September 2013

Catholic World News

Colorado Bishops Issue Joint Letter on Immigration

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs, and Apostolic Administrator of Pueblo, released a joint statement today that offers a Catholic framework for the debate on immigration reform. Titled “Immigration and Our Nation’s Future,” the 3,000-word letter outlines seven m…

Catholic US News

Prayer vigils recognize American pastor imprisoned in Iran

Washington D.C., Sep 30, 2013 / 05:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Human rights advocates gathered in front of the White House last week to pray and raise awareness for Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen who has been held in an Iranian prison for the past year.

Jordan Sekulow, director of policy and international operations for the American Center for Law and Justice, told CNA that the vigil’s first goal is to “keep Saeed alive.”

“The second,” he continued, “is to bring him home. The third goal and focus of this week is to make sure that no more Iranian officials can ever say ‘I’ve never heard of Saeed Abedini’ and make sure that the president of the United States knows that he has to speak out.”

Sekulow’s organization represents Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, in working for the pastor’s release.

The Sept. 26 protest marked the one-year anniversary of Abedini’s imprisonment in Iran’s Evin Prison on charges of threatening national security. Human rights groups, however, maintain that the pastor’s Christian faith is the real reason for his eight-year sentence.

Raised Muslim in Iran, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010 after marrying a U.S. citizen.

After his conversion, he worked with house churches throughout Iran until 2009, when the government raised objections, despite the fact that the churches are technically legal in the country. Since then, human rights groups say that the pastor has worked solely with non-religious orphanages in the country. He was arrested in the fall of 2012 during a visit to one of these orphanages.

According to his family, Abedini has suffered beatings and numerous injuries – which have gone untreated – during his time in prison. Although he sought an appeal of his conviction, his request was denied, leaving his eight-year sentence in place.

Since his imprisonment, numerous countries and officials have called for Abedini’s release, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Roughly 100 people attended the Washington, D.C., vigil on Sept. 26, which coincided with other vigils throughout the country and around the world, in countries including Kenya, Russia and Pakistan.

Local pastors attended the vigil, along with Congressional Representatives Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Abedini has received bipartisan support from some 100 congressman and senators during his imprisonment, in the form of letters and statements asking for his release.

An official at the Sept. 26 event read a letter to Abedini’s wife, written by Princeton University law professor Robert P. George, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“I am saddened and outraged that an Iranian appeals court last month upheld your husband’s eight-year prison term,” George’s letter said. “I am further outraged that your husband never was afforded any semblance of due process, and his trail was both a sham and a miscarriage of justice.”

Jane B. Zimmerman, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, also attended the vigil, assuring that the freedom “to practice one’s own religion is a fundamental right enshrined in international law.”

“The United States government defends the universal rights of pastor Abedini and others who face ill-treatment and discrimination simply for exercising those rights,” she affirmed.

The Washington, D.C., vigil took place amid meetings between U.S. and Iranian diplomats, considered the highest-level meeting between the two countries in decades.

According to Fox News, U.S. President Barack Obama voiced concern about Abedini in a historic Sept. 27 phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Abedini’s wife called this report “the most encouraging news” she had heard since her husband’s imprisonment a year ago.

Sekulow urged religious freedom supporters to continue calling for the pastor’s release through letters and an online petition. Such efforts are crucial for Abedini, he said, because “every day in that prison is like a potential death sentence.”

Politics
Catholic US News

US bishops join call to end American embargo of Cuba

Washington D.C., Sep 30, 2013 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In solidarity with a recent pastoral letter by the Cuban bishops, Des Moines Bishop Richard E. Pates has voiced support for an end to America’s embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1959.

“We urge efforts to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba so that greater support and assistance can flow to ordinary Cubans,” Bishop Pates wrote in a Sept. 26 letter to Susan Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor.

“Engagement will do more than isolation to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering. It will also recognize Cuba’s constructive role in mediating Colombian peace negotiations and cooperating with the U.S. Coast Guard in drug interdiction activities.”

The U.S. established a crippling economic embargo on Cuba in 1959, when communists lead by Fidel Castro seized control of the island’s government. Castro was succeeded as Cuban president in 2008 by his brother Raul, who has introduced economic reforms.

These include the allowance of small private businesses, a decentralization of state businesses, and greater freedom for foreign travel and the sale of homes and cars. Despite these economic reforms, political reforms have not been forthcoming, and the Communist Party remains the only one permitted.

Writing in his capacity as chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on international peace and justice, Bishop Pates referred to the Cuban bishops’ Sept. 15 letter “Hope Does Not Disappoint,” which called for political reform in their country as well as “an inclusive policy” on the part of the U.S. towards Cuba.

The Cuban bishops quoted Blessed John Paul II, who said during a 1998 visit to the country that “the isolation led to indiscriminate impacts on the population, increasing the difficulties of the weakest in basic aspects such as food, health, and education,” and calling for the end to “the unjust and ethically unacceptable measures imposed from abroad.”
 
They also noted the large number of Cuban Americans in the U.S., pointing out that “geographical proximity and family ties between the two nations are unavoidable realities that should be taken into account to favor an inclusive policy…which can alleviate the tensions and the suffering experienced by numerous persons and families, as well as a just commercial exchange oriented to the benefit of all.”

Adding his voice to this call, Bishop Pates added that the designation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terrorism is “an obsolete classification” that needs to be removed because it “prevents engagement between our countries and peoples.”

“It is long past due that the United States establishes full diplomatic relations with Cuba, withdraws all restrictions on travel to Cuba, rescinds terrorist designations aimed at Cuba, encourages trade that will benefit both nations, and facilitates cooperation in the areas of environmental protection, drug interdiction and scientific exchanges,” Bishop Pates exhorted.

“More engagement will help the people of Cuba achieve greater freedom, human rights and religious liberty.”

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