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Where do Ash Wednesday ashes come from?

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 03:03

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2018 / 01:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Or, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

On Ash Wednesday, millions of Catholics throughout the English-speaking world will hear one of these two blessings as a priest applies ashes to their forehead in the sign of the cross.

But where exactly do the black or grey powdery ashes come from?

Per the instructions of the Roman Missal, ashes are typically supposed to be made from last year’s Palm Sunday palm branches.

These branches are then burned down into a fine powder and, in the United States, are mixed with holy water or chrism oil to create a light paste. In other parts of the world, sometimes dry ashes are sprinkled on the head rather than made into a paste.

BYOA - Burn Your Own Ashes

Fr. Dan Folwaczny is a priest with the Archdiocese of Chicago and serves as associate pastor at St. Norbert and Our Lady of the Brook parish.

He told CNA that the parish burns their own palms from previous Palm Sundays.

“We have an order of palms that comes in, and some of them are handed out on Palm Sunday but some are leftover, and those we usually store away in the garage until the following year,” he told CNA.

“And then also we have some that people bring back, so people have had them in their houses in the lead-up to Lent, and we’ll tell people to bring them in to the church,” he said.

Then on the day before Ash Wednesday, all of the old palms are placed in a fire pit on the church steps.

“And then the school kids come out and we have a little prayer service and light it on fire,” Folwaczny said.

While some priests order palms from religious goods suppliers, Folwaczny said he has always had plenty of palms and ashes to spare.

“We actually still have plenty in reserve from previous years,” he said. “We could actually not [burn additional palms] for a couple of years and still be fine.”

A similar procedure for the burning of ashes is followed in many parishes and dioceses, including the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The ashes you receive on your forehead come from burning the palm branches that were blessed last Palm Sunday. Students from Saint Benedict Catholic School in Richmond are with their Pastor, Rev. Anthony Marques.

— Diocese of Richmond (@RichmondDiocese) February 13, 2018


Fr. Harrison Ayre, with the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, told CNA on Twitter that he burns his own ashes for Ash Wednesday in a metal garbage bin “and they reduce to ashes quite nicely.”

Ash buyers

While many parishes use Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to use up last year’s palms, the Church also allows for the buying of ashes from religious goods suppliers.

Fr. Joseph Faulkner, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., told CNA on Twitter that he buys his ashes from religious goods suppliers to avoid sub-par or “stabby” ashes.

For Catholic parishes in Colorado, one of the most-used such suppliers is Gerken’s Religious Supplies.

“There is quite an art to (burning ashes),” Mike Gerken, the co-owner, told the Denver Catholic last year.

“To get the good ash, you can’t just burn them. You have to let them smolder with no oxygen, and that’s where it gets the real charcoal black.”

Religious goods suppliers such as Gerken’s typically get their Palm Sunday palms, and sometimes the palm ashes as well, from palm suppliers in the warmer parts of the United States, such as California, Texas, Florida and other parts of the South.

Why Palm Sunday palms?

There is liturgical significance in the use of the palms from Palm Sunday, as opposed to other materials, to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

Father Randy Stice, associate director for the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, told CNA that the ashes made from palms remind us of what Lent is all about.

“Those branches herald Holy Week, the suffering death and resurrection of Christ,” Stice said. The feast of Palm Sunday occurs the beginning of Holy Week, which leads up to Easter. “Then that helps us identity with (Jesus) in connects us with events in Christ’s own life,” he said.

Ashes have also long been a symbol of repentance and conversion, even in the Old Testament, Stice added.

“It’s an Old Testament and a New Testament symbol of repentance and conversion, sorrow for our sins, awareness of our frailty and mortality - [symbols] that have been taken up by the Church from the earliest stages.”  



Florida bishop supports bill to limit criminally charging minors as adults

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 19:02

Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 13, 2018 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Under current legislation, in the state of Florida there is no minimum age requirement for an individual to be criminally indicted as an adult.

However, Bishop William Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee wants to change that.

This week, Bishop Wack urged support for House Bill 509 and Senate Bill 936, which would reform the current system and prevent youths under the age of 14 from entering the adult criminal system.

“Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution,” Bishop Wack wrote in a Feb. 12 opinion piece at the Tallahassee Democrat.

“While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, children should not be treated as though they are equal to adults,” he continued.

Wack pointed to the story of a Florida boy, named Tim Kane. He was 14-years old when his friends killed two people. Because he was a witness to the crime, he was indicted for felony murder and charged as an adult.

While Kane had no previous criminal record, he will serve life in prison for being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Wack.

The Florida bishop pointed to the numerous dangers involved with charging a youth as an adult. Wack said this process creates a “threat to public safety because it creates more crime,” since “recidivism rates for children prosecuted as adults are higher than rates for children whose cases are resolved in the juvenile justice system.”

“Adult facilities are not equipped with the appropriate education and transition services for children,” Wack said, also noting that children experience a higher risk of “sexual abuse and suicide” in the adult criminal system.

When youth are charged as adults, they will also carry the label of “felony conviction” with them for the rest of their lives, which would bar them from partaking in various opportunities, such as serving in the military, receiving financial aid, and voting.

Because of these various downsides, Wack encouraged state legislators to support House Bill 509 and Senate Bill 936 in the upcoming session. These bills would make it impossible for a youth under the age of 14 to be transferred into the adult criminal system. It would also offer other juvenile justice protections and make changes to the current law.

“Present scientific knowledge of the adolescent brain and the development of children demonstrates that children are different from adults,” Wack said.

“It is time to establish a minimum age for indictment.”

LA Archbishop calls for compromise and compassion in Senate immigration debate

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 17:35

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2018 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the US Senate begins a debate on immigration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said that “Dreamers” should not be used as “bargaining chips” in the political process.

In a column published in Angelus, the archbishop wrote that although he’s “encouraged” the government is considering a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, he thinks their future should not be “tied to broader, more complicated questions about how to fix our broken immigration system.”  

“To me, it would be unconscionable to allow this moment to pass and risk the humanitarian nightmare of more than a million young people being deported and their families broken up. There is no political goal that could justify such an outcome,” Gomez wrote.

The Senate will debate several immigration reform proposals this week.

The plan supported by the Trump Administration ties funding for increased border security--including the construction of a wall--to the creation of a path for citizenship for “Dreamers,” as well as the elimination of the diversity visa lottery and restrictions on family-sponsored migration, commonly known as “chain migration.”

A bipartisan proposal offered last week does not include funding for a border wall, but would increase border security in other ways while creating a path to citizenship for “Dreamers.”

In his column, Archbishop Gomez called the current immigration system in the United States “broken,” and suggested three areas “essential to fixing our broken system:” securing the border, modernizing the visa process, and creating a way for the undocumented people living in the country to obtain legal status.

“I hope that members of Congress and advocates are willing to at least engage this plan in a spirit of seeking compromise and trying to extend compassion to those who have come here seeking a better life,” said Gomez.

The archbishop himself is an immigrant to the United States, having been born in Mexico and becoming a US citizen in 1995.

Gomez accused both major political parties of trying to exploit the immigration issue, and said that the only thing this has accomplished is “further dividing our nation and polarizing our politics.”

The archbishop offered a mixed review of President Donald Trump’s immigration proposal, saying that while he’s “encouraged” about a path for “Dreamers” to citizenship, “I disagree with the the area of visa reform.”

The Trump Administration’s proposal would limit family-sponsored migration to the spouse and minor children of an immigrant, and would not include grandparents, cousins, or any other relatives.

“Family-based immigration has served our country beautifully. Immigrant families have built vibrant neighborhoods, churches and civic institutions in every part of America.” Gomez wrote.  

He continued, “(...)Family means more than just mother and father and sister and brother. It also means grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.”

Gomez also argued that the United States shouldn’t shift to a singularly merit-based system, as the country needs a “realistic” system that allows in both skilled and unskilled workers.

“We have never had an immigration policy that only looks at people for the skills they have to offer or the economic contributions they can make,” he added.

The debate on immigration is scheduled to last for a week, and both sides of the aisle are scrambling to come up with a proposal that will garner the necessary 60 votes in order to pass the Senate. That proposal will then go to the House of Representatives and on to President Trump.

Break ‘concordats with sin’ this Lent, Chaput says

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 17:00

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 13, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has encouraged Catholics to learn from history this Lent: to refuse to negotiate with evil, and to pursue the “difficult but always liberating” path to holiness.
“We negotiate little ‘concordats’ with our favorite personal sins, ugly habits and dictatorial appetites all the time,” Archbishop Chaput wrote in a Feb. 13 column. “The deals we make with the world, and the flesh, and the devil, always go south.”

“February 14 this year is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  It’s the day on which a loving God invites all of us to smash our miserable little concordats with sin and its alibis to bits.”

The archbishop drew his point from an analysis of Reichskonkordat, a deal between the Holy See and the German government, signed in 1933.

On paper, Chaput said, the deal was mostly a good one: the state developed a stable relationship with a well-organized, “potentially troublesome,” religious minority, and the Church’s people were protected.

“A few problematic passages in the text do exist,” Chaput said. The Church would be required to consult with German Reich on the appointment of some bishops, and new bishops would be required to take a loyalty oath to the German state. But, Chaput said, those concessions were not “unknown in Europe’s historical context,” and the deal guaranteed explicit promises of religious freedom.

The deal’s promises, Chaput said, “were empty.” Shortly after the deal was signed, Germany began restricting the Church’s life and ministry.

In 1937, he said, Pope Pius XI had to smuggle into Germany Mit brennender Sorge, an encyclical condemning the Nazi regime’s atrocities.

Germany’s response was to increase pressure on the Church more, Chaput said.

“What’s the lesson here? It’s this: If you sup with the devil (so the proverb warns), you’d better bring a long spoon. It’s probably a bad idea in the first place,” the archbishop said.

Chaput said the lessons of history apply to the spiritual life.

“The line dividing good and evil is usually — not always, but usually — pretty bright for anyone who wants to see it.  Most of us really don’t want to see it, of course, because doing so would cramp our own daily behavior.  We negotiate little ‘concordats’ with our favorite personal sins, ugly habits and dictatorial appetites all the time,” he wrote.

“For every forbidden, hurtful, dishonest thing we like to do, we’re experts at self-deceit; at training our consciences to perform like pets … well-manicured poodles that offer us alibis on demand, like: ‘I didn’t have a choice;’ or …’There’s a new paradigm for thinking about this particular unpleasantness;’ or... ‘OK this is wrong, but it’s not THAT bad.’”

This Lent, Chaput said, Catholics need to cling to the teaching of the Church if they are to be freed from sin.

“We need to cling to it, confident in God’s mercy, in judging our own actions and redirecting our lives, no matter how radically that new path demands.”


Commentary: Holiness, not despair

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 16:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 13, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last week, a priest wrote to me. He said that as he surveyed the difficulties facing the Church, he was starting to wonder if it had been a mistake to convert to Catholicism.

I felt terrible. At Catholic News Agency, we report on the difficulties the Church faces. We report on controversies, conflicts, and mistakes. We balance that coverage, I hope, by reporting on the good news about the Church in the world today--about holy men and women doing beautiful and courageous things for the Lord.

But I was discouraged to think that our reporting might lead anyone to be dispirited about the faith, or to wonder whether they belong in the Church.

This is not a time for believers to be discouraged. This is not a time for despair. This is an exciting time to be a Catholic. And this is a great time to become a saint.

The Church is facing real and serious difficulties. Bishops and theologians have serious disagreements about the meaning of the Gospel; about what is true, and what is not. Some Catholic institutions seem to be faltering in their sacred mission, or even willfully betraying it.  Leaders of the Church must answer serious questions about their approach to sexual abuse, about the Church’s relations with atheistic states, and about their commitment to the Church’s unchanging doctrinal teachings. And beyond all that, faith itself is faltering in the west, and once-Christian societies seem to have come under the ever-stronger grasp of relativism’s dictatorship.

Difficulty begets confusion, and confusion can beget despair.

At CNA, we report on the Church’s trials and struggles, and on the Church’s victories and graces, because the Lord calls us, and all Catholic media apostolates, to a prophetic mission. Our call is to tell the truth, as best as we can. We hope to dispel confusion by revealing the truth, even when that truth is difficult to face. And we hope that knowing the truth will be a source of encouragement, and an inspiration for believers to know that holiness really matters.

The Church has always faced grave difficulties. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that “the whole course of Christianity from the first, when we come to examine it, is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing, and lingers on in weakness...Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of Truth dim, its adherents scattered.”

As they travelled with Jesus, the apostles jockeyed for position and favor. Paul and Barnabas suffered a great rift. The Church has endured schisms, heresies, and leaders without virtue.

Struggle and difficulty are the ordinary vocation of the Church. We imagine that things were better in some bygone era, but in truth, they weren’t. Though the problems may have been different, they were no less real, and no less grave.

The Church faces difficulties because sin is real. But the Church endures difficulties because grace is real.

The difficulties the Church has endured are a sign that Lord sustains her. Any human institution would have crumbled long ago. But the Church endures because of the Lord’s presence.

“Much of comfort do we gain from what has been hitherto,” Newman wrote. “Not to despond, not to be dismayed, not to be anxious, at the troubles which encompass us. They have ever been; they ever shall be; they are our portion. ‘The floods are risen, the floods have lift up their voice, the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier.’”

Christ is mightier than any storm the Church might face, more powerful than any crisis she must weather. He is present in the Church, and because of that, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Christ has brought us through great difficulties already. And through the Church, Christ has made great saints.

The saints remind us that we can trust in the sacraments. That we can trust in the teachings of the Church. That we can trust in the Lord’s love, his mercy, and his promises.

The saints remind us that through the Church, we can become holy, as he is holy.

Holiness brings renewal, clarity, and peace.

Today, the Church needs our holiness. The Church needs us to be missionaries, to be disciples, to be prophets, to be mystics. The Church needs us to be signs of the Lord’s promise. The Church needs us to hope when others have despaired.

In difficult moments, the call of every believer is to pray for the Church, and to work for truth, and fidelity, and justice. The call of every believer is to bring the light of Christ into darkness. To transform the world, through holiness. Our call is to become saints.

We should not despair because sin is real. Instead, we can rejoice, because the grace of God is real. Grace will sustain us, perfect us, and sanctify, us through the sacrament of salvation, the Church.


Supreme Court delays execution of inmate over dementia claims

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 15:48

Mobile, Ala., Feb 13, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Supreme Court has delayed the execution of an Alabama man who killed a police officer in 1985, on the grounds that the inmate reportedly suffers from dementia.

Vernon Madison, now 67 years old, has been held in solitary confinement for the past 30 years. He was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday.

However, Madison’s lawyers have said that he has suffered from a number of strokes, and is now legally blind. They have also claimed that his memory is impaired, potentially due to the onset of dementia, and he cannot walk without the aid of a walker.

“His mind and body are failing,” Madison’s legal team said, according to the BBC.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which requires that inmates must have a “rational understanding” of death row and their execution, has allowed Madison’s death to be delayed until his condition could be further researched.

Madison was sentenced to death row for shooting and killing police officer Julius Schulte, who was responding to a domestic dispute involving Madison and his girlfriend in the city of Mobile, Alabama in 1985.

Madison’s death was to be the second scheduled prisoner execution in the U.S. this year. In 2017, there were 23 U.S. executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that all non-lethal means should be explored before the taking of any human life, no matter the crime of the perpetrator, if safety of society can be ensured.

“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person,” says the Catechism.

Pope Francis has spoken out numerous times on capital punishment, saying it is “an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person,” calling the practice “unacceptable, however grave the crime.”


Catholic leaders voice concern over federal budget proposal

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 14:08

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2018 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- The federal budget proposal released by the Trump administration on Monday has been met with worry from U.S. bishops who stressed the need to protect the poor.

“Budget decisions ought to be guided by moral criteria that safeguard human life and dignity, give central importance to ‘the least of these,’ and promote the well-being of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity,” read a statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Feb. 13.

“Yesterday, President Trump unveiled a budget plan, ‘Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget,’ that again calls for deep cuts to vital parts of government, including underfunding programs that serve the poor, diplomacy, and environment stewardship,” the statement continued.

The bishops commended certain aspects of the budget request, which would prohibit organizations that perform abortions from receiving federal funding, and would pump $13 billion into fighting the opioid crisis. However, they also expressed concern on other aspects, including immigration enforcement and the boost in military spending.

The statement was signed by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the USA Military Services, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The proposal, which was sent to Congress Feb. 12, outlines a $4.4 trillion budget. It would boost military spending by $195 billion over the next two years, and cut federal entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps, by $1.8 trillion. Some parts of the food stamp program would be replaced for eligible participants with a premade box of American-produced food items.

The new budget would also boost spending for infrastructure improvements and cut funding to the State Department and foreign aid. It would set aside $18 billion for border security, including build a wall on the southern border of Mexico and hiring additional border security personnel.

Through the budget, the administration projected an economic growth of 3.1 percent over the next three years. The New York Times reported that it would also add $984 billion to the federal deficit next year.

“We urge Congress – and every American – to evaluate the Administration’s budget blueprint in light of its impacts on those most in need, and work to ensure a budget for our country that honors our obligations to build toward the common good,” the bishops said.

International humanitarian agency Catholic Relief Services also criticized the new proposal.

Under the new budget, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would have its funds cut by more than one-third, which would limit its capacity to provide food assistance and aid. The new policies would also slash food security spending by more than $1 billion, which would effectively throw out food aid programs and the Global Food Security Act.

“Humanitarian assistance provides life-saving aid; we cannot cut now, when 30 million people face famine,” said Bill O’Keefe, the vice president of government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, in a Feb. 13 press release.

“At a time when hunger is increasing around the world, now is not the time to cut back on helping communities grow more food,” O’Keefe continued, adding that “underfunding this area will only lead to more destabilizing food emergencies in the future.”

He also pointed to the budget’s cuts to microfinance, water, education, and anti-trafficking efforts, calling the proposal “short-sighted,” and urging Congress to place more emphasis on food assistance and international aid in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

“The United States is a generous nation that has led the global community in responding to catastrophe and providing opportunity to the poor and the marginalized,” O’Keefe said.

“But even beyond the fundamental humanitarian and moral imperative to fund foreign aid, poverty-reducing international assistance is in the best interest of our country. Deep and disproportionate cuts to development aid and diplomacy will only exacerbate the problems we face today and leave a vacuum for new crises to fester tomorrow.”


Bishop Rhoades: 'I strongly disagree' with Notre Dame contraception decision

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 19:00

South Bend, Ind., Feb 12, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend issued a statement on Thursday criticizing the University of Notre Dame’s recent decision to provide “simple contraceptives” on its insurance plans for faculty and students.

The university is located in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

In the Feb. 8 statement, published on the diocesan website, Rhoades said that he “strongly disagree[d]” with Notre Dame’s decision to provide funding for contraception, and that the school is now “even more directly” contributing to immoral behavior.

“The Catholic Church clearly teaches that contraception is an immoral action that contradicts the truth of marital love,” Rhoades wrote.

Previously, the university worked with a third-party administrator to provide contraceptives without the involvement of the school, but Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. announced in a letter last week that this relationship would be ending. Jenkins said he was concerned that the types of drugs covered by the third-party plan included contraceptives that could potentially cause an abortion, so he made the decision to drop this plan altogether. Instead, the school will now pay for a limited range of contraceptive drugs.

In the letter, Jenkins cited a concern for respecting the religious beliefs of others who use contraception after prayerful discernment as for why the school would be providing the drugs. Bishop Rhoades rejected this line of thought as misguided, and said that it was wrong for those people to expect the school to fund things contrary to Catholic teaching.
“Members of the community who decide to use contraceptives, however, should not expect the university to act contrary to its Catholic beliefs by funding these contraceptives,” said Rhoades. He said Notre Dame may have missed a chance to be a witness of Catholic faith and teaching, even if this would not have pleased everyone.

“Not providing funding for contraception would not be popular with some, but it would truly be a prophetic witness to the truth about human sexuality and its meaning and purpose.”

Bishop Rhoades said that he understands that not everyone fully understands or appreciates what the Church teaches about contraception.

“I encourage all who struggle with this teaching to study prayerfully this teaching of the Church, and I especially recommend the study of the encyclical of Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, during this 50th anniversary year of the encyclical, as well as the rich teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II in his catecheses on the ‘theology of the body.’”

“I hope and pray that the University will reconsider its decision,” Rhoades concluded.


Florida resolution could label pornography a 'public health risk'

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 18:55

Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 12, 2018 / 04:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A proposed resolution in Florida would declare pornography a public health risk, allowing for greater education and research into the hazards of porn, especially among developing children and teens.  

“It’s trying to raise agreement and awareness as to [pornography’s] risks,” said Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I don’t think the risks are limited to children alone, but there is a focus in the resolution on it,” he told CNA.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Ross Spano, the resolution passed 18-1 on Jan. 18 in the House Health and Human Services Committee. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, it will be considered in the House Commerce Committee before it is sent to the full House of Representatives sometime before March 9.

A similar piece of legislation has also been sent to the Senate, but has not been read in committee. However, Sheedy said, the House resolution does not require approval from the Senate or governor to pass.

Spano originally sought to label pornography as a “health crisis,” but changed the words to “health risk” to increase support, according to Orlando Sentinel.

Speaking before the Health and Human Service Committee, Spano outlined studies showing that pornography use risks damaging relationships and human development.

“Research has found a correlation between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function, and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior,” he said.

This resolution would not ban pornography or create legal consequences for its use or distribution.

However, Sheedy said it would be the first step in paving the way for more research and education on pornography’s hazardous effects, especially among children and teens.

“It’s a recognition that children are especially at risk given changes in technology – having more access to pornography than ever before – and the effects on their development and their sexuality. “

The resolution says that “a child who views pornography is at a higher risk of developing low self-esteem, an eating disorder, and a desire to engage in risky sexual behavior.”

A website called People Not Porn – endorsed by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops – has been created to raise awareness of the resolution and to educate the public on the dangers of pornography.  

The website states that 27 percent of people ages 25-30 have admitted to seeing pornography before they hit puberty. Additionally, 64 percent of 13-24 year-olds will actively seek out porn once per week or more.

If Florida succeeds in passing a resolution acknowledging the risks of pornography, it will not be first state to do so. Since 2016, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Utah have all declared pornography a public health crisis. Virginia has labeled pornography as harmful to the public.


Cardinal Cupich launches Amoris Laetitia seminars for US bishops

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 18:05

Denver, Colo., Feb 12, 2018 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Chicago has invited some U.S. bishops to a series of conferences on the 2015 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The seminars will be held at three Catholic colleges later this month.

According to a letter obtained by Catholic News Agency, the meetings, dubbed “New Momentum Conferences on Amoris Laetitia,” are designed to offer a “tailor-made program that goes from why Amoris Laetitia provides New Momentum for Moral Formation and Pastoral Practice to how to provide formative pastoral programs.”

“The aim is to gather fifteen to twenty Bishops to have a conversation with the aid of theologians on the related topics,” the letter said.

The letter, written by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, explains that the conferences are modeled after a seminar of bishops and theologians discussing Amoris Laetitia held at Boston College in October 2017.

“The seminar treated the full document giving particular focus to its reception in the multi-cultural and diverse environment that characterizes the Church in the United States,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.

“Both the bishops and the theologians universally agreed that our two-day seminar was an exercise in synodality, a walking together in which the Church both taught and listened. In fact, in keeping with the counsel of Pope Francis at the start of the 2014 synod, the Boston College participants spoke with candor and boldness, parrhesia, but they also listened with humility,” the letter explained.

The letter said that Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery on Laity, Family and Life, encouraged and endorsed the upcoming conferences, which will be held at Boston College, the University of Notre Dame, and Santa Clara University.

The upcoming seminars come in the wake of a speech given by Cardinal Cupich Feb. 9th, at the Von Hügel Institute, at St. Edmund College, in Cambridge, England.

In that speech, Cardinal Cupich said that “Pope Francis is convinced of the need for a new ministerial approach to families as he looks at the challenges facing families in today’s world.”

He added that “some people misinterpret and misunderstand Amoris simply because they fail or refuse to take into account the present reality in all its complexity.”  

The cardinal said that Pope Francis has introduced a set of “hermeneutical principles” – principles of theological interpretation – that “force a paradigm shift” in the Church’s work with families.

Among the aspects of such a paradigm shift, Cupich said, is “rejecting an authoritarian or paternalistic way of dealing with people that lays down the law, that pretends to have all the answers, or easy answers to complex problems, that suggests that general rules will seamlessly bring immediate clarity or that the teachings of our tradition can preemptively be applied to the particular challenges confronting couples and families.”

Cupich further discussed the importance of discernment in conscience. The “voice of conscience—the voice of God—...could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal, while nevertheless calling a person ‘to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized,’” he said, commenting on an excerpt from Amoris Laetitia.

The cardinal said that a pastoral, not “merely doctrinal,” approach is needed in work with families, because “the conscience based Christian moral life does not focus primarily on the automatic application of universal precepts. Rather, it is continually immersed in the concrete situations which give vital context to our moral choices.”

The result of such a pastoral approach, Cupich said, “is not relativism, or an arbitrary application of the doctrinal law, but an authentic receptivity to God’s self-revelation in the concrete realities of family life and to the work of the Holy Spirit in the consciences of the faithful.”

Further, the cardinal said, “doctrinal development is about remaining open to the invitation to see our moral teachings on marriage and family life through the lens of God’s omnipotent mercy."

"Doctrine can develop as a result of the Church’s merciful accompaniment of families because God has chosen the family as a privileged place to reveal all that the God of mercy is doing in our time,” he added.

The cardinal concluded by saying that a failure to approach questions related to marriage and family life with a “holistic approach” has “led some critics to misinterpret and misunderstand Amoris. Instead of actually attending to the present reality of people’s lives today in all of its complexity, they limit their scope to an idealistic understanding of marriage and family.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Archbishop Wilton Gregory are scheduled to speak at the Boston College seminar. Cardinals Joseph Tobin and Blase Cupich will present at the University of Notre Dame. Bishops Steven Biegler and Robert McElroy will present at Santa Clara University, according to the invitation.

Several theologians and a canon lawyer will also present at the upcoming seminars.

Among the theologians is Dr. Kate Ward, a professor at Marquette University. From 2012-2015, Ward was a national board member of Call to Action, a group that has called for the ordination of women to the priesthood, expressed support for same-sex marriage, and said that the Church should re-evaluate its “position” on the use of artificial birth control. From 2006-2009, Ward served as a national board member of Call to Action Next Generation, a youth affiliate of the organization. She chaired that board from 2008-2009.

In 2006, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then-prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, wrote that Call to Action’s activities “are in contrast with the Catholic Faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint. Thus to be a Member of this Association or to support it, is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith.”

Also scheduled to present is Dr. Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a theologian at Manhattan College.

Imperatori-Lee was also a presenter at the October seminar at Boston College. At that seminar, she criticized the Church’s “infantilization of the laity,” saying that “lay people are infantilized by a logic...where pastors serve as gatekeepers, offering permission for sacraments, rather than as counselors who accompany laypersons on their sacramental journeys.”

In a 2015 interview with the podcast Daily Theology, Imperatori-Lee described the late theologian and University of Notre Dame professor Fr. Richard McBrien as a mentor. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “McBrien advocated the ordination of women priests, an end to mandatory celibacy for priests, moral approval of artificial birth control, and decentralization of power in the church.”

In a 2016 essay in the magazine America, she wrote “any claim that there are only two kinds of humans, male and female, is simplistic.”

Msgr. Jack Alesandro, a canon lawyer from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, also presented at the Boston College seminar, and will present at the upcoming conferences.

At the 2017 seminar, Alesandro said that Amoris Laetitia “as a whole supports the idea that as time passes, sacramental marriages become more sacramental and therefore more indissoluble.”

Alesandro also said that Amoris Laetitia suggests new thresholds for the validity of consent to sacramental marriage. The document suggests “a superior capacity and resolve of the will is required of those entering sacramental marriage than of those entering a non-sacramental union,” he said.

He said the exhortation “is challenging judges in a tribunal process to discover whether both spouses, including the man, were at the time of the wedding truly capable at the time of tenderness in the sense described by the pope, the tenderness of a mother cradling her infant.”

“Spouses must be capable of entering a lifelong adventure, and able to renew it constantly if they are to exchange consent validly. It requires that they be friends on the journey. While they do not start out whole and complete, we know that, they must at least be able to grow into this vocation. If they’re incapable of that growth, or they’re really not committed to it, I don’t think they’re validly married, at least, not the Christian marriage.”

“Canon lawyers may find it difficult to get their juridical mind around love, if their thinking has become overly legal, which is another way of saying ‘secularized,’” he said.

According to the invitation, “there will be other theologians who will be invited to participate at one or more of the days.”

The letter inviting bishops to the conference explained that transportation costs would be covered by “foundation grants.”

The Boston College event was sponsored by the Jesuit Institute, the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Cushman Foundation, Healey Foundation, and Henry Luce Foundation.

According to its tax forms, the Cushman Foundation provided the Archdiocese of Chicago a $12,300 grant in 2015 to fund periti, or theological experts, to the Synod of Bishops on the Family, in which then-Archbishop Blase Cupich participated.

The Henry Luce foundation has given at least $600,000 in grants to Commonweal Magazine since 2005, it has also given grants to a number of Catholic universities and theology programs. In 2007, it gave a $25,000 grant to the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, according to grant listings on the foundation website. It also gave a one-time $9,500 grant in 2015 to the Archdiocese of Chicago “to support communications during the Ordinary Synod of the Roman Catholic Church.”
The foundation’s website says it “seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.”
The Luce Foundation’s Theology program gives grants to “advance understanding of religion and theology.”
“Particular attention is given to work that rethinks what theology is and reimagines its contemporary significance; to research that creatively examines received assumptions about religion, secularity, and public culture; and to projects located at the intersections of theological inquiry and the multidisciplinary study of religion,” the foundation’s website says.

Sources told CNA that the USCCB is not involved in the New Momentum Conferences.

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not respond to questions before deadline.



The historically black Catholic university founded by a saint

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 14:00

New Orleans, La., Feb 12, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Of the 106 historically black colleges in the United States, only one is Roman Catholic - Xavier University of Louisiana.

But Xavier is also the only Catholic college, of the United States’ 251 Catholic colleges, to have been founded by an American-born saint.

C. Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, told CNA that the spirit and charism of St. Katharine Drexel, foundress of the school, continue strongly on campus today.

“She saw education as a transformative gift, and that’s something we need to understand today,” Verret said. “That education is not a gift to the individual, even though it does improve the life of the individual, but it’s a gift to the communities to which those individuals returned, in which they serve, it’s an ever-expanding gift.”

Katharine Drexel was born to a wealthy and devout Catholic family in Philadelphia in 1858, and shocked much of society when she decided to become a religious sister and a missionary to Native Americans and African-Americans.  

Supported by the inheritance from her father, Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament founded schools to serve these populations throughout the United States, including a Catholic secondary school for African-Americans in Louisiana in 1915.

By 1917, she also established a preparatory school for teachers, one of the few career tracks available to Black Americans at the time. A few years later, the school was able to offer other degrees as well and became a full-fledged university in 1925.

Drexel’s gift was her ability to see potential, and God’s presence, in all people, despite having grown up in a segregated world.

“There’s a famous New York Times interview in 1915 when...the reporter asked Mother Katharine - ‘why are you using this expensive Indiana limestone for a school for black children?’ And Mother Katherine said, ‘do they not deserve the best?’” Verret said.

“We often remind ourselves of that, and I think that comes from her spirituality, where she could see, despite living in a segregated country where some were more valued than others, somehow she could see value in all, and I think that is her charism,” he said.

That charism continues on in Xavier University today through its “rigorous academics, its great faculty, and expectations,” Verret said.

Besides being a top-ranked Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Xavier University also sends the most African Americans on to medical school of any HBCU in the country, Verret told CNA. The school is also one of the top HBCUs for sending students on to doctoral programs in the sciences, and has several alumni who are currently serving as federal judges, he added.

“We have great students, some who come to us and may not have had the pre-collegiate experience that they needed or deserved,” Verret said. “But we recognize where their gaps are and address them and they graduate.”

Verret said that the Catholic Church has a rich tradition in the black Catholic community from which to draw, and that the Church can continually grow and learn when it comes to reaching out to the black community. During Katharine Drexel’s time, many Catholic Churches and institutions operated with the same segregation as the rest of the country.

“As a human institution we fall short of God our Father and the calling of Jesus, but that’s not (surprising) because we’re human institutions in the process of perfection - we are called to speak the truth and to bring real information and light before the world and into the Church,” he said.

The Institute of Black Catholic Studies out of Xavier University also examines the worship styles and cultural traditions of black Catholics in the country.

What is distinct about black Catholic culture can be seen clearly in the music and worship style of the community, Verret said.

“I would offer any parish to use the hymnal ‘Lead Me Guide Me’, created by the Institute of Black Catholic Studies in the late 70s and 80s,” Verret said. “The style of worship somewhat differs from the style of worship in the Northern European tradition - it is not quiet, it is much more expressive of spirituality, people sing, people express things with their hands.”

While Xavier University is historically black, the school has always been open to students of other races, and today’s student population is about 70 percent black and 30 percent students of other races.

This diversity provides students with learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom, Verret said, which can show students how to be united even with those who are different than they are, Verret said.

“In this moment we’re still struggling with - ‘who’s the other?’ We’re not assuming that we are all one people. But really we have an expansive global message [at Xavier] which is that we are one people and what we have to give is for the large community and the larger nation,” he said.

During February, which is Black History Month, the school is also sponsoring events and speakers to honor their cultural heritage, including an art exhibit,  a private screening of the movie Black Panther, and a screening of the HBCU series "Tell Them We Are Rising".

Verret added that he hoped the message that Xavier University sends through its students and alumni is one that continues to dissipate the myth that black students can’t perform as well as other students.

“We are disabusing the nation of the myth that was prevalent after the Civil War, which is that these young people are not educated and could not be educated at a high level. What Xavier did was to educate students who can sit and compete and be equal and present whether at medical school or law school...and these students demonstrate that they’re able to achieve and contribute at those levels, and that’s an important message.”

Dominicans worldwide pray for their deceased parents

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dominican friars around the world celebrated a unique tradition last week: they offered Masses for their deceased parents and for all deceased parents of friars. Feb. 7 is specifically designated in the Dominican order’s liturgical calendar as a day of prayer for the deceased parents of all Dominicans.

The Dominicans regularly dedicate themselves to pray for the repose of souls. Each day the friars pray for the souls of those Dominicans who passed away on that date. And Dominican priests are bound to offer Mass for recently-departed brother priests.

“Most Dominican friars have heard at some point in their life that the Dominican Order is not only a good order to live in, it’s a great order to die in. That’s because from its foundation, the Dominican order has had a strong devotion to praying for the dead,” said Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., academic dean of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., in an interview with CNA.

“Every day, friars gather to pray for the souls of their brothers who have died on that particular day. When a friar dies, his brethren who are priests are bound in obedience to offer a Mass for him, and one rosary each week said by a friar is for the souls of his deceased brethren.”

Petri thinks the custom of praying for deceased parents developed because “unlike other orders in the history of the Church, the Dominican order rejected a sense that that friars are cut off from their family, like men dead who rise again in the service of Christ,”

Despite their total dedication to the order’s mission, the Dominicans respect the fact that without their parents, they would not have been born, and therefore would have never become friars.

“In filial piety, we recognize that we wouldn’t be here without them. Therefore, we constantly pray for the parents of the brethren, and most especially, when the parents of the brethren die. Like our devotion to praying for our deceased brothers, we pray for our deceased parents and celebrate Mass for their repose.”

The Masses celebrated by Dominicans on Feb. 7 had a bit of an adjustment to the normal words of the liturgy. Petri explained that the friars prayed a special prayer that God would have mercy for their parents, and that one day, they themselves will be reunited with them in heaven.

“(...)we pray, in the words of the Collect for the Mass, that God have mercy in his compassion on our parents, forgive them their sins, and bring us to see them one day in the gladness of eternal joy.”


Abortion funding limits get priorities right, bishops say

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have praised signs of progress against ‘abortion ideology,’ in response to a State Department report on new limits to U.S. funding for groups involved in abortion.
“Abortion undermines basic human rights, certainly for the child, and it also can wound the mother emotionally and physically,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said Feb. 8. “U.S. tax dollars have no business going to organizations that are unwilling to pursue health outcomes for every person and instead insist on promoting and imposing their abortion ideology on women and children.”
Cardinal Dolan, speaking in his role as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said “I again applaud this administration for restoring our foreign assistance to its rightful goals of promoting health and human rights.”

The Feb. 6 report from the U.S. State Department’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources is a six-month review of the implementation of the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy. The original policy, first instituted under President Ronald Reagan in 1984, directs U.S. overseas family planning funding away from organizations that perform or support abortions overseas.
The report is early evidence that the “vast majority” of NGOs are “willing and able to comply with this policy and that compliance does not appear to undermine delivery of appropriate health services,” said the cardinal.
President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy on Jan. 23, 2017, then ordered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to extend the policy to other forms of monetary aid, like global health assistance, provided by all U.S. departments or agencies.
The new report, covering the period through the end of fiscal year 2017, said that almost all “prime partners” who have had the chance to accept the policy have accepted it. Only four of 733 partners declined funding under the new policy.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the 2016 Trump campaign’s pro-life coalition, welcomed the report.
“The overwhelming 99.5 percent compliance rate shows that the dire prognostications of abortion advocates have not come true,” she said. “The Trump administration’s pro-life policy has not reduced foreign assistance by a dime, but instead ensures that U.S. international aid partners act consistently to save lives, rather than promoting and performing abortion.”
Two major abortion providers, Marie Stopes International and International Planned Parenthood Federation, are among the partners that have declined funding linked to the new policy.
Previously, Marie Stopes received about $80 million per year in U.S. funds, about 17 percent of its donations. The organization has secured short-term replacement funds for most of that sum, but many programs may face losses in mid-2018, National Public Radio reports. It may shut down outreach teams for sexual and reproductive services for impoverished women in Madagascar, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
In January 2017, before the policy’s expansion, a spokesperson for International Planned Parenthood Federation said the organization could lose $100 million in annual funding for its non-abortion services.
“Only a tiny minority of extreme pro-abortion groups have stubbornly refused to put the wellbeing of all women ahead of their agenda,” Dannenfelser continued. “The funds they forfeited have gone to worthy providers who respect the life, dignity, and values of women and families worldwide, as well as the will of American taxpayers.”
At the same time, international funders are working to replace the prior U.S. funding, such as the She Decides NGO launched by the Dutch government. About $450 million has been raised from country donors, especially European governments, and private donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In July, Melinda Gates announced the foundation would boost family planning funding by 60 percent, another $375 million over the next four years, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
Many of the grantees in the State Department report are pass-through groups and it is unclear how many of their partners will comply with the new policy.
There are still assistance agreements made prior to the policy change that have not yet come under the new standard, the State Department report said.
The policy affected grants made through the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. The agencies began implementing the policy in May 2017.
One Defense Department partner, a U.S. NGO, accepted the new policy requirements in all countries in which it is active but one.
As of Sept. 30, no HHS partners had declined to accept the policy. USAID reported that three centrally funded partners and 12 sub-awardee implementing partners refused to agree to the terms of the policy. The development agency is working to transition these organizations to other partners “while minimizing disruption of services.”
U.S. departments and agencies are including the policy provision in grants and agreements and are conducting trainings to ensure the policy is applied, the report said, adding that a standard contract clause is in development.
The report said there is a need to clarify that the provision must be included in U.S. department or agency awards to state or local government agencies, including state universities, “in the same manner as they include it in awards to U.S. NGOs.”
A further review is planned by Dec. 15, 2018.

USCCB praises disaster relief policy for churches

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The USCCB issued a statement Friday praising the early morning passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, which, in addition to preventing a government shutdown, also codified into law a new FEMA policy that would allow churches and other houses of worship to apply for disaster relief funds.

The policy was developed by FEMA in January, after three Texas churches damaged by hurricanes sued the government claiming discrimination.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">U.S. Bishops Chairmen Commend Provisions in Budget Act that Ensure Houses of Worship Can Apply for Federal Disaster Assistance <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BudgetDeal</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) <a href="">February 9, 2018</a></blockquote>
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As houses of worship--including churches, synagogues, and mosques--are often directly involved in the recovery effort after a natural disaster, it makes sense that they too are able to receive federal assistance with rebuilding, said a statement from  Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

"We applaud Congress for including provisions in the Budget Act that direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make disaster relief assistance available to houses of worship on the same terms as other nonprofit entities. These provisions ensure that houses of worship are treated fairly,” said the bishops.

Notre Dame professor criticizes university’s provision of ‘simple contraceptives’

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 16:00

South Bend, Ind., Feb 9, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the University of Notre Dame announced it would fund  “simple contraceptives” in its insurance plan, one Notre Dame professor has criticized the move, calling it “a giant leap into immorality.”

“Now the University [of Notre Dame] is to be sole funder and proprietor of a contraception giveaway,” wrote Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley in an essay published Thursday at Public Discourse.

“What is solemnly declared for years to be morally impossible is, suddenly, the substance of Notre Dame’s free choice,” Bradley wrote.

In a Feb. 7 statement, Notre Dame's president Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, announced that while the insurance plan at the university will not provide abortifacients, the school will fund the use of “simple contraceptives,” which apparently include drugs that prevent conception.

In the statement, Jenkins noted that contraception is indeed “contrary to Catholic teaching,” while explaining that offering contraception to the school was a way to “respect” other religious traditions and conscientious decisions - particularly decisions made by those in the university’s community who rely on access to contraception through the insurance plan.

This step came as a surprise to many, since the university was one of the institutions which sued the United States over the 2012 Obamacare contraception mandate.

“In its lawsuit, Notre Dame cited chapter and verse of Church teaching,” Bradley recalled.

“The University said, basically, that, to remain faithful to its beliefs, it could not be involved in any way whatsoever with a process designed to provide contraceptives to its employees, its students, or their dependents,” he continued.  

Bradley noted that “Notre Dame’s practice until just a few years ago exhibited all the ‘respect’ possibly due to those who want to contracept.”

The university “rightly did nothing,” he said, to make contraception available or cheaper, while at the same time, it “did not discriminate in the workplace against those who chose to contracept.”

While Bradley said the allowance for contraception will cause incalculable harm to “so many persons’ minds, bodies and souls,” he also noted that “Fr. Jenkins supplied a primer about how Catholics should make all sorts of morally important decisions that is not only mistaken, but catastrophic for the moral life.”

“Our moral duty to respect others’ choices does not have anything to do with giving them the means to do evil,” Bradley said, adding that “one should not respect another’s specific immoral choice at all.”

“Everyone’s immoral choices should be regretted, and their repetition discouraged, and their occurrences criticized appropriately,” he continued.

Bradley said he believes that Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the diocese where Notre Dame is located, will speak out against the decision, noting that he will “have no choice but to publicly do so” in order to “protect all the faithful in his care from this grave scandal.”

Bradley said that the rationalization behind Jenkin’s most recent allowance for contraception is a “crucial mistake” which violates the sexual and moral teachings of the Catholic Church, as delineated in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”

“God does not want us to weigh up pros and cons of adhering to the moral truth,” Bradley said.

“And the greatest respect we can show others is to bear faithful witness to the truth.”


How the Lord’s Prayer led this North Korean defector to freedom

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 12:05

Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2018 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Before his escape, when Seong-Ho was being tortured by North Korean officials, there was one thing that kept him from losing hope: over and over again he recited the Lord’s Prayer,” President Donald Trump said in his speech at the 2018 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

Seong-Ho's courage and faith were also highlighted by Trump during his State of the Union address in January.

Many North Korean defectors like Ji Seong-ho encounter Christianity through the missionaries who organize the underground railroad that makes it possible for them to escape to China, where they still face the constant risk of being repatriated back to North Korea.

The journey with the Christian missionaries often leads to conversion for defectors. Eighty to ninety percent of North Koreans who pass through the underground railroad identify as Christian after reaching South Korea, according to a 2015 study by Dr. Jin-Heon Jung entitled “Underground Railroads of Christian Conversion.”

One Catholic Church in Seoul baptized 60 North Korean defectors in one day in June 2016, after Father Raymond Lee Jong-nam catechized and assisted them with the transition to life in South Korea, according to UCA News.

“I thank Father Lee for showing us deep love like our father and I will live this new life to the full in this church," one newly baptised North Korean told the Union of Catholic Asian News.

Ji Seong-ho, whose story gained national attention when he triumphantly raised up his crutches during the president’s State of the Union address last week, told EWTN that prayer sustained him during his escape.

“I offered so many prayers to my God...I started to pray save me, rescue me,” he said.

Ji escaped North Korea in 2006 by crossing the Tumen River into China, and then journeying 6,214 miles across China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand to reach South Korea on crutches due to an earlier tragedy that left him an amputee.

Now that he has reached freedom, Ji Seong-ho said he feels called by God to rescue other North Korean refugees.

“God’s love needs to be conveyed to the people of North Korea and North Korean souls need God’s salvation. Under that conviction, I am doing what I am doing,” he said.

According to the Korean Ministry of Unification, more than 31,000 North Korean defectors have entered South Korea since 1998.

However, the annual number of North Koreans arriving in the South has declined since Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed power and cracked down on Christian missionaries.

Last year had the lowest figure for North Korean defections to South Korea since 2001, according to the Unification Ministry’s data.

For the more than 25 million people who remain within North Korea, human rights violations abound, according to the U.S. State Department.

“The DPRK regime detains more than 100,000 people, including children in political prison camps, where summary executions, torture, sexual violence, starvation, and other egregious abuses are committed under Kim Jong Un’s direction,” said State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, on Feb. 6.

North Korea has consistently been ranked the worst country for persecution of Christians by Open Doors.

“The Catholic diocese of Pyongyang is vacant and the last bishop was appointed in March 1944. There are no native Catholic clerics in North Korea, but visiting priests occasionally say Mass. In 2008 Father Paul Kim Kwon-soon, a South Korean Franciscan, became the first priest to be granted a residency permit,” according to an Aid to the Church in Need UK report.

One French priest, Father Philippe Blot, has visited North Korea several times. He spoke to Parisians at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2017 about his perspective on the country that singles out Christians for torture and execution.

“As a missionary and as a Catholic priest, I am speaking here on behalf of all those Koreans who for more than 60 years have been living the longest Way of the Cross in human history,” he said.

Father Philippe asked Catholics to pray “ardently every day for this crucified people.”


What New York’s non-discrimination order could mean for religious liberty

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 07:00

New York City, N.Y., Feb 9, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed an executive order that bans the state from doing business with companies that “promote or tolerate” discrimination, a move that has some religious liberty advocates crying foul.

In a press release about the executive order, Cuomo specifically cited the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the HHS contraception mandate as one of his concerns. Cuomo said that with the executive order, New York would “further protect New Yorkers’ civil rights” and that the state’s various agencies will not do business with companies that either promote or tolerate discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

As of May 1, state agencies will be prevented from “entering into contracts with entities that have institutional policies or practices that fail to address the harassment and discrimination of individuals on the basis of their gender identity, transgender status, gender dysphoria or any of the other protected classes[...].”

Further, schools that “refuse to protect transgender students” will not be eligible for state funding.

Ed Mechmann, the director of public policy and the director of the safe environment programs in the Archdiocese of New York, said that while this executive order may sound unobjectionable on the surface, it could actually be used to trample religious liberty in the state.

Writing in his “Stepping out of the Boat” blog, Mechmann said that Cuomo effectively tipped his hand by including the HHS mandate in the press release for the executive order.

“By citing this completely irrelevant federal proposal, the press release inadvertently made clear that the Governor's new order is rooted in animosity towards religious freedom,” said Mechmann.

Mechmann disputed Cuomo’s claim that the removal of the HHS mandate has caused businesses to “claim broad exemptions from nondiscrimination laws,” which in turn has “increased the vulnerability of LGBTQ rights.”

“The idea that 'LGBTQ rights' might be 'vulnerable' (whatever that means) because of a decision relating to health insurance coverage of contraceptives is something that only an ideologue could believe,” he added.


Notre Dame’s pro-life club offers free childcare for parenting graduate students

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 17:37

South Bend, Ind., Feb 8, 2018 / 03:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Parents pursuing graduate degrees at the University of Notre Dame are now able to partake in a free childcare service through the campus’ Right to Life Club.

“The Right to Life’s mission is to promote and uphold the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death through prayer, service and education,” stated Lorenzo Beer, who was the commissioner behind the new childcare service, according to the Observer.

“The Child Care Service is a direct, concrete action of the Right to Life Club to showcase the love the pro-life movement has for those who choose life,” Beer continued.

The childcare program is offered once a week to parents who are graduate students at the University of Notre Dame. The children are cared for by university student volunteers, who are required to have a background check and a child care training session.

Currently, the program has 30 trained child caretakers, while upwards of 80 students have shown an interest in volunteering for the program. The service is in its third week of operation, during which it has served five different families.

“Last week, the service provided daycare for about 11 children,” Beer said.

Beer, who is a sophomore at the university, believes the program will showcase what it means to be pro-life, while also supporting fellow students.

“Raising a child is hard enough,” Beer said, but “raising a child while being a graduate student requires superpowers.”

Beer also noted the challenges involved when parents experience the “difficulty of choosing life.” However, he noted that life itself is “the greatest gift of humanity.”

“For that reason, we want to serve those who choose life, and what better way to do so than helping those right here on campus in our community.”

The president of the university’s Right to Life Club, Sarah Drumm, said that she hopes the new childcare program will help parents who are pursuing their graduate degrees, even if on a small scale.

“We recognize that our once-a-week child care service isn’t going to dramatically improve the lives of parenting students,” Drumm said.

“However, we do hope that the little we do somehow can make their workload a little lighter and their jobs as parents a little easier, at least for a few hours a week.”


Archbishop Chaput: blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples is not permitted

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 17:18

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 8, 2018 / 03:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has penned a letter to priests and deacons in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, addressing the possibility of blessing rites for same-sex couples.

“I want to remind us all that under no circumstances may a priest or deacon of the archdiocese take part in, witness or officiate at any civil union of same-sex persons, or any religious ceremony that seeks to bless such an event,” Archbishop Chaput wrote in a Feb. 7 letter, which was obtained by CNA.

“This in no way is a rejection of the persons seeking such a union, but rather a refusal to ignore what we know to be true about the nature of marriage, the family, and the dignity of human sexuality,” he continued.

Chaput’s words come amidst controversy surrounding recent remarks from senior German church leaders who have implied support over same-sex union blessings.

In January, Father Johannes Zu Eltz, the city-dean of the Catholic Church in Frankfurt, stated that the Church should consider “theologically founded blessing ceremonies” for couples who do not meet standard requirements for marriage in the Church, which would include same-sex unions.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, spoke out on Feb. 3, saying that while “there are no general solutions,” the question of blessing homosexual couples should be left to “pastor on the ground.”

“We are talking about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies to other areas as well, which we cannot regulate, where we have no sets of rules,” Cardinal Marx stated.

“The imprudence in these public statements has been deeply concerning,” Chaput wrote to his clergy.  

 “As you know, blessing persons in their particular form of life effective encourages them in that state-- in this case, same-sex sexual unions,” he added.

In a Feb. 6 column for Catholic Philly, Chaput further noted the Church’s reasoning behind its stance on same-sex unions and their blessings.

“There is no love – no charity – without truth, just as there is no real mercy separated from a framework of justice informed and guided by truth,” he wrote.

Additionally, Chaput’s column offered two principles for consideration.

“First, we need to treat all people with the respect and pastoral concern they deserve as children of God with inherent dignity,” he said, noting that this “emphatically includes persons with same-sex attraction.”

“Second, there is no truth, no real mercy, and no authentic compassion in blessing a course of action that leads persons away from God.”

Chaput also wrote that every individual has the “right to hear the truth,” which may, at times, be uncomfortable. He said leaders of the Church must be “clear, honest and prudent in what they do and say,” so as not to cause confusion.

“Jesus said the truth will make us free,” Chaput wrote. “We still need to hear the truth clearly – and share it, clearly, always with love.”

“Creating confusion around important truths of our faith, no matter how positive the intention, only make a difficult task more difficult.”


The story of the patron saint of human trafficking victims

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 17:07

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2018 / 03:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Today, February 8, has been designated as the International Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking. It is also the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who is the patron of trafficking victims.

Today is the International Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking, coinciding with the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron of #humantrafficking victims.

For more resources to raise awareness, visit:

— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) February 8, 2018 The USCCB is urging people to hold or attend prayer services for victims of this crime. The USCCB estimates that about 17,000 people are trafficked across the United States border each year.

St. Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in Sudan. Around 1877, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Arab slave traders. During her time as a slave, she was beaten, tortured, and scarred. Eventually, in 1883, she was sold to the Italian Vice Consul, Callisto Legani, who took her with him back to Italy. While in Italy, she was given to a family and became their nanny, and that family eventually left her with the Canossian Sisters in Venice when they traveled to Sudan for business.

Once with the sisters, she learned about Christianity, and decided to become Catholic. She refused to go back to the family that enslaved her once they returned to Italy, and an Italian court ruled that since slavery had been outlawed in Sudan prior to her birth, she was not legally a slave. She was then freed from slavery.

With her newfound freedom, she remained with the Canossians, and received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy communion on January 9, 1890. She took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata--with Fortunata being a Latin translation of her Arabic name Bakhita. Three years later, she became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity, and professed her final vows on December 8, 1896. She then lived out the remainder of her life in a convent in Schio, Vicenza, working as a cook and a doorkeeper. She passed away on February 8, 1947, and was canonized on October 1, 2000, by St. John Paul II.

In addition to her patronage of victims of human trafficking, she is also the patron of her home country of Sudan.