Chicago, Ill., Jun 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On June 8, Stand Up For Religious Freedom will hold its second round of national protests against the contraception mandate, continuing the movement that drew tens of thousands of protesters in March.
“We're up to 154 rallies across the country now, which is about 10 more than we had last time on the rally day,” said Stand Up For Religious Freedom's communications director Matt Yonke. The group is “expecting a few more (cities) to trickle in before Friday,” when the events begin at noon local time.
Organized in response to the Obama administration's denial of conscience rights to religious institutions, the first set of rallies included 28 Catholic bishops as well as other Christian and Jewish leaders. This time around, Yonke said, publicity and group endorsements have “only been bigger.”
“We had 64,000 (people) last time,” he recalled, noting the attendance tally from the first round of coast-to-coast demonstrations that took place March 23. “I definitely think we're going to top that.”
Under the leadership of national co-directors Eric Scheidler and Monica Miller, Stand Up For Religious Freedom has built a coalition that includes 96 Catholic and non-Catholic religious and civil rights organizations.
Stand Up For Religions Freedom's first nationwide rally took place on the anniversary of Patrick Henry's “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” speech. Its upcoming event coincides with the 223rd anniversary of James Madison's introduction of the Bill of Rights to the first U.S. Congress.
The new wave of protests comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the 2010 health care law, under which the contraception mandate was drafted and finalized. The mandate requires employers to
purchase plans that include coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so goes against their beliefs.
Soon after the June 8 protests, U.S. Catholics will join with their bishops in a “Fortnight for Freedom” dedicated to religious liberty.
The forthcoming Supreme Court decision, Yonke explained, is “one of the reasons we wanted to do the rally when we're doing it.”
That way, he said, “(whichever) way the ruling goes, we've got people who are engaged, and active, and ready to move on to the next step of the fight” for the free exercise of religion.
No matter what the future of U.S. health care brings, Yonke said Catholics and other religious believers “need to have a significant place at the table.”
The Church has “been doing health care for thousands of years now. And we have something to say about it.”
Yonke said the dispute over conscience rights had intensified in recent months, as the Obama administration “dug in its heels” and refused to reach a mutually-acceptable agreement with critics of the contraception mandate.
Meanwhile, Stand Up For Religious Freedom's message has “spread farther and wider,” building popular momentum against the federal rule.
“There are new people getting informed all the time. And the more they get informed about it, the more they're getting upset about it,” Yonke noted. “So the opposition is only growing.”
Some activist groups have accused opponents of the mandate of fighting a “war on women,” or using the cover of religious freedom to advance a partisan agenda. But Yonke disagreed, citing well-known allies of the president who have broken ranks over their disagreement with the contraception rule.
Prominent commentators and thinkers, including National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters and former U.S. ambassador to Malta Doug Kmiec, have found the mandate to be “a bridge too far,” he pointed out.
“This is far from a partisan effort,” said Yonke. Rather, it is simply an attempt to stop “the government imposing itself on our faith.”
Key West, Fla., Jun 5, 2012 (CNA) - A historic Florida parish dedicated to the Virgin Mary as “Star of the Sea” has been granted the status of a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI, a move celebrated at its official dedication on May 31.
As he expressed gratitude to the Pope, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski told a 1,200-strong congregation that the church's new designation signifies “the special bond that joins this local Church to the successor of St. Peter.”
The Keys of St. Peter, and other papal symbols, will now serve as identifying visual marks of the historic Florida church. Archbishop Wenski said this honor signified the unity of the worldwide Catholic Church, which “is realized 'cum Petro' and 'sub Petro': with Peter and under Peter.”
As he celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, the archbishop reflected on the history of the new basilica, which is South Florida's oldest Catholic parish. Constructed in 1851, it was rebuilt after a fire in 1901.
“In Key West, generations of Catholics instructed in the faith by the good priests and holy nuns who served here, heroically braved isolation, storms and disease by entrusting themselves to Mary and her maternal protection,” Archbishop Wenski recalled.
He cited the words of an inscribed plaque recovered in the 1901 fire, which described the parish and its faith as “a star of hope and comfort in times of despair and sorrow and a star of joy to those who have lived in its teachings.”
Along with the papal keys and the Pope's traditional umbrella symbol (the “ombrellino”) the basilica's new coat of arms incorporates Key West's own symbol – a conch shell – as well as a star representing Mary as the patroness of the church. It also bears the Latin words “Spe Salvi,” “Saved in Hope.”
St. Mary Star of the Sea is now the fifth basilica in the state of Florida, and the 73rd in the U.S. The honor involved an intricate vetting process – involving 120 questions posed and answered in Latin, as well as proof of the church's historical importance, spiritual qualities and architectural merit.
Archbishop Wenski, the first native Floridian to become a bishop in the state, began working toward St. Mary's designation as a basilica shortly after his 2010 installation as the Archbishop of Miami. During Thursday's dedication, he described the church as “a beacon of faith, hope and love” for the area.
“It stands as an invitation written in brick and mortar to all who visit this community – an invitation to trust in God and to imitate Mary in what she herself said: 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.'”
Vatican City, Jun 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The priest behind the recent “ad limina” visits of America’s bishops to Rome says that Pope Benedict has called on the U.S. Catholic Church to help rescue and revive Christian culture.
“The Holy Father spoke of the challenges in marriage, in family life, in growing secularization, in education, but I think there was a common theme amidst all the challenges: that where God does not exist, where he is taken out of culture, civilization itself begins to disintegrate,” Monsignor Anthony J. Figueiredo told CNA in Rome.
Over the past six months Msgr. Figueiredo has led the organization of 15 visiting delegations from the US consisting of 258 bishops.
“It was a very, very intense time of serving these bishops, really allowing them to feel that Rome was their home away from home, and I must say that they went back really very positive for a number of reasons,” he said.
“Ad limina” visits usually occur every five to seven years and give the episcopate a chance to speak with the Pope and Vatican officials about the health and future of the Church in their diocese.
“The most important part of the Ad Limina visit is not so much the administrative tasks, even though these are important, but really to come here and to pray,” he said.
It was therefore one of Msgr. Figueiredo’s key tasks to make sure that each delegation were able to say Mass at Rome’s four papal basilicas. That included making pilgrimages to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.
He was also the point-man with the Vatican when arranging Papal audiences for each of the delegations. These meetings, he said, allowed the bishops “to be confirmed in the mission that is entrusted to them, which is really an apostolic ministry given them by the Holy Father himself.”
Although born and bred in England Msgr. Figueiredo, or “Fr. Anthony” as he usually refers to himself, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark. For the past six years, though, has been based in Rome.
That transatlantic overview means that while he believes European culture as becoming increasingly secularized “there still exists a window of opportunity in the United States” to save Christian culture.
“If God is taken out of the equation, this is what the Holy Father was saying, then the human person has no human dignity,” he said, “and we can do with the human person whatever we feel should be done to him or to her regardless of him or her being made in the image and likeness of God.”
Milan, Italy, Jun 5, 2012 (CNA) - At the conclusion of a lunch with Church leaders in Milan on June 3, Pope Benedict XVI said that despite the hostility Catholics face worldwide, God holds the faithful close to himself.
“If from time to time we may think that the Ship of Peter is at the mercy of ruthless adversaries, it is also true that we see that the Lord is present,” the Pope said.
“He is alive, he truly rose again and holds the government of the world and the heart of mankind in his hand.”
The pontiff was in Milan for the 7th World Meeting of Families, which more than one million people from over 150 countries attended.
In his brief, improvised remarks, the Pope said: “I simply want to say thank you for everything I have been able to experience over these days, for this experience of the living Church.”
“This experience of the living Church, which lives from the love of God, which lives for the risen Christ has been, let us say, the gift of these days,” he added. “Thus let us give thanks to the Lord.”
During lunch, Pope Benedict XVI was also greeted by the current Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, and his predecessor, Cardinla Dionigi Tettamanzi, who gave the Holy Father a copy of the Ambrosian Book of Gospels cover, designed by Italian artists and featuring an icon representing heaven.
Shrewsbury, England, Jun 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury is asking Catholics to make a pilgrimage to venerate the heart of Saint John Vianney when it arrives in England for the first time ever.
“I would regard this visit as a success if only a handful of people are invited to deeper prayer, to a more serious consideration of their vocation and are inspired by the example of one of the greatest saints in our history,” Bishop Davies said in a six-minute video invitation.
The bishop’s message was published almost one month before the arrival of the relic at the Manchester Airport on July 5 – the first time it has ever come to England. Over a period of four days the relic will be taken on a tour of dioceses in the northwestern part of the country.
In his video message Bishop Davies invites people to Liverpool’s Cathedral of Christ the King on July 6 for a National Day of Prayer, which will be dedicated to the renewal of parish life and supporting vocations. The cathedral can accommodate around 3,000 pilgrims.
“It will be an invitation to prayer and it will be an invitation also to reawaken that desire for holiness in many hearts,” said Bishop Davies, drawing a parallel with the hugely popular visit of the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux to England in 2009.
The relic will be on show for veneration in the cathedral in Liverpool between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The day will also include Mass, the recitation of the Divine Office, confession, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
St. John Mary Baptist Vianney served as priest for 40 years in the small, rural French town of Ars during the early 19th century. His work and dedication to the people of that infamously immoral town earned him a reputation as a saint while he was still alive. He was formally canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and four years later was proclaimed the main patron saint of parish priests.
“He shows us: ‘don’t depend on yourself, depend on what the grace of God can make possible for you’ and then the Curé de Ars shows us you will see great thing,” Bishop Davies remarked.
With only a month to go until the relic’s arrival, Bishop Davies believes that “this is now the time that we hand our plans over to the plans which the Lord has in mind for these few days when we are invited to be especially close in prayer to St. John Mary Vianney.”
The relic will be accompanied throughout the visit to England by Bishop Guy Bagnard of Belley-Ars in France, along with two priests of the Ars diocese.
Baltimore, Md., Jun 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Marriage supporters in Maryland have announced they gathered well over 100,000 signatures in a marriage petition drive, most likely securing a referendum on the state’s new “gay marriage” law.
Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, explained at a May 29 press conference that “every single day we have been getting more and more momentum.”
In what he described as a “momentous” occasion, the alliance submitted more than twice the necessary signatures to place a new state law legalizing “gay marriage” before the people in a referendum.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance joined with several other pro-marriage and pro-family groups to gather petitions to put the Civil Marriage Protection Act on the ballot in November.
In order for the issue to appear on the ballot in November, the Secretary of State must rule that at least 55,736 signatures from the campaign are valid. A third of those – about 18,300 – had to be submitted by May 31.
Previous Maryland referendum campaigns have seen between 20 and 30 percent of signatures ruled invalid.
McCoy announced that as of May 29, the alliance had collected more than 113,000 signatures, with thousands more still pouring in. This number far exceeds the first deadline requirement and is more than double the total number of necessary signatures.
“I’m ecstatic,” McCoy said, explaining that the overwhelming success with the petition has shown “engagement from every single corner of this state.”
Recent endorsements of “gay marriage” by President Barack Obama and the NAACP have only “helped energize our crowd,” he added.
“People that were on the fence are no longer on the fence,” he explained. “They’re engaged.”
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which joined with the Maryland Marriage Alliance in conducting signature drives throughout the state, noted that those who signed the petition “bridge the usual partisan divide” and “span generations and religions.”
On March 1, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a controversial “gay marriage” bill, making Maryland the eighth state to redefine marriage to include homosexual couples.
However, an amendment added to the bill delays it from taking effect until Jan. 2013. This allows time for marriage supporters to put the law before the state’s voters in a November referendum.
Marriage has been upheld as the union of one man and one woman in all 31 states where the issue has been brought to a vote.
McCoy explained that the people of Maryland have been “incredibly charged” and “incredibly motivated” throughout the signature-gathering process.
He thanked the thousands of individuals who have “tirelessly worked to ensure that Marylanders get the opportunity to vote on this critical issue.”
The Maryland Marriage Alliance will continue collecting signatures through the month of June, he said, adding that efforts to support the referendum will continue up until voting day in November.
“Every day, people are encouraged about this issue,” he explained. “We’ve had countless calls.”
McCoy believes that the responsiveness of Marylanders shows that they are supportive of efforts to defend marriage.
“We’ve just represented what they desire,” he said, explaining that the people of the state want to see marriage “defined and upheld between one man and one woman.”
Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Experts in medicine, theology and minority issues warned that although the birth control pill is widely used by women in America, its adverse effects are being seen throughout the country today.
“It’s just assumed that the pill is good,” said Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a board-certified breast cancer surgeon and clinical assistant surgery professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
She explained that despite these assumptions, studies have repeatedly shown that the pill increases the risk of deadly blot clots, stroke and breast cancer.
Lanfranchi spoke at a June 2 symposium in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the American Life League, panelists at the symposium examined the social, medical and spiritual impact of the birth control pill on American life.
Birth control has become a heated topic in recent months, as a mandate issued by the Obama administration will soon require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge.
Lanfranchi said that both the National Toxicology Advisory Panel and the U.N. International Agency on Research of Cancer have acknowledged the pill as a cancer-causing carcinogen.
While the pill does lead to lower rates of ovarian and uterine cancer, it is not even close to being a trade-off, she said, because these cancers are already far more rare than breast cancer, which is significantly more likely for women on the pill.
Unfortunately, major cancer societies refuse to acknowledge the data, she said. In need of donations, they succumb to public pressure to avoid controversial or unpopular positions and choose instead to ignore or even deny the link between the pill and cancer.
Lanfranchi also spoke about the pill’s ability to cause abortions, a fact that many women do not realize.
The pill thins the lining of the uterus, which can lead an already-created embryo to have difficulty implanting, she explained. In addition, the pill can cause biochemical interference with the implantation process.
Ethicist and moral theologian Dr. Pia de Solenni explained that while Church teaching on sexuality is often ridiculed and viewed as restrictive, it is actually “about love at its fullest.”
The Church recognizes that sex is good and natural, intended to communicate unity, intimacy, trust and love, she said. In communicating authentic love, which is “living for the other,” sex must properly offer a complete gift of self, including the body, mind and soul.
Using contraception, however, is withholding one’s fertility and failing to give “a complete gift of self,” she explained. This “lessens our ability to love” and objectifies the other person by seeking intimacy and pleasure without offering a full gift of love.
Gloria Purvis, who chairs Black Catholics United for Life, explained that the modern contraception mentality is rooted in the eugenics movement, which believes that “the unfit should not reproduce” and considers many poor minority populations to be “human weeds.”
Margaret Sanger, who founded the American Birth Control League in 1921 – which eventually became Planned Parenthood in 1942 – was a “proponent of eugenics” and considered African Americans to be “human waste,” she said.
Using rhetoric of “family planning” and “better health,” Sanger promoted contraception among black communities, she explained. Sanger managed to fool many prominent African American leaders, who embraced her message and adopted what seemed to be “noble goals.”
The real goal, however, was to “eliminate the black family” because it created a drain on society, she said.
Sanger succeeded in spreading her message, and contraceptive use came to be seen as responsible, she observed, adding that even today, minorities are highlighted as an example of people who benefit most from the pill.
Although they may not realize it, many doctors in America have been “very much influenced” by the eugenics movement, Purvis argued.
She and all of her African American friends experienced “pressure” from the medical community to abort their children for various reasons, she explained.
Once pregnant, she said, “it was like running a gauntlet to get to delivery.” She added that women without resources could easily feel as though they had an “obligation” to society to abort.
While the doctors may present their message “in a caring way,” they – like many Americans – have been deceived by Margaret Sanger and “the pill mindset,” she said.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 5, 2012 (CNA/Europa Press) - Pro-life groups in Spain are urging reform the country’s law on abortion, as 120 associations, clinics and health care professionals issued a manifesto opposing any reform efforts.
Benigno Blanco, president of the local Forum on the Family, told Europa Press these organizations are part of the “the old abortion rights lobby and radical feminism.”
“They don’t want to admit that times are changing and that what Spanish society is demanding is greater justice and support for pregnant women and the unborn,” Blanco said.
He said proposed reforms of the law would be “positive” as long as they are focused on granting greater protection to women and their unborn babies.
Blanco noted that more than 95 percent of abortions in Spain are performed because of the “psychological health” of the mother. Such a loop hole needs to be “profoundly curtailed,” he added, so that the exception will only apply to “very grave health problems irresolvable by other means and is equal to the constitutional value of the life of the unborn.”
For his part, the president of the Institute for Family Policy, Eduardo Hertfelder, called the manifesto “truly backwards” as he believes everyone should fight “for the life and the freedom of women and the unborn.”
“I find it to be out-of-date and sectarian that in the 21st century certain institutions exist that want to return to a situation that has been proven to be an absolute failure, both for the unborn child and for the mother,” Hertfelder said.
“Women are being used for ideological purposes that have nothing to do with the defense of life,” he added.
It is “an absolute aberration” to say that abortion is a right “for women or for anybody,” Hertfelder said, and therefore overturning the 2010 abortion law is only a first step towards eliminating other exceptions for abortion such as for reasons of psychological health.
Even if the law were overturned, he noted, that would mean more than 110,000 abortions would still be performed in Spain each year, but eliminating the exception for reasons of psychological health would save up to 1,500 lives annually.