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Archive of April 24, 2008

Orthodox and Catholic Churches are allies, Bishop Hilarion says

Sofia, Bulgaria, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Hilarion, the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Vienna and Austria, has said in an interview that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are allies who could form a strategic alliance to defend Christian values, Interfax reports.   He also criticized many Protestants for having a “light version” of Christianity.

Speaking to the Bulgarian magazine Christianity and Culture, Bishop Hilarion said, “We must realize that Orthodox and Catholic believers are no longer rivals. We are allies. The rivalry must be gone once and for all. If we understand that, proselytism will stop.”
 
The bishop said that “romantic ecumenism,“ which he said characterizes the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches, is not viable.  He said that many Protestants have created a “light version of Christianity, without apostolic succession, without sacraments, without strict dogmatic teaching and what is also important they don't require sticking to Christian moral norms.”

He said this version of Christianity, when it revises Christian theological or moral teachings to become more “modern” or “politically correct,” becomes “a direct way to spiritual death.”  He said this version of Christianity had stopped recognizing centuries-old sins, and now even promotes them.

Bishop Hilarion’s statement comes just days after Pope Benedict addressed an ecumenical gathering in New York where he also denounced versions of Christianity that contradict apostolic teachings. At the gathering of about 300 people, the Pope said that Christian churches which change their beliefs by so-called ‘prophetic actions,’ often use a method of interpretation that is inconsistent with Scripture and Tradition.

The Holy Father added that this causes those interested in Christianity to become “understandably confused about the Gospel message itself” because they see Christians splintering and disagreeing about the beliefs of the faith.

The “message that the world is waiting to hear from us,” the Pope said, is “a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus”… “based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.”
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According to Interfax, Bishop Hilarion said a joint Orthodox-Catholic “front” is necessary to oppose both the challenges of secularism and dialogue with other world religions.  Bilateral, strategic partnerships between the two Churches, he thought, would be the best way to achieve this.

“I don't mean union, administrative merger or compromise in theological teaching, I mean strategical partnership," said Bishop Hilarion, who is also the Russian Orthodox Church Representative to European International Organizations.

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Alaska governor gives birth to son with Down’s Syndrome

Anchorage, Alaska, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin on Friday gave birth to her fifth child, a son who has Down’s Syndrome.  She said that she and her family had been “truly blessed.”

Governor Palin’s labor began while she was in Texas at the Governors’ Energy Conference where she gave the keynote luncheon address.  She was able to fly back to Alaska in time to deliver her son, Trig Paxon Van Palin, at 6:30 a.m.  He was born one month early and weighed six pounds, two ounces. 

Testing during early pregnancy revealed the baby had Down’s Syndrome.  Governor Palin said she was sad at first, but her family now feels blessed that God chose them.

The family released a statement which said, “Trig is beautiful and already adored by us. We knew through early testing he would face special challenges, and we feel privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives. We have faith that every baby is created for good purpose and has potential to make this world a better place. We are truly blessed.”

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ACLU wins lawsuit against courthouse’s Jesus picture, but picture remains

Slidell, La., Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit alleging that a lone painting of Jesus in the Slidell, Louisiana courthouse is unconstitutional, Cybercast News Service reports. 

However, the picture remains on display.

The image is now flanked by images based on the frieze of the United States Supreme Court, which includes other historic figures such as Hammurabi, Moses, Confucius, Mohammed, Charlemagne, and Napoleon Bonaparte.  The modified display is expected to pass constitutional requirements.

Some experts said the case is unique because the picture of Jesus is still on display. 

“This is the first case I know of that upholds a display of a picture of Jesus," Douglas Laycock, professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan Law School, said to Cybercast News Service. "It is significant."

The ACLU had argued that the plaintiffs, “John Doe” and others, "have suffered, or shall suffer, damages, including mental anguish and emotional distress" from viewing the image.”

Judge Lemelle awarded only $1 in damages, which Laycock said was significant.  "The judge wasn't persuaded by that 'trauma' if he only awarded a dollar," he said.  The city will also have to pay the ACLU’s legal expenses.

Michael Johnson, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group that defended the city, said the ADF is “disappointed” with the ruling, but called it a “shallow victory” for the ACLU.

“The ACLU is proclaiming a win, but they really didn't accomplish anything. Their objective was to get the Jesus picture taken down, and it's still prominently displayed," Johnson said.

Marjorie Esman, executive director of ACLU Louisiana, said her organization was “absolutely victorious.”  She told Cybercast News Service "The court ruled very clearly that the initial display was a violation of the Constitution. The city of Slidell changed [the display] at the last minute."

Esman said the case never should have gone to litigation, saying the city refused to take the picture down after being asked.  “They invited us to file a lawsuit, and now the taxpayers of Slidell are going to get stuck with the bill,” she said.

Roger Pilon, vice-president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said the Jesus picture was a “perfectly clear” violation of the First Amendment.  He said he did not see a significant difference in the picture’s inclusion in a more secular display.  

Slidell, Louisiana is still recovering from the destruction created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Most of the city’s government buildings were destroyed, and many departments are still housed in FEMA trailers. 

"You can see why the community was not thrilled with all this going on and the ACLU came around being bullies," city spokeswoman Ann Barks said to Cybercast News Service.  She said the picture of Jesus was installed more than 10 years ago by a judge who reportedly purchased it at a yard sale.  According to Sparks, the picture was not displayed for religious reasons.

"It was put up there to encourage people in the community to follow the law,” she said.

Slidell Mayor Ben Morris said the painting, which measures 24 by 24 inches and was hung high on a wall, was usually not noticed. 

"I've been in and out of the courthouse many times and never even knew it was there," Morris said.  He said he “respectfully” disagreed with the judge, and called the ACLU the “American Taliban” and “the most vile group that exists in America.”

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Agricultural reform must not become dehumanized, says Vatican official

Rome, Italy, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - World food prices are on the rise and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization held a meeting in Brazil’s capital to address the problems associated with food production and distribution. 

Msgr. Renato Volante, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the FAO, weighed in on the ethical aspects of food production and trade at the Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, which was held in Brasilia, Brazil, on April 17-18.

In his talk, the prelate praised FAO’s efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition and reasserted the Holy See’s support for “those political and social options capable of providing a concrete and coherent response to current needs.”

He went on to speak about how “the lack of adequate nutrition not only impedes the full development of the personality of men and women, but also constitutes an evident negation of their rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life, of which nutrition is an indispensable component".

This conference, said Msgr. Volante, shows how the main requirement is "to transfer to the human dimension those forces ... which technology and new scientific research make it possible apply to agriculture and, hence, to food production".

The conference’s main goal was to discuss “food security”, that is, ensuring that everyone is able to be adequately fed.

Msgr. Volante indicated that this involves "considering not only the difficulties in agricultural production provoked by environmental and territorial factors" but also "those deriving from unfavorable trade policies, ... caused by the absence of progress in multilateral negotiations on trade in agricultural products".

These impasses must be resolved because the economies of many countries depend “almost exclusively on the export of a limited number of typical products, while their food security depends on the importation of many food products," he said.

Agricultural reform continues to be an "open and problematic question", he said, "and its slow evolution in countries of the region confirms the need to adopt land ownership strategies and laws that can be effectively implemented.”

Msgr. Volante emphasized the need for these reforms to take into account the situation of small scale landowners and of indigenous communities, “whose traditions are often far distant from the institutions and from the advantages offered by new production criteria.” The Church stands ready to help in this effort, he said.

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Pope encourages Catholics in Caucusus to persist despite difficulties

Vatican City, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI met today with the bishops from the central Caucus region in an “ad limina” visit. He told the bishops that the Church in the Caucusus to must continue to face "with courage the social and cultural challenges" that have evolved since the fall of Communism.

“Peace to you. I greet you with the same greeting of the risen Christ to the disciples gathered in the Cenacle, you whom he has made head of the people of God in this region.  I am pleased to meet with all of you, after having met individually with each of you,” the Pope said.

He also extended his "personal greeting" to priests, religious, the faithful, those of other Christian confessions and other faiths.

The Caucusus, he said, are the crossroads of east and west, and as such, are a cradle of civilization.

Addressing the general situation of the people in the region, Pope Benedict said that while advances in social progress have been made following the fall of the Soviet Union, poverty, unemployment and regional strife have left many homeless and at the mercy of other forces.

Yet, he said, "Despite the difficult events of the last century, the region has remained a fertile ground for the faith, and along with the many victims of internal and external, often violent, conflict, are many martyrs." 

The Holy Father emphasized the interreligious character of the region, where the Armenian, Chaldean and Latin rite Catholics live together with Armenian Orthodox, Jews and Muslims. In such a multi-religious context", he said, "it is important for Catholics to continue and to intensify their collaboration with other Churches and with the followers of other religions, as already happens in many places".

The Holy Father further encouraged the faithful to reaffirm their Catholic identity, and to "impede insidious pressures that weaken the sense of ecclesial belonging."

Quoting St. Paul's letter to the Romans, he said, "We know well that tribulation produces patience, patience produces virtue and proven virtue produces hope. Hope does not delude because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

In closing, the pope reminded the bishops that it is "the Father who sustains them in their difficult mission of shepherding the flock of Christ who lives in the Caucusus."

He thanked bishops, religious and laity for their many works of charity that sustains the poor of the region, and reminded them that charity can never be reduced to mere social work. Rather, he said, it is part of the "gratuitous love of God demanded by the Gospel."

The Holy Father left the bishops with one last word of encouragement, saying, "I know the zeal and ardor you have in your hearts and your efforts to spread the gospel of hope".

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Brazilian judge declares abortion in cases of rape of minor unconstitutional

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - A judge in Rio Verde has ruled that a Brazilian law allowing abortion in cases of rape of a minor is unconstitutional because it violates the right to life protected by Brazil’s constitution.
 
Judge Levine Raja Gabaglia Artiaga of Rio Verde refused to authorize a request for an abortion for a young pregnant girl who was allegedly raped.
 
He said abortion goes against human life, “the most protected legal good in the constitutional order,” and that norms that violate the right to life cannot be approved in order to safeguard legal goods that are of lesser importance.
 
Article 5 of the Brazilian constitution states, “All are equal before the law, without any distinction whatsoever, guaranteeing Brazilians and alien residents in the country the inviolable right to life, liberty, equality, security and priority.”
 
Judge Gabaglia rejected the plaintiff’s arguments in the case that giving birth to a baby conceived through a violent sexual act could lead to birth defects because of the father’s genes.
 
He said abortion violates the protection guaranteed in the country’s Civil Code and usurps the rights that are conferred on the unborn, such as the right to life, prenatal protection, and other rights.

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Ranks of Pontifical Council for the Laity bolstered by Benedict XVI

Vatican City, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - The Pontifical Council for the Laity received a raft of appointments from Pope Benedict XVI today. Among the appointments was that of the U.S. academic and pro-life advocate Helen Alvare, who will serve as a consultor to the council. 

The Pontifical Council for the Laity assists the Pope by advising him on everything that concerns the contribution the lay faithful make to the life and mission of the Church. They do so either as “individuals or through the various forms of association that have arisen and constantly arise within the Church,” according to the Vatican’s web site.

Alvare is currently an associate professor at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America. Prior to teaching at the law school, she worked at the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops. The first position she held with the USCCB was in the Office of General Counsel, after which she became the director of information and planning for the bishops' pro-life office.

New Members

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, Poland

Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany

Paola Bignardi, co-ordinator of the international forum of Italian Catholic Action

Matteo Calisi, president of the Catholic Fraternity of "Comunita e Associazioni Carismatiche di Alleanza", Italy

Henrique Elias, procurator of the Christian Life Association, Peru

Katarina Hulmanova, co- ordinator of the forum of Catholic organisations of the Bishops' Conference of Slovakia

Pilar Jensen of the Institute of Families of Schonstatt, Chile

Guy Maginzi, secretary general of the Community of Christian Life, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Josep Miro i Ardevol, founder of "E. Cristians" and animator of the Conventions of Christians for Europe, Barcelona, Spain

Michelle Moran, president of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, Great Britain

Norbert Muller, professor of the University of Mainz, Germany

Balazs Schanda, dean of the faculty of law at the Peter Pazmany Catholic University of Budapest, Hungary

Guilherme Vaz, director of Education and Technology, Mumbai, India

Lola Velarde, president of the European Institute for Family Policy, Spain

Karol Zyczkowski, professor of the Jagellonica University of Krakow, Poland


New Consultors

Bishop Carlo Mazza of Fidenza, Italy

Msgr. Piero Coda of the diocese of Frascati, Italy

Fr. Julian Carron, president of the Communion and Liberation association, Spain

Helen Alvare, professor at the Catholic University of America, U.S.A.

Edio Costantini, president of the Italian Sporting Centre

Moyses de Azevedo, founder of the Shalom Community, Brazil

Guillermo Leon Escobar-Herran, professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome

Salvatore Martinez, president of Renewal in the Holy Spirit, Italy

Danuta Piekarz, Poland

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Work must be done to keep Christians from leaving Iraq, says bishop

, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - Speaking to the SIR news agency, Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad said this week, “I am pleased to hear that some countries in the European Union have opened their doors to Iraqi Christian refugees, but it is also necessary to work so that Christians do not keep leaving Iraq.”
 
Bishop Warduni warned, “There is a risk that there will no longer be any Christians in the country if we do not work to guarantee their security and stability, as with the rest of the population.”
 
“Now more than ever it is urgent to help the thousands of Christian refugees who are dispersed in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries,” he said, adding that Iraqi Christian refugees could stay in European countries with the hope of returning to Iraq once the situation improves.
 
At the same time, Bishop Warduni sadi, “The international community and the Iraqi government need to do everything possible to provide security and stability to Christians in Iraq, as well as to the entire population affected by this war.”
 
“Its essential that Christians stay in the county and that those who have left can come back to their homes, their work and their loved ones,” he said.

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Mexicans to light 7000 candles for unborn outside Legislative Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - The National Pro-Life Committee in Mexico says that it will light 7,194 candles on April 24 outside the Legislative Assembly in memory of the unborn babies that have been killed since abortion was legalized in the Mexican capital last year.
 
In a brief statement, the pro-life committee said the candlelight vigil would begin at 5 a.m. and end at 6 a.m.
 
On April 24, 2007, the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City legalized abortion up to the twelfth week.  The law was debated for seven hours and was approved by a vote of 46-19 with one abstention.  Up to now, according to the president of the National Pro-Life Committee, Jorge Serrano Limon, eight women have died as a consequence of legal abortions in Mexico City—a number much higher than what authorities have acknowledged.

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Archbishop calls on Mexicans to prepare for fourth National Eucharistic Congress

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia has invited Mexicans to prepare well for the upcoming 4th National Eucharistic Congress to be celebrated in the archdiocese April 30-May 4, with the theme, “Jesus Christ Eucharist, Gift of the Father and Life for our families.”
 
“The main thing is to prepare ourselves and our communities,” the archbishop said.  “We all can and should be in tune with this grace-filled event and intensely live its fruits.”
 
According to the Fides news agency, Archbishop Suarez called on contemplative monasteries to offer their prayers and he invited all diocesan movements and Eucharistic associations to enthusiastically participate.
 
The congress will include talks on the history of Eucharistic devotion in Mexico, the Eucharist as gift of the Father, the Eucharist as the source of life in the Spirit, and others.
 
Also featured at the congress will be an expo of sacred art at the Cathedral, which will feature artwork related to the Eucharist.
 
The first National Eucharistic Congress took place in Guadalajara in 1906, the second in Mexico City in 1924 and the third also in Mexico City in 2000.  Organizers said Eucharistic congress will be held in the country every four years.
 
More information can be found at: http://www.arquimorelia.org.mx/congreso.html

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Congressman praises abstinence education, decries CDC-approved curriculum

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho) on Wednesday spoke during a U.S. House hearing on abstinence-only government programs, saying such programs were effective at promoting healthy relationships and contributing to a decline in teen pregnancy in ways that did not offend the moral and religious convictions of many communities.

In a statement to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the congressman said abstinence education stresses the social, psychological and health benefits of abstinence while teaching that abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage is “the expected standard for all school age children.”  He cited a Heritage Foundation study released April 22 that analyzed 21 studies of abstinence programs.  The study reported that 16 of the studies claimed positive findings about such programs’ effectiveness.

“Unfortunately, most Americans don't even know what teens are being taught in sex education classes, abstinence-based or otherwise,” Rep. Sali said.

Rep. Sali said that effective abstinence education teaches teens far more than to say “just say no” to sex.  He said they also promote risk-avoidance to young people. 

“Unfortunately,” he said, “most of America does not know that abstinence education does teach teens about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including symptoms and modes of transmission along with the relative effectiveness of contraception methods.”

Sali also noted that abstinence education programs aim to educate without engaging in the “explicit demonstrations” that most parents and communities reject as “distasteful” and even a violation of moral and religious convictions.  The programs teach how to build healthy relationships and how to avoid unhealthy relationships, which Sali said often lead to sexual coercion and abuse.  The programs also teach how to avoid dangerous alcohol and drug use, which can lead to sexual activity.

“Abstinence education is a complete approach to teaching teens about sexuality,” he said.  Rep. Sali claimed that since Congress began funding Community Based Abstinence Education, abstinence education has been credited for part of the decline in teen pregnancy. 

Rep. Sali expressed shock about manuals labeled comprehensive sex education, saying he was “stunned” to see that Center for Disease Control-approved curriculum encouraged young people to shower together or cuddle naked, “along with other behaviors I would frankly be embarrassed to discuss before this Committee.” 

These behaviors, he said, were considered abstinent behavior in the “most widely used ‘comprehensive’ sex education curricula.”

“I would wager that everyone on this committee understands where showering together and cuddling naked will lead,” Rep. Sali said.  “No one in this room could honestly believe that those kinds of actions will promote abstinence. In fact, quite the opposite.”

He said no parent would want their children to perform such acts.  Rep. Sali also argued such “graphic messages” cannot be equated with effective sex education and did not belong in schools, “especially at taxpayer expense.”

“Abstinence education offers a real alternative – one that is tested, practical and respects the beliefs and concerns of Moms and Dads across the country.  Let’s give it a fair hearing and a healthy dose of support,” Rep. Sali concluded.

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Nancy Pelosi criticized for using false “environmentalist” Bible quotation

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2008 (CNA) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is facing criticism for repeatedly attributing an incorrect quotation to the Book of Isaiah that concerns ministering to creation, Cybercast News Service reports.

The speaker has used the quotation at least five times, often in reference to environmental concerns.

The falsely-attributed quotation most recently appeared in her April 22 Earth Day news release, in which Speaker Pelosi said, “The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' On this Earth Day, and every day, let us pledge to our children, and our children's children, that they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature.”

Biblical scholars, however, are at a loss as to the source of Pelosi’s quotation.

John J. Collins, Holmes professor of Old Testament criticism and interpretation at Yale Divinity School, told Cybercast News Service that quotation is “not one that I recognize.” 

“I assume that she means this is a paraphrase,” he continued. “But it wouldn't be a close paraphrase to anything I know of."

"The quote does not exist in the Old Testament, neither in the New Testament," said Fr. Andreas Höck, a professor of Scripture who teaches in the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver's St. John Vianney Seminary.

"Even in pieces or bits, [it] cannot be found in the Old Testament," he said.

According to Cybercast News Service, Speaker Pelosi has used the quotation before.

In a December, 2005 message to the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker Pelosi used the quotation after a reference to the prophet Isaiah.  Her message read:

"Mr. Speaker, as we leave for this Christmas recess, let us say, 'God bless you' to the American people by voting against this Republican budget and statement of injustice and immorality, and let us not let the special interest goose get fat at the expense of America's children.

"The gentleman from Washington [state], Mr. McDermott, quoted the prophet Isaiah. And as the Bible teaches us, to minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship, to ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us. Let us vote no on this budget as an act of worship and for America's children."

Speaker Pelosi has used the same phrase in at least four statements in 2007: in February remarks before the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee’s hearings on global warming; in April in congressional remarks before the Easter recess, in which she attributed the quotation to the Old Testament and advocated the reduction of greenhouse gas pollution; in an April speech to the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C. in which she advocating tackling “one of humanity’s greatest challenges yet—global warming”; and in an October television interview with PBS host Tavis Smiley, in which she said her faith was related to her Democratic values.

Scripture scholars who spoke to Cybercast News Service reflected on whether environmentalism had an explicit scriptural basis.

Mark Goodwin, an associate professor of theology at the University of Dallas, said Pelosi’s use of the quotation was vague. 

'To minister to the needs of creation is an act of worship' doesn't sound right to my ears," Goodwin said. "To minister to the needs of creation'- yes, but not as an act of worship. I'm not sure what she meant by that, and if I were there, I would have raised my hand and asked her to clarify that."

Eric Jenislawski, a theology professor at Christendom College in Virginia, said the Bible teaches in Genesis that man was placed on earth “to till it and keep it,” but also instructs mankind “to fill the earth and subdue it.”

“Responsible use of the Old Testament,” Jenislawski said, “cannot divorce the biblical notion of stewardship (that man is obligated to care for God's creation) from the equally important biblical view that the entire natural world was created for man, for him to subdue it and to reign over it.

"Environmentalists who make man subservient to the natural world actually invert the biblical view of man's relationship to the earth," he said.

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