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Public servans as public lords

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 13:32

Views and Points
Abp. Oscar V. Cruz


It is becoming progressively more pronounced, definitely more manifest as time goes by. There are more and more public servants in this country who think and speak like public lords, who act and behave as masters of the general public. They do not only consider themselves as omniscient but also think of themselves as omnipotent. They behave like master generals such that they love and admire themselves so much that they come to believe that what they say is always right, what they want they must get. Everybody else: Shut up! Stay still! Do as you are told!

These are public servants supposed to render public service by working for the public welfare. However, they conveniently forget that their big salaries, many fringe benefits and all other largesse are all paid by the general public from birth to death, through direct and indirect taxes people usually pay unknowingly, non-deliberately. So it is that the moment a child is born, this is taxed through his/her parents for using electricity and water, for buying food and milk, not to mention the purchase of clothes and soap, powder and medicine, etc.

Who dies and who lives, who is killed or allowed to live, who is terminated or permitted to continue being, who is executed–electrocuted, hanged, shot–all these are decided by the public lords. They are even over and above God with the express and clear mandate for people not to kill. They think and act as if they gave the lives they want terminated, as if they authored the lives they decided to take away. Saying it bluntly, they want to be executioners from a distance when in the course of time, they themselves can be executed for given misdeeds–when they are eventually out of the reigning political party, when they are already out of power and might, when they are divested of wealth and influence.

Such political potentates want to dictate who live and who die as if they are the ones who give life and therefore have the right to take it away as well. Their children come to life through them. But this is because they are already living father/mothers themselves who thus but transmit to their children the life they already have in themselves. The naked truth is that they have not created any life at all–not even that of a miserable flea. Yet they crave killing others–who are usually the poor and miserable, considering that the justice system in the country have long since exempted the powerful and the rich from its scope. There is something weird worth telling: said public servants thinking and acting like petty gods can also be killed one way or another, by someone somehow–unless they themselves eventually die for whatever cause.

Recently, it was found out that a dog–yes, a dog!–was killed for the sake of movie-making. When such killing was made known, animal lovers were up in arms, these and those individuals were blamed, the film industry was put to shame. It was a dog that was killed. But here come certain public officials wanting human beings killed! “Inhumanity to man!”–this was long since said for gross human cruelty. But the same grim and gross reality is in the making–more for political subservience than the right human value system. Never mind what is right and wrong, what is virtuous or vicious. Mind what brings political influence from the ultimate source of political power. Do not mind the slaves but bow down and bow deep to the slave master.

The life agendum

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 13:27

Like the pastoral letter that was read in parishes nationwide a few Sundays ago, the Walk for Life that was held at the Quirino Grandstand last Saturday has generated thousands of bashers and trolls in social media. As usual these online haters–or propagandists, if you may–did not care a bit what the issue was all about. They have prepared attack lines that are reloaded over and over again as if from an armory of sorts. That was why most of their attack lines were indiscriminate and out of the mark.

Here, for instance, are some of the attack lines: the Catholic Church or the CBCP is an attack dog of the “mga dilawan” which is a euphemism of the past “yellow” administration–which is false, of course; the Catholic Church is avenging the closure order given to some twenty seven or so mining companies, implying that the Church has a stake in the mining business–which is false, because the Church, being a staunch environment advocate, even hailed the decision of the DENR Secretary. And there are the usual expletives and accusations: hypocrites, Padre Damaso, and Child molesters, among many more.

One of the Catholic Church’s overarching agenda is life. She will not compromise this. History will tell that the Catholic Church has never been silenced even by relentless bashing or persecution when the issue of life is at stake. This agendum is tremendously larger than the present administration and will definitely outlast any political interest or movement.

5 online challenges vs ‘culture of life’

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 10:33

“Prayer Rally for Life” held in Bacolod on Dec. 12, 2016 to uphold the sanctity of human life to face the threats of the “death penalty”, EJK, and the RH Law (Photo: Fr. Ronald Quijano)

BACOLOD, Feb. 23, 2017 – Amid the groundswell of public sentiment against the “culture of death” and as provinces organize prayer rallies to uphold the sanctity of human life, there is a need to champion life everywhere, anywhere – even online.

This is the observation of Fr. Ronald Quijano, chairman of the Commission on Family and Life of the Diocese of Bacolod.

5 challenges to life

The Family and Life chairman pointed out the following challenges Catholic citizens have to face to uphold the “culture of life”:

  • General indifference to death. “First it is worth to cite a millennial ‘hashtag’ which says ‘#killpamore’ in reference to thousands who already died due to the war on drugs, and the common remark of police reports in TV news ‘inimbitahan, tumakas, lumaban, binaril’; and when asked who did it, the answer is ‘We do not know; perhaps his fellow drug pushers killed him,’” shared the priest.

“A supporter of the death penalty commented that, since many are complaining about extra-judicial killings (EJK), so we will now make it ‘judicial killings’ by legalizing it,” shared Quijano.

  • Trolls. “Second is the existence of ‘trolls’ functioning as IT spin-masters who usually twist sensitive issues, in favor of their ‘cultic-leader’, by labelling those who oppose the death penalty as ‘yellowtards’ whom they even accuse of hatching a destabilization plot against the current administration.”
  • Misunderstanding of separation of Church and state. “Third, is the misconception of the separation of Church and state; as if the Church is a stumbling block to the affairs of the government,” added Quijano.
  • Misconception that the Church favors criminals. The priest noted: “Fourth, is the impression that it easy for the Church to speak against death penalty but how about the trauma experienced by the victims and their family members? Is the Church defending more the offenders and remains indifferent to those who have been abused and oppressed?”
  • Perception of a non-proactive Church. Lastly, Quijano referred to the challenge to the Church that is perceived as limiting herself to reacting to the issue on death penalty but not taking the proactive approach as proper to a “Mother and Teacher”.

Church initiatives

To those who criticize the Catholic Church for not doing anything, Quijano mentioned several initiatives made in Bacolod alone, as expressions of a more formative approach, namely:

  • Bahay Pag-asa of La Salle in Granada;
  • Rehabilitation in Victorias;
  • Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous at the Redemptorist Church;
  • Rehabilitation for minors in Don Bosco, etc.

The Walk for Life in Manila and other prayer rallies in the provincial cities are “opportunities for evangelization to educate our people about the Church’s teachings on human life and to explain the harmful repercussions of the recurrent ‘extra-judicial killings’ (EJK) and the re-imposition of the death penalty,” he said.

“It is ironic that Congress gives high priority to House Bill no. 01 which legalizes the ‘death penalty’,” lamented the priest.
“Due to the government’s war on drugs, threats of terrorism and other social problems, it appears as if we are in a hopeless situation and the only solution to violence is also to commit violence,” he observed. (Fr. Mickey Cardenas / CBCP News)

Duterte told: Reveal your bank records

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 10:06

President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA, Feb. 23, 2017 – President Rodrigo R. Duterte should accept the challenge to reveal his bank account history amid allegations that he has billions of pesos in the bank, a Franciscan brother said.

According to Br. Angel Ace Cortez, the president should disclose his bank transactions in the spirit of transparency and to prove his innocence.

“If he (Duterte) is really aiming for real change, he should let the people know the truth,” he said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV claimed prior to the 2016 elections that then presidential candidate Duterte had over Php2 billion in his account with the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).

The issue toned down after the election but resurfaced recently in the news.

Duterte denied the allegation.

In a post by Inquirer.Net on Feb. 17, the president was reported to have ordered the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to disclose the amount of money in his account.

Trillanes claimed the president had over Php2 billion from 2006 to 2015.

Duterte said he would resign if the senator could prove his allegations and dared the latter to elevate the issue to court.
Trillanes filed a plunder case against Duterte in May 2016.

According to Cortez, transparency is indispensible in an administration seeking change.

“I believe there are many forms of corruption happening,” he added. “One president cannot claim that he is better than another as long as there are people who starve and suffer from poverty because the government does not care and corruption is still out of control.” (Oliver Samson/CBCPNews)

‘Church reminds us about what we value’

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 09:27

ILOILO City, Feb. 23, 2017 – Amid issues like extrajudicial killings and the proposed reimposition of the death penalty, movements like CFC- Singles for Christ rally behind the Church hierarchy’s call to counter the culture of death.

Some 5,000 singles from all over the world converged at the Western State University in this city from Feb. 17 to 19 for the 24th CFC – Singles for Christ International Conference. (Photo: SFC Global)

In an interview with SFC international coordinator, Noli Manuel, he affirmed that initiatives and events that gather the lay faithful for a cause continuously remind the faithful about what the community stands for.

“When the Church calls us to gather, constantly it gives community members the consciousness to value the things that we stand for,” he said.

“To some, they say we just walk, but it’s the coming together, regardless of the number that matters, its the coming together for a cause: and that is to pray,” said the lay missionary, commenting on the recently held “Walk for Life” on Feb. 18 at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

“We value life, we individually and as a community, value life because life comes from God, and we being stewards of this beautiful life that we have, we ought to protect it,” added Manuel, who used to serve as a missionary in the Middle east.

For SFC International Conference (ICON) 2017 event head and SFC Metro Manila head Jeremy Quimpang, prayer and action go hand in hand, in terms of showing solidarity with the pro-life movement.

“Aside from prayers, through action we can influence people and show them our conviction towards the importance of life, we know that life is a gift,” he said.

Stressing that SFC ICON delegates should live out their calling as Christians, San Ildefonso parish priest Fr. Ian Rosal, SDB, who gave the SFC ICON 2017 workshop entitled “Credo”, stressed that every person should be given chances to change for the better.

“After these days, of the ICON, where we got in touch with Christ, I expect the delegates to be all out for Christ and to live out our Christ-life calling so that we may truly become the body of Christ to the world,” said the 42-year old, who used to be a member of CFC – Youth for Christ before entering the seminary.

“Since we always value life and all of us are living because of the breath of God in each of us we have to respect every life, and take care of it,” he added.

Some 21 countries were represented at the international event held at the Western State University in this city from Feb. 17 to 19. (Chrixy Paguirigan / CBCPNews)

EDSA is our people’s cry and God’s loving reply

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 09:13

Undated photo shows the late Jaime Cardinal Sin with Archbishop Socrates Villegas during a visit to an orphanage in Manila. (File photo)

Dear Cardinal Sin,   It is you I miss most these days.   I do not mean to disturb your peace. You already have passed from this valley of tears to the House of the Father but please Cardinal Sin, do not forget us in our present travails as a nation. I know you can receive this message. I believe. Nothing can separate you from us in the Lord. You love this country so much. You will not let us lose our hope.   I know you can hear me and I know you are here. As I know your love for this country, I also believe that in heaven your heart pleads to the heart of God to embrace this beautiful land.  Cardinal Sin, embrace us and ask God to embrace your God loving people. Do not look at the blessings we have squandered and the heroism we have ridiculed. Do not look at the news we have faked and the people we have cheated. Do not look at our uncaring attitude about the victims of extra judicial killings now exceeding the number of victims during martial law.     Look at us in our fears and pray for us to God to heal our land. Give is courage. Give us hope. Shake us up from our timidity.   Thirty one years after EDSA 1986, I hear our people ask: What shall we celebrate? What is there to celebrate?  By the corner of EDSA and Ortigas, I want to sit and weep as I remember the four glorious days of February 1986 now dimmed. The glory now flickers in the darkness of fear and terror again. The songs of peace now drowned by the cuss words of hate that invite murder. The bloodless revolt now stained by the blood in our streets and street gutters. The statistics of unresolved murder continues to rise and not a single one has been investigated and brought to justice.   Four days of bloodless revolution! Wow!   Now eight months of relentless killings of the poor in the name of “change”! It is a nightmare Your Eminence! It is a shame.   The dictator ousted by People Power is now buried among heroes. The Lady of one thousand two hundred pairs of shoes is now Representative in Congress. History books are rewritten. Historical memory is revised. The hero is a villain. The plunderers are now heroes. Thank God, Eminence you did not see these days we are going through.   Tears flow. Uncertainties choke us. It is hard to choose silence and take the blows. How long can we endure? It is hard to fight for the right without question or pause and be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause. You remember that song Eminence? That was your favorite line I remember. Singing it again makes me smile and makes me tear.   Did you also cry quietly in the dark years of the dictatorship? Were you ever discouraged and did you also question yourself if what you were doing was right? Were you ever afraid or did you ever feel the urge to stay in your zone of comfort instead of fighting the unbeatable foe?   Cardinal Sin, I feel the same and you know that. I know many feel this way. Teach us how to cope. Teach us your courage. Teach us your humor. Teach us your faith.  Teach us righteous indignation. Wake us up from our pacifism and pull us into the fire of passion and courage again.   They are looking for you but you are not here. They are waiting for your voice but they cannot hear. They want to see you again but you seem so far away now. Is it wrong to miss you?   Can we still celebrate EDSA people power? I asked you that years ago and you said, “Yes we must celebrate because EDSA is people! Please celebrate even when Cory and I are gone”.   For as a long as there is a child willing to right the unrightable wrong; for as long as there is a young man willing to reach the unreachable star even if his hands have grown weary; for as long as there is a war weary soldier willing to smile at  a colegiala who bravely puts a flower onto the muzzle of his gun; for as long as there is priest willing to offer the Mass for the healing of this broken and bleeding land…this land may be ruled by tyrants and killers, murderers may win in elections, plunderers may grin at the ignorant voters they have cheated, trolls may keep hurling invectives at their peace loving countrymen, commanders may prostitute the meaning of EDSA… but we will still celebrate.   For EDSA is not about the enemies of peace and democracy but the faith and bravery of a people who called upon the Lord in their distress and whose cry the Lord has heard from heaven. EDSA is our people’s cry and our God’s loving reply.   In your final years Your Eminence, you saw how that spirit was diluted and some even wanted it reversed. But you were firm to remind me even from your sickbed that EDSA is heroic courage and will always be. What the pimps of that spirit have done cannot remove the purity of EDSA’s valor and the nobility of its lesson. The EDSA spirit is pure worth celebrating always. It is people who have raped it.   Against all odds, Cardinal Sin, we will remember. We will give thanks. We will challenge ourselves to live for God and to live for country as you did.   Rest now Cardinal Sin. You have left us lessons to last us many lifetimes. All we must do is to keep on remembering and to keep the fire aglow. You have passed on that torch to us and we will not fail you. Promise!   Hug me in my dreams. Embrace me in my prayer. Guide me by your memory. Please hug my parents for me in the Father’s House.   Lovingly,   Soc

Over 50-year old Palo Cross faces destruction

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 13:49

PALO, Leyte, Feb. 22, 2017 – The cross, found on top of Guinhangdan Hill, more popularly known as “Hill 522”, in this town is facing destruction with the present plans of the Palo municipal government to demolish the large, white cross and replace it with a similar structure worth millions of government funds.

The Cross at Guinhangdan Hill in the town of Palo in Leyte province is a favorite pilgrimage site during Holy Week. Thousands of Catholic devotees would climb the 522 steps leading to the cross and offer candles and flowers. It offers a panoramic view of Palo town, which was one of the areas severely affected areas by super typhoon Yolanda and one of the places Pope Francis visited in 2015. (Photo: Rolando O. Borrinaga)

Dr. Rolando O. Borrinaga, historian from Eastern Visayas region, which comprises the islands of Samar, Leyte, and Biliran, considered the Palo Cross a “built heritage” structure. In an interview with CBCPNews, he said, “For more than 50 years, this Cross has been a place of pilgrimage for many devotees, who would climb the hill (in ‘Calvary fashion’) during Holy Week.”

“Destroying this structure, which was apparently built with contributions and volunteer labor from Palo community, would not only be sacrilegious, it is also against an existing law,” continued by Borrinaga, who is a professor in UP Manila’s Leyte-based School of Health Sciences.

Protected by law

Under Republic Act No. 10066 or the “National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009,” structures dating at least fifty (50) years old are considered of “heritage value.” For Borrinaga, the Cross on Guinhangdan Hill can be automatically be classified as such, making it worthy of preservation by law because of its “notable historical and cultural significance.”

Borrinaga noted: “Elderly residents of Palo can attest that this structure has been there for more than 50 years now.”

Helping Borrinaga is Fr. Ivo Velasquez, who is actively campaigning too on social media, for the preservation of the Cross. On his Facebook post, the priest said, “The structure in itself is in no need of alteration as it is still strong and appears architecturally sound, from the base of the altar where a Mass can be said. Improvements could be made on the surrounding area without touching the monument itself.”

Pilgrimage site

Guinhangdan Hill is a favorite pilgrimage site during Holy Week where thousands of Catholic devotees would climb the 522 steps leading to the cross where they offer candles and flowers. It offers a panoramic view of Palo town, which was one of the areas severely affected areas by super typhoon Yolanda and one of the places Pope Francis visited in 2015.  (Carl Jamie Simple S. Bordeos / CBCP News)

Prelate praises mothers, stresses sacredness of life

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 13:33

TACLOBAN City, Feb. 22, 2017 – Praising mothers, Palo Archbishop John Forrosuelo Du urged on Sunday members of the Archdiocesan Federation of Medalla Milagrosa to go out and rally for the sanctity of life.

The Dumaguete-native prelate expounded on a mother’s important role in nurturing life in the wombs for nine months but which, in these days, has become “cheap.”

Palo Archbishop John Du

Du said mothers, who care for their children, are represented by the Blessed Virgin Mary, and should, in the same way, be Mary’s representatives on earth.

He, however, lamented how life’s value is disregarded nowadays.

A mother’s weeping heart

“Here comes death penalty and life now has become very cheap,” said Du in his homily at the Mass on the occasion of the 48th Annual Pilgrimage of Medalla Milagrosa “Visita Domicillaria” at the Redemptorist Church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish) this city.

For sure, the prelate said, whenever a person is killed, a mother’s heart is weeping because the one she loves the most was not given a chance to reform his life.

He noted how life has become “nothing.”

Du exhorted the members of the federation to collectively cry for the protection of life, which is “sacred and precious.”

Even after President Rodrigo Duterte momentarily put on hold his hardlining war against drugs following the sensational killing of a Korean businessman inside Camp Crame, extra-judicial killings have never not stopped.

On Feb. 18, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines led thousands of Catholics in the “Walk for Life” at Luneta Park to publicize the Church in the Philippines’ rejection of the proposed reimposition of death penalty, abortion, the unabated extra-judicial killings, and corruption in government.

The chance to offer oneself

According to the prelate, life is from God and no one has the authority to kill someone just because he is wrong.

Du also underscored Jesus’ humility, who in spite of being the Son of God, lowered Himself and became a poor man in order to save mankind.

He emphasized the challenge to help others experience the fullness of life and to share the best one can offer to others.

“Simply they cannot offer the best because they are not given the opportunity, because of the circumstances,” he commented.

Du remarked, “Can you expect a child to grow up good and show his or her best when there is no food on their table, parents are separated?”

Posing the challenge, he stressed, “That is why a child needs love and support and assistance.”

“The Lord is telling us ‘Give him the opportunity to make his life better and offer himself,” he stressed.

The prelate also reiterated God’s call to mankind to be holy and to live the fullness of life “because life is beautiful.”

Dealing with evil

Emphasizing that Sunday’s Gospel he said, “If anyone presses you into service for one mile, go for two miles; we have to make extra effort to help our brothers and sisters who are being misled or lost in their lives.”

Du also explained how a Christian should deal with evil.

“Offer no resistance to what is evil. Don’t give what is evil another evil because there is no end to ‘evil begets evil,'” he said. “If there is evil, share love; if there is wrong forgiveness; be patient because eventually you will get back that love you have offered to that person,” said Du.

“But if you will kill the person you will miss the point of the renewal, the transformation and the fullness, the best that he can offer to you, to your family and to our community,” he concluded. (Eileen N. Ballesteros / CBCP News)

Pope Francis: Protecting migrants is a ‘moral imperative’

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 10:12

Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square April 13, 2016. (Daniel Ibañez/CNA)

VATICAN, Feb. 21, 2017-– On Tuesday Pope Francis said that it is our duty to defend the dignity of migrants, particularly by enacting just laws that offer protection to those forced to flee from dangerous or inhumane situations.

“Defending (migrants’) inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedoms and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted,” the Pope said Feb. 21.

“Protecting these brothers and sisters,” he said, “is a moral imperative which translates into adopting juridical instruments, both international and national, that must be clear and relevant; implementing just and far reaching political choices.”

Although sometimes it takes longer, we must also implement timely and humane programs that fight against human trafficking, since migrants are an especially vulnerable population, the Pope observed.  
Pope Francis’ speech was addressed to participants of the sixth international forum on Migration and Peace at the Vatican. The meeting, which runs Feb. 21-22, is titled “Integration and Development: From Reaction to Action.”

It was organized by the Vatican’s Congregation for Integral Human Development, the Scalabrini International Migration Network (SIMIN) and the Kondrad Adenauer Foundation.

In his speech, Francis noted that our current millennium is characterized by migration involving nearly “every part of the world.” The forced nature of this phenomenon, he added, “amplifies the urgency for a coordinated and effective response” to challenges.

“Unfortunately, in the majority of cases this movement is forced, caused by conflict, natural disasters, persecution, climate change, violence, extreme poverty and inhumane living conditions,” he said.

This is why it is more necessary than ever to affirm the dignity of the migrant as a human person, “without allowing immediate and ancillary circumstances, or even the necessary fulfilment of bureaucratic and administrative requirements, to obscure this essential dignity.”

During the meeting, Pope Francis heard the testimony of three people and their families, all of whom have emigrated from their homelands to a new country.

One woman, her husband and their young son were migrants from Eritrea. They fled across the Red Sea to Yemen, but because of the war, they later fled to Jordan, where they were again confronted by “dangerous conditions” on their journey to Italy, including a perilous journey from Libya across the Mediterranean before landing on the island of Lampedusa.

After sharing their story, the woman raised “a heartfelt appeal” to Pope Francis for better legal channels of entrance so that others seeking asylum will not have to “risk their lives in the hands of traffickers” or by crossing the desert and the sea.

Another woman then told her story of migrating to Chile in 1997. Although she had been a professor in her home country of Peru, when she arrived in Chile she was forced work in domestic servitude to support herself, sleeping in the metro station on the weekends when she had nowhere to stay.

She said that one day after seeing fellow migrants arriving at the metro station, she was inspired to help people in her situation.

“I am sure that this inspiration was God’s providence,” she said, because soon after she went to a parish in Santiago and a priest there invited her to be the director of the center for integration of migrants that they were launching.

She has now worked there since 2000, helping to provide various services to migrants including healthcare, food, professional formation and psychological and religious support. In the past 17 years, the woman said more than 70,000 women have come to Chile as migrants to rebuild their lives, with more than half passing through the center she directs.

The third family was Italian, but has lived in Canada for more than 50 years. The brother immigrated to Canada when just 14-years-old, joining his father to work in construction in order to save money for the rest of the family to eventually join them.

“We are truly blessed as immigrants that we went to Canada,” the sister of the family said. “With God’s help, with a lot of faith, determination and perseverance…we today have realized a universal dream of all migrants to fulfill the dreams of providing a better home, a better life for our family and our loved ones.”

For the past 40 years they have volunteered with the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles, also called Scalabrinians, to assist fellow migrants.

After hearing their testimonies, the Pope in his speech used four words to explain what our shared response to the contemporary challenges of the migration issue should be: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.

To welcome the migrant, he said, we must change our attitude of rejection, “rooted ultimately in self-centeredness,” in order “to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors.”

A responsible and dignified welcome begins with offering decent and appropriate shelter, he said.

Large gatherings of refugees and asylum-seekers, such as in camps, has created more issues, not fewer, he said, noting that more widespread programs which emphasize personal encounter have appeared to have better results.

We protect the migrant when we enact just laws, especially in recognition of the fact that migrants are more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and violence, he said, referring to a point previously made by Benedict XVI.

Development, according to the social doctrine of the Church, is “an undeniable right of every human being,” the Pope said.

As such, development “must be guaranteed by ensuring the necessary conditions for its exercise, both in the individual and social context, providing fair access to fundamental goods for all people and offering the possibility of choice and growth.”

This takes a coordinated effort from everyone, he said, placing specific emphasis on the political community, civil society, international organizations and religious institutions.

On the point of integration, Francis emphasized that it is not the same as “assimilation” or “incorporation,” but is rather a “two-way process.” This, he said, means it requires joint recognition on the part of both the migrant and the person in the receiving country.

We must beware of a sort-of cultural “superimposing” of one culture over another, he said, and also cautioned against a “mutual isolation” which has the “dangerous risk of creating ghettoes.”

Above all, policies should favor the reunion of families, the Pope said, but stressed that those who arrive in a new country are “duty bound not to close themselves off from the culture and traditions of the receiving country, respecting above all its laws.”

Through welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating, we discover the “sacred value of hospitality,” he said. “For us Christians, hospitality offered to the weary traveler is offered to Jesus Christ himself, through the newcomer.”

And in the duty of solidarity we find a counter to the “throwaway culture,” he said, adding that “solidarity is born precisely from the capacity to understand the needs of our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and to take responsibility for these needs.” (Hannah Brockhaus/CNA)

Vatican, Al-Azhar team up to counter religious justification for violence

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 10:07

Pope Francis meets with the grand imam Sheik Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib at the Vatican May 23, 2016. (L’Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN, Feb. 21, 2017-– The Vatican and one of Islam’s most renowned schools of Sunni thought are joining forces to discuss how they can work together in combating religious extremism that uses God’s name to justify violence.

On Feb. 21 the Vatican announced that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will travel to Cairo to participate in a special seminar at the Al-Azhar University.

He will be joined by the council’s secretary, Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, and the head of their Office for Islam, Msgr. Khaled Akasheh, to discuss the theme “The role of al-Azhar al-Sharif and of the Vatican in countering the phenomena of fanaticism, extremism and violence in the name of religion.”

The meeting will take place “on the vigil” of Feb. 24 in honor of Pope Saint John Paul II’s visit to the university on that day in 2000. It will also be attended by the Holy See’s ambassador to Egypt, Archbishop Bruno Musarò, as well as various representatives from Al-Azhar.

Currently Ahmed al Tayyeb, the Imam of al Azhar is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious al-Azhar University attached to it.

Founded in the Fatimid dynasty in the late 10th century together with the adjoining mosque, the university is one of the most renowned study centers for the legal principals of Sunni Islam.

Al Tayyeb paid a visit to the Vatican May 23 for a meeting with Pope Francis, which marked a major step in thawing relations between the al-Azhar institution and the Holy See, which were strained in 2011 with claims that Pope Benedict XVI had “interfered” in Egypt’s internal affairs by condemning a bomb attack on a church in Alexandria during the time of Coptic Christmas.

Since then relations have continued to move forward at a surprisingly fast pace, leading to the Oct. 21 announcement from the Vatican that sometime this spring the Holy See and the Al-Azhar Mosque and adjunct University will officially resume dialogue.

After the announcement, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, traveled to Cairo for an Oct. 23 meeting with a delegation from Al-Azhar to discuss the details.

Bishop Ayuso made a similar visit to Al-Azhar in July 2016, where he met with Sunni academic and politician Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk that to discuss the formal resumption of dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Al-Azhar University, which culminated in the Oct. 23 encounter.

The current seminar, which is the work of several “preliminary meetings,” can been seen as the next step in officially restoring ties.

In an interview with Vatican Radio published May 24, the day after his historic visit to the Vatican, Al Tayyeb spoke out harshly against terrorism carried out by extremist Islamic groups such as ISIS, saying that “those who kill Muslims, and who also kill Christians, have misunderstood the texts of Islam either intentionally or by negligence.”

“We must not blame religions because of the deviations of some of their followers,” he said, and issued a global appeal asking that the entire world to “close ranks to confront and put an end to terrorism.”

If the growing problem of terrorism is neglected, it’s not just the east that will pay the price, but “both east and west could suffer together, as we have seen.”

In their Feb. 21 communique, the Vatican also announced that from Feb. 21-25 the annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel will take place in Dakar, Senegal.

Founded by St. John Paul II in 1984, the foundation was establish by the late pontiff after his first visit to Africa, during which he came face to face with the daily suffering the people endured due to years of draught and desertification.

While the foundation was previously under the care of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the dicastery has since merged with several others to form a new, mega-dicastery for Integral Human Development, which is now responsible for the Sahel foundation.

The 5-day meeting will be attended by various representatives from the Holy See, including the new dicastery’s secretary, Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, who will participate as an observer, and the Vatican ambassador to Senegal, Archbishop Michael Wallace Banach.

According to the communique, discussion will focus largely on projects awaiting funding. In 2016 alone 43 projects in 6 countries were financed for a grand total of $550,000. Since the foundation’s beginning until 2015, they have financed roughly 3,200 projects in the Sahel region, for a total of more than $37,000,000.

With particular help received from both the Italian and German bishops conferences, specific projects focus on eliminating desertification and managing and developing agricultural units, as well as other projects aimed at providing water pumping systems and improving drinking water and renewable energies. The foundation also seeks to form skilled technical personnel.

Recent data from the Human Development Index, which measures the level of development in each country worldwide, shows that 19 of the 20 least developed countries on the list come from Africa, the communique said. Of these 19 countries, 7 are from the Sahel region.

In addition to desertification, the index lists several other factors that compound the situation, including frequent food crisis, the exhaustion of natural resources, particularly water, and violence carried out by extremist groups.

Members of the Board of Directors attending the meeting are: Bishop Sanou Lucas Kalfa of Banfora, Burkina Faso, who is the president; Bishop Mamba Paul Abel of Ziguinchor, Senegal, who is the vice-president; Bishop Happe Martin Albert of Nouakchott, Mauritania, who is the treasurer; Bishop Ouédraogo Ambroise of Maradi, Niger; Bishop Ildo Fortes of Mindelo, Cape Verde; Archbishop Djitangar Edmond of N’Djamena, Chad; Bishop Ellison Robert Patrick of Banjul, Gambia; Bishop Pedro Carlos Zilli of Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau and Bishop Traoré Augustin of Segou, Mali. (Elise Harris/CNA)

From one hypocrite to another!

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 09:00

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino
Dubito, Ergo Sum


Hypocrisy is always shameful—whether it be the hypocrisy of a priest who preaches fidelity to the Gospel but is, in his own life, unfaithful to it, or the hypocrisy of a public official who swears to defend the Constitution but is remorseless in its transgression, or the hypocrisy of one who has traded his birthright to speak his mind for the shameful post of a bootlicker!

In the same measure that martyrdom and heroism are part of the heritage of the Church, hypocrisy is. Peter was Jesus’ closest confidant. Even in those days, he enjoyed primacy—and everyone knew it, even Paul who was not quite always disposed to yield to it. And yet, on the fateful night that his Master was arrested and he was asked by a nameless servant-girl whether he was a friend of the defendant, he feigned ignorance. What a hypocrite he was when he had sworn that he was ready to lay down his very life for the Lord when he knew only too fully well that he did not have the fiber to make good on his promise!

It is one thing though to be a hypocrite, to be ashamed of it, to beg for forgiveness for one’s duplicity and to carry on as best one can, and quite another to boast of one’s failings, make light of them, and cast oneself in the image of one who dares all and fears none. “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church…” that is the priest’s constant prayer. But it is not the tirades of politicians and rulers that truly sting us. We are hardest hit whenever we don the sacred vestments of the Eucharist, and then ascend the steps of the altar, where we face the people “in the person of Christ”. Stupid, the unbeliever will scream in his irrational paroxysm. Mercy, the believer will humbly and joyfully acknowledge!

And maybe it should be asked whether the facts really support the claim. How many cases have been proved as against accusations made? Accusations fly fast and thick, but proving them in a manner that satisfies the demands of reason is quite another. But we—hypocritical clerics that we are — are quite prepared to admit our failings. We have done so repeatedly. Yet one hypocrite can still teach another. First, no person’s life is pre-cast, and no person’s past completely defines him. The shorthand term for that is “freedom”. So the failings of the past need not constitute my identity. To the very same Peter who said of Jesus: “I do not know the man”, the very same Jesus, after his Resurrection, entrusted to the hypocrite a supreme ministry: “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” Jesus trusts hypocrites — that is why he trusts his clergy. There is a part of the story that no human betrayal or duplicity can ever account for: It is called grace!

And when a hypocrite calls out to another hypocrite: “Do not kill”, the command is not falsified, after all, it is a command even older that Mount Sinai. It is the command inscribed on the face of each person I encounter, the face that gazes at me in the panoply of my power, staring at the muzzle of my gun—and judges me. This command, no hypocrisy can everyone annul!

If passed, groups to question constitutionality of death penalty

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 21:32

Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the CBCP Commission on Prison Pastoral Care

MANILA, Feb. 21, 2017— Anti-death penalty advocates aren’t giving up easily if the controversial measure gets passed into law.

Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the CBCP Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, on Monday said the Supreme Court will surely be their next battle ground.

“We will go to the Supreme Court. We will exhaust all these legal means available because we believe that it is unconstitutional. It is cruel. It is inhumane,” said Diamante during the Tapatan media forum at Aristocrat Restaurant in Manila.

Along with other prison rights groups, he said, studies are now being conducted in order to build a strong case against the capital punishment.

He said they are considering at least two options on how to challenge the death penalty before SC— either through a death-row convict or through lawmakers who ratified the country’s international treaty obligation against it.

According to him, filing through lawmakers may be more practical since they can easily invoke the violation of the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“The argument could be since the country has already signed the treaty, a senator can easily claim that he/she is affected since he/she was among those that ratified it. Therefore, they can file a case before the SC,” explained Diamante.

On the other hand, anti-death penalty advocates can also wait for the “test case” involving a death row convict.

“So that the case won’t be dismissed, there has to be a victim. In that sense, we can do it when a person convicted and penalized with death penalty files a case to the SC and say that it is unconstitutional,” Diamante said.

Aside from the High Court, he revealed that another plan is bringing the issue to the international community since the Philippines signed the ICCPR.

“We are seeking the opinion of the international community. The Philippines cannot simply withdraw unilaterally. It has repercussions. And the international community is very active in making pronouncements,” he added. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews) 

Old pastoral letter cites ‘death squad’ existence in Davao

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 18:53

Fr. Amado Picardal, CSsR

MANILA, Feb. 21, 2017— While Malacañang denied there’s such a “death squad” in Davao city, a church document issued more than 15 years ago cited the existence of the group that carried out secret killings of suspected criminals.

As early as November 2001, the Archdiocese of Davao wrote a pastoral letter,“Thou Shall Not Kill,” in expressing alarm over the spate of extrajudicial killings in the city.

Although it stopped short of linking President Rodrigo Duterte to such killings while mayor of Davao City, the letter deplored his supposed tolerance on “criminal groups like the Davao Death Squad to kill”.

“It is an admission of failure in the fulfilment of its obligation to prevent crime and its recurrence,” part of the statement, signed by then Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, read. 

Duterte has repeatedly denied his involvement in any summary killings as Davao mayor and claimed that the term Davao Death Squad or DDS was only invented by his local political rivals.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported at least 1,424 cases of summary executions in Davao City from 1998 to 2015.

The data does not include those killed in nearby cities where the allegedly DDS have expanded.

Redemptorist Fr. Amado Picardal, former spokesman of Coalition of Summary Executions, said the victims in Davao City alone include more than 130 minors and the youngest is 12 years old.

He said Duterte has been accused of operating a death squad but he has not been prosecuted because no witnesses have come out.

Picardal left Davao City in 2011 after he was reassigned to Manila but he lamented that until 2015, summary killings still occurred in the city.

A retired police officer supposedly confirmed at a news conference on Monday the existence of DDS and implicated Duterte in extrajudicial killings in Davao City.

Arthur Lascañas narrated several killings that Duterte allegedly had ordered. And at one point, he broke into tears when he recalled his role in the deaths of his two brothers because they were drug users.

Picardal said he is hoping and praying that more cops and DDS members will be “touched by their conscience and will have the courage to come out and testify”.

“This will contribute to the stoppage of EJK and hold those responsible for the killings accountable,” Picardal said.

As soon as he assumed the presidency in June last year, Duterte called on the public to help him in his war on drugs.

The crackdown has resulted to at least 7,600 deaths. Authorities said more than 2,500 died in shootouts and legitimate police operations. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)

Pope Francis: To love your enemies, prayer is a game-changer

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:23

Pope Francis at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square June 22, 2016. (Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

VATICAN, Feb. 19, 2017-– The path to holiness and sainthood, Pope Francis said, requires imitating Christ by loving our enemies and praying for those who wrong us even when it is difficult.

“It’s true, God the Father is merciful,” he said Feb. 19. “And you? Are you merciful, are you merciful with the people who have hurt you? Or who do not love you?”

“If He is merciful, if He is holy, if He is perfect, we must be merciful, holy and perfect like Him,” he continued. “This is holiness. A man and a woman who do this deserve to be canonized: they become saints. So simple is the Christian life.”

Pope Francis gave his homily during Mass at the parish of Santa Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus, where he visited Sunday. Before Mass he visited with young people, the sick, families and those in charge of the parish’s Caritas organization. He also heard the confessions of four parishioners.

This was the Pope’s 13th visit to a parish in the diocese of Rome during his pontificate, and the second in just a little over a month.

In his homily, the pontiff reflected on the way of holiness. This path cannot be followed if we harbor resentment or wish to exact revenge against someone. Quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel, the Pope said: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Pray for the one who hurts me?” the Pope asked. “Yes,” he answered, “because it changes lives.”

If we think it is impossible, then pray, the Pope said. Pray every day for the grace to forgive and the grace to love.

The Gospel is simple, he said.

“This advice: ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy.’ And then: ‘You shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’,” the Pope remarked.

Forgiveness and prayer are the way to do this.

“This is the way of holiness,” he said. “If all men and women of the world learned this, there would be no wars, there would not be.”

Wars begin “in bitterness, rancor, the desire for revenge, to make someone pay. But that destroys families, destroys friendships, destroys neighborhoods, destroys so much,” he said.

For Pope Francis, this is why we must pray always for the grace not to hold grudges and for “the grace to pray for our enemies, to pray for the people that do not love us, the grace of peace.”

If we make this our daily prayer, the Pope continued, even just praying one prayer a day for our enemies, this is how we will “win” and make progress “on the path of holiness and perfection.”

In the end, “evil is overcome by good,” he said, and “sin is won with generosity.”

“Prayer is an antidote against hatred, against wars, these wars that start at home, which start in the neighborhood, which begin in families,” he said.

The Pope said if he knows that someone wants to hurt him and does not love him, “I pray especially for him.”

“Pray for there to be peace,” he said. (CNA/EWTN News)

Standing up for life in a “Country shrouded in the darkness of vice and death”

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 09:00

Rev. Eutiquio B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
By the roadside


That is how I see the CBCP in its latest pastoral letter on the EJKs, the drug war and other anti-life efforts at work in our islands. As of this writing official administration sources have, predictably, dismissed it as “out of touch” and “hypocritical”, coming from “a bunch of hypocrites with no moral ascendancy”. I take it to mean that they have not really read the whole letter and are not interested in what it says.

First off, it is a sad commentary of our current government’s leaders that they rarely show the ability to receive even a constructive criticism. The chief executive and his allies appear to have chosen to see every critic as an enemy. Instead of listening, they take the feedback as a put down and respond in kind. Verbal abuse has been heaped on a previous American president, local political opponents, the United Nations, Amnesty International, the European Union and, many times, the Catholic Church. They seem to hope every abuse will drive critics away. Or justify the status quo. They may have made a mistake. To quote the letter: “We in the Church will continue to speak out against evil…even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other.” The Catholic bishops have put on notice that doing the prophetic ministry is not optional. It is an obligation upon God’s servants that they are. On the other hand, given the history of this administration’s behavior towards its critics, the bishops may be in for some more unfriendly “fire”. That the bishops already know, it seems, and are getting themselves ready for. But we must still hope and pray positive ones are among the consequences.

Second, the letter in simple language has spells out the spiritual-moral reasons for their concern: the sanctity of human life and therefore killing as a grave sin, the mercy of God that opens up “the opportunity to change” to “every person”. This includes criminals, addicts, pushers and other social outcasts. Even apart from any legal consideration, it also points out “the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty”.

This last is clearly violated not only by the EJKs themselves but also by the public shaming of perceived violators of the law. The bishops even go to the socio-economic roots of the drug problem and criminality: “the poverty of the majority, the destruction of the family and corruption in society”. It might be argued that even wealthy countries also have drug and criminality problems; these scourges appear to respect neither rich nor poor. But citing the moral breakdown of the family and society is, beyond doubt, hitting the nail on the head. Even the abject poverty, lack of opportunity and grindingly slow justice system in the country are but among the ugly faces of this moral breakdown. How else do we address this moral roots than by constantly “inciting” every Filipino, our political leaders, bishops, clergy and other citizens included, towards conversion and spiritual regeneration. The bishops provide us a clue to the right way of doing this ministry, that is, not from a position of moral superiority but from the platform of humility. They add, not quite incidentally, the clause “even as we acknowledge and repent of our shortcomings”. The call to conversion is for all but, say the bishops, for its bearers first of all. Here the real challenge lies.

Third, the letter also addresses the ordinary citizens’ seeming indifference and even “consent” towards the killings and the drug addiction upon us. The language is direct and blunt. “To consent and to keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it”, to “neglect the drug addicts and pushers” is to “become part of the drug problem”, to “consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts” is also to be “responsible for their deaths”. Still, to also expect the up-to-now silent and consenting majority to suddenly speak out for life may be a tall order. But the prophetic word has been uttered. It is now in the hearers’ court. We need to pray and work harder everywhere we are in our sun-kissed and storm-swept islands that the Spirit of the Father and the Son continue to lead us to his light and deliver us from evil inside and outside of our hearts.

St. Peter has this to say to Gospel proclaimers: “Beloved, rejoice, in the measure that you share in Christ’s sufferings…Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you” (1 Peter 4:13-14).

At the Mexico border, Catholic bishops unite for migrants

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 07:47

BROWNSVILLE, Texas, Feb 17, 2017–Along the U.S.-Mexico border, Catholic bishops of both countries stressed the right of people to migrate and the need for the Church to welcome them.

“In this difficult moment in our history we hear the cry of our migrant brothers and sisters whose voices reflect the voice of Christ Himself,” the bishops said in a joint statement.

“We reiterate our commitment to care for pilgrims, strangers, exiles, and migrants affirming that all persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life. If these are not given they have a right to migrate.”

Regarding the right to migrate, they cited Pope Pius XII, whose 1952 apostolic constitution “Exsul Familia Nazarethana” addressed issues of migration and refugees after the Second World War.

The bishops pledged to monitor the suffering of migrants on both sides of the border and voiced support for Catholic agencies and individuals that offer spiritual, legal and material assistance to migrants.

“In the Church there are no strangers, migrant families should feel at home in every church as their homeland,” the bishops said, citing St. John Paul II.

The biannual meetings of the bishops from the border dioceses of Texas and northern Mexico began in 1986 to help show the communion of the universal Church. The meetings have always kept a focus on the lives and pastoral needs of migrants.

The joint message that came from the latest meeting was titled “The cry of Christ and voice of the migrant moves us.” It was published in English and Spanish.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as immigrants and refugees sought for a place to live and work hoping for a compassionate human response,” the bishops said. “Today this history repeats itself.”

The bishops recounted visiting detention centers and respite centers for mothers and their adolescent and minor children. The condition of these places have been described as “intolerable and inhumane.”

They invoked Jesus’ words from Matthew 25, when he describes the Last Judgment welcoming those who will inherit the Kingdom of God “because I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was hungry and you gave me food.”

For the bishops, the U.S.-Mexico border region has a culture of its own.

“The border cities consider themselves to be sister cities and friends, because they share the same land, the same faith, the same traditions, the same culture in solidarity,” they said. “We bishops shall continue to follow the good example of Pope Francis; we shall seek to construct bridges rather than the walls of exclusion and exploitation.”

Pope Francis had blessed a cross at the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez during his February 2016 visit. This cross has become “a sign of unity between the countries,” the bishops said.

At the same time, the bishops described the “anguish” of those who have to live on the peripheries of society. Many migrants face extortion in the workplace, fear the constant threat of deportation and separation from family and friends.

“Over the years we have seen first-hand the suffering that is caused by a broken immigration system caused by political structures and economic conditions that result in threats, deportations, impunity and extreme violence,” they said.

The current presidential administration is making these realities evident, according to the bishops.

“We can sense the pain of the separation of families, loss of employment, persecutions, discrimination, racism, and unnecessary deportations that paralyze the development of persons in our societies and the development of our nations leaving them of hope,” they said.

The bishops described immigration as a global phenomenon driven by economic and social conditions. Poverty and insecurity makes families feel that migration is the only way to survive.

“The migrant has a right to be respected by international law and national law as he or she faces the violence, criminality and inhuman policies of governments as well as the world’s indifference.”

Migrants are often subject of punitive laws and mistreatment by authorities, both in their home country, the countries they pass through, and at their destination.

“It is essential that governments adopt policies that respect the human rights of migrants and undocumented residents,” they said.

The bishops invoked the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and asked everyone to join them in prayer. (CNA)

Christian florist loses religious liberty case, will appeal to US Supreme Court

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 07:45

SEATTLE, Wash., Feb 16, 2017–A Washington state florist must pay fines and legal costs for conscientiously objecting to serving a same-sex wedding, as the state’s supreme court upheld a lower court’s decision on Thursday.

“It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees,” Kristin Waggoner, senior counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case before the Washington Supreme Court, stated Feb. 16.

“This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” she added.

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., declined to serve the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer who had requested her service, citing her Christian religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

After hearing of the incident, the office of the state attorney general wrote her that she was violating the state’s law by discriminating on basis of “sexual orientation,” and asked her to stop declining such weddings. Stutzman refused out of conscience.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the state of Washington eventually sued her and a lower court ruled against her, ordering her to pay a fine and legal costs.

She appealed her case to the Washington State Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s desicion on Thursday, saying that as a business owner Stutzman had to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination law despite her religious beliefs.

“The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the court’s opinion stated.

“We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case – refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding – constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD.”

The law “does not compel speech or association,” the court added, stating that it “is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations.”

Stutzman has announced that she will appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We stand to lose everything we worked for and own,” she stated back in October, noting that legal fees from the case could top $2 million by the end of the case.

Religious freedom advocates decried the ruling.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it “shortchanges our nation’s most fundamental freedom in favor of ideological conformity.”

With Stutzman facing the loss of her business and personal assets, “it’s no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom,” Waggoner stated.

“Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans, and because no executive order can fix all of the threats to that freedom, we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse this grave injustice.” (CNA)

This female nuclear physicist just created a fertility app

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 07:44

ZURICH, Switzerland, Feb 16, 2017–Meet Elina Berglund: a nuclear physicist who will be known as the woman who developed the first natural cycle fertility app to have been internationally certified as an effective means of avoiding pregnancy.

While the Catholic Church teaches that the use of contraception is immoral, because it separates procreation from the sexual act, it does approve of fertility mapping methods like natural family planning. Though Berglund’s app was developed to be used as a contraceptive, it can be used as a form of natural family planning.

Natural family planning methods, such as the Billings Method or Creighton Model, help women and families achieve pregnancy – or prevent pregnancy, if there is a just reason to avoid it – by tracking natural cycles, which is similar to the concept behind the Berglund’s app.

“It feels incredibly exciting that there is now an approved alternative to conventional pregnancy prevention methods, and that it’s possible to replace medication with technology,” Berglund told Business Insider.

The app, called Natural Cycles, was founded in Switzerland by Elina Berglund and her husband Raoul Scherwizl. They created the app as a way to go “beyond contraception,” and to “get to know your body and unique cycles,” according to their website.

“At Natural Cycles, we are all about combining scientific research and mobile tech to empower every woman worldwide with knowledge about her body, menstrual cycle and fertility.”

The app works on a sympto-thermal based system. Using mathematics and advanced technology, the app tracks a woman’s recorded daily temperature through an algorithm which determines fertility, making it a competitive alternative to hormonal birth control and contraception for women who would otherwise use them.

This information allows women to know exactly where they are in their cycle, and even considers factors such as temperature fluctuations and cycle irregularities in order to make accurate predictions about ovulation.

Business Insider also pointed to a recent clinical study which concluded that the Natural Cycles prevention method is as effective as the pill in spacing pregnancies – without all of the side effects.

However, getting to this point was not easy for Berglund and her husband. Not long after its founding, the Natural Cycles app began to receive severe investigatory restrictions from the Swedish Medicinal Products Agency.

The organization told the couple that the word “contraception” could not be included in their app. Throughout the ordeal, they also experienced a slash in overall revenue and bad publicity which made the app out to be a source of trickery and scandal.

Despite the hard road, the app recently received official recognition and approval from Tüv Süd, a German inspection and certification agency. This step not only gives Natural Cycles a step up in legitimacy, but it also demonstrates the effectiveness of natural methods of regulating fertility over hormonal medications or contraceptive implants.

In the future, Natural Cycles has big plans to make up for lost time: they are targeting the U.K. with a big marketing sweep, and have their eyes on the United States – if the app gets approved by the FDA.

The app currently has more than 150,000 users in over 160 countries around the world. (CNA)

How the possible Vatican-China agreement could be problematic

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 07:42

WASHINGTON D.C., Feb 18, 2017–The archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong expressed serious concerns about a possible agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointing of bishops.

The agreement would essentially allow the government to pick candidates for bishops and put pressure on the Pope to veto them.

“Because how can you allow the initiative of selection of bishops in the hands of an atheistic government and totalitarian government? I want it to start from the Holy See,” Cardinal Joseph Zen said.

Cardinal Zen spoke to CNA of the possible agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government on the ordination of bishops there. The current Archbishop of Hong Kong has expressed hope that it will come about.

Currently, Cardinal Zen explained, “the Vatican approves certain names of people” as candidates and the government does “pay attention” to these names, approving some of them.

“The Chinese government accepts this compromise instead of having more problems,” he said.

In the new proposal, however, episcopal candidates would be elected by the clergy, with the Pope having the final say of accepting or vetoing the candidates.

The problem, Cardinal Zen insisted, is that the government will inevitably meddle in the clergy’s election. “There is no real election in China,” he said.

The pressure would then be put on the Pope if he must repeatedly veto government-appointed candidates.

Hong Kong’s current archbishop, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has defended the new proposal, noting that the Chinese government must now recognize the Pope as the supreme head of the Church and insisting that the final authority on appointing bishops rests with the Pope.

“I would prefer the other way around,” Cardinal Zen insisted. The government has not shown promise that it would accommodate the Vatican’s past concerns, but rather has proven that it wants control over the church in China.

“Even after so much dialogue,” he said of the government, “still they were so unkind to the Church.” He pointed to the recent ordination of two bishops where Lei Shiyin, an excommunicated Chinese bishop “forced his presence to the ordination” and “took part” in it.

The incident was a “slap in the face of the Holy Father,” Cardinal Zen said. “How can the government allow such things? Or even to order such thing? It’s very unkind. It’s a way to say ‘we are still the masters’.”

The state has also meddled in the internal affairs of Catholic schools in Hong Kong, he said, which could prove especially detrimental in the future.

“As church we have full freedom,” he added, “but we have suffered a heavy drawback, which is they have taken away our right of running education. They have changed the law.”

While all schools are state-subsidized, the church under the old plan would “present the management committee” for the schools to the government, usually composed of teachers, parents, and alumni. This committee would be “approved” on formality. A new law has changed that, he said.

“We have no mechanism to intervene. Because until now, until the new law, we run the schools inside the system,” he said.

Now the Church would recommend only 60 percent of the management committee and wouldn’t even “have full control” over that percentage.

“So there is no guarantee anymore the school would go on according to our vision and mission,” he said.

The “underground” Catholic church in China “enjoys a certain amount of freedom” as opposed to the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, he said, as the government “tolerates” its underground existence as whole villages may be Catholic and priests say mass in homes.

“The majority of the priests and bishops in the official church, they may, in their heart, still very much united with the universal church, but they are under tight control,” he said.

And the situation “is not changing at all, because the system is already very well established at the national level,” he added. The current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jingping is about “tightening control,” he said, and “there is really no foundation for any optimism.” (CNA)

Church official speaks on India’s medical degree scam

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 07:40

BHOPAL, Feb 17, 2017–A church official in Madhya Pradesh has welcomed the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the disqualification of 634 medical professionals after an investigation found they had bribed their way into medical schools.

The Supreme Court’s Feb. 13 decision came after a lower court judged that some students had gained access to medical school by illegal means, replacing more meritorious students. But some innocent students have been caught up in the mass revocation of qualifications.

“It is a very good verdict. The court has punished the doctors who managed to get admitted through fraud. But authorities also should punish those running the fraud,” said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal.

The Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board canceled medical school admissions between 2008-2012 after the scandal came to light in 2013.

Investigating officials arrested some 2,000 people, including high ranking officials, in connection with it by 2015. However, no politician has been punished yet.

The Supreme Court’s decision affects some 1,000 people, including some 400 currently taking five-year courses at different medical schools in the state, Bhaskar Lakshakar, chair of the examination board, told local media.

Billed as the biggest education scam in the country, the federal Central Bureau of Investigation began to investigate after more than 50 people associated with it died in mysterious circumstances after news of the scam broke.

Archbishop Cornelio, who is based in the Madhaya Pradesh state capital, said the latest verdict was “laudable” as it made clear that the judiciary would not tolerate fraud even if it was supposed to help people in the long run.

The doctors’ lawyers admitted fraud but pleaded that their clients be allowed to keep their degrees if they served society free of cost for some years.

“We have no difficulty in concluding in favor of the rule of law…. Fraud cannot be allowed to trounce, on the stratagem of public good,” said the three-bench judge consisting of Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justices Kurian Joseph and Arun Mishra.

Their unanimous order called the actions “unacceptable” and “in complete breach of rule of law. “National character, in our considered view, cannot be sacrificed for benefits: individual or societal,” said their 83-page order.

However, some students protested their innocence. Bhavesh Nayak, who has been disqualified, said that, while he was not involved in the fraud, the verdict has crippled his carrier. The court has “left us with no option but to commit suicide,” he told local media. “Our entire careers are ruined.”

Archbishop Cornelio said, “It appears that a really powerful gang operated behind the scam and spoiled the future of many eligible students who could have otherwise been real assets to the country and lost out.”

Media reports said that several top ranking political figures and state officials have been arrested in connection with the scam and are out on bail. No action against them has been taken.

“Complete justice can be done only when those behind it are put behind bars. If they are not punished it will be a blot on the face of every law-abiding citizen,” Archbishop Cornelio said. (UCAN)