December 6, 2016
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Why France's 'Zombie Catholics' are so powerful

Paris, France, December 6 (CNA) .- It happened in Britain. It happened in the U.S.


Pope Francis lauds Middle East effort to save local art, culture


Catholic colleges to undocumented students: You're still welcome
How the new bishop of Arlington hopes to heal division in society
Disappointment as Senate Republicans drop religious freedom amendment


Why France's 'Zombie Catholics' are so powerful


Pope Francis lauds Middle East effort to save local art, culture

VATICAN CITY, December 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis endorsed a recent conference dedicated to the conservation and restoration of art and heritage within the Middle East as a means to defend the rights of the human person. 

The Pope gave his support for the Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage Conference, which occurred at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, on Dec. 2-3. Supported by UNESCO, France and the UAE set up the conference in hopes of protecting the heritage of the countries torn by war within the Middle East. 

Identifying the theme as “unfortunately starkly current,” the Pope said that “the protection of cultural treasures constitutes an essential dimension in the defense of what it is to be human.”

In countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, and Syria – each exposed to centuries of war – looting, destruction to cultural monuments, and illicit trading are commonplace. Within these cultures, all of which extend over a millennium back, many culturally significant pieces and property have already been damaged or obliterated. National Geographic has reported on specific pieces which have faced or are facing extinction, including the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and the toppled statues of the Mosul Museum in Iraq by ISIS militants. 

Both the president of France, François Hollande, and the crowned prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have organized the conference with over 40 representatives from other countries. 

The conference is supported by UNESCO, an organization within the UN dedicated to protecting and rehabilitating damaged art, cultural monuments, and natural wonders. Since its establishment in 1945, UNESCO has retained significant art and nature all over world. Having already helped restore the Old Walled City of Shibam, Yemen and even Yellowstone National Park within the US, UNESCO will be an important piece in enforcing and organizing the restoration. 

“This will be a historical initiative to pass down our legacy of tolerance and value of heritage,” said the organization's chairman of tourism, Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, who added that the project would need to raise $100 million in order to do so. 

Partnering with UNESCO and relying on their previous expertise, countries will look to establish the Global Fund for Culture in order to reconstruct places like Nimrud or Palmyra. France and a few other countries have also shown interest in housing artifacts until it is safe for their return.

For the countries of the Middle East under violence and constraints to religious freedom, the Pope trusts this conference will bring about a greater concern for the human person. “I hope that this event marks a new step in the process of the implementation of human rights,” he said. 


Catholic colleges to undocumented students: You're still welcome

WASHINGTON D.C., December 6 (CNA) .- More than 100 presidents of Catholic colleges and universities have reaffirmed their support for undocumented students in light of questions about the future of U.S. immigration policy.

“Many of us count among our students young men and women who are undocumented, their families having fled violence and instability,” said the statement released by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

“We are committed to educating these young people, brought to the United States by their parents, who come to our universities to build for themselves and us a brighter future.”

The statement’s dozens of signatories include the president of Catholic University of America, the only pontifical college in the United States; the presidents of University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University; and the president of the Chicago-based DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the U.S.

These schools’ undocumented students meet the qualifications of the Obama administration’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

The policy aimed to allow some children of undocumented immigrants – that is, children who were born in the U.S. and have met certain conditions – to stay for up to two years without deportation.

In June 2016, in a split 4-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a hold delaying the policy from taking effect. It is also in doubt whether this policy will continue under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

The Catholic university presidents and other leaders voiced hope that the students qualified under the policy will be able to continue their studies uninterrupted and that many more students in such a situation will be “welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses.”

These students “seek to contribute to American society, to the life and mission of the Church, and to their own formation and growth,” they said.

“Undocumented students need assistance in confronting legal and financial uncertainty and in managing the accompanying anxieties,” said the Catholic higher education leaders.

“We pledge to support these students – through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics, and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal.”

Their statement cited Catholic higher education’s centuries-old presence in American life and its traditions of educating students from a diversity of backgrounds, including “those on society’s margins, especially immigrants and underprivileged populations.”

Pope Francis also made relevant comments at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall during his September 2015 visit to the U.S., the statement noted. Addressing Hispanics and representatives of immigrants in the audience, he said:

“Many of you have emigrated (I greet you warmly!) to this country at great personal cost, in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to this nation.”



How the new bishop of Arlington hopes to heal division in society

ARLINGTON, VA., December 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The Gospel is the answer to a wounded society, the new bishop of Arlington said in the wake of the presidential election.

“We’ll continue to preach the Gospel,” Bishop Michael Burbidge told CNA at a Dec. 5 press conference when he was asked what he would do as bishop to promote unity in society and in the Church after a tumultuous and divisive election cycle.

“Reminding us that we are all created in God’s image and likeness,” he continued. “We are all united as brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Burbidge will officially be installed as the new Bishop of Arlington, Va. in a Dec. 6 Mass at St. Thomas More Cathedral, with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who serves as the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore both present.

Formerly the bishop of Raleigh for 10 years, Bishop Burbidge was born in Philadelphia and served as Honorary Prelate to Pope St. John Paul II before his ordination as auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia in 2002. His motto which he chose as bishop in Philadelphia was “walk humbly with your God.”

He was also the rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary until 2004, and has continued to have an influence on vocations after that, having served on the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and advising the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.

Bishop Burbidge insisted that listening will be a key part of his first days as bishop, especially to rebuild unity within society and the Church.

“We are a part of the human family, and share the common responsibility to build up the common good,” he said.

“And we can only do that when we respect and listen to one another, even when we disagree, even when we have different perspectives, that we do not label, we do not dismiss one another, but truly listen and respectfully engage each other.”

When asked about his “vision for the pro-life cause,” Bishop Burbidge answered that “we are united in protecting, at all times, the sacredness of life and the dignity of every human person without exception.”

Speaking to the Latino community in the diocese, he said that “they should be reassured that the bishops of the country are working behind the scenes and in the public arena to do everything to make sure the dignity of all human persons is being respected.”

He also outlined how he would engage and dialogue with local, state, and national public officials. The Arlington diocese spans 21 counties, has a population of 400,000, and sits just across the river from the nation’s capital.

“As a bishop, I am mandated to bring the Gospel into the public arena,” he said, noting that such engagement might not always be public, but “many times privately and personally, where you can – where we have a true dialogue.”


Disappointment as Senate Republicans drop religious freedom amendment

WASHINGTON D.C., December 5 (CNA) .- Senate Republicans agreed to remove a religious liberty amendment from a defense bill earlier this week, after a fierce campaign was waged against it by secular groups.

“The leadership of the 115th Congress must double down against, not concede to, ridiculous, fact-free accusations meant to derail legitimate lawmaking,” Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated in response to the news that the Russell Amendment was pulled from the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

Back in 2014, President Obama signed an anti-discrimination executive order that prohibited any federal contractor from making employment decisions based on someone’s sexual orientation. There were no religious exemptions.

Thus, any religious group or charity contracting with the government might have to recognize same-sex marriages, for example.

In response, the Russell Amendment, named for the sponsor Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) established protections for religious groups against this order.

For instance, under the proposed amendment the government would not be able to cancel a contract with a Christian group just because they only hired persons who lived in accordance with their church’s teaching.

However, Senate Democrats threatened to hold up the $618.7 defense authorizations bill unless the amendment was removed. Secular advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union also pushed for its demise.

The ACLU led a social media campaign against the amendment, #RejectRussell. The group also delivered over 340,000 petitions to Congress asking that the amendment be removed from the bill.

Rep. Russell told WORLD magazine that he was still “confident we will see this brought to a complete resolution in the near term,” and that he had seen “positive signs” on the matter from the incoming administration of President-elect Trump.

The Russell protections didn’t just affect groups. Military chaplains who use contractors to obtain supplies for their religious mission would have benefitted from it, explained Mike Berry, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, in an op-ed for The Hill.

Chaplains using contractors who conflict with their religious beliefs could face backlash from their “endorsing body,” he wrote. “Any chaplain who runs afoul of the tenets and teachings of their endorser is likely to forfeit their endorsement, meaning they can no longer serve as a chaplain.”

The poor and the vulnerable will suffer without the contribution of certain contractors and their religious mission, the Becket Fund insisted.

“Now, because Congress ducked this important issue, more service providers will be unable to continue offering their critical services, services that are sometimes only offered by religious groups,”  Arriaga said.

“It is the refugees, homeless, trafficking victims, veterans, and other vulnerable populations who will suffer the most from Congress’s choice to prioritize political expediency over principled governance.”



Why France's 'Zombie Catholics' are so powerful

PARIS, FRANCE, December 6 (CNA) .- It happened in Britain. It happened in the U.S.


And now it’s happening in France.


A staunchly right-winged politician whose chances seemed slim when the primaries began is now in line to become the next President of France.

François Fillon, former prime minister of France and a faithful Catholic, has pulled ahead in the Republican party, shocking pundits and political commentators throughout the country and beating out the moderate former Prime Minister Alain Juppé by a wide margin.  

His Catholicism is such a strong part of his character that a headline in the newspaper Libération proclaimed: “Help, Jesus has returned!”

With an active faith and conservative values, Fillon has promised to preserve traditional family values and to uphold France’s Catholic roots, and holds traditional views about marriage and abortion, though he has said he does not plan to overturn the 1975 law that legalized abortion.

“I will put the family at the heart of all public politics,” Fillon promised in a recent rally.

The family was “certainly not a place for dangerous social experimentation”, he said, referring to recently adapted adoption rights for same-sex couples.

To understand his success in a country where numbers of churchgoers have plummeted, experts point to the cultural Catholics of France - geniously dubbed les zombies catholiques (the zombie Catholics) by sociologists Emmanuel Todd and Hervé Le Bras. In their book Le mystère français, Todd and Le Bras explain that “Catholicism seems to have attained a kind of life after death. But since it is a question of a this-worldly life, we will define it as ‘zombie Catholicism.’”

Once one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, France has seen a steady decline in churchgoers over the years, with only 15 percent of the country’s 41.6 million Catholics who are considered regular or even occasional churchgoers today.

But there are still pockets in France where the social values of Catholicism have remained strong despite waning church numbers - explaining, at least in part, the success of Fillon.

“Zombie Catholics share certain symptoms: Not only do they hail from regions where resistance was greatest to the French Revolution, but they also have taken advantage of the benefits that flowed from that seismic event,” Zaretsky wrote.

“Highly educated and meritocratic, they also privilege a traditional ordering of professional and domestic duties between husbands and wives; strong attachment to social, community, and family activities; and a general wariness over the role of the state in private and community affairs, including ‘free schools’ (Catholic private schools).”

Fillon shares most of these characteristics, and was able to harness his appeal to the zombie Catholics for political gain.

Robert Zaretsky writes in Foreign Policy Magazine that Fillon has “never made any secret of his beliefs.” He hails from a deeply Catholic part of France, and goes on retreat every year.

Fillon recalls his Catholic upbringing fondly in his campaign book Faire (“To Make”), and explains how the Catholic worldview has shaped who he is as a person: “I was raised in this tradition, and I have kept this faith.”

Voters in regions considered zombie Catholic strongholds, such as the western regions of  the Vendée and Brittany, turned out in strong numbers for Fillon. Areas considered more liberal - southern regions, Paris and other large cities - had lower turnout numbers overall in the primaries.

Whether his popularity and appeal will hold long enough to win him the office remains to be seen. He will run against Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, and the Socialist nominee, which will be chosen in January. Incumbent president François Hollande of the Socialist Party declined to run for another term.

The first round of the 2017 French presidential election will be held on April 23, 2017. Should no candidate win an outright majority, a second vote between the top two candidates will be held on May 7.

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