Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2017 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday, President Donald Trump announced his intention to appoint prominent pro-life legislative activist Charmaine Yoest as the new assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Yoest served for years as president and CEO of Americans United for Life, a pro-life law organization that works to coordinate and support the advance of pro-life legislation, particularly at the state level. She is currently a senior fellow at American Values in Washington, D.C.

With a Ph.D. in American Government from the University of Virginia, Yoest also served as project director of a national study on paid parental leave in academia. She worked in the White House under Ronald Reagan in the Office of Presidential Personnel.

In taking the position at Health and Human Service, Yoest will replace Kevin Griffis, who was recently named the new vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood.

During his campaign for president, Trump made several promises to run a pro-life administration. He pledged to nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices; sign into law a ban on late-term abortions; defund Planned Parenthood and reallocate funding to community health centers that do not perform abortions; and make permanent a ban taxpayer funding of abortion.

Upon entering office, he reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.
 

 

Posted: April 28, 2017, 9:23 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 12:56 pm (Church Pop).- During his two-day trip to Egypt, Pope Francis  met with Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, telling him their Churches are bonded by the blood of their martyrs, and are called to further cement this bond with acts of charity.

At their April 28 meeting, Francis and Tawadros II signed a joint declaration indicating their gratitude for the chance “to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer.”

Below is the full text of the statement:

1. We, Francis, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, give thanks to God in the Holy Spirit for granting us the joyful opportunity to meet once more, to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer. We glorify the Almighty for the bonds of fraternity and friendship existing between the See of Saint Peter and the See of Saint Mark. The privilege of being together here in Egypt is a sign that the solidity of our relationship is increasing year by year, and that we are growing in closeness, faith and love of Christ our Lord. We give thanks to God for this beloved Egypt, the “homeland that lives inside us,” as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III used to say, the “people blessed by God” (cf. Is 19:25) with its ancient
Pharaonic civilization, the Greek and Roman heritage, the Coptic tradition and the Islamic presence. Egypt is the place where the Holy Family found refuge, a land of martyrs and saints.

2. Our deep bond of friendship and fraternity has its origin in the full communion that existed between our Churches in the first centuries and was expressed in many different ways through the early Ecumenical Councils, dating back to the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the contribution of the courageous Church Father Saint Athanasius, who earned the title “Protector of the Faith”. Our communion was expressed through prayer and similar liturgical practices, the veneration of the same martyrs and saints, and in the development and spread of monasticism, following the example of the great Saint Anthony, known as the Father of all monks. This common experience of communion before the time of separation has a special significance in our efforts to restore full communion today. Most of the relations which existed in the early centuries between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church have continued to the present day in spite of divisions, and have recently been revitalized. They challenge us to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

3. We recall with gratitude the historic meeting forty-four years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after many centuries when our mutual bonds of love were not able to find expression due to the distance that had arisen between us. The Common Declaration they signed on 10 May 1973 represented a milestone on the path of ecumenism, and served as a starting point for the Commission for Theological Dialogue between our two Churches, which has borne much fruit and opened the way to a broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. In that Declaration, our Churches acknowledged that, in line with the apostolic tradition, they profess “one faith in the One Triune God” and “the divinity of the Only-begotten Son of God ... perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity”. It was also acknowledged that “the divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments” and that “we venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light”, the “Theotokos”.

4. With deep gratitude we recall our own fraternal meeting in Rome on 10 May 2013, and the establishment of 10 May as the day when each year we deepen the friendship and brotherhood between our Churches. This renewed spirit of closeness has enabled us to discern once more that the bond uniting us was received from our one Lord on the day of our Baptism. For it is through Baptism that we become members of the one Body of Christ that is the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). This common heritage is the basis of our pilgrimage together towards full communion, as we grow in love and reconciliation.

5. We are aware that we still have far to go on this pilgrimage, yet we recall how much has already been accomplished. In particular, we call to mind the meeting between Pope Shenouda III and Saint John Paul II, who came as a pilgrim to Egypt during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. We are determined to follow in their footsteps, moved by the love of Christ the good Shepherd, in the profound conviction that by walking together, we grow in unity. May we draw our strength from God, the perfect source of communion and love.

6. This love finds its deepest expression in common prayer. When Christians pray together, they come to realize that what unites them is much greater than what divides them. Our longing for unity receives its inspiration from the prayer of Christ “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21). Let us deepen our shared roots in the one apostolic faith by praying together and by seeking common translations of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

7. As we journey towards the blessed day when we will at last gather at the same Eucharistic table, we can cooperate in many areas and demonstrate in a tangible way the great richness which already unites us. We can bear witness together to fundamental values such as the sanctity and dignity of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for all of creation, entrusted to us by God. In the face of many contemporary challenges such as secularization and the globalization of indifference, we are called to offer a shared response based on the values of the Gospel and the treasures of our respective traditions. In this regard, we are encouraged to engage in a deeper study of the Oriental and Latin Fathers, and to promote a fruitful exchange in pastoral life, especially in catechesis, and in mutual spiritual enrichment between monastic and religious communities.

8. Our shared Christian witness is a grace-filled sign of reconciliation and hope for Egyptian society and its institutions, a seed planted to bear fruit in justice and peace. Since we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, we strive for serenity and concord through a peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims, thus bearing witness to God’s desire for the unity and harmony of the entire human family and the equal dignity of each human being. We share a concern for the welfare and the future of Egypt. All members of society have the right and duty to participate fully in the life of the nation, enjoying full and equal citizenship and collaborating to build up their country. Religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, rooted in the dignity of the person, is the cornerstone of all other freedoms. It is a sacred and inalienable right.

9. Let us intensify our unceasing prayer for all Christians in Egypt and throughout the whole world, and especially in the Middle East. The tragic experiences and the blood shed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian, remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation. For, as Saint Paul writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

10. The mystery of Jesus who died and rose out of love lies at the heart of our journey towards full unity. Once again, the martyrs are our guides. In the early Church the blood of the martyrs was the seed of new Christians. So too in our own day, may the blood of so many martyrs be the seed of unity among all Christ’s disciples, a sign and instrument of communion and peace for the world.

11. In obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the Church, keeps her throughout the ages, and leads her to full unity – that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed: Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus. We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.

12. Let us, then, be guided by the teachings and the example of the Apostle Paul, who writes: “[Make] every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:3-6).

Posted: April 28, 2017, 6:56 pm

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2017 / 12:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A White House advisor rejected recent concerns that the Trump administration supports the controversial HHS mandate, saying it is simply a matter of timing in finding a “litigation-proof” alternative.

“The administration is not stepping back. It's doing precisely what it should be doing here... because of the way people are attacking Trump executive orders, it's very important that this thing gets done right and be as litigation-proof as possible, knowing full well they're going to get sued anyway,” said White House advisor Leonard Leo, according to Axios.

His comments came amid concerns by religious groups after the Washington Post on Tuesday reported that the Justice Department had asked a federal appeals court for 60 extra days to negotiate an agreement with East Texas Baptist University and several other plaintiffs challenging the controversial HHS mandate. The Supreme Court last year had instructed the Obama administration to negotiate with the plaintiffs as the next step in the litigation process.

During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised Catholics relief from the HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs. In a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference last October, he pointed to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s support for the mandate, and said “that is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump Administration.”

After Trump’s election, the plaintiffs challenging the mandate widely expected that the new administration would drop the government’s appeal of the lawsuits, which federal circuit courts may re-examine in the coming months.

Instead of dropping the cases, however, the administration had indicated earlier this week that it intends to take the next step in the litigation process.

According to Axios, “The Trump administration is considering a range of options, from providing blanket exemptions to allowing schemes that would let insurance companies deal directly with employees.”

The HHS mandate was formed under the Affordable Care Act, which required preventive coverage in employer health plans. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services interpreted this to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.

After a wave of criticism from religious employers to the original mandate, the Obama administration announced an “accommodation” whereby objecting non-profits would tell the government of their opposition, and their insurer or the third party administrator for the plans would be notified separately to include the coverage.

Many non-profits – including Catholic dioceses and the Little Sisters of the Poor – said that the process still forced them to cooperate in immoral behavior against their consciences. Some critics voiced concern that the cost of coverage would still end up getting passed along to the objecting employers in the form of higher premiums.

Hundreds of non-profits and other plaintiffs filed lawsuits over the mandate, even with the accommodation. Among these plaintiffs is EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

A number of those cases made their way to the Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell. Plaintiffs in the case include East Texas Baptist University, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, and other dioceses, schools, and charities.

In March of 2016, the Court asked both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs explaining whether a compromise could be reached that provided for cost-free contraceptive coverage for employees and yet still respected the religious freedom of the objecting non-profits.

That request, which came after oral arguments and in the middle of the case, was almost unprecedented in its timing.

After both parties outlined ways where they believed both goals could be achieved, the Supreme Court last May sent the cases back to the federal circuit court level, vacated the previous decisions of those courts, ordered the government not to enforce the fines against plaintiffs for not complying with their demands, and instructed the courts to give the parties time to find a solution on which they could agree.

 

Posted: April 28, 2017, 6:10 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis closed his first day in Egypt with a visit to Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, telling him their Churches are bonded by the blood of their martyrs, and are called to further cement this bond with acts of charity.

In his April 28 address to the patriarch, Francis said their ecumenical journey is sustained “in a mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.”

Noting how Saint John the Evangelist wrote that Christ came “with water and blood,” Francis said this image serves as a symbol that “by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life.”

“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil!”

The Pope noted that this has tragically been the case even in recent days, when “the innocent blood of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed.”

“Their innocent blood unites us,” Francis continued, telling the patriarch that just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, “so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.”

“Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.”

Pope Francis spoke in an audience with Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, on his first day in Egypt. He is on an official April 28-29 visit to the country, aimed largely at interreligious and ecumenical dialogue.

After arriving at Cairo in the afternoon, Francis made his way to Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam, where he met with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb and addressed participants in the International Peace Conference.

He then met with the country’s authorities, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, before heading to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral for his meeting with Tawadros, the last official appointment of the day.

Tawadros is head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.

Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is known as “Pope” to his followers.

Francis’ words to the patriarch bear special significance considering his visit comes against the backdrop of recent attacks against Christians in the area, which are part of a general increase in the persecution of Egypt’s 9 million strong Coptic community.

The Islamic State and other Islamists have carried out a series of attacks on Egypt's Christians in recent years, including the beheading of 20 Coptic Orthodox faithful in Libya in 2015, and a series of church bombings.
 
However, in his speech Pope Francis noted that the “impressive history of holiness” in Egypt isn’t limited to the witness of the martyrs, because “no sooner had the ancient persecutions ended than a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert.”

“Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity,” he said, explaining that given this shared patrimony, he comes to Egypt “as a pilgrim.”

Francis noted that while the two Churches haven’t always gotten along given both theological and non-theological differences, their 1973 joint declaration, signed by Blessed Paul VI and Patriarch Shenouda III, allowed them, “with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity.”

Equally important and timely, he said, “are the words that immediately precede this statement, in which we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and God and Savior and King.”

The strengthening of this bond between their Churches, Francis said, means they can no longer move forward with the idea that each can go their own way, because this would “betray” Christ's prayer that his disciples “all be one.”

While the journey isn’t always easy, the Lord exhorts them to persevere, he said, explaining that “we are not alone. We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the Jerusalem above.”

Quoting the Gospel of St. Mark, founder of the See of Alexandria, Pope Francis pointed out Christ's question to St. Peter: “who do you say that I am?”

Even today “many people cannot answer this question,” Francis said, noting that “there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.”

Because of this, Coptic Orthodox and Catholics are called to bear witness to Christ together and “to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.”

As both Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, “we can always join in speaking this common language of charity,” he said, explaining that before completing some charitable task, “we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus.”

“Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity,” he said, praising the patriarch for his support of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, particularly through his establishment of the National Council of Christian Churches.

Francis closed his speech praying that the two of them would be able to “set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace,” under the special care and guidance of Mary, the Mother of God.

At their meeting, Francis and Tawadros signed a joint declaration indicating their gratitude for the chance “to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer.”

Notably, they declared that they “will seek sincerely not  to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.”

“We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 5:39 pm

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 28, 2017 / 11:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days, Catholics offered prayers for the prisoners, the victims, and their families, saying the executions have diminished the whole society.

“Catholic Mobilizing Network is deeply saddened by the events in Arkansas last night,” Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said on Friday. “Our prayers are with all the victims’ families and all those involved in carrying out these four executions.” Catholic Mobilizing Network fights for an end to the death penalty.

Arkansas carried out its fourth execution in eight days late on Thursday night. The state had originally planned to conduct eight executions in 11 days, which would have been the largest number of executions in so short a span of time since the death penalty was re-instated there in 1976.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock wrote the state’s Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 1, asking him to commute the sentences of the eight men to life in prison without parole.

“Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means,” Bishop Taylor stated.

One of the eight inmates, Ledell Lee, was put to death on April 20. Two others, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, were executed on Monday in the first double-execution in the U.S. since 2000. The lawyers for Williams tried unsuccessfully to win a last-minute stay of his execution with claims that Jones’s execution by lethal injection “appeared to be torturous and inhumane.”

The inmate executed on Thursday, Kenneth Williams, 38, had been convicted of a 1998 killing of Dominique Hurd, but after he escaped from prison he was convicted again in 1999 on capital murder charges for the killing of Cecil Boren.

Williams reportedly scored a 70 on an IQ test, “squarely within the intellectual disability range” which would make him ineligible for the death penalty, the Fair Sentencing Project claimed. His lawyers requested a last-minute stay of his execution but were denied by the state Supreme Court, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Four of the eight planned executions were halted by courts for various reasons – one for a hearing for DNA evidence, another for a 30-day public comment period after the state’s parole board had recommended clemency, and two others tied to the U.S. Supreme Court’s current consideration of a case about the rights of inmates to access an independent mental health professional to determine their competency for execution.

The four executions in eight days, Clifton said, showed “the brokenness of the death penalty system.”

“These four men represented all who are on death row: the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill, those who are too poor to afford proper counsel, those who have experienced abuse and severe trauma as children, and even some who maintained their innocence,” she stated.

Jones and Williams, executed on Monday, had both reportedly been sexually abused as children, according to the Fair Sentencing Project. Jones had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder before he committed his capital crime, while Williams had been pimped out by his mother for sex as a minor, in exchange for benefits like lodging and food stamps.

In addition, three of the four black inmates originally scheduled for execution were killed, Clifton said, while three of the four white inmates originally slated for execution received stays by the courts.

An AP reporter present at Williams’ death reported that he “lurched and convulsed on the gurney” as the drugs for his lethal injection were administered. According to the state’s three-drug protocol, midazolam – a sedative – is given first, followed by vecuronium bromide to paralyze the subject, completed with potassium chloride which is mean to stop the heart.

Williams was heard “speaking in tongues,” according to the AP’s Kelly Kissel, and as the drugs were administered through an IV he was then seen lurching on the gurney coughing, with his chest “pumping” according to one witness.

His attorney noted the reports of Williams’ reactions to the injection and called for an investigation to see if the execution was “botched.” Other recent lethal injection executions have been allegedly “botched,” most notably the 2015 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma where the inmate was seen writhing on the gurney for nearly 45 minutes after the drugs were administered.

Clifton maintained that Williams’ death, as well as the double-execution on Monday, “have raised concerns of possible complications related to the use of controversial drugs.”

“Our whole society has been diminished by these four executions,” she concluded.

 

 

Posted: April 28, 2017, 5:33 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 10:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Shortly after landing in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced violent fundamentalism in his speech to civil authorities, telling them they have a special role in helping quell extremism.

“Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence,” the Pope said April 28.

“I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the Holy Name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.”

Pope Francis spoke to political and civil authorities, including Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, after landing in Cairo for his two-day trip to the country.

The visit will focus largely on interreligious and ecumenical dialogue in a bid to both strengthen Catholic-Muslim relations and support Egypt’s persecuted Coptic community.

After touching down around 2 p.m. local time, the Pope stopped by the prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam. There he addressed participants in the International Peace Conference before heading to his meeting with authorities.

In his speech to Egypt’s leaders, Francis voiced his gratitude for the invitation to come, saying that due to the country’s rich cultural and religious history Egypt is the misr um al-dunya, or “mother of the world,” a phrase commonly known by Egyptians.

He commented on how the Holy Family went to Egypt in order to find “refuge and hospitality” after fleeing Herod. This same hospitality, he said, can be felt by the millions of refugees from surrounding countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Iraq, who arrive and integrate into Egyptian society.

“This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice,” the Pope said.

Because of this, Egypt has “a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.”

“Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families – some of them are present among us – who mourn their sons and daughters,” he said, recalling the many youth, police, and Coptic citizens who have become “nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.”

Among these victims, he said, are those affected by recent violence and threats that have prompted a Christian exodus from northern Sinai, and the death some 45 people killed by bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9.

“To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured,” he said.

Pope Francis then offered his praise for various national projects aimed at building peace both within Egypt and beyond its borders, saying development, prosperity and peace “are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.”

He also spoke on the importance of keeping one’s focus on the human being above all else, because they are “the heart of all development.”

Pointing to the “fragile and complex” state of today’s world, which he has frequently dubbed a “third world war fought piecemeal,” Francis said a firm condemnation of violence is needed.

“It needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God,” he said, thanking el-Sisi for clearly speaking out on this.

“All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them,” the Pope said, adding that God “never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.”

“He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence.” The true God, he said, “calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”

The Pope said it is the duty of everyone, regardless of nation or religion, to unite in proclaiming that “history does not forgive” hypocrites who preach justice but practice injustice, or who talk about equality and then discard others.

“It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.”

Francis stressed that we are bound “to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”

Egypt, which once saved other peoples from famine, is called “to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity,” he said, explaining that this means issuing a harsh condemnation of all violence and terrorism.

By simultaneously building peace and fighting terrorism, Egypt will give proof that al-din lillah wal watan liljami (religion belongs to God and the nation to all), he said, referring to the motto of the nation's 1952 revolution.

As the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions, the region, with the help of Egypt, the Pope said, “can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation, and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace.”

“From great nations, one can expect no less!” he said, noting how this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Egypt.

Pope Francis voiced his hope that these relations will continue to be strengthened, particularly through his visit.

He closed with an appeal for peace, which he said is “a gift of God, but also the work of man” which must be “built up and protected.”

Offering his greetings to the various Christian groups present in Egypt, including Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics, the Pope prayed that St. Mark, who evangelized the region, would intercede for them in helping to establish unity.

“Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt,” he said. “You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 4:14 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 09:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his first speech in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced all forms of violence and hatred, saying that they are blasphemous when carried out in the name of God, or under the pretense of religion.

“Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.”

“Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear 'No!' to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” he said April 28.

Pope Francis spoke to participants of an International Conference on Peace held at al-Azhar University as part of his April 28-29 visit to Cairo. The visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the university, which had been strained since 2011.

Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, also spoke at the conference. He is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the University attached to it.

In his speech, Francis emphasized the role of religious leaders in ending violence and promoting peace, saying they are called “to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity” and is based not on “authentic openness” to God, but on selfishness.

“We have an obligation,” he continued, “to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.”

The Pope explained that violence and faith, belief and hatred, are incompatible, asking those present to affirm this with him. “Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological,” he said.

Francis reflected on the historical value Egypt has placed on education, saying it is absolutely necessary for the future and the proper education of the next generations that they make decisions based on peace.

“To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness,” he said.

In his speech, the Pope illustrated several points with symbolism taken from Mount Sinai, a mountain in Egypt believed to be the site of the biblical Mount Sinai.

Also called the “Mount of the Covenant,” Mount Sinai, he said, “reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).”

Mount Sinai is held to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, according to both the Christian and Islamic traditions. At the center of these commandments, the Pope emphasized, “addressed to each individual and to people of all ages” is the command: “Thou shalt not kill.”

“Above all and especially in our day, religions are called to respect this imperative, since…it is essential that we reject any ‘absolutizing’ that would justify violence.  For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.”

Pope Francis also called out the increasing move toward secularism in society, saying that abandoning religion is not the answer to fundamentalism – religion itself holds the answer.

We are often caught between relegating religion to the private sphere or – on the other hand – not properly distinguishing between the religious and political. But religion is the antidote to a “banal and uninspired life” that has forgotten the existence of eternity, he said.

But religious faith must be “born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God,” otherwise it does not liberate mankind, but “crushes” it, he warned.

Continuing, Francis praised the cooperation between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue for their work as a “concrete and encouraging example” of dialogue and encounter between different religions and cultures.

“National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task. So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states,” he said.

“It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 3:22 pm

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 28, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian priest Sante Babolin said that Satan is behind several recent attacks in various parts of the world against the Virgin Mary, noting that she is a powerful advocate for him during exorcisms.

“In my experience – so far I have performed 2,300 rites of exorcism – I can say that the invocation of the Most Holy Virgin Mary often provokes significant reactions in the person being exorcized,” he told Mexican weekly Desde la Fe.

Fr. Babolin, who also taught at the Gregorian University in Rome, said that “in face of the failure of the onslaught by non-believers, now, in order to offend and confound the Catholic people, the Virgin Mary, whom the devil hates, is being attacked.”

Desde la Fe noted the recent events of the Spanish drag queen Borja Casillas, who masqueraded as the Virgin Mary and mocked her in a performance, as well as a woman who dressed up as the Virgin Mary and simulated an abortion during a protest in Argentina.

The Italian exorcist said that “as proof of this hatred” of the devil toward the Mother of God, “while I was insistently invoking the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the devil answered me: 'I can't stand That One (Mary) any more and neither can I stand you any more.'”

Fr. Babolin also noted that “the Second Vatican Council declares that Mary, daughter of Adam, in accepting the divine message, became the Mother of Jesus, and embracing with her whole heart and without the hindrance of any sin the saving will of God, consecrated herself totally, as the servant of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son.”

The priest pointed out the passage in the book of Genesis – which is evoked in the Rite of Exorcism – where God says to the serpent that “she will crush your head.”  

In this ritual, he said, the exorcist says to the devil: “Most cunning serpent, you shall no more dare to deceive the human race, persecute the Church, torment God's elect and sift them as wheat (...) The sacred Sign of the Cross commands you, as does also the power of the mysteries of the Christian Faith (...) The glorious Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, commands you; she who by her humility and from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception crushed your proud head.”

Fr. Babolin also said that “the strongest reactions” of the devil during the exorcism occur “when references are made to her apparitions.”

Because of this, he frequently pronounces the name of Holy Mary with her titles of Lourdes, Fatima or Guadalupe. In the latter case, he said, “I use this formula: 'Holy Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Tepeyac.'”

The exorcist warned that “the instrument the (the devil) normally uses to trap us is money, since it offers the possibility of satisfying the impulses that converge in pleasure and power.”

Satan “subjugates us to himself manipulating the truth and offering us his dazzling light, showing us his version of 'freedom' and promising us the instant gratification of our whims.”

“As far as interpersonal communication, the sense of sight overtakes the sense of hearing; and consequently the image over the word; that is to say, desire precedes reflection,” he said.

Fr. Babolin encouraged Catholics to denounce attacks on the faith as well as to organize and participate in prayer events, pray the Rosary, and participate in Masses at places where offenses were committed.

Posted: April 28, 2017, 9:02 am

Salt Lake City, Utah, Apr 28, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of Salt Lake city has urged Utah's Catholics to be steeped in Catholic identity and to sow the Gospel’s seed within the community, leaving their comfort zone behind.

“Our Church needs more witnesses who can manifest the presence of God in our world,” Bishop Oscar Solis wrote in his April 21 pastoral letter A Springtime of the New Evangelization.

“It begins in our own conversion through personal encounter with Christ in our life. The love of God we experience compels us to go and share the joy of the Gospel and the beauty of our faith with others.”

Bishop Solis was installed as Bishop of Salt Lake City on March 7, and he is the first Philippines-born man to become a bishop in the United States.

Comparing the newness of spring to Christ's Resurrection, the bishops challenged his diocese to spiritual rebirth and renewed commitment during the Easter season.

“The resurrection of Christ from the dead brings about new beginnings, offering an opportunity to see and experience things with our minds and hearts renewed.”

“Society today mocks our efforts to uphold the dignity of life,” said the bishop, acknowledging the “daunting task” ahead.

“I do not know, exactly, where this path will lead us,” he confessed, but said that “the mission of the Church today remains the same – to bring people closer to God in order to help them encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their lives.”

Bishop Oscar Solis included an outline of priorities for the diocese to focus on, listing faith formation, Catholic identity, religious vocations, social justice, and ecumenism as necessary for the spiritual growth of the Salt Lake City diocese.

“For seeds of evangelization to grow and bear fruit, they must be planted and take root in the good soil of our parishes. Parishioners must be given the opportunity to receive the necessary formation to know, live and share their Christian faith,” he said.

Because “the present culture poses a serious challenge to the practice of our beliefs ... it is necessary for every Catholic to learn more about the essential teachings of Christ and our Church,” he said. “Catechetical formation of our young children and teenagers is so important in this regard. It should bring about transformation of hearts and minds, so that they may fully live and share their faith confidently with great ardor, joy and enthusiasm.”

He explained that “we find our Catholic identity in the celebration of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments,” and these “channels of God’s graces” lead to “nourishment, forgiveness and other spiritual gifts.” He said then there must be a renewed call “for vibrant and uplifting Sunday liturgical celebrations and other forms of worship.”

“The scarcity of priests and religious is a serious concern,” he reflected, encouraging everyone to “generate greater enthusiasm in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life in order to attend adequately to the spiritual needs of the people. Let us cultivate vocations within the family and in schools accompanied by constant prayers of petition, invitation and witness of our life so that more men and women may be inspired to pursue this path of life.”

He said that “beyond knowing Christ and learning about God’s commandments and the teachings of the Church,” we must establish “a right personal relationship with God and with one another.”

“Justice and charity are the other important components of our mission of evangelization. Love for our neighbors and little ones reveals our love for God. Justice sets the right relationship among people that allows us to see in others, in the poor, the unemployed, the addicts, the sick, the least in our society, the undocumented and the refugees, the very face of Christ.”

Turning to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, Bishop Solis encouraged a fostesring of “dialogue and encounter,” saying that “Courage and fidelity to our mission come along with mutual respect, understanding and harmony among diverse people and leaders of different faith denominations. Commitment to ecumenism, dialogue and unity is our big contribution to the world and humanity.”

The bishop identified the hatred within the world occurring between differences in “race or cultural traditions, religion or politics, gender and color of skin.” As an antidote, he proposed “dialogue tempered with charity that allows us to recognize” the dignity of life in refugees, unborn babies, the poor, and the suffering.

Bishop Oscar Solis emphasized that the Church’s very purpose is “to proclaim the Gospel by the way we believe, love and serve one another,”

“Therefore, we must not make the mistake of trying to hoard the fullness of God’s goodness within the walls of our Church. But be missionaries of mercy with compassionate hearts and the ability to heal wounds, to warm the hearts of others and be a brother or sister to one another.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 6:08 am

Rome, Italy, Apr 27, 2017 / 09:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading scholar in the Arab world has applauded the goodwill of both the Vatican and the prestigious Islamic al-Azhar university Pope Francis will visit for aiming to increase Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

But she also issued a warning that goodwill isn't enough for things to change.

“Dialogue is good, generally any dialogue is good. Any kind of debate and any steps to show goodwill, to show a commitment, to show a recognition of the other in principle is very good,” Mariz Tadros told CNA in an interview.

However, “the extent to which this will translate into a change in eliminating or reducing the appeal of militant Islam, that’s what I’m questioning.”

Tadros, who spoke over Skype from the U.K., is an author and scholar on persecution in the Arab world. She is currently a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University in the U.K.

She spoke ahead of Pope Francis' April 28-29 visit to Cairo, where he is set to meet with Coptic Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, as well as Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the bishops of the local Catholic Church.

His visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the al-Azhar University, which had been strained since 2011. The imam of al-Azhar is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious University attached to it.

Dialogue picked up between the two after el-Tayyib visited the Vatican in May 2016 with a message condemning the acts of Islamic fundamentalism, culminating a year later in the Pope’s visit to Egypt this weekend.

However, in addition to the heightened prospect for dialogue, the trip will also have an inevitable undertone of the very real risks Christians still face in Egypt, particularly from extremist factions of militant Islam.

While Catholic-Muslim dialogue has picked up over the past year, so have attacks against Coptic Christians.

According to His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, there have been at least 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the past four months alone.

In February 2015, Egyptian society was shocked by the grisly beheading 20 Orthodox Coptic faithful in Libya carried out by ISIS, the video of which was circulated online. The extremists have also claimed responsibility for several other high-profile attacks, including a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December that killed 29 people.

Most recently, ISIS claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9 that left some 45-people dead. The blasts took place on Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar commemorating Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem before his Passion and Death.
 
With these attacks looming closely in the rear-view mirror, many are asking whether the Pope’s attention to dialogue with Islam, particularly his relationship with al-Azhar and his trip to Egypt, will make a difference.

The debate surrounding al-Azhar

According to Tadros, the prospect of any dialogue is good and shouldn’t be discouraged. However, she cautioned that despite the well-intentioned gesture of meeting with the Pope and cementing good relations with the Holy See, there is still cause for concern regarding al-Ahar – particularly the university's duplicitous curriculum.

“When we look at institutions such as al-Azher, there have been many Egyptian non-Islamist Muslims, very progressive Muslims, who have sought to hold al-Azhar accountable for the duality of its discourse,” she said.

On one hand, “al-Azhar will sit with you and say we love you, we care for you, we’re all one citizenship, we’re all one people.” But on the other hand, “if you look at the syllabi, what they are teaching the generations of scholars that graduate from that university about the religious other, it is horrendous.”

What they are teaching is “undoubtedly a message that these are infidels, and at best they should be tolerated and at worst, killing them is not such a travesty.”

If one actually looks at what comes out of al-Azhar, “there’s a massive, massive disconnect between the public discourse and what is being taught to people across the country,” she said, explaining that there have been several moderate Muslim activists who have called on the university to reform their syllabi, including a man who was jailed for his activism, but who has recently been released.

While al-Azhar is seen by many militant Islamic groups as lacking legitimacy for not following the “right path” of Islam, others have criticized the university for failing to speak out strongly enough when condemning extremist groups such as ISIS.

Many have asked al-Azhar to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and declare ISIS as “un-Islamic.” In short, it's no longer good enough to simply condemn what they are doing, but the entity itself must be recognized as not being faithful to the Muslim religion.

“As a Christian you can tell me, 'if you lie that is not consistent with Christianity,' but you are not telling me, 'for shooting people in the name of Christianity, you no longer belong to Christianity.' Do you see the difference?” Tadros said.

But when it comes to Al-Azhar, they have “consistently cowed away from declaring ISIS as not part of the Islamic community.”

Although some might say making such a declaration is playing into the game of name-calling and labeling one another as infidels, Tadros stressed that “unless you tell the broader international community that those who kill and maim and commit genocide in the name of Islam no longer are part of the Islamic community, they do not have the right to claim themselves as Muslim,” nothing will change.

That, she said, is “a very different story and they have cowed away from doing that.”

Tadros clarified that she is “in no way” saying that dialogue between Pope Francis and al-Tayeeb isn’t good or that it shouldn’t happen. “All I’m saying is let’s not count on that as a way of making militant Islam less appealing.”

She stressed that there are “a lot of Muslims” that have shown solidarity with Christians in Egypt, including speaking out on their behalf after the most recent bombings earlier this month, proving that not all Muslims espouse the radical views of ISIS or other like-minded branches.

However, while not all Muslims are extremists, she said history has proven that no matter how much dialogue is done, fundamentalism will never entirely disappear from Islam.

When asked if she thought this was a realistic eventual outcome of the dialogue between the Vatican and al-Azhar, she said “absolutely not.”

“I think that is the biggest myth that exists in the West and it’s a myth that history has dispelled and is it a myth, the perpetuation of which, only serves to increase the vulnerability of religious minorities in the Middle East. In fact, I would say it directly contributes to it.”

The growing threat of militant Islam “is one that we should not take lightly,” she said, “because they are networked.”

“Even though organizationally they follow different leaders, there are links between them, they are well-resourced, they are recruiting people globally from around the world, and they represent an existential threat to Christians and religious pluralism and all kinds of pluralism in the region.”

So while the importance of dialogue as an expression of finding common values and forging friendships across religions should be appreciated, it should only be valued to the extent that true goodwill and respect for the religious other result, she said.

“But I do support those who challenge their effectiveness in making militant Islam more appealing or undermining its power and influence and implications for Christian minorities.”

A history of persecution

Christian persecution has happened on and off for centuries in Egypt, but this intolerance recently spiked in the 1970s under President Anwar Sadat, who empowered radical Islamists, but was assassinated by fundamentalist army officers in 1981.

A period of higher tolerance ensued after Sadat's death, but attacks targeting Christians picked back up during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

The 2011 revolution, part of the Arab Spring, had overthrown Hosni Mubarak, a military officer who had been Egypt's president since 1981. The following year Morsi, of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, became the first democratically elected Egyptian president.

On July 3, 2013, Egypt's military ousted Morsi, and in August began a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Violence then spread across the country, with Islamists killing hundreds of people from August to October. Churches were vandalized, burned, and looted, as were the homes and businesses of Christians.

In January 2014, the interim government approved a new constitution, leading to the May 2014 election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the country’s new president. The elections were boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other political groups.

Tadros explained that part of the chaos after the revolution was due to “a complete breakdown in public safety and law and order” in which police left the streets and organized groups of “thugs” took over, meaning public safety was no longer a guarantee.

With a lack of secure borders given the crisis in Egypt and the collapse of nearby Libya, extremists became emboldened, and began smuggling and trading weapons with greater confidence and ease.

Radical Islam also began to take on different forms in this time, Tadros said, explaining that whereas previously terrorists were homegrown and committed smaller acts of violence, the rise of factions such as ISIS looking to impose maximum damage through suicide bombs is new.

“The fact that ISIS is now a player is a game-changer,” she said, explaining that with an increase in deadly attacks, there is greater need for security. However, she voiced doubt that the current state of emergency declared by el-Sisi in wake of the April 9 bombings will be effective in terms of protecting Copts.

From a scholarly and historic point of view, emergency law has done nothing, she said, noting that it was implemented by both Mubarak and Morsi when they were in power, “and in both cases it was not conducive to the well-being of the Egyptian population in general.”

Since his election el-Sisi has been praised for receiving representatives from both the Orthodox and Catholics, as well as Protestants.

However, even though the situation has “officially” improved under el-Sisi, who has said and done the right things, Tadros said the improvement is due not so much to el-Sisi’s efforts as it is to the fact that Morsi was driven from power.

“The situation under el-Sisi is very complicated, because on the one hand there is an improvement in the Copts’ everyday experience. Not directly as a consequence of any of el-Sisi's policies by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an unintended outcome of ousting Morsi,” she said.

“Never in the modern history of the Copts have they been such a target of militant targeting as they are today,” she said, explaining that if fundamentalists want to target Copts, there is realistically little that can be done to stop them.

How can Christians be helped?

With Christians in Egypt increasingly becoming a target of systematic violence and a bleak prospect of effective help from the government, Tadros suggested several things that can be done now to help the 9 million-strong Coptic community in Egypt.

First, “security is crucial,” she said, explaining that the ability to ensure basic protection of schools, places of worship such as churches and monasteries, and faith-based organizations, “is extremely important.”

Another essential help is “drying out the sources of funding,” Tadros said, noting that currently “we do have a problem with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab countries funding Islamist movements.”

“They have to be named and shamed, and even if it goes to the point of economic sanctions against any country that funds Islamist movements, that would significantly help the Christians,” she said, adding that this is “one of those unintended outcomes: if you remove their sources of income, they can’t buy arms, and therefore their ability to strike is significantly decreased.”

A third option Tadros mentioned is the growth and promotion of solidarity among the different churches in the region. As an example, the scholar noted how Pope Francis called Coptic Pope Tawadros personally to offer his sympathies after the April 9 attacks.

“We need to see more of that,” she said, stressing the need for Christians of all rites and practices to band together, because “divided we fall, united we’re strong.”

Finally, she pointed to the importance of raising awareness in international Christian communities of the “existential threat” that Christians in the Middle East face.

“We’re no longer talking about what we saw in Egypt four or five years ago where it’s a number of Muslim mobs burning a number of houses,” she said. “We are now talking about a broader, new strategic plan to eliminate Christianity from the region.”

The global community, she said, needs to “raise awareness and sensitize their congregations of the need to support the churches in the Middle East” in various ways, such as through prayer and concrete initiatives that will help those who have lost everything to rebuild their lives.

Another important aspect is “strengthening local Christian civil society,” she said, “because sometimes Church leadership, such as in the case of Egypt, find themselves in a position where they can’t come out and criticize governments, there’s too much at stake.”

“So you need Christian civil society that play the role of monitoring the situation, raising alarm bells when they see signs of genocide and of strengthening local initiatives.”

Holding governments accountable is also part of the equation, she said, sometimes by “criticizing the government, and sometimes mobilizing against government policy if it’s not going to be conducive to citizenship.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 3:01 am

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading U.S. bishop expressed grave concerns Thursday about a revised health care bill which the House may vote on within days.

The bill is an effort replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“It is deeply disappointing to many Americans that, in modifying the American Health Care Act to again attempt a vote, proponents of the bill left in place its serious flaws, including unacceptable modifications to Medicaid that will endanger coverage and affordability for millions of people, according to reports,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated April 27.

Although the American Health Care Act was scuttled in March before a planned floor vote due to lack of support, an amended version of the bill was introduced in Congress this week, garnering the support of members of the House Freedom Caucus – which was instrumental in blocking AHCA last month.

The amended version includes allowing states to drop Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care, emergency services, and mental health and substance abuse services.

Bishop Dewane, who had serious concerns about the AHCA, said the new bill does not fix those concerns, especially regarding ensuring access to affordable health care for vulnerable populations.

“The House must not pass the legislation as it is. Members should insist on changes, especially for the sake of those who are struggling in our communities,” he said.

“Sadly, some of the recently proposed amendments – especially those designed to give states flexibility – lack apparent safeguards to ensure quality of care,” he said. “These additions could severely impact many people with pre-existing conditions while risking for others the loss of access to various essential coverages.”

The Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) CURO, a Catholic health care ministry, called on Congress on Thursday to pass a bill that would honor conscience protections, respect the “sanctity of life”, and provide more “access to medical care for all, especially for the poor and single mothers,” as well as “empowering health sharing ministries as an affordable health care option for lower-income Americans.”

“We want to see an American health care system where people have access to care but where doctors and patients are making decisions consistent with their conscience and religious freedom,” Louis Brown, Esq., director of (CMF) CURO, stated, noting that premium increases and a decrease in the number of available health plans meant that “too many impoverished families do not have access to the quality medical care they deserve.”

In an earlier, March 17 letter to Congress, Bishop Dewane had outlined his chief concerns about the AHCA while praising certain aspects of it, including its barring of funding of abortions in tax credits and health plans and stripping funding from abortion providers.

However, the bill lacked sufficient conscience protections for doctors and health care providers, he said.

Additionally, the replacement of federal subsidies for purchasing health insurance with tax credits could disproportionately benefit the younger and wealthier while making affordability an issue for sicker and older populations, he said. Premiums for many elderly persons could rise significantly, he warned.

A 30 percent premium fine for a significant gap in health coverage could also persuade some not to purchase health insurance at all, he added.

Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus, was also among the opponents of AHCA in March.  He said he could not support the bill, despite its pro-life protections, because of how other provisions would “likely hurt disabled persons, the elderly and the working poor.”

Posted: April 27, 2017, 11:01 pm

Denver, Colo., Apr 27, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- "The recent pledge by the Democratic National Committee chair to support only candidates who embrace the radical unrestricted abortion license is very disturbing. The Democratic Party platform already endorses abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, even forcing taxpayers to fund it; and now the DNC says that to be a Democrat--indeed to be an American--requires supporting that extreme agenda.
 
True solidarity with pregnant women and their children transcends all party lines. Abortion doesn't empower women. Indeed, women deserve better than abortion.
 
In the name of diversity and inclusion, pro-life and pro-'choice' Democrats, alike, should challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position."
 
--Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair
U.S. bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee, April 26

 
 
We mark two forgotten anniversaries in 2017.  Here’s the first.

Exactly 50 years ago this Easter season, Pope Paul VI (now Blessed Paul VI) issued his great encyclical Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”).  The text focuses powerfully on global issues of social and economic justice and the need for rich nations to share generously with the poor.  It includes the line – worth remembering today – that we “cannot insist too much on the duty of giving foreigners a hospitable reception.  It is a duty imposed by human solidarity and by Christian charity” (67). 

But Paul’s idea of “development” was much larger than simply providing more and better material goods for the poor, vital though that task is.  As he makes clear in Populorum Progressio, there’s no real progress without a right understanding of man’s spiritual identity.  There’s no real development without a respect for the wholehuman person as a creature of moral purpose. 

Real development, for Paul VI, demands a reverence for human life from conception to natural death.  This is why he reminded the U.N. General Assembly (1965) that “Your task is to ensure that there is enough bread on the tables of mankind, and not . . . to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.”  It’s why he forcefully rejected abortion – echoing the words of the Second Vatican Council -- in his other great encyclical, Humanae Vitae, just a year after Populorum Progressio.

To put it another way:  There’s something irrational, something deeply contradictory, in (admirably) arguing for the rights of our nation’s foreign newcomers while (wrongly) allowing – and even sacralizing -- the systematic killing of a different kind of foreigner, the child in the womb, the newcomer to life itself.  Both the immigrant or refugee and the unborn child are human beings, both have inviolable dignity, and both demand our protection.  The difference today is, we don’t recognize and applaud anyone’s right to kill an immigrant.

As of mid-April though, that kind of logic is apparently absent from the national leadership of the Democratic Party.  The Huffington Post noted on April 21 that Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez “[has become] the first head of the party to demand ideological purity on abortion rights, promising . . . to support only Democratic candidates who back a woman’s right to choose.”

Which leads us to a second anniversary.

In 1992, exactly 25 years ago this July, Pennsylvania’s Governor Bob Casey, a prolife Democrat, was refused an opportunity to address the Democratic National Convention that nominated Bill Clinton and Al Gore.  Casey claimed he was barred because of his opposition to abortion.  The Clinton camp claimed otherwise.  But the history of the party in the decades since speaks for itself.

It’s now less and less possible for any genuinely prolife candidate to hope for national office as a Democrat.  Cardinal Dolan’s articulate concerns, noted above and voiced earlier this week, will be repeated and amplified by many others in 2018, an election year.  Party leaders chose this course freely, and they’ve earned whatever bad consequences result in the voting booth.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  In the meantime, they’ve placed state and local Democratic elected officials – many of whom are good and effective public servants – in needlessly difficult circumstances.

None of this absolves the current White House of its own ugly views, or the Republican Party of its own callous policies, or us as Christians of our duty to help women facing the pressures of an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy.  But a key to simple human decency is this:  Don’t intentionally kill the innocent.  One of our national parties is now fully and forcefully committed to tolerating, and even celebrating, the “right” to exactly that kind of killing.  

And no amount of dissembling can excuse it.  None.

 

Reprinted with permission from CatholicPhilly.com

Posted: April 27, 2017, 10:07 pm

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2017 / 03:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. government needs to be continually equipped to fight the scourge of human trafficking in new and effective ways, said members of Congress introducing an anti-trafficking bill on Thursday.

“We have a huge human trafficking problem in the United States, and it needs to be combated even more robustly than it has,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said on Thursday at the capitol, introducing the Frederick R. Douglas Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act of 2017.

“We must shatter the anonymity of purchasing sex and the violence against our women, our boys, and our young girls,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who joined Smith at the press conference, said.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Smith, Wagner, and Karen Bass (D-Calif.) builds upon the 2000 Victims of Trafficking Protection Act, which was a large new anti-human trafficking bill at the time, a “landmark” bill as Rep. Smith called it.

The new bill has six other original co-sponsors, and enjoys bi-partisan support among the group.

The original TVPA included provisions for sheltering and support for victims, tough punishment of those convicted of trafficking, and introduced actions the U.S. could take against countries which failed to abide by the international trafficking standards set up by the act. The State Department ranks countries in a tier system in its annual Trafficking in Persons report, and actions can be taken against the worst countries.

Last year, the report left China, Cuba, and Malaysia off its worst offenders tier, prompting Rep. Smith to criticize the Obama administration for playing politics with the rankings. In 2015, the report also received criticism for leaving Malaysia off the Tier 3 worst offenders list as the administration was working with Malaysia on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Now, the new bill is named after Frederick Douglass, a slave who, once he escaped slavery at age 20, became a chief advocate against slavery in the U.S. and against the prejudiced Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War era.

Douglass insisted that education is freedom, Ken Morris, Douglass’ great-great-great grandson, said on Thursday. Education must be upheld as the “primary prevention” of trafficking, he insisted, saying ““the prevention education era is here.”

“Slavery has plagued humankind for hundreds of generations, perhaps, since the beginning of civilization,” Morris said. “We can reverse the progress of slavery by fortifying individuals and the social structures around them through the application of knowledge.”

The new bill authorizes $130 million in funding over four years to, in the words of Rep. Smith, “prevent human trafficking, to protect victims and prevent them from being further enslaved,” to provide for asylum for international victims who need it, and “beefs up prosecution,” fighting trafficking in the U.S. and abroad.

The bill also funds education to help prevent girls from being trafficking victims, teaching them how to avoid dangerous situations. It provides for job training for victims – “resumption of education” for minors – who have been rescued and need to re-enter society.

Better enforcement of laws is also being called for, as federal agencies like State and Defense cannot grant contracts to entities that have been convicted of human trafficking.

Regarding government employee traveling expenses, “preferential treatment will be given to those individual hotels and airlines that have in place a comprehensive human trafficking initiative,” Smith said.

“Human trafficking is the most profitable criminal enterprise in the world after drugs, and it is able to flourish because predators purchase sex in a supply and a demand market,” Wagner said, adding that the U.S. must more vigorously enforce anti-trafficking laws.

According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, illicit human trafficking and forced labor make up a $150 billion worldwide industry with estimates of 20 million victims. As many as 800,000 trafficking victims are brought through the U.S. annually.

“Our government must vigorously prosecute buyers of sex trafficking and finally end demand for this horrific crime,” Wagner said.

Another major issue for trafficking victims is housing, Rep. Bass insisted. “Eliminating pathways to child sex trafficking inevitably requires the elimination of youth homelessness,” she stated, noting that many victims have “fallen through the cracks” of the foster care system.

“Escaping is not an option without access to safe housing equipped to meet the special needs of victimized youth,” she said. “Our government has an urgent responsibility to shut down pathways for child sex trafficking and to invest in critical housing needs for vulnerable girls and foster youth.”

Posted: April 27, 2017, 9:43 pm

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 27, 2017 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has won the prestigious Templeton Award for once again making belief in God “a serious option within academic philosophy,” the Templeton Foundation has said.

“The field of philosophy has transformed over the course of my career,” Plantinga said in response to the honor. “If my work played a role in this transformation, I would be very pleased.”

“I hope the news of the Prize will encourage young philosophers, especially those who bring Christian and theistic perspectives to bear on their work, towards greater creativity, integrity, and boldness,” he said April 25.

The Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation awards the prize to a living individual who has made “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.”

“Alvin Plantinga recognized that not only did religious belief not conflict with serious philosophical work, but that it could make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy,” said the foundation’s president Heather Templeton Dill.

Plantinga's 1974 work “God, Freedom and Evil” is now widely regarded as having provided a definitive counter to the logical challenge that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God. His argument rested on the nature of freedom and God’s ability to determine behavior.

His 1984 essay, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” argued that Christian philosophers should let their religious beliefs influence their academic research and serve the needs of their religious communities.

His other work has considered the basis of knowledge, the nature of justified belief, religious belief as a basis for human reasoning, and arguments for the existence of God.

While some philosophers have argued that evolution is incompatible with belief in God, Plantinga has argued that evolution is incompatible with belief in philosophical naturalism that denies the existence of spiritual reality.

Plantinga's religious background is the Calvinist Dutch Reformed tradition. He currently teaches at Calvin College. He taught at the University of Notre Dame from 1982-2010.

He and his wife, Kathleen, live in Grand Rapids, Mich.

There are now 47 winners of the Templeton Prize, including Mother Teresa, Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, philosopher Charles Taylor, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Other winners include Czech priest and philosopher Tomas Halik, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama.

The prize was established in 1972 by global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The current prize includes a cash award of about $1.4 million. 

Posted: April 27, 2017, 9:22 pm

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 27, 2017 / 12:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A lawsuit has been filed against a Catholic hospital in California for refusing an elective hysterectomy to a female who identifies as a man and who sought the procedure as part of their sex reassignment.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Evan Minton, who had a hysterectomy scheduled for August 2016 with the Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, Calif., in the Sacramento metro area.

Minton claims the procedure was cancelled once the hospital learned that Minton was transgender, and asked to be referred to as “he”. The hospital offered to send Minton to a different medical center.

"We feel very clearly that they discriminated against me because I’m transgender – and that is against the law," Minton told local media.

The ACLU alleges in the suit that the hospital’s actions amount to "sex discrimination in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act" which prohibits businesses from discriminating against patrons on the basis of one’s gender. The group is seeking a court order that would force the hospital to perform elective hysterectomies in the future.

Dignity Health, the group that owns Mercy San Juan, was able to transfer Minton to one of its Methodist hospitals a few days after the initial procedure was denied.

Following Catholic teaching, Mercy San Juan does not perform elective sterilization procedures on anyone.

Dignity Health said in a statement that it cannot reply to the allegations because they have not yet been served with the complaint.

"What we can share is that at Dignity Health Mercy San Juan Medical Center, the services we provide are available to all members of the communities we serve without discrimination. We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.”

"We do not provide elective sterilizations at Dignity Health’s Catholic facilities in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs) and the medical staff bylaws."

The ACLU has long opposed Catholic hospitals operating according to Catholic teaching.

The ACLU and the group the MergerWatch Project co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.”

In 2015, the ACLU sued the Detroit area's Trinity Health Corporations, one of the largest Catholic health care operations in the United States, for their refusal to perform abortions and tubal ligations. The lawsuit was dismissed.

In 2016, an ACLU report alleged that Catholic hospitals put women at risk for following Catholic teaching regarding abortion and reproductive health.

Also in 2016, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital in Chicago, claiming it had denied IUD removal to Melanie Jones. However, a representative from Mercy Hospital told CNA that the doctors at Mercy Hospital had offered to remove the woman’s IUD — the removal is an entirely ethical procedure from the Catholic moral standpoint — but Jones declined.

All Catholic hospitals in the United States operate under the U.S. Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which ban abortion, sterilization, emergency contraception, and tubal ligations.

Posted: April 27, 2017, 6:33 pm
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