|Bishops' charge to US government: help Iraqi Christians
Washington D.C., July 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The U.S. bishops have urged the U.S. government to assist Iraqi Christian victims of persecution, while France has offered asylum to Iraqi Christians who have fled Mosul.
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VATICAN CITY, July 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- On behalf of Pope Francis, the Holy See sent a “nota verbale” to all embassies urging ambassadors to work for peace.
According to Vatican radio, the note, which has not yet been made public, was signed by Vatican secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. It included texts from recent speeches Pope Francis has given calling for peace, particularly in the Middle East.
In comments made to the Vatican agency, Msgr. Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states in the Roman Curia, said the note serves as a gesture inviting the entire interational community to take the question of peace to heart. The note comes at a time of particularly strong violations of human rights in the Middle East, he said.
Pope Francis has made several appeals for peace in recent weeks, including personal phone calls to the presidents of both Israel and Palestine asking for greater peace efforts. He also called ell as to Syro-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch and Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon Louis Raphael I Sako to assure them of his prayers in wake of increasing violence toward Christians in Iraq.
The Pope's weekly Sunday Angelus addresses for nearly the past month have focused on peace, including yet another heartfelt appeal in wake of the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI July 28, 1914. The Bishop of Rome noted how Pope Benedict XV had called the war a “senseless slaughter” that “after four long years” resulted “in a most fragile peace.”
Lamenting the millions killed in the “immense destruction” of First World War, Pope Francis urged attendees to learn from a history which is “increasingly dominated by the demands of peace through patient and courageous dialogue.”
Pope asked those present that “you continue to join me in prayer that the Lord may grant the people and authorities of (the Middle East) the wisdom and strength needed to push ahead on the path of peace by addressing each dispute with the tenacity of dialogue and negotiation with the power of reconciliation.”
“Brothers and sisters: Never war! Never war!” he exclaimed.
The pontiff also grieved the effect of war on children who are killed, wounded maimed or orphaned and have lost “hope for a decent life” and “do not know how to smile” anymore.
“Stop, please!” he said to those involved in violent conflict. “I ask you with all my heart.”
VATICAN CITY, July 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The Holy See Press Office confirmed today that Pope Francis will be traveling to Sri Lanka Jan. 12-15 and to Philippines Jan. 15-19.
The papal trip – which will be the second to Asia in six months – had been informally announced by the Pope Francis in May, during the press conference he held aboard a plane returning from the Holy Land.
“As far as Asia is concerned, two trips are planned: this one to South Korea for the meeting with Asian young people, and then, next January, a two-day visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, in the areas struck by the typhoon,” said the Pope.
The itinerary of the voyage will be disclosed in the coming months, but Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila and Msgr. Nevin Pereira, coordinator of Sri Lankan immigrants in Italy, have speculated on possible papal stops.
The pontiff is expected to visit Manila and the areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda, also known as Hayan. The typhoon struck the Philippines Nov. 8 and caused the death of around 6,000 people.
Cardinal Tagle has also announced that the theme of the papal visit will be “Mercy and Compassion.” The cardinal has asked the Catholics of the countries to do “corporal works of mercy” to honor the papal visit.
Pope Francis’ visit will also mark the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Manila World Youth Day, the largest ever papal event, which gathered around 5 million young people to pray with St. John Paul II.
Msgr. Pereira revealed to CNA June 11 that Pope Francis will be welcomed by the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and will have lunch with all the politicians from both major parties of the country.
According to Msgr. Pereira, the Pope will visit the Institute for Theological Studies in Asia and the Basilica of Our Lady of Sri Lanka, where a meeting is planned with all the religious, priests and nuns of the Island.
Msgr. Pereira also voiced hope that Pope Francis will celebrate the canonization of Bl. Joseph Vaz, an Indian missionary who traveled to Sri Lanka during the Dutch occupation.
Both of the countries Pope Francis will be visiting have endured internal conflicts.
Sri Lankan civil war began July 23, 1983, and ended in May 2009. The war – due to ethnic tensions between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Hindu Tamil minority – caused the death of estimated 80,000 to 100,000 citizens.
Meeting the Sri Lankan workers in Italy Feb. 8 for the celebration of the 68th anniversary of the independence of the country, Pope Francis urged them to “heal the wounds and collaborate with the enemy of yesterday to build the tomorrow together.”
The Pope conceded that “it is not easy,” but said “it is the only path that gives hope of future, development and peace.”
In the Philippines, there have been times of tensions between Christian and Muslim Filipinos, especially the Muslim Moro people native to Mindanao.
Pope Francis proved very attentive to this by elevating to the role of cardinal in the recent Feb. 22 consistory Orlando Beltran Quevedo, O.M.I, archbishop of Cotabato.
The cardinal has advocated for peace between Christians and Muslims in the country and wrote an influential paper in 2003, in which he investigated the causes of the Moro Muslims insurgency and called for the overcoming of prejudices and biases, asking Christian and Muslim leader to play a major role.
WASHINGTON D.C., July 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- A “national retreat” from marriage could worsen social divides between the married and unmarried and plummeting rates are partly due to religious groups failing to reach the working class, says one scholar.
“We have seen that Catholic and mainline Protestant churches have not been successful in reaching poor working class Americans and bringing them into the pews on a regular basis, particularly men,” W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project told CNA July 28.
He said that religious communities, which have provided a significant source of community support for marriage, bear some responsibility for trends like the decline in marriage rates.
Wilcox suggested churches need to “be more intentional in figuring out what kind of messages and ministries will be more effective in drawing working class and poor Americans back into the fold.”
A study from the Urban Institute suggests that among women in the “Millennial” generation, those born from 1980 to 1990, less than 70 percent will marry by age 40 at the present marriage rate. If the downward trend in marriage rates continues, even fewer will marry. Even if marriage rates rebound, fewer women will be married than those of previous generations.
By comparison, 91 percent of women were married by age 40 in 1990, 87 percent in 2000 and 82 percent in 2010.
The Urban Institute also found a divergence in marriage rates by race and education. The study’s authors project “steeper decreases” in marriage rates for Hispanic women and non-Hispanic black women, compared to non-Hispanic white women. Fewer than half of non-Hispanic black women and men will have married by age 40, in one projected scenario.
Those without a four-year degree will face “much steeper decreases in marriage.” Millennials who have graduated college are “either slightly less or no less likely to marry than the generation preceding them.”
Wilcox voiced concern that the decline in marriage is concentrated among “less educated and more economically insecure Americans.”
“We’re going to see a growing social divide in America in part because of the retreat from marriage.”
He said that young adults are “more likely to flourish emotionally and socially when they are married.”
“We know that kids are more likely to thrive educationally, economically and socially when they are raised in a married household,” he said. “And we know that the nation’s retreat from marriage is a significant contributor to family inequality in America.”
Wilcox said that both conservative and liberal explanations for the decline in marriage have merit.
“Conservatives will argue that this trend is rooted either in poor public policies that have a tendency to undercut marriage or in cultural shifts, for instance, expressive individualism or feminism,” he said.
“I think progressives tend to point the finger at economic changes that have made working class and poor men's job prospects bleaker.”
Marriage is similarly unpopular across the Atlantic. The numbers of weddings are at historic lows in France and have significantly decreased in Italy, Ireland, Poland and Portugal, as well as in other European countries, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
Antonio Golini, chairman of Italy’s National Institute for Statistics, told the Guardian that the fall is “very significant” and “beyond all expectation.”
He said the decline is due to cultural causes like the fact that many young people live together without marrying. He said there are also economic factors, such as wariness of a costly wedding celebration during a time of economic crisis.
About half of Europeans aged 18-30 still live with their parents, in part due to a lack of employment, high debt, and high property costs. Many no longer see the need for marriage, favoring a life without commitment. In France many choose civil partnerships as an alternative to civil marriage.
Teresa Castro-Martin, a research professor in population studies at the Spanish National Research Council, said a lack of stable jobs and credit harms family formation.
The average age for a newlywed man is now 37.2 years, an increase of 10 years since the 1980s.
“Marriage has traditionally been a rite of passage to adulthood but it has lost its centrality,” she told the Guardian.
WASHINGTON D.C., July 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The U.S. bishops have urged the U.S. government to assist Iraqi Christian victims of persecution, while France has offered asylum to Iraqi Christians who have fled Mosul.
“The Islamic State has taken control of large swaths of territory in northern Iraq, leaving a trail of destruction, burning and looting ancient churches and mosques, homes and businesses,” Bishop Richard E. Pates, the U.S. bishops’ chairman of International Justice and Peace, said July 25.
“Thousands have fled with little more than the clothes on their backs, often being robbed of their few personal possessions as they ran,” he said in a letter to U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Bishop Pates, who heads the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, cited a July 22 statement from bishops of the Chaldean Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches.
The Iraqi bishops appealed to the Iraqi government to protect Christians’ rights and the rights of other minorities targeted for violence and displacement. They also urged financial assistance and social services for the displaced.
Bishop Pates stressed the need for humanitarian aid directly provided to minority communities through trusted non-governmental organizations in order to prevent its diversion to other purposes.
He urged the U.S. government to “do all it can to provide this critical assistance to those in desperate straits and to work with other governments in an effort to stop the violence.”
Bishop Pates cited Pope Francis’ words, “violence is defeated with peace.”
Iraq’s Christians have been hit particularly hard by the rise of the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL.
Only 20 Christian families remain in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, an ancient center of Christianity, following the city’s conquest by ISIS forces, the BBC reports.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Babylon, who is based in Baghdad, estimated that there were about 35,000 Christians in Mosul before the city’s fall, down from 60,000 before the 2003 U.S. invasion.
The French government has offered asylum to the Iraqi Christians who have fled Mosul.
“We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory,” France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, members of the ruling Socialist government, said in a joint statement.
French opposition party the National Front on July 26 held a rally in Paris to support Iraqi Christians, BBC News reports.
DENVER, COLO., July 30 (CNA) .- An LGBT activist foundation headed by a former Obama White House staffer gave a $200,000 grant to a dissenting Catholic coalition to target the upcoming Synod on the Family and World Youth Day.
The Michigan-based Arcus Foundation gave the 2014 grant to Dignity USA “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.”
“The effort will build advocacy and visibility in connection with two special events, the Synod of the Family and World Youth Day,” the foundation said on its website.
An extraordinary bishops' synod will meet in Rome this Oct. 5-19 to address pastoral challenges related to the family. The synod has been the subject of significant media coverage and speculation.
On June 26, synod organizers released the synod's preparatory document, a broad-ranging document which among other topics summarized Catholic teaching on homosexuality. It discussed the bishops' desire to consider the pastoral response to homosexuality, to Catholics in homosexual relationships, and to any children raised under those unions.
That same day, Dignity USA president Marianne Duddy-Burke attacked the document, claiming it showed “a rigid adherence to existing teaching.” The organization's statement charged that the document “shows no openness to change in hurtful teachings.”
Dignity USA has also been active in protests against Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco's participation in the March for Marriage, a movement intended to support marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
The Arcus Foundation's March 2014 grant announcement said the Dignity USA funding was for the Equally Blessed Coalition, which includes Dignity USA, Call To Action, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.
All of the groups have a history of promoting the rejection of Catholic teaching. In 2010 and 2011 New Ways Ministry, which has also received Arcus Foundation funding, drew a response from leading U.S. bishops who said the organization does not adhere to Catholic teaching.
The Arcus Foundation said the coalition will “amplify pro-LGBT voices within the Catholic Church in preparation for significant international gatherings planned by Catholic bishops and the Vatican.”
According to the foundation, the funding was part of an effort to engage “open-minded religious leaders who can use their influence to shift public views away from prejudice.”
The Equally Blessed coalition is presently seeking families who are willing to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015 “to speak out for LGBT inclusion in the Church,” a flier posted on the coalition website states.
The coalition also helped support self-identified LGBT youth travel to World Youth Day in Rio in 2013, with the goal of raising awareness about gender and sexuality issues and “challenging harmful teachings and pastoral practices that dehumanize,” the coalition website said.
The Arcus Foundation has close ties to the Obama administration, contributing $1 million to the State Department’s Global Equality Fund. The LGBT advocacy fund has spent about $12 million worldwide, the Associated Press reported in June.
Other ties include Kevin Jennings, the foundation’s executive director since July 2012. President Obama in 2009 appointed Jennings as assistant deputy U.S. Secretary of Education and head of the White House's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.
Jennings, a former high school teacher, is the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which has advanced LGBT activism in thousands of U.S. secondary schools.
Critics saw his programs against school bullying as working to marginalize concerns about the immorality of promoting homosexual behavior. He also came under heavy criticism for his radical connections.
Jennings’ partner Jeff Davis, in a 2008 speech, said when he met Jennings in the early 1990s Jennings was a member of ACT UP, an AIDS patient advocacy group whose activism included disruptive protests in churches. In 1992 some members’ protests during Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City included the desecration of the Eucharist.
In a 1997 speech Jennings said he was “inspired” by early homosexual activist Harry Hay. He edited a gay and lesbian history reader for high school and college students that profiled Hay. Jennings’ critics have pointed out that Hay was also a vocal supporter of the pedophile advocacy group NAMBLA.
Jennings also came under criticism for his response to a male high school student who Jennings said came to him for advice after the teen engaged in sexual conduct with an older man in a Boston bus station restroom in 1988.
He said he listened and offered advice. In Jennings' later comments on the incident, he said he told the student he hoped he used a condom, CNN reported in 2009.
Jennings' accounts described the teen as a 15-year-old, under the age of consent in Massachusetts. The student later came forward, saying there had been no sexual contact and that he was above the age of legal consent in Massachusetts at the time of his conversation with Jennings.
Jennings left the Obama Administration in 2011.
The Arcus Foundation was founded by Jon M. Stryker, an heir to the fortune produced by the Stryker Corporation medical devices manufacturer. The Arcus Foundation had almost $171.2 million in assets and total revenue of $29.8 million in 2012, its tax forms state. It gave $28.6 million in grants that year.
The Arcus Foundation is also a financial supporter of the Citizen Engagement Lab Education Fund, giving it a $75,000 grant in 2014 “to present a faith-based challenge to religious institutions and leaders that abuse religious freedom,” the foundation’s grant list said. The grant announcement said the campaigns would promote “greater visibility” for Christians who “denounce the abuse of religious-freedom arguments to oppose full equality for LGBT persons.”
That education fund’s “Faithful America” project has led several recent campaigns against the Catholic Church and other Catholic organizations.
Its petition drives include one protesting the moral standards of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s teacher contracts. Another supports students at a Washington state Catholic high school who protested the departure of a vice principal who had entered a same-sex “marriage.” A third petition protested to the Arizona legislature’s proposed expansion of religious freedom protections.
Another campaign called on Cardinal Francis George to cancel his celebration of Mass at the Courage Conference, a gathering of Catholics with same-sex attraction who aim to be faithful to Catholic teaching and practice. That campaign objected to the presence of therapists who believe that sexual orientation can be modified.
The Arcus Foundation’s 2014 grant to Dignity USA follows a 2012 grant of $200,000 to the organization to support the Equally Blessed coalition, tax forms show.
In 2012 the coalition issued a report attacking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus for their work to maintain the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
The report was then used by Catholics United, a Democrat-leaning advocacy organization that has received significant funding from the Arcus Foundation ally the Colorado-based Gill Foundation.
The Gill Foundation’s founder, entrepreneur Tim Gill, has been a close political collaborator with Jon Stryker’s sister Pat.
The Gill Foundation’s Movement Advancement Project, which has received grants from the Arcus Foundation, has organized strategy to advance LGBT advocacy within U.S. religious denominations, seminaries, clergy coalitions and media “to counter religious opposition,” the Gill Foundation’s 2006 annual report said.
Dignity USA’s January 2012 newsletter suggests the Arcus Foundation committed at least $370,000 to the Equally Blessed Coalition for 2012-2013, though the grant totals reported on the foundation website do not match this claim.
The Arcus Foundation has also given $250,000 to the pro-abortion group Catholics for Choice. It has made many six-figure donations to Protestant churches and organizations, as well as to secular universities.
In 2010, the foundation gave $100,000 to Fairfield University, a Catholic Jesuit institution in Connecticut, to hold forums and disseminate information that the Arcus Foundation said would “expand the current discussion on homosexuality within Roman Catholicism to include the diverse opinions of progressive Catholic thought leaders and theologians.”
The university then held sexuality seminars in collaboration with Fordham University in New York. Then-bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport and New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan voiced concerns that the seminars might encourage the rejection of Church teaching, but said that both university’s presidents had assured them they would “not be a vehicle for dissent.”
WASHINGTON D.C., July 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- As the U.S. State Department releases its annual global religious freedom report, observers say that the government must take more action to fight persecution and secure religious liberty around the world.
“The world is not a great place at the moment for religious liberty, and we need to be doing something,” said Robert P. George, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Speaking to CNA July 28, he stressed that “three-quarters of the world live under regimes that either are themselves routine violators of the religious freedom of their citizens, or who stand by and permit thugs and mobs and terrorists to act with impunity.”
George’s comments came in response to the July 28 release of the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
“Today of all days, we acknowledge a basic truth: Religious freedom is human freedom,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry upon releasing the report.
“We have a long way to go when governments kill, detain, or torture people based on a religious belief,” he continued. “And when 75 percent of the world’s population still lives in countries that don’t respect religious freedoms, let me tell you, we have a long journey ahead of us.”
The Department of State is required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to release the annual report, which details the state of religious freedom around the world. It also designates nations with “severe violations” of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs), opening the door to consequences including trade and funding sanctions.
The 2013 report designates nine countries as “Countries of Particular Concern”: Turkmenistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
Turkmenistan is the first addition to the list of CPCs since 2006. Kerry pointed to the torture and detention of people in the country for their beliefs, restriction of Protestant and Shiite Muslim groups, and the prohibition of wearing religious clothing or distributing religious materials.
The report also draws attention to the displacement of religious minorities in Burma, state oppression of religion in North Korea, and brutality enacted by non-state actors such as individuals, communities and militant groups such as al-Qaida in Middle Easter countries, among other offenses.
It also highlights rising anti-Semitism in France and other European countries.
Kerry emphasized that the “effort isn’t about naming countries to lists in order to make us feel somehow that we’ve spoken the truth,” but instead to make grounded changes and take “action that help to change the reality on the ground and actually help people.”
However, some religious freedom advocates felt that the State Department fell short in its designations, as well as in its general action on defending global religious freedom.
One such critic was Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent advisory commission that investigates religious freedom around the world and gives its recommendations to the Department of State.
The commission released its own annual report in April, calling on the State Department to also designate Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam as “Countries of Particular Concern.” These recommendations were not followed by the department.
Lantos Swett said in a July 29 statement that while they welcome “the expansion of the CPC list to include Turkmenistan, a country USCIRF has recommended for designation since 2004,” the Department of State’s actions do not go far enough.
She explained that “there were disappointing omissions on the CPC list, such as Pakistan,” a country that “represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as CPCs.”
The State Department’s report this year details a number of violations throughout Pakistan that meet the threshold for designation as a Country of Particular Concern, yet the country did not receive the designation, she said.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), an architect of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, commented that the State Department should also have taken stronger action against Vietnam’s restrictions on religious freedom.
“Vietnam should without a doubt be on the sanctions list for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom – but it is glaringly absent,” said Smith in a July 28 statement, noting that while the report listed the country’s “systematic and egregious abuses,” it was not added to the Countries of Particular Concern list.
Smith also said for some countries on the Country of Particular Concern list, such as China, “this designation has become a mere label, with no real consequences for bilateral relations or for those officials who continue to violate the rights of China’s religious groups.”
Permitting these violations of religious freedom without strong consequences, the congressman said, allow “China’s model of repression to go unchallenged, stymieing the advance of democracy and freedom” in the country.
Smith also urged the U.S. government to increase its efforts in Nigeria, where the radical group Boko Haram continues its violent attacks against Christians and moderate Muslims. The group kidnapped more the 200 schoolgirls in April, and the girls have not been located.
Having recently designated Boko Haram as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Smith said, the U.S. government must now follow up with action to “investigate, identify and punish those who provide support of all kinds to this group,” and to help protect religious freedom and human rights in Nigeria.
WASHINGTON D.C., July 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Rejecting arguments from an atheist group, a federal appeals court ruled Monday that the iconic cross found at the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks may remain at the 9/11 Museum.
“The history of 9/11 would not be complete without including the impact the Ground Zero Cross had in inspiring rescue workers and Americans generally,” said Eric Baxter, counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a July 28 statement.
“Displaying the cross in a display about ‘Finding Meaning at Ground Zero’ is perfectly appropriate,” he continued.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty had filed a brief supporting the museum’s ability to display the cross, which was discovered amid piles of rubble by recovery workers in the aftermath of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Nearly 20 feet tall, the cross was formed by two intersecting metal beams from the fallen skyscrapers. It became a place of gathering and prayer for recovery workers at the site, with many people posting prayers and petitions to the structure.
Since 2011, the cross has been part of the World Trade Center Museum. In July 2011, however, American Atheists filed suit against the display, charging that the presence of the cross was offensive and marginalized them as atheists.
The suit added that the presentation of the cross led to injury “in consequence of having a religious tradition not their own imposed upon them through the power of the state.”
In 2013, a district court upheld the display of the cross, saying that it had a secular purpose and did not “create excessive entanglement between the state and religion.”
American Atheists appealed that ruling, arguing that the display still “alienates non-Christians seeking to commemorate the dead, wounded and other affected persons,” and that “the overwhelmingly dominant display of the cross over any other religious symbolism is a violation of the Establishment Clause.”
But in their July 28 ruling, federal judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that “displaying The Cross at Ground Zero to tell the story of how some people used faith to cope with the tragedy is genuine, and an objective observer would understand the purpose of the display to be secular.”
They continued, noting that the cross is included in an exhibit entitled “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,” which includes artifacts from a variety of faith perspectives as well as non-religious pieces. Therefore, the judges said, “an objective observer would not view the display as endorsing religion generally, or Christianity specifically.”
The ruling drew praise from Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which had also filed a brief in support of the cross remaining in the memorial museum.
“This decision is a significant constitutional victory that protects the freedom to display religiously-themed artifacts of historical or artistic significance without running afoul of the Constitution,” Sekulow said.
“This bizarre legal challenge from an atheist group was exposed for what it was – a skewed legal challenge that had no merit.”
CIUDAD DEL ESTE, PARAGUAY, July 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- An apostolic visitation of Paraguay's Ciudad del Este diocese concluded on Saturday with the visitors suspending a scheduled ordination until they have reached conclusions about their investigation.
“For the time, priestly and diaconal ordinations for the students of St. Joseph's Major Seminary are suspended and it is unknown how long this will endure – it can only be revealed by the Pope,” Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, who led the apostolic visitation, said at a July 26 press conference.
The diocese was scheduled to have priestly ordinations Aug. 15. A release from the diocese clarified that “the ordinations of Aug. 15 have been suspended until the conclusion (of the visitation), not canceled.”
While the visitation took place July 21-26, Cardinal Abril y Castello and Bishop Milton Troccoli Cebedio – who assisted the cardinal in the investigation – will return to Rome to arrange the data collected and present it to Pope Francis.
The conclusion has not yet been scheduled, but is anticipated in September. The apostolic visitation of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este was announced by the apostolic nuncio to Paraguay July 2.
Since 2004 the diocese has been led by Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, who was ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1978.
Soon after coming to the diocese, Bishop Livieres opened a major seminary for his diocese, in light of the shortage of priestly vocations, and he has been closely involved in promoting.
More than 60 priests have been ordained in the past 10 years from St. Joseph's Major Seminary. According to Italian daily La Stampa, the seminary has “cut the period of priestly formation to only four years, citing the urgent need for new priests.”
Because of this success, in 2012 the diocese opened the St. Andrew Minor Seminary, as well as the St. Irenaeus of Lyons Institute of Priestly Formation.
According to a statement on the diocese's website, the Paraguyan bishops “resisted” Bishop Livieres' new seminaries because they would “break the monolithic scheme of priestly formation” held by the national seminary.
The Diocese of Ciudad del Este has received attention because Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who was until earlier this month its vicar general, has a history of sexual abuse accusations.
The Argentine native served in the Diocese of Scranton from the late 1990s until 2002, when a highly publicized lawsuit accused him of sexual misconduct involving minors at the now-closed St. Gregory's Academy.
According to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, the supposed accusations are mere calumny made by Fr. Urrutigoity's detractors, his “ideological persecutors.”
Concluding its statement about the apostolic visitation, the diocese wrote that “the growth and strength of the People of God in Paraguay was cruelly mutilated following the unjust trial and suppression of the Jesuit missionaries at the end of the 18th century. They also were accused by questionable ecclesiastics in alliance with powerful lobbies and politicians.”
“Those who bet that history will repeat itself in our diocese may be surprised to find that, at this time, the Bishop of Rome is an heir of those Jesuits, slandered and suppressed, disposed to write history in a new way.”
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, July 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- During his August visit to Korea, Pope Francis is to beatify Paul Yun Ji-chung, the nation's first martyr, as well as 123 companions who were killed for the faith in the 19th century.
The Roman Pontiff will be in South Korea Aug. 14-18, visiting the shrine of the martyrs of Seo So-mun the morning of Aug. 16. Later that day, he will travel to Seoul's Door of Gwanghwamun to say Mass and beatify Paul Yun Ji-chung and his companions.
Unlike China or Japan, Catholicism in Korea was not introduced by a colonial or foreign power. Korean scholars learned at the beginning of the 17th century about the teachings of the Gospel, which were spreading in China, and undertook travels to the Jesuit missionaries there in order to study it.
They returned to their country to promote the faith, and it spread so quickly that only a few decades later, when a Chinese priest managed to enter the country, he found a well-established, though ostracized, group of Catholics numbering in the thousands.
Being a strictly hierarchical society made up by privileged scholars and nobility on the one hand, and commoners and slaves on the other, Christianity was seen by the authorities as dangerous heterodoxy to the political system of Confucianism, and as a religion that intended a social revolution.
Catholics called themselves “friends of the Lord of Heaven”, implying a relation to God based on equality, unacceptable to Confucians.
Authorities tried to prevent the faith from spreading by prohibiting Catholic books, then available in both Korean and Chinese.
Widespread, violent persecution occurred in several spurts thoughout the 19th century, with more than 10,000 persons martyred.
The first of these persecutions occurred in 1791.
Paul Yun Ji-chung was converted by his uncle, a scholar, and that year he and another Catholic, James Kwong Sang-yon burned their ancestral tablets, acting in accordance with their understanding of Catholic teaching.
In what became known as the Chinsan incident, the two members of the nobility were charged with heterodoxy from Confucian norms, and beheaded.
The next violent persecution was in 1801, when hundreds of Catholics were executed, and hundreds more exiled.
The same happened in 1839, a few years after missionaries arrived from Paris.
In 1846, the Pyong-o persecution claimed another round of martyrs for Korea, including Andrew Kim Tae-gon, its first native priest.
The Pyong-in persecution of 1866 claimed most of the martyrs for Korea – 8,000 were killed, including nine foreign priests.
Of the thousands of Korean martyrs, St. John Paul II canonized 103 on May 6, 1984; during the Mass, he preached that “in a most marvellous way, divine grace soon moved your scholarly ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God’s word and then to a living faith in the Risen Savior.”
“From this good seed was born the first Christian community in Korea,” he said. “This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution … the years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846 and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your Martyrs and engraved in your hearts.”
“The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the Martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.”
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