Stephen Hawking was a Longtime Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Catholic Herald || By Carol Glatz || 14 March 2018
The academy said he told four popes he wanted to 'advance the relationship between Faith and Scientific Reason'
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who said he did not believe in God, was still an esteemed member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and fostered a fruitful dialogue between science and faith.
The academy, which Pope Pius IX established in 1847, tweeted, “We are deeply saddened about the passing of our remarkable Academician Stephen #Hawking who was so faithful to our Academy.”
“He told the 4 Popes he met that he wanted to advance the relationship between Faith and Scientific Reason. We pray the Lord to welcome him in his Glory,” @CasinaPioIV, the academy, tweeted March 14.
The Vatican observatory, @SpecolaVaticana, also expressed its condolences to Hawking’s family.
“We value the enormous scientific contribution he has made to quantum cosmology and the courage he had in facing illness,” the observatory tweeted in Italian.
The British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist and popular author died March 14 at the age of 76.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster tweeted, “We thank Stephen Hawking for his outstanding contribution to science. As a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science, he will be missed and mourned there, too.”
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury tweeted, “Professor Stephen Hawking’s contribution to science was as limitless as the universe he devoted his life to understanding. His was a life lived with bravery and passion. As we pray for all those who mourn him, may he rest in peace.
Blessed Paul VI named Hawking a member of the papal academy in 1968. The academy’s members are chosen on the basis of their academic credentials and professional expertise – not religious beliefs.
Blessed Paul, the first of four popes to meet Hawking, gave the then 33-year-old scientist the prestigious Pius XI gold medal in 1975 after a unanimous vote by the academy in recognition of his great work, exceptional promise and “important contribution of his research to scientific progress.”
Pictures from the academy’s archives show the pope kneeling before Hawking, who was seated in a motorized wheelchair, to present him with the medal and touch his head.
Hawking had most recently met Pope Francis when he delivered his presentation on “The Origin of the Universe” at the academy’s plenary session on science and sustainability in 2016.
In interviews and his writings, Hawking asserted that God had no role in creating the universe.
Yet his avowed atheism did not keep him from engaging in dialogue and debate with the church as his work and contribution to the papal academy showed.
He also debated on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 2010 with Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer — a philosopher and educator — over the scientific underpinnings of the beginning of the universe and the theological arguments for the existence of God.
Vatican astronomer, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who has studied both physics and philosophy, told Catholic News Service in 2010 that “the ‘god’ that Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in is one I don’t believe in either.”
“God is not just another force in the universe, alongside gravity or electricity,” he added. “God is the reason why existence itself exists. God is the reason why space and time and the laws of nature can be present for the forces to operate that Stephen Hawking is talking about.”
Source: Catholic Herald…
Lightning Strikes Church in Rwanda, Kills 16
The New Times || By Kelly Rwamapera || 12 March 2018
Sixteen people were struck dead by lightning on Saturday in Nyaruguru District. All but one were worshipping at Gihembe Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nyabimata Sector.
Another one was killed from a farm in Ruheru Sector in the same district.
The victims were laid to rest yesterday.
At least 140 worshipers, who were injured from the same church were transferred to nearby health facilities. The deceased were all buried yesterday in Nyabimata cemetery, according to Collette Kayitesi, the vice mayor for social affairs in Nyaruguru.
Kayitesi said the district will incur all the costs of treatment as they did the cost of the burial of the 16 who died.
Hundreds of worshipers were gathered at the church during a Sabbath service that had been graced by a visiting choir, according to church elder Emmanuel Ruremesha, who survived the lightning strike.
During an interview with The New Times, Ruremesha, who was seated at the altar, said that the rain that brought the thunderbolt began at around mid-day when the service was at its prime.
“Normally, we finish at mid-day sharp but because of the visiting choir, we had extended the day’s programme so as to accord more time for the visiting choir. By the time it started raining we had just welcomed the preacher to the pulpit,” Ruremesha told The New Times.
Ruremesha says they had heard lightning strikes in the district the previous days so he warned worshippers not to use phones in church during the rain.
“Suddenly, there was a big bang, I saw a thunderbolt strike worshippers. We all fell down for minutes,” he said.
Marceline Mukamana, who lives near the church, was the first to arrive at the scene following the strike.
Mukamana, a community health worker, says she had just returned home for lunch when it started raining and then heard the lightning.
Minutes later, she heard a woman crying for help and ran thinking the church had collapsed upon people only to find it intact but all people inside strangely lying on the ground.
“It was very terrifying to see. I started moving back with my legs shaking. I realised I had to go home for my phone to call local authorities,” said Mukamana.
She called sector and district authorities who also called for ambulances from Munini Hospital to help.
Dr Innocent Ndebeyaho, of Munini Hospital, says 70 people were received at Munini Hospital and 70 at Muganza and Nyabimata hospitals.
“Those in health centres have been discharged with only four remaining while at Munini hospital 58 have been discharged, one transferred to University Teaching Hospital of Butare and eleven are steadily recovering.
Among the eleven still at Munini Hospital is a man who lost his wife in the lightning strike.
According to Ndebeyaho, the patient was yesterday helped to go to the cemetery to bury his wife “because he insisted he couldn’t afford to miss the burial of his wife. He was taken there in an ambulance with doctors.”
Response to the disasters
Alphonse Hishamunda, the acting Director of Risk Reduction and Preparedness Unit at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDMAR), says the ministry have embarked on a campaign to sensitise Rwandans about lightning, through different platforms.
“It’s so sad that our people have died, we call upon all Rwandans to stand warned as we have always advised of lightning happenings because it’s rainy season,” he said, urging the general public to install lightning rods, especially in placed where many people meet.
Concerning the Nyaruguru lightning incident, Hishamunda said there are very few cases where lightning strikes people indoors but when it happens, it is due to houses lacking lightning rods.
“We recommend installation of lightning rods on all public buildings, avoid contact with electric conductors, including water, and using telephones when it’s raining” he advised.
Source: The New Times…
Are Religious Sisters Exploited by the Church? Three Sisters Respond
Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Mary Rezac || 07 March 2018
Last week, the women’s edition of a magazine distributed in the Vatican published an article claiming that religious sisters in the Church are poorly treated and economically exploited.
The article appeared in Women Church World, a monthly women’s magazine published by L’Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of Vatican City. The Associated Press called the story an “exposé on the underpaid labor and unappreciated intellect of religious sisters.”
In the article, three religious sisters, whose names have been changed, expressed that the work of women religious is undervalued, that sisters are treated poorly by the priests and bishops they serve, and that they are not recognized or paid fairly for their work.
One nun, identified only as Sr. Marie, said that nuns often work long hours in domestic roles for little pay. She also lamented that some sisters are not invited to eat at the same table with the clergy that they serve, causing frustration and resentment.
Another sister in the article lamented that sisters with advanced degrees are sometimes tasked with menial jobs.
“I met some nuns in possession of a doctorate in theology who have been sent to cook or wash the dishes the following day, a mission free from any connection with their intellectual formation and without a real explanation,” said a religious sister identified in the article as Sr. Paule.
But several religious sisters have told CNA that the article does not reflect their experiences in religious life.
Mother M. Maximilia Um, who is the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois, said that the article might indicate specific problems in particular sisters’ situations, rather than systemic institutional problems.
“None of the concerns or problems pointed out in this article can really be completely dismissed, but...I don’t think that they can be confined to relationships between men and women, and those who are ordained and those who are not,” she said. “I suppose in the end it’s a problem as old as sin.”
While Mother Maximilia’s order of sisters mostly serve in health care and education positions, they have “quite a history” of serving in the households of priests or bishops, like the sisters in the article.
However, the views of the sisters in the article do not reflect “the very real experience our sisters have had in these apostolates, where there is real care and concern shown for the sisters and for their service,” she said.
Mother Marie Julie is the Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, headquartered in Connecticut, whose apostolates are primarily in health care and education. Their charism is “to serve the people of God in a spirit of heartfelt simplicity.”
“So by our charism, we’re not looking to get our name in lights, we’re not looking for adulation or praise or notice even, we just want to be in the heart of the Church, and I think that’s pretty much the feeling of most religious congregations and their members,” Mother Marie told CNA.
She added that she was “saddened” by the L’Osservatore Romano article, because, she said, it paints a “misleading and bleak picture” of religious life, and does not emphasize the gift of the vocation, both to the consecrated individual and to the Church at large.
“There are disgruntled people everywhere, and also I have to admit there is probably some truth to what was written in that article, I can’t say that those people have never had any of those experiences,” she said. “But that has not been my experience or the experience of those sisters that I know.”
Rather than a feeling of servitude, religious sisters typically feel that they are daughters of the Church, and are loved and respected as such, said Mother Judith Zuniga, O.C.D., Superior General of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, California.
“I feel and know myself to be a daughter of the Church, which in essence means that the Church is my Mother and I sincerely love her,” Mother Judith told CNA by email.
“If there is sexism and discrimination, my sisters and I have not experienced it. There seems to be more a feeling of respect, affection, and gratitude for the services we render, for who we are. This would be the more standard response we've received from people within and outside the Church,” she said.
When it comes to monetary compensation, Mother Maximilia noted that while the salaries or stipends of a sister doing domestic work might be less than what she might make in other apostolates, “that was never an issue for us because first of all we see this as a real service to the church,” she said. Furthermore, the households in which sisters served often provided other compensation, such as meals or lodging.
“I feel like we were always adequately compensated for service,” she said.
Mother Marie told CNA that sometimes, if a particular parish is struggling, the sisters serving there might be paid less, or paid later as the funds come in, but “those are the parishes that are struggling, that is not the norm by any stretch of the imagination,” she noted.
“We don't expect that we would live simply on the love of God, we have to have insurance and we have responsibilities and overhead,” Mother Marie said. “But when that happens - when we’re in a ministry and we’re not paid adequately as the world would see it - that’s not servitude, that’s Gospel, and that’s a privilege,” she said.
Religious sisters in the Church typically make three vows - those of poverty, chastity and obedience. During the celebration of the final profession of those vows, a sister often lies prostrate, face down, before the altar and the cross, in a symbolic gesture that she is giving up her old life and rising with Christ as someone who totally belongs to him, Mother Marie said.
That moment is “one of the holiest moments of our lives as sisters,” Mother Marie said.
“When we laid our lives at the service of the Gospel, we also laid at the foot of the altar our expectations for what we would gain in life,” in terms of worldly success or recognition, she said. Instead, “our hope is that we would gain souls, and I know that that might sound sort of Pollyannish, but that’s what gets us up in the morning,” she added.
Regarding the complaint that sisters with advanced degrees might be working in positions of service that are considered less intellectually stimulating, Mother Maximilia said that kind of thinking reveals a bias about what makes work valuable.
“The thought that [intellectual work] is objectively more valuable is already a biased opinion,” Mother Maximilia said.
“The point of any work is to serve and love God and neighbor, and I think actually that shows itself in a very particular way in direct service to a person’s needs,” she said.
“I would argue that it often is very intellectual work to balance and manage a household, so I think first of all we have a skewered notion of what valuable work is, and I would accentuate that what makes work valuable in the end is love, and we’ve always understood that service to the clergy is primarily that,” Mother Maximilia said.
It is natural, Mother Marie noted, that a religious sister with an advanced degree would want to work in her field of expertise at least for a time, and that is often the plan for those sisters. However, sometimes extenuating circumstances necessitate that sisters serve in other apostolates.
“If God calls us to do something else either through our superiors or the signs of the times or just through events, then we respond to that...we see that as the will of God,” she said.
When a sister is serving in a position that may not have been her first choice, it is not unlike the sacrifices that mothers and fathers make for their families, she added, such as staying up all night with a sick child, or taking a lower paying position in order to have more time for their family.
“That’s done for love, and it’s love that drives what we do, and a recognition of this great gift that we have,” as consecrated people, she said.
Mother Judith added that while education is a good and necessary thing, it is not ultimately the measure by which souls will be judged at the end of their lives.
“In the final analysis, when we come to the end of our life and we come before the Lord, I think it's safe to say that He's not going to ask us how many degrees we had or how we used our education,” she said. “He's going to ask us how we loved.”
Mother Judith noted that the article misses, as contemporary culture often misses, the gifts that women in their femininity bring to the world, regardless of what specific tasks they are performing.
“We live in a culture that doesn't seem to value the true gifts that women bring to our culture - motherhood, gentleness, patience, intuition, sensitivity, attention, warmth and the list goes on. These qualities are now seen in a negative light, seen as weaknesses, when in fact, it's our strength,” she said.
“For consecrated religious, these elements of true femininity should be even more deeply rooted in us simply because of who we are. People see us and right away they associate us with God, the Church and rightly so. What a blessing and privilege it is to be a daughter of the Church.”
Source: Catholic News Agency…
Stop Exploiting Nuns for Cheap Church Labor, Vatican Magazine Urges
Reuters || By Philip Pullella || 01 March 2018
A Vatican magazine denounced widespread exploitation of nuns for cheap or free labor in the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday, saying the male hierarchy should stop treating them like lowly servants.
The article in the monthly “Women, Church, World”, remarkable for an official Vatican publication, described the drudgery of nuns who do work such as cooking, cleaning and waiting on tables for cardinals, bishops and priests.
The article, based on the comments of several unnamed nuns, described how some work in the residences of“men of the Church, waking at dawn to prepare breakfast and going to sleep once dinner is served, the house is in order and the laundry cleaned and ironed”.
It said their remuneration was“random and often modest”.
In many cases, the nuns, who take vows of poverty, receive no pay because they are members of female religious orders and are sent to the residences of male Church officials as part of their assignments.
In the past, most of the nuns working as domestic help in male-run residences or institutions such as seminaries were local nationals. But in recent years, many have come from Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world.
The author of the article wrote that what most saddened one of the nuns she talked to was that“they are rarely invited to sit at the table they serve” and made to eat in the kitchen by themselves.
One nun said she knew of fellow sisters who had PhDs in subjects such as theology and had been, with no explanation, ordered to do domestic work or other chores that had“no relationship to their intellectual formation”.
The experiences of such nuns, the article said, could be transformed“into a richness for the whole Church, if the male hierarchy sees it as an occasion for a true reflection on power (in the Church)”.
The magazine, a monthly supplement to the Vatican daily newspaper Osservatore Romano, is written by women journalists and academics.
Only a handful of women hold senior positions in the Vatican hierarchy, including Barbara Jatta, who last year became the first woman to head the Vatican Museums.
Several nuns have senior roles in Vatican departments that look after religious issues.
Unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis lives in a Vatican guest house which is run like a hotel and takes his meals in the main dining room which is staffed by paid waiters.
By contrast, the late Pope John Paul, who reigned from 1978 to 2005, had a team of five Polish nuns who ran his household in the papal apartments in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
The household of former Pope Benedict, who resigned in 2013 was looked after by about eight female members of a lay Catholic organization known as Memores Domini.
The entire March edition of the magazine is dedicated to the theme of women and work.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams
One of Germany’s Oldest Dioceses to Reduce Parishes by 80 Per Cent
Catholic Herald || By Jonathan Luxmoore || 01 March 2018
Each new parish in Trier Diocese will be led by a priest and two full-time lay people
One of Germany’s oldest Catholic dioceses has become the latest to unveil a major reorganisation, in the face of rising costs and declining church membership.
In an interview with Catholic News Service, Judith Rupp, spokeswoman for Germany’s western Trier Diocese, said the changes would require less time and money on “administration and structural issues” and respond to calls by the Pope for “missionary creativity.”
“The great challenge for Christians in our own diocese is a pastoral one,” Rupp told CNS. “We want to focus more strongly on people’s needs and integrate the charisms of the baptized into church life more than before.”
On February 16, Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann announced the diocese would reduce its 172 parishes to 35. Under the reorganization, to take effect in 2020, each new parish will be headed by a priest and two full-time laypeople, with one or two management volunteers.
In a diocesan website interview, Bishop Ackermann said local lay councils and expert groups would continue playing a role in the reorganization, but said final responsibility for “such a great reform” would lie with him.
“While the parish has been integral to Western Christian civilization, it’s also faced profound and rapid change,” said the bishop. “This has necessitated new models and stronger network systems. We simply cannot continue as in the past.”
However, the German Press Agency DPA reported the planned changes had faced resistance, with some Catholic communities fearing a loss of resources to the new parishes.
Rupp confirmed that complaints had been made about “asset management,” but said a 2016 diocesan synod had incorporated “people from the entire diocese,” who would be encouraged to share responsibilities with Trier’s 1,016 priests and deacons and 1,740 religious order members.
“In each new parish, priests, deacons and pastoral ministers will all work on different issues and tasks,” Rupp said.
“Of course, not everyone agrees with our plan — many still need convincing. Overall, however, the faithful understand the need for a comprehensive reform,” she said.
Parallel parish reorganizations are underway in other parts of Europe, where a sharp drop in active church membership since the 1960s has accelerated over the past decade, despite efforts by church leaders to reach out with new forms of evangelization.
In 2012, Germany’s Berlin Archdiocese announced it would merge its 105 parishes into 35 larger “pastoral spaces,” while selling off unused churches and cutting 40 percent of its clergy and lay staffers, to cope with debts of $140 million since Germany’s 1989-90 reunification.
Austria’s Vienna Archdiocese is also merging its 660 parishes into 150 larger entities, each served by three to five priests, while the Catholic Archdiocese of Luxembourg is reducing its existing 274 parishes to just 33.
Ireland’s Clogher Diocese has also clustered 37 parishes into 14 “pastoral areas,” coordinated by “pastoral support groups” of two priests and six laypeople, while the president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, Cardinal Willem Eijk, has introduced plans to merge his Utrecht Archdiocese’s 326 parishes into 48 larger units, each with a single church as “eucharistic center.”
Rupp told CNS Trier had been unusual in convening a diocesan synod to debate reforms.
“We’re trying to change the image of the parish more radically than other dioceses, by introducing a highly pluralistic pastoral framework,” she said.
“Changes are plainly required in the church’s life and structures. Whether a diocesan synod is the best forum for identifying and implementing them will be seen in future.”
The Trier changes were announced as Germany’s 66-member bishops’ conference met in Bavaria to discuss the October Synod of Bishops on youth, pastoral care of refugees and ties with Catholics in Eastern Europe.
Germany’s Catholic news agency, KNA, said the bishops also would discuss a January announcement by Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg that he planned to close eight of his diocese’s 21 Catholic schools to pay off a debt of $97 million, as well as a financial scandal in the Eichstatt Diocese, where a church staffer faces fraud charges after losing unsecured loans of about $60 million on the U.S. real estate market.
Source: Catholic Herald…
Nigerian Woman’s Tale is Story of Anti-Christian Persecution in Microcosm
Crux || By John Allen and Claire Giangravé || 26 February 2018
In a sense, the most dramatic element of Rebecca Bitrus’s story is not the unimaginable horrors she suffered at the hands of the radical Islamic group Boko Haram during two years of captivity, including watching her three-year-old son die simply because she refused to become a Muslim, and then later becoming pregnant and giving birth to a child as the result of rape by a Boko Haram fighter.
Sadly, such experiences aren’t all that uncommon in Nigeria, where Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced an estimated 2.6 million people since its founding in 2002. Partly as a result of the violence, some 3.8 million people in the region are malnourished, and tens of thousands of children have died of hunger.
Instead, what sets Bitrus apart is her extraordinary ability to forgive - including overcoming her initial revulsion at the child who resulted from her rape, having him baptized and embracing him as her son.
“I’m convinced of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness,” Bitrus told Crux Feb. 23.
“In the Scripture, it says that when Jesus was crucified on the cross, he was with two thieves. One asked that he be taken to Heaven with Jesus, who said, ‘You are forgiven. Today you will be with me in paradise,’” she said.
“I’m so convinced of that, which is why I was able to find a place in my heart to forgive them for all the pain, the torture, and the damage they did to me,” Bitrus said, speaking through an interpreter in her native Hausa, the tribal language widely used in northern Nigeria.
Bitrus, who’s basically illiterate, had the chance to tell her story to Pope Francis on Saturday when she met the pontiff in an audience along with Ashiq Masih and Eisham Ashiq, the husband and daughter of Asia Bibi, who’s been on death row in Pakistan since 2010 on a blasphemy charge.
The audience was organized by Aid to the Church in Need, a papal foundation supporting suffering Christians, to highlight a special event Saturday night in which Rome’s famed Colosseum was bathed in red light to raise awareness about anti-Christian persecution around the world.
While the struggle for religious freedom can seem a fairly abstract cause, Bitrus is a reminder that beneath the statistics and arguments are real, concrete people, some of whom bear the scars of experiences that almost defy belief.
It was a late August evening in 2014 when Boko Haram forces invaded the small town where Bitrus and her husband, Bitrus Zachariah, were living with their two children, Zachary who was five and Jonathan who was three.
“My husband alerted me they were coming and then ran for his dear life,” Bitrus said. She eventually would learn that her husband escaped, but she and her two children were taken by the Boko Haram militants and marched into their forest encampment.
“They wanted to force me to convert to Islam,” she recalled. “They told me, ‘You’re not going back to your brothers and sisters who are infidels. You’re going to stay here with us, this is a better place for you.’”
Bitrus, who was brought up as a strong Catholic, bluntly refused.
“One of the Boko Haram said, ‘You’re not ready to convert to Islam, so I’m going to teach you a lesson,’” she said. The fighter then snatched her three-year-old son and casually tossed him into a nearby river, where she was forced to watch him drown.
After that experience, undoubtedly fearing for her older son, Bitrus said she went through the motions of Islamic devotion, but inwardly she clung to her Christian faith.
“They would come on us with their guns and force us to pray. Each time I bent down to pray, I was reciting the ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘Our Father,’” she said.
“I’m convinced that’s what saved me,” Bitrus said.
Later on, she said, she was told by her captors that she was to be “married” to one of the militants, and she was forced to act as his wife - in effect, suffering serial rape over a period of months. She eventually gave birth to a male child, who now has the name of Christopher.
After two years, Bitrus said, her chance for escape finally came when the sound of gunfire and bombs could be heard in the camp, indicating that Nigerian troops were closing in on the position. A group of prisoners organized an escape, and she fled into the forest with her older son and the child she had conceived in captivity, who at the time was about six months old.
Once they were safely away from the camp, she said, she didn’t want to take the new child with her, since he was a reminder of the brutality she had endured. She laid the child down on the forest floor, she said, and began to walk away.
It was her older son, she said, who changed her mind.
“Zachary told me, ‘Jonathan isn’t here anymore, I don’t have a little brother, so why don’t you take Christopher?’” she said.
Though they had escaped, Bitrus said, their hardships were hardly over. For 28 days they wandered through the unfamiliar forest, with no food or water, being attacked by mosquitos and facing the threat of disease, developing terrible rashes. She still bears the scarring left behind by those rashes on her legs and other parts of her body.
Despite it all, Bitrus said, “I never gave up.”
“As soon as I left the camp and we got away, I knew God was going to protect me,” she said. “I put my trust in God.”
Eventually, Bitrus said, they stumbled across a community which pointed them in the direction of nearby Nigerian troops.
“They were very skeptical of me and said, ‘You must be Boko Haram.’ I told them I wasn’t, that I was one of the women they abducted and now I’ve escaped.”
She told the soldiers her name was Rebecca - even that, she explained, was a small act of liberation, since her captors had forced her to take the name “Miriam.”
“One of the soldiers who was a Muslim told me, ‘If you’re a Catholic, prove it,’ and asked me to recite some Christian prayers. I prayed some ‘Hail Mary’s’ on my fingers, and when I came to the tenth one, I said the ‘Glory Be’ and made the Sign of the Cross,” she said. With that, the troops were convinced, and after having her treated in a nearby hospital, they transported her to her hometown of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria.
She made her way to the local Catholic Church, where she was reunited with her husband - with each having believed for two years that the other likely was dead.
Having finally made it home, she said, she was still struggling with what to do with the child she carried out of the camp.
“I wanted to give him to someone else who would take care of him, but the bishop helped me to accept him,” she said, referring to Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri.
“He told me, ‘Who knows who this child will become? He could be very special to you in the future,’” she said. “That helped me to have a positive attitude about everything I’d gone through.”
It was Father Innocent Zambua of Maiduguri who baptized Christopher, the same priest who accompanied Bitrus to Rome and acted as her interpreter.
Through all of her experiences, Bitrus said, one thing remained constant: Her firm, unwavering Catholic faith.
“After I got home and was back with my family, some people told me to stay a Muslim,” she said. “They told me, ‘You were practicing as a Muslim in the forest anyway, and Christians are being killed in Maiduguri. Why would you be a Christian? Do you want to be killed?’”
That, Bitrus said, was not an option.
“No matter what, I will never renounce my faith,” she said. “I’ll remain committed to it, even if it means giving up my life.”
Measured against the scale of anti-Christian persecution in the early 21st century, with an estimated 200 million Christians estimated to be at risk of harassment, arrest, torture and death, Rebecca Bitrus is no more than one drop in a vast sea.
After meeting Francis, however, the pontiff seemed to grasp that changing hearts about that sea of suffering begins with coming to know its individual drops.
“The witness of Rebecca and Asia Bibi are a model for a society that today has ever more fear of suffering,” the pope said, declaring that the two Christian women “are martyrs.”
Weah, Drogba, Mbappe Launch Africa Sports Project in France
Africanews || By Daniel Mumbere || 22 February 2018
Liberia’s president, ex-football star, George Weah joined fellow African football great Didier Drogba and emerging French youngster Kylian Mbappe in Paris, to launch a platform that will support sport in Africa.
Hosted by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the three great strikers committed themselves to supporting the French initiative.
Sport can be “a strong and dynamic vector for Africa”, stressed the French Head of State at the end of a luncheon which also brought together the presidents of the French Football Federation (FFF) Noël Le Graët and the Fifa Gianni Infantino.
Macron announced the launch of a “platform for transformation through sport” in Africa with an initial budget of €15 million, which will finance “grassroots projects”.
The projects will include the construction of infrastructure, the provision of sports facilities and training programmes or business start-up aid.
What they said
“I’m going to put all my energy into helping out as much as I can,“said Kylian Mbappé, the young prodigy of PSG and France’s national team.
“Even though I am French, I have African origins. For me, helping African sport to develop is something I care about.”
“Football is very powerful because it brings people together and unites them,“said Didier Drogba, the former star of OM and Chelsea, who created a foundation for the health and education of young people in Côte d’ Ivoire and Africa.
“We are proud to be part of this project,” said FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, for whom “the election of George Weah as President of Liberia has given a new impetus to what sport and football in particular can do for education and development in Africa.
According to Macron, it is “sport, especially football, which has made it possible” to disarm young people after the civil war (1989-2003).
“It’s a way to find a role in society, to rebuild respect, to have real heroes,“says the head of state.
The platform, whose contours remain unclear, will be piloted by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), with the support of FIFA.
George Weah state visit
Arriving in Paris on Tuesday for a four-day visit, George Weah, 51, presented himself as “a child from France”, where he “learned the values of humility and hard work” in Monaco and then at the PSG from 1988 to 1995.
Elected President at the end of December, he thanked France for the €10 million donation announced by Mr Macron to “face the challenges” of a ‘broke Liberia’.
How is Lent Observed Around the World?
Aleteia || Indian Catholic Matters || 18 February 2018
For most of India, Lent began on "Ash Monday" ...
When it comes to observing Lent, India is unusual in that out of 168 dioceses, 29 are Syro-Malabar, eight are Syro-Malankara and 131 are Latin.
Around the world, there are three major groupings of Catholic rites based on the initial transmission of the faith — the Roman, the Antiochian (Syria) and the Alexandrian (Egypt).
Later on the Byzantine derived as a major rite from the Antiochian, under the influence of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom. From these four derive more than 20 liturgical rites present in the Catholic Church today, including the three rites present in the Indian Catholic Church: the Latin, the Syro-Malabar, and the Syro-Malankara rites.
The Latin-rite Christians of India and Kerala follow the Roman liturgy, introduced by European missionaries towards the end of the first half of the second millennium; while the other two Oriental Churches follow Syrian liturgies and customs, claiming their origin, along with half a dozen other Kerala-based Churches, to the apostolate of St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles.
The Syro-Malabar Church has a liturgy based on the East Syriac or Chaldean tradition while the Syro-Malankara liturgy is based on the West-Syriac tradition of the Jacobite-Orthodox Christians from whom they reunited with the Catholic Church in 1931 under the inspiration of Archbishop Mar Ivanios.
Ash Monday or Ash Wednesday?
These rites differ in some liturgical practices. Lent is practiced differently in these rites. While Lent starts with Ash Wednesday for the Latins; it starts two days earlier for the Syrians with Ash Monday. During Lent both Latin and Syrian families adopt a vegetarian diet and give up alcohol.
The method of calculating 40 days in the East and the West is different. In principle, the Sundays of Lent are not days of fast. The Easterners count from Monday of the first week of Lent till Saturday prior to Palm Sunday (36 days) adding Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week to make it 40. However, the Western practice counts the week days of all six weeks of Lent (6×6=36) plus Ash Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the week before the first Sunday of Lent making the total days 40.
In the Syro-Malabar practice, the period of Lent is also called “50Nombu.” This is because all the days of Lent, including Sundays, are practically counted as days of abstinence.
The “Great Fast” (Sauma Rabba) is generally known today as a period that commemorates Jesus’ 40-day fast and his Passion and death. Consequently, this period is understood as a time of fast and penance in order to be partakers in the sufferings of Christ. But the history of this period depicts a different picture. Though the prominent theme of the last week of the period called Passion Week (or Holy Week) is the Passion of Christ, the rest of the weeks have a variety of themes that point to an upright Christian living.
At the beginning, it was a continuation of the period of Epiphany (Denha), a period that commemorates the baptism and the 40-day fast of Christ, and the following public life. History tells us that Lent had two fundamental aims: A long preparation for Easter and a proximate preparation for baptism on Holy Saturday.
Though Jesus fasted for 40 days, the earliest practice of Christian fast seems to have been of one or two days up to six or seven weeks according to different traditions. From a 4th-century Jerusalem document we understand that the Lenten season was of eight weeks, whereas in Rome it was of six weeks. The tradition of Ash Wednesday started in the West sometime in the 8th Century.
Traditions and beliefs
According to a 3rd-century tradition, Christians fasted for six days in preparation for Easter. It might have been an imitation of the Jewish practice of a 7-day fast in preparation for the Paschal Feast. The Christian tradition might have reduced the days from seven to six considering Sunday as a non-fasting day.
Later, imitating Jesus’ fast of 40 days, Christians also began to fast for 40 days. There is a mention about this practice in the council of Nicaea in the year 325. However, the variations in the practice of Lent — each community according to their own traditions and beliefs — have given rise to some confusion. But the ultimate purpose of all Lenten observations “is the spiritual succor that people yearn for.”
Adding to the confusion is the fact that there were differences in Lenten practices among different Syro-Malabar dioceses. However, Lenten observance varies, it is only technically and not theologically. So the differences have not affected the spiritual essence of Lent. The Oriental Churches do not skip Sundays when the length for Lent is calculated.
Traditionally, Lent in Eastern Churches begins on the seventh Monday before Easter. It is a matter of tradition and good faith that most Christians in Kerala eat only vegetarian meals for 50 full days. It has been pointed out that though Church laws do not stipulate abstinence from meat and fish on all days of Lent, especially on Sundays, but Kerala Christians abstain from meat, fish and alcohol throughout Lent voluntarily. This has been praised as one of the finest spiritual offerings of the local Christians. For the majority the Lenten spirit begins with the ashes on one’s forehead, no matter whether it is on Ash Monday or Ash Wednesday.
A large number of Catholics begin the Lent by attending church services on the first day of Lent and they come out of the church with the Sign of the Cross drawn with ashes on their forehead.
The author, Chev. Prof. George Menachery, is a professor, anthropologist, indologist, and historian of the Syro-Malabar Church and of Kerala. He is the editor of the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India and the Indian Church History Classics. Prof. Menachery is also the recipient of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, and is known by the title of “Chevalier.”
The Life of the Pope Emeritus, Five Years Later: Between Words and Silence
Aleteia || By Agence I.Media || 12 February 2018
Since his resignation, Benedict XVI has emerged several times from the silence he has imposed on himself, to freely express his opinion on points that are close to his heart.
Five years ago, on February 11, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick, Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the Petrine ministry because of his failing strength. Since then, the Pope Emeritus has emerged several times from the silence he has imposed on himself, to freely express his opinion on points that are close to his heart.
For example, on February 26, 2014, in a letter addressed to the Italian daily La Stampa, the German Pope Emeritus describes as “absurd” the speculations regarding his renunciation, stating that he has “no doubt” about its validity. He assures those who are puzzled by his new title of “Pope Emeritus” that there can be no doubt about “who is the true pope.”
In the preface to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s book Faith and the Common Good, published on May 10, 2015, the Pope Emeritus also encourages the Catholic Church to dialogue with non-believers. The Church, he suggests, must “go out of itself” and share its reflections on the questions of our time, in order to assume its responsibility “for humanity as a whole.”
Mercy, a “sign of the times”
In March 2016, Pope Francis was criticized for launching the Year of Mercy; some feared that with so much focus on mercy, justice might be forgotten, especially in the realm of the family. Benedict XVI then said during a conference that he sees “as a sign of the times” the fact that the mercy of God is becoming an increasingly central subject in the Church, and welcomes the insistence of the Argentine pope on this subject.
On June 28, 2016, on the occasion of a celebration of the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Benedict XVI paid tribute to Pope Francis: “Your kindness, since the first day of your election, at every moment of my life here, touches me, and carries me really, internally.” In his meditation, the Pope Emeritus also testifies to his desire to unite himself with Christ to “assist in the transubstantiation of the world, that it may be a world not of death, but of life; a world where Love has conquered death.”
In the month of September 2016, Benedict XVI entrusted his Last Conversations to the German journalist Peter Seewald. The Pope Emeritus gives an account of his pontificate and pays tribute to his successor, Pope Francis: “the election of a Latin American cardinal means that the Church is in motion, is dynamic, open, with prospects ahead of it for new developments.”
An explosive situation
On the occasion of a conference organized on April 18, 2017, by the Polish bishops, a text by the Pope Emeritus was read aloud. The text states that “the opposition between radically atheistic conceptions of the state and the occurrence of a radically religious state in Islamist movements is leading our time to an explosive situation…”
“These radicalisms urgently require that we develop a convincing idea of the state,” adds the Pope Emeritus in this text, unveiled by the Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation.
On May 17, 2017, in the preface he wrote for Cardinal Robert Sarah’s second book, The Power of Silence, the Pope Emeritus says that with Cardinal Sarah, “a master of silence and of interior life, the liturgy is in good hands.” Benedict XVI also said, in a subtle way, that one must “be grateful to Pope Francis for having appointed such a spiritual master at the head of the Congregation which is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church.”
Obscuring the priority of God
In July of the same year, Benedict XVI sent a message to the Archdiocese of Cologne, on the occasion of the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, former shepherd of that diocese. The Pope Emeritus salutes the memory of the prelate, to whom he was close, and who, according to him, knew how to “resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the time.” But there are two other sentences that were highlighted at the time: those where Joseph Ratzinger says he is “impressed” by the confidence of Cardinal Meisner, which reflected a profound certainty “that the Lord is not abandoning his Church, even if sometimes the barque is almost about to capsize.”
Three months later, in October, the Pope Emeritus wrote the preface to the Russian edition of the volume of his Opera Omnia dedicated to the liturgy. The true cause of the crisis of the Church, he writes, “lies in the obscuring of the priority of God” in the liturgy. The German Pope deplores the “misunderstanding of the liturgical reform” that followed the Second Vatican Council, because of which “human activity and creativity” were given pride of place, making people “forget the presence of God.”
Benedict XVI also signed, in December 2017, the preface to a collection of theological contributions published for the 40th anniversary of the priesthood of Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On July 1, 2017, at the end of Müller’s term as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis did not renew him for another term. The Pope Emeritus said that Cardinal Müller will continue “to publicly serve the faith,” adding that “a priest, and certainly a bishop and a cardinal, is never simply retired.”
Recently, on February 7, 2018, the Pope Emeritus declared in a letter addressed to the Corriere delle Serra that he is “on pilgrimage toward the House” of the Father. Benedict XVI says in his letter, “It is a great grace for me to be surrounded on this last stretch of road, which sometimes is a little tiring, by such love and kindness as I could never have imagined.” AF, AdP, AP
Author Disputes View that Galileo Affair Showed Church as Anti-science
Catholic News Service (CNS) || By Brian Welter || 09 February 2018
Author Father Paschal Scotti, a Benedictine priest, provides readers with a solid foundation to the cultural and intellectual background of famous mathematician, inventor and astronomer Galileo Galilei.
In addition to its humanism, which "changed the whole culture with a new attitude toward research in general," Rome hosted a lively, even turbulent, intellectual scene. It featured stoicism, Aristotelianism, Platonism and glimpses of new science, particularly Copernicus' idea that the earth revolved around the sun.
Adding to this turbulence, the various religious orders, particularly the science-oriented Jesuits and the more contemplative Dominicans, vied for intellectual leadership of the Catholic world. The two orders emphasized different aspects of theology: "The Jesuits put far more emphasis on human freedom while the Dominicans stressed divine omnipotence."
If Galileo was to succeed in his attempt at remaking science and mathematics, he would have to please Jesuits, Dominicans, cardinals, local political leaders such as Florence's Medici, and the pope. The author's biographical sketches of these individuals make the book interesting and accessible even to readers unfamiliar with the period.
Readers get a sense of the inevitability of the old Aristotelian world passing into the new, science-centered one, reflected in Galileo's impatience with his opponents. His personality, as Father Scotti captures things, was anything but diplomatic. Those apprehensive about the effects of the new science on theology pushed back with a vengeance, and Galileo ended up getting the worst of it.
The entire Galileo affair, the author shows, pivots on the scientist and his former friend, Maffeo Barberini, who became Pope Urban VIII in 1623. More particularly, it centers on the pontiff's extreme anger and vengeance stemming from his feeling that Galileo had betrayed him. The scientist was anything but innocent in this, as he had been warned what he could and could not say. Father Scotti succeeds in correcting much of the anti-Catholic propaganda that darkens the truth around this whole series of events while never minimizing the unreasonable nature of this papal vengeance.
It wasn't Galileo's science so much as his theology that got him into trouble. This was decades in the making. On All Souls' Day 1612, two decades before the infamous trial, the Dominican Niccolo Lorini "spoke out against Galileo and the Copernican doctrines as a violation of Scripture." In a famous letter in 1613, Galileo unwisely "enunciated his principles of biblical interpretation in reference to science," something that, with no theological training, he had no authority to do.
There was nothing in these musings that hadn't also been said by theologians, but "at this time, it was a dangerous game to play with Scripture, and Galileo had been warned of this." The "dangerous time" was the aftermath of the Reformation and the Council of Trent, when the church sought doctrinal clarity and tended to react aggressively against anyone it saw as a threat to its teaching. The author's background to all of this helps readers see why the Galileo affair erupted at this point in church history.
Galileo's "The Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems" (1632), a product as much of his humanist culture as of his mathematical and scientific learning, ultimately sealed the scientist's fate. After getting approval from several ecclesiastical authorities for parts of the first draft, things went downhill upon its publication. Galileo's use of the fool Simplicius in the dialogue to express the pope's position infuriated the latter.
Father Scotti goes through every stage of the trial, as well as its toll on Galileo's health. Pope Urban comes out as the villain for wanting Galileo's "humiliation to be complete and to generalize the condemned opinion." Galileo was forced to back down completely and to sign a confession. Pope Urban exercised more control over the Roman Inquisition (also known as the Holy Office) than any previous pope, and was most responsible for the humiliation of the great scientist.
Ultimately, readers are left with the impression that while Galileo was undeserving of this treatment, the church was never the enemy of science as is so often portrayed. Quite the opposite: The church was the center of the scientific world at the time, its Jesuit scientists the best of the era. The Galileo affair was more about individual personalities than religion vs. science.
Missing Iconic Nigerian Painting Found in London Flat
AllAfrica || Premium Times || 07 February 2018
A missing painting of a Nigerian princess that attained an almost mythical status after going decades unseen has been discovered in a north London flat.
Ben Enwonwu's 1974 painting of the Ife princess, Adetutu Ademiluyi, known as Tutu, is a national icon in Nigeria, with poster reproductions hanging on walls in homes all over the country.
The artist, regarded as the founding father of Nigerian modernism, painted three versions of Tutu and the image became a symbol of national reconciliation. But all three were lost and became the subject of much speculation.
The Nigerian novelist, Ben Okri, said it amounted to the "the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over 50 years, according to theguardian.com.
"It is the only authentic Tutu, the equivalent of some rare archaeological find. It is a cause for celebration, a potentially transforming moment in the world of art."
The discovery was made by Giles Peppiatt, the director of modern African art at the auction house Bonhams.
He estimated he gets sent a Tutu every eight weeks and it invariably turns out to be a print. But late last year, a family in north London approached him asking him to come and see a painting they said was by Enwonwu.
"Sometimes you go somewhere on a wing and a prayer, you don't know what you are going to see ... this was an enormous surprise. It is a picture, image-wise, that has been known to me for a long time, so it was a real light bulb moment; I thought: 'Oh my god, this is extraordinary.'"
The family has asked to remain anonymous, but Peppiatt described them as perfectly ordinary.
The painting was something their father had acquired, he said, adding: "as is often the way, there are things your parents buy and you haven't a clue why they bought it or what the value of it is ... you just inherit it."
Missing painting of a Nigerian princess
The painting will be sold at Bonhams in London on February 28, but such is the anticipated interest "its appearance on the market is a momentous event", said Peppiatt - that the sale will also be broadcast live to bidders in Lagos.
It is expected to sell for between £200,000 and £300,000. If it goes over the upper limit it will set a new record for a modern Nigerian artist.
Okri, writing in the forthcoming Bonhams magazine, said he hoped Tutu's rediscovery would help bring about a wider re-evaluation of African art.
"Traditional African sculpture played a seminal role in the birth of modernism in the early years of the 20th century, but modern African artists are entirely absent from the story of art," he said.
"This is an oversight that urgently needs rectification if the art world does not want to imply that contemporary Africa has made no contributions to the world's artistic achievements."
Okri said Enwonwu was already world-renowned as the greatest living African artist when, in the summer of 1973, three years after the end of the Nigerian civil war, he encountered the princess and was entranced, asking to paint her portrait.
Enwonwu was a student at Goldsmiths, Ruskin College, Oxford, and the Slade in England in the 1940s.
He became more widely known when he was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture of the Queen during her visit to Nigeria in 1956, a work that now stands at the entrance of the parliament buildings in Lagos.
However, Tutu is regarded as his greatest masterpiece - the image was on display at his funeral in 1994. The whereabouts of the other Tutu paintings remains a mystery.
The Smartest Way to Pay Off your Debt: “Snowball” it
Aleteia || By Caryn Rivadeneira || 05 February 2018
This simple financial strategy, supported by the Harvard Business Review, is an easy and effective way to eliminate your debts.
For most of our marriage, my husband and I followed a strict rule: Whatever gets charged to the credit card gets paid off at the end of the month. But when years of underemployment and big medical bills caught up with us, we broke that rule. And as it goes with credit cards, our debt rose faster than we could pay it off.
We learned a hard lesson in those years about the pressure of debt, and the determination it takes to get rid of it. As many graduate students or homeowners know, owing money is a burden that can weigh heavily on all areas of your life — especially if it grows so large, or lasts for such a long time, that you begin to feel like it’s impossible to overcome.
But, as I learned in those years of my own experience with debt, as daunting as the task may seem, paying off your dues — even big ones or multiple ones at a time — is not impossible. It just takes commitment and strategy. So first and foremost: you need to approach your debt seriously. Take stock of how much you owe and really think about it. Then commit to it. Because you’re not going to get anywhere by ignoring those numbers.
Now let’s work on the strategy part, because even when you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and pinch some pennies, it can be really difficult to know where to start. What debts should you pay off first and how much should you aim to pay off each month?
Some experts suggest paying off the card with the highest interest rate first (and, to be sure, the math is kinder this way), but, according to research from the Harvard Business Review, you should actually start with the smallest owed balance first, not the biggest or the one with the most interest.
This strategy for paying off credit card debt is something experts are now calling “The Snowball Effect” and it’s similar in theory to the way you might approach weight loss: Slow and steady, with reasonable goals and expectations. The idea is that if you start off by successfully eliminating small chunks of debt, you’ll see progress almost immediately, and that feeling of success will motivate you to keep paying down your debt consistently over time — and you’ll need to hang in there if you want to accomplish the feat of being debt-free.
Trust me: paying off any debt feels terrific. Even the tiny ones. Because, even if the payment was just $100, it feels like you were able to wipe a part of the slate clean, like red marker from a white board. Picture yourself physically wiping those red numbers away. It’s satisfying, right? And once you discover that paying off a debt not only feels good, but is possible, you’ll be more motivated to keep paying off larger and larger balances.
So now that you understand the logic behind the Snowball Effect, it’s time to take a closer look at how it works, and put it into practice. Here are a few of the main points:
Focus on the card with the lowest balance. Unless you’re able to consolidate debt onto one credit card at a lower rate, resist the temptation to consolidate debt. Instead, ignore interest rates and focus only on the card with the lowest balance.
Pay just a tiny bit extra than you need to. Figure out how much more than the minimum rate you can afford to pay down each month on that one card. And then make it happen. Even if that means taking on more work or considering an extra job to pay more of it down.
Keep the momentum up. Just like a snowball rolling down the hill, don’t stop when that one card you chose to focus on is paid down. Take the same amount of money you were allocating toward paying that first card, and start using it to pay your second smallest debt. And when you’ve erased that debt? Move on to the third smallest. You get the idea!
But in order to employ this strategy, it’s a good idea to get organized and create an outline for yourself of how much and when you’re going to pay off those debts, from smallest to largest.
And there are online tools that can help you with this step. For example, Derek Sall, a finance blogger and book author who lives debt-free after having successfully paid off more than $54,000 in debt, created a debt repayment spreadsheet tool, specifically for people who want to use the snowballing strategy (and free for anyone to download on his website). The spreadsheet (the very beginnings of which are seen above) allows users to track their repayment and calculate exactly how long paying off your debts will take.
The neatly organized template (which has a lot of the tough stuff figured out for you already) also has a step-by-step guide, so you can start plugging in numbers as soon as you have it open on your computer. Being able to track your progress efficiently like this will be incredibly motivating, so refer to it often and update it as needed. Pretty soon, as you pay down more and more debts, you’ll find yourself working harder toward meeting each new goal. Because, sure, paying off credit cards isn’t the most fun thing in the world (it’s right down there with cleaning the bathroom and other unpleasant chores), but being able to track your success in small bite-sized goals will make it a lot less painful.
How This App Could Steal your Face to Make Porn
Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Perry West || 31 January 2018
A new app allows users to digitally alter pornography videos, placing the faces of celebrities onto the bodies of porn stars.
Called FakeApp, the program uses neural network technology to replace the faces of pornographic actors with celebrities, or, if enough video is available, with the faces of ordinary people.
The app does not require programming skills; it can be used by anyone with the kind of computer capable of running detailed video games.
Father Sean Kilcawley, director of marriage and family life ministries in the Diocese of Lincoln, and a nationally recognized speaker on the theology of the body, said fake pornography is as spiritually damaging to the soul as any other porn, but socially, the trend has the potential to be uniquely destructive.
“Pornography is pornography, in terms of it being evil. It’s always evil. [Fake pornography] is not anything that is actually brand new because there have been fake pornography photos for a very long time,” he told CNA.
“One of the dangers of this technology, though, is that some kid is going to take some girl’s yearbook photo and put her on a porn stars body,” he said.
The creator of the app has expressed hope that his face-swamping platform will become more available and accessible.
“Eventually, I want to improve it to the point where prospective users can simply select a video on their computer, download a neural network correlated to a certain face from a publicly available library, and swap the video with a different face with the press of one button,” the app’s creator told Motherboard.
Matt Fradd, author of “The Porn Myth” and host to the podcast “Love People Use Things,” cautioned against the danger of the app, which he said will invade the celebrities’ privacy and inflict harm upon their reputation. “It will get to the point where we’re not really sure if whether Jennifer Aniston just did a porn film, or whoever the celebrity is, or if this is one of the AI things. So we are dragging people’s reputation through the mud and we are humiliating them,” Fradd told CNA.
But it won’t stop there, he continued.
“If they can do that with celebrities they can do that with your sister or with your mom if they wanted to.”
Father Kilcawley agreed, cautioning that face-swapping pornography will damage reputations and self-esteem.
“For the humiliation a girl would have if they put her face on a porn star’s body, and then sent the video around to everybody in school … Not only [damaging their reputation] but simply damaging them.”
The new technology, he said, follows a trend set by “revenge pornography” – a social media practice in which angry exes distribute nude photos or videos of former romantic partners.
“There has been a spike in suicides [because of] revenge pornography among young people, Kilcawley said.
A 2015 BBC analysis found that of 1,160 reported revenge pornography cases in England, 30 percent of the victims were under the age of 19.
With the ability to feed an algorithm photos found online, Father Kilcawley expressed concern that face-swapping porn videos will also be used for revenge pornography, and, because of the advancements in technology, they will be even more damaging to young women than real photos or videos.
“It will be equally dangerous to someone’s soul who would be consuming it, but I think socially it may inflict a lot more damage than we are thinking about right now,” he said.
Fradd told CNA that Catholics should respond to pornography with the wisdom of the Church.
“I think the Church has the answer to what is the human person and how we can be happy, just like the nutritionist has the answer to what should I be eating if I want a healthy body,” he said.
Pointing to John Paul II’s theology of the body, Fradd said the only proper response to the human person is love, and pornography always contradicts love.
“Wojtyla says the human person is a good to which the only proper and adequate attitude is love, but when we consume pornography we are always engaging in something contrary to love, namely use.”
Source: Catholic News Agency…
Top 10 Most Followed African Celebrities on Social Media
AllAfrica || By Njideka Agbo || 27 January 2018
Senegalese rapper, Akon, and Egyptian striker, Mohamed Salah, are the two most followed Africans on popular social media channels, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, the African Social Media Power Report: Top 50 Footballers and Entertainers revealed yesterday.
The Power 50 which was combined by a Lagos-based sports communication company, CampsBay Media, weighs the influence African pop culture stars and football personalities have on social media.
According to Lolade Adewuyi, chief strategist at CampsBay Media,
"In a world where social media continues to play a big role, the influence of African entertainers and footballers, the crème of popular culture on our continent, continues to fascinate and that is why we have compiled this list"
"We have tried as much as possible to gather the top African pop and sport stars into the list in order to show their influence across the three key social media platforms of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We hope that the Power Report will be an annual ranking to gauge their growing impact as well as enable market planners and researchers to see the possibilities inherent in their influence."
Personalities from 12 countries are represented on the list with the top 10 places filled by Akon, Salah, footballer Didier Drogba, Moroccan stand-up comedian Gad el Maleh, South African comedian and TV show host Trevor Noah, Cameroonian footballer Samuel Eto'o, Moroccan actor Jamel Debbouze, Nigerian singer Davido and South African actress Charlize Theron.
Altogether,13 actors/actresses, 14 singers, nine rappers, eight footballers, four comedians and two music producers/DJs make up the Top 50 list.
The Power 50 has a combined following of almost 400million.
You’re Never Too Old to Become a Creative Person
Aleteia || By Chloe Langr || 24 January 2018
If you were discouraged from your artistic leanings when you were younger, this is for you!
For those of us who struggle to see ourselves as creative, there’s often a lot of shame around creativity in our life narrative. We’ve been told that creativity isn’t going to pay the bills, or that creating art is just self indulgence. Perhaps a teacher once told you to focus on math and science because you weren’t creative enough when it came to writing and art. Maybe you struggle with creativity because it was discouraged when you were a child. Or maybe a parent or loved one mentioned that you aren’t any good at drawing, writing poetry, or dancing. You have art scars to heal from.
What are art scars and why should we heal work to heal them? “One reason that I’m confident that shame exists in schools is simply because 85 percent of the men and women we interviewed for the shame research could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming that it changed how they thought of themselves as learners,” Brene Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly. “What makes this even more haunting is that approximately half of those recollections were what I refer to as creativity scars. The research participants could point to a specific incident where they were told or shown that they weren’t good writers, artists, musicians, dancers, or something creative.”
These art scars, present even in adulthood long after we graduate from school, help explain why shame is so powerful when it comes to creativity and innovation in our world today.
Everyone needs to experience creativity in some shape or form. “I used to believe that there were creative people and there were non-creative people,” Brene writes. “But now I absolutely understand personally and professionally from the data that there is no such thing as non-creative people. There are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t.” You’re not called just to consume creative works. You’re also called to be creative and contribute to the beauty of this world.
What happens when you don’t take time to heal from your art scars and tap into your creativity? Nothing good, unfortunately. “Unused creativity isn’t benign,” Brene explains. “It metastasizes into resentment, grief and heartbreak. People sit on their creativity and deny it and it festers.” If you’re realizing that you need to heal from art scares and embrace creativity in your adult life, here are five practical tips from Brene’s research.
Know that you’re not defined by your scars
It can be easy to get weighed down from people’s harsh criticisms about something you created. “We must care for and nurture the stories we tell ourselves about our creativity and ability,” Brene Brown writes on her blog. “Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.”
Don’t be afraid to dig into the story of your art scars in order to heal from them. What did you love to do as a child? Do you have a memory that involves being shamed about something you created as a child? What false beliefs were established about your creativity during that moment of shame?
Find inspiration in boredom
We live in a world where there is no lack of stimulation. If you’re bored for a couple of minutes at the stop sign, you may be tempted to pull out your cellphone and do a quick e-mail check. During the minutes before a meeting starts at work, the siren call of your cellphone can lure you into browsing social media just to pass time. But instead of plugging into your phone and filling a few minutes of spare time, use that time to be bored. “The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom,” Susan Sontag wrote. Look out of your car window and notice the colors of the trees, or the people walking on the sidewalk. Revel in boredom and see what creativity is sparked in moments of absolutely unstructured time.
People who have healed from their art scars and embrace their creativity are described as whole-hearted people in Brene Brown’s research. These people are able to create, relax, and play. If you’re not sure what play means, don’t worry, neither was Brene at first. “Researcher Stuart Brown, MD, describes play as time spent without purpose. To me this sounds like the definition of an anxiety attack,” Brene writes. “I feel behind if I’m not using every last moment to be productive, whether that means working, cleaning the house or taking my son to baseball practice. But I can’t ignore what the research (mine and others’) tells us: Play — doing things just because they’re fun and not because they’ll help achieve a goal — is vital to human development.”
Write a creative bucket list
When I look at my creative bucket list, it seems like my dreams are all over the place. I want to knit in the winter in front of a fireplace, and plant a salsa garden in the summer. I want to make creme brulee for my friends with a blowtorch in the kitchen, and write the book that I know I’m able to create. But if I don’t get those ideas out of my mind and onto a piece of paper, they’ll stay as dreams.
“Create a play list,” Brene recommends. “Write down three activities you could do for hours on end. Mine are reading, editing photos on my computer and playing Ping-Pong with my family. Now carve out time on your calendar. Even when I’m busiest, I schedule unstructured time. It’s important to protect playtime the way you protect work, church or PTA meetings. Play well with others. When my husband and kids made their own play lists, we realized that our usual vacations, which involved sightseeing, weren’t really anyone’s idea of play. So now we go places where we can hike, swim and play cards — things that make us all our most silly, creative and free-spirited selves.”
How many of us have journals that sit on our bookshelves, empty? We’re afraid that if we write in them, they won’t be beautiful. We’ll mess them up, somehow. But if you struggle with an art scar that centers on someone not appreciating your art when you showed it to them, journaling is a great way to begin to heal from that scar. Because journaling is meant to be a private creative process, there is no obligation to show anyone what your work is.
So pick up a journal and fill the blank pages with anything. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a poem, or just doodle. Use your journal to express your creativity and grow from what you find on the page after you take a step back and look at what you’ve created. Don’t be intimidated by the empty pages, or the fear that you may mess up and not create something perfect. Without any expectations for perfection, dive in and see what beauty you can create with a pencil, pen, or paintbrush.
AU to Spearhead Launch of Single African Air Transport Market
AllAfrica || African Union || 22 January 2018
African Union Commission gears up to launch highly-anticipated Single African Sky
The African Union Commission is set to launch the first AU Agenda 2063 Flagship project, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 28th January 2018 as a historic event at the African Union Summit, nearly two decades after the adoption of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision.
Speaking ahead of the launch event, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union Commission said "With preparations continuing on schedule, the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market will spur more opportunities to promote trade, cross-border investments in the production and service industries, including tourism resulting in the creation of an additional 300,000 direct and two million indirect jobs contributing immensely to the integration and socio-economic growth of the continent."
The Commissioner stated that the aviation industry currently supports eight million jobs in Africa and hence SAATM was created with the aim of enhancing connectivity, facilitating trade and tourism, creating employment, and ensuring that the industry plays a more prominent role in the global economy and significantly contributing to the AU's Agenda 2063.
"The AU Summit will also see the adoption of the regulatory text of the Yamoussoukro Decision, that is, the competition and consumer protection regulations that safeguards the efficient operation of the market," the Commissioner added.
An exhibition billed "Flying the AU Agenda 2063 for an integrated, peaceful and prosperous Africa" will be unveiled to mark the launch, as well as ribbon cutting and the inauguration of the commemorative plaque.
So far, 23 African countries out of 55 have subscribed to the Single African Air Transport Market whereas 44 African countries signed the Yamoussoukro Decision.
"The African Union Commission, under the leadership and personal commitment of H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, has been playing a key coordinating role in the establishment of the Single African Air Transport Market and advocacy to AU Member States, who have not yet committed to the solemn commitment, to do so," the Commissioner intimated.
The African Union Commission (AUC), the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) are also advising African countries to open their skies for enhancement of connectivity and efficiency of air services in the continent.
"As the first of the 12 African Union's Agenda 2063 flagship projects to be launched, the implementation of SAATM will pave the way for other flagship projects as the African Passport and enabling the Free Movement of People, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA)," Commissioner Abou-Zeid stressed.
The Declaration on the establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market, as a flagship project of the AU Agenda 2063, was adopted by the African Union (AU) Assembly in January 2015. Immediately thereafter, eleven (11) AU Member States declared their Solemn Commitment to establish a Single African Air Transport Market through full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999 that provides for full liberalization of market access between African States, free exercise of traffic rights, elimination of restrictions on ownership and full liberalization of frequencies, fares and capacities.
To date, the number of Member States that have adhered to the Solemn Commitment has reached twenty-three (23), namely: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.
Love is in the Air: Pope Marries Couple Mid-flight During Chile Visit
Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Elise Harris || 18 January 2018
In his five years in office, Pope Francis gained a reputation for tossing protocol and embracing spontaneity. Today, he did it again with another papal first: marrying two flight attendants on board his flight from Santiago to Iquique.
According to journalists traveling with the Pope, the couple – Paula Podesta and Carlos Ciuffardi – went to the Pope during the Jan. 18 flight to ask for his blessing.
The couple told Francis they had been civilly married, but had not been able to get married in the Church because their parish was destroyed in the massive 8.8 earthquake that rocked Santiago in 2010.
In response, the Pope offered to marry them on the spot. Ignacio Cueto, owner of the airline company, LATAM, was a witness in the ceremony.
According to Ciuffardi, who spoke briefly with journalists after the ceremony, the Pope asked the couple if they were married yet, and when they explained why they hadn't been married in the Church, he said “do you want to get married?”
The Pope, Ciuffardi said, asked them “Are you sure, absolutely sure?” They said yes, gave the Pope thier rings and asked Cueto if he would be a witness. The Pope then blessed the rings, placed their hands together, offered some brief reflections and pronounced them man and wife.
According to Ciuffardi, Francis told them what happened “was historic,” because “never has a Pope married a couple on a plane.”
Referring to the rings, Francis jested that they shouldn’t be too tight, because “they would be a torture,” nor too loose, because they might lose them.
Since they didn't have an official marriage certificate to sign, Pope Francis asked the cardinals with him to draft one, so they grabbed a piece of blank copy paper and each signed their names and what role they played in the ceremony. One of the cardinals also signed as a witness.
The Pope gave the couple two rosaries, Podesta received a white rosary and Ciuffardi a black one.
The couple – who have two children, Rafaela, 6, and Isabela, 3 – said they will be traveling with the Pope to Iquique, and from there will take a different flight to another destination, and will celebrate after.
“It was something historic, really. Very exciting. What he told us was very important: he told us 'this is the sacrament that the world needs, the sacrament of marriage. Hopefully, this will motivate couples around the world to get married’,” Ciuffardi said.
Source: Catholic News Agency…
Houses to Go: Family that Heard Africa Priest’s Plea Offered a Solution
Aleteia || By John Burger || 13 January 2018
Heirs of Argentine architect provide housing for mission in Togo.
A missionary priest from Africa speaks at a church in Maryland, raising money to house teachers in his new Catholic school.
Some folks sitting in the congregation just happen to be the descendants of a prominent architect who had designed sturdy, affordable houses for low-income people.
The encounter leads to a project called St. Joseph Homestead International, which is gearing up to build the houses in West Africa this summer.
The visiting priest is Fr. William Ryan, an American who has been serving at Our Lady of Guadalupe mission in the village of Atchanvé, Togo, for about 12 years. The family is that of Tony von Pieschel, whose grandfather was the noted modernist Argentinean architect Antonio U. Vilar.
“My father had inherited these affordable housing plans from his grandfather,” said Angie Cummings, who was visiting von Pieschel from West Virginia when Fr. Ryan was speaking. “He said, ‘You know what? These might work. We haven’t built them yet, but we could ask Fr. Ryan.'”
Fr. Ryan asked the family if they could build a prototype, see how it works, and raise money for the project. The family accepted the challenge.
Cummings said in an interview that she and her husband, Gary, and five or six volunteers, none of whom had any building experience, found the plans to be “so simple” and built a prototype in a warehouse in Kearneysville, West Virginia. They will be disassembling it and putting it in a container to be shipped to Togo for re-assembly in July.
Fr. Ryan told the family that missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students work with him every summer and that they might be able to help with the construction.
Atchanvé is located about two and a half hours north of Lomé, the capital of Togo. The mission encompasses a large rural area of more than three dozen villages. It takes about an hour and a half to drive from one end of the parish to the other over very bad roads. There are 13 “secondary stations” in the parish: villages where a lay catechist leads the people in prayers on Sundays and offers baptismal preparation and faith formation.
The religious makeup of the former French colony is 51 percent indigenous beliefs, 29 percent Christian and 20 percent Muslim, according to the CIA Factbook.
Fr. Ryan, who first lived in Togo as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s, discerned a vocation to the priesthood there. He was ordained in the Archdiocese of Washington in 1980 but asked his bishop for permission to work in Togo. He has built a church, brought in an order of sisters and dug wells.
Recently, Cummings said, “he started really focusing on building schools, and that has brought a lot of the kids in the other villages to come to these schools and it’s been a great evangelization tool. He’s focused on finding housing for the kids. If they’re from really far away they can stay there for the week.”
In order to encourage talented educators from the city to commit to teaching at the school, Fr. Ryan needs to provide decent housing for them as well.
Von Pieschel, who serves as president and treasurer of St. Joseph Homestead International, had already been keeping his grandfather’s legacy alive. The foundation’s website said that after he saw some of the living conditions in Guatemala, he revised and recreated the designs. He said in an interview that each house has about 300 square feet of living space, with a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom. The material, a type of cement board, uses synthetic reinforcing fibers along engineered lines, comparable in strength to US residential and architectural siding. The website says the plans consist of a “patented system that uses eco-friendly materials and a unique assembly system that make it very easy to assemble by volunteers.” Ten houses, disassembled, can be packed into a cargo ship container. This makes it an attractive option for natural disaster relief.
Antonio Vilar, the original designer, was a “devout Catholic who was a tireless educator and supporter of trade schools to help better the lives of the less fortunate,” von Pieschel said. “He saw firsthand the substandard living conditions of families in areas from the northern desert border to Bolivia to the farthest south in Patagonia.”
Over the years, “several iterations [of Vilar’s plans] were built with the aim to design a low-cost house with a minimum of decent living conditions for raising a family,” said von Pieschel. He said that about a dozen such houses were built for a mini-urban development in Buenos Aires. “They were later assigned to the Medical Sciences University (UBA) and used as outreach clinics and preschool care,” he said.
Now they will be put to use on a very different continent.
Hindu Activists in India Beat Eight Priests, Torch Car, for Singing Christmas Carols
UCA News || By Saji Thomas, Bhopal || 15 December 2017
Hindu activists have beaten eight priests and torched their vehicle outside a central Indian police station.
The assault victims had been attempting to assist 30 seminarians and two priests arrested on Dec. 14 for allegedly trying to convert non-Christians.
Trouble started when the group from St. Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna town of Madhaya Pradesh state went to a local village to sing Christmas carols.
Father George Mangalappally said that as they were singing an angry mob started shouting slogans against what they regarded as conversion activities.
"One of them called police and demanded action against us," Fr. Mangalappally said.
A police officer, on condition of anonymity, stated that after being arrested and charged the carolers were kept in 'protective custody' because of fears they would be attacked if released immediately.
Father Anish Emmanuel was among those who went to the police station to aid the carolers.
However, about 100 Hindus attacked them in the police compound, Father Emmanuel said.
"We were beaten up in front of the police, but they did nothing," he complained.
"They set our vehicle on fire, forcing us to take shelter inside the police station."
Father Maria Stephen, a spokesperson for the regional bishops' council, said this kind of attack raised serious questions about a lack of religious freedom.
The Catholics were detained on charges of violating a state law that makes it a criminal offence to attempt to convert any one using fraud, inducement or allurement.
Bishop Joseph Kodakkailil of Satna told ucanews.com that a villager had falsely claimed he was offered 5,000 rupees (US$65) to convert to Christianity.
He said missioners in the diocese had been experiencing hostility for the past two years.
Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that records persecutions against Christians, said the latest violence constituted the 48th attack on Christian carolers in India this Christmas season.
Overall, more than 650 attacks on minority Christians have been reported in the Hindu-majority nation so far in 2017.
Source: UCA News…
Record Number of Journalists in African Jails - Media Watchdog
AllAfrica || News24Wire || 14 December 2017
At least 262 journalists have been jailed for doing their job around the world, and 66 of these, are in Africa - as of December 1, says a media watchdog.
According to a Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) prison census 2017 report, as of December 1, sub Saharan countries had arrested at least 39 journalists, while north African countries had arrested 27.
The north African power house, Egypt, remained at number 1 in Africa, with at least 20 journalists in its prisons, while Eritrea with 16 came in in second place.
A surprise inclusion on the list of countries that had arrested journalists was Uganda at number 3 after it arrested at least 8 red pepper reporters in November.
Speaking during an interview with News24, Angela Quintal, who is the CPJ Africa programme co-ordinator said that such a development in Africa was against the tenets of democracy and the African Union's press freedom declaration.
'Something to fear'
"We have many government laws that seek to close down democratic spaces. They are many cyber laws that African countries are introducing to clamp down on journalists. Those laws most often are broad and are against the principles of democracy as well as the African Union declaration," said Quintal.
Quintal said that they were many African leaders who presented the media as "something to fear" and they were against press freedoms.
She said that this was an issue of concern, not only for media practitioners, but for everyone who was often targeted by various African governments.
Said Quintal: "Journalist have the power of holding governments accountable. This is one of the reasons why too many governments are against journalists. Ethiopia for example, is the home of the African Union headquarters, but look at how it is violating journalists' rights. They are many other countries which are doing exactly the same, and others are just quite and not speaking up."
The CPJ report indicated that the political standoff in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) under President Joseph Kabila had also quickly escalated the arrest of journalists, with at least five journalists believed to be in custody.
Meanwhile, although it had released at least 11 journalists the previous year, Ethiopia remained among the worst jailers, with five reporters in the country's prisons. At least four journalists were anguishing Moroccan jails, while Algeria had two reporters behind bars .
Cameroon, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea, Congo Brazzaville, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia all had at least one reporter inside their prisons.
The report said that media freedom around the world had fallen to the lowest level for at least a decade, with journalists being threatened by government censorship, organised crime and commercial pressures caused by the growth of the internet.