Archive of March 4, 2014

Cardinal Kasper's speech on divorce, remarriage, and Communion

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a two-hour address to a consistory on the family last month, Cardinal Walter Kasper discussed marriage and family life, devoting the last section to “the problem of the divorced and remarried.”

The final of the five sections has garnered much attention in the press. In that portion he asked, “is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person” when a person who has been divorced and remarried is excluded from receiving Communion, and suggests that for “the smaller segment of the divorced and remarried,” perhaps they could be admitted to “the sacrament of penance, and then of Communion.”

The president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity spoke at the extraordinary consistory on the family Feb. 20, addressing some 150 cardinals, and Pope Francis.

The Holy See press officer, Fr. Federico Lombardi, had said the address would not be released, as it was a “starting point” of discussion on marriage and the family, and not a final word.

But the full text of Cardinal Kasper’s talk was published by Italian daily Il Foglio March 1, under the title of “The Bible, eros, and family. Creation excludes absolutely the theories of gender. Man and woman are joined together and are invited to become a family unit, to social virtue, to the search for felicity.”

The address discussed the theology of marriage, and was intended to serve as the basis of a discussion on marriage and family life.

The speech was divided into sections on the family in the order of creation; the structures of sin in the life of the family; the family in the Christian order of redemption; the family as a domestic Church; and the problem of the divorced and remarried.

Cardinal Kasper began by stressing that “individualism and consumerism” put the “traditional culture of the family” in jeopardy, and therefore the number of those who “fail in realizing their project of life has dramatically increased.”

Despite this, he said, “our position today cannot be that of a liberal adaptation to the status quo, but a radical position that traces back to our origins, that is, to the Gospel.”

In the order of creation, he noted that marriage and the family have “been widely appreciated by all cultures in the history of humanity. It is defended as a community of life between a man and a woman, together with their children.”

Cardinal Kasper denied, without referring directly to them, secular ideologies on gender and sexuality, explaining that “becoming a man or a woman is not a matter of one’s personal choice, as recent opinions maintain.”

As an image of God, human love is beautiful, yet is not divine, he said. Thus there is a problem when a person “deifies” their spouse, setting expectations so high that they cannot be met; this, he said, is a reason why “many marriages fail.”

Touching on the ordering of marriage to children, Cardinal Kasper said the family has “a social and political task,” and is in fact the “fundamental model” for the state, since the family precedes it, both in time and in precedence.

Speaking on structural sin and family life, he said we cannot have “an unrealistic and romantic idea,” but we rather have to “see the tough realities and take part in the sadness, worries and tears of many families.”

At the same time, we should be “bearers of hope” more than “prophets of misfortune,” offering consolation and encouraging families to persevere through their struggles.

Cardinal Kasper then turned to the family in the Christian order of redemption, drawing upon Christ’s words calling the scribes and Pharisees to consider not the Mosaic law, which made concessions to “the hardness of your hearts,” but to God’s original plan for creation.

Marriage is an image of, and is “embraced and sustained by” the bond between God and his people, in which “the fidelity to God remains even when the fragile human bond of love is weakened, or even dies.”

“The definitive promise of a bond of fidelity of God deprives the human bond of arbitrariness, and it gives him solidity and stability.” This is the basis for the indissolubility of marriage, he said.

As a sacrament, Cardinal Kasper said, marriage “is both a healer for the consequences of sin, and a tool for sanctifying grace.” In the face of hardness of hearts, families must continue on the path of “conversion, renewal, and maturation.”

He then turned to the family as domestic Church, saying, “families need the Church, and the Church needs families to be present at the center of life … without the domestic Churches, the Church is a stranger to the concrete realm of life.”

It was only after having discussed all this that Cardinal Kasper turned to the section of his address that has generated controversy: “the problem of the divorced and remarried.”

Noting the large number of persons suffering from the effects of divorce, he said, “It is not enough to consider the problem only from the point of view and from the perspective of the Church as a sacramental institution. We need a paradigm change and we must - as the good Samaritan did - consider the situation also from the perspective of those who are suffering and asking for help.”

The issue, Cardinal Kasper said, “cannot be reduced to the question of admission to Communion,” but regards “the overall pastoral interest in marriages and families.”

Pastors’ care and concern cannot “stop after the failure of a marriage,” and they “must remain close to the divorced, and invite them to take part to the life of the Church.”

Facing those who have divorced and entered a second, civil marriage while their spouse is still alive, Cardinal Kasper said that the Church “cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Jesus. The indissolubility of sacramental marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage during the lifetime of the other partner is part of the tradition of the Church's binding faith that cannot be abandoned or undone by appealing to a superficial understanding of cheapened mercy.”

He suggested that the current situation is analogous to that of the Second Vatican Council on issues of ecumenism and religious freedom: Without violating the binding dogmatic tradition, the Council opened doors. We can ask ourselves: is it not perhaps possible that there could be further developments on the present question as well?

The answer, he said, can only be tailored to the multiplicity of situations, which “should be distinguished with care. A general solution for all cases cannot therefore exist.”

Cardinal Kasper suggested that “we cannot presuppose that that spouses” understand the conditions which make for a valid marriage, and asked if the presumption of validity “is not often a legal fiction.”

In light of this, he suggested that instead of questions of nullity being decided by a tribunal, “we sometimes ask ourselves … if other more pastoral and spiritual procedures could also be possible.”

“As an alternative, one might think that the bishop could entrust this task to a priest.”

He added, however, that it would be wrong to try and solve the problem with “a generous enlargement of the procedure of nullity,” since it would create the “dangerous impression that the Church would dishonestly concede what in fact is a divorce.”

Noting that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 wrote that those who are divorced and remarried can make an act of spiritual communion, he asked, “why, then, can (such a person) not also receive sacramental Communion?”

He claimed that in the early Church, when someone entered a new relationship even though their spouse was still alive, “after a period of penance had available … a life raft through admission to Communion.”

Suggesting a “way of conversion” involving the sacrament of confession, he asked, “is it also the path that we could follow in the present question?”

When someone who is divorced and remarried “repents of his failure in the first marriage”; if he cannot return to the first marriage; if he “cannot abandon without further harm” the responsibilities of his second marriage; if “he is doing the best he can to live out the possibilities of the second marriage on the basis of the faith and to raise his children in the faith”; and if “he has a desire for the sacraments as a source of strength in his situation,” Cardinal Kasper said, then “should we or can we deny him, after a period of time of a new orientation (metanoia), the sacrament of penance, and then of Communion?”

He clarified that this is not “a general solution,” but is “the narrow path of what is probably the smaller segment of the divorced and remarried, those sincerely interested in the sacraments.”

“Life is not just black or white; there are, in fact, many nuances.”

Cardinal Kasper emphasized the need for “discretion, spiritual discernment, sagacity, and pastoral wisdom” in these cases. “This discretion is not an easy compromise between the extremes of rigorism and laxity, but, as is every virtue, a perfection between these extremes.”

Concluding his address, he said, “We must take a positive starting point and rediscover and announce the Gospel of the family in all its beauty. Truth convinces through its beauty.”

“We need to help, with words and deeds, to ensure that persons find felicity in the family and thus can give to other families a testimony of their joy.”

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Ancient Lenten pilgrimage comes to life through new book

Rome, Italy, Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Author and scholar George Weigel says his newly-released book offers readers the opportunity experience a centuries-old Lenten practice from Rome in their households across the globe.
Weigel called his recent work “Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches,” an “invitation to people all over the world to spend Lent in Rome, at home.”

“This book is a way to make the ancient station church pilgrimage in Rome, really without coming to Rome,” he told CNA on Mar. 3.

The station church pilgrimage is a Roman tradition dating back to the fourth century. Each day during lent, the Pope would lead the faithful to a different church, often built on the site of a martyr's house. There he would celebrate mass for the Christian community.

The practice “lay fallow for almost 1,000 years. It was a part of Roman life into the beginning of the second millenium, but when the Popes moved to Avignon, the tradition of the Pope leading this pilgrimage really ended,” Weigel explained.

“While the memory of the pilgrimage remained in the Roman Missal, because every day in the pre-Vatican II missal, every day of Lent had a stational Church notation, it's only in the past 30 years that the habit, the tradition of walking to each one of these Churches each day for mass, has been revived,” he said.

Weigel describes the modern daily pilgrimage which continues for six and a half weeks each year as “an anglophone experience in Rome.”

“The North American College began to do this, (and) now you've got kids from American university campuses all over the city, diplomats, English speaking members of the Roman Curia, hundreds of these people coming to these ancient Churches.”

While staying at the North American College in Rome in the 1990s to write a biography of John Paul II, Weigel would make the daily journey for mass. In 2010, he had the idea to bring “this extraordinary way of doing Lent” to others “who don’t have the luxury of coming to Rome for extended periods of time.”

Written with art historian Elizabeth Lev, the book contains a reflection on the liturgical texts of the day, as well as a description and photos of of each of the 54 churches in Rome where mass is celebrated every day in Lent and the eight days following Easter.

Stephen Weigel, who did all the photography for the project, explained that his work involved a “balance between trying to do the pilgrimage myself and document it from the outside.”

“It was obviously something very important to everybody that was on (the pilgrimage), and so I didn’t want to get in the way or be too distracting…(but) I wanted to represent that importance to people,” Stephen said.

The father-son team participated in the entire pilgrimage in order to produce the book.

With mass each morning at 7 a.m., Stephen Weigel admitted that it “was a bit of an adjustment, getting up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, and walking to each of these places, but as you arrived and you stepped in, it woke you up.”

“It’s more effective than coffee,” he added.

The freelance photographer noted that the book is released in both print and digital form, but the electronic version contains full-color photographs while most pictures in the print edition are in black and white.

Regardless of the version chosen, Stephen Weigel said he hopes that the book allows readers to “experience Rome without necessarily having to make the trip.”

Alan Holdren contributed to this report.

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Dangers of solitary confinement highlighted at DC event

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Former prisoners, legal advocates and United Nations officials spoke out in Washington, D.C., against the use of solitary confinement for long periods of time, as well as for juveniles, the disabled and pregnant women.

Juan Mendez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, called in a Feb. 25 press conference for “recognition of the adverse physical, mental and emotional impacts of solitary confinement,” along with “the development of procedures to safeguard against its application for excessive periods of time.”

The Washington, D.C., press conference, co-hosted by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the American Civil Liberties Union, preceded a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Participants asked that federal and state prisons be encouraged to ban the use of solitary confinement on juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill as part of a larger reassessment of the practice.

Mendez applauded states such as New York, Colorado and Mississippi, which have made various changes to reform solitary confinement policy, such as giving prisoners more time outside of cells, and passing laws to protect juveniles.

Still, he said, solitary confinement poses serious risks to prisoners, and there are many improvements to be made within the American prison system.

“The use of prolonged solitary confinement of any kind should be prohibited at all times because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment,” Mendez said, warning that any solitary confinement lasting more than 15 days is dangerous, because “many of the harmful physical and psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible.”

However, he continued, “this is not to say than any solitary confinement lasting less than 15 days is completely justified,” but instead, the matter should be considered on a “case by case” basis, weighing the prisoner's background, action, and the circumstances of the confinement process at the prison in question.

He also warned that due to the harsh conditions surrounding solitary confinement, “actual torture will go undetected and uncharged” in many cases.

Mendez called for an acknowledgement of the impact of solitary confinement, particularly on juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill, as well as those who are isolated for long periods of time.

He urged that discipline “must be proportional” to the crime of the detainee and stressed that “solitary confinement must not be imposed unless there is an affirmative determination that it will not result in severe mental or physical pain or suffering.”

Also speaking at the event was Five Mualimm-ak of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. Mualimm-ak spent five years – more than 40,000 hours – in solitary confinement in a New York state prison.

He explained that a typical solitary confinement cell is about “the size of your bathroom,” and that the “rec area” provided to prisoners for recreation is “like going into the shower.”

During his time in solitary confinement, Mualimm-ak said, he suffered permanent emotional and psychological damage, asking attendees to imagine the “sensory deprivation” that accompanies living in a small cell with little to no human touch, new sights, or sounds other than “the footsteps of people walking by.”

While in solitary confinement, he said, he was only able to speak to his children through a slit in his cell, and was not able to touch them.

“We are part of a spiritual and human crisis, and we need to make change,” Mualimm-ak stressed.

Rabbi Rachel Gartner of T’ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, delivered the closing prayer at the event. She asked that the hearings on solitary confinement may “make our nation see that the cost of solitary confinement to our conscience is way too high.”

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Pope: More martyrs exist today than in the early Church

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily Pope Francis called persecution a “reality” of Christian life, challenging faithful to take up the cross and noting that we are never given more than we can handle.

“But (people say) 'today we are better educated and these things no longer exist.' Yes they do!” the Pope said March 4.

“And I tell you that today there are more martyrs than during the early times of the Church.”

Centering his reflections on the day's Gospel taken from Mark – in which Peter asks Christ what the disciples will receive for following him – the Pope pointed out to those present in the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse the response of Jesus, who explained that their reward would be great, but not without persecution.

“It’s as if Jesus said, 'Yes, you have left everything and you will receive here on earth many things: but with persecutions!' Like a salad with the oil of persecution: always!”

This, he said, “is what the Christian gains and this is the road for the person who wants to follow Jesus, because it’s the road that He himself trod: He was persecuted!”

Drawing attention to Paul's words in his letter to the Philippians where he says that “Jesus emptied himself and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross,” the pontiff observed that the path of a Christian is “the road of humbling yourself.”

Noting how “this is the reality of Christian life,” Pope Francis continued, warning those in attendance that the Cross is always present when we follow Christ, and that although we will receive brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and a community in the Church, we will also have persecutions.

“This is because the world does not tolerate the divinity of Christ,” the Pope explained, “It doesn’t tolerate the preaching of the Gospel. It does not tolerate the Beatitudes.”

Because of this “we have persecutions: with words, with insults, the things that they said about Christians in the early centuries, the condemnations, imprisonment,” he went on to say, emphasizing that we often “easily forget” that persecution happens today.

“We think of the many Christians, 60 years ago, in the labor camps, in the camps of the Nazis, of the communists: So many of them! For being Christians!” the pontiff observed, adding that although some might believe that “these things no longer exist,” they “do,” and to a greater extent than in the early Church.

Highlighting how many of our brothers and sisters today are condemned for bearing witness to Jesus, the Pope noted how “They are condemned for having a Bible. They can’t wear a crucifix,” and that “this is the road of Jesus.”

“But it is a joyful road because our Lord never tests us beyond what we can bear,” he expressed, observing how “Christian life is not a commercial advantage, it’s not making a career: It’s simply following Jesus!”

Challenging those present, the pontiff encouraged attendees to think about whether or not “we have within us the desire to be courageous in bearing witness to Jesus.”

“Let’s spare a thought” on this, he said, explaining that “it will do us good – for the many brothers and sisters who today – today! – cannot pray together because they are persecuted: they cannot have the book of the Gospel or a Bible because they are persecuted.”

Drawing his reflections to a close, Pope Francis invited those present to think about all the people who are not able to attend Mass because it is forbidden, and encouraged them to ask themselves if they are prepared to carry the Cross of Christ and suffer persecutions, just as Jesus did.

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Portland, Ore. diocese receives new auxiliary bishop

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican announced earlier this morning that Pope Francis has appointed Monsignor Peter Leslie Smith to assist in leading the archdiocese of Portland, Ore. as their new auxiliary bishop.

Following the retirement of the diocese's previous auxiliary bishop Kenneth D. Steiner in 2011, Msgr. Smith will serve as the archdiocese's third auxiliary bishop.

The bishop-designate was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1958 and was ordained a priest in 2001, and has served in a variety of pastoral roles, including priest of St. Rose of Lima parish in Portland, as the Archdiocesan delegate for the charismatic movement, adjunct judicial vicar, local superior of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise and vice chair of the Presbyteral council.

He holds a degree in law from the University of Natal Law School, a master's in theology from the Mount Angel Seminary in Saint Benedict, Ore., a bachelor's degree in theology from the St. Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum, Rome, and a licentiate in canon law from the Catholic University of America in Washington, U.S.A.

Currently serving as vicar general and moderator of the Curia, bishop-elect Smith will assist Archbishop Alexander K. Sample in his duties running the diocese.

Portland has a current population of 1,379,000, 207,300 of whom are Catholic, with 168 priests serving in different roles in the diocese, and with 42 permanent deacons and 347 religious from various communities and congregations.

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'Son of God' movie shines at box office on opening weekend

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 4, 2014 (CNA) - “Son of God,” a new movie depicting the life of Christ according to Gospels, saw tremendous success and positive reviews when it opened in theaters at the end of February.

The movie, which opened Feb. 28, grossed $26.5 million at the box office on opening weekend, far surpassing’s prediction of $17.5 million.

Yahoo fans gave the film 4.5 stars, and on March 4, it became the No. 1 fan-rated film on Fandago.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has joined several other Catholic commentators in praising the movie, saying that it “really brings to the center of our attention” that Mary and Joseph “like all of us, struggle to really embrace the promises that God gives us.”

“The film captured that human struggle that obviously both of them had, a human struggle that we all have, of taking to heart that when God makes a promise, he’s going to keep it.”

The bishop said he was struck by several “powerful” scenes, but especially the movie’s depiction of the birth of Jesus.

“When the Magi bow down before the infant Jesus, the look of both surprise and relief in the eyes of both Mary and Joseph really confirmed the promise that they were both given, a promise that they both struggled with, that this really was a special gift, that this was the son of God,” he said in a video released by Motive Entertainment, a marketer for the movie.

“Son of God” was released by the makers of the popular History Channel television miniseries “The Bible.” The movie, based on the Gospels, covers the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado plays the role of Jesus.

Eduardo Verastegui, an executive producer of the movie, said the story of Jesus Christ is “the perfect story, the most beautiful love story of all times.” He said he believes the movie is “a spiritual experience.”

Verastegui said he was grateful for the movie’s “beautiful” depiction of the Last Supper, noting “that’s where the Eucharist was instituted for the first time.”

“It was so beautiful,” he said. “There is no words to describe so much beauty in that scene.”

Verastegui said he has gone to Communion every day for the last 12 years.

“There is nothing greater on earth than the Holy Eucharist,” he said. “I go to Mass everyday not because I am a good person, but because I am a weak person and because I need Jesus in my heart.”

Brandon Vogt, content director for Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, also voiced his appreciation for the movie.

He said the film brings Jesus Christ to life in “dazzling ways.” Its “powerful” acting helps viewers “experience the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus in new and illuminating ways.”

Vogt particularly noted the film’s depiction of the first meeting of Jesus and Peter, which begins with a focus on Jesus contemplating a rock and rubbing it in his hands.

“You can almost see the inference going through his mind,” Vogt said. “This was Peter, of whom he would later say ‘You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church’.”

He said he was particularly impressed by the scene in which Jesus waded out into the water to Peter’s boat – despite the apostle’s objections – to request his help into the vessel.

This depiction is “extremely symbolic of the spiritual life,” according to Vogt. He said that God wants to move into people’s wills and imagination but “doesn’t force himself in.”

God’s desire is “not an imposition but a proposition,” Vogt said.

Bishop Zubik said he strongly encourages people to see the film. He said it will help Christian viewers to understand Jesus both as the Son of God and as a human being, and added that the film will also touch those who are “wavering in faith” or lack faith.

“I can guarantee that once you walk away from viewing this film, not only will your heart be touched, but your soul will stir with faith and gratitude for all that God has done for us in the past and all that he continues to do for us in the present,” the bishop said.

The “Son of God” movie, which is being distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, has also drawn praise from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.


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Planned Parenthood election spending demands response, pro-lifers say

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Planned Parenthood’s intention to spend millions of dollars to support political candidates who favor legal abortion shows the need to speak out more on the issue, pro-life groups say.

“There are no winners, except those making money by selling abortions, when Big Abortion leader Planned Parenthood pours millions into America's elections,” Lila Rose, the president of the pro-life group Live Action, told Fox News Feb. 27.

The abortion provider’s political arms, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the political action committee Planned Parenthood Votes, have said they intend to spend more than $18 million on 2014 races, including the $2.4 million spent to help defeat Ken Cuccinelli, the pro-life Republican candidate for Virginia in 2013.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who supports legal abortion, credited Planned Parenthood as a “key partner” in his campaign for governor. He said the group provided “essential support” for his campaign.

The abortion provider’s monetary goals are significantly higher than in previous years. In the 2012 elections, its political spending reached $12 million, mainly through its action fund and through Planned Parenthood Votes, Politico reports. In the 2010 midterm elections, its action fund spent $4.2 million.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, told Politico that the funding announcement shows the need for action.

“We cannot afford another election cycle of crouching in a fetal position and hoping the attacks go away,” she said.

Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who has criticized the Republican Party’s failure to counter attacks related to abortion, told Politico that the party has been ignoring the issue.

She said Planned Parenthood has succeeded politically in part because Republicans do not defend their views and do not hold Democrats accountable for their opposition to popular legal limitations on abortion.

Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said her organization will “absolutely be on the offense.” She told Politico many political races will be determined “by women and women voters” and her organization will oppose “politicians who are running on a platform to repeal women’s access to health care and women’s rights.”

The action fund plans to use tactics including paid advertising on television and online, in addition to voter-contact efforts like knocking on doors and campaign mailers.

The political branches of the abortion provider plan to be active in at least 14 states. They are targeting Senate races in North Carolina, Alaska and Montana as well as governor’s races in Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas, Politico reports.

The action fund is also watching U.S. Senate races in Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire as well as the governor’s race in Wisconsin.

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Religious freedom essential for global human rights, panel says

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Experts at a recent panel talk in Washington, D.C., suggested that while religious freedom has become a respectable component of foreign policy, serious concerns remain on a global scale.

“Religion matters: for billions of people religion remains an inescapable source of identity and purpose,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos-Swett, vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, at a Feb. 26 talk.

Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, echoed Lantos-Swett's emphasis on religious liberty, stressing that it is “a foundational human right” upon which other rights are dependent.

The discussion was hosted by Dr. Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Farr began the discussion by raising the question of whether international religious freedom has become “respectable foreign policy,” noting that in the past he has criticized the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations for not “taking it seriously enough.”

Bennett answered that religious freedom is “highly respectable” as international policy, particularly in most Western countries. He pointed to Canada's launch of a religious freedom office at an Ahmadi Muslim Mosque – a traditionally persecuted group – as a demonstration of “how strong Canada's commitment to religious freedom is.”

However, he continued, there is a “worrying inverse trend of the persecution of minority communities, particularly Christians” in the Middle East and other areas of the globe. According to Pew Research Center, 75 percent of the world's population lives in countries with high levels of hostility against religion.

Bennett urged the United States, Canada, and other strong supporters of international religious freedom to “use our collective diplomatic efforts” to advance religious liberty in places where it is threatened.

The question of religious freedom, he continued, is “a question of human rights and fundamentally human dignity,” rather than simply one of theology.

“Religious freedom cannot exist on its own as a lone right: it dovetails with other rights,” complementing them rather than conflicting with them, he said.

The Canadian ambassador also warned Western countries that “we risk developing a diplomatic blind spot if we don't consider religion” as part of a broader foreign policy.

He emphasized the need for an understanding of religious freedom that includes religious action at its core, lamenting that “we've done a very good job of pushing religion or any public expression of faith firmly into the private square.”  
Lantos-Swett commented that while “yes, in some ways it has become respectable,” there are other ways in which religious freedom is still not respected in foreign policy.

On a positive note, she observed, religious liberty “has been institutionalized through laws and offices” around the globe, and some foreign policy members are becoming convinced of its indispensability on the international stage.

However, she continued, religious freedom also faces many misconceptions in the policy sphere. Many people “somehow think it means imposing religion” or Western beliefs on other nations, while in fact, “religious freedom imposes nothing,” but instead reminds government that people “have the right to think as they please” and “live out their beliefs.”

People also mistakenly think that religious freedom favors one religion, she added, while in reality, religious liberty is “a broad principle” applying to all communities and beliefs.

Lantos-Swett suggested that there has been a “blind spot” on religious freedom in both Republican and Democratic administrations, leading to negative consequences when foreign countries feel free to abuse religious liberty without penalty.

Religious freedom also faces problems domestically, she noted, stressing that the “last thing we would want to do is assign religious freedom a second-class status.”

The work of protecting religious freedom, Lantos-Swett said, is essential because its concerns “define who we are as a people.”

“If we don't do the job, who else will?”

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EWTN adds Lenten scripture challenge to app

Irondale, Ala., Mar 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The EWTN Global Catholic Network has launched a new feature to the EWTN application that challenges its users to read the four Gospels during Lent.

Reading all four gospels is “easier than you think!” the network said in a March 3 statement.

EWTN’s free app now includes the Daily Lenten Scripture Reading Challenge feature. The app is presently available for iPhone and iPad, Android operating systems and the Amazon Kindle Fire. Those who have already installed the EWTN app will receive the feature in an update.

The app includes a free full-text Bible in the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition. The app’s new Lenten Challenge feature is available in the app’s Bible subsection, where users can select from the menu a playlist that will guide them through the four Gospels during Lent.

Also included is a free audio version of the Gospel of Mark, provided by the Truth & Life Audio Bible. The full audio New Testament, available through an in-app purchase of $19.99, is voiced by actors such as Neal McDonough, Stacy Keach, Kristen Bell, Sean Astin, Michael York, Blair Underwood, Malcolm McDowell, Julia Ormond and John Rhys-Davies. It includes realistic sound effects.

The EWTN app also allows users to view EWTN from anywhere in the world, look up program schedules, access video or audio on demand, and read EWTN News.

The app is available directly from iTunes, Google Play or Amazon apps for Kindle Fire. More information is available at the website

EWTN said that it will soon release a new app of one-minute Lenten reflections from Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.

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