Rome, Italy, Jul 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A British artist who has painted the British royal family and Margaret Thatcher in person says his Christian faith “deepened” after completing a portrait of Benedict XVI.
“It's absolutely deepened my faith,” Alexander Rice told CNA June 28.
“If you paint someone who is extremely spiritual you have to empathize with that human being, and perhaps find part of them in yourself.”
Rice spoke at the global premier of his portrait, hosted at the Vatican by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, as part of their Second International Conference on Human Dignity.
He believes it was a painting “that was supposed to be painted,” and feels “very honored” to have done it.
It took the Englishman two years to complete Benedict XVI's portrait, which is now worth £250,000 pounds, roughly $380,000, and is due to end up in the Vatican Museums.
Rice now hopes to start a portrait of Pope Francis, to go alongside Benedict XVI's.
“I think he seems like such a lovely man; he has inspired so many people by his humility and his humanity,” he said of the new Pope.
“I would love to meet him and to paint him, because I hope that I would be able to put some of that energy into that painting.”
Rice received the commission for Benedict XVI's portrait from Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president emeritus of the Governatorate of Vatican City State. Cardinal Lajolo was familiar with his paintings of the British monarchy.
Rice, who is a Greek Orthodox Christian, said that before painting the former Pope, he had recently gotten divorced from his wife and was going through a hard time.
While he was painting Benedict XVI, he travelled to Afghanistan to helped to set up the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a charity which helps promote Afghan art, architecture, and local craft industries.
Rice related how he had been invited for an audience to meet Benedict XVI before beginning the portrait.
“Although I painted Benedict mostly from photographs, I had the opportunity to see him, and I think some of his personality came into the picture,” said the artist.
“I think there are lots of artists who are perhaps technically better than I am, but I try to capture the psychology of the human being,” he added.
Rice studied at the Florence Academy of Art and at the Repin Academy of Saint Petersburg, where he is currently an honorary professor.
He completed portraits of Thatcher and Benedict XVI simultaneously over a two year period, and at the same time he launched another non-governmental organization, called the Afghan Rugby Federation.
But he explained that he would draw Pope Francis in only three months, since he would be solely focusing on that and that he would like to have several sittings with him, just as he did with the royal family.
Rice also told of a powerful faith experience he had when he was in Afghanistan.
“We had to spend the night at a settlement because it was extremely cold, and there were 25 men praying in a building there,” he said.
“I thought the polite thing to do would be to join them, so I went to the very front and prayed the Lord's Prayer on my knees.”
The local leader told his translator, “if this man, a Christian, can pray as a Christian amongst so many Muslims, he must be a man of great faith, so we will protect him.”
“So we spent the night there,” Rice said, “and I found out as we left that they were Taliban, and that if we would have met him half an hour before, they probably would have killed us.”
Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Diocese of Pittsburgh has filed a lawsuit charging that the federal government created illegal barriers to its request for information about lobbyist influence on the HHS contraception mandate.
“We think there has been a wide variety of groups trying to influence the administration to keep the sterilization, contraception and abortion pill parts of the mandate,” Mickey Pohl, a lawyer for the diocese, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He added that the diocese is “trying to find out what the communication has been back and forth to HHS, and the reason HHS is fighting religious organizations so hard not to change the preventative care mandate.”
The diocese’s lawsuit, filed in federal court July 1, says that federal officials at the Health and Human Services department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted $1.8 million and up to five years to respond to the attorney’s Freedom of Information Act request for the relevant records.
The demand came months after the attorney’s September 2012 request for information.
Officials later changed their fee to $25,000 in processing charges, though Pohl said the offer of a three-year timeline was still unacceptable.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the diocese, as well as Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh and the diocese’s Catholic Cemeteries Association.
The Catholic institutions are challenging the mandate, which requires employers to cover or facilitate payment for employee sterilizations and contraception drugs, including some abortion-causing drugs.
The lawsuit said that the government has been “patently uncooperative” with the information request, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Pohl said the federal officials’ demands for the payment and the lengthy waiting time violated legal requirements that they provide public information in a timely manner and at reasonable cost.
“Just because it’s a politically sensitive issue, the people at HHS shouldn’t decide they’re above the law and try to stonewall the provision of material requested under the Freedom of Information Act,” Pohl said.
“The law was written and it doesn’t favor either side - it’s just a good thing for citizens to get information that is not privileged.”
Over 200 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate on the grounds that it requires them to act in a way that violates their religious beliefs.
The Obama administration says that it has resolved concerns over religious freedom through its recent revisions to the mandate, although many religious groups argue that the updated requirements still force them to cooperate in something they believe to be immoral.
Abortion "rights" groups have largely supported the mandate, and some groups used it to rally support for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Some reports have questioned their influence on the mandate’s creation.
In November 2011, William J. Cox, president of the California-based Alliance of Catholic Health Care, told a Congressional subcommittee that the federal mandate’s original language was based on a California bill.
That bill’s religious exemption was “painstakingly crafted by the American Civil Liberties Union to specifically exclude religious institutional missions like health care providers, universities and social service agencies,” he said.
Cox said that during the debate on the California bill, the then-head of Planned Parenthood in California said the wording was designed to close the “Catholic gap” in contraceptive coverage.
Vatican City, Jul 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - News that Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) has been admitted to a global network of financial oversight agencies proves that the Vatican is threading an international and multilateral path to adhere to international standards.
It “represents a recognition of the Holy See/Vatican City State’s systematic efforts in tracking and fighting money laundering and financing of terrorism,” said René Bruelhart, director of the Authority of Financial Information, in a July 3 statement.
The news of admission to the Egmont Group, an umbrella organization for 130 Financial Intelligence Units, became official just days after the unexpected resignations of the Vatican bank's general director Paolo Cipriani and his deputy Massimo Tulli, who stepped down on July 1.
Cipriani and Tulli’s sudden exit came on the heels of the recent arrest of Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, an employee of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. He allegedly used his account at the Institute for Religious Works, the so-called “Vatican bank,” for money laundering.
In a broader perspective, the recent facts signal that the reform that began under Benedict XVI and continues under Pope Francis' watch is gaining momentum.
In Dec. 2009, as part of a monetary agreement with the European Union, the Vatican agreed to implement an anti-money laundering law within one year.
Despite setbacks, like the Sep. 2010 seizure of 23 million euro being transferred between Institute accounts with Italian banks, the line of reform has advanced.
Then-bank president Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, together with Cipriani, was questioned by the public prosecutor in Rome about the suspect movements. Though their clarifications were not deemed satisfactory, the money was eventually freed when the anti-money laundering law came into effect on March 15 of the following year.
Then, on May 24, 2012, Gotti Tedeschi received a “no confidence” vote by the Governing Board of the Institute for Religious Works citing nine reasons including “failure to carry out basic duties incumbent upon the President.”
The investigation continued and led to Cipriani and Tulli’s resignations along with the arrest of Msgr. Scarano.
In the meantime, the Vatican’s anti-money laundering law has undergone a major revision.
After its Nov. 2011 on-site visit, the committee of Council of Europe evaluators known as MONEYVAL criticized the Vatican law, which was tied to Italian anti-money laundering law, and asked for a revision. The organization evaluates the adherence of member States to international anti-money laundering standards.
The revised law has since met international standards, but at the same time proved that any special relationship that may have existed between Italy and the Holy See has now come to an end.
In retrospect, the 2012 vote of “no confidence” could be considered the first in a series of actions that mark a new era for the Vatican Bank. The comprehensive reform that was first requested by MONEYVAL in a July 2012 report is giving it structure.
Meanwhile, inclusion in the Egmont Group will go down as another milestone in combating money laundering and terrorism financing for the Vatican. According to the July 4 press bulletin from the Holy See, it “marks a further step in its contribution to this global effort.”
Washington D.C., Jul 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - To renew respect for religious freedom in society, the Church needs lay people who live out their religious beliefs with love, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
“Your faith is a remedy for what ails our society,” the cardinal said in his July 4 homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Thousands of the faithful gathered at the Washington, D.C., basilica on Independence Day for the closing Mass of the 2013 Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom.
Mounting threats to religious freedom in 2012 led the U.S. bishops to call for the first Fortnight for Freedom. Now in its second year, the event has gained the support of organizations and religious groups from a variety of faiths and denominations.
Among the threats to religious liberty that have generated recent concern is the federal HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
After months of protest, a modified version of the mandate will soon go into effect for many religious employers who object to its demands. Some religious organizations have argued that even in its modified form, the mandate forces them to cooperate in actions that violate the teachings of their faith, thereby threatening their religious freedom.
Religious liberty concerns have also been raised in connection to a redefinition of marriage and through restrictions on religious activity in areas including health care, humanitarian aid and immigration.
In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl emphasized that the United States was founded on the principles of “equality and liberty,” recognizing “that those rights were bestowed on us by God.”
He reflected on the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, who were men from “all walks of life and backgrounds.”
These men, he observed, practiced professions ranging from lawyer to merchant to farm owner. They were members of different faiths, including Congregationalist, Deist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Quaker, Unitarian and a single Catholic.
“From many different backgrounds, representing many religions, they stood united for liberty.”
Throughout the years, he said, “we have all recognized the importance of religious faith in a free and democratic society.”
But today, this robust respect for religious liberty is threatened, the cardinal warned. “The Church is denounced as prejudiced, narrow-minded or even un-American simply because her teaching respects human life, upholds marriage and calls for health care for the most needy in our country.”
“There have always been those who want to lock doors so the voice of the Gospel cannot be heard,” he said, pointing to a recent example of efforts to silence a Catholic chaplain at George Washington University who shared Church teaching on marriage to students who came to Mass.
But despite voices claiming that religion has no place in public dialogue, Cardinal Wuerl explained that to speak out on Catholic teaching “is not to force values upon our society, but rather to call our society to its own, long-accepted moral principles and commitment to defend basic human rights.”
The teachings of the Church come from “elements that we find deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Judeo-Christian tradition,” he noted. “Just because someone wants to change all of that today does not mean that the rest of us no longer have a place in this society.”
The cardinal pointed to a warning issued by Pope Benedict XVI to the U.S. bishops in early 2012. The former pontiff had voiced concern over a “radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres,” particularly in the serious threats to religious freedom within the country.
Benedict XVI suggested that a response to this problem must be found in “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity,” Cardinal Wuerl pointed out, stressing that it is the mission of all Catholics, “but particularly of the laity is to engage the culture with the Good News that only comes from Jesus Christ.”
He urged the laity to respond to cultural threats with the love of Christ and “to stand up for what is right, to stand up for what is ours, to stand up for freedom of religion.”
“That new life in Christ, that living out of our faith, is reflected not only in our worship and in our personal acts of charity, but in our Church’s educational, health care and social ministry outreach,” he said. “Those works, those acts of faith, are threatened whenever our religious freedom is eroded.”
The cardinal encouraged those present to pray in thanksgiving “for the gift of life and for the freedom to love and worship.”
In addition, he said, the faithful should ask the Lord “for the courage boldly and joyfully to stand in protection of our freedom so that we may continue to live out our faith and transform the world in which we live.”
While the task may seem daunting, he acknowledged, the strength of the Church does not lie in “our individual resolve or limited resources” but in the cross of Christ, who “has already won the final victory.”
Vatican City, Jul 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During daily Mass on Thursday, Pope Francis explained that Christians are free because of Jesus, who gives them their identity as God’s children.
“We are saved in Jesus Christ and no one can take from us this identity card,” said the Pope at the chapel of the Vatican's Saint Martha House. “Civil status: we are free!”
“This is how I identify myself, as a child of God; what a beautiful identity!” he remarked during his homily July 4.
The Pope explained that we are free because Jesus “made us sons, with the liberty of sons” and that because of what he did, we can call God ‘Father.’
“We, who were slaves of sin, he has made us all free, he has healed us at the very core of our existence,” said the Pontiff, who celebrated Mass alongside Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo, the Archbishop of Ranchi, India.
During his homily, the Pope reflected on the Matthew 9 account of Jesus curing a paralytic. The scribes did not believe Christ had forgiven the man’s sins and accused him of blasphemy.
“The healings, the teaching, the strong words against hypocrisy were only a sign, a sign of something more that Jesus was doing, namely, the forgiveness of sins,” Pope Francis said.
He explained that reconciliation with God was Christ’s “most profound miracle and mission” and meant “the re-creation of the world.”
It is a great miracle that we are now free to call God our “Father” with “so good and so beautiful an attitude,” he said.
“Jesus does this not with words, not with gestures, not walking along the street, no, he does it with His flesh!” he exclaimed.
“It is he himself, God who became one of us, a man, to heal us from within; he came to us sinners,” the Holy Father stated.
He stressed that God’s forgiveness gives Christians freedom and courage, adding that we can now understand why Jesus told the paralytic “courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”
“That is the root of our courage, I am free, I am a child, the Father loves me, and I love the Father!” he remarked.
“God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, entrusting to us the word of reconciliation and the grace of bearing this word of reconciliation onward, forcefully, with the liberty of children,” the Pope said.
He explained that Jesus frees us from sin by making himself sin and taking upon himself all the sin of the world.
“This is the new creation,” he said. “Jesus comes down from glory, humbles himself, even unto death, death on the cross.”
“Even to the point of crying out, ‘Father, why have you abandoned me?’,” the Pontiff observed. “This is his glory and this is our salvation.”
He underscored that we would do well to think how beautiful it is to be children, and how beautiful this liberty of children is.
“The child is in the house, and Jesus has opened the doors of the house to us,” he said. “Now we are in the house!”
Washington D.C., Jul 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. bishops have called for legislative action to ensure the right of all eligible citizens to vote.
“The recent Supreme Court decision necessitates that Congress act swiftly to assure that the right to vote be protected and afforded to all eligible citizens,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said July 3.
The two bishops head the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Committee on Cultural Diversity, respectively, for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
They urged the introduction of new legislation that “assures modern and effective protections for all voters so that they may exercise their right and moral obligation to participate in public life.”
On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down a part of the 1965 federal voting law that barred nine states and many counties and municipalities from changing their election laws without federal approval. The court majority ruled that the federal law, which mainly affects Southern states, does not reflect “current conditions” and cultural changes.
Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion noted the high rate of African-American voter registration and turnout and the rise of African-American political leaders in towns like Selma, Ala. He said the law selected states and localities that require federal preapproval on the basis of “40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg disagreed, saying in her dissent that the decision was a disservice to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and ignored new barriers to voting such as racial gerrymandering and requirements for at-large voting in areas with a black minority, the New York Times reports.
She said the legislation being struck down had helped to fulfill “the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment,” passed after the Civil War to let Congress legislate against racial discrimination in voting.
Bishop Blaire and Bishop Flores noted the U.S. bishops’ leadership role in securing the right to vote, including the bishops’ past support for the Voting Rights Act.