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Sex and labor trade victims speak out during Los Angeles march

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 15:12

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 30, 2017 / 01:12 pm (CNA).- “I knew my life wasn’t normal,” Duñia Zelaya said of her childhood. She vividly remembers the night her mother and stepfather dressed her in strange clothes and did her makeup before driving her to a bar to work as a sex slave. She can’t remember her age, but she was probably 7.

Her mother gave her a drink to “give her courage.” Her two sisters, who were older though still minors, were dropped off first and then she was left at a bar where a man was waiting for her.

On Jan. 14, Zelaya shared her story during the L.A. Freedom Walk at Blessed Sacrament Church in Los Angeles. She finally left the life of prostitution three years ago.

Born into poverty and living as the child of immigrants, Zelaya endured the misery of prostitution for years. She was hungry for real love. “I noticed how all the other kids, their parents used to hug them and kiss them and I use to say, ‘I want that,’” she recalled.

Her mother’s affection varied with the cash flow, she explained. “When I made more money than my sisters, that was the only time I was shown a little bit of love.”

Zelaya spoke to the hundreds of protesters who gathered in the early morning hours to help raise awareness — and reaffirm the promise — that sex and labor trafficking will soon end.

The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) organized the event. The nonprofit organization, based in Los Angeles, advocates on behalf of victims of sex and labor trafficking and provides services for rehabilitating victims.

The month of January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and Pope Francis continues to condemn the practice that keeps an estimated 30 million people enslaved. In December 2014, he called human trafficking — which includes forced labor, prostitution and organ trafficking — “a crime against humanity.”

Bishan Kumar also spoke at the Jan. 14 event, sharing the story of years of humiliation and abuse as a labor slave.

A registered pharmacist in India, Kumar had come to the United States to study. One school had accepted him, claiming to be accredited and hiring professors from Stanford and UC Berkley. He paid his tuition fees and waited for classes to begin.

“The classes never began,” he said. Instead, one of the professors put him to work at a rate of $10 per hour. But she never paid him. She demanded that he work 12 to 14 hours a day, including weekends and holidays. She told him to create fraudulent documents, wash dishes and set up workstations.

“There were times when I couldn’t fall asleep because of the body pains and the psychological trauma,” he said.

She threatened to terminate his student visa if he didn’t listen to her. “In fact, I would see her terminating other students’ immigration statuses, so I was always frightened.” Kumar added, “She used to yell at me all the time and treat me like a slave.”

Homeland Security finally caught up with her, sentencing her to 20 years in jail — a verdict that made the audience break out into loud applause.

Kumar also spoke about identifying victims of human trafficking. They work long hours, he said. “And if you try to talk to them, they won’t make eye contact and they look tired.” He also said that victims often work in back offices to avoid suspicion.

“Keep an eye on your surroundings,” he urged. “A lot of people came to the university when I was washing dishes, moving furniture — but no one was thinking, ‘Why would a student be doing all that?’”

Zelaya ended her speech by remembering her sister and the other women who are still working on the streets. “So today I ask you guys to walk with us,” she said. “Through this walk we are giving them a voice, letting them know that we are waiting here for them.”


This article originally appeared in Angelus News.

Pope Francis to the laity: go out and evangelize, or buy mothballs

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 00:01

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 29, 2017 / 10:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When asked in a new interview what specific mission he has for the laity, Pope Francis responded with a frequent appeal: to go outside of oneself and take risks in evangelizing, rather than staying stuffed up at home while the moths move in.

“Sometimes I think the best business we can do with many Christians, is to sell them mothballs so that they put them in their clothes and in their lives and aren’t eaten by moths,” the Pope said in the interview, published Sunday.

The interviewer, journalist Noel Díaz, had questioned the Pope about a comment he had made to him on a previous occasion to “tell the laity to come out of the caves.”

When asked about the comment and what mission he would give to the laity with that image in mind, Francis said that many times Christians “are locked up and they are going to get eaten by moths.” 

“They have to go out, they have to go and bring the message of Jesus” to others, he said, explaining that the Good News is meant to be shared, not stored away.

“The message of Jesus is to give it; so just as I receive it from him through a brother or sister, the grace comes to me and I give it,” he said, stressing that Christians shouldn’t “can” the message, trying to conserve it in a jar, because “it’s not to save, it’s to give.”

By taking the Good News and then delivering it to others, “in this way I leave the cave,” he said, and stressed the importance of practicing the works of mercy, which are “the backbone of the Gospel” and what we will eventually be judged on.

Pope Francis gave his interview to El Sembrador Nueva Evangelización – ESNE TV and Radio station, a nonprofit established in Los Angeles in 1994 and which is currently headed by Díaz, the station’s founder and director. The interview was conducted Nov. 22, 2016, and was broadcast Jan. 29, 2017.

In the interview, conducted in the Pope’s native Spanish tongue, Díaz noted how Francis frequently calls for Christians to be joyful rather than sour, going out to the streets and making the Gospel message known to those who are far off. 

When asked by the journalist what Christians lack in order for this to become the norm, the Pope said there is a need for greater “courage, since we are comfortable and comfort betrays us.”

Pointing to the “apostolic zeal” of St. Paul, the Pope said he had the “courage to go out,” which is something Christians ought to grow in if they want “to bring what we have received” to others.

Apart from courage, the Pope said that in his own personal view, something that is often missing is prayer: “prayer is lacking...because without prayer there is no courage, there is a lack of intercession.”

“We have to pray more and go out, but always with prayer, because I go out with the Lord,” he said, explaining that prayer is what unites us to God. 

He pointed specifically to meditating on Scripture through Lectio Divina, saying “this is a very beautiful exercise and all of us have a quarter of an hour to do it, to take the bible, a little piece, and reflect a bit.”

Francis was also asked what kind of legacy he would like to leave with the Church, and responded with many ideas that have already become trademarks of his papacy: “a Church that goes out is one, open doors, Christians going out on the streets, Christians who are convinced, a prayerful Church.”

Touching on what he said is a “key point,” Pope Francis said there is a great need for Christians “who know how to adore the Lord.” 

After sitting in silent adoration, “one leaves with the strength of knowing that there is someone above, that it’s the Lord,” he said, adding that the ability to adore is “the greatest strength” of the spiritual life, since many times our prayers are “petty.”

Many time people go to the Lord asking him to give them something or to solve a problem, he said, noting that “those who give thanks are fewer.”

God, he said, “loves us, he gives us a hand and arranges things” when we ask, but “to adore, which few know how to adore, to adore God who is the Lord in this world” is rare, but essential.

Another legacy the Pope said he wants to leave is a sense of awareness in every Christian home, family and people that “the spirit of the world is not from God, it’s the antithesis of God.”

It’s because of this that Jesus at the Last Supper prays not for his disciples to be taken out of the world, but to be “defended” from it, he said, pointing to money as a key cause of worldliness.

“Worldliness begins with money, the devil enters through the pockets, in gives you security, (but) a security that isn’t from God,” he said, explaining that money eventually leads to vanity, which then leads to pride, “and from hence all sins” come.

Francis was then asked to send a message to a specific groups of people – youth, elderly, parish priests and single mothers – when the interviewer mentioned them, before offering a special greeting to the station and its viewers.


Newark auxiliary bishop assaulted during Mass

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 11:33

Newark, N.J., Jan 29, 2017 / 09:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- What started as a Mass remembering a Latino baseball star and humanitarian quickly took a violent turn as an auxiliary bishop was assaulted at the Newark cathedral Saturday.

Newark Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz was offering the opening prayers of the Mass when a man wearing a white robe over a red suit left his pew, approached the altar, and punched the bishop in the face, according to local news outlets.

The bishop fell backwards on the altar. He was taken to the hospital for treatment, although officials say his injuries are not serious.

A 48-year-old Newark man has been arrested and charged with assault, according to Officials did not speculate on a possible motive.

The Mass – which was being held at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart – was intended to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the death of Roberto Clemente, a Puerto Rican professional baseball player.

In addition to making the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Clemente was known for his humanitarian work. He died in a plane crash in 1972 while on his way to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

After Bishop Cruz was assaulted, the Mass was rescheduled for the next day at a nearby church, according to

“We are thankful that law enforcement officers were able to apprehend the assailant,” archdioceses spokesman James Goodness told reporters. “This is not something that we expect to happen in any of our churches.”

Could Mary be getting a new title this year?

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 05:04

Detroit, Mich., Jan 29, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Earlier this month, the International Marian Association submitted a request to Pope Francis, asking for the public recognition of the title of Mary as “Co-Redemptrix with Jesus the Redeemer.”

The 10 page document was submitted by the Theological Commission of the International Marian Association, a group of more than 100 theologians, bishops, priests, religious, and lay leaders from over 20 countries dedicated to the “full truth and love of Mary, Mother of Jesus.” It comes during the 100th year anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal.

The significance of the request, if it were to receive approval, is that the faithful would be given further clarity on Mary’s unique role in cooperation with Christ in the work of redemption, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Professor of Mariology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, told EWTN News.

“I think many people sense the spread of evil in the world and see the importance of highlighting Mary’s role as spiritual Mother,” Dr. Fastiggi said in e-mail comments.

“A papal statement on Marian coredemption would deepen our understanding of Mary’s role as the New Eve who collaborates with her Son, the New Adam, ‘in giving back supernatural life to souls,’” he added, referring to the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium.  

The title can be traced back to the 10th century, when some Marian litanies included the title of Mary as Redemptrix, along with her son. It was a development of the idea of Mary as the “New Eve,” a Marian title that has been used since the 2nd century. The prefix of “co-” was added by the 15th century, to clarify that Mary was not the Redeemer, but rather someone who uniquely cooperated in the work of redemption.

“The Co-Redemptrix title never places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ, the only divine Redeemer, as to do so would constitute both heresy and blasphemy,” the Association stated in a press release announcing the request.

“The Co-Redemptrix title is meaningless without Jesus the Redeemer, and in itself focuses upon the Cross of Jesus Christ. Mary Co-Redemptrix proclaims to the world that suffering is redemptive when united to the sufferings of Christ.”

After the prefix was added, title continued to catch on, so much so that the 17th century considered the “golden age” of the title of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. Still, it didn’t receive magisterial recognition until 1908, when the Sacred Congregation for Rites used it in a decree elevating the rank of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

Since then, it has been referenced multiple times by the Magisterium, including during the second Vatican council, which ultimately decided against any formal recognition of the title in the document Lumen Gentium.

“The term, however was not rejected because it was false. In the praenotanda or explanatory note that accompanied the first Marian schema of 1962, we are told that, ‘Certain terms and expressions used by Roman Pontiffs have been omitted, which, although most true in themselves (in se verissima), may be difficult for the separated brethren (as in the case of the Protestants) to understand,’” Dr. Fastiggi explained.

“The Council, therefore, recognized the importance of further development and clarification on certain points of Marian doctrine. A papal statement on Marian co-redemption would provide greater clarity on Mary’s unique cooperation with Christ in the work of redemption and the mediation of grace.  It would also open the way for many graces in the life of the Church.”

Popes often grant formal papal recognition to help deepen the theological understanding of the faithful, such as when Bl. Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary as “Mother of the Church” in 1964.

“The invocation of Mary under various titles like ‘Mother of God’ and ‘Help of Christians’ reinforces Mary’s role in the mystery of salvation,” Dr. Fastiggi noted.

Unfortunately, Dr. Fastiggi said, many Catholics are unaware of the recognition that the title “Co-Redemptrix” has already received so much informal recognition from the magisterium.

“Some are even under the impression that we are not allowed to call Mary ‘Co-Redemptrix’—even though two popes, namely Pius XI (3 times) and St. John Paul II (at least 6 times), have publicly referred to Mary as ‘Co-Redemptrix,’” he said.

And while there are concerns that the title could further confuse Protestants and others who disagree with Catholic teaching on Mary, Dr. Fastiggi believes a formal recognition of the title would actually help with further clarification.

“A formal papal statement would also serve the cause of ecumenism because it would help other Christians know that the Catholic Church clearly distinguishes between the saving work of Christ as the one Savior and Mediator (1 Tim 2: 5–6) and the Blessed Mother’s secondary, dependent but utterly unique cooperation with Christ in the work of redemption and the mediation of grace,” he said.

In a press release announcing the request, the International Marian Association said: “We believe that a public acknowledgement of Mary’s true and continuous role with Jesus in the saving work of Redemption would justly celebrate the role of humanity in God's saving plan; foster greater devotion to the Mother of God; and lead to the release of historic graces through an even more powerful exercise of Our Lady’s maternal roles of intercession for the Church and for all humanity today.”

While the request could lead to a new Marian dogma, Dr. Fastiggi said the Association would likely be happy with any form of formal papal recognition of the title.

“The members of Association realize that it’s up to the Holy Spirit to guide the Holy Father with regard to this petition. In this regard, prayer and trust are essential,” he said.

“We trust in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Father, and the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is our spiritual Mother. May God’s will be done.” 

Meet the new head of Alliance Defending Freedom

Sat, 01/28/2017 - 18:15

Scottsdale, Ariz., Jan 28, 2017 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For Michael P. Farris, the new head of Alliance Defending Freedom, educating the general American public on the rich history of religious liberty in the U.S. is vital.

As a nation, he told CNA, “I think we have a very limited understanding of religious freedom.”

Religious liberty is the foundation for free speech, free press, and free assembly, he continued. Protections for many of the key freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution were secured through the battle for religious freedom.

So when people start forgetting the vital role of religious freedom, they lose a firm grasp of these other freedoms as well.

“This is why we see free speech going in the wrong direction in a whole variety of areas,” he said, pointing to college campuses as an example.

Education is a topic close to the heart of Farris. Recognized as a leader within the modern homeschooling movement, he became the founding president of the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983.

In 2000, he founded Patrick Henry College in northern Virginia, based on a commitment to Christian biblical truth and classical liberal arts. He taught constitutional law and public international law at the school, and he coached students on the Moot Court team to a World Championship. He remains chancellor emeritus of the college.

Now, Farris is assuming the role of president, CEO, and general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, becoming just the second person in that position in the organization’s 23-year history. He is replacing Alan Sears, who after creating and running the legal group for over two decades, will now transition to a founder’s role.

Farris said he wanted to join Alliance Defending Freedom “because I was deeply disturbed about the state of religious freedom in this country.”

“The effort is underway to limit religious freedom to the freedom of worship,” he said, emphasizing that this flawed view limits religious freedom, driving it out of the public square and preventing it from shaping people’s everyday lives and decisions.

Both domestically and internationally, Farris has seen growing threats to religious liberty. From radical Islam to an effort in much of Europe and the U.S. to “silence opposition to the views of the secular elite,” the challenges abound.

But despite these obstacles, Farris says that he’s ultimately hopeful for the long-term future, because he knows that he is on the side of truth.

For now, it’s a matter of fighting the good fight. And that’s done on several different fronts.

“We here at ADF are chiefly a litigating organization,” Farris explained. The legal organization works to defend religious liberty in court cases across the country, with success in nearly 80 percent of its cases.

Farris is no stranger to litigation. With a specialty in constitutional appellate litigation, he has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, eight federal circuit courts of appeals, and the highest courts of 13 individual states.

He also has ample experience testifying before both the House of Representatives and the Senate over the last 30 years, and he co-chaired the coalition that successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Alliance Defending Freedom also does some work in education, reaching out to young leaders who show promise in law. In addition, it partners with other organizations that work to educate the public on religious freedom, and Farris stressed that “we want to continue that robust alliance.”

Reflecting on the new administration in Washington, D.C., Farris was cautiously optimistic.

“I do see some opportunity for hope there,” he said, pointing specifically to Vice President Mike Pence, who is known as a devout Christian.

“Mike is a solid believer and understands these issues,” he said, adding, “I think we’ll have a listening ear in the Justice Department.”

While he acknowledged that “we’re not walking into a perfect world,” he added that “it’s a world that has some hope and some opportunity,” in contrast with the last eight years, which saw only the shallowest of lip service paid to the concept of religious liberty.

He said that Paul Ryan’s role as Speaker of the House gives him hope for Congress as well.

Addressing perceptions of religious freedom in the United States, Farris rejected the claim that religious liberty is dangerous because it permits license for any type of action under the guise of religion.

“That theory of religious freedom has been rejected since the beginning of the Republic,” he said, pointing to child sacrifice as an example of an “intrinsically evil act” that was never permitted on religious freedom grounds.

“There’s never been the idea that you could commit a common law crime in the name of religion.”

But within the rational limits of religious freedom, he said, there is plenty of room for people to live out their faith in ways that other people may respectfully disagree with – and that’s a cause that all Americans should rally around.

“I think the test of religious freedom,” he said, “is whether you’re willing to stand up for the religious freedom of those that you disagree with theologically.”


Pope Francis offers prayers, sends greetings to March for Life

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2017 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis offered his greeting to participants at the 2017 March for Life in Washington, D.C., assuring them of his prayers and imparting his Apostolic Blessing upon all present.

In a papal telegram from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy Father thanked the marchers for their witness to life.

“Pope Francis sends warm greetings and the assurance of his closeness in prayer to the many thousands of young people from throughout America gathered in the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington for the annual March for Life,” the message said.

“His Holiness is profoundly grateful for this impressive testimony to the sacredness of every human life.”

The text of the telegram was included in a letter from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, sent to Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia.

The message quoted a passage from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia: “so great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right…can justify a decision to terminate that life.”

Pope Francis, the message continued, “trusts that this event, in which so many American citizens speak out on behalf of the most defenseless of our brothers and sisters, will contribute to a mobilization of consciences in defense of the right to life and effective measures to ensure its adequate legal protection.”

The 44th annual March for Life was held Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C. The march – which routinely draws hundreds of thousands of participants from around the country – is generally held close to the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the March for Life this year, marking the first time that a current vice president has attended the event. Pence told the crowds that the pro-life movement is winning, urging them to fight for life with compassion and love.

Other speakers at this year’s rally and march include Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to President Donald Trump; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson; and former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson.


Pence to pro-lifers: Win hearts with compassion and love

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 13:43

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2017 / 11:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged pro-lifers to win over hearts with gentleness and compassion at the 2017 March for Life on Friday.

“So I urge you to press on,” Pence told the audience gathered on the National Mall for the rally, imploring them “as it is written, let your gentleness be evident to all.”

“Let this movement be known for love, not anger,” he said, “let it be known for compassion, not confrontation.”

The pro-life movement can win the hearts and minds of young people “if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we each of us do all we can to meet them where they are with generosity, not judgment.”

The 44th annual March for Life was held on Friday in Washington, D.C. The world’s largest annual pro-life rally, the march has been held every year since 1974 on or around the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

Generally, the annual march draws hundreds of thousands of attendees to the nation’s capital, primarily young people.

Pence was the first sitting vice president to address the March for Life. “I’m deeply humbled to stand before you today,” he told a cheering crowd.

“On behalf of the President of the United States,” he said, “we thank you for your stand for life” and “for your compassion, for your love of the women and children of America.”

“And be assured, along with you, we will not grow weary, we will not rest until we restore a culture of life in America for ourselves and for our posterity.”

Pence noted the administration’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy earlier this week. The policy bars the reception of taxpayer dollars by international non-governmental organizations which perform or promote abortions overseas.

He promised the Trump administration “will work with the Congress to end taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion providers” and will reallocate those resources to groups that help women. This week, the House of Representatives passed a bill banning taxpayer dollars from directly funding abortions.

Pence also said that next week, a pro-life nominee will be announced to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Other scheduled speakers at the rally included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway, members of Congress, and tight end Benjamin Watson of the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League.

Cardinal Dolan, in his prayer at the rally, thanked God for a country “where the dignity of each human person” is “a self-evident truth.”

“Our prayers are the more fervent” on this day, he said, noting that “our supplication this afternoon is the more hopeful as we rejoice in the solidarity of the hundreds of thousands” participating in the March.

Pence insisted that the pro-life movement must uphold the dignity of human life of all vulnerable persons.

“Society can be judged by how we care for the most vulnerable,” he said, pointing to the aged, infirm, disabled, and unborn as examples. “We’ve come to a historic moment in the cause of life,” he added, and “we must meet this moment with respect and compassion for every American.”

“Life is winning in America,” he said, “and today is a celebration of that progress, the progress that we’ve made in that cause.”

Speakers at the rally also insisted that mothers be cared for and supported.

“This is a time of incredible promise for the pro-life, pro-adoption movement,” Conway said, stressing that the pro-life movement must help women “who face unplanned pregnancies.”

“They should know that they are not alone,” she said, “they too are protected and cared for, and celebrated.”

“May God bless the women who are struggling with unplanned pregnancies,” said Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), “may we help them discover their power and their potential.”


Meet the spiritual powerhouses of the pro-life movement

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 02:01

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Walk along in the March for Life or Walk for Life and you will see them: a swarm of women – many of them young – dressed in long blue habits, white veils blowing in the breeze.

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

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

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

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

“Help Wanted: Sisters of Life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, the order is thriving, with 106 Sisters, whose average age is around 35. In addition, the Sisters of Life are preparing for even more new sisters, with 15 postulants and 18 novices currently in formation.

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

A Life of Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mission to Save Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal Dolan: Abortion undermines everyone's human rights

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 19:06

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2017 / 05:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a culture where abortion is prevalent, no one’s rights are safe, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York insisted at a national pro-life Mass before the March for Life.

“We come together this sacred evening in a church we claim as a sanctuary, in a land historically termed a sanctuary, on a planet the creator intended as an environment of sanctuary,” said Cardinal Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, in his homily at the March for Life vigil Mass on Thursday.

“Why?” he asked. “To reclaim the belief that the mother’s womb is the primal sanctuary, where a helpless, innocent, fragile, tiny baby is safe, secure, nurtured and protected.”

The March for Life vigil Mass was held Thursday evening at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The national march is the largest pro-life rally in the world, annually drawing hundreds of thousands of walkers. It is held on or around the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of Jan. 22, 1973 that mandated legal abortion throughout the nation.  

Cardinal Dolan celebrated the Mass, joined by four other cardinals, 40 bishops, 320 priests, and 90 deacons. In addition, 545 seminarians were present, and an estimated 12,000 participants attended.

The Mass began a 14-hour overnight prayer vigil for life featuring devotions, confessions, and holy hours, that will conclude with a closing Mass at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans. At estimated 20,000 pilgrims will attend the Masses and vigil.

“In order for us to have a joyful pro-life witness, we need to be in a good place with God,” Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat on Pro-Life Activities, told CNA.

Churches and cathedrals were in ancient times places of shelter for refugees fleeing violence and persecution and “claiming the right of sanctuary,” Cardinal Dolan noted in his homily.

The pilgrims thought of America as a “sanctuary” as they fled persecution in 17th century England, he said, and “today refugees and immigrants continue to believe that this nation is still a sanctuary, as they arrive with relief and thanksgiving, and we pray this evening they are never let down!”

The environment is also a “sanctuary” for human life, he said.

However, as the “primal sanctuary,” if the mother’s womb is not a safe place for human life and is threatened by abortion, then no one is safe, Cardinal Dolan warned.

“Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother’s womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?” he asked.

A host of evils occur if abortion is prevalent, he explained. “Should it shock us, my friends, as Pope Francis asks in his ongoing global examination of conscience, that a culture that violently intrudes upon the life of baby in the sanctuary of his or her mother’s womb, would soon lose reverence for all places intended by God as safe, secure, and nurturing?”

“That such a society would begin to treat, for instance, the sanctuary of the earth’s environment as a toxic waste dump? Would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered? Would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers? Would burden the dying with guilt for just wanting peacefully and patiently to savor each day until God takes them, pressuring them instead to suicide?”

St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Dolan noted, was constructed by the architect Bernini to resemble, with its sets of colonnades opened wide, “the arms of God the Father, the outreach of Jesus gathering us in, the embrace of our Mother Mary and holy Mother Church, all tenderly protecting her children.”

Likewise, the Church must be a sanctuary for all peoples, and the womb must be a sanctuary for all life, he insisted.

“So this evening, in this sanctuary, we praise you, dear God, for those assurances and encouragement of this evening; we have confidence in the sacredness of sanctuary, the sanctuary you intended this earth, this life, your Church, the womb to be, to protect your children and we entrust to you all our efforts to uphold the sacredness, the sanctuary, of human life itself,” he concluded.


Young baker with Down Syndrome an international sensation

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 18:05

Boston, Mass., Jan 26, 2017 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Meet Collette: a talented young baker from the Boston area, who has been working on her own original cookie recipes since 2011. She is also a young woman with Down Syndrome.

Despite her passion for cookies and her talent with baking, she was unable to find a job.

“After rejection over and over again when applying for a job and being told she had great skills but was not 'a good fit,' she was determined to own her own business,” reads her website.

Fueled with ambition, Collette opened a production facility in Boston, where she creates and bakes all her own cookies. Within the first 10 days, over 50,000 cookies were ordered.

She has also received over 65,000 letters from fans across the world, including 100 offers from volunteers who want to help with her new company.

Her business, called Collettey's, also has a website where her cookies can be ordered, shipped and delivered with a note from Collette herself. Currently, her facility in Boston handles about 4,000 daily orders of cookies.

But there is more to Collettey's than just the cookies. The ambitious young baker plans to grow her business, eventually creating facilities in every state across the U.S., which would offer jobs to individuals with disabilities who have trouble finding employment.

Behind every cookie is Collette's dream to employ the disabled. According to her website, 76 percent of the disabled community are unemployed, and she is setting out to change that number.  

After months of perfecting her original cookie recipe, Collette's most popular treat has been a chocolate chip cinnamon cookie, dubbed 'The Amazing Cookie.' She also has created 'The Healthy Breakfast Cookie,' which is made with oats, almonds and dried cranberries.

The determined young baker has become an international sensation, appearing in news articles around the world. Her story has been shown on CBS Nightly News, Good Morning America, CBS local Boson, and countless other magazines and journals.

Collette has started a GoFundMe page, where any donations made will be contributed to her growing business. She has currently reached over $18,000 of her $125,000 goal.

When it comes to choosing abortion, just one person can tip the scales

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 17:39

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2017 / 03:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Just one decision can have a major effect on future generations, pro-life activists told a group of young people at the March for Life conference in the nation’s capital on Thursday.

“When you pull one life out of this world, it changes everything,” said Ryan Bomberger, founder of the Radiance Foundation.

The Radiance Foundation is a “faith-based, life-affirming organization to help people understand and embrace their God-given Purpose.” Bomberger, a black pro-life activist who has brought attention to abortion’s “disproportionate impact in the black community,” delivered the keynote speech at the 2017 March for Life Conference in Washington, D.C., the day before Friday’s march.

Bomberger was conceived in rape. His mother chose to bear him, and his foster parents adopted him along with nine other children into their family of 15.

“This is my family. This is the result of the power of one,” Bomberger said, citing the theme of the 2017 march.

That theme – “the power of one” – is in part drawn from the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring,” from the quote “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

It also was meant to draw attention to the actions of one man, Rep. Henry Hyde, who successfully worked to pass an amendment banning the use of federal Medicaid dollars to directly fund abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

The policy, 40 years old, has been estimated to have saved over 2 million lives that otherwise may have been aborted.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would make the Hyde Amendment permanent, rather than requiring that it to be attached as an amendment on an appropriations bill, which needs new approval each year.

Bomberger used the march’s theme to point to the “power” of one person making one decision to choose life, and the effect that has upon the future.  

“It was one singular decision of my courageous birth mom,” he recalled, noting that “someone had to have spoken life into her” since she “could have gotten a therapeutic abortion” instead.

As for his adoptive mother, Bomberger said that she grew up in a “very rough home” and spent a year in a children’s home when her parents separated. At five years old, she noticed another disabled girl in the home who had no visitors.

“That so profoundly impacted a five year-old girl,” Bomberger said, that she prayed one night “God help me be a mommy to those who don’t have one.”

“Obviously, she followed through, as you can see,” he said, referencing a picture of his extended family which is 62 persons strong through three generations.

“Adoption isn’t just something that transforms the child. It transforms the family, it transforms the community, and sometimes, it even transforms the world,” he said.

“My family gave me love, and God gave me purpose,” he said. “My life has purpose…my children’s lives have purpose.”

A panel following Bomberger’s speech echoed the theme of “the power of one.”

Dr. Jeff Pauls of the Vitae Foundation, which conducts “right-brain research” of pregnancy centers and Planned Parenthood for the pro-life cause, said that according to research, “the vast majority of women who have chosen abortion would not have done so if just one person would have supported them.”

“You be the one,” he told the audience. “If you have somebody that comes up to you, tell them ‘you can do this, and I will help,’” and then “follow that up” through action.

Amy Ford, founder of the group “Embrace Grace” which helps churches minister to and help young mothers who experience unplanned pregnancies, recalled the story of one mother whose life changed after just one encounter with a stranger.

The young girl, who was unmarried and pregnant, had been told by her father that she would “be a horrible mother” and should have an abortion or give the baby up for adoption. However, in an answer to prayer, she met a complete stranger who directed her to others who could help her.

Ford recalled the girl’s words: “My dad said that he thought I would be a horrible mom, but that guy at the UPS store said he thought I would be a good mom.”

Just one person changed her life, Ford said. “We have to be the light of the world,” she said, “and we have to be that to every person that we meet.”


Vice President Mike Pence will speak at the March for Life

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 12:13

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2017 / 10:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Weeks of speculation were confirmed on Thursday, when the White House verified that Vice President Mike Pence will speak at the national March for Life on Jan. 27.

According to the New York Times, a senior White House official confirmed the news the day before the march, which is generally held close to the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

The presence of a sitting vice president is a major boost for the annual pro-life march, which regularly sees hundreds of thousands of attendees from across the country, but generally receives minimal coverage in major media outlets.

Other speakers at this year’s rally and march include Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to President Donald Trump; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson; and former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson.

Pence, who formerly served as governor of Indiana, has long been known for his pro-life stance. During the Vice Presidential debate, he stressed that his Christian faith hinges upon upholding the “sanctity of life.”

“It all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life,” Pence said on the debate stage. “For me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that ancient principle that where God says before you were formed in the womb I knew you.”

He harshly criticized Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine for their support of abortion.

“The very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me. And I can’t conscience about a party that supports that,” he said.

The first week of the new presidential administration has included two major victories for the pro-life movement. On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order restoring the Mexico City Policy, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

In addition, the House of Representatives passed a bill to permanently enshrine in law an annual appropriations provision that bars federal funding of abortion.

Next week, Trump is expected to announce his pick for Supreme Court Justice. He has promised to pick a pro-life replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year.


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US bishops dismayed as Trump vows to build border wall

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 11:27

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2017 / 09:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading bishop expressed alarm and dismay on Wednesday following President Donald Trump’s executive orders to increase immigrant detention centers and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Every day, my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”

President Trump issued multiple executive orders Wednesday on immigration.

He ordered a wall to be built on the U.S.-Mexico border. An estimated 650 miles of the 1,900 mile-long U.S.-Mexico border have a wall constructed currently.

“The purpose of this order is to direct executive departments and agencies to deploy all lawful means to secure the Nation's southern border, to prevent further illegal immigration into the United States, and to repatriate illegal aliens swiftly, consistently, and humanely,” he said.

Saying that he is disheartened by Trump’s decision to prioritize the wall, Bishop Vasquez added that it will “put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way,” could increase the risk of women and child migrants being trafficked, and “destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.”

Trump also ordered the construction of more immigrant detention facilities staffed with more lawyers and personnel to determine asylum claims, and said deportations and asylum hearings should be expedited.

The bishops have already spoken out about abuses of immigrants at detention centers, and Bishop Vasquez expressed “alarm” at Trump’s proposals to build more detention centers and step up deportations.

“It will tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities,” he said.

“While we respect the right of the federal government to control our borders and ensure security for all Americans, we do not believe that a large scale escalation of immigrant detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is the way to achieve those goals.”

President Obama had previously set records for the number of deportations during his presidency, with over 2.5 million deportations of immigrants.

On Wednesday, Trump also called for “sanctuary cities” that harbor undocumented immigrants to be barred from federal funding.

“Aliens who illegally enter the United States without inspection or admission present a significant threat to national security and public safety,” he stated.

“The recent surge of illegal immigration at the southern border with Mexico has placed a significant strain on Federal resources and overwhelmed agencies charged with border security and immigration enforcement, as well as the local communities into which many of the aliens are placed.”

Responding to the announcement, Bishop Vasquez said, “We fear that the policies announced today will make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country.”

“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families,” he continued. “We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God.”


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Leader's resignation unrelated to lawsuit, SNAP says

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 02:04

Chicago, Ill., Jan 26, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A longtime leader of a controversial advocacy group for clergy sex abuse victims resigned weeks before a former employee filed a lawsuit charging the group was receiving kickbacks from attorneys who filed sex abuse cases, the group has said.

David Clohessy resigned as executive director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests effective Dec. 31, SNAP told CNA on Wednesday.

As of Jan. 17, Clohessy was still listed as executive director on the group's website.

The organization voiced gratitude for Clohessy’s dedication; he had worked for the organization since 1991.

Clohessy told the St. Louis Dispatch that the lawsuit had nothing to do with his departure.

“I am just ready for something different,” he said. “It was almost 30 years. I’ve read a lot about nonprofits and organizational development. It’s clear that some new blood always helps.”

He said the lawsuit’s claim that SNAP was getting kickbacks from attorneys was “utterly preposterous.”

The news of his resignation followed the Jan. 17 filing of a lawsuit from former SNAP development director Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who claimed wrongful termination for challenging the organization’s misbehavior. She had worked at the organization from July 2011 through February 2013.

Accusations against the group included alleged kickbacks from attorneys who were suing the Church on behalf of sexual abuse victims. Donations from sex abuse attorneys made up more than 40 percent of its annual contributions, Hammond said.

The lawsuit alleged that the organization disregarded the interests of abuse victims, neglected to provide sufficient counseling for victims, and used publicity about the victims to drive fundraising,

SNAP, together with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Benedict XVI and other Vatican leaders for crimes against humanity related to sex abuse by U.S. clergy. The group traveled to The Hague to make its case.

Hammond claimed SNAP used the funds raised for the trip “for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership.”

The lawsuit charged that “SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”

The lawsuit prompted a flat denial from SNAP president Barbara Blaine.

“The allegations are not true. This will be proven in court,” she said.

Previous legal cases have also involved Clohessy and SNAP.

In a January 2012 deposition, Clohessy declined to answer whether SNAP has a list of attorneys to whom it refers people. He also denied to answer how much money the group receives from attorneys.

He additionally refused to respond to questions about how he has been able to publicly post lawsuit information on the group’s website before it was filed with the court, although he did admit that part of what SNAP does “is to publicize lawsuits against priests.”

That deposition took place after Clohessy lost an effort to avoid being forced to testify in court concerning whether a court-imposed gag order had been violated in the case of a Missouri priest accused of abuse.

In August 2016, a federal judge in Missouri ruled that SNAP made false statements “negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth” against a St. Louis priest to try to convict him on abuse charges. The court established that SNAP sought to convict the priest due to “discriminatory animus against plaintiff based on his religion, religious vocation, race, and national origin.”

Trump wants to halt refugee intake – and Catholic leaders are worried

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 18:32

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2017 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- Amid reports of an imminent executive order to halt most refugee resettlement in the U.S., one international Catholic charitable group is speaking out.

“When we look at what’s happening in Syria and the needs of 21 million refugees around the world, we think that this is our time as Catholics to be the Good Samaritan, regardless of what is expected of us from countries overseas,” Jill Maria Gershutz-Bell, senior legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services, told CNA of the proposed order.

“It’s our turn to show – or really, to maintain – our leadership in welcoming the lost and the least,” she continued, saying CRS was “very concerned” about the reported executive order.

President Donald Trump will reportedly sign an executive order this week halting the influx of refugees into the U.S., except in the cases of religious minorities fleeing persecution. He could also be suspending visas issued to persons from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya.

The temporary ban could last four months, and presidential approval could be required to renew refugee resettlement from Syria.

The reports came the same day as Trump signed executive orders directing that a wall be built on the U.S.-Mexico border, “sanctuary cities” harboring undocumented immigrants be barred from federal funds, and deportations be sped up.

Americans must remember that refugees “are victims” themselves, Gershutz-Bell insisted.

The number of persons worldwide displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded at over 65 million, including over 21 million refugees, according to the United Nations’ refugee office in a 2016 report.

“Wars and persecution” have caused massive numbers of people to flee their homes, including a years-long civil war in Syria, and conflicts in the South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Yemen.

Three countries have produced half the world’s refugees, the UN noted: Syria (4.9 million), Somalia (1.1 million), and Afghanistan (2.7 million). Two of those countries, Syria and Somalia, would be on Trump’s reported visa ban list.

Refugees “need to have the opportunity to demonstrate that they don’t intend any harm to the United Sates, but in fact they’re fleeing the same kind of violence that we’re trying to protect ourselves from,” Gershutz-Bell said.

Accepting and resettling refugees is part of the Catholic mission, she added.

“Pope Francis has been unequivocal about this, and the Catholic Church in the United States has been a leader in responding to refugees for really decades now. It’s part of what it means to be Catholic,” Gershutz-Bell told CNA.

Catholic University of America president John Garvey also spoke out against policies restricting immigration in an op-ed on Tuesday, calling for “an immigration policy rooted in charity and hospitality.”

“We should ‘welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin,’” he said, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2241. “And nations should respect the natural right ‘that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him’,” he continued.

“This generous approach to immigration is neither politically expedient nor free of risk,” he noted. “Many citizens have argued in good faith for a more restrictive policy. But would you not love and admire a country that opened its doors to the tired, the poor, the wretched and the homeless, even if they could not promise it a fair return for its hospitality?”

CRS also reported “indications” that another executive order might direct the State Department and the Defense Department to set up “safe zones” for refugees in and around the Syrian conflict.

“We have really serious concerns about that. The details of a safe zone and how that would be implemented would be critical,” Gershutz-Bell said. “They can actually end up putting targets on the backs of civilians if they’re not carefully executed.”


'Endow' women's group launches outreach to Latinos, millennials

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 08:02

Denver, Colo., Jan 25, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an effort to meet the Church's growth in diversity, the Catholic women's apostolate Endow has announced a new program that will cater to various demographics in the church, including Latino women and millennials.

“With the advent of new technologies, rapidly changing social issues, and changing demographics in the Church, we recognize the need to remain flexible, leveraging the new tools and data available via digital to test unique approaches, while continuing to support the core audiences who have come to benefit from our ministry,” said Martha Reichert, the president of Endow, in a recent press release.

Endow was founded in 2003 in a collaborative effort between lay women and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. Now, the program is a leading women's apostolate that is present in over 130 dioceses and reaches approximately 33,000 women.

Endow's goal is to inspire, uplift and educate women through the teachings of the Catholic Church, mainly drawing from Pope St. John Paul II's “Letter to Women.” Their programs also offer a space for community and encouragement, where women from all areas of life can meet and learn more about themselves through the lenses of church teaching.

“Endow has paved the way over the last 15 years, bringing the Church's beautiful teaching on the 'genius' of women and the 'new feminism' to women all across the United States,” said Archbishop Gomez in the press release.

Now, Endow is revamping their outreach in a big way to include programs in Spanish, which has already been implemented in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – an area that is about 70 percent Latino.

“Through our Hispanic Program, developed on the ground in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and our new visual identity and social-data driven approach for online outreach, we believe we have found the right strategy to allow us to reach new women, while at the same time providing a better way to connect with our core constituency of women across the country,” Reichert stated.

So far, the program has produced about 45 groups, reaching over 2,000 women.

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles spoke highly of Endow's new effort, saying that he has been inspired by the Latino program, and has high hopes for future endeavors.

“The great success of Endow's outreach to Hispanic women and parishes here in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California has been inspiring. I am hopeful that we can continue to grow and bring this beautiful teaching to Hispanic women in every diocese in the country,” Archbishop Gomez said.

In addition to the Hispanic program, Endow has also made steps to update the overall digital underworkings of the program, giving a facelift to their website and kick starting a newly revised social media strategy.

By implementing these steps, Endow hopes to also reach the new millennial generation of women in the Church, while maintaining their current audience of women.

Endow is hopeful that their new steps in creating a more diverse outreach will only bring more women together in the name of Christian education. More information about Endow can be found at

Snapchat's new guidelines will restrict sexually suggestive content

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 19:47

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 24, 2017 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- Snapchat users tired of frequently seeing scantily-clad members of the Kardashian family in Discover stories will be happy to hear that the popular social platform has heard their complaints.

In response to criticism and a lawsuit, Snapchat announced yesterday that it was updating its policies on its Discover section, which features syndicated snap stories from select publishers that are viewed by more than 100 million users every month.

The new guidelines more explicitly restrict news and photos that lack editorial value, and clarify ambiguous language regarding policies on stories containing nudity, profanity and violence.

Snapchat also created a tool that allowed publishers to prevent users under 18 from seeing certain content. The company has also reserved the right to block inappropriate content from users under 18.  

Social media experts told the New York Times that the changes could have a positive effect on potential advertisers, who now may be more willing to place stories in the cleaned-up section.

The changes came in response to a class action lawsuit that was brought against the company in July which alleged that the Discover section intentionally exposed minors “to harmful, offensive, prurient and sexually offensive content without warning minors or their parents that they would be exposed to such explicit content,” according to a report from the New York Times.

The lawsuit cited examples of offensive content, including a Buzzfeed story that featured sexualized Disney characters, and a story from Cosmopolitan about an artist who let others touch her inappropriately.

The lawsuit was dismissed in November, as both sides agreed to settle.

Also at this time, a separate petition was started against Snapchat by Malissa Richardson, a Millennial Snapchat user who said she was tired of seeing the “sexually explicit headlines and pictures” that “bombarded” the Discover section of her feed.

“I do not care to see articles about how to improve my sex life, how to lose my virginity, or what I should know about what guys like in bed. To me, that is offensive and disgusting. What frustrates even me more is that I am not the only person exposed to this pornographic material. I hate to think that my younger siblings, friends, and millions of other young people as young as 13 years old are exposed to this content multiple times a day without the option of blocking it,” Richardson wrote in the description of her petition on   

The campaign, entitled #NoThanksSnapchat, rapidly caught on, and easily surpassed its goal of 10,000 signatures overnight. The petition currently has more than 26,000 signatures.

Fight the New Drug, an organization that fights pornography addiction among young people, applauded Richardson’s efforts and Snapchat’s new guidelines in a recent blog post: “Moral of the story? Never be afraid to speak out and fight for real love, no matter what. You never know what kind of change it can create.”


US House votes to permanently ban federal abortion funding

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 17:28

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2017 / 03:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. House of Representatives passed its first major pro-life bill of the new year on Tuesday, one which would solidify in law the current policy of no federal funding of abortions.

The bill would “protect Americans’ conscience rights by ensuring that their hard-earned tax dollars are not used to fund the destruction of innocent life,” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said on the House Floor before the vote.

Federal funding for abortion is largely prohibited under the 40-year-old Hyde Amendment, named after its original sponsor Rep. Henry Hyde. However, that amendment has to be passed by Congress every year as a “rider” to appropriations bills, clarifying that the taxpayer dollars cannot abortions.

The amendment enjoyed decades of bipartisan support. The most recent Democratic National Committee platform, however, called for its repeal.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, passed Tuesday by a 238-183 vote and sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would solidify this policy in law, so that it does not need to be annually reapproved by Congress.

It would expand on current protections against taxpayer funding of abortion to other areas, such as federal employee health plans. It would also extend to the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that no federal subsidies fund abortion coverage in plans offered on the exchanges.

A 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office found loopholes where insurers were not following the protocol to make sure abortions were billed and itemized separately from other health coverage paid for by federal subsidies, leaving open the possibility that federal dollars were funding abortions.

“More than 20 peer-reviewed studies show that more than two million people are alive today because of Hyde,” Rep. Smith stated on Tuesday.

He said there is a “megatrend” showing “that the American public not only does not support taxpayer funding for abortion but the public increasingly supports actions to protect unborn children and women from the violence of abortion.”

According to a Marist poll released earlier this week and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, 61 percent of respondents opposed the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions. That included 53 percent of Millennials and even 41 percent of Democrats.

President Trump has signaled that he would sign the bill if it was passed by Congress. The Senate will have to pass it first.

Rep. Black stressed that pro-life women would be represented by the bill.

She recalled that “it was just a week ago that the groups of women marched in the streets of D.C. and other cities across the country,” referring to the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington where pro-life groups were explicitly denied official partnership in the march by its organizers.

“There were millions of pro-life women who were explicitly told that they were unwelcome at this event,” Black said. “So today, the people’s House is giving them and the more than 60 percent of Americans from all political persuasions who oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, a voice.”

As a registered nurse who worked for decades in health care, Rep. Black said she opposed abortion and any funding of the practice with tax money.

“During my years in the health care industry, I saw the joy in young parents’ eyes when they met their newborn for the very first time,” she said. “And sadly, I witnessed a young woman lose her life due to the effects of a botched abortion. These experiences inform my view that all life is a previous gift from God. I pray that in time, this truth will be reflected in our nation’s laws. But until then, can’t we at least do this much?”

Abortion is not women’s health care, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) insisted. “What we are vehemently opposed to is the killing of innocent lives,” she said, adding that “there is no place in the federal budget for abortion funding.”

“Madame Speaker, someday future generations of Americans will look back and wonder how and why such a seemingly smart and enlightened society could have permitted over 60 million children to be exterminated by abortion often with government enabling and subsidy,” Rep. Smith stated.


At Planned Parenthood, 'women's health' often does not include prenatal care

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 16:56

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2017 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Scalding new charges from a pro-life investigative group say that despite Planned Parenthood’s claims to be a premier women’s health care provider, the organization generally does not offer prenatal care.

“Planned Parenthood says it’s a champion of women’s health care, yet prenatal care, which is an essential service for expectant mothers, is virtually nonexistent,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of the group Live Action.

The group released a video Tuesday morning that it says will be the first in an “Abortion Corporation” series of reports investigating Planned Parenthood.

The video features audio of clinic workers allegedly telling Live Action representatives posing as potential clients that, contrary to advertisement, the clinics do not provide prenatal care.

“No, we don’t do prenatal services. I mean, it’s called ‘Planned Parenthood,’ I know it’s kind of deceiving,” one clinic worker at a Merrillville, Ind. clinic allegedly told Live Action.

“No, see, we don’t see pregnant women as a way of giving prenatal care. We see pregnant women, um, you know, if they are considering other options,” a Santa Fe, N.M. clinic worker allegedly told the group.

The report was conducted through phone calls, undercover visits to clinics, and investigations from the Live Action team. Inquiries were made of 97 clinics at 41 Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country. Only five of them said they offered prenatal care.

“We found that at all these facilities that prenatal care is virtually non-existent for mothers,” Rose stated.  

Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion organization, performing around 330,000 abortions annually. The group also offers contraceptives and abortifacients to clients, and on a much smaller scale, performs other services like cancer screenings and pap smears.

Despite the group’s claims, Planned Parenthood does not primarily offer “women’s health care,” but is rather a lobby for “abortion on-demand,” opposing even partial-birth abortion bans, Rose charged.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said in 2011 that “prenatal care” was part of “the kinds of services that folks depend on Planned Parenthood for.”

Yet as the group Americans United for Life noted in 2015, the number of prenatal services Planned Parenthood claimed to have offered fell drastically from 2009 to 2013, according to its annual reports. The organization reported offering 40,489 prenatal services in 2009, but only 18,684 in 2013.

And Richards has stopped touting the organization’s record on prenatal services in her interviews on why Planned Parenthood should continue receiving federal funding. Speaking with the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah last week, Richards discussed the services Planned Parenthood offers as including “well-woman visits,” “cancer screenings,” and STI/STD testing and treatment, but made no mention of prenatal care.

The organization has been at the center of controversy in recent years. A previous Live Action investigation showed clinics in six different states failing to report suspicious cases of statutory rape of minors seeking abortions.

Another investigation by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom showed that, according to federal and state audits, taxpayer dollars were funding abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics, despite federal regulations which forbid federal funding of abortion.  

And in 2015, the Center for Medical Progress aired a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood doctors discussing prices of fetal tissue from aborted babies with investigators posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company.

A movement is underway in Congress to strip the organization of federal funding and redirect the money to community health centers that do not perform abortions. President Donald Trump has voiced his support for such a measure.

Planned Parenthood claims that abortions account for only three percent of the total services they provide, although fact-checkers – at the Washington Post among others – have taken issue with that claim, pointing out that Planned Parenthood counts each small procedure like a pregnancy test or a pap smear as a service provided, but abortion accounts for much greater cost and revenue for the organization.

And while the organization performs only two percent of cancer screenings in the U.S. and one percent of pap smear tests, it performs 30 percent of abortions in the country, Live Action says.

“Our investigators who wanted to keep their babies were turned away by 92 out of 97 Planned Parenthood centers. It’s clear that despite its claims, abortion is the priority and the only option for pregnant women that visit Planned Parenthood,” Rose said.


Poll: 6 in 10 Americans favor 20-week abortion ban

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 20:07

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2017 / 06:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the 44th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. a survey shows a “consensus” favoring a 20-week abortion ban, which President Trump has pledged to sign into law if passed by Congress.

“There is a consensus in America in favor of significant abortion restrictions, and this common ground exists across party lines, and even among significant numbers of those who are pro-choice,” Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson stated Jan. 23.

“This poll shows that large percentages of Americans, on both sides of the aisle, are united in their opposition to the status quo as it relates to abortion on demand. This is heartening and can help start a new national conversation on abortion.”

A new Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus surveyed over 2,700 adults on abortion restrictions like bans on taxpayer funding of abortions and laws restricting elective abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy.

The poll was released days ahead of Friday’s March for Life, the 44th annual pro-life march in Washington, D.C. held on or around Jan. 22 since 1974. It commemorates the date the Supreme Court decided a woman’s right to an abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973.  

Almost six in ten Americans (59 percent) supported a ban on abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with an exception of when the life of the mother is at stake, according to the poll.

“Pain-capable” legislation enacting a similar ban has been passed by the U.S. House and in 19 states. Medical research has shown that unborn babies can feel pain at around 20 weeks of pregnancy.  

There was “strong support across the board” for this ban in the poll, Andrew Walther, vice president of communications and strategic planning for the Knights of Columbus, said in a conference call with reporters, including among “a majority of those who identify as pro-choice.”

63 percent of African-Americans and 58 percent of Latinos favored such a ban, poll numbers showed, and even 49 percent of Democrats supported it. 59 percent of Independents favored the ban.

Almost three-fourths of respondents favored restrictions on abortion either to the first trimester of pregnancy (22 percent), in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother (30 percent), only to save the life of the mother (12 percent), or never under any circumstances (10 percent).

Over one in three thought restrictions limiting abortion to the first trimester except to save the life of the mother to be an “immediate” priority.

There was a “groundswell of support across a number” of demographics for abortion restrictions, Walther said, including among many African-Americans, Latinos, and even a significant portion of political Democrats.

The vast majority of African-Americans (79 percent), Latinos (79 percent), and political Independents (72 percent) wanted “significant restrictions” on abortion like limits to the first trimester, or bans except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake, the poll revealed.

Since 2008, poll respondents favoring one or all these restrictions has totaled “consistently about three-quarters or better,” Walther explained.

Also, a majority of Americans do describe themselves as “pro-choice,” the poll revealed, with 52 percent saying they were “pro-choice.” 42 percent of respondents said they were “pro-life.”

However, the survey shows that “when we go beyond those labels” of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” that Americans identify with and start “asking questions about what people actually feel in terms of their positions,” Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll explained on the conference call, “there’s actually a consensus that people really do want restrictions” on abortion.

“A lot of people” who identify as “pro-choice” may not favor legal abortion in all scenarios, Walther explained, and may actually want significant restrictions on when it can take place.

And, when respondents were asked about their “intensity” for their pro-life or pro-choice position, pro-lifers were “about 10 points more intense in that support” than pro-choicers, Walther said, revealing “stronger intensity on the pro-life side.”

While the majority of Millennials said they were “pro-choice,” a majority of them wanted abortion limited either to the first trimester (23 percent) or to cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother (29 percent).

Almost six in ten Millennials supported a 20-week abortion ban, and almost just as many non-practicing Catholics (61 percent) as practicing Catholics (62 percent) supported the ban.

Almost six in ten Americans expressed “moral objections” to abortion, including 59 percent of political Independents, 63 percent of African-Americans, 62 percent of Latinos, and even 40 percent of Democrats. Half of Millennials said abortion was “morally wrong.”

Half of respondents said abortion “does more harm than good” to a woman’s life in the long-term, including more Millennials (44 percent) who said it does than who said it improves a woman’s life (40 percent).

Other restrictions, like on taxpayer funding of abortion, were met with widespread support in the poll.

61 percent of respondents – including 87 percent of Trump supporters and 39 percent of Clinton supporters – opposed taxpayer funding of abortions in the U.S., which is currently policy under the Hyde Amendment.

The No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, expected to be voted on by the House on Tuesday, would solidify this provision in law, as it currently must be passed every year by Congress as a budget rider.

Regarding the direct taxpayer funding of abortions in foreign countries – prohibited in U.S. foreign assistance by the Helms Amendment – 83 percent of respondents opposed such funding.

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday reinstating the Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. assistance to international non-governmental organizations that perform or “promote” abortions.

Doctors and medical providers who conscientiously refuse to perform or participate in abortions should be allowed to do so, 6 in 10 respondents said, including 45 percent of pro-choice respondents and 62 percent of Independents.

Other recent polls on abortion have shown a majority of Americans in favor of some restrictions, though to what extent they support these restrictions is not always clear. Earlier in January, a Quinnipiac poll showed 34 percent of Americans saying abortion should be “legal in most cases,” while 32 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases. However, statistics show that the vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy.

In that same poll, Americans were equally divided on a 20-week abortion ban in their home state, with 46 percent both supporting and opposing such a ban.

Back in October, a Pew Research poll showed 36 percent of Americans saying abortion should be legal in most cases, with 22 percent saying it should be legal in all cases. 23 percent said it should be illegal in most cases, and 14 percent said it should be illegal in all cases.

The Marist Poll numbers also broke down the views of practicing and non-practicing Catholics on the issue.

Six in ten practicing Catholics said they were pro-life while 37 percent said they were pro-choice. However, among non-practicing Catholics those numbers switched, with 64 percent identifying as pro-choice and 31 percent as pro-life.

84 percent of practicing Catholics said abortion should be limited to the first trimester of pregnancy, allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, or not allowed at all. 71 percent of non-practicing Catholics favored some or all of those restrictions.