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Nation's capital remembers former US Opus Dei head

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2017 / 11:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic figures from Washington, D.C. are remembering the legacy of Fr. Arne Panula, former U.S. vicar of Opus Dei, and a beloved leader, mentor and friend of many throughout the city.

“Father Arne Panula is greatly identified with our Archdiocesan Catholic Information Center where he carried out a quiet, effective, evangelizing ministry that touched many including a large number of young professionals,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl Washington D.C. in a statement to CNA.  

“Both his erudition and spirituality were inviting qualities that helped so many others come to a deeper knowledge and love of the Lord. His priestly presence will be greatly missed.”

Cardinal Wuerl presided over Fr. Panula’s funeral Mass on Saturday, July 22 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Fr. Panula passed away at his Washington, D. C. home on July 19, 2017 after a long battle with cancer.

Born in Duluth, Minn., Fr. Panula graduated from Harvard University in 1967, before traveling to Rome to study Theology. While there, he lived with St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of the personal prelature Opus Dei.

Fr. Panula was ordained a priest in 1973 before serving as chaplain of The Heights School in Washington, D.C. He later served as the U.S. vicar of Opus Dei from 1998-2002.

Starting in 2007, Fr. Panula became the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center includes a bookstore and chapel, offering Mass, adoration, confession and spiritual direction, as well as talks from Catholic speakers.

Under Fr. Panula’s guidance, in 2013 the center began offering an educational fellowship, the Leonine Forum, to help young professionals learn more about the Church’s Social Teaching and service.

Members of Washington D.C.’s Catholic community remembered the priest for his influence in their lives. The Embassy of Poland also mourned his death, linking to his obituary and posting a picture of Fr. Panula giving an opening blessing at an event.

Chad Pecknold, theology professor at The Catholic University of America and leader of several Leonine Forum sessions, remembered the priest on Twitter: “Fr. Arne Panula died today. A hero of the Faith, I'm proud to have called him friend & Father. May God's perpetual light shine upon him. RIP.”

Leonine Fellow and communications professional Elise Italiano commented on social media that Fr. Panula “treated Washington elite, the homeless at his doorstep, and many in between with equal dignity and compassion.”

Another Leonine Fellow, Catherine Szeltner, host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, recalled that “Fr. Arne Panula was a man whose eyes were piercing – but his kindness – even more so. It was an honor to know you. Requiem aeternam.”

George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, noted that Fr. Panula served as a spiritual director to many from all walks of life, many of whom had colorful and difficult journeys to the faith.

Weigel, who is a frequent speaker at the Catholic Information Center, said that Fr. Panula helped turn the center into a “vibrant” source of authentic Catholic life and evangelization amid a city associated more with House of Cards than the House of the Lord.

“He was a man deeply in love with the gift of the priesthood, who was, I would also say, completely unclerical. He fully understood that sanctity is not limited to the sanctuary, that everyone is called by baptism to be a saint and he helped people do that,” Weigel added.

“He was really one of the most remarkable priests I have met.”

 

NFP: It's not just a Catholic thing anymore

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2017 / 03:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For some, it was a health-conscious decision. For others, it was environmental. For still others, it was faith-based.

But no matter the reason, more and more women are ditching the pill and opting for fertility awareness methods as a natural way to achieve or delay pregnancy.

“In the US, there does seem to be an increase in the interest in fertility tracking and understanding the signs and symptoms of our bodies to plan and prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.

“Our work has shown that simple fertility awareness messages are extremely attractive to a wide range of women and can address their family planning needs,” Jennings told CNA.

July 23-29 is national Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, coinciding with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which laid out the Church’s long-understood teachings on the sanctity of human sexuality.  

The Catholic Church has always taught that contraception is immoral, because it divorces procreation from the sexual act. However, the Church approves of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, which allow couples to remain open to life.

Through Natural Family Planning, a woman learns to understand her body’s natural monthly cycle. By tracking the signs of her own fertility each day, she is able to determine when she is fertile and infertile. Decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity can then be made, based upon this knowledge, and the couple’s desire to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.

While NFP is sometimes mistaken for the primitive “calendar method” of generations past, it is actually an umbrella term for a collection of modern fertility awareness methods. Carefully evaluating each woman’s individual body and cycle, modern methods are rooted in science and are 99.6 percent effective when used correctly – a number that competes with the pill, according to the Couple to Couple League, a group that promotes Natural Family Planning.

Additionally, these methods are free from the host of side effects and health risks accompanying hormonal contraception. They don’t pollute the environment. And they can even help women identify underlying health problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.

And Catholics are not alone in their use of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM). Increasingly, they are being joined by women of various faiths and no faiths at all, as the benefits of natural methods draw new awareness.

In recent years, many Evangelicals and other Protestants have started to find fault with artificial birth control, and are turning to natural fertility-based methods instead.

“All women – Protestant, Catholic, Atheists, and nones – can appreciate this hormone free (and conscience free) alternative to chemical contraception,” said Chelsen Vicari, the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an article last year.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the University of Utah found that more women, religious or not, are seeking alternatives to hormonal birth control without turning to surgery. And a 2015 study from the University of Iowa found that more than 1 in 5 women would be open to using fertility monitoring instead of the pill if they knew how it worked.

Methods for understanding fertility are also on the rise, and thanks to the help of modern technology and research, women are able to re-think the long list of side effects that can accompany hormonal contraception, such as depression, increased risk for stroke, and reported lower quality of life.

“Specifically in the app world, the use of fertility apps to track cycles or plan/prevent pregnancy is increasing exponentially,” Jennings said, noting that there are more than 1,000 fertility apps available on Apple and Google Play stores.

However, Jennings did warn that some of the apps have been proven to be inaccurate or “make claims that are either unsubstantiated or misleading, making it difficult for women to know which apps are most likely to meet their needs.”

Among the most well-respected fertility apps is Kindara. Launched in 2012, the iOS app offers charting tools to help women track when they are fertile by highlighting the ovulation period of a woman’s monthly cycle.

“Over the past couple of decades, fertility awareness has been studied a lot. We know scientifically, based on evidence now, that it does work, and it works very well if you use it correctly,” says Lauren Risberg, the Content Lead for Kindara.

Another fertility app, Natural Cycles, was started by a nuclear physicist in Sweden and was recently approved by the European Union as a certified method of birth control.

The growing interest in fertility awareness also comes at a time of concern over false expectations of reliability with artificial birth control.

New statistics released this month indicate that more than half (51%) of the abortions performed in the UK last year were due to failed contraception from the pill, implants or patches.

In an interview with the Telegraph, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said that by encouraging women to use contraception, “you give them the sense that they can control their fertility.”

“Our data shows that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone,” Furedi stressed.

In contrast, Church teaching surrounding Natural Family Planning emphasizes an openness to life, steering away from the notion that women control their fertility and instead empowering them with the knowledge to understand their bodies and cooperate with them to the fullest possible extent.

Emphasizing the gift of fertility and the ability to be co-creators with God to bring about a new human life, the Church teaches that couples should only avoid pregnancy through NFP when they have a just reason to do so.

With fertility awareness continuing to grow in popularity, the medical community would do well to pay attention, Jennings told CNA.

“Significant numbers of women worldwide don’t use birth control due to fears of side effects, negative beliefs about contraception, and because they don’t think they need it at the time,” she said.

“We believe the reproductive health community must take women's concerns seriously – and also take seriously evidence-based methods that rely on people knowing their own fertility.”

 

Deaths in smuggler's truck 'completely senseless,' Texas archbishop says

San Antonio, Texas, Jul 23, 2017 / 09:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The deaths of at least nine people due to heat in an alleged immigrant smuggler’s truck parked in San Antonio are an occasion for tears, prayers, and action to end such situations, the local archbishop has said.

“There are no words to convey the sadness, despair, and yes, even anger, we feel today at learning of the completely senseless deaths of nine people who died as human smuggling or trafficking victims from heat exhaustion and suffocation in San Antonio overnight,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said July 23. “This is an incomprehensible tragedy.”

The San Antonio archbishop voiced prayers for the about 30 adults and children hospitalized with serious injuries due to heat.

“We pray for these victims and all victims of human smuggling and trafficking; that this monstrous form of modern slavery will come to a quick and final end,” he said. “God cries seeing this reality and many other situations such as this across our country and around the world.”

One U.S. official told the Associated Press that 17 of those rescued were being treated for injuries considered life-threatening.

The victims were found in a tractor trailer parked outside a San Antonio Walmart late Saturday or early Sunday. Someone from the truck approached a Walmart employee asking for water. The employee gave the person water and then called police. Authorities found eight people dead, and a ninth died at the hospital.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said the victims were ““very hot to the touch.”

“So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water,” he said.

James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida, was taken into custody but officials would not say whether he was the alleged driver.

Initial interviews with survivors suggest more than 100 people may have been in the back of the 18-wheeler at one point, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan. There were 39 in the truck when rescuers arrived, with the rest believed to have escaped or found rides to their next destination.

Homan said it was unlikely the truck was used to carry immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexican consul general in San Antonio said Mexican nationals were among the survivors and those who died. At least two Guatemalans were on the abandoned trailer, Guatemala’s foreign ministry said.

For Archbishop Gustavo-Siller, the deaths are a “clarion call” for everyone, including churches, law enforcement, elected officials, civic orgaizations and others to prioritize immigration issues and “truly work together in new ways which have eluded us in the past for common sense solutions.”
 
“No more delays! No more victims!” he said.

The Texas Catholic Conference said the bishops of Texas joined Archbishop Garcia-Siller in offering their sincerest condolences to the families of the migrants. They also prayed for healings of the survivors among those who were human smuggling or trafficking victims.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin stated July 24 that the US bishops are heartbroken by the news: " I also note our continued concern and prayers for the several other individuals identified, including school-aged children, who are reported to have life-threatening injuries."

"The loss of lives is tragic and avoidable," added Bishop Vasquez, who chairs the US bishops' migration committee. "We condemn this terrible human exploitation that occurred and continues to happen in our country ...  We together mourn for the lives lost and offer our prayers for these individuals and their families."

In 2003, 19 immigrants locked inside a truck rig died in Victoria, Texas. It was one of the deadliest smuggling-related incidents in recent history.

 

Updated 13:47 MDT, July 24, to include a statement by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin.

This boy invited Pope Francis on a pilgrimage – and here's how he responded

Loreto, Italy, Jul 23, 2017 / 03:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nine-year-old Andrea is an Italian boy who joined 130 children last month for a “Pilgrimage of Joy” to the Marian Shrine of Loreto, Italy.

He was so moved by the experience that he wrote a letter about it to Pope Francis, inviting the Pope to accompany him and the other children for another pilgrimage next year.

And the Pope offered a surprising response, leaving the door open to the possibility in a letter of reply.

“Thanks for the invitation you have made me to go on a pilgrimage with you, being with children is for me the greatest joy. A proverb says: 'Never say never.' Therefore let us entrust this dream into the hands of Providence,” the Pope wrote.

Andrea’s letter to Pope Francis was sent on behalf of himself and the 130 other children who traveled to the Marian Shrine of Loreto from June 22-26. The letter was reprinted by several Italian media outlets.

The pilgrimage was organized by the Rome-Lazio chapter of the National Italian Union of Transportation of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines (UNITALSI) with the goal of teaching young children the importance of prayer and closeness to God, while at the same time allowing them to play, have fun, and make new friends.

“We are more than 130 children, and many are sick, others in wheelchairs and others are going alone and are accompanied by some nuns,” Andrea said in his letter, adding that they are praying for the Pope every day.

Andrea also included a group photo of all the children, and asked for the Holy Father’s blessing.

Pope Francis responded saying that “it was so nice to receive your letter and to hear about the enriching adventure you experienced with UNITALSI during the Pilgrimage of Joy to Loreto for children.”

“Thanks also for the group photo you sent me, where I could see that there are a lot of you, and you all look so nice. As I was looking at each face in the photograph, I was praying to Our Lady of Loreto for you, and I blessed you straight from the heart, along with your parents, volunteers, priests and the UNITALSI leaders,” the Pope said in his reply.

 

 

Pope: the choice between good, evil is one we all have to make

Vatican City, Jul 23, 2017 / 05:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said good and evil are often entwined, and that as sinners, we can't label any one group or institution as bad, since we all face temptation and have the ability to choose which path to follow.

“The Lord, who is wisdom incarnate, today helps us to understand that good and evil cannot identify with definite territories or determined groups of people,” the Pope said July 23.

Jesus tells us that “the line between good and evil passes through the heart of every person. We are all sinners,” he said, and asked for anyone who is not a sinner to raise their hand – which no one did.
 
“We are all sinners!” he said, explaining that with his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ “has freed us from the slavery of sin and gives us the grace of walking in a new life.”

Pope Francis spoke to the crowd of pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday Angelus address, which this week focused on the day's Gospel passage from Matthew, in which an enemy secretly plants weeds alongside the wheat in a master's field.

The image, he said, shows us the good seed that is planted in the world by God, but also the bad seed planted by the devil in order to corrupt the good.

It not only speaks of the problem of evil, but also it also refers to God's patience in the master, who allows the weeds to grow alongside the wheat, so that the harvest is not lost.

“With this image, Jesus tells us that in this world good and evil are totally entwined, that it's impossible to separate them and weed out all the evil,” Pope Francis said, adding that “only God can do this, and he will do it in the final judgment.”

Instead, the parable represents “the field of the freedom of Christians,” who must make the difficult discernment between good and evil, choosing which one to follow.

This, the Pope said, involves trusting God and joining two seemingly contradictory attitudes: “decision and patience.”

Francis explained that “decision” in this case means “wanting to be good grain, with all of it's strengths, and so to distance yourself from evil and it's seductions.”

On the other hand, patience means “preferring a Church that is the leaven of the dough, which is not afraid to dirty her hands washing the feet of her children, rather than a Church of the 'pure,' which pretends to judge before it's time who is in the Kingdom of God and who is not,” he said.

Both of these attitudes are necessary, he said, stressing that no one is perfect, but we are all sinners who have been redeemed by Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.

Thanks to our baptism, Jesus has also given us the Sacrament of Confession, “ because we always need to be forgiven for our sins,” Francis said, adding that “to always look at the evil that is outside of us means not wanting to recognize the sin that is also within us.”

Jesus also teaches us a different way of looking at the world and observing reality, he said. In reflecting on the parable, we are invited to learn God's timing and to see with his eyes, rather than focusing on our own, narrow vision.

“Thanks to the beneficial influence of an anxious waiting, what were weeds or seemed like weeds, can become a product of good,” he said, adding that this is “the prospect of hope!”

Pope Francis closed his address praying that Mary would intercede in helping us to observe in the world around us “not only dirtiness and evil, but also the good and beautiful; to expose the work of Satan, but above all to trust in the action of God who renders history fruitful.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, he voiced his sadness over “serious tensions and violence” in Jerusalem over the weekend, which have left seven people dead.

The deaths were the result of protests that were prompted by the placement of metal detectors at the entrance to the compound housing al-Aqsa mosque in the city, and have prompted world leaders to call for restraint on either side before the situation boils over.

Pope Francis invited pilgrims to join him in praying for a deescalation of the violence, and that “the Lord inspires in all proposals of reconciliation and peace.”

Duterte's bloody war on drugs slammed as 'social cleansing'

Washington D.C., Jul 23, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and government officials are guilty of “social cleansing” under the guise of a war on drugs, advocates testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

“Duterte and other high officials of the land, having had to find a particular section of Philippine society worthy of elimination, have effectively put in place a de facto social cleansing policy whereby police and vigilantes are not only encouraged, but rewarded and forced to commit extrajudicial killings,” witness Ellecer Carlos told members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday.

The hearing on “The Human Rights Consequences of the War on Drugs in the Philippines” featured Carlos and two other witnesses from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They testified on reports of extralegal killings in the Philippines as part of President Duterte’s “Operation Plan Tokhang,” the war on drugs.

The witnesses alleged that high-ranking officials in the Philippine government are complicit in human rights abuses where police officers and vigilantes, who may be working for and paid by the police, track down and kill those involved in the drug trade, with evidence present of other abuses like torture.

The targets are disproportionately poor people. “The vast majority of victims of drug-related killings come from the poorest segments of Philippine society,” Matthew Wells, senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International, stated in his written testimony before the commission.

Heads of poor families may be involved in the drug trade as a way to escape poverty, Wells said, or some may use methamphetamines to help stay awake and energized on a long work day. “The death of a breadwinner often puts families in a more precarious position, at times compounded by police officers stealing from them during crime scene investigations,” Wells said.

President Duterte ran for office on a platform of taking strong action against the drug trade in the country, making shocking statements to underline his commitment to action.

“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor,” the BBC reported him saying. Duterte was previously the mayor of the city of Davao, where he made a name for himself as the “death squad mayor.”

“You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I'd kill you,” he said while running for president. “I'll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

Duterte was elected president in May of 2016. Since then “his rhetoric quickly became all too real” in the war on drugs, Wells stated in his testimony before the commission.

Police officers and vigilantes had killed over 7,000 persons in the drug trade from July, 2016 through January, 2017, according to numbers provided by the Philippine National Police.

While the authorities kept statistics for the first few months of the spike in drug-related deaths, they stopped providing transparency, Wells said. According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, there have been “blatant inconsistencies and a deliberate attempt to conceal the magnitude of the killings” in the war on drugs, Carlos said.

The killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes were among the worst human rights problems in the country, the State Department noted in its most recent human rights report.

On Tuesday, Wells described how police officers are paid under-the-table for “encounters” with drug traffickers where “offenders are killed,” and that there is a pay scale for killing drug sellers and users. Vigilantes are also handed hit lists of suspects in the drug trade by police. They carry out the killings for the police, offering them some mode of cover.

Many of the killings are made at night, through home invasions or drive-by shootings. The “modus operandi” of the police is to barge in the door of a home of a suspect at night; in the encounter, the suspect is shot but the police can use the cover of darkness to claim that the suspect was the initial aggressor, Phelim Kine, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said.

More and more citizens have begun sleeping in the streets to be witnesses, taking video of the incidents to ensure that the truth is documented.

A Reuters investigation had uncovered “payments for killings” by police to vigilantes, and showed significant evidence that a “license to kill” had been granted from high levels of government, Wells said.

All this has been an “economy of murder created by the war on drugs, with the police at the center,” Wells said. And there is “scant accountability,” he said, as there have been no convictions of police officers in drug killings and the family members of those killed “face obstacle after obstacle” in seeking justice.

The testimony of a survivor of an extralegal killing, 29 year-old Efren Morillo, was also submitted to the record. Morillo is the lead petitioner before the Philippine Supreme Court in the first case against Operation Plan Tokhang.

Morillo described being at a friend’s house when five men and two women in civilian clothes arrived, armed with guns. They detained five members of the group and accused them of selling illegal drugs. Morillo recognized some of the men as police officers in civilian clothes. The armed men then shot the five civilians.

The Philippine bishops have been outspoken against the increase in killings, referring to it as a “reign of terror” in a Jan. 30 pastoral letter.

“If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem, if we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths,” the bishops said.

“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong,” they said. “A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.”

Duterte, however, responded to the letter by saying “You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them,” while adding that “if you want to go to heaven, then go to them. Now, if you want to end drugs ... I will go to hell, come join me.”

Duterte has also “openly threatened human rights defenders” and “attacked the media and lawyers who have represented the families of extrajudicial killings,” Carlos said on Tuesday.  

Catholic priests have also offered their churches as “sanctuaries” for those who believe they are on the police hit lists, the Guardian reported in February.

Federal budget jeopardizes struggling poor people, US bishops warn

Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Congress’ proposed federal budget will fail to provide for the basic needs of millions of America’s poor people, the U.S. bishops have said in a call for a morally sound budget.

“A nation’s budget is a moral document. Reducing deficits through cuts for human needs – while simultaneously attempting a tax cut, as this proposal does – will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy,” the bishops said.

“Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice issued the July 20 statement in his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The proposed budget assumes “harmful and unacceptable cuts to Medicaid” under the American Health Care Act, he said.

The proposal’s steady increases to military spending are made possible by “cutting critical resources for those in need over time.” These cuts could include programs like SNAP that he said are essential in providing nutrition to millions of people.

The budget proposes to roll back $203 billion in welfare spending, financial industry regulations, federal employee benefits, and other areas, the Washington Post reports. It passed out of a House committee July 19.

Over 10 years, defense spending would steadily increase while non-defense discretionary spending would fall to $424 billion from $554 billion this year.

The budget’s spending cuts could be deeply controversial politically and the bishops’ statement urged members of Congress to reach across the aisle.

“The bipartisan approach to discretionary spending in recent years, while imperfect, reflected a more balanced compromise given competing priorities,” Bishop Dewane said.

He said the U.S. bishops’ conference is closely monitoring the budget and appropriations process and analyzing the proposed House budget resolution.

India's bishops pray new president will defend rule of law

New Delhi, India, Jul 22, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of India have offered their congratulations to the country's newly elected president, Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to live out the oath he will take to serve the well-being of the people.

India's presidency is largely a ceremonial role, while the prime minister is head of government and leader of the executive branch.

In a July 20 statement the Indian bishops congratulated Kovind, assuring him “of our prayers for his good health and for wisdom and strength that he might guide our beloved country towards peace, development and justice for all peoples.”

“We pray that God may assist him, that, as per the Oath of Office, he will strive 'to the best of his ability to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law, and that he will devote himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India.'”

The bishops closed their statement praying that under his leadership India would “march towards greater heights,” and again assured the president-elect of “our loyalty and support in the service of our country.”

India's presidential election was held July 17, with the final votes counted July 20. The term of the country's former president,  Pranab Mukherjee, is set to end July 24.

Kovind, part of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was backed by the governing National Democratic Alliance coalition, and ran against opposition candidate Meira Kumar of the Indian National Congress.

The president-elect is a Dalit and a lawyer, and has served in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. Most recently he served in the largely ceremonial post of governor of Bihar state.

The election comes in wake of a recent uptick in the number of “mob lynchings” happening in India, in which members of the country's Hindu majority carry out acts of violence against those, typically from minority religions such as Islam, accused of killing cows, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion.

Attacks against minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, are common in India. They include anything from jeering, violence, forced conversions, and the burning of property, and frequently go under-reported.

According to Al Jazeera, the mob lynching of Muslims began to gain wider public attention in 2015 when 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was beat to death by an angry mob who accused the man of eating beef.

Since his death, attacks against Muslims related to the slaughtering of cows have increased, with multiple attacks against minorities reported in 2015 and 2016, and at least seven such incidents between March and May of this year.

The latest, Al Jazeera reports, was the June 22 murder of three Muslims in West Bengal who had been accused of smuggling cows, and the June 27 attack against a man accused of killing a cow. The man survived, but was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

On July 16, around 40 religious leaders and intellectuals from across India gathered in Delhi to address the increase of violence,  a “disregard for the rule of law” and the spread of an “environment of hate” throughout the country.

Backed by the Indian bishops' conference, attendees urged the government to end “impunity which was at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today” and threatens “not just secularism, but the Constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”

They expressed their shock at the increased number of lynchings carried out on the pretext of protecting cows, stressing that in these cases, the state governments and police forces “acted against the guilty in an impartial manner.”

Past violence carried out against minorities in the country has largely been attributed to the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS.

They were established in 1925 with the goal of establishing “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness,” and have been banned three times in post-independence India, with all three bans eventually being lifted.

Critics of the group have often refered to them as a sectarian, militant group who believe in the supremacy of Hindus and who preach hate against Muslim and Christian minorities. Narendra Modi, elected India's prime minister in May 2014, was a full time worker with the RSS prior to his election.

As BJP spokesman in 2010, Kovind said that "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation."

The RSS sits on the right-wing and has no official registration in India. However, they maintain strong ties with the BJP, of which president-elect Kovind is a part, raising questions as to how much action will be taken against minority violence in the future. Kovind is also close to the RSS.

Catholic women's conference to be held in New Mexico

Albuquerque, N.M., Jul 21, 2017 / 06:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Women of Grace apostolate will mark 30 years at its national conference this year, an event which aims to help women celebrate their “gift of authentic femininity.”

“Come be restored, renewed, and refreshed as we journey together through this transforming weekend!” organizers said in an announcement. “Discover the blessing of your femininity and how to follow our Blessed Mother’s example in the world today!”  

Johnnette S. Benkovic, EWTN host and founder and president of Women of Grace, will be among the event’s speakers.

The national conference will take place in Albuquerque, N.M. at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept. 10.

The conference is based on the theme “Bloom Who You Are.”

Besides Benkovic, other presenters include Father Philip Scott, F.J., founder of the Family of Jesus; singer/songwriter and Catholic evangelist Kitty Cleveland; and Carol Marquardt, founder of the Mantle of Mary Association Prayer Network.

Musical presenters include Kitty Cleveland and the worship team Living Praise.

The conference will include Mass, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic Adoration, a healing service, and a musical presentation. Spanish translation will be provided, as will a young women’s track.

The full cost of $140 includes a Friday boxed dinner, as well as lunch and dinner on Saturday. Other registration options are available.

Benkovic will lead a Benedicta Leadership Enrichment Seminar at the same location Sept. 7-8.

More information and registration is available at http://www.womenofgrace.com

 

 

Bishop: Senate mustn't repeal health care law without suitable replacement

Washington D.C., Jul 21, 2017 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US bishops' representative for domestic justice has asked Senators not to vote to repeal the current health care law unless they have an alternative in place that offers acceptable levels of coverage.

“In the face of difficulties” of bringing health care legislation to the Senate floor, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice said in a letter to senators on Thursday, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA [Affordable Care Act] without a replacement.”

“Yet,” he said July 20, “reform is still needed to address the ACA's moral deficiencies and challenges with long-term sustainability.”

After the House passed a health care bill repealing the ACA and replacing it with provisions of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Senate has worked on producing a bill of its own, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). However, the Senate has so far failed to bring a health care bill to the floor for a vote.

This week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that not only did the Senate not have the votes to pass the health care bill, but it did not have the votes required to sustain debate on repealing and replacing the ACA.

He announced that a vote would occur anyhow, on the House health care bill with an amendment attached that would repeal the current health care law but allow for a two-year transition period for stability.

A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act is expected as soon as Tuesday. However, according to reports it is still unclear exactly which bill the Senate would vote on to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, for example, advocated on Friday that the Senate should vote either on its own health care bill or on the 2015 reconciliation bill that repealed the ACA. Those bills would end the funding of abortion coverage within the ACA, Susan B. Anthony List said.

Pro-life leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, met with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday. Mancini called it a “good meeting” and reiterated that “abortion is not health care,” referring to funding of abortion coverage under the current health care law.

Bishop Dewane had previously said that no repeal of the current health care law should be made without a suitable replacement plan. “To end coverage for those who struggle every day without an adequate alternative in place would be devastating,” Bishop Dewane said.

He said any replacement plan must be one that “protects poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants, safeguards the unborn, and supports conscience rights.” The replacement plans that have been proposed by the House and Senate are “seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways,” he said.

While the bishop had applauded the Hyde Amendment protections in the House bill that would have blocked the taxpayer funding of abortions through tax credits and other subsidies, he had expressed serious concern about its changes to Medicaid and other provisions. The bill, he said, would cut coverage or make it more cost-prohibitive for those who may need it most, like the elderly, the poor, and the chronically ill.

The revised Senate plan, meanwhile, was still “unacceptable,” the bishop said in a statement last Thursday.

Regarding the original Senate health care proposal, in his June 27 letter Bishop Dewane said that “at a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a ‘per capita cap’ on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable.”

He added that under the bill health coverage costs could increase for many elderly and poor persons “because of decreased levels of tax credit support and higher premiums.” And, the bishop said, the bill, like its House counterpart, lacked conscience protections.

He warned that the pro-life language in the bill was laudable, but echoed concerns of other pro-lifers that the language could be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian before it reached the Senate Floor.

The revised Senate bill contained some slight improvements like more funding to fight opioid addiction, “but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill,” he said last Thursday.

This week, however, the Senate bill was scuttled. Yet amid the uncertainty of what the senators may vote on next week, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement,” Bishop Dewane said.

On Friday, Pence urged Americans to ask their senator to vote to begin the debate to repeal and replace the ACA on Tuesday.

Susan B. Anthony List, meanwhile, said the Senate should work to ensure a bill is passed which defunds Planned Parenthood and protects taxpayer funding from going to abortion coverage in federally-subsidized plans.  

“The first step is voting for the motion to proceed to the House-passed bill which replaces Obamacare abortion funding with health assistance that does not include abortion coverage and redirects funding for certain abortion providers to noncontroversial community health centers,” the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a July 20 letter to senators.

“While the House bill faces procedural hurdles, we support passage of a substitute amendment that is substantially similar to the Obamacare repeal bill sent to President Obama in January 2016,” she added.

“Obamacare has been a disaster for unborn children through its unprecedented expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion,” Dannenfelser said.

“The 2015 reconciliation bill that was sent to President Obama’s desk or the Better Care Reconciliation Act would roll back this damage and help return us to the principle that abortion is not health care.”