Charlotte, N.C., Sep 7, 2012 (CNA) - A former congresswoman known for being a prominent pro-life Democrat has advised fellow party members to tell Catholics that President Obama is a pro-life candidate.
"He is pro-life," said Kathy Dahlkemper, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2008 to 2010. "He actually signed the most pro-life piece of legislation that this country has ever seen."
Speaking at a Sept. 5 faith council gathering at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., the former congressional representative said that "pro-life is on the side of the Democrats."
"I want to talk about an issue that I think is going to be brought up when you talk to people of faith, particularly Catholics, and this is the issue of life," she told attendees.
Dahlkemper explained that she calls herself "a whole life Democrat," because as a Catholic, she believes in caring for people "from conception to natural death."
She said that she "ran for Congress as a person of faith" and that her concern for her country was rooted in "the social justice that I had learned from a young child as a Catholic."
"I voted for the Affordable Care Act because in my opinion it is the most pro-life piece of legislation that we've ever passed in this country," Dahlkemper stated.
"This bill is going to take care of women's health," she said, pointing to provisions to protect the coverage of pregnant women and allow children to stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26.
So when people criticize Obama for his record on abortion, she continued, "you can turn on them and say, 'He is pro-life.'"
She also encouraged them to respond to criticism over the president's stance on life issues by arguing that abortion will "skyrocket under the Republican plan" as a result of proposed cuts to Medicaid.
Republican leaders have maintained that their plan will not harm the poor but will instead send Medicaid and other programs back to the states, where they can be run more efficiently and with less fraud.
Absent from Dahlkemper's comments was any mention of the Affordable Care Act's abortion funding provisions and a mandate issued under its authority to require employers to offer health care plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge.
Religious leaders including the U.S. Catholic bishops have expressed alarm at the mandate, warning that it threatens the religious freedom of employers who object to its demands.
The mandate was recently criticized by former Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, who played a critical role in helping to pass the Affordable Care Act, delivering key votes only after striking a deal in which President Obama issued an executive order to ban federal funding of abortion in the law.
At a Sept. 4 panel discussion hosted by Democrats for Life of America, Stupak said that the order has not been upheld.
"To tell you the truth, I'm perplexed and disappointed, having negotiated the executive order with the president," he said. "Not only does that HHS mandate violate the executive order, it also violates statutory law."
While Dahlkemper is a member of the board of directors for Democrats for Life of America, which has opposed the mandate, she did not discuss this aspect of the health care law in her talk.
Rather, she emphasized that "(h)ealth care is a right" and focused on her belief that God wanted her to be in Congress because she "was one of the people who really helped push the bill over the finish line in the end."
When talking to people in the weeks leading up to election, she stressed, "make sure they understand what the president did when he signed that bill into law for all Americans."
Kirkuk, Iraq, Sep 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Iraqi Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk has asked the Catholic patriarchs and bishops of the Middle East to speak with Pope Benedict XVI about their fears that the survival of Christianity in the region is at risk.
“The patriarchs and the bishops should go beyond the formalities to speak directly and openly with him about their fears and concerns. We should make clear our worries and the challenges ahead,” the archbishop told Aid to the Church in Need on Sept. 4.
Christian leaders will meet with the Pope in Lebanon during his Sept. 14-16 visit.
“The rise of political Islam is a matter of worry,” he said. “We Christians are a minority and there is no prospect of us gaining equal citizenship in the concrete reality of day-to-day life and there is no vision of a better future.”
“Everyone is speaking of democracy and freedom but the reality on the ground is different,” he explained.
The archbishop said “sectarianism” is rising and the majority population is not caring for minority groups.
There are “real fears” that more Christians will leave, he reported. The Christian exodus shows no signs of stopping in Iraq, where more than half of the Christian population has left. The trend of Christians leaving their homes has spread to other countries in the Middle East like Syria.
The archbishop recounted the violence against Christians in Iraq, which peaked after the U.S. overthrow of President Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003. Dozens of churches have been bombed in the country, while Christians have been targeted for kidnapping and murder.
He said it is difficult for him to encourage the faithful in his diocese to stay. There are “few” families left.
“I am doing my best to keep them, defend them and encourage them. That has limited the problem but it is sad to see them leaving for good,” he wrote. “As a pastor, I feel bad.”
He said the policy of the Iraqi state is “based on Islam,” which means Christians “feel they are second-class citizens.”
As for the Catholic hierarchy in the country, it has “become tired” and is “sometimes divided.” There are “no reforms or dynamism” inside the churches.
“The good news of Jesus Christ should have a dynamic dimension. So where are the reasons for hope, the reasons for joy as given in our teaching?” he asked.
The archbishop called for a development of a “Christian Arab theology” that can proclaim God’s word to Arab Christians and to those who are not Christians. This would help Arabs discover “God’s love and paternal presence” in a way that enhances dialogue.
Vatican City, Sep 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has called upon lay Catholics to evangelize Africa, the “continent of hope.”
“In this transformation of the whole society, which is so urgent for Africa today, the lay faithful have an irreplaceable role,” the Pope said in a Sept. 5 message to the Pan-African Congress of Catholic Laity.
“Women and men, young people, the elderly and children, families and entire societies, all of Africa today looks to the ‘ambassadors’ of the Good News, the lay faithful,” he wrote.
The Pan-African Congress of Catholic Laity is taking place Sept. 4-9 in Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon. Organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, it brings together Africans from all walks of life, along with the continent’s bishops to “reflect on various challenges and share experiences.”
The Pope hailed the new lay Catholic movements that have arisen in recent decades as “brave peacemakers and heralds of true hope” who are “in love with Christ and the Church, filled with joy and gratitude for the baptism they have received.”
Pope Benedict XVI has visited the continent of Africa twice during his seven-year pontificate. His first trip in 2009 was a pastoral visit to Cameroon and Angola. In 2011 he made his second trip, this time going to Benin, where he signed the blueprint for the future of the Church in Africa, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Africae Munus.” In the document, the Pope dubbed Africa the “Continent of hope.”
“Of course, at first sight, Africa’s problems appear serious and not easy to solve,” the Pope remarked in his message to the lay congress. He also observed that even “valuable traditional values of African culture” are now being threatened by a “secularism which causes disorientation” that “tears in the personal and social fabric, exasperates tribalism, violence, corruption in public life, humiliation and exploitation of women and children, growth of poverty and hunger.”
However, he countered, at the “heart of the African people” we soon discover “a wealth of spiritual resources” which are “precious for our times.”
“The love for life and for the family, a sense of joy and sharing, the enthusiasm of living the faith, are all values that I have seen during my travels in Africa, and that are still etched in my heart,” he said.
Pope Benedict prayed that the “dark and nihilistic relativist mentality that affects various parts of the world” may never “open a breach” in the reality of African life.
He then praised the gathering in Yaoundé for paving the way for the October opening in Rome of the Synod of Bishops on New Evangelization and the Church’s 2012-13 “Year of Faith.”
The role of the lay faithful, the Pope stated, is key to all of the Church’s efforts because they have received a “divine gift” in their baptism.
“In fact, the acceptance of this divine gift goes hand in hand with the enthusiasm for the proclamation of the Gospel in a kind of a ‘virtuous circle’ where faith moves the announcement and the announcement strengthens the faith.”
The Pope finished his message by entrusting the congress to the care and intercession of “Our Lady of Africa, Queen of Peace and Star of New Evangelization,” before imparting his apostolic blessing.
Vatican City, Sep 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI says that the most newly evangelized parts of the world now have to pass on the gift of Jesus Christ which they have recently received.
“The Church is born of the mission and grows with the mission,” the Pope said Sept. 7, adding that “the faith is a gift to be welcomed into our hearts and lives, one for which we must always thank the Lord.
“But faith is donated in order to be shared; it is a talent given that it may bear fruit, a light that must not remain hidden,” he stressed.
Pope Benedict was addressing a group of around 100 recently consecrated bishops from parts of the world which are deemed mission territory by the Vatican. Represented among their number were clerics from Africa, Asia, America and Oceania. The gathering at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo was organized by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
The Pope noted that in the territories where Christianity has only recently established itself “the faith attracts high levels of participation and joy, it is vivacious and creative.” At the same time, it is often “not yet well rooted” such that “enthusiasm and apostolic zeal alternate with episodes of instability and incoherence.”
Nonetheless, said the Pope, these new Churches “are maturing” thanks to the “communio sanctorum” (communion of saints) that opens the way to an authentic exchange of grace “between ancient and recently founded Churches” as well as “between the Church in heaven and the pilgrim Church on earth.”
He also observed that while there has been a decrease in the number of missionaries, it is being compensated for by an increase in diocesan and regular clergy so that “a new form of missionary cooperation” has emerged.
That new phenomenon involves some young Churches “sending their priests to sister Churches who lack clergy, either within the same country or to other countries on the same continent.” This communion “must always animate the work of evangelization,” he said.
The Pope also issued a word of caution about newer Churches absorbing their native culture by calling for “a correct inculturation of the faith” that will help to “incarnate the Gospel in the cultures of peoples, and to take from them what is good.”
He counseled his brother bishops to be aware that this can be a long and difficult process that must “not in any way compromise the specific nature and integrity of the Christian faith.”
The overall tone of Benedict XVI’s speech, however, was one of encouragement with an emphasis throughout on the “absolute priority of the task of evangelization.”
"The young Churches, then, represent a sign of hope for the future of the universal Church. It is in this context, dear brethren, that I encourage you to spare no efforts or courage in your pastoral activities,” the pontiff declared.
Charlotte, N.C., Sep 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s final benediction at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night called for blessings on the delegates, asked God for the “courage” to defend life and prayed for the renewal of “a profound respect for religious liberty.”
“Bless all here present, and all across this great land, who work hard for the day when a greater portion of your justice, and a more ample measure of your care for the poor and suffering, may prevail in these United States,” the Archbishop of New York said Sept. 6. “Help us to see that a society’s greatness is found above all in the respect it shows for the weakest and neediest among us.”
At the close of a convention where many speakers had stressed support for legalized abortion, the cardinal prayed that God bless “those waiting to be born,” as well as the sick and the elderly.
Cardinal Dolan also touched on the controversy caused by the Obama administration issuing a rule that will require many Catholic institutions and secular businesses to pay for health plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drug, regardless of their beliefs.
In his prayer, the cardinal called respect for religious liberty “the first, most cherished freedom bequeathed upon us at our Founding.”
He also prayed for guidance for President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Congress, the Supreme Court and President Obama’s Republican political rivals.
“Make them all worthy to serve you by serving our country,” he said. “Help them remember that the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself.”
He thanked God for life and liberty, saying happiness is found “only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” He asked God for help in resisting the temptations to “replace the moral law with idols” or to “remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community,” an apparent reference to attempts aimed at redefining marriage.
Cardinal Dolan asked God to remember those who are not free, those who are poor, unemployed, needy, sick or alone, and those who are persecuted for their religion or are suffering war.
“And most of all, God Almighty, we thank you for the great gift of our beloved country,” the cardinal said.
The benediction was largely similar to the cardinal’s prayer at the close of the Republican National Convention in Tampa Aug. 30. However, his prayer at the Democratic gathering was more explicit about the need to defend life.
His prayer at the Republican gathering referenced immigration in alluding to “families that have come recently ... to build a better future while weaving their lives into the rich tapestry of America.” He prayed for “all those who seek honest labor” and thanked God for the “spirit of generosity to those in need.”
Both prayers asked God to make those in public office worthy to serve their country and stressed the need for a government that “serves its citizens rather than itself.”
Charlotte, N.C., Sep 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Providing economic security for the middle class and access to free contraception as a key part of women’s health care were major issues that dominated conversations at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
"Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place," said President Barack Obama in a Sept. 6 address as he accepted his party's nomination for re-election.
Obama said he would aim to "create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years," improve and expand access to education, pursue a wide variety of new energy options, continue strengthening national security and "reduce our deficit without wrecking our middle class."
He also warned of “Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves.”
Although Obama’s speech was originally planned to be held in the Bank of America stadium, the threat of inclement weather moved it to the nearby indoor Time Warner Cable Arena, where other convention speeches had been held.
Much of the three-day convention was dedicated to responding to criticism of Obama over the struggling economy while portraying his Republican opponents Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as disconnected politicians who want to give tax credits to the wealthy, and who would also devastate programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Repeatedly throughout the convention, speakers made the case for Obama's re-election, asserting that he can repair the economy and create more jobs if he is given four more years.
First lady Michelle Obama painted a picture of her husband as a compassionate man who can relate to the needs and interests of average Americans, saying that the past four years have shown his character and conviction.
In a Sept. 4 speech, Mrs. Obama told Americans that "we can trust Barack to do what he says he's going to do, even when it's hard," the first lady said that her husband "doesn't care whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above," but instead is "always looking for the very best in everyone he meets."
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton fired up the crowd on Sept. 5 with a 48-minute speech on Wednesday night in which he described Obama as a competent leader whose efforts to revive a devastated economy have been hampered by Republicans' unwillingness to cooperate.
"No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years," Clinton said, adding that the current president has created millions of jobs and is "still committed to constructive cooperation."
Obama needs more time to accomplish his goals of building up America as "a nation of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, shared prosperity, a shared sense of community," he said.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden preceded Obama's address with his own speech, in which he praised the president's leadership in ordering the attack that killed Osama bin Laden and stepping in to save the American automobile industry with a government bailout.
"We now find ourselves at the hinge of history. And the direction we turn is in your hands," said Biden. "The journey of hope is not yet finished, but we are on our way."
Women's health care was among the most prominent topics at the convention, particularly the controversial Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers to offer free birth control to employees in their health care plans.
The mandate has drawn criticism from the U.S. bishops and other faith leaders who object that it violates the religious freedom of those who object to its requirements.
However, the mandate was praised by numerous abortion advocates who were given speaking slots during the evening sessions of the convention, where they made strong accusations against the Republican Party.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, charged that "we cannot trust Mitt Romney to respect our rights."
"He would overturn Roe v. Wade and sign into law a wave of outrageous restrictions on a woman's ability to make decisions about her pregnancy," she said.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards warned of a time in America nearly a century ago when "birth control was illegal."
"And as a result, few women had the opportunity to finish school," she said. "We weren't even expected to live past the age 50."
She cautioned against "politicians who want to end access to birth control" and said that Romney is trying to "turn the clock back on a century of progress."
Romney and Ryan "are committed to ending insurance coverage for birth control" and want to "turn women's health care decisions over to our bosses," she claimed.
Georgetown University law graduate Sandra Fluke reiterated this argument, warning of "extreme, bigoted voices" in the Republican Party, whose plan would provide a future that "looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past."
Fluke has been a notable figure in the birth control debate since she testified in February before a U.S. House committee in favor of requiring Georgetown University and other Catholic institutions to offer free contraception in their health care plans.
While speaker after speaker painted Republicans as having extreme views that would block women from accessing contraception, the GOP has not included a ban on birth control in its platform. Rather, party leaders say they would repeal the mandate that requires it to be offered for free, returning to longstanding policies that allow companies and individuals to purchase contraception as they see fit.
GOP leaders in turn have charged that Democrats are the extreme party, adopting a platform opposed to any restrictions or limitations on abortion and arguing that President Obama "has respected the principle of religious liberty" in requiring free contraception to be included in health insurance plans.
The Democratic platform also came under scrutiny during the convention for removing a reference to God. The statement, which had previously been in the party platform, called for a government that gives "everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."
After receiving criticism for the decision, the statement was reinserted, leading to both cheers and boos from Democratic delegates.
In addition, the party’s platform has drawn garnered attention for its unprecedented support for the redefinition of marriage to include gay couples.
References to redefining marriage were scattered throughout numerous speeches during the convention, but the main speakers did not give the subject a heavy emphasis.
Despite speculation that prominent gay Rep. Barney Frank would highlight the issue in his Sept. 6 address to the convention, the Massachusetts congressman limited his speech to economic issues.
However, at a smaller caucus of LGBT delegates and supporters earlier in the day, Frank spoke very directly about the party’s endorsement of “gay marriage,” saying that the Democratic Party has become the party of the gay movement.
Other caucus speakers said the redefinition of marriage is “inevitable” and insisted that they would not be content with civil unions but would insist upon the full recognition of “gay marriage.”
"There's no such thing as half-way to justice," said Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J.
Among the most notable Catholic voices at the convention was Sr. Simone Campbell, who heads the social justice lobby Network and led the "Nuns on the Bus" tour to protest Paul Ryan's federal budget proposal.
Sr. Campbell criticized Republicans for failing to acknowledge the shared responsibility of Americans to care for their neighbors through federal government programs. She applauded the president's economic, health care and Medicaid policies.
"This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do," she said.
The convention also featured celebrity appearances by actresses Kerry Washington, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Longoria, who voiced approval for Obama's economic policies and financial support of Planned Parenthood.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops, offered the final benediction to conclude the convention.
He prayed for the nation's leaders and for all Americans, as well as for immigrants, the poor and those struggling to find work.
"Renew in all of our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first most cherished freedom," he added.
The cardinal, who also offered the closing benediction at the Republican National Convention, prayed for "those yet to be born" and for a respect for "the laws of nature and nature's God."
"May you mend our every flaw, confirming our soul in self-control, our liberty in law," he prayed.
Islamabad, Pakistan, Sep 7, 2012 (CNA) - A judge granted bail on Friday, Sept. 7 to a 14-year-old Christian girl with Down syndrome who has been held on suspicion of burning pages of the Quran.
“Although this is a small step towards justice, she will still have to undergo a full trial unless granted asylum in a Western nation,” Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association said in a Sept. 7 e-mail.
Masih, who has Down syndrome, was arrested Aug. 16 and has been held at a high-security prison in Rawalpindi.
Her bail has been set at 1,000,000 rupees, or about $10,500. Bail is not normally available to those held under the blasphemy laws, but the evidence against her was deemed inadequate to continue to hold a minor with Down syndrome.
If her bail is met, she may be united with her family, which has been taken into protective custody. Many Christians have fled the poor neighborhood where the Masih family lived, fearing mob violence.
Even if those accused under the country’s harsh blasphemy laws are acquitted in court, it can be difficult for authorities to prevent the killing of those who are accused. In 2011, two Pakistani politicians -- Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic -- were assassinated for opposing the blasphemy laws under which Masih is being held.
“Here safety is paramount and security at today's court hearing was significant, however the killing of Governor Taseer illustrates that extra-judicial killings are hard to prevent,” Chowdhry stated.
Masih's case has garnered attention from Western governments and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. It has also sparked discussion of the blasphemy laws and human rights within Pakistan itself.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used to settle scores or to persecute minorities. Christians make up a mere two to four percent of the country’s population.
On Sept. 2 an imam from Masih's neighborhood, Khalid Chishti, was arrested on suspicion of having planted pages of the Quran among burnt pages in a bag she was carrying. Chishti will also face charges under the blasphemy laws.
Chisti allegedly said to his companions, “You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area.” Several persons, including his own deputy, have testified to his action of planting the Quran pages in Masih's bag.
“It’s a welcome decision, they were expecting this and they were praying for this, but it comes not as a favorable gesture on the part of the court, it doesn’t involve that sympathy that common people share; a child being accused and then being abused and kept in jail,” said Peter Jacob, of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, an advocacy organization established by the Pakistani bishops' conference.
Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 7, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - St. Joseph’s University has signed a letter of intent to buy the Archbishop of Philadelphia’s residence from the financially troubled archdiocese at an expected cost of $10 million.
“As we look to the future, this opens exciting possibilities for the University community, and it will further enhance our students’ experience for decades to come,” university president C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J. said Sept. 7.
He said the property acquisition is “an opportunity that will be integral to the university’s long-term strategic planning.”
The residence and its 8.9-acre property are adjacent to the Jesuit university’s 48-acre Philadelphia campus. The property’s main building is three stories tall and hosts 23,250 square feet of space. It includes a gardener’s cottage and a six-car garage.
The university said the letter of intent is the first step in the acquisition. Both the university and the archdiocese are expected to sign a purchase agreement in the next several weeks.
Fr. Gillespie said the university has no immediate plans to develop the property. Funding for the purchase is coming from both the university’s internal resources and from donors.
Cardinal Dennis Dougherty bought the residence in the 1930s for $115,000, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Philadelphia’s archbishops have lived at the residence since 1935.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia will live in an apartment at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. The late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua lived there after his retirement in 2003.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia faces an operating debt of $6 million for the 2012 fiscal year and over $11 million in estimated legal costs for sex abuse cases. It is seeking to sell other properties such as a summer vacation home for retired priests, the Holy Family Center in Philadelphia, and the Mary Immaculate Center in Northampton, Pa.