Archive of May 16, 2012

Vatican splits negotiations with Pius X Society

Vatican City, May 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has announced it will hold separate talks with the superior general of the breakaway traditionalist Society of St. Pius X and each of its three other bishops to try and acheive reconciliation.

“The text of the response of Bishop Bernard Fellay, received on 17 April, 2012, was examined and some observations, which will be considered in further discussions between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X, were formulated,” said a communique issued May 16.

The statement was published after a quarterly meeting of the Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The 16-person committee – known as Feria Quarta – met this morning to discuss the modifications made by the Superior of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, to a “doctrinal preamble” prepared last year by the Vatican. The document establishes a framework for agreement on some key issues of Church doctrine, including acceptance of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

In contrast to Bishop Fellay, the Society’s three other bishops seem hostile to the idea of reconciliation with Rome.

Today’s Vatican communiqué said the situations of the three other bishops “will have to be dealt with separately and singularly.”

Earlier this month, Bishops Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta and Richard Williamson sent a letter to Bishop Fellay warning that an agreement with the Vatican would see the Society “cease to oppose the universal apostasy of our time.”

They also argued that the Second Vatican Council “did not just include particular errors but represented a total perversion of the mind, a new philosophy founded on subjectivism.”

Pope Benedict XVI was dismissed by the three Pius X Society bishops as a “subjectivist.”

Prior to today’s statement, many observers thought it was possible that the committee would announce an agreement with the Society that could be presented to Pope Benedict XVI for his judgment.
Feria Quarta consists of some of the Vatican’s senior curial figures, such as Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and several bishops from key dioceses, including Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux. It is chaired by the Prefect of the Congregation, the American Cardinal William Levada.

The Society of St. Pius X was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve in 1970 as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council. Its relations with the Vatican became strained in 1988 when Archbishop Lefebrve consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II.

Modified on May 16, 2012 at 11:30 a.m. MST. Headline and lede changed to reflect decision to split negotiations.

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FOCUS considers expanding mission to Europe

Rome, Italy, May 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - FOCUS campus ministry is considering taking their successful brand of youth apostolate to Europe in order to meet the challenge of evangelizing formerly Christian societies. 

Founder and president Curtis Martin called the potential task “unique” in that “you are proclaiming the Gospel to people who already know parts of the Gospel.”

“I think there is tremendous opportunity, especially in the Americas, but also in Western Europe because we have such a deep, Catholic Christian culture, but people are drifting away,” he told CNA in Rome May 9.

Launched only 14 years ago, FOCUS – the Fellowship of Catholic University Students – has grown from four missionaries serving one campus in Kansas to over 260 missionaries serving nearly 60 campuses in 28 states across the U.S.

Martin identifies the “FOCUS effect” as the infectious enthusiasm of young people after they have their “lives changed by Jesus Christ” and recognize that “the Catholic Church is the home that all Christians are called to.”

“When they go on to college campuses and they’re living a life of joy and friendship, it radiates,” he said.

“Everybody desires to have joy and friendship but our world offers very little of that, so when they go on campus they stand out like a star in the middle of a dark night.”

Speaking beneath the shadow of the dome of St. Peter’s basilica, Martin said he recognizes that most young people in Europe “typically know that Jesus Christ is a historical figure” and are even aware that “he died on a cross and even that he rose from the dead.”

“But they don't know how to make those realities, the reality of what Christ did, have any impact on their lives.” 

Because of this, he believes that the young people of the old world are now ripe for “a bold, energetic, zealous and joyful proclamation of the Gospel that invites them to think again what their life is all about.”

The organization is no stranger to the European continent. Last year Martin and his team hosted an evangelization summit in the Spain prior to World Youth Day in Madrid. Next month they will be present at the 50th Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland. They’ve also had missionaries serve temporarily at the European campuses of American universities.

“We’re just begging God that when the time is right, if it’s something that the Church calls for, that we'll be ready to respond. We’re eager to go wherever the Holy Spirit leads us,” said Martin.

The FOCUS team will be back in Rome this October for the Synod of Bishops when up to 100 campus leaders will pray and fast “begging God to send grace upon the Church.” In the evenings they also hope to meet with many of the participating bishops to discuss Blessed John Paul II's vision of the New Evangelization and, perhaps, the expansion of FOCUS into Europe. 

“Right now, there's plenty of work to do in the United States but if the Holy Spirit calls us to go elsewhere, we'll do everything we can to meet that call.”

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First video game about Jesus launches on Facebook

Denver, Colo., May 16, 2012 (CNA) -

On the heels of its widely-popular “The Journey of Moses” Facebook game, Lightside Games is venturing into historic territory by creating the first-ever video game based on the life of Jesus.

“There's stories that need to be told in games,” Brent Dusing told CNA May 9, “and there's not a lot of games where you can do really good, positive things from a Christian stand point,” 

Dusing, the founder and CEO of the Mountain View, Calif.-based Lightside Games, said that the new game, “The Journey of Jesus: The Calling,” will give people an opportunity to experience the life of Jesus firsthand.

The company’s first game on the life of Moses has had great success, registering over 2 million players.

“The feedback has really been phenomenal. I just think there's a lot of people who are really hungry for this, that's what our players tell us,” Dusing said.

And he hopes that the new game on the life of Jesus will bring the Gospel to those who might not otherwise be exposed to it.

“For a lot of our players, this is the only chance they'll have to hear this message,” Dusing said. “We know for some of them, it'll be the only chance they have to see this story.”

The game follows the life of Christ during his public ministry from the point of view of a character whose name is pulled from the user's Facebook profile. Players collect items and trade them with their Facebook friends to progress through Christ's mission.

While his original game allowed the user to play as Moses, the “Journey of Jesus” allows the player to “connect with the real human emotional elements” by playing and interacting with Jesus as themselves.

Although the game is meant to be entertaining, Dusing said he drew the storyline from the Bible to make sure the message is accurate.

By completing a series of tasks and challenges while interacting with the Apostles, other players and Christ, the user is able to witness Christ's public ministry and participate in his mission.

While the game can be played for free, there is an option to purchase materials to complete the game more quickly. Funds from some specially designated items will be donated to Compassion International, a Christian non-profit group dedicated to providing aid for underprivileged children worldwide.

The game is expected to become as popular as the Moses original, which is currently played by users on every continent except Antarctica, and is available in English, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese.

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Scott Hahn appointed to endowed chair in theology, evangelization

Steubenville, Ohio, May 16, 2012 (CNA) -

The Franciscan University of Steubenville has appointed author and professor Dr. Scott Hahn to an endowed chair named for the priest who pioneered the school's Catholic revival.

Hahn's reception of the “Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization” was announced May 12 during the school's 64th commencement ceremony by Father Terence Henry, TOR, who succeeded Fr. Scanlan as the school's president.

“Through his work at Franciscan University, his scholarly research and publications, his popular writing and countless speaking engagements, Dr. Scott Hahn has done the very thing the Fathers of Vatican II called upon Catholic scholars to do,” Fr. Henry said in his announcement.

“This new appointment will aid him in his ongoing work in teaching sacred Scripture and the New Evangelization, which is so close to his heart.”

A well-known convert from Protestantism to the Catholic Church, Hahn has taught classes on theology and Scripture at Franciscan University since 1990. He is the author of over 40 scholarly and popular books, and the founder and director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

Hahn said he was “deeply grateful” and “humbled by the honor of holding an endowed chair named after Father Michael Scanlan, one of my personal heroes in the faith, as well as a spiritual father and dear friend for over 20 years.”

He praised the work of the priest, who revitalized the school formerly known as the College of Steubenville after taking over leadership during a troubled period in the 1970s. Fr. Scanlan, who retired in 2011, maintains the title of “President Emeritus” at the university.

“For over a generation,” Hahn said, “Father Mike has shown us how to combine academic study and spiritual fervor in a way that changes lives – our own and others – and thus how to advance the New Evangelization, which is at the heart of the Church’s mission.”

The endowment-supported position will allow Hahn to increase his teaching and mentoring activities on campus, and to develop online graduate courses, while continuing his schedule of speaking engagements and media appearances.

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Franciscan University drops health insurance over HHS mandate

Steubenville, Ohio, May 16, 2012 (CNA) -

Rather than compromise its Catholic values by complying with the federal contraception mandate, Franciscan University has decided to drop its student health insurance.

According to the school's website, Franciscan University of Steubenville chose to cut student health insurance altogether instead of participating “in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life.”

The small Catholic university in Ohio currently excludes contraception, sterilization and abortifacients from its student and employee health insurance plans. If enacted into law, however, the federal contraception mandate would change that.

The mandate, originally introduced in an Aug. 2011 interim rule, requires health insurance plans to cover contraception – including drugs that cause abortion – and sterilization free of charge.

As part of the “accommodation” for organizations morally opposed to these services, Franciscan University would have until August 2013 to comply.

But with a new coverage year beginning in August, the university decided to drop student health insurance rather than risk violating its “passionately Catholic” identity.

Other colleges and private businesses have brought law suits against the Obama administration, but Franciscan is the first to drop student health insurance completely.

While the student health center will still serve students for just 5 U.S. dollars per visit, students will be responsible to decide how “to provide for accidents or illnesses requiring visits to physicians, health clinics, or the hospital emergency room” during their time as a student.

Franciscan's announcement comes less than one week after Legatus, a national organization of leading Catholic business CEOs and professional leaders, announced its lawsuit against the HHS mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.

Ave Maria University, EWTN, Catholic Social Services, St. Pius X Catholic School of Nebraska and seven states, are among those who have filed lawsuits against the Obama administration over the contraception mandate.

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Church condemns Colombian terrorist attack that killed five

Bogotá, Colombia, May 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishops of Colombia condemned the terrorist attack that took place in the capital city Bogota on May 14 that left five people dead and nineteen wounded.

The attack took place on 74th Street and Caracas Avenue on a public bus, moments after another car bomb was deactivated in the Eduardo Santos district in downtown Bogota. Two other explosive devices on the bus failed to detonate.

Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba, secretary general of the bishops' conference, told CNA that the local Church “deplores and rejects these terrorist acts that are an attack on the peace that should reign in our society.” 

“We are disturbed by these acts of violence that have just taken place,” the bishops said. “It is a shame that we are returning to this terrorist escalation that only leaves behind death and sorrow.”

According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, those wounded in the attack included former interior minister Fernando Londono, who was sitting in a gray van that was parked nearby.  His driver was killed by the blast.

Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, also condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.” 

“We don’t understand what the purpose was behind this, but be assured that the Government will not be derailed by these terrorist acts,” he said.

The bishops’ conference released a statement expressing solidarity with the victims, the wounded and their families, as well as with former minister Londono.

Bogota Police Chief Luis Eduardo Martinez said all the evidence suggests that the Marxist rebel group FARC was responsible for the attack.

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Diocese rejects transfer of Spanish bishop over gay remarks

Madrid, Spain, May 16, 2012 (CNA) - A Spanish diocese has rejected a request by the city government to have Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla transferred due to a controversial Good Friday sermon that critics have labeled as “homophobic.”

“Our father and pastor, Juan Antonio Reig Pla, the Bishop of Alcala de Henares, has always taught Catholic doctrine with charity and truth, and he will continue to do so with the grace of God,” the diocese said in a statement.

The motion to transfer the bishop was presented by the group Union, Progress and Democracy and was backed by other left-leaning organizations as well as the Spanish Socialist Party. The ruling People’s Party, however, has opposed the motion, which demands that the bishop be transferred to another diocese and that he not be invited to any official event in the city.

Bishop Reig Pla has faced intense criticism after remarks given in a Good Friday sermon in which he condemned sexual practices he believes to be harmful.

As part of a larger cultural critique of sexual behavior in modern society, he lamented how some with same-sex attraction “corrupt and prostitute themselves or go to gay night clubs” in order to “validate” their struggle.

“I assure you what they encounter is pure hell,” he said on April 6.

In response to the bishop, Socialist Party spokesman Javier Rodriguez said his comments have put him as well as the diocese “on the homophobic map.”

In its statement, however, the Diocese of Alcala de Henares underscored its respect for all persons, regardless of their condition, and for legitimately constituted authorities. 

But it also stressed the need for the right to religious freedom and that “no human institution has the authority to judge, and much less, prevent the teaching of Catholic doctrine.”

When such an effort is made formally by a political institution, the diocese said, “The result is a sad and intolerable violation of human rights and of the principle of the separation of Church and state.”

Bishop Reig Pla has gained the support of the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, whose secretary general, Auxiliary Bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino of Madrid called the controversy caused by his sermon “unjust.”

The International Federation of Associations of Catholic Doctors has also voiced support for Bishop Reig Pla as well as more than 20 locals struggling with same-sex attraction who personally wrote the bishop to thank him for his remarks. 

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At installation, Baltimore archbishop affirms faith's role in national life

Baltimore, Md., May 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

At his May 16 installation in the “Premier See” of the U.S. Church, new Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori urged believers to proclaim their faith to the nation while standing up for the Church's freedom.

“Let us not shrink from entering the public square to proclaim the person of Christ, to teach the values that flow from reason and faith, to uphold our right to go about our daily work in accord with our teachings and values,” he told the 2,000-strong congregation at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

“By its nature, the profession of faith is a public matter,”  said the archbishop, who also leads the U.S. bishops' religious freedom committee.

He indicated that the Catholic faith cannot be confined solely to privately-held beliefs and acts of worship, since it is “meant to be spread far and wide and acted upon, in and through Church institutions and in the witness of individual believers.”

“Let us never imagine that the faith we profess with such personal conviction is merely a private matter,” he said to the congregation.

Instead, he told them, “we must be loyal Americans by being bold and courageous Catholics.”

Known for his religious freedom advocacy during his past appointment as the Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., Archbishop Lori was installed amid ongoing controversy over the federal government's contraception mandate and other moves seen as hostile to religion by Catholics and other believers.

Over 300 priests and bishops, joined by representatives of 150 parishes and 70 Catholic schools, heard Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano proclaim the decree establishing the new archbishop, a 61-year-old Kentucky native, as the leader of the archdiocese's 500,000 Catholics.

Archbishop Lori's installation homily drew inspiration from the public witness of Saint Paul, as well as the missionary journeys of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He recalled Bl. John Paul II's own words, delivered at Baltimore's cathedral during a 1995 visit to the city.

In words delivered on that occasion, and quoted by Archbishop Lori, the late Pope spoke of America's “precious legacy of religious freedom,” telling Catholics “to defend that freedom against those who would take religion out of the public domain and establish secularism as America’s official faith.”

The archbishop also paid tribute to those who led the nation's first Catholic diocese before him –  including Archbishop John Carroll, the United States' first Catholic bishop; and Cardinal James Gibbons, who led the Church in Baltimore during a period of anti-Catholic suspicion.

Archbishop Carroll, he said, led a “generation of believers and patriots,” whose legacy “has enabled the Church to worship in freedom, to bear witness to Christ publicly, and to do massive and amazing works of pastoral love, education, and charity in ways that are true to the faith that inspired them.”

Archbishop Lori also recalled how Cardinal Gibbons, Baltimore's archbishop from 1877 to 1921, opposed “those who said it wasn’t possible to be a practicing Catholic and a loyal American.”

He recalled Cardinal Gibbons' description of the U.S. as a country “where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection, without interfering with us in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Christ.”

As he reaffirmed the Second Vatican Council's teaching on the human right to religious liberty, Archbishop Lori made it clear that the U.S. bishops “do not seek to defend religious liberty for partisan or political purposes, as some have suggested.”

Rather, the religious freedom committee chairman said, “we do this because we are lovers of a human dignity that was fashioned and imparted not by the government but by the Creator.”

“We defend religious liberty because we are lovers of every human person, seeing in the face of every man and woman also the face of Christ,” he explained. “We uphold religious liberty because we seek to continue serving those in need while contributing to the common good.”

As he reflected on a variety of public and internal challenges, Archbishop Lori urged the faithful to pray for his leadership and the good of the Church.

He asked the congregation to pray “that, as the Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI, unfolds, I shall not only teach the faith but bear witness to it in a manner that helps to heal the breach between faith and culture.”

“Pray that, in God’s grace, I might foster that unity of faith which makes the Gospel credible,” he urged, “ so that together, we may always warmly invite those who have left the Church … and together may we continue to invite and welcome those sincerely searching for the truth.”

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US Bishops' attorneys call mandate 'accommodation' inadequate

Washington D.C., May 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Arguing that a promised “accommodation” to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate fails to address religious freedom concerns, attorneys for the U.S. bishops suggest a possible lawsuit if the mandate is not rescinded.

“Absent prompt congressional attention to this infringement on fundamental civil liberties, we believe the only remaining recourse, in light of the approaching regulatory deadlines, is in the courts,” said lawyers representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The mandate and its extremely narrow religious exemption are currently being challenged in at least 11 lawsuits by states, colleges, private employers and organizations across the country. 

On May 15, Anthony R. Picarello and Michael F. Moses, who serve as general counsel and associate general counsel, respectively, for the bishops’ conference, submitted formal comments on the most recent suggestions regarding the administration’s contraception mandate.

The controversial mandate will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

While the mandate includes a religious exemption, few groups would qualify for it because it applies only to nonprofit organizations that exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and both serve and employ primarily members of their own faiths.

The bishops’ attorneys reiterated their previous argument that this exemption is “unprecedented in federal law, improperly narrow, and unlawful.”

Widespread criticism of the mandate led the Obama administration to publish a new “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” in March. The notice outlines various suggestions for different ways to implement the mandate as it will apply to religious organizations that oppose the required coverage but do not qualify for the exemption.

The administration has invited public comment on the advance notice until June 19. Afterwards, it will move forward with the process of issuing further regulations on the implementation of the mandate.

In their comment, the bishops’ lawyers repeated arguments that in addition to being poor health policy, “the mandate itself is unjust and unlawful,” in violation of numerous federal statutes and the First Amendment’s protections of religious liberty. 

The attorneys observed that the mandate is already finalized and has not been changed by the advance notice, which promises a future “accommodation” but does not affect the rule as it is written.

Furthermore, they said, the promised accommodation will not extend to secular stakeholders that object to the mandate. Rather, the Obama administration has made it clear that the accommodation will apply only to religious organizations.

In addition, the attorneys said, the accommodation does not provide adequate relief, “even for those few stakeholders that qualify for it.”

They argued that the suggested options regarding coverage through a third-party administrator are all insufficient because the plan itself continues to fund or serve “as a gateway” to facilitate earmarked funding for objectionable products and procedures. 

Either by paying for the coverage through their premiums or allowing access to such coverage through the plan itself, objecting organizations will be facilitating something that they consider gravely immoral, they said.

The bishops’ lawyers also pointed out that by having insurers or third-party administrators automatically provide the controversial coverage, women are denied the freedom to decline the coverage or to prevent their minor children from being offered “free” and “private” contraceptives and related “education” without parental consent.

They further noted that the religious rights of third-party administrators and insurance issuers have not been adequately addressed.

The attorneys also voiced concern over the fact that numerous individuals, employers and insurers who object to the mandate are not eligible for the “temporary enforcement safe harbor,” which would delay the implementation of the mandate for one year.

These stakeholders will be subject to the mandate for plan or policy years starting as soon as August 1, 2012, the attorneys warned. In the next few months, they will face the choice of violating their deeply-held beliefs or dropping out of the health insurance marketplace, with the possibility of facing crippling penalties that could put them out of business. 

Furthermore, the lawyers said, the advance notice of proposed rulemaking raises new questions, as some of its statements are ambiguous or hypothetical and require clarification.

They observed that the administration has not yet determined how to treat religious organizations that object to some but not all of the coverage, such as Christian groups that oppose abortion-causing drugs but allow for contraceptive use.

In such cases, the government should recognize the conscience rights “of all stakeholders,” whether they object to part or all of the mandated coverage, they said.

The bishops’ attorneys also argued that an organization’s past inclusion of contraception and related coverage should not prevent it from qualifying for an accommodation in the future. The Obama administration has already made previous coverage of such products a disqualification for the “temporary enforcement safe harbor” that is being offered to some groups.

However, the lawyers noted, some employers and organizations may have included such coverage “mistakenly or unknowingly,” and now wish to correct that error in accordance with their conscience. 

The bishops’ attorneys emphasized that “the only complete solution to this set of problems is to rescind the mandate.”

Short of that, they said, the administration should at least “adopt an exemption that protects the consciences of all stakeholders with a religious or moral objection to the mandate.”

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Pope outlines power of the Holy Spirit in prayer

Vatican City, May 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI says Christians should avail themselves to the Holy Spirit in prayer – particularly when they cannot find the words or inspiration to pray.  

“St. Paul teaches us that in our prayer we must open ourselves to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, who prays in us with inexpressible groanings, to bring us to adhere to God with our whole heart and with all our being,” the Pope said May 16. 

“The Spirit of Christ becomes the strength of our ‘weak’ prayer, the light of our ‘dimmed’ prayer, the focus of our ‘dry’ prayer, giving us true inner freedom, teaching us to live by facing our trials, in the certainty we are not alone.”

Continuing his weekly catechesis on Christian prayer, Pope Benedict XVI used this week’s General Audience to explore the theme of prayer in the Letters of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, in the New Testament.

He told over 11,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to take on board the advice of St. Paul to turn to the Holy Spirit when “we want to pray, but God is far away, we do not have the words, the language to talk with God, not even the thought.”

It is then, said the Pope, that “we can only open ourselves up, make time available for God” knowing that this mere desire to get in touch with God “is prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but it brings, interprets before God.”

“In prayer we experience, more than in other dimensions of existence, our weakness, our poverty, our being creatures, because we are faced with the omnipotence and transcendence of God,” said Pope Benedict.

It is therefore the Holy Spirit “who helps our inability, enlightens our minds and warms our hearts, guiding our turning to God.”

The Pope concluded his observations by highlighting three consequences of allowing “the Spirit of Christ as an inner principle of all our actions.”

First of all “we are enabled to abandon and overcome every form of fear or slavery, experiencing the
true freedom of the children of God.”

This freedom is not identified by St. Paul as the possibility of choosing evil which, said the Pope, leads to “alienation of human beings” and “the destruction of our freedom.” Instead the freedom espoused by the Apostle is a “true freedom” that allows us “to really follow our desire for good” and “not be overwhelmed by the circumstances that lead us in other directions.”

This freedom manifests itself in the “fruits of the Spirit” which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

A second consequence is that “our relationship with God becomes so deep that it is not be impacted by any reality or situation.” Therefore we are not freed from trial or suffering in our prayer but “we can live them in union with Christ, his sufferings, with a view to participating in his glory.”

This should encourage us whenever we have the impression of “not being listened to and then we risk losing heart and perseverance,” as in reality “there is no human cry that is not heard by God.”

The third and final outcome of reliance on the Holy Spirit is that “the prayer of the believer is also open to the dimensions of humanity and all of creation.” This sees prayer “open to the sharing the sufferings of our time, of others.”

The Pope then concluded his audience with the recitation of the Eastertide Marian anthem, the Regina Coeli, before imparting his Apostolic Blessing.

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Witnesses warn of retribution against Chen Guangcheng’s family, friends

Washington D.C., May 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A hearing before a U.S. House subcommittee on human rights discussed the current status of blind pro-life activist Chen Guangcheng, as well as his family, friends and the women he sought to protect from China’s brutal one-child policy.

Chen testified at the May 15 hearing from his hospital room in China. Speaking via phone through a translator, he said that he is “not a hero” but is simply following his conscience.

He also said that he is fearful for the well-being of his extended family members.

The hearing was chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who leads the House congressional panel that oversees international human rights. It focused on the plight of Chen’s family and friends, as well as the brutalities under China’s one-child policy that he had worked to expose.

After documenting cases of forced abortion and sterilization throughout China, Chen was imprisoned for more than four years. He also spent more than a year and a half under illegal house arrest, where he says that he and his family members were beaten and refused medical treatment.

Chen escaped from house arrest and was transported by friends to Beijing, where he reached the U.S. Embassy on April 26. He was moved to the hospital on May 2, amid announcements of an agreement between American and Chinese officials for his humane treatment.

While the Chinese government has stated that Chen is free to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the blind activist has said that he is worried about the well-being of his extended family and friends, who may be the target of government retribution.

At the May 15 hearing, Bob Fu, founder and president of the Texas-based ChinaAid Association, voiced concerns over whether the Chinese government will follow through on its promise.

He explained that in the past two weeks, “there has been no substantive progress by the Chinese government toward allowing Chen to come to the United States.”

“The Chinese government has yet to issue him a passport, which means Chen Guangcheng has not been able to leave China,” he said.

Fu also drew attention to the plight of Chen’s brother and sister-in-law, who were both reportedly beaten by a mob that broke into their house shortly after Chen’s escape. Their son, Chen Kegui, was violently attacked and defended himself with a kitchen knife, injuring several of his attackers. He has been arrested and could face execution, despite the fact that he acted out of self-defense, Fu said.

“Almost all of the lawyers who were willing to handle Chen Kegui’s knifing case have lost their freedom of movement, or had their lawyer’s license revoked, or simply been kidnapped,” he reported.

Concerns over the plight of Chen’s supporters were also voiced by Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an organization that works to oppose forced abortions in China.

She explained that Jiang Tianyong, a member of Chen’s legal team, attempted to visit Chen at the hospital and “was beaten so severely in the head that he may have lost hearing in one ear.”

Littlejohn also recounted the story of He Peirong, known as Pearl, who was detained and kept in custody after helping Chen escape. She was eventually released as international attention on her story increased.

Chinese mother Mei Shunping also testified at the hearing, describing the physical and emotional terror of undergoing five forced abortions due to the one-child policy.

Mei described herself as one of the women “that Chen Guangcheng tried to help so courageously.” She said that her life was “destroyed by the policy,” before she was able to escape and come to the United States in 1999.

“We had no dignity as potential child-bearers,” she said.
After her fifth forced abortion, Mei said that the authorities acted without her knowledge or consent to implant an IUD in her uterus, despite the fact that she had a kidney disease, and the device therefore caused her great pain and physical suffering.

In addition, her husband was arrested and sentenced to criminal detention for protesting the policy.

Mei said that the strain caused by the enforcement of the one-child policy led to her divorce, depression and attempted suicide, before she found consolation and healing in the Christian faith. 
Rep. Smith called on the U.S. government to continue working on behalf of Chen, as well as his supporters and all the women who suffer under China’s one-child policy.

“The story, unfortunately, is far from over,” he said.

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