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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Architect of Steubenville's Catholic revival dies at 85

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 12:56

Steubenville, Ohio, Jan 7, 2017 / 10:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, the former president and chancellor of Franciscan University of Steubenville, passed away on the morning of Jan. 7, after an extended illness, at age 85.

The university’s current president, Father Sean O. Sheridan, said in a statement that Fr. Scanlan was “rightfully credited with revitalizing the Catholic and Franciscan mission of the University.”
 
“During his tenure as president from 1974-2000, his ideas, guided by the Holy Spirit, turned things around at the struggling College of Steubenville and led to its prominence as Franciscan University of Steubenville,” he said.

“Father Mike wisely surrounded himself with friars and dedicated people who helped him to carry out the Franciscan University mission. He also spent time with the students, listened to their concerns, and prayed how he might help them. He emphasized the importance of academics, particularly theology – now, by far our largest major – and stressed the role of campus ministry and student life in the daily lives of the students.”

Born Vincent Michael Scanlan in 1931 in Cedarhurst, Long Island, New York, Fr. Scanlan would go on to graduate from Harvard Law School and serving as Staff Judge Advocate in the U.S. Air Force before entering the Franciscan Third Order Regular. He made his first profession of Franciscan vows in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964.

After being named acting dean of the College of Steubenville, he eventually became president of the college in 1974, a role in which he served until 2000.

“Over the next 26 years, he transformed the College into Franciscan University of Steubenville and gained for it a worldwide reputation for both excellence in academics and its passionate Catholic faith environment,” the university said in a statement.

“His success helped spark a restoration of authentic Catholic education in the United States and beyond, with many colleges and universities renewing their Catholic identity and new schools imitating his emphasis on Catholic Church teaching.”

Fr. Scanlan is widely credited with creating the Catholic atmosphere present at the campus today, establishing faith households for students, and developing new academic programs, particularly emphasizing the theology program, which has become the largest undergraduate Theology Program at any U.S. Catholic university. 

He also started the university’s study abroad program in Austria, established a pre-seminary program at the campus, and helped the university pay off its entire debt and double its enrollment.

In 1989, Franciscan University, under the leadership of Fr. Scanlan, became the first U.S. Catholic college or university whose theology faculty and priests publicly took the Oath of Fidelity to the teaching authority of the Church, a practice that continues to this day. 

Fr. Scanlan was also known as a pro-life leader, as well as an early leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal movement, and wrote 16 books and booklets. He hosted Franciscan University Presents for 18 years on EWTN and started the university’s summer youth  conference series, which would grow to nationwide impact.

From 2000-2011, Fr. Scanlan was chancellor of the university, before retiring to the Third Order Regular Sacred Heart Province’s motherhouse in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

When asked in a December 2013 interview what he considered his greatest accomplishment, Father Scanlan said, “Living the life faithfully, living the [Franciscan] rule, being a Franciscan, being able to be sent wherever God wants you and serve his people. This is what is most important.”

Tributes remembering the lasting impact of Fr. Scanlan poured in after his death.

“He made the name of a small, relatively unknown, Franciscan University of the United States resound throughout the entire Catholic Church,” said Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap., Preacher to the Papal Household

“Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, was a dynamo of evangelical energy who knew that the renewal of Catholic higher education was a critical component of the New Evangelization,” said George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“His personal witness, exuberant manner of life, and ability to communicate the Gospel in a joyful way made major contributions, not only to Franciscan University, but to the entire Catholic Church in the United States—indeed, to the World Church.” 
 
Dr. Scott Hahn, noted Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Steubenville, recalled Fr. Scanlan’s spiritual fatherhood. 

“I experienced his fatherhood in many ways. He baptized our three youngest sons, and two of them are now discerning priesthood. I don’t think that’s coincidental,” Hahn reflected. “The day I met him he showed such love to my wife, Kimberly, who was not Catholic. She had been suffering after a miscarriage. He prayed over her – and soon we conceived again – and a short while later, Kimberly became Catholic.”
 
Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, host of EWTN Live, recalled attending one of the Steubenville summer conference shortly after being ordained.

“This was a great witness to a young priest such as I,” he said, noting that he would later go on to become friends with Fr. Scanlan.

One time, he recalled, Fr. Scanlan “shared some of the difficulties, challenges, and pain of taking his role as a leader. Then he pulled out a photograph of a severely deformed young man that he knew, saying, ‘Compared to him, I don't have any real problems.’”

“This indicated the mature Christian approach to life that made it possible for him to maintain a healthy perspective on life's problems,” Fr. Pacwa said. “I will never forget that.”
 
 
 

Can reality make us happy? A Catholic event in NYC takes on the question

Sat, 01/07/2017 - 05:02

New York City, N.Y., Jan 7, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Reality has never betrayed me.”

Those were among the words of Monsignor Luigi Giussani on his deathbed.

The priest, who as a theologian and the founder of the international Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, was convinced that God and his Catholic faith could be found within the realities of everyday life.

The question of whether happiness, and God, can truly be found in reality is the theme of the upcoming New York Encounter event, the movement’s 9th annual cultural event in the United States.

Communion and Liberation (CL) is a movement in the Church which has “the purpose of forming its members in Christianity in order to make them coworkers in the Church’s mission in all areas of society,” according to the movement’s website. It was founded in Italy in 1954 by Fr. Giussani.

“We all have the intuition that life, even with all its hardships, is fundamentally good,” the event’s website reads. “And yet, we have a hard time relating to many aspects of life: family, work, politics, society, even our own bodies and the very food we eat.”

“What are we missing? Why do we often perceive reality as disappointing? What can help us reconcile with reality and engage life as it is?”

Those are the questions the Encounter will explore said Maurizio Maniscalco, the event’s president.

“Is there anything ‘more real than reality’? And yet the very word ‘reality’ sounds empty, or even abstract...Life will always be a mystery with its joy and pain, hopes and shattered dreams. Is there a path, a destination, a destiny that keeps it all together?” he told CNA.

The Encounter is set to take place Jan. 13-15 at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City, is free, requires no registration, and is open to people from all walks of life.

“New York Encounter is just a human encounter that hopes to break the walls we’ve built between us, in ourselves, and between us and what surrounds us, between us and reality as it happens if it doesn’t coincide with what we had in mind,” Maniscalco said.

The Encounter will explore these question about reality with speakers and performances from people of various fields and walks of life – artists, actors, medical professionals, priests, astronauts and businessmen. Some of this year’s presenters include Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York Times editorialist David Brooks, and Matt Malone, S.J., President & Editor in Chief of America Media. It will also feature photography exhibits as well as exhibits on the life of founder Msgr. Giussani.

Also new this year is the New York Encounter app, which is available for download both through the Apple App Store and Google Play store.

It’s one thing to try to explain Encounter, but it’s really best to “come and see,” Maniscalco told CNA.

“The Encounter is one of those things that is a little hard to explain. You have to experience it, you have to ‘Come and See,’” he said.

“Three days of dialogue, challenge, beauty to launch us back into our daily life with curiosity and desire. Come and see!”

More information about the event can be found at: http://www.newyorkencounter.org/what-is-new/

One Congressman's plea to the US: Don't abandon Iraq's Christians

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 18:35

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christian survivors of the ISIS genocide have serious humanitarian needs, but their faith remains strong, one congressman said after his visit to displaced Christians in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The faith of Christians, “every one of them,” has grown “stronger” since ISIS militants forced them from their homes in Northern Iraq and in and around Erbil where they have been living for over two years, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told CNA in an interview.

Rep. Smith, chair of the House global human rights subcommittee, recently traveled to Erbil, Iraq to visit with survivors of the ISIS genocide there, most of them Christian. He also met with religious leaders and U.S. and United Nations officials.

The faith of the Christians, he said, “has been tested in fire, and they are not capitulating, just the opposite. They love the Lord, and they love the Blessed Mother.”

Currently around 70,000 displaced Christians are living in and around Erbil in the Kurdistan Region, some of them waiting to return to their homes in Mosul or the Nineveh Plain but others looking to depart the region.

Rep. Smith said the “biggest takeaway” from his trip to Iraq just before Christmas was “the unmet need” for humanitarian aid of the tens of thousands of Christians who are relying largely upon charities like the Knights of Columbus for their needs, which include food, blankets, and medical care.

In March of 2016, the U.S. had declared that ISIS was committing genocide in Iraq and Syria against Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims.

Despite Christians being recognized as genocide victims, which should provide them with special humanitarian relief and refugee status, that has not happened, Rep. Smith said.

Displaced Christians in the region had not received any aid from U.S. aid agencies or the United Nations in two years, said Steve Rasche, the legal counsel and director of IDP resettlement programs for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil. Rasche gave a testimony before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in September of 2016.

“Humanitarian aid has not flowed to these individuals,” Rep. Smith said, and neither do they have “access to an asylum interview, so if they can’t go back, they can come here.”

“It is winter. It is cold,” he warned of the situation the refugees face, in danger of sickness during the wet winter. “Disease has been mitigated to a large extent, but that can change.”

During his visit, Smith said, he saw the camp of about 6,000 displaced persons was “clean” and “run by selfless Christian leaders” including Archbishop Bashar Wada of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.

The leaders, who serve displaced persons of all faiths – including Yazidis and Muslims – “want nothing more than to help those who have been hurt by this genocide. It is absolutely Matthew 25.”

“The diocese is doing an unbelievable job with almost nothing,” he added, but the U.S. needs to step up its humanitarian assistance. Poland and Hungary already have, he pointed out, with the Hungarian government opening an office with a budget of over $3 million euros to aid persecuted Christians.

Rep. Smith related how displaced persons and one bishop – the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf – told him they felt abandoned by the U.S. “No one’s come to any of these places and just asking, ‘How are the Christians doing?’” Smith noted, saying his delegation “did just that.”

Furthermore, he added that the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide is reportedly considering leaving Christians out of their list of recognized victims of genocide by ISIS.

And yet the faith of the Christians and their leaders remains strong.

The bishops in the region are “true leaders of the faith,” Rep. Smith said, with each bishop acting not only as the “spiritual leader” of the people but also obtaining “the material support to help people live.”

Smith related one instance where he met with a group of internally-displaced families and asked the priest present to lead a group prayer. The priest prayed the “Our Father” in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

“It was moving, and I think all of us were moved by that when he prayed,” he said.

To deal with the pressing humanitarian problem and better ensure that genocide perpetrators are punished, Smith and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have introduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act in Congress.

Among other things, the bill would ensure that the genocide victims receive what is due them – humanitarian relief, asylum interviews if they wish to leave the country, and punishment for the perpetrators of genocide so that people feel secure enough to return to their homes.

It would provide a “P-2” designation for the victims of ISIS genocide, expediting their refugee resettlement process if they wished to leave the region.

It would also strengthen the “prosecutorial” case against the genocide perpetrators, broadening the ability of the U.S. to prosecute genocide perpetrators living in the country. The bill has been endorsed by all former U.S. Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, Smith said.

He has also sponsored a resolution to set up an ad hoc war crimes tribunal in the region, which he says could be far more effective than the International Criminal Court which has made only two convictions in over a dozen years, both of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Two Iraqi Christian leaders, Sister Diana Momeka and Fr. Benham Benoka, told CNA previously that some Christian homes in the Nineveh Plain region were liberated from ISIS control, but when Christian residents returned to their homes, they found destruction, vandalism, booby traps, betrayal by their neighbors, and threats telling them they had no place anymore in the region.

Rep. Smith said that in Erbil, the bishops told him many Christians have not yet returned home because they are not convinced that it is secure yet.

“And I think that dashed a ‘maybe we return in a year, in half a year,’” he said of the previous optimism that Christians could return home soon.

 

How a pro-life group will hold members of Congress accountable

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 16:10

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 02:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the 115th Congress is underway, a pro-life group is touting a new means of holding pro-life members accountable – a scorecard.

“The Scorecard will help ensure accountability of Members to their constituents while identifying true defenders of the unborn in U.S. Congress,” March for Life Action announced on Wednesday.

“At March for Life Action we aren't just looking for politicians who vote pro-life - we are looking for pro-life champions in the mold of Henry Hyde,” Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the pro-life group March for Life Action, stated.

Hyde was a congressman who successfully inserted into federal policy a prohibition on Medicaid dollars funding abortions. The Hyde Amendment has been supported by members of Congress in both parties for 40 years.

Other advocacy groups, including National Right and Life and Planned Parenthood Action, use scorecards to inform voters of how members of Congress vote on various issues.

March for Life Action hopes to not only record pro-life votes, but also to record initiatives by members such as sponsorship of pro-life bills and speaking out about a pro-life matter on the House or Senate floor.

McClusky noted that “we aren't just looking to maintain the pro-life status quo by only tallying votes.”

A stream of pro-life legislation is expected to come up in Congress after the change of presidential administrations.

President-elect Donald Trump made promises on the campaign trail that he would sign pro-life legislation into law, including the defunding of Planned Parenthood by federal tax dollars because it is the nation’s largest abortion provider. However, he had also praised Planned Parenthood early in 2016 as doing “very good work” for women.

Vice president-elect Mike Pence enjoys the backing of pro-life groups for his pro-life record as a congressman, from 2001 to 2013.

One of the first bills expected to come up in Congress is the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would expand prohibitions of federal funding of abortions and solidify the Hyde Amendment’s policy, which has been passed every year by Congress as a rider to appropriations bills, as permanent federal law.

“We are hoping our first score will be on the House of Representatives putting forth and passing No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act during the month of January,” McClusky said. A Knights of Columbus/Marist poll from earlier in 2016 showed 62 percent of Americans opposing taxpayer funding of abortion.

That poll also demonstrated that 78 percent of respondents “support substantial restrictions on abortion” and want it limited to at least the first term of pregnancy.


Other bills that are expected soon include a pain-capable bill banning abortions when the unborn baby has been found to feel pain, at around 20 weeks of pregnancy. The House has previously passed a pain-capable bill and voted to defund Planned Parenthood, but both initiatives failed to receive the necessary votes to move through the Senate.

Want to know the history behind today's feast of the Epiphany?

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While the hustle and bustle of Christmas ends for many people on Dec. 26, throughout Christian history Christmas lasts for twelve days – all the way until Jan. 6.

This feast marking the end of Christmas is called “Epiphany.”

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men, but also in his baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana.

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany – as Epiphany is known in the East – commemorates the manifestation of Jesus' divinity at his Baptism in the River Jordan.

While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the next Sunday, overlapping with the rest of the Western Church’s celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

However, the meaning of the feast goes deeper than just the bringing of presents or the end of Christmas, says Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Catholic priest and founding executive director of the Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture.

“You can't understand the Nativity without Theophany; or you can’t understand Nativity without Epiphany.” The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season, he said.

“Our human nature is blinded because of sin and we’re unable to see as God sees,” he told CNA. “God reveals to us the revelation of what’s going on.”

Origins of Epiphany

While the Western celebration of Epiphany (which comes from Greek, meaning “revelation from above”), and the Eastern celebration of Theophany (meaning “revelation of God”), have developed their own traditions and liturgical significances, these feasts share more than the same day.

“The Feast of Epiphany, or the Feast of Theophany, is a very, very early feast,” said Fr. Carnazzo. “It predates the celebration of Christmas on the 25th.”

In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.

Over time, the Western Church separated the remaining feasts into their own celebrations, leaving the celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate primarily the Visitation of the Magi to see the newborn Christ on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the Eastern Churches' celebration of Theophany celebrates Christ’s baptism and is one of the holiest feast days of the liturgical calendar.

Roman Traditions

The celebration of the visitation of the Magi – whom the Bible describes as learned wise men from the East – has developed its own distinct traditions throughout the Roman Church.

As part of the liturgy of the Epiphany, it is traditional to proclaim the date of Easter and other moveable feast days to the faithful – formally reminding the Church of the importance of Easter and the resurrection to both the liturgical year and to the faith.

Other cultural traditions have also arisen around the feast.  Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, told CNA about the “rich cultural traditions” in Spain, France, Ireland and elsewhere that form an integral part of the Christmas season for those cultures.

In Italy, La Befana brings sweets and presents to children not on Christmas, but on Epiphany. Children in many parts of Latin America, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain also receive their presents on “Three Kings Day.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Catholics celebrate “Women's Christmas” – where women rest from housework and cleaning and celebrate together with a special meal. Epiphany in Poland is marked by taking chalk – along with gold, incense and amber – to be blessed at Mass. Back at home, families will inscribe the first part of the year, followed by the letters, “K+M+B+” and then the last numbers of the year on top of every door in the house.

The letters, Bunson explained, stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”

In nearly every part of the world, Catholics celebrate Epiphany with a Kings Cake: a sweet cake that sometimes contains an object like a figurine or a lone nut. In some locations lucky recipient of this prize either gets special treatment for the day, or they must then hold a party at the close of the traditional Epiphany season on Feb. 2.

These celebrations, Bunson said, point to the family-centered nature of the feast day and of its original celebration with the Holy Family. The traditions also point to what is known – and what is still mysterious – about the Magi, who were the first gentiles to encounter Christ. While the Bible remains silent about the wise men’s actual names, as well as how many of them there were, we do know that they were clever, wealthy, and most importantly, brave.

“They were willing to take the risk in order to go searching for the truth, in what they discerned was a monumental event,” he said, adding that the Magi can still be a powerful example.

Lastly, Bunson pointed to the gifts the wise men brought – frankincense, myrrh and gold – as gifts that point not only to Christ’s divinity and his revelation to the Magi as the King of Kings, but also to his crucifixion. In giving herbs traditionally used for burial, these gifts, he said, bring a theological “shadow, a sense of anticipation of what is to come.”

Revelation of God

Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo explained to CNA the significance of the feast of the Theophany – and of Christ’s Baptism more broadly – within the Eastern Catholic churches.

“In our Christian understanding in the East, we are looking at creation through the eyes of God, not so much through the eyes of Man,” Fr. Carnazzo said.  

In the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he continued, there is special divine significance.

With this feast day, the pastor explained, “God has come to reclaim us for himself.” Because of original sin, he continued, humanity has inherited “a human nature which has been dislocated from its source of life.”

Sin also effected parts of creation such as water have also been separated from their purpose and connection to God’s plan for life, Fr. Carrazzo said, because its original purpose is not just to sustain our bodies, but our souls as well.  

“With the fall, however, it has been dislocated from its source of life, it is under the dominion of death- it doesn’t have eternal life anymore. So God comes to take it to himself.”

“What Jesus did was to take our human nature and do with it what we could not do – which is, to walk it out of death, and that’s exactly what He did with His baptism.” As it is so linked to the destruction of death and reclaiming of life, the Feast of Theophany is also very closely linked to the Crucifixion – an attribute that is reflected in Eastern iconography of both events as well.

The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ’s conquering of sin through baptism, but also God’s revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ’s ministry. “The baptism of the Lord, just like the Nativity, is not just a historical event: it’s a revelation,” Fr. Carrazzo said.

To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing, he explained. Many parishes hold feasts after Liturgy is over. In many Middle Eastern cultures, people also fry and eat awamat – dough that is fried until it floats, and then is covered in honey.

During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany. Fr. Carrazzo invited all Roman Catholics to come and become familiar, “to be part of a family” and join in celebrating Eastern Catholic traditions.

Death penalty was on the decline in America in 2016

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 02:01

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The year 2016 marked a major decline in the number of executions and sentences to capital punishment in the United States, a new report says.

Last year there were 20 executions in the U.S., the lowest level in 25 years. The peak was in 1999, when 98 persons were executed.

Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.

“America is in the midst of a major climate change concerning capital punishment. While there may be fits and starts and occasional steps backward, the long-term trend remains clear,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Dec. 16.

“Whether it’s concerns about innocence, costs, and discrimination, availability of life without parole as a safe alternative, or the questionable way in which states are attempting to carry out executions, the public grows increasingly uncomfortable with the death penalty each year,” Dunham said.


You will find more statistics at Statista
 

Georgia had nine executions, Texas seven, Alabama two, and one each in Missouri and Florida, the report from the Death Penalty Information Center said.

The report charged that those executed in 2016 largely represented defendants with mental health problems, inadequate legal representation, or insufficient judicial review.

Sixty percent of the 20 people executed last year showed “significant evidence” of mental illness, brain impairment or low intellectual functioning.

The popularity of the death penalty also hit new lows.

The Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of Americans favored capital punishment for convicted murderers, an apparent one-year drop of seven percentage points, and down from a peak of 80 percent in 1995. About 42 of Americans said they opposed it, according to a 2016 poll.

Voters in three states voted to retain the death penalty or place it in the state constitution. However, the report said local elections showed support for prosecutor candidates who are less aggressive in pursuing the death penalty.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, factors contributing to the decline of executions included pharmaceutical industry measures to prevent states from using their drugs for use in executions and European Union regulations to prevent export of the drugs. A court order also directed the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the illegal importation of execution drugs.

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