Archive of October 31, 2013

Food is a human right, Vatican archbishop tells UN

New York City, N.Y., Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The archbishop leading the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations has praised international efforts to combat hunger, malnutrition and poverty, urging that more be done to secure “the human right to food.”

“While improvements in food production remain an important goal, food security will be achieved by all only when we change social structures and when we learn to show greater solidarity towards the poor and the hungry,” Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the apostolic nuncio leading the Vatican’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, said Oct. 29.

“Hunger is not just a technical problem awaiting technological solutions,” he added. “Hunger is a human problem that demands solutions based on our common humanity.”

The archbishop addressed the second committee of the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly on agriculture development, food security and nutrition.

Archbishop Chullikatt said that hunger is not caused by the lack of sufficient food, noting that an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted each year. He cited Pope Francis’ words that it is “truly scandalous” for millions to be suffering and dying of starvation.

“A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being,” the Pope said June 20 in a speech to participants in a conference run by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Whenever food is thrown out, it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry!” the Pope insisted.

Archbishop Chullikatt told the U.N. committee that wasting food is sometimes tolerated because it can be more financially profitable than providing it to those in extreme need.

Hunger is caused by “exclusion,” he explained. Agriculture policies must promote inclusion and “respect for the dignity and rights of those still on the margins of today’s society” as well as respect for the well-being of future generations.

He also warned that food access can become a “weapon” for controlling or subjugating populations instead of “a tool for building peaceful and prosperous communities.”

The archbishop invoked subsidiarity, the principle of Catholic social teaching that human activities be carried out at “the most local and immediate level possible.” This principle encourages helping people become self-sufficient in food or helping them earn a livelihood whose products they can exchange for food.

Food security should be a singular goal, the archbishop said, “so that there will be ever fewer people suffering from poverty and hunger in our world.”

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Parish in Queens celebrates healing after Hurricane Sandy

Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn marked the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy with a Mass said in thanksgiving for healing and support received in the year since the storm hit.

“During the first two weeks after the storm, we were isolated,” reflected Fr. Fulgencio Gutierrez, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea, located in Queens' Far Rockaway neighborhood, about half a mile from Long Island's Atlantic coast.

“There was no electricity and no transportation, but people came anyway to help clean, and distribute food and clothing to our brothers and sisters.”

The Rockaway Peninsula was the hardest-hit portion of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Two other parishes in the Rockaways, St. Camillus and St. Virgilius, were also heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike flocked to St. Mary Star of the Sea parish to seek refuge from the devastating storm that left many in need of such basic necessities as food, clothing and shelter.

Fr. Gutierrez said the Mass served as a celebration to help alleviate “the psychological trauma of the past year” and offer gratitude “for the generosity of so many who responded to not only our physical needs but also to our spiritual anguish.”

After the storm, thousands of residents came to St. Mary Star of the Sea for relief.

Fr. Gutierrez said that in the year following the storm, the parish has helped those in need with paying rent and providing children’s clothing. A large number of parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea are undocumented immigrants, and therefore do not qualify for federal relief programs such as FEMA.

Eventually the parish served as a pickup location for shuttle buses to take Sandy victims to the Human Resources Administration registration center in Brooklyn where residents, including undocumented immigrants, could apply for benefits from the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the evening of Oct. 29, 2012 with flooding that reached 14 feet in some areas, causing an estimated $65 billion in property damage and killing over 180 people in the Northeast United States.

The storm had killed at least 67 in Caribbean nations before hitting New Jersey and the surrounding area.

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NSA allegedly spied on Vatican, Italian paper says

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new report by an Italian publication accuses the U.S. National Security Agency of listening to the phone calls of Vatican officials and prelates, during a time period leading up to the conclave.

Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, told CNA on Oct. 30 that he is unaware of such activity and is “not worried.”

His comments come in response to allegations published by Italian weekly magazine “Panorama,” citing fears that “the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave.”

According to the Italian magazine, the NSA tracked incoming and outgoing phone calls from the Vatican and classified them as “leadership intentions,” “threats to the financial system,” “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights.”

The publication also pointed to “suspicions that the conversations of the future Pope may have been monitored,” as well as phone calls going in and out of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis and other clergy currently reside.

It referenced March 2013 U.S. State Department documents released by Wikileaks, which show that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – who would become Pope Francis – had been under surveillance for eight years, and was listed as a possible papal candidate.

“Bergoglio exemplifies the virtues of the wise pastor that many electors value,” said a 2005 telegram reportedly sent by the then-Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, D. Brent Hardt.

“Observers have praised his humility: he has been reluctant to accept honors or hold high office and commutes to work on a bus.”

Following cables reportedly discussed the relationship of the then-cardinal to the administration of President Nestor Kirchner, and the use of a Catholic priest’s connection to Argentina’s “Dirty War” to “undermine the moral authority of the Catholic Church and the cardinal.”

The latest accusations follow months of leaks about U.S. surveillance programs, which have drawn heated criticism both domestically and internationally. Last week, reports in a German publication alleged that the NSA has been tapping phone calls from German Chancellor Minster Angela Merkel.

The U.S. government has denied the latest claims regarding the Vatican.

“The National Security Agency does not target the Vatican. Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy's Panorama magazine, are not true,” said Vanee Vines, NSA spokeswoman, in a statement.

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EU proposes $38 million to advance 'reproductive health'

New York City, N.Y., Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pro-life advocates are voicing concern over abortion funding after a report revealed that the European Commission has set aside 28 million euro, roughly $38.4 million, for projects related to “sexual and reproductive health.”

The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union.

“The specific objective is to contribute to improved universal access to reproductive health,” said the European Commission of its grant program, “Investing in People: Good health for all.

The commission added that it is concerned especially for “developing countries which have the worst indicators.”

The commission explained that the programs will fund maternity programs and “universal access” to a range of services falling under “reproductive and sexual healthcare, services, supplies, education and information (including information on all kinds of family planning methods).”

J.C. von Krempach, of Catholic Family and Human Rights, an organization monitoring international law and activism, explained in an Oct. 29 blog post that international organizations often use the term “sexual health” as code in order to “carry out abortions in developing countries.”

“Very cynically, those abortions are often dubbed as 'menstrual regulation', a term specifically coined to mislead, so that the women concerned do not even know what is done to them.”

In addition, he said, grant money from projects such as “Investing in People: Good health for all” “feeds organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Marie Stopes International (MSI), and Ipas.”

The document explaining the European Commission’s program later clarified that the “wider range of family planning methods” did include the promotion of contraceptives and abortion.

Primary “health care should, inter alia, include,” the document said, “abortion,” alongside “prevention of abortion and the management of the consequences of abortion,” maternal care, infertility treatment, and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, infections, and other health care conditions.

Krempach explained that the provision of abortion violates definitions of “sexual and reproductive health” adopted at a 1994 meeting of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which “clearly excludes abortion from the scope of” health care.

Nevertheless, the “European Commission and the above-mentioned NGOs pretend that abortion is included” in proposals such as these, he said.

He argued that “it would be necessary for a ‘call for proposals’ such as this to contain a clarification that abortions, whatever name is given to them, will not be funded,” to correct the error and conform with international definitions of sexual and reproductive health.

“The present call for tender does not contain such clarification,” Krempach said.

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Pope Francis: No one can be Christian without love of God

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily, Pope Francis spoke of the necessity of God’s love in order to be faithful, and encouraged those present to make love the center of their lives.

“Without the love of Christ, without living this love, without recognizing it, without nurturing this love, you cannot be Christian,” the Pope reflected during his Oct. 31 homily.

The Pope celebrated his Mass this morning in the St. Sebastian Chapel near the tomb of Bl. John Paul II inside St. Peter’s Basilica, where a group of Polish faithful gather to celebrate the Eucharist every Thursday.

Saint Paul’s words to the Romans from the day’s first reading when he tells them that “no one can separate me from the love of Christ” formed the basis for the Pope’s reflections.

Having lived through many difficulties, including persecution, illness and betrayal, the pontiff noted that at the center of Paul’s life was a specific reference; “the love of Christ,” and that without recognizing and allowing that love to grow in us, we cannot be true Christians.

“The Christian is one who feels loved by the Lord,” he stressed, “with that beautiful gaze, loved by the Lord and loved until the end. The Christian feels that his life has been saved by the Blood of Christ.”

“And this is what love is: a relationship of love.”

Pope Francis went on to contrast this attitude with the image of the “sorrow Jesus when he looks to Jerusalem,” who did not understand his love, which is like that of a mother hen who wants to gather her chicks under her wings.

“It didn't understand the tenderness of God,” he said, noting that this is the opposite of how Paul felt when encountered with the love of God.

“Yes, God loves me, God loves us, but in an abstract way, it is something that does not touch my heart, and I organize life the way I want. There is no fidelity there.”

The cry in Jesus’ heart, stressed the Pope was “’Jerusalem, you are not faithful, you have not allowed yourself to love, and you have entrusted yourself to many idols that promised you everything, they said that they'd give you everything, and after they have abandoned you.’”

At the heart of the suffering love of Jesus, he pressed, was “a love that was not accepted, was not received.”

Before us, urged the Pope, we have the image of Saint Paul, who remains faithful to the love of Christ until the end, and who, even when faced with his weakness and sinfulness, “has strength in the love of God, in that meeting he had with Jesus Christ.”

On the other hand, noted the pontiff, we have the Jerusalem, who is unfaithful and who “does not accept the love of Jesus, or even worse, eh? But this love that lives in half: a bit 'yes,’ a little 'no,’ according to their convenience.”

In the face of these two images, “What can we do?” the Pope asked, challenging those present to ask themselves “am I more like Paul or Jerusalem? Is my love for God as strong as that of Paul, or is my heart tepid, like that of Jerusalem?”

“May the Love, through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II, help us to answer this question,” he concluded, “So be it!”

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Former Yahoo executive thrilled to join 'brotherhood' of Church

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The previous head of one of the internet’s leading online search engines travelled to Rome in order to be received into the universal Church, expressing his joy at joining the family of faith.

“I’m in Rome to become Catholic,” Richard Riley told CNA in an Oct. 28 interview, “I was married in the Catholic Church 13 years ago, I have four children who were baptized in the Catholic Church and I really wanted to join the family and be unified in faith.”

Riley previously led Yahoo!’s American division, the internet company’s largest unit, most recently heading the regions of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

He left the company after having worked with them for 13 years upon his promotion earlier this year to take the helm as CEO of a rapidly growing British mobile application called “Shazam,” which currently has over 325 million users all over the world.

When asked what he found in the Catholic Church that he hadn’t found elsewhere, Riley stated that “There's so much history and tradition.”

Emphasizing how his wife is Italian, Riley noted that “of course Catholicism's been a big part” of their lives, and that “the family and brotherhood of the Church” is something “unique and really special.”

The internet exec, who travelled to Italy for the event of his Confirmation, revealed that he is “starting to” feel at home in the Church, especially being in Rome, which he described as “a spectacular place.”

“It's breathtaking, and every time you come it's just absolute amazement, and I'm feeling more and more comfortable,” he stressed, noting that having been on his mayor’s advisory council, he has been to the Vatican “a few times, and I look forward to coming back frequently.”

Riley also expressed his belief that his entry into the Church will make him a better worker, and a better CEO, stating that “I think that one of the things that makes great leaders is to have empathy, and to really understand people and to not be self-centered.”

“I think the empathy alone and the greater cause and good will absolutely make me and others a better leader.”

The new CEO also shared his positive impressions Pope Francis, whose young pontificate he described as “impressive, in terms of a focus on the poor, and people who are really needy in the world.”

Pope Francis, he stressed, makes sure “that all of us think more about them and their needs, rather than our own and material needs,” emphasizing how he believes that the pontiff has “really woken up parts of the world to some very special issues.”

Referencing his hopes for the future within his new position, Riley expressed his desire to “make Shazam as great a company as we can make it, and see where that takes us.”

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Pope was concerned interview could be misunderstood, writer says

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - According to a Catholic writer in Italy, Pope Francis was aware that his reported words in an Oct. 1 interview published in “La Repubblica” could be misunderstood, and took measures concerning this.

Antonio Socci, a Catholic columnist for the Italian newspaper “Libero,” wrote Oct. 27 that after the publication of the interview, Pope Francis was fully aware of the risk of misunderstanding of some of his words, particularly those on conscience.

In the interview, Eugenio Scalfari, founder and former director of “La Repubblica,” quoted Pope Francis as saying that “the conscience is autonomous, and everyone must obey his conscience.”

Pope Francis reportedly reiterated his phrase, adding that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

These sentences led to a certain amount of criticism for the Roman Pontiff.

The Pope's knowledge that he could be misunderstood is why – according to Socci – Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, was “told to maintain that the text of the interview had not been revised by Pope Francis and that it was penned by Scalfari after an informal chat.”

Fr. Lombardi also underlined that “the interview is not part of Pope Francis' Magisterium.”

Despite this, “L’Osservatore Romano,” the Vatican newspaper, re-published the interview in its Oct. 2 edition, and it is included among Pope Francis' speeches on the Vatican's website.

According to Socci, Pope Francis “regretted” the publication of the interview in “L’Osservatore Romano” and “complained of it to the director, Gian Maria Vian, in Assisi on Oct. 4.”

Video from Vatican TV shows that when Pope Francis went to visit the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, he stopped by and had a one-minute chat with Vian.

According to Socci, “that is probably the moment when Pope Francis complained to Vian.”

It is impossible to catch something of the conversation through the video, because of the background noise.

In fact, only two people were close enough to Pope Francis to listen to the conversation between him and Vian: journalist Aldo Cazzullo, and vice-director of the Holy See press office, Fr. Ciro Benedettini.

Socci confirmed to CNA Oct. 28 that he “learned about the Pope’s regret by two different sources.”

He further stated that “critics of Pope Francis for his view on conscience are double-dealing.”

“Would you really believe Pope Francis thinks that everybody can have his own idea of good and evil and thus justify what he does?” he asked.

“Is it really possible Pope Francis has an idea that would make being Christians, or believing in God, into nonsense?”

Socci underscored that “Pope Francis' teachings on corruption, confession, the danger of the devil, all prove that Pope Francis’ view is orthodox, and that he had not watered down the teachings of the Church, and particularly the doctrines of the Church.”

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Congressional hearing considers Syrian war crimes tribunal

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a hearing before a congressional committee, policy officials called for the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal to bring to justice those guilty of human rights violations in the 30-month long conflict.

“Those who have perpetrated human rights violations among the Syrian government, the rebels and the foreign fighters on both sides of this conflict must be shown that their actions will have serious consequences,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House's subcommittee on global human rights, at the Oct. 30 hearing.

“This is not an academic exercise. We must understand the difficulties of making accountability for war crimes in Syria a reality.” 

Smith added that “therefore, we must understand the challenges involved so that we can meet and overcome them and give hope to the terrorized people of Syria. Their suffering must end, and the beginning of that end could come through the results of today’s proceeding.”

The call for a war crimes tribunal is a response to the gross human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by both government and rebel forces during a violent civil war that has racked Syria for more than two years.

In late August, reports indicated that chemical weapons had been used against civilians in the country, killing more than 1,400 people.

The Obama administration said it had conclusive evidence that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for these attacks, though the Syrian government denied this charge and blamed the rebels for the use of chemical weapons.

The possibility of a U.S. military strike against Syria sparked strong opposition from Russia, whose leaders said they have compiled an extensive report with evidence that rebels used chemical weapons back in March.

After several days of talks, an agreement was reached for Syria’s chemical weapons to be eliminated. The process is being overseen by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

On Oct. 31, weapons inspectors in Syria announced that the country's declared equipment for producing chemical weapons has been destroyed. The regime is to destroy its existing stock of chemical weapons by July 2014.

Smith introduced a resolution asking for a war crimes tribunal on Sept. 9, as a way to enforce international human rights standards prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, while at the same time avoiding the escalation of violence in the war-torn country that would likely result from a U.S. strike.

The Oct. 30 joint hearing focused on “the pros and cons of creating and sustaining a Syrian war crimes tribunal,” Smith said.

David Crane, former chief prosecutor for a U.N. special court for Sierra Leone, noted that “we can prosecute heads of state for international crimes,” and that this prosecution has been done before, such as in the case of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Crane outlined five “possibilities for a justice mechanism” that could be used in Syria: the International Criminal Court; an ad hoc court created by the United Nations; a regional court authorized by a treaty with a regional body; an internationalized domestic court; or a domestic court comprised of Syrian nationals within a Syrian justice system.

He added that he believes the International Criminal Court is “just not up to the task” of handling a Syrian war crimes tribunal, and that a local, domestic system would be preferable as it would help Syria “transition to a sustainable peace.”

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program for Human Rights Watch, agreed that trials should be held to assure justice for the human rights offenses committed, but argued that a trial should take place within the already-existing International Criminal Court rather than through an ad hoc court that must be created and regulated.

Alan White, an investigator for the U.N.'s Sierra Leone court, asserted that “an immediate alternative needs to be aggressively pursued,” but warned that conducting a war crimes tribunal “is one of the most challenging, if not the most difficult and demanding type of investigation within the international justice system.”

For the tribunal's success, he said, witnesses must be protected, and the court should be focused on assuring justice for the victims, not on political accountability to the international community.

Stephen Rademaker of the Bipartisan Policy Center noted that he is typically a critic of war crimes tribunals, but acknowledged that “there are several unique features to the Syrian conflict” that may merit the creation of a tribunal, namely the “humanitarian catastrophe in Syria” and the international community's “moral obligation to try to address it.”

He stressed that a tribunal would help bring to justice human rights offenders on both sides of the civil war, and the public accountability of a trial would help to dissuade future humanitarian offenses. In addition, the tribunal would delegitimize the Assad regime, and “reinforce diplomatic efforts to remove Assad from power.”

The Syrian conflict has now dragged on for 30 months, since demonstrations sprang up nationwide in March 2011 protesting the rule of al-Assad.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people.

There are at least 2.1 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

An additional 4.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

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