Archive of December 18, 2012

Man with sledgehammer attacks two La. Catholic churches

Lake Charles, La., Dec 18, 2012 (CNA) - A vandal with a sledgehammer who attacked statues at two parishes in Sulphur, La. was discovered in the adoration chapel at one of the churches.

Sulphur police chief Lewis Coats said the suspect told authorities, “God ordered him to destroy the statues.”

Both Our Lady of Prompt Succor and Our Lady of LaSalette parishes lost about a dozen statues in the attack, which occurred overnight between Dec. 14 and 15. The Blessed Sacrament was spared desecration at both parishes.

A parishioner in LaSalette's adoration chapel was approached in the early hours of Dec. 15 by a man identified as Daniel W. Duplechin, who was carrying a sledgehammer. The parishioner then called the police, who had to taze Duplechin after he charged an officer outside the church.

The suspect, who is 35, remained in jail Sunday night, with bond set at $690,000. He has been charged with hate crimes, two counts of burglary of a religious building and two counts of felony criminal damage to a religious building.

He has also been accused of shattering glass entryways at Henning Memorial United Methodist Church and Sulphur First Baptist Church, though he did not make entry into either of those buildings.

Much of the art destroyed will be difficult to replace. Some of Our Lady of Prompt Succor's statues were about 100 years-old, and the crucifix vandalized at Our Lady of LaSalette is roughly 80 years old.

Even though the parishes have insurance, “it doesn’t replace the sentimental and historic value of the statues. These are mementos of the history of the parishes,” said Bishop Glen J. Provost of the Diocese of Lake Charles.

Bishop Provost said the destruction was as though someone had burgled a home and destroyed cherished family photos.

The bishop will take part in prayers of reparation at both churches on Dec. 20 and 21.

Bishop Provost said prayers would be offered for both parishes, “and for the young fellow who did all the damage, as well.”

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Long-time Michigan roadside nativity resurrected

Warren, Mich., Dec 18, 2012 (CNA) - A 67-year-old tradition of placing a nativity scene on a public median in Warren, Mich. has been re-established after a four-year legal battle involving the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“John Satawa was persistent enough to follow through,” CNA was told Dec. 17 by Richard Thompson, president of Thomas More Law Center, which represented Satawa, the crèche’s caretaker.

Satawa is “an individual citizen who was not going to disappear silently into the night, but was going to fight the decision of the road commission to maintain this tradition that had been going on since 1945,” Thompson said.

The crèche was erected again Dec. 15 by Satawa, his family and friends, and local Boy Scouts, after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in his favor on Aug. 1.

While the nativity scene was being erected, Warren police controlled traffic as well-wishers gathered, carolers sang Christmas songs, a priest from nearby St. Anne's Catholic Church blessed the display and passing motorists sounded their horns in approval.

In 2008 the Macomb County Road Commission received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation objecting to a private citizen placing a nativity scene on a 60-foot-wide median.

They claimed the crèche violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and the county immediately ordered the display removed.

Satawa had gotten permission for the crèche several times, and in 1995 the local police department finally gave him a blanket permission to erect it in the future, so that he would not feel it necessary to ask again.

On March 9, 2009, after receiving the Freedom from Religion Foundation's letter, a highway engineer for Macomb County, Robert Hoepfner, wrote to Satawa denying him a permit to resurrect the manger scene and only citing reasons related to the establishment clause for the denial.

Satawa then sued the Macomb County Road Commission for violating his rights under the establishment and free speech clauses of the First Amendment, and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The district court found in favor of the county, but its decision was reversed by an appeals court.

“During litigation, the county changed its explanation,” Appellate Judge Danny J. Boggs wrote in his Aug. 1 decision, “claiming that safety was – and always had been – the reason for its decision.”

Two members of the road commission were co-defendants in the suit, and Boggs wrote that “at best” their “testimony is confusing. At worst, one or the other is completely mistaken.”

Boggs' decision treated the county's claim that the permit's denial was based on safety concerns as risible. The one scenario in which it could possibly contribute to an accident requires “one driver flagrantly disobeying traffic laws, while another is grossly inattentive.”

“A hypothetical traffic-safety concern resting on aberrant behavior, which has never happened … in sixty years does not qualify as a significant government interest,” the judge stated.

Boggs noted that in Hoepfner's March 9, 2009 letter, “not once did he use the word 'safety;' not once did he use the word 'traffic.'”

When the “district court held that … safety was at least part of the Board's motivation for denying the permit … the district court erred,” Boggs stated.

Thompson told CNA that the case demonstrates the importance of citizens standing up for their rights.

This is underscored by the fact that municipalities and schools have a “knee-jerk reaction” to acquiesce to demands made by groups such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU that “Christian expressions … be removed,” he said.

“There are religious expressions that are allowable in the public sphere. And in this particular case the court recognized that the reasons the road commission gave were pretextual. They were attempting to justify what they had done, because they were intimidated by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.”

“The court looked at the fact that this was what we call a 'traditional public forum;' and if you allow expressions in a traditional public forum, then you cannot discriminate on the basis of the content of that expression.”

“It pays to do a thorough analysis of the law before you ever tell a citizen to take something down that's been up for over 60 years,” Thompson stated.

The nativity scene will remain up in Warren until Dec. 29, and will be set up again next Christmas season.

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Amid struggle, Palestinian Christians look ahead to Christmas

Jerusalem, Israel, Dec 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Armed conflicts and a decline in tourists and pilgrims from overseas will cause difficulties for Palestinian Christians, but they will still celebrate Christmas.

“There are good and bad feelings this Christmas but if we consider that Christmas is above all a spiritual feast, I believe it will be a very good celebration,” Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem told Aid to the Church in Need Dec. 17.

“There will certainly be fewer pilgrims and other visitors from overseas. Many have canceled their trips here but we will still have many people coming from Galilee and elsewhere as well as many Christians from Bethlehem.”

Christians have been cheered by the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas party, which put a halt to renewed violence after rocket attacks from Gaza militants prompted retaliation from the Israeli military.

Bishop Shomali said that local Christians also appreciate the United Nations’ recognition of Palestine as a non-member state.

“For Christians in and around Bethlehem, Christmas this year will be joyful because of the U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said. “This has given people a lot of morale and indeed is seen by many as a victory.”

However, continuing violence in neighboring Syria, where tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict between rebel forces and the Syrian government, continues to cause concern.

“What is happening in Syria casts a dark shadow. It impacts on us very greatly. We are not happy with what is happening in Syria. We are anxious and sad about the situation there,” the bishop said.

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting several charitable projects including the Bethlehem Seminary and Solidarity Village, a low-cost housing project for young Christians in East Jerusalem. The charity also supports families who make crosses, cribs and other olive wood religious items that the international Catholic pastoral charity sells.

Israeli security concerns have caused major problems for Bethlehem Christians. Travel restrictions mean few can leave their West Bank city to work and tourists have difficulty entering.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, Aid to the Church in Need’s U.K. director, launched a prayer appeal for peace between Israel and Palestine on Nov. 25.

“The Christian community must not stand back hoping that conflicts like this will burn themselves out. We have to act now for the people,” he said. “Our Lord prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. We must pray too for the peace of Jerusalem and the wider Middle East.”

Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem has thanked Aid to the Church in Need for its prayer campaign.

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Religious women support teenagers grieving after shooting

Newtown, Conn., Dec 18, 2012 (CNA) - Consecrated women from a religious community in Connecticut are offering prayers, counseling and support to high school students following a mass shooting in their town.

“Only God can give them the hope that they need to heal,” said Florencia Silva, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.

Silva told CNA that she was one of three consecrated lay women from the Marian Community of Reconciliation who was asked to attend a Dec. 17 youth group meeting at St. Rose of Lima parish in Newtown, Conn., along with clergy, other consecrated laity and counselors.

The meeting was intended to help the members of the close-knit community reeling from a tragic shooting in their small town.

On the morning of Dec. 14, a gunman identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School after killing his mother at her house.

The gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school before taking his own life.

St. Rose of Lima parish, which includes some 2000 families, regularly sees between 60 and 100 young people – largely high school students – show up for youth group meetings.

Silva said that she and her religious sisters intend to support the teenagers by praying with them and for them, as well as being present and available if they would like to talk.

She explained that members of the religious community have already visited diocesan high schools in the region, organizing a Mass and making themselves available to listen to the students as they process the experience.

The students reacted positively, saying that the Mass helped them to heal, she said, adding that many of them are also experiencing deep feelings of grief and fear.

“Those are normal reactions,” she said. “I think we are all very sad.”

Silva said she hopes to help the students through these struggles while aiding them in realizing that God is always present, even in the midst of tragedy.

She pointed to one child who recalled seeing God’s presence in the loving and heroic actions of a teacher protecting a class full of students during the shooting.

“God is always there,” she said.

Emphasizing that prayers are real and efficacious, Silva is asking people to pray for those who died in the shooting, including Lanza.

While she acknowledged that forgiveness is not always easy, she stressed that it is a choice, made out of love, even when one is still struggling with strong emotions.

“It’s going to take time for the people to heal, for all of us to heal,” she said.

Julie Rogers, another member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, said that she hopes to show the grieving teenagers at the youth group that “they’re not alone.”

Newtown is a “tight-knit community,” she observed, and its members need to see that they are being supported with love and prayers.

“First and foremost, they need to know that God is with them,” she said. “He is not a distant God. He is present in their sufferings.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary is also present and “knows what it is like to lose a child,” she explained.

In addition, Rogers hopes to remind those who are suffering from the tragedy that the Christian response is “a response of hope” because it is centered on the Resurrection.

The Christian message is one of forgiveness, not vengeance, she added, and so they are praying for Lanza as well.

During this time of grief, it is important to recognize that human beings alone cannot make sense out of this tragic situation, Rogers stressed.

“This is a time to turn to God,” she said.

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Archbishop Chaput: Advent's message relevant in wake of tragedy

Philadelphia, Pa., Dec 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The message of Advent is applicable in today’s world, especially in light of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said in his Dec. 17 column.

“In these final days of Advent, the Church urges us to lift up our hearts and prepare to rejoice,” he said. “There’s nothing remotely naïve in this call to joy; the Church knows the harshness of the world far too well for empty pieties.”

Even in the face of tragedy, such as the recent elementary school shooting in which a lone gunman killed his mother and 26 students and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Archbishop Chaput said that God is present.

When trying to comprehend the violence and evil that took place that day, people will ask how God could allow such suffering to exist in the world, the archbishop noted.

Although these questions “sound reasonable,” he said, they are “all evasions,”

“We might as well ask, ‘Why does God allow us to be free?’”

Archbishop Chaput recalled that humanity has the blessing of being loved unconditionally by its Creator. And although God seeks our love, “we will never be coerced by the One who loves us.”

 “God is good, but we human beings are free, and being free, we help fashion the nature of our world with the choices we make,” he said.

That means that while “evil is frightening,” it is unfortunately “not incomprehensible,” he wrote. “We know it from intimate experience.”

“What we never quite expect is for our private sins, multiplied and fermented by millions of lives with the same or similar ‘little’ sins, to somehow feed the kind evil that walks into a Connecticut school and guns down 26 innocent lives, 20 of them children,” he said.

During his time in Denver, Archbishop Chaput had the duty of helping bury some victims of the April 20, 1999 Columbine shooting in which two high school students shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives.

“Nothing is more helpless or heart-breaking than to sit with parents who kissed their children goodbye in the morning and will never see them alive again in this world.  The pain of loss is excruciating.  Words of comfort all sound empty,” he said.

Evil that exists in the world, while “bitter and brutal,” is “not new,” he observed. “Nor, in the light of human history, is it a surprise.”

In the Old Testament, God revels that “love is as strong as death,” Archbishop Chaput said. In God’s redeeming plan, “love is stronger than death.”

“The surprise is the persistence of God’s fidelity and mercy. The surprise is that, despite our sins, we still long to be the people God intended us to be.”

He said that “the only effective antidote” to evil in the world is for each person “to live differently from this moment forward.”

“We make the future beginning now,” he added.

He noted that when young lives are “cut so short,” each memory a parent has of their child is “precious” and is “compounded by a hunger for more time and more memories that will never happen.”

For this reason, Archbishop Chaput emphasized the necessity of keeping “the grieving families so urgently in our hearts and prayers.”

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Colombian archbishop offers prayers after bus accident deaths

Bogotá, Colombia, Dec 18, 2012 (CNA) - A Colombian archbishop offered his solidarity and condolences to the families and friends of the 27 victims who died in a bus accident nine days before Christmas.

Noting the “tremendously tragic nature” of the accident, Archbishop Dario de Jesus Monsalve Mejia of Cali, Columbia acknowledged that “with irreparable losses like these, we are left speechless.”

According to Columbian radio network Caracol Radio, a bus traveling on the highway between the cities of Bogota and Cali crashed shortly before midnight on Dec. 16.

The vehicle, which had been operated by International Tourism Transportation, was carrying 40 passengers.

The driver said that the brakes were not working and that he was trying to slow the bus down by downshifting, reported survivors. Injured passengers were taken to hospitals in the nearby cities of Fusagasuga, Silvania and Soacha.  

In his statement, Archbishop Monsalve said the Church in Cali, together with the entire country, “is shocked by the traffic accident that has brought sorrow to so many families hoping to joyfully celebrate Christmas together.”

He recognized the pain surrounding those who lost loved ones in the accident, especially in the days before Christmas.

“As archbishop of this Church, I extend an embrace of condolence and solidarity with all those affected, and I pray for the recovery of the injured and the eternal repose of the deceased,” he said.  

He urged the faithful to offer support and care to those who are grieving, particularly in the parishes that will hold the wakes and funerals for those who have died.

“I invite all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Cali to observe a moment of silence and prayer for these intentions on the second and third day of the Christmas Novena,” he added.

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Irish government proposals would allow abortion

Dublin, Ireland, Dec 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Irish government has announced that it will introduce legislation on abortion that will legalize the procedure in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, drawing criticism pro-life advocates.

Independent Irish Senator Ronan Mullen said in the Irish Senate that the move showed “no concern for unborn children” and was a contradictory act in the wake of condemnations of the massive school shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut, the Irish newspaper The Journal reports.

“I find it entirely appropriate that we would join in solidarity with the people, with the children who died in Connecticut,” he said.

“Let's be sincere about that. And let's not slip into a double-think either, however, where we forget a whole category of children in our own country."

The proposal is meant to bring the country’s laws in line with a December 2010 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that said Ireland needed to clarify the legal status of abortion, in line with a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision held that abortion must permissible to save the life of a pregnant woman, including when she threatens suicide.

Irish law was never changed to reflect that ruling.

Health Minister James Reilly said that most people have “personal views” on the question.

“However, the Government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. We must fulfill our duty of care towards them,” he said Dec. 18.

He said the government will pass legislation and regulation clarifying “what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life.”

“We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child,” he said.

Niamh Ui Bhriain, spokeswoman for the Dublin-based Life Institute, was critical of the action.

“Obviously we’re very unhappy with the approach the government is taking,” she told CNA Dec. 18.

She added that the government has not yet said whether it will move to legalize abortion in cases where the pregnant mother threatens suicide. Pro-life advocates fear that such an exception will allow abortion on demand, as happened in England.

The decision on suicide will not be made until next year, Ui Bhriain said.

The push for changes to Irish abortion law follows the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who was admitted to a Galway hospital while miscarrying. She reportedly asked for an abortion and later died of a severe infection. Her death is still being investigated, but abortion advocates seized on her case to claim legal abortion would have saved her life and to push for changes to abortion laws.

The Irish Catholic bishops on Dec. 5 said that the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child “can never be morally justified.” They said changes to Irish law put at risk Irish medical practice that recognizes a “vital ethical distinction” between direct abortion and medical treatments for a pregnant woman that may put her life at risk.

“Abortion is gravely immoral in all circumstances, no matter how ‘limited’ access to abortion may be,” the bishops said.

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Irish bishops say legalizing abortion will harm care for moms

Dublin, Ireland, Dec 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The archbishops of Ireland say the government's consideration of legalizing abortion would harm the country's world-renowned health care practices for mothers.

“If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed,” read the statement of the four archbishops released Dec. 18.

“It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances,” wrote Archbishops Sean Brady of Armagh; Diarmuid Martin of Dublin; Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly; and Michael Neary of Tuam.

Their comments come the same day as the health department of the Republic of Ireland announced that as a result of a expert groups' report released Nov. 27, the government will introduce legislation to allow for abortion in the case of life endangerment of the mother.

The measure is aimed at clarifying the status of Irish abortion law.

The expert group was formed in response to a Dec. 2010 decision of the European Court of Human Rights that Irish law is unclear about the legality of abortion.

An 1861 law, still in effect in Ireland, bans abortion, and the 1983 constitution recognizes unborn childrens' right to life “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother,” which the European court upheld.

In 1992 the country's Supreme Court, in the “X-case,” ruled that abortion was lawful if there was a significant risk to the life of the mother as a result of her pregnancy.

The bishops stated that the “X-case” decision “unilaterally overturned the clear pro-life intention of the people of legislate on the basis of such a flawed judgment would be both tragic and unnecessary.”

“The dignity of the human person and the common good of humanity” are dependent upon the right to life, wrote the bishops.

But the impending vote to legislate for abortion means that Irish representatives must now ask themselves, “will I chose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb in all circumstances, or will I chose to license the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?”

The bishops stressed that the vote must respect “complete respect for the freedom of conscience” of every legislator.

This comes as the Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, said the party whip would be applied to his ruling Fine Gael party.

“There will be no free vote on this,” he announced.

The government stated that the legislation, which has yet to be drafted, will be “within the parameters” of the constitution's provision for the equal rights to life of mother and child, “as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the X case.”

The government further stated that the legislation would provide “clarity and certainty” about when an abortion is allowed, and that this would only be when there is “a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman” and that risk can be averted only by an abortion.

Irish health minister James Reilly said that the legislation was needed to ensure that “the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened.”

The Republic of Ireland is in fact one of the safest countries in the world for pregnant mothers. Only three of every 100,000 women die in childbirth in the country. The average number in Europe and North America, with liberal abortion provisions, is 14 per 100,000.

The archbishops concluded their statement by admonishing “all involved” to “consider the profound moral questions that arise in responding to today’s announcement by the Government.”

“We encourage all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right.”

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