Archive of March 29, 2013

Pro-life Democrats call for broad HHS mandate exemptions

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - For-profit businesses should be exempt from contraception mandate requirements that they provide abortifacient drugs, Democrats for Life of America argued in briefs recently filed in federal court cases.

“Our nation has a longstanding and pervasive tradition of accommodating conscientious objections to facilitating abortion,” said Kristen Day, director of Democrats For Life of America, said March 26.

“DFLA was proud to support the Affordable Care Act after we were assured that conscience rights under the ACA were protected. The Executive Order specifically spells out that fact. The administration should hold to its commitment.”

Democrats for Life of America were joined by Bart Stupak, a Democrat and formerly a Representative of Michigan, in filing the “amicus curiae,” or “friend of the court” briefs in two cases.

The cases involve private businesses who are suing the Health and Human Services department over its mandate that they provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacient drugs, despite conscientious objections to these practices.

The briefs were filed in the Tenth and Third Circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and argue that the HHS mandate violates the First Amendment as well as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Both businesses, Hercules Industries and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, have been granted preliminary injunctions against the HHS mandate by lower courts, which are being challenged at the appellate level.

Democrats for Life of America does not uniformly oppose the mandate that businesses offer coverage of non-abortifacient contraceptives, only emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and Ella which may cause abortions.

However, the brief involving Colorado-based Hercules Industries did note that the requirement concerning non-abortifacient contraceptives “substantially burdens religious freedom and must satisfy” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act's test of “compelling government interest.”

This brief noted that protections for conscientious objection to abortion “carry especially strong weight in American law,” and that the right not to “facilitate or support abortions” is regularly recognized as extending even to those engaged in commerce and for-profit businesses.

Democrats for Life of America also argued that the protections granted to those who oppose abortion are not limited to “direct involvement” in the act, but goes “far beyond” the act itself.

“Plaintiffs’ objection to covering emergency contraception falls within the tradition of broadly protecting conscientious objections to facilitating abortions,” said the brief.

It argued that while the Obama administration claims the termination of an embryo prior to implantation in the womb is not an abortion – how emergency contraceptives can work – “the relevant matter for the claim of conscience under RFRA is plaintiff's belief that a distinct human life begins at fertilization.”

“It is no salve to their conscience to be told that the government defines abortion differently.”

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Colorado parish dedicates 'beautiful' new church

Denver, Colo., Mar 29, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a parish of the Denver Archdiocese, recently dedicated its new church building which local Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has described as “beautiful.”

“The beauty of it... speaks to the gift of our faith, and that this is a place where the Lord is truly present and dwells,” the archbishop told CNA shortly after the dedication Mass on March 23.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is located in Littleton, a suburb of Denver, and is a personal parish of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, a society which celebrates the extraordinary form of the Roman liturgy as it existed prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

At the beginning of the dedication, the Litany of Saints was prayed and Archbishop Aquila sprinkled the church with holy water. Parish pastor, Father James Jackson then celebrated a Solemn High Mass.

“It was the first high Mass that I've been to in the extraordinary form since I was a child, so it was a whole new experience for me,” Archbishop Aquila reflected.

He said that on entering Our Lady of Mount Carmel, “one knows immediately that one is in a Catholic church.”

The church is built in a Gothic style, and has three altars, which were made in 1903 from Carrara marble. The main altar is 33 feet tall, extending virtually as high as the interior ceiling.

The building's stained glass windows depict the mysteries of the rosary, the evangelists, the four Latin Doctors of the Church, and Saint Charles Borromeo.

Fr. Jackson told the parish that St. Charles Borromeo was honored because he used the saint's writings on sacred architecture in designing the church.

“The altar is spectacular,” reflected Archbishop Aquila. He also emphasized how the choice of depictions for the stained glass, and the beauty of their execution, convey to parishioner's the gift of the Catholic faith.

Fr. Jackson explained to CNA March 27 that Our Lady of Mount Carmel's Gothic design was chosen in part because “these older forms of architecture, they're tried and true, and they really work.”

The substantial height of the church, he explains, contributes to good acoustics which support the Gregorian chant and polyphony sung during the Mass. “There should be no need for a microphone when our church is all completed,” he said.

The height has theological as well as practical reasons, he said. Such high altars serve to lift eyes, and in so doing lift minds and hearts to God.

The stone used on the exterior conveys a sense of permanence and reminds one of the eternal reality of the Kingdom God.

Constructing beautiful churches, he said, is important because there is so much ugliness in the world today.

“Beauty is one of the four transcendentals – goodness, truth, consistence (unity), and beauty. Those are the ways we come to understand God.”

By portraying the transcendentals in architecture and the celebration of the liturgy, visitors and parishioners are aided in their relationship with God.

“The building you're in, the sacred vessels you use, the vestments you wear, the music you sing, the acoustics, everything...should be in harmony with the rite,” said Fr. Jackson.

“Any church,” he explained, “needs to be in harmony with what you're doing at the altar.”

Our Lady of Mount Carmel continues to work through its remodeling. In the future, the parish hall and basement will be renovated, and to the church will be added a choir loft, narthex, baptistry, and bell tower.

“Of course, it's not enough (just) to have beauty,” reflected Fr. Jackson.

“You have to speak truth from the pulpit, and give kindness and mercy in the confessional, but beauty really does move the soul of modern man in a marvelous way.”

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Panel urges awareness of global Christian oppression

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Authors of a new book on the global persecution of Christians warned that Americans must recognize the grave threat that is facing the faithful throughout the world.

“When religious freedom is beginning to be eclipsed, it leads inevitably to genuine persecution,” said panel moderator Eric Metaxas in at a talk in the nation’s capital.

Metaxas is known for his books on Christians William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who worked to fight the oppressions of slavery and the Nazi regime, respectively. He has also spoken on religious persecution at the National Prayer Breakfast and other venues.

Other participants in the March 27 panel were Hudson Institute religious freedom advocates Nina Shea, Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert, co-authors of the new book “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.” Metaxas authored the forward to the new book.

The authors mentioned that a wide variety of research organizations and nonprofit institutions have found that Christians face persecution across the globe.

“Christians are the most widely persecuted group in the world,” said Shea, explaining that evangelization and many other activities central to the Christian faith are prohibited in a number of countries.

Shea, an international human rights lawyer, also asserted that “North Korea is the worst place to be Christian.”

Marshall elaborated upon this claim, saying that while there are human rights abuses committed against many within the country and “North Korea is the worst place to be a person” in general, Christians within the country face particularly harsh treatment.

“There is not a Christian in North Korea that is not persecuted,” he said.

Marshall also explained that the persecution of Christians affects those of other faiths as well – particularly in the Muslim world.

“Muslims who were not radicalized are becoming so,” he said, at the pressure of “Islamist and extremist groups.” Because of these pressures, “freedom-loving Muslims are the ones who are silenced.”

Despite the grave human rights offenses facing Christians around the globe, “there’s very little awareness of what’s happening around the world,” Marshall continued. 

In United States foreign policy, he said, there’s a tendency to use the term “freedom of worship” and “toleration” of belief instead of “freedom of religion.” This change in language, the panelists explained, weakens the ability of American officials to criticize restriction of religious expression.

Furthermore, “the U.S. does not want to be seen as a ‘Christian Nation,’” Marshall observed. Therefore, the United States does not intervene in a number of cases where Christians are persecuted for their beliefs.

In addition, U.S. diplomats and policy makers often fail to mention the Christian faith of those who are imprisoned for their beliefs around the world, even though they do mention the faiths of persecuted persons of other religions.

Gilbert said that Christians are so widely persecuted because “Christians bow to a higher authority,” and this allegiance to God over a secular authority poses a threat to regimes and governments both religious and secular.

Metaxas explained that these offenses ought to concern Americans as well, and that American Christians “aren’t talking about this enough.”

In addition, he added that it seems that the international community does not recognize this persecution of Christians as a real problem.

Even though freedom of belief and expression is a fundamental human right, policy issues such as access to contraception and abortion are seen as a more pressing human rights situation, and “some rights are more equal than others,” he said. 

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Youths who wrote Good Friday meditations ask for peace

Rome, Italy, Mar 29, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A leader of the Lebanese youth groups that wrote the meditations for today’s Via Crucis at the Coliseum said they focus on unity and peace between Christians and Muslims.

“Benedict told us, ‘I want you, youth, Christian and Muslims, to testify to a new Orient saying no to war and yes to peace,’ so that is our aim, our prayer and our hope,” explained Father Toufic Bou Hadir, the general coordinator for Lebanon’s patriarchal youth department.

Arabic Christians, he pointed out, are experiencing “very difficult days,” but they need to put their “eyes on the cross, because ours is the native land of Christianity and of Jesus Christ.”

“The meditations take in all the suffering, the needs and intentions of the youth in the Middle East to unite it to the Passion of Christ,” Fr. Bou Hadir said in a March 28 interview with CNA.

“This is so we will be real witnesses to the resurrection, especially with Jesus’ resurrection, the 15th station, which gives us hope,” he added.

This evening at 9:15, Pope Francis will lead the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum, a place where many Christians were martyred in ancient Rome.

Fr. Bou Hadir said the authors also took into account all of the war victims in Syria, both Christians and Muslims.

Benedict XVI, who travelled to Lebanon in September, chose youth from that country to write the reflections for each station of the 14 traditional stations, which will be read out by people of different nationalities and a disabled person.

Forty-five young people aged 17 to 30 years old from six different groups wrote the reflections.

Those groups are associated with a university, a high school, an apostolic movement, a religious group, an ecumenical youth group and an interreligious dialogue youth group.

But a special needs group and the charitable organization Mission of Life also helped write the reflections.

The authors arrived in Rome on March 28 at the Aleppino Maronite College, after visiting Assisi and the shrine of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

Joseph Semaan is a member of the youth committee from Lebanon’s Maronite Church who helped write the reflections.

“We live with the war next door to us in Syria and Israel, but also with Christian and political division within our own country,” Semaan said.

“We wrote them with the spirit of suffering of Christians in the Middle East,” he remarked.

Semaan explained that he met Christians from the Syrian city of Aleppo who moved to Lebanon to escape the fighting.

Denise El Khoury was involved in writing the reflection of the first station of the way of the cross.

“The main message of the reflections is peace and communion,” said El Khoury.

“‘Give us peace’ is the main message Christians in Syria would like to give to the world,” El Khoury stated.

Her contact with Syrian Christians comes from knowing a group of believers who live in the biggest Christian community in Damascus.

“They live in Baptouma in Damascus and they are insecure and they are waiting for peace,” said El Khoury.

“They get up every day hoping that the war will end on that day, and I know that it’s very difficult for them,” she said.

“The first station compares Pilate to some governors because in some countries they place their own interests above others, especially the poor people,” she said.

El Khoury was also involved in deciding how to distribute the task of writing the reflections to the numerous groups in Lebanon.

“We know what they (Syrians) are enduring because we’ve been there, when we had 30 years of war,” she explained.

El Khoury believes the number of Christians in the Middle East will continue to reduce in the near future.

“All the youths are thinking of leaving their home country to go to places like Australia, the States and Canada where they can build a future,” she reported.

“But we tried, especially with the Pope’s visit, to encourage them to have strength and courage to stay in their country working for peace and justice,” El Khoury said.

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Papal preacher urges Church to remove barriers to the Gospel

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Good Friday, papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa urged Catholics to seize “this moment in which a new time is opening for the Church” and remove any obstacles that stand in the way of sharing Christ.

“May the Holy Spirit, in this moment in which a new time is opening for the Church, full of hope, reawaken in men who are at the window with the expectancy of a message, and in the messengers the will to make it reach them, even at the cost of their life,” Fr. Cantalamessa said March 29 in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The Good Friday liturgy of the Passion of the Lord began with Pope Francis processing into the basilica and lying prostrate in prayer before the Cross.

The congregation then heard Scripture readings from Isaiah, St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews and St. John’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

Fr. Cantalamessa, who gave the homily in keeping with tradition, focused on the unique moment in history that the Church is living through.

“What an extraordinary thing! This Good Friday celebrated in the Year of Faith and in the presence of the new successor of Peter, could be, if we wish, the principle of a new kind of existence,” he said.

“What is required,” he explained, “is only that we do not hide from the presence of God, as Adam and Eve did after their sin, that we recognize our need to be justified; that we cannot justify ourselves.”

The papal preacher stated that acknowledging this is “the only thing that God needs in order to act” and bring about a new existence.

Looking at modern society, Fr. Cantalamessa said, “Human progress is advancing today at a dizzying pace and humanity sees new and unexpected horizons unfolding before it, the result of its discoveries.”

“Still,” he insisted, “it can be said that the end of time has already come, because in Christ, who ascended to the right hand of the Father, humanity has reached its ultimate goal.”

“Despite all the misery, injustice, the monstrosities present on Earth, he has already inaugurated the final order in the world. What we see with our own eyes may suggest otherwise, but in reality evil and death have been defeated forever.”

But there is one thing that appears different now that Jesus has died and risen, the papal preacher said. Seen with the eyes of faith, death is no longer the same.

“Christ entered death as we enter a dark prison; but he came out of it from the opposite wall. He has opened a breach towards life that no one can ever close, and through which everyone can follow him,” the papal preacher declared.

Father Cantalamessa also considered whether or not the Christian faith could be reborn in Europe and elsewhere.

“The Christian faith could return on our continent and in the secularized world for the same reason it made its entrance: as the only message, that is, which has a sure answer to the great questions of life and death,” he stated.

He then focused on evangelization and its “mystical origin.” It is “a gift that comes from the cross of Christ, from that open side, from that blood and from that water.”

Catholics “must do everything possible so that the Church may never look like that complicated and cluttered castle,” Fr. Cantalamessa said, referring to a passage he read from Franz Kafka.

He also listed “the impediments … that can restrain the messenger: dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris.”

Fr. Cantalamessa stressed, “we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins.

“This was the mission that was received one day by a man who prayed before the Crucifix of San Damiano: ‘Go, Francis, and repair my Church.’”

His homily was followed by a time of silence for personal reflection.

The liturgy then moved into praying for the world, specifically mentioning the Church, the Pope, the Jewish people, non-believers, those in public office, and those who are suffering tribulation, among others.

The second part of the Good Friday liturgy was the Adoration of the Cross, which commenced with a deacon processing down the main aisle with the Cross and stopping at three points.

Pope Francis then elevated the Cross in front of the main altar for a time of silent adoration.

The liturgy finished with the Rite of Communion, followed by the Pope blessing the people and the congregation leaving in silence.

Pope Francis will preside over the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum at 9:15 p.m. It will take place by candlelight and will use meditations from Lebanese young people who wrote them to express the need for peace.

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Thousands pray Way of the Cross with Pope

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis presided over the Way of the Cross at the place where early Christians were martyred, recalling the Passion of Christ.

“Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the Cross upon themselves as Jesus did,” the Pope said at Rome’s Coliseum on March 29.

“One word should suffice this evening, that is the Cross itself,” he said. “The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world.”

Thousands gathered at the Coliseum, holding candles while the 14 stations of the cross were recalled. The Coliseum was lit up with torches and a giant cross stood at the main entrance lit up by several small torches.

“The word of the Cross is also the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil, the evil that continues to work in us and around us,” said Pope Francis.

A group of people of different nationalities including seminarians from China, Franciscans from the Holy Land, Brazilian youth as well as Nigerian and Lebanese religious took turns carrying a black cross.

They walked inside the first floor of  the Coliseum, circling it and pausing to pray each station.

A few in the group carried giant fire torches and some wore the Lebanese flag over their shoulders.

During the fourth station, a disabled woman in a wheelchair joined the group and was given the black cross to lead the group.

The Sistine chapel choir sang during the procession, but a Maronite choir sung the last song.

The stations begin with Jesus being condemned to death and end with him being laid in the tomb after he dies on the cross.

The meditations, written by a group of Lebanese youth, recalled violence in the Middle East, abuse of women and children, Christian division and the promotion of abortion.

The Pope said in his remarks after the stations that Christians now continue the Passion of Christ in their daily lives.

“Let us walk together along the Way of the Cross and let us do so carrying in our hearts this word of love and forgiveness,” the Pope said.

“Let us go forward waiting for the Resurrection of Jesus,” he added.

Pope Francis also thanked his Lebanese “brothers and sisters” for their witness and for writing the "beautiful" reflections that were read during the prayer.

“When Pope Benedict visited Lebanon, we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others,” he said.

“That occasion was a sign of hope to the Middle East and to the whole world,” he said.

He acknowleged that sometimes it seems as though God does not react to evil, “as if he is silent.”

“And yet God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ, a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness,” said the pontiff.

But it is also reveals a judgment and that God, in judging us, loves us.

“If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by him, but my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves,” remarked the Pope.

Pope Francis thanked those present at the Coliseum for taking part “in these moments of deep prayer,” as well as the media, the sick and the elderly.

He will preside over Easter Vigil Mass tomorrow at 8:30 p.m., when he will baptize four people, including a 17-year-old Vietnamese American.

The Pope will not give a homily on Easter Sunday, but he is expected to give the Urbi et Orbi greeting in 65 languages after the 10:30 a.m. Mass.

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