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Chaput: Everyone who's a legal citizen should come pray for immigrants

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 07:32

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.


Catholic priests, religious face wave of violence in DR Congo

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:39

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.

A year after genocide declaration, Knights donate nearly $2 million

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 16:18

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


Texas advances bill on transgender bathrooms, but fate unclear

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 12:27

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.

Patrick: the saint who knew what it was like to be a slave

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 12:04

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.

What will the US do next for ISIS genocide survivors?

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 18:47

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.


Federal judges in Hawaii, Maryland block Trump's new travel ban

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 18:41

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.

What can evangelize the world? A good Catholic school.

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 08:04

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.

'I had to flee for my life' – The reality of being a Syrian refugee

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 16:27

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2017 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- Omar al-Muqdad wanted to help the Iraqi refugees who were displaced from their homes in 2004. He volunteered to help with refugee resettlement, aiding those who came in finding housing, clothing and schools in Syria, where he lived.

Little did he know that just a few years later, he himself would be a refugee fleeing civil war in his own country.

“I had to flee for my life,” Omar told CNA. Six years ago, the Syrian journalist ran away from security forces who were threatening him. His crime? Reporting on the early days of what would come to be the Syrian Civil War.

First, he found refuge in Turkey. Then, once his refugee claim was processed, he found permanent resettlement in the United States.

March 15 marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the Syrian Civil War. What began as peaceful demonstrations protesting ongoing human rights abuses and suppression of free speech erupted into a war that has killed hundreds of thousands and forced millions from their homes.

Today, six years later, an end to the violence is nowhere in sight. The majority of Syria’s population has been displaced. New threats that have grown out of the situation – most prominently ISIS – have only added to the chaos. Together with other conflicts and famines in Somalia, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and elsewhere, the world is now facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

Syria back then was considered a safe country.

For refugees like Omar, leaving home wasn’t something they had wanted or were prepared for: it was a choice between life and death.

Now 37 years old, and a resident of the United States for five years, Omar hopes Americans can come to understand some of what he experienced.

“Refugees are not your enemy,” he said. “They don’t know they are coming to the US,” he added, explaining that often refugees have little choice in where they are sent once they flee home. Instead, he urged compassion and acceptance as “a human responsibility as Americans.”

Maggie Holmesheroan, program manager for Catholic Relief Services’ operations in Jordan, agreed. “These are normal people like you and me,” she said.

“They lived normal lives before the conflict. They are now in a position where they’ve lost everything. Frankly, they’ve displayed incredible resilience in the face of a terrible situation.”

“Sometimes the instinct is to feel that they’re very different from us,” she continued, “but we should definitely find our common humanity.”

The seeds of a crisis

Before March 2011, Syria and its people looked very different from the images of rubble and terrified citizens associated with the country today.

Holmesheroan told CNA that before the war, the Syrian people were very similar in many ways to Americans, in terms of education, industry and social class.  

“They had a very highly educated population – very diversified in terms of industry,” she said, noting that in her work, she regularly encounters refugees who were former government bureaucrats, blue collar workers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and nurses. “It’s really a representative range, just like we have here in the United States,” she said.

In fact, less than 15 years ago, some of the areas most damaged by airstrikes and bombing raids were the very places refugees from other conflicts were sent for safety and a new life.  

“Syria back then was considered a safe country,” explained Omar.

However, many people – including Omar – were unsatisfied with the ruling Assad family’s policies. The family and its Ba’ath party had held control of the country since 1971. Critics from a range of religious sects and ethnic backgrounds have protested against both former president Hafez al-Assad and his son and current president, Bashar al-Assad for their anti-democratic policies and denial of basic human rights like freedom of speech and assembly. In addition, the Assad family has drawn strong opposition from Islamist movements who objected to various aspects of the family’s rule.

I had to start over from nothing.

In his work as a journalist, particularly reporting on economic and human rights struggles in the south of Syria, Omar ran into opposition from the government. “The Syrian authorities don’t generally tolerate any form of criticism against the government and institutions,” he said. “They consider that an act of treason if you dare to say something against the government or you ask for reforms.”

For reporting on these issues, as well as starting up a private magazine not controlled by the State, Omar was apprehended by Syrian security forces. After questioning and a military trial, he was sentenced to three years in a military prison. “They did not like what I was writing there and they considered it an act of treason against the state,” he said.  

By March 2011, Omar had been released from prison and was working again as an undercover journalist, when protests began. Many of these demonstrations were initially focused on the government’s treatment of underage student protesters in the southern city of Daraa, and other political prisoners. Socioeconomic inequality, intense droughts and food shortages also heightened the tensions within Syria in the months leading up to the start of the conflict.

On March 15, 2011, protesters filled the streets of Damascus to demand the release of political prisoners and other human rights reforms. Within a few days, more and more demonstrators started gathering to demand broader democratic and human rights reforms. When the Syrian government cracked down in response to the initial protests, the demonstrations only grew stronger, bolstered by the success of pro-democracy movements elsewhere in the Middle East.

“The peaceful demonstration started taking over the streets, and people started demanding freedom,” Omar recalled. “I was covering this event.” But then he realized that he was once again being followed by Syrian security forces.

“I knew that if they could catch me, that would be the end.” Omar fled to Turkey.

Meanwhile, tensions continued to escalate in Syria and various opposition groups solidified against the Assad regime. Both government and opposition forces began to take up arms against one another as the conflict grew. By early 2017, it was estimated that at least 400,000 Syrians had been killed, at least 6.3 million displaced internally, and some 5 million had fled the country as refugees.

Close to home – yet far from it

When Omar fled to Turkey as a refugee, he registered immediately with the U.N. Human High Commissioner for Refugees. While his claim was being processed, he was able to work as a freelance journalist for CNN and other news outlets covering the war.

At the same time, other refugees from Syria started to leave, pouring into neighboring countries. More than 1 million refugees have fled to Jordan, and at least 2.2 million are now residing in Lebanon. This has placed considerable strain on the countries, which previously had populations of just 6 million and 4 million, respectively.

In some areas, refugees have moved into camps administered by various aid agencies. In other areas, like Jordan, the majority of refugees live in cities and urban areas. Still others take refuge in unofficial settlements.

Maggie Holmesheroan and her colleagues at Catholic Relief Services work with refugees who are trying to integrate in urban areas of Jordan. Refugees here face a number of challenges just getting by from day to day. “They’re trying to live life in a city, but basically, with no resources,” she said.

Many of the refugees fled violence at a moment’s notice with nothing but the clothes on their backs. In many cases, families were split up, and the men were often forced to stay behind. In most cases, documents, identification, birth certificates, diplomas, and bank cards were left behind.

When the refugees reach a safe place and apply for refugee status, they are generally not allowed to work, and must live off the allotment granted by the United Nations. Often, that is not enough to buy food and clothing, pay rent, cover medical expenses and send their children to school.

“You don’t have access to any of your resources, even if you were diligent and saved up money,” Holmesheroan said. “All those safety nets are gone for people. So they’re just surviving on whatever help they can get from a wide variety of organizations that are here.”

The majority of Syria’s population has been displaced.

In Jordan, CRS works with Caritas Jordan and Caritas Internationalis to provide refugees with aid in finding a livelihood, healthcare, non-food humanitarian support, psychological and social services, rent and cash subsidies to help make ends meet.

Recently, the situation in Jordan has improved slightly for some refugees, due to the country’s policy change allowing refugees to seek work permits in the garment manufacturing, agriculture, domestic work and construction industries. However the hundreds of thousands of refugees without those skills – for example, those who previously worked in the fields of teaching or medicine – still don’t have employment opportunities.

“They’re in limbo,” Holmesheroan said, with a very long wait ahead of them: the average refugee stays displaced for 17 years. Many of the refugees wish to return home, but there is no end in sight to the wars in Syria or Iraq.

“So, how do you handle the day-to-day stress of living in a situation where you’re in extreme poverty, you don’t have access to the resources that you need to do basic life, and then on top of that, you have no idea when anything might change?”

Until the conflict is resolved, the countries and agencies helping aid the millions of war refugees need adequate support and funding, Holmesheroan said. “We need to have a conversation about our fair share.”

She also stressed the importance of realizing that refugees are victims of violence. “The people who have run away from this war are running for their lives and are running away from extremism,” she said. “They are largely minorities and moderates who are running away from the violence. They don’t want to live in a country of extremists any more than we do.”

Permanent refuge

After a year of waiting in Turkey, Omar made it through the immigration process. Although the wait was long, he believes he “was one of the lucky ones” – the average waiting time for most refugees applying for resettlement is between 18 and 24 months. Omar added that he knows several people who have waited over three or even five years to be resettled.

In this time, Omar underwent interviews and waited for his status to be processed. Eventually his case was picked up by the International Catholic Migration Commission, which helped link his case with his new home country – the United States. Originally, Omar al-Muqdad expected to be sent to Canada or a different country for resettlement, so the news was a surprise. “I didn’t know I would be sent to the United States,” he said.

After he was referred to the United States, Omar underwent what he described as “extreme vetting,” consisting of interviews, health screenings and numerous background checks. In addition to the rigorous 20-step vetting process for those whose applications are initially accepted, Syrian refugees face further screening review from U.S. Immigration Services.

After passing all of these steps, Omar finally made it to the United States. “I was sent to Northwest Arkansas, to a small town called Fayetteville, where I started my life here.”

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, described to CNA the process of helping to resettle refugees in communities like Fayetteville around the country.

The bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services is one of nine private agencies that oversee all the resettlement of refugees in the United States. For the last five years, the agency has placed between a quarter and a third of all refugees who come to the U.S.

After refugees are placed with a community, the local office – typically run through Catholic Charities or another Catholic organization – is responsible for welcoming them and providing or linking them with basic services, such as housing, food, and medical care while they acclimate to the United States. Churches and other groups help them learn English, find employment, and integrate into their new community.

The average refugee stays displaced for 17 years.

This year, Trump’s executive order is expected to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. from 85,000 to at most 50,000. The administration’s 120-day freeze on all refugee admissions will also impact total refugee numbers, as well as the bishops’ ability to process and place them, due to a lack of reimbursements and personnel losses during the freeze.

Feasley objected to these policies. “There are so many vulnerable individuals who have been in the pipeline starting the process, who really are seeking refuge,” she told CNA. “This is obviously going to prevent them from doing that here in the United States.”

“In some cases, it really is going to prevent family reunification.”

Feasley also noted that in her experience, many refugees have been “benefits not only to their parishes, but to their communities.” She pointed to a number of former refugees who are now social workers in Catholic Charities and resettlement offices as an example.

Within the community of Syrian refugees specifically, she noted that the bishops have “seen great heartbreak but also great resiliency.” Most of them have fled extreme circumstances, and yet built stable lives here in the United States.

In this regard, she praised the Trump administration’s second executive order for removing the ban on Syrian refugees that was found in the initial order. “I think that it’s very important to welcome all nationalities,” she said.

Settling in

When he was first assigned to resettle in Arkansas, Omar said he was concerned because of stereotypes he had heard about the South being unwelcoming to newcomers. Fortunately, he learned that that was a misconception.
“My experience there was really incredible. People there were very warm,” Omar said, adding that in his first few weeks in Fayetteville, he was welcomed into the community, and even into one of the local family's homes. “Back then there wasn’t ISIS…So, people were really open to helping refugees.”  

Surrounded by warmth and welcomed into the community, Omar said that he “didn’t really feel alone.” A key part of the friendly atmosphere were the parish and Church agencies who helped with his resettlement. “I’m still grateful for them,” he said.

Eventually, Omar moved to the Washington, D.C. area in order to resume his career as a journalist. That path has not been easy.

“I had to start over from nothing,” he said. Although he already had a college degree in political science from Damascus University, he left his diploma at home when he fled Syria. When he came to the U.S., he had to start college over again.

Starting from scratch in his 30s was difficult. Still, in between reporting for a variety of national newspapers, Omar is on track to complete his studies soon. He plans on pursuing a Master’s degree next.

The people who have run away from this war are running for their lives.

Obaida Omar, a community supervisor and health case manager at the Catholic Family House in Rochester, NY, described the challenges of leaving one’s entire life behind and trying to start over.

She herself fled as a refugee from Afghanistan 25 years ago. Later, she became a social worker. “I just love helping refugees,” she told CNA. “They’re really good people. They’re very strong.”

Today, she aids people from Syria as well as other countries. Obstacles abound. Few of her clients have family or friends in the area, and it can take time to settle into a new community. Interpreters are provided as refugees learn the language of their new home, but building trust with the interpreter takes time.

Her clients also face a range of medical issues from the violence they have experienced. Some have lost limbs in war. Others are wheelchair bound or suffer from PTSD and other mental health challenges. And still others have various levels of hearing loss, creating an extra layer of difficulties when trying to arrange for an interpreter.

CNA attempted to contact a number of dioceses, Catholic Charities offices and relief agencies to talk to other Middle Eastern refugees. Many refugee families – both in the United States and abroad – declined to be interviewed, fearing discrimination or negative repercussions of being identified in print as a refugee or a Middle Easterner.

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, located in the Archdiocese of Detroit, was one of several agencies that cited recent changes in government policy as causing personnel cuts, which meant that remaining staff were unable to contact families due to other increased responsibilities.

Resettling more than 700 refugees in 2016 alone, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan is one of the largest resettlement projects in the United States. The area has a significant existing Middle Eastern population.

Between 2014 and late 2016, the overwhelming majority of the refugees directed to the area were Chaldean Catholics from Iraq – most of whom were fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS. In late 2016, the office experienced a surge of Syrian refugees coming into the area.

However, the rapid decline in refugee admissions for 2017 has resulted in a budget shortfall of $131,000, the agency said. Bill Blaul, institutional advancement director, told CNA that the group was “hanging onto our absolute core in the hope that we can start relocating refugees here again.”

And other agencies around the country are facing similar budget constraints. Many staff members have been laid off. In some cases, vital programs will be able to continue for a few more months.

Omar al-Muqdad is one of the lucky ones. While other refugees are still waiting to hear if they will be accepted by a host country, he is ready to make his residence in the U.S. permanent.

“I just filed my citizenship application and America is my new home,” he said. He added that he felt he owed it to the Arkansas community who took him in “to pay the community back for the kindness that they showed to me when I first came here.”

“I’m trying, but it’s not easy,” he said of his journey so far. “I’m trying to do my best here.”

US exorcists: Demonic activity is on the rise

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 08:26

Indianapolis, Ind., Mar 15, 2017 / 06:26 am (CNA).- There is an alarming increase in demonic activity being reported by those who work in exorcism ministry, said the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Although steps are being taken to increase the number of exorcists, demand is still outpacing supply.

Father Vincent Lampert has been an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2005 and is the pastor at St. Malachy’s in Indianapolis. He trained at the North American College in Rome and assisted with more than 40 exorcisms with longtime Italian exorcist Father Carmine De Filippi. Although the identities of most exorcists are hidden, Father Lampert often gives talks to warn against evil and turn people toward the power of God.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register, he said that he sees an increasing number of people involved in Satanic rituals and opening themselves up to evil.

“The problem isn’t that the devil has upped his game, but more people are willing to play it,” Father Lampert said. He pointed to rampant pornography, illegal drugs use and the occult. “Where there is demonic activity, there is always an entry point,” he said.

Last October, Father Lampert met in Rome with the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 400 Catholic leaders and priests. It is a support group that meets every other year. According to him, group members agree that there is a great need for more exorcists.

Actual demonic possessions are rare, however, Father Lampert explained. “I’ve only seen three possessions in the last three years, but there is also infestation, vexation and obsession.”

He explained that demonic infestation happens in places where things might move and there are loud noises. With vexation, a person is physically attacked and might have marks such as bruises, bites or scratches. Demonic obsession involves mental attacks, such as persistent thoughts of evil racing through one’s mind.

“In possessions,” Father Lampert said, “I have seen eyes rolled back in the head, throwing out obscenities, bodily contortions, foul odors, temperatures drop in the room, and I’ve witnessed someone levitating.”

When he was appointed as an exorcist by his bishop in 2005, there were only 12 others. He said there are now about 50 other exorcists that he knows of personally in the United States.

Bishops Respond

The Catholic bishops are aware of increased reports of demonic activity because a priest can only perform an exorcism with episcopal permission. According to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, “Canon law requires a bishop to give permission before a priest can do a major exorcism, but bishops don’t receive any formal training in exorcism.”

To help support bishops, in 2010, while he was the chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Paprocki organized a two-day conference on all aspects of exorcism.

As a direct response to the need for trained exorcists in the U.S., the Milwaukee-based Pope Leo XII Institute was founded in 2012 to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” It began as a series of informal meetings at the request of U.S. bishops wanting education and training. It was also a response to Pope St. John Paul II’s recommendation that every diocese appoint an exorcist. A spokesman with the U.S. bishops’ conference said that, although ideally every diocese should have its own exorcist, no statistics are kept as to the actual numbers.

Msgr. John Esseff, president of the institute’s board of directors, was one of the founding members. He has been a priest for 63 years and an exorcist in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, for more than 40 years. He often gives talks at the institute on exorcism and deliverance.

“As the acceptance of sin has increased, so, too, has demonic activity,” Msgr. Esseff said. “The bishops saw the need for more trained exorcists because so many cases were being referred from all over the country to the dioceses that had exorcists.”

“A person should be cared for in his own diocese,” he added.

The Pope Leo XIII Institute graduated the first class of 55 exorcists, priests and deacons from its two-year program in 2015. The training involves 10-day sessions given at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago, twice a year for two years. A second class of 52 will graduate this fall.

“I’m hopeful bishop are becoming more aware of their role as the ‘chief exorcist’ for the diocese,” Msgr. Esseff said. “There is also still some resistance of the reality of Satan,” in the Church, among priests and bishops, he added, “as if there is just evil and not the devil.”

“The only one that can overcome Satan is Jesus,” Msgr. Esseff said. “He overcomes the kingdom of evil with light. And every priest represents Jesus. The devil does not see the priest – he sees Jesus.”

Minor Exorcisms

Bishop Paprocki, who has also given lectures at the Pope Leo XIII Institute, said he likes to emphasize the difference between major and minor exorcisms. “A minor exorcism occurs very frequently in the Church, every time we do a baptism,” he told the Register. “It is a matter of rejecting Satan and all his works.”

A priest does not need a bishop’s permission to do minor exorcisms in situations where there is an evil influence, Bishop Paprocki explained. “It’s just a matter of praying to God to overcome evil influences.”

“The reason a major exorcism needs a bishop’s permission is that the priest talks directly to the devil and commands him in the name of Jesus Christ to leave that person,” he said. “For the priest to be able to do that, he needs the authority of the Church behind him.”

Father Lampert said that a priest, and even laypeople, can pray minor exorcism prayers because they address God. “The lay faithful should not give commands to demons,” he said. “Demons recognize the authority of bishops and the Church. If you claim authority on your own, it can get you into trouble,” he warned the laity. He referred to the example in Acts 19, when some Jewish exorcists tried to expel an evil spirit. The devil said: “Jesus I recognize, Paul I know, but who are you?” Then he attacked them.

“It’s not the exorcists that have the power,” Father Lampert said, “but the power and authority of the Church that comes from Jesus Christ. Catholics understand that individuals don’t have that power.”

Everyone interviewed for this article stated that the ordinary work of the devil is temptation, so it is sin that gives him a foothold in people’s lives. They all encouraged people to have strong prayer lives and to go to confession and receive the Eucharist frequently.

Father Lampert cautions people not to give too much attention to the devil, as well. “The focus should be on God and Jesus Christ,” he said. “When I remind myself that God is in charge, it puts everything in perspective, and the worry and fear dissipates.”

He added, “If people would build up their faith lives, the devil will be defeated.”


Originally published at the National Catholic Register.


New Mexico bishops admonish pro-choice Catholic legislators

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 19:01

Santa Fe, NM, Mar 14, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- New Mexico Bishops released a statement last week discouraging public advocacy from Catholic legislators for abortions and assisted suicide on behalf of their Catholic faith.

“We are concerned by public statements by some legislators that seem to say that a faithful Catholic can support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide,” New Mexico's bishops stated March 6.

“Support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church. These represent the direct taking of human life, and are always wrong.”

State Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero invoked her Catholic faith earlier this month as a factor in her decision to oppose a bill that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

And last month State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, also Catholic, introduced a bill which would force religious hospitals and individuals to act against their conscious and perform abortions.

The bishops wrote that “It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official Church teaching. This misrepresents Church teaching and creates a public scandal for the faithful.”

The bishops upheld Catholic teaching that “all human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to natural death, and must be protected,” and emphasized that “support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church.”

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in His own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” the bishops stated, repeating the words of Pope Francis.

“It is not morally permissible for a Catholic to support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide,” they emphasized.

Recognizing Catholic legislators who support laws directed at supporting immigrants and the impoverished, the message applauded “their work giving voice to the voiceless.”

Citing the damages done to the soul by receiving, performing, or supporting abortions, the bishops acknowledged that “God’s forgiveness is always available to us if we seek it, so that we may heal our soul and be reconciled with God, the Church and others.” They promoted the sacrament of confession and the Project Rachel ministry for men and women who are in need of support after participating in an abortion.

“We want to be clear,” the bishops concluded. “Individuals and groups do not speak for the Catholic Church. As bishops, we do.”

“We visit the New Mexico Legislature when it gathers and host a time when together the priorities of the Church are made known to the legislators. We take the Gospel to the public square in public meetings and hearings as well as in private meetings and conversations with elected officials.”

“We pray for all legislators and through the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops are here to aid in the formation of consciences,” they noted. “We will continue to collaborate with many others to uphold the dignity of the human person through a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death.”

Porn leaves men dissatisfied with real relationships, study finds

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 18:28

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2017 / 04:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent analysis of 50 studies found that pornography was negatively associated with sexual and relational satisfaction among men.


The paper, entitled Pornography Consumption and Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis, concluded that “Pornography consumption was associated with lower interpersonal satisfaction outcomes in cross-sectional surveys, longitudinal surveys, and experiments.” Specifically, pornography was linked to significant “lower sexual and relational satisfaction” among male viewers.


The analysis included a combined 50,000 participants across 10 countries, and contradicts another recent study that claimed that pornography has a positive impact on its consumers.


“Pornography is sex-negative,” Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), said in a statement about the new analysis.


According to their website, the NCOSE is a national organization dedicated to opposing pornography by highlighting the links to sex trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, and addiction.


“Pornography rewires an individual’s sexuality to pixels on a screen rather than to a real person, which is inherently inconsistent with healthy, organic relationships. A wide body of research is bringing attention to the various ways pornography negatively impacts both women and men, and this latest meta-analysis contributes important findings to that on-going dialogue.”


Hawkins noted that the analysis contradicted a recent study,  Porn Sex Versus Real Sex: How Sexually Explicit Material Shapes Our Understanding of Sexual Anatomy, Physiology, and Behaviour, which claimed that pornography positively affected relationships and sexuality after asking participants about the perceived impact pornography was having on their life.


“Those researchers asked survey participants questions about the effects of their pornography consumption using a faulty methodology which could only yield positive results, and then presented the results as unbiased and valid despite the skewed methodology,” Hawkins added.


Pornography has been receiving increasingly negative attention as more groups and individuals highlight its destructive effects on people’s well-being and relationships.


Last year, the GOP at the Republican National Convention declared pornography a public health crisis as part of their platform, a few months after the state of Utah declared the same.


British comedian Russel Brand, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rashida Jones, and former NFL player and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews are just some of the celebrities that have recently spoken out against pornography, its addictive properties and its harmful effects on relationships.


Smartphones and other technology have made pornography more accessible than ever before, increasing the prevalence of pornography addiction. However, in response, numerous online community groups, smartphone apps and educational videos - both secular and faith-based - have launched, with the goal of helping people quit porn.


Still, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, strong biases in favor of pornography as a healthy part of sexuality still exist.


“Pornography is so pervasive today that many individuals grew up watching it and therefore assume it is a normal and healthy part of sexuality,” Haley Halverson, director of communications for NCOSE, told CNA.


“Yet, like cigarettes in the 1950s, we know that just because a practice is popularly accepted doesn't mean it is healthy or beneficial.”


There have also been recent arguments made that pornography simply needs to be produced more ethically. However, Halverson said, it is not possible to make an “inherently unethical” practice more ethical.


“Pornography inherently involves dehumanizing a person by reducing them to a mere collection of body parts for one’s own selfish sexual pleasure. This is an inherently unethical way to view or treat another person,” she said.


“Some people may try to make pornography ‘less’ unethical in different ways, but but such attempts can never change the fact that pornography objectifies human beings. Only a society that rejects pornography can fully respect the human dignity of each person.”


Aquinas College to downsize, shift focus to education

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 07:56

Nashville, Tenn., Mar 14, 2017 / 05:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Aquinas College in Nashville announced last week that it will be restructuring to focus primarily on education degrees, and will drop its other majors, as well as residential life.

“The decision to reconfigure Aquinas College was made only after a process of careful discernment, as we considered the College’s long and persistent history of difficulties in finances, fluctuating enrollment, and development, as well as other complexities related to operating a traditional college in today’s world,” stated Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, president of Aquinas College.

“We have sought to reach the most financially responsible decision possible, both for the short and long term,” she said in a March 10 press release.

Aquinas College was founded in 1961 by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee. It was originally a two-year, liberal arts college but later, it converted into a four-year school. Over the years, the college has offered a variety of academic majors, including arts, sciences, business, and nursing, as well as a graduate school of education.

Last fall, the college added new residence and dining halls to its campus, with hopes of growing its student population, and also offered new majors in marketing, math, and psychology. At the time, they had 344 enrolled students.

“Over the years, Aquinas has educated thousands of teachers, nurses, and health care professionals, as well as those engaged in business and law enforcement. These individuals now serve the Nashville community and beyond,” noted Sister Galbraith.

“We love Aquinas College, and are proud of the accomplishments of its graduates.”

Starting in the fall of 2017, Aquinas College will reconfigure its current system to focus primarily on offering bachelor and master degrees in education. The school will cut most of their other majors, and will only continue forward with philosophy and theology course offerings, as well as the School of Education.

Residential life will also discontinue, and student life activities will no longer be offered.

Sister Galbraith expressed that this decision was the most fiscally responsible path for the school to take, and noted that this move will have no impact on other schools involved with the Dominican Sisters.

However, the shift will also mean the drastic downsizing of faculty, students and staff.

Since the shift, Sister Galbraith said that the school is helping more than half of Aquinas students find other suitable colleges. The school is additionally laying off 60 of its 76 employees, while also trying to help them find other employment.

The Dominican Sisters, filled with a rich history and passion for education, believe that the new spotlight on education at Aquinas College will prepare future “teachers to serve the Church in its mission of education.”

“This decision to focus Aquinas College on the preparation of teachers primarily for Catholic schools is consistent with the 157-year heritage of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia,” Sister Galbraith stated.

Although the school’s president noted that the decision would surprise many people close to Aquinas College, she did express gratitude and hope for the school’s future.

“We look forward to its future, grateful to the City of Nashville and the wider Catholic community whose friendship and loyal support continue to be a source of strength for its life and mission,” Sister Galbraith noted.

“We are grateful for your prayers and support as we do everything in our power to assist and walk with those whose lives are affected by this decision.”



Is the death penalty a form of psychological torture? This author says yes

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 05:20

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2017 / 03:20 am (CNA).- Recent “botched executions” resulting in painful deaths for inmates have stirred controversy over the use of the death penalty. But could capital punishment also be rejected on the grounds that it amounts to psychological torture?

That is the case that University of Baltimore law professor John Bessler makes in his new book, “The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition.”

“The U.S. needs to start looking at the psychological aspect of the death penalty, in terms of the psychological pain or suffering, because that is part and parcel of the definition of what is torture is, as defined by the U.S. ratification of the Torture Convention,” Bessler told CNA in an interview.

Capital punishment is not legal in 19 states, and four states have a governor-imposed moratorium on the death penalty. Of the 31 states where it is used, only four – Georgia, Texas, Florida, and Missouri – account for 85 percent of executions in the U.S. since 2013, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The overall number of executions in 2016 fell to 20, its lowest number since 1991 and down from 28 executions in 2015, the Death Penalty Information Center noted. This continued a long decline in the number of executions from 1999, when the number was 98. The Pew Research Center has also reported a continuing drop in public support for the death penalty.

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the U.S., but actions by drug companies and the European Union – which bans the use of the death penalty – to prevent drugs to be used for capital punishment have significantly factored into the decline in the number of executions, the Death Penalty Information Center says.

Drug companies including Pfizer, Akorn, and Par have moved to prevent or limit the sale of drugs to be used in capital punishment. The European Union has limited the export of drugs that are also used in executions in the U.S.

As a result, states are finding it harder to obtain drugs for lethal injections and they are resorting to other means of obtaining the drugs. In some cases, they imported them from a supplier in India, as BuzzFeed News found in 2015, as Arizona and Texas ordered shipments of the drug sodium thiopenthal which were blocked by the Food and Drug Administration when they reached the U.S.

States have also legalized other methods of execution if drugs for lethal injection are not available, or if that method is ruled unconstitutional.

Utah in 2015 allowed death by firing squad to be used for capital punishment. Oklahoma has legalized the gas chamber for such instances, and Tennessee the electric chair.

Arkansas recently scheduled eight executions in 10 days in April, before its supply of Midazolam, the sedative used in the execution process, expires.

However, the current processes of lethal injection have invited controversy for the physical pain they can inflict on subjects, most notably in “botched executions” like in Oklahoma in 2015 where an inmate was given a sedative and was supposed to be unconscious, but writhed in pain once the lethal drugs were administered before dying of a massive heart attack.

“The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City responded to the botched execution. “And I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether.”

Lethal injection is, in some states, a three-step process, with the first step involving a sedative meant to render the patient unconscious before the following lethal drugs are administered.

If their sedative does not work properly in the lethal injection process, the physical pain that these inmates could endure from the chemicals would definitely constitute torture, Bessler argued.

In the 2015 case of Glossip v. Gross, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the inmate Richard Glossip who claimed that the sedative Midazolam, used by Oklahoma in executions, was not certain to work properly and could result in a painful execution that violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor dissented and argued that Midazolam might not work as intended and thus would not sufficiently dull the pain inflicted on the subject’s body by the ensuing drug potassium chloride.

As a result, the painful effect of the drugs could essentially result in “the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake” if Midazolam does not work, Sotomayor stated. The inventor of Midazolam, Dr. Armin Walser, has stated that he does not want it used for executions.

Recent Supreme Court cases on the death penalty have shown an “obsession with will there be physically excruciating pain” for an inmate at the time of death, Bessler noted.

However, the psychological state of inmates awaiting death could also be torturous, he added: “the helpless of the condemned person on the gurney is one of the elements of torture.”

And it was Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent in Glossip that “really does start thinking about the psychological aspect of what we’re doing with use of the death penalty,” Bessler noted.

First, Breyer wrote of how prisoners on death row are kept in solitary confinement for most of the day – a practice that, if carried out over weeks or months, could damage the psyche of an inmate. Breyer cited studies that show prolonged solitary confinement to cause serious psychological problems like hallucinations and stupors.

And inmates on death row can often be kept in solitary confinement. However, “the dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement is aggravated by uncertainty as to whether a death sentence will in fact be carried out,” Breyer wrote.

And this condition can be prolonged for years or even decades due to modern policies regarding death sentences. Laws require reviews of death sentences and evidence of crimes, and appeals can be filed, but this extends the time inmates spend on death row waiting for their execution.

The average time between sentencing and execution has steadily grown to its peak of 198 months in 2011 – or 16 and a half years – before falling slightly to 190 months in 2012, the Death Penalty Information Center noted. In one case of Brandon Jones, executed in February of 2016 by Georgia, he was on death row for 36 years after receiving a death sentence in 1979.

“Psychologists and lawyers in the United States and elsewhere have argued that protracted periods in the confines of death row can make inmates suicidal, delusional and insane,” the Death Penalty Information Center says, noting that some experts have even called such a condition the “death row phenomenon.”

Breyer, in his dissent, had referenced an 1890 Supreme Court opinion that found “when a prisoner sentenced by a court to death is confined in the penitentiary awaiting the execution of the sentence, one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected during that time is the uncertainty during the whole of it.”

When considering whether the death penalty meets the criteria for cruel and unusual punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment, the Supreme Court must also consider the possibility that it is psychological torture, Bessler insisted.

“Even if you could guarantee a pain-free execution,” he said, “the concept of torture includes psychological torture in the modern era, and that’s something that the courts in the United States have not yet wrestled with head-on, and they need to.”

Bessler argued that in private cases, under “common parlance” when a murder is described as a “torture murder,” the factor “turns a first-degree murder into a ‘torture murder’ is the awareness of one’s impending death.”

One example of this is the 2008 case of ex parte Donald Deardorff, he said, where a murder victim had been “threatened with death,” bound, confined in a closet, and forced to walk with a hood over his head before being shot to death. The Alabama Supreme Court said that the whole ordeal preceding the murder was “psychological torture.”

With the death penalty, “you kind of have that issue on steroids, because the person has an awareness of their impending death for literally decades,” Bessler added. “And in a lot of cases you’re seeing multiple death warrants being issued. There’s cases where more than ten death warrants have been issued for a given individual.”

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person,” and the purpose of which includes their punishment.

The inclusion of severe “mental suffering” in this definition, as well as any such suffering inflicted as punishment, makes it clear that the psychological anguish an inmate can experience on death row qualifies as torture, Bessler insisted.

South Africa, European countries, and 19 states do not use the death penalty, he said, and the rest of the U.S. is “really kind of behind the times in terms of thinking about this as a human rights violation.” The countries that are routinely executing people, he added, mostly make up “kind of a rogues gallery of human rights abusers,” including Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and China.

And, he added, both international law and U.S. law regard a “mock execution” as an “act of torture.” If this is the case, he said, “it’s hard to see how a real execution should not also qualify under that legal rubric.”


New South Dakota law could protect religious adoption agencies

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 22:01

Pierre, S.D., Mar 13, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While religious adoption agencies have been shut down in various parts of the United States after facing pressure to place children with same-sex couples, they now have a few more legal protections in South Dakota because of a new law.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed S.B. 149 after it passed the House of Representatives by a 43-20 vote and the Senate by 27-8.

The governor said he was concerned that private child placement agencies acting in a child’s best interest could face a lawsuit if South Dakota bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the Associated Press reports.

Backers of the law cited the fate of adoption agencies in other states that have faced the revocation of their license to operate, funding cuts, and the denial of contracts under strict anti-discrimination policies and laws.

South Dakota’s Catholic Social Services has been placing children in adoptive homes for 43 years.

Jim Kinyon, executive director of Catholic Social Services, said that the legislation would help ensure that the state does not discriminate against faith-based organizations with sincerely held beliefs.

The bill drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties’ South Dakota affiliate and the LGBT activist group the Human Rights Campaign. The ACLU said it is considering legal challenges. Libby Skarin, policy director of ACLU South Dakota, contended that the governor’s action showed more concern for private agencies than for the needs of children.

Adoption agencies, including Catholic adoption agencies,  have shut down because of anti-discrimination laws or funding policies in Washington, D.C., Boston, Illinois and California. The agencies’ policies like placing children only with married husband and wife couples have conflicted with expanding legal requirements to place children with same-sex couples.

The Church is the 'only functioning institution' in South Sudan

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 18:46

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2017 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid war and famine in South Sudan, the Catholic Church is still serving the most vulnerable even as the government has collapsed.

The Church is the “only functioning institution in civil society,” Neil Corkery, president of the Sudan Relief Fund, told CNA in an interview, and “is really the only thing that’s left trying to help people” who live “in the remotest parts of the country.”

Famine was recently declared in parts of South Sudan, where there has been an ongoing civil war, interrupted by tenuous peace, since December 2013.

42 percent of the population, an estimated 4.5 million people, are facing “severe food insecurity,” Corkery said, and that number is expected to rise to half the country’s population – or 5.5 million – by July.

There have been 2.5 million refugees created by the conflict, he added. A confidential UN report warned that the conflict had reached “catastrophic proportions for civilians,” the South China Morning Post reported last month.

“This crisis is man-made, the direct consequence of a conflict prolonged by South Sudanese leaders who are unwilling to put aside political ambitions for the good of their people,” State Department acting spokesperson Mark C. Toner stated on February 21.

“We call on President Kiir to expeditiously make good on his promise that humanitarian and developmental organizations will have unimpeded access to populations in need across the country,” Toner added.

Recently, President Salva Kiir called for a day of prayer for the country ahead of a national dialogue. The auxiliary bishop of Juba, however, dismissed it as a “political prayer” and “a mockery” amid violence inflicted by government troops.

Because of the conflict and the “scorched earth” policies of government troops, many have been “unable to plant their crops,” Corkery said.

At a parish in the Diocese of Tombura-Yambio, in the southwestern portion of the country and an area that is “very fertile” and was once a bread basket for the country, “these people are now in hiding, or taking refuge in the parish compound, and unable to plant crops,” he said. “Things are obviously just getting much worse.”

“It is a real crisis that’s coming down the pike,” Corkery warned.

The country’s bishops have spoken out against the violence there, accusing soldiers of committing war crimes and saying that the violence has interrupted the harvesting of crops.

“Despite our calls to all parties, factions, and individuals to STOP THE WAR, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all across the country,” the bishops of South Sudan stated in a Feb. 23 pastoral message.

“Much of the violence,” they added, “is being perpetrated by government and opposition forces against civilians,” especially those of ethnicities deemed to be in alliance with rebel factions. And those victims “are prevented from harvesting their crops,” the bishops added.

Some members of the government have frustrated local peace deals brokered by the Church, the bishops said, and churches, priests, and nuns have been attacked.  

The U.S. has sent “$2 billion since 2014 in humanitarian aid alone,” Corkery said, but the United Nations humanitarian workers only operate in “certain pockets” of the country.

Amid this crisis and growing famine, Catholic priests, nuns, and missionaries have been laboring to bring food and supplies to remote areas and are “reaching these people who are truly destitute and starving.”

It is not an easy task. Aside from the ongoing conflict where soldiers could seize food and supplies if they were aware they were being transported, the country’s logistical infrastructure is so poor there are no paved roads outside the capital city of Juba, Corkery noted. During the country’s rainy season, this problem is expanded.

“The real heroes that I see there,” Corkery said, are the “missionaries toiling away on the front lines.”

“These people are looking at the long-term solution in terms of the eternal scheme of things, people’s souls.”

Several aid workers with Samaritan's Purse were detained or kidnapped by opposition fighters near Mayendit March 13.

South Sudan announced earlier this month it plans to charge $10,000 per visa for foreign aid workers.

“The government and the army have largely contributed to the humanitarian situation. And now, they want to create profit from the crisis they have created," Elizabeth Deng, South Sudan researcher with Amnesty International, said in reaction to the announcement.

Despite the heroic efforts of missionaries, the Sudan Relief Fund, and other aid groups like Aid to the Church In Need and Samaritan’s Purse, a long-term peace is the only lasting solution to the country’s problems, Corkery insisted.

Prayer is the most important thing Catholics in the U.S. can do to help the situation, he said, as peace can only come about through “prayer and grace working in the hearts and the minds of these warring tribes and factions.”

However, citizens can also ask members of Congress to “push the U.S. government to put more pressure” on South Sudanese leaders. The U.S. has already begun listing “top leaders as war criminals” there, he said.

Pope Francis has spoken about the crisis in the country and has expressed his desire to visit there. No details of the trip have yet been released, Corkery said.

“The Pope and the Church,” he said, “are the only people that have the ability to convene, bring the parties together” for a peaceful solution. Pope Francis will try to “refocus the international community on the gravity of this crisis that’s there” and “convene the warring parties to try to bring them to the table to get some peace.”

Despite warnings, assisted suicide bill advances in Hawaii

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 18:00

Honolulu, Hawaii, Mar 13, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Although critics said an assisted suicide bill would put vulnerable people at risk and change the nature of medicine, the Hawaii Senate has given it strong support.

“Physicians are seen as trusted health advisors, and this bill undermines this relationship, creating suspicion and uncertainty for Hawaii’s patients,” said Deacon Walter Yoshimitsu, executive director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference.

“The Senate’s approval of assisted suicide ignores the tremendous strides we have made as a community to promote the value of hospice and palliative care to care for those with terminal illnesses and to ensure everyone has access to quality end of life care.”

Deacon Yoshimitsu said the Catholic conference has worked to uphold the sanctity of life.

“Those in favor of assisted suicide have framed this as an issue about individual autonomy and freedom of choice, when it fact it is nothing more than a veiled attempt to make it legal for physicians to murder their patients with immunity,” he said.

The bill, modeled on an Oregon law, presents itself as an “aid in dying” bill. It would allow adults who have a prognosis of six months or fewer to live to ask for a fatal prescription of drugs. It passed by a vote of 22-3 on March 7.

State Sen. Breene Harimoto voted against the proposed bill. He spoke about facing his possible death after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and said he was glad he did not have the option to take pills to kill himself when he was at a low point of pain and suffering, the Associated Press reports.

“Life is a precious gift,” he said. “No matter how bad things may seem to be, that sense of hope is what keeps us all going. And unexplained miracles happen.”

State Sen. Rosalyn Baker, a backer of the bill, said it gave people the choice in how they would die.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for debate in committee.

Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu wrote a Jan. 31 letter to the Catholics of Hawaii linking assisted suicide to the “throwaway culture” criticized by Pope Francis.

Eva Andrade, president of the Hawaii Family Forum, there was “strong opposition” to the assisted suicide bill and the number testimonies submitted against the bill “far exceeded” those in favor.

“We are perplexed why the concerns raised by individuals over the adverse impact such a law would have on Hawaii’s people are being dismissed by some members of the House and Senate. Yet, we remain prayerfully optimistic. Hawaii’s legislative session does not end until early May, and we will continue to closely monitor these bills and mobilize the community.”

She said Hawaii has one of the fastest-growing older adult populations in the U.S. She charged that the bill would allow elder abuse if it becomes law.

Five U.S. states presently allow assisted suicide.

Fr. Stanley Rother, first US-born martyr, to be beatified in September

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 12:37

Oklahoma City, Okla., Mar 13, 2017 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Stanley Rother, the Oklahoma-born martyr who served as a priest in Guatemala, will be beatified in Oklahoma City on Sept. 23, 2017.

The beatification announcement was made by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City on March 13. Fr. Rother was a priest of the archdiocese. The beautification Mass will take place at 10 a.m. at the Cox Convention Center.

In December 2016, Pope Francis officially acknowledged Fr. Rother’s martyrdom, making him the first recognized martyr to have been born in the United States.

Fr. Rother was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Okla., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

Surrounded by good priests and a vibrant parish life, Stanley felt God calling him to the priesthood from a young age. But despite a strong calling, Stanley would struggle in the seminary, failing several classes and even out of one seminary before graduating from Mount St. Mary's seminary in Maryland.

Hearing of Stanely’s struggles, Sister Clarissa Tenbrick, his 5th grade teacher, wrote him to offer encouragement, reminding him that the patron of all priests, St. John Vianney, also struggled in seminary.

“Both of them were simple men who knew they had a call to the priesthood and then had somebody empower them so that they could complete their studies and be priests,” Maria Scaperlanda, author of The Shepherd Who Didn't Run, a biography of the martyr, told CNA in an interview last year.

“And they brought a goodness, simplicity and generous heart with them in (everything) they did.”

When Stanley was still in seminary, St. John XXIII asked the Churches of North America to send assistance and establish missions in Central America. Soon after, the dioceses of Oklahoma City and Tulsa established a mission in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.

A few years after he was ordained, Fr. Stanley accepted an invitation to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

When he arrived to the mission, the Tz'utujil Mayan Indians in the village had no native equivalent for Stanley, so they took to calling him Padre Francisco, after his baptismal name of Francis.

The work ethic Fr. Stanley learned on his family’s farm would serve him well in this new place. As a mission priest, he was called on not just to say Mass, but to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers' co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, which was used for catechesis to the even more remote villages.

“What I think is tremendous is how God doesn't waste any details,” Scaperlanda said. “That same love for the land and the small town where everybody helps each other, all those things that he learned in Okarche is exactly what he needed when he arrived in Santiago.”

The beloved Padre Francisco was also known for his kindness, selflessness, joy and attentive presence among his parishioners. Dozens of pictures show giggling children running after Padre Francisco and grabbing his hands, Scaperlanda said.

“It was Father Stanley’s natural disposition to share the labor with them, to break bread with them, and celebrate life with them, that made the community in Guatemala say of Father Stanley, ‘he was our priest,’” she said.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Stanley remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point. Fr. Stanley was constantly seeing friends and parishioners abducted or killed. In a letter to Oklahoma Catholics during what would be his last Christmas, the priest relayed to the people back home the dangers his mission parish faced daily.

“The reality is that we are in danger. But we don’t know when or what form the government will use to further repress the Church…. Given the situation, I am not ready to leave here just yet… But if it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it.... I don’t want to desert these people, and that is what will be said, even after all these years. There is still a lot of good that can be done under the circumstances.”

He ended the letter with what would become his signature quote:

“The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”

In January 1981, in immediate danger and his name on a death list, Fr. Stanley did return to Oklahoma for a few months. But as Easter approached, he wanted to spend Holy Week with his people in Guatemala.

“Father Stanley could not abandon his people,” Scaperlanda said. “He made a point of returning to his Guatemala parish in time to celebrate Holy Week with his parishioners that year – and ultimately was killed for living out his Catholic faith.”

The morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Fr. Rother's rectory. They wished to disappear him, but he refused. Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

Scaperlanda, who has worked on Fr. Stanley’s cause for canonization, said the priest is a great witness and example: “He fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, visited the sick, comforted the afflicted, bore wrongs patiently, buried the dead – all of it.”

His life is also a great example of ordinary people being called to do extraordinary things for God, she said.

“(W)hat impacted me the most about Father Stanley’s life was how ordinary it was!” she said.

“I love how simply Oklahoma City’s Archbishop Paul Coakley states it: ‘We need the witness of holy men and women who remind us that we are all called to holiness – and that holy men and women come from ordinary places like Okarche, Oklahoma,’” she said.

“Although the details are different, I believe the call is the same – and the challenge is also the same. Like Father Stanley, each of us is called to say ‘yes’ to God with our whole heart. We are all asked to see the Other standing before us as a child of God, to treat them with respect and a generous heart,” she added.

“We are called to holiness – whether we live in Okarche, Oklahoma, or New York City or Guatemala City.”

What the world could learn from the witness of Egypt's Christians

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Mar 11, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/Europa Press).- Despite being victims of harassment and violence, Egypt’s Coptic Christians have set a standard of forgiveness that everyone should imitate, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.K. has said.

Egypt’s Christians have been loyal, peaceful, and forgiving amid a recent spate of violence that has driven hundreds from their homes, Bishop Anba Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.K., told CNA in an interview.

“I take a huge pride in their witness and in their example,” he said.

“And I think that really has given a substantial example for all of us to follow. If they can live with this grace and graciousness in that volatile setting, then in our day-to-day lives and in our day-to-day struggles, we should be able to do the same.”

In the last three months around 40 Egyptian Christians have been killed, including in a bombing of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December that killed 29.

Local Islamic State affiliates in Egypt’s Sinai region have been targeting Christians, intending to drive them out of the area. Attacks in al-Arish, a city in the Sinai region, have resulted in seven deaths, with hundreds of Christians leaving their homes.

Their needs are “provided for,” Bishop Angaelos said, from his conversations with local Coptic bishops, and the government is working to provide education for the children.

“Of course they want to go back,” he said of Sinai’s Christians. “No one ever wants to leave their home. Leaving one’s home is traumatic, and especially when this isn’t just leaving. They’ve left sometimes with the very bare necessities, to have left their whole lives behind.”

Yet, he added, “they won’t go back unless the problem has been resolved.” The perpetrators of the attacks are still in the region and could strike again.

Life in Egypt is not easy for its Coptic Christians, who trace their roots as a community to St. Mark, who first evangelized the area. Christians make up 15 percent of the Egypt’s population.

Yet in many ways, especially in the country’s rural areas, they are treated as second-class citizens as they are victims of discrimination or even violence, and their churches have been attacked. Yet the crimes have not been properly investigated and punished by local authorities.

Christians have seen “many positive things” in the national government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Bishop Angaelos noted, but “what we’re not seeing done is a robust system of law and order at the local level” where security forces can curtail criminal acts and then the local judiciary can hold the perpetrators accountable.

“Because otherwise what happens is an overwhelming sense of impunity, and a criminal confidence that continues escalating the violence and the attacks,” he said.

Yet the international community must also be aware of the importance of promoting peace in the country so Christians can remain in their homes, he insisted.

“The tragedy is that the number of Christians in the Middle East has dwindled,” Bishop Angaelos said, “because every other country where there was a significant Christian presence has been devastated by war or conflict and they have moved.”

He estimated Egypt’s Christian minority to make up around 80 percent of the overall Middle Eastern Christian population.

What can be done to help the embattled Coptic Christians?

“First and foremost prayer,” the bishop explained. However, advocacy is also vital in a time when ongoing conflicts can be supplanted in the news cycle by even more terrible and explosive tragedies.

“Just because it’s not the top item in your newsfeed doesn’t mean it’s [not] still happening,” he maintained.

It is important “to keep the issue alive and to keep it in peoples’ minds and in peoples’ hearts, and to keep people aware that it continues to be a struggle,” he said, “because they do feel very voiceless, and they sometimes feel very unsupported. And it’s up to us, I think, to make sure that they don’t feel that.”

The U.S. must also pressure Egypt to ensure that Christians enjoy equal rights as the rest of the citizenry, he said.

International partners could accomplish a great deal of good through foreign investment and supporting tourism in the country, he explained. What is most needed is “not handouts,” he insisted, “but an investment in the country and in the people of the country.”

“This isn’t just about governments. This is about individuals feeling vulnerable economically, and so therefore the weaker elements also become vulnerable to radicalization,” he said.

The poor and the unemployed are more vulnerable to radicalization, he explained. “And we find that it is poor, unassuming people who are manipulated into these situations and unable to push back enough, unable to withstand the pressure. And they become prey.”

“What we see in the Christian community, of course, is that they suffer. The Christian communities suffer because those who work in private industry or in tourist industry are suffering.”

Divorce numbers rise among older Americans, fall among younger couples

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 16:05

Washington D.C., Mar 10, 2017 / 02:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The divorce rate has doubled for Americans over age 50, and tripled among Americans over 65, a new survey shows.

“At a time when divorce is becoming less common for younger adults, so-called ‘gray divorce’ is on the rise,” the Pew Research Center said.

In 2015, the divorce rate among married persons over 50 was 10 in 1,000, an increase from 5 in 1,000 in 1990. Among those 65 and older, the divorce rate has tripled to 6 per 1,000.

Pew said the divorced rate among those 50 and older is partly linked to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, the age cohort 51-69 in 2015. As young adults, this generation had unprecedented levels of divorce. Remarriages tend to be less stable than first marriages, with the divorced-and-remarried having twice the divorce rate as those married once. Among the divorces of adults age 50 and older, 48 percent were in a second or later marriage.

The risk of divorce is also higher among those who have been married for a shorter time.

At the same time, Pew said a “significant share” of divorces are among those 50 and older. About 34 percent of those divorcing after 50 years old had been married for at least 30 years, and 12 percent were married for over 40 years. Many of these divorcees cited dissatisfaction in their marriages and a desire to seek opportunities to pursue their own interest and independence late in life.

These older divorcees, especially women, face more financial insecurity than married and widowed adults.

As for younger age cohorts, the divorce rate slightly increased among married adults age 40-49.

Divorce rates have dropped 21 percent among those aged 25-39, from 30 in 1,000 to 24 in 1,000 from 1990 to 2015. According to Pew, this decline is in part attributed to younger generations’ delay in marrying. It is also attributed to the phenomenon of the college-educated being more likely to marry and also being less likely to divorce.