Archive of May 6, 2014

At UN panel, Holy See urges civil prosecution for torture

Geneva, Switzerland, May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - All individuals who commit torture and abuse must face prosecution from legitimate government authorities, a Holy See delegation has told a U.N. committee on a global anti-torture convention.

“The Holy See wishes to reiterate that the persons who live in a particular country are under the jurisdiction of the legitimate authorities of that country and are thus subject to the domestic law and the consequences contained therein,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva, said May 5.

“State authorities are obligated to protect, and when necessary, prosecute persons under their jurisdiction,” the archbishop said, adding that these authorities are responsible for justice regarding “crimes and abuses committed by persons under their jurisdiction.”

The archbishop addressed the U.N.’s Committee on the Convention Against Torture, a convention the Holy See signed in 2002.

Each of the 155 states which are parties to the convention are obliged to report to the U.N. committee every four years to discuss its implementation.

The archbishop said the Holy See’s principles and vision of the human person is “in harmony” with the ideals and practices of the anti-torture convention.

The Holy See rejects torture as “inadmissible and inhuman” and lauds the convention as “a worthy instrument for the defense against acts of torture,” he added.

The delegation’s appearance comes several months after a controversial February report from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which used a discussion of the children’s rights convention to claim that the Vatican had “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children. The committee also used the report to condemn Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, while calling for changes in Catholic doctrine.

On May 2, Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See press office, praised the principles of the anti-torture convention while also warning against NGO pressure groups with a “strong ideological character and orientation” that are attempting to influence both the U.N. committee and public opinion.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal group representing the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has tried to depict the committee hearing as an effort to address sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Tomasi, addressing the U.N. committee, stressed the “essential distinctions” between the Holy See and the Vatican City State, over which the Holy See exercises sovereignty. The Holy See signed the convention “with the very clear and direct intention that this convention applied to Vatican City State,” the archbishop said.

The archbishop said there is “much confusion” over the Holy See’s jurisdiction. The Holy See has “no jurisdiction” over “every member of the Catholic Church,” he clarified.

The Holy See “globally encourages basic principles and authentic human rights” recognized in the convention, and implements the convention within the territory of Vatican City State, in harmony with the interpretative declaration the Holy See issued upon signing the convention.

Archbishop Tomasi noted that the Holy See’s media services reach a “truly international audience” that makes the Holy See “arguably one of the most effective moral voices in the world for human rights, including the position against torture and other cruel and inhuman punishments.”

“In this way, the moral voice of the Holy See, while promoting and defending all authentic human rights, reaches the members of the Catholic Church in an attempt to foster an interior conversion of hearts to love God and one’s neighbor. This love, in turn, should overflow into good practices at the local level in accordance with the laws of states.”

The Holy See delegation will respond to questions from the Committee on the Convention against Torture later on Tuesday, May 6. On May 23, the U.N. committee will publish its report on the Holy See and on seven other countries who are signatories to the convention. The states will each be able to issue a response.

The Holy See delegation to the committee hearing included Monsignor Christophe El-Kassis and Vincenzo Buonomo, both of the Secretariat of State, and Monsignor Richard Gyhra, secretary of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission.

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Latino Catholic group aims to bring faith to all life's aspects

Los Angeles, Calif., May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Association of Latino Leaders’ national conference this August aims to achieve a “spiritual revolution” by helping Latino Catholics bring their faith into all aspects of life through serving their communities.

“Faith cannot be something independent or separated from our daily lives. It really has to be the prism through which we see everything,” Diana Richardson-Vela, president of CALL, told CNA May 2.

“We’re truly looking for the participants to take this calling to heart. Their faith life should be their compass for everything, from their faith formation, their family life, and their work.”

The CALL conference will be held Aug. 14-17 at the St. Regis Houston Hotel. The event features speakers and interactive workshops, as well as opportunities to attend Mass, go to Confession, and participate in social events.

Richardson-Vela said that the conference is “a wonderful forum” where attendees can “share their thoughts and engage in conversation and find very specific ways of how they can collaborate to serve the Latino community and their Church.”

CALL, founded in Denver in 2006, has more than 15 chapters across the U.S.

Richardson-Vela said the organization aims to help Latino leaders grow in understanding their Catholic faith. In cooperation with their local bishops, members take part in service programs that are often related to education, media and legislation.

Members also take part in a three-year plan of formation on topics such as Catholic social teaching, business ethics, family issues, and immigration issues.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston will celebrate the conference’s opening Mass on the campus of the University of St. Thomas. Sen. John McCain of Arizona will speak on immigration.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia will speak about the teachings of Pope Francis, while Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles will speak on the new evangelization and social media. Other speakers include Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix.

Richardson-Vela said that the presence of the bishops provides “a wonderful opportunity to engage in conversation” to discuss the needs of the Hispanic community and how leaders can better serve the Hispanic community within the Church.

The conference will discuss Pope Francis’ teachings, particularly his apostolic exhortation “Evangelium Gaudium,” and what these teaching mean for the Church and for the Hispanic community.

Richardson-Vela said that McCain’s presence at the conference is a “big confirmation” that the Hispanic population is growing “not only in numbers, but also in leadership positions.”

The presence of a senator who is working for immigration reform efforts “truly shows how the Hispanic community has a lot to say and a lot to give to the community and the country.”

Other speakers include Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who will discuss how to integrate the American continent into the New Evangelization.

Christopher Kaczor, a philosophy professor at Loyola University Marymount in Los Angeles, will speak on the “Seven Myths of the Catholic Church,” while Terry Polakovic, executive director of ENDOW, will discuss feminism.

The conference will also seek to foster interest in the next World Meeting of Families, which aims to strengthen families around the world. Its next meeting is scheduled in Philadelphia Sept. 23-27. Organizers are hoping that Pope Francis will attend the September event.

Archbishop Chaput will address the CALL conference about the upcoming World Meeting of Families. The conference has also invited Philadelphia auxiliary, Bishop John McIntyre, to speak about the event and to discuss why Catholics need to center on the family.

The following year, the 2015 CALL conference will be held in Philadelphia at the same time as the World Meeting of Families.

Archbishop Gomez said April 9 that the CALL conference is “a great opportunity to help Latinos love and live their faith more fully and exercise greater responsibility in our Church and in our society.”

Richardson-Vela said that past conferences have helped many people renew their faith while meeting like-minded leaders who are “facing the same challenges as they are.”

Registration for the 2014 conference in Houston is $485 for members of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders and $575 for non-members.

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Hospice seeks funds for its human dignity-centered care

Denver, Colo., May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - An end-of-life care organization based in Denver, Colo. will begin helping patients in earnest later this month and is raising funds in a particular way for a matching donation.

“It is an exciting time for Divine Mercy Supportive Care…all of our policies and procedures are in order and we have assembled our team of clinicians,” Mark Skender, development director of the hospice, told CNA May 2.

“We are anticipating taking care of patients in the middle of May as we work towards satisfying the State Survey.”

Divine Mercy provides charitable, educational, and medical services, offering compassionate care while affirming the dignity and sanctity of human life, and is committed to providing end-of-life care that fully accords with the teaching of the Church.

The hospice has already obtained nonprofit recognition, and recently applied for a license to operate in Colorado, which requires a survey process involving submissions to the state of policies, procedures, forms, and quality assurance plans, and demonstrating the financial ability to care for patients until it receives reimbursements from government agencies and insurance companies.

“We will be responsible for the expenses incurred while taking care of these patients as we work through this process,” Skender explained.

To that end, a donor is matching any funds raised through May 12, up to $50,000. Thus any donation given to Divine Mercy will be doubled in value.

“We are extremely grateful for this and are looking forward to capitalizing on these matching funds,” he said.

The fundraising campaign was launched April 17, and in five days had already accumulated more than $7,000.

Kevin Lundy, the organization’s president, has explained that as a nonprofit, “unlike our for-profit colleagues whose first responsibility is to shareholders, Divine Mercy will use excess revenues to support other ministries whose missions are aligned with ours.”

Lundy had told CNA in a February interview that “we have a focus on the Catholic faith.”

“We’ll care for anybody, just like Jesus Christ would, but we have a focus on … following the teachings of the Church.”

While acknowledging that “all hospice agencies are made up of wonderful, loving, caring people,” he explained that what distinguishes Divine Mercy Supportive Care is “our focus is on providing those sacramental services … the spiritual end-of-life preparation.”

“We believe in caring for people in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Church.”

At a meeting with Divine Mercy Supportive Care’s board of directors, which includes Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and Sr. Edith Mary Hart, RSM, Lundy reported that the hospice is in a “strong and vibrant” state.

“With evidence of regular intercessions from the Holy Spirit, your inclusion on this Board is not by chance, and further proof of the positive direction our company is moving.”

The website for Divine Mercy Supportive Care is

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Women conceived in rape seek to inspire others in choosing life

Vatican City, May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During Italy’s fourth annual March for Life, two women shared testimonies of being conceived in rape, and expressed hope that they can offer light to women who are pregnant through similar circumstances.

Speaking of women who become pregnant as a result of rape, Rebecca Keissling and Mary Rathke told CNA May 4 that they wish to “give them hope, and that they wouldn’t feel alone.”

The women were present in Rome for a May 3 international pro-life leader’s conference, during which Kiessling gave her personal testimony and spoke of the importance of not making exceptions in one’s pro-life stance. They also participated in the annual March for Life event held the following day.

Both hailing from Michigan, USA, Kiessling and Rathke are International Prolife speakers, and work as part of “Save the 1,” an organization dedicated to educating society on why “all pre-born children should be protected by law and accepted by society, without exception and without compromise.”
Referring to the organization’s motto, taken from the Parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in search of the one who is missing, Kiessling noted that “whenever I hear the motto in the pro-life movement of ‘save the 99 for the 1,’ I always think of the parable of the lost sheep where Jesus was talking about the little children, and he made the one a priority.”

“He spoke quite a bit about the least of these, and who are the least of these in today’s society? Is it not all the hard cases? Children conceived in rape, and children with special needs?”

Drawing attention to the talk she gave during the leader’s conference, Kiessling observed that “all life needs to be protected without compromise,” because “as soon as you say that children conceived in rape can be compromised, you’ve basically negated your whole position that life is precious.”

Speaking of how she found out that she was conceived through rape, Kiessling revealed that she always knew she had been adopted, and that when the man she had believed to be her birthfather passed away, the family told her that “he had been covering because they didn’t want anybody to know that his wife had been raped on her way home from work.”

Rathke explained that she found out when she met her birthmother at the age of 19, “and she told me the whole awful story, and that she tried to kill me in two illegal abortions, so she was honest with me.”

“But today she says I’m a blessing to her, I honor her and I bring her healing.”

She voiced her desire that the world would come to realize that “just because your conception might have happened from something bad, or in my case my mother is schizophrenic, that just because she’s mentally ill doesn’t mean that my life doesn’t have value and that I can’t be productive and be a voice.”

When asked about their personal goals in participating in Italy’s March for Life, Rathke stated her hope that “it opens the eyes of the world” and “that others will come forward.”

“What we see in the United States is that there are hundreds that are coming out and emailing us and saying ‘this is my story too,’ where they felt so alone,” she continued.

“And I know there are people here in Italy who have that story and I hope they’ll have the courage then to say ‘me too,’ and to not have to live with the stigma.”

Keissling said that her greatest desire is to give women in the same situation hope, and recounted how she had received an email from a young woman in Germany who had decided to keep her unborn child because of her testimony on the organization’s website.

“I had received an email from someone last year from someone in Germany who had Googled ‘pregnant by rape,’ and because on my website I have my story translated into many languages, it’s the first thing that came up in Germany when they Googled” it, she explained.

“She said that my story had made her realize that life was the right choice. So it shows that speaking out, having the courage to share a difficult story really does make a difference.”

Explaining how the use of social media has helped to make their voices heard, Kiessling noted that when people “see our pictures and hear our stories, it makes it real. It’s not just a hypothetical situation. We’re real people.”


Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.

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The Church is more than 'a university of religion,' Pope insists

Vatican City, May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily Mass Pope Francis recounted the death of St. Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, explaining that being a Christian means giving witness rather than remaining sterile within ourselves.

“You cannot understand a Christian without witness,” the Pope stated in his May 6 daily homily, adding that “we are not a university of religion, a 'religion' of ideas,” or “of pure theology, beautiful things, of commandments.”

“No, we are a people who follow Jesus Christ and bear witness – who want to bear witness to Jesus Christ – and sometimes this witness leads to laying down our lives.”

Addressing those gathered in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, the Roman Pontiff reflected on how St. Stephen, whose stoning was recounted in the day’s first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles, was killed in a manner similar to that of Jesus.

Like Jesus, Stephen also encountered “the jealousy of the leaders who were trying” to get rid of him, and had “false witnesses” and a “rushed judgment” when he warned the people that they were resisting the Holy Spirit, the pontiff noted.

“These people were uneasy, were not at peace in their hearts” but rather had “hatred” in their heart, he observed, explaining, “This hatred was sown in their hearts by the devil…this is the devil’s hatred of Christ.”

Highlighting how the “struggle between God and the devil” is clearly shown in the act of martyrdom, Pope Francis said that “to be persecuted, to be a martyr, to gives one's life for Jesus is one of the Beatitudes,” which is why “the devil cannot stand seeing the sanctity of a church or the sanctity of a person, without trying to do something.”

“Martyrdom is the translation of a Greek word that also means witness,” he continued, “so we can say that for a Christian the path follows in the footsteps of this witness, Christ’s footsteps, to bear witness to Him and, many times, this witness ends up in laying down one’s life.”

“You cannot understand a Christian without witness. We are not a 'religion' of ideas, of pure theology, beautiful things…we are a people who follow Jesus Christ and bear witness.”

Recalling how “a severe persecution began against the Church in Jerusalem” after Stephen’s death, the pontiff observed that these people “felt strong and the devil provoked them to do this,” so the “Christians scattered to the regions of Judea and Samaria.”

Because of this persecution, the people of God went “far and wide,” proclaiming the Gospel and giving testimony to Jesus wherever they went, the Bishop of Rome went on to say, noting that this is how the “mission of the Church” began.

“So many converted on hearing these people,” he reflected, quoting one of the Fathers of the Church who said: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians,” and that with “their witness, they preach the faith.”

“Witness, be it in everyday life, in difficulties, and even in persecution and death, always bears fruit. The Church is fruitful and a mother when she witnesses to Jesus Christ.”

However “when the Church closes in on itself, when it thinks of itself as a – so to speak – ‘school of religion,’ with so many great ideas, with many beautiful temples, with many fine museums, with many beautiful things, but does not give witness” the pontiff explained, “it becomes sterile.”

“The Christian is the same. The Christian who does not bear witness, is sterile, without giving the life he has received from Jesus Christ.”

Continuing, Pope Francis observed how “Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit” and that “we cannot bear witness without the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.”

“In difficult times, where we have to choose the right path, where we have to say ‘no’ to a lot of things that maybe try to seduce us, there is prayer to the Holy Spirit,” he stated, “and he makes us strong enough to take this path of witness.”

Bringing his reflections to a close, the Pope encouraged those present to think “about these two icons – Stephen, who dies, and the people, the Christians, fleeing, scattering far and wide because of the violent persecution.”

“Let us ask: How is my witness? Am I a Christian who witnesses to Jesus or a simple numerary in this sect? Am I fruitful because I bear witness, or sterile because (I am) unable to let the Holy Spirit lead me forward in my Christian vocation?”

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Vatican doctrine head: LCWR has moved beyond Church, faith

Rome, Italy, May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In an address to the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Cardinal Gerhard Müller reaffirmed the necessity of reform of the conference, saying it has effectively moved beyond the Christian faith.

“We believe the conclusions of the Doctrinal Assessment are accurate and the path of reform it lays before the LCWR remains necessary so that religious life might continue to flourish in the United States,” the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in his April 30 address, delivered in Rome.

He went on to say that the group's acceptance of ideas opposed to revelation is evidence that a movement beyond the faith "has already occurred."

Cardinal Müller began by saying he is grateful for the LCWR’s corrections to their statutes and civil bylaws, but remains concerned about their continued promotion of doctrinal errors in their writings and choice of annual assembly speakers.

In 2012, after four years of observation, the Vatican found a state of doctrinal crisis within the LCWR, a group of U.S. women religious superiors, and detailed their conclusions in a Doctrinal Assessment of the group. The Vatican listed several issues that needed correction, and at the same time assigned Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee the conference’s reform.

Among the key findings in the assessment were serious theological and doctrinal errors in presentations at the conference's annual assemblies in recent years.

Several of the addresses, the assessment said, depicted a vision of religious life that is incompatible with the faith of the Church. Some attempted to justify dissent from Church doctrine and showed “scant regard for the role of the Magisterium.”

Cardinal Müller noted that LCWR officers have taken issue with the assessment, saying it was “flawed and the findings based on unsubstantiated accusations” and that the Vatican’s reforms were “disproportionate” to their findings, a belief that has been reaffirmed in the group’s recently published collection of LCWR Presidential Addresses.

One of the most contested points of reform was the Vatican’s mandate that presenters at major LCWR gatherings first be approved by the delegate, Archbishop Sartain.

“It allows the Holy See’s Delegate to be involved in the discussion first of all in order to avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church,” Cardinal Müller explained.

This part of the reform had “not yet been put into force” when the LCWR announced it would award Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ – a theologian whom the U.S. bishops have criticized several times because of her serious doctrinal errors – with their “Outstanding Leadership Award” at this year’s General Assembly.

“This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment,” Cardinal Müller said. “Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well.”

Cardinal Müller announced that this provision is now “fully in force,” and that the decision to honor Sr. Johnson “is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate’s provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate.”

The cardinal went on to address the LCWR’s claim that the Vatican’s conclusions in its Doctrinal Assessment are not backed up by any real evidence.

“The phrase in the Doctrinal Assessment most often cited as overreaching or unsubstantiated is when it talks about religious moving beyond the Church or even beyond Jesus. Yes, this is hard language and I can imagine it sounded harsh in the ears of thousands of faithful religious.”

“And yet, the issues raised in the Assessment are so central and so foundational, there is no other way of discussing them except as constituting a movement away from the ecclesial center of faith in Christ Jesus the Lord.”

In 2012, the same year the assessment was released, the conference hosted philosopher Barbara Marx Hubbard, an author and promoter of “Conscious Evolution” as the keynote speaker for their annual General Assembly. The prefect noted that since then, the concept has been featured heavily in LCWR materials.

Cardinal Müller expressed his concern over the LCWR’s promotion of such a philosophy, saying that “the fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation.”

“When taken unreflectively,” he said, they “lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery.”

“My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia. To phrase it as a question, do the many religious listening to addresses on this topic or reading expositions of it even hear the divergences from the Christian faith present?”

The doctrine prefect said he is worried that “uncritical acceptance” of such ideas as Conscious Evolution, “seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation,” is evidence that “a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred.”

He reminded leaders that Conscious Evolution, although presented as a futuristic way of thinking, is not “actually new,” as its roots can be found in the gnostic heresy.

“Conscious Evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world,” he said. “It does not present the treasure beyond price for which new generations of young women will leave all to follow Christ.”

“The Gospel does! Selfless service to the poor and marginalized in the name of Jesus Christ does!”

He reminded the religious sisters that Pope Francis spoke last year to superiors general of religious orders in which he proposed what the cardinal called “a positive articulation of issues which come across as concerns in the Doctrinal Assessment.”

“I urge you to reread the Holy Father’s remarks and to make them a point of discussion with members of your Board as well,” Cardinal Müller told the LCWR’s presidency.

He concluded by reminding the LCWR’s representatives that “I owe an incalculable debt to the women religious who have long been a part of my life. They were the ones who instilled in me a love for the Lord and for the Church and encouraged me to follow the vocation to which the Lord was calling me. The things I have said today are therefore born of great love.”

He emphasized that the Holy See and his congregation “deeply desire religious life to thrive and that the LCWR will be an effective instrument supporting its growth.”

“In the end, the point is this: the Holy See believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church. The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life.”

“Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration.”

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New Swiss Guards swear oath to protect Pope Francis

Vatican City, May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Thirty young men joined the ranks of the Swiss Guards today, taking an oath of allegiance to Pope Francis and promising to serve the Church by protecting him and all of his successors.

Addressing the new guards the day before their traditional swearing-in on May 6, the Pope explained that the event commemorates their predecessors, who “offered their lives to defend the Church.”

“Your dedication,” he noted, “confirms that their courage and loyalty have borne fruit.”

In the San Damaso courtyard of the apostolic palace Tuesday the new members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard made their commitment like hundreds before them on the anniversary of the Sack of Rome.

Occurring May 6, 1527, the attack marks the most significant and deadliest event in the history of the guard. During the battle, 147 members lost their lives while fighting the army of the Holy Roman Empire in defense of Pope Clement VII, who was able to escape through a secret passageway leading from the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo, which sits on the Tiber River.

In his comments to the guards, Pope Francis observed how society today is different than it was then, “But man's heart, his capacity to be loyal and courageous…has remained the same.”

“Serving in the Swiss Guard means living an experience that involves a meeting of time and space in a very particular way,” he said. “With your special service, you are called upon to offer serene and joyful Christian witness to whoever arrives in the Vatican to visit St. Peter's Basilica and to meet the Pope.”

“Live your days intensely! Be firm in your faith and generous in your charity towards the people you meet.”

Remarking on how the colors of the Swiss Guard uniform – which also celebrates its 100 year anniversary this year – are known throughout the world, the Pope reflected that they “stand for dedication, seriousness and security. They are identified with singular service and a glorious past.”

“However, behind every uniform there is a real person: with a family and a homeland, with a personality and sensibility, with wishes and plans in life,” the pontiff went on to say, emphasizing that although the uniform attracts attention, “it is not the uniform, but rather he who wears it, who must be noted for his kindness, his spirit of welcome, for his charitable attitude towards all.”

“Consider this also in your relations between yourselves, according importance, also in your community life, to sharing both joyful moments and those that are more difficult,” the Pope said, stressing the importance of doing so “without ignoring those among you who are in difficulty.”

For those who are in difficulty “and who are at times in need of a smile and a gesture of encouragement and friendship,” the Pope encouraged them to “avoid that negative distance that divides companions and, in the lives of all people in the world, can give rise to disdain, marginalization and racism.”

Present at the guards' swearing-in was a number of Vatican dignitaries, the new Swiss ambassador to the Holy See, Pierre-Yves Fux, and Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who is the Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State.

During the ceremony each new guard placed a hand on the official flag of the Swiss Guard, and with the other hand raised three fingers as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

In addition to protecting the Pope, members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard are often will be called on to answer tourists’ questions, perform ceremonial duties and to assist at Vatican events.

Speaking to CNA during a May 5 press conference detailing the preparations for the event, the Commander of the Swiss Guard, Colonel Daniel Anrig, explained that maintaining the tradition of new guards making their oaths on the anniversary of the Sack of Rome reminds them of their mission.

“The Swiss Guards had to protect Clement the Seventh and most of the Swiss Guards lost their lives,” he noted. “That’s the reason we are remembering the day,” and “to also promise again to do the same in this way. To do the same as the soldiers have done in 1527.”

Making an oath for the Pope “means to give him everything, meaning also your life when need be,” the commander continued, “so it’s a commitment, it’s a strong commitment to do everything for the Holy Father.”

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Church bulldozing in China prompts religious freedom worries

Washington D.C., May 6, 2014 (CNA) - Chinese authorities’ bulldozing of a large Protestant church shows the need for greater respect for religious freedom in the country, a U.S. congressman has said.

“The destruction of church buildings and the detention of religious leaders in Zhejiang Province is a stunning and somber reminder that many hardliners in the Chinese government still want to eradicate the religious freedom of the Chinese people and control all practice of religion,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said May 1.

Smith is the chair of the subcommittee on human rights within the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He also co-chairs the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

“Religious freedom is a foundational and universal right and a defining characteristic of stable and prosperous societies. China must start to see the growth of religious faith as something to encourage not destroy,” the congressman said.

In late April, government authorities in the southeastern city of Wenzhou bulldozed the Sanjiang Church, a $4 million structure capable of holding 3,000 worshippers that had been under construction for more than 12 years. The government claimed that the building broke planning rules, the BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie said in a May 4 blog entry.

Congregants said that they had previously enjoyed good relations with the local government and planners had not objected to the construction, Gracie said. Some officials encouraged them to spread Christianity on the grounds that the city’s Christians are law-abiding and good citizens.

They attributed the destruction of their church to a difference between local and provincial party officials, the latter of whom were offended at the prominent display of Christian crosses.

There are about 1 million Christians in Wenzhou and churches dominate the cityscape.

Catholic places of worship have also been targeted in the city.

On April 26, about 50 government workers sealed off Wenzhou’s Longgang Hill, a site of Catholic pilgrimage with statues of Jesus’ Crucifixion that covers almost an acre of land. The workers bricked off giant statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph while removing other statues. Other religious decorations were destroyed, UCA News reports.

Like the Sanjiang Church, authorities claimed the site was built illegally.

Rep. Smith said the destruction of the church is “a devastating blow” to the congregation and will be “a source of broader social instability and distrust.”

“It has already served to unify diverse religious groups against the government’s extreme policies,” he stated.

Rep. Smith’s office said that there are an estimated 80-100 million Christians in China. Some estimates suggest that their numbers could grow to 160 million by 2025.

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Report shows 'egregious' religious freedom violations in Syria

Washington D.C., May 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. government should designate Syria as a “country of particular concern” due to “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” in its ongoing conflict, a global religious liberty group said.

“The existing humanitarian disaster and egregious human rights and religious freedom violations pose a serious danger to Syria’s religious diversity post-conflict,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2014 report.

The commission blamed “the collective actions of the Bashar al-Assad regime, internationally-recognized opposition groups, and extremist and U.S.-designated terrorist groups.”

The religious freedom commission is an independent, bipartisan group that makes recommendations to the president, Congress and the State Department. The U.S. State Department can accept or reject the recommended designations, which can be cause for sanctions or other penalties.

Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, it has “devolved largely into a sectarian conflict, exacerbated by the actions of the Bashar al-Assad Regime,” the commission report said.

It stated that Syria’s Sunni Muslims largely associate all members of the Alawite Islamic group with the government of Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite. For their part, many Alawites and Christians support the government for fear of the extremist and terrorist groups.

The U.N. and the U.S. government have charged that Syria’s government has committed crimes against humanity, including killings, rape, torture of prisoners, chemical weapons use, and the withholding of food and other aid. They also say the Syrian government has targeted Sunni Muslims and other individuals or groups while its “indiscriminate” shelling of civilian areas has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.

Internationally-recognized opposition military groups have also committed religious freedom violations, the commission said, stating that the Syrian National Coalition has not effectively represented religious minorities and that its military units have at times worked with terrorist groups in military actions.

Other groups the U.S. government designates as terrorists, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have targeted religious minority communities, including Christians and Alawites, the report continued.

Christians in Syria have been attacked, their homes have burned down and some have been forced to convert to Islam. Two Orthodox bishops are still missing after being kidnapped, while a group of nuns was held captive for over three months.

Some extremist groups support the creation of an Islamic state and have established Shariah courts in areas under their control. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has forced about 3,000 Christians in Raqqa province to pay a “protection” tax or convert to Islam or be killed.

An August 2013 attack of 20 extremist groups in Latakia province killed 190 civilians and took 200 hostage, with most of the victims being Alawite Muslims.

Some U.S.-designated terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Shabiha, support the government and especially target Sunni Muslim civilians, including women and children, “in the name of the regime.” The report cited a May 25, 2012 massacre of 108 Sunni Muslims, including 49 children, in Syria’s Houla region.

The religious freedom commission also considered the situations in other countries.

It recommended that the U.S. government continue to designate as countries of particular concern Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. It repeated its 2013 recommendations that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam be added to the government list.

Additionally, the international religious freedom commission listed 10 countries in a second tier group that deserves increased U.S. government attention: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey.

Turkey and Malaysia are new to this second list.

The commission said that Turkish secularism requires “absolute state control” over religion in a way that leads to government interference in religion. All religious groups face limits on ownership and maintenance of places of worship, clergy training, and religious education. These limits pose a particular problem for the ancient Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Turkish use of religious affiliation on national identity cards, social discrimination, anti-Semitism and religious freedom violations in Turkish-occupied Cyprus were also noted as causes for concern.

Malaysia has inadequate protections for religious minorities and ethnic Malays who change their religion, the report said, also pointing to bans on some publications and religious groups, some of whose members face harassment or arrest.

The document also examines the status of religious freedom in other countries that do not fall into either of the two tiers, but still merit concern. These countries include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, and Western Europe.

Venezuela has been dropped from the report, while the Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka are new to this third group.

Following a March 2013 coup in the Central African Republic, opposing Christian and Muslim militias have formed, with some militias targeting individuals based on religious affiliation for killing, torture and rape. The country would meet the standard to be named a “country of particular concern,” but there is no government to hold accountable.

Kyrgyzstan’s government restricts the registration of some religious groups and restricts the activities of Muslim and other groups it considers to be threats to national security, the report noted.

In Sri Lanka, extremist Buddhist monks and laity affiliated with Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist groups have attacked religious minorities, including Muslims, Hindus and Christians. Reports indicate that government officials and police did not stop the attacks and in some cases participated in them.

Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, stressed the importance of U.S. action in promoting and defending global religious liberty.

“With religious freedom abuses occurring daily around the world against people of all faiths and those without religious faith, the United States must by words and deeds stand in solidarity with the persecuted,” George said April 30.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right recognized by international law that guarantees to all human beings the freedom to believe or not believe as their conscience leads, and live out their beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear,” he said.

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