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Why 'Silence Breakers' are Key in any Abuse Crisis

 Catholic News Agency (CNA) By Mary Rezac 10 December 2017

silence breakers key to abuse crisisThis week, TIME Magazine announced a group of women and men as their collective Person of the Year.

What do these people have in common? They are what TIME called “The Silence Breakers” - people who have blown the whistle on sexual assault and abuse within the workplace, largely in the industries of film, politics, and media.

In recent months an avalanche of abuse allegations have been brought to light against powerful figures, starting most notably with a piece in the New York Times in which several women accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. This sparked a flood of men and women coming forward with other allegations of abuse against numerous people in positions of power.

“These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought,” TIME reported.

Not long ago, the Catholic Church in the United States was reeling from its own sex abuse crisis. In the early 2000s, reporters at the Boston Globe broke the story of a former priest who was accused of molesting more than 100 boys over 30 years, which led to a large-scale uncovering of thousands more allegations of abuse in dioceses throughout the country.

Since then, the Church has taken care to provide numerous resources to such victims, and develop robust child protection policies.

Edward Mechmann, director of public policy and the safe environment office for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA that the “silence breakers” who came forward and continue to come forward with accusations of abuse by clergy and Church personnel are key in maintaining a safe environment in the Church.

“I think the one thing we have to make sure we understand is who the whistleblowers are, and for the most part, the whistleblowers are victims,” Mechmann said.

“As much as the outside observers like the Boston Globe and the media in general contributed to our awareness of the scope of the problem, we would really be nowhere unless we had some of these courageous victims coming forward, because without them, we would have many more men in service who are victimizers,” he added.

It is especially important that victims come forward in order to protect others from abuse, he noted, because in some cases, abusers have victimized numerous people over the span many years.

Recently, the Church has seen victims coming forward “much more willingly now, because they see that we’re serious, they see that we’re not going to victimize them again, and they see concrete results” such as accused persons being removed from ministry, he said.

“The first and most important thing we do is we listen to them, and I can’t tell you how important that is,” Mechmann said.

“So many people that come in to see us are afraid, they’ve been victimized, they’re afraid they’re going to be victimized again, and just the fact that we listen to them is just an enormously healing thing,” he said.

Besides listening to victims, Mechmann said the Church also provides support through counseling and through talking with victims about the Church’s internal processes for dealing with cases of abuse.

“And we stay in contact with them, if they want to stay in contact with us, we walk with them,” he added.

 Dr. Benjamin Keyes, a Catholic psychologist and Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, told CNA that supporting and encouraging victims who come forward is of the utmost importance. “There’s a whole lot of relief that someone has finally heard the story...they’re no longer isolated with the information, and how well they fare afterwards really depends on what happens around them,” he said. “Are they supported, are there people in their network, whether it's family, friends, or co-workers, that really understand and really support them in the courage that it takes to do this?”

Sometimes it can takes months or even years for victims of abuse to break the silence on what happened to them, Keyes said, because there is usually “a lot of embarrassment, a lot of shame involved, and most people, women in particular, don’t want to expose that to the public or to others, even to those who are close to (them),” he said.

The fear of retaliation or retribution is also something that can keep victims from coming forward, especially if the abuse came from someone who is in a position of power over the victim, Keyes noted.

 For these reasons, victims need encouragement and support from the Church in order to feel comfortable coming forward.

“The Church can be supportive, especially in the parishes, (by) making it safe for (whistleblowers) to be who they are, by acknowledging the courage that it took for them to do that, and to be supportive vocally within the body of the Church so that people hear that the Church is supporting it,” he said.

Supporting victims also involves “making sure that they stay networked into not only the activities that they’ve been involved with, but that they stay networked into the body of the Church, so that they don’t walk away,” he added.

The parish priest, as well as members of the parish community, are especially key in making victims feel welcomed and supported, he noted, which can be done simply by including them and befriending them.

“We’re taught in the Bible to love and to love unconditionally, and this is part of that,” Keyes said.

“It’s embracing the broken places and binding up the suffering and reaching out to the broken-hearted, and we’re called as Christians, not just as counselors, to do that,” he added.

Since the sex abuse crisis in the Church in the United States, the bishops have put into place numerous policies and practices to protect victims, and especially children from sexual abuse, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for Child and Youth Protection, which calls for an annual audit and report of all the dioceses in the country.

The Church has also implemented safe environment trainings that call for a zero-tolerance policy of abuse in Church environments.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is really good,” Mechmann said, regarding the silence breakers in media and politics who have recently come forward.

“Maybe the world as a whole could learn a little bit from the way that we have handled this, in terms of creating a clear corporate culture of zero tolerance. Transparency is at the heart of what we’ve done, and I hope that some of these other industries can do the same.”

Source: Catholic News Agency… 


Disgraced Former Anglican Bishop Becoming Catholic to ‘live and worship in anonymity’

Catholic Herald || By Staff Reporter || 07 December 2017

former anglican bishop becoming catholicPeter Ball is reportedly in discussions about joining the Catholic Diocese of Clifton

An Anglican bishop who was jailed for sexually abusing 18 young men is converting to Catholicism to “live and worship in anonymity”.

Peter Ball, who was Bishop of Lewes and of Gloucester for the Church of England, was jailed for 32 months in October 2015 for offences dating back to the 1970s.

A spokesman confirmed that he has been in talks to join the Catholic Diocese of Clifton, although he is unlikely to take Holy Orders.

The Daily Mail reports that his identical twin brother Michael, who served as an Anglican bishop, sent an email to friends and relatives revealing the plan.

“The events of the last years and rightly or wrongly the battering by the Church have totally wearied and reduced us,” Michael said. “We will probably [sic] be joining the Roman Catholic Church soon.

“We love The Church of England but would like to end our days in a church where we can live and worship in anonymity and without constant fear.”

Michael Ball mistakenly sent the message to a BBC journalist, who showed it to Peter Saunders, a member of the Vatican commission for protecting minors.

“It’s not surprising they are moving to another church,” Saunders said. “If the Catholic hierarchy welcome [Peter Ball] I hope they put in place every possible safeguard so that people know something about his background and he can never, ever pose a threat to children or young people again.”

He also said it was “disgusting” that the brothers were acting as though victims.

The Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton said: “We confirm Peter Ball has been in contact with the Roman Catholic diocese of Clifton, in which diocese he now lives, expressing an interest in becoming a member of the Catholic Church.

“This matter is subject to discussions between Clifton diocese and the statutory authorities, who are the lead with regards to Peter Ball’s risk management in the community.

“The Church of England authorities including their safeguarding team are aware of this request.”

Source: Catholic Herald… 


Thirty-two Catholic Fishermen Dead, as Cyclone Hits India

UCA News || By Ajith Lawrence, Thiruvananthapuram, India || 04 December 2017

catholic fishermen dead in indiaMore than 200 also missing after gusts and heavy rain lash Kerala and Tamil Nadu states

A cyclone on the southern Indian coast over the weekend claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and 200 more were missing.

Thousands of other coastal residents had shifted into relief camps.

Gusty winds and heavy rains began to lash the coast near the southern tip of India on Thursday after a depression near Sri Lanka developed into a cyclone.

The 'very severe cyclone' named Ockhi had reduced intensity by Monday to become a 'severe cyclone'.

The confirmed deaths were in Kerala and Tamil Nadu states, according to government sources.

All the dead are Catholic men who had gone out to sea, said Father V. Wilfred, priest of Vizhinjam parish, a fishing village near Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

The cyclone was unexpected as fishermen were still on the sea, Father Wilfred explained.

Antony Silvaster, a Catholic fisherman in the fishing village of Vizhinjam, said there was no warning.

He added that the fact that 200 fishermen are still missing suggested the death toll would rise.

Worst affected was the coastal area near India's southern tip, a Catholic stronghold which comes under the Latin rite.

Archbishop Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum and local priests were touring the area arranging relief supplies for displaced people.

The Kerala state government had opened a total of 29 relief camps to house some 3,000 people of some 500 families.

Some 200 houses were destroyed completely, state Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty Amma told local media.

Father Justin Jude of Poonthura said the people also lost boats and nets.

The government should provide adequate compensation to help them begin life anew, he said.

The priest added that it was rare for cyclones to hit India's west coast, unlike the cyclone-prone eastern Indian coast.

The last major cyclone on Kerala's coast was in 1941, which killed 62 people and destroyed some 50,000 homes, local media reported.

Source: UCA News… 


Priests in Britain Must Violate Seal of Confessional, Inquiry Told

Catholic Herald || By Staff Reporter || 28 November 2017

priests in britain to violate seal of confessionalAn Inquiry into child sex abuse heard that priests should be forced to reveal Confessions in such cases

British priests should be compelled to break the Seal of the Confessional in cases of child abuse, a lawyer has told a national inquiry.

Solicitor David Enright, representing former pupils at a Comboni missionary school, said it was a problem that “matters revealed in Confession, including child abuse, cannot be used in governance”.

“One can’t think of a more serious obstacle embedded in the law of the Catholic Church to achieving child protection.”

He added: “The Catholic Church is so opaque, so disparate, so full of separate bodies who are not subject to any authority that it is difficult to see how reform can be made to provide good governance and introduce acceptable standards of child protection.”

Enright was speaking at the opening of a three-week hearing into abuse at English Benedictine schools.

His recommendation echoes a suggestion heard in August by Australia’s royal commission on child abuse, which prompted Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne to say he would go to jail rather than violate the Seal.

The Catechism says the seal of Confession is “inviolable” and any priest who violates it incurs automatic excommunication.

The hearing into two English Benedictine independent schools, Ampleforth and Downside, is the latest segment of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – thought to be the biggest public inquiry ever established in England and Wales.

Lawyers representing the Benedictines expressed regret for past abuse. Kate Gallafent QC, for the English Benedictine Congregation, said there had been “intense sadness at the anguish caused to so many people”. Matthias Kelly QC, speaking for Ampleforth, said: “We wish to apologise for the hurt, distress and damage done to those who suffered abuse when in our care. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is no repetition.”

Source: Catholic Herald…


EWTN Launches On-demand Access to 12,000 Programs

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || 21 November 2017

ewtn releases content on demandEWTN Global Catholic Network has introduced a new service allowing free on-demand access to a large library of its video content, with more than 12,000 programs available, and more being added regularly.

“EWTN On Demand has something for everyone,” said EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw in a statement on Friday.

“There’s nothing to fill out, no membership required, and no fees to pay. All you need is an Internet connection and you are good to go,” said EWTN President Doug Keck.

“No one has more hours of Catholic programming on demand than EWTN,” Keck said.

Available at www.ewtn.com/ondemand, the new on-demand service offers content including news, answers to common questions about faith, and book recommendations.

“From news shows like ‘EWTN News Nightly,’ ‘The World Over,’ and ‘EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,’ to classics like ‘Mother Angelica Live,’ ‘Fr. Spitzer’s Universe,’ and ‘Called to Communion,’ EWTN On Demand has you covered!” Warsaw said.

Other available programs include ‘EWTN Live,’ ‘Vaticano,’ ‘Life on the Rock,’ ‘Threshold of Hope,’ and ‘EWTN Bookmark.’ More content will be added to the on-demand collection in the future, the network said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network was launched in 1981 by Mother Angelica of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. The largest religious media network in the world, it reaches more than 270 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

In addition to 11 television channels in multiple languages, EWTN platforms include radio services through shortwave and satellite radio, SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 AM & FM affiliates. EWTN publishes the National Catholic Register, operates a religious goods catalogue, and in 2015 formed EWTN Publishing in a joint venture with Sophia Institute Press. Catholic News Agency is also part of the EWTN family.

Source: Catholic News Agency…


The Frustration of Those Who Can’t Find a Job

Aleteia || By Javier Fiz Perez || 20 November 2017

frustration of not finding jobUnemployment has serious psychological and social effects. Those who suffer from it often experience profound existential dissatisfaction.

Work is a means of economic survival and a vehicle for a person to develop their social, political, cultural, and personal life. Employment is also a source of health or sickness — of physical, psychological, and social well-being or illness. Consequently, work-related changes and crises are very relevant from a psychological point of view.

In many places, the world of work suffers from two significant deficiencies: on one hand, there is a limited supply of work, and on the other, the available jobs are often low-quality. A precarious job market makes societies more vulnerable, and is an important public health problem.

Unemployment: A psychosocial problem

Currently, unemployed people aged 45 or older—often the victims of downsizing, outsourcing, and other situations that take place under new management models—suffer a worrisome instability caused by serious difficulties finding a new job.

The psychological and social effects of unemployment are numerous and serious; in short, they cause malaise and dissatisfaction with one’s current life situation. Here are some of these effects in more detail:

Existential uncertainty and confusion, pessimism, depression, despair, and demoralization

Feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, and defenselessness, and of failure, inefficiency, frustration, and injustice

Low self-esteem

Disorganization of one’s daily routine

Lack of a defined role, of status, power, prestige, and social identity and recognition

Economic, social, ideological, and moral dependence

Limitation of social interactions due to the lack of ties with work-related social groups

Alienation from one’s profession, because of obsolescence and the degeneration of work competency, and because one’s career plans become unrealizable

Destruction of one’s personal, professional, and organizational plans

An incapacity to build a meaningful autobiographical work narrative; avoidance of unemployment by recourse to social refuges (early retirement, sickness, disability, being a student or a housewife …) or to unhealthy and false escapes such as alcohol, tobacco, prescription medications or other drugs

Source: Aleteia…


South Sudan Needs Bold Alternatives, Not This Dumpster Fire of Failed Interventions

IRIN || By Alan Boswell || 15 November 2017

bold alternatives needed for south sudanNicki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, did not mince her words. "We are not waiting anymore. We need to see a change,” she announced after meeting South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on a visit to Juba last month. “We have lost trust in the government."

Haley has steadily escalated her rhetoric against Kiir throughout the first year of President Donald Trump’s administration. However, this rhetoric still awaits a clear policy, while the international community is continuing to back a failed power-sharing agreement instead of seeking bold alternatives to end the war.

As I wrote here a year ago, South Sudan’s collapse is a product of its winner-take-all political competition in a country that is, fundamentally, a stateless union of ethnopolitical blocs. 

The volatile combustion that this radical experiment produced continues to erupt and spill over, with estimates of 100,000 killed, and 6.2 million – more than half the population – in need of aid.


The downward spiral of political dissolution continues. Kiir’s own political coalition continues to shrink. The rebels lack ammunition, let alone enough guns. Government soldiers go unpaid. Fighters from both groups regularly desert to Uganda for food. 

Both sides of the conflict are now more focused on internal fighting than the wider war. In Kajo Keji, in southern Equatoria, two competing opposition forces under rebel leaders Riek Machar and Thomas Cirillo Swaka recently clashed for days in a bitter turf war until the government seized the opportunity and routed both groups. 

Along the Uganda border, I met yet another wave of fleeing refugees as local elders described their failed attempts to mediate between the two rebel camps.

Meanwhile, Kiir’s Dinka power base is cracking along clan lines, as evidenced in the standoff with his former army chief Paul Malong Awan, whom Kiir arrested and put under house arrest in Juba. 

It has escalated into an especially bitter feud between Kiir’s Warrap and the neighbouring Dinka communities of Malong’s Aweil, which supplied the bulk of Kiir’s fighting force for the war against Machar’s rebel SPLA-IO since 2014. 

In private, senior Juba officials readily admit the severity of the dispute, with one describing it as a “time bomb”.

No end is in sight to South Sudan’s misery. The deadly fighting season, when rains dry up, is fast approaching. Neighbouring countries must prepare for even more refugees.

South Sudan is politically insolvent and, if lives matter, too big to fail. If it were a bank, regulators would propose it be wound down or restructured. Since it is an African state, we prefer to keep piling it back up – each time with more and more debt of justice unpaid – and throw our hands in the air when it falls back apart. 

Trump’s administration can rightly complain it was handed a lousy baton by former president Barack Obama, whose policy on South Sudan had collapsed. In the Obama administration’s final months, the country it midwived to independence in 2011 was declared at risk of genocide by the UN as hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed out of the country. There was no peace process.

Back to IGAD

However, the United States is directing its new diplomatic energy towards pressuring South Sudan into a new push to “revitalise” the Obama administration’s failed 2015 peace accord, based on the mediation of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development. 

The decision to continue with the embrace of the collapsed IGAD power-sharing agreement is head-scratching, since South Sudan is one area where Trump’s proclivity for zigging wherever the Obama administration zagged is clearly a timely correction.

The last attempt to impose this peace accord failed in colossal fashion in July 2016, with the blast radius extending far past South Sudan's borders into Congo and Uganda as the civil war reignited.

Rather than diminishing the zero-sum fight for Juba driving the conflict, the IGAD deal upped the stakes. 

More groups mobilised across the country to join the new Kiir versus Machar structure – leading to an eruption of violence across South Sudan’s Equatoria region, hitherto not widely affected, prompting a mass exodus of refugees into Uganda as Machar was driven out of Juba.

The right lesson to derive from the peace accord's collapse was that solving South Sudan’s crisis by forcing Kiir and Machar together in Juba, with all their armies intact, to prepare in winner-take-all elections against each other, was a cure worse than the disease. 

The new approach from IGAD seems to assume that the previous approach only failed because it did not add enough aspiring rebel leaders into the mix.

The legacy of the last failed accord continues to reverberate. Machar’s marginalisation as a result of his exile in South Africa has encouraged a further fragmenting of the opposition and growth of rival rebel groups. 

Yet Machar’s SPLA-IO rebel movement, as the sole opposition signatory to the accord the world is now trying to “revitalise”, is resistant to an opposition realignment. The latest turf war in Kajo Keji is just one example.

Blind alley

South Sudan's dumpsite of failed policy interventions is now so cramped that policy makers have convinced themselves they have no room to manoeuvre. 

One failed initiative rests on the aborted foundations of previous ones. Pride, bureaucratic inertia, and the realities of multilateral diplomacy prevent starting anew.

The United States remains the leading global actor on South Sudan. But US diplomacy and leverage can only be helpfully applied if there is a larger vision for South Sudan beyond hopes that a state can be built in time for democratic elections and a nation will emerge from the rubble of ethnic cleansing. 

That vision should come from the South Sudanese themselves. They regularly circulate proposals for a restructured South Sudan that decentralises governance and the power structure, a similar approach applied positively in recent years in Kenya and Somalia. Others propose formally prescribing shared sovereignty through quota allotments and rotating executives.

The outside world's main contribution to South Sudan’s war has been to cement the conditions for its perpetuity. 

Clustered in regional capitals, biding their time for the next round of stalled political negotiations, South Sudan's opposition's greatest hope lies in the government imploding. 

This is the one thing the international community is most focused on preventing. International actions since 2013 have made clear that, to the rest of the world, the stability of the capital matters far more than ethnic cleansing throughout the countryside. 

The government is strengthened by the international presence and recognition; the international presence is justified by the government’s predation and neglect. They are there because we are there; we are there because they are there. This is the increasingly grim logic of South Sudan. 

Source: IRIN… 


Open Secret: The One Thing that can Prevent Sexual Harassment

Aleteia || By Elizabeth Scalia || 07 November 2017

preventing sexual harrassment 2017Begin with the pursuit of one unpopular virtue that is barely considered or even taught, and it's not the one you think.

Over the past month we’ve read a seemingly endless string of stories coming out of Hollywood and the news industry detailing the horrifying, sometimes sickening, acts of sexual harassment perpetrated against females, and sometimes males, and sometimes very young people of both sexes, by extremely powerful men.

With nearly every revelation, the abusive proclivities of all of them — from Harvey Weinstein to Brett Ratner to Kevin Spacey; from FOX News’ Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, to MSNBC’s Mark Halperin, and NPR’s Michael Oreskes  — are followed by two words: Open secret.

“Everyone knew”
In other words, as Rosie O’Donnell tweeted out — “everyone knew.” Everyone in Hollywood knew about what used to be called the “casting couch” (although, as Maureen O’Hara indicated, it reached beyond that) and who used it. Everyone in Hollywood knew, and still knows, about powerful people routinely exploiting less-powerful people who dream of becoming themselves powerful, one day.

And we know it’s true. We know that “everyone knew” because many of us who take only a passing interest in media gossip “knew it” too, if not in specifics then in broad theory.

Soon after the Weinstein revelation, designer Donna Karan shared (and quickly walked back) the opinion that sexually abused women in Hollywood were “asking for it.” Actor Mayim Bialik, apparently with good intentions, opined that women needed to be more sensitive as to how modestly or immodestly they dressed.

No one asks for this

Let’s be clear: women are never “asking for it.” No one is ever asking to be used and abused, objectified, and dehumanized. But there is a measure of truth in that how we present ourselves to the world, and how we socialize, is important. We should never permit ourselves to be placed in precarious or vulnerable positions in order to be social or to “get ahead” — not because such ambitions are “bad” but because bad people will always exploit an opportunity, and because — as David Mills has written — the fallen world isn’t fair.

Let’s take clarity even further: Choosing to dress with modesty and to socialize with a sense of self-restraint and some situational awareness are pure positives; they are decisions that contain nothing negative. They deliver an unspoken message: “I know who I am, and I belong to myself.”

That said, those good choices will not protect one from molestation by wicked people; modest dress that flaunts nothing can be a statement but it is never a shield. Burqa’d, women are raped. Women in religious garb are sexually assaulted. Little kids lit with innocence are abused. Their tender rays snuffed out, they are cast into lifelong shadows. I can say that last with certainty, because I was one of them, all properly dressed and instructed in how to sit, stand, and run “like a lady.”

Women can exploit and abuse, too

There are too many stories of grown men being similarly abused by people in authority (and more stories than one wants to hear about teenage boys being pursued and abused by females teachers) to pretend that only women are victims, and too many stories of children being abused to pretend that predation is simply about sexual inconstraint.

Here is the truth: Sexual aggression is all about power. It is always about someone who believes that he (or she) can control another. Their doing so serves a void — or a terrifying abyss — within them.

“Gotta serve someone”

A sexual aggressor acts in service to whatever is severely lacking, disturbed, and ill within themselves. In Strange Gods, I detail how our idols reflect us back to ourselves as we wish to be seen. For the Israelites wandering the desert, the golden calf represented power, “an affirmation of strength, wealth, and greatness, which they could confirm with their own eyes, mirrored back at them.” For these predators, their victimization of others reflects back to them a sense of power, control, mastery, and yes, even desirability.

How do we end sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse will always exist because we live within a fallen world full of souls wounded beyond our knowing — untreated, unhealed, and fully oozing their infections. It is easy to say “if only people were chaste, as God commands them to be chaste, these things would not happen,” but that is a false premise.

Yes, God does command us to be chaste; he also commands us to honor our parents, not kill, not steal, not covet, because without these rather limited guidelines, we’d leave our elderly parents to die in the elements, we’d steal whatever we craved, we’d kill within a moment’s fury, or even outside of it. We’d be fornicating without thought, without love, responsibility or commitment, and we’d be doing all of it with no eye toward our futures, our very meaning as created creatures.

God commands us to be chaste and we ought to be, within the scope of our lives, but that will not end the sexual exploitation of others. Only one thing will: Humility.

Serve the other, save the self

Humility is an unpopular — one might say barely considered, hence untaught — virtue, but it is the key to developing a fully virtuous life and a just society. The practice of humility does not allow one to serve a perception of one’s own power, nor to reduce other people to “things” or objects. Rather, rather it forces one to consider the gifted humanity of the other; it understands the privilege of known and serving the other.

Humility is the gateway virtue that trains us in all of the other heavenly virtues:

Kindness, because it remembers receiving kindness

Patience, because it has experienced impatience

Diligence and Charity, because it has seen the rewards of both

Temperance, because a humble soul is one that takes less, rather than more

Chastity, because humility recognizes the co-creative, God-connected gift of sexuality

Grave sin will be with us unto ages of ages, but grace can abound, and it can bring light into the dark places; it can heal the festering wounds of our psyches and our souls. But we have to want it, and ask for it.

It is an open secret: Pursuing humility — asking for the grace of the virtue of humility, and then practicing it — is a way to begin.

Source: Aleteia…


Pope Francis Bans Sale of Cigarettes to Vatican Employees

New York Post || By Associated Press || 09 November 2017

no saling cigarettes at vatican from 2018Pope Francis is saying “Just Say No” to cigarettes.

The Vatican announced Thursday that it would no longer sell cigarettes to employees in its duty free shop and supermarket — giving up an estimated $11 million a year in profit.

Francis made the decision because “the Holy See cannot contribute to an activity that clearly damages the health of people,” the Vatican said. A statement cited the World Health Organization, which says smoking causes more than 7 million deaths annually around the globe.

A 2015 book based on leaked Vatican documents, “Avarice,” reported that cigarette sales bring in an estimated 10 million euros a year to the Vatican City State and are the second-most important source of income after tax-free gas sales. The book, however, also reported that the booming tobacco sales were an example of how the Vatican’s tax-free commercial activities were being abused.

With Italy’s VAT sales tax at 22 percent, anyone who can get their hands on a coveted Vatican “commercial card” does so since it gives them access to a world of high-end, tax-free shopping. With it, lucky cardholders can buy their weekly groceries at the Vatican supermarket, fill their tank at the Vatican gas station, get a prescription filled at the Vatican pharmacy, and do their Christmas shopping at the Vatican’s department store — all duty free.

And the pickings are excellent: Cuban cigars, Samsung flat-screen TVs, prestigious wine so sought-after that the Vatican consistently tops the list of highest per-capita wine consumption in the world.

Only Vatican employees, retirees and residents, accredited diplomats and members of religious congregations have the right to a “commercial card” — a number that Ernst & Young estimated in 2013 should not exceed a few thousand people given that the Vatican employs around 5,000 people. And yet, according to the E&Y audit reported in “Avarice,” 41,000 “commercial cards” were in use.

Cardholders are limited to buying 80 boxes of cigarettes a year but the audit found that 278 clients exceeded the limit that year.

The book, written by journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, hypothesized that cardholders were reselling their cigarettes under the table and making a handsome, unreported profit.

In its statement, the Vatican said while its cigarette sales represented a source of revenue “no profit can be legitimate if it puts lives at risk.”

For the record, Francis doesn’t smoke but plenty of his Vatican colleagues do. And while the Vatican officially banned smoking in nearly all enclosed places in 2002, violations abound.

Source: News York Post…


Why Catholic Journalism is More Important than Mainstream Journalism

Aleteia || By Tom Hoopes || 06 November 2017

catholic journalism verses mainstream journalism 2017We tell a story you don't hear everywhere else.

I talked the ear off of the poor reporter doing the 90th anniversary story at the National Catholic Register, which I used to edit.

Who knew I had so much to say about Catholic journalism? I didn’t. But in the course of our conversation I made to him a claim I have made throughout my career.

It’s a grandiose claim that sounds self-serving and wrong. But I’m convinced it’s true: Catholic journalism is more important than secular journalism.

Catholic journalists can sometimes feel like the overly pious step-brother of “real” journalists. After all, the reporters at The Washington Post or The New York Times break big stories, makes powerful people shake in their boots and change the national conversation. The Catholic press rarely, if ever, does any of those things.

But I can tell you from my own career what Catholic journalism uniquely does: We tell the deepest, truest story of our times — the only story that will last.

I began reporting for the National Catholic Register in college in 1989, so I’m coming up on 30 years in Catholic journalism. In that time span, I have helped report stories that would never have been told without us.

In 1990, I spent two days interviewing Father Simon Jubani, the Albanian political prisoner who, after he was finally released from prison, was responsible for bringing down one of the world’s most wicked totalitarian regimes. He did it by saying Mass in an open field.

At first, he attracted small crowds. Then the crowds grew larger, despite the presence of Communist Party gunmen.  Police regularly detained and beat up Father Jubani. He would return, bruised, to say Mass again. Finally, he was dragged to jail. When the people surrounded the jailhouse demanding his release, the Communists knew they were beat.

This is the story of a hero of the faith breaking down the gates of hell through the power of the Church. It is a story that will be told a hundred years from now and that will echo in heaven for eternity. But it was hard to find anywhere outside Catholic journalism.

In 1999, I was a new editor at the National Catholic Register when two suburban Denver kids attacked their fellow Columbine High students.

Bigger news organizations than us uncovered the dark layers of that story. But we featured the hope: the remarkable good that God brought out of evil there.

“Faith and Heroism Transform Tragedy” said the Register’s lead headline. “Teens ‘Are Running to Our Churches,’” said another.

For us, the story didn’t just show how bad kids have gotten, it showed how good kids have gotten. Especially in Denver, five years after World Youth Day.

We told the story of Valeen Schnurr, the student who told one of the killers why she believed in God, and we interviewed Jim Beckman, who said, “We as a Church have got to stand up right now and say there is an answer; there is a hope you can cling to; there is a hope that gives us a reason to go on. Even in the midst of this terrible tragedy, Jesus Christ can give us the reason to carry on.”

Columbine prepared us for worse to follow. In 2001, when hijacked airplanes crashed in to the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, we knew what stories to look for.

We reported on the priests who gave general absolution to firefighters heading into the doomed buildings, heard confessions in the cloud of ash, and stayed up all night blessing human remains at Ground Zero.

“Don’t be at a loss for words,” said our editorial. “Now is not the time to admonish America’s sins, but to encourage her virtues. … They are looking for something that will give them hope. Christ alone can. Introduce him to them.”

The secular news does the necessary work of covering the human events that make up the story of our times. But Catholic journalism tells the real story of history: The story of God’s grace unfolding in human events.

It also makes ordinary people realize how powerful they are, with the ability to change souls not just in our times, but for eternity.

Source: Aleteia… 


Message of Pope Francis for World Mission Day: October 22, 2017

Mission at the heart of the Christian faith

pope on world mission day 2017Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Once again this year, World Mission Day gathers us around the person of Jesus, “the very first and greatest evangelizer” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 7), who continually sends us forth to proclaim the Gospel of the love of God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. This Day invites us to reflect anew on the mission at the heart of the Christian faith. The Church is missionary by nature; otherwise, she would no longer be the Church of Christ, but one group among many others that soon end up serving their purpose and passing away. So it is important to ask ourselves certain questions about our Christian identity and our responsibility as believers in a world marked by confusion, disappointment and frustration, and torn by numerous fratricidal wars that unjustly target the innocent. What is the basis of our mission? What is the heart of our mission? What are the essential approaches we need to take in carrying out our mission?

Mission and the transformative power of the Gospel of Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life

1. The Church’s mission, directed to all men and women of good will, is based on the transformative power of the Gospel. The Gospel is Good News filled with contagious joy, for it contains and offers new life: the life of the Risen Christ who, by bestowing his life-giving Spirit, becomes for us the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6). He is the Way who invites us to follow him with confidence and courage. In following Jesus as our Way, we experience Truth and receive his Life, which is fullness of communion with God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. That life sets us free from every kind of selfishness, and is a source of creativity in love.

2. God the Father desires this existential transformation of his sons and daughters, a transformation that finds expression in worship in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4:23-24), through a life guided by the Holy Spirit in imitation of Jesus the Son to the glory of God the Father. “The glory of God is the living man” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses IV, 20, 7). The preaching of the Gospel thus becomes a vital and effective word that accomplishes what it proclaims (cf. Is 55:10-11): Jesus Christ, who constantly takes flesh in every human situation (cf. Jn 1:14).

Mission and the kairos of Christ

3. The Church’s mission, then, is not to spread a religious ideology, much less to propose a lofty ethical teaching. Many movements throughout the world inspire high ideals or ways to live a meaningful life. Through the mission of the Church, Jesus Christ himself continues to evangelize and act; her mission thus makes present in history the kairos, the favourable time of salvation. Through the proclamation of the Gospel, the risen Jesus becomes our contemporary, so that those who welcome him with faith and love can experience the transforming power of his Spirit, who makes humanity and creation fruitful, even as the rain does with the earth. “His resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force” (Evangelii Gaudium, 276).

4. Let us never forget that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1). The Gospel is a Person who continually offers himself and constantly invites those who receive him with humble and religious faith to share his life by an effective participation in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. Through Baptism, the Gospel becomes a source of new life, freed of the dominion of sin, enlightened and transformed by the Holy Spirit. Through Confirmation, it becomes a fortifying anointing that, through the same Spirit, points out new ways and strategies for witness and accompaniment. Through the Eucharist, it becomes food for new life, a “medicine of immortality” (Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Ephesios, 20, 2).

5. The world vitally needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the Church, Christ continues his mission as the Good Samaritan, caring for the bleeding wounds of humanity, and as Good Shepherd, constantly seeking out those who wander along winding paths that lead nowhere. Thank God, many significant experiences continue to testify to the transformative power of the Gospel. I think of the gesture of the Dinka student who, at the cost of his own life, protected a student from the enemy Nuer tribe who was about to be killed. I think of that Eucharistic celebration in Kitgum, in northern Uganda, where, after brutal massacres by a rebel group, a missionary made the people repeat the words of Jesus on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” as an expression of the desperate cry of the brothers and sisters of the crucified Lord. For the people, that celebration was an immense source of consolation and courage. We can think too of countless testimonies to how the Gospel helps to overcome narrowness, conflict, racism, tribalism, and to promote everywhere, and among all, reconciliation, fraternity, and sharing.

Mission inspires a spirituality of constant exodus, pilgrimage, and exile

6. The Church’s mission is enlivened by a spirituality of constant exodus. We are challenged “to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, 20). The Church’s mission impels us to undertake a constant pilgrimage across the various deserts of life, through the different experiences of hunger and thirst for truth and justice. The Church’s mission inspires a sense of constant exile, to make us aware, in our thirst for the infinite, that we are exiles journeying towards our final home, poised between the “already” and “not yet” of the Kingdom of Heaven.

7. Mission reminds the Church that she is not an end unto herself, but a humble instrument and mediation of the Kingdom. A self-referential Church, one content with earthly success, is not the Church of Christ, his crucified and glorious Body. That is why we should prefer “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (ibid., 49).

Young people, the hope of mission

8. Young people are the hope of mission. The person of Jesus Christ and the Good News he proclaimed continue to attract many young people. They seek ways to put themselves with courage and enthusiasm at the service of humanity. “There are many young people who offer their solidarity in the face of the evils of the world and engage in various forms of militancy and volunteering... How beautiful it is to see that young people are ‘street preachers’, joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth!” (ibid., 106). The next Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held in 2018 on the theme Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, represents a providential opportunity to involve young people in the shared missionary responsibility that needs their rich imagination and creativity.

The service of the Pontifical Mission Societies

9. The Pontifical Mission Societies are a precious means of awakening in every Christian community a desire to reach beyond its own confines and security in order to proclaim the Gospel to all. In them, thanks to a profound missionary spirituality, nurtured daily, and a constant commitment to raising missionary awareness and enthusiasm, young people, adults, families, priests, bishops and men and women religious work to develop a missionary heart in everyone. World Mission Day, promoted by the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, is a good opportunity for enabling the missionary heart of Christian communities to join in prayer, testimony of life and communion of goods, in responding to the vast and pressing needs of evangelization.

Carrying out our mission with Mary, Mother of Evangelization

10. Dear brothers and sisters, in carrying out our mission, let us draw inspiration from Mary, Mother of Evangelization. Moved by the Spirit, she welcomed the Word of life in the depths of her humble faith. May the Virgin Mother help us to say our own “yes”, conscious of the urgent need to make the Good News of Jesus resound in our time. May she obtain for us renewed zeal in bringing to everyone the Good News of the life that is victorious over death. May she intercede for us so that we can acquire the holy audacity needed to discover new ways to bring the gift of salvation to every man and woman.

From the Vatican, 4 June 2017
Solemnity of Pentecost



Seven Ingenious Ways to Use Lemons

Aleteia || By Adriano Bello || 15 October 2017

ingenious ways to use lemonsLemons are a wonder fruit for your health and your appearance.

When life gives you lemons … put them to good use! These seven tips will help you discover the unexpected usefulness of lemons for both health and beauty.

1. Clears up skin spots

Mix the juice of two lemons (or more, depending on the size of the area) with a little sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda) until you make a homogenous paste. Apply it to your underarms, knees, a spot or two on your face, and even your bikini line to fight hyper pigmentation. Be constant and patient, since the results appear only over time. Also aim to apply it at night (sun and lemon juice don’t go well together on the skin). After letting the mix work on your skin for 15 or 20 minutes, rinse well.

2. Helps weight loss

Right after you wake up and before you eat breakfast, drink a glass of warm water with lemon juice, without any sugar or sweeteners. Some people prefer lemon oil, since it is less damaging for your tooth enamel. A daily drink of warm lemon water will help you burn more fat and toxins as you start off your day.

3. Keeps your kidneys functioning well

The vitamin C in lemon juice increases the amount of citrate in urine, preventing the crystallization of calcium salts and thus inhibiting the buildup of kidney stones. Lemon is also rich in natural “antibiotics” and potassium, and low in sodium, so it helps your kidneys work well and detoxes your body.

4. Can be used to clean kitchen utensils

It would be great if we could all afford to have a wooden cutting board for every type of food, but we usually end up using the same one for cutting garlic and for cutting fruits. You can get rid of the stinky smells that garlic and onion leave behind by cleaning your cutting board with lemon. You can do the same with your refrigerator; mix lemon juice with some baking soda and let the mixture work all night in the fridge.

5. Repairs nails

A cheap nail polish, age, or just a bad manicure can give you unsightly nails. If you want to have strong nails without a yellowy cast, mix some lemon juice with olive oil in a container and submerge your hands in it for about 10 minutes. Then rinse well and you’ll see how the lemon will help soften your cuticles and get rid of (or diminish) any yellow traces that are usually caused by leaving your nail polish (especially deeper shades) on for too long.

6. Antioxidant for fruits and vegetables

It doesn’t take long for a cut apple to turn brown … but you can prevent the oxidation process by putting some lemon juice on the cut surface of the fruit and then covering it with a bit of plastic wrap.

7. Fights acne

Lemon has antibacterial properties, so it can be a great remedy for blackheads and acne. Dip a cotton pad in some lemon juice and apply it just to the problematic areas during the night, then rinse with lots of water in the morning. It will act like an astringent and will dry out your pimples. Don’t use lemon on broken skin, however, since it can burn and damage your skin.

Do you have any other fantastic uses for lemons? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

Source: Aleteia… 


Why Did Twitter Reject this Pro-life Ad?

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Adelaide Mena || 10 October 2017

twitter rejected this pro life ad 2017A political advertisement for pro-life Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has been blocked by Twitter for statements about Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts for medical research.

“I’m 100 percent pro-life. I fought Planned Parenthood, and we stopped the sale of baby parts, thank God,” Blackburn says in her video.

Twitter blocked the ad, telling the Blackburn campaign that the comment was “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.”

The tech company said the advertisement would be reinstated if the comment was removed.

Blackburn encouraged her supporters to join her in “standing up to Silicon Valley” by sharing the video. Although the video cannot be part of a paid promotion on Twitter, users can link to the video on the site and retweet Blackburn’s post of the video.

Blackburn is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee which will be left open by the retirement of current senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Earlier in the two-and-a-half-minute video, Blackburn claims that the “left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative,” criticizes the Senate’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and affirms her support of Second-Amendment rights and the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.

After investigative reporting by the Center for Medical Progress which revealed Planned Parenthood’s practice of taking money from medical research companies in exchange for aborted fetal tissue, Blackburn chaired a Republican-run House panel to investigate the organization and fetal tissue research more broadly.

After their investigation, she and her panel urged Congress to stop the funding of Planned Parenthood.

The practice of fetal tissue donation is legal in the United States if the donating company makes no profit off of the transaction. Planned Parenthood has since announced that it would no longer donate aborted fetal tissue for reimbursement.

Pro-life activists criticized Twitter’s move to refuse promotion of the ad.

“We are profoundly disappointed, but not surprised that Twitter continues to censor pro-life speech,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life advocacy organization, Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement.

“While we have observed that this censorship seems to be applied selectively to pro-life groups, Twitter's move has broad, chilling implications for all sorts of advocacy and political speech. We hope anyone seeking to engage in political speech will join us in denouncing the censorship of Rep. Blackburn,” Dannenfelser said.  

“Such heavy-handed tactics only backfire on those who use them.”

Source: Catholic News Agency…


Pope’s Address to Conference on Protecting Children in a Digital World: Full Text

Aleteia || 06 October 2017

pope on protecting children in a digital world 2017Calls for collaborative efforts and notes three "mistaken approaches"

The Vatican released an English translation of Pope Francis’ address today to the participants in the first-ever World Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World.

The Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University hosted the four-day event, which brought experts in child care, internet security, law enforcement, education, and a host of other fields together to share experiences and best practices, with a view to addressing the problem of the effective protection of the dignity of minors in the digital world.

Here is the pope’s address:

Your Eminences,

President of the Senate, Madame Minister,

Your Excellencies, Father Rector,

Distinguished Ambassadors and Civil Authorities, Dear Professors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank the Rector of the Gregorian University, Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, and the young lady representative of the youth for their kind and informative words of introduction to our meeting. I am grateful to all of you for being here this morning and informing me of the results of your work. Above all, I thank you for sharing your concerns and your commitment to confront together, for the sake of young people worldwide, a grave new problem felt in our time. A problem that had not yet been studied and discussed by a broad spectrum of experts from various fields and areas of responsibility as you have done in these days: the problem of the effective protection of the dignity of minors in the digital world.

The acknowledgment and defense of the dignity of the human person is the origin and basis of every right social and political order, and the Church has recognized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as “a true milestone on the path of moral progress of humanity” (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Addresses to the United Nations Organization, 1979 and 1995). So too, in the knowledge that children are among those most in need of care and protection, the Holy See received the Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959) and adhered to the relative Convention (1990) and its two optional protocols (2001). The dignity and rights of children must be protected by legal systems as priceless goods for the entire human family (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Nos. 244-245).

While completely and firmly agreed on these principles, we must work together on their basis. We need to do this decisively and with genuine passion, considering with tender affection all those children who come into this world every day and in every place. They need our respect, but also our care and affection, so that they can grow and achieve all their rich potential.

Scripture tells us that man and woman are created by God in his own image. Could any more forceful statement be made about our human dignity? The Gospel speaks to us of the affection with which Jesus welcomes children; he takes them in his arms and blesses them (cf. Mk 10:16), because “it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt 19:14). Jesus’ harshest words are reserved for those who give scandal to the little ones: “It were better for them to have a great millstone fastened around their neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6). It follows that we must work to protect the dignity of minors, gently yet firmly, opposing with all our might the throwaway culture nowadays that is everywhere apparent, to the detriment especially of the weak and the most vulnerable, such as minors.

We are living in a new world that, when we were young, we could hardly have imagined. We define it by two simple words as a “digital world,” but it is the fruit of extraordinary achievements of science and technology. In a few decades, it has changed the way we live and communicate. Even now, it is in some sense changing our very way of thinking and of being, and profoundly influencing the perception of our possibilities and our identity.

If, on the one hand, we are filled with real wonder and admiration at the new and impressive horizons opening up before us, on the other, we can sense a certain concern and even apprehension when we consider how quickly this development has taken place, the new and unforeseen problems it sets before us, and the negative consequences it entails. Those consequences are seldom willed, and yet are quite real. We rightly wonder if we are capable of guiding the processes we ourselves have set in motion, whether they might be escaping our grasp, and whether we are doing enough to keep them in check.

This is the great existential question facing humanity today, in light of a global crisis at once environmental, social, economic, political, moral and spiritual.

As representatives of various scientific disciplines and the fields of digital communications, law and political life, you have come together precisely because you realize the gravity of these challenges linked to scientific and technical progress. With great foresight, you have concentrated on what is probably the most crucial challenge for the future of the human family: the protection of young people’s dignity, their healthy development, their joy and their hope.

We know that minors are presently more than a quarter of the over 3 billion users of the internet; this means that over 800 million minors are navigating the internet. We know that within two years, in India alone, over 500 million persons will have access to the internet, and that half of these will be minors. What do they find on the net? And how are they regarded by those who exercise various kinds of influence over the net?

We have to keep our eyes open and not hide from an unpleasant truth that we would rather not see. For that matter, surely we have realized sufficiently in recent years that concealing the reality of sexual abuse is a grave error and the source of many other evils? So let us face reality, as you have done in these days. We encounter extremely troubling things on the net, including the spread of ever more extreme pornography, since habitual use raises the threshold of stimulation; the increasing phenomenon of sexting between young men and women who use the social media; and the growth of online bullying, a true form of moral and physical attack on the dignity of other young people. To this can be added sextortion; the solicitation of minors for sexual purposes, now widely reported in the news; to say nothing of the grave and appalling crimes of online trafficking in persons, prostitution, and even the commissioning and live viewing of acts of rape and violence against minors in other parts of the world. The net has its dark side (the “dark net”), where evil finds ever new, effective and pervasive ways to act and to expand. The spread of printed pornography in the past was a relatively small phenomenon compared to the proliferation of pornography on the net. You have addressed this clearly, based on solid research and documentation, and for this we are grateful.

Faced with these facts, we are naturally alarmed. But, regrettably, we also remain bewildered. As you know well, and are teaching us, what is distinctive about the net is precisely that it is worldwide; it covers the planet, breaking down every barrier, becoming ever more pervasive, reaching everywhere and to every kind of user, including children, due to mobile devices that are becoming smaller and easier to use. As a result, today no one in the world, or any single national authority, feels capable of monitoring and adequately controlling the extent and the growth of these phenomena, themselves interconnected and linked to other grave problems associated with the net, such as illicit trafficking, economic and financial crimes, and international terrorism. From an educational standpoint too, we feel bewildered, because the speed of its growth has left the older generation on the sidelines, rendering extremely difficult, if not impossible, intergenerational dialogue and a serene transmission of rules and wisdom acquired by years of life and experience.

But we must not let ourselves be overcome by fear, which is always a poor counsellor. Nor let ourselves be paralyzed by the sense of powerlessness that overwhelms us before the difficulty of the task before us. Rather, we are called to join forces, realizing that we need one another in order to seek and find the right means and approaches needed for effective responses. We must be confident that “we can broaden our vision. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (Laudato Si’, 112).

For such a mobilization to be effective, I encourage you to oppose firmly certain potentially mistaken approaches. I will limit myself to indicating three of these.

The first is to underestimate the harm done to minors by these phenomena. The difficulty of countering them can lead us to be tempted to say: “Really, the situation is not so bad as all that…” But the progress of neurobiology, psychology and psychiatry have brought to light the profound impact of violent and sexual images on the impressionable minds of children, the psychological problems that emerge as they grow older, the dependent behaviours and situations, and genuine enslavement that result from a steady diet of provocative or violent images. These problems will surely have a serious and life-long effect on today’s children.

Here I would add an observation. We rightly insist on the gravity of these problems for minors. But we can also underestimate or overlook the extent that they are also problems for adults. Determining the age of minority and majority is important for legal systems, but it is insufficient for dealing with other issues. The spread of ever more extreme pornography and other improper uses of the net not only causes disorders, dependencies and grave harm among adults, but also has a real impact on the way we view love and relations between the sexes. We would be seriously deluding ourselves were we to think that a society where an abnormal consumption of internet sex is rampant among adults could be capable of effectively protecting minors.

The second mistaken approach would be to think that automatic technical solutions, filters devised by ever more refined algorithms in order to identify and block the spread of abusive and harmful images, are sufficient to deal with these problems. Certainly, such measures are necessary. Certainly, businesses that provide millions of people with social media and increasingly powerful, speedy and pervasive software should invest in this area a fair portion of their great profits. But there is also an urgent need, as part of the process of technological growth itself, for all those involved to acknowledge and address the ethical concerns that this growth raises, in all its breadth and its various consequences.

Here we find ourselves having to reckon with a third potentially mistaken approach, which consists in an ideological and mythical vision of the net as a realm of unlimited freedom. Quite rightly, your meeting includes representatives of lawmakers and law enforcement agencies whose task is to provide for and to protect the common good and the good of individual persons. The net has opened a vast new forum for free expression and the exchange of ideas and information. This is certainly beneficial, but, as we have seen, it has also offered new means for engaging in heinous illicit activities, and, in the area with which we are concerned, for the abuse of minors and offences against their dignity, for the corruption of their minds and violence against their bodies. This has nothing to do with the exercise of freedom; it has to do with crimes that need to be fought with intelligence and determination, through a broader cooperation among governments and law enforcement agencies on the global level, even as the net itself is now global.

You have been discussing all these matters and, in the “Declaration” you presented me, you have pointed out a variety of different ways to promote concrete cooperation among all concerned parties working to combat the great challenge of defending the dignity of minors in the digital world. I firmly and enthusiastically support the commitments that you have undertaken.

These include raising awareness of the gravity of the problems, enacting suitable legislation, overseeing developments in technology, identifying victims and prosecuting those guilty of crimes. They include assisting minors who have been affected and providing for their rehabilitation, assisting educators and families, and finding creative ways of training young people in the proper use of the internet in ways healthy for themselves and for other minors. They also include fostering greater sensitivity and providing moral formation, as well as continuing scientific research in all the fields associated with this challenge.

Very appropriately, you have expressed the hope that religious leaders and communities of believers can also share in this common effort, drawing on their experience, their authority and their resources for education and for moral and spiritual formation. In effect, only the light and the strength that come from God can enable us to face these new challenges. As for the Catholic Church, I would assure you of her commitment and her readiness to help. As all of us know, in recent years the Church has come to acknowledge her own failures in providing for the protection of children: extremely grave facts have come to light, for which we have to accept our responsibility before God, before the victims and before public opinion. For this very reason, as a result of these painful experiences and the skills gained in the process of conversion and purification, the Church today feels especially bound to work strenuously and with foresight for the protection of minors and their dignity, not only within her own ranks, but in society as a whole and throughout the world. She does not attempt to do this alone – for that is clearly not enough – but by offering her own effective and ready cooperation to all those individuals and groups in society that are committed to the same end. In this sense, the Church adheres to the goal of putting an end to “the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children” set by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Target 16.2).

On many occasions, and in many different countries, I gaze into the eyes of children, poor and rich, healthy and ill, joyful and suffering. To see children looking us in the eye is an experience we have all had. It touches our hearts and requires us to examine our consciences. What are we doing to ensure that those children can continue smiling at us, with clear eyes and faces filled with trust and hope? What are we doing to make sure that they are not robbed of this light, to ensure that those eyes will not be not darkened and corrupted by what they will find on the internet, which will soon be so integral and important a part of their daily lives?

Let us work together, then, so that we will always have the right, the courage and the joy to be able to look into the eyes of the children of our world. Thank you.

Source: Aleteia… 


Men are Craving Authentic Friendships – and It's Ok to Admit It

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Perry West || 05 October 2017

men craving for authentic friendshipWhen Timothy Piazza pledged a fraternity at Pennsylvania State University in February 2017, he had hoped to find a brotherhood.  

To join the fraternity, he endured severe hazing rituals, one of which ended with Piazza collapsing down a set of basement stairs, where he was left alone without medical attention. Ultimately, the injury led to his death. 

His girlfriend of three years, Kaitlyn Tempalsky, told reporters that Piazza joined the fraternity looking for friendships. She told the New York Times that “he wasn’t in it for the partying … He really wanted that brotherhood.”

Male friendships are becoming a rarity in American culture, Catholic leaders say, which could lead some men, like Piazza, to look for friends in dangerous situations.  

Historically, occasions for brotherhood were systemically built into many cultures, Catholic psychologist Dr. Jim Langley told CNA.  

Listing the examples of chopping down trees or heading into battle together, Dr. Langley said, “It’s our base coding, in our human nature as men” to complete projects or engage in activities together – though in contemporary culture, men are becoming more isolated.

“Men who are isolated are prone to all sorts of mental health problems – anxiety and depression. Specifically among men that we see in our work, men who are isolated are much more prone to addiction to pornography.”

Langley explained that the source of pornography addiction may stem from a desire for intimacy, even for male friends.

“Men in general struggle with [intimacy], it’s a pretty common thing. But it’s not just romantic intimacy, and it’s not just intimacy related to woman, we also have a longing for brotherhood.”

Because humans are physical, intellectual, and relational beings, he said, our sense of identity is not discovered by being alone, it is rather found in the context of other people.

“Specifically, figuring out how we can contribute in relationship and how relationships contribute to us.”

Matthew Schaefer, director of student development at Franciscan University of Steubenville, agreed.   

“I am the best man I can be when I have strong male friendships. We hear in Scripture that ‘iron sharpens iron,’ and so it is with men,” Schaefer said.

“When men engage in true friendships – and by this I mean more than spending time together playing sports or video games – they can encourage one another toward holiness.”

Schaefer pointed to the household system at Franciscan University, through which more than half of the university’s students participate in small, single-sex faith communities.  

“These same-sex communities help members grow in mind, body, and spirit and hold each other accountable to ongoing conversion.”

“In men’s households, they are encouraged to be on more of a schedule by committing to weekly gatherings, generally focused on prayer. They are present to console in times of need and celebrate in times of joy. They are brothers for the Christian walk.”

This type of accompaniment is not easily accomplished, said Daniel Porting, a FOCUS missionary at Southern Methodist University, who reflected on his own college experience in the Phi Gama Delta fraternity.

Porting told CNA that most fraternities have mentoring programs, but that those programs are not always taken seriously.

“So that’s a very good structure, I’m not saying they do it well, but there is a structure in every fraternity where they want to inspire that good authentic and organic friendship, where it starts on a one-on-one level, where one person can accompany another,” he said.

But secular culture is struggling to foster this type of friendship, Dr. Langley said, “because an authentic friendship with men, in some ways, needs to be reinvented.”

“As men, we connect through doing things side-by-side, but if you look at the routes that men have to connect with each other, it’s very superficial.”

Dr. Langley said that some social norms and stereotypes make it difficult for men to pursue deep friendships with one another.

“Until recently in our culture, being affectionate with another man was really frowned upon and looked at as being effeminate, or a person would worry about [appearing] homosexual.”

Research conducted by Dr. Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University, published in 2013 by the American Sociological Association, showed that male friendships, which include emotional vulnerability, are typical during boyhood. But as boys get older, and deep male friendships become associated with homosexuality, she said men lose this avenue of emotional vulnerability.

“It is only in late adolescence – a time when, according to national data, suicides and violence among boys soar – that boys disconnect from other boys,” said Way in a 2013 article in Contexts magazine.

“The boys in my studies begin, in late adolescence, to use the phrase ‘no homo’ when discussing their male friendships, expressing the fear that if they seek out close friendships, they will be perceived as ‘gay’ or ‘girly.’”

Mark Harfiel, vice president of Paradisus Dei, a family-based Catholic ministry, said that when culture doesn’t support true masculinity, men lose sense of what it means to be authentically human.

“When you turn from Christ and begin to make all truth relative with no absolutes, you begin to lose a sense of what it even means to be human. All relationships have become sexualized and masculinity itself has even come into question.”

Secular culture often promotes a damaged view of masculinity, Daniel Porting said. He suggested that there are three main characteristics of heightened masculinity in the culture: an emphasis on power, pleasure and wealth.

“And I think that those all lead to unfulfillment and a lack of joy.”

Porting noted that many college-aged men with whom he works have suffered from a lack of authentic masculine role models, which creates wounds in men and impedes the desire to be loved.

The FOCUS missionary said these wounds are difficult for men to address, and added that when he meets men on campus he will steer away from questions like, “how is your life growing up?” or “how is your family?”

These questions “trigger something that is very wounding because someone didn’t step up and be a good role model,” he said.

Every parish needs to have an opportunity for men to find fraternal bonds and spiritually rich accountability, Harfiel added. That Man is You, a program affiliated with Paridisus Dei, is one possibility, he said, noting the group has created an estimated 1,000 male fraternal groups and reached over 100,000 men in the past 12 years.

However, this avenue might not be available for everyone, and Langley acknowledged that some men struggle with an even bigger problem – namely, fear.

“If there are not opportunities, one could create opportunities, connections with other people, but we’re afraid to be the first person to do that. We’re afraid to meet new people. We are afraid to be real with other people. So the virtue which would overcome all these virtues really is truly courage.”

Especially if there is no men’s ministry at the parish, Dr. Langely said, most likely other men in the parish are feeling the same way. He added that most people will be flattered by an invitation, “because it feels good to be noticed.”

This invitation, he said, doesn’t need to be big. It could simply be asking a gentleman (and maybe his wife) out for a bite to eat, or starting a small parish group of guys who go out periodically for beers.

“If you do sense a call to start something, then don't be afraid to keep it simple. A friend of mine at my parish started a men's group called ‘faith fermentation,’ which is just a fancy title for a bunch of guys going to get some beers together.”

“So don't worry about starting anything big. Just start something that ‘scratches your own itch,’ and most likely it will scratch the itch for connection that other men have too.”

Prioritizing male friendships with priests, peers, old and young adults, Langley said, takes courage. He noted Christ’s own example of surrounding himself with friends.

“We are blessed with this wonderful example of Jesus Christ, and he told his apostles that he was their friend – they weren’t just his pupils, they weren’t just the flock he was ministering to.”

Source: Catholic News Agency… 


Five Classic Catholic Jokes

Aleteia || By Daniel Esparza || 26 September 2017

classic catholic jokes"A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Trappist were marooned on a desert island."

In case you didn’t know, some saints were well-known for having a good sense of humor. Philip Neri (“the Humorous Saint”), Francis De Sales, and Teresa of Avila, for instance, are not only known for their exemplary lives, but also because they certainly knew how to use a proper joke to good effect. But one doesn’t need to go all the way back to the 16th and 17th centuries to find examples of good church humor. For instance, it is said that when a journalist asked Blessed John XXIII (pope from 1958 to 1963) how many people work in the Vatican, the pope paused, thought for a bit and replied, “About half of them.”

So here we wanted to compile five well-known Catholic jokes. There might be one or two of these you haven’t heard before. Make sure to share them with your Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit or Trappist friends.

A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Franciscan were walking along an old road, debating the greatness of their orders. Suddenly, an apparition of the Holy Family appeared in front of them, with Jesus in a manger and Mary and Joseph praying over him. The Franciscan fell on his face, overcome with awe at the sight of God born in such poverty. The Dominican fell to his knees, adoring the beautiful reflection of the Trinity and the Holy Family. The Jesuit walked up to Joseph, put his arm around his shoulder, and said, “So, have you thought about where to send him to school?”

A Franciscan and a Dominican were debating whose order was the greater. After months of arguing, they decided to ask God for an answer when they died. Years later, they met in heaven and went to God’s throne to resolve their old disagreement. God seemed a bit puzzled about the question and told them he would reply in writing a few days later. After much deliberation, God sent the following letter:

My sons,
Please stop bickering about such trivial matters. Both orders are equally great and good in my eyes.
God, OP

A Jesuit and a Franciscan sat down to dinner, after which pie was served. There were two pieces of pie, one small and the other large. The Jesuit reached over and took the larger piece for himself. The Franciscan remonstrated, “St. Francis always taught us to take the meaner piece.” The Jesuit replied, “And so you have it.”

Saints Benedict, Dominic, Ignatius, and Francis were in heaven arguing over which of their charisms was most primordial. Saint Benedict said: “All the way in the garden of Eden, all that existed was work and prayer, ‘Ora et Labora,’ therefore we are first.” Dominic jumped in, “Hold on. In order for Eden to be created, God had to speak, and so the Word was first. Dominicans are older.” Ignatius, feeling quite confident, said, “But even before that, there was chaos, and the lord gave creation structure and order. The Jesuits are clearly first.” Chuckling to himself, Francis agreed: “You’re right. First came chaos!”

A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Trappist were marooned on a desert island. They found a magic lamp, and after some discussion decided to rub it. Lo and behold, a genie appeared and offered them three wishes. They decided it was only fair that they could each have one wish. The Jesuit said he wanted to teach at the world’s most famous university, and poof, he was gone! The Dominican wished to preach in the world’s largest church, and poof, he was gone! Then the Trappist said, “Gee, I already got my wish!”

(Compiled from Ignatian Spirituality, Breaking In The Habit, and FishEaters.com)

Source: Aleteia…


Female Envoys to Vatican Say It’s Past Time for Church to Empower Women

Crux || By Ines San Martin and Claire Giangrave || 25 September 2017

female envoys to vatican want women empowered 2017Three female ambassadors from different parts of the world and of different religious beliefs all agree that the Vatican is a pretty cozy place for women diplomats, but they also concur that when it comes to the role of women in the decision making process inside the Church, there's still a long way to go.

It sounds like a clichéd bar joke: “Three female ambassadors from three different parts of the world, one Catholic, one Orthodox and one Protestant, walk into the Vatican.”

In reality, however, there’s no punchline waiting to be delivered, only what some may consider a counterintuitive realization.

Three women who represent their countries to the Holy See, coming from different cultural, societal and religious backgrounds, all agree that despite the predominantly male hierarchy that prevails at the Vatican, they’re happy with the treatment and welcome they’ve received.

On the other hand, they also say, albeit in different ways, that on the question of female involvement in decision-making processes within the Catholic Church, it’s past time to get the ball rolling.

The difference perspective makes

“I can underline that [my] relationship with the curia and each dicastery (Vatican jargon for a department), is a very attentive one, and it’s qualitative,” Ambassador Agnès Adjaho from the West-African country of Benin told Crux in an interview.

“The problem is not about underlining each time that I’m a woman,” she said. “The relationship is one of attention, and I think there’s nothing particular about it.”

Adjaho was the last of the three to bring her presentation letters to Pope Francis on December 10, 2016, and although she’s not a career diplomat, her past experiences made her into a perfect fit for the Vatican ambassadorial post. The Beninese newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune calls her “a woman of letters” due to her impressive academic résumé, but also her determined involvement to boost the literacy level in her country.

A faithful Catholic, Adjaho has been active in the Church, serving as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Culture, but when it comes to the role of women in Catholicism, the ambassador believes that “there’s a lot left to do” especially at a national and formational level.

“When we talk about the situation of women in the Church, we always think about the pope and the Vatican. But there’s much that has to be done in our countries, at the level of priests.” She cited specifically “the formation of priests, who are not prepared to have a relationship with women in the Church as a partner in evangelization, in the promotion of values,” Adjaho said.

The ambassador from Georgia, Tamara Grdzelidze, who’s the veteran among the three, having served as a representative to her country since December 2014, offered a different perspective from a strictly Orthodox reality, where the role of women tends to be downplayed.

“I come from the environment of theology. Orthodox theology, even worse!” Grdzelidze joked to Crux. “Which means that I have been with male colleagues all the time. I was very often the only [woman] in the room with men, or one of two or three.”

The Georgian theologian admitted that she feels “very comfortable here at the Vatican,” and stressed how her understanding of ecclesiology made it easier for her to comprehend the dynamics that guide the Holy See and allowed her not to depend on the interpretation of others.

“Because you are an ambassador, you are neither male nor female” at the Vatican, Grdzelidze said. “Even within male circles, I don’t feel like I am being excluded, there is nothing like that.”

All three ambassadors praised the Vatican’s Secretariat of State as being helpful and inclusive in dealing with all foreign diplomats, male or female.

Sally Axworthy, the ambassador from the United Kingdom since September 19, 2016, described the Holy See’s foreign departments as “helpful and charming,” adding that, “as an ambassador, as a diplomat, you tend to be treated as a representative of your country” irrespective of being male or female.

Even though at the beginning of her mandate, Axworthy told British media outlet The Tablet that she had some adjusting to do to adapt to the largely male-dominated reality in the Vatican, her opinion seems to have slightly shifted nearly one year down the line.

“There are 20 percent of women who work in the Secretariat of State,” she said. “Most of the hierarchy are men, but they are very professional,” the UK ambassador told Crux in an interview.

Time to act on the role of women in the Church

While all three ambassadors agree that the Vatican is a pretty cozy place for female diplomats, they also, in different ways, believe that the time has come to push the agenda forward in terms of female involvement in the Church.

According to Benin’s Adjaho, there must be a reevaluation of the actual role of the Virgin Mary as a model and example for women in the Church.

“This is not about promoting the role (of women), but recognizing the role Mary had,” Adjaho said. “She didn’t spend her time talking and talking, blah, blah, blah, but every time she spoke it was a decisive thing. But today, at the level of decision, it’s a complete desert.”

Adjaho, while specifying that she does not consider herself a feminist, said that the Church must develop a role that highlights the quality of Mary as a partner of God in the New Covenant.

“Not of the prophets, of God, with no intermediaries,” she added.

The UK’s Axworthy, a Protestant, made quite an impression when she brought her presentation letters to Francis wearing the British diplomatic uniform, becoming the first female British ambassador to wear a diplomatic uniform overseas.

“As a female ambassador, I’m interested in the role of women in the Holy See,” she said, but she added that she learned in her new post of the many women, in particular religious sisters, who serve in the Church.

“We think of the Church as male-dominated, but there are these huge numbers of women, I seem to remember 800,000, who have committed their lives entirely to God and to the Church and are working with the weakest in society,” Axworthy said.

[Note: The latest Vatican statistics show a total of 670,320 professed women religious in the Church.]

According to Grdzelidze, gender issues are still taboo at the Vatican and a very big issue.

“Gender is one of the issues I am most concerned with, because I think that inequality in the church is absolutely not the right thing,” the ambassador from Georgia said, adding that this begs the question of the definition of equality.

“I will certainly not say that reform should lead to the ordination of women immediately, certainly not,” she said. “But to consider women as equal partners in decision-making is a must. In all churches,” Grdzelidze said.

“It’s problematic because of ordination, because Catholics and Orthodox give a very, very high respect for ordination […]. This should be debated. I am not saying that women should be ordained, but how can they be involved, without being ordained? This question I would pose to the pope.”

The Georgian representative said that while now may not be the right time, somewhere down the line this debate will become very important for the Vatican.

Women in the unique Vatican Diplomacy

As the role of women in society and politics is quickly changing, especially in the Western world, more and more think tanks and institutions are beginning to explore the added value of women in the workforce and especially at a decision-making level.

“The things that women are supposed to be better at is that they are supposed to be communicators, that is something that is useful generally for diplomacy,” Axworthy said adding conflict resolution as a specific concern for women.

This is definitely true for Adjaho, who has made peace building and development an important cornerstone of her work at the Vatican. “I never forget that the Church has always had as its mission to develop women, men and children. For this reason, for a long time now, the Church in my country, has always worked for the welfare of peoples,” the Beninese diplomat said.

In practical terms, Adjaho has been collaborating with the Holy See to foster interreligious dialogue and relations with Islam, and Benin - a country where Christians, Muslims and traditional religions peacefully coexist - may offer a viable example.

For Axworthy, the Vatican “is not like anywhere else,” because the motivation behind its political and diplomatic action is based on the question: ‘Is it right for the world?’ whereas most foreign ministers, she said, “define foreign policy in terms of national interest.”

The British ambassador underlined how the Vatican is “the world’s smallest state but it has global reach,” impacting millions through its executive arm, a.k.a. the bishops’ conferences around the globe.

Grdzelidze agrees with her colleague about the peculiar diplomacy of the Holy See. “This is a peculiar place, the Vatican, so it’s not any other country,” she said. “It’s not even any other international organization. It’s something in between.”

The Georgian diplomat expressed optimism for the future of women in diplomacy and in the Church and trust in the leadership of the pope centered on change. “I am a big fan of Francis and especially the women I know are big fans of Francis,” she said.

Axworthy has set her eye on the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which has a mandate for change.

“It will be interesting to see what they do,” she said.

Source: Crux… 


3,500-year-old Tomb Unearthed in Egypt

Interesting Engineering || By Mario L. Major || 15 September 2017

tomb aged 3500 years unearthed in egyptThe discovery of a goldsmith’s tomb in Luxor at the cemetery of Dra' Abu el-Naga is part of a larger excavation project that has led to the unearthing of dozens of artifacts.

A 3,500-year-old tomb originally built for a goldsmith named Amenemhat and his wife has been discovered at the cemetery of Dra' Abu el-Naga in Luxor. The information about the discovery came from the Ministry of State of Antiquities, the organization set up by the Egyptian government to preserve and protect historical artifacts in the country.

Although the team of archaeologists reported that most of the artifacts found were those which they typically find from this period—a number of mummies, wooden coffins, small statues and skeletal remains as well as pottery and jewelry—there was one very distinct difference. Analysis of the hieroglyphics inscriptions written inside of the tomb reveals that the name of Amenemhat’s wife was Amenhotep, a name that is usually given to men in this era.

Just a few months back in April, multiple tombs were unearthed at the same site in Luxor—where the cemetery complex referred to Dra’ Abu el-Naga is located—was unearthed. Forensic evidence revealed that the remains dated back to the Egyptian New Kingdom period from 1550-1070 B.C. and presumably the tomb of Amenemhat is from the start of the same period. This is also the same dynasty which included Akhenaten as well as his wife Nefertiti and son Tutankhamun. 

Luxor sits on the east banks of the Valley of Kings, just opposite the city of Thebes which existed during ancient times. Most important for researchers, for a period of about 500 years until around 1000 B.C., this area was the main burial site for pharaohs and noblemen. For this reason alone, excavations are sure to uncover a dazzling amount of burial sites. On the possibility of future excavations, former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass said, “Modern Egypt is built on top of ancient Egypt…Sometimes you excavate in your courtyard like in Aswan or Heliopolis and find monuments. Until now we’ve only found 30 percent of the Egyptian monuments; 70 percent is still buried.” 

A Case for Tourism

There are many who would argue that the public’s fascination with the ancient past of Egypt and the seemingly endless number of artifacts which are being uncovered is the main impetus driving tourism in the country, which in turn is arguably the largest industry of the North African country. One look at the announcements of the discovery ancient sites made by the present and past Ministers of Antiquity reveal that they are as much, if not more, intended for the international community as for the people of Egypt. With each discovery comes that the hope patching up a hole in the sinking ship of tourism. This seems a win-win for locals and tourists, but there are some downsides as well.

The discovered artifacts and excavated sites must be given the highest priority for protection. As more sites are found, the balance between economic realities and historical preservation —which Egypt has done well in maintaining—will need to continue.

Source: Interesting Engineering… 


Indian Salesian Priest Recounts Harrowing Tale of His Capture, Liberation

Catholic News Service (CNS) || By Junno Arocho Esteves || 16 September 2017

indian salesian priest recounts harrowing experienceSalesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was sitting in a room in an unknown location -- one of several he had been relocated to during his 18-month imprisonment -- when he received some unexpected news.

"Those who kept me came to where I slept (and said), 'I bring you good news. We are sending you home. If you need to go to the bathroom, go. Take a shower, but quickly!'" Father Uzhunnalil told reporters Sept. 16 at the Salesian headquarters in Rome.

The Salesian priest from India was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. On that day, four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack by uniformed gunmen.

Seeing a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters seated at the news conference in Rome, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his condolences. However, the memory of the four sisters' martyrdom still proved too difficult to bear.

Silence filled the room as the Salesian priest covered his eyes, tears streaming down his face while doing his utmost to hold back emotions that he thought he could contain.

"I thank God Almighty for this day, for keeping me safe, healthy, clear minded; my emotions were in control until now," he said after regaining his composure. 

"I don't want to speak too much about the sisters because I get too emotional," he said.

Although reports following his kidnapping suggested the attack was carried out by the so-called Islamic State, Father Uzhunnalil said his captors never identified themselves.

Knowing very little Arabic, Father Uzhunnalil said he spoke to the militants with the few words he knew: "Ana hindiin" ("I am Indian"). To this day, the Indian priest still wonders why he was the only one spared in the slaughter.

"Why they did not kill me, why they didn't tie my hands, I don't know," he said. "Perhaps they wanted some ransom or whatever it is. I only believe that maybe God had put that into their heads when I said, 'I am Indian,' and they made me sit there while they killed the others, the sisters."

After leaving him in the trunk of the car, the militants ransacked the chapel taking the tabernacle, wrapping it with the altar linen and placing it near the kidnapped priest. With his hands unbound, Father Uzhunnalil carefully moved the linen and found "four or five small hosts," which he kept to celebrate the Eucharist the first few days of his capture.

After his short supply ran out, he said, he continued reciting the Mass prayers when alone despite not having bread and wine.

"I peacefully was able to say my Eucharist all from memory, although bread and wine wasn't available. But I prayed to God to give me those items spiritually," Father Uzhunnalil said.

He spent most of his days praying for the pope, his bishop, his Salesian brothers, and "certainly those sisters, all those persons whom God had called" on the day of his abduction.

Father Uzhunnalil said he found consolation in the words of a hymn, "One day at a time, sweet Jesus."

"Just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do. Yesterday's gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, help me today, show me the way, one day at a time," he would sing to himself in the solitude of his room.

On Sept. 11, Father Uzhunnalil was given the news of his liberation. After traveling for hours blindfolded, the priest along with two of his captors waited in the car.

Several hours later, his captors told him "some arrangements weren't done" and they headed back.

Not understanding the church's teaching on the Holy Trinity and the "unity of God in three persons," Father Uzhunnalil recalled, one of his captors said, "You might have prayed to the third God, now you must pray to the second God so tomorrow can go well."

Returning to his cell, he slept briefly when he was rustled out of bed in the middle of the night Sept. 12 and taken on the same long ride, his head once again covered. He was then moved to another vehicle where a person pulled up his picture on a cell phone and asked the priest, "Is this you?"

After confirming his identity, the driver drove for more than a day through the desert and told him: "Now you are free, now you are safe."

Father Uzhunnalil was then taken to the Omani capital of Moscat where he received medical treatment, fresh clothes, and a shaving kit.

While he knows few details about arrangements for his release, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his gratitude to those who helped secure his liberation, including Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, the government authorities of India, and the Vatican, including Pope Francis whom he met the day after his release.

As Pope Francis entered the room Sept. 13, the Salesian knelt before him and kissed his feet. Visibly moved by the gesture, the pope helped him up and kissed his hands.

Before blessing Father Uzhunnalil, the pope embraced him and said he would continue to pray for him as he had done during his imprisonment.

"In that meeting, the pope kissed my hand. I never deserved it," he said. "I'm only grateful to God for his blessings, I'm sure he prayed much for me."

Even his captors, Father Uzhunnalil said, knew of the pope's efforts and inadvertently gave him a reason to hope.

"One of the captors told me, 'The pope has said you will be freed soon but nothing is happening still.' From that, I knew that the whole world was there, the whole church was there, the world was worried for me. So, I am grateful," he said.


Don't be embarrassed to talk about sex, Youths Tell Vatican Officials

Catholic News Service (CNS) || By Cindy Wooden || 13 September 2017

youth tell vatican officials to speak about sexSeveral young people attending a Vatican-sponsored seminar on the upcoming Synod of Bishops urged the Vatican and the bishops themselves to be opening to listening to youths talk and ask questions about love, sex and sexuality.

A "big gap" exists between the concerns young people want to talk about and the issues most bishops are comfortable discussing, said Therese Hargot, who describes herself as a philosopher and sexologist.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, said he wanted to hear from young adults and experts about the challenges young people are facing in the church and society.

Twenty people under the age of 35, along with 70 theologians, priests and academics were meeting Sept. 11-15 as part of the preparatory process for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on "young people, faith and vocational discernment."

The cardinal's office planned a dozen long, formal talks on subjects including "the search for identity," political commitment, planning for the future, technology and transcendence.

But Hargot, who leads sex education programs at Catholic schools in Paris, told the gathering Sept. 13, "it's surprising we are looking at politics, economics, etc., but not at sexuality and affectivity, which are very important topics for young people."

"Young people want to talk about sexuality and love," she told Catholic News Service. "They love learning about the theology of the body," a term referring to St. John Paul II's approach to sex and sexuality. "I don't know why no one here is speaking about love. It's amazing."

Ashleigh Green, an Australian delegate to the seminar, said that going around Australia in preparation for the synod she found that "a lot of young people feel like they cannot talk about issues that matter to them" in most church settings.

"It's important to open up and talk" about sex, sexuality and sexual orientation, she said. "And it's central to vocation," which is part of the synod's focus.

Severine Deneulin, an associate professor in international development at England's University of Bath, said she was finding "it hard to figure out" what the Vatican wanted from the seminar. "Is it to listen to young people? Does that mean they are willing to change something? Are they willing to change the criteria for ministry?"

"That's why I have a secular career," she said. In academia "I am accepted for who I am and for my talents. In the church, I would not be. If we are worried about leadership in the church, why do we ignore half the church," meaning the women. "Why aren't we talking about this?"

Natalia Shalata, a young woman from Ukraine who runs a program to support orphans and street children, brought a different concern to the seminar Sept. 13.

During the discussion about young people and politics, she told the gathering, "For my generation it is extremely important" to learn how to be effective and to be heard. "When political leaders don't live up to their expectations, they (the young) are willing to take extreme action," including suicide. It is a growing problem in Ukraine, which still is fighting a war in its eastern territories.

Shalata, a Ukrainian Catholic married to a priest, said the church must "go out and hear these strong cries" for help.

Cardinal Baldisseri opened the seminar Sept. 11 explaining that the gathering was one attempt to "frame or photograph the situation of young people, identifying the basic traits that are common for youths today while also paying attention to the plurality" determined by geographical and cultural differences.

Pope Francis, he recalled, wants the synod in October 2018 to not just be about young people, but with young people, assuring they have a voice.

As part of that, his office has posted a questionnaire at youth.synod2018.va and is inviting young people 16-29 to respond. "In the roughly three months it has been online, more than 110,000 young people have responded to the questionnaire," he said. "It's a significant number considering the absolute novelty of the initiative, and one that is bound to increase in the coming months."

The response rate, he said, "demonstrates the great desire of young people to have their say."


Vocations that Only Seek to 'climb the ladder' are Dead, Pope Says

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Elise Harris || 09 September 2017

vocations seeking to climb ladder dead for popeOn Saturday, Pope Francis told Colombia's priests and religious that vocations come from a variety of different backgrounds and flourish with joyful service, but die as soon as they become infected by greed or selfish interests.

“We are a people chosen for the truth, and our call has to be in truth,” the Pope said Sept. 9. “There can be no place for deceit, hypocrisy or small-mindedness if we are branches of this vine, if our vocation is grafted onto Jesus.”

Every consecrated person must be careful to ensure that they bear fruit, he said, explaining that from the start, those who accompany the vocational process must “encourage a right intention, a genuine desire to be configured to Jesus.”

“When these processes are not nourished by this true sap that is the Spirit of Jesus, then we experience dryness and God learns with sadness that these branches are already dead,” he said.

Sadly, consecrated vocations “die when they love to be sustained with honors, when they are driven by a search for personal reassurance and social advancement, when the motivation is 'to climb the ladder,' to cleave to material interests and to strive shamefully for financial gain,” he said.

As he has done frequently in the past, the Pope said the devil “enters through the wallet.” And this doesn't just apply to the early stages of the vocation, but “all of us have to be careful because the corrupting of men and women in the Church begins in this way.”

Pope Francis spoke to priests, religious, seminarians and their families in the Macarena Stadium in Medellin, Colombia. 

Largely undertaken as an encouragement of the country's peace process, the Sept. 6-11 visit includes stops in four cities. Francis has already traveled to Bogota, Villavicencio and Medellin, and will go to Cartagena tomorrow on his last official day in the country. 

At times throughout his speech, Pope Francis departed from his prepared remarks, delving into the crisis of commitment among young people, discussing the importance of vulnerability, and emphasizing that our lives are what make the Gospel credible to our non-believing friends and neighbors.

Before speaking, the Pope listened to the testimonies of Sr. Leidy de San Jose, a contemplative Carmelite nun; Maria Isabel Arboleda Perez, whose son is a priest; and Fr. Juan Felipe Escobar, priest for the Archdiocese of Medellin.

In his speech, Francis directly addressed the young people present, saying most of them likely first discovered Jesus in communities “with a contagious apostolic zeal, which inspire and attract others.”

“Where there is life, zeal, the desire to take Christ to others, genuine vocations arise,” he said, noting that despite the current crisis of commitment in relationships, many youth “stand together against the evils of the world” through both political and volunteer work.

And when they do this for Jesus with the understanding that they are a part of the community, they become “street preachers,” and are able “to bring Jesus Christ to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth.”

Pope Francis pointed to the importance of recognizing the “complex relational realities” and varied situations out of which vocations arise. 

“It would be almost unrealistic to think that all of you heard the call of God in the midst of families sustained by a strong love and full of values such as generosity, compromise, fidelity and patience,” he said.

While there are some vocations that arise from these situations, “and I pray to God that they are many,” the Pope said, keeping our feet “firmly planted on the ground” means recognizing that our vocational calling brings us closer to the “thread of suffering and bloodshed” that runs throughout the Bible, and which “Colombia knows so well.”

This thread can be seen in Cain's murder of Abel, in the violence in the family of David, the problems within Tobias' family and the lamentations of Job, Francis said, explaining that from the beginning we see how God shows his closeness when he “changes the course of events to call men and women in the frailty of their personal and shared history.”

“Let us not be afraid, in that complex land, for God always brings about the miracle of producing good clusters on the vine,” he said, and prayed that there would be vocations in every community and family of Medellín.

The vine of Christ is true, and truth is essential to the religious call, the Pope continued. 

“The poison of lies, obfuscation, manipulation and the abuse of the People of God, the weak and especially the elderly and young, can have no place in our communities,” he said. “They are branches that are determined to dry us out and that God tells us to cut off.”

Francis then noted that God doesn't just cut away the dead branches, but, as the Gospel passage says, he also “purifies the vine of its imperfections.”

“The promise is that we will bear fruit, and abundantly, just like the grain of wheat, if we are able to give ourselves, to offer our lives freely,” he said, and pointed to Colombian saints such as St. Laura Montoya and Bl. Mariano de Jesus Euse Hoyos as examples.

Asking those present how it is that God purifies us of the things that “lead to death and which take hold of our lives and distort his call,” the Pope said the answer is by “inviting us to dwell in him.”

To dwell, he said, “does not only signify being, but rather also indicates maintaining a relationship that is alive, existential and absolutely necessary; it means to live and grow in an intimate and fruitful union with Jesus.”

This “dwelling” cannot be a merely passive act or simple abandonment without having any consequences in our daily lives, he continued, and offered the religious three ways to make their “dwelling in the Lord” effective.

The first is to touch Christ's humanity, Francis said, which means to look with “the gaze and attitude of Jesus, who contemplates reality not as a judge, but rather as a Good Samaritan; who recognizes the value of the people who walk with him, as well as their wounds and sins.”

It means to imitate Jesus, who looks at people and “discovers their silent suffering and who is moved by peoples’ needs, above all when they are overwhelmed by injustice, inhumane poverty, indifference or by the perverse actions of corruption and violence.”

It also entails embracing Jesus' words and gestures, “which express love for those nearby and search for those far away,” while being both tender and firm in rejecting sin and announcing the Gospel.

The second means of dwelling in the Lord is contemplating Christ's divinity, which requires “awakening and sustaining” studies that increase our knowledge of God, Pope Francis said, adding that priority ought to be given to reading Sacred Scripture.

“Whoever does not know the Scriptures, does not know Jesus. Whoever does not love the Scriptures, does not love Jesus,” he said, and prayed that studying would “help us to interpret reality with the eyes of God, that it may not be a way of avoiding what is happening to our people, nor be subject to the whim of fashions or ideologies.”

“May our study not be overcome by nostalgia or the tendency to confine the mystery, nor may it be unwilling to respond to questions that people no longer ask themselves, and may it not abandon those who find themselves in an existential void and who question us from their worlds and cultures,” he said.

Prayer is also an essential to this contemplation, he said, since it forms a “fundamental part of our lives and apostolic service.”

Time spent in prayer “frees us from the burden of worldliness, and teaches us to live joyfully, to distance ourselves from what is superficial, in an exercise of true freedom,” he said. It also frees us from self-centeredness and from “being reclusive in an empty religious experience.”

Contemplating God also requires that we are “reconciled in order to reconcile,” Francis said, explaining that to be called “does not give us a certificate of right conduct and sinlessness; we are not clothed in an aura of holiness.”

Rather, “we are all sinners and we need forgiveness and God’s mercy to rise each day. He uproots whatever is not good in us, as well as the wrong we have done, casting it out of the vineyard to be burned up. He cleanses us so that we may bear fruit.”

Finally, the Pope said we have to dwell in God in order to live fully, because “if we remain in him, his joy will be in us. We will not be sad disciples and bitter apostles.”

On the contrary, “we will reflect and be heralds of true happiness, a complete joy that no one can take away. We will spread the hope of a new life that Christ has given to us.”

God’s call, the Pope said, is not “a heavy burden that robs us of joy,” but rather, he wants us to live “a spirituality that brings joy to our lives and even to our weariness.”

“Our contagious joy must be our first testimony to the closeness and love of God,” he said, adding that Colombia itself has received the gaze of the Lord and is thus a sign of his “loving election.”

Francis closed his speech saying “it is now up to us to offer all our love and service while being united to Jesus, our vine. To be the promise of a new beginning for Colombia, that leaves behind the floods of discord and violence, a Colombia that wants to bear abundant fruits of justice and peace, of encounter and solidarity.”

Source: Catholic News Agency…


Catholics and Protestants see themselves as more similar than different – except in the UK

Catholic Herald || By Susan Byron || 04 September 2017

catholic and protestants more similarForty-five per cent of British Catholics said that Catholicism was 'more different than similar' to Protestantism

Catholics and Protestants are more likely to see their respective communions as more similar than different, according to research.

The findings, from the Pew Research Centre, a think tank based in Washington DC, show a marked change in perceptions since Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses 500 years ago.

Sixty-five per cent of US Catholics and 57 per cent of Protestants saw their corresponding communions as more similar than different. A median of 50 per cent of European Catholics and 58 per cent of European Protestants held the same outlook.

The Western European survey questioned nearly 24,000 adults across 15 countries, revealing considerable regional differences. The United Kingdom was the only country where Catholics thought their religion was more different to Protestantism than similar (41 per cent thought it was more similar, 45 per cent thought it was more different).

Catholics are more likely to outnumber Protestants in southern European countries such as Spain and France, while Protestants outnumber Catholics in the north – the UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

But in every European country surveyed, roughly nine-in-ten Catholics and Protestants say they are willing to accept members of the other tradition as neighbours. Ninety-eight per cent of German Protestants say they would accept Catholics as members of their family, and a similar share of German Catholics (97 per cent) say the same about Protestants.

The study’s survey of US believers found that in a series of multiple-choice questions, 65 per cent correctly identified the Reformation as the term commonly used to refer to the historical period in which Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church.

The study, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, surveyed 24,599 adults across 15 countries in Western Europe, and 5,198 adults in the US.

Source: Catholic Herald…


Does Team Trump Have an Africa Plan?

Al Jazeera || By James Reinl || 04 September 2017

trump presindency for africa 2017US diplomacy can play a useful role in Africa, but nobody in the State Department is picking up the phone right now.

When Kenya's top court annulled last month's presidential election results, Donald Trump's mind was elsewhere. The US president was tweeting about stock market growth and his old political nemesis, Hillary Clinton. 

In fairness, the billionaire has a lot on his plate at the moment - from Hurricane Harvey's devastation trail to North Korea's nuclear arms test. But, as is often noted, sub-Saharan Africa struggles to place high on the global agenda.

Nearly eight months into his presidency, Trump has yet to nominate an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Other jobs lower down in the State Department, Pentagon and White House are vacant; there is no US ambassador in either South Africa or Congo.

Officials and experts told Al Jazeera that an inattentive US made violent flare-ups in South Sudan, Burundi, and other hotspots more likely, while giving China space to capitalise on sub-Saharan Africa's economic growth at Washington's expense.

"The problem isn't that Africa isn't a front-burner issue in the White House, that is only the case in exceptional circumstances," Vanda Felbab-Brown, a researcher with the Brookings Institution think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

"It's that the competent, highly skilled bureaucracy has been made totally dysfunctional by so many positions not being confirmed," she said.

After Kenya's Supreme Court scrapped that country's election results on September 1, a statesmanlike phone call from the West Wing could have put the brakes on any sabre-rattling from President Uhuru Kenyatta or his opponent, Raila Odinga, she said.

"It was a massive and unprecedented decision by the court and, right or wrong, it's made a volatile situation in Kenya even worse. It's a moment like this that you really want high-level officers calling from the White House, and that's not necessarily happening," Felbab-Brown said.

Africa is home to 1.2 billion people in 54 diverse countries, but also some of the world's most protracted conflicts in Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congoand elsewhere. Two areas are particularly worrisome to policymakers right now.

Burundi has suffered from periodic low-level violence since 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office. The International Crisis Group, a watchdog, warns of tensions spiralling into "mass atrocities and a regional proxy conflict".

Others point to South Sudan, which collapsed into civil war two years after winning its independence from Sudan in 2011. Fighting has since claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and forced 3.5 million people to flee their homes.

Last month, it emerged that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to abolish his department's special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan and a second diplomatic trouble-shooter to the Great Lakes region and Congo.

In a letter, he wrote about combined savings of more than $5 million from scrapping the envoys and support staff - in line with the Trump administration's goal of slashing the State Department's budget by 30 percent.

"Dissolving the office of a special envoy is usually done when their task is complete," Raymond Gilpin, an expert in the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a Pentagon think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

"With what's going on in South Sudan and the humanitarian catastrophe that's unfolding in northern Uganda, and refugees crossing the border from South Sudan, I think that task is far from complete."

Cuts are already having real-world consequences. In July, Trump pushed back a deadline on whether to lift US sanctions against Sudan by three months, amid divisions in his administration and a lack of staff in key posts, including in the National Security Council.

Trump's lack of enthusiasm for Africa was on display at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, that same month. It was closed-door talks on African development that Trump famously stepped away from, giving up his chair to his daughter, Ivanka.

Tillerson argues that, despite swinging cuts, US diplomacy will still "be effective". According to reports, the appointment of J Peter Pham, a scholar, as assistant secretary on Africa was held up in Congress and an alternative was being sought.

The US footprint in Africa has not vanished. This month, Trump appointee Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development, has been in South Sudan, urging President Salva Kiir to work harder for peace and warning that US support for the country was under review.

Last month, US trade envoy Robert Lighthizer visited the tiny West African nation of Togo to review a Clinton-era free trade deal with sub-Saharan Africa, though little progress was made on renewing the so-called African Growth and Opportunity Act. 

Aubrey Hruby, a scholar at the Atlantic Council and co-author of The Next Africa: An Emerging Continent Becomes a Global Powerhouse, said Trump's pro-business team was missing a trick on a mineral-rich continent with a growing middle class.

US exports to sub-Saharan Africa have doubled to $21.81bn from $10.96bn in 2000, according to US Commerce Department data, but they were dwarfed by China's $102bn in exports to the region in 2015. 

Washington cannot catch up with Beijing's huge road, rail and other infrastructure schemes in Africa, but businesspeople can turn good profits there in the finance and entertainment sectors where US firms excel, Hruby said.

"We haven't developed anything like a Trump administration business programme for Africa yet. A lot of us have been waiting to have someone in the right seat in the White House and the State Department, but we can't wait forever," Hruby told Al Jazeera.

African diplomats in the US say they are looking to the upcoming UN General Assembly, an annual political jamboree in New York, to spotlight the African security issues that are failing to get enough international attention.

Ethiopia's UN ambassador, Tekeda Alemu, said he hoped to use his country's presidency of the UN Security Council this month to spotlight South Sudan, where internecine fighting has forced a million people to flee into neighbouring Uganda.

Applied correctly, diplomatic pressure could end the ethnic bloodletting, he said.

"It's achievable; it's doable. If there is a necessary goodwill commitment you could make progress," Alemu told Al Jazeera. "If the countries of the region speak with one voice, if the Security Council speaks with one voice." 

But, he noted, despite Trump's presence in midtown Manhattan for UN the confab, the US had not confirmed whether the president, Tillerson, or any other American heavyweight would take part in Ethiopia's debate on peacekeeping on September 20.

Source: Al Jazeera…


Comboni Nun Answers ‘scream of pain’ of Human Trafficking Victims

Crux || By Inés San Martín || 30 August 2017

comboni nun answers cries of human trafficking“Do you know where the gold in your crucifix came from?” Simone Blanchard, an expert on ethical trade from Catholic Relief Services, asked. In many cases, she explains, it was procured by children in Peru, forced to work in the gold mines, an illustration of the global reach of human trafficking, estimated at $150 billion in annual profit to be the world's third most lucrative illegal industry.

Sister Gabriella Bottani has dedicated most of her ministry to fighting human trafficking, a scourge she first encountered in the mid-1990s. When she was still in formation, she said, volunteering for a Caritas center in Rome, she met a woman named Lina.

Lina was no ordinary young woman. She was an Albanian who’d been trafficked to Italy, and exploited in prostitution. Her “earnings”? Less than $1.5 per client - and, as a perverse bonus, she also acquired HIV.

Lina came one night to the center for homeless women at which Bottani was helping, and to this day, the Comboni nun can’t forget the big black eyes that were pleading for help: She wanted to get out of the life she was trapped in.

“We had everything ready for her to go to a safe house, but when the day came, she never showed up,” Bottani told Crux.

Two weeks later, Lina went back to the house run by Caritas Italia, a Vatican-affiliated network of Catholic charitable groups around the world.

“Lina told me that she was committed to getting off the street, but those who were exploiting her - Lina didn’t use that word, but that’s what she meant - knew who her family was,” Bottani said, recalling Lina’s words upon telling her that she had a toddler: “I had to choose between my life and that of my son. I chose my son.”

This meeting with “Lina” - not her real name - was a turning point for Bottani, who at the time in 1994, was in the early stages of her formation process that would lead to her consecration to God in the Order of the Comboni Missionary Sisters, an international congregation of consecrated women who choose to live in poverty, chastity and obedience, among the poorest and excluded of society.

She believes her encounter with Lina had an impact in her formation as a religious, “but it also meant a moment of encounter with God that opened my eyes to the drama, the suffering of people like this girl and so many like her. It’s as if He had given direction to my sensibility.”

Soon after this encounter, Bottani moved to Germany, where she studied Social Pedagogy, and eventually to Fortaleza, in northern Brazil, where she lived for years in a favela, the country’s infamous slums, where she once again encountered the reality of children and adolescents being forced into prostitution.

Today, she lives in Rome, from where she heads “Thalita Kum”, an umbrella organization that coordinates the efforts of 22 networks in 70 countries that work against human trafficking. The “network of networks” can also be defined as the global effort by consecrated women against this illegal industry. It was created in 2009 by the International Union of Superiors General.

“It was born from an effort of religious life, to collaborate in this complex, difficult to address issue,” she said. “From this female leadership, it became open to other realities, to the point that today it’s not only religious women and sisters. It includes priests and laity, people of different religions and also non-believers.”

To explain what draws her to dedicate herself to fight the exploitation of other people, Bottani uses the biblical image of Moses, sent by God to rescue Israel from the hands of the Pharaoh.

“It’s God who calls, because he hears the desperate scream of pain,” she said. “The plea of our brothers and sisters who live this pain, victims of a physical and psychological violence … And when God hears their call, he too calls, makes us sensitive [to those pleas].”

Background on human trafficking

“Statistics show that there are 21 million people worldwide who are trafficked each year. That’s twice the population of New York City,” said Simone Blanchard, Economic Justice Program Manager at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the overseas development arm of the U.S. bishops.

More than half of these people are women and children.

Trafficking, which long has been labeled by Pope Francis as a crime against humanity and the equivalent of modern-day slavery, is also a very lucrative industry. It generates an estimated $150 billion annually, making it the largest crime industry after drugs and the illicit arms trade.

CRS has been working on this issue since 2000, and they’ve carried out 145 anti-trafficking projects across five continents. A large part of their efforts, however, have been focused in India, since it’s in this Asian giant where almost half of the human trafficking occurs.

That doesn’t mean this illegal industry is present only in underdeveloped countries. All across Europe, and also in the United States, men and women are being trafficked.

Something people don’t realize, Blanchard said, is that victims of human trafficking are “hiding in the shadows.” They are in restaurants, gas stations, farms, and hotels.

Bottani explained that the historic difference between “human trafficking” and “slavery” has changed with time. Originally, one referred to white women and girls who were kidnapped and became part of the harems in the Middle East, while slavery has been mostly associated with men and women being sold and bought as property, exploited, forced to work in inhuman situations.

In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, one of the three supplementing that year’s Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which was signed in Palermo.

The document defines human trafficking as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons,” who were threatened, forced, coerced or abducted, for “the purpose of exploitation.”

Exploitation, according to the Palermo Protocol, includes “at a minimum,” forced prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, servitude and the removal of organs.

Bottani came close to recalling that technical definition verbatim. To simplify things, she put it like this: “What all of them have in common is that we’re talking about the exploitation of another person for economic gain.”

Ethical trade, Pope Francis and what Catholics can do

Ethical trade is Blanchard’s area of expertise, and she believes it’s one way Catholics in the United States can do something to put their faith into action. Speaking with Crux, she quoted Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the “Joy of the Gospel.”

Even though Francis never uses the term “ethical trade,” he warns against sustaining a lifestyle which excludes others, something he claims has led to the development of a “globalization of indifference.”

The quote Blanchard cited says: “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

And move us they should, Blanchard believes.

After all, “do you know where the gold in your crucifix came from?” In many cases, she explains, it was procured by children in Peru, forced to work in the gold mines.

Blanchard works with parishes, schools, universities and individuals, in an attempt to move Catholics to come together to “think deeply about these issues, to pray for the people who make the things we consume, and to advocate for policies that prevent human trafficking like the Supply Chain Transparency Act to support businesses that pay a fair wage in a local context.”

She acknowledges that researching companies to know if they’re committed to fair trade or not is time consuming, but Blanchard is convinced that it’s a responsibility Catholics have. There are many companies, she argued, that support workers and the environment, are committed to preventing human trafficking, and invest in the communities where they’re based.

There’s no certification system for ethical trade, she said, nor is it a “movement.”

“It’s the idea that business can and should contribute to the common good in a transparent way and should be held accountable for that.”

CRS has partnered with 20 companies from around the world which they know are treating workers fairly, taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, and investing in the communities where they source products and materials. They’re currently working on a “Holiday Ethical Gift Guide,” which they’ll release later in the year.

Pope Francis has been outspoken when it comes to the fight against human trafficking.

He has gathered religious leaders from all major faiths in the Vatican to sign a joint declaration to fight trafficking. He also summoned mayors from some of the world’s most important cities, including New York, Paris, Rome and Madrid, to do the same, and earlier in the year he hosted a workshop with over 100 judges from all over the world to shine the spotlight on the scourge of human trafficking.

“Pope Francis gives us the strength and opens the path to those who, inside and outside the Church work in this fight in favor of life,” Bottani said.

Source: Crux…


Catholic Priest Found Stabbed to Death in Brazil

Crux || By Crux Staff || 26 August 2017

priest in brazil found stubbedA 49-year-old Catholic priest was found stabbed to death in his residence on August 24, bringing to 11 the number of priests murdered around the world so far in 2017, with seven coming in Latin America alone. Despite being a majority Catholic continent, Latin America often leads annual Vatican counts of the numbers of Catholic personnel killed in the line of duty during the previous year.

Police in Brazil officially confirmed on Saturday that the body of a 49-year-old priest was discovered in his residence on the morning of August 24, after he was stabbed to death. According to local media, post-mortem analysis found 29 separate knife wounds on his body.

Father Pedro Gomes Bezerra, who would have turned 50 at the end of the month, lived in Borborema, a municipality located in southeastern Brazil. His death brings to 11 the number of Catholic priests who’ve been assassinated around the world since the beginning of 2017, with seven coming in Latin America alone.

Although Gomes Bezerra’s car was not found in his garage, there were no signs it was stolen, police said it did not immediately appear the murder was part of a robbery.

The Brazilian Diocese of Guarabira, which includes Borborema, released a statement on Gomes Bezerra’s death, noting that he had been in charge of the diocese’s Nuestra Señora del Carmen Pastoral Area.

The diocese asked all faithful to “mourn in prayer, professing our faith in the resurrection of the dead,” and asking, “May the Lord grant Fr. Pedro Gomes eternal rest.”

Police said they did not have any clear motive for the murder, but an official promised a prompt investigation.

“We are going to analyze the life of the father, the people with whom he lived, if he had any enemies, or someone who had an interest in his death,” said Joao Alves, delegate general for the Civil Police.

Despite being a majority Catholic continent, Latin America often leads annual Vatican counts of the numbers of Catholic personnel killed in the line of duty during the previous year.

For decades, that dubious distinction belonged to Colombia, mostly as a result of its long-running civil war and attendant lawlessness in parts of the country. Since 1984, seventy Catholic priests, two bishops, eight nuns and three seminarians were slaughtered there, many falling victim to the nation’s notorious narco-cartels.

More recently, Mexico has seen a spate of priest murders, with an estimated 32 priests being killed since 2006. Once again, those deaths are often associated with criminal gangs in some parts of the country, fueled by the lucrative drug trade.

Source: Crux…


Countering “fake news” With the Good News

Aleteia || By Fr. Joshan Rodrigues || 22 August 2017

from fake news to good newsWhat is truth? Pilate's question has come back to haunt us, and perhaps only the Church can rightly give answer.

“What is truth?” Pilate famously asked Jesus, when he was brought before him for judgement. The question was more rhetorical in nature because Pilate walked out to the crowds before Jesus could give him an answer. In fact, Truth in the flesh was standing before him, but Pilate’s eyes were closed to this reality. Jesus alluded to this when he told Pilate earlier “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” But Pilate was thinking of factual truths, not heavenly ones.

We are currently living in an era of “post truths” and “alternative facts.” The Oxford Dictionary defines post-truth as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” which means that, in 2017, emotion trumps objectivity; it helps the phenomenon of “fake news” become very real to individuals (and, sadly, some professional media) who need it to feed their appetite for ideology, malice, and the mayhem that helps it all to swell and grow.

The current mood of fakery may have ridden into society on the back of satire (Stephen Colbert’s faux Fox New take-off “The Colbert Report” regularly celebrated the merits of “truthiness”) but fake news is not a recent invention. In the 19th century, “yellow journalism” increased readership (and influence) by emphasizing sensationalism over facts, somewhat like tabloid journalism.

The Bible is not fake news in any way, but we do see the concept in a number of biblical events. Just to name one — and probably the most important — the disciples of Jesus were accused of spreading “fake news” when they claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Of course, the real “fake news” had been spread by the chief priests and elders in this instance to discredit Jesus and his followers (Mt 28:12-15).

A number of surveys have shown that people are losing faith in the “truthfulness and objectivity” of the traditional press. They are less likely now to believe what they read in the newspapers than a decade ago. The widespread and easy access to the internet has shown people that a story can be presented in many different ways, simply by what is emphasized or ignored, and that traditional media — which once held a monopoly on reportage — may not always have been telling them the whole story. Journalism, particularly when involving stories of political moment, too often seems to surrender objectivity in order to either support or defeat an object.

Added to the sense of distrust and is the dispersal of unreliable information being spread on social media and through echo-chamber websites that serve up fodder for any taker who really wants to believe it. Take Pope Francis for instance. It’s not uncommon for people to receive messages about his statements or homilies that archly twist his words, or his meaning. “You don’t have to go to Mass in order to be a good Catholic” is one of them; “Divorce doesn’t matter” is another. A simple Google search can confirm that the pope has never said either statement, yet the people who want to believe it – who find it the preferable truth — will keep forwarding such nonsense to their friends. So. too, will people who know better, but who are not fans of this pope.

What is truth? Pilate’s question has come back to haunt us.

We are at a critical juncture in history, when the world seems to need to be reintroduced to the answer. The Church can reassert the universal nature of objective truth based on divine principles.

A priest friend is doing his doctoral research on media ethics and he recently told me that a number of reputed scholars within secular journalism had privately expressed to him their wish that the Church should play a larger role in advocating ethics and transparency in news and media. They did not agree with the Church on many issues but they recognized that the Church, with its immense moral and ethical standing, was one of the few global institutions remaining that could objectively speak on behalf of the truth.

Fake news can be countered with the Good News. The Bible is the source of what is True, Good and Beautiful. And the Truth was incarnated in the person of the Son of God. I see John’s prologue as the defining exposition of this claim. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) For our context what that means is that truth and fact originate from the divine; from that which existed before us and which will continue to exist long after us. There is therefore no danger of truth being confused with opinion or alternative facts or willful under-representation of the truth.

What makes the Divine truth such a great moral force is that it places the human being at the center. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It is only the real truth that will set humankind free. The Bible focuses on justice, mercy, love, forgiveness, peace and obedience to God’s will as central aspects of the Christian way of life. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that humankind would achieve peace and prosperity if we would follow God’s tenets instead of man’s.

Facing a lot of flak for his company becoming a conduit for fake news during the presidential elections, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that identifying the truth “is complicated” for a computer algorithm.

Living the truth is hard for human beings – even for saints, it is sometimes hard — but the Truth itself is not complicated to recognize within the gift of Truth by divine revelation.

Living in service to that Truth, rather than the truth we prefer, answers Pilate’s question.

Source: Aleteia…

10 Ways that Science Is Proving the Church Is Right and the Culture's Wrong

Aleteia || By Jim Schroeder || 15 November, 2014

Source: http://www.aleteia.org/en/scienvironment/article/10-ways-that-science-is-proving-the-church-is-right-and-the-cultures-wrong-5881921179484160?utm_campaign=NL_en&utm_source=daily_newsletter&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=NL_en-15/11/2014

Catholic beliefs have long been challenged by that elite triumvirate of academia, media and government. Today, many of us are also finding our beliefs challenged in our daily lives – in our professional careers, our parenting and how we live.

Adult Catholics need to understand and intentionally embrace Catholic teaching with our intellects and reason. We can’t be content to believe and accept the teaching of the Church solely because our parents and teachers “said so.” In this process, we may struggle with particular teachings due to our own flaws, lack of good catechesis and other reasons. And even as adults, our faith may be challenged when the lives and practices of people we respect and love contradict Catholic doctrine. When this happens, I try to see the relevance of my beliefs to their lives.

The values espoused by the Church can seem harsh and even unfair in our live-and-let-live ethos. It’s understandable that many today believe that the Church is out of step with the modern world and that its teachings are no longer relevant.

But what is amazing (and certainly unintentional) is the fact that modern science – which so many assume is the antithesis or even enemy of Catholic teaching – actually bears out the truth and value and relevance of what the Church has taught for 2,000 years. Here are ten examples to illustrate my point.

1. The Church teaches that pride is the root of all vices. Research studies in psychology show that narcissism and irrational thinking are on the rise, especially in our younger generation, and are creating a “community” that is disjointed, disenchanted and confused. The traits of narcissists – self-centeredness, inflated self-esteen, lack of empathy, aggressiveness – are harmful to others, to society, and eventually to the narcissists themselves.

2. The Church teaches that gluttony and sloth undermine the values of food and rest, creating unhealthy conditions that threaten the mind, body and soul. The “Journal of the American Medical Association” reports that almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, that obesity is a significant threat to mental and physical health and will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of death.

3. The Church teaches that lust involves treating the human body as a physical commodity rather than as an aspect of the whole human person – an inseparable body, mind and soul – who is the masterpiece of God’s creation and who will live forever. Currently, profits from pornography in the United States exceed the combined revenues of CBS, ABC and NBC (Kimmel, 2008).

4. The Church teaches that a valid marriage is forever and indissoluble. Science tells us that growing up in an intact family with one’s biological parents who are married to eachother confers the greatest benefit to children and other arrangements result in varying degrees of social, psychological, emotional and academic harm.

5. The Church teaches that artificial birth control violates the natural law. The World Health Organization classifies oral contraceptives as Class One carcinogens (that is, known to cause cancer in humans), like asbestos, radon, and plutonium, except that contraceptives are far more prevalent.

6. The Church teaches that fear prevents love and that, above all, we should trust in God’s providential care and not be afraid. Studies show that anxiety is the number one psychological complaint in youth and adults (see, e.g., Cartwright-Hatton, McNicol, & Doubleday, 2006; Muris & Steerneman, 2001). At unhealthy levels, anxiety is associated with a myriad of negative health outcomes.

7. The Church teaches that homosexual acts are not a healthy expression of human sexuality. An “International Journal of Epidemiology” review of studies finds that the

risk of HIV transmission is 18 times greater during anal intercourse than vaginal intercourse.  

8. The Church teaches that all human life is precious, from conception to natural death, and that each person is deserving of our love and care. The American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations strongly condemn discrimination against those with disabilities whose medical care, happiness and livelihood are often threatened by others (but, curiously, they support the “right” to abort persons with disabilities).

9. The Church teaches that sex before marriage undermines the loving union and well-being of each individual and the couple as a whole. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that sexually active adolescents are more likely than their abstinent peers to be depressed and suicidal, to use illicit substances, and are at significant risk of acquiring one or more sexually transmitted diseases, many of which are incurable.

10. The Church teaches that greed creates a society in which some people are exploited for others’ gains and those who are exploited struggle to meet basic needs. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the gap continues to widen between rich and poor in this country. This is also the case worldwide, where the disparity between the gross domestic product of the 20 richest and 20 poorest nations more than doubled between 1960 and 1995.
Many people would prefer to avoid topics like greed, lust, pride, birth control and gluttony. It’s awkward and “judgmental” to raise moral issues. But if we truly care for the well-being of our families and friends now and in eternity, as well as the future of society, we need to have honest conversations, at appropriate times. Thankfully, we can now begin these conversations with the findings of science, which people today accept more readily as truth than the teachings of Our Lord and the Church He founded.

Some say that the Church is no longer relevant in the 21st century. But given the serious harm people are causing to themselves and others by ignoring or denying Catholic teaching, it seems that these truths are needed now, possibly more than ever.

Jim Schroeder is a pediatric psychologist at St. Mary’s Center for Children in Evansville, Indiana. He resides there with his wife, Amy, and their six children. He received a BS from Ball State University and graduated with a PhD in clinical psychology from Saint Louis University in 2005. He completed an internship at the University of Louisville School of Medicine / Kosair Children’s Hospital and did his postdoctoral fellowship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital through the Washington University School of Medicine. He also writes a monthly column titled "Just Thinking" (www.stmarys.org/articles) designed to inform, educate, and motivate parents and providers in applying pertinent research in meaningful, practical ways.

Full citations to sources cited in no. 3 and no. 6

Cartwright-Hatton, S, McNicol, K., & Doubleday, E. (2006). "Anxiety in a neglected population:  prevalence of anxiety disorders in pre-adolescent children." "Clinical Psychology Review," 26, 817-833. 

Kimmel, Michael (2008). "Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men": Harper, New York.

Muris, P. & Steerneman, P. (2001). "The Revised version of the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED-R): First evidence for its reliability and validity in a clinical sample." British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 35-44.  


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