Washington D.C., Sep 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic bishops have asked the U.S. House of Representatives to reject $40 billion in proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program.
“Adequate and nutritious food is a fundamental human right and a basic need that is integral to protecting the life and dignity of the human person,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., in a letter to the members of the House of Representatives.
“How the House chooses to address our nation’s hunger and nutrition programs will have profound human and moral consequences,” added the bishop, who chairs of the U.S. Bishops' Conference's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
The cuts are part of the 2013 Farm Bill, the main agricultural and food policy guide for the country, and source of funding for a number of programs and regulations in the food and agriculture industries.
The current regulations are found in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which expires on September 30, 2013. In June, the House failed to pass a version of the Farm Bill that contained $20 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Bishop Blaire asked the House to continue to oppose cuts to the food aid program, saying that the “government has an indispensable role in safeguarding and promoting the common good of all.”
“This includes ensuring poor and hungry people have access to adequate and nutritious food.”
He added that the program “is one of the most effective and important federal programs to combat hunger in the nation.”
Cuts to it would remove the relief the program offers to “overwhelmed parishes, charities, food banks, pantries and other emergency food providers” in the faith-based and private sectors that “are vital in the fight to combat hunger.”
“SNAP remains an essential tool to help struggling individuals and families avoid hunger and stay out of poverty,” the bishop added, saying that even “with evidence of a modest economic recovery,” many people in the United States are still struggling.
“Struggling people are not seeking a life of government dependency but rightfully deserve decent paying jobs to provide for them and their families,” Bishop Blaire stated.
The bishop also criticized plans that would “eliminate access to SNAP for people who have at some point in their lifetime committed certain crimes.” Such proposals, he said “re counterproductive and an affront to human dignity.”
“Persons who have paid their debt to society and their families should not be penalized for the sins of the past.”
He also critiqued ending state waivers for SNAP work requirements as “unreasonable,” saying that the states “should continue to be afforded the flexibility to assess and respond to local needs and economic conditions.”
“This is a crucial time for our nation to place a circle of protection around programs that build a more just framework and put poor and hungry people first,” Bishop Blaire encouraged members of the House.
“I respectfully urge you to reject efforts to reduce or restructure SNAP, and to pursue instead the common good in agriculture and food policy that works from a genuine preferential option for the poor.”
Quebec City, Canada, Sep 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A government announcement of a Charter of Quebec Values defining the Canadian province as a secular state presents a grave concern for religious liberty, a religious freedom scholar says.
“The situation in Quebec in Canada is now very worrying,” said Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, in a Sept. 12 interview with CNA.
“It’s a very dangerous, radical kind of secularization which is seeking to drive religion anywhere outside of the public square.”
The proposed charter is a new declaration of the province’s ideology, and would also change parts of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedom. Together, the two documents would affirm “the state’s independence from religions,” said Bernard Drainville, the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, which will oversee the proposed policies.
“For this religious neutrality to take shape in public institutions, it must also show in the people who work for them,” Drainville said in a youtube video explaining the proposals.
“We therefore propose to establish a duty of religious neutrality and reserve among state personnel. This duty would mean that state employees could not wear conspicuous religious symbols while they work.”
He announced that the province will develop guidelines for religious accommodations. However, Drainville said, all accommodations “would have to respect basic Quebec values such as the equality of women and men and the state’s religious neutrality.”
“The religious accommodation must not undermine” these values Drainville added.
Marshall explained that the statute forbidding “any government workers from wearing any ostentatious religious symbols” would ban the wearing of veils, hijabs, large crucifixes, kippot – or yarlmukes, turbans, and other religious dress.
Such limitations on religious action presents a mindset that is “radically secular, and makes it the ideology of the province,” Marshall said.
He warned that the ideology could impose limitation on religious dress and action for those not working directly for the government as well. “When you have that mindset governing, it will go through all of the institutions and try to remove any religious element, and try to remove any element of conscience for people working in those institutions.”
Even religious organizations may not receive accommodations under the provincial government’s rules. “Catholic schools -they’re allowed to be ‘Catholic,’” Marshall said, but the Quebec government has already made motions saying that “it’s going to tell them what they can teach and what they can’t teach.”
“Anything which affects other people in the public life of the province, they’re trying to squeeze out.”
However, “there is some element of hope in that the government of Quebec is so overreaching in this,” Marshall said, “that a lot of people with a secular mindset think that this is just going overboard.”
“It is developing a lot of opposition elsewhere in Canada,” he noted. “People in Quebec think this is going too far.”
Vatican City, Sep 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his Sunday Angelus, the Holy Father said the “joy of God” is ultimately found in pardoning another for his wrongdoing, just as in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
“What is the joy of God? It is to forgive!” the Pope told pilgrims Sept. 15, explaining that in this teaching “is the whole Gospel, it is all of Christianity!”
Forgiveness, he warned, “is not a sentiment – it is not 'feeling good' – on the contrary, mercy is the true force that can save man and the world from the cancer that is sin, bad morality or bad spirituality.”
“Only love fills up the emptiness, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history,” continued the Pontiff.
God alone is complete mercy and love, while each of us is the Prodigal Son who has “squandered his own freedom following false idols, mirages of happiness, and have lost everything.”
“But God does not forget us,” the Holy Father added. “The Father never abandons us. He is a patient Father. He always respects us. He respects our freedom but remains always faithful.”
Like the father of the Prodigal Son, “when we return to Him, he welcomes us as children, in his house, because he never gives up waiting for us with love, not even for a moment. And his heart is in celebration for every child that returns.”
This “celebration” is found in the joy that God has “for each of us who returns to Him and asks His forgiveness.”
We need never fear approaching God, but should rather remember that God “always awaits us” when we seek his mercy.
However, we must be aware of certain “dangers” that must be avoided, especially acting as judges rather than leaving that to God.
“We presume to be judges and we judge others,” he said. “We judge God, too, because we think that he should punish sinners, condemn them to death, instead of forgiving them.”
“The devil is shrewd,” added Pope Francis. He “deceives us with the idea that our human justice can save us and save the world. In reality, only the justice of God can save us!”
God’s justice is very different from that proposed by the devil, he continued. “The justice of God is revealed in the Cross.” There we see how God judges: by “giving his life for us!”
Jesus’ sacrifice of his life on the Cross is the “supreme act of justice” and is “also precisely an act of mercy.”
Every Christian is called to this kind of mercy, exhorted Pope Francis. “Jesus calls all of us to follow this path: ‘be merciful, as your Father is merciful.’”
The Holy Father encouraged his audience to examine their own hearts to see where they may need to extend mercy and forgeiveness.
“Everyone in silence think of someone with whom things aren’t going well: someone we are angry at, someone we don’t wish well. Think of this person, and in silence in this moment let’s pray for this person and become merciful towards this person.”
After leading the crowds in the traditional Angelus prayer, Pope Francis remembered the witness of the Argentine priest Father Jose Gabriel Brochero, who was beatified on Sept. 14.
Fr. Brochero’s service for the kingdom of God even until the end of his life as a blind leper, was a witness of “the joy of the good Shepherd,” he said.
Vatican City, Sep 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Traffic stopped this weekend on the busy Roman streets as police escorts guided 31 coach buses of pilgrims through the narrow city roads.
Close to 3,000 members of one of the oldest charitable organizations in the Church and their families were on pilgrimage to Rome for the Year of Faith.
The Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem came from around the world to Rome as a witness to "their commitment to the New Evangelization."
Their pilgrimage itinerary included a private audience with Pope Francis on Sept. 14, and a private mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sept. 15, celebrated by the order’s head, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore.
Pope Francis welcomed the international pilgrims, thanking them for their work dedicated to helping Christians in the Holy Land and urging them to continue.
As pilgrims, “your journey is in history,” said the Pope. “You journey in order to build up community, above all, with love.”
“And in fact your pilgrimage has also a charitable goal on behalf of brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, especially those who are most needy, those people who are living in great times of suffering, tension, and fear.”
The Pope’s words rang especially true for Dame Margaret Waddingham of Bedford, England. She said “it was amazing” see Pope Francis, and shared his feelings for Christians in the Holy Land.
“We regard our friends there as family, not [just] as friends,” she said. “Their faith is astounding.”
Waddingham has been part of the order for 12 years, and currently works on education projects for young people in the Holy Land. This year she worked to send 16 university students to work in parishes and summer camps in Palestine.
The students “maintain contact with the young people so that young people realize they’ve not been forgotten,” said Waddingham. It is crucial, because the youth there lead “extraordinarily difficult lives.”
Pope Francis wanted to send a similar message of remembrance to the people of the Holy Land. “I address them with great affection and an embrace, ensuring them of my daily prayers,” he said.
Pope Francis exhorted the pilgrims to live their commitments more profoundly.
“Let Jesus Christ crucified be really the center of your existence and of every one of your personal projects and associations,” he said.
“Believe in the redemptive power of the Cross and Resurrection, in order to offer hope and peace. In a particular way, the Land of Jesus has much need of it! Faith does not turn away from the responsibility that we are all called to assume, but on the contrary elicits and propels towards a concrete commitment in view of a better society.”
The Order, which dates back over 1000 years, has three main purposes: prayer, pilgrimage, and financial help for Christians in the Holy Land.
According to the order’s website, joining entails a “commitment to be a Witness to the Faith, to lead an exemplary Christian life of continuing charity in support of the Christian communities in the Holy Land, [and] to practice the true charitable commitment of a Christian.”