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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Catholic University of America offers free tuition to Puerto Rican students

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 13:45

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2017 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through Puerto Rico leaving a trail of disaster, the Catholic University of America announced this week that it will welcome Puerto Rican students who want to continue their undergraduate education free of charge.

“Inspired by the example of Pope Francis and our bishops, we wanted to make a more significant impact by offering our support during the spring semester,” John Garvey, President of Catholic University of America, said Nov. 6.

“We believe the best support we can provide is a welcoming community where impacted students can continue their academic pursuits,” Garvey continued.

In August, Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage throughout the Caribbean and parts of the U.S., leaving millions in Puerto Rico without power. Only a few weeks later, Hurricane Maria swept through, causing additional major damage in Puerto Rico and across the northeastern Caribbean. Gov. Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico called the event a humanitarian crisis.

The official death toll from the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico currently stands at 55, although a new report released last week claims that the number could be hundreds higher, potentially reaching 500.

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Catholic University of America was actively involved in supporting the victims of the natural disaster.

“Throughout the fall semester our University community has provided assistance to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and to our students with ties there,” Garvey noted.

However, the university wanted to do more and is now opening enrollment for the spring 2018 semester for currently enrolled students at colleges and universities in Puerto Rico who want to enroll with visitor status. Tuition and all standard fees for up to 40 students will be waived.

Students from any major and program of study will be accepted, and the Catholic University of America is willing to accommodate these needs.

Additionally, students who take a at least three courses (or nine credits) would also qualify for on-campus housing, with standard charges. A special orientation for Puerto Rican students will be available in the spring before classes begin.

Applications are being accepted through Dec. 15.

Catholic University of America was founded by the Catholic bishops of the United States and is located on a 176-acre campus in Washington, D.C. The university holds 12 schools and 21 research facilities and aims to “cultivate Catholic Minds in all things,” according to their website.

How social workers can advance Catholic social teaching

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- How social workers can live their faith in the workplace was the focus of the latest annual conference of the Catholic Social Workers National Association.

“The association’s members … are united and called to live out the Gospel to carry out his mission, not only in our personal lives but professional as well,” president and co-founder Kathleen Neher told CNA Nov. 1.

“We share a common belief, which is to bring forth a culture of life by promoting the Catholic social teachings in the area of social work and in keeping with and faithful to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.”

The association’s annual conference began Nov. 3 in in Washington D.C. at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The group of professionals and students seek to have their occupation guided by the teachings of the Church. The organization also acts as a place of Catholic formation and source of spiritual strength.

In collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the group answers ethical questions regarding field practices and educates Catholics on what legislation is supported by the Church.

Neher said the association’s members gather annually “to network, pray and learn about current developments in their practice” with lectures on a wide variety of professions.

She said the goal of the conference is “to educate members on recent developments, gather Catholic social workers who don’t normally have a way to express their faith and beliefs in an accepting forum, and to celebrate our faith as we are united with the Catholic Church.”
 
Founded in 2005, the association’s members work in government agencies, health clinics, faith-based organizations and universities. They often work with the most vulnerable: immigrants, addicts, veterans, pregnant women, children and the poor.

Neher said the association members want their clients to see them as representatives of St. Louis de Marillac, someone who cares deeply about moral and social problems and as “someone whose step they listen for as we go about serving their needs,” in his words.

Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is an episcopal liaison to the group. He told CNA that a social worker’s profession is aligned to the Gospel’s description of charity: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.

Although works of mercy are part of the job for social workers, Bishop Senior said, it is still the role of all the laity to be a light of faith in the world.

“To have Catholics living their faith, that is something we want in every profession,” he said. “We want Catholics committing Catholics to be missionary disciples, as Pope Francis has called us all to be as a Church perpetually on mission.”

However, for the social worker, dealing regularly with intractable social problems is exhausting and challenging, In the bishop’s view, the organization is a source of spiritual and intellectual support.

“Social workers work hard and you are dealing with problems all the time and there is no way you can do that without finding some resource for life and refreshment,” he reflected. “We have ready access to that in our faith.”

In his role within the association, Bishop Senior will provide answers for members who struggle with a specific approach of an agency or have ethical questions on a certain practice in the field.

The association also informs its members on current legal issues. It advocates for laws in defense of human dignity.

“Our advocacy is grounded in Catholic social teaching and the teaching of the Church. Information is shared on a regular basis on issues that are impacting and of concern to social workers, such as religious freedom, sexuality and gender issues,” Neher told CNA.

Catholic social teaching is not only for Catholics, Bishop Senior said, but it envisions a just system he hopes would be made available for anyone.

“Catholic social workers are committed to implementing that vision for a just society, for the respect for human life, or addressing people in extreme poverty and their needs,” he said.

San Antonio archbishop prays for victims of Texas church shooting

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:11

San Antonio, Texas, Nov 5, 2017 / 06:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After at least 26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, the local Catholic archbishop offered prayers and solidarity for the victims.

“We need prayers! The families affected in the shooting this morning at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs need prayers. The evil perpetrated on these who were gathered to worship God on the Lord’s Day – especially children and the elderly – makes no sense and will never be fully understood,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio said Nov. 5.

“Disbelief and shock are the overwhelming feelings; there are no adequate words. There can be no explanation or motive for such a scene of horror at a small country church for families gathered to praise Jesus Christ.”

He said that “These Baptist brethren are our family, friends and neighbors who live among us in the archdiocese … We are committed to work in unity with all our brothers and sisters to build peace in our communities; to connect in a more direct and substantial way. The Catholic Church in Texas and across the United States is with you.”

Garcia-Siller added that the San Antonio archdiocese's Catholic Charities “stands ready to assist and provide whatever services may be needed in this time of tragedy and will do whatever needs to be done.”

“Let’s help these brothers and sisters with prayers; they need us. Also, pray fervently for peace amidst all of the violence which seems to be overwhelming our society. We must be lights in the darkness. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May God have mercy!”

Sutherland Springs is  small town located about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio. A shooter entered the town's First Baptist Church late Sunday morning, during a service. He has reportedly been killed.

The suspect, who fled in a car, was shot at by a local citizen. The suspect was found dead in his car by police.

At least 20 people were injured by gunfire and taken to the hospital.

 

How the Church can help victims of sexual assault

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 16:12

Washington D.C., Nov 5, 2017 / 02:12 pm (CNA).- It’s been a month since the New York Times first published an investigative report on Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood film producer and studio executive who has been accused of sexually assaulting numerous women in the entertainment industry since the 1990s.

Already, the reports have been followed by a movement among women - both those who have made additional accusations against Weinstein and other celebrities, and women throughout the world who are sharing their own stories of sexual assault on social media, accompanied by the hashtag #MeToo.

The Catholic Church in the United States faced its own sex abuse crisis in the early 2000s, beginning with the Boston Globe’s report on extensive sexual abuse by clergy, particularly against minors. Since then, the Church has taken care to provide numerous resources to such victims, and develop robust child protection policies.

But what can the Church provide for adult victims of general sexual assault, whether committed by Church personnel or other people?  

Catholic psychologist Dr. Greg Bottaro said one of the most important things the Church can do to help victims of sexual assault is to anticipate and initiate the conversation about it.

“I think that’s the good thing about the Harvey Weinstein case - obviously this has become a more common conversation, but there needs to be more of that,” he said.

“Let people know that it’s ok to talk about this, it’s ok to report this, if something has happened to you it’s ok to come forward.”

Victims also need validation “that the assault is wrong, because sexual assault is traumatic. It’s trauma in the deepest sense of the word, and the definition of trauma is the perceived harm to life or integrity of body. Having your bodily integrity violated is a traumatic event, there’s a loss of power that happens, it’s a real victimization.”

If a Catholic experiences sexual assault, there are several websites that can help connect them to Catholic counselors and therapists, including catholicpsych.com, catholictherapists.com, and wellcatholic.com. Most dioceses also have Catholic counselors and therapists with whom they work closely and to whom victims can be referred, Dr. Bottaro noted.

Seeking a healing and help that incorporates one’s Catholic faith is important, Dr. Bottaro said, because the trauma caused by sexual violence can wound the deepest parts of the human person.

“Our bodies are meant to be gifts to be given with full freedom in a full fruition of our choice, and when that choice is taken away, that’s a strike against our sense of (self),” he said.

“So the healing we seek has to take that into account and help us rebuild the sense of self that is founded on a deeper principle.”

People who have experienced sexual assault also often are in need of spiritual healing, because such traumatic events can cause them to question their belief in God as a loving father, Dr. Bottaro noted.

“One effect (of trauma) is that our sense of being safe in the world is violated, and that digs down into our sense of having a father who loves us and takes care of us,” he said. “Victims of trauma have to make sense of that - how can you say that there’s a father in heaven who loves me when this happened to me? So having a psychologist who can walk through that with somebody, and help wrestle with that reality, and learn how to accept suffering as part of God’s will is an essential element to healing.”

Sue Stubbs is the director of the Victim Assistance Office for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia. While her office was originally created to respond to the clergy sex abuse crisis, as were many diocesan child and youth protection departments, Stubbs said that her office has become a catch-all, and now provides resources to a wide variety of victims, whether they were assaulted by church personnel or not.

Besides helping connect victims with counselors, Stubbs said the office also puts on retreats every year, two for women and one for men, that help address both psychological and spiritual components of healing after sexual assault.

Stubbs said it was important for victims to seek spiritual as well as psychological healing, because the two areas often overlap, and because recognizing God as an all-good and all-loving creator helps victims make sense of their experiences.

“You have to believe that someone bigger than you cares about you, and created you a certain way, to really understand that nothing...that happens to you and nothing that you do can change the way God made you. (Your worth) stays the same no matter what.”

Her office also facilitates trauma recovery groups for victims that are usually put on once or twice a year, for nine sessions each. The groups welcome people who have suffered all kinds of trauma and sexual assault, whether in childhood or later in life.

The benefit of a group, Stubbs said, is that people can get a sense that they’re not alone.

“You don’t feel alone, you don’t feel different. (Victims sometimes) feel like a freak and they realize they’re not. Someone in the group is saying the same thing that they’ve thought a million times,” she said. “And it provides a safe connection, because these people get it, they’re not afraid to reach out because they know that this person has had something similar.”

Stubbs said that she often tells other people in Church leadership that the Church has to start seeing victims of sexual assault as people who are on the peripheries, to whom Pope Francis has called the Church to minister.

“The people that come to church oftentimes are the periphery, you just can’t see it,” Stubbs said.  “People who’ve been sexually assaulted are the periphery and they could be sitting right next to you and have no idea, because they don’t talk about it, they hide it, it's an invisible secret that they’re afraid to show anybody.”

“There’s a part of them that feels broken, they perceive themselves as something sinful, but it isn’t their sin, it’s someone else’s sin that has affected their life, and it’s confusing,” Stubbs said.  

“And I think that’s where the Church can help to untie those knots - I think we could add the spiritual piece” that is missing from other community resources, she said.

College campuses are unfortunately a place of increased risk for sexual violence - especially for women. RAINN - the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, reports that women ages 18-24 are at a heightened risk to experience sexual assault, both on and off college campuses.

In order to prevent and educate students about sexual assault and other harmful situations, The Catholic University of America (CUA) has created PEERS - Peer Educators Empowering Respectful Students - a group that seeks to educate other students and help foster a more respectful environment on campus.

Stephanie Davey is the Assistant Dean in the Office of the Dean of Students at CUA and oversees much of the work that PEERS does. She said that PEERS helps students understand what sexual assault is, and how to either intervene to prevent it from happening or what to do if sexual assault has occurred.

Davey said they especially want victims to “understand that we are a supportive place and they don’t have to be fearful or ashamed about seeking support,” whether the incident occurred with another CUA student or not.

The university just concluded observing October as Sexual Violence Prevention Month, during which the school has participated in several national campaigns that raise awareness of sexual violence and encourage increased conversation about the issue.

For example, Davey said, the students participated in the national “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” campaign, which usually involves men walking in high heels, but CUA decided to do it with a Catholic twist.

“Instead of having men walk in high heeled shoes we had a candlelit solidarity walk through campus and stopped at different places through campus and read testimonies of survivors...and culminated with a prayer service outside our chapel with our chaplain and then had some fellowship,” she said.

Much of their training, such as bystander intervention training, is rooted in the Catholic faith, she said - being a good Samaritan, being a good neighbor, and upholding the dignity of everyone.

“I think that that’s what we do well in terms of addressing these issues but also not ignoring our Catholic identity,” she said.

“Every person has worth and dignity, it’s our responsibility to look out for each other and uphold that dignity.”

 

 

Have you heard of Saint Death? Don’t pray to her.

Sat, 11/04/2017 - 17:02

Brownsville, Texas, Nov 4, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- They call her Santa Muerte (‘Holy Death’ or ‘Saint Death’), but she’s no saint.

Literally.

The skeletal female figure has a growing devotion in Mexico, Central America, and some places in the United States, but don’t be fooled by the Mary-like veil or the holy-sounding name.

She’s not a recognized saint by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, in 2013, a Vatican official condemned devotion to her, equating it to “the celebration of devastation and of hell.”

“It’s not every day that a folk saint is actually condemned at the highest levels of the Vatican,” Andrew Chesnut, a Santa Muerte expert who has been studying the devotion for more than eight years, told CNA.

Chesnut is the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint," the only English academic book to date on the subject.

Despite her condemnation from on high, Santa Muerte remains increasingly popular among criminals, drug lords and those on the fringe of society, as well as cultural Catholics who maybe don’t know (or care) that she is condemned by the Church.

“She’s basically the poster girl of narco-satanic spirituality,” Chesnut said.

According to Chesnut’s estimates, Santa Muerte is the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas - and it’s all happened within the past 10-15 years.

“She was unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans before 2001, when she went public. Now I estimate there’s some 10-12 million devotees, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America,” he said.

The roots of Santa Muerte

Although she has recently exploded in popularity, Santa Muerte has been referenced in Mexican culture since Spanish colonial times, when Catholic colonizers, looking to evangelize the native people of Mexico, brought over female Grim Reaper figures as a representation of death, Chesnut said.

But the Mayan and Aztec cultures already had death deities, and so the female skeletal figure became adopted into the culture as a kind of hybrid death saint.

She’s also mentioned twice in the historical records of the Inquisition, when Spanish Catholic inquisitors found and destroyed a shrine to Santa Muerte in Central Mexico. After that, Santa Muerte disappeared from historical records for more than a century, only to resurface, in a relatively minor way, in the 1940s.

“From the 1940s to 1980s, researchers exclusively report Santa Muerte (being invoked) for love miracles,” Chesnut said, such as women asking the folk saint to bring back their cheating husbands.

She then faded into obscurity for a few more decades, until the drug wars brought her roaring back.

What’s the appeal of a saint of death?

Part of the attraction to Santa Muerte, as several sources familiar with the devotion explained, is that she is seen as a non-judgemental saint that can be invoked for some not-so-holy petitions.

“If somebody is going to be doing something illegal, and they want to be protected from the law enforcement, they feel awkward asking God to protect them,” explained Fr. Andres Gutierrez, the pastor of St. Helen parish in Rio Hondo, Texas.

“So they promise something to Santa Muerte in exchange for being protected from the law.”

Devotees also feel comfortable going to her for favors of vengeance - something they would never ask of God or a canonized saint, Chesnut said.

“I think this non-judgemental saint who’s going to accept me as I am is appealing,” Chesnut said, particularly to criminals or to people who don’t feel completely accepted within the Mexican Catholic or Evangelical churches.

The cultural Catholicism of Mexico and the drug wars of the past decade also made for the perfect storm for Santa Muerte to catch on, Chesnut explained. Even Mexicans who didn’t grow up going to Mass every Sunday still have a basic idea of what Catholicism entails - Mass and Saints and prayers like the rosary, all things that have been hi-jacked and adapted by the Santa Muerte movement.

“You can almost see some of it as kind of an extreme heretical form of folk Catholicism,” he said. “In fact, I can say Santa Muerte could only have arisen from a Catholic environment.”

This, coupled with the fact that Mexican Catholics are suddenly much more familiar with death, with the recent drug wars having left upwards of 60,000 - 120,000 Mexicans dead - makes a saint of death that much more intriguing.

“Paradoxically, a lot of devotees who feel like death could be just around the corner - maybe they’re narcos, maybe they work in the street, maybe they’re security guards who might be gunned down - they ask Santa Muerte for protection.”

Why she’s no saint

Her familiarity and appeal is actually part of the danger of this devotion, Fr. Gutierrez said.

“(Santa Muerte) is literally a demon with another name,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

In his own ministry, Fr. Gutierrez said he has witnessed people who “suffer greatly” following a devotion to the folk saint.

Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA that he has also prayed with people who have had demonic trouble after praying to Santa Muerte.

“I have had a number of people who have come to me as users of this practice and found themselves tied to a demon or demonic tribe,” he said.

Fr. Gutierrez noted that while Catholics who attend Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis tend to understand this about Santa Muerte, those in danger are the cultural Catholics who aren’t intentionally engaging in something harmful, but could be opening the door to spiritual harm nonetheless.
  
Elizabeth Beltran is the parish secretary at Cristo Rey Church, a predominantly Latino Catholic parish in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Beltran, who grew up in Mexico and whose family is still in Mexico, said she started noticing Santa Muerte about 15-20 years ago, but she hasn’t yet noticed the presence of the devotion in the United States.

Besides narcos and criminals, the folk saint also appeals to poor, cultural Mexican Catholics or those who are simply looking for something to believe in, Beltran said.

“People who don’t know their faith very well, it’s very easy to convince them” to pray to Santa Muerte, she said. It’s common practice in Mexico for people to mix superstitious practices with Catholic prayers like the Our Father or the Hail Mary, in order to gain trust in the Catholic culture.

Besides her demonic ties, she’s also a perversion of what the practice of praying to saints is all about, said Fr. Ryan Kaup, a priest with Cristo Rey parish.

“What we venerate as saints are real people who have chosen this life to follow the will of our Lord and have done great things with their lives, and now they’re in heaven forever, and so that’s why we ask for their intercession,” Fr. Kaup said.

“So taking this devotion and this practice that we have of asking for this saint’s intercession and twisting it in such a way as to invoke this glorified image of death is really a distortion of what we believe is true intercession and truly the power of the saints.”

Because of her growing popularity in the United States, Fr. Gutierrez said he is hoping that bishops and Catholic leaders in the U.S. become more aware of the danger of the Santa Muerte devotion and start condemning it publically.

“I would love to hear something on a national level, from the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops or from local bishops speaking about it publicly,” he said. “I think that would be one way to really call it to attention.”

Fr. Thomas added that honoring a saint of death is a corruption and distortion of what Christians belief about Jesus, who came to give us eternal life.

“‘Saint Death’ is an oxymoron. God is a God of the living, not the dead.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 30, 2016.

Adoption tax credit part of 'preferential policy for life,' Congressman says

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, details of the Republican Party’s proposed tax reform legislation were released, including plans to eliminate an adoption tax credit intended to lighten the financial burden of adoption for families.

“This will make it tougher to adopt. Period,” said Schylar Baber, executive director of Voice for Adoption, according to the Washington Post.

“So, the question is, who is not going to get adopted because of this?” Baber continued.

The tax credit, which was created through a bipartisan effort in 1996, allows families a maximum credit of $13,570 per eligible child. This amount can aid parents significantly, especially when families can spend upwards of $30,000 on the whole adoption process, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The new GOP tax proposal would eliminate these credits and repeal a taxable income exclusion for employee adoption assistance programs. Both of these would go into effect in after 2017.
 
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Ne) told CNA that adoption assistance sends the message that the government willing to help families,.

“The adoption tax credit is a clear and legitimate statement by the government that we have a preferential policy for life,” Fortenberry said. “We are vigorously making the case of its inclusion in the tax package. This is a real time, real life policy that works.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex), the principal author of House Republicans’ tax overhaul plan, argues that eliminating the adoption tax credit would allow Congress to expand the child tax credit available to most taxpayers, which would be increased by about $600 if the tax reform package passes.

“I think this is a better approach for the vast majority of Americans who are left behind,” Brady told the Washington Post, saying that the tax plan would be “giving families more in their paychecks, especially the middle-class families that are crucial for adoption.”

Brady himself has two adopted sons, but did not utilize the tax credit since it is not available for families who make more than $242,000 annually.

On Nov. 2, national pro-life group the Susan B. Anthony List sent a letter to Congress, expressing opposition to the potential provision and highlighting the fact that the adoption tax credit creates stable homes for children.

“SBA List opposes the provision of the bill that repeals the adoption tax credit,” the letter read, saying “it is shocking that Congress would move to eliminate this life-affirming effort to make adoption a possibility for middle income American families.”

“This important tax credit helps tens of thousands of families each year offset the steep costs of adopting children. We urge the pro-life House to remove this provision from their bill immediately,” the letter continued.

On Oct. 25, Bishop Frank Dewane of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement on the tax reform proposal, urging “the U.S. House of Representatives towards prudence, ensuring that they and the nation fully understand the impacts of tax reform proposals before voting on them.”

“A clear understanding and careful consideration of the impacts of these tax proposals is essential for the sake of all people, but particularly the poor,” Dewane continued.

GOP staffers have told CNA that there are efforts underway in Congress to remove the adoption tax credit repeal from the tax reform bill as it moves forward.

Australia's former prime minister: Redefining marriage has big consequences

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 18:09

New York City, N.Y., Nov 3, 2017 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- If the people of Australia vote to redefine marriage in the country, the consequences will be dire, warned former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“The idea that you can just change the definition of marriage and nothing else follows is intellectual fraud,” he said.

Abbott spoke to CNA before a Nov. 1 panel discussion on Australia’s ongoing marriage vote. The panel, held in New York City, was hosted by ADF International, an alliance-building human rights group that promotes religious freedom and the sanctity of life, marriage, and family.

Australia is currently in the final days of a plebiscite on marriage. The plebiscite – or voluntary poll to measure public feedback – asks voters to return mail-in ballots on whether to redefine marriage in the country.

The mail-in vote itself is not legally binding. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has promised to introduce legislation in Parliament to redefine marriage if the majority of voters favor it.

Abbott has been vocally opposed to the redefinition of marriage, warning that it will weaken the institution which serves as the foundation of society.

He also voiced concerns that if marriage is redefined, those who oppose it will find themselves marginalized and penalized, since even now, just voicing support for the longstanding view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman “attracts an instant social media storm and reputational death.”

“Especially if unaccompanied by any wider charter of freedoms, we can expect same-sex marriage in Australia to have much the same consequences as in other countries,” Abbott said at the panel. “People will take offense at the traditional teaching and the anti-discrimination laws can be relied upon to do the rest.”

This is already starting to happen, he said, pointing to Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, who faced prosecution under anti-discrimination laws for a booklet outlining Christian teaching on marriage.

“People aren’t being argued into changing their minds; they’re being bullied into abandoning their convictions,” Abbott warned.

And these pressures will only increase if marriage is redefined, he told CNA. “The anti-discrimination laws will be deployed, I think oppressively, against people – particularly educators – who put forward the traditional definitions and teachings.”

No matter how the plebiscite turns out, he said, freedom of religion, conscience, and speech need to be reaffirmed, because the current debate has shown how fragile they are in the country today.

Despite opposition, Abbott said he is encouraged by the strong show of support for marriage, especially in large groups of young people. The effort to defend marriage in Australia, he said, has raised millions of dollars and mobilized tens of thousands of donors and volunteers.

“Win, lose, or draw,” he said, “starting from scratch two months ago, the campaign for marriage in my country has mobilized thousands of new activists; and created a network that could be deployed to defend Western civilization more broadly and the Judeo-Christian ethic against all that’s been undermining it.”

These newly activated citizens will be crucial in fighting other challenges to Australian society, such as an effort to legalize assisted suicide in Victoria and a push for gender ideology in schools, he said.

“We need more standard bearers, at every level, because a majority that stays silent soon becomes a minority.”

Ultimately, Abbott sees the push to redefine marriage as part of a broader ailment affecting much of Western society.

“Campaigns for same-sex marriage and the like are a consequence of our civilizational self-doubt and the collapse of cultural self-confidence,” he said, adding that until Western nations address this underlying question, additional challenges to Christian values will continue to arise.

Michael Farris, president of ADF, agreed, warning that a broader process of religious freedom erosion is at work.

In the two years since the Supreme Court unilaterally redefined marriage for the United States, Farris said, “we have seen individuals and institutions increasingly come under fire simply for trying to live their lives, run their businesses, and operate their ministries consistent with the millennia-old belief, shared by millions of people around the world, that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.”

These individuals are not bigots, but “people of sincerely-held religious belief attempting to find their way as entrepreneurs and artists in a new legal landscape,” he continued.

Leading up to the redefinition of marriage in the U.S., “proponents of same-sex marriage quelled fears that redefining marriage would threaten rights of conscience by repeatedly promising that same-sex marriage would not infringe on these fundamental rights,” Farris said.

“Now, Australians are being told the same falsehood.”

In the final days of voting, Abbott warned his fellow Australians to carefully consider the broad consequences of redefining an age-old institution that is so foundational for society.

“This is a decisive vote,” he told CNA, “and it is, one way or another, a watershed moment in the life of our country.”

Georgetown students' commission votes not to sanction pro-marriage group

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 12:37

Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2017 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Georgetown University's Student Activities Commission voted Friday to maintain university funding for Love Saxa, a pro-marriage student group that had been accused by fellow students of promoting intolerance and hate.

The activities commission's Nov. 3 vote regarding Love Saxa was in response to a petition filed by a student-senator in the Georgetown University Student Association, and supported by leaders of gay pride student organizations at Georgetown.

They voted 8-4 to reject the argument levied by students Chad Gasman and Jasmin Ouseph that Love Saxa had violated standards that student organizations are ineligible for recognition and benefits “if their purpose or activities … foster hatred or intolerance of others because of their race, nationality, gender, religion, or sexual preferences.”

“Love Saxa is one of many groups operating on campus with positions that affirm the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Georgetown's senior director for strategic communications, Rachel Pugh, told student newspaper The Hoya.

“Through [SAC], the University supports more than 100 co-curricular student organizations with access to benefits, including Love Saxa. We strongly support a climate that continues to provide students with new and deeper contexts for engaging with our Catholic tradition and identity.”

Members of the activities commission deliberated for several hours on Thursday night and into Friday morning following a hearing on Monday into the allegations of Love Saxa's intolerance.

The vote is not binding, and is a recommendation to the university's director of student engagement. It can be appealed, and Ouseph and Gasman have said they intend to do so.

As a recognized student group, Love Saxa receives $250 annually in funding from the university and has access to classrooms for events.

In a Sept. 6 column in The Hoya, Love Saxa's president, Amelia Irvine, wrote that “we believe that marriage is a conjugal union on every level – emotional, spiritual, physical and mental – directed toward caring for biological children. To us, marriage is much more than commitment of love between two consenting adults.”

Leaders of gay pride student organizations at Georgetown denounced this language as homophobic, and claimed it violated university standards.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, a prominent advocate of dialogue with and acceptance of LBGT groups by the Church, told CNA last month that he supports the right of Love Saxa to promote its views at Georgetown.

“Why should a student group that espouses Catholic teaching respectfully be defunded by a Catholic university? As long as Love Saxa treats LGBT people (both on campus and off campus) with 'respect, compassion and sensitivity,' as the Catechism requires, then they should be able to have their say on campus,” he said.

Robert George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University, said the effort to defund Love Saxa “ought to be a matter of grave concern for honorable people across the ideological spectrum.”

Georgetown is a Catholic university in Washington, D.C., founded by the Society of Jesus in 1789.

 

Hope after the Horror: Reflections on a massacre of Baghdadi Christians

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 08:08

Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- This Halloween marks the seventh anniversary of when my parents' church in Baghdad was held hostage by the Islamic State in Iraq, a little known group at the time.

After a few tense hours, the Iraqi army moved in to try and save the hostages held up in the Syriac Catholic Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral located in the heart of Baghdad. The standoff led to the death of 58 worshipers, including three priests, children, and a baby who was beheaded on the altar. 78 worshipers were severely wounded or maimed, losing legs, arms and requiring months of operations to remove shrapnel or heal other injuries. For many Iraqi Christians, this massacre answered the question that many had asked themselves throughout the almost 10 years of bloody sectarian civil war that engulfed Iraq: “Are we still welcome in this country anymore?” Sadly, many could no longer look at their children and promise them a good future while they remained in Iraq. In the ensuing few months, a mass exodus of Christians from Baghdad started which brought down the population of Christians from 20 percent to only several thousand.

My parents, having witnessed on TV the horror that befell Iraq with the onset of the civil war, lost hope for any future for Christians in Iraq, because while the Shia had Iran and the Sunnis had the Gulf and Turkey, nobody was willing to stick up for the Christians. They watched as their ancestral city of Mosul saw a growth in Salafi activity and mourned as Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks and Mandeans were ethnically cleansed from the city. With the onset of the war in Syria, more reports of Christians being killed, tortured and taken as slaves on account of their faith came to the forefront and painted a dark picture for the future of Christianity in the region.

Exploding out of the Syrian crisis, ISIS burst onto the stage in Iraq and put one-third of the country under its control. During their blitzkrieg in the northern part of the country, ISIS attempted to wipe out all followers of the ancient Yezidi faith historically concentrated in the Sinjar region of the Nineveh Province. However, they did not stop there, and moved to destroy the ancient Christian heartland of Iraq found in the Nineveh Plains region northeast of the city of Mosul. Over 100,000 Christians fled overnight as ISIS swarmed in and killed dozens of people and took many others as sex slaves. The dead included my mother’s elderly nanny, Naeema, who had raised her and her brothers since they were children. Naeema taught my mom how to pray, tucked her in to bed every night and greeted her with coffee and freshly ironed cloths every day. Her death made them feel powerless and numb with pain as she was thrown into an unmarked grave and forgotten.

My parents’ Muslim neighbors mourned the destruction brought upon their Christian brothers and sisters, but despite their goodwill, they were powerless to do anything. The ISIS invasion of Mosul brought more pain to my family, as my grandfather’s grave was likely destroyed along with hundreds of others as ISIS tried to destroy as much of Mosul’s Christian history as they could. The monastery of Saint Behnam and his sister Sarah that my grandfather was named after was blown up and recorded in a spectacular video. My family mourned the destruction of so much of what was near and dear to them and became distressed as depressing updates continued to come out of Iraq. Hundreds of Christian properties in Mosul were ruined or given to ISIS fighters. These homes had belonged to these families for generations, and losing them was tantamount to losing their entire history and several lifetimes of work.

In my current capacity as a Special Assistant for the non-profit In Defense of Christians, I was lucky to be given the opportunity to help an organization prepare for their annual summit. IDC’s summit focuses on a cause I care about deeply: the plight of Christian minorities in the Middle East. This year, IDC decided to focus on a five-point policy agenda which works to stabilize Lebanon and Syria, deliver desperately needed aid to victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, correct a historic injustice by recognizing the Armenian genocide, hold American allies who persecute Christians and other minorities accountable and identify individuals or groups who supported ISIS' campaign of terror and genocide against Christians. As the fate of the Christian communities in the Middle East hangs in the balance, this sort of work is imperative to preserve the existence of an ancient community from going extinct.

One of the most exciting aspects of the summit was having the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence come and deliver the keynote address at our annual Solidarity Dinner. In the lead up to the dinner, the air was crackling with excitement as we were all waiting for the Vice President to take to stage and deliver remarks. When he arrived, the dinner attendees clapped then quickly turned quiet as they waited to hear what he would say. It was almost inconceivable that somebody of this stature would be addressing a crowd of people passionate about the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

During his keynote address, the Vice President noted that “In Iraq, the followers of Christ have fallen by 80 percent in the past decade and a half…but tonight, I came to tell you: Help is on the way.” I had to wipe away the tears that last phrase brought to my eyes. It seemed too good to be true that after all of these years of hardship Iraqi Christians have suffered that the Vice President of the United States would stand there and announce that help was coming for a people the international community had done nothing for in the past 14 years. The Vice President held no punches in his speech and cut through over careful dancing around of words to state that “Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew.”

In a moving moment for many in the room, Vice President Pence noted that “In the mountains of Syria, the valleys of Lebanon, on the plains of Nineveh, the plateaus of Armenia, on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, the delta of the Nile, the fathers and mothers of our faith planted seeds of belief. They've blossomed and borne fruit ever since.” Acknowledging the ancient roots of Christianity in the region and invoking the names of the areas where they still exist today moved not just me, as almost all Middle Eastern attendees I spoke with afterwards mentioned the use of this imagery.

As somebody who has been tracking and writing about the reconstruction efforts of Christian villages on the Nineveh Plains, my anxiety over the massive reconstruction challenges were eased over almost instantaneously by the Vice President’s announcement that the US would work with faith-based groups and private organizations through USAID to help genocide victims. This one action has the ability to remove the most pressing issue facing Christians who want to return to their homes and not immigrate to Europe: rebuilding their homes targeted for destruction by ISIS.  

Returning home much later that night, I called my mother and woke her up to tell her the news. She could not believe me when I told her that Mike Pence had spoken about our community’s issues and worked to ensure they would be able to rebuild their homes. When I told her that he remarked that “In Iraq, we see monasteries demolished, priests and monks beheaded, the two-millennia-old Christian tradition in Mosul clinging for survival,” neither could she nor my father restrain their tears of joy. The fact that he mentioned the plight of oft-forgotten Mosulawi Christians and alluded to the destruction of the Mar Behnam monastery brought out a happiness in them that they had long contained. That happiness came from regaining a sense of hope again. For the first time, it seemed like somebody had finally responded to our pleas of help at the 11th hour and acknowledged our pain.

For the first time in seven years, my family and I slept peacefully on Halloween.

 

Yousif Kalian is an analyst who focuses on Iraq, Syria, Kurdish issues and religious minorities. He currently works for In Defense of Christians, and was previously a Research Assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has been published in the American Interest, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism and elsewhere.

For opposing gay marriage, she’s facing death threats and million-dollar lawsuits

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 05:04

New York City, N.Y., Nov 3, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Barronelle Stutzman took a stand for her Christian beliefs four-and-a-half years ago, she never imagined that she would eventually be appealing to the US Supreme Court to defend her decision.

But that’s exactly what happened.

“This was never on my bucket list,” Barronelle told CNA.

The 72-year-old grandmother is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and is currently involved in a lawsuit involving a customer of nearly 10 years, Rob Ingersoll.

Barronelle knew Rob was gay from the beginning. “It was never an issue,” she said. She enjoyed working with him, and said he would pick out creative vases and containers, and would come in with flower requests for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions.

“I loved doing arrangements for Rob, because I got to think outside of the box, and do something special for him.”

But when Rob came in and told Barronelle that he had gotten engaged to his boyfriend, she took him by the hand and explained that she believed marriage to be a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so she could not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Initially, Rob said that he understood and asked if she could recommend another florist, which she did.

Later, however, his partner posted a message on social media about Barronelle declining to take part in the wedding, and it went viral. Soon, she was informed that she was being sued by the Washington State attorney general and the ACLU. Today, more than four years later, Barronelle is waiting to hear whether the US Supreme Court will take her case.

And while the actual damages being sought by the couple are only around $7 – the mileage cost of driving to another florist – Barronelle could be responsible for more than $1 million in legal fees to nearly a dozen ACLU lawyers opposing her in the case.

Barronelle, who is Southern Baptist, spoke at a Nov. 1 panel discussion in New York City, hosted by ADF International, the global branch of the non-profit legal group that is representing her in court.

The panel discussed Australia’s ongoing marriage referendum and the threats to religious freedom that accompany a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

“Because I have a belief that is marriage is between one man and a woman, we could possibly lose everything we own, everything we’ve saved for our kids and grandkids,” Barronelle said.

She explained that while the decision to decline a same-sex wedding was difficult, it was the only way she could stay true to her beliefs. For her, weddings are much more than simply a job – they’re a deeply personal labor of love, and she pours her heart and soul into her work.

“I spend months – sometimes years – with the bride and groom. I get to know them personally, what they want to convey, what the bride wants, what her vision is. There’s so much personal involvement in this.”

At the wedding, Barronelle will often help greet guests and calm nervous parents. “When we get the bride down the aisle, then I know I’ve done my job,” she said.

With floral arrangements for weddings being such a personal endeavor, she knew that she would be betraying her relationship with Christ if she participated in a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Over the last four-and-a-half years, Barronelle has received an outpouring of support – customers coming in to offer a kind word or a hug, strangers telling her they are praying for her family, and messages of encouragement from 68 countries.

But she’s also received death threats. She’s had to install a security system and change her route to work.

“Even today, were very aware of people who come in who might do us harm,” she said.

Also hard, she said, has been losing her relationship with Rob. She said she misses him and harbors no anger against him.

“I can tell you that if Rob walked into my store today, I would hug him, catch up on his life, and I would wait on him for another 10 years if he’d let me.”

She also has a message for her fellow Americans: stand up for religious freedom, before it’s too late.

“Don’t think this cannot happen to you,” she said. “I never thought that we would have a government that would come in and tell you what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create – and if you don’t do it, you’ll be totally destroyed.”

“If we don’t stand now, there will be nothing to stand for.”

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