Archive of March 26, 2013

Pope app tops iTunes charts

Denver, Colo., Mar 26, 2013 (CNA) - A Vatican-sponsored news application for smart phones known as “The Pope App” has risen to the top of the charts in the iTunes store, reflecting a spike in interest in the papacy and newly-elected Pope Francis.

In the last week, The Pope App is the most-downloaded news app for iPhone in the U.S., Canada, Spain, Venezuela, Peru, Poland, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, and Pope Francis’ home country of Argentina.

It is the second most downloaded news app in France and Germany and the third most downloaded in Germany. The app also ranks in the top ten in eight other countries, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications said March 23.

The Pope App is managed by the Pontifical Council and uses content from, the Vatican’s multimedia, multilingual news portal.

The application provides news and official speeches from Pope Francis as well as images and videos of his appearances. Users can access live coverage of papal events and receive alerts about them.

In addition, it gives users access to live webcams of the Vatican, including a view overlooking St. Peter’s Square, a view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Bl. John Paul II’s tomb, and the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.

The app is available for the iPhone, the iPad and Android devices. The high-definition iPad version was recently released, offering higher resolution versions of the same content.

Pope Benedict XVI launched The Pope App on Jan. 23. Since then, it has been downloaded more than 155,000 times across all mobile devices.

The application is part of a push in the Vatican to reach out using new media. Pope Benedict also launched a Twitter account, using the handle “Pontifex,” in December 2012. Pope Francis now uses the account to reach millions of followers in numerous languages.

Brandon Vogt, a Catholic blogger who has authored a book on the Catholic Church and the new media, said there has been a “flurry of digital activity” on the part of the Vatican that has been “very surprising and encouraging.”

Vogt told CNA in January that the new technology and media can be “the most powerful means that we’ve ever had” to reach out to both Catholics and non-Catholics.

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Conference to help therapists integrate faith into practice

Fort Worth, Texas, Mar 26, 2013 (CNA) - An upcoming Catholic psychotherapy conference aims to foster an understanding of human dignity and goodness among therapists, according to a chairman of the event.

“We want to respect the fact that any time a person walks into the therapy office that that person is respected, and that their goodness is reflected back to them,” Irving-based therapist Dr. Suzanne Baars told CNA.

“In helping therapists to integrate the Catholic faith, we want to help grow in their understanding of the person and how we're made in the image and likeness of God.”

The conference, with the theme “Restoring the Beauty of the Human Person: Psychological Healing through the light of Christ,” will be held Nov. 7-9 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The event is sponsored by the Catholic Psychotherapy Association, which assists therapists in the field, whether they are in academics or actually practicing therapy. The group's conferences – of which November's will be the third – aim to give therapists and psychologists clinical tools to help integrate the faith in their work.

The mission of the group is to “support mental health practitioners by promoting the development of psychological theory and mental health practice which encompasses a full understanding of the human person and society in communion with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.”

Even without a profound understanding of philosophical anthropology, the conference hopes to give attendees “a respect for that, and for the people they're working with as they work with them to achieve healing or combat any kind of issue that they're bringing in for problem solving,” Baars said.

This integration of faith and therapy is not restrictive, and she said that the 200 members of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association “probably have very different ways of approaching their work, but at the heart of it is this love of the Church and of Christ and of the Catholic faith, and a desire to really implement it in their work in a particular way.”

The conference will feature an opening Mass said by Bishop Mark Seitz, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Dallas. Speakers include Father Robert Spitzer, Dr. Aaron Kheriarty, and Fr. Thomas Loya.

Topics addressed during the conference will include theology of the body, the human person and happiness, and healing depression, sexual addition, and borderline personality disorder.

Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, from the Cyangugu diocese in Rwanda, will address healing trauma and restoring wholeness.

“All the speakers have a heart for this work,” Baars said, and want to help attendees to “grow in their faith and in their delivery of an authentically Catholic psychotherapy.”

She said the conference is “a very great value to therapists, especially those who are trying to really integrate their faith into their work, and to help people from a Catholic perspective in their work.”

“Whether its overtly and they really are able to talk about the faith with their clients, or if it's just that they are bringing this knowledge with them into the therapy room and how they approach the people they work with...we want to help support therapists.”

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Secretary Kerry calls for freedom of imprisoned Iranian pastor

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After repeatedly being petitioned by lawmakers and citizens, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith.

“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” said Kerry in a March 22 press release.

Secretary Kerry wrote that he was “disturbed” by accounts of Abedini’s “physical and psychological abuse in prison” as well as a “lack of due process” in Iran’s refusal to allow Swiss access to Abedini on behalf of the U.S.

“Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws,” Kerry commented.

He added his hopes that the pastor would be able to receive further medical attention from specialists outside of the prison.

“The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” the Secretary of State said.

Thirty-two year old Abedini is currently serving an eight-year sentence in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison following a September 2012 arrest.

The pastor converted to Christianity from Islam in 2000 and has been a U.S. citizen since 2010, after marrying an American woman.

He initially attracted the ire of the Iranian regime for his work with house churches. In 2009, the government came to an agreement with him, under which he would stop his work with the churches in exchange for the ability to travel freely in the country. 

Abedini then turned his focus to non-religious orphanages. However, when he was arrested last fall, Iranian officials cited his earlier work with churches, claiming that while such work is technically legal, he had threatened national security by doing so.

Abedini’s wife, Naghema, lives in the U.S. and has been working to raise awareness of her husband’s plight, aided by the European Centre for Law and Justice and the American Center of Law and Justice.

The organizations have helped collect nearly 550,000 signatures in support of Abedini. They have also run a Twitter campaign on his behalf and have presented his case to the United Nations and to members of Congress and the State Department.

Other prominent leaders have also called for the pastor’s release, including a group of Congressmen and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council Eileen C. Donahoe.

Secretary Kerry’s response follows the release of a recent letter from Abedini to his wife describing the conditions of the prison, including brutal treatment of a disabled prisoner in solitary confinement.

In the letter, Abedini also describes the treatment he has received, including beatings and refusal of medical treatment by prison staff because of his beliefs. Due to the abuse he has suffered, the pastor said that he did not even recognize himself when he saw his image in a mirror for the first time in months.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center of Law and Justice, said that he was “very pleased” by Kerry’s statement.

“By speaking out directly on behalf of Pastor Saeed, Secretary Kerry is taking our government’s most aggressive action yet in working to secure the freedom of this U.S. citizen,” he said.

He applauded the “bold and public statement,” along with the formal recognition of the abuses Abedini has suffered.

“By engaging the Pastor Saeed case at the highest level, we’re hopeful that the State Department will now do everything in its power to secure the release of this U.S. citizen,” Sekulow said.
Abedini’s wife also released a statement, saying that she was “hopeful that this will put more pressure on the Iranian government to act and free Saeed so he can return to our family in the United States.”

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Pope sends Passover greeting, asks for prayers

Rome, Italy, Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In keeping with tradition, Pope Francis sent a message to the Jewish community in Rome, wishing them a good Passover and requesting prayers.

“May the Almighty, who freed his People from slavery in Egypt in order to lead them to the promised land, continue to deliver you from all evil and to accompany you with his blessing,” reads the letter that was sent March 25.

The celebration of Passover began at sundown on March 25.

The message was addressed to the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, and the Pope also made sure to thank him for coming to his installation as Bishop of Rome, along with 15 other Jewish leaders from around the world.

Pope Francis closed his letter by asking Rabbi Di Segni and the Jewish community to pray for him, “while I assure you of my prayers for you, confident that we can deepen our ties of mutual respect and friendship.”

A copy of the Pope’s letter was posted on the Jewish community’s website, accompanied by a short comment that said Rabbi Di Segni was very pleased to receive the greetings and that he will offer his thanks when he sends a letter to the Pope for Easter.

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Archbishop Cordileone leads DC marriage march in prayer

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco lead those participating in the March for Marriage in prayer today, as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the first of two cases about gay marriage.

“It is truly inspiring to know that so many people from so many walks of life, including many young people, are expressing their support for marriage,” he said of the march.

March 26 is the first day of oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the case Hollingsworth v. Perry. The lawsuit challenges California’s Proposition 8, a state measure recognizing marriage as existing solely between a man and a woman.

Hollingsworth v. Perry is one of two cases on same-sex marriage that the Court will consider this year. The other, being argued tomorrow, challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“It is my hope and prayer that the Supreme Court will uphold Proposition 8 and DOMA, respecting the very nature of the human person and the nature of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said Archbishop Cordileone, who heads the U.S. bishops' subcommittee on the defense of marriage.

Plans for the the march in downtown Washington, D.C., have generated excitement and enthusiastic support, according to organizers of the event.

The occasion has been hailed as “an opportunity to witness to the culture about our pro-marriage beliefs,” according to Thomas Peters, cultural director for the National Organization for Marriage.

Peters told CNA in a February interview that the nation's citizens coming together visibly to support the institution of marriage is critically important.

At 8:30 this morning, march participants met at the National Mall and walked to the Supreme Court Building, where a rally began at 11. In addition to Archbishop Cordileone, speakers include Bill Owens, Sr., founder of the Coalition of African-American Pastors; Eric Teetsel, director of the Manhattan Declaration; and Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation.

Archbishop Cordileone said that “marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to children born of their union. The intrinsic dignity of every human being must be affirmed, but this is not realized by redefining marriage to mean simply the public recognition of certain emotional bonds among adults.”

“Marriage is rooted in the natural reality that men and women are different, and thereby complementary, and that children deserve both a mother and a father. Respecting this truth benefits everyone.”

The two same-sex marriage cases are expected to yield landmark decisions that will set the tone for the definition of marriage throughout the nation.

At the time of going to press, Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog, tweeted that “There are not 5 votes to strike down Prop 8 and recognize equal right to same-sex marriage at this time.”

Goldstein earlier suggested that that it is likely that Hollingsworth v. Perry will be dismissed, leaving in place the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in favor of same-sex marriage.

Final decisions in both cases being heard this week are expected in late June.

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Pope plans to live in Vatican workers' residence

Vatican City, Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis said this morning he will stay at Saint Martha’s residence instead of moving to the Apostolic Palace, according to the Vatican press office.

“After the Mass ended this morning, the Pope told those present that he intends to remain in the Casa Santa Marta and stay with the employees,” said the Holy See’s press office director, Father Federico Lombardi.

His comments came after a 7:00 a.m. Mass that he has been celebrating each day at the residence for Vatican staff who live in some of the rooms during the year.

Pope Francis has been staying at the residence instead of the papal apartment because of renovations that were taking place there. According to the Associated Press, those updates have been completed and the apartment is ready for the Pope to move in.

During the conclave, the year-round residents moved out for the cardinals to stay there. After the cardinals elected Pope Francis, they returned to their homes and the Pope moved into the residency’s papal suite, room 201.

He has invited street-sweepers, Vatican gardeners, the residency’s staff and the Vatican newspaper’s staff to take part in the daily Mass.

The seals of the papal apartment have been removed, but the Argentinian Pope will remain in St. Martha's residence for the time being.

Fr. Lombardi did not say if the Pope will move out in the future.

When he was in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis lived in a small apartment, instead of the grand archbishop’s residence.

For years, he cooked his own meals and traveled on public transport around the city.

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Good Friday stations pray for Christian unity in Middle East

Rome, Italy, Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Syrian Christian who fled the fighting in his country believes that the Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum will help promote Christian unity and raise awareness of the growing turmoil in the Middle East.

“This will raise more awareness because the situation in Syria is dangerous, especially for Christians,” said Wael Salibi, a Christian Syrian who moved to Italy in September to flee the violence.

“Christians know they will rise again like Jesus did on the third day, but only with a lot of unity and by praying together,” Salibi told CNA in a March 26 interview.

Pope Francis will celebrate the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum on Friday evening, a solemn tradition that takes place by candle light every year.

Benedict XVI asked Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai to choose a group of Lebanese to write the 14 meditations for the Way of the Cross and to supervise them.

His wish was to raise awareness and increase prayers for the Arabic Christians living in the Middle East, following his visit to Lebanon in September 2012.

“Christians are facing very serious problems and the Lebanese lived (with) the aftermath of their civil war for many years, so they understand,” said the 25-year-old Syrian.

The meditations focus on ongoing violence in the Middle East and Christian disunity, as well as the abuse of women and children and the promotion of abortion.

Six of the reflections were written by representatives from the six rites of the Catholic Church in Lebanon: Latin, Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syriac and Chaldean.

The remaining eight were composed by six different Catholic youth groups, a special needs group and a non-governmental organization.

“When rebels turned the Homs neighborhood of Hamadea into a battlefield about a year ago, 80,000 Christians were forced to leave,” Salibi recounted.

And in his estimation, the Lebanese “live in a volcano ready to erupt any time.”

“When Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai visited Syria in February, he left a strong message of how important it is for Christians in the Middle East to unite,” said Salibi.

His visit to Syria was the first by the head of the Maronite Church since Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943.

“Muslims and Christians lived side by side, like a rainbow, but people are now being forced to leave their country and this is making the region lose its uniqueness,” said Salibi.

“Christians play a very important role there since they make a bridge between the East and the West and between Islam Shiites and Sunnis,” he added.

The young people who helped write the reflections arrived in Assisi from Lebanon on March 26, and they will later make their way to Rome.

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EWTN vows no compromise after HHS lawsuit dismissal

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The EWTN Global Catholic Network is “extremely disappointed” by a Monday court ruling that dismissed as “unripe” its lawsuit against a federal mandate that could require the organization to violate Catholic teaching.

“Contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs are not healthcare. EWTN cannot and will not compromise our strongly held beliefs on these moral issues,” EWTN President and CEO Michael P. Warsaw said March 25.

On Monday Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn of the U.S. District Court in Birmingham dismissed the Irondale, Ala.-based organization’s lawsuit until new regulations are “created and finalized.” The March 25 court decision agreed that EWTN has standing to sue, but it sided with Obama administration lawyers who contended that the case is not ripe for review.

The lawsuit initially concerned federal regulations requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortions. The mandate’s narrow religious exemption did not apply to many Catholic organizations. Violators faced staggering fines of $100 per employee per day.

The Obama administration has since revised the federal rules to require that insurance providers, not employers themselves, provide the objectionable coverage and pay for it out of the “savings” they enjoy from not paying for children. Critics have dismissed the change as an accounting gimmick.

The change also does not address the concerns of EWTN, which is a self-insured employer.

Government lawyers said that the mandate is in the process of being amended and there is “a significant chance” that these changes will “alleviate altogether” the need for judicial review.

Warsaw was doubtful of this outcome. He said that the government has made “promise after promise to amend its unjust rules.”

“As a result, nearly everyone, including the courts, is left waiting to see what the government might or might not do to address the serious issues of conscience that have been raised since the first set of rules were published over a year ago,” he said.

He said the judge did not rule on the constitutional issues he said were “at the heart” of the lawsuit. EWTN is consulting with its legal team from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty about possible options.

EWTN’s lawsuit cited the need to plan for any financial problems as a result of the mandate. It said there is a danger of third-party lawsuits attempting to enforce the mandate because the safe harbor provision it is presently operating under only protects it against lawsuits from the government.

The court said EWTN will not suffer sufficient hardship before the rules are changed to merit further judicial review, but it allowed that the case may be revisited after further developments.

Warsaw voiced gratitude for the prayers and support for EWTN and asked for continued prayers as the network considers its response.

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Argentine press claims Pope Francis will visit country in December

Rome, Italy, Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Two of Argentina's leading newspapers reported today that Pope Francis will visit the country this year during the first half of December.

In response, however, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the only trip for the Holy Father that has been confirmed so far is his visit to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in July.

On March 26, local newspaper La Nacion reported that Pope Francis took the opportunity during President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's recent visit to the Vatican to tell her of his decision to postpone a trip to Argentina until after the country holds elections in October.

According to the Argentine daily Clarin, possible travel to the country in December by the Pope has been welcomed by President de Kirchner.

Fr. Lombardi told CNA that although it is “normal that the Pope would go to Argentina sooner or later, as Benedict XVI went to Germany or John Paul II to Poland,” the spokesman does “not have any official confirmation” at this time.

“The only thing I can confirm,” he added, “is his trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Youth Day,” which will take place July 23-28.

Valentina Carusi, an official with the Holy See's Argentine Embassy in Rome, told CNA that the press “did indeed give some dates, but we are not going to confirm anything here because there has been no official confirmation by the Vatican about the Pope’s schedule.”

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Supreme Court warned of harm over marriage redefinition

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples could adversely affect families and society at large, the lawyer defending California's gay marriage ban told Supreme Court justices today.

“It is reasonable to be very concerned that redefining marriage as a genderless institution could well lead over time to harms to that institution and to the interests that society has always used that institution to address,” argued Charles Cooper March 26.

The attorney made his remarks Tuesday during oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry, one of two gay marriage cases being heard this term by the U.S. Supreme Court. This case challenges California’s Proposition 8, a state measure recognizing marriage as existing solely between a man and a woman.

The other case, to be argued March 27, challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Decisions in both cases are expected in late June.

Lawyers for both sides of the argument began by addressing questions of jurisdiction, and then moved onto the merits of the case.

Cooper affirmed that the “essential thrust” of the defense of Prop 8 is that gay and straight couples are not “similarly situated” with respect to marriage because the government's “principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation.”

Cooper referred to the “unknown consequences” of gay marriage, and suggested they will be “adverse.”

Justice Antonin Scalia added that there is “considerable disagreement” among sociologists about the effects of raising children by gay couples, and that “there's no scientific answer” about it at present.

He made this point noting that if marriage is redefined so as to include same-sex couples, adoption by same-sex couples must be permitted as a consequence.

Cooper responded by saying that the proponents of Prop 8 must prove “not only that there clearly will be no harm, but that it's beyond debate that there will be no harm” should gay marriage be allowed.

Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out that there is more to marriage than procreation, and that couples who are straight yet sterile are afforded the right to marry.

Cooper responded that “redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.”

He said that marriage is designed to “make it less likely” that marriage partners “will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct” outside of marriage so that should the marriage produce children, they will be more likely to be raised by both parents.

Attorney Ted Olson argued against Proposition 8, saying that it “walls-off” and stigmatizes gays and lesbians “based on their status” and labels “their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal, and not okay.”

Olson proposed treating homosexual persons as a class whose equal protection right to marriage is being infringed upon.

“This Court again and again and again has said the right to get married, the right to have the relationship of marriage is a personal right. It's a part of the right of privacy, association, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, however, expressed discomfort with saying that Prop 8 excludes “a particular group,” because marriage as a heterosexual institution developed – not out of malice to homosexuals as a group – but “to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn't include homosexual couples.”

Olson replied that in adopting Proposition 8, California chose to “exclude gays and lesbians,” but Roberts countered that the California Supreme Court's decision striking down Prop 8 was a novel change to an institution “that's been around since time immemorial.”

Scalia then chimed in, asking Olson at what point in time he argues that it became unconstitutional to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. Olson suggested that it became unconstitutional “when we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control.”

When Scalia asked for a particular time this happened, Olson said it has been “an evolutionary cycle.”

“Well, how am I supposed to know how to decide a case, then if you can't give me a date when the Constitution changes,” Scalia asked.

The court also heard arguments from the U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who claimed that Prop 8 violates equal protection.

The measure, he said, denies the children of gay couples the “stabilizing effect” of marriage and that such children are harmed because, without their parents being married, they “don't have parents like everybody else's parents.”

In his rebuttal, Cooper said the case is ultimately about “whether or not it can be said that for every legitimate purpose of marriage, are opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples indistinguishable.”

This, he said, “is not a hard question.”

Cooper concluded that if “the natural procreative capacity of opposite-sex couples continues to pose vitally important benefits and risks to society,” then “that's why marriage itself is the institution that society has always used to regulate those heterosexual, procreative relationships.”

The court may end up side-stepping a decision in the case, either by finding that those pursuing the case have no standing to do so, or they may dismiss the case as improvidently granted. In either scenario, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' February 2012 decision striking down Prop 8 would be sustained.

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