Bid to end death penalty in Louisiana fails

1 week 4 days ago

Baton Rouge, La., May 8, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A proposal to allow voters to decide if capital punishment should remain legal in Louisiana has been defeated in the state senate.

Senate Bill 112 would have added a question to the next state-wide ballot proposing a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty. It was defeated Monday by a vote of 25-13 against, having needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

The measure narrowly passed out of legislative committee on April 30. Speaking during the senate debate, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Dan Claitor, (R-Baton Rouge) said that respect for all human life was paramount.

"It's a morally wrong thing to do, and at the end of the day, it cheapens life," Claitor said.

The senator, a former prosecutor, argued that execution did not work as an effective deterrent, was often flawed in its application, and had resulted in miscarriages of justice.

Claitor was supported by a minority of senators across party lines.

Sen. JP Morrell (D-New Orleans) spoke during the committee debate about the high percentage of exonerations of death row inmates which suggested the potential for mistaken executions.

"It's indisputable that we had people on death row who were [then] found innocent," Morrell said in support of Claitor's bill.

State representative Terry Landry (D-New Iberia) has proposed a similar measure in the House. A former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police and a former supported of capital punishment, he said that his beliefs had evolved and that he “now believe[s] the death penalty is wrong."

The measure was supported by the Catholic bishops of the state. Speaking on behalf of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, executive director Rob Tasman said that "justice can never be wrought by killing a human being."

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, he ordered a revision of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the death penalty “inadmissible” and urging its elimination.

Opponents of the measure said that Claitor’s argument about deterrence was irrelevant.

"Nowhere does [the law] say we shall 'deter,' said Sen. Bodi White (R-Baton Rouge). "It says 'shall be punished' and that's what this does."

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux of the 21st district told News Star that deterrence was not a relevant factor in cases where he sought the death penalty.  

"What we consider is the victims and what victims consider as justice" he said.

The last execution to take place in Louisiana was in 2010.

Although there are currently 72 inmates on death row in the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards has imposed a moratorium on any further executions until July of this year because of the unavailability of the drugs used in lethal injections.

CRS: Situation in Gaza still dire, despite ceasefire

1 week 4 days ago

Washington D.C., May 8, 2019 / 10:55 am (CNA).- Although a ceasefire has calmed a violent situation in Gaza, one Catholic aid agency warned that the people living there remain extremely vulnerable due to drastic cuts in U.S. humanitarian assistance.

“Gaza is on the edge of a complete economic collapse,” said Hilary DuBose, country representative for Catholic Relief Services in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.

“Any additional pressure could be disastrous for the people who live there, and restoration of humanitarian aid is urgently needed,” she said.

A ceasefire called on Monday brought an end to a particularly violent weekend in Gaza, during which about 30 people were killed. Some 700 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel over the weekend.

While the majority of the rocket fire was intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” system, at least one managed to reach Israel, where four people were killed.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked with fighter jets in response, and killed at least 27. Included in that total were eight members of the Quds Brigade, the militant wing of the Islamic Jihad.

At least two pregnant women were also killed, although it is unclear if their deaths were the result of Israeli airstrikes or from a rocket misfire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame for the casualties at Hamas, the governing party of the Gaza Strip. The United States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

According to CNN, the weekend’s attacks were the first major increase in violence since Israel’s election last month.

In a May 8 press release, Catholic Relief Services said it was grateful for the ceasefire, but fears that “if fighting resumes and escalates, the already dire humanitarian situation will push Gaza to the brink.”

The agency said cuts in funding to the region have left families there struggling to find food, clean water, and medicine.

Early last year, the Trump administration announced that it was withholding $65 million that had been designated for UN relief efforts for Palestinian refugees. Officials said the foreign assistance would be frozen until the administration could determine whether United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East had made unspecified reforms.

That review does not have a clear timeline for completion, Catholic Relief Services said. But in the meantime, the people of Gaza are suffering.

“Those funding cuts impact every aspect of their lives,” DuBose said. “They are struggling to find work, feed their families, and get the health care they need.”

After a decade of conflict, and with unemployment rates at more than 50%, protests have become common in the region, and tensions are high.

“Another war would just be too much for many people to bear,” DuBose said, noting that in some places, the people are still trying to rebuild from previous conflicts.

As the House Appropriations Committee prepares to consider foreign assistance funding for Fiscal Year 2020, Catholic Relief Services is asking Congress to renew funding for families in the region.

Last month, Catholic Relief Services was one of 18 organizations that welcomed the introduction of a Senate resolution calling for the humanitarian aid already approved by Congress to be distributed to residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

“The vulnerable people we serve can’t wait any longer,” the agency said.

The world needs new evangelizers, Pope Francis says

1 week 4 days ago

Vatican City, May 8, 2019 / 03:56 am (CNA).- Like Saints Cyril and Methodius shared the Gospel with the Slavic people in the 9th century, today the world is still in need of Christian evangelization, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

Cyril and Methodius “were able to use their culture with creativity to transmit the Christian message to the Slavic peoples; they created a new alphabet with which they translated the Bible and the liturgical texts into the Slavic language,” he said May 8.

“Even today there is a need for passionate and creative evangelizers, so that the Gospel may reach those who do not yet know it and can irrigate the lands where the ancient Christian roots have dried up again.”

At his weekly general audience, Pope Francis spoke about his May 5-7 visit to the countries of Bulgaria and North Macedonia, which focused on ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox Christians.

In Bulgaria, the pope visited the Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Sofia, where he paused in prayer before a sacred image of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

Francis noted that present-day Bulgaria is one of the countries evangelized by the “two holy brothers,” whom St. Pope John Paul II declared patrons of Europe alongside St. Benedict.

In Bulgaria, the pope said he was guided by the example of his predecessor, St. Pope John XXIII, who was apostolic delegate in the country for nearly 10 years as an archbishop.

“Animated by his example of benevolence and pastoral charity, I met that people, called to act as a bridge between Central, Eastern and Southern Europe,” he said. “With the motto ‘Pacem in terris’ I invited everyone to walk on the path of fraternity.”

In Bulgaria, Francis met with Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neophyte and with other patriarchs of the Holy Synod.

“As Christians, our vocation and mission is to be a sign and instrument of unity,” he emphasized. “And we can be, with the help of the Holy Spirit, putting what unites us before what has divided us or still divides us.”

Pope Francis also said two Masses in Bulgaria, and he said he is thankful for the “faith and love” he was shown by the small Catholic community in that country.

In North Macedonia, he was most struck by his meeting with the poor and with some Missionaries of Charity at the Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje.

The tenderness of the sisters touched him in a particular way, he said, adding that it was a “tenderness which comes from prayer, from adoration.”

He said he saw the sisters be like mothers toward everyone, and that their charity is joyful, not bitter.

Speaking about St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who was born and raised in Skopje, Francis said, “in this woman, petite but full of strength thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit in her, we see the image of the Church in that country and in other peripheries of the world: a small community that, with the grace of Christ, becomes a welcoming home where many find refreshment for their life.”

In Skopje, the pope listened to testimonies from young people and from priests and consecrated, with whom he said there can be the temptation to question if one’s small efforts make any difference in the face of the problems of the world and Church.

“I reminded them that a bit of yeast can make all the dough grow, and a little bit of perfume, pure and concentrated, smells good around the whole atmosphere,” he said.

He also praised North Macedonia’s welcome of migrants, particularly in 2015 and 2016, during the European migration crisis. Their welcoming hearts are “a great thing about this people,” he said.

“To his inexhaustible Providence we all entrust together the present and the future of the peoples I visited on this journey,” he concluded. “And I invite you to pray to Our Lady to bless these countries, Bulgaria and North Macedonia.”

Why these men walked 24 miles to the ‘Rome of the Midwest’

1 week 4 days ago

St. Louis, Mo., May 8, 2019 / 03:37 am (CNA).- It can be hard to find time for silent reflection in today’s bustling modern society. But a group of men this past weekend found peace and silence in an unlikely place – on the sidewalks and shoulders of busy roads leading into the heart of a Midwestern metropolis.

The annual Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage, held this year May 4-5 in St. Louis, Missouri, brought together men ranging from their 20s to their 60s who were looking for both a physical challenge and spiritual rejuvenation.

Along the way, the pilgrims would encounter four Catholic churches dedicated to St. Joseph – appropriate, considering the Church celebrated the feast of St. Joseph the Worker the previous Wednesday.

The challenge

The idea was to start at a parish in Manchester, a western St. Louis suburb, and trek 24 miles along sidewalks, paths, through parks, and occasionally on road shoulders all the way to downtown St. Louis.

The men – around 20 total – gathered at St. Joseph Church and began their walk around 10 a.m. Saturday. They stopped for lunch in a park, and again for Mass at the Carmel of St. Joseph, a monastery of discalced Carmelite nuns, around 3:30 p.m.

In addition to carrying a yellow and white Vatican flag, the men took turns carrying a large wooden cross along with them.



“The experience of having carried a cross, basically a nailed together 2x4 cross that I'm sure doesn't weigh as much as Christ's cross, but carrying that a mile and a half was a very challenging and yet rewarding experience,” said Patrick Swackhammer, 45.

After Mass at the monastery, the group continued for several more miles before reaching the place of the night’s rest – St. Joseph’s in Clayton, Missouri. Total distance walked the first day: approximately 14 miles.

The men had dinner, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a holy hour including a Latin rosary, followed by fellowship and a few beers before settling into their sleeping bags on the tile floor of the church basement for the night.



Origins

“This was kind of my crazy idea several years ago,” said Gabe Jones, 30, one of the two main organizers of the pilgrimage.

Jones said he had been on pilgrimages and men’s retreats in the past that usually involved an invitation for men to drive to and meet at a sacred destination, rather than walking to it. To him, driving straight to a pilgrimage site defeated the purpose; it removed the physical hardship involved in actually getting to the site.

“A pilgrimage is: you walk, and you walk, and you walk, and you walk, and you get to this beautiful church, and you fall on your knees when you get there. That's a pilgrimage,” he said.

The United States does not have the same kind of culture of pilgrimage that Europe has, he said, partly because the U.S. as a country is much younger than the European continent, and thus is built primarily around the automobile.

Jones said the idea for the St. Joseph pilgrimage started as “just a bunch of guys getting together.”

The first year, 2015, a handful of guys expressed interest in the challenge, but nearly all of them canceled before it began or dropped out along the way for various reasons – a tweaked back, other plans for the weekend, a torn ACL – until, by the end, the only two pilgrims left were Jones and the priest that had come with him.

Jones said he was disappointed in the turnout the first year, but came to understand that the idea of walking 24 miles over a weekend and being away from your family is perhaps a bigger ask than he thought.

“What I learned from that first year is that material success and immediately seeing the fruits of our labor are not the most important thing,” Jones said.

“Just do the thing that you're called to do, and if it's the right thing then there will be good fruit. And it may not be right away, heck, it may not be in your lifetime. But just stick to it, and if God's calling you to that, do it.”

The next year, 2016, they had more like 40 guys sign up, with around 38 walking at any one time, Jones said. The pilgrims were coming from a whole range of places, physically and spiritually.

But the feeling of being the same boat and taking on the same physical challenge fostered a sense of brotherhood among the men.

“As a convert to the Catholic faith, the concept of a pilgrimage is something new, it's something I had to embrace along with embracing all the other unique aspects of the Catholic faith,” second-year participant Russell Yount reflected.

“But it's an idea that resonates with me, of having a goal and pursuing it.”

The importance of silence

Walking twenty-plus miles through an urban jungle may not sound like the most peaceful way to spend a weekend. But the organizers made sure that despite the constant hum of traffic next to the marching group of men, there were times when quiet contemplation was encouraged.

During some stretches of the route, the men were encouraged to socialize and get to know one another. During other sections, the organizers led rosaries via megaphone.

At other points, the men were encouraged simply to walk in silence, their quiet reverie interrupted only occasionally by drivers in passing cars pipping their horns in support.

“It's a good visible witness as we walk through the city,” co-organizer Chris Horan said.

“To people who aren't Catholic, people who are Catholic, to just plant seeds and show them that Catholicism is not dead, it's growing and growing, and maybe is more alive than ever.”

The homilist at Mass on Saturday pointed to St. Joseph as a model of silent masculinity.

“Given that [St. Joseph] said absolutely nothing in scripture...when he would have spoken, he was obedient, he was prayerful, and he's just the perfect model of silence, I think,” Horan said.

“And especially for men who are flooded with junk in the culture, it can be hard for us to keep St. Joseph in mind. But if we do that then it's only going to bring us grace...that's the main model for us as husbands, fathers, brothers, and even those called to the priesthood.”

Fr. Gustavo Serpa, a member of the Miles Christi religious order based in Detroit, was the official chaplain for the pilgrimage, giving several talks over the course of the weekend.



Horan said he appreciated Father Gustavo’s presence on the pilgrimage.

“I think his youth, his love of the Church, his love of St. Joseph have helped get us through and been a good example and model for us,” Horan commented.

Many of the participants pointed to the silence aspect as one of the most helpful parts of the pilgrimage, and one that helped them to bond with their fellow men.

“You can hear the cars going by, the footsteps on the pavement, and sometimes even voices. But it gives you an opportunity when you're not required to be speaking or doing things - it lets your mind and your soul kind of settle down and be quiet with Christ for a little while,” Bill Hennessy, 55, reflected.

Cory Ross, a 30-year-old stay at home dad, was similarly inspired by the call to silence in his everyday life.

“Silence is one of those things that we can hold as an important practice in our daily lives,” he said. “And Father kind of talked about how it helps us grow in virtue and reflect upon our lives and purpose and things of that nature. It has been really profitable.”

For Yount, a weightlifter, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to take on a physical challenge while also developing the virtues he has come to value as a convert to the Catholic faith. He said he got to tell his conversion story at his home parish soon after last year's Joseph Challenge.

“I think of things in terms of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and then the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity,” Yount explained.

So, he says, he always approaches anything he does with the question: “How does each thing that I'm doing here help to build one of those virtues?” In terms of the St. Joseph Challenge, he said, he’ll be pondering what virtues are in play; certainly fortitude and prudence.

Rome of the Midwest

Apart from being a physical challenge and an opportunity for silent retreat, the pilgrimage offered a unique opportunity for the men to experience the Catholic culture of the city.

“It's a city that I had always just kind of driven through before, but I have a totally different understanding of St. Louis now, having walked through it,” Yount said.

Much of the city’s robust Catholic culture originates in the mid-19th century, when a massive influx of foreign immigrants - many from Germany, Ireland, and Italy- arrived in the area, complementing the dominant French heritage in the city at that time.

Today, there are around 180 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and so many beautiful Catholic churches that the city has been unofficially dubbed the “Rome of the Midwest.”

“Having walked all the way from Manchester to downtown, and realizing just how Catholic the city is. How strong the Catholic heritage of St. Louis is – I had no idea,” Yount said. “But now I know, and I tell people all the time: if you're ever in St. Louis, there are these places that you don't want to miss that are of importance to us as Catholics.”

Push to the finish

Bright and early Sunday morning, the men packed their belongings, and set off on the final day of the pilgrimage. Today would involve about 10 more miles before they reached their destination: The Shrine of St. Joseph, downtown.

Eventually, to the pilgrims’ delight, the shining curves of the St. Louis Arch, located on the riverfront in the heart of downtown, came into view. Soon the shrine itself was in view, and the group was all smiles as they finally approached the impressive edifice – just in time for the regularly scheduled 11 a.m. Sunday Mass.

Many of the men’s wives and families were there to meet them at the end of their pilgrimage. They knelt in front of the shrine and prayed a litany to St. Joseph as they concluded their journey.



“If you want something more physical – physical suffering, physical sacrifice, as opposed to just spiritual sacrifice – come out and join us next year. You're only going to get grace from it, meeting like-minded Catholic men, and you're going to grow, God willing, in greater devotion to St. Joseph,” Horan said.

“You'll experience beautiful liturgies, and you'll take what you experience from this back home to your wives, your kids.”

The spiritual experience isn’t all the men will bring back with them.

“Of course, I'll be taking the blisters and the aches and pains back, too,” Swackhammer added.

All in all, it was a fitting introduction to the concept of pilgrimage, something many of the men had not encountered before.

“You may have to start small, but I think we make everything too stress-free and too easy, which also leads to distraction, and comfort, and not a lot of difference from our day to day lives,” Hennessy reflected.

“And being on foot, with being disconnected from our creature comforts for a few hours, a few days, it makes it much much easier to focus on what you're supposed to be focused on, which is basically getting to heaven.”

All photos credit: Jonah McKeown / CNA.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

1 week 4 days ago
Reading 1 Acts 8:1b-8 There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem,
and all were scattered
throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria,
except the Apostles.
Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him.
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church;
entering house after house and dragging out men and women,
he handed them over for imprisonment.

Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 66:1-3a, 4-5, 6-7a R. (1) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, "How tremendous are your deeds!"
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
"Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,
sing praise to your name!"
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He has changed the sea into dry land;
through the river they passed on foot;
therefore let us rejoice in him.
He rules by his might forever.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Alleluia See Jn 6:40 R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Everyone who believes in the Son has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Jn 6:35-40 Jesus said to the crowds,
"I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
But I told you that although you have seen me,
you do not believe.
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day."
- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan, arrives in Canada

1 week 4 days ago

Ottawa, Canada, May 8, 2019 / 03:11 am (CNA).- Asia Bibi, the Catholic wife and mother who spent 9 years on death row on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, has left the country and arrived safely in Canada.

According to Spanish news agency COPE, Bibi, a Pakistani, has arrived in Canada, which has offered asylum to her and her daughters. Her health is reportedly in a delicate condition.

Pakistani government officials confirmed that Bibi left the country, but did not state her destination.

Bibi, 53, had been in protective custody in Islamabad since her death sentence was overturned at the end of October. The verdict and her subsequent release from prison sparked protests from Islamic hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws in the country.

Bibi's imprisonment began in 2010 when she was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. The charges stemmed from 2009 accusations that she had made disparaging remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammad after an argument over a cup of water.

Bibi immediately appealed the conviction, but in 2014 the Lahore High Court upheld the original conviction. She then appealed to the country’s Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal in 2015, acquitting Bibi on Oct. 31, 2018.

Since her arrest, Bibi has garnered international support from numerous world leaders calling for her immediate release, including Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. In 2015, Pope Francis met with her daughter and offered prayers.

In Pakistan, Islamic hardliners have been calling for her execution since her initial conviction. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he supports the country’s harsh blasphemy laws.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97% of the population is Muslim.

Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.

Blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only three percent of the Pakistani population, 14% of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.

Jean Vanier, friend of the intellectually disabled and founder of L'Arche, dies at 90

1 week 5 days ago

Paris, France, May 7, 2019 / 09:28 pm (CNA).- Jean Vanier died May 7, at the age of 90.

He died at a L’Arche home in Paris, where he had entered palliative care several weeks ago, after a protracted battle with cancer.

Vanier will be mourned by his friends: the weak, the indigent, the forgotten, the disturbed, the rejected, and the disabled.

His funeral Mass will be celebrated privately in Trosly, France, but will be broadcast globally for mourners who wish to remember him.

Vanier will be remembered as a man of compassion and peace, a person of deep spiritual insight and gentleness. He spoke easily with scholars and leaders, with princes and popes, but he said often that he was most at home among the intellectually disabled people to whom he dedicated most of his life.

Vanier was the founder of L’Arche, an international community of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their supporters, and of Faith and Light, an ecumenical Christian association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

He was born in Geneva to Georges and Pauline Vanier. His father was a Canadian diplomat who would become Canada’s Governor General. He was educated in Canada, France, and England, his family lived in Paris and Switzerland. At 13 he entered the United Kingdom’s naval college, to prepare for commission as a naval officer. He served in the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy, until, at 22, he resigned his naval commission.

He studied philosophy at the Institut Catholique de Paris, completing a doctoral thesis on Aristotle’s approach to ethics and human happiness. He taught philosophy at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto.

When Vanier was 36, he left academic life. He began to assist a friend, Fr. Thomas Phillippe, OP, who had just become chaplain of the Val Fleuri, a French institution that was home to 30 men with intellectual disabilities. While there, Vanier visited a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Paris, which housed those with both mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities.  He was struck by the depravity of the conditions there, and the apparent loneliness of the residents.

Shortly thereafter, Vanier discerned in prayer that he should invite two men, Raphael Simi and Phillippe Seux, to live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, France. He named the home “L’Arche,” or “The Ark."

Life in that home did not begin easily. Eventually, Vanier later recalled, he realized that his housemates had need of friendship, that they suffered the pain and indignity of not being understood, and of loneliness.

“Essentially, they wanted a friend. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being,” Vanier wrote.

Their home, and soon a community, was formed around friendship, a common table, common chores, common celebrations, and common faith.

Within a few years, Vanier opened similar households nearby, and he sought help from others: young people, from France, Canada, England, Germany. As the community grew, the blueprint that became L’Arche was born.

L’Arche became 154 communities and more than 10,000 members. Until the late 1990s, Vanier oversaw the entire organization, while remaining responsible for the original L’Arche community as well. He penned 30 books, was feted with awards and honors from governments around the globe, and became a sought after speaker. He was a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and a regular visitor and correspondent with Pope St. John Paul II.

His time, until the end of his life, was committed to his friends in L’Arche. He traveled globally to support the foundation of L’Arche communities, and to imbue them with a spirituality grounded in his own Catholic faith, his reflection on the mystery of suffering, and his love for people with disabilities.

“I strongly believe that God is hidden in the heart of the smallest of all, in the weakest of all, and if we commit ourselves to him, we open a new world,” he wrote.

Pope Francis said of him May 7: “He was a man who knew how to read the Christian existence from the mystery of death on the cross of illness, from the mystery of those who are despised and rejected in the world. He worked, not only for the least of these, but also for those who before birth face the possibility of being sentenced to death. He spent his life like this. I am simply thankful to him and thankful to God for giving us this man with a great witness.”

He summarized the mission of his life in this way: “The most important thing is not to do things for people who are poor and in distress, but to enter into relationship with them, to be with them and help them find confidence in themselves and discover their own gifts.”

College student cited for assault after punching pro-life activist

1 week 5 days ago

Chapel Hill, N.C., May 7, 2019 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- A college student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was arrested for assault after reportedly attacking the staff member of a pro-life group called “Created Equal” during an April 2 demonstration.

A video posted online appears to show the student attacking the staff member after confirming that the graphic images of abortion on display on the campus belonged to his group.

The video was taken by another member of “Created Equal.” It appears to show the woman asking the staffer “Did you put these (signs) up?” and punching the staff member multiple times in the face and stomach when he confirms that he did.

Created Equal describes itself as “a national anti-abortion organization that focuses on training students to be pre-born defenders by using a traveling photo exhibit to show as many students as possible what abortion does to preborn children.”

The group focuses on college campuses in order to “create debate on campus to influence America’s future decision-makers and leaders.”

The two members of Created Equal who were present for the UNC incident can be heard on the video saying “Ma’am, don’t do that” before calling the police. After the physical assault, the woman appears to yell at the staff member that he is a “(expletive) terrible person,” and that the signs are “wrong” and “triggering.”

When the police arrived, they confirmed the alleged attack with the young man who filmed the incident. The police said in the video that they were giving the student who threw the punches an arrest by citation for assault, which they said was a misdemeanor.

Mark Harrington, president of Created Equal, said in a statement following the incident that his group will continue to “return hate with love.”

"Pro-abortion activists are losing the argument, and instead of seeking debate they are escalating the violence on peaceful preborn defenders on college campuses,” he said. “We will never cave to acts of violence or intimidation. We will return hate with love for mothers and their babies."

The UNC incident is the latest in a series of attacks and harassment of pro-life demonstrators in the U.S. and Canada.

On May 2, Pennsylvania lawmaker Brian Sims livestreamed himself harassing an elderly woman who was praying a rosary outside of a Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood.

On March 2 of this year, an 85 year-old pro-life demonstrator was thrown to the ground and kicked outside a Planned Parenthood facility in San Francisco.

In October 2018, a Canadian man was arrested for roundhouse kicking a female pro-life demonstrator at a pro-life rally that took place in Toronto in late September 2018.

In a statement following the UNC incident, Created Equal said it is “currently engaged in several open cases with prosecutors” that include cases of stolen or damaged property of the group or physical assault of its members.

Full text of Pope Francis' in-flight press conference from North Macedonia

1 week 5 days ago

Aboard the papal plane, May 7, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Please read below for CNA's full transcript of the pope's May 7 in-flight press conference from Skopje, North Macedonia to Rome:

 

Alessandro Gisotti:
Good evening Holy Father, thank you after such intense days for being here to share a thought about this journey that was so intense and so beautiful. A short trip, inevitably a short press conference, I will not add words other than these: Holy Father you have already walked in the footsteps of Mother Teresa, a great witness of Christian love, and we have all been struck today, as you know it, by the death of Jean Vanier, another friend, brother of the least of these, another great witness. Here, before the questions I wanted to ask if you wanted to share a thought about Jean Vanier.  

Pope Francis:
Yes, I knew of the illness of Jean Vanier. His sister, Geneviève Jeanningros, informed me on a regular basis. One week ago, I called him on the phone, he listened to me, but could hardly speak. I would like to express my gratitude for this testimony. He was a man who knew how to read the Christian existence from the mystery of death on the cross of illness, from the mystery of those who are despised and rejected in the world. He worked, not only for the least of these, but also for those who before birth face the possibility of being sentenced to death. He spent his life like this. I am simply thankful to him and thankful to God for giving us this man with a great witness.

Gisotti:
Thank you, Holy Father, the first question will be from Biljana Zherevska of TV Macedonia.

Biljana Zherevska, MRT: [In English] Your Holiness, it is a great pleasure to have you in our country. We feel honored by your visit. What is interesting for us is to hear from you what is your greatest impression from the two countries, what touched you the most? The persons, objects, atmosphere. What will you remember of these two countries when you go [back] to the Holy See?

Pope Francis: They are two totally diverse nations. Bulgaria is a nation of a tradition from centuries ago. Macedonia, on the other hand, has a tradition from centuries, but not as a country: as a people, that ultimately rose to form as a nation... It is a beautiful fight! For us Christians Macedonia is a symbol of the entrance of Christianity in the East. Christianity entered in the East through you all.. those Macedonians that appeared to Paul in a dream: "come to us, come to us." He was leaving for Asia, it is a mystery that call... And the Macedonian people are proud of this, they do not lose the opportunity to say that Christianity entered Europe through us, through our door, because Paul was called by a Macedonian.

Bulgaria has had to fight so much for its identity as a nation. The mere fact that in the 1800s, I believe 1823, more or less, 200,000 Russian soldiers died to regain independence from the hands of the Turks ... we think of what 200,000 means. So much struggle for independence, so much blood, so much mystique to find consolidation of identity.

Macedonia had the identity and now it has come to consolidate it as a people, with small, big problems, like its name, and this we all know. Both have Christian, Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim communities. The percentage of Orthodox is very strong in both with a small amount of Muslims and even fewer Catholics, in Macedonia more so than Bulgaria. A thing I saw in both nations is the good relationship between the different faiths. In Bulgaria we saw it in the prayer for peace. This is a normal and beautiful thing for Bulgarians, because they have a good relationship, each person has the right to express his own religion and has the right to be respected. This touched me. Then the dialogue with Patriarch Neophyte was a beauty... he is a man of God, a great man of God. In Macedonia I was struck by a phrase the president told me: "Here there is not religious tolerance, there is respect." They have respect. In a world like this respect is missed very much. Respect for human rights, we miss respect for so many things, respect for children, for the elderly, that the mystique of a country would be respect is striking. I do not know if I answered more or less briefly.  

Gisotti:
Holy Father, the next question will be asked by Peter Nanev from Bulgarian television.

Peter Nanev, BTV: Good evening. Peter Nanev, BTV Bulgaria. [In English] It is more of a personal question, as Your Holiness, you’re like a human being, from where do you find strength in your body, in your spirit in cases when you have to give even more strength for a heavily sick child?

Pope Francis: First of all I would like to tell you that I do not go to the witch... [laughs]. I do not know. I do not know, really. It is a gift from the Lord. When I am in a country, I forget everything, but not because I want to forget it, I forget it, and I am only there. And then this gives me perseverance, I don't know, but [when] I am on the trip I am not tired! Then I am tired! After! But where do I take the strength from? I believe that the Lord gives it to me, there is no explanation. I ask the Lord to be faithful, to serve him in this work of travels, that the trip will not be tourism. I ask. All is his grace. Nothing else comes to me to say. But then I do not do so much work, huh? Thank you.  

Gisotti:
He will now address a question. We remain in Eastern Europe, Silvije Tomasevic of Croatian press and television, Vecernij List.

Silvije Tomasevic, Vecernij List: The national Orthodox Churches are not always in agreement among them, for example, they have not recognized the Macedonian Church. But when they have to criticise the Catholic Church they are always in unison, for example the Serbian Church does not want Cardinal Stepinac to be canonized. Your comment on this situation?

Pope Francis: In general, the relationships are good, they are good and there is good will. I can tell you sincerely that I have met men of God among the patriarchs. Neophyte is a man of God, and then him that I carry in my heart, a favorite, Ilia II of Georgia is a man of God, that has been good to me, Bartholomew is a man of God, Kirill is a man of God. They are great patriarchs that give witness. You can tell me. But everyone, we have defects. Everyone. But in the patriarchs I have found brothers and some... I do not want to exaggerate, but I would like to say the word 'saints' and this is important.

Then there are historic things between our Churches, some old things, for example today the president was saying to me that the Eastern schism began here in Macedonia.

Now the pope comes for the first time, to mend the schism I do not know, but to say we are brothers, because we cannot adore the Holy Trinity without hands united as brothers. This is not only my conviction, also the patriarchs', everyone.

Then there is a historic world... you are Croatian? It was seeming to me I sensed the aroma of Croatia. The canonization of Stepinac is a historic case. He is a virtuous man for this Church, which has proclaimed him Blessed, you can pray [through his intercession]. But at a certain moment of the canonization process there are unclear points, historic points, and I should sign the canonization, it is my responsibility, I prayed, I reflected, I asked advice, and I saw that I should ask Irenej, a great patriarch, for help. We made a historic commission together and we worked together, and both Irenej and I are interested in the truth. Who is helped by a declaration of sanctity if the truth is not clear? We know that [Stepinac] was a good man, but to make this step I looked for the help of Irenej and they are studying. First of all the commission was set up and gave its opinion. They are studying other sources, deepening some points so that the truth is clear. I am not afraid of the truth, I am not afraid. I am afraid of the judgment of God.

Gisotti: There is time for another question. Joshua McElwee.

Josh McElwee, National Catholic Reporter: Thank you so much, Holy Father. In Bulgaria you visited an Orthodox community that has continued a long tradition of ordaining women deacons. In a few days you will meet with the International Union of Superiors General*, that three years ago requested a commision for women deacons. Can you tell us something you have learned from the report of the commission on the ministry of women in the early years of the Church? Have you made some decision?

Pope Francis: I did not hear the first part of your question.

McElwee: [repeats a part of the question.]

Pope Francis: The commission was made, it worked for almost two years. They were all different, all toads from different wells, all thinking differently, but they worked together and were in agreement until a certain point. But each of them then has her own view that does not agree with that of the others. And there they stopped as a commission and each is studying [how] to go forward.

For the female diaconate, there is a way to imagine it with a different view from the male diaconate. For example, the formulas of female deacon ordination found until now, according to the commission, are not the same for the ordination of a male deacon and are more similar to what today would be the abbatial blessing of an abbess. This is the answer of some of them. I'm speaking a little from the ear, from memory.

Others say that it is a female deacon formula, but they argue that it is not clear. There were female deacons, but was it a sacramental ordination or not? And that is discussed, it is not clear. That they helped in liturgy, in Baptisms by immersion, when the woman was baptized the deaconesses helped, also for [unclear] the woman's body. Then a document came out where diaconesses were called by the bishop when there was a matrimonial argument for the dissolution of the marriage or divorce or separation. When the woman accused her husband of beating her and the bishop called the deaconesses to look at the woman's body for the bruises and so they testified in the judgment. These are the things I remember.

But fundamentally, there is no certainty that it was an ordination with the same form, in the same purpose as male ordination. Some say there is doubt, let's go ahead and study. I am not afraid of studying, but up to this moment it does not proceed.

Then it is curious that where there were deaconesses it was almost always a geographic zone, especially in Syria. And then in another part, it does not touch or nothing. All these things I received from the commission. Each one continues to study, and [they have] done a good job, because up to a certain point [they were] in agreement. And this can be an impetus to go ahead and study and give a definitive answer, yes or no, according to the characteristics of that time.

An interesting thing. Some theologians of a few years ago, 30 years ago for example, said that there were no deaconesses because women were in the background in the Church, not only in the Church. Always women... But it is a curious thing: in that period there were so many pagan priestesses, the female priesthood in pagan cults was ordinary in that day. As it is understood as a female priesthood, a pagan priesthood in women, it was not done in Christianity. This is being studied also. They have arrived at a point, now each of the members is studying according to her theory. This is good. Varietas delectat.

Gisotti: Holy Father, thank you for your availability. The press conference finishes here, at this point, because in a little while they will serve the dinner. And so, thank you to you all. Especially during this trip when we woke up at night to move [from place to place].

Pope Francis: I would like to say one thing about the trip: Something I found much consolation in and which has touched me profoundly during the trip. Two extreme experiences. The experience with the poor today here in Macedonia at the Mother Teresa Memorial. There were so many poor people, but to see the meekness of those sisters: they were caring for the poor without paternalism, but as children. But a meekness, the ability to caress the poor, the tenderness of these sisters. Today, we are used to insulting each other. One politician insults the other, one neighbor insults the other, even in families they insult each other. I cannot say that it is a culture of insult, but the insult is a weapon in the hand, even to speak ill of others, slander, defamation, and to see these sisters that care for every person as Jesus. It hit me, a good young man approached and the superior told me, 'this is a good boy' and caressed him and she said it with the tenderness of a mom and made me feel the Church a mother. It is one of the most beautiful things to feel the maternity of the Church. Today I felt it there.

I thank Macedonia for having this [inaudible]. Another extreme experience was the First Communion in Bulgaria. I was moved because my memory went back to October 8, 1944, to my First Communion, when they sang [the hymn] 'O santo altare custodito dagli angeli' (who here remembers it?), I saw those children that open themselves to life with a sacramental decision. The Church guards the children, they are limited, they have to grow, I am promised, and I lived it very strongly, I felt in that moment those 249 children were the future of the Church, they were the future of Bulgaria. These are two things that I lived with much intensity I wanted to communicate. Thank you very much, pray for me. I do not want to leave without speaking about these days, the centenary of trips. They are roses from Bulgaria, a small thought to mark the 100th trip.

They tell us that now there will be whiskey.

Christian pastor in India acquitted of anti-conversion charges

1 week 5 days ago

Bhopal, India, May 7, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- A Protestant pastor in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been acquitted of charges held against him under India’s state-level anti-conversion laws.

Pentecostal Pastor Balu Saste, his wife, his son, and members of his community were violently attacked by Hindus, later detained by the police and accused of trying to convert people to Christianity by force, according to ADF International.

The group announced May 6 that a court had dropped all charges against Balu and his family.

“The acquittal of Pastor Balu and his family is a vital step towards the protection of religious freedom and the right to freely live out one’s faith,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India.

“Now he can continue to tend to his small community of Christians without interference from the state. Unfortunately, this is not the only case in India where Christians have been falsely accused under anti-conversion laws.”

A group of nationalists stormed Balu’s church three years ago during a service and began beating and harassing worshipers, ADF International reports.

The police came and arrested Balu, his wife, and his six-year-old son, stripped them of their clothes, beat them, and kept them detained without bail for three days, finally convicting the family in March of this year of forcing conversion to the Christian faith.

The right to choose one’s own religion is found in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

Violence against Christians in the majority Hindu country are on the rise. International NGOs and the country’s Catholic bishops have recently raised their voices in protest against mob violence.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal has said numerous mob lynchings of Christians have occurred in which the victims are accused of eating beef or otherwise harming cattle, which are considered sacred in Hinduism.

An article on the Indian website Scroll has documented incidents in which “cow protection vigilantes” have assaulted men they accused of either killings cows or transporting cattle to be slaughtered. A large number of Indian states have made slaughtering cattle illegal, the article says.

Violence against Christians in India does not end with lynchings, however. The United Christian Forum and ADF India documented 80 “violent mob attacks” across India in the first quarter of 2019 alone.

According to ADF International, the attacks will often involve a mob arriving at a prayer meeting or Christian gathering and beating up those in attendance, including women and children, while shouting abusive and harassing things. The group says pastors or priests are usually arrested by the police under false allegations of forced conversions.

Pa. legislator acknowledges aggression toward woman praying at Planned Parenthood

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Harrisburg, Pa., May 7, 2019 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- Brian Sims, a Pennsylvania state legislator who confronted a woman praying outside Planned Parenthood last week, said in a video posted to social media Tuesday that he was aggressive, and he reiterated his intention of “pushing back” against those who pray or protest outside abortion clinics.

Sims had livestreamed a video May 2 in which he can be seen approaching a woman outside of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The woman, by herself, can be seen praying the rosary across the street from the Planned Parenthood.

He aggressively questioned her for several minutes, and addressing livestream viewers he solicited the woman's name and address, saying, “we’ll protest outside of her home. Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

The lawmaker posted a video May 7 discussing the prior week's video.

 

I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania. pic.twitter.com/jURL1UX9qE

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 7, 2019


 

“I've lived across the street or next door to this particular Planned Parenthood … for the last 15 years,” he said. “I've seen men and women and teens try to go there for routine healthcare … and, yes, for abortions.”

“I've also spent the last seven years serving as a volunteer patient escort at this Planned Parenthood, and I have seen first hand the insults, the slurs, the attacks, and the racism that those protesters aim at mostly young girls … and last week was no different.”

“What I should have shown you in that video was protestors gathered together to pray at, not to silently pray for, people coming in and out of Planned Parenthood as they intercepted them and harassed them,” he stated.

“In my years with Planned Parenthood I've seen women and girls circle that block, two, three, four times before finally driving away because they know they weren't going to get in because of those protesters.”

Sims said that “as a Planned Parenthood volunteer and as a supporter, I fully understand, respect, and appreciate the non-engagement policy that they have, and I would never want to do anything that interfered with the care that they're providing to their patients. As an activist and an advocate I know why pushing back against harassment and discrimination are a must, even when they're uncomfortable.”

“But last week, I wasn't a patient escort, I was a neighbor and a concerned citizen, and I was aggressive. I know that two wrongs don't make a right, and I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Sims did not apologize to the woman he confronted in the video.

In a tweet accompanying the video, Sims wrote, “I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Sims has represented District 182, a heavily-Democratic area of Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. Sims is an LGBT activist and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

He has been seen in other videos approaching people outside the same Planned Parenthood location as in his May 2 post. Many of those he approached, whom he characterized as “white people” and “psuedo-Christian protestors who have been out here shaming young girls for being here”, appear to be teenagers.

Sims have been the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office. He is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

A consortium of pro-life groups will hold a rally at the same Planned Parenthood location May 10. They have invited Sims to attend.

Pope Francis: No plans for female deacons, but study continues

1 week 5 days ago

Vatican City, May 7, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said Tuesday that the Vatican commission exploring the possibility of female deacons continues its study, but does not have any consensus that would lead soon to a plan of action.

“For the female diaconate, there is a way to imagine it with a different view from the male diaconate,” Pope Francis said May 7 during an in-flight press conference returning from North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

“Fundamentally, there is no certainty that it was an ordination with the same form, in the same purpose as male ordination. Some say there is doubt, let's go ahead and study,” the pope said.

Much of the Pope Francis’ May 5-7 visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia was dedicated to ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox Christinity. Among the differences from Catholicism, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has female deaconesses.

The diaconate, as part of the Church’s sacrament of Holy Orders, is currently only open to men. Pope Francis appointed a commission in 2016 to examine the possibility of women serving in some diaconal role, with or without the sacrament of ordination.

During the in-flight press conference, Pope Francis revealed that some in the Vatican commission have concluded that historically the female diaconate was different from the role of male deacons, namely without sacramental ordination.

“For example, the formulas of female deacon ‘ordination’ found until now, according to the commission, are not the same for the ordination of a male deacon and are more similar to what today would be the abbatial blessing of an abbess,” he said.

Pope Francis said that others in the commission hold that there was  “a female deacon formula,” but it is not clear whether it was a sacramental ordination or not.

The pope went on to explain that in the past female deacons assisted with the liturgy, for example, with the full-immersion baptisms of women or to serve as an aid to the bishop in determining the authenticity of domestic abuse with matrimonial disputes.

Archbishop Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was appointed president of the study commission on the project, consisting of 12 members - 6 men and 6 women.

These comments by Pope Francis’ on female deacons are very similar as to what he said in 2016 on the subject.

A 2002 document published by the International Theological Commission concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had “no liturgical function,” nor a sacramental one. It also maintained that even in the fourth century “the way of life of deaconesses was very similar to that of nuns.”

During the press conference, Pope Francis also spoke about the cause for sainthood for Croatian Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937-1960.

Pope Francis told reporters that there are “unclear historical points” on Stepinac’s canonization.

“This is a historical case: the canonization of Stepinac. He is a virtuous man and for this the Church has proclaimed him Blessed, you can pray [for his intercession]. But at a certain point in the canonization process, there are unclear points, historical points,” he said.

“Who is helped by a declaration of sanctity if the truth is not clear?” Pope Francis added.

Stepinac’s cause for canonization remains pending after many in the Serbian Orthodox community expressed skepticism of the cardinal’s wartime record, while other Croatian Catholics claim the record was tainted by a Soviet propaganda smear campaign.

Pope Francis arranged a special commission of Catholic and Orthodox leaders to examine Stepinac’s record, which resulted in disagreement in 2017.

The pope said he was “deeply touched” by his experience in Bulgaria and North Macedonia May 5-7, particularly by his encounter with the poor and the Missionaries of Charity at the Mother Teresa memorial in North Macedonia.

“These sisters who treated every person like Jesus,” he said. “It is one of the most beautiful things to feel the motherhood of the Church.”

Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.

Dubuque archbishop hospitalized after heart attack

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Dubuque, Iowa, May 7, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa was hospitalized on Friday due to a heart attack. The archbishop was taken to Mercy Hospital on the evening of May 3.

He had two stents installed in his heart, ABC affiliate KCRG-TV9 reported.

Father Nils Hernandez, pastor of Trinity Cluster, a grouping of parishes in Monona, Iowa, said the archbishop is doing well but called for prayers.

“The Archbishop is in good spirits and feeling better. He will be in the hospital for a few days,” said Nils on Facebook, relaying an email from the diocese. “Please keep him in your prayers for a full recovery.”

Fr. Noah Diehm, pastor of St. John Baptist de La Salle, also encouraged for prayers on social media.

“May the Lord give him the graces he needs to recover quickly and to continue to labor faithfully in His vineyard,” said Diehm.

Jackels served as Bishop of Wichita for eight years prior to his appointment to the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 2013.

Georgia heartbeat bill signed into law

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Atlanta, Ga., May 7, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has approved a controversial law that bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The law will come in to force January 1, but is expected to be the subject of immediate legal challenge from abortion activists.

The Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act will limit abortion in the state of Georgia to about the first six weeks of gestation. Presently, abortion is legal in the state until the 20th week of a pregnancy.

“We stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves. The LIFE Act is very simple, but also very powerful,” said Kemp prior to signing the bill.

The bill is “a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, that all life is worthy of protection,” he said.

Francis J. Mulcahy, the executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, said in a statement provided to CNA that the bishops were fully behind the bill and are pleased that Kemp signed it into law.

“The Catholic Bishops of Georgia supported this bill and commend Governor Kemp for signing it,” said Mulcahy. The bishops said this law is a step forward compared to the present situation in the state, and “will bring protection of unborn human life to a point closer to conception than current law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has previously promised to fight the LIFE Act in court if the governor signed it into law. Other states have seen similar legislation struck down as unconstitutional by the courts following expensive legal battles.

Given the expensive legal processes which have followed the passage of heartbeat bills, many pro-life advocates, including some bishops, have witheld support from the measures, advocating instead for so-called “trigger laws” which would ban abortion in the event that Roe v Wade is overturned.  

Kemp acknowledged the imminent legal battle, saying that he knew many people did not agree with the law.

 “I realize that some may challenge it in the court of law. But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy,” he said.

While the Georgia law is not the first such measure to be passed at the state level, it drew national attention following public opposition by actress Alyssa Milano.

Milano, who appeared on the television show “Who’s the Boss?” and in the direct-to-video movie “Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure,” had threatened to organize a state-wide boycott by the film and television industry should Kemp sign the bill.

Georgia has a favorable state tax structure for TV and film production, and now attracts a larger share of the industry than Hollywood.

“We’ve always found (Georgia) to be populated with friendly and caring people,” said Milano in March. “We’ve found the hotels in which we stay and restaurants in which we dine while filming there to be comfortable and of a high quality. We’ve been glad to bring billions of dollars in revenue to support Georgia’s schools, parks, and communities.”

“But we cannot in good conscience continue to recommend our industry remain in Georgia if H.B. 481 becomes law,” she added.

Thus far, a boycott has failed to materialize, and many television shows and movies are still scheduled to be shot in Georgia in the coming months. A similar boycott was threatened following the election of Kemp but failed to materialize.

English bishop welcomes climate change report

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Salford, England, May 7, 2019 / 11:56 am (CNA).- The English and Welsh bishops' lead on environmental issues welcomed Thursday the publication of an advisory group's report encouraging the British government to cut greenhouse gas net emissions to zero by 2050.

“In achieving this target, we must all play our part, and I’m proud that the Catholic community has taken a leading role in showing what can be achieved. Thousands of our churches are running on renewable energy and schools and parishes in dioceses around the country have committed to living simply and sustainably,” Bishop John Arnold of Salford said May 2.

He called 'net zero' an “ambitious target which will be welcomed by the thousands of Catholics in this country who have responded to Pope Francis’s call for us to protect our common home.”

Bishop Arnold said that “we look forward to seeing the government embracing its role in delivering this agenda urgently and enthusiastically.”

“The report represents a welcome recognition that as a country we must be a good ‘global’ neighbour and must think about the millions of our brothers and sisters around the world who already face danger and suffering, and the millions more who will increasingly be affected by climate change.”

The Committee on Climate Change, which issued the report, said the 2050 goal is possible to meet through lowered costs of renewable energy.

Net zero emissions would be achieved by reducing, storing, and offsetting emissions.

Make something beautiful with your life, Pope tells Macedonian youth

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Skopje, North Macedonia, May 7, 2019 / 11:31 am (CNA).- Pope Francis encouraged youth in North Macedonia Tuesday to follow Mother Teresa’s example and make something beautiful out of their lives.

“Each of you is called, like Mother Teresa, to work with your hands, to take life seriously and make something beautiful of it,” Pope Francis said in Skopje May 7.

“You will encounter many, many unexpected twists and turns in life, but it is important to face them and find creative ways of turning them into opportunities,” he added.

The pope answered questions from young people at an ecumenical and interreligious meeting at a pastoral center in Mother Teresa’s hometown in North Macedonia.

Pope Francis shared with the young people what he believes to be one of the greatest lessons he has learned in his life.

“Now at my age --  and I am not young -- do you want to know what I think was the best lesson I ever learned? It was how to talk to people ‘face-to-face,’” he said.

“We have entered into the digital age, but actually we know very little about communication. We are all ‘connected,’ but not really ‘involved’ with one another. Getting involved requires life; it calls for being there and sharing the good times but also the not so good times,” Francis said.

The pope recommended that young people to spend time face-to-face meeting with their grandparents and the elderly in their communities.

“Dear friends, spend time with the elderly, listen to their stories, which may sometimes seem a bit unreal but in fact are full of rich experiences, eloquent symbols and a hidden wisdom waiting to be discovered and appreciated,” he said.

Pope Francis said he was encouraged to see so many young people serving the poor, defending human life, promoting the family, and working to overcome divisions.

“We must dare to be different, to point to ideals other than those of this world, testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor, and social friendship,” he said.

The pope called on youth to follow their dreams, saying that “a person can never, never dream too much.”

Francis pointed to the peace declaration he signed in the United Arab Emirates with Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb as a time when he followed a dream.

“A few months ago, a friend of mine, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and I had a dream much like yours, that made us want to make a commitment and sign a document that says that faith must lead us believers to see other persons as our brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Think of Mother Teresa: when she lived here, she could not have imagined where her life would have ended up. Yet she kept dreaming and tried to see the face of Jesus, her great love, in all those people on the sides of the road. She dreamed in a big way, and this is why she also loved in a big way,” Francis said.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis visited the Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje, the saint’s former home-turned-museum.

While Mother Teresa is commonly associated with Kolkata, where she performed much of her apostolate, she spent the first 17 years of her life as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje before receiving her call to a vocation as a missionary sister in 1928.

“Our world is weary, it has aged. The world is divided … yet how forcefully do we hear our Lord’s words: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” he said.

“Dreaming helps us to keep alive our certainty that another world is indeed possible, and that we are called to get involved, to help build that world through our work, our efforts and our actions,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis in North Macedonia: History is written by people like Mother Teresa

1 week 5 days ago

Skopje, North Macedonia, May 7, 2019 / 10:59 am (CNA).- In the first-ever papal visit to North Macedonia Tuesday, Pope Francis lauded the lasting legacy of Mother Teresa, a saint unafraid to offer her life for love.

“This land was able to give to the world and to the Church in Mother Teresa just that kind of concrete sign of how one small person, anointed by the Lord, could permeate everything, once the fragrance of the Beatitudes was spread over the weary feet of our humanity,” Pope Francis said in Skopje, Mother Teresa’s hometown, May 7.

“How many people were put at ease by the tenderness of her glance, comforted by her caress, sustained by her hope and nourished by the courage of her faith, which could make even the most forgotten in our midst realize that they are not forgotten by God,” the pope said in his meeting with Macedonian priests and religious in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“History is written by people like this, people unafraid to offer their lives for love: whenever you did this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me,” Pope Francis said.

Earlier Tuesday, Pope Francis visited Skopje’s Mother Teresa Memorial House, which is built on the former site of Sacred Heart Church where St. Teresa of Kolkata was baptized. Mother Teresa’s childhood home and Sacred Heart Church were both destroyed in an earthquake in 1963.

“All too often we let ourselves think that things might be different if we were strong, powerful and influential,” Francis reflected, adding that the “secret of our strength” has another source.

He quoted St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who wrote “Certainly, the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.”

According to 2002 estimates, Catholics and other non-Orthodox Christians in North Macedonia are just 0.4% of a population of over 2 million. The majority religion is Macedonian Orthodox at 65%. Islam is the next largest religion at over 33% of the population.

Pope Francis encouraged the small Macedonian Catholic community not to be discouraged by their minority status or to develop “an inferiority complex,” but to use their vulnerability to empathize with those who struggle.

“Draw near to all those persons who daily struggle to make ends meet. Families that fail to grow, the elderly and abandoned, the sick and bedridden, young people frustrated and without a future, and the poor who remind us what we truly are: a Church of beggars in need of the Lord’s Mercy,” the pope said in his final address of his May 5-7 trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

“Draw near to the frustrations and the uncertainties felt by so many of our brothers and sisters who yearn for an anointing that can lift them up and heal their hope,” he added.

Francis encouraged the priests and religious not to lose their zeal for mission, and asked everyone in the room to repeat together with him, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come, Lord Jesus!”

The meeting included Byzantine Catholic priests and their families leading the pope to meditate on Catholic family life.

“I like to think of each family as an icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Its daily life had its share of burdens,” he said. “Through the faith built up by daily struggles, they are able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love.”

 

Brian Sims, doxing state rep, was subject of ethics investigation

1 week 5 days ago

Harrisburg, Pa., May 7, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- The lawmaker who confronted a woman praying outside Planned Parenthood May 2 was the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office.

The state’s ethics commission opened an investigation into state Rep. Brian Sims following a 2017 complaint that he had violated Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act. Sims is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

Sims has confirmed that he is under investigation, but says the complaint is a political “hit” and the “cost of politics in a city like Philadelphia.”

The lawmaker, who has filmed himself offering money to social media users to identify and “dox” women and teenagers, said in June 2017 that the ethics complaint filed against him “was done to hit me where I’m strongest – and I think I’m strongest in my ethics.”

Media outlets in Pennsylvania first reported the investigation May 2017, following the leak of a letter from the ethics commission, in which executive director Robert Caruso said that a “full investigation” had been launched following a complaint against Sims.

The ethics commission has not reported whether the investigation has concluded.

Sims allegedly failed to report thousands of dollars worth of travel expenses, which he later reimbursed out of his official campaign funds, following a series of high-profile speaking engagements and trips overseas, made in connection with charitable fundraising.

A 2016 investigation by City&State Pennsylvania found that despite a rule prohibiting legislators from accepting honoraria, including speaking fees, Sims earned more than $40,000 from such activity following his election in 2012.

Sims has repeatedly insisted that the events were given in connection with his national role as an LGBT activist, and were not connected to his legislative work.

According to the City&State report, Sims was billed as a state representative in advance of a 2015 engagement to speak about LGBT issues to employees at Microsoft corporate headquarters in Seattle, suggesting a conflict with Pennsylvania ethics law.

Sims also failed to declare travel and accommodation he received from Microsoft in connection with the event. Though he initially suggested that the event had been arranged spontaneously while he was on a trip to California visiting friends, Sims made the trip in the company of a professional political consultant retained by Sims in 2013. City&State also found the event had been promoted by Sims months before it took place.

According to media reports, the ethics investigation into Sims’ conduct includes a 2015 engagement at Penn State University at which he was again billed as “Rep. Brian Sims” and promoted as speaking “about his career as a legislator and on current legislation before the House.”

The state representative has also come under scrutiny for an apparent pattern of behavior concerning the reimbursement of travel expenses using campaign funds.

In 2015, Sims joined six other Pennsylvania lawmakers on a trip to Israel organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. While all six of the other legislators declared $2,500 in reimbursements for travel and expenses from the JFGP to the state ethics board. Sims did not record any amount, and later saying that he “did not realize that Federation had subsidized my travel to the extent that they had” and had reimbursed the cost using campaign funds eight months later.

The City&State report identified several other instances where Sims appeared to fail to declare receipt of free travel, only to reimburse the expenses from campaign funds months later.

Speaking to City&State, Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said of Sims’ behavior “there’s a pattern here that raises questions,” and that “the questions merit an investigation by the ethics committee.”

“These delayed payments or reimbursements certainly raise questions about the origin of the money that paid for these trips in the first place,” said McGehee. “You can’t simply make things right by paying for it all with campaign funds later.”

Sims has defended his record as a “committed progressive” and said that his commitment to transparency is demonstrated by his record as “an avid social media user.”