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Pope: the choice between good, evil is one we all have to make

Vatican City, Jul 23, 2017 / 05:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said good and evil are often entwined, and that as sinners, we can't label any one group or institution as bad, since we all face temptation and have the ability to choose which path to follow.

“The Lord, who is wisdom incarnate, today helps us to understand that good and evil cannot identify with definite territories or determined groups of people,” the Pope said July 23.

Jesus tells us that “the line between good and evil passes through the heart of every person. We are all sinners,” he said, and asked for anyone who is not a sinner to raise their hand – which no one did.
 
“We are all sinners!” he said, explaining that with his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ “has freed us from the slavery of sin and gives us the grace of walking in a new life.”

Pope Francis spoke to the crowd of pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday Angelus address, which this week focused on the day's Gospel passage from Matthew, in which an enemy secretly plants weeds alongside the wheat in a master's field.

The image, he said, shows us the good seed that is planted in the world by God, but also the bad seed planted by the devil in order to corrupt the good.

It not only speaks of the problem of evil, but also it also refers to God's patience in the master, who allows the weeds to grow alongside the wheat, so that the harvest is not lost.

“With this image, Jesus tells us that in this world good and evil are totally entwined, that it's impossible to separate them and weed out all the evil,” Pope Francis said, adding that “only God can do this, and he will do it in the final judgment.”

Instead, the parable represents “the field of the freedom of Christians,” who must make the difficult discernment between good and evil, choosing which one to follow.

This, the Pope said, involves trusting God and joining two seemingly contradictory attitudes: “decision and patience.”

Francis explained that “decision” in this case means “wanting to be good grain, with all of it's strengths, and so to distance yourself from evil and it's seductions.”

On the other hand, patience means “preferring a Church that is the leaven of the dough, which is not afraid to dirty her hands washing the feet of her children, rather than a Church of the 'pure,' which pretends to judge before it's time who is in the Kingdom of God and who is not,” he said.

Both of these attitudes are necessary, he said, stressing that no one is perfect, but we are all sinners who have been redeemed by Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.

Thanks to our baptism, Jesus has also given us the Sacrament of Confession, “ because we always need to be forgiven for our sins,” Francis said, adding that “to always look at the evil that is outside of us means not wanting to recognize the sin that is also within us.”

Jesus also teaches us a different way of looking at the world and observing reality, he said. In reflecting on the parable, we are invited to learn God's timing and to see with his eyes, rather than focusing on our own, narrow vision.

“Thanks to the beneficial influence of an anxious waiting, what were weeds or seemed like weeds, can become a product of good,” he said, adding that this is “the prospect of hope!”

Pope Francis closed his address praying that Mary would intercede in helping us to observe in the world around us “not only dirtiness and evil, but also the good and beautiful; to expose the work of Satan, but above all to trust in the action of God who renders history fruitful.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, he voiced his sadness over “serious tensions and violence” in Jerusalem over the weekend, which have left seven people dead.

The deaths were the result of protests that were prompted by the placement of metal detectors at the entrance to the compound housing al-Aqsa mosque in the city, and have prompted world leaders to call for restraint on either side before the situation boils over.

Pope Francis invited pilgrims to join him in praying for a deescalation of the violence, and that “the Lord inspires in all proposals of reconciliation and peace.”

Duterte's bloody war on drugs slammed as 'social cleansing'

Washington D.C., Jul 23, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and government officials are guilty of “social cleansing” under the guise of a war on drugs, advocates testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

“Duterte and other high officials of the land, having had to find a particular section of Philippine society worthy of elimination, have effectively put in place a de facto social cleansing policy whereby police and vigilantes are not only encouraged, but rewarded and forced to commit extrajudicial killings,” witness Ellecer Carlos told members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday.

The hearing on “The Human Rights Consequences of the War on Drugs in the Philippines” featured Carlos and two other witnesses from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They testified on reports of extralegal killings in the Philippines as part of President Duterte’s “Operation Plan Tokhang,” the war on drugs.

The witnesses alleged that high-ranking officials in the Philippine government are complicit in human rights abuses where police officers and vigilantes, who may be working for and paid by the police, track down and kill those involved in the drug trade, with evidence present of other abuses like torture.

The targets are disproportionately poor people. “The vast majority of victims of drug-related killings come from the poorest segments of Philippine society,” Matthew Wells, senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International, stated in his written testimony before the commission.

Heads of poor families may be involved in the drug trade as a way to escape poverty, Wells said, or some may use methamphetamines to help stay awake and energized on a long work day. “The death of a breadwinner often puts families in a more precarious position, at times compounded by police officers stealing from them during crime scene investigations,” Wells said.

President Duterte ran for office on a platform of taking strong action against the drug trade in the country, making shocking statements to underline his commitment to action.

“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor,” the BBC reported him saying. Duterte was previously the mayor of the city of Davao, where he made a name for himself as the “death squad mayor.”

“You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I'd kill you,” he said while running for president. “I'll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

Duterte was elected president in May of 2016. Since then “his rhetoric quickly became all too real” in the war on drugs, Wells stated in his testimony before the commission.

Police officers and vigilantes had killed over 7,000 persons in the drug trade from July, 2016 through January, 2017, according to numbers provided by the Philippine National Police.

While the authorities kept statistics for the first few months of the spike in drug-related deaths, they stopped providing transparency, Wells said. According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, there have been “blatant inconsistencies and a deliberate attempt to conceal the magnitude of the killings” in the war on drugs, Carlos said.

The killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes were among the worst human rights problems in the country, the State Department noted in its most recent human rights report.

On Tuesday, Wells described how police officers are paid under-the-table for “encounters” with drug traffickers where “offenders are killed,” and that there is a pay scale for killing drug sellers and users. Vigilantes are also handed hit lists of suspects in the drug trade by police. They carry out the killings for the police, offering them some mode of cover.

Many of the killings are made at night, through home invasions or drive-by shootings. The “modus operandi” of the police is to barge in the door of a home of a suspect at night; in the encounter, the suspect is shot but the police can use the cover of darkness to claim that the suspect was the initial aggressor, Phelim Kine, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said.

More and more citizens have begun sleeping in the streets to be witnesses, taking video of the incidents to ensure that the truth is documented.

A Reuters investigation had uncovered “payments for killings” by police to vigilantes, and showed significant evidence that a “license to kill” had been granted from high levels of government, Wells said.

All this has been an “economy of murder created by the war on drugs, with the police at the center,” Wells said. And there is “scant accountability,” he said, as there have been no convictions of police officers in drug killings and the family members of those killed “face obstacle after obstacle” in seeking justice.

The testimony of a survivor of an extralegal killing, 29 year-old Efren Morillo, was also submitted to the record. Morillo is the lead petitioner before the Philippine Supreme Court in the first case against Operation Plan Tokhang.

Morillo described being at a friend’s house when five men and two women in civilian clothes arrived, armed with guns. They detained five members of the group and accused them of selling illegal drugs. Morillo recognized some of the men as police officers in civilian clothes. The armed men then shot the five civilians.

The Philippine bishops have been outspoken against the increase in killings, referring to it as a “reign of terror” in a Jan. 30 pastoral letter.

“If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem, if we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths,” the bishops said.

“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong,” they said. “A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.”

Duterte, however, responded to the letter by saying “You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them,” while adding that “if you want to go to heaven, then go to them. Now, if you want to end drugs ... I will go to hell, come join me.”

Duterte has also “openly threatened human rights defenders” and “attacked the media and lawyers who have represented the families of extrajudicial killings,” Carlos said on Tuesday.  

Catholic priests have also offered their churches as “sanctuaries” for those who believe they are on the police hit lists, the Guardian reported in February.

Federal budget jeopardizes struggling poor people, US bishops warn

Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Congress’ proposed federal budget will fail to provide for the basic needs of millions of America’s poor people, the U.S. bishops have said in a call for a morally sound budget.

“A nation’s budget is a moral document. Reducing deficits through cuts for human needs – while simultaneously attempting a tax cut, as this proposal does – will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy,” the bishops said.

“Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice issued the July 20 statement in his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The proposed budget assumes “harmful and unacceptable cuts to Medicaid” under the American Health Care Act, he said.

The proposal’s steady increases to military spending are made possible by “cutting critical resources for those in need over time.” These cuts could include programs like SNAP that he said are essential in providing nutrition to millions of people.

The budget proposes to roll back $203 billion in welfare spending, financial industry regulations, federal employee benefits, and other areas, the Washington Post reports. It passed out of a House committee July 19.

Over 10 years, defense spending would steadily increase while non-defense discretionary spending would fall to $424 billion from $554 billion this year.

The budget’s spending cuts could be deeply controversial politically and the bishops’ statement urged members of Congress to reach across the aisle.

“The bipartisan approach to discretionary spending in recent years, while imperfect, reflected a more balanced compromise given competing priorities,” Bishop Dewane said.

He said the U.S. bishops’ conference is closely monitoring the budget and appropriations process and analyzing the proposed House budget resolution.

India's bishops pray new president will defend rule of law

New Delhi, India, Jul 22, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of India have offered their congratulations to the country's newly elected president, Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to live out the oath he will take to serve the well-being of the people.

India's presidency is largely a ceremonial role, while the prime minister is head of government and leader of the executive branch.

In a July 20 statement the Indian bishops congratulated Kovind, assuring him “of our prayers for his good health and for wisdom and strength that he might guide our beloved country towards peace, development and justice for all peoples.”

“We pray that God may assist him, that, as per the Oath of Office, he will strive 'to the best of his ability to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law, and that he will devote himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India.'”

The bishops closed their statement praying that under his leadership India would “march towards greater heights,” and again assured the president-elect of “our loyalty and support in the service of our country.”

India's presidential election was held July 17, with the final votes counted July 20. The term of the country's former president,  Pranab Mukherjee, is set to end July 24.

Kovind, part of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was backed by the governing National Democratic Alliance coalition, and ran against opposition candidate Meira Kumar of the Indian National Congress.

The president-elect is a Dalit and a lawyer, and has served in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. Most recently he served in the largely ceremonial post of governor of Bihar state.

The election comes in wake of a recent uptick in the number of “mob lynchings” happening in India, in which members of the country's Hindu majority carry out acts of violence against those, typically from minority religions such as Islam, accused of killing cows, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion.

Attacks against minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, are common in India. They include anything from jeering, violence, forced conversions, and the burning of property, and frequently go under-reported.

According to Al Jazeera, the mob lynching of Muslims began to gain wider public attention in 2015 when 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was beat to death by an angry mob who accused the man of eating beef.

Since his death, attacks against Muslims related to the slaughtering of cows have increased, with multiple attacks against minorities reported in 2015 and 2016, and at least seven such incidents between March and May of this year.

The latest, Al Jazeera reports, was the June 22 murder of three Muslims in West Bengal who had been accused of smuggling cows, and the June 27 attack against a man accused of killing a cow. The man survived, but was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

On July 16, around 40 religious leaders and intellectuals from across India gathered in Delhi to address the increase of violence,  a “disregard for the rule of law” and the spread of an “environment of hate” throughout the country.

Backed by the Indian bishops' conference, attendees urged the government to end “impunity which was at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today” and threatens “not just secularism, but the Constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”

They expressed their shock at the increased number of lynchings carried out on the pretext of protecting cows, stressing that in these cases, the state governments and police forces “acted against the guilty in an impartial manner.”

Past violence carried out against minorities in the country has largely been attributed to the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS.

They were established in 1925 with the goal of establishing “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness,” and have been banned three times in post-independence India, with all three bans eventually being lifted.

Critics of the group have often refered to them as a sectarian, militant group who believe in the supremacy of Hindus and who preach hate against Muslim and Christian minorities. Narendra Modi, elected India's prime minister in May 2014, was a full time worker with the RSS prior to his election.

As BJP spokesman in 2010, Kovind said that "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation."

The RSS sits on the right-wing and has no official registration in India. However, they maintain strong ties with the BJP, of which president-elect Kovind is a part, raising questions as to how much action will be taken against minority violence in the future. Kovind is also close to the RSS.

Catholic women's conference to be held in New Mexico

Albuquerque, N.M., Jul 21, 2017 / 06:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Women of Grace apostolate will mark 30 years at its national conference this year, an event which aims to help women celebrate their “gift of authentic femininity.”

“Come be restored, renewed, and refreshed as we journey together through this transforming weekend!” organizers said in an announcement. “Discover the blessing of your femininity and how to follow our Blessed Mother’s example in the world today!”  

Johnnette S. Benkovic, EWTN host and founder and president of Women of Grace, will be among the event’s speakers.

The national conference will take place in Albuquerque, N.M. at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept. 10.

The conference is based on the theme “Bloom Who You Are.”

Besides Benkovic, other presenters include Father Philip Scott, F.J., founder of the Family of Jesus; singer/songwriter and Catholic evangelist Kitty Cleveland; and Carol Marquardt, founder of the Mantle of Mary Association Prayer Network.

Musical presenters include Kitty Cleveland and the worship team Living Praise.

The conference will include Mass, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic Adoration, a healing service, and a musical presentation. Spanish translation will be provided, as will a young women’s track.

The full cost of $140 includes a Friday boxed dinner, as well as lunch and dinner on Saturday. Other registration options are available.

Benkovic will lead a Benedicta Leadership Enrichment Seminar at the same location Sept. 7-8.

More information and registration is available at http://www.womenofgrace.com

 

 

Bishop: Senate mustn't repeal health care law without suitable replacement

Washington D.C., Jul 21, 2017 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US bishops' representative for domestic justice has asked Senators not to vote to repeal the current health care law unless they have an alternative in place that offers acceptable levels of coverage.

“In the face of difficulties” of bringing health care legislation to the Senate floor, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice said in a letter to senators on Thursday, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA [Affordable Care Act] without a replacement.”

“Yet,” he said July 20, “reform is still needed to address the ACA's moral deficiencies and challenges with long-term sustainability.”

After the House passed a health care bill repealing the ACA and replacing it with provisions of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Senate has worked on producing a bill of its own, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). However, the Senate has so far failed to bring a health care bill to the floor for a vote.

This week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that not only did the Senate not have the votes to pass the health care bill, but it did not have the votes required to sustain debate on repealing and replacing the ACA.

He announced that a vote would occur anyhow, on the House health care bill with an amendment attached that would repeal the current health care law but allow for a two-year transition period for stability.

A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act is expected as soon as Tuesday. However, according to reports it is still unclear exactly which bill the Senate would vote on to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, for example, advocated on Friday that the Senate should vote either on its own health care bill or on the 2015 reconciliation bill that repealed the ACA. Those bills would end the funding of abortion coverage within the ACA, Susan B. Anthony List said.

Pro-life leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, met with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday. Mancini called it a “good meeting” and reiterated that “abortion is not health care,” referring to funding of abortion coverage under the current health care law.

Bishop Dewane had previously said that no repeal of the current health care law should be made without a suitable replacement plan. “To end coverage for those who struggle every day without an adequate alternative in place would be devastating,” Bishop Dewane said.

He said any replacement plan must be one that “protects poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants, safeguards the unborn, and supports conscience rights.” The replacement plans that have been proposed by the House and Senate are “seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways,” he said.

While the bishop had applauded the Hyde Amendment protections in the House bill that would have blocked the taxpayer funding of abortions through tax credits and other subsidies, he had expressed serious concern about its changes to Medicaid and other provisions. The bill, he said, would cut coverage or make it more cost-prohibitive for those who may need it most, like the elderly, the poor, and the chronically ill.

The revised Senate plan, meanwhile, was still “unacceptable,” the bishop said in a statement last Thursday.

Regarding the original Senate health care proposal, in his June 27 letter Bishop Dewane said that “at a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a ‘per capita cap’ on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable.”

He added that under the bill health coverage costs could increase for many elderly and poor persons “because of decreased levels of tax credit support and higher premiums.” And, the bishop said, the bill, like its House counterpart, lacked conscience protections.

He warned that the pro-life language in the bill was laudable, but echoed concerns of other pro-lifers that the language could be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian before it reached the Senate Floor.

The revised Senate bill contained some slight improvements like more funding to fight opioid addiction, “but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill,” he said last Thursday.

This week, however, the Senate bill was scuttled. Yet amid the uncertainty of what the senators may vote on next week, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement,” Bishop Dewane said.

On Friday, Pence urged Americans to ask their senator to vote to begin the debate to repeal and replace the ACA on Tuesday.

Susan B. Anthony List, meanwhile, said the Senate should work to ensure a bill is passed which defunds Planned Parenthood and protects taxpayer funding from going to abortion coverage in federally-subsidized plans.  

“The first step is voting for the motion to proceed to the House-passed bill which replaces Obamacare abortion funding with health assistance that does not include abortion coverage and redirects funding for certain abortion providers to noncontroversial community health centers,” the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a July 20 letter to senators.

“While the House bill faces procedural hurdles, we support passage of a substitute amendment that is substantially similar to the Obamacare repeal bill sent to President Obama in January 2016,” she added.

“Obamacare has been a disaster for unborn children through its unprecedented expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion,” Dannenfelser said.

“The 2015 reconciliation bill that was sent to President Obama’s desk or the Better Care Reconciliation Act would roll back this damage and help return us to the principle that abortion is not health care.”

Bishop Conley: 50 years after Land O'Lakes, Catholic education needs renewal

Denver, Colo., Jul 21, 2017 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 50th anniversary of a historic statement that changed Catholic higher education in America represents both a cautionary tale and a chance to reflect on Catholic renewal, said Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska.

“The Land O’Lakes statement proposed to redefine the mission of the Catholic university. It rejected the authority of the Church, and of her doctrinal teaching,” Bishop Conley said. “It rejected the idea that faith and reason work best in communion with one another. It prioritized the standards and culture of secular universities over the authentic mission of Catholic education. It was a statement of self-importance, and self-assertion.”

Bishop Conley delivered his remarks July 5 in Denver to teachers and principals at the Regional Catholic Classical Schools Conference at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

He said that the Land O’Lakes statement “declared that Catholic universities would become independent from the hierarchy of the Church, from any obligation to orthodoxy, and from the authentic spirituality of the Church.”

Fifty years ago, 26 Catholic university presidents and administrators gathered at the Land O’Lakes retreat center in Wisconsin for the North American summit for the International Federation of Catholic Universities. The University of Notre Dame’s influential president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, was president of the federation at the time.

The meeting aimed to help the federation develop a vision for Catholic higher education in light of the Second Vatican Council, produced a document called “Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University,” signed July 23, 1967. Many observers consider the statement a watershed moment in Catholic education.

Bishop Conley cited historian Philip Gleason’s characterization of the statement as “a declaration of independence from the hierarchy,” then suggested it represented “the ‘non serviam’ moment of many of America’s Catholic universities.” The Latin phrase, meaning “I shall not serve,” is used by the Prophet Jeremiah to refer to the Hebrew people’s disobedience to God. The phrase is also used to characterize Satan’s rejection of God.

“Fifty years ago, a ‘declaration of independence’ in Catholic education transformed the Church,” the bishop told the Catholic educators gathered in Denver. “Today, may your humility, wonder, and dependence on the grace of God transform your schools, transform the Church, and transform hearts for Jesus Christ.”

For Bishop Conley, the 1967 statement represented a burgeoning trend of Catholics becoming prominent in public life, but doing so by playing down faith elements that were out of step with general American culture.

He focused on several principles of the statement, including its commitments to “contemporary and experimental” liturgy, favoring “creative dialogue” over “theological or philosophical imperialism,” and “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

He was critical of the statement’s presentation of Catholic universities as the Church’s “critical reflective intelligence” that could “objectively evaluate” the Church’s life and ministry in order to give “the benefit of continual counsel.”

“It seemed to bemoan the fact that Catholic universities were not asked more often how bishops should be undertaking their ministry,” he said.

The bishop suggested that secularization in the universities and colleges has “impacted every single facet of Catholic life” and secularized many Catholic elementary and high schools. This impact is found both in textbooks and teachers who have “not been trained to think or teach from the heart and wisdom of the Church.”

He cited the decline of Catholic school attendance from 5 million in the early 1960s to 2 million today, faulting factors like the decline of the Catholic university. The university, properly ordered, can also be “a training ground for dynamic and faithful Catholic educators, and as a context in which to discern and discover vocations.”

Bishops, clergy, religious and lay Catholics were formed in the wake of the statement, Bishop Conley said – himself included – resulting in “all of us doing the best we can, but regrettably, without being exposed to much of the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Church’s tradition.”

But there is still cause for hope: if dissenting universities can have a deep impact on Catholic and civic life, so can faithful schools. “The work being done to foster renewal in Catholic schools across the country will significantly impact the culture of the Church in the United States,” the bishop told the Denver gathering,

He encouraged Catholic educators to avoid several temptations and not measure Catholic universities “according to the standards of the world” or “to confuse influence, sophistication, or social acceptance with virtue and fidelity.”

“Meaningfully engaging with modernity is much more difficult than either capitulating to it or rejecting it out of hand,” he said.

The Land O’Lakes statement’s self-importance and self-assertion show the importance of “humility, docility, wonder, and receptivity,” Bishop Conley added.

“Encountering the living God is at the heart of true and meaningful Catholic education. This means that teachers, and administrators, must first themselves be disciples of Jesus Christ. It means that prayer – silent communion with the Eucharistic Lord – is at the center of the vocation of a teacher.”

 

Venezuelan bishops offer day of prayer, fasting as riots continue

Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 21, 2017 / 01:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Venezuela's bishops have organized a day of prayer and fasting amid ongoing riots throughout the country as opposition to President Nicolas Maduro hardens.

They have called on the people to use the penitential practices July 21 to ask God “to bless the efforts of Venezuelans for freedom, justice and peace.”

With the help of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they voiced their hope in a July 13 statement which could be dubbed their manifesto on the current crisis that the effort would help so that “peace and fraternal coexistence may continue being built in the country.”

The day of prayer and fasting follows two similar initiatives, one of which took place Aug. 2, 2016, and the second May 21, 2017.

The bishops urged all faithful to participate in the day, in order “to not let themselves be robbed of the hope that makes possible, with the help of God, what is impossible; to communicate hope and to be protagonists in this historic moment and in the future of our country.”

In order to draw attention and support for the event, those who are participating are promoting it on social media with the hashtag #OracionporVenezuela – in English #PrayerforVenezuela.

The day of prayer and fasting comes amid ongoing violent protests prompted by an opposition-organized July 16 referendum in which roughly 7.6 million Venezuelans voted in rejection of the national, socialist government.

Sunday's unofficial referendum led to violence in several areas across the country, which so far has lead to the deaths of at least three people.

As voters were waiting to cast their ballot near the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Caracas' Catia area, shots rang out, leaving one man dead. When people fled into the parish for refuge, where Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino had been celebrating Mass, the doors were locked, barring the people and the cardinal from leaving.

According to reports, yesterday two more young men were killed in Valencia during a 24-hour strike that blocked businesses and public transport, bringing the death toll in anti-government protests to nearly 100 since April.

In addition to yesterday's 24-hour strike and the ongoing protests, a large opposition-backed demonstration is scheduled to take place July 22 in a show of support for parliament's election of new magistrates.

Frustration in Venezuela has been building for years due to poor economic policies, including strict price controls coupled with high inflation rates, which have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers, and medicines.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

A layperson living in Venezuela, who preferred to speak on terms of anonymity due to safety concerns, told CNA July 21 that the day of prayer and fasting is “a light” for the country amid the darkness of the current crisis.

“It seems like a very banal, fragile and simple action in front of yesterday's strike and tomorrow's demonstration,” the source said. However, “it's not only political power or social change that can change the world, but also the awareness of our relationship with God.”

“So a prayer and a fast is something very powerful which are often trivialized,” they said, and, quoting St. John Paul II, added that 'a prayer and the sacrifice of an unknown person in any unknown place can change the world.'”

The source said there has been an “exaggerated” response to the demonstrations on the part of the government, but that amid the violence, the day of prayer and fasting – which ranges from organized initiatives from parishes to personal commitments – is a chance to make “our true need” burn brighter.

It is reported that at least 300 people have been arrested for protesting the government in recent days.

In terms of the international community, the source said politicians are doing what they can, but asked Catholics to unite with Venezuelans in prayer, “but also and above all in communion, which means to be interested and aware of what is happening here.”

What the bishops are asking for is justice and social peace, they said, asking for prayer that “it can be true justice and peace … This is not an alternative, it's part of life. Not only to make a protest, but to pray, to pray for peace.”

Could a California bill make Catholic conduct codes illegal?

Sacramento, Calif., Jul 21, 2017 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-abortion groups are lobbying for a California law that Catholic leaders warn would open employers like Catholic schools to lawsuits for asking teachers to follow their codes of conduct.

“The bill unmistakably targets religious organization employers in the state, and goes further, inviting expensive litigation that could take years to sort out,” the California Catholic Conference said July 14, adding that it “sets a dangerous precedent for religious employers.”

The Catholic conference strongly opposes the bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales Fletcher (D-San Diego).

Assembly Bill 569 would prohibit employers from requiring their employees to sign a waiver or other document that “purports to deny any employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions,” its summary says.

It would also bar an employer from taking any adverse action against an employee based on the employee’s or employee dependent’s use of any drug, device or medical service related to “reproductive health” – which would include abortion, contraception and sterilization.

If an employer has an employee handbook, the bill would require the handbook to notify employees of these legal rights.

The California Catholic Conference charged that the bill targets religious employers who “expect faithful public and workplace conduct by their employees, including those who teach at religious schools and are reasonably expected to model the principles of that faith.”

The bill would make employers vulnerable to “nuisance lawsuits” from both employees and their dependents. The vulnerability from dependence is “unprecedented in California law,” the conference said.

“On the surface, the bill claims to seek legal protections from discrimination or retaliation for the ‘reproductive decisions’ of employees,” the conference continued. “However, the bill does not allow employers to enforce codes of conduct, even those negotiated with employees as part of union contracts. Those ‘codes of conduct’ – which are actually just standards and expectations set by an employer for the individuals it employs – bind religious employers and their employees in pursuit of a good society.”

The pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice California is among the bill’s backers. Its February 14 statement in favor of the bill cited the actions of two Catholic schools in other states that had fired teachers on morality grounds.

The California Catholic Conference said backers of the bill can cite only one California case in the past decade, and that case was settled out of court.

Other backers of the bill include the California Council of Churches, which represents mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches. Opponents include the California Family Council.

Similar legislation was enacted in February in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Several Catholic organizations have filed a legal challenge against the law and the Missouri governor has called for a special session of the legislature to pass stronger legal protections for pro-life groups.

To help rally opposition to the California bill, the Catholic conference has prepared an action alert on its website, http://www.cacatholic.org.

 

100 descendants and counting: The remarkable story of Pat Klingbeil

Denver, Colo., Jul 21, 2017 / 10:30 am (CNA).- When most people hear about a stereotypical “large Catholic family,” they might picture a van that seats six or eight kids. Most wouldn’t think of having so many great-grandchildren that you’ve lost count.

But this is reality for Pat Klingbeil of Colorado.

Pat has nearly 50 great-grandchildren (an estimate she gave that was confirmed by one of her more mathematically talented daughters), having given birth to eight children and raised a total of 11.

“Parenting is a career,” she says, “and it has a lot of paybacks.”

One of the many signs and newspaper clippings hanging throughout her house bears the first half of that same message. Another, tucked amid jokes about Irish heritage and a morning prayer hanging above her coffee pot, depicts a mother surrounded by rambunctious children: “Lord, give me the strength to endure my many blessings!”

And her many blessings, along with the trials in which they have sometimes appeared, are something of which Pat often speaks in these conversations: “See how God works” and other such phrases are constant refrains of hers.

“It’s certainly been an adventure,” she said of her family. She paused before saying: “It’s what I always wanted to do, since I was old enough to know better. I always wanted to be a mom. So, to be blessed with a large family is just incredible.”

Dinnertimes at Pat’s are rarely low-profile events, as many nights out of a week the kitchen is packed with friends, former boarders, and most of all, her extensive family.

Pat was born in Aurora near Denver and just north of where she lives now, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1933 to an impoverished family.  

She discussed coming to a knowledge of God’s love, saying it was an awareness that slowly grew in her life, and came largely through her family: “having babies, giving birth, living the wonder of life, of having that experience.”

“I don’t think there was ever an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. I think it just began to develop in me. And as I lived, and as my children grew and all, I began to experience the presence, the presence of God.”



Pat speaks often of this presence of God. Far from being simply a nice Catholic slogan to her, it is something she always turns backs to, not only when talking about the joys of life, but also its sorrows.

“If there is a God, then you believe that he will not abandon you,” she says.

And the stories Pat tells reveal this clearly.

A growing family

Pat raised four of her grandchildren, after their parents (her stepdaughter and son-in-law) were murdered after a Fourth of July party in the early 1980s.

Neighbors and even families in Utah filed to take the kids, but only volunteered for one or two. However, the coroner promised Pat that she and her husband would be the ones to raise them.

“When all else fails, God’s still here, and I can still say, ‘Help me,’ and he does. And the best part of that is that he’s always allowed me to see that he’s helping me.”

And so the four grandchildren joined the family, and their grandparents became their mom and dad.

“When I became mamma to them, there was so much that need to be cared for and loved for, that I had to give myself to them,” Pat says.

Sadly, however, another trial waited which God would bear them through. A few years later, in 1988, her husband received a diagnosis with cancer. The eldest of the adopted grandchildren asked her new mom, “How many of my parents does God want to take away from me?”

Doctors gave him at most 18 months to live.

“And that’s what he took. He took 18 months,” says Pat.

He passed away in a hospital with Pat at his side.

“Everybody in the family, and close friends, all said, ‘What are you gonna do? What are you gonna do?’” Pat says.

“Well, you do whatever God sent you. And he takes care of it. If you ask him to take care of it, he takes care of it.”

Decades later, in 2004, Pat was invited by some friends to a Thanksgiving dinner. One of these felt it would be good for her to meet her boyfriend’s brother, Roger.

“We had dinner at their house on Thursday night, and when he walked me to my car, he said, ‘Well, will I see you again? Because I’m going back to Washington on Monday.’”

Pat offered for him to call her sometime.

He did so the next day, asking her to dinner.

After a meal where they both expressed distaste at the food, Roger walked Pat to her car.

“He said, ‘Can I kiss you goodnight?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ I don’t know where I was.”

The next day, Sunday, he came to Pat’s house, and the two simply chatted.

After he returned to Washington, the two stayed in touch over the phone. When Roger came back in town a couple weeks later, Pat invited him to her daughter and son-in-law’s house warming.

“Really and truly, I totally believe it, I’ve always told him: he fell in love with my family, and he wanted to be a part of my family.”

In 2005, Roger moved to Denver, and the next year they set the wedding date for August 13, the day after Pat’s grandson Matt married.

“We really did have a good time,” Pat says of their travelling the country and golfing together.

In 2010, the couple were staying a few nights in Estes Park on the way back from Washington. One day while they were there, Roger pointed out a swell on his stomach to Pat.

The two came home, saw a doctor the next morning, and received an MRI immediately.

It was her second time hearing the news of a spouse’s cancer diagnosis. This time, it was stage 4 liver and gallbladder cancer.

“It was harder because it was so hard for him,” Pat says. “He just cried, and he said, ‘I don’t want you to have to go through this again.’”

The doctors said he might live six months, but more likely around three weeks.

But just like her first husband, Roger lived the full time, passing away six months later on October 28.

“It’s a different experience this time,” Pat says.

She told me Roger’s story sitting in the living room by the backyard patio. When we had wrapped up our chat, she stood up and indicated a Divine Mercy image hanging above the wall. In front of this image, here in that room, she told me, she had prayed for Roger hours before he died in his hospice bed two rooms over.



Difficult circumstances, unexpected blessings

As a young mother while her first husband was serving overseas, Pat became pregnant after being raped. Her husband managed to secure a re-assignment in the States, and the young family moved to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

There, the family met a priest sympathetic to the situation, who found a couple willing to adopt the child. Pat delivered the child, who was then delivered to his new family.

“It doesn’t matter how that life is in you,” Pat says. “It matters how you nurture that life and allow it to grow in God’s image in likeness, and go on with your life in a proper way.” Pat has in years since given talks to young people which discuss, among other things, the challenges and beauty of adoption.

Around the year 1980, having been given his birth certificate by his adoptive mother, this son of Pat’s, named Joe, began searching for his birth mother. With the advent of the internet, he began using online genealogy tools and was able to hunt down her contact information.

Pat tells the story:

“Late morning, I answered the telephone, and this soft, quiet voice said, ‘This is not a business call, this is a personal call. My name is Joseph John Gongalski. I am calling looking for a Patricia Klingbeil. I was born at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.”

Pat cut across him at this point: “And you weighed seven pounds, four ounces.”

As Pat tells it, Joe went “blubbery” at this point in the conversation.

They arranged for Joe, along with his wife and one of their sons, Matthew, to come to Pat’s birthday party on March 17, an annual event which draws family from across the country and friends from across the Denver area, packing the house.

Joe and his family arrived a couple of days early, and Pat, in her usual Irish mischief, had an idea.

“I decided that I would pull a trick on him.”

Grabbing Roger’s old cane, she hobbled out the door, bent halfway over, and made her way meekly across the lawn, surrounded by family armed with cameras.

“When we saw the car pull up, I went out across the lawn. He had gotten out of the car and was coming in between the cars on the driveway. And I’m coming across the grass with the cane and I’m bent way over, like a real old lady.”

From her feigned stoop, she could see Matthew over the cars.

“In that one glance, I could see his expression of, ‘Oh my God, look at her.’ It was just horror that was on his face!” she remembers, laughing.

“As Joe came out from between the cars, I threw the cane and ran to him.”

When Joe shows the video to church groups, audiences typically believe they’ve witnessed a miracle.

“I think that was the cream of it all,” says Pat, still laughing.

Joe and his wife Joanna now make regular visits to Pat from where they live in Michigan.



If you started from Pat’s name on a family tree and counted all the members extending below her, you’d count over 100 names. Among them would be kids, grandchildren raised as her kids, great-grandkids not yet born, a whole family rejoined after Joe’s search climaxed on her birthday one year: members lost, and members gained.

“See how God works,” as she says.