Orlando, Fla., Jan 9, 2013 (CNA) - The Seek 2013 gathering brought thousands of Catholic college students to Orlando, Florida's Swan and Dolphin Hotel Jan. 2-6, encouraging attendees to search for what God wants for them in life.
“It’s exciting to see so many people who care about their faith who love Jesus and want to follow Jesus and love the Church,” Jeremy Rivera, national director of marketing and communications for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), told CNA Jan. 8.
FOCUS presented the conference, which zeroed in on the theme “What Moves You.” The event's speakers gave wide-ranging talks about faith and contemporary Catholic life.
Over 5,000 attendees participated in Eucharistic Adoration while 3,000 to 4,000 students went to confession with 150 priests, Rivera said.
“It’s an exciting time in America’s history to be Catholic,” he said, adding that he hopes attendees will “go back to campuses and tell everything that the Church is for, not just what the Church is against.”
“We talk about the fullness of life. We talk about the fullness of truth. We want to put the color back into the negative photograph for people to see the vision that Jesus actually has for our life.”
“God doesn’t want us to be miserable,” Rivera said. “He wants us to be fulfilled. He wants us to be fully alive. He said ‘I came that you might have life and have it to the full.'”
Seek 2013 highlights included Eucharistic Adoration, a Matt Maher concert and a keynote speech by Catholic apologist and former model Leah Darrow.
Her talk “really resonated with a lot of the young people there who in our culture are kind of told to worry about the external,” Rivera said.
“Ultimately Christ wants a relationship with our true self,” he noted.
The Seek 2013 event was formerly called the FOCUS National Conference. Rivera said organizers changed the name of the biennial gathering as part of a “strategic shift” to appeal to more students than those who participate in FOCUS.
“We have a presence on 74 college campuses right now but there’s over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States,” he said. “We felt we’d have a broader reach if we didn’t focus so much on FOCUS and more on Seek.”
The name change could also help bring in those who are not Catholic.
“Wherever you are on the spectrum of faith, or not even on the spectrum – an atheist, an agnostic, spiritual but not religious – there’s a place for you here,” Rivera said.
“We’re inviting people to seek the truth, to have a dialogue with people and ask questions.”
He suggested the event is evidence of the “new springtime” of faith proposed by Pope Paul VI and his successors.
“We see this new springtime, this little shoot coming out of the ground,” he said. “It’s not just the germination from seed. We see it popping out now through groups like FOCUS and the (Denver-based) Augustine Institute and the new generation of leadership within the Knights of Columbus for example.”
“There are a lot of great apostolates,” Rivera said.
A reality show based on the Seek 2013 gathering is being prepared to air on the EWTN Global Catholic Network in the fall. It will follow five students at very different places in their spiritual life as they experience the event.
Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan 9, 2013 (CNA) -
A national ad campaign that promotes adoption as an alternative to abortion has reached hundreds of women and has helped many of them arrange adoptions for their babies.
The campaign, organized by the Austin, Texas-based Heroic Media in partnership with the Michigan-based Bethany Christian Services, aired 45 spots over a four-week period on the Oxygen Network during the reality TV show “I’m Having Their Baby.”
The ads featured a pregnant woman who told viewers why she plans to put her unborn child up for adoption.
“The commercial has already impacted lives across the country and we will continue to air it in hopes of connecting women with adoption resources in 2013,” Bill Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany, said Jan. 7.
The ad included a website address and a phone number for pregnant women to contact to learn more about adoption.
Because of the campaign, organizers said, hundreds of women contacted licensed pregnancy counselors with Bethany Christian Services to learn about their options. Many are considering whether to prepare an adoption plan for their child.
One mother in Florida had been considering leaving her baby at a hospital after she gave birth, which is allowed under state law. She then decided to place her daughter with a pastor and his wife through Bethany Christian Services.
The campaign developed after a research team organized by Heroic Media asked leading adoption agencies about the women they served. The team explored the questions and fears these women have and explored how Bethany could address these.
Marissa Cope, Heroic Media’s director of marketing research and communications, said the ad was intended to reach the key target audience of women aged 18 to 34 who may be facing a decision about an unplanned pregnancy.
The ad is intended to communicate clearly that adoption is an option. Its message focuses on adoption as a “positive solution” and alternative for a birthmother, a “life-changing blessing” for adoptive parents and “a gift of love and hope” for adopted children.
The actress performing in the ad tells viewers that women can choose the adoptive family for their baby and assures women that they will receive help throughout the rest of their pregnancy.
About half of the more than six million pregnancies in the U.S. each year are not planned. The ad targets these pregnant women, especially those in their twenties who account for more than half of all abortions.
Blacquiere said Bethany’s campaign with Heroic Media represents “a partnership between two national leaders in the fight for life and alternatives to abortion.”
Heroic Media aims to change women’s hearts and minds about abortion through research-based television and internet commercials, billboards and other media. Its website is www.heroicmedia.org.
Paris, France, Jan 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Supporters of traditional marriage expect hundreds of thousands of marchers to turn out for an upcoming national rally in opposition to President Francois Hollande's “marriage for all” proposal.
Set to go before France's parliament Jan. 29, the draft law proposes to redefine marriage as a union “contracted between two persons of different sex or of the same sex.”
The law would also allow “married” same-sex couples to adopt children while also replacing gender definitive titles such as “Mother” or “Father” with “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”
Some opponents of the proposal say doing so would strip society of sexual differences and would create framework for a “new anthropological order” based on sexual preference rather than unique “sexual otherness.” Opponents also say the move would deny children the biological right of having a mother and father, and that the proposal should have been presented as a referendum to the people.
“La Manif Pour Tous” or “March For All,” a demonstration organized by French satirist Frigide Barjot – whose real name is Virginie Télenne – drew tens of thousands of supporters in the regional demonstrations held throughout France in November and December.
A modest estimate for the first national rally to be held Jan. 13 is projected to draw some 350,000 supporters, one of the organizers, Lionel Lumbroso, told CNA Jan. 4.
“The bigger we are, the more difficult it will be for the government to ignore us,” he said.
Although the “vast majority of the base is Catholic” and founder Frigide Barjot is a Catholic re-convert, Lumbroso said that the movement represents a much greater diversity of the French people because people of different faiths and political beliefs are coming together for a common goal.
“That’s an aspect that’s striking to our movement,” Lumbroso, who pointed out that he is an Agnostic of Jewish descent, said. “We have had the distinct feeling of working toward national re-cohesion.”
For this reason, all those involved must carry only banners only bearing “La Manif Pour Tous” slogans or logos and are encouraged to wear blue, white or pink – a spin on France's colors of blue, white and red.
“What we’re seeing is we’re uniting through republican values,” he said.
The group plans to march along three different routes until they converge on the Champs de Mars to meet under the Eiffel Tower.
Controversy grew as Presidente Hollande voiced support for education minister Vincent Pallion's letter that warned Catholic schools not to discuss same-sex marriage, reminding them that they are “under contract with the state” and “must respect the principle that everyone has a right to free thought,” The Connexion reported Jan. 7.
Pallion's letter comes after Secretary of Catholic Education, Eric Labarre, wrote a letter to Catholic school leaders suggesting they organize discussions about gay marriage.
Demonstration organizer Barjot has called on the debate to be open “everywhere and in all schools,” the AFP reported.
Although the group has rallied in favor of traditional marriage, they are adamant in opposing homophobia – a charge that many in favor of the president’s proposal have brought against them.
Lumbroso said the movement is not about opposing gay individuals, but rather about preserving “institutions that bring structure to our society.”
Vatican City, Jan 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Ahead of the World Day of the Sick, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his closeness to those with illnesses and reaffirmed that Jesus Christ's sufferings give meaning to their own.
“You are not alone, separated, abandoned or useless. You have been called by Christ and are his living and transparent image,” said the Pope, quoting Pope Paul VI's words from the Second Vatican Council.
The 21st World Day of the Sick will be celebrated Feb. 11 on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Pope Benedict released his message for the day on Jan. 8.
The Pope said the observance is a day for the sick, health care workers and the faithful to engage in prayer, to offer one’s sufferings “for the good of the Church” and to recognize in those who suffer “the Holy Face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising has brought about the salvation of mankind.”
The Pope used the parable of the Good Samaritan as a point of reflection. Jesus’ parable “helps us to understand the deep love of God for every human being, especially those afflicted by sickness or pain.”
The parable recounts how the Good Samaritan cared for a man who had been injured in an attack by thieves. The Pope said its concluding words, “Go and do likewise,” show how his disciples should behave towards others, especially those in need.
“We need to draw from the infinite love of God, through an intense relationship with him in prayer, the strength to live day by day with concrete concern, like that of the Good Samaritan, for those suffering in body and spirit who ask for our help, whether or not we know them and however poor they may be.”
Pope Benedict said this is true for everyone: pastoral workers, health care workers, and the sick themselves.
He cited his 2007 encyclical “Spe Salvi,” which said healing is found not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering but rather by accepting it and “finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.”
The Pope noted that many Church Fathers saw Jesus in the Good Samaritan. In the man who fell among thieves and was injured, they saw the wounded and disoriented humanity of sinful Adam.
Jesus, he said, “does not jealously guard his equality with God but, filled with compassion, he looks into the abyss of human suffering so as to pour out the oil of consolation and the wine of hope.”
Pope Benedict encouraged Catholic health care workers and institutions, dioceses, religious congregations, and all those involved in the pastoral care of the sick.
“May all realize ever more fully that ‘the Church today lives a fundamental aspect of her mission in lovingly and generously accepting every human being, especially those who are weak and sick,'” he said.
The World Day of the Sick will be observed at the Marian Shrine of Altotting in Germany. The Pope asked that the Virgin Mary help health care workers and “always accompany those who suffer in their search for comfort and firm hope.”
Lima, Peru, Jan 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, archbishop of Lima, Peru, said the role of the bishop is the lead people to Christ which includes taking a stand against widespread relativism in modern society.
“The bishop cannot take the most comfortable road, because he has to always seek after Christ, unity with the Pope, and manifest it with his example and his words,” Cardinal Cipriani said on the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6.
“For this reason, those who love Christ do not agree in many aspects with what others, turning their backs on God, wish to impose.”
He noted that Church’s pastors must understand the value of opposing ideas rooted in relativism. Such opposition entails defending life from the moment of conception to natural death and the traditional family based on marriage between one man and one woman.
“Sex, marriage, human life and the family are being played with in this world. And the bishop must lead the way, even though many people may not like it, by being faith to the teachings of Christ and in communion with the Holy Father,” Cardinal Cipriani said.
He also encouraged Catholics to seek authentic freedom. “To be persons is to be free. For this reason, seek after the truth, use your intelligence and seek after what is good.”
“What characteristics does the human person have? The person is free, in a freedom that is united to the truth. God doesn’t tell you, 'Do what you want.'”
“He says, 'Do what you ought.' God has given us an extraordinary way of being. We are free with a mission: we have the freedom to love others, to work, to help and to love God,” the cardinal added.
He concluded by inviting the faithful to follow the example of the Magi and follow the star that leads to God. “And that star is Christ present in his Church in a special way in the Eucharist and in Confession,” he said.
Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Reports in Iran indicate that a Christian pastor who was arrested on Christmas Day has been released, while a second pastor remains in prison for his religious beliefs.
“Iran must not be allowed to persecute individuals because of their faith,” stressed Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice, which has been monitoring the plight of Christians in Iran.
In a Jan. 7 blog post, Sekulow relayed news of Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani’s release from prison in Iran after being arrested on Christmas Day.
The 35-year-old pastor was originally arrested in 2009 after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school.
Found guilty of apostasy for converting from Islam to Christianity, Nadarkhani was ordered to recant or face execution. But despite numerous threats, he refused to abandon his Christian beliefs.
An execution order for the pastor was reported in February 2012. As fears of a secret execution grew, the American Center for Law and Justice worked to keep an international spotlight on the situation, prompting pressure from the United States, the United Nations and Brazil, which has a key economic partnership with Iran.
Amid increasing calls for the pastor's freedom, Nadarkhani was acquitted in September 2012. While the court preserved his three-year sentence for “evangelizing to Muslims,” it determined that his time spent in prison was adequate, and the remaining time – about 45 days – could be served on probation.
However, on Christmas Day, Iranian sources reported that the pastor was re-arrested and order to serve the remainder of his sentence in jail.
Religious liberty advocates immediately raised concerns, noting not only that Iran had violated the terms of the pastor’s release, but also that his attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, had been imprisoned as well.
Sekulow observed that Nadarkhani “has become the face of persecution around the world” and explained his re-arrest on Christmas Day demonstrates Iran’s intention of making him an example “to intimidate people of minority faiths.”
The pastor’s release was “a direct result of people across the world standing up and demanding his freedom,” he said.
But while he welcomed Nadarkhani’s freedom, Sekulow also emphasized that another Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini, remains imprisoned in Iran for his faith.
After converting from Islam to Christianity, Abedini – who is a U.S. citizen – drew the ire of Iranian officials for helping to start house churches in the country. In 2009, he reached an agreement with the Iranian government that permitted him to travel freely in the country if he stopped working with these underground churches.
The 32-year-old pastor then shifted his focus towards humanitarian efforts with non-religious Iranian orphanages, according to his wife. However, during a September trip to visit his parents and work with these orphanages, he was arrested.
He is now being held in one of Iran’s “most notoriously brutal and abusive prisons,” Sekulow warned.
Abedini’s family members in Iran are currently under house arrest, while his wife and young children are in the U.S., working to secure his freedom and speaking up about the toll his imprisonment has taken on the family.
The American Center for Law and Justice has launched a petition calling on the U.S. government to take action on behalf of Abedini. That petition has drawn more than 64,000 signatures so far.
“Iran is watching and responds to immense international pressure,” Sekulow emphasized, calling for renewed efforts and prayers for the pastor.
“We must continue to demand that Iran stop abusing and persecuting Christians and those willing to defend human rights,” he said.
New York City, N.Y., Jan 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York expressed “great disappointment” in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's announcement to move forward with the state's proposed Reproductive Health Act.
In his third annual State of the State address on Jan. 9, the democratic governor said that among other reforms, he intends to strengthen local abortion laws by enacting the measure.
In response, Cardinal Dolan said the move would ultimately increase New York's “scandalous” abortion rate.
“I am hard pressed to think of a piece of legislation that is less needed or more harmful than this one,” Cardinal Dolan wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to Gov. Cuomo.
“There was a time when abortion supporters claimed they wanted to make abortion 'safe, legal and rare,'” the leader of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' conference said.
The cardinal congratulated the Cuomo on his third year as governor and praised some points of the address that he can stand with the governor on, such as reforming gun-ownership laws, raising the state’s minimum wage and improving local health care.
However, Cardinal Dolan said he would “be remiss” if he did not condemn the governor’s proposal to strengthen abortion laws in New York and said he “stands ready and eager” to discuss the issue “at any time.”
He said that he and his brother bishops would like to work to reduce the state’s abortion rate by providing “an environment for all women and girls in which they are not made to feel as if their only alternative is to abort.”
Abortion “goes against all human instinct” and will frequently lead “to feelings of regret, guilt and pain” for both the mother and father.
Cardinal Dolan said Gov. Cuomo appreciates that that millions of New Yorkers of different beliefs hold a “deep respect for all human life from conception to natural death.”
“I also know that you are aware that New York State’s abortion rate is, incredibly, double the national average,” he said, with 4 out of 10 pregnancies ending in abortion, while impoverished parts of New York City have rates over 60 percent.
While Cardinal Dolan and Gov. Cuomo “obviously disagree on the question of the legality of abortion,” Cardinal Dolan said that certainly they must both be “in equally strong agreement that the abortion rate in New York is tragically high.”