St. Augustine, Fla., Apr 21, 2016 / 06:24 am (CNA).- A Florida priest who went missing last week has been lauded by his diocese as a humble and generous servant after his remains were found in Georgia on April 18. “He always saw the good in people he served reminding them that God created them for greatness with a good and noble purpose for others,” Bishop Felipe J. Estévez of St. Augustine said April 19.   “While his life was taken from us tragically on Sunday, April 10 – the day of his disappearance – it is important that we remember how he lived his life in selfless love for others,” the bishop said. Fr. Rene Wayne Robert, 71, was last seen Sunday, April 10. Parishioners grew concerned when he didn’t show up for a funeral service. Police received a request for a welfare check on April 12. After they failed to locate the priest, a missing persons investigation was launched. The priest’s remains were found April 18 after Steven Murray, 28, the suspect in the case, directed investigators to his body in a rural area south of Augusta, Georgia. Murray was arrested early April 14 after police spotted him in Fr. Robert’s car speeding through a construction zone and later crashed it into a tree in Aiken, South Carolina. Police said that Murray had been recently released from prison and was receiving help from Fr. Robert. Although Fr. Robert’s body was not formally identified by the morgue, Sheriff David Shoar of the St. John’s County confirmed that the priest clearly “was the victim of homicidal violence.” Murray will be charged in Georgia with first degree murder. “My brother died doing what he loved: helping people,” Debbie Bedard, Fr. Robert’s sister told Action News Jacksonville. “And if it wasn’t for the sheriff’s department, all the agencies, they wouldn’t have found my brother, and I thank God that they did so we can take him home.” Fr. Robert served as the chaplain at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He was known for his service in prisons and homeless ministries. Bishop Estévez asked for prayers for Fr. Robert as well as the man who is believed to have taken his life. “In this Year of Mercy, let us pray that our loving Lord will pour his merciful love upon the troubled soul of the one who took his life. And may Jesus Christ grant eternal rest to Father Rene and peace for his family and our community who suffer his loss, yet trust in the Good Shepherd’s care for all.”   Read more

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2016 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- They’re the last words any expecting parent wants to hear. But though it’s rarely discussed, thousands of couples every year get the news: that their unborn child has a severe, life-threatening condition. And what’s more, few receive the resources, support and information they need to carry their child to term. “In your mind you have this outcome that you’re going to have a baby,” said Dianna Vagianos, “and then you find out you will have a baby, but it’s going to die.” Dianna’s daughter, Mary Rose, died shortly after her birth in 2014. Although the process of her daughter’s pregnancy, birth and death was difficult and painful, there was still beauty and even joy, she told CNA. In talking to other parents who offered counsel and to Isaiah’s Promise, a peer support ministry for parents facing difficult prenatal diagnoses, Dianna found peace. “The way that they acknowledged the unborn child and the way they gave us permission to still be joyful, even though the child would probably die,” she said. “If I could give one thing to a pregnant woman it would be that it’s going to be okay,” Dianna said, offering her own advice to parents facing a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis for their child. “The baby’s going to do what it’s supposed to do.” “For everyone I know (in the same situation), the baby has died so peacefully.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three babies is born with a birth defect, and birth defects account for one in five infant deaths. Some defects can be detected on routine prenatal ultrasound screenings, or with a screening of the mother’s blood. Various conditions can also be diagnosed through screening procedures such as amniocentesis, which takes a small amount of amniotic fluid from the womb, high-resolution ultrasounds or echograms. There’s also a chorionic villus sampling, which takes a small amount of a baby’s placenta for examination. If results come back abnormal, parents may be referred to a specialist for diagnosis, and in some cases, prenatal treatment, or preparation for treatment after birth. However, some conditions have no cure. The percent of babies who are terminated after their parents receive a prenatal diagnosis varies from condition to condition, but for some diagnoses with poor prognoses, such as Trisomies 13 and 18, anencephaly and certain kidney diseases, termination rates can be as high as 80 or 90 percent of those diagnosed. At 21 weeks of pregnancy, Dianna received Mary Rose’s diagnosis: the baby had Trisomy 18. Like other trisomies, such as Down Syndrome –Trisomy 21– and Trisomy 13, Trisomy 18 develops when a baby inherits an extra, third, copy of a given chromosome – in this case, Chromosome 18. The extra genetic information results in heart and digestive system defects, difficulty breathing, microcephaly, and a range of physical malformations. Nearly three-quarters of children diagnosed with Trisomy 18 die in utero. Of those infants who survive to birth, most die within hours, days or weeks of birth. Less than ten percent of children with Trisomy 18 survive past their first birthday. When doctors examined Mary Rose during a routine ultrasound visit, they found several anomalies, most notably that Mary Rose was small, and her fingers were crossed – a marker for Trisomy 18. “As soon as they did the ultrasound, that’s when they offered me an abortion,” Dianna told CNA. While providing information on termination, “that’s the first time I felt her move,” she recalled. While not completely against abortion, Dianna decided not to terminate Mary Rose because of the diagnosis. “She was my child; whatever condition she was in, that was going to be good enough for me.” As the pregnancy continued, Dianna consulted with her Eastern Orthodox priest and others to prepare for Mary Rose’s birth and the range of outcomes for children with Trisomy 18 – and to prepare for Mary Rose’s death. For their family that meant having her birth at home so that they would be able to prepare Mary Rose’s body for a funeral themselves, rather than have her be sent to the morgue, as would be required with a hospital death in their home state of Virginia. Looking back, Dianna says that Mary Rose’s life and death were “very peaceful.” The complications of Trisomy 18 caused breathing difficulties. “We didn’t even know which second it was that she stopped breathing,” Dianna said. “There was no suffering; we were the ones who were suffering.” However, her most severe regret, Dianna told CNA, is that she didn’t seek out perinatal hospice – which focuses on helping newborns and infants die comfortably and peacefully – rather than pediatric hospice, which provides end-of-life care for children. While she had the support of doctors, Dianna still feels that her experience with pediatric hospice was difficult, saying that the pediatric hospice nurse “thought I was trying to kill my child” by accepting Mary Rose’s likely death and refusing options like surgery or morphine use. The fact that we offer a plan – something for the babies even though they have a very short life – is reassuring for them and it opens a hope. Dianna also wishes that families, and mothers in particular, facing difficult prenatal diagnoses could find more support from their communities. People should not be afraid of not knowing what to say or upsetting the mother by mentioning the baby, Vagianos said. “The mother is already upset and the mother is never going to forget that baby.” Despite the difficulties she faced with pediatric hospice and in finding community support, Dianna maintains that she found healing through Mary Rose’s death and through the “blessing” it was to come to know her daughter. She is grateful, she says for support she found online and for the healing she’s experienced by detailing her experiences in journals, on her blog and through an upcoming book on their family’s experience. “People need support at diagnosis,” said Tracy Winsor, Co-Founder of Be Not Afraid, a comprehensive peer ministry to parents facing difficult prenatal diagnoses. Winsor told CNA that many times when parents face a challenging prenatal diagnosis, they do not know anyone who has been through a similar situation before or have the resources and support they need. When offered support and information on perinatal care and options for their child, parents are more likely to carry their child to term. She explained that within Be Not Afraid, they provide a variety of services in order to support parents facing poor prenatal diagnosis and seeking to carry their child to term. In addition to perinatal hospice and peer support, Be Not Afraid also helps parents plan the birth process, making sure they have informed consent for any treatment options available as well as a plan for supporting the child for as long as he or she lives. If parents wish to seek extraordinary care or surgery to address congenital defects, Be Not Afraid helps them find out where procedures and kinds of care are available, if those options are not offered in the family’s hometown. Be Not Afraid has also been able to help arrange other kinds of support as well for families. “We’ve been able to help get Catholic clergy scrubbed and into (operating rooms). Catholic clergy who were able to lead the surgical team in prayer. Catholic clergy that were in there baptizing if the parents want it.” The range of care provided by Be Not Afraid, she said, is in a way, an extension of pastoral care and the corporal works of mercy. Winsor pointed back to one of their first mothers, where Winsor and others helped to arrange a birth plan and provide support at the hospital for a mother whose baby was stillborn. When taking a break to get coffee, one of the nurses approached Winsor and told her “‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea you were a service I just thought that mother had the best friends.’” Winsor also commented that a large part of providing support to families is in providing information. “Patients don’t always get information on what is basic care,” she said, adding that many families do not receive the full range of information on options for caring for their child and their condition. As a result of the information and support that they provide, Winsor said she’s seen changes in the medical community where Be Not Afraid works. “I think the medical providers are happy to know that our families have been well-supported and well-prepared,” she commented, adding that most of their referrals now come from within the medical community. Winsor added that she’s also seen personal changes in medical providers who may not have initially supported a family’s decision to carry their child to term. “We’ve had physicians who’ve been less than supportive show up at a birth and weep, because they encounter the humanity of the baby through the parents – who are well-supported.” The experience of bringing their child to term, particularly with information and support for the birth and death process, can change a parent’s perception of their diagnosis. “One of the things we find is that parents come through the diagnosis and often their first instinct and certainly the instinct of everyone around them is that the train wreck is going to be the birth,” Winsor said. “What we say is that the train wreck is the diagnosis.” Winsor said this maxim has been borne out by parent feedback.“By and large, the parents will tell you that the worst day was diagnosis and the birth, even if it means a death, is better than diagnosis.” Elvira Parravicini, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, is director of the Neonatal Comfort Care Program at NY-Presbyterian/Columbia University where she helps provide care for newborns with “life-limiting conditions.” She described to CNA the medical support she and her program aim to provide patients with poor prenatal diagnoses and their families. Dr. Parravicini said she started developing a set of resources for infants facing death when she came across mothers in her own practice who wanted to continue their pregnancies despite their child’s diagnosis. “I’m their physician– I need to do something for them,” she said to herself at the time. Care, she continued, focuses on both making the child comfortable, as well as offering support and care for the baby’s parents. Dr. Parravicini and other physicians at the Neonatal Comfort Care Program help to put together a unique nursing and medical plan for infants that can be used no matter how short or long a child’s life is. The first goal is to provide comfort for the babies, which includes bonding with the family, being warm, and if it is possible, being fed. “The fact that we offer a plan – something for the babies even though they have a very short life – is reassuring for them and it opens a hope,” she said. Hope, for families facing a difficult prenatal diagnosis, is an important part of the parental process. “The idea of having your child die in your arms is devastating – it’s almost unimaginable,” Dr. Parravicini said. “What our program does is not only be following this program we make babies’ lives comfortable, but also supporting the parents in their parenthood.” Supporting patients in birth and in death places the focus on what is truly important: the baby’s life. “Before death there is life,” Dr. Parravicini mused. “All our care, our concern, is concentrated in those minutes, hours, days, weeks of life.” Read more

Erbil, Iraq, Apr 21, 2016 / 12:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A delegation of bishops and priests from France are visiting Iraq April 17-21 to aid young Christian students living in the refugee camps. The visiting bishops are the Archbishop of Marseilles, Georges Paul Pontier and the Bishop of Pontoise, Stanislas Lalanne. Also accompanying them are  Father Pascal Gollnisch, director general of l’Oeuvre d’Orient, a French aid society for Christians in the Middle East; and Father Olivier Ribadeau-Dumas, secretary general and spokesman for the French Conference of Catholic Bishops. These young students are part of the group of 120,000 Christians that fled from the cities of the Nineveh Plain when the Islamic State attacked the region in 2014. When the students came to Erbil they had trouble continuing their studies because the curriculum is in the Kurdish language, and they speak Arabic. Around 400 of them will now be able attend university in the city of Kirkuk, where an educational program has been set up in their language. The trip was the initiative of Archbishop Pontier and the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Yousif Thomas Mirkis, and is part of the “Support the Students in Iraq” project which was began last year and seeks to raise approximately $1.7 million to help young Iraqis continue their studies. The project is sponsored by the French bishops’ conference and l’Oeuvre d’Orient. When they arrived in Iraq, the bishops went to Kirkuk where they celebrated a Mass and met with the students and visited the homes where they live. Regarding the situation of these young Christians, Archbishop Mirkis stated that they are “the priority and future of Iraq.” “Helping these future leaders pursue their studies is essential for rebuilding our country. By supporting these young people we’re keeping them in the country. So then there will be doctors, pharmacists, architects, and engineers,” Archbishop Mirkis stated on l’Oeuvre d’Orient’s website.   Read more

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2016 / 03:23 pm (CNA).- As the U.S. treasury announces the legendary Harriet Tubman as the new face of the 20 dollar bill, she also drew praise from religious freedom advocates for her deep and abiding Christian faith. “Harriet Tubman was a woman of faith who was not afraid to act on her beliefs to fight for justice,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Her incredible moral and physical courage is an example to all Americans, as is her willingness to act on her Christian faith. She is an icon of religious liberty.” Known for helping rescue hundreds of fugitive slaves through a network called the Underground Railroad, Tubman will replace former president Andrew Jackson – who will now be placed on the back of the bill, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced April 20. Lew said Wednesday that Tubman’s life “reflects both American values and American democracy, but also the power of an individual to make a difference in our democracy.” The civil-war era hero was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and credited her Christian faith for inspiring her to help slaves escape from the U.S. south and into a free life in Canada, the Beckett fund reported. Read more

New York City, N.Y., Apr 20, 2016 / 11:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new stage has begun in the process toward possible canonization for Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has opened the canonical “inquiry on the life” of Dorothy Day, the archdiocese announced April 19.   Starting this week, the archdiocese will interview some 50 eyewitnesses who had firsthand experience with Dorothy Day. Their testimonies and other evidence will be collected, examined to determine whether Day lived a life of “heroic virtue,” and will eventually be presented to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Saints and to Pope Francis. In addition, Cardinal Dolan will appoint experts to review the published and unpublished writings of Dorothy Day, considering their adherence to doctrine and morals. George B. Horton, liaison for the Dorothy Day Guild, noted that this will be an extensive project. “Dorothy Day created or inspired dozens of houses of hospitality throughout the English-speaking world, but she was also a journalist who published The Catholic Worker newspaper,” he said. “Her articles in that paper alone total over 3,000 pages. Add her books and other publications and we will probably surpass 8,000 pages of manuscripts.” Born in Brooklyn and eventually raised in Chicago, Day was baptized Episcopalian at the age of 12. She displayed signs at a young age of possessing a deep religious sense, fasting and mortifying her body by sleeping on hardwood floors. Her life soon changed as the 1910s brought about a stark shift in the U.S. social climate. A key turning point in her life and personal ideology came when she read “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair’s scathing depiction of the Chicago meat-packing industry. Day dropped out of college and moved to New York, where she took a job as a reporter for the country’s largest daily socialist paper, The Call. After fraternizing with the Bohemians and Socialist intellectuals of her time – and after a series of disastrous romances, one of which included an abortion that she later deeply regretted – Day fell in love with an anarchist nature-lover by the name of Forster Batterham. She eventually settled in Staten Island, living a peaceful, slow-paced life on the beach with Batterham in a common law marriage. Conflict arose, however, when Day became increasingly drawn to the Catholic faith – praying rosaries consistently and even having their daughter, Tamar, baptized as a Catholic. Batterham, a staunch atheist, eventually left them and Day was received into the Catholic Church herself in 1927. She returned to New York City as a single mother where her deep-rooted and long-standing concern for the poor resurfaced. Along with French itinerant Peter Maurin, she founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933. Living the Catholic notion of holy poverty and practicing works of mercy, the two started soup kitchens, self-sustaining farm communities and a daily newspaper. In the course of her 50 years working among the poor and marginalized, Day never took a salary. Her legacy lives on today in some 185 Catholic Worker communities in the U.S. and around the globe. In a 2012 meeting of U.S. bishops, Cardinal Dolan called Dorothy Day “a saint for our time,” describing her as “a living, breathing, colorful, lovable, embracing, warm woman who exemplifies what’s best in Catholic life” and shows the Church’s commitment to both the dignity of human life and social justice. The Vatican opened the canonization process for Dorothy Day, naming her a “Servant of God,” in 2000. The road to canonization is a lengthy one, normally requiring many years and several stages, including examination by a diocesan tribunal and a Vatican congregation, as well as the approval of two miracles attributed to the saint’s intercession. Ultimately, the Pope has the final say in canonizing saints.     Read more

Rome, Italy, Apr 20, 2016 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat is achievable if attention is focused on children infected with HIV, participants in a recent conference held by Caritas International emphasized. … Read more

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2016 / 05:44 am (Aid to the Church in Need).- On Wednesday Pope Francis stressed the importance of knowing how to distinguish between sin and sinner, adding that God’s mercy is not afraid to reach out and touch our sins in order to forgive them. “The Word of God teaches us to distinguish between the sin and the sinner,” the Pope said April 20, noting that when it comes to sin, there are no “compromises.” When it comes to sinners, “which are all of us,” it’s important to reach out to them, he said, adding that sinners “are like the sick who are healed, and in order to be cured the doctor must be close to them, visit them, touch them.” However, Francis also clarified that in order to truly be healed, a sick person must first “recognize their need for the doctor!” Pope Francis spoke to the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience. He continued his catechesis on mercy, turning to the Gospel passage in Luke in which Jesus dines at the house of Simon, a Pharisee, and forgives a “sinful woman” who washes his feet with precious oils. In his speech, the Pope said that the episode brings out a comparison between two figures: Simon, the faithful and zealous follower of the law, and the anonymous sinful woman, who expresses repentance. “While the first judges others based on appearances, the second with her actions expresses her heart with sincerity,” Francis said, noting that while Simon doesn’t want to compromise himself or get involved in Jesus’ life, the woman fully entrusts herself to the Lord “with love and veneration.” As a Pharisee, Simon finds it incomprehensible that Jesus allows himself to be “contaminated” by sinners, as was the common mentality at the time. “He thinks that if Jesus were really a prophet he must recognize and stay away from (sinners) to avoid being stained, as if they were lepers.” This attitude, Francis said, is typical of a certain understanding of religion which emphasizes the radical opposition between God and sin. However, the Pope stressed that the Word of God teaches us to distinguish between “the sin and the sinner.” When it comes to the Pharisee and the sinful woman, “Jesus sided with the latter,” the Pope observed, explaining that since the Lord was free from “the prejudices which impede the expression of mercy,” he allowed the woman to continue her act of love and repentance. “He, the Holy One of God, allows himself to be touched by her without the fear for being contaminated,” Francis said. In forming a relationship with this woman, “Jesus puts an end to that condition of isolation to which the merciless judgement of the Pharisee and his fellow villagers, who insulted her, condemned her.” Pope Francis then contrasted the hypocrisy of the doctors of the law with the humble and sincere act of the woman, whose conversion happened in front of everyone. “All of us are sinners but many times we fall into the temptation of hypocrisy, to believe that we are better than others,” he said, and cautioned that instead of looking at others’ sins, we must first acknowledge our own faults and mistakes. When Jesus responds to the woman’s act he doesn’t give an explicit answer, but instead her conversion takes place “in front of everyone’s eyes and shows that in (Jesus) shines the power of the merciful God, capable of transforming hearts.” The sinful woman “teaches us the link between faith, love and gratitude,” the Pope said, noting that even Simon had to admit that the one he loves most is the one who has been forgiven more. “God has locked up everyone in the same mystery of mercy; and from this love, which always precedes us, we all learn to love.” Pope Francis closed his audience by encouraging pilgrims to give thanks to God for his “great and unmerited love,” and urged them to allow the love of Christ “to be poured into us: it is from this love that the disciple draws and on which he is based; from this love each one can be fed and nourished.” Following his address Francis offered a special greeting to all those affected by Saturday’s deadly earthquake in Ecuador, which has so far killed an estimated 413 people and injured more than 2,500, according to CNN. Speaking to Spanish-language pilgrims, the Pope offered assured their “brothers in Ecuador” of “our closeness and our prayer in this moment of suffering.” He also made special mention of the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine, which has been “forgotten by many,” and reminded faithful of a special collection that will take place in churches throughout Europe this Sunday, April 24, which will be used to meet the needs of the “humanitarian emergency” that has resulted from the conflict. Read more

Rome, Italy, Apr 20, 2016 / 03:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On April 29, the Trevi Fountain, one of the most popular and emblematic tourist spots in Rome, will be dyed red in recognition of all Christians who even today give their life for the faith.  … Read more

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2016 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Terrorism in the name of religion is a lie, the head of the Holy See’s mission to the United Nations said last week.  “In the Middle East, in particular, terrorists must never be… Read more

Guayaquil, Ecuador, Apr 19, 2016 / 05:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sister Clare Crockett, an Irish religious sister, was among those who died in the massive Ecuador earthquake on Saturday. Her vocation is the story of a woman who left the party life for an “amazing” life in God. “I knew that I had to leave everything and follow Him. I knew with great clarity that He was asking me to trust in Him, to put my life in His hands and to have faith,” Sister Clare Crockett said in her vocation story, according to EWTN. “It never ceases to amaze me how Our Lord works in the souls, how He can totally transform one’s life and capture one’s heart.” Sister Clare, from Derry in Northern Ireland, was 33 years-old. She was the voice of Lucy on the long-running EWTN children’s television series “Hi Lucy.” Residents of Playa Prieta, some 125 miles from Guayaquil, were able to recover the bodies of six members of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother who died in the earthquake that struck the coast of Ecuador Saturday night. The residents recovered the bodies of Sister Clare; the Ecuadorian candidates Jazmina, Mayra, María Augusta and Valeria; and Catalina, a resident who was 21 years-old. The women lived on the second floor of Holy Family School in Playa Prieta in Ecuador’s Manabi Province. In recent weeks the region suffered from severe floods, which may have damaged the structure of the building. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake caused the premises to collapse. Five women were rescued alive after the earthquake: three sisters from the community and two candidates. They were evacuated to Guayaquil with various injuries. Area residents organized a search for those missing. The Servant Sisters reported that their founder, the Spanish priest Father Rafael Alonso Reymundo, will be traveling to Ecuador with other members of the community to preside at the funeral services. Sister Clare in her vocation story recounted she grew up at a time of Catholic-Protestant tension and violence in Derry that meant there was “no room for God.” In her mid-teens she aimed to become an actress. By age 18, she partied “a lot” and spent her money on alcohol and cigarettes. One day a friend asked if she wanted to go on a free trip to Spain.  The trip turned out to be a 10-day pilgrimage with people in their forties and fifties. “I tried to get out of it, but my name was already on the ticket, so I had to go. I now see that it was Our Lady’s way of bringing me back home, back to her and her Son,” she said. “I was not a very happy camper. Nevertheless, it was on that pilgrimage that Our Lord gave me the grace to see how He had died for me on the Cross. After I had received that grace, I knew that I had to change.” She entered the Servant Sisters in August 2001 and made her perpetual vows in 2011. Father José Xavier Martins, pastor of Our Lady of Loreto in Guayaquil, told CNA that the Servant Sisters have been working for eight years at the school. They were getting ready to start the school year. Their school served more than 500 students. “Everything came falling down. We’ll need financial assistance and all kinds of help,” the priest said. “We thank everyone who has been working many hours in the rescue effort. A lot of people have come to give their all to help us.” The Saturday, April 16 earthquake has taken the lives of at least 413 people and injured more than 2,500, CNN reports. The Home of the Mother is seeking donations for earthquake relief through its website: Read more

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