Rome, Italy, Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Ashley Crouch is the PR manager and contributing editor of a new women's fashion magazine with a much talked about policy: no digital alterations to models' real appearances allowed.
“Whereas other magazines Photoshop to achieve the 'ideal' body type or leave a maximum of three wrinkles, we never alter the body or face structure of our models with Photoshop,” reads the description on Verily magazine's website.
“We firmly believe that the unique features of women – be it crows feet, freckles, or a less-than-rock-hard body – contribute to their beauty and therefore don’t need to be removed or changed.”
In the physical perfection-crazed world of fashion, Crouch and her colleagues at Verily are committed to bringing women a newer, more uplifting notion of beauty.
Interested to find out more about their innovative endeavor and its guiding vision, I spoke with Crouch about her work.
Q: How did Verily begin, and why did you adopt a no Photoshop policy?
A: Largely it grew out of a conversation between women over brunch. There were a bunch of women, all from various backgrounds and business sectors...all of the women there felt that the current landscape of women’s magazines just really didn’t resonate with them and the trajectory of their lives.
There is a huge cult of cosmetic perfection, especially within the fashion industry. Largely what we were trying to do was to counteract that by really showing and not telling what it is to be authentically beautiful.
You read a fashion magazine when you want to give yourself a gift: when you’re flying in the airplane and you have downtime and you want to just pamper yourself. Then, all of a sudden you’re reading content that calls into question whether you’re actually living a life that is worthwhile. All the standards that are proposed about how to be successful or how to look actually can perpetuate a sense of shame or guilt and not being enough.
The media shapes that whole perspective about what is acceptable, and especially amongst young girls who are informed in many ways about what that looks like. In 1971, the average individual saw 500 ads per day, but now the average individual is exposed to 5000 ads per day, and those images are largely hyper sexualized or super skinny. So what we wanted to do was push back against that standard and offer a more holistic vision for women to – this is what we say Verily does – “celebrate the best of who we already are.”
Instead of perpetuating this culture of fear, which is the natural result of such a narrow standard – 75 percent of young women feel worse about themselves after just 3 minutes of reading a typical fashion magazine – we want to broaden that standard, and really give women permission to celebrate their authentic beauty. We wanted to challenge this sort of frame that we’re put in by the media, to help untwist what it is that actually is beautiful, to show a more radiant, integrated, holistic view of women.
And, just from a personal perspective, I believe that women have an enormous and profound power and really a duty to bring beauty into the world, and to showcase beauty for the world, in a very personal way.
Q: Could you explain a little more about what you mean by women having power in beauty?
Working within the fashion industry, and even living in Manhattan, everything about the script that I’m given about how I’m supposed to look becomes so narrow – but it also is effective. We’re told that if we look a certain way…beauty becomes a ticket to getting into the posh bar or club; getting in the front of the line; getting a free latte at the local coffee shop – the ways that we look open doors, and especially within the fashion industry. This is the ticket to power, right? We’re in some ways told to not only celebrate our beauty but to use it as a power for something else, use it as a tool for something else – usually to achieve success.
Q: What do you think the effect of this attitude is?
If we are getting into this mindset of drawing upon our own beauty – I mean physical beauty, external appearance – for the sake of something else, then that sets all of us up as competitors. Rather than just accepting our own beauty, we become competitors with each other, and everyone else who looks better, who has thinner thighs or flatter abs, is seen as a threat to our own achievement of power, and so there’s a huge landscape of competition there.
Q: What do you think is a better way to understand the power of beauty?
One thing that I’ve learned so much since working in the fashion industry is that beauty resonates deeply within the human heart. It is beauty which inspires us, which inspires all within us, which draws us to want to be better, or to look a certain way, or to act a certain way – beauty really shapes the way that we understand ourselves and our identity and the way we’re supposed to not only look but also act.
Q: Verily is not a faith-based magazine, but you yourself are Catholic. How does this affect your work in the fashion industry?
It can be very easy to want to just ignore or push aside people who are working within the industry. There’s a great skepticism, I think, from very well meaning people who are seeking after modesty, and seeking after holiness, to say that the desire to be beautiful is vain and shallow and the desire to be fashionable is one of these sorts of shallow desires that we should ignore unless they get out of control, and to focus on deeper, more respectable topics. (The attitude is,) “we don’t have time – the world is going through too many things right now to focus on this.”
But I believe it was Pope Benedict who said, “artists are the custodians of beauty.” If we think of fashion, the fashion industry, media – if we think of all of these as art forms, and as giving us the opportunity to tell stories, and to cast a vision about what life could look like, then all of a sudden we’re given the green light to dive in.
I’m thinking of people I work with, even within the industry: models that I’ve worked with on photoshoots, spent the whole afternoon with them, feeding them, laughing, joking – but then at the end for one of them to say to me, “that was such a fun shoot. We don’t usually get to smile on our shoots.” This affects them as well! We are showing them a great service as well, in honoring their own physical beauty, but also letting them be joyful, letting them be radiant.
At fashion week I was watching one of the shows (in which) one of the models was so skinny that she was trembling. I remember going up and standing right in front of her and just smiling at her, and as soon as she made eye contact with me, her whole face lit up. It was as if at once she was being seen as a whole person, and not just as a clothes rack.
That was such a small instance, but it was so powerful for me that so many models and so many young girls go into this industry because they want to be seen. But if we really can see them, and showcase them, and celebrate the beauty and really the art, and communicate the powerful message about what life could look like, then we’re on the path to really humanizing society in this industry.
It’s very easy for people within the Catholic realm to want to herald goodness, truth, and beauty, but beauty is seen like the unfortunate sister. Goodness and truth are the primary goals: we need to be talking about goodness and truth all the time. But beauty is a third way, it’s a very powerful way, and I think it’s going to be one of the most powerful ways of approaching the culture and of making the faith attractive to people.
Rather than approaching (the fashion industry) with skepticism or desiring to bracket it all, to march forward boldly and to be a storyteller using this medium that people can understand, that’s what the new evangelization all about. If we can think of innovative ways to show beauty in all these different areas – digital, print, traditional media – (if we can) be storytellers using beauty, then I think we have a bright future.
Q: Are there other initiatives going on that are showcasing this message and positive vision of women and beauty? Is this becoming a trend?
We see quotes from supermodels like Kylie Bisutti, for example, who was featured last year on ABC News. She was working as an angel for Victoria’s Secret but decided to quit the industry, and she said that so many people think beauty is about physical appearance, but really it’s a heart issue. Another supermodel, Cameron Russell, said that models have the flattest abs and the skinniest thighs, but really they are some of the most insecure women, probably in the world.
There are small voices coming out as a kind of clarion call that we need to be reintegrating the heart in with beauty itself. But really, it’s easy to buy into it, and what we need to do is step back a little bit and think about what is authentic beauty and how can we be bringing that to the world.
I’m excited about the role that Verily has played in the cultural conversation by means of the no Photoshop policy, because that speaks to these principles in a language that popular culture can understand. All women everywhere can be grateful that they’re not going to have their imperfections Photoshopped away. That gives them permission to be who they naturally are.
After we had a lot of media coverage from the no Photoshop policy, there were a lot of other brands that began implementing these sorts of things. Recently, American Eagle, the popular brand that largely targets high school teen girls, launched an entire spring campaign called “Aerie Real” in which they don’t Photoshop any of their models and they don’t reduce their weight or their size, so everything you see is natural and unaltered. I think that’s an enormous step in the right direction for these teenage girls who are taking their cues from media. Philosopher Edith Stein says we’re searching for guideposts to understand ourselves and our place in the world, and media plays a huge role in that, especially for high school and teen girls, so I think that’s one initiative that is a huge positive step in the right direction.
There are also certain fashion brands, too, that are slowly stepping in this direction. There’s a huge trend toward vintage clothing, which is largely more modest than hyper-trendy clothes. Companies like Modcloth and Shabby Apple have a bent toward the vintage, but they also, in all of their imagery and photography, really uphold the dignity of women and step away from the hyper-sexualized standard that’s commonly proposed as beautiful. Even last year, the New York Times did a piece on why modesty is becoming “in vogue.”
A lot of these principles are relevant to consumerism. You put your money where your mouth is. If the buyer wants a certain standard, then the manufacturers and distributors have to follow suit. It’s actually very empowering for us as women to feel like we actually have a voice, whether that’s through our blogs, or the companies that we shop at, or the types of clothing that we buy, the media that we consume. So hopefully by continuing in that path we’ll continue to see progress as a trend. I think it will happen.
Kerri Lenartowick currently lives in Rome where she is pursuing her doctorate in Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University and working as a journalist for Catholic News Agency/EWTN News. She obtained her S.T.L. and S.T.B. degrees from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit MI, and her M.A. and B.A. in Theology from Ave Maria University and the University of Dallas, respectively. Over the years, she has worked for various aspects of the pro-life movement and spoken to women’s groups across the country.
Seoul, South Korea, Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As North and South Korea prepare for reunions for some families separated by the 1953 partition of the peninsula, the Church in Korea remains concerned for the countries’ reunification.
Family reunions are scheduled to take place Feb. 20-25, though North Korea has threatened to cancel the event. Such reunions would be the first since 2010.
Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul is known for his dedication to reconciliation between North and South Korea, and the South Korean bishops’ conference held a month of prayer for the reconciliation and unity of the Korean people last year.
The reunion will be held at Mount Kumgang, a resort in North Korea.
The Koreas held a meeting Feb. 5 during which the reunions were agreed upon.
"We hope that the latest agreement will be smoothly carried out to ease the suffering and pain of separated families," the Korean Ministry of Unification stated.
Several thousand Koreans were displaced and separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, and since then many across the armistice line have lost contact with each other.
An estimated 72,000 South Koreans are on a waiting list for a chance to participate in such family reunions, and at each reunion a few hundred are able to take part.
Last year, Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon of Uijongbu led the Korean bishops’ prayers for reconciliation.
Mass, prayers, a symposium, and a peace march were organized, aiming to reignite passion for unity and to help the faithful become “apostles of peace.”
Other aims were true peace rather than a mere cease-fire, and preparation for the evangelization of North Korea.
A prayer chain ran throughout South Korea last June, beginning in Seoul and ending in Wonju. The prayer chain sought Mary’s intercession for peace between the Koreas.
The Korean nations have existed in tension since the 1953 agreement that divided the peninsula into two. Direct exchanges, meetings, and communications across the armistice line are normally prohibited.
Denver, Colo., Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
According to a local bishop, numerous conversions of Muslims to Christianity occur every year in Lebanon but the true number is unknown because of the risk of social stigma and persecution.
“Most of them try to go outside from Lebanon, to Europe or America or Canada or Australia to live there, because it’s not possible to be converted and to stay here,” a Catholic bishop in Lebanon told CNA in a Feb. 10 phone interview.
“It’s very, very hard to know how many are baptized, because everything will be a secret.”
Given the delicacy of conversion in Lebanon – a Middle Eastern country with a slight Muslim majority – the bishop spoke on condition of anonymity. While the region is lauded for its comparative plurality as Muslims generally coexist well with the Christian population, some hostility can be present toward those who convert from Islam.
“I have heard many stories about the conversion of Muslims,” he said, in both the Maronite and Melkite communities – the two largest Catholic groups in the country.
The bishop cited one Melkite priest who baptized 75 Muslims last year. “Most of them left Muslim areas to stay in the Christian area,” he said, and many are trying to emigrate.
One young woman from Baalbek was converted, he recounted, and her family “accused the priest of having used sorcery to make her convert to Christianity.”
“The priest was then abducted and kidnapped by the family. A deal was done after that between the diocese and the tribe of the family, that the family would bring the daughter back home, without torturing her.”
Her family has since converted as well, he explained, “but in a secret way.”
If converts from Islam are not able to leave Lebanon, he said, they often move to areas of Lebanon with larger concentrations of Christians: “other people left the Beqaa valley to stay in Beirut, or in Jounieh, in the Christian country.”
Those converting to Christianity in Lebanon are by and large Lebanese themselves, the bishop explained, saying, “I know only one Syrian.”
This Syrian convert is from Aleppo, and was in Beirut studying sharia to become a sheikh.
The man “was baptized in Lebanon and now he’s married, but he cannot register his marriage in Syria. He’s in big trouble now because he cannot go to Syria, and he cannot register his marriage in Lebanon either. We are trying now to see if he can go outside of Lebanon, to Europe or somewhere else, to live there with his family.”
Lebanon, according to the U.S. state department, has no procedures for civil marriage; all marriages performed there are performed by religious officials.
“Everything is a secret,” the bishop said. “It’s not easy to speak publicly about … conversion to Christianity.”
Lebanon, where it is not easy to speak publicly about Christian conversion, “is better than other Arabic countries.”
“But we still have a problem,” he said.
The Lebanese constitution provides for freedom of religion, and members of parliament and cabinet officials are all apportioned among Muslims and Christians.
National identity cards generally include the bearer’s religion, though this is not required by law.
“It’s easy for a convert to register with the state as a Christian,” the bishop said. “In other countries it’s not possible. I know for example in Egypt there are many conversions, but they still are registered as a Muslim, not Christian.”
Even though the Lebanese government provides for religious freedom, societal discrimination against converts is widespread. The bishop reported that families of converts often “never accept” their relative’s Christian faith, and the convert “is persecuted by his family and his tribe, by his village.”
While the country has long been able to live in the tension between its religious groups – an estimated 54 percent Muslim, 41 percent Christian – the large influx of Syrian refugees in the wake of the neighboring country’s civil war has strained the status quo.
The Lebanese government estimates that more than 1 million Syrian refugees are living in the country. In 2011, at the start of Syria’s civil war, Lebanon’s population was estimated at a little over 4 million.
Now that nearly 20 percent of Lebanese residents are Syrian refugees, interreligious relations are stressed. On Feb. 3, a suicide bomber wounded several in a district of Beirut largely home to Christians and Druze.
The bishop said that his diocese is assisting both Christian and Muslim refugees.
“When we receive Muslims, we help them without trying to convert them, because when we give material help, we don’t like to play this game.”
Vatican City, Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During his general audience, Pope Francis reflected on how we live the Eucharist in our daily lives, explaining that it helps us to truly encounter others as a community, and opens us to God’s mercy.
“In the Mass we encounter many people, but do we really see them as brothers and sisters? Does the Eucharist lead us to reach out to the poor, to the sick, to the marginalized, seeing the face of Jesus in them?” the Pope asked during his Feb. 12 general audience.
Speaking to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, the pontiff continued his reflections on the Sacraments of Initiation, stating that he now wished to explore “how we live the Eucharist in our daily lives, as a Church and individual Christians.”
“There are some specific indicators that help us in this sense,” he explained, noting that “the first is the way of relating with others.”
“In his life, Christ manifested his love by being with people,” and he “liked to be with the people, sharing their longings, problems and worries,” highlighted the Pope, emphasizing that “so too the Eucharist brings us together with others – young and old, poor and affluent, neighbors and visitors.”
Because of this, “the Eucharist calls us to see all of them as our brothers and sisters, and to see in them the face of Christ.”
Secondly, the pontiff expressed that we are able to live the Eucharist in our daily lives because “we experience the forgiveness of God and the call to forgive,” explaining that “whoever celebrates the Eucharist does not do so because he is better than the others, but because he recognizes his need for God's mercy.”
“We celebrate the Eucharist not because we are worthy, but because we recognize our need for God’s mercy, incarnate in Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis then went on to explain how this sacrament renews for us “the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ for the remission of sins,” and that our hearts are then “enlarged to receive and show mercy.”
Finally, he said, “in the Eucharistic celebration, we are nourished as the Christian community by Christ’s Word and Life,” stressing that there is “coherence between the liturgy and the life of our communities.”
“The Eucharist is not a mere memory of some sayings and actions of Jesus,” explained the Pope, but rather “it is the word and gift of Christ's presence here that comes to us and nourishes us with his Word and his life.”
“It is from the Eucharist that the Church receives continually her identity and mission,” continued the pontiff, adding that through our celebration of the sacrament “Christ fills us with his grace, so that our lives may be consonant with our worship of God in the Liturgy.”
“Let us live the Eucharist in a spirit of faith and prayer, with the certainty that the Lord will bring to fulfillment all that he has promised,” the Pope prayed as he concluded his address.
He then extended his personal greetings to the thousands of pilgrims present from various countries all over the world, including those from England, Denmark, Hong Kong, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States.
“I invite all to live the Eucharist with the spirit of faith and prayer,” he said, “knowing that whoever eats the Body of Christ and drinks his Blood will have eternal life.”
Vatican City, Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Andrea Gagliarducci has co-authored a new book recalling the period of Lent between Benedict XVI’s resignation and Pope Francis’ election, stating that there is strong coherence between the two pontiffs.
“My book is different because it is a chronicle. The facts are more important than opinions. Obviously, that is our point of view,” Gagliarducci told CNA in a Feb. 10 interview, “we just see a sort of continuity between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.”
Andrea Gagliarducci is a Vatican analyst for CNA, and contributor for a blog on Italian news agency “Korazym,” and has published his new book, “The Lent of the Church,” along with co-author Marco Mancini.
Speaking of his book's unique perspective, Gagliarducci explained that “we describe it by describing what Pope Benedict said, what he said before and by describing what Pope Francis told after. We tried to find out what Francis quoted from Benedict XVI without quoting him.”
“This is why it is different because we are talking so much about this break” in time “between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI,” he noted, describing that if one looks “at the facts,” this break between pontiffs can be based solely “on the informality of Pope Francis” through the way he interacts with people.
However, Gagliarducci highlighted that “there is not a break in the history of the Church” and there is “not a break in the Church’s doctrine.”
“If we just look at the facts we know that Pope Francis speaks a lot about the Devil, he speaks a lot about the hierarchical Church, he speaks a lot about the love for the Church,” the analyst stated, emphasizing that “Pope Benedict did exactly the same” things.
Korazym editor Angela Ambrogetti spoke with CNA about the book in a Feb. 10 interview, explaining that it offers “a new perspective of how to exercise the Petrine ministry.”
Doctrinally speaking, “nothing new has happened yet because we know Pope Francis often encounters Benedict,” she explained, recalling how Pope Francis referred to the retired pontiff as a “wise grandfather.”
For Pope Francis, “this is something very important,” as Benedict “is a point of reference for him,” Ambrogetti observed, highlighting that “one year later, one can say that coexistence has been fully successful.”
“Neither of the two hinders the other. And there is probably a lot of will on both parts to work together,” she stated.
Veteran Vatican analyst Gian Svidercoschi also spoke with CNA on Feb. 10, revealing this book in particular “has impacted me” because it stands out as one of the only recent books “that does not mark a new historical beginning of the Church with Francis.”
“First there was the period ‘before and after Christ’ and now there seems to be ‘before and after Francis’ as if everything would have begun with Francis,” he explained, noting that despite his lack of enthusiasm for this attitude, “I am a fan of Francis,” and “I was waiting for a Pope like Francis.”
“The Lent of the Church” was published in Italy in December and is only available in Italian.
Estefania Augirre contributed to this piece.
Rome, Italy, Feb 12, 2014 (CNA) -
In a recent interview, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger said his brother, retired Pope Benedict XVI, believes he made the right decision in stepping down from the papacy last year due to a lack of physical strength.
“My brother does not regret at all the decision he made one year ago,” Msgr. Ratzinger said in the book-interview, “My Brother, The Pope,” by German reporter Michael Hesemann.
“He very clearly understands the tasks and roles he wants to carry out, and the decision one year ago was clear and continues to be valid today.”
At 90 years old, Msgr. Ratzinger, who is an expert in sacred music and was granted the title Apostolic Pronotary by Pope John Paul II, lives quietly at his residence in Ratisbona.
Recalling the day the cardinals elected his brother in the conclave of 2005, he said then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was “very devastated” to think that he would no longer have time to develop the theological studies he was so passionate about and that led him to be prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Nine years after his election, Benedict XVI finds time in his still busy schedule for study and music, two of his greatest passions.
“My brother is in great health, he tries to have quiet time although he does not have all the time he would like to play the piano or receive phone calls, since he still has many visits and audiences,” Msgr. Ratzinger said.
He added that his brother continues to study theology but could not confirm whether the former pontiff is writing his memoirs.
The two have always maintained a close relationship, he continued. The brothers grew up together, went to seminary together and were ordained together. They also continue their tradition of spending a few days together every spring at Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome.
“I have a second telephone in my room that has a number only he knows,” Msgr. Ratzinger said. “If that phone rings, I know it’s my brother, the Pope, who is calling.”
Vatican City, Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A new partnership between the Good Samaritan Foundation and Gilead Sciences will provide free HIV and AIDS testing in the diocese of Shinyanga, Tanzania as well as those who test positive.
“'The Test and Treat Project' is indeed an important result of the work engaged in by the Good Samaritan Foundation and by our Pontifical Council,” Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski said in a Feb. 11 press release announcing the initiative.
It fulfills “the mission of the Church…which Jesus himself gave as a mandate: Euntes docete et curate infirmos,” or “'go, teach and heal the sick,'” he said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski is the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, which oversees the Samaritan Foundation, an organization dedicated to training nurses on proper healthcare.
With their agreement with Gilead Sciences – a California research-based biopharmaceutical company seeking to discover, develop and commercialize innovative medicines in areas of unmet medical need – access to free testing for HIV, and if necessary to antiretroviral therapies for about 120,000 residents of the District of Shinyanga (Mwanza, Tanzania), will now be available.
Called “Test & Treat,” the five-year project was presented yesterday to coincide with the 22nd World Day of the Sick, and in addition to the medical aspects, both the moral and hygienic training of the people will be included, as well as support for the “weakest,” beginning with orphans.
Following a specific plan of action, the project includes four specific steps, the first being to offer support to those who are already working to treat the HIV virus in Shinyanga.
After this support is given, they plan to develop specialist training programs for the social and health-care personnel involved, organize educational programs the communities for the district, and strengthen initiatives that involve help “at the level of alimentation for HIV-positive children.”
“On the basis of the statistics relating to the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the north of Tanzania, it is estimated that about 20,000 people of those who will have free clinical analyses…will, unfortunately, be HIV-positive,” Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski explained.
“However, they will immediately be able to have access, again without any charge, to the antiretroviral drugs that they need.”
Explaining the process of treatment for those who test positive for the virus, Archbishop Zimowski noted that first they will be made “aware of their condition,” and assured of “a life expectancy of another thirty years or more.”
It will also “enable expectant women to avoid the transmission of the virus to their unborn children,” he noted.
Gregg Alton, Gilead’s executive vice president of Corporate and Medical Affairs, observed in the press release that in the future, this initiative could become “a point of reference for all future programs for the diagnosis and treatment of the virus and its correlated illnesses in economically disadvantaged countries.”
“We are very happy to be able to work with the Good Samaritan Foundation,” Alton expressed, “because we know about its pioneering courage in providing care and treatment to the victims of HIV/AIDS.”
Washington D.C., Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Experts testifying before U.S. lawmakers warned that many Christians around the world are facing serious persecution that often goes unreported and undeterred.
“Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet,” said Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See Mission at the United Nations.
Religious disputes, prejudices against minorities, and political conflicts heighten the persecution, he said, leaving Christians “caught in the crossfire and they are becoming the most vulnerable group.”
Archbishop Chullikatt spoke at a Feb. 11 congressional subcommittee hearing on the global persecution of Christians.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of congressional panel that oversees international human rights issues, emphasized that the hearing’s focus “on anti-Christian persecution is not meant to minimize the suffering of other religious minorities who are imprisoned or killed for their beliefs.”
Rather, he said, the event was intended to highlight that Christians “remain the most persecuted religious group the world over,” even amid the persecution faced by adherents to other faiths.
Archbishop Chullikatt explained that religious freedom “is rooted in the dignity of the person.” It is the most basic human right and freedom “by which other rights necessarily follow, and must always be protected, defended and promoted.”
However, religious liberty is often overlooked by governments and societies around the globe, “even in the great democracies of the world,” he said.
Christians in the Middle East, he continued, face particularly challenging situations, finding themselves “the target of constant harassment for no reason other than their religious faith.”
“This tragedy is all the more egregious,” the archbishop said, given that these Christians are full citizens of their countries, such as Egypt, “in which they have been living at peace with their neighbors and fellow citizens for untold generations.”
Elliott Abrams, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, warned that religious liberty “serves as the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” as it “often is the first right taken away,” warning “that denial of other liberties almost surely will follow.”
Examining the plight of Christians in oppressive regimes and societies, Abrams noted that persecution is carried out through both official government policies and the actions of private individuals and groups. Examples of oppression across the globe include violent attacks on churches and pressure to abandon the Christian faith, as well as trafficking, murder and rape based upon religious views of the victim.
The commissioner said the U.S. should bolster its support of religious freedom by appointing a new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. The ambassador position has been vacant since October 2013, when Suzan Johnson Cook, who had held the position since 2011, resigned in order to return to work in the private sector.
In addition to filling the ambassador role, Abrams continued, the U.S. should consider its overall importance. The ambassador position was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which made protection of global religious liberty a key tenet of America’s foreign policy.
However, the commissioner said, pointing to a report by the Government Accountability Office, “the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor dramatically reduced the rank of the Ambassador-at-Large.”
“This reduction in rank constitutes a major change in the structure [the International Religious Freedom Act] established and a thwarting of congressional intent.”
He also encouraged the United States to be clear in advancing religious freedom in national foreign policy and business ventures.
“There are many way of sending a message,” Abrams explained, encouraging diplomats to discuss human rights issues at the outset of international meetings.
He also warned against engaging in business with countries that are strong violators of religious freedom without strong pressures to call for change.
Business alone, Abrams said, “has had no positive impact” in improving religious freedom conditions. “What has worked,” he continued, “is pressure.”
“It’s up to the U.S. Government to keep the pressure on.”
John Allen Jr., associate editor at the Boston Globe and author of the recent book “The Global War on Christians,” also testified, saying that Western countries “have a problem of narrative” in addressing the persecution of Christians around the world.
In Western countries such as the United States, people tend to think of Christianity as an “all-powerful” institution, Allen said. People often associate the religion either with “an affluent American male pulling up to church” in a fancy car or with “chapters of history in which Christianity is cast as the villain,” such as religious wars or the Salem Witch Trials.
But in reality, he said, a majority of the world’s estimated 2.3 billion Christians are poor and suffering.
The Vatican analyst observes in his recent book that throughout the first decade of the 21st century, 100,000 Christians were killed per year – 11 new martyrs every hour – and secular human rights groups estimate that 80 percent of religious freedom violations are current directed against Christians.
“These Christians often carry a double or triple stigma, representing not only a faith that arouses suspicion but also an oppressed ethnic group or social class,” treated as “targets of convenience” for people who are angry at Western foreign policies, he explained at the hearing.
This widespread persecution and treatment of Christian communities as a scapegoat “ought to concern everyone” of all faiths, Allen stated, because it is “a menace to human rights.”
Lansing, Mich., Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A leader with a Michigan-based street evangelization group says that anyone can evangelize simply by fearlessly sharing the truth about Jesus with those they encounter.
“We believe that street evangelization is the easiest method of evangelization,” Adam Janke, program director with the St. Paul Street Evangelization, told CNA Feb. 10.
“We find that our street evangelists become practiced and better at evangelizing in everyday life, through street evangelization.”
Spreading the gospel on the streets makes it easier for people to do the same with their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, Janke continued. He said street evangelization can help overcome feelings of awkwardness or fears of being “annoying” in talking with others about the Catholic faith.
“We want it to be a natural process where we’re sharing what we have found in our own hearts, this hope in Jesus Christ, for his salvation to liberate us from sin and death.”
Steve Dawson, St. Paul Street Evangelization’s current national director, founded the organization in May 2012.
Dawson, a convert to the Catholic faith, followed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s example of giving out miraculous medals.
“He started doing that,” Janke said. “He’d give out a miraculous medal to his waitress in a restaurant. People responded positively. So he decided to go to the boardwalk in Portland, Ore. and start handing out rosaries and miraculous medals.”
Janke said that first effort was “very successful.” People started returning to the faith. Dawson prayed with people and talked about their faith.
When Dawson posted news about his effort on Facebook, other Catholics “saw how easy it was to share your faith through street organization,” reported Janke.
St. Paul Street Evangelization has grown to more than 100 different teams in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Denmark and the U.K. The teams are usually “loosely organized,” sometimes through a parish or through a Catholic who is “on fire for their faith.”
Team members agree to a code of conduct and are supplied with free materials from the national organization.
“We ask our teams not to be manipulative. We ask our teams to go out there and be really truly authentic and share the love and message of Christ,” Janke said.
“They’ll go out and they’ll be evangelizing in a very non-confrontational way, allowing the Holy Spirit really to move in the heart of those who are witnessing our public Catholic presence,” he continued.
U.S. teams will go to a public space where they have First Amendment rights or to parish festivals. They display a sandwich board that reads “Catholic Truth” and give away free materials like brochures and rosaries or information about local Mass times, RCIA and evangelization programs.
The team will pray together publicly for the Holy Spirit’s guidance “to bless those they’ll have contact with that day,” Janke explained. They ask passersby if they would like a rosary. They respond kindly to those who decline, telling them to “have a nice day.”
Evangelizers will offer further material to those who accept a rosary or show further interest, asking questions like whether they are Catholic or have considered becoming Catholic.
The team asks interested Catholics whether they currently go to Mass and what parish they attend, talking about the importance of Mass, the Sacraments and learning about the faith.
“If they’re not a Catholic, we’ll ask if they’ve ever considered the Catholic faith before,” Janke said. “It’s a very, very effective method of evangelization.”
He said that the organization’s Las Vegas team has had over 450 people “respond positively” in the last 12 months. Some expressed gratitude to have met the team, while others said they would go back to Church or look into the Catholic faith.
At one recent training session, teens were taken out on the streets to evangelize.
“At the end of the day they had this long list of prayer requests that people had given them. Six people said that they would come back to Church as a result of them reaching out,” Janke said. “That’s just one team on one day, just a group of teens going out for an hour, telling other people about their faith.”
In addition to their spiritual work, other evangelization teams have helped save lives.
“We’ve been able to intervene with people considering suicide. They know that they can trust us,” Janke said.
Teams have also helped people considering having abortions, giving them “hope and encouragement.”
“It’s really a very simple method of offering a rosary or a CD or a brochure and being available to listen and say ‘we care about you, that’s why we’re here’,” Janke added.
He cited Bl. John Paul II’s “Redemptoris Missio,” saying that the document calls the Church to focus “all its efforts on the new evangelization.”
Janke also noted the need for those who evangelize to first be evangelized, adding that street evangelists should begin conversations by finding common ground.
Moreover, he stressed the importance of action.
“Our culture is dying and our world is wounded,” he said. “Pope Francis has said go out and heal wounds.”
Janke himself entered the Church from a “fundamentalist anti-Catholic background” 10 years ago.
“Somebody reached out to me and talked to me about the Church,” he said.
He now works as director of religious education and in youth ministry at a Lansing-area parish.
St. Paul Street Evangelization offers online training and other resources. Its episcopal advisors are Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit and Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing.
Washington D.C., Feb 12, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic patriarch has said that if the U.S. and Europe abandon Ukraine during its intense political conflict, “humanity may well be on the verge of a new Cold War.”
Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church told the Voice of America program Chas Time Feb. 10 that the conflict will affect every American “sooner or later.”
“It is about the future of democracy in Europe,” he said.
He said the U.S. and Ukraine need to prepare a “proactive policy.” Referring to Russia, he warned of the danger of “aggression, violence and interference from our northern neighbor.”
The Ukraine protests first began after the government’s Nov. 21 announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union, in favor of a $15 billion bailout agreement with Russia. Since then, protesters have at times occupied government buildings in Kiev. The largest protests have filled the capital’s Independence Square with more than 100,000 people.
Some protesters have reportedly been beaten by police, while some young men have thrown fireworks and petrol bombs at police. Several protesters have been reported killed in the clashes, while hundreds have been injured. Several police have also been allegedly killed.
The conflict has become an international flashpoint, more than 20 years after the collapse of the communist Soviet Union ended the longstanding tensions with the U.S. and Western Europe known as the Cold War and gave independence to Ukraine and several other former Soviet republics.
Patriarch Sviatoslav has warned of a possible “Cold War” several times, including in his interview with The Blaze after the Feb. 6 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
He told The Blaze that the Ukrainian people’s primary concern is the possibility of “some sort of restoration of the former Soviet Union.”
The patriarch noted that international agreements were intended to protect Ukraine, including a 1994 trilateral agreement. The U.S. gave security assurances to Ukraine after it transferred all its nuclear weapons to Russia for elimination.
He said the U.S. acted “to guarantee the integrity of our territory and our independence.”
“It is why we do expect the United States will fulfill its duty to help us remain a free and independent country,” Patriarch Sviatoslav said.
The patriarch added that an independent, free Ukraine can “guarantee democracy not only in our country” but can help spread those values to all of Eastern Europe’s post-Soviet countries.
He characterized the protests as “the revolution of dignity.”
Many of the iconic images of the protests show priests settled between the protesters and riot police.
The patriarch said the priests have prayed for both sides.
“God is supposed to be with those who are persecuted, who are beaten, who are left without consideration,” he told The Blaze.
“It is why from the very beginning our priests were with our people in the middle of that square,” he said, adding that the priests’ presence have kept the protests peaceful “in many cases.”
He noted that Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim clergy also played a role in keeping the protests peaceful.
He said their feeling is that Ukrainians are “willing to solve this problem in a peaceful way.”
“We realize that the dignity of a person and personal liberties don’t come from a constitution, a state law, a ruler, but from God,” the patriarch said. “God created us in his own image and likeness as free men and free women. So we are expecting that United States will support freedom and democracy in Ukraine.”
The protests in part reflect divisions within the country.
Ukrainians in the Kiev area and in western Ukraine tend to favor the European Union, while those in the Russian-speaking east tend to have an affinity for Russia. However, protests have begun to spread to the east, where President Viktor Yanukovych’s strongest support is based.
The opposition movement has the backing of key Western powers and is advocating constitutional changes they say would re-balance power away from the presidency, Reuters reports. They have turned down offers of government posts and are seeking to lead a government independent from President Yanukovych.