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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: 51 min 26 sec ago

Ambassador Brownback: World faces a 'critical moment' for religious minorities

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 18:11

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2018 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- “It is more dangerous now than any time in history to be a person of faith,” said Ambassador Sam Brownback at an event marking the second anniversary of U.S. recognition that the Islamic State committed genocide against religious minorities, including Christians, in Syria and Iraq.

Brownback, who was sworn-in as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom last month, said that religious freedom should be advanced in U.S. national security policy, assistance programs, and economic strategies.

“I would like to see religious freedom be for this administration what climate change was for the last,” said Brownback at the March 23 event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

ISIS’ Genocide of Christians: The Past, Present and Future of Christians in the Middle East” brought together human rights experts, academics, and religious freedom advocates to examine how best to address the threats posed to religious minorities by extremist groups such as the Islamic State.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously “that the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria include war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide” in March 2016. Shortly after, Secretary of State John Kerry named Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims as victims of genocide in the region.

While the panel discussions focused on Christians in the Middle East, Brownback also spoke of threats to religious liberty throughout the world. He highlighted the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims in China, and Catholic leaders in Venezuela, who came under fire from President Nicolas Maduro for speaking out about the country’s current crisis.

Brownback called for alliances between the political left and right in working towards greater religious freedom abroad urging, “We are at a critical moment for the future of religious minorities globally.”

He also asked for prayers for the persecuted and for those involved in religious freedom causes.

"By God's grace, life always triumphs over death, freedom overcomes oppression, and faith extinguishes fear. This is the source of our hope and our confidence in the future,” said Brownback.

Humanae Vitae is needed now more than ever, say conference attendees

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 17:45

Atchison, Kansas, Mar 26, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- Fifty years later, the teachings of Humanae Vitae are more relevant and necessary for the life of the Church than ever, participants at a recent symposium on the encyclical said.

The encyclical by Pope Paul VI affirms, among other things, the Church’s teaching on natural family planning methods and rejects contraception as a morally valid method for the planning and spacing of children.

The encyclical was the topic of the seventh annual Symposium on Advancing the New Evangelization at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas last weekend, a gathering of dozens of scholars, philosophers, theologians, students and lay people from throughout the United States.

The keynote speakers included Dr. Janet Smith from Sacred Heart Major Seminary; Dr. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco; and Dr. Jennifer Roback-Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute.

While the message and teachings of Humanae Vitae on marriage and family are 50 years old, they remain a key part of the New Evangelization in today’s culture, participants said.

“I think we all know that it touches us at our core and we all know that it’s the answer to what has so gone wrong in our culture,” Teresa Kenney, a woman’s health nurse practitioner with the Pope Paul VI Institute and symposium speaker, told CNA.

But it’s not enough to just talk about Humanae Vitae, Kenney said, it needs to be lived out in the Christian community.

She said that she experiences the teachings of Humanae Vitae in the interactions that she has with each woman she encounters. “I feel so blessed and so grateful to be doing what I’m doing.”

The Pope Paul VI Institute is an international research, education, medical, and service center based in Omaha, Nebraska that provides women with fertility care via the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System and NaProTechnology reproductive care, which “embodies the best principles of medicine and offers superior treatments to women and challenges mainstream medicine, which relies on contraception, in-vitro fertilization, and abortion.”

In her work there, Kenney said she has found that the biggest hurdle preventing people from accepting Church teaching and natural family planning methods is the false idea of full autonomy and freedom offered by contraception.

“We’re born and bred in this culture that you have personal freedom, and that really you should be able (to do whatever) as long as you’re not hurting anybody else,” Kenney said. But the best way Kenney has found to reach women “is just letting them know that it’s important to know about their body,” and by talking about the negative side effects of contraception that many women have personally experienced.

“We have to (help people) perceive the connection between love and life as an ultimate good, and we have to have people move toward it,” she added. “And as they move closer to the foundation of Humanae Vitae, we don’t need to do anything else because it changes the culture itself.”

Joel Feldpausch works as a missionary with The Culture Project International, a mission organization that speaks to high school and middle school students about virtue, dignity and sexual integrity.

As a missionary working with young people, Feldpausch said he decided to come to the symposium because understanding and communicating the truth of Humanae Vitae is essential in his mission to youth.

“The most fascinating thing about my job in dealing with middle schoolers and high schoolers is that Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s vision, the warnings of Our Lady of Fatima, the writings of John Paul II - they become more relevant,” he said.

Feldpausch said his approach to speaking to young people is to flip on its head the cultural narrative that suggests total autonomy and the freedom to do whatever one chooses are the keys to happiness.

“You’re finding now in our world, people are accomplishing those things that they think will make them happy, and they’re getting to that point and they’re realizing that they’re not happy,” he said.

“So it’s beautiful and enlightening to introduce them to [Humanae Vitae] and say hey, I understand where you're coming from...but what if this Church and this faith and this beauty and love and truth...what if that is where your freedom lies? What if that is your fulfillment lies? Just think about that, just think for a minute.”

Reghan Methe, a student at Benedictine College, said she came to the symposium to learn how she could practically apply the teachings of Humanae Vitae in the world.

“I am interested in how to implement all these things that we’re learning here, because we have all of these great classes but that can keep it in a very abstract or intellectual level,” she told CNA. “So a lot of people here, with the primary focus being evangelization, it helps to make what you’re learning more concrete.”

Michele Chambers, who teaches Natural Family Planning in the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, told CNA that she found that the symposium was a time to learn from and reconnect with like-minded people before going back to the mission field.

“To have these myriads of people here all on the same team - which when you’re in your individual dioceses and parishes, you don’t see that as much - it's nice to come and get filled so you can go back and try and do your job a bit better,” Chambers said.

She said the teachings of the encyclical continue to be relevant “because even 50 years later, we’re still struggling, and we struggled for years before,” she said. “Trying to live Humanae Vitae is a very difficult thing no matter what year you’re born in, and we have to give people that sign of hope that it can be done.”

US State Department honors Italian nun as a 'Woman of Courage'

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 15:06

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2018 / 01:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Italian nun working in war-torn parts of Africa was honored at the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage award ceremony last week, commended for her dedicated service to the poor and to internally displaced persons.

“Sister Maria Elena is being honored for her service to counter hatred, injustice, and war-related horrors,” said Heather Nauert, department spokesperson, at the award ceremony held March 23 at the Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

“She has provided refuge to those internally displaced people by conflict; and her tireless work to bring peace in the Central African Republic. Thank you, Sister,” Nauert continued.

Sister Maria Elena Berini, a Catholic nun from Italy who serves with the Sisters of Charity of St. Jeanne Anthide Thouret, was born in 1944. She developed a deep sense of compassion and service from a young age, when she left school at 15 to work in a textile factory to help support her family.

Berini entered novitiate at age 19 and began delving into religious and educational training. After voicing her desire to serve in Africa, she was sent to Chad in 1972 to teach in rural areas, often under the threat of violence and war.

Despite the horrors and injustices she witnessed first-hand, Berini came to love the African people and their culture. In 2007, she was transferred to a Catholic mission in Bocaranga, Central African Republic, where she has been working with internally displaced persons who are seeking refuge from conflict.

Berini, now 74, still works in CAR with those displaced by the war and remains hopeful for peace within the region.

“As the United States Ambassador to the Holy See, I am especially honored to be here today with Sister Maria Elena Berini,” said Callista Gingrich during the awards reception.

“Sister, your steadfast devotion to peace and justice, on behalf of the most vulnerable, is truly inspirational. Thank you for all that you do,” Gingrich continued.

Gingrich went on to commend all the women at the awards ceremony, and thanked them for their bravery, compassion, and “efforts to make our world a better place.”

Berini was one among ten honorees at the International Women of Courage ceremony, including Dr. Julissa Villanueva, a forensic pathologist from Honduras; Godelieve Mukasarasi who has been working for peace in Rwanda; Aliyah Khalaf Saleh, who saved a number of Iraqi military troops by hiding them from the Islamic State; and Aiman Umarova, who fights against sexual abuse of women and children in Kazakhstan.
 
The International Women of Courage award ceremony is now in its 12th year. It focuses on recognizing “women around the globe who have demonstrated exception courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice,” according to the U.S. Department of State.

First Lady Melania Trump also addressed the group of honorees, saying that “their examples define courage,” and they have “shown incredible courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, quality, and women’s empowerment.”

“Courage sets apart those who believe in higher calling and those who act on it. It takes courage not only to see wrong, but strive to right it. Courage is what sets apart the heroes from the rest,” Trump said.

“The women of courage we honor here today are heroes.”

This Sunday, where will the millions of palms come from?

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 02:03

Washington D.C., Mar 25, 2018 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the arrival of Palm Sunday, Catholics across the globe will soon be handed leaves as they walk into church. Some might fold them into elaborate little crosses. Kids will poke each other with them. But it's safe to say most won't know where they came from.

The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem the week before his passion and crucifixion. The Gospels attest that as Jesus entered the city, crowds lay down palm branches and cloaks as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

For centuries, Christians have commemorated the feast day that begins Holy Week by waving branches of either palm or another local tree, as well as with liturgical processions and other celebrations.

In the U.S. alone, nearly 18,000 Catholic parishes will celebrate Palm Sunday by blessing and distributing palm branches to the faithful. That makes millions of palm leaves each year – and that doesn’t include all of the Protestant churches that observe the tradition.

Where do all those palms come from? While many Catholics know the final destination of their palms – they are burned to become ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday – the origin of the leafy branches is less well known.



Credit: Klara Sasova / Unsplash

The journey from tree to church begins with the harvesters around the world who cut and prepare the leaves for their role in worship. The work needed to provide palms for Palm Sunday is so immense that it actually constitutes a full-time year-round job for some harvesters.

Thomas Sowell is one such palm harvester from Florida who has been helping to supply parishes with fresh palm leaves for more than five decades. Sowell began harvesting wild palm leaves from trees as a child to earn extra money in the springtime. Over the past several decades, he has grown his business into a palm supplier that ships the leafy branches to all 50 states and Canada.

Despite the growth in his business, Sowell says he tries to maintain his focus on the purpose behind it all.

“We try to do the best job that we can,” he told CNA. “Every bag that we send out to churches, every individual bag has been examined, cleaned – we go to extreme measures to make sure that everything we do for these churches is done in the honor of Jesus Christ.”

While there are more than 2,600 different species of palm that grow across the world, palm plants cannot survive outside of tropical and subtropical climates. Historically, parishes that could not source palm locally would instead substitute branches of another local tree such as olive or willow, although modern churches also have the option of sourcing palm fronds from other regions of the world.

In the United States and Canada, most parishes seek out suppliers who deliver fresh palms shortly before Palm Sunday, said Fr. Michael J. Flynn, Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Many of these parishes contact church goods suppliers such as Peter Munley of Falls Church, Virginia, who helps provide parishes year-round with supplies like candles and sacramental wine, along with palms for Holy Week.

Munley told CNA that in preparation for Palm Sunday, he works to deliver palms from their source to different parishes that place orders around the country. In addition to Florida, palms are sourced from Texas, California and elsewhere in the Southern United States, he said.

While nearly all of the palms Munley sells are individually pre-cut, church goods suppliers also helps to source decorative palms for altar centerpieces and larger palm fronds as well. Dealers also work to ensure that palms get burnt and ground into ashes for Ash Wednesday, for parishes that cannot burn the palms for ashes themselves.

Munley also stressed that although many American-based palm sources are not labeled as “eco-friendly,” the practices of many major U.S. palm harvesters are indeed environmentally sustainable.

“Our guys don’t kill the palm,” he said, adding that by sourcing palms from American harvesters as opposed to internationally-certified “green” farmers, they help to reduce the ecological impact of shipping and transportation.


Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Sowell said that the palm trees he works with “are 100 percent wild.” He works with local ranchers and landowners to remove palmetto leaves from trees that grow naturally on local farmland.

Some of the trees Sowell harvests from have been producing palm leaves since he first started gathering palm leaves to sell as a boy.

“I know that there are trees that are still being cut today that I cut when I was twelve,” he said.

Originally, Sowell cut everything himself. Over the years, however, his growing cooperation with the caretakers who supply palm led him to focus more on preparing palms for church supply dealers and for shipment.

Cooperation with ranchers and landowners is critical. Sowell says the process of cutting, cleaning and preparing the strips of palm is incredibly labor intensive, and he could not complete it without local partnerships. “There’s no way that you could grow this much palm and just do it (alone). It’s hard.”

The work is so intensive that the Palm Sunday celebrations require an entire year’s work. “We work twelve months out of the year, in one aspect or another, for one day,” Sowell said.

He also supplies palm leaves for Eastern Orthodox Churches, which use a different calendar for Easter and Lent. After the celebration of Palm Sunday in the Catholic Church and other Western churches, “we’ll turn around in a couple of weeks and gather more palms so they’re fresh for the Orthodox,” he said.

The participation of Christians in Palm Sunday celebrations not only provides work and a living for Sowell and his employees, but financial support for the local ranchers who work with him.

“There are so many families that help us that can earn money in a way that otherwise they couldn’t.”

Ultimately, Sowell sees his job harvesting and preparing palm leaves – and the service he is able to offer to parishes across the country – as a blessing.

“There would have been no way we could have done this if it hadn’t been for God helping us,” he said.

 

This article was originally published on CNA March 16, 2016.

Kentucky Senate votes to restrict common abortion procedure

Sat, 03/24/2018 - 08:01

Frankfort, Ky., Mar 24, 2018 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Kentucky State Senate passed a bill Thursday that would ban dilation and evacuation abortions after the 11th week of pregnancy, with the exception of a medical emergency.

Were this bill to become law, it would be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the US.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the state’s Senate March 22, with 31 votes in favor and only five against. Now the bill will move to the House of Representatives, where it will once again be voted on. An earlier version of the bill also passed by a wide margin in the state’s House.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is pro-life and is likely to sign the law once it reaches his desk. This, however, will not happen for at least a few more days as both the state House and Senate are on recess until Tuesday.

“We welcome any effort to highlight the gruesome nature of abortion, and work towards the day when all unborn life is respected and welcomed into the world,” Jason Hall, executive director of the Kentucky Catholic Conference, told Catholic News Agency.

Dilation and evacuation is used in 16 percent of abortions in Kentucky. It is mainly used during the second trimester of pregnancy.

Kentucky has one abortion clinic in the entire state, which was nearly closed last year.

If this bill were to become law, it would most likely face legal opposition from pro-abortion groups before it could actually be enforced. Similar abortion restrictions in Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have been struck down.

California high school student planning pro-life walkout

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 15:56

Sacramento, Calif., Mar 23, 2018 / 01:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students at a public school in California are organizing a pro-life walkout, similar to the recent walkouts over gun control, in honor of unborn babies who have been aborted.

The pro-life walkout will take place at Rocklin High School in Rocklin, Calif., a Sacramento suburb, April 11.

The walkout, similar to the recent walkouts over gun control in honor of the Parkland shooting victims in Florida, and will last 17 minutes. The event will be promoted by students with #life.

The organizer of the walkout, Rocklin High student Brandon Gillespie, said he hopes the event will “honor all the lives of the millions of aborted babies every year,” according to local news.

“We encourage students across the country to participate in a stand for #life,” Gillespie said in a March 22 Tweet.

Gillespie noted that he was inspired by his history teacher, Julianne Benzel, to jumpstart the pro-life walkout.

Benzel recently highlighted the nationwide walkouts over gun control in her classroom and asked her students to consider what the limits might be over protests on school grounds and if there was a double-standard.

“If schools, not only just our school and our administration, but across the country are going to allow one group of students to get up during class and walk out to protest one issue, would they still give the same courtesy to another group of students who wanted to protest… abortion?’ Benzel told Fox & Friends.

“If you’re going to allow students to get up and walk out without penalty, then you’re going to have to allow any group of students that wants to protest,” Benzel continued.

Soon after her classroom discussion, Benzel was placed on paid administrative leave after a few students and one parent filed a complaint to the school against her.

District spokesperson Diana Capra said that Benzel was “not penalized or placed on leave because of her viewpoints,” but her leave was “due to complaints from parents and students involving the teacher’s communication regarding…the student-led remembrance activities.”

Despite the controversy, Rocklin students are moving forward with their pro-life walkout in a few weeks and have encouraged other students around the nation to join the walkout for life.

Gillespie met with Rocklin High School's principal the morning of March 23, but has yet to announce any updates to the walkout's status since then.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I just got done with the meeting with my principal. I will be updating the status of the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/life?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#life</a> walkoout soon.</p>&mdash; Brandon Gillespie (@bgillie13) <a href="https://twitter.com/bgillie13/status/977198964771450880?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 23, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Saint Paul film highlights Christian hope in the face of persecution

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 15:48

Dallas, Texas, Mar 23, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA).- Actors and filmmakers at the red carpet premiere of “Paul Apostle of Christ” said the film’s portrayal of Christian persecution in ancient Rome is a timely reminder that people around the world continue to suffer for their faith.

“I know about the Christian persecution that is happening to this very day … I want the world to know … the Coptic, the Chaldean, the Assyrian Christians who were murdered,” Jim Caviezel, who plays Luke in the film, told CNA at the premiere.

“Here we are. We are on a red carpet, we are making a movie. It’s very nice, but right now there are people that are struggling and suffering,” reflected T.J. Berden, one of the film’s producers.

The film is dedicated to people who are persecuted for their faith. Berden told CNA that he hopes the film’s dedication helps audiences to “remember that there are people right now going through this. Send up a prayer. Think about them. Offer something up.”

“What we go through here, especially in the United States, for our faith pales in comparison to what people in the early Church went through and what people around the world go through in terms of persecution,” said Rich Peluso, executive vice president of AFFIRM Films, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment that develops faith-based and inspirational films.  

“Paul Apostle of Christ”  is set during Emperor Nero’s persecution of the Christian community in Rome. “People were being used as candles all over Rome and being burned alive, and yet he [St. Luke] was able to take a stand in the face of evil. He must have believed in the very words of Paul, ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain,’” said Caviezel.
In the midst of this suffering, the film follows first-century couple Priscilla and Aquila as they wrestle with the question of whether the Christians should flee the city to protect their community or remain to be a witness to the Romans.

This question, faced by persecuted Christian communities throughout the ages, has repeatedly captured the imagination of screenwriters and artists. In the 2010 film “Of Gods and Men,” Cistercian monks take a vote as to whether or not they should stay in Algeria and risk martyrdom at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, as do the nuns in Francis Poulenc’s opera, “Dialogue of the Carmelites,” set during the French Revolution. Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil spoke recently about how Christians in Iraq today faced the same question as ISIS attacked their communities.

Director and Screenwriter Andrew Hyatt told CNA that this decision is one of the authentic struggles highlighted in the film. Hyatt said that he sought to put Paul’s writing into its historical context through the film.

“Paul lived an experience. If he was writing anything, it was because someone needed to hear it and that was probably somebody in his community. There was no idea of this Bible thing or someday billions of people will read this. It was more that it had to come out of a need, so I really wanted the dialogue and the Scripture to be weaved together in a way so that it felt like an authentic, lived thing,” said Hyatt.

“Saint Paul definitely teaches an entire life of conversion, an entire life of proclamation, an entire life of love and dedication to our Lord Jesus Christ and to do everything possible to proclaim Christ’s love to the rest of the world,” said Bishop Edward Burns at the March 20 premiere in his Dallas diocese.
Paul Apostle of Christ opens in theaters throughout the U.S. on Friday, March 23.

Cardinal Dolan says Democrats have abandoned Catholics

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 12:32

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2018 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an op-ed published Friday in the Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York lamented that the Democratic Party’s shifting principles have effectively shut out and alienated orthodox Catholics.

Dolan cited the Democrat’s current opposition to school choice programs and tax credits for education, along with their unwavering support for abortion rights, among the reasons why he is disappointed with the party in its current state. Dolan said believes that the Democrats of today have abandoned many of the tenets that made the party attractive to Catholics generations ago.

In the past, Dolan explained, when waves of Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, their respect for the sanctity of life and their concern for the poor led them to embrace the Democrats, who welcomed them to the party. Dolan even recounted his own grandmother warning him that, “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.”

“Such is no longer the case,” Dolan wrote, which is a “cause of sadness to many Catholics.” himself included.

He pointed to the party’s recent refusal to support incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who is one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, in a tight primary race.

Lipinski, himself Catholic, narrowly won the Democratic primary this past Tuesday against a challenger who made abortion rights central to her campaign. Last April, DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement that “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” and that this was “not negotiable.”

Perez was criticized for this stance by party leaders, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Recent polling showed just under a quarter of Democrats believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

Dolan was particularly critical of a proposed New York law titled the “Reproductive Health Act,” which he says would “morbidly expand” the “most radical abortion license in the country.” The New York State Assembly is overwhelmingly Democrat.

“For instance, under the proposed Reproductive Health Act, doctors would not be required to care for a baby who survives an abortion. The newborn simply would be allowed to die without any legal implications,” wrote Dolan.

What’s more, Dolan explained, is that he feels the Democrats are making it harder for low and middle-class children to get an education at a Catholic school.

“In recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children,” said Dolan. The cardinal said this type of legislation impedes the mission of these schools to serve poor, often immigrant, children.

Dolan admitted that while he has “ had spats and disappointments” with politicians from both major political parties in the United States, he is particularly upset by the Democratic Party’s swing in a direction that excludes people like his grandmother.

“But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.”

 

Lenten campaign invites fallen-away Catholics back to confession

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 02:39

Pittsburgh, Pa., Mar 23, 2018 / 12:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Through an annual initiative called “The light is on for you,” dioceses throughout the U.S. have opened their doors to welcome fallen away Catholics back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“It’s an opportunity to reach out to people who may not be regularly thinking about confession and for it to spark their interest,” said Father Nicholas Vaskov, executive director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“This is sort of the apex of a long journey back to a regular practice with their faith. They’ve come to a point to realize without this it’s not going to be complete, just that desire to be one with God,” he told CNA.

“The light is on for you” is present in dioceses including Arlington, Va., Washington, D.C., Boston, San Jose, and Dallas. Participating dioceses pick a night in Lent when every church has a priest available for confession, some with several nights throughout the Lenten season.  

For at least the sixth year in a row, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has also had one night in Lent when every church is open for confession. Since February, the diocese has promoted the event on radio stations, bus shelter signs, and social media.

As the pastor at St. Mary of Mercy Parish in downtown Pittsburgh, Father Vaskov heard confessions for three hours on March 22. Despite 10 inches of snow, he said people still lined up for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, including both Catholics who frequent the sacrament and those who had not been in years.

“I think it is a powerful experience for many who come… so often, and last night was no different, people who [had been] 10, 20, 30, even 40 years away from the sacraments” returned to confession.

The event is promoted especially as an opportunity for fallen-away Catholics to return to the sacraments without pressure, said Father Vaskov, who worked with radio stations and ad buyers to promote advertisements tailored to this audience.

The ads sought to respond to the reasons that people give for leaving the Church, such as a bad experience with a priest or why confession is necessary for forgiveness.

This opportunity is especially important during the time of Lent, said Father Vaskov, adding that confession nourishes spiritual strength and health all the more when accompanied by the disciplines of Lent.

Additionally, he said, confession accompanies a meditation on Christ’s suffering at the cross and Christ’s conquering of sin to renew our relationship with God.

“We are meditating so much during these days on the passion of Christ. … And the beauty of restoring that relationship of being one with Christ in his suffering and restoring that relationship with God through the sacraments so that there is nothing preventing us from being one with him.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, whose diocese hosts the event twice a year, said one of the greatest joys a priest can experience is the bringing fallen-away Catholics back to fold of the Church.

“We are here to welcome people back, to offer mercy and to help them experience God’s love,” Bishop Zubik said in a 2018 Lenten press release.

“One of the most rewarding experiences that any priest can have is to hear the Confession of someone who may have been away from the Church for decades, and to have a role in lifting that burden of guilt and restoring the person to spiritual wholeness.”

 

Amid political pressure, Nebraska works to prevent abortion funding

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 19:01

Lincoln, Neb., Mar 22, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following reports that some Title X funds have wrongly gone to abortion-related expenses, Nebraska is considering stronger budget restrictions, but some legislators are resisting.

“It has long been a policy that we do not use taxpayer dollars to fund abortions,” Gov. Pete Ricketts told CNA March 22. “What we have seen in Nebraska is that these Title X dollars, according to a couple of our audits, have been used to fund abortions.”

“Nebraska is a pro-life state, and that our budget ought to reflect that,” Ricketts said. “I believe that abortion is inherently wrong, so personally I do not want to see those dollars to go to that, but in general even those who are pro-choice understand that it’s bad policy to have federal tax dollars fund something that is so controversial and really ought not be funded by fed tax dollars.”

Gov. Ricketts backs proposed budget language that would require clinics that receive Title X funds to be “objectively independent” from abortion providers, meaning they have “legal, physical and financial separation.”

The unicameral legislature narrowly voted to pass the $8.8 billion budget bill, L.B. 944, to the second round of debate, the Omaha World Herald reports. On March 21 a vote for cloture, to end debate on the bill, failed by three votes. Three members of the Appropriations Committee were recorded as “present not voting,” Sens. Kate Bolz, Anna Wishart, and Tony Vargas, who is Catholic.

Under the legislature’s current rules, which legislators may suspend by vote, the budget bill must advance by Friday, March 23.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, told CNA that some legislators are under political pressure to remove the provision.

“Overall, a majority of Nebraska state legislators have pro-life values, and want to provide support for mothers and protect unborn children,” he said. “As we’ve seen throughout the country, we’ve noticed that some legislators seem to be succumbing to the pressure of abortion lobbyists and special interest groups. That is always a pressure of which to be aware.”

The 2015 and 2016 Nebraska statewide audits found that abortion-related expenses were wrongly funded using taxpayer dollars, according to a summary from Marion Miner, the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s associate director for pro-life and family issues.

The expenses included a nearly $2,000 payment for abortion-related physician fees through Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Such misappropriations would put federal funding to the state at risk given federal rules against funding abortion, state auditor Charlie Janssen told the Appropriations Committee in Feb. 8 testimony.

Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln has backed the proposed policy, saying it “protects the health clinics’ ability to provide the best healthcare for men and women by ensuring that Nebraska’s Title X dollars are not compromised.”

Ricketts said the state budget rules “can ensure that those health care dollars that we’re getting from the federal government are not being used to provide or subsidize abortion.”

“That is something that is not unwarranted in our budget,” he said, pointing to similar provisions barring funding for biomedical research involving human fetuses.

He compared the limits to other rules like the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funding for overseas organizations that promote or perform abortions.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, however, objected to the ban on funds for abortion providers and characterized it as a policy statement.

“What social policy is going to be in the budget next?” she said, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports. “We could talk about gambling and helmets and property taxes and environmental issues. Let's just put it all in the budget and then we don't have to have bills or committee hearings.”

About $1.5 million in Title X grants goes through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, aiming to provide services like well-woman exams, STD testing and treatment, HPV testing and vaccinations, and contraception. The leading grant recipient is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which receives about $300,000 per year, according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

“Whether it is direct or indirect, tax payer money should not go to abortion services,” said Venzor. “The pro-life provision in the state budget simply keeps these clinics accountable and ensures that taxpayer dollars are not used for the killing of unborn life.”

In January, the Omaha World-Herald said the provision would cut funding from Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said the money helps its clinics serve about 8,000 patients. Its clinics in Omaha and Lincoln also perform abortions.

Ricketts told CNA it was “absolutely false” to claim the funding rules would limit women’s services.

“The exact same amount of dollars will be spent after we pass this bill, with this budget language in it, as was being spent before,” he said. “Anybody is able to apply for those dollars.”

“The clear majority of legislators want to have this Title X language in there,” Ricketts said. He accused three members of the appropriations committee of voting the bill out of committee then working to undermine it.

“They’re playing reckless games with the budget process. If they had a problem with this bill, they ought to not have voted for it out of committee,” he said. “The legislature still has time to address this. They still have plenty of time to go back and pass this bill.”

Venzor encouraged voters and legislators in other states who want to implement similar restrictions on Title X money to contact the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

“We’re all working hard across the country to defend life and advance the common good, and we should learn from each other,” he said.

US House passes spending bill which continues funding Planned Parenthood

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 18:45

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2018 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The stopgap omnibus funding bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, despite heavy criticism from the US bishops and conservative members over the continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood, among other things.

The bill passed March 22 by a vote of 256-167.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) released a scathing letter after the vote.

“This omnibus is nowhere close to what Republicans promised to fight for,” said Meadows.

“When the American people sent us to Congress, their message was loud and their mandate clear: Secure the border, [...] Defund Planned Parenthood; Cut wasteful spending; ‘Drain the swamp and change the unsustainable way Washington, D.C. does business. This budget embraces the polar opposite of these principles.”

Last year, Planned Parenthood received over half a billion dollars in federal funding.

The inclusion of federal funding for Planned Parenthood was not the only controversial thing about the bill. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappoint[ed]” that the Conscience Protection Act (CPA) was not included in the appropriations bill, and said that members of Congress who did not support the CPA were extremists.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, said that "The CPA is an extraordinarily modest bill that proposes almost no change to existing conscience protection laws on abortion—laws that receive wide public and bi-partisan support.”

“The CPA simply proposes to provide victims of discrimination with the ability to defend their rights in court to help ensure that no one is forced to participate in abortion. Those inside and outside of Congress who worked to defeat the CPA have placed themselves squarely into the category of extremists who insist that all Americans must be forced to participate in the violent act of abortion. We call on Congress not to give up until this critical legislation is enacted."

Prior to the vote, many congressmen took to Twitter to complain about the bill’s large size (over 2,000 pages), the limited amount of time they had to read the bill before they were to vote on it, and specific programs that were still going to be receiving federal funding.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), joked that “It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni...wait, what?”

 

It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni...wait, what?

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 21, 2018


 

Later he tweeted a list of the things the bill funded that he found objectionable, including $51 million appropriated for “international family planning and reproductive health.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), speaking on Fox News, said this may be the “worst bill I’ve seen in my time in Congress.”

“I don’t think we told the voters when we were running for the job [...] that we were going to continue to fund Planned Parenthood, we were going to restrict Second Amendment liberties, let some bureaucrats take away your Second Amendment rights, not a court of law.”

The omnibus bill now moves to the Senate, where it must be approved before the end of Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

Police search Michigan bishop’s home, citing lack of cooperation in sex abuse investigation

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 17:37

Saginaw, Mich., Mar 22, 2018 / 03:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, police in Saginaw, Michigan raided the home of Bishop Joseph Cistone, as well as the diocesan chancery and its cathedral rectory, as part of an ongoing investigation into sex abuse allegations against several diocesan priests.

CNA has reached out to the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

Police told local media that they could not reveal what they were searching for or taking from the properties. However, authorities did say that the search warrants were due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the diocese related to an ongoing clerical sex abuse investigation.

"Contrary to the statements of the diocese and the bishop that they would fully cooperate with law enforcement, they did not," Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner told local news source Michigan Live. "Therefore it was necessary for law enforcement to use other investigative tools, including search warrants."

Gaertner told Michigan Live that search warrants were executed on Thursday at Bishop Cistone’s home as well as on the rectory of the diocesan cathedral and on the diocesan offices.

Two priests have been placed on leave from their duties after a recent wave of accusations of sexual abuse against priests in the diocese.

Last month, Fr. Robert Deland, a Saginaw priest and pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Freeland, was charged with one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of gross indecency between male persons, and one count of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct/personal injury, following the accusations of a 21-year-old man and a 17-year-old high school student.  

DeLand, who also served as judicial vicar for the Diocese of Saginaw, was placed on administrative leave during the investigation. He was also banned from school properties and from presenting himself as a priest.

In February, Bishop Cistone said in a statement that he had “no previous knowledge of the police investigation or of these allegations” against DeLand, and that “the diocese will cooperate fully with law enforcement and their investigation.”

On March 8, the diocese released a statement clarifying that further review of records determined that the diocese had been informed of rumors about DeLand in 1992, and that in 2005, a woman contacted the diocese about the possibility that DeLand might have sexually abused her brother, who since had died, in the 1970s. The diocese said it had contracted an investigator to assess the matter, and that “the independent Diocesan Review Board, Bishop Robert Carlson, who was Bishop of Saginaw at the time, as well as the family agreed that the suspicion against Father DeLand was unfounded.”

Police have told local news sources that they have received numerous tips against other clergy following the arrest of DeLand in February.

The second priest to be placed on leave in the recent investigation is Father Ronald J. Dombrowski, following an accusation that he sexually assaulted a minor. According to the diocese, the alleged victim first brought the complaint to the diocese, which contacted the authorities.

While Dombrowsi, 72, has not been criminally charged, he has also been banned from school properties and from presenting himself as a priest during the investigation. He most recently served as sacramental minister at Holy Family Parish in Saginaw and received “senior priest” status in 2013.

In 2012, Cistone was accused of misleading a grand jury about his compliance in the destruction of documents containing the names of priests suspected of child molestation in 1994, while he was serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Cistone was not criminally charged in the incident.  

In February, Cistone announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

 

Death penalty for drug dealers? Catholic group responds to federal memo

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration’s call for increased use of the death penalty in drug-related crimes will not address the root causes of the opioid crisis, one Catholic advocate said Thursday.

“To suggest the use of the death penalty as a way to address the opioid epidemic ignores what we know to be true: the death penalty is a flawed and broken system of justice,” said Krisanne Murphy, managing director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which opposes the death penalty and promotes restorative justice.

“The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis and it needs to be addressed as such. Suggesting the death penalty as a solution to the opioid epidemic is simply a distraction from dealing with the real problem,” she told CNA.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration released a memo encouraging federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for drug traffickers in certain cases.

“The opioid epidemic has inflicted an unprecedented toll of addiction, suffering and death on communities throughout our nation,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a March 20 memo.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses claimed the lives of more than 64,000 Americans in 2016, and remains the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

“To combat this deadly epidemic, federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal…this should also include the pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases,” Sessions continued, saying “we cannot continue with business as usual.”

Sessions listed several existing statutes which could warrant capital punishment, including racketeering activities, the use of a firearm resulting in death during a drug trafficking crime, murder in a continuing criminal enterprise, and dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs.

The push for tougher penalties is part of a three-pronged plan to fight the drug abuse crisis within the nation. The plan also includes efforts to reduce demand for and over-prescription of opioids and cut off the supply of illegal drugs, as well as efforts to boost access to treatment for those affected by the opioid epidemic.

While the memo released by Sessions was met with controversy, it does not change what is currently allowable under federal law, Murphy said.

“The suggestion the Trump Administration put forth is nothing new and only reiterated what is currently on the books,” she explained.

Particularly controversial is the recommendation for prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for “dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs.” While federal statutes allow for capital punishment in such cases, the punishment has never before been pursued on these grounds, a Justice Department official said, according to CNN.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNA that the “U.S. Supreme Court has categorically stated that the death penalty is unconstitutional for crimes against individuals that do not result in death. That is unequivocal.”

He pointed to a 1977 case, “Coker vs. Georgia,” where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for a rape that did not result in death, and similarly overruled capital punishment in another Georgia kidnapping case.

“Prosecutors are to take a look at the law, which is the same as it has been, and pursue the death penalty when it’s appropriate,” he continued.  

However, he noted the distinction between crimes against an individual versus crimes against the state.

Typically, Dunham said, crimes against an individual would be lower-level drug dealers, in which case, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that capital punishment would be unconstitutional if it is not a crime resulting in death.

In cases of higher-level drug dealing, which is typically international, most treaties and international law will not extradite an individual who may face the death penalty.

“The death penalty is clearly unconstitutional in respect to small-dealers, and it is ineffective with respect to international drug trafficking because no country will turn over any drug trafficker to the United States who may face the death penalty,” Dunham said.

As a result, he does not believe the attorney general’s memo will open the door to capital punishment being used for more non-murder crimes.

Ultimately, Murphy was critical of the use of the death penalty as an effective way to combat the growing opioid crisis within the U.S.

Instead, she suggested transferring the funds which would have been used for the death penalty toward supporting healthcare professionals who provide support and treatment for individuals impacted by drug use.

“Those suffering from addicting, their families, and their communities need healing and restoration,” Murphy noted, saying, “the death penalty does not provide either.”

“Solutions to any instance of harm must be restorative and allow for the flourishing of all people. We must seek resources for prevention, rehabilitation and treatment – not retribution and vengeance.”

 

Meet Sister Jean: 98-year-old nun and March Madness Twitter celebrity

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 12:55

Chicago, Ill., Mar 22, 2018 / 10:55 am (CNA).- In the first weekend of the March Madness tournament, the most tweeted-about person might not have been a basketball player, but a 98-year-old religious sister.

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, BVM, is the chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago Men’s Basketball team, and the unlikely breakout star of the college tournament.

Sister Jean burst onto the scene when her beloved Ramblers upset the University of Miami in the first round of the tournament with a down-to-the-wire three-point basket.

 

THIS. IS. MARCH. pic.twitter.com/LGu6awlcEJ

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 15, 2018


 

Following this win, Twitter featured Sister Jean in a Twitter moment, and she received shout outs from high profile accounts including ESPN and former President Barack Obama. The New York Times also ran a profile on her.

Sister Jean leads the team in prayer before each game, and she prays for her players to be safe, for the referees to be fair, and for God’s assistance during the game. She also admitted to praying for the opposing team, but “not as hard.”

Sister Jean provides more than just spiritual support for the team: in 2011, when the Ramblers hired Head Coach Porter Moser, she presented him with a stack of scouting reports for each of his players. She still compiles notes on Loyola-Chicago’s opponents and will warn the team about different players during their pregame huddle. Until she broke her hip this past November, Sister Jean had only missed two home games over the past 23 years--and still followed the team on an iPad while she was recovering from surgery.

The Ramblers proved they weren’t one-and-done when they proceeded to upset the University of Tennessee and move on to the Sweet 16. This is their first time advancing to this round of the tournament since 1985. Sister Jean was thrilled.

 

PARTY AT SISTER JEAN'S pic.twitter.com/h2XBOAUCLx

— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) March 18, 2018


 

 

I’m gonna tell myself that Sister Jean saw this crying girl on the Jumbotron and this was her reaction idc idc pic.twitter.com/ZMcDkR3JUV

— Clemzingis (@TheClemReport) March 18, 2018


 

Loyola-Chicago will continue its Cinderella run through the tournament on Thursday night, against Nevada.

 

Get serious about human rights for people with Down syndrome, Vatican tells UN

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 19:15

New York City, N.Y., Mar 21, 2018 / 05:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The promotion of targeted abortion and other practices mean U.N. member states and agencies are not serious about protecting people with Down syndrome, the Holy See’s representative to the United Nations has said.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza on March 20 decried “the eugenic trend of ending the lives of the unborn who show some form of imperfection.”

Despite international conventions protecting the disabled, including their right to life, “so many members of the international community stand on the sidelines as the vast majority of those diagnosed with Trisomy-21 have their lives ended before they’re even born,” the archbishop said in a side event at the U.N. in New York City.

“Rather than stop it, some in the international community are abetting it,” he charged.

He cited a U.N. Human Rights Committee member who said during an official meeting that if a woman is told her unborn child has Down syndrome or some other permanent handicap, “it should be possible for her to resort to abortion to avoid the handicap as a preventive measure.” Defending those with disabilities, this committee member said, “does not mean that we have to accept to let a disabled fetus live.”

“Is such a position consistent with the U.N.’s concern to leave no one behind and to protect the rights of those with disabilities?” the archbishop asked.

Archbishop Auza heads the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, which sponsored a side event to for World Down Syndrome Day ahead of its March 21 observance.

The side event, held during the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, considered questions such as “Are girls and boys with Down Syndrome being left behind?” and whether homes, rural villages and cities have room for those with Down syndrome.

Auza cited then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s March 21, 2012 remarks reaffirming that people with Down syndrome are entitled to full human rights and freedoms.

“Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down Syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others,” Ban said. “Let us build an inclusive society for all.”

According to Archbishop Auza, Pope Francis has countered eugenic trends targeting the unborn by advocating authentic love.

“(N)ot that false, saccharine and sanctimonious love, but that which is true, concrete and respectful,” the Pope said in Oct. 21, 2017 remarks. “To the extent that one is accepted and loved, included in the community and supported in looking to the future with confidence, the true path of life evolves and one experiences enduring happiness.”

Archbishop Auza cited a U.S. television show’s claim that Iceland was on the verge of “eliminating” Down syndrome, meaning the elimination of people with Down syndrome. The show said 100 percent of parents of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome chose abortion. This is almost the case in other countries, a phenomenon which some critics have called “genocide.”

“Here at the United Nations there is much sincere talk and normally passionate action to fight against any form of discrimination,” Auza said, specifically citing work to end discrimination against women and the disabled. The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he noted, seeks to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities,” including those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

“But as firm as these commitments are in principle, in practice many states, U.N. agencies and members of civil society tolerate gross violations of these commitments,” he lamented. “The international community says that it wants to leave no one behind and to defend the rights and equality of women and girls, for example, but then refuses to do anything when data show that the youngest girls are being systematically discriminated against in the womb, as in the case of sex selective abortion.”

The archbishop cited studies that indicate up to 160 million unborn girls have been targeted for abortion.

“The inconsistency, however, is even more pronounced when we turn to what is happening with those prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome,” he said.

The Holy See’s permanent observer mission co-sponsored the event with the Pujols Family Foundation, the Center for Family and Human Rights, the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, and the film “Summer in the Forest,” which will be released soon.

How one organization helps the Church welcome Catholics with disabilities

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 18:52

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2018 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Around 14 million Catholics in the U.S. are living with a disability.

Since 1982, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) has been working to make sure those Catholics they are welcomed as members of the Church and have opportunities to participate in the faith.

“The goal of NCPD is to ensure that people with any disability…can actively and meaningfully participate in the faith by using their gifts and interests,” said Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

“By virtue of baptism, everyone belongs to the body of Christ, and our work is to make sure that we are doing that with the proper attitude and spirit to make sure everyone can feel at home in their parishes,” she told CNA.

The organization works in in a variety of ways to “affirm the dignity of every person,” Benton said.

For example, they support people with Down syndrome by supporting campaigns that fight against discriminatory legislation, such as disability-selective abortions, while also working with individuals with Down syndrome as they prepare for sacraments and take an active part in the their faith.

“We remind church communities that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are agents of evangelization and people gifted in their own right,” Benton said.

Founded in light of the 1978 document, “Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops of People with Disabilities,” the group has been promoting the pastoral guidelines for individuals with disabilities, particularly through access to the sacraments and Church life.

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability is a collaborative organization made up of various councils to serve people who live with physical, intellectual, sensory, mental or emotional disabilities. They also partner with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop Kurtz serves as their episcopal moderator.

“We work very closely with the bishops and the offices at the USCCB,” Benton said, noting that the bishops currently do not have a disabilities office, so the NCPD plays a huge role in this area.

One of the organization’s primary tasks is working closely with publishers to provide resources for catechists and leaders who are working directly in faith formation, but they also are involved in a number of different councils and speaking engagements around the nation.

The ministry provides catechesis, resources, spirituality and awareness building tools, trainings, conferences, and ministry models to dioceses throughout the country, and additionally offers online tools such as YouTube training videos.

“We are really set up to support the people in the dioceses, and even directly in parishes, to provide the support, resources, and training that the church might need,” Benton said.

She noted that the NCPD played a major role in the revision to the “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments,” which now aids priests, catechists and Church leaders in preparing the proper reception of the sacraments for individuals with disabilities.

While primarily ministering in the U.S., the disability resource group also works internationally with the Vatican and other groups. Esther Garcia, the outreach director for organization, said that she works with minorities, such as Asian, African, and Hispanic groups within the Church.

“The NCPD is working to ensure we are meeting the needs of families with disabilities in the Hispanic community,” Garcia said.

“We are all children of God…and it is our responsibility as a Church to provide resources and ways to ensure that [those with disabilities] have ways to receive the sacraments,” Garcia continued.

Moving forward, Benton told CNA that they are currently working on an app for sacramental preparation and Mass attendance for people with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

“We are always trying to develop resources that can easily be made available.”

 

Sacraments are the best spiritual armor – Bishop Olmsted

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 17:35

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 21, 2018 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a Lenten reflection, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said spiritual war needs spiritual amor, and the best armor is accessed through the sacraments.

"The sacraments, then, are the armor of choice in this spiritual war," he wrote in a March 20 column at the Catholic Sun.

“Through them, Jesus continues to heal, to forgive, to strengthen and to sustain us in our fight against the devil and his minions."

He said this spiritual war is a crucial battle, where the devil and his demons are determined to attack the souls of the faithful. Pointing to the ideology of secular culture, he said the devil's hostility can be seen in society's view on sin, heaven, hell, and repentance.

"This spiritual war against the devil and his minions has crucial consequences in our daily life with an outcome that determines our eternal destiny. The devil does all in his power to destroy the work of God in us."

This is a great and dramatic battle for souls, he said, and it needs the help of a God who encounters Christians in the present with living sacraments. But Catholics must be willing to embrace sacramental grace with the proper disposition, he said.

Taken from the Latin term sacramentum, he said the word originally referred to an oath Roman citizens would swear upon entering the military. He said, as soldiers, the men promised to defend the empire from from whatever force threatened it.

Likewise, Christ promised to accompany his Church, he said. "In a distinct way, he fulfills this promise through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. So, whenever a sacrament is celebrated, Christ is there to fight along our side for our salvation."

However, he said the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of Catholics, who should receive these rites with repentance and faith.

"A sacrament can be validly given and received but still may not be fruitful. Sadly, it is an outcome that seems to be widespread today."

“Repentance from any attachment to sin is essential to conduct one’s life in harmony with the purpose of the Sacraments, i.e. to increase divine life within us. Therefore, renunciation of sin and the devil is essential for receiving the true spiritual values of the Sacraments.”

And where faith is strong there is transformation, but where faith is dismal the fruits will be vague, he said.

"When we participate with sincere faith in prayer and the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of Scripture and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we do so with greater awareness and expectations of encountering the living God, an encounter that changes us for the better."

Bishop Olmsted expressed hope that Catholics may finish this Lenten season with spiritual fruit and a freedom from evil.

"During Holy Week we will be reminded of the battle that our Lord waged and is still waging in us members of his Mystical Body. May this season of Lent be a time to free our spiritual life from the evil one. And may the fruits of the great spiritual struggle - sacrifice, prayer, fasting and the witness of our faith - hasten the coming of the Kingdom of God."

Pro-life Democrat Lipinksi survives primary challenge

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 15:01

Chicago, Ill., Mar 21, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats, narrowly won the Democratic primary election Tuesday night for Illinois’ 3rd District. Lipinski’s challenger, NARAL-baked Marie Newman, made her opposition to Lipinski’s pro-life views a central part of her campaign.

While media outlets called the race for Lipinski several hours after polls closed March 20, Newman initially refused to concede, even going as far to say that she hoped her opponent had a “very painful evening.” On Wednesday morning, however, Newman posted a message on her Facebook page acknowledging that she had lost the election and that she would continue to press Lipinski further to the left.

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“Since we started our campaign, Dan Lipinski has moved his position on healthcare, a path to citizenship, and the need for a fair minimum wage. We put him on notice that we expect better for all of the people in our district,” said Newman.

“I plan on continuing to hold him accountable so that every person in our district has access, opportunity, and equal rights.”

The race was notable for the amount of outside money spent to primary a sitting member of Congress in an extremely safe Democratic seat. An estimated $2.5 million was spent on various campaign ads and mailings, with about two-thirds of that money supporting Newman’s campaign. Lipinski was hammered in attack ads for his opposition to Obamacare, as well as his support of pro-life legislation and for defunding Planned Parenthood.

Despite Lipinski’s moderate tendencies, Democrats For Life of America Executive Director Kristen Day took issue with the claim that was a “conservative” or a bad Democrat. In a published statement, Day said that Lipinski’s victory was a “win for the Big Tent Democratic Party,” and that the race was an effort to expunge pro-life Democrats from the party.

“His [voting] record says otherwise, with an 88 percent party-loyalty rating and solid lifetime records with labor, education, and environmental groups,” said Day.

“The race was not about Dan’s record on traditional Democratic values. It was, plain and simple, about abortion and an effort to ‘purify’ the Democratic Party of pro-life voices.”

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said March 21, “We are thrilled with Congressman Lipinski’s victory over Marie Newman and the abortion industry which is increasingly pushing the Democratic Party left on abortion. Dan Lipinski is a pro-life hero of legendary courage and integrity … It was an honor and a privilege for our team to support him and we look forward to continuing to work with him in Congress.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee initially declined to endorse Lipinski, but changed their minds about two weeks ago. House Democrats announced Wednesday after the race was called that Lipinski had their full support for the general election.

Lipinski was first elected to Congress in 2004, after his father retired from the seat. This election was his most significant primary challenge.

He is expected to win the general election in November by a wide margin.

Ultimatum for Catholic college CFO raises questions about university policy, guns

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 14:00

Miami, Fla., Mar 21, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Having been given an ultimatum, chief financial officer of St. Thomas University in Florida Anita Britt resigned last week after being told she had to choose between her CFO position and her membership on the board of a company that manufactures guns.

Britt sits on the board of American Outdoor Brands, the parent company of Smith & Wesson, which manufactures guns including the AR-15, the weapon that was used to kill 17 students in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting last month. Britt joined the board on Feb. 6, a month after beginning her position at the university.

Originally, Britt was told that her position at the Catholic school and her membership on American Outdoor Brands’ board did not conflict.

“Ms. Britt’s position with American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer and... does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas,” Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale, president of St. Thomas University, initially said in a letter reported on by the Miami Herald.

However, after additional pressure due to the recent shooting, Casale backtracked from his initial stance and presented Britt with the choice of either staying on as CFO and resigning from American Outdoor Brands board, or leaving the university. Britt resigned from St. Thomas March 13.

Casale told the Miami Herald that he changed his original position regarding Britt because “it has become clear that many of the sensible and reasonable solutions to this gun epidemic, which have been discussed previously, were becoming less and less clear.”

“I came to the conclusion that St. Thomas was being associated with gun violence and that was not an image I thought was good for the university,” he added.

Professor Brian Scarnecchia, a professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Florida told CNA that while St. Thomas University is free to make personnel decisions, Britt’s position on the board of American Outdoor Brands does not conflict with Church social teaching.

“The president of St. Thomas University had it right the first time. There is no inherent conflict in working for a Catholic institution of high education and being on the board of a firearms manufacturing company. Both provide morally neutral products and services,” Scarnecchia said.

“A Catholic can work for a firearms company in good faith. A Catholic could not work for Planned Parenthood or Playboy magazine in good faith. The difference is that a firearm is a neutral product, but the principal products and services of Planned Parenthood and Playboy are not,” he added.

“I say a firearm is a neutral product because it has no inherently bad or good purpose. A firearm may be used for home defense, recreational target shooting, hunting or murder,” he said, whereas pornography and contraceptives can only be used for evil.

The university’s position about Britt raised questions about others affiliated with the university.

Victor Mendelson, who sits on the board of St. Thomas University, is the co-president of HEICO, a company that builds technology and components for military aircraft, drones, and weapons systems.

St. Thomas University did not respond to questions about Mendelson’s position or about whether it had investigated the standings, in light of Catholic social teaching, of other companies and institutions represented among their board members.

Casale himself previously served as board secretary to a nonprofit housing corporation that, during his time on the board, partnered with Miami’s Pride Center to develop an LGBT-focused housing complex.

Neither the archdiocese nor the university responded to questions about whether faculty members teaching theology have received the ecclesiastical mandatum required by Pope St. John Paul II's Ex corde ecclesiae. The mandatum is an acknowledgment by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is teaching within the full communion of the Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese of Miami, which sponsors St. Thomas University, told CNA that Archbishop Thomas Wenski “permits (per bylaws) the Board of Directors (of St. Thomas) to pursue their responsibilities and provide direction for the university’s success.”
 
“Decisions made by STU’s president,  Msgr. Franklyn Casale, and the university’s board members are made autonomously, permitting them to function within the realm of their positions,” Mary Ross Agosta, communications director for the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA.

Texas bishops call for prayers to heal community after bombings

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 12:11

Austin, Texas, Mar 21, 2018 / 10:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of central Texas have encouraged prayers for healing in a community reeling from a string of bombings over the last month.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin issued a joint statement on Tuesday urging prayers for the victims of the serial bombings as well as prayers for law enforcement officials.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families and friends of all those affected by the package explosions which have taken place this month in Austin and San Antonio,” said the bishops.

In recent weeks, two people were killed and half a dozen were injured in a series of explosions throughout Austin and in a FedEx distribution facility near San Antonio.

Suspected bomber Mark Anthony Conditt was confronted by police early on Wednesday morning, and drove off in a car before he detonated one of his own bombs, killing himself in the process, according to officials. His motive for the bombings remains unknown and police are continuing to investigate.

Police have warned that there may be additional bombs and have urged the public to remain watchful and alert.

In their message Tuesday, the bishops urged the community to remain strong, and to not be divided by fear. They voiced hope that prayer could serve as a uniting force in the face of terror.

“The randomness of these attacks and their increasing frequency are perhaps meant by their perpetrator to spread fear and cause division in our communities,” they said.

“However, as we have seen time and time again, tragedies such as these strengthen our bonds and bring our communities together in prayer and recognition of the sanctity and preciousness of life.”

 

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