Denver, Colo., Mar 31, 2016 / 03:04 am (Denver Catholic).- One theme unifies the stories of all the saints: Christians are never alone. Even in the most isolated circumstances, saints have a profound union with God. This principle is demonstrated by the martyrdom of Franz Jagerstatter, a father and martyr during the Nazi occupation of Austria.A peasant background Franz was no St. Therese. He was the illegitimate child of a maidservant in a tiny village in Upper Austria. His mother married when Franz was 10. Franz was a wild child. He was a womanizer, and even had a daughter born out of wedlock. Gordan Zahn, whose book In Solitary Witness is the definitive work on Jagerstatter’s life, discovered that Jagerstatter was exiled from his community for several years, during which time he stopped attending Mass. However, Jagerstatter received a passable education in the village’s one-room school schoolhouse before becoming a farmer. Then he met his wife.Marriage transformed him He married Franziska Schwaninger on Holy Thursday 1936. On their honeymoon, they received a blessing from Pope Pius XI. Franziska’s effect on her husband was subtle but persistent. Jagerstatter became the sexton of the village church, meaning he assisted at all the liturgies and maintained the building. This led to him becoming a daily communicant. He began to memorize the Bible and learn the lives of the saints. In fact, he once told his wife, “I could have never imagined that being married could be so wonderful.”Road to martyrdom Jagerstatter and Franziska had three girls together, and remained close to his other daughter. In 1938, around the time their eldest daughter was born, Germans invaded Austria. The Catholic Church in Austria had warned against Nazi socialism for years. Catholics in Germany were facing severe restrictions, including the prohibition of Mass outside of Sundays, even for the holiest solemnities and feast days. Jagerstatter’s own pastor had been jailed for delivering an anti-Nazi sermon. His bishop had dictated an anti-Nazi letter to be read in all the parishes several years earlier. That same bishop would declare, “It is impossible to be both a good Catholic and a true Nazi.” He was later replaced with a bishop who spoke more cautiously. The same pope who had blessed Jagerstatter’s marriage, Pius XI, in 1937 published the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, on the strained relations between the Church and Nazi Germany. Buoyed by these witnesses, Jagerstatter was still the only person in his whole town to disavow Anschluss, or the German annexation of Austria. He was dismayed to see many Catholics support the Nazis. One cardinal even demanded that all parishes fly the Nazi flag from their churches on Hitler’s birthday. “I believe there could scarcely be a sadder hour for the true Christian faith in our country,” he wrote. The prevailing idea at the time was that a peasant layman should do what his country told him to do. By this obedience, the people who made the decisions, and not the peasant, would hold moral responsibility for the actions. But Franz couldn’t reconcile that worldview with the fact that he had free will, and that he could not call himself a disciple if he bowed that will to a movement he viewed as satanic. He would not fight for the Nazis. At first it seemed that being a farmer would keep him from fighting–Germany’s massive army required equally massive amounts of food. Unfortunately, in 1943 the need for fighters grew, and Jagerstatter was called to active duty. He went to the induction center, where he announced that he would not fight. He was summarily carted to the military prison at Linz to learn his fate. “I am convinced it is best that I speak the truth, even if it costs me my life,” he wrote.Saints have saints for friends Friends, family and even the local bishop visited Jagerstatter in prison, trying to convince him to fight. None of these visitors gave him a convincing argument against his moral convictions about conscientious objection. Instead, they all tried to convince him that God would not hold him accountable for doing what his state ordered. Jagerstatter was unconvinced. “Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives — often in horrible ways — for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal someday, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith,” he said. His wife accepted his need to follow his conscience. He was also part of a movement of Catholic martyrs who gave their life to fight the Nazis. St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) had died the previous August in Auschwitz, almost a year to the day after St. Maximillian Kolbe. Blessed Marcel Callo was just beginning the undercover Catholic activities in his forced labor camp that would eventually lead to his 1945 martyrdom for being “too Catholic.” Most impressively, Jagerstatter spent May to August of 1943 in the same prison as the renowned Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There is not evidence that the two men ever met, or even realized they shared a prison with someone so similar in conviction. Jagerstatter was able to learn, though, of a priest who had been martyred in the same prison for the exact reasons he and so many others shared. That conviction ultimately cost him his life. He was taken to Berlin, where he was sentenced to death for sedition. His last recorded words before he met the guillotine are, “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord.” The Church agreed. During Vatican II, Jagerstatter’s life helped shape the section of Gaudium et spes that talks about conscientious objectors to war. He was beatified 50 years after his death. His daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren attended the ceremony.  This article first appeared in the Denver Catholic. Read more

New York City, N.Y., Mar 31, 2016 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See paid homage to all women and girls who have selflessly served others in education, healthcare, and forming the youth and upheld the four Missionaries of Charity murdered in Yem… Read more

London, England, Mar 30, 2016 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a recent interview with British daily The Guardian, renowned actor Jeremy Irons voiced his opposition to easy divorce and to abortion, which he said is a sin and “harms a woman.” “Take abortion,” he told The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard in an interview published March 24. “I believe women should be allowed to make the decision, but I also think the church is right to say it’s a sin. Because sin is actions that harm us. Lying harms us. Abortion harms a woman – it’s a tremendous mental attack, and physical, sometimes. But we seem to get that muddled. In a way, thank God the Catholic church does say we won’t allow it, because otherwise nobody’s saying that it’s a sin.” Irons, 67, has been acting on the stage and in film and television since 1969. His breakout role was as Charles Ryder in the 1981 miniseries Brideshead Revisited, and he voiced Scar in The Lion King. He has won an Academy Award, a Tony, and an Emmy. He is currently cast as the lead in Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Bristol Old Vic. “Our society is based on a Christian structure,” he told Shoard. “If you take those religious tenets away, then anything goes and it will become terrible – and you usually get into trouble.” From there he spoke of adultery, saying that while it “might be very nice … finally it [expletive]s us up. And it [expletive]s up the structure of society.” He affirmed the value of marriage, saying that “yes, you can be in love and raise a family wonderfully by not being married, but actually marriage does give us a strength, because it’s quite hard to get out of, and so it makes us fight more to keep it together. If divorce becomes dead easy – which it sort of has – then we don’t have that backup. Because, for everybody, relationships are hard.” Irons has himself been married twice: He was briefly married to Julie Hallam in 1969, and has been married to Sinead Cusack since 1978. Cusack and their two sons are Catholic. He has called his family Catholic, while adding that he doesn’t often go to church, though the Wall Street Journal in 2013 described him as “a practicing Catholic.” Irons’ interview with Shoard also touched on his sense of spirituality, with Irons stating his belief that “inanimate objects have a spirit.” He also discussed his position against Western interventionism, noting that while Assad’s regime in Syria “deals with the opposition with great cruelty … there are cruel people, as one sees from Isis, and you’re not going to remove that part of nature from those fanatics at that stage of their civilising development.” He also suggested that democracy and freedom may not have meaning in Syria: “Yet everybody – especially the Americans – seems to think the only way of life is theirs.” Irons went on to reflect on democracy in the U.S. itself, saying the current election cycle may signal democracy’s end: “If democracy has become a gameshow where you vote for the one who makes you laugh most, or whatever, then we’re not worthy to have the vote,” he said. On previous occasions, Irons has also spoke out against both gay marriage and the death penalty. Read more

New Delhi, India, Mar 30, 2016 / 11:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After the circulation of rumors claiming Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil was tortured and crucified on Good Friday, the Indian bishops have written to the government urging greater effort in locating the priest. “A lot of rumors are being spread in the social media that Fr. Tom was subjected to cruel torture and then crucified on Good Friday,” the Indian bishops wrote in a March 28 letter addressed to India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj. The wide circulation of the “gruesome news” both at home and abroad is upsetting, and “brings agony to the relatives” and arouses concern in everyone, they said. “It will be in the best interest of our country to step up the efforts to verify the veracity of this disturbing rumor.” Bishop Paul Hinder, the Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia (whose territory serves Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen) told CNA on Monday that he has “strong indications that Fr. Tom is still alive in the hands of the kidnappers,” but could not give further information, in order to protect the life of the priest. While voicing their appreciation for previous efforts the government of India has made in securing the release of abducted citizens from the hands of terrorists, most recently Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, India’s bishops said more ought to be done in the case of Fr. Tom. On March 4, four gunmen attacked a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, Yemen, killing 16 people, including four Missionary of Charity sisters. Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian national, was kidnapped by the gunmen during the attacks, which are thought to have been perpetrated by Islamist terrorists, though no group has claimed responsibility for the incident. Since then several blogs and media outlets have reported that Fr. Tom was crucified by Islamic State militants on Good Friday. However, there has been no confirmation of the event by friends, family, or Fr. Uzhunnalil’s community. In their letter, the Indian bishops said they immediately requested the help of the government in tracing and rescuing Fr. Tom after hearing the “sad and shocking news” of his abduction. Messages were sent to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, and the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, “soliciting their urgent intervention to ensure the safety of Fr. Tom.” The bishops said they have been in constant contact with the Indian government on the matter, and voiced their gratitude for the efforts they have already made in monitoring the process of both finding and rescuing Fr. Uzhunnalil.   However, in spite of the efforts, the bishops stressed that so far there is “no definite answer” regarding the whereabouts of the abducted priest or the motive of his kidnappers. The bishops noted that the Vatican has upped its own efforts to find Fr. Tom through their diplomatic channels, and requested that Swaraj “leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety and the quick release of Fr. Tom from the hands of the abductors.” In a March 29 press statement the bishops noted that officials of India’s Ministry of External Affairs have assured them they are “closely looking into all the aspects” of the case and of a safe release for Fr. Tom. A senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs assured the bishops that Swaraj would receive them personally at her earliest convenience to share “the available and pertinent details” on Fr. Tom’s release. Read more

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 30, 2016 / 11:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the Georgia governor’s recent veto of a religious liberty bill, the state’s Catholic bishops are calling for further debate and dialogue on the issue. “We fervently su… Read more

New York City, N.Y., Mar 30, 2016 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a region fraught with political, ethnic and religious divisions, the Central African Republic’s motto of “Unity, Dignity, and Work” can serve as a foundation for healing and progress in Africa’s Great Lakes Region, a Vatican representative told the United Nations. “No solutions to the Region’s many problems would be possible if there are divisions instead of unity, grave violations of human rights instead of respecting the dignity of all, and extreme poverty instead of dignified work for all,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said March 21.   Archbishop Auza’s remarks came as part of the U.N. Security Council Debate on “The Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts in the Great Lakes Region.” Although the Great Lakes Region of Africa – which includes Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic – is home to rich biodiversity, it’s also place of “political instability and bad governance, corruption and extreme poverty, ethnic divisions and exploitative use of the abundant natural resources,” he said. Pope Francis reflected on Central African Republic’s motto during his visit last November, and Archbishop Auza said that the values of “Unity, Dignity, and Work” can serve the entire Great Lakes Region of Africa. “The Pope sees in this trilogy an expression of the aspirations of each Central African and, indeed, of each of the inhabitants of the Great Lakes Region,” Archbishop Auza said. “My delegation believes that these three values of unity, dignity and work are pillars of any prosperous society and thus could greatly facilitate solutions to the complex of causes of armed conflicts and underdevelopment in the Region.” He called unity “a cardinal value” that would help build respect for “the plurality of political views and religious beliefs” of an area that is home to different tribes, communities and faiths. On the other hand, recognizing the inherent dignity of all is essential to building up “mutual respect and solidarity.” In an area plagued by extreme poverty, “(d)ecent work for all would greatly improve the lives of all in the region,” Archbishop Auza said, recalling Pope Francis’ call for all countries of the Great Lakes Region to “improve themselves by wisely exploiting their many resources.” Unfortunately, the natural resources are “being exploited in favor of a privileged few” rather than for “the common good” as a result of political corruption and armed groups fighting in the area, making these resources seem more like a curse than a blessing. “Governments and all stakeholders in the Region must be helped to negotiate and deal with the various issues at stake in the most impartial way possible, having in mind only the common good of all the citizens,” he said. Additionally, the presence of armed forces and terrorist groups fighting in these areas only perpetuates poverty and political instability in the region. Investments in education and job opportunities must be taken seriously to help prevent the trafficking and recruitment of children by terrorist organizations, he said. The archbishop recommended offering militants “credible reasons to disarm” and encouraging the international community to “assume a larger role in programs aimed at controlling the legal and illegal arms trade.” The Holy See’s top priority in all her diplomatic activities, he said, is “preventive action geared toward safeguarding the inviolable dignity of every human person, protecting fundamental human rights, promoting education and health care for all, and fostering the identity of each people.” Pope Francis is grateful for the work that the international community has been doing and encouraged the continuation of work to “achieve disarmament, prosperity, and sound administration at all levels,” Archbishop Auza said.Photo credit: Read more

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2016 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Wednesday offered a special blessing for Mother Angelica following her death on Easter Sunday, expressing his confidence that she is already in heaven. “She’s in heaven.” The Pope pointed to the sky as he spoke these words to members of EWTN’s Rome bureau, who brought an image of the late Poor Clare nun to his March 30 general audience as a sign of affection and remembrance. Francis saw the framed photo in the crowd, and blessed it when asked by EWTN’s Executive TV Producer in Rome, Martha Calderon, for a blessing for Mother Angelica’s soul.   Today #PopeFrancis gave a blessing 4 #MotherAngelica’s soul, saying “she’s in heaven” & pointing to the sky #ewtnMA — Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) March 30, 2016   Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), in 1981, and it has since become the largest religious media network in the world. She passed away March 27 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old. Pope Francis offered his prayers for Mother Angelica Feb. 12 while on his way to Cuba, and asked for her prayers in return. But he isn’t the only one who is confident in the nun’s holiness. Several other prelates have voiced their admiration and appreciation for Mother’s contribution to the faith, to the Catholic Church in the U.S., and to the world of Catholic communications, including retired pontiff Benedict XVI and the Vatican’s spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi. Although Francis has expressed his belief that Mother Angelica is already in heaven, the formal process for declaring her a saint has yet to begin. Once a cause for her canonization officially opens, the facts and details of her life, as well as the testimonies from those around her, must be obtained and gathered into a lengthy report called a “positio” or “position” and presented to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The congregation must then study the records to determine Mother’s heroic virtue, and eventually look into miracles attributed to her intercession. Only when one miracle has been officially approved can she be declared a Blessed. A second is then required for her canonization as a saint. However, the Pope could decide to take the route of what’s called an “equipollent,” or “equivalent” canonization, in which he waives the requirement for one or both of the miracles and canonizes the person without them. This was the case with St. Pope John XXIII in 2014, for whom the Pope decided to waive the second miracle required for his canonization, and proclaimed him a saint with just one. In his general audience speech, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on mercy as understood in scripture, finishing his segment on the Old Testament. He focused on Psalm 51, also referred to as “the Miserere” and which is traditionally understood as King David’s prayer asking for forgiveness following his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Francis pointed to the psalm’s opening words “Have mercy on me, O God in your kindness,” saying they are “a moving confession of sin, repentance and confident hope in God’s merciful pardon.” Alongside his “heartfelt plea” to be cleansed and purified of his sin, King David also praises God’s infinite justice and holiness, the Pope observed. Not only does he ask to be forgiven sin, but he also prays “for the gift of a pure heart and a steadfast spirit, so that, thus renewed, he may draw other sinners back to the way of righteousness.” “God’s forgiveness is the greatest sign of his infinite mercy,” Francis said, and in off-the-cuff remarks had the pilgrims present at the audience repeat three times that “God’s forgiveness is greater than our sin!” He closed his audience by praying that Mary, the “Mother of Mercy,” would intercede so that all would become “ever more convincing witnesses to that divine mercy which forgives our sins, creates in us a new heart, and enables us to proclaim God’s reconciling love to the world.” Read more

Salt Lake City, Utah, Mar 30, 2016 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new Utah law requiring anesthesia for unborn babies during late-term abortions shows the contradiction between society’s view of life and legal abortion, a leading pro-life doctor … Read more

Quito, Ecuador, Mar 30, 2016 / 12:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Under the theme “Love in motion,” more than 25,000 people participated in the ninth annual the Day of the Unborn Child Walk in several cities in Ecuador. The event’s purpose i… Read more

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2016 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked for parties in the Little Sisters’ case to submit alternative means, if possible, of ensuring contraceptive coverage while maintaining religious freedom. “This is an excellent development. Clearly the Supreme Court understood the Sisters’ concern that the government’s current scheme forces them to violate their religion,” Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters, stated on Tuesday. The Court instructed both the plaintiffs in the case – the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the group Priests for Life, and several Christian colleges – and the administration to submit supplemental briefs answering whether employees can receive contraceptive coverage while maintaining the religious freedom of the employers who object to providing such coverage. If a way exists, the brief should explain how it works. At the heart of the case Zubik v. Burwell is the administration’s mandate that employers provide cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions, and the so-called “accommodation” offered to objecting non-profit employers. This accommodation involves the employer sending the government a form stating its objection to providing the coverage. The government notifies their insurer (or third-party administrator for self-insured parties) of their objection and the insurer provides the coverage separately. The plaintiffs like the Little Sisters – as well as many other non-profits – argue that this still forces them, under threat of heavy fines, to cooperate with practices they believe are immoral. They say they are still facilitating access to these drugs in their health plans by sending the form to the federal government because they know the coverage will ultimately be provided. Furthermore, they argue the government is unlawfully “hijacking” their health plan which is between them and their insurer. Meanwhile, the administration argues that contraception coverage in employer health plans is in the common interest and that any other method of the government separately providing this coverage on the public exchanges or through Medicaid or Medicare would be insufficient to achieve the universal coverage that Congress envisioned in its health care law. An alternative method – if it exists – of ensuring the contraceptive coverage while not implicating objecting parties in facilitating access to this coverage should be found, the Court stated Tuesday. “The parties are directed to address whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners,” the order stated. “For example,” it added, “the parties should consider a situation in which petitioners would contract to provide health insurance for their employees, and in the course of obtaining such insurance, inform their insurance company that they do not want their health plan to include contraceptive coverage of the type to which they object on religious grounds.” “Petitioners would have no legal obligation to provide such contraceptive coverage, would not pay for such coverage, and would not be required to submit any separate notice to their insurer, to the Federal Government, or to their employees.” The insurer, aware that the employer has a religious objection to the coverage, would then take care of setting up “cost-free contraceptive coverage” for the employee independent of cost to the employer and independent of the employer’s health plan. The order comes after oral arguments in the case took place at the Supreme Court on March 23. The question of an alternative method being possible was raised during the arguments by Justice Elena Kagan, who asked if any “acceptable” method of “notification” existed for objecting employers while ensuring that women still receive “contraceptive coverage.” “I’m asking whether there’s any accommodation that would result in the women employees getting contraceptive coverage seamlessly through an employer-¬based plan that you would find acceptable,” Justice Kagan asked Noel Francisco, who was arguing for the petitioners. “Your Honor, possibly so, possibly not,” he replied, adding that “we’ve not been offered that kind of alternative to consider.” The “more distance” there is between the objecting employer and the contraceptive coverage, he added, the “less problematic” it would probably be for the plaintiffs. Justice Kagan followed up, asking what scenarios might exist with an “acceptable” distance. “Enough distance is we file the notice of objection, and the government furthers its interest in the same way it furthers its interest with respect to all of the other employees who don’t get coverage from an employer-¬based plan,” Francisco replied, referring to the large corporations like Visa and PepsiCo that are exempt from the contraceptive mandate because their pre-existing health plans have been “grandfathered” in to the law’s regulations. Another scenario Francisco floated would be if the government paid for an “uber-insurance policy” where one carrier provided all the mandated contraceptive coverage and the plaintiffs used that carrier without having to notify them of their objection. The coverage would be provided separately. He concluded that “it’s quite clear that the government has alternatives because it’s the same alternatives that it uses for everybody else. And if all of those alternatives are fine with them, they at least need evidence explaining why they’re not fine for us as well.”   Read more

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