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Archive of June 25, 2014

Pope's mafia 'excommunication' a call to conversion, priests explain

Vatican City, Jun 25, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis' statement Saturday that mafiosi are “excommunicated” was a reflection of theology rather than canon law, and acted as a call to conversion for those in organized crime, priests have said.

Pope Francis visited the Diocese of Cassano all'Jonio, in the southern Italian region of Calabria, June 21. The diocese has been profoundly affected by the its local organized crime group, the 'Ndrangheta;  Cassano all'Jonio was the scene of a feud between mafia clans in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Pope preached during a Mass in Sibari, saying that “when adoration of the Lord is substituted by adoration of money, the road to sin opens up to personal interest. When one does not adore the Lord, one becomes an adorer of evil … those who in their lives have taken this evil road, this road of evil, such as the mafiosi, they are not in communion with God: they are excommunicated!”

Fr. Davide Cito, a professor of canon and penal law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, told CNA June 23 that “Pope Francis wanted to stress the practical apostasy of mafiosi – he compared it to idolatry: mafiosi are as apostates in their adoration of evil.”

“Speaking those words, Pope Francis shocked consciences, since many mafiosi claim to be devout Christians.”

The Pope “did something 'more' than the canonical punishment. He wanted to bind the 'excommunication' to the personal life of mafiosi, and this is why he added after that he slammed them as adorers of evil: because he does not want to condemn the isolated crime of a single person. He wants to address those who behave stubbornly against God.”

Similarly, Fr. Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Holy See press office, explained that Pope Francis' words were not a formal legal decree, but more a message to mafiosi that they cannot receive the sacraments because of their activities, Reuters reported.

Fr. Ennio Stamile, a parish priest in the Calabrian town of Cetraro, has been targeted by the 'Ndrangheta several times for his commitment against organized crime. He reflected that “when the Church does excommunicate, it is not to condemn. It is rather to help people understand that their behavior, their choice, has put them outside of ecclesial communion, so as to give them a reason to convert their life.”

He noted that Pope Francis' words were “the first time a Pope has spoken so directly about the issue.”

While “the Pope's explicit words are unprecedented,” he said, “yet there is a strong continuity” between  Pope Francis' words, and what St. John Paul II said in Sicily in 1993.

After having met the parents of the young Italian magistrate Rosario Livatino, who had been assassinated by mafiosi in 1990, the Pope addressed mafiosi directly, in Agrigento on May 9.

"God said: Thou shalt not kill. It is not possible for a man … to change or override this most holy law of God … I address those responsible: repent! One day there will be the righteousness of God.”

As a result of his words, the mafia set off bombs in front of St. John Lateran and San Giorgio al Velabro in Rome on July 28. There were no victims, but the attacks were a clear signal of war.

“Both John Paul II and Francis spoke toughly after having felt the damage the mafia could do in a personal meeting: John Paul II with the parents of Livatino, Pope Francis after his visit to the prison of Castrovillari … where he met the grandmothers of little Coco.”

“Coco” is Nicola Campolongo, a three-year-old child who was shot to death in a car together with his grandfather Jan. 20. The Campolongos are involved in the 'Ndrangheta, and Nicola was living with his grandfather, who was the target of the hit.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino of Cassano all'Jonio said the Pope's meeting with Nicolo's grandmothers was “a moving moment.”

“Pope Francis felt this suffering, and it led him to speak those words,” said Fr. Stamile.

“In the end, we priests are not magistrates sentencing. We are shepherds, we look for the salvation of every human being.”

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Mother, daughter find faith despite unexpected pregnancy

Steubenville, Ohio, Jun 25, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Waking up to her bedroom light one late night in October, Linda Padgett was flooded with fear. Standing there, her 18-year-old daughter Sarah revealed that she was pregnant.

Raising a Catholic family of nine, Padgett was initially worried about judgment in the community, her daughter’s future, and the possibility that her daughter’s pregnancy may have been the result of bad parenting.

Over time, however, she was able to overcome the fears and difficulties, and the pregnancy became a source of faith and trust for both herself and Sarah.

Padgett, who lives in Steubenville, Ohio, explained to CNA that she quickly learned to push her own “selfish fears” aside to offer her daughter love and support.

“I needed to let her just talk and share,” she reflected. “I needed to hug her and love her and tell her that we are there for her.”

Noting that she had her husband Chris “have always been open to life” and “never doubted the blessing that a baby is,” Padgett noted that what was at first a “painful and frightening” reality eventually became transformed into abundant grace and countless blessings.

“It’s like God shined a bright light into a darkened, secret area in Sarah’s life,” she said. “That light dispels the darkness and brings grace and healing.”

“It didn’t take long to realize that God was going to use this major twist in Sarah’s life to help her focus and grow.”

Padgett is now joyfully anticipating the arrival of her granddaughter, who will be named Audrey.

“There is a new, little baby coming into our home and I don’t have to be the one doing all the work!” she laughed.

However, the growing baby is not the only new life in the family, she said. “New life is what is happening to both my daughter and to me.”

She explained that she has had the opportunity to exemplify Christ’s unconditional love to Sarah, part of her calling as a parent to model Jesus to her children and help them reach heaven one day.

At the same time, Sarah has been living a renewed life, spiritually focusing on the future and experiencing a lot of physical “firsts” with her pregnancy, Padgett said. “She has started living for someone other than herself.”

In addition, having her mother’s support has given Sarah “the benefit of living with another person who has experienced and felt everything she is feeling.”

Padgett said that the pregnancy has been a “very bonding experience” for herself and Sarah, as well as a time of growth.

She wants young women going through similar situations as Sarah to understand that “pregnancy is not the end of their life.”

“There are lots of stories of girls overcoming their situations and becoming something great, despite the difficulties they encounter,” she said.

Padgett said she has found a new trust and faith in God through seeing the work he has done in her daughter’s life. She believes that God will continue guiding her daughter and has beautiful plans for her future.

“I can’t even image what that will be like, but I am certain it will be amazing,” she said.

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Catholic site aims to engage through beauty, accessibility

Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2014 (CNA) - The U.K.-based Faith movement has just launched a new interactive website aimed at giving Catholics the tools for evangelization in an accessible, attractive format.

“What the Faith movement does well is allow you to see the coherence of the Catholic faith,” said Middlesbrough seminarian Ryan Day, who helped with the development of the site.

“The great value of this new website is that it offers a way to explain, in an every day synthetic way, how the truths of the faith and the Catholic Church fit together,” he told CNA on June 22.

The site contains videos, articles, blog posts, and free pamphlets for download that respond to common 'big questions' such as “Why God?”, “Why Jesus Christ?”, and “Why the Church?”

Day, age 29, noted, “we are an aesthetic generation. People are interested in the packaging of a message as much as they are interested in the content.”

Its creators hope the site will be a user-friendly resource for young Catholics and others looking for deeper answers to questions about their faith.

Thirty-one year-old seminarian Matthew O’Gorman, studying for the priesthood with the diocese of Southwark, said, “given it’s available on your tablet or smartphone, it’s like having a little Saint Paul in your palm. It’s what young people need and it’ll help them realize that Jesus Christ and his Church is what they’re looking for in their hearts.”

“The website will really help when friends ask, 'why do you go to Church on Sunday?' so that you can now give really good reasons,” said 21-year old Vanessa Reith, a student at the University of Edinburgh who also helped shape the site.

“I find Faith is a place I can ask questions and not be frustrated by the answer. There's no fear of the truth and that’s attractive.”

The Faith movement, which holds conferences, symposia, and evenings of reflection, as well as publishing a magazine, was founded in 1972. Its goal is “to offer the Church and the world a new insight into the Catholic faith based upon a synthesis of contemporary science and divine revelation.”  

“Without the Faith Movement I wouldn’t be in seminary. When I was fourteen I needed to be convinced before being converted and that is exactly what Faith does. They give a clear message about how believing in God makes sense: it’s not crazy being Catholic,” O'Gorman remarked.

O'Gorman and Day are only two of the many young men who became involved with the Faith movement at a young age and have since gone on to discernment of a priestly vocation.

Day credits the large numbers of religious vocations to the Faith Movement’s “synthetic, Christ-centered theology.”

“It’s hard to hear about Christ as the answer to the deepest questions of mankind and the source of all our healing and all our joy and our final end, and the Church as the continuation of Christ’s mission on earth and not see the priesthood as absolutely essential in the Christian life,” he explained.

“The vision of the priesthood that comes with that kind of Christ-centered theology really encourages young men like myself to ask seriously that question: am I being called to play my part in the Lord’s work as another Christ for his people?”

Dominic Findlay-Wilson, studying for the priesthood with the diocese of Clifton, said the Faith movement was “instrumental in me discerning my vocation. It seemed to present such a sound and all encompassing vision of my faith.”

Findlay-Wilson began attending the Faith summer sessions almost 20 years ago. He recalled that he was “attracted by the enthusiasm and the joy that the priests had as well as the sound teaching they gave. It seemed to me that they gave concrete answers to many questions I had concerning my faith.”

“In all my years of attending conferences I have never seen a question that hasn’t been answered yet!” he remarked.

The new website aims to offer those answers in a more modern venue.

“The website really gives you a sense of what it is like at the conferences,” explained Day. “You can see young people who are happy, who are engaged with their faith.”

On the site, “you can find a coherent apologetic vision in which the truths of the faith – from why God exists to why there is a Church – come together perfectly, on an everyday level of explanation.”

The site can be found at: faith.org.uk

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Being a Christian means belonging to the Church, Pope affirms

Vatican City, Jun 25, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his general audience address Pope Francis drew attention to how God formed the Church to unify humanity, emphasizing that no one is saved on their own, but rather through the help of others.

“Our identity is one of belonging. To say 'I am Christian' means to say: 'I belong to the Church. I belong to this People with whom God established an ancient alliance that is always faithful,'” the Pope explained in his June 25 general audience address.

His address to those gathered in St. Peter's square continued the reflections he began on the Church last week.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, in our catechesis on the Church we have seen that God gathered a people to himself in the Old Testament and in the fullness of time sent his Son to establish the Church as the sacrament of unity for all humanity.”

“God wanted to form a people that takes his blessing to all the nations of the Earth,” and he “sets it as a sign and instrument of union of all men with God and each other through Jesus Christ," the Pope said. 

Explaining how we are all called to be a part of “this great family,” the Pope drew attention the importance of “belonging to this people."

"We are not Christians as an individual, each one on his own,” he said. “None of us become Christians on our own," but rather “we owe our relationship with God to so many others who passed on the faith, who brought us for Baptism, who taught us to pray and showed us the beauty of the Christian life.”

Pope Francis then encouraged those present to give thanks to “our parents and grandparents, our priests, religious and teachers” who helped bring us into the Church.

“We are Christians not only because of others, but together with others” he pointed out, describing the Church as “a large family that welcomes us and teaches us to live as believers and disciples of the Lord.”

Observing how our relationship with God “is personal but not private,” the Roman Pontiff stated that our journey of faith “is born of and enriched by the communion of the Church.”

“Whoever says they believe in God but not in the Church, has a direct relation with Christ outside of her, falls into an absurd dichotomy” he noted, stating that “God has confided his saving message to human persons, to witnesses, and it is known to us through our brothers and sisters.”

However, to walk our path in the Church is not always easy, because “at times we encounter human weakness, limitations and even scandal in the life of the Church,” the Bishop of Rome continued.

But despite these difficulties, “God has called us to know him and to love him precisely by loving our brothers and sisters, by persevering in the fellowship of the Church and by seeking in all things to grow in faith and holiness as members of the one body of Christ.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis encouraged those present to keep in mind that “as Christians, we cannot disregard the other, the Church; we cannot save ourselves on our own.”

Following his catechesis, the pontiff offered a special welcome to groups present from various countries around the world, including England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Australia, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, the Antilles, the United States, Spain, México, Honduras, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.

He then gave a special greeting to the representatives of Bethlehem University, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of its founding this year.

“I offer cordial greetings to the delegation of Bethlehem University” he said, “with appreciation for its praiseworthy educational apostolate among the Palestinian people.”

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Vatican upholds nature, importance of family in UN session

Vatican City, Jun 25, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During the 26th Session of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi affirmed that the family nourished by the marriage of one man and one woman offers a “dynamic energy” to society.

“Most people find unique protection, nurture, and dynamic energy from their membership in a strong and healthy family founded upon marriage between a man and a woman,” the archbishop stated in a June 24 letter to the president of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council.

“Moreover, ample evidence has demonstrated that the best interest of the child is assured in a harmonious family environment in which the education and formation of children develop within the context of lived experience with both male and female parental role models.”

According to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, delivered his letter to the president of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on the occasion of their 26th Session.

The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body within the United Nations, and is composed of 47 States who are responsible for the protection and promotion of every human right worldwide.

At the beginning of his letter the archbishop drew attention to the U.N.’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family, which took place May 15 under the theme “Families Matter for the Achievement of Development Goals.”

Choosing such a theme, he noted, displays “a strong relationship to Resolution 2012/10, adopted by ECOSOC that stressed the need ‘for undertaking concerted actions to strengthen family-centered policies and programs as part of an integrated, comprehensive approach to development.’”

Going on, the archbishop recognized the numerous debates currently surrounding “the nature and definition of the family.”

“Such discussions often lead States to conclude that the family is more of a problem than a resource to society” he observed, drawing attention to the U.N.’s preparatory documents for the International Year of the Family, which explained that families are finding it harder to fulfill their responsibilities due to “rapid socio-economic and demographic transformations.”

However in spite of the current challenges, Archbishop Tomasi said that the Holy See’s human rights delegation firmly believes that “the family, in fact, is the fundamental unit of human society.”

“It continually exhibits a vigor much greater than that of the many forces that have tried to eliminate it as a relic of the past, or an obstacle to the emancipation of the individual, or to the creation of a freer, egalitarian and happy society.”

“The family and society, which are mutually linked by vital and organic bonds, have complementary functions in the defense and advancement of the good of every person and of humanity” he observed, affirming that “The dignity and rights of the individual are not diminished by the attention given to the family.”

Calling the family the “fundamental cell of society where the generations meet, love, educate and support each other, and pass on the gift of life,” the archbishop pointed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ recognition of the “unique, profound, and uncompromising rights and duties for the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman.”

This belief, he said, is evident in their declaration that “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family” and that “they are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”

It can also be seen in the declaration’s affirmation that “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses,” and that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Reiterating the Holy See’s firm position that “the family is a whole and integral unit, which should not be divided or marginalized,” Archbishop Tomasi stated that “The family and marriage need to be defended and promoted not only by the State but also by the whole of society.”

“Both require the decisive commitment of every person because it is starting from the family and marriage that a complete answer can be given to the challenges of the present and the risks of the future.”

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Bishop's letter on 'language of love' finds global audience

Lincoln, Neb., Jun 25, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Nebraska Bishop James D. Conley’s pastoral letter “The Language of Love” has had an international impact in the first three months since it was published.

“Sacrifice is the language of love,” Bishop Conley’s pastoral letter reads. “Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.”

The pastoral letter, published March 25, discusses topics like marriage and the reasons behind Catholic rejection of contraception and sterilization. It is addressed to the Catholic families and healthcare providers of the diocese of Lincoln, Neb.

The letter was reprinted in several outlets in the U.S. and in other countries. In Germany, the Bishop of Regensburg cited the letter in a homily and a German-language translation was published on the popular website Kath.net.

A Danish translation of the letter was published at the website of the Denmark-based magazine Katolsk. It has also been published in the Philippines.

Last week in London, Bishop Conley spoke about “The Language of Love” at St. Patrick’s Evangelization School, a formation program for young adults aged 20-30 based at the parish of St. Patrick in London’s SoHo neighborhood.

At the time of its release, the pastoral letter was delivered to every Catholic family registered in the Diocese of Lincoln. It was also made available as a podcast on the diocese’s website.

Bishop Conley’s letter says that American culture rejects “the gift of new life,” and therefore rejects love, through the use of contraception, which “gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy and loving meaning of marriage itself.”

Marriage is a call to “loving as God loves… freely, creatively and generously.”

The letter also exhorts Catholic physicians, pharmacists and other health care professionals to pursue the “art of healing.” It notes that contraception and sterilization “denigrate and degrade the body’s very purpose.”

In March, Bishop Conley told CNA that Catholics who reject or ignore the immorality of contraception should look to the Church and to the teachings of Christ as “a message of love and mercy,” a message proclaimed by Pope Francis.

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Chaldean priest says little hope for Christians in Iraq

El Cajon, Calif., Jun 25, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - It has been more than four decades since Father Michael Bazzi left his home country of Iraq. But the plight of Christians there at the hands of militant Muslim groups remains at the forefront of his mind.

“Today, there is no future (for Christians),” Fr. Bazzi, pastor of Saint Peter Chaldean Catholic Church in El Cajon, Calif., told CNA on June 18.

“These people, they hang, they behead people who don't believe in their faith,” he lamented. “Our village had 15,000 Catholics when I was there. Would you believe today there are how many: only 150 families.”

He explained that Christians in Iraq are targeted for the faith, as well as caught in the midst of fighting between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

“Our church is in trouble today. As long as Iran exists, Shia exists. And they are the majority in Iraq. And as long as Saudi Arabia is there, and the Emirate, that means Sunni has to exist ... (But) those people go against each other because of their faith. And as Christians, we are always caught in the middle.”

Fr. Bazzi is a native of Mosul, which was one of the first major Iraqi cities seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group (ISIS).

The militant group aims to establish a Sunni state within Syria and Iraq, which is a majority Shia region. ISIS launched its offensive in Iraq in early June, overtaking its second-largest city of Mosul on June 10. ISIS now controls most of north and north-central Iraq, including the city of Tal Afar.

Civilians who choose to stay in ISIS-controlled areas must follow an extreme interpretation of Islamic law. According to the BBC, ISIS has offered Christians in seized areas three choices. They can either convert to Islam, face death or pay a jizya tax in exchange for their safety while observing certain conditions.

Those conditions reportedly bar Christians from public prayer and display of religious symbols. Christians are also reportedly banned from making renovations to churches, and women must wear the Islamic veil.

The Sunni militant group's persecution has further decreased Iraq's dwindling Christian community. Many Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries or the autonomous Kurdish region in the north.

The Christian diaspora from Iraq and the Middle East isn't exactly news to Fr. Bazzi. He remembers facing persecution for his Christian faith while growing up in a suburb of Mosul.

Fr. Bazzi said that when he was younger, his village was entirely Catholic. As a boy, he attended Catholic school. Then, his community started growing as strangers began moving into the region.

“People we never met, people we never knew: Muslims,” he said. “They started to settle…and people were just in trouble with their traditions, with their religion, with their faith.”

Fr. Bazzi said the new neighbors aimed “to root Christianity from Iraq,” and he began to be treated as a “second-class citizen.”

He described being looked at “as a second-class person, as not normal,” and viewed as “a blasphemer, an infidel.”

This second-class treatment developed into persecution, which eventually inspired Fr. Bazzi's vocation to the priesthood. He said he was eager to teach young people in his region how to defend their Catholic faith.  

Fr. Bazzi was ordained a priest in Baghdad in 1964. After serving for several years in his home village, he moved to Rome for his studies. In 1974, he moved to the United States, spending time in Wisconsin and Michigan before settling in California, where he now serves as pastor of Saint Peter Chaldean Cathedral.

The priest said the Chaldean community in the area has multiplied as more Christians have left Iraq due to persecution. Today, he says the Chaldean community accounts for nearly a quarter of El Cajon's population of more than 101,000 people. And spirits are high.

“We have two churches, we have the bishop and we are living so happily,” Father Bazzi said. “But, the problem is that we are so eager to get back home to our country.”

Unfortunately, this dream may not become a reality.

“Today, there is no future (for Christians),” he said. “To them, that’s what their God tells them to do – kill for the sake of their God, Allah. How can you resolve that?”

For himself, Fr. Bazzi says he brought a bag of dust with him from Iraq when he left all those years ago. To this day, he says he sleeps on it.

“I'm an American,” he said. “And I pledge allegiance to America. But, always you remember your birthplace, your country. You survive.”

Fr. Bazzi said he doesn't consider U.S. financial intervention a viable solution to the rapidly disintegrating situation in Iraq. He warned that US intervention may instead foster sectarian divides between the Shia-backed government and the Sunni minority in the country.

Instead, Fr. Bazzi said Iraqi Christians must pray and trust in God.  

“We are praying for those persecutors because that’s what Jesus told us. And we are praying for those people who are still left behind...We believe what Jesus said 'If they persecute you in this city, go to another city,' and that’s what we did.”

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New York Catholics angered over financial hit to students

New York City, N.Y., Jun 25, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Local Catholics are lamenting New York state legislators' move to deny a tax credit that would boost funding to create scholarships for students in need at private and religious schools.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the New York Catholic Conference had strongly supported the Education Investment Tax Credit, with both voicing deep disappointment that the bill was not passed.

“Along with Catholic school families across the state, we are deeply disappointed and angry at the failure to pass an Education Investment Tax Credit, which would have generated needed scholarships to help families afford parochial schools, yeshivas, and other non-public schools, as well as benefited public schools and all teachers,” said conference executive director Richard Barnes.

The legislation would have encouraged donors to contribute to scholarships, for which they would receive credit on their tax returns. The money would be donated by private funders to parochial schools, meaning that no state money would be used.

“This was a proposal where everyone would win,” Cardinal Dolan noted in a June 20 column in the New York Post.

The Education Investment Tax Credit was consistently supported by Governor Anthony Cuomo and a majority of legislators in both houses, saying that passing the bill was a “no brainer.”

In his statement on behalf of the conference, Barnes added that legislators supported the tax credit because it was “of critical importance to the families of our state.”

Cardinal Dolan was hopeful that the bill would pass, saying “eighty-eight members of the Assembly had signed on as co-sponsors” with “overwhelming support in the state Senate.”

Despite apparent support for the bill, state lawmakers denied the Education Investment Tax Credit during their legislative session last week.

“I am frustrated because the governor and state legislators have bypassed multiple opportunities to help these families,” Cardinal Dolan said in response. Barnes added that “the will to fight for passage, to stand up to the public school teachers union, was not there.”

Numerous Catholic schools have closed in recent years because of dwindling enrollment. It was expected that if the bill had passed, more families would have been able to enroll their children in parochial education.

“The EITC would have been a lifeline to our schools,” the New York cardinal said. “The hundreds of thousands of families for whom we have been advocating are right to be disappointed. I know I am.”

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