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Archive of May 8, 2014

Jewish and Muslim leaders to join Pope’s Holy Land trip

Vatican City, May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A rabbi and a sheikh, both of whom are friends of Jorge Bergoglio from Buenos Aires, will be accompanying him on his pilgrimage to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel later this month.

Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, who have been participants in interreligious dialogue with the Pope, will both join the May 24-26 trip, marking the first time that a rabbi and a Muslim dignitary will have done so.

The pilgrimage will focus on the encounter between the Bishop of Rome and Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople.

On the other hand, the dialogue among the three faiths that share Jerusalem as a holy city will be of crucial importance, and this is the reason why Pope Francis wanted to be accompanied by Skorka and Abboud.

Abboud is director of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue, in Buenos Aires, and is a former secretary-general of the Islamic Center of Argentina. He has also worked in the slums of Buenos Aires.

The interreligious institute was founded along with Daniel Goldam, a rabbi, and Fr. Guillermo Marco, former spokesman of the Buenos Aires archdiocese.

“This initiative is part of our national identity, a fruit that was eagerly cultivated by a number of leaders and religious leaders thanks to the key impulse given by the then cardinal Bergoglio to create spaces in which a culture of encounter could be built,” Abboud told Italian daily La Stampa May 3.

Abboud visited Pope Francis in February after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem that gathered Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.

Skorka is rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, and often met to converse with Bergoglio; those meetings produced the book “On Heaven and Earth,” a record of their dialogue.

He visited Pope Francis in June at Castel Gandolfo, together with participants in a Jewish-Christian dialogue organized by the Focolare Movement; and also in January.

“Our idea is to make a contribution to what dialogue means, to what spirituality means, and what the things of the soul mean, as well as the search for God,” Skorka told La Stampa Jan. 17.

The three religious leaders will arrive in Amman, the Jordanian capital, May 24 and pay a courtesy visit to the nation's king and queen; Pope Francis will later address national authorities.

That afternoon he will say Mass, then visit Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist was baptizing. There, Pope Francis will address refugees and the physically disabled.

The following day, Pope Francis will travel to Palestine to visit Bethlehem, meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saying Mass, and praying the Regina Caeli.

He will lunch with Palestinian families at the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova, and then make a private visit to the grotto of the nativity. After this, he will be greeted by refugee children, and then depart by helicopter for Israel.

He will meet in private with Patriarch; the two will sign a joint declaration, after which there will be a public ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

On May 26, Pope Francis will meet Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, the Sunni cleric entrusted with the city's Muslim holy places.

He will then visit the Western Wall and lay a wreath at Mount Herzl, the site of Israel's national cemetery, and then make a discourse at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial of the Holocaust, and meet with Jerusalem's chief rabbis.

In the afternoon he will meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew, aside the Orthodox parish on the Mount of Olives, after which he will meet with priests, religious, and seminarians at the church of Gethsemane.

Pope Francis will say Mass with the ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Papal suite at the Cenacle, and he will preach at the Mass.

In the evening, he will fly from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, say farewell to Israel, and return to Rome.

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US draws fire over 'ineffective' policy toward Boko Haram

Washington D.C., May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Boko Haram kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls follows years of “ineffective” U.S. policy and analysis that ignored the Islamist extremists’ motives, one critic says.

“It took the U.S. far too long to recognize that this is a problem of international Islamist extremism and not simply a matter of disaffected youth angry about poor government services, as the administration stated after a particularly devastating church bombing by Boko Haram on Easter in 2012,” Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., told CNA May 5.

“Until November 2013 when the U.S. finally designated Boko Haram as a terrorist group, the U.S. was providing funding to neighborhoods that gave rise to Boko Haram militants on the theory this would compensate for poor government services,” she charged.

“That was not only an ineffective policy, it was dangerous. It created financial incentives for more terror,” she said, calling on the U.S. to enact policies to address “this brutal and spreading threat.”

Nearly 300 girls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped April 14 from their boarding school in Borno, Nigeria's northeastern-most state.

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the abductions and has threatened to sell the girls into slavery, also threatening more attacks on schools.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful,” launched an uprising in 2009 and hopes to impose sharia law on Nigeria. It has targeted security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.

There are 276 girls still in captivity, while 53 escaped, the Associated Press reports.

The crime has drawn international attention to Nigeria.

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009; according to the BBC, they have killed 1,500 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons in Nigeria.

Shea said that Boko Haram has made Christians its “chief civilian target.”

“It has deliberately blown up or otherwise destroyed dozens of churches, some filled with worshipers, and attacked numerous Christian villages and homes.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports that Boko Haram has attacked more than 40 churches since 2012. It attacked churches on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day three years in a row, from 2010 to 2012, and has called on Christians to leave northern Nigeria.

Shea, a former member of the U.S. religious freedom commission, noted the case of Adumu Habila, a man who survived a November 2012 Boko Haram massacre of all the Christian men in his village. He was confronted by Boko Haram militants in who told him that he could live if he converted to Islam.

“He refused and was shot through the head and left for dead,” Shea said. “Against all odds, he survived and after extensive surgery… he is able to tell of his traumatic ordeal.”

The U.S. recognized Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization only in November 2013, after a lengthy advocacy effort from human rights and Christian groups.

Various groups petitioning for this recognition had argued that the State Department was downplaying or denying Boko Haram’s religious motivations. Emmanuel Ogebe, a legal expert on Nigeria with the Jubilee Campaign, said in November 2013 that this approach was “disingenuous” and an impediment to analyzing the group’s threat.

Shea said the U.S. should devote “substantial intelligence resources” to finding the kidnapped girls and to assisting Nigerian forces’ efforts to end Boko Haram’s “terrorism.”

“Boko Haram is becoming stronger and better armed with time, staging attacks further south in Nigeria and training terrorists to attack across its borders.”

“We must double down on efforts with Nigeria’s government to stop this group and those who fund and train it.”

On May 6, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that a team of U.S. military and law enforcement personnel would be sent to aid the Nigerian government. The team includes experts in investigation, intelligence, negotiations, information sharing and victim assistance, but no armed forces are being sent, he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said previous offers of U.S. assistance before May 6 had been ignored, according to the Associated Press.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s 2012 report ranked Boko Haram the second most deadly terrorist group in the world, surpassed only by the Taliban of Afghanistan.

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Former Vatican ambassador faced sexual harassment claim

Vatican City, May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A University of Dayton investigation in 2013 found “reasonable cause” to believe that former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz sexually harassed a married couple while a professor there.

The academic news website Inside Higher Ed first reported the allegations against Diaz. It published two confidential letters from the University of Dayton's provost and its general counsel to the two alleged victims, who are professors at the Ohio university.

A July 22, 2013 letter from university provost Joseph Saliba acknowledged the claims of the married couple as “concerns that Dr. Diaz was sexually harassing you through various requests and references to explicitly sexual feelings.” The letter said there was reasonable cause to believe that he engaged in “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, particularly after being told to stop.”

Another letter from the university’s general counsel told the alleged victims about an investigation conducted by outside counsel on behalf of the university. That investigation concluded there was reasonable cause to believe that some of Diaz’s conduct “constituted sexual harassment that created an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.”

Diaz served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the Vatican from 2009-2012. Since then, he has served as a professor of faith and culture at the university.

The outside counsel recommended immediate steps to advise the accused professor not to initiate contact with his accusers and to refrain from “retaliating.” Among other actions, the outside counsel recommended that the university advise him that his continued employment depended on abiding by these requirements. A second established sexual harassment complaint against Diaz would also be cause for termination.

The investigation included interviews with the alleged victims, with Diaz and with his wife, who is a lecturer at the university. The outside counsel also consulted an independent medical expert experienced in sexual abuse and harassment issues.

Diaz declined to comment to Inside Higher Ed through his attorney Gabriel Fuentes.

The documents were revealed during a dispute at the University of Dayton between faculty and the provost.

Diaz is about to take a new position at Loyola University-Chicago as a professor of theology. He will hold the John Courtney Murray University Chair in Public Service at the Jesuit Catholic institution. His wife will become an assistant professor of pastoral studies at Loyola University’s Institute of Pastoral Studies.

Steven Christiansen, communications manager at Loyola University of Chicago, said the university does not comment on personnel decisions. He confirmed to CNA that Prof. Diaz has accepted appointment at the university and has signed a contract set to begin July 1.

The University of Dayton is a Catholic institution affiliated with the Society of Mary religious order. Saliba’s July 2013 letter to the alleged victims said the university is mindful of its legal obligations and is “very concerned about any behavior that appears to be inconsistent with our Marianist values.”

Diaz was born in Cuba. He served on the Obama campaign’s Catholic advisory board and also advised the Democrat-leaning group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He was among 26 Catholic leaders and academics who signed a statement in support of the 2009 nomination of staunch pro-abortion rights activist Kathleen Sebelius as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Before Diaz became Ambassador to the Holy See, he was a theology professor at St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota.

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China's youngest detainee decries torture of father

Vatican City, May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Dubbed as “China’s youngest prisoner of conscience,” Zhang Anni and her sister Ruli have voiced their opposition to the government’s vicious treatment of their father, who resists the communist party.

In her first interview given in English, Anni told CNA May 5 that if she could say something to the Chinese government, “(I would say) to release our father, because he didn’t do anything wrong.”

Now residing in the California home of women’s rights activist Reggie Littlejohn, the founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, Anni ,11, and her elder sister Ruli,19, arrived in the United States in September, following pleas from their father to get them out of China.

Littlejohn originally met Zhang Anni through her organization, which is dedicated to fighting gendercide, forced abortions and sexual slavery in China, during a radio interview after the Chinese government had detained her after school because of her father’s opposition of the communist party.

Anni’s father, Zhang Lin, has already served 13 years in prison on subversion charges for his political activities, and has been imprisoned again following comments he made during a demonstration last April in protest of the government for preventing Anni from attending class.

Recalling the day that she was detained, Anni said that Feb. 27 of last year “my teacher told me to go to the principal’s office” after school, so “I went to the principal’s office and I saw four men standing there.”

Explaining how the principle told her to “go with the four uncles,” who said they were friends of father, Anni noted how the men said that “Your father told us to pick you up and we’ll send you home.”

“Because they said they were friends of my father, I believed them and I went with them. But they took me to the police office, and that time I was very scared because I was afraid they would do something to me.”

Anni explained that she was made to sit in a “meeting room” for four hours, and that “in those four hours I was alone.”

“My dad was not there so they left a person to watch me. And after four hours I asked when I could go home and when I could see my dad, and they said ‘soon, soon, your dad is coming.’”

However, she said, when her father finally arrived at 10 p.m., the men told her that he was still not there, so “they lied to us. They said my dad wasn’t there, but actually my dad was there.”

Noting that when she attempted to get up and go out of the room, the man blocked her so she could not leave, Anni went on to describe how at 11 p.m. she was escorted out of the building, but instead of being set free, she was taken to another police station “until the next day at 3 p.m.”

“So (from when) I got out from school until the next day, I had been detained 24 hours.”

The girls also recounted the violent treatment of their father, who they said has been brutally beaten to the point of being in a wheelchair, and was denied medical treatment.

“We are so angry and worried about him. Because his health has problems right now, it’s very serious, and also he didn’t do anything wrong,” Ruli expressed, observing how “they beat my father very hard and they tried to put our father with…murderers, some very dangerous people, and the guards wanted the other prisoners to beat my father without reason.”

“And after torture they didn’t give my father medical treatment, they just left him alone. So my father’s body is very bad after the torment,” she continued, recalling how sometimes when she was away at college, Anni was left to care for their father, who at times could not move.

“She would cook and try to take care of my father even when she was 8 and 9.”

When asked what they would say to their father if given the chance to send him a message, Anni explained that “I would say don’t worry. Don’t worry about me because I’m very good and to take care of himself, and I hope soon you will get out of jail and come with us.”

Anni went on to describe all of the things she is learning in the U.S., observing that in eight months, she has learned to play the piano, taken swimming lessons, gone to school every day and learned “a lot of English.”

She also spoke of her favorite new foods, which include “chocolate, ice cream and dessert.”

Drawing attention to the continuous maltreatment of Zhang Lin and his family, Littlejohn told CNA May 5 that he “is an incredible hero in China” because “he was a nuclear physicist, so he’s a brilliant man and could have lived a life of luxury…and he gave up everything to fight for democracy in China.”

Observing how it is impossible to know how many others are in Zhang’s same situation, Littlejohn explained that one of the “abominable, I would say cowardly tactics of the Chinese communist party, is that if they cannot silence a dissident directly by jailing him and persecuting him, then they will persecute his family, including his children.”

Although the maltreatment of children like Anni, who was denied food, water and a blanket in her overnight detainment, is not necessarily legal in China, Littlejohn stated, “it’s a matter of the Chinese communist party doing whatever it takes to maintain their strangle-hold on power and then there’s no one to stop them.”

“If something is illegal in China it really bears little or no relationship whether or not the government is doing it.”

Calling attention to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the June 4 massacre of university students in 1989 who had gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest government corruption, the lawyer observed that today “human rights in China have deteriorated.”

“The difference between now and Tiananmen Square is that in Tiananmen Square the students were allowed to assemble. So they did assemble and they were massacred,” however under China’s new president, “today people can’t even assemble.”

Reflecting on the various challenges that have come with taking the girls into her home, the lawyer stated that despite having to make some “major adjustments” in their lives, “my husband and I are overjoyed to have Annie and Lily in our home,” and explained that her greatest hope for the girls now is that “they would be able to lead a normal life.”

“They have been in a situation where they never knew when they would be whisked away by the police, when their father would be whisked away by the police,” and “right before they came to the United States, they had police at their door five or six times a day demanding to take Anni to an orphanage.”

“So they have been through so much trauma that what my husband and I hope to provide for them is the opportunity to have a stable home, enough food, which has not always been the case in their lives, to have an education, to be able to begin to dream.”

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Pope Francis: grace is more important than bureaucracy

Vatican City, May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily Mass Pope Francis reflected on attitudes necessary to evangelize, emphasizing the need to leave room for the grace of God instead of putting our own bureaucratic obstacles in the way.

“Grace: Grace is more important than all the bureaucracy…Remember this” the Pope insisted in his May 8 daily homily.

Addressing to those present for his Mass in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, the pontiff began by returning to the day’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, in which an angel speaks to the Apostle Philip and tells him to walk along a desert road, on which he meets a eunuch whom he baptizes.

Referring to the importance of being docile when we evangelize, the Pope explained that “He, Philip, obeys, he’s docile and accepts the calling from the Lord.”

“Certainly he left behind many things that he ought to have done, because the Apostles in that period were very busy evangelizing,” he noted, however, “he leaves everything and sets off.”

“This makes us see that without this docility or meekness before the voice of God nobody can evangelize, nobody can announce Jesus Christ: at the very most he will be announcing himself.”

Describing how it is "God who calls us, it’s God who starts Philip on that road,” the Roman Pontiff reemphasized that “Philip follows. He’s docile.”

Bringing to mind another important element in evangelizing, Pope Francis drew attention to how Philip used dialogue when announcing the Gospel to the eunuch, stating that “You can’t evangelize without dialogue. It’s impossible.”

“You must begin from where the person who is to be evangelized comes from,” he observed, noting that “this is so important.”

Highlighting how some might say, “But father, we waste so much time because every person has his or her own story, he or she comes with their own ideas,” the pontiff acknowledged that indeed “time is wasted.”

“More time than God wasted when he created the world and He did it well. Dialogue.”

“Spend time with that person because that person is who God wants you to evangelize,” he said, adding that “it’s more important to give him or her the news about Jesus,” but we must give it to them “according to who he or she is, not how they should be: how he or she is right now.”

Continuing, the Bishop of Rome encouraged attendees to think about three “moments of evangelization,” naming them as “the docility to evangelize, to do what God is requesting,” and “secondly, a dialogue with the people – but during this dialogue, you begin from where these people come from.”

“And thirdly, trusting in grace: Grace is more important than all the bureaucracy” he observed. “Remember this.”

“So many times we people of the Church are a factory to create obstacles so people can’t arrive at grace,” the Pope concluded, praying “may the Lord help us to understand this.”

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Harvard 'black mass' event met with shock, outcry

Cambridge, Mass., May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Harvard student group’s plans to re-enact a satanic black mass on campus has prompted outrage from Catholics who say that the event is not educational, but sacrilegious, offensive and disrespectful.

“We call upon all believers and people of good will to join us in prayer for those who are involved in this event, that they may come to appreciate the gravity of their actions, and in asking Harvard to disassociate itself from this activity,” the Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement released May 8.

Expressing “deep sadness and strong opposition” to the plan to stage the black mass on campus, the archdiocese announced a Holy Hour planned at 8 p.m. May 12 at St. Paul’s Church in Harvard Square.

“In a recent statement, Pope Francis warned of the danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan, whose evil is too often tragically present in our midst,” the archdiocese noted.

“For the good of the Catholic faithful and all people, the Church provides clear teaching concerning Satanic worship. This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil.”

The archdiocesan statement came in response to an announcement that the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club would be hosting a reenactment of a black mass on campus May 12.

“The performance is designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture that provides the history, context, and origin of the Black Mass,” the club said in a statement.

Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, a black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and mocks the Catholic Mass. It involves the desecration of the Eucharist, generally by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic Church and using it in a profane sexual ritual.

Initially, several media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used.

However, updates to the reports said that Dua later contacted them retracting her statement, saying that there had been a miscommunication and no consecrated host would be used.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club made similar denials, saying, “While a piece of bread is used in the reenactment, the performance unequivocally does not include a consecrated host.”

“Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices,” the group continued. “This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.”

Harvard Extension School said in a May 7 statement that it “does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.”

It added that the black mass is part of a series of events hosted by the Cultural Studies Club, which also includes “a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation – as part of a student-led effort to explore different cultures.”

Father Roger Landry, a Harvard alum who serves as national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA, also issued strong words against the event, calling it “terribly ill-advised and totally insensitive.”

In a May 8 letter to President Drew G. Faust, the priest said that for “the first time in my life I’m really embarrassed to be associated with Harvard.”

“I'm sure there are many other alumni who are similarly ashamed,” he wrote.

Fr. Landry went on to say that Harvard “simply would never allow itself or its properties to be associated with events that mock the religious beliefs, desecrate the sacred texts, or insult the spiritual sensitivities of Jews or Muslims.”

“Likewise,” he added, “it wouldn't allow its reputation or institution to be affiliated in any way with the activities or views of an 'independent student organization' that was reenacting the lynchings of African Americans or homophobic attacks or violence against women.”

The priest then likened the planned event to a séance aimed at communicating with the soul of Adolf Hitler or a re-enactment of a Koran burning. Both, he said, would be “terribly injurious” to each community and is something Harvard “would never associate itself with.”

“A ceremony invoking Satan, mocking the Catholic Mass and desecrating what Catholics believe to be the Body of Jesus Christ – or if, implausibly, an unconsecrated host will be used, something that is at least meant to symbolize the Eucharist – should be treated in the same way,” he emphasized.

Fr. Landry told the school's president that he has “a special responsibility over Harvard’s reputation as well as occupy the most prominent position of all to demonstrate what Harvard stands for.”

“Please grasp that Harvard’s present acquiescence to allowing its campus to be the setting for this Satanic Mass and its up-until-now anemic response have already brought the university local, national and international derision.”

“There's still time,” he wrote, “to remedy this situation and clearly communicate that mockery and desecration of the religious rites, objects, and sensitivities of others have no place at Harvard.”

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Vatican congregation approves miracle attributed to Paul VI

Vatican City, May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The beatification cause of Pope Paul VI has advanced with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints giving unanimous approval to an unborn child’s miraculous healing attributed to his intercession.

According to Vatican Insider, Pope Francis is expected to publish a decree soon that recognizes the miracle and officially sets a beatification date.

The attributed miracle took place in the 1990s in California. The then-unborn child was found to have a serious health problem that posed a high risk of brain damage. Physicians advised that the child be aborted, but the mother entrusted her pregnancy to Paul VI.

The child was born without problems and is now a healthy adolescent. He is considered to be completely healed.

The miracle was approved by the cardinals and bishops who head the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The congregation’s medical commission ruled that the healing is medically inexplicable, while the congregation’s consulting theologians agreed that the healing occurred through the late pope's intercession.

Paul VI’s beatification could take place Oct. 19 in Rome during the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, Vatican Insider reports.

Pope Paul’s cause for canonization was opened in 1993. In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the “heroic virtue” of Paul VI, giving him the title “venerable.”

Paul VI was born Giovanni Montini in 1897 in the town of Concesio in the Lombardi region of Italy. He was ordained a priest at the age of 22. He served as Archbishop of Milan before his election as Pope in 1963. He died in 1978.

As Holy Father, he oversaw much of the Second Vatican Council, which had been opened by Pope St. John XXIII. He also promulgated a new Roman Missal in 1969.

Paul VI published the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in 1968, which reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against contraception and reaffirmed the merits of priestly celibacy.

Beatification is the final step before possible canonization, which normally requires a second recognized miracle.

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Vatican calls on Boko Haram to release kidnapped schoolgirls

Vatican City, May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a May 8 statement, the Holy See condemned all gross violations of human rights, calling for an end to terrorism and a safe return for a group of more than 200 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls.

“The denial of any kind of respect for life and for the dignity of the human person, even the most innocent, vulnerable and defenseless, calls for the strongest condemnation,” said Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office.

Nearly 300 girls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped April 14 from their boarding school in Borno, Nigeria's northeastern-most state. There are 276 girls still in captivity, while 53 escaped, the Associated Press reports.

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the abductions and has threatened both to sell the girls into slavery, and to perform more attacks on schools. The group is strongly opposed to the education of girls.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” sparked an uprising in 2009 and seeks to impose sharia law on Nigeria. So far it has targeted security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, and now schools.

Fr. Lombardi said that the abduction is just the latest in a series of “other horrible forms of violence” for which the group has become known.

He decried the act, expressing that it “arouses the most heartfelt feelings of compassion for the victims, and instills a sense of horror for the physical and spiritual suffering, and the incredible humiliation they have suffered.”

Adding the voice of the Holy See to the many pleas for the girls’ freedom, the spokesman voiced his desire that they would be able to return home and live a normal life.

“We hope and pray that Nigeria, thanks to the commitment of all who are in a position to help, may find the way to end the situation of conflict and hateful terrorism which is a source of incalculable suffering.”

In addition to the Vatican, the incident has drawn the attention of many other nations across the globe, provoking international outrage and bringing offers of support for rescue efforts from China, the U.S, France and Britain.

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009. So far this year, they have killed 1,500 people, according to the BBC. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons in Nigeria.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the group has attacked more than 40 churches since 2012. It attacked churches on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day three years in a row, from 2010 to 2012, and has ordered Christians to leave the country.

The U.S. recognized Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2013, after a lengthy advocacy effort from human rights and Christian groups asking for the designation.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s 2012 report ranked Boko Haram the second most deadly terrorist group in the world, surpassed only by the Taliban of Afghanistan.

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Priest sees deluge of support against Harvard 'black mass'

Boston, Mass., May 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Harvard chaplain says a student group's plans to re-enact a satanic black mass on campus has elicited a strong response, and he is encouraging the Catholic community to engage in prayer and witness.

Fr. Michael Drea, senior chaplain at the Harvard Catholic Student Association, told CNA on May 8 that he has seen “a huge groundswell from Catholics on campus, as well as alumni” protesting the black mass re-enactment, which the priest characterized as “absolutely ludicrous” and extremely offensive.

A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and mocks the Catholic Mass. Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, it involves the desecration of the Eucharist, often by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic Church and using it in a profane sexual ritual.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is hosting the controversial May 12 event, which it described as a “performance” that is “designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture that provides the history, context, and origin of the Black Mass.”

Early media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used. However, updates to the initial reports said that Dua later retracting her statement, saying that there had been a miscommunication and no consecrated host would be used.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club also denied that a consecrated host would be present, saying that a piece of bread would be used instead.

“Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices,” the group said.

Harvard Extension School said May 7 that it “does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.” According to the school, other cultural practices explored by the club will be a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition, and a Buddhist presentation on meditation.

Announcements of the black mass prompted a deluge of complaint from Catholics who argued that the event is not educational, but sacrilegious and disrespectful.

The Archdiocese of Boston strongly opposed the plans for the event in a May 8 statement expressing “deep sadness” and asking the university to reconsider.

“In a recent statement, Pope Francis warned of the danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan, whose evil is too often tragically present in our midst,” the archdiocese said, noting the Church’s clear teaching against Satanic worship and the danger of participating in such activities.

Fr. Drea said that he has received an outpouring of support, along with many emails from alumni around the country expressing outrage at the event.

One such letter was sent to university president Drew G. Faust from Harvard graduate Father Roger Landry, who now serves as national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA. He said in the letter that this is “the first time in my life I’m really embarrassed to be associated with Harvard.”

Harvard would never associate itself with an independent student organization that was re-enacting a Koran burning or “the lynchings of African Americans or homophobic attacks or violence against women,” he charged, and neither should it permit a sacrilegious and desecrating ceremony mocking the Catholic faith.

Fr. Drea told CNA that holding a black mass on campus shows “a complete lack of respect” for the Catholic faith.

“It’s a matter of hatred,” he said. “It’s an affront to our Catholic sensibilities.”

“For anyone to try to veil this under the guise of academic freedom is sadly mistaken and misinformed.”

With numerous calls for the university to change its mind, the priest said he is still hopeful that the event will not take place.

However, if the event does occur, Fr. Drea has encouraged students to remain prayerful and calm. Rather than an attitude of confrontation, he emphasized the need to seek God’s grace in order to be “defenders of our faith and the sacramental life.”

“We need to be strong and committed in articulating the teachings of our faith,” especially regarding the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of Catholic belief, he stressed, citing the Second Vatican Council.

With this aim in mind, the Catholic community is planning a Holy Hour at 8 p.m. May 12, to coincide with the black mass. The Holy Hour will take place at St. Paul’s Church, the university parish and Catholic campus ministry center on the edge of campus where Fr. Drea serves as pastor.

Fr. Drea said the Holy Hour will allow students to “focus on the goodness of our Eucharistic Lord” and ask for the strength to be true witnesses and ambassadors for Him.

The priest said he is praying that every Catholic of good will in the Harvard community will be there. He added that the chaplain at nearby MIT has reached out in support and may also hold a prayer event.

Members of the Catholic community can draw hope and strength from realizing that Christ has already won the ultimate victory, Fr. Drea encouraged.

Evil is truly present in the world, he acknowledged. “But we know that Christ’s truth triumphs always.”

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Sep
21

Liturgical Calendar

September 21, 2014

TWENTY - FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 20:1-16A

Gospel
Date
09/21/14
09/20/14
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Daily Readings


First Reading:: Is 55: 6-9
Second Reading:: Phil 1: 20C-24, 27A
Gospel:: Mt 20: 1-16A

Saint of the Day

St. Romuald »

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Date
09/21/14

Homily of the Day

Mt 20:1-16A

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