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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: 18 min 26 sec ago

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

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 12:05 PM

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.”

 

Francis, Prime Minister of Estonia meet ahead of possible papal visit

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 9:40 AM

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2018 / 07:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With a papal visit to Estonia likely on the horizon, Pope Francis on Friday met the country’s Prime Minister, Jüri Ratas, at the Vatican, discussing their good diplomatic ties and the contributions of the Catholic Church in Estonian society, despite its small minority.

According to a Feb. 9 Vatican communique, the “cordial discussions” included appreciation for the good diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Estonia, as well as “the positive contribution of the Church to Estonian society.”

Catholics make up less than one percent of the country’s population of over 1.3 million.

During their 20-minute private meeting, attention was also paid to “themes of mutual interest at a regional and supranational level, including the protection of the environment, and migration,” the communique states. They also spoke about the commitment of the international community to conflict resolution.

At the end of their discussion, Pope Francis gifted Ratas copies of his apostolic exhortations, Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia, as well as the encyclical Laudato Si and his message for the 2018 World Day of Peace. He also gave a medallion depicting an angel destroying a demon of war.

On his part, Ratas gave the Pope two hand-crafted silver cups made in Estonia, which Francis said were “very beautiful.”

The delegation of the Prime Minister was made up of six people. After the meeting with Pope Francis, Ratas went on to meet with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and with under-Secretary for Relations with States Msgr. Antoine Camilleri.

A trip last month to Lithuania by the Vatican’s “minister of foreign affairs,” Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, has raised expectations for the possibility of a papal trip to the Baltic states in September.

The trip has not yet been officially announced, but there have been signals that it will be planned between the second and the third week of September. The Pope would go to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to celebrate the 100th year of their establishment as independent states.  

In a comment first offered to Catholic News Agency Dec. 15, Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the apostolic vicar of Estonia, recounted that “we are preparing with joy for Pope Francis’ visit.”

Bishop Jourdan said that there are some 6-7,000 Catholics in Estonia, “one of the smallest communities Pope Francis has ever met,” and for that reason, “the trip represents a challenge for the Pope.”
 
Despite the “extreme religious situation of Estonia,” Bishop Jourdan added, “Pope Francis is very much awaited in the country, by Catholics and members of other Christian confessions.”

In Estonia, around 54 percent of the total population identify as non-religious. The Eastern Orthodox Church accounts for about 16 percent and Lutheranism for almost 10 percent.

Canadian Catholics won’t be bullied into supporting abortion, bishop says

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 9:00 AM

London, Canada, Feb 9, 2018 / 07:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Canadian bishop announced that the Diocese of London, Ontario, would protest new requirements for government grants that require organizations to profess the government’s view on topics like abortion rights and gender identity.
 
“I believe that we need to take a stand against the position of the government of Canada and say that we will not be bullied into even the appearance of collusion on this issue,” Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London, Ontario said in a Feb. 5 letter to 118 parishes within his diocese. “While others may take an alternative path, we can make a powerful statement by saying ‘no’ to the conditions as set down by the government.”
 
The bishop said he has decided that the Diocese of London will not apply for or accept any money from the Canada Summer Job Grants program.
 
The program has funded an estimated 70,000 summer jobs for secondary school or college students, granting organizations the money for positions like camp counselors or landscapers. London-area organizations alone received nearly $4 million through the program last year.
 
 
Under the grant application’s new clause, non-profits and for-profit organizations must check a box professing their consistency with to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, relevant case law, and the Canadian government’s commitments to the human rights it recognizes. These include  “women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”
 
According to Bishop Fabbro, this would require professing support for legal abortion.
 
“Ironically, expecting such an attestation to get a job grant is in violation of some of the rights that are actually found in the Charter, while some of the contentious positions espoused by the Government are not,” said the bishop, asking the government to remove the clause.
 
The bishop asked the government to remove or change the attestation, calling it “a regrettable infringement of freedom of conscience and religion, of thought and belief, of opinion and expression, as guaranteed in the Charter.”
 
In a speech last month, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the new requirements, asserting that the stance of pro-life groups against abortion is “not in line with where we are as a government and, quite frankly, where we are at as a society.”
 
The government has announced that it will not change the grant application, though it extended the deadline for grant applications from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8, CBC News reported.
 
“Without this program, many wonderful opportunities could be lost,” Bishop Fabbro lamented.
 
He encouraged a special collection in the diocese throughout February, hoping Catholics can raise the $35,000 necessary for upcoming summer programs.
 
There are about 440,000 Catholics in the Diocese of London.

 

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

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 7:00 AM

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.

 

‘Surf’s up’ for these Argentine priests

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 2:00 AM

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 9, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Fr. Santiago Arriola is convinced that “our entire life, in all its expressions and dimensions, calls for evangelization and can be evangelized.”

 With Fr. Pablo Etchepareborda, he has begun a surfing ministry on the beaches of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Although their endeavor is “a work in progress,”  without all the details worked out, there have been two experiences that have encouraged the priests to continue this ministry.

The first effort was in the summer of 2016 when Fr.  Pablo Etchepareborda blessed surf boards, the sea, and a gathering of surfers in Mar del Plata.

And the pair recently held an “Aloha Encounter,” on a local beach.

“Surfers often say the Hawaiian word ‘aloha’ to each other, which has a multiplicity of meanings referring to wishing someone well,” Fr. Arriola told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency.

For two days,  18 surfers, body surfers, and stand-up paddlers, body surfing gathered for times of prayer, personal reflection and group sharing, as well as recreational activities.

Those attending included catechists and members of the Schoenstatt Movement (a Catholic secular institute devoted to defending family life and to venerating Mary), together with “young people who've had a faith experience and are involved in the Church in some way and others who have drifted away from the Church somewhat, but are still wrestling with their faith,” Fr. Arrila said.

“For surfers, surfing has a vital meaning, a meaning that transcends the mere sport itself. For many, it's a time to get reinvigorated, to relax and get away from the frantic pace of daily life, to be with nature and have a kind of religious experience. So it seemed to us a beautiful opportunity to make
this vital meaning of surfing more explicit, and to do it in a community setting,” he explained.

The priest said that they will do other activities as Argentina’s summer, which is during the winter months of the Northern Hemisphere, continues, since the Aloha Encounter “is without a doubt a very positive, worthwhile and enriching experience for all of us who participated and it left our hearts yearning for more.”


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Bishop denies murdered Mexican priest had gang ties

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 9:00 PM

Acapulco, Mexico, Feb 8, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, Mexico denied that Fr.  Germain Muñiz Garcia, who was murdered on a Mexican highway Feb. 5 along with Fr. Iván Añorve Jaimes, had any connection to organized crime, as the Guerrero State Prosecutor's Office has recently claimed.

In a statement released Feb 7, Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza said that Fr.  Muñiz Garcia “was never connected to any criminal gang.”

However, he said that the deceased priest “had knowledge, by the very nature of his pastoral work, of  some gangs operating in that area, since being a pastor and a public person he had to travel through the area where those gangs were based in order to to serve the different communities.”

The Mexican bishop responded in his statement to the accusations lodged by the Guerrero State Prosecutor's Office, which claimed that the murdered priest belonged to “a criminal gang, by reason of the photographs and notes that circulated on the priest's social media,” posted months prior, where he is seen with a rifle alongside masked criminals.  

According to the authorities, both priests were traveling to the town of Taxco de Alarcón to attend a party. According to the State Prosecutor's Office, “it is known that many people belonging to different criminal gangs went there from Guerrero State as well as Morelos and Mexico States.”

“At said party there was no municipal, state or federal security, since preventative security support for  the party was not requested from any authority by the organizers.”

According to the Prosecutor's Office, a conflict during the party “triggered the armed attack” which ended the lives of the Mexican priests.

Four people who survived the attack were also traveling in the vehicle in which the priests died,  including Fr. Germain's sister.

Bishop Rangel Mendoza noted there are serious inconsistencies with the Prosecutor's Office's version of what happened.

“The Prosecutor's statement seems strange to us, in that in the same place, Juliantla, in Guerrero, 'members of criminal gangs from Morelos, Mexico and Guerrero States would have gotten together,' without any reports of any confrontations between them or participants in the event. We also note the absence of municipal or state law enforcement, knowing the presence of the stated gangs,” the prelate stated.

The neighboring Archdiocese of Acapulco also expressed their criticism of the Prosecutor's Office in a statement.

“It seems strange to us that people belonging to different criminal gangs, carrying weapons, could have gotten along with each other at the dance, without any incident. This does not seem to be their ordinary conduct,” they said.

In addition, they pointed out, the four survivors of the attack maintained “that there was no conflict at where the dance was held.”

“These four survivors report that coming back to Taxco they passed the assailants' car which went after them, caught up with them, blocked their way and shot them,” the Archdiocese of Acapulco stated.

Regarding the photograph of the priest carrying a firearm alongside criminals, Bishop Rangel Mendoza told the press that although “it was extremely imprudent,” of him, and that he reprimanded the priest at the time, Fr. Muñiz Garcia “had to pass through the drug traffickers' territories,” and he had to “greet them, he had to dialogue with them, he had to do it, because he had to pass through their territory, how else was he going to get through?”

The bishop said the priests went to the party “to offer their music and see if they would let them sing a few songs.”

In his statement, the prelate asked that “the investigations be objective, truthful and adhering to the law and the truth of the facts,” and that if the Prosecutor's Office claims that the priest belonged to some criminal gang, “(I) urge them to specifically determine to which criminal gang he belonged to and not to limit themselves to making simple accusations.”

In addition, he demanded from the Guerrero State Prosecutor's Office “a complete and certified copy of the file on the investigation that supports the said statements, since as the Prosecutor has the obligation to determine what actually happened, supporting the findings with reliable and truthful evidence.”  

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 5:37 PM

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 - 5:18 PM

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 - 5:07 PM

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: https://t.co/FUbPvZ9cqW pic.twitter.com/AbqUgXzOBS

— 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.

 

Fulton Sheen’s final resting place not yet final

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 5:00 PM

New York City, N.Y., Feb 8, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s niece has said her uncle’s remains belong in Peoria, but a lawsuit seeking his internment there has been returned to a lower court for further consideration.
 
“I just hate that this is dragging on and on and on,” Joan Sheen Cunningham said, according to the New York Times.
 
Cunningham, a Yonkers, N.Y. resident now aged 90, has suggested Sheen’s body be divided into relics.
 
“Let it go to Peoria for a few months, and then bring back some of the relics to New York and leave some in Peoria,” she said. “It’s just too bad it can’t just be settled without all this fuss.”
 
In 2016 she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to Peoria, Ill. Sheen was born in the Peoria diocese and served as an altar boy at its cathedral, where he was ordained a priest in 1919. He served New York City as an auxiliary bishop from 1951-66 before becoming Bishop of Rochester, and retired to New York City before his death in 1979 at the age of 84.
 
New York State Appeals Court has ruled that a lower court’s decision upholding Cunningham’s lawsuit failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco. Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Terence Cooke, New York’s then-archbishop, had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
 
“There are disputed issues of material fact as to Archbishop Sheen’s wishes,” the appeals court said Feb. 6 in a 3-2 ruling. It has ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.
 
Cunningham has said Sheen had never told her about Cardinal Cooke’s reported offer.
 
Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the New York archdiocese’s Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Cooke asked Cunningham, Sheen’s closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the New York cathedral’s crypt, and she consented.
 
Cunningham has said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood.
 
The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s Canonization in 2002 after the New York archdiocese said it would not explore the case.
 
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the beloved archbishop, who served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living.” He now has the title “venerable.”
 
Despite the progress of the cause for beatification, the fate of Archbishop Sheen’s body became the subject of an impasse.
 
Peoria’s Bishop Daniel R. Jenky suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.
 
The Archdiocese of New York, however, has said that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is at rest there.
 
In the wake of Tuesday’s decision, both the Peoria and New York dioceses predicted success.
 
“We believe that Archbishop Sheen clearly stated his intention in his will, written just days before his death, that he be buried in New York, where he conducted his ministry, and where he lived most of his years, including at the time of his death,” the Archdiocese of New York said in a statement.
 
Msgr. James E. Kruse, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria, discussed the case in a Feb. 7 update to the priests of the diocese, reported in the diocese newspaper the Catholic Post.
 
“We are confident that the new hearing and ruling will be completed in short time,” he said. “Please continue your prayers for the success of these legal issues and for the Cause of Canonization for our brother, Venerable Fulton Sheen.”
 
Msgr. Kruse of Peoria predicted that the future ruling would favor Cunningham’s position. Her attorneys “are very confident the new hearing will end in re-affirming the original ruling,” said the priest, who added that the same judge who sided with Cunningham’s argument will preside at the evidentiary hearing.
 
New York archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling voiced hope that the Peoria diocese will reopen the beatification cause, the New York Post reports.
 
Cunningham has praised the efforts of Bishop Jenky to pursue the beatification, arguing this work means he “deserved the honor” of hosting Sheen’s remains.
 
In addition to his pioneering radio and television shows, Archbishop Sheen authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure in U.S. Catholicism until his death.
 
Archbishop Sheen’s intercession is credited with the miraculous recovery of a pronounced stillborn American baby from the Peoria area.
 
In June 2014, a panel of theologians that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that the baby’s recovery was miraculous.
 
The baby, later named James Fulton Engstrom, was born in September 2010 showing no signs of life. As medical professionals tried to revive him, his parents prayed for his recovery through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.
 
Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

 

Catholic symposium – how music, food, and friendship ground us in reality

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 3:00 PM

Kansas City, Kan., Feb 8, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Prairie Troubadour gathering will be full of good music, food, and discussions with Catholic leaders addressing how to live a healthy human ecology in a digital age.

“[Prairie Troubadour] springs out of a desire among Catholics to live the good life [and] to navigate their way through the digital world,” said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., who will be a speaker at the event.

Located at the Liberty Theatre in Fort Scott, Kansas, the third annual Prairie Troubadour will take place on Feb. 9-10. The event will feature talks and conversation, access to the sacraments and prayer, and musical performances.

“There will be people from all different walks of life looking to live … the healthy human ecology,” Conley told CNA, “[Celebrating] everything from what we eat, to how we entertain ourselves, friendship, music, wine – the good things in life.”

Among the conference speakers will be Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers; William Fahey, president of Thomas More College; and Kevin O’Brien, founder of Theater of the Word.  

An informal musical session will follow the discussions on Friday where a variety of instruments will be passed around between musicians in attendance. On Saturday, a musical duo called the Vogts Sisters will be brought in for a late-night conversation session to be enjoyed with whiskey and cigars.

Tickets range from $85-175, and all the proceeds from the event will go to St Martins Academy, a unique all-boys boarding school opening this fall, that will focus on a classical education and teach students all aspects of running a working farm.

Daniel Kerr, who is hosting the gathering, told CNA that the symposium is in honor of his late father, Gerald Kerr, who was nicknamed the Prairie Troubadour for his poetry and songwriting.

This symposium is themed “Field and Family: Reflections on a Healthy Human Ecology,” and it will focus on human happiness in an increasingly disconnected digital age.

“We find ourselves immersed in technology, in a society that’s obsessively preoccupied with entertainment and the pursuit of pleasure,” Kerr said.

“Despite the rapid advancements in technology and availability in technology, people aren’t happy.”

Christopher Check agreed, and told CNA that a constant absorption with screens and digital media has separated people from reality. The Catholic Church aims to help overcome that, he said.

“Number of afflictions in the post Christian age … one of them is the separation from reality: The separation of man from what is real.”

“The Church, in her qualities of truth and goodness and beauty, has guardianship of what is real. Included with that is an understanding of man’s relation to the natural world, or what once went by the name of creation, and his role in it.”

How does people find their role? By seeking the Catholic faith and the naturally good things, said Bishop Conley.

“We intentionally live tapping into the great legacy of our Catholic faith, first of all, but we also tap into the riches and treasures of western culture by the way of truth, goodness, and beauty, and how they manifest themselves in natural things: good work, good play, good conversation, good friendship, good food, and good drink.”

The bishop continued to discuss the qualities of truth, beauty, and goodness, and, said that relativism challenges human experiences of truth and goodness.

“[However,] beauty has not been compromised and when we recognize it and see it we are drawn towards it, whether it be in art or music, literature, poetry or friendship.”

This symposium, he said, is an opportunity to celebrate the desires which truly make up the human person – the transcendental properties of truth, beauty, and goodness.

“We all desire truth; ultimately in Jesus Christ; we all desire goodness, which is love made visible; and we all desire beauty,” he said.

 

Trump at prayer breakfast: 'Faith is central to American life and to liberty.'

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:58 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2018 / 10:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump lauded the importance of faith in American life as a foundation for freedom in his speech at the 66th annual National Prayer Breakfast this morning.

“Faith is central to American life and to liberty,” Trump began, “Our founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence.  Our currency declares, ‘In God We Trust.’ And we place our hands on our hearts as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaim we are ‘One Nation Under God.’”

During his remarks, the president emphasized the interconnection between freedom of religion and a flourishing society.

“When Americans are able to live by their convictions, to speak openly of their faith, and to teach their children what is right, our families thrive, our communities flourish, and our nation can achieve anything at all.”

Trump also committed America to the defense of religious freedom worldwide saying “We know that millions of people in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and other countries suffer under repressive and brutal regimes. America stands with all people suffering oppression and religious persecution.”

“Our rights are not given to us by man, our rights come from our creator,” Trump said to the estimated 3,000 attendees at this year’s prayer breakfast.

The president said that he has seen God’s grace in the good works of American citizens who serve their communities, such as teachers, police officers, services members, and parents.

He also commended those Americans who responded to the tragedies that befell our country in the past year, particularly those who served others suffering amid hurricanes, forest fires, the Las Vegas shooting, and the opioid epidemic.

Following President Trump’s speech, U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, who was shot during practice for the Congressional Baseball Game last June, spoke about the role of his Catholic faith in his work in politics, his prayer life, and the power of prayer in his recovery.

“When you pray for somebody that you don’t know, they feel it. I felt that prayer, the prayers of so many people that I had never met before,” said Scalise.

Scalise reiterated the president’s comments on the integral relationship between faith and liberty. “If you go to the Jefferson Memorial right now, go read this inscription from Thomas Jefferson, ‘God, who gave us life, gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?’”

Another prayer offered at this morning’s gathering came from Democratic Senator Chris Coons who prayed, "Bless the world with better leaders," he said, "Who seek your wisdom.”

The U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director, David Beasley, who prayed for sustainable policies to address world hunger, read a passage from Matthew 25, and emphasized that "every human on the face of the earth was made in [God's] image."

Republican Senator James Lankford prayed,  "We don't know everything, but we're so grateful to know the One who does.”

 

Pope Francis: Corrupt people can never be saints

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:08 PM

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2018 / 10:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his daily homily Thursday Pope Francis drew a distinction between the biblical figures of David and his son Solomon, saying that, like David, sinners who repent are still able to become saints, but the corrupt will not achieve holiness.

“David was a saint. He was a sinner. A sinner, and he became a saint. Solomon was rejected because he was corrupt,” the Pope said Feb. 8, adding that “someone who is corrupt cannot become a saint.”

Speaking from the small chapel inside the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse where he lives, the Pope centered his reflection on the day's first reading from the First Book of Kings, which recounted how God became angry with Solomon for worshiping false gods that his wives believed in.

In the reading, God told Solomon that he would “deprive you of the kingdom.” However, for the sake of David's righteousness, God said he would take it from Solomon's son instead, leaving him only a small portion of his kingdom.

The reading recounted something “a bit strange,” Francis said, because God took away the kingdom from Solomon, but didn't say whether he had committed any major sins. However, from scripture we know that David had difficulties and was a sinner.

Despite this fact, David is a saint, while Solomon – who at the beginning of his reign had been praised by God for seeking wisdom rather than riches – was condemned because his heart had “turned away from the Lord.”

This can be explained, Francis said, by the fact that David, knowing he had sinned, asked for forgiveness, whereas Solomon was praised throughout the world, but never recognized his fault when he distanced himself from the Lord and followed false gods.

“The heart of Solomon was not entirely with the Lord, his God, as the heart of David, his father, had been.”

Francis said the problem comes from a “weakness of heart,” which, he said isn't like a typical sin that is recognized “immediately” after being committed. Rather, this sort of weakness, he said, is more subtle, and is “a slow journey that slides along step by step, step by step, step by step.”

“Solomon, adorned in his glory, in his fame, began to take this road,” he said, explaining that “the clarity of a sin is better than weakness of the heart.”

Despite being praised for his wisdom, “the great king Solomon wound up corrupted: serenely corrupt, because his heart was weakened,” the Pope said, adding that the same danger exists for every Christian.

A man or woman with a weak heart is “defeated,” he said, and “this is the process of many Christians, of many of us.”

While many people might be able to say “No, I haven’t committed grave sins,” Francis countered, asking “how is your heart? Is it strong? Does it stay faithful to the Lord, or is it slowly sliding away?”

This subtle sliding away can happen to anyone, he said, saying the remedy to ensure this doesn't happen is to always be “watchful” and vigilant.

“Guard your heart. Be watchful. Every day, be careful about what is happening in your heart,” he said, explaining that a person becomes corrupt “by following the path of weakness of the heart.”

Pope Francis closed his reflection telling the congregation to “guard your heart at all times” and to ask themselves how their relationship with the Lord is going, urging them to “enjoy the beauty and the joy of fidelity.”

 

The rules of the streets: Which laws help - and hurt - the homeless

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 7:00 AM

Denver, Colo., Feb 8, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Walk down 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colo., and you’ll probably see people who are homeless sitting on the ground with cardboard signs.

Walk down that same street with a cop, and you’ll probably notice that those same people stand up when they see you coming.

That’s because Denver has banned urban camping - and sitting for too long in public places could technically be considered “camping”, and could land a person with a ticket, a fine or even an arrest.

For the most part, the homeless do their best to comply, said Philip Couture, Director of Formation with Christ in the City, a Catholic homeless outreach in Denver.  

The police officers are generally “of good will, not trying to cause any trouble but trying to enforce the law,” Couture said. But the camping ban does prevent the Christ in the City missionaries from sitting down with their friends on the street.

“We want to cooperate with the government while also serving our friends on the street, understanding that the government largely, while its a very complex issue, is trying to help the homeless - we really have confidence in that,” Couture said. “But it’s true that some laws that intend to help [the homeless] actually hurt them, and some laws that intend to get them off the streets punish them for being on the streets. Even people like us who are trying to help them, we are caught up in that as well sometimes.”

Laws and ordinances that impact the homeless are varied and complex. Some of them, like the camping ban, are an unintended consequence of laws aimed at specific groups - the camping ban was enacted to break up Occupy Denver, a spin-off of Occupy Wall Street, back in 2012.

Another Denver ordinance, aimed at minimizing the often-rowdy 4/20 marijuana rallies, had the unintended consequence that Christ in the City now has to pay $150 each month in order to use City Park for their ‘Lunch in the Park’ to feed their friends who are homeless.

Sometimes, however, the laws are more direct. Last month, about a dozen volunteers were arrested in El Cajon, California for feeding the homeless. Just a few months prior, the city council had passed an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of food on city property.

According to the San Diego Tribune, council members said the ordinance was to prevent the spread of hepatitis A, while critics said the ordinance was an attempt to criminalize homelessness.  

Linda Plitt Donaldson is an associate professor at the National Catholic School of Social Service, at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She teaches a class on homelessness, and prior to teaching, spent 10 years working with the homeless as a social worker.

Catholic social teaching instructs the faithful to see the human dignity of all, especially the poor, and treat them like another Christ, while some laws that impact the homeless tend to do the opposite of that, Donaldson said.

“These laws that criminalize homelessness prevent people from encountering [the poor], or try to make these populations invisible,” she told CNA. “So a lot of these kinds of laws are about making this kind of human suffering invisible...so that we feel more comfortable.”

Donaldson said while she understands that there can sometimes be legitimate public health concerns, these laws are also applied in a discriminatory manner.

“It’s criminalizing food sharing for a certain group of people - nobody’s breaking up family picnics,” she said.

Mary Sullivan is an outreach worker with the St. Francis Center, a homeless shelter in Denver. She also spent two years working with and befriending the homeless as a Christ in the City missionary.

Often, these ordinances aimed at the homeless are a “band-aid solution” to a deeper problem, Sullivan said.

“What happens is these laws - they start out as public health concerns which are usually legitimate,” she said, but then sometimes they are carried out to a point where they threaten the well-being of people who are homeless.

For example, in the case of the food ban to prevent hepatitis A, “a lot of cities have taken to getting the vaccination for it out to the community, because that’s the most effective way to stop the spread of a disease,” Sullivan said.

“When you get to a point where you’re taking away food - people need to eat to survive, and a lot of people on the streets get their food and the things they need to survive from local charities or organizations,” she said.

Criminalizing these essential things “doesn’t really work” to solve the problem of homelessness, she added.

Couture said he saw a “qualitative difference” between laws that take away essentials - like food and water - and laws like the camping ban, which are more of a mixed bag in terms of the impact on the homeless.

“The camping ban that exists right now is to keep the streets safe, not only for those who aren’t homeless, but even for those who are,” he said.

“[The government] doesn’t want the homeless to form colonies because when the homeless gather, they tend to bring chaos. This is not to say that the homeless are bad, or that all the homeless are addicts, or mentally ill or anything like that, but that when you get a certain volume of people, you do get a number of people” who can act out or be dangerous, he said.

Sometimes the homeless will even ask their Christ in the City friends to call the police about other homeless people if they feel unsafe, Couture noted.

“They want the park to be safe for themselves as well, so if you have someone who’s high, or having a terrible day and acting out, or who is mentally ill, they want them to move off the premise so that they can enjoy their lunch or their conversation with the missionaries or just have a free moment from the stresses of the streets,” he said. “So that’s just one example of how complex it can be - in some sense it punishes the homeless, many of whom didn’t ask to be on the streets, but on the other hand the enforcement of it also helps keep things from compounding and becoming more complicated and dangerous for everybody on the street, including the homeless.”

When it comes to policies that help the homeless, Donaldson said she encourages her students as well as her fellow Catholics to advocate for Housing First projects, which prioritize affordable and accessible housing for all.

Some cities, such as Salt Lake City Utah, have completely eliminated veteran homelessness with this model, and have seen great successes with the rest of their homeless population, she noted. In 2015, the entire state of Utah reduced homelessness by 91 percent, in large part because of their Housing First projects and other developments.

“The primary cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing,” Donaldson said. “If we had enough affordable housing, we would not have a homelessness problem.”

Couture said he agreed that affordable housing was a “huge” problem, but cautioned that Housing First should not be understood as “housing only.”

“Calling it Housing First is really a misnomer,” Couture said. “It’s really providing a space that the homeless need, but with proper accompaniment.”

A closer look at the Utah models, for example, shows that the reason Housing First was so successful is because it was carried out with close accompaniment by social workers and other outreach providers who stayed close to their clients throughout their transition into housing, which can be a difficult thing for those who are used to living on the streets, Couture said.

“Once they’re inside, if they’re just left alone there, it becomes more like a prison,” Couture said. “It may seem strange, but when you’re outside you have people who care for you, who love you...some sort of community. When you’re inside, your friends are out there... so you feel trapped,” and many people leave if they don’t have the proper continuing support.

“So from what I see of Housing First...it’s yielding great fruit, but it shouldn’t be confused with housing only, that’s not the same thing,” he said.

Sullivan said that her experiences as a missionary and as an outreach worker have taught her “the importance of relationship and acknowledging the dignity of the human person, that’s been at the forefront of both,” she said.

As a missionary, she learned a lot about “the spiritual poverty and the woundedness that people experience, spending that time in relationship with people, getting to the heart of the person,” she said.

But being an outreach worker, and attempting to connect her homeless clients with resources, has opened her eyes in a new way “to the system in which people have to operate, and it’s really a lot more complicated than an individual and their problems,” she said.

Sullivan said she would encourage Catholics to remember the human dignity and the personhood of the homeless community when they are voting on laws that impact them.

“It’s really willing the good of the people on the margins, and I’ve see how a lot of these things that intended to be helpful aren’t actually for the good of the people in these situations, they just continue to make their lives more miserable,” she said.

Often, when it comes to these policies, there is a misperception that some people want everything to be a “free-for-all”, and others want to punish the homeless because they believe poor decisions led them to a life on the street, Sullivan said.

“In reality, it’s a much more complicated, nuanced thing,” she said. “Try to find the reasonable middle ground.”

Catholics should also understand that homelessness will never be completely solved with politics, Couture said.

“The homeless situation is as complex as the human person, and any attempt at a one-dimensional answer is simply inadequate,” he said.

“I think any person who [wants to help] needs to move forward with the tranquility and trust in God, and throw out the naivety that this one solution will fix everything, this will do it all, and understand that this is a multi-faceted issue that requires many answers,” he said.

To better understand the homeless and their needs, Catholics need to encounter them face to face as friends, Couture said.

“Whatever we vote for, we should have an understanding that it’s not going to be enough to fix the homeless situation in and of itself, and what that implies is action on our part,” he added.

“Whatever we vote for, we also need to recognize that we have to act, to befriend the homeless - obviously while being safe and having common sense - but with a willingness to put some skin in the game personally, to truly encounter the homeless.”

Cardinal Marx: Bill banning circumcision in Iceland a threat to religious freedom

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 2:00 AM

Reykjavik, Iceland, Feb 8, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new bill proposed in Iceland that would make circumcision punishable by up to six years in prison is a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom, Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said.

“Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalized, without any scientific basis, to stigmatise certain religious communities. This is extremely worrying,” Marx said in a statement.

Marx commented on the issue as President of the Catholic Church in the European Union (COMECE). While Iceland does not belong to the European Union, it does have “privileged relations” with EU countries, COMECE noted.

“COMECE considers any attempt on the fundamental right to freedom of religion as unacceptable. The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern,” Marx added.  

Circumcision is a religious ritual for many, notably Jews and Muslims. Jews typically circumcise infant boys eight days after birth, while Muslim practices vary widely.

The proposed bill states that “Anyone who...causes damage to the body or health of a child or a woman by...removing sexual organs shall be imprisoned for up to 6 years.”

The bill specifically states that circumcisions on boys, if performed for non-medical reasons, would be banned in Iceland under the bill. Female circumcision has been banned in Iceland since 2005.

Male circumcisions used to be “generally encouraged...to prevent various disorders and behaviors,” the bill states.

“In recent years, this view has been expanding, and is quite widespread in Europe, that the execution of a construction for a purpose other than a medical is a violation of human rights boys because of irreversible interventions in their bodies,” it states, and carries a risk of infection.

The bill also states that circumcision of young boys violates “Article 12. UN Convention on the Rights of Children to Affect Your Own Life” as well as “paragraph 3. Article 24 which guarantees children protection against traditions that are harmful to children's health.”

While the bill does not define at what age childhood ends, the age of sexual consent in Iceland is 15 years of age.

According to Mayo Clinic, circumcision may have some health benefits, including easier hygiene, decreased risk of urinary tract infections, decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections, and a decreased risk of penile cancer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, although they encourage parental discretion in the decision.

The health risks and benefits have been a topic of debate for several years in some European countries, although none have banned the practice outright.

Iceland, which has a population of around 334,000, has a small Muslim population of a few hundred people, and an even smaller Jewish population of around 100 people.

While Iceland has no designated Rabbi, Jewish news source ynetnews.com reports that Chief Rabbi of Denmark Yair Melchior and the Rabbi of Oslo, Yoav Melchior are campaigning against the bill on behalf of the Jewish population in Iceland.

"Iceland does not have a significant Jewish or Muslim population; therefore there are hardly any opponents to the bill. Only considerable international pressure can help," the Rabbis told ynetnews.

"There is no country in the world now that bans circumcision. This sets a dangerous precedent that may affect other countries; the Danish parliament is now considering such a bill as well," they added. The Danish Medical Association has advised against male circumcision in boys for several years, though no ban has been enacted in the country.

The European Conference of Rabbis also voiced their opposition to the bill in a statement, as reported in ynetnews.

"Circumcision is a critical part of Jewish life and no authority in the world can forbid Jews from carrying out this commandment," they said.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the group, added that "although the Icelandic Jewish community is small, we cannot ignore the dangerous precedent that this law can set and the consequences that such legislation can cause in other countries.”

"We call on lawmakers to immediately rescind this miserable piece of legislation and continue supporting Jewish life without limits."

It is unclear when the bill would be up for a vote.

The return home: Syriac Christians celebrate Eucharistic liturgy in ravaged church

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 10:00 PM

Damascus, Syria, Feb 7, 2018 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time in nearly six years, Christians from the eastern city of Deir Ezzor in Syria were able to celebrate a liturgy at the local church of St. Mary’s.

“It’s an indescribable feeling for us to pray in a nearly-destroyed church, which serves as a consolation for our hearts and a message of hope to the people of the city to come back and take part in building it anew,” said Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch, who celebrated the liturgy, according to the National.

The liturgy was celebrated over the weekend on Feb. 3 with a small throng of worshippers numbering around two dozen, and a few local Muslim clerics. Because the altar was too damaged to use for the celebration of Eucharist, a makeshift table covered in a white cloth was used.

Despite the blown-out windows, strung wire and discarded pieces of artillery scattered throughout the church, the local faithful were grateful to celebrate the first Eucharist in years.

“Prayer for me is like new life,” said one of the worshippers, Sally Qassar, according to reports from the National.

“It gave me the determination to come back to Deir Ezzor and put up with the poor provision of services, and participate in rebuilding it,” she continued.

In 2012, rebels took over part of Deir Ezzor during the Syrian uprising, which included protests against the government and was part of the overarching Syrian Civil War. The city was later captured by Islamic militants in 2014.

The occupation drove thousands from Deir Ezzor, which once included 3,000 Christians.

In November, Syrian troops reclaimed their city, which had been left mostly destroyed and without basic provisions, such as water and electricity. Refugees have begun to make their way back to their hometown – a journey encouraged by the local Syriac Orthodox leader, Archbishop Maurice Amseeh.

“The important thing now is for life to come back – for Deir Ezzor’s residents and Christians to come back to it,” Archbishop Amseeh said.

One local, Shadi Tuma, has never left his town, despite the ongoing conflict and violence.

“The hard times that Deir Ezzor went through pushed the families to leave, but there was a determination inside of me to stay in this city,” Tuma said.

“Deir Ezzor will always have coexistence. Christians will always have a presence here.”

 

Parents of terminally ill son request transfer to Vatican hospital during legal battle

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 7:00 PM

Liverpool, England, Feb 7, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Parents of Alfie Evans, a 20-month old boy in the U.K. who suffers from an unknown neurological degenerative condition, are pleading in court to keep their son on life-support and seek alternative treatments.
 
Alfie, who is on life support at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, is said to be in a “semi-vegetative state,” according to BBC News. His parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, are currently fighting a legal battle with the hospital to keep treating their son.
 
“I’m not holding on to anything. I’m holding on to Alfie. He looks at me in the eyes and tells me he needs help,” said Evans, according to the Liverpool Echo.
 
“The quality of life he’s got not – he’s there, he has got a quality of life. 100 percent, and he can come out of this,” Evans continued, saying “we know he is not going to recover, but we also know in our son we see potential and we see life.”
 
While doctors at the Alder Hey hospital have called further life-saving efforts for Alfie “futile,” his parents are requesting their son’s transfer to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome, also known as the “Pope’s Hospital.”
 
Doctors at the Bambino Gesu hospital have suggested operations that would help Alfie breathe and eat, which could prolong his life.
 
Alfie, who was born in May 2016, is surviving with an estimated 70 percent loss of his brain nerve fiber, and reportedly only has brain activity during seizures. Doctors who have been involved in his case testified in court that continuing to treat Alfie in his current state is “unkind,” and moved to end Alfie’s life in December.
 
Doctors at Alfie’s current hospital have said they have already sought advice from outside experts, saying “we don’t give up on children easily,”  the Liverpool Echo reported.
 
“Prolonging his life unnecessarily is not a way to go considering his brain is being progressively destroyed and there is no prospect of recovery,” said Prof. Helen Cross during the ongoing court hearing.
 
However, Alfie’s parents have said that their son is improving, and want to seek other alternatives at the Bambino Gesu Hospital – the same hospital that offered care in the 2017 case of Charlie Gard, a U.K. baby who was dying of a terminal illness due to a rare genetic disease. British and European courts had sided with officials from Great Ormond Street Hospital, who successfully sought to bar Charlie Gard’s parents from seeking treatment for their child overseas.
 
Tens of thousands have rallied behind Alfie’s parents in the form of support groups on social media, calling themselves “Alfie’s Army.” Some supporters made appearances during the hearing, wearing “release Alfie Evans” T-shirts.
 
The legal hearing is ongoing in Liverpool Civil and Family Court, but the judge, Justice Anthony Hayden, has said that the official judgement could take a number of days to complete.

 

EWTN’s Michael Warsaw honored for evangelization in media

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 6:13 PM

Orlando, Fla., Feb 7, 2018 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Recognized for evangelization through Catholic media, EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael P. Warsaw received the Bowie Kuhn Special Award for Evangelization during the recent 2018 Legatus Summit in Orlando, Fl.

“All of us as Catholics, and particularly those of us in Catholic media, have a responsibility to reach out to the peripheries of society and to address the needs of people who are living in spiritual poverty,” Warsaw said during his acceptance speech, according to an EWTN press release.

“Sometimes, that means reaching out and serving people somewhere across the globe, but more often than not it’s about reaching out to our neighbors next door or down the street who are living in the depths of spiritual poverty and sharing with them the beauty, truth and goodness of the faith,” Warsaw added.

The Legatus Summit was held Jan. 25-27 in Orlando. The conference included speakers Ryan Anderson and Scott Hahn, and was sponsored by Legatus, a membership organizations for Catholic business leaders, which champions the motto, “Ambassadors for Christ in the marketplace.”

The award was presented to Warsaw by Tom Monaghan, Legatus Chairman and Founder of Domino’s Pizza, and Jack McAleer, member of EWTN’s Board of Governors and Legatus Secretary.

Past recipients of the award include Curtis Martin, founder of the Catholic campus ministry FOCUS; Tim Busch, attorney and philanthropist; Thomas Peterson, President and Founder of Catholics Come Home; and Luisa Kuhn, wife of the late baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest media network in the world, with 11 television channels on broadcast in multiple different languages, reaching more than 275 million households in over 145 countries. EWTN platforms also include radio, news services, and a publishing division. EWTN’s electronic and print news services include Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

 

University of Notre Dame adds ‘simple contraceptives’ to insurance plan

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 5:46 PM

South Bend, Ind., Feb 7, 2018 / 03:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The University of Notre Dame has announced that it will fund “simple contraceptives” through its insurance plan.

In November 2017, the university had announced that students or employees and students on its insurance plans would be eligible to receive through a third-party insurance administrator.

That move came as a surprise to many because the university was one of several Catholic organizations that filed suit over the 2012 federal contraceptive mandate, and in October had announced it would cut contraceptive coverage from its insurance plans.

The university’s most recent decision was announced today in a letter from university president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. Catholic News Agency obtained a copy of the letter.

In the letter, Jenkins said that while the school should remain “unwavering in our fidelity to our Catholic mission,” the other religious beliefs and practices of members of the Notre Dame community should be respected. This is why, in November, the university decided that it would continue to provide contraceptive coverage for those who had “made conscientious decisions about the use of such drugs.”

However, Jenkins has now taken issue with the range of drugs covered under this third-party provider, which, “includes the provision of abortion-inducing drugs.”  Jenkins said such drugs are “far more gravely objectionable in Catholic teaching.” Jenkins did not delineate exactly which contraceptive drugs he considered to be more objectionable than others.

Due to the inclusion of these drugs, Jenkins has that the school’s own insurance plan will directly cover a limited range of contraceptive drugs.

“Instead, the University will provide coverage in the University’s own insurance plans for simple contraceptives (i.e., drugs designed to prevent conception),” as well as funding for Church-approved natural family planning methods, said Jenkins. He did not name which drugs would be covered by the school’s plan.

Prior to the 2012 mandate, the school did not provide contraception coverage in its insurance plans, except when prescribed to treat a medical condition. Jenkins’ letter said that Notre Dame’s participation in the suit was an effort “to protect its ability to act in accord with its religious mission,” and the positive outcome had secured the school’s “right to decide.”  

Jenkins said that in November he had “thought it best...to allow the government-funded provision of these drugs and services to continue so that our employees could have access without University funding or immediate and direct involvement in their provision.”

“The government-funded program, however, also includes abortifacients, which, because they involve the destruction of innocent human life, are most gravely objectionable in the Catholic tradition. With further thought, wider consultation and more information, I concluded that it was best to reconsider this decision.”

The letter also said that Notre Dame “will provide to all who sign up for health care benefits a statement of the Catholic teaching on contraceptives, so that the Church’s teaching is clearly presented.”
 
“Although Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical letter, Humanae vitae, written nearly fifty years ago now, has been controversial within and without Catholic circles since its publication, its prophetic quality is clear,” Jenkins wrote.

About 17,000 people, including employees of the school as well as students who are not covered by their parents’ plans due to either age or some other factor, use Notre Dame’s insurance plans.

Nearly two years after the Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate saying that contraception drugs must be covered under insurance policies. The mandate offered narrowly-defined exemptions for religious employers. In October 2017, the Trump Administration issued broad exemptions to the mandate, giving relief to religious non-profits and others with deeply held religious or moral convictions regarding contraception.

 

 

Holy Land pilgrimages on the rise, despite political tensions

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 5:00 PM

Denver, Colo., Feb 7, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- While the transition of the American embassy to Jerusalem has exacerbated regional tension in recent months, the number of Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land has increased.

Last month 770 registered pilgrimage groups, some 26,000 people, visited Jerusalem, while 529 groups visited in the same time period last year, and 390 visited in January 2016. The statistics were recently released by Israel’s Christian Information Center,

A priest who recently took a group of young adults to the Holy Land told CNA that the pilgrimage was peaceful, and seemed to be unaffected by political tensions.

“The experience for everyone was very peaceful. You don’t necessarily experience any conflict in the environment,” said Father Daniel Cardo, pastor of Holy Name Church in Englewood, CO.

Sobhy Makhoul, deacon of the Maronite Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Asia News that the rise in pilgrims began at the end of 2017. "Between November and mid-December there were many pilgrims, so many that for the first time we had to house some of them in the city like Hebron, almost 30 km south of Bethlehem," he said.

There has also been a notable increase in pilgrims from China, Russia, and Eastern Europe, among them are many pilgrims from Eastern Orthodox churches, Makhoul told Asia News.

Makhoul also said that a peaceful reaction in Palestine to the US Embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has reassured pilgrims that Israel is a safe place to travel.

He said that most people in the region want peace, and that most recognize the economic importance of pilgrimage trips.

Fr. Cardo told CNA that there is also a general respect in the region for the sacredness of pilgrimages to Holy Land, which he called the “father land” to many religions.

“People from the Holy Land, whether they are Christians or not, and actually a vast majority as we know aren’t Christians, recognize … the sacredness of the practice of pilgrimage,” he said.

“It is moving to me to see how many people, whether they are fully into the spiritual experience or not, are attracted to” sacred sites in the Holy Land, he said.

“The experience of going to Holy Sepulchre in particular … It’s just entering into a mystery, pointing to the place that reflects the mystery of God’s victory, but such a stark contrast, with the craziness of our humanity – the many languages [and] the noise of the place.”

Father Cardo encouraged more groups of Catholics to travel to the Holy Land. He said the experience allows pilgrims to envision the reality of  Scripture’s settings, and that pilgrimages help Christians in the Holy Land, who only make up a small fraction of the population.

“To visit Christian places and support local Christian businesses is a very important thing we have to do in order to maintain the life of the Church in those holy places,” he said.