Grand Rapids, Mich., Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - An encounter with a pro-life center that had previously served as both a house of worship and an abortion clinic at different times in its history has left a lasting impression on one pro-life leader.
Although it may not be apparent to those who pass by, the building in Grand Rapids, Mich., that is now the headquarters of the pro-life organization LIFE International has a complex past.
The building was rented in 1994 by an abortionist who turned it into “the largest abortion facility in western Michigan,” David Bereit told CNA on June 12.
The National Director of the 40 Days for Life campaign, Bereit learned the history of the building in 2004, during a visit which took place only days after the final abortions had been performed in the building.
“That experience taught me that with God, all things are possible,” even “reclaiming an abortion facility and helping it to become, once again, a place that honors God and protects and promotes life,” he said.
Originally built as a Jewish synagogue in the late 1800s, the building at 72 Ransom Avenue eventually became too small for its growing community. It was then sold to a Greek Orthodox community until they too outgrew the building and moved elsewhere.
The investors who purchased the building then changed it over to commercial property, leasing it to an abortionist for the next decade.
This is when pro-life leaders, pastors, members of the Grand Rapids community and others began to pray “specifically with the intention of reclaiming that building for God,” Bereit said.
In 1999, “a for sale sign went up in front of 72 Ransom.” But the pro-life community faced “obstacle after obstacle” in trying to acquire the property, he said. Meanwhile, abortions were still being performed there.
During this time, a group of people involved with a local pregnancy resource center decided to form a ministry to take the center’s work “and spread that hope elsewhere around the world.” They named this new ministry LIFE International and decided that its goal would be to place pregnancy resource centers wherever abortions are taking place.
Bereit said that the newly formed group “laid out their strategic plans and – talk about bold faith – they wrote down that they would acquire 72 Ransom Avenue and it would become the headquarters of LIFE International.”
By the end of 2003, the organization’s plan came to fruition when LIFE International, with the help of donors and local businesses, was able to negotiate a price for the building.
Upon acquiring the building in 2004, the new owners ended the abortion clinic, “kicked out” the abortionist and brought the LIFE International world headquarters into the building.
Bereit said the story had a strong personal influence on his own life and faith.
It “totally changed my perspective forever,” he explained, “because I realized, that this truly is a battle of life and death, a battle between good and evil.”
Lusaka, Zambia, Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Catholic bishops of Zambia have urged locals to be vigilant in calling for a new, “people-driven” constitution to help advance development in the country.
“Even though we cannot eat a constitution, a good constitution will ensure that there is food on our tables, medicine in our hospitals and that quality education is offered in our schools,” Father Cleophas Lungu, the secretary general of the Zambian Episcopal Conference, told a June 11 meeting of civil society organizations.
Fr. Lungu said the need for a new constitutional order is “indisputable.” A new constitution must “embrace the true aspirations of well-meaning Zambians and thereby stand the test of time.”
“After 17 wasted years, we strongly feel, think and believe that time has come for our nation to deliver,” he said. “Yes, for us, a new constitution is a must because we see it as a tool for social, economic and political development of our country.”
He urged the Catholic Church and other civil society organizations to remain “vigilant and prophetic” to counter political self-interest and to organize positive political pressure.
“Because of our deep rooted love and passion for our people, we refuse to stay idle and simply watch and pray that we have a constitution one day,” he added.
Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front party has promised a new constitution for the country. Proposals are presently under review, with a deadline set for June 30, the Times of Zambia reports.
Fr. Lungu said the constitutional review process is “a moment of grace and truth which we must not allow to pass by in vain.”
“We want to aspire for a better Zambia through the enactment of a people-driven constitution,” he said.
The report could mark renewed public attention to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which will give over $9 million in grants to 214 organizations in 2013.
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Rabbi Abraham Skorka believes that Pope Francis’ election offers a chance for Christian-Jewish relationships to grow, especially as the world experiences a crisis of belief.
The difficulties religions are facing in the modern world prompted Rabbi Skorka to ask how Jews and Catholics can “re-create the dialogue we experienced and lived in Buenos Aires,” since his “querido amigo Jorge Mario Bergoglio” is the Pope.
Rabbi Skorka, who is from Argentina, came to Italy to participate in a Jewish-Christian dialogue organized by the Focolari Movement in Castel Gandolfo, just 15 miles southeast of Rome.
On Wednesday morning, the group attended Pope Francis’ general audience, and “for the first time this morning” – Skorka told CNA June 12 – “I was able to greet the Pope.”
According to Gustavo Clarià, an Argentinian member of the Focolari movement, Rabbi Skorka became sympathetic to Catholic religion when he took part in one of the several Jewish-Catholic round table discussions organized by Focolari in Argentina.
Alberto Barlocci, former director of the Argentinian magazine Ciudad Nueva said June 11 that “interreligious dialogue is a matter of fact in Argentina. Catholics, Jews, even the small Muslim community always concretely live the dialogue among religions.”
This is the ground in which the friendship of Rabbi Skorka and Cardinal Bergoglio flourished.
Rabbi Skorka said that the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires “proved to me several times that he is a true friend.”
“Not casually,” he added, “we wrote a book together on dialogue.” Their aim with “Between Heaven and Earth” was to find concrete path to experience and live dialogue between religions.
Rabbi Mario Burman from the Jewish Organization for Interreligious Dialogue in Argentina explained at a June 12 media briefing in Rome that Cardinal Bergoglio “made ecumenism and interreligious dialogue one of the pillars of his pastoral work.”
For his part, Rabbi Skorka sees several similarities between the Jewish-Christian dialogue of the first centuries and the Jewish-Christian dialogue of today.
He asserted, “even in the Talmud, we can find the blossoms of the dialogue among the first communities of Christians and Jews.”
The first centuries after Christ were a difficult time for Jewish world, with its tradition truncated by the fall and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
And today religions are suffering through a difficult time.
The 2013 annual world report on the Social Doctrine of the Church, issued by the Van Thuan Observatory, stressed that Argentina is one of the countries undergoing the strongest assault by secularizing forces.
“It is now time” – Rabbi Skorka stated – “to recreate the kind of dialogue the first Christians and Jews had, to overcome the crisis.”
Pueblo, Colo., Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis announced on June 13 that he has accepted the early resignation of Bishop Fernando Isern of Pueblo, Colo., effective today, due to poor health and for the good of the local Church.
“In a spirit of prayerful reflection, the bishop recognized that his health may be an obstacle for the growth of the diocese,” a source within the Diocese of Pueblo told CNA.
“He chose to resign in order to entrust his flock to a man with the strength and energy necessary to be an effective shepherd.”
Bishop Isern was the fourth bishop of Pueblo, and has shepherded the diocese since December 2009. He is 54 years old.
Canon law “earnestly requests” that “a diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health” present early resignation from his office. The normal retirement age for bishops is 75.
“For some time I have had health concerns that have made it increasingly difficult for me to remain in office as shepherd of this diocese,” Bishop Isern wrote in a letter to the Pueblo diocese June 13. “Out of love for the Church and for the people I have served here, I have discerned it is best for me to step down.”
The bishop’s episcopal motto is “The love of Christ urges us on.” That love, he wrote, “will always lead me to place my life at the disposal of the will of God and of My Mother, the Church.”
He asked that the people of Pueblo welcome his successor as warmly as they welcomed him, and that “you continue to pray for me as I take up this cross that Christ has seen fit for me to carry.”
Bishop Isern was born in 1958 in Havana, Cuba. The following year, communist forces under Fidel Castro seized control of the nation, and his family went into exile in 1963. They went first to Venezuela, and then settled in Miami in 1967.
After studying business at university, he later entered the seminary for the Miami archdiocese.
He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Miami in 1993, and served there as a pastor, chaplain, and high school president, until he was appointed Bishop of Pueblo in 2009.
He was consecrated a bishop on Dec. 10 of that year by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was Archbishop of Denver at the time.
While ordinary of the diocese, Bishop Isern instituted perpetual adoration at the Shrine of Saint Therese, and made pastoral visits to each of the 53 parishes and 44 missions of the Diocese of Pueblo.
A farewell reception for the bishop will be held June 25 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
The Pueblo diocese was erected in 1941, and serves some 121,000 Catholics, who are about 18 percent of the population of the diocese.
*Updated June 13, 1:36 p.m. EST to include excerpts from the bishop's letter and information about his farewell reception.
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis said he trusts that bishops will continue to improve their dialogue and collaboration with him and with each other in their next general assembly.
“We are confident that the Synod of Bishops will discover further developments to facilitate even more the dialogue and collaboration between the bishops, and between them and the Bishop of Rome,” Pope Francis said June 13.
“I am sure that with the discernment, accompanied by prayer, this work will bring abundant fruits to the whole Church,” he said at the Consistory Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
The Pope made his comments to leaders of the synod, who gathered in Rome to help him choose the theme of their next general assembly.
Archbishop Nikola Eterovi?, secretary general of the synod, told CNA June 13 that the next meeting will be in 2015, but the exact time and place are up to the Holy Father to decide.
In his remarks today, Pope Francis described the Synod of Bishops as “one of the fruits” of the Second Vatican Council.
“Thanks be to God that, in these almost 50 years, we have been able to feel the benefits of this institution that, in a permanent way, is at the service of the Church’s mission and communion as an expression of collegiality,” said Pope Francis.
Their last gathering was called “The new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith.” It was their 13th assembly and took place in Oct. 2012.
“There is a close connection between these two elements, the transmission of the Christian faith is the purpose of the new evangelization and of all the Church’s evangelizing work, which exists precisely for this,” Pope Francis said.
“The expression ‘new evangelization,’ therefore, highlights the increasingly clear awareness that, even in countries with an ancient Christian tradition, a renewed proclamation of the Gospel is necessary,” he added.
He noted that this is necessary “to bring us back to the encounter with Christ that truly transforms our lives and that isn’t superficial or marked by routine,” and this encounter has “consequences for pastoral activity.”
“I would encourage the whole ecclesial community to be evangelizing, not to be afraid of going out to announce themselves,” said the Pope.
“The techniques are certainly important, but even the most advanced ones couldn’t substitute the gentle but effective action of he who is the principal agent of evangelization, the Holy Spirit,” he added.
It is “necessary” for people to let themselves be led by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis stated, “even if he takes us along new paths.”
He believes it is necessary “so that our announcement might be made with words that are always accompanied by the simplicity of our lives, our spirit of prayer, and our charity towards all.”
“Especially (towards) the lowliest and poorest, by our humility and self-detachment, and by the holiness of our lives,” said the pontiff.
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
“It feels good,” Pope Francis said today as he celebrated Mass in his native language of Spanish for the first time in 48 days.
“It’s the first time I celebrate Mass in Spanish since February 26!” he exclaimed during his homily for daily Mass in the chapel of Saint Martha’s House.
The Eucharistic celebration was attended by employees of Argentina’s embassies and consulates, alongside staff of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome.
Pope Francis emphasized to them the importance of not speaking badly about other people, underscoring that “we lose if we are not able to keep our tongues in check.”
“There is no need to go to a psychologist to know that when we denigrate another person it is because we are unable to grow up and need to belittle others, to feel more important,” he said. “This is an ugly mechanism.”
“In the end we are all traveling on the same road, we are all traveling on that road that will take us to the very end,” the Pope said.
And if people do not choose a “fraternal” path, he warned, “it will end badly, for the person who insults and the insulted.”
“Jesus, with all the simplicity says, ‘do not speak ill of one another, do not denigrate one another, do not belittle one another,’” he said, referencing the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5.
“Natural aggression, that of Cain toward Abel, repeats itself throughout history,” noted the Pope.
He believes that the reason people insult is because “we are weak and sinners” and because “it is much easier to resolve a situation with an insult, with slander, defamation instead of resolving it with good means.”
In Matthew’s fifth chapter, Jesus tells the disciples that it is more important to make amends with others than to offer God sacrifices.
“Anger towards a brother is an insult, it’s something almost deadly, it kills him,” he said.
“If our heart harbors bad feelings towards our brothers, something is not working and we must convert, we must change,” Pope Francis insisted.
The Holy Father gave a challenging assessment of the Christian life, saying that anyone who lives it will have greater demands made of them than others.
“Sometimes we go hungry and think, ‘what a pity I didn’t taste the fruit of a tasty comment against another person,” said the pontiff.
“But that hunger bears fruit in the long run and is good for us,” he said.
“I would ask the Lord to give us all the grace to watch our tongues, to watch what we say about others,” he told the Argentinians.
He noted, “it is a small penance but it bears a lot of fruit.”
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis put aside his prepared remarks this morning and told members of the Synod of Bishops that the encyclical on faith is almost ready and the exhortation on evangelization will be finished before the Year of Faith is over.
“Now the four hand encyclical should be released, which Pope Benedict XVI had begun,” Pope Francis said June 13.
“He handed it to me, it is an intense document,” he told the bishops. “He has been the one to do the great work,” he added.
Pope Francis made his comments during a meeting with 25 members of the Synod of Bishops on June 13 in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace.
The group gathered in Rome today to help him choose the theme of their next general assembly, which will take place in 2015.
“I thought that the Year of Faith should not end without a nice document that can help us,” said Pope Francis, referring to the exhortation from the new evangelization synod that was held in Oct. 2012.
“I thought about this, an exhortation on evangelization,” he said.
The Pope issues post-Synodal Exhortations after a synod of bishops is held. The documents are the fruit of the discussion and prayer that takes place during the gathering, combined with the unique contributions of the Holy Father.
“I liked the idea and I will take that road,” Pope Francis said of the synod.
“I have written something, and in August I’ll be more relaxed and I will be able to do something more at home and advance in it.”
During his off-the-cuff discussion with the bishops he also stressed the need to recover a “sane vision of the family” and a healthy anthropology.
He said the crisis of the family is “a serious problem” and “needs to be addressed by the Church’s pastors” and teachers in cooperation.
Santiago, Chile, Jun 13, 2013 (CNA) -
A year ago, 16 year-old Antonia Cabrera suffered a stroke and was expected to die. Today, she can speak, walk with some difficulty and is continuing a recovery that she attributes to prayers across the globe.
On April 28, 2012, Cabrera fell into a coma, and doctors told her family she would likely either die or remain permanently unconscious.
On May 2, her case was publicized on the website MayFeelings.com, a social network designed to unite people throughout the world in prayer. Soon, Cabrera’s story had drawn thousands of people to pledge their prayers, along with hundreds of messages of encouragement.
Two weeks later, Cabrera woke up, surprising doctors and her family. She has been progressing in the recovery process in recent months.
In a video posted this week by May Feelings, Cabrera recounted her story and thanks those who offered prayers for her.
“The doctors said there was no hope that I could live,” she recalled.
“I don't think good luck just falls out of nowhere. There was a reason why I was lucky - it was because many people prayed for me,” she said.
The 16-year-old described her stroke as “the best thing that happened to me” because it taught her many things and introduced her to people that she otherwise may not have met.
She said she is grateful “for all those who have prayed for me, and I can tell you that it was not in vain, because I am here.”
Cabrera also reflected on the progress she has made so far in recovering.
“If they tell me I won't be able to walk, I walk. This is what we have to do in life,” she said. “When they ask me to do ten exercises, I do eleven. We should always do more than what we are asked.”
Everyday activities are still a struggle, she explained, and this allows her to “appreciate each movement more.”
No matter how the rest of the recovery process goes, Cabrera is optimistic about her future.
“Who says you can't be happy with one less leg, one less hand or whatever?”
The creators of the May Feelings website say that Cabrera’s case has become “an extraordinary example of the power of the prayers of many.”
Colorado Springs, Colo., Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A massive forest fire in Colorado Springs has destroyed more homes than any previous fire in the state, prompting the local Catholic Charities head to ask for prayers for the victims and for an end to the blaze.
“Prayers are really going to be our greatest resource here,” said Mark Rohlena, president of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, on June 13. “We had a tough day today.”
In the three days since it began, the Black Forest Fire has completely destroyed at least 360 homes and has burned 15,000 acres of forest in a region north of Colorado Springs. At least 38,000 people from 13,000 homes near the fire have been evacuated, the Denver Post reports. Parts of Colorado Springs are now under mandatory evacuation orders.
The fire is already larger than last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire devastated the area. So far, the fire is not contained.
“We pray that we start to get containment,” Rohlena told CNA. “The magnitude of the home losses at this stage is really hitting everybody.”
Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church, which is near the mandatory evacuation zone, has lost power and is closed, the Colorado Catholic Herald reports. Several parishioners’ homes have been destroyed. The Benedictine sisters of Benet Hill Monastery, which is in the center of the Black Forest, have voluntarily evacuated.
Rohlena said that Catholic Charities is helping provide food to the first responders and will likely help provide food to evacuee shelters.
“We’re reaching out to those affected. Not only to those we can identify in parish communities that we have connections with. We will be reaching out to everybody to see if there are material needs,” he said.
“At a time like this, people are looking for a way to help. We’re trying to assess those needs and mobilize folks to where they can be used.”
The agency is helping organize Stephen Ministers, trained counselors who provide emotional support for those facing tragedies in their lives.
Some Stephen Ministers and other parish social outreach ministers are stationed at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in northeast Colorado Springs to help those affected, the Colorado Catholic Herald says.
“Certainly from this time forward we’re going to see the need to support people economically, in other ways,” Rohlena said.
The Catholic Charities head added that the fire is a personal threat to his family.
“I’m a resident of Black Forest. I’m currently out of my home too,” he said.
“We’re trying to keep an eye on our home. We’re now one street away from the mandatory evacuation area.”
“When I was going through the area yesterday, I saw the flames indeed had gotten too close for my comfort,” he said, adding that the fire department appears to have kept the situation under control.
Rohlena said the threat of the disaster gave him “a high level of empathy” for those who are suffering from the fires. He has had to consider how to communicate with his own children “in a way that gives them reassurance.”
“They’re on edge, too,” he explained.
Rohlena’s situation also reminded him of the importance of disaster preparedness.
“We never know when a disaster of one kind or another might come through our area,” he said. “If you have any notice at all, have those key documents and important mementos ready to go, with a plan for your family.”
Two other forest fires continue to burn in Colorado. A fire near Royal Gorge has burned 3,100 acres and is 20 percent contained. Another 600-acre fire is burning in Rocky Mountain National Park and has zero containment.
Rohlena said Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs will start to provide updates on the fire on its website, ccharitiescc.org.
La Antigua, Guatemala, Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Policies to fight drug abuse should reflect the dignity of the human person and build up the family as vital for both prevention and treatment efforts, said a representative of the Holy See.
“Protecting the dignity of all people, especially the youth who represent our future, requires the concerted effort of all in society,” Archbishop Francis Chullikatt said in a statement on behalf of the Holy See.
The archbishop, who serves as the permanent observer of the Holy See to the Organization of American States, spoke at the 43rd regular session of the organization’s General Assembly, held in Guatemala June 4-6.
The theme of the gathering was “Towards a Comprehensive Anti-Drug Policy in the Americas.”
In his statement, Archbishop Chullikatt stressed the importance of the family for society, as well as the need to keep both the individual and the family at the center of drug abuse policies.
“The family constitutes the very basis of society,” he said. “When illicit drug abuse destroys the social fabric of families, it inevitably leads to the destabilization of broader society.”
“It should thus be a necessity that policy makers maintain focus on the family as the cornerstone of prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration, and health strategies so as to provide the only truly holistic and human-centered response to drug abuse.”
The archbishop explained that an adequate response to drug problems and the violent crime that surrounds them “requires not only policies which hold perpetrators responsible but also courses of action which place the individual at the center of policies.”
Ultimately, he said, the “chain of enslavement” to drugs can only be broken by individuals who are empowered to make the right choices.
In the continued battle against drugs, the Holy See is firmly committed to “educating consciences” and “alleviating suffering afflicting those who are affected by drug abuse,” he pledged.
Archbishop Chullikatt voiced the Holy See’s hope that individuals, families and communities will have the opportunity to leave behind the false promises of drug use and rebuild their lives.
“Addressing the international impact of these problems requires recommitting ourselves in the first place to the recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of every person, without exception,” he said.
Washington D.C., Jun 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Speaking before a congressional subcommittee, religious liberty experts warned that a U.S. law passed 15 years ago to promote international religious freedom needs stronger enforcement.
“This hearing is important because religious freedom is important: it is a pivotal human right that is both central to U.S. History and heritage and affirmed by international treaties and obligations,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett.
“This hearing also is both important and timely given that religious freedom also is a practical necessity crucial to both the security of the U.S. and the world.”
Lantos Swett, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – an independent, bipartisan group that advises the government on global religious liberty matters – testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security on June 13.
She and other witnesses discussed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which enshrined within U.S. foreign policy a commitment to condemn violations of religious liberty and assist other nations in promoting of religious freedom.
Witnesses argued that the law has been largely ineffective. They noted that the June 13 event marked the first hearing on the implementation of the law since it was passed.
Also discussed was the absence of Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Although she had been invited and confirmed her availability, the State Department declined to make the ambassador available, citing a policy forbidding department employees from sitting on panels with members of non-governmental organizations.
However, the subcommittee’s chairman, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), argued that high-ranking State Department officials, including Ambassador Johnson Cook, have sat on Congressional and private panels with non-governmental representatives on numerous occasions.
Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, said that bureaucratic restraints prevent the ambassador from enacting significant policy changes.
He observed that the Ambassador for International Religious Freedom reports to a lower-ranking official and does not attend high-level State Department meetings.
Farr pointed to studies showing that “75 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is severely restricted.”
Although the promotion of religious freedom reflects our country’s principles and promotes our national interests – including U.S. security – it has not been a high priority for any of the recent presidential administrations, he said, pointing to a lack of evidence that efforts under the International Religious Freedom Act “have substantially improved the status of religious freedom in any country.”
He criticized structural deficiencies including a lack of diplomat training about why religious freedom is important and how to advance it.
Lack of respect
In addition, he noted a “diminution of religious freedom” within the U.S. government, saying that while historically, “religion in the public square was considered crucial for the health of democracy,” recent administrations have seen “religious freedom as a private matter, with few legitimate public purposes.”
Causes such as the “right to love” have received more attention and concrete action from the administration than religious freedom, which is largely respected in only rhetoric, he said.
Mahmood Ahmad, assistant national director of public affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, said the connection between religious freedom and global peace and security is underappreciated. He noted that “terrorists are often brainwashed into thinking that their acts have a religious purpose,” leading to severe human rights abuses around the globe.
Emphasizing the need to prioritize religious freedom in countries with persecution, Ahmad urged the State Department to empower the Ambassador for International Religious Freedom to enact changes based on department reports.
Panel members also called for an increased focus on religious freedom at the international level, through agencies such as the United Nations.
In addition, they stressed the need for institutional changes within the State Department, such as harsher sanction on countries that disrespect religious freedom, support for religious liberty advocates abroad and the reinstatement of a Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom to the National Security Council.