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Nineteen Algerian martyrs beatified

Oran, Algeria, Dec 10, 2018 / 03:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions, who were martyred in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, were beatified Saturday during a Mass in Oran.

AFP reported that some 1,200 people attended the Dec. 8 ceremony at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross. Among them were relatives and friends of the beatified. The beatification was celebrated by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Blessed Claverie and his companions were killed during the Algerian Civil War by Islamists.

Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers noted the “thousands of victims of the Algerian civil war,” calling them anonymous heroes.

“We did not want a beatification between Christians, because these brothers and sisters died among tens and tens of thousands of Algerian” Muslims, he stated.

Algeria's population is almost entirely Muslim.

Relatives of those beatified were received by Muslim dignitaries at the Ibn Badis Grand Mosque, where Mostapha Jaber, an imam, said, “We Muslims associate this event with much joy.”

“These Christian martyrs killed during this national tragedy ... had a good mission -- (they were) determined to spread peace.”

The pope had authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to recognize the martyrdoms in January.

Blessed Claverie was a French Algerian, and Bishop of Oran from 1981 until his Aug. 1, 1996 martyrdom.

His companions are: Brother Henri Vergès, Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond, Sister Esther Paniagua Alonso, Sister Caridad Álvarez Martín, Fr. Jean Chevillard, Fr. Alain Dieulangard, Fr. Charles Deckers, Fr. Christian Chessel, Sister Angèle-Marie Littlejohn, Sister Bibiane Leclercq, Sister Odette Prévost, Brother Luc Dochier, Brother Christian de Chergé, Brother Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Brother Bruno Lemarchand, Brother Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.

The best known of Bl. Claverie's companions are the seven monks of Tibhirine, who were kidnapped from their Trappist priory in March 1996. They were kept as a bartering chip to procure the release of several imprisoned members of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, and were killed in May. Their story was dramatized in the 2010 French film Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

After the death of the monks of Tibhirine, Claverie knew his life was in serious danger. A bomb exploded at the entrance of his chancery Aug. 1, 1996, killing him and an aide, Mohamed Bouchikhi.

In a pastoral letter last month, Bishop Desfarges called the beatification “a grace for our Church,” urging the local Church “to love as they did in the freedom that the Holy Spirit gives” because the martyrs “go before us on the path of witness that our Church is called to give in this land of Algeria, which from the first century has been watered with the blood of the martyrs.”

Archbishop Desfarges said that the martyrs' lives “were given to God and to the people to whom love had united them.” He encouraged the faithful to pray to them “asking for the grace of fidelity for our Church in its mission.”

Finally, the Archbishop of Algiers invited the faithful to live this “time of witnessing” through interreligious dialogue.

“The witness of the Catholic Church is not a witness against another's religion, but a witness that the love of Christ poured out in our hearts calls us to live a love for everyone, without distinction, even enemies,” he concluded.

US Supreme Court won't hear case of states defunding Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2018 / 02:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from states which were seeking to terminate Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood, meaning that these contracts will remain.

Kansas and Louisiana had attempted to block Medicaid funds from being used for preventative care services provided by Planned Parenthood. A lower court ruled that this policy violated federal law, and the states were attempting to appeal this decision.

By deciding not to hear the case, the court has not cast a judgement on the questions contained in the appeals.

Only three judges – Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch – voted to grant certiorari. This is one short of the four needed.

Voting against certiorari were newly-confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In his dissent, Thomas wrote that he thought his colleagues on the bench were trying to avoid any cases involving Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider. This case in particular did not involve abortion, but concerned other services provided by Planned Parenthood.

"What explains the court’s refusal to do its job here?” asked Thomas, adding, "I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named 'Planned Parenthood.'”

Thomas was furious with the court’s denial of certiorari, saying: “But these cases are not about abortion rights,” but rather “about private rights of action under the Medicaid Act.”

“Resolving the question presented here would not even affect Planned Parenthood’s ability to challenge the States’ decisions; it concerns only the rights of individual Medicaid patients to bring their own suits. Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty.”

Former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson told CNA that she did not agree with the court’s decision.

“States should have every right to divert funding away from the nation's largest abortion provider and towards health centers that provide true healthcare to patients, not one that promotes abortion above all else,” Johnson said.

She also pointed out that Planned Parenthood has done fewer and fewer preventative services in recent years. Between 2009 and 2016, the number of breast cancer screenings done by the organization dropped by 61 percent, she said.

"Other cancer screenings have dropped by 64 percent during the same time. And forget about prenatal services and adoption referrals. Those services are barely offered, if at all at some Planned Parenthoods,” added Johnson.

Johnson told CNA she believes states should instead fund federal qualified healthcare clinics, which “outnumber Planned Parenthood nearly 20-to-1 and sees ten times the number of patients that Planned Parenthood does every year.”

Pope Francis: Everyone must help promote human rights

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Everyone should, according to his or her specific gifts, fight to protect the fundamental rights of individuals, Pope Francis said Monday in a message to an international gathering on the topic.

“Each person is therefore called to contribute with courage and determination, in the specificity of their role, to the respect of the fundamental rights of every person,” the pope wrote Dec. 10.

“Especially [the rights] of those [who are] ‘invisible:’ of many who are hungry and thirsty, who are naked, sick, a stranger or imprisoned, who live on the margins of society or are discarded.”

“This need for justice and solidarity,” he pointed out, “has a special significance for us Christians, because the Gospel itself invites us to turn our gaze to the least of our brothers and sisters, to be moved to compassion and to concretely commit ourselves to alleviate their suffering.”

Pope Francis’ message was sent to the international conference “Human Rights in the Contemporary World: Achievements, Omissions, Negations,” taking place in Rome Dec. 10-11 at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Held on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the conference included a keynote by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, given Dec. 10, and panels by international experts in the field of human rights.

Also present at the conference were members of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps and representatives of the United Nations, Council of Europe, the bishops’ Justice and Peace commission, the academic world, and civil society.

“I wish, on this occasion,” the pope wrote, “to address a heartfelt appeal to those with institutional responsibilities, asking them to place human rights at the center of all policies, including those of development cooperation, even when this means going against the current.”

On the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “an in-depth reflection on the foundation and respect for human rights in the contemporary world seems opportune,” he said, adding that he hopes it will herald in a “renewed commitment to the defense of human dignity, with special attention to the most vulnerable members of the community.”

He noted that contemporary society continues to fall short of upholding and protecting the equal dignity of all human beings as it should, with many injustices continuing in the world today, including that of great disparity in wealth, with one part of society living “in opulence” and another “disowned, despised, or trampled.”

He listed, in particular, “the unborn children who are denied the right to come into the world,” “those who do not have access to the indispensable means for a dignified life,” those without access to education or just work, those forced into slavery or inhuman conditions, those subjected to torture “or who are denied the opportunity to redeem themselves,” and the victims of “forced disappearance” and their families.

“My thoughts,” he said, “also go to all those who live in a climate dominated by suspicion and contempt, which are the subject of acts of intolerance, discrimination and violence because of their racial, ethnic, national or religious affiliation.”

Pope Francis also recalled those who suffer violations of their fundamental rights due to armed conflicts “while unscrupulous merchants of death are enriched at the price of their brothers’ and sisters’ blood.”

“In the face of these serious phenomena, we are all called upon [to help],” he said.

Indian bishop resigns amid complaints of misuse of funds, attempted marriage

Kadapa, India, Dec 10, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis accepted Monday the resignation of Bishop Prasad Gallela from the pastoral government of the Diocese of Cuddapah, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Gallala was in August the object of a criminal complaint for allegedly using diocesan funds to maintain an alleged “wife” and adult son.

Bishop emeritus of Guntur, Bali Gali, was named temporary apostolic administrator sede vacante of the diocese.  

In a statement Dec. 10, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi and secretary general of the Indian bishops’ conference, said, “We thank Bishop Prasad Gallela for his dedicated services to the Church in Cuddapah and the Church in India, and we entrust him to the intercession of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles.”  

Gallela, 56, has consistently denied the charges of embezzlement or that he has a concubine or child. According to UCA News, Gallela maintains that the woman and 18-year-old man identified by the petitioners are the wife and son of his deceased brother, for whom his family cares.

The bishop had been summoned to appear before Lok Adalat, a government-approved forum for settling pending court cases, Aug. 18. The outcome of the court case is unclear.

A Dec. 10 announcement from the Vatican provided no explanation for the bishop’s resignation, stating only that “the Holy Father Francis accepted the resignation from the pastoral government of the Diocese of Cuddapah (India), presented by Msgr. Prasad Gallela.”

Two lay members of Gallela’s diocese brought charges against him in June, including accusations of money laundering, misappropriation of diocesan funds, corruption, and cheating civil and religious authorities, according to UCA News.

They also claim to have documents proving his attempted marriage to a woman, and that he bought properties for her and their son using millions of Indian rupees (tens of thousands of US dollars) from donations and other public funds.

UCA News reported in August that Fr. A.X.J. Bosco, who works for the rights of low-caste Indians, claimed the allegations were several years old and connected with an ongoing caste fight within the Church in India. He also drew a connection with the allegations and the April 2016 kidnapping and assault of Gallela.

About the documents supporting the allegations, Bosco said they needed to be verified by competent authorities.

Gallela said the allegations were false and told UCA News he thinks those accusing him are the same people who kidnapped him. “They are high-caste people and have the power, means and money. Everybody is afraid to talk against them,” he said.

Gallela was ordained a priest in 1989. He has been the bishop of the Diocese of Cuddapah since March 1, 2008. Cuddapah, a suffragan diocese of Hyderabad, has around 134,000 Catholics.

Did angels really carry the Holy House of Mary to Loreto, Italy?

Loreto, Italy, Dec 10, 2018 / 10:25 am (CNA).- What do Galileo, Mozart, Descartes, Cervantes, and St. Therese of Lisieux have in common? They all traveled hundreds of miles to step inside the Virgin Mary’s house, which is preserved inside a basilica in the small Italian town of Loreto.

Catholic pilgrims have flocked to the Holy House of Loreto since the 14th century to stand inside the walls where tradition holds the Virgin Mary was born, raised, and greeted by the Angel Gabriel.

In other words, if it is actually the house of Nazareth, it is where the “Word became Flesh” at the Annunciation, a point on which the history of the humanity turned.

There is an often repeated story that angels carried the Holy House from Palestine to Italy. While modern listeners may doubt the legend’s veracity, historic documents have vindicated the beliefs of pious pilgrims over the centuries - with an ironic twist.

Tradition holds that the Holy House arrived in Loreto on Dec. 10, 1294 after a miraculous rescue from the Holy Land as the Crusaders were driven out of Palestine at the end of the 13th century.

In 1900, the pope’s physician, Joseph Lapponi, discovered documents in the Vatican archive, stating that in the 13th century a noble Byzantine family, the Angeli family, rescued “materials” from “Our Lady’s House” from Muslim invaders and then had them transported to Italy for the building of a shrine.

The name Angeli means “angels” in both Greek and Latin.

Further historic diplomatic correspondences, not published until 1985, discuss the “holy stones taken away from the House of Our Lady, Mother of God.” In the fall of 1294, “holy stones” were included in the dowry of Ithamar Angeli for her marriage to Philip II of Anjou, son of King Charles II of Naples.

A coin minted by a member of the Angeli family was also found in the foundation of the house in Loreto. In Italy, coins were often inserted into a building’s foundation to indicate who was responsible for its construction.

Excavations in both Nazareth and Loreto found similar materials at both sites. The stones that make up the lower part of the walls of the Holy House in Loreto appear to have been finished with a technique particular to the Nabataeans, which was also widespread in Palestine. There are inscriptions in syncopated Greek characters with contiguous Hebrew letters that read “O Jesus Christ, Son of God,” written in the same style inscribed in the Grotto in Nazareth.

Archaeologists also confirmed a tradition of Loreto that third century Christians had transformed Mary’s house in Nazareth into a place of worship by building a synagogue-style church around the house. A 7th century bishop who traveled to Nazareth noted a church built at the house where Annunciation took place.

From St. Francis de Sales to St. Louis de Montfort, many saints visited the Holy House of Loreto over the centuries. St. Charles Borromeo made four pilgrimages in 1566, 1572, 1579, and 1583.

St. John Paul II called the Holy House of Loreto the “foremost shrine of international import dedicated to the Blessed Virgin” in 1993.

The victory over the Turks at Lepanto was attributed to the Virgin of Loreto by St. Pius V, leading both General Marcantonio Colonna and John of Austria to make pilgrimages to the shrine in 1571 and 1576 respectively.

Christopher Columbus made a vow to the Madonna of Loreto in 1493 when he and his crew were caught in a storm during their return journey from the Americas. He later sent a sailor to Loreto on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving on behalf of the entire crew.

Queen Christina of Sweden offered her royal crown and sceptre to the Virgin Mary in Loreto in 1655 after her conversion from the Lutheran faith to Catholicism.

Napoleon plundered the shrine and its treasury on Feb. 13, 1797, taking with him precious jewels and other gifts offered to the Virgin Mary by European aristocracy, including several French monarchs, over the centuries. Yet, the object of real value in the eyes of pilgrims, the Holy House of Mary, was left unharmed.

In a homily in 1995, Saint Pope John Paul II called the Holy House of Loreto, “the house of all God’s adopted children.” He continued:

“The threads of the history of the whole of humankind are tied anew in that house. It is the Shrine of the House of Nazareth, to which the Church that is in Italy is tied by providence, that the latter rediscovers a quickening reminder of the mystery of the Incarnation, thanks to which each man is called ot the dignity of the Son of God.”

Catholic elected as leader of Germany’s largest party

Munich, Germany, Dec 10, 2018 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was named the new leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at a special party conference December 7.

 

A practicing Catholic, Kramp-Karrenbauer - known as AKK in the German press - was seen as the preferred choice of German chancellor and outgoing CDU leader Angela Merkel.

 

A married mother of three, Kramp-Karrenbauer previously served as secretary general of the party and minister-president of the western German region of Saarland. She defeated Friedrich Merz, a former member of the European Parliament and Bundestag, winning a run-off ballot with 517 of 1,001 potential votes.

 

As head of the CDU, Kramp-Karrenbauer is now widely regarded as a possible chancellor-in-waiting behind Merkel, who has said she will step down at the end of her current term in 2021.

 

Broadly seen as economically liberal, many political commentators have dubbed Kramp-Karrenbauer “mini-Merkel” and she is widely considered to be a continuity candidate with the current chancellor, who led the party from 2000-2018.

 

Kramp-Karrenbauer is known for her traditional social views, and has previously drawn attention for her outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage and gay adoption. As head of the Saarland region, she warned that same-sex marriage could create a legal precedent for recognizing incesuous and polygamous unions.

 

“If we open up this definition [of marriage] to become a long-term responsible partnership between two adults, then other demands can't be ruled out, such as a marriage between close relatives or between more than two people," she argued in 2015.

 

Same-sex marriage became legal in Germany in 2017.

 

While often characterized as a “staunch” or “devout” Catholic, Kramp-Karrenbauer has been a vocal supporter of female ordination in the Church. Earlier this year, she told the weekly newspaper Die Zeit that “It is very clear: women have to take positions of leadership in the Church,” eventually including women-priests but beginning with the “more realistic goal” of a female diaconate.

 

As the largest economy in the European Union, Germany politics plays a crucial role in the direction of the continent, with the German chancellor functioning as a de facto leader for the union. As Merkel’s acknowledged preferred successor, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s views on a range of policy issues will be scrutinized by leaders across the EU.

 

On the politically sensitive topic of mass-migration to the Europe, Merkel’s open-door policy to migrants in 2015 was widely seen as out of step with broader European policy, making Germany a beacon nation for refugees and economic migrants alike, and putting pressure on neighbouring countries.

 

Kramp-Karrenbauer has called for a more forward-looking debate on the subject of immigration and mass-migration.

 

In November, she told German television station NTV that she did not want to see a “backward-looking discussion” or “eternal debate about what was done right or wrong in the autumn of 2015.” Instead, she said, she wanted to see an “honest” discussion about the current effects of years of migration “uncontrolled and without integration.”

Site of Baptism of the Lord nears reopening as landmines cleared

Jerusalem, Dec 10, 2018 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Churches at the site along the banks of the Jordan river where Jesus is believed to have been baptized could reopen within a year, following progress on a project to clear thousands of landmines and other ordinance from the location.

 

In a statement released December 9, the Israeli government and international anti-landmine workers praised the progress of efforts to clear explosives from the holy site.

 

Located about 10 km east of the city of Jericho, the site is held to be the location of Christ’s baptism by St. John the Baptist, as recorded in the New Testament, and is considered one of the holiest places for Christians in the Holy Land. It is also widely held to be the location where the Israelites crossed the river Jordan following the 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. It is also believed to be the place where the prophet Elijah was taken bodily up into Heaven.

 

While pilgrims have been able to visit a small area along the river bank, a wider zone of 250 acres, which includes churches of several different Christian denominations, has been off-limits for nearly 50 years.

 

Around 3,000 anti-tank landmines were laid by the Israeli military during its conflict with Jordanian forces during the Six Day War in 1967. The area, officially evacuated by the Israeli government in 1970, includes a Catholic chapel belonging to the Franciscans, Greek and Ethiopian Orthodox monasteries, and Greek, Romanian, Syrian, Russian, and Coptic Orthodox churches.

 

Work to clear the site began in March, 2018, and is being conducted by the HALO Trust, an international anti-landmine charity, the Israeli defense ministry, and the private company 4CI.

 

The area around the two monasteries and the Franciscan chapel has been cleared according to a spokesman for the HALO Trust, who told CNA that the work was completed using armoured excavators, as well as a manual clearance team using metal detectors and magnometers.

 

James Cowan, CEO of HALO, released a statement praising the efforts, and committing the organization to completing the project.

 

“This Christmas, the HALO Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the Baptism Site of landmines and other remnants of war. Thanks to the dedication of our demining team and the generosity of the Israeli government and Christians, Jews and Muslims worldwide, we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches,” Cowan said.

 

“In the coming weeks we will also complete the Russian churchyard.  But we cannot stall in our mission to clear every church. HALO still needs at least $300,000 if we are to restore all the churches to their rightful purpose of peaceful worship and reflection.”

 

So far HALO has raised over $500,000 from the public donations to help fund the clearance, and the government of Israel has contributed an additional $535,000.

 

Marcel Aviv, Director of the Israeli National Mine Action Authority called the announcement “very exciting and long-awaited.”

 

“The de-mining of the Baptism Site - a place so significant to so many - is such a unique and wonderful opportunity. The cleaning and releasing of this land, and the ability to return them to their religious guardians, is a project we take great pride in," he said.

 

During the clearance efforts, a team of Georgian HALO deminers were the first people to enter the Ethiopian and Franciscan churches in over 50 years.  According to HALO, religious items, crockery and cutlery, and even a supply of beer were among items recovered and handed back to Church authorities in Jerusalem.

 

Five churches that belong to the Coptic, Greek, Russian, Romanian and Syrian orthodox churches are still believed to be booby-trapped, as is a plot of land belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Church.

 

The project is expected to take a further eight months to a year to complete, at which time the buildings will be returned to Church authorities.

Holy See affirms enduring importance of UN human rights declaration

New York City, N.Y., Dec 10, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven decades after its proclamation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still being hailed as “a great triumph achieved at a tremendous cost,” in the words of St John Paul II.

The landmark declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris Dec. 10, 1948. It includes a preamble and 30 articles that provide for individual freedoms, denounce torture and slavery, and affirm the equal dignity of all people.

The Vatican’s diplomatic representative to the United Nations recently praised the declaration, saying the anniversary presented an opportunity to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” but also warned that parts of the world are experiencing the consequences of failing to uphold those rights.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, offered his reflections at a Dec. 4 conference commemorating the document’s 70th anniversary.

Since Auza was in Katowice, Poland for another conference, his remarks were read by Msgr. Tomasz Grysa. The conference was jointly hosted by the Holy See and Alliance Defending Freedom International at the UN headquarters in New York.

He said the then-recent atrocities of the Holocaust and two World Wars had “revealed that there are some actions so wicked that no one can or will justify them, and certain fundamental values that no one will dispute.”

Archbishop Auza hearkened back to St. John Paul II’s praise for the declaration, which he offered a year after being elected Bishop of Rome.

“When Pope John Paul II spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979, he called [the declaration] the 'fundamental document,' the 'basic inspiration and cornerstone of the United Nations Organization,' and a 'milestone on the long and difficult path of the moral progress,'” Auza wrote.

“After the horrors of the first half of [the 20th] century, it was obvious that human progress could not be measured only by scientific and technological advances, since even those could become weapons against the innocent,” Auza wrote, affirming that “human progress” includes ethical development as well.

Auza noted that the preamble of the UN charter affirms “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,” but does not specify what rights are to be upheld. The Commission on Human Rights later elaborated both political and civil human rights in the declaration, making them “practical” so as to guide action.

“[The rights] were framed not only in relation to the State but also to various mediating institutes like the family, human community, and religious groups, since human beings are persons in solidarity and fraternity rather than isolated individuals,” Auza wrote.

The original declaration itself did not contain any enforcement mechanisms per se, but later agreements such as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sought to incorporate human rights principles into the legal systems of individual nations. The United States ratified that covenant in 1992.

On the occasion of the declaration’s 70th anniversary, Azua highlighted three of the document’s “fundamental presuppositions” that he said “are perhaps not as widely and deeply appreciated today as they were by the framers and the delegates who voted for its adoption” because of cultural changes since the 1940s.

He spoke of the document’s universality, which he characterized as an attempt to formulate rights that would be valid regardless of time, place, and culture, which presumes that there exist universal human rights rooted in human nature. This ties into the document’s objectivity, Azua said; if human nature is objectively the same everywhere, then this prevents the universality of the rights “to be denied for cultural, political, social, philosophical or religious reasons.”

“Human rights are premised on the existence of a nature objectively shared by all members of the human race by the very fact of their humanity,” the archbishop wrote.

“From that nature flows human dignity, which refers to the intrinsic worth of the person, no matter one’s circumstances, no matter how young or old, rich or poor, strong or vulnerable, healthy or sick, wanted or undesired, economically productive or incapacitated, politically influential or insignificant.”

In other words, this recognition presupposes that all human beings are equal in value.

Finally, Auza highlighted the unity of the declaration— the importance of applying all the rights listed, rather than picking and choosing which rights to honor “piecemeal, according to trends or selective choices”— as an important element that was highlighted by Benedict XVI in 2008.

“The Declaration, [Pope Benedict] was saying, is not, and cannot be allowed to become, a menu of rights from which one can choose according to personal, national, or international taste,” Auza wrote.

To this point, Auza highlighted some of the notable instances of human rights violations in the world today.

For example, an estimated one in ten children will be subjected to child labor, and “tens of millions are ensnared by various forms of so-called modern slavery.”

Article 18 of the declaration upholds the freedom of “thought, conscience, and religion,” but “in so many places changing one’s religion or even practising one’s faith is still a death sentence or a reason to be discriminated against.”

Many countries, such as Sudan, have laws that criminalize apostasy, or converting from the state religion, usually Islam.

Auza noted that Pope Francis has spoken out against the reinterpretation of some rights over the years that conflict with each other, leading to, among others things, a breakdown of the family.

“Human rights in general, and the Universal Declaration in particular, were not meant to be used as weapons to advance political, economic, military or cultural agendas contrary to the fundamental human rights,” he wrote.

Can Americans today afford to have kids?

Washington D.C., Dec 9, 2018 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- When Alicia Hernon realized she was pregnant with her eighth child, her first reaction was to start crying.

“I thought, ‘Our car is too small, our house is too small, we’re going to have to move’,” she said.

But while the process was a difficult one, she and her husband Mike were able to make ends meet and went on to welcome two more children into their family.

And it was worth it, the Hernons told CNA.

While raising children has required financial sacrifices, Alicia said, “I know we have become better people because of that.”

The Hernons are far from alone in wondering how they will be able to afford children. In fact, the vast majority of Americans raising children are facing financial difficulties, according to the 2018 American Family Survey, released last week.

Of those who have children at home, 73 percent say they worry about being able to pay at least one monthly bill, and 44 percent have faced an economic crisis in the last year – being unable to pay an important bill or going without food, medical care or housing due to financial difficulty, the survey found.

For both men and women who do not currently have children, the cost of raising a child was the top consideration in deciding whether to become parents, ranking ahead of current relationship status, desire to raise a child of one’s own, and difficulty of balancing family and career.

Anthony Granado, director of the Office of Domestic Social Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while the data may seem surprising, it is consistent with other recent studies on the economy and American families.

He pointed to a 2017 study by the Federal Reserve showing that 40 percent of Americans would not be able to come up with $400 for an emergency expense, without borrowing from someone or selling a possession.

While the economy has turned around since the Great Recession, Granado told CNA, this doesn’t show the whole picture.

“If you’re only looking at GDP as your sense of economic progress in the country, you’re missing how the unemployed, underemployed and poor people are faring in the country,” he said.

Although unemployment rates are at historic lows, Granado said, many of the jobs that have been created have been low-wage or part time jobs, with few to no benefits.

And while there has been an uptick in overall U.S. wages, the largest wage growth has come for the top 10 percent of Americans, he said, while those with lower incomes have seen their wages increase at a slower rate than the cost of living.

Recent data from the Department of Labor indicates that the cost of living in the United States is increasing at its fastest pace in a decade. Soaring costs of college tuition have left many graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and increasing housing, health care and child care costs in many parts of the country compound financial struggles.

“Therefore, you have in effect a loss of wages, a loss of buying power. This is clearly affecting families…average and lower income people are not doing as well,” Granado said.

“If you don’t have the economic means or the benefits through your employer to help provide those things, people are definitely going to be dis-incentivized to have children, which is a bad thing, because we want to promote flourishing families.”

Family structure may also be playing a role in financial well-being, as marriage rates have declined in recent years.

“Marriage is definitely associated with greater financial stability for families,” said Dr. Scott Stanley, research professor and co‑director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver.

This is partly because “those with better resources are much more likely to marry than those with less,” but the nature of marriage is also relevant, he told CNA.

A February report from the Institute for Family Studies – where Stanley serves as a senior fellow – found that only 50 percent of children in the U.S. are currently being raised by both their married biological parents throughout childhood.

Of the other 50 percent, nearly half are being raised by just one parent. The IFS report also highlighted the “abundant evidence” that children fare better when both of their biological, married parents raise them throughout childhood.

“Married couples have usually formed a much clearer commitment to a future together than cohabiting, non-married couples,” Stanley said. “Having a future together reinforces approaching money (and life) as a team. Hence, the greater commitment to a future makes it more likely that a couple will manage money effectively and develop assets for the future.”

In addressing the complex causes of financial insecurity, there is no silver bullet, Granado said.

“Everyone has a role to play in the common good,” he explained. This includes individuals, families, organizations, companies, and government.

“There is a definite positive, proactive role for the government, the public authority,” Granado said. “This has been a hallmark of Church social teaching for centuries.”

This does not mean that the Church advocates for a state-centered society, he clarified – there is a need for charitable acts and individual responsibility.

“But at the end of the day, even if you look at the numbers Catholic Charities has across the country, there are so many people [in need], they are not able to help everybody, they just don’t have those resources,” he said.

“So long as people are not making the wages necessary to care for themselves and their families, there has to be something there to assist them.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been calling on the federal government to address wages and other factors causing families to struggle, Granado said.

“We’ve been looking at things like affordable housing, access to nutrition programs, labor questions, criminal justice reform.”

The Hernons – who today have 10 kids and run The Messy Family project and podcast – offered suggestions for those who want to have children but are concerned about their financial situation.

They cautioned against allowing materialism and the allure of Pinterest-perfect purchases to blur the lines between wants and needs.

Kids can share bedrooms, clothes and toys, and a 16-year-old does not need their own car, Alicia said. Shopping at thrift stores and making gifts instead of buying them are other creative ways that families can save money, she added.

As the kids get older, they also contribute, the Hernons said. By the time their kids reach their mid-teens, they pay for their own cell phones, non-essential clothes and video games. This not only eases the financial burden on the family, but also teaches the children hard work, responsibility, and wise money management.

Families may need to forego expensive vacations and opt for simple birthday celebrations, such as a water balloon fight in the backyard rather than an expensive party, the Hernons said. But ultimately, these sacrifices are what make parents into better people.

They advised couples to discuss finances before marriage to make sure they are on the same page about their goals. They also recommended living on a single income when a couple is first married, so one parent can more easily stop working or cut back on hours once children are born.

Trusting God is also critical, they said.

“One of the things I’ve found is that saying yes to God’s gift of life has always come with blessings,” Mike reflected.

Ultimately, he said, the Church must remind society of the true value of children and family life.

“I think that we [as a culture] have lost a real sense of the joys of family life, in that we are seeing the financial burden first, rather than the joy in it,” he said. “As Catholics, we need to do a more effective job of sharing and celebrating the joy of family life.”

 

Pope Francis: Advent demands conversion, recognizing our mistakes

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2018 / 06:46 am (CNA).- Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, Pope Francis said Sunday, but this season also requires a “journey of conversion.”

“To prepare the way for the Lord who comes, it is necessary to take into account the demands of conversion,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Dec. 9.

Conversion requires changing your attitude, Francis explained. “It leads to humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, and defaults.”

The pope focused on the invitation of St. John the Baptist, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance as a voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

“The Baptist invited the people of his time to conversion with force, vigor, and severity,” Francis said. “Yet he knew how to listen, he knew how to perform gestures of tenderness, gestures of forgiveness towards the multitude of men and women who came to him to confess their sins and be baptized.”

“Even today, the disciples of Jesus are called to be his humble, but courageous witnesses to rekindle hope,” the pope said.

The pope suggested that each person asks, “How can I change something in my attitude to prepare the way for the Lord?” 

One necessary step is “making concrete gestures of reconciliation with our brothers, asking for forgiveness of our faults,” he explained. “The Lord helps us in this, if we have good will.”

Christians are called to help people understand that “despite everything, the kingdom of God continues to be built day by day with the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to prepare the way of the Lord day by day, beginning with ourselves,” Pope Francis prayed.