Greenport, N.Y., Jul 1, 2012 (CNA) - Making her first Holy Communion last weekend was truly a wish come true for Bethzy Bran-Lopez, a six-year-old girl from St. Agnes parish in Greenport, N.Y. with a tiny body and an enormous love for Jesus.
Struggling all her life from a genetic disorder, Bethzy is only the size of a toddler, weighing about 18 pounds. Her condition affects her lungs and heart, preventing her body from getting enough oxygen, so she is tethered to an oxygen tank by a tube inserted in her throat.
Yet, her family and friends refer to her as a ray of sunshine, who brings joy wherever she goes.
Bethzy loves the Disney princesses and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills “wishes” of children with life-threatening illnesses, would have sent her to the Magic Kingdom, but she is not well enough to travel.
When asked what she would like instead, Bethzy said she wanted to receive Communion and to see her parents, Jose and Mirta, get married in the Church.
One of Bethzy’s favorite people is Dominican Sister Margaret Smyth, who coordinates the North Fork Hispanic Apostolate.
Sister Margaret said everyone wanted to help the Bran-Lopez family create a happy memory so, with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Agnes parishioners, friends and other members of the community, she arranged for Bethzy to receive her first Communion during her parents’ wedding on June 8, with a party following in the parish hall.
The entire family walked down the aisle together, Jose pushing the wheelchair that held the equipment which helps his daughter breathe. Instead of flowers, the bride carried Bethzy in one arm while she clasped the hand of three-year-old Lucia with her other hand.
The wedding didn’t start on time, not because the bride was late, but because Bethzy was having trouble breathing. Her mother and father donned blue surgical gloves with their wedding finery to clear Bethzy’s airway and pump oxygen into her lungs.
During the wedding ceremony, Jose had to regularly reach over to stop a beeping alarm on the oxygen monitor. Other times, Bethzy did it herself.
At times she seemed tired, slumping over the arm of her wheelchair from the stool she perched on, but when it came time for the Gospel reading, Bethzy stretched herself up as tall as she could and joined enthusiastically in singing the “Allelulia.”
Jose and Mirta exchanged their vows with their daughters looking on. Sister Margaret noted that the word love is used for so many things, often trivial ones.
“In times of challenges and difficulties, this is where we see real love,” she said. “We come here tonight to celebrate this love, as they declare their love in the presence of God.”
After the vows, the couple’s best man and maid of honor draped a lasso (a large rosary) over them, symbolizing the bond of marriage. Then it was Bethzy’s turn.
As Father Thomas Murphy, pastor of St. Agnes, bent to give her the Eucharist, she was captivated, never taking her eyes from the priest.
Sister Margaret said Mirta has always taught her daughters about their faith and Bethzy couldn’t wait to receive Jesus. “Last week, Bethzy was sticking her tongue out at her nurse and I said to her, ‘what would Jesus think of that?’ and she lowered her head and got very quiet,” said Sister Margaret.
Following the ceremony, there was a reception in the parish hall, complete with a DJ playing Disney tunes, a face painter and a three-tiered cake with a bride and groom on one layer and a Communion figurine on the top.
Karine Hollander, president and CEO of Make-a-Wish Foundation of Suffolk County, said they would have had the reception anywhere, but the family wanted it here at the parish so their community of friends could be there.
Among the special guests were Mickey and Minnie Mouse, courtesy of costumes provided by Make-A-Wish and the beyond-the-call-of-duty dedication of Sister Margaret and fellow Dominican Sister Lynn Queck, who donned the giant heads and shoes and mingled with the guests.
Sister Lynn is a chaplain at Stony Brook University Medical Center where Bethzy requires frequent treatments.
“She is a real special little girl. She brings such joy to the floor,” Sister Lynn said. “Her mother never leaves her side and she always receives Communion when she is at the hospital. Then her mother blesses Bethzy and she lights up.”
Parishioners came together to make this event special for the Bran-Lopez family, Sister Margaret said. A group came in to set up tables and chairs and decorate. There was catered food and special treats made by parishioners to personalize the event.
“This family has so many hard times,” said Sister Margaret. “They have love and strong faith. We can’t change their situation but we could help them have that special night and that happy memory.”
Posted with permission from The Long Island Catholic, official newspaper for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
By insisting on abortion referrals in its anti-trafficking work, the Obama administration may be inadvertently helping the perpetrators of sex-slavery, a former Health and Human Services official says.
“The present policy of the (HHS) department is: 'Victims be damned; we're going to make an ideological point, that we want them referred to Planned Parenthood' – notwithstanding the fact that it's not in the best interests of victims,” Renewal Forum President Steven Wagner told CNA.
Wagner, who directed Health and Human Services' Human Trafficking Program from 2003 to 2006, published a co-written editorial on June 24 criticizing the department's current policy on abortion and contraception, requiring grant recipients to offer a “full range of reproductive services” to victims.
Three days earlier, a June 21 State Department report called attention to the 21 million worldwide victims of trafficking, who are coerced into prostitution and other kinds of modern-day slave labor. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the problem a “scourge” that demands “zealous advocacy.”
But Wagner, whose current work also focuses on trafficking, says the State Department's goal of stopping coerced labor is at odds with Health and Human Services' policy demanding that assistance to victims include referrals for abortion and contraception.
Wagner described the current HHS policy as “totally inappropriate,” saying it serves the interest of those who profit from sex-slavery rather than those forced into it. Traffickers, he said, want easy access to abortion and contraception “in order to protect the income-producing potential of their victims.”
If a prostitute becomes pregnant, “they'll take them into Planned Parenthood to get an abortion,” so that the woman can be made to perform sex work again as soon as possible, Wagner noted.
“In that situation, there's no possibility of the victim providing informed consent,” he said.
Health and Human Services' current policy on “reproductive services” caused the U.S. bishops' anti-trafficking work to lose funding last year. The bishops' program enjoyed high ratings and an excellent reputation, but was denied a federal grant for refusing to make referrals for services deemed immoral.
The bishops argued that their policy was a matter of conscience. According to Wagner, this policy was also in line with trafficking victims' best interests.
Even those who accept abortion and contraception as moral, he said, should recognize the problem involved in making such referrals for those enslaved in the sex trade.
“Any person of good will, with any kind of moral conscience, would agree that a person should be able to provide informed consent before any kind of medical procedure is performed on them.”
“That's a pretty basic principle in American law, and medical ethics. We don't perform procedures on those who haven't agreed to them.”
“When any person – and particularly a juvenile – is in the position of being trafficked, then by definition they cannot provide informed consent,” the Renewal Forum president explained. “They are under the control of a person, in whose interest it is that these procedures be performed.”
Because the trafficker “is trying to get the victim 'back out on the street' as quickly as possible,” the use of abortion or contraception cannot be regarded as the kind of free choice envisioned by the law and medical ethics.
Wagner noted that this issue with abortion and contraception referrals “is particular to trafficking victims – quite apart from one's overall position” on the morality of these services in general.
The question is further complicated, he said, by the 2011 release of footage showing Planned Parenthood employees' apparent willingness to cover up cases of purported trafficking. Undercover footage showed employees at several offices “willing, indeed eager, to facilitate” the trafficker's aims.
The same exposé found that Planned Parenthood employees “failed to fulfill their legal requirements to report what is self-evidently a case of felony sex abuse of a minor.” Victims of sexual slavery, Wagner stated, should be kept “as far as from Planned Parenthood clinics as possible.”
Rather than being referred to providers of abortion and contraception, individuals coerced into sex work should be referred to “a dedicated service provider” – preferably a survivor of prostitution – in order to “make decisions that best respond to the needs of the victim.”
“There really is no case in which it is appropriate to sustain someone in a condition of being trafficked,” the Renewal Forum president observed.
“The only answer is to get them out,” he said. “Any organization – like Planned Parenthood – that is unwilling to collaborate in the rescue of the victim, really has no role to play.”
Denver, Colo., Jul 1, 2012 (CNA) -
On July 5, the Catholic Church remembers Saint Anthony Mary Zaccaria. A renowned preacher and promoter of Eucharistic adoration, he founded the order of priests now known as the Barnabites.
In 2001, the future Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote the preface for a book on St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria, praising the saint as “one of the great figures of Catholic reform in the 1500s,” who was involved “in the renewal of Christian life in an era of profound crisis.”
The Italian saint, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “deserves to be rediscovered” as “an authentic man of God and of the Church, a man burning with zeal, a demanding forger of consciences, a true leader able to convert and lead others to good.”
Anthony Mary Zaccaria was born into an Italian family of nobility in Cremona during 1502. His father Lazzaro died shortly after Anthony's birth, and his mother Antonietta – though only 18 years old – chose not to marry again, preferring to devote herself to charitable works and her son's education.
Antonietta's son took after her in devotion to God and generosity toward the poor. He studied Latin and Greek with tutors in his youth, and was afterward sent to Pavia to study philosophy. He went on to study medicine at the University of Padua, earning his degree at age 22 and returning to Cremona.
Despite his noble background and secular profession, the young doctor had no intention of either marrying or accumulating wealth. While caring for the physical conditions of his patients, he also encouraged them to find spiritual healing through repentance and the sacraments.
Anthony also taught catechism to children, and went on to participate in the religious formation of young adults. He eventually decided to withdraw from the practice of medicine, and with the encouragement of his spiritual director he began to study for the priesthood.
Ordained a priest at age 26, Anthony is said to have experienced a miraculous occurrence during his first Mass, being surrounded by a supernatural light and a multitude of angels during the consecration of the Eucharist. Contemporary witnesses marveled at the event, and testified to it after his death.
Church life in Cremona had suffered decline in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The new priest encountered widespread ignorance and religious indifference among laypersons, while many of the clergy were either weak or corrupt.
In these dire circumstances, Anthony Mary Zaccaria devoted his life to proclaiming the truths of the Gospel both clearly and charitably. Within two years, his eloquent preaching and tireless pastoral care is said to have changed the moral character of the city dramatically.
In 1530, Anthony moved to Milan, where a similar spirit of corruption and religious neglect prevailed. There, he decided to form a priestly society, the Clerics Regular of St. Paul.
Inspired by the apostle's life and writings, the order was founded on a vision of humility, asceticism, poverty, and preaching. After the founder's death, they were entrusted with a prominent church named for St. Barnabas, and became commonly known as the “Barnabites.”
The priest also founded a women's religious order, the Angelic Sisters of St. Paul; and an organization, the Laity of St. Paul, geared toward the sanctification of those outside the priesthood and religious life. He pioneered the “40 Hours” devotion, involving continuous prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
In 1539, Anthony became seriously ill and returned to his mother's house in Cremona. The founder of the Clerics Regular of St. Paul died on July 5, during the liturgical octave of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, at the age of only 36.
Nearly three decades after his death, St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria's body was found to be incorrupt. He was beatified by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1849, and declared a saint by Pope Leo XIII in 1897.
Vatican City, Jul 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Jesus Christ’s miraculous healing of the daughter of Jairus and a woman who suffered from a hemorrhage should inspire healthcare workers to care for the entire person, physical and spiritual, Pope Benedict XVI said July 1.
“In this invaluable service, one must first be professionally competent – it is a primary, fundamental requirement – but this alone is not enough,” said the Pope in his Sunday Angelus address.
“This service, in fact, is first and foremost about human beings who need humanity and heartfelt attention,” he told thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square beneath a baking Roman sun.
The Pope advocated that those who tend to the sick and elderly have a “formation of the heart” in addition to professional training. He described such workers as “reserves of love” who bring “peace and hope to the suffering.”
Pope Benedict reflected upon the Sunday Gospel passage of the day in which St. Matthew records how Christ twice healed not only a physical ailment but also a spiritual malady too.
“Jesus came to heal the human heart and to give salvation, and he asks for faith in him,” Pope Benedict explained.
He focused on the words Jesus used to revive the daughter of Jairus from deathly slumber: “Little girl, I say to you: Get up!”
The Pope recalled that St. Jerome saw these words as “emphasizing the saving power of Jesus.” In effect, the 4-5th century Doctor of the Church viewed Christ as saying, “Little girl, get up through me: not on account of your own merits, but through my grace. Rise, therefore, through me: being cured does not depend on your virtue.”
Similarly, the second episode in which a woman who had suffered a hemorrhage for many years is cured also reveals “how Jesus came to liberate the human being in its totality.”
In fact, the woman’s healing comes in two distinct phases: a physical healing followed by a deeper spiritual healing which, said the Pope, “bestows the grace of God to those who are open to him in faith.”
Both stories, he suggested, are “an invitation for us to overcome a purely horizontal and materialistic view of life.” While we ask God to cure our physical and concrete needs, he said, we should all the more ask for “an ever stronger faith, because the Lord renews our lives; and a firm trust in his love, in his providence that does not abandon us.”
Pope Benedict concluded by leading pilgrims in the recitation of the traditional midday Marian prayer. He asked the Virgin Mary to “accompany our journey of faith and our commitment to practical love” and especially to give her maternal care to “our brothers who live with suffering in body or spirit.”