Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2013 (CNA) - Nearly a dozen U.S. lawmakers who supported a 1993 law protecting religious liberty have formally defended Hobby Lobby in its recent religious freedom lawsuit.
“Congress has commanded equal treatment of all under a religion-protective rule. Defendants may not pick and choose whose exercise of religion is protected and whose is not,” said the “friend-of-the-court” brief filed on behalf of nine U.S. Senators and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The brief was filed in support of Hobby Lobby, a privately-owned chain of craft stores founded in Oklahoma in 1972.
Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, David Green, has said that he and his family are devoted Christians who seek to operate their stores “in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” The company makes significant charitable donations and closes all of its stores on Sundays for employees to worship and rest with their families.
However, the Green family is among scores of plaintiffs suing the government over religious freedom concerns dealing with a federal mandate that requires employers to offer insurance coverage of some drugs that can induce early abortions, including the “morning after pill.”
For following their religious convictions and refusing to provide the coverage, the Greens could face fines of over $1 million a day.
The case is currently being heard before a federal appeals court. However, the company was earlier denied a temporary injunction, so it could be subject to the huge daily fines for several months while the case is being decided.
The Feb. 19 brief was signed by Senators Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Daniel R. Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Charles Grassley(R-Iowa), James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and by Congressmen Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is handling Hobby Lobby’s case, explained the significance of the Congressional support.
“While any brief by sitting members of Congress is significant, this one comes from members who originally supported the federal civil rights law - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 - which is at the heart of the mandate challenges,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund.
“The brief leaves no doubt that Congress intended to protect the religious freedom of those like Hobby Lobby and its founder, David Green, against federal attempts to force them to insure abortion-inducing drugs.”
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a bipartisan law introduced by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and enjoying wide support among a number of organizations ranging from the ACLU to the Southern Baptist convention.
According to the brief, the mandate “turns the law of religious freedom upside down,” because instead of requiring the government to protect religion, it “places a heavy burden on religion and protects Government by default.”
The document notes that Congress clearly wrote the Religious Freedom Restoration Act “to include corporations” such as Hobby Lobby and not merely individuals or religious organizations.
Additionally, 11 other friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed on behalf of Hobby Lobby.
The state of Oklahoma said that the operation “of the Green Family’s corporations in a manner consistent with the Green Family’s religious faith is no less worthy of respect and protection than is the religious faith practiced by church members through a church.”
“Being forced to pay for the termination of a human life is just as objectionable as being forced to participate in the termination of the human life,” added several health professional organizations.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City also filed a brief in the case, saying the idea “that a federal court may don ecclesiastical robes and purport to tell citizens that they do not correctly perceive the tenets of their faith is entirely foreign to American legal practice and experience.”
Woodburn, Ind., Feb 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The story of an Indiana teen who continues to make local sports headlines despite having prosthetic legs has highlighted the Catholic faith and pro-life devotion of his parents.
Like most American teens, Nik Hoot, a 16 year-old sophomore at Woodlan High School in Woodburn, In., has yet to meet an extra-curricular activity he does not enjoy.
He has played football, baseball, basketball and is now a semi-state qualifier for his weight class in wrestling. He plays drums, trumpet and mellophone and is active in his school’s marching band.
His passion for sports began at an early age when his oldest brother introduced him to football by “teaching” him how to watch Notre Dame games on television. Nik’s first words, his mother Apryl Hoot told CNA Feb. 18 were, “It’s good!”
“I knew sports were going to be a big thing for him right then and there,” she said.
However, unlike most American teens, Nik was born in Russia at 24 weeks after surviving a failed abortion.
Apryl said she’s “gotten complaints” from people asking her how she could talk so openly about her adopted son being an abortion survivor.
In return, she asks them, “How can you not talk about a child who’s survived an abortion attempt?”
“He’s living proof that that’s not a blob of tissue, that’s a living human being in there,” she added, “and your choice is affecting that child.”
The attempt on his life left him missing parts of his legs and without a full set of fingers on both hands.
However, as his mother Apryl put it, there’s not much Nik can’t do, but “feel the mud between his toes.”
When he was fitted with his first pair of prosthetic legs at age two, he had a walker that he used for about two days before he “threw it away” and “started using furniture to cruise with,” Apryl said. In two weeks, “he was running.”
Apryl recalled how in 1997, she and her husband Marvin decided to adopt when they were facing the departure of their youngest “bio-daughter” who was a senior in high school getting ready to leave home for college.
After a “problematic” first adoption, the Hoots still believed they were called to adopt again and received a video featuring children in Russia with children who needed homes.
After watching the video several times, they “kept coming back” to a baby who was born severely premature.
“He was a year old and weighed 11 pounds,” she said.
Although they “wore the video out watching it,” Apryl – who was 46 at the time – could tell there was “something missing” with the baby and “did all the logical talking” to convince herself and Marvin not to adopt him.
“Nobody’s going to think less of me for not adopting a baby at my age,” she told herself, “especially one with no legs.”
Soon after this decision, however, the Hoots were at Sunday Mass when they heard a homily about what it means to be pro-life.
“We have to respect all forms of life,” the priest told the congregation, “even those with disabilities.”
Apryl said she and her family began laughing in response to this call, knowing that God was telling her what she needed to do, all the while other parishioners were probably wondering, “What’s funny about disability?”
Marvin, she said, “had already made the decision and was keeping quiet until I was ready.”
The next morning, she “made the call” and Nik was home nine weeks later, but not without help from some generous strangers and acquaintances.
“Some woman from California” donated the airfare for Apryl and Nik, who would be coming home around Christmas time.
Then, when the judge in Russia who was hearing the adoption case said he would not hear it unless the husband were present, the travel agent Apryl had been working with donated Marvin’s airfare.
Even though they “had no money,” she said all that mattered was that their son “was home.”
“That doesn’t happen on your own,” Apryl noted. “You can’t orchestrate that.”
In addition to their three biological children, the Hoots have six adopted children, five of whom still live at home and four of whom have special needs.
Joey, 17, is from China while Ged, also from China, 15, is legally blind; Mitchell from Hong Kong, 12, was born with 16 birth defects; and their so-called “little diva” Emmalee from China, 9, was born with no femurs.
Admittedly, adoption, especially of children with special needs, has posed challenges for the Hoots, but, “that’s just the way it goes.”
Regardless of the challenges, questions and hardships, “whatever sacrifices we’ve made have been worth it,” Apryl said.
Most importantly, their children have revealed the Gospel passage of Matt. 25:40, “Whatsoever you did for the least of these, you have done unto me.”
To parents who are considering adoption but are hesitant, Apryl offered the advice to “Listen to your heart and God will tell you what to do.”
“These special kids will give you more than you could ever dream of,” Apryl said, “whatever you do for them, you will get back multi-fold.”
Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2013 (CNA) - As the Feb. 28 resignation of Pope Benedict XVI approaches, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of the pontiff, and the majority support traditional Catholic teaching as well.
According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 74 percent of U.S. Catholics “express a favorable view of the pope.”
This rating is similar to that March 2008, when about three in four Catholics held a “very” or “mostly” favorable opinion of the Pope shortly before his visit to the U.S.
Pope Benedict has been regarded favorably throughout his entire papacy, with approval ratings among U.S. Catholics ranging from 67-83 percent.
Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also enjoyed a high favorability rating over the course of his papacy. The Pew Forum’s polling in the 1980s and 1990s found that more than 90 percent of Americans had a positive opinion of Pope John Paul II.
The Pew survey this past month also found that the majority of U.S. Catholics believe Pope Benedict has done an excellent or good job promoting relations with other religions.
Among the Holy Father’s efforts was the creation of ordinariates, structures under which entire Anglican communities could enter into communion with the Catholic Church.
Although Pope Benedict disciplined the disgraced Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcel Maciel in 2005, the American public appears reluctant to praise his work against sex abuse.
Sixty-three percent said the Pope has done a fair or a poor job in addressing the sex abuse scandal. Only 33 percent said he has done an excellent or good job. This represents a decline from April 2008, when 49 percent of Americans thought he had done an excellent or a good job and 40 percent said he has done only a fair or poor job.
The February survey also sought Catholics’ views about Pope Benedict’s possible successor.
About 60 percent of Catholics said it would be good for the next Pope to be from the developing world, while 14 percent thought it would be bad and 20 percent said it would not matter.
The majority of those surveyed said the next Pope should maintain traditional Catholic positions, while 46 percent said he should “move in new directions.” Weekly Mass attendees were most likely to favor tradition, with 63 percent saying the next Pope should maintain traditional teaching.
Sixty percent of Catholic college graduates favored “new directions;” however, there was no significant “generation gap” on the question between older and younger respondents.
About 58 percent of Catholics said allowing priests to marry would be a good thing, with 35 percent opposed. Women, college graduates, non-weekly churchgoers and those over 50 were more likely to favor married priests.
Those Catholics who favored taking the Church in a new direction could give pollsters an open-ended response as to where they would like to see change. Nineteen percent said the Church should “become more modern,” while 15 percent wanted a tougher stance on sex abuse.
Fewer than 10 percent called for the Church to accept same-sex “marriage,” women priests or contraception.
Rome, Italy, Feb 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Doctors and people involved in pro-life work say that the German bishops’ decision to allow morning-after pills for rape victims raises strong concerns and that the drug in question can cause a chemical abortion.
“There is a real dangerous precedent that could be set here again because the news moves so quickly,” said Vicky Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, in a Feb. 22 interview with CNA.
“There is real danger in Europe, Canada, the U.S., Latin America and Africa and five years from now women will be asking themselves if that is perhaps the only child they could’ve had and lost,” she added at the Pontifical Academy for Life’s annual general assembly at the Vatican.
The German bishops decided Feb. 21 to allow Catholic hospitals to use the morning-after pill or other contraception in rape cases, provided that the medication acts as a contraceptive and not an abortifacient.
Their decision came after a 25-year-old woman claimed she was raped and was refused treatment at two Catholic hospitals in Cologne.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner issued an apology on Jan. 22, saying it was shameful for a Catholic hospital to refuse treatment to a rape victim.
The German bishops were already planning to meet as a group, so the topic was added to the agenda of their four-day gathering in Trier, Germany.
The bishops unanimously agreed to allow the morning-after pill in rape cases, provided that it is administered in a way that “has a preventive and not an abortive effect.”
“Medical and pharmaceutical methods which result in the death of an embryo still may not be used,” a Feb. 22 statement from the bishops said.
As part of their discussion, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the Commission for Doctrine and Faith of the German Bishops’ Conference, illustrated the moral and theological evaluation of using the morning-after pill “on the basis of scientific findings on the availability of new compounds with modified effect.”
However, some medical professionals question the assertion that the morning-after pill can function solely as a contraceptive.
“There is absolutely no such pill with a 100 percent guarantee that it will not cause an abortion,” said Catherine Vierling, a medical doctor who is active in the pro-life movement.
Doctor Simon Castellvi, president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, told CNA Feb. 7 that “the morning-after pill works as an anti-implantation product in 70 percent of the cases where the woman is fertile.”
Thorn also says there is no morning-after pill that will not affect implantation.
“I do not believe there is one because all the research I have done on this shows that the missing piece is knowing when ovulation happened,” she remarked.
“I have grave concerns about this issue in Germany, and I’m very skeptical about this because there is so much we don’t know,” she added.
Thorn noted that the body “is so complex with so many other factors, and I think we’re in a very dangerous place when we assume we have this knowledge.”
Doctor John Haas, a bioethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a permanent member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, did not comment on the chemical actions of the pill but he did explain a way it could be used ethically.
He explained that it is possible to know whether the morning-after pill will cause an early chemical abortion by determining if a woman is ovulating.
“There are two ways in which (ovulation) can be determined, three ways really.
“You can take the medical record of her cycle and determine where she might be within it. But then there are more precise scientific tests that can be done, test that could be done using her blood or her urine. This will allow them to see whether or not certain hormones are in the blood or urine and that will indicate whether or not she has ovulated."
Rome, Italy, Feb 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s continuing work on Blessed John Paul II’s cause for sainthood cannot currently be made public, said the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
“We are working on it, it is going well, and various documents are coming into the Congregation for the Saints,” Cardinal Angelo Amato said, responding to a flurry of media reports about an alleged miracle that would pave the way for the former Pope’s canonization.
He told CNA that at the moment, no further information could be given about the alleged miracle, as his office must maintain “absolute confidentiality.”
The cardinal’s comments came during the presentation of a book on the Year of Faith at the Pontifical University of St. John Lateran in Rome.
He added that “many times a miracle must be discounted,” as a number of complicated steps must be taken to verify any alleged miracle.
“It’s not easy to be a saint,” Cardinal Amato continued, as specific criteria must be met and the case must be subjected to numerous theological and medical evaluations.
The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints studies each case rigorously, to determine that no scientific explanation for the miracle is possible and that there is a direct relation to the intercession of the possible saint in question.
Regarding a possible miracle attributed to Blessed John Paul II, the postulator of the late pontiff’s cause for canonization, Msgr. Slawomir Oder, told the Italian daily Avvenire several months ago that he reviews many possible miracles that could lead to the pope’s canonization.
He said instances of alleged miracles have taken place in Poland, Italy, Spain, the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
Rome, Italy, Feb 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A leading Catholic doctor in Spain says he will write a letter to Germany's bishops to help correct what he believes to be their mistaken views on the morning-after pill.
“I'm going to write a long letter to the German Bishops' Conference to give them some scientific light about this topic,” Doctor Justo Aznar told CNA Feb. 22 after the Pontifical Academy for Life's annual meeting at the Vatican.
The German bishops decided Feb. 21 to allow Catholic hospitals to use the morning-after pill or other contraception in rape cases, provided that the medication acts as a contraceptive and not an abortifacient.
Their decision came after a 25-year-old woman claimed she was raped was refused treatment at two Catholic hospitals in Cologne. Cardinal Joachim Meisner issued an apology on Jan. 22, saying it was shameful for a Catholic hospital to refuse treatment to a rape victim.
The German bishops were already planning to meet as a group, so the topic was added to the agenda of their four-day gathering in Trier, Germany. The bishops unanimously agreed to allow the morning-after pill in rape cases, provided that it is administered in a way that “has a preventive and not an abortive effect.”
In response, however, Aznar called it a mistake for German bishops to think a morning-after pill will not act as an abortifacient.
“I hope the statements that I heard last night are not true, but if it is I think it’s a small technical ignorance by the German’s Bishops Conference,” said the physician, who has been working at La Fe Hospital in Valencia, Spain for 34 years.
Aznar heads up the hospital's department of pathobiology, a field that applies the fundamentals of biology and medicine to global health issues.
“One could use the morning-after pill if we had the certainty that it was just a contraceptive, because in the case of rape, that would be a positive thing,” he said.
But Aznar argued there is scientific evidence that proves the pill also has an anti-implantation effect and therefore also abortifacient.
“I would say that approximately in half of the cases it acts as a contraceptive and the other half it has an anti-implantation effect.”
“So I estimate that there is no way a pill that can end the life of many human beings can be used after rape and it is ethically unjustified,” said the doctor, who also serves as the director for life sciences at the Catholic University of Valencia
“They need in depth study and Germany's Bishops Conference needs to show the reasoning as to why they believe that pill can be used.”
The doctor believes that the Pontifical Academy for Life, whose world members are in a two-day conference in Rome until Feb. 23, should take action on the issue.
“It is our specific job to rationalize scientifically on topics related to defending life to establish correct moral laws and help Vatican organizations,” he noted.
“The legitimate defense of a raped woman needs to be established much earlier through other procedures and through education.”
“But in rape, the way the human life has been conceived is not this life’s fault.”
The doctor reflected that “a child generated from rape is as worthy for respect as a child generated in the most intense loving relationship.”
“Once a child has been generated he is worthy of complete respect and cannot be eliminated,” Aznar said. “Previous procedures need to be established so that human barbarity of rape that shouldn’t exist can be prevented.”
CNA STAFF, Feb 22, 2013 (CNA) - The bishops of Tanzania called on the local people to work and pray for peace after the recent murder of Father Evarist Mushi on the island of Zanzibar.
Bishop Tarsisius Ngalalekumtwa, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Tanzania, said in his funeral homily that the first victim of the killing is the peace that exists between Christians and Muslims in the country. He urged the community to resist the temptation to respond to the tragedy with more violence.
Fr. Mushi was killed Feb. 17. Reports indicate that the priest was killed on his way to Sunday Mass by two men on a motorcycle, who shot him in the head.
In addition to Bishop Ngalalekumtwa, six other bishops attended the funeral, including Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, Archbishop of Dar es Salaam, as well as the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, who is Muslim.
According to Father Francisco Palacios of Radio Maria, the local government provided security for the funeral as a show of support for the Christian community on the island.
He added that three suspects have been detained in the murder of Fr. Musi.
During the burial at the cemetery, Bishop Augustine Shao of Zanzibar said, “Our faith is being tested at this time, and for this reason we need to pray to the Holy Spirit - especially during this time of Lent - for the strength to maintain our faith, to not be overcome by anxiety or the desire to retaliate.”
The presence of President Kikwete at the funeral “was a clear show of support for the Catholic Church, which is seeking peace and justice,” said Fr. Palacios.
He also praised various Muslim representatives for their “gesture of solidarity” in attending the funeral.
The Muslim-dominated country is facing a time of unrest and insecurity, he explained.
While Christians and Muslims have traditionally lived side-by-side peacefully in Tanzania, extremist Muslim groups from Somalia have recently carried out violent attacks in the country, Fr. Palacios told CNA.
“Here on the island last Christmas, and before, various churches were apparently set on fire by anonymous persons, and numerous priests were the targets of violence,” he said, adding that there have also been “other acts of violence on the Tanzanian mainland that have not been noticed by the public.”
“We’re talking about a group of radical extremists who are attempting to impose themselves through violence,” the priest stressed, explaining that the aggressors do not represent all of the region’s Muslims.
Rome, Italy, Feb 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The reasoning offered by the German Catholic bishops for allowing the morning-after pill in rape cases is being faulted for citing information that is not medically accurate.
“There is absolutely no such pill with a 100 percent guarantee that it will not cause an abortion,” said Dr. Catherine Vierling, who studied medicine at the Universities of Paris and Strasbourg.
The German bishops unanimously agreed on Feb. 21 to allow the morning-after pill to be administered in Catholic health facilities for rape cases, provided that it is administered in a way that “has a preventive and not an abortive effect.”
Their decision came after a 25-year-old woman said she was raped and was refused treatment at two Catholic hospitals in Cologne.
“Medical and pharmaceutical methods which result in the death of an embryo still may not be used,” a Feb. 22 statement from the German Bishops’ Conference said.
However, as part of their discussion, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the conference’s Commission for Doctrine and Faith, provided a moral and theological evaluation of the morning-after pill “on the basis of scientific findings on the availability of new compounds with modified effect.”
But Vierling disputed the claim that there are new formulations of the pill that only work as contraception.
“That pill has at least four effects, and there is absolutely no pill in the world which could dissociate these four phases,” Vierling told CNA on Feb. 22.
“These phases include acidification of the vagina, which destroys sperm,” as well as the prevention of ovulation, she said.
Vierling explained the third phase will cause an abortion if an embryo is present because it causes the fallopian tube to lose its ability to move the child into the mother’s womb.
She noted that “the fourth phase thins the lining of the uterus, preventing the embryo from implanting itself onto the uterus, so this is also an abortifacient.”
Therefore, she explained, pills taken after sexual intercourse are capable of producing either a contraceptive or abortive effect, depending on whether the woman has ovulated or not.
There is no new formulation of the morning-after pill that functions only as a contraceptive with no potential to cause early abortions, she stressed.
Dr. John Haas, a bioethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a permanent member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained that there are medical tests that can be done to determine whether a woman has ovulated yet at a given time.
Once tests have determined that ovulation has not taken place – and that pregnancy has therefore not occurred – the standard morning-after pill could be used for its contraceptive effects, without making use of its abortifacient potential.
Vierling commented that “in the light of the information the German bishops have been given, they wanted to stress that it is always better to avoid conception of a new human being than to abort it.”
Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison, has spoken out about his plight, which includes physical violence, psychological abuse and death threats.
“This new letter from Pastor Saeed could not be more clear or direct – he continues to face life-threatening abuse simply because of his religious beliefs,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents the pastor’s wife and children in the U.S.
“The letter also underscores the need to move quickly. A U.S. citizen is in failing health from beatings and abuse – a menacing scenario that should command the full attention and engagement of the U.S. government.”
In a Feb. 18 letter, the pastor said the conditions in his prison are “difficult.” He explained that he is the target of physical violence and acts intended to humiliate him.
In addition, he said that his eyes have become blurry and his steps have become “very weak and shaky.”
The pastor said he is “carefully watched” because of his Christian faith, even being attacked by his cellmate to stop him from singing worship songs.
In response, he said, “I hugged him and showed him love. He was shocked.”
A native of Iran, Pastor Abedini has been a United States citizen since his 2010 marriage to his American wife.
The pastor is serving an eight year prison sentence for his work with house churches in the country numerous years ago. While these churches are legal, Iran alleges his work threatened national security by attempting to persuade Iranian youth away from Islam.
The pastor, who converted to Christianity from Islam 13 years ago, had worked with house churches until attracting the ire of Iran. In 2009, he came to an agreement with the regime to stop his work with the house churches and turned instead to non-religious orphanages.
He was in the country to work with these orphanages when he was arrested last September. He is now imprisoned in Tehran’s Evin Prison, which has a reputation for severity.
The pastor said those in the jail are trying to put him under “sometimes unbearable” pressures “so that they can show me that my faith is empty and not real.”
He said they want him to deny Christ.
“But they will never get this from me,” he said. “This is why the Bible is Truth and they are in the way of destruction.”
Pastor Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho with their two children, said it is “heart wrenching” to hear of her husband’s continued abuse.
“Now our worst fears have been confirmed. He continues to face life-threatening abuse at the hands of the Iranian officials simply because of his faith in Jesus,” she said.
Naghmeh voiced concern for her husband’s health and well-being.
“His situation is dire and with the continued abuse and death threats, we are not sure how long Saeed will survive these horrendous conditions in prison.”
The American Center for Law and Justice and its European affiliate filed a statement last week with the U.N. Human Rights Council calling on Iran to release the pastor. It charged that Iran has violated international law and human rights abuses.
In addition, more than 80 members of Congress from both parties sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week asking him to “exhaust every possible option” to secure the pastor’s immediate release.
Sekulow voiced hope that Kerry will act to help the pastor and highlighted the importance of continued international attention.
In spite of the abuse, Pastor Abedini said he sees these difficulties as “golden opportunities and great doors” to serve God.
“There are empty containers who are thirsty for a taste of the Living Water and we can quench their thirst by giving them Jesus Christ,” he said. “Maybe you are also in such a situation, so pray and seek God that He would use you and direct you in the pressures and difficulties of your lives.”
“Stay strong for His glory,” the pastor urged Christians.