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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.
Updated: 1 hour 59 min ago

Archbishop Chaput to priests: defend marriage bond wherever you can

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 18:00

Houston, Texas, Nov 8, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Priests must uphold the lifelong covenant of marriage as “a message of liberation, even when it’s difficult,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia told a gathering of Filipino-American clergy.

Jesus’ words about the indissolubility of marriage “can’t be softened, or reinterpreted, or contextualized.” he said at the National Assembly of Filipino Priests USA, in Houston on Nov. 8. Elsewhere in his remarks, he warned: “Christian marriage is never simply an ‘ideal.’ Describing it as an ‘ideal’ tends to open the door to excusing and then normalizing failure.”

“For Christians, sexual intimacy outside a valid marriage can never be morally legitimate. And it’s the Church that determines what a valid sacramental marriage is,” he said.

The archbishop’s topic was Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

“It has passages of great wisdom and beauty on marriage and on family life,” he said. “And it has other passages that have caused some obvious controversy. The controversy has obscured much of the good in the document.”

The exhortation should be approached with open hearts and clear thinking, Chaput said. He stressed its “beautiful passages” about the elderly, the poor, migrants, persons with special needs, the importance of children and openness to new life. He also stressed the richness of the exhortation’s fourth chapter, on love and marriage.

The archbishop mentioned his own role as a delegate to the synod, his role as secretary to an English-speaking working group, and his role on the permanent council of the synod.

Chaput also noted widespread concerns about one footnote in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, which addresses reception of the sacraments by those in irregular marital relationships. These concerns have been voiced in public “but even more urgently and commonly in private.”

“Critics see in the text a preference for ambiguity over clear teaching and a resentment toward defenders of traditional Church teaching that seem out of sync with the rest of the document,” he said.  

In Chaput’s view, at least some of these critics are persons of “fidelity and substance” and in his view their concerns can’t be dismissed. The confusion is “regrettable,” given that the point of the exhortation’s Chapter 8 was to provide “merciful outreach” to those in irregular marital situations.

However, Chaput said, where confusion exists about a papal text, it must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the magisterium of previous Popes.

The archbishop also reflected on the situation of American priests. He noted that hundreds of priests ke knows worry that their people don’t really know their faith, don’t understand the sacraments, don’t catechize their children, and don’t know what a properly formed Catholic conscience is.

“Poorly formed, immature consciences are among the biggest pastoral challenges facing the Church. This is what makes delegating decisions about the nullity or validity of a first marriage to the internal forum a matter of real concern,” he said, referring to a proposal for pastoral discernment about an individual’s marriage and access to the sacraments.

Truth undergirds mercy, and mercy can never exclude “careful moral reasoning about right and wrong.” Setting mercy against other virtues just makes it “a source of confusion.”

According to Chaput, Amoris Laetitia “depends profoundly on the zeal and sensitivity of the priest.”

“In other words, the vocation you have, brothers, has never been more vital for family life than it is right now,” he told the priests’ gathering.

When marriages do fail, couples need support.

“But if grace is real, and God’s word is true, then the joy of a permanent marriage is possible for anyone called to the vocation,” Chaput said. Priests need to defend the permanence of the marriage bond “wherever and whenever we reasonably can.”

Despite many cultural trends, God simply asks priests to be faithful, to speak and live the truth amid confusion, to be peacemakers amid conflict, to be sources of hope, and to be “the presence of God’s love in the world.”

“There’s no greater mission of mercy than that, and no greater joy in the life of a priest,” Chaput said.

 

 

National Catholic Register celebrates 90th anniversary

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 11:39

Irondale, Ala., Nov 8, 2017 / 09:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The National Catholic Register is turning 90 this year, an anniversary its editor-in-chief sees as a blessing, and an opportunity to move forward in service to the Church.

“The Register’s mission from its earliest days has been to inform and form our readers so that Catholics, through knowledge of the truth of Christ and his Church, might be inspired by faith and equipped to engage the culture around them,” said Jeanette DeMelo, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register.

“Our love of Christ and his Church drives us to continue this mission started back in 1927,” DeMelo told CNA.

One of the top online and print Catholic newspapers in the United States, the National Catholic Register was founded in 1927 by Msgr. Matthew Smith of the Archdiocese of Denver, with the mission of providing news through the lens of the Magisterium.

The paper was an outgrowth of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Register, which grew into the Register System of Newspapers, producing 35 diocesan editions, with a national and diocesan circulation which at its height reached 850,000 households.

The National Catholic Register’s first national issue was printed on Nov. 8, 1927.

“If you like a Catholic paper with snap, vigor, courage, here it is. If you like one that is easy to read, here it is. If you like one that will always be loyal to the Church and has no selfish axe to grind, here it is,” wrote Msgr. Smith in one of the paper’s first issues.

Decades after Msgr. Smith’s comments, DeMelo hopes their founder’s words still stand true.

“I hope that in our pages (both in print and online), Register readers find that at 90, we still have ‘snap, vigor and courage,’ as we take a ‘definite stand on stirring questions’ of the day,” DeMelo said.

The Register has an active online and print readership, producing daily online content and 26 print issues annually.

In June, the National Catholic Register was named this year’s “Newspaper of the Year” by the Catholic Press Association at the annual Catholic Media Conference in Quebec City, Canada.

“That’s a wonderful confirmation of what we do and strengthens us to keep at it,” DeMelo said of the award.

In 2011, EWTN Global Catholic Network acquired the National Catholic Register. In 2012, DeMelo was appointed the Register’s editor-in-chief.  

“I have long admired the work of the National Catholic Register. And I appreciate it even more since I became its publisher six years ago, because I get to see first-hand what goes into the product and the care the staff takes in presenting the news,” stated EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw, who also is the Register’s publisher, in the Oct. 29 edition of the newspaper, which features special anniversary coverage.

“The Register has always relayed the news of the world through the lens of the Church, but also chronicles the personal stories of struggle, conversion and redemption, as exemplified by Christ’s sacrifice,” Warsaw continued.

Since EWTN’s acquisition of the National Catholic Register, the paper’s circulation has increased by 100 percent.

“That’s a figure that represents the paper’s highest circulation in 17 years,” DeMelo noted, adding that they have also expanded their digital platforms, where they reach their largest audiences via NCRegister.com, a weekly and daily e-newsletter and their Facebook page, which has a monthly reach of 1.8 million.

Looking ahead, DeMelo has some goals for the next decade.

“As I looked through our archives I realized they are in terrible shape,” she said. “We need to get them digitized soon. We should make our archives available to anyone so I hope we can accomplish that before we turn 100.”

On a broader scale, she also looks forward to increasing collaboration with EWTN entities worldwide.

“Being a part of a global network is a wonderful gift,” she said, “and as EWTN builds its news division, opportunities are bound to be not simply national but international, offering not only printed news and analysis, but a compelling and complementary mix of multimedia that strengthens our mission to form and inform readers in faith so they might engage in the world.”

 

 

 

Fr. Solanus Casey: the American priest who will be beatified next week

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 05:04

Detroit, Mich., Nov 8, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Solanus Casey, an American-born Capuchin priest who died in 1957, will be beatified at a Nov. 18 Mass in Detroit.

Who was Fr. Solanus Casey? Known for his great faith, attention to the sick, and ability as a spiritual counselor, he will be the second American-born male to be beatified.

Born Bernard Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, he was the sixth child of 16 born to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin. At age 17 he left home to work at various jobs, including as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, and a prison guard.

Re-evaluating his life after witnessing a drunken sailor brutally stab a woman to death, he decided to act on a call he felt to enter the priesthood. Because of his lack of formal education, however, he struggled in the minor seminary, and was eventually encouraged to become a priest through a religious order rather than through the diocese.

So in 1898, he joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Detroit and after struggling through his studies, in 1904 was ordained a “sacerdos simplex” – a priest who can say Mass, but not publicly preach or hear confessions.

He was very close to the sick and was highly sought-after throughout his life, in part because of the many physical healings attributed to his blessings and intercession. He was also a co-founder of Detroit's Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929.

For 21 years he was porter at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.

He is also known for his fondness for playing the violin and singing, although he had a bad singing voice because of a childhood illness which damaged his vocal chords.

Even in his 70s, Fr. Solanus Casey remained very active, and would even join the younger religious men in a game of tennis or volleyball. He died from erysipelas, a skin disease, on July 31, 1957, at the age of 87.

A miracle attributed to Venerable Casey's intercession was recognized by Pope Francis at a May 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“I’m grateful to hear from the Capuchin friars that the date of the beatification has been finalized,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit stated.

“The beatification of Father Solanus will be a tremendous blessing for the whole community of southeast Michigan, an opportunity for all of us to experience the love of Jesus Christ.”

The Nov. 18 beatification Mass will be said at Ford Field in Detroit, which can accommodate as many as 60,000.

 

An earlier version of this article was published on CNA June 28, 2017.

How U.S. Catholics will mark the World Day of the Poor

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the first World Day of the Poor approaches on Nov. 19, Catholics in the U.S. aim to amplify their outreach and their prayers for those in poverty.

One prayer for the day, prepared by Catholic Relief Services, invokes Lazarus, the beggar, from a parable in the Gospel of Luke: “Lord, teach me to open the door to Lazarus, to the poor, to know them as your children, to lift them in their distress, to work to help them find a fair share of your bounty.”

The relief agency has created a parish packet to help parishes observe the World Day of the Poor. It includes prayers, homily suggestions, general intercessory prayers, and a bulletin insert.

Pope Francis announced the first World Day of the Poor in November 2016. In his June 2017 message for the observance, he asked that Christian communities “make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” ahead of time.

In Virginia, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington will host volunteer days, presentations, and events from Nov. 13-20 to help the community learn how Catholic Charities serves the poor.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is also encouraging the faithful to take part in the day.

“The Holy Father desires a real encounter with the poor in our midst, to reach out to them and invite them in concrete ways to share our life,” the archdiocese said Oct. 31. Ahead of the observance, Catholics should show “sincere efforts to show the poor among us the love and care of the Church.”

A prayer intention for the poor will be added in all parishes of the archdiocese for Nov. 19 Sunday Masses. The prayer asks that the poor throughout the world “may come to know more concretely the love and care of the Church, a love not with words but with deeds.”

In New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen, Bishop James F. Checchio has invited the faithful to the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi on Nov. 19 for evening prayer dedicated to the World Day of the Poor.

The event will be an occasion for community reflection “on how poverty is at the heart of the Gospel,” the diocese’s invitation said. It is also an opportunity for those who aid, care for and comfort the poor to be affirmed, inspired and sent out with “a renewed commitment to building a ‘culture of encounter’” and to bring people together with “tenderness and solidarity” despite their differences.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have created a pastoral aid for the day.

While the document acknowledges poverty of spirit, lack of love, and isolation, it focused on material poverty. Individuals, families and communities lack access to basic necessities like good nutrition, adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, good education, healthcare and jobs that pay a fair wage.

One of the USCCB’s intercessory prayers reads: “That we, the people of God, will open our hearts and souls to justice so that we will speak and act in ways that will eliminate poverty and injustice in this country and throughout the world.”

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has also prepared a pastoral aid for parishes and schools to mark the day.

 

Shootings demonstrate need for gun control, USCCB says

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 18:38

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In response to mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has encouraged public debate on gun control, suggesting specific policies that might quell gun violence.

“For many years, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been urging our leaders to explore and adopt reasonable policies to help curb gun violence,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the USCCB’s committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a Nov. 7 statement.

“The recent and shocking events in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs remind us of how much damage can be caused when weapons … too easily find their way into the hands of those who would wish to use them to harm others.”

On Oct. 1, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock unleashed hundreds of bullets on a crowd of 22,000 people gathered for a country music festival in Las Vegas. Paddock had 23 guns stockpiled in his room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. He killed 59 people, including himself, and injured 546 others.

Devin Kelley, 26, opened fire Sunday, Nov. 5, at a church outside of San Antonio, Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 more. He was armed with a rifle and handgun.

Although violence won’t be solved by legislation alone, Bishop Dewane said, the recent events should instigate public debates to “explore and adopt reasonable policies to help curb gun violence.”

The bishop emphasized the USCCB’s previous support for gun control, mentioning their support for a 1994 federal ban on assault weapons, which expired without being renewed in 2004.

Additionally, Dewane mentioned that the USCCB has suggested policies for better background checks, limitations to high-powered weapons, more laws criminalizing gun traffic, improved access to mental health care, and increased safety measures on guns.

While recognizing the right of U.S. citizens to own firearms, Bishop Dewane said that the U.S. should consider greater limitations on “weapons capable of easily causing mass murder when used with an evil purpose.”

“Society must recognize that the common good requires reasonable steps to limit access to such firearms by those who would intend to use them [for evil purposes].”

Notre Dame faculty, students to retain birth control coverage

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 18:28

South Bend, Ind., Nov 7, 2017 / 04:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A little more than a week after announcing it would end birth control coverage for employees and students, the University of Notre Dame said Tuesday that its insurance provider will continue contraceptive coverage, albeit not funded by the university.

“Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives and engaged in the recent lawsuit to protect its freedom to act in accord with its principles,” read a Nov. 7 email sent to university employees.

“Recognizing, however, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, it will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independently of the University.”

The email explained that the university's insurance provider, Meritain Health/OptumRx, has said “that they will now continue to provide contraceptives to plan members at no charge.” The university had believed the provider “would discontinue no cost coverage for contraceptives for employees at the end of the year.”

A similar provision will be made for students seeking contraception coverage.

Notre Dame had stated late in October that birth control would no longer be covered, making use of recently-added religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act which were announced by the Department of Health and Human Services Oct. 6.

Previously, the Catholic university was one of several organizations that sued the government over the federal contraceptive mandate, which required most organizations to provide birth control coverage either directly or through a third party service.

As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame objected to this mandate on the grounds that all forms of contraception are against Catholic moral teaching. The university, along with dozens of other Catholic institutions, argued in the lawsuit that the third party option would still make them cooperate in an act to which they were morally opposed.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the new religious exemptions.

Analysis: USCCB committee election a referendum on what it means to be pro-life

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Next week, America’s bishops will meet in Baltimore for the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2017 is the one-hundredth anniversary of the episcopal conference, and the bishops will begin their meeting with a day of talks, Mass, and a celebratory dinner honoring their history.

Invariably, the bishops will remember the figures who loom large in the conference’s history. Notable among them is the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who served as general secretary to the bishops’ conference from 1968-1972, and was its president from 1974-1977. Bernardin oversaw the conference during periods of change after the Second Vatican Council, and shaped the culture of the conference in ways that continue to have effect.

It is particularly appropriate that Bernardin will be remembered at a meeting in which his views, especially in the area of the Church’s pro-life advocacy, will be a factor in the bishops’ deliberations.

The fall meeting will include elections for some executive roles in conference leadership, and for the chairmanships of several committees. Most notable is the election of the chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, which is presently headed by Cardinal Timothy  Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

The committee is customarily overseen by a cardinal, and one of the candidates for the position is Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago. Cupich is one of few American cardinals who has not headed the committee. Running against him is Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who is already a pro-life committee member.

In many ways, the election is a referendum on the bishops’ approach to “pro-life activities,” and Bernardin figures significantly into that question.

In theological circles, Cardinal Bernardin is most well-known for his “Consistent Ethic of Life” viewpoint, known colloquially as the “seamless garment" approach. In a famous lecture at Fordham University in 1983, Bernardin explained the concept, advocating “that the pro-life position of the Church must be developed in terms of a comprehensive and consistent ethic of life.”  

This meant, he said, that the bishops must regard as pro-life issues not only abortion, but immigration, care for the elderly, the death penalty, nuclear proliferation, and a host of other issues in which the dignity of human life might be undermined. Being pro-life, he said, meant opposing abortion, but also “specific political and economic positions on tax policy, employment generation, welfare policy, nutrition and feeding programs, and health care.”

Supporters say the “seamless garment” perspective served to raise consciousness among Catholics regarding a number of issues which threaten human dignity. Critics say that it implied moral equivalency between abortion and other issues, diminishing the significance of abortion, and implying that there was not room for diversity of opinion on other economic and social issues.

While Bernardin disputed these criticisms, and was outspoken against abortion, the "seamless garment" view seemed to be rebuffed by Pope St. John Paul II, who identified abortion as a uniquely grave offense against human life, and argued that ending abortion was a necessary first-step for resolving other social and political offenses against human dignity.

When John Paul II visited the United States in 1993, he popularized the term “culture of life,” and spoke directly about the primacy of abortion among political issues. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, published in 1995, prioritized opposition to abortion, noting that “among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable,” and lamenting that the gravity of abortion had become “progressively obscured.”

While Bernardin’s “seamless garment” was understood to regard abortion as one among many “pro-life” issues to be addressed, John Paul II’s “culture of life” approach identified abortion as a priority issue for Catholics to address in public policy and pastoral life.  

As Cardinal Bernardin promoted the “seamless garment,” the late Cardinal John O’Connor was the champion of the “culture of life” approach among American bishops. He prayed at abortion clinics, addressed Catholic politicians who supported abortion, promoted post-abortion ministry for women, and founded the Sisters of Life, a religious community uniquely engaged in “culture of life” pastoral initiatives.

Cardinal O’Connor served as chairman of the USCCB’s pro-life committee in the early 1990s. His efforts set the direction of the USCCB’s approach to pro-life activities over the past 20 years, in part because of the partnership he formed with the Knights of Columbus, which has provided much of the funding for the bishops’ pro-life efforts. Although Cardinal Roger Mahony, a proponent of the "seamless garment," chaired the pro-life committee subsequently, the bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, which guides the work of the pro-life office, reflects the views and methodology of O’Connor, and serves as a kind of link to his memory and legacy.

Certainly, O’Connor’s vision seems to have directly shaped the approach of Archbishop Joseph Naumann. As a young priest, Naumann oversaw the pro-life office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Under his leadership, the archdiocese began the Project Rachel ministry, a post-abortion healing ministry of the kind O’Connor championed. Naumann worked to support pregnancy centers and homes for mothers and children, also projects important to O’Connor. As Archbishop of Kansas City, he’s challenged pro-choice Catholic politicians, spearheaded efforts to restrict abortion in Kansas, and prioritized abortion in his teaching ministry.

Like Naumann, Cupich has spoken directly about the moral issue of abortion, and strongly criticized politicians whom he believes take pro-choice advocacy too far. This year, he expressed “disappointment” when Illinois’ governor signed a bill expanding taxpayer-funded abortion in the state.

But Cupich has contextualized these efforts in the memory of Bernardin’s “seamless garment.”  In an essay this May in Commonweal, Cupich wrote that Bernardin “deserves a fresh hearing,” and highlighted the importance of “efforts to engage and persuade” by public advocacy of the Church’s “comprehensive commitment to respecting life.”

The effect of this approach is Cupich’s broadening of what might be understood as a “pro-life” issue, or, at the USCCB, what might be understood as “pro-life activities.” Cupich has said repeatedly that gun control, for example, is a “pro-life” issue.  In a 2015 column in the Chicago Tribune, Cupich wrote that “we should be no less appalled” by poverty, immigration policy, racism, the state of health care, unemployment, or gun violence, than we are appalled by abortion.  

Emphasizing the relationship between these issues is at the heart of the “seamless garment” approach. Supporters argue that this emphasis enhances the Church’s credibility, and allows her to eschew partisanship.  

Critics argue that Cupich’s take on the “seamless garment” diminishes the significance of abortion, and seeks to minimize abortion-specific advocacy and pastoral work. Those critics note that in 2016 the pro-life office of the Archdiocese of Chicago was folded into a new office, called the Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity. They also point to Cupich’s 2011 directive to the priests and seminarians of Spokane, where he was then serving as bishop, which discouraged them from praying at abortion clinics during the annual 40 Days for Life campaign. In 2016, the pro-life office of the USCCB honored the founder of 40 Days for Life, Fr. Bill Carmody.

At issue, fundamentally, is how the bishops understand what it means to be “pro-life.” While Naumann’s election would signal continuity with the current approach, Cupich’s election would likely represent a remaking of the pro-life office in the model of the “seamless garment.”
 
Over the centuries, the Church has learned that important conversations often take place across decades. Debates surface, seem to settle, and then surface again. The “seamless garment” debate has not raised its head in a serious way among the American bishops in nearly 20 years. Next week, as the bishops consider 100 years of the unity of their conference, they’ll also revisit one of their long-standing points of disagreement.  

 

Adoption tax credit is critical – don’t cut it, says law’s original author

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 14:32

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 12:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The author of the first federal adoption tax credit has spoken out against the proposed removal of the credit in the GOP tax reform bill introduced in Congress last week.

“The tax code should support families, and, in a specific way, adoptive families who generously seek to welcome children into their loving homes,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in a Nov. 7 letter sent to Republican House leadership.

“Every child deserves a loving family – and it is incumbent on us to assist those parents who seek to build their families through adoption.”  

Smith’s letter voiced concern over provisions in the recently introduced Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that would repeal the adoption tax credit and exclude employer adoption assistance programs from taxation.

Smith introduced a $5000 refundable adoption credit to Congress in 1990. The legislation was reintroduced in the following years, and eventually become law, with bipartisan support, in 1996.

Expanded and adjusted for inflation over the years, the adoption tax credit is now $13,460.

Advocates for the credit argue that it helps defray the high costs of adoption, which might  prevent children otherwise eligible for adoption from finding families. They also argue that encouraging adoption saves state and federal money that would otherwise be spent on children in the foster care system.

The cost of a domestic adoption frequently tops $30,000, and international adoptions are even more expensive, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

These costs cover birth expenses, counseling, fees for an evaluation of the adopting couple, legal work, documentation, travel expenses and adoption agency costs.

Noting that the adoption tax credit has enjoyed broad bipartisan support for more than two decades, Smith argued that “while this tax credit has a limitless reward, it has a modest cost. Latest reported numbers indicate the credit costs $355 million annually.”

The Congressman noted that November is National Adoption Month. In a proclamation marking the occasion, President Donald Trump highlight the need “to remove barriers to adoption whenever we can, so that the love and care of prospective adoptive parents can be directed to children waiting for permanent homes.”

That declaration also described adoption as a signal “that no child in America – born or unborn – is unwanted or unloved.”

“I agree,” Smith said, “and therefore ask that H.R. 1 be amended to restore the adoption tax credit and exclusion for adoption assistance programs.”

US bishops' new child protection program aims to create culture of mindfulness

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After years of research, the U.S. bishops are rolling out a new training program that takes some of the best risk-management practices from other industries and applies them to child protection in the Church.

The new program, entitled “Creating a Culture of Protection and Healing,” is being piloted in several dioceses and will eventually be available to any diocese by request.

The principles of the program, which will add to the existing trainings and protections already in place, borrows tools and techniques of HROs (highly reliable organizations) from industries in the secular world that also frequently deal with high-risk situations, such as hospitals or airlines.

These HROs are in industries in which, when accidents do occur “it’s rather volatile, it costs lives,” Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

“For example in the airline industry when a plane crashes or something like that,” it can be very costly in terms of loss of life, he said.

“So the industry is looking at ways to make sure that even the lowest person on the chain of command - if they see something that’s untoward, they speak up, they say something, they report it. They know how and what to do when they come across a situation that could cause a problem in the future.”

That’s the same attitude and level of awareness that the bishops are hoping to create in dioceses who implement this new program, he said.

“We’re trying to create this mindfulness, a change in culture, so safe environments can be not only established but indeed maintained, because that’s the key. We have to constantly be on our toes, on our guard, with no room for complacency.”

This kind of training has been in the works for several years, said Nojadera, who has a military background and therefore prior experiences with HRO practices.

Since most of the information about HRO practices are tailored to specific industries, the bishops decided to partner with Ascension Health, the largest group of Catholic hospitals in the U.S., which uses HRO principles with a theological perspective.

“So we’re taking something that the hospitals have been using for 20 some years or so and making it applicable to us,” Nojadera said.

For example, if an incident or a near-miss occurs, the Church can ask the same questions that hospitals ask, albeit in a different context: “What went right? What went wrong? What do we do to improve and make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

The new program isn’t meant to replace the current practices, but to add an extra layer of awareness and thoroughness, Nojadera said.

Since the clergy sex scandal of the early 2000s, the Church has put into place numerous policies and practices to protect children from sexual abuse, including the USCCB's Charter for Child and Youth Protection.

The charter, implemented in 2002, obligates all compliant dioceses and eparchies to provide resources both for victims of abuse and resources for abuse prevention. Each year, the USCCB releases an extensive annual report on the dioceses and eparchies, including an audit of all abuse cases and allegations, and recommended policy guidelines for dioceses.

Kelly Venegas is the bishop’s delegate for sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Gary, which is one of the pilot dioceses for the new HRO training program.

She said that the new training was divided into two sections, with the first focused on anticipating and diagnosing near-misses.

“We’re making sure that near-misses don’t indicate a symptom of a worse problem,” Venegas told CNA.

“So rather than just looking and saying, wow, that really could have been a big issue, good thing it didn’t cause any harm - instead we say wait a minute, this was a near-miss, could there be worse problems? Let’s dive into this deeper.”

The second section of the training focused on containment of harm in the case that an incident does occur, Venegas said.

“That means we’re making sure that we learn from our mistakes, that we focus on how we can make things stronger, and making sure that we have decisions with input from multiple people involved in the process,” she said.

While some of the concrete details of the application of the new program are still being worked out, Venegas said she was excited that the Church was learning from the best practices of other successful industries.

“I think that in the business world there’s been quality assurance programs (in existence) for years, and this is really a way of taking some of the expertise that’s been learned in the secular world and applying it to something that’s very important and close to our hearts,” she said.

Wealthy foundation aims to redefine religious freedom—and Christianity, too

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 18:15

New York City, N.Y., Nov 6, 2017 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One wealthy activist is continuing to fund coordinated efforts to limit religious freedom and to foster dissent on abortion and LGBT issues within American Christianity and other religious groups.
 
The New York-based Arcus Foundation was founded by billionaire heir Jon Stryker in 2000. Arcus is a partner of the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund, which engages in LGBT advocacy around the world. One of its board members is Darren Walker, the president of the deeply influential Ford Foundation, which gives out about $500 million in grants each year.
 
Since CNA’s February 2015 report on a multi-million dollar campaign against religious freedom protections, the Arcus Foundation has given an additional $2.8 million in grants earmarked for projects aimed at restricting legal protections for religious freedom, especially religious and conscience exemptions in state and federal law.  

Among its recent donations is an ACLU grant designed to “beat back” laws protecting freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

In fact, a CNA examination of grant listings and other documents has shown that the Arcus Foundation has funded a variety of coordinated projects, focused on limiting religious freedom, redefining religious liberty, and perhaps even shaping religious doctrine itself.

Redefining Religious Liberty

On June 30, 2016, the Arcus Foundation said that “countering religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law in the United States is the aim of grants to the American Civil Liberties Union, Catholics for Choice, and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia University, all of which are working to reframe religious liberty in inclusive terms, whether through the courts, religious bodies, or policy-making bodies.”

Since 2016, $450,000 in Arcus grants went to the Center for American Progress, which was founded by John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s last presidential campaign manager.

The grants funded projects like promoting religious liberty “as a core progressive American value that includes LGBT equality and women's reproductive health and rights.” The Center for American Progress sponsors a self-described “Religious Exemptions Public Literacy Project” that will oppose “religious exemptions policies that have a negative impact on women, LGBT, and POC (person of color) communities.”

Funding Dissent

Since June 2016, the Arcus Foundation appears to be focusing on controversies at Catholic institutions and schools where staff who publicly support or contract a “gay marriage” have been fired for contradicting Catholic doctrine. Some Catholic institutions have faced lawsuits over such employment decisions and invoke religious freedom protections as a defense.

In an apparent complement to its work on religious freedom limits, the foundation has also been funding some self-described Catholic groups that reject Church teaching on marriage and sexual morality, among them Dignity USA, the Equally Blessed Coalition, New Ways Ministry, and Catholics for Choice.

The Arcus Foundation outlines its strategy in a section on its website. It aims to mobilize “moderate and progressive faith leaders” and to leverage “strategic opportunities in historically resistant faith communities,” including Roman Catholic churches. It said that some resistant communities “still afford opportunities for making limited but significant progress.”
 
“In keeping with the focus on religious exemptions, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition are working to combat the firing of LGBT staff and allies, who support marriage equality, at Catholic Institutions,” the foundation’s June 2016 announcement continues.

The Arcus Foundation gave a $250,000, two-year grant to Dignity USA to fund the Equally Blessed Coalition, in order to “ support and give voice to the growing majority of Roman Catholics who support full acceptance and equality for LGBT people.”

A 2017 grant gave $35,000 to New Ways Ministry to help develop the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and its work “to connect the work of pro-LGBT Catholic organizations in every region of the world.” The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics had engaged in advocacy related to the Church’s Synod on the Family.

In February 2010 Cardinal Francis George, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement on New Ways Ministry, which is also part of the Equally Blessed Coalition. Cardinal George rejected the claim that the group presents an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and Catholic practice. “Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination,” he said.

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

In 2016, the Arcus Foundation gave a one-year grant of $125,000 to Catholics for Choice, to fund a coalition of religious leaders to oppose “discriminatory religious exemptions,” as well as a different coalition to oppose “religious intolerance” in southern and eastern Africa.

The U.S. bishops have frequently criticized Catholics for Choice, saying it is not affiliated with the Catholic Church. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, speaking as the bishops’ pro-life chairman in September 2016, charged that it is “funded by powerful private foundations to promote abortion as a method of population control.”

Beyond Catholics

Arcus Foundation grantees have been linked to doctrinal changes within mainline Protestantism as well, including groups that helped split the Anglican Communion. In 2011 and 2012, the Arcus Foundation provided financial support to raise the national profile of Center for American Progress’ expert V. Gene Robinson, whose controversial election as the Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 helped split the Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion.

Non-Christian religions are also a focus.

A June 2015 grant of $100,000 to Muslims for Progressive Values suggests religious exemptions sought by some Muslims are also unacceptable to the foundation. The grant listing voiced hope that the group’s advocacy at the United Nations would assist “in asserting that ‘religious exemptions,’ such as reservations on the basis of Sharia law, are unacceptable on matters of human rights.”

CNA took a screenshot of the Arcus Foundation’s grant listing to Muslims for Progressive Values  in mid-2016.  Since that time, the grant listing on the foundation website appears to have been changed to read simply “general operating support,” rather than directly listing advocacy against religious exemptions.  The grant is one of several six-figure Arcus grants to the group, including one given to cultivate LGBT activists among imams and other Muslims

Kevin Jennings, a co-chair of Muslims for Progressive Values, is a former Arcus executive director and Obama Administration official. Reza Aslan, the controversial Iranian-American author of the book “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” is a consultant for the group, according to its website.

Fighting Religious Exemptions


In 2016, the Arcus Foundation gave the ACLU a $150,000 grant to implement “a national coordinated media and public-education campaign to beat back religious exemptions at federal and state levels.”

This year, the foundation gave a $300,000 grant to the Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative. The collaborative brings together wealthy activists who aim to restrict legal protections for religious freedom, in order to advance its vision of reproductive health and LGBT causes. According to CNA’s examination of grant listings and tax forms, the collaborative’s donors and others have spent at least $8.5 million in projects to advance a similar, narrow vision of religious liberty.

The Proteus Fund’s Civil Marriage Collaborative, which worked to recognize same-sex unions as marriages, closed in 2015 after spending more than $153 million over 11 years on various U.S. projects.

The Arcus Fund has given grants totaling $300,000 to Faith in Public Life: one to rally faith leaders to advocate “fair and balanced” religious exemptions, especially in the states Georgia, Florida and North Carolina; and the other for “pro-LGBT public education campaigns” and to organize “moderate clergy to inform state and national policymakers about the negative impact of using religion to deny the civil rights of LGBT people.”

A $125,000 grant from the Arcus Foundation to Columbia University’s gender and sexuality law center backs the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project “to promote progressive and nondiscriminatory views on religious exemptions.” This builds on Arcus’ previous support for the project, whose co-sponsors have included the deeply influential Ford Foundation.

Another $200,000 has gone to the ACLU, including support for its “religious refusals” communications hub and for ongoing research to gauge what it considers to be “the harm of anti-LGBT religious refusals.”

Arcus has also given $200,000 in grants to the D.C.-based Civitas Public Affairs group’s Religious Liberty and Equality Project aim “to advance equality protections and respect for personal autonomy, while dissolving public support for religious carve-outs that go beyond what is already protected in the First Amendment”;  and to “reframe the current debates over religious exemptions by bringing together some of the most experienced thinkers and advocates within the reproductive justice and LGBT movements.” Another $100,000 2016 grant to NEO Philanthropy appears linked to this project, “to counter religious exemptions.”

The Arcus Foundation backs several news media projects, including National Public Radio, The Atlantic LGBT summit in 2015, and a series on LGBT issues for the public radio show Faith Matters. Many of those grants did not list religious freedom specifically, but the foundation did give $200,000 for the University of Southern California-based news site Religious Dispatches’ reporting on religious liberty and LGBTQ issues.

About $450,000 spread across four grants went to the Public Religion Research Institute to create “comprehensive state maps” of public attitudes on religious exemptions and non-discrimination policies. Other funding aims to track public opinion on “religious refusal legislation,” among other topics; and to help develop strategies “to stop the expansion of religious exemptions.”

The Interfaith Alliance was also funded in the amount of $75,000 to explore mapping state laws related to religious exemptions, for policy development, and for training of “skilled messengers to educate state and federal policy makers.”

The Pride Foundation received $150,000 in 2016 to strengthen coordination “among groups opposed to discriminatory interpretations of religious freedom,” and for “emergency-response grants to key public-education initiatives.”

Soulforce, which became prominent for busing LGBT activists to demonstrate at various colleges, received $100,000 to organize students of color in the U.S. South to challenge both “anti-trans policies at conservative Christian schools” and religious exemption statutes.

Victims of Islamic State in focus at UN forum

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 17:18

New York City, N.Y., Nov 6, 2017 / 03:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Persecuted religious minorities in Syria and Iraq deserve a better future after suffering at the hands of the Islamic State group.

That was the message of Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the U.N. He said justice for the survivors “demands that we seek to return to them, as much as possible, what Daesh pillaged from them.”

“This means ensuring the conditions for religious and ethnic minorities to return to their places of origin and live in dignity and safety, with the basic social, economic and political frameworks necessary to ensure community cohesion.”

The Holy See and the U.N. NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief co-organized the Nov. 2 event, held at the U.N. building in New York City. The event served as a forum for victims of Islamic State and for the civil society leaders who wanted to hold the group accountable. There was a speakers’ panel with Archbishop Auza; Michael Farris, president of ADF International; and ambassadors from Iraq, Hungary, the U.K., and the U.S.

According to the archbishop, rebuilding homes, schools and houses of worship is a “crucial step.” He praised the assistance of Aid to the Church in Need, the Knights of Columbus, and other groups.

However, this reconstruction is not enough. There must be “foundations for peaceful coexistence.” All these efforts are “restoring hope not only to the region but to the world,” he continued.

“We must, through education, interreligious dialogue, and international leadership make sure that we address the polluted environments in which hatred of the other is fomented, and arduously and perseveringly work to change such cultures into ecologies where human dignity and rights, mutual respect, solidarity, fraternity and peace reign,” he said.

Other speakers included Ekhlas Khudhur Bajoo, a 17-year-old Iraqi woman from the Yazidi ethno-religious group. The Islamic State slaughtered her family and enslaved her for six months before she escaped.

Also speaking was a Syrian man held in captivity by Islmaic State, and psychologically and physically tortured.

Archbishop Auza commented: “We are all justly repelled by the horror stories we have heard about the atrocities committed by Daesh against religious and ethnic minorities… Their stories cannot but move us to action. We wish that what they endured could have been prevented outright, but while we tragically did not stop their sufferings, we can act to bring justice for them and other victims, help them to rehabilitate and rebuild, and do everything we can to prevent similar barbarity from happening to others.”

The archbishop cited the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 2379, adopted Sept. 21, which condemned the Islamic State’s “gross, systematic and widespread attacks directed against civilians” as well as its violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. Such acts may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, the resolution said.

The U.N. Security Council has created a team to investigate crimes committed by the Islamic State group in Iraq.

For Archbishop Auza, the response to Islamic State must include a “rock-solid resolve” to prevent atrocities in the future.

“Those entrusted with protecting the innocent and safeguarding respect for fundamental human rights must live up to their indispensable and inescapable responsibility to defend those in danger of suffering atrocity crimes,” he said.

“Similarly religious leaders have a grave and specific duty to confront and condemn the abuse of religious belief and sentiment to justify violence and terrorism against believers of other religions,” the archbishop said. “They must constantly and unequivocally affirm that no one can justly kill the innocent in God’s name and say a clear and adamant ‘no’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out supposedly in the name of God or religion.”

“It’s not enough to defeat, punish, and disband Daesh. We also must eradicate the pseudo-religious, dehumanizing, hateful, and indeed barbaric ideology that motivates it and similar extremist groups,” he said.

Part of this effort means addressing the social, political and economic issues exploited to recruit and radicalize others. Further, the response must create cultural conditions in which the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are respected. The archbishop stressed the need to defend a citizenship-focused attitude of equality before the law, regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity.

There also must be a right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience that has legal recourse when such rights are violated.

Other forum participants included leaders from ADF International and Aid to the Church in Need.

“It would be better to prevent crimes,” said Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International. “But when crimes cannot be prevented, they must be prosecuted. Otherwise law is shown to be meaningless. The laws that protect freedom of religion are not meaningless, and now is the time to prove it.”

“No person or group should live in fear of being killed, tortured, or oppressed because of their religious beliefs,” he said. While the Islamic State appears to be falling apart, evidence of their atrocities must be collected and preserved and the perpetrators must be held accountable.

 

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.

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