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What the Holy See told the UN about Middle East Christians

New York City, N.Y., Jul 28, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Middle East needs peace, human rights, and the continued presence of Christians, a Holy See diplomat told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday.

“Christian communities have existed for over two thousand years in that region and have peacefully coexisted with the other communities. The Holy See urges the international community, through the Security Council, not to forget them,” Monsignor Simon Kassas, interim chargé d’affaires of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, said July 25.

“The Holy See believes that the rule of law, including respect for religious freedom and equality before the law based on the principle of citizenship and regardless of one’s race, ethnic origin or religion, is fundamental toward the achievement and maintenance of the peaceful and fruitful coexistence among individuals, communities and nations in the whole region and beyond,” he continued.

Msgr. Kassas spoke in an intervention during the U.N. Security Council's open debate on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question.”

He voiced the Holy See’s regret at the loss of lives and property in wars and conflict in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. In these places “the dramatic humanitarian situation calls for renewed commitment by all to arrive at a political solution to these conflicts.”

The diplomat said Pope Francis “deeply appreciates the tireless efforts of those toiling to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.”

“He encourages all actors to work toward a Syrian-led political process leading to a peaceful and inclusive transition,” the monsignor said, stressing the benefits of a peaceful settlement that will restore stability, allow for the safe return of refugees and others who are displaced.

Peace in Syria will also create an environment for effective counter-terrorism efforts and maintain “the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian state.”

Turning to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Msgr. Kassas said the Palestinian question is debated four times a year and this debate sometimes sounds like “broken records,” but this will continue until a solution is found. He added: “notwithstanding the multiple challenges facing the Middle East today, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process cannot be allowed to slip out of the top priorities of the international community and this council.”

The Holy See voiced support for a two-state solution in which both the Israel and a Palestinian state exist side-by-side “in peace within internationally recognized borders.”

“For this process to happen and succeed, Israelis and Palestinians must agree on substantial steps to lower tensions and de-escalate the violence on the ground,” Msgr. Kassas said. This includes refraining from actions, including actions regarding settlements, that contradict their stated commitment to a negotiated solution.

He cited Pope Francis’ exhortation to pray for peace and to promote a culture of non-violence so that everyone can bequeath “a culture capable of devising strategies of life, not death, and of inclusion, not exclusion.”

All Palestinian factions must show “a united political will” and work together to address their people’s needs, Msgr. Kassas told the U.N.

“A united Palestinian front would prove the commitment of the Palestinians to a peacefully negotiated settlement and would be key to the economic prosperity, social cohesion and political stability of a Palestinian State,” he said.

“We must also not forget Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims,” the diplomat continued, adding, “The historical status quo of the holy sites is a matter of profound sensitivities.”

Msgr. Kassas reaffirmed the Holy See’s support for “for a comprehensive, just and lasting solution” regarding Jerusalem and reiterated the importance of internationally guaranteed special status that ensures religious freedom of all its inhabitants and “the secure, free and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities.”

Who are the martyrs Pope Francis will beatify in Colombia?

Rome, Italy, Jul 28, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his six-day visit to Colombia in September, Pope Francis will beatify martyrs Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve and Fr. Pedro María Ramírez Ramos, who provide a potent testimony as the country heals from decades of conflict.

Bishop Jaramillo was killed by Colombian Marxist guerrillas forces in 1989, while Fr. Ramirez was murdered at the start of the Colombian Civil War in 1948.

The two were recognized as martyrs by the Vatican earlier this year, and will be beatified during the Pope's Sept. 6-12 visit to Colombia, which he is making largely to encourage efforts for peace and reconciliation after more than 50 years of violent conflict that has left some 200,000 people dead.

Given the nature of their deaths, the two can be seen as belonging to a new wave of “modern martyrs” Pope Francis has often referred to, killed by oppressive regimes of their time such as Nazism, communism and brutal dictatorships.

Born in Santo Domingo, Colombia, in 1916, Bishop Jamillo was one of the many thousands of victims of the 52-year-long civil war between the government and guerrilla rebels.
 
After intensive seminary studies in philosophy, humanities and theology, in 1940 he was ordained a priest with the Xaverian Missionaries of Yarumal at the age of 24. Just four years later, in 1944, he received his doctorate in theology.

Immediately after his ordination Jamillo was sent to serve in the Sabanalarga municipality in the northern most tip of Colombia. Part of the Barranquilla Archdiocese, the area was known at the time to be hostile, and the people had very primitive religious knowledge.

Although the assignment only lasted four months, it cemented in the future martyr a love for both the priesthood and his vocation as a missionary.

In a letter to his rector at the time, Fr. Aníbal Muñoz Duque, Jamillo said “I think that now my spirit is more capable of appreciating the greatness of my missionary vocation, I feel like Christ; I feel in the depths of my being the great love for my sheep.”

After finishing the assignment, Jamillo was then appointed at a professor at the Order's seminary, where he quickly became known for his clarity, spiritual depth and love for the priesthood. During this time, he also served as a spiritual director at the seminary and worked at the Women's Prison in Bogotá.

He was named director of novices at the age of 30, and in the year 1950 was named Second Assistant to the Secretary General of the Order and Rector of the seminary. He was easily recognized by those around him for his smile, good humor and pastoral advice.

In 1959 Jamillo was elected Superior General of the Order, guiding them through the years of the Second Vatican Council and the many changes that ensued.

Eight years into his 10 year mandate, he asked permission to step down as Superior General, and began working for the bishops conference as and adviser to the National Council of the Laity.

Not long after, in 1970, Bl. Pope Paul VI named him Apostolic Vicar of Arauca, and he was ordained a bishop in 1971. Just 13 years later, the vicariate was elevated to a diocese, and Jamillo became the first residential bishop of the area.

He quickly gained a reputation as a selfless servant who was close to his people, and launched several pastoral projects aimed at helping the local population.

Jamillo became an outspoken critic of the violence that was being committed by the National Liberation Army (ELN) at the time, however, he was also unafraid to call out what he referred to as a climate of fear among the people that often prompted them to retaliate against the guerrillas.

It was his public criticism of violence that led to his kidnapping Oct. 2, 1989, as he was making a pastoral visit to local parishes in Fortul. According to his biography, he celebrated Mass and administered some Sacraments before setting out for the city on foot when he and his delegation were stopped by armed militants dressed as peasants.

They asked for the bishop, telling him they were members of the ELN and that he was being kidnapped in order to “send a message” to the national government. One of the priests traveling with Jamillo, Fr. Helmer Muñoz, realized what was happening and refused to leave the bishop's side.

The two were driven for several hours before stopping in a remote location. After praying together and absolving each others' sins, Jamillo ordered Fr. Muñoz to leave out of obedience when the captors demanded that he go. As he was walking away, Muñoz heard the the bishops' last known words, when he said: “I will speak to whoever you want me to, but please, don't do anything to my son.”

Despite reassurances from the captors that Bishop Jamillo would not be hurt, when Fr. Muñoz returned to the spot the following morning he found the bishop's body. Jamillo was lying on his back in the form of a cross, having been shot in the head twice; his episcopal ring was gone, and his pectoral cross had been broken.

He was buried shortly after and dubbed by the faithful of Arauca as “prophet and martyr of peace,” which is engraved on his tombstone.

The murder of Fr. Pedro María Ramírez Ramos also came at another contentious point in Colombia's history, when the country was facing divisions after the death of left-wing presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.

Born in La Plata, Colombia Oct. 23, 1899, Ramirez was just 12-years-old when his brother, Luis Antonio, invited him to join the seminary. He was officially enrolled in the seminary of Mayor de Garzon in 1915, but left in 1920. However, he entered the seminary again in 1928, this time in Ibague.

Ramírez was ordained a priest just three years later on June 21, 1931. He then served as pastor in various cities until 1946, when he was assigned to Armero just as political conflict in the country began to intensify.

After Gaitan's death, tensions between liberals and conservatives reached a fever pitch, eventually leading to Colombia's 10-year civil war, which lasted from 1948-1958 and is commonly referred to as “La Violencia,” or “the Violence.” It was out of this conflict that many of the left-leaning guerrilla groups who have fought against the government for the past 50 years rose.

Amid the chaos of the war, many liberal party groups in Armero protested Gaitan's death by taking up arms, widely accusing the Church of joining forces with the conservative party; accusations they backed with the Church's alleged support for conservatives and their frequent appeals to nonviolence.

It was in this atmosphere that an angry mob, alight with anti-religious sentiments, stormed Fr. Ramirez's parish and a nearby convent April 9, 1949, in an attempt to arrest him.

They started throwing stones and eventually broke into the curial house and went to the chapel, where Fr. Ramirez was praying. He managed to escape with the help of one of the nuns.

The next morning, Ramirez continued his schedule as normal, celebrating Mass and visiting a wounded man in prison. Despite numerous pleas from parishioners and even the city's mayor to leave town, Ramirez refused, insisting that he would not leave the sisters or the Blessed Sacrament alone.

After returning from the prison, the priest created an escape plan for the sisters, and had them consume all the consecrated hosts, leaving just one for himself. He then stayed in the convent to pen his last will and testament before the mob returned.

In the letter with his testament, Ramirez wrote that “I want to die for Christ and for his faith.” He thanked the bishop for allowing him to become a priest for the people of Armero, “for whom I want to spill my blood.”

“To my family, I will go ahead so that they follow the example of dying for Christ. With special affection, I will look at them from heaven,” he wrote.

Later that afternoon, as the mob returned, he consumed the last host and left his stole and serving vestments with a statue of Our Lady so they would not be desecrated before going out to meet the crowd.

The mob took Fr. Ramirez and beat him with sticks and their fists before bashing his head with a machete. As he fell to the ground, the priest shouted “Father, forgive them! All for Christ!” He was then decapitated, however, his body was later recovered and preserved from further desecration.

Pope Francis has often said that there are more martyrs now than in the early Church, and has praised them as sources of life and strength for the faith.

In an April 22, 2017, liturgy honoring the “new martyrs” of the Church, the Pope noted how in many communities around the world Christians are “objects of persecution.” However, he also noted that it is in difficult moments that people frequently call for “heroes.”

The Church today also needs the heroic witness of martyrs and saints, he said, explaining that this includes “the saints of everyday life,” who move forward with coherency, but also those who “have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses until the end, until death.”

“All of them are the living blood of the Church. They are the witnesses who carry the Church forward,” he said. By demonstrating with their lives that Jesus is alive and risen, they also “attest with the coherency of their lives and with the strength of the Holy Spirit that they have received this gift.”

A Church on mission – Zambia celebrates 125 years of the Catholic faith

Lusaka, Zambia, Jul 28, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Zambia concluded a year of celebration marking 125 years since the Church was established in the country, its bishops have said that while it was once a missionary Church, it is now a Church on mission.   

“Share your faith with other people, members of your extended families, and with other Zambians. Faith that is not shared remains small and is infantile. Faith shared is multiplied,” Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu of Lusaka said at a July 14-15 ceremony in the nation's capital.

“Since the Church in Zambia has grown, it is now time to send missionaries to the world,” agreed the Apostolic Nuncio to Zambia, Archbishop Julio Murat, noting it was time to be a witness to Western countries.

The two-day celebration included a focus on youth and on the variety of Catholic acitivities, highlighting the differences among the 11 Zambian dioceses.

Fr. Stanley Lubungo, superior general of the Missionaries of Africa, or 'White Fathers', said that “today should also be about keeping alive the memory of our ancestors in the faith by imitating them. But we will not do that simply through symposiums, workshops or even grandiose liturgies … if we do not continue to look for ways in which the flame of the passion of our ancestors in the faith can empower us to lead the kind of committed lives they led at the service of the needy.”

“It is in that way that our Catholic faith will become a beacon of hope as we strive to reach out to those that society casts to the peripheries,” he added.

The event also attended by the Zambian vice president, Inonge Wina, who praised the Church for its work in education and social support, saying the “the Catholic Church has continued to be a strong and reliable partner with government in not only the delivery of social services but also in advocating for integral development.”

She recognized that although the Zambian government and the Church haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, both parties have similar goals. In a January collaboration, the government and the Church emphasized the need for more communication between the government and the Church as well as the need to combat tribalism.

Zambia was colonized by European nations in the 19th century, and missionaries were among the early European contacts with the natives. Jesuits and Franciscans established missions in the country's south, while the White Fathers were based in the north, starting in 1891.

Want to change the world? It starts with joy, Archbishop Chaput says

Napa, Calif., Jul 27, 2017 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a world that can sometimes seem disheartening, Christians have a path to the future in lives of joy and love, Archbishop Chaput said Thursday.

While Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, “we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy that’s our birthright by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

“If we cling to that joy, if we cling to God, then all things are possible,” he added. “The only way to create new life in a culture is to live our lives joyfully and fruitfully, as individuals ruled by convictions greater than ourselves and shared with people we know and love. It’s a path that’s very simple and very hard at the same time. But it’s the only way to make a revolution that matters.”

Archbishop Chaput spoke July 27 at the Napa Institute conference in Napa, Calif. The institute aims to help Catholic leaders face the challenges of contemporary America.

“When young people ask me how to change the world,” he said, “I tell them to love each other, get married, stay faithful to one another, have lots of children, and raise those children to be men and women of Christian character. Faith is a seed. It doesn’t flower overnight. It takes time and love and effort.”

“The future belongs to people with children, not with things. Things rust and break,” the archbishop continued. “But every child is a universe of possibility that reaches into eternity, connecting our memories and our hopes in a sign of God’s love across the generations. That’s what matters. The soul of a child is forever.”

In the face of the many challenges of today, he pointed to an idea from St. Augustine: “it’s no use whining about the times, because we are the times.”

“It’s through us that God acts in society and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is carried forward. So we need to own that mission. And only when we do, will anything change for the better,” the archbishop said.

“This isn’t a time to retreat from the world. We need to engage the world and convert it,” he added, saying “we have every reason to trust in God and find in him our hope.” The archbishop encouraged his audience to read and pray over Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium.”

Reflecting on the temptation to give up, Archbishop Chaput said this is “always easier than fighting for what we believe and living what we know to be true.”

“Cowardice solves the problem of conflict – at least in the short run. But it abandons the many thousands of great young Catholic lay and clergy leaders who are already part of our landscape,” he said. “I know many of them. And they look to us for example and support.”

While Catholics could react to this situation with “a well-crafted strategic plan,” the archbishop said there is no “quick fix” for cultures, which are more like living organisms than corporations or math problems.

Prayer was also a focus of his remarks. Reflecting on the “hellish” aspect to modern life that people fill with “discord, confusion and noise,” he recommended Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book “The Power of Silence.” He encouraged his audience to “turn off the noise that cocoons us in consumer anxieties and appetites.”

“If we don’t pray, we can’t know and love God,” Archbishop Chaput said.

He endorsed reading the Bible as an antidote to the noise of life. Reading the Bible, as well as history, biography, and great novels, is an antidote to “chronic stupidity and a conditioning by mass media that have no sympathy for the things we believe.”

Archbishop Chaput suggested that the modern world is not much different from the Athens that St. Paul visited. The city was “full of idols,” where everyone “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” There, St. Paul disputed with Jews, devout persons, philosophers, and other residents.

The Acts of the Apostles show “the perpetual newness of the Gospel,” the archbishop said.

“They’re also a portrait of courage as St. Paul, Christianity’s greatest missionary, preaches the Gospel in the sophisticated heart of Athens,” he continued. Despite mockery and condemnation, St. Paul persists and “understands that his audience has a fundamental hunger for the godly that hasn’t been fed, and he refuses to be quiet or afraid.”

Even after seeming failure, he had planted a seed of faith that would grow into “a Church with deep roots.”

The archbishop cited Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John: “When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth . . . and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

“The words of the Gospel remind us that the future is God’s, and we should trust in the Holy Spirit who leads us in a spirit of truth. We don’t need to fear the future. We don’t need to know it before its time. What we do need is to have confidence in the Lord and to give our hearts to the Father who loves us. The future is in his hands.”

 

Transgender military ban applauded for respecting biology, the common good

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that persons identifying as transgender could not serve in the U.S. military, theologians and bioethics experts voiced support for the policy change.

Those who identify as transgender are “people made in God's image, and they deserve our compassion, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, but that doesn't mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation,” said Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Pecknold told CNA that the policy change was the “right decision” that replaced the previous “very bad policy.”

On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he would revoke a rule from late in President Obama’s second term allowing persons identifying as transgender to serve in the U.S. military. Those wishing to join the military who openly identified as transgender could be accepted provided they were proven “stable” in their gender identity for at least 18 months.

With the new administration, however, new Defense Secretary James Mattis delayed the implementation of that policy until Jan. 1, 2018.

Then on Wednesday, President Trump announced that the policy would be undone. In a series of tweets, he stated that the new government policy would be to disallow “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” saying that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

“It is unfortunate that the president did not have the political sense to let this decision be made at the appropriate level, and in the appropriate way, but it is nevertheless the right decision,” Pecknold said.

The estimates of the number of openly transgender persons currently in the U.S. military are unclear. RAND Corporation, in a 2016 assessment of the implications of allowing openly-transgender persons to serve, said that “it is difficult to estimate the number of transgender personnel in the military due to current policies and a lack of empirical data.”

However, using estimates and data from surveys, they reported “a midrange estimate of around 2,450 transgender personnel in the active component (out of a total number of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members) and 1,510 in the Selected Reserve.”

Last August, a report by a psychiatry professor and a biostatistician at Johns Hopkins University published in the New Atlantis found that claims of gender identity being independent of biological sex were not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence, as well as claims giving validity to the feeling of “a man trapped in a woman’s body.”

In addition, the report said, persons identifying as transgender have a suicide rate of 41 percent, versus the rate of 5 percent for the overall population.

Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, who researches and writes about marriage and bioethics at the Heritage Foundation, explained why the new course of action by the Trump administration is a measure protecting a vulnerable population from the challenges of combat.

“People who identify as transgender suffer a host of mental health and social problems – including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse – at higher rates than the general population,” he said in an article for the Daily Signal. It would be “reckless” to put them in a combat situation, he said.

Instead, good policy would respect the human dignity of all persons, which means helping them to accept the body that God gave them and not upholding their belief that they are a member of the opposite sex, Pecknold said.

“Pope Francis is famous for his stress upon dialogue, and his non-judgmental approach with respect to the dignity of every person,” he said. “But the Holy Father has also been crystal clear that ‘gender theory’ represents a burning threat to humanity, starkly describing it as a ‘global ideological war on marriage’.”

“The Holy Father admits that we can distinguish between sex and gender, but we cannot separate them,” Pecknold said, citing the Pope’s ecology encyclical Laudato Si.

“It makes much more therapeutic sense to help the mind conform to biological realities than to deform the body in order to fit a disordered mental picture.”

There are also practical concerns that are addressed by not letting persons identifying as transgender serve in the military, Anderson said.

For instance, “the privacy of service members must not be infringed,” he said, and this privacy could be challenged by persons of one biological sex, who identify as a member of the opposite sex, living in single-sex barracks and using single-sex showers and bathrooms.

“Given the nature of military living quarters, it is unclear where soldiers who identify as transgender could be housed,” he wrote.

Allowing openly-transgender persons into the military could also pose a challenge to the religious freedom and conscience rights of military chaplains, officers, and doctors, Anderson said.

“Unless and until military leaders are able to find a way to respect all of these provisions, there will remain good reasons why the military will be unable to accommodate people who identify as transgender,” he said.

Trump’s announcement was met with much outrage and opposition on Wednesday and Thursday, but this is actually evidence of an almost universal disdain for natural limits set by God, argued William Patenaude, who blogs at CatholicEcology.net.

“Like it or not, the rejection of modern realities like gender theory, with its malleable understanding of the human person, is part of what Pope Francis’s concept of Integral Ecology includes,” he said in an article.

Pope Francis, in his ecology encyclical Laudato Si, wrote that “the acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

“Gender theory” rejects this belief in the natural limits of our bodies, he said, but so does today’s lifestyle of excess and pollution that leads to environmental degradation.

“The laws of nature and natural law are equally fixed and render equally severe consequences when ignoring them,” Patenaude said.

“And so the planet and its people suffer, all because we reject what our first parents learned in Eden. Quite often the word ‘no,’ is meant to protect us,” he said.

 

Ohio Catholic parish hosts camp to empower refugee women

Toledo, Ohio, Jul 27, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Together is partnering with a Toledo Catholic parish to create a summer camp for women and children refugees – providing education, opportunities for networking, and information about American culture.

“The purpose of the summer camp is to educate women and children, to empower women to develop physical and language skills, and to provide cultural education and assimilation to their new country,” Corinne Dehabey from U.S. Together told CNA July 26.

“They also learn about all of the education, cultural, and sports activities available in their new community.”

U.S. Together was established in 2003 in response to the needs of immigrants in the central Ohio area. Teaming up with Christ the King Parish in Toledo and serving two dozen refugee families, the two will launch the summer camp for the first time this year.

Christ the King Parish began working with immigrants after Middle School students heard current pastor Father Bill Rose give a homily about the affects of the war in Syria. In 2015, students collected 20 laundry baskets full of cleaning supplies, food, and the basic necessities for immigrating families.

Both Christ the King Parish and U.S. Together aim to serve anyone regardless of gender, religion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the summer program is limited to refugee children and mothers.

According to Cindy Robert, a volunteer and religion teacher at the parish, many of the women and children from Muslim countries have not experienced the diversity of ethnicities and religions in the U.S. A major aspect of the organization and the camp is getting refugee families to mingle with the community to experience culture outside of their social norm.

“We have been able to see them as individuals, and the longer we have the camp, the more they have come out of their shells, and we see their different personalities.”

Women and children will attend the five week summer camp three days a week for free. The summer camp will include a trip down the Maumee River, swimming lessons, art classes, and a visit to the Toledo Zoo.

Attending activities from 10-3 p.m. each day, refugees are also able to practice English, participate in local leisure activities, given transportation information, and helped with obtaining documents like library cards.

Although policies put in place by the Trump administration have influenced the process for migrants and split some families apart, Cindy said Toledo has experienced an openness to immigrants, noting how unique individuals have been seen and not as “just a 'bloc' of refugees.”

“Personally, I have been able to have some good, long conversations with various refugees and they are able to ask me questions about life here, about grammar, about my children, etc. It's opened my world a great deal!”

Statement claims radical feminist group bombed Mexico bishops' conference

Mexico City, Mexico, Jul 27, 2017 / 01:02 pm (CNA).- An online statement purporting to be from a radical feminist group has claimed responsibility for the explosive set off at the Mexican Bishops' Conference earlier this week.

On Tuesday, a small homemade explosive detonated at the Mexican Bishops' Conference (CEM) in Mexico City. No one was injured, and the building incurred little damage.

On Wednesday, a group calling itself the “Informal Feminist Command for Anti-Authoritarian Action” claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted on Contra Info, an international website that claims it is run by “anarchists, anti-authoritarians and libertarians.”

The statement says Feminist Command was responsible for the bomb, which was intended as retaliation “For every torture and murder in the name of your God! For every child defiled by pedophiles!”

While Contra Info has posted previous stories about Feminist Command’s actions in Mexico, the group’s existence is unconfirmed, according to the AP.  

Aramando Cavazos, the bishop conference’s press office director, explained in a statement Tuesday that “the pertinent investigations are taking place, as apparently this is not the first case occurring in that area of Mexico City,” he said.

Mexico has seen a slew of violence against priests in recent months, including numerous stabbings and murders. Earlier this month, Fr. Luis López Villa was found bound and stabbed to death in his room. He was the 18th priest to be murdered in Mexico in the last six years.

 

Our Lady of Czestochowa to receive a new crown

Czestochowa, Poland, Jul 27, 2017 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Three hundred years ago this September the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa was crowned Queen and Protector of Poland by Clement XI.

Nearly 200 years after that, in 1909, the golden, bejeweled crowns of the image – one for Mary and one for the Christ Child– were stolen, along with a pearl "robe" also belonging to the image.

Following the theft, Our Lady was crowned again by St. Pius X in 1910, and later again by St. John Paul II in 2005, but the original crowns were never recovered.

Now, in honor of the 300th anniversary of the first coronation and as a gift to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the original crowns have been replicated in gold diadems created by an Italian artist and goldsmith renowned for his religious art.

The new crowns, which were blessed by Pope Francis May 17 at the Vatican, will be unveiled during a ceremony in Czestochowa July 28, the first anniversary of Pope Francis' visit to the sanctuary during World Youth Day in Poland.

The crowning itself, the culmination of Poland’s Jubilee Year celebrations, will take place Sept. 8, the 300th anniversary of the first canonical coronation of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the feast of the Nativity of Mary.

The artist of the new diadems, Michele Affidato, was chosen by the Pauline Fathers in charge of the Jasna Góra sanctuary for his skill and expertise in sacred art.

In the course of his work he has made many religious pieces, including golden reliquaries, and has met St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.

He is based in the town of Crotone, in the southernmost region of Italy, which is along the sea and home to a “sister” shrine to Czestochowa called Our Lady of Capocolonna, also called the “Black Madonna.”

This shrine was dedicated as a “sister” shrine during the process of creating the new crowns and an image of Our Lady of Capocolonna was gifted to the Jasna Góra sanctuary.

Though it is uncertain exactly when the shrine in Crotone was built, it is believed it was constructed sometime between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, one popular narrative saying it originated with the Greeks, a theory supported by the fact that the shrine is in the same area as an ancient Greek temple to the goddess Hera. Now, only a single column of the temple remains, called Capo Colonna.

More than 94 percent of Poland’s population being Catholic, the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also called the “Black Madonna,” has a significant meaning for Poles and is highly venerated throughout Europe.

The 2017 Jubilee Year was established through resolutions of the Polish government in December 2016, one resolution stating that “the image of the Mother of God at Jasna Góra is… one of the most important religious and material national treasures.”

Although the truly first crowning of the image as Queen and Protector of Poland was done by King John II Casimir in 1652, its first canonical coronation was by Clement XI in 1717 and is the one being honored this year.

A canonical coronation is a pious institutional act, wherein the Pope, through a bull, designates a crown or stellar halo be added to a Marian image under a specific devotional title in a particular area or diocese. The crowning of Our Lady of Czestochowa in 1717 was the first such coronation to take place outside Rome. 

Former Senator Sam Brownback tapped for religious freedom ambassador

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2017 / 08:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas (R) on Wednesday was nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Dr. Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, hailed the choice as “excellent.”

Farr explained that “because of his experience,” Brownback “fully meets the two qualifications critical for this position: first, a vigorous understanding of the meaning and value of religious freedom for all, and the ability to communicate that understanding, both as a universal moral value and as a political institution that can serve the interests of every society.”

The religious freedom ambassador position was created through the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. That law established the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department, which is tasked with “promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy,” as the office states.

The ambassador is charged with monitoring religious freedom abuses worldwide, meeting with religious leaders around the globe, and discussing with foreign governments how they could better respect the freedom of religious minorities to practice their faith publicly without harassment or state action.

Rabbi David Saperstein, the previous ambassador, served during the second term of the Obama administration and was a “model” for the position, former congressman Frank Wolf told CNA recently. Most notably on his watch, the State Department declared that genocide was taking place against Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State.

The position is vital, religious freedom advocates say, because countries where freedom of religion is respected also see fewer acts of terror and extremism, and enjoy stronger civil and human rights than other countries where religious freedom is not respected.

Now Brownback will look to continue progress made within the State Department in this area. The agency has historically not viewed promoting religious freedom as a priority in U.S. foreign relations, although according to Saperstein the office has made strides in the last two years particularly in advocating for prisoners of conscience.

Brownback “has the experience, gravitas, and bureaucratic skill to sell this understanding” of the importance of religious freedom, Dr. Farr said, “and to build a successful policy, within a resistant bureaucracy at the Department of State and a largely indifferent political class.”

Other religious freedom advocates applauded the selection of Brownback for the position. Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, said that Brownback’s record on defending religious freedom during his time in the Senate proves his qualification.

“As a U.S. Senator, Brownback was a passionate defender of the rights of all people to worship freely, and courageously confronted offenses against human dignity in trouble spots such as North Korea, Iraq, China, Sudan, Vietnam, and Egypt,” Ferguson said.

His nomination comes at a crucial time, she said, “given the global instability caused by the severe religious persecution that 77 percent of the world’s population live under.”

Brownback converted to Catholicism in 2002, after years of being a mainline Protestant and then an evangelical.

Before serving as Governor of Kansas, Brownback was a U.S. senator from 1996 until 2010. He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When he retired from the Senate in 2010, Brownback was hailed in the chamber as someone “known around the world as a champion of religious freedom.” The senator introduced resolutions or bills defending human rights abroad and shaming human rights abusers.

In 2010, he introduced a measure “condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities” and calling for the release of the “Baha’i Seven,” seven Baha’i leaders held captive by the state for their religious beliefs.

In 2008, Brownback introduced a resolution calling for a Jewish cemetery in Lithuania to be protected against planned construction projects, and insisted that it “should not be further desecrated.”

He also introduced a resolution that year welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to the United States and honoring “the unique insights his moral and spiritual reflections bring to the world stage.”

Brownback spoke out against persecution of religious minorities in Russia in a 2005 resolution that called on “the government of the Russian Federation to ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities and end the harassment of unregistered religious groups.”

He also called for a “National Weekend of Prayer and Reflection for the people of Darfur, Sudan” in July of 2005, a year after the U.S. declared genocide was taking place there at the hands of the government and militia groups. Brownback introduced a concurrent resolution in the Senate declaring that genocide was taking place there.

Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), who wrote the administration in April asking them to nominate an international religious freedom ambassador, emphasized the importance of the ambassador position.

“As anti-religious freedom regimes expand around the world, the United States should clearly speak out for human rights, including religious liberty,” he stated on Wednesday.

 

Ohio bishops: Replace death penalty with mercy, conversion

Columbus, Ohio, Jul 27, 2017 / 06:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders in Ohio stressed the need to replace the death penalty with mercy and spiritual conversion, following the execution of convicted child murderer Ronald Phillips.

“The Catholic Church believes that the death penalty is an unnecessary and systemically flawed form of punishment,” the Ohio Catholic Conference said in a statement.

“The Catholic bishops of Ohio sought mercy for Mr. Phillips because of the belief that spiritual conversion is possible and that all life – even that of the worst offender – has value and dignity.”

“May his soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace,” the conference said.

The July 26 execution was the first in Ohio since a botched 2014 execution. Phillips, 43, was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, the Associated Press reports. He was convicted for the 1993 rape and killing of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's daughter.

He gave his final statement ten minutes before his death.

“Sheila Marie didn't deserve what I did to her,” Phillips said, telling the girl’s family “I’m sorry you had to live so long with my actions.”

Phillips had spent much of the morning praying, kneeling and reading the Bible. Ohio Gov. John Kasich had rejected clemency in 2016, citing “the extremely brutal nature of the offense committed against an innocent 3-year-old child.”

The Ohio Catholic Conference previously cited Pope Francis' address to Congress in which he had called for an end to the death penalty.

Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said her organization was “deeply saddened” by the resumption of the executions.

“Our prayers are with the victim, her family and all those who were asked to participate in Ronald Phillips’ execution,” she said.

“Ronald Phillips committed a horrific crime, but through the grace of God's transformational love became a person who asked for forgiveness and journeyed with others from anger and hate to repentance,” Clifton continued. “Today’s execution highlights the need for mercy and reconciliation in our justice system.”

She called on Ohio to reconsider the 26 other scheduled executions.

Other opponents include the group Ohioans to Stop Executions, which had delivered over 27,500 signatures to Gov. Kasich asking him to postpone the state’s executions, including that of Phillips. The group sought better safeguards to prevent sentencing innocent people to death and endorsed 56 recommendations the Ohio Supreme Court’s death penalty task force made to the state legislature, Cleveland.com reports.

European pharmaceutical companies have barred the sale of their drugs for the purpose of executions, causing difficulties for Ohio state officials in charge of executions. Officials say they have enough of the drugs to carry out three executions.

Executions had been halted following the January 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire, in which he was seen clenching his fists, trying to sit up, gasping for breath and choking as the drugs took a record 26 minutes to kill him.
 
The execution used an untested drug cocktail that included the sedative midazolam and the morphine derivative hydromorphone. In a letter to Gov. Kasich, 17 former corrections officials and administrators had warned of possible errors in the use of midazolam, warning that a disturbing execution could traumatize corrections officials.

McGuire was condemned for the 1989 murder of a woman and her unborn child. In the months before his execution, he had returned to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was an attendee at the prison’s weekly Masses for inmates. At the Mass before his execution, he was a recipient of the anointing of the sick and dying, and received spiritual direction.

Since capital punishment resumed in Ohio in 1999, 54 people have been executed.