Prominent Republican Political Leaders Sign Brief in Favor of Gay Marriage

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According to the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the gay rights organization that brought the original lawsuit seeking the overturn of California’s Proposition 8, 131 prominent Republicans have signed an amicus curiae brief supporting gay marriage.

This brief seeks to influence the United States Supreme Court in its upcoming rulings on the legal standing of marriage in the United States. The signers are mostly prominent Republicans who have held or currently hold powerful government positions either as elected officials or as part of Republican presidential administrations. A number of these people have had lifelong careers bouncing from one prominent position to another in the service of the Republican Party. Based on that, I would assume that they are total, absolute party hacks. I also believe that when they sign a petition like this, it indicates something real is happening inside the party deep-thinking processes.

To put it bluntly, if you are a so-called “values” voter who has been supporting the Republican party because of their “moral” positions, you have been sold out. This doesn’t surprise me at all. It is nothing more than a public manifestation of what I have seen up close and personal as an elected official. Political parties are about power. All they care about is getting power and keeping power. Everything else they say is a lie. 

Gay marriage advocates have stated that they are hopeful that this brief, with its prominent Republican signers, will influence the conservative members of the Supreme Court in their deliberations on the issue of gay marriage.

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: People of faith can no longer vote for either party and feel that they are voting in line with their beliefs. 

Here is the list of the brief’s signers so far:

Republican Party Officials, Fundraisers 

  • Kenneth B. Mehlman, Chairman, Republican National Committee, 2005-2007
  • Alex Castellanos, Republican Media Advisor
  • Tyler Deaton, Secretary, New Hampshire Young Republicans, 2011-Present
  • Jeff Cook-McCormac, Senior Advisor, American Unity PAC
  • Ken Spain, Communications Director, National Republican Congressional Committee, 2009-2010
  • Sally A. Vastola, Executive Director, National Republican Congressional Committee, 2003-2006
  • Jacob P. Wagner, Chairman, New Hampshire Federation of College Republicans, 2012-Present
  • Cyrus Krohn, eCampaign Director, Republican National Committee, 2007-2009
  • Mark McKinnon, Republican Media Advisor

Bush (W) Administration Officials

  • Tim Adams, Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, 2005-2007
  • John B. Bellinger III, Legal Adviser to the Department of State, 2005-2009
  • William A. Burck, Deputy Staff Secretary, Special Counsel, and Deputy Counsel to the President, 2005-2009
  • Mary Cheney, Director of Vice Presidential Operations, Bush-Cheney 2004, 2003-2004
  • Thomas J. Christensen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 2006-2008
  • James B. Comey, U.S. Deputy Attorney General, 2003-2005
  • R. Clarke Cooper, U.S. Alternative Representative, United Nations Security Council, 2007-2009
  • Julie Cram, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, 2007-2009
  • Michele Davis, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Director of Policy Planning, Department of the Treasury, 2006-2009
  • Alicia Davis Downs, Associate Political Director, White House, 2001-2003
  • Christian J. Edwards, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Press Advance, 2005-2007
  • Lew Eisenberg, Finance Chairman, Republican National Committee, 2002-2004
  • Mark J. Ellis, State Chairman, Maine Republican Party, 2005-2006 and 2007-2009
  • Charles Freeman, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for China Affairs, 2002-2005
  • David Frum, Author and Special Assistant to the President, 2001-2002
  • Reed Galen, Director of Scheduling and Advance, Bush-Cheney 2004, 2003-2004
  • Benjamin Ginsberg, National Counsel, Bush-Cheney 2000 and 2004
  • Josh Ginsberg, National Field Director, Romney for President, 2007-2008
  • Juleanna Glover, Press Secretary to the Vice President, 2001-2002
  • Adrian Gray, Director of Strategy, Republican National Committee, 2005-2007
  • Richard Grenell, Spokesman, U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations, 2001-2008
  •  Israel Hernandez, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, 2005-2009
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Director, Congressional Budget Office, 2003-2005
  • Margaret Hoover, Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, 2005-2006
  • Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary of Commerce, 2005-2009
  • Stephen Hadley, Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor, 2005-2009
  • David A. Javdan, General Counsel, U.S. Small Business Administration, 2002-2006
  • Reuben Jeffery, Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs, 2007-2009
  • Greg Jenkins, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Presidential Advance, 2003-2004
  • Coddy Johnson, National Field Director, Bush-Cheney 2004, 2003-2004
  • Neel Kashkari, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, 2008-2009
  • Theodore W. Kassinger, Deputy Secretary of Commerce, 2004-2005
  • Jeffrey Kupfer, Chief of Staff and Acting Deputy Secretary, Department of Energy, 2006-2009
  • Catherine Martin, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Communications Director for Policy and Planning, 2005-2007
  • Kevin Martin, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, 2005-2009
  • David McCormick, Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, 2007-2009
  • Bruce P. Mehlman, Assistant Secretary of Commerce, 2001-2003
  • Michael Napolitano, White House Office of Political Affairs, 2001-2003
  • Susan Neely, Special Assistant to the President, 2001-2002
  • Noam Neusner, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Speechwriting, 2002-2005
  • Meghan O’Sullivan, Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, 2005-2007
  • Richard Painter, Associate Counsel to the President, 2005-2007
  • Michael Powell, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, 2001-2005
  • Nancy Pfotenhauer, Regulatory Advisor, Romney for President, 2008, and Economist, Presidential Transition Team, 1988
  • Gregg Pitts, Director, White House Travel Office, 2006-2009
  • J. Stanley Pottinger, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, 1973-1977
  • Luis Reyes, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Assistant to the President, 2006-2009
  • Tom Ridge, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1995-2001, and Secretary of Homeland Security, 2003-2005
  • Mark A. Robbins, General Counsel, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2001-2006
  • Kelley Robertson, Chief of Staff, Republican National Committee, 2005-2007
  • Brian Roehrkasse, Director of Public Affairs, Department of Justice, 2007-2009
  • Harvey S. Rosen, Chairman and Member, Council of Economic Advisers, 2003-2005
  • Lee Rudofsky, Deputy General Counsel, Romney for President, 2012
  • Patrick Ruffini, eCampaign Director, Republican National Committee, 2005-2007
  • Corry Schiermeyer, Director for Global Communications, National Security Council, 2005-2007
  • Steve Schmidt, Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Vice President, 2004-2006, and Senior Advisor, John McCain for President, 2008
  • Faryar Shirzad, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, 2004-2006
  • Robert Steel, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance, 2006-2008
  • Mark Wallace, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Representative for UN Management and Reform, 2006-2008
  • Nicolle Wallace, Assistant to the President and White House Communications Director, 2005-2008
  • Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, 2001-2005, and President of the World Bank Group, 2005-2007

Bush (George) Administration Officials 

  • Jim Cicconi, Assistant to the President and Deputy to the Chief of Staff, 1989-1990
  • Kenneth M. Duberstein, White House Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President, 1981-1984 and 1987-1989
  • Jonathan Kislak, Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for Small Community and Rural Development, 1989-1991

Ronald Reagan Administration Officials

  • David Stockman, Director, Office of Management and Budget, 1981-1985
  • Elizabeth Noyer Feld, Public Affairs Specialist, White House Office of Management and Budget, 1984-1987
  • Robert Kabel, Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, 1982-1985

Romney Presidential Campaign Staff

  • Katie Biber, General Counsel, Romney for President, 2007-2008 and 2011-2012
  • David Kochel, Senior Iowa Advisor, Mitt Romney for President, 2007-2008 and 2011-2012
  • Alex Lundry, Director of Data Science, Romney for President, 2012
  • Beth Myers, Romney for President Campaign Manager, 2007-2008 and Senior Advisor, 2011-2012

John McCain Presidential Campaign

  • Ana Navarro, National Hispanic Co-Chair, John McCain for President, 2008
  • Jill Hazelbaker, Communications Director, John McCain for President, 2007-2008

Republican Elected Officials

  • Susan Molinari, Member of Congress, 1990-1997
  • Connie Morella, Member of Congress, 1987-2003, and U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2003-2007Charles Bass, Member of Congress, 1995-2007 and 2011-2013
  • Mary Bono Mack, Member of Congress, 1998-2013
  • Paul Cellucci, Governor of Massachusetts, 1997-2001, and Ambassador to Canada, 2001-2005
  • B.J. Nikkel, Colorado State Representative and Majority Whip, 2009-2012, and District Director for Marilyn Musgrave, Member of Congress, 2002-2006
  • Ruth Ann Petroff, Wyoming State Representative, 2011-Present
  • Larry Pressler, U.S. Senator from South Dakota, 1979-1997, and Member of Congress, 1975-1979
  • Deborah Pryce, Member of Congress, 1993-2009
  • John Reagan, New Hampshire State Senator, 2012-Present
  • Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Member of Congress, 1989-Present
  • Adam Schroadter, New Hampshire State Representative, 2010-Present
  • Christopher Shays, Member of Congress, 1987-2009
  • Nancy Stiles, New Hampshire State Senator, 2010-Present
  • Jane Swift, Governor of Massachusetts, 2001-2003
  • Richard Tisei, Massachusetts State Senator 1991-2011, and Senate Minority Leader 2007-2011
  • William F. Weld, Governor of Massachusetts, 1991-1997, and Assistant U.S. Attorney General, Criminal Division, 1986-1988
  • Christine Todd Whitman, Governor of New Jersey, 1994-2001, and Administrator of the EPA, 2001-2003
  • Janet Duprey, New York State Assemblywoman, 2007-Present
  • Dan Zwonitzer, Wyoming State Representative, 2005-present
  • Mark Grisanti, New York State Senator, 2011-Present
  • Patrick Guerriero, Mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts, and Member of Massachusetts House of Representatives, 1993-2001
  • Richard L. Hanna, Member of Congress, 2011-Present
  • Michael Huffington, Member of Congress, 1993-1995
  • Jon Huntsman, Governor of Utah, 2005-2009, and Ambassador to China, 2009-2011
  • Gary Johnson, Governor of New Mexico, 1995-2003, and Libertarian Party Nominee for President, 2012
  • Nancy L. Johnson, Member of Congress, 1983-2007
  • James Kolbe, Member of Congress, 1985-2007
  • Thomas A. Little, Vermont State Representative, 1992-2002 and Chairman of the Vermont House Judiciary Committee, 1999-2002

Prominent Republican Business Associates

  • Cliff S. Asness, Businessman, Philanthropist, and Author
  • David D. Aufhauser, General Counsel, Department of the Treasury, 2001-2003
  • David C. Chavern, Business Association Executive
  • Meg Whitman, Republican Nominee for Governor of California, 2010
  • Daniel S. Loeb, Businessman and Philanthropist

Republican Think-Tankers, Cultural Supports, Media Stars

  • S.E. Cupp, Author and Political Commentator
  • Robert Wickers, Republican Political Consultant
  • Clint Eastwood, Producer, Director, Actor, and Mayor of Carmel, California, 1986-1988
  • Mark Gerson, Chairman, Gerson Lehrman Group and Author of The Neoconservative Vision: From the Cold War to the Culture Wars and In the Classroom: Dispatches from an Inner-City School that Works
  • N. Greg Mankiw, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, 2003-2005
  • Michael E. Murphy, Republican Political Consultant

Newt Gingrich (Speaker of the House) Staffers

  • Richard Galen, Communications Director, Speaker’s Political Office, 1996-1997
  • Ed Kutler, Assistant to the Speaker of the House, 1995-1997

Republican Congressional Staff

  • John Goodwin, Chief of Staff to Raul Labrador, Member of Congress, 2011-2013
  • Kathryn Lehman, Chief of Staff, House Republican Conference, 2003-2005

Aaron McLear, Press Secretary to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2007-2011

Marriage March

Freedom of Religion Legislative Action Alert

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I received the following legislative action alert concerning the HHS Mandate in an email this morning. 

The alert asks people to contact their Congresspeople urging them to make the repealing the HHS Mandate a sticking point in the Fiscal Cliff/Sequester fight currently going on in Congress right now.

In my opinion, our supporters in Congress should have done this a year ago, before the Mandate took effect. But, later is much better than never. 

You can contact your Senators and Representatives by calling their local offices or you can do it by email. To learn who your elected officials in Washington are, and get their phone numbers and email addresses, go here

This is the full text of the alert, which comes from the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment:

In 2012, the Obama Administration’s contraceptive and sterilization mandate went into effect for most employers. Congress is preparing to consider “must-pass” appropriations legislation. Needed conscience protection provisions should be made a part of this legislation. Today please urge your Representative and two Senators to take action to protect conscience rights and religious liberty!

Recommended Actions:

  • Send an e-mail through NCHLA’s Grassroots Action Center: Click Here
  • Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or call your Members’ local offices. Additional contact info can be found on Members’ web sites at: www.senate.gov andwww.house.gov

Suggested Message: “Please support legislation to protect the rights of conscience in health care when you take up ‘must-pass’ bills such as a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government. Government must not force Americans to violate their religious and moral beliefs on respect for life when they provide health care or sponsor or purchase health coverage. The Administration’s contraceptive mandate forces health coverage to include sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that can cause an abortion, even when employers and employees have moral or religious objections.”

When: Congress may consider “must-pass” appropriations legislation such as a Continuing Resolution as early as the week of March 4. Please contact your Representative and two Senators today! 

Background

In a February 15 letter to Congress, Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, described specific conscience protection provisions and why they are needed, concluding: “I urge you in the strongest terms possible to incorporate the provisions described above in the upcoming legislative proposals to fund the federal government.” See:nchla.org/datasource/idocuments/LoriLttr021513.pdf.

Under the new health care law, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requires most health plans to cover “preventive services for women,” including services that many citizens find objectionable for moral and religious reasons. These objectionable services include sterilization, FDA-approved birth control (such as the IUD, Depo-Provera, ‘morning-after’ pills, and the abortion-inducing drug Ella), and “education and counseling” to promote these to all “women of reproductive capacity,” including minor girls. The HHS mandate allows only a very narrow exemption for a “religious employer.”

On February 1, HHS released a new “proposed rule” that goes into greater detail on the “accommodation” but continues to allow only a very narrow exemption, chiefly aimed at what it calls “houses of worship.” Other religious organizations offering education, health care and charitable services to all in need do not qualify for the exemption. There is no exemption or delay for individuals, or for businesses owned and operated by individuals with moral or religious objections.

Pope’s Last Angelus Message: The Lord is Calling Me to Climb the Mountain

The Holy Father gave his last Angelus meditation as pope to huge crowds today.

It was a beautiful good-bye, in which he said:

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength.

The complete text of the Holy Father’s Angelus address is below. You can find it on the Vatican Radio website:

Dear brothers and sisters!

On the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy always presents us with the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The evangelist Luke places particular emphasis on the fact that Jesus was transfigured as he prayed: his is a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John , the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master (Luke 5:10, 8.51, 9.28).
The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection (9:22), offers his disciples a foretaste of his glory. And even in the Transfiguration, as in baptism, we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father, “This is my Son, the Chosen One listen to him” (9:35). The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, it is highly significant: the whole history of the Alliance is focused on Him, the Christ, who accomplishes a new “exodus” (9:31) , not to the promised land as in the time of Moses, but to Heaven. Peter’s words: “Master, it is good that we are here” (9.33) represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience. St. Augustine says: “[Peter] … on the mountain … had Christ as the food of the soul. Why should he come down to return to the labours and pains, while up there he was full of feelings of holy love for God that inspired in him a holy conduct? “(Sermon 78.3).

We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. “The Christian life – I wrote in my Message for Lent – consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love “(n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.

I offer a warm greeting to all the English-speaking visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School. I thank everyone for the many expressions of gratitude, affection and closeness in prayer which I have received in these days. As we continue our Lenten journey towards Easter, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the Redeemer, whose glory was revealed on the mount of the Transfiguration. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Miracle Story: An Eyewitness to the Miracle at Fatima Remembers

Thousands of people witnessed the miracle at Fatima, October 13, 1917

My virtual friends, who blog at Biltrix, penned a wonderful post yesterday that I want to share with you.

Our Lady appeared to three Portuguese shepherd children in 1917. She prophesied the rise of communism in Russia and said that the way to end communism in Russia was to consecrate the nation to her Sacred Heart.

I didn’t know about this when the Soviet Union, after almost a century of threats and saber rattling, just dissolved. I did know that what was happening defied everything that history had taught us about despots, and dictators who grasp for world domination. These people don’t stop until guns and bullets stop them.

And yet, that is what happened. Many people gave many explanations, but nothing really explained it. It made no sense.

There is an old song that was popular a few years before the Soviet union dissolved itself called “Lawyers in Love.”

The song was a whimsical, humorous piece that contained the line “and the Russians went away as Russians will.” The reason the line was in the song was because it was a joke to think that the Russians (meaning the Communists) would just “go away.” The whole world at that time was standing perpetually on the brink of nuclear annihilation because of the Cold War. The joke lay in the absurdity of the notion that the Communist Russian threat would ever end without bloodshed.

Soviet Union

Soviet Union

But that is precisely what happened … as it was foretold by Our Lady to three shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal.

John Paul II believed that the prophecies Our Lady gave at Fatima also foretold his own attempted assassination. I have been to Fatima and seen the bullet which wounded the Pope. It is amazing that he could have survived.

At her last appearance to the shepherd children, an appearance that was witnessed by thousands of pilgrims, she performed what we now call “The Miracle of the Sun.” The post that is reprinted here is an eyewitness account of that miracle.

I think it’s a wonderful addition to our Lenten reflections.

Father Jason Smith

Biltrix is written by a group of people. The following post, by Father Jason Smith, is printed here with permission.

“See I Told You She Would Come:”  Testimony of an Eye Witness at Fatima

Things become old much too quickly.

Imagine my delight, then, when last Friday I met someone who told me his Grandmother was present on October 13, 1917 at Fatima; she was personally present at the moment when the sun danced and fell out of the sky.

Suddenly Fatima jumped out of history like the sun did that day and became relevant and modern to me.

I jotted down the account she had told him so I would not miss any of the details. I write it here because, first of all, it’s a miraculous story, and second of all, even if we might already know what happened at Fatima, an eyewitnesses account of a miracle always serves to freshen the memory and more importantly our faith.

News spread throughout the village that Lucia de Jesus and Francisco and Jacinta Marto—whose feast day it is today, February 20th—had received an apparition of a “lady brighter then the sun.” The Lady was holding a Rosary and told the children to return for five consecutive months, on the thirteenth of each month; moreover, on the day of the last apparition there would be a sign visible to all. That day had finally arrived.

His grandmother left her nine year old brother to watch the sheep and headed out into the driving rain and dropping temperature. The ground was completely muddy and the rocks were slippery. Over seventy thousand people had made the trek that morning, making the traveling conditions even worse. By the time she reached the apparition sight she was covered head to toe in mud and her clothes were completely soaked.

All types of people had gathered: those with faith who knelt and prayed the Rosary, those who were curious, and then there were the communists and atheists, many of whom were cursing, chiding, and yelling out cat-calls to Jacinta and Lucia. As the time went on and conditions worsened, it seemed as though nothing would happen and it became very tense among the people.

Then the rain stopped and the clouds parted. The sun shined and began to change colors and spin around itself in a mad whirl. It glittered and began to whirl even more wildly. Suddenly it loosened itself from the sky and fell threateningly toward the seventy thousand gathered below. People screamed. Many dropped face down into the mud or dropped to their knees. Those next to her who had been swearing began to cry for mercy. Then, just as quickly as it had started, it ended. The sun was back in its place.

Her hair, skin, and clothes were completely dry.  The ground around her was dry. There was no trace of mud on her. She felt completely clean, both inside and out. A man from her village who was crippled was able to walk. Several others who were sick were cured.

She prayed three Rosaries daily for the rest of her life in honor of what Mary asked, that we “say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to war.”

I know what my Lenten resolution will be this year: three daily Rosaries for peace. I invite you to the same.

If you haven’t seen it already I wholeheartedly recommend the 13th Day, an incredible film about the historic, but not ancient, event of Fatima.

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What if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

What would the world look like today if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

What if, when Satan offered Our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus had said yes?

What if, like the Saturday Night Live skit, dJesus, Our Savior had used his powers to force people to bend their knee to Him?

These questions strike to the heart of other questions. Why does God allow people to rape, torture and murder innocent children? Why would He allow cancer? Why doesn’t He stop us from harming one another so viciously?

Why, in short, does He tolerate a creation that rejects Him and what He has taught us to do and so often goes in the opposite and entirely cruel and destructive direction?

If He is God, why does He allow so much suffering?

I have heard people say things like this when they were in the extremities of pain and loss. Their question was not so much an accusation as it was a kind of prayer, a cry from the depths.

On the other hand, it has become fashionable in certain circles for privileged people to ask questions like these as a method of self-justification or simply as a way to attack faith. This  nonsense of blaming God for our sins is becoming an increasingly accepted way to brush aside personal responsibility for our actions. Instead of acknowledging what we have done wrong, we point out that someone else is doing just as bad or worse.

Who better to blame for all the sins of humanity than a God who has the power to stop us from harming one another and will not do it? So, the fashion of the day is misplaced blame. We hold God accountable for human depravity.

But what would happen if God stopped us from sinning? What would have happened if Jesus had been the kind of conquering messiah the Jewish people wanted? What, in short, would happen if God was more like us?

I am the first to admit that if I was God every rapist and child batterer on this planet would be a pile of ash. Poof! And they would be on their slimy way to hell.

But God doesn’t operate that way, even when we wish He would.

He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. 

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus said “No” to Satan’s offer of worldly power. He turned His back on the temptation to use His power for Himself, even for something as simple as turning stone to bread to eat when He was hungry. He said no to all of it, and by doing that took the first steps to the cross.

Our eternal salvation began with that series of “nos” to the prince of darkness and his tempting offers to make right with might.

The truth is that even when God directs us, he always leaves us the choice of saying no to Him. He sets before us life and death, and then He lets us chose. He gives us a radical type of freedom that allows us to literally do our worst, including mocking, criticizing and attacking Him.

When Jesus said no to the control of earthly kingdoms, He was also saying no to the use of force to convert us.

God’s Kingdom is made of free people who freely chose to follow Him. The narrow way is narrow precisely because so many people would rather go the way of power and license, of selfishness and greed rather than give themselves to a Lord Who chose suffering and death over all earthly power.

Why the cross? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross; beaten, tortured, mocked, naked and humiliated? Why was this necessary to save us? Why didn’t He just reach out and save us with a magical touch?

From the beginnings of Christianity to now the cross has been a scandal. It is the subject of mockery from today’s evangelical atheists just as it was the subject of mockery by the Romans. The Romans saw the cross as ignoble. It was shameful, a disgrace, to die in such a manner; proof that the person who suffered it was from the scum classes of society and essentially worthless. The idea that Christians claimed such a victim as their god was, to them, ludicrous.

Today’s atheists are not so class conscious. They hang their critiques on a distaste for the whole affair. They sneer at the bloodshed and suffering and rebuke Christians for what they claim is a morbid worship of death.

But in truth the cross was the greatest gift of love ever given to humankind. The cross was not the only way God could have saved us. But it was the only way He could have done it and left us free.

Frank Weathers, who blogs at Why I Am Catholic, published an interesting post a few days ago. He commented on the Saturday Night Live skit, DJesus, that mocked our Lord by casting him as a violent, vengeful killer who wreaked havoc on everyone who ever crossed Him. Frank raised the question, “What would things be like if Jesus had been this vengeful god the skit portrayed?”

I think another way to ask that question is, What would things be like if Jesus had said yes to Satan in the wilderness?

The answer is probably along the lines of Jesus as He is portrayed in the SNL skit, only much worse than anything we can imagine. People of the first century were accustomed to gods who hungered for power — over each other, and over human beings. Humanity had long worshiped various deities who craved death and demanded that their followers slaughter their children, captives and other helpless ones as sacrifices to them.

How is that so different from our current culture of abortion, euthanasia and meaningless wars? St Augustine said these early gods were in fact demons. If he was right, then it appears these same demons are working through people today. They have not changed their tactics. They have only changed their names and their arguments.

God doesn’t allow suffering. He allows us our freedom and we cause the suffering. God doesn’t rape and torture. He doesn’t send drones, tell lies and ignore the elderly, sick, poor and helpless in our midst. We do that.

What God does is allow us to choose who we will serve. Jesus was born in a stable and died on a cross to open a path to salvation and eternal life for us. He suffered all this because by suffering it  He could both redeem us and leave us free to reject the redemption He offered.

God lets us chose. He sets before us life and death and then He lets us chose. That is the way things are because on that day so long ago, Jesus made His own choice. He said “no” to satan and turned His face to the path that led Him to the cross.

Atheists Give Up Sleeping In On Sunday, Klingons and Tribbles

 

Atheists in London have started their own church, called The Sunday Assembly.

The first services were conducted by  a stand-up comedian, whose homily seemed to amount to jibes at Christianity. The whole affair appears to have been topped off with a singalong.

Trendy.

Cute.

And reflective of the deep human longings which atheism denies. People want faith. They need it. There is, in each of us, a God-shaped hole. We can try to fill it with all sorts of things, but nothing will suffice except God Himself.

I think that is why atheists are the most God-obsessed people you will ever hope to meet.They read the Bible more than Billy Graham, talk about Church teachings more than the Pope and generally talk/think and obsess over God more than a while monastery of praying monks put together.

Witness their bizarre obsession with commenting on this blog. It would appear that they want nothing more out of life than to come in here, dump off a load of mindlessly repetitive atheist rhetoric and start a few fights. Part of this is due to their equally bizarre evangelistic fervor, but most of it seems to be just a plain old obsessive/compulsive demand that I allow them to smear their insults and nastiness all over this blog.

They act like Public Catholic was the last lifeboat off the Titanic and they were standing on the tilting deck, fighting for their lives.

Now I read that they’ve put together a faux church in England, which has been so successful that they’re planning to open a branch office in Scotland. There are remarks about how they can now have the community of church without all that tiresome dogma.

Excuse me, but are they seriously contending that atheism doesn’t have a dogma? If that’s what they think, I challenge them to go to one of these gatherings and say something even slightly traditionally moral such as … ummm … abortion kills a living child. Say it and back off and watch the fireworks.

Atheists most certainly do have a dogma; and an ugly, death-dealing dogma it is.

There should be nothing odd about this, since atheism itself is based on the ultimate death-dealing dogma of turning your back on God. After you’ve done that, there’s not much death dealing left that can top it.

I don’t know if these atheist faux church services will continue to thrive after the novelty has worn off. I do know that during my anti-God period, I never once thought it would be a good idea to get up on Sunday morning and go to a singalong. Sleeping in on Sundays was one of the perks of my anti-God state, and I enjoyed it to the max.

However, if they do continue to draw crowds to these things, it won’t be long before they develop an official dogma of some sort. Atheism is not all that supportive of free thought. It’s also not all that supportive of freedom of action. My experience of associating with mostly atheists back in the 17 years of my anti-God period is that they are fiercely clannish and fiercely intolerant of anyone who disagrees with the core tenants of their disbelief.

This business of aggressively and openly attacking people of faith is new. Back in the day when I was walking with them, they shunned people of faith, made fun of them and lied to them, then laughed about it when they were together. The open attacks are a new flavor of atheism spawned mainly by the insult polemics written by a few of their tribe.

I don’t know of any sin that could have gotten me drummed out of that merry band of atheists. I mean it. Nothing offended them. Save one thing, which is what I did. I found Christ.

I didn’t have to tell them I’d found Christ for them to know it. That was my first intimation that there was more going on under the surface than any of us knew. My atheist buddies reacted to me after my conversion in much the same way that Tribbles react to Klingons. They were appalled by my presence.

That came as a big surprise to me, since I hadn’t said anything to them. I was a secret Christian at that stage, still trying to figure out what this new thing that had happened in my life meant for me. But they knew on a visceral and unthinking level that I had changed, and they reacted by getting as far away from me as they could. All they needed to add was to hold up an atheist A and shout “I cast you out, clean spirit!”

I know now that we were both dealing with powers and principalities, that atheism is not a simple intellectual choice, anymore than following Christ is a simple intellectual choice. Both of them involve a spiritual dimension that shapes our actions and reactions without our being aware of it.

I remarked once that God didn’t change what I did. He changed what I wanted to do.

The other side of this coin does the same.

In all my years of anti-Godism, I never experienced this, at least not fully. I think this was because I was never a true atheist. I didn’t actually pretend to be one. I made fun of believers, of Scripture, of traditional morality, but I always told people that I still believed there was a God. I even refused to do certain things and told people I still had too much belief in God to do them.

So I wasn’t even a pretend atheist. I was anti-God. I was also anti-religion. In fact, I would say that I was specifically anti-religion, with a side dish of God-can’t-or-won’t-help me.

God never deserted me in those years, never stopped calling me.

I don’t doubt that He’s calling many of the atheist cranks who are so frantic to climb aboard the good ship Public Catholic and lay waste to the place.

These atheist faux churches are a reflection of what St Augustine observed when he said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

I pray that these lost souls will find their way Home to that resting place before they die. How tragic for them if they don’t.

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Bishops: Make HHS Mandate a Bargaining Point in Fiscal Cliff Debates

The suggestion is late to the party, but it is about time it finally came.

The Roman Catholic Bishops here in America have finally asked Congressional supporters of religious freedom to do what they should have done in the first place: Make the HHS Mandate a bargaining chip in political “cliff” negotiations.

I’ve maintained all along that if the House Republicans had made the HHS Mandate the bargaining chip in the 2012 cliff fight over extending the debt limit, the HHS Mandate would never have gone into effect. It was one of those rare opportunities when political brinksmanship might have been about something besides the egos of the players and the wishes of the moneyed interests who control them.

What they did instead was engage in their usual fight to get more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

The bishops have finally decided to call for such action directly. They sent a letter to members of Congress, asking them to make the HHS Mandate a bargaining point in the next found of fiscal cliff stand-offs.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

In fact, it’s past time.

It’s not easy for political outsiders to see through the smoke and mirrors of political maneuvering. But it appears that the bishops are beginning to figure it out.

As usual, I support the bishops in this 100%.

A Reuters article describing the bishops’ letter says in part:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Roman Catholic bishops stepped up their battle against President Obama’s contraceptives policy on Friday by urging Congress to use its fiscal debate to free religious employers from a mandate requiring insurance coverage for birth control.

In a letter to all 535 members of Congress, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore suggested two provisions to extend existing federal conscience protections to the contraceptives mandate and strengthen the ability of opponents to seek vindication in federal court.

“The federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives,” wrote Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I urge you in the strongest terms possible to incorporate the provisions … in the upcoming legislative proposals to fund the federal government,” Lori added.

The conference also plans to send out an action alert via email and text message calling on supporters across the country to visit local congressional offices next week when lawmakers are home on break.

Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide health insurance coverage through group coverage plans for all contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including the so-called “morning after” pill.

The archbishop’s letter underscored a growing sense of urgency among church leaders over the birth control coverage rules that are due to take effect on August 1 for religiously affiliated employers including universities, hospitals and charities.

The bishops have tried several times to get Congress to act over the past year, amid numerous protests and more than 40 lawsuits by religious groups and employers. But Lori’s letter marks their first attempt to use the debates over deficit reduction, the debt limit and government funding.

“To many people, this looks like the main must-pass vehicle going through Congress this year,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the conference’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. (Read more here.)

Pope Benedict’s Last Mass: “The Church Belongs to Christ”

What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking.

He “appeared wan and spoke very softly.”

His homily was interrupted repeatedly by applause and he received a standing ovation.

A banner was strung at the back of the room reading “Grazie Santita” (Thank you Your Holiness.)

Today, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his last public mass as pope. 

“As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005,” he said. “I did this in full liberty for the good of the Church, after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act … I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfill the Petrine ministry with that strength that it demands …”

“… the path of power is not the road of God.” he added.

“ … I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me …

“… What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking …

“… Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope; the Lord will guide us!”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-i-can-almost-physically-feel-prayers-and-love#ixzz2Ko3f8rL8

Here are some photos of our papa’s last mass as pope, courtesy of Tom McDonald.

Remember: Thou Art Dust

And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth … 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust …

I am going to die.

You are going to die.

Public Catholic has enough regular readers that it is a statistical certainty that at least one of us, perhaps more, will die this year.

Our souls, as the Scriptures say, will be required of us.

We have unbelievers who post on this board who tell us that nothing awaits us when we close our eyes on this world, that we will simply drift into the nothingness of non-existence, go back to the dust from which we came, and cease.

Our ending, according to them, will be our end.

But this, quite simply, is not true. I doubt very much that the nonbelievers who say it actually believe it. They use it as a ruse to hide behind when dealing with the existential miseries that their bankrupt philosophy imposes on them. It is an odd and sad outlook on life that finds its comfort in a studied hope for annihilation.

The truth is, there is no death for us. We are immortal beings who will live on past our bodies. Most of us sense this in a deep and incontrovertible way that can either comfort or torment us, depending on what we do with this innate knowledge of our own natures.

God is real. I have felt and known Him. I experienced His Presence in my life as an inpouring of love that I neither expected or sought.

But — and this is something that so frightens unbelievers that they invariably become angry when you say it — the devil and his evil are also real. It is not fashionable to say that. I’ve had members of the clergy chide me and tease me for believing it. But I do not doubt the reality of a malicious personality that hates the light and craves annihilation. I have felt his presence, too.

“If you eat of the fruit, you will not die” he told the woman, and like all really effective lies, this one was partial truth. You will not die … today. That was the truth of it. Turn your back on God. Defy Him. Do your own thing. And you will not die … today.

God lies, Satan told the woman, just as he tells us today. God lies to you when He says “Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery or covet.” He doesn’t mean it when He says “Put no other gods before Me.”

He lies. Because he doesn’t want you to have the pretty things of this world, to be able to enjoy the sexual pleasures He created for you, to live as you choose with your own free and preeminent will. He lies, and you are a fool for listening to Him.

Because you are not dust. You are the Lord of creation, the master of your fate, the god of your own life. There is nothing to fear because there is nothing that matters. At the end of our days, there is nothing but nothing. We stop. And we rot. We are carrion meat that walks for a time. So we should, again as the Scriptures say, eat, drink and be merry.

Like all effective lies, this one contains a bit of truth mixed in with the untruth. “Eat and you will not die … today.”

“Ignore God now and there will be no reckoning … today.”

Because you are dust, and you will die, regardless of how you live. You can run ten miles a day and your heart will still stop at some unknown time in your future. You can eat spinach and beans and forego fast food and steak, but your arteries will still cease to pump blood on some day you don’t know yet.

You can break every moral precept in the Scriptures, and you will not die … today. You will live for a time and you may even appear to triumph over those who do not indulge their darker natures as you do. There will be no reckoning … today.

But God is real. He gives us every opportunity to turn to Him and live life His way. He lets us choose. He sets before us every day life and death, and He lets us freely choose which of these we want.

That is what Lent is about. It isn’t a matter of giving up candy or foregoing wine for forty days. It is not about wearing ashes on our foreheads like religious jewelry or meatless Fridays.

Lent is about conversion. It is about renewal by means of awareness that we need to be renewed. The penances of Lent are signposts to guide us to a knowledge that we are but dust and we have sinned, but that we are also immortal beings who will one day stand before the God Who made us.

Lent is a time of turning again to the roots of our being. It is going back to the garden and acknowledging that we too “are naked and ashamed” before God. We, too are, to paraphrase St Peter, “sinful men and women.” But instead of crying out as Peter did, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We can say, “come close to me Lord, for I am your broken child.”

The difference is the cross. The difference between despair and trust is the certain knowledge that we are bought at a terrible price and we do not have to be masters of our own fate. We do not have to feel our way blindly through life with no idea of what is right and wrong. We do not have to die an eternal death. We can have life, and have it abundantly. Because of the cross.

Lent is a time of penance and reflection in which we take an honest look at ourselves and our tawdry righteousness. Lent is for turning back to the One who can save us from ourselves. We are preparing to go to the cross where we will stand in solidarity with the rest of humanity, united in our sinfulness and our great need of Him and His redemption.

Lent is not about giving up candy and meatless Fridays. It is rather our gentle foretaste of Gethsemane.

Christian Persecution: 6 Quick Takes from Around the World

Agape Girgis, 13, abducted by radical Islamists.

Violent persecutors of Christians appear to be cowards as well as bigots. How else to interpret their propensity for preying on Christian clergy, women and children?

They especially seem to like abducting little girls.

There is a method to this evil. After all, if you destroy the young girls, you in effect doom your opponent to die out and die off. Mothers everywhere are the heart of any home and family.  Homes and families are the primary means of transmitting values and culture from one generation to the next. Given those two facts, these cowardly, totally unmanly attacks on women and little girls take on the shape and form of what they really are: A means of slow and deliberate genocide.

Christians are being attacked with what appears to be genocidal intent in a good part of the world today. They are being oppressed and imprisoned by legal discrimination in other areas. In much of the rest of the world, Christians are increasingly subjected to a barrage of mockery, hate speech and unceasing attempts to limit their sphere of influence.

I write these articles in an attempt to increase Christian awareness of what’s happening. We’ve been like the frog in the pan of water on the burner, unaware that the water is heating up and will eventually boil us to death.

Christians need to wake up.

Here are 6 quick takes on Christian persecution from around the world.

1

Egypt, 15 years in prison for mother and seven children, converts to Christianity
The case concerns Nadia Mohamed Ali, a mother of eight children, born Christian, but converted to Islam to marry her husband. After his death, she decides to return to her original religion with her children. The authorities accuse her of having changed names on documents to skip procedure.

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The criminal court of Beni Suef (115 km south of Cairo) has sentenced an entire family to prison for converting to Christianity. Nadia Mohamed Ali and her children Mohab, Maged, Sherif, Amira, Amir, and Nancy Ahmed Mohamed abdel-Wahab will spend 15 years in prison. Seven other people involved in the case were sentenced to five years in prison. (Read the Asia News article here.)

 

2

Lao Police Arrest Christian Pastors for Spreading Christian Religion

The Phin district police of Savannakhet province of Laos arrested and detained three Christian pastors for disseminating Christian religion. The incident took place approximately 5:00 p.m. on February 5, 2013, when three Christian pastors took a copy of a movie CD about the End Times to a local shop for making copies.

Police Lieutenant Khamvee accompanied by his two deputies stormed the shop and arrested the three pastors. The shop owner was also taken to the police station for further questioning but he was later released. However, the three pastors are being detained arbitrarily in the Phin district prison. (Read the rest of the Human Rights Watch article here.)
OVER 500 CHRISTIAN GIRLS KIDNAPPED BY MUSLIMS IN EGYPT SINCE REVOLUTION

Over 500 Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt since the revolution of January 2011; they are taken by Salafists who forcibly convert them to Islam and marry them to Muslim men against their will.

forced-conversion-egypt-4x3.jpg

The number of cases has been documented by the non-governmental Christian organisation Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which says that Salafist sheiks are behind nearly all of the abductions and the interior ministry colludes with them. (Read the rest of the Barnabas Fund article here.)

 

3

Christians are ‘Butchered Like Animals’ in Northern Nigeria

Christians are targeted and “butchered like animals” nearly every day in northern Nigerian cities, with little alarm sounded by the international community, according to a Voice Of the Martyrs worker. Christians are targeted in their homes, at their businesses, on farms, while traveling on highways and even in their churches.

“These Christians are imprisoned—though there may not be physical walls barricading them—but they are confined to one fate which is death by bombing, bullet, fire, cutlasses, machetes and economic hardship,” the VOM worker said. “Christians are not allowed to go to markets or farms, all for the sake of their faith in Christ Jesus.

“These Christians live as if every day were their last. Someone told me in one of the cities, ‘We are just but walking corpses on the street, waiting for our burial days.’ And although seen as second-class citizens, these Christians [in northern Nigeria] remain strong in their faith, and only wish to advance the gospel.” (Read the rest of the Charisma News article here. )

 

4

India: Kashmir Mob Tries to Lynch 12 Christian Tourists

Srinagar (AsiaNews) – On the basis of false allegations of forced conversions, more and more Christians in Kashmir are victims of persecution. This according to Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), after the attempted assault on a group of 12 foreign tourists, accused via Facebook of practicing forced conversions in Tangmarg area north of Jammu and Kashmir. The incident occurred late in the evening of 2 February.

Around 10 pm a crowd of people gathered in front of a hotel in Srinagar, the capital, throwing stones against the walls and asking for the immediate trial of foreigners, eight Americans and four Koreans. Intervening on the spot, the police searched luggage and documents of the tourists. On finding nothing, the officers dispersed the protesters. When checking their passports, the police reported that the group has also visited other Muslim countries, including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

The violent reaction was triggered by a photo published on the Facebook page Gulmarg News. The image shows three oriental girls, while the caption warns, “Caution Kashmir! Islam in Kashmir is under attack, Christians trying to convert Muslims,” recounting the testimony of a boy, who in exchange for chocolate would have been forced to recant Islam and convert to Christianity. (Read the rest of the AsiaNews story here.)

 

5

19 Christian Children Rescued from Radical Islamist Trafficker

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that 19 children, who were to be sold to fundamentalist Islamic boarding schools (madrassas), have been rescued.

Traffickers lied to the children’s parents, saying they would take the children to Christian boarding schools in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when in fact they were intending to sell the children to various madrassas. Students from Dhaka University discovered the children and rescued them. This is not the first instance of Christian children being trafficked to madrassas, as upwards of 150 children have been rescued from similar situations since July. (Read the rest of the Charisma News story here.)

 

6

Egypt: Christian Girl, 13, Abducted by Muslims

(AINA) — On December 23, 2012, 13-year-old Agape Essam Girgis from the village of Nahda, el-Ameriya, near Alexandria, went to school as usual. Failing to return home, the family knew that she went out of school accompanied by the Muslim social worker Heba and two teachers, one of the them a Salafist. She stayed missing for 9 days.

On December 31 state security contacted Bishop Pachomios and told him that they have the kidnapped girl. She was handed over to her family and the church priest where she stayed with his family for some time due to the terrible ordeal she experienced during her abduction.

Activist Ramy Attia Zakaria, of the April 6 Liberal Movement in Alexandria, interviewed Agape upon her return and said it is now confirmed that her Muslim social worker Heba was behind the abduction. “Agape left school with her and two teachers. The girl was drugged in the car to wake up in a secluded house with two sheikhs and an elderly woman,” Ramy said.

Agape said that during her stay with the Salafis sheikhs they tried to make her convert to Islam by saying the “Islamic Two Faith Confessions” but she refused. They forced her to wear the full veil and took photos of her in this dress. Agape said that she was beaten two or three times when she refused to convert to Islam.

After her release she was taken to el-Ameriya police station where she was told to say that “she has left home and went to el-Ameriya, where she found a sheikh and she told him that she wants to convert to Islam,” continued Ramy. When her family received her from the police station, her father, who works as a tailor, said they do not wish to accuse anyone in this case as he was pleased to get his daughter back. “Besides I have a younger daughter and I fear for her safety” said her father. Agape’s father and their church priest decided that she will not go back to school. Activist Ramy said that most of the Coptic inhabitants of Alexandria are refusing to send daughters older than 9 to school. He accused the Salafist Sheikh Sherif el-Hawary in el-Ameriya of being behind all abductions of Coptic girls in Alexandria and surrounding areas.

“From the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25, 2011 until January 26, 2013, over 500 girls have been abducted,” says Ebram Louis, founder of the Coptic non-governmental organization Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which handles cases of abducted Coptic minors. Louis blamed the interior ministry for all the disappearances of Coptic minors, saying the ministry colludes with the Muslims. “There is hardly a day which passes by without a Coptic girl disappearing.” (Read the rest of this Assyrian International News Agency story here.)

 


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