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Archive of January 22, 2014

Syrian patriarch calls for prayer as peace talks begin

Damascus, Syria, Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Patriarch of Antioch has called for prayers “in every home in Syria” and around the world for a successful international peace conference in Switzerland beginning today, Jan. 22.

“God of peace, grant peace to our country,” Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, said in a Jan. 14 statement, provided to the Charity Aid to the Church in Need. “Let there be a global prayer campaign for peace in Syria, the Holy Land, the Arab world and the whole world!”

The patriarch, who is also the Melkite archbishop of Damascus, called on everyone to join him in praying for “the cessation of all acts of violence, destruction and war.”

“Jesus our Lord is Prince of peace,” he said. “We implore him to hear our prayers, respond to our cries of distress and the suffering of the victims, and grant us the great gift of peace!”

The “Geneva II” conference aims at a political settlement to the Syrian civil war, providing for a transitional government in the country which has been mired in conflict since March, 2011. The conference includes representatives of both the Bashar al-Assad government and opposition groups, as well as foreign diplomats.

Patriarch Gregorios prayed in his statement that Christ will inspire countries and their representatives “with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.” He also prayed that the Virgin Mary might intercede for “the miracle of peace.”

He said he hoped that the appeal will be published in all eparchies and parishes, including those outside Syria.

He prayed for “genuine reconciliation” among Syrians to provide “a much-needed human, cordial, national, really Syrian reconciliation of faith.” He said this would be “crucial” to the success of the talks, stressing the need for “a peace that is really Syrian.”

He prayed for unity among international leaders and among Arabs, saying this is needed to “halt the influx of weapons” to armed foreign groups in Syria.

“Seeking for peace rules out sending weapons, for peace has no need of weapons.”

“This prayer is for all Syrians: praying for all those who are struggling, whatever their political orientation, inclination or adhesion!”

“We are praying for everyone, so that everyone can make ready the way for Geneva 2’s success.”

The patriarch also appealed to Syria's Muslim majority, noting that “peace is one of God's names in the Qur'an.”

Geneva II gathers representatives of the Assad regime; leaders of the Syrian National Coalition, an exiled opposition group; and foreign diplomatic leaders from the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

Iran, a close ally of the Assad regime, had been invited to participate. However, that invitation was rescinded after strong protests from the U.S. and the Syrian National Coalition following Iran's rejection of the call for a transitional government.

The Syrian National Coalition and the Assad regime seem to be at an impasse over Assad's role in any possible transitional government. A third of the coalition boycotted a vote last week over its involvement in the Geneva talks, and several other opposition groups have refused to participate.

Now in its 32nd month, the Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of at least 100,000 persons, and as many as 130,000.

The conflict began March 15, 2011, when demonstrations protesting the rule of Assad and his Ba'ath Party sprang up nationwide. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.

Some 40 percent of Syria's population have fled their homes because of the civil war. There are 2.3 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and an additional 6.5 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

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Burmese bishop sees 'new dawn' of hope for his nation

Yangon, Burma, Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishop of Burma's largest city has written a New Year's message encouraging the Burmese to remain united and to strive for peace in their homeland.

“We are preparing for the dawn of a new era of freedom, democracy, justice, peace and hope…a new era of fraternity,” wrote Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon.

“There are many reasons for hope … We are just at the very beginning of a new chapter” in our country's history, he said.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, was ruled by a military junta from 1962 to 2011, and has a history of ethnic strife, corruption, and human rights violations.

But the 2011 dissolution of the junta ushered in reforms, to which Archbishop Bo alluded.

“In the past two years the restrictions on freedom of expression have been relaxed, there is more space for civil society, the media and political actors, there have been preliminary steps towards peace in the ethnic states, and many political prisoners have been released.”

He highlighted the release of political activist Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was elected to parliament in 2012.

“These steps encourage us to see the prospect of a new dawn,” Archbishop Bo declared. “For the first time in more than fifty years, there are reason to be hopeful for Myanmar.”

He attributed the improvements in Burmese society to those who participated in protests against the junta and its socialist policies in 1988.

“Some of them were willing to lay down their lives … they gave their yesterday so that our today may be free, and the tomorrow of Myanmar may be justice oriented.”

The archbishop encouraged continued commitment to change, however, noting that “this is just the very beginning of the beginning.”

Archbishop Bo condemned the persistent violence that has plagued the nation, including persecution of the Rohingya, rape, human trafficking, looting of churches, destruction of mosques, and attacks on civilians in Kachin state.

The Rohingya are a minority group who practice Islam and who have long been persecuted by the country's Buddhist majority; rioting displaced 125,000 Rohingya in 2012.

“We hear of the tragedy of an entire people, known as 'Rohingyas', treated as if they were not human,” Archbishop Bo lamented, adding that “as we begin to enjoy more freedom of speech, some have used this to preach hatred and incite violence against our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

He appealed to the Buddhist principles of compassion (karuna) and loving-kindness (metta) to be shown to the Rohingya, who are denied Burmese citizenship and treated as illegal immigrants.

“Genuine peace will only be achieved,” he said, through “a political dialogue leading to a political settlement for Myanmar's ethnic nationalities … real, true peace can only be achieved through a revolution in our hearts, a renewal of our minds and a rediscovery of the value of fraternity.”

The archbishop said,  “our task is to rebuild not only the destroyed buildings, but destroyed relationships…our task, individually and in community, is to rebuild our hearts.”

“Whatever our religion, we need to refocus our minds on our common humanity and our fraternity as peoples of Myanmar.”

Archbishop Bo, noting the diversity of Burma's people, said this “is something to celebrate,” and that the Burmese are called to  “build a nation in which every person … feels at home, has a stake in the country's future, is treated with equal respect and equal rights, and is accepted and care for by their neighbours.”

He concluded, saying, “I wish all my brothers and sisters, of all religions and ethnicities, throughout our nation a truly happy and blessed New Year … let 2014 mark a new era not only of greater freedom, but of fraternity, throughout Myanmar, and in growing in fraternity, we can secure lasting peace and prosperity.”

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New film inspired by work of crisis pregnancy centers

Denver, Colo., Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A soon-to-be released film chronicling a pregnant teen's struggle for survival is not so much a story about abortion, the director says, even though the mother chooses life for her child despite difficult circumstances.

“This isn't a film about abortion,” writer and director Ron Krauss of the Jan. 24 film, “Gimme Shelter”, told CNA in a recent interview.

He affirmed that although the film is undoubtedly pro-life, the story does not so much center around the teen's choice to have her child, as it does her struggle to become a young mother.

“This young girl made her decision to have that child and when we get into the film; that decision is made already,” Krauss pointed out.

The film was inspired by Kathy DiFiore's decades of work with her Several Sources Shelters which offer a variety of means of assistance to the poor and marginalized, especially at-risk pregnant women who need a safe place the prepare for motherhood and to raise their children.

“I just tried to display to the people what I saw with no opinion on it. I tried not to get in the way of the story,” Krauss added.

In the film, Agnes “Apple” Bailey, played by Vanessa Hudgens and based on a real shelter resident, runs away from her abusive mother, played by Rosario Dawson. As a young mother, she does whatever she can to survive, including sleeping in unlocked cars and eating out of dumpsters.

When a car accident lands her in the hospital, a Catholic priest, played by James Earl Jones, visits Apple and challenges her to begin a new life by getting help from a local pregnancy shelter. Initially resistant, Apple agrees to seek help from one of Kathy DiFiore's Several Sources Shelters in New Jersey where she finds hope, security and sisterhood in preparing to become a mother.

After first learning of DiFiore's work, Krauss visited one of her shelters where he would eventually shoot the film. When he saw the work that was being carried out there and got to know the young mothers and their children, he worked on transforming what he saw into a movie for a broad audience.

“The audience is everybody because anybody who sees this and has a heart – their heart is going to start ticking. Human compassion and love, they transcend everybody. It crosses all dividing lines.”

When he approached DiFiore with the screenplay, she was initially reluctant, but approved of it when it was changed to focus more on the girls and the work being carried out in her shelters, rather than about her.

“Kathy felt that perhaps if the movie were more about the work and not about her, it would be more inspiring to people,” Krauss explained.

DiFiore stressed that the most important element of the film is that it serves to let women know that help exists when they find themselves in need during an unplanned or difficult pregnancy.

She encouraged anyone who sees the film and needs help to visit lifecall.org, which lists pregnancy resources as well as over 550 homes and over 2,000 crisis pregnancy shelters throughout the U.S.

If viewers know of shelters that are not listed on the site, she urged them to get in touch with her directly. Alternatively, if there is no shelter in a viewer's area, she encouraged them to get in touch with her for resources on opening their own shelter.

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Poll finds strong US support for abortion restrictions

New Haven, Conn., Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new survey from the Knights of Columbus reports that most Americans support abortion restrictions, prompting calls for more legislative and judicial action against abortion.

“The American people understand that abortion is bad for everyone, and even those who strongly support abortion want it reduced significantly, so it is time that our lawmakers and our courts reflected this reality,” Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said Jan. 21.

“Four decades after Roe v. Wade, abortion remains at odds with the conscience and common sense of the American people.”

The results of the survey were released ahead of the Jan. 22 March for Life, which marks the 41st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.

The survey, conducted by The Marist Poll, reports that almost 75 percent of Americans favor a ban on abortions after 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother. Eighty-four percent would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, including 58 percent of respondents who self-describe as “strongly pro-choice.”

About 80 percent of survey respondents support parental notification for a minor seeking an abortion. Almost 80 percent support a 24-hour waiting period. Another 62 percent favored changing laws to allow for some restrictions on abortion. About 58 percent support showing a woman an ultrasound image of her unborn child at least a day before a scheduled abortion.

Most respondents said that abortion causes more harm than good to a woman. More than half of respondents, 53 percent, said that life begins at conception. Another 62 percent said that abortion is morally wrong.

A slight majority of Americans support continued debate about abortion.

About 76 percent oppose allowing abortions to be performed by non-doctors, a practice recently legalized in California and proposed for legalization in New York.

The survey was conducted Dec. 10-15. It interviewed 2,001 adults in the continental U.S. and claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

The survey also queried Americans about religious freedom, an increasingly prominent area of controversy.

Seventy-one percent of respondents agreed that protections for religious freedom should be favored above government laws.

The survey sponsor, the Knights of Columbus, is a Catholic fraternal organization with more than 1.8 million members worldwide.

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Pro-life lawmakers hopeful after 41 years of legal abortion

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the 41st anniversary of legalized abortion throughout the U.S., pro-life lawmakers from both political parties voiced hope about the future of the pro-life movement.

“I've been in the pro-life movement since 1972,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told CNA, and “I've never been more hopeful.”

Smith, who is both co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and chair of a House subcommittee on international human rights, characterized the pro-life movement as a “human rights struggle based on faith and compassion.”

“This is an injustice that will not stand the test of time,” he said.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has worked in Congress to promote the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, agreed.

“How can you not be hopeful when you see families from all around the country making the sacrifice to come to Washington to support the rights of unborn children?” she said, referencing the annual March for Life.

Held every year on or near the Jan. 22 anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that mandated legalized abortion throughout the U.S., the March for Life routinely draws massive crowds consisting primarily of young people from around the nation. An estimated 650,000 people attended the 2013 March for Life.

Blackburn said that while “it's important to remember that lasting change takes time,” the annual march is essential in showing “the continuing vibrancy of the pro-life movement.”

“Too often, Americans seem to regard the pro-life movement an antiquated pursuit mired in the past,” she said, explaining that the march “gathers young people from around the nation to a central place where they can discuss the moral implications of the matter at hand and feel confident they are not alone in their beliefs.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D.-Ill.) co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, told CNA that the annual march shows “that we're not just anti-abortion – we are pro-life” and that pro-life advocates “want to support life in every way possible.”

The congressman suggested that “sometimes there's too much of a focus on changing the laws” without addressing larger cultural issues surrounding abortion.

There is a need to change both culture and law, he said, adding that he is “doing all that I can” in Congress, while other efforts are being made on a cultural level.

In these efforts, he explained, it is important to show the American public that “the pro-life movement is bigger than it's been before.”

The March for Life helps the pro-life movement “to show we are strong” in order to help change both the culture and the law.  

“Eventually the leaders will follow the people,” he said of the movement's continued success, noting that while “federal law has gone backwards on this issue” there has been progress in promoting pro-life laws “at the state level in some states.”

Rep. Smith suggested that the annual March for Life offers the country a “serious witness for life” and an opportunity for “people to converge on Capitol Hill.”

In the past 40 years, some 56 million unborn babies have been aborted, he said, adding that this “equates to the number of all of the people living in England.”

“Equally frightening is the harm that is done to women,” he continued, pointing to studies conducted around the world from “data showing a linkage to breast cancer” as well as mental health problems and other adverse effects of abortion.

While many national policymakers are “extremists” who work “continuously to promote the abortion agenda,” Smith said, “at the state level we've seen an acceleration, a deepening commitment to the sanctity of life.”

“In the various state legislatures, 205 laws have been enacted in the last three years alone,” he emphasized, calling state activism the “backbone of the pro-life movement.”

There is a need on the national stage “to elect pro-life lawmakers from both political parties” and “to elect a pro-life president,” Smith said.

Reflecting on the March for Life, the congressman said it provides an opportunity for the pro-life community “to get re-inspired.”

What he finds most “breathtaking” about the march is “the idealism that is coming from the young people” in attendance.

“I've never met so many smart, idealistic, faith-filled young people.”

“One out of every three” members of the youth “are missing,” Smith observed. “I think that doesn't go unnoticed by this generation.”
 

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Cardinal reaffirms child protection pledge as documents release

Chicago, Ill., Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Responding to the release of documents about Chicago priests accused of abusing minors over the past 50 years, Cardinal Francis George has apologized to victims and reaffirmed that no accused priests are presently serving in ministry.

“We realize the information included in these documents is upsetting. It is painful to read. It is not the Church we know or the Church we want to be,” Chicago archbishop Cardinal George said Jan. 21. “The archdiocese sincerely apologizes for the hurt and suffering of the victims and their families as a result of this abuse.”

The cardinal said the archdiocese hopes that the documents’ release and the work of its Office for the Protection of Children and Youth can help abuse victims heal.

The documents – which were released as a condition of a 2005 legal settlement – concern 30 Archdiocese of Chicago priests.

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who claims to have won more than $60 million from the U.S. Catholic Church in clerical sex-abuse lawsuits, first received the released files. His office then culled them and posted them online.

Anderson’s office said four of the priests have been criminally convicted of abuse of minors. His office accused the archdiocese of placing priests back in ministry despite them posing a danger to minors.

Cardinal George said that 95 percent of the cases contained in the sex abuse documents occurred before 1988.

“Today, no priest with even one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor serves in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said.

“The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin,” he continued. “The archdiocese encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward.”

Cardinal George has previously said that most of the accused priests were either dead or out of ministry before he arrived in Chicago in 1997. The incidents were reported to civil authorities and legal claims have been mediated. The cardinal has said that he removed those who had been allowed to continue in public ministry before his arrival.

In his Jan. 21 statement, the cardinal discussed the Catholic Church’s past handling of abuse accusations. He said that some leaders of the archdiocese “made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify” according to “the prevailing knowledge of that time.”

“In the past 40 years, society has evolved in dealing with matters related to abuse,” Cardinal George added. “Our understanding of and response to domestic violence, sexual harassment, date rape, and clerical sexual abuse have undergone significant change and so has the Archdiocese of Chicago.”

 “While we complied with the reporting laws in place at the time, the Church and its leaders have acknowledged repeatedly that they wished they had done more and done it sooner, but now are working hard to regain trust, to reach out to victims and their families, and to make certain that all children and youth are protected.”

The cardinal said that all reports of sex abuse are referred to civil authorities “immediately.” The archdiocese’s Independent Review Board also examines the results of investigations into allegations and makes recommendations to the archbishop about an accused priest’s fitness for ministry and the safety of children.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has paid about $100 million to settle sex abuse allegations against priests, the New York Times reports.

The names of archdiocesan priests known to have abused a minor are published on the archdiocese’s website, Cardinal George said. He stressed that the archdioceses is concerned “first and foremost” with helping abuse victims heal and has run its victim assistance ministry for over 25 years.

He also pointed to background check efforts and abuse prevention programs now running in the archdiocese.

Earlier this month, in a letter to the Catholic faithful of Chicago, the cardinal said the document release can benefit child protection efforts.

“Painful though publicly reviewing the past can be, it is part of the accountability and transparency to which the Archdiocese is committed,” he said. “Accountability to the civil authorities constitutionally responsible for the protection of children is part of the life of the Church here.”


 

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Blessing of lambs a 500 year old tradition, priest reveals

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Shortly before the blessing of the lambs yesterday in honor of the feast of St. Agnes, the parish priest of the basilica honoring the martyr explained that the tradition has been around since the 16th century.

“Here in (in the basilica of) St. Agnes, we have known this tradition for 500 years,” Fr. Franco Bergamin explained to CNA in a Jan. 21 interview shortly before the Mass of the blessing took place.

The priest recalled how the tradition began around the same time that the Regular Lateran Canonichesse were founded, who are a contemplative religious order belonging the Canons Regular of the Lateran Congregation of the Most Holy Saviour, who still serve in the basilica of St. Agnes today.

On Jan. 21 of every year, the feast day of the virgin Agnes who was martyred in the year 304 under the Diocletian persecution, the lambs whose wool will be used weave the pallia of new archbishops are blessed in the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls in Rome, and then presented to the Pope.

Elaborating on the various symbols of the pallium, a white stole adorned with six black crosses that the Pope and metropolitan archbishops wear in their churches when celebrating the Mass, Fr. Bergamin highlighted that the colors of white and red which are used carry special meaning.

When they are carried into the basilica for the blessing, the lambs are “in two baskets,” he noted, explaining that one is “with red flowers and the other one with white flowers in order to indicate the martyrdom and the virginity of Agnes.”

The “presence of the lamb” in most depictions of the young martyr has been seen “since the 4th century,” the priest continued, adding that as a symbol of her “birth into heaven,” every year “a lamb was placed on the tomb of St. Agnes in order to indicate” that that is where she was.

Fr. Bergamin explained that every year the lambs which are chosen for the ceremony are donated by the Tre Fontane abbey in Rome, which is run by the Trappist Fathers of the Cistercian Order, who are cloistered contemplative monastics that follow the Rule of St. Benedict.

After the lambs were blessed, the priest explained that they were delivered to Pope Francis at his residence in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse during 12:30pm appointment.

During the encounter, the Pope would “welcome” the lambs “and deliver them to the sisters of Saint Cecilia in Trastevere,” which is a 5th-century church in Rome dedicated to the Saint.

The sisters, explained the priest, “will groom” the lambs “and care for them” until the pallia are to be woven.

 

Paul Badde contributed to this piece.

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Pope: receive God's gifts with a generous heart

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis dedicated his general audience today to the topic of Christian unity, emphasizing that although divisions can be painful, we ought to be grateful for the gifts given to other denominations.

“Despite the suffering caused by divisions, should learn to recognize with joy the gifts God has given other Christians and receive them with a big and generous heart,” the Pope stated in his Jan. 22 general audience.

Addressing the thousands of pilgrims who flocked to St. Peter’s Square in order to hear his weekly address, Pope Francis centered his reflections on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which began on Jan. 18 and will extend through Jan. 25.

The theme of this year’s week of prayer is taken from the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians when he asks them, “Has Christ Been Divided?” and was used as the launching point for the Pope’s reflections.

Highlighting how the end of the week of prayer coincides with the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the Pope emphasized that this week is “a time dedicated to prayer so that, as the Lord wants, all of us (who are) Baptized be one single family.”

Returning to Saint Paul’s words to the people of Corinth, the pontiff explained that “we know that Christ has not been divided,” however “we must sincerely recognize that our communities continue to experience divisions which are a source of scandal and weaken our witness to the Gospel.”

These divisions he said, often “affect the credibility and efficiency of our commitment to evangelizing.”

However, Pope Francis went on to explain that in his letter to the Corinthians the apostle does not just “reprimand them for their disputes,” but he “also thanks God for the gifts that he has poured onto them.”

“Paul reminds them to rejoice in the great spiritual gifts which they have received,” the pontiff continued, adding that “his words encourage us to rejoice in the gifts God has given to other Christians, gifts which we can receive from them for our enrichment.”

We too, emphasized the Pope, “should learn to recognize with joy the gifts God has given other Christians and receive them with a big and generous heart.”

To be able to accomplish this “calls for humility, discernment and constant conversion,” he reflected, inviting all present be open “to the fullness of joy in the gift of divine Sonship received in Baptism.”

Pope Francis concluded his weekly audience by praying that we “recognize with joy and humility the gifts that God grants to other Christians,” and by extending his greetings to groups representing various countries around the world.

After the Pope concluded his address, he sent a special message in honor of the “Geneva 2” conference which opened today, Jan. 22 in Montreaux, Switzerland, and has negotiations to continue in Geneva starting on Friday, January 24th.

In his message for the conference, an international gathering whose goal is to negotiate peace in Syria, the pontiff prayed for the political leaders and policy experts participating, asking that the Lord “touch the hearts of all (parties and participants).”

He prayed that in “looking only to the greater good of the so sorely tried Syrian people, they might spare no effort to reach as quickly as possible the cessation of violence and the end of the conflict, which has already caused too much suffering.”

The ongoing conflict in Syria has so far claimed the lives of over 100 thousand people, and driven millions more to flee their homeland in search of safety.

Continuing his message, the Pope expressed his hope for the “dear nation of Syria,” that it undertake “with conviction the path of reconciliation, concord and reconstruction with the participation of all citizens, in which everyone can find in the other, not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother to welcome and embrace.”

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Pope Francis tweet supports, prays for US pro-life march

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis sent a tweet offering support for the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., praying that all human life would be valued.  

“I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable,” he told his 3.5 million English-speaking Twitter followers Jan. 22.

The Pope sent the same message in Spanish to his Spanish-speaking Twitter followers, who number over 4.5 million.

The pro-life march typically draws hundreds of thousands of attendees of all religious backgrounds, though Catholic participants are numerous. This year's event marks the 41st anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which mandated legal abortion nationwide.

While some media reports have depicted Pope Francis' focus on mercy and evangelization as a minimization of Catholic teaching against abortion, he has also spoken out against abortion and shown his support for pro-life advocates. Pope Francis made a surprise visit via popemobile to an April 2013 pro-life march in Rome.

He is not the first pontiff to use the social media site to support American pro-life marchers. Pope Benedict XVI sent a similar message of support for U.S. pro-life advocates in a January 2013 tweet.

“I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life,” Benedict said.

As of the morning of Jan. 22, Pope Francis' English-language March for Life tweet was re-tweeted over 5,000 times and favorited over 4,500 times. His Spanish-language tweet was re-tweeted over 2,500 times and favorited 1,500 times.

Many pro-life advocates are using Twitter to broadcast their own support for the March for Life, using hashtags like “#whywemarch” and “#marchforlife.”

This year's pro-life march in the District of Columbia is taking place despite snowy weather. The West Coast Walk for Life, which began in 2005, will take place in San Francisco on Saturday, Jan. 25.

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God became an unborn child, priest tells youth at pro-life Mass

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics stand up for their unborn brothers and sisters “because the Son of God became one of them,” a priest said at a D.C. pro-life youth Mass ahead of the March for Life.

“God knows us before we were in the womb,” said Father Michael Paris. God “loves each baby in the womb and has a plan for their life, no matter how hard a situation they might come from.”

“We are not accidents, Amen!” the priest said in his homily to thousands of youth at a Jan. 22 Mass at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The Mass, organized by the Archdiocese of Washington, followed an early morning pro-life rally.

During his remarks, Fr. Paris, who hails from St. Patrick's Church in Rockville, Md., stressed God's love for mankind.

God “loved us so much that he wanted to become like us. He wanted to feel what we feel and see what we see, to know the joys and sorrows of our life, and to even suffer the pain of our sins and die on the cross. Because his love for us is so intense, God’s Son became a man in Jesus Christ.”

He explained that Christians know God “loves us and has a plan for each of us” because “he became one of us, he became an unborn baby in the Virgin Mary's womb!”

Fr. Paris cited Pope Francis' words about abortion: “Every child not allowed to be born, but unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ.”

The priest said that abortion “cannot stand” if every person believes that God loves them, became a man and died for them.

“But how can we help the world around us understand?” he asked. “We are so young, so weak, the culture of death is so strong.”

He noted the Mass reading from the Book of Jeremiah, in which God tells the prophet not to say “I am too young.”

“To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you,” God told Jeremiah.

The priest reiterated to the young people that God loves them and has a plan for them.

“Whether you are a courageous cardinal, or a shy middle-schooler, you got this,” Fr. Paris continued. “The Holy Spirit will give us everything we need. We can help the world understand that no one is an accident, all have a purpose and are loved because each person has the face of Jesus Christ.”

The rally and Mass preceded the March for Life, which draws hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates each year to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which led to the legalization of abortion throughout the U.S.
 

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Church officials laud re-opening of Irish embassy to Vatican

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - An announcement that Ireland's government will re-open its embassy to the Holy See came as welcome news to Church officials, who believe it is a “constructive”move for the Church.

“It is an excellent decision for the people of Ireland and will be beneficial to Ireland in making its distinctive and important contribution to international relations,” papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown said in a Jan. 21 statement published in the Irish Times.

“We are all grateful to those who worked so hard to make this day possible.”

The Irish Embassy to the Holy See was closed in November of 2011, and was a decision that deputy Prime Minister of Ireland Eamon Gilmore claimed to be made for solely economic reasons.

Gilmore had stated that due to an uncertain economy the, the Irish government had “to cut our cloth.” The decision was debated by many of the country's Catholics, however, who believe the move was connected to a fall-out between Dublin and Rome after the publication of an official report on the handling of clerical abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, County Cork.

Senior diplomats of Ireland suggest that the re-opening of the embassy is due to the context of a pontificate which emphasizes poverty, human rights issues, and developing world concerns, the Irish Times reports.

A Jan. 21 statement issued by the Archdiocese of Dublin on behalf of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – who is currently participating in the World Economic Forum – said that the decision is “welcomed” and that its opening “on a smaller scale” is “a very constructive exercise.”

Archbishop Martin also acknowledged that the Irish government has “remained committed to the re-opening of the Embassy when the economic situation allowed,” and expressed special appreciation to Mr. David Cooney, who acted as a non-resident Ambassador to the Holy See in the intervening period.

Noting that Pope Francis, “from the outset of his pontificate, has dedicated himself to being a strong voice for fighting poverty,” the archbishop noted that the Vatican is “an important place of interchange on questions of global development.”

He also added that a resident Irish ambassador will “enhance relations between the Vatican and Ireland.”

According to the Irish Times, there is no set date as to when the embassy will officially open due to the fact that an ambassador must first be appointed, and the government is still searching for a location close to the Vatican.

However, the paper reported that a Foreign Affairs spokesman did express hope that a new ambassador will be chosen by the summer.

Foreign Affairs also claims the new Vatican embassy will be one that is “modest,” and a one-person operation, which is keeping in line with the new “sobriety and parsimony blowing through the Vatican under Pope Francis,” the Irish Times wrote.

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Truth of human dignity is burned on our hearts, archbishop says

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said that despite 41 years of legalized abortion in the U.S., the understanding of human life's value is deeply inscribed in our very identity as people.

“The truth about the dignity of the human person is burned into our hearts by the fire of God's love. And we can only deal with the heat of that love in two ways,” the archbishop wrote Jan. 22.

“We can turn our hearts to stone. Or we can make our hearts and our witness a source of light for the world.”

Archbishop Chaput's remarks were made for the National Prayer Vigil for Life Closing Mass on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Intense winter storms, however, prevented the archbishop's trip to the annual March for Life in Washington D.C., as buses carrying the delegations from Philadelphia got caught in the snow. His homily was instead delivered on his behalf by Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the National Shrine.

“It's a wonderful irony that despite the cold and snow of January, there's no such thing as winter in this great church,” Archbishop Chaput wrote. “This is God's house. In this place, there's only the warmth of God's presence and God's people.”  

“In this place, there's no room for fear or confusion or despair,” he added, “because God never abandons his people, and God's love always wins.”

The annual march draws massive crowds consisting primarily of young people from around the nation, as well as attendees of all religious backgrounds. At this year's event, pro-life lawmakers and cultural leaders voiced hope about the future of the pro-life movement.

Pope Francis also sent a tweet offering support for Wednesday's march, praying that all human life would be valued.

“I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable,” he told his 3.5 million English-speaking Twitter followers Jan. 22. The Pope sent the same message in Spanish to his Spanish-speaking Twitter followers, who number over 4.5 million.

In his prepared remarks for the closing Mass, Archbishop Chaput noted that 70 years ago, “abortion was a crime against humanity,” and that four decades ago, “abortion supporters talked about the 'tragedy' of abortion and the need to make it safe and rare.”  

“Not anymore,” he lamented. “Now abortion is not just a right, but a right that claims positive dignity, the license to demonize its opponents and the precedence to interfere with constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly and religion.”  

“We no longer tolerate abortion,” he said. “We venerate it as a totem.”

Touching on the need for authentic hope over simple “optimism” for change, Archbishop reflected that the “very existence of people who refuse to accept evil and who seek to act virtuously burns the conscience of those who don't.”  

“And so, quite logically, people who march and lobby and speak out to defend the unborn child will be – and are – reviled by leaders and media and abortion activists that turn the right to kill an unborn child into a shrine to personal choice.”   

Archbishop Chaput noted that over the past 41 years, the pro-life movement “has been written off as dying too many times to count. Yet here we are, again and again, disappointing our critics and refusing to die.”

“And why is that?” he asked. “It's because the Word of God and the works of God do not pass away. No court decision, no law and no political lobby can ever change the truth about when human life begins and the sanctity that God attaches to each and every human life.”  

“Our lives matter to the degree that we give them away to serve God and to help other people.  Our lives matter not because of who we are,” he wrote. “They matter because of who God is.”  

“His mercy, his justice, his love – these are the things that move the galaxies and reach into the womb to touch the unborn child with the grandeur of being human.”  

“And we become more human ourselves by seeing the humanity in the poor, the weak and the unborn child and then fighting for it.” 

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Youth travel through storms to give witness at March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Young people from around the U.S. and its territories travelled hundreds, even thousands of miles, through winter weather conditions to attend the March for Life and speak out in defense of the unborn.

Timothy Olive, 21, from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, traveled over 1,500 miles by plane to attend the March, along with more than 70 people from the territory's diocese.

"This is a special event for us … because we're a U.S. territory, the laws of abortion apply down there. There's lots of abortions. We have to step up to the plate and do what we have to do,” Olive told CNA during Wednesday's event.

The day before the March for Life, a snowstorm travelled through the northeastern United States, leaving more than six inches of snow in Washington, D.C. Temperatures in the nation's capital dipped into the single digits the morning of Jan. 22, rising only to the low teens for the March itself.

While the unexpected weather disrupted some travel plans – particularly from pro-life supporters coming from east coast cities such as Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, the foul weather did not keep the hundreds of thousands of participants in the March for Life indoors.

While no official attendance count has yet been released, in the past several years between 350,000 and 650,000 people have participated in the March for Life.

Pre-march events such as the National Prayer Vigil for Life and the Youth Rally and Mass for Life reported similar attendance to previous years' participation.

Olive reflected that the March for Life is "a spiritual awakening for our youth" traveling from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"A third of our generation since 1973 is missing. It's very sad for all of us: 56 million citizens gone."  

He said he would pray for those who support abortion "so that they know what's going on" and know "that's not right."

Sofia Quiñones, 17, from St. Augustine, Fla., who experienced her first snowfall the day before the March for Life, said that while the weather was cold, it was exciting and "feels like a movie."

“The whole meaning of this gathering for this purpose is so meaningful for me,” she said, because "it's a life."

"A person's a person, no matter how small."

Shaya Oliver, also 17 and from St. Augustine, explained that the group travelled “about 12 hours" to attend the March for Life.

She said participating in the March was exciting because  "I've never been a part of a group that big all fighting for the same thing," and she was eager to give witness to other teenagers about “the negative things” that happen to women and society after abortion.

Though Monica Rivera, 19, only had to travel from her dormitory at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., the cold weather and travel concerns still affected the Miami, Fla. native.

"This is the coldest I've ever been," she said, adding that her plans with her brother, a seminarian traveling with the Archdiocese of Miami, had also been changed.

 "Their flight was canceled because of the snow," she explained.  "They're flying straight in and marching."

Rivera stressed that while she was marching to "defend those who don't have a voice," it is important that "while we do this, we pray."

"That's the most important part."

Not all travelers to the March for Life found the weather uncomfortable.  Arshad Williams, 17, from Chicago, said that the winter storm felt warm compared to the those he had been experiencing at home.

Williams did not travel for the relatively warmer weather, however, but to "support the cause" and reach out to other young people.

"A lot of abortions are happening among young people," he said, emphasizing that it's important for him to tell other youth "what you know to dissuade them from abortion."

Megan Fisher, also of Chicago, said she wanted to make the 700-mile bus ride for some of those who are closest to her.

"I wanted to come to save the babies, especially all the disabled ones."

"My younger brother is multiply handicapped, and most people abort them," Fisher explained.

Instead of being a burden or someone to discard, she continued, people with disabilities should be loved. "He's such a blessing."

Andrew Chorich, 15, a freshman at Mt. Carmel High School in Highland, Ind.,  said he came to his first March for Life in order to "experience what it is like" and to "support the Catholic Church" and its defense of life.

“Every day there's three thousand kids being murdered.”

“There's no justice in such a situation."

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December 20, 2014

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Mt 21:23-27

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First Reading:: Judg 13: 2-7, 24-25A
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Mt 21:23-27

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