Archive of November 8, 2013

National pain-capable abortion ban introduced in Senate

Washington D.C., Nov 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Legislation that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, at which point science indicates that unborn babies are able to feel pain, has been presented in the U.S. Senate.

“At twenty weeks, mothers are encouraged to speak and sing as the baby can recognize the voice of the mother,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who introduced the bill at a Nov. 7 press conference.

“The question for the American people is, ‘Should we be silent when it comes to protecting these unborn children entering the sixth month of pregnancy? Or is it incumbent on us to speak up and act on their behalf?’ I say we must speak up and act.”

The House of Representatives passed a pain-capable abortion ban in June by a vote of 228-196. As of its introduction, the Senate legislation was co-sponsored by 33 members of the Senate, including Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.).

Similar fetal pain abortion bans have been enacted at the state level in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and most recently, Texas.

Graham explained that abortion practices should be reconsidered in light of advances in scientific technology since the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which declared abortion to be protected by the constitution.

“Science and technology have advanced tremendously since 1973,” he observed.

“We now know that an unborn child at the twentieth week of pregnancy can feel pain,” Graham stated, pointing to the fact that anesthesia has been given to unborn patients during surgery.

“Given these facts and my continued strong support for life,” he continued, “I believe there is a compelling interest in protecting these unborn children who are among the most vulnerable in our society. I'm confident that over time the American people and their elected representatives will say yes as well.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) joined Graham at the press conference, saying that while public opinion on the legality of abortion is divided, “on one point there is a growing consensus: we must all work together to reduce the number of abortions.”

“With all of the innovative medical treatments now available, more Americans are realizing that we are talking about children that deserve protection and overwhelmingly believe that we need a law like this,” he added.

“The unborn are the most vulnerable members of our society, and I am committed to ongoing efforts to protect innocent life.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life legislation group Susan B. Anthony List, also spoke at the Nov. 7 press conference, calling the bill the organization’s “top priority.”

“What we propose today is simple and foundational: the child in the womb is a member of the human family,” she said. “At six months and even earlier that child suffers excruciating pain from the cruel dismemberment of its body or the piercing of its heart.”

“Whether we as a nation should continue to authorize and practice the killing of these innocent members of our families is a great civilizational question,” Dannenfelser continued.  “Anything less is unworthy of us as a free and generous people who wish that resounding phrase ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ to be something more than an echo of some lost dream.”

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Nigerian doctor laments growing plague of human trafficking

Rome, Italy, Nov 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Human trafficking is a major scourge to women and children that needs greater international attention, the head of a Catholic medical group in Nigeria told a gathering of experts in Rome.

Dr. Henrietta Williams explained to CNA that “there is a lot of human trafficking going on” throughout the world.

“A lot of measures have been put in place – you know, laws, border controls, all sorts of things,” she acknowledged. “But we’ve also noticed that the situation is getting worse. It’s not getting better, and there’s a lot of suffering.”

As a gynecologist and the head of the Association of Catholic Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, Williams was invited to present at a Vatican study group entitled, “Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery,” held on Nov. 2-3 in Vatican City.

The conference was held at the request of Pope Francis for the purpose of further investigation into the practice of human trafficking.

“I think what Pope Francis has done is an excellent initiative,” Williams said, citing the importance of education and awareness on the gravity of trafficking.

According to the International Labor Organization, the majority of victims affected by human trafficking tend to be women and children. The group estimates that 20.9 million people have been victims of forced labor globally from 2002-2011, although the exact number of human trafficking victims remains unknown.

With the practice of human trafficking on the rise, Williams said, “the problem is much deeper than people think.”

“People think, ‘oh, human trafficking, prostitution.’ Just from today’s talk, we’ve found that there are a lot of players in the background – we don’t know (exactly) who they are – who are making a lot of money: so called ‘respectable members’ of society, multinational companies, exploiting women not just for sex – for labor.”

Moreover, modern technology adds new levels of complication, she continued, pointing to internet recruitment of women and children, which is “extremely difficult to monitor.”

Williams’ own work in medicine has given her insights into the exploitation of women in her home country, including lesser-known forms such as egg harvesting.

“As a doctor, I’m actually very concerned with these young girls in Africa, in Nigeria,” she said, noting that special clinics called “fertility centers” recruit young girls ages 15-18 to donate eggs.

The girls are “paid some paltry sum – about 50 euros” so the clinics can “harvest eggs from them after hyperstimulation, which is actually a dangerous medical procedure. And the girls’ eggs are used for experimentation abroad,” the gynecologist explained.

Although the women “know that something is being done to them medically,” the clinics “don’t tell them what they are going to use the eggs for.” Because the women are illiterate, they often undergo operations without true “informed consent.” 

Williams finds it repugnant that many of the procedures, which are “actually banned in Europe and America,” are still being carried out in Africa.

She and others are fighting these practices. In addition to combating illegal activity, the doctor has found herself at the Nigerian senate, where some organizations “have gone to try to get countries to pass laws or to change laws which allow them to further exploit these young women for their eggs, for their organs.”

When asked why sub-Saharan Africa sees so much trafficking, Williams described a set of cultural circumstances that leaves many people at risk.

“West Africa and East Africa have had a culture of slavery over the centuries, so they don’t see it as ‘evil’ because it is something that has been happening and so it’s a different type of slavery,” she recounted. “Parents might sell their daughter to recover money for debt, to build a house, to buy land.”

The practice of “bonding” is also very common. “It’s like borrowing money,” in that a family “bonds” their daughter to a person or group “and (they) expect that the girls are going off hopefully to make some money and bring some money back.”

“Others go as domestic workers, housemaids, to people abroad,” continued Williams, “but in actual fact the girls are exploited. They are used and their passports are seized and taken away and they have no freedom.”

Nigeria itself houses a “vicious center” of human trafficking. Many of the girls from there “end up in Italy as sex slaves.”

Sex slavery is more common in East and South Africa, says Williams, where there is a link between the tourist industry and pedophilia. 

Another group of victims involved in trafficking are those who are “just trying to run away from conflict and unemployment,” she stated. Their risk levels are particularly high because “they have no papers, no identification.”

All of these people “are very susceptible to all these traffickers who are making a lot of money out of them,” warned Williams.

To combat these problems, the Catholic Church is working with “women’s organizations, and the reverend sisters, and homes,” to try to help women who are victims of sex slavery.

“They try to rescue them, rehabilitate them, teach them a new way of existing, before repatriating them,” noted Williams.

In the future, she hopes for a more united, inter-disciplinary, global response to trafficking at large as a result of this weekend’s conference. 

“From all the different experts we have coming in here – we have social workers, we have police, we have NGOs, we have FBOs, we’ve even got people from the Anglican church, you know, all the people who are working at grassroots levels…we’re hoping that at the end of this meeting at least we’ll know exactly the next step to take.”

Behind all of this research and activity, added Williams, must be prayer.

“I would like to pray to our Blessed Mother…that she should pray for us so that we can actually find a solution to this problem because the amount of suffering, misery, ruined lives of young children, ruined lives of young women – it’s just got to stop.”


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Farm Bill should help the vulnerable, religious leaders urge

Washington D.C., Nov 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics leaders in the U.S. asked members of Congress to place the needs of the poor at the center of their considerations as they craft the nation’s new Farm Bill.

“Congress and the Administration face serious challenges in how best to craft our nation’s agriculture policies, especially in the broader context of the budget debates,” said a Nov. 1 letter written by several bishops and heads of Catholic charitable organizations.

“These choices are more than economic and political: they are moral decisions with profound human consequences,” they continued.

“Reductions should not come at the expense of vulnerable people in need.”

The letter was signed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Also signing the letter were Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA; Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services; James F. Ennis, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference; and Sheila K. Gilbert, president of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The letter was sent to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Agriculture Committee; as well as Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Agriculture Committee.

The religious leaders discussed the Farm Bill, which is the main agricultural and food policy guide for the country. It provides funding for a number of programs and regulations in the food and agriculture industries, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously called food stamps.

At the end of September, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 – which previously governed agricultural policy – expired. Members of Congress recently restarted discussions on a 2013 Farm Bill, after a previous attempt to pass legislation failed in June amid disputes over decreasing funding to SNAP.

The signatories urged the Farm Bill Conference Committee to consider the poor as it tries to create a bill that will pass Congress. They voiced “serious concerns about using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or other programs that serve poor and hungry people, to find savings in the Farm Bill.”

They also referenced Pope Francis’s statements on the “scandal” of hunger and malnutrition, asking them to listen to the Pope’s request to “achieve a just and lasting solution” to hunger in the world.

The religious leaders urged Congress to focus on five areas as it continues crafting the bill: domestic hunger and nutrition, international food security and development, rural development, conservation and subsidies.

Above all, they called for “a Farm Bill that redirects help away from those who need it least to those who need it most.”

“A just and fair Farm Bill will put poor and hungry people first, serve small and medium-sized family farms, promote sustainable stewardship of the land, and help vulnerable farmers and rural communities at home and abroad,” they emphasized.

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Pope warns against 'unclean bread' of corruption

Vatican City, Nov 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his daily Mass, Pope Francis cautioned those present to be aware the dangers of bribery, stating that those who are dishonest in their work deprive themselves of dignity.

"This man, this steward," said the Pope about the unjust steward from the day’s readings "he brought bread home, but how? He fed his children unclean bread!"

The pontiff centered the reflections of his Nov. 8 homily, given in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, on the servant in the Gospel of Luke who is accused of being dishonest, and so bribes his master in order not to be fired.

Warning of the dangers "of worldliness and mundane affairs," Pope Francis highlighted how Jesus "prayed to the Father that his disciples might not fall into the trap of worldliness," which he referred to as "the enemy."

"When we think of our enemies, we really think of the devil first, because it’s the devil that harms us," noted the Pope, adding that "the devil enjoys the atmosphere, the lifestyle of worldliness. And this steward is an example of worldliness."

"Some of you," he continued, "might say: 'But this man only did what everyone does!' But no, not everyone! Some company administrators, some public administrators, some government administrators…perhaps there are not even very many."

"But it’s that attitude of the shortcut, of the most comfortable way to earn a living."

Explaining how at the end of the parable the master praises the unjust steward for his cunningness, Pope Francis stressed that "This is praise for bribes! And the habit of bribes is a mundane and extremely sinful habit."

"It’s a habit," he emphasized, "that does not come from God: God has commanded us to bring bread home through our own honest work!"

The children who have eaten the "unclean bread" brought home by their father, and who were "perhaps educated in expensive colleges, perhaps raised in learned environments," observed the Pope, were actually "fed dirt by their father, because their father, by bringing home unclean bread, had lost his dignity!"

"And this is a grave sin. Because we might start with a small bribe, but it’s like a drug!"

In this way we are able to become dependent on the habit of bribery, the Pope explained, revealing that on the contrary, if there is a "mundane cunning," there is also a "Christian cunning, of doing things not in the spirit of worldliness," but of truthfulness.

This is what Jesus means, explained the pontiff, when he tells his disciples to be as cunning as serpents, but as pure as doves, adding that the ability to merge the two "is grace from the Holy Spirit," and a gift that we must ask for.

Pope Francis concluded his reflections encouraging those present to "pray for the many children and young people who are fed unclean bread by their parents: they are hungry too, they are starved of dignity!"

"Let us pray," he continued, "that the Lord may change the hearts of these people who are faithful to the goddess of bribes. Let them realize that dignity comes from dignified work, from honest work, from daily work, and not from these shortcuts."

Turning a final thought to the man in the Gospel who had stored up for himself many granaries and silos that were "so full that he didn’t know what to do with them," the Pope recalled how the Lord said to him "You must die tonight."

"These poor people who have lost their dignity in the habit of bribes take with them not the money they have earned, but only their lack of dignity! Let us pray for them!"

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Faithful pray in Philippines as Typhoon Haiyan strikes

Manila, Philippines, Nov 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest storms in history – hit the islands of the Philippines today, the country's bishops called for prayers to be said for the safety of the nation's people.

“We all know that Typhoon Yolanda,” as the storm is known in the Philippines, “is very strong and we pray that it would not really hit us or bring havoc to the country,” Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, president of the Philippines' bishops' conference, said Nov. 8.

“We have had enough calamities through the earthquake last Oct. 15 and I am hoping that through our prayers, you know with God’s help, the effects of the typhoon would not be too destructive” he added, according to Filipino news outlet Sun Star.

“I am appealing to my brother bishops that they will exhort our priests to lead prayers against impending calamities.”

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines around dawn on Friday, and battered the country for nearly five hours. It is now in the South China Sea, and is headed towards Vietnam and southern China.

Chita Montfort, executive director of Prayer Warriors for the Holy Souls, told CNA that Cardinal Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, issued an 'oratio imperata' “sometime last year to prayer for deliverance from calamities,” and that the prayer has been distributed to over “600,000 members” of the group.

An “oratio imperata” is an “ordered prayer” said in times of calamity, and traditionally said at the end of Mass. The prayer for the Philippines expresses gratitude to God for the “wonders of creation” and acknowledges “our sins against You and the rest of creation.”

The prayer goes on to ask for forgiveness of sins and to “be spared from the threat of calamities, natural and man-made.”

“We beseech You to inspire us all to grow into responsible stewards of Your creation, and generous neighbors to those in need,” it says.

Monsignor Jose Clemente Ignasio, rector of Quiapo parish and head of the Manila archdiocese's disaster management ministry, told CNA that in spite of continuous natural disasters, “Filipinos seek God and take it as a part of life.”

“They do not curse God; rather they ask help from God, and spiritual help from the Church.”

He said that the disaster management ministry was monitoring Typhoon Haiyan together with government agencies, and that this has helped their people to take preventative actions and to notify parishes in danger so as to reduce the loss of life.

Bishop Julito Cortes of Dumaguete prayed “that the graces of God will build on our natural tendencies,” saying that knowledge and faith must go together to guide people's response to such disasters.

“Our faith is stronger than any problem or any calamities,” he said.

CBCP News reported that bishops were coordinating with government agencies in disaster relief, and quoted Archbishop John Du of Palo as saying Nov. 7 that he had reminded his flock to take practical measures, such as “to secure candles, flashlights, water and non-perishable food products.”

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon had “declared ‘safe areas’ to serve as evacuation centers and already prepared food items for relief operations,” and required his priests to reinforce their parish buildings.

Catholic Relief Services is in the Philippines to assist with disaster response, mobilizing resources to help the government in the most affected areas. Greg Auberry, the organization's regional director, said Nov. 7 they were moving tarps to Cebu to provide shelter for 8,000 families.

Typhoon Haiyan could be the strongest storm in recorded history, CNN reported. The typhoon is the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 195 miles per hour and gusts as strong as 235 miles per hour. Four people have been reported killed by the storm already.

The strong winds have led to flash flooding and landslides, and destroyed many homes and other buildings. Some areas saw 45-foot floods and more than 15 inches of rain, according to the BBC, which also reported that this was the 25th tropical storm to hit the Philippines in just this year.

The country is still recovering from a powerful earthquake of magnitude 7.2, which hit the central islands of Cebu and Bohol on Oct. 15, causing more than 100 deaths and reducing local churches and houses to rubble. 

“The pain of another disaster is devastating,” Auberry said.

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Year of Faith to be marked by exposition of St. Peter relics

Vatican City, Nov 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Vatican official announced that in anticipation of the close of the Year of Faith, the relics of the first Bishop of Rome will be exposed with the aim of re-awakening the faith of the first Christians.

“A final culminating sign will consist in the exposition for the first time of the relics that tradition recognizes as those of the apostle that gave his life for the Lord,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella stated in a Nov. 8 article published in the Vatican’s daily newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano.”

Archbishop Fisichella is the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and has previously served as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“The faith of Peter,” encouraged the archbishop, “therefore will confirm once again that the door for encounter with Christ is always open and waits to be crossed with the same enthusiasm and conviction of the first believers.”

Benedict XVI instituted the Year of Faith, running from Oct. 11, 2012 until Nov. 24, 2013, during his pontificate with the aim of fostering a fresh momentum in the New Evangelization.

“It will be a moment of grace and commitment to a more complete conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in Him and proclaim Him with joy to the people of our time,” the retired pontiff stated in the fall of 2011 upon the announcement of the event.

The enthusiasm of the first believers, Fisichella remarked, is “a path that the Christians of today know they need to pursue untiringly, as they are strong and reassured by the contemplation of the face of Christ.”

Archbishop Fisichella also revealed that as symbol of faith and in anticipation of the close of the year dedicated to this virtue, Pope Francis has chosen to travel to a cloistered monastery on Nov. 21 for a moment of prayer.

“The union between action and contemplation is one of the cardinal points that the faith expresses and that always needs to be repeated” he stated, adding that “the faith lives principally of adoration.”

Pope Francis will visit the monastery of the Camaldolese monks on the Aventine hill, located in ancient Rome, and is an order which “conjugates” the life of prayer and work “in a peculiar way” through their service to the poor.

Exposing the remains of Saint Peter will be a unique “epilogue” to the Year of Faith, insisted Archbishop Fisichella, because it “has been marked in particular by the profession of faith that millions of pilgrims have made to the tomb of Peter.”

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African Catholic bishops urge forgiveness, end to exploitation

Bujumbura, Burundi, Nov 8, 2013 (CNA) - African Catholic leaders in justice and peace have released a message encouraging spiritual renewal and condemning the exploitation of “the poorest and weakest.”

“Like St. Paul, we invite you to let yourselves be reconciled with Christ, by spiritually renewing your minds and hearts in the promotion of the integral development of the person, to be able to say ‘no’ to the misery that surrounds us caused by our behavior as sinners,” the justice and peace coordination of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar said Oct. 31.

The message was released during a meeting of bishops and other leaders of regional justice and peace commissions in Africa and Madagascar. It convened in Bujumbura, Burundi Oct. 28-Nov. 2. The meeting discussed good governance, the common good, and transitions to democratic societies across the continent.

The coordination message, provided by Catholic News Agency for Africa, was addressed to all African Catholics and men and women of good will. It expressed the “total rejection” of the exploitation of the poor and weak, including enslavement of children, child trafficking, and organ trafficking. It also denounced “growing insecurity” and violence and criminality in the Central African Republic and the recurring conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The “unfair exploitation” of natural resources is one source of the violence, the message said.

The coordination also condemned “fanaticism and religious extremism” in Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Its message emphasized forgiveness, calling it “a grace of God in which we see Jesus Christ forgiving all our sins.”

In allowing ourselves to be reconciled with God, the message said, “we engage with our brothers as on the road to Emmaus, in receiving and recreating the universal brotherhood for which all, without exception, we aspire.”

The coordination called for the exploration of new ways to implement good governance without corruption or abuse of power. They voiced a commitment to “a democratic culture” that is “respectful of freedom of opinion” and respects the rights of immigrants.

The coordination also called for “patient and fruitful dialogue” concerning the management of the Nile River, noting that the well-being of people and countries along the Nile is dependent on the great river.

The meeting reflected on the document “Africae Munus,” Benedict XVI’s 2011 post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

Coordination leaders also voiced their sympathy for the victims of the latest shipwreck off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, which killed over 350 immigrants.

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Military Archdiocese garners vital support from special collection

Washington D.C., Nov 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new special collection as Masses throughout the U.S. offers crucial help for military chaplains administering sacraments and support to those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces throughout the world.

“Thank you for making it possible for me to visit the flock entrusted to my pastoral care. Thank you for supporting the tireless work of the auxiliaries,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. 

“Thank you for allowing this global archdiocese to say 'yes' each day to fulfilling its responsibilities each day to the men and women in uniform, their families, to our veterans and those who serve our nation outside our shores.”

Archbishop Broglio spoke at the 5th Annual Benefit for the U.S. Military Archdiocese, held in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 7.

The archdiocese oversees the spiritual and pastoral care of the 1.8 million U.S. Catholic military members, veterans, Department of Defense contractors, and civil service employees working abroad, as well as their families around the globe.

The archbishop's words of thanks to supporters came as the Archdiocese for the Military Services prepares for its first-ever special collection on Nov. 10.  The collection was approved to be taken up once every three years by the U.S. bishops at a general meeting last year.

Although it ministers to government employees and their families, the archdiocese does not receive funding from the U.S. government, nor does it receive any money from weekly collections in U.S. military chapels, as those contributions are distributed according to military funding regulations.

The archdiocese funds its $5.1 million operating budget through private donations.

These funds go to support priests' ability to move between the 220 military installations in 29 countries, 153 VA Medical Centers, and combat zones and warships across the world, where they are responsible for administering sacraments and providing pastoral support for those in the armed forces.

For military families at home, the archdiocese also provides catechesis programs, faith formation and support, record keeping, and other services.

Funds are also needed to help the archdiocese address the shortage of Catholic chaplains in the military. Although 25 percent of the military is Catholic, only eight percent of active-duty chaplains are Catholic, in part because priests are reaching the military's mandatory retirement age of 62 more quickly than the archdiocese can train new priests. Since 2001, the number of active-duty priests has dropped from over 400 to 234.

However, vocations within the military are on the rise. Since 2008, the vocations program within the Military Archdiocese has grown from just seven seminarians to “36 young men studying for or recently ordained to the priesthood in eventual service as chaplains,” Archbishop Broglio said at the benefit.

“They are a joy to be with, a source of pride and a beacon of hope for the future.”

The seminarians in training to become priest-chaplains are all part of the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a partnership between the Archdiocese for the Military Services and local dioceses.

Through the program, each diocese sponsors part of the seminarians' training. However, even with this support, it costs the Archdiocese for the Military Services at least $75,000 to sponsor each seminarian. Over the next five years, seminary costs alone will form $2.7 million of the archdiocese's budget.

But despite this financial challenge, Archbishop Broglio remains hopeful, observing that the Archdiocese for the Military Services has always persevered, due to outside support and the hard work of those who “give of themselves and see their employment as a vocation.”

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