Catholic News Agency

Orange, Calif., Aug 16, 2017 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Moral theologian and cultural analyst Dr. Pia de Solenni has been appointed chancellor for the Diocese of Orange in California, effective Aug. 28.

“Pia is an inspirational and well-respected theologian and has proven herself a thoughtful and humble leader within our Church,” said Bishop Kevin Vann in a statement announcing the appointment.

“We are blessed as a Diocese to benefit from her expertise, passion, and faith. I look forward to the many gifts that she will continue to bring to bear in service to the people of Orange.”

As chancellor – the diocese’s highest senior lay position – de Solenni will be the head administrator and secretary of the Curia, official archivist and record keeper, and aid in protecting the integrity of the faith. She will help support the administrative and ministry efforts of the bishop, and will advise the bishop on various writings and questions involving doctrine and dogma affecting the Church’s local work.

Currently, de Solenni serves as a theological consultant to the Office of the Bishop, as well as associate dean of the Augustine Institute’s satellite campus at the Christ Cathedral in Orange. She holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.

An expert on moral issues pertaining to bioethics, culture, and women’s issues, she has given commentary for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, as well as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, among others.

With more than 1.3 million Catholics, the Diocese of Orange is the 12th largest diocese in the United States.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve the Diocese of Orange as Chancellor. I am very grateful to Bishop Vann for his confidence in me and for giving me this opportunity,” de Solenni said.

 

Posted: August 16, 2017, 8:44 pm

Freetown, Sierra Leone, Aug 16, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A massive mudslide in Sierra Leone’s capital city has left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, with relief agencies hurrying to respond.

“There are people whose entire families have gone missing. There is a real sense of despair. Right now, people are in a complete state of shock,” said Idalia Amaya, deputy head of programs and emergency response coordinator for Catholic Relief Services.

“The devastation is like nothing we’ve seen before. Entire neighborhoods have been washed away,” she added.

More than 600 people are missing and at least 300 are dead after a massive mudslide early Monday morning in Freetown. Some bodies were swept into the sea. The death toll has overwhelmed some mortuaries.

Thousands more people have lost their homes, as well as family members.

“I ran away from the house, leaving behind my family,” a grieving survivor, Fatmata Kamara told The Associated Press. “I am the only one that has survived, as my house and dozens of others were covered with mud and boulders.”

Heavy rains appeared to have triggered the disaster on the hillside.

Rescuers dug in the thick mud with their bare hands to try to find survivors.

An estimated 9,000 people were affected.

Abdul Nasir, program coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, described the disaster: “A river of mud came out of nowhere and swallowed entire communities, just wiped them away.”

“We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss,” he warned.

To provide immediate aid, Catholic Relief Services will give food, water, and mattresses to survivors. The agency will support the government and religious leaders by providing dignified burials for the deceased, including burial teams and grave diggers.

The teams’ members took part in Catholic Relief Services’ Ebola response in 2014.

Amaya, the CRS emergency response coordinator, reflected on the situation in the country.

“People here have already experienced so much trauma having lived through war and then Ebola, and now this,” she said. “But at the same time, people from Sierra Leone are incredibly resilient and I know that with the proper support they will overcome this latest tragedy.”

Posted: August 16, 2017, 5:08 pm

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2017 / 07:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With hundreds dead and nearly 600 more still missing as a result of a giant mudslide that ravished Sierra Leone's capital, Pope Francis has prayed for the victims, their families and rescue workers providing relief to those affected.

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time,” read an Aug. 16 telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

Addressed to Freetown's Archbishop Charles Edward Tamba, the telegram relayed the Pope's sympathies, and assured of his prayer for all who have died.

The telegram comes two days after a flooding and a large mudslide killed some 400 people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown Monday, and have left some 600 still missing.

According to BBC, a mass burial of victims that had been scheduled for Wednesday in order to free up space in mortuaries has been delayed as the “chaotic” disaster continues to unfold.

Flooding is not uncommon in the overcrowded town of one million, leaving those who live in unsafe, makeshift housing especially at risk during natural disasters. However, Monday's slide is thought to be the worst incident in the past two decades.

At least 100 houses were wiped out when a hillside in Regent, a mountain town some 15 miles east of Freetown, collapsed, submerging entire buildings and taking people with them.

Bodies have continued to be retrieved from the mud and rubble, but efforts to identify them are proving difficult in the chaos.

In his telegram, the Pope not only offered his prayers for the victims, but he also extended “divine blessings of strength and consolation” upon their families.

Francis also expressed his “prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”

Posted: August 16, 2017, 1:54 pm

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 16, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 100th birthday of Blessed Oscar Romero was a time for Los Angelenos to reflect on the martyred Salvadoran bishop's virtues and how his vision can be made a reality today.

“One hundred years after his birth, Blessed Oscar Romero still inspires us for his humility and courage – for his love for the poor and his witness of solidarity and service to others, even to the point of laying down his life,” Archbishop Jose Gomez said at an Aug. 13 Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral marking the centenary of Romero’s birth.

“Our brother, Blessed Oscar, had a vision for a new society – the society that God wants – a society in which God’s gifts are shared by everyone, and not only the few,” he continued. “We want to carry that vision forward in our own times, and in our own society.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador was born Aug. 15, 1917.

Amid El Salvador’s bloody civil war, the archbishop preached the importance of Christian love. At a time when government-aligned death squads would kill and abduct opponents of the government, he was a strong critic of government violence against the poor, human rights violations, and corruption, despite many death threats.

He was assassinated March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador. Right-wing death squads are suspected in his death.

Pope Francis declared Archbishop Romero a martyr in February 2015, then beatified him in May 2015.

There were three relics of the slain archbishop at the Mass in Los Angeles: the microphone he used to celebrate Mass at the San Salvador cathedral; an autographed photograph he gave to a woman religious who assisted him and was present the day he was murdered; and a piece of cloth with his blood from the day he was assassinated. Many Salvadorans were in attendance.

Archbishop Gomez told the congregation: “we want to ask this great saint to help all of us to live with new faith, new hope and new love.”

“We ask him to intercede for us – to give us courage to continue his project, his ‘revolution of love’,” the archbishop continued, saying that Romero “walked in the company of Jesus and in the company of his people.” He served his people “with a pastor’s love, with a father’s love”

“God gives each of us a mission. It is not just for bishops, like Monseñor Romero,” said the Los Angeles archbishop. “Each one of us, in our own way, is called to build the Kingdom of God.”

Archbishop Gomez cited Romero’s own words: “Let each one of you, in your own vocation – nun, married person, bishop, priest, high-school or university student, workman, laborer, market woman – each one in your own place live the faith intensely and feel that in your surroundings you are a true microphone of God.”

The archbishop emphasized the need for “total confidence in God” despite times of troubles and trials, as in the Gospels when the apostles were at sea in a powerful storm. Even when they saw Jesus approaching on the water, they think he is a ghost.

“We can get anxious about our future or worrying about the things in our lives, that we can think that God is not there for us. But he is,” said Archbishop Gomez. St. Peter was fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but began to sink when he thought about his human limitations and the storms around him.

Despite the struggles and challenges Romero faced, he kept his eyes on Jesus Christ.

“Let us carry the Gospel message of love and mercy, truth and justice into every corner of our world,” said the archbishop. He invoked the patron of El Salvador, Our Lady of Peace, asking that she guide her children “to know the freedom, justice and peace that Blessed Oscar Romero gave his life for.”

The archbishop voiced prayers for those in El Salvador who suffer violence, and those who live in poverty throughout Central America and Latin America, especially for those in Venezuela.

Posted: August 16, 2017, 12:02 pm

Reykjavik, Iceland, Aug 16, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent article from CBS News proclaims that “few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.”

The operative word here is “births.”

Has Iceland discovered, through some groundbreaking technology and research, a cure to the chromosomal abnormality? No.

How do you “disappear Down syndrome” then, as one of the article’s taglines states?

You “disappear” people with Down syndrome.

“Iceland isn't actually eliminating Down syndrome. They're just killing everybody that has it. Big difference,” tweeted actress Patricia Heaton, who has been outspoken about her pro-life beliefs.

“There is nothing to celebrate in Iceland's ‘eradication’ of babies born with Down syndrome through abortion,” stressed Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a network of 1,800 pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women and connect them with resources throughout the country.

“These are precious human beings hand-crafted in the image of God, and no government or person on earth has the authority to rob persons with Down syndrome of their lives,” Godsey told CNA. “Down syndrome is not a death sentence, and it is monstrous to suggest otherwise.”

Every pregnant woman in Iceland is given an option of a prenatal test that can detect Down syndrome with 85 percent accuracy. “Nearly 100 percent” of pregnancies that tested positive for Down syndrome were aborted, CBS reports.

While prenatal testing is not required in Iceland, healthcare providers tell every pregnant woman that the test is an option. The country, which has a population of 330,000, usually sees only one or two children a year born with Down syndrome – often the result, the article reports, of faulty testing.  

Other countries “aren't lagging too far behind” in Down syndrome abortion rates, the article states. “The United States has an estimated (abortion) rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it's 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015).”

The CBS article included some discussion of the ethical dilemmas that prenatal screening and abortion of babies with Down syndrome present.

Geneticist Kari Stefansson said for the piece, “My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society – that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.”

But when asked what this means for society, he cautioned: “It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling. And I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable…You're having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”

“I don't think there's anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision,” he said.

The article also admits that while people born with Down syndrome are at risk for various other health problems, many people with Down syndrome also live full and healthy lives, and are able to live independently or semi-independently, hold jobs, and have relationships.

“Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”

Perhaps the best argument against the eradication of Down syndrome is Augusta, the cute little seven-year-old pink-clad girl peering out from the pages of the CBS article. Her mother, Thordis Ingadottir, took the test when she was pregnant with Augusta, but it failed to detect Down syndrome.

Now, Ingadottir has become an advocate for people with Down syndrome.

“I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That's my dream,” Ingadottir told CBS. “Isn't that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?”

Godsey told CNA that parents whose children have Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities need love and support – not abortion.

“(These parents)...deserve love and support that will benefit their growing families, and abortion fails categorically to deliver on its false promises to benefit families, individuals and society as a whole,” he said.  

Godsey added that almost anyone who knows someone with Down syndrome would be completely against its elimination.

“As anyone who knows a person with Down syndrome can tell you, these beautiful people are an absolute joy to their families and communities. The world grows exponentially poorer as we kill innocent babies for the ‘crime’ of failing to match up to our self-aggrandizing expectations.”

The joy of life with a family member who has Down syndrome was celebrated CBS in a different article, published to mark World Down Syndrome Day in 2015. It was a column by Marguerite (Maggie) Reardon, a senior writer at CNET, about when she found out her daughter would be born with Down syndrome.  

For a long time, she considered abortion, though her husband was against it. What changed her mind was the day she found a community of other people with Down syndrome and parents of children with Down syndrome.

She’s still an exhausted, stressed out parent, she wrote, but that’s not because her child has Down syndrome. It’s because she has two little kids who keep her busy.

“It's true my daughter has some developmental delays. And she receives a bevy of therapies through Early Intervention to help keep her on track,” she said.

“But she's also wonderful. She has a twinkle in her eye and an infectious grin that makes even the most miserable looking people on the subway smile when she stares them down. When she puts her head on my shoulder as I rock her to sleep each night, my heart melts no matter what kind of day I've had.”

“I do think she is more special than other children, but it's not because she has Down syndrome. It's because I'm a completely biased and doting mother who thinks no one could possibly be as adorable, bright or funny as my own child,” she wrote. “And her name is Margot.”

 

Posted: August 16, 2017, 9:22 am

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom advocates were heartened by the State Department recognizing in its annual religious freedom report released Tuesday the genocide of Christians by the Islamic State.

“As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and even death,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated at the Aug. 15 release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom report.

“Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled,” he said. “ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

The annual State Department report is mandated by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which created the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department and worked to make promoting religious freedom a part of U.S. foreign policy.

The 2016 report makes explicit reference to the “genocide” of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims at the hands of the Islamic State, or “Daesh.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry had said in March of 2016 that “in my judgement, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

In 2014, Islamic State militants conquered large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria, forcing religious and ethnic minorities in the region to stay and convert to Islam, leave, or die.

Reports documented that Islamic State committed mass killings of Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and others, as well as enslaving women and children. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians partnered to release a massive report documenting Islamic State atrocities committed against Christians.

As Islamic State has been driven from towns in northern Iraq, the inhabitants have returned to find their homes vandalized and their churches desecrated or destroyed.

“America’s promotion of international religious freedom demands standing up for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” the preface to the State Department’s report stated.

Tillerson added that in addition to Christians being targeted for genocide in Iraq and Syria, they have also been targeted by Islamic State militants in Egypt.

“The protection of these groups – and others subject to violent extremism – is a human rights priority for the Trump administration,” he said.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., welcomed Tillerson’s statement as an even more forceful pronouncement of genocide than was made by the previous administration.

Tillerson, Shea said, “forcefully clarified that ISIS has the ‘specific intent’ of destroying the Christian community, along with the other two minorities.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the author of the update to the original International Religious Freedom Act, also praised Tillerson for specifically recognizing the atrocities committed against minorities under Islamic State.

“I want to commend Secretary Tillerson for focusing on those who have been victims of genocide,” he said. “These groups are looking for help and leadership, and I am proud that after eight years of denial and foot dragging, this report positions the United States to become a world leader in helping those who need it most.”

Tillerson, in his remarks unveiling the report on Tuesday, also focused on the persecution of minorities in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Pakistan, Sudan, and Bahrain.

In Iran, for instance, 20 persons were executed by the state in 2016 for apostasy charges including “waging war against God,” he said. Baha'i leaders are still imprisoned for their religious beliefs in the country, where the state religion is Ja’afari Shia Islam.

In Turkey, religious minorities have seen their rights infringed upon by the government, which has also imprisoned Pastor Andrew Brunson who should be released, Tillerson said.

“Turkey continues to unjustly imprison Dr. Andrew Brunson without charges, and I appreciate Secretary Tillerson reminding the world of this. It is important for America to be clear about the human rights abuses happening around the world,” Sen. Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

Tillerson also named Saudi Arabia as a violator of human rights and religious freedom, as punishments like prison and lashings are given to persons for charges of apostasy, atheism, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam.

“We urge Saudi Arabia to embrace greater degrees of religious freedom for all of its citizens,” Tillerson stated to the U.S. ally.

China is another well-known human rights violator, torturing and detaining thousands of citizens for their religious beliefs, including Uyghur Muslims and the members of Falun Gong, Tillerson said.

However, the secretary did not also mention that Christians are persecuted by the government there. State-sanctioned destruction of churches, or removing crosses from churches, has become commonplace in some provinces, and state officials have hampered parents from bringing their children to church.

In addition, the Vatican and the Chinese government have been working on an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the state-sanctioned Church, although critics like Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, say the atheistic government will continue to meddle in the elections of bishops.

Smith said the report “rightly shows that China’s religious freedom conditions are among the world’s worst.”

“The Chinese government is an equal opportunity abuser of the rights of Protestants, Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners – all who face imprisonment and torture for practicing their faith,” he said.

Calling the report “a step in the right direction,” he also commended the reporting on other countries, such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Nigeria. and Syria, “with individuals who simply want to worship in peace being beaten, jailed, tortured or worse.”

“The more difficult step will be to place these countries or non-state actors like ISIS and Boko Haram on the U.S. blacklist of severe religious freedom violators,” he said.

This would include updating the “Countries of Particular Concern” list, which is comprised of countries the State Department deems where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place and the government is either the instigator, actively complicit, or is powerless to stop the abuses.

The creation of the list was mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act as a way to hold violators of religious freedom accountable. Actions can be legally taken against such countries if the State Department places them on the CPC list, like imposing sanctions.

With the rise of non-state terror groups like Islamic State and Boko Haram, Smith’s bill created the “Entities of Particular Concern” designation for violators of religious freedom that are not themselves states and who are active in multiple countries.

The State Department currently has designated China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs.

Pakistan does not occupy a place on the list despite leading the world in the number of prison sentences for blasphemy, which can carry a death sentence.

Also, Tillerson did not mention Russia in his remarks, despite the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission that advises the State Department, asking that it be added to the CPC list as one of the worst violators of religious freedom.

In its annual report earlier this year, the commission pointed to the criminalization of certain non-sanctioned religious beliefs in the Russian mainland, and the treatment of minorities in the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula as serious abuses that merited Russia’s place on the CPC list. Recently, Russia’s supreme court rejected an appeal of the outlawing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the Trump administration’s selection earlier this summer of an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, who is charged with monitoring abuses of freedom of religion abroad and promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy.

President Donald Trump nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a former U.S. Senator, for the position. Lankford expressed his desire that Brownback be confirmed for the position soon.

Posted: August 15, 2017, 10:57 pm

Charlottesville, Va., Aug 15, 2017 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia involving white supremacy groups and counter-protesters, the father of the woman who was killed after the rally spoke out against hatred and offered a different message: forgiveness and love.

“I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, 'Forgive them. They don't know what they're doing,'” Mark Heyer said Monday, according to USA Today.

“I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this,” he said.

Mark Heyer is the father of Heather Heyer, the 32 year-old woman who was fatally hit by a car after the “Unite the Right” rally near the University of Virginia on Saturday. The rally drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, who were protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the park downtown.

Heather was among the group of counter-protesters who were standing against the Unite the Right rally, which also included various religious leaders and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Heather grew up near Charlottesville and was a paralegal at Miller Law Group. The law firm called Heather an “irreplaceable asset,” and noted her “big heart for people.” She was known in her community for standing up for the marginalized in society.

“She was a strong woman who had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone, and she tried to stand up for that,” her father said.

“With her, it wasn’t lip service. It was real… it was something that she wanted to share with everyone,” he continued, saying “she had more courage than I did.”

Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, also noted her daughter’s passion for others, saying that “it was important to her to speak up for people who were not being heard.”

The driver of the car that hit Heather is 20-year old James Alex Fields, who is now facing multiple charges including a hit and run, second-degree murder, and counts of malicious wounding. He drove his car into several other cars while crowds of people were crossing the streets after the rally, injuring dozens of people. A total of 19 victims were hospitalized.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice issued a joint statement on Sunday, condemning the “evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

They also prayed for Heather, and two other victims who were Virginia State troopers, saying “let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.”

While devastated with the loss of his daughter, Mark Heyer hopes that her death will cause bigger waves of change.

“I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people's hearts.”

Posted: August 15, 2017, 8:49 pm

Austin, Texas, Aug 15, 2017 / 02:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law in Texas removes elective abortion coverage from the standard package of health insurance benefits offered in many plans, a move that pro-life advocates hailed as a victory for those who do not want to subsidize abortion.

“As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” said Governor Greg Abbott upon signing House Bill 214 into law on Tuesday.

“This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.”

Under the new law, elective abortions will not be covered in standard private or state employee health insurance plans, nor in public plans subsidized by the Affordable Care Act.

Abortions deemed to be necessary in cases of medical emergency will still be covered in standard plans, and optional separate coverage for elective abortions may be purchased by those who are interested.

“This isn’t about who can get an abortion. It is about who is forced to pay for an abortion,” said Rep. John Smithee, lead author of the bill.

The law was signed during a special legislative session. It had been approved by the House in a 95-51 vote last week, and by the Senate in a 20-10 vote on Sunday.

More than half of U.S. states limit coverage of abortion under the Affordable Care Act.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, denounced the law, saying it will negatively impact women who “need” abortions.

Another bill signed into law by Abbott on Tuesday requires doctors and health care offices to report additional details about abortion complications.

State Sen. Donna Campbell said during a debate on the legislation last month that “collecting this data is important to guarantee best medical practices.”

Posted: August 15, 2017, 8:45 pm

Glasgow, Scotland, Aug 15, 2017 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism are on the rise in Scotland, and a leading Catholic spokesman has said the government must take more specific action to combat the trend.

“Were any other type of crime to be dominated so completely by a single type of behavior, we might expect a targeted strategy to emerge, promoted by the authorities as a response to a particular problem,” said Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, in a forthcoming essay for The Scotsman.

Kearney compared the need for a targeted strategy to campaigns against mobile phone use while driving or drunk driving. These specific actions are targeted, rather than a generic campaign for “safe driving.”

“The approach is sensible and logical: before a problem can be tackled, it must first be identified and addressed,” he said. “Surprisingly, this doesn’t happen when it comes to religious intolerance and the criminal behavior which goes with it.”

There were a total of 719 charges related to religious prejudice in Scotland in 2016-2017, an increase from 642 in the period of 2015-2016.

Roman Catholicism was the most frequent target of abuse, making up 57 percent of these charges, numbering 384, in the latest period – an increase from 299 in 2015-2016. Catholics make up about 17 percent of the population.

Kearney suggested the figures show that Scottish society “remains scarred by past hatreds and tumults.” His Scottish Catholic Media Office is accountable to the Bishops Conference of Scotland.

Church leaders are expected to meet with Annabelle Ewing, the community safety minister. Kearney said recent exchanges in parliament indicated “the government’s unwillingness to adopt a name and shame approach to religious hate crime.”

He said cabinet secretary Angela Constance gave a “vague” response to concerns.

The figures regarding the crimes come in the Scottish government’s latest report, “Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2016-2017.”

Charges of religious aggravation were concentrated in Glasgow. In about half of all prejudice-related charges, the accused was under the influence of alcohol. About 41 percent of all charges involved accused perpetrators under the age of 30. Police officers were targeted for religiously aggravated abuse in about 44 percent of the charges.

Other religions were also targeted. There were 165 charges motivated by prejudice against Protestantism in 2016-2017, a slight increase from the previous period, and 113 charges involving anti-Islam prejudice, a slight decrease from the previous period. Anti-Jewish charges numbered 23.

About half of the charges came under laws targeting sectarianism in soccer. The Scottish Labour Party has proposed to repeal those laws, with support from several other parties in Parliament.

 

Posted: August 15, 2017, 7:50 pm

Funchal, Portugal, Aug 15, 2017 / 11:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A tree fell on a crowd taking part in the largest religious festival in Portugal's Madeira region on Tuesday, killing 12 persons and injuring 52, according to local press reports.

The 200 year-old tree fell on the crowd at Nossa Senhora do Monte parish in Funchal, the capital of Portugal's autonomous region of Madeira, an archipelago in the Atlantic ocean, Aug. 15.

The faithful were preparing to celebrate a procession in honor of Madeira's patronness, Our Lady of Monte. Bishop Antonio José Cavaco Carrilho of Funchal said Mass before the procession, which was cancelled.

The Portuguese government is providing medical support to the victims.

Madeira has declared three days of mourning in light of the tragedy.

Archbishop Jorge Ferreira da Costa Ortiga of Braga tweeted, saying, “Faith is not life insurance, but a secure life. My prayers are for the victims of Funchal and for their families.”

 

A fé não é um seguro de vida, mas uma vida segura. A minha oração pelas vítimas do #Funchal e seus familiares. #tragédia #Madeira #Senhora pic.twitter.com/66USOAan5h

— D. Jorge Ortiga (@djorgeortiga) August 15, 2017  

Posted: August 15, 2017, 5:44 pm

Indianapolis, Ind., Aug 15, 2017 / 06:04 am (National Catholic Register).- Medication abortions are on their way to becoming the dominant method of abortion in the U.S. But lawmakers are starting to look at whether to change their state’s informed-consent laws to let women know of an experimental treatment that could possibly reverse the effects of a progesterone-blocking abortion.

Indiana state Rep. Ronald Bacon, (R-Chandler), told the National Catholic Register that he heard about the “abortion-pill reversal” technique during a presentation by Fort Wayne obstetrician-gynecologist Christina Francis. Bacon, who is Catholic, thought that women contemplating abortion, or who have taken mifepristone – the first pill in the two-pill RU-486 abortion process – should at least know the possibility existed.

In the event they wanted to reconsider their choice for abortion, Bacon said they should know about this possibility and who they should contact from the information packet that abortion doctors are required to give their patients.

“We should at least try to give women as much information as possible,” he said.

Bacon’s legislation passed Indiana’s House of Representatives Feb. 27 on a 54-41 vote, but never made it through the state senate. Other pro-life lawmakers balked at the law, citing the need for more studies.

Still, Bacon said the media coverage of the debate did create awareness.

“I felt at least the word got out there,” he said.  

Rapidly Changing Industry

First-trimester abortion accounts for 91 percent of all abortions performed in the U.S. But RU-486 medication abortions account for nearly a third of all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That figure is rising, and in some states, RU-486 accounts for half of all abortions.

In Scandinavian countries, that future has already arrived: Medication abortions account for 96 percent of abortions in Finland, 91 percent in Sweden and 86 percent in Norway.

Mifepristone is the first drug taken in the two-step RU-486 chemical abortion regimen. The first pill (also known as Mifeprex) blocks the hormone progesterone from bonding to the uterine wall, causing it to shed, killing the embryo by literally starving it to death. Approximately 24-48 hours later, a second pill called misoprostol (commercially known as Cytotec) is ingested to expel the deceased unborn child with the other contents of the uterus.

However, Dr. George Delgado, medical director of Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego, California, that runs the AbortionPillReversal.com program and its 24/7 hotline, has developed protocols designed to block the effects of mifepristone by flooding a woman’s body with progesterone, ideally within 72 hours of taking the abortion pill. The concept involves overwhelming Mifeprex with progesterone in order to save the uterine lining and allow women to exercise their choice to continue their pregnancies.

Delgado said he is in the process of submitting an article for publication to a peer-reviewed medical journal that “will describe over 200 cases of successful reversals.”

The article will build on another study published in the spring 2017 edition of Issues in Law and Medicine by his colleague Dr. Mary Davenport, which reviews studies on women who took mifepristone alone for abortion. The review, he said found the embryo survival rate to be between 8 and 25 percent.

Delgado said that upper limit of 25 percent will form the “historical control group” for comparing the embryo survival rates from their best progesterone-treatment protocols, which their data puts in the range of 60-70 percent.

“It does make a difference if a woman who changes her mind undergoes our reversal protocols,” he said.

Abortion-Pill Reversal

Many pro-life physicians and pro-life health centers across the country have now made abortion-pill reversal a treatment option to women.

Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder of the Obria Medical Clinics and president of the Obria Foundation, told the National Catholic Register that Obria provides the progesterone treatment to women who request it. She said that as Obria’s telemedicine platform expands in more states, it will provide another mechanism for women searching for help after taking the first abortion pill.

“We have a much better opportunity to save lives this way,” she said. Bravo, who is a post-abortive mother, said when she had time to reflect on her surgical abortion decades ago, it was too late to do anything to save her child. But the woman who takes mifepristone in a doctor’s office actually has time in the privacy of her home to consider whether she really wants to go through with abortion before taking the second pill. At that point, she said, a woman who changes her mind and wants to keep her baby will turn to her smartphone and start searching for help.

“We have a much larger window of opportunity to save this child’s life if we can reach them through their smartphones,” Bravo said. “This is a much bigger opportunity to save lives than we’ve ever had through surgical abortions.”

Bravo said the best prevention against medication abortion is building relationships with abortion-vulnerable women so they never end up taking the abortion pill in the first place. She pointed out that Planned Parenthood’s abortion business model today is based on pre-existing relationships with clients: It utilizes telemedicine to connect with women and men and is providing them with health services. She noted that in California, Planned Parenthood is expanding into primary care and is starting to rebrand as “Melody Women’s Health.”

Bravo said that Obria is seeking to build those pre-existing relationships with women and men by connecting to them through Obria’s telemedicine platform and providing them with medical care and social support so that if they are in a crisis situation, they will turn to Obria first for help.

Model Legislation

So far, just three states have enacted changes to informed-consent laws related to informing women about abortion reversal.

Arkansas explicitly requires women to be told that it might be possible to reverse a mifepristone abortion. South Dakota’s legislation states that a woman does not have to continue the two-step abortion regimen if she changes her mind, and to look to the state health department’s website for information on reversal – none of which can be found there. Arizona passed and then repealed legislation requiring women to be informed that medication abortion could be reversed after a court challenge.

Lawmakers in a handful of other states have attempted to bring similar bills to their statehouses for consideration based on model legislation developed by Americans United for Life (AUL).

Denise Burke, AUL’s vice president of legal affairs, told the National Catholic Register that the organization believes women should know there’s a “possibility” that they could increase their chances of keeping their children with this treatment.

“This is empowering women to make the best decision for them and their families,” she said.

Burke said AUL has been in contact with a number of legislators that are contemplating bills for 2018. She hopes that the results of Delgado’s forthcoming study will bolster the case for lawmakers for making this knowledge part of the informed-consent process for abortion.

ACOG Opposed

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), however, has weighed against states changing their informed-consent laws. An ACOG spokesman referred to a position paper noting abortion-pill reversal has not been substantiated by the body of scientific evidence and is not recommended in ACOG’s clinical guidance on medication abortion.

ACOG’s paper noted that pregnancy will continue in 30-50 percent of women who take mifepristone alone and do not take misoprostol.

“Available research seems to indicate that in the rare situation where a woman takes mifepristone and then changes her mind, doing nothing and waiting to see what happens is just as effective as intervening with a course of progesterone,” it stated.

Dr. Gretchen Stuart, director of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s family-planning division, told the National Catholic Register that “laws that affect medical practice should be based on scientific evidence.”

“The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that medication abortion reversal is not supported by scientific evidence, and, therefore, this approach is not recommended,” she said.

Stuart also noted that Delgado’s previous report in the literature of women receiving progesterone injections was “too small a sample size to make scientific conclusions.”

In contrast, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists has lent its support to Delgado’s work.

Studies on the Way

Delgado told the National Catholic Register his latest findings will be published over the next several months. However, he stated the ACOG position paper cited figures for incomplete abortion, which are not the same figures as embryo survival. In the studies where doctors checked for the embryo’s survival with ultrasound, the embryo was already dead, even though the woman’s body had not begun the process of expelling the uterine contents.

In principle, he said women should know that reversal is an option “in case they change their minds” and be assured no scientific data indicates either mifepristone or progesterone treatments cause birth defects.

“We have evidence that using progesterone to reverse the effects of a mifepristone abortion is both safe and effective,” Delgado said.

Further studies demonstrating the effectiveness of Delgado’s technique will likely be needed before more legislators act on it. Rep. Bacon said he intends to bring his bill back to the statehouse once he can approach his fellow Indiana lawmakers with “more clinical proof.”

“I definitely will bring it back then.”

 

This article was originally published by the National Catholic Register.

 

Posted: August 15, 2017, 12:04 pm

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2017 / 04:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the Feast of the Assumption, Pope Francis said that in bringing Christ to the world, Mary also provides the joy and grace of her Son, which not only sustain us in difficulty, but are primarily intended for the weak and humble.

“Carrying Jesus, the Madonna also brings us a new joy, full of meaning; she brings us a new ability to pass with faith through the most painful and difficult moments; she brings us the capacity for mercy, forgiveness, understanding and supporting one another,” the Pope said Aug. 15.

Mary, he said, “is the model of faith and virtue,” and in contemplating her Assumption into Heaven, we give her thanks “because she always precedes us on the pilgrimage of life and of faith.”

We are also able to ask that she “guard us and sustain us, that we may have a strong faith, joyful and merciful; that she help us to be holy, to meet her, one day, in paradise,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present for a special Angelus address given for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, which is celebrated annually Aug. 15.

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – teaches that when Mary's earthly life ended, God assumed her body and soul into heaven.

The Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition even in the early centuries of the Church, and was a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However, it wasn't until 1950 that it was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus.

In his Angelus speech honoring the feast, Pope Francis turned to the day's Gospel reading from Luke, in which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist, despite her advanced age.

He noted how when Mary arrived to her cousin, having gone “in haste,” Elizabeth immediately proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

In this moment, the greatest gift that Mary brought not just to Elizabeth, but to the whole world, “is Jesus, who already lives in her,” Francis said.

“And he lives not only by faith and waiting, as in many other women in the Old Testament: from the Virgin Mary Jesus took on human flesh, for his mission of salvation.”

The Pope then noted how preceding the encounter, Elisabeth and her husband Zechariah were filled with sadness by the fact that they couldn't have children. However, in place of this, “now there is the joy of a child on the way: a child who will become the great John the Baptist, precursor of the Messiah.”

And when Mary arrives, this joy “overflows and bursts from their hearts,” he said, “because the invisible but real presence of Jesus fills all meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people...everything!”

Mary herself expresses this joy when she speaks the “stupendous prayer” of the Magnificat, which is “a song of joy to God who works great things through humble people, unknown to the world, like Mary herself, like her spouse Joseph, and also like the village in which they lived, Nazareth.”

In off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope pointed to “the great things the Lord does in the world with the humble, because humility is like a void that leaves room for God.”

The humble person “is strong because they are humble, not because they are powerful,” he said, and urged those present to ask themselves “how is my humility?” and to reflect on the answer.

Going on, Francis said the Magnificat prayer is an expression of God's mercy and fidelity, as well as his plan for salvation, which he carries out with “the little ones and the poor, with those who have faith in him” and trust in his Word, as Mary did.

Jesus' arrival to Elizabeth and Zechariah through Mary brings not only a climate of joy and communion, but also “a climate of faith which leads to hope, prayer and praise,” the Pope said, noting that the same thing can happen for each person today.

Francis closed his address asking Mary to bring to each person and their families and communities “that immense gift, that unique grace which we must always ask for before and above all other graces that are also in our heart: the grace that is Jesus Christ!”

After leading pilgrims in the Angelus, the Pope offered a special prayer for all those who are suffering due to various global situations.

He entrusted to Mary and her intercession “the anxieties and pains of the peoples who in many parts of the world suffer due to natural disasters, social tensions or conflicts,” asking that she obtain for them “consolation and a future of peace and harmony!”

In addition to the various conflicts raging throughout the world, the Pope's words come after one woman lost her life and several others were injured when a car rammed into a group of protesters at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. earlier this week, adding fuel to what were already-escalated racial tensions in the United States.

The Pope's appeal also comes as many South Asian and African countries such as India, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone face heavy flooding and mudslides, which so far have led to hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

Posted: August 15, 2017, 10:26 am

Athens, Greece, Aug 15, 2017 / 03:03 am (Church Pop).- Every year, on the Orthodox feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, a monastery on a Greek island experiences a miracle – dozens of snakes come to 'venerate' an icon of Mary.
 
In a phenomenon that has reportedly been happening for hundreds of years, black snakes begin appearing on the Greek island of Kefalonia between Aug. 5 and Aug. 15, the days when the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the dormition of the Theotokos (Mother of God).

According to tradition, the miracle of the snakes began in 1705, when nuns of the monastery were about to be attacked by pirates.

Legend has it that the nuns prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary, asking her that she turn them into snakes to avoid capture. Other versions say that the nuns prayed that the monastery be infested with snakes so as to scare away the pirates. Either way it happened, they were spared.

Since then, the small black snakes, known as European Cat Snakes, appear every year just before the feast, and make their way to the walls and entryways of the Church to 'venerate' the silver icon of Mary known as the Panagia Fidoussa, or the Virgin of the Snakes.

The snakes' patterning can produce a small black cross on their head, and they have a forked tongue, adding to the legend that these snakes are marked by the sign of the Cross.  

In recent years, the faithful have taken to transporting snakes to the church in jars and bags, to protect them from being run over by unwitting motorists.

The usually-aggressive snakes are reportedly docile and calm during these days, when they are welcome in the church for Mass and prayers, and disappear from the island completely after the feast until the next year.

Reportedly, the only years the snakes have not appeared on the island were during World War II, and in 1953, the year of a massive earthquake. Locals now take the lack of the snake's appearance as a bad omen.

Every year, the island celebrates the Theotokos and the miracle with a Snake Festival.

Posted: August 15, 2017, 9:03 am

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Mass and a documentary premiere are among the events marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Father Vincent R. Capodanno, the decorated Navy chaplain who was killed seeking to provide the sacraments to ambushed Marines in the Vietnam War.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services will celebrate the Annual Mass for Father Capodanno Sept. 5 at the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The Mass will take place at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

“Many of the surviving Marines who served with Father Capodanno will participate, along with current senior military leaders and active-duty personnel. The public is invited to attend,” the Archdiocese for the Military Services said Aug. 10.

Father Capodanno was a Maryknoll priest from Staten Island, N.Y. He was nicknamed the “Grunt Padre” for his service to members of the infantry.

While with Maryknoll, Fr. Capodanno served in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and then requested to be reassigned as a chaplain with the US Marine Corps. He was sent to Vietnam in 1966, and requested an extension to his tour of duty when it was up.

The chaplain was killed at the age of 38 on Sept. 4, 1967 in Vietnam’s Que Son Valley after his unit was ambushed by North Vietnamese forces. Despite suffering injuries from mortar fire, including a partly severed hand, he continued to last rites to the dying and medical aid to the wounded.

In disregard of intense small arms fire, automatic weapons fire, and mortars, Fr. Capodanno rushed about 15 yards to reach a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of a North Vietnamese machine gunner. He was killed just before he reached the wounded man.

He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on Jan. 7, 1969. “By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom,” said the priest’s Medal of Honor citation.

Many of the Catholic faithful devoted to Fr. Capodanno have reported favors granted following intercessory prayers to the chaplain. In 2006 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared Fr. Capodanno a Servant of God.

On Aug. 30 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time, EWTN Global Catholic Network will broadcast the world premiere of a 90-minute documentary “Called and Chosen: Father Vincent R. Capodanno,” about his life and death. The documentary’s producer is Jim Kelty.

Before the documentary, at 8 p.m. Aug. 30, EWTN Live will carry a one-hour panel discussion about Fr. Capodanno. The show will be hosted by Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., with panelists including Kelty; Capt. George Phillips, USMC (Ret.), board chairman of the Father Capodanno Guild; and Mary Preece, vice-postulator of Fr. Capodanno’s cause for canonization.

The Archdiocese for Military Services encouraged viewings of the documentary on EWTN and to participate in the Mass for Father Capodanno.

In October 2013 Archbishop Broglio appointed a tribunal to investigate whether the priest had led a life of heroic virtue, with the goal of determining whether his cause for sainthood should be pursued.

The archbishop in May announced that the archdiocesan phase of the clause had closed. A decision is pending from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints concerning whether to declare the priest “venerable.”

Posted: August 15, 2017, 6:03 am

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Today, Catholics around the world mark the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating the end of her earthly life and assumption into Heaven. But while the feast day is a relatively new one, the history of the holiday – and the mystery behind it – has its roots in the earliest centuries of Christian belief.

“As her earthly life comes to an end, the Assumption helps us to understand more fully not just her life, but it helps us to always focus our gaze to Eternity,” said EWTN Senior Contributor Dr. Matthew Bunson.

“We see in Mary the logic of the Assumption as the culmination of Mary’s life,” he continued. “A Eucharistic requirement for that day is very fitting.”

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – has its roots in the early centuries of the Church. The Catholic Church teaches that when Mary ended her earthly life, God assumed her, body and soul into heaven.

This belief traces its roots back to the earliest years of the Church. While a site outside of Jerusalem was recognized as the tomb of Mary, the earliest Christians maintained that “no one was there,” Bunson said.

According to St. John of Damascus, in the 5th century, at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, Roman Emperor Marcian requested the body of Mary, Mother of God. St. Juvenal, who was Bishop of Jerusalem replied “that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven,” the saint recorded.

By the 8th century, around the time of Pope Adrian, the Church began to change its terminology, renaming the feast day of the Memorial of Mary to the Assumption of Mary, Bunson noted.  

The belief in the Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition, and a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However it was not defined officially until the past century. In 1950, Pope Pius XII made an infallible, ex-cathedra statement in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus officially defining the dogma of the Assumption.

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory,” the Pope wrote.

Within the decree, which was passed beforehand to dioceses around the world, Pope Pius XII surveys centuries of Christian thought and the writings of a number of saints on the Assumption of Mary.  

“We have throughout the history of the Church an almost universal attestation of this,” Bunson said of the Christian tradition’s testimony to Mary’s Assumption.

“We have this thread that runs throughout the whole of the history of the Church in support of the dogma. That’s significant because it supports the tradition of the Church, but it also supports a coming to a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church of how we rely upon the reflections of some of the greatest minds of our Church.”

What’s also notable about the dogma, he added, is that it “uses the passive tense,” emphasizing that Mary did not ascend into heaven on her own power, as Christ did, but was raised into heaven by God’s grace.

Today, the Feast of the Assumption is marked as a major feast day and a public holiday in many countries. In most countries, including the United States, it is a Holy Day of Obligation, and Catholics are required to attend Mass. Dr. Bunson explained that on important feast days, it’s important to mark the significance of the feast as especially vital by emphasizing the necessity of celebrating the Eucharist that day.

“What is more fitting than on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother to, once again, focus on her Son, on the Eucharist?” he reflected.

 

Posted: August 15, 2017, 6:01 am
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