi as the King of Kings, but also to his crucifixion. In giving herbs traditionally used for burial, these gifts, he said, bring a theological “shadow, a sense of anticipation of what is to come.”

Revelation of God

Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo explained to CNA the significance of the feast of the Theophany – and of Christ’s Baptism more broadly – within the Eastern Catholic churches.

“In our Christian understanding in the East, we are looking at creation through the eyes of God, not so much through the eyes of Man,” Fr. Carnazzo said.  

In the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he continued, there is special divine significance.

With this feast day, the pastor explained, “God has come to reclaim us for himself.” Because of original sin, he continued, humanity has inherited “a human nature which has been dislocated from its source of life.”

Sin also effected parts of creation such as water have also been separated from their purpose and connection to God’s plan for life, Fr. Carrazzo said, because its original purpose is not just to sustain our bodies, but our souls as well.  

“With the fall, however, it has been dislocated from its source of life, it is under the dominion of death- it doesn’t have eternal life anymore. So God comes to take it to himself.”

“What Jesus did was to take our human nature and do with it what we could not do – which is, to walk it out of death, and that’s exactly what He did with His baptism.” As it is so linked to the destruction of death and reclaiming of life, the Feast of Theophany is also very closely linked to the Crucifixion – an attribute that is reflected in Eastern iconography of both events as well.

The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ’s conquering of sin through baptism, but also God’s revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ’s ministry. “The baptism of the Lord, just like the Nativity, is not just a historical event: it’s a revelation,” Fr. Carrazzo said.

To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing, he explained. Many parishes hold feasts after Liturgy is over. In many Middle Eastern cultures, people also fry and eat awamat – dough that is fried until it floats, and then is covered in honey.

During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany. Fr. Carrazzo invited all Roman Catholics to come and become familiar, “to be part of a family” and join in celebrating Eastern Catholic traditions.


This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 6, 2017.

Priest's hospital room mix-up allows dying woman to receive sacraments

Sat, 01/06/2018 - 06:08

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 6, 2018 / 04:08 am (ACI Prensa).- Shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Fr. Gergorio Hidalgo went to a hospital to give Communion to a patient. But a “mistake” in room numbers allowed him to administer the sacraments to a dying woman as well.

“Last night I went to the hospital at 11:32 pm for an emergency. By mistake, I go to the wrong room. Patient is dying. Confession, anointing, communion and then she passed away 2 hours later. Best mistake I have ever made. THANK YOU GOD FOR USING MY MISTAKES,” the priest, better known as Father Goyo, posted on Twitter.

Fr. Goyo, 44, is the vicar of Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Simi Valley, which is part of metro Los Angeles. He was born in La Villa de Don Fadrique, a Spanish municipality in Spain’s Toledo Province, and was ordained June 4, 2016.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles assigned him to Simi Valley Hospital to spiritually care for the patients.

He explained what happened that day at the hospital.

“The person in charge of the office told me there was someone who wanted to receive Communion. It wasn’t an emergency but that woman wanted to receive Communion because it was the last day of the year,” he said.

However, the staff member accidentally wrote down the wrong room number.

When he got to the room, Fr. Goyo saw a woman lying in the bed and thought she was the one who had called for a priest.

“A person there, who could have been a relative, told me she was very sick and that she was dying. I approached the woman and asked her if she wanted to go to confession and she told me yes,” he said.

After hearing her confession, Fr. Goyo gave her the Anointing of the Sick, as well as a tiny fragment of the Eucharist.

“In my mind I thought she was the person they had called me for,” the priest said. “For me it was a very normal moment, very much from God, full of joy, because I thought that it was very beautiful to bring God to someone at the end of the year.”

As he left the room, Fr. Goyo asked a nurse the last name of the person he had visited. When the nurse told him the name, the priest realized he had gone into the wrong room. He then went on to see the person he was originally called to visit.

“It seemed even more beautiful to me. That God had used a mistake of mine, that I didn’t even know about until afterwards, in order to do something so wonderful. It was amazing because it wasn’t spectacular,” the priest said.

Fr. Goyo said that the dying woman’s faced showed “a lot of peace and tranquility.”

“It was a great way to start the year, remembering that God is with us, not just in the Nativity scene we have in the church, but also in everyday things.”


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

How Catholic Charities is helping the homeless during the 'bomb cyclone'

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 20:45

Chicago, Ill., Jan 5, 2018 / 06:45 pm (CNA).- Record-breaking cold temperatures and snowfall in the eastern United States this week have delayed flights, cancelled school, and closed workplaces.

For some Americans, however, severely cold weather is more than a matter of inconvenience – it’s a question of life and death.

Catholic Charities in Chicago is working to help save lives during the cold snap, with a transportation outreach program that brings the homeless to safe places in the sub-freezing temperatures. 

“Catholic Charities manages a mobile outreach program in Chicago, and 24/7, 365 days of the year we have anywhere from three to five vans transporting the homeless and those in need of shelter to warming centers or shelters around the city,” said  Kristine Kappel, director of communications for Catholic Charities in Chicago.

“It can be from dozens to hundreds a people a day that we’re helping,” she told CNA.

Nicknamed “Bombogensis” or “Bomb Cyclone,” an explosive ocean storm slammed the East Coast in recent days, bringing winds of up to 80 mph, more than a foot of snow in some areas, and sub-zero temperatures.

The storm has so far closed dozens of schools, shut down power for hundreds of thousands of homes, and cancelled thousands of flights. Authorities in the affected areas have cautioned against driving.

Temperatures in Chicago plunged as low as -9 degrees in the past two weeks. Kappel said the mobile outreach program has been extraordinarily busy ever since, and she emphasized its importance.

“The homeless may not know exactly where to go or have the capabilities of getting there,” she said. “There are shelters available to them. They may need a bus to get to the shelter, or a train, and they may not have the resources to do that.”

Catholic Charities in Chicago has two shelters, which are often at maximum capacity, she said, but the transportation system is more easily accessible.

Any homeless person in Chicago may approach a hospital, fire department, or police station, who will then call Catholic Charities to pick the person up. The individual may also call Catholic Charities directly if they know the number.

The vans have mobile laptops and resources to stay updated on what shelters are available and what regulations those shelters may have.

Kappel, who has helped out with the van rides, said the experience is extraordinarily emotional, but rewarding to see the team work compassionately alongside the most vulnerable.

“These people really need to be transported somewhere safe. They’re so appreciative of it when we show up.”

Chicago isn’t the only city where Catholic Charities is providing the homeless with means to find shelter. Agencies in Florida and Tennessee have updated listings of what shelters are available. Shelters in Washington D.C. and St. Paul have extended the number of beds, necessities, and winter safe rooms they have available.

Appeals court strikes down Baltimore law targeting pregnancy centers

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 18:56

Baltimore, Md., Jan 5, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An appellate court struck down a Baltimore city ordinance Friday, ruling that the city's pro-life pregnancy centers would not be forced to display in their waiting areas information relating to abortion services.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' Jan. 5 decision, a victory for Baltimore's pregnancy centers, was a unanimous 3-0.

Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., a pro-life pregnancy center in Baltimore, along with the Archdiocese of Baltimore and St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Congregation, Inc., sued the city of Baltimore in March 2010 after a city ordinance was passed the previous year which required it and other organizations promoting alternatives to abortion to post signs in their waiting room saying that they do not perform abortions and will not refer patients out for an abortion.

The ordinance only applied to “limited-service pregnancy center(s)” that do not provide abortion or birth control.

Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns said that they should not be forced to post this information as it ran contrary to the center’s mission. The center operates in space owned by a Catholic church, and provides pregnant women with counseling, sonograms, pregnancy tests, prenatal vitamins, diapers, and other needs completely free of charge.

The mayor of Baltimore and the City Council were joined in the suit by a variety of pro-abortion groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood of Maryland, and the Maryland Abortion Fund. The city argued that the ordinance was lawful due to the center’s “deceptive advertising” and the various health risks from delaying an abortion.

Previously, the center had run advertisements on Baltimore busses about its free pregnancy tests, counseling, and alternatives to abortion, but did not mention that it is a center religiously opposed to abortion.

In October 2016 the district court ruled in favor of Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., but the ruling was appealed and sent to the 4th Circuit.

In the appellate court's opinion, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson said that the City of Baltimore could not provide a single example of someone who entered the Greater Baltimore Center thinking that she could obtain an abortion or abortion referral, and that the center had a history of “affirmative advocacy of abortion alternatives.”

Wilkinson said the city ordinance was “neither viewpoint nor content neutral,” as it was aimed specifically at clinics that do not provide abortion services.

“We do not begrudge the City its viewpoint. But neither may the City disfavor only those who disagree,” wrote Wilkinson.

On the city’s defense of the ordinance combating “deceptive advertising,” he also said the ordinance was “overinclusive” as it applied to all pro-life pregnancy centers, regardless if they do any sort of advertising whatsoever.

Wilkinson wrote that it was the “compelled speech” mandated by the signage that violated the First Amendment, and that while the City of Baltimore may view abortion as acceptable, the Greater Baltimore Center did not, and that it indeed is “antithetical” to its mission to do so.

“At bottom, the disclaimer portrays abortion as one among a menu of morally equivalent choices,” said Wilkinson. “While that may be the City’s view, it is not the Center’s. The message conveyed is antithetical to the very moral, religious, and ideological reasons the Center exists. Its avowed mission is to “provid[e] alternatives to abortion.”

This, said Wilkinson, is where the City of Baltimore violated the First Amendment.

“But, at least in this case [...], it is not too much to ask that they lay down the arms of compelled speech and wield only the tools of persuasion. The First Amendment requires it.”

Bishops' letter on sexual identity prompts LGBT counter-lobbying

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 14:05

Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2018 / 12:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Several Catholic bishops’ call for clarity and compassion on sexual identity issues such as transgenderism drew the ire of a dissenting Catholic group which is part of a well-funded LGBT activism network.

New Ways Ministry’s executive director Francis DeBernardo encouraged his group’s supporters Dec. 18 to write the four bishops who signed the recent letter. Claiming gender transition helps people “become closer to God,” he said the letter is “denying transgender experience” and “promotes a false scenario about how gender topics are being taught to children.”

The Dec. 15 letter “Created Male and Female” was published on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholic signers included Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chair of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, who chairs the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Other signers included religious leaders from Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist, and Muslim backgrounds.

The religious leaders stressed that male and female are God-given differences that must be publicly acknowledged, and that those who are confused about their own identity deserve authentic support.

Their letter voiced the belief that “God created each person male or female; therefore, sexual difference is not an accident or a flaw – it is a gift from God that helps draw us closer to each other and to God. What God has created is good.” They cited the Book of Genesis on the creation of humankind: “male and female he created them.”

DeBernardo, however, contended the letter was based on a scientifically false idea of gender. He rejected the idea that gender is a choice, portraying it as something discovered through one’s biological and sociocultural development.

“To force someone to live inauthentically is neither healthy nor holy,” said DeBernardo. “Reading this statement makes one wonder if any of these leaders have ever listened to the journey of transgender people. If they had, they would find that transgender people often experience their transition as not only a psychologically beneficial step, but one that also involves important spiritual dimensions. Transitioning helps people become closer to God. That is something religious people should support.”

The religious leaders’ letter said the movement to enforce the idea that a man can become a woman or a woman can become a man is “deeply troubling.”

They voiced concern that children are affected by current trends in sexual identity and are harmed when told they can change their sex or are given hormones that can affect their development or render them infertile.

Desires to be identified as the opposite sex are “a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth” and with a response of “compassion, mercy and honesty,” the letter said.

The letter is in line with writings from Pope Francis, who has addressed sexual identity issues several times. In his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, he said young people “need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created.” And in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si', he linked the acceptance of the human body as God’s gift to accepting the entire world as a gift from God. “[T]hinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation,” he warned.

New Ways Ministry has faced correction from leading U.S. bishops in the past, including a March 2011 statement from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington. A February 2010 statement from Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, then-president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the group’s claim to be Catholic “only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination.”

In 1999 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by the future Pope Benedict XVI, said New Ways Ministry’s founders took an approach to homosexuality that had “ambiguities and errors” which cause confusion among Catholics and harm the community of the Church.

New Ways Ministry’s current backers include the Arcus Foundation, founded by billionaire heir Jon Stryker. The foundation also backs the Equally Blessed Coalition, of which the group is a part. A 2014 grant for this coalition aimed “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates” in connection with the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family and World Youth Day.

In 2016 New Ways Ministry gave its Bridge Building Award to Father James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of America Magazine. The priest’s lecture at the award ceremony was the basis for his book Building a Bridge, on Catholic-LGBT relations.

Catholic pastoral approaches to sexual identity and transgender issues in line with Church teaching are underway, though rarely on an organized basis.

In February 2017 a spokesperson for the U.S. Bishops' Conference Office of Public Affairs told CNA most pastoral care has largely taken place “at a local and personal level.”

“As attention to and awareness of this experience has grown, we are seeing more efforts regionally and nationally to respond in a way faithful to the Catholic understanding of the human person and God’s care for everyone,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that dioceses with their own chapter of Courage, which aims to accompany Catholics with same-sex attraction, are in a good position to respond to people with questions about their sexual identity.

Commentary: A Catholic moment in US politics?

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 04:51

Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2018 / 02:51 am (CNA).- It’s been a little over a year since the 2016 election that polarized the nation and left deep political divides among family and friends.

Another election may be the last thing many Americans want to think about, but with midterm races just 10 months away, the already tense political rhetoric is about to become even more heated.

This election season comes at a time of broad dissatisfaction with America’s major political parties. Harvard’s Institute of Politics recently found that only 29% of young Americans age 18-29 had a strong party affiliation.

An NBC / University of Chicago survey found that just 26% of American adults said the Republican and Democratic parties are doing an adequate job representing the American people, while 71% said a third party is needed.

What would a viable third party look like? Is a third party even possible, or is it more likely that we will see major party leaders scramble to recover eroding loyalties by redefining party values and principles?

It’s always tough to predict what will happen in politics. But since Catholics make up roughly 1 in 4 U.S. voters, they have a chance to shape the trajectory of existing and new political parties over the next few years.

And in fact, Catholics have a duty to shape the political landscape. The US bishops have repeatedly taught that Catholics should take an active role in the political process; discouraging blind partisanship, and encouraging that, “our participation should help transform the party to which we belong.”

In order to do this, we first have to understand what the Church teaches about politics. What exactly is the nature and purpose of the state? Catholics on both sides of the aisle often claim that their party’s view of government embodies the vision of Christ. But is that true?

In 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War drew to a close, Pope John Paul II penned a momentous encyclical, Centesimus annus. In it, he reflected on another encyclical, Rerum novarum, the work by Pope Leo XIII that had laid out the foundations of Catholic social thought one hundred years earlier.

Through the lens of Rerum novarum, and looking at the events taking place in his own time, John Paul II wrote:

“The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice.”

However, the Pope didn’t stop there. He continued:

“Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.”

The words of John Paul II have been echoed by his successors. Both Benedict XVI and Francis have had sharp criticisms for Marxism and for an “unbridled capitalism” that relies entirely upon the machinations of the free market, without recognizing the need for values that can only be upheld through intentional human action.

So what does the Church propose? John Paul II clarifies: “The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another.”

In other words, it’s up to Catholics to work for the best solution we can in our current circumstances.

What does it mean to put the Church’s social teaching into practice in 21st century America? It’s a complex question, but before we can even start proposing answers, we need to know what the Church’s social teaching is.

What does it mean to say that the dignity of the human person “is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church's social doctrine,” or to say that “society and the State exist for the family”? What are the principles of the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity? What is the universal destination of goods and how does it relate to private property? What is the preferential option for the poor?

Again and again, the bishops have clarified that it is not the Church’s role to tell people whom to vote for at the ballot box. Rather, the Church talks about issues and principles. To understand what the Church teaches about the issues - from abortion to migration - and to exercise the prudential judgment necessary to turn those ideas into policies, we must first understand the foundational principles. John Paul II describes the Church’s social teaching as “an indispensable and ideal orientation,” a viewpoint, and a framework on which to build.

As we enter into what is certain to be a heated election year, why not make it a (belated) New Years Resolution to learn more about Catholic social teaching? Centesimus Annus is a great place to start. So is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. To catechists, teachers, and members of the clergy: Why not resolve to teach the Church’s social doctrines more frequently, to help equip Catholics as they prepare to vote?

Educating ourselves on these issues can help us be better citizens, and better Catholics. In the words of Pope Francis: “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”

Assisted suicide opponent remembered for his strength, determination

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 19:08

New York City, N.Y., Jan 4, 2018 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The funeral for J.J. Hanson, an outspoken assisted suicide opponent, was celebrated Thursday at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Yulan, N.Y. He was remembered for his strength, faith, and determination.

Hanson died of brain cancer on Saturday at the age of 36. He is survived by his wife, Kristen, and his sons James and Lucas.

“As we mourn the loss of our friend and fellow advocate, James “J.J.” Hanson, we choose not to focus on the great sorrow surrounding his death,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany said on Twitter.

“Instead, today, we choose to focus on the great good J.J. did during his time on earth, especially during the past few years of his life when his battle with cancer became for him an opportunity to show the strength of his faith and the power of love and determination,” Bishop Scharfenberger continued.

A Mass of Christian Burial was held for Hanson Jan. 4 at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua in Yulan, about 90 miles northwest of New York City.

In 2014, Hanson was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer, the same illness that led Brittany Maynard to take her own life in California three years ago, and given four months to live.

While given a life expectancy of only a few months, Hanson was surrounded by a positive support group and a loving family. Hanson said that during his darkest moment, he might have opted for assisted suicide, but instead chose to pursue alternative treatments. He lived three years longer than expected.

“Here I am three years later, enjoying the arrival of our second son and living life to the fullest,” Hanson said in October 2017.

Throughout his battle with cancer, Hanson became a passionate opponent of physician-assisted suicide and was the president of the Patients Rights Action Fund, an organization which fights efforts to legalize assisted suicide.

He was also actively involved with the New York State Catholic Conference and the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide, where he fought against the passage of a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide in the state of New York.

Hanson additionally served as a former aide to Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.

“He outlived that death sentence by more than three years, giving hope and inspiration to thousands of people during that time,” remembered Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, according to the conference website.

“J.J. lived his motto: ‘Every day is a gift, and you can’t ever let that go,’” Gallagher continued.

State Department names 10 countries as worst religious freedom offenders

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2018 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The State Department on Thursday unveiled its list of countries designated as the worst offenders against religious liberty. Advocates of religious freedom applauded the list, but said that several additional countries should have been added.

The countries of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were labeled as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) in the State Department’s report. The 10 countries on the CPC list are unchanged from last year.

In addition, Pakistan was placed on a “Special Watch List,” which is a new category below that of Countries of Particular Concern.

A country is labeled as a CPC after it engages in “systemic, ongoing, [and] egregious” violations of religious liberty. The “Special Watch List” is for countries that “engage in or tolerate severe violations” of religious liberty, but not to the extent of a CPC.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government commission created in 1998 to study religious liberty around the world, praised the inclusion of the 10 CPC counties, but said that several others should have been added.

The commission had recommended that Russia, Vietnam, Syria, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic be added, and that Pakistan should have been included on the list of CPCs, rather than the lower designation of “Special Watch List.”

“The designation of these countries is a key step in ensuring continued U.S. engagement in support of international religious freedom. Although USCIRF agrees with the 10 countries on the State Department’s list, it does not go far enough,” said Daniel Mark, chairman of the commission, in a press release.

Mark said it was a “surprise and disappointment” that Pakistan was not added to the list of CPCs, especially given President Donald Trump’s past criticism of the nation, which has engaged in state-sponsored discrimination against religious minority groups, and has anti-blasphemy laws.

Vietnam was previously designated as a CPC, but was taken off the list about a decade ago, in opposition to USCIRF’s recommendation. The commission has since called for it to be re-added to the list.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) questioned why Vietnam was omitted from the list of CPCs. Royce said Vietnam has regularly violated both religious liberty and other basic human rights, and that it is the United States’ responsibility to call out these violations.


Chairman Royce writes: "Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, yet far too  many people around the world are still persecuted, imprisoned, and killed solely  because of their beliefs. It is our responsibility, as Americans, to speak for those with no voice."

— Jason Calvi (@JasonCalvi) January 4, 2018


Russia was also among the countries that the State Department omitted from its list of CPCs. USCIRF had called for it to receive the designation, in part due to an anti-extremism law that has been used to label Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group, banning them from legally gathering or preaching in the country.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">????RUSSIA notes in this thread. <br>State Dept. doesn&#39;t name Russia a <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ReligiousFreedom</a> Country of Particular Concern, even though the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that designation. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Jason Calvi (@JasonCalvi) <a href="">January 4, 2018</a></blockquote>
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US bishops extend sympathy at death of Mormon Church president

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 13:40

Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan 4, 2018 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Thomas Monson, president of the Mormon Church, died Tuesday at the age of 90, leading Catholic bishops to offer prayer and praise for a man dedicated to philanthropic works.

“President Monson was an advocate of unity and believed in the goodness of each person. He embraced people regardless of faith, seeing in them the image of Jesus,” Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City said Jan. 3.

“He was a ‘human’ touch of kindness and dignity that will long be treasured. We join in prayer with the LDS faithful at this difficult time.”

Monson, 16th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died of natural causes Jan. 2 at his home in Salt Lake City. The leader of the 15.8 million-member religion had a strong dedication to the poor. He had been president of the religion since 2008.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Monson would make surprise visits to sick children or bereaving widows. Additionally, former Utah legislator Stuart Reid said Monson had modified the LDS Church's three-fold mission to include a fourth – an outreach to the poor.

“The President has been a good friend and supporter in our mutual efforts to support the common good and care for the most vulnerable both at home and abroad,” continued Bishop Solis.

“Catholic Community Services as well as the Good Samaritan Program have benefited from his commitment to the poor.”

Born in 1927 in Salt Lake City, Monson was always an active member of the Mormon Church. He served on one of the religion's governing bodies, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, from 1963 until his 2008 appointment as president.

Monson's funeral services will be held Jan. 12 in Salt Lake City.

Cardinal Daniel NiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, offered his condolences to the leaders and members of LDS Church and promised to pray for Monson, whom he said aided friendship between Catholics and Mormons.  

“During his tenure as president, understanding and friendship developed between our two communities on national and local levels,” he said Jan. 3. “As we engage important questions on family and the dignity of the human person, Catholics and Mormons work together and support each other. Today, Catholics join their Latter-day Saints brothers and sisters in commending his soul to the mercy and love of God.”

The Mormon Church, a nontrinitarian religion, was founded in the 19th century in New York.

Report: Government funds largest source of Planned Parenthood revenue

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Planned Parenthood reported that it received more than $500 million in government funding last year, while performing more than 300,000 abortions across the United States.

The country’s largest abortion provider released its 2016-2017 annual report this weekend, reporting that while the organization is seeing fewer patients than in previous years, revenue from government sources remains mostly stable. The report also showed increased excess revenues for the organization.

In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Planned Parenthood saw 2.4 million patients at its 600 health centers, and performed 321,384 abortions. Though the number of abortions decreased slightly from the prior year, Planned Parenthood’s abortion numbers have increased 10 percent over the past decade, despite seeing about 600,000 fewer patients. In 2006, Planned Parenthood reported that they performed 289,750 abortions, and served 3.1 million patients.

Planned Parenthood’s excess revenue increased from the prior fiscal year, from $77.5 million to $98.5 million, an increase of 27 percent.

Despite seeing fewer patients, Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding has increased by 61 percent in the past decade, from $336.7 million in 2006 to $543.7 million in 2016.

CEO Cecile Richards bemoaned a “historic threat” to Planned Parenthood in the report, stemming from legislative efforts at the state and federal level to regulate or defund Planned Parenthood.

Despite defunding efforts, the organization received only two percent fewer tax dollars in 2016 than in 2015. “Government Health Services Reimbursements & Grants” constituted the largest source of funding for Planned Parenthood in 2016-2017, providing 37 percent of the organization’s revenue.  

The majority of Planned Parenthood’s expenses, 60 percent, were for “medical services.”

The report showed that the number of patients receiving contraceptive services from Planned Parenthood declined last year, as it has since 2009. That year, Planned Parenthood provided 4,009,549 contraceptives to patients, a number that was nearly halved by 2016. Most of Planned Parenthood’s birth control services are oral contraceptives, the report said, although there was an increase in the number of IUDs implanted in 2016 compared to 2015.

Cancer screenings and prenatal care also declined over the past year. While adoption referrals increased, Planned Parenthood performed about 82 abortions for every child that was referred for adoption.

In light of the report showing a significant, growing, profit, pro-life advocates are continuing to calling for Planned Parenthood to be defunded by state and federal legislatures.

“Enough is enough,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, in a Jan. 3 statement. “Community health centers vastly outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide and offer comprehensive primary and preventative care for women and families. Congress must follow through on the promise to redirect tax dollars away from Planned Parenthood without further delay.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">In looking at <a href="">@PPact</a>&#39;s latest annual report, more than 82 abortions were performed for every 1 adoption referral. You have to ask -  how much choice is Planned Parenthood advocating for their vulnerable patients?</p>&mdash; Catherine Szeltner (@CatSzeltner) <a href="">January 2, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">As I’ve stated before (and setting aside the fungible aspect of $), I don’t care if the dollars that Planned Parenthood receives from the government go to purchase fish tanks for waiting rooms. Their organization takes lives, and that is unacceptable.</p>&mdash; Kimberly Ross (@SouthernKeeks) <a href="">January 3, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Left unmentioned in the report was that 32 Planned Parenthood facilities have closed during the last year.


Reversing course, FEMA allows religious groups to receive disaster aid

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Tuesday that houses of worship will now be eligible to receive federal disaster relief funds, after outcry from religious leaders in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Previously, these FEMA funds were limited to private nonprofits that were not affiliated with a religion, such as museums, libraries, community centers, and homeless shelters.

“Effective for any major disaster declared on or after August 23, 2017, private nonprofit organizations operating a house of worship are now eligible under the FEMA Public Assistance Program,” the agency's administrator wrote to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Jan. 2.

Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Wednesday that FEMA had granted their request to permit houses of worship to gain access to these disaster relief funds.

Abbott and Paxton had sent President Donald Trump a letter in September arguing that houses of worship were no different than other nonprofits, and had even assisted FEMA with their recovery efforts. Yet due to past FEMA policy, these organizations were barred from funds.

Three Texas churches that were damaged during Hurricane Harvey had filed suit saying that they were being discriminated against for their religious beliefs as their requests for aid had been denied by FEMA.

Now, FEMA will permit houses of worship damaged during the hurricane to retroactively apply for aid, and any other church damaged in a storm in the future will also be eligible for these funds.

Abbott praised FEMA for changing this policy, and also thanked various religious organizations for playing a “vital role” in the area’s ongoing recovery since Harvey made landfall in late August.

"Churches and other houses of worship continue to play a vital role in the ongoing recovery effort, and their ability to receive the same assistance available to other nonprofits should never have been in doubt. I thank FEMA and the Administration for their commitment to helping Texans and the churches that have helped their communities throughout the recovery and rebuilding process,” said Abbott in a statement.

Catholic and Jewish leaders penned an opinion piece in USA Today in September encouraging legislation which would end discrimination against religious organizations in disaster aid.

Echoing Abbott’s praise was Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson, who said the Knights were grateful FEMA had agreed to assist churches, and that the damage caused by these particular storms had necessitated government help.

“Having stepped into the breach to help meet the great needs of the affected communities, we welcome the significance of FEMA’s decision.The destruction due to the flooding and hurricanes is of such a magnitude that the government must help in the response.”

The Knights of Columbus raised $3.8 million for disaster assistance in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season. In addition to relief efforts in Texas, the Knights of Columbus donated $100,000 to the Archdiocese of San Juan to assist with rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Facebook bias crippling Catholic ads, critic says

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 17:22

Denver, Colo., Jan 3, 2018 / 03:22 pm (CNA).- A Facebook-based Catholic fundraising campaign suffered “critical” delays in the key donation period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and Facebook’s new scrutiny of ads aimed at religious audiences is to blame, one social media expert has charged.
Matthew Meeks served as an advisor to a fundraising initiative of the Virginia-based Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. The fund, founded in 2004, aims to help aspiring Catholic priests, nuns and monks who face heavy student loan burdens.
Meeks told CNA that new Facebook policies for ad approval created delays that “caused us to miss the bulk of Giving Tuesday, a day where the Fund for Vocations had planned to kick off a campaign through the Christmas season.”
The Mater Ecclesiae Fund “experienced significant issues with Facebook from the beginning of the campaign,” Meeks told CNA. “For one, the ad platform took more than 24 hours for the ads to be approved. The fund received a message that the content of the ads potentially violated Facebook’s discrimination rules regarding the exclusion of race, religion, sexuality, etc. for housing ads. This was neither a housing ad nor were they excluding a race or religion from receipt of the ads.”
Meeks said the ad campaign intentionally targeted Catholic Facebook users, since they were most likely to support such the fund. The campaign ads promoted a video telling the vocation story of a religious sister who has received aid from the Fund for Vocations.
“Once the ads went live, the Fund for Vocations received word from numerous people that they were unable to share the video in the advertisement, citing that the ‘feature was unavailable,’” Meeks said. “Finally, the ads received 2,555 direct clicks, 105,408 in impressions, 50,000 in reach and not a single penny in donations.”
CNA sought comment from Facebook, which initially requested additional information about the campaign, but subsequently stopped responding to inquiries.
Facebook has faced increased public scrutiny amid claims that ad campaigns backed by the Russian government used Facebook and other social media to increase religious and political tensions in the U.S. ahead of the 2016 elections.
In late October, Facebook announced that it was testing changes to its ad targeting system that could cause delays in some advertising campaigns.
“Ad sets that use targeting terms related to social, religious or political issues may require additional review before your ads start running,” Rob Goldman, Facebook vice-president of ads, said Oct. 27. “If your ad set contains targeting terms related to these topics, your campaign may take longer to start running, or you can adjust your detailed targeting elections.”
On Oct. 2, Facebook vice-president of global public policy Joel Kaplan said the company was taking “aggressive steps” to strengthen both automated and manual review of “improper ads.”
In a Nov. 27 statement, Goldman said “we don’t want advertising to be used for hate or discrimination, and our policies reflect that.” He said Facebook reviews ads based on content, targeting, landing page, and the identity of the advertiser.
“We may not always get it right, but our goal is to prevent and remove content that violates our policies without censoring public discourse,” Goldman added.
Meeks told CNA that Facebook “needs to equally treat religious organizations as it would any other advertiser on the platform.”
“Religious ads on the platform are part of a larger issue and should not be unfairly scrutinized and delayed,” he said. Doing so gives an “unfair advantage” to non-religious campaigns, and hinders religious use of an important tool for advertising and communication.
“Given that Facebook and Google now account for 65 percent or more of all digital ad spending, being blocked from the platform or experiencing delays on the platform due to increased scrutiny of religious organizations on the platform is a critical loss,” Meeks said.
Another recent change to the Facebook algorithm limits the organic reach of Facebook pages, forcing brands to buy ads for greater exposure. Such action, he charged, is “effectively squeezing religion off the platform.”
The vocations fund is reassessing its strategy, “as they no longer trust the Facebook platform to deliver going forward,” Meeks added.
In September 2017, the Daily Beast reported that an imposter account traced back to the Russian government impersonated a Muslim group and promoted political rallies aimed at Muslim audiences. The account appeared to be impersonating the United Muslims of America, a 30-year-old California-based group in the midst of a reorganization.
The fake Facebook page posted apolitical content, promoted positive portrayals of Muslims and debunked some anti-Muslim claims. However, at strategic moments, it also promoted disinformation.
Russian-backed groups simultaneously used other accounts to foment anti-Muslim sentiment.
Facebook has shared ads appearing to come from the Russia-based Internet Research Agency with Congress. Kaplan said the company had found more than 3,000 ads apparently from the agency that ran between 2015 and 2017, many of which appeared “to amplify racial and social divisions.”
In July 2017, more than 25 Catholic Facebook pages in English, Portuguese and Spanish were blocked without explanation, then restored the pages within hours. A Facebook spokesperson apologized and blamed “a malfunction of the spam detection mechanism in our platform.”
In 2016 the social media network faced allegations that its news curators were manipulating its trending news section to favor certain stories and disfavor others, especially politically conservative stories.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg denied the allegations, but met with several conservative leaders and the company later moved to an automated system.


Bishop Barron: Don’t water down Christianity

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 15:21

Chicago, Ill., Jan 3, 2018 / 01:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking to some 8,000 people at a Catholic leadership conference, Bishop Robert Barron said on Tuesday that trust in the risen Christ should give us the courage to preach the truth boldly.

“Through the Holy Spirit, the ascended, risen Christ commands his mystical Body the Church to do what he did, and to say what he said. That’s it…that’s the task of the Church to the present day.”

Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, is also the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and host of the award-winning “Catholicism” documentary.  

He delivered one of the opening keynotes at this year’s Student Leadership Summit in Chicago. Known as SLS, the summit is hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) every other year. It aims to train student leaders and other ministers with tools for evangelization and missionary work, largely on college campuses.

This year’s SLS drew more than 8,000 participants, more than double the attendance of the last summit, hosted in 2016 in Dallas with approximately 3,400 participants.

In his talk, Bishop Barron focused on the Acts of the Apostles, a Biblical book that he said “sets the agenda for us” in the work of evangelization.

He noted that this book begins with an account of Jesus’ ascension, comparing Christ’s glorified position in heaven to that of a general who commands his army at a vantage point from above.

“It tells us very clearly who’s in charge, and what I mean by that is, the ascended Christ who now commands his Church.”

Moving on from the Ascension to the account of Pentecost, Barron said that the descent of the Holy Spirit compels us to spread the Word of God. The Holy Spirit comes to earth to guide the Church, he said, led by the ascended Christ from heaven.

“In a myriad ways, according to your particular missions, bring something of heaven to earth, doing as Jesus did,” the bishop exhorted attendants.

In bringing the message of heaven to earth, Catholics should be careful not to water down the Gospel or fall for bland and uninspiring half-truths, he said.

He recalled an encounter that he had with Biblical scholar Scott Hahn, who remarked that “there is no historical basis for the for the claim that St. Francis said, ‘Preach always, and when necessary, use words.’”

While indeed “our whole life should be a kind of preaching,” Barron said, the statement attributed to St. Francis can become a problem when it is “used as a justification for a kind of pastoral reductionism,” for example, the idea that “what it all really comes down to is taking care of the poor.”

While caring for the poor is important, Barron said, this work “in and of itself can never be evangelically sufficient.”

“This is not the time for anti-intellectualism in our Church! We have lots of young people, you know them, they're your friends and colleagues, who are leaving the Church for intellectual reasons,” Barron said.

He called for a kind of “bold speech” needed to proclaim the Gospel, pointing to the preaching in the early Church, which challenged the widely held belief at the time that “Casear is Lord.”

“The bold speech of the Church is that not ‘Caesar,’ or any of his colleagues or predecessors or successors, but rather Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the king. And he is also Christos, anointed.”

The Roman empire at the time, Barron said, was rather liberal with regards to new religions, yet still rejected the early Christians because they identified Jesus – and not Caesar – as the only Lord.

“If he is Lord, everything in your life belongs to him. Your personal life, yes. Your body, yes. Your friendships, yes. Your political life, yes. Your entertainment, yes. All of it.”

When Christianity becomes reduced to a mere message that can be gained from the dominant culture, Bishop Barron said, it moves from the faith of early persecuted Christians to one which is rewarded lavishly by others.

“That’s what happens to a weakened, attenuated Christianity,” he said.

“In the Acts of the Apostles we hear that when those first disciples spoke, people were cut to the heart. Still true, still true to this day. Bland spiritual teachings, saying what everybody else says, that won’t cut anyone to the heart, but trust me, declaring the lordship of Jesus, that’ll cut them to the heart.”

Bishop Barron highlighted Jesus’ role in light of the Old Testament, saying that only as a fulfillment of laws and the prophets does Jesus make sense. He pointed to St. Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin before his martyrdom, in which the saint summarized the entire Old Testament and then described Jesus’ ministry.

When Jesus is cut off from his roots in Israel, he becomes just a philosopher or wise figure, a “flattened out, uninspiring Jesus,” the bishop warned.

In contrast, he said, “when you present Jesus as the fulfillment of the great story of Israel, Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple that was meant to bring humanity and divinity together, when you preach him as the fulfillment of the law and the covenant and the Torah, when you preach him as the culmination of all the proclamation of the prophets, people will be cut to the heart.”

Bishop Barron related a story he commonly tells of a little girl he met while working in Chicago who presented to him a detailed account of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies. He said that kids’ aptitude to memorize such complex plotlines and character names dispels the notion that they cannot understand the Bible.

“This great, rollicking, complex, rich story that we have, full of weird names, yeah, but no weirder than Obi-Wan Kenobi, right? The kids have no trouble with that. Don’t tell me they can’t understand the Bible. And therefore don’t tell me that they can’t appreciate Jesus as the culmination of that great story.”

The bishop ended his talk by encouraging conference attendees in prayer and asking them to help “remind the world whom they are to worship.”

“Everybody worships somebody or something,” he said. “Everyone’s got a king, right? Our job is to stand up boldly and say, ‘No, Christ is your king. Everything in your life belongs to him’.”



Bishop urges Trump admin to extend protections for El Salvador migrants

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 14:00

El Paso, Texas, Jan 3, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of El Paso is urging the Trump administration to extend a temporary residency program for Salvadoran migrants for the sake of keeping families together, as a deadline looms for the Department of Homeland Security to make a decision.

Temporary Protected Status, a temporary immigration permit program, is set to expire for El Salvador March 9, unless the Department of Homeland Security decides, by Jan. 8, to extend it.

“Will these families face separation and breakdown, so that their U.S.-citizen child can access the benefits of an American education? Or will families stay together and leave to their parents’ home countries, facing a decided lack of opportunity and, worse, extreme violence and possible exploitation?” Bishop Mark Seitz questioned in an opinion piece published Jan. 1 in The Hill.

“The end of TPS for El Salvador would force such a heartbreaking decision upon thousands of families,” the bishop stated.

 Seitz asked: “As I meet more mixed-status families here in Texas who have TPS-recipient parents, a question burns in my heart is what will happen to these children if their parents are ordered back to El Salvador? What will become of their futures?”

Temporary Protected Status originated in 1990 as a program for individuals and families whose home countries are experiencing natural disasters, armed conflicts, or exceptional situations in which they could seek temporary shelter in the United States and work legally within the country until the situation in their homeland is resolved.

Since its beginning, around 200,000 individuals from El Salvador have taken advantage of the TPS program. Among these individuals, there are an estimated 192,000 U.S.-citizen children whose parents are a part of the TPS program.

If the Department of Homeland Security moves to end the program, Seitz has concerns over the future of the mixed-citizen families and their children.

Seitz also underscored the number of benefits the United States has received from TPS holders, including economic contributions through the taxes they pay and through the industries they work in, including construction and home health care.

Last August, a group of Catholic bishops and researchers from the Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops headed an expedition to explore the living conditions in El Salvador and Honduras. Their report found “large-scale protection issues if TPS holders are forced to return to their home countries, particularly El Salvador.”

The report also noted that the end of TPS could “negatively impact regional security, and have negative economic and humanitarian consequences.”

After the delegation returned from its examination, the bishops proposed a number of policy recommendations for the United States to progress towards a better, long-term solution for the situation in Central America.

In addition, Seitz pointed to the number of families and individuals who have given first-hand accounts of their experience in El Salvador and Honduras.

“I have sat with youths who tearfully explained to me why they attempted to migrate north, forced out of their homes, extorted by gangs,” Seitz recalled.

“I have heard from young girls who faced sexual assault and domestic abuse; teen-aged boys have spoken with me about being afraid to go to school because of the fear of encountering gangs on the way and having to pay daily to enter and leave their neighborhood,” he continued.

Seitz is confident that if TPS is ended for El Salvador, hundreds of thousands of people will return to these volatile conditions, forcing families to wrestle with the decision to stay together or separate.

The Texas bishop also urged leaders to continue the TPS program for the sake of the children, noting that conditions in El Salvador particularly are not fit to return to.

“I steadfastly pray that our national leaders do no turn their backs on these children by closing the door to their parents,” Seitz urged.

“Ending TPS for El Salvador is akin to exactly that.”

TPS was extended for Honduras in November, but the status was not renewed for either Nicaragua or Haiti in the same month.

Judge orders more mediation to resolve Minn. clergy abuse settlements

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 05:32

Minneapolis, Minn., Jan 3, 2018 / 03:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Disputes over clergy abuse settlements in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis have led a federal bankruptcy judge to order a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

“Judge Kressel’s decision bolsters our resolve to move forward in the bankruptcy process,” Tom Abood, chairman of the archdiocese’s reorganization task force, said Dec. 28. “We are guided by his words from earlier this year, that the longer this process continues, the less money will be available for those who have been harmed.”

Abood voiced gratitude that the judge has dismissed claims from creditors’ attorneys that the archdiocese has acted in bad faith in the reorganization.

“We look to engage with all participants in mediation as directed by the judge to bring a prompt and fair resolution,” said Abood.

The archdiocese, insurance companies, parishes, a creditors’ committee and sex abuse survivors are involved in seeking a settlement for more than 400 victims. The process has lasted more than two years.

Judge Robert Kressel’s Dec. 28 ruling said the plan presented by abuse survivors required too much time and money to carry out. He said the archdiocese’s plan lacked sufficient financial accountability from the parishes involved, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

“Therefore,” his order said, “I expect all the parties to return to mediation. And I expect them to mediate in good faith.”

In January 2015 the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

“The public record certainly demonstrates that for decades the response of officials from the archdiocese to the sexual abuse of children was disgraceful,” Judge Kressel said, adding that the record shows the archdiocese is “taking steps to do better and to remedy some of those wrongs.”

The committee representing abuse survivors had composed a plan calling for tougher settlements with insurance companies and much larger contributions from the archdiocese. The archdiocese, parishes and insurance companies objected to the plan, saying its effect would be “liquidating” the archdiocese.

From the archdiocese came a proposed plan that included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. The plan would draw about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims’ attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes adequately.

Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the sexual abuse victims, said more than 90 percent of abuse victims voted against the plan. He said the judge’s ruling could mean a faster settlement.

Jim Keenan, who was sexually abused by a priest at age 13 and now chairs the creditors’ committee that represents the survivors, said the ruling is “absolutely phenomenal for us.”

“We need a fair and just settlement and to make sure this never happens again,” he said.

The survivors’ committee has said the archdiocese should contribute $80 million, instead of $15 million.

How an abortion clinic became a medical center for the poor

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 21:00

Manassas, Virginia, Jan 2, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Three years ago, a medical office in Manassas, Virginia was one of the area’s largest abortion clinics. Today, it is a free medical clinic for the poor, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic opened its doors on Dec. 6, 2017. Supported by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington (CCDA), the clinic provides free medical care to uninsured or underinsured adults living in Northern Virginia.  
The abortion clinic previously at the site, Amethyst Health Center for Women, closed in September 2015, when its owner retired. The building was purchased in 2016 by the BVM Foundation (BVM being an abbreviation for “Blessed Virgin Mary”), who passed it on to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington. In August, the diocese announced that the newly transformed clinic would open later that year.

The clinic is run by a volunteer force of doctors, nurses, and translators, and is open weekly for patient care, provided completely for free. The clinic also does referrals for other services.

Most of the patients served by the clinic do not know about the building’s past use, but all of the volunteer workers are aware of its former life.
Medical director Dr. Scott Ross told the Washington Post that he thought the volunteers had been “energized” by how they would be part of “something good” coming from the same place where abortions had been performed for years.
Ross told the Post that he is hoping to expand the clinic’s hours with the help of additional volunteers, and that he hopes the clinic is able to make agreements with other medical providers to further serve patients in need of assistance.
Many of the patients served at the Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic are recent immigrants who have not yet obtained insurance or cannot afford medical insurance, Ross said. The clinic is partnered with Novant Health UVA Health System, where Ross works as a family physician.  Catholic Charities says this partnership will provide even more low-cost medical care to those who qualify.
In addition to medical care, Ross told the Post the he hopes to eventually expand the clinic to offer food assistance to patients, and mental health counseling. Ross said that he has been surprised by the number of people who visited the clinic with complications from poorly-managed diabetes, and wants to assist these patients with meal-planning and education.

“We are starting as a drop in the bucket,” said Ross.
When it was an abortion clinic, Ross used to regularly pray outside of the building. He told the Post that it was “eerie” going into the building before it was renovated into its current state.
While the clinic is now running, the initial sale of the building to the BVM Foundation was criticized by abortion proponents. The former building owner says she was “duped” into the sale, and said she was unaware that the BVM Foundation was a Catholic group intent on shutting down the abortion clinic.

Sean Garvey, one of the founders of BVM, and Jim Koehr, the secretary/treasurer, say their group was entirely transparent throughout the sale process and communicated with Amethyst’s owner many times about what they intended to do with the office.

Controversy also arose after the abortion clinic’s closure, when its former telephone number, still active at the site, was routed to the crisis pregnancy center located next door. Koehr said that women who were calling a closed abortion clinic needed to hear “someone who cared” on the other end of the line.

The Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic was blessed by Bishop Michael Burbidge on Nov. 19, about two weeks ahead of its formal opening.