Austin, Texas, Jan 26, 2011 (CNA) - The pro-life group Heroic Media launched a massive texting poll to hundreds of thousands of participants at the West Coast Walk for Life and the D.C. March for Life this past weekend, in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of media influence on the debate over abortion.
At the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Monday, mobile billboards and crowd volunteers encouraged participants to text their opinions about abortion as part of a new nationwide poll.
“We are trying to see how many people are aware of the role mainstream media and Planned Parenthood play in promoting abortion versus promoting a culture of life,” spokesperson Kimberly Guidry Speirs said in a Jan. 25 e-mail.
Heroic Media – headquartered in Austin with offices nationwide – launched the national campaign this weekend at the Walk For Life West Coast in San Francisco, which was held on Jan. 22, and at the Jan. 24 March for Life 2011 in Washington D.C.
“These walks and marches celebrate life and stand in opposition to the violence of abortion,” said Heroic Media President Brian Follett.
“The anniversary of Roe v. Wade encourages reflection on the deaths of 52 million unborn children and the millions of women who suffer emotional scars from the procedure.”
Follett said that in his organization's work to provide educational resources on alternatives for women in crisis pregnancies, he has seen that “once women learn about hopeful alternatives, they usually choose life.”
He said that the pro-life media organization helps assist pregnancy resource centers that do not have the funding to promote media that will let women know where they can find help. The group regularly uses television, radio, billboards, bus shelter ads and Internet messaging to spread its message.
Follett noted that in cities where Heroic Mediaʼs commercials have aired consistently, the abortion rates have decreased as much as 20 percent.
Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life on Jan. 24. People of all ages filled the streets, including a large number of young adults who came to show their support for the dignity of all human life.
Catholic colleges from around the country were represented at the March, in addition to pro-life groups from secular colleges. Diocesan groups, families and individuals also came from near and far to march along the National Mall in commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
In addition to marching, young people were also encouraged to participate in a new nationwide poll launched by the pro-life advocacy group Heroic Media. Mobile billboards and representatives in the crowd encouraged marchers to text their responses to poll questions about abortion.
Poll participants were asked factual questions about how many unborn children have been killed since Roe v. Wade and what ethnic neighborhoods house the largest number of Planned Parenthood clinics. They were also asked questions of opinion, including whether they think that the mainstream media should do more to promote the heroism of motherhood and whether they think embryonic stem cell research should continue.
Lacy de la Garza, age 22, organized a trip to the March for Life for a group of her classmates at the University of Dallas. “I really felt that as everything is getting more heated in the legal system and in the courts, I wanted UD students to be able to be involved,” she told CNA.
De la Garza has attended the March for Life three times and believes that the annual event is making a difference in America. “I don’t think it’s well-publicized enough in the mainstream media, but I do think it shocks D.C. into seeing how important this is, and I think that’s the first step to change,” she said.
“There are many reasons that women get abortions, but I think that all women are naturally pro-life, and that is shot down in them through the culture,” she said. “No woman really wants what abortion is.”
Grace Gniewek, age 18, was one of many students from Christendom College who attended the March for Life. The nearby Virginia college closed down for the day, canceling all classes and chartering buses to transport the entire student body to the March. Gniewek said that she and her classmates came “to show that we are of one heart and one mind, and that we won’t stand for these injustices.”
Women were not the only young participants represented in the March. The event also drew large numbers of young men. Jake Barakat, 20, told CNA that this was his nineteenth time attending the March for Life.
Barakat explained that men play an important role in the pro-life movement. “As husbands, boyfriends and friends of women, it’s important for men to support life,” he said. “We need to help women through the difficult times in their lives, showing them our stance, and showing them that they’re not alone.”
Marcellino Dambrosio, age 23, agreed, calling abortion a “problem of manhood in America.”
“We live in a hook-up culture. There is no permanence to relationships. People want pleasure without responsibility,” he said. “This is a man’s problem too. It’s everyone’s problem.”
Dambrosio said that attending the March has influenced his understanding of the pro-life movement. “The media doesn’t cover this very much. Seeing this on TV is not the same as being here,” he said.
Dambrosio said that he was especially touched by the Vigil Mass that was held on the evening before the March, particularly the procession of priests at the beginning, which took over half an hour.
“This Church is strong. This movement is strong,” he said.
Potomac, Md., Jan 26, 2011 (CNA) - Friends and family of political candidate and public servant R. Sargent Shriver remembered his life in a Jan. 22. Mass in Potomac, Maryland celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
A devout Catholic, Shriver died at the age of 95 after years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy, he was the first director of the Peace Corps. He also served as the 1972 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, the last pro-life candidate to rise to such prominence in the party.
He later served as U.S. ambassador to France. Shriver had five children and 19 grandchildren.
Attendees at the funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church included Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton, who paid tribute to his life of service.
"Fifty years ago, President Kennedy told us we should ask what we can do for our country," Clinton said. "A whole generation of us understood what President Kennedy meant by looking at Sargent Shriver's life."
First lady Michelle Obama and television personality Oprah Winfrey also attended. Musical performances came from Haitian musician Wyclef Jean, Vanessa Williams, U2 front man Bono, and Glen Hansard.
Shriver’s son Mark recounted his father’s last years, according to the AP.
"Alzheimer's robs you of so much. In Dad's case, it stripped him to the core," he said. Still, Shriver "would shake your hand and smile, look you in the eye and tell you you were the greatest and that he loves you."
Shriver’s body was buried at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery in Centerville, Massachusetts hours after his funeral. He was laid to rest alongside his wife Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics. She died in 2009 at the age of 88.
Cardinal Wuerl in a Jan. 19 statement said Shriver left a legacy both in his “deeply spiritual” faith life and in his example of service to “make it much more reflective of the care and love we all should have for each other as children of the same loving God.”
“Sargent Shriver was proud to live his faith in public life,” he continued, saying his prayers were with the Shriver family and the entire Kennedy family.
At the funeral, the cardinal advised Shriver’s grandchildren to live their lives with the same courage and fortitude as their grandparents.
"Ask your parents to tell you stories. Read what your grandfather has written. When you think of him, rejoice in the heritage he has given you," the cardinal said.
Both Shriver and his wife were signatories to a full-page July 1992 New York Times advertisement protesting the Democratic Party’s embrace of legalized abortion. The ad, titled “The New American Compact,” declared the pro-abortion Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade to be “the most momentous act of exclusion in our history” which deprived every unborn human being of the “most fundamental” human right to life.
While many Catholic commentators have focused on Sargent Shriver’s principled pro-life stand and public service, Shriver played a significant role in the controversies over government funding of birth control.
As head the Office of Economic Opportunity, Shriver led the Johnson Administration’s “War on Poverty.” His office was also the first to fund birth control programs at a time when the American political establishment was embracing contraceptives and many influential people were pressing for a change in Catholic teaching.
In a series of speeches in the mid-1960s, published on the website of the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute, Shriver praised the Office of Economic Opportunity for being “the first agency in the history of the federal government to give public money directly to private agencies for family planning purposes.”
His Oct. 1967 speech at Hardin-Simmons University in Abeline, Texas noted Catholic criticism that his office was “doing too much by way of providing money for Planned Parenthood.”
After Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood would go on to become the United States’ largest abortion provider.
The July 7, 1966 Denver Catholic Register reported that Shriver circulated a memorandum saying his office had “absolutely no hesitation” in approving family planning grants.
Bishop Paul F. Tanner, then-general secretary of the National Catholic Welfare Conference--a predecessor of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference--criticized the memo for abandoning neutrality on government support for birth control in favor of “outright advocacy.” Catholic bishops at the time voiced concern that the U.S. government would pressure families in economic distress to use it.
Barcelona, Spain, Jan 26, 2011 (CNA) - Administrators from the University of Barcelona, Spain have announced that its weekly Wednesday Mass will be suspended due to protests by a group of self-proclaimed “secular progressive” students.
The university stated that no more Masses will be celebrated “until the university can guarantee the security of students who wish to attend the liturgy.”
At the beginning of November, shortly before Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Barcelona, a group of “secular progressive” students tried to boycott one of the university Masses, reported the Spanish newspaper ABC. Police then began providing security at the chapel.
On Dec. 15, some 40 students interrupted Mass at the chapel. Fr. Mosen Lluis Ramos, one of the university chaplains said, “It is sad that these kinds of boycotts” are taking place because they “prevent people from freely expressing their beliefs, and this must not be allowed.”
“What happens here on many Wednesdays has no justification,” he told ABC.
Officials have decided to build a direct entrance to the campus chapel as a security measure for Catholics who wish to attend Mass without being berated and assaulted by anti-Christian groups on their way.
The university has maintained an agreement with the Archdiocese of Barcelona since 1988. The agreement ensures that an area on campus can be used for Catholic liturgies.
“Article 18 of the Law on Human Rights and our own Constitution guarantee this right for citizens,” Fr. Ramos added.
In the wake of the decision to suspend Mass, the university now screens those who wish to enter the chapel. Catholics must identify themselves and ask permission from university administrators. Despite these measures, some professors say they have not been allowed access to the chapel.
The anti-Catholic group on campus is made up of some 40 students and a handful of professors. “They have gotten the administration to do whatever they want so far. First they got the chapel closed and then they made it difficult to go there to pray. It’s intolerable,” said one professor who asked not to be named.
Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 26, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela is encouraging Catholics to imitate the strength of persecuted Christians and to confront the secularism “that seeks to eradicate God from public life.”
The cardinal recalled the martyrdom of Christian minorities in Islamic countries and India as he presided over a Mass for Christian Unity on Jan. 23 at the Monastery of St. Charbel.
The case of the Coptic Christians killed on Dec. 31 at a church in Egypt shows how far fundamentalism and “the radical intolerance of extremists groups that do not represent mainstream Islam will go,” the cardinal said.
“Let us pray to the Lord that these sentiments will disappear from the hearts of all human beings,” he added.
The cardinal went on to note that in western countries, Christians are also persecuted by secularism which rejects all religions and aims to strike at the Church and silence her because of her defense of marriage and of human life at every stage.
Cardinal Urosa recalled that the family and the right to life are, in addition to being Christian values, “norms inscribed in the hearts of human beings” through natural law.
Only “with the strength the Lord gives us … can we resist and overcome the onslaught” of anti-religious intolerance and secularism that weakens people in the practice of their faith.
“We have a great challenge: that of intensifying the living of our faith and our fidelity to the Lord, the challenge as well of strengthening our unity amid the battering from the world and the devil, and of continuing to journey towards overcoming the divisions and discord that cause us so much harm,” the cardinal said.
Rome, Italy, Jan 26, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of Italy's bishops, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, painted a dire picture of the current state of Italian public life and politics in a recent speech. Despite the difficulties created by the "present situation," Italians must not give in to pessimism but should shift their attention to "change for the better," he said.
In Cardinal Bagnasco's address to inaugurate the Italian Bishops' Conference's winter gathering in Ancona, Italy on Jan. 24, he celebrated the announcement of John Paul II's coming beatification and voiced support for Pope Benedict XVI's push for more attention to religious freedom in the world.
Most evident, however, was his intense description of the decadence of Italian culture and religion's loss of influence on the national identity and public life.
It is an openness to God that gives man "the ideals and that moral strength that materialism does not guarantee," he said. "Most of all, it makes him able to choose good instead of evil, which for a society is the fundamental and irreplaceable direction."
He cited a lack of ethical behavior in financial and economic dealings, a culture among the young of snubbing physical labor and a "culture of seduction" resulting from a widespread consumerist ideals as contributing to problems in Italy's current direction.
A "bizarre idea of life, where everything is at one's fingertips just by demanding it," has been created, he said. It is a "type of intoxication, to whose flattery - in fact - only a part of society has ceded."
Young people, he said, must be aware of the nature of sacrifice and suffering. Although they are often kept away from these experiences with the "best intentions," such actions amount to "the most fatal self-deception," explained the cardinal.
"Attempting to preserve them from the difficulties and the harshness of existence, we risk raising fragile, unrealistic and ungenerous people," he said.
If Italian youth are taught to seek a "bogus representation of life ... meant to pursue success based on artificiality, shortcuts, easy earnings, ostentation and commercialization of oneself," the country headed toward an "anthropological disaster," he said.
He called for a "conversion of lifestyles" fed by increased "ethical literacy" and a "cultural rehabilitation" of the family in the face of the "great powers who have often ignored it."
Policies to promote the family—based on marriage between a man and a woman and open to life—must be supported "as the base for relaunching the country," said the cardinal.
He spoke of the "convulsive phase" the country is now facing in which weak ethical policies and uncoordinated institutions are mixed together in “an increasingly threatening way.”
Politics has been ruled by a "logic of conflict" for too long and the nation and its image are affected negatively as public figures are investigated for acts of indecency and lifestyles "incompatible with sobriety and correctness," he said.
The current situation, he said, goes from "one abnormal situation to another."
While the cardinal did not refer to any public figures by name, he said that Italians regard the public arena "with dismay and live in clear moral distress."
There are "too many" people contributing to this atmosphere of "general disturbance, to a certain confusion and a climate of mutual delegitimization" which "could leave deep marks on the collective soul, if not true and proper injuries," he said.
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been under heavy media scrutiny for a week after an investigation was launched into parties he hosted in which he allegedly paid "call girls" to take part.
It is still unclear if Berlusconi elicited sexual relations for money. A minor may have also been on his payroll, according to allegations.
Again, without citing names, Cardinal Bagnasco called for clarification of matters in the "appropriate fora." If they do not act quickly, he said, the effect could be the insertion of "subtle poisons" into the Italian psyche, thus affecting generations.
The Italian people, he said, "ask to be accompanied with far-sightedness and effectiveness ... beginning on the front of the ethics of life, family, solidarity and work."
On behalf of the bishops, he called for the nation's people "not to give in to pessimism, but to look ahead with confidence."
It is necessary, he said in closing, that “the country as a whole be rejuvenated,” that Italy rises again from its cultural, social and economic catastrophes.
"We can and we must change for the better."
Vatican City, Jan 26, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Dialogue between the Vatican, agnostics and atheists will take place in a new arena as of this spring.
The "Courtyard of the Gentiles" project, brainchild of the Pontifical Council for Culture and its president Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, will be officially presented Mar. 24-25 in Paris, France.
Cardinal Ravasi first unveiled his plans for the Paris inauguration of the "Courtyard" last year, but further details were released in a statement from the council on Jan. 25.
The Vatican's culture department plans for it to be "a new permanent Vatican structure to promote dialogue and encounter between believers and non-believers."
The inauguration in Paris will involve a series of events over the two days.
Presentations based on the theme “religion, enlightenment, common reason" will be delivered at the headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization, Sorbonne University and the Institut de France.
A roundtable discussion will be held at the College des Bernardins at their conclusion on March 25. Festivities including music, plays, and a light show will follow outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
During the celebration, themed “Into the Courtyard of the Unknown,” the cathedral will be open for prayer and meditation.
As reported in Italy's La Repubblica last May, Cardinal Ravasi explained that the "project" would begin with the broad base of discussing "a comprehensive vision of man."
It will not shy away from themes such as abortion, homosexuality and pedophilia, he said, but these subjects would be addressed during dialogue "in due time."
Vatican City, Jan 26, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - St. Joan of Arc was united in prayer to Christ even at the end of her short life, when she yelled his name while being burned at the stake, the Pope said, holding her up as a model of strength.
Pope Benedict XVI shared the story of St. Joan of Arc and her heroic sanctity at the general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall on Jan. 26. More than 3,000 people were gathered in the auditorium for the occasion.
She was just 19 years old when she was sentenced to death, but the French teenager was one of the "strong women" at the end of the Middle Ages, "who fearlessly brought the splendid light of the Gospel into the complex events of history," said the Pope.
Born to a peasant family in a time of war between England and France, Joan brought herself to the attention of an important nobleman at the time. She was just 17, but hoped to achieve peace by imploring a settlement between the two Christian nations in the name of Jesus.
The nobleman, convinced of her Christian goodwill by local theologians, allowed her to try. When her efforts failed she soon found herself at the head of an army defending the French city of Orleans.
The Pope recalled that she lived among the troops for a year, evangelizing them with her strong witness of faith, until her capture by enemy forces.
She was put on trial by ecclesiastical judges and condemned to death. As Joan's life was taken on that day in 1431, her last moments were spent invoking the name of Jesus aloud.
"The Name of Jesus invoked by this saint in the last instants of her earthly life was like the continual breath of her soul ... the center of her entire life," said Benedict XVI.
"(She) understood that Love embraces all things of God and man, of heaven and earth, of the Church and the world."
Joan knew that loving Christ was obeying Him and she lived in constant dialogue with Him, said the Pope.
The saint's will to liberate her countrymen "was an act of human justice, which Joan performed in charity, for love of Jesus," said the Pope. This example of sanctity is especially relevant as a "beautiful example" for laity who are involved in politics today, he added.
She saw the reality of the Christ's Church in heaven and that on earth, said the Pope. Her words that "Our Lord and the Church are one ... takes on a truly heroic aspect in the context of the trial, in the face of her judges, men of the Church who persecuted and condemned her."
"In the Love of Jesus," recalled the Pope, "Joan finds the strength to love the Church up to the end, even in the moment of condemnation."
She was exonerated 25 years later by Pope Callixtus III and canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
Pope Benedict XVI noted a close connection between Carmelite St. Therese of Lisieux, France and the medieval saint. St. Therese "felt very close to Joan, living in the heart of the Church and participating in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the world," despite her very different circumstances in life as a cloistered nun.
"With her shining witness St. Joan of Arc invites us to the highest degree of Christian life, making prayer the 'conducting wire' of our days, having complete trust in fulfilling the will of God whatever it may be, living in charity without favoritism, without limitations and finding in the love of Jesus, as she did, a profound love for the Church."
Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2011 (CNA) - Speaker of the House John Boehner (R–Ohio) showed his support for Catholic education and school choice on Jan. 26, announcing the introduction of a bill that would restore funding for school vouchers in Washington, D.C.
“There’s only one program in America where the federal government allows parents from lower-income families to choose the schools that are best for their children, and it’s right here in D.C.,” Boehner said in a morning press conference, announcing his plan to restore funding to the program along with Senator Joe Lieberman (I–Conn.).
“The D.C. program provides a model that I believe can work well in other communities around the nation,” the speaker said. “It should be expanded, not ended.”
The D.C. program first received authorization in 2004, and enabled 1,700 children to attend private schools. On average, four families applied for each single scholarship that was given, and just over half of the parents who received the vouchers chose to send their children to Catholic schools. President Obama defunded the program in 2009.
Boehner is placing a high priority on his bipartisan effort to restore vouchers in the nation's capital. The D.C. voucher restoration proposal is the only bill he plans to sponsor during this session of Congress.
The previous evening, he had indicated his support for Catholic education by inviting several guests from Washington, D.C.'s Catholic schools, along with the district's Cardinal Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, to share the Speaker's Box at his first State of the Union address. The school representatives were involved with the Consortium of Catholic Academies, which benefited from D.C.'s school voucher program before its defunding.
The 2011 State of the Union address took place during the Jan. 23-29 National School Choice Week – an event highlighting the potential of school vouchers, charter schools, tax credits, and other educational alternatives.
Following Republicans' mid-term electoral gains last year, school choice advocates are once again hoping to advance their cause.
Sr. Dale McDonald, Director of Public Policy and Educational Research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told CNA that she and her colleagues were “particularly encouraged” by Rep. Boehner's effort to restore D.C.'s “very successful” Opportunity Scholarship initiative.
She noted that Virginia, Indiana, and New Jersey were giving serious consideration to expanding vouchers or scholarship tax credits. A bill in the Colorado state house would also create income tax credits for private education. The first bill introduced into Pennsylvania's state legislature during its current session is, like the Boehner-Lieberman proposal, a bipartisan effort to fund low-income students' attendance at private schools.
Sean McAleer, head of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told CNA on Jan. 25 that the new proposal was receiving unprecedented support from both Democrats and Republicans.
A decade ago, he said, many Pennsylvanians were “somewhat on the fence” on the question of providing educational vouchers and tax credits to low-income families.
“This time, it's a total change,” McAleer remarked. “The public outcry has been unbelievable. They understand that we have to do better for our kids.”
McAleer recalled that in 2010, both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor came out in favor of school choice measures, something he said had “never happened” in the past. Likewise, Senate Bill 1 –the act providing for opportunity scholarships and educational tax credits– was introduced in the state legislature on Jan. 25, with 17 bipartisan cosponsors.
McAleer chalked up the growing support for vouchers and tax credits to a growing frustration with many public schools' failure to improve, even after significant reinvestment.
“What we've done in the past is not working,” he explained. “We spent $23 billion on education last year. People are disappointed in the failures that are offered to them, and they're demanding more choice.”
The National Catholic Educational Association, which is participating in this year's National School Choice Week, regards the expansion of educational options as a matter of social justice for low-income families. “The gospel mandate to care for the poor and vulnerable among us motivates NCEA and our members to advocate for educational justice,” Sr. McDonald stated.
Schools that accept vouchers, she said, often do so at a financial loss to themselves. “The voucher programs are based on the published tuition of the school,” she explained, “not the per-pupil cost, which is thousands of dollars more than tuition covers.”
Sr. McDonald said that participating schools were willing to make this sacrifice, because of a fundamental conviction. “They believe that social justice requires that all parents, especially those of low and limited income, should not be denied the opportunity to provide their children with a good education.”