Archive of May 13, 2014

Bipartisan effort to support persecuted Christians launched

Washington D.C., May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Over 200 Christian representatives from a variety of denominations have united in support of a bipartisan congressional initiative to support Christians facing persecution in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.

The “Pledge of Solidarity & Call to Action on behalf of Christians and other Small Religious Communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria,” was launched May 7 by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

The initiative was started to address the silence facing Christians in the Middle East “facing an existential threat to their  presence in the lands where Christianity has its roots” due to “abuse and injustice from extremist Islamic forces.”

“Recognizing the spiritual, humanitarian and geopolitical implications of this historic flight, we have joined together to affirm our moral obligation to speak and act in defense of religious freedom for all human beings,” the pledge stated.

The document explained the violence and persecution facing Christians in countries throughout the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, where Christian refugees have fled due to persecution.

“Extremists and terrorist gangs are behind most of these incidents,” the document stated, adding that these acts “have been carried out largely with impunity, and sometimes with the acquiescence of state and local authorities. It is their cumulative effect that has triggered  the current massive exodus of Christians.”

The pledge urged Americans“ to pray and speak with greater urgency about this human rights crisis,” citing the “sense of abandonment felt by the Middle Eastern Churches” due to the West’s slow and limited response to the persecution facing Christians in the Middle East.

In response, the document pledged solidarity with those suffering persecution for their Christian beliefs, and promised to “call together our own congregations and communities in sustained prayer, education and engagement” on behalf of threatened religious minorities in the Middle East.

The initiative also urged for supporters to take action on behalf of Christians facing persecution in the Middle East.

“It is our conviction that American foreign policy can be more effectively used to advocate for policies that protect international religious freedom for all,” the pledge explained, calling for the creation of a Special Envoy on Middle East Religious Minorities, a review of foreign aid terms to ensure funds support religious freedom, and increased assistance for refugees and reconstruction of affected areas.

The pledge has gained over 200 signatures from a variety of Christian clergy and scholars, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, former United States Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon, U.S. Ambassador Dr. Joseph Ghougassian, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Chair Robert P. George, former Senator Michael Dukakis, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Dr. Russell D. Moore and Katharine Jefferts Schori, a bishop of the Episcopal Church, among others.

George Marlin, Chairman of the Board for Aid to the Church in Need USA, a Catholic relief organization, and signatory of the pledge, commented that the ‘blatant and violent campaign of Christian religious targeting and persecution” has created an urgent situation.

“The time to act is now,” he said, adding in a statement that it is also “time to call on our government for concrete action to protect these vulnerable communities and to urge the people in our parishes and congregations to pray for and support their persecuted brothers and sisters.”

“This is not a matter of pitting Christianity against Islam,” Marlin stressed, “but to put a halt to the abuses perpetrated by extremist Islamic factions bent on the destruction of Christianity – groups which inflict suffering on the general population as well.”

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Religious leaders can help counter Boko Haram, US bishops say

Washington D.C., May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Denouncing the “heinous” kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, the U.S. bishops have urged their government to partner with both Christians and Muslims in the country to counter Boko Haram.

“Building unity among all Nigerians will help build peace and prosperity for all,” Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines told National Security Adviser Susan Rice in a May 9 letter.

“I am encouraged that the United States Government has taken additional measures to help the Nigerian government bring perpetrators to justice,” continued Bishop Pates, who is chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee.

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, by members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. All but 53 of the girls, who escaped, are still in the hands of their captors.

Bishop Pates encouraged the U.S. to help the Nigerian government promote national security and social development.

“Partner with civil society, especially faith-based institutions, both Christian and Muslim, to strengthen their efforts to stop the violence and build social cohesion,” he encouraged. “Their efforts will be crucial in counteracting the extremist religious views espoused by Boko Haram.”

Bishop Pates said the Church in Nigeria has called for “continuous dialogue” among political, military, and religious leaders to end the violence. The Church has also called for “effective policy and military action” to bring violent perpetrators to justice, “while respecting human and civil rights.”

He asked the U.S. to increase its support for the Church, which has “always been a voice for peace” and has “actively worked” with the Muslim community in interfaith dialogue and “people to people peacebuilding.”

Bishop Pates cited the words of Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, who has called for the defense of religious freedom. The cardinal called this “the second most important right after the right to life itself.”

The U.S. bishop said he has written to the Nigerian cardinal to express the bishops’ condolences at the kidnappings and to encourage the Nigerian people “in their constant efforts to counter the forces of religious extremism and social division.”

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.

The April 14 kidnapping caused international outcry and drew condemnation from Christian and Muslim religious leaders. The Nigerian government has come under criticism for failing to provide security or to respond adequately to the mass kidnapping.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had threatened to sell the captured girls into slavery. In a video released May 12, he said the group will keep as captives any girls who have not accepted Islam.

He has offered to exchange the other girls for Boko Haram members currently in prison, but Nigeria's interior minister has rejected the offer.

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.

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.

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Gossip is the plague of community life, Pope tells seminarians

Vatican City, May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a meeting with all of Rome’s seminarians, Pope Francis spoke frankly of the challenges of community life, including the temptation to gossip and the importance of prayer.

“Seminary life, that is, community life, is very important. Community life is not paradise: rather, it’s purgatory,” he admitted as nearly 6,000 seminarians and priests laughed and cheered in agreement.

“Gossip is the plague of a community,” Pope Francis stressed to the men gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall on May 12. “One speaks to (someone’s) face, always…don’t go a friend’s room to badmouth (someone else).”

He went on to note that “some say that gossip is a thing of women; but it’s also of men, of us! We gossip enough and that destroys community.”

The Pope’s meeting with the many seminarians from around the world who are studying in Rome was held in a casual style: he responded in an impromptu manner to their questions, at times with humor but at other moments quite seriously.

Fr. Eamon O’Higgins, a professor and spiritual father at the Maria Mater Ecclesiae International Seminary, told CNA, “the honesty with which the Holy Father spoke, spoke of his own experience, moved me considerably.”

Pope Francis used his own experiences to illustrate several pieces of advice he gave to the men.

Once when he was a young student of philosophy, the Pope recounted, he had gone to his spiritual father to confess that he was angry with someone. “And he asked me only one question: ‘Tell me, have you prayed for him?’ Nothing more. And I said, ‘no.’ And he remained silent. ‘But we have finished,’ he said to me.”

The seminarians laughed and then the Pope grew more serious.

“Pray, pray for all the members of the community, but pray especially for those with whom I have problems or for those to whom I don’t wish well, because to not a wish a person well sometimes is a natural thing, instinctive, but pray: and the Lord will do the rest,” he urged them.

The first question of the meeting had concerned academic formation. The Pope was quick to warn the men, who are studying for different academic degrees in Rome, against the danger of allowing the intellectual life to overshadow other areas of the priesthood.

“There is a danger of ‘academinanism,’” he cautioned, which must be avoided by living the “four pillars of priestly formation” - spiritual, academic, community, and apostolic.

“It’s true that here, in Rome, the intellectual formation is emphasized,” he acknowledged, “that’s why you were invited - but the other three pillars must be cultivated.”

The Pope said he could not understand a seminarian or priest who comes to study in Rome but “does not have a community life - who doesn’t work at, or does not care for- his spiritual life (in) daily Mass, daily prayer, lectio divina, personal prayer with the Lord - or an apostolic life.”

It is this integrated approach to priesthood that allows the ordained to truly understand the Church. “Studies are necessary, but also prayer,” the Pontiff affirmed.

“Understand the Church with the eyes of a Christian,” he urged the men. “Understand the Church with the mind of a Christian; understand the Church with the heart of a Christian; understand the Church with the action of a Christian. Otherwise, the Church is not understood, or is badly understood.”

One seminarian from Uganda who attended the audience told CNA that he was particularly struck by Pope Francis’ remarks regarding the dangers of intellectualism.

He said he would remember “the first challenge he posed us as seminarians who are studying here in Rome, not to look at only the academic part of it, but also to have… an integral formation so as to better serve the church of God back in our places, to carry the world back to God and God back to the world.”

Pope Francis also spoke at length about the importance of asking Mary’s intercession in life.

In difficult times, “the child goes to the mother, always. And we are children, in the spiritual life: never forget this!”

“In times of turbulence, go to seek refuge under the mantel of the Holy Mother of God. This is what the Russian monks say, and it’s true.”

Such intercession will help priests in their ministry in the Church, he explained. “A relationship with Mary helps us to have a good relationship with the Church: both are mothers.”

The Pope then joked, “To say it in another way: if you don’t want the Madonna as a mother, surely you will have her as a mother-in-law, eh? And this is not good!”

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Pope's trip to Holy Land a historic milestone, ambassador says

Vatican City, May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a press briefing on Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the Holy Land, the Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See explained that the visit marks an important historical moment both spiritually and politically.

“It will be another milestone of historical importance not only in the relations between Israel and the Holy See, but also between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people,” Dr. Zion Evrony observed in his May 13 address to diplomats and journalists.

“All Israelis, regardless of their religious affiliation, are looking forward to greeting Pope Francis and his delegation with an open heart and most warmly. He will be an honored guest. He will be welcomed as a true friend of the Jewish people.”

Dr. Evrony is the sixth Israeli ambassador to the Holy See following the initiation of diplomatic relations in 1994, and originally presented his credentials to retired pontiff Benedict XVI in 2012.

Noting how he has already met with Pope Francis several times, Dr. Evrony revealed that each time he greets the pontiff with the common phrase “Shalom,” the Pope replies to him in Hebrew.

Speaking to those present, the ambassador observed how Pope Francis’ visit to Israel will mark the fourth time a Roman Pontiff has visited the country, the first being Pope Paul VI in 1964 for an 11 hour visit, during which nothing of great political significance took place.

Referring to the 2000 visit of Saint John Paul II was “groundbreaking” because historically for the first time it included “many official elements,” including a visit with the president, prime minister and chief rabbi, Dr. Evrony expressed that Pope Francis’ trip is will also be significant because it will be his first official papal voyage outside of Italy, since his visit to Rio for World Youth Day was arranged by his predecessor.

He then called attention to how “Christians in Israel are equal citizens with full fights and are represented in the Israeli parliament and in all professions,” pointing out that it is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population.

“Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 157,000 today” he observed, stating that this lies “in stark contrast to the condition of Christian communities in many places in the Middle East, where they are under constant attacks, persecuted and insecure.”

The Israeli ambassador also took a moment to address recent acts of vandalism against Christian churches and objects, stressing that they are the actions “of a few extremists.”

“They do not represent the policy of the government and the feelings of the majority of Israelis.”

Noting that during his visit the Pope will walk along a path where Christians traditionally believe Jesus walked with Mary and where according to Jewish tradition kings and prophets lived, Dr. Evrony said that the visit will surely “contribute to the process of reconciliation, recognition and dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.”

Reflecting on the immense progress Christians and Jews have made in the last 100 years in terms of dialogue and friendship, the ambassador described how this has been made possible “as a result of the confluence and interplay of theological and political changes.”

One particular element which has helped to foster stronger relations was the 1965 publication of “Nostra Aetate,” which is the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.

“This document revolutionized the Catholics’ position – exonerating the Jewish people from the collective blame for Jesus’ death,” which had been a key point of contention between the two communities, he went on to say.

Also assisting the growing relations is the Holy See’s “more pragmatic approach to the dialogue with Israel” in solving daily problems of Christians within the state following the Six-Day War, as well as a 1985 papal document in which the “State of Israel” was mentioned for the first time.

It was through this document that “the historic religious bond between the Jewish people and Israel was recognized,” he explained.

Observing how this year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Israeli embassy to the Holy See as well as Pope Francis’ highly-anticipated visit, the ambassador noted that 2014 might also see the completion of the Economic Financial Agreement, which deals with property rights of religious sites as well as taxation.

Explaining how the completion of this agreement would be yet another “milestone” in Jewish-Christian relations, Dr. Evrony made special mention that, contrary to rumors circulating around Israel, “there is no intention to transfer to the Vatican sovereignty or ownership on the tomb of David” or the Cenacle, which is the site of the Last Supper where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.

As to the future, the Israeli ambassador expressed that in addition to ironing out the final details of the financial agreement, there are other challenges which include the need “to further upgrade” and broaden political dialogue regarding “the fate of minorities in the Middle East, the rise of radical Islam, and Syria.”

Continuing, he noted that another challenge is to “achieve stronger cooperation in combating anti-Semitism” through the creation of “a realistic, universal program of education” that is supported by both the Catholic and Jewish communities, as well as Israeli and Holy See embassies throughout the world.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words against anti-Semitism, Dr. Evrony stated that “because of our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic,” and urged that this message should be spread “to the furthest corners of the world.”

Bringing his address to a close, the Israeli ambassador observed that there is also a need “to educate Jewish people on the new approach of the Catholic Church toward Judaism.”

“Today’s relations between the state of Israel and the Holy See are based on mutual respect and dialogue” he said, adding that although certain challenges remain “significant progress” has been made, and “Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Israel will further strengthen these relations.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to call on all Christians around the world to view the Pope’s visit as a message to all believers and an opportunity to follow his example on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.”

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Pope warns against closed-mindedness of 'intellectual aristocracy'

Vatican City, May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily Mass Pope Francis cautioned against those who seek to understand the faith only with the intellect, explaining this attitude closes one to the Holy Spirit and prevents him from acting in our lives.

“You do not believe because you are not part of my sheep! You do not believe because you are not of the people of Israel. You have left the people. You are in intellectual aristocracy,” the Pope stated in his May 13 daily Mass.

Speaking to those in attendance at the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, the Roman Pontiff centered his homily on the day’s readings, taken from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John.

Beginning, the Pope recalled how the Christians scattered after the martyrdom of St. Stephan, noting that “they were dispersed with the seed of the Gospel and they carried it everywhere.”

Observing how at first they only preached the Good News to the Jews, the pontiff explained that “almost naturally, some of them” began to speak to the Greeks in Antioch, and that slowly “they opened the doors to the Greeks, to the pagans.”

However, the Bishop of Rome recounted how once news of this interaction with the pagans reached Jerusalem, the apostle Barnabas was sent to “to carry out an inspection,” during which he found that everyone “was happy” on account of the “large number of people” who were “added to the Lord.”

These people did not say “let's go to the Jews first, then the Greeks, then pagans, then everyone,” the Pope said, “No! They allowed themselves to be carried by the Holy Spirit! They were docile to the Holy Spirit.”

By this openness “one thing leads to another” and eventually “they end up opening the doors to everyone: to the pagans, who were considered unclean in the mentality of the time…they opened the doors to everyone,” he went on to say.

Noting that there are two different groups represented in the readings, the Pope explained that the first are these people, “who are docile to the Holy Spirit.”

Whether he asks us to be bold or whether he leads us gently “the virtue is in allowing ourselves to be carried by the Holy Spirit, in not resisting the Holy Spirit, in being docile to the Holy Spirit,” the pontiff continued, “And the Holy Spirit works in the Church today, is acting in our lives today.”

Explaining how there are some who might say they have never seen him, Pope Francis encouraged them to “pay attention to what is happening, to what comes to your mind, to what comes in your heart. Good things? It is the Spirit that invites you to take that path. It takes docility! Docility to the Holy Spirit.”

Drawing attention to the second group represented in the readings, the Pope observed that they are the “intellectuals, who came to Jesus in the temple: they are the doctors of the law” with whom Jesus frequently had problems.

This is “because they never arrived at understanding: they always came back to the same point, because they believed that religion was a thing of the mind, of laws” he continued, adding that they saw the faith as “fulfilling the commandments and nothing more.”

“These people had no heart; there is no love or beauty, there is no harmony” the pontiff went on to say, noting that these people “only want explanations” but that once they are given, they are “not convinced” and “they return with more questions.”

And “This is their way: they spin round and round,” just as they did with Jesus until they were able to kill him, the Bishop of Rome recalled, adding that “These people do not open their hearts to the Holy Spirit!”

Explaining how they “believe that the things of God can be understood only with the head, with ideas, with their own ideas,” the pontiff emphasized that “They are proud. They think they know everything. And what does not fit into their intelligence is not true.”

“You can raise a dead man in front of them, but they do not believe.”

“Faith is a gift from God! But faith comes if you are in His people,” he continued, “If you are, right now, in the Church, if you are helped by the sacraments, brothers and sisters, by the assembly. If you believe that this Church is the People of God.”

Pope Francis went on to describe how these people had distanced themselves from God, and that “they did not believe in the people of God, they only believed in their own things, and thus built a whole system of commandments that chased the people away.”

“They chased people away and would not let them come into the Church, the people. They could not believe! This is the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit.”

Concluding, the Bishop of Rome recalled the “two groups of people,” noting that they are those who are “gentle, sweet people, humble, open to the Holy Spirit,” whereas the others are “proud, self-sufficient, detached from the people, intellectual aristocrats, who closed their doors and resist the Holy Spirit.”

“This is not just stubbornness” he said, “it is much more: it is having a hard heart! And this is more dangerous.”

“Let us ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit to move forward in life, to be creative, to be joyful, because the other people were not joyful” the Pope prayed, observing that when “there is a lot of seriousness the Spirit of God is lacking.”

Therefore we ask “for the grace of obedience and that the Holy Spirit will help us to defend ourselves from this other evil spirit of self-sufficiency, pride, arrogance, closure of the heart to the Holy Spirit.”

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Canadian pro-life march shows growing movement

Quebec City, Canada, May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Several thousand pro-life advocates rallied in Canada’s national capital May 8, seeking an end to abortion and giving witness to the growth of the pro-life movement across the country.

“The March for Life was, once again, a huge success,” Matt Wojciechowski, a spokesman for the Campaign Life Coalition, told CNA. “We had thousands upon thousands of Canadians rallying for life and then marching through downtown Ottawa.”

“The numbers keep growing,” he added. “It was a beautiful day.”

The Campaign Life Coalition organized the event, which has been held for 17 years. Wojciechowski said an estimated 23,000 people attended the Ottawa event, while thousands more rallied in provincial capitals.

The rally drew pro-life movement leaders, pro-life Members of Parliament and pro-life religious leaders, as well as ordinary families, young adults, senior citizens, clergy, and Catholic vowed religious.

Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec City read a message of support from Pope Francis, written by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on the Pope’s behalf. Cardinal Parolin told the marchers that the Pope “assures them of his spiritual closeness as they give witness to the God-given dignity, beauty and value of human life.”

“He prays that this event fosters greater respect for the inviolable right to life of each person from conception to natural death and supports the efforts of all who labor to ensure that this fundamental human right receives adequate legal protection,” the cardinal said.

Pope Francis gave his blessing to organizers and participants, particularly those who help women in crisis pregnancies and their children.

This year’s March for Life focused on the dangers of the RU-486 abortion drug currently under consideration for approval by Canadian health authorities, Wojciechowski explained.

“Not only does it kill the preborn children,” he said. “It is also known to have killed dozens of women who take it through severe bleeding, heart attacks, (and) septic shock.”

Last week, Liberal Party head Justin Trudeau said that all new Liberal Party candidates for Parliament must support abortion, saying he wants to form a government that is “resolutely pro-choice,” the Canadian newspaper The National Post reports.

Wojciechowski said the announcement was not surprising, given Trudeau’s beliefs. His father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, had a leading role in legalizing abortion in Canada.

However, the March for Life spokesman said the move “alienated a whole demographic of Liberal voters” and contradicted Justin Trudeau’s previous pledges to hold open nomination meetings for party candidates.

He suggested the action shows that pro-abortion rights forces are “on the defensive.”

“They are coming out with these ridiculous statements that will only hurt them in the end.”

Wojciechowski said Canada’s March for Life this year received the most media coverage ever because of Trudeau’s statements.

Pro-life leaders have been encouraging people to be involved in politics at the grassroots level. They are also encouraging pro-life education efforts in schools, forums and conferences.

The March for Life spokesman voiced appreciation for the “strong spiritual voices” in the Catholic Church hierarchy who are “not afraid to speak out against abortion.”

“We pray and hope that they will continue to lead the way in restoring the culture of life in Canada,” Wojciechowski said.

Cardinal Lacroix’s reading of Pope Francis’ message was not uneventful. Two topless women protesters from the group FEMEN Canada attempted to disrupt him.

Wojciechowski said that the disruption was “obviously very orchestrated.”

The group FEMEN is not only pro-abortion but “anti-religion, anti-God,” he said.

“That is why they tend to attack clergy, archbishops and cardinals.”

However, their effect was minimal.

“Most people didn’t even notice,” the March for Life spokesman said. “It’s not something we really focus on because it takes away from the real reason why we’re there and that is to celebrate life.”

Organizers hope and pray the pro-life movement will continue to grow.

“This is up to God, not us,” he said.

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Imitate Mother Angelica’s faithfulness, EWTN head tells graduates

Steubenville, Ohio, May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - EWTN head Michael Warsaw praised the life of Mother Angelica as an inspiring model of Christian faith, exhorting the 2014 graduating class of the Franciscan University of Steubenville to trust in God’s providence.

“Though Mother Angelica endured great struggles and difficulties in founding EWTN, she bore all out of love for God,” Warsaw said at the university’s May 10 commencement. “To this day, her quiet suffering still gives meaning to her life – now lived within the confines of a bed within her monastery in Alabama.”

Warsaw, who is chairman of the board and CEO of Eternal Word Television Network, Inc., received from the university an honorary doctorate in communications for leadership in evangelization through media.

In his address, he encouraged the graduates not to be concerned with what the world thinks, reminding them that sainthood can take a lifetime to attain.

“The important thing, as Mother Angelica’s life and the lives so many of the saints have shown us, is to be faithful and to persevere.”

Mother Angelica, a nun with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, founded EWTN in Irondale, Alabama in 1981. She was a leading presence at the network and hosted a call-in show called Mother Angelica Live until she suffered a disabling stroke in 2001.

She is now 91.

Warsaw said Mother Angelica is “a truly remarkable woman” who taught that Catholics’ lives ought to be “a continual and daily prayer and offering to God, our Loving Father.”

“God is love… and we know that Christ invites us to surrender our hearts to Him and to receive from Him the inspiration and the courage to love as He loves – purely and selflessly,” Warsaw said.

He said the founding of EWTN is “a wonderful story of faith and trust in God’s providence.”

“After all Mother Angelica started EWTN a little more than 30 years ago in her monastery garage with only $200 in the bank, a small group of Poor Clare nuns with no media experience and a few sheep and goats wandering on their property in Irondale, Alabama. “

Warsaw said Mother Angelica was in “terrible health” when she founded the network at the age of 58.

“She had a high school education and had been a cloistered nun her whole life. She knew nothing about television or media,” he said. “Everyone thought she was crazy and they told her so. So why take on this important work, this impossible task? She took on the work because she was called by God to do it. It wasn’t her idea, it was His, and she embraced it.”

Warsaw cited Mother Angelica’s own reflections on her work.

“Once I get an inspiration, I never question it,” she said. “I know myself, and I believe if God wants it He has His plan… Franciscan virtue is to follow the providence of God, and God’s providence goes as far as you go.”

Warsaw said the Catholic network now reaches millions of homes worldwide in multiple languages in “every available media platform.”

He acknowledged that today, Catholics face many difficulties in an “increasingly secular society.”

“During your time here at Franciscan, you have been blessed with the opportunity to practice and to learn more about the Catholic Faith, the most important thing which we possess,” he told the commencement.

He encouraged the new graduates to live “a life which is timeless, a life which is good, and beautiful, a life which is true and which is authentically Catholic.”

In addition, he praised Franciscan University’s “vibrant culture of vocational discernment,” noting how many graduates have followed vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“This is a special gift, both to the individuals and to the Church.”

Warsaw encouraged the graduates to focus less on a career and consider more the questions: “What does God want? What is the mission which God has given to me?”

“After all, it’s not about us, it’s about God.”

He reminded them of Mother Angelica’s own words: “you have been created by God and know Jesus for one reason: to witness to faith, and hope, and love before an unbelieving world.”

“If you are following God, He never shows you the end. It’s always a walk of faith,” he recalled Mother Angelica saying.

“Mother Angelica’s life has been a life of faith, her prayer life and obedience to God are worthy of our imitation,” the EWTN head continued. “Everything she did was an act of faith.”

“The growth of EWTN is the fruit of her cooperation with God’s grace. Our challenge is to follow Jesus as He leads us, to do what Christ asks of us.”

Franciscan University of Steubenville’s 66th commencement recognized 692 undergraduate and graduate students. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston delivered the homily at the university’s May 9 Baccalaureate Mass.

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Central African bishop recounts Holy Week kidnapping

Bossangoa, Central African Republic, May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Central African bishop who was abducted on Holy Wednesday by Seleka rebels, and on his way to be executed, has called the incident “a great misfortune.”

Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa was in a car with three priests of his diocese on their way to Immaculate Conception parish in Batangafo on April 16.

“Around 5 p.m. we were intercepted by Seleka rebels under the command of a colonel who was in charge in Bossangoa when the rebels occupied the city,” Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia told Fides later that month.

Violence broke out in Central African Republic in December 2012. Seleka rebels, loosely organized groups that drew primarily Muslim fighters from other countries, ousted the president and installed their own leader, Michel Djotodia, in a March 2013 coup.

The Seleka were officially disbanded, but its members continued to commit such crimes as pillaging, looting, rape, and murder.

In September 2013, after 10 months of terrorism at the hands of the Seleka, “anti-balaka” self-defense groups began to form. The anti-balaka picked up momentum in November, and the conflict in the nation took on a sectarian character, as some anti-balaka, many of whom are Christian, began attacking Muslims out of revenge for the Seleka’s acts.

After international pressure and resistance from the anti-balaka, Djotodia stepped down as president in January 2014. Soon after, a national council elected an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian who has appealed for an end to bloodshed from both sides yet has proven unable to quell the bloodshed.

The nation is now in the midst of continuing conflict among political, tribal, and religious groups – as Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia's kidnapping attests.

“I was taken to this colonel who accused me of ruining his plan to regain Bossangoa, of having put defamatory statements against him on the Internet,” the bishop recounted. The two “knew each other “quite well,” he told America's Kevin Clarke, and he had “criticized or condemned the various abuses (the colonel) committed on the population.”

Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia and his three priests were driven toward the Chadian border. At another roadblock, near Kabo, another Seleka commander “did not agree with the order of execution,” the bishop told Fides, and he and his priests were released.

His pectoral cross, mitre, bishop's ring, and car were seized, but he was able to celebrate Holy Thursday in Batangafo. He was then returned by African Union peacekeepers to Bossangoa on Good Friday via helicopter.

That same Friday, one of his priests, Fr. Christ Forman Wilibona, pastor of Paoua, was killed as he returned to his parish from Chrism Mass.

Bossangoa has seen significant violence since September, when the Seleka began murdering its inhabitants and setting fire to their homes.

Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia remained three months in a siege of his cathedral compound, sheltering more than 40,000 persons there.

In a Dec. 16, 2013 letter, he said his country had become “a shadow of its former self,” calling it “a failed state.” He described how the churches, convents, schools and health care facilities of his diocese had been pillaged, so that rather can continuing its health care, educational, and employment programs it was “managing an emergency situation.”

In that letter he also lamented the then-recent formation of anti-balaka, saying that both they and the Seleka had a “criminal logic” and that Christian and Muslim civilians were being caught in their crossfire.

When he spoke to America magazine after his abduction, Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia emphasized that the Church will continue to protest abuses by either side, saying, “the challenge is big, but we will not succumb to evil.”

On April 28, Seleka attacked a Doctors Without Borders clinic in Nanga, 70 miles north of Bossangoa. They killed 22 people, including three Doctors Without Borders aid workers.

In the 18 months of violence in Central African Republic thousands have died, and more than 1.1 million – a quarter of the population – are estimated to have been displaced from their homes. More than 2.2 million are facing food insecurity.

The BBC reports that 70 percent of Central African children are no longer attending school, and some have been recruited as soldiers.

The African Union has deployed 5,000 peacekeepers to the nation, and France has sent 2,000. The U.N. intends to send some 12,000 before the end of the year.

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Exorcism conference trains priests in 'ministry of love'

Rome, Italy, May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - For the ninth consecutive year, a group of experts met in Rome to train those interested in the ministry of exorcism – a rite hailed as a vital act of service in the Church today.

Participant Father Maximus Urbanowicz, a missionary priest from the Orthodox Church of America, described the practice as “a ministry of love” and “compassion, which requires great faith and virtue in those that are ministering to  the people who are oppressed.”

The conference was held May 5-10 at Rome’s Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, located on the outskirts of the city. Although the university is run by the Legionaries of Christ, the conference included many experts from different fields, both lay and ordained, who are not attached to the group.

Fr. Urbanowicz told CNA on May 9 that he was very impressed with the conference’s view of exorcism  as a service, with “emphasis on loving people,” as well as the structured process surrounding exorcism in the Catholic Church.

In his missionary work, the orthodox priest often finds himself in countries with pagan religions like “animism, where you see people who are oppressed or possessed by evil spirits.”

He has had difficulty finding a “school, or experts that you can consult.” Instead, he noted, “you kind of learn it by experience and watch others who have done it before you.”

For Fr. Urbanowicz, the conference has helped him to think about things he “had never considered before: many cults and satanic symbols and different things which you don’t really want to look at, but people are involved with it and you have to be able to meet them where they are in order to help them come out of it.”

He was grateful to learn about the difference between prayers of “liberation” or “deliverance” which any Christian can say, and “the actual ministry of exorcism” which is reserved to priests in the Catholic Church.

The orthodox priest also expressed his appreciation for the Church’s structural process for exorcism.

“It’s healthy, I would say, in terms of its effectiveness in the lives of the people you’re ministering to, and its thoroughness – taking people to psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors: then it goes before the bishop and its decided upon, ‘yes, this shall qualify as an exorcism’. And it’s not just haphazard where somebody leaves confused and sometimes hurt more than when they came.”

Italian Dr. Porxia Quagliarella, a psychotherapist and theologian, is one such expert who is consulted in exorcism cases. She was invited to speak at the conference on the sociological and psychological aspects of exorcisms.

“I collaborate with a priest exorcist … when it’s not clear if there are diabolical problems or if they are psychological,” she explained, “because there are psychological problems, types of hysteria that resemble the (diabolical) situation, or, for example, a narcissistic personality, which therefore have problems of another kind.”

“It’s necessary to be attentive to see if there are really cases of possession or if they are people who can be cured psychologically.”

The psychotherapist said that of the 10 cases which have been referred to her, only two were truly cases of diabolical possession. The other eight cases were psychological in nature.

They were “cases of depression – cases, for example, of trauma in which there was, rather than a possession, trauma regarding the devil, (or) regarding the Church. Thus in ten cases, two presented this negative reality. The eight others were persons instead, who, with an adequate cure had resolved their problems very well.”

Dr. Quagliarella recounted the story of one woman who was referred to her because the woman had a desire to kill her son. The patient was so afraid, she could not even pick up a knife in the kitchen if her son was standing nearby, because she was worried she would harm him.

The psychotherapist worked with the woman to discern that in fact the patient had both a “depressed” personality and an “immature” sense of self, so that “the responsibility that she had as a mother, as a wife, many times gave her these stints of aggression where she sought to dominate in some way.”

Over time, “her personality grew with this psychotherapy. In reality, she didn’t have this (diabolical) type of problem at all.”

The difference between diabolical possession and psychological problems, Dr. Quagliarella, explained, is that “with possession, there is truly a desire to destroy, the desire to divide, the desire to do evil,” while a “sick person is simply the person who in that moment lives the suffering of his weakness.”

Yet the largest problem she sees is that there are many priests who think that “the devil doesn’t exist.” They are particularly surprised at how she, a doctor, can believe in diabolical realities.

“Sometimes, really, I am astonished that there are priests that say, ‘you still believe that the devil exists? You really believe that this things are real?’”

“To be a doctor does not take away from faith in God,” she stressed. “Truly I would invite these people not only to read that which is written in sacred scripture, because there above all we see the presence of evil from the beginning.”

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Calls for late-term abortion ban mark Gosnell anniversary

Washington D.C., May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Tuesday's anniversary of the murder convictions of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell brought renewed calls for a federal ban on late-term abortions.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said May 13 that she continues to “grieve for the victims and their families who have been hurt by Kermit Gosnell.”

“Gosnell’s horrific crimes stand as a stark reminder that there is no such thing as a safe abortion.”

Gosnell was convicted in May 2013 of three first-degree murder charges for killing babies who had been born alive at his abortion clinic. Testimony had indicated that Gosnell and his staff snipped the necks of more than 100 infants who survived abortion attempts; witnesses indicated that some of the infants struggled for their lives.

Gosnell's clinic had not been subject to oversight by the state of Pennsylvania since 1993, following the election of Republican governor Tom Ridge. A federal raid on suspicions of illegal drug prescription in 2010 uncovered blood-stained rooms and filthy equipment at the clinic.

The clinic stored aborted fetuses in a basement freezer in plastic food containers and bags next to staff lunches. Gosnell kept severed feet of unborn babies preserved in specimen jars, allegedly for future identification or DNA samples.

In addition to the counts of first degree murder, the abortion doctor was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of a patient who died of an overdose from drugs administered at the clinic.

Black said that although Gosnell’s actions toward infants were “especially egregious,” they are “what happens each time an abortion is performed – a beating heart is stopped and an innocent human life is ended.”

Citing “widespread public opposition” to late-term abortion, she urged the Senate to pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which has already passed the House of Representatives.

The legislation would ban abortions 20 weeks into a pregnancy or later, on the grounds that unborn children are capable of feeling pain from that time.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) voiced support for the legislation at a May 13 news conference, calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to schedule a vote on the bill.

“In the entire world, there are seven countries that allow elective abortions at the 20-week period and beyond. My goal is to make sure when this is over, there are six,” Graham said.

The push for legislation coincides with the successful conclusion of a fundraiser to make a movie about the Gosnell trial.

Filmmakers Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney, and Magdalena Segienda raised upward of $2.2 million from more than 26,500 donors through the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo to create a made-for-TV movie about Gosnell.

McAleer has contended that the media has ignored the trial of Gosnell, whom he has called “the biggest serial killer in American history.”

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Thousands swarm Harvard campus for prayer, protest

Cambridge, Mass., May 13, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Amid the last-minute cancellation of a planned satanic black mass re-enactment, some 2,000 people gathered on Harvard's campus to take part in a May 12 Eucharistic procession and adoration.

“This is essentially the best response we could have asked for as a diocese,” Harvard student and Catholic Students Association president Todd E. Jones told school newspaper The Harvard Crimson.

The publication said Catholics were joined by Christians and other supporters from the Boston area, “carrying crosses and singing the words ‘Jesus, I adore you.’”

A Eucharistic procession began at MIT and ended at St. Paul’s Church in Harvard Square, where a Holy Hour was then held.

Diocesan newspaper The Boston Pilot estimated that there were approximately 2,000 people in attendance. One student, a senior at Harvard, told The Harvard Crimson she had never seen the church so full.

University president Drew G. Faust was among those in attendance, the Boston Globe reported. Faust had earlier that day voiced her intent to be present at the Eucharistic holy hour as a sign of respect for the Catholic community.

In her May 12 statement, the university president had condemned the black mass re-enactment as “flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory,” saying that the decision by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club to host it was “abhorrent.” However, she said the ceremony would be permitted for the sake of “free expression.”

Although the black mass re-enactment was initially scheduled to take place on campus, The Harvard Crimson reported late on the afternoon of May 12 that the event had voluntarily been moved to The Middle East nightclub, a short distance from campus.

However, shortly afterward, the general manager of the nightclub told the publication that negotiations had fallen through and the event would not be hosted there.

Subsequently, in a breaking news update at 7:45 p.m. Eastern time, the publication reported that the black mass “has been postponed indefinitely and will not take place tonight, according to (a) Satanic Temple spokesperson.”

It was later reported that a smaller version of the event may have been held elsewhere.

Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, a black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony structured as a parody of the Catholic Mass. Invoking Satan, the ritual is centered around the desecration of the Eucharist, which is generally done by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic church and using it in a profane sexual ritual, or defecating and urinating on it.

The plans for the black mass had been met with widespread opposition from students, alumni and the broader Catholic community. The Archdiocese of Boston had spoken out against the event, and Catholic groups across the country and internationally had planned Masses, holy hours and prayers of reparation for it.

Harvard senior Aurora Griffin told CNA that she presented university president Drew Faust with petitions against the event that had garnered more than 60,000 signatures.

In her cover letter, Griffin explained that the event does not promote an appreciation for cultural understanding, but instead ”promotes contempt for the Catholic faith,” adding that “supporters of genuine tolerance and  civility are rightly offended and outraged that Harvard has permitted such an event.”

Adding to the controversy were statements by a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which was to stage the event, claiming that a consecrated host would be used. While the temple and the Cultural Studies Club both later denied this, insisting that only a plain piece of bread would be used, some critics voiced doubt.

The Cultural Studies Club had defended the black mass re-enactment, saying that those were offended held views that were “arrogant and egocentric.” The group argued that its critics’ beliefs were “based on intolerance and ignorance,” calling them outdated, paranoid and presumptuous.

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