Archive of March 30, 2014

Lawyer identifies key groups in European persecution of Christians

Rome, Italy, Mar 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Legal counsel Paul Coleman has spoken of the increasing persecution of Christians in Europe, identifying the main groups driving ideological agendas counter to Church teaching.

Anti-Christian ideologies at the U.N. are “being advanced by three different groups,” Coleman told CNA in a March 23 interview, the first being “activist organizations, the primary drivers behind the movement.”

“Then you have liberal, primarily Western countries driving the movement,” and finally “the institutions themselves at the United Nations.”

Coleman is legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom at its office in Vienna, where he specializes in international litigation, focusing on European law.

He was in Rome for the organization’s March 24 – 27 Media Convention, during which he gave a testimony detailing his time working with the Blackstone Legal Fellowship leadership training program, which educates law students on issues regarding religious freedom, which are not typically taught in law schools.

Explaining some of the trends currently taking place, Coleman observed that one of the biggest is “the attempt to create a right to abortion in international law.”

“There are many documents that are discussed at the United Nations where the phrase ‘reproductive health and rights’ and ‘sexual reproductive health and rights’ appear constantly … no matter what the issue is that’s being discussed, they always find a way to include those issues.”

Another growing theme is that of the “SOGI movement” -- sexual orientation, gender identity movement -- which has emerged forcefully only “within the last decade,” Coleman noted.

“It’s seeking to promote the terms sexual orientation and gender identity on an international level, and seeking to provide protections” and “to change international laws to include those terms.”

One of the dangers present in this movement is that “the terms sexual orientation and gender identity are terms that aren’t particularly well understood,” he observed, adding that this terminology “changes, and that it can mean whatever people want it to mean.”

“In effect, sexual orientation is” a code for “homosexuality and homosexual behavior,” the lawyer continued, “and gender identity is a code for transsexualism or people who feel they are not male or female, but something different, something between, or nothing at all.”

Referring again to the three groups pushing these ideologies, Coleman stated that “aligned together they can be very effective” in advancing these causes.

“We see for example, the United Kingdom has said it would withhold aid for Third World countries if those countries don’t change their laws on homosexuality” and “we see in America President Obama saying it’s a foreign policy priority to promote homosexuality across the world.”

“These are powerful countries with huge international aid budgets, and they’re helping to push this issue around the globe.”

Explaining the process of how these agendas are being advanced, Coleman recalled how the U.N. was founded after World War Two in order to protect and secure human rights, and to “guarantee the rights of man against the government” and “against government tyranny.”

Following the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was created in order to ensure this protection, the lawyer detailed how numerous treaties were created focusing on the safeguarding of the “fundamental rights of the individual.”

Going on to describe what has happened in recent years, Coleman said these treaties “are being re-interpreted.”

“Where international treaties say, for example, that people have the right to health, that’s being interpreted as saying, ‘well health includes reproductive health, and reproductive health, abortion; therefore there is a right to abortion.”

Turning to the topic of marriage, the lawyer observed that “where a treaty says that everyone has a right to marry, the treaties actually say men and women of marry-able age have the right to marry, and that’s being re-interpreted as saying ‘well, there it says men and women. We should really interpret it in modern-day circumstances, so it should be man-and-man, and women-and-women.’”

Another way in which these movements are advanced, he explained, is by “ignoring” the treaties “completely,” commenting that “instead of these treaties which have been signed by nations” and “which have been approved at the very highest level, we find that lots of other documents are drafted and approved with very little scrutiny.”

“They are used as a tool to kind of force nations to change their laws,” the lawyer continued, noting that although nations can refuse, “they don’t want to be constantly harassed by the United Nations or the European Union” for not keeping their human rights obligations, so they don’t say anything.

Eventually, he said, “if they’re told constantly, you need to change your laws on abortion, you need to change your laws on homosexuality, then that pressure can lead to change at a domestic level.”

Coleman then offered comments on a recent report given by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child report that condemned the Holy See’s child protection policies and called for the Church to change its doctrine regarding abortion and homosexuality.

Noting that the committee is designed “to monitor the country’s progress in keeping up with the convention on the rights of the child,” it went “far beyond its mandate” with the report.

It essentially took “the opportunity to criticize very heavily the Catholic Church, Catholic doctrine, and the Holy See on a number of issues that have nothing to do with the rights of children,” adding that “it was a perfect example of how these international bodies have gone far beyond their original mandates, and gone far beyond the founding of the United Nations itself.”

The U.N., he explained, was designed in order “to bring the nations together in peace and harmony, and not to override their state sovereignty and certainly not to criticize doctrines of the Church.”

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Religious sisters bring witness of prayer to Bismarck diocese

Bismarck, N.D., Mar 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Two groups of religious sisters new to North Dakota’s Diocese of Bismarck bring the blessings of prayer and their examples of faith and service to the area, an official with the local Church said.

“One of the things you see about both of these groups of sisters is that they live lives of joy,” Matthew Kurtz, communications director for the Bismarck diocese, told CNA March 28.

“They exude joy; that will be one of the most valuable aspects of having their presence in our diocese.”

Two groups, each of four religious sisters, have moved to the Diocese of Bismarck.

Four sisters from the Congregation of Teresian Carmelites have moved from their home in India’s Kerala state to serve the people of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in south-central North Dakota. The sisters are working through the Bismarck diocese’s Catholic Indian Mission.

They are the first foundation of the Teresian Carmelites in the Western Hemisphere. They will work as missionaries and help the priests and parishes of Sioux County, while teaching at the St. Bernard Mission School in Fort Yates.

They will live at St. Bernard’s Carmel Convent in Fort Yates, the property of the renamed Church of St. Peter, and replace the departing School Sisters of Notre Dame.

“It’s important to have the presence of holy people who can model what a life of faith should look like,” Kurtz said. “They’re also very obviously knowledgeable in the Catholic faith and so they can evangelize to the people on the reservation and set a good example that what is valuable to them as they live a life that is for Christ and has meaning and purpose because it is lived for God.”

Another group of four religious sisters is new to the diocese as well. Four cloistered Carmelite nuns from Alexandria, South Dakota moved to their new monastery March 19.

Their monastery, the Carmel of the Holy Face, is a renovated farmhouse near Hague in the state’s south central Emmons County. The nuns described it as “in the middle of nowhere.”

“We value our enclosure because it’s part of our sacrifice for the diocese and the world,” Mother Marie Therese told the Bismarck diocese. “Once the bishop erects the cloister, he locks us in.”

The cloistered Carmelites will host a three-day open house April 23-25 to meet with the public before they begin their enclosure. They fast during half of the year, eating only one full meal and two smaller meals each day. They do other forms of penance, including sleeping on a slab of wood with a simple straw mattress. They refrain from all dairy products during Lent, and never eat meat.

Kurtz added that the religious sisters have emphasized that they have “a life of joy … people see all these penances and things that they do as just a burden. It’s absolutely the opposite,” he told CNA.

He said the power of prayer is “undeniable,” and the diocese will benefit from sisters who are “immersed in deep prayer every day.”

The cloistered sisters will become self-sufficient through growing their food in gardens and raising goats, chickens, and other animals. They also hope to begin to make items such as scapulars and Chaplets of the Holy Face to sustain their life.

The cloistered sisters moved to the diocese at the request of Bishop David Kagan, who had repeated the request of his predecessor Bishop Paul Zipfel.

The Congregation of Teresian Carmelites came at the invitation of Bishop Kagan after an Indian-born priest serving in western North Dakota made the connection between the diocese and their religious congregation, the Bismarck diocese reported.

Kurtz said the religious sisters’ presence is another way for people to “see the religious life in action.”

“It’s good for fostering vocations beyond the diocesan priesthood and, always the most important thing, they’re going to be praying for our diocese every day.”

He cited Bishop Kagan’s words: “To have these prayers and sacrifices offered to God daily for us is the greatest of blessings.”

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Be open to the light of Christ, encourages Pope

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his Sunday Angelus message, Pope Francis urged the faithful to open themselves to the light of Christ and not be hindered by pride or interior blindness.

“Sometimes unfortunately ... from the height of our pride we judge others, and even the Lord! Today, we are invited to open ourselves to the light of Christ to bear fruit in our lives, to get rid of the behaviors that are not Christian,” Pope Francis encouraged those gathered in St. Peter’s square on March 30.

The pontiff reflected on a passage from Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of John, which recounts the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. The scholars of the law seek to undermine Jesus’ work and words, sinking “deeper and deeper into their interior blindness.”

“Locked in their presumption, they believe they already have the light, and for this reason are not open to the truth of Jesus. They do everything they can to deny the obvious,” explained the Pope.

In contrast to the blind man who is healed by Jesus and “gradually approaches the light,” the scholars of the law show a “closure to the light” that “becomes aggressive” and leads to the expulsion of the healed man from the temple.

The path of the blind man is a “journey in stages, starting from the knowledge of the name of Jesus,” said Pope Francis.

After being healed by Jesus, the man considers him first a “prophet,” then a “man close to God.” Only after he is excluded from the temple and has a second encounter with Jesus does he recognize him as the Messiah.

This story demonstrates “the drama of interior blindness of many people, and ours also, because we have many moments of interior blindness,” reflected the Pontiff.

“All of us -- everyone, eh? -- have acted, sometimes, not like Christians, because we are sinners, no? And we have to repent of this in order to walk the path of sanctity decisively,” he urged.

This path begins in baptism when we are “illuminated” by Christ. Through our baptism, “we can carry ourselves as ‘sons of the light,’ with humility, patience, mercy.”

Pope Francis then suggested that those present should meditate on today’s gospel.

“When you return home, take the Gospel of John, read this passage from chapter nine, and do it well… we ask ourselves, how are our hearts? How is my heart? How is your heart? How are our hearts? Do I have a heart that is open or a heart that is closed? Open, or closed toward God? Open or closed toward my neighbor?”

Everyone has a certain element of being closed in his heart, which is “born of sin,” acknowledged the Holy Father. Yet this should not lead to discouragement.

“Don’t be afraid!” he exclaimed. “Let us open ourselves to the Lord. He always waits for us. He always waits for us, to make us better, to give us light, to forgive us. Don’t forget that! He’s always waiting for us.”

Pope Francis then led the faithful in the Angelus prayer and greeted the many groups of pilgrims present before wishing everyone a “good Sunday and a good lunch.”

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Program offers African students 'second home' in Rome

Rome, Italy, Mar 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - African students studying in Rome are finding a home away from home in an outreach program dedicated to accompanying them spiritually, culturally, and socially.

“We think of home a lot--our parents, our families that we left behind… therefore this is our second home,” Leodmila Amona of Mozambique, told CNA on March 30.

Amona is a participant in the Servizio Universitario Africano outreach program, based in temporary space behind Rome’s famous church of St. Peter in Chains.

“Wherever we live, we come here in Sundays to stay in a family, in a real Christian family,” the 26-year-old university student added.

Amona has been part of the Servizio for several months. She said she finds it encouraging because “as students we also need to sustain our faith,” which can be difficult in a new culture.

“We come from Africa with a certain type of faith,” she noted, but Rome has “a diversity in Christianity.”

Reaching out to students like Amona is the work of Father Tobechi Anayadike, the outreach program’s chaplain, who is in charge of the pastoral care of African university students in Rome, especially lay students.

Fr. Tobechi spoke of “accompanying” the students in their lives, “especially their participation in the life of the Church, so that while studying here in Rome, far away from home, and from their parents and the parishes and families back at home, they will not forget their religious roots, their faith.”

He hopes that his work in the Servizio will help the students “grow in that enthusiasm and typical joy for which the African young people are known.”

The Servizio is not only an outreach for African students, but an opportunity for young people to work together.  

Sister Doris Pogle, a Missionary Sister of Divine Mercy who serves in the Servizio, said young people “are trying to work with them together, to reflect together so that our time for the studies here won’t put us far from the gospel.”

“We want to take care of our values so that the things that are better in our culture, we won’t forget them--especially respect for life, respect of all people, defense of what is sacred,” explained the sister.

Jane Wathuta of Nairobi, Kenya described the Servizio as “a point of reference, a meeting place, a place to share spiritual, cultural, and other experiences--and also to grow together.”

The Servizio Universitario Africano began in 2005 when several African students attended a Marian prayer vigil during a European-African Day for university students in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI noticed their joy and enthusiasm and asked for a report. He eventually wrote that he wanted a coordination of university pastoral care for African students in the city. Fr. Tobechi was asked to be the chaplain.

The students, along with Fr. Tobechi and several religious sisters, have Mass together every Sunday. They also organize conferences, attend lectures, and offer a social network for African students in Rome.

Alain Christian was introduced to the Servizio by a friend from his home country of Cameroon who also studies in the city.

“It’s very hard for foreign students who are coming in Europe, abroad for the first time, and they need support. They need help from other people who came here before them. This was an opportunity for me to be in touch with the African culture that’s behind me,” explained the young man, who is pursuing his master’s degree in political science.

The Servizio’s many activities have “helped us increase our academic competencies, and to develop a network, a social network--knowing many people, many lecturers, many colleagues who can help us,” noted Christian.

The program’s leaders hope that the Servizio’s reach is far wider than Rome itself.

According to Fr. Tobechi, the African bishops have asked that its activities “touch home--touch the students and the young people at home.”

“It’s already doing that,” he added. Since the students “are central to the events of the life of the Church… they become opinion leaders, reference points for their (fellow) students, for their colleagues, from wherever they may be.”

When, for example, Pope Francis was elected, friends in Africa called, “not the priest, not the religious that you see,” but rather, “their fellow students who are here,” Fr. Tobechi explained.

In the future they hope the Servizio can move out of its temporary space to a permanent site in order to better serve students who come to Rome for a time before they return home to Africa.

Sr. Doris reflected, “I hope that with students, working together, they can be missionaries in Rome, and also missionaries of God in our country, in Africa.”

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