Archive of November 25, 2013

Pope lauds courageous choices of modern martyrs

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily, Pope Francis spoke of the faithfulness of God, highlighting the importance of trusting him with one’s life, and praising those who maintain this trust despite grave persecutions.

“We think of so many mothers, of so many fathers of families, that everyday make definitive choices to go forward with their family, with their children,” the Pope expressed during his Nov. 25 daily Mass, adding that “this is a treasure for the Church.”

Pope Francis directed his words to those who were present for Mass inside the chapel of the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse.

The Pope began his homily by reflecting on the figures in both of the day’s readings who illustrate the importance of trusting God, even in the midst of difficult situations.

He first spoke of the faith of the young Jewish men in the Book of Daniel who were slaves of King Nebuchadnezzar and who remained faithful to the Lord despite the king’s threats to kill them.

Afterwards, he recalled how Jesus praised the trust of the poor widow in the Gospel who gave two small coins as an offering, saying that “those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

“Both of them - the widow and the youth - have risked something,” noted the Pontiff, “in their risk they chose the Lord, with a big heart, without personal interest, without pettiness.”

“They did not have a stingy attitude,” he stated, emphasizing that “the Lord, the Lord is everything. The Lord is God and they entrusted themselves to the Lord.”

Making this act of trust was not done “out of a - permit me the word - fanatical intention, no,” explained the Pope, saying that instead, “They did it for a different reason: they have trusted, because they know the Lord is faithful.”

“They have trusted this fidelity which is always there, because the Lord cannot change, he cannot: he is always faithful, he cannot be unfaithful, he cannot deny himself.”

Choosing to be faithful, the Pope continued, is equally important in both smallest and the most difficult situations, highlighting how throughout the history of the Church we see that there are “men, women, old, young, that make this choice.”

“When we listen to the life of the martyrs, when we read in the papers of the persecution against Christians today,” he observed, “we think of these brothers and sisters in extreme situations that make this choice.”

Martyrs “live in our time,” he stressed, adding that “they are an example for us, and their example encourages us to commit all our lives for the treasure of the Church.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by encouraging those present “to remember our brothers and sisters that, in all of our history, even today, make significant choices.”

“They give us a testimony,” he affirmed, stating that “in front of so many that give us a testimony we ask the Lord for the grace of courage.”

“Courage to go forward in our Christian life, in normal situations, common to all of us, of everyday and even in extreme situations.”

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Project Rachel founder 'delighted' with new bishops' staff position

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The founder of Project Rachel says she is extremely pleased by the U.S. bishops’ decision to create a full-time staff position to work with the post-abortion healing ministry.

“To oversee the ministry and keep on top of things that need to be done, you really need a full-time person,” Vicki Thorn told CNA Nov. 18. “I’m just delighted that they’re going to have one.”

“This is an important ministry of the Church,” she said, “and it is really key to the evangelization of our times.”

Thorn founded Project Rachel in 1984 as a healing ministry for those who have suffered the devastating consequences of abortion. The program is present in the majority of Catholic dioceses in the United States.

By a vote of 225-9, the U.S. bishops at their recent fall assembly approved the creation of a new full-time position to work with the ministry. The new staff person, who will be funded by the Knights of Columbus, will serve as a resource for diocesan directors who offer retreats, support groups, models and training resources for priests.

Project Rachel has always had a very “open” relationship with the bishops, Thorn said, explaining that it is designed to be a diocesan program, under the authority of a local bishop.

Post-abortion healing is vital, she said, pointing out that it was one of the major elements in the first Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities issued by the bishops' conference in 1975.

“The bishops had called for education on the sanctity of all human life, getting people involved in the legislative process, and pastoral care – first for those facing a crisis pregnancy and secondly a call for a ministry to help those who have had abortions,” she said.

Those who tend to be the strongest advocates for healing after abortion are bishops and priests “who are confessors,” because they have seen so much of the pain that comes with abortion, she added.

In addition to openly professing how harmful abortion is to men, women and children, pro-lifers must also work to make healing possible for those who have been wounded, Thorn stressed.

“Many women leave the Church or are away from the Church and have an abortion, and don’t know they can come home,” she said. “And when they do, there’s this incredible experience of God’s mercy.”

The Church must work to facilitate this healing, she explained, and Project Rachel helps to do that.

Thorn noted that Pope John Paul II accurately predicted the devastating aftermath of abortion in his 1960 work, Love and Responsibility.

Pope Benedict XVI later took these ideas one step further, she said, by admonishing the Church to fulfill its obligation to be a Good Samaritan and to “go and find the wounded and bring them to the Church for care.”

Now, she reflected, Pope Francis’ image of the Church working in the field hospital “really applies to this ministry.”

“We’re taking care of the walking wounded and enabling them to come to a new spiritual relationship with God to really encounter his mercy,” she said.

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Boxing champion dedicates victory to Filipino typhoon victims

Macau, China, Nov 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Filipino champion boxer Manny Pacquiao dedicated his Nov. 24 win to all the victims of the recent Typhoon Haiyan, offering prayers for their continued recovery.

Pacquiao won over his American opponent Brandon Rios in the 12th round by unanimous decision to take the World Boxing Organization international welterweight title.

The win brought cheers in the Philippines at a time of sorrow and loss after being struck earlier this month by Typhoon Haiyan, among the strongest storms ever recorded.

Known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, the storm left devastation, killing thousands and affecting more than 9 million people.

In some parts of the worst hit areas of Tacloban, screens were installed in local playgrounds so that people could watch the boxing match and take their mind off the losses they had endured.

“This fight is for you,” Pacquiao said in the post-fight press conference, remembering the victims of the typhoon.

“Glory to God in Jesus’ name,” he prayed.

Pacquio, who was born in poverty, rose to become an eight-division world champion in boxing. He also currently works as an elected official in the Philippine House of Representatives, serving Sarangani's Lone District.

The boxer promised to “visit” the people of his district personally after the fight. His staff members have been assisting in recent relief efforts.

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Judge rules clergy housing allowances unconstitutional

Madison, Wis., Nov 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A law granting clergy members an exemption from income tax on housing allowances is unconstitutional, according to a federal judge's recent decision.

The exemption “violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,”  U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin’s Western District wrote Nov. 22 in her decision in Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Lew and Werfel.

The law, part of the Administrative Procedure Act of 1954, provides “a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise,” Crabb continued.

The Madison, Wisc.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation brought the case against U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel, who were in turn defended by the Justice Department.

The law allows housing allowances given to clergy to purchase homes to be exempt from income taxes, and also permits clergy to be exempted from taxable income up to their home’s fair market rental value.

Crabb's decision will not affect clergy's housing allowances until all appeals have exhausted.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, called the lawsuit a “really big deal.”

“Once the clergy get wind of it, I expect they will be very upset,” she told the Wisconsin State Journal, adding that she expected the decision to be appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

“When you’re dealing with some of these mega-church pastors with huge mansions, they can be paid an enormous amount in housing allowances,” Gaylor added.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which oversees a pastors’ network from over 25,000 churches around the country, called the ruling an act of “supreme arrogance” against a tradition that helps, rather than harms, society.

“The Supreme Court has made perfectly clear that neither taxpayers or organizations have standing to bring federal lawsuits with this sort of challenge because the law they are challenging has not caused them any direct harm,” Perkins explained in a statement.

The tax-free housing allowance for clergy exists “because of the tremendous benefit that churches in turn give to society,” he continued.  “Clergy help carry the burden of many social ills that would otherwise become the burden of taxpayers and the federal government.”

He added that Crabb has ruled in favor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation against the National Day of Prayer. Her ruling that the day was unconstitutional was overturned by the Seventh Circuit court because the foundation “had not suffered an injury due to the law and so lacked standing to sue in the first place.”

Ken Klukowski, director of the Center for Religious Liberty for the Family Research Council, added in a statement that since “the U.S Supreme Court has made crystal clear that these sorts of laws do not injure anyone, we expect the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago to promptly reverse this decision.”

"This is a decision that flies in the face of controlling precedent," he concluded.

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Don't reduce athletes to 'merchandise for profit,' Pope cautions

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis met with delegates of the European Olympic committee on Saturday, advising them to reject a consumerist mentality towards sports which can dehumanize athletes.

“When sports come to be considered solely according to economic parameters or the achievement of victory at all costs, one runs the risk of reducing athletes to mere merchandise from which to profit,” he said on Nov. 23 in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.

It happens that “athletes enter into a mechanism that overwhelms them (and so) they lose the true meaning of their activities, that joy of play that has attracted them as children and that has led them to make so many sacrifices to become champions,” he explained.

The Pope described sports as having a kind of balance or “harmony,” but “if excessive pursuit of money and success prevails, this harmony is broken.”

The world of sports has the potential to bring about great good, because “the practice of sports, in fact, encourages a healthy overcoming of self and one’s own selfishness, trains a spirit of sacrifice, and if done well, promotes loyalty in relationships, friendship, (and) respect for rules.”

He then stressed to the officials,“it is important that those engaged in sports at various levels promote the human and religious values that are the basis of a more just and solid society.”

“I would like to encourage institutions such as yours that offer, especially to the younger generations, formative paths in sports to peace, sharing, and the coexistence of peoples,” the Pontiff continued.

Sports have the power to “unite, not divide!” he underscored, noting that the Olympic symbol of five intertwined rings “represents the spirit of fraternity that should characterize Olympic events and sporting competitions in general.”

This unity is a result of the “universal language” that is spoken by sports.  It “exceeds boundaries, languages, races, religions and ideologies.” Sports “have the capacity to bring people together, fostering dialogue and welcome.”

Moreover, added Pope Francis, “the connection between the Church and sports is a beautiful reality that is longstanding, because the ecclesial community sees in sports an effective instrument for the integral growth of the human person.”

“This is a very valuable resource.”

The Pontiff closed his remarks by offering his “heartfelt good wishes” and encouraging the Olympic officials to “foster the educational function of sports.”

“I invoke the blessing of the Lord upon you, your families, and all those taking part in the next Olympic games,” he concluded.

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