Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2016 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom leaders applauded the U.S. State Department’s recent re-designation of nine countries – and the inclusion of one more – as the worst situations for religious freedom, but urged the agency to do more. After the State Department on April 14 added Tajikistan to its “Country of Particular Concern” list, keeping the nine countries already on the list, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said it “welcomes the designation of these ten countries.” The countries already on the list were Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Sudan. A “country of particular concern” is a term used by the State Department to denote the countries that present the worst situations for religious freedom in the world. Either these governments “engage in” or “tolerate” “severe violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing and egregious,” USCIRF explained in its 2015 annual report. Tajikistan, a Muslim-majority country in central Asia, was recommended to the list by USCIRF because its government has cracked down on minority religions in the country. The commission’s 2015 annual report explained that “numerous laws that severely restrict religious freedom have been implemented in the country since 2009.” Restrictive actions include religions having to register with the government and ask permission for church meetings, heavy penalties for unregistered religious activity, and lack of due process for those tried under the country’s anti-extremism law. Additionally, the State Department’s own International Religious Freedom report stated that “Tajikistan is the only country in the world in which the law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from participating in public religious activities.” The USCIRF recommended in addition that Vietnam, Iraq, Central African Republic, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, and Syria be designated as CPCs, though the State Department declined to include them on the list. According to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the administration can legally pursue a number of actions, such as economic sanctions, against CPCs to hold them accountable and pressure them to honor freedom of religion. The State Department also announced it would no longer be sanctioning four of the nations currently on the CPC list: Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The decision was made “following determinations that the important national interest of the United States required exercising this waiver authority,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in an April 15 press briefing. USCIRF responded by pressing the agency to take the actions against these offending countries as it is authorized to do. “The CPC designation brings with it a unique toolbox of policy options to effectively promote religious freedom, and USCIRF encourages the Administration to use these tools,” Dr. Robert George, the commission’s chairman, responded April 20. Read more

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2016 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The death of the songwriter, singer and music producer Prince drew reactions from the Vatican and praise for his musical talent. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, sent a tweet quoting the artist’s song “Sometimes It Snows In April:” “Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending / All good things they say, never last.” The singer died at his Chanhassen, Minn. home on April 21 at the age of 57, the New York Times reports. His given name was Prince Rogers Nelson. Prince played guitars, keyboards and drums in multiple music genres since the late 1970s. He won the Grammy award seven times and achieved Top 10 hits like “When Doves Cry” and “1999.” His acclaimed 1984 movie and album “Purple Rain” was about an aspiring musician. The Italian edition of the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano spoke of the artist’s death in Giuseppe Fiorentino’s article “The Prince and the ‘labels’.” Fiorentino said Prince had engaged in a long battle with the major music labels and with digital music platforms. “Prince was then boycotted by those who control the pop music market,” Fiorentino charged. He predicted an obsessive broadcast of Prince songs like “Purple Rain” that will only last a few days. The music company labels will “once again prevail over the reasons of true music.” “And Prince will be back into obscurity, despite his undeniable talent that led him to a very natural way from rock to funk, from disco to jazz. What remains of it – beyond some of the excesses typical of the Eighties – is precisely the genius with which he could move between different genres. A rare gift in the world of pop music. That gray world dominated by the ‘labels’.” While his music and performances were at times raunchy, his music sometimes had Christian-inspired overtones. Prince was raised a Seventh Day Adventist and later became a Jehovah’s Witness, the Washington Post reports. His conversion became public in 2004 when a hometown newspaper reported that he was offering its publication the Watchtower door-to-door. Read more

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2016 / 01:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students at Georgetown University said that while a speaking invitation to the head of Planned Parenthood could have been an opportunity for honest dialogue, it was instead nothing more than a … Read more

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2016 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Last year Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, and on Thursday she passed yet another milestone – becoming the first monarch to ever reach the age of 90. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 90th birthday April 21 by unveiling a special plaque on Windsor’s Queen’s Walkway before lighting the first in a series of beacons marking the special day. Official gun salutes could be heard throughout the U.K. Numerous events marking the event are set to take place throughout the coming months, culminating with a national service of Thanksgiving, a parade and large picnic outside Buckingham Palace in June when the Queen’s “official” birthday is celebrated, following a longstanding monarchal tradition. The Vatican itself has decided to mark the Queen’s birthday by playing a cricket match against the Royal Household at the Capannelle Ground in Rome this Saturday, April 23. St. Peter’s Cricket Club was established in the fall of 2013, and will play the Royal Household as part of their round of spring matches. Made up of 12 priests, deacons and seminarians, the team is two-thirds Indian, with other members hailing from England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Saturday will mark the second time the Vatican cricket team has played against the Royal Household. The first was Sept. 17, 2014, during their first international tour – the “Light of Faith Tour” in England. The players were invited after to attend Evensong in Windsor’s Chapel of St. George, during the two teams offered prayers for Pope Francis and his ministry. According to Vatican Radio, the Royal Household team on Friday morning visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums as part of their visit. Later that evening, Vespers was prayed at the International Pontifical College ‘Mater Ecclesiae,’ during which prayers were offered for the Queen in honor of her birthday. Nigel Baker, British Ambassador to the Holy See, attended both the praying of Vespers as well as a special dinner during which the St. Peter’s Cricket Club presented a special gift for the Queen. On Sunday, following Saturday’s match, Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, will celebrate Mass at Rome’s Venerable English College. The Royal Household cricket team has been invited to attend the Mass before returning to England in the afternoon. Other matches in this year’s spring season for St. Peter’s Cricket Club have included an April 9 game against the Nomads of England at Rome’s Capannelle Ground, which they won by 79 runs, and on April 16 they played against the Cross Keys of England, also at the Capannelle Ground. The team will hold a second “Light of Faith Tour” in England this fall, running Sept. 11-20. Additionally, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has decided that at all Sunday Masses June 11-12, the Queen’s official birthday, each parish pray for her in honor of her 90th birthday by including the event in the intentions and by reciting the “Prayer for the Queen” prayer at the end of Mass. The tradition of celebrating a monarch’s birthday twice a year – once on the day she was born and on an “official” birthday in June – dates back to George II in 1748, according to the Telegraph. Since George was born in November, he thought the weather was too cold for his annual birthday parade, and decided instead to combine the celebration with the annual spring military parade, known as the Trooping the Colour, in which different regiments present their flags in order for soldiers to become familiar with them. All British monarchs are given the option of having an “official” birthday, the Telegraph reports, and Queen Elizabeth has chosen to stick with tradition. This year’s Trooping the Color parade will take place June 11.Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com. Read more

London, England, Apr 22, 2016 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the British government considers measures to name the Islamic State’s persecution of Christians and other religious minorities as genocide, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury has urged the British Parliament to “stand with other governments and international bodies.” “We are witnessing nothing short of genocide being committed with horrifying cruelty against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East,” Bishop Davies said in an April 21 statement. “Whole communities face annihilation and look to the international community for support.” His comments follow a unanimous vote in the British House of Commons April 20 in favor of referring to the violence committed by Islamic State – also known as Daesh, or ISIS – against Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as “genocide.” The House of Lords had failed only days earlier to recognize the violence as a genocide. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce received unanimous support in the House of Commons for her motion to label these atrocities “genocide” but the government remains hesitant, citing the rarity of a referring to ongoing acts of war as genocide, rather than waiting for international courts to do so. “This is ultimately a matter for the courts to decide. It is not for governments to be prosecutor, the judge or indeed jury,” Foreign Officer minister Tobias Ellwood said, the BBC reported. For her part, Bruce said that recognizing the Islamic State’s actions as genocide would “help inject momentum into the international efforts to stop the killings.” “It would hopefully lead to more active safeguarding of those members of religious minorities on the ground whose lives and very communities currently hang in the balance,” she said, according to the BBC. Bishop Davies said that “ We must welcome and applaud the decision of the House of Commons to support the motion moved by Fiona Bruce MP to call upon our own Government to refer these genocidal acts of Daesh to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court.” “I hope the British government will reconsider its position and be ready to stand with other governments and international bodies in recognising this crime of genocide,” he added. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities are victims of genocide at the hands of Islamic State. Secretary Kerry announced at a news conference March 17 that “in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.” During his July 2015 trip to Bolivia, Pope Francis called the plight of persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria “genocide.” Read more

Panjim, India, Apr 22, 2016 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a small town in India’s Goa state, the Feast of Our Lady of Miracles draws devotees from multiple religions – and coconut oil plays a role in their observances.  “It’s a unique Marian devotion, where Catholics and devotees of other faiths, with their deep conviction of the presence of God, show their love and venerate our Blessed Mother,” Father Mario Saturnino Dias told CNA April 20. Fr. Dias directs the center for missions for the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman. He said the annual Feast of Our Lady of Miracles “draws people to a change of heart,” encouraging them to be “authentic witnesses of the new evangelization in sharing our faith and strengthening interreligious harmony.” The feast takes place once a year on the Monday following the third Sunday after Easter. The pilgrims to the shrine make acts of surrender and reconciliation, and place their prayers in the hands of the Virgin Mary. Fr. Dias said hundreds of people receive graces, find healing, and witness miracles. The annual festivity starts with spiritual preparation of the faithful through novenas, catechesis, confession, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and several Masses. The devotees are undeterred by the hot summer weather, travelling for miles from distant villages. Many come on foot to venerate the Virgin Mary and to pour coconut oil over the statue. Some place tokens of gratitude at the feet of the statue of Our Lady of Miracles in thanksgiving for healings, the gift of a child, and other answered prayers. The week-long festivities also attract a street fair with vendors selling traditional goods and handcrafts. Fr. Simon Rico Fernandes, O.F.M. Cap., presided at the solemn thanksgiving Mass April 11 with a large number of concelebrant priests, religious, and hundreds of faithful. They gathered at the Church of Saint Jerome in the Mapusa, located nearly 10 miles north of Panjim, capital of Goa. The Franciscans built the Church of St. Jerome in 1594 in Mapusa. On its main altar is the statue of Our Lady of Miracles flanked by two smaller altars on either side, each with the statue of St. John the Baptist and St. Jerome. At the end of the Mass the faithful held a colorful procession. They carried the statue of Our Lady of Miracles and sang Marian hymns of praise. They lined up to venerate the statue, presenting flowers and candles, and pouring coconut oil over the statue.   According to Fr. Dias, the custom of pouring oil is devotees’ humblest way to express their gratitude.  It’s a version of anointing, which has been a common custom as a mark of hospitality and a token of honor and gratitude. It is also a practice in the consecration of priests and monarchs in the ancient cultures of the Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs, Indians, and others.   The use of oil and anointing is also found in many places in the Bible. “Many instances in the Bible show the ancient Hebrews observed the practice in the anointing of Aaron as high priest. The Prophet Samuel anointed both Saul and David,” Fr. Dias added. Oil has long been considered a valuable product. At times it was the only form of wealth poor people could offer in Churches and temples for the lighting of lamps. One Marian devotee, Laura D’Souza, reflected on the devotions. “It’s difficult to understand the soulful expression of religiosity by our people with the eyes of intellect or with theological understanding,” she said. “Only a person touched by a faith encounter will understand a devotee,” she said, “If there were no felt presence of our Blessed Mother, how can people be drawn in the thousands without force or invitation?” Fr. Dias reflected that in Goa, “People converted to Christianity under the Portuguese colonial era. They may still carry some traditional influences where some popular devotions may need purification.” “But,” he added, “we need to study and educate and catechize people before introducing changes, because popular devotions sustain the religiosity of our people and lead them to the Eucharist.”   Read more

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2016 / 08:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A special House investigative panel is alleging that a tissue procurement company and the abortion clinics it partnered with may have illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue from abort… Read more

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2016 / 04:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- No matter how deeply someone may be entrenched in the culture of death, they are never beyond the loving reach of Christ, said former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson to a group … Read more

Lima, Peru, Apr 21, 2016 / 10:52 am (CNA).- On Saturday an ethics commission created to investigate and offer proposals surrounding accusations of abuse against the founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae released its report, which detailed an internal culture of extreme “discipline and obedience to the founder.” This culture was “forged on the basis of extreme physical demands, as well as physical punishments, constituting abuses which violated the fundamental rights of persons,” the commission wrote in its April 16 report. The Ethics Commission for Justice and Reconciliation was formed in November 2015 at the request of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. It is formed of two lawyers, a bishop, a psychiatrist, and a journalist. The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life which was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in 1997. Alejandro Bermúdez, executive director of CNA, is a member of the community. An apostolic visitor from the Vatican is currently investigating allegations of sexual abuse, mistreatment, and abuse of power against Luis Fernando Figari, founder of the community. The Sodalitium responded to Saturday’s report, voicing gratitude for “the effort made by all the commissioners in listening to and ministering to the people who came forth to give their testimony.” They also noted that they are waiting for the official Vatican evaluation of the situation and said that the independent commission’s findings cannot be “taken in a total and absolute way.” Figari stepped down as superior general of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae in 2010. The current superior general, Alessandro Moroni Llabres, confirmed Figari’s guilt earlier in the month. Responding to the new report, Moroni said that “despite the pain it caused me at first, I believe it describes with great clarity, the experience of suffering of the persons we have hurt.” The report of the ethics commission indicated that young people were recruited to be Sodalits, and that in their houses of formation “many of those in formation were victims of physical assaults, harassment, and even abuse of a sexual nature. This has impressed on them profound psychological harm, in some cases disabling their reincorporation” into life outside the community. The “absolute obedience” of those in formation “was accomplished by the practice of extreme discipline” which “minimized or annulled the will of those in formation,” the report read. “This psychological and physical ‘relationship of subjection’ imposed within the SCV is incompatible with the institutional purpose which it is supposed to have encouraged in those in formation in the organization to accomplish: their vocational discernment and spiritual growth.” Dependence and submission were only increased as one progressed through formation, the report said. “Notwithstanding that these acts were denounced within the SCV, the then-superiors did not adopt corrective measures and, on the contrary, they concealed them, thereby encouraging the practice of new and greater abuses, under a mantle of impunity.” Several members of the community were designated to personally serve Figari, whose behavior was characterized by “giving orders that could not be questioned, the use of vulgar and profane language,” and “control of all the activities within the institution and the personal lives of its members.” Figari’s arbitrary use of authority led to “an organizational culture based on the cult of personality.” The report suggested that some individuals might have been reduced to “servitude” at the hands of Figari, who denied them formation while they rendered unpaid services to him – in some cases, as long as 20 years. Those in leadership within the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae were in “complicit silence” about Figari’s behavior, the report found. “They did not answer to the delicate task of forming young people who had placed their confidence and trust in the SCV, and who were finally frustrated in their expectations of a full life in the Christian faith.” The ethics commission reported that vocational discernment was not accomplished through “individual freedom.” In some cases, those who demonstrated they did not have that vocation “were conditioned to effect a consecration which they really did not desire.” Those who discerned out of the community were hindered from doing so, and were treated as if they were “treasonous,” the report suggested: “In many cases, this has led to grave psychological effects and even the rejection of the Catholic faith, even after being incorporated into live outside the community, obliging them to suffer unmerited spiritual conflicts.” Furthermore, the commission reported a culture in which transparency was impeded, finances were not always accounted for, and members were treated differently based on their socio-economic class and race: “those in leadership had an evident preference for youth who were white and/or came from an affluent socio-economic class.” Members of the community have suffered physical, psychological, spiritual, and moral damage, the ethics commission reported. It concluded by recommending several measures be taken, including a public repudiation of Figari’s conduct; the greatest possible sanctions on Figari; care and compensation for the victims; and barring anyone from representing the organization who held any position in the Sodalitium during the years that the abuses were permitted. In addition to Peru, the community operates in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, and Italy. Read more

Denver, Colo., Apr 21, 2016 / 10:22 am (CNA).- Father Raymond Thomas Gawronski, S.J., professor of dogmatics at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California, died in the closing hours of April 14 of complications from cancer, at the age of 65. He was remembered for his love of Christ, formation of seminarians, and witness to the beauty of the priesthood. “Certainly he was an excellent classroom lecturer, but it was his real interest in the (seminarians), and their spiritual development, and his desire that they have a real relationship with Christ – that was his constant theme,” said Fr. Gladstone Stevens, the rector and president of St. Patrick’s Seminary. “He was such a great witness to what priests could be.” Fr. Stevens told CNA that while Fr. Gawronski had not been at the seminary for very long, “when you think about the disproportion between the time he was here and his impact, it’s just incredible: he was such a presence here, in such a positive way.” Gawronski was born in Brooklyn Sept. 9, 1950, to Stanley and Blanche Gawronski, a family of Polish heritage. Growing up in New York and New Jersey, he graduated with a degree in philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. In 1971. He later earned a master’s degree in world religions from Syracuse University, where he studied under Dr. Huston Smith. In 1977 Gawronski joined the Society of Jesus. His two years of novitiate were served in Wernersville, Pa., and he also served the poor in Washington, D.C., at St. Aloysius parish. He then earned an M.A. in Asian Studies at the St. Michael’s Institute of Gonzaga University, and an M.Div. from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. Fr. Gawronski was ordained a priest of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in 1986. He went on for further studies in Rome, earning a licentiate in theology at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He taught theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He was for some 10 years spiritual director and a theology professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo., where he helped to establish the spirituality year, with its Ignatian characteristics: a month of itinerancy and a 30-day retreat following the Spiritual Exercises. Fr. Gawronski spent the last two years of his life serving as a spiritual director and professor at St. Patrick’s Seminary. He is the author of Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West and A Closer Walk with Christ: A Personal Ignatian Retreat. He appeared in an EWTN series and his articles appeared in such publications as Communio, New Oxford Review, and America. Fr. Stevens reflected that he appreciated Fr. Gawronski’s insistence that “we have to do a better job bringing together the intellectual and spiritual life” of seminarians, which he shares. “That comes a lot from his work on von Balthasar,” he said. “This recognition that the life of the mind and the life of the spirit cannot be seen as two separate things to be cultivated: and that was certainly apparent when he put together the spiritually program, but that’s how he approached everything. In his homilies, his spiritual direction, in his class, he just went back and forth between his life of prayer and his scholarship without skipping a beat, and I admire that so much.” Fr. Gawronski was preceded in death by his parents and by his sister Carol. He is survived by his brother-in-law Paul Sander, his niece Katie Sander, his nephew Peter Sander, and his cousin Donald Ferri. His funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. April 26 at Shrine of St. Anne Catholic Church in Arvada, a Denver suburb. His body will be interred following the Mass, at the Jesuit plot of Mt. Olivet Cemetery. A viewing and vigil will be held the preceding evening at Shrine of St. Anne at 5:30 p.m.   Read more

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