Archive of April 23, 2013

Newly translated book shows Pope, rabbi in dialogue

Colorado Springs, Colo., Apr 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The first book by Pope Francis to be translated into English was co-authored by an Argentine rabbi and illustrates the Pope's commitment to inter-religious dialogue, according to the book’s translator.

“It shows his understanding that inter-religious dialogue is based on two cornerstones: a very strong sense of each person’s religious identity and genuine personal respect and charity,” said translator Alejandro Bermudez.

Originally written in Spanish, “On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century” is now available for the first time in English. Published by Image Books, an imprint of Random House, it was released April 19 in print, digital and audio formats.

In the book's introduction, Pope Francis writes that dialogue “is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals.”

“On Heaven and Earth” is a conversation between Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was originally published in Spanish in 2010.

According to the publisher, the book “records seminal discussions from numerous hours of conversation between the two religious leaders.”

Bermudez, who is executive director of Catholic News Agency, said that throughout the book's dialogue, Pope Francis, who was at the time Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, finds significant common ground with Skorka but “makes no concessions” about the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Skorka's assistant, Diego Rosemberg, told Bermudez that the book began with conversations on the spiritual aspects of the common tradition between Catholics and Jews.

These conversations grew into a monthly dialogue which was held always at Skorka's rabbinical school in the Belgrano neighborhood. Pope Francis always insisted that he travel to Skorka, to spare the rabbi the trouble of traveling the 8 miles to downtown Buenos Aires to meet at his office.

“On Heaven and Earth” covers a variety of topics, including God, atheism, fundamentalism, homosexuality, abortion, the Holocaust, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, heaven and poverty.

Until recently, the works of Pope Francis have been available only in his native tongue. “On Heaven and Earth” is his first book to be published in English. Two works on Jesuit spirituality, called “Humility, the road towards God” and “Corruption and sin,” are being published this month in Italian.

Eric Greenberg, a rabbi and an official at the Anti-Defamation League, said that the new English book “wonderfully demonstrates the warm and positive relationship Pope Francis has developed with Jews and Judaism.”

“These honest and respectful exchanges between then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka on a wide range of sensitive and complex topics … is a model not only for Jews and Catholics but for all those seeking productive interfaith dialogue in helping to repair a broken world.”

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Florist faces second lawsuit over gay wedding refusal

Seattle, Wash., Apr 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A florist in Washington is being sued for a second time after choosing not to provide flower arrangements for a gay customer's upcoming wedding.  

Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers in Richland now faces two lawsuits, one from the Washington state Attorney General and another from the American Civil Liberties Union, for turning away business for a same-sex couple’s wedding.

When frequent customer Curt Freed approached Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers last month to provide arrangements for his September wedding ceremony to Rob Ingersoll, the florist said she could not provide services due to her religious beliefs.

On the company's Facebook page, Stutzman described the incident after many receiving comments, saying she explained her position to the customer who said he respected her opinion.

She said that “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,” she could not comply with his request to do floral arrangements for his wedding. It is her deeply-held conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman, she wrote in the post.

Stutzman recalled that the two hugged and Freed left the store.

It was not until after the couple relayed the story to their friends who were “livid” with the florist’s decision and posted about it on Facebook, according to a Seattle Times story, that they began to receive attention from the local media, and eventually the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

After he learned of the incident Ferguson sent a letter to Stutzman “requesting she reconsider her position and sign an agreement indicating her intention to comply with Washington laws.”

When Stutzman’s attorneys responded saying that she would challenge any action to enforce the state’s anti-discrimination law, the Attorney General filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the florist who has been serving the area for the past 37 years.

In it, the state seeks a fine of $2,000 and has issued a court-order requiring Stutzman to comply with state law.

“Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation,” Ferguson said in a statement on April 9.

“If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

Now Stutzman faces a second lawsuit as the American Civil Liberty Union filed one April 18 on behalf of Freed and Ingersoll.

“When a business serves the general public, the business owner’s religious beliefs may not be used to justify discrimination,” ACLU of Washington legal director Sarah Dunne said in a statement.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order “barring the florist from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation” as well as damages “for the violation of the couple’s rights.”

Attorney Justin Bristol, who is representing the florist, argues that these cases are violating his client’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech, expression and religion.

Although Stutzman holds religious beliefs that do not validate same-sex marriage, enforcement of this law would force her “to express assent” for the issue.

“Can the state require a painter to paint a portrait of a gay couple? Could the state require a musician to write a song?” Bristol asked, according to the Associated Press. “Can the government compel them to say something they don't want to say? It violates the First Amendment.”

“It's not a public accommodation case,” he said. “She simply doesn't believe in gay marriage. She believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

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Pope responds to bishops' kidnapping with 'intense prayer'

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis is responding to the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in Syria with “intense prayer” for their health and release.

The Pope “was informed of this serious new act, which adds to the growing violence in recent days and a humanitarian emergency of vast proportions,” Vatican press office director Father Federico Lombardi said in an April 23 statement.

He is following the events “closely and with intense prayer for the health and the release of the two kidnapped bishops,” Fr. Lombardi reported.

Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped April 22 near Aleppo, Syria by armed men, who killed their driver.

The official Syrian news agency SANA reported late Monday that the archbishops were engaged in humanitarian work just over the border in Turkey and were returning to Aleppo when they were attacked.

The opposition rebels and the Syrian government have both traded blame over who carried out the kidnapping, so it remains unclear who is responsible.

Fr. Lombardi said that the assault on the archbishops “and the killing of their driver, while carrying out a humanitarian mission, is a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation faced by the people of Syria and its Christian communities.”

Pope Francis, he said, is praying that, “with the commitment of all, the Syrian people will finally discover effective answers to the humanitarian tragedy and see on the horizon real hopes for peace and reconciliation.”

At an April 17 press event in Rome, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham, said that 2 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, over 1,000 Christians have been killed and 20 churches have been destroyed in Syria’s conflict.

Christians make up between five and 10 percent of Syria’s population, but large numbers of them have fled to neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan to escape the fighting.

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Jesus not found outside the Church, Pope preaches

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis said that people cannot be fully united to Jesus outside of the Church during a Mass to commemorate Saint George, the saint he is named after.

“You cannot find Jesus outside the Church,” he said April 23 in the Apostolic Palace’s Pauline Chapel.

“It is the Mother Church who gives us Jesus, who gives us the identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging,” he declared in his homily.

The pontiff spoke about Christian identity as well as persecution, making it the sixth time in two weeks he has mentioned those who suffer for the faith.

Speaking about the Gospel reading for today from Saint John, Pope Francis underscored that “the missionary expansion of the Church began precisely at a time of persecution.”

“They had this apostolic fervor within them, and that is how the faith spread!” he exclaimed.

It was through the Holy Spirit’s initiative that the Gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles, the Pope noted, and the Spirit “pushes more and more in this direction of opening the proclamation of the Gospel to all.”

The pontiff also repeated a line from his April 17 homily in St. Martha’s residence, when he emphasized that being a Christian is not like having “an identity card.”

“Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these (the apostles) belonged to the Church, the Mother Church, because finding Jesus outside the Church is impossible,” he said.

“The great Paul VI said it is an absurd dichotomy to want to live with Jesus but without the Church, following Jesus out of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church,” he added.

Pope Francis said that “if we are not sheep of Jesus, faith does not come” and that it is “a rosewater faith and a faith without substance.”

The Pope also commented on Barnabas, who was sent to Antioch and was glad to see that the grace of God had encouraged people there to remain true disciples.

“Let us think of the consolations that Barnabas had, which is the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing,” he preached.

“Let us ask the Lord for this frankness, this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward,” he remarked.

After the Mass in the papal chapel, the Swiss Guard band offered a brief musical performance in the Courtyard of Saint Damaso for the Pope’s name day.

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Debate, protests mark legalization of gay marriage in France

Paris, France, Apr 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After months of debate and massive protests, the National Assembly in France passed President Francois Hollande's “marriage for all” bill in to law on April 23.

With 331 votes in favor to the 225 votes against, the lower house approved President Hollande’s draft law which now legalizes “gay marriage,” allows gay couples to receive medical treatment for artificial procreation and to adopt children.

This vote comes after months of protests which saw unprecedented crowds taking to the streets on several occasions to condemn the bill.

One group, La Manif Pour Tous, has organized many of the events, and reported over 1.4 million participants at the March 24 rally in Paris to protest President Hollande’s measure.

The group argues that the now-law is “profoundly discriminatory” towards children since those adopted by two men or two women will, by law, no longer have a mother and father but a “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”

“(Children) will be deprived of half their origins,” the group said in a statement on their website. “It paves the way for a new, ‘social’ parentage unrelated to human reality. It creates a framework for a new anthropological order founded not on sex but on gender, that is, sexual preference.”

Last week a group of 14,900 French mayors said they would refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, while some even said they would resign if the measure passed.

Opponents say they have no plans to end the protests and have already organized one to take place in Paris at 7 p.m. local time.

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Gloria Estefan says Christ's teachings are key to peace

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2013 (CNA) - Visiting the Vatican to participate in the recent TEDx conference on religious freedom, Cuban singer Gloria Estefan said that the teachings of Jesus Christ are central to ensuring peace in the world.

In an interview with CNA, Estefan said she believes it is important that “the basic teachings of Jesus Christ” be passed on to young people.

“It’s about treating other human beings like you want to be treated, and if we did that, there would be no conflicts or difficulties in life,” she said.

The singer arrived in Rome with her husband Emilio Estefan. During the conference, she performed a song and shared her experience with the hundreds of attendees who arrived from all parts of the world.

“Each religion has love as its foundation,” said Estefan, who was born in Cuba and grew up in Miami.

“We have differences that are more cultural, although religious as well, but I think that it is important that we … try to understand each other, and stop trying simply to change each other’s faith.”

“I think we need to be in communion with others, and I believe a lot in the power of prayer,” the singer stressed.

“I have tried to live that truth even with my music, because my music is like my catharsis, my support, which has helped me get through very difficult times, and having the blessing of my music being heard in other places is a responsibility and a privilege that I take very seriously.”

Estefan said that faith has been a pillar in her life. She recalled the bus accident in 1990 that left her unable to walk and unsure if she would ever sing again. Thanks to the prayers of her fans, she said that she underwent a miraculous recovery.

“When I was in that huge accident I received a lot of prayers from around the world,” she explained. “I believe in God and I will never be an atheist. The world is too beautiful to think that God does not exist.”

After the accident, Estefan composed the song, “Coming Out of the Dark,” a worldwide hit dedicated to God, in which she wanted to “thank all those who sent me their prayers and helped me recover.”

“That song has a very religious meaning for me,” she said. “It signifies the power of prayer and that we all have to help each other.”

Observing that people from all over the world and of different faiths prayed for her, Estefan said she believes that religious freedom “means achieving the goals that all religions share, which are: respect for the human being, respect for women, respect for the family, the values that elevate us and that bring us spiritually to choose the right things.”

The conference was also attended by the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory, and Alicia Vacas, a Combonian sister who works for peace and unity in Jerusalem.

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Human rights include religious freedom, commission says

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to focus on religious liberty as a key human right during an upcoming U.N. Human Rights Council review.

Commission chair Katrina Lantos Swett told Kerry in an April 12 letter that the U.N. council’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review forum “provides a unique opportunity to shine a light on the violations of religious freedom in these countries and to encourage these nations’ governments to comply with international norms.”

Swett said the forum allows U.S. representatives to ask “hard questions” about countries with “profoundly troubling” religious freedom records in the former Soviet Union, central Asia and the Middle East.

“Doing so would publicly reaffirm that the promotion of religious freedom remains a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy and a concern to the international community,” she said.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent federal organization that makes recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress. The President and congressional leadership from both parties appoint its members.

The commission’s letter preceded the April 19 release of the U.S. State Department’s human rights report for 2012.

“These reports send a very clear message that all governments have a responsibility to protect universal human rights and they help to blaze a path forward for places where those rights are either threatened or denied,” Secretary Kerry said.

The report examined numerous countries around the world to see whether they respected basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, voting rights and “gay rights,” a new emphasis of the State Department in recent years.

Religious freedom issues were not a major focus of Kerry’s remarks, though he did mention countries where religious minorities “find themselves in prison for violating blasphemy laws.”

The State Department report found restrictions on religious freedom in countries including Belarus, Burma, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It listed discrimination and violence against religious minorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The report also said “extremist threats” limited religious freedom in Iraq. Its section on Iran said the government and security forces “pressured, intimidated and arrested” religious activists as well as students, journalists, lawyers, artists and members of their families.

The U.S. religious freedom commission’s letter to Kerry focused on religious freedom problems in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh.

Regarding Uzbekistan, the commission criticized “harsh penalties” for independent religious activity and “state control” of religious communities, including arrests of non-conformists without due process.

The group said religious freedom violations in Turkmenistan are “severe” and include raids on religious groups.

The religious freedom situation in Russia has “deteriorated,” the commission added. Authorities are using an anti-extremism law against non-violent groups, there is “intolerance towards religious groups deemed ‘alien’ to Russian culture” and a proposed blasphemy bill could further curtail freedoms, it explained.

The situation in Azerbaijan is also deteriorating, it said. Authorities in the country have closed religious organizations and punished non-violent religious activity with detentions and fines. Registered religious groups are under strict rules while unregistered groups are illegal.

The Bangladesh government has failed to respond to violence against Buddhists, Ahmadis and Hindus, the commission said.

It appealed to Kerry to “raise questions about violations of religious freedom and related human rights” in these countries during the upcoming Human Rights Council review period.

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