Archive of March 14, 2012

Eucharistic congress offers a new beginning for Irish Church

Rome, Italy, Mar 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin will offer much-needed hope to the Irish Catholic Church, according to event organizers making a pilgrimage to Rome for the March 17 feast of Saint Patrick.

“The congress is an important milestone in the process of renewal,” said Fr. Kevin Doran, secretary general of the event scheduled for June 10-17. He spoke to CNA in Rome, where he has traveled as part of a delegation that will meet with Pope Benedict XVI on March 14.

While “no single event is going to bring about renewal” in the Irish Church at once, Fr. Doran believes the global Eucharistic gathering will be an important step in the process.

A revival of Irish Catholicism, he suggested, starts with interior spiritual change rather than an outward restoration. The congress “is not about specifically the renewal of structures, but about the re-positioning of people's hearts.”

Traveling to Rome with the delegation, as a symbol of its call to prayer and sacramental life, is the International Eucharistic Congress Bell. The bell has already been carried to all of Ireland's 26 dioceses, where 250,000 of the faithful have given it a “ring for renewal.”

During its stop in Rome on Wednesday, it is hoped that Pope Benedict will ring the Eucharistic Congress Bell. Originally used to called a convent of Irish nuns to prayer for many years, this symbol of the congress now calls Ireland back to the source of Catholic life.

“As Pope John Paul II said, 'the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,'” Fr. Doran recalled, as he explained how Christ's presence builds up the spiritual life begun in baptism.

He said that this process involves “both the sacrament and sacrifice of the Eucharist” – by which Jesus' death and resurrection are made present – and “all the other elements” of the Church's formal worship, such as the gathering of the community and the proclamation of God's word in scripture.

All of these aspects of the sacrament, as well as the worship of Jesus Christ in Eucharistic adoration, will be highlighted in different ways during the eight-day celebration of faith.

Fr. Doran wants pilgrims from around the world to encounter Christ in a transforming way during the International Eucharistic Congress, so that they can build a closer relationship with him in the future.

He envisions its concluding Mass, taking place at Dublin's Croke Park on June 17, as a new beginning for the 80,000-plus worshipers expected to attend.

“Without going into the details and spoiling people's surprise, the conclusion of the Mass in Croke Park will be about entrusting people with a mission: to continue to build communion with Christ and with one another,” he said.

With the International Eucharistic Congress' delegation and bell visiting Rome for St. Patrick's Day, speculation persists as to whether Pope Benedict XVI might attend the congress in June.

The Pope received an official invitation to the event from Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. But there are concerns over the timing of a papal visit following several abuse scandals in the Irish Church, as well as difficulties between the Irish government and the Vatican during 2011.

“I don't know what the Pope is going to do – obviously, that's the best kept secret,” Fr. Doran said.

“But I know that he knows he's very welcome, and that one way or the other he will be very close to us during the congress.”

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Rome visit affirms Missouri bishop, stirs memories of John Paul II

Rome, Italy, Mar 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City, Mo. was at the Vatican this week visiting with Pope Benedict and reporting on the health of his diocese, but the trip also brought back memories of seeing John Paul II in 1997.

Bishop Gaydos said it is “really heartening” for him to meeting with Benedict XVI.

“Peter is listening to us, wanting to make sure that we know that we are working with him and that he is praying and working with us.,” the bishop told CNA March 12 outside the Congregation for Divine Worship in Vatican City.

This visit drew U.S .bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

“We spoke of vocations, of seminary work, of the new opportunity we have with the Hispanic people coming into our dioceses, Bishop Gaydos reported. “We spoke about the importance of Catholic education, we spoke of the challenge of the present culture.”

Pope Benedict “confirms us all in our mission,” he said

The bishop still finds it “amazing” that Benedict XVI is the Pope. He visited then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on his two previous ad limina visits to talk about various pastoral matters and concerns.

“Now, to have him as chief shepherd of the Church, I look at him and realize that his whole life has been spent in scholarly work and in such clear teaching. The fact that we now have him as the Pope is such a great grace. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit continues to bring just the right person.”

Bishop Gaydos also reflected on his first ad limina visit. In 1997 he met with Pope John Paul II, just 10 minutes after he was ordained a bishop.

“In those days you had lunch with him, you had Mass with him and you had a ten minute session.”

He and his predecessor, Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, met with the pontiff. The new bishop showed John Paul II where Jefferson City was located and spoke about some of the initiatives he hoped to establish.

There was one particularly humorous exchange.

“I told him ‘Holy Father, I just realized there are only three people left in this world who tell me what to do: you, Bishop McAuliffe, and my mother. And all three of you were born in 1920.

“And he looked at me and he said ‘you are very young,’” he recalled.

Bishop Gaydos, as secretary to Cardinal John Carberry of St. Louis, had been in Rome for John Paul II’s election in 1978 and stood directly below the balcony when the Polish pontiff was first announced to the world.

“The night he was elected was just electrifying,” the bishop said. “His whole demeanor, his whole witness, he poured himself out completely in service of the Gospel. The heart of the New Evangelization is to engage all of us who are baptized in that same kind of gospel generosity.”

Bishop Gaydos still has the pectoral cross Bl. John Paul II gave to all the bishops who made ad limina visits in 1997.

“It is a very special thing for me right now.”

On the morning of March 12, the Missouri bishop presided at Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, where the beatified Pope is interred under the altar.

He said the daily reading “perfectly reflected the power of God’s grace in the New Evangelization that Bl. John Paul II was launching for us.”

In the reading, Jesus speaks to a Nazareth synagogue about the reception of the prophets in their own lands.

Bishop Gaydos said this is a challenge to realize that God’s salvation “isn’t something that’s way off in the distance. It’s something right here, right now.”

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Analyst sees religious tension as root of Nigerian conflict

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2012 (CNA) -

A U.S. advocate for international religious freedom says an attack on a Catholic church in Nigeria shows how religious tension should be acknowledged as the cause of recent violence in the country.

Nina Shea, who directs the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., predicted that violence in Nigeria between Muslim extremists and local Christians will “continue and escalate” unless something is done to prevent it.

Shea told CNA on March 13 that at the root of the problem is the fact that neither the Nigerian nor the U.S. governments are “willing to call this a religious conflict.”

The Associated Press reported at least 10 deaths in violence surrounding a suicide car bomb attack at St. Finbar's Catholic Church in the middle of Mass on March 11.

The bombing took place in the city of Jos – an area plagued with conflict over the last decade – which then led to more violence, as young people retaliated by burning down homes later in the day, witnesses said.

Although no group immediately claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, the city has been the target of violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, a radical Islamic sect that has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings leading to dozens of Christian fatalities and injuries in recent months alone.

Shea observed that Nigeria is split almost evenly between followers of Islam and Christianity, and the government generally alternates between Christian and Muslim leadership.

Under leaders of either religion, Nigerian authorities have been “reluctant” to respond to such attacks, she said, explaining that they prefer to ignore such problems rather than demanding justice and accountability from those who perpetrate acts of violence.

The U.S. government has also “consistently declined to call this a primarily sectarian conflict,” despite the fact that Boko Haram has clearly-stated sectarian goals, including the forcible conversion of others to Islam, she added. 

“This is a problem,” she said, because such “flawed analysis” will not lead to policies that respond properly to the situation.

Shea said that it is unclear whether this oversight is due to a “secular blind spot” or fear of what may happen if the violence is identified for what it truly is.

But while government officials ignore the central problem, Christians of all denominations are continuing to die for their faith, she said.

In her work as a U.S. commissioner on international religious freedom, Shea said that she recently met with an Anglican bishop from Nigeria, who told her that Christians in the region are “terrified.”

However the country still has a “rapidly growing Christian church” and problems between religions will not disappear.

While the U.S. has offered some help, Shea called the efforts inadequate for a country that is weighed  down by corruption and a dysfunctional justice system.

Nigeria’s fate is important, she said, because the country is a regional leader. As the most populous country in Africa, a shift away from peace and stability could lead other nations in the same direction. 

Shea called on the United States to exercise leadership in addressing religious violence in Nigeria, beginning by accurately identifying the root of the problem as the sectarian conflict that it is.

If this does not happen, Shea fears that the situation in Nigeria may “spiral out of control,” resulting in “catastrophic” consequences for the whole region.

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Pope says prayer gave Mary her readiness to do God's will

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Profound and constant prayer enabled the Virgin Mary to embrace God's will in her life, Pope Benedict XVI taught in his March 14 general audience.

Jesus' mother “was placed by the Lord at the decisive moments of salvation history and has always been able to respond with full availability, the result of a deep relationship with God developed in assiduous and intense prayer,” the Pope told the more than 10,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

In recent months, the Pope has traced the history of prayer through the Old Testament and the four Gospels, focusing on the Psalms and the prayer life of Christ himself. This Wednesday, he began a new chapter in his series of talks on prayer by focusing on the role of prayer in the early Church, with Mary as its first and greatest disciple.

Mary, he explained, “teaches us the necessity of prayer,” through which God gives believers the courage “to reach the ends of the world and proclaim everywhere the Lord Jesus, savior of the world.”

While Jesus' disciples often showed their human weaknesses and lack of understanding, Mary modeled a deeper life of contemplation and wisdom, made possible by the Holy Spirit within her. In this way, the Pope said, she paved the way for the disciples' reception of the same Spirit at Pentecost. 

“If there is no Church without Pentecost, there is no Pentecost without the mother of Jesus,” he said,  “because she lived in a unique way, which the Church experiences each day under the action of the Holy Spirit.”

At Pentecost, Christ fulfilled his promise to the apostles that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” enabling them to bear witness to him throughout the world. Pope Benedict reminded his listeners that the fulfillment of this promise involved a great deal of prayer.

“In Jerusalem, the apostles … are gathered in the house to pray,” he observed, “and it is in prayer that they await the promised gift of the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit.”

Mary, he suggested, showed them how to meet this world-changing event with humility and readiness.

“Even in the upper room in Jerusalem … in an atmosphere of listening and prayer, she is present, before the doors are thrown open and they begin to proclaim Christ the Lord to all nations.”

Her presence with Jesus' inner circle of followers, recorded by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, “is not just a historical record of a past thing, but takes on a meaning of great value.”

“She shares with them what is her most precious asset: her living memory of Jesus, in prayer and this mission of Jesus, preserving the memory of Jesus and thus also his presence.”

Pope Benedict stressed the importance of Mary's presence in the Church, then and now, with a quotation from the third- and-fourth century bishop Saint Chromatius of Aquileia – who declared in a sermon that “one cannot therefore speak of the Church unless Mary, Mother of God is present.”

As both “Mother of God and mother of the Church,” the Blessed Virgin “exercises this motherhood until the end of history. We entrust to her every passing phase of our personal and ecclesial life, not least that of our final transit.”

Pope Benedict said the Church's devotion to Mary should bring believers closer to one another –  teaching them to imitate the apostles, who were known for their unity and love.

“Mary invites us to open the dimensions of our prayer, to turn to God not only in need and not just for ourselves but in a unanimous, persevering, faithful way, with 'one heart and mind.'”

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Argentinean bishops decry approval of abortion in cases of rape

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishops in Argentina condemned a March 13 ruling by the country's Supreme Court legalizing abortion in cases of rape.

“Abortion is the taking of an innocent life, and there is no reason that can justify the elimination of an innocent life, not even in the tragic and sad case of rape,” Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo of Santa Fe, president of the Argentinean bishops' conference, told AICA news agency.

Tuesday's ruling by the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling from the province of Chubut in 2010 that authorized an abortion for a 15 year-old girl who was raped. The measure now requires a sworn statement as opposed to a court order for abortions to be carried out in cases of sexual coercion.

“In no case should doctors require court authorization to carry out these kinds of abortions,” the high court said, adding that physicians should “exclusively require a sworn statement by the victim or her legal representative, which states that the pregnancy is the result of rape.”

In response to the move, however, local Church leaders such as Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata warned that the ruling would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to the legalization of abortion under any circumstance.
Archbishop Arancedo additionally pointed to an August 2011 statement from the bishops' conference affirming that “abortion is never the solution” and that “when a woman is pregnant, we are talking about two lives, not one.”

In their statement, the bishops expressed their desire to “listen, accompany and understand each situation, to ensure that all members of society take responsibility for caring for life, so that both the child and the mother are respected without falling into false choices.”

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Priest: removal from ministry was tied to communion incident

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2012 (CNA) -

In an extensive statement provided to CNA, Father Marcel Guarnizo insists that the reasons the Archdiocese of Washington placed him on leave “have everything to do” with his recent decision to withhold communion from Barbara Johnson.

Fr. Guarnizo explains that he decided to issue the detailed March 14 statement because of the questions his parishioners and the public are asking about the recent incident.

His response, which is published below, offers corrections to previous news reports, responds to canonical arguments and gives information about where the allegations of intimidation came from.

Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s Response to the Eucharistic Incident

I would like to begin by once again sending my condolences to the Johnson family on the death of Mrs. Loetta Johnson.

I also feel obliged to answer questions from my parishioners, as well as from the public, about the incident on February 25th.

Here are the facts:  On Saturday February 25th I showed up to officiate at a funeral Mass for Mrs. Loetta Johnson. The arrangements for the Mass were also not my own. I wish to clarify that Ms. Barbara Johnson (the woman who has since complained to the press), has never been a parishioner of mine. In fact I had never met her or her family until that morning.

The funeral celebration was to commence at 10:30a.m. From 9:30 to 10:20, I was assigned to hear confessions for the parish and anyone in the funeral party who would have chosen to receive the sacrament.
A few minutes before the Mass began, Ms. Johnson came into the sacristy with another woman whom she announced as her “lover”. Her revelation was completely unsolicited. As I attempted to follow Ms.Johnson, her lover stood in our narrow sacristy physically blocking my pathway to the door. I politely asked her to move and she refused.

I understand and agree it is the policy of the Archdiocese to assume good faith when a Catholic presents himself for communion; like most priests I am not at all eager to withhold communion. But the ideal cannot always be achieved in life.

In the past ten days, many Catholics have referenced canon 915 in regard to this specific circumstance. There are other reasons for denying communion which neither meet the threshold of canon 915 or have any explicit connection to the discipline stated in that canon.

If a Quaker, a Lutheran or a Buddhist, desiring communion had introduced himself as such, before Mass, a priest would be obligated to withhold communion. If someone had shown up in my sacristy drunk, or high on drugs, no communion would have been possible either.  If a Catholic, divorced and remarried (without an annulment) would make that known in my sacristy, they too according to Catholic doctrine, would be impeded from receiving communion. This has nothing to do with canon 915. Ms. Johnson’s circumstances are precisely one of those relations which impede her access to communion according to Catholic teaching. Ms. Johnson was a guest in our parish, not the arbitrer of how sacraments are dispensed in the Catholic Church. 

In all of the above circumstances, I would have been placed in a similar uncomfortable position. Under these circumstances, I quietly withheld communion, so quietly that even the Eucharistic Minister standing four feet from me was not aware I had done so.  (In fact Ms. Johnson promptly chose to go to the Eucharistic minister to receive communion and did so.) There was no scandal, no “public reprimand” and no small lecture as some have reported.

Details matter. Ms. Johnson was not kneeling when she approached for communion, she did not receive the cup as the press has reported she has stated. It is the policy of St. John Neumann parish never to distribute under both species during funerals.

During the two eulogies (nearly 25 minutes long), I quietly slipped for some minutes into the sacristy lavatory to recover from the migraine that was coming on. I never walked out on Mrs. Loetta Johnson’s funeral and the liturgy was carried out with the same reverence and care that I celebrate every Mass. I finished the Mass and accompanied the body of the deceased in formal procession to the hearse, which was headed to the cemetery. I am subject to occasional severe migraines, and because the pain at that point was becoming disabling, I communicated to our funeral director that I was incapacitated and he arranged one of my brother priests to be present at the cemetery to preside over the rite of burial. Furthermore as the testimony of the priest that was at the cemetery conveys, he was present when the Johnson family arrived, and in fact mentioned that being called to cover the burial rite is quite normal, as many priests for reasons much less significant than mine (rush hour traffic for example) do not make the voyage to the cemetery. He routinely covers for them. This change in plans, was also invisible to the rest of the entourage. Regrets and information about my incapacitating migraine were duly conveyed to the Johnson family.

I have thanked the funeral director and the priest at the burial site, for their assistance that day. Mrs. Loetta Johnson was properly buried with every witness and ceremony a Catholic funeral can offer. I did not and would not refuse to accompany Barbara Johnson and her mother to the cemetery because she is gay or lives with a woman. I did not in any way seek to dishonor Mrs. Johnson's memory, and my homily at the funeral should have made that quite evident to all in the pews, including the Johnson family.

I would like to extend again to Ms. Johnson and her family, my sincerest condolences on her mother’s death.  I would never intentionally want or seek to embarrass anyone publicly or increase anyone’s emotional distress during such a difficult time. I did not seek or contrive these circumstances.

But I am going to defend my conduct in these instances, because what happened I believe contains a warning to the church. Such circumstances can and will be repeated multiple times over if the local church does not make clear to all Catholics that openly confessing sin is something one does to a priest in the confessional, not minutes before the Mass in which the Holy Eucharist is given.

I am confident that my own view, that I did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do in such an awkward situation, quietly, with no intention to hurt or embarrass, will be upheld.

Otherwise any priest could-and many will-face the cruelest crisis of conscience that can be imposed. It seems to me, the lack of clarity on this most basic issue puts at risk other priests who wish to serve theCatholic Church in Washington D.C.

As to the latest allegations, I feel obliged to alleviate unnecessary suffering for the faithful at St. John Neumann and others who are following the case.

I wish to state that in conversation with Bishop Barry Knestout on the morning of March 13, he made it very clear that the whole of the case regarding the allegations of “intimidation” are circumscribed to two conversations; one with the funeral director and the other with a parish staff member present at the funeral. These conversations took place on March 7th and 8th, one day before the archdiocese’s latest decision to withdraw faculties (not suspend, since Cardinal Wuerl is not my bishop) on the 9th of March. I am fully aware of both meetings. And indeed contrary to the statement read on Sunday March 11th during all Masses at St. John Neumann, both instances have everything to do with the Eucharistic incident. There is no hidden other sin or “intimidation” allegations that they are working on, outside of these two meetings. The meetings in question, occurred in our effort to document from people at the funeral Mass in written form a few facts about the nature of the incident. We have collected more than a few testimonies and affidavits, testifying to what really took place during the funeral liturgy.

My personal conversation with both parties in question were in my view civil, professional and in no way hostile. I respect both individuals in question and really do not know the nature of their grievance.

On March 13, I asked Bishop Knestout about detail on this matter but he stated that he was not at liberty to discuss the matter. I would only add for the record, that the letter removing me from pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Washington, was already signed and sealed and on the table when I met with Bishop Knestout on March 9, even before he asked me the first question about the alleged clash.

In the days to come I look forward to addressing any confusion about the above conversations if the Archdiocese or the persons involved wish to talk about it publicly or privately.

I am grateful for all the good wishes and prayers I have received. And sincerely, having lost my own mother not long ago, I again extend my condolences to the Johnson family. I finally wish for the good of the Universal Church, the archdiocese, my parish and the peace of friends and strangers around the world, that the archdiocese would cease resolving what they call internal personnel matters of which they cannot speak, through the public media.

I remain my bishop’s and my Church’s, and above all Christ Jesus’obedient servant,

Very truly yours,

Father Marcel Guarnizo.

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Author shares a day in the life of imprisoned Pakistani mother

Madrid, Spain, Mar 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

A French journalist who has chronicled the story of imprisoned Pakistani woman Asia Bibi, revealed a typical day for the Catholic mother of five as she awaits the appeal of her death sentence over alleged blasphemy charges. 

Anne-Isabelle Tollet, who co-authored the recent memoir, “Get Me Out of Here!” told CNA that Bibi spends an average day in her cramped cell praying for her children and looking forward to the one day a week she gets to briefly see her husband.

“She prays all day long. She has never wavered in her faith fortunately, because that has enabled her to keep going,” Tollet said.

Bibi’s case gained worldwide attention in 2010 when she was condemned to death for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which state that anyone who offends Islam will be hanged. Critics say the country's blasphemy laws are often unjust and have become a tool for abusing religious minorities as well as vengeance between Muslims.

Bibi is still awaiting a ruling on the appeal of her death sentence and has been moved to an isolated cell without any windows, sink or toilet because of Muslim threats against her life. 

Tollet, who serves as a correspondent in Islamabad for French television, recently traveled to Spain for the book’s release by the publisher LibrosLibres.

Below is her interview with CNA:

CNA: What is a day in life of Asia Bibi like?

Tollet: She wakes up each morning, but not by sunlight, because she never sees it, but when they bring her water at six in the morning. There is no ventilation, so she suffers greatly from the heat and from mosquitoes. She spends the day praying in her bed. And she waits every week for Tuesday to arrive, when her husband goes to the prison to see her. Otherwise she kills time reminiscing, thinking about her children and praying.

CNA: How are her husband and children handling this separation?

Tollet: With great difficulty. To endure the absence of their mother is very complicated for the children.  And it is very complicated for her husband, Ashiq, who is forced to manage the home, raise and feed their children alone. This is very uncommon and non-traditional for a man in Pakistan.

He has had to learn and this has not been easy for him. In addition, when he visits his wife, if the children are sad or sick, he has to tell her that everything is fine at home so she does not get upset in prison. He carries everything on his shoulders without being able vent with anyone, and at the same time he has to maintain an appearance of stability and tranquility.

CNA: In “Get Me out of Here,” Asia Bibi tenderly and gently recounts her love story with Ashiq. But at the same time, she is a woman of strong personality, isn’t she?

Tollet: When I asked Ashiq to describe his wife, he did in fact say that she had a very strong personality and that when something gets into her mind, she won’t let go and she is very stubborn. They are very much in love. It was not a forced or an arranged marriage. They met, they fell in love, they married and they treat each other with great sweetness and tenderness. It is not easy to find a couple in Pakistan as in love and committed to each other as they are.

CNA: They have five children, but the nine year-old who is the youngest stands out because of how mature she looks.

Tollet: She is adorable. This has had a great impact on her, it is harder for her. She cries several times a day because she misses her mom…But at the same time she shows great strength and maturity in the face of everything she has been forced to shoulder overnight. She is capable of analyzing the situation of her mother, of Pakistan, of the blasphemy laws, etc. It’s amazing because she is so young.

CNA: You will donate all the proceeds from the book to the family, since Ashiq lost his job. How are you personally experiencing this tragedy?

Tollet: For me it’s easy. Asia Bibi and her family have penetrated my heart and they are part of my family…but I don’t live in Pakistan.  I am not threatened every day. I’m not afraid I’m going to die any second. So the least I can do is talk about her and do whatever possible to get her released. They are a needy and very poor family with no economic assistance, except for what they receive from the international community…This is a commitment I have made to both of them and I won’t abandon them until I am successful.
CNA: What are the next steps?

Tollet: This week in Geneva I will speak before the UN Human Rights Council, where I will ask the representatives of Pakistan to explain how they can maintain an anti-democratic law, when they have signed on to a pact at the United Nations requiring the country to respect human rights, freedom of though and freedom of religion. We’ll see what kind of response they give. In the Fall I will go to New York when Asia Bibi’s book comes out in English. The entire campaign will take place in Washington, as that is where the power to make decisions lies.  And a meeting with Hillary Clinton is scheduled, although it has not yet been confirmed.

CNA: You have repeatedly said the blasphemy law is not in itself discriminatory, that many Muslims are also penalized by it…

Tollet: Yes, especially Muslims. First, because the Islamists want to radicalize Pakistani society and they cannot stand what they consider to be a “bad Muslim.” Second, because they are the majority and they are more affected than Christians, who number about 3 million. Fundamentalists don’t care if Christians are condemned, they care more about what happens with the majority of the population, the 160 million Muslims. They are determined to make them embrace radical Islam.

CNA: Did Asia Bibi know you were coming to Spain?

Tollet: Yes, and she was very excited about the idea. She doesn’t know much about Spain, just that is a country next to France. She is waiting to hear about my visit and about whether Spaniards have embraced her book. That helps her to firmly keep her hope alive.

CNA: Asia is very committed to her religious beliefs, is she not?

Tollet: She prays all day long. She has never wavered in her faith fortunately, because that has enabled her to keep going.

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Bishops say mandate fight is about government defining religion

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The U.S. bishops are emphasizing that their opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is not about birth control or health care, but about the government’s attempt to impose its narrow definition of religion on the country. 

“Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything,” said the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a March 14 statement.

Instead, they explained, it is “about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings.”

The bishops stated that the debate is not about the Church trying to ban access to contraception, which is already “ubiquitous and inexpensive.”

The HHS mandate controversy involves more than Catholics, they said, pointing out that it includes everyone who realizes that their beliefs may be the next target of government coercion.

They added that the debate is not a matter of political parties, nor is it “a matter of opposition to universal health care,” which the bishops have supported in some form since 1919. 

Rather, the mandate is an “unwarranted” and “unprecedented” attempt by the government to redefine “who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry.”

The bishops reiterated their call for the repeal of the federal HHS mandate that will require private health care plans across the country to offer coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates the consciences of those involved in providing the plan.

They explained that the mandate raises serious concerns about religious freedom that are not calmed by an extremely narrow exemption for religious organizations or by an “unspecified and dubious” promise of a future “accommodation” for other religious employers. 

“Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry,” the bishops said.

They decried the administration’s attempt to draw a new distinction between “houses of worship” and “ministries of service,” explaining that this distinction creates a “second class” of citizens that are deemed unworthy to share in the “God-given, legally-recognized right” to be able to follow their beliefs.

They also warned that this redefinition of religion will spread throughout other areas of federal law, “weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity.”

In addition, the bishops explained, the mandate to violate Church teaching is an infringement upon the “personal civil rights” of those individuals who seek to act in accordance with their faith and moral values.

They stated that the regulation lacks even “the semblance of an exemption” to address the concerns of individual insurers who object to offering the coverage, employers who object to sponsoring it or employees who object to paying for it in their premiums.

The Catholic bishops said they are “strongly unified and intensely focused” on pursuing multiple avenues to defend religious liberty.  

In addition to continuing efforts aimed at education and public advocacy, the bishops emphasized their willingness to “accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch.”

They also said that they are supporting legislation to restore religious freedom protections and will continue to explore “options for relief from the courts.”

They noted that the conference’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty will soon publish a document reflecting on the history of religious freedom in America, appraising a broad range of current threats to religious liberty and reinforcing the bishops’ clear intent to work with their fellow citizens in defending the fundamental pillar of American freedom.  

The bishops thanked all of those men and women of various religions and professions who have stood united with them in the fight for religious freedom.

They called for additional “prayer and penance” from Catholics and “all people of faith” for the protection of religious liberty.

“Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength,” they said, “for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.”

The bishops' full statement can be read at:

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