Browsing News Entries

Priest horrified at exorcist film showings in abandoned church

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jul 27, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Irish priest has decried a film festival's plans to screen two horror films in an abandoned church next month.

The Belfast Film Festival plans to show two horror movies – The Exorcist and The Omen – at Holy Rosary Church in Belfast, a landmark church that has been abandoned since 1980 and is no longer owned by the Catholic Church.  

Local parish priest Fr. Patrick McCafferty told the Belfast Telegraph that the plan was a “cheap stunt” and disrespectful to what once had been a sacred place.

“What is their motivation for showing those types of films in what was once a sacred building that will have such special memories of spiritual occasions for lots of people,” he said.

“Should they not be sensitive to the fact that many people in that area have fond associations and is sacred to the memories of many people that were baptized or married or buried there?” the priest added.

The old church is currently set to be renovated into an Italian restaurant, with with Fr. McCafferty said he has “no problem.”

“...but the screening of horror films in there is another matter entirely,” he told Ireland's The Times.
 
The Exorcist (1973), based on William Peter Blatty's novel by the same name, is the horror movie famous for levitating beds, spinning heads and pea-green soup.

The book and film portray the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her exorcism by two Catholic priests. Blatty said he drew inspiration from a 1949 Washington Post story about a Jesuit priest’s successful exorcism of a 14-year-old boy in Mount Ranier, Maryland.

While the U.S. bishops have previously said that the film stands on “shaky ground” theologically, Catholic film critics have said that for the most part, it tries to portray a real exorcism as authentically as possible.

It won two Oscars in 1974 for best sound and best writing and is one of the 20 highest-grossing films of all time. After the film's release, interest in exorcism skyrocketed in pop culture, sparking a subgenre of films surrounding the topics of exorcism and spiritual warfare.  
 
The other film to be shown, The Omen, is a 1976 British-American that tells the story of the son of an American diplomat who is marked with the sign of the Devil and is the Antichrist.
 
In 2006, attempts to film a remake of The Omen were disrupted on location in Croatia, with sets vandalized and burnt down. The producers blamed the Catholic Church for the disruptions, saying they had decried the film and sparked the outrage.
 
Catholic reviews of The Omen tend to urge caution, as the film can be seen as depicting evil in a victorious light.
 
Fr. Cafferty said he hasn’t seen either film, though he is familiar with their controversial content.
 
“They are not the sort of films that I would choose to watch myself. People have told me about the films and I would have seen bits about The Exorcist – I just don't understand why anyone would like to see it in a church,” he said.
 
A spokesperson for the film festival has defended the decision, saying that the abandoned church would enhance the audience's viewing experience, and cited that the church has been defunct for almost 40 years.

“Belfast Film Festival is well known for its site-specific special events,” said the spokesperson told the BBC, citing its 2015 screening of Jaws on Portrush beach as one example.

“The locations chosen add an extra dimension to the screening, and we think the stone cold surroundings of an abandoned church will make for a suitably chilling viewing experience for The Exorcist.”

“Many people will have their own personal reasons for disliking The Exorcist, and we respect their right to that opinion, but the truth is that it was one of the most widely acclaimed films of the 1970s, nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture,” the spokesperson added.

The screenings of The Exorcist and The Omen, to be shown on Aug. 19 and 20 respectively, have already sold out, according to The Times.

Families of Iran's prisoners beg Congress to advocate for their release

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Family members of American citizens imprisoned in Iran pleaded with members of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for their safe release.

“Please help me bring my father and brother home. I am losing my entire family. We are simply running out of time,” Babak Namazi, who has both a brother and a father in Iranian prisons, told members of the House Subcommittee on North Africa and the Middle East in a July 25 hearing.

Family members of four prisoners in Iran testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the subcommittee in the hearing “Held for Ransom: The Families of Iran’s Hostages Speak Out,” pleading for Iran to release their loved ones in custody.

Bob Levinson, who formerly worked for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the longest-missing of the four, and is the “longest-held hostage in American history,” according to his son Douglas who testified on Tuesday.

Three days after his father went missing, an Iranian news outlet reported that he was “in the hands” of state officers. Yet “Iran has repeatedly changed their story,” Douglas Levinson said. “Iran is responsible, and they know exactly where he is.”

On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution, H. Res. 317, which called on Iran to unconditionally release the Americans who are being detained for political reasons. It also calls on President Donald Trump to prioritize their release.

Currently, there are four Americans (three citizens, one legal permanent resident) who are being detained by the state because of alleged spying or working with a hostile foreign government: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Xiyue Wang, and Nizar Zakka.

Robert Levinson has been missing from Iran’s Kish Island since 2007, and despite its commitment to his safe return to the U.S., “the regime has not remotely fulfilled its commitments to help bring him home,” Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated on Wednesday.

“Iran continues to engage in the despicable practice of detaining foreigners on fabricated criminal charges,” he said, and according to former political prisoners there are reports of “electric shock, forced drug withdrawal, whippings, and solitary confinement.”

“We stand in solidarity with these Americans and their families as we call for their release,” Royce said.

Iran holds many political and religious prisoners, including political dissidents and members of religious minorities. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has labeled Iran a “country of particular concern” as one of the countries with the worst records of protecting religious freedom.

The commission noted in its most recent annual report that the number of religious prisoners has increased since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.

Iran held Pastor Sayeed Abedini in custody from 2012 until January 2016 when he was released in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. A Christian pastor who became an American citizen, Abedini worked with house churches in Iran and was arrested after working at an orphanage for allegedly threatening Iranian national security.

Religious freedom advocates claimed he was arrested by the state because of his Christian faith. During his time in prison there were reports of his torture and abuse suffered at the hands of the regime.

The three witnesses who testified on Tuesday expressed serious concern for their loved ones in Iran.

Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak was arrested in Iran in October of 2015 and whose father Baquer was detained in February of 2016 during a trip to Iran where he tried to see his son, told of how both have suffered while in prison, including while in solitary confinement.

His 81-year-old father has a “severe heart condition that requires medication and may shortly require a pacemaker,” Namazi said, and “has been twice been hospitalized for a week at a time” in recent months.

“It is obvious that his condition, both physical and mental, is rapidly deteriorating. My father’s prison sentence is a death sentence,” Namazi said.

Meanwhile, his brother has suffered in “horrific” conditions, he said, including prolonged isolation and regular beatings and tazings.

Omar Zakka testified about his father Nazir who has been imprisoned in Iran for two years. Nazir, who has suffered physical abuse in prison, is currently on a hunger strike, Omar said.

“All of this pain and suffering has led my dad to this ongoing hunger strike; he told me the other day that we do not put our heads down for anyone,” Omar said.

“My dad said that he would rather die for his cause than live with injustice and what they are doing to him. In fact, he said this phrase to us, in Arabic, that translates to ‘liberty or death’.”

Douglas Levinson said his father, due to his long absence, has missed several of his children’s weddings and graduations, and has never met five of his grandchildren.

“We need Bob Levinson, we need my father back now,” Douglas said on Tuesday. “It’s been 10 years. He’s missed so much.”

 

As vote looms, here's what bishops think about Trump's border wall

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Congress prepares to vote on whether to fund the further construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have been outspoken against such a policy.

“While countries have a duty to ensure that immigration is orderly and safe, this responsibility can never serve as a pretext to build walls and shut the door to migrants and refugees,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas said in his July 18 pastoral letter on migration, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away.”

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” the bishop wrote, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”

The House will reportedly vote this week on approving $1.6 billion in funding for construction of a wall along part the U.S.-Mexico border, as requested by President Donald Trump in his FY 2018 budget proposal.

Trump had campaigned for president by repeatedly promising to build a wall on the border. Around 700 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long border is already fenced.

In a January executive order on immigration, President Trump stated:

“It is the policy of the executive branch to…secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.”

He also called for the allocation of federal funding “for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall along the southern border” and to “project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall.”

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border, however, said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas said he was “disheartened” by the President’s request.

“This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm's way,” he said.

“Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers,” he said. “Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted after the executive order was issued: “Walls only impede and put at risk the poor and children, because those who have resources always find other options.”

The Mexican bishops’ conference responded as well to the call for the further construction of the wall. In their Jan. 26 statement “Value and Respect for Migrants,” they expressed “pain and rejection” at the announcement and said that the wall would interfere in the multi-cultural societies that have developed where there are cities directly across the border from each other.

“We express our pain and rejection over the construction of this wall, and we respectfully invite you to reflect more deeply about the ways security, development, growth in employment, and other measures, necessary and just, can be procured without causing further harm to those already suffering, the poorest and most vulnerable,” the conference stated.

For over 20 years, the statement added, the bishops in dioceses including both borders have worked to achieve “the best care for the faithful that live in the sister countries, properly seen as a single city (from a faith perspective); communities of faith served by two dioceses (such as Matamoros and Brownsville, or Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, for example).”

“What pains us foremost is that many people who live out their family relationships, their faith, work or friendships will be shut out even more by this inhuman interference,” the conference said.

The bishops also said that the U.S. has a right to enforce its own border, but that “a rigorous and intense application of the law” would “create alarm and fear among immigrants, breaking up families without further consideration.”

President Trump requested $1.6 billion for a wall in his FY 2018 budget request. He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to spend $100 million of existing appropriations on “border security, fencing and infrastructure.”

Tom Homan, director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, told reporters on June 28 that “the border wall is one tool to help control the border,” among other actions like the presence of border patrol agents and law enforcement.

When asked by a reporter after a July 7 bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto if he still wanted Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall, President Trump responded “absolutely.”

Bishop Seitz explained in his pastoral letter “When Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away” that the construction of a border fence poses harm to migrants in forcing them to cross the border in more dangerous areas.

“The burning sands of our desert are an unmarked grave for too many migrants who have died attempting to cross,” he wrote. “Increased militarization and more walls will only make this journey even more dangerous.”

And, he said, walls that separate cities directly across the border from each other – like El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – interfere in the societies there and separate loved ones.

“Misguided policies and walls are widening the divide between us and our sister city of Ciudad Juárez,” he said. “I am pastor of a diocese divided by walls and checkpoints that separate individuals from loved ones.”

Pope Francis said Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border in February 2016 at Ciudad Juárez. He asked all those in attendance to pray for “the gift of tears” amidst the hardships of migrants and their “exploitation.”

“Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts,” Pope Francis said at the Feb. 17 Mass. “No more death! No more exploitation!”

 

Pro-life groups praise new Missouri bill curbing abortion

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:35 pm (Church Pop).- Pro-lifers lauded a bill that will restrict abortion access in Missouri, granting the state attorney general more power to prosecute violations, and requiring both stricter health codes and proper fetal tissue disposal.

“Today is a great victory for pregnancy care centers that help women and children all over the state,” Governor Erik Greitens said in a statement according to the Associated Press.

“I'm proud that many of Missouri's lawmakers stood strong to protect the lives of the innocent unborn and women's health.”

The bill passed through the state's Senate 22-9 on July 25. Missouri's Catholic Conference supported the move by promoting it at the parish level and encouraging Catholics to contact their senator.
 
Greitens said the bill was in response to local ordinances aimed at curbing so-called reproductive health “discrimination,” which affected the state capital's pregnancy centers and religious organizations. The bill was also in response to the ruling of a federal judge which struck down some of Missouri's previous anti-abortion laws.

The legislation overturns a previous move that made St. Louis an “abortion sanctuary city,” which added abortion and contraceptive use to existing non-discrimination laws. It also prohibits St. Louis forcing religious schools from hiring abortion advocates and landlords from renting to abortion clinics.

Josh Hawley, the state's attorney general, will now have the power to prosecute abortion legislation violations, in order to balance concern surrounding a left-wing prosecutor who may not pursue abortion offenses. The bill also ditched a provision which would have forced the attorney general to notify prosecutors 10 days before action is taken.

Additional provisions include mandatory inspections by Missouri's health department once a year and stricter requirements on how clinics dispose of fetal tissue after the abortion.

The bill will also restrict which medical staff may refer women for an abortion and may have state-mandated discussions about the procedure. Before inducing an abortion to save the mother's life, the clinics must also get approval from the health department.

The law will be sent to the republican governor next, who is expected to sign into effect soon.

Court to decide if Charlie Gard's parents can take him home

London, England, Jul 26, 2017 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After ending their legal fight to seek further treatment for their 11-month-old son, the parents of Charlie Gard are now in a dispute with Great Ormond Street Hospital over whether they may take the boy home to live out his final days.

The judge in the case, Justice Peter Francis, is set to pass down a decision by noon on Thursday. However, he said that “(i)t looks like the chances are small” of the boy being brought home. His parents hope to have a week with him after he has been moved to a final location.

On Monday, Christ Gard and Connie Yates, the boy’s parents, announced that they were ending their legal fight for additional treatment for their son. Their lawyer told the High Court that “time had run out” for Charlie. They have expressed the desire that he be moved home “for a few days of tranquility” before life support is withdrawn on July 31, four days before Charlie’s first birthday.

Great Ormond Street Hospital has said that it is impossible for Charlie to receive life support at home, arguing that his ventilator “cannot fit through the family’s front door.” It has instead offered a hospice space for Charlie. Previously, the hospital had promised that they “won’t stand in the way,” according to Grant Armstrong, the couple’s lawyer, but now they were setting up “obstacles.”

Katie Gollop, lawyer for the hospital, said that while the hospital wished to fulfill the parents’ final wishes, the reality of bringing the child home is not “practically” possible. The parents have offered to pay any expenses of Charlie being brought home. The couple has raised nearly $1.75 million in funds for Charlie’s care.

On Tuesday, the Vatican-owned Pediatric Hospital Bambino Gesu, commonly called “the Pope’s hospital,” issued a statement on Charlie. In early July, the hospital had offered for the child to be transferred to its facilities for life support and treatment after Pope Francis stated his support of the Gard family.

The hospital said that experimental therapy “could have been an opportunity for Charlie and it will be an opportunity for all the patients with the same or a similar rare disease.” However, the child’s progressive muscular deterioration had “ma(de) it impossible to start the experimental care plan.”

“Much to our regret, we realized that we probably arrived too late,” the hospital said. Additionally, “(w)e are not in a position to know what might have happened 6 months ago. We cannot know if Charlie would have responded to the experimental therapy.”

“What we know is that we did what Charlie's mother asked us to do.”

The Vatican hospital also noted “another result: an in-depth international confrontation at the clinical and scientific level: an extraordinary event, of great importance for the future of rare diseases.”

“For the first time, the international scientific community has gathered around a single patient, to carefully evaluate all the possibilities. The clinical and scientific international community created a synergic network, fighting together for the life of a little boy.”

They called this “the true legacy of Charlie.”

Charlie Gard was born last year on August 4. His condition was discovered in October, and he was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

In April, Justice Francis ruled that the hospital could allow the child to die after doctors and the court had deemed treatment futile, against the wishes of the child’s parents.

In May, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, and judges for the European Court of Human Rights declined to intervene in June. Charlie’s case began garnering international attention after this, with some ethicists comparing the situation to that of euthanasia.

The child’s case grew more complicated in early July, however. On July 2, the Pope stated his support of the parents, and Bambino Gesù offered to take Charlie the next day, an offer which was ultimately not accepted. On July 17, Charlie was examined by U.S. neurologist who claimed that an experimental therapy could provide up to a 10 percent chance of improvement in the child’s condition. This came after unpublished research suggested there was a chance for some reversal in Charlie’s brain damage.

However, after new medical reports were revealed in court last week, Yates and Gard conceded that Charlie no longer has a chance for improvement, and on Monday withdrew their legal fight.

The child suffers from permanent brain damage and cannot breathe on his own. His mother has expressed hope that he can spend a week in hospice before life support is withdrawn.