New Orleans, La., Feb 20, 2011 (CNA) - Imagine a nun going undercover, walking the streets at night rescuing women and children caught in the world of human trafficking.
That’s what the Immaculate Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries do every day in the Philippines, said Sister Irene Baquiran, a founding member who was in the Archdiocese of New Orleans last week drumming up support for her order.
“We try to become friends to them so they open up to us,” she said of the prostitutes.
The order, founded in 1996 by Sister Corazon Salazar, evangelizes the downtrodden with eight professed nuns, 11 with temporary vows and three novices. Their charism – “We are the extension of the heart and hands of the good shepherd looking for the lost sheep” – is lived not only by rescuing women and children victims of prostitution off the streets but also by breaking the cycle of poverty,
the root cause of prostitution.
Sister Irene said the Philippines ranks fourth of the top 10 countries with prostituted children, so the need to rescue victims is great. The prostitutes range in age from 15-20, but some are as young as 8 years old. They are forced into five to 10 sexual encounters nightly (at a wage of 100 pesos or $2 for each encounter). Most are drugged by their pimps to endure the horror and so are also hooked on narcotics.
“We found out that evil in society is so cunning,” she said.
The sisters converted their residence in Cebu into the Home of Love, also called the MQHM Rehabilitation and Livelihood Training Center. Currently, 20 victims of human trafficking who desire to change their lives are living with them.
“There are so many young girls who are calling us for help,” she said, “but there is nowhere for them to go. At the center, we give them unlimited love and unlimited help.”
The Home of Love provides shelter, food, education, health care, counseling and job skills to former prostitutes while they learn the love of God through spiritual formation. Their children also are welcomed. At this temporary center, the nuns stocked up on baking supplies to teach former prostitutes a skill to be self-sufficient.
“And we are trying to start up funds for candle making,” she said.
To counter poverty at its roots, the sisters also go into the same remote mountain villages where pimps recruit females, promising good paying city jobs. Instead of prostitution, the sisters offer food, education, medical assistance and job skills. They have been doing this since 2007 in a pilot program, Feeding of the Good Shepherd Foundation.
“We are trying to educate them to stop the cycle of prostitution from proliferating,” she said. “After three years, we found that there was zero prostitution in the area.”
Sister Irene said it took a few years for the order to get off the ground. They worked with now-retired cardinal from the Archdiocese of Cebu, Philippines, Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, to establish bylaws and achieve local approval. Members take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, total surrender and endless sacrifice and were eventually given permission to wear habits to be recognized in the community as religious.
Sister Irene said a pink habit was selected because it is the “color of the joy, the love and compassion of God the Shepherd that we share with victims of prostitution. We are trying to share the love of Christ.”
Doing the work of God
When walking the streets, Sister Irene said they travel in pairs, not dressed in habits. One will go into a bar and offer love and a listening ear to the young women who may need someone to turn to, while the other acts as a lookout. If the nuns have befriended an underage girl who wants to escape, Sister Irene said prior arrangements are made with an orphanage where the child can receive a new home and education. Sponsors are sought to pay a bar fine of 800 pesos to remove a working prostitute from a bar.
While it sounds like risky business, Sister Irene said, “so far there has been no harm against us. We fight prostitution in a nonviolent way. We do it silently without them (the pimps) knowing.”
Sister Irene said the nuns support themselves and the Home of Love mainly through their bakery business and the sales of an original music CD “Forever Yours.” Rosaries, rosary bracelets and scapulars made by boarders also are sold as the nuns promote their mission worldwide. It takes an
average of 25,000-30,000 pesos a week to keep the shelter going.
Looking for sponsors
The order works tirelessly finding sponsors to send Filipino children to public school. Sister Irene said currently, they are helping educate more 800 students in elementary school and 275 in high school. It
costs $25 a month to educate each child.
Immaculate Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries have big plans to expand their mission by building a large complex that can house up to 500 people. The center would allow women and children up to five years to rehabilitate their lives.
By 2012, the nuns hope to introduce vocational courses and high school courses – automotive mechanic courses for boys, and possibly sewing and culinary courses for young women – in conjunction with area schools and universities.
Sister Irene said she and others from her order are traveling in the U.S. because they plan to go global with membership. Currently, their ranks are all Filipino nuns.
“It is very hard to take care of the victims of prostitution,” Sister Irene said. “It entails sacrifice. It reminds us that this is a our mission to God.”
For more information, visit www.mqhm.org
Printed with permission from the Clarion Herald, newspaper for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, La.
Denver, Colo., Feb 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Feb. 23, the Catholic Church will remember the life and martyrdom of St. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle and evangelist St. John. Polycarp is celebrated on the same date by Eastern Orthodox Christians, who also honor him as a saint.
Polycarp is known to later generations primarily through the account of his martyrdom, rather than by a formal biography. However, it can be determined from that account that he was born around the year 69 AD. From the testimony he gave to his persecutors – stating he had served Christ for 86 years – it is clear that he was either raised as a Christian, or became one in his youth.
Growing up among the Greek-speaking Christians of the Roman Empire, Polycarp received the teachings and recollections of individuals who had seen and known Jesus during his earthly life. This important connection – between Jesus' first disciples and apostles and their respective students – served to protect the Catholic Church against the influence of heresy during its earliest days, particularly against early attempts to deny Jesus' bodily incarnation and full humanity.
Polycarp's most significant teacher, with whom he studied personally, was St. John – whose contributions to the Bible included not only the clearest indication of Jesus' eternal divinity, but also the strongest assertions of the human nature he assumed on behalf of mankind. By contrast, certain tendencies had already emerged among the first Christians – to deny the reality of Jesus' literal suffering, death, and resurrection, regarding them as mere "symbols" of highly abstract ideas.
Another Catholic teacher of the second century, St. Irenaeus, wrote that Polycarp "was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ; but he was also, by apostles, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna." In a surviving letter that he wrote to the Philippians, he reminded that Church – which had also received the teaching of St. Paul – not to surrender their faith to the "gnostic" teachers claiming to teach a more intellectually refined gospel.
"For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist," he wrote – citing St. John himself – "and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan."
"Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the pledge of our righteousness," Polycarp taught – as he went on to explain that both hope and righteousness depended upon "Jesus Christ, who took up our sins in His own body upon the cross." With eloquence and clarity, he reminded the Philippian Church that Christ, "for our sakes, endured all things – so that we might live in him."
However, Polycarp's most eloquent testimony to his faith in Jesus came not through his words, but through his martyrdom, described in another early Christian work. The Church of Smyrna, in present-day Turkey, compiled their recollections of their bishop's death at the hands of public authorities in a letter to another local church.
"We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp" – who, in the words of the Catholics of Smyrna, "put an end to the persecution – having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom."
Around the year 155, Polycarp became aware that government authorities were on the lookout for him, seeking to stamp out the Catholic Church's claim of obeying a higher authority than the Emperor. He retreated to a country house and occupied himself with constant prayer, before receiving a vision of his death that prompted him to inform his friends: "I must be burned alive." He changed locations, but was betrayed by a young man who knew his whereabouts and confessed under torture.
He was captured on a Saturday evening by two public officials, who urged him to submit to the state demands. "What harm is there," one asked, "in saying, 'Caesar is Lord,' and in sacrificing to him, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, so as to make sure of safety?"
"I shall not do as you advise me," he answered. Outraged by his response, the officials had him violently thrown from their chariot and taken to an arena for execution. Entering the stadium, the bishop – along with some of his companions, who survived to tell of it – heard a heavenly voice, saying: "Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!"
Before the crowd, the Roman proconsul demanded again that he worship the emperor.
"Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian," the bishop said. "And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them."
"You threaten me with fire," he continued "which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished. But you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly."
"But," he challenged the proconsul, "what are you waiting for? Bring forth what you will."
Although the crowds clamored for Polycarp to be devoured by beasts, it was decided he should be burned alive, just as he had prophesied. He prayed aloud to God: "May I be accepted this day before you as an acceptable sacrifice -- just as you, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled."
What happened next, struck Polycarp's companions with amazement. They recorded the sight, in the letter that they circulated after Polycarp's death.
"As the flame blazed forth in great fury," they wrote, "we to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle." The fire did not seem to touch the bishop's body. Rather, as they described, "shaping itself into the form of an arch, it encompassed – as by a circle – the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace."
"Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour coming from the flames – as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been burning there."
The executioners perceived that Polycarp's death was not going as planned. Losing patience, they ordered him to be stabbed to death.
From the resulting wound, "there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished."
The crowd, as the Christian witnesses recalled, were understandably amazed.
"All the people marveled," they wrote, "that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect." Polycarp, they proclaimed, had been among that elect – "having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna."
St. Polycarp has been venerated as a saint since his death in 155.
Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Key pro-life measures advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week. One committee approved a bill that would ensure health care legislation does not provide funding for abortions, while the House passed a bill that would pull Title X funding for Planned Parenthood.
The Pro-Life Activities secretariat of the U.S. bishops’ conference welcomed the Feb. 15 approval of the Protect Life Act in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“The committee’s action is an important step toward authentic health care reform that respects the dignity of all, from conception onward,” commented Deirdre McQuade, pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops’ conference.
She urged all representatives to support the proposal and to oppose all amendments which weaken it. The proposal, which must face a vote before the full House, also bars subsidies for health care plans that cover abortion.
In a Feb. 18 vote before the full House, Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-Ind.) proposed amendment to end Title X funding for Planned Parenthood passed by a margin of 240 to 185.
“This afternoon's vote is a victory for taxpayers and a victory for life,” Pence said. By banning the funding, Congress has “taken a stand for millions of Americans who believe their tax dollars should not be used to subsidize the largest abortion provider in America.”
The Title X program, founded in 1970, dedicates $327 million to fund family planning and contraception, the Washington Post reports. The funds are already prohibited from being used for abortion services, but pro-life advocates say the funding amounts to a subsidy for Planned Parenthood and its other activities.
In a House floor speech on the evening of Feb. 17, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) took the abortion funding debate in a personal direction. She announced that she had “a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant” with a child who had “moved from the vagina into the cervix.”
“I lost the baby,” she continued, according to the politics newspaper The Hill. She criticized abortion opponent Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) discussion of an abortion procedure, which she thought suggested abortion is “either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought.”
Rep. Speier has a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which makes her one of the most consistent supporters of abortion in Congress.
The debate over Planned Parenthood funding has continued to draw energy from the recent Live Action videos. These recorded some of the abortion provider’s clinic staffers advising an undercover investigator posing as a pimp how to secure abortions and medical treatment for underage prostitutes.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, spoke at a Feb. 10 conference with Live Action president Lila Rose. He demanded that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explain “what she is doing about these videos.”
Planned Parenthood has characterized the budget provisions as “the most dangerous legislative assault in our history.” It is trying to rally supporters to sign an open letter to every representative who voted for the law and to every senator who “still has a chance to stop it.”
On Feb. 17, Rep. Smith also spoke in favor of a budget bill provision which would prevent taxpayer dollars going to support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). He charged that the fund has “vigorously supported” and promoted the Chinese government’s “massive crimes against humanity” committed because of its coercive one-child policy.
Another section of the budget bill would restore the ban on government funding of abortion in the District of Columbia.
In December 2009 the Senate passed a bill which allowed “local” funds to cover abortions in the District. At the time Cardinal Justin Rigali criticized the move as “a bookkeeping exercise” because Congress controls all the District’s public funds.
The proposed House budget legislation would also restore the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal taxpayer funds from going to groups that promote or perform abortions in other nations. President Barack Obama overturned the policy soon after taking office.
The budget bill could pass as early as Feb. 18, but President Obama’s budget office has threatened that he will veto the legislation. Other amendments could also weaken its present pro-life provisions.
Baltimore, Md., Feb 20, 2011 (CNA) - A new poll shows that most Maryland voters believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, while a supermajority believe the people, not the legislature, should define marriage.
A Lawrence Research poll released on Feb. 17 asked Maryland voters whether marriage should be between a man and a woman or whether it should be available to same-sex couples. About 54 percent of Maryland voters support the traditional definition of marriage, while only 37 percent supported same-sex “marriage.”
Asked whether marriage should be decided by the state legislature or voters, 78 percent thought that voters should decide on the legal definition of marriage while only 14 percent thought the legislature should.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said the results “strongly affirm” his group is on the right side of Maryland voters.
“Not only do voters support marriage by a 17-point margin, but they reject the legislature’s efforts to impose this without public input,” he said. “We’ll continue to fight to block the current legislation push in the general assembly, but this poll shows beyond any doubt that despite what the legislature does, the people will have the final say, and they will support marriage.”
Maryland State Sen. James C. Rosapepe has declared his support for same-sex “marriage” legislation, which could allow it to pass the legislature.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the chamber could hold a final vote on the bill within the next 10 days, the Baltimore Sun reports. Senate rules require 29 votes for a cloture vote to cut off debate and hold an up-or-down vote.
If the narrow majority in favor of the bill holds together through further debate and amendments, the legislation would move to the House of Delegates where supporters believe it would pass.
Although Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign such a bill, traditional marriage supporters could then petition for a referendum to overturn it.
Rosapepe, a Catholic, said he decided to support the bill because it now contains greater protections for religious groups that don’t want to participate in same-sex unions. However, the Maryland Catholic Conference has said its opposition “does not rest on a simple concern for the interests of religious institutions only.”
It objected that the bill provides no protections for an individual’s religious freedoms, as in the case of a clerk forced to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.
“More importantly, our fundamental concern about redefining marriage is for the sake of our whole society, and particularly for children and their elemental desire to know, and ideally to be raised and loved by, their biological mother and father,” the conference explained.
Derek McCoy, president of the Maryland Family Alliance, noted that voters in 31 states have “rejected gay marriage and reaffirmed their support of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“If the general assembly passes this legislation, we are confident that Maryland will become the 32nd state to preserve traditional marriage,” he continued.
The Lawrence Research poll, which was commissioned by the National Organization for Marriage, surveyed 600 self-identified registered voters and claimed a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points for “mid-range” results between 40 and 60 percent. It claimed a smaller margin of error for results beyond that range.
A different January poll claimed that Maryland voters favor same-sex “marriage” by a 51-44 margin. Gary Lawrence of Lawrence Research said that pollsters biased the results by including comments about providing homosexual couples “the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples in areas such as tax exemptions, inheritance and pension coverage.”
This framing presented same-sex “marriage” as only about granting rights and benefits without a counter-balancing statement from the opposing side.
Vatican City, Feb 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - "A new form of existence driven by love and destined to eternity" is possible through imitation of Christ, said Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday.
Before the traditional noon Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square on Feb. 20, the Pope spoke of the day's Mass readings. He said the readings "speak ... of the will of God to make men participants in his life."
The words, "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy," from the Book of Leviticus were an invitation to the chosen people to be faithful to the covenant with the Lord, the Pope said. They also "founded social legislation on the commandment 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself'."
"If we listen, then, to Jesus ... we find that same call, that same audacious objective. The Lord says, in fact, 'be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect'."
"But who could become perfect?" asked the Pope. "Our perfection is living as children of God fulfilling concretely his will."
Man corresponds to God's paternity by praising and glorifying him through good conduct, he explained.
"In what way can we imitate Jesus?" the Pope asked.
He offered the answer in the continuation of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father," says Jesus.
Pope Benedict explained that "he who accepts the Lord into his life and loves him with all his heart is capable of a new start. He is able to fulfill the will of God, realizing a new form of existence driven by love and destined to eternity."
The Pope then quoted Paul, who asks the Corinthians in his first letter to them, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
"If we are truly aware of this reality and our life is profoundly molded to it," said the Pope, "then our testimony becomes clear, eloquent and effective."
Man's entire being is combined with the love of God and "the splendor of his soul" is reflected in all of his life and eternity, he added.
Love, said the Pope, quoting from the book "Imitation of Christ," is a "grand thing," a good that makes all heavy things light, gives man tranquility in difficult moments and allows him to rise above earthly matters. And, "rest," he said, "is born of God and only in God can it be found."
The Pope then looked forward to Feb. 22, the Church feast of the Chair of St. Peter. To Peter, he said, "Christ entrusted the task of teacher and shepherd for the spiritual guidance of the people of God, so that they might raise themselves up to heaven."
He concluded with an exhortation to "all shepherds to assimilate that 'new style of life' which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles."
And, he prayed that Mary, the Mother of God and the Church, might "teach us to love each other and accept each other as brothers, children of the heavenly Father."