"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
"We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You because by Your Holy Cross,
You have redeemed the world."|
– St. Francis of Assisi
Pope Benedict XVI addressed current threats to religious liberty when addressing a group of United States bishops on January 19. They were in Rome for their ad limina visit. This refers to the meeting bishops have with the Pope every five years.
The Pope's address follows:
"I greet all of you with fraternal affection and I pray that this pilgrimage of spiritual renewal and deepened communion will confirm you in faith and commitment to your task as Pastors of the Church in the United States of America. As you know, it is my intention in the course of this year to reflect with you on some of the spiritual and cultural challenges of the new evangelization.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prv 1:7)
"One of the most memorable aspects of my Pastoral Visit to the United States was the opportunity it afforded me to reflect on America's historical experience of religious freedom, and specifically the relationship between religion and culture. At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation's founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature's God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.
"For her part, the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths, whether constricting it within the limits of a merely scientific rationality, or suppressing it in the name of political power or majority rule, they represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God. When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society.
"With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church's defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a 'language' which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.
"The Church's witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.
"In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
“I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanks-giving be offered for all men, especially for kings and those in authority, that we may be able to lead undisturbed and tranquil lives."
(1 Tm 2:1-2)
"Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate, and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.
"In this regard, I would mention with appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time: respect for God's gift of life, the protection of human dignity, and the promotion of authentic human rights. As the Council noted, and I wished to reiterate during my Pastoral Visit, respect for the just autonomy of the secular sphere must also take into consideration the truth that there is no realm of worldly affairs which can be withdrawn from the Creator and His dominion (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 36). There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of America's Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole.
"Dear Brother Bishops, in these brief remarks I have wished to touch upon some of the pressing issues which you face in your service to the Gospel and their significance for the evangelization of American culture. No one who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties which the Church encounters at the present moment. Yet in faith we can take heart from the growing awareness of the need to preserve a civil order clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as from the promise offered by a new generation of Catholics whose experience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Church's presence and witness in American society. The hope which these 'signs of the times' give us is itself a reason to renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love. With great affection I commend all of you, and the flock entrusted to your care, to the prayers of Mary, Mother of Hope, and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord."
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed praise and gratitude to the Pope for his remarks.
A USCCB press release contained the following quotes:
" 'For bishops, the ad limina addresses are really a high point of the visits to Rome because the pope presents his pastoral vision to them,' said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). 'Today Pope Benedict spoke eloquently and powerfully on the threats to the Church's moral witness in public life.'
" 'The bishops are thankful and encouraged by this most recent statement of the Holy Father on religious freedom,' said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chairman of the USCCB's new Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. 'His words reflect the longstanding teaching of the Church, going back to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, that all people have a right not to be coerced to violate their religious beliefs.'
" 'The pope urged all Catholics to recognize that a culture of secularism poses a direct threat to traditional American values of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, and it is gratifying that he called upon the "engaged, articulate, and well-formed" laity to protect their right and the right of the Church to participate in the "public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society," ' said Philip Allen Lacovara, an attorney and consultant to the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty."
Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten Message for 2012 focuses on charity in the Christian's life. The message, dated November 3, 2011, follows:
"The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favorable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.
“Be kind to one another,
compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ”
"This year I would like to propose a few thoughts in the light of a brief biblical passage drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews: 'Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.' These words are part of a passage in which the sacred author exhorts us to trust in Jesus Christ as the High Priest Who has won us forgiveness and opened up a pathway to God. Embracing Christ bears fruit in a life structured by the three theological virtues: it means approaching the Lord 'sincere in heart and filled with faith' (v. 22), keeping firm 'in the hope we profess' (v. 23) and ever mindful of living a life of 'love and good works' (v. 24) together with our brothers and sisters. The author states that to sustain this life shaped by the Gospel it is important to participate in the liturgy and community prayer, mindful of the eschatological goal of full communion in God (v. 25). Here I would like to reflect on verse 24, which offers a succinct, valuable, and ever timely teaching on the three aspects of Christian life: concern for others, reciprocity, and personal holiness.
"1. 'Let us be concerned for each other': responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.
"This first aspect is an invitation to be 'concerned': the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. We come across this word in the Gospel when Jesus invites the disciples to 'think of' the ravens that, without striving, are at the center of the solicitous and caring Divine Providence (cf. Lk 12:24), and to 'observe' the plank in our own eye before looking at the splinter in that of our brother (cf. Lk 6:41). In another verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find the encouragement to 'turn your minds to Jesus' (3:1), the Apostle and High Priest of our faith. So the verb which introduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for 'privacy.' Today too, the Lord's voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be 'guardians' of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others. The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy, and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts. The Servant of God Pope Paul VI stated that the world today is suffering above all from a lack of brotherhood: 'Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations' (Populorum Progressio, 66).
"Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral, and spiritual. Contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail, because God is 'generous and acts generously' (Ps 119:68). The good is whatever gives, protects, and promotes life, brotherhood, and communion. Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands. Concern for others means being aware of their needs. Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of 'spiritual anesthesia' which numbs us to the suffering of others. The Evangelist Luke relates two of Jesus' parables by way of example. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite 'pass by,' indifferent to the presence of the man stripped and beaten by the robbers (cf. Lk 10:30-32). In that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of the poverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Lk 16:19). Both parables show examples of the opposite of 'being concerned,' of looking upon others with love and compassion. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of 'showing mercy' towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy. 'The upright understands the cause of the weak, the wicked has not the wit to understand it' (Prov 29:7). We can then understand the beatitude of 'those who mourn' (Mt 5:5), those who in effect are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness.
" 'Being concerned for each other' also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: 'Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more' (Prov 9:8ff). Christ Himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). The verb used to express fraternal correction - elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11). The Church's tradition has included 'admonishing sinners' among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: 'If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way' (Gal 6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even 'the upright falls seven times' (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives, and walk more uprightly in the Lord's ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.
"2. 'Being concerned for each other': the gift of reciprocity.
"This 'custody' of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community! The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek 'the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another' (Rom 14:19) for our neighbor's good, 'so that we support one another' (15:2), seeking not personal gain but rather 'the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved' (1 Cor 10:33). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humility and charity must be part of the life of the Christian community.
"The Lord's disciples, united with Him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension. This reciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ: the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says: 'Each part should be equally concerned for all the others' (1 Cor 12:25), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – is rooted in this common belonging. Christians can also express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good that the Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace that Almighty God in His goodness continuously accomplishes in His children. When Christians perceive the Holy Spirit at work in others, they cannot but rejoice and give glory to the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:16).
"3. 'To stir a response in love and good works': walking together in holiness.
"These words of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) urge us to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life as we aspire to the greater spiritual gifts and to an ever more sublime and fruitful charity (cf. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13). Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which, 'like the light of dawn, its brightness growing to the fullness of day' (Prov 4:18), makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.
"Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good and for the good of others (cf. Mt 25:25ff.). All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God's plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim 6:18). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the 'high standard of ordinary Christian living' (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31). The wisdom of the Church in recognizing and proclaiming certain outstanding Christians as Blessed and as Saints is also meant to inspire others to imitate their virtues. Saint Paul exhorts us to 'anticipate one another in showing honor' (Rom 12:10).
"In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service, and good works (cf. Heb 6:10). This appeal is particularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offer my prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrust all of you to the intercession of the Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing."
To the editors,
We are at a Faith Based Prison. After reading your November issue (Vol. 24 No. 11, November, 2011) I prayed for East Africa in our Prayer Circle. I was touched as was our circle. We will keep them in our prayers. I do love your paper. I pass it on to reach our brothers in Christ.
After reading the Editor's Note and that we welcome contributions from prisoners, I started to work. I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to lead me in my story to you [see Prison to Praise on page 5].
You may edit or print anything I send to you. Thank you and may God bless you, your families, and ministry.
Fred H. Summe is Vice President of Northern Kentucky Right to Life, P.O. Box 1202, Covington, Kentucky 41012
"At no other time in memory or [U.S.] history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom, not only with regard to religion, but even across the board with all citizens.
"It forces every employer to subsidize an ideology or pay a penalty while searching for alternatives to health care coverage. It undermines the whole concept and hope for health care reform by inextricably linking it to the zealotry of pro-abortion bureaucrats," warns Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.
Last summer, Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, boldly announced the new federal requirement that all private hospitalization insurance provide women with coverage for FDA-approved contraception, including sterilization and "contraceptives" that have an abortifacient effect. Sebelius, who professes to be "Catholic," also stated that HHS would now narrowly construe the religious exemption to this federal mandate to employers who primarily employ persons and serve persons who share its religious tenets. This interpretation would deny the exemption from any religious group that provides services to or employs persons of other faiths.
"Jesus Christ Himself" would not qualify, states a September, 2011, letter signed by 18 Catholic colleges and universities, and "any religious entity's hope for an exemption appears to be subject to the whim of bureaucrats," reports lifesitenews.com.
A number of Catholic groups have stated that this exemption would require Catholic groups to not only stop serving non-Catholics, but also would inappropriately involve the federal government in deciding whether an organization is "religious enough" to meet the exemption.
Bishops from around the country are now starting to sound the warning to awaken the sleeping giant.
"Never before in our U.S. history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs," states Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities. He continues that the issue is "the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty."
In a letter published in The Catholic Telegraph, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Cincinnati, states:
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraceptives. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those 'services' in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.
"We Catholics will be compelled to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). …We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law."
"To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable," states Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty."
Arizona Bishop Thomas Olmsted, also stating that we cannot comply with this unjust law, writes to the faithful of his diocese: "In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less."
Highlighting the threats to religious freedom by the present federal administration, the Columbia, published by the Knights of Columbus, carries 9 Professor Helen Alvaré, an associate professor of law at George Mason University and former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Alvaré states:
"The health of their own families, communities, and really their nation is at stake. Catholics need to take these teachings seriously and seek out candidates who support this view of the human person. They also need to contact members of their federal and state delegations because there is a tremendous amount of pressure going on right now with regard to marriage, respect for life, healthcare, and educational policy that closely relates to whether or not Catholics will even be permitted to act publicly, or even speak publicly, about their convictions in these crucial areas."
"Profoundly disturbing on many levels" is how the president of the University of Notre Dame, Fr. John Jenkins, describes the Obama administration's mandate. This rather weak "protest" comes late – three years after Fr. Jenkins gave to President Obama an honorary degree, plus an opportunity to speak at Notre Dame's commencement ceremony. Will he publicly withdraw the honorary degree and apologize to the nation for his praise and support of President Obama, the most pro-abortion president in the history of the United States?
Not to be outdone by Fr. Jenkins, Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, announced that the administration's narrowly construed exemption was a "missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection." This ambiguous statement comes from Sr. Keehan, who on behalf of the Catholic Health Association, was a key supporter of Obamacare, ignoring the bishops' direct opposition to the abortion-expanding law.
Although the issue of all employers being required to provide hospitalization insurance that provides for contraception and abortifacient drugs has been pretty well ignored by the pro-abortion secular media, more than six months passed before the issue gained any coverage in the diocesan-owned Catholic news media. It has only been independent Catholic resources that have long sounded the warning.
Will the Catholic bishops finally teach the faithful about their Christian duty to vote for those who hold the Judeo-Christian principle of the sanctity of all innocent human life?
Will the bishops instruct the faithful to base their vote on the positions taken by candidates on the non-negotiable issues, i.e., the intrinsically evil acts of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, so-called "same-sex marriage," cloning, and funding for embryonic stem-cell research?
Will the bishops stop equating as equal with these true pro-life issues, other issues on which reasonable Catholic minds can legitimately differ, based on clear historic Catholic teaching, such as immigration reform, death penalty, environmental concerns, poverty, etc., and to which issues they can have legitimately different approaches?
Will the Catholic bishops enforce their own rule which prohibits sponsoring, compensating, and/or permitting pro-abortion politicians to speak, or receive honors, on Catholic property or at Catholic functions?
Will the U.S. bishops deny Holy Communion to unrepentant officer holders, whether Democrat or Republican, whether liberal or conservative, who publicly support and vote for legalized abortion, as spelled out clearly and unambiguously in Canon 915 of Church law?
Will the Catholic bishops themselves, and all priests, boldly teach that all artificial contraception is intrinsically evil and that a number of so-called contraceptives, including the standard birth control pill, are in fact abortifacient, since they impede the implantation of the newly conceived child into the mother's womb?
Will the bishops continue to accept those whom they employ in their high schools, colleges and universities, in their medical facilities, in their agencies, and especially in their clergy and religious orders, who publicly dissent from the Church's teachings on contraception and abortion?
If those who hold the Judeo-Christian principle of the sanctity of all innocent human life are unsuccessful in restricting this newly claimed federal government's power to mandate that employers pay, through healthcare policies, for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, be assured that the next tyrannical step in the war on religion will be federally mandated coverage of all abortions.
(Editor's note: The following is a press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). More information on this issue can be found at their website: www.usccb.org)
WASHINGTON—Both the president of the U.S. bishops and the bishops' Pro-Life chairman called on the thousands of Catholics gathered for the National Prayer Vigil for Life to speak out for the protection of conscience rights and religious liberty.
"From a human point of view, we may be tempted to surrender, when our government places conception, pregnancy, and birth under the 'center for disease control,' when chemically blocking conception or aborting the baby in the womb is considered a 'right' to be subsidized by others who abhor it," said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the vigil's closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on January 23.
His words referred to the January 20 announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that nearly all employers will be forced to cover drugs and procedures that violate their conscience in their health insurance plans.
"When the ability of feeding, housing, and healing the struggling of the world is curtailed and impeded if one does not also help women abort their babies, one can hardly be faulted for being tempted to the 'sin against the Holy Spirit' and just consider all as lost," Cardinal-designate Dolan said.
Addressing the opening Mass the previous evening, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, excoriated the HHS rule.
"Never before in our US History has the Federal Government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs. At issue here as our President of the Conference stated it this past Friday, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty," said Cardinal DiNardo.
He cited the January 19 address of Pope Benedict XVI to U.S. bishops visiting Rome, in which the pope said, "it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be appreciated at every level of ecclesial life."
Cardinal DiNardo said that the pope had "nailed" the issue in light of the HHS announcement and tied the issue directly to the March for Life. "His calls for courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church's participation in public life and debate have targeted the issues we face in our pro-life efforts, to defend those who defend human life and to defend their religious liberty!"
The full text of both homilies is available online: www.usccb.org/about/media-relations/resources/2012-national-prayer-vigil-for-life-homilies.cfm
(Editor's note: Mr. Edwards writes from Florida. We welcome contributions from prisoners. We would like to hear from a variety of prisoners.)
I come to You in the name of Your beloved Son Jesus Christ. I pray in faith to grow spiritually, help me to grow stronger in Your word. Guide my way that I may not fall, that I will grow in harmony to Your will, that I will live righteously and be sincere in my prayers. I ask to have my sins washed away. Open my eyes to Your word and lead me to understand, take away my impurities, I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide my prayers, I pray according to Your will and wisdom. Father, my heart, my mind, and soul are Yours. I am Your child. I pray that Your guidance in me will bring many lost souls home. Amen.
Vatican City — Caritas, the relief agency reports:
Jane Andanje, the Deputy Coordinator of the Caritas Coordination Unit, with some children who have fled the fighting. Credits: Renee Lambert/CR.
Fears are growing over the increasingly ethnic and violent nature of the conflict in South Sudan's Jonglei State. It's the latest fighting in the region following independence for South Sudan last July.
Aid workers from Caritas and Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member) joined an assessment team to Boma in South Sudan at the weekend. Over 2,300 people have fled to the small town (pop. estimated at 7,000) following violence in Jonglei in recent weeks.
The team was looking at the shelter needs in Boma. Most people have found a place among in the thatch-walled compounds of residents and the local government has distributed IOM kits containing essential items.
Boma is the furthest people have fled in sizable numbers and more continue to arrive daily. There is growing concern for those trapped closer to the conflict. A day's walk is the isolated town of Labraap, where 10,000 people are said to be left without shelter or humanitarian assistance.
Over 120,000 people have so far been affected by the extreme violence in Jonglei between the Murle and Lou Nuer communities. Villages have been burned to the ground and women and children attacked.
Cattle raiding between the two groups goes back generations but South Sudan's two decade civil war with northern Sudan left the region awash with weapons and with competition over resources. There is now growing concern among church and aid officials over the increasingly ethnic nature the violence is taking. They point to increasingly hate-filled rhetoric and say that if cattle are the target, why have population centers been attacked.
In a January 18 statement on Jonglei, the Sudan Council of Churches (the SCC) said: "Brutal actions were carried out against non-combatants. Ethnic hatred was expressed verbally, in graffiti left by the attackers and on the internet, and this could be the precursor to larger-scale atrocities."
CRS Deputy Head of programs for South Sudan Renee Lambert was on the assessment trip to Boma. She said, "The situation in Jonglei is a pretty worrisome development. The nature of the current conflict has shifted. It represents a break from the traditional social fabric. It is being driven by young people who have lost their respect for their elders."
Church peacebuilding efforts are now urgently looking at how to reengage with young people through community networks. At the same time, they're looking to the government and the UN to stabilize the security situation.
vatican city — Caritas International reports:
A woman holds a bowl of millet husks in Toudoun Jaka, Niger. In 2010, Nigeriens ate millet husks--normally used to feed livestock--because they lacked food. Credits: Lane Hartill/CRS.
"At this time of year, grain prices should be as low as possible. But it is quite the opposite this year," writes Gaston Goro of Caritas Mali, speaking of the food situation in West Africa. "The desolation and anxiety affect everyone."
Parts of West Africa faces a looming food crisis, this time primarily in the Sahel region. There have been significant declines in crop production in countries such as Niger and Mali. Food prices - especially for grains, including corn and millet - are high. The situation is seriously affecting access to food for the poorest households.
"The situation will last until next harvest, October, 2013," continues Goro about the situation in Mali. "If nothing is done, the crop failure could cause an acute food crisis."
Caritas is closely monitoring the situation and planning a response that includes all Caritas members involved in the region, especially Caritas Niger, Caritas Mali, and Caritas Burkina Faso. Caritas set up a Sahel Working Group to provide coordination in responding to any food crises and to share early warning messages. Network members are on the ground evaluating needs in the most vulnerable communities.
"The situation is still evolving, but a major risk is there," says Floriana Polito, Humanitarian Policy Officer of Caritas Internationalis. "We need to be vigilant and monitor the situation."
In 2010 and 2005, the Sahel region also faced food shortages. "The lesson then was that delays in aid cost lives," said Raymond Yoro, Secretary General of Caritas Niger, of the 2005 crisis.
Caritas is preparing to intervene before the situation worsens. "If we take action now, it will cost us far less than if we were to wait until it's a catastrophe," says Philippe Mougin, West Africa Coordinator for CAFOD (a Caritas member based in the UK). "Sadly, hunger is a recurring theme in this region, a slow-burning problem that rarely hits the headlines.
"Responding now means that we can combat malnourishment amongst the most vulnerable; women and children under five," Mougin continues. "Caritas partners working together are trying to prevent the situation from deteriorating."
Caritas' strategy will include buying grain and selling it at subsidized prices; giving farmers seeds; strengthening villages' ability to take ownership of existing "village food security stocks"; and paying impoverished people with money or with food to work on projects that benefit their communities. In a worst-case scenario, Caritas is prepared to distribute free food to prevent hunger.
"We don't want another crisis like last year's one in the Horn of Africa," says Polito. "We want to avoid having a second food emergency in the space of a year."
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