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Updated: 17 min 49 sec ago

What Catholic communities can do to support foster children

1 hour 21 min ago

Washington D.C., May 27, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the opioid crisis has left nearly half a million children in need of homes, Catholic leaders are calling their families and parishes to a work of mercy that is both pro-life and fruitful: supporting vulnerable children in foster care.

"Foster care and adoption is another way that God is calling couples to be open to life, and not just infertile couples, but couples that have biological children who can welcome another child into their family," said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas at an event on foster care after the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, who hosted the May 24 event titled “Fostering A Culture of Hope,” told CNA she hopes it will get more Catholics around the country talking about foster care at a time when the opioid crisis has made it more urgent.

“It is key to our identity. We are adopted daughters and sons of the Father, and we shouldn’t have orphans in our midst,” said Lopez, who has written about pro-life issues for the National Review for two decades.

From 2000 to 2012, the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the withdrawal infants experience after their pregnant mothers’ drug use, increased by 383 percent, according the White House Associate Director of Drug Control Policy Charmaine Yoest, who also spoke at the National Review Institute event.

"I want the pro-life community to acknowledge more what is going on with the foster care crisis in this country. I feel very strongly that in a lot of ways it is connected to our desire to eradicate abortion,” said Lisa Ann Wheeler, the president of Carmel Communications. Wheeler has had five children, and has fostered 15.

For Sarah Zagorski, the connection between foster care and pro-life work is very clear.

“My mother consulted with an abortionist for my delivery,” said Zagorski. “She was a Hispanic woman, very vulnerable woman, who already had seven kids in and out of foster care. They were already experiencing abuse, neglect, you name it.”

After her mother chose life, Sarah said that “life got very complicated very quickly because I entered a family environment that was unstable.”

“Foster care saved my life, just like the choice that my birth mother made saved my life," said Zagorski.

When Catholic couples adopt or foster a child, they are living out the Gospel call for a “radical welcoming of the stranger, the orphan,” shared Elizabeth Kirk, the keynote speaker at “Fostering a Culture of Hope.”

"Pope Francis stated … that the choice of adoption and foster care expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience," continued Kirk. “Pope Francis urged even those with biological children to find other expressions of fruitfulness that in some way prolong the love that sustains them. Christian marriages, he says, are fruitful by their witness.”

“Now is an important moment for the Catholic Church to step forward and really embrace fostering,” explained Kathleen Domingo, who led a foster care initiative in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after Catholic Charities was driven out of foster care and adoption in California due to a lack of conscience protection laws.

“Fostering is definitely a work of mercy,” said Domingo, “and works of mercy are transformative.”

“Having families in your parish involved in fostering with the rest of the parish coming around them to surround them and support them, can be that transformative element that can help our parishes to overcome polarization,” she said.

There is a lot of untapped potential in our Catholic communities, according to Domingo, who together with Archbishop Jose Gomez launched a campaign to raise awareness of foster care needs in the Los Angeles archdiocese last October.

They organized presentations at just 15 parishes in the archdiocese, and “the response was overwhelming,” said Domingo.

“We had over 300 families in just 15 parishes come forward to register to get trained as foster families,” she continued.

Even if someone is not called to foster or adopt a child, there are many things that Catholics can do to support these children.

"You can do anything from cooking a meal to providing transportation or even taking some of those children into your home. You can serve as a mentor. You can work and find ways to get your church involved,” suggested Natalie Goodnow, a research fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

One concrete way anyone can help is through respite care, recommends Goodnow. Respite care involves watching a foster family’s kids for a couple days to a week, allowing the foster parents to have a break.

People can also volunteer as “court appointed special advocates,” or CASA for short. Through CASA, a person is matched with a foster child's case, and advocates for the child throughout the duration of their time in the child welfare system. Goodnow pointed out that there is no legal experience required to participate.

Another organization Goodnow recommends is “Safe Families for Children”, which supports struggling families at risk of being separated through foster care.

Tutoring and mentoring a teen in foster care can also make a transformative impact, said Goodnow, who continued:

"There is tremendous potential for the faith community to do even more. I don't think that we have fully tapped into what this community is capable of.”

God is not indifferent – he's close and personal, Pope Francis says

12 hours 18 min ago

Vatican City, May 27, 2018 / 05:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis marked the feast of the Holy Trinity stressing the personal love and interest God has in each one of his children, saying the Lord is not ever far away, but is an attentive and loving Father to all.

“God does not want so much to reveal to us that he exists, but rather that he is the 'God with us,' that he loves us, is interested in our personal story and cares for each person, from the smallest to the greatest,” the pope said May 27.

Even though God is in heaven, he is also on earth, Francis said, adding that because of this, “we don't believe in a distant, indifferent entity.”

“On the contrary, in the love that created the universe and generated a people, became flesh, died and rose for us, and as the Holy Spirit transforms everything and brings it to fullness.”

Pope Francis spoke to the nearly 25,000 pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday Angelus address. In his speech, he focused on the day's feast of the Holy Trinity, and the readings from the Book of Romans, as well as the Gospel reading from Matthew.

The feast of the Trinity, Francis said, is not only an invitation to contemplate and praise Jesus Christ, but it is also an opportunity to celebrate “with ever-new wonder the God of love, who freely offers his life to us and asks us to spread it in the world.”

He then turned to the second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, in which the apostle speaks of how Christians are sons of God, and are able call him “abba,” meaning “father.”

St. Paul, the pope said, experienced first-hand the deep transformation of the God of love, who allows us to not only call him “Father,” but more personally, “dad,” and who gives us the ability to call on him “with the total confidence of a child who abandons themselves in the arms of the one who gave them live.”

Through his action in each person, the Holy Spirit “makes it so that Jesus Christ is not reduced to a person of the past, but that we feel close to him, our contemporary, and that we experience the joy of being beloved children of God,” Francis said.

He noted that Christians are not alone, he said, because the Holy Spirit was sent to guide and accompany them.

And thanks to both the presence of the Spirit and the strength he offers, “we can realize with serenity the mission that he entrusted to us: to announce and bear witness to his Gospel to everyone and so dilate communion with him and the joy that comes from it.”

Pope Francis closed his address saying the feast of the Holy Trinity “makes us contemplate the mystery of a God who incessantly creates, redeems and sanctifies, always with love and for love, and to every creature that welcomes him, he gives the gift of reflecting a ray of his beauty, goodness and truth.”

He prayed that Mary would help each person to “fulfill with joy the mission of bearing witness to the world, thirsty for love, that the meaning of life is precisely infinite love, the concrete love of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

After leading pilgrims in praying the traditional Marian prayer, Francis voiced gratitude for the recent beatification of Sister Leonella Sborbati, a nun with the Consolata Missionaries who was killed in Somalia in 2006.

He asked pilgrims to join him in praying for Africa, “so that there is peace there,” and led faithful in praying a Hail Mary for the continent.

Pro-refugee sentiment drops, especially low among white Evangelicals

12 hours 39 min ago

Washington D.C., May 27, 2018 / 04:43 am (CNA).- Americans’ belief in a duty to accept refugees has dipped, according to a survey showing that white Evangelicals are among the least favorable to refugees.

While 50 percent of Catholics said they think the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees, only 25 percent of white Evangelicals did. The white Evangelical response was statistically identical to the percentage of Republicans who saw a duty toward refugees.

Of black Protestants, 63 percent saw a duty to accept refugees. However, only 43 percent of white mainline Protestants did. About 65 percent of the religiously unaffiliated see a national duty toward refugees.

“Opinions about whether the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees – which were already deeply polarized – have grown even more so,” said the Pew Research Center, which conducted the recent survey.

Decline in support for refugee admissions among Republicans and Republican-leading independents drove the number lower, the Washington Post reports. About 74 percent of Democrats believe in an American duty to refugees.

In February 2017, a time of controversy over the Trump Administration’s new limits on refugee admissions, 56 percent of Americans said the U.S. had a responsibility to accept refugees. The figure is now at 51 percent. Republican pro-refugee sentiment dropped nine percentage points, while Democratic pro-refugee sentiment rose about 3 points.

In a March 26 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and to the U.S. State Department, Bishop Joe Vasquez, speaking as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, lamented the low number of refugee admissions.

“As Christians, our concerns for refugees is integral to our life of faith,” the bishop said.

“Most often they are at-risk women and children who are too vulnerable to remain in the region and/or in situations too dangerous for them to wait in the host country until the conflict at home has ended.”

Broken down along race and ethnicity, 67 percent of blacks believe the country has a duty toward refugees, compared to 59 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of whites, Pew said.

The Pew survey of 1,503 U.S. adults conducted April 25-May 1 claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Refugee admissions to the U.S. have declined sharply in the first half of fiscal year 2018. Muslim refugee numbers fell to 1,800, compared to about 22,900 in all of fiscal year 2017.

This is in part due to Trump administration policy that caps admissions to 45,000 people per fiscal year, the lowest cap since 1980, when Congress created the current refugee program, Pew says. The administration also restricted admissions for several months as part of a security review.

About 10,500 total refugees, and about 6,700 Christians entered the U.S. in the first half of the fiscal year. At the same point in fiscal year 2017, there were 39,100 admissions, with 18,500 Muslims and 16,900 Christians.

Major growth for group highlighting faith-science harmony

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 6:20 PM

Wilmington, Del., May 26, 2018 / 04:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his 1988 letter to the Director of the Vatican Observatory, Pope John Paul II called scientists who are members of the Church to “serve as a key resource” by providing a “much needed ministry” to those who find faith and science at odds.

Now, a group of scientists is rising to the late pope’s challenge through what is known as the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Dr. Stephan Barr of the University of Delaware, founder and president of the society, explained that the group was created in 2016.

“Its main purpose was to promote spiritual and intellectual fellowship among faithful Catholics who work in the natural sciences, and also display the harmony between faith and science in an era when many doubt it,” Barr told CNA.

Two years after its founding, the Society of Catholic Scientists has grown from a small group to an organization with more than 700 members, which include Catholic individuals who either have a doctorate in a natural science or who are in school for a science degree as a graduate or undergraduate student.

While primarily focused in North America, the organization has members in 35 countries and all seven continents.

The Society’s motto, taken from the writings of St. Bonaventure, is “knowledge with devotion, research with wonder.” The organization strives to foster fellowship among Catholic scientists, give witness to the harmony between faith and science, host forums for scientific and theological discussions, and be a resource for the laity, Barr said.

“For too long, a false impression has been allowed to grow that the world of science is a religious wasteland where faith cannot grow,” he said.

“Even religious scientists can have this impression and feel isolated, because they are unaware that many of their colleagues share their faith – this is especially true of younger researchers and students, so providing mentoring and role models is another goal of SCS.”

In June, the Society of Catholic Scientists is hosting its second annual conference that will focus on the theme of “Physicalism and the Human Mind.” It will explore the idea held by some within the scientific field that only the physical world really exists.

The society’s first conference was held in April 2017 in Chicago with the theme “Origins,” and was attended by over 80 members of the organization, as well as dozens of other scholars. This year, the 2018 conference is expecting 135 scholars to attend, including 110 Catholic scientists and students.

The upcoming conference will be held at The Catholic University of America from June 8-10 and will feature 11 speakers from various fields, including neuroscience, quantum physics, mathematics, and philosophy. While most of the speakers are Catholic, some are not, including the distinguished Prof. Peter Koellner of Harvard.

Continuing a tradition established last year, one scientist will be singled out and honored with the St. Albert Award, named after the patron of scientists. This year’s award will be presented to Juan Martin Maldacena of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton for his distinguished work linking gravity and quantum field theory.

Noting that the Society of Catholic Scientists has grown tremendously in its first two years, Barr said he believes the organization “continues to grow rapidly” because scientists are feeling isolated in their fields and are looking for an outlet to discuss the connection between their faith and science.

The society has been recognized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and has Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia as its episcopal moderator.

Ireland votes to repeal abortion ban, drawing disappointment from pro-life groups

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 12:05 PM

Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Exit polls released on Saturday morning are projecting the repeal of the abortion ban in Ireland, a decision pro-life groups are calling tragic and disappointing.

 

“The result of today’s referendum is a profound tragedy for the Irish people and the entire world,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a May 26 press release.

 

“While other Western nations including the United States acquiesced to the extreme abortion lobby, Ireland has been a shining beacon of hope for its strong defense of unborn children and their mothers,” Dannenfelser continued, adding that “we are filled with sorrow at this outcome.”

 

A statement from the Save the 8th campaign, a group which fought against the legalization of abortion in Ireland, called the vote a “tragedy of historic proportions,” but commended those who stood up for the right to life, saying “we are so proud of all those who stood with us in this campaign.”

 

The campaign additionally noted that they would continue fighting for the right to life in Ireland, saying that “every time an unborn child has his or her life ended in Ireland, we will oppose that, and make our voices known.”

 

“Abortion was wrong yesterday. It remains wrong today. The constitution has changed, but the facts have not,” the statement continued.

 

Exit polls by the RTÉ are projecting 69.4 percent of citizens voted against keeping the Eighth Amendment in the Republic of Ireland's constitution, while 30.6 percent voted to keep it, according to the BBC.

 

80 percent of the votes have been counted, according to the New York Times, but official results are expected on Saturday evening.

 

On May 25, Ireland held a referendum on whether to repeal the country’s Eighth Amendment, which recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child. Under current law, the practice of abortion in Ireland is illegal, unless the mother’s health is deemed to be endangered.

The Eighth Amendment was passed in Ireland in 1983, with upwards of 67 percent voter-approval. It reads, in part: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Several Irish lawmakers had previously said that if the referendum successfully repealed the eighth amendment, they would propose legislation allowing unlimited abortion up to three months into pregnancy, and up to six months into pregnancy in cases where there might be risk to a mother’s physical or mental health.

Despite the high percentage of the population - 78 percent - that identifies as Catholic, polling was split in the weeks leading up to the vote.

On March 9 the Irish bishops had released a pastoral message on the right to life, entitled “Two Lives, One Love.”

They warned that changing the Irish Constitution would serve no purpose other than to withdraw the right to life from some categories of unborn children.

“To do so would radically change the principle, for all unborn children and indeed for all of us, that the right to life is a fundamental human right,” they said.

Pope says 'false dichotomy' exists between religious ethics, business

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 6:24 AM

Vatican City, May 26, 2018 / 04:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Saturday criticized what he said is a “tragic” and false dichotomy that has been created between religious ethics and the economic-financial sector of society, telling business leaders that the two are not only compatible, but necessary for social advancement.  

“All too often, a tragic and false dichotomy – analogous to the artificial rift between science and faith – has developed between the ethical teachings of our religious traditions and the practical concerns of today’s business community,” the pope said May 26.

However, there is “a natural circularity between profit and social responsibility,” and there is an “indissoluble connection” between an ethics that respects both the human person and the common good, and the functionality of economic and financial systems, he said.

This ethical dimension of social and economic interaction “cannot be imported into social life and activity from without, but must arise from within,” he said, adding that this is a long-term goal that requires the commitment of all persons and institutions in society.

Pope Francis spoke to members of the Centesimus Annus-Pro Pontefice institution, who are in Rome May 24-26 for an international convention titled “New policies and lifestyles in the digital age,” marking their 25th anniversary.

The foundation was founded in 1993 by St. John Paul II to study and promote Catholic social teaching.

Among the high-profile participants in the gathering was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who gave a lengthy keynote speech on the last day of the conference.

Sitting beside Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and the president of Centesimus Annus Domingo Sugranyes Bickel, Bartholomew condemned a widespread culture of consumerism and indifference, and advocated for greater solidarity and collaboration in pursuing human development in an increasingly globalized world.

During the conference, Bartholomew met with both Pope Francis and retired pontiff Benedict XVI. He spoke to Benedict Friday, and he met Francis in a private audience at the Vatican Saturday morning.

In his speech, Pope Francis spoke on themes brought up in the recent Vatican document Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones, (Economic and financial issues), published by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

He said current financial and social challenges faced by the global community “have an undeniable ethical dimension” and are related “to a mentality of egoism and exclusion that has effectively created a culture of waste blind to the human dignity of the most vulnerable.”

This can be seen by the increasing “globalization of indifference” in front of blatant moral challenges humanity faces, he said, citing migration and a lack of development not only in materially poor countries, but also increasingly in the “opulence of the developed world.”

Referring to the conference theme, Francis noted how one major threat to families is a lack of stable jobs and the impact of the “digital cultural revolution,” which he said is “a vital area in which the solidarity of the Church is actively needed” and is a key theme in the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people.

When it comes to ensuring a better future for young people and families, Francis said ecumenical cooperation “is of especial importance,” and cited the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew at the conference as “an eloquent sign of this common responsibility.”

Pope Francis closed his speech urging attendees to “persevere in these efforts which contribute to the building of a global culture of economic justice, equality and inclusion.”

In the footsteps of a saint – St Philip Neri's Rome

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 5:01 AM

Rome, Italy, May 26, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 16th century St. Philip Neri is known for joyful holiness and for the foundation of the Congregation of the Oratory, but the legacy he left in Rome can still be traced today, even walking in the saint’s very footsteps.

Called the “Third Apostle of Rome,” Neri came to the city from Florence at a time of religious and cultural upheaval after the Sack of Rome in 1527 and, desiring to be a missionary in India, discovered he was being called to evangelize Rome instead.

Today remainders of St. Philip Neri’s life can still be found in the Eternal City – from the rooms where he started the Oratory, to the churches he prayed in, to the streets he walked.

One well-known tradition Neri began is the Seven Churches Pilgrimage. While still a layman, Neri noticed many people had lost sight of the joy of the Gospel, and therefore started leading “walks” to important churches in Rome.

These mini pilgrimages would include music and laughter, in keeping with the saint’s cheerful personality, and were a way of encouraging young people to discover the faith through visiting historically significant churches in the city.

Many people still go on this urban pilgrimage annually. “It is a way in which you can really grow in faith, not only through the beauty of the churches, but also through the history of the places,” said Carlo Munns, an author and expert on the saint.

St. Philp Neri felt faith was like “climbing a mountain,” Munns told CNA. “Climbing a mountain by yourself is very dangerous, but if you can do it together, in a community, it’s better.”

He called the “saint of joy,” Munns said, “because he said that faith should be lived in hope and joy.”

“Yes, you need to repent, you have to understand and deeply live your faith, but always in joy.”

Catacombs of San Sebastiano

One of the significant places early in the life of St. Philip Neri are the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, which are found outside the city center, beneath the Appian Way. Here Neri would go to pray during the night.

One night, about 10 years after he arrived in Rome, Neri had a “mystical experience in which a globe of fire entered his chest and exploded inside, ruining his chest, his ribs, and doubling the size of his heart,” Munns said.

“This experience marked him for life,” not only physically, Munns noted, but also because he “understood that the Spirit wanted him to spend his life for Rome.”

At the time, these catacombs were the only ones discovered in Rome, though now there are many more which can be visited by the public today, including San Sebastiano.

San Girolamo della Carita

Located near the famous Roman landmark of Campo dei Fiori, the narrow historic streets of the neighborhood of the church of San Girolamo della Carita are the very same the saint walked; and faded paintings of the saint can be spotted on random street corners in the area.

The church was built on the site of a devout Roman woman’s house where St. Jerome stayed in the 4th century when he was compiling the Vulgate – the principal Latin version of the Bible used by the Catholic Church.

After being ordained a priest in 1551, Neri came to live at San Girolamo. There he would meet many friends, among them St. Charles Borromeo and St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is also where he informally started his congregation of priests, called the “Oratory,” which received papal recognition in 1575.

The saint’s rooms and private chapel, located above the church, can be visited with an advance reservation with the Sisters of St. Philip Neri, who maintain the church.

Another way to experience the life of the saint is through music, the rector of San Girolamo della Carita, Fr. Filippo Goyret, told CNA. Many churches in Rome put on beautiful concerts of classical music free of charge, including San Girolamo. Music, Goyret said, was very much “part of the spirit of St. Philip Neri.”

San Giovanni dei Fiorentini

From San Girolamo, a stretch of the historic Via Giulia connects to Piazza dell’Oro and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. This church was built starting in 1523 by Florentines living in Rome.

After he was ordained a priest, Neri served as rector at the Florentine parish for about a dozen years, though he continued to live down the street at San Girolamo.

In the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini is a side chapel dedicated to the saint, with a bust of his head and a painting depicting him with the Virgin Mary, as well as a simple, wooden cross he used to pray before.

Neri discovered the ancient cross at the church when he became rector, Munns said, noting that the saint considered the symbol of the cross to be vital to his relationship with Christ.

Munns explained that Neri had realized his mission in Rome was to follow the example of Christ in bringing healing to people in hospitals, and in Rome at the time “there was a lot to heal in terms of both physical and spiritual needs.”

“He took strength for this mission from this cross.”

Chiesa Nuova

From San Giovanni, just five minutes down one of the historic center’s main streets, lies the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella – commonly called “Chiesa Nuova,” or the New Church – where St. Philip Neri spent the final 12 years of his life.

The church received the nickname of “New Church” because it was built on the site of a smaller parish church the Oratory had outgrown.

This church – the headquarters so-to-speak of all the Oratories of St. Philip Neri around the world – houses the saint’s mortal remains, which can be found in the Blessed Sacrament chapel to the left of the main altar.

Next to the church are the rooms where he lived, along with numerous relics, which can be visited on select Saturdays and by advance appointment.

In Chiesa Nuova is also where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Neri in 1594. The vision is depicted in a large painting over his tomb.

This church is where St. Philip Neri spent his final days, passing away in the early hours of May 26, 1595, after a day spent joyfully hearing confessions and saying Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi.

He was beatified in 1615 by Paul V and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622, fewer than 30 years after his death.

The saint is commemmorated May 26 with a third class feast in the extraordinary form, and a memorial in the ordinary form.

Letter to George Clooney: Help stop frivolous 'hate group' charges

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 5:59 PM

Los Angeles, Calif., May 25, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Southern Poverty Law Center is wrongly targeting social conservative organizations as “hate groups,” and George Clooney, a major financial supporter of the law center, should demand better, one commentator said this week.

Chuck Donovan is an author, policy researcher and president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education arm of the pro-life political advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List.

However, he wrote to Clooney in a personal capacity, encouraging the star to use his influence to help persuade the SPLC to avoid its “embittering and unproductive campaigns to label any political or social issue opponent as a hate group.”

“This tactic is injurious both to the reputations of some outstanding people and to the flourishing of the common good,” Donovan charged in an open letter published May 20 at the Public Discourse website. It is a betrayal of “the honorable history of the SPLC’s founding in opposition to the denial of civil rights to African Americans, he said.

Last year, the Clooney Foundation for Justice announced a $1 million gift for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Based in Montgomery, Ala., the SPLC was founded in 1971 with the original stated aim of monitoring persons and groups fighting the civil rights movement. It began to track racist and white supremacist groups like neo-Nazis and affiliates of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s. It monitors other groups it considers extremist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim.

More recently, however, it has labeled as “hate groups” Christian organizations that believe in marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In recent months, several groups were removed from the charitable donation program Amazon Smile based on the SPLC’s designation of them as “hate groups.”

Amazon told the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian religious liberty legal organization, that the “hate group” designation made it ineligible for the program.

The SPLC has also listed as “hate groups” other mainstream Christian-backed advocacy groups like the Family Research Council and the Ruth Institute, a non-profit group that studies and explains the effects of the sexual revolution. The SPLC said they have an “anti-LGBT” stance.

Donovan suggested that George Clooney can lead the way to help civilize public life.

“There is great ugliness on the national scene. God has given you the ability to speak to millions of people around the world and to capture their attention,” he said in his letter, encouraging the star to “take a closer look at a good number of the SPLC’s scattershot targets, including Alliance Defending Freedom, the Ruth Institute, Coral Ridge Ministries, and many more.

“The vituperation the SPLC levels at some public policy groups it disagrees with is part of the problem, not the solution,” said Donovan.

He focused on the “hate group” label placed on the Family Research Council. After finding this designation on the SPLC website, a man named Floyd Corkins decided to attack the Christian organization in 2012. Corkins entered the Family Research Council building with a gun and shot building manager Leo Johnson in the arm before Johnson wrestled him to the ground. Corkins later told authorities that he wanted to kill as many employees as possible because of the group’s opposition to gay marriage.

Donovan said Johnson “recognized the humanity of the attacker in front of him, and he refrained from violence.”

“This is the accurate picture I know of Leo and the other people at FRC. They have deep convictions. They hate no one,” he said in his letter to Clooney.

“It should be to our credit that we can debate deep differences and emerge from these debates with mutual respect and a willingness to continue discussions in the interest of building a better nation.”

In Donovan’s view, Clooney roots his views in his Midwestern upbringing and hard work throughout his life. He asked Clooney, “please keep in mind that there are people just like you in all these respects who, because of different views on some questions, are being unfairly and even dangerously vilified.”

Donovan said he is sure he and Clooney do not differ about “truly odious groups” that the SPLC opposes, like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

However, he encouraged Clooney to reject efforts to depict Christian views on life and marriage as akin to bigotry and hatred.

“Certainly, each of these issues generates argument and disagreement, but for the life of me I cannot fathom, and completely reject, the idea that these values have anything to do with abhorrent racism and hatred.”

 

Papal agency raises funds to help Christians remain in the Middle East

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 5:32 PM

Ottawa, Canada, May 25, 2018 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Canada is launching a fundraising campaign to help Christians in the Middle East remain in their homelands.

The fundraising campaign launched May 16 is known as “Christians Can't Survive Without You”.

“This campaign’s very important purpose is to tell Canadian Catholics that they should care about the presence of Christians in the Middle East, because they are the leaven of peace in the Middle East,” Carl Hétu, CNEWA Canada's executive director, told The Catholic Register.

“If we turn our backs on what’s happening in the Middle East, particularly to the Christians of the Middle East, then we’re turning our back on ourselves as Christians,” he added.

Since the Iraq War which began in 2003, the number of Christians in the Middle East has plummeted. In addition to conflict in Iraq, the Syrian Civil War has also pushed many Christians out, as have economic pressure, discrimination, and persecution.

CNEWA noted that “Over the past 15 years, over 2.5 million Middle East Christians have been forced out of their homes. They desperately need your help.”

“We are one body in Christ united with Christians in the Middle East. Their struggles are our struggles and it is our responsibility to help our brothers and sisters there to keep our faith alive,” the agency stated.

In recent years, CNEWA has worked to set up schools, nurseries, and medical clinics in Iraq to serve Christians who were displaced by the Islamic State. It also supports St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary in Erbil.

CNEWA was founded in 1926 to give pastoral and humanitarian support to the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe. An agency of the Vatican, the group supports the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, board president of CNEWA Canada, said that an attack on Middle East Christians “is an attack on the values Christians promote worldwide. To lose Christianity in the region would be a devastating loss.”

Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Boutros Rai said last year at the In Defense of Christians summit that “The conflicts that have beset the Middle East have driven out millions of busy citizens, including so many Christians, and with their exodus, our region becomes more extreme, more dangerous to the outside world.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch John X Yazigi said, “We as Christians in the Middle East: we are going to remain and stay there. We are not strangers in that part of the world: we are people of light and of truth.”

Catholic priest in DRC quarantined as Ebola outbreak continues

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 3:52 PM

Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, May 25, 2018 / 01:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic priest has contracted the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid a continuing outbreak that began in the nation earlier this month.

The priest, whose name was not released, serves in the eastern diocese of Mbandaka-Bikoro, which has around 1 million residents. Medical sources told AFP that the priest who tested positive for Ebola has been quarantined.

The Catholic priest joins more than 50 other individuals in the nation infected with Ebola, according to new statistics released by the Congolese Health Ministry on May 25. The new figures reflect recent lab tests on bodies and show a lower death toll than originally reported, confirming 22 deaths from Ebola instead of 27.

Extremely contagious and highly deadly, Ebola gained major international attention during the 2014-2016 epidemic in West Africa that left more than 11,000 people dead.

In the latest outbreak in DRC, the first case of Ebola was reported on May 8 in the rural Equateur province near Bikoro, and later spread to Mbandaka. The World Health Organization has said that the chances of Ebola spreading to other parts of the nation are “very high.”

Efforts to contain the fatal disease were set in motion by the nation’s health ministry last week, as officials administered Ebola vaccines to more than 600 people on May 21. Most of the doses were given to medical staff and those in close contact with Ebola patients.

President Joseph Kabila also approved an increase in Ebola emergency funds to $4 million, while various aid organizations such as Catholic Relief Services have been working to educate locals on the best protocols to prevent and fight Ebola.

The World Health Organization is also responding by sending health workers and medical supplies to the affected areas, while UNICEF has installed hand-washing stations in more than 50 schools.

Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a pioneer in the field of Ebola from its first identification in 1976 in DRC, believes that previous experience will be of use to containing the disease.

“I am confident because I think we have very good experience of this disease and we’ll stop this outbreak as soon as possible,” Muyembe told the BBC.

“We have some experience of managing this kind of an outbreak in a city. I don’t think we’ll have the kind of situation witnessed in West Africa in 2014,” he continued, adding that he was “positively surprised” by most of the affected areas that he visited.

However, containment of the virus heavily relies on quarantine and isolation. On Monday, three Ebola patients were removed from their treatment centers by their families and taken to church for a prayer service. This was considered a major breech in the medical protocol for Ebola treatment and prevention.

“Patient adherence is paramount,” read a statement from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the medical agency running the treatment centers. The agency said that “forced hospitalization is not the solution to this epidemic,” although it is making efforts to convince patients to remain in their isolation units.

Ebola, which has no known cure, has proven fatal in as high as 90 percent of cases, depending on the strand of the virus. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains and occasional bleeding. It is primarily spread through contact with bodily fluids.

 

Pope makes surprise visit to school named after book-loving child

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 1:04 PM

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2018 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his most recent “mercy Friday” outing, Pope Francis visited a school recently named after a little girl who passed away, but who left her mark on the institute when a international library was created in her honor.

Established in the 1950s, the school – originally named the Comprehensive Institute of Via Rocca Camastra – is a state school that expanded to four other locations in the 1970s, and just this year received permission to be renamed as the Comprehensive Institute of Elisa Scala.

Elisa Scala is the name of a little girl who attended the school, but who died in 2015 at the age of 11 from a form of fulminant leukemia. After her death, Scala's parents launched a project in the school aimed at sharing Elisa's passion for books and libraries.

With their help, a small space called “Elisa's Library” was established, and a project called “Give a Book for Elisa” was launched in order to fill the space with books.

Donations came in the thousands. Some 20,000 books in different languages from all over Italy, Europe and even Australia now line the shelves of the library, which is included on the list of public libraries in Rome.

According to a Vatican communique on the pope's surprise May 25 visit to the school, Francis arrived around 4 p.m. local time and was greeted by Scala's parents, Giorgio and Maria, as well as the director of the school, Claudia Gentili, and hundreds of children who attend the institute.

Pope Francis gave Scala's parents several books to put in the library, all of which were dedicated to Elisa.

The children then sang for the pope, and he greeted the dean, staff, parents and students present before heading back to the Vatican.

Pope Francis' visit to the school is a continuation of his “Mercy Friday” custom, which he began in 2016 during the Jubilee of Mercy.

Originally planned once per month for the duration of the jubilee, the pope has continued the tradition after the end of the jubilee as a means of practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. He has met with refugees, children, women freed from sex trafficking, and the terminally ill, among others.

 

American seminarians to battle for the title in Rome soccer tournament

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:29 PM

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2018 / 10:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time in five years, seminarians and student priests from the North American College in Rome will hit the soccer field to battle it out for the winning title in the city’s holiest tournament – the Clericus Cup.

An annual soccer tournament among the priests and seminarians of Rome’s pontifical universities, the Clericus Cup started in 2007. In 11 years, the North American College has been in the semi-finals six times, even snagging first place back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.

But since then, the North American Martyrs have fallen short of the final four. Until now, when they have the opportunity for redemption May 26 in a face-off against the reigning champs, the Pontifical Urban University.

It has been long enough since 2013 that none of the team’s 25 or so players, even the most senior, have witnessed a tournament win for the Martyrs.

Making it to the final “is exciting,” said Fr. Timothy Wratkowski, a fifth-year student from the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. A defensive player, he said it is great to see “the last five years come together. We view it as a really fun opportunity.”

Team coach, Deacon Drew Olson from the Diocese of Madison, said the key difference this year is a talented crop of new players from this year’s first-year students. Starter Paul Floersch, who is studying for the Archdiocese of Omaha, was identified as one of the team’s most valuable players.

But Wratkowski said that in general they have all grown as soccer players in the last year, increasing communication and mutual support among each other.

Another “tweak” the Martyrs made this year was adding a short spiritual reflection before the start of practices to connect “the spiritual life to what we’re doing as a team,” said Will Nyce, a third-year seminarian and team captain.

“But you have to back that up with nature,” he continued, laughing, “so we ran more this year too. I think we’re more in shape.”

Earlier in the season, the North American Martyrs lost 2-1 in a match against the Urbaniana, so Saturday’s game is likely to be close. Hailing largely from African countries, the other team fields very fast, very technically skilled attackers, so the game will be a challenge for the Martyr’s defense, Olson said.

They will also have to be careful not to “lose the mental game” if referee calls do not go their way.

The Martyr’s pre-game rituals this year have included Morning Prayer together at the college and “American pump-up music” on the way to the field. As one of the few teams with players all from the same country, Clericus Cup organizers also let them play the American national anthem before the match.

As team captain, Nyce, who studies for the Diocese of Arlington, was part of a group of Clericus Cup representatives who met Pope Francis after the General Audience May 23. He said he told the pope the American seminarians and priests “on the hill” were praying for him. “[The pope] seemed really happy to see us,” he said.

Overall, the past few months of games and practices have been “a wonderful joy, a way to share leisure time together, a way to share something in common and then to get to know guys in the house that we might not know well otherwise,” Nyce said.

Though not a part of formal seminary formation, playing sports can benefit men studying for the priesthood because sports “are a major part of people’s lives,” Wratkowski noted. “In the parish a lot of kids participate in sports… We can be present to them in that [showing them] what it means to be a Christian who plays sports.”

Being on the field can bring out a different side of a person, with all different emotions, from joy to disagreement, he continued. Playing soccer with their brothers in the seminary is a good training ground “to learn how to play in a truly Christian way.”

Nyce said that playing sports is also a way to learn to “enjoy the good things that God gives you in a healthy way. Fraternity, good exercise, health – it is good for our all-around well-being.”

He also pointed out St. Paul’s use of running as a metaphor for the moral life. Sports require “discipline, teamwork and giving of yourself for a goal that’s greater than yourself,” he said, something priests “are called to do for our brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis sends poor, needy to major Roman sporting event

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 7:54 AM

Vatican City, May 25, 2018 / 05:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Next week the poor, homeless, refugees, migrants and needy around Rome will be offered free tickets to the city's Golden Gala, an international track and field event that happens annually in the Eternal City.

Set to take place in Rome's Olympic stadium May 31, the gala will begin at 2p.m., with the last event starting at 10:25p.m. Events slated for the gala include a discus throw, relay races, pole vault jumps, hurdles and Paralympic courses for both men and women.

The gala was established in 1980 by Italian sports official and then-president of the Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL) Primo Nebiolo as a way to gather athletes and individuals from the United States and NATO countries who boycotted the Moscow Olympics in wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Francis' guests will enter the event free of charge thanks to FIDAL, and they will be accompanied by volunteers from the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Cooperativa Auxilium – an Italian co-op that offers welfare services to the disadvantaged – and Athletica Vaticana, the running association for employees of the Holy See.

The goal of the event, according to the papal almoner's office, is to offer the poor “an evening of celebration and friendship through the beauty of [sports]” and to place greater emphasis on the importance of hospitality and solidarity.
 
In addition to their free entry, those who come with the papal almoner will be offered a sack dinner.

Such initiatives on the part of the pope are not uncommon. He frequently invites the poor, homeless, migrants and refugees to special events such as concerts, tours of the Vatican Museums and days at the beach. Showers and haircuts are also available inside St. Peter's Square courtesy of the papal almoner.

The man who heads the papal charity office, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, was recent tapped by Francis to become a cardinal. He will get his red hat from the pope during a June 29 consistory, showing the importance Pope Francis places on service to the poor.

After punishing Christian cake baker, Colo. civil rights board revised

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 2:08 AM

Denver, Colo., May 25, 2018 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law will revise the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, after the commission gained attention when its decision in a free speech case involving a Christian cake baker was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before the Colorado law was changed, the governor was allowed to appoint all seven commission members, with no more than four being from the governor’s own party.

The new law, signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper May 22, now limits the governor to appointing three Democrats, three Republicans and one unaffiliated as commissioners. Four members must be from classes protected by law, three members must be considered workers, and three members must be serving as business owners.

The commission will now be subject to legislative audit as well. The new law says that if a commissioner has been rejected by the state senate, the governor cannot re-appoint him or her to the commission for a period of two years, the Denver Post reports.

The changes come following a February vote by Republicans on the Colorado legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to withhold funding from the commission until legislative changes were made. The commission reviews allegations of discrimination and makes policy recommendations.

Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission was involved in a case that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case involves baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakes in the Denver suburb of Lakewood.

In 2012, Phillips was sued by a same-sex couple after he declined to make a wedding cake for them on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Phillips had offered to create a different cake for the couple. The couple was able to obtain a rainbow-themed cake from a bakery near Phillips’ cake shop.

Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

The couple took the case before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that by declining to make the cake, the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law categorizing sexual orientation as a protected class.

In the commission’s unanimous vote against the baker, then-Commissioner Diane Rice said: “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we ... can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use—…to use their religion to hurt others.”

The lawsuit was decided in favor of the plaintiffs in 2013, and a Colorado judge ordered Phillips to receive anti-discrimination training and to serve same-sex weddings or stop serving weddings altogether.

He chose to stop serving weddings through his bakery, which he had opened in 1993.

Phillips lost appeals at the state level, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to take the case. In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Attorneys for the baker have argued that forcing Phillips to advance a message about marriage that is contrary to his faith violates the Constitution’s protections for free speech.

In oral arguments in December 2017, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had asked whether the commission decision could stand if at least one member based his or her decision “in significant part” on grounds of “hostility to religion.”

Kennedy appeared critical of the commission, saying, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual… It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

At the same time, the justice had wondered whether a victory for the plaintiff’s argument would enable discrimination.

“It means that there’s basically an ability to boycott gay marriages,” said Kennedy, who is considered a swing vote in the case.

“If you prevail, could the bakery put a sign in its window, ‘We do not make cakes for gay weddings’?” Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco. “And you would not posit that an affront to the gay community?”

Francisco, who backed Phillips’ case, suggested that the baker could say he does not make “custom-made wedding cakes for gay weddings, but most cakes would not cross that threshold.” While there are dignity interests at stake, Francisco said, and he would not minimize the same-sex couple’s dignity interests, “there are dignity interests on the other side here too.”

Phillips declines to bake other kinds of cakes that promote ideas at odds with his beliefs, such as cakes that portray anti-American, atheist, or racist messages or disparage members of the LGBT community, his attorneys said. Phillips also declines to create custom cakes for other events he is uncomfortable supporting, such as Halloween and bachelor parties.

Since the litigation started, Phillips has said that he has lost more than 40 percent of his business due to his inability to serve any weddings. As a result, he has lost nearly half of his employees, and now struggles to keep in business.

He has also received death threats and has voiced concern for the safety of family members.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Phillips.

Bishops urge Nicaraguan president to investigate violence against protestors

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 7:10 PM

Managua, Nicaragua, May 24, 2018 / 05:10 pm (ACI Prensa).- Nicaragua's bishops urged president Daniel Ortega Tuesday to comply with a recommendation that he investigate April's violence in order to facilitate talks between the opposition and his government.

The Nicaraguan bishops' conference's May 22 letter encouraged Ortega to create “a mechanism of international investigation of the acts of violence which occurred, with guarantees of autonomy and independence to ensure the right to the truth and duly identify those responsible.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Nicaragua May 17-21 to document human rights violations in four cities and to issue recommendations.

The commission found that since protests began April 18, there were at least 76 deaths and 868 injured, the vast majority “in the context of the protests.” Five of those injured “remain in the hospital in critical condition.” In addition, “438 people were arrested, including students, civilians, men and women human rights advocates and journalists.”

A priest of the Diocese of Matagalpa was wounded by shrapnel May 15 while trying to separate protestors and security forces, the AP reported.

In their letter the bishops stated that “only by fulfilling this recommendation of the IACHR” will the stakeholders be able “to continue making progress toward a good outcome to the national dialogue.”

They also stressed that agreeing to this “becomes imperative for the well being of the nation” and so that the talks produce “fruitful results of truth, justice, freedom and true and lasting peace for all Nicaraguans.”

Finally, the bishops offered their disposition "to collaborate in the path to peace, with justice.”  

“We respectfully greet you, imploring the light of the Holy Spirit for you and the intercession of the Virgin Mary so that you can make the best decisions,” they concluded.

On the same day, May 22, the bishop's conference charged in a statement that bishops and priests are being discredited by attacks orchestrated by the government and that they have been receiving death threats through “anonymous social media” posts.

The bishops stated that Nicaragua is currently  going through “one of the worst crises in its history after the blatant crackdown by the government, which is trying to evade its responsibility as the main actor in the various attacks.”

Talks to overcome several weeks of anti-government protests and riots in Nicaragua which have been met harshly by security forces began May 16 under the mediation of the Catholic Church.

Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests have only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

Demonstrators have called for freedom of expression, an end to violent repression, and for Ortega to step down from office. The Church in the country was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

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

Be missionary disciples, Archbishop Naumann encourages Catholic prayer breakfast

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 6:30 PM

Washington D.C., May 24, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States is in need of another great awakening and religious revival, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas told the crowd at Thursday morning’s 14th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

In his keynote address May 24, Naumann bemoaned the state of culture in the United States, and said it is necessary to re-embrace truth, as well as the living Christ.

Additional speakers at the event in Washington, D.C., included Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Naumann expressed concern over the “large number of Millennials” who either do not believe in God at all, or who instead consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious.” The archbishop said this new mentality of a non-religious spiritualism is akin to “a new paganism,” where the God of revelation has been transformed into a god or gods who are created to re-inforce individual desires.

“Our culture is indeed experiencing a crisis of faith that leads to a denial of truth,” said Naumann. “Once the relationship between man and God is severed, man becomes just a highly developed organism.”

Without this relationship with God, humans are simply objects with a value determined only by how useful they can be to others, explained Naumann, who is the incoming chairman of the US bishops' pro-life committee.

A lack of relationship with God leads to hedonism, with “the pursuit of pleasure becoming the highest goal,” with people seeking to avoid suffering and death at all costs, he said. This further leads to a mentality that it is “acceptable to eliminate the one suffering,” whether it be someone who is elderly, unborn, or otherwise sick and unable to be cured effectively.

It is necessary to have a personal encounter with Christ in order to be able to live a virtuous life as Catholics, said Naumann.

“Without this personal encounter, our dogma and doctrine makes no sense,” he said.

The world has been plagued with sin since the Garden of Eden, but “God’s response to humanity’s rebellion is mercy,” and Christ rescued humanity when he became “one with us in all things but sin.”

“Like a special operations soldier dropped behind enemy lines, Jesus entered fully into our humanity, enduring unspeakable suffering because of our sin.”

Naumann ended his keynote with a call for the crowd of well over 1,000 people present to be “missionary disciples” who spread the word of the Risen Christ to everyone, particularly people on the peripheries of society.

“We are called to renew our nation, not primarily by enacting laws, but by announcing the joy and hope of the Gospel of Jesus to individuals in desperate need of its good news. It is our task to reclaim our culture one mind, one heart, one soul at a time.”

In his remarks at the prayer breakfast, Ryan emphasized the importance of Catholic social teaching, while Brownback discussed religious freedom as a “God-given right.”

Appeals court denies stay of ruling against California assisted suicide law

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 6:02 PM

San Bernardino, Calif., May 24, 2018 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A state appellate court on Wednesday denied a request for an immediate stay of a ruling which said California's assisted suicide law was wrongly passed in a special legislative session.

The May 23 decision by California's 4th District Court of Appeal did give the state attorney general, Xavier Becerra, more time to provide arguments as to why the lower court's ruling should be overruled.

Judge Daniel Ottolia of the Riverside County Superior Court had ruled May 15 that lawmakers had unconstitutionally passed the law in a 2015 special session of the legislature dedicated to health care funding.

Ottolia's ruling was welcomed by the California Catholic Conference, whose executive director, Ned Dolejsi, said May 18 that “Our opposition to assisted suicide is no secret, but this legislation was also opposed by a broad coalition of doctors, nurses, seniors and the disabled community, who fought this bill for many, many reasons.”

“Health care professionals … questioned why the state was embracing doctor-assisted suicide as the standard of care for people who needed respect and support,” he said. “Others were offended at the way Medi-Cal patients - often refused coverage for palliative care – were offered coverage for lethal prescriptions instead.”

Dolejsi also noted that “At an oversight hearing in January to review the implementation of the End-of-Life Option Act, even though presented with clear evidence of poor data collection and other implementation uncertainties, legislators openly discussed ways that physician-assisted suicide could be expanded – especially to poor and minority communities.”

Under the law, lethal prescriptions may be given to adults who are able to make medical decisions if their attending physician and a consulting physician have diagnosed a terminal disease expected to end in death within six months.

The initial legislative effort to pass an assisted suicide bill failed in committee during the 2015 regular season. It was subsequently passed during a special legislative session later the same year which was called to address state health care funding shortages.

Opponents of the law have charged that it was rushed through the special session and lacks safeguards against abuse, such as an adequate definition of terminal illness.

In the first six months after the law took effect, 111 people in California committed assisted suicide under its provisions. Assisted suicide has also been legally sanctioned in Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.

Pro-life medical clinic demands removal from 'libelous' video

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 5:15 PM

Denver, Colo., May 24, 2018 / 03:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A video that frames a Colorado women’s clinic as a bogus, sub-par healthcare provider is libelous, said the clinic’s directors and lawyer, who are demanding that it be corrected.

Last week, Attorney Michael J. Norton issued a cease and desist letter on behalf of Marisol Health, a network of women’s health care clinics created by Catholic Charities of Denver.

The letter demands the removal of the clinic’s image and name from a video that suggests it is among crisis pregnancy centers that do not provide medically trained staff or accurate medical information.

“Marisol Health is justifiably proud of the services it provides to women and families and is thus disturbed by the false representations about Marisol Health in a ProgressNow video entitled ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’...with the description ‘Crisis pregnancy centers masquerade as medical facilities,’” Norton wrote in the letter.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Norton said that “Having reviewed the video and having significant knowledge about Marisol and the comprehensive, quality, professional healthcare services that Marisol Health provides, we found...great offense with that video, and we found it to be extremely defamatory, misleading and misrepresentative [of Marisol].”

The video, created about a year ago by progressive advocacy group ProgressNow, has been posted to the group’s facebook page, viewed more than 130,000 times, and republished by numerous affiliates of the organization.  

The video tells the story of 40-year-old Aubrey, an art teacher who recalls her unexpected pregnancy in college. At high risk because of a seizure disorder, Aubrey says in the video that she was referred to an unspecified crisis pregnancy center that lacked any trained medical professionals besides an ultrasound tech.

“I felt like they were really playing on my emotions and as I was walking out they handed me a bible,” Aubrey said in the video.

“The fact that they sent me to some crisis pregnancy center where there was no medical staff, that really bothers me, it really concerns me,” she added. “You had a political motivation or maybe a religious one that you felt was more important than my health.”

Footage in the video shows four different pregnancy centers around Colorado, including the building and name of Marisol Health, which was founded in 2016 - years after Aubrey’s pregnancy. It also includes text that states that crisis pregnancy center staff “rarely have any medical training” and that they “often lie or refuse to provide accurate information.”

At the press conference, Jan McIntosh, vice president of Marisol Services, said it was “outrageous” and “deceptive” to include Marisol in the video and to imply that it does not provide comprehensive health care with licensed medical professionals.

“Marisol Health is a network of clinics that are fully equipped to provide women with comprehensive health care and help them make informed decisions about their reproductive health,” she said. “With Marisol’s special partnership with Bella [Natural Women’s Care], we have fully licensed medical professionals who assist women in need with life-affirming medical care.”

Marisol Health. Credit: Marisol Health.

Among the services provided at Marisol are comprehensive OB/GYN and prenatal care, fertility awareness and infertility care, STD testing, counseling, ultrasounds, and mental health services.

Care is provided regardless of a woman’s ability to pay, McIntosh noted. According to Marisol, 45 percent of their patients have no income or an income of less than $15,000 a year, while 76 percent are on Medicaid or are without insurance.

“We want to take back the true meaning of reproductive care for women,” McIntosh added. “Marisol Health has what women deserve, a clinic that is staffed by licensed medical professionals and offers compassionate care.”

Dede Chism is the co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care and Family Wellness, which partners with Marisol Health.

She said that both Bella and Marisol “exist to fill the need for dignified, life-affirming healthcare, providing a broad scope of comprehensive obstetric and gynecological health care.”

The need for this kind of care is great among women of all religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, Chism said, citing the 5,000-plus patients that have come to Bella in the past three and half years since they opened their doors.

“Across the lifespan of women from early adolescence through menopause, as a staff of board-certified and board-eligible physicians, midwives, nurse practitioners, certified ultrasonographers, registered nurses, we focus on the highest standards, cutting edge research that actually takes place within our facilities, and scientific methods that are both natural and cooperate with a woman’s body,” she said.

Chism invited anyone with doubts about Marisol or Bella’s quality of care to visit the clinics and see for themselves and “experience what is health care is all about.”

Norton said as of May 23 he had not received a response from ProgressNow regarding his May 17 cease and desist letter, and added that he is prepared to continue to prosecute ProgressNow in order to repair any damage caused to Marisol and Bella by the video.

Earlier this month, Marisol also responded to billboards in Denver that warned against crisis pregnancy centers, calling them “Fake Health Centers.” The billboards, in English and Spanish, were sponsored by the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), a group also associated with the creation of the ProgressNow video, which it has embedded on its website.

A representative from COLOR told Fox News in Denver that they considered the crisis pregnancy clinics fake because they do not offer “abortion care” in their facilities and often lack trained medical professionals.  

The video from ProgressNow also comes at a time when the Supreme Court is deciding a case called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, which will decide whether a California law mandating that pro-life pregnancy centers post information about abortion is a violation of the First Amendment and free speech rights.

Similar laws, such as one in Baltimore, have been struck down in courts as unconstitutional.


Correction: A previous version of this story identified the creator of Marisol as Catholic Charities of Colorado, instead of Catholic Charities of Denver. It has since been updated. 

Archbishop Chaput highlights voices of young adults ahead of synod

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 4:36 PM

Philadelphia, Pa., May 24, 2018 / 02:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an effort to highlight the voices of young people ahead of the Synod on Youth this fall, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is periodically offering his column space in the diocesan newspaper to young adults over the next four months.

“With a synod of the world’s bishops focusing on young people scheduled for this October, hearing directly from the young and those engaged in guiding them can be a great resource,” he wrote.

The 2018 Synod will take place this October. Bishops from around the world will meet to discuss the theme, “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”

In preparation for the gathering, the Vatican sent out a survey asking young people around the world about their experiences and beliefs. In March, 315 young adults were invited to the Vatican for a pre-synod gathering. They released a document summarizing their discussions at the end of the meeting.

Since Archbishop Chaput decided to open his column to young adults earlier this month, he has shared the comments of two young people: Regina Luczyszyn, a 26-year-old graduate from Temple University Law School who is currently engaged, and Brother Bryan Kerns, a 29 year-old seminarian who will be ordained this summer.

Last week, Luczyszyn reflected on the need for young adults to be accompanied by faithful mentors. In a world marked by confusion, she said, many people bear wounds from a damaged past, so guides are necessary to help navigate the way.

“Finding Christ in the darkness isn’t always an easy journey,” she said. “Christ gave us the answer by showing us the importance of mentorship and discipleship – a model the Church needs to revive if she expects young adults to follow Christ.”

She highlighted chastity as one issue in which mentorship would be helpful, particularly in guiding questions during dating about appropriate boundaries and ways to express love in virtue.

Luczyszyn suggested that priests, religious, and laity can all be mentors to help navigate young adults through these trails. Just as Christ spent three years forming his disciples, she said the Church must accompany her members by “strengthening them, loving them, and teaching them.”

This week, Brother Kerns reflected on the Church’s need to for strong witnesses, leading the Church towards the value of silence and rest. When the world is overwhelmed by noise, he said, people are unable to truly know themselves.

“The world is drowning in noise – the young in particular. And the noise is not the worst problem; it’s a symptom of our failure to understand our nature. We use noise as an antidote to our restlessness, when what we really need is rest.”

He said the Church needs to evaluate how young adults can be encouraged make silence in their lives to face the burdens of this world and rely on the Church for silent strength. Brother Kern said the answer is not another document or program – although those things may be helpful – but witnesses willing to lead by example.

“Our world, our Church, and especially our young people, need witnesses. Witnesses who prove irrefutably, through their words and actions, that Jesus Christ dwells with quiet fire in their hearts.”

 

Nationwide protests in Nigeria ask government to improve church security

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 2:38 PM

Abuja, Nigeria, May 24, 2018 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics from across Nigeria participated in peaceful protests on Tuesday, calling for greater government protection following a recent attack at a Catholic Church that left 19 dead.

Thousands of people in 54 cities across Nigeria participated in protests May 22, corresponding with the burial of two priests and 17 parishioners killed by Fulani herdsmen, who opened fire at a daily Mass on April 24. The herdsmen then flooded the streets, attacking pedestrians and setting fires to some 50 homes.

White caskets of those killed in the attacks were carried through the streets of the Benue state’s capital city, Makurdi, near Saint Ignatius Church, where the attack took place. Christians in other cities carried signs on the same day to proclaim the sacredness of life and a greater need for government aid.

The state of Benue shut down operations May 22 to honor those who died, Nigeria’s PM news reported. Several dozen bishops attended the burials and spoke at rallies across the nation.

Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, spoke at a requiem Mass in Ayatu, Benue, according to local media. He questioned, “If we are not safe in our place of worship centers, where else can we be safe?”

Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia spoke at a peaceful protest in Abia state. In his speech, local media reported, he decried a lack of respect for life within the nation.

“Life has lost its meaning in Nigeria. And I wonder our fate if the government continues to fail in their core responsibility of providing adequate security of lives and properties in Nigeria,” he said.

“The Catholic Church in Abia state is in prayer solidarity with our brothers in Benue. The Government must do [what is necessary] to save Nigerians from herdsmen and Boko Haram attacks.”

Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Makurdi, where the attack took place, particularly criticized Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, according to Deutsche Welle.

“[President Buhari] should wake up to his responsibilities. He was elected as a president for the people of this country, not for any particular group, not for any tribe,” he said, noting Buhari is the president of “a nation with about 200 million people, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and pagans.”

Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has increased in recent years, as climate issues have pushed herders further south. By mid-January this year, more than 100 deaths had been attributed to the herdsmen.

 The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria voiced grave concern about the violence in a January statement. They recognized the challenges faced by the herdsman, but expressed the need for better alternatives to open grazing.

“Government should rather encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in line with international best practice,” the bishops said.

“Farmers and herdsmen have a lot to contribute to the socio-economic prosperity of our nation. A more enduring strategy must be worked out for their peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.”