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We must speak, act more on criminal justice reform, Christian leaders insist

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the justice system rife with abuse, there is still much work to be done to call the faithful to minister to prisoners, victims, and their families, Christian leaders maintained on Tuesday.

“We need to raise this as a priority within the Church,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty, told CNA of criminal justice reform and ministries to prisoners and their victims.

“Our Pope has been very outspoken about that, and spoken numerous times about our need to visit those imprisoned, and then accompany and journey with those that are affected by crime, all aspects, the perpetrators family, and the victims’ families,” she continued.

Clifton was one of a number of Christian leaders who spoke out against injustice in the justice system during a June 20 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The panel included Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as Harry Jackson of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches. They unveiled the “Justice Declaration,” which calls for “a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all.”

It also calls for Christians to be more active in advocating for more humane conditions in prisons, “proportional punishment” for offenders, better educational and economic opportunities for poor people as crime prevention, and to “invest in the discipleship” of prisoners.

Christians must “treat every human being as a person made in God’s own image, with a life worthy of respect, protection, and care,” they stated.

“The Church has both the unique ability and unparalleled capacity to confront the staggering crisis of crime and incarceration in America and to respond with restorative solutions for communities, victims, and individuals responsible for crime,” the declaration said.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, is among the signatories, along with Karen Clifton.

Over-incarceration, racial disparity, and disproportionate sentencing are only some of the injustices that underscore the urgency for reform of the justice system, panel members insisted.

The U.S. is home to five percent of the world’s population, but holds 25 percent of the world’s prison population. 2.2 million are behind bars, leaving 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent. African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times that of whites, according to the NAACP. 65 million Americans suffer from the collateral consequences of a conviction, which include difficulty in finding a job or renting a home even after they serve their prison sentence.

All this has produced a “crisis” to which the Christian community must respond, the leaders insisted.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2266 states that “punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.”

Pope Francis has also advocated for the eventual reintegration of prisoners into society, warning against only focusing on justice as an “instrument of punishment.”

Criminal justice reform measures had been gaining bipartisan momentum at the federal level as members of Congress in both parties supported various policies like ending mandatory minimum sentencing and limiting the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons.

However, with the advent of the new administration that momentum has slowed.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions dropped the Obama administration’s “Smart on Crime” initiative and has directed prosecutors to pursue stricter mandatory minimum sentences, which reform advocates say gives judges less flexibility to adjust one’s sentence based on the details of their case.

“We believe that it removes from the judge the ability to do his or her job,” James Ackerman, CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said on Tuesday.

Christians are be on board with certain aspects of criminal justice reform, but for many there still remains a “disconnect” between their views on justice and reform of the justice system, Prison Fellowship claims in its report “Responding to Crime & Incarceration: a Call to the Church.”

In a recent poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship, 88 percent of practicing Christians answered that the primary goal of the justice system should be “restoration for all involved: the victim, the community, and the person responsible for the crime.”

However, in the same poll, 53 percent of practicing Christians answered that “it’s important to make an example out of someone for certain crimes” even if that entailed punishing them more harshly than they deserved.

“Disproportional punishment is not consistent with our values,” Ackerman stated.

How can the Church better bridge this “disconnect” in polling answers?

The Church must educate laypeople on the importance of the issue, and mobilize them to act through parish ministries, Clifton insisted.

“I want to say, ‘where are our resources?’” she asked. “There is so little funding for prison ministry, for care for victims, for programs for victims,” she said, and for incarceration prevention programs.

There is a “challenge to the churches to bring the stories to the pulpit,” she said, “to convert those in the pews, and know that this is the Gospel message, to be a voice to the voiceless and to go to the margins and the peripheries and be present in accompanying those back into society.”

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, agreed.

“Our criminal justice system exists in order to restrain evil, and in order to rehabilitate and to reform those who have committed crimes,” he said.

If, however, the system “doesn’t stop crime, but in many cases actually furthers crime, making criminals out of those who are not yet criminals, ignoring those who have been victims of crime, not dealing with issues of addiction,” he continued, “then we have a criminal justice system that doesn’t work and ought to be fixed.”

“When we have family members who are left behind, waiting for those who are incarcerated and wondering if anyone remembers them, the church of Jesus Christ needs to be at the forefront of that,” he said.

Harry Jackson maintained that Christians must be actively fighting the racial disparity in the justice system.

“In this hour of racial tension, the most important step of healing that we could take at this point is to deal with the fact that there is an increasing, permanent underclass that’s coming out of black and Hispanic people being incarcerated,” he said, “and their lives being in a sense marked off the list of potential, or the list of achievers in our culture.”

“We have the opportunity now to make a difference,” he added. “I believe this is the most important civil rights step that we will take in our lifetimes.”

US bishops launch 2017 Fortnight for Freedom

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2017 / 09:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have launched a website and video to mark the beginning of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, focusing on religious freedom issues both at home and abroad.

The video, about ten minutes long and viewable on the Fortnight for Freedom website, features a number of legal, religious, and other personalities discussing the importance of religious liberty. The Fortnight for Freedom takes place June 21 - July 4.

“Religious freedom is one of the basic freedoms of the human person because without religious freedom, the freedom of conscience, all other freedoms are without foundation,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami says at the beginning of the video.

“A government that doesn’t acknowledge limits on its own power to regulate religious institutions is probably going to come after other institutions as well,” said Professor Rick Garnett of the Notre Dame Law School.

The video chronicles the struggle between the Little Sisters of the Poor and the HHS mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s over three now that this issue has been pursuing us,” says Sr. Constance, L.S.P.

Testimonies from beneficiaries of the Sisters’ work are showcased in the video.

“There is a spiritual component in the way that they live their lives that adds to not only enrichment of the residents’ lives but to those who are in contact with them, who work with them, who just hear about them,” says Carmel Kang.

“When religious freedom goes away, and there is no transcendent authority, then the law is the only norm, and the people in power now are always the only power,” says Professor Helen Alvare of George Mason University Law School.

The video emphasizes the United States’ historical connection to freedom of religion.

“The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world precisely because of the exceptional character of its relationship to faith which permeates every dimension of its evolution,” says Eugene Rivers II, an activist and Pentecostal pastor.

The video also highlighted the struggle of religious peoples in other parts of the world.

“Tragically, we see the killings, the martyrdom of Christians in Iraq, and Libya, and Egypt, Syria,” says Archbishop Wenski. The video then showed clips from the video of 21 Coptic Christians being martyred by the Islamic State in early 2015.

Professor Thomas Farr of Georgetown University noted the increased threat since the Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court decision in June 2015, and also observed that viewpoints motivated by religion are being silenced.

The video also summarized Dignitatis humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, as well as noting Pope Francis’ concern for persecuted Christians around the world.

“We have to bring not just optimism, but genuine Christian hope,” says Archbishop Lori of Baltimore, head of the USCCB’s Committee on Religious Liberty, which was made a permanent structure of the conference at their annual spring meeting last week.

The video closed with a montage of scenes and figures including the Selma to Montgomery March, St. John Paul II, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
 
The USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom website provides a host of prayer and practical resources on the topic of religious freedom.

The prayer resources are based in Scripture as well as the examples of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and are available in both English and Spanish.

Among the practical resources is a brief guide to the issue, which seeks to defend and clarify the bishop’s views, responding to concerns that defense of liberty is an affront to treating people “with equal dignity.”

Also included are summaries of religious liberty concerns in the United States and internationally. Domestically, issues listed include the HHS mandate, the right to practice faith in business, and religious institutes’ right to aid undocumented immigrants. Internationally, concerns are presented from the Central African Republic, Myanmar, and Mexico.

On May 4, the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty while surrounded by faith leaders, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of D.C. and the Little Sisters of the Poor. The order called for agencies to consider different enforcement of the mandate and looser enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. It was modified from an earlier, leaked version which critics claimed would have allowed for unjust discrimination of LGBT people.

On May 31, a draft rule providing blanket protection from the mandate was leaked.

The bishops’ website does not include the Johnson Amendment among its concerns.

Pro-lifers claim victory in Georgia House vote

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 21, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Abortion rights groups invested heavily and lost in Tuesday night’s runoff special election for a Georgia House seat, and pro-lifers maintain the outcome proves the futility of the pro-abortion agenda.

In the June 20 special election to replace former congressman and now HHS Secretary Tom Price in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional district, Republican candidate Karen Handel was victorious, holding off Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff with 52 percent of the vote to his 48 percent.

“I think that this is really encouraging for pro-life candidates,” Mallory Quigley, communications director for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA Wednesday of the race in the Atlanta suburbs. “Planned Parenthood has just suffered another humiliating loss.”

Ossoff ran on arguably a moderate fiscal platform with ostensibly mild rhetoric, promising to fight wasteful spending and bring more tech jobs to the Atlanta metropolitan area, and vowing to work with Republicans on areas of agreement.

However, from the start of the abbreviated campaign he did zero in on Handel's opposition to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, stating that “with all due respect to Karen, I think her record on women's health issues is lacking,” according to WXIA local news.

On the matter of abortion, he cast himself as a defender of a woman’s right to choose. “I would never disparage anyone who has differing views on the issue,” he said, as reported by WXIA, adding that “it's precisely that complexity at the ethical and medical level that makes it unacceptable for federal bureaucrats to be getting between women and families and their doctors.”

Handel, meanwhile, was vocally pro-life. She was previously the vice president of Susan G. Komen For the Cure, an organization that raises breast cancer awareness and funds research and which is also a prominent funder of Planned Parenthood.

In 2011, the foundation temporarily cut its grants to Planned Parenthood citing Congress’s investigation into the organization. The investigation was launched over concerns that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding might be used for abortions, and that it allegedly did not report suspicious cases of sexual abuse of minors.

After a widespread backlash in the media, Susan G. Komen quickly backtracked and promised to continue funding Planned Parenthood. Handel then resigned from the foundation.

Ossoff focused on this in a campaign ad, attacking Handel for trying to cut off Planned Parenthood funding and falsely claiming that Planned Parenthood provides breast cancer screenings. A moderator corrected Ossoff on this claim in a recent debate; Planned Parenthood provides referrals for screenings, not the screenings themselves.

Planned Parenthood’s political arm bragged of Ossoff’s strong support on its website. He had promised to be “an unyielding defender of Planned Parenthood,” and had insisted that “my commitment to reproductive health and family planning, as essential to the health of this community, is very strong.”

Abortion rights groups poured cash into the race. Planned Parenthood was the second-largest contributor to Ossoff’s campaign, with $820,000, behind only the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The National Abortion Rights Action League ran a six-figure onslaught of video ads, phone calls, and mail outreach in the last days before the election, hoping that accusations of Handel being “extreme” in her opposition to Planned Parenthood would resonate with voters.

Susan B. Anthony List was also active in the race, reaching “65,000 inconsistent voters who are pro-life through mail, phone calls, and digital advertising” and pointing to Ossoff’s “extreme pro-abortion agenda.”

Ultimately, Handel won the day by four percentage points, in a district that Price won by 23 percentage points last election cycle. The seat has not been held by a Democrat since 1979.

The race was the single most expensive House race in history, with spending at $56 million.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, insisted that promoting abortion rights continues to be a losing issue for Democrats in states outside of the Northeast and the West Coast.

“Any time you do that in a pro-life district, you risk alienating voters who might otherwise vote for you,” she told CNA.

“We need to be helping people, not spending $25 million on an election that we’ll lose,” she added, referring to the record-setting level of campaign spending for a single House race.

“What are we doing to promote helping those in need?” she asked. “We’ve lost our focus on the little guy.”

The outcome of the election proves that “extreme pro-abortion positions” are losing, Quigley said. She pointed to a recent Susan B. Anthony List poll of voters in states that are considered to be battlegrounds for 2018 Senate races, saying that a majority of voters in select states opposed taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.

The little-known final interview of Ted Bundy: Porn motivated me

Raiford, Florida, Jun 21, 2017 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Editor’s note: The following content may be disturbing to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

He was one of the worst serial killers in U.S. history. An infamous murderer, rapist and necrophile in the 1970s, Ted Bundy’s life continues to attract the interest of psychologists today, who speculate about what drove the promising young law student to commit such horrific crimes.

Bundy admitted to committing 30 homicides of young women and girls in the 1970s, though he may have been guilty of many more. He appeared charming and approachable, which allowed him to lure his victims into brutal and often fatal assaults. Many of his victims were young, attractive, college women in the Pacific Northwest.

But what exactly led Bundy to commit these heinous acts? According to the serial killer himself, violent pornography was a huge motivating factor.

While the testimony of a serial killer – widely believed to be a psychopath – is clearly suspect, his account aligns with numerous other instances of violent criminals having strong connections to pornography.  

On the day before he was put to death by electric chair in 1989, Bundy received hundreds of interview requests from media outlets nationwide. He declined these requests and granted his final interview to Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, to whom he said he believed he had something to say.  

In their exclusive interview, Bundy discussed pornography as a possible explanation for what drove his behavior.

“I was essentially a normal person, I had good friends, I led a normal life except for this one small but very potent, very destructive segment of it that I kept very secret and very close to myself and I didn’t let anybody know about it,” he said.

Bundy said he first discovered “soft core pornography” in grocery stores, and was compelled to consume more, and increasingly violent, forms.

“...like an addiction, you keep craving something harder, which gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach a point where the pornography only goes so far.”

It was an “indispensable link in the chain of behavior” that led to the assaults and murders that he carried out on dozens of victims, he said. It also was a common factor among other violent offenders that he encountered during his stays in prison.  

“I’ve lived in prison for a long time now and I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me and without exception, every one of them was deeply involved with pornography. Without question, without exception, deeply influenced and consumed by addiction to pornography,” he added.

When asked about his fate, he said: “I think society deserves to be protected from me and from others like me. That’s for sure.”

However, “well-meaning people will condemn the behavior of a Ted Bundy while they’re walking past a magazine rack full of the very kinds of things that send young kids down the road to being Ted Bundys. That’s the irony,” he added.

While causation has been difficult to prove, a strong relationship with pornography exists for many violent offenders including numerous high profile murderers.

Brian Mitchell, who kidnapped and assaulted 14 year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002, also had a pornography addiction. In 2016, after her release, Smart spoke to anti-pornography group Fight the New Drug about the effect that pornography had on her captor.

“Looking at pornography wasn’t enough for him. Having sex with his wife, after looking at pornography, it wasn’t enough for him,” Smart said. “And then it led him to finally going out and kidnapping me. He just always wanted more.”

She recalled one time when her captor “was just really excited and really kind of amped up about something.”

It turned out his excitement was over hard-core pornography, which he forced her to watch and reenact.

“I remember he would just sit and look at it and stare at it,” Smart said. “And he would just talk about these women. And then when he was done, he would turn and he would look at me, and he would be like, ‘Now we’re going to do this’.”

“It just led to him raping me more. More than he already did, which was a lot.”

Smart said she doesn’t know whether Mitchell would have kidnapped her had pornography not been involved.

“All I know is that pornography made my living hell worse.”

Studies show a correlation between pornography viewing and violent crimes. A 1995 analysis of 33 different studies showed that viewing pornography increases aggressive behavior, including having violent fantasies and even actually committing violent assaults. A University of New Hampshire study showed that states with the highest readership of pornographic magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, also have the highest rape rates.

Other violent criminals who frequently watched pornography and became violent offenders include Mark Bridger, who abducted, sexually assaulted and killed five-year-old April Jones, and kept explicit images of child sex abuse on his laptop.

In addition, U.K. serial killer Stuart Hazell amassed images of child abuse and bestiality, and took naked, sexual photographs of one 12-year-old victim. There is evidence he sexually assaulted her before killing her.

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer also once said in an interview that part of his routine before searching for his next victim included viewing pornography.

Online pornography is one of the fastest growing addictions in the United States, on par with cocaine and gambling.

Once confined to the pages of a smuggled Playboy magazine, pornography can now be in the hands of anyone with a smartphone, and is more prolific and anonymous than ever. PornHub, one of the world’s largest sites with porn video streaming, reports that it averages 75 million viewers per day, or about 2.4 million visitors per hour.

With growing access has come growing awareness of pornography addictions, however, with several celebrities speaking out against it, numerous states declaring it a public health crisis, and grassroots anti-pornography groups sprouting up to help the addicted quit pornography.

Resources to fight pornography addictions include the online Fortify video program, Covenant eyes internet accountability and filtering software, and websites with information and support for individuals, spouses and communities facing addiction.
 
 

 

Meeting with NFL hall-of-famers, Pope Francis promotes teamwork

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2017 / 01:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis addressed members of the National Football League Hall of Fame on Wednesday, encouraging them to promote the values of sportsmen not only on the field but also within their communities.

“Teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence are the values – in the religious sense, we can say virtues – that have guided your own commitment on the field,” said the Pope, meeting with the hall-of-famers on June 21.

“Yet these same values are urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community.”

He addressed the need for role models in the world, especially for youth, teaching them to live out their “God-given gifts and talents,” showing how to bring out the best in each person and leading the way to a better future.

“They are the values that help build a culture of encounter, in which we anticipate and meet the needs of our brothers and sisters, and combat the exaggerated individualism, indifference and injustice that hold us back from living as one human family.”

Established in 1963, the American Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, the same city where the NFL was created about 40 years earlier. It contains 310 members, 7 of whom will be formally inducted in August.

Present at the group meeting with Pope Francis was Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and six other hall of fame inductees: Chris Doleman, Franco Harris, Floyd Little, Ronnie Lott Curtis Martin, and Jim Taylor.

They presented him with a signed helmet and jersey with “Papa Francesco” written on the back.

In welcoming joke, the Pope noted his own love for soccer, which in much of the world is called “football.”

“I am an avid follower of ‘football’, but where I come from, the game is played very differently,” he said.

Pope Francis is a member of the Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro, located in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The club, nicknamed the Saints of Boedo, was founded in 1908 by a group of young men, including a priest.

Being a fan of sports himself, the Pope has reflected on the virtues of sportsmanship before.

Last October, at a Vatican conference called “Sport at the Service of Humanity,” he said the values fostered by sports not only promote health and recreation, but also the ability to play on a team, and to humbly win or lose.

At the end of his address to the NFL Hall of Fame delegation, Pope Francis expressed hope that their visit to Rome will increase their gratitude for these gifts and enable them to share it with the rest of the world.

 

Pope Francis sends aid to a troubled South Sudan

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2017 / 11:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Vatican stated last month the postponement of Pope Francis’ proposed trip to South Sudan, they announced Wednesday that the Pope will instead send aid to the people suffering from worsening conditions.

The Vatican announced June 21 that Pope Francis will be aiding projects in the areas of education, healthcare, and agriculture, called the “Pope for South Sudan” Initiative.

The program will be coordinated through the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, headed by Cardinal Peter Turkson, and by Caritas International.

Because he is unable to travel to South Sudan in person, Pope Francis “wanted to express the tangible presence and closeness of the Church with the afflicted people,” Cardinal Turkson told journalists.

“It is an initiative that is to foster, support and encourage the work of the various religious congregations and international aid organizations that are present on the territory and tirelessly work to help the population and to promote the process of development and peace,” he said.

The projects of the Pope’s aid includes support for two hospitals: Wau Hospital in the Western Bahr el-Ghazal state, and Nzara Hospital in the Diocese of Tombura-Yambio.

Both hospitals have fewer than 130 beds between all of the departments, though the Wau Hospital treats around 300 patients a day on average, hospitalizing around 40,000 per year.

The aid will go toward support for medical and nursing staff, medicine and its transportation from Uganda to the hospital and management costs of the facilities.

Among the priorities of the Nzara hospital are the prevention and treatment of diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy, and AIDS, as well as healthcare for children under the age of five.

Under education, the Pope's initiative will help support an association of religious congregations called “Solidarity with South Sudan” which is working to train teachers, nurses, midwives, local farmers, and community leaders.

Since 2010 they have offered a two-year full-time program for obtaining a primary school teacher diploma at their center in Yambio, recognized by the Ministry of Education of South Sudan. Since opening, they have welcomed 3,500 students.

Francis also sends 200,000 euros ($223,000) to support agriculture in the country. The aid will be directed toward giving families the tools and seeds to grow their own crops where it is possible, thus feeding themselves and their families and providing a sustainable source of food.

In comments to CNA, Cardinal Turkson emphasized that this initiative should not be presented in any way as the only and first time the Holy Father is showing interest in the situation in South Sudan.

Cardinal Turkson himself has already made two visits there on behalf of the Pope, and this is just "the latest gesture," he said.

"The Holy Father stays very close to the situation in South Sudan to try to a help, to be paternal to the situation over there and to try to afford the help that he can."

Since December 2013 there has been ongoing civil war in South Sudan, interrupted by tenuous peace.

Parts of South Sudan were declared to be under conditions of famine in February. The classification was lifted Wednesday following an increase in aid, according to a UN-backed report. It warns, however, that the situation remains desperate as the number of people at risk for starvation continues to increase.

Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas International, told CNA that in February they said 100,000 people were going to die of hunger, but now they think that number might be 1 million.

“The situation is worsening day-by-day and we tend to forget what the situation is because it's not new,” he said. “Now, the people of South Sudan are dying of hunger, of famine. Because there is no food and we cannot bring food to them because of security. So it's the worst thing that can happen.”

The Pope’s aid is not just important for the concrete help it gives, he said, but because it also again raises the attention of the international community to the plight in South Sudan.

“To save lives needs money,” he continued. “The UN have launched an appeal which is only half funded, so the other half has to be found. It's a lot of money, but we cannot just sit and look at people dying, so there's a real need for increasing humanitarian aid.”

The Vatican's aid to South Sudan was also welcomed by Catholic Relief Services, the US bishops' international charity agency.

Sean Callahan, the president of CRS, stated that “what is most important, is Pope Francis telling world not to give up on South Sudan, that we all must step up our commitment to help.”

Callahan recently visited South Sudan, and said, “I can tell you from my visit that there is hope. I saw that when people had peace, they got to work, planting their crops, building homes and roads, building the new nation.”

CRS has led a US government-funded program in the country which focuses on supporting infrastructure development by providing food rations to villagers building roads, schools, dykes, and waterways. The aid agency is urging Congress to continue funding such aid programs, as the Trump administration has proposed cutting or eliminating such programs.

“We’ve seen those programs work and make a huge difference in the lives of people in South Sudan,” Callahan stated. “Now is not the time to turn our backs. There’s still hope and we can still get things done.”

Cardinal Turkson added that South Sudan needs the intervention of the international community to help end the conflict and bring about peace, the only thing which will truly end the humanitarian crisis.

“Pope Francis is a universal shepherd who crosses borders,” Cardinal Turkson said in the press conference. “He feels the pressing need to raise awareness of the international community about this silent drama, calling for greater and renewed efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict.”

“The Holy Father does not forget the unheard and silent victims of this bloody and inhuman conflict, he does not forget all those people who are forced to flee their native country because of the abuse of power, injustice and war – he brings them all in his prayers and in his heart,” he said.

Can relics unite Catholics and Orthodox? Pope Francis thinks so.

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Common veneration of relics is one of the tools Pope Francis is using to foster ecumenical relations with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

In May, relics of St. Philip and St. Nicholas were transported to Turkey and Russia, respectively. They have been exposed for the veneration of the Orthodox faithful from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow.
 
The transportation of the relics of St. Nicholas from the Italian city of Bari to Moscow is particularly noteworthy. It is the first time in 930 years that a part of the body of St. Nicholas has left Bari for veneration abroad.
 
The novel action comes after a specific request Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow made to Pope Francis when they met in Havana, Cuba in February 2016.
 
Pope Francis consented to Patriarch Kirill’s request and forwarded the request to Bari’s Archbishop Francesco Cacucci. The archbishop then started the procedures to move the relics.

In the end, it was possible to detach a small particle of St. Nicholas’ left rib, which the archbishop noted was “close to the saint’s heart.”
 
Archbishop Cacucci discussed the letter Pope Francis had sent him to about the Patriarch’s request. The archbishop explained that, for Pope Francis, the veneration of relics is “an essential part of the path toward the re-establishment of full communion among all Christians.”

“The common veneration of saints help us to look at the ecumenical dialogue with a light of hope,” he said.

St. Nicholas was one of the most venerated saints in Christianity even before his relics were taken from Myra, Turkey, by 62 sailors from Bari in 1087.

Those sailors made an expedition to Myra to save St. Nicholas’ relics from Muslims who had conquered the city where St. Nicholas had lived and served as a bishop in the fourth century.

This year, St. Nicholas’ relics arrived in Moscow May 22. They were placed in a container specially crafted for the occasion. The relics were then placed in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior of Moscow. Patriarch Kirill himself celebrated a divine liturgy to welcome them.

St. Nicholas' relics will be in Moscow until July 12. They will then move to St. Petersburg for several weeks before returning to Bari July 28.

While the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate received St. Nicholas’ relics from the Church of Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on May 8 welcomed relics of St. Philip in the Turkish city of Izmir, better known by its ancient Greek name: Smyrna.
 
St. Philip evangelized that land and was martyred there.  

His relics had been secured in Rome’s Santi Apostoli Church since the sixth century. Last year, the relics were taken out and submitted to an examination. Then, they were exposed for a while for the veneration of the faithful.
 
Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople strongly advocated sharing the relics for veneration, as he is particularly devoted to St. Philip. The Catholic community joined the Patriarch in this request, and so one of St. Philip’s relic could return home. The Catholic Archbishop of Izmir Lorenzo Piretto personally forwarded the request to bring the relics to the Turkish city.
 
The common veneration of saints and relics is one area where ecumenism is performed today.
 
It echoes Pope Francis’ idea of “walking ecumenism,” which he described in an Oct. 12 meeting with members of the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions.

In his remarks, the Pope said that “it is important that theologians study, that they find agreement and identify disagreements.”
 
But, he added, “ecumenism is done by walking and by walking with Jesus.” It is “a simple path, traveled with prayer and through helping one another.”
 
Another reflection came while the Pope presided at Vespers Jan. 25, 2016 at St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica, a time that by tradition closes the week of prayer for Christian unity. Pope Francis said that “while we journey together toward full communion, we can begin already to develop many forms of cooperation in order to favor the spread of the Gospel – and walking together, we become aware that we are already united in the name of the Lord.”
 
This “walking ecumenism” is also emphasized through the veneration of the same saints. Patriarch Kirill seems to think the same.
 
Bari’s Archbishop Cacucci, having returned from Russia where he accompanied St. Nicholas’ relic, reflected on the phenomenon.

“In fact, the translation of the relic is already an ecumenical dialogue, and this Patriarch Kirill said more and more times. When ecumenism does not involve only the top ranks of Churches or theologians, but rather involves the people of God, then it is possible to move forward.”

Don’t think holiness is for you? The saints can help, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2017 / 05:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis said the saints show us that despite what we might think, holiness is possible for everyone, and we should call on them for help in living out our vocations.

Some of us may be tempted to question if it is really possible to be holy in everyday life, the Pope said, but “yes, you can,” he encouraged, and it doesn’t mean you have to pray all day long.

“No, no. It means you have to do your duty all day long,” he said June 21. “Pray, go to work, watch over the children. But everything must be done with a heart open to God, in a way that the work, even in illness, and in suffering, also in difficulty, is open to God. And so you can become saints.”

“You can!” he continued. “May the Lord give us the hope of being holy! But we can. We do not think it's a difficult thing, that it's easier to be scoundrels than saints! No. It is possible to be holy because the Lord helps us; it is He who helps us.”

In his catechesis at the weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke about the hope brought by the Communion of Saints and how we call on them as a Church in the liturgy and in our lives to help us become saints ourselves.

For example, we call on them in the liturgy for the Sacrament of Matrimony, he said, especially for the grace to fulfill marital duties. “And this invocation is a source of trust for the two young people who start off on the 'journey' of marital life,” he pointed out.

“Those who really love have the desire and courage to say ‘forever,’ ‘forever,’ but they know that they need the grace of God and the help of the saints. To be able to live the marriage forever.”

“Not like some say ‘as long as love lasts.’ No: forever! Otherwise, it's better not to marry you. Either forever or nothing.”

He explained how we also call on the saints in the Mass of Ordination. Candidates for the priesthood lie on the floor, their faces against the ground while the assembly, led by the bishop, invoke the intercession of the saints.

“A man would be crushed under the weight of the mission entrusted to him” in the priesthood, the Pope said, “but feeling that all heaven is behind him, that the grace of God will not fail because Jesus remains faithful, then he can go serene and refreshed. We are not alone.”

Because we have the example of the saints, we have hope that it is possible to live a holy life, he said. “Christianity cultivates an ingrained trust: it does not believe that negative and disgusting forces can prevail. The last word on man's history is not hatred, it is not death, it is not war.”

The existence of the saints tells us “first of all that the Christian life is not an unreachable ideal,” he said.

Thus, we are comforted knowing that we are not alone, he said, and knowing that “the Church is made of innumerable brothers, often anonymous, who have preceded us and who, through the action of the Holy Spirit, are involved in the affairs of those who still live here.”

We call on the saints in the Mass, the Pope reminded, but we must also have the courage to call on them ourselves in difficult moments, thinking of all those who have gone through trials before us, yet have persevered in sanctity.

God never abandons us, often helping us through human hands and hearts, and through the saints, who are hidden but still “in our midst,” he said.

“This is difficult to understand and also to imagine, but the saints are always present in our life. When anyone invokes the saints, they are near to us,” he emphasized.

We must remember, though we are weak, the mystery of grace that is present in the lives of Christians is powerful. “We are dust that aspires to heaven.”

“We are faithful to this earth, which Jesus loved at every moment of his life, but we know and want to hope for the transfiguration of the world, in its final fulfillment where there will finally be no more tears, malice and suffering.

Though we are faithful to the earth which God has placed us upon and which Jesus loved during his life, we must keep hoping for its transfiguration in the second coming of Christ, when there will finally be “no more tears, malice and suffering.”

Our holiness is the great gift that each of us can make to the world, Francis went on. “Let the Lord give us the grace of believing so deeply in Him that we may become Christ's image for this world.”

Our world needs saints, he concluded: “without these men and women the world would have no hope.”

“You can be holy because the Lord helps us; it is He who helps us.”

El Salvador's first cardinal a friend of Blessed Oscar Romero

San Salvador, El Salvador, Jun 21, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis' decision to elevate Bishop José Gregorio Rosa Chávez is unprecedented: not only is he the first Salvadoran cardinal, he is also the first auxiliary bishop to be given a red biretta.

The cardinal-elect, who will receive the honor at a June 28 consistory, is also well-known for his close collaboration with Blessed Oscar Romero, an Archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred in 1980.

Bishop Rosa, 74, has been auxiliary bishop of San Salvador since 1982.

The Pope’s May 21 announcement of a consistory to create five new cardinals came as surprise to many, though possibly none more than Bishop Rosa.

“I thought it was a joke,” he told CNA of getting the phone call at 5 a.m. “I never thought that this could happen to me.”

Bishop Rosa also described the appointment as “a charge,” saying he prayed for peace after receiving the announcement: “It's a grace that you have to know how to receive with humility,” he reflected, adding that the office of cardinal is “a service which demands of you a total disposition to martyrdom.”

He also said Mass at the tomb of Blessed Oscar Romero, who he said “shed his blood, like a true cardinal. He shed his blood for Christ, for the Church … this gave me a measure of tranquility.”

Born in 1942 to a farming family in Sociedad, Bishop Rosa was ordained a priest of the Diocese of San Miguel in 1970. He studied at the Catholic University of Louvain from 1973-76, where he obtained a licentiate in social communications.

Under Blessed Romero, beginning in 1977, he headed the Archdiocese of San Salvador's communications office. He also served as a rector and theology professor at the Central Seminary of San José de la Montana.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1982, a position he has held ever since. Today he works as a parish priest and is president of Caritas Latin America.

Like Blessed Romero, Bishop Chávez has been outspoken about government abuses, even publicly naming the alleged killers of four Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter, who were martyred in 1989. He has sustained death threats and accusations of being a communist.

His designation as a cardinal, while his immediate superior, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, was bypassed, suggests that he may be destined for another appointment, after 35 years as San Salvador's auxiliary bishop. It certainly shows Pope Francis' willingness to look beyond the traditional “cardinal sees” for those whom he wishes to give the red hat.

The designation of the auxiliary bishop as cardinal-elect has been well-received in El Salvador, where he is known also for his dedication to work with the poor.

Bishop Rosa was “fundamental in our process of dialogue and negotiation that allowed us to sign the peace accords in 1992,” said El Salvador’s Foreign Ministry.

President Salvador Sanchez tweeted: “The pope’s announcement fills us with immense gratitude and happiness.” He also offered his congratulations.

 

Nuestras felicitaciones y reconocimiento a Monseñor Gregorio Rosa Chávez por tan importante nominación como el primer Cardenal salvadoreño. pic.twitter.com/16FbCnnXpx

— Salvador Sánchez (@sanchezceren) May 21, 2017  

El Salvador suffered a civil war from 1979 to 1992, and gang violence has been a problem in the country ever since. Work against the violence continues, and Bishop Rosa has spoken out against the killing on behalf of the nation’s bishops.

Many expected Bishop Rosa to become archbishop when Blessed Romero’s successor died in 1994, so with this designation by Pope Francis “his prize arrived,” San Salvador parishioner Estela Henriquez told the Associated Press the day of the appointment.

Speaking to Salvadoran media, he declared: “I dedicate this appointment to Archbishop Romero.”

 

Elise Harris contributed to this report.

Religious freedom advocates to receive papal honor

Phoenix, Ariz., Jun 21, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In recognition of their promotion of religious freedom, the founder of Alliance Defending Freedom and his wife will be inducted next week into the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

Alan and Paula Sears will receive the honor, granted to individuals for extraordinary service to the Church, at a June 29 service led by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix at St. Bernadette parish in Scottsdale, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix.

Bestowing the honor on the Sears “is a well-deserved recognition of their many years of defending religious freedom, standing up for the true meaning of marriage and family life, defending the dignity and right to life of every human person, and faithfully living their lay vocation in their home, their parish, and the public square,” Bishop Olmsted has said.

The Order of St. Gregory the Great is granted to individuals for extraordinary service to the Catholic Church. It is one of several orders of pontifical knighthood, which the Church bestows to continue chivalric traditions and recognize merit and service. It can be given to both Catholics and non-Catholics, and was established in 1831 by Gregory XVI.

Previous recipients include Leo Nester, professor emeritus of choral and sacred music at the Catholic University of America; Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics; Chen Chien-jen, vice president of Taiwan; Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; and Polish composer Henryk Gorécki.

Alan Sears founded Alliance Defending Freedom in 1994. The non-profit legal organization advocates for religious liberty, and has defended the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family, and has upheld the rights to free speech and conscientious objection.

“Paula and I are more than humbled by this honor. Christians and people of goodwill everywhere should have the freedom to live what they believe and to follow their conscience, what James Madison called ‘the most sacred of all property,’” Sears said in a June 15 statement.

“We have counted it a privilege, with God’s grace, to do our part to protect these freedoms. Pope Francis repeatedly has spoken strongly about religious liberty, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life, so it is a distinct honor to be recognized by him for our work in those areas.”

Paula added that “the world benefits when the Gospel is freely preached and lived … We are blessed to have had the opportunity to support and encourage those who have sacrificially shared that message and their lives with others. We are very humbled and grateful to Pope Francis for this honor and additionally thank him for his leadership in these areas.”

Since founding Alliance Defending Freedom alongside several other Christian leaders, Alan Sears served as the organization's president, CEO, and general counsel until the beginning of 2017. He has since transitioned into a founder's role at the non-profit.

He was succeeded as president, CEO, and general counsel in January by Michael Farris.

Farris commented that “I am personally grateful for Alan and Paula’s 23 years of sacrificial service to ADF and, therefore, also grateful to Pope Francis for bestowing them with this incredible honor. It’s amazing to be part of an organization that would not be where it is today without their tireless efforts and service to the body of Christ and beyond.”

Alan Sears served in several positions under the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations in the Departments of Justice and the Interior. He earned his doctorate in law from the University of Louisville School of Law, and had previously graduated from the University of Kentucky.

He is a member in good standing with the American, Arizona, California, District of Columbia (inactive), and Kentucky bar associations.