Vatican City, Aug 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis met today at Saint Peter’s Basilica with around 500 youths from the central Italian diocese of Piacenza-Bobbio, who are currently on pilgrimage in Rome.
“This is a moment really of trepidation and joy, but also of deep faith, expressed through pure affection for the Pope,” said the Bishop Gianni Ambrosio of Piacenza just before the encounter.
The pilgrimage, which is taking place during the Year of Faith, has included several different stages and “has its culminating moment here in the meeting with the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Basilica,” he added in an interview with Vatican Radio.
The pilgrims and their bishop travelled to Rome as part of the Church’s Year of Faith initiative, with the theme “upon this rock.”
Bishop Ambrosio had travelled last month to Brazil with some of the young pilgrims to take part in World Youth Day with the Pope.
“Our World Youth Day somehow concludes itself with this encounter with the Holy Father,” he reflected, adding that “this is the most beautiful and happiest moment of this journey.”
The bishop explained that the young people had been somewhat anxious as they anticipated the meeting, but also felt a sense of closeness with Holy Father, “recognizing the Pope as their dad.”
Some of young people had asked the bishop to address the Pontiff as “dearest Pope Francis” because “they want to express their filial love towards the Pope, the bond, and the choice of belonging to the Church.”
Bishop Ambrosio said they had also eagerly awaited the meeting as a chance to “profess the Catholic and apostolic faith along with the one who is the Successor of Peter.”
The youths had hoped their encounter with Pope Francis would be “a moment when we raise our eyes to the sky, toward the Lord Jesus, knowing that the Lord Jesus is present in His Church here through the figure of the Pope, through the figure of the bishops, through the great figures of the saints, which are the beacons of our Church, the People of God on the way,” he said.
The bishop told the young people that they should use the opportunity of meeting Pope Francis to “illuminate their paths” and “live the way of faith in the light, in joy and in great company with the Lord, with the Pope, the bishops and all the people of the Lord.”
Journalists were not permitted to attend the meeting between the pilgrims and the Holy Father, who has become known for speaking in a casual and off-the-cuff manner in private encounters. The Pope spoke to the young people at the basilica’s main altar, the Altar of the Chair.
After the gathering, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of Saint Augustine in Campo Marzio to preside over evening Mass with Augustinians gathered from around the world.
The Mass marks the launch of the “general chapter” of the Order of Saint Augustine, a meeting of the group’s leaders, which will elect a new head as well as set out their aims for the next six years.
Washington D.C., Aug 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Calls for U.S. action continue after an Iranian court rejected an appeal from Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned in Iran for his religious work in the country.
“The news out of Iran is devastating to our family,” said Naghmeh Abedini, wife of the pastor, in an Aug. 26 statement.
“From past cases, we know that the decision to release my husband lies solely at the mercy of the Supreme Leader,” she added. “It is imperative in the coming days, weeks, and months that we remain vigilant to call for Pastor Saeed's release. This includes continuing to put pressure on Iran from the U.S. government and governments around the world.”
Born and raised as a Muslim in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and obtained U.S. citizenship a decade later, following his marriage to Naghmeh, who is also a U.S. citizen. The couple and their two children live in Idaho.
Following his conversion, Abedini worked with Christian house churches in Iran until he drew staunch opposition from the government. In 2009, he came to an agreement with the regime under which he would be permitted to travel the country freely if he stopped work with the churches.
Since that time, the pastor has worked with secular orphanages in the country. Last fall, however, he was arrested while visiting those orphanages and charged with posing a threat to national security for his previous work with the house churches, despite the fact that such churches are technically legal in the country.
Abedini was sentenced to eight years in Iran’s Evin prison, but had been seeking an appeal to reduce the length of the sentence. In a letter several months ago, he said the Iranian authorities were trying to force him to renounce his faith in Christ.
Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice – which is representing Abedini’s family in the U.S. – explained that while “we remained hopeful that Iran would use its own appeal process to finally show respect for Pastor Saeed's basic human rights, again Iran has demonstrated an utter disregard for the fundamentals of human rights.”
He added that the “legal decision also signals a new level of concern for Pastor Saeed’s safety.”
While in prison, the pastor has faced beatings, solitary confinement, and serious injuries, leading him to be significantly weakened over the past year.
“By keeping the 8-year prison sentence in place,” Sekulow said, Abedini “now potentially faces additional beatings and abuse inside Evin Prison.”
Calling Iran’s decision a “deeply troubling” illustration of the regime’s continued violation of human rights, Sekulow explained that the family is currently “exploring all options,” which include appealing to the Supreme Court in Tehran and pleading for a pardon from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Additionally, global attention and pressure could play a key role in securing Abedini’s freedom.
Last fall, Iran released another Christian pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, after three years of imprisonment. The move was attributed largely to mounting pressure from the international community.
Now, Abedini’s family is calling for the U.S. to take a stronger stance to protect one of its own citizens from unjust imprisonment and abuse.
Naghmeh said that she is “disappointed that as a country that was founded on religious freedom, our government has been awkwardly silent as an American citizen is wasting away in an Iranian prison because he chose to practice his God-given right to choose his religion.”
Arlington, Va., Aug 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wis., implored Catholics to speak up for religious freedom and for truth after explaining the link between the two at a lecture in Arlington, Va., on Aug. 23.
“Freedom of religion is the most basic of all the human rights, because the other human rights are limited to matters of time,” he said in a talk at the Institute of Catholic Culture.
“Freedom of religion relates to my eternal salvation: whether I’m free to achieve that, by God’s grace, or not. There’s nothing more important than that.”
Bishop Morlino spoke on Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican II declaration outlining the Church’s relationships to states and the proper understanding of religious freedom. Explaining the historical development of religious freedom as a concept, he said that the last three ecumenical councils – Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II – are “the Church's responses to modernity.”
He described how prior to modernist philosophy, both the Church and society recognized that “to know the truth meant that there was a correspondence between the mind and the reality out there.” This correspondence enabled man to know the natural law – the participation of human reason in divine law.
“There was a conformity of the mind to what was real, independent of the mind,” the bishop explained.
The philosophical movement of modernity, he explained, was a “major turn in the way human beings thought about knowing.” It shifted thinking towards a more subjective view of reality, in which the individual’s perception determines what he or she thinks to be real.
“Instead of being accountable to what is independent of the mind,” Bishop Morlino said, under a modernist view, “the world is what I think it is.”
In this understanding, “it was decided that there is no reality independent of the mind.”
This understanding of reality and the truth had profound implications for the meaning of conscience. In the original understanding of the term, “the natural law holds conscience accountable” because the conscience guides the individual to recognize and act upon the truths of the natural moral law, Bishop Morlino explained.
“The conscience is not a dispensation machine from what is right,” he continued, though “this is how it’s used today.”
He said that this misinterpretation of conscience has transformed natural law arguments “into denominational beliefs” taken upon faith.
“Catholics don’t observe the natural law because we’re Catholic; Catholics observe the natural law because it is true.”
The natural law in and of itself is not a matter of faith, because “natural law positions are discernible by reason alone” and are “for everyone.”
However, “if everyone is composing his or her own world, there’s got to be conflict,” the bishop said, and the conflict between modernism and natural law has grave implications for persons of faith.
“The natural law frees me to seek the truth about God, and thus seek my salvation,” Bishop Morlino stated.
“No one has the right to block or interfere with my relationship with God, no one has the right to block my ability to do what is right.” Religious freedom is a unique issue, he added, because it has eternal consequences and thus, there’s “nothing more important” or fundamental to other, more temporal, rights.
Properly conceived, the bishop continued, “religious freedom is freedom from the state on religious matters.”
“That’s not what we have,” he explained. “We have secularism being imposed by the state and the mass media along every conceivable line.”
This secularism, he continued, “destroys conscience, rejects the natural law,” and stigmatizes people from acting upon what they know, through reason and natural law, to be true.
Bishop Morlino said that Catholics must be better advocates for the natural law and for a proper understanding of conscience, in order to promote respect for what the Church teaches.
He noted that many Catholics “profess with their actions that Christ is divided from the Church,” while claiming to be “witnesses to the fact that Christ is one with the Church.”
“People cannot live out internal contradictions indefinitely,” he warned, noting that persons in such a situation will eventually be in the position of affirming either the faith they profess or the secular norms they live.
He urged all people who care about religious liberty and freedom to “write letters to the editors” and to speak out in defense of the natural law.
“We Catholics need to stop keeping our mouths shut,” Bishop Morlino said, reflecting that Catholics should promote the natural law and a right understanding of knowledge “not because they are Catholic, but because they are true.”
“If Catholics continue to sit around and do nothing, we do a terrible disservice to society.”
Rome, Italy, Aug 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A 44-year-old woman from Argentina said that after writing a letter to Pope Francis telling him that she had been raped by a local police officer, the Pope called her to tell her, “You are not alone.”
“The Pope told me he receives thousands of letters each day, but that what I wrote moved him and touched his heart,” the woman said in an interview with the National University of Cordoba’s Canal 10 TV station.
“When I heard the Pope’s voice, it was like feeling the hand of God,” she said.
The woman explained that in her letter, she asked the Holy Father for help and explained that she had been raped on two occasions by a police officer, who later threatened her.
On Sunday afternoon, her cell phone rang, and when she asked who it was, the voice said, “It’s the Pope.”
“I was petrified,” she confessed.
The conversation lasted about half an hour and centered on “faith and trust.”
“The Pope listened attentively to my story,” the woman said. “I’ll do anything now to go to the Vatican. He told me he would meet with me.”
The woman told the television station that justice has been thwarted because local officials have covered up the crime, refusing to hear her story and even giving a promotion to the alleged perpetrator.
“Now I know that I am not alone and I will pick myself up again,” she said. “The Pope told me that I am not alone and that I should have faith that justice will be done.”
The phone call is the latest in a series of similar personal phone calls that Pope Francis has made since he became Pope in March.
Other recipients of recent Papal phone calls include an Italian man who has struggled to forgive God after the murder of his brother, a young doorman at the Jesuit motherhouse in Rome, the Pope’s shoemaker in Argentina, and the owner of the kiosk in Buenos Aires that delivered his daily paper.
Washington D.C., Aug 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Thousands of people gathered in downtown Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s now-famous “I Have a Dream Speech.”
King’s words remain with us today, said U.S. President Barack Obama, because they “belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.”
The hours-long event, entitled “Let Freedom Ring,” celebrated half a century since the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on Aug. 28, 1963. The march was a pivotal point in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and was the backdrop for King’s speech.
“America changed for you and for me,” because of that march, Obama said, pointing to sweeping changes in the treatment of minorities in the United States over the past five decades.
He highlighted the work of both famous civil rights leaders and “those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books” but who responded to segregation and discrimination with peaceful action.
“In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in with the moral force of nonviolence,” the president said.
“Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us.”
Obama warned, however, that “we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete.” He pointed to the economic difficulties that have plagued many Americans in recent years, along with other indications of social injustice, including higher unemployment levels within minority communities, inequality and lack of social mobility for lower classes, poorly performing schools, insufficient health care and violence.
The “good news,” he said, is that “just as was true in 1963, we now have a choice.”
As a nation, “we are not trapped by the mistakes of history,” but can bring about the type of transformative change in the name of justice that “does not come from Washington but to Washington.”
This change, the president said, “has always been built on our willingness, we, the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship.”
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington also spoke to commemorate the anniversary of the civil rights march, addressing participants at an interfaith prayer gathering.
In addition, the cardinal penned an article in Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, recognizing the historic anniversary and calling upon the faithful to honor the legacy of civil rights leaders “by continuing their work.”
He noted that Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle, previous archbishop of Washington, had offered the invocation at the March on Washington in 1963, and led Catholics from across the diocese in the march.
Cardinal Wuerl highlighted several areas in which Catholics today can continue the “legacy reflective of the commitment of King.”
Within the Church, he said that he has “witnessed King's vision of Americans praying and marching together for justice.”
“Each year at the March, Rallies and Masses for Life, hundreds of thousands of people from across the country gather to pray and then march together in defense of the dignity of human life in all its stages,” he explained.
The effort to realize justice in the United States “also takes the form of providing educational opportunities for all children, but particularly for those who would otherwise be consigned to schools too often designated as ‘failing,’” the cardinal said.
Additionally, the drive to spread the Gospel “is why Catholic Charities programs and Catholic hospitals continue to bring Christ's love and hope to those who need it regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation,” he said, adding that this also explains “why we must continue to stand for the dignity of human life, for religious freedom and for justice for immigrants.”
People of faith “can never be relegated to just an hour inside church on Sunday,” Cardinal Wuerl stressed, urging Catholics “to ‘go out’ and bring Christ's love and hope to our communities and our world.”