Archive of February 7, 2008

Pope on Ash Wednesday: prayer is “engine of the world”

, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday distributed ashes at the ancient Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill in Rome.  In his homily at the austere 1,500 year-old church, Vatican Radio reports that the Pope called prayer a “dialogue with God” and the “engine of the world.”  He also reminded Catholics that Lent is a journey of conversion that invites all believers to prayer, penitence, and fasting.

Pope Benedict said that Christ’s prayer on the Cross, “shows us a person abandoned by all entrusts himself completely in God.”

“Lent teaches us to experience God as the only anchor of Salvation," he said.

The Pope continued, saying that "true prayer is a dialogue with God, and without this our interior dialogue becomes a monologue, giving rise to thousands of self-justifications. Prayer, therefore, is a guarantee of being open to others. True prayer is the engine of the world, because it keeps us open to God. Without prayer, there is not hope, just illusion, which induces us to escape from reality".

The Pope called prayer, fasting, and almsgiving “places of learning and [the] practice of Christian hope.”  He said the three activities are inseparable, nourishing each other and bearing fruit when practiced together.

Addressing the topic of suffering, Pope Benedict said that Jesus suffered for truth and justice, revealing the Gospel of Suffering as the other side of the Gospel of Love. 

The Pope said all men could take part in this “Gospel of Suffering,” saying, "The greater the hope is that animates us, the greater also is the capacity to suffer for truth, love, and goodness,”

“We should offer up the small and great trials of our daily existence and insert them into the great compassion of Christ," Pope Benedict said.

Ashes have been distributed at the Church of Santa Sabina for more than 1,500 years.

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U.S. bishops address revised Good Friday prayers about Jews

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has responded to Pope Benedict XVI’s revision of Good Friday prayers in the Latin-language 1962 Roman Missal.

The revisions were made in response to Jewish leaders’ protests of the negative imagery used to describe Jews in the old rite, including references to the “blindness of the Jews,” petitions asking for the “lifting of a veil from their heart,” and prayers asking that the Jews “being pulled from darkness.”

Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee Richard J. Sklba, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said in a statement that Pope Benedict had “heard with appreciation the concerns of the Jewish community.”

Bishop Sklba said that Pope Benedict’s revisions reflected the relationship between Jews and the Church as taught in Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate.  The bishop cited a passage from the document, which reads:  “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues - such is the witness of the Apostle.”

According to Bishop Sklba, Pope Benedict’s revisions present the relationship of the Church to the Jews as taught in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

“Central to the concerns of the Holy Father is the clear articulation that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and his Church. It is a faith that must never be imposed but always freely chosen,” Bishop Sklba commented.

The bishop reiterated the commitment of the Catholic Church in the United States to deepening friendship and mutual understanding with the Jewish community.

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Mother refuses to abort twin girls who knocked loose tumor

London, England, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - A British woman’s twin girls saved her life when, while still in the womb, they kicked free a tumor growing in their mother’s uterus, the Daily Mail reports.

Though advised she needed to abort the twins so she could be treated for cancer, the mother avoided harsh cancer treatment so her babies could be born.

Michelle Stepney, 35, was expecting twins when she went to a hospital with a suspected miscarriage.  The doctors realized that she had cervical cancer, saying that the kicking of the twins had dislodged a tumor.

Had the tumor not been dislodged, the cancer may not have been discovered in time for successful treatment.

After the discovery of the cancer, Stepney’s doctors told her that she would need to undergo chemotherapy and a hysterectomy.  To do this, she would need to abort the twins.

Stepney refused. "I couldn't believe it when the doctors told me that the babies had dislodged the tumor," she said, according to the Daily Mail.

"I'd felt them kicking, but I didn't realize just how important their kicking would turn out to be.

"I owe my life to my girls, and that's why I could have never agreed with a termination."

Doctors at the Royal Marsden hospital gave Stepney reduced chemotherapy, hoping to stop the spread of the cancer during her pregnancy.  She had chemotherapy treatments every two weeks, and the health of the babies was constantly monitored.

"I knew I could have an operation straight away and it would cure me of the cancer, but that would mean getting rid of my babies and I couldn't do that.

"I had two lives inside me and I just couldn't give up on them - especially after they had saved me like this," Stepney said.

The twin girls, Alice and Harriet, were delivered in December 2006 by caesarean section 33 weeks into the pregnancy.  They were underweight and born without hair due to the chemotherapy, but were otherwise healthy.

"When I heard them both let out a cry it was the best sound in the world," their mother said.

Four weeks later, Stepney had a hysterectomy to remove the tumor.  Tests showed that the cancer had not spread.  A scan in December 2007 showed that Stepney was still cancer-free.

The twins are now one year old and thriving. She and her husband, Scott, also have a five-year-old son.

"I've had wonderful support from my husband and I couldn't have got through it without him," Stepney said. "I feel so lucky. And one day I will tell my daughters how they saved their mummy's life."

Stepney has been nominated for a Woman of Courage award by Cancer Research UK Race for Life and will be honored at a ceremony in London in mid-February.

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Catholics in Pakistan oppose Islamic court plan

Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - The Pakistan government’s recommendation to replace some regular courts with courts based on Islamic law is facing opposition from Pakistani Catholics, who say the plan would encourage the Taliban and other militants, UCA News reports.

The caretaker government announced on January 23 that it would replace ordinary judicial officers with Islamic judges, called “qazi,” and enforce Sharia law in the North-West Frontier Province.  The change is hoped to end the insurgency in the region.

The qazi courts would handle all cases whether or not the parties are Muslim.  The final court of appeal for the qazi courts would be the Federal Sharia Court, composed of Muslim lawyers and judges.  In some civil matters involving non-Muslim communities, in areas such as family law and religious observance, cases would be decided according to laws specific to the communities rather than according to Sharia law.

Some Christians have joined the political parties, bar associations, and non-governmental organizations in opposing the change. 

Mehboob Sada, director of the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi, criticized the plan.  “It’s like creating a state within a state, he told UCA News.  "There is no need for a separate brand of law, which in the future will give strength to more Taliban strongholds," he said.

Last year Pakistan’s military launched operations in tribal areas in North-West Frontier Province, where government control is nominal, against pro-Taliban forces seeking the imposition of Sharia.  More than 100 security personnel have died in military attacks.  The Taliban already govern South Waziristan, where five Christians were kidnapped and released in early January.

Father Bonnie Mendes, director of the Human Development Center in Toba Tek Singh, said the timing of the new move, which comes as elections approach, was very unfortunate. "The caretaker government has no right to introduce legislation of this nature since it is the responsibility of a parliament," he told UCA News.

The Pakistan People’s Party condemned the proposal, saying it was done to appease the militants, one of whose major demands was a Sharia court system. 

"Right now, the most important objective should be to regain our lost territories in the troubled tribal region and bring the area under the ambit of the country's constitution and laws," the party’s central information secretary Sherry Rehman said in a January 24 statement.

Others feared the proposal would encourage militants to expand their current area of control.

However, a chaplain at the Church of Pakistan Mission Hospital in Taank, Pastor Yousaf Patras, said the unrest had made many Muslims in the region cooperate with the government. 

"They are now helping the army identify the hidden Taliban," he said to UCA News, saying this was in part because the unrest has damaged business in the once popular tourist area.

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Church in Brazil receives encouragement from Pope to defend life

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - Every Lent, the Catholic Church in Brazil sponsors the “Fraternity Campaign”. To help launch the drive this year, Pope Benedict has sent a letter of support to Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, the president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil.

This year the campaign is dedicated to the theme: "Fraternity and defense of life", which is supported by the motto: "Choose, then, life".

In his message to Archbishop Lyrio, the Pope makes it clear that "all threats to life must certainly be resisted.”  He also reminds Brazilians that in his inaugural address at the most recent Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops he said that “the paths being followed by a culture without God and without His commandments, or even against God, lead to 'a culture against human beings and against the good of the Latin American people.’”

The Holy Father also points to the final document of the Aparecida conference which, "shows us how meeting Christ is the starting point from which to oppose these paths of death, and to choose life. Just as it is also the starting point for a full recognition of the sacredness of life and the dignity of human beings.”

"In inaugurating this year's Fraternity Campaign", Pope Benedict adds, "I again express the hope that the various institutions of civil society will show their solidarity with the popular will which, in its majority, rejects everything that runs counter to the ethical requirements of justice and of respect for human life, from its beginning to its natural end".

A poll carried out by the Datafolha firm in Brazil has revealed just last month that the vast majority of Brazilians (87%) think that having an abortion is “morally wrong.” Despite this finding, the government has continued to carry out a campaign of abortion promotion. 

Benedict XVI concludes his message by invoking the protection of the Lord, "that His charitable hand may reach over all Brazil, and that new life in Christ may reach all human beings in their personal, family, social and cultural dimensions, spreading its gifts of peace and prosperity, and reawakening in all hearts feeling of fraternity and co-operation.”

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President Bush says prayer has brought him through tough times of his presidency

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - Every year a National Prayer Breakfast is held in Washington D.C. to gather government officials of diverse faith backgrounds to honor their faith in God. At this year’s prayer breakfast, President Bush related how prayer has helped him "meet the challenges of the presidency.” 

The following remarks are from President Bush’s National Prayer Breakfast address:

“Every President since Dwight Eisenhower has attended the National Prayer Breakfast -- and I am really proud to carry on that tradition.  It's an important tradition, and I'm confident Presidents who follow me will do the same.  The people in this room come from many different walks of faith.  Yet we share one clear conviction:  We believe that the Almighty hears our prayers -- and answers those who seek Him.  That's what we believe; otherwise, why come?  Through the miracle of prayer, we believe he listens -- if we listen to his voice and seek our presence -- his presence in our lives, our hearts will change.  And in so doing, in seeking God, we grow in ways that we could never imagine.”

“In prayer, we grow in gratitude and thanksgiving.  When we spend time with the Almighty, we realize how much He has bestowed upon us -- and our hearts are filled with joy.  We give thanks for our families, we give thanks for the parents who raised us, we give thanks for the patient souls who married us, and the children who make us proud each day.  We give thanks for our liberty -- and the universal desire for freedom that He has written into every human heart.  We give thanks for the God who made us in His image -- and redeemed us in His love.”

“In prayer, we grow in meekness and humility.  By approaching our Maker on bended knee, we acknowledge our complete dependence on Him.  We recognize that we have nothing to offer God that He does not already have -- except our love.  So we offer Him that love, and ask for the grace to discern His will.  We ask Him to remain near to us at all times.  We ask Him to help us lead lives that are pleasing to Him.  We discover that by surrendering our lives to the Almighty, we are strengthened, refreshed, and ready for all that may come.”

“In prayer, we also grow in boldness and courage.  The more time we spend with God, the more we see that He is not a distant king, but a loving Father.  Inspired by this confidence, we approach Him with bold requests:  We ask Him to heal the sick, and comfort the dying, and sustain those who care for them.  We ask Him to bring solace to the victims of tragedy, and help to those suffering from addiction and adversity.  We ask him to strengthen our families, and to protect the innocent and vulnerable in our country.  We ask Him to protect our nation from those who wish us harm -- and watch over all who stepped forward to defend us.  We ask Him to bring about the day when His peace shall reign across the world -- and every tear shall be wiped away.”

“In prayer, we grow in mercy and compassion.  We are reminded in prayer that we are all fallen creatures in need of mercy.  And in seeking God's mercy, we grow in mercy ourselves.  Experiencing the presence of God transforms our hearts -- and the more we seek His presence, the more we feel the tug at our souls to reach out to the poor, and the hungry, the elderly, and the infirm.  When we answer God's call to love a neighbor as ourselves, we enter into a deeper friendship with our fellow man -- and a deeper relationship with our eternal Father.”

“I believe in the power of prayer, because I have felt it in my own life.  Prayer has strengthened me in times of personal challenge.  It has helped me meet the challenges of the presidency.  I understand now clearly the story of the calm in the rough seas.  And so at this final prayer breakfast as your President, I thank you for your prayers, and I thank our people all across America for their prayers.  And I ask you not to stop in the year ahead.  We have so much work to do for our country, and with the help of the Almighty, we will build a freer world -- and a safer, more hopeful, more noble America.”

“God bless.”

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Mexican lawmakers now debating sex-change law

, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - Left-wing lawmakers of the Mexico City Legislative Assembly have introduced a bill to make sex-change operations in public hospitals easier and would establish penalties for health care workers who oppose the procedure.

According to local reports, the plan has the support of both the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  The bill would make sex-change procedures available free of charge in Mexico City’s public hospitals.

Likewise, the bill would modify the Civil Code to facilitate the altering of personal documents according to a person’s new identity.

During the last two years, the Mexico City Legislative Assembly has approved same-sex unions and the legalization of abortion, although this has been challenged as unconstitutional before the Supreme Court.

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Colombian bishops join in call for release of hostages

, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Colombia has joined in the calls being made both nationally and internationally for the release of the hostages being held by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), because in addition to being deprived of their freedom, the hostages “are subjected to inhumane treatment and living conditions that conflict with the most basic demands of human rights.”

“We call on the FARC to respond to the call of the Colombian people and of the world and to accept our proposal for dialogue in order to establish a meeting zone that will allow the government and delegates of the FARC to agree to the terms of the release of the hostages,” the bishops said in a statement.

They also reiterated their willingness to promote, facilitate and assist in all efforts to bring about reconciliation in the country, adding that their position “is motivated by our faith” and the commitment of believers to human life, human dignity, respect for human rights, and above all, “the charity that obliges us to support those who suffer.”

Signed by the president of the conference, Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro, the statement also expresses concern for the deteriorating relations between Colombia and Venezuela and calls for diplomatic efforts to restore “good relations on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of each country.”

“We hope the country can someday enjoy peace, and we redouble our prayers that the Lord will bless us, protect us and help us to discover the paths that will lead our people to lasting, stable peace with social justice,” the bishops stressed.

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New York museum organizes art expo on the prodigal son

, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) -  

A new expo entitled “Images of the Prodigal Son. The Art of Forgiveness,” has been opened at the Biblical Art Museum of New York and will be open to the general public until February 17.

According to the L’Osservatore Romano, the purpose of the exhibit is to showcase artwork inspired by this parable which speaks of God’s forgiveness towards those who are truly repentant, from the Renaissance to today.

The first section is that of the arts. It contains “more than 70 works, stained-glass windows, sculptures, engravings and other forms of art that will be shown in a series of conferences that aim to show the influence of the gospel text on music, dance, literature, poetry and film,” the L’Osservatore Romano explained.

“The inspiration behind this artwork, one of the most original and successful exhibits on the New York scene is Jerry Evenrud, a musician and lawyer, who in recent years has gathered together a collection of more than 200 depictions representing the parable of the prodigal son, by artists such as Rembrandt, Pietro Testa, James Tissot and Thomas H. Benton.”

The exhibit opens with “a large canvas from a British museum, a splendid painting from the second half of the 1500s by Francesco Bassano portraying the characters of the parable as rich Venetians.”

The exhibit also features an important work by Govaert Flinck, a student of Rembrandt, “who in 1640, at the age of 25, created this splendid piece, which is also featured in the catalogue of the exhibit.”

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Catholics in Vietnam still missing land, protests continue

Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - Although the Vietnamese government has agreed to return the Nunciature to the Archdiocese of Hanoi, parishioners from Our Mother of Perpetual Help insist that the government is still holding 14 acres of land belonging to parish. In protest, hundreds of the dispossessed Catholics marched to the site on Ash Wednesday. 

The weather did not deter the demonstrators who chanted, and sang for hours in front of dozens of crosses and icons of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which are hanging on the fence that surrounds the confiscated property.

According to the Redemptorists who run the parish, they originally purchased 15 acres of land in 1928, with plans to construct a convent and church.

In 1954, the Communist government took control of northern Vietnam and jailed or deported most of Redemptorists. This left Fr. Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich to run the church by himself. Despite Fr. Vu’s persistent protests, local authorities gradually seized the parish’s land one section at a time. Consequently, the plot of land was reduced from 15 acres to its present-day size of little more than half an acre.

For more than ten years, Redemptorists in Vietnam have petitioned the government asking for the return of their land, but their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

The government upped the ante at the beginning of this year by allowing construction on the Chiến Thắng sewing company to commence. The confiscated church property soon was surrounded by a fence and the presence of security officials.

The new construction on the land commandeered from the parish led a crowd of local Catholics to gather on the afternoon of January 7 in protest. Local authorities arrived on the scene and promised that the construction work would end. However, the next day the Hanoi People’s Committee issued an official order authorizing the company in question to continue its work.

Protestors have been gathering at the work site for over a month to prevent any further construction by the state-run company.

Since February 7 marks the Lunar New Year—called Tet in Vietnam—local government officials asked the Redemptorists to disperse the demonstrators who have been camped out at the site and send them home to prepare for Tet. The priests had in fact already told the people to leave out of concern for their health, given the cold rain and low temperature, but none of them were willing to leave.

“I keep telling my children that I have to stay here to protect Church land,” one a woman said. “People who want to tell me happy New Year can come here and see me. I will not go home.”

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Mexico: Cardinal Robles calls on political parties to give authentic service

Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Monterrey, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega, has called on Mexico’s political parties to exercise their service “with true authenticity,” and he called on citizens to evaluate each proposal and verify that it is carried out.

Speaking to the Mexican daily El Porvenir, the cardinal said that political parties should work to make their proposals as appropriate and “positive for the community as possible,” and thus strive to improve the lives of all.  He said any proposal made should be done calmly and with objectivity.

Likewise, he called on Mexicans to become more involved in political issues and to conscientiously evaluate the record of public officials to determine whether or not to vote for them again.

“The people in general should be more involved, in the sense of being interested in learning about the proposals, getting to know the candidates and demanding results,” the cardinal said.

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Former Archdiocese of Los Angeles official decries city’s pornography industry

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - A former official of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has attacked the city’s pornography industry and called for a revival of decency laws. He also called on Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles to lead the fight against the multi-billion dollar industry.

Dennis Jarrard, former Chairman of the now-defunct Commission on Obscenity and Pornography for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, wrote in an opinion piece that the Californian metropolis was “the world capital of pornography.”  He said area pornographers produced billions of dollars worth of DVDs, videos, magazines, and other items filled with “mental poison.”

Jarrard said that pornography hard-wires into “countless minds” the images of “rapes, perversions, sexual tortures and other sociopathic acts.”  After connecting pornography with sexual assault and venereal disease, he noted that 8 to 10 million American teenagers are major consumers of pornography.

Jarrard decried the mainstreaming of pornography citing “A pornography "star" who wrote an autobiography and found pre-teen girls flocking to her book signings; she was a positive role model, they told her.”  He also cited a Newsweek report that 70 percent more teens from middle- and upper-class homes were now choosing to become prostitutes just to make extra money.

Referring to the case of U.S. Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican who caused a scandal after his arrest for lewd conduct in an airport restroom, Jarrard decried that charging a senator with indecency was easier than obtaining obscenity convictions against pornography producers and distributors. 

The Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jarrard claimed, should be leading the fight against pornography.  Jarrard believed that the present archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahony, could not be that leader.  “His repeated shielding of clerical sex criminals makes it impossible for him to preach against sexual evils,” Jarrard said.

Jarrard related that Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, sent him a letter encouraging the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to fight pornography and reinstate Hollywood decency codes.  According to Jarrard, Cardinal Mahony ignored the letter.

Declaring that the action would be good for children and for society, Jarrard said that Cardinal Mahony should step down and let Pope Benedict XVI appoint a replacement.

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Catholic vote goes for McCain, Clinton

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2008 (CNA) - Catholic voters backed Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton of New York in many Super Tuesday presidential primaries and caucuses for their respective parties, according to news reports.

Deal W. Hudson of reported that exit polling on the Catholic vote was done in 10 of the 22 GOP primary states.  Of those states, Sen. McCain won over Catholics in eight while former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who left the presidential race on Thursday, attracted the Catholic vote only in Georgia and his home state, Massachusetts.  Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, an outspoken Evangelical Protestant, attracted little Catholic support.

In the key state of Missouri, Hudson reports, Sen. McCain won the Catholic vote by 25 points—46 % to Romney’s 21 %.  Fifty four percent of religiously active Catholics in Missouri went for McCain, compared to 24 % who voted for Huckabee and 20 % who voted for Romney.  

The Catholic vote also went to McCain in the critical California race, where he attracted 41 % of Catholic Republican voters. 

Other states McCain won include Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and his home state Arizona.

Deal Hudson reports that one McCain advisor said the campaign was pleased with McCain’s showing in states that have experienced illegal immigrants firsthand.  “McCain's compassionate stance on immigration may turn out to be a plus for McCain, after all,” the advisor said.

Some political observers believe that attracting the predominantly Catholic Hispanic vote could be a deciding factor in the national elections this November.

Hudson noted that McCain had strong support among pro-choice Republicans.  In Missouri those favoring completely legalized abortion voted 48 % for McCain.  In California, McCain received 49 % of the vote from those who want abortion to be “mostly legal.” 

“This indicates that some voters have the perception that McCain is not pro-life, which is strange given his zero percent pro-abortion rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America,” Hudson said.  He speculated that the senator’s support from these voters could fade as his record becomes better known.  On the other hand, McCain’s perceived pro-choice sympathies could erode his support among pro-lifers.

McCain’s pro-life record is not totally consistent, as he has favored federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

In the Democrat Party’s California vote, the Associated Press reports, Catholic voters favored Sen. Hillary Clinton over Illinois Senator Barack Obama by a 2-1 margin.  In Florida, according to Fox News, 63 % of Catholics voted for Hillary over Obama, who received 22 % of Catholic Democrats’ votes.

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