Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2012 (CNA) - An expert on international religious freedom said religious hostility should be recognized as the motivation behind a recent Catholic church burning in Sudan.
The international media has “failed to see the religious dimension of this conflict” for years, said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
Shea told CNA on April 23 that attacks on churches “have become a pattern in a growing number of Muslim areas.”
According to witnesses, a Catholic church in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum was torched by a mob of several hundred Muslims on the night of April 21.
The church had been attended by many Southern Sudanese Christians.
International media coverage of the event focused on political and economic disputes involving oil revenues and a poorly-defined border between the two nations, while remaining largely silent on the religious aspect of the conflict.
South Sudan – which is largely Christian – broke away from Sudan to become an independent country in 2011.
However, there is also a crucially important religious aspect to the tension, Shea explained.
She said that in countries including Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, churches have repeatedly been bombed or torched in recent years, sometimes with Christian worshippers inside.
“There can be no more poignant symbol of religious persecution,” she said.
In the case of Sudan, Christians have “long been a target of extremist violence,” she added.
She explained that Christians in Sudan are targeted by “the radical government of General Bashir,” who had warned that religious diversity would not be tolerated in the country if South Sudan were to gain independence.
For almost 20 years, Khartoum – which imposes Islamic law in the north – has also attempted to forcibly apply sharia law on the primarily Christian south, she said, explaining that this development “triggered a rebellion that cost two million lives.”
Shea believes that understanding this religious dispute is critical to an accurate analysis of the ongoing conflict in the region.
“In misreading the message of the church burning in Khartoum,” she said, “the press demonstrates that the blind spot continues.”
Miami, Fla., Apr 24, 2012 (CNA) - Efforts to restrict religious liberty break with American traditions and seek to “delegitimize” the Catholic Church’s participation in public debate, said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami.
“America's ‘first freedom,’ the freedom of religion, is under great stress if not under outright assault – and not just for Catholics,” Archbishop Wenski wrote in the Miami Herald April 23.
He said the Health and Human Services mandate requiring insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause abortion represents “an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government.”
The mandate not only forces religious institutions to “facilitate and fund” products and procedures “contrary to their own moral teaching,” he noted, but also defines which institutions are religious enough to meet an exemption.
Archbishop Wenski said the fundamental issue in the mandate debate is “whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.”
“The Church cannot not oppose this unjust (and we believe unconstitutional) mandate,” he said.
The archbishop said the Catholic bishops will seek remedies from both Congress and the courts “rather than facing the shuttering of our schools, universities and hospitals by the federal government.”
Despite the present difficulties, he praised U.S. constitutional guarantees for religious freedom.
“America's first freedom, the freedom of religion, has honored America's diversity by permitting the inclusion of all its citizens in contributing to the common good of all,” he said.
“Separation of church and state does not require the exclusion of religion from society. To exclude people of faith from making their contributions and their proposals in the public square would impoverish us all.”
He suggested the new restrictions are evidence of a “reductive secularism” that has more in common with the French Revolution than with American traditions.
Archbishop Wenski warned of various other threats to religious liberty, including a “draconian” anti-immigrant law in Alabama that he said “criminalizes” Bible classes for undocumented immigrants; the exclusion of Catholic Charities from foster care and adoption services in several states; the State Department’s apparent revision of religious liberty to mean “merely freedom to worship”; and a recent court decision that barred conscience accommodations for federal contractors opposed to abortion.
Such efforts “seek to delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about issues that will determine the future of American society,” he charged.
The archbishop said the Catholic Church does not seek privileges for herself but seeks the freedom to advocate her views in the public square and “to witness to them coherently so as to contribute to human flourishing in society.”
He noted that in November Florida voters can vote to approve the Florida ballot initiative Amendment 8 to protect faith-based agencies and organizations from state-level laws and regulations that affect religious freedom.
Saskatoon, Canada, Apr 24, 2012 (CNA) - Canadian news outlets are sensationalizing an event that was not treated as demonic possession and did not prompt a search for an exorcist, according to the Diocese of Saskatoon's communications office.
Communications coordinator Kiply Yaworski told CNA that the public had been misled by “headlines that were completely false,” suggesting that an exorcism had been performed by a local priest in March.
“There was no rite of exorcism,” said Yaworski. “No one here was calling it that.” She said media outlets were erroneously connecting the “blessing of a distraught man” to the topic of possession and exorcism, “just to get people to click on their stories.”
Yaworski was eager to clear up misunderstandings about an event reported by CBC News on April 13, under the headline “Exorcist expertise sought after Saskatoon 'possession'.”
According to CBC News, the incident involved a “shirtless middle-aged man, slouched on a couch and holding his head in his hands,” who had “used a sharp instrument to carve the word 'Hell' on his chest.”
“When the priest entered the room,” the Canadian outlet reported, “the man spoke in the third person, saying 'He belongs to me. Get out of here,' using a strange voice.”
CBC's article acknowledged that the priestly blessing the man received was “not a formal exorcism.” Bishop Donald Bolen, the only Catholic leader named in the article, reportedly said it was unclear whether the man was possessed or merely mentally disturbed.
But his comments were placed alongside those of the unnamed “church leaders,” who were said to be “considering whether Saskatoon needs a trained exorcist” after “a case of what is being called possible demonic possession.”
Yaworski blasted the misleading portrayal of the blessing that had occurred in March, and said Bishop Bolen's considerations about a diocesan exorcist had not been affected by the incident at all.
Bishop Bolen did tell CBC that the diocese was “kind of looking at what the diocese of Calgary does,” with its “special commission for spiritual discernment” which looks into unusual cases. Yaworski explained that these comments were a general reflection, not a response to the March incident.
The spiritual discernment commission in Calgary does not discuss its cases with the media. On April 20, this prompted the Toronto Sun to claim that the Calgary diocese was “working in mysterious ways” with the Church in Saskatoon, through its “shadowy” and “closely-guarded” commission.
Yaworski dismissed the notion of a “shadow” and “mysterious” commission in Calgary, and suggested the media were mistakenly imagining a secretive attitude in cases where the Church simply seeks to protect family and personal privacy.
On April 17, the Saskatoon diocese issued an official statement on the original March occurrence, acknowledging that it had “captured media attention.”
During the incident, the diocese said, “a priest blessed a distraught and emotional man with holy water and prayed with the family, before advising them to call the police.”
In his statement on the matter, Bishop Bolen stressed the reality of supernatural evil, but confirmed that no exorcism had occurred in the March incident.
“In Jesus' ministry there were exorcisms, and so it is not something that we can lightly dismiss,” he said.
“But the headline that the bishop of Saskatoon is looking for an exorcist was a vast oversimplification. Catholic dioceses, like other Christian communities, must look at how best to respond to requests in this area.”
“Our resurrection faith is that life is stronger than death, that God brings hope out of despair and light out of darkness,” Bishop Bolen said. “It is more important to affirm the goodness of the love of God than to speculate about the nature of events such as these.”
Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, praised the life of Mother Maria Ines Teresa, calling her beatification a gift from Pope Benedict to Mexico.
“Today’s beatification is another gift the Holy Father Benedict XVI is making to the Church and to the entire Mexican people. One month ago the Pope came to this noble land, and he was happy to be among you,” Cardinal Amato said.
“With this visit he wanted to reach out to all Mexicans, at home and abroad, to support them and thank them for their fidelity to the Catholic faith and for their love for Christ the King and the Church.”
Cardinal Amato beatified the 20th century nun on Saturday, April 21 in the presence of 12,000 people who filled the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
During the ceremony, a relic of Mother Maria Ines was carried in procession by Francisco Javier Carrillo Guzman, the twelve year-old boy who experienced the miracle that led to her beatification.
Born in Ixtlán del Río, Nayarit in 1904, Mother Maria went on to found the Poor Clare Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and the Missionaries of Christ for the Universal Church. She died in 1981 but not before she had the chance to meet the late Blessed John Paul II a few months prior.
In his remarks, Cardinal Amato said her beatification “is also a recognition by the Church of a woman who brought to life the best human and spiritual qualities of her people in an exemplary way.”
She exuded “the perfume of holiness, made of profound faith, firm hope and immense charity,” he added.
Cardinal Amato said one of the most striking characteristics of the new blessed was the “perennial smile that adorned her extraordinary virtuous life.” She invited others to always show a smile whenever they felt bothered, even “when it hurt.”
Lima, Peru, Apr 24, 2012 (CNA) - During the 15th anniversary of the rescue of 71 hostages from the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani issued a new call for an end to violence in Peru.
“In our prayers we will remember all our brothers and sisters, alive and deceased, who on this day took part in this operation that moved the entire world to rescue the hostages and the Japanese embassy,” said Cardinal Cipriani, who at the time represented the Vatican in the negotiations for peaceful resolution.
“Let us pray that there never be any more violence in our country, that we may be united in this.”
On December 17, 1996, members of the Tuparac Amaru terrorist movement seized control of the Japanese ambassador’s residence, taking some 72 guests hostage. They refused to release them unless the government set free 400 imprisoned members of the movement.
Four months later, on April 22, 1997, 142 commandos of the Peruvian military stormed the residence by force and rescued 71 of the hostages. One hostage, two commandos and all fourteen terrorists died in the operation.
“Violence always begins with a lie; later, that interior lie is expressed in words, offending others; and then it translates into physical violence, death, explosions, abuse,” the cardinal said. As the lie grows, as “ideology of violence” eventually emerges, leading people to justify killing each other.
Cardinal Cipriani encouraged members of the faith to counteract this mentality by demonstrating their conversion of heart through good works.
“If you are a father, show it in your patience, in your joy, in your love for your wife; if you are a mother, in your love for your husband,” he said. “If you are a young person, show it in your obedience, in your studies and in your behavior.”
“In order to be holy, you need humility, you need to ask for help and strive each day to act better. Let us be living witnesses of Christ, not so much in word but in deeds of faith and love. That is the great challenge of being witnesses of Christ.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Irish Catholic politician hit back at media claims that he was “discourteous” to a group of parents who aborted their unborn babies after they were diagnosed with serious fetal abnormalities.
“I deeply sympathize with the women in this case while remaining true to my own view that even severely disabled babies with a short life expectancy deserve to be allowed live their natural life,” Senator Ronan Mullen told CNA April 24.
The controversy emerged after four mothers who had opted to abort their disabled babies met with Irish lawmakers in Dublin on Wednesday April 18. At present, Irish parents who want to abort their baby in such circumstances have to travel abroad as the Ireland’s laws currently protect the life of the unborn.
Speaking subsequently on the Irish television station RTE's the Late Late Show, the women claimed that one politician they met had been “extremely unpleasant” to them and had asked what their “real agenda” was. They later identified the politician as Senator Mullen leading to, what he described, as “a furore on social media” along with an article in the Irish Times newspaper.
“While I expressed my view that abortion is unjust I was respectful and courteous to all the people involved at all times,” said Senator Mullen.
“I was deeply conscious of how personally sensitive this issue was for all involved. Some of the women had undergone an abortion only a matter of weeks previously.”
Last week saw a bid to legalize abortion in Ireland defeated in the Dublin parliament. Senator Mullen feels that various pro-abortion lobby groups were “using such sad cases to pursue a much wider abortion agenda.”
He also criticized attempts “whether by misrepresentation, scorn or invective,” by some abortion advocacy groups “to marginalize the contribution of pro-life persons or to intimidate them from entering the debate.”
RTE has recently faced accusations of anti-Catholic bias after it falsely accused a priest of raping a minor and fathering a child. The Dublin-based media company could now be fined up to $333,000 by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland following libelous allegations made against County Galway priest Father Kevin Reynolds earlier last year.
“I call on the media to treat everybody fairly and with respect, and to ensure a balanced treatment of these very sensitive issues at all times,” Senator Mullen said.
Rome, Italy, Apr 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop William S. Skylstad, a former president of the U.S. bishops' conference, believes that the Eucharist is the solution for today's anxious and frenetic society.
“There’s a sort of unbridled restlessness which touches our lives and touches the life of the culture, constantly searching and sometimes searching in the wrong way but Jesus today is the answer,” he said in a homily at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome April 24.
“Indeed as St Augustine commented some centuries later ‘our souls are restless Lord until they rest in thee’ for it is the Eucharist that gives us rest and peace and life and for that we can be very grateful.”
The 78-year-old Bishop Skylstad headed the U.S. bishop's conference from 2004 – 2007 and is currently serving as Apostolic Administrator of Baker Diocese in Oregan.
He is now in Rome with 14 other bishops from the northwest states on their “ad limina” pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, April 23 – 27.
During their brief visit to the Eternal City the bishops from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska will also meet with Vatican officials and Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the health of the Catholic Church in their region.
Bishop Skylstad also proposed to his fellow bishops that Our Lady was another source of refuge for modern society. He told them that the Basilica of St Mary Major was one of 26 churches in Rome to be named after the mother of Jesus describing this as “an astonishing number” reflecting “how powerfully she has impacted upon us in the Church where the honoring of Mary has become deeply embedded in our Catholic DNA.”
The basilica, he explained, was built in the year 432 in the wake of the Council of Ephesus where Mary was declared to be “Mother of God” or “Theotokos” in Greek.
“As we pray for our folks back home in the dioceses in which we serve, today we honor Mary,” concluded Bishop Skylstad, “and we ask that she continues to mother the Church and continues to mother the dioceses in which you and I serve and that she continues to mother us as bishops that we might be servants of the Lord.”
Today bishops from the northwest held meetings with the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Congregation for Divine Worship and Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. Tomorrow morning on April 25 they will offer Mass at the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican basilica.
Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on a controversial Arizona immigration law, the bishops' leader on migration issues criticized the legislation for failing to respect human dignity.
The court's decision in Arizona v. United States “will mark a critical juncture in our nation’s immigration history,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. bishops' migration committee.
In an April 24 Washington Post article, the archbishop called for a single unified approach to immigration for the whole country rather than “a patchwork of 50 state immigration policies” that poses a threat to family unity and human dignity.
On April 25, the Supreme Court heard arguments in both support and opposition of a 2010 Arizona law that requires foreigners in the state to carry registration documents and imposes strict penalties on those who hire, shelter or transport illegal immigrants.
It also instructs state law enforcement officers to check an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally.
The U.S. Justice Department has challenged the law, arguing that it is irreconcilable with federal immigration law. Lower courts have ruled that some of the provisions in the law were unconstitutional. The question now comes before the Supreme Court.
Initial reports after the April 25 oral arguments suggested that the justices seemed supportive of at least part of the law. However, it will likely be June before a decision in the case is announced.
In his article, Archbishop Gomez warned that the Arizona law treats foreign-born individuals as threats rather than contributors to American society.
It encourages racial profiling, which “is inconsistent with traditional American respect for human dignity and equality before the law,” he said.
He cautioned that provisions in the law leave all ethnic minorities vulnerable to injustice, regardless of their immigration status.
Furthermore, the archbishop said, the Arizona law poses a threat to “innocent children and family unity.”
By leading to increasing separations of parents from their children, he observed, the law would demonstrate a disturbing “anti-family” trend that would mark “a deep and unhealthy change in our American character.”
He also voiced concern that the legislation gives state and local law enforcement officials “unprecedented power” to act as “immigration agents,” a move that threatens the trusting relationship between government and immigrant communities.
The impact of the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling could be far-reaching, as the Arizona law has prompted other states to consider similar legislation.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has submitted a friend of the court brief in the case, arguing that the federal government is best suited to enforce uniform immigration laws while also protecting key American values such as family unity, human dignity and religious liberty.
The bishops also worked with other religious leaders to send letters to Congress and President Barack Obama, urging them to “reassert your authority” and pass much-needed immigration reform at the federal level.
Stressing the importance of the court’s decision, Archbishop Gomez warned that “the human consequences” of upholding the Arizona law will harm “all Americans.”
“Most disturbing,” he said, is the fact that upholding such laws would “change our American identity as a welcoming nation, which has served us well since our inception.”