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Cardinal Dolan finds lesson in humility in life of Irish migrant who saw Our Lady

New York City, N.Y., May 24, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Irish immigrant named John Curry passed away in 1943 in New York City after a modest life.

But when he was reburied earlier this month, a large congregation gathered to remember the man who had witnessed the apparition of Our Lady of Knock.

Among those who honored his memory was Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who delivered the homily for Curry’s May 13 reburial Mass at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan.

“We remember this sincere, honest, holy immigrant John Curry, who we come to bury today with reverence for who he was, with reverence for the country from whence he came, with reverence for the nation where settled, with reverence for what he saw that August 21, 1879,” the cardinal said in his homily.

On that evening, fifteen men, women, and children, mainly from the village of Knock in County Mayo, saw an apparition at Knock parish.

They ranged in age from 5 to 74 years old. Curry was the youngest, there with his cousin Patrick Hill.

Some of the witnesses reported figures that appeared to be the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John at the parish church’s gable wall. Amid luminous lights, they saw the figure of a lamb and a cross on an altar. In the pouring rain, the witnesses stayed, praying the rosary.

Cardinal Dolan said Curry beheld the apparition “with the simplicity and sincerity of a little five-year-old boy.” Throughout the rest of his life, Curry was “a man whose only quiet boast was that he was an altar boy, from his childhood at Knock to his death at Sacred Heart Home with the Sisters of the Poor, rarely if ever missing daily Mass and Holy Communion.”

Curry would later leave Ireland for the United States, then spent time in London before moving once again to New York. He spent his last years with the Little Sisters of the Poor at Sacred Heart Home and was buried in a donated, unmarked grave at Pine Lawn Cemetery on Long Island.

His reburial at Manhattan’s historic old cathedral drew Irish and Irish-American leaders. Their numbers included a group of Irish pilgrims from Knock, including relatives of the never-married Curry.

As an immigrant who first came to New York at the age of 21, Curry “really only distinguished himself by his simplicity, his humility, his kindness and his piety,” Cardinal Dolan said at the Mass. John Curry’s faith in Christ “animated his tender care for the sick” at the New York hospital where he later worked.

At the age of 63, the cardinal recounted, Curry testified “that he recalled the vision of Jesus the Lamb of God, silently adored by his mother, St. Joseph and St. John, as if it were last night.”  

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph and St. John,” said the cardinal. “They’re here, and the communion of saints, as is true at every Eucharist... as is the spirit of John Curry.”

“Our eyes are on Mary, are they not?” Cardinal Dolan asked. “The mother of Jesus, given by him to us as a parting gift from his cross on Calvary as our own mother too. Our eyes are on Mary as she appeared in that little village in County Mayo, Knock, on Aug. 21, 1879 in company with her spouse, St. Joseph, her spiritual son St. John, all three of them in silent adoration of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

He also reflected on the place of immigrants in the United States.

“Our eyes this this morning as well are on the immigrant, as Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees once in Egypt,” he said.

“John Curry was but one of the millions of immigrants who came here to America, from Ireland to be sure, but from almost every nation in the atlas, to enrich this country mightily, and to make this nation a light to the world, through its embrace of the John Currys of the world--a light, my friends, we can not allow to grow dim today.”

According to Cardinal Dolan, Curry would say the day is not about him, but about Jesus and the Virgin Mary, of whom St. Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s promise to her would be fulfilled.”

The day of the reburial Mass coincided with the May 13 observance of the centenary of the Our Lady of Fatima apparition.

New York City event to discuss how faith, modernity intersect

New York City, N.Y., May 23, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An event exploring the interaction of the Christian faith with the modern world – in light of the writings of the founder of Communion and Liberation – will take place in New York City this summer.

The June 22 event, titled Christianity: An Encounter that Shapes Life, is the second annual Giussani series on Faith and Modernity. It will be presented by global ecclesiastical movement Communion and Liberation, Crossroads Cultural Center, and the Sheen Center in New York City.
 
The event is free and will focus on the heart of the Christian faith and true human encounter as described by Monsignor Luigi Giussani in his book, “Generating Traces in the History of the World.”

An Encounter that Shapes Life will feature discussions from Father Solanus Benfatti, a professor of Spirituality and Franciscan Traditions at St. Joseph's Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York, and Michael Waldstein, PhD, a professor of theology at Ave Maria University in Florida.
 
Communion and Liberation began to emerge in 1954 by Italian priest, Catholic thinker, and educator Msgr. Luigi Giussani. The movement focuses on the actualization of man's faith by living the Christian presence within community.

In his 1995 book “The Risk of Education,” Msgr. Giussani described the movement as “showing the relevance of faith to life's needs, and therefore – and this 'therefore' is important – showing that faith is rational, implies a specific concept of rationality.”

“When we say that faith exalts rationality, we mean that faith corresponds to some fundamental, original need that all men and women feel in their hearts.”

Crossroads Cultural Center was established in 2004 as an extension of Communion and Liberation. The group's mission is to foster knowledge of reality and life's meaning, as seen through the lens of Christian faith.

The event will be held at Sheen Center located in East Village of downtown New York City. The center is named after the previous archbishop of Rochester, Fulton Sheen, and hosts events which align to the truth, beauty, and goodness as expressed by the Catholic Church.

A life stream of the conference will be made available at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Sheen Center’s website: https://sheencenter.org/shows/giussani2/

US bishops welcome Trump administration's reprieve for Haitian migrants

Washington D.C., May 23, 2017 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration’s decision to allow 50,000 Haitian earthquake victims to remain in the United States prompted gratitude from the U.S. bishops’ conference, which stressed the need for continued work to aid Haitians here and in their home country.

“While this extension is helpful, it still leaves many Haitian families in the United States in an insecure and vulnerable position, particularly with respect to ensuring legal work authorization,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said May 23.

The Department of Homeland Security’s decision extended the Obama administration’s protections for Haitians who had arrived in the U.S. within a year of the massive 2010 earthquake. They may remain with work authorizations until January 2018.

Sources in the department told Reuters that Secretary John Kelly of the Department of Homeland Security believes that conditions in Haiti are improving, but Haitians in the U.S. still need protections.

At the same time, there is no commitment to extending protections past January. Officials recommended that Haitians with temporary protective status begin seeking travel documents to return to Haiti.

In a May 23 letter to Secretary Kelly, Bishop Vasquez said that extending temporary protective status serves an important humanitarian role by promoting the safety and stability of Haitian families in the U.S.

“We encourage our government to work proactively with the Haitian government to provide life-saving aid and recovery assistance,” he said. “Haiti will continue to struggle to receive back those who are temporarily protected, even those who may be returned in the near future.”

The bishop said that Catholic service networks in the U.S. will continue to aid Haitian families and the rebuilding process in Haiti. These networks will also look for opportunities to collaborate with the Church in Haiti and with the U.S. and Haitian governments.

The earthquake killed an estimated 220,000 people and affected over 3.5 million more.

Temporary protected status may be provided to citizens of countries that are suffering from severe violence, disease and natural disasters. At present countries designated for that status include Sudan, Somalia, Syria, El Salvador, Nepal, and Yemen, Reuters reports.

Ventura softball star: Encountering Christ through service

Los Angeles, Calif., May 23, 2017 / 05:46 am (CNA).- To a pitcher, a little situation like bases loaded, full count and trying to protect a one-run lead in the late innings is no big deal — not if you’ve been doing this since you were 8 years old.

And not if, like St. Bonaventure High School pitching star Jessica Gomez, you’re aiming for a career in pediatric nursing, where matters of life and death will mean something a lot different than they did on a softball field.

And certainly not if, like this senior scholar-athlete, you are a lifelong Catholic who believes Christ is present in every part of your life, which is why she chooses to serve others, willingly and joyfully.

“As someone who’s been raised Catholic, I’ve always been involved in service activities,” said Gomez, who tutors kids with learning disabilities and helps serve the hungry through the Many Meals feeding program at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Ventura. “It just really touches me when I encounter the love of Christ through service.”

That’s one reason Gomez was named an archdiocesan Christian Service Award recipient for 2017, and why she’s headed for the nursing program at Villanova University.

“Nursing is a healing occupation, and it’s the kind of ministry I really feel drawn to,” said Gomez. “I’ve always felt a call to help and serve wherever I can, plus I’m interested in science, and the nursing program at Villanova seems like a wonderful opportunity.”

Pressure performer

This week, Gomez - who has posted a 27-14 won-lost mark, 2.27 earned run average, and .302 batting average - will lead her St. Bonaventure team into the CIF-Southern Section softball playoffs. The Seraphs finished 16-8 and shared the Tri-Valley League title with Fillmore, made possible when Gomez tossed a three-hit, 11-strikeout, 5-0 win over Fillmore in the regular season finale.

“I respond well under pressure,” she said with a smile. “I have a very competitive nature, and my drive to win influences me when I get into tough situations. I enjoy the challenge of coming through in tight spots - which I’m hoping will serve me well in nursing.”

Those “tight spots,” she adds, are eased through prayer. In fact, the Seraphs as a team take a quiet moment before each game “to ask God for freedom from injury, the strength to play well and, if it’s in God’s will, for victory. And we really try to play the game the right way, to practice good sportsmanship and to be charitable and respectful, on and off the field.”

That attitude carries into off-the-field service projects. Gomez, her coaches and her teammates have visited a nearby youth correctional facility, meeting and talking with the female inmates “on how we have tried to deal with and adapt to challenges and struggles in our lives. Mainly, we want them to know that someone cares about them.”

As student body vice president, Gomez takes seriously her role as a leader, in class and on the softball diamond, and tries to impart “positive messages” to younger students and teammates, just as others did for her.

At Our Lady of the Assumption - which she, parents Bill and Candace and older brother Joseph (a sophomore at Georgetown) have attended since she was in sixth grade - Gomez enjoys another form of service, through singing in the Life Teen band that leads music at Sunday evening liturgies, “which is really fun and a wonderful way to connect with God and the community.”

Soon, Gomez will head back east to begin her next adventure at Villanova, a journey she anticipates with typical open-mindedness and determination.

“It’s a little scary,” she admitted, “but I’m excited by the opportunities in front of me. And I know that God is going to be with me every step of the way.”

 

This article originally appeared at AngelusNews.com, the news website for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Here's why the US bishops are distressed about military spending

Washington D.C., May 23, 2017 / 03:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Leading U.S. bishops have expressed serious concerns with President Donald Trump’s reported budget proposals for the 2018 fiscal year, noting among other fears that the proposals would decrease funding for diplomacy efforts while increasing military spending.

“The human consequences of budget choices are clear to us as pastors,” leaders of various committees of the U.S. bishops’ conference wrote to members of Congress in a May 19 letter.

“The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates,” the bishops continued.

President Trump’s budget proposal for FY 2018 – to be released on Tuesday – will reportedly make deep cuts to Medicaid and other programs, and would eliminate entirely some programs that are tailored toward low-income persons, while increasing military spending and immigration enforcement funding.

Food stamps could see $193 billion in cuts over a decade, according to the AP. Farm subsidies could also be cut.

Leading bishops wrote members of Congress on May 19 saying that proposals in the budget would be “profoundly troubling.”

The signatories included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, head of the committee on pro-life activities; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the committee on international justice and peace; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the domestic justice and human development committee; and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the migration committee.

Especially troubling, the bishops said, are the increases to military spending, when the U.S. already outspends all other countries in this area, and cuts to foreign assistance and diplomacy at a time when conflicts around the world threaten to destabilize whole regions.

The Syrian civil war, for instance, has displaced more than 11 million and created almost six million registered refugees.

“Our nation should elevate diplomacy and international development as primary tools for promoting peace, regional stability and human rights, not adopt deep cuts to these budgets,” the bishops wrote.

The U.S. already spends more on its military than at least the next seven countries combined, according to estimates from the fact-checking website PolitiFact.

When considering hikes to defense spending, the U.S. should remember that just wars can only be waged as a “last resort” and “within strict moral limits of proportionality, discrimination and probability of success,” the bishops emphasized.

Also, they added, the U.S. must exercise gratitude toward the members of the military and remember “the stress of repeated deployments over the years.” The bishops reminded Congress that they have “repeatedly called for robust diplomatic efforts to end longstanding conflicts in a range of countries, including Syria and Iraq.”

“It is hard to reconcile the need for diplomacy and political solutions with significant cuts to the State Department budget,” the bishops wrote.

And cuts to foreign international aid programs might not only hurt the poor, but could pose threats to the security of areas afflicted by war, drought, and famine, as well as to U.S. national security, they added. Famine has already been declared in South Sudan, and famines could be breaking out soon in three other countries.

The bishops maintained the legitimacy “of reducing future unsustainable deficits that would harm all citizens,” yet insisted upon “a comprehensive approach” to reduce deficits and not one that cuts only in certain areas while increasing spending in others.

“A just framework for sound fiscal policy cannot rely almost exclusively on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” they wrote.

“The Catholic Bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good,” the letter concluded.

 

Why head transplants won't disprove the existence of God

Denver, Colo., May 23, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With plans for the first human head transplant surgery looming in the next year, a lead doctor on the formidable project has high hopes for the procedure.

Along with the aim of finding a new body for a yet-to-be-selected patient, the physician says that the surgery – as a first step toward immortality – will effectively disprove religion.

But Catholic critics have called into question not only the ethics of such a risky procedure, but the dubious claim that such a development would render belief in God irrelevant.

“The actual trying of the surgery at this point I think would be unethical because of the tremendous risk involved, and it is an unproven surgery,” Dr. Paul Scherz, assistant professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America, told CNA.

Sherz made his remarks following the news that Italian doctor Sergio Canavero is aiming to carry out the first human head transplant surgery within the next 10 months. It's a process Canavero hopes will pave the way for the process of transplanting cryogenically frozen brains – and ultimately, in his view, to the eradication of death.

Canavero serves as director of Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group and has teamed up with Harbin Medical Centre and Doctor Xiaoping Ren, an orthopedic surgeon who was involved with the first successful hand transplant in the U.S. The first surgical attempt for the head transplant is expected to take place in China, where the group says they're more likely to find a donor body.

Cryonics involves the freezing of the brain or even the whole body of patients, with expectations that future science will have the means to restore the frozen tissue and extend life.

Because conscious minds will have experienced “life” outside of death, Canavero said the surgery would then remove the fear of death and the people's need for religion. He said if the process succeeds, “religions will be swept away forever.”

However, Sherz responded that even if the surgery was a success, it would not disprove the Catholic faith.

“There is nothing in the Catholic tradition of how we understand the soul that would think that if you moved a head or moved the brain that that wouldn’t allow the person to come back to life,” he said.

Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group has already claimed that a successful head transplant has been carried out on a monkey, but not all scientists agree that the operation can be recorded as a success.

Before the monkey's head was stitched back together, it was removed, cooled, and the blood of the transplant body was cross circulated with an outside source. Canavero and his group claimed the supply of blood was then connected to prove the surgery succeeded without brain damage, but the spinal cord was left unattached.

How the connected blood supply proves the surgery is possible without brain damage was not described, and many bioethicists are skeptical of the publication of the surgery's success without proper peer review and of the issues around the severed spine.

Because the technology has not yet been developed, the bioethicists worry that the severed spine may never be reconstructed, leaving the patient worse off than before.

Despite the pervasive belief in the surgery's failure, Canavero claims there's a 90 percent chance that the human head transplant will succeed. And not only that, its success would allow humans to “no longer need to be afraid of death.”

Father Tad Pacholczyk, who serves as a bioethicist for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, disagreed with Canavero's definition of being “brought back to life.”

He said to assume death as a necessary product of either the head surgery or brain surgery is gullible and mistaken, as there is potential for the patient to be merely unconscious.

“The patient undergoing the head transplant is not dead, only unconscious,” he told CNA. “There is not any 'bringing back to life'…There is merely a restoration of consciousness, briefly lost during the movement of the head from one human body to the other.”

Scherz also said that the Church accepts an intimate and mysterious relationship between soul and body, and that the procedure's success wouldn't necessary disprove the soul or religion.

“Our neurological tissue has important part to play in our soul…The soul is always intimately related to the body. We are not just souls that are disembodied, right? We are embodied spirits or spirited bodies.”

Most physicians agree that the proposed surgery's success rate is infinitesimal, and they've questioned the morality of a procedure that's doomed to fail – and the unrealistic hope life extension projects could give to people.

“I am concerned that the rights of vulnerable patients undergoing cryonics cannot be protected indefinitely,” Dr. Channa Jayasena, a lecturer in Reproductive Endocrinology at Imperial College in London, told the Telegraph.

Cryonics, she said, “has risks for the patient, poses ethical issues for society, is highly expensive, but has no proven benefit.”

And the hope for immortal life, Scherz weighed in, isn't a realistic desire in a fallen world. “Living forever in bodily form is not going to satisfy anyone,” he said.

“If the goal is not to help someone to get back bodily movement or things like that, but to try to live forever on this earth, then I think if you really want to get over the fear of death then you will have to come to terms with the fact that we are mortal.”

“That what's going to help you to live a better life because you are going to be willing to give your life to things like service.”

In fact, he said that people in transhumanist movements have admitted they would most likely avoid risky behavior in order to preserve their lives.

“If life extension projects come into being there is so much more to lose – and you committed yourself to trying to live on this earth for as long as possible, which stands in contrast to the Catholic tradition and a lot of the philosophical traditions,” Scherz noted.

Knights of Columbus leader talks Pope Francis, Trump in new interview

Bridgeport, Conn., May 23, 2017 / 12:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The leader of the nearly 2 million-member Knights of Columbus recently spoke about the importance of his group's fidelity to Pope Francis, as well as his hopes for a successful upcoming meeting between the Roman Pontiff and U.S. president Donald Trump.

In a new interview, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson touched on these topics as well as his organization's commitment to persecuted Christians, problems with how some media treats issues within the Church, and what the Knights make a priority in their charitable giving.

The organization recently celebrated its 135th anniversary at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., the church where Fr. McGivney founded the Catholic fraternity that now has 1.9 million members worldwide.

Please read below for CNA's full interview with Carl Anderson:


The Pope will be meeting the United States president this week; what should people expect from that meeting?

The pope has made clear that he is seeking common ground with the president, and I would assume the president will do the same. Some in the media focus only on the differences between the thinking of these two men, but, there is also much common ground on issues like abortion, religious liberty, persecuted Christians and human trafficking.

In what ways have the Knights worked with Pope Francis over the past few years?

From our earliest days, the Knights of Columbus has always been loyal to the Holy Father. We have a wonderful relationship with Pope Francis and have helped sponsor a number of conferences and projects with the Vatican during his tenure on topics including relief work in Haiti, the Church in America, and the continental Jubilee of Mercy. I’ve had the privilege to meet with Pope Francis privately each year and to review with him our priorities and new initiatives. Each time, I’ve come away deeply inspired by his love for the poor and those on the margins of society.

We see supporting the pope, his ministry and his charitable endeavors as central to who we are as an organization.  I have repeatedly told our K of C leaders to take his words to us as our agenda, and I’ve personally assured him he can count on our support.

What are the main causes the Knights support?

We support causes large and small, but our primary focus over the past two years has been helping Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East who were targeted by ISIS. Because these communities are so small, they are too often overlooked by U.S. Government or UN aid programs and risk disappearing. We also have been supporting clean water projects in Africa, inspired by Laudato Si, and we just finished a project to improve the energy efficiency of our headquarters.

Two of the projects I’m very proud of are our work in Africa to educate and support AIDS orphans, many of whom are themselves HIV positive, and our efforts in Haiti to provide artificial limbs to children who lost their legs because of the earthquake there.

Also, at the local level, our members accompany their fellow parishioners and the members of their communities, supporting their needs in ways large and small. From food programs, to housing and clothing programs, to disaster relief, when people need us, we are there.

We also strongly support the right to life. Laudato Si section 120 states that without opposition to abortion, defending the rest of the vulnerable is increasingly difficult: “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”

In our country today, abortion takes more lives each year than any other cause of death. But we certainly don’t focus all our charity efforts on beginning-of-life issues. For example, we continued to give away more than 80,000 new winter coats and more than 8,000 wheelchairs in 2015, and we are constantly engaged in tens of thousands of projects around the world to help clothe, feed, shelter and meet other pressing needs of our neighbors. Last year we gave away $175 million and 73.5 million hours to charitable causes. We also support the Vatican and national bishops’ conferences in numerous ways, including in the defense of religious liberty, especially – but not only – when assaults on religious liberty also implicate the lives of the most vulnerable among us.

How dire are things for the Christians in the Middle East and why did you choose that issue?

For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, we are reaching a point where Christians could literally cease to exist in a country like Iraq. The situation is incredibly dire, and in the next few days, we will be announcing a new initiative to help stabilize these communities because there is a real concern that they will not survive. We have been providing assistance with food for thousands of families, we have provided funding for medical clinics, for apartment buildings, rental assistance, clothing, education, etc. But even more is needed. We simply cannot allow Christianity and pluralism to be eliminated from this region by those using terrorism and genocide to achieve their ends.

I am among the many who hope that the meeting between the pope and the president this week in Rome may include breakthrough solutions and closer cooperation between the American government and its aid programs and the Church to help ensure that these people survive, and that ISIS’ goal of eliminating religious minorities is not realized. As at least one commentator has also pointed out, no two organizations are more critical to surivival of these people than the U.S. government and the Vatican.

In terms of how we chose this issue, it came naturally to us, since the Knights of Columbus has been concerned about religious persecution throughout our history. We spoke up for Catholics being persecuted in Mexico in the 1920s, for Jews being persecuted in Germany in the 1930s, for people of faith being persecuted in the Cold War, and now, for these victims of ISIS.

You also mentioned your pro-life work. There have been some real advances in that area recently - what trends do you see?

We have seen some great strides in this area over the past months including moves to stop the taxpayer funding of abortion including via the Mexico City Policy. Appointments to the court and several cabinet positions are also very pro-life and this is very heartening as well.

As our polling shows, support for abortion restrictions is bi-partisan. For example, 70 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans support banning taxpayer funding of abortion abroad. In addition, about 6 in 10 Democrats, 7 in 10 Independents and 9 in 10 Republicans support substantial restrictions on abortion, and would limit it – at most – to the first three months of pregnancy.

Practicing Catholics are united in support for abortion restrictions in overwhelming numbers as well.

Some may see abortion as a political or divisive issue, but that does not mean that it is. And we do not see or intend our opposition to it as political. For us it is a matter of morality and values.

In fact, it is my fondest hope that both of our country’s major parties would embrace a pro-life platform. If that were to happen, the issue could cease to be seen as partisan, and voters could move on to other issues. We’ve been working on this for more than four decades, with nearly 60 million abortions since Roe v Wade. The scandal is that too many Catholics in public office have refused to take action to protect unborn children. As Catholics we are called to build a culture of life and that certainly includes more than abortion. But I do not see how it is possible to build a culture of life with public officials who insist on maintaining a legal regime that results in a million abortions a year.

I have personally voted for pro-life candidates of both parties. Those who criticize our pro-life work as partisan miss the fact that far from being partisan, it is consistent with our help of the defenseless and marginalized. It exactly fits with Pope Francis’ statements in Laudato Si and also in Evangelii Gaudium, where he stated    in section 213: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”

How can we help poor individuals and families, the intellectually disabled, and refugees from ISIS and ignore the unborn? It's not possible. We are talking about a million lives each year that are lost, and that demands our attention.

The same outlook applies to our work in defense of religious freedom – in which we have been supported by Pope Francis. This isn’t a new – or political – endeavor for us. It is the defense of a fundamental right that we have engaged in for more than a century.

What is your opinion of how the news media covers the Church today?

Pope Francis, in his book, On Heaven and Earth, was very hard on the media. He pointed out that too often the media tries to generate conflict and misinforms. He said: “Today, there is misinformation because only part of the truth is said, only what interests them is taken for their convenience, and that does a lot of damage because it is a way of favoring conflict.”

We see this with some reports leading up to his meeting with the president. Some push what they see as points of conflict, ignoring the points of common ground.

Unfortunately, in this country too, we frequently see reporting focused on advancing a political agenda instead of getting the facts right.

We ourselves have even sometimes had partisan reporters or commentators complain about a donation or two that we made that they don’t agree with. In such cases, they typically ignore the majority, totality and context of what we do – in other words, the literally hundreds of donations we make that they probably would support as well.

As Pope Francis said, those in the media can tell a half truth and do damage by generating conflict, and let me give you one example that really illustrates the point. A commentator recently intimated that a $1.5 million dollar donation we gave to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia a couple of years ago somehow showed sympathy to opposition to Pope Francis. Leaving aside the many ways in which that assertion is problematic on its face, in fact, exactly the opposite of what was asserted was true.

The money donated was actually in support of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States as part of the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families in that city. At best what can be said about this kind of thing is that it reflects what lawyers might call a reckless disregard of the truth.

What makes such episodes of misleading or untruthful reporting particularly sad is that it seems that often what drives this reporting is dissent or disagreement with Church teaching, not just disagreement with us. But the media should not stoop to politicizing the pope or trying to drive wedges between him and faithful Catholics who love him.  

The pope is pro-life, he is in favor of religious liberty. He visited the Little Sisters of the Poor and has spoken about “polite persecution” in Western countries to underscore the importance of religious freedom. These aren’t political positions for him – or for us. They are values positions based on our Catholic faith.

It is worth noting that we support a number of Catholic media outlets – large and small – because we see the importance of quality Catholic journalism.

The Knights of Columbus is unique as a business entity. Can you talk a little about that?

Unlike non-profits that are charities with fundraising operations, the Knights of Columbus is also one of the nation’s largest – and best rated – life insurers. We have an arm that takes donations, but many of the dollars we donate come from the business side.

We were founded by the Venerable Father Michael McGivney to help provide Catholic families with support for their faith and in their financial future. The faith side is obvious, and the financial future side has grown into a Fortune 1000 insurance operation exclusively focused on our members and their families. Many people are surprised by the size of the Knights of Columbus insurance program. We sell more than $8 billion of insurance each year. We have over $106 billion of insurance in force and we have over $23 billion of assets under management. Our members have entrusted us with their hard earned cash, and they count on us to be there to provide for the future of their families.

We have a responsibility to their future, and we take this responsibility seriously on both fronts. One way that we do this is to seek to invest in ways that are sustainable, and to use Catholic screens on our investments so that we are not putting our members’ money into enterprises that run counter to our faith.

To do that, we hire top professionals to manage our business and our investments. We have about 900 employees at our headquarters in New Haven and we are one of the city’s largest private employers.  Given that we are operating at such a high level in the financial services industry, while we pay our executives less than the market average, we also understand that we have to pay competitively enough to attract the caliber of talent needed to run a Fortune 1000 company and to successfully manage the financial futures of our members and their families. People’s livelihoods depend on us hiring and retaining the highly competent people able to deliver at the highest level, and our members deserve nothing less than the best professionals we can hire.

This has been our approach to the business side of the Knights of Columbus for decades. And it has worked. We have consistently received top ratings for our financial strength.

Pence to Notre Dame graduates: Bring values into the workplace

South Bend, Ind., May 22, 2017 / 02:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence challenged University of Notre Dame graduates on Saturday to promote human dignity and the sanctity of life in the workplace.

“I urge you, as the rising generation – carry the ideals and the values that you’ve learned at Notre Dame into your lives and your careers,” Pence told the graduates, praising the university for its rich traditions of defending human life and religious liberty in the face of persecution.

The vice president delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on March 20. He called on the graduates to “be exceptional from this day forth.”

Pence commended the university’s defense of religious liberty, noting that it was among the plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“Just as Notre Dame has stood strong to protect its religious liberty, I’m proud that this President just took steps to ensure that this university and the Little Sisters of the Poor could not be forced to violate their consciences to fully participate in American civic life,” Pence said in reference to the lawsuits.

“I’m so proud that the University of Notre Dame has stood without apology for the sanctity of human life,” he continued, pointing to the university’s efforts to uphold human dignity, through its educational initiatives, social commitment and focus on ethics and culture.

Around 100 students walked out of Pence’s speech on Saturday, according to an estimate by the university reported by CNN. They reportedly did so to represent racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ persons and others who they said would be adversely affected by the administration’s policies.

Pence, formerly a member of the U.S. Congress and the governor of Indiana, was baptized Catholic, but by 1994 he called himself a “born-again, evangelical Catholic.” He had begun attending an evangelical megachurch with his family in the 1990s.

He has recently described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

Pence has a long history of pro-life and religious freedom advocacy, but has also quarreled with Catholic bishops over immigration matters.

As governor of Indiana, he tried to halt the state’s participation in the U.S. refugee resettlement program as he, along with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, questioned the security of the program. This came in the wake of deadly terror attacks in Paris in November of 2015, where a terrorist who was reportedly one of the perpetrators had allegedly entered Europe by posing as a Syrian refugee, according to reports at the time.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, now Cardinal of Newark, had directed Catholic Charities Indianapolis to resettle a Syrian refugee family during that time. He met with Governor Pence in December. Pence’s office said after the meeting that the governor “respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time.”

Pence’s speech at Notre Dame continued the tradition of presidents and vice presidents speaking at the university and receiving honorary degrees.

In May of 2009, President Barack Obama became the ninth U.S. president to have an honorary degree from the university. He spoke amidst controversy over his staunch pro-abortion record.

Then-Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a strong statement saying that Notre Dame “conferred an unnecessary and unearned honorary law degree on a man committed to upholding one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our nation’s history [Roe v. Wade].”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic who supported abortion as a U.S. senator and who was in an administration that issued the controversial contraception mandate, received an honorary degree from the university last year.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the local diocese, said the university should not have honored a politician with “gravely irresponsible” positions on abortion and marriage that are at odds with Church teaching.  

“We should seek to honor those who act to protect human life and dignity from conception to natural death, who respect true marriage and the family, who promote peace, justice, religious freedom, solidarity, the integral development of the poor, the just treatment of immigrants, and care for creation,” he stated last March. “We should not honor those who may be exemplary in one area but gravely irresponsible in another.”

In his speech this weekend, Vice President Pence called for the university to continue to foster a free discussion of ideas, as free speech has been curbed in much of academia.

“Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed – where opposing views are debated and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear,” he said, adding that the university “is an exception” and is “an island in a sea of conformity.”

Many schools have “speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness,” he said, which “are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. And they are wholly outside the American tradition.”

Pence also exhorted the university’s graduates to “have faith.”

“Strive every day to lead for good with courage and conviction.  Live your life according to the precepts and principles that you have learned and seen here at Notre Dame,” he said.

“And in all that you do, have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you – because He never will.”

 

Sanctions on Syria's military a good step, Christian advocate says

Washington D.C., May 22, 2017 / 10:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that issues additional sanctions against supporters of Syria’s Assad regime, and those providing arms for the regime.

“This bill is a big step in the right direction,” Phillippe Nassif, executive director of the group In Defense of Christians, told CNA.

The House passed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act May 17, issuing additional sanctions on the Assad regime and its “backers,” especially human rights violators and those involved in the trade of weapons or weapons parts with the regime. Those supporters could include Russia and Iran, international allies of Assad.

The Syrian civil war is now in its sixth year, and over 400,000 have died, with over 11 million displaced from their homes, including 5 million registered refugees. Civilian witnesses have given testimonies to the carnage – hospitals bombed, chorine gas bombs unleashed, and starvation are only some of the atrocities that have been inflicted.

Christian leaders in the area have denounced the trafficking of weapons into Syria as something which helps the conflict continue. Wednesday’s bill at least claims to target those supporting the Assad regime’s air force and those doing business with the regime.

The bill also directs the State Department to assist those investigating war crimes in Syria.

Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced the arms trade. In his September 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress, he emphasized that Christians must ask “why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?”

“Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade,” he said.

Last July, in a video message promoting peace in Syria, he lamented that “while the people suffer, incredible quantities of money are being spent to supply weapons to fighters.”

Some of the arms suppliers “are also among those that talk of peace,” he said. “How can you believe in someone who caresses you with the right hand and strikes you with the left hand?”

House leaders cited recent atrocities committed by the Assad regime as a further motive of the sanctions – the deaths of over 90 civilians by sarin gas back in April after pro-government forces bombed a neighborhood in Idlib, and the Saydnaya military prison run by the Assad regime where Amnesty International estimates that up to 13,000 prisoners were executed in five years, along with repeated torture.

These atrocities, along with the repeated bombings of hospitals and killing of humanitarian workers and obstructing aid convoys trying to reach vulnerable populations, call for action, members of Congress insisted.

“If you’re supporting this murder – if you’re enabling the Butcher in Damascus to continue waging that sort of violence against his own people – you’re going to face consequences,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated on the House Floor on Wednesday.

“This bill would sanction anyone who provides material support for the Assad regime,” he explained. “We want to go after the actual hardware that keeps his war machine running: the planes and bombs that terrorize the Syrian people, and the spare parts and oil that keep everything running.”

Supporters of the bill expressed their hope that sanctions would drive parties toward international peace negotiations.

“IDC hopes that these steps will result in the swift resolution of the conflict, the substantial defeat of ISIS, Al Qaeda affiliates, and Iranian backed extremist groups in Syria and the Middle East; promotes stability in Lebanon and Jordan; and end the human rights catastrophe, now in its sixth year,” Nassif stated.

“For there to be peace in Syria, the parties must come together,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated. “And as long as Assad and his backers can slaughter the people of Syria with no consequences, there is no hope for peace.”

For sanctions to really work, however, they must be enforced and the perpetrators who are being targeted must be publicly shamed.

The bill does allow the president the flexibility to suspend the sanctions if serious peace negotiations are taking place and the violence against civilians in Syria has stopped. It also directs the president to report to Congress on the names of all those responsible for serious human rights abuses.

However, the actions could also show hypocrisy from the U.S., some claim, as it is set to approve a $300 billion arms deal with ally Saudi Arabia which, according to Hillary Clinton’s emails unearthed by WikiLeaks, has covertly funded the Islamic State in the past.

Justice Alito warns seminarians religious liberty is in danger

Philadelphia, Pa., May 22, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his address to graduating seminarians on Wednesday, United States Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. emphasized the importance of religious freedom and the dangers it faces today.

Religious freedom means that “no one is forced to act in violation of his own beliefs,” Alito said, according to Catholic Philly. “Most of my life Americans were instilled in this,” he added, and urged the audience “keep the flame burning.”

Alito gave the keynote address at the concursus ceremony for the graduating class of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia May 17, where he also received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honorus Causa, from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

He was awarded the degree “in testimony to and recognition of his many outstanding contributions to society … especially in protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life, the full responsibilities of the human person and promoting true justice and lasting peace,” Archbishop Chaput said.

Alito, 67, is a practicing Catholic from an Italian family in Trenton, New Jersey, and was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush, where he has served since January 2006.

He wrote the majority opinion for the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case, in which the court allowed for closely-held, for-profit corporations to be exempt from a regulation its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law's interest, according to the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

He also wrote a dissent from the majority opinion in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, in which the Supreme Court held that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage.

Prior to his address, in an interview with the St. Charles Borromeo blog Seminarian Casual, Alito again spoke about religious freedom as well as the effect his faith and family has had on his career.

Religious freedom is “one of the most fundamental rights” in the United States, Alito said, and the founding fathers “saw a vital connection between religion and the character needed for republican self-government.”

“What the founders understood more than 200 years ago is just as true today,” he said, though “(t)here is cause for concern at the present time.”

In his Obergefell dissent, Alito said he “anticipated that… 'those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.’”

There is already evidence of this happening, he said, such as in a case the Supreme Court declined to hear, in which a pharmacy was being forced to sell emergency contraceptives despite their religious beliefs against them. He said he anticipates even more struggles for religious freedom in the years to come.

“This is not an easy time to be a priest, but priests are desperately needed,” he said.

In particular, priests of the 21st century are needed to “express what is essential about the faith in a way that registers with a culture that speaks a different language. It is a daunting task, but that is essentially what was done by brave priests in the past who took the faith to every corner of the globe,” he said.

“One priest who especially stands out in my memory is the pastor of the church in New Jersey that we attended before moving to Washington. He had a marvelous way of speaking to the parishioners in a way that was seemingly simple but attractive and ultimately profound.”

When asked how his Catholic faith has shaped him, Alito said his faith provides him meaning and purpose.

“The title of a book by Tolstoy has been translated as What Then Should We Do? My faith gives me an answer. It would be terrible to think that life has no meaning, that we are going nowhere, and that what we do until we die is a matter of indifference. That is what tortures so many today.”

He added that the strong family values with which he was raised influenced the way he raised his own family, and that he is grateful for a career that allows him some flexibility to be able to spend time with his family.

“Nothing on this Earth is more important to me than my family,” he said.

“I have been fortunate to have jobs that allowed me to control my work schedule to a very great degree,” he said. “Very few people today have this luxury, and it is hard for busy people to balance work and family life. Our society needs to do a better job of making this possible.”