Washington D.C., Sep 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has renewed calls for the Iranian government to release American citizen Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor serving an eight-year sentence on religion-related charges.
“The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help U.S. citizens,” Secretary Kerry asked in an Aug. 29 press release, to “return to their families after lengthy detentions.”
“These men belong at home with those who love them and miss them.”
In his statement, Kerry also asked for the release and location of Amir Hekmati and Robert Levinson, who are detained and missing in the country as well.
The secretary of state explained that as of September 26, “Mr. Abedini will have spent a year in detention in Iran. He was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.”
Born in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and obtained U.S. citizenship after marrying a U.S. citizen. The pastor lived with his wife and their two children in Idaho. He was arrested in 2012 during a visit to Iran to work with non-religious orphanages in the country.
Until 2009, Abedini worked with house churches in Iran, an action that drew opposition from the government, despite being technically legal. As a result of government objection, he switched his work to the non-religious orphanages.
Following his arrest, Abedini was charged with posing a threat to national security for his earlier work with the churches. He is now serving an eight-year sentence in Iran’s Evin Prison, and has reportedly been faced with brutal beatings, attempts to make him renounce his faith, and insufficient medical attention.
On Aug. 26, it was announced that Abedini’s appeal for a reduction in his sentence’s length was denied.
Kerry noted that Hassan Rouhani, the newly-elected Iranian president who took office Aug. 3, “has shared in his speeches and interviews over the past few months his hope and vision to improve the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relationship with the world.”
Kerry asked that in light of this wish, Rouhani urge the government to release the prisoners “so that they may be reunited with their families as safely and as soon as possible.”
Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, said in a statement that she is “very thankful for the statement that Secretary of State John Kerry made to Iran regarding Saeed's immediate return to our family.”
She added that she hopes “that the State Department is truly willing explore all avenues to secure my husband’s release.”
She mentioned, however that while “I am pleased with this development,” she hopes that President Obama will “speak out on this very critical human rights issue and let the Iranian government and the world know that religious freedom is still a top priority for our government.”
“President Obama must demonstrate that America will not stay silent in the face of religious persecution, nor will it let an American citizen waste away in an Iranian prison simply because he chose to follow Jesus.”
Columbus, Ohio, Sep 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
An Ohio priest says his ministry to prisoners on death row has strengthened his conviction in the power of God’s forgiveness, even among prisoners who feel like “pariahs.”
“People preparing for death are the same whether they are in a hospice setting or a prison. They live each day, trying to find a reason for hope,” Fr. Lawrence Hummer told CNA Aug. 30.
“When they discover the power of the forgiveness of sins which comes by faith in the power of Christ to forgive, to heal, and to save, they begin to focus more on where they are going than on where they have been.”
He said he tells death row prisoners and ordinary inmates “the same thing I tell parishioners every day – God loves you and wants your repentance. When you do repent, by God’s own grace, the slate is wiped clean and you are headed for glory.”
Fr. Hummer, 66, is pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in the southern Ohio city of Chillicothe. Since 2009 he has ministered to Catholic inmates at Chillicothe Correctional Institution, whither death row inmates were moved in January, 2012.
One inmate to whom he ministered, Mark Wiles, was executed in that April at the age of 49. The former farmhand fatally stabbed teenager Mark Klima during a 1985 farmhouse burglary, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
“Mark was 20 years old and a drug addict when he killed the 15-year-old son of a man he had worked for,” Fr. Hummer said. “Mark was looking to rob the man when he violently murdered the boy.”
While in prison, Wiles was baptized as a Catholic.
“He was a private man, though he was well-liked by his fellow Catholic inmates,” the priest said.
Fr. Hummer ministered to Wiles during his last hours. Wiles prayed the rosary and went to confession, was anointed, and received Communion before being executed.
“I really didn’t do much other than be with him and share the sacraments of the Church.”
“I had anointed people many times at or near death over the years but somehow the experience with Mark was different,” Fr. Hummer said. “It really was an intense experience of grace in the conviction that God really does forgive us sinners and our sins as we proclaim our faith and ask forgiveness.”
Fr. Hummer’s ministry deeply affected Wiles.
“He wrote a letter to his best friend, another man on death row, on the night before he died. In the letter he said he was convinced that God had sent ‘that priest’ to him at that time. He expressed to his friend his gratitude to God that it had happened, and I suppose one has to say his faith had grown from the experience, as had mine.”
The priest said that most death row prisoners are from “pretty rough backgrounds,” such as broken homes.
“Most have been in prison for many, many years and most have lost whatever mean streak led them to do evil in their past. They are human beings who did some very bad things, but like all human beings, (they) were and remain ‘created in the image and likeness of God.’ People demonize them for what they did, but forget how often Jesus not only forgave sinners, but told us to do the same.”
Fr. Hummer said that all prisoners have “the same kinds of problems anybody who lives in a community has,” though they also face special difficulties.
“They are separated from their loved ones … they feel like pariahs, cut off from society as they are.”
Fr. Hummer emphasized that the prisoners endure “the same kinds of agony” as anyone else.
“They are, in a word human. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Vatican City, Sep 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Departing from his typical reflections on the Sunday gospel, Pope Francis used his Angelus audience today to call for peace throughout the world, particularly in conflict-ridden Syria.
“I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me,” he said to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 1.
“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming,” continued the Pope.
“For this reason, brothers and sisters, I have decided to call for a vigil for the whole Church,” he announced.
It will be “a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the Middle East, and throughout world.”
The vigil will take place on Sept. 7, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace. Those who can will gather in St. Peter’s Square from 7 p.m. until midnight: other local Churches are requested to join in the fasting and prayer by gathering together.
Pope Francis extended his invitation to “fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.”
“Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace!” said the Pope.
“All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace,” he charged.
“I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!”
The Pope went on to lament the use of arms and its negative impact on civilians, the unarmed, and children, particularly recently in the “martyred country” of Syria.
“With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict,” he said.
Pope Francis also asked the international community “to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay.”
He rejected the use of chemical weapons and requested that humanitarian workers “be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.”
The Pope continued his insistent appeal for peace: “it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.”
Noting Mary’s universal motherly concern, Pope Francis said, “Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children!”
As he has done on previous Sundays, Pope Francis led the crowds in invoking her intercession: “Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!”