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Chemical attack in Syria 'shocks the soul,' says top US bishop

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 18:52

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2017 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious and political leaders have renewed calls for peace as they decried dozens of reported civilian deaths by poison gas this week in the Syrian conflict.  

“The chemical attack in Syria on April 4 shocks the soul. The many innocent lives targeted by these terrible tools of war cry out for humanity’s protection,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Wednesday.

At least 70 people, including children, were reportedly killed in Idlib, Syria on Tuesday by deadly gas after the neighborhood of Khan Sheikhoun was bombed, reportedly by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There have been around 200 reported chemical attacks in Syria, the medical care group UOSSM noted. The conflict there has lasted six years. Last year, the UN reported that Syrian government forces and ISIS had used chemical weapons on multiple occasions in 2014 and 2015. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime and violates international law.

“If confirmed, this would constitute the single largest chemical weapons attack in [Syria] since the attack on Eastern Ghouta in August 2013,” Kim Won-Soo, the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said of Tuesday’s incident.

UOSSM, which had doctors working in the targeted area, reported that victims of Tuesday’s bombing were showing symptoms of asphyxiation, foaming of the mouth, and “severe Dyspnoea.”

“Medical facilities are overwhelmed with patients and unequipped to handle chemical attacks of this magnitude,” they stated, adding that “many area hospitals have been put out of service, further complicating the situation.”

Dr. Monzer Yazji, president of UOSSM USA, reporting seeing a “major shortage in doctors, staff, and facilities inside Syria” in a trip there last week. “The attack today has left us all paralyzed. We are unable to properly treat the injured,” Dr. Yazji said.

Reporting on the attack, one activist witness said white smoke covered the vicinity after a bomb dropped, according to Reuters.

However, the Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons on the area, and its Russian allies have claimed that a bomb hit a rebel-held factory manufacturing chemical weapons, which then dispelled the gas.

The UN on Tuesday reported that details of the attack were “still coming in” and that “the attack had reportedly been carried out through an air strike on a residential area” but “the means of delivery could not be confirmed.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday condemned the “chemical weapons attack” which he said was “the third allegation of the use of such weapons in the past month alone.” President Donald Trump said the attack “crossed a lot of lines” in a Wednesday joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden, with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

“While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism,” he said of the Syrian president. “Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions,” he added, saying that “as the self-proclaimed guarantors to the ceasefire negotiated in Astana, Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.”

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians also condemned the attack.

“IDC condemns in the strongest terms the brutal violence and tactics of torture being used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the support of Russian and Iranian forces against civilians in Syria,” IDC executive director Philippe Nassif stated.

Religious and political leaders have called for prayer, for the perpetrators to be held accountable, and for a peaceful end to the conflict which has lasted for over six years.

“In this season of Lent when Christians draw near to the suffering of Christ, let us match the horrific indifference shown for innocent life with a fervent prayer for love to break through the evil,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Let us also match our prayer with a faithful witness to suffering so that no life at risk is forgotten.”

Pope Francis condemned the attack and offered his prayers “for the victims and their families.”

“I appeal to the conscience of those who have political responsibility, locally and internationally, so that this tragedy may come to an end and relief be brought to that beloved population who for too long have been devastated by war,” he said.

The use of poison gas on civilians is a war crime, but under international criminal law the perpetrator is not known right now with complete certainty, Professor Robert Destro, an international law expert at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, explained to CNA.

“We need to know who did it,” he insisted. “There are certain things that you are just not allowed to do.”

There are several actions countries could take to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable, he said, one approach being to use international criminal law, filing an indictment against the guilty party in an international criminal tribunal.

However, for this to take place, world leaders like the U.S., China, and Russia would have to come together, as “the U.S. cannot hold them responsible by itself.”

The international community must start meeting to determine not the best interests of particular countries, he said, but rather “what is in the best interest of people who live in the neighborhood” in Syria.

A letter from the Pope to the US president sunk in the Titanic

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 05:02

Denver, Colo., Apr 5, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the fateful voyage that embarked from Southampton and never made it to New York City, a passenger on the RMS Titanic named Major Archibald Willingham Butt was tasked with a special mission.

He was to carry a letter from Pope Pius X and personally deliver it to United States president William H. Taft.

But the 45-year-old major perished along with more than 1500 other passengers the night of April 15, with the contents of the letter never to be known.

Born in 1865 in Augusta, Georgia, Major Butt began a career in journalism after graduating from the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee. He later worked as first secretary of the United States Embassy in Mexico. During the Spanish-American war, he joined the army and was later appointed in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt as his military aid. When President Taft was elected, Major Butt was kept on staff and promoted to the rank of major in 1911.

By the next year, his health began to deteriorate – some speculating that this was due to him wanting to stay neutral and supportive amid tense political rivalry between Taft and Roosevelt, the latter of whom was planning a re-election campaign.

On a leave of absence, Major Butt embarked on a six-week tour of Europe in March of 1912 with his friend, artist Francis Millet. President Taft gave the major a letter to deliver to Pius X while in Rome, which he did on March 21. In return, Pius X gave him a letter to deliver to the president, according to the U.K. National Archives.

The major boarded the RMS Titanic in Southampton on April 12.

When the ship struck an iceberg in the waters of the Atlantic on the evening of April 15, he was seen in the smoking room, playing cards with Millett, the two ostensibly making no attempt to save themselves. Other sources, however, report his heroism.

According to, The New York Times reported survivor Renee Harris as saying that he helped the sailors place women and children safely into lifeboats – even threatening bodily harm to any man who tried to circumvent the process.  

“Women will be attended to first or I'll break every...bone in your body,” he told one such unfortunate gentleman, according to Harris. The major helped “frightened people so wonderfully, tenderly, and yet with such cool and manly firmness. He was a soldier to the last,” Harris reportedly said.

Pope Francis to Chicago: Let peace heal your city

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 02:12

Chicago, Ill., Apr 5, 2017 / 12:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As violence continues to plague the city of Chicago, Pope Francis has sent words of encouragement, solidarity and hope to the people who live there.

“The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations – and it can heal Chicago,” the Pope said in a letter to the local archbishop, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.

“Please convey to the people of Chicago that they have been on my mind and in my prayers,” Pope Francis said.

“Sadly, as you have told me, people of different ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds suffer discrimination, indifference, injustice and violence today. We must reject this exclusion and isolation, and not think of any group as ‘others,’ but rather as our own brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis’ words come amid a rising toll of murders and violent crimes in Chicago over the past few years. On March 30, seven people were killed in gang-related violence which occurred in three separate instances. Among those killed was a pregnant woman.

Over the past 15 months, some 900 murders have been reported in the city of Chicago, according to USA Today. Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel has condemned the violence, calling the most recent killings “evil.”

In an effort to respond to these violent acts, Cardinal Cupich announced a Walk for Peace that will take place in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on Good Friday, April 14.

The cardinal announced the peace walk at a news conference on Tuesday, where he was joined by the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, Monsignor Michael Boland, as well as the president and CEO of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Fr. Scott Donahue.

Pope Francis praised the event and said he would be with the participants in spirit.

“As I make my own Way of the Cross in Rome that day, I will accompany you in prayer, as well as those who walk with you and who have suffered violence in the city,” wrote the Holy Father.

Cardinal Cupich also announced a new series of anti-violence programs in Chicago, which will be funded with $250,000 from his discretionary charitable account, according to America Magazine.

“Broad gestures and sweeping rhetoric will not solve the problem. We need to do this person by person,” the cardinal stated.

While the way towards peace efforts is “not always easy,” Pope Francis emphasized that peace should be the only response to violence. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said that human conflict can only be resolved through love.

“I urge all people, especially young men and women, to respond to Dr. King’s prophetic words – and know that a culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results,” Pope Francis said.

Openness of minds and hearts will be required to move forward in peace, and this attitude should be taught in homes and schools, the Holy Father said, urging the citizens of Chicago to reject fear.

“I pray that the people of your beautiful city never lose hope,” Pope Francis wrote, and, “that they work together to become builders of peace, showing future generations the true power of love.”




What the Knights of Columbus founder can tell us today

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:02

New Haven, Conn., Apr 4, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When parish priest Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, he showed that holiness has a timeless quality, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has said.

“It’s not hard for us to see that Fr. McGivney was a priest of charity and mercy. Pastoral charity permeated his priestly ministry: he was filled with love for his parishioners; engaged with their needs; involved in their moments of joy but also times of loss and sorrow,” Archbishop Lori, Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, said March 29.

The archbishop spoke on the 135th anniversary of the founding of the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., the church where Fr. McGivney founded the Catholic fraternity that now has 1.9 million members worldwide.

Archbishop Lori reflected on the life of Fr. McGivney, who died in 1890 at the age of 38.

“How many confessions he heard within the walls of this church and how many people’s hearts did he open to the mercies of God,” he said. “It’s not too surprising, then, that when the Knights were founded in this very church their first and abiding principle would be charity – not the ersatz charity that talks big but does little – but a true love and concern for the orphan and widow and the outcast.”

“Did he not implant a culture of encounter in the Knights of Columbus 135 years ago?” the archbishop asked.

For Archbishop Lori, Fr. McGivney’s life showed the virtues of the Christian that Pope Francis would later describe as fostering a “culture of encounter,” being a “missionary disciple,” showing “accompaniment” and reaching out to those on the peripheries.

“Fr. McGivney was a missionary disciple. He was no stuffy cleric sitting in his overstuffed rectory waiting for people to call,” the archbishop said. “No, he was a disciple, a follower of the Lord, who loved him, believed in him, and preached the Gospel with conviction.”

The priest’s prayer and preaching “drove him outward and onward into the community where he ministered as a good shepherd, built bridges everywhere he could, and brought Christ to people and people to Christ.”

“There is something timeless about people who are holy,” said the archbishop. “They are timeless – but not as a work of art is said to be timeless. Holy people are such because their lives speak to each new generation, including times and seasons very different from their own.”

Archbishop Lori also reflected on the approach of Pope Francis towards Christian spirituality.

When Pope Francis speaks of the encounter with Jesus Christ, he does not mean a superficial meeting but rather “a true and deep meeting of minds and hearts.” The Pope “encourages us to allow the heart of Christ to speak to our heart, and to draw us into real intimacy with himself and his heavenly Father.”

“We encounter the Lord when we enter heart and soul into the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when we worthily receive the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, and when we pray privately, allowing the Lord’s voice to echo in our hearts,” the archbishop said.

Forced abortion in China cost a UN agency millions in US funds

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 19:55

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2017 / 05:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States has ended funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), saying the agency's support for Chinese population control programs violates an amendment banning funds for partners of coercive abortion or sterilization programs.

“This determination was made based on the fact that China's family planning policies still involve the use of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization, and UNFPA partners on family planning activities with the Chinese government agency responsible for these coercive policies,” the U.S. State Department said in a letter to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker.

The move ends $32.5 million in funds for the 2017 fiscal year, Reuters reports. The money will instead go to the State Department’s Global Health Programs fund. Those monies are used by the U.S. Agency for International Development to support family planning and maternal and reproductive health.

In 2015, the U.S. government was the fourth-largest voluntary donor to the Population Fund, giving $75 million.

The population fund said the claims were erroneous, saying its entire work “promotes the rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.” It said its work has saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities.

The Kemp-Kasten Amendment bars funding for any organization or program that the U.S. President determines to support or participate in coercive abortion or sterilization programs.

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers founder and president Reggie Littlejohn, a longtime critic of the Population Fund, said the fund “clearly supports China’s population control program, which they know is coercive.”

Littlejohn had called for further investigation into the Population Fund at a March 23 panel her organization held at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Her remarks cited several instances of coercion in abortion and sterilization.

She cited a sterilization campaign begun in April 2010 in  Puning City in China’s Guangdong Province, which set a goal of sterilizing 9,559 people. Littlejohn charged that those who refused were detained, along with their family members.

She also cited a May 4, 2016 article from BBC News, “Reinventing China’s abortion police,” which describes a Chinese official in Shaanxi province as a “birth-control enforcer” screening women for illegal pregnancies and telling women who cannot afford the fines to have an abortion.

The coastal province of Shandong is particularly strict, with illegal detentions for those accused of having children without official approval.

“Under China’s One (now Two) Child Policy, women have been forcibly aborted up to the ninth month of pregnancy,” Littlejohn said April 4. “Some of these forced abortions have been so violent that the women themselves have died, along with their full term babies. There have been brutal forced sterilizations as well, butchering women and leaving them disabled. Where was the outcry from the UNFPA? In my opinion, silence in the face of such atrocities is complicity.”

In 2002 the U.S. ended federal funding for the Population Fund after an investigation under then-Secretary of State Colin Powell found that it was complicit with Chinese officials’ coercive implementation of the country’s one-child policy.

The Obama administration had restored this funding in 2009.

Women’s Rights without Frontiers offers a support network to Chinese women pressured to abort or abandon their daughters, providing monthly support for up to a year. It aims to combat the practice it characterizes as “femicide” or “gendercide,” the selective targeting of baby girls for abortion.

Littlejohn has said the Chinese government should implement a similar program to save baby girls.

Teen pleads guilty over plot to kill Pope during US visit

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 19:11

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 4, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, 17 year-old Santos Colon of Lindenwold, New Jersey pleaded guilty to charges related to a plot to kill the Pope.

The teen had reportedly devised a plot to kill Pope Francis and detonate explosives during the Holy Father’s visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in 2015.

The event was the last stop on Pope Francis’ six-day trip to the United States, during which he also visited New York City and Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the final papal Mass on Sunday, September 27th, 2015.

Colon was 15 years old at the time.

In the months leading up to the Pope’s visit, Colon thought he had made contact with a would-be sniper, when in fact he was engaging with an undercover FBI source, the Justice Department said in a statement.

“Colon engaged in target reconnaissance with an FBI confidential source and instructed the source to purchase materials to make explosive devices,” the department said.

FBI agents were able to quietly arrest Colon about two weeks before the Pope’s visit.

According to AFP news agency, the attack Colon was plotting was allegedly inspired by the Islamic State terrorist group, though it is unclear how connected he was to the group or whether he had made contact with any of their members.

Colon has pleaded guilty as an adult to one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists. The charges filed against him as a juvenile have thus been dropped.

According to the Department of Justice, Colon faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. A date has not yet been set for sentencing.

It is likely that Colon will be treated in a secure psychiatric facility before serving his sentence, if convicted.


How a California bill is threatening faith-based codes of conduct

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 11:47

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 4, 2017 / 09:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A proposed California law has targeted faith-based employers’ codes of conduct in the name of reproductive health, the California Catholic Conference has said.

“The bill impacts all employers, but seems to attack and diminish the conscience and religious liberty rights of faith-based organizations,” Sandra Palacios, associate director for governmental relations at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA April 3.

“The bill targets and seeks to eliminate the ability of religious employers to enforce faith-based code of conduct standards,” she said. “As one of the most family-friendly religious employers in our state and across the nation, we welcome an opportunity for further dialogue on the bill with the author and her staff.”

Assembly Bill 569 would bar requiring an employee 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 it to notify employees of these legal rights in the handbook.

The office of bill sponsor Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher said the legislation would make it clear that employees cannot be required to signs codes of conduct that “restrict their reproductive choices.”

Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said women face repercussions for becoming pregnant and having children.

“A woman should never face repercussions in the workplace for her reproductive choices,” she said in a March 28 statement.

Palacios agreed that pregnancy should never be punished, but noted that pregnant women are already protected under employment law.

She said the bill in question would conflict with religious exemptions for faith-based employers, including the First Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution. She cited the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which upheld a Lutheran church and school’s employment policy against an employee’s unlawful dismissal claim.

“As a religious employer, our ability to infuse our policies with tenets of our Catholic faith is currently protected by the First Amendment,” Palacios said. “It’s not unusual for private or religious employers to want to have policies that incorporate their tenets of faith. Religious employers currently operate under fundamental constitutional protections of free exercise and association.”

Current exemptions, for instance, allow a church to limit employment in most positions to those who share its faith.

“The employer should not or cannot infringe on the ‘privacy right’ of an employee to take the actions described, as long as they keep it private, but the employer has a right to expect those acts to not be publicly embarrassing or disrespectful to the employer,” Palacios continued. “This bill seems to pit the rights of religious employers to affirm public behavior against the rights of an employee to do whatever they want publicly without regard to the employer.”

The Catholic conference also warned against any possible amendments to change current definition of a religious employer.

Furthermore, the bill’s inclusion of dependents of employees was “unprecedented and questionable,” Palacios said.

In 2015, the Archdiocese of San Francisco attempted to revise employee handbooks to clarify expectations for teachers and staff at its Catholic high schools, prompting several large protests.

Last year, the California state government started to require health care plans to cover abortions, including the health care plans of churches and religious universities.


From Yale to the seminary: a neuroscientist's story

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 08:02

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Jaime Maldonado-Aviles thought that he would be spending his life behind microscopes at Yale as a neuroscientist. But his life has taken a dramatic turn, and he is now discerning the priesthood at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

“I have to seriously explore these questions,” Maldonado-Aviles said of a constant nagging he felt towards the priesthood.

“At different times, the question would come back: If I see myself at 90 years old, close to death, would I say to myself, ‘I should have entered seminary?’” he told the Washington Post.

Maldonado-Aviles was 34 and working at Yale as a neuroscientist in a post-doctoral position when he seriously began to explore the pull towards priesthood that he had felt his whole life.

He grew up in Puerto Rico and attended the National Institutes of Health, earning his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh. He has studied everything from eating disorders to mice brains throughout his research career, and was offered a dream job in his home country of Puerto Rico working at a pharmaceutical university with tenure.

He turned the job down, and instead decided to enter six years of seminary.

While Maldonado-Aviles is a seasoned science scholar, he will spend the next couple of years learning another spectrum of education in seminary: Catholic theology and philosophy.

As for the argument that science and faith cannot coexist, Maldonado-Aviles doesn’t buy it, saying that he is excited to connect the dots between his passion for science and his exploration of Catholicism.

“The complexity and yet the order in which things work in our body and in our brain, it makes you think there’s more than just randomness,” he told the Washington Post.

“Theology has to learn from scientific advice. We are informed as to how life works. But science also has to learn from theology.”