Browsing News Entries

FOCUS expands to 15 new campuses this year

Denver, Colo., Aug 18, 2017 / 06:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has announced that it will expand to 15 new campuses for the 2017-2018 school year.

This brings the total number of campuses with a FOCUS presence up to 137.

“I firmly believe God has called me to share this great joy He has given me through this experience to others, and I am absolutely delighted to now be able to do that through FOCUS!” said Natalie Larkins, a first-year FOCUS missionary at Western Kentucky, in a press release.

The new campuses for the upcoming academic year are Bowling Green State University (Ohio), Indiana University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Louisiana State University, Slippery Rock University (Pennsylvania), University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Rochester (New York), University of Southampton (England), University of Southern Mississippi, University of Toledo (Ohio), Valparaiso University (Indiana), West Chester University (Pennsylvania), Western Kentucky University, and Western Michigan University.

A campus outreach ministry, FOCUS works to inspire and equip college students to know, love and share their faith through intentional virtue-based friendships.

Missionaries stationed at campuses throughout the country and internationally invite students to grow in their faith through Bible studies, small groups, events, mission trips, and one-on-one discipleships.

FOCUS has more than doubled its campus presence since 2011.

The organization is hoping to again double the number of campuses it serves within the next five years, with a goal of reaching 250 FOCUS campuses by 2022.

In Ontario, legal assisted suicide could kill conscientious objection

Toronto, Canada, Aug 18, 2017 / 02:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Conscience protections for Catholic hospitals and other organizations could soon come under fire in the Canadian province of Ontario, with one assisted suicide group saying they may challenge this legislation in court.

Deacon Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, warned that it becomes very difficult to defend objections to assisted suicide once it becomes legal.

“Of course our position would be that there should be no requirement for faith-based institutions to be involved in assisted suicide or euthanasia,” the deacon said. “It’s appropriate that not only the institution, but the individuals should be protected as well.”

“I think that conscientious objection in Canada, unfortunately, hangs by a thread,” he told CNA Aug. 17. “There are many of us fighting for this right, but the concern is that in a society where killing a patient is seen to be a compassionate and merciful act, then those who refuse to do it are by definition uncompassionate and uncharitable.”

“When you legalize euthanasia, and killing becomes moral, then that quickly becomes the norm, and those who deviate from that are seen to be outliers and unprofessional in their approach,” he added.

More than 630 people have killed themselves in Ontario under legal assisted suicide, but not at Catholic hospitals, CBC News reports. In Ontario, the law requires hospitals, hospices and long-term care centers that will not take part in assisted suicide to transfer the patient to a facility that will.

But Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of pro-assisted suicide group Dying With Dignity Canada, claims that the current Ontario law “gave an opt-out to basic and essential health care to hospitals that don't want to provide for the dying.” She said transferring patients may not be easy for people nearing the end of life, the older, the frail, and those already in pain.

Gokool’s group presently says individual doctors or nurses should be able to choose not to take part in assisted suicide, but organizations should not be able to do so.

For Deacon Worthen, however, the rights of individuals and of facilities are linked “very closely together.”

“Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals spend their whole lives being at the beds of the sick, with the point of view of helping them, supporting, them, helping them with their pain. To ask the same individuals then to participate in the deaths of those patients strikes me as being totalitarian and inhumane,” he said.

“No individual should be forced to go against their conscience, especially in something as personal and emotional as the taking of human life.”

Similarly, Deacon Worthen backed the right of faith groups to have facilities to provide health care according to their faith, culture and tradition.

“In order for that facility to have that ethos or mission, it needs to be able to be free to follow the tenets of its faith without any coercion from the state,” he said. “A diverse society would require that.”

Deacon Worthen added that there are good inherent reasons to oppose assisted suicide, dating back to the ancient physician Hippocrates.

When people find themselves wanting to end their lives, he said, “the doctor should be there to provide the support that that person needs, so that they can feel that life is worth living, as opposed to agreeing with them, and participating in ending their lives.”

Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins said he is confident there is sufficient access to assisted suicide.

“We're obviously monitoring it very, very closely and currently don't have those concerns in terms of access,” he said, noting that many assisted suicides take place outside an institutional setting. Hoskins said “about half of medical assistance in dying happens at home.”

Dying With Dignity Canada is also challenging rules against freedom-of-information officers releasing the names of facilities that do or do not assist in suicides. The present policy differs from the Alberta province, which requires public health institutions that do not assist in suicides to publish data each week showing how many patients are transferred for medically assisted suicide.

Deacon Worthen also warned of cases where physicians pressured patients into ending their lives, where they had not already made the decision to do so.

“We’ve heard stories where health care practitioners are already suggesting assisted suicide to patients, and even encouraging that, and discouraging family members from aiding the person continuing their lives,” the deacon said.

At least one Canadian medical school has incorporated the issue of conscientious objection to assisted suicide into its admission process. One applicant was asked by an actor to help them commit suicide. When the student recoiled from this, the actor continued to press until finally the student assented.

Some are reportedly advocating that conscientious objectors to assisted suicide should not be allowed in medical school.
 

 

No end in sight as Uganda receives one million South Sudanese refugees

Kampala, Uganda, Aug 18, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The tally of South Sudanese refugees entering Uganda for shelter and safety marked 1 million this week, in what is now the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

“Families are escaping a living hell in South Sudan,” Muhumed Hussein, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Country Director for Uganda, stated Aug. 16.

“The stories they tell us when they arrive are truly horrific. The war in South Sudan continues to rage and the arrival of the one-millionth South Sudanese fleeing to Uganda is testament to this,” Hussein continued.

Conflict in South Sudan began around its founding in 2011, when the country gained independence from Sudan. Promise for the country’s bright future dimmed when political corruption and ethnic divisions overwhelmed the underdeveloped nation, causing famine and violence.

For the past three-and-a-half years, a civil war has been raging in the country. The nation is split between those loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Riek Machar. The conflict has additionally created various divisions and factions of local militia.

Caught in the cross-fire of the war are families, women, and children, who make up around 85 percent of the refugees now fleeing to Uganda. If they remain in South Sudan, they are labeled as rebels and are either killed, tortured, raped, or forced into fighting.

Since 2013, it is estimated that as many as 4 million have fled, leaving behind tens of thousands dead. Almost 1,000 citizens have died between the months of May and July alone, according to the South Sudan Human Rights Observatory.

In March, the bishops of South Sudan advocated a “sincere and honest” call to prayer after Kiir called for a day of prayer to be held March 10. Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro of Tombura-Yambio said the whole country would be watching the president closely to see whether his attitude will trend toward peace.

The bishops have charged that the political elite “don’t take their people in heart” and that both sides in the war have targeted civilians. They have also said the war has “no moral justification whatsoever.”

On average, 1,800 South Sudanese refugees have been crossing into Uganda every day for the past year.

Those who make the dangerous journey to Uganda are welcomed with plots of land, meals, and medical care such as vaccinations, and are also able to travel and work within the country.

“The government response to accepting the South Sudanese refugees has been overwhelmingly positive, progressive, and welcoming,” stated Sacha Manov, the deputy director in Uganda for the International Rescue Committee, according to Reuters.

Although Uganda is welcoming of refugees, they are wearing thin on food, supplies, and shelter. The U.N. agency is receiving only about 21 percent of the total cost needed to provide for the refugees.

Camps that shelter refugees in Uganda are also in dire need of development, and often lack basic necessities, such as finished toilets.

In addition to aid from the U.N., Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is also contributing their help for the refugee crisis in Uganda.

“We have been with the people of South Sudan throughout this time of hope and peril. And we are not deserting them now,” stated Jerry Farrell, the CRS Country Representative in South Sudan.

CRS has been offering refugee aid since 2015, by distributing over 6,600 tons of food to more than 250,000 people. The organization has also educated local farmers and trained the community in hygiene promoters to encourage a more sustainable future.

However, Farrell hopes that despite current efforts, the international community will do more to help the refugee crisis.

“The people of South Sudan, whom we have come to know so well, expect and deserve better. We hope that the international community will work to see their hopes are fulfilled,” Farrell said.

Refugees will continue to flee South Sudan into neighboring Uganda until the civil war ends and the country can begin to develop a safe homeland for its citizens. However, international peacemaking efforts have halted and there is no substantial talk of peace on the horizon.

“South Sudan is the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis,” stated Hussein.

“It will likely stay that way until people are no longer living in a state of terror and left with no other option than to flee. The barbaric violence endemic in this war guarantees it.”

What an academic institute in Canada means for Ukrainian Catholics

Toronto, Canada, Aug 17, 2017 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A longtime institute on Eastern Christianity has played a pivotal role in restoring the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church after the fall of communism, and it now has a new home in Toronto.

Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saint Vladimir the Great of Paris, said the Sheptytsky Institute is “the window through which North America, especially Canada, can see the Eastern Christian world in all its diversity.” He was quoted in a report from St. Michael’s College.

The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies now resides on the campus of the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. The institute becomes a part of the Toronto School of Theology, which has three Catholic graduate facilities asd well as theological faculties representing the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterians.

Students seeking Master of Divinity or Master of Arts degrees through the institute may study topics including liturgy, church history, and systematic theology.

While the institute’s foundation is in the Ukrainian Byzantine tradition, it has an interest in all forms of Eastern Christianity, including Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, and Assyrian.

“We want to be a place that allows the Copts to tell their story at one of the great universities of the world – a story of martyrdom, a story of perseverance,” said Father Andriy Chirovsky, the institute’s founding scholar.

He founded the institute “to help the rebirth of our Church in North America” as well as to help other Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, he said.

Instructors from the institute began to teach in Ukraine shortly before the Soviet Union’s unexpected collapse. Their work continued after Ukraine became independent.

When the institute was founded in 1986, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was still illegal in its homeland. Harsh Soviet laws were enacted in 1939, at a time when the Church had 3,000 priests. In 1986, there were only 300 priests remaining. Their average age was 70 years.

After the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, Soviet rule mandated the forced liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but after the fall of the Soviet Union the Church witnessed rapid growth.

The Sheptytsky Institute’s director, Father Peter Galadza, said the number of Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests is once again at pre-World War II levels.

The institute’s namesake, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, is said to have predicted both the annihilation of his Church and its resurgence. His cause for beatification is being pursued.

Metropolitan Andrey was born to a polonized Ukrainian aristocratic family in 1865. He became metropolitan at the age of 36 and lived under seven successive governments before his death in 1944 at the age of 79.

Bishop Gudziak described Venerable Sheptytsky as “one of the greatest churchmen of the last hundred years.” His Church had 3 to 4 million members whose communities are now found across the entire globe: Siberia, Egypt, Western Canada, and Argentina. Metropolitan Andrey visited his flock in Western Europe and the Americas.

The institute that bears his name was founded at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and moved to St. Paul’s University in Ottawa in 1990.

Its new home is Windle House, a Victorian mansion built in 1897. The house includes offices for professors and administrators, a seminar room, a reading room, and a student lounge.

About 500 people attended the July 25 blessing and garden party that welcomed the center and rededicated Windle House. Attendees included Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto.

Cardinal Collins, a member of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, said the institute’s ministry reflects “the richness of the Catholic Church, the diversity and the beauty.”

Bishop Gudziak, who is also president of the Ukrainian Catholic University, said the institute will help advance the example of its namesake in meeting the challenges of the 20th century. In the bishop’s view, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has become “an unwilling expert” at “how to stand up to authoritarianism and totalitarianism.”

“Today there is, globally, an increase in authoritarian rule … Whether it’s for Christians of the Middle East, or Christians in the former Soviet Union, or Christians in the Far East, whether it’s people of good will in many countries and contexts today — the issue of human dignity, of human freedom, is foremost,” said Bishop Gudziak, according to The Catholic Register.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Kyiv-Halych is the patron of the Sheptytsky Institute and a former student.

In the spring 2017 edition of the institute’s newsletter, he said the institute’s professors “have played an important role in forging a way forward for our Church in the world.”

“Our Church of Kyiv is now a global Church, with structures on five continents. It is incredibly significant that the Sheptytsky Institute will now be located at one of the world’s top research universities. This is a sign of our Church coming of age.”

He said the institute provided “invaluable assistance” to the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, which was founded in 1994.

New petition calls for pro-life support against nuclear warfare

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As political tensions increase between the United States and North Korea, one pro-life group began a petition urging nuclear disarmament around the world.

Rehumanize International is asking pro-life advocates to join them in the fight against nuclear arms by signing a letter directed to President Donald Trump and attending an anti-nuclear weapons march outside the White House on Sept. 9.

“And with many pro-lifers around the world who understand that nuclear weapons can never be tools of a Just War, we call on the Trump administration and the governments of all nuclear-wielding nations to dismantle and destroy their nuclear arms!” read the letter, which was posted on Change.org Aug. 11.

Concern over nuclear warfare has recently escalated as North Korea has refused to halt its reported efforts for increased nuclear power as well as intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

Among many smaller ballistic missile tests this year, North Korea last month tested its second intercontinental missile since the country was established, inciting the U.S. to increase economic sanctions against it.

Last week, North Korea mentioned the possibility of targeting U.S. territory Guam, but as of Aug. 16 the country's main news agency said the plans have been paused.

Linking pro-life support to anti-nuclear arms advocacy, the letter begins by stating that nuclear war is opposed to human dignity and demands that more responsibility be taken to end it.

“As supporters of the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings from conception to natural death, and the intrinsic right to life of every member of our human family, we call for an end to nuclear warfare,” the letter read.

“We demand that our executive branch of government be more accountable for our existing nuclear arsenal and sign on to the U.N. treaty for nuclear disarmament.”
 
The U.N.'s 1968 Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons required its signatories to refrain from acquiring nuclear arms, besides the five countries who had attained them before 1967, including the U.S., the U.K., France, China, and Russia. The treaty went into effect in 1970, and was renewed indefinitely in 1995.

The letter is currently open for signatures which can be done electronically on Change.org. They will then be sent to President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence as well as French, British, and United Nation leaders. Among other organizations, the American Solidarity Party and Feminists for Nonviolent Choices have both expressed support for the petition as well as the upcoming march.

“We will join together as powerful pro-life voices who work tirelessly to build a culture of life,” Ruhimanize executive director Aimee Murphy said in an Aug. 17 statement, “as we call on our government to make the truly pro-life policy declaration to condemn the usage of nuclear weapons, no matter who wields them.”

Guam's Catholics pray for peace amid ongoing threats from North Korea

Hagatna, Guam, Aug 17, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the face of North Korea’s threats to bomb the island of Guam, the Catholic faithful have gathered in parishes across the US territory to pray for eased tensions between the two nations.

With more than 80 percent of Guam’s 162,000 population identifying as Catholic, large groups of clergy, religious, and lay persons gathered to offer Mass, rosaries, and other prayers for relief to the pressure between the United States and North Korea.

The world has seen tensions rise between the U.S. and North Korea in recent years, continuing to test ballistic missiles and develop its nuclear options, facing opposition from the world’s leaders and even recent sanctions from the United Nations.  

The coadjutor archbishop of Agaña asked the clergy of the country’s 26 churches to promote peace and offer prayers during Sunday Mass on August 13.

“In your Masses this Sunday, especially in the prayer of the faithful, please offer prayers for peace between our nations, just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action,” said Archbishop Michael Byrnes in an August 11 statement.

Additionally, hundreds of parishioners responded to an invitation by the Archdiocese of Agaña to pray a rosary at the old Spanish government palace, and rallies commemorating the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima took place all across the country.

Guam has faced threats before, but the recent round are particularly intense and explicit. However, priests and lay leaders say prayer brings comfort and hope, recognizing that God is in control of the situation.

The Gospel messages “tell our people that God is in control of what is happening and if we have faith and believe in God all this rhetoric and war possibility here on Guam will be taken care of by God,” said Monte Mesa, vice-chairman of the Guam Visitors Bureau, according to ABC News.

North Korea has been aiming to lengthen their missile range, in what many political leaders have speculated is in ultimate attempt to reach U.S. soil. Last month, the country tested its second intercontinental ballistic missile, leading the U.S. to call for additional economic sanctions.

In response to President Donald Trump’s threat to “bring fire and the fury” if tests continue to pose a risk to American safety, Pyongyang said via an August 9 statement by the Korean Central News Agency that they were “examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam.”

Some 3,000 miles from North Korea, on the southern end of the Mariana Islands, the 210-square mile piece of land is a strategic presence for the U.S., due to its proximity to Asia. Guam has a large number of bases, housing around 7,000 U.S. service members, as well as aircraft carriers, which were a significant force during the Vietnam War.

In an August 16 statement, KCNA said the country is pausing the potential attack on Guam while continuing to monitor U.S behavior. United States officials have still expressed concern.

 

 

Planned Parenthood investigator claims victory in Washington State appeal

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2017 / 03:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Lawyers for Planned Parenthood investigator David Daleiden claimed a victory on Wednesday as the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court sent back a lower court's ruling against him.

“The Court of Appeals, by reversing this decision and remanding this case back to District Court, has prevented a serious threat to the public's right to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Peter Breen, special counsel for the Thomas More Society who argued the appeal for Daleiden.

David Daleiden is the project lead at the Center for Medical Progress, the group that released undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials and others in the abortion industry, as well as interviews of a former clinician for a tissue harvester.

The videos claimed to report on the transfer of fetal tissue of aborted babies from clinics to tissue harvesters for research purposes.

Daleiden and other citizen journalists created a fake medical supply company company and adopted fake identifications to pose as representatives of a fetal tissue procurement company looking to possibly do business with Planned Parenthood clinics. They discussed possible prices for fetal tissue of aborted babies.

Compensation for fetal tissue of aborted babies that is used for research is allowed under federal law for, provided the amount of compensation is not for “valuable consideration” and is “reasonable,” to cover operating expenses like storage and transfer.

In the particular case decided on Monday, Daleiden had requested to view records from the University of Washington’s acquisition and use of fetal tissue of aborted babies for research in their Birth Defects Research Laboratory.

According to his lawyers, Daleiden requested that the names and personal contact information of persons in the records not be made public, but the university sued to block even more information like the job titles and departments from being made public.

“The government employees and the abortion personnel are seeking to force heavy redactions in public documents about their work procuring, processing, and transferring the organs and tissue of aborted human fetuses, in connection with the school’s taxpayer-funded Birth Defects Research Laboratory,” the Thomas More Society stated.

“Such heavy redactions render these public documents useless for investigative purposes,” the group said of the additional requested redactions.

A district court ruled in the university’s favor, issuing an injunction on the additional information being made public. Daleiden’s lawyers appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Monday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously ordered the lower court to explain further why it had allowed censorship of the public records.

The “Doe Plaintiffs” – or the persons whose information was contained in the records – would have to prove both that they “were engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment” and that they faced a “reasonable probability” of harm which could threaten their First Amendment rights, due to backlash once the records were made public, the court said.

The Ninth Circuit kept in place a temporary injunction on release of the information, to allow the district court time to find if the plaintiffs’ claims met the standards for the information to be censored.

“We remand for the district court to address how disclosure of specific information would violate the constitutional or statutory rights of particular individuals or groups of individuals,” the ruling said.

High court weighs constitutionality of Chile's abortion bill

Santiago, Chile, Aug 17, 2017 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the recent passage of a bill that would allow some abortions in Chile, the country's high court is considering whether or not the bill is a violation of the constitutional protections for unborn life.

Chile's constitutional court began discussion Aug. 16 on the unconstitutionality petition filed by legislators of Chile Vamos, a coalition opposed to the government of President Michelle Bachelet.

Bachelet has made relaxing abortion restrictions a priority of her administration.

Abortion has been illegal in Chile for nearly 30 years. The bill would allow the procedure in cases of risk to the life of the mother, fatal congenital or genetic pathology in the unborn child, or rape. It would allow for objecting doctors to refuse to perform abortions, except in cases when the mother’s life is in danger and there are no other available physicians.

Chile Vamos' petition against the bill maintains that it transgresses the constitution as well as penal and health regulations.

Angela Vivanco, the lawyer representing the 36 legislators before the high court, told La Tercera daily that one of the arguments presented refers to the personhood which characterizes the child in gestation, who therefore has “dignity, and merits constitutional protection.”

“There is a profound conviction by the legislators and in the constitutional history of Chile that here we are not protecting a mass of cells, but a person,” Vivanco said.

The constitutional court is hearing arguments for and against the bill Aug. 16 and 17, and is expected to hand down its decision Aug. 18.

The Chilean bishops' conference has addressed a document to the court with five legal observations on the abortion bill.

The bishops stressed the intrinsic value of life, the duty to protect the weakest, the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and freedom of conscience and religion.

It also addressed parental rights, as under the bill a minor under the age of 14 who is seeking an abortion could obtain authorization from a legal representative of her choosing, without any parental involvement.

Pope Francis, Spanish bishops offer prayers after Barcelona terrorist attack

Barcelona, Spain, Aug 17, 2017 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders voiced prayers for victims after a van sped into a crowd of people in the Las Ramblas tourist area of Barcelona on Thursday, killing at least 13 and injuring dozens more.

“The Holy Father has learned with great concern what is happening in Barcelona,” said a statement from the Holy See press office. “The Pope prays for victims of this attack and wishes to express his closeness to all the Spanish people, particularly the injured and families of the victims.”

Bishop José Gil Tamayo, secretary general of the Spanish Bishops Conference, also released a statement, saying on Twitter, “We follow with concern and prayers the situation of victims of the mass trampling in Las Ramblas. Our solidarity with the victims and Barcelona.”

Witnesses reported that the van appeared to move deliberately as it mowed down people in the crowded pedestrian zone, according to the BBC. Local media reported that the driver fled on foot, and police are searching for the suspect.

Police confirmed that at least 13 people were killed in the attack and more than 100 injured, some very seriously. They declared the incident a terrorist attack. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack, although the extent of the group's involvement is currently uncertain.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chairman of the international justice and peace committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the attack on innocent victims “utterly reprehensible.”

“Once again, an act of terror has taken more than a dozen lives and injured scores of others,” he said, adding that the U.S. bishops’ conference “unequivocally condemns this morally heinous act and places itself in solidarity with the people of the Archdiocese of Barcelona and Spain at this terrible time of loss and grief.”

“Our prayers are with the families of those slain and injured in a particular way as we also pray for an end to terrorism,” Bishop Cantu continued. “May God comfort the afflicted and convert the hearts of those who would perpetrate such acts. May our Lord bless both our world and those suffering today from this attack with the gift of peace.”

 

Updated 6:00 pm EST Aug. 17 with U.S. bishops' response, updated casualty numbers.

This surfing school in Chile was created for kids with Down syndrome

Santiago, Chile, Aug 17, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sundays, Felipe Pereira is full of enthusiasm. That’s because on Sundays, the 21-year-old goes to Paradise Beach to enjoy the sea along with his friends and to learn how to surf.

For children and young adults with mental disabilities, this is more than a sport. It is the Waves of Hope free surfing school, based in northern Chile’s Antofagasta region.

The school is directed by Chilean surfing enthusiasts Claudio Morales, Catalina Daniels and Pablo Marín. They launched the program five years ago.

After knocking on a lot of doors, running pilot projects, consulting with specialists, and coming up with financing, they began their first class with six surfboards and six wetsuits.

Each Sunday from December to February, the three directors and other volunteers welcome up to 15 children with Down syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome and autism, giving them completely personalized classes adapted to each person’s condition.



Pereira is a very sociable young man who does folk dancing, goes swimming, and works in his school’s bake shop. He told CNA that what he likes most about the surfing classes is “getting on top of the surf board and catching the waves.”

“I like the sea. I really like to go,” he said. Pereira also liked his instructors, saying, “I like how nice they are to us, I love what they do.”

Instructor Catalina Daniels told CNA that her students “challenge you to change. You can’t go on being the same.”

“They are a tremendous example of how love is the driving force of the best things, the best times, the best efforts. Affectionate warmth is the best investment and with them it’s incredible,” she said.

Daniels also discussed the impact of faith, saying “the person who knows Christ, Jesus, who by his mercy came into your life, can’t be the same. You have to be better, more loving, more understanding, more tolerant, because they are.”

Surfing requires strength, balance, agility, and a lot of technique. But what is most important, the Waves of Hope founders recognize, is the relationship between the instructor and the student. This breaks down the barriers of discrimination to make way for integration.

Many Chileans have never spoken or shaken hands with a person with Down syndrome.

“So very motivated volunteers come, but the first day they don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to act, they try to help, but even they freeze up,” Daniels told CNA.

But the students laugh and tell jokes, and eventually, relationships are formed.

“They have an incredible time. They float, row, do group dynamics, take up the surfboard. They have demonstrated that they can do a lot, they have overcome many difficulties related to their condition,” Daniels said.

She explained that the problem is rooted in discrimination and the lack of proper integration.

“They were born struggling with frustration, they were born already disadvantaged,” she said of the students. “It was really hard getting support from the businesses. Why don’t we see girls with Down syndrome promoting products in advertising? Because the beauty of our students is an atypical beauty and no one wants it on their front page.”

“Chile is a country that creates handicaps,” she reflected, adding that trends to de-value family, school and the Church also cause problems for the disabled.

Daniels recommended that people draw closer to God: “to give love you have to be with the Creator of love…When you have love, you have to give it, you have to give it shape, make it real.”

Claudio Morales, another director, added that the volunteers are “the big winners” of Waves of Hope.

“Children with Down syndrome capture your heart in an incredible way,” he said. “I believe that all the volunteers have a changed way of looking at life.”

 

The article was originally published on CNA Feb. 7, 2017.