Archive of April 9, 2013

Egypt's Christians call for peace after attack on Orthodox cathedral

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 9, 2013 (CNA) - Christian leaders in Egypt appealed for calm after a mob attacked St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo on Sunday during the funeral of four Coptic Christians killed in sectarian clashes.

At least two Christians died and over 80 were injured in the Sunday attacks, which marked the third day of sectarian violence, according to the Christian Post.

Pope Tawadros II, the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church said the Egypt must “keep calm” to preserve security and national unity.

The Council of Churches in Egypt condemned the attack and called for “immediate action” from the government, Fides news agency reports.

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi told Patriarch Tawadros by phone that he is committed to stopping the violence and that he considers “any attack against churches as a personal attack” against him.

On Friday a dispute in the town of Khusus near Cairo turned into a gunfight that killed four Christians and a Muslim.

After the Christians’ funeral Sunday, Christians left the cathedral and joined sympathetic Muslims to chanting slogans against President Mohammed Morsi. They called for his removal and the removal of his allies.

Violence broke out, though it is unclear how it started. Assailants were few at first, but their numbers grew to over 200 people.

They stationed themselves on the roofs of buildings surrounding the cathedral, attacking Christians and others with stones and petrol bombs until late in the evening, Fides News Agency reports.

Security forces and riot police appeared to have sided with the Muslim men who were attacking the Christians, the New York Times says.

Christians took up the defense of the cathedral and threw fire bombs and brick shards at the riot police, some of whom were injured.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry has charged that the mourners had started the attacks by vandalizing cars, which led to clashes and fights with others in the area.

Coptic Christians, who are descendants of Egypt’s pre-Muslim population, make up about 10 percent of the predominantly Muslim population of Egypt.

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Pope Francis finds high favor among Americans

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that a majority of Americans, including Catholics, have a largely favorable view of the new Pope.

Catholic social researchers, however, say that Pope Francis may not be significantly more popular than his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

“Generally, popes have had approval ratings among Americans (Catholic or not) that are higher than that of U.S. presidents,” explained Mark M. Gray, senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

“It's a bit of a honeymoon period,” Gray told CNA on April 8.

On April 3, the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll of Americans, showing that Pope Francis was viewed favorably. The study showed that more than 84 percent of American Catholics and 57 percent of Americans in general rated Pope Francis “favorably.”

These numbers contrast the ratings of Pope Benedict XVI, whose highest rating from U.S. Catholics was 83 percent following his visit to the United States in 2008, and whose approval among U.S. Catholics upon announcement of his registration in February 2013 was 74 percent.

While there is a difference is their popularity ratings, Gray noted that “there is not as big of a difference as it may seem.”

“Many of these comparisons are based on a small samples size of Catholics,” Gray explained. “Thus one must account for margin of error when looking at the differences between the polls.”  

Gray also added that world leaders “often get high poll numbers after they are selected,” and that “news and events will likely determine if they go up or down.”

“As with past popes I'd expect his numbers to stay well above that of a U.S. president,” he said.

Gray also commented on the “positive response” elicited by the Pope’s actions. “I think his very simple or even humble leadership style is attractive to many.”

“Also the fact that he is the first pope from the Americas and a Jesuit also likely create positive reactions,” Gray noted.

According to the poll, only 5 of U.S. Catholics view of Pope Francis unfavorably.

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Heroic Korean War priest remembered by prison-mate

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A fellow prisoner of war has fondly recalled the heroism of Father Emil Kapaun, a U.S. Army chaplain who died in a North Korean camp and is posthumously receiving the Medal of Honor April 11.

Eighty-five year-old veteran Mike Dowe still remembers the day in 1950 when he marched nearly 90 miles to the prison camp in Pyoktong after being captured at the battle of Unsan.

“There was this one character who kept going around encouraging people to carry the wounded, and helped in every way he could,” Dowe told CNA.

“Finally they marched us into a valley, and as we started out I was on the front end of a stretcher...and I said 'I'm Mike Dowe, who's that on the back?'”

“He says 'Fr. Kapaun,' and I said 'Fr. Kapaun, I've heard about you,' and he said 'Well don't tell my bishop.' That's how I met him.”

Fr. Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas, to a farming family, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita in June, 1940. He became an Army chaplain in 1944, and served through 1946, and then re-joined in 1948. He was sent to Korea in July 1950, where was noted for his service to his compatriots.

The priest was captured by the Chinese in November at Unsan because he was in the habit of going back for the wounded.

“He would run across the fields rescuing the wounded...including sometimes 50-100 yards outside the American lines to drag some kid back,” Roy Wenzl, co-author of “The Miracle of Father Kapaun,” told CNA on April 8.

“At Unsan, he stayed back with the wounded and allowed himself to be captured so he could protect them.”

“He didn't go around witnessing verbally about Catholicism and Christianity much...instead, he'd be on a march with the unit and he'd see guys digging a latrine, and he'd go out and dig with them.”

“It's not like he avoided Christianity; I think he was the finest witness to Christianity I've ever heard of,” Wenzl said, “but what he did, is he first established a relationship with these guys, who were busy doing really dirty work, of helping them, finding ways to help them.”

Wenzl noted that Fr. Kapaun would stay up at nights writing letters to the families of deceased soldiers and writing home on behalf of wounded soldiers.

“He put on a virtual clinic about how to be a leader, and how to be an effective witness for Christianity...there's a shortage of Catholics who behaved like him,” Wenzl observed.

For Wenzl, Fr. Kapaun's witness is a “phenomenal” demonstrating that there are “real Christians” in the world. “If there were more of him, there'd probably be a lot more people in church on Sundays, because that's the way to do it.”

The author said that Fr. Kapaun “treated everybody just the same way he treated the Catholics, and he treated Catholics like loved ones.”

Fr. Kapaun's upbringing on a farm contributed to his ability to help his fellow prisoners at the prison camp at Pyoktong, on the Chinese border. In addition to his spirituality, Fr. Kapaun was the “most practical and resourceful problem-solver,” Wenzl said. These were skills he had learned growing up on a Kansas farm, where he was forced to find creative solutions to challenges presented to him.

Dowe said that the death rate of prisoners in nearby valleys was some ten times that in the valley where he and Fr. Kapaun were held, and so one “can see the kind of effect he had on people.”

“He taught them to maintain their will to live, by teaching them to hold to their beliefs, honor, integrity, and keeping with their conscience, their loyalty to their country and their God.”

A “good majority” of the men who survived Pyoktong “owe their life to Fr. Kapaun,” said Dowe.

The priest was known for celebrating the sacraments for his fellow prisoners – baptizing, hearing confessions, giving extreme unction, and saying Mass.

Fr. Kapaun was also always volunteering to do the most menial and laborious tasks at the camp, said Dowe. Each day he would help to take the frozen corpses of those who had died the preceding night to an island in the Yalu River for burial.

That winter was one of the most brutal in Korean history.

“He would always volunteer for this most heinous detail,” Dowe related. Fr. Kapaun would then bring back some of the dead's clothes, wash them, and distribute them to the people who needed them.

Fr. Kapaun already has been awarded several military honors, but Thursday's presentation of the Medal of Honor to his relatives is the highest military honor in the U.S., and is awarded for bravery.

His cause for canonization is open, and already several cures may have been due to his intercession. When asked if he believes if Fr. Kapaun is in heaven, Dowe responded, “I sure do.”

Fr. Kapaun died May 23, 1951, and was buried in a mass grave on the Yalu river.

“When he was being carried away, they took him to a place, a death house...and left him where they left people to die,” Dowe remembered.

“As he was leaving, I was in tears, and he said to me, 'Mike, don't be sad, I'm going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there I'll be saying a prayer for all of you guys.'”

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Vatican stem cell event aims for wide cultural impact

Vatican City, Apr 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican's upcoming conference on adult stem cell research aims to influence culture by promoting dialogue between politicians, medical researchers, journalists and students on the latest developments.  

Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture's Science and Faith foundation, explained to journalists April 9 that the event hopes to impact society by “pointing to research models of excellence that tune with the highest moral values of protecting the life and dignity of the human being from the moment of conception.”

During the first adult stem cell gathering in 2011, the organizers focused on making the complex world of medical research more understandable to the average person.

But for their second gathering, which will be held April 11-13 in the Vatican’s New Synod Hall, they want to extend their message by working at overcoming some of the “prejudice and antagonism” against adult stem research that can be found in the medical field.

“That is why we feel called to collaborate with the most prestigious professors, research institutes, and universities around the world,” Msgr. Trafny explained.

The keynote speaker for the conference will be Doctor John Gurdon, the 2013 Nobel Prize winner for Physiology or Medicine. This year, the conference will also have students from 25 universities around the world present.

Msgr. Trafny told CNA that during the afternoon sessions the organizers will “try to introduce issues related to cultural, philosophical, ethical, theological discussion.”  

“And we would like to offer the possibility to reflect, to discuss, not only scientific achievements but also cultural impact that this research can have in the future.”

Dr. Robin Smith, CEO of NeoStem and the president of the Stem for Life Foundation, took time to address the political and financial aspects of the stem cell debate as well.  

“I think that it speaks for itself, in the fact there are 4,300 clinical trials using adult stem cells and only 26 using embryonic stem cells,” Smith said in response to a question from CNA.

“So as we continue to see more data,” she added, “there will be more support to have these therapies developed into the clinic.”  

In her estimation, “it’s all about the data and the progress.”

The more people understand the scientific advances, the more “we’ll see that people are starting to learn that the future of stem cell therapy is adult stem cells,” Smith predicted.

And when the momentum builds behind adult stem cell cures, Smith said, “that will impact funding, (and) it will have an impact on government and regulatory bodies.”

“We’re already seeing from ambassadors and ministers of health, they want to embrace this.”

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Margaret Thatcher a 'staunch family champion,' ambassador says

Rome, Italy, Apr 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After Pope Francis praised the Christian ethics of the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the British ambassador to the Holy See emphasized her strong defense of family values.

“Lady Thatcher was a staunch champion of the family,” said Vatican ambassador Nigel Baker.

“She will be remembered by people of faith in Britain as a leader with conviction, passion, determination and decisiveness, qualities that continue to be those most needed in political and public leadership today,” he told CNA on April 9.

Pope Francis sent a message on April 9 to British Prime Minister David Cameron offering his condolences on the death of the “Iron Lady.”

The Holy Father said he was saddened to hear of her death and recalled with appreciation the Christian values that “underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations.”

Baker said it is “worth recalling that she recited the Prayer of St. Francis when she arrived at Downing Street on her first day in office.”

“Lady Thatcher is recalled by many as a conviction politician, who was not afraid to do what was unpopular if she believed it was right,” he stated.

Baker also said he believes that Thatcher and Blessed John Paul II both contributed to the downfall of communism and that she “played a central role in the reopening of Central and Eastern Europe to freedom.”

“Pope John Paul II was a spiritual leader, Lady Thatcher a stateswoman, but both were adamant that totalitarian communism was an aberration in the history of Europe, and worked tirelessly for the same goal,” Baker said.

“Her personal impact at the time on people in countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary was enormous and her personal engagement with Mikhail Gorbachev was a key step towards the end of the Cold War,” he remarked.

The British ambassador recalled the first years of his diplomatic career he spent in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s.

“Two personalities stood out, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher,” he said.

“Market traders in Budapest remembered vividly her visit there in the 1980s, when she delighted them by buying fruit and vegetables with her own money, negotiating over the price,” said Baker.

He explained that she garnered immense respect amongst ordinary people across the region.

The ambassador also recalled that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday, “Margaret Thatcher didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country.”

When Baker was in school in London during the late 1970s and the Winter of Discontent, he remembered it as a time when “our leaders appeared to be in despair, with no solutions and then this extraordinary woman came along, and shook the country awake.”

“Not everyone agreed at the time, or agree now, with her strong medicine for the country’s ills.

“But as a young man with a keen sense of history, I did believe that Britain was finally back on track, and Margaret Thatcher had played a crucial role in putting us there,” Baker commented.

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Pope to visit Rome center for undocumented refugees

Rome, Italy, Apr 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A priest in Rome says Pope Francis personally called him to say he will visit the Astalli Center, a local facility run by the Jesuits, that helps thousands of undocumented refugees – many with tragic histories.

“Yesterday I received a call on my cell phone. It was Pope Francis and he told me he would come. This is wonderful,” Father Giovanni La Manna, head of the Jesuit Service for Refugees in Rome, posted on his Twitter account April 7.

The Astalli Center offers refugees free medical care, psychological counseling, legal advice, meals, showers, a laundromat and educational assistance. Undocumented refugees can use the services at the Center without fear of being identified and deported, due to an agreement between the Jesuits and the city of Rome.

Most the immigrants at the center are Muslims refugees fleeing from the Middle East and Africa, and the lines to use its services are often long.

In a previous interview with CNA, Fr. Manna, who has been working at the center since 2003, said the stories behind many of the refugees are tragic.

Most of them have fled because their lives were in danger because of political or religious reasons, he said. Others have been forced to flee because “being a Christian in a Muslim country is very difficult.”

“There are also many women who have fled because their families force them to marry someone they don’t love,” the priest added.

The inspiration to help these refugees “comes from the Gospel. We don’t make anything up, we just keep in mind what the Gospel says and teaches,” Fr. Manna noted.

And in welcoming these people we make no distinction for race, language or religion. To us they are people who deserve care and help.”

The Jesuit Service to Refugees started in 1980 and has spread throughout the world to help people in need. The Astalli Center in Rome receives nearly 400 people day, and a team of volunteers helps the Jesuits care for them.

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Knights of Columbus call for end to HHS mandate

New Haven, Conn., Apr 9, 2013 (CNA) - The Knights of Columbus filed formal comments with the U.S. government on Monday, calling for an end to the Health and Human Services mandate and “a new course” that would not require Americans to cover medical services to which they have religious and moral objections.

The Knights, a Catholic charitable fraternal organization with 1.8 million U.S. members, invited the Obama administration to “make every effort to protect the conscience rights and sincerely held religious beliefs and practice of the American people,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in an April 6 letter.

“The faith that lies at the heart of our charitable activity and our defense of human rights is  also the same faith that compels us to oppose participation in a government  mandate that would force us to fund, directly or indirectly, health plans that include objectionable services such as sterilization, contraception, or abortion-inducing drugs,” he said.
The federal mandate requires almost all private insurance plans to offer the objectionable drugs and procedures without a co-pay. Violators could face heavy fines. Over 150 employers and non-profit organizations, including Catholic health systems, universities, charities, and dioceses, have filed more than 40 federal lawsuits challenging the rules.

The Obama administration has altered the original mandate to require insurance plans, not employers themselves, to provide the objectionable coverage. The new proposals also modify religious exemption standards. However, the change has failed to address many objections.

Anderson said that the new proposals change “some minor details” but do not address the “critical moral and constitutional offense” of coercing individuals and organizations with objections to pay for the coverage directly or indirectly and to initiate coverage..

“The government places itself in the untenable position of deciding that some consciences are fit for protection, while others are not,” Anderson said.

He said the newest proposed rules do not expand the religious exemption and are implemented “in a manner that requires the employer to initiate and pay for such coverage.” Non-exempt entities “receive no protection and will lose the right to provide health care coverage that respects their deeply held religious and moral convictions.”

Anderson cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that people may not be forced to act against their convictions. He also cited James Madison’s defense of the free exercise of religion.

He also cited Thomas Jefferson’s 1804 letter to Ursuline sisters in the Louisiana Territory , in which Jefferson said that the U.S. Constitution is a “sure guarantee ... that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules without the interference from the civil authority.”

Anderson suggested the Obama administration use principles adapted from the Church Amendment to the Public Service Act. That legislation, first passed in1973. That provision bars individuals and entities from being required to violate their religious beliefs or moral convictions as part of a government program.

Should the Obama administration refuses to rescind the mandate, Anderson said, the Knights of Columbus urge an expansion of the religious exemption to protect individuals and organizations from being forced to violate their beliefs.

The Knights of Columbus said thousands of its members and their families have filed comments by the close of the comment period April 8.

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Military archdiocese objects to Catholic 'extremist' label

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services has said it is “astounded” at a U.S. Army Reserve training brief that listed Catholics alongside “violent and extremist” groups.

“The archdiocese calls upon the Department of Defense to review these materials and to ensure that taxpayer funds are never again used to present blatantly anti-religious material to the men and women in uniform,” the archdiocese said April 4.

In its statement, the archdiocese noted that an investigation and reply from the Army Chief of Chaplains office said the training “appears to have been an isolated incident not condoned by the Department of the Army.”

The presentation, titled “Extremism & Extremist Organizations,” discussed religious extremism in a presentation that covered militias, neo-Nazis, Islamic extremism, terrorism and gangs.

One slide, titled “Religious Extremism,” listed Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity along with groups including Al Qaida, Hamas and the Ku Klux Klan.

The presentation described extremism as a “complex phenomenon” defined by beliefs, attitudes or feelings “far removed from the 'ordinary.'” It said religious extremism is not limited to any religion, ethnic group or region.

“Every religion has some followers that believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only 'right way' and that all others are practicing their faith the 'wrong way,' seeing and believing that their faith/religion (is) superior to all others,” the slide said.

The presentation cited sources such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League and some of its language appeared to be taken from the website Wikipedia.

The Army removed the slide after complaints.

A U.S. Army spokesperson told the Washington Times that the presentation was produced by an individual without the knowledge or permission of anyone in the chain of command.

The person who created the presentation “was not a subject matter expert and produced the material after conducting internet research,” the spokesperson said.

The presentation also drew criticism from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a non-denominational group of military chaplains..

The archdiocese said it and the Chaplain Alliance told the Army that it “can and should take steps to prevent such incidents in the future.”

The Archdiocese for Military Services has endorsed priests at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, serving an estimated 1.8 million Catholics worldwide.

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