Archive of January 16, 2011

Twenty-somethings taking the pro-life reins in Alaska, elsewhere

Anchorage, Alaska, Jan 16, 2011 (CNA) - Tweeting and texting, the Echo Boomers are taking the reins of the decades-long effort to restore legal protection to the unborn in Alaska and across the U.S.

These 20-somethings – children of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers – were born and raised after the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade. They are survivors of the era of legalized abortion in America. But a full third of their generation did not survive – 26 million of their brothers, sisters and friends have been aborted.

For those who made it, like 28-year-old Christine Kurka of Eagle River, Alaska and 22-year-old Windy Thomas of Anchorage, the abortion debate is about human rights – rights they believe should be equally applied to all members of the human family, including the very youngest.

At age 18, Kurka was motivated to speak up for the unborn. Her awakening came during a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where she heard recordings of the Nuremberg trials. She understood that apathy, silence and the deflection of responsibility were no defense in the face of evil.

“If we say nothing, we are acquiescing,” Kurka told the Catholic Anchor in a recent interview.

Kurka began to see a correlation between the destruction of the Jewish people behind the walls of concentration camps and abortion.

“It’s a quiet thing, people don’t see it,” she explained.

She realized “it wasn’t going to be enough to just personally stay away from abortion or not to have one myself. I was going to have to be actively speaking and doing something.”

As the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches on Jan. 22, the faces and voices of the pro-life movement are changing. But in terms of political action, charity towards mothers and babies and efforts to educate the public on the facts of prenatal life, Kurka’s generation is following a well-proved path.

Pro-life predecessors

While a growing number of Alaska’s pro-life activists aren’t out of their 20s, they have four decades of experience behind them.

Anchorage Catholic Pam Albrecht has been at the forefront of the abortion debate since 1969, when Planned Parenthood first lobbied Alaska’s legislators to legalize abortion. With help from local attorneys Wayne Ross and Bob Flint, Albrecht produced flyers opposing the legalization and urged Alaskans to write their legislators.

However, the legislation passed, and in 1972 Alaska amended its constitution to become one of the first states to explicitly recognize a so-called right to “privacy,” interpreted by some to mean a right to abortion on demand.

Meanwhile, Albrecht began to appreciate how women were being pressured into abortion.

“I could see this problem was more than just ‘this baby’,” said soft-spoken Albrecht.

So she and fellow Catholic Kim Syren founded Birthright – to help expectant mothers in crisis choose life for their babies by providing friendship and material support, like housing and clothing.

Eventually, Birthright was folded into Catholic Social Services’ Pregnancy Support program. And Albrecht continues on with Project Rachel, helping mothers suffering after abortion.

Mirroring the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, other early pro-life advocates took the abortion debate to Anchorage clinic doors in the 1980s. Local pro-lifers organized peaceful sit-ins to slow the abortion business in Anchorage and raise awareness of what was going on inside. Ninety-two people joined the first sit-in, making it the largest civil disobedience event in the history of Alaska. A photo of the arrest of Jesuit Father George Endal, in his 80s at the time, made the front page of the Anchorage Times.

On the sidewalks were “sidewalk counselors,” pro-lifers specially trained to engage with the abortion-minded and help them find life-affirming options.

Still, today, members of the Legion of Mary, a Catholic lay apostolate, continue to pray on the sidewalks several times a week and offer help to women outside Alaska Women’s Health, P.C. – an abortion facility on Lake Otis Parkway.

Most young adults are pro-life

Thirty years later, in an age where the term “partial-birth abortion” is familiar and where prenatal ultrasounds are commonplace, the American people — including young adults — are increasingly pro-life.

A 2010 Marist College poll showed that nearly 60 percent of the nation’s 18-to-29-year-olds consider abortion morally wrong. Just 20 percent of that group thinks abortion is morally acceptable.

Thousands of pro-life young adults demonstrate against Roe v. Wade in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Their numbers impress even Nancy Keenan, president of the pro-abortion advocacy group NARAL, who in Newsweek Magazine observed, “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”

These youth are founding and running groups like Live Action, the undercover investigative group that films exposés on Planned Parenthood, the nation’s billion-dollar abortion business. Its now famous director Lila Rose, who delivered the keynote address for this past November’s Alaska Right to Life fund-raiser, is just 22 years old.

There are Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust; Medical Students for Life; and Stop the Abortion Mandate Coalition, a national coalition organized to stop government funding of abortion in health care.

In Anchorage, Christine Kurka initiated a local chapter of 40 Days for Life. The campaign is a biannual, international event in which participants stand vigil in front of abortion clinics across the country and pray and fast for the end to abortion. Since its 2007 start, the group’s headquarters reports 3,592 unborn babies saved from abortion as a result.

Kurka also is volunteer coordinator for Alaska Right to Life. She organizes the group’s activities at the Alaska State Fair and its annual fund-raiser. And she has been on the board, which consists mostly of young adults, including her 23-year-old brother Christopher.

Changing hearts and minds

Kurka appreciates the courage and devotion of her pro-life predecessors. And she agrees that a presence outside abortion clinics keeps the focus on “real issues.”

“Yeah, there are some issues of law,” she said, “but there’s also an issue of people’s hearts – everybody who’s driving by, the people who are working in the clinics, the women who are potentially seeking abortions, the rest of society that condones it or pressures them to have abortions.”

Kurka believes praying and counseling outside the abortion facilities is “very effective at bringing people together to really focus on what’s true — that human life is valuable and it’s valuable because we’re created in the image of God — and we need to express that in our community.”

Education is a critical part of the process, believes 22-year-old Windy Thomas. She helped found the student pro-life group at University of Alaska, Anchorage, and she is currently the communications director at Alaska Right to Life.

Thomas takes a lesson from Martin Luther King Jr.

African Americans had been “tortured and killed and treated so terribly,” said Thomas. “The (Civil Rights) movement just brought it out into the open and showed people, ‘This is how it is. This is not okay.’”

Thomas believes she has a responsibility to do the same for the unborn. “Twenty or thirty years ago, we didn’t have the scientific evidence that we have now,” she said. Sharing the facts about prenatal development — that each unborn baby, from the moment of conception, is distinct and irreplaceable — is essential, she believes.

“This battle is going to be won in people’s hearts first, but people really have to believe abortion is murder. People really have to see it as it really is.”

Education can be a long process. But in the meantime – and facing 1.2 million abortions in the U.S. each year – Thomas is confident.

“You can really make a huge difference if you just, like, speak up,” she said. “And if you’re faithful and dedicated, you can change the world.”

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Woman who cared for husband's executioners on road to beatification

Murcia, Spain, Jan 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Members of the Apostolic Sisters of Christ Crucified are praying for a miracle to move their foundress one step closer to beatification.

Maria Seiquer Gaya founded the religious order following the death of her husband during the Spanish Civil War.

The Apostolic Sisters of Christ Crucified are present in both Spain and Latin America.

Maria Seiquer was born in 1891 in Murcia, Spain. In 1914, she married Angel Romero, a doctor known for his honesty and dedicated service. The couple built a public chapel on their ranch in Villa Pilar where Maria taught catechism to children and her husband provided free care for the poor once a week.

When the anti-Catholic persecution reached Murcia in 1931, Angel decided to enter politics to defend the Church. He soon became the target of violent attacks.

In August of 1936, he was captured and held in prison. Maria was able to visit him twice in jail where he told her:  “They think they are sacrificing us, and they don’t realize that what they are doing is glorifying us.” She then revealed her intention to devote herself to God.  “If they don’t kill me too, I promise you I will enter the convent,” she promised him.

Angel was shot and killed only weeks after he was detained.

Maria was forced to flee Murcia because of fear for her own life.  While away, she met a woman named Amalia Martin de la Escalera who returned with her to Villa Pilar once the country's civil war ended. Together they founded the first convent of the Apostolic Sisters of Christ Crucified.

“I forgive all my enemies, I pray for them and I desire to forgive all those who have done me wrong,” she wrote.  The community of sisters took to teaching children, feeding the poor and visiting the elderly and the sick in nearby towns. 

Among those they visited were the executioners of her husband.

Numerous witnesses confirm that until her death in 1975, Maria cared for one of the women who denounced her husband. She saw furniture that was once hers in the homes of the sick under her care, but never said a word. Maria cared for the son of the anti-Catholic militant who dragged her husband’s body through the streets, aware of who he was. She also frequently appeared in court pleading that her husband’s killers be spared the death penalty.

In her writings she said, “I have only done what Christ has taught me: Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Maria, together with Sister Amalia, the order's co-foundress, is buried next to her husband Angel in the cemetery near the chapel at Villa Pilar.

Canonization cause

Mother Maria Seiquer’s cause for canonization was opened in 1989.  The diocesan phase was completed two years later. “Now we are waiting for a miracle so that Rome will approve the beatification,” Sister Alicia, the superior of the order, told CNA. 

“She always believed that the people who killed her husband did so out of ignorance and not malice.  She gave them land, homes and her care. For this reason, in the 1980s people began to call for her beatification,” Sister Alicia said.

The congregation, which celebrated its 36th anniversary since receiving papal approval, works in towns and villages assisting the poor.

Sister Alicia said she hopes a miracle will take place in Latin America, where “the people turn to God more than they do in Spain.”

The Apostolic Sisters of Christ Crucified are present in 19 communities in Spain, and have homes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia and Peru.

The order's charism is “to be identified with Christ Crucified” by seeking to adopt the same attitudes of Christ by “loving, forgiving, showing compassion for every human misery, offering ourselves to the Father and consecrating with Him our entire lives to God, for the good of the entire Church.”

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Layman who made being an Italian Catholic politician acceptable to be beatified

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic economist and sociologist Giuseppe Toniolo's influence a century ago opened the door for important changes in Italian society. Because of his dedication to politics, Italian Catholics were able to fight Freemason efforts to keep them out of government.

Pope Benedict XVI decreed on Jan. 14 that Toniolo will be beatified for his exemplary life of holiness and for a recent miracle attributed to his intercession.

Toniolo was born in 1845 in Treviso, Italy. He received a law degree in Padua in 1867 and remained in the academic sphere, teaching economics for more than 40 years.

His landmark teachings on sociology and economics were recognized by the likes of Popes Leo XIII and Pius X.
His advocacy of increased protections for workers is considered an important forerunner to the Church's historic document on the subject, called "Rerum novarum." This 1891 Vatican text collects the teaching of Leo XIII on the "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor."

Toniolo's theories on the prevailing importance of ethics and the Christian spirit in economics gave support to a broader movement, that of "Christian Democracy" in the nation. His efforts came at a time when Italian Freemasons controlled the levers of government, having united the various kingdoms of the region into the country of Italy in 1861.

Despite pressure from those in power and Vatican leaders who were boycotting the Freemason's rule, Toniolo and like-minded proponents defended the economic and social value of religion in politics. Their effective presence in the public square opened the way for many other Catholic politicians who came after them.

Toniolo was very active in bringing about the change he envisioned. In 1889, he founded and led a union that fought for worker's rights. In the early 1900s, he led Italy's still popular Catholic Action movement.

The professor also founded Catholic "social weeks" which raise awareness of important themes affecting the common good in contemporary society. The initiative continues to be promoted by the Italian bishops' conference today.

Among his proposals were those to give workers days of rest and limited work hours per day. He fought for the defense of small property rights and for the protection of women and children.

Toniolo is also remembered as being a strong advocate for peace and a great family man. He and his wife raised seven children.

It was those who followed in his footsteps that set him on the road to beatification after his death in 1918. In 1933, the Federation of Catholic University Students (FUCI), which he co-founded, began promoting his cause for canonization.

The current postulator for his cause, Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of the Assisi-Nocera diocese, described Toniolo to the Italian news agency ANSA after the news of his imminent beatification broke. "He was a truly representative figure in the panorama of lay holiness in Italy, the prophet of the encyclical 'Rerum novarum', the authoritative witness of the commitment of Italian Catholics in politics," he said.

His beatification, added the bishop, "comes at the most appropriate moment, when Italian Catholics need to find their deepest roots in bearing witness in society."

The beatification was approved by the Holy See after it was found that a man in his 30s from Pieve di Soligo, Italy was inexplicably healed of serious injuries sustained in a fall in 2006. He was healed after prayers were offered, asking for Toniolo's intercession at his tomb in the local church.

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St. Anthony of Egypt's monastic legacy remembered Jan. 17

CNA STAFF, Jan 16, 2011 (CNA) - On his Jan. 17 feast day, both Eastern and Western Catholics will celebrate the life and legacy of St. Anthony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism whose radical approach to discipleship permanently impacted the Church.

In Egypt's Coptic Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have a special devotion to the native saint, his feast day is celebrated on Jan. 30.

Anthony was born around 251, to wealthy parents who owned land in the present-day Faiyum region near Cairo. During this time, the Catholic Church was rapidly spreading its influence throughout the vast expanses of the Roman empire, while the empire remained officially pagan and did not legally recognize the new religion.

In the course of his remarkable and extraordinarily long life, Anthony would live to see the Emperor Constantine's establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire. Anthony himself, however, would establish something more lasting – by becoming the spiritual father of the monastic communities that have existed throughout the subsequent history of the Church.

Around the year 270, two great burdens came upon Anthony simultaneously: the deaths of both his parents, and his inheritance of their possessions and property. These simultaneous occurrences prompted Anthony to reevaluate his entire life in light of the principles of the Gospel– which proposed both the redemptive possibilities of his personal loss, and the spiritual danger of his financial gains.

Attending church one day, he heard –as if for the first time– Jesus' exhortation to another rich young man in the Biblical narrative: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Anthony told his disciples in later years, that it was as though Christ has spoken those words to him directly.

He duly followed the advice of selling everything he owned and donating the proceeds, setting aside a portion to provide for his sister. Although organized monasticism did not yet exist, it was not unknown for Christians to abstain from marriage, divest themselves of possessions to some extent, and live a life focused on prayer and fasting. Anthony's sister would eventually join a group of consecrated virgins.

Anthony himself, however, sought a more comprehensive vision of Christian asceticism. He found it among the hermits of the Egyptian desert, individuals who chose to withdraw physically and culturally from the surrounding society in order to devote themselves more fully to God. But these individuals' radical way of life had not yet become an organized movement.

After studying with one of these hermits, Anthony made his own sustained attempt to live alone in a secluded desert location, depending on the charity of a few patrons who would provide him with enough food to survive. This first period as a hermit lasted between 13 and 15 years.

Like many saints both before and after him, Anthony became engaged in a type of spiritual combat, against unseen forces seeking to remove him from the way of perfection he had chosen. These conflicts took their toll on Anthony in many respects. When he was around 33 years old, a group of his patrons found him in serious condition, and took him back to a local church to recover.

This setback did not dissuade Anthony from his goal of seeking God intensely, and he soon redoubled his efforts by moving to a mountain on the east bank of the Nile river. There, he lived in an abandoned fort, once again subsisting on the charity of those who implored his prayers on their behalf. He attracted not only these benefactors, but a group of inquirers seeking to follow after his example.

In the first years of the fourth century, when he was about 54, Anthony emerged from his solitude to provide guidance to the growing community of hermits that had become established in his vicinity. Although Anthony had not sought to form such a community, his decision to become its spiritual father –or “Abbot”– marked the beginning of monasticism as it is known today.

Anthony himself would live out this monastic calling for another four decades, providing spiritual and practical advice to disciples who would ensure the movement's continued existence. According to Anthony's biographer, St. Athanasius, the Emperor Constantine himself eventually wrote to the Abbot, seeking advice on the administration of an empire that was now officially Christian.

“Do not be astonished if an emperor writes to us, for he is a man,” Anthony told the other monks. “But rather: wonder that God wrote the Law for men, and has spoken to us through his own Son.”

Anthony wrote back to Constantine, advising him “not to think much of the present, but rather to remember the judgment that is coming, and to know that Christ alone was the true and Eternal King.”

St. Anthony may have been up to 105 years old when he died, sometime between 350 and 356. In keeping with his instructions, two of his disciples buried his body secretly in an unmarked grave.

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Pope prays for the 'one human family' desired by Christ

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Marking the 97th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the "migration experience" of the Church and hoped for a future where all people consider themselves part of "one human family."

The Son of God was a refugee himself, said the Pope in his message before the noon Angelus prayer on Jan. 16, a beautiful spring-like day in Rome.

Beginning from when Jesus was born and his parents fled to Egypt to protect his life, the Church has always lived the "migration experience," he said.

He pointed out that the World Day of Migrants and Refugees invites reflection on the experience of the many people today who abandon their nations "often ... in dramatic conditions" in search of better lives.

Christians sometimes "feel forced to leave" their homes but in other cases their voluntary movements from one place to another become a source of "missionary dynamism" for God's message, "traversing peoples and cultures and reaching new frontiers."

The international day to remember those in movement, he said, is also a day to think to "the goal of the great voyage of humanity."

The goal, he said, is that of "forming a single family ... with all the differences that enrich it, but without barriers, recognizing ourselves all as brothers."

He cited a pair of quotes from Second Vatican Council documents to illustrate the Church's vision. Quoting "Nostra aetate," the Pope said, “one is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth."

"The Church," he continued, with a passage from the document "Lumen gentium,” "in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race."

"For this," he said, "it is fundamental that Christians, despite being dispersed through the world and ... diverse by culture and traditions, be a single thing, as the Lord wishes."

He pointed to the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as an initiative with this scope in mind.  The Day of Jewish-Christian dialogue on Jan. 17 is also a "very meaningful" occasion that serves as a call back to "the importance of the common roots that unite Jews and Christians," he said.

He concluded his pre-Angelus address with a prayer that Mary intercede to bring about the full unity of all those who follow Christ.

Following the prayer, the Pope expressed his joy for the May 1 beatification of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and prayed for all those affected by recent flooding in Australia, Brazil, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

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Pope, rabbi express pleasure over coming beatification of John Paul II

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In their own words, two old friends of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Rabbi Elio Toaff of Rome, are both happy for the recognition of his life through his coming beatification.

On Jan. 14, Benedict XVI signed an official decree recognizing the holiness of his predecessor, a major step on the late-Pope's path to sainthood. On the same day, the Vatican announced that the beatification would be celebrated the Sunday after Easter, which is observed as Divine Mercy Sunday in the Catholic Church.

Since the announcement, excitement has been building and people from all over the globe such as his former personal secretary Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz and Knights of Columbus chief Carl Anderson have expressed their happiness.

Two especially important figures in the life of Venerable John Paul II have now added their voices to the chorus of praise being offered for their friend.

At the Angelus on Jan. 16, Pope Benedict XVI announced the news to people gathered in St. Peter's Square. "Dear brothers and sisters, as you know, next May 1 I will have the joy of proclaiming Venerable John Paul II, my loved predecessor, "Blessed."

The date, Divine Mercy Sunday, is "very significant” because it is at once a day proclaimed by John Paul II himself and also "the eve on which he finished his earthly life."

"All who knew him, all who esteemed and loved him," said the Pope, "cannot but rejoice with the Church for this event."

Speaking moments later in Polish, he told Poles that he shares in their joy over the chance to recognize their countryman. "This news was much awaited by all and, particularly, by you, for whom my venerable predecessor was a guide in faith, truth and liberty."

Benedict XVI hoped that they would undertake a "profound spiritual preparation" for the spring beatification.

Joining the Pope in expressing his happiness for the announcement was the retired Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff.

According to Italy's La Stampa, the rabbi reacted to the news with joy. "Clearly the beatification is a fact internal to the Catholic Church," he said. "In any case, it is a recognition of a great Pope and a great man who I knew very well. And this cannot give me anything but pleasure."

Rabbi Toaff was the head of the Jewish community from 1951 – 2001, which coincided in large part with John Paul II's pontificate from 1978 - 2005.

In a report on Sunday morning, Vatican Radio recalled his brotherly relationship with the pontiff which began with a private meeting in Rome in 1981. John Paul II later made a historic visit by invitation of the rabbi to the Synagogue of Rome in April 1986, a big step in Jewish-Catholic relations in the city and in the world.

As Pope Benedict recalled in a message to the rabbi for his birthday last May, the two religious leaders shared a commitment to dialogue and a "sincere friendship."

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