Charlotte, N.C., Mar 23, 2017 / 09:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new, epic narrative about the life of Mary, Queen of Heaven has just been released with the hope of drawing individuals closer to the Mother of God during the upcoming 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.
“We wanted to tell the story of Fatima. But, what the story of Fatima is really is the story of a battle,” Rick Rotondi, Vice President of New Business at Saint Benedict Press, told CNA.
“That battle goes a long way back to the very beginning of the Bible, with enmity with the serpent. It’s a long story and that’s what we are trying to tell: the battle that Our Lady is engaged with in modern times,” he continued.
The new program is titled Queen of Heaven: Mary's Battle for You and was released by Saint Benedict Press only a few weeks ago. The video series is broken down into eight different segments, in a document-style format and is hosted by Leonardo Defilippis, a Shakespearean actor and founder of St. Luke Productions.
Throughout the segments, over a dozen theological experts such as Tim Staples, Fr. Dominic Legge, Dr. Carrie Gress, and Fr. Chris Alar weigh in on the life of the Mother of God. The videos also take viewers around the country to places like the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the World Apostolate of Fatima Shrine, and the St. John Paul II National Shrine, where parts of the program were filmed.
The program was created for group study in parishes, where individuals can come together and learn more about the Queen of Heaven as a parish. However, individual study is possible through the use of DVDs.
“As you go through the program, you are learning about the richness of the Marian devotions and how to incorporate them in your life. That full experience is reserved for the parishes, but individuals will have access to the DVD content and a book,” Rotondi said.
Rotondi, who is also one of the script writers and developers for the program, noted that the whole series took about nine months to complete, and is a unique program unlike any other.
The release of the series at the beginning of March “was very deliberate,” Rotondi explained, saying that the centenary of Our Lady of Fatima was the driving force behind its debut.
“Seventy-five percent of the content is a study of Mary in the Bible and Mariology, the study of Marian doctrine, and even Our Lady of Lourdes and Guadalupe. Twenty-five percent is Fatima,” Rotondi stated.
Since its release only a few weeks ago, Saint Benedict Press has received positive feedback about the series, and they hope it continues to grow.
“It’s in a number of parishes currently, and we are getting very favorable responses,” Rotondi said.
Moving forward, the material for Queen of Heaven is also going to be available in a Spanish edition this summer, and DVDs will be released later this year. A book will also be published this May.
Rotondi believes that the goal behind this new series is “to have a deeper love of Our Lady,” and he hopes this program will be able to draw individuals closer to the Mother of God.
“Our Lady always brings us to her Son. I think a lot of people who will watch this love our Lord already, but may have not yet considered Our Lady in these ways,” Rotondi said.
“The greatness of Our Lord is also revealed fully when you realize what a beautiful Queen he has.”
Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 23, 2017 / 03:39 am (CNA).- Any Yelp-savvy person looking for a coffee shop in the midst of the University of Southern California’s surrounding urban streets may be lured by extensive positive reviews and a four-and-a-half star-rating to a little café dozens of reviewers call “an oasis.”
Located behind St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church, the Ignatius Café is very easy to miss. Near the bustling intersection of Adams Blvd. and Vermont Ave., the café is gated discreetly behind hedges, making it easy to understand why countless reviewers have described it as “a hidden gem.”
The Ignatius Café is housed in a beautifully preserved turn-of-the-century home, which stands before blossoming rose bushes, with tables and umbrellas situated under vine arches. Fresh flowers sit on every table of the warmly-decorated house. The overwhelming aroma of the café’s fair trade Ethiopian coffee beans envelope customers in warmth, as cheery volunteers bustle around tables with the most painstakingly-created foamed barista achievements. This is not your average coffee shop. To quote one USC student, “It’s like pressing the pause button on life. Over coffee.”
But the real reason this isn’t your average coffee shop is the patent missionary focus of the café: the statue of Mary standing in gardens as overseer of the café, the church bells ringing on the hour in the background and the visibility of its white-collared founder busily managing the café and greeting every visitor with a luminous smile: Father Robert Choi.
When Father Choi’s superior sent him from Korea to work as a pastor in Los Angeles in 2010, he brought with him an extensive background in coffee brewing. Pour-over coffee had recently been introduced by Japan to Korea and was quickly gaining in popularity. Father Choi received certification and training from the elite Coffee Quality Institute, getting technical training on producing sustainable, high quality coffee while enhancing the livelihoods of the growers. This training equipped Father Choi with a passion for the craftsmanship, social consciousness and esteemed quality for which his café is now known.
As a Korean-speaking pastor with a new parish in a foreign country, Father Choi needed a way to engage his new community in a language he could speak. That’s where his old passion for coffee came in. Coffee would be his simple, humble manner of communicating a grand mystical love that a language barrier impinged him from telling.
LOS ANGELES I Finding God in all things — even coffee: https://t.co/lxg1l1N86w pic.twitter.com/AREacgSJC4
— Angelus News (@AngelusNews) March 17, 2017 “The Church should be a place open for all and a method for connecting to the less fortunate. I created the Ignatius Café to fulfill this,” explained Father Choi, “I want it to be a place where anyone, regardless of their beliefs, can come and rest. I want it to be a physical manifestation of the act of practicing love.”
Communicating this message of love was something St. Agnes Parish was more than eager to do. With his parish supporting him, Father Choi said setting up the café was not difficult. They set it up to rely solely on volunteers and accept payment in the form of donations. All proceeds are given to charities that support disadvantaged groups, including Catholic Relief Services, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Sudan Relief Fund and many others. Interested parishioners go through a rigorous coffee education program and board exam. And then they go to work under the guiding mission of the café, inspired by its namesake, St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Find God in all things.”
It is this prayerful spirit that emanates from the café. You feel it in the deliberate and quiet contemplation of the elderly man hand-sorting coffee beans on the front porch of the café. It’s in the wee hours of every morning when Father Choi operates the café’s roaster. It’s in the sweat of the St. Agnes parishioner who painstakingly weeds the gardens. And it’s in the knowing compassion of a volunteer when a customer forgets their money.
“You can find faith within life and life within faith,” Father Choi said. “Christian life is not defined by finding God through exquisite works, but rather through ordinary instances.”
The “ordinary instances” that Father Choi created the café for have had an extraordinary impact. There have been café frequenters who became interested in Catholicism and were eventually baptized. There were lapsed Catholics who said the café played an integral role in restoring their faith. And the parish’s young adult community has steadily been growing inspired by the welcoming spot to meet. Most customers who come to the café, however, may not recognize the grand evangelizing mission, but may just remember it as a place where they felt at home, where they were loved.
“I love this place. The little ladies who work here are awesome!” one customer said. “You just feel so welcomed here! It feels like going to grandma’s house.”
USC students, professionals, coffee connoisseurs and parishioners alike are given a moment of love in a cup of coffee.
“Coffee is just a means. It’s a way for Father Choi to give people love,” one of the café’s volunteers, Jonathon Ko, said. “Love is what holds this place together. It’s the love the priest shows to the volunteers. And in turn the volunteers show love to the customers. And the customers’ donations impart love to the charity recipients.”
Father Choi has created a philosophy for the coffee creation process that he imparts to each one of his volunteers.
“There is a scientific aspect that cannot be ignored. But, ideally, we will integrate faith with science, prayer with skill and mind with theory,” said Father Choi. “One should approach life as they would for the extraction of a cup of coffee, unifying faith and life in one synonymous relationship.
“Every time I brew a cup of coffee,” he added, “I am able to thank God, bless the farmers who reaped the crops and provide peace to the individual who drinks it. With this sentiment I am able to see God in all things.”
This story originally appeared at AngelusNews.com
Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The intense debate over U.S. refugee and migrant policy is a chance to meet newcomers and understand others' concerns, the country's bishops have said, warning against fear and mistreatment of others.
“It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity,” said the March 22 statement from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' administrative committee.
“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: 'We are with you.'”
Immigrant or refugee families may themselves be seeking security from extremist violence, the bishops said. Their statement, titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” aimed to voice solidarity with those who have fled their homes because of violence, conflict or fear.
The statement comes at a time of significant debate over U.S. refugee and immigration policy under President Donald Trump, who campaigned on more restrictive policies.
His latest executive order on refugees calls for a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions and an entry ban on most foreign nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries. The order caps refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017, a decline from 85,000 in fiscal year 2016.
Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the temporary refugee ban and the travel ban from taking effect. The Hawaii-based federal district court said the state of Hawaii's lawsuit against the travel ban made a strong enough case that it unfairly discriminated against Muslims seeking entry into the U.S. and that the ban would significantly injure the state’s tourism industry and university system.
President Trump's other executive orders have sought an increase in immigrant detention centers and the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The U.S. bishops' statement welcomed debate over policy, but criticized the “rhetoric of fear.”
“When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked. “Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children.”
Catholics need to show solidarity for migrants and refugees, the bishops said. They should pray for an end to the root causes of violence that cause people to flee.
“Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own,” the statement said. “Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and help them know their rights.”
“It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”
The bishops urged Catholics to call their elected representatives and “ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”
They placed immigration debate in a Christian context.
“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”
They cited the Biblical command not to mistreat alien residents, in the Book of Leviticus: “you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Another source for the bishops was Pope Francis’ comments that migration is “that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued.”
“For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland,” the Pope said.
Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch made a crucial ethical distinction in his response to questions about doctor-prescribed suicide during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, said one ethicist.
When asked what his views were on end-of-life care in the case of a terminal patient enduring unbearable pain, Gorsuch replied that “anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death. Not intentionally, but knowingly. I drew the line between intent and knowingly.”
This is an important distinction, said Edward Furton Ph.D., director of publications and an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He told CNA that the situation presents the case of “double-effect,” where proper steps taken to alleviate a patient’s pain may have the side effect of causing their death, but are permissible when certain conditions are met.
“You’ve got a good intention, the action you’re doing is good – in this case, it’s alleviating the pain with appropriate amounts of medication,” he explained, emphasizing that the dosage of pain medication may never be lethal and should not render the patient unconscious except when “absolutely necessary.”
“You’ve got a side effect, which is not intended, but is foreseen. It is going to happen, but you don’t want it to happen, you’re doing your action for another reason. And there is really no other route to alleviate the pain. So this is perfectly appropriate, it makes good sense,” Furton said.
Gorsuch, a judge on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, faced his third day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as he is considered for confirmation to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
He wrote a book in 2006 on “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” Gorsuch explored various arguments made in favor of doctor-prescribed suicide and euthanasia before offering his own observations and opinions.
The book “was my doctoral dissertation, essentially,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It was written “in my capacity as a commentator” and not as a judge, he clarified. The book was published the same year he was nominated and confirmed to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
He argued in the book that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” Regarding doctor-prescribed suicide, he upheld laws prohibiting it, basing his argument upon “secular moral theory.”
Asked by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) to briefly discuss his book, Gorsuch suggested that doctor-prescribed suicide could pose a significant threat “to the least amongst us – the vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled.”
It does this by becoming a cheap end-of-life option offered to vulnerable people, he said. “I do know that when you have a more expensive option and a cheaper option, those who can’t afford the more expensive option tend to get thrust into the cheaper option.”
“It’s a long book. It’s complicated. And I do not profess to have the right, final, or complete answer,” he admitted. “I hoped, at most, to contribute to a discussion on an unanswered social question where all people – and I do think all people – have a good faith interest in trying to reach some consensus socially on it.”
Currently, doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in six states and in the District of Columbia, with some 25 states to consider legalizing it this year.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pressed Gorsuch on the matter on Wednesday, citing California’s End of Life Option Act that legalized the procedure in the state.
“I, in my life, have seen people die horrible deaths – family, of cancer – when there was no hope. And my father, begging me, ‘stop this Diane, I’m dying’,” she explained. “And my father was a professor of surgery.”
“And the suffering becomes so pronounced – I just went through this with a close friend – that this is real. And it’s very hard,” she continued, asking him what he thought of California’s law.
Gorsuch, speaking in his personal capacity, said that for some terminal patients, “at some point, you want to be left alone. Enough with the poking and the prodding. ‘I want to go home and die in my own bed in the arms of my family’.”
“And the Supreme Court recognized in Cruzan” – a 1990 decision on an end-of-life case – “that that’s a right in common law, to be free from assault and battery, effectively. And assumed that there was a Constitutional dimension to that. I agree.”
Gorsuch added that the matter of a terminal, suffering patient foregoing treatment was a personal one for him.
“Your father, we’ve all been through it with family. My heart goes out to you. It does. And I’ve been there with my dad. And others,” he told Feinstein.
Speaking as an ethicist, Furton clarified that in end-of-life cases, pain management may certainly be used but should never be an overdose and should not render the patient unconscious except in extraordinary circumstances.
Pain medication should be “measured, so that it matches the pain that the patient is experiencing,” he said.
“You can’t just give them a massive dose, or something like that,” he said, as “it would bring about their death in a way that was not measured and not connected to a proper intention which is to alleviate the pain.”
And medication should not induce unconsciousness, except in extraordinary cases, he insisted.
“Another important element is that the loss of consciousness in a person who is dying is very significant, and shouldn’t happen unless it’s absolutely necessary, because we should meet our Maker alert and in a prayerful way,” he added.
Furton praised Gorsuch’s knowledge and treatment of the matter as someone who “has obviously thought about these issues very carefully.”
“So I think we should be happy that he has such a strong sense of where to draw the line in a case such as this, where you’ve got a person with intractable pain and needs to have it remedied,” Furton said.
“He understands that that is not intentionally killing somebody. It’s not euthanasia, it’s not physician-assisted suicide. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between those two, so it’s good that he does because he’s obviously going to be a man of considerable power and importance in the area of law.”
Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 22, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bridge featuring crosses on the property of Villanova, a Catholic university in a Philadelphia suburb, will be built despite complaints from some local taxpayers.
After an hour long debate, the Board of Commissioners of the township of Radnor voted 6-0 last month to approve the controversial pedestrian bridge that will connect Villanova University's main campus with an expansion of the campus.
The crux of the debate was the two, 4-foot 7-inch crosses planned for the top of the bridge, which will be visible to travelers on Route 30 underneath. Some local taxpayers complained that the school was crossing the line of separation of church and state by placing the crosses over a public road.
“I think they are overstepping their sense of ecumenism to shove these crosses in our faces," Sara Pilling, a longtime resident and opponent of the crosses, told The Inquirer Daily News before the meeting.
Others argued that taxpayer dollars should not fund a bridge that will feature displays of religion.
Villanova officials argued that the school was within its rights to place crosses on the bridge, which will be owned by the university and on university property.
“On every building on campus, there’s a cross,” Fr. Peter Donohue, university president, told the Inquirer.
“I understand people’s sensitivities, but it’s just something we’ve always done. It’s just part of who we are. We are a faith-based institution.”
Some locals believe that a compromise would be to turn the crosses so they face the pedestrians, or to incorporate them into the design of the bridge in a more subtle way.
“While we recognize the importance of Villanova to our community and the notoriety it brings to Radnor, are there less ostentatious ways to reflect a Catholic institution?” said Roberta Winters, president of the League of Women Voters of Radnor, in an interview with The Inquirer.
Commissioner Luke Clark told local media that the bridge has been in the works for a long time, and is a way to keep safe the hundreds of students who cross that road every day.
“The design looks great. The crosses are going to go up there. Is it right or wrong? I don’t know. But at the end of the day it is on their property. They are a religious institution and the law for the most part is in their favor,” said Clark.
Even after the board unanimously voted to approve the bridge, some concerned locals contacted the non-profit Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation wrote a “strongly worded letter” to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), contending that they were unconstitutionally funding Christian symbols on the bridge and asked them to removed either the crosses or their funding.
The department told local media that its $3.7 million contribution to the project was for the portion of the span over the right of way it controls.
PennDOT said it could not control what the university did with its own property and with its own funds, which are providing for the crosses and most of the bridge.
After the township vote Villanova's assistant vice president of government relations and external affairs Chris Kovolski told The Inquirer: "We're pleased that the conversation tonight resulted in an outcome that allows the university to move forward."
Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 12:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Judge Neil Gorsuch deserves “swift confirmation” to the U.S. Supreme Court, leaders of pro-life and pro-family groups have said.
“Neil Gorsuch has proven himself to be a defender of the most basic human rights,” said the March 20 letter, organized by the Susan B. Anthony List and addressed to U.S. Senators.
The letter cited Gorsuch’s book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” in which he said “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
Over 50 leaders signed the letter, including representatives of the Susan B. Anthony List, Live Action, National Right to Life, Students for Life, and state pro-life groups and pro-family groups.
They praised Gorsuch as an intelligent and fair-minded nominee with a fitting temperament, citing his 2006 unanimous confirmation by the Senate to his current seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We believe that Judge Gorsuch’s thoughtful opinions illuminate how he would decide difficult questions on the Supreme Court,” the letter said.
If approved by the Senate, Gorsuch’s presence on the Supreme Court could affect important cases involving religious freedom and legal abortion, among others.
The letter praised the judge’s “keen understanding and respect for religious liberty” in the cases of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor. Both faced federal requirements to provide employee health insurance coverage for drugs and procedures they considered to be violations of religion and ethics. They filed legal challenges saying the mandates were unconstitutionally burdensome on their religious freedom.
“Many of our organizations applauded Judge Gorsuch when he evinced a keen understanding and respect for religious liberty in cases involving Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor, concluding that application of the Affordable Care Act’s preventive service mandate, coupled with massive fines on religious objectors to elements of the mandate, substantially burdens religious liberty.”
The letter also cited Gorsuch’s dissent in a 10th Circuit panel decision that sided with abortion provider Planned Parenthood.
The panel overrode the finding of a federal district court over Planned Parenthood’s alleged involvement in violations of laws barring the procurement of fetal tissue for profit. The panel also issued an injunction against the Utah governor’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood over the allegations.
Gorsuch said the panel majority failed to follow appropriate standards of judicial review and failed to show customary deference to the lower court’s factual findings.
According to the March 20 letter, Gorsuch would apply an “originalist” approach to the U.S. Constitution and would respect the separation of powers in the tradition of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The letter praised the Gorsuch’s statement that judges should “administer justice equally to rich and poor alike, following the law as they find it and without respect to their personal political beliefs.”
Several of the letter’s signers, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, served on the Catholic advisory board to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president.
Gorsuch, an Epsicopalian, has clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He earned his doctorate at Oxford University, where his studies were supervised by the influential Catholic legal philosopher and natural law theorist John Finnis.
Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 21, 2017 / 09:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Pennsylvania high school wrongly allowed a female student into the boys’ locker room and violated an undressing male student’s privacy and his right to be free from harassment, a lawsuit charges.
“No school should rob any student of his legally protected personal privacy,” said Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania-based Independence Law Center, a co-counsel to the lawsuit.
“We trust that our children won’t be forced into emotionally vulnerable situations like this when they are in the care of our schools because it’s a school’s duty to protect and respect the bodily privacy and dignity of all students. In this case, school officials are clearly ignoring that duty.”
The student, named in the lawsuit as “Joel Doe,” was in a locker room in his underwear about to put on gym clothes when he noticed a female student in the locker room, also in a state of undress.
When the male student complained to school officials, they told him that students who identify as the opposite sex may choose their locker room. When the male student asked officials to protect his privacy, the officials allegedly told him to tolerate the behavior and make changing clothes in the presence of the student as natural as possible.
The school is in Boyertown Area School District, which covertly allowed students of the opposite sex into its schools’ locker rooms and restrooms, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, a co-counsel in the case. The district allegedly did not notify parents of the change.
The lawsuit against the school district was filed March 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It claims the student suffered sexual harassment prohibited under Title IX of federal law, violation of privacy guarantees under the U.S. Constitution, and violation of state privacy law.
“Our laws and customs have long recognized that we shouldn’t have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex,” said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, who said state law requires schools to have separate facilities on the basis of sex.
She charged that some schools are “forcing our children into giving up their privacy rights.”
Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2017 / 04:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The judge nominated to replace Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court answered questions on abortion and religious freedom jurisprudence on Tuesday.
While he avoided commenting on how he may rule in certain cases, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals discussed the legal principles underlying topics such as the right to life and freedom of religious expression.
Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he acknowledged Roe v. Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S. – as settled precedent, though he declined to say whether it was decided correctly and how he would rule in future abortion cases.
Tuesday marked the second day of the committee’s confirmation hearing for Judge Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch was tapped by President Donald Trump in February to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.
Trump had insisted while on the campaign trail in 2016 that he would appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
When asked at the final presidential debate in October if, as president, he wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S., Trump answered that “if that would happen, because I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life justices…it [the legality of abortion] will go back to the individual states.”
On Tuesday, Gorsuch was asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “whether Roe was decided correctly.” Gorsuch answered that the decision “is the precedent of the United States Supreme Court.”
Roe, he said, “was reaffirmed in Casey in 1992 and in several other cases. So a good judge will consider a precedent of the United States Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other.”
When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member on the committee, asked Gorsuch about assumptions that he could vote to overturn Roe, he reiterated that it was “settled.”
“Once a case is settled, that adds to the determinacy of the law. What was once a hotly contested issue is no longer a hotly contested issue. We move forward,” Gorsuch answered. “It has been reaffirmed many times. I can say that.”
He expounded upon abortion law in a discussion with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who asked about the authority of states to set limits on abortions given that medical knowledge of unborn human life has developed with time.
Graham referenced the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision of 1992, which established the “viability” standard for states’ abortion laws, that they could restrict abortions after an unborn baby shows “viability.”
Recent research shows that unborn babies can “feel excruciating pain” at 20 weeks post-gestation, Graham argued, and so the “state has a compelling interest” to step in and limit abortions conducted after five months.
Currently, 19 states have “Pain-Capable” laws banning abortions after five months of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.
Rather than voicing support or opposition for such laws, Gorsuch simply promised that if an abortion law case came before him as a Supreme Court justice, he would, as Graham had asked, “look at the facts,” “read the briefs,” and “make a decision” from that.
Sen. Grassley also asked about the Griswold decision of 1965 that legalized contraception in the U.S. based on a right to privacy of married couples. Gorsuch answered that the case has precedent as it is “50 years old.”
“It’s been repeatedly reaffirmed, all very important factors again, in analyzing precedent.”
Senators also pressed Gorsuch about religious freedom cases, particularly the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to jurisprudence. RFRA was a law passed in 1993, and it set up a test to determine cases where a person claimed their free exercise of religion had been violated by the federal government.
The government may not “substantially burden” one’s free exercise of religion, the law says, unless it proved that its law “furthered a compelling governmental interest” and was the “least-restrictive means” of doing so.
RFRA has surfaced in Supreme Court cases as of late, especially in cases of employers or religious non-profits against the government’s birth control mandate. That mandate forces employers to provide cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions in employee health plans.
Gorsuch, while on the Tenth Circuit, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by a Christian family who claimed that the mandate violated their religious freedom because they had to provide employees coverage for drugs they believed caused abortions.
He insisted on Tuesday that the religious freedom law “applies not just to Hobby Lobby. It also applies to the Little Sisters of the Poor and protects their religious exercise,” he said, and protected a Muslim prisoner in Oklahoma who wanted to keep his beard at a certain length for religious purposes against prison rules.
Gorsuch joined the dissent in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor where they claimed that the federal government’s “accommodation” offered to them to opt-out of the mandate still violated their religious beliefs. The Tenth Circuit ruled against the sisters, but Gorsuch joined the dissent.
In the Hobby Lobby case, critics of the Court’s decision said that the business was not protected by RFRA because it was not a “person.”
Gorsuch explained how he reasoned that the law protected “closely-held for-profit corporations” as well.
The Green family claimed they owned “a small, family-held company,” Gorsuch said. “They exhibit their religious affiliation openly in their business. They pipe in Christian music. They refuse to sell alcohol or things that hold alcohol. They close on Sundays though it costs them a lot.”
“Congress didn’t define the term” of “person” when they wrote the law, he continued. The Court invoked the “Dictionary Act,” which states that “the words ’person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”
“So you can’t rule out the possibility that some companies can exercise religion,” Gorsuch said. “And of course we know churches are often incorporated. And we know non-profits like Little Sisters, or hospitals can practice religion. In fact, the government in that case conceded that non-profit corporations can exercise religion. Conceded that.”
Additionally, the birth control mandate was not the “least-restrictive means” of ensuring contraception coverage, he added. The Supreme Court ruled “that it wasn’t as strictly tailored as it could be because the government had provided different accommodations to churches and other religious entities.”
New York City, N.Y., Mar 21, 2017 / 12:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic convert who founded the Society of the Atonement, Father Paul Wattson, S.A., could be one step closer to recognition as a saint.
“Father Paul started a small week of prayer on the top of a mountain in Garrison, and now it’s a worldwide movement,” Father Brian Terry, S.A., the minister general for the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, told the Catholic New York newspaper.
Fr. Wattson helped launch the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is now an international event held in January.
The Archdiocese of New York concluded an 18-month investigation into his cause for canonization on March 9. Fr. Wattson’s writings, along with writings about him, were collected together, boxed and wrapped and sealed with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s seal.
With the archdiocese’s investigation finished, the materials will now be reviewed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This could determine whether he can proceed to beatification and even canonization.
Fr. Terry briefly spoke with Pope Francis about Fr. Wattson in November. He said he gave the pontiff a prayer card, and the Pope “really seemed sincerely interested.”
“He said a saint of unity, a saint of healing, a saint of charity, that is something that is important,” the priest recounted.
Fr. Terry said that Fr. Wattson’s message has been absorbed locally in New York. He hopes that message can go worldwide.
Fr. Wattson was born in 1863 and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1886. He co-founded the Franciscan Society of the Atonement with Episcopal Sister Lurana White in Garrison, N.Y. The society consisted of both friars and sisters who wanted to promote Christian unity. Though it was originally Episcopal, the society became Catholic when Fr. Wattson converted in 1909. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1910.
He passed away in 1940 at the age of 77.
Cardinal Dolan said the progress in Fr. Wattson’s cause was “an affirmation from above.” He voiced gratitude to God and to those who worked on the priest’s cause.
The U.S. bishops approved his cause for canonization in November 2014 and the cause formally opened in September 2015 at the New York Catholic Center.
Msgr. Douglas Mathers, pastor of St. John the Evangelist-Our Lady of Peace parish in Manhattan, served as the archdiocese’s episcopal delegate for the cause. He said there is no time limit on the process.
“Realistically, it’s the work of God; what God wants is going to happen,” he said.
Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2017 / 04:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bill drafted to replace the Affordable Care Act has good pro-life measures but still presents “grave challenges” that must be remedied, said one leading bishop in a recent statement.
“Laudably, the AHCA [American Health Care Act] proposes to include critical life protections for the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop Frank Dewayne of Venice, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, stated last Friday of the new bill that would make changes to the Affordable Care Act.
However, there are also “some very troubling features” in the new law, like restrictions on health care “access for those most in need,” Bishop Dewayne continued.
The American Health Care Act, currently under consideration in Congress and set for a floor vote soon, would be the biggest overhaul of health care policy since the Affordable Care Act passed under President Obama.
It would keep in place certain provisions, like insurers not being able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, but would also phase out the expansion of Medicaid coverage from the old law and could substantially reduce Medicaid coverage.
Pro-life groups have in general been pleased with the language in the bill, particularly its stripping federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year and its protections against taxpayer funding of abortion coverage in health plans.
Pro-life groups are also concerned that the Senate Parliamentarian could remove the language from the bill because, as it is to be passed through the budgetary procedure of reconciliation, such pro-life language could be interpreted as not pertaining to the budget.
These pro-life protections would be important, Bishop Dewayne insisted.
And the bill gives greater flexibility to the states, which could be good, although if it affects the “effectiveness or reach” of the “social safety net” it could be bad, the bishop wrote.
However, there are problematic provisions within the bill, Bishop Dewayne insisted. For instance, it lacks conscience protections that were also lacking under the Affordable Care Act. These could protect doctors, hospitals, and health care providers against mandates under the old law that they perform certain procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.
Also, such a provision could protect employers, especially religious non-profits, against rules like the health care law’s contraceptive mandate that they provide birth control, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.
The most notable case here was that of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by a Christian family who objected to the mandate because they believed that some drugs they had to cover in employee health plans could cause early abortions. The owners argued that this was a violation of their religious beliefs.
Also, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious non-profits sued over the process of how they had to notify the government of their objection to the contraceptive mandate, saying it still forced them to cooperate with the provision of contraceptive coverage against their religious beliefs.
No conscience protections to nullify the harm caused by these mandates exists in the proposed legislation, Bishop Dewayne said.
Other provisions existing in the new bill are problematic, he continued. The Affordable Care Act provided federal subsidies for low-income persons to buy health insurance, while in the new bill tax credits would be provided.
This new system, though, could reduce the benefits for the elderly and low-income persons and “appears to create increased barriers to affordability,” Bishop Dewayne said.
The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate – a penalty for not purchasing health insurance – would be replaced with a 30 percent fine on a person’s new premium if there has been a long enough gap in their health coverage.
This could dissuade many from buying new plans if they lose their old health plan, Bishop Dewayne said.
Also in the proposed law are higher comparative limits that the elderly can pay in premiums when compared to younger enrollees. Under the Affordable Care Act, those limits were three to one, whereas under the proposed law the elderly could pay as much as five times the premiums of younger enrollees.
“Some studies show that premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically,” the bishop said.
Ultimately, the problematic parts of the Affordable Care Act should not be replaced with equally bad or worse policies, he concluded.
“(I)n attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society,” he said. “As Pope Francis has said, ‘Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.’”
Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2017 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Raymond Arroyo has an impressive resume.
He’s a New York Times bestselling author several times over. He’s an award-winning journalist and producer. And his weekly EWTN show, The World Over Live, reaches more than 350 million global households and 500 U.S. radio affiliates.
So when Arroyo says his Will Wilder series of books for young readers just might be “the most important work I’ve ever done,” it’s quite a statement.
What makes these books so important, in his view? The lifelong impact that they can have on kids.
“When an adult reads your works, they hold it at an arm’s length, even if they may be moved by it,” Arroyo told CNA.
“But a child enters that world with abandon. There are no limitations. The journey they go on is more profound, and because of how impressionable they are in that age, this book is helping them make sense of the world, and it becomes the language they’ll use to interpret that world.”
Reaching these young readers at a critical age is Arroyo’s goal with the second installment in his best-selling series, Will Wilder: The Lost Staff of Wonders (Random House Crown), which arrived in bookstores earlier this month.
The importance of childhood literacy is what led Arroyo to found Storyented a few years ago. The initiative, a project of DP Studios, works to connect best-selling authors with their readers, discussing the canon of work, allowing kids to ask questions, and creating online videos that parents and teachers can use to help excite kids about reading.
Arroyo said he hoped to be a sort of “passport agency” to literacy. And his Will Wilder books are doing just that.
St. Stephen’s Catholic School in uptown New Orleans serves many at-risk students. According to the school’s principal, Rosie Kendrick, some of the students don’t even own books, and it has been an immense struggle to encourage them to read.
But that all changed a year ago, when Arroyo visited the school and gave copies of the first Will Wilder book to the students.
“All they wanted to do was talk about the book,” Kendrick said. There were some students whom she had never seen read a book, now reading in the hallways, unable to put it down. “Will Wilder changed their reading habits by making them want to read.”
Arroyo said he was astounded by the book’s impact. Asked why he thought it was so successful, he pointed to two pieces of positive feedback that he was repeatedly given.
The first was that readers loved the idea that Will made mistakes, and that those mistakes had consequences, but that there were ways for him to go back and repair the damage that he had caused.
“That gave them a sense of hope,” Arroyo commented. He added that readers – especially kids from at-risk backgrounds – were reading about the demons that Will battles in the book and projecting onto these demons their challenges and battle of their own lives.
“The real world impact of how they project themselves into the story has really amazed me,” he said, explaining that numerous readers had told him, “Will gave me hope that I could conquer my own demons, that I could overcome the things that I’m struggling with.”
With some 67 percent of fourth graders reading beneath proficiency at the national level – and studies showing a correlation between illiteracy and jail or welfare later in life – the ability to excite kids about reading is no small feat.
“Kids really want to go on a fun adventure,” Arroyo said. If a book is exciting and has a protagonist that kids can identify with, “they want to go on a journey and find out how it ends.”
In the second installment of his young reader series, 12-year-old Will Wilder must find the Staff of Moses, which has vanished from a local museum, before supernatural terrors are unleashed upon his town.
Arroyo said the idea for the story originated after he read piece in the London Times claiming that the Staff of Moses was actually in a museum in Birmingham, England. While he did not find the argument convincing, it started him thinking: What would happen if the staff was in a museum, and it went missing?
The Will Wilder books have been hailed as containing the excitement of the Indiana Jones and Percy Jackson series. But Arroyo noted that there are a few components that set his series apart.
“All the antiquities and relics mentioned in these books can be found in libraries, museums or churches throughout the world. So that grounds it in a certain reality that other series don’t have.”
In writing the books, he tried to be “excruciatingly accurate” with the descriptions of relics and other antiquities, spending extensive time researching to ensure that the details were correct.
And kids love this accuracy, Arroyo said. He has received numerous letters and pictures from readers who have gone to museums and found the actual objects and artifacts from his books.
There’s another key point that sets the Will Wilder books apart. Will is not an orphan or an abandoned child. He goes on adventures with his entire intact family, along with his friends.
This was an intentional decision, stemming from Arroyo’s frustrations with was he described as an “orphan trope in middle school books.”
But it also served to give the book a wider appeal. The cast is multi-generational, and so, it turns out, are its readers.
Arroyo said he has heard from children, college students, parents and grandparents who have all enjoyed the first book. He said that while he wrote the series for middle grade students, he included deeper reflections and subplots that adults would appreciate.
Ultimately, there’s a universal sense of wonder at the supernatural world that draws all ages to the story, and makes it great for parents and children to read together, he said.
For parents who want to encourage a reluctant reader, Arroyo offered advice. “The most important thing is to read to your child as early as you can, from the time they’re toddlers.” He also stressed the importance of children seeing their parents read books for pleasure.
“Kids are great mimics,” he remarked, adding that reading fiction is particularly important because “fiction enlarges the imagination and puts them not only in the shoes but in the hearts and soul of characters and people they’ll never meet. And the lessons they’ll draw from that are lessons you can’t repeat.”
Finally, Arroyo suggested, parents can take their library or bookstore and give them a chance to browse and find the topics and ideas that fascinate them.
As your children discover their natural interests, feed those interests regularly with good books, he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see a kid get lost in reading.”
Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States mustn’t cut foreign aid while conflicts, famines, and a worldwide refugee crisis rage, Catholic leaders are insisting.
Amid a “huge, unprecedented refugee situation” around the globe and four countries with famines or on the cusp of famine “we’re just extremely concerned that the resources won’t be there to respond to those really critical humanitarian needs,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, told CNA on Friday of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that cuts some foreign assistance.
President Trump’s “skinny” proposed “America First” budget for FY 2018 – a more detailed plan will be released later -- increases defense spending and immigration enforcement, and makes significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, among other agencies and programs, to offset those increases.
“This includes deep cuts to foreign aid. It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share,” President Trump stated in the proposal.
The proposal trims almost a third – 29 percent – of the International Affairs Budget, David Beckmann, president of the group Bread for the World, told CNA.
And while the number of persons displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded at over 65 million, with over 21 million of those refugees, the U.S. should not be cutting its foreign aid to vulnerable populations, CRS insisted.
With huge movements of people comes instability, O’Keefe said. “If we don’t meet” the humanitarian needs of vulnerable populations, “people will move and that will be destabilizing.”
106 faith leaders signed a letter sent to congressional leaders on Thursday in “support for the International Affairs Budget that every day brings hope to poor, hungry, vulnerable and displaced men, women and children around the world.”
Signers of the letter included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn and chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee.
“With just 1 percent of our nation’s budget, the International Affairs Budget has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio,” they stated.
“Additionally, it promotes freedom and human rights, protecting religious freedom for millions around the world.”
In Trump’s budget proposal, foreign assistance would be targeted toward countries of greater “strategic importance” to the U.S.
This shifting of priorities could have serious consequences for the future of U.S. foreign policy, O’Keefe noted, as countries deemed “less strategic” for aid could see their societal problems greatly increase without assistance in the next few years.
“If you ignore countries that are fragile, poorly governed, with lots of poor and disenfranchised people, then they end up becoming strategic countries that you then have to fight wars in,” he said.
“We’d like to see our government investing more in prevention, and in building the capacity of societies to deal with their own problems and in the diplomacy to resolve conflicts without military action.”
He noted that the budget proposal keeps “much of the global health funding” like the PEPFAR program to fight AIDS in Africa, O’Keefe said, which is good.
However, the proposal targeted many other programs like the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, which “allows CRS to support basic education in rural school settings,” O’Keefe said. The president had said that program “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.”
The proposal also touches anti-trafficking programs and anti-gang programs, and the State Department’s 60 year-old Food for Peace program would see cuts, CRS noted.
“We understand the budget challenges,” O’Keefe insisted, while adding that “you’re not going to be able to balance the budget on the one percent that goes to foreign aid,” especially since it’s already been trimmed disproportionately for the last nine years.
He added that domestic and international anti-poverty programs have “been squeezed” to make room for military spending, which would prioritize short-term goals over long-term stability.
Some domestic programs saw cuts, including “housing and heating for poor people,” Beckmann noted, and certain block grants that provide funding for the program Meals on Wheels, a volunteer food delivery program to the elderly.
“How can you cut Meals on Wheels?” Beckmann asked.
The president of the organization, Ellie Hollander, explained what may be at stake in the proposal.
“The problem with a skinny budget is it is lean on details. So, while we don’t know the exact impact yet, cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America, which in turn saves billions of dollars in reduced healthcare expenses,” Hollander stated.
Some of the other federal programs the President suggested cutting included the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and some funding for Meals on Wheels and the National Institutes of Health.
Programs fighting opioid addictions would receive a half-a-billion dollar boost in Trump’s plan, however. The Centers for Disease Control has labeled opioid overdoses an epidemic, and said that 33,000 people died from using prescription opioids and heroin in 2015.
Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 18, 2017 / 05:32 am (CNA).- As fears of deportation threaten to keep many immigrants home from a prayer service on Sunday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is calling on citizens and legal residents to attend the event in support.
“As a Church that herself bore the cross of hatred toward immigrants, our Catholic past is a compelling reason to welcome the immigrants and refugees among us today,” the archbishop said in his latest CatholicPhilly column.
“These persons and families need our help. They are not strangers but friends. And how we treat them will prove or disprove whether we take our Christian discipleship seriously.”
A statement from the archdiocese noted that Archbishop Chaput is planning to lead a prayer service for immigrants and refugees at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at 4:00 p.m. on March 19.
However, the statement noted, “because of recent ICE actions to detain and deport the undocumented, immigrants may avoid the very service intended to show them the Church’s support.”
Archbishop Chaput called on all Catholic citizens and legal residents in the Greater Philadelphia area to attend the prayer service in a demonstration of solidarity for the immigrant community in the region.
He also addressed the broader issue of immigration in his column for the archdiocesan paper.
“For immigrants and refugees now in the United States, or who hope to come here in the near future, recent weeks have been a steady diet of anxiety and confusion,” he said, pointed to the legal battle on travel bans that has created uncertainty for those seeking to flee persecution or be reunited with their families.
Inside the U.S., renewed deportation efforts have left children traumatized and families torn apart, he added.
The archbishop acknowledged the complexity of immigration policy, noting that there are good people on both sides of the issue. It is important not to demonize those who hold different views, he said, pointing to the polarization that has been created among families, friends and colleagues.
But true immigration reform must balance government’s duty to ensure national security with the country’s rich history of welcoming newcomers, particularly the oppressed, Archbishop Chaput said. “The U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for deep immigration reform aimed at meeting both goals.”
The archbishop outlined key ways that the Church in Philadelphia offers social services, legal aid and pastoral care to immigrants. “The Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees coordinates a network of priest chaplains, religious sisters and lay leaders who provide for the spiritual and material needs of persons from places like Indonesia, Haiti, West Africa, Vietnam and Brazil,” he said.
“Our ministry to Hispanic Catholics likewise provides support for Catholic immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America,” he continued. “These are faith communities that enrich the devotional life of our whole Archdiocese. We do and always will welcome all Catholics to worship and fellowship with us, regardless of their legal status. They’re our family in Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and being undocumented diminishes neither their dignity nor personhood.”
Meanwhile, Catholic Social Services offers low-cost legal services to help with visas, permanent residency documents, work authorization, and citizenship. The organization also works in other ways to resettle refugees, connecting them with housing, employment opportunities, schools and medical care.
Furthermore, the U.S. bishops’ conference has offered a grant as part of its Parishes Organized to Welcome Refugees initiative. The money is being used to create a coalition of resources, parish-based groups and independent Catholic organizations working to support immigrants and refugees.
Recalling that many times, “Catholics originally came to this country as poor, often non-English-speaking immigrants seeking a better future,” Archbishop Chaput reminded his local Church of past discrimination against their community by the “bigoted Nativist movement whose adherents torched Catholic churches in urban areas all along the East Coast.”
With this in mind, he said, it’s important to remember that those seeking a home in the United States are God’s children in need of help from Christ’s disciples.
Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2017 / 03:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following recent attempts at brokering peace between the government and political opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Catholic priests and religious are facing violent backlash around the country.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid society that works in the country, Catholics have experienced a slew attacks on churches and convents. In particular, a Carmelite Convent and a Dominican Church were both ransacked in late February.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, told the organization that the incidents “lead one to believe that the Catholic Church is being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”
“Along with all bishops, we denounce these acts of violence, which are likely to plunge our country further into unspeakable chaos,” he said.
The attacks follow recent attempts by the Catholic Church in the DRC to mediate between talks between the government of President Joseph Kabila and the opposition. The opposition to President Kabila and claims of a constitutional crisis follow after his refusal to step down from office at the end of 2016.
Since then, the Congolese Bishops' Conference has helped to broker a peace deal that would arrange for the peaceful transition of power. However, after delays for the funeral of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and other conflicts, the peace agreement has all but dissolved, according to some reports. Presidential elections are now expected to take place at the end of 2017.
“Politicians ought to acknowledge with humility, before their nation and the international community, their political tendencies and the immorality of their self-serving decisions,” Cardinal Monswengwo said in a statement about the elections.
The attacks have continued into March. According to Crux, 25 Catholic Seminarians in Malole in the south of the country had to be evacuated by UN peace-keeping forces by helicopter after armed troops attacked the seminary. The attackers were part of a militia loyal to former tribal leader Kamwina Nsapu, who died in August 2016.
For the Catholics, the violence has been terrifying.
“They systematically broke down the doors to different rooms and destroyed everything inside. They entered the teachers' rooms and burned their belongings,” Father Richard Kitenge, rector of the seminary, told Agence France-Presse.
Recently, the Church has also lead anti-corruption initiatives in the province and local area. The animosity towards the Church also extends outside of the church or convent walls.
“In the street, it's not unusual to hear threats against the Church,” Father Julien Wato, the Dominican priest of Saint Dominic's Church, the Kinshasa church vandalized in February said in a statement after the event.
Nearly half of the Congo's 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.
Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2017 / 02:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last year, in a nearly unprecedented event, the United States declared that Christians, Yezidis, Shi’a Muslims, and other religious and ethnic minorities are victims of ISIS genocide.
It was only the second time the State Department has used the label to describe ongoing atrocities committed by a state or non-state actor. Genocide is the “crime of crimes,” according to the United Nations, because it involves the intentional destruction, “in whole or in part,” of an entire people.
Marking the one-year anniversary of that declaration, the Knights of Columbus are continuing their work to assist persecuted Christians in the region by contributing nearly $2 million in new assistance.
In a statement announcing the new aid, the fraternal organization’s CEO Carl Anderson said that “words are not enough” to protect Christians and other targeted populations.
“Those targeted for genocide continue to need our assistance, especially since many have received no funding from the U.S. government or from the United Nations. The new administration should rectify the policies it found in place, and stop the de facto discrimination that is continuing to endanger these communities targeted by ISIS for genocide.”
Many others have also called on the Trump administration to do more to help Christians and other minorities in the Middle East on the anniversary of the declaration. This week, Professor Robert Destro of the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America announced a joint statement of “recommended actions” for the administration to take to protect genocide survivors.
The document was a call “to stand up constantly” for minorities “who are being targeted today by ISIS and all of its affiliates around the world” and was signed by numerous political and religious leaders.
The Knights of Columbus played a key role in lobbying for the declaration of the Christian genocide last year, as they compiled and presented a 278-page report to the State Department, documenting evidence of Christian genocide at the hands of ISIS.
Since 2014, they have donated more than $12 million to aid Christians in the Middle East, which has gone to medical clinics in Iraq, Easter food baskets for displaced Christians under the care of the Archdiocese of Erbil, general relief for the Christians of Aleppo, Syria, via the city’s Melkite Archdiocese, and support for the Christian refugee relief programs of the Syriac Catholic patriarch.
Anderson said 2017 may be “the decisive year in determining whether many Christian communities throughout the Middle East will continue to exist,” and has called for aid from the U.S. government and the international community.
The Knights of Columbus are also leading a Novena (nine days of prayer) from March 12 to 20 for grace and solidarity with Christians in the Middle East. Donations to support Christian refugees and other religious minorities can be made at www.christiansatrisk.org
Austin, Texas, Mar 17, 2017 / 10:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Texas Senate has passed a bill that would require people to use bathrooms based on the sex on their birth certificate, but it faces significant opposition from influential corporations and LGBT activists.
The Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 6 by a vote of 21-10 on March 15. It has been characterized as a “bathroom bill.”
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said the bill “reflects common decency and common sense and is essential to protect public safety.”
He said the bill “codifies what has always been common practice in Texas and everywhere else – that men, women, boys and girls should use separate, designated restrooms, locker rooms and showers in government buildings and public schools.”
Gov. Greg Abbott has not taken a clear stand on the bill. Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has been critical and said its passage could harm jobs and be bad for business, the Associated Press reports.
State Sen. John Whitmire objected that the bill would require self-identified transgender women who are “as feminine as any woman on the Senate floor” to use men's restrooms, the Texas Tribune reports.
The bill has opposition from corporations including Google, Amazon, American Airlines, Microsoft, Intel and Hilton. The National Football League and the National Basketball Association have said passage of the bill could cause them to decline to schedule events such as the Super Bowl and the All-Star Game in the state, Texas' ABC 13 reports.
In some parts of the U.S., anti-discrimination laws and policies that protect gender identity have required facilities to allow people who identify as the opposite sex to use the restrooms or locker rooms they identify with.
The Obama administration had begun to implement a rule requiring schools to implement transgender bathroom policies or lose federal funding, but the Trump administration withdrew the rule.
The Texas bill's author, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, cited the Obama administration's push as a justification for the bill.
Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2017 / 10:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Many know that Saint Patrick, bishop and missionary to Ireland, was once a slave – but few know of his heartfelt plea on behalf of girls and boys abducted into slavery.
“The pathos of St. Patrick’s description of the fate of his victims is something I think we can identify with now,” said Jennifer Paxton, a history professor who teaches at The Catholic University of America’s Irish Studies program. “The girls stolen by Boko Haram are very similar in their fates, I think, to captives of Coroticus.”
St. Patrick’s Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus was intended to shame the fifth century general whose raiding soldiers the saint declared to be “blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.” He denounced those who “divide out defenseless baptized women like prizes.”
Patrick said he did not know what grieved him more: those who were slain, those who were captured, or the enslavers themselves – “those whom the devil so deeply ensnared.”
The plea is all the more poignant because St. Patrick was himself a former slave. In his letter he wrote that Irish raiders once took him captive and slaughtered the men and women servants of his father’s household.
“He would have known acutely what these slaves were going through, because he was the victim of just such a raid,” Paxton told CNA. “In the fifth century this kind of raiding was endemic, all around the British Isles. He was stolen from someplace, we’re not sure where, in western Britain, and taken to captivity in Ireland.”
He spent six years tending sheep for his master.
“Obviously he did not enjoy his time as a slave and wanted it to end,” Paxton said. “So he would have definitely identified with these victims.”
The saint’s letter is a unique witness in medieval history.
“We do not have any other first person account of someone who was captured by barbarians and survived,” the history professor explained. “We have nothing else quite like it.”
The letter was written to be read aloud elsewhere, with the hope that Coroticus and his men would eventually hear of it and come under popular pressure. St. Patrick said those who hear the letter should “not fawn on such people” and should not share food or drink with them until they release their captives and “make satisfaction to God in severe penance and shedding of tears.”
Paxton said St. Patrick’s style is “somewhat defensive” because “he is up against tremendous odds, and he knows it.”
“He does not, as far as we know, ever get these captives back,” Paxton continued. “What we have is this cri de coeur that has resonated down through the ages. But he doesn’t manage to save them.”
She speculated that St. Patrick must have felt “the tragedy of seeing these people newly saved from damnation by baptism, and (then) taken away into slavery.”
Modern slavery is an enduring problem. Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria have enslaved Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. In Nigeria, where St. Patrick is a patron saint, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram became infamous for the April 2014 abductions of several hundred girls from a school in the country’s northeast.
In December 2014 major religious leaders including Pope Francis signed a joint declaration at the Vatican urging the eradication of modern slavery. A 2014 report from the organization Walk Free estimated that almost 36 million people worldwide suffer some form of slavery, with 61,000 people held in slave conditions in the United States.
As for St. Patrick, his letter seeking the release of slaves was not widely circulated. It was preserved in a few places, including the Book of Armagh. Paxton said the letter played little role in Christian debates over slavery, which was taken for granted for centuries.
Slavery’s decline in Europe doesn’t owe much to Church efforts, she said. “It was more economic forces that led to its decline, I’m sad to say,” Paxton remarked, adding that Coroticus himself was probably a Christian.
St. Patrick became known for his life of sacrifice, prayer and fasting. Although he was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, he is widely regarded as the most successful.
Paxton noted that St. Patrick’s letter and his other known work, the Confession of St. Patrick, are “steeped in the scriptures.”
“He basically writes in scriptural quotations. That’s the way Patrick thinks,” she said.
St. Patrick’s use of the Bible is rare in a medieval text because he quotes from many different sections of the Bible: the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and numerous prophetic books.
Paxton said she found Patrick “a really fascinating figure.” In later legends he became a “wonder-working superhero” who expelled the snakes from Ireland and defeated druids in battle.
“But the real St. Patrick of his own words is really a far more moving and inspiring example for Christians of today,” she added.
“Ireland was never the same as a result of what he did. That’s something I think we should all be impressed by, somebody who himself was very marginal, who was not a major figure in his own Church, persevered in the face of all these obstacles and achieved something really wonderful.”
This article was originally published on CNA March 17, 2015.
Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2017 / 04:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One year after the U.S. declared that ISIS was committing genocide in Iraq and Syria, advocates for religious and ethnic minorities are asking the Trump administration what the U.S. will do next to protect the vulnerable.
“This is a call for action,” said Professor Robert Destro of the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America.
On Thursday, Destro announced a joint statement of “recommended actions” for the administration to take to protect genocide survivors.
The document was a call “to stand up constantly” for minorities “who are being targeted today by ISIS and all of its affiliates around the world,” he said.
Its signers include former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Robert George; former Congressman Frank Wolf; Bishop Francis Kalabat, eparch of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Detroit; and Bishop Barnaba Yousif Benham Habash of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic diocese of the U.S. and Canada.
On March 17, 2016, the U.S. declared that ISIS was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria. Professor Destro called it the “first truly formal declaration of genocide in American history.”
In the summer of 2014, ISIS had swept across Northern Iraq and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes. Militants raped, enslaved and killed thousands of Yazidis – including women and children – and surrounded 40,000 more on Mount Sinjar who were in danger of dying of starvation and thirst until the U.S. military intervened and sent them supplies in August of 2014.
Other religious and ethnic minorities on the Nineveh Plain, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turkmen, and Shabak, fled their homes when they realized they were defenseless against the ISIS onslaught. Christians in Mosul were given a choice to convert to Islam, flee, be killed, or stay and pay a jizya tax.
Experts noted that the jizya tax option was not a viable option, however, as the tax could be too high and could not sufficiently guarantee the safety of Christians who agreed to pay it.
Many have not yet returned to their homes – around 70,000 Christians are living in and around the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, east of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Many genocide survivors are living in temporary shelters and are reliant on churches and aid groups for their basic needs.
As ISIS forces have been cleared from some areas in the region, those who have returned to their villages have found their homes vandalized and damaged, their property confiscated, churches destroyed, and even deadly IEDs set for them.
Now, one year after the U.S. declared that genocide was taking place, the Genocide Coalition – a group of congressmen, genocide experts and human rights advocates have announced the steps they would like to see the administration of President Donald Trump take to protect these genocide survivors.
Destro hailed the meeting as the “first annual commemoration of the genocide resolution.”
The coalition is advocating on behalf of all the minorities in the region who were victims of ISIS, not just Christians, insisted Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project, one of the sponsors of the document.
“We’re very much focused on the broader community of genocide victims,” he told CNA. “This isn’t only about protecting Christians.”
“Since the genocide has been recognized, we are still waiting, but no big steps have been taken and not a lot has been changed,” Yazidi genocide survivor Nadia Murad stated at the U.S. Capitol at a Thursday event marking the one-year anniversary of the declaration.
“The mass graves that they found, they are still not being protected. There has not been an effort to investigate the mass graves and recognize the victims,” she said.
ISIS still holds much of the Sinjar region where the Yazidis lived, Murad said, as well as thousands of Yazidi captives including around 1,000 children who are being “trained and brainwashed” in Syria to become suicide bombers.
What can be done about all this? The Genocide Coalition is asking the Trump administration to take three steps.
First, the U.S. should work to help secure the region and resettle many of these minorities displaced from their homes, providing them the assistance they need to make a living.
The Defense and State Departments should work “to secure, stabilize, and revitalize the ancestral homelands of indigenous religious minority communities targeted by ISIS for genocide in northern Iraq – particularly in the Sinjar, Nineveh Plain, and Tal Afar areas.”
Additionally, the U.S. must make sure that humanitarian aid from the U.S. and UN reaches those who need it most, the coalition said.
The Christians in Erbil have not received much aid from the U.S. and UN and are reliant on groups like the Knights of Columbus for food, water, shelter, blankets, and medical needs.
Andrew Walther, vice president of strategic planning at the Knights of Columbus, noted on Thursday that on his trips to Iraq in the last year, staff of the U.S. government and the UN admitted that they had not dispersed money to displaced Christians living in Erbil. One family told Walther they had received only two kilos of lamb from the UN.
This aid must also “include funding for trusted faith-based” groups that are “close to the people” like Caritas International and Catholic Relief Services, Steve Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on Thursday.
Private investment should also be encouraged once the communities are rebuilt and local businesses re-open, he added.
Stephen Hollingshead of The Haven Project of the group In Defense of Christians said that Western businesses should trade, provide mentorship, and do business with Iraqi entrepreneurs to help them “earn their daily bread,” which is what many of the displaced want.
The U.S. must also “bring to justice both the perpetrators of this genocide and their accessories,” the coalition insists. This would include the “collaborators, affiliates, financiers, and facilitators” of ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project, one of the signers of the document, explained that the U.S. could push for an international tribunal to be set up to try ISIS perpetrators for their crimes.
“When impunity prevails, violence will proliferate,” Naomi Kikoler of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said. She noted that atrocities in Iraq have continued for years because perpetrators have not been held accountable.
“Until now, there is no international committee or a team to investigate what ISIS has done. A year has passed, and not a single ISIS fighter has been brought to justice,” Murad stated on Thursday. “They [ISIS] are still free in Iraq, and they move among many countries. Without any court or tribunal to bring them to justice.”
For the International Criminal Court to try the genocide perpetrators, the United Nations Security Council would have to refer the matter to the court. A UN human rights inquiry found last summer that Yazidis were genocide victims of ISIS, but did not include Christians and Shi’a Muslims in the genocide designation.
The Trump administration can also help the situation by making important appointments to the National Security Council and State Department, the coalition claimed.
They must “get the political people in place…to get this job done,” Destro said.
In addition, the U.S. could accept its “fair share” of the “most vulnerable refugees,” Colecchi maintained, and these would include genocide survivors.
Also, the U.S. could push the Iraqi central government to strengthen the rule of law and ensure the “protection of all, including vulnerable minorities,” he added.
“To focus attention on the plight of Christians,” he insisted, is “not to ignore others” but by protecting most vulnerable, to strengthen society as a whole.
Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2017 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland have blocked President Donald Trump’s temporary refugee and travel ban from going into effect.
Judge Derrick Watson of the Hawaii District Court “enjoined” the enforcement of “Sections 2 and 6 of the Executive Order across the Nation” on Wednesday, just before the order was scheduled to be effective.
“Enforcement of these provisions in all places, including the United States, at all United States borders and ports of entry, and in the issuance of visas is prohibited, pending further orders from this Court,” the decision stated.
President Trump’s revised executive order – his first one was struck down by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – kept a 120-day halt on refugee admissions, although the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees was left out of the new order.
The order capped the number of refugees to be admitted into the U.S. in fiscal year 2017 at 50,000, far less than the 85,000 refugees admitted in the previous year and the 110,000 mark originally set for FY 2017 by the Obama administration.
Also left out of the order was a prioritized refugee admissions status for persecuted religious minorities.
Iraq was omitted from the list of six countries from which many foreign nationals would be banned from entering the U.S. – Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and the Sudan.
Those who were “outside the United States on the effective date of this order” – March 16 – and had not obtained valid visas by that date, or did not have valid visas by 5 p.m. EST on the date of the original executive order, Jan. 27, would be barred from entry into the U.S. unless they met certain exceptions, like those traveling on diplomatic visas, those granted asylum, or refugees who had already been admitted into the U.S.
Hawaii had sued President Trump over the travel ban, charging that it unfairly discriminated against Muslims seeking entry into the U.S. Washington, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and New York have also sued the administration.
The district court ruled that the state made a strong enough case that the order violated the Establishment Clause in restricting travel from six Muslim-majority countries, and that the state’s university system and tourism industry would suffer significant injury from the travel ban.
Thus, Judge Watson temporarily barred the travel ban from going into effect, which it was to do at midnight EST on Thursday.
According to the court, the state had claimed “that the Executive Order subjects portions of the State’s population…to discrimination in violation of both the Constitution and the INA, denying them their right, among other things, to associate with family members overseas on the basis of their religion and national origin.”
Hawaii had stated in its complaint that “Muslims in the Hawai‘i Islamic community feel that the new Executive Order targets Muslim citizens because of their religious views and national origin. Dr. Elshikh believes that, as a result of the new Executive Order, he and members of the Mosque will not be able to associate as freely with those of other faiths.”
Dr. Elshikh, an imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, claimed injury because his mother-in-law, a Syrian national, had applied for a visa but feared her case would not move forward because of the travel ban.
“These injuries are sufficiently personal, concrete, particularized, and actual to confer standing in the Establishment Clause context,” Watson ruled.
Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 16, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic school can be a missionary force to bring Christ to the world, the Bishop of Phoenix has said in a new apostolic letter.
“A mark of a truly Catholic school is the fruit that is borne in the lives of its graduates,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix said. “That fruit is to be shown in the missionary activity of its graduates, called and sent by Jesus to be salt and light in the culture around them, knowing that people and cultures die without Christ.”
The bishop’s apostolic letter “Evangelizing through Catholic Schools” was dated March 3, the feast day of the Catholic educator St. Katharine Drexel.
His letter said Catholic schools should be “a place of encounter with Jesus Christ” that can impart a Catholic worldview through the curriculum, help students achieve true freedom, and send them out as “missionary disciples to transform the culture.”
Many Catholic school students first must have a relationship of trust with someone who is a disciple of Christ, but once that is established “through hospitality and kindness,” he said, “the most loving thing a Catholic school can do is to share with each person the living Jesus Christ.”
Catholic schools help ensure that all students hear the basic Gospel message and are given “the freedom and help to make a response in faith.” Catholic schools “cannot exist for themselves.” Rather, the gospel demands that when students are well-formed they be sent out “as ambassadors of the truth and love of Christ.”
Bishop Olmsted reflected that true freedom of Catholic education is rooted in the truth and draws from Christ's words from the Gospel of John: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“A joyful and evangelized person is truly free to be and to live as a child of God,” he said, criticizing views of freedom that separate it from truth. He contrasted freedom with slavery to sin.
“When Catholic education imparts to students the intellectual and moral virtues to know the Truth and to love the Good (which are both ultimately found in God) it is giving students the gift of true freedom,” he said.
According to Bishop Olmsted, Catholic schools are much more than public schools with religion class and morality added.
“Rather, the ethos of a Christian education vivifies and unites the totality of the school’s curriculum,” he said, praising Catholic educators’ “noble vocation” to help young people discover who they are.
“May the parents, teachers and school children of our local Catholic schools — through their constant contact with Jesus the Word made Flesh — be inspired missionary disciples of His Kingdom,” Bishop Olmsted said.