Houston, Texas, Jun 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The parents of kidnapped American journalist Austin Tice have appealed again for his release, voicing gratitude for Pope Francis' words on behalf of all abducted victims in the Syrian conflict.
“It is a tremendous comfort to know the Holy Father is praying for the people of Syria, and that he has personally appealed to the humanity of kidnappers to release their victims,” Marc and Debra Tice of Houston, Texas told CNA June 3.
On Monday, Pope Francis denounced the “scourge of kidnapping” in Syria and appealed to captors' humanity to free the victims. Those recently abducted in the country include two Orthodox Christian bishops.
The Pope's message was personally relevant to the Tices, whose son Austin disappeared in August 2012 near the Damascus suburb of Daraya where he was reporting on the Syrian conflict. Austin, a 31-year-old former Marine Corps captain and Georgetown University graduate, was working as a freelance reporter for the Washington Post and McClatchy News Service.
The Tices said their son, the oldest of seven children, is “all Texan: big, loud and friendly.” They noted how his photographs of Syrians, especially local children, show “his respect for the humanity of the Syrian people.”
“From what we've heard, his respect was reciprocated,” they said. “You could hear in his voice how happily and deeply he was engaged in his work.”
Austin Tice has now been missing for more than nine months.
His parents do not know for certain who is holding him captive, and recent developments in the Syrian conflict could affect Austin's future.
Debra Tice said that the situation of the Daraya area has recently been “very fluid” as opposition groups and the Syrian government contest control.
“We feel this could increase his chances of escape or rescue and ask everyone in the area to be aggressively searching for him in order to secure his safe return to us,” she explained.
“Additionally, the upcoming U.S.- and Russian-led peace talks scheduled in Geneva offer an opportunity for discussion by all parties regarding the release of captives.”
Marc Tice also saw some hopeful signs. “The best development in the past few months has been the commitment we’ve received from more than one Syrian official,” he said. “They’ve told us and others that the Syrian government will do everything it can to locate Austin and return him safely.
“We have been assured through many channels that Austin is alive and being treated well, yet we have no concrete evidence of who is holding him or how to secure his release and return.”
In September 2012 a 47-second video of the journalist was posted on a pro-Syrian government website and appears to implicate Islamic militants in the kidnapping. The clip shows Austin blindfolded in the custody of armed men as he tries to recite in Arabic the shahada or Muslim declaration of faith, the Associated Press reported. He then switches to English and says “Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus.”
Some critics of the video have said it appears to be staged, possibly by pro-Syrian government forces who want to discredit the opposition, the Christian Science Monitor wrote in December 2012.
The Czech embassy, which is representing the U.S. in Syria after its own embassy closed in 2011, in December said its sources believe Tice is being held captive by the Syrian government. The Syrian government, however, denied those reports.
Syria's contradicting stories are part of what drew Austin Tice to the country. His father said he was among those who sought to find the truth about the two-year-old conflict between supporters and opponents of the government of President Bashar Assad.
“Austin told me he was frustrated by early reports out of Syria which couldn't be confirmed because no verifiable reports were available,” Marc said.
“He told me he believed the story of this conflict needed to be told and that he believed he had the skills to do it. Considering the recognition and awards he’s received for his work, I'm inclined to believe he was right.”
Since his kidnapping, Tice has been awarded the George Polk Award for War Reporting and the McClatchy President’s Award for Journalism Excellence.
Austin's parents said their son did not join them in converting to Catholicism in 1999, but he was raised with “a firm foundation in the Christian faith.”
“He has memorized a great deal of Holy Scripture and learned the Catechism,” his parents said. “He enjoyed listening to theological discussions on Christian radio. In times of stress and trouble, he relies on the unwavering love of God.”
Debra reflected that her faith has helped her during this time of uncertainty.
“I firmly believe God is in control and pray for His will to be done. I know it is God’s desire for all people to live in peace. I pray constantly for an outpouring of mercy to restore peace to our family, to Syria, the Levant, and the entire world,” she said.
She also noted the positive effect of knowing that people around the world are praying for Austin and the Tice family. “These prayers give us hope and strength; undoubtedly they are also a source of great comfort for our son.”
Marc said that the kidnapping of his son “has challenged the foundations on which my faith has been built – much of which I am sure needed to be challenged.”
“As a convert to Catholicism, I was especially drawn to the way the Church expressed faith as a journey, and how understanding and enlightenment was not necessarily a flash of brilliance, rather a life-long process. I trust this part of my journey will leave me not only changed but stronger,” he said.
Debra voiced her love in a message directed to her son, saying: “We work and pray daily for your safe return. Do not despair; remain steadfast in faith.”
Both parents urged their son's captors to keep him safe and treat him well. “Have compassion on us and let him come home,” Marc said.
The Tice family asks anyone with information about Austin to contact them through their website, www.austinticefamily.com.
Chicago, Ill., Jun 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
An Illinois Catholic leader says that the state's failure to advance a “gay marriage” bill is a significant victory for grassroots activism, but more action is needed to ensure it never passes.
“We need to redouble our efforts to contact lawmakers and express opposition to that bill. Not only that, but we also need individuals contacting other people in districts,” said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic conference.
Gilligan said the bill wasn't defeated outright on the evening of May 31 before the local House of Representatives adjourned. Rather, the deadline was extended to vote on it. The bill could be heard in a potential special summer session, if further legislative procedures are followed.
“But nonetheless, the fact that it wasn’t called for a vote mean that in all likelihood it did not have the required number of votes to pass,” Gilligan told CNA June 4.
The measure had passed the Illinois Senate in February by a vote of 34-21. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, a self-identified a Catholic, openly supports the legislation.
Gilligan attributed inaction on the bill to both “grassroots organizing” through churches and voters who expressed their opinions to lawmakers. “That’s the most significant thing,” he said.
Strong opposition from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the African American Clergy Coalition helped keep the bill from consideration, local media reports.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, head of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, praised the success.
“This victory in the Land of Lincoln demonstrates that marriage redefinition – even in the face of intense political pressure – is not inevitable, a likely reason we haven't heard much about it in the national media,” he said June 3.
He noted the broad coalition of faith leaders in Illinois who opposed the bill, saying they “spoke eloquently on the reality that nature and nature’s God make clear that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”
“Catholics will continue to proclaim with people of other faiths and of no particular faith that marriage is the one-flesh union of one man and one woman. Indeed, both faith and reason lead us to this truth,” Archbishop Cordileone said.
State Rep. Greg Harris, a leading sponsor of the bill, has said he and others will try to pass the bill in the future.
The Chicago-based Thomas More Society in a May 30 letter warned that the present bill provides “the worst religious liberty protections of any same-sex marriage bill in the country.”
The society said if the bill becomes law it would force religious individuals and organizations with objections to recognizing same-sex couples as married into “years of legal fights, likely against the Illinois government, to defend their rights to practice their faiths.” The bill could put at risk of lawsuits religious hospitals, schools, organizations like the Knights of Columbus and businesses owned by religious people.
The Illinois legislature passed a civil unions bill in December 2010, recognizing registered same-sex civil unions as equivalent to marriage.
Despite claims that the legislation provided adequate religious freedom protection, Catholic Charities adoption agencies and foster care programs were soon stripped of long-standing state funding on the grounds they discriminated against unmarried and homosexual couples. The agencies had cared for about 2,000 foster children each year.
Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Fr. Peter Ryan, a Jesuit priest known for his defense of Church teaching, is slated to step up in August as the executive director of the U.S. Bishops' Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs.
“Father Ryan's considerable expertise on bio-ethical issues is vital as contemporary society addresses moral challenges inherent in biotechnology, medical ethics and environmentalism,” said Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, general secretary of the U.S. bishops' conference.
“He brings a depth of theological knowledge to these and other areas, including the study and teaching of systematic theology, that are critical to the Church today and to the strategic priorities adopted by the bishops,” Msgr. Jenkins added.
Fr. Ryan will replace the retiring Fr. Thomas Weinandy, a Capuchin priest, as the executive director of the Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The appointment will be effective August 19.
The Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs is responsible for executing directives of the U.S. bishop's committee on doctrine, ensuring that work done by Catholic theologians in the country upholds Church teaching.
In addition, the executive director of the office also helps the bishops' Subcommittee on Health Care Issues and Subcommittee on the Translation of Scripture Texts.
Fr. Ryan received his licentiate and doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, and holds numerous degrees in English, divinity, philosophy and political science from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
In addition, Fr. Ryan has served as a professor of moral theology at Kenrick-Gennon Seminary, Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and an assistant professor of theology at Loyola College in Maryland.
Fr. Ryan has gained attention for a defense of the Church's prohibition of divorce and remarriage, co-authored by Fr. Peter Ryan and Dr. Germain Grisez, and supported by the Vatican.
He has also written on ethical and theological issues such as “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” the Eucharist, and the moral obligation to embryos abandoned following in-vitro fertilization.
He has been published in a number of journals, including Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, the National Catholic Bioethical Quarterly, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly and American Journal of Jurisprudence.
Fr. Ryan is a former member of the board of directors of The Cardinal Newman Society, a three-time member of the executive board of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and a prior senior fellow with the Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person.
The incoming executive director is able to read and speak English, Italian, French and German, and is also able to read Latin and Spanish.
Vatican City, Jun 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis vigorously appealed for peace in Syria and told the Christians there that they have “the great task” of remaining in their homeland despite the ongoing war.
“These (communities) have the great task of continuing to offer a Christian presence in the place where they were born and it is our task to ensure that this witness remains there,” he said June 5.
“The participation of the entire Christian community in this important work of assistance and aid is imperative at this time,” he added during the meeting with Catholic aid agencies in the hall of Saint Martha’s House.
The pontiff made his comments at a June 5 gathering organized by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” for Catholic charities engaged in helping Syrian refugees within their own country, as well as in neighboring ones.
“Faced with the continuing violence and abuse, I strongly renew my appeal for peace,” he told them.
“I ask you to encourage humanitarian aid to refugees and displaced Syrians, aiming first at the good of the person and the protection of his dignity,” he stated.
Pope Francis noted that in “recent weeks, the international community has reaffirmed its intention to take concrete steps to begin a fruitful dialogue with the aim of putting an end to the war.”
These are “attempts that should be supported and which will hopefully lead to peace,” he said.
The pontiff also reminded Cor Unum members that the Church “feels called to give testimony to the humble” and that it must do so with “concrete and effective charity.”
“We cannot hold back, precisely from those situations where the pain is greatest!” he exclaimed.
“Your presence in the coordination meeting shows the will to continue with loyalty the valuable work of humanitarian assistance in Syria and in neighboring countries that generously accommodate those fleeing war,” the Pope said.
The charities’ work, he said, is “timely and coordinated” and an “expression of that communion which is itself a testimony as suggested by the recent Synod on the Middle East.”
“The work of Catholic Charities agencies to help the Syrian people, beyond ethnic or religious affiliations, is extremely significant for the Holy See,” said the pontiff.
“It is the most direct way to make a contribution to peace and the building up of a society open to all the different components,” he stated.
The Pope then gave them his apostolic blessing, emphasizing that it extends in particular to “the dear faithful who live in Syria and all those Syrians who are currently forced to leave their homes because of the war.”
“You here present are the instrument to tell the dear people of Syria and the Middle East that the Pope accompanies them and is close to them,” he said.
“The Church does not abandon them!” he insisted.
Vatican City, Jun 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis said that it is urgent to focus on people and not just on nature on World Environment Day.
“The human person is in danger, this is certain, the human person is in danger today, here is the urgency of human ecology!” exclaimed Pope Francis June 5 during his general audience.
“We are called not only to respect the natural environment, but also to show respect for, and solidarity with, all the members of our human family,” he told the estimated 70,000 pilgrims who gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis told the crowd that people are often driven by the pride of dominating things, having possessions, and manipulation and exploitation.
“We do not care for it, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a free gift that we must care for,” he affirmed.
“We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation,” the Pope said.
In the Pope’s assessment, the world is not only suffering from an economic management crisis, but also a lack of “concern for human resources.”
Not enough people think about “the needs of our brothers and sisters living in extreme poverty, and especially for the many children in our world lacking adequate education, health care and nutrition,” he said.
“Consumerism and a culture of waste have led some of us to tolerate the waste of precious resources, including food, while others are literally wasting away from hunger,” he warned.
“I ask all of you to reflect on this grave ethical problem in a spirit of solidarity grounded in our common responsibility for the earth and for all our brothers and sisters in the human family,” the Pope said.
The pontiff called on people to reflect on “our responsibility to cultivate and care for the earth in accordance with God’s command.”
But Pope Francis a step beyond how people normally think of cultivating and caring for man and creation, saying, “it also involves human relationships.”
In that area, he warned, “Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules.”
Pope Francis said the verb cultivate reminds him of the care a farmer gives to his land so that it bears fruit.
“How much attention, passion and dedication!” he exclaimed.
The mission of cultivating and caring for creation is part of God’s plan and an indication given to everyone at the beginning of history and now.
“It means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone,” the Pope said.
He then reminded people of the Bible passage, which he spoke about on the feast of Corpus Christi, in which Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying five loaves of bread and two fishes.
“The conclusion of the piece is important,” said Pope Francis.
“They all ate and were satisfied and when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled 12 wicker baskets,” he recalled.
According to the Pope, Jesus asks his disciples not to throw anything away.
There were 12 baskets, the number of the tribes of Israel, which symbolically represent all people.
“This tells us that when food is shared in a fair way, with solidarity, when no one is deprived, every community can meet the needs of the poorest,” he said.
“Human ecology and environmental ecology walk together,” said the pontiff.
Vatican City, Jun 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis said lamenting suffering is a form of prayer and is not a sin, during his daily morning Mass.
“A priest I know once said to a woman who lamented to God about her misfortune, ‘but, madam, that is a form of prayer, go ahead with it,’” Pope Francis said in his June 5 homily.
“To lament before God is not a sin,” he added.
Pope Francis based his reflections on a reading from the third chapter of Tobit, which was read at Mass today.
It tells the story of Tobit, who was blinded despite a life of good works, and Sarah, who married seven men that all died before their wedding night. They both pray to God to let them die.
“They are people in extreme situations and they seek a way out,” Pope Francis said.
“They complain, but they do not blaspheme.”
He also mentioned malnourished children, refugees and the terminally ill as examples of those suffering.
Pope Francis went on to speak of the day’s Gospel from Mark 12 in which the Sadducees ask Jesus, if a woman is widowed and marries seven times, which man will be her husband in heaven.
He noted the Sadducees were talking about this woman “as if she were a laboratory, all aseptic” and that “hers was an abstract, moral problem.”
“When we think of the people who suffer so much, do we think of them as though they were an abstract, moral conundrum, pure ideas … ?” asked Pope Francis. “Or do we think about them with our hearts, with our flesh, too?”
“I do not like it when people speak about tough situations in an academic and not a human manner, sometimes with statistics and that’s it,” he remarked. “In the Church there are many people in this situation.”
The Pope advised people to pray for those who suffer, noting “here is the mystery of the communion of saints.”
“They must come into my heart, they must be a cause of restlessness for me, my brother is suffering, my sister suffers,” he stated.
“Pray to the Lord, ‘but, Lord, look at that person, he cries, he is suffering,’” the Pope said.
Pope Francis explained that because of their prayers, God did not let Tobit and Sarah die, but rather healed Tobit and gave a husband to Sarah.
“Prayer always reaches God, as long as it is prayer from the heart,” he said.
“When it is an abstract exercise, such as that the Sadducees were discussing, it never reaches him because it never goes out of ourselves,” he remarked.
In those cases, the Holy Father asserted, it “is an intellectual game” and “we do not care.”
He then asked people to pray for those who live in dramatic situations and suffer as much as Jesus on the cross.
The Mass was attended by members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, as well as some personnel from the Vatican Apostolic Library.
The prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, secretary of the same congregation, and Monsignor Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Library, also participated.
Philadelphia, Pa., Jun 5, 2013 (CNA) -
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia offered his prayers to those affected by a building collapse on the morning of June 5, which left one woman dead and over a dozen injured.
The incident happened when a building at 22nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia scheduled for demolition collapsed onto an adjacent thrift store. Officials do not suspect foul play.
“My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the building collapse at 22nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia this morning,” the archbishop wrote in a message posted on his Facebook page.
“Please join me in asking the Lord to watch over all those impacted and to guide the hands of medical staff and rescue workers as they tend to those in need. May the Lord give you peace.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, around 14 individuals pulled from the wreckage suffered minor injuries and were taken to local hospitals where they were in stable condition.
Authorities have said the cause of the collapse is still under investigation.
Worcester, Mass., Jun 5, 2013 (CNA) - Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Mass., has again apologized following an agreement with a Rhode Island court to dismiss a drunk driving charge against him.
“I have been committed to making amends and accepting the consequences of my actions. I am grateful that the legal process has been concluded,” Bishop McManus said June 4. “I continue to ask forgiveness from all the good people I serve, as well as my family and friends in the Diocese of Worcester and the Diocese of Providence.”
On May 4, the 61-year-old bishop was arrested in Narragansett, R.I., after his car collided with another vehicle and he drove from the scene. The other driver followed the bishop to his nearby summer home and called police.
The arresting officer said Bishop McManus was not sure whether he had hit another vehicle. The bishop allegedly failed three different sobriety tests and was cited for refusing to take a chemical breath test, the Boston Globe says. The bishop told the officer he had had two drinks at dinner three and a half hours before his arrest.
On May 14, Bishop McManus pled guilty to a charge of refusing a chemical test. He will lose his driver’s license for six months. The bishop paid about $900 in fines and court costs. He must also complete 10 hours of community service and participate in alcohol education programs, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette reports.
A district court on June 4 dismissed charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident.
Bishop McManus said in a statement that he has been “grateful for and humbled by the support I have received from clergy, parishioners and the community as I continue to serve to the best of my ability as the Bishop of Worcester.”
Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Dioceses across the country are preparing for the upcoming Fortnight for Freedom – now in its second year – by organizing a variety of prayer and educational activities with a religious liberty theme.
The purpose of the Fortnight for Freedom is “to educate people about the nature of religious freedom (and) to point out intrusions against religious liberty,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in a video posted online by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In addition, the fortnight aims to show “how people exercising their religious freedom enriches society in terms of charity, education and really building what we would call a civilization of love,” he said.
Archbishop Lori, who is the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, explained that the Fortnight for Freedom will run from June 21 to July 4. The two-week initiative will highlight threats to religious liberty in various areas, such as immigration, health care, marriage and humanitarian services.
Among these threats to religious freedom is a mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
This mandate – which is being challenged in court by some 200 plaintiffs across the nation – will go into effect for many objecting religious employers on August 1, shortly after the conclusion of the fortnight.
This is the second year that the bishops have sponsored the Fortnight for Freedom, as concerns over religious liberty continue to mount. In addition to the contraception mandate, worries have been expressed by religious individuals and organizations who object to recognizing a redefinition of marriage, health care providers that do not want to participate in abortion and similar procedures, and religious groups that provide services to all immigrants in need, regardless of their legal status.
This year’s national fortnight events will include an opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, Md., at 7 p.m. on June 21. The closing Mass will be celebrated at noon on July 4 in Washington D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The national activities will be supported by diocesan-level initiatives throughout the U.S., including rosaries and holy hours for religious freedom. Dozens of dioceses have announced plans to hold prayer events during the fortnight, including holy hours and rosaries for religious freedom.
Some dioceses – including St. Louis and South Bend – will hold Masses celebrating the opening and closing of the Fortnight for Freedom.
In Austin, Texas, church bells throughout the diocese will ring at noon on Independence Day to mark the end of the fortnight.
Other dioceses and parishes are encouraging private devotion, fasting and contributions to spiritual bouquets during the two-week period.
The prayer that makes up the core of the Fortnight for Freedom will be supplemented by efforts to educate people across the country on the topic of religious liberty.
Priests in many areas are being asked to dedicate a Sunday homily to the topic, and informational pamphlets have been prepared for distribution.
In addition, some dioceses – including Baltimore and La Crosse, Wis., – are hosting talks or panel discussions on religious liberty. Others are sponsoring public gatherings, such as the Archdiocese of Denver, which will host a public, ecumenical rally on the steps of the state Capitol building on June 22.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has suggested other ways for local parishes and faith communities to participate in the fortnight. Ideas include daily rosaries, study groups, Eucharistic processions, days of community service and movie nights with a religious liberty theme.