Catholic News in Europe

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

Stockholm, Sweden, Apr 27, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new Swedish study has shown that women who are taking the contraceptive pill might be putting themselves at risk for decreasing their overall health and well-being.
 
Mood swings, energy level shifts, and a “significantly lower” quality of  life were the reported side effects of the contraceptive pill when the three-month study had concluded.
 
“Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills we know surprisingly little today about the pill's effect on women's health,” said Professor Angelica Linden Hirschberg, one of the study’s leaders, according to the Karolinska Institute.
 
“The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression and there is a great need for randomized studies where it is compared to placebos,” Dr. Hirschberg continued.
 
The study that explored the side effects of contraception was conducted by the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm School of Economics, and included 340 healthy women between the age of 18-35. Their findings were recently published in the scientific journal “Fertility and Sterility.”
 
A randomized group of women in the study were given a placebo pill, and the other group was given a common contraceptive pill with levonorgestrel and ethniylestradoil. Both groups of women and the leaders of the study were unaware of which pills the women were taking.
 
Compared to the placebo group, the women taking the pill reported back saying their self-control, vitality and moods were all impacted by the contraception, and noted that their quality of life plunged significantly.
 
“This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunctions with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception,” stated Niklas Zethraeus, one of the study’s co-authors, according to the Independent.
 
While most women are aware that some side effects come will taking contraceptive pills, more and more studies are showing just how negative the impact can be.
 
Last year, a popular Danish study reported the adverse connection between hormonal birth control and depression, which linked women on the pill to a subsequent use of anti-depressants.
 
While this particular Swedish study did not pick up on any increase in depression, the researchers did note that contraception cannot be generalized and that different pills carry different side effects.
 
“All types of hormonal contraception have advantages and disadvantages. This possible effect on life quality adds to this knowledge and could be of particular importance for women who have experienced negative mood symptoms previously,” Dr. Hirschberg stated.
 
For the over 100 million users of contraceptive pills, the study’s researchers suggested that the negative life quality impact could be of “clinical importance” for women, and is something that women should be aware of.  

Posted: April 27, 2017, 9:01 am

Dublin, Ireland, Apr 26, 2017 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father John Sullivan was a prominent Irish Catholic convert who was known for his healing prayers, his consolation for the troubled, and his devotion to God.

Now he is set to be the first ever person to be beatified in Ireland.

The beatification will take place May 13 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Dublin, where the Jesuit priest's body was interred. Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Congregations for the Causes of Saints will be involved in the ceremony. Church of Ireland leaders will also attend.

In a Feb. 18 homily at the church, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said Fr. Sullivan was “a man of learning” who was “always aware of his responsibility to care for those around him and especially the poor.”

Archbishop Martin reflected on the Gospel story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what was needed to attain eternal life. After telling the man to follow the Law of Moses and the Commandments, Jesus told him to sell all his goods and follow him.

“John Sullivan, faced with the same call, placed his life totally at the service of Jesus, renouncing wealth and worldly ambition and living the simplicity of life as a Jesuit,” Archbishop Martin said.

“His life would not just be marked by a rejection of outward wealth, but by a special concern for the poor and especially for the sick and the dying.”

The priest spent much of his life teaching at Clongowes Wood College in Ireland's County Kildare.

“By many accounts he was not a great teacher but the boys loved him,” according to Sullivan’s biography on the website of the Irish Jesuits, written by historian Thomas Morrisey, S.J.

He would often visit the sick, the dying, and people who were troubled.

Even while he lived, many people attributed their healings to his prayers, including the nephew of Irish Free State founder General Michael Collins. The three-year-old boy, who had the same name as his famous uncle, had infantile paralysis that bent his leg in intense pain. After lengthy prayers with the priest, he was healed.

Not long after Fr. Sullivan’s ordination, he visited the Royal Hospital for Incurables at Donnybrook, he visited a woman who was suffering from lupus. The condition had begun to affect her mind and she was being prepared for a move to a mental hospital. Father Sullivan stayed with her for a long time and prayed over her.

The next day she had returned to full mental health, a state which lasted until her death, and she was able to re-establish disrupted friendships.

People also attributed to him a gift for knowing the future, and a gift for ministering to those with scruples, obsessions or compulsions.

“When God forgives me my sins, he buries them beneath a large stone. It is desecration to root them up again,” he would say in response to such cases.

The priest was known for ascetic practices: sleeping on the floor instead of his bed, placing stones in his walking boots, eating the plainest food, and sleeping for only a few hours a night so that he could pray late into the night and early in the day.

Father Sullivan was born in 1861 on Dublin’s Eccles Street, not far from the church where he is buried. He was raised in the Protestant Church of Ireland.

His father, Edward Sullivan, was a successful barrister who became Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His mother, Elizabeth Bailey, was a devout Catholic from a prominent County Cork family.

He attended elite Protestant schools in Ireland before studying law in London. For a time, he stopped going to church. His father passed away when he was 24, providing a great shock to him.

By the early 1890s he appeared to have no clear religious views, but was moved by the Confessions of St. Augustine. He began to sit in on religious instruction classes and read a catechism and Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

In 1895 the U.K. government appointed him to a commission to investigate widespread massacres of Armenians in Asia Minor. He taught English in Greece and spent time at Mount Athos, a center of Orthodox Christian monasticism.

He was received into Catholic Church in 1896, at the age of 35. The event was a surprise to his family, and though it drew some criticism from some Protestants, Sullivan’s reputation was such that he was supported by both Protestant and Catholic friends.

He entered the Society of Jesus four years later.

Father Sullivan died Feb. 19, 1933, aged 71. His death prompted outpourings of appreciation and affection and his funeral turned into a procession through the streets of Dublin.

His vault at St. Francis Xavier Church has served as a place of prayer for many people, especially those seeking healing. The monthly Mass said for his canonization regularly draws over 200 people.

He was declared a Servant of God in 1960 under Pope John XXIII and declared Venerable by Pope Francis in November 2014.

A Dublin woman’s healing from cancer in 1954 after praying for his intercession was recognized as Father Sullivan’s first miracle by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2016.

Posted: April 26, 2017, 11:04 pm

Rome, Italy, Apr 21, 2017 / 10:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- India's Catholic bishops have strongly condemned a violent police disruption of a Good Friday service at a small parish in the south of the country.

The Dhalit Catholic community in the village of Sogandi was holding a liturgy for the Passion of the Lord April 14 when they were disrupted by the Tehsildar – local tax and revenue officers – as well as police during the Veneration of the Cross and distribution of Holy Communion.

“The Catholic Church in India is very distressed and saddened by the happenings in Sogandi, Tamil Nadu, on Good Friday, a day very sacred to Christians everywhere,” the April 19 press release stated.

“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expresses its full solidarity with the people of Sogandi and condemns in very strong terms the brutal action of the Tehsildar.”

The statement, signed by the secretary general of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX, said that they are proud of their country and the major part of the Hindu community has always treated them with respect and goodwill.

However, recently, fundamentalist forces have disturbed “the traditional peace and harmony” of the country, they said.

The bishops expressed concern at rising intolerance in India toward people of all religions from “fundamentalist fringe” groups, calling on the government to ensure that everyone in the country continue to feel safe and “enjoy the basic right to worship freely and without fear.”

Concern about religious intolerance has grown across India particularly since the May 2014 election of Narendra Modi as prime minister, which saw a spike in the number of attacks against Christians and Muslims.

After Modi took office the country saw a sharp rise in attacks against people and property, most of them perpetrated by the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS, or the “the Sangh.”

The group, which has been described as “fundamentalist” and “violent,” sits on the right-wing and has no official, legal registration in India. However they maintain strong ties with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi has been criticized for his silence regarding the mostly small-scale attacks, which have continued to take place.

The event in Sogandi on Good Friday was only the latest in a string of escalating anti-Christian incidents in the village, Bishop A. Neethinathan of Chingleput wrote in a report April 19.

The Catholic parish there, under the patronage of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, was erected in 2007. It has 125 families, who also make up the population of the village.

In order to help foster strong Marian devotion, when the parish was built 10 years ago, the priest also developed a portion of a nearby hill into a little grotto with a covering and a statue of Our Lady.

The grotto and other public religious symbols have been at the center of the clashes between the Christian village and a nearby Hindu village, also of a different caste identity. The Hindu village is known to have temples and houses erected on the other side of the same hill, Bishop Neethinathan stated.

On April 14, the parish gathered at the grotto at 3 PM to celebrate the Lord’s Passion service. Many police were stationed around the area throughout the service, the bishop’s report states.

As the service continued, the local Tehsildar disrupted the Veneration of the Cross and the distribution of Holy Communion, not allowing them to finish.

The disturbance and subsequent disorder resulted in reactions from some of those present. Most of the local men, as well as some priests, have been booked for serious offences by the police, Bishop Neethinathan wrote.

The following day, April 15, the revenue department bulldozed large ditches around the area, preventing access.

It is believed that the recent incidents are the result of planned and systematic operations by anti-Christian Hindutva and anti-Dhalit caste fundamentalists, including pressure on the police and revenue departments.

Other recent actions include the demolition and removal from the hill Dec. 31, 2016 of many of the statues and crosses of the parish by more than 500 police officers “under the pretext of illegal occupation,” according to Bishop Neethinathan. The statues were not returned until April 19.

In February, every stone and boulder on the hill was found marked with the Hindu symbol and the Palm Sunday procession, though able to conclude, was also interrupted by objections and disturbances.

Posted: April 21, 2017, 4:22 pm

Fatima, Portugal, Apr 21, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The canonization of Fatima visionaries Francisco and Jacinta Marto has been hailed as an exciting moment for the Church, but the rector of the Marian shrine has said that it bears an even greater significance in terms of putting a spotlight on Our Lady's message.

“I think the canonization in a certain way helps to give credibility to the apparitions and to the message of Fatima,” Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas told CNA.
 
This is an “indirect credibility,” he said, but one which nonetheless “makes us look to the protagonists of the events of Fatima and to see their holiness, the holiness with which they challenge us to live this message.”

Mary appeared to Francisco, Jacinta and their cousin Lucia May 13, 1917, for the first time, asking them to pray the rosary and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners, which they did with decisive commitment.

Our Lady continued to appear to them on the 13th of each month until October of that year, making constant appeals for an increase in faith, hope, conversion and prayers for peace. In addition, she also revealed to the children three “secrets,” which are now known to be a vision of hell interpreted as scenes from World War II, the rise and fall of Soviet Communism, and what was a foreshadowing of the 1981 assassination attempt on St. John Paul II.

After the apparitions, Francisco and Jacinta Marto died in 1918 after a serious bout of the Spanish flu at 9 and 11, but were known to pray often and offered up daily sacrifices for the conversion of sinners and an increase in love for God.

In this context, Fr. Cabecinhas said he believes the canonization of siblings Francisco and Jacinta “has this value: not only two Saints in the Church, but two Saints who challenge us to look to the message of Fatima and to understand that Fatima is also a school of holiness for each one of us.”

Fr. Cabecinhas has been the rector of the Fatima Marian Shrine since 2011, and is in charge of the bulk of preparations for the Pope's May 12-13 visit.

He said the centenary of the apparitions, the canonization and the growing anticipation of Pope Francis' visit “is a moment of great joy” for the people of Portugal, but also for him personally.

“For me it has been a great gift of God to be able to live this moment before the shrine and to have in my hands the decisions of the Shrine. It's a gift of God, but also a great responsibility,” he said, explaining that they are in the midst of making final preparations.

In general, preparations are going “very well,” he said, noting that all of the big decisions have been made and things are falling into place, so it’s down to the final, last-minute work of getting ready to host an estimated 500-800,000 pilgrims during the May celebrations.

Speaking of the reason why pilgrims choose to visit Fatima in particular, the priest said it's “without a doubt” because “they seek a strong experience of God, a strong encounter with God.”

“This is specific to Fatima,” he said, noting that while other shrines and holy sites are associated with physical healings or other fruits, the people who come to Fatima “come to have a strong experience with God, they come to change their lives, and many times this is the experience they transmit.”

“We say that at Fatima there are no physical healings – there are some, but (what is) specific to Fatima is the change of heart, the change of life, orienting one's life toward God,” he said, saying that another characteristic unique to Fatima is “silence.”

Cabecinhas said that when pilgrims speak to him about their experience visiting the shrine, many of them comment on how silent and prayerful the environment is, which is something he hopes each person who comes is able to experience.

The shrine has also been a popular place for Popes to visit, with Bl. Paul VI being the first pontiff to do so in 1967. St. John Paul II followed suit in 1982, making a trip that was largely intended to pay homage to Our Lady of Fatima, whom he credited with saving his life when he was shot May 13, 1981.

Benedict XVI also visited the Fatima shrine in 2010, continuing the papal tradition of traveling to the holy site, and cementing even further it’s link to the Pope.

Fr. Cabecinhas said he believes Popes come to Fatima so often is because it has “a universal message, a message for the entire Church,” which is something each one of them have understood.

“They have seen that Fatima has something to say to the entire Church on the place of God in the life of the believer, and it's because of this they have come, to highlight this message,” he said, adding that he has no doubt that the presence of Popes at the shrine “has helped to then diffuse the message in the entire world.”

With an entire year of celebrations extending beyond just the May celebrations, Cabecinhas said he hopes those who come even after Pope Francis' visit get to experience and understand Our Lady’s message on a deeper level.

The priest said he wants pilgrims to have “a joyful experience of being at Fatima” and to have “an experience of encounter with God through the Madonna.”

“She is presented here as a path toward God and a refuge in our hardship,” he said, so “what we want is that each pilgrim who visits this year can have this experience and can say, 'yes, I went to Fatima, and the Madonna for me was a refuge in difficult moments, but a path that guided me to God.'”

Posted: April 21, 2017, 9:02 am

Fatima, Portugal, Apr 19, 2017 / 10:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- St. Peter’s Cricket Club, the Vatican’s cricket team, is traveling to Fatima April 19-22 for an interreligious tournament ahead of the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady to three shepherd children in the country.

The team’s third international tour, the tournament will include Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish teams coming from Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

It takes place just three weeks before the Pope’s pilgrimage to Fatima May 12-13 to join in the centenary celebrations.

Established in 2013, St. Peter’s Cricket Club is made up of priests, deacons, and seminarians currently living and studying in Rome.

Current and past members have hailed from England, India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. The team was formed under the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture as a way to creatively engage with people from other Churches, ecclesial communions, and religions.

The first day of the trip will be dedicated to visiting the shrine at Fatima, and the three following to the tournament. The team is hosted by the municipal council and people of Miranda do Corvo, near the historic university city of Coimbra.

The cricket club’s third “Light of Faith Tour,” the first was held in England in 2014. On April 23, 2016 the team played their second cricket match against the Royal Household in Rome to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday.

Their second “Light of Faith Tour” was also held in England, in September 2016.

Pope Francis has frequently praised sports, particularly for their ability to bring people together.

In June 2014, he told a crowd of Italian youth gathered in St. Peter’s Square for a field day event that “Sports in the community can be a great missionary tool, where the Church is close to every person to help them become better and to meet Jesus Christ.”

And in October 2016, he told participants in an international conference on sports at the Vatican that the beauty and joy found in sports, whether playing or watching, is something that benefits and unites everyone, regardless of religion, ethnic group, nationality, or disability.

“Sport is a human activity of great value, able to enrich people's lives,” he said. “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, she is working in the world of sport to bring the joy of the Gospel, the inclusive and unconditional love of God for all human beings.”

Posted: April 19, 2017, 4:45 pm

Stockholm, Sweden, Apr 18, 2017 / 02:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Swedish midwife who refused to perform abortions has lost another court decision, but her supporters say the court neglected her freedom of conscience.

“The desire to protect life is what leads many midwives and nurses to enter the medical profession in the first place,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International. “Instead of forcing desperately needed midwives out of their profession, governments should safeguard the moral convictions of medical staff.”

Religious freedom advocates argue that midwives – who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth – often choose their profession because they want to bring new life into the world, and they should not be forced to end life against their beliefs.

Midwife Ellinor Grimmark charged that three different medical clinics in Sweden’s southern Joenkoeping County unjustly denied her employment because of her objections to assisting in abortions.

In November 2015, a district court said her right to freedom of opinion and expression was not violated. She was required to pay the local government’s legal costs, nearly $106,000.

A labor court sided with the district court and against the midwife on April 12.

Grimmark is considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. ADF International has filed a brief in support of her case.

Clarke said that Sweden, as a member state of the Council of Europe, is obliged to respect the council’s Parliamentary Assembly. The assembly has said that no person shall be coerced or discriminated against “in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist, or submit to an abortion.”

“Participation in abortions should not be a requirement for employment as a medical professional,” added Clarke. “In accordance with international law, the court should have protected Ellinor’s fundamental right to freedom of conscience.”

BBC News, citing United Nations data, says that Sweden has one of the highest abortion rates in Europe, with 20.8 per 1,000 women in 2011.

 

Posted: April 18, 2017, 8:28 pm

Rome, Italy, Apr 15, 2017 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the conflict in Syria rages on, a Salesian nun honored by the White House as a “Woman of Courage” said that no matter who is in charge, as long as they work for peace they have her vote.

“I like anyone that can help me achieve peace, whether it's Assad or President Trump, or whoever can support us in peace,” Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh told reporters April 11.

The nun said that in her opinion, there is still hope for peace in Syria, but that whenever steps in that direction seem to be taken, something happens and “we go backwards.”

Yet despite the ongoing violence, “there is always hope for the future,” she said, “there are steps of peace, we continue to look to the future with a lot of hope, because everything has an end. There will be an end.”

Tahhan, a member of the Salesian Daughters of Mary Help of Christians Order, was one of 13 women who received the “International Woman of Courage Award” from First Lady Melania Trump in Washington March 29.

She was nominated for the award by the U.S. embassy to the Holy See for her work running a nursery school in Damascus that her order established as a safe and friendly space where more than 200 children traumatized by the war, both Christian and Muslim, can play and just be children.

In addition to the school, Tahhan also manages a tailor workshop in collaboration with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, providing much-needed community and support for women who are vulnerable and displaced.

The nomination for the White House award were accepted by the Obama administration, but were held until Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, approved them, allowing them to be handed out. After receiving the award, she came to Rome and spoke to reporters about her work during a roundtable sponsored by the U.S. embassy to the Holy See.

In her comments to journalists, Tahhan said meeting the other 12 women who received the award alongside her is something that “enriched me.”

As part of her trip to the U.S. to receive the award, the nun was also taken to visit several projects that work with refugees and which also offer psychological services, which she said was “helpful for my work.”

Many of the children who come to the school suffer from the effects of war, she said, explaining that while some are less affected, others don’t speak.

She voiced fear for the future of the culture the children are growing up in, noting that “they are all damaged, they have this fear from the war, they have a bit of violence inside, and this is normal.”

Recalling a conversation she had with one of the children after a canon had gone off, the nun said she had heard a loud noise and asked what it was. Immediately one of the children near her said it was a canon.

When she asked the 4-year-old child how they knew, the child responded by saying “when it’s a missile it goes ‘sss-boom,’ and when it’s a canon it immediately goes ‘boom.’”

“I was bothered by this. This is the culture of our children,” she said, and recalled how in a video sent to her by family in Aleppo, one of her nephews showed her a box of “toys” he had collected, which ended up being different sized shells that had landed on their balcony.

“What do we do for the future to take this violence out of our children?” Tahhan asked, noting that the video from her nephew “hurt me a lot.”

However, she cautioned against falling for what she said are false media reports that say that everything is Syria is only destruction.

“It’s not true that everything is terrible in Syria, that everything is this civil war,” she said, explaining that “there is still solidarity, there is still coexistence between Muslims and Christians.”

“We live together, there is co-existence,” she said, explaining that there are many Muslim women who participate in the tailoring workshop, and when she needs materials, it is they who go to purchase them.

“Since 2010 to now, more than 500 women have entered our houses, have gone to sewing classes, and the majority are Muslims,” she said, explaining that if she were to accept only Christians, “then I also become like them, I become a fanatic.”

Many times when bombs go off near the convent, shortly after there will be a knock on their door from Muslim men who come to check on them, saying “Sisters, do you need something? Are you okay?”

Even in the school children don't distinguish between Christians and Muslims, she said, noting that they are damaged above all by war, rather than religious differences. “I'm not saying there’s not fanaticism,” she added, but stressed that there is still coexistence between them.

Going against a growing distaste for President Assad in the global public eye, Tahhan voiced her support for Assad, saying “I like our president.” She said that he and his wife are “very close to us” and have protected and offered material and financial support to the Christians in Syria, including for the school her order runs. She added that Assad's wife called and asked for her personally and met with her and several other sisters to ask if anything was preventing them from carrying out their work and to ask what support they needed.

The international community, however, is beginning to unite in opposition against Assad. On Tuesday G7 leaders – which include the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan and Canada – met with allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to discuss the possible need for new leadership in Syria and to agree on sanctions for his biggest ally, Russia.

Referring to Trump's decision to bomb Syria's Shayrat Air Base after the sarin gas attack, Tahhan said the move was “a step back from peace.”

When it comes to the peace process in Syria, the nun said that while there is always hope for the future, it frequently happens that whenever a step forward is taken, “then something happens and we go backward.”

She recalled receiving the news after walking out of a reception for the award winners in Washington, saying that when she heard about the bombing, “I was very hurt,” and that in her opinion, “right now, for me, we are going backward.”

The war, in her opinion, erupted not because Assad was causing problems, but because “there are different interests” involved, including the country’s natural resources.

Pope Francis “is doing a lot” with all the appeals he is making, particularly to the international community, she said, calling him “a true prophet.”

His words “awaken the conscience…he doesn't stay quiet. He is awakening, his voice is strong. He is also entering into the conscience of everyone.”

Regarding the fear that if Islamic terrorism isn't curbed, there will no longer be Christians living in the Middle East, the nun said the Church is working to ensure this won't happen.

“The Church is working to keep the Christians,” she said, adding that “if the Church exists, then Christians will continue to be there.”

Posted: April 15, 2017, 6:01 pm

Rome, Italy, Apr 14, 2017 / 04:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis presided over the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday, asking Christ’s forgiveness for the ways we may have fallen short, and imploring the grace to do better in the future.

“O Christ our only Savior, we come back to you again this year with eyes downcast with shame and with a heart full of hope,” the Pope prayed April 14.

“We ask you to break the chains that hold us prisoners in our selfishness, in our voluntary blindness and in the futility of our worldly calculations.”

Offering his prayer at the conclusion of the annual Good Friday tradition, Francis recalled the different reasons we may have for bringing our shame before Christ on the cross, such as the bloodshed of women, children, and immigrants, or the persecution of people based on race, ethnicity, or religion.

He also called out the shame that comes with running away from our responsibilities, being silent in the face of injustice, perpetuating laziness and greed, and being self-interested and selfish.

The Pope in a particular way called out clergy and religious, saying: “shame for all the times that we bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have scandalized and hurt your body, the Church.

“We have forgotten our first love,” he continued, “our first enthusiasm and our total availability, leaving our hearts and our consecration to rust.”

But even in this shame, we also have hope, he said, praying that the Lord would “not treat us according to our merits but solely according to the multitude” of his mercy.

We have hope “that your cross turns our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh able to dream, to forgive and to love,” he prayed.

The Church has hope that she can be the voice that cries in the “desert of humanity” to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming, Francis continued, knowing that God’s truth is not based on our own understanding.

The Pope also said that we have hope that those faithful to Christ’s cross will “continue to remain faithful like yeast that gives flavor” and “that good will win in spite of Christ’s apparent defeat!”

“O Christ, we ask you to teach us to never be ashamed of your Cross, not to exploit it, but to honor and worship it, because with it you have shown us the monstrosity of our sins, the greatness of your love, injustice of our judgements and the power of your love,” he concluded.

At each of the 14 stations, the cross was carried by different people – both religious and lay – from countries around the world, including Poland, Italy, India, Africa, Egypt, Portugal, Colombia, France, China, and Israel.

At several stations, the cross was held by a family with young children.

For the third station, the cross was carried by members of the Italian organization UNITALSI, which organizes pilgrimages for people with illnesses and disabilities to visit Marian shrines, such as Lourdes.   

This year's meditations on the Stations of the Cross were written by French biblical scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier.

Using more than just the accounts of Christ’s Passion in the Gospels, Pelletier’s reflection weaved in Scripture and biblical references from both the Old and New Testaments as she reflected on how the entire life of Christ has been leading him, and us, to his ultimate sacrifice.

Pelletier’s meditations also reflected significantly on the perspective of the women along Christ's path, especially his mother, Mary.

Posted: April 14, 2017, 10:53 pm

Rome, Italy, Apr 14, 2017 / 01:51 am (CNA).- In the hours after evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, a few pilgrims in Rome make their way to the Church of Saint Praxedes, home to a fragment of stone alleged to be the pillar upon which Jesus was scourged.

Known as the Column of the Flagellation, the stone offers an object of contemplation for those visiting the church to reflect on Christ's Passion. This is especially true on Holy Thursday, when pilgrims traditionally go to churches throughout the city to venerate the decorated altars within which the Eucharist has been reposed in anticipation of Good Friday.

The column is kept in a glass reliquary in one of the side chapels of Saint Praxedes, a 9th century church named after an early Christian martyr who has long-standing devotion in Rome, but about whom little is known for certain.

The pillar itself, sculpted from black-and-white marble, was retrieved from the Holy Land during the medieval period.

Is the artifact which continues to be visited by pilgrims as the column of the scourging a true relic of Christ's Passion? Most scholars would say this is highly doubtful.

Yet the probable in-authenticity of the pillar does not take away from the value in venerating it, says one expert. Rather, it is reminiscent of the genuine spirituality of medieval Christians, like those who found the pillar and brought it back from the Holy Land.

“The Middle Ages had a very powerful sense of God’s Providence,” said Gregory DiPippo, managing editor of the New Liturgical Movement website, “and to them you could almost say it was illogical that God would allow something like (the pillar) – which would have been Sanctified by being part of the Lord’s Passion – to go missing.”

Whether the true pillar of the flagellation still exists anywhere is uncertain. Jerusalem's Chapel of the Apparition claims to have the true pillar: a broken red porphyry column which bears no resemblance to the artifact in Rome.

However, in speaking of Saint Praxedes pillar, DiPippo explained it was improbable that the original would have survived on account of the 1st century uprisings which led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, there is inherent value in venerating an object that may not be genuine, when one takes into account the objective of veneration, he added.

In the Western tradition, “you aren’t venerating the object for its own sake, necessarily, but rather as an expression of a sort of realized presence of the person or the event that it represents.”

This point is further illustrated by comparing Western and Eastern liturgical practices, he said, observing that in the West, the priest incenses the relics of the saints, whereas Byzantines incense the images and icons.

“It is the living presence, realized presence in this case, of the Passion of Christ,” DiPippo said. “Even if it isn’t authentic, we are still honoring the Passion of Christ by venerating it as such.”

The pillar of Saint Praxedes was first brought to Italy by Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, a 13th century prelate appointed by Pope Innocent III, who had been serving as papal legate in the Holy Land during the sixth Crusade. Returning to Rome in the 1220s, he brought with him the column in question.

“One mustn’t think of this as a conscious fraud on the part of Cardinal Colonna, or the people who received it as the relic of the flagellation,” DiPippo explained, but rather of Medieval devotion.

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 3, 2015.

Posted: April 14, 2017, 7:51 am

London, England, Apr 11, 2017 / 03:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Charlie Gard is an 8 month old in the United Kingdom who has been fighting for his life against a rare disease.

His parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, wanted to keep him on life support and transport him to the United States in order to try an experimental treatment.

But on Tuesday, a High Court judge ruled that it was in the child’s best interest for doctors to withdraw life support from Charlie and place him strictly on palliative care, in spite of his parents’ wishes.

In his decision, Justice Francis praised Charlie’s parents for “their absolute dedication to their wonderful boy, from the day that he was born,” but ultimately ruled that it was in the child’s best interest to withdraw life support.

“Some people may ask why the court has any function in this process; why can the parents not make this decision on their own?” Francis wrote.

“The answer is that, although the parents have parental responsibility, overriding control is vested in the court exercising its independent and objective judgment in the child’s best interests. The Great Ormond Street Hospital has made an application and it is my duty to rule on it, given that the parents and the hospital cannot agree on the best way forward.”

Charlie has a rare disorder called mitochondrial depletion syndrome which causes progressive muscle weakness, believed to affect fewer than 20 children worldwide. He has suffered significant brain damage due to the disease and is currently fed through a tube, breathes with an artificial ventilator, and is unable to move.

Hospital experts from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) argued in court that long-term life support should be withdrawn from Charlie because his quality of life was “so poor”. Charlie’s state-appointed counsel argued that the treatments available in the United States were only experimental and that long-term life support would only “prolong the process of dying” for Charlie.

However, Charlie’s parents’ legal representative argued that traveling to the U.S. for treatments would not have cause Charlie significant suffering or harm and could have given him another chance. She also argued that the parent’s wishes should carry “great weight” in the decision.

Yates, Charlie’s mother, previously told the BBC: “We just want to have our chance. It would never be a cure but it could help him live. If it saves him, amazing. I want to save others. Even if Charlie doesn’t make it through this, I don’t ever want another mum and their child to go through this.”

Yates and Gard had set up a public GoFundMe account for Charlie’s treatment in the U.S., which had raised nearly all of its £1.3 million ($1.6 million) goal.

However, the case was not about funding, but about what was in the best interest of Charlie, Francis said in his decision.

“There is unanimity among the experts from whom I have heard that nucleoside therapy cannot reverse structural brain damage. I dare say that medical science may benefit, objectively, from the experiment, but experimentation cannot be in Charlie’s best interests unless there is a prospect of benefit for him,” he said.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts, but with complete conviction for Charlie’s best interests, that I find it is in Charlie’s best interests that I accede to these applications and rule that GOSH may lawfully withdraw all treatment save for palliative care to permit Charlie to die with dignity.”

Upon hearing the ruling, the BBC reports that Charlie’s parents were visibly distressed, and that his father shouted “No” and burst into tears, as did other family members present.

The parents’ representative said that they would be taking their time considering their next steps, but their first priority right now is spending time with Charlie. Charlie’s life support will not be immediately withdrawn as Yates and Gard consider appealing the ruling.

Posted: April 11, 2017, 9:44 pm

Rome, Italy, Apr 11, 2017 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At a prayer vigil with youth this weekend, Pope Francis said the Church needs to listen to the voice of young people, and some of them have responded saying they want to let the world know they are not tired of following Christ.

“There are a lot of young people who feel like the Church is difficult, that it is far off, that it’s something for adults and for serious people,” Nicole Espino, 18, told CNA. But the Pope, she said, “helps us to understand that we are important and that we are part of the Church.”

“We feel included and like we are part of the Mass. We feel important, and he makes us feel that the youth count and that we belong to the Church,” she said.

Espino was one of some 300 Panamanian youths who came to Rome to receive the official World Youth Day cross from Polish young people during Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday Mass April 9.

The Mass coincided with the 32nd WYD, themed “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name,” and is the first step in preparing for the global 2019 WYD in Panama.

The youths were present along with Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama and Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan of David. Their itinerary included not only Mass with the Pope, but a prayer vigil the night before and meetings with the organizers of WYD and the upcoming 2018 synod of bishops on “Faith, Young People and the Discernment of Vocation.”

In a prayer vigil held April 8 in anticipation of this year’s diocesan-level WYD celebration, Pope Francis told the thousands of young people gathered in the Basilica of St. Mary Major to be protagonists in the preparation process for the two events, because the Church needs to hear their voice.

Espino said that for her, what she would tell the Church, particularly priests, is that “the youth are very important and that it’s an honor that the Pope chose Panama (for WYD).” She said she would also tell them that as youth “we are ready to give everything to give the best possible and to give face to our country.”

Similarly, Paul Tijerino, 24, who was present at the prayer vigil along with a number of other Panamanian youth, said his message to the Church would be that “we do not get tired of following God, of always following his example, of being humble in what we do.”

“We are aware of what we can be the only Gospel that a person reads,” he said, and voiced his hope that “our actions reflect this living Christ and when people see us, they see Christ, and not only that they see Christ, but see that we are guided by Mary.”

Tijerino was one of two youths to shake hands with Pope Francis at the prayer vigil as the Roman Pontiff was leaving, and all he could say about it was “wow!”

For him, Pope Francis is “a model of life, an example to follow in humility, simplicity and in everything that he represents.”

“He has turned the Church,” the young man said, explaining that what impacted him most about the Pope’s message to young people at the prayer vigil was “the message he gave on the syond …because it helps us a lot to know what it is that we want to do in our lives.”

“I feel that this is what young people should look for,” he said. “To know what is the plan that God has for us in order to be able to prepare it.”

“We are waiting for them with open arms,” he said, explaining that he plans to prepare with a lot of prayer and community events, by trying to make his life “an example for others” and by trying “to follow the Pope gives us.”

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, said WYD – which will be held in Panama Jan. 22-27, 2019 – needs to be prepared in tandem with the synod on youth “because WYD is for the youth. WYD has a history and a tradition, and now we’re having the first synod on the youth.”

Speaking to journalists during an April 9 meeting on synod and WYD preparations, he said that “We need to prepare with consultation from the youth,” explaining that at nearly 70 years old, “I don’t think like the youth do,” so there is a need to speak with them as well as the priests and bishops who are closer to their reality.

And this means speaking not just with youth who are constant Church-goers, but also those who are perhaps atheists or who no longer go to Church, he said, referring to comments Pope Francis had made on this point during the prayer vigil.

Perhaps the most difficult part of preparing, he said, will be to “enter into contact with the youth, but it needs to be done (and) we need to change the system that we use.” Rather than just sending out letters to bishops, Cardinal Farrell said the dicastery is looking to develop ways for youth to contribute online.

“We need to do what Pope Francis says: go out, go beyond the doors of the Church and of all the organizations” in order to reach especially those who are far off.

For his part on the diocesan level in Panama, Cardinal Lacunza said that at this point, things are already moving forward and “there’s no going back.”

“We remain with the task of raising awareness, to make everyone see that they should participate and that everyone can open their doors to welcome pilgrims so that no one feels like a stranger,” he said, explaining that since the country is so small, part of their preparations involve asking locals to open the doors of their homes to those who come for the global event.

To have the synod on youth happen just before WYD, he said, “is another blessing from God.” On the journey from Krakow to Panama “you pass through the synod,” he said, explaining that for him, the synod will be an opportunity for WYD to be “even more meaningful and impactful.”

While there are only a few months in between the October synod and the WYD gathering in January, Cardinal Lacunza said that “if the Pope proposed it and insists, it can be done and it will be a wonderful opportunity to deliver to WYD the result of the synod.”

Posted: April 11, 2017, 8:21 pm

London, England, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Fr. John Reid, a Roman Catholic priest serving in County Durham, England, has been spared an 18-month jail sentence for stealing more than £50,000 from his parish, which he had been spending on his housekeeper and her two daughters.

According to media reports, the 70-year-old priest was given an 18-month suspended sentence after admitting to fraud by abuse of position at an earlier hearing. He has agreed to repay the money within three months.
 
“The defendant was arrested in May 2014 at St. Patrick's Presbytery, Stockton. It appeared that the defendant was virtually living as a family with Gillian Leddy and her daughters, Veronica and Alice,” said Jane Waugh, the prosecutor in Fr. Reid's case, according to the Telegraph.

“There had been dramatic increases within the categories of General Administration, House Keeping, and Hospitality. This would appear to be because Gillian, Alice, and Veronica Leddy…were effectively living at the presbytery and the defendant's expenditure increased to reflect the fact that he was helping to support them financially,” Waugh said.

Fr. Reid was assigned to St. Cuthbert's parish in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in 2009. Within a few years of his arrival, some parishioners began to raise eyebrows when the parish's spending had more than doubled.

Suspicions were also raised when Fr. Reid began asking for blank checks without giving any details about his spending. He also started to run the parish without a finance council, and named one of his housekeeper's daughters the co-signatory of the parish check book. He additionally wrote more than 150 checks to himself.

Basic living for a parish priest at St. Cuthbert's should have totaled around £31,500 over the course of four years. Instead, that number spiked to over £113,000.

Eventually, parishioner Nora McKie raised the red flag and wanted Fr. Reid's spending to be investigated by auditors and the police.

“The witness Nora McKie…stated that the defendant had a lifestyle not typical of any priest she had known, and that the reason she took action to highlight these serious concerns was to protect those people, who with total trust were giving money to the Church,” Waugh said.

During the two-year investigation, it was discovered that Fr. Reid had stolen thousands of pounds from the parish to pay for things such as foreign travel, fine dining, expensive cutlery and a seemingly lavish lifestyle for his housekeeper and her daughters.

In addition, the priest's rectory was found “in terrible condition.”

“It was dirty and untidy with large quantities of alcohol present,” Waugh noted, adding that they also found “female clothing in the bedrooms and it was apparent that females had been staying there.”

Fr. Reid had also funded two homes, a few cars, and even financed a business venture for the two daughters, using his own inheritance.

In response to the investigation, Fr. Reid stated that he was in love with his housekeeper, Gillian Leddy, and that the three women were “the family that he never had.”

“The parish keeps me,” Fr. Reid stated, and “ultimately, I’m in charge of it, so I can spend it.”

Since the scandal, Fr. Reid has been replaced at St. Cuthbert's by another priest and was charged to pay back the £50,000 that he stole, in addition to another £5,000 to repay the auditing costs within three months.

Posted: April 10, 2017, 10:02 am

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Apr 7, 2017 / 01:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The killer of an American woman who had been walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route has been found guilty and could face up to 25 years in prison.

Miguel Angel Munoz, 41, ambushed and killed tourist Denise Pikka Thiem, from Phoenix, Arizona, around Easter Sunday 2015.

Prosecutors maintained that Thiem lost her way because Munoz had planted a fake marker along the route to confuse pilgrims and tourists and lure them to his property, the New York Times reports.

The 40-year-old woman had quit her job to travel the world. She made her last social media posts on April 4, 2015 near Astorga in northwest Spain, Reuters says. She was last seen on April 5, Easter Sunday, one month after her arrival in Spain.

That September, police found her body partly buried on Munoz’s property and arrested him. He initially confessed, then recanted and claimed he had only found her body. Thiem was found to have been beaten to death and her hands had been removed, The Telegraph reported.

A jury found Munoz guilty of the crime on April 5. He was also convicted of stealing her belongings, including about $1,100 in cash.

In 2016 more than 270,000 pilgrims received a certificate for completing at least one stage of the official pilgrimage routes to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

Posted: April 7, 2017, 7:27 pm

Dublin, Ireland, Apr 6, 2017 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- Facing legal scrutiny over foreign funding of efforts to fight Ireland’s anti-abortion law, a pro-abortion group has returned a $25,000 grant to billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

But Cora Sherlock, spokesperson for the Pro Life Campaign, fears the grant to the Ireland-based Abortion Rights Campaign was only “the tip of the iceberg.”

“There is no question this was politically motivated funding,” she told CNA April 5. “I think it is a good thing that the money was returned but there are still outstanding questions that have not be answered.”

In August 2016, CNA broke the news of documents that had been reportedly hacked from Open Society Foundations and posted to the site DCLeaks.com.

These documents showed a strategy proposal for the foundations’ Women’s Rights Program to fund the Abortion Rights Campaign, Amnesty International Ireland, and the Irish Family Planning Association “to work collectively on a campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional amendment granting equal rights to an implanted embryo as the pregnant woman (referred to as ‘fetal personhood’).”

That same month, the Republic of Ireland’s Standards in Public Office began to examine whether the funding violated Irish law, according to the newspaper The Irish Catholic, which cited documents released under a freedom of information act request.

Irish law forbids campaign groups accepting more than 100 Euro in donations from foreign sources that could be used for domestic political purposes.

Irish officials repeatedly sought copies of correspondence between the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Open Society Foundations, including its funding application.

The Abortion Rights Campaign was reluctant to hand over these documents.

It initially claimed all funding for political purposes had been revealed, The Irish Catholic reported. After another request, it invoked European Convention on Human Rights protections and maintained the grant was not for political purposes. The group claimed that providing the grant application and other correspondence would violate the European human rights convention and raise questions about confidentiality.

By November 2016, the Standards in Public Office threatened to report the campaign to Ireland’s national police if it did not turn over the relevant documents. The Abortion Rights Campaign then agreed to provide the documents while protesting the way the law was being applied.

The documents suggested that the campaign’s own grant application to the Open Society Foundations was conscious of political purpose.

According to the application, the purpose of is project was “to engage, energize, mobilize and provide self-education opportunities on issues of sexual health, reproductive rights and abortion in Ireland with a strategic goal of garnering support for repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, reducing abortion stigma, and increasing grass roots engagement.”

The Abortion Rights Campaign agreed to return the grant, but it reiterated its disagreement with the officials’ interpretation of the law.

Sherlock said there are “numerous” international pro-abortion rights groups and foundations besides the Open Society Foundations that have funded, or wish to fund, the movement against Ireland’s abortion law.

“A concern I would have is that international pro-abortion foundations have already contributed vast sums of money to ‘Repeal the Eighth’ groups in Ireland and it just so happens that some of the Soros funding has come to light under the DC Leaks exposé,” she said. “The sums of money given by the Open Society Foundations alone to Amnesty Ireland and the Irish Family Planning Association are far from insignificant. Hundreds of thousands of Euro have been transferred to these groups and I would fear this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Sherlock said she found it “very hard” to believe the other groups did not receive politically motivated funding. In her view, the DC Leaks documents “clearly showed that the funding from the Soros Foundation to these groups was intended to influence the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.”

In response to The Irish Catholic report in March 2017, the Abortion Rights Campaign said that the grant was intended “to fund educational and stigma-busting projects.”

“Our focus remains on advocating for reproductive rights while striving to lift the stigma surrounding abortion in Ireland,” said the group’s spokesperson Linda Kavanagh.

The Republic of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, passed by voters in 1983, acknowledges “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The Open Society Foundations documents suggested that the foundations saw any pro-abortion rights success in Ireland as a model to change pro-life laws in other Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland. It also noted support for pro-abortion efforts in Mexico, Zambia, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and other parts of Latin America and Europe.

The strategy document said the foundations’ actions from 2016-2019 would aim to generate “a robust set of organizations advancing and defending sexual and reproductive rights and injecting new thinking/strategy into the field.”

Other documents on the DCLeaks.com website showed the Open Society Foundations collaborating with Planned Parenthood, the Hewlett Foundation and the Democracy Alliance in a multi-million dollar campaign to respond to videos that appeared to expose the abortion performer’s involvement in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts for profit.

 

Posted: April 6, 2017, 9:53 pm
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