Washington D.C., Nov 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Iranian authorities have reportedly transferred imprisoned U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini to a dangerous prison, prompting concern from human rights groups and calls for U.S. leaders to secure the Christian pastor’s safety.
“Pastor Saeed is now in one of the most dangerous wards of Rajai Shahr Prison – where violent prisoners are held, those who are imprisoned for murder and rape,” Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said Nov. 4.
“The transfer to this prison is a deeply disturbing development and can only be viewed as a move that puts Pastor Saeed’s life directly at risk,” he added. “This new and extremely dangerous development requires the full attention and focus of President Obama. He must speak out now – directly and forcefully – to save Pastor Saeed’s life.”
Abedini was imprisoned in September 2012 on charges of threatening national security, but human rights groups contend that his Christian faith is the real motive for his eight-year sentence.
He was raised Muslim in Iran and converted to Christianity in 2000. He married a U.S. citizen and became a U.S. citizen himself in 2010.
After his conversion, Abedini worked with house churches throughout Iran until 2009. Although the churches are technically legal, the government raised objections to his work. Since 2009, the pastor has worked only with non-religious orphanages in the country. He was arrested during a trip to visit these orphanages last fall.
Family members confirmed that the pastor was recently moved from Tehran’s Evin Prison to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj.
In 2005, Dutch diplomat Loes Bijnen described the prison as a place of “severe punishment” where “nuisance” political prisoners are sent. He said these prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals who “don’t hesitate to attack their cell mates.”
“They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence,” he said.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) said he was “deeply troubled” by the transfer of the pastor.
“With this development – a development without explanation or notice – Pastor Abedini’s life is further endangered,” he said Nov. 6 in a statement. “Time is of the essence. President Obama and Secretary Kerry must again engage at the highest levels and press in clear and unequivocal terms for the immediate and unconditional release of this innocent man.”
“Tehran brutally represses its own people, especially religious minorities including Christians and Baha’is. America always has an obligation to stand with those whose voices have been silenced wherever they may be,” said the congressman, who has written a report on religious freedom in the Middle East and south central Asia.
During a phone call with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in September 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly urged the pastor’s release.
Pastor Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, voiced deep concern.
“The news of Saeed’s transfer to this prison is most difficult to bear. I am devastated and I do not know what to tell my children. I am more concerned now about his safety than at any other time during his imprisonment,” she told the American Center for Law and Justice Nov. 5.
“He is truly defenseless in this prison – defenseless from the abuse and violence of other prisoners, defenseless from a radical government that continues to violate his rights.”
His wife said she is strengthened by her prayers and grateful for the support for her husband and their family.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing the pastor's wife, is calling for continued prayers, as well as efforts to raise awareness of Abedini's plight through social media and an online petition.
New York City, N.Y., Nov 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Fellowship of Catholic University Students – known as FOCUS – will host two “REACH” prayer breakfasts in New York City and Washington, D.C. to help all Catholics learn to evangelize.
“REACH new evangelization prayer breakfasts are opportunities to be equipped with the necessary tools for you to reach your city for Christ,” FOCUS said in an announcement.
FOCUS noted Bl. John Paul II’s description of the New Evangelization as “new ardor, new methods, and new expression” in sharing “this good news of Christ’s love and mercy for the world.”
“What does that look like when we are with our family members who may not practice their faith anymore? What does it look like with our friends we meet on the weekends? With our neighbor across the street?” FOCUS asked.
The student missionary organization, which has a presence on 83 college campuses, credited its success to training student evangelizers. Its prayer breakfasts, called REACH, are an effort “to share what we do best with Catholics of all ages.” The events focus on prayer, fellowship, and “solid teaching and training in Catholic evangelization.”
The New York REACH event will take place Friday, Nov. 15. A Rosary and Mass will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the Church of Our Savior at 59 Park Avenue. The breakfast will take place across the street at the Union League Club at 8:30 a.m. Its featured speakers will be Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., of the Magis Center for Faith and Reason and Fr. Jonathan Morris of SiriusXM Catholic Radio.
The REACH D.C. prayer breakfast will be held Dec. 3 at the JW Marriot Hotel at 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW, beginning at 6:30 a.m. with a rosary and Mass. Featured speakers will be law professor Helen Alvaré of George Mason University and Dr. Jonathan Reyes, head of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the U.S. bishops’ conference.
FOCUS said that if Catholics follow Jesus, “we must share God’s love and mercy with others.” The organization encouraged Catholics to invite others to the events.
More information about the prayer breakfasts is available at the webpage www.focus.org/reach.
Vatican City, Nov 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis sent a message of prayer and encouragement to those who were affected by the huge storm that swept across the Philippines on Friday.
Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin sent a telegram on behalf of the Pontiff to the Philippine president, Benigno Aquino III, on Nov. 10, saying, “Deeply saddened by the destruction and loss of life caused by the super typhoon, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this storm and its aftermath.”
Early reports suggest that the storm - called Typhoon Haiyan internationally and Yolanda in the Philippines - may have claimed up to 10,000 lives, with thousands of others affected by the devastation left in its wake.
The Pope also shared his concern for the victims with pilgrims at today’s Angelus in Rome. “I want to assure the people of the Philippines and of that region who were struck by the terrible typhoon of my closeness,” he said.
The crowds who were gathered for the noontime prayer in St. Peter’s Square clapped in solidarity.
“Unfortunately, the victims were many and the damage enormous,” Pope Francis continued.
“Let us pray a moment in silence, to the Madonna, for these our brothers and sisters,” he asked.
The square packed with pilgrims fell silent for a moment before the Pope led everyone in a Hail Mary.
The Pontiff then exhorted, “let us try also to reach out to them with practical help.”
Secretary of State Parolin’s message explained that Pope Francis “is especially mindful of those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and of those who have lost their homes.”
“In praying for all the people of the Philippines, the Holy Father likewise offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they assist the victims of this storm,” it continued.
“He invokes divine blessings of strength and consolation for the Nation,” the message concluded.
Vatican City, Nov 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus message emphasized the unique concern God has for every human person.
“The name of God is linked to the names of men and women with whom he unites himself, and this bond is stronger than death,” the Pope told crowds in St. Peter’s Square on Nov. 10.
“And so we can say that (about) the relationship of God with us, with every one us. He is the God of each of us, as he carries within himself our name.”
The Pope reflected on the Gospel story in which Jesus encounters the Pharisees who try to trick him into disproving the resurrection of the dead. They ask him about a woman who was married seven times as one after another of her husbands died. “In heaven, whose wife will she be?” the Sadducees demand.
“Jesus, always gentle and patient, at first responds that the life after death does not have the same parameters of this earth,” recounted the Pontiff.
“Eternal life is another life in another dimension where, among other things, there will no longer be marriage that is related to our existence in this world.”
“But then Jesus, so to speak, turns to the counter-attack,” continued the Pope. “And he cites Sacred Scripture to them, with a simplicity and an originality that leaves us full of admiration for our Teacher, the only Teacher!”
It is in the episode of Moses and the burning bush that Jesus finds proof of the resurrection. There “God reveals himself as the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.”
By naming the people with whom he has made a covenant, God shows that he is not “the God of the dead, but of the living, because everyone lives for him.”
“And this decisive bond, the fundamental covenant is that with Jesus: He himself is the Covenant, He himself is the Life and the Resurrection, because with his cross he has overcome death,” underscored Pope Francis.
The Pontiff went on to explain that the bond between Jesus and the individual Christian is different than earthly bonds like marriage because it is eternal, as God himself is eternal.
“In fact, if God is faithful and loving, there can’t be a temporal limit. Faithfulness is eternal: it can’t change. The love of God is eternal: it can’t change. He isn’t limited by time, he is forever…He is faithful forever, according to his time, which is eternity,” insisted the Holy Father.
“The life that God prepares for us isn’t simply an embellishment of this present one: it is beyond our imagination because God continually surprises us with his love and with his mercy.”
“Therefore, what will happen is exactly the opposite of what the Sadducees expected. It is not that this life acts as a reference to eternity, but it is eternity that enlightens and gives hope to the earthly lives of each of us!” he exclaimed.
“But already on this earth, in prayer, in the Sacraments, in brotherhood, we meet Jesus and his love and in this we can have a foretaste of risen life.”
The crowds clapped as Pope Francis enthused, “The fullness of life! We are on the way and in pilgrimage towards that fullness of life, and that full life is that which illuminates our way!”
After leading crowds in the Angelus prayer, the Pontiff greeted various pilgrim groups who had come to Rome, as well as taking a moment of prayer for victims of the typhoon that hit the Philippines on Friday.
The Pope also recalled the “Night of broken glass,” on Nov. 9-10, 1938, in which Jews were persecuted.
“We renew our closeness and solidarity to the Jewish people and we pray to God that the memory of the past help us to be ever vigilant against all forms of hatred and intolerance,” he said.
The Pope concluded the audience by wishing everyone a good Sunday and a “good lunch.”