Cairo, Egypt, May 30, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Egyptian elections are causing serious doubts among the country's Christians about whether the next president will protect their rights, with the Muslim Brotherhood's commitment being especially unclear, a senior Catholic bishop in Egypt has said.
"We have a situation with the elections and the constitution and the future of our country – whoever wants to be president needs to guarantee a good constitution, in which everyone will be able to find his place in our country," Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza told Aid to the Church In Need in an interview published May 28.
The next president, whoever he is, "needs to guarantee the minimum of liberties we seek," he stated.
"Whoever will guarantee liberty and democracy and a good constitution for Egypt will have our vote."
From June 16-17, Egypt will hold a run-off election between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq. They were the top candidates in the May 23-24 elections. Morsi won almost 5.8 million votes, about 25 percent of the electorate, while Shafiq won 5.5 million votes, almost 24 percent.
The Muslim Brotherhood has promised reforms of the government recently headed by ousted president Hosni Mubarak. It has also proposed more rule under Islamic law, causing fear among other Muslims, secular Egyptians, and the Christian minority who fear restrictions on their rights.
Bishop Aziz voiced doubts about the Muslim Brotherhood's aims.
“The Muslim Brothers say one thing, then tomorrow they do another thing. They don’t maintain their promises – that’s the problem,” he said.
It would be difficult to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood without guarantees from them, the bishop said.
On May 29, Mosni tried to reassure Christians. At a Cairo press conference, he said he planned to appoint Christians as presidential advisors and name one as vice president "if possible," the Associated Press reports.
"Our Christian brothers, they are partners in the nation. They will have full rights that are equal to those enjoyed by Muslims," he said.
The presidential candidate said he would not impose an Islamic dress code on women in public and promised them full rights in work and in education.
Both Mosni and Shafiq will try to win 50 percent of the vote. The anti-Islamic vote was split in the presidential election's first round, a fact that will further complicate the runoff election.
Shafiq, a former air force commander, has campaigned on a law-and-order platform. He split with former foreign minister Amr Moussa the votes of those who preferred former members of the Mubarak government.
However, Shafiq is facing anger over his ties to the Mubarak regime.
On May 28, protestors burned down the Cairo headquarters of his campaign, and many voters have vowed that they will not cast their ballot for a “feloul” (remnant) of the toppled government.
Voter turnout in the first round was 46 percent.
Bishop Aziz said it is difficult to say who will win.
"There are two weeks until the election and we will wait to see who can guarantee a good future for Egypt," he said, remaining positive about the future of democracy in Egypt.
"Always I am an optimist – and at this time I choose to hope.”
The runoff presidential election will be held June 16-17.
Toronto, Canada, May 30, 2012 (CNA) - The provincial government of Ontario is considering a proposal that would force Catholic schools to recognize Gay-Straight Alliances, causing Catholic leaders to say it risks threatening religious freedom and could allow clubs that undermine Church teaching.
Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association, said that the Catholic schools are concerned that the government has proposed an amendment "aimed directly" at Catholic school boards and the trustees' association "as we have been vocal opponents to the imposition of Gay-Straight Alliances on Catholic schools from the outset."
He also voiced concern that the proposal wants to legislate an anti-bullying group name "for only one demographic of students who are bullied."
"It is our view that this amendment will add no substantive elements to anti-bullying measures," Gazzola told CNA May 29.
Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten introduced an amendment on May 25 to the Liberal government's anti-bullying bill that would bar Catholic school officials from vetoing clubs named Gay-Straight Alliance.
She said students have told the government that it is important to have a club name that reflects their identity, the Toronto Sun reports.
Broten said she and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had been "very clear" it was not in the power of the Ontario government to tell students what their club name should be "but neither should it be for someone else sitting in some other office in the province to tell them what the name of their club can’t be."
The proposal would mean that the Catholic schools must recognize a Gay-Straight Alliance club if one student requests it.
The proposed amendment comes after the publicly funded Catholic school system in January 2012 released a schools resource called "Respecting Difference" to address anti-bullying, equity and diversity concerns.
Gazzola said Ontario Catholic schools have "for many years offered peer groups and equity focused groups to oppose bullying and support students in our schools."
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, also weighed-in on the matter, saying there is no reason for the controversy because everyone wants "loving and welcoming schools."
"Catholic educators should be free to make sure that Catholic schools are loving learning environments in which every person is treated with love and respect, and to do so in a way that arises out of our faith tradition and is in harmony with it," he said in a May 28 statement.
He characterized the Gay-Straight Alliance as "a particular method of addressing one form of bullying" and questioned why the provincial legislation intends to make this method "normative" for Catholic schools.
"If the point is that there is something unacceptable about those Catholic principles, then I find that troubling, and wonder whether caricatures of Catholic faith are in play," the cardinal said.
He said the Gay-Straight Alliance model is "so closely related to a movement with particular views concerning the human person and the issues of life" that people who disagree with those views are "understandably concerned" that it will not only address bullying but will promote those values.
Cardinal Collins asked why Catholics are not free to design their own methods to fight bullying and provide students with support as long as Catholics "attain the common goal of a welcoming and supportive school."
"Why must they instead be compelled to accept a particular method that comes from a different approach to the great issues of life?" he asked.
"All of those who care about Catholic education are committed to assuring that Catholic schools are formed by the principles of the Gospel, in which all people are treated with love and respect," Cardinal Collins stated. "Catholic schools must be places where each person is received as Christ."
He said the parliamentary proposal undermines adult authority and prevents the adults responsible for the schools from questioning whether a Gay-Straight Alliance is the most effective method to help students.
The cardinal related that Catholic and non-Catholic parents of students have voiced concern about the proposal to impose the alliances. Non-Catholic parents often send their children to Catholic schools "precisely because they expect a particular approach to life which is largely in harmony with their family and faith convictions."
Cardinal Collins urged Catholics to reflect on the implications of the proposed change in policy and how it advances the "extraordinary privileging" of one anti-bullying method.
At the same time, he asked supporters of the alliances to consider the implications of legislation that "overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community."
"If it happens to us, it can happen to you, on this and other issues. When religious freedom becomes a second class right, you also will eventually be affected," he said.
Catholic educators are seeking the amendment's defeat but have not decided whether to make a constitutional challenge to the bill if it passes.
Gazzola told CNA it is "premature" to comment on any religious freedom issues regarding the bill before it is passed in the legislature.
He said Ontario opponents of the proposed amendment should contact their Member of the Provincial Parliament and the Minister of Education.
Washington D.C., May 30, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A legal group that aims to defend religious freedom has launched a new website offering a wealth of resources on the contraception mandate, and the various lawsuits that have been filed against it.
“There was a lot of misinformation out there on the mandate,” said Emily Hardman, attorney and communications director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a D.C.-based organization.
Hardman told CNA on May 29 that the Becket Fund “wanted to provide an accurate, concise and useful resource for reporters and the general public.”
She explained that when the information “is laid out clearly in one place,” it is evident that the mandate’s requirements violate the First Amendment’s protections of religious freedom.
On May 22, the Becket Fund launched a webpage to serve as a centralized resource for information surrounding the contraception mandate. The webpage tracks the lawsuits that have been filed against the mandate by plaintiffs ranging from EWTN to seven U.S. states to two private business owners.
A total of 23 lawsuits have been filed by 55 plaintiffs to challenge a federal mandate that will require employers and colleges to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The regulation has received widespread criticism from individuals and groups from a variety of religious and political backgrounds.
Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate, warning that it violates religious freedom and could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to shut down in order to adhere to their beliefs.
The Becket Fund’s webpage lists the date that each lawsuit was filed, as well as the identity of the plaintiffs, the district where it was filed and the law firm that is handling the case. It also includes links to legal documents, press releases and additional information related to each case.
In addition, the webpage offers an interactive map to illustrate the distribution of the lawsuits throughout the country, as well as a timeline tracking developments regarding the mandate.
Belmont Abbey College filed the first lawsuit challenging the mandate in November 2011. In the months that followed, lawsuits were also filed by several other colleges, including Colorado Christian University, Louisiana College and Ave Maria University.
In February, the mandate was further challenged by the states of Nebraska, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Private business owners have also joined in objecting to the mandate, arguing that religious freedom extends not only to religious organizations but also to religious individuals seeking to run non-religious companies in accordance with their faith.
Frank O’Brien of O’Brien Industrial Holdings LLC, has filed a lawsuit against the mandate, along with the owners of Hercules Industries, Inc., a heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer based in Colorado.
On May 21, a new wave of lawsuits was announced by 43 dioceses and Catholic organizations in 12 districts throughout the country.
Among the latest plaintiffs are the archdioceses of New York, St. Louis and Washington D.C., the Catholic publishing group Our Sunday Visitor and several Catholic Charities organization from around the U.S.
The Catholic University of America, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University of Notre Dame also filed May 21 lawsuits, along with the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Dallas and Springfield.
Detailed information about the lawsuits can be found at the Becket Fund’s mandate resource webpage at: http://www.becketfund.org/hhsinformationcentral/
Vatican City, May 30, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a rare statement after today's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI said that while he is distressed by the “Vatileaks” case, the Church will not lack God's help for the trials it encounters.
The series of events has included the arrest and prosecution of his butler for stealing and passing on to the press sensitive papal documents and the ongoing police hunt to find any accomplices.
“The events which have occurred during these days regarding the Curia and my collaborators have caused sadness in my heart, but they have never clouded a firm certainty that despite human weakness, difficulties and trials, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and the Lord will never be lacking in his help to sustain it in its journey,” the Pope said May 30.
In an unusual step, the Pope read a prepared statement at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Paolo Gabriele, 46, was charged on May 26, with the “aggravated theft” of confidential Vatican documents found in his apartment. His arrest followed several months of so-called “Vatileaks” in which numerous confidential documents about the internal workings of the Vatican were passed on to the Italian media.
In recent days the same media outlets have speculated that Gabriele is only a minor figure in a much larger conspiracy that includes a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals. They have also theorized that the leaks are aimed at dislodging the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
“There has been a multitude of speculation boosted by some of the media which is wholly gratuitous and goes well beyond the facts, giving an image of the Holy See which is not true to reality,” the Pope said in response to the media conjecture.
Paolo Gabriele is an Italian father of three who has worked in the Papal Household under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He is one of very few individuals who have daily access to the Pope. Within the close-knit family atmosphere of the Papal Apartments, Gabriele is affectionately nicknamed “Paoletto” or “little Paul.”
In his statement today, Pope Benedict moved to calm the situation.
“I wish, therefore, to renew my trust in and my encouragement of my closest collaborators and all those who with faith, a spirit of sacrifice and in silence, day by day assist me in carrying out my ministry,” he said.
Meanwhile, the hunt continues for those responsible for the leaks. That task has been given to both the Vatican police and a special commission of three cardinals chaired by Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz.
Austin, Texas, May 30, 2012 (CNA) - Due to a rare condition, Lizzie Velasquez is unable to gain weight and her appearance made her the target of mockery from her schoolmates who called her “the ugliest woman in the world” in a YouTube video.
The 23-year-old, however, is confident she has been greatly blessed by God, and has become an author and motivational speaker on true beauty.
“God is the number one reason why I am here,” she told CNA. “He blessed me with the greatest blessing of my life, which is my syndrome.”
The YouTube video received over 4 million hits, with some commenters referring to Lizzie as “it” and suggesting she “do the world a favor” and kill herself. Although Lizzie deeply suffered from the mockery, she decided to respond to the cruelty with courage and determination.
With the unconditional love of her family and her profound faith, Lizzie set herself a series of goals, including becoming a motivational speaker, and has been meeting each one. Two months ago, she posted a response video on YouTube sharing her story.
Lizzie was born into a Catholic family in Austin, Texas, and she remains active in her community and parish. Despite her condition being difficult – only a handful of people worldwide are known to have it – she says she has decided to embrace it with integrity.
“To this day the doctors have no idea what it is or what to call it. It remains undiagnosed to this day.”
“Even though this is hard, God has been at my side every step of the way. My faith, my family and my friends are the three things that have made me who I am.”
The main symptom of her condition is that she cannot gain weight. “I eat almost all day long, but I still cannot gain weight. Besides this, I really don’t have any other health issues,” Lizzie explained.
She dismissed as a “dumb rumor” reports that she has to eat every fifteen minutes. “I don’t have a specific diet. The truth is that I eat a lot of small meals throughout the day.”
“I get full very quickly, and so I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner regularly. The only difference is that between meals, I tend to eat much more than the average person probably would,” Lizzie said.
She said her faith has been the most important aspect in meeting the challenges of her life. “Besides my family and my friends, my faith is everything to me. When I have a bad day, I know the only thing I have to do is put it in God’s hands, and I know he will help me overcome anything.”
She said the first place people need to look to find true beauty is within themselves. “Beauty is not defined only by external appearances. True beauty is who you are inside, and who God made you to be.”
In order to find this beauty, Lizzie said, “The first step you have to take is to learn to accept who you are. Accept your imperfections, your good qualities, your personality, everything!”
“Once you can completely accept and love yourself, your true beauty will shine brighter than you if every thought it could.”
To learn more about Lizzie visit: www.aboutlizzie.com
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 30, 2012 (CNA) - The Shrine of Our Lady of Pena in Rio de Janeiro has announced the patron saints and thirteen intercessors for World Youth Day 2013.
“Each one, who allowed him or herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, is an example to follow for all people, especially young people,” said Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro, the president of the WYD 2012 organizing committee.
“We place all the young people who will come to Rio de Janeiro in the hands of God and Mary, and of the patron saints and intercessors,” he said during his announcement.
The patron saints for the event are Our Lady of Aparecida, St. Sebastian (the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro), St. Anthony of Santana Galvao, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and Blessed Pope John Paul II.
The thirteen intercessors are the first saint of America, St. Rose of Lima; the first Chilean saint, St. Teresa of the Andes; Blessed Laura Vicuna; Blessed Joseph of Anchieta and Blessed Albertine Berkenbrock.
Other intercessors include Blessed Chiara Luce Badano; Blessed Sister Dulce; Blessed Adilio Daronch; Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati; Blessed Isidore Bakanja; Blessed Ozanam; St. George and Saints Andrew Kim and companions, known as the martyrs of Korea.
World Youth Day Toronto in 2002 was the first to choose patron saints for the global youth event. Since then, a group of saints and blessed have been chosen for each World Youth Day.
World Youth Day in Rio will be held next summer from July 23-28, with hundreds of thousands expected to attend including Pope Benedict XVI.
Vatican City, May 30, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - When Christians say “amen,” they are expressing their trust in the loving promise of God manifested in Jesus Christ, Pope Benedict said during his General Audience on Wednesday.
“The Spirit, poured forth into our hearts, leads us to the Father, constantly making present God’s 'Yes' to us in Christ and in turn enabling us to say our 'Yes' – Amen! – to God,” the Pope told tens of thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on May 30.
“Our use of the word 'Amen,' rooted in the ancient liturgical prayer of Israel and then taken up by the early Church, expresses our firm faith in God’s word and our hope in his promises.”
Pope Benedict's remarks continued his catechesis on Christian prayer with a particular focus in recent weeks upon the interior life of St. Paul. This week the Pope explored the Apostle’s Second Letter to the Corinthians where he writes;
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
This promise of comfort is not an exemption from suffering, said the Pope, but a plea not to let ourselves “be overcome by tribulations and difficulties.”
“We are invited to experience every situation in unity with Christ, who takes all the suffering and sin of the world upon himself in order to bring light, hope and redemption.”
Either by providence or planning, Pope Benedict seemed to touch upon with his own present suffering following the recent prosecution of his personal butler for stealing confidential documents.
“Our life and our Christian journey are often marked by difficulty, misunderstandings and pain,” he said, adding that “in a faithful relationship with the Lord, in constant daily prayer, we are able to feel the consolation that comes from God.”
The source of this strength, he explained, is a relationship of mutual love between God and man. This is the thrust of St. Paul's proposition to the Christians in Corinth – that the incarnation of Jesus Christ “is God’s 'Yes' to mankind and the fulfillment of all his promises” and that “through Jesus we say our 'Amen,' to the glory of God.”
“For Paul, prayer is above all God’s gift, grounded in his faithful love which was fully revealed in the sending of his Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit,” observed the Pope.
Sadly, however, this faithful love of God is not always returned by man. Despite this, said the Pope, the “entire history of salvation is a progressive revelation of this fidelity of God’s, despite our own infidelity and our constant denials.”
The difference between human and divine love, he explained, is that when we are “faced with conflict in human relationships, often even within the family, we tend not to persevere in gratuitous love, which requires commitment and sacrifice.”
God on the other hand “never loses patience with us and, in his immense mercy, precedes us always and comes out to meet us.”
It is important, therefore, for humans to “enter into Christ’s 'yes' by following God’s will.” In this way we will be like St. Paul in being able to affirm that “it is not we who live, but Christ himself who lives in us,” Pope Benedict said.
The “amen” of our personal and community prayer “will embrace and transform all of our lives.”