Manila, Philippines, Aug 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A “reproductive health” bill that would mandate sex education in schools and subsidize contraceptives will be “tragic and catastrophic” for Filipinos if it is passed into law, the Philippines’ Catholic bishops said.
The bill advanced in the Philippine Congress on Aug. 6 after 14 years of consideration.
“May God have mercy on our Congress,” said Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo of Jaro, former two-term president of the Philippines’ bishops conference.
The vote was originally scheduled for Tuesday but allies of President Benigno Aquino III held the vote Monday at a caucus of Liberal Party leaders and members.
Fr. Melvin Castro, head of the Catholic bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, criticized the way the bill advanced.
“They break their own rules. They really forced it today,” Fr. Castro said. “It’s railroading. They’re destroying the very essence of democracy.”
Fr. Castro said the president is “hard-hearted” for refusing to consider the concerns of bill opponents.
President Aquino has said the bill is needed to reduce high birthrates among the poor. It mandates “age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education” from fifth grade through high school.
Some bishops said Western backers have helped propel it forward.
Archbishop Ramon V. Arguelles of Lipa charged that foreign powers favor “the extermination of the poor and those who believe in God.”
He said the bill is a manifestation of “imperialism” and its local backers are “traitors.”
Bishop Arturo M. Bastes said the bill would slow development because the country needs people to “grow and progress.”
He charged that the bill aims to decrease the population by preventing them from being born, which he said brings forth “a culture of death and darkness of sin.”
Backers of the bill are playing political hardball. A lawmaker from the impoverished Samar Island said funding for several relief projects for his district has been threatened if he does not vote for the bill.
The bill has drawn major Catholic opposition. On Aug. 4 the Prayer Power Rally against the bill gathered an estimated 60,000 people in Manila.
Archbishop Lagdameo hopes that the Philippines’ House of Representatives will give more time to discuss the bill “so that they can see also its defects for the sake of the common good.”
“Both sides must have an open mind for that good,” he added.
The focus will now shift to amendments to the bill.
Paris, France, Aug 7, 2012 (CNA) - Leaders of the Catholic Church in France have asked all Catholic dioceses to unite in prayer for the country's future and common good on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Monsignor Bernard Podvin, the French Catholic bishops’ conference spokesman, said in a July 30 announcement that social and economic crises made it “essential to raise awareness” and ask for guidance regarding “our personal and collective decisions.”
Intended to be offered in all French churches on Aug. 15, the prayers seek wisdom for legislators and governing authorities, relief from effects of the European economic crisis, and the strengthening of marriage and family life.
The national prayer is in keeping with a French Catholic tradition dating back to the 17th century, to pray specifically for the nation on the solemnity of the Assumption.
Entrusting the country's future to God “through the intercession of Our Lady,” French Catholics will ask God for “the courage to make the necessary choices,” seeking “a better quality of life for all” as well as “the development of our youth through strong and faithful families.”
The prayer written by the French bishops also mentions “those who have been elected recently to legislate and govern.” The Socialist politician Francois Hollande was elected president of France this past May, while in mid-June the Socialist National Party gained a majority in the country’s parliament for the first time in a decade.
French Catholics are being asked by the bishops to pray that politicians’ “sense of society's common good” would outweigh other concerns, and that they would “have the strength of follow the directions of their conscience.”
Parishes are also being requested to pray for families, that they would receive society's support and that “the commitment of spouses to each other and their children” would be “a sign of faithfulness to love.”
The prayer’s final intention is focused on children and youth, that they would “cease to be objects of the desire and conflict of adults” and instead “fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother.”
The move follows Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's June 2012 announcement that the country's Socialist government would institute "homosexual marriage” and allow same-sex couples to adopt children, fulfilling a campaign promise by President Hollande.
Anaheim, Calif., Aug 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore believes that Pope Benedict's praise for the Knights of Columbus' efforts to defend religious freedom shows that the issue is broader than the confines of American politics.
The Pope's recent letter affirming the Knights, Archbishop Lori added, puts to rest suggestions that the group's religious liberty efforts have right-wing affiliations.
“This letter from the Holy Father is exceedingly important,” Archbishop Lori told CNA in an exclusive Aug. 6 interview.
“Not only does it confirm what the Knights of Columbus has been doing, it also lends encouragement to the bishops' efforts and religious freedom.”
“The Holy Father has taught clearly, and expresses it clearly in the letter, that religious liberty is not just one of many freedoms,” he underscored, “but it is as fundamental as the right to life itself.”
In a July 19 message signed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict commended the Knights' work at a time “when concerted efforts are being made to redefine and restrict the exercise of the right to religious freedom.”
The Pope made his remarks before the Knights' annual assembly, held this year in Anaheim, Calif., from Aug. 6-9.
Archbishop Lori – who chairs the U.S. bishops' religious freedom committee and has served as the Knights' Supreme Chaplain since 2005 – said he thinks the pontiff is aware that religious freedom issues “would very much be a focus of our convention as we begin in these days.”
“Religious liberty touches man at his root, in his relation to his Creator. And so, the right to life and religious liberty are two sides to one coin,” Archbishop Lori said.
“And I believe the Holy Father is making that abundantly clear, that the defense of religious liberty has to be a primary focus.”
With more than 1.8 million members, the Knights of Columbus is the world's largest fraternal group and among the nation’s most active charitable organizations. Last year, the Knights donated more than $158 million and 70 million volunteer hours to various humanitarian causes.
In recent months, the group has been an outspoken opponent of measures that threaten religious freedom – most notably a federal mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance that includes contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
Each of the Knights' state councils passed a resolution supporting religious freedom, and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has publicly opposed the mandate as well as other threats to religious liberty.
However, at a June 13 press conference at the U.S. bishops' spring meeting in Atlanta, Archbishop Lori was questioned by Jerry Filteau of the National Catholic Reporter about funding for the bishops' campaign to defend religious liberty.
Filteau said that he had heard “rumors” that much of the funding for the bishops' effort is coming from the Knights, whose head, Anderson, is a former Reagan administration official.
He suggested that there may be “a partisanship aspect to the whole thing.”
In response, Archbishop Lori called the idea an “injustice” and urged those in attendance to think “of what the Knights of Columbus does for the Catholic Church and for many other humanitarian causes.”
“It is not in any way partisan, either in its spirit or in its funding,” he said.
Speaking to CNA on Aug. 6, Archbishop Lori observed that by his support for the Knights, the Pope himself has reaffirmed that the issue of defending religious liberty goes “beyond partisan confines.”
Through his letter, Pope Benedict “clarifies that whether one is a Democrat or Republican or an Independent, one ought to be working diligently to defend religious liberty.”
“Because, if religious liberty is compromised or violated, then a very unjust society emerges and that is not in anyone's interest of any party or of any political stripe,” the archbishop said.
Ultimately, he noted, the Pope's strong encouragement of the group “strengthens our resolve to continue fighting this battle which is not only legal and administrative, but also cultural and moral.”
Madrid, Spain, Aug 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In response to societal discrimination against those with disabilities, a blind Spanish advocate says people with handicaps have the right to live and encounter the love of God and others.
Disabled persons “have a right to discover and experience in their lives that God is their companion on their journey, that he is committed to their lives and makes a covenant with them,” said Ignacio Segura Madico, vice president of the International Federation of Catholic Associations for the Blind.
Madico is 44-years-old and lives in Jaen, Spain. He was not born blind but gradually lost his sight as a child. As a handicapped person, he says his joy comes from helping others through his disability.
In an Aug. 6 interview with CNA, Madico said people with disabilities are a gift from God to the Church.
“We need help, but we are also catalysts for help, not only for ourselves but for others, because we allow those who help us to practice charity and love and many other things,” he said.
He also noted that persons with disabilities play key roles in the Gospels.
“In the Gospels, Jesus always draws close to persons with handicaps and with problems, and he does not seek out those who are perfect.”
“There is nothing more tragic for a human being than to feel excluded or to feel that their life is not a cause for joy, and that instead they are a burden and a disappointment,” and every human being can sense this, “no matter how handicapped they are,” Madico noted.
Any physical or spiritual care that does not address these issues deep in the hearts of those with disabilities is merely superficial and incapable of affecting the areas where the true happiness of man is at stake, he said.
“We need to let people develop just as they are, as persons, and it is true that having a child with a handicap is difficult, complicated and hard, but personally, with everything that I have, I want to keep on living.”
Lima, Peru, Aug 7, 2012 (CNA) -
Cardinal Juan Cipriani of Lima exhorted a group of five newly ordained priests not allow their ministries to become mundane, and to remember that friendship with Christ means sacrifice for others.
“Don’t let the treasure of the sacrament of holy orders be harmed by routine. Let your faith allow you to see the light,” Cardinal Cipriani said at the Mass of ordination for the new priests on Aug. 4.
“Remember always the day Christ laid hands upon you and made you participants in this mystery.”
During his remarks, he invited the newly ordained to become friends with Christ. “Let this friendship mean surrender and sacrifice. Be men of prayer also,” he told them.
Cardinal Cipriani also told them to turn to “Holy Mary to ask her to help you to be faithful to the commitment you are making today, so that you can respond with holy conduct.”
“Celebrate the Mass with care, do not let you minds wander with thoughts about this life. Our hearts should always be open, because the Lord makes himself present at Holy Mass,” he continued.
Cardinal Cipriani invited the faithful to pray “for priests, that we may be holy and that Christ may make himself present in each one of us.”
“A holy priest is the greatest treasure the good Lord can grant a parish,” he said.
Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2012 (CNA) -
Two Christian pastors in Iran have been put in prison and are “facing grave danger” due to their faith, said the leader of a Washington, D.C.-based law center that advocates global religious freedom.
Pastors Farshid Fathi and Behnam Irani have been “targeted by the Iranian government” and are “being punished for their Christian beliefs,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
“The nation of Iran is one of the world's worst offenders when it comes to abusing religious and human rights,” Sekulow told CNA on August 6. He explained that “there are many suffering because of their belief in God and their desire to share their faith.”
For months, the American Center for Law and Justice has been working to draw attention to the plight of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who has spent more than 1000 days in prison and has received a death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity.
On July 30, the organization said that it had recently learned of two more Iranian Christian pastors who have been imprisoned for their beliefs.
While the Iranian regime has argued that the men are guilty of “political offenses,” this claim is merely a move to “avoid international scrutiny,” the group explained, adding that the pastors' alleged crimes are nothing more than an attempt to peacefully practice their Christian faith.
The law center reported that Pastor Farshid Fathi is currently serving a six-year sentence in “the notorious” Evin prison after losing an appeal.
Arrested one day after Christmas in 2010, Fathi has had his religious freedom seriously violated and is separated from his wife and children, the group explained in a statement.
“Fathi was arrested solely for his Christian faith,” the organization said, observing that Iranian authorities had equated his Christian activities with “actions against national security” and charged him with possessing religious propaganda including Bibles and Christian literature.
According to Reverend Sam Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries, Fathi has become “a shining beacon for Christ in Evin prison,” attracting attention and becoming one of the most “beloved” inmates despite his harsh treatment.
In addition, the law center said, Pastor Behnam Irani – a 41-year-old husband and father of two – is being held about 30 miles away in Ghezal Hezar prison.
Irani has technically not been charged with apostasy, but rather with engaging in “Christian activities” that amounted to "actions against the regime," the group noted.
However, the verdict against him calls him an apostate and says that he therefore “can be killed.”
Reports indicate that critical medical treatment is being withheld from the pastor, who is suffering from “severe bleeding due to stomach ulcers,” as well as colon complications that recently caused him to lose consciousness temporarily.
He has also reportedly received death threats and beatings from other prisoners and the authorities.
Sekulow said that these are just some of the injustices that are taking place against Christians in Iran.
He emphasized prayer and publicity as “two very effective avenues Christians can use when it comes to combatting this kind of evil.”
“As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer,” he said.
In addition, Sekulow highlighted the importance of “shining a spotlight on these horrific cases of religious persecution” in order to call international attention to the brutality of the Iranian government and the urgent plight of the imprisoned pastors.
He explained that the American Center for Law and Justice is working “to engage our U.S. State Department – and other top government officials at the U.N. and abroad – to highlight these critical cases.”
“Iran must be held accountable for this abhorrent behavior,” he stressed. “Iran needs to know that the world is watching.”
Abuja, Nigeria, Aug 7, 2012 (CNA) -
Nigerian Christians are losing patience after an Aug. 6 attack on a church service in a central region of the country that killed twenty-five Christians.
There is “not any religion in the world that accepts the killing of innocent people at their worshipping centers,” Tunde Ishaku, a leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria told the Christian Science Monitor.
“We have to be serious now and take urgent action for the sake of our life and that of our followers.”
After reportedly blocking the entrance of the Deeper Life church, gunmen turned off the lights and opened fire into the sanctuary killing fifteen women and 10 men.
Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram has conducted similar attacks in the past and recently advised the country's president to embrace Islam or face the consequences.
Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama of Jos condemned the Islamic fundamentalist group in a July interview with Vatican Radio, calling the attacks “un-Islamic.”
He said it is important to clarify that Muslims and Christians can, and often do, live in peace together.
He also called upon foreign powers to intervene in the violence against Christians that “doesn't seem to stop.”
A peaceful resolution “cannot be left to just one country,” the archbishop said.
St. Louis, Mo., Aug 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As the Leadership Conference of Women Religious gathers for its annual assembly, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, Mo. said that talks over the Vatican's report on the group should stay within the context of the Church and not be politicized.
“I realize this is a most important meeting for you and I pray that the dialogue between the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and LCWR is not politicized,” Archbishop Carlson said, “but worked out within a community of faith.”
Archbishop Carlson, who delivered remarks on the Aug. 7 opening day of the LCWR's annual assembly in St. Louis, said that he is grateful for the “extraordinary work” of the women religious in his archdiocese and he hopes for a “resolution to the challenges” facing them.
An archdiocesan press release clarified that his remarks are not meant to show support for the content of the assembly, but rather serve as an indicator of his “doctrinal concern for the Holy See.”
The LCWR, which is made up of leaders from 1,500 women's religious congregations throughout the U.S., made headlines in April 2012 when the Vatican called for a reform following a four year “doctrinal assessment,” which found a “crisis” of belief throughout the group.
Amid the recent controversy, the archbishop called himself “fortunate” to have been able to work with so many members of religious communities throughout St. Louis and praised their contribution to the local community.
“These are dedicated individuals who minister and serve everyday in this archdiocese,” he said.
The annual meeting will feature author Barbara Marx Hubbard of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution.
Marx Hubbard's talk to the assembly is billed as helping religious communities become “open to the new levels of consciousness, even as that revelation exceeds the boundaries of present day understanding of one’s faith.”
The archdiocesan press release noted that although Archbishop Carlson addressed the assembly, he is “aware” of the controversy surrounding the LCWR and “played no role” in the selection of speakers or the content of the conference.
“My presence only indicates my love for the Church,” he said, along with his “memory of the wonderful religious” who he encountered in his childhood, as well as his appreciation for the “extraordinary work of Sisters today.”
In April, conference leaders said they were "stunned" that the doctrinal assessment found problems within their organization and that the group “follows canonically-approved statutes.”
In order to address concerns raised by the doctrinal assessment of LCWR, Archbishop Peter J. Sartain of Seattle was appointed by the Vatican to help reform the conference.
The archbishop will be aided by Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, along with an advisory group that will include clergy, religious women and other experts.
Archbishop Sartain will work with the conference to revise its statues, which will be submitted for approval by the Holy See, and to review its links to affiliated organizations.
Anaheim, Calif., Aug 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus must play a prominent role in evangelizing the contemporary world, said Bishop Tod D. Brown of Orange, Calif.
“Certainly, there is a clear and demanding need today for the New Evangelization,” he stressed.
Bishop Brown delivered his homily at the Aug. 7 opening Mass of the 130th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Anaheim, Calif.
The convention drew approximately 2,000 participants from across the country and around the world, including 12 cardinals and more than 70 bishops, archbishops and abbots.
Bishop Brown called to mind the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.
Our Lady has a special significance to the Knights, who renewed their dedication to her during their meeting. The Knights also co-sponsored an Aug. 5 Guadalupe Celebration with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which drew about 100,000 participants.
The bishop explained that Mary’s appearance to St. Juan Diego as a woman of mixed race led millions to turn towards Christianity.
“She embraces every culture, ethnic group, nationality and race,” he said, and her message is still important for us today.
“Now, five centuries later, we have our own disturbing times,” Bishop Brown noted, listing off the challenges presented by to the Church by “a growing secularism, attacks on the value and the gift of human life, attempts to redefine traditional marriage and a serious curtailment of our religious rights.”
These threats emphasize the need for the New Evangelization in today’s world, he said, adding that this New Evangelization “calls us to faith, instills hope and fills us with love.”
“I’m confident the members of our order will be in the front ranks of the evangelizers,” the bishop said.
Pointing to St. Juan Diego’s willingness to convey the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he stressed that “the success of the New Evangelization will depend on our laity and their involvement.”
“As laity, your lives will act as witness to our faith,” he told the conference participants.
In working to do this, the faithful can confidently seek the support of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “the first evangelizer of our hemisphere,” who five hundred years ago “opened the door of faith … and does so now,” Bishop Brown said.
“Mary said yes to God,” he explained. “Our job is to say yes to the New Evangelization.”