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Christ is our only hope – Syrian Christians pray for miracles amid Islamists’ carnage

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2015 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Syrian natives who have ministered to refugees from the civil war there are trusting in God to protect their fellow Christians.

There are many “satans” in the world, but “there’s a lot right now in Syria and Iraq,” Christian minister Joseph Sleman told an audience Sept. 18 at a religious freedom summit co-sponsored by Baylor University and hosted by the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C.

Sleman and his wife Hannah described a list of horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State against Christians in Syria amid a years-long civil war. “The blood is shouting from this land,” Hannah said.

Yet they added that the Gospel originally spread to much of the world from Syria thanks to St. Paul, and that “we believe that God can do it again.”

“The only hope that we have is Jesus,” Hannah said, noting that prayer and fasting have sustained the Christians in Syria far longer than expected. “We believe that the power of the Lord is working a lot in our country,” she said.

The Syrian civil war has continued since 2011, internally displacing 8 million, and forcing more than 4 million to flee the country as refugees. More than 250,000 have died in the war.

The Slemans hail from Syria but moved to the United States for Joseph to continue his theology education.

They have ministered to refugees in Syria for years, though; first from the Iraq War, and now from the Syrian civil war.

Before the civil war, Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully and were free to worship, they maintained. Joseph described how his childhood friends were Muslims.

“As Christians and Muslims, we have one enemy,” he said, “it’s Satan.”

Now that the civil war has erupted and the Islamic State is ravaging portions of the country, Syrian Christians live in the constant face of death, they explained, and they are “waiting for the time they will die.”

Fathers say goodbye to their families when they leave the house, knowing it could be the last time they do so. Parents cry after their children leave the house for school in the morning.

The Slemens described their own hellish experience in Syria as they endured an hour-long shelling of mortar rounds in the area of their residence as they cried and prayed on the floor. “Many children died that day,” Joseph said, adding that “many families face the same things every day.”

Islamic State militants can eviscerate whole villages in 24 hours, he explained, and they are notorious for not only mass killings but rape as well. Their trail of terror has grown so great that some Christians have planned to kill themselves and their families rather than fall into their hands. One of Hannah’s friends armed his house with explosives in case the Islamic State took over the area, she noted, and this would have killed intruders along with his family.

It’s good to hear that countries have opened to welcome refugees from the conflict, they maintained. The Polish embassy in Syria, for example, opened its doors for refugees seeking visas.

But more could be done.

The White House says the United States has taken in 1,500 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict, and the president pledged to increase to accept 10,000 refugees over the course of the next year. However, more than 20 former senior White House officials urged the administration to increase that number to 100,000, citing the gravity of the situation.

Joseph and Hannah are pseudonyms, used to preserve the couple’s safety and privacy.


Catholic World News


House votes to transfer federal funding from Planned Parenthood to health centers

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2015 / 02:24 pm (CNA/Europa Press).- In a 241-187 vote on Friday, members of the United States House of Representatives voted to freeze funding for Planned Parenthood for one year, following months of political debate surrounding information revealed in a series of undercover videos on the abortion provider.

“This is about ensuring that laws are followed, that Americans know how their money is being spent, and that the conscience rights of taxpayers are respected,” Rep. Diane Black (R. – Tenn.), sponsor of the bill, said Sept. 18 on the House floor before the vote.

Black added that the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (H.R. 3134) will redistribute more than $235,000 saved from funding the organization to more than 13,500 health care clinics around the country.

The vote was largely along party lines, though three Republicans (Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.)) voted against the bill, and two Democrats voted in its favor: Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

Meanwhile the House of Representatives will continue an investigation into allegations that the abortion provider has broken federal laws banning the profit off of human body parts harvested during abortions, changes in abortion procedures in order to harvest body parts, the use of illegal “partial birth abortion” techniques to harvest body parts, and the refusal of medical care to infants who survive abortion attempts.

The vote and the investigation follow a string of undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing modification of abortion procedures, suggesting that some victims of abortion are born alive at Planned Parenthood clinics, and a former technician recounting an incident where organs were harvested from an intact deliver that still had a beating heart.

The House also passed 248-177 H.R. 3504, which would add the criminal penalty of first-degree murder to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, a law which ensures that babies who survive failed abortion attempts recieve adequate healthcare care and protection.

One representative, Steve King (R-Iowa), voted as “present” for both H.R. 3134 and H.R. 3504, objectingthat the bills allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, and risks to the mother’s life.

The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization, commented that the lack of Democratic support for both bills “are evidence of just how wedded to the idea of abortion on-demand, at any time, for any reason, that the Democratic Party has become.”

“Only five Democrats – five out of 188 – could bring themselves to vote to protect a baby who survived a failed abortion,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement. “Where is the compassion and concern for ‘the little guy,’ the abortion survivor, whose heart is beating and alive?”

While both bills passed the House, neither is expected to pass the Senate or to be signed into law by president Barack Obama. The Senate failed to bring a similar bill to the floor in early August.

“Tragically, President Obama – the Abortion President – has vowed to veto this pro-child, human rights legislation, a position that is extreme, anti-child, inhumane and indefensible,” wrote Rep. Chris Smith (R.- N.J.)  of H.R. 3504 in a statement.

In August Alabama, New Hampshire, and Louisiana each voted to strip Planned Parenthood of funding from their state budgets.


Catholic US News


Ecology, family, religious liberty: Laudato Si’ covers many issues, bishop notes

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2015 / 10:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical is about a lot more than recycling – it speaks to man’s deepest relationships – and the Pope will emphasize all this in his upcoming U.S. visit, said one leading U.S. bishop.

Laudato si’ is ultimately about “integral ecology,” or the connection between human relationships and nature, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami explained at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

This means that a person’s relationships with himself, others, God, and nature are all connected – “when any one of these relationships suffer” the others will suffer too, Archbishop Wenski explained.

Archbishop Wenski is chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Bishops. He, along with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, and Carolyn Woo, head of Catholic Relief Services, was explaining U.S. Catholics’ response to the encyclical in light of the Pope’s upcoming visit to the U.S. from Sept. 22-27.

The encyclical was published in June, with the title taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” and meaning “Praise be to you.” While it strongly upholds man’s duty to care for the environment and calls for human action against climate change, the letter also connects environmental stewardship to care for human life in matters such as abortion, population control, and transgender issues.

During his U.S. visit, Pope Francis will certainly address the environment, Archbishop Wenski said, but he won’t stop there.

“Integral ecology demands that rainforests be protected because of what they do for the flourishing of the human species on this earth. And likewise, families should be protected, family life should be protected,” the archbishop said. “Marriage, understood for millennia as the union of one man and one woman ought to be protected.”

“Our throwaway culture has extended to the very lives of human beings as well. We throw away life in the womb,” he added, noting that Pope Francis even cites “detrimental impacts of the destruction of embryos and of abortion in his encyclical.”

“He [Pope Francis] decries how we neglect the disabled and show little respect for the lives and contributions of the elderly, and how we discard those that are poor,” he noted. “In our current age, human beings find themselves commodities and desires, as evidenced by human trafficking.”

And just as we have distaste for environmental pollutants, the archbishop said, “should we not be just as concerned about the toxic waste of pornography?”

When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia and addresses pilgrims at the World Meeting of Families, he will also include family life and religious liberty in his message, the archbishop said.

“Certainly talking about the family in the context of our culture today is just as difficult, if not more so, than talking about the climate.”

In his homily at the closing mass of the Fortnight for Freedom on July 4, Archbishop Wenski had emphasized the need to protect religious liberty so Catholic institutions could have the freedom to put into practice the teachings in Laudato si’.

He reiterated the importance of religious liberty on Wednesday and expects Pope Francis to do the same when he speaks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia – where the both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted.

“Here in this country, at Independence Hall Pope Francis will address religious freedom here in the World Meeting of Families,” he said.

“Independence Hall is certainly a symbolic place to address that theme, and one that needs to be addressed because again, we keep hearing politicians speak of religious liberty only in terms of freedom of worship, and it’s got to be larger than freedom to worship.”

“We also are faced with an attitude today of which religion is seen as somehow to be private, to be practiced only in the privacy of one’s own home as if it were some other type of vice that people do in their homes,” he added. “We belong to a public institution, a Church, so religion cannot be private.”


Catholic World News


How marriage prep is failing Catholics, and what we can do about it

Denver, Colo., Sep 18, 2015 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Church needs to seriously consider changing the way it approaches marriage preparation say John and Claire Grabowski, a couple who serve on the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The Grabowskis are one of only two couples from the United States to serve on the council, which assists the Pope by focusing on issues related to marriage and the family.  

As a couple, they have been helping young people with marriage preparation for about 20 years, including their own son and his wife, recently.

John Grabowski, PhD, has also been teaching classes on marriage and family at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for the past 24 years to “mixed” classes – meaning he teaches lay people alongside seminarians and those in various stages of religious life.

He likes to point out to his classes the disparity in formation between those entering the priesthood and religious life, compared to those entering the vocation of marriage, he said.

“The people in seminary formation or entering religious life are going to go through 6-10 years of formation to enter into a lifelong vocation, and then they’re going to receive ongoing regular formation after that,” John said.

“Marriage is also a lifelong vocation, yet we give couples six weeks at the most, or six evenings, or maybe a weekend or a Saturday afternoon, and we say, ‘Go have a great life together,’” he said. “That’s not enough.”

Currently, marriage preparation for Catholics in the United States is handled at the parish or diocesan level and the basic requirements vary. Claire said that as members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, they are working to deepen and strengthen marriage preparation across the board in the United States, and are hoping to move toward ongoing formation.

“There’s not a lot of great stuff out there at the parish level, at least not that we’ve seen, and this is something that we’re working on,” Claire said. “Not only for engaged couples, but all married couples need to continue with their formation.”

“This is something the universal Church is really waking up to,” John added. “We need ongoing formation for married couples. We can’t stop with the wedding. We can’t just have pre-Cana, we need post-Cana formation.”

When asked about the state of marriage in the nation, the Grabowskis said there are several reasons for concern, though they may not be the first things that Catholics think of.

“A lot of people point to the recent Supreme Court decision on … same-sex marriage. And we’ll say ‘Oh the court redefined marriage’; but actually marriage got redefined 60-70 years ago when we as a culture embraced widespread contraception,” John said.

“So we took fertility out of marriage, and then we embraced no-fault divorce, so we took permanence out of marriage … marriage has been redefined for a while,” he added.   

Despite these reasons for concern, the Grabowskis said, they have also seen in their work preparing young people for the sacrament plenty of reasons to hope.

“Because of what’s going on in the country, people are seeing that there’s something wrong, and they’re choosing to use natural family planning, they’re choosing to have big families, they’re choosing to get involved in church,” Claire said.

“And maybe we needed this wake-up call to get back to the foundation of our lives, the truth, and the sacraments,” she said. “We need to support each other, because families can’t make it on their own. We need the help of the Church, the priests, the couples who’ve been married for a while, we need to support each other, and grow together.”

The Grabowskis will both be attending the World Meeting of Families next week, where John will give a talk on Wednesday, Sept. 23 to the Adult Congress entitled “The Other Side of Mount Sinai: Growing in Virtue.”

John has also been appointed by Pope Francis to attend the 2015 Synod on the Family as an expert. The Synod of Bishops scheduled is for Oct. 4-25, and the theme is “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.”

Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com.


Catholic World News


Chicago archdiocese appoints Commonweal editor as new director of media

Chicago, Ill., Sep 17, 2015 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Chicago on Thursday named Grant Gallicho as its director of publications and media, a newly created position. Effective Nov. 1, Gallicho’s duties in his new position will include reviewing the archdiocese’s publications strategy and managing its print and digital properties.

Gallicho is a Chicago native and currently serves as an associate editor of Commonweal, an independent, lay-run Catholic journal. He has also been published in America, the National Catholic Reporter, The Tablet, El Ciervo, Religion Dispatches, Religion News Service, The New York Observer, The New York Times, and elsewhere.

“I welcome Grant back home to Chicago and look forward to working with him,” Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a Sept. 17 statement.

“He comes to this new position with years of proven publishing experience and digital-era savvy, and combines those skills with a deep faith and love for the Church.”

Archbishop Cupich was appointed by Pope Francis one year ago, upon the retirement of Cardinal Francis George. Cardinal George died April 17 at the age of 78, after a long battle with cancer.

Since his appointment to the Chicago archdiocese, Archbishop Cupich has taken steps to distance himself from Cardinal George, and to instead align himself with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who preceded Cardinal George as leader of the third-largest archdiocese in the nation.

For example, in an August column on the Planned Parenthood videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, Archbishop Cupich referred to the “consistent ethic of life,” a phrase coined by Cardinal Bernardin and popularly known as the “seamless garment” understanding of faith’s role in the public square.

“While commerce in the remains of defenseless children is particularly repulsive, we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.”

The videos, which show Planned Parenthood officials describing the harvesting of body parts from aborted babies at their clinics, offer “the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment as a nation to a consistent ethic of life,” the Chicago archbishop said.

Archbishop Cupich was also personally chosen by Pope Francis earlier this week to attend the 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome, along with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Bishop George Murry of Youngstown.

These delegates join those approved by the United States bishops: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia; Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles; and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

The Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family is set to take place Oct. 4-25, with the theme “Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the family.” The conclusions of the gathering will be used by Pope Francis to draft his first Post-Synodal Exhortation, which can be expected in 2016.