Archive of July 11, 2013

Interfaith workshop shows charity as 'hallmark' of Christian life

Sriracha, Thailand, Jul 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A group of 230 Buddhist students from schools throughout the diocese of Chantaburi, Thailand, learned about the importance of charity in a recent three-day workshop on human dignity.

“Charity has no religion,” said Father Joseph Phongsak, director of the Commission on Evangelization and Inter-religious Dialogue for the Chantaburi Diocese. “It is a universal, common element embodied in every…major religion.”

He called charity a “hallmark of the Christian faith” and a “cardinal epitome of our way of life and works,” adding that it plays a critical role in “defend(ing) the dignity of humanity.”

Fr. Phongsak told CNA that the human dignity workshop aims to share “God’s infinite love” and the inherent value and “dignity of each human being” that are contained in “Catholic social doctrines.”

These have a close “correlation” with the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed on December 12, 1948, he said.

These rights recognize inherent human “dignity” and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, he explained.

Speaking on the importance of engaging members of the other faiths, Fr. Phongsak noted that “94 percent of the population in Thailand is Buddhist.”

“We need to know each other and not live under misconceptions of false propaganda,” he said.

He described the workshop, held at the Sriracha Pastoral Center, as an “opportunity to open our doors, sharing God’s love, faith and the liturgy that impels us to be a testimony of love and charity.”

Cooperation “builds mutual trust and creates a podium for interreligious dialogue,” he said, noting the “goodwill” and support from many of the children’s parents.

Quoting former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, he observed, “Human rights education is much more than a lesson in schools or a theme for a day; it is a process to equip people with the tools they need to live lives of security and dignity.” 

The second phase of the program will take place in the coming months, offering participants practical exposure through trips to various Catholic charitable social centers in the area.

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Report sees new hostility to religion in US military policy

Washington D.C., Jul 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Family Research Council has reported a “growing hostility” to religion in the U.S. armed forces, including “concerted efforts to scrub the military of religious expression.”

“The climate of intimidation that began in the Air Force is bleeding over into every branch – leading even military chaplains to wonder about their security in referencing the Bible,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said July 9.

The D.C.-based Christian advocacy organization is part of a new coalition seeking to raise awareness of religious liberty issues in the military and to call for support for Rep. John Fleming's (R-La.) military religious freedom amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

The amendment would secure the rights of military members to act and speak on their religious beliefs. 

Other coalition members include representatives of the American Family Association, Center for Military Readiness, Judicial Watch, Liberty Counsel, American Values, and International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, among others.

Family Research Council's report, “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military,” documents what Perkins called a “wave of hostility toward religious expression in the military.”

The report said that pressures to impose “a secular, anti-religious culture” on the U.S. military have “intensified tremendously” under President Barack Obama, noting numerous incidents of policy restricting Christian expression.

In January 2012, when the controversy over the HHS contraception and sterilization mandate first began, the archbishop of the Military Services archdiocese sent a letter to Catholic chaplains, asking them to read it to parishioners to encourage opposition to the mandate. The Secretary of the Army intervened, allowing the letter to be distributed but not read publicly, and only after a sentence was omitted.

In 2011, the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland initially barred visitors from giving or using religious items during their visits. The policy was ended after objections from Congress.

A 20-year-old ethics course for nuclear missile officers led by a chaplain at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was pulled for review in 2011 because of its use of Christian materials. These materials included texts from the Bible and texts related to Saint Augustine’s just war theory.

Christian prayers have been barred from some military funerals at the Houston National Cemetery. In July 2011, U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said that he witnessed some volunteer Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guards being prohibited from referring to God.

A September 2011 memo from General Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, told officers to avoid actual or apparent use of their position to promote their own religious beliefs, including open support of chaplain-run events.

Several prominent religious leaders have been disinvited from speaking events. In February 2010, Perkins was disinvited from addressing the National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base after he opposed the ban on open homosexuals serving in the military. Franklin Graham, son of the prominent Protestant minister Billy Graham, was disinvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer in May 2010 after criticizing Islam.

An Army Reserve training presentation given in Pennsylvania labeled Catholicism and evangelical Christianity as examples of religious extremism, alongside terrorist groups and the Ku Klux Klan.

The Family Research Council report said that such examples have a “chilling effect” and cause fears of “punishment and potential career destruction” among service members.

The report said that current Air Force policy has been significantly influenced by Mikey Weinstein, founder of the New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein has charged that there was a “lusty and thriving religious intolerance” at the Air Force Academy, including senior officials who were indifferent to what Weinstein said is “bias” in favor of evangelical Christianity.

Though the Air Force initially countered his complaints and lawsuits, by 2009 Air Force leadership had become more sympathetic to his cause. Weinstein in 2010 said he had instant access to the Air Force Academy superintendent, Mike Gould. He has continued to meet with military leadership, contending that “proselytism” is an ongoing problem and “a national security threat,” Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn reports.

The Family Research Council’s report pointed instead to the positive place of religion in military life.

“The soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who have been injured, wounded, and killed in defense of our country often have been very committed to their faith in God.”

“Should it be surprising that those who face serious injury and death so regularly might focus more consciously on matters of eternity?” the report asked.

“It seems only natural that the gravity of military life should lead to serious consideration of spiritual matters.”

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Stand up for your faith, says student told to hide cross necklace

Santa Rosa, Calif., Jul 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Catholic college employee who won an apology from her public university after her supervisor told her to hide her cross necklace says students should defend their right to express their religious beliefs.

“I would encourage them to stand up for their faith and their convictions,” Audrey Jarvis told CNA July 9. “If they sense that something is not right or might even be a violation of their rights, they should definitely speak up.”

Jarvis, a 19-year-old liberal arts major at California's Sonoma State University, was working at a June 27 student orientation fair for new freshmen as an employee of the university’s Associated Student Productions, a student programming organization.

Jarvis’ supervisor told her to remove the cross necklace because it might offend others or make new students feel unwelcome, the religious freedom legal group The Liberty Institute reports. The supervisor told her that the university chancellor had a policy against wearing religious items.

“I was stunned and caught off guard. I did not expect this to happen to me,” Jarvis said. “I was quite upset and I left work early that day, which is out of character for me.”

She said she doesn’t know why her supervisor, a university employee, thought her necklace could be offensive.

Sonoma State University spokeswoman Susan Kashack told CNA / EWTN News that the employee was “absolutely wrong” to ask Jarvis to remove or hide her cross and did not correctly represent the university’s policy, which does not bar the display of religious items.

“The employee realized his request was inappropriate and has tried to contact her to apologize,” Kashack said July 10, adding that the university president Ruben Armiñana offered his own “heartfelt apology” to the student.

Kashack said the university’s Title IX officer is investigating the incident. She added that the university has a “strong non-discrimination policy.”

“If and when Ms. Jarvis returns to campus there will be no issues with her wearing her cross or any other type of religious or cultural items,” the spokeswoman added. “We hope she returns to her campus as soon as possible.”

Jarvis said she appreciated the university’s response. “I think the university has been very responsive and is clearly taking this very seriously. I am happy to see that,” she said.

Mike Berry, an attorney with the Liberty Institute, said the university’s response is “an acknowledgment that students have the constitutional right to freely express their religious beliefs.”

“Schools may not discriminate against a student based on the religious or perceived-religious content of the student's speech,” he said.

Berry said Jarvis is still waiting for a letter from the university apologizing for the incident and assuring her that she can still wear her cross and other religious items.

Sonoma State University has over 8,000 students. It is part of the California State University system.

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Pope's legal changes respond to globalization of crime

Vatican City, Jul 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis took a step forward in modernizing the Vatican’s legal code today by explicitly listing certain acts as crimes – such as child abuse and genocide – and enabling the Holy See to prosecute any of its officials who commit crimes outside its walls.

“In our times, the common good is increasingly threatened by transnational organized crime, the improper use of the markets and of the economy, as well as by terrorism,” Pope Francis said in the opening line of his July 11 Motu proprio declaration.

“It is therefore necessary for the international community to adopt adequate legal instruments to prevent and counter criminal activities, by promoting international judicial cooperation on criminal matters,” the first Motu proprio of Francis’ pontificate says.

In addition to updating the laws, the pontiff also made them applicable to both the Vatican City State and the Holy See, which respectively operate under civil law and canon law.

The effort to update the legal framework of the Vatican City State was begun by Benedict XVI in 2010 as he sought to make its laws compatible with the challenges presented by modern society and the evolution of crime.

“These laws,” explains a July 11 communiquè from the Vatican press office, “have a broader scope, since they incorporate into the Vatican legal system the provisions of numerous international conventions.

The topics of those conventions include: the conduct of war and war crimes, the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the rights of children.

The new regulations also cover the crimes of torture, genocide, and apartheid, and give more specificity to the description of crimes against minors. In particular, they mention “the sale of children, child prostitution, the recruitment of children, sexual violence and sexual acts with children, and the production and possession of child pornography.”

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the new changes is the Pope’s decision to expand the prosecution of crimes by Vatican employees or representatives beyond the geographical confines of Vatican City, thus acknowledging how globalization has made crime more mobile.

Prior to the updating of the legal code, Vatican officials or employees who committed crimes outside of Vatican City could only be charged by the State in which the offense was committed.

But the new regulations make it possible for criminals to be indicted both by the Holy See and the country where the violation took place.

Besides spelling out offenses with greater precision, Pope Francis also defined who is considered a “public person,” that is someone who falls under the new regulations.

The list includes “members, officials and personnel of the various organs of the Roman Curia and of the Institutions connected to it,” papal diplomats and their staff, managers or directors who work for the Vatican, and “any other person holding an administrative or judicial mandate in the Holy See.”

Another topic the new laws addressed – which will surely remain in the headlines in the coming months – was money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

The Vatican’s press office director, Father Federico Lombardi, told the media July 11 that “there are other laws in preparation … more specifically, a law that responds to the requests of Moneyval.”

Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering committee, has been working with the Vatican since March 2011 to help it conform with international standards on money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

Professor Giuseppe Dalla Torre, who also serves as the head judge of the Vatican’s Tribunal, mentioned to the press at today’s briefing that he expects a further reform of the Vatican’s finances in relation to the Moneyval process to take place in September.

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Pope Francis inspires Colombian priest to sell Mercedes

Bogotá, Colombia, Jul 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Inspired by the words and example of Pope Francis, a priest in Santa Marta, Colombia, said that he has decided to sell the luxury Mercedes-Benz his family gave to him.

On July 9, Father Hernando Fajid Alvarez Yacub, chaplain of Saint Michael’s Cemetery, told reporters that the money he gets from selling the car – valued at $62,000 – will be given to his family members.

The family gave him the car a year ago as a gesture of gratitude for caring for his three younger siblings after their parents died.

The decision came two days after Pope Francis told a group of seminarians and novices in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall that “it hurts me when I see a priest or a sister with a brand new car.”

“And, if you like that beautiful car, think about how many children are dying of hunger,” he advised, urging them to choose humble transportation options. The Pope himself was known for taking public transportation, even as a cardinal in Argentina.

This is not the first time Fr. Alvarez Yacub has made headlines. Recently, he came up with the idea of “virtual funerals” for family members unable to attend the funerals of their loved ones in other cities, allowing them to follow the ceremony via webcam.

The priest also installed a cell phone blocker in his parish to prevent calls from interrupting the Mass. 

“The issue of cell phones during Mass is a real problem,” he said at the time. “Some people have those special ringtones…That’s why I bought this blocker.”

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Court decision ends Illinois 'haven' for underage abortions

Chicago, Ill., Jul 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A unanimous ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court means that a 1995 law requiring parental notification for a minor seeking an abortion will take effect, with implications in surrounding states as well.

“This is a huge victory for the rights of parents not only in Illinois but in all Midwestern states,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief council of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, on July 11.

The Thomas More Society said that the delay in implementing the law allowed abortions to be performed on non-resident minors, letting them avoiding notification laws in their nearby home states. Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin require parental consent for an abortion, while Iowa and Minnesota require parental notification.

The Catholic legal group charged that many of these young girls were accompanied to the Illinois abortion clinics by the adult men who impregnated them.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke ruled that the state “has an interest in ensuring that a minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed to make the difficult decision whether to have an abortion,” the Chicago Sun-Times reports. She said the law encourages pregnant minors to “seek the help and advice of a parent or other adult family member in making the very important decision whether or not to bear a child.”

The law requires doctors to inform the parent or guardian of a girl under 18 when she seeks to procure an abortion.

Burke said that minors can expect privacy in medical information, but the notification law is a “not unreasonable” intrusion on this privacy. She noted that other Supreme Court cases have ruled that parental notification laws are constitutional.

Over 50,000 abortions have been performed on pregnant minors in Illinois since 1995, including almost 5,000 abortions on girls 14 years old and younger. In the same time period, over 55,000 abortions have been performed on non-residents, though the number of these performed on minors is not known.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois said that the delay in implementing the law allowed the state to be an “abortion haven.”

“With this ruling, parents across the state and the Midwest can breathe a sigh of relief with the knowledge that state law finally allows them to fully parent their children, and safeguard their lives and those of the unborn,” said Robert Gilligan, the conference’s executive director.

The American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction to block the law from going into effect in 1995. The injunction was based on unclear rules about a judicial bypass process for minor girls to obtain an abortion without parental notification in certain situations approved by a judge.

Pro-life groups began working to lift the injunction, and Thursday’s decision means the law will take effect in mid-August.

Carol Brite, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said her organization was “disappointed.” The state leader of the abortion provider said the legislation puts “the health and safety of teens at unnecessary risk.”

However, Casey Mattox, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, backed the law.

“The well-being of young women is more important than the bottom line of abortionists,” Mattox said in a July 11 statement. “All this law has sought to do since 1995 is to uphold the duty and desire of parents to protect their own children rather than allow them to be taken advantage of by others.”

“The ACLU kept this law from protecting women for more than 17 years, but that is now over,” Mattox added.

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Scholar says population fears ignore history's evidence

Washington D.C., Jul 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - While many population control advocates spend World Population Day deeply concerned about projected growth trends, an economist says such unchecked anxiety is misguided.

“To have sort of an unmitigated fear of the population future … is to ignore the evidence of the economic history that we and our parents and grandparents have lived through,” Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist and demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNA July 10.

“To have a more balanced view of the situation, one has to be a bit more nuanced, and see how population change is affecting opportunities and constraints,” he added.

“And you don't get that with people who see it as a matter of secular faith that the instrumentality of dealing with changing human numbers is contraceptivism.”

July 11 is observed as “World Population Day” by the United Nations, and this year is focused on adolescent pregnancy, with the head of the United Nations Population Fund saying that “good quality reproductive health services” must be readily available to adolescent girls.

In an increase from previous projections, the U.N. recently issued a report saying that population is expected to be 9.6 billion in 2050. This gives rise to much concern over population growth, focusing on resources and sustainability, suggesting that world population will be too great for the earth to support.

Eberstadt, who holds a Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard University, responded by pointing out that while it's “true that there are an awful lot more people on planet earth, despite that, we've had this accelerating increase in living standards.”

“It's not because there are more atoms of resources on planet earth … it's because human ingenuity and human knowledge have transformed production possibilities for the entire species.”

So even with a limited area, or a limited number of resources, he says, the human spirit has proven so capable of discovering new ways to use those resources that they have not – and likely will not – run out.

“At the end of the day, it's not clear to me that human ingenuity and knowledge is an exhaustible resource,” Eberstadt said.

While acknowledging that its “certainly possible” for population to theoretically overshoot resources, he said that human resourcefulness has been able to draw ever-increasing levels of goods out of natural resources, and so “we have to look at population growth in a different way” than the pessimism of Robert Malthus. The 18th century Anglican priest – who's adherents are typically known as Malthusians – was one of the first to ignite fears over the planet being unable to sustain rising numbers of humans.  

Eberstadt said that “we can be cautiously optimistic about the resource aspect of the population question,” because the price of of natural resources has experienced a downward trend throughout the last 150 years. This means that even though population, and thus the demand for resources, has increased tremendously, resources have not become more scarce.

“If you take a perspective that includes the process of modern economic growth,” he explained, this can actually make sense: humans have found better ways to use existing resources, so they are effectively becoming more, not less, available.

Though “we can't guarantee that as-yet undiscovered inventions will come on the line just as we need them,” it seems reasonable to expect the use of natural resources to keep pace with population growth, through human inventiveness.

Eberstadt emphasized that depending on one's outlook, “every human being can be an opportunity or a problem.” Calls for population control, he suggested, stem from the “secular faith” that increasing numbers of human persons is a problem.

In coming years, population growth is expected to come primarily from sub-Saharan Africa, the least educated and healthy, and poorest region on earth. Eberstadt said that to look at this issue “and see that the proper way to fix it is by regulating the number of babies that come into the region, is to look completely backwards through the telescope.”

Rather than pushing contraception, efforts to address challenges in sub-Saharan Africa should instead help to establish policies and institutions that will promote economic development.

“It's possible to have stable rule of law, respect for individual rights – all the rest of the desideratum of things that we in the U.S. generally take for granted in our institutional policy structures,” Eberstadt said.

“We who follow population questions would be much better advised to fix on the fragility of the fragile states – trying to make them less fragile – than to think we can solve this problem by attempting to regulate the number of new humans who come into these societies.”

Susan Yoshihara, senior vice president for research at Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, agreed that what needs to be re-considered is the “underlying assumption that the number of human beings is the problem.”

The underlying premise of population control advocates is that “you need to curb the number of people in these countries, rather than helping these children,” she told CNA July 10. “Why isn't the emphasis rather on creating a better lifestyle for them?”

Yoshihara also called it a “fallacy, that women don't have control over their fertility.” There is a lot of evidence, she said, showing that in the developing world, where population is growing, family size is largely determined by women and that contraception use is not popular there because “couples are already planning their families.”

Rather than population control advocates distributing contraceptives, the developed world's emphasis should be put on helping developing countries to educate, feed, clothe, and shelter their growing population, she said.

Yoshihara also expressed skepticism at the U.N.'s World Population Prospects, taking note of the fact that – for example – projections of Nigeria's population in 2050 vary from 290 to 440 million.

“Their probabilistic model they came out with two years ago is very controversial,” she explained, saying that both the data that are entered into population growth models, and the data that come out, are “arbitrary.”

“If you read the fine print in their report, they say half of the countries they analyze don't really have data.”

When countries don't collect demographic data, the numbers for population growth are based on surveys which may not be representative of the true situation. Moreover, tiny differences in estimated fertility rates “might not change it next year, but it will change it a lot in 18 years,” when a given group itself will have started to reproduce, Yoshihara said.

Eberstadt weighed in, emphasizing that “population projections do change, because there's no science of guessing how many babies the currently unborn are going to have.”

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New columnist examines papal encyclical in light of Vatican II

Denver, Colo., Jul 11, 2013 (CNA) - In a debut column for Catholic News Agency, professor and priest Fr. Gilfredo Marengo explores the faith behind the Second Vatican Council through the lens of Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei.

“In his first encyclical, Pope Francis does not fail to offer a quick, but no less interesting, reference to Vatican II,” he explains in his new column, “The Dispute on the Humanum.”

Fr. Marengo quotes Pope Francis as he states that the Second Vatican Council “enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within” by demonstrating “how faith enriches life in all its dimensions.”

The Second Vatican Council and the Pope’s first encyclical complement each other in that they “hold together the concern to renew awareness of Christians of the novelty of the advent of Jesus Christ, the only Savior and to regenerate the impetus to witness and present Him in the world of our time.”

The intent of the Council, he explains, was to recover a “particular physiognomy,” or understanding, of the Church in the form of a “renewed approach to the contemporary world.”

By viewing Vatican II as a council “on faith”, Fr. Marengo writes, we are able to better understand its “pastoral dimension” in the Church.

Now, in the midst of the Year of Faith, we can see the renewal of faith within the “context of a strong insistence on the primacy of action of God in history.”

He uses the example of Pope Benedict’s opening prayer during the 2012 Synod of Bishops to highlight the continuation of such a renewal.

As Pope Benedict told his brother bishops, “only God can begin, we can only cooperate, but the beginning must come from God.” Benedict’s reflection “continues with the logic” of the total dependence on God in guiding his Church, Fr. Marengo writes.

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato, Italy in 1979, Fr. Marengo has authored and edited several books and taught at universities around the world.

He earned his doctorate in Sacred Theology under the direction of Cardinal Angelo Scola from the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family where he is now a professor of Theological Anthropology.

Fr. Marengo has taught as a visiting professor at the Seat of Wisdom Catholic University in Lima and the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, U.K.

He has studied Church History at the Department of Medieval Studies at the University of Pisa and is a member of the Center for the Studies on the Second Vatican Council of the Pontifical Lateran University.

Fr. Marengo’s column can be read in full here.

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