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INDIA - Prayer for seven innocent Christians of Orissa who are imprisoned

Kochi (Agenzia Fides) - The Church in India is in prayer for the release of seven innocent Christians in the Indian state of Orissa, in prison for nine years. Their names are: Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Bijay Sanseth, Buddhadev Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Gornath Chalanseth, Munda Badamajhi and Sanatan Badamajhi. As Fides learns, the seven, originally from Kandhamal district, theater of anti-Christian violence which took place in 2007 and 2008, are unjustly accused of being among those responsible of the killing of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, killed in Orissa on 23 August 2008. In 2013 a district court sentenced them and an appeal trial is pending at Cuttack High Court. The hearing of the trial has been postponed several times. The episode of Hindu leader's death was the spark that triggered the anti-Christian violence in 2008. Christians were accused in a pretestuous way of murder, then claimed and attributed to Maoist groups.

In recent days, in an assembly of priests held in Kerala on "What Happened in Kandhamal?", the present recalled that the Indian Church organized prayer vigils for the Indian Salesian Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen and then released. "Now it is urgent to pray for the innocent of Kandhamal", says to Fides journalist and Catholic intellectual Anto Akkara, who has traveled many times to the district and has written several books on the subject. In one of these investigative books, titled "Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?", the journalist reports evidence that clears the seven Christians name.
Some priests, in collaboration with Akkara, have elaborated a special prayer that will spread among the Catholic communities in Orissa and other states of India. Bishops, priests, religious and lay Indians throughout the country have confirmed that they will join the prayer campaign for the seven innocent victims. "I have no doubt that faith must lead to action. The blood of martyrs' will inspire the faithful to support the voiceless. After the launch of the campaign, thousands have already begun praying for the innocent of Kandhamal", says Akkara to Fides.

Human rights activists, social workers, journalists, and leaders of the Church have contested the district court's conclusions that condemned the seven Christians at first instance: the verdict was based on the theory of a conspiracy lacking evidence and authenticity. Akkara also launched an online petition for the release of the seven, sending it to the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of India, to the President of India and the President of the National Human Rights Commission. "This is for me a journey of faith. The Lord has guided my path in the past nine years, and the petition and the campaign of prayer emerged from the desire for truth and justice", concludes Akkara.
The district of Kandhamal in the State of Orissa (or Odisha) experienced inter-community tensions and an unprecedented wave of violence during Christmas in 2007 and then since August 2008. The violence lasted for at least four months, killed more than 100 people and 56,000 were left without a home
 

If Christian ministries are kicked out of India, who will share the Gospel?

India, October 13, 2017: You’ve heard us talk about Christian ministries being kicked out of India, including Compassion International earlier this year. A report from India Briefing last month shows that 24,000 NGOs have now lost their licenses under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act in the last year. That is one-third of the NGOs that previously existed in India before the FCRA.
Many organizations lost their NGO status in India for simply not filing the proper paperwork. But the NGO reporting requirements have shifting demands and sometimes sudden deadlines. Ministries have shared it seems like these are hurdles meant to make it increasingly difficult for non-Hindu groups to stay in the country.
One of the high-profile cases was Compassion International whose license in India was revoked earlier this year. They were carrying out ministry to vulnerable children through local partners in the country.
The Voice of the Martyrs USA’s Todd Nettleton explains, “Many of those local partners were rejected from a license to accept funding from outside the country. So what the Indian government basically did is cut off the flow of funds that were helping those Christian organizations do that ministry on the ground in India. Because of that, many of those organizations have had to stop the ministry. Many of the outside groups have had to stop funding ministry in India because that money is not allowed to be transferred into the country.”

Since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014, hostilities against Christians have nearly doubled. His background with radical Hindu nationalists and the RSS have emboldened those groups in their push to make India a totally Hindu nation.
So if Christian ministries are being systematically kicked out of India, who will carry on the spread of the Gospel?
Nettleton says, “Obviously the local Church is picking up that mantle and carrying it forward and sharing the Gospel. Thankfully, there is a great history of Christianity in India. There are churches and groups that have been operating for decades that are ready to pick that mantle up and carry it forward. But it is a challenge.”
The challenge comes when the local Church has to sometimes carry on ministry initiatives that were supported by other churches and organizations outside the country. In that, we need to pray for God to bless these ministry initiatives, and even seek out other Christian ministries to support that are still able to send funds to India.

Christian ministries that are still in India have to be cautious with how obvious they are in their Gospel outreach to avoid the crosshairs of the FCRA. And accusations akin to anti-blasphemy under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code are becoming more frequent. But they don’t want to compromise the biblical message of hope in Christ just to stay in the country. So where is the balance?
“That is a challenging question for the different ministries to answer as they go forward,” observes Nettleton. “[There is] that fine line of, well, we want to be able to stay in the country so we want to be careful about how we talk about what we do, but we also want to be representatives of Jesus Christ and we want to be inviting people into fellowship with Him. We’re not going to compromise on that. So that’s where that challenge comes in how you do the work on a day-to-day basis and how you talk about the work, both inside the country and to your donors and your supporters around the world.”

In addition to praying for Christian ministries and the local Church in India, there’s something else you can pray for.
“Maybe something we don’t think about as much is praying for the persecutors. We want to encourage people to pray for even radical Hindu nationalists, people in the RSS to come to faith in Christ, to have an encounter with a Christian that shakes up their worldview. You know, when Christians respond to persecution with love and forgiveness, that really plants a seed of the Gospel in the heart and in the mind of the persecutor because it’s not a human response, it’s not a natural response. It’s a supernatural response,” says Nettleton.
“The only explanation is Jesus Christ is real and he is living and he empowers people to endure persecution with faith and with courage.”
- mnn
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Pope praises 'beautiful, complex' diversity of Catholic Churches in India

Vatican City, Oct 10, 2017 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Tuesday said the variety of Catholic Churches and rites in India is a richness for the country that ought to be strengthened, and as a means of doing so, he expanded the reach of one of the country's indigenous Churches.
The decision moves toward a greater allowance for several bishops from distinct Catholic Churches in India having a presence in the same territory.
“In a world where large numbers of Christians are forced to migrate, overlapping jurisdictions have become customary and are increasingly effective tools for ensuring the pastoral care of the faithful while also ensuring full respect for their ecclesial traditions,” Pope Francis wrote in an Oct. 10 letter addressed to India's bishops.
He said the diversity of ecclesial life in the country “shines with great splendor throughout lands and nations.”
Two Catholic Churches based in India's Kerala state trace their origins to the preaching of the Apostle Thomas: the Syro-Malabar Church, which follows the East Syrian or Chaldean rite; and the Syro-Malankara Church, of the West Syrian or Antiochian rite.

The Latin rite Catholic Church also has a large presence throughout India, having been introduced to the country by missionaries in the 16th century.
The various Catholic rites in India, Pope Francis said, constitute a historic Christian presence in India “that is both rich and beautiful, complex and unique.”
“It is essential for the Catholic Church to reveal her face in all its beauty to the world, in the richness of her various traditions,” he said, and noted how the Second Vatican Council sought to “protect and preserve the treasure of the particular traditions of each Church,” an ongoing mission today.
His letter accompanied an announcement on the establishment of two new eparchies (the equivalent of a diocese in the Latin Church) for the Syro-Malabar Church.
The establishment of the eparchies of Shamshabad (in Uttar Pradesh) and Hosur (in Tamil Nadu) was announced along with the name of their first respective bishops: Bishop Raphael Thattil, until now Auxiliary Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Trichur, and Fr. Sebastian Pozholiparampil, a priest of the Syro-Malabar Diocee of Irinjalakuda. The Shamshabad eparchy will include the entire country of India not already included in existing Syro-Malabar eparchies.

Pope Francis also extended the boundaries of the eparchies of Ramanathapuram and Thuckalay, both of which are located in Tamil Nadu state.
In addition to his role as bishop, Thattil also serves as apostolic visitor for Syro-Malabar faithful in India who live outside of their own territory, reporting his observations to Rome.
Pope Francis' decision to establish new eparchies for the Syro-Malabar Church and widen its jurisdiction to essentially all of India mirrors a similar decision he made in August with the Syro-Malankara Church, when he reinforced their own presence with the establishment of a new eparchy and an apostolic visitor to the Syro-Malankara Church in Europe and Oceania.
The establishment of the eparchies also takes place as the Congregation for the Oriental Churches celebrates its centenary with a variety of activities in Rome, culminating in Mass with Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary Major Oct. 12.
In his letter, Pope Francis noted that “In India, even after many centuries, Christians are only a small proportion of the population and, consequently, there is a particular need to demonstrate unity and to avoid any semblance of division.”

He stated that when the Syro-Malabar Church expanded with missionary eparchies to parts of northern and central India, “it was generally thought by the Latin Bishops that there should be just one jurisdiction, that is, one bishop in a particular territory. These eparchies, created from Latin dioceses, today have exclusive jurisdiction over those territories, both of the Latin and Syro-Malabar faithful.”
“However, both in the traditional territories of the Eastern Churches, as well as in the vast area of the so-called diaspora (where these faithful have long been established), a fruitful and harmonious cooperation between Catholic bishops of the different sui iuris Churches within the same territory has taken place.”
Overlapping jurisdictions in India “should not longer be problematic,” the Pope wrote, noting that they have already existed in Kerala for some time, and his own expansion of the Syro-Malankara Church in recent years.
“These developments show that, albeit not without problems, the presence of a number of bishops in the same area does not compromise the mission of the Church. On the contrary, these steps have given greater impetus to the local Churches for their pastoral and missionary efforts.”

He voiced hope that his decision to broaden the reach of the Syro-Malabar Church would be “welcomed with a generous and peaceful spirit, although it may be a source of apprehension for some, since many Syro-Malabars, deprived of pastoral care in their own rite, are at present fully involved in the life of the Latin Church
Francis stressed his conviction that “there is no need for concern: the Church’s life should not be disrupted by such a provision.”
“Indeed it must not be negatively interpreted as imposing upon the faithful a requirement to leave the communities which have welcomed them, sometimes for many generations, and to which they have contributed in various ways. It should rather be seen as an invitation as well as an opportunity for growth in faith and communion with their sui iuris Church, in order to preserve the precious heritage of their rite and to pass it on to future generations.”

“The path of the Catholic Church in India cannot be that of isolation and separation, but rather of respect and cooperation,” he said, adding that the presence of several bishops of various rites “will surely offer an eloquent witness to a vibrant and marvelous communion.”
Francis closed his letter urging the Catholic Churches in India “to be generous and courageous as they witness to the Gospel in the spirit of fraternity and mutual love.”
“For the Syro-Malabar Church, this continues the valued work of their priests and religious in the Latin context, and sustains their availability for those Syro-Malabar faithful who, although choosing to attend Latin parishes, may request some assistance from their Church of origin. The Latin rite Church can continue to generously offer hospitality to members of the Syro-Malabar communities who do not have church buildings of their own.”
He said that “with the growth of spiritual friendship and mutual assistance, any tension or apprehension should be swiftly overcome. May this extension of the pastoral area of the Syro-Malabar Church in no way be perceived as a growth in power and domination, but as a call to deeper communion, which should never be perceived as uniformity.”

Hundreds of thousands pray rosary at Polish border

Faithful pray from the Baltic Sea coast in the north to the mountains in the south

Polish Catholics held rosaries and prayed together along the country’s 2,000-mile border on Saturday, appealing to the Virgin Mary and God for salvation for Poland and the world in a national event that some felt had anti-Muslim overtones.

The “Rosary to the Borders” event was organised by lay Catholics but was also endorsed by Polish church authorities, with 320 churches from 22 dioceses taking part. The prayers took place from the Baltic Sea coast in the north to the mountains along Poland’s southern borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and all along the border of this country of 38 million where more than 90 per cent declare themselves Catholics.
Organisers say the prayers at some 4,000 locations commemorated the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima, when three shepherd children in Portugal said the Virgin Mary appeared to them.
But the event also commemorated the huge 16th-century naval battle of Lepanto, when a Christian alliance acting on the wishes of the Pope defeated Ottoman Empire forces on the Ionian Sea, “thus saving Europe from Islamisation,” as organisers put it. Prime Minister Beata Szyd?o showed her support by tweeting an image of rosary beads with a crucifix and sending greetings to all the participants.
While organisers insisted the prayers Saturday were not directed against any group, some participants cited fears of Islam among their reasons for praying at the border.

Halina Kotarska, 65, travelled 145 miles from her home in Kwieciszewo, central Poland, to express gratitude after her 29-year-old son Slawomir survived a serious car wreck this year. She described it as a miracle which she attributed to Mary’s intercession.  She said she was also praying for the survival of Christianity in Poland and Europe against what she sees as an Islamic threat facing the West.  “Islam wants to destroy Europe,” she said. “They want to turn us away from Christianity.”

Poles also prayed in chapels at airports, seen as gateways to the country, while Polish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan prayed at Bagram Airfield there, the broadcaster TVN reported. A leading Polish expert on xenophobia and extremism, Rafa? Pankowski, saw the prayers as a problematic expression of Islamophobia coming at a time of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Poland, a phenomenon occurring even though the country’s Muslim population is tiny. “The whole concept of doing it on the borders reinforces the ethno-religious, xenophobic model of national identity,” said Pankowski, who heads the Never Again association in Warsaw.

At the Polish-Czech border near the town of Szklarska Poreba, hundreds of pilgrims arrived in buses and cars to pray at the Karkonosze mountain range. The procession, which included young and old and families pushing children in strollers, was made up of pilgrims who held rosaries and prayed to the Virgin Mary, braving the cold and rain. “It’s a really serious thing for us,” said Basia Sibinska, who travelled with her daughter Kasia from Kalisz in central Poland. “Rosaries to the Border means that we want to pray for our country. That was a main motive for us to come here. We want to pray for peace, we want to pray for our safety. Of course, everyone comes here with a different motivation. But the most important thing is to create something like a circle of a prayer alongside the entire border, intense and passionate.”

In the northern city of Gdansk, people prayed on a beach lapped by waves as seagulls flew above. Krzysztof Januszewski, 45, said that he worries Christian Europe is being threatened by Islamic extremists and by a loss of faith in Christian societies.  “In the past, there were raids by sultans and Turks and people of other faiths against us Christians,” said Januszewski, a mechanic who travelled 220 miles to Gdansk from Czerwi?sk nad Wis??. “Today Islam is flooding us and we are afraid of this too,” he added. “We are afraid of terrorist threats and we are afraid of people departing from the faith.”

The Eucharistic miracle of Sokolka: The host is tissue from heart of a dying man

Laboratory analyses confirm that the structure of the cardiac muscle fibers and the structure of the bread are intertwined in a way impossible to reproduce by human means.

Every day, on the altars of Catholic churches around the world, the greatest miracle possible takes place: the transformation of bread and wine into the true Body and Blood of Christ.  Nonetheless, when we receive Communion, we can only touch its true nature with our faith, because our senses only perceive bread and wine, physically unaltered by the consecration.

What are the implications, then, of the Eucharistic event in Sokolka, Poland?

It took place on Sunday, October 12, 2008, two weeks after the beatification of Servant of God Fr. Michael Sopocko. During the Holy Mass celebrated at the parish church of St. Anthony in Sokolka, at 8:30 a.m., a consecrated host fell from the hands of one of the priests during the distribution of Communion, next to the altar. The priest interrupted the distribution of Communion and picked up the host, and, in accordance with liturgical norms, placed it in a small container of water—in this case, one found in some churches beside the tabernacle, where the priest may wash his fingers after distributing Communion. The host was expected to dissolve in the water, which would later be disposed of properly.

Sister Julia Dubowska, of the Congregation of the Eucharistic Sisters, was the parish sacristan. At the end of the Mass, at the request of the pastor, Fr. Stanislaw Gniedziejko, she poured the water and the host into another container. Knowing that the consecrated host would take some time to dissolve, she placed the new container in the safe located in the parish sacristy. Only she and the pastor had the keys to the safe.

A week later, on October 19, Mission Sunday, when the pastor asked her about the condition of the host, Sister Julia went to the safe. When she opened the door, she noticed a delicate aroma of unleavened bread. When she opened the container, she saw, in the middle of the host—which was still largely intact—a curved, bright red stain, like a blood stain: a living particle of a body. The water was untainted by the color. The sister immediately informed the priest, who brought in the other priests at the parish and the visiting missionary, Fr. Ryszard Gorowski. They were all amazed and left speechless by what they saw.  They kept a discreet and prudent silence about the event, considering its importance; this was a consecrated host which, by the power of the words of Christ at the Last Supper, was truly His Body. From a human point of view, it was difficult at that point to define if the altered form of the remainder of the host was the result of an organic growth, a chemical reaction, or some other cause. They immediately notified the metropolitan archbishop of Bialystok, Edward Ozorowski, who went to Sokolka with the chancellor of the Curia and other diocesan officials. They were all deeply moved by what they saw. The archbishop ordered that the host be protected while they waited to see what would happen.

On October 29, the container with the host was transferred to the Divine Mercy Chapel in the rectory, and placed in the tabernacle. The next day, by decision of the archbishop, the stained host was taken out of the water and placed on a small corporal, which was then put back in the tabernacle. The host was kept this way for three years, until it was solemnly brought to the church on October 2, 2011. During the first year, it was kept secret. During that time, the Church authorities reflected on what to do, since they were dealing with a sign from God which needed to be interpreted.  By mid-January of 2009, the altered fragment of the host had dried out naturally, and remained like a blood stain or clot; since then, its appearance has not changed. That same month, the archbishop requested histopathological studies be done on the host. On March 30, he created an ecclesial commission to study the phenomenon.

A piece of the altered host was taken and analyzed independently by two experts, Prof. Maria Sobaniec-Lotowska, MD, and Prof. Stanislaw Sulkowski, MD, in order to ensure the credibility of the results. Both are histopathologists at the Medical University of Bialystok. The studies were carried out at the university’s Department of Pathomorphology. The specialists’ work was governed by the scientific norms and obligations for analyzing any scientific problem in accordance with the directives of the Scientific Ethics Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The studies were exhaustively described and photographed. The complete documentation was given to the Metropolitan Curia of Bialystok.

When the samples were taken for analysis, the undissolved part of the consecrated host had become embedded in the cloth. However, the red blood clot was as clear as ever. This transformed part of the host was dry and fragile, inextricably interwoven with the rest of the fragment, which had kept the form of bread. The sample that was taken was large enough to carry out all the necessary studies. The results of both independent studies were in perfect agreement. They concluded that the structure of the transformed fragment of the host is identical to the myocardial (heart) tissue of a living person who is nearing death. The structure of the heart muscle fibers is deeply intertwined with that of the bread, in a way impossible to achieve with human means, according to the declaration of Prof. Maria Sobaniec-Lotowska.

The studies proved that no foreign substance was added to the consecrated host; rather, part of the host took the form of heart muscle of a person near death. This kind of phenomenon is inexplicable by the natural sciences. At the same time, the Church teaches us that the consecrated host becomes the Body of Christ, by the power of His own words at the Last Supper, repeated by priests during the consecration of the Mass.

The results of the histopathological studies, dated January 21, 2009, were included in the dossier given to the Metropolitan Curia of Bialystok. In its official communiqué, the Metropolitan Curia of Bialystok stated:  “The Sokolka event is not opposed to the faith of the Church; rather, it confirms it. The Church professes that, after the words of consecration, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread is transformed into the Body of Christ, and the wine into His Blood. Additionally, this is an invitation for all ministers of the Eucharist to distribute the Body of the Lord with faith and care, and for the faithful to receive Him with adoration.”

India third among countries that faced most natural disasters: Guterres
Climate change was among the seven global threats that he listed needing immediate global action.
September 19, 2017, 4:24 PM
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a bell-ringing ceremony at UN headquarters in New York, Sept. 15, 2017. (IANS)

India ranked third among the countries that have faced the most natural disasters in the last half century, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday pleading for unwavering international action on climate change. In his first speech to the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly, he said, "It is high time to get off the path of suicidal emissions. We know enough today to act." "I urge governments to implement the historic Paris Agreement with ever greater ambition," he said.

United States President Donald Trump has declared that his country is pulling out of the Paris agreement on combating climate change. Pointedly, Guterres said, "The United States, followed by China, India, the Philippines and Indonesia, have experienced the most disasters since 1995 - more than 1,600, or once every five days." Climate change was among the seven global threats that he listed needing immediate global action. International terrorism is taking a great toll on the world, he said and called for intensifying the global efforts against terrorism and radicalisation.

"Stronger international cooperation remains crucial," he said. "Together, we need to make full use of UN instruments, and expand our efforts to support survivors. But he added, "Experience has also shown that harsh crackdowns and heavy-handed approaches are counterproductive." Foremost among the seven perils he listed is the nuclear threat emanating from North Korea. "Global anxieties about nuclear weapons are at the highest level since the end of the Cold War," Guterres warned. "The fear is not abstract. Millions of people live under a shadow of dread cast by the provocative nuclear and missile tests of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."

He appealed to the Security council to act unitedly to meet the threat and to all countries to comply with its resolution imposing sanctions. "Only that unity can lead to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and -- as the resolution recognises -- create an opportunity for diplomatic engagement to resolve the crisis," he said while condemning Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests. "The dark side of innovation" is another global peril, he said, adding "it has moved from the frontier to the front door." "Cyber war is becoming less and less a hidden reality -- and more and more able to disrupt relations among States and destroy some of the structures and systems of modern life," he said. Genetic engineering has also raised ethical questions that have not been resolved, he said.

The humanitarian crisis from unresolved conflicts and violations of international law that is manifested in the flow of refugees is another peril the world faces, he said. He mentioned the Rohingya crisis, and said, "The authorities in Myanmar must end the military operations, and allow unhindered humanitarian access. They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya."

The other threats are the growing inequality among nations and within nations, and human migration. Emphasising the need for global unity to meet the great perils facing humanity, Guterres said, "We come from different corners of the world. Our cultures, religions, traditions vary widely -- and wonderfully. At times, there are competing interests among us. At others, there is even open conflict." "That is exactly why we need the United Nations, he said. "That is why multilateralism is more important than ever."

IANS

Archaeologists may have discovered the place where Jesus performed the “miracle of the swine”

A marble slab was uncovered with an inscription in Hebrew that might indicate the exact location of the event.

The Gospel of Mark recalls the arrival of Jesus to the northeastern region of the Sea of Galilee, the Kineret:
They reached the territory of the Gerasenes on the other side of the lake, and when he disembarked, a man with an unclean spirit at once came out from the tombs towards him. The man lived in the tombs and no one could secure him any more, even with a chain, because he had often been secured with fetters and chains but had snapped the chains and broke the fetters, and no one had the strength to control him. All night and all day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would howl and gash himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? In God’s name do not torture me!” For Jesus had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit.” Then he asked, “What is your name?” He answered, “My name is Legion, for there are many of us.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district. Now on the mountainside there was a great herd of pigs feeding, and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us to the pigs, let us go into them.” So he gave them leave. With that, the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand pigs charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned.
Recently, a group of archaeologists discovered a marble slab in the shores of the Kineret, with an inscription in Hebrew that might indicate the exact location of this event, known as the “miracle of the swine.” According to the team, it might have occurred in Kursi, a town located in the land of the Gadarenes (or Gerasenes), in the southern part of the Golan Heights.
“The presence of a Hebrew settlement near the eastern shore of the Sea of ??Galilee is a very strange phenomenon,” exhlaind Haim Cohen, a researcher at Haifa University. In fact, the settlement was only discovered because of a drop in water levels that allowed researchers to find a pier normally under water and, next to it, the Kursi settlement. The the 1,500-year-old slab was found inside a building that would have functioned as a synagogue.
The marble slab would shed light on the issue. Being 1.40 meters by 70 centimeters, on its surface there is a Hebrew inscription in which the experts were able to identify the words “amen” and “marmaria,” which might translate either “Mary,” “marble” or “rabbi.” As read in Primeros Cristianos and Israel En Línea, according to Professor Mijal Artzi, the full text “is composed of eight lines; usually not so many words in Hebrew letters are carved in stone. The assumption is that the person to whom the inscription was dedicated had an enormous influence on the local population.”
 

Turin Shroud stained with blood of torture victim, new research claims

Researchers say the Shroud contains ‘nanoparticles’ of blood that are typical of someone who has experienced violent trauma

The Shroud of Turin is stained with the blood of a torture victim, scientists have claimed.
Researchers in Italy said the linen cloth, which is believed to have been wrapped around Christ’s body after he was crucified, contains ‘nanoparticles’ of blood that are typical of someone who has experienced violent trauma.
Elvio Carlino, a researcher at the Institute of Crystallography in Bari, Italy says the particles suggest “great suffering”.
Professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua added that the particles have a “peculiar structure, size and distribution” and the blood contains high levels of creatinine and ferritin, typically found in patients who have suffered traumas such as torture.
“Hence, the presence of these biological nanoparticles found during our experiments point to a violent death for the man wrapped in the Turin Shroud,” Professor Fanti said.
The particles “cannot be artefacts made over the centuries on the fabric of the Shroud,” he added.
The findings appear in an article titled ‘New Biological Evidence from Atomic Resolution Studies on the Turin Shroud’, published in American scientific journal PlosOne.
The researchers used methods recently developed in the field of electron microscopy to analyse the Shroud.
Carlino said this was the first study of “the nanoscale properties of a pristine fibre taken from the Turin Shroud.”

Catholic college in Kansas wipes ‘yoga’ from names of classes — it’s a Hindu thing

An online petition posted by students calls on Benedictine President Stephen D. Minnis to “bring back yoga!” So far, it has received 105 online signatures. The petition has also drawn the support of Rajan Zed, a well-known Hindu cleric in Nevada, who urged the college to “relook into their reported yoga decision.”

Complaints, Johnson said, began to come in from alumni, students, faculty and some administrators who argued that as a Hindu practice, yoga was not in keeping with Catholic-based education. Others, Johnson said, argued that the name yoga should no longer be used because in teaching just the exercise aspects of yoga — as opposed to both its physical and spiritual aspects — Benedictine wasn’t teaching true yoga. Thus it should not use the Hindu name.
The college’s school newspaper, The Circuit, first reported on the move April 5 and noted that concern also was raised by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and Abbot James Albers of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison.

The paper quoted college President Minnis.
“Yoga as created has some potential for eastern mysticism which has caused concern among members of the Catholic Church,” Minnis told the college paper. Archbishop Naumann “has expressed his concerns and the issues surrounding that. We asked ourselves if there was a way to bring those yoga benefits to our students and faculty without the possible effects of eastern mysticism.”
Contacted by The Star, the archdiocese sent the following statement from its chancellor, the Rev. John Riley.
“Many people do not realize that yoga … is intended to be more than a series of exercises coupled with deliberative breathing and meditation,” Riley said in an emailed statement. “It is a mind and body practice developed under Hinduism, the goal of which is spiritual purification that will lead to a higher level of understanding and eventually union with the divine.
“Although the Catholic Church teaches that much good can be found in other religions, Catholics believe it is only brought to fullness in Christ. … It is for these reasons that Catholics are alerted to the dangers of the practice of yoga and are encouraged to look for other exercise alternatives that do not incorporate a spiritual dimension.”
Riley said if Catholics want exercises that include a spiritual dimension, they should consider Pietra Fitness, a set of exercises that includes Christian prayer and meditation.
Benedictine yoga instructor Julie Romano, a yoga practitioner for 10 years, questioned the decision.
“I have a moral objection to taking something that people spent thousands of years working on and calling it something else,” she told the school paper. “I don’t see a conflict in yoga and Catholicism and I don’t see why we should call it something else to appease others.”
Eric Adler

Argentine priest in railway accident attributes life to Eucharist

By Giselle Vargas

Mendoza, Argentina, Apr 21, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Holy Thursday Father Alejandro Béjar, a priest of the Archdiocese of Mendoza, narrowly escaped being killed by a train. He attributes his survival to consecrated Hosts he was transporting on his way to visit the sick.

The April 13 incident took place at a railroad crossing in San Roque as Fr. Béjar was on his way to visit several sick persons, in addition to saying three Masses in the communities under his care.
Fr. Béjar, 50, told CNA that he crossed the railroad tracks that day for lack of a signal and got trapped. He explained he did not see the rails because of some bushes, and that there was no railroad crossing barrier.
Trapped on the tracks he could hear the train's horn, and saw the train appear, coming around a curve.

Within seconds, he tried moving his car. He was unable to, so he quickly unfastened his seat belt and ran from the car.
His Ford Escort was struck, and dragged some 80 feet by the train, which was unable to brake in time. The vehicle was destroyed but the priest could not get over his astonishment that the bag holding the consecrated Hosts on the front passenger seat was undamaged and remained in place.

“That's strange because in the back of the car there was a bag of fine flour I was taking for the community where I was going to celebrate Mass. That bag opened up and (the flour) spread all over, but the bag (with the Hosts) didn't even move,” he said.

Fr. Béjar said he was ashamed he did not take with him the consecrated Hosts when he abandoned the vehicle, but he thanked God for saving him from the onslaught of the train.
“I thank God because I was calm and didn't despair. It was a sign from God that he was present at that moment and helped me have those reflexes to stay calm and not give up hope,” he said.
The priest was unable to get the first Mass on his schedule for that day.
Fr. Béjar noted that eight years ago two women died in similar circumstances, and so he hopes the authorities will clean up the area from bushes and put up appropriate railroad crossing signage.
 

Beirut Bishop Kourie says the two bishops abducted in Syria in 2013 are still alive
Fady Noun

The Lebanese Syriac Orthodox bishop made the claim during the celebrations for the 47th anniversary of Virgin's apparitions. The portraits of the two bishops were displayed inside the church and taken in procession. The prelate appealed to the Lebanese government to make the case a "national cause".

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The two bishops of Aleppo abducted in 2013 in Syria are still alive, said Mgr Daniel Kourie, Syriac Orthodox bishop of Beirut, who spoke on Saturday at the ceremony marking the 47th anniversary of the Virgin Mary's apparitions over the dome of the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Moussaitbeh, near Beirut.

The commemoration of these apparitions, which this Church invariably commemorates on the first Sunday after Easter, coincided this year with the 4th anniversary of the abduction in Syria (22 April 2013) of the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox bishops of Aleppo, Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, whose fate remains unknown. The portraits of the two bishops were displayed inside the cathedral and carried during the torchlight procession that marked the anniversary of the apparitions.

During the ceremony for the dual anniversary, Bishop Daniel Kourie, chairman of the commission charged with the affair, tried to be reassuring. As far as he knew "the two bishops are still alive. [. . .] Those who believe otherwise must give us evidence for their claim." The prelate added that the commission has knocked on every possible door, in Lebanon and Syria, doing their best, to find the two bishops.

Bishop Kourie called on Lebanese authorities to make this case a national cause given its impact on interfaith coexistence and dialogue. He slammed "religious and ethnic cleansing in Syria, Iraq and Egypt" and the states that support it by providing men, weapons and money.

The apparitions of the Virgin at Moussaitbeh, a mixed district of Beirut with a substantial Syriac community, are similar to those that occurred in Zeitoun (1968). The Syriac Orthodox Church considers them authentic and solemnly recognised them in a patriarchal decree. Unfortunately, they have not received the attention they deserve from the other Eastern Churches in Lebanon, all of which had turned inward at the time of the events, even though these events resonated as a warning and an appeal for openness and unity, in the face of the initial rise of the Islamist peril.
 

India: Masses interrupted, pastors arrested, allegations of forced conversions: Easter plight of India’s Christians

Santosh Digal e Nirmala Carvalho

Bishops, activists and ordinary people complain about incidents of violence and intimidation across the country. Despite constitutional guarantees, the Christian minority is being persecuted. The threat on Palm Sunday: "If you want to pray, you must have official permission."

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Incidents of violence, intimidation and harassment against Christians in India, a discriminated minority oppressed by the majority Hindus. Even on Palm Sunday and Holy Week before Easter. As reflected in the stories of what happened throughout the national territory, pastors and believers arrested, prayer meetings suppressed, masses interrupted, arrests on false accusations of proselytism, tribals forced to "return home", that is to Hinduism. Bishops, activists and ordinary people speak to AsiaNews pointing out that India is a secular and democratic country only on paper (constitutional), and over the years has become increasingly prey to the Hindu nationalists, led by the central government (BJP Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On April 7, the radical nationalist youth brigade Hindu Yuva Vahini, created in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, raided a Dadhauli church in Maharajganj district (Uttar Pradesh), and interrupted the church service. There were about 150 faithful in the church at that time, including 10 American tourists. All Christians, including the pastor Yuhanna Adam, were arrested by police on charges of forced conversions to Christianity. Msgr. Thomas Thuruthimattam, bishop of Gorakhpur, complains: "It was a real indirect attack on religious freedom. These indirect threats are against the principles established in the Constitution, against people who are represented in the Constitution itself. "

Witnesses say that the nationalists insulted, intimidated and provoked Christians, although police established the falsity of the disputed charges. The pastor Adam also reports that young people entered the church with an excuse: "They arrived early in the morning, asking to visit the facility for its historical value. How could we stop them? The church is open to all and everyone is welcome at any time. Later, as soon as the Mass began, the group with saffron bandanas [typical of nationalists headgear, ed] came back with police. The police immediately blocked the function and asked everyone to leave the building. "

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), criticizes the behavior of the police: “India is a Secular Democratic Republic with Constitutional Guarantees, no illegalities were being done at the Church event, yet the police stopped Worship services under the baseless charges of conversion activities. GCIC fears the increasing insecurity and targeting of the vulnerable Christian minority.”


 

The Christian leaders also condemned the “shameful act of targeting the tourists for attending worship is denounced and condemned by GCIC. Moreover, it repeats the same old stereotype, of missionaries being out to ‘convert’ the gullible masses.It is a very common sight to see western tourists in saffron robes attend all hues of Hindu festivals in India, very often they are also seen distributing copies of Hindu texts and books at various places, but the police neither stop them or arrest them, But when the western tourists attend Worship, they are detained and harassed. This is a grave human right violation”.

Since last month in Jharkhand radicals of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have "brought home to the Hindu family" 53 tribal families, including the last seven in early April. The campaign of tribal conversion will last throughout the month. Sajan K George denounces "the tribal Hindus have never been Hindu, therefore, an attempt to bring them back to the Hindu fold is just a way to harass them." Then he poses a technical question: "To what caste they would like to include them, since the tribals are not Hindus?".

On April 8 in Bangalore, Karnataka, a Christian event scheduled for the next day was canceled at the last moment. The authorities withdrew permission to carry out the event, which had more than 1,000 people registered who were supposed to attend a conference of two American evangelical pastors. The event was canceled after Girish Bhardwaj, radical Hindus, filed a complaint with the Immigration Service against the hypothetical attempt to convert by the two foreigners holding a visa that allowed them only to participate in the rally , and not to speak in public. The GCIC president expresses a strong condemnation of the incident and asked the Prime Minister of India to "invite the state governments to ensure the safety of Christians during Holy Week."

Indeed, preparations for Easter have also been marred in India, as well as the attacks against Coptic churches in Egypt. On Palm Sunday many episodes of intolerance occurred across the territory. In Madhya Pradesh, in the village of Sitabedi, members of the RSS - accompanied by police - have interrupted the celebrations and arrested the pastors Amar Singh Solanki, Kishore Solanki Barela and Prabhakar, their wives and other Christians on charges of forced conversions . The same charges have been laid against pastor Yashpal, whilst celebrating mass in Kaithal, Haryana. In the village of Jahanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, other Hindu extremists beat Pastor Paul Krishna, the Believer's Church, and dragged him to the police station. The same fate has befallen the pastor Saji Mathew of the Church of God in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, who was arrested along with seven other Christians. Finally Taluka in Palani, Tamil Nadu, some administration officials privately broke into the pastor Gunasekaran’s residence while he was leading prayer. The authorities took photographs and filmed the people attending the function. They have also warned that if Christians want to pray in the future, they will have to obtain an official permit.

The Holy Sepulcher: Archaeology says the Evangelists were right

 Forum Libertas | Apr 19, 2017.  Thomas Coex | AFP

What the opening of the marble slab of the Edicule revealed

On October 20th, 2016, one of the most exciting events in centuries took place: the opening of the marble slab guarding the place tradition claims was the tomb of Jesus, inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Underneath that slab there was a second slab, also of gray marble, containing a slit along its side and bearing a Lorraine Cross. Most likely, this is from the time of the Crusades, from the beginning of the 12th century.
Once the second slab was removed, the surprises began, according to testimonies gathered from different sources. Right below this slab, a fundamental piece of the site was discovered: an ordinary stone bench excavated in the rock that is directly connected with the vertical wall, also excavated in the rock behind it.
The chronicles of medieval travelers such as Félix Faber (1480), who saw the edicule without the actual covering marbles, testify that the bank and wall formed a single piece of stone. This corresponds to the northern wall of the small room: the place traditionally venerated as Jesus’ tomb.
The second surprise revealed the south wall of this room corresponded to a second vertical wall, also made out of ordinary rock, about two meters high. In sum, the Edicule of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher contains a site consisting of two stone walls (north and south) and a bank (to the north side) — all dug out of the rock. This setup corresponds to a “sepulchral chamber” one could only gain access by going down, as it was below the level of the outer land. The original stone floor of the tomb, still to be discovered, is to be found under the present marble pavement.
The archaeological elements described agree with the documentary data of the Gospels, as in Matthew 27, Mark 15-16, Luke 24, and John 19-20. That is why it is legitimate to suppose that this is in fact the tomb of Jesus.
Relatively close to the place in which Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea owned a tomb, which had not yet been used by anyone. (Jewish burial customs at the time usually dictated quick burial in a shallow grave covered with stones for the poor, with the wealthy purchasing family tombs, or sepulchers, where bodies would be laid in niches carved out of the walls. There were also stone benches for the preparation of the body or for visitors to the family tomb.) This tomb was to be closed with a large stone that had to be rolled over in order to cover the entrance, according to the Gospels. This kind of closing is precisely the one that was used for sepulchral chambers, commonly carved in the rock, as the one discovered under the Edicule’s marble slab. One could only walk in by slightly descending to gain access to the place in which the corpse was deposited: that is to say, the aforementioned stone bench. The Gospels claim that Mary Magdalene “bent down to look into the tomb.”
The stone bank is also mentioned in the gospels of Mark and John. In Mark 16:5, it is said that the women entered the tomb and found “a young man seated in a white garment.” Evidently, one could only sit on such marble bench, and not in a niche. John 20:12 one speaks of “two angels dressed in white, sitting in the room [that is, again, the area of the bench] where the body of Jesus had been placed.”
When Jesus was buried, on a Friday, right before the sunset, they did not place the body in a niche but rather on the stone bench, as mentioned in the Gospels. The reason for this decision is that Jesus had died after considerable physical aggression, and his body was in an unfortunate state, and needed proper preparation, which could not be provided at the moment, as the Sabbath rest was about to begin. It was customary among the Jews of the time to wash and anoint with aromatic oils the bodies of the deceased before burying them. But as Jesus had to be buried in a hurry, his body was left on the stone bench, covered hastily with a shroud.
Even if faith in the Resurrection might not lean on logical demonstrations, it doesn’t imply a leap into an irrational vacuum either. Research shows archaeological data and the Gospels agree. The archaeological facts are not to be understood as demonstrations that ground (or not) what is a matter of faith, but they indeed stimulate reasonableness, based on verisimilitude.
The canonical gospels are indeed documents belonging to the first centuries of Christianity, and can be read like any other ancient historical document. From them, a religious revolution sprang out: the one that began on a bench dug in the rock, inside a sepulcher, in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago.

The 30th Annual Way of The Cross by The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF)

Sacred Heart Church 10.30 am to St. Charles Convent 3.30 pm

Join Thousands in the ICAN - CSF Walk to Pray for PersecutorCSF’s Christian Response to Attacks in India & Abroad.Thousands to  Fast, Suffer & Pray at Catholic Forum’s Good Friday Walk
Christians publicly forgive attackers, pray for the victims & the country

Prayer Points

* Nuns Raped
* 7000 Indian Victims
* Properties Targeted
* Christians Murdered
* Churches Desecrated
* Clergy & Believers Attacked
* Women & Children Not Spared
* Situations Abroad Resulting from Fundamentalism & Terrorism

Will you be one among the walking pilgrims ? Or will you worship Jesus in the comforts of the church ?

Thousands of Christians will undertake an exhausting walk, in a public gesture of forgiving those responsible for the attacks on Christians, churches and the clergy, which has risen sharply over the past few months. " The intention is to offer a Christian response which is in keeping with what Jesus did on the first Good Friday, when he said, 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do' about his persecutors. We want to tell India and the world that we forgive those who target us, our clergy, institution and properties; but are grieved and cry out that we need to be treated as equal citizens and the law should take its course ", said Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), the activist community NGO that organized the pilgrimage.

Starting out from Sacred Heart Church in Santacruz West, in suburban Mumbai, the pilgrims will brave the scorching heat, most of them fasting and praying until the religious service called the Stations of the Cross concludes at around 3 pm in the evening. Along the way at various stops over the almost 8 Km route, activists dramatized incidents, believed to have happened when Jesus was killed over 2000 year ago. The serpentine procession will pass through the lanes of Mumbai’s Khar, Santacruz, Vakola and Kalina with the crucifixion scenes being enacted (as in the Philippines) which is a tearful finale. Many of the pilgrims go bare feet at the end of a fulfilling spiritual experience of 40 days of prayer, fasting and repentance.

The 'Way of the Cross' devotion or Walk with Jesus relating the suffering of Christ to modern-day living is in its 30th year and draws Christians from all over, with even children, women, priests and nuns joining in to partake in portrayal of the torture and killing of Jesus, enacted through a musical played out on the streets. The faithful mourned for the intention of the day – Christians denied freedom of faith and religious liberty.

Speaking on the theme, Joseph Dias, who started this tradition in India 29 years ago, which has not found a parallel in the country said, " There seems to be a sinister plan to the attacks and the powers behind them could range from political and economic to the persecution being part of an international design to target Christians as is happening in the Gulf or African countries. In the country, the attacks are in the background of new governments both at the centre and states, who are responsible for law and order. Among the comity of nations, the image assiduously cultivated by the prime minister is taking a hit, as he is seen unwilling to reign in those attacking the community.

Indian Christians do not see these as isolated incidents, especially given the increase in frequency and the fact that they are backed by statements from prominent fundamentalists or even elected public representatives. We are alarmed and afraid at the attempt to demonize Christians and have the community's basic human rights violated. We are seen as soft-targets as we do not retaliate, as commanded by our faith and this makes the government all the more duty-bound to ensure that our rights guaranteed are not trampled upon ".

According to The CSF press release, " the government apathy towards Indian Christians is taking its toll, even as communal elements target the community. Jesus told us to pray for our persecutors and this is a public display of our hurt sentiments and a cry for justice. There can be no development without peace, justice or communal harmony ". Forms of discrimination faced by the community mentioned were those of police action, political alienation, bureaucratic victimization, anti-conversion laws, targeted violence, economic deprivation, social boycott, etc.The 30th Annual Way of The Cross by The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF)

Some of The 15 Stations of the Cross will be enacted are – the arrest of Jesus, Jesus being sentenced by Pontius Pilate, the falls of Jesus, Jesus meeting the women of Jerusalem, his mother and disciples at the cross, Veronica wiping the face of Jesus… This, the activists feel is a dignified Christian way of protesting against the subtle and not so subtle attacks on the community.

Thousands of passer-byes will witness the Calvary (place where Jesus was crucified) story, with biblical characters acting out the arrest and the last few hours before Jesus death. Similar enactments are known to happen in the Philippines and Latin America, with a couple of Christians actually being nailed to a cross, to experience in a small way Jesus' suffering.

Joseph Dias added that " initially it started since many non-Christians believed that Good Friday was a feast, rather than a day of mourning. He pointed out that “while fundamentalists of various hues and colours are persecuting Christians, the inaction and official neglect by the government is appalling. As a micro minority, who are not aggressive, politically influential and spread out; the governments of the day takes us for granted. This therefore also signals the heralding of Christians as vociferous and politically active citizens”.

The pilgrims will stop still for a special prayer at 3 pm, believed to be the time, when Jesus died or the moment of grace to pray for the intentions and the theme. They now look forward to a new hope, that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Easter Sunday brings, which will also be enacted, since Christians believe that the crucifixion in not the end.
 

The Republic of Congo was recently consecrated to the Virgin Mary

The current Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, recently visited the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). This trip ended with the act of consecration of the country to the Virgin Mary, during a Mass celebrated on Saturday, February 4, 2017.

Three thousand faithful were present at the National Basilica of St Anne of Brazzaville. The civil, diplomatic and military authorities also attended the ceremony. The Mass was concelebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Francisco Escalante Molina, the bishops of the country and 150 priests.
The cardinal received warm applause for his homily. He spoke of Christ’s love, which the Congo needs. A love that is in fact "capable of resisting the temptation of indifference and considering the good of others as its own good."

In the same way, the cardinal affirmed that "the good Christian is above all the one who commits himself every day to walking with God and living in harmony with Him, doing good and fleeing evil."

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death.
Amen.
 

Jesuit Manuel Carreia: "Islam, the Worst Plague the Human Race Has EverSeen"

(Madrid) the famous astrophysicist and Jesuit, Father Manuel Carreira, has said "Islam, the worst plague that the human race has ever seen."

In an interview Carreira had indirectly responded  to a discussion on West Germany and said that one could not plausibly claim that "Islam is compatible with the rights of a European nation".

Astrophysicist and Jesuit

The Spaniard Manuel Maria Carreira Verez SJ became famous mainly as an astrophysicist, but also as a philosopher and theologian. Since 1974 he is a member of the Vatican Specula, was an employee at numerous NASA projects in the United States and taught more than 30 years at various universities, including the John Carroll University in the US and the Pontifical University of Comillas in Spain.

In an interview with El Español he addressed some current issues, including the migration crisis, the relationship between the West and Islam, and the relationship between the state and Church.

The State must preserve Christian heritage, he does not want to jeopardize its existence

"The state need not impose any specific religious behavior," but it has to be taken into account, that the Western countries are based on Christian ethics, because this has formed these States and made them what they are and what is necessary to defend.

"The Catholicity is a central key element in the development of the state", which applies to all of Western Europe. Therefore, the European countries could not accept the abolition of Christianity without putting their very existence at risk.

There is growing secularization, and this was "up to a certain point, even desirable, because religion must not be a political element." But the state has the task and duty to protect its Christian heritage as part of the common good.

Islam is "completely unable" to respect human dignity and human rights

Carreira mainly sees a threat to Western countries, and that is above all Islam. "I would say that Islam is the worst plague that  humanity has seen in the past 2000 years.". Islam is "completely unable" to develop, respect for human dignity.

For Muslims it is therefore "impossible to respect human rights and the Western tradition".

A Muslim in Europe "denies either this respect, then is an internal threat to Europe, or he accepts European thought, which means he is an unbeliever and is dead according to Islamic understanding." Either way, "there is no positive contribution by Islam to a modern society that is respectful of the fundamental rights of every human being," said Carreira.

Idea of ??the multicultural state "an intellectual blunder"

For this reason, the astrophysicist and Jesuit sees in the idea of ??a multicultural state an "intellectual blunder". It lacks any "reasonable relation to reality". Father Carreira said: "It seems to me that one can not plausibly claim that Islam is compatible with the rights of a European nation."

"Islam," said the Jesuit, "was created as decaffeinated Christianity because they simply have obscured what they did not understand in Christianity: one no longer talked about the Trinity, nor the incarnation of God for the simple reason that they had not understood it. "Therefore, Islam is a 7th - 9th Century developing form of "a minimalist distorted Christianity" with its "own theology," which is of a  "very simple thinking."

Text: Giuseppe Nardi

Jailed Christians forced to convert to Islam, a disgrace on the justice system says Pakistani Church
J
Kamran Chaudhry

The accused are asked to change religion in exchange for their release. The latest case sparks protest among Christians. Girls are converted by force to marry Muslims whilst Christians men who marry Muslim are beaten and their homes torched. Even Asia Bibi was offered to convert to Islam.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Religious leaders and Christian activists are calling for action against a prosecutor who confessed to pushing Christian prisoners to give up their faith to embrace Islam.
This comes after Pakistani media reported that Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah told 42 Christian prisoners before an anti-terrorism court in Lahore, Punjab, that he could “guarantee their acquittal” if they converted to Islam.
Contacted by a British newspaper, Shah first denied the allegation then conceded that he had offered them a choice.
The Christians involved in the case are all from Youhanabad, Lahore. They were arrested in connection with the lynching of two suspected Muslim terrorists shortly after the Taliban attacked two churches on 15 March 2015.
“It is really bad to lead people astray,” said Rev Arshad Ashknaz of Christ Church, from one of the churches attacked in Youhanabad, speaking to AsiaNews. “This,” he added, “will give a bad image to the court and the whole legal fraternity.
In his view, “The public prosecutor can be sued for this prejudiced action. We plan to meet him soon. The government should reject this. Fear of death can force anyone to change religion”.
This has not happened in isolation. Forced conversions are a hot topic in the country. Pakistani human rights organisations note that each year about a thousand Hindu and Christian women are forced to convert to marry Muslim men.
According to the latest Report on religious minorities in Pakistan by the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, five Christians converted to Islam in 2014, including three teenager girls who were abducted and forced into marriage.
Against the backdrop, Sindh last year became the first Pakistani province to pass a law against forced religious conversions. However, the provincial government was forced to go back on its decision to protect minorities after opposition from some religious scholars.
For Rev Ashknaz, “There is no religious freedom. The whole system supports Christian women who marry their Muslim spouses, but it is a torment for Christian men who do the same. Their families suffer and their houses are burnt”.
According to Nadeem Anthony, a Christian lawyer, Asia Bibi, the Christian mother on death row for the past seven years charged with blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad, was made a similar offer.
However, “My faith is alive and I will never convert”, she told him when they met at the Sheikhupura District Jail in 2010.
“This is a common practice. Even my Muslim friends asked me to do the same. Such impositions are expected in cases of religious persecution”, said the lawyer, who is also a human rights activist.

Pope Francis' latest prayer video spotlights Christian persecution

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2017 / 11:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his prayer video for March, Pope Francis prays for persecuted Christians, asking for the prayers and aid of the whole Church toward those mistreated on the basis of their beliefs.

“How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!” the Pope says in the video.

Released March 2, the video shows people from different countries being photographed as if arrested, then holding up signs reading “Protestant,” “Catholic,” and "Orthodox.”

“They are persecuted and killed because they are Christians,” the Pope says. “Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong.”

The video continues with real footage of destroyed churches in the Middle East, followed by clips of adults and children praying in a church, at home, and at a school, and people packing up food at a food bank, as the Pope asks: “how many of you pray for persecuted Christians?” “Do it with me, that they may be supported by the prayers and material help of all the Churches and communities.”

An initiative of the Jesuit-run global prayer network Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s prayer videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center and mark the first time the Roman Pontiff’s monthly prayer intentions have been featured on video.

The Apostleship of Prayer, which produces the monthly videos on the Pope’s intentions, was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1884 to encourage Christians to serve God and others through prayer, particularly for the needs of the Church.

Since the late 1800s, the organization has received a monthly, “universal” intention from the Pope. In 1929, an additional missionary intention was added by the Holy Father, aimed at the faithful in particular.

Starting in January, rather than including a missionary intention, Pope Francis has elected to have only one prepared prayer intention – the universal intention featured in the prayer video – and will add a second intention focused on an urgent or immediate need if one arises.

According to a report released in January, global persecution of Christians has risen for the fourth year in a row and is on a “rapid rise” in Asia.

The advocacy group Open Doors UK warned in its annual report on Christian persecution, released Jan. 12, that “Persecution levels have been rising rapidly across Asia and the Indian subcontinent, driven by extreme religious nationalism which is often tacitly condoned, and sometimes actively encouraged, by local and national governments.”

Overall persecution of Christians has risen from last year, Open Doors UK noted, stating that “Christians are being killed for their faith in more countries than before.”

“Christians living in these countries need the support of their family, the body of Christ, to help them stand firm in their faith,” they stated.

Archbishop Nassar described Syria as 'a huge disaster zone' of 'ghost neighbourhoods and towns destroyed to the ground'

The Marionite Archbishop of Damascus has written a pastoral letter describing the challenges of daily life in war-torn Syria.

In a letter released on Ash Monday – the beginning of Lent in the Eastern and Oriental Catholic Church – Archbishop Samir Nassar speaks of five of the horrors experienced in the Syrian Civil War.
Entitled “A Very Bitter Lent”, the pastoral letter portrays the “apocalyptic scene” that Syria has been reduced to.
“It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonised buildings, burned down houses, ghost neighbourhoods and towns destroyed to the ground,” Archbishop Nassar writes, “More than twelve million Syrians, 50 per cent of the population, are lacking a roof.”

The letter goes on to describe shattered family life and the sacrifice of childhoods.

“The children are the most fragile,” he says, “They have paid a great price for this merciless violence.
“The centres of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks. How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?”
The archbishop adds that there has been a severe decline in parish life, pointing to the departure of a third of clergy from the Church of Damascus as a blow to the Christian minority in the country.
He goes on: “The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.”
Finally, Archbishop Nassar writes that Syrians have lost all hope of finding freedom through fighting and daily life is simply about survival.
“Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel, which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy. These darken nights and reduce any social life.
“The search for lost brotherrs, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.”
The letter concludes with a request from the archbishop for Syrians to recommit themselves to the Church and to find rest in Christ during “this bitter Lent of 2017”.
Archbishop Nassar’s letter in full:

A Very Bitter Lent

1) An Apocalyptic Scene
In six years of war the face of Syria has changed quite a lot. It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonised buildings, burnt-down houses, ghost neighbourhoods and towns destroyed to the ground. More than twelve millions Syrians, 50% of the population, are lacking a roof.
They form the largest mass of refugees since the Second World War. Several millions have left the country in search of more merciful skies. Many are waiting for mercy in camps of misery, some have drowned attempting to leave, and others are in line at embassies, nomads in search of a welcoming land. How can they leave this Syria of torments?

2) A Shattered Family
The family, which fortifies Church and Nation and has saved the country in the past, is heavily shaken. Seldom is a complete family found. Violence has scattered this basic cell of society. Some family members are in graves, others in exile, in prison or on the battlefield. This painful situation is the cause of depression and anxiety and forces those few left without support to beg.
Young fiancées, separated by this exodus, the immigration of their partner or military mobilisation, cannot marry. Crisis surrounds them. A hope for their future has crumbled. How is it possible to follow course without a family or with a broken family?

3) A Sacrificed Childhood
The children are the most fragile. They have paid a great price for this merciless violence. According to UNESCO, more than three million Syrian children haven’t attended school because they have to prioritise their physical wellbeing. Those that have been to school witness the demise of the quality of teaching due to fewer faculty and students in remaining schools. These overwhelming circumstances impose academic failure.
The centres of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks. How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?

4) Threatened Parishes
Parishes have seen the number of parishioners diminish and pastoral activities reduced considerably. The priests are deprived of the means to provide human and spiritual support. The Church of Damascus has witnessed the departure of one third of their clergy (27 priests). This is a hard blow weakening the place and role of the Christian minority already in decline.
The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.
How do we fix this alarming haemorrhage?
Can we imagine a Church without priests?

5) Between Pain and Freedom
The Syrian people are no longer looking for liberty. Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel, which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy. These darken nights and reduce any social life.
The search for lost brothers, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.
Finding a little room for shelter in a country in ruins has become an impossible dream for families and even more for young fiancés.
Fighting for liberty or searching for bread, what course should one take?
This little Syrian population lives this reality with pain visible in silent looks and streams of tears.
This bitter Lent of 2017 offers us time in the desert to take a good look at our commitment to the Church in the midst of faithful in distress, to lead the way towards Christ Resurrected. Christ Light of the world who knows the hearts of men and women says: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Iraqi Christians erect large cross in area liberated from ISIS

Cross erected in Telekuf-Tesqopa, Iraq. Credit: Patriarchate of Babylon.

Mosul, Iraq, Feb 23, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After years of darkness, hope has returned to Telekuf-Tesqopa. Located just 17 miles from Mosul, the village is rebuilding after being liberated from ISIS.
As a visible sign of the rebuilding, a giant cross was erected on a hill, marking the victory of the Christian faith against the darkness of the jihadists.
On Feb. 18, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Sako, visited the village, where he blessed the large cross and participated in the celebration of the first Mass after two and a half years in Saint George Church.
According to the website of the Patriarchate of Babylon, the authorities and officials of the region were present at the celebration.
In his homily, Patriarch Sako said that this event is “the first spark of light shining in all the cities of the Nineveh Plain since the darkness of ISIS, which lasted almost two and a half years.”
“This is our land and this is our home,” he told the faithful. He also said that now is the time to regain hope and for the people to return to their towns to begin a new stage of life.
The patriarch said that Christians will thus demonstrate to the world that the forces of darkness, which wreaked havoc and ravaged their land, are ephemeral and that the Church of Christ, although it suffers, is built upon rock.
When the Mass was over, everyone went out to a hill located on the outskirts of the city. There Patriarch Sako blessed the huge cross which was raised amid fireworks and with cries of “Victory! Victory! Victory!  For those who chose the faith and those who return!”
The Catholic Patriarch said that this cross will announce “to the world that this is our land, we were born here and we will die here. Our ancestors were buried in this pure land and we are going to remain to preserve them with all our might and for future generations.”
“It is a sincere and great call to return and rebuild. We are joined to our land, to our future on the land of our ancestors. Here we can be proud of our history and here we can obtain the granting of all our rights,” Patriarch Sako said.
Before the celebration of the Mass, a delegation came to Telekuf-Tesqopa to assess the state of damage and to thus ask for the support of international organizations for reconstruction. Saint George Church was cleaned by volunteers from the French aid organization SOS Chrétiens d’Orient. (SOS Christians of the East).
The placement of crosses has become a recurring gesture since the Iraqi Army began the offensive to recover the city of Mosul, the ISIS stronghold in Iraq.
In every village liberated on the Plain of Nineveh, Christians have made wooden crosses and have placed them on the roofs of churches and homes.
Muslims have also participated in these events. Last week, a group of Muslims youths joined those cleaning a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary located in east Mosul, liberated by the Iraqi Army.
This action is part of a campaign that seeks to remember the religious coexistence that was present in the city before the jihadists occupied it in 2014.

Hundreds of Christians have fled the city of el-Arish in Egypt after a spate of attacks by suspected Islamic militants.
Egyptians carry candles during a vigil for the victims of a bomb explosion that targeted the St Peter and St Paul Coptic Orthodox Church on December 11, 2016 (Photo: Getty)

A priest says 1,000 Christians have fled, with some receiving threats on their mobile phones

A priest told the Associated Press that he and some 1,000 other Christians had fled for fear of being targeted next. He blamed lax security, saying: “You feel like this is all meant to force us to leave our homes. We became like refugees.”

It was earlier reported that militants had shot dead a Coptic Christian man, Kamel Youssef, in front of his wife and daughter. The account had been given by two officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

A priest in the city said militants then kidnapped and stabbed his daughter before dumping her body near a police station. It wasn’t immediately possible to confirm his account.

No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack but earlier this week Egypt’s Islamic State group affiliate, which is based in the Sinai Peninsula, vowed in a video to step up attacks against the embattled Christian minority. A spate of killings by suspected militants have spread fears among the Coptic community in el-Arish as families left their homes after reportedly receiving threats on their mobile phones.

A day before Youssef’s killings, militants killed a Coptic Christian man and burned his son alive, then dumped their bodies on a roadside in el-Arish. Three others Christians in Sinai were killed earlier, either in drive-by shooting or with militants storming their homes and shops.

The Coptic Church has made no official comment on the spate of murders.

Coptic Christians, who make up 10 per cent of Egypt’s population, have increasingly come under attack since the military’s overthrow of elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. A top target of Islamic extremists throughout the years, the Christians heavily supported the army-chief-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and his security crackdown on Islamists since Morsi’s removal.

The priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said a total of 30 Christians — including Coptic soldiers — have been killed since then, including two priests.

The northern region of Sinai, bordering Gaza Strip and Israel, has been a battleground between the military and Islamic militants since 2011 when the region sank into lawlessness during the 18-day uprising that led to the ouster of longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

Since then, there have been waves of Christian displacement. The first one was from the town of Rafah when the only church, the Holy Family, was looted, torched and destroyed in several militant attacks. The church is built on the site where Christians believe the Holy Family first stopped to rest after crossing into Egypt. Subsequent waves followed militants’ threats in past years. According to the priest, less than 1,000 remain.

El-Sissi declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in the volatile region in 2014 in the aftermath of deadly suicide bombings that killed over 30 soldiers. Blaming the stepped-up militancy on Gaza’s ruling Hamas group, which uses underground tunnels for smuggling contraband, the Egyptian military razed hundreds of houses in the border area to create a buffer zone and stop what it described as the infiltration of extremists from Gaza.

Since 2013, Islamic militants have carried out several suicide bombings across Egypt, mainly against the police and the army. However, in December, an IS-affiliated suicide bomber blew himself up inside a landmark Cairo church, killing around 30 worshippers, mostly women.

That attack marked a turning point in the Sunni militant group’s strategy as Christians became its top targets. The extremists have used Christians’ support for el-Sissi as a pretext to increase attacks against them.

The Islamic State group’s video, released on Monday, showed the bomber behind the December church attack and described the Christians as “infidels” who are empowering the West against Muslim nations.

Congo Catholics targeted by violence

Several religious communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were subjected to violent attacks last weekend. In Kinshasa, pamphlets are being distributed, calling for the destruction of Catholic schools and churches.
Jean-Paul Musangania and Loup Besmond de Senneville - February 22, 2017

Congolese achieved an agreement between the government and the opposition at the end of 2016 but it is yet to be implemented. / T. Mukoya/Reuters

“The Catholic Church is being deliberately targeted, in order to destroy its mission of peace and reconciliation.”Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo is angry. In a message published on Sunday, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, the DRC's capital, strongly condemned the violent attacks on a parish and a major seminary.
“Along with all bishops, we denounce these acts of violence, which are likely to plunge our country further into unspeakable chaos.”The Cardinal seldom expresses his opinions, which makes his statement all the more powerful.The first attack, on Saturday, was the ransacking of the major Seminary of Malole of Kananga, in central Kasai, a province in the center of the DRC.

“They systematically broke down the doors to different rooms and destroyed everything inside. They entered the teachers’ rooms and burned their belongings,” Father Richard Kitenge, the Seminary Rector, told Agence France-Presse.The men responsible for this violence belong to a militia operating in the name of a traditional chief, Kamwina Nsapu. The group uses many child-soldiers.The second act of violence on the same weekend was the attack on a parish in Kinshasa by about a dozen men. Before Mass, the furniture of Saint Dominic’s Church was broken, the altar was vandalized and the tabernacle desecrated. A community of nuns not far from the parish was also attacked.“The police arrived too late …

We are all in shock,” said Father Julien Wato, the Dominican priest of the Kinshasa church.Although he went on to say that he is not afraid for his own safety, he spoke about the tense mood in the Congolese capital.“In the street, it’s not unusual to hear threats against the Church.”Two suspects have been arrested and the church was closed for several days.On Sunday, Pope Francis called upon the country’s leaders to stabilize the situation quickly. He condemned, in particular, the use of child-soldiers.
"I suffer deeply for the victims, especially for so many children ripped from their families and their schools to be used as soldiers,” he stated.Are these violent attacks linked to the actions of the Catholic Church that, for the past few months, has been mediating between those in power and the opposition?

The intention of the mediation is to get the country out of the political crisis caused by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down, even though his mandate ended on 20 December.The link is plausible.  St Dominic’s Church in Kinshasa is not far from the headquarters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the opposition party that, until his death on 1 February in Brussels at the age of 84, was led by Étienne
Tshisekedi.Tshisekedi’s death was announced, certain party members threatened to seize the property and assets of the Catholic Church.
This was because they are angry about the delay in the implementation of the agreement on a political transition, signed on 31 December.
The agreement allows the President to remain in power until elections are held at the end of 2017 and a successor takes office. During this period, a person picked by the opposition will serve as prime minister and have powers that would check Kabila's authority.

Under the terms of the agreement, brokered by the Catholic Church, Kabila cannot seek a third term in office, which would violate the constitution.For several days, pamphlets have been circulating in Kinshasa, calling for the destruction of Catholic schools and churches, and religious communities.In this time of tension, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo called upon the political leaders of the Congo to abandon their moral turpitude.“We are asking each one of them to demonstrate wisdom, restraint and the spirit of democracy to resolve the issue regarding the designation of a prime minister”, he said.Monsengwo added that this was necessary “to alleviate the current crisis that could threaten the elections that are meant to be held at the end of this year, in accordance with the St Sylvester agreement".

“Politicians ought to acknowledge with humility, before their nation and the international community, their political tendencies and the immorality of their self-serving decisions," Monsengwo stated. He said this situation is "leading to impasses and institutional deadlock".
“History will hold them accountable.”

Iraqi Christian: ‘IS made me spit on a Cross’
Zarefa was forced
to convert to Islam and spit on a Cross.
Published on: 8:52 am, January 19, 2017 by: mattersindia.com

Fr. Habib
One of the major themes explored in Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence, is the question of how to respond when faced with a choice between denying one’s faith or facing death.
Christians in 17th century Japan were given this choice, and it’s the same for Christians in many parts of the world today.
Throughout the film, the audience is shown Christians being told to step on – or, in one case, spit on – an image of Jesus or Mary. Some do; others can’t.
This same choice was given to Zarefa, an elderly Iraqi Christian woman, when the Islamic State captured her town in 2014. During a raid on the house where she was staying, IS fighters found a few crucifixes and other Christian images – strictly illegal under IS rule.

“They forced me to spit on the Cross,” Zarefa recalls. “I told them that it was not appropriate, that it was a sin. He said that I must spit. ‘Don’t you see that I have a gun?’ he asked me. I said to myself, ‘Oh, the Cross! I am weak, I will spit on you. But Lord, I ask you to take revenge for me. I cannot escape from this.’”
I said to myself, ‘Oh, the Cross! I am weak, I will spit on you. But Lord, I ask you to take revenge for me. I cannot escape from this.’
The shame is still visible on Zarefa’s face when she recounts the memory; her town, Qaraqosh, is liberated now, but she is still recovering from the traumatic two years that are only just behind her.
Zarefa’s husband died shortly after Qaraqosh was captured. She remembers the warning signs in the days beforehand, when a group of teenagers on motorbikes chastised her for speaking in Syriac – a language closely related to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke.
“Speak our language!” they shouted, in Arabic, the language of Islam.

By that time, many families had already left Qaraqosh, after IS had overpowered and completely overrun the Iraqi army, leaving the Christians unprotected.
For Zarefa, running was no option. Her husband was dying and she had no enemies in the town; she thought the two of them would be left in peace.
Zarefa was one of the few Christians who decided to stay in Qaraqosh.
But Zarefa soon found out there is no such thing as living in peace under IS rule.
She shared how, soon after IS came, her husband passed away, leaving her a widow and more vulnerable than ever.
She moved in with neighbours, but IS fighters repeatedly harassed them and robbed all of the valuables they could get their hands on. And not just valuables.
“One day, the man whose house I was a guest in never came home. Some people said he was killed and buried in an open area. Others said that he fell in a hole. Another one said that only God knows what happened to him. The fact is that we have not seen him since,” Zarefa recalls.

I begged them and asked them why we must do such a thing. ‘We will not add anything to your case by converting to Islam,’ we told them. ‘Let us choose our own way and religion.’
From then on it was just the two elderly, single women left. As soon as IS found out about them, they told the women to move to nearby Mosul.
“We told them that we don’t want to leave; that we belong here,” Zarefa says. “That this is our home; we want to stay here. But they made us leave against our will. In the night, they took us from our house, they put bags over our heads and asked us if we had converted to Islam.”
Frightened, Zarefa says she “quickly told them that I had”.
A few hours later, when their hoods were lifted, the two women found themselves in an IS women’s prison full of mostly divorced women. (In the eyes of IS, it’s a crime for a woman to divorce.)
After a few days, Zarefa and her friend managed to return to Qaraqosh as “Muslim” women, but when they arrived, they found three IS soldiers waiting to question them.

“They requested that we openly profess adherence to Islam,” Zarefa says. “I begged them and asked them why we must do such a thing. ‘We will not add anything to your case by converting to Islam,’ we told them. ‘Let us choose our own way and religion.’”
The leader of the group got angry, drew a gun, pointed it at Zarefa’s heart, and threatened to kill her if she didn’t convert to Islam.
“What would you do if you were in our position?” she asks. “He said something, asked us to repeat it, and then asked if we were Muslims. ‘Yes,’ we said. ‘Yes, we are.’ And then they left.”
But that was not enough; the harassment continued.
Zarefa says different IS fighters continually came to their home and demanded money and valuables at gunpoint. When they had taken nearly everything and she was left almost bankrupt, she hid her last savings – the equivalent of 250 dollars – in her bra.
But even that was discovered.
“They forced me to take it off, and then they took my money,” Zarefa recalls, embarrassed by the memory. “Then that man pushed me down on the couch, put his gun on my chest, and threatened me because he was convinced there was more to rob. He shouted at me: ‘We will be cruel to you until you obey.’”
Christians ‘eager’ to return home

Today, 18 January, the Iraqi army has announced that it has recaptured “vast swathes” of Mosul east of the Tigris River, which runs through the city. The army says it’s now preparing to fight to retake the area of Mosul west of the Tigris.
Despite ordeals such as Zarefa’s, Iraqi Christians who fled outlying towns like Qaraqosh (east of Mosul) when IS came in 2014 are “eager” to return home, according to one young Christian in Karamles.
“We are eager to return to our liberated areas,” Valentine told Al-Monitor.
Fr. Thabet Habib, who pastors a church in the town, added: “The time has come for Christians to return to the liberated areas in Nineveh Valley, now that the military operations have ended.” Though he admitted the return will be “gradual”.

World Watch Monitor reported in December that the conflict with IS had left thousands of homes uninhabitable.
“It seems they wanted to make sure nothing of value would remain,” Fr. Habib told World Watch Monitor. “The effect is a mounting feeling of hopelessness among the Christians when they discover the damage. They will really need time to recover from this news, to adjust to the new perspective of living in displacement longer than they might have expected.”
Fr. Habib said as much as 80% of the infrastructure in the Hamdaniya district, where Karamles is located, had been destroyed.
But one resident, Sara Bahnam, told Al-Monitor she is desperate to return home.

“We are sick and tired of being displaced and paying rent in recent years. I will be the first to return to Hamdaniya and to my house, whatever the obstacles,” she said.
Meanwhile, a US bishop has said that the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul told him he is against the construction of a “safe corridor” for religious minorities in Iraq.
Bishop Oscar Cantu told the Catholic News Service that Archbishop Yohanna Moshe told him: “We don’t want to live in a ghetto. That is counterproductive. That makes us a target for our enemies. We have to live in a secure but integrated community where Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Sunni Muslims, etc., have relationships with each other.
“We need an integrated reality, rather than a ‘Gaza’ where there’s a wall and someone is guarding people going in and out.”
(Source: World Watch Monitor)

I’m being forgotten because I’m not European, says Indian priest kidnapped by ISIS

by Anto Akkara
posted Friday, 30 Dec 2016

A file with personal details of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil in Bangalore, India (AP)

In a video message Fr Tom Uzhunnalil says his health is deteriorating

The emergence of a video in which Salesian Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped by ISIS in Yemen in March, is seen appealing for his release has led to widespread calls for diplomatic efforts to end his captivity.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, India’s minister of state for parliamentary affairs, reiterated to Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, that the government is “doing everything possible” during a meeting at Church headquarters in Cochin.

The minister’s visit came a day after a five-minute video of a visibly weak Fr Uzhunnalil making an emotional appeal for his release. The Salesian hails from India’s Kerala state.

In the video, Fr Uzhunnalil appeared to blame both the Indian government and Church officials for failing to secure his release. He claimed his captors had made several contacts with the Indian government and yet “I am very sad that nothing has been done seriously in my regard.”

“If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously. I am from India. I am perhaps not considered as of much value … Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life. I am very much depressed. My health is deteriorating,” the priest is seen saying.

Archbishop Maria Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum, president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, demanded Fr Uzhunnalil’s release “without further delay”.

“Not withstanding technicalities involved, the delay is seen by the common people as a lapse on the part of those concerned,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fr Paul Thelakkat, who ministers in Kerala, called the video of “Fr Tom’s appeal for his life very painful and distressing,” in an interview with Catholic News Service.

“The video clearly indicates that the terrorists are putting more pressure on India and the Church to succumb to their demands, whatever they may be,” Fr Thelakkat said.

Fr George Njarakunnel, vicar of Ramapuram parish in the Palai diocese, said parishioners began praying at the priest’s residence after the video became public

Chinese leader tells Catholics: follow socialism, not the Vatican

by Associated Press  osted  Friday, 30 Dec 2016 Yu Zhengsheng, a member of China's Politburo Standing Committee (AP)

Yu Zhengsheng said Catholics should 'adhere to the Sinicisation path of the religion'
One of China’s top leaders has told Chinese Catholics that they need to promote socialism and patriotism through religion and operate “independently” of non-Chinese authorities.
Yu Zhengsheng’s speech came at the end of a meeting of China’s official Catholic church that was being closely watched by the Holy See. Yu is one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body. His speech could be a measure of how much Beijing is willing to yield in potential dialogue with the Holy See.
Yu called on Catholics to take decisions independently from Rome, saying: “The Church should adhere to the principles of self-administration, run religious affairs independently and guide believers to adhere to the Sinicisation path of the religion.”
State media reported that Yu called on Catholic churches to adhere to “socialism with Chinese characteristics” – a term that describes China’s model of development, which for decades has favoured economic liberalisation but not political reform. China’s ruling Communist Party is officially atheistic. Yu also said Chinese Catholics should adhere “to the correct direction of development.”
China and the Vatican have long clashed over whether the party-controlled Chinese church could operate outside the Pope’s authority. Beijing severed relations with the Holy See in 1951, shortly after the Communist Party took power, and officially allows worship only in state-sanctioned churches. Many of China’s estimated 12 million Catholics are thought to worship in underground congregations.
Starting under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican has sought to unite Chinese Catholics under the Holy See. Pope Francis has said that both sides had resumed meetings of working groups over the naming of bishops, an issue central to the dispute between both sides.
But just last week, the Vatican said it was saddened that the ordination of two new Chinese bishops was marred by the presence of a bishop ordained without the Pope’s consent. It said it would watch this week’s conference with hope for new confidence in the Vatican-China dialogue.
Wang Zuo’an, China’s head of religious affairs, said earlier this week he hoped the Vatican would be flexible and pragmatic, and take concrete steps to improve relations, state media reported. No details were given of what Beijing expects.
State media also reported that Bishop Ma Yinglin was re-elected president of one of the groups at the conference, the Bishops Conference of Catholic Church of China. Ma was excommunicated in 2006 by the Vatican after being named by the Chinese church as a bishop in southwestern Yunnan province.
The Vatican-affiliated AsiaNews service, which closely covers the underground church in China, quoted on Thursday one priest from northern China calling the meeting “a staged theatrical representation.”
The priest, identified only as “Fr Peter”, said: “Everything was very well planned: the assignment of roles, their scripts, the well-chosen audience, who raised their hands to vote and approve content, the media coverage.

Venezuelan Fr Arturo Sosa Abascal is named new leader of the Jesuits

by Staff Reporter
posted  Friday, 14 Oct 2016
The new superior general greets the previous superior general, Fr Adolfo Nicolás, after his election (CNS)

He becomes the 30th successor of St Ignatius of Loyola
Fr Arturo Sosa Abascal has been voted the next superior general of the Society of Jesus.
The Venezuelan becomes the 30th successor of Jesuit founder St Ignatius of Loyola and leader of the Catholic Church’s largest religious order.
He is the Jesuits’ first non-European leader and also the first superior general to be elected under a Jesuit pope.
He succeeds Fr Adolfo Nicolás, a Spanish priest who formally resigned this month aged 80.
The election took place in Rome today.
Fr Sosa was born in Caracas on November 12, 1948. He is the Delegate of the General for the International Houses and Works of the Society of Jesus in Rome.
He has a Political Science doctorate from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He speaks Spanish, Italian and English.

Polish bishops oppose Catholic group's support of gay rights campaign

Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, in a 2014 file photo (CNS/Kacper Pempel, Reuters)
 By Jonathan Luxmoore  |  Sep. 22, 2016
13

WARSAW, POLAND When a group of Polish Catholics declared support for a gay rights campaign, their involvement was quickly condemned by the country's bishops conference. Having raised the issue in the church, however, the group is determined to press on and ensure the atmosphere of understanding engendered by Pope Francis finds a louder echo in Poland.
"The bishops' reaction is only a first step -- what matters is that they've now felt it necessary to take up a position on LGBT issues," explained Dominika Kozlowska, editor of the Catholic monthly Znak (The Sign). "The Catholics who've engaged in this campaign will also continue to talk about these issues in publications and discussions. Though the bishops have accused us of infringing Gospel injunctions, they've also said things in the process which haven't been said in the church here before."

The campaign, "Let's exchange a sign of peace," was launched in early September with nationwide billboards depicting clasped hands -- one with a rainbow bracelet and the other with a Catholic rosary.

Organizers include Poland's Campaign Against Homophobia and a Christian group, Faith and Rainbow, which ran a network of "LGBT pilgrim havens" during the church's summer World Youth Day in Krakow.

They've outlined plans for public meetings around the country with LGBT activists and prominent Catholics, and vowed to remind Poland's mostly Catholic population of what the church officially teaches -- that Christian values "include the necessity of respect, openness and willing dialogue with all people, including homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals."

Several Catholic magazines and newspapers pitched in with expressions of support on the campaign's website, znakpokoju.com, including Wiez (The Link) in Warsaw, and Znak and Tygodnik Powszechny (Universal Weekly) in Krakow.

Polish church leaders reacted differently, however.

In a Sept. 8 statement published in the Polish Catholic information agency, KAI, Krakow's archbishop, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, accused the campaign's Catholic backers of selectively quoting the pope and "falsifying the church's unchangeable teaching," by promoting "not just respect for homosexual people, but a view of homosexual acts and same-sex unions as something morally good."

From Warsaw, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz also hit out at the campaign's supporters in a Sept. 10 statement with KAI. Encouraging "respect and goodwill for homosexuals" was fine by Catholic teaching, Nycz said. But some Catholics were "criticizing church teaching on how to evaluate homosexuality," and even "suggesting a need to modify or change it."

On Sept. 14, the whole Bishops' Conference presidium pitched in, attacking Wiez, Znak and Tygodnik Powszechny by name, and rejecting claims that the Polish church was homophobic. Although LGBT groups often accused the church of violating their dignity, the bishops said, the church was in reality "the only institution which, for two thousand years, has untiringly proclaimed the dignity of all without exception."

"But if extending hands to others means accepting the person, it never means approving their sin," the communique continued. "Members of a community gathered in the liturgy have a permanent duty to be converted, and meet Gospel demands by turning away from their sinful fancies. We fear this action, extracting the extended hand gesture from its liturgical context, assumes a meaning incompatible with the teaching of Christ and the church."

Gay and lesbian groups have frequently complained of discrimination in Poland, where the predominant Catholic church opposed clauses in a 1997 constitution barring discrimination on grounds of ''sexual orientation" and has rejected repeated requests for a pastoral service for homosexuals.

In 2010, the European Union criticized church-owned schools and colleges for refusing to employ declared homosexual staffers, while in January 2013, the church thanked Polish members of parliament for voting down a bill to allow same-sex civil partnerships.

In December 2013, the bishops attacked the "ideology of gender" in a pastoral letter, warning it was "deeply destructive" to "all social life" and calling on Poles to resist it. A year later, church leaders attacked state broadcasting directors for allowing TV channels to run a half-minute program defending gays and lesbians.
 

And in October 2015, the Polish church's vigorous stance was forcefully presented at Rome's Synod of Bishops, when its chief representative, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, condemned "feelings of false compassion" and rejected any rethink on homosexuality.

Surveys suggests more and more Polish Catholics are questioning their church's teachings on issues like this, while the widening gap between church teaching and public opinion appears to be exacerbating feelings of rejection and alienation.

In one recent questionnaire on Poland's Queer.pl website, only 21 percent of gays and lesbians claimed to be "faithful and practicing" Christians, less than a third of the national average, while 47 percent said they were no longer Catholics and further 30 percent described themselves as "believers who avoid the Catholic church."

Hopes have been aroused in Poland, not surprisingly, by the pope's conciliatory statements on homosexuality, including his March 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and his statement on a June flight from Armenia that the church "must say it's sorry to the gay person it has offended."

In July, before Francis arrived in Krakow for World Youth Day, a group of parents with LGBT children wrote to the pontiff, begging him to speak out against the "hatred" directed at their families. Given the Polish church's strong influence on public opinion, they asked, why were priests not defending LGBT citizens in their homilies, and speaking out against "attacks of verbal and physical violence."

"We are moved by fear about the fate and future of our children -- a fear justified by the homophobia which is very widespread in our society," the group told the pope. "LGBT people are excluded from the church, although many believe in God and wish to practice and nurture their faith. Holy Masses and meditations for homosexuals are conducted secretly and in hiding, and few priests have any feeling for them. ... Why is the church watching with such indifference?"

Kozlowska, the Catholic editor, thinks the pope's "good example" could hold the key. Social and cultural attitudes are changing in Poland, as in other countries, she says, with more citizens now living in "irregular situations."

Having refused to recognize homosexuality as a genuine orientation, and seen it only as something sinful, Poland's Catholic bishops now have to consider the subject more carefully.

"The institutional church must start offering adequate pastoral support for this part of our society, rather than just treating these issues ideologically," the Znak editor told NCR. "I think Francis is offering a way out of the deadlock, by proposing new ways of thinking, acting and speaking, and giving a new quality to church reflections. This is something quite new for Poland, and conservatives and progressives here should all learn from it."

Yet the battle looks set to continue, as the pope's teachings are struggled over and rival Catholic groups vie other to influence the church's agenda.

When the Polish bishops' communique was published Sept. 15, Kozlowska and her Catholic editor colleagues from other publications defended their move in a statement of their own and welcomed the bishops' affirmation "with Pope Francis, that every person must be respected, whatever their sexual orientation."

They had acted "in full accord with the Magisterium," they insisted, in "engaging in church activity to ensure appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people" -- and they had no intention of "asserting political, legal or doctrinal demands."

"Our involvement as media patrons of this campaign was aimed solely at stressing those elements of church teaching which are little known and disseminated in Poland," the Catholic editors wrote. "Polish Catholics have now received a clear call from their pastors to treat homosexual brothers and sisters with dignity and respect. If our involvement in this campaign was improperly understood, perhaps this was a felix culpa, or fortunate mistake."

Yet in their statement, the bishops conference warned that homosexual acts must continue to be viewed as "objective moral evils," and cautioned Catholics not to play any part in a campaign whose postulates "clearly depart from the Gospel" and could "damage society and individuals."

Nycz has said he's planning to talk with the editors to clarify his "justified doubts," while KAI has accused them of helping "promote homosexual attitudes."

Some conservative church groups are circulating a petition, demanding that Wiez, Znak and Tygodnik Powszechny, all founded in the post-War communist years, are stripped of their "Catholic" titles.

Despite the furor, Kozlowska is hopeful.

Although LGBT issues have long been talked about by Poland's media, she says, the church itself has rarely touched the subject. And when it has done, it's invariably been in "very strong language," insisting family life and all social relations must be governed by natural law.

Even while condemning the latest campaign, the bishops will have raised LGBT issues to a new level and been forced to confront them more credibly and effectively.

"No one us wants to start an open struggle with the bishops, interfere with their teaching or make a public declaration of doctrinal opposition," she told NCR. "But we hope the bishops' communique and our subsequent statement won't be the last act in this area. The voice of lay Catholics is weak in Poland and the habits of submission are strong. But things are clearly evolving, so we should be optimistic."

[Jonathan Luxmoore's two-volume study of communist-era martyrs, The God of the Gulag, is published by Gracewing in the UK.]
 

Catholicism’s incredible growth story

by Philip Jenkins
posted  Thursday, 8 Sep 2016
There are around 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today; by 2050 it may be 1.6 billion (CNS)

Critics keep announcing the Church's imminent demise. If only they realised that numbers have doubled since 1970 – and are still rising
In many parts of the world, it’s difficult to feel optimistic about the future of the Catholic Church. Some years ago, the American Physical Society heard an alarming paper that predicted the countries in the world that would have no religion whatever by 2100, and high on the list were such former Catholic heartlands as Austria and Ireland – Ireland! For over a decade now, we have heard so many appalling stories of sexual abuse and scandal that we might even be tempted to ask if the Church can really survive.
It is strange then to realise that this Church – which is already, by far, the largest religious institution on the planet – is in fact enjoying global growth on an unprecedented scale. In 1950, the world’s Catholic population was 437 million, a figure that grew to 650 million by 1970, and to around 1.2 billion today. Put another way, Catholic numbers have doubled since 1970, and that change has occurred during all the recent controversies and crises within the Church, all the debates following Vatican II and all the claims about the rise of secularism.
Nor does the rate of growth show any sign of diminishing. By 2050, a conservative estimate suggests there should be at least 1.6 billion Catholics.
I spoke about global growth, and that “global” element demands emphasis. The Church has an excellent claim to have invented globalisation, and that goes far towards explaining just why its numbers are actually booming. Throughout history there had been so many so-called “world empires” which in reality were mainly confined to Eurasia. Only in the 16th century did the Spanish and Portuguese empires truly span the globe. For me, true globalisation began in 1578, when the Catholic Church established its diocese at Manila, in the Philippines – as a suffragan see of Mexico City, on the other side of the immense Pacific Ocean.
Those once mighty empires are long departed, but their ghosts remain in the thriving Catholic populations of Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines, which today constitute the Church’s three largest population centres. Mexico’s overall population has swelled from 50 million in 1970 to 121 million today, so of course there are lots more Catholics in that country. The Philippines, meanwhile, today claims 80 million Catholics, a number that will likely increase to well over 100 million by 2050. Last year, there were more Catholic baptisms in that country than in France, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.
A cynical observer might object that Church growth is solely the result of surging populations in particular regions where Catholicism happens to be the default religion. Certainly, as always, demographics plays its part in religious change, but this is by no means the whole story, and the clearest proof of this is found in Africa. Back in 1900, Africa had perhaps 10 million Christians of all denominations, constituting some 10 per cent of the whole population. Today, there are half a billion African Christians, accounting for half the continental population, and that number should exceed a billion by the 2040s.
This phenomenal growth – which is, incidentally, by far the largest quantitative change that has ever occurred in any religion, anywhere – is in part the result of the continent’s overall population growth.
In 1900, there were three Europeans for every African. By 2050, there will be three Africans for every European. But this expansion is also, clearly, the result of mass conversions. During the 20th century, some 40 per cent of Africa’s people shifted their allegiance from older primal faiths to Christianity.
Although Catholics do not represent the whole of this African story, they are a very significant part of it. In 1900, the whole of Africa had just a couple of million Catholics, but that number grew to 130 million by the end of the century, and today it approaches 200 million. If current trends continue, as they show every sign of doing, then by the 2040s there will be some 460 million African Catholics. Incredibly, that number would be greater than the total world population of Catholics as it stood in 1950.
Already by about 2030, we will cross a historic milestone when the number of Catholics in Africa will exceed the number for Europe. A few years after that, Africa will overtake Latin America to claim the title of the most Catholic continent. Within just a generation from now, a list of the 10 nations with the largest Catholic populations will include several names where Catholicism was virtually new in 1900: African lands such as Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Now, there are some problems with these numbers. I have been citing official Church figures, but those counts of the faithful are actually quite flawed. If you look at survey evidence of religious belief, you’ll find a major disparity between the number of people claiming to be Catholic versus the totals reported by Church authorities. But that gap is not what we might intuitively suspect. Far from optimistically over-counting the faithful, the African Church is systematically under-counting, and by a whopping 20 per cent. They might be too busy baptising people to keep very good records.
Nor is this just an African story. Just since 1980, the total number of African Catholics grew by 238 per cent, while the equivalent rate in Asia was 115 per cent, and 56 per cent in the Americas.
Of course, if you want to see Catholic growth in action, you don’t have to make the effort to travel to Africa or Asia, as booming Catholic Africa and Asia are coming to you. In recent decades, many millions of migrants from the global South have travelled northwards, and a great many of those are Catholic. We see plenty of evidence of this in British churches, and especially in the country’s old and revived pilgrimage sites, but similar patterns can be seen across Europe. Look at the number of parishes in historically Catholic Europe – in Ireland or France, say – which are now graced by priests from Nigeria or Vietnam.
This reality was brought home to me when I visited Denmark, which is historically one of the continent’s least Catholic nations. But go to a small city like Aarhus and watch the floods of people surrounding the small Catholic church, where Masses are offered in languages as diverse as Vietnamese, English, Chaldean and Tagalog (the last being the main tongue of the Philippines). The global Church comes home; or perhaps we should say, the empires strike back.
When we consider those African statistics alone, any suggestion of the Catholic Church “dying” or even stagnating is so wildly inaccurate as to be comical. Strangely, though, this is not the first time that at least some observers have felt that prospects for the Church were so dismal. Back in the 1890s, Mark Twain sagely observed that: “In this world we have seen the Roman Catholic power dying … for many centuries. Many a time we have gotten all ready for the funeral and found it postponed again, on account of the weather or something … Apparently one of the most uncertain things in the world is the funeral of a religion.”
See you at the graveside?

Russian government introduces draconian Soviet era restrictions on religious freedom – churches all over Russia turn to prayer and fasting

Russia, June 30, 2016: Christians in Russia called for prayer and fasting as the country looks set to introduce draconian new restrictions on freedom of religion similar to those that existed in the Communist era.
Last Friday two members of the Russian Duma (parliament) introduced a series of amendments to anti-terrorist legislation that would require individuals to gain prior state authorisation before even discussing their faith with someone else. The Duma adopted the amendments and on despite major protests by churches on Wednesday the bill was passed by the Council of the Russian Federation. It now goes to Russian President Vladimir Putin who has until July 20th to decide whether the bill will become law
The new law will require any sharing of the Christian faith – even a casual conversation – to have prior authorisation from the state. This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. Even in a private home, worship and prayer will only be allowed if there are no unbelievers present. Churches will also be held accountable for the activities of their members. So if, for example, a church member mentions their faith in conversation with a work colleague, not only the church member but also the church itself could be punished, with individuals facing fines of up to 50,000 roubles (£580; USD770; €700). There are also restrictions on the extent to which churches can have contact with foreigners; for example, any non-Russian citizen attending a church service would be required to have a work visa or face a fine and expulsion from Russia.
The bill appears to be using the excuse of anti-terrorist legislation to clamp down on any churches other than the Russian Orthodox, support for which is closely tied to Russian nationalism. President Putin has in recent years increasingly emphasised his own membership of the Russian Orthodox Church as a means of bolstering popular support for himself. However, even some senior members of the Russian Orthodox Church have voiced concerns about the bill.
If passed, the extent that this law is implemented will depend on local authorities. However, the bill is vaguely worded and, with a heavily politicised judiciary, could lead to a situation similar to that faced by Christians in the Communist era.
Barnabas Fund colleagues in Russia have expressed serious concerns about the proposed measures. Leaders of Russia’s Baptist Union called a national day of prayer and fasting yesterday (Wednesday 29 June) as the Council of the Russian Federation discussed the bill. Meanwhile, the Advisory Council of Heads of Protestant Churches of Russia has urgently appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the legislation. Now in scenes reminiscent of the book of Esther (4:1-17) churches all over Russia are praying and fasting for deliverance from this edict.

More tribal people choosing Christianity in India: report
But some question the official data, fearing it can be used for divisive politicking More tribal people choosing Christianity in India: report
Indian Lambadi tribal women dance during a performance in Hyderabad on the eve of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on Aug. 8. Official figures say that from 2001 to 2011 there has been a 63 percent growth in the number of tribal people in India who identify as Christians. (Photo by AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
India April 20, 2016

A grwing trend in India shows tribal people embracing either Christianity or Islam over Hinduism, said the latest government statistics. However some see divisive political fodder in the data.
Government figures released in mid-April said the number of Christian tribal people has increased from 6.3 million in 2001 to 10.03 million in 2011, recording a 63 percent growth.
The number of tribal people who profess Islam has grown 51 percent from 1.2 million to 1.8 million during the period when the national census was last conducted.
While the number of tribal people following the Hindu faith is much larger, their percentage growth has been comparatively less at 39 percent. The 60 million Hindu tribal people in 2001 grew to 84 million in 2011.

In contrast, total tribal population growth was only 23 percent from 84 million to 104 million for the period. The number of tribal people who do not belong to any religion or follow animism decreased from 16.4 million to 7.8 million, indicating increased religious conversions.
"There is nothing wrong" if the data is interpreted to show tribal people have been converting to Christianity, said Father Ranjit Tigga, head of the department of tribal studies at New Delhi's Indian Social Institute.

He said the Indian constitution gives all citizens the freedom to profess and propagate a religion of their choice.
"If the data is correct, it is good news" for the tribal-based church in the north and northeastern parts of India, said Father Tigga.
Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simdega said that if the data is to be believed, then it is positive.
"It ill give us a morale boost to work hard for evangelization and also it gives us the satisfaction that we are heading in the right direction," said Bishop Barwa who is the convener of the national bishops' office for tribal affairs.

Data politics

Father Tigga said that there are elections going on in many states and releasing the census data now can also be viewed as polarizing.
"Political parties have their own agenda. Some political parties are trying to divide people in the name of caste and creed," the priest said without naming any particular party or group.
Religious conversion has been a sensitive issue in Indian politics for several decades but assumed special significance after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power two years ago. The party opposes religious conversion saying it destabilizes the nation and its dominant Hindu culture.

Muslim leader Arif Khan said he does not believe the government statistics, which he says has a political agenda behind it.
It is part of the political strategy of the BJP and its affiliated groups, said Khan.
These Hindu groups are "there to divide people in the name of religion," he said.
Khan added that all Indians should be on guard to protect the secular nature of their country "otherwise religious minorities will become second class citizens."

Warsaw gets new church after 225 years of waiting

WARSAW: Worshippers in the capital of Catholic Poland finally celebrated the consecration of the city's highest church on Friday -- after a mere 225 years of waiting. The cornerstone of the enormous Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw was laid in 1792 but its halting progress since has mirrored turbulent Polish history. Just a few days after construction started, Russian troops invaded Poland and Polish independence was soon a distant memory.

The Temple is meant to be a national and religious symbol for Poland. The Divine Providence complex comprises a Church of Divine Providence, a Museum to Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.  It is worth seeing the basements of the temple with the Pantheon of Great Poles. Priest Jan Twardowski, President Ryszard Kaczorowski and Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski are buried there. There are also relics of Blessed John Paul II and Jerzy Popieluszko. In spite of the fact that the construction work continues in the upper part of the temple, masses are held inside.

The project was enthusiastically resurrected after World War I but Hitler's invading army put a stop to it in 1939. Once again, Catholic Church bosses tried to revamp the project after Hitler's defeat but this time it was blocked by the Communist authorities. Only when the Berlin Wall fell could Poland's religious authorities seek to celebrate their new-found freedom by starting again.

The perseverance paid off on Friday with an inaugural Mass attended by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and President Andrzej Duda. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki cited Poland's beloved former pope John Paul II in calling for a "responsible" use of their freedom and warning against the "arrogance of power."

The most recent building work began in 2003 and was mainly financed by some 50 million euros ($54 million) in private donations from around 100,000 people. However, even after 225 years, the work is not yet over with some painting unfinished and stained-glass windows not yet fixed. Seven million euros more are required in donations to complete the job.

The building is not universally popular with its enormous rotunda earning it the unwelcome nickname of the "giant lemon juicer". The final version is packed with modern touches such as ultra-fine acoustics in the main hall, which will also be used for concerts.

The lighting can also be changed to reflect different periods of the liturgical calendar. On Friday, the church was lit up in the national colours of red and white, as Poland celebrates the 98th anniversary of its independence.

75 metre high, 67 metre diameter reinforced concrete building has a 4,500 seat capacity and is the largest ecclesiastical structure built in Poland in several centuries.
Address: 02-972 Warszawa, ul. Ks. Prymasa A. Hlonda 1

Iraqi Christians determined to return to their homes, says archbishop
Internally displaced Christian women pray during Mass at the St Joseph Cathedral in Ankawa, northern Iraq (AP)
by Murcadha O'Flaherty
posted  Wednesday, 2 Nov 2016

Archbishop Bashar Warda said 100,000 people have begun preparations to return to ancient towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain
Displaced Iraqi Christians are determined to return to their homes in areas liberated from ISIS, according to the bishop who has led the relief effort during their period of exile.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil described how some of the 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kurdish northern Iraq had already begun preparations to return to the ancient towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain.
However, the archbishop underlined the difficulty of Christians returning to nearby Mosul which is still under ISIS control, but he added that many of the faithful originally from the city still held out the hope of returning one day.
In interviews with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Warda said: “People have not yet returned [to Nineveh] because of the operation to secure Mosul and the [subsequent] reconstruction plans. There is definitely a will to return after it’s secure. People have started [their] preparations.”
He added: “People have been holding prayers and celebrations. Some priests went to liberated villages – with soldiers. They [villagers and priests] sang hymns to the victorious Cross.”
But the archbishop recognised the many obstacles to be overcome before the displaced people in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, and Dohuk and elsewhere can realistically return to their homes in Nineveh up to 40 miles away

Italian priest blames recent spate of earthquakes on gay civil unions

Father Giovanni Cavalcoli calls seismic shocks 'divine punishment'
An Italian priest has said the recent earthquakes that have shaken the country, killing hundreds and leaving tens of thousands homeless, were "divine punishment" for gay civil unions.
Father Giovanni Cavalcoli, a theologian known for his hardline views, made the comments on October 30, the day central Italy was struck by a 6.6-magnitude quake - the most powerful to hit the country in 36 years - according to Italian media.
Cavalcoli said on Radio Maria that the seismic shocks were "divine punishment" for "the offence to the family and the dignity of marriage, in particular through civil unions".
Legislation allowing gay civil unions in Italy only took effect last month, making it the last country in Western Europe to legally recognise same-sex relationships.

The radio station distanced itself from the priest’s views and late on Friday the Vatican issued a stinging rebuke, saying the idea of a vengeful God was "a pagan vision" dating from "the pre-Christian era".
Archbishop Angelo Becciu, number two in the Vatican's powerful Secretariat of State, said Cavalcoli's comments were "offensive to believers and disgraceful for non-believers", in remarks reported by Italian media.
Becciu asked for forgiveness from victims of the earthquake and reminded them they had the "solidarity and support" of Pope Francis.
But Cavalcoli has refused to back down, insisting to another radio station that earthquakes are indeed caused by "the sins of man" and telling the Vatican to "read their catechism".
The priest is far from being the first 21st Century Christian leader to think homosexuality somehow causes natural disasters.
In 2012, during that year’s presidential election, the right-wing American chaplain John McTernan linked Hurricane Sandy to gay marriage, Barack Obama’s backing of it, and his Republican rival Mitt Romney being – he claimed - “a big-time homosexual supporter.”
“A pro-homosexual Mormon along with a pro-abortion/homosexual, Muslim Brotherhood promoter, Hard Left Fascist are running for president. And there is no cry of repentance from God’s people! I see this storm as a warning from the LORD to call His church to repentance.”“This monster storm aimed at America is not a coincidence,” wrote the founder of Defend and Proclaim the Faith ministries.  “What a sign from the holy God of Israel that American politics is an abomination to Him.
In 2015 the American Christian lobbyist Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council was quoted as saying he agreed that Hurricane Joaquin, which devastated parts of the Bahamas last year, was a sign of God’s wrath. “God is trying to end us a message,” Mr Perkins was quoted as saying.
In 2016 a flood destroyed Mr Perkins’ Louisiana home.  He told the Family Research Council’s radio station, without any apparent awareness of the potential irony: “This is a flood, I would have to say, of near Biblical proportions.”

In city liberated from Islamic State, Iraqi bishop celebrates first Mass in over two years

October 31, 2016
Syrian Catholic Archbishop Youhanna Petros Mouche of Mosul presided at a Mass in Qaragosh, Iraq, on October 30—the first time that Mass had been celebrated in the city sine the Islamic State seized the region two years ago.

As an international force nears Mosul, Qaragosh was liberated from the Islamic State last week, and returning Christians found the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception largely intact—although pews had been overturned, graffiti scrawled across the walls, and fires damaged the interior. The archbishop told the AsiaNews service that the cathedral was a vital symbol of the people of Qaragosh. “If we had not found it as it is now—if it had really been destroyed—the Qaragosh people would not want to return,” he said.

CDF issues instruction on cremation, affirms Church’s strong preference for burial

October 25, 2016
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has released Ad resurgendum cum Christo [To Rise with Christ], an instruction on the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation.
The instruction, approved by Pope Francis on March 18 and dated August 15, was made public on October 25. Its twofold purpose is to emphasize “the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation.”
Since the Church first permitted cremation in 1963, “the practice of cremation has notably increased in many countries, but simultaneously new ideas contrary to the Church’s faith have also become widespread,” the Congregation noted.

“Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places,” the Congregation stated. “In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.”

The Congregation continued:

By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body …
The burial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints.
Turning to cremation, the Congregation established: “When the deceased notoriously has requested cremation and the scattering of their ashes for reasons contrary to the Christian faith, a Christian funeral must be denied to that person according to the norms of the law,” the Congregation concluded.

Pope Says Nuns Killed in Yemen Are Victims of ‘the Globalization of Indifference’
Yemeni pro-government fighters guard outside a Missionaries of Charity elderly home March 4 after unidentified gunmen targeted the home in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 10 to 12 other people were killed in the attack. (CNS photo/EPA)

Gerard O'Connell | Mar 6 2016 - 10:02am

On Sunday Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, at the killing of four of their sisters in Aden, the port city of Yemen, on March 4. Departing from his prepared text, he hailed these sisters who were caring for the elderly in this war stricken land as “the martyrs of our day” and said, “they were killed by their attackers, but also by the globalization of indifference.

His words about "the globalization of indifference" are understood to refer not only to the general indifference to the attacks on Christians in this region but also to the great indifference of the international community to the year-long civil war in this impoverished country, which has brought it to the brink of catastrophe. The previous day he expressed the hope that "this pointless slaughter will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart and inspire all parties to lay down their arms and take up the path of dialogue."

One of martyred sisters, Sister Anselm, was from India; the other three were from Africa: Sisters Margherite and Reginette from Rwanda and Sister Judith from Kenya.  “Their names do not appear on the front page of the newspapers, but they gave their blood for the church,” Francis stated.

“I pray for them and for the other persons killed in the attack, and for their family members,” he added. He prayed that Mother Teresa—whom he will declare a saint in September—“may accompany into paradise these here daughters, martyrs of charity, and intercede for peace and the sacred respect of human life.”

The Vatican said he was “shocked and profoundly saddened” by the murder of four Missionaries of Charity and 12 other people at a retirement home for the elderly (80 of whom lived there) run by the sisters in Aden, last Friday morning. Gunmen entered the building where they lived and went room-to-room, handcuffing victims before shooting them in the head, killing at least 16 people. Medical sources told Al Jazeera that the other victims included four local nurses, four security guards and three cleaning staff.

On Saturday, March 5, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sent a message on the pope’s behalf, saying the Holy Father “sends the assurance of his prayers for the dead and his spiritual closeness to their families and to all affected from this act of senseless and diabolical violence.”
He said the pope “prays that this pointless slaughter will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart, and inspire all parties to lay down their arms and take up the path of dialogue.”

He issued a strong appeal from Pope Francis for an end to the ongoing violence in Yemen, saying that “in the name of God, he calls upon all parties in the present conflict to renounce violence, and to renew their commitment to the people of Yemen, particularly those most in need, whom the Sisters and their helpers sought to serve.”
He concluded by saying the pope “invokes God’s blessing upon everyone suffering from this violence, and in a special ways he extends to the Missionaries of Charity his prayerful sympathy and solidarity.”

The killing of these four sisters brings to a total of seven the number of Missionaries of Charity who have died as martyrs in this land, on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, over the past two decades. In 1998, three other sisters—Zelia and Aletta (India) and Michael (the Philippines)—were killed at Hodeida, another city in this war-torn land where Catholics count for a mere 3,000 faithful (migrant workers) in a population of some 25 million people. In 1973, Mother Teresa was invited to open a mission in the country by the then government of North Yemen. She agreed but asked that they could also have priests. Her request was granted and the Salesian order provided the priests, and five of them are living in the country today.

One of the priests, the only Catholic priest in Aden, Fr. Thomas Uzhunnali, from Kerala, India, was living with the sisters in this building at the time of the attack, since his parish residence was destroyed last September. He was praying in the chapel of the retirement home when the killers arrived, and was taken away by them, according to the mother superior of the community of Missionaries of Charity in Aden who, press reports say, managed to hide and so avoided being killed in the attack. It is not known what happened to him.

The Holy See and the Republic of the Yemen, an Islamic state, established diplomatic relations in October 1998, and it was hoped then that this would guarantee some protection to the tiny Christian community there and make it possible for them to carry out their mission, such as that done by the Missionaries of Charity in caring for the elderly and the disabled. In the civil war, however, even the poorest and those who serve them have little protection.

In 2011 Yemen experienced the Arab Spring protests, along with Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. Worried that these could spill out of control or even beyond its borders, the BBC reports that Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors brokered a deal that saw longstanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh deposed and replaced by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Mr. Saleh remained in the country, however, and in 2014, threw his support behind a rebellion by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, enabling them to march almost unopposed into the capital, Sanaa. By January 2015, the U.N.-recognized President Hadi had lost power and fled into exile in Saudi Arabia. By March 2015, the Shiite rebels had taken over the whole of western Yemen, where the bulk of the population is concentrated.

According to the BBC, the Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies saw this as an Iranian takeover, and fearing that Iran was about to seize control of the port city of Aden and the strategic entrance to the Red Sea, through which thousands of ships pass each year, they formed a nine-nation coalition. In March 2015, the Saudis began a massive campaign of airstrikes, targeting both the rebels and the units loyal to Mr. Saleh, but by December 2015 the Shiite Houthis still remained firmly embedded in the capital and much of the north.

Today, the Shiite Houthi rebels control the northern region but are being hit hard by Saudi-led airstrikes. The Saudi-backed internationally-recognized government controls the southern region, but there is great instability here too. Yemen effectively has two capitals—Sanaa and Aden—as the country continues to be trapped in a war that neither side seems to be winning. Aden descended into lawlessness after the Saudi-led coalition recaptured this key city from the Shiite rebels last summer, but both Al Qaida and the Islamic State are now active there.

At the end of last year, the BBC reported that Yemen’s basic infrastructure was shattered, its economy was grinding to a halt, and at least 80 percent of the population was dependent on food aid. Peace talks opened in Switzerland last December but so far have not managed to end this civil conflict in which Saudi Arabia and Iran are deeply engaged.

Already the poorest country in the Arab world, with ever-decreasing oil and water reserves, Yemen is now facing catastrophe according to the United Nations: 21.2 million people need some form of humanitarian assistance, around 6,000 people have been killed, and 2.4 million people have been displaced from their homes. Human rights organizations say both sides are responsible for atrocities in this impoverished but strategically important land where the tussle for power has serious implications for the region and the security of the West. The U.N. Security Council needs to intervene, but that is not happening. The globalization of indifference still reigns supreme, and people die.

The drama of the persecution of Christians in Nigeria

The fruit of the blood of the martyrs: the more Christians Boko Haram kills more people are baptized
Google's translation from Spanish

Boko Haram jihadists were already strong in Nigeria ... now they open a section in Cameroon, with local youth in a country before without extremists

Beatriz de la Rosa / Actuall
March 6, 2016

Nigeria has become the country where more Christians have died persecuted for their faith.

Between 9,000 and 11,000 Christians have been killed for their beliefs, a large number of houses have been destroyed, including 13,000 churches that have either reduced to ashes or have closed. More than one million Christians have been forced to leave their homes to find a safe place to live.  It is explained in the report of the organization Open Doors International along with the Christian Association of Nigeria in the report 'Crushed but not defeated' in revealing the impact it has had violence against church in northern Nigeria.

Nigeria is officially a secular country with a current constitution which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. In southern Nigeria there is economic stability, freedom of expression and peace on the current situation. Instead, the Northern cities are predominantly Muslim and in the last 15 years several radical groups have emerged with the sole desire to impose the Caliphate and impose Sharia (Islamic law). In the north the Christian population has suffered from marginalization and violence systematically. Murders, rapes marginalization and discrimination has led to the near extinction of Christians in the north of the country.

Terrorist organizations as Boko Haram or Hausa's population, a Muslim sector of great influence in Nigeria, have attacked the large Christian minority mercilessly. The persecution has led to the near extinction of Christians in some areas of the north. They were murdered in the streets, and women and girls living in constant danger of being kidnapped, raped and murdered. Many of them are given as slaves to the military. In addition Islamists throw Christian families from their homes and prevent them from returning. Christians, in short, can not have their own business or go to college or university.  However, Christians survive.

In northern Nigeria have surfaced, they have remained strong in their beliefs and have positively impacted many Muslims. Open Doors has interviewed a large number of Christians who have remained in the area despite the fear and threats. Their testimonies reflect that reality is very different. Christians have grown by 31% since 2014, one of the worst years of persecution by Boko Haram, in fact churches have grown by 66% in both members and visitors. Christians have claimed that their spiritual and personal relationship with God has grown significantly since the persecution became more noticeable. They say they have now understood what the love of neighbor and the "enemy" who have stopped being afraid and started to pray for them. Prayer, in fact, has increased by 65%.

One respondent stated: "Violence has reaffirmed my faith in God, the few that we have been continuing to grow spiritually, we will not hate our executioners, hatred just brings more hatred, Islam needs the love of Christianity" assured . Nigerian Christians have understood, says Open Doors, which in Nigeria both religions live together. "We need to coexist, both north and south formed a single country, the tension must be reduced , " said another witness. Despite the trauma living in Nigeria, Christians only demanding one thing: "We want our right to freedom of speech recognition, we do not want revenge, only hatred is over and we can live in communion with Islam , " says one interviewed by the association.

The courage of Nigerian Christians has impacted the Muslim society. Despite not being able to openly discuss their beliefs in Africa are more Christians than Muslims, they can no longer contain the conversion to Christianity, why resort to violence.  According to sociologist Massimo Introvigne, founder of CESNUR, in 1900 a population of 10 million Christians in Africa was estimated, but today the sociologist estimated 500 million.

Is a Catholic concept of mercy at the heart of true Islam?

Professor Saeed Khan spoke at Cor unum convention on the 10th anniversary of "Deus caritas est" Feb. 25-26, 2016. Credit: Alexy Gotovskiy/CNA.

By Elise Harris
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2016 / 09:23 am (CNA).- Professor Saeed Khan, an expert in Islam, has said that mercy is central to the Muslim faith – a mercy with roots in Catholicism and which is opposed to the misguided, fundamentalist interpretations of some extremist groups.

Mercy is “the core of Islam,” Saeed Khan told CNA in a Feb. 25 interview, adding that the Muslim concept of mercy “is actually an expansion of Catholic notions of mercy.” While the conventional understanding of mercy is typically “showing compassion and forgiveness for those in need,” in Islam mercy also means “a blessing and a gift,” he said. The concept of mercy as both a blessing and a gift shows God’s omniscience and omnipotence in the sense that mercy is proactively given, rather than simply reactively received by someone seeking forgiveness, Khan explained. Because of this, creation itself “is a mercy to mankind,” he said, adding that the various prophets throughout history, including, in his words, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jesus and Mohamed, “are also mercies on mankind because they have been the ones to transmit and convey the divine message.”

Khan is a lecturer for Detroit-based Wayne State University’s Department of Near East and Asian Studies. He teaches courses on Islamic and Middle East History, Islamic Civilizations and the History of Islamic Political Thought. He was present in Rome as a speaker for a Feb. 25-26 conference organized by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the publication of retired pontiff Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” meaning “God is love.”

The document was published Dec. 25, 2005, just eight months after his election as Bishop of Rome. Conference participants came from all over the world to discuss the encyclical from theological and charitable perspectives, as well as the perspective of other religions such as Judaism and Islam. Khan himself spoke on the first day of the conference, offering participants his perspective on the Muslim understanding of mercy. In his comments to CNA, Khan said the Islamic concept of God’s closeness to humanity is that he “is closer to you than your own jugular vein.”- This shows that a very intimate relationship that exists which can only be infused by love, he said. “So when Pope Benedict XVI mentioned in his encyclical that the primacy of love and how God then manifests that love then to his creation that is also an Islamic concept.” Khan said mercy is also closely linked to the concept of charity. In Islam, charity is “a devise of mercy” that goes beyond providing material needs such as food and clothing, but reaches the spiritual level, he said.

As an example, he pointed to a famous saying of the Prophet Mohamed that “even a smile is a form of charity” since it forms a human connection. This is especially true, he said, at a time when humanity is becoming increasingly more impersonal, despite advancements in technology and communications.  However, while mercy is “the core of Islam,” there is tragically a difference between “Islam as an ideal and Islam as it is applied and as it is practiced by people,” Khan said, noting that the same can be said of any religion. “Unfortunately there are people who will invoke the name of Islam to all kinds of unspeakable and egregious things,” he said. “Those may claim to be believers who act out in such vengeful and violent ways, but again, it is such an anomaly and such an aberration from the divine message that it’s very difficult to be able to say with a certain straight face that this is really what God intended.”

The professor said that instead, to get to the heart of true Islam one has to go back to the sources of in order to see the real divine message and understand what God is really mandating.  Mercy, Khan said, “is so embedded in Islam that in several places within the Quran it says ‘and establish regular prayer and charity.’ He noted how two of the 99 attributes Muslims recognize in God are “all-merciful” and “ever-merciful.” These phrases, he added, are invoked at least 17 different times during the five daily prayers Muslims recite throughout the day.  The terms are also invoked by Muslims before they embark on “any act or deed,” so therefore the concept of an all-merciful God also exists in Islam, the professor explained.

When it comes to verses in the Quran supporting vengeance and violence such as death by the sword, Khan said that Islam is “a totalistic religion” which also provides instructions on what to do in a time of war, persecution or when one’s life is threatened. He acknowledged that there are sanctions for war and for committing physical violence in the Quran, but said they are “a last resort,” and are heavily regulated to societies that would otherwise be “very unregulated, very anarchic, even more brutal than they already are. Turning to the current Jubilee of Mercy, the professor touched on Pope Francis’ numerous affirmations that the Holy Year isn’t just for Catholics, but for people of all religions, including our “Muslim brothers.”

When asked how Muslims can participate in the Jubilee, Khan said that one of the most important things to remember is that it’s not just God who is merciful, “but we who are his instruments on earth have an obligation as well as the opportunity to express that kind mercy. He noted how the Quran speaks to two different audiences, namely, believers and non-believers, and that mercy is something that can and should be commonly expressed “It is incumbent on Muslims to understand that when it comes to mercy, this is something that then binds both believers and all of humanity in the fact that mercy can be displayed, and should be displayed, to everyone,” he said.
 

Eucharistic Mercy for Inner Healing

February 24, 2016. Kathleen Beckman

A Catholic who seeks inner healing is similar to the traveler on a journey. The Holy Spirit helps him to become aware of his heart wound and mercifully sets him on the road of encounter with Jesus. The healing journey is comparable to the situation of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

On the day of Christ’s Resurrection, two men were walking to the village of Emmaus. They were discussing all the recent events. They must have been perplexed, their hopes dashed. What were they to make of everything now that Jesus had been crucified? Failure? Then Jesus drew close to them and began to walk and talk with them.

But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and . . . told what had happened on the road and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13–17, 28–35)

The journey to Eucharistic healing includes many of the emotions experienced by the disciples on the road to Emmaus. One might be perplexed by a circumstance or become profoundly disappointed that what once looked so promising now is ending in failure. There is a breach that wounds the heart. Jesus draws near, but our eyes are kept from recognizing Him. We are in a state of spiritual blindness and deafness. Our understanding is darkened for a time.

Providence will arrange a surprising encounter in which we can see again. Our eyes will be opened in the breaking of the bread. Our heart will begin to burn with love again. The Eucharist rekindles the fire of love to cauterize the bleeding wound. Jesus turns even painful experiences into something beautiful—in His perfect time. Bitterness fades. Trust is possible again. Christ absorbs the pain. A new journey begins. “[I]f any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Eucharistic Mercy
In ways seen and unseen the worthy reception of the Eucharist heals sin sickness. I am one who received inner healing through the sacraments of the Church, especially through my daily Eucharistic life. The need began when the pain of two traumas in my family deeply wounded my heart. By the grace of God I came to understand that because of these two traumas, I lost clarity about my true identity. Once secure as a child of God and experiencing only the love of family and friends into my mid-thirties, two traumas, two years apart, caused me to doubt others and myself. Because of cruel words and deeds, a great spiritual battle ensued between the true and false self. In prayer, an inspiration came, “Take care to heal so that you do not project your wounds upon my Body, the Church.” Jesus in the Eucharist became my Divine Physician. At daily Mass and Adoration, divine mercy penetrated my heart wounds, curing the lies of rejection and healing the traumatic memories. Several priests also helped; one personally guided me through the life-changing Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola weekly for a year. I learned to listen, to recognize the still small voice of the Lord, and to know the movements of my own heart—desolation, consolation, discernment, etc.

Prudence requires that we not over spiritualize inner healing, since Christ also heals communally with health professionals. The Catholic Medical Association is a grounded apostolate that supports the healing ministry of the Church. The Church’s healing, deliverance, and exorcism ministry is another way in which Christ heals, and we most often consult with medical professionals. It is not surprising that divine mercy works beautifully through a variety of ways for the care of the beloved. God desires us to be whole and holy.

To Know Yourself in the Gaze of Eucharistic Love
Fr. Jim McManus’s Catholic perspective on healing through forgiveness, and the need for healthy self-esteem for a life of happiness offers good insights. God wills to bring us to a place of joyful, grateful self-acceptance. Fr. McManus calls this a spirituality of true self-esteem wherein we know our true identity as precious children of God. Sometimes we live in the “house of the destructive word” as Fr. Mc Manus terms it. Destructive words impoverish life; hold us back. Constructive words affirm and encourage even when correcting. Healing starts when we move from the “house of the destructive word to the house of the constructive word.” There are so many opportunities to build one another up spiritually and emotionally; too often we do the exact opposite. Other people or the devil, or both, tell us lies about ourselves but Abba Father tells us the truth. Nothing separates us from the love of God. Is Christ enough for you?

Having prayed with, listened to, and counseled countless people at international retreats, I have found a common malady in which people struggle with their identity stemming from what they “do” or “have.” This is contrary to the Catholic perspective of knowing that we are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19). The Eucharist beautifies God’s temple.

Fr. McManus understands the separation of psychology and theology, but he sees a synthesis in which our psychological structures relate to our spiritual selves. This challenges core beliefs about the question “Who am I?” Jesus seeks to bring our self-image into alignment with the truth of divine love. The Eucharist can affect this because by it we are incorporated into Incarnate Truth. When we gaze at the Eucharist in Adoration, Christ mirrors our dignity to us and heals our self-esteem according to the biblical truth of His love.

Eucharistic Healing, Resurrection, the Holy Spirit’s work
In the Eucharist we have direct physical contact with Jesus. This is an important distinction. In the Gospel accounts of people being healed, we discover the fact that everyone who touched Jesus was healed. “[T]hey . . . brought to him all that were sick, and begged him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well” (Matt. 14:35–36). When we receive the Eucharist, we are touching Jesus, and our communion is physical and spiritual. We touch the Lord as contrite sinners in need of healing medicine and receive Him worthily faithful according to the Church’s norms. The sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion are intersecting rivers of divine mercy for healing.

The Eucharist bridges the gap between fallen humanity and redeemed humanity and prepares us for our glorified humanity in Christ’s second coming. We are in a process of deification through the Eucharistic life. This process is one of healing from fallen nature (sin) to redeemed nature (sanctity) to glorified nature (transforming union with God: beatific vision). The Holy Spirit is the key agent in the process of transformation in Christ, wherein we are healed. St. Paul often speaks of the Holy Spirit, who mercifully penetrates the areas of our personality that would hold us captive. It is the Holy Spirit who breaks open the mysteries of God’s mercy and empowers us to be free. The Holy Spirit brings us to an abiding encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, in which we are grafted like branches onto the vine (cf. John 15:4). This communion is by no means temporary. The physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist is vital because our physicality, our bodies matter as “temples of the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19).

Healing is resurrection. What was dead is brought to life, what was diseased is restored to health, what was infected is made clean again, what was dormant is awakened. The Eucharist affects your resurrection. Fr. Lawrence Lovasik teaches,

“Holy Communion establishes between Jesus Christ and us not merely spiritual contact but physical contact as well through the ‘species’ of bread. The resurrection of the body can be traced from this physical contact with Christ. The resurrected bodies of those who have worthily received the Eucharist during their lifetime will be more strikingly resplendent because of their frequent contact, during life, with the risen Body of their Lord.”

Prayer to Become a Living Monstrance
Lord Jesus, please fashion me into a living Eucharistic monstrance so that I may be a vessel of mercy carrying your love to others. Through our Eucharistic incorporation, grant that I may be a child of the light, salt of the earth, bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty, new wine, and healing oil for others. May people see You in my servant’s heart, You in the light of my eyes, in the warmth of my heart, in the works of my hands, in the words of my voice, in the incense of my prayer, in the lightness of my laughter, in the glistening of my tears, in the lowliness of your creature. Hide me, I pray, in the gilded monstrance of Your merciful heart so that I will be a living monstrance radiating healing rays of mercy.

Joint Declaration From Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

February 12, 2016•ZENIT

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.
 It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2Jn12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.
 It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf.1Pet3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.
 We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.
 We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1Pet4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1Cor14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1Cor1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf.Gen4:10).
 The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt5:14,16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1Cor6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.
 We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another’s foundation” (Rm15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk12:32)!
 Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1Pet2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

Francis Bishop of Rome
Pope of the Catholic Church Kirill Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia

12 February 2016, Havana (Cuba)
 

Massive crowd in Rome protests proposal to recognize same-sex unions


Catholic World News
FamilyDayRoma
February 01, 2016

An enormous crowd gathered at the Circus Maximus in Rome on January 31 to protest plans for the legal recognition of same-sex unions in Italy.

The size of the crowd for the “Family Day” demonstration was a matter of keen debate among different news outlets. Some referred to “thousands” of demonstrations, while others said “tens of thousands;” the event’s organizers claimed that over 1 million people had attended. Although there were no reliable statistics on the crowd size, at least 1,500 buses had been chartered for the occasion, with countless other participants arriving by car, foot, or public transportation.

Speakers at the Family Day rally concentrated on the argument that homosexual individuals already have legal rights, and a move toward acceptance of their unions would endanger the principle that every child should have a mother and a father.

Legislation to register civil unions will be taken up for debate in the Italian Senate on February 2. Although the proposed legislation stops well short of recognizing same-sex marraige, as other European nations have done, popular resistance in Italy has been fierce. Massimo Gandolfini, one of the main organizers of the Sunday rally, remarked: “Italy is one of the few Western countries that is still resisting this deviation.”

The Family Day rally was largely organized by Catholic lay groups. The Italian bishops’ conference—which in past years has led the opposition to acceptance of homosexual unions—did not openly support the event. Cardinal Angelo Bagnaso of Genoa, the president of the episcopal conference, made a strong statement of support for male-female marriage last week; but the secretary-general of the conference, Bishop Nuncio Galantino, has been perceived as open to the new legislation. Pope Francis has avoided public comment on the issue.
 

Muslims against Christianophobia
The Middle East needs Christians, says a leading Lebanese Muslim.
Mohammed Sammak | Feb 2 2016

In June 2015, the Islamic charitable association Maq?sid promoted the drafting of the Beirut Declaration, a document that aims to counter religious violence and promote an enlightened interpretation of Islamic culture. One of the contributors condemns the subversive rhetoric used by extremists against both Christians and Muslims. His position is born out of a conciliatory interpretation of Islam, and the belief that Muslims need Christians (and vice versa) in order to survive.

The concerns currently gripping Eastern Christians are not unfounded. It is a reaction to the tragic events that have shaken many Arab countries, and in which the victims were Christians. People who have been killed for their faith, forced to emigrate, taken prisoner and deprived of their places of worship, churches and monasteries.

This wave of religious extremism, characterised by violence and dominion over vast areas (especially in Iraq and Syria), but above all by its subversive, Takfiri slogans, has not been met by an Islamic counterwave capable of a robust legal and practical response. This has increased among Christians the feelings of frustration and fear for their future and destiny. The resulting mass emigrations represent an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of modern Muslim-Christian relations.

Since the middle of the 20th century, the percentage of Christians living in Arab countries has fallen by more than half, and the bleeding is likely to increase if subversive extremism continues to grow. Christians have many reasons to be concerned. The most important of these is linked to certain religious notions espoused by extremist Islamic movements, which they interpret as central tenets of the Islamic faith, but which, in point of fact, are nothing of the sort.

Dhimma vs. citizenship
Some extremist Islamic movements deny the faith of Christians and Jews on the basis of incorrect understanding of two Qur’anic verses: “Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam” (3:19) and “whoever desires a religion other than Islam shall not be accepted by God” (3:85). This is the consequence of an exclusivist vision of faith in God, which is limited solely to the message of Muhammad. In truth, this misunderstanding leads these Islamic movements away from the spirit of Islam and the essence of the Qur’anic text. In fact, the meaning of Islam is submission to the will of the one true God. In light of this clarification, it can be seen that being a Muslim does not mean believing exclusively in what God revealed to Muhammad. The essence of Islam is to believe in all God’s prophets and messengers, from Abraham to Muhammad, and all the heavenly scriptures that were revealed to them, insofar as these writings were inspired by the Word of God, and especially the Gospel and the Torah, which, recalls the Qur’an, contain “guidance and light” (5:44-46).

Dhimmitude is not a Qur’anic notion, any more than it is a religious statute. It is a legal “pact” concluded (during a given period) between two parties: the Muslims who were in power and the Christians who were under their protection. At the time when the Muslims established this system it represented the best and fairest way of regulating coexistence with non-Muslims.

Today, however, we have the concept of citizenship. During the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, this pact caused resentment because it relegated the Christian to the status of a second-class citizen within the framework it had established, so that he felt deprived of both his dignity and his rights. Re-evoking this notion in today’s day and age would be tantamount to calling for a return of the inhuman, uncivilised and ungodly excesses of those times.

For this reason, Christians regard the dhimma system as an attack on patriotism and coexistence. And they are right. The dhimma system is an anachronistic notion that is no longer valid, since the parties have long since dissolved the contract it was based on, which has been superseded by the nation-state, created by Muslims and Christians together. With the consolidation of the concept of citizenship, which guarantees the equality of citizens regardless of religion, confession, race and gender, the dhimma has become a historical fact, and is not a definitive, stable legal precept. It goes without saying that superseding the dhimma does not signify superseding Islamic sharia law or Islamic doctrine. Dhimmitude is a sad page in a long history that has seen its own light and dark ages, as emphasised by the Apostolic Exhortation on Lebanon in 1995.

Eastern Christians: conqueror crusaders?
Whenever there is a political problem involving Christians, irrespective of whether the issue regards a political party, or a political or religious authority, the Crusades are dusted off and used to defame, discredit and damage them. But the reality is that the Middle Eastern Crusades were not Christian attempts at proselytising the region. They were expansionist campaigns, carried out by the West under the banner of the cross, with the aim of liberating Jerusalem from the Muslims. This is demonstrated by the fact that the first victims of the campaigns were the faithful of the Eastern Churches and the Jews, from Constantinople to Jerusalem itself. The Crusaders destroyed churches, killed monks and priests, and burned Christian towns and villages inhabited by peaceful people. The former Coptic Pope, Shenouda, once mentioned to me that the Coptic Church has canonised some nuns who were killed by the Crusaders. Arab historians soon realised how things really stood, defining these expeditions as “Frankish campaigns”. They knew that Eastern Christians were as much victims of these campaigns as Muslims were.

Similarly, whenever a crisis erupts in relations between the Arabs and the United States, or any European country, Arab Christians are accused of being a fifth column of the Western enemy against Muslims and Arabs. The origin of this error, or rather, this sin, lies in the confusion that is generated in the minds of Islamic extremists between the notions of the West and Christianity. This leads them to assume that Eastern Christianity is simply an extension of the West, its spearhead, or that Eastern Christians are the remnants of the Conqueror Crusaders.

Two facts belie this view. First, the West has renounced Christianity, severing its cultural link with religion and embracing secularism as the foundation of its societies. When the West sets itself up as a defender of the rights of Eastern Christians, it is not moved to do so out of any reasons of faith, rather by the desire to protect its interests in the region. Secondly, Eastern Christians have taken a stand against Western colonialism and the Zionist occupation, as evidenced by the national movements in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, but above all in Palestine, which were led by Christians or in which Christians played an active role.

Takfir and human dignity
Reticence about takfir [“anathema”] directed against non-Muslims is the foundation that makes it possible to level charges of anathema also against Muslims. This anathema is even used against Muslims of the same confession simply because they express a differing political or personal opinion! But, in reality, the noble Qur’an describes Christians as believers and praises its priests and its monks. The Prophet Muhammad established relations with them both before and after the start of his mission. He concluded agreements with them based on the principle that “our rights are their rights, our obligations are their obligations,” and prohibited his followers from violating their people, their churches and their monasteries, defining such places as houses of God where His name resonates and is praised.

This is confirmed by the covenant between the Prophet and the Christians of Najran, and the covenant between ‘Umar and the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The monopolisation of the faith, and the exclusion of those who adhere to other religions and creeds from God’s mercy, contrast with the Islamic notion of faith, which extends to all the People of the Book. Indeed, this notion is not limited to Christians and Jews, but may also be extended to others. In fact, as the Almighty affirms in the Qur’an, He holds men to account only after sending a Messenger, that is to say after the way that leads to faith in Him has been revealed. The Almighty has also stated that many of His prophets and messengers are not mentioned in the Qur’an.

Extremists limit the right to human dignity to adherents of the Muslim faith. For this reason they do not accord the Christians, members of the united Arab family and nation, the right to dignity. But the Qur’an says: “Verily we have honoured the Children of Adam” (17:70) meaning that Man is honoured by God as a human being, not for his faith in a religion or his beliefs. God has chosen men (above all other creatures) as His representatives on earth, without making it a condition that they be Muslims or adherents of a particular religion or doctrine.

The restrictive practice of limiting dignity to a specific group of human beings is a mistake. It is at odds with the openness of Islam, which teaches us that dignity is a gift for everyone, and that all men have the right to it. So, how do we safeguard these people, the children of one nation and one family? It is the rights that come with citizenship that make everyone equal, without distinction.

“Cleave all to the rope of God”
The concept of diversity, which, according to Islam, exists and persists because of the will and wisdom of God, contradicts the idea of ??a monopoly on truth claimed by the extremists and fanatics, who consider any thought other than their own disbelief and, as such, a deviation from true religion. People are different, this is a natural fact. And only God, on the Day of Resurrection, may judge human beings, taking into account the way in which they have differed from one another. It follows that no one has the right to scrutinise the conscience of another, in order to judge him. The right to judge is reserved exclusively for the Almighty, on the day of resurrection, as is clearly explained in the Qur’an. It is true that Islam and Christianity differ on their understanding and definition of the Unity of God, but it is equally true that Christianity no longer affirms that God is the third of three. Christianity states that God is one, merciful and compassionate.

Islam itself distinguishes between diversity, which it calls upon its followers to welcome and respect, and fragmentation, which it rejects and warns against. As we have already cited above, the Qur’an says: “Cleave all to the Rope of God and be not divided among yourselves” (3:103). He did not say “let there be no difference between you.”

One can hardly deny that Arab and Eastern Christians show big concerns about sharia, which places non-Muslims outside the sphere of citizenship, or renders them second-class citizens. And once again, the Christians are right. In principle, the obligation to apply the Islamic sharia to Christians contradicts the Qur’an, which states: “Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God hath revealed therein” (5:47). Hence, the offenders are those who have not judged according to what God has revealed to them.

The Noble Qur’an did not tell the people of the Gospel to judge according to what God has revealed in the Qur’an! In light of this, how is it possible to contemplate imposing sharia on those who should not be subject to it, when Islam states “for each We have made for you a law and a clear way” (5:48)? How can a religion that professes non-compulsion, as taught by 2:256, force Christians to follow sharia?

Caliphate: Qur’anic or post-Qur’anic origins?
Today, with the advent of the so-called Islamic State, talk has again turned to the idea of the Caliphate. It is understood as a religious state that would marginalise Christians. However, the institution, as such, is not mentioned in the Qur’an, neither can it be considered a legacy of the Prophet.

Basically, in Islam, there is no such thing as a clerical religious state, as recently reiterated by al-Azhar. The Caliphate is an institution that was established upon the death of the Prophet, in order to confer authority on the Muslim ruler as successor to Muhammad. The successors of Ab? Bakr al-Sidd?q, successor to God’s Messenger, bore the title Commander of the Faithful. Even before the death of Muhammad, his companions differed on who should assume power after the Prophet, and how this power should be conferred. They certainly would not have needed to gather to discuss this matter if a text on the Caliphate had existed. Three of the four rightly guided Caliphs (‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali) were assassinated and their differences generated a schism (fitna) that has not yet been resolved. Over time, the differences have continued to multiply and accumulate, one upon the ruins of the other.

To give a religious dimension to the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan, who was neither an Arab, nor a descendant of the Quraysh (the Prophet’s tribe), took the title of Caliph. Subsequently the British, who wanted to punish the Sultan for having sided with Germany during World War I, attempted, unsuccessfully, to establish a new caliphate in the Arab world or in India, which was then under their control. At this point, they successfully campaigned to abolish the Caliphate as an institution.

But Islam did not suffer the same fate, persisting as a religion protected by the will of God. This proves that the fall of the caliphate system does not necessarily mean the fall of Islam; and similarly, that the return to the caliphate system does not mean the return of Islam. Islam is not a political system for Muslims, but the message of the Lord of the worlds intended for all men.

Islamophobia and Christianophobia
The phenomena of fanaticism and extremism – of such great concern for Eastern Christians – constitute the main reasons for their emigration. In addition to damaging the fragile foundations of citizenship, extremism – with its deviation from the fundamentals of sharia and Islamic law, and its claim to a monopoly on truth – is an important factor that lends its weight to the elements responsible for the political and economic emigration, which are having such a negative impact on our national societies.

This emigration is, in itself, one of the causes of Islamophobia, because it helps to reinforce the conception held in the West that it is not possible to co-exist with Islam, because Islam rejects the “other.” The West responds with the same logic: if Islam rejects the other, how can it accept us? And if, by its very nature, it refuses to accept us, why should we accept it? Consequently, the emigration of Christians from the East not only causes the collapse of the national social fabric and the loss of irreplaceable cultural, scientific and economic skills, but also harms the Islamic presence in the West and in the rest of the world, impacting negatively on relationships between Muslims and Christians in Europe, North America, Australia, Canada, etc., accentuating the feeling of rejection of Islam and fomenting discrimination against Muslims.

Islamophobia has repercussions in Muslim countries where Eastern Christians are victims, generating in turn what we may term Christianophobia. And this, as we have already affirmed, is due to the failure to distinguish between the West and Christianity. The result is an increase of extremism not only in the East, but also in the West, which further undermines Muslim-Christian relations.

In light of all this, it is not possible, or perhaps it is no longer possible, to isolate and resolve these three phenomena on an individual basis, since they have reached the point where they are interdependent. Halting this Christian exodus – a goal shared by Christians and Muslims alike – depends on the ability to curb extremism and fanaticism in Islamic societies. Arab and Eastern Christians and Muslims have the unique responsibility of maintaining Christian-Muslim relations by setting aside mutual provocations.

Christians can convey to the world an image of constructive coexistence with Muslims, but to make this possible they must be permitted to lead peaceful, constructive lives in their own countries. But this will never happen until they are accorded the rights of full citizenship. For their part, Muslims can help their fellow Christians to fulfil this role, but to do so must also be able to live peaceful, constructive lives. These aims can only be achieved by eradicating the culture of rejection, and promoting a culture of respect for individual and collective freedoms, in order to achieve full citizenship based on rights and duties.

Our Arab societies suffer from a lack of democracy and an excess of extremism and fanaticism. The absence of democracy, imposed by suffocating tyrannical regimes, contrasts with the requirements necessary to manage religiously and ethnically diverse and sectarian societies, reinforces fanaticism, and fans the flames of division and strife. Naturally, this impacts negatively on the rights of citizenship, and the religious freedoms that are implicit in such rights, which are systematically violated.

In summary, we can affirm that Eastern Christians are original citizens of the region. They do not belong to Western culture, nor are they a political extension of Europe, but must be numbered among the architects of Arab culture and the guardians of its language, as well as active participants in the development of Arab countries and defenders of their sovereignty. Their suffering is an aspect of the suffering of all of the peoples of the region. Western Islamophobia generates Christianophobia in the East, as a reaction to political and human injustices, as evidenced by the West’s support of Israel. These two negative phenomena are closely intertwined, because they augment each other. The only way out of this situation is citizenship, with respect for human rights, communities and the reinforcement of Christian-Muslim relations at all levels.

Today these relations are going through a very critical phase, which, as we have noted, is driving mass emigration and the rise of fanaticism.

Opposing this wave of extremism with “a good word” is both a right and a duty. It is a right of society and the duty of every man of faith to aspire to unity, security and peace in his society, both in Lebanon and other Arab states. In an age when fanatical slogans resound, “a good word is like a good tree, its root set firm and its branches reaching into heaven” (14:24).

To stay on the straight path
Muslim men and women perform the five daily prayers. The faithful are expected to perform at least 17 raka‘?t [prostrations performed during the ritual prayer] during prayers. As they perform each rak‘a, the faithful recite the Opening sura: “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those upon whom You have bestowed Your grace, not the path of those who earn Your anger nor of those who go astray!” Who are those on whom God has bestowed His grace? Who are those who have earned God’s anger? And who are those that go astray? From the context of the sura it is clear that those on whom God has bestowed His grace are the men who are led on the right way, and that remain within the limits set by Him. Therefore those with whom God is angry are the men who have left the right path and have overstepped his bounds, while those who wander in error are the men who have been radicalised, have abandoned the middle way and embraced excess.

Reciting the Opening sura while performing each rak‘a, at every prayer, every day, is an extremely sensible obligation, because it reminds the faithful of the importance of staying on the right path, never leaving it, in order to avoid finding oneself among those who go astray, nor rejecting it, in order to avoid being among those with whom God is angry.

Yet the Islam of the 21st century is suffering from the growing influence of those who have moved away – those with whom God is angry and those who wander in error – with respect to the community of the faithful who keep firmly to the right path.

The term “righteousness” (istiq?ma) and its derivatives occur 46 times in the noble Qur’an, in 34 suras. The rectitude that Islam demands is related to, and derives from, faith since it expresses the need to respect the values and principles of Islam. The noble Qur’an states: “Verily those who say, ‘Our Lord is God!’ and stand straight and steadfast, the angels shall descend on them” (41:30). Faith is the gateway to righteousness. Righteousness is the fruit of faith. To turn away from this path generates confusion, rebellion awakens the wrath of God.

Despite the fact that the community of true believers far outnumbers them, the voice of the fanatics is heard ever more frequently, and the quarrelsome play an increasingly negative role. These two groups presume to speak on behalf of Islam, placing false words in its mouth, and this damages the image of Islam, relations with non-Muslims and even relations with Muslims of other denominations or even the same confession!

In a sound had?th, God’s Messenger, peace be upon Him, states: “The faith of a servant is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” This had?th is completed by another saying. To the question “Who is a Muslim?,” the Prophet replied: “a true Muslim is one whom the people need not fear either by word or deed.”

Christians and Muslims together in diversity
In order to overcome the crisis of confidence that has shaken and dominated Muslim-Christian relations, it is necessary to rediscover the conciliatory – and not simply tolerant – spirit that typifies Islam. This rediscovery is complementary to the rediscovery of the spirit of Christianity sanctioned by the Second Vatican Council in the declaration Nostra Aetate in 1965.

For the first time, the Council not only expressed its esteem for Muslims, who profess the uniqueness of God, honour the mother of the Messiah and the Messiah Himself, worshiping Him as a prophet, but also stated that “the differences with Muslims constitute a danger to the faith in the one God, who created all men and called them to redemption and happiness.” It set a basic principle:

“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men. They take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honour Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

It is true that, in the Middle East in general, but in particular in Lebanon, even before the Second Vatican Council, Muslims and Christians shared feelings of brotherhood. However, the Council lent a theological basis to this brotherhood, so that national fraternity was joined by the brotherhood of faith in the one God. This brotherhood should not be just a slogan, but should be reflected in individual and collective attitudes and in public life. This explains the insistence of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in the Middle East (n 25) on the right and the duty of Christians to “participate fully in national life, working to build up their country,” specifying that “they should enjoy full citizenship and not be treated as second-class citizens or believers.”

Muslims in the Middle East, and particularly in Lebanon, have no need of Christians when practising their religious rituals and consolidating their spiritual relationship with God. Likewise, or perhaps even more so, Christians can do without Muslims; but neither can do without the other in his life. Life, in fact, as Martin Buber says, is the encounter with the other.

And this encounter does not take place between the similar, it takes place between the different.

Mohammed Sammak is adviser to the Grand Mufti of the Republic of the Lebanon and secretary of the Committee for Muslim-Christian Dialogue in the Lebanon. In 1995 he represented the Sunnite community at the Special Synod for the Lebanon convened in the Vatican by John Paul II. He is the author of various books, including Minorities between Arabness and Islam.

Watch the Incredible Procession at the Eucharistic Congress - 2 millions!

January 30, 2016
The image above, now circulating on Facebook, is remarkable. So is the video below. An estimated 2 million people took part.
The story (h/t Fr. Patrick Longalong):

Cebuanos and delegates to the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) currently being held in this city trooped to the Cebu Provincial Capitol and filled its surrounding streets to hear the Mass led by Dublin, Ireland Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

According to Fr. Roberto Ebisa, SVD, of DYRF, Police Chief Inspector Ryan Debaras estimated the crowd that gathered for the Mass and procession to be nearly 2 million. Streets leading to the Capitol were closed to make way for the millions of people joining in the international Catholic gathering dubbed as the “World Youth Day of adult Catholics”. Candle-bearing delegates and pilgrims from Cebu and around the world chanted hymns and prayers as the carriage carrying the monstrance made its way slowly from the Capitol through Osmeña Boulevard towards Plaza Independencia while a choir led in the chanting of the Litany of the Saints and other hymns. 
 

In his homily, Martin reminded the people that “the Church became present through the Eucharist, through the Holy Communion.” No Eucharist, no Church “There is no Church without the Eucharist. The Eucharist constructs the Church,” he said. Martin was joined at the makeshift altar by Papal legate Charles Maung Cardinal Bo, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations Archbishop Bernardino Auza, and president of the Pontifical Committee on IECs Archbishop Piero Marini as well as hundreds of bishops and priests.

The Primate of Ireland said Christians need to realize that Christ came to us as a gift and not as someone “we construct ourselves.” He then urged Catholics to model their lives as a celebration of the mystery of the life and love of Jesus Christ. “We are called to understand, love and assimilate the very love of Jesus… Our lives too must be offered in sacrifice.” Martin, who is archbishop of the last diocese to host the IEC said that the Christian community, a “Eucharistic community”, must always be a caring one. Special monstrance Last Thursday, the Cebu provincial government declared no work at the Capitol on Friday via its official social media accounts to give way for the preparations for the Holy Mass and the Eucharistic procession.

The monstrance, specially designed for the IEC, was placed on a pedestal in an open-top truck decked with flowers. Thousands followed the procession while others waited at the sides, carrying lighted candles or praying the rosary.

Fourth degree Knights of Columbus in full Honor Guard regalia led the procession followed by women in white veils and the rest of the crowd.

On Sunday, millions are expected to attend the Statio Orbis Mass (Latin for “Stations of the World”) or Concluding Mass of the 51st IEC at the South Road Properties. The term was first used to describe the concluding celebration of the 37th IEC in Munich, Germany in 1960. The phrase came to refer to the
 

The Catholic Priest Who Found Jesus Christ While Among the Muslims
At great risk, Fr. Humblot lived for years in Iran, sharing the Gospel and serving the poor
 

James Davis
January 31, 2016 January 31, 2016

One of the first times Father Humblot came into contact with Muslims was seeing the shadow of a “terrorist” during the war in Algeria. He was serving at the time in the French contingent, and the figure was at the end of his gun. He knew he should shoot, but he chose not to pull the trigger and withdrew on tiptoe. The enemy did not shoot either. When he was still a seminarian, he decided to devote his life to the service of Muslims. He became a missionary priest in the Prado association.

While he finished studying theology in Beirut in the early 60s, Father Humblot chose to live in the slum which adjoined the city dump. His neighbors, Lebanese Shiites of southern Lebanon or Syria, were dockers or worked sorting garbage. Separated from them by a simple sheet of cardboard, he was admitted into this community of poor Muslims and he shared their work, either in the middle of the city dump or as a longshoreman at the port. His goal was to help seminarians and young priests who wanted to serve the poor not only to contemplate the poverty of Jesus Christ but to share for a few days that of the poor.

“I gave the baby bottle”
He established a relationship of trust with his neighbors, who knew he was a Catholic priest: “My chapel was out in the open, everyone could see it,” he recalls. One night, the man in the house just next to his called for help: his wife had left and he did not know how to feed the baby as she had been breast-feeding … The priest then boiled a bottle and made a baby bottle out of it. And this is how we could see a French priest giving a small Muslim his milk between two cardboard boxes in a Beirut slum!

Koran Reading
When it rained, the inhabitants of the slum met during the night in each other’s homes, to avoid going out in the muddy streets. They listened to the Koran, gathered around the best reader. Father Humblot was chosen to read, resulting in another strange scene: a Catholic priest reciting suras, especially that of “Maryam,” that he explained to his audience in the light of the Gospels. Two sheiks got wind of the priest’s activities and wanted to stop them, but they were driven out by Father Humblot’s neighbors who were accustomed to “their” priest.

At the end of his stay, he learned that his activities and his complicity with the local population earned him the distrust of some Muslims, but his neighbors protected him during the June 1968 war with Israel. “During many of my journeys, I was followed by two neighbors who discreetly ensured my protection! I knew nothing at the time. ”

No animosity
“I never felt any animosity on the part of the Muslims that I lived with,” says the priest, who spent 45 years in Iran. His troubles came from the political police, who looked askance at his activities as a missionary priest in Tehran and who threatened him to the point that his bishop urged him to leave five years ago. Since 1969, after learning the language, he did something scandalous: he taught Muslims who wanted to convert to Christianity — and there are many of them — despite the risks!

His neighbors knew it but never reproached him for it. “Once, during the Islamic Revolution, in the volatile atmosphere you can imagine, a group of youths attacked me when I had gone out to shop at the local grocer, “This is an American! Let’s get him!”

I told them I was French. Their answer was: “Oh yes, since the Imam Khomeini took refuge in France, all foreigners are French!”

When we got to the grocer’s who knew me, we continued to debate and finally the leader of the group offered me a cigarette, a Marlboro! My immediate response was: “I do not smoke American … Take one of these.” And I took an Iranian cigarette out of my pocket. The whole gang burst out laughing and we parted friends. ”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church translated by ayatollahs
Later, the priest was invited to the holy city of Qom where the ayatollahs and other Shiite leaders are trained. A group of Muslim clerics asked him to check their translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When Father asked why they had translated it, they replied: “Because we want to present each religion with the official texts of the religion, not according to what we think.”

In the discussion that followed, the Muslim clerics questioned him. “What is the greatest commandment in Christianity?” Father Humblot answered that there was only one commandment: Love, which encompasses all things.” And off we go into a discussion on this one God who is love, not only because He loves us, but because He is not remote, solitary and dangerous, overseeing and judging sinners …” he recalls.
This catechism was printed up but then destroyed by the political and religious police but then reprinted on the occasion of the election of the new president. It is on sale in bookstores in Tehran and the Father often used it to answer catechumens’ questions.

“Thanks to the Muslims, I am aware that Jesus is the Son of God”
Father Humblot continues his dialogue now from Paris through the Internet with Muslims who, in Iran, Afghanistan and Europe wish to convert to Christianity, and receives touching testimonies of friendship like that of Amin, an Iranian, who wrote: “I am a Muslim but I like the Catholics because they are respectful of the person and preach love.” Father Humblot gives thanks to God for having “converted him to Jesus Christ through the Muslims’ attitude.”
He explains: “Raised in a very Christian family, I loved the gospel and considered Jesus as my best friend. Until the day when, in the leper colony where often the very sick and suffering prayed and fasted with great submission to the will of God Almighty, I discovered adoration and prostration before Jesus, as not only my friend but also the Son of God. ”

Translated the French by Liliane Stevenson.

Ten Ways to Fall in Love with the Eucharist
Fr. Ed Broom, OMV


The saints are the mad-lovers of Jesus; they were on earth and now are in heaven loving God for all eternity.  In this article, we will give a list of what some saints have said in an excess of love for the most Holy Eucharist. Then we will give ten keys to unlock the treasure-case of gems to love the Eucharist more in our lives! Let us read and meditate on the fire of the saints and the Eucharist:

Now let us dive into ten golden keys that can open up the infinite treasure house of jewels so as to derive countless graces and blessings from Jesus’ greatest Gift to the entire world: Holy Mass and Holy Communion, His Body, Blood Soul and Divinity!

Faith.

Beg the Lord for a greater faith in the sublime mystery of the most Holy Eucharist.   Let us say with the Apostles Saint Thomas:  “My Lord and my God.” Let us also so the prayer of the man of the Gospel: “Lord I believe but strengthen my faith!”

Visit.

Make it a habit to visit the most Blessed Sacrament as often as is possible.  Hopefully when we die Jesus will not reproach us with these words: “Whenever I see a church I stop to make a visit so that when I die the Lord will not say:  “Who is it!”  Friends meet to chat, talk, and enjoy each other’s company; so should we, in visiting and talking frequently to Jesus.

Spiritual Communion.

Highly recommended by St. Alphonsus Liguouri as well as Pope Benedict XVI in his document “Sacramentum Caritatis” is the frequent practice of the Spiritual Communion.   It can be done in a simple manner and as often as your heart desires.   You can say the simple prayer:  “Jesus I believe that you are truly present in the Tabernacle in your Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Now I cannot receive you sacramentally but come at least spiritually into my heart.”  Then enter into your heart and thank, praise and love the Lord who has come spiritually into your soul.  This can fan the flame of love for our Eucharistic Lord.

Read John 6.

The Gospel of John chapter six has three parts: Jesus multiples the loaves, walks on water, and then He gives a sublime discourse related to the Eucharist; actually it is a Eucharistic prophecy.   Best known as the “Bread of life discourse”, Jesus promises to give us the Bread of Life.  Also Jesus points out in no unclear terms that our immortal salvation depends upon our eating His Body and drinking His Blood, which obviously refers to Holy Communion.  Read and meditate this powerful chapter!

Fifteen Minutes.

Years ago there was published a small booklet with the title “The fifteen minutes”.  It is a little gem where Jesus encourages the reader to enter into simple but profound conversation with Him. Basically Jesus wants to be our Best Friend and challenges us to open up the secret mysteries of our heart to Him and only He can truly understand the inner secrets, wounds and mysteries in our heart.   Read and pray through this booklet if possible in front of the Blessed Sacrament!

Holy Hour.

Get into the habit of making a daily Holy Hour in front of the most Blessed Sacrament. It will transform your life if you persevere in the practice.  The Great Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who made his Holy Hour faithfully for more than fifty years, called it THE HOUR OF POWER!

Adorn and Embellish Churches & the Eucharist.

The woman lavished her expensive nard on the feet of Jesus; she wept and her tears came pouring forth on the feet of Jesus; finally she wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair (Lk. 7:36-50).   Fulton Sheen points out that this is symbolic of the gestures of love and attention we should manifest in the way we adorn, embellish and beautify the Churches and tabernacles where Jesus abides.

Known for his spirit of penance, fasting, and sacrifice, the Cure of Ars would travel long distances and expend big sums of money to purchase the best for his little Church. Why? For the simple reason that Jesus the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords abides in the tabernacle and descends from heaven in the hands of the priest in every consecrated Host. “O come let us adore Him!”

Holy Mass and Holy Communion.

Of course the greatest action in the whole universe is the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The greatest gesture any human being can accomplish is to assist at Mass and to receive Holy Communion with faith, devotion, reverence and awe but especially with a passionate love.   Whenever possible, go to daily Mass. Arrive early to prepare yourself. Offer your own private intentions. Participate in Holy Mass fully, actively and consciously.   Receive Holy Communion as if it were your first Holy Communion, last Holy Communion and only Holy Communion. Be exceedingly thankful for your faith in such a sublime and august mystery!   Do not rush out of the Church after Mass, as if your pants were on fire!  Rather, spend some time after Holy Mass to render abundant thanks to Jesus for such a sublime gift. Actually the word “Eucharist” means THANKSGIVING!   What a sublime gift, free of charge. The only condition is lively faith and a heart overflowing with love for Jesus the greatest of all lovers!

A.C.T.S.

Remember the four principal ends or purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—A.C.T.S…

A—stands for adoration.  The primary purpose of Holy Mass is to offer adoration to God the Father, by the offering of Jesus the Victim and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

C—stands for contrition.  Our hearts should be contrite and humble and repentant for our many sins. It is a great practice to offer our Mass and Holy Communion in reparation for our sins, the sin of our families as well as in reparation for the sins of the whole world.  “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

T—stands for thanksgiving.  Everything that we have in this life—with the exception of our own sins—is a pure gift from God. Therefore we should be overflowing and abounding in the thanksgiving. “With the Psalmist let us pray: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his love endures forever.”

S—Stands for supplication; in other words we should offer prayers of fervent intercession and petition for the many needs of the world: the world at large, the Church, the conversion of sinners, the sick, the dying, our own personal family needs, the souls in purgatory, and much more….

Eucharistic Missionary.

As Mary received Jesus in the Annunciation and promptly and quickly brought Jesus to her cousin Elizabeth, so should we bring Jesus to others, and others to Jesus.   This can be done in a very concrete manner by encouraging Catholic lost sheep wandering in the wilderness back to the fold.  The second largest religious group in the United States are non-practicing Catholics.

Find the time, manner, effort and initiative to invite some lost soul back to Church. Hopefully he or she can make a good confession and return to the reception of Holy Communion and to the loving embrace of God the Father. All this might take place if you simply trust God and take the initiative to welcome them back! God is so loving and good!  Share the Good News to the entire world!
 

Archbishop of Guwahati: In Asia religion is not dying, the faithful take strength from the Eucharist

INDIA – PHILIPPINES - AsiaNews

Mgr Menamparampil is among the speakers at the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. He was also a conflict mediator between various ethnic groups. He told AsiaNews about the value of the Congress for the Catholic Church in Asia and how people can bear witness the Gospel today, even amid tensions and violence of those who "hate us." "with the same pain in our hearts that we descend to our depths during a Eucharistic adoration."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – “In Asia, prayer gatherings draw larger crowds than sports events or entertainments of any sort. This is the best answer to militant atheists who keep arguing that religion is dying out. At a massive prayer-event the rich and the poor become equal”, says Mgr Thomas Menamparampil, Archbishop of Guwahati and Apostolic Administrator of Jowai in India, speaking about the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. The Archbishop acted as mediator in the conflict between the various ethnic groups and declares that “silent worship is just what Asians value most in religion” and for it “Eucharistic adoration breathes a sense of mystery.”

“We would best witness to the Gospel in Asia”, says, “if we should be able enter into the mental state of Jesus who felt abandoned as he was close to his death in order to understand the inner agony of those who feel abandoned by society, even by their families and intimates in certain painful contexts.  The cry of the poor is the cry of Jesus on the Cross”.
The role od dialogue with religions, which it doesn’t mean sit together to have “a cup of the”, but “it is ongoing relationship, mutual education, stimulating cooperation.” The Christian Inculturation should not become “like an artificial face-makeup, but it is the life-giving touch of Christ.” Archbishop Menamparampil’s interview with AsiaNews follows:

Excellency, what is the meaning of the International Eucharistic Congress for the Church in Asia?

Silent worship is just what Asians value most in religion. Eucharistic adoration makes profound meaning for them as it breathes a sense of mystery. It stands for depth in their understanding. The external ceremonies and solemnity are less important in their perception. What is Important is to delve behind the meaning of those rituals.

For believing Asians, all activities derive their strength and motivation from their relationship with the Ultimate. Mahatma Gandhi began the more serious part of his political career in an Ashram with regular habits of prayer. When he taught nonviolence from a prayer context it appealed to the nation. With the tools of nonviolence sharpened, he could go ahead more confidently into his struggle for his country's independence.

How do we witness to the Gospel in Asia in our times?

I think we would best witness to the Gospel in Asia when we join the rest of local society in seeking to address the problems of the day. "We also evangelise when we attempt to confront the various challenges which can arise (EG 61)," says Pope Francis.

Addressing a human need with a sense of commitment is the primary duty for a Christian. "You yourselves give them something to eat," said Jesus to his disciples who wanted to withdraw before an actual human need. I would not limit this way of addressing the needs of the poor to merely to food and drink, medicine and blankets; but also to encouraging words and supportive fellowship, to contextual wisdom and a vision for the future, reassuring forgiveness and dreams that people consider impossible.

The sigh of the helpless is closely linked to the loud "groans and tears" (Heb 5:7) of Jesus in Gethsemane. We should be able to keep close to him in his agony in the anguish of deprived slum dwellers, marginalised ethnic groups, exploited Dalit villagers; in the uncertainties of mentally confused young people.   We should be able enter into the mental state of Jesus who felt abandoned as he was close to his death in order to understand the inner agony of those who feel abandoned by society, even by their families and intimates in certain painful contexts.  The cry of the poor is the cry of Jesus on the Cross.
I would say the best evangelisers today are those who have developed the skill of building bridges to individuals and communities, not necessarily those who are over-confident about their message and their methods, or those who speak from a moral high ground, or are specialised in denouncing others. The best missionaries are those who know how to relate with cultures, communities, heritages,  and collective identities with intelligence; and how to deal with resentful individuals, inward-looking ethnic groups, angered societies, vengeful radicals, with attention, respect and sensitivity. The best evangelisers are those who accept the most pressing problems of the day as the starting for sharing a relevant message, suggesting realistic solutions, and sustaining hope when all human solutions fail. There they have a chance to point beyond!

What would you say about dialogue with religions?

The problem with us is that we seem to limit Dialogue to an academic exercise. How many dialogue sessions end up as a ritual, concluding with a cup of tea! But if the dialogue is about the most pressing problems of society at a given moment, it comes to life.  Each one draws strength from his/her own source of inspiration, but its worth is weighed according to its relevance to the anxiety they share. One's words acquire convincing power in proportion to their applicability to the context. Even the best proposals may be rejected, but the sense of what is right remains, and it may acquired greater respectability when the situation makes its rightness evident.  But this is just one aspect dialogue. In fact, dialogue is ongoing relationship, it is mutual education, it is stimulating cooperation. It is about creating a sense co-belonging. In these times of mutual exclusion, mild hostility, and even absolute hatred between communities, religious groups and civilizational blocs, dialogue of respect and relationship is just what is needed.  In a highly secularized, market-driven, value-neutral, materialistic world, sincere followers of various religious traditions must come together and inspire and help each other.

Religious dialogue ascends to new heights when it concerns itself with actual religious experiences. Everyone is deeply edified when he/she hears the description of an actual religious experience in another tradition. An encounter with the divine is life-transforming. In this era of vanishing and values and absence of moral convictions, we seek assistance from persons of every persuasion to help. Jesus somehow interests more people than we think, if only his real face is made manifest.

Mgr Menamparampil, what do you think about the ongoing process of Inculturation among Asian tribal cultures?

I am cautious about speaking on Inculturation as a sort of surgical operation or genetic engineering. I would consider it rather as a happy encounter between two sets of human experiences. The historical and social experiences of a particular tribe will have given shape to an identity to a community with its own worldview and values. If any community feels its identity or heritage threatened, it goes on the defensive. Today it is happening all over the world. If a community perceives an increase of threat, its defence may take a radical shape. Christian Inculturation should not become something like an artificial face-makeup or a decorative adaptation. It is the life-giving touch of Christ, a stimulating encounter with his message, where what is best in a tradition begins to flower in a new and amazing way. If there are areas of self-correction or instances of sharing elements from other faith-communities, these can only be in the context of the growth of the community in keeping with its original genius. That evangeliser helps best who knows how to bring to life what is best in a community's values and traditions.

And what do you say about the missionary’s commitment to the poor?

My answer is simple: when you run short of generosity, draw close to the poor. Their needs will stir in your generosity. They will multiply your energies. They will empower you to do amazing things. No wonder, Mother Teresa used to say, "The poor are our teachers."  St. Vincent de Paul had some similar expression. In an earlier question I had already spoken about the various needs of the poor. Let me add one more dimension. I have a feeling that those who are poorest are those who are most distant from God. In this year of mercy, we come close them and help them to rediscover their way to God.

And how do you deal with huge social problems?

Let me add a new category: those who oppose us, hate our beliefs and values, and harass and persecute us beyond endurance. I agree that we have every right to put the entire strength of law and the weight of public opinion in self defence. Any yet we have the duty to identify ourselves with them too. As the victim is our brother/sister, so is the aggressor. It is thinking about him that Christ cried and shed tears in the Garden and writhed in pain on the cross. It is with the same pain in our hearts that we descend to our depths during a Eucharistic adoration. If these things do not form a part of our inner struggle, our Eucharistic devotion lacks depth.

The powers of evil are defeated only when they are driven out of the inner world of our brother/sister. Historic wounds cannot be healed by immediate persuasion. But putting our weight on the path of persuasion, we hasten the coming of the Kingdom. I am sure many will not agree with me. These are beyond practical possibilities, but our evangelisation becomes convincing only when people see that we know how to look beyond the horizon, that we are people of faith, that ultimate realities of which we speak are are living force with us. Let us keep believing in the impossible and striving towards it as a witness to our faith

Finally, does the Congress push forward the mission of the Christians in Asia?

In Asia, prayer gatherings draw larger crowds than sports events or entertainments of any sort. This is the best answer to militant atheists who keep arguing that religion is dying out. At a massive prayer-event the rich and the poor become equal. There they recharge their energies for another round of generous service. In this sense, the International Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines can help to revive the faith of the Catholics in that country and motivate all who gather there to return home and bear witness to their faith with redoubled spiritual strength.

Non-Christians queue to cross Bandra Holy Door (Photo)


INDIA
Nirmala Carvalho

Pilgrims to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount kneel in front of the priest and ask to confess. Msgr. Nereus Rodrigues is rector of the Basilica, where Card. Gracias opened the Holy Door. The bishop has set up panels that draw attention to the corporal works of mercy. The Holy Door decorated with messages. Thousands of pilgrims visiting.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Since the Holy Door of Mercy was opened in the basilica of Our Lady of the Mount in Bandra (Mumbai), Maharashtra, it has attracted thousands of Christians and faithful of other religions. "Everyone is eager to receive the sacrament of reconciliation," says Msgr. Nereus Rodrigues, rector of the basilica, who cares for many pilgrims who arrive every day from dawn to dusk, along with the vice rector Fr. Anaiceto. The prelate adds: "Many Christians come here, stand in line, then kneel in front of the priest and sit in the confessional. Speaking softly, asking for the forgiveness of their sins".

Msgr. Nereus is confident that many people of different faiths come to the Church throughout the year. But now, with the opening of the Jubilee Door, the church is frequented by a growing number of devotees.

Outside the basilica, in the area reserved to the oratory (see photo), the bishop installed panels that draw your attention to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, underlined by Pope Francis for this Jubilee. According to Msgr. Nereus, "in this way, through the written warnings, pilgrims can read, understand and then implement the works of mercy."

Other panels were placed along the sides of the front entrance to the basilica. Msgr. Nereus said: "We want the faithful to celebrate the Jubilee of mercy even before entering the church. At the entrance there are two large panels that sway in the wind: one shows the logo of the extraordinary Holy Year, the other is the image of the prodigal son, with an explanation by Pope Francis. "

Moreover, the same Holy Door is decorated with the message: "On one side the inscription 'Mary conceived without sin'. The other an invocation for the Jubilee. "
 

At the Milk Grotto, 'evidence that there is God' Couples struggling with fertility attribute ‘miracle babies’ to where Mary supposedly first nursed Jesus

Pilgrims experiencing fertility issues flock to the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock
12/17/2015

Judith Sudilovsky OSV Newsweekly

At the Milk Grotto, 'evidence that there is God' Pilgrims experiencing fertility issues flock to the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock
Tucked away behind Nativity Square, not far from the Church of the Nativity that, according to Christian tradition, marks the spot where Jesus was born in the manger, is the Milk Grotto. This is the location where, according to another tradition, Mary nursed the Infant Jesus and where a few drops of her milk fell onto the rocks, turning the soft limestone from its original yellowish-brown hue to a creamy white.
In a tradition dating back centuries — possibly even to the earliest Christians — women and couples who are unable to conceive have come to this grotto to pray to Mary, in hopes that her intercession will bless them with a baby.

Keeping records

Today, pilgrims can take home tiny packets of white powder from the grotto, and together, the couple for 40 days follows a devotion that includes drinking small amounts of the powder and saying a prayer. The bags are sold at a symbolic cost but can only be purchased at the grotto since the requests would be overwhelming to manage.In the 12 years since Brother Lawrence Bode, the Franciscan caretaker of the shrine, has been keeping records, there have been about 4,000 letters from couples attributing their miracle babies to the “milk powder.” Brother Lawrence estimates that there have been twice as many babies born whose parents have not written him. He keeps all the letters and pictures in black and white three-ring binders and is now on his 10th binder. The latest babies include a pair of twins.

“(Last week), I went to the post office box and there were about 10 baby pictures,” Brother Lawrence said. “People pray for healing so they can have a baby and become a mother. Every two days, we have a baby. It is a wonderful place to work, bringing babies from all over the world. It is such tangible evidence to the miracle. The letters are the testimony.” Indeed, the letters and pictures in the binders and the ones decorating almost two walls of his small office next to the shrine come from every corner of the world, including Brazil, Argentina, India, the Philippines, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Germany, Sri Lanka, Bermuda, Ireland and Spain. More recently, Brother Lawrence said, he has even been receiving letters from Taiwan and China.

Miraculous evidence

Each letter attests to the difficulty the couples had in conceiving. One woman and her husband wrote from India that they had struggled to conceive for as long as 20 years. The husband wrote about their immense joy when their baby girl was born after they had followed the devotion. An Episcopal pastor from the United States wrote about the six years he and his wife were trying to conceive and sent a picture of him proudly carrying his newborn baby in a carrier on his chest. From Argentina, a young woman wrote about the birth of her daughter after 10 months of trying to conceive. Two local Palestinian couples sent in pictures of their miracle babies: One couple had triplets, and the other quadruplets.

Brother Lawrence says he often jokes with couples to be careful how much of the powder they take because that is what can happen. But in all seriousness, he says he never asks the couples if they are also undergoing fertility treatments but acknowledges that very well may also be the case. Their prayers and faith in the devotion may help the process along, he said. Some letters attribute other miracles, such as healing from cancer, blindness and paralysis to the “milk powder” as well.

“It is a wonderful feeling to know that there is hope for couples, people who are sick, even people who are losing faith. I pray for the people who take this devotion every day of my life,” said Brother Lawrence. “This is evidence that there is God. We are talking about miracles. In these days, you talk about miracles and people don’t believe.” Some people, such as the parents of the quadruplets and the parents of a girl from a northern Galilee village who was in a coma, have brought their children back to the shrine to give thanks, Father Lawrence said.

Giving hope

Long devoted to the Virgin Mary even before he went into religious life, Brother Lawrence said his devotion has grown threefold since he joined his order.
“There are a certain number of prayers I have to pray to the Virgin Mary every day or I am not a happy person,” he smiled, adding: “We put our faith in Jesus. We put our faith in his mother.” In several spots in the grotto, ceiling holes the width of a finger are evident where, over the years, people have scraped bits of the powder to take home. Indeed, Brother Lawrence says, they must be vigilant of people who try to scrape the powder from the ceiling. Just recently, he said, a visitor was attempting to carve out hunks of the stone with an umbrella.

The structure was renovated two years ago, removing centuries’ old soot from the ceiling and, to accommodate bigger pilgrim groups, adding a larger upper chapel on top of the older chapel, which was built over the grotto around the year 385. He noted that at some point during earlier renovations, a huge deposit of the powder was put into storage, which is what is today offered to the faithful who come to the shrine. Brother Lawrence said he believes there is enough to “last at least 100 years.”

“This gives the people hope. It is good that there is hope,” said Svetlana Rezinovski, a tour guide who came by for the second time in two days to buy numerous packets for members of her group from Moldova. “Orthodox Christians also come to ask for (Mary’s) help, too.”

As Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus during the Christmas season, Brother Lawrence says he celebrates the birth every day as babies from all over the world are born with what he believes is the intercession of Mary using the grotto’s “milk powder.” On Jan. 1, a special Mass in honor of Mary is celebrated at St. Catherine Cathedral, which is adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. Several hundred faithful follow in a procession with song and prayer, carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary to the Milk Grotto, where they are blessed by a priest.

“Jesus tells us that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move the mountain,” Brother Lawrence said. “Miracles happen with people’s faith. This is not magic. It has to do with a person’s faith and belief.”

Judith Sudilovsky writes from Jerusalem.
 

The number of Christian martyrs has tripled in two years.

Cross of the Martyrs.

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2016 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 2013, there were some 2,100 Christians killed for faith-related reasons across the globe. Last year, that number rose to at least 7,100, according to a recent report from an advocacy group.

“The persecution of Christians is getting worse – in every region in which we work – and it’s getting worse fast,” Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said in the group’s 2016 report. “Many countries have dropped down the list, not because persecution there is decreasing, but simply because others are getting worse faster. And it wasn’t good three years ago.” “We can and must be strenuous in protecting Christians and all others facing persecution for their faith,” Pearce added.
Open Doors has worked to help persecuted Christians for over 60 years. It was founded by a Dutchman known as Brother Andrew. He smuggled Bibles into Eastern Europe at a time when communist regimes severely restricted Christianity and other religions. The organization works in 60 countries. Each year, it compiles instances of anti-Christian persecution and evaluates the global situation.

The latest report found that anti-Christian persecution reached a new peak in 2015, with thousands more people killed for faith-related reasons. About 4,000 Christians were killed in Nigeria, over 1,200 in the Central African and over 700 in Chad throughout 2015. In addition, over 2,400 churches were attacked or shut down for faith-related reasons, the Open Doors report said.
Open Doors’ World Watch List evaluates Christian persecution in the world’s countries and ranks the worst 50. The worst 10 countries on the 2016 list are North Korea, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Libya. North Korea, a communist state, is still the country where it is most difficult to be a Christian, the group found. It has about 300,000 Christians in a population of 24.5 million. The country has headed Open Doors’ watch list for 14 years. News from the isolated country is difficult to confirm. However, Open Doors said the country’s leadership sees Christianity as “deeply Western and despicable.”

“Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to a labor camp. Thus, being Christian has to be a well-protected secret, even within families, and most parents refrain from introducing their children to the Christian faith in order to make sure that nothing slips their tongue when they are asked.”

In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled their homes for fear of violence, especially from ISIS. “Iraq has suffered from years of structural uncertainty, conflict and instability under a government incapable of enforcing the rule of law and providing a minimum of security,” Open Doors said. In Eritrea, there are about 2.5 million Christians out of a population of 6.7 million.  “The Eritrean regime is absolutely authoritarian and intolerant towards any form of association, dissent and free expression,” Open Doors commented.
The government aims to control all religious institutions and has deposed the Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch. The country has consistently supported the rise of radical Islam in the region, including arming the Islamist extremist group Al-Shabaab.
The Open Doors watch list cited several trends worsening anti-Christian persecution.

These trends include the expansion of self-styled Islamic caliphates, who now operate across international borders. Governments who fear Islamic extremism respond by working to increase nationalist sentiment or they tighten rules and increase surveillance over religious expression. In addition, some Muslims are becoming stricter out of fear of extremist takeovers or ISIS sleeper groups.

According to the report, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia were the fastest growing areas of persecution. More states suffer lawlessness, which means minorities there suffer more violence. Religious extremism, including Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist extremism, is the greatest source of anti-Christian persecution. The report blamed tribal antagonism as well as churches that do not want to recognize Christians of other denominations.

Mexico ranks 40th on the list, while Colombia ranks 46th. They are the only countries in the Americas to appear on the list. Open Doors said that drug trafficking is largely at the root of anti-Christian persecution in Latin America. Local church leaders are often the only ones who will oppose drug traffickers, but then become targets for violence and extortion.

“There is always hope, and yet we are in unmarked territory – the pace and scale of persecution of Christians is unprecedented and growing fast.  We should not expect that to change unless we are part of changing the situation,” Pearce said.

She found hope in areas where Christian churches grow despite persecution. In countries like Syria, Christian communities care for their Muslim neighbors. In places like Mandera, Kenya, Muslims opposed anti-Christian attackers, saying, “You kill all of us or none of us.”

Slovenia rejects same-sex marriage in referendum

Even the Pope got involved
Dec 21st 2015,

MORE THAN 60% of Slovenian voters opposed legalising gay marriage in a referendum marked by low turnout, according to near-complete results from the electoral commission. The outcome marked a setback for gay rights activists who had hoped to see the largely Catholic nation become Europe’s first ex-communist country to give same-sex couples the right to marry and adopt. With 99.9% of ballots counted, 63.48% of voters said ‘no’ to approving the legislation, which already passed in parliament earlier this year. More than 1.7 million people were registered to vote on an issue that has stoked heated debate in the former Yugoslav republic, but turnout was low at just 36.18%. For the outcome to be legally valid, opponents of the law needed to muster the support of at least 20% of registered voters — the equivalent of at least 342,000 votes. They ended up garnering 391,818, the commission said.

According to Ljudmila Novak, a senior member of the conservative Nova Slovenija party, said the “message is clear”. “We need to protect the rights of children,” she said. “We agree with providing the appropriate rights for homosexuals, while preserving the family as the primary environment for children.” In March, parliament approved legislation redefining marriage as a “union of two” instead of a “union of a man and a woman”, granting homosexual couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts, including the right to adopt children. But opponents immediately launched a campaign to reverse the changes, meaning the legislation never came into force and no same-sex couples were able to tie the knot. A group called “Children Are At Stake” managed to gather the 40,000 signatures necessary to force a referendum. Even Pope Francis waded in, urging Slovenians to defend traditional family values.
He said last week he encouraged “everyone, especially those with public responsibility, to support the family, a structural reference point for the life of society”.

A “miracle” at the Holy Door in Zhengding: 10,000 underground Catholics celebrate the Jubilee without arrests


CHINA, Dec. 15, 2015–”It’s a miracle! It is protection from Heaven!” said some Catholics from the underground community in Zhengding (Hebei) after what happened on Sunday, December 13.

About 10,000 faithful from Zhengding, Lingshou, Beijing, and Baoding had gathered outside the cathedral (pictured) to celebrate the beginning of the Jubilee and the opening of the Holy Door. The “miracle” is that police, which is always present in front of the church, did nothing to prevent the event and did not arrest anyone. (Perhaps) an even greater miracle was the fact that the underground bishop led the liturgy, which lasted from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.

Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, who is not recognized by the government, has been under house arrest for years for refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), and for remaining loyal to the pope. The CPCA is a Communist Party agency whose aim is to establish a Catholic Church independent from the pope. Mgr Jia Zhiguo lives near Zhengding cathedral and is monitored day and night. He is often taken away for a week or two of “holiday” – i.e. classes of indoctrination and brainwashing – to convince him to join the CPCA.

Despite this, “it is amazing,” said a nun, “that so many people could gather for so long and no one was arrested. It is likely that there were plainclothes police mingled with the crowd, but nothing happened.” A procession followed by a series of readings from Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy, preceded the solemn opening of the Holy Door in Zhengding. A single Eucharistic ceremony followed the door opening.

For years, the Chinese government has been trying to eliminate unregistered underground communities, whose “crime” is that of engaging in unsupervised religious activities. For this reason, priests involved in underground services are often imprisoned. In recent months, many underground priests and bishops have come under strong pressure to join the CPCA, through enticements and offers of money. Despite the constant monitoring to which he is subjected, Mgr Jia Zhiguo is well liked by the police as well as the population. For a long time, he hosted at his residence about 200 abandoned children and disabled people, taking care of them along with some nuns and faithful. (AsiaNews)

WATCH The Amazing Copts Filled With Joy For The 21 Martyred Copts

By Shoebat Foundation on February 20, 2015 in General, Featured
By Walid Shoebat 

Imagine thanking the killers of two of your brothers who were beheaded and video taped for the whole world to watch the barberic cruelty. Yet, this is exactly what the brother of two of the 21 Coptic Christians did when ISIS murdered both of them in Libya last week. With amazing grace comes amazing faith. Speaking on a live prayer and worship programme Beshir Kamel said that he was proud of his brothers Bishoy Estafanos Kamel (25) and Samuel Estafanos Kamel (23) because they were “a badge of honour to Christianity”.

Harrowing scenes of the murders have been seen around the world. The last words of some of those killed were “Ya Rabbi Yasou” (My Lord Jesus Christ).

The amazing faith of Beshir Kamel even gave thanks, not just to God and Christ, but also to ISIS for not editing out the men’s declaration of belief in Christ because he said this had strengthened not only his own faith but the families of the ex-patriate workers were “congratulating one another” and not in despair: “We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs,” he told the programme.

Kamel expressed the story of the Copts: “Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way. This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.”

But such faith is not void of strength and the view that militarism is also necessary. Kamel welcomed the air strikes launched in response by the Egyptian government, saying: “Only the length of the time period when we didn’t know where they were justified the air strikes for us. If they had been martyred on the same day they were kidnapped, we wouldn’t have asked for any retaliation.”

Asked by host Maher Fayez what he would say if he were asked to forgive ISIS, he related what his mother said she would do if she saw one of the men who killed her son. “My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [him] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her son entered the kingdom of heaven.”

And if you think this is only him. Shoebat.com has reviewed interviews of several family members of the martyred Copts and pretty much all of them, young and old were so glad at the news.

For example, Habib Lam’i the uncle of one of the martyrs Samuel, as much as the interviewer asks him questions, his response always divert to “we thank Christ so much for they are absent from the body and present with Christ”. Both the interviewer and the family are in complete joy.

“I sent congratulations and not condolences to the families of the martyrs”.

Samuel had two boys and a girl.
“When we saw the video we were filled with joy. They were like lions, none of them left their faith. We thank God.” “we are so glad. They are with Christ. We thank the Lord”. “They went to the eternal joy. We were tired when we did not know, but we were filled with joy when we found out they were heroic”.

And just as Kamel who invited to pray for his brothers’ killers, Beshir prayed: “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught.” Lam’i said “It is as if Christ has opened the heavens for them and He said ‘come up hither’ or why else they would all be kneeling firmly with joy and firmness in their faith. The myth that Muslims desire martyrdom is busted when one sees the Copts. It is through our martyrdom that eyes are opened, so ISIS, you can take our lives but you cannot take our souls. In fact, our martyrdom will be the means to open the eyes of thousands others, so their souls too can be saved.

We pray that we are next, please O Lord.

Mother of Coptic Christian Beheaded by ISIS: I Thank God He Kept Faith, Died for Cross

BY BRIAN SPROWL
March 24, 2015

A girl holds up a poster with pictures of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians beheaded by Islamic State in Libya, as they gather in a gesture to show their solidarity, in front of the Egyptian embassy in Amman February 17, 2015.

The mother of an Egyptian Copt who was among the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS in February said she is thankful that her son kept his faith until the end.

Milad Makeen Zaky's mother described her son's faith and bravery in a video posted on Christian ministry International Christian Concern's Facebook page last week. ICC recorded the video in Upper Egypt shortly after ISIS released the video of the beheadings on Feb. 15. In the ICC video, Zaky's mother called her son a martyr and expressed that she is proud in how he carried himself in the face of adversity.

"I thank God that my son kept the faith and died for the cross, because he was the son of Christ from his birth, not my son," said Zaky's mother. She continued in the short video by talking about her son's upbringing in the church, and his personal journey abroad because he had struggled to find work in Egypt, which ultimately led him to Libya.

"From his childhood he was going to Sunday school, reading the Holy Bible, attending the prayer meetings in the church community," she told the camera.

While some might see the words of Zaky's mother as an act of defiance in the face of danger, Todd Daniels, regional manager for the Middle East sector of the ICC, told The Christian Post that he thinks the exact opposite.

"The testimony of hope in the midst of suffering is a testament to the value of the faith for which her son died," said Daniels via email on Monday. "This is the message the world needs to see, what the Christian world needs to see."

According to Daniels, like Zaky's mother, the families of the other 20 victims take great pride in the faith that their loved ones maintained until the end.

Zaky, along with 20 others, was beheaded at an unknown time on a beach in Libya, but the video of the beheading was released last month. Zaky was a part of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. In the video entitled "A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross," all 21 Christians were pushed to the ground and beheaded after a short speech that included a reference to Osama bin Laden.

For months, ISIS has been terrorizing people overseas in an effort to convert others to Islam. They have kidnapped, assaulted and killed thousands. The group has disfigured women by pouring acid on them, used mentally challenged children as suicide bombers and cut off the hands of women who were caught using their cellphones. They have routinely recorded videos of mass beheadings and released them via social media for the public to see.
 

Pope sends message to Charismatic Renewal movement

Pope Francis - ANSA 06/12/2015 10:37

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged members of the Charismatic Renewal to "walk in the newness of life."

In a Message sent on Saturday through the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy Father called on participants of the 39th Conference of the Rinnovamento nello Spirito ("Renewal of the Spirit") taking place in Rimini, Italy, to "walk in the newness of life, and, made fruitful by personal and communitarian charismatic prayer, contribute with the renewing power of the Gospel to the Christian animation of the secular city."

The Message said Pope Francis "invokes the abundant gifts of the divine Spirit" on all the groups, communities, and the entire Movement.

Biblical sin city Sodom FOUND in Jordan, claim archaeologists after decade-long dig

19:28, 14 Oct 2015    By Jon Dean

Vice: Experts claim to have found a Sodom-like city
The ancient biblical city of sin Sodom may have been found in Jordan, a team of archaeologists claim. A dig in the Middle Eastern country could have unearthed ruins from the notorious metropolis of vice.

Experts excavating the site, in Tall el Hammam, say they have discovered a Bronze Age city-state that matches "every Sodom criterion". According to the book of Genesis, God consumed Sodom and neighbouring  Gomorrah with fire and brimstone due to their resident's depraved behaviour.

Has this archaeologist found the biblical city of Sodom? The names of the cities have since become bywords for sin and vice. Steven Collins and his team have been digging at the huge site for a decade, and have found evidence of various palatial buildings. He told Popular Archaeology : "I concluded that if one wanted to find Sodom, then one should look for the largest city on the eastern Kikkar that existed during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of Abraham and Lot. Brimstone: Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God, according to the Bible "When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to 10 times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region."

The site is in the Jordan valley, close to the Dead Sea. It appears to have consisted of an upper and lower city - where inhabitants would live according to their wealth. The remains of defensive walls 10 metres high and five metres thick have been found. Some of the defense structures are thought to have towered 30 metres high. Mr Collins added: "It was a huge undertaking, requiring millions of bricks and, obviously, large numbers of labourers.

"It was an impressive and formidable defensive system protecting the residences of the wealthier citizens of the city, including the king's palace and related temples and administrative buildings. "The remains of a "Red Palace" in the upper city have been discovered. Life in the city appears to have come to a sudden halt, and 'Sodom' appears to have been abandoned for 700 years.
 

Full Texts of All of Pope Francis’ Addresses During His Visit to the U.S.


Here is a list of Pope Francis' individual addresses:

Holy Mass Concluding the World Meeting of Families, Sunday, September 27, 2015 (Pope Francis at Final Mass: Let Us Go Beyond a “Narrow, Petty Love”)

Pope Francis' Remarks at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, Sunday, September 27, 2015 (Pope Condemns Prison Systems That Don' t “Offer New Possibilities”)

Meeting with Bishops at St. Martin' s Chapel in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia, Sunday September 27, 2015 (Pope Addresses Bishops at Seminary, Notes Sex Abuse Victims)

Address to the Festival of Families, Philadelphia, Saturday, September 26, 2015 (Energetic Francis Has Exuberant Address for Festival of Families)

Speech of Pope Francis, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Saturday, September 26, 2015 (Pope at “Birthplace of America:”; Defend Religious Liberty)

Holy Mass with the Bishops, Clergy, Men and Women Religious of Pennsylvania, Saturday, September 26, 2015 (Pope Francis Calls on Religious to Collaborate with Laity in Building Up the Church)

Holy Mass, New York City, Madison Square Garden, Friday, September 25, 2015 (Pope Francis: “Jesus Still Walks Our Streets!”;)

Pope Francis' Remarks, Our Lady Queen of Angels School, Harlem, Friday, September 25, 2015 (Pope to School Children: Keep Dreaming and Smiling)

Prayer of Pope Francis, Ground Zero, New York, Friday, September 25, 2015 (Pope at Ground Zero: Peace in This World That God Has Given All)

Greetings of Pope Francis to United Nations Organization Personnel, United Nations Headquarters, New York, Friday September 25, 2015 (Pope at United Nations Echoes Paul VI)

Homily of Pope Francis, Vespers, St. Patrick' s Cathedral, New York, September 24, 2015 (Thumbs Up from the Boss: Pope Praises Religious)

Speech of Pope Francis, Charitable Center of St. Patrick Parish, Washington, D.C., September 24, 2015 (Pope to Homeless: No Moral Justification for Lack of Housing)

Speech of Pope Francis, Joint Session of the Congress of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, September 24, 2015 (Pope to Congress: Love People Like It' s Your Job, Because It Is)

Homily of Pope Francis, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, September 23, 2015 (Pope Francis Urges Faithful: Don' t Let Your Hearts Become Numb!)

Speech of Pope Francis to the Bishops of the United States, Washington, DC, St. Matthew' s Cathedral, Wednesday, September 23, 2015 (Francis to US Bishops: Speak With Everyone, Gently and Humbly)

Remarks by President Obama and His Holiness Pope Francis at Arrival Ceremony (Courtesy of the White House Press Office), Wednesday, September 23, 2015 (Pope Francis is Welcomed at the White House)
 

Family is part of God’s plan, Pope says in 3 Philadelphia addresses

In two speeches and a homily in Philadelphia on September 26 and 27, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of family life. In his address to the festival of families and vigil of prayer at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on the evening of September 26, Pope Francis emphasized that the family is part of God’s plan, both at creation and in the Incarnation: God did not want to come into the world other than through a family. God did not want to draw near to humanity other than through a home. God did not want any other name for himself than Emmanuel (cf. Mt 1:23). He is “God with us”. This was his desire from the beginning, his purpose, his constant effort: to say to us: “I am God with you, I am God for you”.

He is the God who from the very beginning of creation said: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We can add: it is not good for woman to be alone, it is not good for children, the elderly or the young to be alone. It is not good. That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24). The two are meant to be a home, a family. From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this “God with us,” who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home.

The following morning, Pope Francis met with bishops taking part in the World Meeting of Families. Addressing them at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, he said that fostering appreciation for the gift of the family is the “foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times” and warned about the effects of the consumerist mentality: The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer “useful” or “satisfying” for the tastes of the consumer.  We have turned our society into a huge multicultural showcase tied only to the tastes of certain “consumers”, while so many others only “eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15:27). This causes great harm.  I would say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness.  Running after the latest fad, accumulating “friends” on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer.  Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.

“As pastors, we bishops are called to collect our energies and to rebuild enthusiasm for making families correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are!” the Pope continued. “We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.  Here too, we need a bit of holy parrhesia [boldness]!”

On the afternoon of September 27, Pope Francis returned to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and celebrated the concluding Mass for the World Meeting of Families. The Associated Press estimated the size of the crowd in the hundreds of thousands. In his homily, he emphasized the importance of “little gestures” within family life: [L]ike happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures.  “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41).  These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different.

They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children.  They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion.  Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.  Homely gestures.  Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work.  Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.  Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love.  That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.
 

Full Text: Pope Francis' address to the United Nations General Assembly
Washington D.C., 25 Sep 2015

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,Thank you for your kind words.

Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.
This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.
The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.

Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform nd adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.
The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships.
That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.
Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.
The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.
Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc.
This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.
At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.
For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.
The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself.
He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word... The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf.

Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.
War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.
The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.
The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.
In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.
As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.
Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.
I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today... For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).
The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.
Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).

El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.
The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).
The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.
Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.
 

Pope Francis' Sept. 24 address to members of the United States Congress
Washington D.C., Sep 24, 2015
Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members of Congress, Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free asnd the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.
Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives.
You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.
I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.
My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self- sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.
All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).
This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).
In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of... developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!
 

Pope Francis warns of danger of ISIS infiltration amid refugee crisis
Monday, 14 Sep 2015

Francis raised his concerns about the terrorist threat during an interview with a Portuguese radio station

As thousands of refugees attempt to reach Europe, Pope Francis has acknowledged the danger of infiltration by ISIS terrorists. “It’s true, I recognise that, nowadays, border safety conditions are not what they once were. The truth is that just 400 kilometres from Sicily there is an incredibly cruel terrorist group. So there is a danger of infiltration, this is true,” the Pope said during an interview with Portuguese radio station Radio Renascença.

He added that “nobody said Rome would be immune to this threat”. The Pope went on to say that “if a refugee arrives, despite all the safety precautions, we must welcome him, because this is a commandment from the Bible”. However, he also said that “we can’t be simplistic” over the way to handle the migrants and asylum seekers, referring to Europe’s “very big Labour crisis”. During the wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis also re-iterated his call for parishes and Catholic institutions to take in refugee families.

“What I asked was that in each parish and each religious institute, every monastery, should take in one family. A family, not just one person. A family gives more guarantees of security and containment, so as to avoid infiltrations of another kind,” he said. “When I say that a parish should welcome a family, I don’t mean that they should go and live in the priest’s house, in the rectory, but that each parish community should see if there is a place, a corner in the school which can be turned into a small apartment or, if necessary, that they may rent a small apartment for this family; but that they should be provided with a roof, welcomed and integrated into the community… There are convents which are almost empty.”

The Pope added that two families that the Vatican plan to take in “have already been identified and the two Vatican parishes have undertaken to go and search for them.” Francis also briefly discussed the upcoming synod on the family, which will take place next month. “At the synod we will be speaking about all the possible ways to help these families”, he said. “But one thing should be very clear – something Pope Benedict left quite clear: people who are in a second union are not excommunicated and should be integrated into Church life.”

When asked about his global popularity, Francis responded that he hopes the peace in his heart will be maintained.

“Crosses exist. You can’t see them, but they are there,” he said. “Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out. So nobody has their happiness guaranteed in this world. The only thing I ask is that this peace in my heart be maintained and that He keep me in his Grace, because, until the last moment we are sinners and we can renounce his Grace.”

Pope calls on every European parish to welcome a refugee family

Catholic World News - September 07, 2015

Following his September 6 Angelus address, Pope Francis appealed to “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe” to show mercy to refugee family.

“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who flee death from war and hunger, and who have begun a journey moved by vital hope, the Gospel calls us to be ‘neighbors’ of the weakest and the abandoned, to give them concrete hope,” he said. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Take heart. Be patient.’”

“Therefore, before the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, I make an appeal to parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines of all Europe, that they give expression to an application of the Gospel and welcome a family of refugees,” he continued. “I address my brother bishops of Europe, true pastors, so that in their dioceses they back my appeal, remembering that Mercy is the second name of Love: ‘What you have done for the least of my brothers, that you have done for me.’ The two parishes of the Vatican will also in the coming days welcome two families of refugees.”

Statue of the Virgin Mary is Left Miraculously Intact After Fire

A violent fire at a military base near Madrid spared nothing except a small statue and surrounding vegetation

August 24, 2015

The events took place at the El Goloso military base, located near the Spanish capital, seat of the nation's armored infantry brigade "Guadarrama." According to several Spanish news sites, including Infovaticana and Religión en Libertad, a fire broke out that was impossible to control, burning most of the surrounding vegetation.

 Once the flames were extinguished, to the soldiers’ surprise, in the middle of the charred area, stood a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes—totally undamaged! What's more, the soldiers were shocked to see that the grass near the statue had not been touched by the flames and that it was even still surrounded by vases filled with flowers, also intact, as if the flames had respected the space around the statue.

 The fire took place on July 30, in the middle of the heat wave which had descended upon Spain. The soldiers could not explain why the statue had suffered no damage nor why the flowers had not even been blackened or withered by the heat. The story quickly spread though social networks, some suspecting a fraud, but further investigations have dispelled all possible doubts. In the photographs, one can easily see that the ground is completely burnt, except near the statue.

 Indeed, for the most part, the soldiers on the base did not know that there was a statue of the Virgin in their garden. However, some of them who had a special devotion to Mother Mary had recommended themselves to this representation of Our Lady of Lourdes. And, the statue had already participated in official ceremonies at the military base.

 The local authorities’ investigation seems sufficient to clarify the natural aspects of the event. There are realities that human knowledge cannot understand but that faith explains. And human science and faith, working together, offer some explanation.

 Still, this story reveals Our Lady’s special protection of this statue, however simple and unpretentious. And everyone can learn a lesson from this. Unexpected events may occur that set fire to a world full of threats and evils. In the near future, in the midst of disasters that we cannot even imagine, Our Lady—especially Our Lady of Lourdes–will go through them, fearless and untouched, with the symbols of the devotion of the faithful. And those who believe, even if they are a minority discredited by the atheist or unbelieving majority, will be recognized amid the tragedy as Heaven’s beloved children.
 

Jehovah's Witnesses hid child sex abuse cases: Australian inquiry told

SYDNEY | BY MATT SIEGEL
Jul 27, 2015

The Jehovah's Witnesses Church in Australia failed to report to police more than 1,000 cases of child sexual abuse going back more than 60 years, a government investigation into abuse and its aftermath heard on Monday. Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was launched in 2013 amid allegations of serial child abuse inside the Catholic Church in Australia, has a broad mandate to examine religious and secular organizations.

At the opening hearing into the Jehovah's Witnesses on Monday, Angus Stewart, senior council assisting the commission, described the church as an insular sect with rules designed to stem the reporting of sexual abuse
"Evidence will be put before the Royal Commission that of the 1,006 alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse identified by the Jehovah’s Witness Church since 1950, not one was reported by the church to secular authorities," he said. "This suggests that it is the practice of the Jehovah’s Witness church to retain information regarding child sexual abuse offences but not to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police or other relevant authorities."

The U.S.-based Jehovah's Witnesses number about 8 million worldwide and are known for their foreign ministries as well as their door-to-door campaigns. There are about 68,000 members in Australia, Stewart said. Two church members, identified as BCB and BCG, are expected to give testimony containing allegations that they were discouraged by church elders from reporting their abuse. Stewart outlined multiple institutional failures to protect children or censure alleged abusers, including doctrine releasing church elders from their responsibility to report abuse where there was no mandatory legal obligation to do so. Although the church expelled 401 members after internal abuse hearings, it allowed 230 of them to return to the fold. Thirty-five were welcomed back on multiple occasions.

The church also erected high barriers to its internal process, requiring that two or more witnesses be produced before proceeding to a church "judicial committee". This blocked 125 allegations from being heard, Stewart said. The royal commission has kept Australians riveted with airings of abuse allegations and cover-ups in the highest ranks of its Orthodox Jewish and Roman Catholic communities going back decades. They have reached even into the Vatican, where Australian Cardinal George Pell, now in charge of reforming the Vatican's economic departments, has come under scrutiny over allegations he failed to take action to protect children years ago. Pell dismissed as "false", and "outrageous" allegations heard before the commission that he had little regard for victims.
 

Yoga is ‘incompatible’ with Christian faith, Greek Orthodox Church says

June 17, 2015

The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church reacted to the UN’s decision to designate June 21 as International Day of Yoga in 2014. The Holy Synod’s statement says that the practice of yoga has “no place in the lives of Christians” since it is a fundamental aspect of Hinduism and as such is not considered a “form of exercise” but of worship!

Though praised for its calming effect and wellness, Christians are urged to seek the same comfort in God – not hindu practises. After all, the postures of yoga were created as adulation to 330 million Hindu gods. The postures are viewed in the Hindu faith as offerings to gods that in Christianity are considered to be idols.

Furthermore, a third of yoga is concerned with emptying the mind – a contradiction to what Christianity teaches. In the Christian faith, there is free choice and transformation through renewal. Furthermore, astral travel that yoga guides people into is a practise that the church continues to frown upon.

“For this reason, yoga is totally incompatible with our Christian Orthodox faith and it has no place in the life of Christians,” the statement said, even though it added that the the Church respects religious freedom.
 

Imam Hamid Slimi: Mosque raises money to repair Catholic church allegedly damaged by schizophrenic Muslim

Hamid Slimi and the members of his Mississauga mosque raised $5,000 in one night

ANDREW BUNCOMBE - Tuesday 30 June 2015

When a Muslim leader heard that a member of his own community had vandalised a nearby church, he realised he had to act. Not just with words but with deeds. So Hamid Slimi, imam of the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Canada, paid a visit to the nearby St Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church where he was shocked to see the damage. Pages had been torn from the Bible, an alter had been damaged and a cross had been thrown to the floor. Mr Slimi then return to his mosque and organised its members to raise money to help repair the vandalism, carried out in May. In one day they managed to raise around $5,000.
It was a very bad scene,” Mr Slimi told The Star. “The guy who did it ripped pages out of the Bible. He broke the altar. He threw the cross. When I saw this, I thought it was pure injustice. It was just wrong.”

The newspaper said that police Iqbal Hessan, 22, in connection with the damage and and charged him with breaking and entering. During the bail hearing, Mr Hessan said he was “upset with the Christian religion.” His father reportedly told the court his son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which he believed had caused his anger and imbalance. Police said that reviewing the young man’s mental health history, police decided they were “not proceeding with a hate crime”.

Mr Slimi’s mosque did not immediately respond to phone calls. However, Father Camillo Lando, of St Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church, told The Independent that he had informed his congregation this Sunday of the gift from mosque members. “It was very nice,” he said. “I told people on Sunday. We have said there should be no revenge.”
 

ISIS seen undermining Islamic faith as more Muslims convert to Christianity

Monica Cantilero  08 June 2015

Islam will reportedly become the world's largest religion 55 years from now based on recent projections, but the barbarous practices of the Islamic State could undermine the growth of the world's Muslim population, experts said. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, Christianity and Islam will be near parity by 2050, with Christians expected to comprise 31.4 percent of the planet's population against 29.7 percent who follow Islam. The study said Islam will grow more than twice as fast as any other major religion over the next half century because of a higher fertility rate in Muslim dominated countries. However, Muslims frightened by the inhumane acts by the ISIS, which the militants claim they are doing in the name of their god Allah, are now questioning their very own faith, and presumably considering to leave it, CBS News reported on Friday.

This is backed by testimonies from missionaries working in the Islamic world who noted that more Muslims have converted to Christianity in the last 14 years since the devastating Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. The number of converts in the recent period, they said, is greater than during the entire 14 centuries of Islamic history. "Many Muslims are saying, 'If ISIS is Islam, I'm leaving.' Some are becoming atheists," said Brother Rachid, who hosts a Christian program reaching Muslims called "Daring Questions" in Arabic language. "There is a huge wave of atheism in the Arab world right now and many are turning to Jesus Christ. Islam was never faced with this crisis before." "Islam is going to collapse," added Brother Rachid, whose father is a Moroccan imam who lived as a secret Christian convert for 15 years.

Pastor Fouad Rasho of Angered Alliance Church in Sweden, who has baptized more than a hundred former Muslims, maintained that ISIS causes many Muslims to come to Jesus. "Every week I meet one or more persons who come to me and want to know more about Christianity and the Bible because they are very angry about being a Muslim. They don't want to continue to be Muslim," said Imran, who is also an immigrant from Syria.

Many converts keep their shift in religion a secret, fearing for their lives and for being an outcast. Imram (not his real name), a British college student from a Pakistani immigrant family, said leaving Islam is tough. "If someone leaves Islam and becomes an apostate, he is thrown out of his family; his family will be the first ones to abandon him," he said. "His friends will reject him and he will be killed or he will be persecuted. A lot of my friends said, 'This is the last time I'm talking to you because you disrespected the prophet Mohammed, you disrespected Islam.'"
 

Transfixed by the face of Jesus: Pilgrims at the Shroud of Turin

Pope Francis with the Shroud of Turin in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Turin on June 21, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano

Turin, Italy, Jun 24, 2015 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At this year's exposition of the Shroud of Turin, pilgrims reflected on looking upon what some believe to be Christ's own image – miraculously imprinted on a Jewish burial cloth 2,000 years ago. “I was transfixed looking at the face,” said Peter Taylor, a seminarian for the diocese of Middlesbrough, England in an interview with CNA. “I just couldn't tear my eyes away from the face of Christ. It was just so mesmerizing that you couldn’t look away.” Taylor, who is completing his second year of formation for the priesthood at the Venerable English College (VEC) in Rome, was one of scores of pilgrims to have visited the Shroud of Turin during its April 19-June 24 exposition. Pope Francis also made a pilgrimage to Turin before the event ended. Housed in Turin's Saint John the Baptist Cathedral, the image on the 14 ft. long, 3-and-a-half ft. wide cloth is stained with the postmortem image of a man – front and back – who has been brutally tortured and crucified. Taylor said it was especially moving to see the face on the shroud in light and Pope Francis' recent Bull of Induction for the Year of Mercy, set to begin this December: “To see Jesus is to say the face of the Father's mercy.” “To really look upon Christ was really moving,” he said.

The staff and student body of the VEC began this past academic year with a trip to the Holy Land, during which they visited the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Many of these took part in a pilgrimage organized by the seminary to see the shroud during this current exposition. “To actually have been in the tomb (of Jesus), and then to see the shroud, was a very moving experience I think for everybody,” Taylor said. For pilgrims traveling to Turin to see the shroud, the experience begins a short way from the main Cathedral. Visitors are led quietly through a series of covered walkways which wind through a nearby wooded area. The path is occasionally marked by images and quotes from the local saints, such as St. John Bosco and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

Visitors are then led into a darkened room where they are presented with a short film, without narration, showing the details of the burial cloth, and what the various markings mean. The film draws particular attention to the wounds on the shroud, emphasizing the correlation between the injuries seen on the image and those suffered by Christ as depicted in the Gospel. At the conclusion of the film, the visitors are led through the Cathedral itself, which has been darkened to allow the full effect of the backlighting behind the Shroud. They pass by various side chapels, including one containing the tomb of Turin local, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Finally, they are led behind the central altar, and allowed to stand, in silence for about five minutes, just a few feet from where the Shroud is on display.

Although tickets are required to be able to see the Shroud close up, it is still visible from the pews which are open to everyone, and it is easy to make out many of the details owing to the overall darkness in the Cathedral in relation to the dim lighting behind the cloth. Marco Egawhary, a third-year seminarian receiving formation at the VEC for the Archdiocese of Birmingham, also took part in the pilgrimage to Turin. He told CNA he was surprised by the prayerful atmosphere considering the number of people who were going. “Before the shroud itself is actually very, very prayerful, and that was what really struck me,” he said. “It was the quietness of the atmosphere and just the deep sense of prayer that was going on.”

The Shroud of Turin is among the most well-known relics believed to be connected with Christ's Passion. Venerated for centuries by Christians as the burial shroud of Jesus, it has been subject to intense scientific study to ascertain its authenticity, and the origins of the image.  Regardless of what the evidence indicates, however, it is not necessary to believe that the Shroud is authentic, according to Catholic teaching. Belief in whether it is genuine or not is left up to the individual.  In light of the question surrounding the Shroud’s authenticity, Egawhary explained his attitude in going to Turin: “If this is the shroud that has wrapped our Lord in the tomb, then what would that mean for me and to be praying in front of it?”

Although he believes the evidence suggesting that the cloth is real is compelling, he said his faith does not depend on its being authentic. “Our faith is not based on these sort of exterior signs of things like the shroud or the true relics of the cross. Our faith is based on a personal encounter with Jesus. That’s what it is to be a Catholic.”  “My experience in front of the shroud being that powerful sort of confirmed it, that interior sense. But if a statement were to be released saying it’s not genuine…it wouldn’t change my faith.” Echoing the Church’s teaching that it is not necessary to accept the Turin relic as Jesus' actual burial shroud, Taylor said the atmosphere of holiness surrounding the Shroud nonetheless left him believing in its authenticity. “There was a real sense of being somewhere sacred, being somewhere holy,” he said.  Even so, “if the Vatican said it wasn’t authentic, for me it would still have meant something really moving,” he said. “Having that time in front of the Shroud was a very poignant moment in my life and it always will be.”
 

Hundreds of thousands rally in Rome to defend natural family and protect kids from gender theory

ROME, June 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Rome on Saturday to protest the imposition of ‘gender ideology’ in schools and to condemn an Italian Senate bill that proposes to give same-sex partners equivalent rights as married couples.

“We rally to defend our children from gender theory introduced in the schools, that damages the innocence and the healthy development of children, to defend the natural family from the assault to which it is constantly subjected by our Parliament, to defend the right of parents to educate their children, and to promote the right of every child to grow up with a father and a mother,” rally organizer and long-time Italian pro-family activist Toni Brandi told LifeSiteNews.

Participants taking part in what organizers called a “family day” packed to overflowing the Piazza San Giovanni in front of the St. John Lateran Basilica. "We are a million," organizers said from the stage, reported Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. While Zenit in Italian has reported a million demonstrators, other news sources such as Breitbart puts the number at half a million, while mainstream media puts the number even lower. Event organizer and Catholic leader Kiko Argüello of the Neocatechumenal Way believes there were even more than a million.

The grassroots-led rally is all the more remarkable in its overwhelming numbers in that it was announced at the beginning of June and received no prior media attention. By Sunday, reports of the rally became front page news in all of Italy’s major newspapers. The rally is even more remarkable in that a similar rally held last year only drew about 600 people.

Participants, many of them families with children, held banners that stated: “The family will save the world" and "Let's defend our children.”  “No to gender ideology, no to ideological colonization of our children in the schools, no to the [Senate] bill Cirinnà and gay ‘marriage,’ rally organizers stated in a press release. “The natural family alone is the necessary and fundamental cell of society.” Brandi told LifeSiteNews that despite Pope Francis’ condemnation of gender ideology on at least four separate occasions, only a handful of Catholic bishops lent their support to the rally.

Organizers say the event was a total success. “The Piazza was filled with light and truth, without anything homophobic or discriminatory. The families of Italy have come with enormous sacrifices to Rome and have raised their voice to be heard,” the organizers stated in a press release after the event.

"It was a large group of people and families in defense of the family, moved by love for our children,” said Mario Adinolfi, director of La Croce and founder of “Voglio la Mamma” [I need Mama]. Concluded organizers: “It was a family day with a million smiling faces, all crammed, crowded together, under the sun and in the rain, without losing their smiles. Young and old parents, grandparents and grandchildren, children of all ages, even toddlers in prams, all say in unison to those who work in those hallowed halls of power: ‘Hey, we are here! You can not ignore us.’”
 

What happens when an entire country becomes infested with demons?

By David Ramos

Can a country with deep Christian roots like Mexico find itself at the mercy of demons? Some in the Church fear so.  And as a result, they called for a nation-wide exorcism of Mexico, carried out quietly last month in the cathedral of San Luis Potosí. High levels of violence, as well as drug cartels and abortion in the country, were the motivation behind the special rite of exorcism, known as “Exorcismo Magno.”

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, presided at the closed doors ceremony, the first ever in the history of Mexico. Also participating were Archbishop Jesús Carlos Cabrero of San Luis Potosí, Spanish demonologist and exorcist Father José Antonio Fortea, and a smaller group of priests and lay people. The event was not made known to the general public beforehand. According to Archbishop Cabrero, the reserved character of the May 20 ceremony was intended to avoid any misguided interpretations of the ritual.

But how can an entire country become infested by demons to the point that it’s necessary to resort to an Exorcismo Magno? “To the extent sin increases more and more in a country, to that extent it becomes easier for the demons to tempt (people),” Fr. Fortea told CNA. The Spanish exorcist warned that “to the extent there is more witchcraft and Satanism going on in a country, to that extent there will be more extraordinary manifestations of those powers of darkness.”

Fr. Fortea said that “the exorcism performed in San Luís Potosí is the first ever carried out in Mexico in which the exorcists came from different parts of the country and gathered together to exorcise the powers of darkness, not from a person, but from the whole country.” “This rite of exorcism, beautiful and liturgical, had never before taken place in any part of the world.  Although it had taken place in a private manner as when Saint Francis (exorcised) the Italian city of Arezzo,” he stated. The Spanish exorcist explained, however, that the celebration of this ritual will not automatically change the difficult situation Mexico is going through in a single day. “It would be a big mistake to think that by performing a full scale exorcism of the country everything would automatically change right away.”

Nevertheless, he emphasized that “if with the power we’ve received from Christ we expel the demons from a country, this will certainly have positive repercussions, because we’ll make a great number of the tempters flee, even if this exorcism is partial.” “We don’t drive out all the evil spirits from a country with just one ceremony. But even though all will not be expelled, those that were removed are not there anymore.” Fr. Fortea emphasized that “when the exorcists of a country drive out its demons, it has to be done in faith. You’re not going to see anything, feel anything, there’s not going to be any extraordinary phenomenon. We have to have faith that God conferred on the apostles a power, and that we can use this power.” “In any case, if this ritual were to be carried out in more countries once year, before or after, this would put an end to any extraordinary manifestations which would show us the rage of the devil. Because, without a doubt, the demons hate to be driven out of a place or to be bound with the power of Christ.”

The Spanish exorcist said that “it would be very desirable that when there’s an annual meeting of exorcists in a country, a ritual such as this exorcismo magno that took place in Mexico be performed.” He also emphasized that a bishop “can authorize its occurrence once a year with his priests in the cathedral.” “The bishop is the shepherd and he can use the power he has received to drive away the invisible wolves from the sheep, since Satan is like a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour, and the shepherds can drive away the predator from the victim,” he concluded.
 

Attacks on minorities on rise under Modi regime, report says

New Delhi:
The past year has seen an increase in the number of attacks in India on Christians and Muslims under the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to a report compiled by human rights activists.

The report, titled 365 Days: Democracy and Secularism Under the Modi Regime, was released on Thursday in Delhi to highlight the number of alleged persecution cases and hate speeches against the two religious minorities by the Hindu majority. It was compiled by several activists that included Shabnam Hashmi, the founder of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy); John Dayal, spokesman of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights (UCFHR); and Professor Apoorvanand, a literary and cultural critic who teaches Hindi at Delhi University.

According to the report, there were more than 200 cases of persecution against Christians, more than 170 against Muslims and more than 230 reported hate speeches leveled against the two communities in the last year around the country. Comparative figures from previous years were not provided in the report. Besides Delhi, the report was also released in 15 other cities across the country The Narendra Modi-led BJP, which came to power in May last year following a landslide election win, has been accused by rights activists of trying to turn the country into a Hindu nation with the backing of the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

“This report is a public document. As activists we have presented before the nation what is happening. If things continue in the direction they are going, then there would be a big attack on our democracy. It is a dangerous signal,” said Hashmi. The report's allegations of ongoing violence are at odds with the Indian government, which has claimed that Prime Minister Modi's election has largely ended violence against the country's minority communities. Last month India's minister for minority affairs, Najma Heptulla, told journalists during a visit to Srinagar that no attacks on religious or ethnic minorities had taken place under Modi's first year as prime minister, according to a report in The Hindu newspaper. "No one has attacked the minorities. No riots took place anywhere. Only verbal attacks were taking place, but that has stopped now," the minister was reported as saying.

In the report released Thursday, activists expressed concern over the way incidents of communal violence were taking place in a very “planned manner”. “You may not see blood spilled on the streets; still, the minority community gets affected at large,” said Harsh Mander, an activist and author who also helped compile the report. The activists pointed to a recent case of communal violence in the village of Atali, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, where Muslims were attacked and their houses allegedly burned by Hindu militants. The Muslim community had to flee the village and take shelter at a police station.

“The incident is an example of how segregation of minority communities has started happening in the country. The victims were brought in to the village after promises of protection for them, and now they are not allowed to meet any community leaders,” Professor Apoorvanand said. “A different kind of violence, more psychological, is happening. There is a re-ordering of social relations in the country. There is an attempt to tame minority communities,” he added. In a veiled attack on the pro-Hindu RSS, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, an activist who also contributed to the report, told ucanews.com that the problem is not with the government, but "with the extra-constitutional forces which think that it is their country and they can get away with anything they do”.

He said that these forces have created grass roots activists who are totally communalized and attack minorities. Rawat said it is the duty of the government to prevent the situation from getting worse. Dismissing government claims that attacks on minorities have decreased, the UCFHR's Dayal accused the government of keeping incidents of communal violence under wraps. “They are not reported. In those states, which are ruled by the BJP, the police, government and the RSS is one seamless entity. The cases that happen do not come out in the open,” Dayal said. Activists accuse Hindu militants of orchestrated persecution of minority religious groups.
 

Pope in Turin tells young people to be chaste in love, go against the flow and not retire at 20

In his last meeting on the first day of his visit to Turin, Francis met young people in Vittorio Square. In a Question and Answer exchange, he talked about love, friendship and loss of trust towards life. "I understand you. How many hypocrites speak of peace and sell weapons. How can one trust? By following Christ, whose act of extreme love, i.e. the Cross, saved humanity." The pontiff also looked at the horrors of the 20th century as evidence of the loss of trust towards world powers. He urged young people “not to retire at 20,” but “live, don’t just exist.”

Turin (AsiaNews) – Love, friendship and attitude towards life must be lived in light of the teachings of Jesus. This is the only way to understand them in their fullness, said Pope Francis in his last public address to a large gathering of young people in the city’s Vittorio Square on the first day of his pastoral visit to Turin.

On this occasion, the Holy Father blessed the World Youth Day Cross, as it made a stop on its way to Krakow, setting for the upcoming world gathering. He also answered three questions from young people. One of the latter was a 19-year-old disabled education student who is scheduled to take her exams. She asked the pope to explain "the greatest love, that of Christ”. Another, 30-year-old Sara, “has a full life" but cannot find work. A young man who helps out in seven oratories asked the pontiff about the idea of friendship with Christ. The pope’s long answer follows (Transcribed and translated by AsiaNews).

Thanks Clara, Sara and Luigi. Thank you for the questions about the three words we heard from the Gospel of John: love, life and friends. In John’s text, these three words meet, and one explains the other. It is not possible to talk about life in the Gospels without talking about love and life. It is also not possible to talk about love without this transformation, from servants into friends.

These three words are very important to life. All three have a common root, the desire to live. Let me quote the words of Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati who said, “live, don’t just exist”. You know how bad it is to see young people idle away, vegetating - excuse me for that expression. Some young people are involved in things but . . . life is life. Their life goes as life does, stuck, unable to move. You don’t know how sad it is for me to see young people retire from life at the age of 20. They have aged precociously. What then? Thus, when Chiara asked about love, what makes a young person not retire early . . . is the desire to love, to give what is most beautiful to man and God. John’s definition of God is “God is love”.

When a young person lives, he loves, grows and does not retire. He grows, grows, grows and gives. What is love? Is it one of the boring soap operas we see [on TV]? For some, that is love. Speaking about love is so beautiful. One could say many beautiful things. However, love moves on two axles. If someone, a young person, does not have these two axles, these two aspects, it is not love.

First of all, love is more in deeds than in words. Love is real. When I spoke to the Salesian family two hours ago, I spoke about the concreteness of their vocation. I told them that they feel young, and here they stand in the front row [Applause and laughter]. Love is real, more in deeds than in words. Saying "I love you" is not love. What will one do for love? One gives love. Remember that God began to speak about love when He became involved with His people. When he chose his people, he made a covenant with his people, and saved his people. God has a lot of patience. He forgave so many times; indeed, that is what he did! He did things, works of love.

The second aspect, the second axle on which love turns, is the love that one always communicates. It is, in other words, the love that listens and answers. Love is done in dialogue, in communion, it communicates. Love is neither deaf nor dumb, it communicates. These two aspects are very useful to understand what love is. It is not a romantic feeling, fleeting, or a story. No. It is something real, in what one does, and communicates. It is in dialogue, always. So, Chiara, I shall answer that question. However, we often feel let down, by love. What is Jesus’ love? How can we experience it?

Now, I know that you are good kids and I will speak truthfully. I do not want to moralise, but I do want to say something I don’t like, something unpopular. Even the pope sometimes has to take risks on things to tell the truth. Love is in deeds, in how one communicates; love is very respectful of people. It does not use people, i.e. love is chaste. And you, young people, in this hedonistic world [of ours], in this world where only advertising, pleasure . . . the good life . . . [prevail], I tell you: be chaste! Be chaste!

In life, all of us have been through times when this virtue was hard [to respect]. Yet, it is the proof of true love, one that knows how to give life, one that does not try to use others for one’s own pleasure. This love makes holy the life of the other person. "I respect you; [therefore,] I will not use you." It is not easy. We all know how hard it is to get over facile and hedonistic notions of love.

Forgive me, but let me ask you to make an effort to live love chastely. From this, one consequence follows. If love is respectful, if it is in deeds and communication, then this love is about making sacrifices for others. Look at parental love, that of countless mothers and fathers who each morning arrive at work tired because they could not sleep in order to take care of their sick child. This is love. This is respect. This is not the good life; this is service, another key concept. Love is service; it is service to others. When after the washing of the feet, Jesus explained his act to the Apostles, he taught them that we are made to serve one another. If I say that I love and I do not serve or help others, or move them forward, or make no sacrifices, then that is not love. You carried the Cross; that is the sign of God. Those deeds, for many centuries of history, end there: His Son on the Cross. The greatest service is to give one’s life, sacrificing oneself, to help others.

It is not easy to talk about love, to live love, but with what I said, Chiara, I believe I have gone some way in answering the question that you had for me. I don’t know, but I hope I have succeeded. Thank you, Sara, our theatre aficionado. We often feel distrust in life. Indeed, we do! Because there are situations that make us think, "Well, is this life worth it? Is it right to live this way? What can I expect from this life?"

Let us now turn to the wars. I sometimes said that we are in the middle of World War Three, but piecemeal. There is war in Europe. There is war in Africa. There is war in the Orient. There is war in other countries. Can I trust such a world? Can I trust world leaders? When I vote for a candidate, can I trust that he or she will not lead my country to war?

If you trust only people, you have lost. [Laughter and applause] One thought comes to mind: people, CEOs, business people who call themselves Christian and [yet] manufacture weapons. [Applause] This leads to a loss in trust. They call themselves Christian! “As a matter of fact, Father, I don’t make weapons. I just have investments in companies that manufacture weapons. Right! Why? Because of higher earnings.” Being two-faced is so conventional. Doing one thing and saying another. [Applause]. What hypocrisy! Let us see what happened the last century.

There was a great tragedy in Armenia in 1914 and 1915. [Applause] Many, millions died. Where were the great powers of that time? They turned the other way, and were interested in their war, and in those deaths. They [the Armenians] were third class human beings [Applause]. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s [came] the tragedy of the Holocaust. The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that brought the trains to the concentration camps, to Auschwitz, to kill Jews, Christians, Roma, homosexuals . . . Tell me then, why did they not bomb them? [Out of] interests, eh? [Applause]. A little later, in almost the same period, there were concentration camps in Russia. Stalin! How many Christians suffered and were killed? The great powers divided up Europe, like a pie. It took many years before we got some freedom.

It is hypocritical to talk about peace and make weapons, or sell them to the two warring sides. [Applause] I understand when you talk about the loss of trust in life. Even today, I like to say that we are living in a culture of exclusion, because what is not economically useful is excluded; children because either they are not born or are killed before they are born; seniors because they are no longer useful and are left to die, a sort of hidden euthanasia; and now young people when considering that 40 per cent is jobless. This is true exclusion! [Applause]

But why? Because, contrary to God’s will, men and women are not at the centre of the world’s economic system. The mighty buck is. Everything is done for money. [Applause] In Spanish there is a saying, "The little monkey will dance for money." [Applause]. In this culture of exclusion, can we trust life or does the loss of trust grow? Young people who cannot study, who do not work, who feel ashamed and unworthy because they have no job and earn no living . . . How often do they become addicts or commit suicide? We don’t have clear statistics about suicide among young people. How many times do they go to fight with the terrorists, at least to do something for an ideal? I understand this challenge.

For this reason, Jesus used to say not to trust riches and worldly powers. How can I trust life, how can I live a life that does not destroy, or turn into a life of destruction, a life that excludes people? How can I live? Live a life that does not disappoint me?

Let me answer Luigi. He spoke about sharing; i.e. about connecting, building. We must go forward with our construction plans. Such a life cannot disappoint. If one takes part in a construction project, one of help – helping street kids, migrants, the many who need food but also involvement – the loss of trust goes away. What should I do for this? Do not retire too soon! [You must] do, do [things]. [Applause].

Let me tell you something else: go against the flow. For you young people, stuck in the existing economic, cultural, hedonistic and consumeristic situation, with values like soap bubbles, such values lead nowhere. You must do constructive things, small ones, that unite us and our ideals. This is the best antidote to the loss of trust, to a culture that offers only pleasure – living high on the hog, with money and no worry in the world. [You must] go against the flow; be creative.
Last summer, in August, when Rome was as good as dead, I met a group of young men and women, who travelled across Italy camping here and there. They came to see me after we spoke on the phone. They were a sad sight, dirty and tired, but how happy they were. Because they went against the flow [Applause]. Often, advertisers try to convince us that this is good, that that is good. They try to make us believe that they are like diamonds when in fact they sell glass and more. We must go against this; we must not be naïve. [We must] not buy the garbage they sell as if it were diamonds.

Finally, let me reiterate what Pier Giorgio Frassati said. If you want to make it, if you want to do something good in life, live, don’t just exist. You are smart, and you will certainly say, "Father, you speak like this because you are in the Vatican [Laughter]. You have many monsignors who work for you. Things are quiet for you, and you don’t know what everyday life is." Indeed, some people might think this. The secret is to understand where one lives. In this land, in the late nineteenth century, things were very bad for young people. [There were] free masons, fiercely anti-clerical, and the Church could do nothing about it. There were devil-worshippers. It was one of the worst period in Italian history. [However,] if you want to write a good home report, go and find those male and female saints who were born at this time. They knew it and went against the flow of that culture.

Live reality! If it is glass and not diamond, try to go against the flow and do the right thing. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much [Applause]. Always love, life, friends. But one can only experience these words by going out, always going out to bring something. If one stands still, one will accomplish nothing in life, except ruin it
 

Sister Nirmala, former head of Missionaries of Charity, dies in India

Kolkata, India, Jun 23, 2015 / 11:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics around the world are mourning the death of Sister Nirmala Joshi, who passed away Tuesday. Sr. Nirmala had succeeded Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, serving in that capacity from 1997 to 2009.

 Sr. Nirmala, who was 81, had suffered ill health for some years, and was hospitalized and then brought home a few days ago, dying at a Missionaries of Charity home in Kolkata in the early hours of June 23. “All people in India and especially the Archdiocese of Calcutta is saddened with this great loss of Sr. Nirmala Joshi, who was very close and dear to us,” Fr. Dominic Gomes, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Calcutta, told CNA. “She was simple, humble and emanated a strong spirituality of faith,” Fr. Gomes added. “Her exemplary life was an inspiration to the younger generation in the congregation and to people around the world.”

The body of Sr. Nirmala is lying in state at St John's Church in Kolkata's Sealdah district, and will be taken to the Missionaries of Charity's Mother House in Kolkata tomorrow. The funeral Mass will be said at 4 pm local time on Wednesday, and then interred at St. Johns cemetery. Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta, who had visited Sr. Nirmala a fortnight ago when she had regained consciousness, has expressed his deep sadness and grief at her death, saying, 'she was a great soul.” He praised her work, noting that “she never talked about herself; she was more about how to support peace, to be helpful to the poor … she had a deep union with Jesus and she was a gentle apostle of peace until the end.”

Sr. Nirmala was in born in 1934 in Ranchi, capital of what is now India's Jharkhand state, to a Hindu brahmin family from Nepal who were serving the British during colonial rule. Her given name was Kusum, meaning “flower,” and she was the eldest sibling among eight girls and two boys. Her early education was at Christian schools. She was inspired by Mother Teresa's humanitarian work, and was baptized. She later entered the Missionaries of Charity and took the name Nirmala, meaning “purity” in Sanskrit. She completed a master's degree in political science, and studied law as well. In the 1970s, she became head of the congregation's contemplative wing. Sr. Nirmala was elected as superior general of the congregation just a few months before Mother Teresa's death in 1997, and pursued the founder's cause for beatification.

During the Missionaries of Charity's general chapter in 2009 she declined to remain head of the congregation, given her health issues. She was succeeded by Sr. Mary Prema Pierick, who remains superior general. The Indian government has recognized her work for the poor and for peace, granting her the Padma Vibhushan, the nation's second highest civilian award, in 2009. Tributes and messages have started to flood social media praising her service to the poor.  Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was quick to tweet, "Sister Nirmala's life was devoted to service, caring for the poor & underprivileged. Saddened by her demise. May her soul rest in peace.” The opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "Extremely saddened at the passing away of Sister Nirmala. She carried forward Mother Teresa's work with quiet dedication & dignity. She will be missed by the countless whose lives she touched." The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee stated, “Saddened at the passing away of Sister Nirmala, who headed the Missionaries of Charity after Mother Teresa. Kolkata and the world will miss her.”

Second catholic church in Abu Dhabi inaugurated

12 June 2015

The new St. Paul church of Roman Catholic faith is a 4,560 square metres complex built on a land given by Abu Dhabi Municipality in Musaffah, the industrial area of Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi - A second catholic church in Abu Dhabi was inaugurated on Thursday evening in the presence of Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister for Culture, Youth and Community Development, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state and Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia. The new St. Paul church of Roman Catholic faith is a 4,560 square metres complex built on a land given by Abu Dhabi Municipality in Musaffah, the industrial area of Abu Dhabi.

In the UAE there are almost 900,000 Catholics and up to 20,000 of them are attending weekly church services in Abu Dhabi, which, until now, was only possible in the capital's only Catholic church, the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, located in the city centre. With most labour camps now being in Musaffah and with more people living in the adjacent areas of Mohammed bin Zayed and Khalifa cities, the new St. Paul church is believed to be a blessing for Catholics on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

'Our leadership knows its true wealth and accepts the obligation to respect and understand the many religious beliefs of the people living in this country. I believe that each of you can provide evidence that the leaders of the UAE are fulfilling that obligation,' said Shaikh Nahyan, during the inauguration ceremony. St Paul church falls under the apostolic vicariate of Southern Arabia, a territorial jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in the UAE, Oman and Yemen, with the seat of the bishop in Abu Dhabi. 'The new church is again a shining example of the generosity of the rulers of the UAE. We thank the rulers for providing an attractive environment, where Christians feel accepted and are able to live their own identity and to practice their religious beliefs,' added Bishop Hinder.

An Armenian catholic church is also being built in Musaffah industrial area, although completion dates are not yet released.
 

Gay Marriage: Age of Apostasy
 

By James Taylor | June 10, 2015
 
Holy Bible (AP Photo)
Dozens of books have been written in recent years by liberal theologians in an attempt to demonstrate that homosexuality, homosexual relationships, and homosexual marriage are fully consistent with Biblical Christianity.  I have grown weary of reading that King David was a homosexual because he loved Jonathan, or that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of a lack of hospitality, or – my personal favorite–  that the Bible never actually addresses the issue of homosexual behavior.

I would suggest that the fact that some of such foolishness comes from persons who once professed to be Christians is yet further evidence of the fact that the nation– indeed the world– is well along in the Biblically-foretold age of apostasy.  During such a period, we are warned about the prevalence of false teachers.  How can we tell whether a teacher is false?  Who can we rely on?  But for the fact that we have the Word of God, we would be adrift on such matters.

One ubiquitous question asked among Christians for a decade has been:  What Would Jesus Do?  A recent article by Dave Daubenmire thoughtfully addressed the topic:  Would Jesus Officiate at a Same Sex Marriage?  His article discusses how we can know, for certain, the answer to this question by studying exactly what His Father has revealed to us through the Holy Scriptures as to what He intended marriage to be.  If you do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, this article may mean nothing to you.  But even if you don't believe the Bible, I challenge you to read through it, so that you at least you can say you have heard the other side.

 Before we address homosexual marriage it is imperative that we seek to know how the Definer of marriage identifies marriage.  We begin in Genesis 2:18-25, which states:

"Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.' Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.' For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed."
God is the one who said that it was not good for man to be alone.  So when He created a helper for man He created a woman– not another man.  God established monogamy as the pattern for marriage.  From Genesis 1:1, which reads,"In the beginning God "... ,"  we know that the universe is not a chance happening.  God is intimately involved with our existence.  God putting His stamp on creation in a unique way creates man.  Genesis 1:26-28 states:
"Then God said, let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
Man is created to have dominion over the earth.  Before family comes purpose.  The purpose was that mankind would have dominion. Remember, the fall of man has not occurred, yet.  Man is still in a perfect environment.  Genesis 1:31 reads, "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good." When God created man, He created the capstone of His creation whose job it is to run His creation.

In Genesis 2:18 the woman comes on to the scene:  "Then the Lord God said, it is not good for man to be alone, I will make him a helper suitable for him."  Woman was conceived in the mind of God, not Adam's.  Please note that this is different than the creation of male and female animals.  Male and female animals were all created at the same time.  The first creation of man and woman occurred at different times.  I believe the reason why this happened is because male and female human beings were given the responsibility of dominion.  Animals were not.  Whenever you delegate dominion you necessarily have hierarchy.

Genesis 2:21 states,"So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place."  Eve is created out of Adam.  So Adam is only half the man he used to be because he loses one side.  In order for him to become a whole man he has to get his rib back.  But his rib is now located in somebody else.  He can't take the rib out of somebody else and put it back.  So in order to get his rib back he has to take hold of somebody else's life, and make this somebody part of his life to get the rib back that he lost.  But getting his rib back means he gets another half he didn't count on, because he not only gets his rib, he gets her rib, too.

That means, gentlemen, that what marriage does is bring back what you lost, with a bonus.  That is why she is different from you.  And, that means, ladies, if you are going to understand your rib, you have got to understand Adam because half of your ribs belong to him.  So in order for you to understand who you are, in the marriage relationship, you need to understand who he is, because half of what makes you who you are, is part of what makes him who he is.  So in order for both of you to become all that both of you were meant to be, both of you have to merge into each other.  If you don't take from your mate their strengths you do not become all that you were created to be.

God performs the marriage ceremony and Adam says, in Genesis 2:23, "This is now "..." (note he doesn't say "she" is now). He says, "This is now "... ," meaning this new relationship. Ee is talking about marriage.  "This is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman because she was taken from man," said Adam.  Adam names her.  He names her after himself.  His name in Hebrew is Eish.  The Hebrew word for woman is Eisha.  In the first marriage, she takes his name.  All Eve knows when she is created is that she is there.  She doesn't know who she fully is until she receives his name.  That is why in marriage there is a transfer of names from the woman's last name to the man's last name, because she is now merged into another purpose.
 

The Six Purposes for Which God Created Marriage and Family

There are at least six purposes for which God create marriage and family.  The first reason for marriage is procreation: having babies.  The Bible makes grand statements about having babies, the more the merrier.  Why the big deal?  Remember God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply so that you will have dominion over the earth. The reason was not just to have people that looked like them. It had to do with the theology of dominion.  Dominion meant to reproduce yourself and spread out all over the earth, so that all over this planet there would be somebody ruling under God's authority.  Mankind cannot perpetuate itself based on homosexual marriage.

Secondly, marriage is self-realization.  "Adam I will make a helpmate for you."  As long as you are single, God is your completeness.  When it is time to marry, God is in the process of bringing someone along to fix up the rest of us to make us complete.  The reason Adam was given a wife was to complete him.  God doesn't give you somebody just like you.  For if both of you are the same, then one of you would be unnecessary.  He gives someone who is different from you so that you can make up the differences, so that you can fulfill the complete purpose of God that He has ordained.

Thirdly, marriage is a divine Illustration.  You are a type of Christ in the church.  The Bible says that you are the bride and Christ is the bridegroom.  You are to illustrate a greater reality of God to His people.  So a bad marriage means a bad illustration. Ephesians 5:32 tells us that this is an illustration of the relationship of Christ.  Homosexual marriage is not a reflection of divine illustration.  In fact, one could make an argument that it borderlines on blasphemy.

Fourthly, marriage brings about companionship.  God created marriage for companionship.  Genesis 2:18 states,"Then the Lord God said, "˜It is not good for the man to be alone.'"  There is a great blessing in sharing life with the one you love– your companion.  God created Adam and Eve when He declared that it was not good for man to be alone.

Fifthly, marriage brings enjoyment.  God created sex for enjoyment, in the context of marriage.  I Corinthians 7:5 says,"Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." Outside of the context of heterosexual marriage there might be "pleasure for a season," (Hebrews 11:25) but there can be no true, lasting enjoyment.

Sixthly, marriage is for protection.  God desires a godly seed. Malachi 2:15 reads,"But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth."  God knows that marriage provides protection for the family.

But we now live in a lost and fallen world.  And America is not exempt from this broken world.  In fact, there are many reasons to believe that America, far from being an example for the nations, is now leading the nations in the wrong direction.  A recent article on systemic corruption in America is an eye-opening compendium of the near complete fallenness of government, corporations and the people.

The Book of Romans gives us a description of the end-times society when Jesus will return and God will pour out His wrath, beginning with Chapter 1: "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools."  I have seen men with degrees, piled on top of degrees that get up and say how you and I evolved from monkeys.  Maybe they did, but I sure didn't!  Some of the greatest intellectual minds of the universe talk about how we evolved from a single cell protoplasmic blob!  That is beyond the comprehension of the mind.  If you saw a Boeing 747 flying across the sky, wouldn't you assume that because it could fly, it can carry people, its seats are placed in rows, and that it can do all the things it can do; wouldn't you assume that somebody thought it up, and somebody put it together?  Certainly you would not conclude that it was the accidental product of a tornado blowing through a junkyard.  Yet, the same mind can look in the sky and see a bird fly by and say, "product of chance."

"And they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures," reads Romans.  They worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.  We have the worship of the creature going on around us on a global scale.  Then look what happened– here is the tragic payoff. Romans continues:

"Therefore God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, Amen.
Now look what God did, because they worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, God steps back.  It is as if God has parameters, or limits, as to how far evil can go.  He says that evil can only go so far.  But, God says if you are going to knock against those limits, and if you knock against them long enough I am going to step back.  I will let you foul your own nest and if you want to live like a pagan, you can.  When He steps back what happened?  There was an outbreak of immorality.  Does that sound familiar?

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way the men abandoned that natural function of the woman and burned in their desire towards one another, men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own person the due penalty of their error," continues Romans.God says if you are going to live like that I am going to step back.  What happens?  An outbreak of sexual immorality begins.  It culminates in an outbreak of homosexuality.  We are there!  We have arrived!

"And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper," says Romans.  When God steps back there is an outbreak of immorality.  When we continue to push up against those limits God will step back again, and there is an outbreak of homosexuality.  When we continue to push those limits, God steps back again and turns us over to a depraved mind, "to do those things which are not proper."  It is a time when lawlessness begins to rule and mankind does not have any standards by which to live by.  Paul finishes the chapter by listing signs of depravity:

"being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them."
With all the attention given to homosexuality in the media, it is no wonder that Galluprecently found that the American public estimates that 23 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian, while the actual number Gallup finds to be 3.8 percent.  And the Williams Institute finds a total of 390,000 married same-sex couples.  However, regardless of the number of homosexuals in America, the definition of marriage is not decided by plebiscite.  God has defined marriage as between one man and one woman.  If a man and a man or a woman and a woman desire to be together, that is not marriage.  Marriage has been defined from the beginning, by the One who created us male and female.

Most people know the story of Jonah: he was a prophet whom God told to go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance.  Nineveh was the capitol of Assyria which was located 550 miles Northeast of Israel.  But Jonah decides he would go to Tarshish, which was 2,500 miles to the Northwest.  Jonah is a renegade preacher who does not want to do what God called him to do.  In his rebellion, he is tossed overboard of a ship and is swallowed by a big fish.  He was there three days and three nights and was regurgitated on to dry land.

After Jonah goes on the first submarine ride in history, he agrees to do what God asked him to do.  Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches to the city, and in one day the entire city repents. Jonah 3:5-9 reads:

"Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, "˜In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flocks taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8' But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. "˜Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.'"
Notice this about the people of Nineveh.  Conversion changed the political environment of Nineveh.  It didn't happen because they made better laws, hired more policemen, or provided more arms for the people to reduce the violence.  The violence was removed because the people met a living God.  The thing that changes people and brings about peace to an environment is when men repent before a living God.  Nineveh still had the same King, the same Congress, the same Supreme Court, and the same city Council.  The difference now was there was a heart transformation, and that translated into actions and behavior.  That is the only thing that will help America change.  When the people of America, leaders of America, and Supreme Court Justices of America encounter the Living God who has the power to forgive, and to transform our hearts, then we will see a new America.  It doesn't matter who is in public office; it matters if their hearts are committed to the Living God.
 


New survey shows huge growth south of Sahara but decline in Europe

The highest growth rates for Catholicism are in Africa and Asia, according to a new study released by the Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

The newly-issued report, called “Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts”, states that the Catholic population has grown by 57 percent since 1980. “However, this growth differs by region, with Europe’s Catholic population growing by just 6 percent while the number of Catholics in Africa grew by 238 percent. Differences between these two regions are largely attributable to differences in fertility rates over time.”
“Over the last 50 years, the proportion of the global population who are Catholic has remained remarkably steady at about 17.5 percent. Most demographers anticipate a global population exceeding 10 billion by 2100, up from 7.3 billion now. The ‘engine’ of population growth is no longer increasing numbers of children — it is extending life expectancies,” said the report by CARA, which is based at Georgetown University.
“If current trends continue, we can expect the global Catholic population to increase by about 372 million from 2015 to 2050. This would represent 29 percent growth during this period and result in the 2050 Catholic population numbering 1.64 billion.”

CARA looked at five specific regions: Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. “Arguably, the three most important indicators of ‘vitality’ for the Catholic Church are the number of Catholics, the number of parishes and the number of priests,” the study said.

“Since 1980, the church has had a net gain of nearly 15,300 parishes representing 7 percent growth. However, with the population growing by 57 percent during this period, there has been a lag in constructing the brick and mortar of the church. In 1980 there were 3,759 Catholics per parish in the world. This figure now stands at 5,491 Catholics per parish.”
The study added: “In Asia and Africa, where the fastest growth in the Catholic population has occurred, the number of parishes had doubled since 1980. In the Americas, the number of parishes has increased by 25 percent and in Oceania they have ticked up by 5 percent. In Europe, the number of parishes has declined by 12 percent.”
The Church had about 20,000 fewer priests in 2012 than it did in 1980, a drop of 17 percent. While the number of priests in Africa and Asia doubled, the Americas netted an increase of less than 2 percent, and Europe’s priest population fell by 78,090, or 32 percent.

“In 2012, Europe was home to less than one in four Catholics,” or 23 percent, the study said. “Yet this region still has 55 percent of all Catholic parishes and 42 percent of all Catholic priests.”
The report also stated that the average percentage of an American country’s Catholics saying they attended Mass dropped from 52 per cent in the 1980s to just 29 per cent today.

The Catholic population in Africa has grown by 238 percent since 1980 and is approaching 200 million, CARA said, outstripping the growth in the number of priests, up 131 percent, and of parishes, up 112 percent. “If current trends in affiliation and differential fertility among religious groups continue, in 2040, 24 percent of Africans will be Catholic. This would result in a Catholic population of 460,350,000 in Africa,” the study said.
Asia’s numbers are less solid, it said, because of varying accounts of the number of Catholics in China, which has been put at anywhere from 9 million to 143 million. Still, with a doubling in Asia’s Catholic population from 62 million to 134 million, “the percentage of Asia’s population that is Catholic is growing slowly from 2.4 percent in 1980 to 3.2 percent in 2012,” the study said.
 

Giant 14-story 'Bulletproof' Cross being built in Karachi

Pakistans, May 15, 2015: In hopes of encouraging fellow Christians to stay in Pakistan in light of religious tensions, a Christian businessman in the country's largest city is building a giant 14-story cross outside the entrance to the largest Christian cemetery in Karachi.

Parvez Henry Gill, a devout christian who lives in Karachi, recently told The Washington Post that God came to him in a dream one night four years ago and challenged him with the divine task of finding a way to relieve Pakistani Christians from the constant fear of persecution and abuse frequently perpetrated by Pakistan's radical Muslim community. "I want you to do something different," Gill remembers God telling him. Gill admitted that he wasn't quite sure what the best way to answer God's call was. After many sleepless nights, he awoke one morning with the realization that he needed to build a giant cross. "I said, 'I am going to build a big cross, higher than any in the world, in a Muslim country,'" Gill asserted. "It will be a symbol of God, and everybody who sees this will be worry free."

Four years later, that giant cross is nearly complete, standing at the entrance to the Gora Qabaristan Cemetery in Karachi. With the cross measuring in at 140-feet tall, the cross bar is 42 feet in length. Parts of Gora Qabaristan Cemetery, which dates back to the British colonial era, have been disrespectfully settled upon, and many of the headstones have suffered defacement by the Muslim community, which makes up about 96 percent of the Pakistani population. Although many Pakistani Christians, who make up a little over 1 percent of the nation's population, have been killed, beaten, burned, wrongfully jailed and treated like second-class citizens, Gill hopes that Christians around Karachi will see the cross as a positive sign that Christianity can exist there. "I want Christian people to see it and decide to stay here," Gill explained.

Considering the Muslim community in Karachi will have objections to the huge, noticeable symbol of Christianity and will likely attempt to tear it down, Gill said destroying the cross will not be easy because it's "bulletproof" and sits on a 20-foot underground base. "Tons and tons of Iron, steel and cement," Gill stated. "If anyone tries to hit this cross, they will not succeed." Gill explained that getting construction workers to build the cross was a challenge. Upon hiring workers, Gill said he did not tell them what they were building. But when the shape of the cross became obvious, Gill said about 20 of his Muslim workers quit. However, that did not stop other Muslims from continuing to peacefully work on the cross alongside Christians.

One particular Muslim named Mohammad Ali — not to be confused with the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali —works on the cross' construction as a volunteer for an astonishing 98 hours a week and considers it a "work of God. "Henry has supported me well over the years, helping with the birth of my children, with medicine, their education, so I don't need a daily wage," Ali told the Post.

Many of the area Christians are concerned that the cross will only further escalate religious tensions in the area and bring about more attacks against them Although many of Gill's friends are concerned with his safety since they believe he has a target on his back, Gill said he doesn't worry about the possibility that Muslims are out to get him. He leaves his safety in the hands of God, who was the one who initially called him to take action. Gill referred to Psalm 91. "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,'" Psalm 91 reads. "Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence."

Although Gill said he wanted to build his cross higher than any other cross in the world, his structure does not top the list of the world's tallest crosses. "The Great Cross" in St. Augustine, Florida, still holds the title for the world's largest cross, as it stands in at 208 feet in height. Gill said that his cross will be the largest cross constructed in Asia When the Cross and its lighting system are finally completed later this year, Gill said he plans to hold an inaugural ceremony to honor its construction and plans to invite Pope Francis, Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Tips from Padre Pio for Those Who Are Suffering

If your hope is weakening and slowly dying, you should read this

Every now and then, God sends extraordinary people to our world who act as a bridge between earth and heaven, and they help thousands of people to enjoy eternal Paradise. The twentieth century gave us an especially unique one: the Capuchin friar Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who was born in that small town in the south of Italy and died in 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo. Saint John Paull II raised him to the altars in 2002 during a canonization ceremony that beat all attendance records. Today, it can be said that he is the most venerated saint in Italy.

Padre Pio received special gifts from God, such as the discernment of souls and his capacity to read consciences; miraculous healings; bilocation; the gift of tears; the fragrance of roses that he gave off; and, above all, the stigmata in his feet, hands and side that he suffered for 50 years.

Throughout his life, he wrote thousands of letters to those to whom he gave spiritual direction. Those letters are a source of practical Christian wisdom that is very relevant today.

Ideas to help in the face of suffering

We offer our readers this small selection of ideas from Padre Pío regarding suffering, taken from those very letters. They go straight to the point. They give us hope and lift up our soul:

1. "If you can talk with the Lord in prayer, talk to him, offer him your praise; if, due to great weariness, you cannot speak, do not find displeasure in the ways of the Lord. Stay in the room like servants of the court do, and make a gesture of reverence. He will see you, and your presence will be pleasing to him. He will bless your silence and at another time you will find consolation when he takes you by the hand."

2. "The more bitterness you experience, the more love you will receive."

3. "Jesus wants to fill your whole Heart."

4. "God wants his omnipotence to reside in your powerlessness."

5. "Faith is the torch that guides the steps of the spiritually desolate."

6. "In the uproar of the passions and of reverses of fortune, we are upheld by the comforting hope of God's inexhaustible mercy."

7. "Put all your trust only in God."

8. "The best consolation is that which comes from prayer."

9. "Fear nothing. On the contrary, consider yourself very fortunate to have been made worthy to participate in the sufferings of the Man-God."

10. "God leaves you in that darkness for his glory; here is a great opportunity for your spiritual progress."

11. "The darkness that sometimes clouds the sky of your souls is light: by means of it, when it arrives, you believe you are in darkness and you have the impression that you are in the midst of a burning briar patch. It's true that, when brambles burn, it gets smoky all around and the disoriented spirit is afraid of not seeing or understanding anything anymore. But then God speaks and makes himself present to the soul, that glimpses, understands, loves and trembles."

12. "My Jesus, love is what sustains me."

13. "Happiness is only found in heaven."

14. "When you feel despised, imitate the kingfisher, who builds its nest on the masts of ships. That is to say, raise yourself up above the earth, elevate yourselves with your mind and heart to God, who is the only one who can console you and give you strength to withstand the trial in a holy way."

15. "Be certain that the more the attacks of the devil increase, that much closer is God to your soul."

16. "Bless the Lord for your suffering and accept to drink the chalice of Gethsemane."

17. "Be capable of bearing bitter sufferings during your whole life so you can participate in the sufferings of Christ."

18. "Suffering born in a Christian way is the condition that God, the author of all grace and of all the gifts that lead to salvation, has established for granting us glory."

19. "Remember that we cannot triumph in battle if not through prayer; the choice is yours."

20. "Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is a key that opens God's heart."
 

Why Do So Many Misunderstand Pope Francis?

Here's how not to make the same mistake

This week Pope Francis found himself in yet another media firestorm. Did he really say that Palestinians leader Mahmoud Abbas was “an angel of peace”? CNN clarifies the controversy here. It turns out the Pope gave Abbas a commemorative medal just as he does other visiting politicians. On the medal is an angel of peace and, in explaining the medal, the pope encouraged Abbas (as he encourages other politicians) to be “an angel of peace.”

The misunderstanding unlocks a greater problem with Francis’ papacy. In many ways it cannot be denied that Francis’ papacy is divisive. His actions and words are misunderstood so often that we must ask why the problem occurs and what can be done about it. Some of it has to do with Francis’ informal, off the cuff style. He would rather risk some misunderstanding than to be hedged about with so many restrictions that he cannot speak from the heart.

However, there are several factors that contribute to the problem which are no fault of Pope Francis’. First we have the language barrier. The Pope usually communicates in Italian or Spanish. Subtleties of subtext and connotation are invariably lost in translation. Not only must the Italian and Spanish be translated into English, but the words are translated into every global tongue. To complicate matters further, with instant global communications the words are no sooner out of the Pontiff’s mouth than they are splashed across the world’s headlines. Public figures have never had to cope with such constant accessibility and instant communication. The third essential problem is the cultural barrier. The Pope is from Argentina. Like every pope before him, he brings his own worldview, personal history and cultural background to the papacy. It is impossible for everyone to understand the full context of his communications because it is impossible for everyone to understand what it means to be an Argentinian.

Communication is a two-way street, and in addition to the linguistic, media and cultural difficulties every public figure experiences, one must also consider the person who is receiving the communications. Every communication is filtered through the ears and eyes of the person receiving the message. Whatever Pope Francis says, therefore, will be perceived in a different way depending on each person’s personal background and bias.

Consequently, a North American progressive may very honestly perceive Pope Francis as a typical pro-gay, socialist left winger while a social conservative may see Pope Francis as a strong anti-abortion, pro-family traditional Catholic leader. In other words, those receiving the message may only hear the message they want to hear. When Pope Francis turns out to be opposed to same-sex marriage and women’s ordination the progressive will either block out the message or devise some trick to pretend it is not really Pope Francis speaking.

Likewise, the social conservative might hear that Pope Francis seems to oppose capitalism, is open to helping divorced and re-married Catholics, and says he is not the one to judge people with same-sex attraction, and become upset because the Pope challenges his pre-conceived ideas.

Finally, Pope Francis—like every public figure—has to deal with the humiliation of having his words and actions dissected and deliberately misinterpreted by the world’s press. The mainstream journalists on Vatican duty rarely have enough education in Catholic matters to report accurately, and when they do, too often their reporting is biased. They are selective in what they report, slant the stories to cater to their editor’s political viewpoint and often miss the point of both the Pope’s actions and the overall priorities and perspectives of the Catholic Church.

Therefore, here are some guidelines to avoid misunderstanding Pope Francis. First of all, don’t believe the headlines. Headlines are designed to grab your attention, not to communicate the story accurately. Don’t believe the website headlines. Don’t believe the blog headlines. Don’t believe the Facebook headlines. Don’t believe the newspaper headlines.

Secondly, try to get your news about the Catholic church from reliable Catholic news sources like Aleteia, Catholic News Service and ZENIT. These online sources may not be as exciting as sensational blogs, salacious Facebook stories or tabloid gossip, but they will use reporters who understand Pope Francis and the mission of the Catholic Church.

Thirdly, make a real attempt to get to know Pope Francis as he really is—not as the media presents him. There are plenty of good biographies on Francis and plenty of good books with his speeches, homilies and writings. Try to understand his cultural, religious and political background. Take time to understand how the turmoil of events in Argentina during his lifetime have formed his spirituality, his teaching and his pastoral role in the church. Most of all, get to know him as the shepherd of souls, the compassionate pastor and the loving Holy Father. Remember who he is and who God has called him to be.

Finally, remember to really pray for Pope Francis. As you do you will come to understand him in the deepest and truest way.  The Holy Spirit will show you how to understand Pope Francis and why he has been chosen at this time to lead Christ’s Church on earth.
 

The Future Of The Catholic Church

I'm sticking with a loving, global, imperfect church

Whether he is wearing a poncho, addressing congress, or admitting he is a bit of a Luddite, it seems Pope Francis rarely goes a day without making the news. And it's not just Catholics who seem to be hanging on the Holy Father's every word. People of all backgrounds respect this pope's concern for the poor, his candor, his joy. We never know what Pope Francis is going to do next. And that's exactly what is so exciting.
Francis reminds us to be open to the God of surprises. And he continually uses the attention directed toward him to direct his followers back to Christ. I've heard stories of many young Catholics who once felt alienated, now reconsidering a relationship with the church, thanks to Francis' example. But while Francis may make the church more inviting, he is not reason enough to stay. Thankfully, there are many good reasons to feel hopeful about the future of the Catholic Church, and many reasons for young Catholics to stick around, long after the Francis frenzy fades. Here are just a few:

Growing emphasis on the global nature of the Church. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it's easier than ever for young people to connect with people around the world, and we want our church to reflect that diversity. The 20 newest cardinals appointed by Pope Francis represent 18 different countries. The group is diverse both geographically and ideologically, which will hopefully help to raise awareness of the wide variety of challenges faced by Catholics in different regions of the globe. Already, global voices are gaining prominence: African bishops haveexpressed concern over struggles ranging from poverty to polygamy to Boko Haram. And Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Philippines recently noted the struggles faced by many workers in the Philippines.

Stronger partnerships between lay Catholics and religious orders. Many religious orders are formally collaborating with lay men and women in an effort to increase awareness of their charisms. The Jesuit Collaborative, in part, runs leadership programs and retreat programs for young adults who want to be steeped in Ignatian spirituality. The Sisters of Mercy have established the Mercy Associates, of which I am a member. This means I have pledged to try to live out the values of ministry, prayer, and spirituality in my own life as a lay, soon-to-be-married woman. The Sisters of Mercy work closely with the Associates, and see us as partners in their mission and ministry.

As many young people continue to seek meaningful experiences of community, these partnerships can offer a steady connection to a faith community even as we move from place to place, helping us to incorporate this spirituality into our everyday lives. In addition, I know individuals interested in building new communities of religious around the idea of temporary vows, where members commit to some of the traditional vows (poverty, chastity, and obedience/service) within the context of a community, for a limited time, instead of a lifetime.

Increasing support for women in church leadership roles. Since the Second Vatican Council, women have served in an unprecedented number of leadership roles in the church. They have led Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service agencies. A large number of women are professional lay ministers and theologians, and some teach in Catholic seminaries. Pope Francis is among those calling for a greater role for women, especially in places of authority in the church. However, in this regard, little progress has been made, and Francis himself often uses disheartening terminology when talking about women. And while some Catholics hope for further discussion about the ordination of women to the priesthood, Francis has said that the ordination of women "is not a question open to discussion." However, many Catholics--men and women--have suggested a number of creative ways for Catholic women to hold positions of power in the church, like heading a congregation or council in the Roman Curia, serving on the diplomatic corps of the Holy See, or serving as a cardinal, deacon, or lay preacher. Young Catholics accustomed to seeing women succeed in the workplace hopefully will have a chance to see become leaders in a faith setting, as well.

Increasing efforts to listen. Young Catholics want to be heard; and they have ideas worth hearing. Several dioceses made deliberate efforts to collect the opinions of Catholics at the parish level prior to the Synod on the Family. I hope that church leaders will hear the pain of those who feel alienated, and that they will listen to the ways in which it has sometimes caused that pain. I feel hopeful that our church ismoving toward greater accountability for the tragedy of sexual abuse by clergy. I hope that church leaders will be deliberate about encouraging people to be their most authentic selves. The future of our faith depends on our ability to be truly present to one another right now.

A continued call to love. Many young people find hope in Pope Francis, because he constantly reminds us of what Christ reminded us: Love one another. When people worry about the future of the church, so often those worries are related to the tangible things, the buildings, the schools, the smells and bells of the liturgy. And the church does, in fact, include those things. But it's all too easy to forget that the church also exists in each of us. It exists in the parents bundling up their children to go to Mass. It exists in the young person doubting God. It exists in the man kneeling before the Eucharist. It exists in the Catholic Workers who know the guests at their soup kitchen by name. It exists in the anti-death penalty advocates, in the people in orange jumpsuits outside the White House protesting the prison at Guantánamo Bay. It exists in the grandmothers praying rosaries for their grandchildren, and in the grandchildren running circles around their grandparents. The church exists in those who have left it, in those who are angry or sorrowful because of the church's own sins. It exists in the forgiveness in the genocide survivors I have met in Rwanda, and in the men I know serving time at San Quentin State Prison. It exists in people of all classes, races, and sexual identities. It does not know political or pastoral boundaries. The church goes out to the margins. It is at the margins. And it is at the center of all we do.

The church is imperfect. I am in love with the church, so it will always have the ability to break my heart. And it has done so with some frequency. But my vulnerability, that brokenness, often allows an entry point for the Holy Spirit. Although survey after survey tells me that many young people are opting out of the whole religion thing, I've found that the best way for me to deal with my frustrations with the church is to delve more deeply into my faith. And then, more often than not, I find a sign of hope, of the Spirit at work, out of sight, even when the church or the world seem stagnant and immutable. For many young people, in fact, the lessons we have learned through the Catholic Church have informed our desire to work against the injustices within it. I care about this beautiful, controversial, hierarchical, historic, flawed, inspired, blessed, excruciatingly slow-moving institution. I don't know what lies in store for the church. But persevering through uncertainty with hope, is exactly what it means to have faith.

The church is spirit led. So wherever the church goes, I am staying with it. And I am here by choice. I am here because I believe, and because every day I must confront my unbelief. I don't always agree with everything my church leaders say. But I trust that God will either transform their hearts or mine. Likely both. Hopefully soon. In the mean time, all we can do is keep working with others to try to build up the kingdom of God, even if we can't quite tell what it will look like. Because we believe that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide the church toward what is true and good and beautiful. We never know what the Holy Spirit will do next. And that's exactly what is so exciting.

Kerry Weber is managing editor of America and the author of "Mercy in the City."

Parrikar says Christianity sweetens Indian society

He also lauded the Christian peace efforts and said such moves are based on the Christian teaching to love the neighbor.
Posted on May 4, 2015,  New Delhi:

Christianity is a sweetener like sugar in the Indian society and the nation appreciates the Christian efforts for peace and development in the country, defense minister and BJP leader Manohar Parrikar has said. He said the sugary words on Friday while addressing a gathering of some 2,000 people, largely Christians, gathered to felicitate Bishop Jacob Barnabas, who was installed as the first bishop of the Syro-Malankara diocese of Gurgaon, based in Delhi.

"You are like sugar in society. It adds sweetness," said Parrikar, the former chief minster and native of Goa, where Christians are socially and politically powerful.

He also lauded the Christian peace efforts and said such moves are based on the Christian teaching to love the neighbor. In presence of Parrikar, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis asserted the evangelization mission of the Church and said Christians will continue to attract people to their religion.

“We will continue our work. What is our work? It is to spread the joy of the Gospel without offending anyone. There is no compromise on that,” said Cardinal Cleemis, head of the Malankara Church and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

He said that Christian evangelization is to attract people to Christ without offending anyone. That work will be done respecting the constitution of India and without supporting forcible conversions. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha P. J. Kurian were among others to address the gathering along with Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio. Kejriwal said the mission of his Aam Admi political party is to "spiritualize" politics and requested the prayers of all Christians saying be believes in the power of prayer.

He expressed concern over the attacks of churches in Delhi and said he believes the criminals will be brought to book and punished soon. Speaking in Hindi he said he trusts in the power of God in solving problems. He and his party have been through seemingly irresolvable issues. Each time, God shows the way out, he said. Kejriwal described Indian constitution as a spiritual book and said its preamble stresses the equality of all human beings. That is what the sacred books of every religion holds, he said.

He said his party would work for establishing the equality of all Indians and all parties should respect and uphold the values of the constitution. The diocese of Delhi-Gurgaon covers 22 states in northern and eastern part of India. It along with the newly erected Pune diocese covers the entire area of India outside Kerala, it base. The establishment of this diocese the Syro Malankara Church has "achieved" a long cherished dream, Archbishop Pennachio said.

The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050

Why Muslims Are Rising Fastest and the Unaffiliated Are Shrinking as a Share of the World’s Population

The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 … These are among the global religious trends highlighted in new demographic projections by the Pew Research Center. The projections take into account the current size and geographic distribution of the world’s major religions, age differences, fertility and mortality rates, international migration and patterns in conversion.
Projected Change in Global Population
As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth. Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23% of the global population.
Islam Growing FastestIf current demographic trends continue, however, Islam will nearly catch up by the middle of the 21st century. Between 2010 and 2050, the world’s total population is expected to rise to 9.3 billion, a 35% increase.1 Over that same period, Muslims – a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates – are projected to increase by 73%. The number of Christians also is projected to rise, but more slowly, at about the same rate (35%) as the global population overall.

As a result, according to the Pew Research projections, by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history.2

With the exception of Buddhists, all of the world’s major religious groups are poised for at least some growth in absolute numbers in the coming decades. The global Buddhist population is expected to be fairly stable because of low fertility rates and aging populations in countries such as China, Thailand and Japan.

Worldwide, the Hindu population is projected to rise by 34%, from a little over 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion, roughly keeping pace with overall population growth. Jews, the smallest religious group for which separate projections were made, are expected to grow 16%, from a little less than 14 million in 2010 to 16.1 million worldwide in 2050.

Size and Projected Growth of Major Religious Groups
 

Adherents of various folk religions – including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions – are projected to increase by 11%, from 405 million to nearly 450 million.

And all other religions combined – an umbrella category that includes Baha’is, Jains, Sikhs, Taoists and many smaller faiths – are projected to increase 6%, from a total of approximately 58 million to more than 61 million over the same period.3

While growing in absolute size, however, folk religions, Judaism and “other religions” (the umbrella category considered as a whole) will not keep pace with global population growth. Each of these groups is projected to make up a smaller percentage of the world’s population in 2050 than it did in 2010.4

Projected Change in the Unaffiliated Population, 2010-2050
Similarly, the religiously unaffiliated population is projected to shrink as a percentage of the global population, even though it will increase in absolute number. In 2010, censuses and surveys indicate, there were about 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion.5 By 2050, the unaffiliated population is expected to exceed 1.2 billion. But, as a share of all the people in the world, those with no religious affiliation are projected to decline from 16% in 2010 to 13% by the middle of this century.

At the same time, however, the unaffiliated are expected to continue to increase as a share of the population in much of Europe and North America. In the United States, for example, the unaffiliated are projected to grow from an estimated 16% of the total population (including children) in 2010 to 26% in 2050.

As the example of the unaffiliated shows, there will be vivid geographic differences in patterns of religious growth in the coming decades. One of the main determinants of that future growth is where each group is geographically concentrated today. Religions with many adherents in developing countries – where birth rates are high, and infant mortality rates generally have been falling – are likely to grow quickly. Much of the worldwide growth of Islam and Christianity, for example, is expected to take place in sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s religiously unaffiliated population, by contrast, is heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan.

Total Fertility Rate by Religion, 2010-2015
Globally, Muslims have the highest fertility rate, an average of 3.1 children per woman – well above replacement level (2.1), the minimum typically needed to maintain a stable population.6 Christians are second, at 2.7 children per woman. Hindu fertility (2.4) is similar to the global average (2.5). Worldwide, Jewish fertility (2.3 children per woman) also is above replacement level. All the other groups have fertility levels too low to sustain their populations: folk religions (1.8 children per woman), other religions (1.7), the unaffiliated (1.7) and Buddhists (1.6).

Age Distribution of Religious Groups, 2010Another important determinant of growth is the current age distribution of each religious group – whether its adherents are predominantly young, with their prime childbearing years still ahead, or older and largely past their childbearing years.

In 2010, more than a quarter of the world’s total population (27%) was under the age of 15. But an even higher percentage of Muslims (34%) and Hindus (30%) were younger than 15, while the share of Christians under 15 matched the global average (27%). These bulging youth populations are among the reasons that Muslims are projected to grow faster than the world’s overall population and that Hindus and Christians are projected to roughly keep pace with worldwide population growth.

All the remaining groups have smaller-than-average youth populations, and many of them have disproportionately large numbers of adherents over the age of 59. For example, 11% of the world’s population was at least 60 years old in 2010. But fully 20% of Jews around the world are 60 or older, as are 15% of Buddhists, 14% of Christians, 14% of adherents of other religions (taken as a whole), 13% of the unaffiliated and 11% of adherents of folk religions. By contrast, just 7% of Muslims and 8% of Hindus are in this oldest age category.

Projected Cumulative Change Due to Religious Switching, 2010-2050
In addition to fertility rates and age distributions, religious switching is likely to play a role in the growth of religious groups. But conversion patterns are complex and varied. In some countries, it is fairly common for adults to leave their childhood religion and switch to another faith. In others, changes in religious identity are rare, legally cumbersome or even illegal.

The Pew Research Center projections attempt to incorporate patterns in religious switching in 70 countries where surveys provide information on the number of people who say they no longer belong to the religious group in which they were raised. In the projection model, all directions of switching are possible, and they may be partially offsetting. In the United States, for example, surveys find that some people who were raised with no religious affiliation have switched to become Christians, while some who grew up as Christians have switched to become unaffiliated. These types of patterns are projected to continue as future generations come of age. (For more details on how and where switching was modeled, see the Methodology. For alternative growth scenarios involving either switching in additional countries or no switching at all, see Chapter 1.)

Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. (See chart above.)

Impact of Migration on Population Projections, by RegionAll told, the unaffiliated are expected to add 97 million people and lose 36 million via switching, for a net gain of 61 million by 2050. Modest net gains through switching also are expected for Muslims (3 million), adherents of folk religions (3 million) and members of other religions (2 million). Jews are expected to experience a net loss of about 300,000 people due to switching, while Buddhists are expected to lose nearly 3 million.

International migration is another factor that will influence the projected size of religious groups in various regions and countries.

Forecasting future migration patterns is difficult, because migration is often linked to government policies and international events that can change quickly. For this reason, many population projections do not include migration in their models. But working with researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, the Pew Research Center has developed an innovative way of using data on past migration patterns to estimate the religious composition of migrant flows in the decades ahead. (For details on how the projections were made, see Chapter 1.)

The impact of migration can be seen in the examples shown in the graph at the right, which compares projection scenarios with and without migration in the regions where it will have the greatest impact. In Europe, for instance, the Muslim share of the population is expected to increase from 5.9% in 2010 to 10.2% in 2050 when migration is taken into account along with other demographic factors that are driving population change, such as fertility rates and age. Without migration, the Muslim share of Europe’s population in 2050 is projected to be nearly two percentage points lower (8.4%). In North America, the Hindu share of the population is expected to nearly double in the decades ahead, from 0.7% in 2010 to 1.3% in 2050, when migration is included in the projection models. Without migration, the Hindu share of the region’s population would remain about the same (0.8%).

In the Middle East and North Africa, the continued migration of Christians into the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) is expected to offset the exodus of Christians from other countries in the region.7 If migration were not factored into the 2050 projections, the estimated Christian share of the region’s population would drop below 3%. With migration factored in, however, the estimated Christian share is expected to be just above 3% (down from nearly 4% in 2010).
 

Beyond the Year 2050

Long-Term Projections of Christian and Muslim Shares of World’s PopulationThis report describes how the global religious landscape would change if current demographic trends continue. With each passing year, however, there is a chance that unforeseen events – war, famine, disease, technological innovation, political upheaval, etc. – will alter the size of one religious group or another. Owing to the difficulty of peering more than a few decades into the future, the projections stop at 2050.

Readers may wonder, though, what would happen to the population trajectories highlighted in this report if they were projected into the second half of this century. Given the rapid projected increase from 2010 to 2050 in the Muslim share of the world’s population, would Muslims eventually outnumber Christians? And, if so, when?

The answer depends on continuation of the trends described in Chapter 1. If the main projection model is extended beyond 2050, the Muslim share of the world’s population would equal the Christian share, at roughly 32% each, around 2070. After that, the number of Muslims would exceed the number of Christians, but both religious groups would grow, roughly in tandem, as shown in the graph above. By the year 2100, about 1% more of the world’s population would be Muslim (35%) than Christian (34%).

The projected growth of Muslims and Christians would be driven largely by the continued expansion of Africa’s population. Due to the heavy concentration of Christians and Muslims in this high-fertility region, both groups would increase as a percentage of the global population. Combined, the world’s two largest religious groups would make up more than two-thirds of the global population in 2100 (69%), up from 61% in 2050 and 55% in 2010.

It bears repeating, however, that many factors could alter these trajectories. For example, if a large share of China’s population were to switch to Christianity (as discussed in this sidebar), that shift alone could bolster Christianity’s current position as the world’s most populous religion. Or if disaffiliation were to become common in countries with large Muslim populations – as it is now in some countries with large Christian populations – that trend could slow or reverse the increase in Muslim numbers.

Projected Annual Growth Rate of Country Populations, 2010-2050
Regional and Country-Level Projections

In addition to making projections at the global level, this report projects religious change in 198 countries and territories with at least 100,000 people as of 2010, covering 99.9% of the world’s population. Population estimates for an additional 36 countries and territories are included in regional and global totals throughout the report. The report also divides the world into six major regions and looks at how each region’s religious composition is likely to change from 2010 to 2050, assuming that current patterns in migration and other demographic trends continue.8

Due largely to high fertility, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to experience the fastest overall growth, rising from 12% of the world’s population in 2010 to about 20% in 2050. The Middle East-North Africa region also is expected to grow faster than the world as a whole, edging up from 5% of the global population in 2010 to 6% in 2050. Ongoing growth in both regions will fuel global increases in the Muslim population. In addition, sub-Saharan Africa’s Christian population is expected to double, from 517 million in 2010 to 1.1 billion in 2050. The share of the world’s Christians living in sub-Saharan Africa will rise from 24% in 2010 to 38% in 2050.

Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to have a declining share of the world’s population (53% in 2050, compared with 59% in 2010). This will be reflected in the slower growth of religions heavily concentrated in the region, including Buddhism and Chinese folk religions, as well as slower growth of Asia’s large unaffiliated population. One exception is Hindus, who are overwhelmingly concentrated in India, where the population is younger and fertility rates are higher than in China or Japan. As previously mentioned, Hindus are projected to roughly keep pace with global population growth. India’s large Muslim population also is poised for rapid growth. Although India will continue to have a Hindu majority, by 2050 it is projected to have the world’s largest Muslim population, surpassing Indonesia.

The remaining geographic regions also will contain declining shares of the world’s population: Europe is projected to go from 11% to 8%, Latin American and the Caribbean from 9% to 8%, and North America from 5% to a little less than 5%.

Europe is the only region where the total population is projected to decline. Europe’s Christian population is expected to shrink by about 100 million people in the coming decades, dropping from 553 million to 454 million. While Christians will remain the largest religious group in Europe, they are projected to drop from three-quarters of the population to less than two-thirds. By 2050, nearly a quarter of Europeans (23%) are expected to have no religious affiliation, and Muslims will make up about 10% of the region’s population, up from 5.9% in 2010. Over the same period, the number of Hindus in Europe is expected to roughly double, from a little under 1.4 million (0.2% of Europe’s population) to nearly 2.7 million (o.4%), mainly as a result of immigration. Buddhists appear headed for similarly rapid growth in Europe – a projected rise from 1.4 million to 2.5 million.

Religious Composition of the United States, 2010-2050In North America, Muslims and followers of “other religions” are the fastest-growing religious groups. In the United States, for example, the share of the population that belongs to other religions is projected to more than double – albeit from a very small base – rising from 0.6% to 1.5%.9 Christians are projected to decline from 78% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 66% in 2050, while the unaffiliated are expected to rise from 16% to 26%. And by the middle of the 21st century, the United States is likely to have more Muslims (2.1% of the population) than people who identify with the Jewish faith (1.4%).10

In Latin America and the Caribbean, Christians will remain the largest religious group, making up 89% of the population in 2050, down slightly from 90% in 2010. Latin America’s religiously unaffiliated population is projected to grow both in absolute number and percentage terms, rising from about 45 million people (8%) in 2010 to 65 million (9%) in 2050.11
 

Changing Religious Majorities

Several countries are projected to have a different religious majority in 2050 than they did in 2010. The number of countries with Christian majorities is expected to decline from 159 to 151, as Christians are projected to drop below 50% of the population in Australia, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom.

Countries That Will No Longer Have a Christian Majority in 2050
 

Muslims in 2050 are expected to make up more than 50% of the population in 51 countries, two more than in 2010, as both the Republic of Macedonia and Nigeria are projected to gain Muslim majorities. But Nigeria also will continue to have a very large Christian population. Indeed, Nigeria is projected to have the third-largest Christian population in the world by 2050, after the United States and Brazil.

As of 2050, the largest religious group in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands is expected to be the unaffiliated.

About These Projections

While many people have offered predictions about the future of religion, these are the first formal demographic projections using data on age, fertility, mortality, migration and religious switching for multiple religious groups around the world. Demographers at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, gathered the input data from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers, an effort that has taken six years and will continue.

The projections cover eight major groups: Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, adherents of folk religions, adherents of other religions and the unaffiliated (see Appendix C: Defining the Religious Groups). Because censuses and surveys in many countries do not provide information on religious subgroups – such as Sunni and Shia Muslims or Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians – the projections are for each religious group as a whole. Data on subgroups of the unaffiliated are also unavailable in many countries. As a result, separate projections are not possible for atheists or agnostics.

The projection model was developed in collaboration with researchers in the Age and Cohort Change Project at IIASA, who are world leaders in population projections methodology. The model uses an advanced version of the cohort-component method typically employed by demographers to forecast population growth. It starts with a population of baseline age groups, or cohorts, divided by sex and religion. Each cohort is projected into the future by adding likely gains (immigrants and people switching in) and by subtracting likely losses (deaths, emigrants and people switching out) year by year. The youngest cohorts, ages 0-4, are created by applying age-specific fertility rates to each female cohort in the childbearing years (ages 15-49), with children inheriting the mother’s religion. For more details, see the Methodology.12

In the process of gathering input data and developing the projection model, the Pew Research Center previously published reports on the current size and geographic distribution of major religious groups, including Muslims (2009), Christians (2011) andseveral other faiths (2012). An initial set of projections for one religious group, Muslims, was published in 2011, although it did not attempt to take religious switching into account.

Some social theorists have suggested that as countries develop economically, more of their inhabitants will move away from religious affiliation. While that has been the general experience in some parts of the world, notably Europe, it is not yet clear whether it is a universal pattern.13 In any case, the projections in this report are not based on theories about economic development leading to secularization.

Rather, the projections extend the recently observed patterns of religious switching in all countries for which sufficient data are available (70 countries in all). In addition, the projections reflect the United Nations’ expectation that in countries with high fertility rates, those rates gradually will decline in coming decades, alongside rising female educational attainment. And the projections assume that people gradually are living longer in most countries. These and other key input data and assumptions are explained in detail in Chapter 1 and the Methodology (Appendix A).

Since religious change has never previously been projected on this scale, some cautionary words are in order. Population projections are estimates built on current population data and assumptions about demographic trends, such as declining birth rates and rising life expectancies in particular countries. The projections are what will occur if the current data are accurate and current trends continue. But many events – scientific discoveries, armed conflicts, social movements, political upheavals, natural disasters and changing economic conditions, to name just a few – can shift demographic trends in unforeseen ways. That is why the projections are limited to a 40-year time frame, and subsequent chapters of this report try to give a sense of how much difference it could make if key assumptions were different.

For example, China’s 1.3 billion people (as of 2010) loom very large in global trends. At present, about 5% of China’s population is estimated to be Christian, and more than 50% is religiously unaffiliated. Because reliable figures on religious switching in China are not available, the projections do not contain any forecast for conversions in the world’s most populous country. But if Christianity expands in China in the decades to come – as some experts predict – then by 2050, the global numbers of Christians may be higher than projected, and the decline in the percentage of the world’s population that is religiously unaffiliated may be even sharper. (For more details on the possible impact of religious switching in China, see Chapter 1.)

Finally, readers should bear in mind that within every major religious group, there is a spectrum of belief and practice. The projections are based on the number of people whoself-identify with each religious group, regardless of their level of observance. What it means to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish or a member of any other faith may vary from person to person, country to country, and decade to decade.

Acknowledgements

These population projections were produced by the Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. Funding for the Global Religious Futures project comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.

Many staff members in the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life project contributed to this effort. Conrad Hackett was the lead researcher and primary author of this report. Alan Cooperman served as lead editor. Anne Shi and Juan Carlos Esparza Ochoa made major contributions to data collection, storage and analysis. Bill Webster created the graphics and Stacy Rosenberg and Ben Wormald oversaw development of the interactive data presentations and the Global Religious Futures website. Sandra Stencel, Greg Smith, Michael Lipka and Aleksandra Sandstrom provided editorial assistance. The report was number-checked by Shi, Esparza Ochoa, Claire Gecewicz and Angelina Theodorou.

Several researchers in the Age and Cohort Change project of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis collaborated on the projections, providing invaluable expertise on advanced (“multistate”) population modeling and standardization of input data. Marcin Stonawski wrote the cutting-edge software used for these projections and led the collection and analysis of European data. Michaela Potan?oková standardized the fertility data. Vegard Skirbekk coordinated IIASA’s research contributions. Additionally, Guy Abel at the Vienna Institute of Demography helped construct the country-level migration flow data used in the projections.

Over the past six years, a number of former Pew Research Center staff members also played critical roles in producing the population projections. Phillip Connor prepared the migration input data, wrote descriptions of migration results and methods, and helped write the chapters on each religious group and geographic region. Noble Kuriakose was involved in nearly all stages of the project and helped draft the chapter on demographic factors and the Methodology. Former intern Joseph Naylor helped design maps, and David McClendon, another former intern, helped research global patterns of religious switching. The original concept for this study was developed by Luis Lugo, former director of the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life project, with assistance from former senior researcher Brian J. Grim and visiting senior research fellow Mehtab Karim.

Others at the Pew Research Center who provided editorial or research guidance include Michael Dimock, Claudia Deane, Scott Keeter, Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn. Communications support was provided by Katherine Ritchey and Russ Oates.

We also received very helpful advice and feedback on portions of this report from Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy, American Enterprise Institute; Roger Finke, Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives and Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, The Pennsylvania State University; Carl Haub, Senior Demographer, Population Reference Bureau; Todd Johnson, Associate Professor of Global Christianity and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary; Ariela Keysar, Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, Trinity College; Chaeyoon Lim, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Arland Thornton, Research Professor in the Population Studies Center, University of Michigan; Jenny Trinitapoli, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Demography and Religious Studies, The Pennsylvania State University; David Voas, Professor of Population Studies and Acting Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex; Robert Wuthnow, Andlinger Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University; and Fenggang Yang, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University.

While the data collection and projection methodology were guided by our consultants and advisers, the Pew Research Center is solely responsible for the interpretation and reporting of the data.

Roadmap to the Report

The remainder of this report details the projections from multiple angles. The first chapter looks at the demographic factors that shape the projections, including sections on fertility rates, life expectancy, age structure, religious switching and migration. The next chapter details projections by religious group, with separate sections on Christians, Muslims, the religiously unaffiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, adherents of folk or traditional religions, members of “other religions” (consolidated into a single group) and Jews. A final chapter takes a region-by-region look at the projections, including separate sections on Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and sub-Saharan Africa.

1.This overall projection (9.3 billion in 2050) matches the “medium variant” forecast in the United Nations Population Division’s World Population Prospects, 2010 revision. A recent update from the United Nations has a somewhat higher estimate, 9.55 billion. The U.N. does not make projections for religious groups. ?
2.Christianity began about six centuries before Islam, a head start that helps explain why some scholars believe that, in the past, Christians always have been more numerous than Muslims around the world. The Pew Research Center consulted several scholars on this historical question. Todd M. Johnson, co-editor of the “Atlas of Global Christianity,” and Houssain Kettani, author of independent estimates of the growth of Islam, contend that the number of Christians always has exceeded the number of Muslims. But some other experts, including Oxford University demographer David Coleman and Columbia University historian Richard W. Bulliet, say it is possible that Muslims may have outnumbered Christians globally sometime between 1000 and 1600 C.E., as Muslim populations expanded and Christian populations were decimated by the Black Death in Europe. All of the experts acknowledged that estimates of the size of religious groups in the Middle Ages are fraught with uncertainty. ?
3.Although some faiths in the “other religions” category have millions of adherents around the world, censuses and surveys in many countries do not measure them specifically. Because of the scarcity of census and survey data, Pew Research has not projected the size of individual religions within this category. Estimates of the global size of these faiths generally come from other sources, such as the religious groups themselves. By far the largest of these groups is Sikhs, who numbered about 25 million in 2010, according to the World Religion Database. Estimates from other sources on the size of additional groups in this category can be found in the sidebar in Chapter 2. ?
4.Jews make up such a small share of the global population, however, that the projected decline is not visible when percentages are rounded to one decimal place. Jews comprised 0.20% of the world’s population in 2010 and are projected to comprise 0.17% in 2050. Both figures are rounded to 0.2% (two-tenths of 1%) in the charts and tables in this report. ?
5.In many countries, censuses and demographic surveys do not enumerate atheists and agnostics as distinct populations, so it is not possible to reliably estimate the global size of these subgroups within the broad category of the religiously unaffiliated. ?
6.The standard measure of fertility in this report is the Total Fertility Rate. In countries with low infant and child mortality rates, a Total Fertility Rate close to 2.1 children per woman is sufficient for each generation to replace itself. Replacement-level fertility is higher in countries with elevated mortality rates. For more information on how fertility shapes population growth, see Chapter 1. ?
7.Most immigrants come to GCC countries as temporary workers. These projections model a dynamic migrant population in GCC countries, in which some migrants leave as others arrive and, over time, there are net gains in the size of the foreign-born population within each GCC country. ?
8.The assumptions and trends used in these projections are discussed in Chapter 1 and in the Methodology section (Appendix A). ?
9.As noted above, the “other religions” category includes many groups – such as Baha’is, Sikhs and Wiccans – that cannot be projected separately due to lack of data on their fertility rates, age structure and other demographic characteristics.?
10.People who identify their religion as Jewish in surveys are projected to decline from an estimated 1.8% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 1.4% in 2050. These figures, however, do not include “cultural” or “ethnic” Jews – people who have Jewish ancestry but do not describe their present religion as Jewish. A 2013 Pew Research survey found that more than one-in-five U.S. Jewish adults (22%) say they are atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but consider themselves Jewish aside from religion and have at least one Jewish parent. For the purposes of the religious group projections in this report, people who identify their religion as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular are categorized as unaffiliated. To avoid double-counting, they are not included in the Jewish population. If the projected Jewish numbers were expanded to include cultural or ethnic Jews, it is possible that the size of the more broadly defined Jewish population might be greater than the projected number of U.S. Muslims in 2050. ?
11.The global projections are for Christians as a whole and do not attempt to calculate separate growth trajectories for subgroups such as Catholics and Protestants. However, other studies by the Pew Research Center show that Catholics have been declining and Protestants have been rising as a percentage of the population in some Latin American countries. See the Pew Research Center’s 2014 report “Religion in Latin America.” ?
12.How accurate have population projections using the cohort-component method been in the past? An overview of how previous projections for general populations compare with actual population trends is provided in the National Research Council’s 2000 book “Beyond Six Billion: Forecasting the World’s Population,”http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9828/beyond-six-billion-forecasting-the-worlds- population. ?
13.For example, there is little evidence of economic development leading to religious disaffiliation in Muslim-majority countries. In Hindu-majority India, religious affiliation remains nearly universal despite rapid social and economic change. And in China, religious affiliation – though very difficult to measure – may be rising along with economic development. ?
 
 

Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad Followed "The Golden Rule"

Craig Considine

 Posted:  04/24/2015 1:42 pm EDT    Updated:  04/24/2015 1:59 pm EDT
Christianity and Islam are often painted as mortal enemies that will be forever fighting in a war for religious supremacy. Christians and Muslims would be wise to remember that Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad are kindred spirits. By turning to their teachings, we can see that these two prophets are brothers, not foes.

Jesus and the Prophet were proponents of peace. Jesus told his followers: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). Saint Peter, one of Christ's disciples, echoed this message of goodwill by encouraging people to "turn away from evil and do good... seek peace and pursue it" (Peter 3:11). Roughly 600 years after Jesus, Prophet Muhammad revealed his revelations to the tribes of Arabia, where Muhammad was particularly adamant about establishing peace. One of the Prophet's favorite sayings was: "Forgive him who wrongs you, join him who cuts you off, do good to him who does evil to you." He considered striving for peace even more important than Islamic principles such as charity, fasting, and prayer. One of the primary goals of the Prophet in Arabia was to unite all people, regardless of whether they were Jews, Christians, or atheists. He stated in a hadith: "It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind" (Al-Bukhari). These passages show how Jesus and Muhammad regarded goodwill and peace as more favorable than division and war.

Along with peace, forgiveness is one of the main aspects of the teachings of Christ and the Prophet. As a Catholic, I ask God for forgiveness on a daily basis when I utter the words: "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:15). Jesus wanted people to forgive others because it is only in forgiving others that God forgives us for our sins. Christians are also asked by Christ to extend love to all of humanity. He said: "I say to you hear: Love your enemies, And do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27). Like Jesus, Prophet Muhammad forgave his enemies. After a victorious battle in Mecca, Muhammad released his enemies and told them that they were free to leave unharmed. The release of his prisoners shows the Prophet's mercy and compassion because he could have easily taken revenge by killing these defenseless enemies. Jesus and Muhammad forgave their enemies because God is not harsh or revengeful, but rather mild and gentle.

Christianity and Islam also teach people to speak kindly to one another and not to gossip about others. Using cruel words is sinful in the eyes of Christ and the Prophet. Jesus's emphasis on kindness is found in Ephesians (4:29), which reads: "Let not corrupting talk come out of your months, but only such as is good for building up... that it may give grace to those who hear." Muhammad also advised people to avoid injuring other people emotionally and physically. The Prophet was particularly concerned that people in his community maintained good relations and looked beyond ethnic and tribal rivalries. He stated: "... it is unworthy to curse any one; and it is unworthy to abuse any one" (Al-Bukhari). Muhammad told his peers that "kindness is a mark of faith and whoever has not kindness has not faith" (Al-Bukhari). In our time of strife and conflict between Christianity and Islam, Christians and Muslims should remember that being kind to one another is one of the main teachings of both Jesus and Muhammad.

The most important bond that Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad share is their love for humanity. Both of them cared for other people and groups as much as their own followers. Jesus taught his followers to "Honor all people, love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:17). Christ's love for humanity is also seen in Philippians (2:1-2), which calls on human beings to comfort and love one another and to be of "one accord, of one mind." The Prophet Muhammad reiterated Jesus's love for humanity in stating "All God's creatures are His family" (Al-Bukhari). He added: "None of you (truly believe) until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself" (Al-Bukhari). Christ and the Prophet did not call for discord and separation. Harmony and unity in society were much more important to them.

Jesus and Muhammad lived by "The Golden Rule," which means that they wanted human beings to treat others as they would want to be treated. The examples of Christ and the Prophet teach Christians and Muslims how they can overcome animosity and bigotry in favor of generosity and coexistence.

Parishes to serve Indian faithful established in Lancaster

Two newly established Personal Parishes are thought to be the first for Syro-Malabar Catholics in Europe

Syro-Malabar Catholics in England have been given two personal parishes by the Bishop of Lancaster, the first time such parishes have been established for the Indian eastern Church in Europe. The two personal parishes, St Alphonsa in Blackpool and Ss Kuriakose Elias Chvara and Euphrasia in Preston, will cater for the growing number of Syro-Malabar Catholics in that part of England.

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is an Eastern Church in full communion with Rome. Personal parishes serve specialised groups of people with particular pastoral needs.

Earlier this year St Ignatius church in Preston, which had suffered from declining Mass attendance, was saved after the Syro-Malabar Catholics were asked to take it on. Several hundred live in the town, many employed by the hospital.

Fr Mathew Jacob of the Syro-Malabar Church thanked Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster, saying in a statement: “We are very pleased and very grateful to the Bishop. It is recognition by the diocese of the place of the Syro-Malabar Church here.” He said the personal parishes gave members of his church a sense of identity and reference point, as well as “recognition, security and stability to our people”. A chaplaincy for Syro-Malabar Catholics was originally established by Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue in 2004.
 

After vision of Christ, Nigerian bishop says rosary will bring down Boko Haram

Rome, Italy, Apr 21, 2015 / 02:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Nigerian bishop says that he has seen Christ in a vision and now knows that the rosary is the key to ridding the country of the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram.

Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme says he is being driven by a God-given mandate to lead others in praying the rosary until the extremist group disappears. “Towards the end of last year I was in my chapel before the Blessed Sacrament… praying the rosary, and then suddenly the Lord appeared,” Bishop Dashe told CNA April 18.

In the vision, the prelate said, Jesus didn’t say anything at first, but extended a sword toward him, and he in turn reached out for it. “As soon as I received the sword, it turned into a rosary,” the bishop said, adding that Jesus then told him three times: “Boko Haram is gone.”  “I didn’t need any prophet to give me the explanation,” he said. “It was clear that with the rosary we would be able to expel Boko Haram.” The bishop said he didn’t want to tell anyone, but “felt that the Holy Spirit was pushing him to do so.”

He started with the priests of his diocese, and then told participants in the April 17-19 #WeAreN2015 congress in Madrid, Spain. The event is being sponsored by the Spanish Catholic sister groups hazteoir.org and CitizenGo to gather ideas on how to preserve the Christian presence in nations where they are most persecuted. Bishop Dashe leads the Diocese of Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria's Borno State. In 2009, there were around 125,000 Catholics under his guidance. After a surge in violence from the Islamist extremist group called Boko Haram, today “there are only 50 to 60 thousand left,” he said. Most of those who fled sought safer areas in other parts of Nigeria, he said. Some of the same families are now returning home as armed forces from Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon liberate their homes.

In 2014, Boko Haram became known worldwide when members kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a school in Borno State. On March 7, 2015, five suicide bombers killed 54 and wounded nearly three times as many in the capital city of Maidaguri, where the bishop lives and works. The group has killed 1,000 people across Nigeria in the first three months of 2015, according to Human Rights Watch, which reports that more than 6,000 have died in Boko Haram-led violence since 2009. Just last month, the group pledged its allegiance to ISIS – also known as the Islamic State – which launched a bloody campaign in Iraq and Syria last summer. Meanwhile, Bishop Dashe has just completed a “consolation tour” to communities in his diocese, promoting forgiveness and continued faith. He believes he was asked by Jesus to spread devotion to the rosary in order to aid them as they do so. “Maybe that’s why he did it,” said the bishop, referring to Jesus in his vision.

Bishop Dashe said he has a strong devotion to Christ’s mother, and that “I never joke with ‘Mamma Mary.’ I know she is here with us.” And he is not the only Nigerian bishop putting the future of the country in the hands of Mary. The nation’s bishops’ conference has consecrated the country to her twice in recent years Bishop Dashe believes that one day his diocese will completely recover and grow thanks to her intercession. “These terrorists… think that by burning our churches, burning our structures, they will destroy Christanity. Never,” Bishop Dashe told several hundred people from the dais of the #WeAreN2015 congress. “It may take a few months or a few years … but ‘Boko Haram is gone.’”

He later told CNA that “prayer, particularly the prayer of the rosary, is (what) will deliver us from the claws of this demon, the demon of terrorism. And of course, it is working.”

Indian Bishops condemn violence against nuns
Fifteen Catholic bishops of northeast India representing all seven northeastern India states ?meeting in ?Miao diocese in Eastern Arunachal, 12-15 March, 2015 - RV

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has learnt with deep sorrow and dismay the sad incident that took place at the Jesus and Mary School in Ranaghat, West Bengal. The physical violence inflicted on the Nuns, including raping an ailing 75 year old Nun, and the desecration of the consecrated Hosts are ruthless inhuman acts, of which all citizens of India should be ashamed of.

While condemning such dastardly acts, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expresses its solidarity with the victims of violence and earnestly requests the Chief Minister of West Bengal to take appropriate action to book the culprits and to provide adequate security and protection to the nuns and to the religious institutions, whose selfless service has contributed much to the development and progress of our dear Nation.

Meanwhile, fifteen Catholic bishops of northeast India representing all seven northeastern India states meeting in Miao diocese in Eastern Arunachal, 12-15 March, joined the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) in condemning the attack against Christians, rape of women and nuns and lynching of rape accused.   They condemned the attack and gang rape of religious nuns at Ranaghat in Nadia district West Bengal, 14 March and expressed solidarity to the victims.

The joint statement released 14 ?March stated, “The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Northeast India, which met at Miao, Arunachal Pradesh is pained to hear of the atrocious crime against religious women and church property at Ranaghat, Nadia District, West Bengal. We express our deepest sympathy and prayers for the victims. We appeal to the Government of West Bengal to bring to culprit to book and to ensure the safety of church personnel and church property.” They have also strongly condemned the recent rape related lynching incident in Dimapur (Nagaland State, NE India) stating that “no one should take law into their own hands.” Salesian archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong is the president of Catholic Bishops' Conference of Northeast India.

Salesian Bishop George Pallipparampil of Miao, is the host of this regional council meeting.
 

Rape of Catholic nun, church attacks unnerve Indian Christians

Anti-christian persecution

By Muneeza Naqvi, Associated Press March 17, 2015

An Indian man prayed as Christians and others held a candlelight vigil outside the Sacred Heart cathedral in New Delhi to condemn the gang rape of a nun at a Catholic missionary school in eastern India. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

NEW DELHI — India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Tuesday that he was “deeply concerned” about the recent rape of a nun and the destruction of a church, but Christian groups said his words did little to dispel the fear gripping the tiny community since his rightwing Hindu government came to power.

“We are feeling very, very vulnerable,” said John Dayal, a Christian leader and social activist, on the sidelines of a conference of Indian Christian groups. Over the weekend a nun in her 70s was gang-raped by a group of men in the eastern state of West Bengal. The men who attacked the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Nadia district, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the state capital of Kolkata, also ransacked the chapel and destroyed holy items, police said.

A day later, a church in the northern Haryana state was destroyed and the vandals planted a flag with the name of the Hindu god Rama, news reports said. While sexual violence is pervasive in India, and the motive for the rape of the nun was unclear, a slew of attacks have taken place against India’s Christian community, who make up little more than 2 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people. “There is a sense of insecurity that the state will not protect us. The incidents are happening all over India,” said the Rev. Sunil Dandge, a pastor from the southern city of Bangalore.

Modi’s massive electoral victory in May came on the back of promises to overhaul India’s economy and root out endemic corruption. But he started his foray into public life with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a militant Hindu organization that is also the ideological parent group of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The RSS has long been accused of stoking hatred against Muslims and Christians. While Modi played down religious issues during the campaign, wary of alienating voters, nationalist voters turned out for him in droves. For several Hindu rightwing groups, his win has been viewed as their time to push their social and cultural agenda after years on the political fringes.

Signs of trouble began to appear in December.

Rightwing Hindu groups allied with the BJP conducted a series of ceremonies to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. The events are called “homecomings,” with organizers saying they were reconverting people whose ancestors had been Hindu. Some of the Muslims and Christians, though, later said they’d either been paid to convert or threatened with violence if they did not. Then a series of churches were vandalized. And the rhetoric of groups like the RSS and its allies like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, began to get more aggressive. On Monday, senior VHP leader Surendra Jain said that attacks on churches would continue if Christians didn’t stop trying to convert people to Christianity. “Will the Christians allow us to make a Hanuman temple in the Vatican?” he was quoted saying in the newspaper Daily News & Analysis “How do we even respond to this kind of language? How can one stoop so low?” asked the Rev. Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman for the New Delhi Catholic Archdiocese.

Conversions are legal in India, but highly emotional.

Modi issued a brief statement saying that he was “deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana, and Nadia, West Bengal,” and asked for an immediate report from local officials. But it did little to assuage the fears of most Christians. “The PM’s image as a man influenced by the RSS is obvious to Christian groups, and that is very unfortunate,” said Dandge, the Bangalore pastor.
 

Don Bosco past pupil sacrifices life to save others in Pakistan church attack

09/03/2015  World News \ Asia

Akash Bashir, who sacrificed his life to prevent a large scale human carnage at St. John's Catholic Church in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 15. - ANSA

The heroic guard who on March 15 prevented a suicide bomber from entering a crowded Catholic Church in Lahore, Pakistan, sacrificed his life to avoid a large scale carnage in the place of worship.  Two suicide bombers exploded themselves near St. John’s Catholic Church and the Protestant Christ ?Church, some 600 meters apart, in Lahore’s predominantly Christian neighborhood of Youhannabad on ?Sunday as the faithful were gathered inside.?  In the attack on the two churches, claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), 17 people died and more than 70 were wounded.

Akash Bashir, the heroic security guard at St. John’s Church was a past pupil of the Don Bosco Technical Centre (DBTC) located in Youhannabad.  Akash Bashir was standing together with another security guard at the main gate of the church, checking those who entered. The suicide bomber approached the entrance and tried violently to get past the two young guards. When Akash stopped him he noticed the explosives hidden under his jacket. He grabbed hold of the attacker and the lower part of his body was blown off in the explosion, but saved the lives of many other people.  His identity was confirmed on March 17 as details of the story of what happened gradually became clear.

The funeral of Akash Bashir and others was held on March 17.   Akash’s father said that his 19-year old son had always aspired to be a great man. “His mother once asked him to stop standing at the church’s gate. He replied that he wanted to make people safer and did not care for his own life,” the elder Bashir said. He said that Akash and his sacrifice should be remembered.

Meanwhile the climate of violence and insecurity in the city has not lessened. The Salesian centre will remain closed until security can be guaranteed.  Today some young people cannot even return to their homes, because of continuing unrest and violence in the streets.  "As a Christian minority there are times when our only hope is in God and His Mother, Mary" the Salesians of Don Bosco in Lahore said.  Two other students of the Salesian school were injured as they passed in front of the Catholic Church.  “We regard these two guards as heroes who gave their lives to prevent a worse massacre," the local Salesians said.  "What happened remains for all of us involved in education in our Christian schools in Pakistan a warning that sooner or later we could easily be the new victims of such barbarity ... from Peshawar to Youhannabad,” they said.   (Source: ANS)

The blood of St. Gennaro liquefies in Francis’ presence

St. Gennaro’s relic miraculously turned to liquid in Naples Cathedral. This usually only happens on the feast of the saint on 19 September. Sepe said St. Gennaro loves the Pope, the blood has already liquefied by half." But the whole relic eventually turned to liquid

 Giacomo Galeazzi in naples
This is the first time it happened. San Gennaro’s blood had never liquefied during a papal visit to Naples before. None of the visits paid by Pius IX, John Paul II or Benedict XVI provoked the phenomenon. But the miracle was witnessed this afternoon, after Francis’ heartfelt address to faithful and clergy.

The Pope had taken the vial with the blood of St. Gennaro - displayed on the altar
03/21/2015

This is the first time it happened. San Gennaro’s blood had never liquefied during a papal visit to Naples before. None of the visits paid by Pius IX, John Paul II or Benedict XVI provoked the phenomenon. But the miracle was witnessed this afternoon, after Francis’ heartfelt address to faithful and clergy.  The Pope had taken the vial with the blood of St. Gennaro - displayed on the altar - in his hands and kissed it. Cardinal Sepe said over the microphone: “It is the sign that St. Gennaro loves Pope Francis: half of the blood turned to liquid.” The pronouncement was followed by a long applause from faithful. The Pope then replied: “If only half of it liquefied that means we still have work to do; we have to do better. We have only half of the saint’s love.” But the blood continued to liquefy until the whole relic had turned to liquid, with many faithful crying out as they witnessed this.

Prior to this, the Pope had set aside his written speech and continued off the cuff, describing some personal experiences he had had and encouraging faithful to worship and love the Church (“you cannot love Jesus without loving his Church”) and show apostolic zeal (“The Church exists in order to bring Jesus” to people, he stressed). “We need to start from Jesus and Mary, the Pope urged, before going on to condemn wheeling and dealing in the Church, the “terrorism of gossip” and the attachment to money displayed by some priests and religious. “Wheeling and dealing” in the Church is an “ugly” thing.

Pope Francis set aside his prepared speech and delivered a long address off the cuff at his meeting with priests, nuns and religious in Naples Cathedral. He listed a series of “testimonies” and counter-testimonies which the consecrated can give God’s people, including the “spirit of poverty”. The Pope told the story of a nun who was attached to money. “When there is wheeling and dealing in the Church this is an ugly thing,” he said.  “I remember a great nun, a good woman, a great bursar who was good at her job but was too attached to money. She would subconsciously pick people according to how much money they had: ‘I like him more, he’s very well off’. She was a bursar at an important college, she had important structures built. She was a great woman but you could see this in her. And the final humiliation this woman faced was public: she was around 70 years old and she was in the teachers’ lounge having a coffee when she fainted and fell. People tried slapping her to get her return to consciousness  but she wouldn’t. So one of the female teachers said put a 100 pesos note on her and let’s see if she reacts. The poor woman was dead but this was the last thing that was said when no one was sure if she was alive or not: an ugly testimony.”

When a priest is “greedy” and “gets involved in business”, how many scandals have been witnessed int he Church and how much lack of freedom just because of money!” the Pope continued. H eexplained the cautiousness shown by some clerics when they find themselves int he midst of moneyed people: “I should give this person a piece of my mind but since he or she is an great benefactor and great benefactors lead the lives they want, it is not my place” to start preaching to them. “A priest can have his savings, but that is not where his heart should be” otherwise “you start to differentiate between people when there’s money involved and so I ask you to examine your conscience: how is my life of poverty going? Even in the small things, whether one is a cleric or not.”

Pope Francis also condemned “worldliness “and excess, for example spending too much time in front of television.” In the diocese where I served before there was a nuns’ college. They were good nuns but the house in which they lived, the apartment they had was a bit old and needed work done to it. So they had work done on it, too much work in fact, it became a luxury house. They put televisions in every room. And when there was a soap opera on there wasn’t a nun in sight at the college!”  “These are the things that lead us to a worldly spirit,” the Pope underlined. “And this brings me onto the other point I wanted to make. Worldliness is dangerous, living a worldly life, living in a spiit of worldliness that Jesus did not want.”

In response to a question put to him by a prelate on the scarcity of vocations, the Pope said: “But bearing witness to the faith attracts vocations. ‘I want to be like that priest, I want to be like that nun’. A comfortable and worldly life does not help us.”   The Pope then spoke about the joy of testimony. “If a cleric is sad then something’s not quite right. They should go to a friend or a good spiritual councillor.” “If Jesus isn't center of your life, postpone ordination,” Francis said addressing candidates to the priesthood.  Francis also warned religious against the “terrorism of gossip” because “whoever gossips is a terrorist who throws a bomb and destroys, while he or she keeps a safe distance. At least if that person was suicide bomber…” “Gossip destroys. You talk about differences face to face,” he added.
 

Pope Francis: The Devil Hasn't Forgiven Mexico for the Virgin Mary's Apparition
 

March 16, 2015 - Highlights from the Pope's recent interview

This March 13, on the second anniversary of the Pope's election, the Vatican published an interview granted by Pope Francis to Valentina Alazraki, Televisa's Vatican correspondent. The Pope responded at length to questions on various topics: drug trafficking, migration, a possible visit to Mexico in 2016, the recent disappearance of a group of Mexican students, the misunderstanding of the phrase "Mexicanization" of Argentina, his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, his intuition that his pontificate will only last a few years, and the reform of the Curia, among other things.

The interview was recorded by the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio, which published its complete transcript.

Here are the highlights:

1. Pope Francis responded to the reactions unleashed by the private email he sent to a friend, where he said that the bishops should try to avoid the "Mexicanization" of Argentina.

He said,"Clearly, this is a 'technical' term, if I may use that expression. It has nothing to do with Mexico's dignity. When we use the term 'Balkanization,' neither the Serbs, nor the Macedonians, nor the Croats get angry. And we say that something is 'Balkanized' and it is used technically, and the mass media have used it many times, haven't they?"
He recognized that his comment stirred up the dust and said that, according to statistics that he had consulted, 90% of Mexicans were not offended by the expression. "Which makes me happy. It would have been very painful for me if it had been interpreted that way. The government itself, after having asked, accepted my explanations. These, which are the real ones. And everything is in peace.  In other words, that misunderstanding didn't close the doors of Mexico to me. I will go to Mexico."

2. The devil hasn't forgiven Mexico for the Virgin Mary's apparition

"This is not the first difficult moment that Mexico has passed through. In other words, it is connected with holiness, don't you think? That is, Mexico went through times of religious persecution, which led to martyrs. I think that the devil punishes Mexico with a lot of problems. Because of this: I think the devil has not forgiven Mexico, for Mary having shown her Son there. That's my interpretation. In other words, Mexico is privileged by martyrdom, because it has recognized and defended its Mother.
"And you know this well yourself. You will find some Mexicans who are Catholics, some who are not Catholics, some who are atheists, but they are all 'Guadalupanos,' [devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe- translator's note]. That is to say, they all feel that they are her children. Sons and daughters of the one who brought the Savior who destroyed the devil.  That is to say, the holiness connection is there too. I believe that the devil is making Mexico pay, don't you? And that is the reason for all these things. You can see that throughout history there have always appeared hot spots of grave conflict, right?"

3. Promise to make a proper visit to Mexico

Alazraki asked him why he is not going to Mexico this year, despite visiting Philadelphia in the USA. The Pope responded that he thought of doing it by entering the USA crossing the Mexican border. "But, if I went to Ciudad Juárez, for example, and entered from there, it would have caused a bit of an uproar: 'How is it possible that he goes there and doesn't come to see Our Lady, our Mother!' Besides, I can't visit Mexico piece by piece; I'd need a whole week to do it.

4. Devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe

The conversation took place in Saint Martha Hall, in chairs right in front of a large image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  In this way, the Pope showed his great devotion to the "mestiza" Virgin. "She is the Mother who brings the Gospel to us in Mexico. [...] She is an expectant Mother. It shows that she is bearing a child. But, in what way does she show it? How does she reveal herself, beyond the fact that she is pregnant? She appears as a mestiza. That is a prophecy of our American mixture of ethnicities."

5. Mary and the mixture of ethnicities

He repeatedly emphasized the cultural and religious experience of the mixture of ethnicities through the apparition. "That is why she goes beyond the limits of Mexico, she goes far beyond it and is the unity of the American people. She is the Mother. America isn't an orphan; it has a Mother, a Mother who brings us Jesus."
"That is to say, our Salvation, which is Christ, comes through a woman, and she wanted to show through her appearing with mixed ethnicity that she brought Christ especially to Mexico. And she chooses to reveal herself through a son of that culture. She doesn't choose a Spanish man, or a colonist, or a beautiful woman; no, no. A simple, married, humble man. And so for me she is a Mother. She is a mother of mixed ethnicity and, I dare to say, something more. She is the beginning of something we don't talk about much in America: she is the initiator of holiness. In other words, in the colonization of America, in the conquest of America, there was a lot of sin."

The complete interview was published by Vatican Radio.
Here in Spanish Los primeros dos años de la “Era Francisco” en entrevista a Televisa Vatican Radio
 

He left the seminary to practice Yoga and to follow Hindu gurus until in prayer Jesus touched him!

Testimony of Fr Paresh Gujarat (Ahmedabad diocese)

I am a Gujarati, from Bombay. Though my fore-fathers hail from Gujarat, we have settled down in Bombay since last two generations. We converted to Catholicism since the last two generations only, as the church of Gujarat is 114 years old..

I was born and brought up in Bombay. My daddy expired when I was in 9th std. Being the youngest of six brothers and sisters, I was showered with a lot of love and care. I joined the Engineering College (Production Engineering) soon after my 12th std. I was elected as the General Secretary of the college. I was into blood donations and was also involved in other social work in hospitals and other public centers. When once I visited TATA hospital I met a little 11yr old girl suffering from leukemia. Her parents were finding it difficult to get blood donors for her. In Bombay there are several such families begging to the doctors for the life of their babies. I decided to help this little girl. We had a big group of blood donors. I also arranged for the treatment expense. Though we tried our best to save her life she died in 6 months. This death had its effect on me and my perspective about life changed. My dream was to become successful person, go abroad and work but suddenly, I saw that nothing or no one can stop prevent death, no matter how much money you have!
I started asking God 'why do you allow so much suffering? Why do you allow people to cry?' I wanted to experience God if He really existed and my search for God began.

I was just a routine church- goer. During those days I got my hand on a philosophical book by Swami Vivekananda. I found it interesting. I read all the volumes of the books by Swami Vivekananda. Somehow I felt that we can never encounter God at home. One needs to renounce the world. Thus, with little or no faith in Jesus, I went to Gujarat to become a priest. I spent a year there but I was not happy. I left the place and retuned back to Bombay.

Even though I tried to become a priest I couldn't experience God. As soon as I left the seminary my brothers and sisters-in-law wanted me to get married. I was not ready for marriage and so finally I reached a decision to open a factory in Bombay. However even this did not give me any satisfaction instead my desire to experience God grew stronger. Not knowing what to do I started visiting famous Swamis and Gurus all over India. I visited many Ashrams. I met preachers of different communities. Every Monday I used to go to Shiv Temple, Tuesday - Friday I went to Kali and Durga devi temple and Saturdays to Hanuman temple. I used to get up at 3:30 a.m , have a cold water dip, do kriya yoga etc. although I was a catholic I completely stopped going to Church. Some of India's famous Swamis used to come to my house and take me with them to their ashrams.I used to go with them to the jungles and stay for 10-15 days with them.

Because of my yoga practices, I started getting some psychic gifts But my Hindu guru's kept telling me that if I get stuck with the spiritual gifts, then I will not be able to experience the 'giver of the gifts, i.e. God. So I continued in my search for God. I was looking for a Guru who would accept me as his disciple. A well known Hath-Yogi from Malad, Bombay had told me several times that Jesus is my Guru and that I have to become a priest. My mom began to get worried about me seeing me running after so many gurus.

A 108 year old guru from a village called Zarap, near Sawantwadi [Maharashtra], gave me a guru mantra (a chant) and asked me to recite and see its power. I started reciting the mantra. I was very happy and recited that mantra religiously. I had already spent two and a half years since I had left my seminary and seeking God following the Hindu guru's. Nothing seemed to be happening. Infact I was experiencing some sort of turmoil within me.

On 7th of June, 1994 I was out for an evening walk and was passing through my parish church (St. Teresa's Church) in Bandra. I saw the board 'Jesus heals'. A force dragged me into the Church. I was not aware of the charismatic movement at that time. When I entered I noticed that Fr. Joe Santiago from Poona Diocese was conducting the prayer services. People were screaming on the top of their voices shouting 'Alleluia' before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I found all this a bit funny. I found my self misplaced there and was just waiting for this prayer service to get over so that I could get out of all that madness.

At 9 pm, the priest asked all of us to stand up and pray so that the Lord may touch us. I too got up casually looking all around with curiosity. And lo... what happens....Suddenly I saw a ball of light on the altar. The light entered into my heart and I fell down. I was embraced and engulfed with that light. I instantly recognized the light. IT WAS JESUS. Jesus was right in front of me. I could hear His voice saying "I am the Master you are looking for. I have a plan for you to become a priest; go to Gujarat and I have a plan for you there". I could experience the light for 10 minutes. I could experience a power entering my body and another power leaving my body. I was getting transformed. Like 'Saul was becoming Paul'.

After the prayers I found myself a changed person. I came home and for the first time in my life I started reading Bible with devotion. I miraculously came in touch with my college friend Ralph, who was into healing ministry. I joined his prayer group and there I received the gift of tongues and the gift of healing.
Having confirmed Gods call, I left my home once again to join priesthood. I went to Gujarat and met the Bishop of Ahmedabad and he accepted me in his diocese.

I was 28 years old when I joined. And today, I am 40, and have completed 4...years of my priesthood and I continue to serve our LORD in His vineyard. Praise the Lord. Many are the wonders he has worked in my life thereafter and continues to work everyday of my life. Today I am convinced beyond any doubt that our Lord is the true God and also the only living God. Thank you Jesus Praise you Jesus.

I would like to conclude my testimony by stating that if any of you are searching for the one true living God then it stops at Jesus. I have been through the arduous path and convinced myself beyond any doubt.

John 14:15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (HOLY SPIRIT), to be with you for ever.

After surviving ISIS, Myriam thanks God and teaches the world a lesson on forgivenes

Watch Myriam as she shares her story of being displaced from Qaraqoush, Iraq by #ISIS, and forgives and sings a song of gratitude to God for His protection


 

10 Signs Christianity Is on the Rise

 March 09, 2015

It may look different in the future, but that's a good thing.

Christianity is a dying relic of an ancient past. The Internet is killing it. Science is killing it. Western sophistication is killing it. Right?

 Wrong.

 In many ways, Christianity is on the rise as never before—worldwide, and in America. Here are the ways we can tell:

1. Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds worldwide.

 The research shows Christian numbers rising, not falling worldwide. "Christianity should enjoy a worldwide boom in the coming decades, but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American,” writes Philip Jenkins of Baylor University, author of The Next Christendom.
In America, this will mean that as white descendants of Europeans fall off a demographic cliff, they will be replaced by the growing Southern Christian and Catholic populations.

2. Nominal Christianity is dead—and that’s a good thing.

 Meanwhile, in America, research showing that Christian numbers are tanking is a little misleading. What it really shows is a fall in the number of people who call themselves Christians but have never darkened the door of a Church. We no longer feel we have to dishonestly mark the “Christian” box, and we now feel it's okay to be honest and mark the “atheist” box—but this shows health rather than weakness.
 It is an interesting dynamic: In the West, the nominal Christianity that was inherited unthinkingly is disappearing and in the East and South, real Christianity is a rapidly growing grassroots movement. Books like God's Century by Monica Duffy Toft of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and God Is Back by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist are trying to figure out what that will mean.

3. The Church is promoting the sacraments.

 But the nominal Catholic rate still causes problems. We know various polls place Mass attendance at various small percentages. What we don’t know is the extent to which they merely show that nominal Catholics still mark “Catholic” on polls.
 Another thing we also know is that the Church is promoting the first necessary step to increased Mass attendance: Confession. The Vatican’s 24 hours for the Lord March 13-14 is doing this church-wide, seeing promotions pay off in Great Britain, while events such as Chicago’s Festival of Forgiveness and Philadelphia's confession push are doing the same in America.

4. Eucharistic Adoration is on the rise.

 A good measure of whether Catholics are more than nominal is Eucharistic adoration. To spend time with Jesus Christ is the very definition of a Christian, after all. Adoration is offered at 7,094 U.S. parishes as listed by RealPresence.com. In 2005, that website’s president, Mike Mortimer, estimated that there were 715 perpetual adoration chapels in America. The Vatican now estimates that there are 1,100 perpetual adoration chapels in America.
 The worldwide church is led by a man who prays a daily Eucharistic hour and the Church in America is actively promoting Eucharistic adoration through events like the Eucharistic Adoration Novena.

5. Catholic youth movements have never been stronger.

 A movement’s future is only as strong as its next generation, and so for Catholicism to have a future it has to have a youth movement. Catholicism does. Our most recent World Youth Day attracted 3.7 million—one of the 30-year event’s largest gatherings ever.
 At home, we see a pro-life force largely led by young American Catholics, which dwarfs almost every other activist movement. Tens of thousands of Catholic young people descend on Washington each January for the March for Life, and you can add to that the young people at the 115 smaller marches for life throughout the United States and the nationwide life chain events in October.

6. … and the Catholic youth movements are linked to higher education.

 When I went to college, people referred to “the hardcore four” or “thriving five” Catholic colleges faithful to the magisterium. Now I work at a college and we continually hear new stories of schools trying to reclaim their Catholic identity in order to compete. Today, the National Catholic Register’s latest Catholic Identity Guide lists more than 30 schools that are promoting the strength of their Catholic identity.
 At the same time, new Catholic centers at state schools are trying to make inroads in hostile environments that dismantle students’ faith: The Seek 2015 conference of FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students) attracted nearly 10,000 college students this year.

7. New, young vocations.

 Another phenomenon you can’t help but notice in Catholic circles is hidden from official numbers: The new young vocations. We see them at Benedictine College all the time—in our classrooms, in our Abbey, and among our alumni. But because of the huge numbers of elderly priests and nuns, the total numbers of priests and nuns keeps dropping in America.
 Research does show that millennials are “even more likely” to consider vocations than the generation before them, and anecdotal evidence shows that there was a Benedict Effect before there was any Francis Effect in vocations, and that priests under 35 represent a sign of hope in the Church.

8. Strong, engaged Bishops.

 Complaining about bishops is a pastime as old as the Church itself. It can be done in a helpful way (see the letters of St. Paul in your New Testament) and in an unhelpful way (as in the joke about the part of the bishop-making ceremony where the candidate’s spine is removed).
 But the 21st century has seen a huge change in the way American bishops engage the world. It first became noticeable with the candidacy of John Kerry, a radically pro-abortion politician whose nominal Catholicism forced bishops to take a stand. Then came the rise of Obama and the HHS mandate—which every U.S. bishop denounced. Finally, new strong bishops are emerging from what Thomas Peters calls the “Benedict Bishop Bump.”

9. A new interest in Scripture.

 Many people predicted when the Da Vinci Code was popular that the long-term effect of the novel’s crazy anti-Scriptural premise would be to increase interest in Scripture. That paradoxical prediction has proven true. In the wake of the Da Vinci Code, a new interest in Scripture can be seen in popular books, television miniseries, and major Hollywood movies.

10. The witness of the martyrs.

 Last but not least by a long shot is the witness of the martyrs. The beautiful way Christians are showing their deep faith and love for Jesus Christ, as I've said before, will grow the Church just as it did in the former atheist communist bloc, and indeed as it did in the early Church.
 The bottom line is that if Christianity is true, then we can expect it will continue to rise and not die. If it's not true, then it will certainly die—and the sooner, the better. But since Jesus Christ really did die and rise and leave us the sacraments, don’t expect it to go away any time soon.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Jesus Christ's childhood home 'discovered' by British academic

3 March 2015.  By Martin Bagot

Dr Ken Dark said that the humble first century home in Nazareth, northern Israel, could have been where Mary and Joseph brought up the son of God

A British archaeologist has identified what he believes could have been the house where Jesus was raised. Dr Ken Dark said that the humble first century home in Nazareth, northern Israel, could have been where Mary and Joseph brought up the son of God.

The Reading University archaeologist said that an ancient text described precisely how it was located between two tombs and below a church. Clerics from the Crusader period and the Byzantine era also put the ruins in the cellar of their churches, suggesting that it was of great significance and needed to be protected. In an article Professor Dark said that there was ‘no good reason’ why the courtyard style house was not the boyhood home of Jesus.

He has been researching the ruins since 2006 and published his findings in Biblical Archaeological Review, a respected journal.
Is this Jesus' home?

Holy site: An exterior view of the house believed to be where Jesus lived as a young boy

Should Dr Dark’s analysis be correct, it will solve a mystery which has baffled Christians for centuries. They believe that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel revealed that Mary would give birth to the son of God, a baby to be named Jesus. According to Dr Dark, the house is located beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which is across the road from Church of Annunciation in Nazareth.

He describes it as having been cut out of a limestone hillside and having a series of rooms and a stairway. One of the original doorways has survived, as has part of the original chalk floor. Overall the design was typical of early Roman settlements in the Galilee, Dr Dark says. The house was first identified as a site of special significance in the 1880s after the chance discovery of an ancient cistern at the convent, after which the nuns ordered an excavation.

Jesuit priest Henri Senes carried out more work in 1936 and then Dr Dark’s team followed up in 2006, discovering broken cooking pots, a spindle whorl and limestone artifacts.

The limestone items suggest a Jewish family lived there as Jews believed that limestone could not be impure. Dr Dark also found that subsequent generations after the first century took great care to look after the site In the article he wrote: ‘Great efforts had been made to encompass the remains of this building within the vaulted cellars of both the Byzantine and Crusader churches, so that it was thereafter protected. ‘Both the tombs and the house were decorated with mosaics in the Byzantine period, suggesting that they were of special importance, and possibly venerated’.

The key piece of evidence linking the site to Jesus is pilgrim text called ‘De Locus Sanctis’ written in 670 AD by abbot Adomnàn of Iona, the island off the West coast of Scotlan, It was supposedly based on a pilgrimage made to Nazareth made by the Frankish bishop Arculf and talks about a church ‘where once there was the house in which the Lord was nourished in his infancy.
Discovery: The key piece of evidence linking the site to Jesus is pilgrim text called ‘De Locus Sanctis’

In the article Dr Dark says that the text describes two churches in Nazareth, one of which was the Church of Annunciation. He writes: ‘The other stood nearby and was built near a vault that also contained a spring and the remains of two tombs. ‘Between these two tombs was the house in which Jesus was raised. From this is derived the more recent name for the church that Adomnàn described’. The Sisters of Nazareth Convent matches this because there is evidence of a large Byzantine church with a spring and two tombs in its crypt, Dr Dark writes.

Rex Remains of a residential building from the time of Jesus was exposed in the heart of Nazareth were discovered in an archaeological excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority near the Church of the Annunciation. The house he believes was Jesus’ boyhood home stands in between the two tombs which also matches with Adomnàn’s account. Dr Dark, a specialist in first century and Christian archaeology, writes: ‘Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds. ‘On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted’.

The last attempt to identify the house where Jesus grew up was in 2009 when archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority found another 1st century home they believed had been occupied by a Jewish family. However they were only able to say that Jesus may have lived near to the site as they did not have the link to the ancient texts that Professor Dark found.

Yoga without ethics: just empty posturing?

Can the fitness fad live up to its traditional roots?

Zac Alstin | 5 March 2015
Bikram Choudhury teaches Yoga class

Bikram Choudhury, founder of the popular Bikram Yoga, is currently facing six civil lawsuits from female former-students alleging rape or sexual assault.  Bikram Yoga is famous for its 90 minute classes carried out in 41 °C (105 °F) heat at 40% humidity.  First introduced in the 1970s, Bikram Yoga has made its namesake a wealthy man with a net worth reportedly in the billions. With several dozen Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, an 8,000 square foot Beverley Hills mansion, and devoted students spending thousands of dollars just to train with their hero for a week: the swearing, name-dropping, speedo-wearing guru hardly fits the popular image of what a master Yogi should be.

Yet Yoga in its many, varied forms has become so popular in the West that – along with meditation – it has even made its way into corporate environments, promoting physical and mental health in the workplace.  But the mainstream adoption of these ancient religious practices is not without its critics. Buddhist psychotherapist Dr Miles Neale coined the terms “McMindfulness and Frozen Yoga” to describe the denaturing and secularisation of these practices, stripped of their important ethical content for the sake of mainstream palatability:

“What we see in America today, in both the yoga boom and mindfulness fad, is an overemphasis on training in meditation (samadhi) to the exclusion of the trainings in wisdom (prajna) and ethics (shila)...
American culture is fascinated by quick fixes, glamorous fads and celebrity teachers: yoga and mindfulness are no exception to this trend. What’s next? Drive-through yoga? Meditation on demand? We are experiencing a feeding frenzy of spiritual practices that provide immediate nutrition but no long-term sustenance.”

Even the overtly irreligious expressions of the Bikram Yoga founder can’t take the spiritual shine off the mysterious Indian practice.  According to Choudhury “Religion is the biggest piece of **** created in all time!", yet civil lawsuits describe:

“a cult-like atmosphere where the charismatic Mr Choudhury would tell young women training to be instructors they had been "touched by God" before forcing himself upon them.”

In fact what most Westerners know as “Yoga” is more accurately described simply as “asanas” or postures. Traditional Yoga (from Sanskrit yoga, think “yoke”) is a spiritual discipline aimed at union with the divine.  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, compiled around 400 AD, include eight aspects or “limbs” of this spiritual discipline:

Yama – abstaining from violence, deceit, covetousness, sexual activity, and possessiveness.
Niyama – observing cleanliness of body and mind, contentment, austerity, scriptural study, and worship of God.
Asana – the postures required to maintain physical health as a support to the Yogic discipline.
Pranayama – breathing exercises.
Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses from the external world.
Dharana – mental concentration.
Dhyana – steadfast meditation.
Samadhi – the final blissful goal of meditation.

It’s hard to imagine Yoga being quite so popular in the West if the first two limbs were emphasised over and above the promise of a “taught and toned Yoga body” with intimations of feel-good meditative bliss. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine Choudhury having as much cachet in a society where ethics extends Yogic discipline beyond the merely physical.

But in our self-consciously secular environment it’s hard to give credence to the idea that mysterious-looking postures might be less effective than onerous moral injunctions, let alone religious observances.  Without a trace of irony, many Westerners would rather twist themselves into the most difficult and unlikely contortions if only to avoid the conclusion that self-denial, moral rectitude, and religious observance might be the genuine path to a better way of life.
 

Raising saints, not rabbits

Moving beyond mere biology is essential to the pope's teachings on the family.
Posted on February 17, 2015,

By Fr William Grimm - Tokyo:

When Pope Francis commented that people should not reproduce "like rabbits," some who read his comment were upset that he seemed to be attacking large families even though he was raised in one himself.
That is probably one reason that lately he has extolled the wonders of large families and criticized the "selfishness" of some who choose to be childless.
What might seem to be mutually contradictory positions are accurate, in fact, when viewed in a larger context because, ultimately, family size is not a matter of arithmetic. Celibates who "have no children to speak of"  are too often prone to view human reproduction in ways that seem more like animal husbandry than a sharing of human life.

Insisting that every act of coitus must be open to the breeding of children while ignoring the fact that human reproduction entails much, much more than simply the production of fetuses smacks more of the barnyard than of human
society. Human reproduction is not simply biology. Giving birth is the beginning of a process that takes years, even decades. Children must be fed, housed, socialized and educated. They must have access to an environment in which their health and safety are protected. They must be equipped to one day take their places as members of society, and even as parents themselves. In short, they must be enabled to exercise their dignity as children of God.

There is no ideal size for a family that will enable children born into it to achieve that dignity. Size is not so important as quality. Much depends upon what counts as a dignified life in particular societies and circumstances. When food and access to medical care are severely limited, giving birth to more children than can be supported is, in many cases, simply condemning babies to a short life of suffering. Those who survive are often handicappe intellectually and physically by deprivation in infancy and childhood.

Even in situations where biological life is not threatened, there are still the demands of social life. If, for example, a family has too many children to provide them with an adequate education, then, though they may manage to stay alive, their quality of life compared to the opportunities their society offers and the expectations it will place upon them will be compromised. However, the biggest challenges that parents and guardians face are not material.

Raising children from bawling infancy through exhausting childhood and frustrating adolescence to the point where they have children of their own requires the sacrifice of parents' or guardians' time, energy, interests and personal comfort until the day they can say, as my mother once did, "Grandchildren are a mother's best revenge." Until then, there are intellectual, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual demands involved in child rearing. The rewards of being a parent or guardian come precisely in responding to those demands.

The limits of what a family can manage differ from case to case. Some families are joyfully, healthily large. Others are joyfully, healthily small. Caring for a child with special physical, emotional or psychological needs may compromise the care provided to his or her siblings. In such cases, the sacrifices the entire family makes can be a source of growth in love and virtue for all. For other families, though, responding to the needs of one child requires limiting the number of others. But even when no child in the family has what are generally called "special needs," the usual needs of children can exhaust the limits of their parents' or guardians' or siblings' ability to provide for them. In many situations, families can rely on relatives and friends or organizations or governments for assistance, but that is not always the case.

Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (called by the irreverent "Paul's Epistle to the Fallopians") proscribes certain methods of birth control, but also recognizes that circumstances may make such control necessary. "With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time."

I once heard a speaker ask, "If you die tonight, will your children go to heaven?" That is the glory and responsibility of being a Christian parent. We must not reproduce like rabbits, but like men and women who will raise up saints. To do that requires the humility to know our limitations, the intelligence to not attempt more than we can handle, and the faith to know that God will work with us in fulfilling our humbly intelligent choices.

Maryknoll Fr William Grimm is publisher of ucanews.com, based in Tokyo.
 

Holy Land tour planned for priests, Religious

A $2,500 fee includes expenses during the pilgrimage, as well as return airfare from the airports of Bangalore, Cochin, Delhi, and Mumbai in India.
February 11, 2015

Plans are underway to have a 20-day Holy Land pilgrimage for Indian priests and Religious aiming to help them renew lives and become more effective in their ministry. The Franciscans of the Holy Land and the Salesian Pontifical University of Jerusalem are jointly organizing the pilgrimage titled: "Hearts Aflame: walking with Jesus in his land." It is scheduled for April 21–May 10. "The highlights of the program are a thorough orientation by Biblical experts, a detailed pilgrimage in the footprints of the disciples to the nooks and corners of Holy Land and a encountering a spiritual retreat experience," Fr. Tojy Jose, OFM, one of the organizers.

Fr. Jose told Catholic News Agency that the pilgrimage is meant to help priests retreat into a "spiritual Emmaus." A $2,500 fee includes expenses during the pilgrimage, as well as return airfare from the airports of Bangalore, Cochin, Delhi, and Mumbai in India. Fr. Jose emphasized the program is meant to integrate study and prayer, with time alloted for personal study, reflection, and prayer.

Cardinal George Alencherry, Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, endorsed the pilgrimage, calling it "a beautiful program" and asking that "may many be attracted by this project and let all the organizers succeed in executing this project." Fr. Jose explained that seminars will be held in English by eminent scholars such as Fr. David Neuhaus, SJ; Fr. Lionel Goh, OFM; Fr. Piotr Zelazko; Fr. Pier Giorgio Gianazza, SDB.

Topics discussed will include biblical history and geography, Jewish culture and politics, early Christian history, priestly renewal, and spirituality of the Holy Land. Meetings with Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem and with the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land are also scheduled. A retreat on discipleship will be held at the site of the Visitation and the birthplace of St. John the Baptist.

Delhi archbishop: Indian election result ‘a vote for change’

by Conor Gaffey
posted  Wednesday, 11 Feb 2015

Archbishop criticises lack of government response after anti-Catholic violence mars election

Indian prelates, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay (centre), conduct a candelight protest against recent attacks on Catholic churches (CNS)

The Archbishop of Delhi has said the Indian government failed to deliver on its promises following the victory of an anti-corruption party in the state elections. Speaking to AsiaNews, Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto claimed the election had been marred by anti-Catholic violence after churches were vandalised and a peaceful protest was broken up by heavy-handed police. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which translates as “the common man”, won 67 of the 70 assembly seats in the Delhi state elections on Tuesday. Its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, will be the new chief minister of Delhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was left with just three seats.

Archbishop Couto said: “The result is a vote for change. Even after eight months, the Modi government has failed to act well, nor has it fulfilled its promises. “The people of Delhi are disappointed and that’s why they wanted to give Arvind Kejriwal a chance as the new chief minister.” Since December, five different churches in the Indian capital territory have been vandalised. Last week, the Church of St Alphonsa was broken into and sacred hosts were scattered on the altar and the floor.

A peaceful protest against the attacks on churches was broken up by police last week. AsiaNews reported that Delhi police beat and detained dozens of priests, nuns and laypeople, including women and children, during the silent march outside the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

Archbishop Couto said: “These elections were negatively affected by the attacks on churches. “Five attacks on five different churches and the BJP, which was in power, stood by in silence. “What’s worse, it said that what happened was normal, that in many other places similar incidents were happening.”

The result constitutes a major setback to the BJP and Mr Modi, who has enjoyed widespread public support since winning the 2014 general election. Archbishop Couto said: “The people of Delhi voted against the BJP and its attempt to polarise the voters in the name of religion. “The result of these elections is a message to the Prime Minister: he should think seriously about his behaviour.”

In a separate incident, India’s Catholic bishops protested last week against a government decision to deny visas to two Vatican officials. Archbishop Arthur Roche, former Bishop of Leeds and now secretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Portase Rugambwa, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, were due to address a conference of Catholic bishops in Bangalore on the subject of “Life and Liturgy” but had to cancel their trip at the last minute.
 

7,000 Christians faced threats in 2014, reports Catholic body

Madhya Pradesh (23) and Chhattisgarh (19), both BJP-ruled states, along with Congress-ruled Karnataka (14) account for nearly half of all incidents across India.
Posted on February 10, 2015,

Mumbai:
The Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) says it has documented 120 attacks on Christians and their institutions across India in 2014, with over 7,000 Christians facing threats. The Hindustan Times said the CSF report, made available to the newspaper, lists five murders across India in little over a year.

Madhya Pradesh (23) and Chhattisgarh (19), both BJP-ruled states, along with Congress-ruled Karnataka (14) account for nearly half of all incidents across India. Between December 2013 and December 2014, 7,000 Christians faced threats, violence and displacement. These included 1,600 women and 500 children. 300 members of the clergy and community leadership were also targeted during this period. The report also expresses concern over certain moves of the Union government such as making Christmas ‘good governance day’ and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s call to make Bhagwad Gita the national book of India.

Joseph Dias, general secretary of CSF, told HT that the details of the report had been shared with human rights groups across the world. The CSF’s annual reports and their global reach offer some clues into the circumstances that led President Barack Obama to call for greater religious tolerance in India.

The CSF’s 2013 report, which counted 4,000 offences against Christians in India, was used by Indian Christian groups in California to lobby for minority protection as one of the terms of reference for India-US talks. In a February 2013 memorandum, these groups sought a “house resolution that would make human rights and justice for religious minorities a priority in US-India talks.” Former judge of Bombay and Karnataka high courts Michael Saldanha told HT, “Representatives of countries such as France, UK, Australia, Italy as well as the Vatican have approached us for information. These countries have then proceeded to take these matters up with the Indian government.”
 

Dachau is the largest cemetery of Catholic priests in the world. The concentration camp for priests

2015-02-02 L’Osservatore Romano

“Between 1938 and 1945 2,579 Catholic priests, seminarians and monks, together with 141 Protestant and Orthodox priests were deported to Dachau. And 1,034 died in the camp”, recalls Guillaume Zeller, the author of the book La Baraque des prêtres, Dachau, 1938-1945 (Paris, Éditions Tallandier, 2015, 384 pages, 21.90 euros). Interviewed by Guillaume Perrault of Le Figaro, the author explains that the Vatican was unable to stop them from being deported but succeeded in having them sent to Dachau, “even though they were from all over Europe: Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, France and Italy”.

Many German priests were arrested for having opposed Hitler’s euthanasia programme. While, according the reports sent by Reihard Heydrich, others, mostly Slavic priests were arrested by Einsatzgruppen in Poland in 1940, as they were considered to be dangerous elite figures. The priests in France were targeted instead for having actively participated in the Resistance. These men of the Church, continues Zeller, experienced the same suffering as their lay prison mates, however they were able to maintain “incredible dignity”, even though the Nazi soldiers continuously sought to brutalize and humiliate those interned in the camp.

For as much as Primo Levi was an atheist, he recognized the admirable moral and intellectual stature of the rabbis deported to Auschwitz. “Even if the circumstances were different”, the author continues, “the same could be said of the priests in Dachau”.

Locked in the camps, the priests forced themselves to maintain and strengthen their faith, hope and charity. Prayer, sacraments and support to the sick and dying, secret theology lessons and pastoral formation, faithfulness to the Church hierarchy allowed them to safeguard their humanity, recalling also the Church persecutions in the centuries before. One of the Nazi strategies was to turn the detainees against each other, but the majority of priests did not fall into this trap. Rather there were many stories of heroism and holiness. During the winter of 1944 and 1945, the prisoners were wiped out by a typhus epidemic. “While the SS soldiers and kaps would not enter the infected barracks, dozens of priests voluntarily entering, knowing full well of the risks they were running by tending to and consoling the dying. Many died doing this”.

The book also includes the story of the German seminarian Karl Leisner whose clandestine ordination in articulo mortis was held in a building used as chapel. Bishop Gabriel Piguet of Clermont-Ferrand, France, who performed the ordination, was a maréchaliste or a supporter of Marshal Pétain, head of the Pro-German Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944. Piguet was deported to Dachau for hiding Jews and Yad Vashem has given him the title, Righteous Among the Nations.

During the pontificates of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, “56 religious who died in the concentration camps have been beatified, after evidence emerged of their natural or Christian virtues of of an exemplary or heroic nature. And the Dachau camp remains the largest cemetery of Catholic priests in the world”. (Silvia Guidi)

SAUDI ARABIA - A forest of crosses and names of martyrs in the desert of Saudi Arabia

A Franco-Saudi archaeological team is responsible for the discovery. Prof Frédéric Imbert dated the graffiti to 470-475, a time when anti-Christian persecution began, culminating under the usurper Yusuf. Even the Qur'an refers to it indirectly. The findings show how far Christianity had spread at the time, until the arrival of Islam.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A forest of crosses engraved in the rocks of the desert of Saudi Arabia is a sign of the presence of a vibrant Christian community around the fifth century AD.

Unearthed by a Saudi-French archaeological team, the graffiti include inscriptions with a number of biblical and Christian names, perhaps those of martyrs killed during a wave of persecution in the fifth century.

L'Orient-Le Jour reported that Prof Frédéric Imbert, a professor at the University of Aix-Marseille and a member of the team, presented his findings at a conference at the American University of Beirut on the rock engravings of Jabal Kawkab ("Star Mountain"), in Najran, southern Saudi Arabia. The area is called Bi'r Hima or Abar Hima, names "that refer to places with wells known since ancient times."

According to Imbert, an epigrapher, the area is located on the route "that connected Yemen to Najran" where caravans could be resupplied in water. Inscriptions were found with crosses, scattered over a one-square kilometre. Some inscriptions appear to be in a local version of Aramaic, a pre-Islamic form of Arabic, Nabataean-Arabic to be more precise. The inscriptions have been dated to the reign of Shurihbil Yakkuf, who controlled southern Arabia in 470-475. The persecution of Christians appears to have started under his rule.

It is interesting to note that the names Marthad and Rabi were found inscribed on the crosses. Both are on the list of martyrs of Najran, in the so-called Book of Himyarites. In order to understand crosses and rock inscriptions, it is necessary to know that back in the 3rd century AD, southern Arabia was ruled by the ?imyarite dynasty, which lasted for about 150 years. In order to maintain its neutrality between the two great powers of the time, the Byzantine and Persian empires, its kings chose Judaism as their religion. However, Christianity began to spread in Arabia in the fourth century. By "the sixth century, it reached the Gulf region, Najran and the Yemen coast".

The missionary activities of Christians from Iran's Sassanid Empire and Monophysite Christians from Syria hostile to the Council of Chalcedon (on Christ's dual nature) favoured the spread of Christianity. Two Syriac bishops, probably from what is now Iraq, were consecrated in 485 and 519. Later, Yusuf (Dhu Nuwas) seized power in the Kingdom of ?imyar, ordering the massacre of Christians in Najran, an event reported in several Christian chronicles, with a reference even in the Qur'an, in Shura Al-Bur?j (The Celestial Stations).
When Christian survivors sent an appeal to Khaleb, King of Ethiopia, he organised a military expedition to rescue the persecuted. Yusuf's army was defeated and the usurper himself was killed. A Christian kingdom was established in Arabia, as an Ethiopian protectorate, until it was conquered by Islam. For Frédéric Imbert, the crosses and the inscriptions are "the oldest book of the Arabs," written "on desert stones," a "page of Arab and Christian history".
 

Obama calls for religious tolerance, respect for religious freedom in India

Catholic World News - January 29, 2015

In a visit to India, now governed by a Hindu nationalist party, President Barack Obama issued a call for greater respect for religious freedom. “We remember the wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, ‘For me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree,’” said Obama. “Branches of the same majestic tree.”

He added: Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents. It’s part of America’s very first amendment. Your Article 25 says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.” In both our countries -- in all countries -- upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it's also the responsibility of every person.

In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith. But there have been times where my faith has been questioned -- by people who don’t know me -- or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing. Around the world, we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith, but, in fact, are betraying it. No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man. And too often religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of God. … every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination. (Applause.)

The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts. And it finds its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe, and rejoice in the beauty of every soul. And nowhere is that more important than India. Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith -- so long as it's not splintered along any lines -- and is unified as one nation.
 

Bishops ask Modi to urgently intervene to save secular India

The Christians of this country need assurance from the Government that we are protected and secure and safe in our motherland.
January 22, 2015, 8:53 AM
Cardinal Cleemis opens the consultation with a prayer

Officials of the Indian bishops in a special consultation have asked Indian Prime Minister Narendara Modi to urgently intervene and stop activities that challenge nation's secular nature. They urged Modi "to urgently intervene and take appropriate action to stop incidents that pose big threat to the unity of this secular nation," said a press release from Indian Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, president of the conference, presided over the special consultation on Monday in New Delhi. Cardinals Oswald Gracias, Telesphore Toppo and George Alencherry also attended it along with CBCI Office-Bearers, representatives of Conference of Religious, laity youth and women.

The unfortunate incidents that happened in the past few months in various parts of our country have hurt the sentiments of the Christian community, said the press release referring to several cases of attacks against Christians and churches in India. Such events have "shaken the faith in the secular fabric of our nation. The shocking incidents that have taken place against Churches, clergy and laity in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have caused great concern for the Christian community," it said.

The recent controversies in the name of religious reconversions portray a negative image about India. Communal polarization and the bid to homogenize India are posing threat to all minorities – women, dalits, and all linguistic, cultural and religious minorities, it said. The reconversion programs of Hindu hardline organizations called Ghar Wapsi programmes, the saffranisation of education and culture, and the demands for a Hindu Rashtra are challenging to the secular ethos of our beloved country.

"The Christians of this country need assurance from the Government that we are protected and secure and safe in our motherland. We express our strong concern on the aforementioned issues," said the press release signed by Conference's Deputy Secretary General Fr. Joseph Chinnayyan. "Putting an end to such dangerous tendencies is inevitable for the growth and progress of our great nation," said asserting Christian recommitment "for the progress and development of our nation."
 

Persecution report highlights attacks on India's Christians

Prime Minister Narendra Modi must take action to stop persecution, critics say.

January 21, 2015

New Delhi:
At least five Christians, including an 11-year-old child, were killed and around 7,000 people experienced persecution during 2014, according to a new report that tracks persecution against Christians in India. The Christian Persecution Report, released this week by the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), states that about 300 clergymen and Christian leaders were targeted in incidents of violence around the country last year.

The report’s authors are critical of what they see as a swing toward conservatism and fundamentalism in India, a Hindu-majority country that is nevertheless wildly diverse. “Some right-wing forces have become active since the pro-Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) took over the reins of the country,” Joseph Dias, CSF’s general secretary, told ucanews.com.

The report claims that roughly 273,000 minorities had been re-converted to Hinduism in one part of northern India’s massive Uttar Pradesh state. In October, Hindu fundamentalists attacked twelve Christian villagers in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. Earlier in the year, 50 villages in the same district passed resolutions outlawing non-Hindu religious ceremonies. These alarming problems have led the report’s authors to label Chhattisgarh as India’s worst place to live as a Christian. “Such incidents prove that the right-wing forces in the country want to make India a Hindutva hub, and there is a hate campaign going on against the minorities in the country,” CSF chairman Michael Saldanha told ucanews.com.

Saldanha said the government must ensure that Christians in India are safe from attacks and persecution. Instead, the report says, persecution often goes unrecorded because victims are too afraid to complain. Samuel Jaykumar of the National Council of Churches in India said the government’s lethargy in investigating persecution claims will see the problem persist. “Incidents of persecution coming to light every now and then from across the country are very disturbing but we have to face the reality that this trend is going to continue due to the government’s inaction against the attackers,” he told ucanews.com. “Christians in the country have a sense of fear since the BJP government took over. We are not panicked but worried.”?

The CSF report appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take strong action against fundamentalism and to stop acts of persecution against the Christian community. However, Modi is seen by many religious minorities as a Hindu nationalist who has stayed silent on the issue since coming to office last year. For example, church leaders have pointed a finger at Hindu fundamentalists for a string of recent attacks on churches in Delhi, including last month’s torching of Saint Sebastian's Church, which caused significant damage. But Modi has not spoken out about the issue, despite appeals from Christian groups.

However, Hindu groups at the time said it was unfair to blame them for specific attacks, calling them “small and isolated incidents”. “We do not endorse any act of vandalism and it will not be fair to put blame on organizations or individuals if some individuals have been found involved in some incidents,” Ravinder Kapur, a BJP leader, told ucanews.com.
 

Second Priest from Zeliang community ordained in Poilwa Village - North Eastern India

 Attendees of the ordination programme for the second priest from Poilwa village and the Zeliang community.

KOHIMA, JANUARY 4 (MExN): Reverend Deacon Peuhausuiding Peter, MSFS, the second priest from Poilwa village and Zeliang tribe was ordained on January 4 by Most Rev. Dr. James Thoppil, Bishop of Kohima. “You are God’s Field, God’s building” (1Cor.3:9) is Fr. Peter’s priestly motto.

A press note informed that Deacon Peter was escorted to the venue of the Ordination by the villagers humming and singing the traditional tunes and firing of guns. Rev. Fr. Joseph MSFS, the first priest from the village and the tribe anchored the program while Rev. Fr. Kusam, the Parish Priest, accorded the words of welcome to the congregation, invited guests and dignitaries.

The bishop in his homily clearly enunciated the role of the priest as that of lifting Jesus so that Jesus may draw all people to Himself and give them eternal life. The bishop while thanking the family and village for offering their son to the service of God and the Church urged the people to support Fr. Peter though their constant prayers.

Fr. Peuhausuiding Peter MSFS is the 5th son of Lt. Heurangswang Hillary and Peugwapoilie of Poilwa village. He completed his schooling at All Saints Hr. Sec. School, Peren and did his Hr. Sec. School at SFS, Medziphema. He finished his Novitiate at Chabua, Assam and his Philosophical and Graduation at Suvidya College, Bangalore. He completed his Theological studies at Oriens Theological College, Shillong. He was ordained as deacon by His Grace Dominic Jala, Archbishop of Shillong.

The newly ordained priest gave his first priestly blessing to the people after the Holy Mass and thanked everyone present for this great event in his life.
 

Catholic population up 15 million worldwide

Woman praying at Catholic church in Myanmar. - AFP

(Vatican Radio- 31.12.2014)  The number of Catholics in the world has increased with growth registered across all five continents. The figures are taken by the Fides news agency from the latest edition of the Church’s Book of Statistics updated to 31 December 2012. These show that on that date the number of Catholics in the world stood at 1,228,621,000 with an overall increase of more than 15,000,000 compared to the previous year. The Americas and Africa registered the biggest increases followed by Asia, Europe and Oceania. The world percentage of Catholics stood at 17.49 %, a decrease of 0.01% compared to the end of 2011.

The total number of priests in the world increased by 895 to 414,313.  Europe once again registered the largest decrease (-1,375) followed by the Americas (-90) and Oceania (-80). In Africa the number of priests grew by 1,076 and in Asia by 1,364.

There was an overall decrease in the number of women religious worldwide, whose numbers dropped by 10,677 to 702,529. Once again Africa and Asia showed increases whilst Europe and the Americas showed the biggest decrease in the number of women religious.

The number of lay missionaries in the world is 362,488 with an overall decrease of 19,234. In the field of education, the Catholic Church runs 71,188 kindergartens, 95,246 primary schools and 43,783 secondary schools. Charity and healthcare centres in the world run by the Church are 115,352.
 

First new church in a century to be built in Turkey

Francis met Syriac Christians during his recent visit to Turkey (CNS)

Turkish government gives go-ahead to Syriac church in Istanbul, Turkey’s government has given the go ahead for the building of the first new church in the country for nearly a century.

The Syriac Orthodox church will be built in Ye?ilköy on the outskirts of Istanbul, in an area which already has Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches. The announcement was made last Friday, after Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu met Turkey’s religious leaders. He told Turkish media: “It is the first [new church] since the creation of the republic [in 1923]. Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now.”

Turkey’s ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been accused of Islamising the country, with the country’s 100,000 strong Christian minority talking of an increasingly intolerant atmosphere. However the party are in some ways more tolerant to Christianity than Turkish republicans who tend to be hostile to all religious expression.

Before the outbreak of the First World War Turkey had a big Christian population and Constantinople a Christian majority, but large numbers of Armenians, Greeks and Syriac Christians were murdered or driven out in the conflict. Since then the surviving Christians have faced discrimination. But last Friday the prime minister insisted that AKP “does not discriminate between our citizens… the principle of equal citizenship continues to be our characteristic trait”.

The country’s 20,000 Syriac population, mostly in the south-east of the country, has now been swollen by large numbers of refugees fleeing from Syria and Iraq. The $1.5m cost of the new Virgin Mary Church is being met by the Syriac community.
 

Millions of Indian Christians Forced to Choose Between Faith and Government Benefits for 'Untouchables'

BY STOYAN ZAIMOV , CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
December 29, 2014|9:13 am

India
(PHOTO: REUTERS/AMIT DAVE) A member of India's lowest caste "Dalits" shouts slogans as he is detained by police during a demonstration in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, April 27, 2014. Dozens of the Dalits on Sunday held a protest outside the venue of a yoga camp in the city demanding action against Indian yoga guru Baba Ramdev for his recent remarks that Dalits said were disrespectful.

Millions of Christians in India from the lowest caste system, known as "dalit," are being forced to choose between their faith and receiving government benefits available only to "untouchables," a report has said. The International Christian Concern noted on Sunday that there are close to 25 million Dalits across India who've converted to Christianity, but now must make the choice between maintaining their faith or benefiting from a government program that only helps them if they identify with their Hindu background. "This choice has significantly affected the constitutional right India's citizens have to freely choose a religion for themselves," the ICC reported. "It also has left millions of Dalits to have to decide between choosing to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior and receiving government benefits that have the ability to take their families out of poverty. All added up, this discrimination has affected the official appearance of India's religious landscape."

The government benefits program in question concerned the Scheduled Caste Order of 1950, which is a way of determining who can receive government benefits and who cannot. Dalits, also referred to as "untouchables," make up India's lowest caste. Rev. Madhu Chandra Singh, an elder from a Baptist church, explained that although the Indian Supreme Court denies the situation, Christians from the Dalit caste suffer oppression both before and after their conversion. "After their conversion, Dalit Christians begin to suffer religious persecution from religious fanatics but also a denial of Scheduled Caste benefits because of the Schedule Caste Order of 1950, which I term a double discrimination of Dalit Christians," Singh said.

Several Christian Indians speak out in the report, noting that the government is forcing them to "lie" about who they are in order to receive the much needed benefits. Franklin Caesar, a Christian rights activists, added: "This system is against the fundamental rights provided to all India's citizens in the Constitution. The Presidential Order of 1950 has destroyed fundamental and constitutional rights of Dalits from Christian and Muslim backgrounds; the benefits must be delink from religion." The report noted that it is rumored that many millions more Dalits privately consider themselves Christians, but do not identify publicly as such, in fear of losing the government benefits.

Christians from various backgrounds face discrimination because of their faith in India. Earlier in December, a group of 30 Hindu radicals attacked a Christian pastor and 15 of his flock that had been singing Christmas carols in the city of Hyderabad. The attack left the pastor and four other Christians several injured, and was reportedly carried out because the radicals believed the Christians were attempting to forcefully convert people.


 

India (PHOTO: REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI)
 

A woman holds her child as she stands outside her house at Dalit village of Bhaddi Kheda in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, January 15, 2012. Although she presides over one of the most poverty-plagued states of India -- its per-capita income is just above 50 percent of the national average -- Kumari Mayawati's extraordinary personal extravagance preserves a tradition set over the centuries by a succession of rulers in the plains of the river Ganges
.
 

Middle Eastern Christians: Battered, Violated, and Abused, Do They Have Any Chance of Survival?

 Justus Reid Weiner,
http://jcpa.org/article/middle-eastern-christians-battered/

Introduction

Throughout the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, Christians are facing pervasive and systematic persecution that is steadily increasing in its intensity and scope. A century ago, Christians represented some 20 percent of the population of the Middle East; today, that figure is estimated at 4 percent.  One leading academic authority in London has estimated that between one-half and two-thirds of Middle Eastern Christians have either been killed or left the area over the last century.  Reviewing a report on this trend, the Daily Telegraph led with the title: “Christianity ‘close to extinction’ in the Middle East.”

Pope Francis is expected to arrive in the Middle East this May, a region, he said, where Christians are “unjustly accused and are subjected to every type of violence.” Prince Charles recently expressed similar sentiments, saying, “It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants.”

In Muslim states throughout the Middle East the effects of this persecution are demonstrated by the drastically declining Christian population. While such censuses are by nature inexact, the rough picture they provide is extremely valuable in understanding the true magnitude of this phenomenon.

A century ago Christians represented some 20 percent of the population of the Middle East, today that figure is estimated at 4 percent.
To gain perspective on all this demographic data, it is useful to recall that even after the Arab conquests of the Middle East in the 7th century, the majority of the population in most cases was still Christian. Yet the number of Christians steadily declined over the centuries that followed.

In 1927, Egypt’s Christian population was 8.3 percent of the general population; by 2011, it was down to 5.3 percent. Similarly, Syria’s Christian population was found to be 9.7 percent of the population in 1970;  today, contesting reports find it to be somewhere between 4.4 to 10.2 percent. A similar trend is seen in Iraq, too, where the Christian population has dropped from 3.7 percent in 1970  to varying reports of 0.9 to 2.5 percent today.  According to another calculation, there were between 1.2 and 1.4 million Christians in Iraq in 1990. Today there are fewer than 200,000.  Iranian Christians have also suffered from this trend with the population declining from 0.9 percent in 1970  to 0.35 percent today.

As Pope Francis recently stated, the injustice of this persecution is compounded by the fact that it is occurring in states where “on paper, freedom and human rights are protected.”  This author has spoken at length regarding the great peril Christian life in the Middle East finds itself in. To that end, he has visited with top Congressmen, including then-Senators Santorum and Brownback; he has testified at congressional hearings attended by a wide range of public officials; met with Vice President Cheney’s national security staff in the West Wing of the White House; consulted and lectured at the State Department; and spoken at think tanks such as the Hudson Institute.

If these warnings are not heeded, and these states continue to violate the basic human rights obligations incumbent upon them, Christian life may cease to exist in the very place of its birth. This danger was recently voiced by British cabinet minister and Muslim, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who stated:

Across the world, people are being singled out and hounded out simply for the faith they hold….[Middle Eastern Christians] are rooted in their societies, adopting and even shaping local customs. Yet…[a] mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.
If these warnings are not heeded, and these states continue to violate the basic human rights obligations incumbent upon them, Christian life may cease to exist in the very place of its birth.


RECENT PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS THROUGHOUT THE MUSLIM WORLD

Egypt

•In October 2013, four Coptic Christians, including young girls of 8 years-old and 12 years-old, were killed, and 24 were injured when gunmen fired on a wedding party in front of the Church of the Virgin Mary near Cairo. Among those killed was eight year-old Mariam Ashraf. Ashraf’s three year-old brother and mother were also shot. Her father stated, “Nobody comes out to tell you honestly: ‘We have arrested the culprit and they are being subjected to the law.’ There is nothing like that.” Eyewitnesses of the attack stated that despite numerous calls for help, ambulances and police only arrived two hours following the shooting.

Egyptian Copts carry four coffins down the aisle of the Virgin Mary Coptic church, on October 21, 2013, as thousands attend the funeral of the victims, gunned down as they attended a wedding the previous evening at the same church.

 •In March 2010, an Egyptian court acquitted four Muslims in the killing and beheading of 61 year-old Farouk Attallah. Attallah was killed after the assailants shot him 31 times before beheading him in a busy market place. The court based its verdict on the testimony of false witnesses, exculpating the killers while refusing to accept the testimony of key witnesses of the attack. Peter Sarwat, the victim’s attorney, described the verdict, stating, “It sends a clear message that Coptic blood is extremely cheap…. This acquittal will make permanent the present culture of impunity enjoyed by Muslim aggressors against Copts.” He continued, “It is not safe for Copts now, as any Muslims who wants to get rid of a Copt, would kill him, knowing well that in the end he will be acquitted.” Sarwat further described how police often purposely prepare inadequate police reports in order to facilitate the acquittal of Muslims.
•Christians in the Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt have been the subject of countless kidnappings. An official in the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior stated that there had been 17 kidnappings in August and September. Ezat Ibrahim, director of the Minya branch of the Al-Kalema Human Rights Organization,  reported that in November 2013 alone there were 9 cases of kidnappings. One report found that since the start of the revolution in 2011, there had been close to 100 kidnapping cases. In each of the cases, the Christian families were forced to pay 100,000 to 250,000 Egyptian pounds ($14,500 to $36,300 USD) in ransom.
•In one case of kidnapping, in June 2013, a six year-old Copt, Cyril Yusuf Sa’ad, was abducted and held for ransom. Despite his family paying the ransom, the Muslim kidnapper, Ahmed Abdel Moneim Abdel-Salam, killed the boy and threw his body in the sewer.
•A Human Rights group has reported that in 2013 alone, 207 churches have been attacked and 43 churches completely destroyed.

Christian farmer Ishaq Aziz cradles a picture of his 17 year-old daughter Nirmeen, a school girl, who went missing in February 2013, in the Minya town of Matai, Egypt.

 •15,000 Christians in the village of Dalga have been forced to pay the jizya, an additional tax or tribute imposed on conquered non-Muslims. Those unable to pay are often beaten or killed. In one such case, Emad Damian, 50, and Medhat Damian, 37, were murdered after refusing to pay 10,000 Egyptian Pounds demanded by the leader of a Muslim gang.  The two Copts had reported the incident to the local police; however, nothing was done. Ahmed Fawzi, secretary of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, described the case, stating, “the gang surprised the two Copts by going to their home in the morning and showering them with bullets, leaving both dead.…[T]he police know who the killers are but are doing nothing to arrest them.”

•Arguably the most telling aspect of this persecution is that this past August, for the first time in 1,600 years, prayers were not held in the Virgin Mary and Priest Ibram Monastery, which was destroyed by supporters of deposed President Morsi. That same month, Coptic Bishop Anba stated in the UK that “over the past weeks we have witnessed an increasing trend in anti-Christian rhetoric calling for the ‘attack upon and eradication of Christians and churches’ in Egypt.” The Coptic Pope Tawadros II also accused the Muslim Brotherhood of fomenting the anti-Christian violence.

In 2013 alone, 207 churches have been attacked and 43 churches completely destroyed. An official in the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior stated that there had been 17 kidnappings in August and September.
Syria

•As of December 2013, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, 450,000 Syrian Christians have fled their homes and 1,200 murders of Christians have been documented.

•In October 2013 in the town of Saddad, 45 Christians were killed and the town’s 14 churches were destroyed.  Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, described these events as “the greatest massacre of Christians in Syria.”

•On January 8, 2014, Fadi Matanius Mattah was beheaded by Islamic militants while travelling from Homs to the Christian village of Marmarita. The militants intercepted and fired on the car he was traveling in along with another Christian, Firas Nader. Mattah was beheaded after the militants noticed the cross he was wearing. Nader, who was wounded in the attack, succeeded in escaping after the militants believed he had been killed.

•The Antiochian Orthodox church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in al-Thawra was destroyed by rebel forces in August 2013. One refugee stated:

The ‘Free Syrian Army’ demolished the [Sts. Sergius and Bacchus] church.…[T]hey tore up the sanctuary curtains, Bibles and other holy books, and broke all the crosses, chairs and icons of Jesus and the saints. They stole electrical appliances like fans, chandeliers and lights. They took whatever was in the church, and sold it all. There is nothing there now.
•In December 2013, 12 nuns from the village of Maaloula were abducted and taken to a rebel-held town.
 

•In January 2014, it was reported that an Armenian Christian was killed by the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant after refusing to convert to Islam. The man and his father were reportedly held for 115 days in a prison maintained by the group in Aleppo.

•In June 2013, Mariam, a 15 year-old Christian, was kidnapped, repeatedly gang raped, and then killed.56  Mariam was abducted by a commander in the Jabhat al Nusra, who married, raped her, and then passed her on to another man who did the same. This took place over the course of 15 days, during which Mariam was raped by 15 different men.

As of December 2013, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, 450,000 Syrian Christians have fled their homes and 1,200 murders of Christians have been documented.
•In January 2014, it was reported that a group of rebel forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) imposed strict Sharia law in the northern province of Raqqa. Among others, the directives include that women must wear the niqab full face veil and all men must attend Friday prayers at a mosque.  A directive also stated that Christians must not make renovations to churches or display crosses or any religious symbols outside of churches.

Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Once a vibrant, mixed city, Raqqa is now a shell of its former life, transformed by al-Qaida militants into the nucleus of the terror group’s version of an Islamic caliphate they hope one day to establish in Syria and Iraq.

 • After rebels attacked the town of Maalula on September 4, 2013, Adnan Narallah, , described the scene. “I saw people wearing Al-Nusra headbands who started shooting at crosses.…[O]ne of the shooters put a pistol to the head of my neighbor and forced him to convert to Islam by obliging him to repeat ‘there is no God but God’….Afterwards they joked, he’s one of ours now.”

•Another Maalula resident, Rasha, described how rebel forces murdered her fiancé. “I rang his mobile phone and one of them answered,” she said. She described how the man who answered told her that her fiancé was asked to convert to Islam but refused. The rebel added, “Jesus didn’t come to save him.”

•In al-Thawrah, three residents were stopped by rebel forces. The two who were Muslim were released; the third, who was a Christian, was bludgeoned to death.

•In September 2013, the al-Qaeda linked group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, broke the crosses of the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of Martyrs in the city of Raqqah before setting fire to the contents of both churches.

•This troubling situation in Syria was recently summed up by Rima Tuzun of the European Syriac Union. While speaking to Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom, Tuzun stated, “[K]idnapping, killings, ransom, rape…2013 is a tragedy for Christians in Syria. All Syrians have endured great suffering and distress. The Christians, however, often had to pay with their lives for their faith.”

Iraq
 

•On Christmas Day 2013, 37 people were murdered in attacks on Christians.

•In March 2013, it was reported that over the course of only one decade, the number of churches in Iraq has dropped from over 300 to only 57 today.

•According to one Iraqi pastor, Christians have ceased observing basic Christian traditions such as putting up a Christmas tree, due to fear of persecution.

In this mobile phone camera image obtained by the Associated Press, the interior of the Our Lady of Salvation church is seen after gunmen took the congregation hostage on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010.

•In October 2010, 51 worshipers and 7 Iraqi troops were killed after gunmen from an al-Qaeda affiliated group attacked and laid siege to Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad. Among the 51 worshipers killed were five children and eight women. After these events, one church member commented, “We are the minority. We cannot defend ourselves. We cannot stay in this country anymore.”

•Iraqi Christians, too, have not been immune from the imposition of the jizya tax. Mofed, the owner of a photo shop in Baghdad, was threatened by Muslims who came into his shop and presented him with three options: convert to Islam, pay a $70,000 tax, or be killed. Mofed and his family have fled to Jordan.

•In a similar case, Androus, a Christian from the town of Mosul, described a similar threat he received by phone. He described being told “Because you are infidels, you have to pay jizya.…[E]ither you pay jizya, or we will kill you or your son.”

•On May 30, 2011, Arkan Juhad Yacob, a 63 year-old Christian, was shot dead in cold blood.76 Yacob previously escaped from two unsuccessful ransom abductions.

•On June 25, 2013, gunmen attacked St. Marry’s Assyrian Chruch in Baghdad, wounding two Christian guards.

•Also on June 25, 2013, two Christian owned businesses were bombed, killing one of the Christian shop owners.

•On August 2, 2011, 23 people were wounded when a car bomb exploded outside of the Holy Family Church in Kirkuk.

Over the course of only one decade, the number of churches in Iraq has dropped from over 300 to only 57 today.


Pakistan

•78 people were killed and over 100 were injured in the bombing of the All Saints Church in Peshewar in September 2013.

Pakistani Rukhsana Saleem, 38, who survived the bombing of the All Saints Church, prays at the church where the attack took place, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013.

•Following the attack, four blasphemy cases were filed against Christians in less than one month. In all four cases, no direct evidence against the accused was available. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws disproportionately protect Islam over other religions and have historically been used to persecute Christians and other non-Muslims. The laws prescribe a punishment of life imprisonment or death in certain instances.

•In October 2013, an illiterate vendor was beaten by a group of Muslims after it was discovered that fireworks he was selling were wrapped in pages that had verses of the Quran written on them. A blasphemy case has been filed against him. Khurram Shazhad, who filed the case, stated, “The police have also told us that they have put his name on the exit control list at all airports, and he will not be able to leave Pakistan….[H]is punishment will be an example to all those who dare insult Islam and our holy book.”

•In March 2013, a mob set fire to over 100 homes in a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, displacing over 150 families. The attack took place after Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy following an altercation with a Muslim barber who refused to serve him. One resident stated, “They threw acid and stoned our houses, then set them on fire. The authorities intervened only when everything was destroyed.” The local imam said Sawan will be killed when found. Other Christian residents described how prior to the attack, police instructed them “to vacate the area for their ‘security’ and not to worry about their properties.” Three months after the attack, hundreds of those detained during the violence have been released. Naeem Shakir, a Christian lawyer stated, “Most of the people who were stopped after the attack were declared innocent by the police and immediately released, for corruption or political pressure.”

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws disproportionately protect Islam over other religions and have historically been used to persecute Christians and other non-Muslims


•In a similar case, a violent mob attacked the Christian village of Francis Abad in the city of Gujranwala.  The attack ensued following a violent altercation between the Christian and Muslim communities that resulted from a conflict between Christian youth and Muslim clerics who accused the Christians of playing loud music outside of a mosque.

Iran

•On October 16, 2013, four Christians were sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine after being charged with consuming alcohol in violation of Iran’s anti-alcohol law.

•After being arrested in February 2012 in a raid on their house-church, four Christians, Mojtaba Seyyed-Alaedin Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei, Vahid Hakkani, and Homayoun Shokouhi, were sentenced to 44 months in prison for “attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime, and disrupting national security.” Homayoun Shokouhi’s wife, Fariba Nazemina, and son, Nima Shokouh, also received two-year suspended prison sentences.
 

HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS

It should be noted that Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan are all parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 18 of the Covenant provides that, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." This also encompasses the right to manifest one’s “religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching” in public or in private. The respect of freedom of religion is of such utmost importance, according to the Covenant, that it may not be derogated from under any circumstances, even in times of emergency as is allowed for other protected rights.

Moreover, parties to the Covenant must ensure that anyone whose rights or freedoms are violated shall have an effective remedy. Additionally, Article 26 provides that the law must “guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as…religion." Furthermore, in regard to Pakistan and its blasphemy laws, Article 6 prescribes that in states that have not yet abolished the death penalty, “sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes."

Lastly, in addition to individual rights and freedoms, as a minority Christians are entitled to protections on the communal level as well. Article 27 says, “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language."

Consequently, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan are all obligated to prevent such acts as described above.  With regard to Syria, it should be noted that although most of the acts above were committed by rebel forces, Syria may still be held liable for these actions in a number of circumstances.

In addition to the obligations of these states to themselves prevent and protect their citizens from persecution, the United States is also empowered and committed to help combat such persecution abroad. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 commits the United States “[t]o condemn violations of religious freedom, and to promote, and to assist other governments in the promotion of, the fundamental right to freedom of religion." To that end, the statute provides that the President may impose various sanctions on States in response to violations of religious freedoms.

Two levels of violations may trigger the use of sanctions. The first, “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” includes “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment [or] prolonged detention without charges…or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons."  The second, “violations of religious freedom,” refers to “violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion and religious belief and practice” as recognized in such instruments as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It includes actions such as “arbitrary prohibitions on, restrictions of, or punishment for assembling for peaceful religious activities such as worship, preaching and prayer; speaking freely about one’s religious beliefs; and changing one’s religious beliefs and affiliation."

The sanctions include, inter alia, public condemnation; “directing the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or the Trade and Development Agency not to approve the issuance of any…guarantees, insurance, extensions of credit, or participations in the extension of credit with respect to the specific government, agency, instrumentality, or official” responsible for violations; and the cancellation of working, official, or state visits.

In order to emphasize the seriousness of the acts of persecution described above, it should be noted that the Rome Statute of the ICC provides that when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, persecution against an identifiable group on religious grounds in connection to acts such as murder and imprisonment constitutes a crime against humanity.

PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS: A CASE STUDY

Palestinian Deception and Lip Service to Human Rights

With regard to Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas and the Christian community would have you believe that they are immune from this disturbing trend of persecution. At a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in December 2013 in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah stated, “Palestine has preserved the values of peace and tolerance by celebrating Christmas for centuries."

Similarly, Vera Baboun, a Christian and the first female mayor of Bethlehem, commented in a letter in honor of the holiday season that “this is the Bethlehem we also share with the world. A Bethlehem that is a model of natural coexistence between Christians and Muslims, an example for the rest of the region." However, the utopian society described by the mayor does not even hold up to inspection of the mayor’s own experiences. Baboun has been the subject of a smear campaign claiming that she had discriminated against Muslims.  Additionally, threats have been made against her and her family. Following these events, Baboun filed a complaint with the PA that was subsequently withdrawn following the intimidation of Fatah’s armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas recently stated:

Christians are not a minority here: they are an integral part of the Palestinian people. Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians, Assyrians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Copts, Melkites, Protestants and others are all part of the rich mosaic of this free, sovereign, democratic and pluralistic Palestine we aspire to have and as established in our declaration of independence and draft constitution.
Abbas’ invocation of the Palestinian Draft Constitution in support of the Palestinians purported commitment to human rights is rather peculiar considering that Article 7 of the Constitution provides that “The principles of the Islamic shari`a are a main source for legislation."

Yasser Arafat also made similar statements. In 1996, he claimed his people “have decided to celebrate with the Christian brothers, all Arabs and all friends in the world the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ in a world religious celebration." It should be remembered that this is the same Arafat who promptly after the PA gained control of Bethlehem converted the Greek Monastery next to the Church of the Nativity into his official residence and drastically altered the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem in order to marginalize the city’s Christian residents.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, is welcomed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, at the Church of Nativity on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013.

Religious leaders echoed similar sentiments. The Bishop Alexius of the Roman Orthodox Church in Gaza praised the Hamas government, stating, “Hamas and its government are keen to maintain the security of the Church and the Gaza Strip [where]…our people experience a general sense of safety, even better than before.…The Palestinian government in Gaza has confirmed that it does not discriminate against Christians in the Gaza Strip on a religious basis." Hamas media adviser, Taher Al-Nunu, similarly noted, “The Christians in Gaza are living in safety just like their Muslims brothers."

When one compares these statements to the reality of the everyday life of Palestinian Christians, the persistence of the long-established pervasive persecution of Palestinian Christians quickly becomes apparent.


The Reality of Christian Life under the PA and Hamas Leadership

When one compares these statements to the reality of the everyday life of Palestinian Christians, the  persistent and pervasive persecution of Palestinian Christians quickly becomes apparent. While rarely attracting media attention, this persecution has been documented since the early day of Palestinian self-administration in the 1990s. Sadly, numerous recent examples of such persecution can be seen.

•In July 2013, it was reported that the St. Lazarus Monastery in Bethany (al-Eizariya) had been the subject of attacks including theft and stone throwing. The attacks stemmed from a dispute with a local Muslim family that asserted ownership of Monastery land. The monastery’s Mother Superior has appealed directly to PA President Abbas, clearly demonstrating that the chance of obtaining legal recompense were next to nothing.

•In December 2013, Christian residents of Bethlehem spoke of the hostile environment they are forced to live in. One Christian told of how her friend was forced to flee Bethlehem after being accused of selling her land to Jews. The Palestinian Land Law prescribes the death penalty for the crime of selling land to Jews. This prohibition is regarded as applying to the selling of land to Christians as well and is applied and enforced in that manner. Ramzi, a Christian, described how he was threatened with death if he sold his land to Christians.  Pastor Isa Bajalia, an evangelical pastor, described a similar case where two men, one a member of the Tanzin militia group, attempted to extort him in exchange for his land. He stated, “It’s like the mafia.…He says if I pay him $30,000 and assign the land over to him, he’ll get off my back." Pastor Bajalia has been forced to flee to the United States.  As will be described below, this incident is in clear violation of the Palestinian Authority’s legal obligations. Article 17 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights protects “everyone’s right to own property." Additionally, as with similar Pakistani laws, this PA law violates Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which limits the use of the death penalty to the most “serious crimes."

•In April 2013, arsonists set fire to the Christian Holy Family School in Gaza. A couple months later in June, in a further case of the imposition of extremist Islamic ideology, five Christian schools in Gaza were faced with closure following a government order forbidding mixed gender institutions. While the order applies to all schools, the five Christian schools are the only coed schools in Gaza.

•In July 2012, a Jericho court sentenced a man to a month of imprisonment for eating in public during Ramadan. Five other people were also arrested for the same conduct. On a related note, Sheikh Yusuf Ida’is, Chairman of the PA Supreme Court for Shari’ah Law, stated “[W]e have to monitor the streets and severely punish anyone who [eats] in public during Ramadan, and this is the responsibility of the security forces.…I call upon others [non-Muslims] to be considerate of Muslims’ feelings." One should take note of the Sheik’s use of the word “considerate.” One would think that as Christians represent a miniscule minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim environment, that Muslims should be the ones being “considerate” to the vulnerable minority among them.

•In June 2012, a young girl reciting a poem on a children’s program broadcasted on official Palestinian Authority TV,  stated, “They [Christians and Jews] are inferior and smaller, more cowardly and despised.”1

•In 2006, Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunmen set fire to the YMCA headquarters in the Hamas-controlled city of Qalqiliya. One source in the city commented: “The identity of the attackers is well known to Hamas. We don’t expect the Hamas-controlled police, the Hamas city council or the Hamas Interior Ministry to do anything about this attack."

•In February 2008, gunmen attacked the YMCA library in the Gaza Strip. The gunmen first kidnapped two of the library’s guards and then proceeded to detonate a number of explosives. The attack, which destroyed the library, was reportedly in response to the publication of Danish cartoons “ridiculing” the Prophet Mohammed.
Palestinians examine the damage to the library of the YMCA in Gaza City, Friday, Feb. 15, 2008.

•In May 2013, Steve Khoury, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, told of the continuous harassment Christians have faced and the subsequent fear that has lead Christians to refrain from wearing crosses in public and carrying Bibles. Khoury further described the general sense of intimidation felt by Christians in Palestinian society, stating, “People are always telling them, ‘Convert to Islam. Convert to Islam. It’s the true and right religion." The First Baptist Church of Bethlehem has been firebombed 14 times.

•In October 2007, Rami Ayad, a Christian and owner of a Gaza book-store, was abducted and murdered, after having been publicly accused of missionary activities.

•In July 2012 according to the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza, five Christians were kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. One of those Christians, Ramez Al-Amash, was allegedly kidnapped from his home and prevented from contacting family. An Islamic group released a video of Al-Amash declaring that he had converted voluntarily. After Al-Amash’s mother had fallen ill, his family succeeded in contacting the kidnappers and arranging a meeting at the hospital. Al-Amash was accompanied by gunmen to the meeting and was then taken to an unknown location. Al-Amash’s parents lodged a complaint with the Hamas police to no avail. In a press release, the Greek Orthodox Church claimed that the police refused to intervene due to the involvement of an Islamic religious leader and Hamas representative of the Palestinian parliament, Salam Salameh, in the events. Local Christians have accused the organization that Salameh chairs, the Hamas affiliated Palestine Scholars Association, as being responsible for the conversions. Following these events, Josef Elias, a Christian from Gaza City, stated, “We aren’t safe anymore.…This is a conspiracy against our existence in the Holy Land."

•Samir Qumsieh, a Christian community leader from Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, spoke in December 2013 of the discrimination the Christian community faces. He provided a subtle example that is reflective of the extensive persecution of Christians. Qumsieh presented several souvenirs sold around Manger Square in Bethlehem, such as a FC Barcelona soccer ball and a t-shirt showing the Church of Nativity. The crosses that normally appear on both items were removed. This is not a new phenomenon, as Qumsieh spoke of the removal of the cross from souvenirs already in 2010.

In this July 16, 2012, photo, a Palestinian Christian holds a poster of Ramez Al-Amash, 25, during a rally at a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City.

•In a 2007 interview, Qumsieh described how Christians often “have their land stolen by the [Muslim] mafia." He described how Muslim gangs forge documents attesting to their ownership of Christian owned land. When Christian owners resist, they are often beaten. Qumsieh’s own home was firebombed after publicly speaking about the Christian community’s suffering.

•In December 2013, the owner of a religious novelty store described the regular defacement of Christian property. He stated, “We are harassed, but you wouldn’t know the truth. No one says anything publicly about the Muslims. This is why Christians are running away."

It should be noted that while the examples above may not be as alarming as the experiences of Christians in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt, they are reflective of the greater prevailing atmosphere of persecution experienced by Palestinian Christians at the hands of their own leadership.

Christian Denial and Self-Blame

Perhaps the most saddening aspect of this persecution is the denial of it by Christian leaders and their disconnect from the members of their community. Qumsieh referred to Palestinian leaders as cowards more interested in the Palestinian cause against Israel than their community’s own issues. He stated, “If somebody claims that there is no discrimination, he is a liar.” He added, “[The mayor of Bethlehem] said everything is okay. Of course. In her position she can’t say anything else." On another occasion, Qumsieh stated, “The future of Christianity here is gloomy and anyone claiming otherwise is wrong….Extremism is expanding and we, the Christians, are the weakest link in the chain." A Palestinian journalist, Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar, similarly noted “Let us be honest with ourselves and courageously say out loud that Palestinian Christians are taking many severe blows, yet are suffering in silence so as not to attract attention."  He added, “Despite all the injustices [against the Christians], no one has seen or heard of any constructive action to curb it and to [defend] the Christians’ rights – whether by the elites, by any of the three branches (executive, legislative, and judiciary), by non-government organizations, or even by the political factions themselves."

In addition to denying and ignoring the plight of their own people, many Christian leaders go one step further in placing the blame for Christian persecution onto Israel. While speaking during his annual “Christmas message,” the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Foud Twal, used the opportunity to point the finger at Israel for Christian suffering. The Patriarch stated, “The scenarios in Syria and Iraq can be repeated elsewhere, as seen in Egypt and Libya. The instability affects everyone, but especially our faithful who are tempted to emigrate." The Patriarch continued, stating, “the Israeli-Palestinian talks resumed in late July, after three years of interruption. But the efforts are hampered by the continuous building of Israeli settlements. As long as this problem is not resolved, the people of our region will suffer.

Similar sentiments were expressed in literature published in honor of Christmas by the UK-based Amos Trust, which stated:

If Jesus was born today in Bethlehem, the Wise Men would spend several hours queuing to enter the town.…The shepherds, despite being residents of Bethlehem, would struggle to graze their sheep because their land would be annexed by the building of the separation wall [Israeli security fence], and a lack of freedom to travel and restrictions on trade would make it very difficult for them to make a living.


The Palestinian Authority’s Human Rights Obligations

Article 18 of the PA Draft Constitution provides that “The state of Palestine shall abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and shall seek to join other international covenants and charters that safeguard human rights." Article 2 of the Declaration states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as…religion." Furthermore, Article 7 states, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law…and against any incitement to such discrimination." In addition to prohibiting incitement, this Article serves to extend the protection of the Declaration to discrimination of any kind, even that regarding rights and freedoms that are absent from the Declaration. Article 17 states that “everyone has the right to own property."

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."  The PA is also obligated to protect fundamental human rights under the 2003 Palestinian Basic Law, which serves as the PA’s interim constitutional document. Article 10 of the Basic Law provides that “Basic human rights and liberties shall be protected and respected” and that “The Palestinian National Authority shall work without delay to become a party to regional and international declarations and covenants that protect human rights." More explicitly, Article 8 of the previous 1995 Basic Law, states that the PA “recognizes and respects the fundamental human rights and freedoms prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [and] the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

Article 18 of the PA Draft Constitution provides that “The state of Palestine shall abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and shall seek to join other international covenants and charters that safeguard human rights.”
An additional source of the PA’s Human Rights obligations is found in the Barcelona Declaration, to which the PA is a party. The Declaration provides that members undertake to act in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and guarantee the effective legitimate exercise of such rights and freedoms." Further sources can also be found in various declarations and agreements that the PA has signed with Israel.

While the PA is not a sovereign state and consequently a party to the above treaties, it would be highly indisposed to on the one hand assume the responsibilities of governance while on the other hand look for a way out of complying with the law, which it purportedly adopted. If territorial non-state actors, such as the PA, are to “claim a right to become states by virtue of the right to self-determination, they cannot in good faith reject the applicability of norms that attach to statehood." Moreover, international tribunals have recognized that unilateral declarations “may have the effect of creating legal obligations."  However, as it may be questioned whether non-state actors are capable of binding themselves under international human rights law, at the least, such unilateral undertakings may serve to stop the PA from denying its human rights obligations in certain circumstances.

The PA’s human rights obligations have also been recognized by the UN Human Rights Council, which has stated that the PA has “declared their commitment to respect international human rights law” and is “bound to respect international human rights standards." Moreover, the Human Rights Council has stated in regard to the PA that “it is clear that non-State actors that exercise government-like functions over a territory have a duty to respect human rights." It should be noted that some have argued that such a rule has not yet attained the status of customary international law.

The PA’s human rights obligations have also been recognized by the UN Human Rights Council, which has stated that the PA has “declared their commitment to respect international human rights law” and is “bound to respect international human rights.
Hamas’ Human Rights Obligations

Hamas has also bound itself to abide by international human rights standards. In July 2009, Hamas formally stated to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (Goldstone Report) that “they accepted the obligation to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Palestinian Basic Law." Similarly, in the text of its 2007 National Unity Government program, Hamas committed to “respect…public liberties; to strengthen the establishment of democracy; to protect human rights…insofar as they conform with our character, customs and original traditions." Lastly, in a speech given in 2006, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya stated that Hamas is determined “to promote…the respect for human rights, the equality among citizens; to fight all forms of discrimination; to protect public liberties, including the freedom of the press and opinion."

Additionally, the UN Human Rights Council has also recognized that “the Gaza authorities have an obligation to respect and enforce the protection of the human rights of the people of Gaza, in as much as they exercise effective control over the territory, including law enforcement and the administration of justice.”196 However, one should take note that the Human Rights Council made this determination on the basis of the language of a previous Human Rights Council Report that appears to have been intended as matter of lex ferenda that does not seem to reflect customary law.

Hamas has also bound itself to abide by international human rights standards. In July 2009, Hamas formally stated to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (Goldstone Report) that “they accepted the obligation to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Palestinian Basic Law.”
CONCLUSION

Muslim states such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan are obligated to protect the basic rights and freedoms of their Christians citizens. They have clearly failed to live up to the liberal values they have assumed upon themselves.

To contrast the treatment of the freedom of religion in those States described above, it should be noted that Israel, as a democracy with an independent and competent judiciary, has from its inception protected the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens.Thus, while not explicitly enumerated in the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, a document of constitutional status, Israeli courts have recognized the freedom of religion as an inalienable and fundamental right of all citizens.199 The true realization of these values is demonstrated by the fact that a Christian Arab, Justice Salim Joubran, serves on the Israeli Supreme Court.

Muslim states such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan are obligated to protect the basic rights and freedoms of their Christians citizens. They have clearly failed to live up to the liberal values they have assumed upon themselves.
The Christians of the Middle East are suffering from debilitating persecution. The Muslim states described above have neglected and abused the most fundamental rights and freedoms of their most vulnerable citizens. In doing so, they have not only violated the very legal obligations they have assumed but also have violated the very values cherished by democracies the world over. The recalcitrance of these states to enforce international human rights standards has made them perpetrators and accomplices to a multitude of human rights abuses.

The behavior of these states is an affront to the international community. The definition of the crime of genocide includes deliberately inflicting on a religious group “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." Christians are being systematically persecuted across the Middle East, the result being the termination of communal Christian life in the Middle East. As one Palestinian Christian stated, “We aren’t safe anymore.…[T]his is a conspiracy against our existence in the Holy Land."  While the situation of Christians today does not amount to genocide, it is nonetheless alarming and disturbing. Left unchecked, this persecution is liable to lead to another mass exodus of a minority from the Middle East. It is evident that after Jews were driven from the Muslim states of the Middle East in the 20th century, that Christians are the next minority on the chopping block in the 21st century.

Christians are being systematically persecuted across the Middle East, the result being the termination of communal Christian life in the Middle East.
This eradication of minorities is of even more significance in light of the present turbulent times of the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Many states throughout the Muslim world are experiencing periods of governmental upheaval and change.

Our modern concepts of freedom and liberty have deep roots in Jewish scripture and the writings of early Christians. Medieval scholastics and Protestant reformers were essential in developing our modern concept of universal human dignity and freedom.204 The early Christian thinker Tertullian was the first to coin the phrase “religious liberty” and argued that religious liberty is a universal right of all people without any distinction such as race and creed.205 As a visible minority group in the Middle East, Christians bring a measure of diversity and pluralism to overwhelmingly Muslim societies.

The case of Palestinian Christians presents a unique opportunity to deal with such human rights abuses before they become fully entrenched with the backing of a state.
Thus, Christians have an essential role in stimulating the growth and development of pluralism and democratic values in the region. Consequently, it is essential that the treatment and rights of Christians be part of the current public discourse on the character and makeup of these states. True democratization will never be attained if the human rights abuses against Christians are swept under the rug.

The case of Palestinian Christians presents a unique opportunity to deal with such human rights abuses before they become fully entrenched with the backing of a state. The PA and Hamas (in Gaza) are obligated to protect the fundamental freedoms of their Christian citizens. The PA professes to the world its yearning and right to statehood, but as described, it has not lived up to the liberal values expressed in the foundational documents of the would-be Palestinian state.

However, while the seeds have been planted, there is still time to take action before they fully take root. Therefore, the question we must ask ourselves is, will Palestinian efforts for statehood lead to another state where minorities are brutally persecuted until they slowly cease to exist, or to a liberal state such as Israel where such minorities are accorded the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled?

Pope Francis is set to arrive in the Middle East this May. If this persecution persists, the next time a Pope visits the region, he may have no flock left to tend.

Pope Francis Gives Direction to Charismatic Renewal and New Movements

By Deacon Keith A Fournie 12/20/2014

I believe that the term ecclesial movements is helpful and we should begin to use it. It does not focus on a particular movement - but on the Lord and His Church. Movements come and go, but the Church endures.


On November 22, 2014, Pope Francis addressed a Congress sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. It brought together new movements and communities in the Catholic Church - from across the globe. These movements are not only flourishing, but multiplying in the Catholic Church. They are also playing a vital role in reaching out to Christians of other communities. Pope Francis sees these movements collectively. He also recognizes them as one of the greatest missionary resources of the Catholic Church in her work of reaching out to this age with the liberating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He views the time in which we live as a new missionary age.
Pope Francis at the last Pentecost Sunday Mass. Included in the massive crowd were members of the diverse ecclesial movements from around the world.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On November 22, 2014, Pope Francis addressed a Congress sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. It brought together new movements and communities in the Catholic Church - from across the globe. These movements are not only flourishing, but multiplying in the Catholic Church. They are also playing a vital role in reaching out to Christians of other communities.

Pope Francis sees these movements collectively. He also recognizes them as one of the greatest missionary resources of the Catholic Church in her work of reaching out to this age with the liberating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He views the time in which we live as a new missionary age.

Francis is a good pastor who wants to ensure that the members of these ecclesial movements do not fall prey to one of the common temptations faced by enthusiastic movements, to turn inward and become, to use one of his favorite words of warning to the whole Church, self-referential.

Over the last few pontificates, the term ecclesial movements has become the preferred term used to refer to the multiple movements which are growing up within the Catholic Church and inspiring a tremendous spiritual renewal. They all demonstrate that Jesus Christ has indeed been raised from the dead - and that He continues His ministry through His Body, the Church, of which we are members.

I believe that the term ecclesial movements is helpful and we should begin to use it. It does not focus on a particular movement - but on the Lord and His Church. Movements come and go, but the Church endures. Even if we participate in a particular movement, our call is to bring people into a relationship with Jesus and help them to find a home in His Body.

Though each movement may have a unique charism and mission, they have some important common elements which are discernible. For example, they all invite Christians into a personal relationship, an encounter, with the Lord Jesus Christ.

They all proclaim that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and is still alive in our midst in the Church which He founded. They all emphasize the universal call of all baptized Christians to holiness. They all point to living faith as united with action and directed toward mission.

On May 21, 2013, Pope Francis addressed a massive crowd which included the leaders of ecclesial movements. It was Pentecost Sunday. He told them: "The Holy Spirit draws us into the mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission."

The last three Popes have used the language of encounter, emphasizing that encountering the Lord personally brings faith alive!  Pope Francis continues to emphasize this need for encountering the Lord. In fact, he is even more insistent about it.

The ecclesial movements are 'evangelical' in the fullest sense of the word. They call men and women into an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Evangel. This encounter awakens the grace of Baptism within them and changes them, opening them to conversion of life. The movements invite the men and women of this age to experience the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit which the Lord promised, right here and now, and not view it as a past event alone.

Then, all who experience such an encounter with the Risen Christ, and are clothed in the Spirit, are invited to find their home in the Heart of His Church. From that base of operation they are enlisted into a mission into the whole world, to take their place in the ongoing redemptive mission of the Lord, as it continues through His Body, the Church.

The last conference for ecclesial movements in Rome exceeded over 120,000 representatives. There were representatives from over 150 ecclesial movements in attendance, reflecting their growing diversity and numbers.

The Successor of Peter seeks to unite them in the one mission of the Church in this moment in history. He is issuing a call for laborers in the vineyard of a new missionary age. He does this because he is the Vicar of Christ. The word Vicar means representative. It is Jesus Himself who is calling us into the fields of this current age which are ready for harvest.

Men and women from every walk of life who have encountered the Risen Lord Jesus and believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, are needed for this new missionary age. Men and women who understand that the very nature of the Church is missionary - and that every member of the Church is called into that mission.

I offer below some excerpts from this pastorally wise, inspiring talk given to the leaders of the new movements and communities. The problem with much of the coverage of this pontificate is that we do not read or hear these kinds of instructions from this Pope.

In these words, we can see the gift that Pope Francis is for the Church in this new missionary age. He certainly recognizes the contributions of the new movements and communities.

However, he warns them all of against the pitfalls which can accompany enthusiastic movements. He encourages them all to move toward Christian and ecclesial maturity. He calls them into the fullness of communion. He invites them to live, as I like to say, in the heart of the Church, for the sake of the world.

He calls them to develop an authentically Catholic Christian vision, one which is rooted in Catholic teaching, but has a heart for the whole Christian people and enters into the priestly prayer of Jesus Christ for unity - so that the world may believe. (John 17:21) The direction that Pope Francis gave to Charismatic Renewal and the new movements is for all of us.

* * *
From Pope Francis

Dear brothers and sisters, Good morning!

At the heart of your deliberations in these days are two elements which are essential for Christian life: conversion and mission. These are intimately connected. In fact, without an authentic conversion of heart and mind, the Gospel cannot be proclaimed; at the same time, if we are not open to mission, conversion is not possible and faith becomes sterile.

The Movements and New Communities that you represent are moving towards a deeper sense of belonging to the Church, a maturity that requires vigilance in the path of daily conversion. This will enable an ever more dynamic and fruitful evangelization. I would like, therefore, to offer you a few suggestions for your journey of faith and ecclesial life.

First, it is necessary to preserve the freshness of your charism, never lose that freshness, the freshness of your charism, always renewing the "first love" (cf. Rev 2:4). As time goes by, there is a greater temptation to become comfortable, to become hardened in set ways of doing things, which, while reassuring, are nonetheless sterile. There is the temptation to cage in the Holy Spirit: this is a temptation!

However, "realities are more important than ideas" (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 231-233); even if a certain institutionalization of the charism is necessary for its survival, we ought not delude ourselves into thinking that external structures can guarantee the working of the Holy Spirit. The newness of your experiences does not consist in methods or forms, or the newness itself, all of which are important, but rather in your willingness to respond with renewed enthusiasm to the Lord's call.

Such evangelical courage has allowed for the growth of your Movements and New Communities. If forms and methods become ends in themselves, they become ideological, removed from reality which is constantly developing; closed to the newness of the Spirit, such rigid forms and methods will eventually stifle the very charism which gave them life.

We need always to return to the sources of our charism, and thus to rediscover the driving force needed to respond to challenges. You have not been schooled in such a spirituality. You have not attended an institution of spirituality in this way. You are not simply a small group. No! You are rather a movement, always on the way, always in movement, always open to God's surprises which are in harmony with the first call of the movement, namely the founding charism.

A further issue concerns the way of welcoming and accompanying men and women of today, in particular, the youth (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 105-106). We are part of a wounded humanity - and we must be honest in saying this - in which all of the educational institutions, especially the most important one, the family, are experiencing grave difficulties almost everywhere in the world.

Men and women today experience serious identity problems and have difficulty making proper choices; as a result, they tend to be conditioned and to delegate important decisions about their own lives to others. We need to resist the temptation of usurping individual freedom, of directing them without allowing for their growth in genuine maturity. Every person has their own time, their own path, and we must accompany this journey.

Moral or spiritual progress which manipulates a person's immaturity is only an apparent success, and one destined to fail. It is better to achieve less and move forward without seeking attention. Christian education, rather, requires a patient accompaniment which is capable of waiting for the right moment for each person, as the Lord does with each one of us. The Lord is patient with us! Patience is the only way to love truly and to lead others into a sincere relationship with the Lord.

One other consideration we must never forget is that the most precious good, the seal of the Holy Spirit, is communion. This is the supreme blessing that Jesus won for us on the Cross, the grace which the Risen Christ continually implores for us as he reveals to the Father his glorious wounds, "As you, Father, are in me, and I in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (Jn 17:21).

For the world to believe that Jesus is Lord, it needs to see communion among Christians. If, on the other hand, the world sees divisions, rivalries, backbiting, the terrorism of gossip, please. if these things are seen, regardless of the cause, how can we evangelize? Remember this further principle: "Unity prevails over conflict" (Evangelii Gaudium, 226-230), because our brothers and sisters are always of greater value than our personal attitudes; indeed, it is for our brothers and sisters that Christ has shed his blood (1 Pet 1:18-19); it has not been shed for my ideas!

In addition, real communion cannot exist in Movements or in New Communities unless these are integrated within the greater communion of our Holy Mother, the hierarchical Church. "The whole is greater than the part" (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 234-237), and the part only has meaning in relation to the whole.

Communion also consists in confronting together and in a united fashion the most pressing questions of our day, such as life, the family, peace, the fight against poverty in all its forms, religious freedom and education. In particular, New Movements and Communities are called to coordinate their efforts in caring for those wounded by a globalized mentality which places consumption at the center, neglecting God and those values which are essential for life.

In order to attain ecclesial maturity, therefore, maintain - I say again - the freshness of your charism, respect the freedom of each person, and always strive for communion. Do not forget, however, that to reach this goal, conversion must be missionary: the strength to overcome temptations and insufficiencies comes from the profound joy of proclaiming the Gospel, which is the foundation of your charisms.

In fact, "when the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment" (Evangelii Gaudium, 10), the true motivation for renewal of one's own life, since all mission is a sharing in the mission of Christ who always precedes and accompanies us in the work of evangelization.

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Deacon Keith A. Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate who served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the nineteen nineties. He has long been active at the intersection of faith and culture and currently serves as Special Counsel to Liberty Counsel. He is also the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online

Christians celebrate Christmas with heavy heart in India

They are concerned over increasing attacks on the community across the country.
Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi addressing a gathering of devotees.
Dec 23th, 2014

(Agenzia Fides) Bishops and Christian leaders India say they celebrate Christmas this year with "a heavy heart" because of the violence against Christians in various parts of the country.

The leaders of various denominations said in a statement in Delhi that attacks against their people have increased across the country, especially in the states of "Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and now in the territory of the capital city Delhi.” Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi signed the statement along with and other Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant Bishops and civil society leaders.

The burning of Saint Sebastian's church in Delhi, as well as other incidents of targeted violence, show contempt not only towards the religious feelings of our community, but also for the protection guaranteed in the Constitution of India," the Christian leaders said. They explained that these acts of violence are not isolated incidents, but part of a series of interconnected actions by various non-state actors. "Many politicians have called for national laws against conversion, measures that affect the Christian and Muslim communities, although not mentioned." "The well organized campaign, also by senior members of Parliament belonging to the ruling party, is a threat to peace and national harmony and calls into question the identity and patriotism of different religious minorities in India", discrediting and exposing them to further violence.

The statement said, "While the government won the election by presenting a platform of 'development and good governance', radical groups see their program of hatred and religious nationalism approved. It is a blatant attempt to sabotage the Indian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of every Indian citizen to profess, practice and propagate their religion."

The leaders noted that the measures, paradoxically called "Laws for religious freedom", in force in several Indian states, have been in fact limited and "have been used against minorities, giving police the power to disrupt, arrest and punish priests, religious and church operators". The Bishops have sent a memorandum to the government that lists various "representative episodes of hostility and discrimination suffered by Christians throughout India". They report cases of "social boycott" (some Christian missionaries are denied entry in over 50 villages in the region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, and some Christian families in Orissa are not allowed to use the public well in the village); physical aggression in many states; desecration of religious buildings.

The statement concluded reminding that India's founders were committed to ensure that the rights of all are protected regardless of religion, gender or caste and hoping that a strong political will of civil and political institutions would stop this discrimination and targeted violence.
 

10,000 People Protest Against Islam in the German City of Dresden

Participants hold a banner during a demonstration called by anti-immigration group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) in Dresden, Germany, on Dec. 15, 2014

Hannibal Hanschke—Reuters
Protesters demand immigration-policy overhaul, ruling politicians label them "Nazis in pinstripes"

A march against the “Islamization of the West” in the German city of Dresden attracted about 10,000 people on Monday. Participants gathered under banners reading “Protect our homeland” and “No Shari‘a law in Europe,” but also the famous slogan “We are the people,” used during the demonstrations that led up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, reports the BBC.

“There’s freedom of assembly in Germany, but there’s no place for incitement and lies about people who come to us from other countries,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. “Everyone [who attends] needs to be careful that they are not taken advantage of by the people who organize such events.”

It is the ninth week in a row that a movement called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) is organizing protests in the German state of Saxony, but Monday’s march is the biggest by far. Frauke Petry, Dresden leader of the Pegida-sympathetic party Alternativ für Deutschland, said the march was “protesting against inadequate legislation on asylum rights.”

Germany accepts more asylum seekers than any other country, and immigration rates have surged because of the wars in Syria and Iraq. However, a mere 2% of Saxony’s population is foreign, and only a fraction of them Muslim, the New York Times points out. Considering the country’s troubled past with extreme right-wing politics, the protests have shocked many Germans. Justice Minister Heiko Maas has called them “a disgrace” and the Social Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, have branded them “Nazis in pinstripes.”
 

Bombay. Golden jubilee of first papal visit concluded

Archbishop Salvatore Penncchio, the papal nuncio to India, was the main celebrant.

Posted on December 9, 2014 - Photo courtesy: bellevision

Mumbai:

Bombay Archdiocese on Sunday concluded the golden jubilee celebrations of Pope Paul VI visiting the city for the 1964 Eucharist Congress as the first pope in history to visit India. The moth-long program to commemorate the pope opening the 38th International Eucharistic Congress in the city ended with a Mass in at the Don Bosco School grounds in Wadala.

Archbishop Salvatore Penncchio, the papal nuncio to India, was the main celebrant. The three-hour ceremony included a special mass followed by a cultural program of music and dance, said Father Nigel Barrett, spokes person of the archdiocese. Archbishop of Bombay Oswald Cardinal Gracias stressed on the contribution of Catholic institutions to nation-building, especially in education and healthcare, Fr Barrett, said.

The month-long activities, which included exhibitions, rallies and administration of Sacraments, were planned to remember the event and help the spiritual growth of the people. The archdiocese began on Nov. 6 what is called "the circle of life" in which the Blessed Sacrament visited parishes of the archdiocese where the faithful spent hours in adoration. It also opened an exhibition of the Congress at the St. Joseph’s Convent in Bandra in November, which will close only on Dec. 14.

On Dec. 3, the feast of St. Francis Xavier, a special blood donation drive has been organized at various hospitals. During the week, prayers were held for priests and religious. A Stations of the Cross was held on Friday with the script from the original that was used by Blessed Paul the VI during the Eucharist Congress 50 years ago. Parishes also were asked to reach out the poor through acts of mercy as the Cardinal and his auxiliaries planned visits to hospitals, the prison and the hospice.
 

India - Huge crowds flock to see St Francis Xavier's relics on his feast day


Procession of the relics of St. Francis Xavier in Old Goa outside Se Cathedral on his feast day, Dec. 3, 2014. Credit: Archdiocese of Goa and Daman.

By Antonio Anup Gonsalves

Panjim, India, Dec 5, 2014 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, the 462nd anniversary of his death, an estimated 200,000 people visited Se Cathedral in Old Goa to venerate the relics of St. Francis Xavier, the “Apostle to the Far East.” The saint's relics are in the midst of an exposition, lasting from Nov. 22 until Jan. 4, 2015, which only happens once every ten years. The last exposition, in 2004, drew more than 2.5 million to Goa. “There is a great spiritual awakening through catechesis, which is animating faith formation in the family and also fostering the building of small Christian communities,” explained Fr. Mario Saturnino Dias, director of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman's missionary center. “We are indebted to ‘Goencho Saib’ in receiving faith, vocations, and the Catholic Church,” Fr. Dias told CNA Dec. 3.

The residents of Goa, irrespective of religion, hold St. Francis Xavier in high esteem, calling him “Goencho Saib,” Konkani for “Sir” or “Lord.” St. Francis Xavier was among the first companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and was one of the first members of the Society of Jesus. He evangelized in India, Indonesia, and Japan, and died in 1552 on his way to China. His remains are normally kept at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in an elevated silver casket, but they were transferred to Se Cathedral on Nov. 22 for public veneration. Some 95-100,000 pilgrims were coming to Goa each day, but last weekend the number surged to over 200,000 daily, in anticipation of his feast. Some pilgrims have walked hundreds of miles on foot to visit the relics.

“People have identified St. Francis as a holy man of God who can intercede for them; they have witnessed several grace and miracles,” Fr. Dias said. “The faith of the people is also seen in the popular devotions that are strengthened in the Eucharist. Thousands of faithful also queue for confessions.” Fr. Dias emphasized the role of catechesis in promoting and refining popular piety, which the Goa-Daman archdiocese has taken up formation modules sent to the parishes. During Mass on Dec. 3, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay called Francis Xavier “a holy man, a messenger of God.” Cardinal Gracias' family has roots in Goa, and he noted that it is through St. Francis' teaching of the catechism, administering the sacraments, and forming Christian communities that his forefathers received the faith. “Through him my ancestors received faith, and so today I am thanking God for this gift of faith.”

The prelate, explaining “the jewel of faith” received from St. Francis, asked the faithful “Are we keeping it shining? Is the Gospel the center of our life?” Cardinal Gracias urged the families to maintain and continue the Goan traditions of family prayer and Bible reading. The Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Carlos de Pinho Moreira Azevedo, an official of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Bishop Jose Caires de Nobrega of Manajary, in Madagascar; Archbishop Blasco Collaco, apostolic nuncio emeritus to South Africa; and Bishop Anthony Fernandes Barreto of Sindhudurg, a suffragan diocese to Goa and Daman. Archbishop Filipe Neri Antonio do Rosario Ferrao of Goa and Daman expressed his gratitude to the pilgrims and looked forward to the Jan. 4 canonization of Bl. Joseph Vaz by Pope Francis during his trip to Sri Lanka.

Bl. Joseph Vaz was a native of Goa who evangelized Sri Lanka in the 16th century and is known as the island's “apostle.”
 

Pope Francis: Muslim leaders should condemn terrorism
 

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I signed a pledge to support Christians in the Middle East

BBC 01-12-2014. Pope Francis has urged Muslim leaders around the world to condemn terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. Speaking on board a flight back to Rome, the Pope said that he understood the harm caused by the stereotype that linked Islam with terrorism. He said a "global condemnation" of the violence would help the majority of Muslims dispel this stereotype.

Pope Francis was returning from a three-day visit to Turkey, where he discussed divisions between faiths. The pontiff denounced people who say that "all Muslims are terrorists". "As we cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists," he said. In Istanbul, Pope Francis called for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. In a joint declaration, the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew I said they could not resign themselves to a "Middle East without Christians".

Patriarch Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians, whose Church broke with Rome in 1054 in a schism that divided the Christian world. Constantinople, as the modern Turkish city of Istanbul was once known, was the centre of Orthodox Christianity until the Ottoman conquest in 1453. Only around 120,000 Christians remain in Turkey, where the vast majority of the 80 million citizens are Muslims. Pope Francis also called for dialogue with Muslims to counter fanaticism and fundamentalism when he visited the Turkish capital, Ankara.

'Indifference of many'

Pope Francis flanked by Vatican spokesman father Federico Lombardi talks to journalists during a press conference aboard the flight towards Rome  Pope Francis was returning to Rome after his three-day visit to Turkey when he made his latest comments Christians have been targeted by Muslim hardliners in Iraq and Syria in recent years, with a violent campaign of persecution by Islamic State militants this summer when they captured the Iraqi city of Mosul.

In their joint declaration, the two Church leaders said: "We express our common concern for the current situation in Iraq, Syria and the whole Middle East. "Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes. It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many."

The pontiff and the patriarch also called for peace in Ukraine. The violent conflict in Ukraine this year has accentuated differences between its large Orthodox and Catholic communities. The Pope and the patriarch said: "We pray for peace in Ukraine, a country of ancient Christian tradition, while we call upon all parties involved to pursue the path of dialogue and of respect for international law in order to bring an end to the conflict and allow all Ukrainians to live in harmony." As his visit drew to a close, Pope Francis met Turkey's chief rabbi, whose flock has diminished to just 17,000 people.

At the Blue Mosque on Saturday, one of the greatest masterpieces of Ottoman architecture, the Pope turned east towards Mecca, clasped his hands and paused for two minutes as the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, delivered a Muslim prayer. The Pope then visited Hagia Sofia - which for almost 1,000 years was the most important Orthodox cathedral, then for nearly five centuries a mosque under the Ottomans, and is currently a museum.

For Istanbul, a city that passed from the Byzantines to the Ottomans, a place where religions, empires and cultures collided, the Pope's message of interfaith dialogue has profound resonance, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Istanbul.
 

INDIA - Christian missionaries labeled "enemies of Hindus"


New Delhi (Agenzia Fides) - Christian missionaries are identified among the five biggest enemies of Hindus: is what is said in a pamphlet distributed at World Hindu Congress 2014 which has just ended in Delhi. As Fides learns, other "sworn enemies of Hindus" highlighted in the text are: Islam, Marxism, materialism, "Macaulayismo" (the public education system launched by Tohmas Macaualy during the days of British dominion, ed).

These concepts, expression of Hindutva ideology (which preaches "India for only Hindus") found space during the Congress, given the massive presence of militants and radical organizations.

"The combination of forces and anti-Hindus is weakening Indian society", is what is said and therefore the faithful are invited to counter the cultural system in force. The pamphlet defines Islam "poisonous", criticizes the cultural and religious pluralism and the approach of Christian missionaries who "wickedly introduce the value system of their own western societies"

World Hindu Congress in 2014 was attended by over 1,500 delegates from 40 countries. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 26/11/2014)

In Turkey, Pope Francis Voices Concern Over "Grave Persecution" of Minorities in Iraq and Syria


Erdogan hears plea for Christians as Pontiff begins three-day visit.

Vatican Radio — Pope Francis has urged more interreligious dialogue to help bring peace and end all forms of "fundamentalism, terrorism and irrational fears."

His appeal came in a speech to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top political leaders on the first day of his pastoral visit to the cities of Ankara and Istanbul. His visit comes in response to invitations from the Turkish government and from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians.
In his discourse today, the Pope stressed the importance of religious freedom and respect for human dignity and said we must never "resign ourselves" to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.  He spoke of his concern over the conflicts in Iraq and Syria along with the "grave persecution" of minorities there and praised Turkey’s "generous" response in welcoming a large number of refugees from these regional conflicts.

Here is an English translation of Pope Francis’ address to President Erdo?an and other Turkish political leaders:

 Mr President, Distinguished Authorities,Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to visit your country so rich in natural beauty and history, and filled with vestiges of ancient civilizations.  It is a natural bridge between two continents and diverse cultures.  This land is precious to every Christian for being the birthplace of Saint Paul, who founded various Christian communities here, and for hosting the first seven Councils of the Church.  It is also renowned for the site near Ephesus which a venerable tradition holds to be the “Home of Mary,” the place where the Mother of Jesus lived for some years.  It is now a place of devotion for innumerable pilgrims from all over the world, not only for Christians, but also for Muslims.
Yet, the reasons why Turkey is held with such regard and appreciation are not only linked to its past and ancient monuments, but also have to do with the vitality of its present, the hard work and generosity of its people, and its role in the concert of nations.  It brings me great joy to have this opportunity to pursue with you a dialogue of friendship, esteem and respect, in the footsteps of my predecessors Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  This dialogue was prepared for and supported by the work of the then Apostolic Delegate, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who went on to become Saint John XXIII, and by the Second Vatican Council.

Today what is needed is a dialogue which can deepen the understanding and appreciation of the many things which we hold in common.  Such a dialogue will allow us to reflect sensibly and serenely on our differences, and to learn from them. There is a need to move forward patiently in the task of building a lasting peace, one founded on respect for the fundamental rights and duties rooted in the dignity of each person.  In this way, we can overcome prejudices and unwarranted fears, leaving room for respect, encounter, and the release of more positive energies for the good of all. To this end, it is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties.  They will then find it easier to see each other as brothers and sisters who are travelling the same path, seeking always to reject misunderstandings while promoting cooperation and concord.  Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, when truly guaranteed to each person, will help friendship to flourish and thus become an eloquent sign of peace.

The Middle East, Europe and the world all await this maturing of friendship.  The Middle East, in particular, has for too long been a theater of fratricidal wars, one born of the other, as if the only possible response to war and violence must be new wars and further acts of violence.  How much longer must the Middle East suffer the consequences of this lack of peace?  We must not resign ourselves to ongoing conflicts as if the situation can never change for the better!  With the help of God, we can and we must renew the courage of peace!  Such courage will lead to a just, patient and determined use of all available means of negotiation, and in this way achieve the concrete goals of peace and sustainable development.

Mr. President, interreligious and intercultural dialogue can make an important contribution to attaining this lofty and urgent goal, so that there will be an end to all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism which gravely demean the dignity of every man and woman and exploit religion.  Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers.  This solidarity must rest on the following pillars: respect for human life and for religious freedom, that is the freedom to worship and to live according to the moral teachings of one’s religion; commitment to ensuring what each person requires for a dignified life; and care for the natural environment.  The peoples and the states of the Middle East stand in urgent need of such solidarity, so that they can “reverse the trend” and successfully advance a peace process, repudiating war and violence and pursuing dialogue, the rule of law, and justice.

Sadly, to date, we are still witnessing grave conflicts.  In Syria and Iraq, particularly, terrorist violence shows no signs of abating.  Prisoners and entire ethnic populations are experiencing the violation of the most basic humanitarian laws.  Grave persecutions have taken place in the past and still continue today to the detriment of minorities, especially – though not only – Christians and Yazidis.  Hundreds of thousands of persons have been forced to abandon their homes and countries in order to survive and remain faithful to their religious beliefs.  Turkey, which has generously welcomed a great number of refugees, is directly affected by this tragic situation on its borders; the international community has the moral obligation to assist Turkey in taking care of these refugees.  In addition to providing much needed assistance and humanitarian aid, we cannot remain indifferent to the causes of these tragedies.  In reaffirming that it is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor, I wish to reiterate, moreover, that the problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response. What is required is a concerted commitment on the part of all, based on mutual trust, which can pave the way to lasting peace, and enable resources to be directed, not to weaponry, but to the other noble battles worthy of man: the fight against hunger and sickness, the fight for sustainable development and the protection of creation, and the relief of the many forms of poverty and marginalization of which there is no shortage in the world today. Turkey, by virtue of its history, geographical position and regional influence, has a great responsibility: the choices which Turkey makes and its example are especially significant and can be of considerable help in promoting an encounter of civilizations and in identifying viable paths of peace and authentic progress.

May the Most High bless and protect Turkey, and help the nation to be a strong and fervent peacemaker!  Thank you!
 

Muslims Expel All Christians From a Village in Pakistan

Christians forced to leave because a Christian married a Muslim woman.

Pakistan/Aleteia (Aleteia.org/ar) – In a Pakistani village in the Punjab province, Christian families are being forced to leave because a Christian married a Muslim woman. The Muslims in this village became enraged when this occurred and began threatening them.

This event is happening as little was two weeks after the atrocious crime wherein a Christian couple was burned in a brick kiln by a Muslim mob. The couple had been working there when they were accused of blasphemy; a crime they did not commit. The Punjab has once again become the scene for a new tragedy.

All of the Christian families in one of the villages of the Sahiwal region were forced to flee from their homes due to these threats from Muslims. They condemned one of the Christians for getting married to someone from their group. ‘Abid Masih, a friend of the couple, revealed to Press Trust of India news agency on the 13th of November that, “They were married in October and once the Muslims in the village learned of the marriage they demanded that the young woman be returned or we would bear the consequences.”

Prohibited by Islamic Law
The names of the newly married couple are Shahab Masih and Ruksana Kosar, who is in her twenties. They no longer live in the village where the young woman was raised. They now live in the Khanewal region, which is where the young Christian man lived. The future couple met in the village of Sahiwal, where Shahab frequently traveled to visit his family.
When the news of the marriage was learned, the Muslims in Sahiwal attacked Shahab’s family as well as other Christian families in the village. The Muslims demanded that Ruksana be returned immediately, according to Sharia which prohibits Muslim women from marrying a man from another religion.

In this regard ‘Abid clarified saying, “We told them that Shahab is now living in Khanewal with his wife and that it would be better for them to go and discuss the matter with him there. However, they would not listen. Then, the Muslim woman’s father Jamil Hussein proceeded to file a complaint with the Shahkot police, accusing Shahab and two of his family members with kidnapping. Meanwhile, the entire Muslim community was threatening to kill Shahab’s father and all of the village’s Christians.

The Police provided no assistance
The Christians’ pleas for help from the local police were all in vain. In light of this fact, the nine Christian families living in Sahiwal (approximately 25 people) were forced to flee during the night leaving their homes and jobs.  The Investigator, Muhammad Riyad from the Shahkot police defended himself by saying, “We have not arrested anyone yet due to the sensitive nature of this case. We will not take any further steps before undergoing a thorough investigation.”

Without shelter and resources
This is the third time during the past few weeks that Christian families in the Punjab have been forced to leave their village because of Muslims. Two other cases occurred in the areas of Sargodha and Narowal. Meanwhile, Aslam Sahoutra, leader and president of the Humanitarian Liberation Front of Pakistan, condemned these recent incidents. Furthermore, he demanded that the Punjab provincial president, Shahbaz Sharif ensure that families can return to their villages with police protection. They have been left destitute since being forced from their homes and villages.

Likewise, other human rights activists protested and condemned this recent incident. They renewed their complaint that “members of the Muslim community are immune from all prosecution, yet there is a complete absence of protection for Christians.”

Shocking murder of a married couple who were burned alive
This has all happened at a time when the country is still living in a state of shock because of the murder of the Christian couple Shahjad Masih and Shama Bibi who were burned alive on the 4th of November by an angry mob of hundreds of Muslims who accused them of desecrating the Quran.

In light of the extreme barbarism by which this tragedy is characterized, the media in the country are throwing their support exclusively behind the Islamic community; which happens to be the largest religious group in Pakistan. Yet, the community’s leader, Siraj al-Haqq did meet with the families of the two victims on November 10th in order to offer his condolences. The government was urged to “take decisive measures against the perpetrators of this terrible crime.” Since these crimes occurred on the 4th of November protests have erupted in several of the country’s largest cities, demanding that “authorities learn from this tragedy in order to prevent it from happening again.”

In Faisalabad more than a thousand human rights activists, a variety of religious leaders, Christians, Muslims, monks and students gathered for a candlelight vigil commemorating the slain couple. This all took place in front of local government buildings on Thursday, November 13th. This march, which was organized by the National Minorities Alliance of Pakistan (NMAP), the Joshua Welfare Organization (JWO) and the Muslims and Christians Union, was concluded with an interfaith prayer in honor of Shama and Shahzad.

Eradication of minorities
At the end of the demonstration Lala Robin Daniel, an NMAP leader stated that, “the Christians that were murdered in the name of religion under the pretext of anti-blasphemy laws amounts to the eradication of minorities.” A government official over minority rights demanded that “immediate measures” be taken regarding the violations being committed in the name of the anti-blasphemy laws, and that harsher punishments be given to those who would use those laws for revenge or to settle personal scores. Father Suhail Kanwal supported this announcement by saying, “the arbitrary use of anti-blasphemy laws is an act of blasphemy in and of itself and deserves the same punishment.” Furthermore, he recommended that authorities create a committee entrusted with investigating blasphemy cases that “are still pending before the courts,” such as the much publicized case involving Asia Bibi. Finally, the Muslim leader Yunus Abar mentioned the importance of immediate reforms for worker’s rights; especially in the labs and brick factories where minority workers are often the victims of violations and harassment.

In Lahore, thousands of demonstrators (students, activists from the Human Friends Organization and the International Stefanos Union) rallied on Saturday the 15th of November in front of the Press Club. During the demonstration they chanted, “Justice must be served,” and “Stop the massacre of minorities.” Furthermore, they demanded that the “death penalty be given to those who murdered Shahzad and Shama.” During this demonstration, which was followed by a candlelight vigil to commemorate the Christian couple who had been murdered, a picture of the brick factory’s owner, Yusuf Ghawjar was burned as an act of condemnation for the “guilty who have been allowed to avoid punishment.”

During the day on the 17th of November, hearings were started in order to arraign those who had been accused of being the ringleaders in the mass murder of Christians. Among those who had been arrested there were fifty who had been detained since the tragedy occurred. A counter-terrorism court was convened to hear the cases of four who were the owners of the brick factory and afterwards the judge remanded them to prison where they will be held until the next scheduled hearing on the 19th of November.”
 

Archibishop of Manila: An exorcist Warns Against Yoga - ‘You’re Opening Yourself To Possession’

Philippine Daily Inquirer. Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Tina G. Santos

Church warns yoga, feng shui practitioners

Practicing yoga and believing in feng shui, horoscopes and lucky charms can make one vulnerable to demonic possession, warned an exorcist of the Archdiocese of Manila.

“When you practice yoga, you are told to ‘empty your mind’ while saying [the mantra] ‘om,’ so you can feel relaxed. But when you empty yourself, you’re opening yourself to possession. You have to be careful because demons might take advantage of (this) empty [vessel of your soul] and possess it,” Msgr. Jay Bandojo said during a recent talk at the Arzobispado de Manila in Intramuros.
The belief in occult practices, feng shui, lucky charms, amulets, fortune-telling, astrology, horoscope, transcendental meditation and similar practices also allow demons to have a claim over a person, said Bandojo, who has special permission to perform exorcisms.

‘Spirit of the Glass’

Playing ‘Spirit of the Glass’ (the local version of the Ouija board), even as an observer, can be risky, he added. “The mere fact that you took a peek [means] you’re already contaminated. It means there could be a [demon] attached to you because of your curiosity.”
Instead of asking people to empty their minds, Catholic teaching tells the faithful to “center on Christ, on the angels, on saints and on Mama Mary,” when they “pray, meditate or contemplate,” said Bandojo.Bad spirits also attach to people who engage or have interest, in hidden knowledge “usually (found) in masonry, illuminati (groups), scientology (and) fraternities … spirits attach to you when you engage in those,” the monsignor said.
People may also be vulnerable to demonic possession through “the sin of omission and sin of commission,” he added.
“You sin because you are doing what is not good, and you sin because you did not do what is good,” he explained. “Every sin has a demon involved.
Do not think that it’s just a small sin or (that) nobody knows about it because you already allowed a spirit to enter you, to be attached to you,” Bandojo said.

Don’t curse

Cursing and being cursed also open one to demonic possession, this exorcist said. “So even at the height of your anger, don’t curse other people. Parents, don’t curse your children because the demons will take advantage, they will ride on your curse. And you (would have) put problems in your children’s future,” Bandojo said.
He added that being in a state of shock or trauma also makes one vulnerable to possession.“Because it’s like your mind is empty and demons will take advantage (of it). That’s why some trauma patients attempt suicide. They hear voices (telling them) ‘kill yourself,’ ‘kill your friend,’ ‘jump off a building,’” Bandojo said, adding that demonic possession can result in the destruction of one’s personality, relationships, health and wealth.
But being possessed by evil can also be avoided, he said.
“All you need to do is live the sacraments… live a good Catholic life, away from (bad) influences,” Bandojo said, adding that apart from basic sacramentals like holy water and exorcised oil and salt usually used by exorcists to ward off demonic possessions, religious items such as rosaries, scapulars, crucifixes and prayer books can also protect us from evil.
“But don’t use them like amulets,” Bandojo cautioned. “If you are influenced, if you are open [to influences], these things become ineffective. They only become effective if you are in (a state of) sanctifying grace.”
 

Chavara, a New Indian Saint Who Was a "Spiritual and Social Revolutionary"

A devout Christian in a non-Christian land who worked on behalf of all

Mannanam, India – Canonization may be a practice exclusive to Catholics and Orthodox. But when Pope Francis raised two Indians to the altars Sunday, the celebrations were not confined to Christians.

Indeed, in spite of growing tensions between Hindu nationalists and Christians in India, many Hindus joined in celebrations in predominantly Christian areas of the subcontinent while Pope Francis conducted the canonization rites in Rome on the feast of Christ the King.

Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara, a priest from the Indian state of Kerala, was canonized along with Sister Euphrasia Eluvathingal, who belonged to the Congregation of the Mother Carmel, founded by St. Chavara. Pope Francis also canonized Italians Giovanni Antonio Fraina, Ludovico da Casoria, Nicola da Longobardi and Amato Ronconi.

Father Chavara, a priest of the Syro Malabar Church, which traces its lineage to St Thomas the Apostle, worked for Indians across religious and caste divides, and many non-Christians today say they are in his debt for the work he did. As Kerela's chief minister Oommen Chandy, an Orthodox Christian, put it, the priest "is not the exclusive heritage of a denomination or a community. He belongs to the whole Kerala.”

Chandy led a delegation of Kerala’s political leaders, including Hindu ministers in his cabinet, to a Mass Sunday at St. Chavara’s shrine at Mannanam. The Mass drew about 100,000 people.

Father Chavara founded St. Joseph’s monastery on top of Mannanam hill in 1831 and spent 33 years there. His body was moved here in 1889, and the place has been one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Kerala for decades.

“Father Chavara was a revolutionary both in spiritual matters and in social action. He paved the way for the social transformation and educational progress of our state,” Chandy acknowledged.

Kerala’s progress in the field of education is rooted in the “outcome of Father Chavara’s order” that each church should have a school to educate the low castes who were not allowed to enter schools at the time, Chandy said.

Kerala is the largest Christian pocket in India with nearly 7 million Christians among its 35 million people.  It is also the most literate and educationally advanced in India. The Church there runs nearly half of the 15,000 private primary schools.

“Father Chavara pioneered many social service initiatives like education of the weaker sections, free lunch for the poor, and empowerment of women,” noted Ramesh Chennithala, a Hindu and Kerala’s home minister. “The government is only following some of the examples Father Chavara showed us,” he added.

Thirvanjur Radhakrishan, another Hindu minister in the Kerala government, hailed St. Chavara as a “friend of the poor.”

Earlier, Bishop Mathew Arackal of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Kanjirappilly spoke of the “unique legacy” of Chavara, who “went around begging for money to provide lunch to hungry students” from lower castes.

He pointed out that the priest opened the first Sanskrit school in 1846 (at the monastery compound) at a time when lower castes were punished for studying the language of the priestly Brahmin class.

“It was a bold step for the lifting up of the poor,” Bishop Arackal said.

“Saints are not created in the Vatican. They are born and live among us. I am proud to say that I am from Mannanam,” C V Anand Bose, a Hindu and senior official in the Indian government, told Aleteia November 25 on flying back to New Delhi after attending the celebrations at Mannanam.

“Our family is grateful to Father Chavara for encouraging the education of women. We are beneficiaries of that,” said Bose, who belongs to a Nair family which used to shun the education of women.

“Inspired by Father Chavara’s teachings, my grandmother Naniammma sent my mother for English medium education in a Catholic school. The result is that all of us are highly educated,” said Bose, who qualified for the prestigious ‘“Indian Administrative Service” in 1977.

Bose added that his great-great grandfather Iswaran Nair was a close friend of Father Chavara who used to visit their ancestral home regularly.

“It is a difficult task to summarize the multifarious life witness of Father Chavara,” Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro Malabar Church, wrote in an introduction to the souvenir pamphlet.

Born in 1805, Chavara was ordained a priest in 1829. Two years later, he co-founded the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, the first indigenous congregation which now has more than 3,000 professed members of men.

In 1866, Father Chavara also founded the Congregation of the Mother Carmel, which now has over 6500 nuns.

The canonization of St. Chavara, who had been beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Kottayam in 1986, also drew massive crowds at Koonammavu where he died and at his native parish of Kainakiry.

Anto Akkara writes from New Delhi, India.
 

Top 10 Studies Showing Risks to Couples in Same-Sex Unions

Risks show how misguided are the Human Rights Campaign's attacks on U.S. bishops and Courage


Last month the LGBT-activist Human Rights Campaign (HRC) carried out its latest campaign – targeting eight Catholic bishops in the U.S. who publicly expressed support for traditional marriage, the Courage apostolate and, in some cases, even quoted the constant teaching of the Church (see CCC nos. 2357 -2359) concerning homosexual conduct and persons with same-sex attraction (SSA). The aim of this Synod-related effort was to push for the acceptance of homosexual conduct and unions by the Catholic Church and to marginalize bishops who spoke out against such conduct and unions.

The demonstrations against these bishops likely had no effect on the Extraordinary Synod or the targeted bishops. The HRC-friendly confusing language on homosexual persons and unions in the interim report was replaced by paragraph 55 in the final, official Relatio, which reverted to Catholic teaching as set forth in the Catechism. Yet, a surprising one-third of the bishops at the Extraordinary Synod (62/180) rejected the approach based on the Catechism and a 2003statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “‘There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity” (no. 55).

It is hoped that during the Synod on the Family that will take place in October 2015, the discussion of homosexual unions will take into account the serious risk factors inherent in the homosexual lifestyle. In fact, an understanding of these physical, emotional and spiritual risks is essential to fostering a charitable, pastoral approach to those with SSA. I use the term “fostering” rather than developing because such an outreach to those with homosexual tendencies and their families has been present internationally in the Church for over 30 years, thanks to the apostolate of Courage International (www.couragerc.net).

Today, numerous peer-reviewed published studies report serious psychological and medical risks associated with same sex unions. Ten of these studies are described below.

1.  One of the most extensive studies of same-sex couples found that only seven of the 156 couples had a completely exclusive sexual relationship and that the majority of relationships lasted less than five years. Couples whose relationship lasted longer than five years incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity in their relationship. The psychologists wrote, “The single most important factor that keeps couples together past the 10-year mark is the lack of possessiveness. ... Many couples learn very early in their relationship that ownership of each other sexually can be the greatest internal threat to their staying together” (McWhirter, D. and Mattison, A. 1985. “The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop.” (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall). The risks? Outside sexual activity can expose the partner to sexually-transmitted diseases, and relationship break-up typically gives rise to emotional distress.

2.  Partner instability is also present in lesbian relationships. A 2010 study in a respected peer-reviewed journal, showed lesbian relationships to be statistically less stable than heterosexual relationships. (Schumm, W. 2010. “Comparative Relationship Stability of Lesbian Mother and Heterosexual Mother Families: A Review of Evidence,”  Marriage and Family Review 46: 499-509)

3.  A 2011 study analyzed the impact of sexual orientation on suicide mortality in Denmark during the first 12 years after legalization of same-sex registered domestic partnerships (RDPs), using data from death certificates issued between 1990-2001 and Danish census population estimates. This study found that the age-adjusted suicide risk for same-sex RDP men was nearly eight times greater than the suicide risk for men in a heterosexual marriage. (Mathy, R. et al. 2011. “The Association between Relationship Markers of Sexual Orientation and Suicide: Denmark, 1990-2001,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 46: 111-117)

4.  In a 2010 report, the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, 40 percent of the lesbian couples who had conceived a child by artificial insemination had broken up. (Gartrell, N. & Bos, H. 2010. “U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents,” Pediatrics, 126 (1): 28-36.)

5.  A 2002 study of lifetime abuse victimization revealed that 7 percent of heterosexual males reported being abused whereas 39 percent of males with SSA reported being abused by other males with SSA. (Greenwood, G. et al. 2002. “Battering victimization among a probability-based sample of men who have sex with men,” American Journal of Public Health, 92:1964–69).

6.  A major study published in the journal “Cancer” in May 2011 revealed that men with SSA in California are twice as likely to report a cancer as heterosexual men. Most troubling is the mean age of onset of cancer in the men with SSA - age 41, compared to age 51 in heterosexual males. (Boehmer, U. et al. 2011, “Cancer Survivorship and Sexual Orientation,” Cancer, 117:3796–3804.)

7.  A November 12, 2014 article in the “Wall St. Journal” on HPV-related cancers throat cancers stated that it increased by 72 percent between 2000 and 2004. Most of that growth has been in men and the number of sexual partners was suggested as a contributing factor. A researcher stated that, “the problem with HPV-positive oral cancer is that premalignant lesions are not clinically detectable. They’re deep within the tonsils that are in the base of the tongue. By the time HPV-infection is detected, they usually already have Stage 3 or 4 cancer.”

7.  Finneran and Stephenson (2012) conducted a systematic review of 28 studies examining interpersonal violence among men who have sex with men. The authors concluded that, “The emergent evidence reviewed here demonstrates that IPV – psychological, physical, and sexual – occurs in male-male partnerships at alarming rates” (p. 180). (Finneran, C., Stephenson, R. 2012. “Intimate Partner Violence Among Men Who Have Sex With Men: A Systematic Review,” Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 14: 168-185.)

8.  A 2007 study published by the New York Academy of Medicine found that over 32 percent of active homosexuals report that they have suffered “abuse” by one or more “partners” during the course of their lives. Fifty-four percent (n?=?144) of men reporting any history of abuse reported more than one form. Depression and substance abuse were among the strongest correlates of intimate partner abuse. (Houston, E. & McKiman, D.J. 2007, “Intimate Partner Abuse Among Gay and Bisexual Men: Risk Correlates and Health Outcomes,” Journal of Urban Health 84: 681-690.)

9.  A 2014 systematic review of 19 studies examining associations between intimate partner violence (IPV) and men with SSA. The pooled lifetime prevalence rate of any form of IPV was 48 percent. (Buller, A. et al. 2014. “Associations between Intimate Partner Violence and Health among Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” PLOS Medicine, 11(3): e1001609. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001609.)

10. Research on men with SSA in Amsterdam found that 86 percent of new HIV infections occur within steady partnerships. The researchers concluded, “Prevention measures should address risky behavior, especially with steady partners, and the promotion of HIV testing.” (Xiridou, M. et al., 2003. “The contribution of steady and casual partnerships to the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam,” AIDS 17:1029-38.)

Research on persons who had sought help from Courage revealed that those with SSA had more mental health distress than a heterosexually-oriented, normative sample. SSA respondents who had become more chaste had an improvement in their overall mental health. Measures of authentic spirituality were also positively correlated to increased mental health. Positive correlations were also found between chastity, religious participation and self-reported measures of happiness. (Harris, S. 2009. “Mental health, chastity and religious participation in a population of same-sex attracted men.” Doctoral dissertation.)

The recommendation of an international expansion of this effective apostolate should be considered by the Synod as a primary pastoral outreach to those with homosexual tendencies and their families. As St. John Paul II said of this apostolate, "COURAGE is doing the work of God!"

Rick Fitzgibbons, MD  is the director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia and has worked with several thousand couples over the past 38 years. Trained in psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center, he participated in cognitive therapy research with Aaron T. Beck. In 1986 he wrote a seminal paper on the psychotherapeutic uses of forgiveness in the treatment of excessive anger and in 2000 coauthored  Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope  with Dr. Robert D. Enright, University of Wisconsin, Madison, for American Psychological Association Books. The second edition of this book is in press. He has been an adjunct professor at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for the Studies of Marriage and Family (The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC) and a consultor to the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy
 

Are we entering the age of Asian saints?

Recent Indian canonizations are a matter of pride for the 'Third Church'.

Posted on November 24, 2014, 3:04 PM

By Fr Dominic Emmanuel
New Delhi:
It is widely believed and accepted — although there is a lack of incontrovertible evidence — that Christianity was brought to India by two of Jesus’s apostles, Thomas and Bartholomew.

Thus, Christianity can be said to have existed in India from almost the time the religion was born.

Despite this, the names of Indian Christians — particularly their holy credentials — have somehow not found a prominent place in Church annals.

However, with the canonization of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia on Sunday, Sister Alphonsa a few years ago, and with up to 25 more Indians up for possible sainthood, that situation seems to be changing fast.

The question that naturally springs to mind is, why have things changed so quickly?

Is it because the rules for canonization have been changed or relaxed? Is it because Catholics in India have become more holy in recent times? Is it because people here are being noticed because of their new social and economic status? Or has the Vatican become more sympathetic towards the faithful in this region?

In his 1974 book: The Coming of the Third Church, Swiss Capuchin Walbert Buhlmann predicted the rise of Christianity outside of Western Europe, which he coined the “Second Church”. The “First Church” being Christianity in its formative years in the Middle East.

Buhlmann, observing changes in the world, especially after the Second Vatican Council (1963-65), said: “The Church at home in the Western world for almost 2,000 years will, in a short time, have shifted its centre of gravity into the Third World, where its adherents will be much more numerous.”

Similarly, Adrian Hastings, speaking about this shift in 1991, in Modern Catholicism: Vatican II and After, wrote: “The geography of the Catholic Church in 1990 has become remarkably different from that of 1960. Where for instance, there was then a mere handful of African bishops, there are now many hundred.”

The recent spurt of canonizations in Asia and moves to put other Asians on the road to sainthood provide sufficient evidence of the accuracy of Buhlmann’s predictions made exactly forty years ago as well as the observations made by Hastings.

With the exception of St Gonsalo Garcia — a Franciscan friar from Maharashtra, who was martyred in Japan along with 25 other missionaries and canonized in 1862 — the naming of new Indian saints and the prospect of more from the predominantly Hindu nation, is certainly a matter of pride for the Third Church.

The line up of several Venerables (on the way to sainthood), Blessed and Saints from India and hopefully in future from other Asian and African countries is certainly a sign of the shifting sands of time and tide.

“Ecclesia in Asia,” a bishops’ synod document released in 1999 in Delhi by late Pope John Paul II (now a saint himself), envisaged the third millennium as the time for "a great harvest of faith" in Asia.

The document said: "Just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent."

The 20th century saw more canonizations in Asia than any other time, and the trend is continuing.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized 103 Korean Catholic martyrs. In February this year, Pope Francis declared Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 companions Venerable and in August he beatified Paul during his visit to Korea, elevating them closer to sainthood. Plans are also afoot to beatify other 20th century Korean Catholics who were killed by communists during the Korean War.

Pope John Paul II was instrumental in declaring saints in Asia. In 1988, he canonized 117 Vietnamese Catholic martyrs. In 2002, he canonized 120 people in China — 87 Chinese Catholics and 33 European missioners — martyred in the past three centuries.

The Philippine's second saint, Pedro Calungsod was canonized in 2012, some 25 year after the country’s first saint — Lorenzo Ruiz — was canonized in 1987.

Sri Lanka will get its first saint when Blessed Joseph Vaz, an Indian missionary, is canonized during Pope Francis's visit there in January.

Looking at this phenomenon from the perspective of faith we must look at the words of Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi who said the beatification and canonization of saints has to take its own time according to God's plan and not human reckoning.

"The declaration of someone as a "saint" by the Church cannot be forced. It is the result of a long-drawn process that follows strict procedures that cannot be bypassed or compromised with,” he said.

“The cult of a Saint emerges from the common people themselves who are the first judges of the exceptional holiness of a life of someone who is dead and gone but who has left behind a brilliant example of authentic Christian life and so is an intercessor on our behalf before the throne of God," he added.

In a country like India, where people have deep spiritual roots, regardless of which religion they may belong to, many more people have certainly led a godly life and are worthy to be considered as saints. Our task would be not just to carry on but intensify that legacy.

Fr Dominic Emmanuel is a media consultant and commentator based in Delhi. He is a priest belonging to the Society of the Divine Word.
 

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims from India

In his remarks, he made special mention of the Catholics in Kerala, thanking them for their “apostolic zeal”.

Posted on November 25, 2014, 8:40 AM

Vatican City:
Pope Francis on Monday greeted pilgrims from India who came to Rome for the canonization of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia Eluvathingal.

“Father Kuriakose Elias was a religious, both active and contemplative, who generously gave his life for the Syro-Malabar Church, putting into action the maxim ‘sanctification of oneself and the salvation of others," Pope Francis said.

“For her part, Sister Euphrasia lived in profound union with God so much so that her life of holiness was an example and an encouragement to the people, who called her ‘Praying Mother’.”

In his remarks, he made special mention of the Church in the Indian state of Kerala, thanking them for their “apostolic zeal”.

Here is the text of the Pope’s address to the pilgrims from India

I am pleased to join you in giving thanks to the Lord for the canonization of two new Indian saints, both from the State of Kerala. I take this opportunity to thank the Church in India, the Church in Kerala, for all its apostolic vigour and for your witness to the Faith! My heartfelt gratitude! Keep up the good work! Kerala is rich in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Continue on this path, working through your witness. I thank Cardinal George Alencherry, the Bishops, priests, men and women religious, and each of you, dear brothers and sisters of the Syro-Malabar rite. I remember in a special way the Cardinal of the Syro- Malankara rite: thank you! Did you know that your Syro-Malankara Cardinal is the youngest member of the College of Cardinals?

You have come to Rome in great numbers on this very important occasion, and have been able to live days of faith and ecclesial communion, praying also at the tombs of the Apostles. May this time of celebration and intense spirituality help you to contemplate the marvellous works accomplished by the Lord in the lives and deeds of these new saints.

Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia Eluvathingal, who was a member of the religious Institute founded by him, remind each of us that God’s love is the source, the support and the goal of all holiness, while love of neighbour is the clearest manifestation of love for God.

Father Kuriakose Elias was a religious, both active and contemplative, who generously gave his life for the Syro-Malabar Church, putting into action the maxim “sanctification of oneself and the salvation of others”. For her part, Sister Euphrasia lived in profound union with God so much so that her life of holiness was an example and an encouragement to the people, who called her “Praying Mother”. There are many consecrated religious here today, especially consecrated women. May you also may be known as “Praying Sisters”.

Dear brothers and sisters, may these new saints help you to treasure their lessons of evangelical living. Follow in their footsteps and imitate them, in a particular way, through love of Jesus in the Eucharist and love of the Church. Thus you will advance along the path to holiness. With this hope and the assurance of my prayers, I impart to each of you and to all your loved ones my Apostolic Blessing. Thank you!
 

Millions expected to venerate remains of Saint Francis Xavier

Preparations are underway in Goa for the once-a-decade event.

By Christopher Joseph. Old Goa:  - Posted on November 20, 2014

Some five million people are expected to venerate the remains of the 16th century Spanish missionary Francis Xavier when they are exhibited for 40 days beginning this weekend in Goa. For the once-a-decade event, the government of Goa has allotted some US$1.6 million to renovate and build infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and accommodation facilities. Officially called the "Exposition of the Sacred Relics of St Francis Xavier," it has become a state-Church collaborative event, promoted by the state's Tourism Department.

The main attraction is the remains of the saint, who died in 1552. The remains are preserved in a glass-paneled silver casket and kept inside the 16th-century Basilica of Bom Jesu (Good Jesus). During the exposition the casket will be kept inside the nearby Se Cathedral, another 16th century building. These buildings and numerous other churches and convents in Old Goa, the former colonial capital of the Portuguese in Asia, are now under the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), a federal agency for the care and maintenance of historically important structures across the nation. "We're determined that this event is celebrated in all its pomp and piety. We are working with other government agencies and the Church to make it a huge success," said ASI's Gangadhar Koregaonkar, assistant superintending archeological engineer.

Archeological experts, stationed in Goa to oversee painting and maintenance of the buildings, said they want to make sure that temporary structures being put up on the vast campus do not harm the old buildings. The exposition has been increasing in popularity with each event recording a roughly twentyfold increase in the last 30 years, said Father Alfred Vaz, chief of the organizing committee of the Goa archdiocese. "This year we expect some five million people, at least half a million foreigners, to visit and venerate the relics," said the senior priest.

He said for years after the death of the saint on Shangchuan Island near China in 1552, the body was considered "uncorrupt" but the miracle of the body ended long ago. "What we now have is only the relics or remains of the body," he said. The clothed skeleton can be seen through the glass panels of the silver case with the help of a light inside. Fr Vaz said people look forward to the exposition "to see the relics closer and kiss them seeking the blessings" of the saint. The body was buried on the island where he died but a year later Jesuits moved it and temporarily buried it inside a church in Malacca. At that time in February 1553, they reportedly found the body “uncorrupt”. In December of the same year, the body was shipped to Goa. The first exposition took place 23 years after the Jesuits were expelled in 1759 following the suppression of their society. The 1782 exposition was, historians say, to ally fears that Jesuits took away with them the uncorrupt body of the Jesuit saint.

A series of expositions followed but most of them marked special occasions. Since 1964, however, the relics have been displayed for 40 days every 10 years, covering the saint’s feast day on December 3. Critics like Jose Mario, a Catholic who lives close to the cathedral compound, said the Church is "running a business" with the exposition of the remains of the saint. "It is no more faith. It is a business of donations and no one tells how much they collect."
 He argued that if it were not for the money earned, the exposition would be for a shorter period, there would not be so many donation boxes around, and there would be no real need to keep a dead body unburied especially since officials agree that the miracle of the "uncorrupt body" is over. "My faith should not depend on a body there," he said.

But Fr Vas said such accusations are common from people who do not understand the faith aspect of the event. "I do not know how much in donations we got last time, but the income from such activities go to fund our orphanages and old age homes. And, we don't spend money on this. The government departments take care of it," he said. "For us, this is an occasion to catechize our people. It is an occasion of spiritual renewal for the people," he said explaining several liturgical and biblical programs they have scheduled for the period. And, most Goans who have migrated to other countries and are living in different cities come home for this special occasion, he said explaining the reason for having decennial expositions.

This year organizers are trying to attract more young people to the event by organizing an international FIFA approved soccer match involving teams from Egypt, Brazil, Portugal, Ghana, Nepal, India and Colombia. The teams are scheduled to play in at least four Indian cities, Fr Vaz said. The matches with the theme, "preach from the ground" will cost some $10 million to organize but "we expect to cover at least some of the expenses from the tickets because some of these teams will have World Cup players", the priest said. Goa is well known for soccer in India, "we would like to spread the spirit of Goan football across India with a Christian spirit" as a special exposition program, he said. He also dismissed rumors that this will be the last exposition. "I think these are rumors spread by travel agents to get more customers," he said.

I’m a Divorced and Remarried Mother. Please, Don’t Change Church Practice.

The day my soul became Catholic was the day I found out that as a divorced and remarried woman I could not receive Communion. Tears of sorrow and joy flowed. Sorrow because I had by then grasped the truth of transubstantiation, only to find I couldn’t consume, and joy because at last we found the ground of real authority—his Church, the one he founded, the one tasked to keep all he taught her Apostles.
I came to Catholicism from Calvinism. That’s a tough row to hoe if there ever was one. It was that prescient and beautiful encyclical Humanae Vitae which softened my heart to the Catholic Church. After that, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to hear what the Church believed in her own words. And so I kept reading—Theology of the Body, Familiaris Consortio, Mulieris Dignitatem, and Church documents significant to those of us coming from the Reformed tradition.

Because I had been divorced, and because another family member recently left his marriage after forty-three years, our children had many doubts and questions about marriage. One day around the dinner table one of the kids voiced their anxiety, stating in our presence that “you never know” if both mom and dad will be there for you as you grow up.
This clued us in to how deeply they had been affected by our choices and the culture that made them possible. As Christian parents we were keen to bring up our children in a Church unwavering on marriage. The Catholic Church offered a rich and beautiful doctrine of marriage in all its fullness, especially as a picture of Christ’s marriage to his bride, the Church. This vision was slowly leading us to consider the Church’s other claims.

But there’s more to coming to the Catholic faith than theological reading. As any convert can attest, there are many ups-and-downs during the journey: Struggling with doctrine followed by insights from magisterial passages coupled with Scripture, feeling still and alone followed by being overwhelmed by the presence of the saints before us, crying out to God for His presence and having Him answer in the Blessed Sacrament. Many times I woke up in the middle of the night thinking: How can I be considering Catholicism? But then in the morning at daily mass praying the liturgy, I experience the profound presence of God, even though I do not take the Eucharist.
Since I cannot now receive the Eucharist, it is through spiritual communion that I am kept spiritually fed by the Lord. This act of willing reception is not, as some may think, second-class communion. Far from it. To believe so is to diminish one of the ways Christ feeds his people, as Hans Urs von Balthasar warns in his book, Prayer:

For spiritual communion is by no means merely an act of longing for the reception of the Lord under the sacramental signs; much deeper, and more properly, it is the act of prayer of a living and understanding faith, by which it enters into living communication and communion with Christ, the eternal and living Truth.
Balthasar wants to impress upon the reader the objective reality of spiritual communion. It is not the absence of something but the presence of him. I don’t get to pine or indulge in self-pity during the distribution of the Eucharist. And God forbid I should become angry with my priest or the Church for not giving me Communion. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput put it during the 2014 Erasmus lecture, “none of us are welcome on our own terms, in the Church we’re welcome on Jesus’ terms. That’s what it means to be a Christian, you submit yourself to Jesus and His teaching. You don’t recreate your own body of spirituality.”

Before you feel sorry for me, remember that the Church didn’t do this to me. I did this to myself when I disobeyed my God by walking away from my first marriage. Was I young and immature? Yes. Were there circumstances that drove me to such drastic measures? Sure. And yes, I am currently pursuing a Decree of Nullity, trusting God for a just decision. Whatever the outcome, I can not, and will not walk away from the Church for standing firmly on the teachings of Christ.

Some people may be shocked at the idea of submitting to a church that tells me because I’m divorced and remarried I can’t take Communion. But unless it can be shown otherwise, any tampering with Communion for the divorced and remarried will corrupt the doctrine of marriage, and—by diminishing the image of the Church as bride of Christ—debase the Church

I have run to her for shelter. I now pray—for my sake, for my children’s—that the Church will not waver.

Luma Simms is the author of Gospel Amnesia. Follow her @lumasimms.

Chaldean Priests Forced to Choose Between Apostasy and Martyrdom

October 24, 2014 by Kathy Schifferis

Patriarch Sako suspends ten Iraqi-American priests for not returning to Iraq by deadline.

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, has suspended ten Iraqi-American priests who fled Iraq to escape the Gulf War in the 1990s and established parishes and ministries here in the United States.The Patriarch demanded that the priests return to Iraq before October 22, 2014, or face suspension from priestly ministry.

The head of Chaldean Catholics around the world is concerned that there is a need for priestly ministry and spiritual leadership in Iraq, where any remaining Catholic Christians must live in fear for their lives.  Aleteia interviewed Patriarch Sako during the recent Synod, and His Beatitude explained his decree:

“The priests who escaped without any canonical documents encourage others to leave, including their own families. They have asked for exile in Western countries, while others have remained in fidelity to their people. There is no justice in this. If we do not put a limit on this, others will also leave and the Church and the country will be without Christians.

We have a vocation. A priest has given himself to the Lord and to service: he shouldn’t seek his freedom, his security. His future is found in fidelity to Christ and his people, not in America or Australia. One might say that he has citizenship in these countries, but what does that have to do with the priesthood?

There are also six monks: a monk has chosen community life. How can he leave and go establish a parish in the United States without the permission of his Superior?”

At issue, though, is the safety of any priests who accept the Patriarch's request to return. Chaldeans and other Christians areunder attack by the militant Islamic State, which has ruthlessly bombed Chaldean churches, destroyed monasteries, and driven Chaldeans from their ancestral land. Incidents such as theshooting deaths of a priest and three deacons in Mosul and the 2010 invasion of Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church, in which three priests and 50 worshippers were murdered by terrorists, demonstrate a sad reality: Muslim extremists will no longer permit the Catholic Church to minister openly in many regions of the country. Any priests who return to the country are likely to be summarily executed.

In August 2014,Catholic News Agency quoted Fr. Nawar, a priest originally from Nineveh who has been living and studying in Rome. “Today the story of Christianity is finished in Iraq,” Father Nawar said. “People can’t stay in Iraq because there is death for whoever stays.”

Here in the United States, tens of thousands of Chaldean Catholics have relocated from Iraq to escape persecution. In the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Peter The Apostle, which covers 19 western states, there are only 14 Chaldean priests to serve an estimated 50,000 Chaldean Christians. Patriarch Sako's decree would remove ten of them from ministry, effective immediately.

The Eparchy of St. Peter The Apostle, based in San Diego, has sent several appeals to Patriarch Sako. but has received no response. On October 22, when the priests named in last month's decree were ordered to return or cease their priestly work, an emergency appeal was filed with the Vatican. The priests are now permitted to exercise their ministry, as they await a response from Pope Francis.

Southern California Public Radio 89.33 KPCC reports that Southern California is home to an estimated 50,000 Chaldeans, mostly in San Diego County. Community leaders and a Chaldean bishop have been lobbying Congress, the State Department, even the United Nations to open the door to more Chaldean refugees.

Mark Arabo is National Spokesperson for the Chaldean Church in the United States, which includes about 250,000 Chaldeans, and is also a member of the church in El Cajon led by Fr. Noel Gorgis, one of the suspended priests. Arabo disagreed with Patriarch Sako—calling His Beatitude's decree “a complete tragedy.”  Many of the priests, he explained, have been in this country for 20 years and have American citizenship. “What the Patriarch is doing is inhumane, it is not even Christian,” Arabo insisted.  “We are going to do everything in our power to make sure these ten priests do not return like cattle to the slaughter in Iraq.

Arabo worried that a suspension of these priests would force the church to cut some services and could affect prayer groups, confession and baptisms.  He added that Sako's recalling of the priests shows the "growing disconnect between himself and our people."

Despite Patriarch Sako's decree, it appears that at least for now it may be impossible for clergy to return to Iraq and to resume priestly ministry. They could return and become martyrs for the faith, inspiring others by their fearless example in the face of adversity. But is this the mission to which they are called? Or are they needed to serve the many thousands here in the U.S. who also want spiritual direction and leadership?

Kathy Schifferis a freelance writer and speaker, and her blog Seasons of Grace can be found on the Catholic Portal at Patheos
 

Pope Emeritus says interreligious dialogue no substitute for mission

By Francis X Rocca on Friday, 24 October 2014

Benedict XVI has said that dialogue with other religions is no substitute for spreading the Gospel to non-Christian cultures, and warned against relativistic ideas of religious truth as “lethal to faith.” He also said the true motivation for missionary work is not to increase the church’s size but to share the joy of knowing Christ.

The retired pope’s words appeared in written remarks to faculty members and students at Rome’s Pontifical Urbanian University, which belongs to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household and personal secretary to the Pope Emeritus, read the 1,800-word message aloud on October 21, at a ceremony dedicating the university’s renovated main lecture hall to the retired pope.

The speech is one of a handful of public statements, including an interview and a published letter to a journalist, that Benedict XVI has made since he retired in February 2013.

“The risen Lord instructed his apostles, and through them his disciples in all ages, to take his word to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all people,” Benedict XVI wrote.

“‘But does that still apply?’ many inside and outside the Church ask themselves today. ‘Is mission still something for today? Would it not be more appropriate to meet in dialogue among religions and serve together the cause of world peace?’ The counter-question is: ‘Can dialogue substitute for mission?’”

He continued: “In fact, many today think religions should respect each other and, in their dialogue, become a common force for peace. According to this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality. The question of truth, that which originally motivated Christians more than any other, is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is in the last analysis unreachable and that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. This renunciation of truth seems realistic and useful for peace among religions in the world.

“It is nevertheless lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness, everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine.”

The Pope Emeritus added that some religions, particularly “tribal religions,” are “waiting for the encounter with Jesus Christ,” but that this “encounter is always reciprocal. Christ is waiting for their history, their wisdom, their vision of the things.” This encounter can also give new life to Christianity, which has grown tired in its historical heartlands, he wrote.

“We proclaim Jesus Christ not to procure as many members as possible for our community, and still less in order to gain power. We speak of him because we feel the duty to transmit that joy which has been given to us.”
 

An Abducted Yazidi Woman Describes the Horrors of the Islamic State

"I want to die so my suffering will come to an end"

October 22, 2014 -Arbil/Aleteia (aleteia.org/ar) – A Yazidi-Iraqi woman abducted by the Islamic State was able to make contact with a BBC correspondent and said that the conditions under which she was being held were deplorable.  She added that “we are still wearing the same summer clothing we were wearing when we were abducted and with winter coming on conditions will worsen. My children were like angels, but the horrible conditions within which we are living currently have completely changed them. It is as though they are no longer children or human beings anymore.”
She further stated that, “The children under twelve years of age are left with their mothers, but the children older than thirteen are taken with the men and no one knows exactly what happens to them. We don’t know anything about them. With regards to the girls, even the younger ones are being taken.”

We were unable to ascertain the name of the woman or where she was being held because she feared for her safety. She was only able to speak by telephone; her only line connecting her with the outside world, because she was able to hide from her captors. She added, “We have been waiting for more than two months for someone to come rescue us, but it has been in vain. I want to die so my suffering will come to an end.”
Yazidi activists estimate that the number of children who have been abducted by IS fighters from various villages throughout the Nineveh Province is approximately 1,500.
Many of them are suffering from dehydration, skin diseases and psychological problems after spending more than two months in captivity. They are accompanied by more than 3,000 women and men who are protecting them in schools, prisons, and apartments in various villages. This has all occurred since ISIS took control of a vast area of northern Iraq.

Noreen Channu, a Yazidi activist in a group that calls itself “Yazidis Around the World” said that they were able to gather data about the whereabouts of Islamic State fighters by speaking with people who had escaped from captivity and through other means as well.
Channu added that “Iraqi, Kurdish, American and British authorities have informed us of the location where many of the captives are being held, but as of yet no one has done anything to rescue them.”

The activist mentioned that she had been in contact with some of the captives via telephone, but has lost contact with many of them over time. Members of the Islamic State may have found out that they had telephones. She also lost contact with some young girls and women after “they were sold and taken out of Iraq to countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.” Channu expressed her feelings of frustration “because the world is sitting idly by while atrocities are being committed against the Yazidi minority.”
Amina Sa’id, a former Yazidi member of Parliament is assisting efforts to draw the International Community’s attention to the plight of the Yazidis. She said, “The International Community is intervening in dozens of countries to fight against the Islamic State. They are arming the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga in Kurdistan for this purpose. However, to date no one who has been abducted has been freed. We hope that they will quickly rescue them because dozens of them have died and have been sold.”
 

ON THE UNREASONABLE CHARACTER OF HOMOSEXUAL ACTS

by Martin Rhonheimer

I wish here to investigate the central idea of the “truth of sexuality,” the idea that human sexuality possesses a truth proper to it, which without relativizing or devaluing its intrinsic goodness as affective and sensual experience, nevertheless transcends and integrates it into the whole of the spiritual dimension of the human person. […]

The truth of sexuality is marriage: union between persons in which the inclination is lived as a preferential choice – "dilectio" – and in which it becomes love, mutual gift, indissoluble communion open to the transmission of life, and friendship in view of a community of life that endures until death. It is in this way, in this specific context – that of conjugal chastity which includes the good of the other person and transcends itself toward the common good of the human species – that sexual activity, including its affective, impulsive and sensual dimensions, is also seen as an authentic ("bonum rationis", something intrinsically reasonable and good thus good for reason. […]

Sexual acts – i.e. sexual intercourse – and sexual activity, as reasonable acts, are therefore necessarily and by their very nature the expression of a love in the context (“ethical context”) of the transmission of life.

Sexual activity that in principle excludes this transmission of life, whether as intentionally procured (as with contracepted heterosexual acts) or “structurally” given (as with homosexual acts), is not a good for reason precisely as sexual activity. It falls to the level of a mere good of the senses, a truncated affectivity, structurally reduced to the sensual, instinctive and impulsive level.

Such a sensual reduction of love and affectivity is also logically possible with heterosexual acts, even apart from contraception, and in marriage. In the case of homosexuality, however, this reduction is not only intentional and voluntarily sought, but “structural,” i.e. given by the very fact that it involves two persons of the same sex who, for biological reasons and by their very nature, cannot be procreative.

The ultimate cause of this reduction is in the fact that we are dealing – as a result of conscious and free choices – with a sexuality without a task or without a “mission, a sexual inclination that does not transcend itself toward an intelligible human good beyond the sexual activity itself, and that cannot therefore become the expression of love between persons and mutual gift. Experience – including that of practicing homosexuals, often deeply anguished – confirms this. […]

With homosexual acts, therefore, the separation between sexuality and procreation is structural. This is why its acts are structurally non-reasonable and therefore morally non-justifiable by their very physical structure or nature. They are what moralists have traditionally called a sin "contra naturam", even if such acts can seem reasonable and justifiable in the context of an affectivity oriented toward the satisfaction of the sensual impulse.

The separation of sexuality and procreation in contemporary culture makes the understanding of the intrinsic non-reasonableness of homosexual acts more difficult. This culture of separating sexuality and procreation, which is encouraged at the global level by easy access to contraceptives, is now the norm; it is the distinctive character of that “sexual revolution” that is a true and proper cultural revolution. One consequence of this revolution is the increasing loss of the understanding of marriage as a project of life, and more specifically, as a project with a social transcendence, capable of uniting two persons who look to the future with the common objective of founding a family that will endure through time.

Homosexual unions cannot define themselves as families in this sense, even if children are present, either as adopted or as “made” through reproductive technologies. Such “families” formed by same-sex couples are only an imitation of a true family, which is a project carried out by two persons through their love and their reciprocal gift in the fullness of their bodily and spiritual being. The “families” of homosexual couples can never realize this project of spousal love at the service of life because the love that is at the basis of these same-sex unions – that is, the sexual acts that claim to be acts of spousal love – are structurally and necessarily, based on their very nature, infecund.

Different, certainly, is the case of a heterosexual couple which, for reasons independent of the wills of the partners, cannot have children and for this reason adopt one or more children. In this case, in fact, their union is by its nature – that is, structurally – generative. For this reason the intentional structure and moral character of the act of adoption also changes, taking on the value of an alternative way of realizing something to which conjugal union is by its nature predisposed, and in their case is only "per accidens" impeded. The infecundity of such heterosexual couples is not from the nature and structure of their acts but unintentional ("praeter intentionem"); their infecundity is, therefore, not the result of moral disorder so their act of adoption is able to participate in the structure of the intrinsic fecundity of marital love.

The same cannot be said about a couple formed by persons of the same sex: in this case the infecundity is structural and intentionally assumed through the free choice to form precisely this kind of union. In this case there is no link between authentic marital love and adoption, since the former – a marital love that includes an openness to the procreative dimension – is completely absent. For this reason the act of adoption in a homosexual union is purely an imitation – a counterfeit – of that to which marriage is predisposed by its nature.

A final observation: any judgment on homosexuality and its intrinsic non-reasonableness and immorality refers, obviously, solely to sexual acts between persons of the same sex. This does not include a judgment on the mere disposition to such acts which, even if it is considered unreasonable, to the extent that it is not acted upon does not have the character of a moral error.

Even less are we dealing with a judgment on persons with homosexual tendencies, on their personal dignity or their moral character. These are undermined not by tendencies but by free choices to engage in homosexual acts and to adopt a corresponding lifestyle. Precisely these are morally erroneous, and thus evil, choices which alienate their agents from the true human good.

A non-practicing homosexual, on the other hand, who abstains from the practice of homosexual acts, can live the virtue of chastity and all of the other virtues, attaining even the highest degree of holiness.

__________

St. John Paul the Prophet and the Synod

Seeing the Synod through the lens of "Theology of the Body"

TOM HOOPES

day,” Oct. 22, will come in the wake of the 2014 Synod on the Family.

John Paul was a prophet on marriage and the family. He knew exactly the importance of Church teachings on marriage, and he will be praying powerfully for those teachings to transform the world.

Here are five of the Pope’s prophetic teachings on the family that are even more relevant today than they were when he pronounced them.

1. Destroy the family and you destroy civilization.
Said St. John Paul II: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
To St. John Paul II, everything depends on the family. The family is where we learn faith. The family is where we learn to love. The family is where we learn our nation’s culture.

The family is not just the foundation of society to John Paul II — it’s the glue that holds it together.

In Centesimus Annus , he wrote that “the individual today is often suffocated between two extremes represented by the state and the marketplace.” It is primarily families that “strengthen the social fabric, preventing society from becoming an anonymous and impersonal mass, as unfortunately often happens today.”

To a bureaucrat, we are a social security number. To a merchant, we are a dollar sign. We are of infinite dignity and value, to be loved unconditionally — but only our families ever come close to treating us that way.

2.Our bodies have a meaning.
Said St. John Paul II: “Families will be the first victims of the evils that they have done no more than note with indifference.”

The new fad today is to reinvent ourselves radically without reference to who we are made to be. But St. John Paul II had a deep understanding of the danger posed by refusals to take man as he is found.

His Theology of the Body saw clues embedded by God in our very bodies that show the enormous importance of marriage and the family. Fundamentally, John Paul’s Theology of the Body is the recognition that we are built for each other — man for woman and vice versa.

His “nuptial meaning of the body” describes not just the sexual compatibility of man and woman but also the emotional and psychological complementarity of “feminine genius” and those sons of Adam who was “not meant to be alone.”
Only by being true to our bodies can we “become who we are” in his memorable phrase.

3. Contraception changes relationships for the worst.
Said St. John Paul II: “The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself.”

The results of the contraceptive revolution have been devastating to families. Thinkers like Mary Eberstadt and Janet Smith has done an excellent job of showing how it has led to divorce, abortion and a host of other ills.

And it stands to reason: the more sex is reduced to recreation on the one hand, or a physical urge on the other, the less it speaks to the real needs of couples. In often frank language, St. John Paul saw especially the importance of “the moment in which a man and a woman, uniting ‘in one flesh’, can become parents.”

At that moment, he said, “The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself.”

4. Witnessing to the family life is a primary call of the New Evangelization.
Said St. John Paul II: “To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and most urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time.”

The greatest answer to the world’s questions and concerns about marriage and family, said St. Pope John Paul II, was to see it witnessed and lived by Catholics.

He used the word “witness” 40 times in his groundbreaking document on the Family in the Modern World.
The only way to “win” on marriage and family is the hard way. No one will follow Church teaching unless each of us becomes a “genuine witness” a “credible witness” a “witness of love”  a “witness of faith” — a “witness of a life lived in conformity with the divine law in all its aspects.”

5. Threats to the family are as urgent as threats to peace.
“At the start of a millennium which began with the terrifying attacks of September 11, 2001 … one cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace,” said St. John Paul II, then added, “A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family.”

It was when Pope John Paul II made that urgent call  that my own family, which had been spotty at best at praying the rosary, began to do so in earnest. This October, the month of the rosary, is a great time to redouble our efforts.
St. John Paul was indeed a prophet: Lose the family and you lose personal identity, real couple love and  solidarity, the love that holds society together.

Lose the family and you lose everything.

As Cardinal George Pell of Australia said at the close of the Synod, we are in no danger of losing our rich Catholic teaching on the family. “Our task now is to ask people to pause, pray, and catch their breath.”

St. John Paul II, join us in this prayer. Help us be worthy witnesses of the great and vital truths of the family that you expressed so eloquently — and so urgently.
 
 

The Christian minority in India is under serious threat

Bhubaneswar, India, Oct 15, 2014 / 12:04 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- With the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu "Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP) as prime minister of India the country's secular constitution has come under threat, a Catholic priest in India has charged.
Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a human rights activist in Kandhamal District in the East Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), warned of the growing influence of radical Hindu forces on the Indian subcontinent.
"Especially under threat is the Christian minority because it is rejected by extremists as alien and because the Christian message is threat to the caste system," the priest said in an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

According to Father Kumar Singh – who is associated with the “Odisha Forum for Social Action" – the BJP aims to establish a state religion which excludes the lower castes and all minorities.
"They even want to impose only one language, Sanskrit, even though hundreds of languages are spoken in India," he continued, adding that the strength of party and the movement it represents has become the strongest political force in India, taking many observers, including Church leaders and their flock, by surprise.
"It is important for us to understand what is happening. As a Church we must think way beyond the bounds of the individual dioceses; we must act regionally and nationally in order to find responses to this challenge,” the priest said.
“Otherwise Orissa 2008 will be repeated, even worse than then because we learned no lessons from it,” the priest said, referring to August 2008, when Hindu nationalists attacked villages of Christian dalits or “untouchables,” belonging to the lowest caste in the Hindu social hierarchy.

The violence left more than 100 dead, according to the "National People’s Tribunal” (NPT), an association of human rights activists in Odisha.
According to the NPT, the attacks had been prepared well in advance: more than 600 villages were looted, with 5,600 houses, 295 churches and 13 schools destroyed. More than 54,000 people were made homeless, and of this number 30,000 have not been able to return to their villages.
Around 10,000 children were robbed of the possibility to attend school because they were forced to flee and were displaced.  Some 2,000 Christians were compelled to deny their faith. Numerous women were raped. Many of the perpetrators of the violence—though they are known to authorities—have never been charged.

Father Kumar Singh is afraid history might repeat itself.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)

BBC political correspondent Martina Purdy quits journalism to become a nun

PUBLISHED: 07:46 GMT, 15 October 2014

One of the BBC's top political reporters has given up her 25-year career in journalism to join a convent of nuns called the Adoration Sisters.

Northern Ireland political reporter Martina Purdy, who has been with the BBC for 15 years, announced her decision to become a nun and focus on 'new challenges' last week.
She was then photographed at the weekend dressed casually on her way to Sunday Mass at St Peter's Cathedral, Belfast, alongside six members of the Adoration Convent.
In a statement posted on her Twitter page, she said: 'I've been a journalist now for almost 25 years, 15 of them at the BBC.

'It has been an immensely rewarding profession and I'm very grateful for all the support I've had over many years from colleagues, family, contacts and friends.
Ms Purdy added: 'I know many people will not understand this decision. It is a decision that I have not come to lightly, but it is one that I make with love and great joy. I ask for prayers as I embark on this path with all humility, faith and trust.'

She went on to ask that the privacy of the Adoration Sisters - a self-described 'contemplative community' which makes altar breads - be respected as she faces 'the new challenges' of her life.
She went on to offer her thanks via Twitter to those who had shown their support for her decision
After which she added she wouldn't be giving a 'running commentary' on her new lifestyle

Following the announcement she tweeted: 'Thanks all for your generosity - from those of my faith, other faiths, those trying to find Him, those trying to ignore Him. God bless you.'
And in a final tweet, she added: 'I'm not planning a running commentary - but I'm truly overwhelmed. x.'
Ms Purdy, who was born in Belfast but brought up in Canada, joined the BBC Northern Ireland in 1999 after working as a newspaper journalist.
She was known as a familiar figure in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, covering Northern Irish politics for television and radio.Kathleen Carragher, head of news for BBC Northern Ireland, paid tribute to Ms Purdy, saying: 'We will miss her wit and wisdom. I wish her happiness and fulfilment in her new life.'
 

Yoga Banned at Austria School for Biblical Reasons

Friday, October 10, 2014

A primary school in Austria has dropped yoga classes for children after a mother argued Yoga goes against Christian teachings.
Ingrid Karner taught yoga to students once a month at the school in Dechantskirchen.
But she told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper she was told to stop the classes after a complaint.

"All I heard was that according to the Bible yoga should not be allowed and it would lead the children in the wrong direction," Karner said.

The school principal told a newspaper no parents had complained when the courses started this year.
A school inspector says schools should not offer anything linked to "esoteric" practices.Yoga began in Hinduism and Buddhism but has been widely accepted in modern society.
 

Six miles from ISIS: A shockingly brave priest returns to Iraq

By Elise Harris

Vatican City, Oct 9, 2014 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Ghazwan Yousif Baho had the option to stay in Italy when he recently accompanied an elderly Iraqi couple to an audience with Pope Francis.

 But he has decided to go back because he can't leave his people.

“One of them told me, 'Father, I saw you always from afar, but this week I found out who you are, and it has given me so much strength (to know) that you are a priest in the middle of your people,'” he told CNA Oct. 4.

“Sometimes I thought about leaving Iraq, but now I say, 'I don't leave my village anymore.'”

Fr. Baho is the parish priest in Alqosh, Iraq as well as a guest professor at the Pontifical Urbanianum University in Rome, where he teaches two months out of the year. While in Rome, he also serves as pastor in the city's Joachim and Ann parish. He was present in Rome to accompany an elderly Iraqi couple, Mubarack and Agnese Hano, to an audience Pope Francis held with elderly and grandparents on Sept. 28. He will return to Alqosh, which sits only 10 kilometers – around six miles – from the ISIS-controlled city of Qaraqosh, this weekend. The militant Sunni Islamist organization was among the rebels fighting in the Syrian civil war. In June it spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west, as well as in northern Syria.

It has now declared a caliphate, which is defined as an Islamic state controlled by a religious and political leader known as a caliph or “successor” to Muhammad. In Syria on Aug. 13, ISIS seized a string of towns located northeast of Aleppo and near the Turkish border, including Akhtarin. On Aug. 11 it had seized the Iraqi town of Jalawla, located 90 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province.  All non-Sunni persons have been persecuted by the Islamic State – tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have fled the territory. Since the night of Aug. 6 when ISIS forces entered the city of Qaraqosh, formerly referred to as the Christian capital of Iraq, many have fled and are living in tents as refugees in camps, the priest noted. Despite having lived in these circumstances for two months, many have maintained a strong faith, he explained. “I’ve met very few people who had lost faith and hope. So many suffered, so the sorrowful mysteries for us a daily act. But despite all this suffering, I’ve seen very few people who’ve lost the faith.”

When ISIS attacked the city of Mosul, 40 kilometers from Alqosh, many lost everything including their homes, their jobs, their money and even their wedding rings, which militants would take from persons fleeing the city. However, when he met with families “they would tell me ‘Father, we are safe and all our children are with us. The rest will come later. But we thank God that the Lord has saved us. We have lost everything, but we are saved.’ “I heard this phrase from so many people. Desperate, but they never lost their faith. And these sorrowful mysteries of the rosary for us are a daily reality, but they also give us the strength to keep going.”

Fr. Baho then recalled how he and a few of the others who had fled the city as ISIS approached the nearby Qaraqosh returned after a week to ring the bells of their parish, which had been silent since the Aug. 6 attack. “After a week of this silence of all the bells of the churches on the plains of Nineveh, and they still are in many villages, with a group of guys from the parish, we challenged the fear and we went (back) into the village.” The priest, along with 20 or 30 people who were on guard that night, entered Alqosh again on Sept. 15, where they rang the bells of the parish once again and celebrated Mass. “For me that Mass was a culmination of Christian faith, and with so much pain, with so much fear, we finished the Mass and we returned back to the Kurdish area,” Fr. Baho said.

On the way back, Father said he saw one young man that was with him when he initially fled. This young man told him: “Father, I saw you always from afar, but this week I found out who you are, and it has given me so much strength (to know) that you are a priest in the middle of your people.” Father also said he had written to his fellow priest from his parish in Rome about what they were planning to do: “Today I need to ring the bells that for a week haven’t sounded. I have to do this, even if it’s last time the bells ring, I will do it.”

As they were entering Alqosh to celebrate the Mass, the priest recounted how one young man told him “Father, today we see you a little stronger.” Referring to how his fellow priest had promised to pray a rosary for them, he responded that “Yes, there are people who pray for us, even if they are far, they are united to us in prayer.” “For me this was the day of salvation. From there the people began to have more hope. Different families returned to the city. Also, the war is 10 kilometers from the city, but the people returned. So when I return I’ll go there, to the parish next week,” he said.

In his homily during the Mass, Fr. Baho explained how often times we seek miracles in order know whether or not God is with us, but that the great miracle happened for them when more than 100,000 people escaped at the same time and all managed to get out “sane and safe.” “It was an exodus, exactly an exodus. The third exodus here. The Lord is truly with us. This is a true miracle,” the priest continued, observing how when they all fled from the Plains of Nineveh around 10 p.m. the only thing visible were the lights of the other cars. “If you can imagine 100,000 people leaving together and not even an accident happens, this is a true miracle.”

Many who attended the courageous Mass in Alqosh filmed the event, the video of which was presented to Pope Francis by Fr. Baho and the Hano couple during their encounter with him in his audience with the elderly. “This also gave us the strength, he made us feel that he is very close to us, and he has said many times, and he said it that day, 'I am always close to you. I hear your sufferings and I am united with you in prayer.'” The sounding of the Alqosh church bells in St. Peter’s Square in front of the more than 4,000 people present that day, as well as their broadcast to millions throughout the world, gave witness to the Christian presence in Iraq for more than 2,000 years, the priest said. “So that voice that they wanted to silence rang out even stronger. And this also gave hope.”
 

Full transcript of Pope's in-flight interview from Korea

By Alan Holdren and Andrea Gagliarducci

Pope Francis speaks with journalists on the papal plane on the return flight to Rome August 18, 2014. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.

Aboard the papal plane, Aug 18, 2014 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Speaking to journalists aboard the Aug. 18 flight to Italy from South Korea, Pope Francis said he supports international intervention in Iraq and is willing to go to there personally if it will help end the violence against Christians and other religious minorities.

He also addressed topics ranging from peace efforts between Israel and Palestine, future papal visits, to his personal schedule, relationship with Benedict XVI and life at the Vatican.

Below is a full transcript of the discussion between Pope Francis and journalists during Tuesday's flight.

Korean journalist Sun Yin Park, Yonhap press agency:

In the name of the Korean journalists and our people, I wish to thank you for your visit. You have brought happiness to many people in Korea and thank you for your encouragement for the education of our country. Holy Father, during your visit to Korea, you have reached out to the family of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster and consoled them. Two questions. One, what did you feel when you met them? Two, were you not concerned your actions could be misinterpreted politically?

Pope Francis:

When you find yourself in front of human sorrow, you do what your heart brings you to do. Today, they will say, 'oh, he's done this because he has political intention,' or that other thing. But you can say anything. But, you think about these men and women, mothers and fathers, who lost their children. Brother and sisters who have lost brothers and sisters…to the great sorrow of such a catastrophe. My heart…I'm a priest, you know, and being able to come close like that is the first thing. I know that the consolation I can give with a word of mine isn't a remedy, it doesn't give new life to their dead but the in these moments human proximity gives us strength. There is solidarity. I remember that, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, I lived two of these catastrophes.

One, was a dance hall where you could hear pop music, 193 died (he refers to Cromagnon disco).  And then, another time a catastrophe with a train. I think 120 died. In that time, I felt the same, to come close to make them strong. And if we in these sad moments come close to each other, we help each other so much. And then on the other question and then I'd like to say something more. I put this on (the yellow lace from the victims' relatives). After half a day of wearing it, I took it on for solidarity with them, eh. Someone came up and said, it's better to take it off, eh. You must be neutral (there is a controversy about the responsibility of the tragedy: relatives of victims have touched on government corruption which led to building a ship with sub-par material). But, listen with human sorrow you can't be neutral. It's what I feel. Thanks for this question. Thanks.

American journalist Alan Holdren, Catholic News Agency/ACI PRENSA/ EWTN:

As you know, not long ago the U.S. military forces have started bombing terrorists in Iraq to prevent a genocide. To protect the future of the minorities, I think also of the Catholics under your guidance, do you approve of this American bombing (campaign)?

Pope Francis:

Thanks for such a clear question. In these cases where the is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb “stop.” I don't saying to bomb or make war, (but) stop it. The means with which it can be stopped should be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit. But we also have to have memory, as well, eh. How many times under this excuse of stopping the unjust aggressor the powers have taken control of nations. And, they have made a true war of conquest. One single nation cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there was the idea of the United Nations. It must be discussed there and said 'there's an unjust aggressor, it seems so “How do we stop it?” Only that, nothing more. Secondly, the minorities. Thanks for the word because they speak to me of the Christians, poor Christians – it is true, they suffer – and the martyrs – and yes, there are so many martyrs – but here there are men and women, religious minorities, and not all Christian and all are equal before God, no? Stopping the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity has but it is also a right of the aggressor to be stopped so he doesn't do evil.

French journalist Jean Louis de la Vaiessiere, Agence France Press:

As Cardinal Filoni and the Dominican superior Bruno Cadoré, Would you be ready to support a military intervention against the jihadists in Iraqi territory? Another question, do you think of someday being able to go to Iraq, maybe to Kurdistan to sustain the Christian refugees and pray with them in the land where they've lived for 2000 years?

Pope Francis:

Thank you. I have been not long ago with the governor of Kurdistan. He had a very clear thought on the situation and how to find a solution but it was before these last aggressions. And the first question I have responded to. I am only in agreement in the fact that when there is an unjust aggressor that he is stopped. Sorry, I forgot about that. Yes, I am available but I think I can say this. When we heard with my collaborators this situation of the religious minorities and also the problems in that moment of Kurdistan which couldn't receive so many people. It's a problem. It's understood. They couldn't, right? It can't be done and we've thought of so many things. We wrote first of all a communique that Fr. Lombardi wrote in my name. Then, this statement was sent out to all of the nunciatures so that it might be communicated to the governments. Then, we sent a letter to the secretary general of the United Nations. And so many things and in the end we said, eh, sending a personal envoy (who was) Cardinal Filoni. And in the end we have said, and if it were necessary when we return from Korea we can go there. It was one of the possibilities. This was the response. And in this moment, I am ready and right now it isn't the most, the best thing to do but I am disposed for this.

Italian journalist Fabio Zavattaro, Rai Television:

You were the first pope to fly over China. The telegram that you sent to the Chinese president was received without negative comments. Are we passing on to a possible dialogue and would you like to go to China?

Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi: I can announce that we are now in Chinese airspace so the question is pertinent.

Pope Francis: When we were about to enter into Chinese airspace I was in the cockpit with the pilot. One of them, showed me the registry. Anyway, he said, there were 10 minutes left before entering Chinese airspace. we have ask for authorization. You always ask. 'Is it normal to ask for permission in every nation? Yes.'  I heard how they asked authorization and how they responded. I was a witness to this. Then the pilot said, now we send the telegram. But I don't know how they will have done it by like that. So, then i said goodbye to them and went back to my seat and i prayed a lot for that beautiful and noble Chinese people. a wise people. i think of the great Chinese sages, a history of science and knowledge. Also we Jesuits have a history there, also Father (Matteo) Ricci. And, all thees things came up to my mind. Do I have a wish to go.? Certainly, tomorrow. Yes. We respect the Chinese people. It's just that the Church ask for freedom for its role and for its work. This is another condition. But, do not forget that fundamental letter for the Chinese problem which was the letter sent to the Chinese by Pope Benedict XVI. That letter today is current. Rereading it is good for you. The holy see is always open to being in contact, always, because it has a real esteem for the Chinese people.

Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero, Radio Cope:

The next trip will be Albania, then maybe Iraq and the Filippines and Sri Lanka. But where will you go in 2015? I'll tell you also just in case, you know that in Avila and Alba de Tormes there are so many expectations, can they still hope?

Pope Francis: Yes, yeah. The madam president of Korea in perfect Spanish told me “hope is the last thing to go.” That's what she said. Hoping for the unification of Korea, no. That's what she told me. We can hope, no? But it has not been decided...

Journalist: and after Mexico?

Pope Francis:

Now I'll explain. This year, Albania is planned. Some say that the Pope has a style of starting things from the peripheries. But, I'm going to Albania for two important reasons. First, because they were able to make a government – and let's think of the Balkans, eh – a government of national unity among Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics with an inter-religious council that has helped a lot and is balanced. And this is good it is harmonized it. The presence of the Pope to all peoples…but you can work well, eh. I've that it could be a true aid to that noble people. I've also thought of the history of Albania, which of all the nations in the former Yugoslavia was the only one that in its constitution had the practical atheism. If you went to Mass, it was unconstitutional. And then, one of their ministers told me that - and I want to be precise in the number – 1820 churches were destroyed, orthodox and catholic, in that time. And then other churches were made into cinemas and others dance halls. I felt like I needed to go. It's close, done in a day.

Next year, I would like to go to Philadelphia for the encounter of families. I was also invited by the president of the United States to the American congress and by the secretary general of the United Nations in New York. Maybe the three cities together, no? Mexico. The Mexicans would like me to go to Our Lady of Guadalupe. And we could take advantage of that, but it's not certain.

And then Spain. The monarchs have invited me. And the episcopate has invited me. But it's raining invitations to go to Spain, also Santiago di Compostela. But maybe, and I won't say more, because it isn't decided, to go in the morning to Avila and Alba de Tormes and return in the afternoon. It would be possible, yes, but it's not decided. And this is the response. Thank you.

German journalist from KNA:

What type of relationship is there between you and Benedict XVI? Is there an habitual exchange of opinions and ideas? Is there a common project after this encyclical?

Pope Francis:

We see each other. Before leaving I went to see him. He, two weeks prior, had sent me an interesting text and he asked me an opinion. We have a normal relationship because I go back to this idea and maybe a theologian doesn't like it. But, I think that the pope emeritus is not an exception. After so many centuries, he's the first emeritus and let's think that if i am aged and don't have the strength, but it was a beautiful gesture of nobility and also humility and courage. But, I think that 70 years ago also the bishops emeritus were an exception. They didn't exist. Today, the bishops emeritus are an institution. I think that the pope emeritus is already an institution. Why? Our lives are getting longer and at a certain age there is not the capacity to govern well, because the body tires and health perhaps is good but there is the capacity to carry forward all of the problems like those in the governance of the church. I think that Pope Benedict made this gesture of popes emeritus. I repeat that maybe some theologian would say this isn't just, but i think like this. The centuries will tell if it's like this or not, we'll see, but if you can to say to me, 'but do you think that one day if you don't feel like it, will you go on?' But, I would do the same. I would do the same. I will pray, but I would do the same. He opened a door that is institutional not exceptional. And our relationship is one of brothers, truly, but I've said that it's like having a grandfather at home for the wisdom. He has a wisdom with his nuances and it does me well to hear. He encourages me a lot. This is the relationship we have.

Japanese journalist Yoshinori Fukushima:

Your Holiness, Pope Francis, first of all many thanks for this first visit to Asia. During this visit, you met people who have suffered. What did you feel when you greeted the seven 'comfort women' at mass this morning. And regarding the suffering of people, as in Korea there were hidden Christians in Japan and next year will be the 150th anniversary of their coming out (after years of hiding, editor note – see my previous email ). Would it be possible to pray for them together with you in Nagasaki? Thanks.

Pope Francis:

It would be wonderful. I was invited, eh, both by the government and the episcopate I was invited. But suffering. You go back to one of the first questions. The Korean nation is a people that has not lost its dignity. It was a people invaded and humiliated, it has gone through wars and been divided with so much suffering. Yesterday, when I went to the encounter with young people, I visited the museum of the martyrs there. It's terrible the suffering of these people. Simply to not step on the cross. It's a pain, an historical suffering. It has the capacity to suffer this nation and also this is a part of its dignity. Also today, when there were these elderly ladies in front at Mass. Think that during that invasion they were girls taken away to the police stations to be taken advantage of. And they haven't lost their dignity. They were there today showing their faces. These elderly women, the last of them who remain. It's a people strong in their dignity. But going back to martyrdom and suffering, also these women are the fruits of war. Today we are in a world of war. everywhere. Someone told me, 'you know father that we're in the third world war, but in pieces. ' He understood this, no? It is a world in war where they commit these cruelties.

I would like to speak about two words. First, cruelty. Today, children don't count. Once they spoke of 'conventional warfare.' Today this doesn't count. I'm not saying that the conventional war is a good thing, but today the bomb goes and kills the innocent with the culpable with the child and the women and mother. They kill everyone. But, we need to stop and think a bit about what level of cruelty we have reached. This should scare us. And, this is not to create fear. We could make an empirical study. The level of cruelty today of humanity is a bit scary. Another word on which I would like to say something in relation with this is torture. Today, torture is one of the almost ordinary means of acts of intelligence services, of judicial processes. And, torture is a sin against humanity. It is a crime against humanity. And, to Catholics I say that torturing a person is a mortal sin. It is a grave sin. But, it's more. It's a sin against humanity. Cruelty and torture. I would really like it if you in your media were to make a reflection of how you see these things today, how is the level of cruelty of humanity and what you think of torture. I think it would do us all well to think about this.

American journalist Deborah Ball, Wall Street Journal:

Our question is You have a very, very difficult routine. With very little rest and little vacation and you make these hard trips. And then in the last few months we've also seen that you've had to cancel some appointments anche an event. Should we be concerned about the rhythm you carry?

Pope Francis:

Yes, some have told me this. I took my holidays at home as usual. Once I read a book and it's interesting. The title was “Be happy to be neurotic.” I've also got some neuroses. But you have to treat neuroses well, eh. Give them “mate” (an Argentine tea) every day, no? (laughs) One of my neuroses is that I'm too attached to life. The last time I took a vacation outside of Buenos Aires with the Jesuit community was in 1975. But then, I always take holidays. Truly, eh. But at home. I sleep more. I read book that I like. I listen to music. I pray more. In July and a part of August I did this and it was good (for me). The other part of the question, it's true that I’ve had to cancel. That is true. The day I had to go to Gemelli Hospital. 10 minutes before. That there, I just couldn't do it. They were certain very busy days. But I need to be more prudent, you're right.

French journalist Anais Martin, French Radio:

In Rio, when the crowd yelled “Francesco, Francesco!” you responded “Cristo, Cristo!” Today, how do you manage this immense popularity? How do you live it?

Pope Francis:

I don't know how to tell you. I live it thanking the Lord that his people are happy. I really do that, hoping the best for the people of God. I live it as generosity towards the people. On the inside, I try to think of my sins and my errors not to flatter myself because I know it won't last long. Two or three years and then (makes a sound and gesture) up to the house of the of the Father. It's not wise to believe this. I live it as the presence of the Lord in his people who uses his bishop, the shepherd of the people to do so many things. I live it more naturally than before. Before I was a bit scared. Also, it comes to mind not to make errors because you can't do wrong for the people and all these things.

Italian journalist Francesca Paltracca, RAI Radio:

For the Pope who came from the ends of the world and found himself in the Vatican, beyond Saint Martha Residence where you have your life and your choice (to live there)? How does the pope live within the Vatican? They always ask us this, but how does he move around? Does he take walks? You go to the cafeteria. … This is surprising. So, what type of life do you have beyond that of St. Martha?

Pope Francis:

I try to be free. There are appointments of the office, of work. But my life for me is the most normal that I could have. Truly. I would love to be able to leave but you can't…You can't because if you go out the people come so you can't and that's a reality. But there inside in the St Martha, I have a normal life of work and rest and chatting. I have a normal life.

Journalist: Don't you feel imprisoned, then?

Pope Francis:

No, no, at the beginning yes. Now some of the walls on the inside have come down.

Journalist: Which are the walls that have come down?

Pope Francis:

I don't know, the Pope can't… For example, to have a laugh. One goes to the elevator, someone comes because the Pope can't go down in the elevator alone. But, go back to your post because I'm going down alone! That's how it is. It's normality. It's a normality.

Argentine journalist:

Holy Father, sorry for this but I have to ask you as part of the Spanish group from Argentina. I'm going to have to ask you a question that will exhibit your knowledge. Your team for the first time is the champion of America. I would like to know how you're living it, how you found out. They tell me that one of the delegation is coming Wednesday and you're going to receive him during the general audience.

Pope Francis:

It's true that this is the greatest piece of news after the second place (of the Argentine national team) in Brazil. I found out here. In Seoul they told me. Listen, on Wednesday they're coming, eh. They're coming. And, it's a public audience. For me, San Lorenzo is the team for which all of my family were fans. My father played basketball for San Lorenzo. He was a player on the basketball team. And when we were kids, we went and my mom came with us to the Gasometro (San Lorenzo stadium). I remember today the season of 1946. A magnificent team that San Lorenzo had. They came out champions. I live it with joy.

Journalist: Is it a miracle?

Pope Francis:

Miracle? No. (laughs) Miracle, no.

German journalist Juergen Erbacher, German TV:

Holy Father, they have long spoken of an encyclical on ecology. Can you tell us when it will be released? And, which are the central points?

Pope Francis:

This encyclical. I've spoken a lot with Cardinal Turkson and also with others and I have asked Cardinal Turkson to bring together all of the contributions. They arrived. And the week before the trip, no, four days before he delivered the first draft to me. The first draft is this big (gestures). I'd say it's a third bigger than Evangelii Gaudium. And that's the first draft. Now, it's not an easy issue because on the protection of creation and the study of human ecology, you can speak with sure certainty up to a certain point then come the scientific hypotheses some of which are rather sure, others aren't. In an encyclical like this that must be magisterial, it must only go forward on certainties, things that are sure. If the Pope says that the center of the universe is the earth and not the sun, he errs because he says something scientific that isn't right. That's also true here. We need to make the study, number by number, and I think it will become smaller. But going to the essence is what we can affirm with certainty. But, you could say in the notes, in the footnotes, that this is a hypotheses and this and this. To say it as an information, but not in the body of the encyclical which is doctrinal and needs to be certain.

Korean journalist Young Hae Ko, Korean daily newspaper:

Thank you so much for your visit to South Korea. I'm going to ask you two questions. First one is: just before the final mass at the Myeong-dong Cathedral, you consoled the comfort women there. What thought came to you? That's my first question and my second question is Pyongyang sees Christianity as a direct threat to its regime and it's leadership and we know that something terrible happened to North Korean Christianity but we don't know exactly what happened. Is there special effort in your mind to change North Korea's approach to Christianity?

Pope Francis:

The first question. I repeat this. Today, these women were there because despite all they have suffered they have dignity and they showed their faces. I have thought also about what I've said a little bit ago about the sufferings of war, the cruelty brought by a war. These women were taken advantage of, enslaved, but they are all cruelties. I thought of all of this. The dignity they have and also how much they've suffered. Suffering is an inheritance. We say…They first fathers of the Church say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. The Korean have planted a lot. A lot. For coherence, no? You now see the fruit of that planting, of the martyrs.

On North Korea, I know what is a sufferance. One, I know for sure, that there are some family members, many family members that cannot reunite and this is true. This is a suffering of that division of the nation. Today in the cathedral where I dressed in the adornments of the Mass, there was a gift they've given me which was a crown of thorns of Christ made with the iron wire that divides the single Korea. We've got this on the airplane. It's a gift I'm carrying. The suffering of the division, of a divided family. As I said yesterday I think, I don't remember, we have a hope. The two Koreas are siblings and they speak the same language. When you speak the same language it's because you have the same mother and this gives us hope. The suffering of division is great and I understand this and I pray that it ends.

American journalist Phil Pulella, Reuters:

I won't stand up because if I do my colleagues from the televisions will kill me. An observation and a question. As an Italian-American I wanted to compliment you on your English. You shouldn't be afraid. And if before you go to America, my homeland, you want to practice I'm available.

(Pope inaudible, making faces about the difficulty of English pronunciation).

Whichever accent you want to use: New Yorker…I'm from New York so I'm available.

So the question is this: You spoke about martyrdom. At what point are we in the process for the bishop Romero? And what would you like to see come out of this process?

Pope Francis:

The process was in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "blocked for prudence," as they said. Now it is unblocked and has passed to the Congregation for Saints and it is following the normal path of a process. It depends on how the postulators move. That's very important to do it quickly. What I would like is that it's clarified when there is martyr in odium fidei (for the hatred of the faith) both for confessing the creed and for doing works that Jesus commands with our neighbor. This is a work of the theologians, who are studying it. Because behind him is a long list and there are others. There are others who were killed but weren't of the same height of Romero. We have to distinguish this theologically, no? For me, Romero is a man of God. He was a man of God. But we have to run the process and the Lord has to give his sign there. But, now the postulators have to move because there are no impediments.

French journalist Celine Noyaux, La Croix:

Seeing the war in Gaza, do you think the prayer for peace organized in the Vatican last June 8 was a failure?

Pope Francis:

Thanks for the question. That prayer for peace, absolutely was not a failure! First, the initiative didn't initiative didn't come from me. The initiative to pray together came from the two presidents. The president of the state of Israel and the president of the State of Palestine. They made the restlessness present to me. Then, we wanted to do it there but we couldn't find the right place because of the political post of each one it was very strong if we did it in one or another part. The nunciature was a neutral site, yes, but to get to the nunciature the president of Palestine had to enter in Israel. The thing wasn't easy. They said, well, let's do it in the Vatican. We'll go. These two men are men of peace. They are men who believe in God. They have lived so many nasty things, so many nasty things. They are convinced that the only path to resolve that situation is negotiation, dialogue, peace.

Your question now. Was it a failure? No, I think that the door is open. All four. With the representative which is Bartholomew. I wanted him to be there as the head of the orthodox, but the ecumenical patriarch of the orthodox. I don't want to use terms that aren't appreciated by all of the orthodox. As ecumenical patriarch, it was good that he was with us. But the door to prayer was opened. We said we needed to pray. It's a gift, peace is a gift. It's a gift that is merited through our work, but it's a gift. And to say to humanity that also the path of dialogue which is important, of dialogue also there is prayer. It's true, after this what happened has happened. But this is given by circumstances.  That encounter wasn't given by circumstances. It's a fundamental step of the human being, prayer. Now the smoke of the bombs of the wars don't allow us to see the door but the door is still open from that moment. As I believe in God, I believe that God is watching that door and all who pray and ask that he help us. I like that question. Thanks for having posed it. Thanks.

Fr. Federico Lombardi: Holy Father, thanks a lot. I think you've done more than an hour of conversation also with us and now it's just that you go relax a bit with the end of the voyage. Anyway, we know that on this trip you'll probably go on to Our Lady.

Pope Francis:

From the airport, I'm going to Our Lady. It’s a nice thing. I asked Dr. Giani (the head of the Vatican's gendarme police) to bring roses from Korea with the colors of Korea, but then outside the nunciature a little girl came with a bouquet of flowers and we said why don't we take these flowers from a girl from Korea. That's what we'll do. From the airport, we'll go to pray a bit there and then onwards to home.
 
 
 

Pope's Mass: Lord, send us nuns and priests, free from idolatry of power and money

2014-03-03
During his morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis prayed for vocations, so that young people listen and recognize God's call to service. The Pope explained that when the heart is full of other interests, joy turns to sadness, and there is no desire to show faith in Jesus.

Pope Francis:  "This is the prayer for vocations. ‘Lord, send us nuns and send us priests, defend them from idolatry, the idolatry of vanity, the idolatry of pride, the idolatry of power, the idolatry of money.’ Our prayer is to prepare these hearts so that they are able to follow Jesus closely.”

The Pope's missionary prayer intentions for March also deal with vocations, calling on young people to recognize their vocation for the priesthood and consecrated life.

Excerpt from the Pope's homily:

"His heart was restless, because the Holy Spirit was pushing him to get closer to Jesus and to follow him. But his heart was full and he lacked the courage to empty it. He made his choice: money. His heart was full of money…. But he was not a thief, or a criminal: no, no, no! He was a good man: he had never stolen! He had never cheated anyone: his money had been earned honestly. But his heart was imprisoned, it was attached to money and he lacked the freedom to choose. Money chose for him.”

"We must pray so that the hearts of these young people may be emptied, emptied of other interests and other sentiments, so that they may become free. This is the prayer for vocations. ‘Lord, send us nuns and send us priests, defend them from idolatry, the idolatry of vanity, the idolatry of pride, the idolatry of power, the idolatry of money’. This prayer of ours is to prepare these hearts so that they are able to follow Jesus closely.”

"Lord, help these young people so that they may be free, not slaves, so that their hearts be for You only; so that the call of the Lord can be heard and can bear fruit. This is the prayer for vocations. We must pray a lot. But we must be careful: there are vocations. We must help them to grow, so that the Lord can enter into those hearts and give this indescribable and glorious joy that belongs to every person who follows Jesus closely.”

Firing of Polish doctor over abortion refusal sparks outcry

By Elise Harris


Rome, Italy, Aug 2, 2014 / 04:02 pm (Catholic News Agency :: CNA).- The removal one of Poland's top doctors as director of Holy Family hospital in Warsaw for refusing to perform an abortion has drawn widespread criticism, with many stating the act violated legal grounds.

“The official council in his institution has not found any miscarrying of procedures or breaking of the rules within the hospital,” Catholic advocacy group member Professor Bogna Obidzinska told CNA July 23.

“His decision not to commit the abortion was perfectly within the law, and he had the right, according to the Freedom of Conscious Act,” to refuse. “The only breech they found that he was guilty of was not referring the lady to another abortion clinic, which in fact was not among his obligations because he was not the leading doctor of this woman.”

A representative of Catholic Voices in Poland and professor at the local Bogdan Janski academy, Obidzinska offered her comments in wake of the July 23 dismissal of Doctor Bogdan Chazan from his position as director of Warsaw’s Holy Family Hospital. Chazan was fired after refusing to perform an abortion on a deformed baby who had been conceived through in vitro in a fertility clinic. Catholic Voices is an international organization dedicated to improving Catholic media representation, and has supported numerous petitions advocating on the professor’s behalf, including one on CitizenGo that has obtained more than 85,000 signatures. Although Polish law protects the right of mothers to abort babies conceived in rape and those who are fatally ill up to full term, under the country’s conscience clause no doctor is required to participate in or perform an abortion.  However following his refusal to perform the requested abortion, Chazan’s hospital was fined 70,000 zloty, roughly $23,000. Warsaw’s vice-mayor removed the physician on the grounds that he had not used the conscience clause correctly, which states that if a doctor refuses an abortion, they must refer their patient to another abortionist.

“In Poland, every pregnant woman has a doctor who looks after her throughout the pregnancy,” and for the woman in question “that was not professor Chazan,” Obidzinska stated. “She actually had her doctor, and that doctor later on did provide her with the information she asked.”

Chazan has been given on a three month grace period – which took effect immediately after his July 23 dismissal – and he will be required to officially step down when the hospital appoints a new head. The doctor, who is being represented by Polish organization “Ordo Iuris,” has said that he will launch an appeal, despite the fact that the Warsaw city council stated their ruling cannot be appealed.

“It’s very hard to say why all this is happening, because he’s a successful doctor and he wasn’t even responsible for the woman, she just consulted with him,” the media representative explained, stating that there could be “some kind of jealousy between clinics” due to Chazan's success. Numbers found in the committee of the city of Warsaw's official report on the clinic “state that the number of patients who have used the clinic have tripled over the time when Professor Chazan was appointed, which is about 10 years.” “There has been only one abortion carried out in this clinic over those last 12 years, and the number of caesarian sections has dropped (at least) by half, which means that the quality of the medical care in this hospital must be truly extraordinary.”

In light of this, the professor's dismissal “looks quite artificial, there really seem to be no reasons,” Obidzinska continued.

“The baby was born, the woman is healthy,” and although the baby died as expected a few days after birth, “Professor Chazan actually offered the woman full care in a special unit of the clinic with hospice and with special psychological care for her and for her husband, so she was not just left alone with the problem.”

Referring to how Chazan is being called a “hypocrite” by some due to a previous change in his stance on abortion, Obidzinska noted that “the hypocrisy of those criticizing Dr. Chazan is awful because he has been a well-known doctor for saving lives for at least 15 years now.”

 “People, women in Warsaw know that if they want an abortion they simply don’t go to him. This is common knowledge as well,” she said. “He is famous for doing extraordinary things in order to save life, and he's also known and famous for having saved life where other doctors had thought that pregnancies would naturally end in tragedy,” the media representative observed. “He did save lots and lots of babies. If someone goes to ask him for an abortion that sounds like a provocation. I can’t believe that the woman wouldn’t know he would refuse.”
 

Pope meets with Sudanese Christian woman who faced death sentence for apostasy

July 24, 2014: In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, with her daughter Maya in her arms, in his Santa Marta residence, at the Vatican. The Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to recant her Christian faith has arrived in Italy along with her family, including the infant born in prison.AP/L'Osservatore Romano/File

July 24, 2014: Meriam Ibrahim disembarks with her children Maya, in her arms, and Martin, accompanied by Italian deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, after landing at Ciampino's military airport on the outskirts of Rome. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca).

Pope Francis met privately Thursday with Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who faced a death sentence for refusing to renounce her faith, blessing the woman after she was flown to Italy on an Italian government jet. The Vatican characterized the visit with Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children as "very affectionate."

The 30-minute encounter took place just hours after the family landed at Rome's Ciampino airport, accompanied by an Italian diplomat who helped negotiate her release, and welcomed by Italy's premier, who hailed it as a "day of celebration." Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pope "thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity" during the half-hour meeting Thursday. Francis frequently calls attention to the suffering of those persecuted for their religious beliefs. Lombardi said the presence of "their wonderful small children" added to the affectionate tone of the meeting. Ibrahim was presented with a rosary, a gift from the pope. Ibrahim and her family are expected to spend a few days in Rome before heading to the United States.

Earlier Thursday, Reuters reported that Italian television broadcast images of Ibrahim and her family arriving in Rome with Italian politician Lapo Pistelli. Pistelli had posted a picture on his Facebook page depicting himself with Ibrahim and her two children. The caption, translated from Italian, read "With Meriam, Maya, Martin and [Ibrahim's husband] Daniel, a few minutes from Rome. Mission accomplished." Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was among those who greeted the plane, calling it "a day of celebration." Ibrahim had spent more than a month at the American Embassy in Khartoum after a previous attempt to leave Sudan was halted by that country's authorities. They said she had attempted to use false travel documents, a claim Ibrahim denied.

Last month, Sudan's Supreme Court threw out the death sentence Ibrahim had received for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Ibrahim's father, a Muslim, claimed she had abandoned Islam and committed adultery with her husband Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen who lives in New Hampshire. However, Ibrahim insisted that she had been raised Christian by her Ehiopian Orthodox mother after her father left the family when she was still young. Pistelli told the Associated Press that Italy had leveraged its historic ties within the Horn of Africa region to help win her release, though the specifics were not immediately clear. Ibrahim's lawyer, Mohaned Mostafa, told Reuters that he had not been aware of her departure.

"I don't know anything about such news but so far the complaint that was filed against Mariam and which prevents her from travelling from Sudan has not been cancelled," he said.
 

Catholics urged to pray for cancellation of ‘black mass’

An estimated 2,000 people attend holy hour May 12 at St. Paul Church in Cambridge, Mass., in reaction to plans for a satanic ritual “black mass” to be held in a pub on the Harvard University campus. The student group organizing the “black mass” ultimately cancelled the event. (CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, Pilot)

Jul 23, 2014

Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, is urging local Catholics to gather for a 7 p.m. holy hour July 25 in order to pray that a black mass scheduled to take place Sept. 21 in Oklahoma City will be canceled.

A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and desecrates a eucharistic host stolen from a Catholic church. The host is then used in a profane, sexual ritual. “We will pray specifically for the cancellation of the black mass,” Fr. Lankeit said. “I am calling on all of the Catholic faithful and people of good will to stand firm against the powers of Hell, and in defense of those vulnerable souls who would be drawn to this evil event.” Archbishop of Oklahoma City Paul Coakley has been an outspoken critic of the black mass.

“There are common standards of decency that civic-minded people uphold that are necessary for constructive public discourse, and this violates all of those standards,” Archbishop Coakley told Catholic News Agency July 16. “This is a mockery of one faith, a hostile act toward a significant faith community, the Catholic community.” It would be “truly offensive to a significant segment of their population, that is the Catholic, and the Christian community at large,” the archbishop added. “Oklahoma is a very church-minded community; there are not many Catholics here, but a great majority are Christian, and this is really an affront to all Christian believers, and I think the more people are recognizing that, the more they’re willing to speak up.”

The occult group Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has been scheduled to hold a black mass at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall Sept. 21. “I give the benefit of the doubt to those who allowed this civic center to be booked by a satanic group for the purpose of a black mass, because my suspicion is that whoever booked it had no idea what a black mass is, how offensive such a thing is,” Archbishop Coakley reflected. “Initially there was ignorance, I think, about what they were getting into.”

When CNA spoke on July 3 with Jennifer Lindsey-McClintock – the music hall’s public information manager – about the nature of the event, she cited the hall’s neutrality policy saying it’s “not for us to judge…whether it is appropriate or not.” Archbishop Coakley said that “my hope is that through prayer, and through continued communication with the civic officials here, they will come to recognize this is not a prudent course, not a good course, for the city.” He added that he supposes “that if someone desired to rent the civic center to have a public burning of a Quran, or a blatantly anti-semitic sort of program, that the city would rightly find some way to prevent that from happening. And they should. That would be very clear.

“My question, is why can’t they recognize that this is equally offensive to the Catholic community, and act accordingly to prevent such a black eye on the community, such an affront to the Catholic and to the Christian community?” Lindsey-McClintock, however, claimed that as a city-funded facility, they must “operate in a position of neutrality.” She said that this policy would mean the center would host racist or anti-Jewish events “as long as it was not hosting something specifically illegal in nature, or that during the production they were taking part in illegal activities…we do not discriminate against any group based on the content of their message.”

“I think the more people here in Oklahoma, as well as around the country, have heard about this, and reflected upon what exactly it entails, the more outraged, and upset, people have become,” Archbishop Coakley said. Black masses, he said, are a “grievous sacrilege and blasphemy of the first order…taking what is most sacred to us as Catholics, and mocking it, desecrating it, in vile, often violent and sexually explicit ways…It’s obviously horrendous…what they intend to do with that consecrated Host is offensive beyond description.”

Archbishop Coakley called it a “terribly disturbing development in our community, and I think one of the things people need to realize, is this is inviting very dark and evil forces into our community. I think I have an obligation, we have an obligation, to do what we can do to prevent that from happening – unleashing spiritual influences which are harmful and destructive.”

Noting the recently planned black mass at Harvard, another satanic group’s attempt to place a satanic monument at the Oklahoma capitol, and this planned black mass, the archbishop said that “perhaps if anything, it’s a manifestation that these kinds of groups are becoming emboldened because of a certain kind of increasing tolerance for an increasingly outrageous mode of conduct in our culture.

“I hope to be meeting in the near future with civic officials,” he added. “We’ll continue to explore ways of dialoguing with civic officials.”
 “Obviously for us as people of faith, as Catholics, we’re praying for a change of heart, that something will shift, and that there will be a change of direction, and a recognition that this cannot be allowed.”

The archbishop noted that there have been a number of petitions against the event on Facebook and other sites, not organized by the archdiocese, but “very much a grassroots thing.” “My role in this,” Archbishop Coakley said, “is simply to provide a voice, and leadership, drawing attention to it, and encouraging people to pray, and to voice their concern to civic officials.”

Should the black mass not be canceled, the archbishop said the Catholic community will “find a way to lift up the Eucharist in a way that shows our love for Christ in the Eucharist, our respect and honor for the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.” Whether through Masses of reparation, holy hours, or processions, “we will do what we can do to bear witness to our faith in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” Archbishop Coakley said.
 

A Voice Against Oppression Martyred 30 Years Ago - Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko

Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko's meek but fearless counsel to Solidarity offers lessons we'd be well to heed.

SR. M. MICHELE JASCENIA, SCMC (2) July 22, 2014

The life and martyrdom of Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko—just 30 years ago—is probably little known outside the Polish and Polish-American communities. They should be. How he counseled and spiritually led the then growing opposition to the Communist regime in Poland is a model that we could do well to emulate today wherever human rights are being systematically violated.

On 6 June 2010, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Father Jerzy Popieluszko. Father Popieluszko was abducted and murdered by the Communist secret police in October 1984, at the age of thirty-seven.

Blessed Jerzy  was  a chaplain and influential advocate of the Solidarity movement. His gentle words of encouragement, his dedication to the Gospel message in the midst of immense pressure and threats from the government and law enforcement were like living flames from the Holy Spirit—warning, warming and lighting the way for thousands of Polish people who knew firsthand the denial of basic human rights, and in particular the denial of religious freedom. The predominantly Catholic Poles hungered for freedom.

Father Jerzy took their hearts into his own heart and made their hunger his hunger, their struggle his struggle, their pain, his pain.  Father reminded the many who attended his Masses about God’s love, His strength, His truth. He used the words of Jesus to maintain peace while encouraging their perseverance. Though the government reacted with violence, Father was able to keep the crowds focused on Jesus’ way—the way of prayerfully, peacefully, trustingly moving forward regardless of what retaliation the government promised. Such retaliation did come and it was often brutal. Still, Blessed Jerzy would not back down. The people would not back down in spite of arrests, violence, and at times, bloodshed. The faithful stood firm in the face of powerful opposition.

Father Popieluszko gave witness to how every Christian must respond to pressure, threats and  physical  and or psychological attacks. The Gospel, the crucifix, as well as patience and adherence to the truth were their shields; prayer was their weapon; unity and perseverance marked the mindset of Solidarity. Father led his people to Christ and led them with Christ against a godless government.

Blessed Jerzy paid for this with his life. The Polish people paid with their hearts, for when Father was taken from them, they had to carry on without his gentle encouragement, his loving and understanding presence. What Father Popieluszko planted in their hearts and souls, however, even the Communist government of Poland could not destroy with all its cold and deadly force. It could not even weaken their resolve. On the contrary, government retaliation only served to strengthen the Polish people.

The blood of Father Popieluszko watered the seeds of faith and the Gospel message in the lives of the people. The witness of Blessed Jerzy, his sacrifice on their behalf and on behalf of all of Poland, had already secured a victory. No one can kill God, even in His witnesses. The power of charity and the power of sacrifice, in imitation of Jesus’ love and sacrifice on the Cross, marked a new beginning in the struggle.

We, too, must make Blessed Popieluszko’s example our own. May his witness keep us strong in the Spirit, urging us on to be witnesses to the truth, to the Gospel, and to the love and gentleness of Christ. May Father Popieluszko help to strengthen our wills to do what is good and true; and with the power of Christ and His Cross, may this martyr of Poland help us to persevere in our struggle for freedom, and for truth.

Sr. M. Michele Jascenia, S.C.M.C. is a religious with the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church and resides at their Holy Family Motherhouse in Baltic, Ct. She teaches elementary school and is a freelance writer
 

Iraq Catholic leader says Islamic State worse than Genghis Khan

BY DOMINIC EVANS AND RAHEEM SALMAN
BAGHDAD Mon Jul 21, 2014 12:23am BST

Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul, pray at the Mar Afram church at the town of Qaraqush in province of Nineveh, July 19, 2014. REUTERS-Stringer

CREDIT: REUTERS/STRINGER

(Reuters) - The head of Iraq's largest church said on Sunday that Islamic State militants who drove Christians out of Mosul were worse than Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his grandson Hulagu who ransacked medieval Baghdad.
 Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako led a wave of condemnation for the Sunni Islamists who demanded Christians either convert, submit to their radical rule and pay a religious levy or face death by the sword.
 At the Vatican, Pope Francis decried what he said was the persecution of Christians in the birthplace of their faith, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Islamic State's actions could constitute a crime against humanity.

Hundreds of Christian families left Mosul ahead of Saturday's ultimatum, many of them stripped of their possessions as they fled for safety. They formed the remnants of a community which once numbered in the tens of thousands and traced its presence in Mosul to the earliest years of Christianity. People of other faiths in the once diverse city, including Shi'ites, Yazidis and Shabaks, have also fled from the ultra-conservative militants, who have blown up mosques and shrines and seized property of fleeing minorities.

"The heinous crime of the Islamic State was carried out not just against Christians, but against humanity," Sako told a special church service in east Baghdad where around 200 Muslims joined Christians in solidarity. "How in the 21st century could people be forced from their houses just because they are Christian, or Shi'ite or Sunni or Yazidi?" he asked. "Christian families have been expelled from their houses and their valuables were stolen and ...their houses and property expropriated in the name of the Islamic State." "This has never happened in Christian or Islamic history. Even Genghis Khan or Hulagu didn't do this," he said. Hulagu Khan led a Mongol army which sacked Baghdad in 1258, killing tens of thousand of people, destroying a caliphate which lasted nearly 600 years and leaving the city in ruins for centuries.

"WORLD MUST ACT"

Muslims at the service held up leaflets declaring "I am Iraqi, I am Christian", some writing it on their shirts. Others marked themselves with an "N", the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, "Nasrani" or Nazarene. The Islamic State has been putting an "N" on Christian property marked out for seizure. One of Zako's deputies, Bishop Shlemon Wardooni, called for an international response. "The world must act, speak out, consider human rights," he said, adding that the Iraqi state was weak and divided and Muslim leaders had remained silent.

"We haven't heard from clerics from all sects or from the government," he told Reuters on Sunday. "The Christians are sacrificed for Iraq." Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned the treatment of the Christians and what he described as attacks on churches in Mosul, saying it showed "the extreme criminality and terrorist nature of this group". He said he instructed a government committee set up to support displaced people across Iraq to help the Christians who had been made homeless, but did not say when the army might try to win back control of Mosul. Iraq's security forces, which wilted under the weight of last month's Islamic State-led offensive, have been reinforced by Shi'ite militia fighters and are trying to push back the Sunni militants further south. So far they have failed to take back significant territory from the insurgents.

Pope Francis said he was troubled by the Islamic State ultimatum in his weekly public prayers on Sunday. The Chaldeans are Eastern Rite Catholics in communion with Rome. "I learned with great concern the news that came from the Christian communities in Mosul and other parts of the Middle East, where they have lived since the birth of Christianity and where they have made significant contributions to the good of their societies," he said  "Today they are persecuted. Our brothers are persecuted. They've been driven away. They must leave their homes without being able to take anything with them."

REFUGEES ROBBED

U.N. Secretary General Ban condemned "in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of minority populations in Iraq by Islamic State (IS) and associated armed groups," a statement by his spokesman said. Any systematic attack on a civilian population because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable, he said. More than 2 million people have already been displaced in Iraq and the local U.N. mission said another 400 uprooted families arrived on Sunday morning in two cities in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish enclave. Another 700 families were expected in Arbil, barely 50 miles (80 km) from Mosul, it said. One Christian who left Mosul last week described how he fled with his family when he learned of the Islamic State deadline. "We gathered all our belongings and headed for the only exit. There was a checkpoint on the road and they were stopping cars there," 35-year-old Salwan Noel Miskouni said.

When the militants saw they were Christians, they demanded gold and money. The family initially said they had none, one of the fighters took their four-year-old son by the hand and threatened to abduct him. "My sister emptied her entire handbag with our money and gold and her ID. They let the car pass and the child go," Miskouni said. A few Christian families had stayed on, he said, hiding with Muslim neighbours who gave them shelter. But for now, he saw no possibility of returning with his family. "If (the Islamic State) leaves we will probably go back but if they stay it’s impossible - because they will slaughter us."

Pope Francis: Communists ‘stole’ the flag of Christianity

 Published time: June 30, 2014 00:51

Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have caused many to brand him a Marxist, said in an interview published Sunday that communists “stole” Christian ideals.

The 77-year-old pontiff was asked during his interview with local Il Messaggero newspaper about a blog in the Economist magazine by a journalist who said the Pope sounded a lot like a Leninist because he often criticized capitalism and called for reform of the global economic system.

“I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the center of the Gospel,” said the Pope. He was referring to passages in the Bible which state the need to help the poor.  Pope Francis has often called for people to share their wealth with the poor. “Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian,'” he said laughing.  The Pope also said that global politics is mired in corruption and bribery, adding that there is a deficiency in social work in society.  In regards to religious doctrine, the Pope said that the gospel cannot be understood without understanding poverty, and to be poor before God means poverty of the spirit.  Earlier this month, Pope Francis said that wealth from financial speculation and speculation on commodities was scandalous and compromised the poor’s access to food.
 

Pope emphasizes: ‘you cannot love God outside of the Church’

Catholic World News - June 25, 2014

Pope Francis continued his series of Wednesday general audiences on the Church and emphasized that belonging to the Church is essential to being a Christian. “We are Christians because we belong to the Church," Pope Francis said. “It’s like a last name: if the first name is ‘I am a Christian,’ the last name is ‘I belong to the Church.’”

“No one becomes a Christian by himself,” the Pope continued, as he explained that Christians receive their faith in baptism and through catechesis. He asked those assembled in St. Peter’s Square to recall the faces of parents, grandparents, priests, nuns, and others who taught them the sign of the cross, prayers, and the content of the faith. “I always remember the face of the nun who taught me catechism,” he said, as he called the Church “a large family.” “There are those who believe you can have a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside of the communion and the mediation of the Church,” he continued. “These are dangerous and harmful temptations.”

The Pope concluded by asking the Virgin Mary to pray “the grace never to fall into the temptation” of thinking that we do not need the Church. “On the contrary, you cannot love God without loving the brothers, you cannot love God outside of the Church; you cannot be in communion with God without being in the Church.”

Pope Francis says Italian Mafia members are 'excommunicated'

The Pope comforted the imprisoned father of a 3-year-old boy killed in the region's drug war and denounced Mafiosi for their 'adoration of evil' during a one-day pilgrimage to Calabria, the mob power base in southern Italy.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Saturday, June 21, 2014, 5:56 PM

ASSANO ALL’JONIO, Italy — Pope Francis journeyed Saturday to the heart of Italy’s biggest crime syndicate, met the father of a 3-year-old boy slain in the region’s drug war, and declared that all mobsters are automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

During his one-day pilgrimage to the southern region of Calabria, Francis comforted the imprisoned father of Nicola Campolongo in the courtyard of a prison in the town of Castrovillari. In January the boy was shot, along with one of his grandfathers and the grandfather’s girlfriend, in an attack blamed on drug turf wars in the nearby town of Cassano all’Jonio. The attackers torched the car with all three victims inside. The boy’s father and mother already were in jail at the time on drug trafficking charges. The pope had expressed his horror following the attack and promised to visit the town. Francis embraced the man. He asked the pope to pray for the boy’s mother, who was permitted to leave prison following her son’s slaying and remains under house arrest. The pope also met two of the boy’s grandmothers.

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Francis told the father: “May children never again have to suffer in this way.” “The two grandmothers were weeping like fountains,” Benedettini added. Calabria is the power base of the ‘ndrangheta, a global drug trafficking syndicate that enriches itself by extorting businesses and infiltrating public works contracts in underdeveloped Calabria. During his homily at an outdoor Mass, Francis denounced the ‘ndrangheta for what he called its ‘’adoration of evil and contempt for the common good. ‘’ ‘’Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” he warned. Francis greeted about 200 other prisoners during his visit there. When Francis visited a hospice, a doctor there removed a bothersome wooden splinter from one of the pope’s fingers at his request, organizers said.
 

Peace Breaks Out In Israel Moments After  Olive Tree Planted

June 9, 2014

VATICAN–Just moments after Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas helped Pope Francis plant an Olive Tree in the Vatican Garden yesterday, the Jewish news outlet The Fiddler reported that peace had broken out in Israel.

Upon hearing the news, Pope Francis told Israeli and Palestinian leaders “I told you so. I told you so. Didn’t I tell you this was a magic tree?”

Surrounded by Palestinians and Israelis holding hands and giving each other piggyback rides, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Skyped Pope Francis to inform him that everything had been a misunderstanding, and all was now settled.

“The Palestinians are wonderful people!” Netanyahu told Pope Francis as he signed an executive order to open all checkpoints in the country, allowing free access for Palestinians to move around. “As of today we will have two states. Israel and Palestine will from here on, live happily side by side.”

The recorded Skype video shows jubilant Hamas leaders hoisting Netanyahu on to their shoulders as they chanted, “Peace! Peace! Peace!”

But less than one day after receiving news that every single Middle East conflict had been resolved, the magic Olive Tree that Francis, Peres, and Abbas had shoddily planted into the ground toppled over with a gust of wind, instantaneously causing a chain reaction of violent outbreaks all across the Middle East.

Speaking to reporters from the Vatican Gardens, Francis said that he was saddened to hear of the news, going on to tell the press that he had received another Skype from Netanyahu showing the Israeli Prime Minister in a fist fight with Hamas leaders.

Both sides are now blaming the other over whose shoddy work caused the fall of the tree.
 

Sudan court frees Christian woman from death row

(Reuters) - A 27-year-old woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan last month for converting to Christianity from Islam was freed on Monday after what the government said was "unprecedented" international pressure.

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, who is married to a Christian American, was ordered by a Sudanese court last month to return to Islam and was sentenced to 100 lashes and to death.

Her release is likely to be welcomed by human rights groups and Western governments who voiced outrage at the ruling. Britain had last month summoned the Sudanese charge d'affaires to protest against the sentencing.

"The appeal court ordered the release of Mariam Yahya and the cancellation of the (previous) court ruling," Sudan’s SUNA news agency said. A government official had told Reuters on May 31 that Sudanese officials were working to release Ibrahim. Ibrahim was sent to a secret location for her protection, her lawyer said. "Her family had been threatened before and we are worried that someone might try to harm her," the lawyer, Mohaned Mostafa, told Reuters. Ibrahim gave birth in prison to a daughter, her second child by her husband Daniel Wani, whom she married in 2011. Sudan's Foreign Ministry said it had come under "unprecedented" international pressure to free Ibrahim.

"Now that the independent Sudanese judiciary has said its word in the case of a single national, the Foreign Ministry would like to remind the international community about the continued suffering of 35 million nationals as a result of sanctions," its statement said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the decision to release Ibrahim. "Her case has rightly drawn the attention of the world and has been of deep concern to the United States government and many of our citizens and their representatives in Congress," Kerry said in a statement released by the State Department. "From this step, we would hope that the government of Sudan could take further strides toward a different and more hopeful future for the people of Sudan," Kerry added The United States imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997 over alleged human rights violations and support for what it called "international terrorism", then strengthened the penalties in 2006 over Khartoum's festering conflict with rebels in Darfur.

(Reporting by Maaz Alnugomi in Khartoum; Additional reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Writing by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Alison Williams and Mohammad Zargham)
 

Google praised for dropping porn ads

Mountain View, Calif., Jun 16, 2014 / 07:12 am (EWTN News)
The head of a marriage and family group has lauded reports that Google is alerting advertisers that it is cutting pornography from its advertising policy.

“Pornography is turning out to be one of the biggest causes of divorce, if you talk to divorce lawyers or marriage counselors,” Dr. Janet Morse, president of the marriage defense group the Ruth Institute, told EWTN News.  “So I applaud Google for taking this off their site. I think that’s a pro-social act on their part, and it’s a lot better than government censorship.”

Morality in Media reported June 6 that an e-mail from Google to advertisers informed them of the policy change. Google listed “graphic depictions of sexual acts” as among the things that it would no longer tolerate and stated that it would “disapprove all ads and sites that are identified as being in violation of our revised policy.” Morality in Media added that “it seems Google will also no longer link to sites that contain such materials.”  Dr. Morse said the decision benefits society as a whole, because pornography is “anti-social” by nature.

“Pornography use has become an anti-social issue, because it’s a form of anti-social behavior when you think about the fact that human sexuality is designed to draw men and women together for the good of the species and for the good of society,” she explained. “Pornography turns that whole intrinsically pro-social desire into something that’s completely private and personal and isolated,” she continued, adding that it is preventing men “from being in real relationships with real people.”
 
 

50 000 Charismatics prays over the Pope
 

Pope Francis' Comments and Address at Charismatic Renewal Convention

"You are dispensers of the grace of God, not controllers! Dont be a customs office to the Holy Spirit!"
 

Vatican City,  June 03, 2014  (Zenit.org)

At 5 o’clock today June 1, the Holy Father went to Rome’s Olympic Stadium to meet with the participants in the 37thNational Convention of Renewal in the Holy Spirit (Rome, June 1-2, 2014). The event was organized by Renewal in the Spirit in collaboration with ICCRS (International Charismatic Catholic Renewal Services) and CFCCCF (Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship).

Several testimonies were presented to the Pope in the course of the meeting, which he commented on individually, before his address to those present.

Following is a translation of Pope Francis’ words in response to the different testimonies and his final address.

* * *

WORDS OF THE HOLY FATHER

To Priests:

To you priests, I wish to say one word: closeness -- closeness to Jesus Christ in prayer and adoration. Closeness to the Lord and closeness to the people, to the people of God entrusted to you. Love your people, be close to the people. This is what I ask of you, this twofold closeness: closeness to Jesus and closeness to the people.

To Young People:

It would be sad if a young person kept his youth in a strongbox: such youth becomes old in the worse sense of the word. It turns into a wreck, is good for nothing. Youth is to be risked: to risk it well, to risk it with hope. It is to wager on great things. Youth is to be given, so that others will know the Lord. Do not save your youth for yourselves: go forward!

To Families:

Families are the domestic Church, where Jesus grows, grows in the love of spouses; grows in the life of the children. It is because of this that the Enemy so attacks the family: the devil does not want it! And he seeks to destroy it; he acts so that love will not exist there. Families are this domestic Church. Spouses are sinners, as everyone is, but they wish to go forward in the faith, in their fruitfulness, in the children and in the faith of the children. May the Lord bless the family, may he make it strong in this crisis in which the devil wants to destroy it.

To the Disabled:

Brothers and sisters who suffer, who have an illness, who are disabled, are brothers and sisters anointed by the suffering of Jesus Christ; they imitate Jesus in the difficult moment of their cross, of their life. This anointing of their suffering they carry forward for the whole Church. Thank you so much, brothers and sisters; thank you so much for you acceptance and for being anointed by suffering. Thank you so much for the hope that you witness, that hope that leads us forward seeking Jesus’ caress.

To the Elderly:

I said to Salvatore that perhaps someone is missing, perhaps the most important: grandparents are missing! The elderly are missing, and they, the “old,” are the assurance of our faith. Look, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple there were two elderly there; and four if not five times – I do not remember well – the Gospel says that they “were led by the Holy Spirit.” Instead, of Mary and Joseph it says that they were led by the Law. Young people must comply with the Law; the elderly – as good wine – have the freedom of the Holy Spirit. And so this Simeon, who was courageous, invented a “liturgy,” and praised God, he praised … and it was the Spirit that pushed him to do this. The elderly! They are our wisdom, they are the wisdom of the Church; the elderly whom we so often discard, the grandparents, the elderly … And that little grandmother, Anna, did an extraordinary thing in the Church: she canonized gossip! And how did she do it? In this way: because instead of gossiping against someone, she went from one place to the other saying [of Jesus]: “It is he; he it is who will save us!” And this is a good thing. Grandmothers and grandfathers are our strength and our wisdom. May the Lord always give us wise elderly people!  -- elderly who give us the memory of our people, the memory of the Church. And may they give us also what the Letter to the Hebrews says of them: the sense of joy. It says that the elderly greeted the promises from afar: may they teach us this.

Prayer of the Pope:

Lord, take care of your people in expectation of the Holy Spirit. Take care of young people, take care of families, take care of children, take care of the sick, take care of priests, consecrated men and women, take care of us Bishops, take care of all. And grant us that holy intoxication, that of the Spirit, that which makes us speak all languages, the languages of charity, always close to brothers and sisters who need us. Teach us not to fight among ourselves to have an extra bit of power; teach us to be humble; teach us to love the Church more than our party, than our internal “quarrels”; teach us to have an open heart to receive the Spirit. Send your Spirit, o Lord, upon us! Amen

***

THE HOLY FATHER’S ADDRESS

Dear brothers and sisters!

I thank you so much for your welcome. No doubt someone told the organizers that I very much like this song, “The Lord Jesus Lives” … When I celebrated holy Mass in Buenos Aires with the Charismatic Renewal, after the consecration and after a few seconds of adoration in tongues, we sang this song with so much joy and force, as you did today. Thank you! I felt at home!

I thank Renewal in the Spirit, the ICCRS and the Catholic Fraternity for this meeting with you, which gives me so much joy. I am grateful also for the presence of the first who had an intense experience of the power of the Holy Spirit; I believe that it was Patty, here … You, Charismatic Renewal, have received a great gift from the Lord. You were born of the will of the Spirit as “a current of grace in the Church and for the Church.” This is your definition: a current of grace.

What is the first gift of the Holy Spirit? The gift of Himself, who is love and makes you enamored of Jesus. And this love changes life. Because of this it is said: “to be born again to life in the Spirit.” Jesus said it to Nicodemus. You have received the great gift of the diversity of charisms, diversity that leads to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, to the service of the Church.

When I think of you Charismatics, the image of the Church herself comes to me, but in a particular way: I think of a great orchestra, where every instrument is different from another and the voices are also different, but all are necessary for the harmony of the music.  Saint Paul says it in chapter XII of the First Letter to the Corinthians. Therefore, as in an orchestra, no one in the Renewal can think of being more important or greater than another, please! No one can say: “I’m the head.” You, as the whole Church, have only one head, only one Lord: the Lord Jesus. Repeat with me: who is the head of the Renewal? The Lord Jesus! Who is the head of the Renewal? [those present]: the Lord Jesus! And we can say this with the strength that the Holy Spirit has given us, because no one can say “Jesus is the Lord” without the Holy Spirit.

As you perhaps know – because news spreads – in the first years of the Charismatic Renewal I did not like Charismatics much. And I said of them: “They seem like a school of samba!” I did not share their way of praying and the many new things that were happening in the Church. Afterwards, I began to know them and in the end I understood the good that Charismatic Renewal does to the Church. And this story, which goes from the “school of samba” forward, ends in a particular way: a few months before taking part in the Conclave, I was appointed by the Episcopal Conference spiritual assistant of Charismatic Renewal in Argentina.

Charismatic Renewal is a great force at the service of the proclamation of the Gospel, in the joy of the Holy Spirit. You received the Holy Spirit that made you discover the love of God for all his children and love of the Word. In the early times it was said that you Charismatics always carried the Bible with you, the New Testament … Do you still do it today? [the crowd]: Yes?! I’m not so sure. If not, return to this first love; always carry in your pocket, in your bag the Word of God! And read a little piece -- always with the Word of God.

You, people of God, people of the Charismatic Renewal, be careful not to lose the freedom that the Holy Spirit has given you. The danger for the Renewal, as our dear Father Raniero Cantalamessa often says, is that of excessive organization: the danger of excessive organization.

Yes, you need organization, but do not lose the grace of letting God be God! “However, there is no greater freedom than that of letting oneself be carried by the Spirit, refusing to calculate and to control everything, and allow Him to illuminate you, lead you, guide you, and push you where He wishes. He knows well what the need is in every age and moment. This calls to be mysteriously fruitful!” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 280).

Another danger is that of becoming “controllers” of God’s grace. So often the leaders (I prefer the name “servants”) of some group or some community become, perhaps without wanting it, administrators of grace, deciding who can receive the prayer of the effusion or Baptism in the Spirit and who, instead, cannot. If some do so, I beg you not to do so anymore, don’t do it anymore” You are dispensers of the grace of God, not controllers! Don’t be a customs office to the Holy Spirit!

You have a guide in the Documents of Malines, a sure course not to mistake the way. The first document is: Theological and Pastoral Guideline. The second is: Charismatic Renewal and Ecumenism, written by Cardinal Suenens himself, great protagonist of Vatican Council II. The third is: Charismatic Renewal and Service to Man, written by Cardinal Suenens and Bishop Helder Camara.

This is your task: evangelization, spiritual ecumenism, care of the poor and needy and hospitality for the marginalized. And all this on the basis of adoration! The foundation of the renewal is to adore God!

I have been asked to tell the Renewal what the Pope expects from you.

The first thing is conversion to the love of Jesus, which changes life and makes of the Christian a witness of the Love of God. The Church expects this witness of Christian life and the Holy Spirit helps us to live the coherence of the Gospel for our holiness.

I expect from you that you share with all, in the Church, the grace of Baptism in the Holy Spirit (expression that is read in the Acts of the Apostles).

I expect from you an evangelization with the Word of God which proclaims that Jesus is alive and loves all men.

I expect that you give witness of spiritual ecumenism with all those brothers and sisters of other Churches and Christian communities who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

That you remain united in the love that the Lord Jesus asks of us for all men, and in the prayer to the Holy Spirit to come to this unity, necessary for evangelization in the name of Jesus. Remember that “the Charismatic Renewal is by its very nature ecumenical … Catholic Renewal rejoices over what the Holy Spirit carries out in the other Churches” (1 Malines 5, 3).

Be close to the poor, the needy, to touch in their flesh the flesh of Jesus. Be close, please!

Seek unity in the Renewal, because unity comes from the Holy Spirit and is born of the unity of the Trinity. From whom does division come? From the devil! Divison comes from the devil. Flee from internal fights, please! They must not exist among us!

I want to thank the ICCRS and the Catholic Fraternity, the two organizations of Pontifical Right of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, at the service of global Renewal; be committed to preparing the world meeting for priests and Bishops, which will be held in June of next year. I know that you have also decided to share the office and to work together as a sign of unity and to manage the resources better. I rejoice greatly. I also want to thank you because you are already organizing the Great Jubilee of 2017.

Brothers and sisters, remember: adore the Lord God: this is the foundation! To adore God. Seek sanctity in the new life of the Holy Spirit. Be dispensers of the grace of God. Avoid the danger of excessive organization.

Go out into the streets to evangelize, proclaiming the Gospel. Remember that the Church was born “in going forth” that Pentecost morning. Be close to the poor and touch in their flesh the wounded flesh of Jesus. Let yourselves by led by the Holy Spirit, with that freedom and, please, do not cage the Holy Spirit! With liberty!

Seek the unity of the Renewal, unity that comes from the Trinity!

And I await you all, Charismatics of the world, to celebrate, together with the Pope, your Great Jubilee in Pentecost of 2017, in Saint Peter’s Square! Thank you!

Ratzinger the African

Expansion of the nunciatures. Increase of cardinals. Larger number of positions in the curia. Benedict XVI is betting on Africa. Because, he says, it is the continent with the most lively faith

VATICAN CITY, December 11, 2012 – "Africa is currently the most dynamic continent from the point of view of the expansion of the Church and of Christianity in general, and where vocations are the most numerous in terms of percentage.”

This was recalled in a recent article in “La Civiltà Cattolica" focusing on a conference dedicated to “Paul VI and Africa” at which a number of speakers emphasized “the great attention” that that pope has dedicated to the continent, “prophetically intuiting also its openness to the evangelical message.”  The article emphasizes how Benedict XVI also “has referred to Africa as to the ' lung'  of the Church.” And in effect, the pontificate of Joseph Ratzinger is showing itself year by year to be ever more attentive to what is happening on the black continent.

The attention of Benedict XVI to Africa is highly evident from the diplomatic point of view, just for starters. In the course of the current pontificate, the network of nunciatures in Africa has been developed further. With Benedict XVI, in fact, two new nunciature headquarters have been opened in Burkina Faso and Liberia. Not only that. Vatican officials have been sent on a permanent resident basis to Chad, Gabon, and Malawi. But African countries have also demonstrated a growing interest in having closer relations with the Holy See.

In 2008, in fact, Botswana also established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. In this way, today, only three African countries, all of them with an overwhelming Islamic majority, do not yet have an exchange of representation with the Vatican. They are the Comoros islands, Mauritania, and tormented Somalia. With pope Ratzinger, moreover, while Ireland has downgraded its historic diplomatic representation from resident to non-resident, five countries have gone in the opposite direction, establishing the residence of their ambassador in Rome. Three of these are African: Cameroon, Benin, and, as of this year, Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent.

To this must be added the increase of diplomatic accords between the Holy See and African countries. Before the current pontificate, the Vatican had stipulated a “modus vivendi" with Tunisia in 1964, then there was an exchange of letters between the king of Morocco and John Paul II in 1983 -84, then two accords with Cameroon concerning the Institut Catholique of Yaoundé and a couple of partial conventions with Ivory Coast. The only accord-framework, of broader impact, was the one with Gabon in 1997. With Benedict XVI, three accord-frameworks have already been stipulated: with Mozambique in 2011, with Equatorial Guinea and Burundi this year. But the current pope's special attention to Africa does not demonstrate itself exclusively or primarily in the diplomatic arena.

Let's look at the voyages. The pope theologian has gone there two times so far, in spite of his advanced age. John Paul II made his last African voyage, to Nigeria, in 1998, when he was 78 years old. Benedict XVI went to Cameroon and Angola in 2009, at the age of 82, and in 2011 to Benin, when he was 84. Let's move on to the creation of cardinals. With Ratzinger as pope, among the 74 new cardinal electors he has created, 7 are African, 9.5percent. This is the highest percentage ever. John Paul II made 16 out of 210 (7.6 percent), Paul VI 12 out of 143 (8.4 percent).

In the appointments to the Roman curia as well, Benedict XVI has an eye of special regard for the African continent. He has called the Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson to head the pontifical council for justice and peace and has promoted the Guinean Robert Sarah to president of the council "Cor Unum," bestowing on him the scarlet. Pope Ratzinger has also called the Tanzanian archbishop Novatus Rugambwa to fill the position of adjunct secretary of "Propaganda Fide," while he has chosen the Beninois Barthélemy Adoukonou as secretary of the council for culture, elevating him to the episcopate, and Monsignor Jean-Marie Mate Musivi Mupendawatu, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the new secretary of the council for the pastoral care of health care workers. With Benedict XVI, for the first time an African has become the master of pontifical ceremonies: he is Jean-Pierre Kwambemba Masi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And for the first time, a son of the black continent will has been given the delicate position of head of protocol of the secretariat of state. He is Monsignor Fortunatus Nwachukwu, a Nigerian, who recently, after five years of service, has been promoted as archbishop and nuncio in Nicaragua, becoming the fourth African pontifical representative appointed during this pontificate. The others are Leon Kalenga, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Nigerian Jude Thaddeus Okolo, and the Tanzanian Rugambwa (who afterward, as stated, was called to the curia).

This too is a little Ratzingerian record. Until 2005, in fact, the first and only African nuncio was the Ugandan Augustine Kasujja, appointed by John Paul II in 1998. But what is the root of this African predilection of pope Ratzinger? The pontiff himself explained this in the opening homily for the African synod of 2009: “Africa represents an immense spiritual 'lung' for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.” Benedict XVI further explored this intuition of his in speaking to journalists during his voyage to Benin in 2011:

"The freshness of Africa’s yes to life and the youthfulness that is found there, so full of enthusiasm and hope as well as humour and liveliness, show us that Africa has a reserve of humanity, there is still a freshness about its religious sense and its hope. [...] So I would say that the fresh humanism found in Africa’s young soul, despite all the problems of today and tomorrow, shows that Africa still has a reserve of life and vitality for the future, on which we can depend."

Two years earlier, on December 21, 2009, assessing his voyage to Cameroon and Angola, Benedict XVI also positively evaluated the style with which the liturgy is celebrated in Africa:

"The memory of the liturgical celebrations is impressed upon my memory in a particularly profound way. The celebrations of the holy Eucharist were true feasts of faith. I would like to mention two elements that seem particularly important to me. First of all, there was a great shared joy, which was even expressed through the body, but in a disciplined way oriented by the presence of the living God. With this the second element is already indicated: the sense of the sacred, of the presence of the mystery of the living God. [...] Yes, this awareness was there: we are in the presence of God. This does not lead to fear or inhibition, nor to an external obedience, and far less to self-display before one another or an undisciplined shouting. There was instead what the fathers called 'sobria ebrietas': being filled with a joy that nonetheless remains sober and orderly, that unites people starting from the inside, leading them to the communal praise of God, a praise that at the same time stirs up love of neighbor, and mutual responsibility."
*
Pope Benedict certainly does not ignore the limitations and difficulties of the African Church, which became glaring, for example, with the resignation he imposed on the central African bishops of Bangui and Bossango in 2009 over moral problems, and that of Koudougou in Burkina Faso in 2011 because of managerial incompetence, or with the "relieving" of authority of the bishop of Point-Noire in Congo, also in 2011.

But this does not prevent the white-haired "white Father" from continuing to wager on the black continent for the future of the Church.

MSFS: chart new road map for innovation at all levels

Published Date: February 20, 2013

Chapter gives new thrust on Good Governance.

The 19th General Chapter of the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales (MSFS) came to its close on 15th Feb 2013. With the clarion call of the Founder, the servant of God, Fr. Peter Mary Mermier, “I want missions”, the Capitulants prayerfully engaged themselves in the unfolding of the theme of the General Chapter: “ MSFS- Mystics of God’s love for prophetic ministries today”.

Thirty eight Capitulants, hailing from South America, North America, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia participated in the two-week long Chapter, which has gifted to the Congregation not only a new team of general administration but also certain orientations, directives and an action plan for carrying out the mission of Christ with innovation and fresh enthusiasm.

The General Chapter of Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales elected Very Rev. Fr. Abraham Vettuvelil MSFS as Superior General for the first term of six years. It acknowledged the unique contribution of Very Rev. Fr. Agnelo Fernandes MSFS, the former Superior General to the entire Congregation through his dynamic spiritual leadership for the last twelve years.

The Chapter also elected the following confreres to assist the Superior General in the governance of the Congregation: Very Rev. Fr. Thumma Mariadas Reddy (Assistant Superior General), Very Rev. Fr. Noel Rebello (General Secretary for Formation), Very Rev. Fr. George Parampukattil (General Secretary for Education), Very Rev. Fr. Jose Kumblolickal (General Secretary for Social apostolates and Innovative Ministries), Very Rev. Fr. Jayaseelan(the General Secretary for Mission), and Very Rev. Fr. Augustine Mangat ( General Bursar).

The Chapter has given a new thrust on Good Governance at all levels and has adopted plans for its implementation. While inviting the members to a joyful fidelity to living the basics of religious life, the Chapter has also placed a new emphasis on networking and collaboration, sharing of personnel, and pooling of material resources for the promotion of a better visibility to the charismatic expressions of the foundational apostolates: Renewal of Christian life, Pioneering evangelization and Formation of the young.

With the openness to the Spirit of God, the Capitulants disposed themselves to taking bold steps for guiding the members of the Congregation “to think Congregationally”; and respond generously and joyfully to the needs of people and communities. Thus the Chapter has given a new road map for bringing innovation in spiritual leadership, mission, life style, community living, and in carrying out the various apostolates.

The Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales was founded at Annecy in France by the Servant of God Fr. Peter Mary Mermier. Today the Congregation is spread out to 26 countries of the world. The six Provinces in India with over 850 priests and 250 professed members in various stages of formation form the youthful part of the Congregation. This year, the MSFS Congregation is celebrating the 175th anniversary of its foundation.

Source: Fr. Francis Thadathil MSFS
 

A statue of the Virgin Mary is all what is left of the 80 houses burned by Sandy in Queens,

There is an image of Mother Mary under the advocation of "miraculous Mary"
 

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: A Virgin Mary is all that remains from a home which was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy in Breezy Point, Queens on October 30, 2012 in New York, United States. Over 50 homes wer destroyed in a late night and fast moving fire. At least 15 people were reported killed in the United States by Sandy as millions of people in the eastern United States have awoken to widespread power outages, flooded homes and downed trees. New York City was hit especially hard with wide spread power outages and significant flooding in parts of the city. (Spencer Platt, Getty Images)

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Matt Long poked around the sooty ground in front of the charred remains of his home of 15 years.
Nothing inside survived the post-Hurricane Sandy fire that ravaged the beachfront hamlet of Breezy Point, New York. Long and his wife, Mary, were trying to salvage the only keepsakes they could: octagonal stones, each six inches across. One bore the handprint of 10-year-old Grace, the other was made by 8- year-old Emily.
The house on Gotham Walk and 110 others were destroyed by fire on that stretch of peninsula on the southwestern tip of New York City’s Queens borough, about 10 miles by air from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“It’s awful,” said Long, 46, a former firefighter who was nearly killed when a bus making an illegal turn slammed into his bicycle in 2005. “There’s a lot of history in this place, and now it’s all gone.”
Mary, 38, stood on what used to be the family’s front stoop and wiped away tears. The neighborhood nicknamed the “Irish Riviera” was unrecognizable. In addition to the structures claimed by fire, many more of Breezy Point’s 2,834 houses were waterlogged, missing walls or listing on sunken foundations.
John Whelan, 49, stood at the edge of what had been a densely-built block of homes. A few brick chimneys survived and at least three statuettes of the Virgin Mary.
“These things made it,” Whelan said, pointing to one of the religious statues. “This is a very Catholic community.”

It reminds the case of last September 5, 2012 in Braithwaite, Louisiana when a  statue of the Virgin Mary stands in flood waters in Plaquemines Parish. Louisiana officials estimate that at least 13,000 homes were damaged by Hurricane Isaac

In the tsunami in Asia (Dec 2004) there also was many miraculous images and christians saved . Or you can see: The priests who survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945
 

THE UNBORN CHILD - Italy’s conscientious doctors

Up to 85 percent of gynecologists in some regions refuse to perform abortions.

Jesi is a lovely Italian hill town not far from Ancona on the Adriatic coast in the center-north of the country. A few weeks ago the local hospital let it be known that they faced a doctor shortage of sorts. It seems that all of the town’s 10 gynecologists refuse to perform abortions. They are all conscientious objectors. The local office of the communist labor union spread the news because they claimed women’s rights were being denied, although Italy’s abortion legislation (Law 194/78) explicitly provides a right for doctors and other medical personnel to refuse to participate in the procedure.

Jesi’s top medical bureaucrats began a search for doctors elsewhere in the Marche region where the town is located. A doctor from nearby Fabriano, 40 kilometers away, agreed to be on call in case of need and to go to Jesi if an abortion seeker would not go to Fabriano. However, his services may or may not be much in demand.

While abortion doctors in the entire Marche region seem to be rare, abortions are not that many to begin with. Italian Ministry of Health data on abortions indicate that women from the Marche region had 2,458 abortions in 2009, but that nearly one-fourth had their procedure done outside their resident province and 10% outside the region.

Further north, in the town of Treviglio, near Bergamo in Lombardy, a similar problem has arisen: 24 out of 25 anesthesiologists in the four hospitals serving a population of around 350,000 refuse to be involved in abortions, and 24 out of 28 gynecologists-obstetricians are also conscientious objectors. Other medical facilities in the Bergamo province also report a high number of objectors but the supply is not as tight as in Treviglio. Nonetheless, press reports indicate that in the entire province of Bergamo, five percent of the 1,867 abortions performed in 2010 were on women from outside the area. It seems that there may be even more conscientious objectors elsewhere in Lombardy, Italy’s most prosperous region.

If such refusals are helping the downward trend of abortions in Italy, there are also incentives for women to keep their babies. The regional government of Lombardy has put in place a program to assist resident women who wanted an abortion for economic reasons but changed their minds. Progetto Nasko – or Project I am Born – grants a mother keeping her child 250 euros per month for 18 months after she obtains medical confirmation of her pregnancy and demonstrates evidence of economic hardship. The expectant mother receives a prepaid rechargeable card which is managed by one of several Centers for Aid to Life (Centri di aiuto alla vita).

The examples above are part of Italy’s experience since abortion was legalized in 1978. Not all countries compile data on abortions as detailed as that of Italy’s Ministry of Health, but the results coming out of Italy, as discussed in a previous MercatorNet article by this author, indicate that in 2010, the total number of abortions in Italy declined 2.7 percent to 115,372 and were 51 percent below the 1982 peak. At the same time, the number and share of conscientious objectors in the medical profession have steadily increased.

Evidently moral and ethical factors do play a role in people’s professional lives. Respect for life and human dignity should be a consideration falling under medical doctors’ oath to “first do no harm.” Ethical considerations are not always in harmony with economic perceptions, but every child brought to light in Italy helps advance the precariously low fertility rate, which has been inching up in recent years and reached 1.42 in 2011, up from 1.35 in 2006 and 1.25 ten years earlier.

The latest data (2007-2009) also show that the overwhelming majority of Italy’s gynecologists are conscientious objectors when it comes to abortion. A regional breakdown shows a range from a low of 52 percent in Emilia-Romagna (part of Italy’s so-called “red belt”, in political terms) to a high of 85 percent in Basilicata in the south. Indeed, objectors account for over three-quarters of their profession in 10 out of the 21 Italian regions. The national average has been as high as 71 percent. Jesi and Treviglio are just two local examples of good news on the life front coming out of Italy.

Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.
 

Pope opens Synod: The Church exists to evangelize
 2012-10-07 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) – A host of cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay people drawn from throughout the Universal Church gathered around Pope Benedict XVI Sunday morning as he declared the Thirteenth Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, officially open. Emer McCarthy reports :
Green was the liturgical colour and the concelebrating Synod fathers took their places at the foot of the altar before the façade of St Peter’s Basilica, as Pope Benedict XVI outlined his vision and hopes for the important task ahead of them in the next three weeks: helping people to rediscover faith in Jesus Christ.
In his homily, he said “in every time and place, evangelization always has as its starting and finishing points Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1); and the Crucifix is the supremely distinctive sign of him who announces the Gospel: a sign of love and peace, a call to conversion and reconciliation”.
This call, he continued, should take into account “those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church”. Then – reflecting on the Sunday Gospel, Mark Chapter 10 - Pope Benedict singled out one area for particular attention: Marriage.
Looking out at the tens of thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square he said that marriage “is a Gospel in itself” and “Good News” for today’s dechristianized world. “The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis”.
Benedict XVI pointed to a link between the current crisis of faith and this crisis in marriage, because marriage is based on the grace of God that man of today no longer recognizes. To overcome this crisis, any crisis, we need to be newly reconciled with God.

Above the altar from the central balcony of St Peter’s basilica hung two giant tapestries depicting St John of Avila and St Hildegard of Bingen. Reciting the solemn formula in Latin Pope Benedict XVI declared them both Doctors of the Universal Church. He then reminded the men and women gathered to the Vatican for the Synod that “the saints are the true actors and pioneers in evangelization” and invoking their intercession, Pope Benedict concluded by entrusting the Synod’s work to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization.
Below the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily, Sunday October 7th, 2012:

With this solemn concelebration we open the thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. This theme reflects a programmatic direction for the life of the Church, its members, families, its communities and institutions. And this outline is reinforced by the fact that it coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, starting on 11 October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. I give a cordial and grateful welcome to you who have come to be part of the Synodal Assembly, in particular to the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, and to his colleagues. I salute the fraternal delegates of the other churches and ecclesial communities as well as all present, inviting them to accompany in daily prayer the deliberations which will take place over the next three weeks. The readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word propose to us two principal points of reflection: the first on matrimony, which I will touch shortly; and the second on Jesus Christ, which I will discuss now. We do not have time to comment upon the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews but, at the beginning of this Synodal Assembly, we ought to welcome the invitation to fix our gaze upon the Lord Jesus, “crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death (2:9). The word of God places us before the glorious One who was crucified, so that our whole lives, and in particular the commitment of this Synodal session, will take place in the sight of him and in the light of his mystery. In every time and place, evangelization always has as its starting and finishing points Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1); and the Crucifix is the supremely distinctive sign of him who announces the Gospel: a sign of love and peace, a call to conversion and reconciliation. My dear Brother Bishops, starting with ourselves, let us fix our gaze upon him and let us be purified by his grace.

I would now like briefly to examine the new evangelization, and its relation to ordinary evangelization and the mission ad Gentes. The Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ’s command, his disciples went out to the whole world to announce the Good News, spreading Christian communities everywhere. With time, these became well-organized churches with many faithful. At various times in history, divine providence has given birth to a renewed dynamism in Church’s evangelizing activity. We need only think of the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon peoples or the Slavs, or the transmission of the faith on the continent of America, or the missionary undertakings among the peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania. It is against this dynamic background that I like to look at the two radiant figures that I have just proclaimed Doctors of the Church, Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Even in our own times, the Holy Spirit has nurtured in the Church a new effort to announce the Good News, a pastoral and spiritual dynamism which found a more universal expression and its most authoritative impulse in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Such renewed evangelical dynamism produces a beneficent influence on the two specific “branches” developed by it, that is, on the one hand the Missio ad Gentes or announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and on the other the New Evangelization, directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life. The Synodal Assembly which opens today is dedicated to this new evangelization, to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone who fills existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favour the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life. Obviously, such a special focus must not diminish either missionary efforts in the strict sense or the ordinary activity of evangelization in our Christian communities, as these are three aspects of the one reality of evangelization which complement and enrich each other. The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8). What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realization is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.

One of the important ideas of the renewed impulse that the Second Vatican Council gave to evangelization is that of the universal call to holiness, which in itself concerns all Christians (cf. Lumen Gentium, 39-42). The saints are the true actors in evangelization in all its expressions. In a special way they are even pioneers and bringers of the new evangelization: with their intercession and the example of lives attentive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they show the beauty of the Gospel to those who are indifferent or even hostile, and they invite, as it were tepid believers, to live with the joy of faith, hope and charity, to rediscover the taste for the word of God and for the sacraments, especially for the bread of life, the Eucharist. Holy men and women bloom among the generous missionaries who announce the Good News to non-Christians, in the past in mission countries and now in any place where there are non-Christians. Holiness is not confined by cultural, social, political or religious barriers. Its language, that of love and truth, is understandable to all people of good will and it draws them to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of new life. At this point, let us pause for a moment to appreciate the two saints who today have been added to the elect number of Doctors of the Church. Saint John of Avila lived in the sixteenth century. A profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the twelfth century, offered her precious contribution to the growth of the Church of her time, employing the gifts received from God and showing herself to be a woman of brilliant intelligence, deep sensitivity and recognized spiritual authority. The Lord granted her a prophetic spirit and fervent capacity to discern the signs of the times. Hildegard nurtured an evident love of creation, and was learned in medicine, poetry and music. Above all, she maintained a great and faithful love for Christ and the Church.This summary of the ideal in Christian life, expressed in the call to holiness, draws us to look with humility at the fragility, even sin, of many Christians, as individuals and communities, which is a great obstacle to evangelization and to recognizing the force of God that, in faith, meets human weakness. Thus, we cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other (cf. 2 Cor 5:20). Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the work of the Synod meeting to God, sustained by the communion of saints, invoking in particular the intercession of great evangelizers, among whom, with much affection, we ought to number Blessed John Paul II, whose long pontificate was an example of the new evangelization. Let us place ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. With her let us invoke a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that from on high he may illumine the Synodal assembly and make it fruitful for the Church’s way ahead.

Africa: Christians outnumber Muslims

At a conference in Morocco, Italian sociologist, Massimo Introvigne, revealed that African practicing Catholics outnumber their European counterparts
A. TOR Vatican City

The latest figures reveal that Christianity has become the African continent’s number one religion, clearly surpassing Islam. This is according to the findings of a study presented today during the course of a conference organised by CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) at El Jadida University in Morocco. The figures revealed at the conference which was attended by seventy speakers from 18 countries, today, Christians account for 46, 53% of the African population compared to the 40, 46 % represented by Muslims and the 11, 8% represented by traditional African religions.

The study states that among African countries, 31 have Christian majorities, 21 have Muslim majorities and 6 have populations which adhere mostly to traditional African religions. In 1900 Christians in Africa totalled ten million; in 2012 this number reached five hundred million. In 1900 only 2% of Christians in the world were African; today, this figure has risen to 20%. In ten years time they will be the largest continental bloc within Christianity, outdoing Europe and the Americas. “This data is still not widely known - stated sociologist Massimo Introvigne, CESNUR’s founder – but they have a profound historical, cultural and political significance. There are now more practicing Christians in Africa than in Europe. In the long run, this will not only change Africa but Christianity as well as John Paul II had intuited. His attention to Africa was continued by Benedict XVI who has already visited the continent twice.”

“Of course, not everyone is happy about this development,” Introvigne added. The sociologist claims that this growth in the number of Christians across the African continent could be one of the causes of certain attacks. “Some Islamic ultra-fundamentalists consider it scandalous that there are more Christians than Muslims in Africa and proceed to persecute and kill Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya. The way the ultra-fundamentalists see it, today, the battle which will determine whether the world will be Muslim or Christian is being fought in Africa. And that Islam is losing. This is why they are responding with bombs.”

Speaking at the Rimini Meeting last August, Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, in Nigeria, had said: “Most Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria would like to live in peace and be good neighbours, despite all the tensions that exist. Mixed Muslim and Christian families can be found in both Southern and Northern Nigeria. But it is no secret that some Muslim leaders would like to “immerse the Loran in the Atlantic sea”: they believe Islam should be the country’s dominant religion, as was demonstrated with the introduction of Sharia law in some parts of the North. Nothing can be said against what can be defined as a legitimate aspiration: every religion would like to expand and boost the number of its followers. But this must be done in a peaceful and civil manner, through testimony.”
 

Christians should leave their beliefs at home, say lawyers

The European Court of Human Rights is hearing a test-case appeal from Christians who want the right to wear a cross at work.
Posted on September 5, 2012, 3:49 PM•

Christians should leave their religious beliefs at home or accept that a personal expression of faith at work, such as wearing a cross, means they might have to resign and get another job, government lawyers have said.

Landmark cases, brought by four British Christians, including two workers forced out of their jobs after visibly wearing crosses, have been heard today at the European Court of Human Rights

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has previously pledged to change the law to protect religious expression at work but official legal submissions on Tuesday to Strasbourg human rights judges made a clear “difference between the professional and private sphere”.

James Eadie QC, acting for the government, told the European court that the refusal to allow an NHS nurse and a British Airways worker to visibly wear a crucifix at work “did not prevent either of them practicing religion in private”, which would be protected by human rights law.

He argued that that a Christian, or any other religious believer, “under difficulty” is not discriminated against if the choice of “resigning and moving to a different job” is not blocked.

“The option remains open to them,” he said.

Government lawyers also told the Strasbourg court that wearing a cross is not a “generally recognised” act of Christian worship and is not required by scripture.

Nadia Eweida, a BA worker, from Twickenham, south-west London, made the headlines when she was sent home in 2006 after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross or hide it from view.

An employment tribunal ruled Ms Eweida, a Coptic Christian originally from Egypt, had not suffered religious discrimination, but the airline changed its uniform policy after the case to allow all religious symbols, including crosses.

Nurse Shirley Chaplin, from Exeter, was moved to a paperwork role by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust in Devon after refusing to remove a necklace bearing a crucifix.

Ms Chaplin told The Daily Telegraph that she felt “insulted” by the argument that Christians who are told by their employer that they cannot wear a cross at work can always find another job.

“My Christian faith isn’t something that you put on and then take off to go to work. It is with you 27/7. It is my identity, it is who I am, I cannot chop and change it,” she said.
 

Vatican Radio compares Europe to Tower of Babel

The Church and Europe
2012-09-03 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) – In the first in a series of Vatican Radio editorials focusing on the Church and Europe, Director of Programming, Fr. Andrej Koprowski S.J., explores the causes of the current economic crisis gripping the old continent and how Christianity can help Europe rediscover its dynamism:

The Bible describes how the Tower of Babel was built. While they were at work on it, the builders realised they were actually working against one another. The more they tried to be like God, the more they risked not being authentically human. They had lost a basic characteristic of their humanity: the ability to agree with one another, to understand one another, to work together.
Europe is in the grips of an economic crisis. The causes are not exclusively European or even exclusively economic. Its origins can be found in various spheres: from the financial crisis in the United States, to the rapid economic development of Asia; from growing unemployment with its inevitable effects on the future of the younger generation, to the lack of vision in educating people with respect for cultural and social needs; from the difficulty of formulating policies that support the family, to the demographic crisis and the surge of immigration towards Europe, with all its social and cultural consequences; from the long-term effects of ideologies and lobbies that fail to consider the community or the future of civil society, to exaggerated forms of individualism and false freedoms.
The development of the crisis is equally complex. There are multiple protagonists and causes for both the lack and the excess of development. Blame and merit can be equally divided. Ideologies tend to simplify reality and make it artificial, whereas problems need to be faced in terms of their human dimension. Social issues have become anthropological questions: artificial procreation, embryo research, human cloning – technological absolutes present a disturbing scenario for the future of humanity, often relying on instruments that the “culture of death” has placed at their disposal.
Culturally and demographically weakened, yet enriched by millions of new citizens coming from various continents, cultures and religions, Europe is in the throes of creating its future. In 1997, after a meeting in Gniezno, Poland, between John Paul II and presidents of seven European nations, German President, Roman Herzog, said: “Changes are happening very quickly today. In 25 years from now, if Europe is still an independent continent, or if it is just an appendage of American media or of Asian industry, it will be because Europe rediscovered its own dynamism at the right time – a dynamism it inherited from Christianity over the centuries”.
Benedict XVI adds: “In the multicultural situation in which we find ourselves, we are seeing a rationalistic European culture without a transcendent religious dimension, that is incapable of entering into dialogue with the great cultures of humanity, which all possess this transcendent religious quality, which is the human dimension… I believe that the purpose and mission of Europe is to discover this dialogue, to integrate modern faith and reason into a single anthropological vision that completes the human person and is capable of communicating human cultures”. (In-flight press conference during trip to Portugal, May 11th 2010)

Plans for Gulf’s biggest Catholic church stir backlash in troubled Bahrain

By Associated Press, Published: September 3AP
 

MANAMA, Bahrain — The building of the largest Roman Catholic church in the Gulf was supposed to be a chance for the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain to showcase its traditions of religious tolerance in a conservative Muslim region where churches largely operate under heavy limitations.

Instead, the planned church — intended to be the main center for Catholics in the region — has turned into another point of tension in a country already being pulled apart by sectarian battles between its Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities.

Hardline Sunni clerics have strongly opposed the construction of the church complex, in a rare open challenge of the country’s Sunni king. More than 70 clerics signed a petition last week saying it was forbidden to build churches in the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

One prominent cleric, Sheik Adel Hassan al-Hamad, proclaimed in a sermon during Friday prayers last month, that there was no justification for building further churches in Bahrain, adding, “anyone who believes that a church is a true place of worship is someone who has broken in their faith in God.”

In response, the government ordered him transferred out of his mosque, located in the elite district of Riffa, where many members of the royal family live and the king has several palaces. But the transfer order touched off a wave of protests by the cleric’s supporters on social media sites and by Sunni-led political blocs. Finally, the government was forced last week to cancel the order.

The uproar reflects the widening influence and confidence of hardline Sunni groups, who have been a key support for the monarchy as it faces a wave of protests led by Shiites demanding greater political rights. Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain’s population of just over half a million people, but claim they face widespread discrimination and lack opportunities granted to the Sunni minority. The monarchy has also has relied heavily on help from ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, which last year sent troops to help crush protests.

More than 50 people have been killed and hundreds detained in nearly 19 months of unrest in the strategic island kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Bahrain’s rulers have promised some reforms and urged dialogue to ease the crisis.

Instead, positions on all sides have hardened.

Many among the majority Shiites claim the Sunni monarchy is not interested in reforms that would weaken its near monopoly on power. Bahrain’s most senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, has actively opposed the church plans, questioning why the government should donate land for a Christian site when Shiite mosques have been destroyed as part of the crackdowns.

A Bahrain-based political analyst, Ali Fakhro, questioned the timing of the church project at a time when the nation is still locked in its own upheavals.

“What Bahrain needs is to solve it is own internal issues rather than adding more new things that could be the source of troubles,” he said. “The plate is already full.”
So far the outcry has brought no change in plans to build the church complex, which has been backed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s monarchy. The complex will be the size of a large shopping center — about 9,000 square meters (97,000 square foot) — in Awali, an area near Riffa, south of the capital, Manama. It is to be a base for the Vatican to the small Catholic communities in the northern Gulf, as well as a spiritual center for other Christian denominations.

Work on the compound is still in its preliminary stages and no firm date has been given for its completion, leaving open the possibility of more complaints in the coming months.

The church project is part of last year’s change by the Vatican to carve out a new apostolic district covering Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The administrative headquarters are expected to shift from Kuwait to Bahrain.

There are believed to be several million Christians in the overwhelmingly Muslim Gulf region, the vast majority of them expatriate workers who largely come from East and South Asia. Throughout the Gulf states, non-Muslim places of worship must work discreetly and cannot actively reach out for converts. In Saudi Arabia, churches are banned completely and any overt wearing of non-Muslim religious symbols is banned.

But Bahrain has a multi-religious tradition — and tolerance — that is unique in Gulf. The island nation has several Christian extended families which originally immigrated from Iraq, Iran or elsewhere in the early 20th Century and gained citizenship when Bahrain gained independence. Similarly, it has native Jewish and Hindu communities. The first Roman Catholic church in the Gulf was built in 1939 on land donated by Bahrain’s emir.

The building of the church complex “is a sign of openness, important for Bahrain, and I hope it will serve as a model for other countries, too,” the region’s bishop, the Rev. Camillo Ballin, said in a statement.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, issues over Christian churches have flared in the past year.

In Kuwait, Islamist lawmakers have proposed bans on further construction of churches. Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Abdel Aziz Al Sheik, reportedly urged for the destruction of all Christian churches on the Arabian peninsula, but it was quickly dismissed by nearly all Islamic leaders in the region.

“Bahrain is a country of tolerance among all religions, sects and races. This is well known about Bahrain’s history,” said the Rev. Hani Aziz of Bahrain’s National Evangelical Church, who was among 19 non-Catholic Christian leaders who also met with Bahrain’s king over the project. “The construction of a church falls in line with this image.”

Palestinians seek support to end suffering

They say a a renewed Palestinian-Indian friendship would help find a just solution to their problems.

Posted on July 20, 2012, 4:53 PM

By Philip Mathew and Ritu Sharma
 New Delhi:


A two-member delegation from Palestine met with various groups in India to seek solidarity to end their people’s suffering under Israeli occupation.

“We want India to renew its friendship with Palestinians that seems to drift toward Israel,” said Fr. Jamal Khader, a professor at Bethlehem University.

Accompanied by Amjad Alqasis, an international human rights law expert, the Catholic priest has met with civil society, Churches and government to explain the Palestinian issue.

They addressed a July 17-18 consultation in New Delhi organized by the Indian Ecumenical Solidarity Network for Palestine (ISEN), a network of ecumenical organizations in India concerned about and involved in working for a just peace.

Last week, they attended a three-day consultation of Christian theologians at Chennai, that asked people visiting the Holy Land to include in their itinerary a meeting with Palestinian Christians to witness their plight.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi Wednesday, Fr. Khader said a renewed Palestinian-Indian friendship would help find a just solution to their problems.

Fr. Khader said this against the backdrop of India’s increasing relations with Israel.

“I have learned that Israel is a supplier of arms to India,” the priest said, adding that the money earned by selling arms would be used to support Israeli military industry which in turn would increase their occupation of Palestinians.

The delegates also noted that the occupation of Palestine by the Israelis was accompanied by brutal measures designed to humiliate and oppress the former.

Expressing concern over the situation of the Palestinians, the ISEN members said that India’s support to the Israeli regime is “unethical and must end immediately.”

They planned a nation-wide campaign for boycott-disvestments-sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

BDS is a campaign started on July 9, 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations in support of the Palestinian cause for boycott, divestment and international sanctions against Israel.

In addition to the campaign, the ISEN will also engage in building public awareness about the Palestinians’ cause through meetings, seminars, media and youth initiatives.

Father Khader said two percent of the five million Palestinians are Christians.

He said that they have till now visited Europe, United States, South Africa, the Arab countries and Hong Kong to mobilize public support for the cause.
 

Two British women fired for not removing cross in the workplace

Britain experiences umpteenth attack on religious freedom as two women are fired for refusing to remove their necklaces in the workplace. The two are now taking their case to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Michelangelo Nasca
Rome

The case involving the two young British women - Nadia Eweida, an air hostess at Heathrow airport and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse – who were fired for refusing to remove their crosses from around their necks during working hours, may seem absurd but it is true.
The two women - who claim they are victims of discrimination -  are asking the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg to recognise their right to the freedom of faith. Meanwhile, London legislators have prepared an ad hoc draft law allowing employers to fire staff who refuse to conceal symbols of their Christian faith.

The decision of the Court in Strasbourg will be valid for all countries that are members of the Council of Europe, including Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldavia. So Russian Orthodox Christians also see this decision as a threat to their own faith.
In a statement to The Voice of Russia radio station, Filipp Riabykh, Moscow Patriarchate representative to the Council of Europe said: “In our Church’s tradition, it is obligatory for us to wear a cross. If the Court in Strasbourg allows English employers to win the case, this could have negative consequences for orthodox Christians in other European countries. We see this as completely unacceptable because faithful are required to bear the symbols of Christianity in all circumstances.”

The Christian cross - an innocuous depiction of a man condemned to death - sparks more protests than any other religious symbol.

It appears, however, that the crucifix represents a real threat to modern man, one which many non-believers call the “superstition of the converted individual”. Indeed, according to ancient Christian tradition, the individual could receive God’s grace and change life at any moment.

If the cross were just a simple little sacred symbol of Christianity, the whole affair would have been forgotten about. Francesco d’Assisi and his friends would have continued to play around with life and perhaps in time would have become a fabric merchant and even richer than his father; Mother Theresa of Calcutta would have contented herself with teaching in a girl’s school in Calcutta instead of dedicating every single moment of her existence to loving the poorest of the poor. Obviously before such a romantic and incongruent ideology of faith, no one could ever have dreamed that the crucifix would be banned from public areas.

But as the Patriarchate of Moscow awaits a verdict from Strasbourg, it has prepared, with the help of some scholars, a document which proves the right of Christians to wear the cross and profess their religion. The document has been sent to Strasbourg and will be included in the documents of the case opened against Britain by Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin.

Russia and Poland, Orthodox and Catholics. The Breakthrough Message

It has been signed in Warsaw by the patriarch of Moscow and the president of the Polish bishops. To begin a common journey after centuries of hostilities. Here is the complete text. With the comment of Pope Benedict XVI

by Sandro Magister

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, right, and Metropolitan Sawa of the Polish Orthodox Church greet a Catholic clergyman at St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Cathedral in Warsaw Aug. 16.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church made a historic visit to Poland with a message of reconciliation. (CNS photo/Kacper Pempel, Reuters

ROME, August 22, 2012 – The reports from Russia since the middle of August have been dominated by the trial of three members of the band Pussy Riot, the young women charged with insulting President Putin and singing slogans against God and the Church in the cathedral of Moscow.

During those same days, however, there took place in Eastern Europe "an important event that raises hope for the future".

This is how Benedict XVI defined, at the Angelus last Sunday, the joint declaration signed on Friday, August 17 in the castle of Warsaw by the patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus', Kirill, and by the president of the Polish episcopal conference, Archbishop Józef Michalik.

Pope Joseph Ratzinger did not define this event as "historic," but he came close. It is enough to consider that the visit of Patriarch Kirill was the first ever of a head of the Russian Orthodox Church to Poland. And that, on the contrary, John Paul II was never able to go to Moscow precisely because of the immovable burden of the age-old hostilities between Russia and the nation of his birth, Poland.

In 1965, another document of reconciliation, this time between the Catholic Churches of Poland and Germany, was signed jointly by the leaders of the two Churches. And that document is rightly recalled as an historic breakthrough.

But that of today is certainly of greater importance.

The political and religious conflicts that are meant to be healed are not limited to the last few decades, but span entire centuries: from the fighting between Polish-Lithuanian forces and those of the tsar in the seventeenth centuries to the massacre of Katyn in 1943, when the Soviet secret police massacred 22,000 Polish prisoners of war.

Moreover, those who signed this document with a fraternal spirit are the representatives of two Churches separated by a millennial schism: Catholic and Orthodox.

In addition, this is a message projected into the future. Which marks out a common path for the two Churches and the two peoples, both on the terrain of evangelization and on that of resistance to the challenges of secular culture, especially on abortion, euthanasia, the family. In these passages, the document specifically cites the magisterium of Benedict XVI: yet another sign of how much improvement there has been, with the current pontiff, in relations between the Churches of Rome and Moscow.

Below, the document –  not easy to find in the Western languages – is reproduced in its entirety.

While these are the links to the original text, in Russian:

> Sovmestnoe Posdanie Narodam Rossii i Polaši

And in Polish:

> Wspólne Przeslanie do Narodów Polski i Rosji

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JOINT MESSAGE TO THE NATIONS OF POLAND AND RUSSIA

of the Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of Poland, Archbishop Józef Michalik, Metropolitan of Przemysl,

and the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Cyril
 

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5: 19).

In the spirit of responsibility for the present and the future of our Churches and peoples, urged by pastoral concern, on behalf of the Catholic Church in Poland and of the Russian Orthodox Church we address this message of reconciliation to the faithful of our Churches, to our nations and all people of good will.

Proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ is our peace and reconciliation (cf. Eph 2: 14; Rom 5: 11), aware of the call entrusted to us in the spirit of Christ’s Gospel, we wish to make our contribution to the work of rapprochement between our Churches and reconciliation between our nations.

1. Dialogue and reconciliation

Our brotherly nations have been tied not only by long centuries of neighbourhood, but also by the extensive Christian legacy of East and West. Aware of this long and shared history and the tradition, which takes its roots in the Gospel of Christ and has exerted a decisive impact on the identity, spirituality and culture of our peoples and of the entire Europe, we enter a path of honest dialogue in the hope that it will heal the wounds of the past, facilitate our overcoming mutual prejudice and misunderstanding and strengthen us in our pursuit of reconciliation.

Sin, which is the principal source of all divisions, human frailty, individual and collective egoism as well as political pressure led to mutual alienation, overt hostility and even struggle between our nations. Similar circumstances had earlier led to the dissolution of the original Christian unity. Division and schism, alien to Christ’s will, were a major scandal; therefore we redouble efforts to bring our Churches and nations closer to each other and to become more credible witnesses to the Gospel in the contemporary world. After the Second World War and the painful experience of atheism, which was imposed on our nations, today we enter a path of spiritual and material renewal. If this renewal is to be longstanding, a renewal of the human being must take place first, and through the human being the renewal of the relations between our Churches and nations.

Fraternal dialogue is the way towards such renewal. It is to facilitate a better understanding of each other and a reconstruction of mutual trust, and thus lead to reconciliation. Reconciliation, in turn, presupposes a readiness to forgive the wrongs and injustices of the past. We are obliged to do this by the prayer: "Our Father... forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those, who trespass against us." We call on our faithful to ask for the forgiveness of the wrongs, injustice and all evil we have inflicted on each other. We are confident that this is the first and foremost step to rebuild mutual trust, a precondition for a sustainable human community and complete reconciliation.

Naturally, to forgive does not mean to forget; memory is a significant part of our identity. We owe this memory also to the victims of the past, those tortured to death who laid down their lives for the faith to God and their homeland on this earth. To forgive, however, means to forgo revenge and hatred and to participate in the construction of concord and brotherhood between people, our nations and countries, which is the foundation of a peaceful future.

2. The past in the perspective of the future

The tragic events of the 20th century were experienced to a greater or lesser degree by all the countries and nations of Europe. Our countries, nations and Churches were painfully afflicted. The Polish and Russian people share the experience of the Second World War and the period of repressions imposed by the totalitarian regimes. These regimes, with their atheist ideology, fought against all forms of religious life and waged an especially atrocious war on Christianity and our Churches. Millions of innocent people fell victim to this war, of which we are reminded by numerous places of murder and graves on Polish and Russian soil. Sometimes the events of our often difficult and tragic shared past give rise to mutual resentments and accusations, which prevent the healing of old wounds.

An objective recognition of facts and an account of the magnitude of the tragedies and dramas of the past is an urgent task for historians and specialists. We appreciate the action taken by competent commissions and teams of experts in our respective countries. We express a conviction that their efforts will allow us to learn unadulterated historical truth, help account for doubts and effectively overcome negative stereotypes. We express a conviction that sustainable reconciliation as the foundation of a peaceful future may take place exclusively on the basis of a complete truth about our shared past. We call upon all those who pursue good, sustainable peace and happy future: politicians, social activists, people of science, culture and the arts, those who believe in God and those who do not, representatives of the Churches: do not falter in your efforts to foster dialogue, support all that facilitates the reconstruction of mutual trust and brings people closer to one another and all that allows us to build a peaceful future of our countries and nations, a future free from violence and wars.

3. Together in the face of new challenges

As a result of political and social transformations, at the close of the 20th century our Churches were finally able to fulfil their mission of evangelisation, and therefore to help our societies develop on the basis of traditional Christian values. Throughout history, Christianity contributed immensely to the formation of the spirituality and culture of our nations. Today, in an era of religious indifference and widespread secularisation, we take every effort so that the social life and culture of our nations should not be stripped of principal moral values, the cornerstone of a viable peaceful future.

The essential task of the Church until the end of time is the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. All Christians, not only the clergy, but also the lay faithful are called to preach the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and to proclaim the Good News with their words and through the witness of their lives, in an individual, familial and social context. We recognise the autonomy of secular and ecclesiastical authority, but at the same time call for cooperation with respect to care for the family, education, social order and other questions which are vital for the good of the general public. We want to uphold tolerance and first and foremost defend fundamental freedoms, primarily religious freedom, as well as to guard the right of the presence of religion in public life.

Today our nations are faced with yet new challenges. Fundamental moral principles based on the Ten Commandments are questioned under the pretence of retaining the principle of secularism or the protection of freedom. We are faced with the promotion of abortion, euthanasia and same-sex relations, persistently shown as a form of marriage; a consumerist lifestyle is endorsed, traditional values rejected, while religious symbols are removed from public space. Quite often we encounter sings of hostility towards Christ, His Gospel and Cross; attempts are made to exclude the Church from public life. A misinterpreted secularism assumes a form of fundamentalism and in reality is a form of atheism.

We call on everyone to respect the inalienable dignity of each human being, created in God’s image and likeness (Gn 1: 27). In the name of the future of our nations we call for the respect and protection of the life of each and every human being from the moment of conception until natural death. We believe not only terrorism and armed conflict, but also abortion and euthanasia to be grave sins against life and a disgrace to contemporary civilisation. The family, a permanent relation between man and woman, is a sound foundation of all societies. As an institution founded by God (cf. Gn 1: 28; 2:23-24), the family warrants respect and protection as it is the cradle of life, a wholesome place of development, a guarantee of social stability, and a sign of hope for society. The family is a place conducive for the development of the human being who is responsible for himself, other people and the society he is part of.

We look with sincere concern, hope and love to young people, whom we wish to protect from demoralisation and to educate in the spirit of the Gospel. We want to teach young people how to love God, their fellow human beings and the earthly homeland as well as to foster in them a spirit of Christian culture, which will bear fruit with respect, tolerance and justice. We are certain that the Risen Christ offers hope not only for our Churches and nations, but also for Europe and the entire world. May He grant His grace so that each Pole can see each Russian and each Russian can see each Pole as their friend and brother.

Both Poles and Russians have profound respect for the Holy Virgin Mary. Having trust in the intercession of the Mother of God, we entrust to Her care the great work of the reconciliation and rapprochement between our Churches and nations. Recalling the words of Paul the Apostle: Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts (Col 3:15), we confer on all our blessing, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

+ Józef Michalik, Archbishop Metropolitan of Przemysl

+ Cyril Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

Warsaw, August 17, 2012

(Translation from Radio Vaticana)

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The complete text of the words with which Benedict XVI, after the Angelus on Sunday, August 19, hailed the publication of the joint message:

"In these days the patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus', Kirill I, is a guest of the Orthodox Church in Poland. I cordially greet His Holiness, as well as all of the Orthodox faithful. The program of this visit also included encounters with the Catholic bishops and the common declaration of the desire to increase the fraternal union of collaboration in spreading the values of the Gospel in the contemporary world, in the spirit of the same faith in Christ Jesus. This is an important event that raises hope for the future. I entrust its fruits to the benevolence of Mary, imploring the blessing of God."

__________
 

ACN News, Monday, 25th June 2012 – INDIA

Miracles happen?
By John Newton

REPEATED incidents of supernatural healings are a primary cause of the massive growth of the Church in a remote corner of India – according to the region’s bishop.
 Bishop John Kattrukudiyil of Itangar, Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India, highlighted the phenomena of reported healings in explaining the growth of the Church in his diocese from virtually no faithful to about 40 percent of the population within 35 years.

During a visit to the headquarters of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need(ACN)in Germany, the bishop described the situation in his diocese saying: “Time and time again they tell me story after story of healings that have happened in various places. “What they tell me fills me with amazement.”

The bishop, whose region of India neighbours China, Bhutan and Burma, added: “I have a lot of theological background in my studies and it’s easy to become sceptical about all these kind of things, but the people are absolutely convinced that they have received healing.”
He told of one healing incident involving a man who renounced a past spent persecuting the Church and converted to marry a Catholic girl.
 Bishop Kattrukudiyil said: “After becoming a Catholic the man was asked to go and pray over a paralysed man. He was unwilling but he still went and prayed and the next day that man rose up and walked to the church.
“He was so shocked at this miraculous experience he began to go to church and now today he is a very active member of the parish.”
However, the bishop admitted that, while he had heard many first-hand accounts of this kind, they were often treated with scepticism when he related them to others.


(Bishop John Thomas Kattrukudiyil of Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh in north east India)

He said: “When I recount these stories to people in Europe and elsewhere they say ‘O bishop, you are telling us stories’.”
But he went on to describe how these experiences were deepening people’s spiritual lives.
 The bishop added: “There are so many [healing] stories coming to me which we cannot ignore.
“This is the experience of a very young Church, experiencing the same grace as that of the Church of Apostolic times.”
Bishop Kattrukudiyil said: “The fact that many people experienced healing by praying to Jesus attracted many people to the Church in its early days – that and a kind of spiritual peace that they got by belonging to the Church.”
He added: “From their experience, they found that when they came together and went to the house of someone who was sick and prayed over him the individual experienced healing.
 “People who had had been suffering from various sicknesses for a long time were healed – it’s really an experience of the early Church that these people had.”

According to the bishop, Christians have mushroomed in Arunachal Pradesh over the last 35 years – from virtually no faithful to an expected 40 percent of the total population when the 2010 census results are finally released.

The country was closed to Christian missionaries because of strict entry permit laws – which were only revoked in the 1990s – but the situation changed when young people in Arunachal Pradesh sought education in Catholic schools in neighbouring Assam.
Some students at the Catholic schools asked for baptism and, with their parents’ permission, received the sacrament before returning to their villages, where the faith spread.
Some of these students were subsequently elected to government posts and helped to change the situation.
While in many places new Catholics faced beatings, house burnings, the slaughter of domestic animals and expulsion from of jobs or schools, gradually things improved, and no incidents of persecution or harassment have been recorded in the past twenty years.
Bishop Kattrukudiyil said: “Today the church is not tolerated but looked up to for her developmental works in education and health care.
“The politicians use every occasion to praise the Church for her philanthropic activities.”

Bishop Kattrukudiyil thanked Aid to the Church in Need for its help in supporting the growth of the Church through projects to build a minor seminary, convents and chapels as well as through training for catechists and teachers.
He said: “ACN helps especially on catechesis, training, building chapels – these are the most important areas of our activities
“We always feel that ACN is there behind us willing to help us wherever we are in need.”

On Line donations can be made at www.aidtochurch.org


Where the Church's Growth Is Fastest
Bishop From Northeast India Speaks on Christ's Appeal

ROME, FEB. 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The northeast corner of India is the place where the Catholic Church has grown most over the past 30 years, with an average of about 10,000 adult baptisms every year -- and this despite the fact that for many generations missionaries were banned.

Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need spoke with a bishop from the region, John Thomas Kattrukudiyil of Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh.

Q: Since the 1970s the Catholic Church has exploded in this northeastern corner of India growing today to a number a little under 200,000. To what can we attribute this explosive growth of the Catholic faith?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: This is a phenomenon that surprised everybody. The Church, the government, everyone was surprised. The immediate reason I can give was the desire of the young people of Arunachal Pradesh to profit from the charitable activities of the Christian missionaries. They saw the good activities done by the missionaries and since the missionaries were not allowed in Arunachal Pradesh they thought: "well let us go out and invite them." One thing led to another; they received baptism and they became Christians, Catholics. Another factor is that the young were not at all happy with their traditional religious practices. For example, they used to have to offer many sacrifices when someone was sick. This is very expensive and as the traditional religion imposed more and more such expenses they then turned to the new religion, Christianity, that asked them only to pray to Jesus. They then found that when they prayed to Jesus they were getting healed, they were getting graces. So that helped a lot to bring about change.

Q: Can one say that traditional religions are based on fear?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: It is basically based on fear. They believe in many evil spirits and these spirits control their lives and they always have to placate these evil spirits. And how do you placate them, for example, in an area where there is no medical help available? By offering more and more animal sacrifices. When someone is sick, the village traditional religion leader tells them that this is because of an evil spirit so you have to offer 10 mithun -- the Indian bison -- for sacrifice, or five pigs or 10 cows. For a village this involves hundreds or thousands of animals and that is a big burden on them. As soon as they saw an alternative, they jumped on it.

Q: And the missionaries could come and say: "Have no fear, there is one spirit, the Holy Spirit, and it's a good spirit."

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: Yes and especially in presenting him as our loving Father in contrast to these spirits who are only there to threaten us and to persecute us. I think that made a big difference.

Q: And this extraordinary growth in the face of the fact that in Arunachal Pradesh, and the other sister states of northeastern India, there is an anti-conversion law. What is the anti-conversion law and how did this come about?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: This anti-conversion law exists not only in the northeast like Arunachal Pradesh but in other states like Orissa, and Pradesh. How did this come about? This law came out of fear among a section of Hindus that Christianity might spread all over India. It is an unfounded fear though it may be that it is being used as a political tool in order to win political power. Some Hindu's whip up the emotions of the Hindu majority by saying that Hindus are in danger and thus the need to bring all the polarized Hindus under one political apparatus and then turn that group into a political power. This could be the political angle to the whole story; otherwise it is unbelievable that Christians who number no more than 2% of the population could pose a threat to a big country like India.

Q: As a consequence of not having any priests, it was the laity who started the evangelization in Arunachal Pradesh?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: Yes, especially the women. A priest established a mission at the gates of Arunachal Pradesh close to the market place. He met some of the Arunachal women and invited them to the mission. These people were more than happy to have someone to talk to. While they were doing their business in the market and through talking to them, he learned a few words of their language. They trusted him. He then mentioned his faith to them. They accepted and many of them were baptized. They went back to their village. He mentioned too that their children were welcome to study. So they brought their children to the mission. He put these children in the schools. In the end this mission station became the center for baptisms. Many people would say: "Let me go to Harmuti to get baptized" and they would come, stay there a day or two, get baptized and go back to their village.

Q: And as we know, today, there are hundreds…

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: At least about 180,000 Catholics must be there.

Q: … And 10,000 adult baptisms every year?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: Close to that number takes place every year.

Q: What would be the most important tool in terms of the presence of the Catholic Church in Arunachal Pradesh?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: The government and the tribal population accept us because of our contribution in the field of education. Everybody knows that the whole northeast owes a great deal to the missionaries because a large percentage of the populations who are educated have gone through our schools.

Q: In fact, many generations coming now into leadership have passed through these Catholic schools?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: Many of those who initiated this anti-conversion law have their children and grandchildren in Catholic schools. They say: "Yes, yes it is good that the missionaries have schools for us, but not for the poor because they may get converted." They want the poor to remain ignorant. They just want to use the Church facilities for themselves.

Q: … Only for their own purposes?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: Yes and in fact, this tendency is seen also among a certain sections of the elite in Arunachal Pradesh who ask me: "Bishop, why are you wasting your time opening schools in the remote villages? You have a very nice school in Itanagar. Put all your resources there; charge a very high fee and we will send our children there." I say: "No, that is not the purpose for which I am here. I would open a school in the most remote village sooner than here in the city."

Q: And the purpose is to reach out to the poorest of the poor?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: Yes. Accepting Christianity is a byproduct but we would like to give these people who have been denied the basic right to education the possibility of good education.

Q: Would you say that the primary phase of evangelization has passed or are we still in the primary phase?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: The expansion of the Church at a rapid phase has slowed down. Somehow with the passage of time, the coming of missionaries, institutionalization of the Church this rapid phase has slowed down but the appreciation for the Church has remained and the people still keep coming. The focus now is on consolidation like giving catechesis, and this has its own difficulties: difficult terrain to reach the villages and the question of language, all these dialects, every priest is not able to learn all these dialects so we need translators and then lay catechists.

Q: The first evangelization came from the Baptists and they did a fantastic job. You have good relations with the Baptists. Now there are new churches coming in. How is the relationship with all these groups and how is this inter-Christian dialogue managed?

Bishop Kattrukudiyil: The first Christians in Arunachal Pradesh were the Baptists, however, today in terms of influence and visibility, the Catholic Church is by far the most visible in Arunachal Pradesh. When the government wants to deal with the Christian groups they approach the bishop of the Catholic Church to find out what the Christians will say. I have over time found that all the Christian groups generally and very subtly accepted the leadership of the bishop and accepted the bishop as a representative of the Christian groups. In fact, when they need to do something they approach me and they follow the Catholic line in terms of all socio-political realities despite the fact that they are keen to keep their individuality.

* * *

This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
 

A Muslim Finds the Catholic Faith…Through Geography and Theology

British soccer team owner and prominent philanthropist Ilyas Khan reflects on his conversion.
Daily News by EDWARD PENTIN 04/10/2012


Ilyas Khan

Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar was instrumental in helping Ilyas Khan, a British philanthropist and former Muslim, to become Catholic. But so too were many other distinctly Catholic influences, all amounting to a “pull” towards the faith rather than a “push” away from Islam.
Khan, a merchant banker by training and the owner of the Accrington Stanley soccer team, is also chairman of the prominent British charity Leonard Cheshire Disability — the largest organization in the world helping people with disabilities. In a revealing interview with Register Rome correspondent Edward Pentin, Khan explains in more detail what drew him to the Catholic Church in 2009.

What brought you to the faith? Was there anything in Islam, perhaps Muslims’ devotion to Our Lady, which helped you to convert?
Yes and no. Devotion to Our Lady on a personal basis is a big part of my faith, but at the same time, I know it wasn’t anything to do with my upbringing as a Muslim. My first tentative steps towards Catholicism were taken in my very early infancy. My mother was very ill at that time, and I was raised till about the age of 3 or 4 by a grandmother who was determinedly Catholic and Irish. I went to a Church school, and I think that when I started classes I didn’t think of myself as anything other than being Christian.
I also benefited from being brought up in Lancashire, up on the Pennines and close to the Ribble Valley. If there was ever a Catholic heartland in England, that was it — the great stronghold that never really acknowledged the Reformation.
Later on, when I was entering university, divine Providence intervened for a second time, and I stayed at Netherhall House, which is an Opus Dei student hall of residence in London. But, in between, say from the ages of about 4 to 17, I had been raised as a Muslim in a Muslim household. I had gone to mosque, learned the Quran. So, yes, I was raised a Muslim, but I don’t think there was any aspect of Islam that might have nudged me towards becoming a Catholic.

Was that time in Netherhall very influential, in terms of bringing you into the faith?
Very much so, yes. However, at that point in time, I don’t think I had the guts to convert or be received into the Church, or even take formal instruction. Apostasy is something Islam takes very seriously. In the eyes of a great many, Muslims’ apostasy is actually (as opposed to merely theoretically) punishable by death. So Netherhall was absolutely instrumental. I remember very clearly my devotion to prayer was really formed there, surrounded as I was by living examples of a wonderfully spiritual faith.

Would you say you came to the faith almost subconsciously?
Not really. I think I came to my faith wholly consciously. By the age of 18 and 19, I was a reasoning and questioning young adult. And by then I had discovered there was a brilliant person called Hans Urs von Balthasar. There was a library in Netherhall where I started reading theology. That’s where I came across Origen, and, to a very large extent, that’s also where I was able to study and appreciate the work of St. Augustine. So I was very conscious but somewhat apprehensive. Both my parents were still alive at the time, and part of my reticence was my unwillingness to cause them hurt. I don’t know quite how I would have described myself by the time I graduated from university, but probably “a closet Catholic” comes close.

What gave you the courage in the end?
Apart from the Holy Spirit? A culmination of two things: a greater degree of certainty in my own moral compass; and if there was a push away from Islam or a pull, it was much more the pull of Christ. It wasn’t ever in my mind a negative thing [to convert]. The other important factor was my very regular attendance, over a decade prior to my formally being received, at a church — St. Joseph’s in Hong Kong. I went to live in Asia and Hong Kong in my mid-20s, and that’s where I discovered my affinity for traditional Catholicism. The simple acts of faith — ritual, the liturgy and congregational prayer — were the stepping stones.

Did you have a sense, in those years leading up to being received, of a growing sense that the Catholic faith is the truth?
Yes, though that’s perhaps slightly melodramatic. At this stage of my life, when my religion is at the core of what I do, it’s very difficult to differentiate between any actions that might or might not be motivated by faith. I would hope that everything I do in my life is motivated and guided by faith. To answer your question in a slightly different way: I never doubted, from about my mid-20s onwards, that I was a Christian, and my path towards Catholicism, as opposed to Christianity per se, was really quite a quick one. In retrospect, the heart of that journey actually took four or five years and was more academically or intellectually based. I have to say it was Von Balthasar who guided me.

Were Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI also influential? Both have been described as so-called Balthasarians.
That’s a really good question. I’ve never been asked that question before. Yes, well, Cardinal Ratzinger, the current Pope, definitely qualifies as being “Balthasarian,” and Blessed John Paul II raised Balthasar to becoming a cardinal. Obviously, John Paul II was an influence beyond his regard for Von Balthasar — how could one not be influenced by such a great man? Like a great many people, Balthasar himself was not just a gigantic intellect, but also articulated how the mystery of faith is central to our lives as Christians. And, in that regard, the single most moving moment for me happened when I was in my mid-30s. I was walking past the Pieta in St. Peter’s, and I remember being literally arrested in my tracks by a combination of four or five things all at once. You asked me about my relationship with the Blessed Mother of God — well, that moment in time was really important. That can be described as being the turning point.

Was it the beauty of the Pietà that struck you?
Yes — and the context. This is God, I thought. This really is God. You must remember that one of the big things when we look at traditional Islam is the heresy — in their opinion — of equating the mortal Jesus with God. And if there is ever an obstacle that a Muslim convert has to contend with, intellectually and emotionally, more than anything else, that is it. At that moment, in front of the Pietà, I realized, through sheer emotion, that the truth of our religion is so simple and so direct.

You mean the fact that Jesus is not just a prophet, but God Himself?
Yes, absolutely, and I think at that moment — I remember it distinctly; it still moves me to tears — there was no doubt in my mind. It was so clear. I’m afraid it would be impossible for me to articulate that feeling in mere words. If there was a “before” and an “after,” then that was my point of arrival, so to speak.

In terms of being concerned about the “apostasy” charge from Muslims — is it something that keeps you up at night?
No, not at all. It doesn’t keep me up at night. However, I can tell you where it becomes relevant: In various different forums — in articles, magazines and on radio and once or twice on TV — I have tended to get a fair degree of coverage in Britain, where I’m also well known as the owner of one of our best-known football teams. I get described with a standard tagline saying something like: “The most prominent recent Catholic convert.” Whilst there have been many times when I have been on the receiving end of threats from individual Muslims or Islamic organizations who might read and react to these articles and interviews, I have to say that those occasions have absolutely never kept me up at night. I have received my fair share of hate mail and threats of violence, but I conduct myself with what I hope is a simple dignity and refuse to be drawn into a life governed by fear or undue caution.
Conversely, what I am interested in is where Islam and Catholicism meet; here, there is a degree of commonality. And my attitude is to exhibit for those who are not Catholics the beauty, purity, wonder and the privilege of being a Catholic. I’m just very straightforward and calm about this issue, and that’s a reflection of my faith.

Some prominent converts from Islam can be very negative towards their former religion, but you don’t seem to have that view.
My views have the benefit of being blessedly simple. I don’t think there’s any complexity in my faith, and, as I said earlier, I was pulled towards my Christian faith, not pushed away from Islam.
However, I must admit that I do have a great deal of sadness in my heart when I contemplate people who use Islam to justify their actions. These actions aren’t just un-Islamic — they are inhuman and have nothing to do with my view of Islam as a religion. Sadly, there appear to be a very large number of Muslims for whom anger and violence seem intuitive first responses to anything they don’t agree with. Beyond that, I feel that the two religions, Islam and Christianity, might be described as “distant cousins.” Remember, I was raised a Muslim, and I have been to Medina and Mecca, and I can see some of the inherent qualities. But we must also admit that the point of departure, the difference between the two religions, is vast. So while there are similarities, and I can see them, they don’t count really for very much. … I celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is love. It’s a simple statement. It is the defining difference.

And it is very simple in its totality.
Yes, it is; but then the thing we call “love,” that we as Christians concern ourselves (with) at the heart of our faith, is a living, real and tangible quality. Jesus is actually with us; we don’t need metaphors or vague conceptual examples of what love “might” be in order to inspire or inform us. We are blessed by the Holy Sacrament and nourished by the direct intercession of Our Lord through his sacrifice. In that regard, Von Balthasar has helped to change the basis of conversation about the relationship between the Church, Christ and the Holy Spirit. He created a new understanding around the semantics of “love” in a religious context. I, therefore, can’t really say much about the contrasts between Catholicism and other religions, be they Islam or Hinduism, for example, but simply affirm the unerring simplicity of my own faith.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome
 

Pope says personal conversion is first step of New Evangelization

By David Ker
Pope Benedict XVI. Credit: Mazur.

Vatican City, May 24, 2012 / 03:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict XVI told the bishops of Italy today that personal holiness is an indispensable first step to reconverting their country and the Western world to Christianity. 
"The fundamental condition in order to be able to speak about God is to speak with God, increasingly to become men of God, nourished by an intense life of prayer and molded by his grace,” the Pope said on May 24.
He encouraged his fellow bishops to allow themselves “to be found and seized by God so as to help the people we meet be touched by the Truth.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks to the participants of the 64th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, which is being held May 21--25.
The Italian bishops gathered in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, where they heard the Pope lament how for many people in the West, God has “become the great Unknown and Jesus is simply an important figure of the past.”
The Pope said that this is resulting in people no longer understanding the “profound value “ of the “spiritual and moral patrimony” that the West’s roots are in and that “is its lifeblood.” What was once “fertile land,” he said, is now at risk of “becoming a barren desert and the good seed (is in danger) of being suffocated, trampled on and lost.
Even many baptized people in the West “have lost their identity” and “do not know the essential contents of the faith, or they believe they can cultivate faith without ecclesial mediation,” he warned the bishops.

The practical impact of this, Pope Benedict said, is that while many baptized “look doubtfully at Church teaching,” others have reduced “the Kingdom of God to certain broad values, which are certainly related to the Gospel but which do not touch the central nucleus of Christian faith.”
But the Pope did not finish his remarks without offering a solution to the Italian bishops.
He pointed them to the New Evangelization, which has its roots in the prophetic words of Pope John XXIII. At the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, John XXIII said that the council would help “transmit pure and integral doctrine, without any attenuation or misrepresentation” but in a new way “according to what is required by our times.”
This, explained Pope Benedict, is the key or “hermeneutic” of “continuity and reform” required to properly understand the council today.
He repeated, though, that any new evangelization will not be achieved simply by “new methods of announcing the Gospel” or by “pastoral activity” but only through personal conversion.
“We must begin again from God, celebrated, professed and witnessed,” said the Pope. “Our primary task, our true and only task, remains that of dedicating our lives to the one thing that is truly dependable, necessary and ultimate.”
Before concluding with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict assured the bishops that the Catholic faith preached by word and example still has the power to draw all people to Christ.
“Where space is given to the Gospel, and therefore to friendship with Christ, man realizes he is the object of a love which purifies, warms, renews, and makes us capable of serving mankind with divine love,” he said.
 

At last! A judge who fights for marriage: Senior family court judge campaigns to break Britain's 'divorce addiction'

By James Chapman

PUBLISHED: 21:30 GMT, 29 April 2012 | UPDATED: 22:37 GMT, 30 April 2012

High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge, who was assigned to the Family Division, said family breakdown is 'destructive'.
Britons have an addiction to divorce fuelled by a 'Hello! magazine' attitude to marriage, a top judge has warned.
 

Sir Paul Coleridge said family breakdown was 'one of the most destructive scourges of our time'.
Citing growing evidence of harm to a generation of children, he said youngsters whose parents separated saw their educational achievements and job prospects damaged.
In a highly unusual move for a serving judge, Sir Paul will tomorrow launch a campaign – backed by senior legal figures and Church leaders – to promote marriage.
There was 'incontrovertible' proof that married couples were more likely to stay together, he said.

Sir Paul, one of the most senior family court judges, voiced particular concern over what he called the 'Hello! magazine, Hollywood image' of marriage, saying: 'The more we have spent on weddings, the greater the rate of family breakdown.'
And he also warned that a trend for older couples to split once children leave home was having an 'extremely emotionally disturbing' impact on families.
Sir Paul's campaign is expected to be supported by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, while patrons of the campaign include former chief family law judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, family lawyer and academic Baroness Deech and Baroness Shackleton, the divorce lawyer who acted for Prince Charles and Sir Paul McCartney.

The judge warned that courts had 'streamlined' family cases to contend with the growing numbers, making it too easy for couples to split – suggesting they should be required to go through counselling and mediation.
'We don't traditionally comment on matters of policy, but there are very few people who have had as much experience of what is going on as the family judiciary,' he told the Daily Mail.
'We have watched it get worse and worse and worse. The time for sucking our teeth is over. Waiting for government or others to take action is merely an excuse for moaning and inactivity.'
According to official figures, there were 400,000 cases heard in the family courts in 2010 and 120,000 divorces, up 5 per cent on the previous year.

A report will say there is now overwhelming evidence that married relationships are more stable and the children of such relationships fare better.
There were 241,000 marriages in 2010, a near 100-year low. Some 22 per cent of marriages in 1970 had ended in divorce by the 15th wedding anniversary, whereas 33 per cent of marriages now end in the same period.
Cohabitation, meanwhile, rose from a million couples in 2001 to 2.9million in 2010 – and it is projected to rise to 3.7million by 2031.
'Marriage is not something that falls out of the sky ready-made on to beautiful people in white linen suits, it involves endless hard work and love'
- Lord Justice Coleridge

Referring to the 'Hello! magazine' attitude, he said: 'Marriage is not something that falls out of the sky ready-made on to beautiful people in white linen suits.
'It involves endless hard work, compromises, forgiveness and love.However right the person is, they might not be right two years later. It doesn't matter how wonderful you appear to be to your partner at the beginning, you will begin to display faults that we all have.
'In order for a relationship to last, you have to hang in there and adjust and change and alter and understand. Long, stable marriages are carved out of the rock of human stubbornness and selfishness and difficulties.'

Sir Paul, 62, who has been married for nearly 40 years and has three children and three grandchildren, also warned of the rise in so-called 'silver splitters' – couples who separate late in life, often when their children leave home. In the past decade divorce among the over-50s has risen by 10 per cent.
'It is very sad that we now see such a huge number of people in their 50s, 60s and 70s getting divorced and carving up their estates and their lives,' he said.

 'There has been a dramatic increase. The truth is that people think it's fine to do that once children are grown up. It probably isn't as destructive as when as child is 12, but if you speak to those in their 20s or 30s who experience their parents breaking up long after they have left home, they will tell you almost always that it's an extremely emotionally disturbing thing for them, and indeed for any grandchildren. It creates huge sensitivities. The tectonic plates of a family shift.'
Sir Paul said he backed proposals to make it compulsory for anyone wishing to apply to the courts over an acrimonious separation to attend mediation or counselling.
Tory ministers have suggested that separating couples should be made to understand the impact of conflict on children.
But the judge suggested a wider shake up of the law, which he said dated back to the 1950s.

'The law and the courts have undoubtedly played a part, because in order to manage the enormous flood of cases we have had to streamline the law and the process. There is no such thing as a defended divorce any longer. We see that the fight is no longer over the divorce itself, but over money and children,' he said.
Sir Paul said he was not interested in 'preaching' or pronouncing moral judgments. And he defended the right of judges to speak out on issues of concern in which they had expertise.
It was the same, he said, as doctors alerting the public to an epidemic they had detected. 'It would be irresponsible to remain quiet. This is an exceptional situation,' he said.
The Marriage Foundation, the new campaign group he will lead, will accept divorce is sometimes unavoidable and will not argue that those who make a sustained commitment to one another outside marriage are in some way inferior.

 'This is not going to be a cosy club for the smug and self-satisfied of middle England but, we hope, the start of a national movement with the aim of changing attitudes across the board from the very top to the bottom of society, and thus improve the lives of us all, especially children,' the judge said.
Instead, the campaign will seek to promote marriage as the 'gold standard' for relationships that benefit couples, children and wider society.
A report to be published by the foundation will say there is now overwhelming evidence that married relationships are more stable and the children of such relationships fare better.
A baby born to cohabiting parents is more than ten times more likely to see its parents separate than one born to married parents.

Among natural parents, almost 90 per cent of married couples were still together when their children were seven compared with just 69 per cent of couples who were cohabiting. Almost one in four children living with cohabiting parents as a baby, meanwhile, was in lone-mother families by the age of seven compared with only one in ten living with married parents.
The costs and consequences for society, the foundation will say, are unsustainable.
Half a million children and adults are drawn into the family law and justice system every year, with 3.8million children currently caught up in the family justice system.
The financial cost to society of broken relationships is estimated to be £44billion a year. Research by the Youth Justice Board suggests 70 per cent of young offenders are from broken families.
The positive benefits of marriage include higher incomes and greater accumulation of wealth, avoiding the loss of income that tends to follow a breakdown.
Marriage also improves health, with one study suggesting the health gain may be as large as the benefit from giving up smoking.

The five champions of marriage
The five key members of the Marriage Foundation have notched up some 204 years of married life between them.

Lord Justice Coleridge, 62
Has been married to Judith for 39 years. They have two sons and one daughter.
Sir Paul Coleridge was privately educated at Cranleigh School, Surrey, and called to the bar in 1970.
He married his wife, a boatbuilder's daughter, in a simple ceremony – with a reception in a boatyard – in 1973. He has speculated that expensive weddings create a greater risk of family breakdown.
He has previously said that 'splitting families is like splitting the atom. You get enormous quantities of pent-up emotional energies that spill out and are completely unpredictable, plus all sorts of collateral damage that nobody expected'.

Baroness Deech, 69
Has been married to Dr John Stewart for 45 years. They have one daughter.
Ruth Deech was ennobled as Baroness Deech of Cumnor in Oxfordshire in 2005.
Her father was a historian and journalist who fled the Nazis in Vienna and her family arrived in Britain on September 3, 1939, the day war was declared on Germany.
Lady Deech believes the number of weddings has fallen to its lowest level since 1895 because 'religion is a waning force, women have financial independence, there is state support for lone parents, children are no longer classified as illegitimate, divorce is easy and there is no recrimination over sex and birth out of wedlock'.

Lord Justice Toulson, 65
Has been married to Elizabeth for 39 years. They have two sons and two daughters.
Sir Roger Toulson was appointed as a Lord Justice of Appeal in January 2007 after a distinguished 38-year career in the law.
He is patron of several charities, including Time for Families, a Christian charity that supports families, and Keep Out, a scheme aimed at rehabilitating young offenders.
In a case in which a morbidly obese man argued that his local health authority should fund his fat-reducing surgery, he said: 'Human rights law is sometimes in danger of becoming over-complicated.'

Baroness Shackleton, 55
Has been married to Ian Ridgeway Shackleton for 27 years. They have two daughters.
Fiona Shackleton is the personal solicitor to Princes William and Harry. She has been nicknamed 'the Steel Magnolia' for her toughness and has handled high-profile divorces, including those of the Prince of Wales and Diana, the Duke and Duchess of York and Sir Paul and Lady McCartney.
She has been quoted as saying: 'I like sticking up for people, making sure they are not taken advantage of. Even if they are incredibly rich.'

Baroness Butler-Sloss, 78
Has been married to Joseph Butler-Sloss for 54 years. They have two sons and one daughter.
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was the most senior woman judge in Britain until her retirement.
She made many controversial decisions, including blocking a man's legal battle to see his test-tube baby daughter, conceived after he broke up with her mother.
When criticised by Fathers 4 Justice, she said: 'I cannot meet [them] because they are not being sensible, and as long as they throw condoms with purple powder and send a double-decker bus with a loudspeaker outside my private house in the West Country there is no point.'
 

South Korea, the Asian Tiger of the Church

The number of Catholics there is growing at a staggering pace. With many thousands of new baptized adults every year. The report of a great missionary

by Sandro Magister

ROME, April 18, 2012 – The seven years of pontificate that Benedict XVI will mark tomorrow are associated, in common opinion, with the general decline of the Church.

But this opinion is nurtured by a view restricted to the Christianity of the Old Continent: to a Europe that in effect has suffered the blows of a growing secularization.
If one simply widens the perspective, in fact, the reality appears different. In the past century the Catholic Church has experienced the most extraordinary phase of missionary expansion in its history.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, in sub-Saharan Africa there were fewer than 2 million Catholics. A hundred years later, there were 130 million.
And also on a worldwide scale, the twentieth century was for the Church a century of numeric explosion. From 266 million at the beginning of the 1900’s, Catholics reached 1.1 billion a hundred years later. An increase of  a factor of four, more than the parallel increase of the planet's population.
It is an expansion that shows no sign of stopping, and began in the 1800’s, precisely when the Catholic Church in Europe was undergoing the attacks of a culture and of powers strongly hostile to Christianity.
Today the context is analogous. For the Catholic Church in Europe, these are lean years. But in other regions of the world it is the opposite.
South Korea, for example, is a country in which Catholicism is growing at a dizzying pace. And precisely among the most active and "modern" strata of the population.
The report that follows – published on Easter by the newspaper of the Italian Episcopal conference, "Avvenire" – was written by one of the leading experts on Catholic missions in the world. A missionary himself, Fr. Piero Gheddo is today the director, in Rome, of the historical office of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
He is the author of numerous volumes and collaborated in the drafting of the 1990 encyclical “"Redemptoris Missio” of by John Paul II.
__________

SEOUL, AN EASTER FOR THE RECORD BOOKS
by Piero Gheddo

There may be no other country in the world that over the past half century has seen growth as sustained as that of South Korea, including conversions to Christ.

From 1960 to 2010, the number of inhabitants went from 23 to 48 million; per capita income from 1,300 to 19,500 dollars; Christians from 2 to 30 percent, of which about 10-11 percent, 5.5 million, are Catholic; there were 250 Korean priests, today there are 5,000.

I first went to South Korea in 1986 with Fr. Pino Cazzaniga, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Japan, who speaks Korean.

Even back then it was a Church with many conversions, and it is still so today. Every parish has from 200 to 400 baptisms of converts from Buddhism each year. Most of the converts are city dwellers. Each year there are 130-150 new priests, one for every 1,110 baptized. In 2008, the proportion of Catholics exceeded 10 percent of South Koreans, and grows by about 3 percent each year. In 2009, the number of baptized reached 157,000, and 149 priests were ordained, 21 more than in 2008. More than two thirds of the priests are under the age of 40. "Over the past ten years, the Catholic Church in Korea has gone from three to five million faithful; in Seoul we are 14 percent," Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, archbishop of Seoul, has said in an interview.

The Catholic Church in South Korea is the one that is growing most vigorously in Asia. There is full religious freedom in South Korea, and the secretary of the Korean episcopal conference, Bishop Simon E. Chen, told me that Koreans demonstrate a strong propensity for Christianity, because it introduces the idea of the equality of all human beings created by the one God. Moreover, both Catholics and Protestants participated in the popular movement against the military dictatorship, between 1961 and 1987, while Confucianism and Buddhism promote obedience to the established authority. Also, Christianity is the religion of a personal God made man to save us, while shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism are not even religions, but systems of human wisdom and of life. Finally, after the war between North and South Korea (1950 to 1953), South Korea, thanks to American aid, saw extremely rapid economic, social, and civil development, becoming in every way an advanced and even rich country, in which the ancient religions do not provide answers to the problems of modern life.

One characteristic of the Korean Church is the excellent collaboration of the laity in evangelization. The Church was born in Korea from a few Korean philosophers and diplomats who emigrated, converted to Christianity in Beijing, and then, after returning home, propagated the faith and baptized. From 1779 to 1836, when the first French missionaries arrived, Christians spread and then the persecutions came, but the habit of collaborating with the Church has remained. Today in Korea, someone who converts knows that he must join one of the groups, associations, or movements of the parish. The "passive" Catholic is not recognized. In Seoul, where there are more than 200 parishes, I was in the parish of the Salesians of Kuro 3-Dong, in a working class area on the outskirts of the city. The Catholics, already in 1986, were 9,537 out of about 150,000 inhabitants, and there were almost 600 baptisms of adult converts each year.

The pastor, Fr. Paul Kim Bo Rok, told me: "In the parish we are two priests and four sisters, but the real work of mission and religious instruction is done by the laity, both in the eight courses of catechesis, taught at different times and by different people, and in the very active ecclesial movements, especially the Legion of Mary. Each year, we celebrate two or three rites of collective baptism of adults: each time the baptized are 200, 300, or even more, after about a year of catechumenate: that's not much, but we can't allow any more time because of the many requests for religious instruction. Deeper formation in the faith is given after Baptism, and is the task of the ecclesial movements. Becoming Christian means entering into a group that draws you in deeply, gives you norms of behavior and effort, gives you prayers to say every day. When one enters the Church one accepts everything. This is the Korean spirit: either you accept and commit yourself, or you don't accept and go away."

Fr. Paul continues: "In Korea, religion is something serious and demanding. It is true that there is the danger of formalism, but it is the entire culture of the people that is set up this way. Moreover, Christianity is the primary force that emphasizes the personal conscience and the freedom of the person. What are coming, instead, are threats opposite to formalism: secularism and practical materialism, which draw people away from the religious spirit. South Korea is seeing prodigious economic development, the poverty of thirty years ago has disappeared: today for us there is the passage to abundance and even to wealth. We must react with a deeper and more personal Christian formation. We are overwhelmed by the wave of conversions, and we are asking the Christian world at least for the aid of prayer."

Baptisms are generally administered at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. In the parish of Bang Rim Dong in Kwangiù, on Easter of 1986 I participated in the Mass and in the Baptism of 114 adults with their children. A celebration of the people, with a long procession of men and women, boys and girls, dressed in white to receive Baptism. Songs, music, so much joy. In the Korean Catholic Church, the program "Evangelization Twenty Twenty," the effort to convert 20 percent of South Koreans by 2020, is in full swing. They might not make it there, but the launch of this program in 2008 demonstrates of itself the enthusiastic faith of the baptized laity, because they are the driving force, and everyone knows it.

At Easter of this year, on Sunday, April 8, in Korea and in the world of the missions, tens of thousands of catechumens again entered the Church. Never be pessimistic about the future of Christianity and of the Catholic Church. We of the Old Continent are going through a crisis in our faith, but in the young Churches the action of the Holy Spirit is giving us an injection of hope and of Paschal joy.
 

Cardinal urges Catholics to wear a cross with pride

Christian workers in England have been disciplined for wearing crosses, but Cardinal O'Brien is determined that things will be different in Scotland.

United Kingdom:
Christians should wear a cross on their clothes every day as “a symbol of their beliefs”, according to the head of the Catholic church in Scotland. In his Easter Sunday homily, Cardinal Keith O’Brien called on Christians to make the cross “more prominent in their lives”.

Speaking at Edinburgh’s St Mary’s Cathedral , he told them to “wear proudly a symbol of the cross of Christ on their garments each and every day of their lives”.

“I know that many of you do wear such a cross of Christ, not in any ostentatious way, not in a way that might harm you at your work or recreation, but a simple indication that you value the role of Jesus Christ in the history of the world, that you are trying to live by Christ’s standards in your own daily life.”

Two women who say they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbol are fighting to get their cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

Nadia Eweida, 59, of Twickenham, south west London, was suspended by British Airways for breaching its uniform code in 2006.

Shirley Chaplin, 56, from Exeter, was barred from working on wards by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after refusing to hide the cross she wore on a necklace chain.

Cardinal O’Brien quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who said Christians “need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles.
 

Jewish Shroud Expert Teaches at Pontifical University

Photographer From '78 Scientific Examination Speaks of Proofs of Authenticity

By Andrew Dalton, LC

ROME, MARCH 22, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Barrie Schwortz was the Official Documenting Photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), the team that conducted the first in-depth scientific examination of the Shroud in 1978.

In this interview, Schwortz tells ZENIT how Shroud science has influenced his own faith.

ZENIT:  You just finished teaching a week-long course as part of the Diploma in Shroud Studies from the Science and Faith Institute of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, in collaboration with Othonia and the International Center of Sindonology in Turin.  What has that experience meant for you?

Schwortz:  Probably the best part of the experience is the warm reception that I’m given by the faculty and students. That makes me feel that being here is very worthwhile.  The response from the students is always so positive.

Of course, being Jewish, it’s sort of ironic. The first time they asked me [to teach], I said, “So, how often do you bring Jews to teach future priests about the Shroud?” We all laughed about that.

It really is a great honor. For me, it makes the work that I’ve done with the Shroud over all these years really meaningful and not just for myself but obviously for the students. And when you are doing something that is of value to other people, that’s a great blessing in its own right.

ZENIT: How long did it take for you come accept the Shroud of Turin as the authentic one belonging to Jesus in the 1stcentury?

Schwortz: At the very beginning of my involvement with the Shroud, I was very skeptical about its authenticity. I had no emotional attachment to Jesus and the subject matter because I was raised as an Orthodox Jew.  The main thing I knew about Jesus in those days was that he also was Jewish, and that was about it.

Examining the Shroud, I knew quickly that it wasn’t a painting because when you are up close and you see it, you can tell it’s not a painting.  But as far as its authenticity, it took another 18 years after we finished our examination and all the papers were published.

I still wasn’t completely convinced until one of our fellow team members, Allen Adler, another Jewish man who was a blood chemist, explained to me why the blood remained red on the Shroud.  I felt that old blood was supposed to be black or brown. The blood on the Shroud is a red-crimson color. So that was a deal breaker for me for a long time. But ultimately, when that was explained to me and especially from my friend Al Adler, may he rest in peace, who also was involved in this not so much from a religious point of view as from a purely scientific point of view, he was the one who put the last piece of the puzzle in for me. It was a shock to me when I came to the conclusion after almost 20 years that this piece of cloth was authentic. And I got there based solely on the science.

ZENIT:  Regarding the argument for authenticity, do the results from the 1988 radiocarbon dating remain a thorn in the Shroud’s side?

Schwortz: It is the primary piece of evidence that points in the opposite direction, but of course I had the benefit by 1988 of having more than 10 years of study, and I knew about historical objects like the Hungarian Pray Codex that indicate this cloth was around much earlier than the earliest dates given by the carbon dating.

Now I’m not a physicist, so I didn’t necessarily understand why the radiocarbon dating was so skewed. It bothered me, and of course it was a huge setback because for the 10 years after we examined the cloth, the consensus publicly was, “This thing is probably real.” And then the carbon dating came out and it knocked it down. And from that point forward the world began to believe that it couldn’t be authentic.

This was frustrating for me because the evidence is so powerful in my mind that this has to be the real thing.  As Sherlock Holmes said, “eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

ZENIT:  What would you say is the message or meaning of the Shroud?

Schwortz: I always say, the Shroud did not come with a book of instructions, and consequently, the meaning isn’t on the cloth but in the eye and in the heart of the beholder. Each person has to regard it, study it or not, and make up his own mind.  It’s not the kind of thing that forces itself upon you, and I think that’s as it should be.  It will not push to open your heart.  You have to open your heart to it.

For me, once I came to the conclusion from the science that it was authentic, I came to understand how meaningful it is. This is like a forensic document of the Passion, and for Christians around the world this has got to be the most significant relic because it accurately documents everything that is told in the Gospels of what was done to Jesus.

I think that there’s plenty of evidence there to support the belief that this cloth wrapped the body of the historic Jesus.  It doesn’t speak to whether or not he was the Messiah. Again, that’s a test not so much for science but for faith.

ZENIT:  Was your progressive discovery of Shroud data accompanied by a journey of faith?

Schwortz: When I first got involved, I was ... well, I don’t have a label for it. I knew about God, but I didn’t really think about God.  I hadn’t thought about God since I was 13 and had my bar mitzvah, and there was really no real religious foundation for that. It was almost an obligation to my family.  It was very important to them, but for me it didn’t have much significance. I walked away from faith and religion and God, and I really didn’t look back until I was almost 50 years old.

Once I came to the conclusion that the Shroud was authentic, which was in 1995, I built shroud.com.  And in working with that and collecting this material and making it available to the public, I began to speak publically about the Shroud around 1996.  And as soon as I stood up and said, “I believe this is authentic,” the questions changed, and everyone asked me, “Well, what do you believe?” And they weren’t talking about the Shroud.  They were talking about faith in God.

For me this has always been about the truth and about being honest with people and making it available even if it doesn’t represent my personal beliefs. I think all Christians have the right to know that the evidence does point to its authenticity.

So when people started asking me what I believe, I didn’t have an answer. I was clueless to what I believed. I had not really regarded it in my life as an adult. It forced me to confront my beliefs for the first time.

And it didn’t take very long because I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home where God was part of everything every day, like Fiddler on the Roof.  So I came to the conclusion when I looked: God was there just patiently waiting for me to acknowledge him.  When I looked in my heart, he was there.  It was a shock.  I was really surprised to see that deep down inside I had this faith in a higher power, in God, all along.  It’s just that I had virtually ignored it through the first part of my adult life, and there at age 50, I suddenly came face to face with God in my own heart.

And so the Shroud, in essence, was the catalyst for that.  How many Jews can say the Shroud of Turin brought them back to their faith in God?  It’s had great significance in my own life not just from the obvious intellectual point of view but also from a spiritual point of view, in that it reconnected me with something that’s very important to me, and that’s my own faith in God.

ZENIT:  What future goals do you have for shroud.com?

Schwortz: About three years ago, back in 2009, I formed a non-profit organization.  I was concerned that, should something happen to me, the ownership of these materials would come into question.

I didn’t want to burden my son with trying to figure out what should be done with it, so I formed STERA, Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association. The primary function of STERA is to educate people through shroud.com, which just hit its 16th anniversary this year.

Some of the other STURP team members who have passed away have left to me their collections, so our biggest upcoming project is to raise the funds to digitally archive all their materials, and ultimately make those available through shroud.com.  Once archived and in one place, future researchers can have access to this material at no cost.

I think that the future of STERA is to continue that work even when I am gone.  I have a great board of directors, with many well-known Shroud scholars.  Hopefully this will make it very clear after I’m gone that the ownership is not in question.  It belongs to STERA:  the Web site, all of my photographs.  All of that has been legally transferred to STERA so that, if something happens to me, the people are in place who can carry the work forward.
 

Ash Wednesday not just for Catholics anymore

BY DAVID OLSON The Press Enterprise
Published: 21 February 2012 10:17 PM


Don’t assume every ash-marked forehead you see today belongs to a Catholic.
Ash Wednesday, long associated with Catholicism, is increasingly observed in Protestant churches.
The Rev. Joe DeRoulhac became senior minister of Redlands’ First Baptist Church in 1989 but didn’t preside over Ash Wednesday services there until 2003. The idea came from an interfaith Ash Wednesday event he participated in a year or two before.
DeRoulhac said there’s an increasing desire among Protestants to look anew at ancient Christian practices that previously were identified with Catholics.
“Part of this is retrieving from the past rituals that might help us today to fully experience the significance of our faith,” he said. “It’s our common heritage.”
As in the Roman Catholic Church, ashes are typically seen as signs of repentance and mortality, and Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days — except Sundays — leading up to Easter.
Even a small number of evangelical churches have begun holding Ash Wednesday services, said the Rev. Kurt Fredrickson, an associate dean at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical institution in Pasadena.
Evangelicals historically have avoided practices viewed as Catholic, he said. Today, there’s general acceptance among evangelicals that Catholics are fellow Christians and they see less of a need to distance themselves from Catholics, he said.
Changes in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s helped reduce the sense of difference Protestants felt toward Catholics, said the Rev. Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, a professor at Claremont School of Theology and an expert on Christian history. In addition, prejudice against Catholics has waned and interfaith dialogue has increased, she said.
Kujawa-Holbrook said the placement of ashes was rare through the five centuries after the Protestant Reformation until the past few decades, except among Anglicans, many of whom do not consider themselves Protestant.
The Anglican Communion, called the Episcopal Church in the United States, has similar rituals as the Roman Catholic Church and has observed Ash Wednesday since its 16{+t}{+h} Century beginnings.
The Rev. Bill Dunn said that when he presides over Ash Wednesday services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Beaumont, he thinks of how his forebears did so throughout the centuries — and how similar rituals in other denominations illustrate how much Christians of different faith traditions have in common.
Ash Wednesday attendance at St. Stephen’s approaches that of Sunday worship, Dunn said. Many Catholic churches are jammed on Ash Wednesday, with special services and Masses scheduled throughout the day.
Yet in many Protestant congregations, the observance takes getting used to.
First Christian Church of Riverside, a Disciples of Christ congregation, has tried Ash Wednesday services a few times in the nearly three decades the Rev. Chris Nettles has been there but hasn’t had one in several years.
“Nobody comes out,” Nettles said. “You get 10, 15 people.”
Even at some Inland congregations that have held Ash Wednesday services continuously for years, the pews are usually only half or a quarter full, clergy say.
“This is something new and different for many people in our congregation,” said First Baptist’s DeRoulhac.
First Baptist member Wendy Peske, 33, didn’t grow up observing Ash Wednesday but she has made a point of attending the service with her husband and their now-3-year-old daughter.
“When we leave the service, our daughter is asking us, ‘What’s that on your head? What does that mean?’” Peske said. “It’s a good way of talking to her about Jesus and what he did for us.”
The Rev. Sharon Graff, pastor of Redlands United Church of Christ, said rituals draw congregants into a lesson in a way that words from the pulpit sometimes cannot. She sees the ashes as symbolic of the eternal soul as well as repentance.
“We ponder how it is that we are made of dirt, how it is we are made of the dust of the ground, but also infused with the spirit of God,” Graff said. “Yes, our bodies will decay, but we don’t decay.

India: Catholics Seen As Threat, Says Cardinal Alencherry

Written by: UCAN
 February 20, 2012
By Alessandro Speciale

Extremist groups in India see the growth of the Catholic Church as a “threat” and have successfully lobbied the government against Christians’ rights, the newly elevated Cardinal of the Syro-Malabar Church George Alencherry warned in an interview with ucanews.com in Rome.
Alencherry was among the 22 new cardinals created yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Basilica. Most of the new princes of the Church come from the Curia and from Europe. Only two – Alencherry and the bishop of Hong Kong, John Tong Hon – come from Asia.
In his homily, the pope warned the new cardinals that their duty is “serving God and others” and urged them to be “self-giving”, rejecting the “power and glory which belongs to this world.”
After weeks of document leaks inside the Vatican and rumors of power struggles, plots and even a possible resignation by the pontiff, Pope Benedict also asked cardinals to pray for him, that he “may continually offer to the people of God the witness of sound doctrine and to guide holy Church with a firm and humble hand.”
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s ceremony, Archbishop Alencherry said he looked at his entrance into the College of Cardinals – who will eventually be called to elect Pope Benedict’s successor – with a spirit of service.
“I am really searching what I can do for the Church, especially at the universal level.”
He said that though Christians in India are a small minority – Catholics account for only 1.9 percent of the population – their strong faith and their communion can send a strong message to the whole Church.
“The tradition is strong, the faithful are ready to pay any price for their being Catholic,” he said.
Archbishop Alencherry stressed that religious extremists are a small minority of India’s Hindus and Muslims, but they have been responsible for “atrocious attacks.” He also cautioned that political parties often pander to them in an effort to attract votes.
“You cannot say that Hinduism is intolerant. The vast majority of Hindus live with us in harmony and peace, and they even welcome Christianity in India.”
While India’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, sometimes the state protects extremists as “certain political parties” try to “exploit” religious tensions “to gain more votes” by giving “patronage to these groups”.
The new cardinal also called on the government to reverse its policy that denies preferential status to people from lower castes that convert to Christianity. According to Alencherry, the official reason for this is that “there is no caste difference in Christianity.”
But while it is true that “there is no inequality in the Christian community,” the archbishop noted that “economic inequality subsists.”
“My reading is that they are afraid that if people who embrace the Catholic faith and are from the so-called lower caste are given equal rights, there may be a flow of people into Christianity, and that would be a challenge for the majority community.”
Even if no one says it explicitly, Alencherry suggested that “behind the scenes” many see Christianity “as a threat to the majority religion, Hinduism.”

Half world’s 2.3 billion Christians are Catholic: New survey
 

World's Christian population, from the respected Pew Forum

The world’s largest Christian population is in the United States. One-third of the world’s Christians live in the Americas, North and South. The Middle East, home of Christianity, is now only four-per-cent Christian. Half the world’s Christians are Roman Catholics.
Those are some of the findings of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, arguably the world’s best religion pollster. It came out today, just before Christmas, with the most extensive data ever on the world’s Christian population. I will follow up on it later, but in the meantime here are key findings.

 
 

Highlights:
- There are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages in more than 200 countries around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 6.9 billion 2010 global population.
- In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians  live in Europe (26%).
- In the last 100 years, the number of Christians around the world has more than tripled from historical estimates of approximately 600 million in 1910 to more than two billion today… Still, because of rising world populations, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population in 2010 (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).
- Christians are diverse theologically as well as geographically. About half are Catholic. Protestants, broadly defined, make up 37%. Orthodox Christians comprise 12% of Christians worldwide.
- Taken as a whole Christians are by far the world’s largest religious group. Muslims, the second-largest group, make up a little less than a quarter of the world’s population.
- Almost half (48%) of all Christians live in the 10 countries with the largest number of Christians. Three of the top 10 are in the Americas (the United States, Brazil and Mexico). Two are in Europe (Russia and Germany); two are in the Asia-Pacific region (the Philippines and China); and three are in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia), reflecting Christianity’s global reach.
- Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants (broadly defined to include Anglicans and independent churches) as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.

The full report, which includes a companion quiz, interactive maps and sortable data tables, is available on the Pew Forum’s website.

The happiness of believing

Europeans who belong to a religion report higher levels of happiness than those who do not.

Do religious belief and practice affect the happiness of Europeans? In the first part of this two-part article, to answer our question we focused on the European Values Study. In this second part we deal with results from the European Social Survey.

For an empirical analysis of the effect of religion on happiness, we use data from three waves (2002/2003, 2004 and 2006) of the European Social Survey (ESS) covering 114,019 individuals in 24 different countries. These provide information on personal characteristics such as gender, age, income, subjective general health, marital status, main activity, number of children and the educational level of each individual, among other things.
As indicators of religion, we have two groups of variables. A first group, about “religious belief”, considers questions such as: “Do you belong to a particular religion?” (yes or no), “What religion or denomination do you belong to?” (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Other Christian denomination, Jewish, Islam, Eastern religions, Other non-Christian religions), and “How religious are you?” (on a scale from 0, “not at all religious” to 9, “very religious”).
The second group proxies for “religious practice” and consists of the queries: “How often do you attend religious services, apart from special occasions?” and “How often do you pray, apart from religious services?”, with responses ranging from “every day”, “more than once a week”, “once a week”, “at least once a month”, “only on special holy days”, “less often”, to “never”. As with most studies on economics and happiness, we make use of the question, “How happy are you?”, to which the respondent answers on a scale from 1, which stands for “not happy at all”, to 10, which stands for “completely happy”.
On average, happiness among the 24 European countries is 7.26, but with great differences ranging from 5.54 for Ukraine to 8.32 for Denmark. We also find significant differences in the religion variables. The countries with the lowest proportion of individuals belonging to a particular religion are Estonia and the Czech Republic, while those with the highest proportion are Greece, Poland, Portugal and Ireland. Similarly, there is evidence of differences between “religious belief” and “religious practice” variables. For example, the proportion of people belonging to a religion in Spain is 74 per cent (12 points above the mean average), although individuals attending services and praying report a mean lower than the European average.

Religion and happiness are correlated

When we ran statistical tests looking for correlations between happiness and religion variables, the main results were as follows:
1. There is a significant effect of belonging to a religion on happiness. Those who belong to a religion report higher levels of happiness than those who do not.
2. The religion or denomination has a significant effect on happiness. Protestants, other Christian religions and Roman Catholics report higher happiness levels whereas Orthodox and Eastern religions report the lowest.
3. There seems to be a positive relationship between how religious a person is and happiness: the more religious, the happier. However, those who consider themselves “not at all religious” (0) have comparable levels of happiness to those who give themselves a 5 in the scale of religiosity.
4. Frequency of attendance at services is likewise positively correlated with happiness: those who attend religious services every day say they are happier than those who never attend.
5. Frequency of prayer is positively correlated with happiness, with those who pray every day reporting higher levels of happiness than those who never pray.
6. Frequency of attendance in services is a more relevant variable than frequency of prayer in the self-reported happiness levels.

Explaining the religion-happiness link

From the perspective of the psychology of religion, Nielsen (1998) provides three possible explanations for the positive link between religion and happiness.

The first refers to the social support. People are happier when they find themselves in a supportive environment and religion offers this. That could explain why the beneficial influence of religion on happiness is strongest among people who need support the most, such as the elderly, the sick and those who are single. Moreover, religion allows people to feel themselves closer to God, also viewed as a source of support. Economics literature expresses this same idea, inasmuch as religion could serve as insurance during negative shocks (Chen 2003) and a source of both direct (education) and indirect social benefits (health, work) (Glaeser et al. 2000, Finke and Stark 1998).

Secondly, people with firm beliefs, those who have a sense of what is important and an orientation in life, tend to be happier (Ellison 1991). Religion supplies people with such beliefs. This aspect of religion may have to do with the greater membership success of conservative churches (Kelley 1972). Although stricter and more demanding in morals and practice, they offer greater certitude in beliefs.

Thirdly, religion itself may contribute to happiness by triggering positive experiences, such as a feeling of being in contact with God (transcendence) or with others (Pollner 1989).

How do these explanations from the psychology of religion test with the statistical findings set out above? They undoubtedly support (1) “Those who belong to a religion report higher levels of happiness than those who do not”, (3) “The more religious a person, the happier”, (4) “The frequency of attendance at services is positively correlated with happiness” and (5) “The frequency of prayer is positively correlated with happiness”. But we do not find them helpful in explaining (2) “The religion or denomination to which the individual belongs has a significant effect on happiness” and (6) “Frequency of attendance in services is a more relevant variable than frequency of prayer in the self-reported happiness levels”.

Regarding (2), which refers to the varying correlations between particular religions or denominations and self-reported happiness, the psychology of religion seems to imply that Protestant religions provide greater social support, firmer beliefs and more positive religious experiences –or any combination of the three— than Eastern Orthodox religions, for example. However, we do not have evidence for this. The lumping together of various Protestant religions, other Christian religions and Eastern Orthodox churches does not allow us to calibrate the social support, firm beliefs and religious experiences associated with each.

Neither do we have a straightforward explanation for (6), which suggests that frequency of attendance at services is more significant than frequency of prayer for happiness. Certainly, attendance at services could provide more social support than prayer, which could be done individually. But attendance at religious services does not necessarily imply firmer beliefs nor more positive religious experiences. (Some religions may just emphasize private prayer more than community worship.) We do not know, nor can we tell with the available data. We would have to tease out the individual effects of social support, firm beliefs and religious experience from their cumulative effect on happiness, for attendance at services and for prayer. But again that is not possible with the available information.

Insights from the sociology of religion

Furthermore, there are other dimensions to both religious belief and practice than those considered by the ESS. Here is where inputs from the sociology of religion come in handy. The sociology of religion offers insights to better understand the underlying notions of religious belief and practice and the tensions between them. It also sheds light on the relationship between the individual and the group through mediating institutions such as the Church, the State and the market.

What could be meant by “religious belief” in this context? Starting out with the British experience (Davie 1994), and later on extending it to the rest of Europe and America (Berger et al. 2008), Davie suggests that “religious belief” mainly refers to feelings, experiences and the numinous, as could be associated with the New Age movement, for example. It does not refer to creedal statements with precise and specific contents. It is a profession in an “ordinary God” (Abercrombie et al. 1970), not a God “who can change the course of heaven and earth” (Davie 1994: 1). Philosophically, this corresponds to the God of deism: one who, after creation, soon left human beings to their own devices. Although nominally Christian, belief here represents a non-institutional religiosity; it is belief that has been privatized, becoming invisible and implicit. It also goes under the names of “popular”, “common”, “customary”, “folk”, “civic” or “civil religion”. Rather than the absence of belief, it is an individually customized patchwork of beliefs. Therefore, apart from the categories of belief and unbelief, the degrees of religiosity and institutional religions, it would be interesting to look into the range of non-institutional religiosity and test it against happiness.

And how are we to understand “religious practice”? Again, for Davie (1994) and colleagues (Berger et al. 2008), this “belonging” covers a wide range of behaviors, from religious orthodoxy to ritual participation and an instrumental attachment to religion. They fall under what she calls “vicarious religion”, meaning that although an individual does not want to be personally involved with a church, he nonetheless wants the church to be there for other people or society as a whole (Berger et al. 2008: 15) as seen, for instance, in the role of churches in expressing national grief or mourning. Therefore, besides data for frequency of attendance at services and prayer, there are other forms of religious practice such as “vicarious religion” that can be analyzed in relation to happiness.

Lastly, there are two basic models that relate the individual to the group in the religious sphere: the traditional, historic or established church and the church as a voluntary association in the faith market (Berger et al. 2008: 16-7). The first is dominant in Europe, whereas the second exists mainly in the United States. The traditional church, much like the State, exercises a monopoly over the faithful who do not belong to it by choice, but by default or obligation. In many countries, this is the “national church” understood as a ministry of the State. The church which arises through voluntary adherence, on the other hand, follows the market model. In lieu of an established church is a market where various churches compete. In some cases, however, the same faith group may adopt the traditional mode in one place and the voluntary mode in another, as with the Catholic Church in Europe and in the US, for instance. In general, the decline in religious belief and practice or “secularization” has affected traditional churches more than churches of voluntary adherence.

We think that the status of religion –whether traditional or voluntary— affects not only the levels of belief and practice, but also the level of happiness. Countries with the traditional model of religion will have lower levels of religious belief and practice than those with the voluntary model due to the latter’s internal “locus of control”. It is also probable that followers of voluntary religion will report higher levels of happiness than those of traditional religion. But again, unfortunately, this cannot be confirmed with the available data.

As a final remark, despite positive correlations obtained between religious belief and practice, on the one hand, and happiness, on the other, results would have to be nuanced by a better understanding of both religious belief and practice. For some religions, belief cannot be separated that easily from belonging or practice and vice-versa. It could also very well be the case that religion is more than just a means for achieving happiness through the satisfaction of psychological needs.

Alejo José G. Sison and Juncal Cuñado teach at the University of Navarra, in Pamplona, Spain.

References
Abercrombie, N, Baker, J., Brett, S. and Foster, J. (1970): “Superstition and religion: the God of the gaps”. In D. Martin and M. Hill (eds.), A Sociological Yearbook of Religion in Britain, 3, London: SCM, 91-129.
Berger, P., Davie, G. and Fokas, E. (2008): Religious America, Secular Europe?: A Theme and Variations, Aldershot & Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Chen, C.W.S., Chiang, T.C. and So, M.K.P. (2003), “Asymmetrical reaction to US stock-return news: evidence from major stock markets based on a double-threshold model”, Journal of Economics and Business, 55, 5-6, 487-502.
Davie, G. (1994): Religion in Britain since 1945. Believing without Belonging. Oxford, U.K & Cambridge, U.S.A.: Blackwell.
Ellison, C.G. (1991): “Religious involvement and subjective well-being”, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 32, 80-99.
European Values Study (2005): http://www.europeanvaluesstudy.eu/evs/research/themes/religion/ (accessed 20 November 2010).
Finke, R. and Stark, R. (1998): “Religious Choice and Competition”, American Sociological Review, 63 (5), 761-766.
Glaeser, E., Laibson, D., Scheinkman, J. and Soutter, C. (2000): “Measuring trust’”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 65 (3), 811–46.
Kelley, M.W. (1972): Why Conservative Churches are Growing. New York: Harper & Row.
Nielsen, M.E. (1998): “An assessment of religious conflicts and their resolutions”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37, 181-190.
Pollner, M. (1989): “Divine relations, social relations, and well-being”, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 30, 92-104.

Explorers Say They've Found Pieces of Noah's Ark

video here http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2011/December/Explorers-Say-Theyve-Found-Pieces-of-Noahs-Ark/

It's perhaps one of the most told stories in the Bible
Cartoon sketches of Noah's ark fill children's books, and Hollywood even produced a modern-day adaptation in "Evan Almighty."
Now, a group of scientists say they've found parts of the biblical ark.
Daniel McGivern and his team claimed to have discovered two large sections of Noah's ark resting just below surface atop Mount Ararat in Turkey -- where the Bible says the ark came to rest.
"The mountain is treeless. The mountain is volcanic with gases. There is no conceivable way that you could have an object that big on a mountain," McGivern said.
The team used military satellite imagery and ground penetrating radar technology to locate the ruins. They believe the large object is wooden.
"The evidence is overwhelming," McGivern added. "This is the large piece from Noah's ark."
His evidence is based solely on imaging technology.
The large piece of wood will likely remain buried under ice.
"There's a huge problem with getting down to it, because of the fact that you can't melt the ice," McGivern explained. "You are up there at 16,600 feet. How are you going to get down to it?"
For centuries, explores have searched Mount Ararat for the ark.
Just last year, a Chinese team claimed to have found the historical boat -- releasing a video showing men inside what appeared to be ancient wooden structures.
The video and find was widely believed to be a hoax.
McGivern's claim may never have the hard evidence to back it up, but the discovery could provide a great opportunity to share the gospel.

UK is a Christian nation, Cameron emphasizes

December 20, 2011
In a speech commemorating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized that the United Kingdom is a Christian nation.
“We are a Christian country,” he said. “And we should not be afraid to say so … what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.”

 “Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality,” he added. “They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths. And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgment on their behavior. I think these arguments are profoundly wrong. And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people, what we stand for, and the kind of society we want to build.”

 In an apparent swipe at Catholic teaching on women’s ordination, Cameron, an Anglican, said that the Bible has been “at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery, and the emancipation of women--even if not every church has always got the point.”
 

Family values remain strong in a changing world

Values remain strong in a changing world

Gobal data shows majority support for the traditional family, despite some erosion.

In the last section of the Sustainable Demographic Development report Laurie deRose surveys global statistical evidence on international family strcuture, children’s trends, family culture, and family economic wellbeing. Here MercatorNet reproduces his findings on family culture, which are generally positive. The third and last in this series.

KEY FINDINGS: Throughout the world, support for the institution of the family is strong. In every country examined except Sweden, men and women agree that a child needs a mother and father to grow up happily. In all 29 countries, a majority of adults believes marriage is still relevant and that an additional emphasis on family life would be a good thing. Nevertheless, support for marital permanence is weaker, with adults in many countries taking a relatively permissive stance toward divorce.

Marriage is a near-universal institution around the globe. The meaning of marriage, however, varies from country to country and has changed across time. In many places around the world, marriage has become about love and companionship—a stark contrast to pre-Industrial Revolution marriages that were to a large degree about economic survival. Still, marriage continues to be viewed by many as the “gold standard” in relationships, as the optimal arrangement for childrearing, and as a relationship that should not easily be terminated. Precisely how many hold these views around the world is not clear.

To shed light on adults’ attitudes toward marriage and family life around the world, we present data from the World Values Survey, collected between 1999 and 2007, on four cultural indicators in 29 countries: (1) agreement that a child needs a home with a mother and father to grow up happily, (2) disagreement that marriage is an outdated institution, (3) agreement that more societal emphasis on family life would be a good thing, and (4) opinions about how justified divorce is. Because the World Values Survey has been collected since the early 1980s in many of the 29 countries of interest, we are also able to paint a portrait of changes in family culture over the last 25 years or so.

Do children need a mother and a father?

The vast majority of adults around the world believe a child needs to be raised in a home with both a mother and a father in order to grow up happily (see Table 3 and Figure 4). This sentiment is strong in South America; more than 75 percent of adults in Argentina (88 percent), Chile (76 percent), Colombia (86 percent), and Peru (93 percent) believe a two-parent home is necessary for a happy childhood. North Americans are less likely to agree to this idea, but still 63 percent of U.S. adults and 65 percent of Canadians affirm the mother-father household as optimal for raising happy children.

Agreement with the mother-father family ideal is even stronger in Europe than in the Americas, with the sole exception of Sweden. There, only 47 percent of adults agree that a child needs to be raised by a mother and father to be happy. Notably, Sweden is the only country in the world where a minority agrees with this sentiment. Agreement with a mother-father ideal exceeds 90 percent in Italy (93 percent) and Poland (95 percent) and 80 percent in France (86 percent) and Germany (88 percent). More than three-quarters (78 percent) of Spaniards view this family arrangement as best for children, as do two-thirds (67 percent) of British adults.

Support for the mother-father family type is nearly unanimous in the Middle Eastern and African countries: Egypt (99 percent), Saudi Arabia (95 percent), Nigeria (97 percent), and South Africa (91 percent). Asian support for children being raised by a mother and father is also strong. Most of the Asian countries profiled exceed 90 percent agreement: China (97 percent), India (90 percent), Malaysia (92 percent), Philippines (97 percent), and South Korea (92 percent); and the remainder exceed 80 percent: Indonesia (81 percent), Japan (89 percent), and Taiwan (87 percent). Australians (70 percent) and New Zealanders (68 percent) express less agreement, resembling Americans, Canadians, and British attitudes on this issue.

There is not clear evidence that this attitude is changing drastically over time in one particular direction.

FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT: www.sustaindemographicdividend.org/e-ppendix.

In most cases, support for a mother-father family type has remained relatively stable, or has fluctuated in a nonlinear fashion. Two notable exceptions to this are Chile, which saw agreement with this statement drop from 93 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2006; and Sweden, which fell from 71 percent agreement in 1982 to 47 percent in 2006. South African support for the mother- father family ideal may have even grown from 83 percent in 1982 to 91 percent in 2006.

Marriage an outdated institution?

Like agreement that children need a mother and father to be happy, the overwhelming majority of adults around the world disagree that marriage is outdated (see Table 3). In none of the 29 countries did fewer than 64 percent of adults (France) feel this way. Between 70 and 80 percent of adults in most American countries disagree marriage is outdated: Argentina (70 percent), Canada (78 percent), Chile (72 percent), Colombia (75 percent), Mexico (71 percent), and Peru (80 percent). The United States stands out a bit from its neighbors, with 87 percent disagreeing marriage is outdated.

European support for marriage as a relevant institution is similarly strong in most countries. French (64 percent) and Spanish (67 percent) adults are the least likely to disagree marriage is outdated, but support for marriage as an institution exceeds 70 percent in Germany (78 percent), Sweden (78 percent), and the United Kingdom (74 percent). More than 80 percent believe marriage remains relevant in Italy (81 percent), and support for marriage surpasses 90 percent in Poland (91 percent).

Belief in marriage’s relevance is even stronger—these data suggest—in most other parts of the world. The two Middle Eastern countries examined here exhibit strong support for the institution of marriage: Egypt (96 percent) and Saudi Arabia (83 percent). In Africa, 85 percent of Nigerians believe marriage is not outdated; a relatively low (but still high in absolute terms) percentage of South Africans (77 percent) feel the same way. Marriage receives high levels of support throughout Asia and Oceania as well: China (88 percent), India (80 percent), Indonesia (96 percent), Japan (94 percent), Malaysia (86 percent), Philippines (83 percent), South Korea (87 percent), Taiwan (89 percent), Australia (82 percent), and New Zealand (85 percent).

There is some evidence of a decline in this attitude around the world, though it is clearly not universal and not precipitous. Double-digit declines in support for marriage occurred in Chile from 1990 to 2006 (85 percent to 72 percent), in Mexico from 1981 to 2005 (81 percent to 71 percent), in Great Britain from 1981 to 1999 (86 percent to 74 percent), and in India from 1990 to 2006 (95 percent to 80 percent).

For more information visit sustaineddemographicdividend.org/e-ppendix

Double-digit increases, however, took place in Japan (76 percent to 94 percent). Still, decline in support for marriage seems to be the more common trend, as modest declines in support for the institution can be seen in many of the other countries examined here.

More emphasis on Family Life a Good Thing?

Around the world, adults overwhelmingly believe that family life deserves more emphasis (Table 3). When asked whether more emphasis on family life would be a good thing, a bad thing, or something they wouldn’t mind, vast majorities report that this would be a good thing. In most countries in the Americas, 90 percent or more believe additional emphasis on family life would be a good thing: Argentina (94 percent), Canada (95 percent), Chile (90 percent), Colombia (99 percent), Mexico (97 percent), and Peru (96 percent). Desire for more emphasis on family is 88 percent in the United States.

European desire for a greater focus on family life is also strong. Swedes are the least likely Europeans to report such a development would be a good thing, but even 81 percent of Swedish adults believe it would be good. Additional family emphasis would clearly be welcomed by most in France (93 percent), Germany (87 percent), Great Britain (93 percent), Italy (93 percent), Poland (94 percent), and Spain (92 percent).

Throughout the Middle East [Egypt (96 percent) and Saudi Arabia (90 percent)] and Africa [Nigeria (94 percent) and South Africa (86 percent)], adults view positively an added emphasis on family life. Asians would also welcome this added focus, although India (75 percent) and Malaysia (78 percent) less so than other countries [China (92 percent), Indonesia (87 percent), Japan (87 percent), Philippines (92 percent), South Korea (89 percent), and Taiwan (97 percent)]. In Oceania, too, a heightened focus on family life would be embraced by most [Australia (90 percent) and New Zealand (92 percent)].

If anything, the desire for added emphasis on family life appears to be growing around the world. Relatively large increases in this attitude can be seen in Mexico (9 percentage points from 1981 to 2005), Great Britain (9 percentage points from 1981 to 2006), Spain (8 percentage points from 1981 to 2007), China (18 percentage points from 1990 to 2007), and Japan (7 percentage points from 1981 to 2005).

For more information visit sustaineddemographicdividend.org/e-ppendix

Some countries have witnessed declines in this sentiment, however, including Chile (7 percentage points from 1990 to 2006) and the United States (7 percentage points from 1982 to 2006).

Divorce attitudes

While support for mother-father families, marriage, and family life in general is strong around the world, attitudes toward divorce vary widely by region (see Table 3). On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being permissive and 10 being restrictive, countries range from the very permissive (Sweden, 2.6) to the very restrictive (Nigeria, 8.5). In the Americas, the countries with the most conservative attitudes about divorce are Peru (7.2) and Colombia (6.3). All other American countries fall below the scale midpoint of 5.5: Argentina (4.5), Canada (5.1), Chile (5.0), Mexico (5.7), and the United States (5.2).

The European countries range from moderate to permissive in their divorce attitudes, with Poland (6.3) and Italy (6.0) being the most restrictive. Swedish adults (2.6) believe divorce is almost always justifiable. Spain (3.9), France (4.1), Germany (4.3), and Great Britain (4.6) are also quite permissive.

The Middle East, Africa, and Asia have the most conservative attitudes toward divorce, though even here the numbers are not always extreme. Egypt (6.0) and Saudi Arabia (6.4) are fairly moderate in their stance on divorce. Nigeria (8.5) is the most conservative nation on this attitude, and South Africa (7.1) is also relatively restrictive. Asian countries vary somewhat widely in their attitudes, ranging from Japan at 4.6 to China at 8.3. In between these extremes are moderate countries like South Korea (6.4) and Taiwan (6.3), and somewhat more conservative countries like India (7.1), Indonesia (8.0), Malaysia (7.4), and the Philippines (7.8).

Oceania, like Europe, is fairly permissive when it comes to divorce. Both Australia and New Zealand have average scores of 4.3, indicating divorce is justifiable more often than not.

There is a clear pattern of liberalization of divorce attitudes in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania. With the exceptions of Colombia, Peru, and Italy, countries in these regions have become more permissive in their divorce attitudes.

For more information visit sustaineddemographicdividend.org/e-ppendix

We do not have longitudinal data for the Middle East, but in Nigeria divorce attitudes appear to have become more conservative, and attitudes have been generally consistent across time in South Africa. China has seen attitudes become more restrictive—especially since 1995—but other Asian countries, specifically India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, have become more permissive in their attitudes about divorce. So too have Australia and New Zealand.

Conclusions

Taken together, these findings suggest that in most countries around the world, adults have relatively traditional family attitudes. They believe children need to be raised by a mother and father to grow up happily. They endorse marriage as an institution, and they wish that there were more emphasis placed on family life. Nevertheless, they hold relatively permissive attitudes toward divorce. This suggests that in many places around the world, adults are wrestling with the meaning of marriage and what an ideal family should look like. On the one hand, they value the institution and its childrearing benefits; on the other hand, they are more open to an individualistic understanding of marriage that allows for the termination of the relationship under many circumstances.

While these are the dominant patterns, there are clearly variations in family culture around the world. North America, Oceania, and Scandinavia generally take a more laissez-faire view of family matters, whereas Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America embrace a more familistic view of things. These differences can be attributed to variations in religiosity, economic development, political culture, and the relative importance of community vis-à-vis the individual in these different regions of the world.
 

Motherhood at a Price
IVF Is Proving Perilous

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, OCT. 28, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Even as in vitro fertilization treatments are being sought by growing numbers of women, more and more evidence is surfacing to confirm the downsides of its use.
Canadian doctor John Barrett described what he termed an "epidemic of multiple births, largely as a result of IVF," the National Post newspaper reported Sept. 22.

"What the IVF industry is doing is creating a population of sick babies ... that is impacting all society," he said. The number of multiple births in Canada increased by 45% to almost 12,000 a year in the period 1991 to 2008, according to the article, citing data from Statistics Canada.In a further article on IVF on Sept. 26 the National Post reported that it is linked to rare genetic disorders. Addressing a conference on fertility Dr. Rosanna Weksberg said that babies born as a result of IVF are up to 10 times more likely to have genetic problems. While she affirmed her support for the use of IVF, Weskberg also said she is seeing many IVF children with rare disorders. She added there is evidence that IVF babies are more likely to be born at a low weight.The cause of this increased risk of genetic problems is unknown, but according to Weksberg it could well be a combination of the infertility problems of the parents, together with the fertility treatments themselves. In cases where outside donors are involved, other problems for IVF children can come about due to their lack of knowledge of any medical issues of their biological parent.

Sickness

In Australia a television station recently ran a story about a woman conceived using donor sperm, who now has inheritable bowel cancer, which was not from her mother.
According to a report published Sept.5 by the British BioNews service, the woman cannot obtain any information about her father, nor can she contact the other eight half-siblings, due to the fact that at the time of their conception the identity of donors was kept secret.
A number of Australian states have now changed the law to require donors to consent to the release of their information, but the change is not retrospective.
A similar problem was reported by American ABC News on July 21. Rebecca Blackwell and her 15-year-old son Tyler were trying to track down his sperm donor father and while he did not respond to their requests for information his sister did tell them that her brother had an inheritable aortic heart defect. They also found out that Tyler had inherited this condition, which could kill him without warning. He later had an operation, but faces the need for continual monitoring for the rest of his life.

Tyler's father donated sperm at three clinics, fathering at least 24 children. He did not tell any of them about his health problems, which also include Marfan's syndrome, a tissue disorder.
Other negative consequences come about when a donor's sperm has been used very frequently. The concern is that some of the children, ignorant of who their father is, could enter into an incestuous relationship. One British sperm donor has fathered children in 17 families, the Sunday Times reported, Sept. 18. Official guidelines put a limit at 10, but the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has admitted there have been other breaches as well. Moreover, they also don't know how many times the rules have been broken. "There is a real danger in a small country like the UK for donor-conceived children to meet up unknowingly with half-siblings," said Josephine Quintavalle, of the Comment on Reproductive Ethics.  While the United States is a lot bigger than England the problem of multiple IVF offspring from the same donor is significant.
One notable case highlighted in a report published Sept. 5 by the New York Times told of a man who has up to now fathered 150 children. While this is an extreme example the article said that there are many other cases of donors fathering 50 or more children.
"We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm," said Debora L. Spar, author of "The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception."
According to the New York Times there is no certain data on how many children are born involving the use of sperm donors. There are various estimates, however, ranging from 30,000 to 60,000.

Complications

It's not just the babies who are at risk. An analysis of existing studies found that women who undergo IVF have a higher risk, as much as 40% in some cases, of a serious complication during pregnancy, London's Telegraph newspaper reported Oct. 20.
It is thought that the process involving the initial development of the embryo outside the mother's body leads to a poor development of the placenta later on. Another cause is that the women tend to be older and to have health problems.
Some IVF treatments involve the donation of ova from another woman. Concern was recently expressed that the large number of ova being taken from some donors puts them at risk, the Sunday Times reported Oct. 23.
In addition to problems such as mood swings, headaches and tiredness, the hormones injected into donors can lead to a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, causing blood clots and kidney damage and even death in some cases.
Data from the HFEA show that in one case as many as 85 ova were taken from one donor. Others had large numbers removed, from 50 up to 70. These worries come at a time when fertility authority has increased -- from £250 to £750 ($400 to $1,200) -- the amount an ova donor can be paid, the Independent newspaper reported, Oct. 20. The move came as clinics suffer from a shortage of donors. In part this came about due to donor anonymity being removed in 2005.  "This is a disgraceful decision that puts young women's health at risk," declared David King, director of Human Genetics Alert. A £750 payment is a strong incentive to university students who are struggling to pay their fees, he said.  Apart from health risks the clinics sometimes make mistakes, which are on the rise in Britain, according to an Aug. 13 article published by the Daily Mail.

Figures from the HFEA reveal that 564 serious errors or near misses occurred at clinics in Britain in 2010. This is three times the 2007 number. The mistakes include injecting the wrong sperm into an ova, embryos accidentally being destroyed, and the wrong embryos being implanted into women. There has only been a slight increase in the number of IVF treatments in recent years, so the sharp increase in mistakes is not due to higher numbers of cases. Earlier, in a July 22 article, the Daily Mail reported that hundreds of thousands of embryos are thrown away by clinics. More than 30 human embryos are created for every successful birth by IVF, according to figures published by the Department of Health. The information revealed that since 1991 more than 3 million embryos have been created by IVF, with fewer than 100,000 births resulting. According to the Daily Mail around 1.5 million were discarded in the course of treatment and more than 100,000 were given for research in destructive experiments. The opposition of the Catholic Church to the use of IVF is well known, but you don't have to be a Catholic to be very concerned over the immense human cost involved in these procedures.
 

Italian Priest Shot Dead in Southern Philippines
An Italian Catholic priest who was about to travel to a clergy meeting was shot dead Monday in his remote southern Philippine parish, police said.

The Rev. Fausto Tentorio was approaching his car when a gunman shot him several times within the church compound in North Cotabato province's mountainous Arakan township, said Chief Inspector Benjamin Rioflorido. Tentorio, a native of Santa Maria Hoe town in Italy's Lecco province, was dead on arrival at hospital. He was 59. Rioflorido said that according to a witness, the gunman ran from the scene after the shooting and fled toward an adjacent town on a motorcycle driven by an accomplice.

Investigators have not yet identified suspects or possible motives, Rioflorido said in a telephone interview. He said Tentorio had been a longtime parish priest in Arakan, spoke the dialect fluently and had good ties with the people there.
The priest had been about to travel to the provincial capital, Kidapawan city, to attend a clergy meeting of his diocese. Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz strongly denounced the killing and called on the police and military to solve the killing quickly.

Tentorio belonged to the Rome-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. PIME said he had worked with indigenous people in the south for more than 30 years and was the third PIME missionary to be killed on southern Mindanao Island, the homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. The resource-rich but impoverished region has seen Muslim rebellions for decades. "We are very sad because we lost already two other priests here in Mindanao," Rev. Julio Mariani, director of PIME's Euntes Mission Center in Zamboanga City, told The Associated Press.
Mariani said Tentorio received unspecified death threats around seven years ago, but had not mentioned new threats when they last met in July. He said Tentorio's killing could have been related to his work defending the rights of indigenous people and helping them hold on to their ancestral land.

"It was a delicate mission because when you deal with the marginalized and the poor, you are bound to step on the toes of some people and this could have been the source of the problem of why he was killed," Mariani added-
Rioflorido said they did not know of any death threats received by Tentorio. He said police would interview Tentorio's colleagues and other possible witnesses including teachers at a preschool within the church compound who were attending a flag-raising ceremony when the attack took place. Italian Ambassador Luca Fornari condemned the killing and expressed shock, sadness and dismay. "Killing someone who is doing good things is something that we cannot understand," he added.

He said the embassy has asked police to increase security for missionaries. Italy has warned its nationals, including priests, not to go to Mindanao, but missionaries have disregarded the advisory in order to help people, Fornari said. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario called on police "to immediately bring the perpetrators of this dastardly act to justice" and offered condolences to Tentorio's family and congregation.
 

The Aramaic language is being resurrected in Israel
Two television channels have been involved in initiatives to bring to life, once again, the language that Jesus and his contemporaries spoke. Today, it is spoken by 400 thousand people throughout the world
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KeTwo Israeli television channels are trying to see to it that Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his contemporaries in that region of the Roman Empire, will once again become a living language and not just be an almost extinct curiosity for scholars of Semitic languages to study. “Suroyo TV” and “Suryoyo TV” offer an endless supply of material for online discussion by fans so they can decide which is best. Among nouns that have the same meaning, there are variations of the term “Syriac” in Aramaic. The aficionados live in the Haifa zone, in Upper Galilee. There are probably others, but living in Syria, in the mountains south of Damascus, and in the small city of Maalula. It seems, however, that it is quite difficult for the latter to connect to the two Israeli channels.

These two channels are nevertheless still valuable: they prove that Aramaic is still living and breathing as a language, according to the inhabitants of Jish, one of the villages in the area. Aramaic is a Semitic language that is very close to Hebrew, and was once spread over the Fertile Crescent, the wide strip of Middle Eastern land that had its center between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but whose cultural and linguistic borders stretch all the way to the Mediterranean. Over the centuries, the use of Aramaic gradually dried up and was replaced by the Arab language of conquerors who came up from the south; and today it is the language of choice for Christians in the Middle East, particularly when in terms of liturgical use. It is even studied by experts on the Talmud.
 


Aramaic was actually—and a bit hastily—given up for dead until scholars became aware that a number of Aramaic dialects were spoken by communities in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. And those are not the only examples; to a lesser extent, they are also spoken in Lebanon, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Israel. In the western world, the Aramaic diaspora is very much alive and evident in the United States and Sweden; and as often occurs, these “exiles” actually seem more active and interested in revitalizing the language. It is believed that close to 400 thousand people throughout the world understand and speak different nuances of the Aramaic language.

 In Israel, the battle to turn Aramaic back into a living language has been carried forward by two brothers, Amir and Shady Khallul. They use Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, as their model. If Jewish people are in a position to revive Hebrew and turn it into a modern language, why shouldn’t we do the same thing with Aramaic? The question has been asked, and an affirmative answer has been given. Last year, the Israeli Education Minister gave Jish permission to teach Aramaic in the first two years of elementary school; it was necessary to build a program from the ground up. Dictionaries of the language were discovered in France, and a lot of educational materials, in Sweden. Most of the books have been printed in Lebanon. Modern Aramaic is written using an old alphabet (Biblical script uses Hebraic letters), which is something like a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic; it has 22 characters and is written right to left. There are two main dialects, an eastern and a western one (as is the case with Armenian), and a single written model, “Estrangela,” which is used in prayers and religious texts.

 Israeli speakers of Aramaic who use the western dialect have an additional challenge. They have to teach their children how to speak the language and then encourage them to use it in everyday life with friends, family, and at school; they also have to teach them how to write using both the western and Estrangela alphabets. Jish was once the site of Gush Halav, a village from the time of Jerusalem’s Second Temple; it was noted for the fertility of its soil and the high quality of its olives. More than half of its current 3,000 inhabitants are Maronite Christians, whom Israeli soldiers displaced from neighboring Bir’am in 1948; they were not allowed to return to their village of origin, which became the Bar’am Kibbutz. 35 percent are Muslims, while10 percent are Greek Orthodox christians. It is these Maronites who are trying to keep the culture, language, and historical legacy alive.

 Jish has a very lively community life and contacts with other Maronites who live in Israel, Nazareth, Acri, and Haifa. Among these, are almost 2,000 soldiers from the former Southern Lebanese army who found refuge in Israel after the Israeli army withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. At the time, the initiative to teach Aramaic was enthusiastically welcomed; classes for both children and adults were launched. Even the school’s headmaster, a Muslim, actively and staunchly supports the project, so much so that his son is even enrolled in one of the courses, in order to establish solidarity with neighboring regions. Maronites in Jish are a different kettle of fish, however: for them, Aramaic is essential to their existence as a people, in the same way that the Hebrew and Arab languages are for those groups. “We don’t identify ourselves as Aramaic, unlike some other nationalities,” Khallul declared. “For us, the State of Israel is very precious. I am very proud of the military service I carried out as Captain of the paratrooper brigade, and it’s not just a few Aramaics who enlist in the Israeli army. We feel a deep sense of belonging in this place and all of the traditions it has welcomed.” And, in effect, the contact between Maronites goes back a long time. Various Maronite currents were reported at the end of the 1930’s with the advent of the Zionist movement. During the 1939 Arab revolt, the Maronites supplied Jews who had been laid siege to in Safed, food off the back of donkey; they also helped some Holocuast survivors secretly enter Bir’am through the border, when the English closed off Palestine. David Ben Gurion, also worked to create a Maronite Christian state in southern Lebanon, which was financed by his Jewish agency.

Smoke and mirrors
Why do governments want us to believe that smoking cannot be safe but promiscuous sex can?

Earlier this year the Australian federal government unveiled draft legislation to introduce plain packaging laws for cigarettes. Health minister Nicola Roxon was unequivocal in her determination to put the final nail in the coffin of the tobacco industry. 
Showing off the new compulsory olive green packaging with vivid images of clogged arteries, cancerous gums and gangrene-infected feet, the minister declared: “We are going to ensure that in Australia there are no remaining avenues for tobacco companies to market and promote their products, particularly to young people. Gone are the days when people can pretend that cigarettes are glamorous.”
I have never smoked, have never had any desire to smoke and nothing frustrates me more than walking down the street and breathing in the secondhand smoke of the person puffing away in front of me, but this latest legislative push does cause me to wonder about the haphazard approach that federal policy takes to the health of its citizens.
It’s more than haphazard, actually; it’s hypocritical. Witness the deceptive and fallacious “safe sex” campaign that is sold to young people via various well designed and sexy governmental websites and videos. The current, official, safe sex website tagline is, “STIs are spreading fast, always use a condom”. This is accompanied by an attractive, naked young couple embracing.
The message is all about condoms stopping everything from HIV to chlamydia to gonorrhoea. The site contains interactive games and activities to get across the condom message. It even ran a national competition to design a “condom tin” to make carrying condoms “as normal as carrying your mobile phone”. The problem is that the condom is not dealing with the issue, it is just skirting around it. And the issue, which no government in the 21st century would be game enough to speak about, is sexual promiscuity.
In 2005 the government banned terms such as “light”, “mild” and “extra mild” on tobacco packaging as it gave the false impression that some cigarettes were less harmful than others.
Yet here we are, in 2011, still telling young people that it is fine to toy with diseases such a HIV and Syphilis so long as they use a thin rubber sheath. There was a major TV ad campaign run last year in which the entertaining and simplistic message was, “Anyone can get herpes” (anyone who is having promiscuous sex, that is). Before that there was the highly visible campaign promoting the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil which was given out free by the Australian Government to any females aged 12 to 26
The aspect that was not highly discussed in the popular media was that cervical cancer comes about as a result of the human papillomavirus which is a sexually transmitted disease. So, instead of speaking to 12-year-olds about the value of who they are and what sex is, we inject them with a vaccine.
In these campaigns, we see something very different to what goes on in the war against tobacco.

The government is closing down all avenues left for the promotion and sale of tobacco products, yet in the “fight” against deadly sexually transmitted infections the best they can say is, wear a condom and get an injection. What they are not saying is that a sexually promiscuous lifestyle is fraught with the risk of disease and heartache.
What is needed in the campaign is an injection of truth. The safe sex message is supposed to be all about information. Okay, how about this information: women who use the pill for four years or longer prior to their first full term pregnancy have a 52 per cent higher risk of cancer than those not on the pill. That sort of risk is seemingly acceptable, yet last year Toyota recalled 26,000 cars because 0.3 per cent of them experienced a slow brake fluid leak.
What about the fact that girls who are sexually active are more than three times likely to be depressed as girls who are abstinent prior to marriage? Shouldn’t we make it clear that teenage boys who are sexually active are more than twice as likely to struggle with depression and are more than eight times likely to attempt suicide?
Haven’t young people the right to know that those who are sexually active prior to marriage have a significantly increased risk of divorce? For a man who marries as a virgin, his chance of divorce is 63 per cent lower than that of a non-virgin. For girls, it is 76 per cent lower when they marry as virgins.
What young person informed of all these risks would not think twice before experimenting with sex? What responsible authority would not want to persuade adolescents, with the same fervour as they are putting into anti-smoking campaigns, not to start along that path?
Sadly, general Western society has fallen into the pit of relativism so we are impotent to stand up and actually say that promiscuous sex is not glamorous, that it is better to wait until marriage to be sexually active because there is a far higher chance of happiness on every level and a genuinely decreased risk of a diseased body and diseased emotions. After all, there is no condom for the heart.

Bernard Toutounji is an Australian writer and speaker with a background in theology. He writes a regular column called Foolish Wisdom (www.foolishwisdom.com) which focuses on issues of anthropology, morality and truth.

Change happens: new evidence on sexual orientation
Groundbreaking research published this week shows successful change in religiously motivated men and women.

A chorus of voices in the professional world today proclaims that it is impossible to change sexual orientation, particularly homosexual orientation, and that the attempt to change sexual orientation is commonly and inherently harmful. For example, for many years the Public Affairs website of the American Psychological Association stated: “Can therapy change sexual orientation? No. . . . [H]omosexuality . . . does not require treatment and is not changeable.”[1]
Regarding harm, the American Psychiatric Association’s statement that the “potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior”[2] is often cited.
In tension with this supposed professional consensus are the final results of a longitudinal study we have conducted over a period of seven years, now published in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, a respected, peer-reviewed scientific journal. This study involved a sample of men and women seeking religiously-mediated sexual orientation change through involvement in a variety of Christian ministries affiliated with Exodus International.

A scientifically rigorous study
This study meets high standards of empirical rigor. In other studies, in the words of the American Psychological Association, “treatment outcome is not followed and reported over time as would be the standard to test the validity of any mental health intervention.”[3] Prior research has been appropriately criticized for

Our study was designed to address these empirical standards. It is a longitudinal and prospective quasi-experimental study of a respectably large sample of persons seeking to change their sexual orientation via religiously-mediated means through Exodus ministries groups.
Among those endorsing an earlier book [4] describing the study and its results at the 3-year mark was former president of the American Psychological Association Nicholas A. Cummings, Ph.D., Sc.D., who stated: “Research in the controversial area of homosexuality is fraught with ideology and plagued by a dearth of science. This study has broken new ground in its adherence to objectivity and a scientific precision that can be replicated and expanded, and it opens new horizons for investigation…. I have waited over thirty years for this refreshing, penetrating study of an imperative, though controversial human condition. This book is must reading for psychotherapists and counselors, as well as academic psychologists studying human behavior and sexuality.”
This study assessed the sexual orientations and psychological distress levels of 98 individuals seeking sexual orientation change beginning early in the change process, and then followed them longitudinally with five additional independent assessments over a total span of 6 to 7 years. The researchers used standardized, respected measures of sexual orientation and of emotional distress to test the study’s hypotheses. This new report extends out to between 6-7 years the findings previously reported at the 3-year mark for the subjects in the study.
An earlier version of these results was presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association on August 9, 2009; that two former presidents of the APA, Dr. Nicholas Cummings and Dr. Frank Farley, discussed the findings in that presentation underscores the significance of the study.

The findings in brief
Of the original 98 subjects (72 men, 26 women), 61 subjects completed the key measures of sexual orientation and psychological distress at the conclusion of the study, and were successfully categorized for general outcome. Of these 61 subjects, 53 per cent were categorized as successful outcomes by the standards of Exodus Ministries.
Specifically, 23 per cent of the subjects reported success in the form of successful “conversion” to heterosexual orientation and functioning, while an additional 30 per cent reported stable behavioral chastity with substantive dis-identification with homosexual orientation. On the other hand, 20 per cent of the subjects reported giving up on the change process and fully embracing gay identity.
On the measures of sexual orientation, statistically significant changes on average were reported across the entire sample for decreases in homosexual orientation; some statistically significant change, but of smaller magnitude, was reported in increase of heterosexual attraction. These changes were less substantial and generally statistically non-significant for the average changes of those subjects assessed earliest in the change process, though some of these subjects still figured as “Success: Conversion” cases.
The measure of psychological distress did not, on average, reflect increases in psychological distress associated with the attempt to change orientation; indeed, several small significant improvements in reported average psychological distress were associated with the interventions.
In short, the results do not prove that categorical change in sexual orientation is possible for everyone or anyone, but rather that meaningful shifts along a continuum that constitute real changes appear possible for some. The results do not prove that no one is harmed by the attempt to change, but rather that the attempt to change does not appear to be harmful on average or inherently harmful.

Caution advised
The authors urge caution in projecting success rates from these findings; the figures of 23 per cent successful conversion to heterosexual orientation and 30 per cent to successful chastity are likely overly optimistic projections of anticipated success for persons newly entering Exodus-related groups seeking change.
Further, it was clear that “conversion” to heterosexual adaptation was a complex phenomenon; the authors explore a variety of possible explanations of the findings including religious healing and sexual identity change. Nevertheless, these findings challenge the commonly expressed views of the mental health establishment that change of sexual orientation is impossible or very uncommon, and that the attempt to change is highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an effort.
In our 2007 book, Ex-Gays? (IVP), we discussed the implications of the findings of this study, and those implications are still worthy of consideration. Most importantly, the study suggests that since change seems possible for some, then all should respect the integrity and autonomy of persons seeking to change their sexual orientation for moral, religious, or other reasons, just as we respect those who for similar reasons desire to affirm and embrace their sexual orientation.
This requires that space be created in religious and professional circles for individuals to seek sexual orientation change or sexual identity change with full information offered about the options and their potential risks. We would do well to put as much information as possible in the hands of consumers so that they are able to make informed decisions and wise choices among treatment options.
The results also suggest that it would be premature for professional mental health organizations to invalidate efforts to change sexual orientation and unwanted same-sex erotic attractions.

Stanton L. Jones is Provost (Chief Academic Officer) of Wheaton College (IL) and has served a three-year term on the Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association. Mark A. Yarhouse is the Rosemarie Scotti Hughes Endowed Chair and Professor of Psychology in the School of Psychology and Counseling at Regent University.
Article citation: Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse. (2011). “A longitudinal study of attempted religiously-mediated sexual orientation change.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Volume 37, pages 404-427.
The above article is a slightly edited press release. More information can be found at www.exgaystudy.org See, in particular Responses to criticism (including video).

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1]American Psychological Association (2005). “Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.” Retrieved April 4, 2005, from www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html.  This statement was removed some time after 2007.
[2] American Psychiatric Association (1998). “Psychiatric treatment and sexual orientation position statement.” Retrieved from http://www.psych.org/Departments/EDU/Library/APAOfficialDocumentsandRelated/PositionStatements/200001.aspx
[3] American Psychological Association (2005); ibid.
[4] Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse (2007). Ex-gays?  A longitudinal study of religiously-mediated change in sexual orientation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 

BXVI: The unsung heroes of the Indian Church

Men and women religious are the ‘unsung heroes’ of the Church in India, who ‘inspire others to respond with trust, humility and joy to the invitation of the Lord to follow him’, said Pope Benedict XVI Thursday as he met with the IV and last group of Indian Bishops on their year long Ad limina pilgrimage to Rome.

In an address which we publish in full below, the Pope focused in particular on the Indian Churches’ contribution to society at large, their the various educational and social institutions open to all, and the “efforts made by the whole Christian community to prepare the young citizens of your noble country to build a more just and prosperous society”:

Dear Brother Bishops,
I offer you a warm fraternal welcome on the occasion of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum, a further occasion to deepen the communion that exists between the Church in India and the See of Peter, and an opportunity to rejoice in the universality of the Church. I wish to thank Cardinal Oswald Gracias for his kind words offered on your behalf and in the name of those entrusted to your pastoral care. My cordial greetings also go to the priests, the men and women Religious, and laity whom you shepherd. Please assure them of my prayers and solicitude.

The Church in India is blessed with a multitude of institutions which are intended to be expressions of the love of God for humanity through the charity and example of the clergy, religious and lay faithful who staff them. By means of her parishes, schools and orphanages, as well as her hospitals, clinics and dispensaries, the Church makes an invaluable contribution to the well-being not only of Catholics, but of society at large. Among these institutions in your region, a special place is held by the schools which are an outstanding witness to your commitment to the education and formation of our dear young people. The efforts made by the whole Christian community to prepare the young citizens of your noble country to build a more just and prosperous society have long been a hallmark of the Church in your Dioceses and throughout India. In helping the spiritual, intellectual and moral faculties of their students to mature, Catholic schools should continue to develop a capacity for sound judgment and introduce them to the heritage bequeathed to them by former generations, thus fostering a sense of values and preparing their pupils for a happy and productive life (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, 5). I encourage you to continue to pay close attention to the quality of instruction in the schools present in your Dioceses, to ensure that they be genuinely Catholic and therefore capable of passing on those truths and values necessary for the salvation of souls and the up-building of society.

Of course, Catholic schools are not the only means by which the Church seeks to instruct and to edify her people in intellectual and moral truth. As you know, all of the Church’s activities are meant to glorify God and fill his people with the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32). This saving truth, at the heart of the deposit of faith, must remain the foundation of all the Church’s endeavours, proposed to others always with respect but also without compromise. The capacity to present the truth gently but firmly is a gift to be nurtured especially among those who teach in Catholic institutes of higher education and those who are charged with the ecclesial task of educating seminarians, religious or the lay faithful, whether in theology, catechetical studies or Christian spirituality. Those who teach in the name of the Church have a particular obligation faithfully to hand on the riches of the tradition, in accordance with the Magisterium and in a way that responds to the needs of today, while students have the right to receive the fullness of the intellectual and spiritual heritage of the Church. Having received the benefits of a sound formation and dedicated to charity in truth, the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the Christian community will be better able to contribute to the growth of the Church and the advancement of Indian society. The various members of the Church will then bear witness to the love of God for all humanity as they enter into contact with the world, providing a solid Christian testimony in friendship, respect and love, and striving not to condemn the world but to offer it the gift of salvation (cf. Jn 3:17). Encourage those involved in education, whether priests, religious or laity, to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. Enable them to reach out to their neighbours that, by their word and example, they may more effectively proclaim Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).

A significant role of witness to Jesus Christ is carried out in your country by men and women religious, who are the often unsung heroes of the Church’s vitality locally. Above and beyond their apostolic labours, however, religious and the lives they lead are a source of spiritual fruitfulness for the entire Christian community. As they open themselves to the grace of God, religious men and women inspire others to respond with trust, humility and joy to the invitation of the Lord to follow him.
In this regard, my Brother Bishops, I know that you are aware of the many factors which inhibit spiritual and vocational growth, particularly among young people. Yet we know that it is Jesus Christ alone who responds to our deepest longings, and who gives true meaning to our lives. Only in him can our hearts truly find rest. Continue, therefore, to speak to young people and to encourage them to consider seriously the consecrated or priestly life; speak with parents about their indispensible role in encouraging and supporting such vocations; and lead your people in prayer to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send many more labourers into this harvest (cf. Mt 9:38).

With these thoughts, dear Brother Bishops, I renew to you my sentiments of affection and esteem. I commend all of you to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church. Assuring you of my prayers for you and for those entrusted to your pastoral care, I am pleased to impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in the Lord.
 

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