Planned Parenthood investigator protected as undercover journalist, lawyer says

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2016 / 05:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Planned Parenthood investigators indicted by a Houston grand jury on Monday were not breaking the law as they are undercover journalists, maintains the lawyer for the lead investigator, David Daleiden. Daleiden’s use of a false identification, linked to his undercover report on Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, is “standard undercover technique” and is allowed under Texas law, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society told CNA. Daleiden, the project lead for the “citizen journalist” team Center for Medical Progress, and his fellow worker Sandra Merritt, were indicted Jan. 25 by a grand jury for “tampering with a government record.” Additionally, Daleiden was indicted for the purchase or sale of human organs, a misdemeanor charge. Last summer, the Center for Medical Progress had released a series of videos of secretly-taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials as part of its investigative report “Human Capital.” The report focused on Planned Parenthood’s role in its clinics offering fetal tissue of aborted babies to harvesters for compensation. Planned Parenthood, Daleiden charged, was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue of aborted babies. Federal law generally prohibits the sale of human organs but does allow for the transfer of fetal tissue for medical research with compensation, provided the compensation is not “valuable consideration” but is “reasonable,” to cover expenses such as operating and shipping costs. Following the release of the videos, Planned Parenthood has been investigated on the state and federal level, but so far there have been no official conclusions of wrongdoing. To investigate Planned Parenthood, members of the Center for Medical Progress set up a false company Biomax and posed as company representatives seeking to partner with Planned Parenthood clinics to harvest fetal tissue. They discussed various amounts of compensation for the tissue. Daleiden and Merritt secretly taped their conversation with the research director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Melissa Farrell, while posing as tissue harvesters. They would have had to use identification to gain access to the clinic, and allegedly used California drivers licenses with their false names. Texas law prohibits the use of a governmental record “with knowledge of its falsity” or any “false alteration” of a governmental record. It clarifies that it is a misdemeanor “unless the actor’s intent is to defraud or harm another, in which event the offense is a state jail felony” and “a felony of the second degree.” Thus, by charging them with a second-degree felony, the Houston grand jury determined that Daleiden and Merritt operated with the intent “to defraud or harm” Planned Parenthood. However, this tampering statute was intended for serious crimes like identity theft, Breen maintained. It is not intended to prohibit the use of false identification for undercover journalism – which is what the two investigators were doing. An attorney for Planned Parenthood in Houston, Josh Schaffer, told the Washington Post that the Center for Medical Progress “edited the tapes to be taken out of context,” although the organization posted a full video of the report over five hours long. What is clear, Breen maintained, is that Daleiden and his fellow investigators “have rock-solid evidence” that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is changing its abortion procedures to better obtain fetal tissue, and is altering its accounting practices. The allegations relate to what Farrell at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast told Daleiden and Merritt about the cost of obtaining and dissecting fetal tissue for harvesters. Farrell floated the possibility of altering the abortion procedure to increase the possibility of extracting “intact” fetal tissue.  “If we alter our process, and we are able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, we can make it part of the budget that any dissections are this, and splitting the specimens into different shipments is this. It’s all just a matter of  line  items,” she said. Daleiden was also indicted for the purchase or sale of human organs. A person violates Texas law when “he or she knowingly or intentionally offers to buy, offers to sell, acquires, receives, sells, or otherwise transfers any human organ for valuable consideration.” Schaffer, Planned Parenthood’s attorney, also told the Washington Post that Daleiden made an offer via e-mail to purchase fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood for $1,600. However, Daleiden clearly did not have the intent to purchase fetal tissue because he did not have the resources to “buy, store, or process baby body parts,” Breen said. In contrast, Planned Parenthood clearly had the money and the means to violate that statute, he told CNA, and had built relationships “to sell baby body parts for profit.”   Read more

Vatican official: Pope’s post-synod doc will be released in March

Vatican City, Jan 27, 2016 / 01:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family life following last year’s synod will be published in March, says Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family. In an interview with the Portuguese Catholic agency Ecclesia, Archbishop Paglia said that the Pope will release the document in March 2016, and that it will “show that the Church is close to families in all stages of their lives.” “I am convinced that the Apostolic Exhortation will be a hymn to love, to a love that will care for the well-being of children, that is open to wounded families who need strength, that wants to be close to the elder, a love that the whole of humanity needs,” Paglia said. The Italian archbishop is leading a week-long conference for the Catholic clergy of Portugal’s Southern ecclesiastic provinces under the title “Family: Centrality, Renewal and Continuity.” The apostolic exhortation will be the conclusion of a multi-year synod process. In 2014 the Vatican hosted an Extraordinary Synod which was in preparation for the October 2015 Ordinary Synod. An estimated 190 bishops from around the world participated in each gathering. The 2015 synod, which the Pope’s exhortation is expected to focus on, was themed “the vocation and mission of the family in the church and the modern world.” The synods were surrounded by controversy, with hot-button topics of ministry to homosexuals and the divorced-and-remarried dominating media coverage. Discussion in the synod hall also touched on such issues as marriage preparation, pornography, and domestic violence and abuse. The apostolic exhortation is expected to be based on the final report from the synod, which was released Oct. 24. That report reflected collegiality among the bishops, though two of the 94 paragraphs were included by only a slim margin. Read more

Pope rallies Catholics to be ‘mediators of mercy’ during jubilee

Vatican City, Jan 27, 2016 / 05:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis renewed his appeal for faithful to put the works of mercy into practice during the jubilee, urging them to open their hearts to others, and to show God’s tenderness to those who suffer. In his Jan. 27 general audience, the Pope recounted how “divine mercy had saved” the biblical figure of Moses from death in the waters of the Nile as a newborn infant. Later, Moses himself becomes “a mediator of that same mercy, allowing the people to be born to freedom” through their passage between the waters of the Red Sea. “Also we, in this year of mercy, we can be mediators of mercy with the works of mercy,” Francis said. “To grow close, to give relief, to create unity. It’s possible to do many good things.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience. It was his second set of reflections on a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, which he launched last week in honor of the Jubilee of Mercy. The Pope’s emphasis on performing both spiritual and corporal works of mercy also formed the heart of his Lenten message for 2016, published Jan. 26. Francis’ main point in the message is that if we receive God’s mercy, we will be able to give it to others. In his general audience, Francis noted how in the bible, God has been merciful with the people Israel from the beginning, specifically in accompanying the patriarchs, such as Jacob and Abraham, and blessing them with children, despite their infertility. <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>A pilgrim's perspective of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/PopeFrancis?src=hash”>#PopeFrancis</a> at this morning's general audience <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rome?src=hash”>#Rome</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/AlanHoldren”>@AlanHoldren</a> <a href=”https://t.co/bTImvXRNV9″>pic.twitter.com/bTImvXRNV9</a></p>&mdash; Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) <a href=”https://twitter.com/cnalive/status/692272871717093376″>January 27, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script> He pointed to the story of Joseph and his brothers, the sons of Jacob, and lamented that like them, many families today also have problems, including relatives who are distant and don’t speak to one another. The Holy Year of Mercy, he said, “is a good occasion to come back, to embrace and forgive one another, and to forget the bad things.” On the other hand, the Pope noted that even though God had been generous with the people of Israel, life in Egypt “was difficult” for them. But it was precisely when the Israelites were ready to give in “that the Lord intervened and brought salvation.” “When the Israelites were suffering, they cried out to God. God heard their cry, God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” the Pope recalled. “Mercy cannot remain indifferent in front of the suffering of the oppressed, the cry of those who are subjected to violence, reduced to slavery, condemned to death,” he continued. Francis then noted that these painful realities effect every age, including ours, and can make one feel powerless. The temptation can also arise to harden one’s heart to suffering and to “think about something else” instead, he said. But God, on the other hand, “is not indifferent, he never takes his eyes off of human pain. The God of mercy responds and takes care of the poor, of those who cry out in their desperation.” “God listens and intervenes in order to save, arousing men who are capable of hearing the groan of suffering and to work in favor of the oppressed,” the Pope said, recalling the figure of Moses. Just as with Moses, who was God’s instrument in liberating the people of Israel, “the mercy of God always acts to save,” Pope Francis said, adding that this divine mercy “reaches everyone.” The Lord offers each individual a special relationship of “personal, exclusive and privileged love,” he said, explaining that humanity is like a special treasure for God, his “personal reserve of gold and silver.” “The mercy of the Lord renders man precious, like a personal wealth that belongs to him, that he cares for and in which he is welcomed,” he said. We become this treasure, Francis observed, to the extent that we uphold his covenant with us, which has been “consummated” in the blood of Jesus, and to which we allow ourselves to be saved by him. Since we are children of God, also we, like Moses, have the opportunity to receive the inheritance “of goodness and mercy toward others,” the Pope observed. “We (can) do acts of mercy, opening our hearts to reach everyone with the works of mercy, which are the merciful inheritance that God the Father has had with us.” Read more

Pope rallies Catholics to be ‘mediators of mercy’ during jubilee

Vatican City, Jan 27, 2016 / 05:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis renewed his appeal for faithful to put the works of mercy into practice during the jubilee, urging them to open their hearts to others, and to show God’s tenderness to those who suffer. In his Jan. 27 general audience, the Pope recounted how “divine mercy had saved” the biblical figure of Moses from death in the waters of the Nile as a newborn infant. Later, Moses himself becomes “a mediator of that same mercy, allowing the people to be born to freedom” through their passage between the waters of the Red Sea. “Also we, in this year of mercy, we can be mediators of mercy with the works of mercy,” Francis said. “To grow close, to give relief, to create unity. It’s possible to do many good things.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience. It was his second set of reflections on a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, which he launched last week in honor of the Jubilee of Mercy. The Pope’s emphasis on performing both spiritual and corporal works of mercy also formed the heart of his Lenten message for 2016, published Jan. 26. Francis’ main point in the message is that if we receive God’s mercy, we will be able to give it to others. In his general audience, Francis noted how in the bible, God has been merciful with the people Israel from the beginning, specifically in accompanying the patriarchs, such as Jacob and Abraham, and blessing them with children, despite their infertility. <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>A pilgrim's perspective of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/PopeFrancis?src=hash”>#PopeFrancis</a> at this morning's general audience <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rome?src=hash”>#Rome</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/AlanHoldren”>@AlanHoldren</a> <a href=”https://t.co/bTImvXRNV9″>pic.twitter.com/bTImvXRNV9</a></p>&mdash; Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) <a href=”https://twitter.com/cnalive/status/692272871717093376″>January 27, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script> He pointed to the story of Joseph and his brothers, the sons of Jacob, and lamented that like them, many families today also have problems, including relatives who are distant and don’t speak to one another. The Holy Year of Mercy, he said, “is a good occasion to come back, to embrace and forgive one another, and to forget the bad things.” On the other hand, the Pope noted that even though God had been generous with the people of Israel, life in Egypt “was difficult” for them. But it was precisely when the Israelites were ready to give in “that the Lord intervened and brought salvation.” “When the Israelites were suffering, they cried out to God. God heard their cry, God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” the Pope recalled. “Mercy cannot remain indifferent in front of the suffering of the oppressed, the cry of those who are subjected to violence, reduced to slavery, condemned to death,” he continued. Francis then noted that these painful realities effect every age, including ours, and can make one feel powerless. The temptation can also arise to harden one’s heart to suffering and to “think about something else” instead, he said. But God, on the other hand, “is not indifferent, he never takes his eyes off of human pain. The God of mercy responds and takes care of the poor, of those who cry out in their desperation.” “God listens and intervenes in order to save, arousing men who are capable of hearing the groan of suffering and to work in favor of the oppressed,” the Pope said, recalling the figure of Moses. Just as with Moses, who was God’s instrument in liberating the people of Israel, “the mercy of God always acts to save,” Pope Francis said, adding that this divine mercy “reaches everyone.” The Lord offers each individual a special relationship of “personal, exclusive and privileged love,” he said, explaining that humanity is like a special treasure for God, his “personal reserve of gold and silver.” “The mercy of the Lord renders man precious, like a personal wealth that belongs to him, that he cares for and in which he is welcomed,” he said. We become this treasure, Francis observed, to the extent that we uphold his covenant with us, which has been “consummated” in the blood of Jesus, and to which we allow ourselves to be saved by him. Since we are children of God, also we, like Moses, have the opportunity to receive the inheritance “of goodness and mercy toward others,” the Pope observed. “We (can) do acts of mercy, opening our hearts to reach everyone with the works of mercy, which are the merciful inheritance that God the Father has had with us.” Read more

What is Pope Francis going to say in Mexico about immigration?

Vatican City, Jan 27, 2016 / 03:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Pope Francis’ weeklong visit to Mexico draws near, anticipation is building not just for the presence of the Successor of Peter, but also for how he will respond to hot-button topics such… Read more

In Myanmar, the Good Shepherd sisters celebrate 150 years of mission

Yangon, Burma, Jan 27, 2016 / 01:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A century and a half ago, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd took their mission of evangelization and service to what is now Myanmar, or Burma. This year, they’re celebrating their anniversary jubilee in the country. “The journey of 150 years reminds us to honor the past, celebrating the present and to nurture a legacy of our mission for the future with hope,” Sister Elizabeth Joseph, R.G.S., told CNA Jan. 19. On Jan. 16 the sisters held a jubilee thanksgiving Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Yangon. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, said the Mass. “It’s a joyful moment for our communities to be grateful to God and pay tribute to our founding members and missionaries who bravely dedicated their lives serving Christ through their service despite tough moments,” Sr. Elizabeth said. The Good Shepherd sisters launched a year of spiritual preparation for the jubilee. Its members reflected on themes like “Rooted in God and in Reality,” “Remembering the Past with Gratitude,” “Embracing Challenges with Hope” and “Taking Risks Together for Mission.” The preparations included spiritual retreats, reflections and monthly community sharing. Sr. Elizabeth said these helped deepen the sisters’ spirituality and strengthen their vision and mission “in the footsteps of our founding members.” The preparations produced “deep joy and gratitude.” “We are committed to the Gospel values of justice, mercy, respect, human dignity and reconciliation for creating a better world,” Sr. Joseph emphasized. Cardinal Bo, the first cardinal from Myanmar, used his homily at the jubilee Mass to praise the contributions and service of the Good Shepherd sisters in the country. He noted the sisters’ ministry in serving the disadvantaged, marginalized and oppressed. He praised their role in the development of the country, and compared the sisters’ history to Myanmar’s most prominent river, the Irrawaddy. “It flows to give life to the whole of Myanmar,” the cardinal said. “The Good Shepherd sisters carry  a mission of reconciliation, searching for the lost, healing the wounded, sharing merciful love…. which will continue to flow,” Cardinal Bo continued. At the conclusion of Mass, Sr. Regina Htoo, R.S.G., provincial superior for Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, delivered a message of gratitude. She thanked God and everyone who accompanied the journey of the congregation. She summarized the words of the sisters’ foundress, St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier: “gratitude is the memory of the heart.” The Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd was founded by St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier. Gregory XVI approved its establishment in 1835 in Angers, France. The Good Shepherd Sisters answered a request for help from Bishop Paul Ambrose Bigandet, the first apostolic vicar of Lower Myanmar, arriving in 1866.   The pioneering sisters experienced many trials in the underdeveloped region inhabited by myriad ethnic tribes. The people suffered poverty, ethnic civil wars, illiteracy, and corruption. On top of this, the country suffered natural disasters like drought and floods. Low-technology farming, poor communication, and poor transportation systems also posed barriers. In the 1960s the country went through a nationalization drive accompanied by an ideology of Burmese socialism. The anti-Western trend included xenophobia that worked to suppress the missionaries and isolate the country. The trends had disastrous impacts on the country’s economy and worsened poverty. Christian institutions were seen with suspicion and considered foreign. They were confiscated, and all nuns and missionaries were driven out of the country and the institutions fell into the hands of corrupt and unqualified staff. This led to the deterioration of education, health and social services in the country. Meanwhile, a few Good Shepherd sisters returned in 1973 to re-establish the Good Shepherd missions. They engaged themselves in teaching catechism and the English language in seminaries. From 1973 to the present, the Good Shepherd mission has grown remarkably in pastoral activities. The sisters are active in several dioceses and have established a strategic network with the local administration and NGOs. There are more than 50 sisters serving in over six communities in Myanmar. The sisters now help provide education and vocational training for young women in social crisis. The sisters are active in healthcare. They run a boarding school for poor girls and day-care centers for HIV-positive children and the children of parents living with HIV or drug addiction. The sisters also care for prostitutes, women at risk of human trafficking, and street children. They are active in prison ministry, social outreach and advocacy programs on human rights and dignity, gender equality, pro-life issues, ecology, justice and peace. They are active in interreligious dialogue, especially with Buddhists who constitute the majority religion in Myanmar. Read more

Is Boko Haram on the run in Nigeria?

Ibadan, Nigeria, Jan 27, 2016 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of southwest Nigeria have praised the country’s apparent progress towards countering the Boko Haram insurgency. “Occurrences of senseless killing by the Boko Haram have decreased and many displaced people are apparently returning to their former homes. We prayerfully congratulate the Nigerian Army and the security forces for their sacrifice and commitment,” the Catholic bishops of the Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province said. “We appeal to the government that the current general vigilance in the area of security be sustained so as to forestall a recurrence of the worst days of insurgency in Nigeria. In the meantime we plead that great care be taken to avoid punishing innocent people for the crimes of the guilty insurgents.” The Islamist extremist group Boko Haram began a violent uprising in northern Nigeria in 2009. It seeks to impose an Islamic state. An estimated 20,000 people have been killed in the uprising, while 2.3 million may have been driven from their homes. The group became notorious around the world after its partisans kidnapped over 200 girls from a school in Chibok in 2014. The group’s activities have expanded into Cameroon. The bishops of the Ibadan region said that the public in Nigeria tends to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is well intentioned and is working hard to address critical problems like the insurgency and corruption. The province’s bishops issued their statement at the close of their first plenary meeting of 2016, held Jan. 18-19. The province includes the Archdiocese of Ibadan and five other dioceses. Their message noted the Catholic Church’s Jubilee of Mercy. The year is intended “to remind all human beings of the mercy we enjoy from God the Father of all and to focus us on the role of Jesus Christ as the face and personification of God’s mercy.” The bishops echoed Pope Francis’ call for God’s mercy to be manifest wherever Christians are. “We call especially on all Catholics in Nigeria to seek God’s mercy through penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy which includes the mutual forgiveness of wrongs,” they added. The bishops outlined their “ABCs” of the Year of Mercy: ask for God’s mercy; be merciful; and communicate God’s mercy. “That so much injustice, violence and bloodshed permeate our society today is a clear indication that we all indeed need God’s mercy, for blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” the message continued. The bishops praised efforts to enhance and protect “the sanctity of human life, marriage and family in all areas of life.” They have authorized a pro-life, pro-family catechesis as a handbook on Church teaching. They also praised Catholic education efforts, while warning of a lack of resources and unjust takeovers of schools. The bishops discussed the economic downturn in Nigeria and emphasized the need to resolve conflicts over the payment of workers’ salaries. The controversy is causing “considerable hardship” among people in many Nigerian states. “Our leaders must avoid any sign of threat, arrogance or impunity in dealing with sensitive public challenges,” they said. “Most people are bearing the brunt of the current economic situation with everything they have and the leaders must not add more emotional trauma to their burden.” According to the bishops, Nigerians are happy to see prosecutions for embezzlement of public funds. They called for respect for the rights and dignity of the accused. Official lawlessness is “always toxic for public sanity,” they warned. The bishops noted the desire for peaceful co-existence and the need for “genuine, harmonious relations among religions.” They encouraged groups and individuals in interreligious work to foster interaction and collaboration among people of different religions. In their view, such efforts will help promote mutual understanding and prevent hatred and violence. Read more

Mercy, not magic – Archdiocese of Bombay clarifies Holy Doors and the Jubilee

Mumbai, India, Jan 26, 2016 / 04:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Bombay issued a clarification last week after WhatsApp users in Maharashtra were circulating a ‘misleading’ message which promoted a superstitious understanding of the Year of Mercy. The archdiocese’s Jan. 19 statement noted that the text “gives the impression that merely walking through the Doors of Mercy will result in the forgiveness of sins.” “These doors are not magical doors and we need to understand that to experience and obtain the indulgence, the faithful are called, as pilgrims, to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to participate in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy, make a profession of faith, and pray for the Holy Father and for his intentions for the good of the Church and of the entire world.” The archdiocese’s noted added, “It must be understood that walking through the Door of Mercy indicates the desire for the forgiveness of sins, and walking through it symbolises a leaving behind of the past and entering into a new life through Christ, who is the door.” “Please note that walking through the Holy Doors is not a substitute for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” A source in the Bombay archdiocese recounted to CNA that the misleading WhatsApp message was based on an article about the opening of the local Holy Doors which appeared in a local daily newspaper. The source added that the article had not entered deeply into the theological, sacramental, or liturgical significance of the Year of Mercy. The archdiocese has prepared catechetical resources to help the faithful participate in the year of Mercy. It is emphasizing that merely passing through the Holy Doors does not exempt one from the need for spiritual preparation through participation in the sacraments, and that it must be accompanied by a conversion of heart. Mumbai-area parishes are hosting catechetical seminars to help explain to the faithful the importance and meaning of the Year of Mercy. Pope Francis opened the Year of Mercy Dec. 8, 2015, and it will close Nov. 20, on the feast of Christ the King. The jubilee year includes Holy Doors in every diocese. When they pass through the doors pilgrims can receive a plenary indulgence – under the usual conditions. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay opened the Doors of Mercy at Mumbai’s Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount on Dec. 20, 2015. He   reminded the faithful: “This is the Lord’s Gate: let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness.” The doors were then opened, using the Bible as the key, with the following invocation, “Open the Gates of Justice; we shall enter and give thanks.” The cardinal in his homily at the Mass explained the characteristics and significance of the Holy Year and urged the faithful to “fix your eyes on Jesus”   and to be “agents of God’s mercy.” “No one should say that it is difficult to reach God and difficult to obtain mercy, for the Church is indeed the vehicle of mercy,” Cardinal Gracias said. “We are the Church and it becomes our Christian duty to spread the message of God’s mercy and reconciliation.” “With the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, we have direction; with the example of our religious leaders, we have motivation; and with God’s mercy through Jesus himself, we have a straight path.” Read more

Supreme letdown for North Dakota pro-lifers as Court won’t hear pro-life law

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2016 / 01:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court of the United States on Monday declined to hear a case that overturned North Dakota’s limits on abortion to before a fetal heartbeat can be detected. A state pro-life g… Read more

Religious liberty at center of Pope’s meeting with Iranian president

Vatican City, Jan 26, 2016 / 09:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis met with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for the first time, an encounter that focused heavily on human rights, religious freedom, and an end to the spread of terrorism. Originally scheduled to take place in November, Rouhani’s visit was canceled at the last minute due to the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks in Paris. It also follows the lifting of international sanctions against the country after a long-anticipated nuclear agreement was reached in July.  The Jan. 26 meeting between Francis the Iranian president took place in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, and lasted 40 minutes. Rouhani was accompanied by a delegation of 12 persons, all of whom were men save an Iranian woman who served as one of two interpreters assisting during the encounter. Rouhani spoke in Farsi, while Pope Francis spoke in Italian. A Vatican communique described the meeting between Francis and Rouhani as cordial, and centered largely on relations between the Holy See and Iran, the life of the Church in the country, and the actions of the Holy See in promoting the dignity of the human person and religious freedom. Though no mention was explicitly made of Iran’s role in the Syrian and Iraq conflicts, the topic was likely a key point of discussion, as well as the condition of Christians across the Middle East. However, the Vatican communique did note that Iran’s important role in the region in promoting “suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East, to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking” was spoken about, as well that of other countries. “In this respect, the parties highlighted the importance of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace,” the communique said. Discussion also touched on the conclusion and application of the recently-agreed to Nuclear Accord. After months of negotiation representatives of the United States, Iran, and other nations met in Vienna in July, reaching a long-awaited deal aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of international economic sanctions. Nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted on the condition that country abides by the framework set, however, sanctions related to terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles remain. Rouhani’s meeting with Pope Francis is part of a larger European tour that will also take him to Paris, and marks the first time an Iranian president or head of government has visited Europe since 1999. As is customary during papal encounters with heads of state, both Francis and Rouhani exchanged gifts once their conversation was over. Pope Francis gifted the Iranian president a large medal of St. Martin cutting off part of his cloak to give to a poor man, telling him, “it’s a sign of brotherhood.” The Pope also gave Rouhani copies of his 2015 encyclical on the care for our common home, Laudato si’. Since it hasn’t yet been translated into Farsi, Francis gave the president copies in both Arabic and English. For his part the Iranian president gave Francis a large tapestry, which he explained “was made by hand in the holy city of Qom,” which sits just southwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. He also gave the Pope a large book with colorful illustrations. As the two were headed to the door, Francis thanked Rouhani for the visit, and said that “I hope for peace.” In turn, the Iranian president asked the Pope for prayers. After speaking with the Pope, Rouhani subsequently met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as well as the Secretary of Relations with the States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. Read more