Archive of September 10, 2012

African American pastor says Democrats do not serve black interests

Charlotte, N.C., Sep 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As delegates at the Democratic National Convention celebrated the party's decision to reiterate its support for abortion and officially endorse “gay marriage,” an African American leader said that these policies harm the black community.

“As far as I'm concerned, the Democratic Party is not pro-African American,” said Rev. Bill Owens, president of the Coalition of African American Pastors.

Owens told CNA that African Americans in the U.S. are used as “pawns” because they automatically assume that the Democratic Party supports their interests.

But if Democrats truly have the interests of the black community at heart, and if African Americans consistently vote the Democratic ticket, he asked, “why are we in such bad shape?”

Owens said that the major issues facing the African American community today are education, jobs and abortion.

“We have more young men in prison than in college,” he said, explaining that African Americans are “behind every group in the country” as far as education, even falling behind groups that come to the U.S. from other nations.

“We're losing our young men to gangs,” he added, and “culturally, we're slipping behind.”

Underlying all of these problems, Owens said, is the sad truth that “we have lost the family.”

“If the family were intact, we wouldn't have so many of our young men in prison,” he said, noting that young men often join gangs when they do not have strong families and faith communities.

“Education would be much better,” he added.

Owens recalled that when he participated in the civil rights movement, there were more black families together than white families.

“But now the family has disintegrated,” he said.

President Barack Obama is the first leader that Owens has ever publicly spoken out against. He said that he is extremely concerned about the implications of the president's positions, including his unprecedented support for “gay marriage,” on black families.

Owens joined other family advocates in warning that “gay marriage” renders both mothers and fathers optional and unnecessary.

With the black family already weakened and vulnerable, he said, the African American community will be especially harmed by efforts to redefine marriage.

He also observed that the black community has voted against “gay marriage” at every opportunity.

Owens said that the Democratic Party takes the black vote for granted.

He explained that he and a group of pastors had invited Obama to a dialogue about important issues within the black community but “he didn't give us the courtesy of an answer,” despite the fact that his predecessor had agreed to meet with the group.

While there is a need for “dialogue” with both parities, he said, the Democratic Party's 2012 platform, which endorses a redefinition of marriage for the first time in history, raises particular concerns.

Owens said that he loves homosexual people. However, he explained, respecting individuals and redefining the most basic building block of society are two separate things.

Pointing to already struggling black families, he stressed that redefining marriage would be particularly detrimental to the African American community.

“We're going to be harmed more than anybody,”  he said.

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Christians, Muslims to hold vigil as Lebanon papal visit approaches

Rome, Italy, Sep 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians and Muslims will come together for a prayer vigil on Sept. 12 to invoke the protection of God and the Virgin Mary over Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the country this week.

Vatican-based Fides News Agency reported that four processions of young people will converge upon the “Garden of Mary” in Beirut's Museum Square on Wednesday.  

At 8 p.m. local time the vigil will begin, with Christian and Muslim readings and prayer asking God to bless the Sept. 14-16 papal visit.

The Secretary of the Commission of the Lebanese Bishops' Conference for Dialogue with Islam, Father Antoine Daou, told Fides that the title of the initiative is “Together in peace, love, freedom and security.”

“It will be a national and popular holiday, to show to the world that Lebanon can be in this moment in history the Country of coexistence between Christians and Muslims,” he noted.

Representatives and leaders from all the religious communities in Lebanon, as well as thousands of the faithful, are expected to participate in the vigil.

A number of organizations devoted to Christian-Muslim dialogue are promoting the event, including the group “Together Around Mary,” which in recent years has organized joint Muslim-Christian celebrations on the feast of the Annunciation.

Since 2012, the Annunciation has been a national holiday in Lebanon to help promote better relations between the members of the two faiths.

Fr. Daou said the processions are among numerous events taking place in dioceses across Lebanon in preparation for the Pope’s visit.

“All the Lebanese, all the political and religious leaders – including the Hezbollah, Druze, Sunni political leaders – are waiting for the Pope's visit as a grace for Lebanon, which can favor a moment of true national unity, beyond division, and show the whole Middle East world that Lebanon can be a model of coexistence,” the priest said.

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Chilean archbishop tells addicts that recovery is possible

Santiago, Chile, Sep 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a visit to the St. Joaquin Rehabilitation Center in Santiago, Chile, Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati told those struggling to break free from drug and alcohol addiction that rehabilitation is possible.

“You all have every chance to make your lives into something very precious,” Archbishop Ezzati told the patients and staff of the center, run by the local Hope Corporation.

“The fundamental issue is prevention,” he said. “We want rehabilitation, and this foundation contributes greatly to this, but it is also important that we invest in the previous stage, not only economically, but also in that more people dedicate their time to preventing drug use.”

The Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Santiago, Father Rodrigo Tupper, said the drug problem is so vast most efforts are “ insufficient.”  

“This is a tragic reality we face, especially among kids. I think we owe more to preventing drug use at that stage. We need laws related to education to help us,” Fr. Tupper said.

The Hope Corporation was created in 1995 and currently provides rehabilitation services to almost 400 men and women at centers throughout Chile.  

The National Service for the Prevention and Rehabilitation of Drug and Alcohol Use warned that in Chile drug and alcohol use begins on average at age 13.

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Iranian pastor freed after three years, acquitted of apostasy charges

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Amid continued pressure from the international community, Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has been released from an Iranian prison after nearly three years of facing the threat of execution for his religion.

“Today marks a day of celebration,” said the American Center for Law and Justice in a Sept. 10 statement. “Your prayers, your advocacy, and your voice has been heard.”

The organization hailed the pastor’s release as “an example of how the world can join together to ensure that justice is served and freedom preserved.”

Nadarkhani had been in jail since 2009, when he was arrested after he complained to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school. He was found guilty of abandoning Islam, the faith of his ancestors, and ordered to recant or face execution.

However despite repeated threats, he refused to renounce his Christian beliefs. In February, reports surfaced that an execution order may have been issued for the pastor.

The American Center for Law and Justice has worked in recent months to keep the international spotlight on the Nadarkhani’s situation, warning that this is critical because executions in Iran are often carried out secretly.

The organization also ran a Twitter initiative to raise awareness about the Christian pastor’s plight, ultimately reaching more than 3 million accounts.

As international attention grew, the Iranian regime was faced with mounting pressure from countries around the world, as well as the U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights, who called for Nadarkhani’s release at a March 12 meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Key among Iran’s critics was the nation of Brazil, which maintains both a strong Christian culture and an important economic relationship with Iran.

Nadarkhani was summoned to appear in an Iranian court on Sept. 8. Reports indicated that after a six hour hearing, he was acquitted of his apostasy charge and allowed to return to his family.

However, sources told the American Center for Law and Justice that the pastor was also charged and convicted with “evangelizing to Muslims,” a crime for which he was sentenced to three years in prison. The court ruled that his past three years in jail counted as filling this sentence.  

The Christian pastor’s release was welcomed by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“This comes after nearly three harrowing years during which he faced a death penalty sentence on charges of apostasy - in clear violation of Iran's international human rights commitments,” she said in a statement.

“Despite this welcome news, the status of religious freedom in Iran remains grave,” Nuland acknowledged. “Many more Iranians remain in prison and face persecution simply because of their faith.”

She called for the “immediate release” of these individuals and said that the U.S. “will continue to stand with the people of Iran who struggle to have their fundamental human rights respected.”

The American Center for Law and Justice encouraged continued prayer for Nadarkhani’s safety as he is reunited with his wife and two young children.

“International attention to this matter saved this man’s life,” the group said, “but we must not forget the human right of freedom of religion includes the right to freedom of expression.”

While it praised the pastor’s release, it added that “we must recognize that Iran felt obligated to save face among its people and continue its pattern of suppressing religious freedom with intimidation tactics.”  

The organization is now focusing its efforts on a global 48 Hours for Religious Freedom initiative on Sept. 21-22. The event is aiming to raise worldwide awareness about those who are being persecuted for their religion. Participants are urged to plan activities within their own faith traditions, such as special worship services and candlelight vigils.

“We must also not forget the numerous other religious minorities in Iran who are imprisoned and face persecution for their faith,” the group stressed.

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Pakistani teen released on bail in blasphemy case

Islamabad, Pakistan, Sep 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A 14-year-old Christian girl with Down's syndrome who has been held on suspicion of burning pages of the Quran was released on bail Saturday, Sept. 8.

“The court’s decision to release Rimsha on bail gives courage to other judges to act in a similar way,” Bishop Sebastian Shaw of the Lahore Archdiocese told Aid to the Church in Need.

“Many Muslims were thinking in a positive, sympathetic way but weren’t able to say as much openly,” he added. “With this precedent, they may be encouraged to say what they want.”

Rimsha Masih was released after two individuals posted a bond against assurances that she would again appear in court, according to the BBC. She has been united with her family, who have been taken into protective custody, and was flown by helicopter to her family's location Sept. 9.

Her bail was set at 1,000,000 rupees, or about $10,500. Although bail is not normally available to those held under the blasphemy laws, the evidence against her was deemed inadequate to continue to hold a minor with Down's syndrome. Her case will be transferred to a juvenile court.

Masih, who has Down's syndrome, was arrested Aug. 16 and had been held at a high-security prison in Rawalpindi.

Many Christians have fled the poor neighborhood where the Masih family lived, fearing mob violence.

In 2011, two Pakistani politicians – Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic – were assassinated for opposing the blasphemy laws under which Masih was being held.

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 said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute minorities. Christians make up 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 told his companions that “this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area.” Several people, including his own deputy, have testified to his action of planting the Quran pages in Masih's bag.

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New archbishop says Scotland's re-evangelization rooted in Christ

Glasgow, Scotland, Sep 10, 2012 (CNA) - The new Archbishop of Glasgow used his inaugural homily to propose a vision for the re-evangelization of Scotland, which he said is rooted in a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  

“I think it is very important to stress that the proposal the Church makes to the world today is not an idea, or a plan or a policy, but a person,” said Archbishop Philip Tartaglia during Mass at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow Sept. 8.

“That person is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of Mary.”

The new archbishop says he believes “that this proposal remains exciting and endlessly relevant for the world in which we live.”

When that proposition “is made persuasively and well to people of good will,” he added, “they often find that their minds are drawn to the truth of God and their hearts are touched by the love of God.”

A native of Glasgow, 61-year-old Archbishop Philip Tartaglia is the 40th successor of St. Mungo, the first bishop and founder of city in the 6th century.

“To be the Successor of Mungo brings me to my knees in humble prayer and calls me anew to faith and to holiness,” he told the packed congregation which included representatives from the Archdiocese of Glasgow’s near 100 parishes.

Approximately 16 percent of the Scotland’s 5 million population is Catholic. The country has eight dioceses the most populous of which in terms of number of Catholics is Glasgow.

Archbishop Tartaglia said he wanted the Catholic population of his new Archdiocese to “be filled with that commitment and that enthusiasm for Jesus and for his Gospel and to radiate the joy which comes with the inestimable treasure of knowing Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prior to being appointed to his new post in Glasgow, Archbishop Tartaglia had been the bishop of the neighboring Diocese of Paisley since 2005. Before that he served as Rector of the Scots College in Rome.

He said the he wanted young people in particular “to sense and grasp the beauty and the wonder of Jesus Christ” and to “discover with eagerness and joy the true faith, the sanctifying and transforming potential of the sacraments, the teaching and maternal care of the Church, mater et magistra.”

Overall, he desired that his Archdiocese “embrace the new evangelization as the special challenge of our lifetime” and to witness “the saving message of the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ in all its fullness” to each other and to “the wider community” the majority of whom are not presently Catholic.

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