Archive of July 26, 2013

Never be afraid to share Gospel, Archbishop Chaput tells youth

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Charles Chaput of held three catechetical sessions at World Youth Day, urging youth to follow Christ with humility, to share their faith with joy, and to serve the poor both in body and in soul.

“Everyone who wants to follow Jesus Christ is called to preach the Gospel to the world,” the archbishop said.

“Your joyful witness touches and changes others, often in unforeseen ways. So don't be afraid; never be afraid. God is calling you and me and all of us here today to ‘set the world on fire’ with the love of Jesus Christ.”

Archbishop Chaput’s first catechesis, delivered in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday July 24, explored the thirst for God found in every human heart.

“We’re here to begin a new and deeper kind of life. And we can only do that by meeting Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Chaput said. World Youth Day, he stated, is meant to lead people to “the only thing that can really satisfy our thirst and our hope.”

He compared the “noise and distractions in the world” to salt water on a hot day -- something that will not slake thirst but will make ill those who drink it. He criticized consumerism, selfishness, and a reductive view of humanity that ignores virtues such as love, heroism and self-sacrifice.

“God offers us something much greater. God made us not for mediocrity and failure, but for glory and joy. He created us to share in his love forever.”

The archbishop added that living the Christian life is not easy, but demands “humility and patience.”

“Don’t sell yourself short. Follow Jesus Christ with all your energy and zeal. And there’s no time to delay. Begin here, today – now.”

Archbishop Chaput’s second catechesis, held on Thursday, focused on how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus went to the cross so that you and I could have the dignity of taking up our own crosses and joining him in the work of sanctifying the world. That may seem strange to you. But this loving, profoundly attractive man we call Jesus lived a hard life and died a miserable death.”

“Many who claim to have accepted Jesus often lose their faith when challenges come into their lives. But real Christians know what it means to suffer and to suffer with others.”

Archbishop Chaput said that love “always requires suffering,” but is “always worth it.” In the crucifixion, he said, Christ transformed suffering into “redeeming love.”

As a concrete example of how Christians show this love, the archbishop pointed to a parish his archdiocese, whose families volunteered to babysit and cook for the family of a young widower who had to work to support his several children.

Archbishop Chaput added that faith in Christ is not an individual matter. Rather, it “comes alive for us most fully in the community of believers Christ himself founded to carry on his work,” the Church.

Christians should have the “humility to be part of a community,” despite its imperfections. He encouraged Catholics who find lukewarm parishes to “work unselfishly to bring it to life” rather than settling “for the status quo,” and moving on to a more faith-filled community only if “nothing seems to work.”

Archbishop Chaput also emphasized the importance of prayer. He stressed that Christ's strength came from “constant prayer to his Father.” He forgave those who “came to him in humility,” while having “no patience for sin and hypocrisy.”

“He loved his friends even when they didn’t deserve his love,” the archbishop said. “Jesus was utterly real. There was nothing phony about him -- which is why people loved being in his presence.”

In his third catechesis, held on Friday, the archbishop encouraged his audience to “go forth” as missionaries.

“The greatest way we can show love to other persons is by sharing Jesus Christ with them. And that means all of us are called to be missionaries.”

He urged Catholics to realize that many people have “never even heard of the Gospel” while others have “heard and ignored it.” Faith only grows through witnessing it to others, he added.

While some Catholics are called to be like St. Francis Xavier and spread the faith around the world, most Catholics must “work in the mission fields of our homes and schools, our sports teams, jobs, and friends.”

Archbishop Chaput noted many Catholics’ embarrassment in talking about their faith. In part this is because it is easier “not to make a big deal about our faith” and another portion is because of those who “sometimes give religion a bad name.”

He said Catholics should overcome this reluctance.

“If your friends and family don’t encounter a living Jesus Christ through your words and actions, then you’re doing them a disservice,” he said. “If you act out of genuine love for God and others, your patience and persistence will move hearts.”

He urged Catholics to find those who are poor in their own communities, get to know them and help them both materially and spiritually.

“If we don’t bring the poor to know and love Jesus Christ even as we provide for their material needs, then we’re betraying our own baptism and not doing the poor any good. No matter what good things we give to people, if we don’t also give them Jesus Christ, then we’re selling them short.”  

The archbishop reminded pilgrims that their daily activities all have meaning. He promised that no act of sincere faith will “ever be wasted.”

He encouraged pilgrims to act with humility and prayer to help allow the enthusiasm of World Youth Day to “put down roots in your heart, and grow into the kind of zeal and conviction that no one can ever take away from you.”

Archbishop Chaput was one of more than 250 bishops delivering catechetical sessions for pilgrims in Rio this week. The catecheses are meant to help the pilgrims to understand, and to absorb Pope Francis' message into their lives.

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Pope adds meeting with youth detainees to schedule

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican's spokesman says Pope Francis will meet with eight local imprisoned youths on Friday morning, and that the Pope has also kept in touch with a separate group of young inmates that he knew when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“While we were on the airplane he told me he had stayed in touch with young people he had visited in a prison in Argentina, phoning them every two weeks,” Father Federico Lombardi stated at a July 25 press conference.

Pope Francis is very interested in the inmates, especially during this week’s World Youth Day, and will meet with them in the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro’s office.

The addition of a meeting with the youth detainees is not the first meeting that Pope Francis has inserted into his schedule.

On Thursday, for instance, he held a Mass with 300 seminarians from the region and then met with about 5,000 Argentinians at the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, while about 30,000 others gathered outside to catch a glimpse of him.

Fr. Lombardi admitted that the new Pope's pace has "stressed out" some of the Vatican's staff, but added, that is not a bad thing.

Meanwhile, he also announced that the weekend events for the international youth gathering will not be held at Guaratiba’s Campus Fidei grounds, because the ongoing deluge of rain has made meeting there impossible.

Saturday’s vigil and Sunday’s morning Mass with Pope Francis will instead be held on Copacabana beach.

This means that the pilgrims will not walk 13 kilometers (8 miles) to Guaratiba as was originally planned.

“I don’t think we’re going to miss anything because we’ve already walked enough this week, which I think is a good thing,” said Father Thomas Rosica, the English-language Vatican press office representative.

On July 26, Pope Francis will hear confessions and have lunch with 12 young people, two from each continent and two from Brazil.

The young people will share their experiences in the evening at a press conference with journalists.

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Brazilian family uses WYD as pro-life opportunity

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Said di Lavor family did not leave their commitment to protecting unborn children at home when they made the trip to World Youth Day in Rio.

“We make these plastic babies that are … 12 weeks in their actual size,” Cecilia Said di Lavor explained in a July 25 interview with CNA.

Along with the models of an unborn child the family is handing out pamphlets to young people with explanations in Spanish, English and Portuguese about the stages of fetal development.

The Said di Lavors are committed to their ministry because the pressure for Brazil to legalize abortion is enormous. The status quo in Brazil allows abortion if the woman’s life is considered to be in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

The project the family supports is called “Choose Life,” which goes through the different stages of human development starting from a zygote, when unborn children develop their nervous system, organs, hair and nails, among other things.

Their dedication to protecting unborn babies is not the only thing on their mind, however.

Cecilia, who showed great enthusiasm for being in Rio de Janeiro, described Pope Francis as “very charismatic” and “ready to make changes.”

“I don’t know how much he will change Brazil, but he has found a language to communicate with the youth,” she remarked.

“I think it’s great that he visited a favela this morning. He is very brave,” she added.

“This is the third World Youth Day that I take part in after Germany and Spain, and I’m here because I really love this event.”

She was with her family, including her parents, two brothers and sister, Gabriela, just a few hours before the event’s July 25 opening ceremony at Avenida Atlantica on Copacabana beach.

“We have the biggest Catholic country in the world and the Church is very strong here,” said Grabiela Said di Lavor.

“And I think that after his visit, it will be easier for us to understand what the Church is saying to us,” she added.

Gabriela shared many things the Pope has said have touched her heart, but the thing that touched her the most was when he said, “I didn’t bring gold or silver, but I have brought my most precious thing, which is Jesus Christ.”

“I see that we are all united, all over the world, and we are not alone,” she said.

Gabriela believes that this event will not change Rio’s crime problem overnight, but that it will “definitely start changing people’s attitude.”

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Vatican bishop: today's technological dangers foreseen by Humanae Vitae

Rome, Italy, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA) - On its 45th anniversary, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical that upheld the Church’s teaching on birth control is “incredibly up-to-date,” especially because it raises “the problem of a technocracy,” which is “the main problem of our culture and our society,” says Bishop Mario Toso.

Bishop Toso, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in a July 25 interview with CNA that the problems raised by technology and experts forming society is “a global social question. It goes beyond the relation of mankind with creation and the manipulation of life.”

Pope Paul VI issued “Humane Vitae” (On Human Life) on July 25, 1968, in the midst of rapid social and moral changes that were brought on by the widespread availability of contraceptives and the sexual revolution that swept through Western societies.

The encyclical created a strong reaction, particularly in the U.S.

Many expected that Paul VI would follow the suggestion of the majority of the experts on the panel he assembled and approve the use of contraception, at least for the married couples.

Instead, Paul VI reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that new life and love, the two fruits of the conjugal union, cannot be separated.

Bishop Toso pointed out that after 45 years, the debate is still focused on the contraception issue, but the real issue being discussed is the nature of human beings.

The topics and issues developed in “Humanae Vitae” form the roots of the concept of integral human development, that is, the idea that the entire person must be cared for and cannot be separated into compartments.

This was backed up in Benedict XVI’s social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” which “clearly considers ‘Humanae Vitae’ a fundamental basis for social ethics and for integral and inclusive development,” he said.

Bishop Toso also stressed, “the question of the technical mindset is enlarged well beyond the question of human nature in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, where it is linked to the question of culture, poverty and human ecology.”

This is why “the true social issue” today is about how our way of thinking is being effected by technology, is becoming specialized.  

According to Bishop Toso, the spread of technology has come into conflict with the principles of “Humane Vitae” in “two important ways.”

The first is the perception of procreation being changed by technological and medical developments.

Bishop Toso noted, “when the generated child is considered a mere product, the couple is deprived of the finality of welcoming a new life, which is one of the most important finalities of the family.”

The second way technology has challenged the teachings of the Church is by making sexual differences something that can be subjective.

Benedict XVI spoke about the “philosophy of gender” in his last address to Roman Curia for the Christmas greeting, on Dec. 12, 2012.

He noted that according to the philosophy of gender “sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.”

This led human beings to deny their “own nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”

Bishop Toso stressed that behind the international promotion of gender oriented policies, “there is a project to subvert the social order of society, thus putting in discussion the idea of human being.”

If one’s sexuality can be chosen, “the idea of family has no content, and it becomes a matter of no importance if there is a family made up of man and women and open to procreation, or if the family is just the consequence of a contract.”

“If man cannot live the family as a natural vocation, how can he welcome the natural vocation of belonging to the wider human family?” Bishop Toso asked.

These are the roots of an “absolutely relativistic way of thinking,” he stated.

Bishop Toso recalled, “in the Message for the World Day of Peace 2013, Benedict XVI affirmed that ‘the precondition for peace is the dismantling of the dictatorship of relativism and of the supposition of a completely autonomous morality.’”

The mission of dismantling the dictatorship of relativism, he insisted, “must be carried on in every area of social life. All Christians are called to this urgent and important commitment.”

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Jesus wants intimate friendship, Denver archbishop tells youth

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila encouraged young people attending World Youth Day to move beyond having a surface-level friendship with Jesus to know him “profoundly.”

“My desire is that you come to know and receive the love of Jesus, that you embrace him in profound friendship,” said Archbishop Aquila on July 25.

He explained that there are different kinds of friendships, “some are acquaintances and some we know profoundly, and it is that type of intimacy that Jesus wants to have with each one of you.”

“My beloved ones, Jesus and the Father love you,” he stated. “It’s important for you to say ‘yes’ to this great truth.”

“If we truly trust in Jesus, he will change everything in our lives,” he proclaimed.

Archbishop Aquila spoke to around 300 young people at the College of Our Lady of Mercy at Fonseca-Niterói in Rio de Janeiro as part of the catechesis or teaching sessions that occur during World Youth Day.

But having Christ change their lives, the archbishop taught, “will not happen without your own conversion.”

“This will take your whole life and you need to be prepared to do it,” he stated.

The archbishop underscored the importance of surrendering to Christ and added that the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, available after each of World Youth Day’s catechesis sessions, are an opportunity for the youth to do this.

“Jesus desires friendship with us,” he said. “The relationship with Jesus, the communion with him, is not about a philosophy, or moral rules, but an encounter with Jesus.”

To make his point, Archbishop Aquila recalled the time when Jesus’ disciples asked him where he lived. Christ responded by inviting them to “come and see” and they spent the entire day with him, he recalled.

“Jesus extends this invitation to you today, to come and see,” Archbishop Aquila said.

“He only invites, never imposes; it is up to you to cooperate with Jesus, to open your mind and heart, to hear Jesus,” he added.

Denver’s archbishop also made the point that it is God who initiates a relationship of love and intimacy, because he is the one who created us.

In life, “we have to first receive love and then learn how to give love, and this also happens with God,” he stated.

“The greatest love to the world, to us, is his Son, Jesus Christ, and learning from his love, we will love also; if we are in Jesus, we will bring others to him,” he said.

Archbishop Aquila also tackled the issue of Christians experience suffering and difficulty.

God loves us, but that does not mean there won’t be crosses or difficulties, he said.

“And yet, in the midst of that, Jesus is still with us,” he added. “Jesus knows much about it, he truly has experienced suffering and denial.”
Pointing to the cross, Archbishop Aquila emphasized that by looking at the cross, we can see the love of God for humanity, and also the rejection from humanity.

“But we can especially see that evil does not overcome good, Jesus rises from the dead,” he taught.

“In his body,” the archbishop noted, “he is is truly risen and now he reveals even more the love of God the Father.”

Archbishop Aquila finished his talk by returning to the theme of friendship, recalling that Jesus told the disciples, “no longer do I call you servants, but I have called you friends.”

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Family life the 'privileged' place to receive faith, Pope says

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Marking the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, during his Angelus address today Pope Francis said the transmission of faith takes places first and foremost in the home and among families.

“Saints Joachim and Anne were part of a long chain of people who had transmitted their love for God, expressed in the warmth and love of family life, down to Mary, who received the Son of God in her womb and who gave him to the world, to us,” Pope Francis told World Youth Day pilgrims on July 26.

“How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith!” he said from the balcony of the archbishop's palace in Rio de Janeiro.

Pope Francis had come before to the residence of Archbishop Orani Tempesta to meet with him, as well as five young Argentine detainees with whom he has maintained contact since his time in Buenos Aires.

Earlier in the day, the Pope had said a private Mass and then heard the confessions of 10 pilgrims, in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

Pope Francis began his Angelus address by telling the pilgrims he would be happy if his visit to Rio were to “renew, in each one of you, your love for Christ and his Church and your joy in being one with him, belonging to the Church and being committed to offering a living witness to the faith.”

He praised the Angelus as a “beautiful popular expression of the faith” which “punctuates the rhythm of our daily activities,” encouraging all to pray it regularly. “It reminds us of a luminous event which
transformed history: the Incarnation, the moment when the Son of God became man in Jesus of Nazareth.”

The Pope turned to reflecting on the day's feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus, and emphasized to the young pilgrims the importance of honoring their own grandparents.

“In their home, Mary came into the world … (she) grew up in the home of Joachim and Anne; she was surrounded by their love and faith: in their home she learned to listen to the Lord and to follow his will.”

He noted that Grandparents Day is also celebrated today, marking the feast of God's own grandparents. “How important grandparents are for family life,” the Pope said, “for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society.”

“How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family.”

Pope Francis, for the third time in his visit to Brazil, referred to the Aparecida Document, which was prepared by the Latin American bishops on mission and evangelization, to bolster his World Youth Day message of the importance of both the quite young and rather elderly in spreading and sharing the faith.”

“Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward,
the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives,” he said, quoting the 2007 document.

Pope Francis added, “This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened!”

He said the pilgrims at World Youth Day “wish to acknowledge and honour their grandparents,” saluting them with “great affection” and thanking them for the “ongoing witness of their wisdom.”

Having said that, Pope Francis led the crowd in the Angelus prayer as “one big family,” turning to Mary “that she may protect our families and make them places of faith and love in which the presence of Jesus her Son is felt.”

Following the prayer, the Pope will lunch with Archbishop Tempesta and 12 World Youth Day pilgrims. In the evening, he will lead the Way of the Cross on Copacabana beach.

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Vatican-Italy financial pact not linked to Msgr. Scarano case

Vatican City, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican and Italy will soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding between their financial authorities to regulate data exchange, but this agreement is not tied to the recent scandals involving the so-called Vatican bank.

“Italy is merely one part of the Holy See’s international agenda, and the Holy See is improving its international cooperation to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism,” according to an employee from a Vatican financial institution who spoke to CNA July 26 and asked for anonymity.

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Vatican Authority for Financial Information and its Italian counterpart, the Financial Intelligence Unit, should be announced in a matter of days.

The Vatican authority has already signed similar pacts with other counterparts, including the U.S. Financial Intelligence Unit FinCEN.

The memorandum would mark a first significant step towards normalizing banking relations with Italy.

Despite the generally positive evaluation on the state of the Vatican financial system issued in July 2012 by MONEYVAL – the Council of Europe’s committee that evaluates adherence to the international anti-money laundering standards of its member states – the problem of the transparency of the Vatican’s banking operations has been often raised, especially by the Italians.

The most recent case is that of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a suspended employee of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.

Msgr. Scarano is now under arrest for an alleged plan to transfer 20 million euro from Switzerland to Italy aboard an Italian government airplane.

He is also being investigated by the public prosecutor in his home town of Salerno, Italy for supposedly laundering 560,000 euros he took from his account in the Institute for Religious Works – the so-called Vatican bank – to pay off the mortgage of a house in Salerno.

On July 25, a letter written by Msgr. Scarano and addressed to Pope Francis was delivered to the Vatican by his lawyers. The Pope will be in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day until July 29, when he flies into Rome’s Ciampino Airport.

In the letter, Msgr. Scarano insisted that he “never committed any money-laundering and never stole.”

He also said that he asked for a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and Secretary of State emeritus.

But in Msgr. Scarano’s words, the meeting never took place because “the smart Msgr. Giorgio Stoppa blocked my requests for an audience.”

However, Gorgio Stoppa is not a monsignor, a fact that led CNA’s Vatican financial source to say, “this would lead one to think that the letter was not written by Scarano, but by his lawyers, since a Curia employee would never make mistakes of this kind.”

At the level of state matters, the source confirmed that the negotiations on a Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and the Vatican are not directly connected with the Scarano scandal.

In the past it would have been possible that the Vatican might pursue an agreement to maintain good relations with the country that surrounds it, but the financial source said the city state’s focus is much broader in this case.

Nevertheless, the source ventured, the Scarano case could be “a first test of the agreement,” which would test both governments.

“We will also see if the Vatican Authority for Financial Information will provide its Italian counterpart with useful data.”

At the same time, the financial expert pointed out, “it will be interesting to see if the Italian Financial Intelligence Unit will provide useful data to the Vatican authorities for their investigations.”

As communicated in a press release on July 9, the Vatican froze Msgr. Scarano’s accounts at the Institute for Religious Works and started an investigation.

It is rumored that Scarano’s suspicious transactions filled 89 pages of statements.

In the meantime, the experts of Promontory Group are studying the Institute for Religious Works files, in order to shed light on the suspicious transactions and clean up the so-called Vatican bank account.

Another source who works in a Vatican financial institution and is familiar with the Institute for Religious Works told CNA on July 26 that “the IOR President von Freyberg completely left his office to the Promontory advisors, while he is working in a small room in the vicinity of the office of the director.”

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Pope Francis named 'most influential' world leader on Twitter

Geneva, Switzerland, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new global communications report calls Pope Francis the most influential world leader on Twitter, who has the second-largest following among world leaders on the fast-paced social media network.

“Although Pope Francis does not engage with other Twitter users ... his Spanish tweets are re-tweeted on average more than 11,000 times, making him the most influential world leader on Twitter,” the Switzerland-based public relation and communications firm Burson-Marsteller announced July 24.

The firm's “Twiplomacy” report examined the presence and influence of world leaders on Twitter, a social network where users can publish messages of 140 characters or less, called “tweets.” Those who follow someone on Twitter can share tweets by “re-tweeting” them.

The report found that Pope Francis’ Spanish-language tweets are re-tweeted an average of 11,116 times. His English-language tweets are re-tweeted by an average of 8,219 followers.

His closest competitor by this measure is President Barack Obama, whose tweets are re-tweeted on average 2,309 times.

“By this standard, Pope Francis is by far the most influential” Twitter user, the report said.

Benedict XVI launched the “Pontifex” Twitter account on December 12 and built an audience of several million before his February 28 resignation. Pope Francis continued Pope Benedict’s practice of sending short messages reflecting on Jesus and the Christian life after his March 13 election to the papacy.

Burson-Marsteller said the growth of the papal presence on Twitter over the last six months has been “phenomenal.”

Pope Francis now has over 7.2 million followers on Twitter across eight accounts. Besides the English-language “Pontifex” account and the Spanish-language “Pontifex_es” account, he tweets in six other languages: Arabic, French, German, Italian, Latin and Portuguese. His Latin-language account alone has over 130,000 followers.

The Pope is the second most followed world leader on Twitter, after President Obama who has 33.5 million followers.

The “Twiplomacy” report ranked the White House as the third most followed, with a combined 4 million English- and-Spanish-language followers. Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the fourth and fifth most followed, with 3.4 million followers each.

The report is based on July 2013 data collected on 505 heads of state and government, foreign ministers, and their institutions in 153 countries.

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US religious freedom commissioners urge foreign policy action

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2013 (CNA) - Leaders of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom say that religious liberty is an “essential element” of human dignity and its protection deserves prominence in U.S. foreign policy.

“Since America's founding, the country has honored this form of liberty,” Robert P. George, the newly elected commission chair, and commission vice-chair Katrina Lantos Swett, wrote in the Wall Street Journal July 26.

“Today, when religious freedom in many parts of the world is under siege, one of the aims of U.S. foreign policy should be to combat such intolerance – not just because religious freedom reduces the risk of sectarian conflict, but more fundamentally because it protects the liberty that is central to human dignity.”

The religious freedom commission monitors the state of liberty of religion, thought, conscience or belief in other countries. The commission uses as its standards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements. The commission gives independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

George, a Princeton Law School professor, is a prominent Catholic thinker who was elected to head the commission last week. Lantos Swett is the daughter of the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat dedicated to human rights and religious freedom. 

Both said in the Wall Street Journal that religious liberty means there should be a “heavy presumption” against coercing others to act against their religious duties.

“This is a presumption that can be overridden only when necessary to achieve an essential public interest and when no less-restrictive alternative exists,” they said. “Because the freedom to live according to one's beliefs is so integral to human flourishing, the full protections of religious liberty must extend to all – even to those whose answers to the deepest questions reject belief in the transcendent.”

Compulsion on religious matters can only produce outward conformity, not actual conviction, the commissioners added.

“It is therefore essential that religious freedom include the right to change one’s beliefs and religious affiliation. It also includes the right to witness to one’s beliefs in public as well as private, and to act – while respecting the equal right of others to do the same – on one’s religiously inspired convictions in carrying out the duties of citizenship.”

Citing John Henry Cardinal Newman, the prominent 19th century convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, they said conscience has both rights and duties. Honoring the rights of conscience honors the freedom of people to fulfill these duties, they said.

They criticized the idea that religious freedom is merely a “sensible social compromise” in which people agree to respect others’ freedom to avoid civil strife. They said there is a “deep ground of principle” that is the basis for the right to religious liberty

“To respect fundamental human rights is to favor and honor the person who is protected by those rights – including the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion,” the commissioners said.

Respect for others’ religious freedom allows others to address the “deepest questions of human existence and meaning” and to live authentically through “fulfilling what they conscientiously believe to be their religious and moral duties.”

George and Lantos Swett did not specify religious freedom violations in their essay. However, the commission’s latest report, released in April 2013, designated 15 “countries of particular concern” for their “particularly severe” mistreatment of certain religious communities and other communities of belief. Such mistreatment includes torture, prolonged imprisonment without charges, and disappearances.

When approved by the U.S. State Department, the designation requires official presidential action. The designation can have consequences for the country’s relations with the U.S., including economic sanctions. Official designations can be heavily contested due to political pressure and other concerns.

The State Department and the religious freedom commission both named Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern.”

However, the commission had a longer list, adding Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam as tier one “countries of particular concern.” It also listed a second tier of such countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.

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'Bear witness to faith,' bishop encourages Thai Catholic youth

Bangkok, Thailand, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Several thousand children and teens in Thailand marked the Catholic Church’s Year of Faith by attending a special faith formation workshop.

Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut of northeast Thailand’s Diocese of Nakhon Ratchasima encouraged the youths to “believe and bear witness to faith… put your trust in God.”

“He is with us until the end of the age,” the bishop said during his homily at a conference Mass.

Over 3,000 people attended the workshop, whose theme was “One Lord, One Faith.” The workshop was organized by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Thailand.

The workshop took place at Blessed John Paul II Auditorium at St. Joseph’s Upatham School in the Sam Phran district of Thailand’s west-central Nakhon Pathom Province July 19-20.

Bishop Sirisut, the secretary general of the bishops’ conference, based his homily on the reading from Isaiah 61. That reading explained the “mission of the Messiah,” when the Spirit of the Lord anointed Isaiah to preach the “good news” and to “set the captives free.”

The bishop interpreted the mission of Christ and its relation to the present day. He said that for Christians, “being with Christ liberates us and sets us free.”

The workshop was divided into several sections on topics like the life of apostles, question and answers, catechesis, biblical representations, group discussions, and the symbols of faith.

Father Joseph Vuthilert, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bangkok, told CNA the gathering was an important phase to build the church community in a way that is “predicated” on faith. The event explored Christian traditions according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said.

Fr. Somkait Trinikorn, Professor of Biblical studies at Thailand’s Lux Mundi Seminary, noted that the Catholic Church is in the minority in the pluralistic emerging cultures of Thailand. He said the Church seeks to dialogue with life during the Year of Faith, a special observance that will end in Advent 2013.

The priest said the Year of Faith observance “calls us for renewal and focuses our eyes on Christ.”

He also had practical recommendations for spiritual renewal.

“To enliven our spirituality of faith and life it is important to have a close bond with the Word of God, the Eucharist and prayer,” he said,

There are only a few hundred thousand Catholics across ten dioceses in Thailand, a country of over 69 million people.

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Virginia diocese mourns death of employee in Spanish train wreck

Arlington, Va., Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington has expressed his condolences over the death of employee Ana Maria Cordoba, who was killed in the July 24 train crash in Santiago, Spain.

“The tragic death of Ana Maria Cordoba in the recent train derailment in Spain is the cause of immense grief not only to her beloved family – her parents, husband, daughter and son –  but also to the ‘family’ of our diocesan Chancery,” Bishop Loverde said in a July 26 statement.

“However, precisely in the midst of this unimaginable tragedy and sense of profound loss, we cling to the promise of the Risen Lord Jesus that eternal life awaits those who believe in Him and follow in His footsteps,” he said.

Along with her husband, Phillipe, and daughter, Christine, Cordoba was traveling to visit her son, Santiago, who had just completed his journey to the ancient pilgrimage site. They planned to celebrate the Feast of St. James together as a family in Spain.

Cordoba, who was 47, had worked at the diocese since 2006 in the employee benefits office. Her mother, Maria Angel, serves as the Executive Assistant to the Vicar General of the Diocese, Father Mark S. Mealey.

Cordoba’s husband and daughter, who will be a senior at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, are in stable condition at a hospital in Spain.

Bishop Loverde said that the diocese is praying “together as a family” that eternal rest be granted to Cordoba and that her family makes a full recovery and “experiences the consolation and comfort that comes from the Heart of Jesus Christ.”

The crash occurred on the eve of the Feast of St. James, the patron saint of Spain. The city canceled all festivities in respect of the victims of the crash.

Of the 218 passengers, 141 were injured while 80 have died from the wreck.  When the train crashed, it was travelling at speeds twice the limit for that part of the track, investigations have revealed.

The driver of the train, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, is under investigation and remains under police guard in a Santiago hospital.

Pope Francis has been praying for the victims and their families, Vatican Fr. Federico Lombardi said at a July 24 press conference.

The Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, Julián Barrio Barrio, said he is “shocked” at the horrific accident and that it has left him “almost speechless.”

In response, he is giving “all his support to the families of the victims, in these difficult times” and is “raising up his prayers for the deceased.”

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Abortion rights activists vandalize cathedral in Chile

Santiago, Chile, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA) - Abortion activists interrupted Mass at the Cathedral of the Chilean capital Santiago the evening of July 25, destroying confessionals and defaming several side altars with blasphemous graffiti.

“We were celebrating the feast of St. James the Apostle, with the mayor in attendance, and offering thanks to so many Catholics who serve the public, in an atmosphere of peace and recollection when protestors suddenly came in,” said Bishop Pedro Ossandón Buljevic, an auxiliary bishop of the Santiago de Chile archdiocese.

“The truth is that we are always for dialogue, for civilized debate.  We believe in the God-given gift of reason.”

“Therefore we invite everyone to protest in whichever way they wish, but that they do so with respect for the law, for democracy, and the for the dignity of others.”

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello was saying Mass on the eve of the feast of St. James, the city's patron and namesake, when the activists unexpectedly stormed the cathedral at the conclusion of a pro-abortion march.

Abortion is illegal in Chile, even in cases of rape. Of the country's population, around 85 percent is Christian.

The current government opposes liberalization of abortion access. Last year, Chile's senate rejected three bills easing the absolute ban, the Associated Press reports.

The faithful present at the Mass, including Santiago’s mayor, Carolina Toha, prevented the activists from reaching the main altar.

With help from the faithful, police who in riot gear were able to remove the protestors from the cathedral, dispersing the crowd outside as well, and making several arrests. The protestors had barricaded themselves in with pews.

Isabel Carcamo of the Right to Choose organization told CNN Chile that although she was present during the incident and understood “the people’s anger” against the Church because abortion is not legal in the country, she did not agree with the violent attack.

The protests came ahead of a presidential election, to be held in November.

Bishop Ossandón commented, “at this time when Chile is getting ready to choose candidates for the presidency and for congress, let us all please respect the rule of law.”

Chilean president Sebastian Pinera said the vandalism was "not respecting that rights of others" and that "they're not tolerant and are contradicting their own views."

The protestors destroyed a confessional and spray-painted blasphemies on side altars and statues, such as “Mary wanted to abort” and “abortion is the best.”

 Police said charges would be filed against several protestors for destroying a national monument.  Church officials said they would also file a lawsuit against those responsible for the vandalism.

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Jesus' cross invites us to be smitten by his love, Pope says

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The cross of Christ is an invitation for us to fall in love with him and to then reach out and help our neighbors, Pope Francis said today at the conclusion of the Way of the Cross at World Youth Day.

“The cross of Christ invites us also to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love, teaching
us always to always look upon others with mercy and tenderness,” the Pope prayed July 26 on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.

“Especially those who suffer, who are in need of help, who need a word or a concrete action which requires us to step outside ourselves to meet them and to extend a hand to them.”

World Youth Day's stations of the cross stretched across a mile of Brazilian beachfront, concluding at the stage from which Pope Francis address the crowd of faithful.

The reflections for the devotion were written by two members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Fathers Zezinho and Joaozinho, who are known in Brazil for their commitment to youth ministry.

Pope Francis began by calling the way of the cross an accompaniment of “Jesus on his journey of sorrow and love” and “one of the most intense moments of World Youth Day.”

He recalled that the World Youth Day cross was entrusted to the young people of the world by Blessed John Paul II in 1984. It has traveled Brazil since the last World Youth Day, preparing the country for to be the destination of millions of pilgrims.

“No one can approach and touch the cross of Jesus without leaving something of himself or herself there, and without bringing something of the cross of Jesus into his or her own life,” Pope Francis said.

He addressed three questions to the pilgrims, which he hoped “will echo in your hearts”: what have you left on the Cross; what has Jesus' cross left for you; and what does his cross teach us.

Whatever we leave on the cross – “our fears, our problems, and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful” – Jesus “walks with us” and takes it upon himself, Pope Francis assured the pilgrims.

He demonstrated this by relating that when Saint Peter was trying to flee persecution in Rome, he was met by Jesus. The first Pope asked, “Domine, quo vadis?” or “Lord, where are you going?”

Christ replied that he was going to be crucified again. “At that moment,” Peter's successor explained, he realized that he had to follow Christ to the “very end,” yet “he also realized that he would never be alone on the journey.”

“Jesus, who had loved him even unto death on the cross, would always be with him.”

Nailed to the cross, the Pope taught, “Jesus unites himself to the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and the defenseless; with the cross, he is united to families in trouble, those who mourn the loss of their children, or who suffer when they see them fall victim to false paradises, such as that offered by drugs.”

“On the cross, Jesus is united with every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food is thrown out each day; on the cross, Jesus is united with those who are persecuted for their religion, for their beliefs or simply for the color of their skin; on the cross, Jesus is united with so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions, because they see in them only selfishness and corruption.”

“He unites himself with those young people who have lost faith in the church, or even in God because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel.”

Humanity's sin and suffering – “including our own” – is on the Cross, Pope Francis said. Jesus accepts this “with open arms, bearing on his shoulders our crosses,” he added.

Christ carries our crosses, the Pope said, and tells us: “Have courage! You do not carry your cross alone! I carry it with you. I have overcome death and I have come to give you hope, to give you life.”

The cross gives us an assurance of “the unshakable love which God has for us,” Pope Francis preached.

“A love so great that it enters into our sin and forgives it, enters into our suffering and gives us the strength to bear it. It is a love which enters into death to conquer it and to save us.”

Jesus' cross contains “all the love of God, his immeasurable mercy.”

This love is a love in which we can have faith, Pope Francis said. “Dear young people, let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, let us give ourselves over entirely to him!”

Christ is the source of “hope and life,” he said, who has conquered “evil, suffering, and death” through the wood of his cross.

Pope Francis addressed the people of Brazil, noting that “the suffering Christ is keenly felt here,” but that “there is no cross … in our life with the Lord does not share with us.”

The lesson of the cross, the Pope taught, is to look with “mercy and tenderness” on our neighbors.

He took note of the many people who were part of the first way of the cross: “Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Mary, the women …”

“Sometimes we can be like Pilate,” the Bishop of Rome lamented, washing our hands of a situation instead of having “the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus' life.”

“Dear friends, the cross of Christ teaches us to be like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood; it teaches us to be like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness.”

“And you? Who are you like? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary?”

The Pope urged the pilgrims to bring, with him, “to Christ's cross our joys, our sufferings and our failures.”

“There we will find a Heart that is open to us and understands us, forgives us, loves us and calls us to bear this love in our lives, to love each person, each brother and sister, with the same love. Amen!”

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Teenager crosses South America on foot to see Pope

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Unable to afford transportation, a teenage boy traveled 1,829 miles to Rio de Janeiro by foot, hoping to meet Pope Francis during World Youth Day.

Young Facundo spent one month horizontally crossing almost the entire South American continent – from his hometown of Jujuy, Argentina to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – to take part in the July 23 - 28 global youth event.

“I wanted to come with the people of Jujuy but I couldn’t because I would have had to pay 7,000 pesos ($1,280 U.S. dollars) and that’s a lot of money,” said Facundo.

“I kept asking them if I could come with them, but they wouldn't let me,” he told CNA July 26.

Facundo, who graduated high school last year, was only guided by a route that his local priest mapped out for him.

“I was very lost in Argentina and I just let myself be guided when I got to Brazil,” he said. “But I was so lost in the big cities, like Sao Paolo because I had never been out of my town and I’d never taken a metro.”

The teenager touched on the angst he felt months ago when he felt called to go to World Youth Day but was afraid of traveling alone.

“No, I can’t because I don’t have enough money,” he remembers saying aloud. 

However, on March 19, “I entered in a Church to pray on my birthday,” he said. A “priest was there and I began crying a lot but I didn’t know why.”

After the priest asked Facundo why he was crying, Facundo did not know what to reply so he said he wanted to confess.

“After confession he asked me if I wanted to go to World Youth Day and I looked up and saw a picture of Pope Francis with his arms extended and I said 'yes, I’m going.'”

Warning him of the dangers, the priest said that strangers could rob him. “I replied 'I don’t care,'” Facundo recalls.

The priest was reluctant because he did not know where the boy would sleep or what he would eat, and his mother told him he was crazy. Facundo said he left Jujuy “very excited” on July 1, telling his family just the day before.

“My family asked me why I was leaving so early and who would be traveling with me and I said I would be traveling with Jesus,” he stated.

“My family began crying because they were very scared, especially my grandmother who got sick because of this.”

His mother, however, gave him 600 pesos ($110 U.S. dollars) and he began his walk to Rio de Janeiro.

“A backpacker depends on money, but I became a real pilgrim because a pilgrim just depends on faith,” remarked Facundo.

“I would go into churches to pray and everyone would look at me, but I didn’t care because I just wanted to fill myself up with more faith.”

Facundo said that when he reached the border with Brazil, he only had 100 pesos ($20 U.S. Dollars) so he decided “to not depend on money anymore, only on prayer.”

He walked passed the statue of Our Lady of Itatí and he would then always repeat to himself “Our Lady protects me and Jesus accompanies me.”

“The biggest challenge was entering Brazil, with just $13 U.S Dollars, going hungry and not knowing the language,” said Facundo.

The boy hitchhiked and a bus driver gave him a lift, who left him at a Cathedral of Iguazu where he heard his first mass in Portuguese and slept in a Franciscan school.

Those at the school offered him a direct flight, but he decided to tag along with other monks who arrived from Boston and were walking to Rio because he thought it would be a better and “more beautiful” pilgrimage.

He traveled day and night and when he was scared, he would pray constantly the Rosary.

“At one point I felt I couldn’t do it anymore and I just kept crying and praying for Jesus to protect everyone and for his will to be done,” said Facundo.

After two days going hungry and his toes bruised and blistered, a man traveling to Sao Paolo gave Facundo and the monks a ride.

“It was very dangerous because we didn’t have a place to sleep but I just kept praying the rosary,” he said.

He arrived the day before World Youth Day to the Marian shrine of Aparecida. “There was a festival going on and I realized how close I was so I began crying,” said Facundo.

“I met another Argentinian priest and we went hungry, but we finally made it to Rio,” he said. “I was hungry but I was happy.”

The Pope, he said, always says a Christian is happy adding “money isn’t worth anything, it just gives you security, but Jesus gives you trust and hope.”

Facundo met a volunteer of World Youth Day who sent him to a convent opposite the beach in Rio to sleep for a week.

“But before seeing the beach, I prefer to see the Pope,” he said. “I couldn’t see him when he went along with his Pope mobile the other day.”

“I had to choose between seeing him another day and going to Mass, but I chose the Eucharist,” he said.

He stressed that he hopes to tell the Pope that he is right, “we should let ourselves be guided by Jesus and I did that.”

“I would like to meet the Pope because priests and Popes don’t notice poor people and he lived directly with the poor people like if he was their brother,” Facundo said.

“It’s worth seeing a Pope who notices poor people and that’s why I would like to meet him,” he said. “I would really like to tell him how nice it is to follow Jesus and that he is right.”

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Indian youth recounts 'great' World Youth Day lunch with Pope

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Thomson Philip, a young India-born man who lives in New Zealand, can hardly believe he sat next to Pope Francis for lunch during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.

The 27 year-old communications engineer told CNA, “I don’t have enough words to describe what I feel. I felt so blessed and it was the best experience of my life. I have a lot of responsibility now with this.”

During the Friday lunch, Pope Francis sat at one of the tables, while Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio sat at the other.  On both sides sat seven young people. Philip sat in the first spot on the Pope’s left.

“It was a great opportunity in which the Pope asked us to spread the hope of Christ to others. He also asked us to pray for him,” he said. “We didn’t care about the food, just about him.”

A papal lunch with young people from the worlds’ continents has become a World Youth Day tradition.

Philip said he reacted with disbelief to the news he would be one of the select few to have a personal lunch with the Pope.

“I got an email message and I checked to see if it was real, if it came from the right place, from the right source. I was so surprised and I almost fainted. It was a great lunch.”

He said the young people waited for about an hour before lunch. When Pope Francis arrived, he gave them “a warm welcome.”

“When I told him that I spoke English he asked me to talk slow that he could understand. Fortunately he understood me even though we had a girl there to translate.”

“The Pope asked us to pray and to work in community. He didn’t ask us to do big things, just to do what we are supposed to do well,” he explained.

Philip showed the gifts that each of the Pope’s young lunch companions received: a blessed rosary and a pontifical medal with the bust of the Holy Father.

Another youth who attended the lunch, Luis Edmundo Martinez of Mexico, told CNA that eating with the Pope “was a wonderful experience, sharing so much time with him, being with him, and having the freedom to ask him whatever we wanted.”

Martinez was able to speak naturally with the Holy Father in their shared native language of Spanish.

“I have been working with the World Youth Day organizational committee since January.  I think that this was in some way a gift from God for serving,” he added.

“I left everything to come here.”

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Vocations Fair at WYD seeks to spark reflection

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A major part of World Youth Day, the 2013 Vocations Fair offers young people examples of those who have responded concretely to God's call through lives of prayer, sacraments and witness.

“The goal,” explained Father Leonardo Lopes, the fair's coordinator, is to lead “all who pass by there to wonder what God expects of them.”

The Vocations Fair runs July 23-26 and is located at the Quinta da Boa Vista, which means “Park of the Nice View” - a public park in northern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that houses the National Museum and the Zoological Garden.

More than 100 religious communities and congregations are taking part in the fair. These include 44 female religious orders, 23 male religious orders, 16 movements and 20 new communities.

The groups all have an international presence, allowing pilgrims to stay in contact with them after they return to their home countries.

World Youth Day planners explained that the presence of these groups “witnesses the richness of the renewal of the Church in Latin America and the rest of the Word, especially after the Second Vatican Council.”

The fair also includes opportunities for personal sharing and music, as well as a Eucharistic Adoration tent and several dozen confessionals.

In addition, relics of two saints are present. The Carmelites of Chile have sent a piece of bone from St. Teresa of the Andes, intercessor for World Youth Day 2013, and relics of St. Therese of Lisieux, one of the patron saints of this World Youth Day, is also at the event.

According to a statement by World Youth Day organizers, the Vocations Fair seeks to help young people see “the meaning and mission of their life.”

“Through the exposure of the richness and diversity of charismatic congregations, religious movements and communities, which represent concrete answers to the call of God, pilgrims are led to reflect and deepen on the meaning and direction they want to give to their life.” 

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