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Pope donates rent for beach serving people with disabilities

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has donated the rent for a private Italian beach that allows disabled people to enjoy the shore, the charity that manages the project announced this week.

The group Work of Love, a Catholic non-profit, has rented part of the Little Madonna beach located near Rome since 2012 in an effort to give disabled people better access to the beach. It is equipped with ramps, walkways and specialized beach chairs and water-friendly wheelchairs, and includes amenities such as a snack bar, changing rooms, and showers.

The beach is run by a group of volunteers and specialized FINP (Italian Swimming Federation Paralympic) staff and is open every day of the week during peak summer swimming season.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, told CNN Pope Francis gave the group an undisclosed sum to "support the project that helps disabled youth and in particular to cover the cost of the annual rent for the beach known as the Little Madonna."

The beach is the only one of its kind in the region, and was created to allow all people to enjoy the beach “without architectural and mental barriers,” the group states on their site.

In a statement, the charity said they received the donation with "enthusiasm and astonishment."

It is not the first time Pope Francis has sponsored trips to the beach. Last summer, Archbishop Krajewski told Vatican Insider that the Holy Father had been treating Rome’s homeless to beach trips followed by pizza parties, sometimes with the Pope himself serving up a slice.

He said the van would take about 10 people each day to go swimming on the Italian coast, nearly 20 miles from Rome. The archbishop drove the van, while passengers sang and listened to the radio. At the beach, each guest was offered a swimsuit and towel and afterwards was treated to pizza.

“We certainly are not saving the world with some of these initiatives, we are not solving the problems of the homeless in Rome, but at least we are restoring to them a little dignity,” Archbishop Krajewski said at the time.

Other initiatives carried out by Archbishop Krajewski on behalf of the Pope include a dormitory, barber services and showers for those in need. In 2015, the Pope invited a group of homeless people in Rome to the Sistine Chapel. In 2016, he invited 2,000 homeless people and migrants to the circus. Pope Francis also sent an electronic scooter to an elderly couple with disabilities, who had difficulty getting around. He has also given Christmas gifts to poor migrants and umbrellas to the homeless.

 

Never tire of fighting for human rights, religious liberty advocate insists

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2017 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid a rising tide of violence, imprisonment, and harassment on account of people’s religious beliefs, the United States cannot grow weary of defending religious freedom, a leading advocate insisted Wednesday.

“It’s kind of a fatigue that people get on these kinds of issues, that ‘they’re happening everywhere and what can you do’,” Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told reporters on a conference call April 26. “And we think that’s really a tragedy.”

Any violation of freedom of religion “is something that impacts people on a very fundamental level,” he continued. “It’s human beings that are in jail, it’s human beings that are being tortured and persecuted. Religious beliefs are at the core of who we are and our identity as persons.”

USCIRF, a bipartisan commission which, in the words of its chair, “monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad” and makes policy recommendations to Congress, the State Department, and the White House, released its annual report on international religious freedom on Wednesday.

In 1998, the International Religious Freedom Act created the commission and mandated that both it and the State Department release annual reports on the state of religious freedom.

It also created the office of Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom. That office has been vacant since President Donald Trump assumed office.

“In order to help protect and preserve this right [religious freedom] for all, our American government should do more, and as a first step, nominate and confirm an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

“As a nation, we cannot ensure that the fundamental right of religious freedom is protected for all people if we do not actively address the egregious violations being committed by nations with whom the United States interacts, including our own allies,” he continued.

In the last year, the situation for global religious freedom grew worse, the USCIRF report said, “in both the depth and breadth of violations.”

For instance, the Islamic State perpetrated genocide against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, which in March of 2016 then-Secretary of State John Kerry declared was taking place, the first time the U.S had declared genocide as it was occurring since 2004.

Egregious abuses like “attempted genocide” and “wholesale destruction of places of worship” have overshadowed countless other abuses like anti-blasphemy laws, restrictive laws on association, registration laws for religious minorities, and government harassment of religious minorities in the name of national security, the report said.

One of the key aspects of the report is the commission’s recommendations for the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list. The State Department designates certain countries as CPCs to draw public attention to the areas where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place.

The CPC designation carries with it legal “tools” that the president and Congress can use to pressure these countries to improve the respect for freedom of religion there, like imposing sanctions or negotiating a binding agreement when necessary after previous consultations with the government in question, the report said.

Currently China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan occupy the CPC list.

In Burma, a whole class of persons, the Rohingya Muslims, are not recognized as citizens, thus remaining stateless and vulnerable to displacement and violations of their human rights. Christian minorities “are restricted from public worship and subjected to coerced conversion to Buddhism,” the report said.

North Korea features “one of the world’s most repressive regimes” where religious freedom is “profoundly repressed,” with people imprisoned, tortured, and killed because of their religious belief.

However, USCIRF also recommends that Russia, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam be on the CPC list.

Vietnam was previously designated a CPC by the State Department, but was removed from the list in 2006 despite USCIRF’s insistence that it remain.

“For the first time, we call out Russia as a CPC,” Fr. Reese stated on Wednesday at a teleconference introducing the report. “Vladimir Putin and the Russian government have shown themselves to be some of the worst and most serious violators of religious freedom in the world.”

He cited the recent ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating in the country by Russia’s supreme court as only the latest example of a troubling trend of violations, especially those related to the country’s use of an anti-extremism law. That law is used to crack down on religious minorities in the name of national security, USCIRF explained.

“The Russian government’s premeditated attack [on Jehovah’s Witnesses] demonstrates that it does not consider itself bound by internationally-recognized norms or conventions,” Fr. Reese said. “A Russian justice minister official reportedly described Jehovah’s Witnesses as a threat to public order and public security. Given that the witnesses are known globally for their pacifism and avoidance of politics, that statement is as absurd on its face as it seems.”

In the Caucasus region, the country’s anti-extremism law has been abused for years, Fr. Reese noted. “Anyone with a beard is considered an extremist and can be arrested,” he said.

He also noted that in Crimea, a Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in 2014, the nation is “imposing its very tough registration laws on the religions in the Crimea,” as well as the arrest of Muslim Tatar leaders and persecution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

In December 2016 another law passed the United States Congress to make major upgrades to the existing International Religious Freedom Act. Among other things, it called for the designation of “EPCs,” or “entities of particular concern” for non-state actors which perpetrate serious abuses of religious freedom, such as the Islamic State, which “can at times be the most egregious violators of religious freedom,” Fr. Reese noted.

USCIRF recommended that the State Department use the EPC label for three groups: the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The reason why groups like al-Qaeda and Boko Haram were not recommended for EPCs is because they lost territory and “political power” that other groups like the Islamic State had, Fr. Reese explained.

Additionally, the commission had previously recommended a CPC status for Egypt and Iraq, but decided not to do so in 2017.

In Egypt “we see positive steps,” Fr. Reese said, pointing to the government’s “engagement with minority religious communities” like the embattled Coptic Christians. However, these minorities are still subject to serious attacks by Islamic State affiliates, he maintained, and the country has “a dismal overall human rights situation.”

In Iraq, Islamic State “continues to commit genocide and ruthlessly targets anyone who does not adhere to its barbaric worldview,” Fr. Reese said, yet “the central government has tried to decrease sectarian tensions.”

“Tier 2” countries are not the worst violators of religious freedom, but serious abuses still took place in these areas. USCIRF listed Afghanistan, Azerbajan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey as Tier 2 countries.

Bahrain was listed as a Tier 2 country for the first time, Fr. Reese explained. “That government’s campaign against its majority-Shia Muslim population intensified during the year, particularly a significant increase in the number of arrests and unfounded charges against Shia clerics,” he said.

The report also made recommendations for U.S. refugee policy, including the reauthorization of the Lautenberg Amendment which would help with the resettlement of persecuted religious and ethnic minorities fleeing Iran. “We have supported that as a way of facilitating the resettlement of people who have suffered religious persecution,” Fr. Reese said.

These persons “are very vulnerable,” he said of those fleeing persecution, and they should “get a priority in terms of refugee status” which is “based on their vulnerability.”

President Trump, in a revised executive order in March, temporarily halted refugee resettlement and ultimately called for a cap to refugee admissions in FY 2017 at 50,000, down from the 85,000 the U.S. accepted the previous fiscal year and the planned number of 110,000 in FY 2017.

“In response, USCIRF urged the Trump Administration to continue refugee resettlement,” the report said. “While resettlement to a third country is only possible for less than one percent of the world’s refugees, it is a vital protection for the most vulnerable, especially at a time of appalling mass atrocities and unprecedented forced displacement.”

The number of those forcibly displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded, over 65 million as of 2016, according to the UN.

USCIRF also monitored abuses of religious freedom in Western Europe, including an increase of anti-Semitic incidents and Islamophobia.

Laws restricting religious dress and the “ability to wear symbols” like France’s ban on burqas “are causing more unrest and problems,” Fr. Reese insisted. “I think it’s something that we want our friends in Europe to take a second look at.”

Another recommendation the report made was for the U.S. to not refer to freedom of religion as “freedom of worship.”

Such a reference, it said, “does not convey all aspects of the internationally protected right to freedom of religion or belief, which includes choosing, changing, and sharing one’s beliefs, as well as holding no religious beliefs.”

Smaller changes expected from Council of Cardinals' latest meeting

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 03:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals met this week to continue discussion on reforming the Roman Curia, focusing on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council Promoting the New Evangelization.

According to an April 26 communique, during their 19th session the cardinals studied texts to propose to Pope Francis regarding the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the three courts.

No big changes are expected out of this latest round of meetings – those changes were the new dicasteries formed last fall, Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office, told journalists at a briefing Wednesday.

This time, Burke said, the cardinals and Pope focused on regulation within the departments, hoping to arrive at something like a “new Pastor bonus,” the 1988 apostolic constitution of St. John Paul II that regulates the competencies and work of the Roman Curia.

In the meetings they inspected texts for the three courts of the Roman Curia: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura, and the Roman Rota.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is the tribunal in charge of cases involving excommunication and serious sins, including those whose absolution is reserved to the Holy See, while the Signatura functions as a sort of Supreme Court. The Rota, for its part, is akin to a court of appeals or court of “last instance,” and is also where marriage nullity cases are judged.

They also spent a significant amount of time discussing the selection and training of staff of the Holy See, both laity and clerics.

In addition to the nine members of the council and Pope Francis, officials of the State Secretariat, the Council of the Economy, and the Office of Work of the Apostolic See (ULSA) also took part.

Cardinal George Pell gave an update on the Secretariat for the Economy, particularly on the monitoring of budgets and “the formation of personnel and human resources.”

The cardinals, in addition to speaking about the tribunals and bishop selection, continued to discuss points brought up during the last round of meetings, including the possible restructuring of the Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples and Oriental Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave an update on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he heads, speaking about their plenary meeting in March and their visits to various ministries.

Carrying over from previous meetings, the council of cardinals also discussed decentralization, the relationship between bishops’ conferences and the Roman Curia, and how to be more in service to local bishops.

Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the council serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus.

Keywords that have come out of the cardinals’ meetings so far and which have emerged as guiding principles for the ongoing Curial reform are harmonization, simplification, synodality, and the Church’s “missionary drive.”

The council of cardinals is set to meet again June 12-14 to continue discussion on moving forward in reforming curial structures.

Archbishop Aquila allows Boy Scout troops under Catholic guidelines

Denver, Colo., Apr 26, 2017 / 03:04 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has announced that parishes in his diocese may continue to charter Boy Scout troops, as long as they follow requirements to ensure that Catholic identity and teaching are upheld.

In his latest column in the Denver Catholic, the archbishop said that individual pastors may continue allowing their parishes to charter a scouting troop, as long as they meet the guidelines laid out by the archdiocese’s code of conduct. Leaders and members should support the Catholic Church and her teachings; refrain from approving or engaging in conduct that contradicts Catholic doctrine or morals; and promote and respect the dignity of the human person and human sexuality according to natural law and Catholic teaching.

The archbishop’s column came in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision in January to allow transgender scouts – biological girls who identify as boys – as well as the organization’s decisions in 2013 and 2015 to allow openly gay members and leaders, respectively.

“These decisions are social experiments that are rationalized away without accounting for the impact on the clear majority of boys who do not have gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction,” the archbishop said. “Indeed, it is not hard to see that there will be lasting consequences for current and future generations of American boys as they try to understand their own sexuality in their formative years.”

Despite these unfortunate decisions, he said, the Boy Scouts insist that they will allow Church-sponsored troops to operate in accordance with their faith and will defend these troops if lawsuits arise.

Archbishop Aquila recognized that “the core elements of Boy Scouting remain praiseworthy,” and that many men for more than a century have received meaningful formation from the organization. And since non-Catholic members and leaders who accept the troops’ Catholic character can also participate, parish troops are a chance to witness and evangelize.

After consulting with leaders of diocesan troops, he said that he had made the decision to continuing allowing both Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, while calling for all parish-sponsored troops to “reinforce their commitment to forming boys and girls into virtuous Christian young adults.”

For those who would like an alternative to Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, he recommended American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers’ Girls Clubs, the Federation of North American Explorers, Columbian Squires, Trail Life USA, and Fraternus. He also encouraged prayer for “the strengthening of the moral foundations of our society, especially those institutions that provide formation to youth.”

The Denver archbishop’s decision echoes that of several other bishops in responding to the Boy Scouts of America.

When the Boy Scouts first admitted openly gay members in 2013, the Diocese of Lincoln said that it would continue allowing parish-chartered troops, but would continue to evaluate the situation.

After the July 2015 decision to allow openly gay leaders, Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville announced that his diocese would continue to charter scouting troops but would carefully monitor them to ensure that no ideology contrary to the Catholic faith was present.

Similarly, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Illinois said that his diocese would continue to charter scouting troops, but stressed the need to be vigilant in upholding Catholic values.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., who serves as the episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting told CNA that the committee was “cautiously optimistic” that Catholic organizations could still be involved with Boy Scouts, but said that great care was needed.

After the January announcement this year, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said that it would remain in dialogue with the Boy Scouts, but noted its concern that “the latest in a troubling pattern of behavior” by the organization suggested that it is “becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.”

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting has stressed on several occasions that according to the charter rules under which the Boy Scouts operate, “A Catholic parish can establish a membership guideline that follows Catholic teaching.” The Diocese of Phoenix and the Archdiocese of New Orleans have also voiced an intention to maintain Catholic troops that present models of Church teaching.

One prelate, Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, North Dakota, said that his diocese would disaffiliate from the Boy Scouts after their 2015 decision to allow openly gay leaders.  

In his column, Archbishop Aquila stressed Catholic principles of committing to “the dignity of the human person, the understanding of man and woman as made for each other, the virtue of chastity and the protection of children, especially from different forms of abuse, which includes enabling and/or encouraging gender dysphoria.”

He recognized the importance of not leading others – especially children – into scandal, and reiterated that “discussions about sexual attraction, orientation, and lifestyle choices have no place in scouting” but should be addressed by parents instead.

 

Jim Harbaugh: My priorities are 'faith, then family, then football'

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, now head coach for the University of Michigan football team, is also a Roman Catholic – and he said Wednesday that faith plays a major role in his life.

“The role that (faith) plays in my life is in the priorities that I have,” he said April 26, “faith, then family, then football.”

Coach Harbaugh spoke to CNA following a general audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square April 26. He and his wife, Sarah, greeted Francis following the audience and presented him with a gift from the team – a University of Michigan helmet and pair of cleats.

The helmet included both the Italian and American flags and a little cross by the chinstrap. The Pope gave Harbaugh “some marching orders,” the coach said, “he told me to pray for him.”

Following the encounter, Harbaugh and his family and the University of Michigan football team were hosted for lunch on the terrace of the EWTN Rome bureau offices. After lunch they held a brief press conference.



Harbaugh, 53, has been head football coach for the University of Michigan since 2015. He played college football at Michigan from 1983-1986 and played in the National Football League (NFL) for 14 seasons from 1987-2000. He has seven children.

Speaking to CNA about his experience meeting Pope Francis, Harbaugh quoted his father-in-law, Merrill Feuerborn, who told him, “To live in a state of grace, put your trust in the Lord, and be not afraid.”

“When I met Pope Francis today, I was riding on a state of grace,” he said, “that feeling was beyond description. And I know that there's something that I'm supposed to do with that opportunity, with that encounter, of meeting the Holy Father. I'm going to pray about it.”

Harbaugh is in Rome April 22-30. He brought along his family as well as almost his entire team and staff – some 150 people. He said he wanted to give his players an experience they might not otherwise have.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, he brought the team and staff to Rome for a week of team-building, cultural and historical experiences, and of course, spring practices.

The aim of this trip was to “have an educational experience like none other,” he told CNA.

“Not all learning is done in a classroom or on a football field, you know? It's out connecting to people, and having a chance for our players and staff to see things they've never seen before, eat things they’ve never tasted, to hear a language they've never heard.”

One goal for the trip was to connect his team with people they otherwise might not have met, he said. Their first day in Rome, the group met and picnicked with a group of refugees, including several from Syria.

Later on Wednesday, Harbaugh and some members of the team and his family visited the SOS Children’s Village, a community made up of homes for children who are in positions of family or social hardship.

Harbaugh said that attending the general audience and meeting Pope Francis was an emotional experience, not just for him but for his team as well. Asked what he hopes his team will take away from the experience, he said just that “the relationship with God is a personal one.”

He said his suggestion for each of his players would be to spend time in silence and think and pray “about what it means, and what they should take away from it.”

“Because we don't always know what to do with it,” he continued. “I don't know what to do with the encounter I had meeting Pope Francis today. What exactly did it mean? What opportunity was given and what am I supposed to do with that?”

Immediately afterward, Harbaugh said he was able to speak with a priest from Detroit, Msgr. Robert McClory, about the experience: “And that was the advice that he gave me: to be silent, to pray, to be with God and listen, and you'll get it, you'll figure it out.”

Two players had the opportunity to get a little bit closer to the Pope during the audience, which Harbaugh chose through an essay competition. The winners, offensive lineman Grant Newsome and defensive tackle Salim Makki, both said they are inspired by Francis.

Attending the audience “was just an incredible experience,” Newsome said.

“Not only as a Christian, but as a person in general, just to listen to someone who is so internationally renowned as Pope Francis and to hear him and have him bless us was just an incredible experience for me and I know for a lot of the other guys on the team.”

Makki, a Muslim, said he looks up to Pope Francis as a hero. “He's always shown that Muslims and Christians and Catholics can combine – we're all brothers and sisters, we can co-exist together.”

Jack Wangler, a senior wide receiver told CNA, “I can speak for everybody, I think: this has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip.”

“It's been great to come here with the team and use it as a bonding experience and a cultural experience, to expand what we've learned in the classroom,” said Catholic fullback Joe Beneducci.

He told CNA that he remembers reading about the Church and the Vatican at school and watching St. John Paul II’s funeral on TV. “Coming here to see it in person, it put it all in perspective and made me appreciate it just that much more.”

“I think it's brought me closer to my faith as well, which is very nice.”

About the qualities of a good sportsman, Harbaugh said, “It talks about it in the Bible: strive hard to win the prize. To have that motivation, to have that quality of perseverance and discipline and drive is what really makes a good athlete.”

Sunday, before they leave to return to Michigan, Harbaugh’s infant son, John Paul, will be baptized at St. Peter’s Basilica. His daughter, Addison, will also make her first Holy Communion.

In the press conference, Harbaugh told journalists that if he accomplished nothing else in his life, to have met the Pope, and see his son be baptized and his daughter receive First Communion at the Vatican, would make him feel like “a blessed man.”

“This has been the experience of a lifetime.”

Pope Francis: Everything passes – except God's love for us

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 04:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said Christian hope, rather than coming from the empty promises of other human beings, is rooted in Christ’s promise to never leave us, and to stay by our side until the end of time.

“How long, by comparison, will God's care for mankind last?” the Pope asked April 26. “The Gospel's answer leaves no doubt: until the end of the world!”

“The heavens will pass away, the earth will pass away, human hope will be erased, but the Word of God is greater than everything and will not pass away.”

“There will be no day of our life where we will cease to be a concern for the heart of God,” he said, adding that “God will certainly provide for all our needs, he will not abandon us in times of trial and darkness.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his weekly general audience, continuing his catechesis on the theme of hope.

In his speech, he stressed that for Christians, hope is not a vague feeling, or the same thing as the “changing sentiment” of those who want to change the world using only their own willpower.

“Christian hope, in fact, finds its root not in the attraction of the future, but in the security of what God has promised us and made in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Because of this promise, we can follow the Lord without fear, he said, explaining that “if the beginning of every vocation is a ‘follow me’ by which he assures us he will always remain before us, then why fear? With this promise, Christians can walk everywhere.”

Even in those places of the world filled with wounds or bad circumstances, we can be assured of Christ’s presence, he said. As Psalm 23:4 says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

“It is exactly where the darkness spreads that we need to keep lighting a light,” he said.

Francis noted how in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist recalls the prophetic announcement which is also found in the Book of Isaiah: “To him will be given the name of Emmanuel, which means God with us.”

This verse, along with the promise at the end of the Gospel, “I am with you every day until the end of the world,” together communicate the mystery of God’s identity – that he is “God with us,” the Pope said.

“Our existence is a pilgrimage, a journey,” but on this journey, we are never alone, he said. “Above all, the Christian does not ever feel abandoned, because Jesus promises to not wait until the end of our long journey, but to accompany us in each of our days.”

However, Francis warned that if we rely on our own strength in this journey, we will be discouraged and disappointed, “because the world often proves resistant to the laws of love.”

This, he said, is why “the holy faithful people of God are people standing and walking in hope. And wherever they go, they know that God's love has preceded him: there is no part of the world that escapes the victory of the Risen Christ, the victory of love.”

What pro-life Democrats have to say after being majorly shunned

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When the leader of the Democratic party pulled an about-face this week, claiming that support for abortion was a non-negotiable part of the platform, pro-life Democrats were utterly dismayed.  

“It was just stunning to see,” Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA.

Day was referring to DNC chair Tom Perez supporting a Democratic mayoral candidate in Nebraska who had in the past embraced pro-life positions – and then the next day saying there was no room in the Democratic party for pro-life politicians.

“Pro-life Democrats are deeply concerned about this extreme position that the Democratic Party has taken and this non-negotiable position,” she said.

Last week, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and DNC chair Tom Perez publicly supported the Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, Neb., Heath Mello.

Mello had supported abortion restrictions in the past as a state senator. According to The Nation, Mello co-sponsored a bill in 2009 that mandated doctors to inform pregnant women of their option to view an ultrasound, and also voted for a 20-week abortion ban, a ban on abortion funding in health plans on the exchanges of the Affordable Care Act, and a law requiring the consent of one parent for minors to have abortions.

Mello was previously endorsed by the group Nebraska Right to Life in 2012, but he had also received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska in 2015, his campaign manager pointed out to the Huffington Post.

A Catholic, Mello said in a statement to the Huffington Post that “while my faith guides my personal views, as Mayor I would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.”

Saint John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae states that “laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law.”

The encyclical continues, “abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.”

Yet the abortion rights advocacy group NARAL harshly criticized Perez and Sanders for their “politically stupid” show of support for a candidate who had supported abortion restrictions in the past.

“It's not possible to have an authentic conversation about economic security for women that does not include our ability to decide when and how we have children,” NARAL said.

On Friday, Perez said that there was no place for pro-life politicians in the party. “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” he said. “This is not negotiable and should not chance city by city or state by state.”

NARAL then issued a statement praising him for his defense of the “core values” of the Democratic Party.

“It was stunning,” Day said of Perez’s about-face. “He goes out, and the DNC is behind this pro-life candidate, which is necessary to be a big tent party if we’re going to win. So they rally behind this guy (Mello), and then less than 24 hours later he (Perez) puts a statement out saying 'just kidding. We don't want you in the party at all.'”

Perez made the abortion issue “non-negotiable” for Democrats, Day continued, and was “strong-arming” party members “to step away from their conscience and not support the pro-life position anymore.”

Democratic political leaders had mixed reactions to Perez's comments. On NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked if she thought there was room in the Democratic Party for pro-life politicians, she answered “of course.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), meanwhile, said on CNN on Sunday that he and the party were committed “to reproductive rights,” and added that “I know within the ranks of the Democratic Party there are those who see that differently on a personal basis, but when it comes to the policy position, I think we need to be clear and unequivocal.”

The 2016 Democratic Party platform featured a strong pro-abortion plank, calling not only for abortion access but also for the overturning of decades-old policies that prohibited direct taxpayer funding of abortions both at home and abroad – the Hyde Amendment and the Helms Amendment.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion – regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” the platform stated.

“We will continue to oppose – and seek to overturn – federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

Pro-lifers, meanwhile, have countered that NARAL's pro-abortion strategy alienates millions of Democratic voters.

“Pro-life Democrats have been leaving in droves,” Day said of recent elections. Perez’s total support for abortion rights “may be popular in California or New York,” she said, but “these values don’t play well in the heartland.”

“There is an enormous disconnect between Democrat and Independent rank and file voters and national leaders like DNC Chairman Tom Perez and Senator Dick Durbin on the issue of abortion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

Dannenfelser was one of the pro-life advisors to the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, heading the campaign’s pro-life task coalition.

Perez “drew a line in the sand” with his comments on Friday said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, adding that he was “decisively alienating the 23 percent of Democrat voters who identify as pro-life and 44 percent of Democrats oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.”

“The March for Life has a 44-year track record of uniting people of all backgrounds in defense of the inherent dignity of all human life,” she said.

“We have welcomed and will continue to welcome pro-life Democrats like Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) to speak at the March, and will continue to support all whom fight for the right to life until the culture of abortion is unthinkable to every person and party alike.”

In TED talk, Pope says sowing solidarity will reap hope for the future

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 02:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Early Wednesday morning Pope Francis addressed the TED 2017 conference, telling participants that to have a hopeful outlook for the future, we must plant seeds of humility, solidarity and tenderness today.

Referencing his 80 years of life, the Pope opened his talk saying that “quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.”

“We all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent ‘I,’ separated from the other,” he said.

“We can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” the Pope continued, adding that that while we might not think about it often, “everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state.”

“Even the harsh judgment I hold in my heart against my brother or my sister, the open wound that was never cured, the offense that was never forgiven, the rancor that is only going to hurt me, are all instances of a fight that I carry within me.”

This “flare” embedded deep within our hearts “needs to be extinguished before it goes up in flames, leaving only ashes behind.”

Pope Francis gave his TED Talk April 26 at 3:30a.m. local time in Rome for TED 2017, which is taking place April 24-28 in Vancouver, Canada.

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TED is an international media organization that posts brief talks online that are for free distribution and run under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” The organization was founded in February 1984 as a conference, which has been held annually since 1990.

The talks are typically run between 10-20 minutes, and are given by influential speakers who are experts in various fields such as business, science and technology, among others. Subtitles are available in more than 100 languages.

Pope Francis is the first pontiff to give a TED Talk, however, just days before announcing his resignation in 2013 Benedict XVI was given the “Charter of Compassion” by the organization’s European director, Bruno Giussani.

This year’s TED conference holds the theme “The Future You,” and is dedicated to addressing the pressing questions of our time.

In his talk, which lasted 18 minutes and was filmed inside Vatican City, Pope Francis offered a response to today’s challenges, focusing on how to maintain an attitude of hope through solidarity with one another.

He noted that for many people a happy future is something that seems distant and at times impossible to achieve.

However, while these concerns must be taken seriously, they are not “invincible,” he said, explaining that happiness can be discovered when looking to the harmony that exists between the whole and each individual part.

Francis then moved to his second point, saying it would be ideal if scientific and technological growth were coupled with greater equality and social inclusion.

“How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries,” he said.

Only a thorough education in solidarity can overcome the “culture of waste” prevalent in today’s society, turning people’s attention not so much toward goods and food, but toward people.

“Solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary,” he said, but noted that solidarity “is not an automatic mechanism.”

“It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone,” he said, explaining that to truly do good to another person, courage, memory and creativity are needed.

“I know that TED gathers many creative minds,” the Pope observed, but stressed that when it comes to developing projects and ideas, “good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.”

Rather, a concrete and “ingenious” attitude is needed, he said. “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The ‘you’ is always a real presence, a person to take care of.”

Pope Francis then pointed to the parable of the Good Samaritan, explaining, as he often does, that while the two powerful men of the day ignored the man on the side of the road, it was the Samaritan, a “despised ethnicity” at the time, who had compassion and paid for the man’s healing out of his own pocket.

The story of the Good Samaritan can easily sum up the state of humanity today, Francis said, explaining that many people’s paths are “riddled with suffering,” as if everything centered around money and things, rather than people.

“And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves ‘respectable,’ of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road.”

Pointing to Mother Teresa, whom he canonized in September 2016, Francis said she is an example of the people who are “creating a new world” based on care for others.

“We have so much to do, and we must do it together. But how can we do that with all the evil we breathe every day?” he asked.

While not everyone can achieve the scale of Mother Teresa or the Good Samaritan, the Pope stressed that we are all precious and irreplaceable in the eyes of God, and that amid today’s conflicts, each of us “can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.”

“To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is hope,” he said, explaining that hope doesn’t mean being “optimistically naïve,” ignoring suffering or dwelling on the past, but is a virtue that is able “to see a tomorrow.”

“Hope is the door that opens onto the future,” he said, noting that it is like the hidden yeast that makes bread grow, and as such “can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness.”

“A single individual is enough for hope to exist,” telling conference participants: “that individual can be you.”

“And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us,’” he said, explaining that hope begins with a “you,” and when an “us” develops, “there begins a revolution.”

The Pope then repeated his frequent call for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.”

“Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need,” he said, noting that God himself descended to our level, which is the same thing the Good Samaritan did.

To have tenderness, he said, “the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”

Pointing to a common phrase in Argentina, Francis said “power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach. You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.”

Pope Francis closed his speech saying the future of humanity isn’t just in the hands of politicians or great leaders or big companies, but is primarily in the hands “of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.’”

“We all need each other, he said. “So, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us.”

How to pray the Rosary more deeply

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 12:29 am (CNA).- It is interesting that in her appearances at Lourdes, Fatima and other locations, the Mother of God repeatedly recommends praying the Rosary. She does not invite us to pray the Divine Office, or to do spiritual reading, or Eucharistic Adoration, or practice interior prayer or mental prayer. All the mentioned forms of prayer are good, recognized by the Church and practiced by many saints. Why does Mary “only” place the Rosary in our hearts?

We can find a possible answer by looking at the visionaries of Lourdes and Fatima. Mary revealed herself to children of little instruction, who could not even read or write correctly. The Rosary was for them the appropriate school to learn how to pray well, since bead after bead, it leads us from vocal prayer, to meditation, and eventually to contemplation. With the Rosary, everyone who allows himself to be led by Mary can arrive at interior prayer without any kind of special technique or complicated practices.

This does not mean – and I want to emphasize this point – that praying the Rosary is for “dummies” or for simple minded people. Even great intellectuals must come before God as children, who in their prayers are always simple and sincere, always full of confidence, praying from within.

All Christians are called to the kind of interior prayer that allows an experience of closeness with God and recognition of his action in our lives. We can compare the Rosary to playing the guitar. The vocal prayers – the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be – are the central prayers of Christianity, rooted in Scripture. These are like the rhythm in a song.  

But simply strumming a guitar is not a song. And mindless repetition of words is not interior prayer. In addition to rhythm, keys are needed. The Mysteries of the Rosary are like the chords on the guitar. The vocal prayers form the framework for meditation on the Mysteries.

There are always these five chords to the rhythm of the repetition of the prayers, which make the lives of Jesus and Mary pass before our eyes. With meditation, we go on reflecting on what happens in each Mystery and what it means for our lives: At Nazareth, the Son of God is incarnated in Mary. In Holy Communion, He also comes to me. In Gethsemane, Jesus sweats blood. He suffers, is in anguish, and yet his friends remain asleep. Can I keep vigil with Him or do my eyes close with tiredness? On Easter morning, Jesus rises and breaks forth from the tomb. The first day of creation brought light. The first day of the week conquered death and gave us life. Christ can change the darkness in my life into light.

And so, our prayer begins to change into music. That is to say, it is no longer monotonous and boring, but now it is full of images and thoughts. And when the grace of God permits, it is also filled with supernatural illuminations and inspirations.

There is one more thing needed to have really great music, or to have a prayer that is even more profound and intimate: the melody that the heart sings. When playing the guitar, a voice is needed to interpret the song. When praying the Rosary, it is the song of our heart, as we place our own life before God, to the tempo of the prayers and meditations.  

It is this song of the heart that allows us to enter into the mysteries of the Rosary: For my sake you were scourged, and it was I who struck you. Forgive me! You have ascended into Heaven, Lord. I long for You, I for your kingdom, my true homeland.

In contemplation, the person praying sees the mysteries pass before his eyes, and at the same time he abides in particular affections or movements of the heart before God. The one who prays sings the song of his own life, in which naturally there can arise specific desires: You wanted to be the son of a human Mother; help my sick mother! You were crowned with thorns; help me in this financial difficulty which I can't get out of my head. You sent the Holy Spirit; without You I don't have the courage or the strength to make a good decision.

With this understanding, the following tips can help those who pray the Rosary move from vocal prayer to meditation to inner contemplation:

1) Schedule the time

Our schedule is full of appointments. More or less consciously, we also plan out the time we're going to need for each task or appointment. Sometimes it is good to set aside 20 or 30 minutes to pray the Rosary, and write it down in the schedule. This “appointment” with Jesus and Mary is then just as important as all the other ones planned. For all of us, it is possible to set aside a time to pray the Rosary, at first, once, twice or three times a week.  Over time – and this is the goal – it will be easier to find a time to pray the Rosary daily.

2) Don’t rush

We can learn a lesson about prayer by observing people in love. During a romantic candlelit dinner, no one would be constantly looking at the clock, or choking down their food, or leaving the dessert to one side to finish as quickly as possible. Rather, a romantic meal is stretched out, maybe lingering for an hour to sip a cocktail, and enjoying every moment spent together. So it is with praying the Rosary. It shouldn't be treated as sets of Hail Mary’s to be performed as if one were lifting weights. I can spend time lingering on a thought. I can also break away from it. I can, principally at the beginning, simply be peaceful. If I keep this peaceful attitude and an awareness of how important this 20-minute “appointment” is, then I will have prayed well. It will have been a good prayer, because my will is focused on pleasing the Beloved and not myself.

3) Savor the experience

Saint Ignatius recommends what's called the “third form of prayer,” which consists in adjusting the words to the rhythm of one's own breathing. Often it is sufficient in praying the Rosary to briefly pause between the mysteries, and to remember that Jesus and Mary are looking at me full of joy and love, recognizing with gratitude that I am like a little child babbling words every so often to in some way affirm that I love God. To do this, it can be useful to pause and take a few breaths before resuming vocal prayer.

4) A gaze of love

The vocal prayers of the Rosary only provide the rhythm of the prayer. With my thoughts, I can and should go out from the rhythm to encounter the Mystery which is being contemplated. This is more clear in German, where the mystery is announced not only at the beginning of each decade, but before each Hail Mary. It’s a time to look your Beloved in the eyes and let Him look back, with eyes full of love. 

5) Allow yourself to be amazed

One of the first and most important steps for inner prayer is to go from thinking and speculation to looking upon and being amazed. Think of lovers who meet, not to plan out what they're going to give each other or what they might do on the next vacation, but to enjoy the time together and to rejoice in each other. Looking at a family photo album is very different from looking at a history book. In the photo album, we see people who are important to us, whom we love – and even more – who love us! That's how our gaze at Jesus and Mary ought to be in the Rosary.

6) Allow your “inner cameraman” to notice details

Some people close their eyes while praying in order to concentrate. Others find it useful to focus their eyes on a certain point (such as a crucifix). Either way, what is important is for the eyes of the heart to be open. Praying the Rosary is like going to the movies. It's about seeing images. It's useful to ask yourself: Who, What, Where am I looking at when I contemplate the birth of Jesus, or his crucifixion, or his ascension into Heaven? And on some occasions, like a good cameraman does, come in for a close-up image of some detail: contemplate the warm breath of the ox that's warming the Child, the pierced hand of Jesus that spread so much love, the tears in John's eyes as he gazes at Jesus rising up to Heaven.

7) Pray in words, mind, and heart

The words accompany, the mind opens, but it is the heart that has the leading role in prayer. All the great spiritual authors agree that inner prayer is about dwelling in the affections, that is, the inner sentiments and movements. Teresa of Avila says very simply: “Don't think a lot, love a lot!” An elderly lady was ruefully complaining to me that she could not reflect while praying her daily Rosary, and that in that situation she could barely say “Jesus, Mary, I love you!” I congratulated the lady. That is exactly what praying the Rosary ought to lead us to.

 

Ahead of trip, Pope Francis sends message of joy to Egypt

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2017 / 05:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis expressed his joy for his upcoming trip to Cairo in a video message, saying he hopes to bring peace and friendship to all Egyptian citizens.

“I am truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the Country that gave, more than two thousand years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod,” the Pope said an April 25 video message.

The video shows Pope Francis expressing his excitement to visit the land “where Patriarchs and Prophets lived,” and wishes to bring strength and comfort to the Christian community.

“I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region.”

On April 10, the Director of the Holy See Press Office confirmed the Pope's trip to Egypt despite the recent violence from the Islamic State taking place within the country.  

Coptic Christians make up the majority of Egypt's Christian community, but suicide bombings, kidnappings, and other violent attacks from the Islamic State have affected both Christians and Muslims.

General Minister of the Franciscan Community acknowledged the present dangers and said the Pope is “very informed” of the issues occurring in Egypt.

“Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land – needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices,” Pope Francis said.

He added, “It needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity.”

The Pope hopes he may bring “a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world, in which Egypt occupies a primary position.”

Pope Francis will begin his trip by giving an address for an international conference of peace at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, an esteemed Muslim institute. He will be speaking with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, who is considered by some to be head of the Sunni Muslim branch of thought.

Afterwards, the Pope will meet with the state officials and Patriarch Tawadros II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.  

Patriarch Tawadros II was nearly injured during one of the two attacks which killed 44 people and injured over 100 more. During Palm Sunday liturgy, one suicide bomber detonated at the entrance of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria.

The Pope will then celebrate mass on Saturday, and have a meeting with the Coptic Catholic Bishops over lunch. Pope Francis was invited by the Coptic Catholic Patriarchy during their ad limina visit to the Vatican on Feb. 6.