Archive of January 23, 2013

Pakistani official: Society flourishes with religious freedom

New York City, N.Y., Jan 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Paul Bhatti, Pakistan's Minister of Minority Affairs, called religious liberty a Christian value that can enhance life in the country and impart stability to society at large.

“With religious freedom societies are more likely to flourish, because people can express their deepest belief and highest ideas, so societies are more stable,” he said in a Jan. 19 interview with CNA.

“It's the wrong concept that religious freedom leads to instability, but actually it leads to more public order and more economic empowerment, so this is the Christian teaching.”

Christianity can also offer to Pakistani culture its emphasis on compassion and the works of mercy, Bhatti observed.

“John Paul II said that Christian teaching...should be some kind of assistance to the human being. We don't assist only (one) who is Christian, we have to assist a human being who is suffering, who needs your help, who should be honored and respected for his dignity, for this is the teaching of Christianity.”

“So if we follow the teaching of our Gospels, that will bring...the real message of freedom,” he noted.

Bhatti made his remarks at the New York Encounter, a three-day cultural festival in the city – sponsored by the Catholic ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation – which explored the theme of “Experiencing Freedom.”

He discussed “Freedom in Politics,” reflecting on his brother Shahbaz who was killed in 2011 for his support of Pakistani Christians and his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws, which are chiefly used to persecute non-Muslims.

After Shahbaz' death, Paul was appointed to his brother's post as Minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs, again the only Christian in the Pakistani government. He said it was a “challenge” to take on this position.

“I found myself in a situation, though it was very difficult to accept it, because before I was living a very routine, normal life,” he said. As minister of minority affairs Bhatti at times must travel with a security entourage and suffers threats to his life.

“But next to that, if you feel you can make some difference and change this culture or at least give your small contribution to this culture, which can grow and can extend on a wider basis in society, I think I must dedicate my life for this.”

He offered a hopeful vision for Pakistan, saying “this is the encouragement I get from this kind of situation, and I feel there is space for change, there is a possibility that this culture can become a tolerant culture, we can bring harmony in this society, but we have to start from somewhere.”

On the current movement to have his brother Shahbaz canonized, Bhatti said he has “no doubt he is a martyr, because his whole life was dedicated to the teaching of the bible and he was a strong believer of Our Lord Jesus Christ...we are getting help from him.”

“He never negotiated his faith, and he expressed his faith openly everywhere, even when he knew he could be killed. So in that context, I think he has all the possibilities” of being a saint, Bhatti said.

The Pakistani minister recounted going into his brother's room after his martyrdom and described it as “very small” with “a corner where he used to pray every morning, and there was only a simple carpet, a rosary, a statue, and a bible.”

“He believed so strongly that he laid down his life for his Christian principles and for Jesus Christ.”

Bhatti said his experience of freedom has been shaped by having lived in both Pakistan and in the western world. He is by training a surgeon, and studied in both Belgium and Italy.

“You appreciate the value of freedom when you see a country like Pakistan where freedom of expression and faith is violated, and people are living under oppression, so then you start realizing the value of freedom, what freedom means.”

He said it is important to promote freedom in Pakistan because without it, people can get involved in such problems as terrorism and sectarian violence.

Bhatti pointed to illiteracy and poverty, as well as “instability in government and politics” as factors which contribute to a lack of freedom in such places as Pakistan.

“What I can do now is only the analysis, and the next step will be how to get that real kind of freedom which a human being must have, in a society where it is violated.”

In Pakistan, these violations come often from blasphemy laws, which strictly prohibit defamation of Muhammad and the Koran. The laws are often used to settle personal scores or to persecute minorities.

Bhatti was able to assist a Christian girl who in August was accused of blasphemy. Rimsha Masih is a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was arrested Aug. 16 after she was accused of burning pages of the Koran.

It later emerged that an imam from her neighborhood planted pages of the Koran among burnt pages in Masih's bag.

Bhatti said that he was informed of the case soon after by local Christian families, because after such an accusation is made, mob violence will often flare up against minorities in the neighborhood.

“They had a clash between Muslims and Christians...they were wanting to get them out from that community, and they found this solution, blaming somebody, accusing them of blasphemy; this is a tool often used in Pakistan, some people use it for personal benefit, as it happened in this case.”

Bhatti said that as soon as he was told of the situation, he phoned “all those involved in security” to ensure protection of Masih and local Christians, but “they were not sure if they were able to control the mob.”

“I went to the mosques, I talked to the imams,” he said, asking them not to encourage violence against the local Christians.

“They understood was quite amazing, the first time that they promised they would not do this, to support me.”

The Islamabad High Court dismissed the charges against Masih Nov. 20, and on Jan. 15 the Pakistani Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by her accuser.

Many hope that Masih's suit might lead to a relaxation of the blasphemy laws. “I was lucky, and am honored to be part of this case,” Bhatti reflected.

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US bishop joins call for stronger gun laws

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2013 (CNA) - Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif. and leaders of several major Catholic organizations urged a better response to the “crisis” of gun violence, including criminal background checks on all gun buyers.

“In light of the tragedy in Newtown – and in Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Oak Creek, and so many more – we know that no more time can be wasted,” read the letter to Congress members from the D.C.-based interfaith organization Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.

“Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death.”

The Jan. 15 statement also urges a ban on high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, and federal laws against gun trafficking.

“While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who died, we must also support our prayers with action,” the letter said. “We should do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of people who may harm themselves or others.”

Bishop Blaire signed the letter in his capacity as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Other Catholic signatories include Father Larry Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Sister Carol Keehan, D.C., President and CEO of the Catholic Health Association; Sr. Janet Mock, C.S.J., Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; and Very Rev. John Edmunds, S.T., President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

The letter comes in the wake of the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. where a 20-year-old man shot and killed twenty children and six adults before killing himself.

“We should do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of people who may harm
themselves or others,” the letter said. “We should not allow firepower to kill large numbers of people in seconds anywhere in our civil society. And we should ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to stop the virtually unrestrained trafficking of guns.”

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence advocates legislation requiring national background checks for all gun sales, including online sales, gun show sales and private sales.

The group said high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines have “no legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose” and are “the weapons of choice for those who want to shoot and kill a large amount of people quickly.” The group said the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 should be used as a basis for an updated law against the weapons.

The group said federal laws against gun trafficking are needed because prosecutions take place only under a law that bars the sale of guns without a federal license.

Other signatories to the group’s letter include leaders from the Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Franciscan Action Network and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Many Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu leaders also signed the letter.

There were 12,664 murders in the U.S. in 2011, according to incomplete crime statistics reported to the FBI. Of these, 8,583, about 68 percent, were committed with firearms.

Improved medical treatment in recent decades has caused a decrease in homicide victims, as survivors of gun violence are now classified as victims of aggravated assault, the Wall Street Journal reported in December. Firearms were used in 21 percent of the 703,975 aggravated assaults the FBI recorded for 2011.

Bishop Blaire has previously spoken about the need to address gun policy. In a Dec. 21 statement, he joined Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee, and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth Committee, calling for cultural changes and policy study in the wake of the Newtown shooting.

They urged that national leaders reconsider firearm policies, mental health treatment ability, and violence in the entertainment industry. They also advised broader efforts to restore the value of human life in society.

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Robert George warns of Catholic oppression over marriage

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2013 (CNA) - A Princeton law professor has predicted increasing persecution of Catholic teaching on sexuality, amid accusations by a New York scholar that such teaching creates a culture of rape.

In a Jan. 17 email to CNA, Professor Robert George of Princeton University warned of rising oppression against those who oppose a redefinition of marriage.

Such persecution includes an increase in "the use of 'anti-discrimination' laws to violate the freedom of religious institutions and religious individuals to honor their beliefs about marriage and sexual morality,” he said.

George's comments came amid claims by one scholar that Catholic teaching on human sexuality contributed to the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old Indian woman on a Delhi bus one night in December. The woman died from her injuries days after the attack while undergoing treatment in Singapore.

Ian Buruma, who is a professor of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College in New York, told CNA on Jan. 21 that Pope Benedict XVI’s “narrow views on proper human relationships reinforce the idea in other, more violent, men that women outside those traditional relationships are 'loose' and thus deserve what is coming to them.”

He argued that the Pope’s tacit criticism of same-sex unions in a Christmas address to the Roman Curia supports sexual aggression and rage by promoting fear of sexual liberty.

While he acknowledged that the Pope’s speech – which was delivered after the violent attack took place – did not directly influence the rapists, Buruma said that “arguments such as the Pope’s reinforce sexual norms that incite men to violence.”

“(T)he rapists, coming from a deeply conservative rural Indian background,” he said, “assumed that the only right place for a young woman was in the family home as a mother and wife.”

Buruma criticized the Holy Father in a Jan. 14th article in the Daily Star for promoting what he described as a culture of rape.

“I would argue that his speech actually encourages the kind of sexual aggression that can result in the savagery that took place in New Delhi,” he wrote.

The professor suggested that restricting sexual activity to heterosexual marriage could prompt sexual repression. “(T)he more sex is repressed and people are made to fear it the greater the chance of sexual violence,” he said.

The address that Buruma referenced, delivered by the Holy Father on Dec. 21, did not specifically reference homosexuality, but rather called for the strengthening of the family.

The Pope warned that the human family is disintegrating – especially in the West – because false understandings of human freedom see sexuality as a mere “social role” to be chosen rather than a biological reality of nature to be accepted.

Describing father, mother and child as “key figures of human existence,” he warned that a distorted understanding of sexuality loses a proper view of male and female as being the foundational “essence of the human creature.”

“The defense of the family is about man himself,” Pope Benedict affirmed.

Scholars in recent months have increasingly warned of persecution for those who do not affirm all sexual practices as being equal.  

Professor George cautioned in a July 2012 article for the online journal Public Discourse that anything less than full support of same-sex marriage is increasingly labeled as “bigotry” and is being “eradicated” from the public square.

In his email to CNA, George said that this attitude has already attacked the private sphere.

Business owners, adoption agencies and workers in several states have already been threatened, pushed out of their industries or forced to violate their consciences in order to operate their businesses, he said.

George pointed to public school teachers and government employees who “have been subjected to disciplinary action and threatened with termination of employment” for expressing their biblical views on marriage, even in personal forums such as Facebook.

He added that unless society changes its acceptance of religious beliefs, this trend will likely continue in the future.

“Soon you will see pressure against the tax exempt status of the Catholic Church and other religious organizations that teach that marriage is the conjugal union of husband and wife,” he said, adding that there will also be efforts to deny accreditation to academic institutions “because of their teachings on marriage and sexuality.” 

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Abraham exemplifies Christian journey, Pope says

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his Wednesday General Audience, Pope Benedict pointed to the legacy of Abraham as an example of the Christian’s longing for the “true homeland” of heaven and as the “first great role model” of having faith in God.

“Abraham, the believer, teaches us faith and, like a stranger on earth, points out our true homeland. Faith makes us pilgrims on earth, situated in the world and in history, but on the path toward our heavenly homeland,” the Pope said Jan. 23 at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall.

“Believing in God thus makes us heralds of values that often do not coincide with fashion or the opinion of the moment. The Christian should not be afraid to go 'against the grain' to live their faith, resisting the temptation to 'conform'.”

Pope Benedict discussed Abraham in the context of the Year of Faith and the opening line of the Creed, “I believe in God.” The Creed, he said, is “deceptively simple,” yet “opens us to the infinite world of a relationship with the Lord and with his mystery.”

Faith, the Pontiff told his listeners, is both a gift from God and a human responsibility, an “experience of dialogue with God.”

Abraham, who is our model for faith, obeyed God and went to a place unknown to him, Scripture says.

The invitation of faith “is, in fact, a departure in the dark, not knowing where God will lead; it is a journey that calls for obedience and a radical fidelity, which only faith can access,” the Pontiff noted.

“But the darkness of the unknown -- where Abraham must go -- is illuminated by the light of a promise; God adds a reassuring word that opens to Abraham a future of life in its fullness.”

Pope Benedict said Abraham's life of faith made him “see everything as a gift,” always feeling his dependence upon God. This is the spiritual condition of all those “who agree to follow the Lord,” he said.

“Faith,” continued the Pope, “leads Abraham along a paradoxical path.” The blessings promised him were not visible to him, yet he was blessed because “with faith, he is able to discern the divine blessing, going beyond appearance, trusting in God's presence even when his paths seem mysterious."

For us, “when we profess 'I believe in God', we are saying, like Abraham, 'I trust in you. I entrust myself to you, Lord',” Pope Benedict exhorted. “Saying 'I believe in God' means basing my life on him, letting his Word orient me in my choices each day, without the fear of losing something of myself.”
In our time, the Pope said, there are many challenges to the Christian seeking to live their life by faith.

“In many societies, God has become the 'great absentee' and many idols have taken his place, above all the desire for possessions and the autonomous 'I'.”

“Also, the significant and positive progress in science and technology has given humanity the illusion of omnipotence and self-sufficiency and a growing selfishness has created many imbalances in personal relationships and in social behaviour.”

Despite these challenges, he said, “the thirst for God is not quenched and the Gospel message continues to resonate through the words and deeds of many men and women of faith.”

Even today, he said, Abraham is the father of those who are “willing to walk in his footsteps and who make their way in obedience to the divine call...It is the blessed world of faith to which we are all called, to walk without fear following the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Affirming that 'I believe in God', then, compels us to leave, to continuously go out of ourselves just as Abraham did, in order to bring the certainty that comes to us from faith into our daily realities: the certainty of God's presence in history, even today; a presence that brings life and salvation, and which opens us to a future with him of a fullness of life that will know no end,” Pope Benedict concluded.

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Pope Benedict to Venezuelans: God can overcome uncertainty

Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has called on Venezuelans to trust that God will help them “overcome the current climate of uncertainty” that the country is experiencing “due to President Hugo Chavez’s long recovery.”

According to a Jan. 22 statement by the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela, the Pope sent his message to the nation during a meeting with the president of Caritas Venezuela and the first vice president of the conference, Archbishop Jose Luis Azuaje.

“God does not abandon us, he is always present in history, encouraging through his Spirit the transformations necessary so that man and woman might have life in abundance,” the Holy Father said.

Archbishop Azuaje said that the Pontiff’s words “should be a guide for action and an itinerary for hope amidst so many uncertainties.”

Chavez, who was recently re-elected to a new six-year term, remains in Cuba, where he underwent surgery on Dec. 11 for pancreatic cancer.  His current condition is unknown, although the government has said that he is recovering. 

However, the leader was prevented from taking the oath of office on Jan. 10.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled the previous day that the swearing in could be postponed until Chavez has fully recovered and that Vice President Nicolas Maduro could temporarily assume leadership of the administration.

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Priest, 80, forgives attackers after brutal beating

Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 23, 2013 (CNA) - An elderly priest in Venezuela has said that he is willing to forgive the men who violently attacked him at the entrance to his parish in an attempt to steal his watch.

“They should be forgiven,” Father Marcos Antonio Rovayo Cardenas told local reporters, citing Pope John Paul II.

“If there is no forgiveness, justice will not be done,” the priest explained. “Peace is attained first with charity, with justice, and therefore forgiveness is an essential element of love for neighbor.”

Three individuals have been identified by Venezuelan officials as suspects in the Jan. 15 attack.

Fr. Rovayo explained on Venezuelan television that it was not the first time St. Martin de Porres parish had been the target of criminal activity, as it was robbed 12 times last year.

“The last time they stole 30 chairs,” he said. “We could hear them, but for security reasons we did not do anything.”

Fr. Rovayo has called on local authorities to improve the lighting around the parish and to increase security.  Two murders took place last year in the neighborhood where the church is located.

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Lawmakers lament 40 years of legalized abortion

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pro-life politicians from across the country reflected on four decades of legal abortion in America, offering prayers and the promise of renewed efforts to build a culture of life.

Newly-elected Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said that she is “heartbroken” by all the lives that have been devastated by abortion, but also “hopeful and inspired” by the young people who represent the future of the pro-life movement.

Wagner spoke on the House floor on Jan. 22, the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion throughout America.

She lamented the 1973 ruling as “a decision that has done so much harm to the moral landscape of our nation.”

Wagner explained that as a mother, “the sanctity of life is very cherished and personal to me.” She recalled traveling to Washington, D.C. 23 years ago to participate in the March for Life, while pregnant with her second son.

“I knew that it was not enough to simply say that I was pro-life,” she said. “I literally had to walk the walk.”

Wagner was one of numerous legislators from both major political parties who spoke out in support of life on Jan. 22, voicing sorrow over four decades of legalized abortion and pledging continued action to foster respect for all human life.

“While we mourn for the babies and their mothers, we in the pro-life movement must rededicate ourselves to prayer and action to protect life,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.).

In a statement provided to CNA, he explained that defenders of life must “not only focus on changing our nation’s laws, but also changing hearts and minds, and caring for expectant mothers and their babies.”

The congressman said that he is “uplifted by the participation of so many young people” in the March for Life each year. This year’s march, scheduled for Jan. 25, is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of participants, including a strong youth presence.

“With God’s help, they are key to moving our nation away from the culture of death to embracing a culture of life,” Lipinski stressed.

Dozens of pro-life lawmakers observed the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on social media sites.

“America knows the collective pain of abortion is a heavy burden no free and prosperous nation can carry forever,” wrote Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Twitter.

“My belief in the sanctity of human life has deepened through my experiences as a mother, a Christian, and a nurse,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) posted on Facebook. She added that the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a reminder “that every life is a precious gift from God.”

Multiple legislators quoted former President Ronald Reagan, who reflected on the 10th anniversary of Roe v. Wade that “(w)e cannot diminish the value of one category of human life – the unborn – without diminishing the value of all human life.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the 1973 decision “one of America’s most blatant instances of judicial activism.”

In an online statement, he mourned the loss of the millions of children who “have been denied the chance to celebrate a birthday, begin kindergarten or go on to contribute their God-given talents to our world.”

Rubio pledged to continue fighting for the unborn in the U.S. Senate.
“As with many of our nation’s most important debates,” he added, “the battlefield of this issue is in the hearts and minds of the American electorate, and I pray that we can one day live in a society that fully cherishes every life from conception until death.”

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), a former nurse, noted all the progress that women have made in modern society.

Black is one of several pro-life legislators who will address the crowds gathered for the March for Life.

Speaking at a Jan. 22 press conference marking the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, she observed that millions of unborn women “are not here to benefit from the progress we have made and share in our hopes and dreams for the future.”

“We press on with the hope that one day we will live in a country where each and every life – both born and unborn – is respected, valued and given the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams,” she said.

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Vatican hopes to resume accepting credit card payments

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2013 (CNA) - With credit card transactions suspended in Vatican City since the new year, three-way talks are due to be held among the stakeholders on Jan. 25 to help resolve the situation.

“The parties have resumed work and in the course of next week there will be a technical meeting,” the Italian wire service ANSA was told Jan. 17.

Italy's central bank, the Bank of Italy – analogous to America's Federal Reserve – refused to authorize Deutsche Bank Italia to transact foreign credit cards in tiny city-state beginning Jan. 1.

This has meant that those visiting the Vatican must bring cash for the price of admission to the state's museums, and to purchase good at Vatican gift shops, post office, and pharmacy. Normally, visitors are able to pay by credit or debit card, and utilize ATMs.

In 2011, 5 million visitors to Vatican City spent some $121 million. Catholic World News estimated that only being able to accept cash is costing the Vatican some $40,000 per day.

Bank of Italy claimed it made its decision due to what it called a lack of anti-money-laundering measures in the state.

“The Vatican City does not have either a banking regulatory framework or European recognition of 'equivalence' for anti-money-laundering purposes,” said a Jan. 10 statement from Bank of Italy provided to CNA.

“The Bank of Italy therefore had no choice but to reject the request...put forward by Deutsche Bank Italia.”

The bank added that there was “no discretionary decision” and that “any other European supervisory authority would have behaved in the same way.”

European Union law on banking and anti-money-laundering permits its banks to operate in non-European Union countries only if they have adequate regulation in place.

In July, the Council of Europe's Moneyval found that while the Vatican had made progress against money-laundering, it was still less than compliant with seven of 16 “key and core” recommendations for combatting terrorist financing and money-laundering.

“The Holy See has come a long way in a very short period of time and many of the building blocks of anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism regime are now formally in place,” concluded the Moneyval report July 18.

“But further important issues still need addressing in order to demonstrate that a fully effective regime has been instituted in practice.”

Because of this, Vatican City was unable to be placed on the Council of Europe's “White List” of nations adhering to the highest standards of financial transparency.

This report was cited by Bank of Italy as a basis for its decision to suspend credit card transactions in Vatican City.

After Moneyval's report, the Vatican hired Rene Bruelhart as a consultant to assist the the Holy See in implementing the study's concerns, “strengthening its framework to fight financial crimes,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in September.

Bruelhart heads the Vatican's internal scrutiny body, Financial Information Authority. Bruelhart is one of the leading experts on money laundering and spent eight years at a similar position in Liechtenstein.

In a Jan. 13 interview, Bruelhart told Corriere della Sera that “I'm surprised by the measures taken by the Bank of Italy to block all credit card services of the Deutsche Bank in the Vatican.”

He explained the Vatican was not subject to any special measures for monitoring money laundering by Moneyval, or any other international body.

“We don't have problems with other European countries,” he added.

“On the contrary, we have close collaboration and no other country in the world has adopted similar measures, which is why I'm truly surprised.”

He said that since the July report, the necessary steps have been taken to improve financial transparency in the state.

In December, the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone announced that the nation's financial regulations were being adjusted, giving Financial Information Authority more autonomy from the secretariat of state.

“The reality is that, considering the particular nature of the Vatican City State, adequate measures have been adopted for vigilance, prevention and fighting money laundering and financing terrorism.”

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