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Bishops: Executive order prohibiting firing of gays by government and contractors is ‘affront’ to religion

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s executive order of July 21 has installed workplace rules forbidding the firing of employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity by the federal government and federal contractors — a key provision in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act languishing in Congress.

U.S. President Barack Obama is hugged at the White House July 21 after signing an executive order to prohibit the U.S. government and federal contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. Two U.S. Catholic bishops said in a statement the executive order "is unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed" because it could exclude federal contractors "precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama is hugged at the White House July 21 after signing an executive order to prohibit the U.S. government and federal contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. Two U.S. Catholic bishops said in a statement the executive order “is unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed” because it could exclude federal contractors “precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

The U.S. bishops have opposed the bill, known as ENDA, which was passed by the Senate last November but was never scheduled for a vote in the House. The bill has been introduced in almost every Congress since 1994.

“Today’s executive order is unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

“In the name of forbidding discrimination, this order implements discrimination,” they said in a joint statement. “With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent. As a result, the order will exclude federal contractors precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Archbishop Lori and Bishop Malone and two bishops in an earlier posting July 21 on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ blog, addressed their opposition to the changes put in place by the executive order because it does not include a religious exemption and could keep Catholic agencies from getting federal contracts.

“To dismiss concerns about religious freedom in a misguided attempt to address unjust discrimination in the workplace is not to advance justice and tolerance. Instead, it stands as an affront to basic human rights and the importance of religion in society,” the four bishops said.

They included Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“The U.S. legacy of religious freedom has enabled the Catholic Church and other faith communities to exercise their religious and moral convictions freely and thus contribute to the good of all in society. No good can come from removing this witness from our social life,” they added in the blog posting.

“Eliminating truly unjust discrimination — based on personal characteristics, not sexual behavior — and protecting religious freedom are goals that we all should share. The current political climate makes it very difficult to maintain a reasonable dialogue on these contentious issues, but we must keep trying.”

Fourteen other religious leaders July 1 had asked Obama to include a religious exemption in his executive order. “We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need,” said the letter.

Among the signatories were Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, and Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, at The Catholic University of America, Washington.

Schneck, in a July 19 analysis anticipating the executive order, said: “The executive order does not offer the nuanced exemption for religious positions that was sought. But, it does retain the 2002 George Bush executive order language that prohibits religious discrimination in the receipt of federal contracts and allows contracting religious organizations to prefer members of their own faith in some personnel matters.”

He added, “President Obama’s executive order will end discrimination against LGBT citizens in federal contracts while at the same time allowing religious organizations to ensure that key personnel positions in their organizations reflect the values of their faith. … By retaining the Bush order, the administration is recognizing the importance of religious organizations in providing for well-spent federal dollars to the neediest.”

In a statement July 21, Father Snyder said Obama’s executive order “upholds already existing religious exemptions that will allow us to maintain fidelity to our deeply held religious beliefs.”

“As has always been the case, Catholic Charities USA supports the rights of all to employment and abides by the hiring requirements of all federal contracts,” the priest said.

“Specifically, we are pleased that the religious exemption in this executive order ensures that those positions within Catholic Charities USA that are entrusted with maintaining our Catholic identity are to be held exempt,” Father Snyder said.

At a White House ceremony shortly before signing the executive order, Obama said, “Today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. And that’s wrong.

“We’re here to do what we can to make it right, to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.”

The president added, “Congress has spent 40 years, four decades, considering legislation that would help solve the problem. That’s a long time. And yet they still haven’t gotten it done.”

Lawmakers first drafted a measure similar to ENDA in 1974. The Senate vote last fall on ENDA was 64-32 for passage, with no vote schedule in the House.

 

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Fresh music should ‘Begin Again’ without stale plot

July 21st, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Competent pop tunes are strung together by a hackneyed plot line in the romantic comedy “Begin Again.”

CeeLo Green and Mark Ruffalo star in a scene from the movie "Begin Again." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America

CeeLo Green and Mark Ruffalo star in a scene from the movie “Begin Again.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America

Despite all of the time writer-director John Carney’s script spends railing against cliches and stereotypes in the recording industry, the formulaic dialogue in this redemption story of a plucky singer and an alcoholic record executive sounds left over from an inspirational lecture.

“I think that music is about ears, not about eyes,” says Gretta (Keira Knightley) to Dan (Mark Ruffalo), the A&R (artists and repertoire) executive just fired from the label he’d help found.

Dan was once a genius at discovering new talent. Now he’s a bitter boozer and estranged from wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). British-born Gretta used to be the girlfriend and muse for recording star Dave (Adam Levine).

Gretta’s talent for lyric writing landed Dave a major label contract and all the wealth that went with it. But she’s astute enough to realize from a single demo recording for his latest album that Dave’s no longer singing for her, but in celebration of a new romance.

Gretta and Dan both end up in reduced circumstances in Greenwich Village. All it takes is a single hearing of her breathy singing voice in a basement dive, and Dan is inspired. He’s an unpleasant drunken slob at this point with a habit of running out on his bar tabs. Yet Gretta is still intrigued enough to drop her plan to return to Britain and enroll in college.

Without money and a recording studio at his disposal, Dan strikes on the idea of cobbling together Gretta’s demo album using moxie, drive and whatever “free” musicians he can corral.

All you need is love. Don’t sell out. Be your own person. Mismatched people can still find romance. It’s a stout formula with attractive lead actors. But, aside from the appealing music, this rendition of the recipe is fairly stale.

The film contains fleeting profanity and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’ a pleasant sequel for kids

July 21st, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Anthropomorphic aircraft take to the skies again in “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” a lively follow-up to last summer’s “Planes.”

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is that rare sequel which surpasses the original in action, adventure, and 3-D animation. That last element is especially vivid and immersive. In fact, the looping aerial scenes may even make some viewers queasy.

Animated characters appear in the movie "Planes: Fire & Rescue."  The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.

Animated characters appear in the movie “Planes: Fire & Rescue.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

The humanless universe that originated with Disney’s “Cars” film series is cleverly expanded, with new autos, boats and trains joining the fun.

Amid the many sight gags and puns, there’s a positive message about personal sacrifice on behalf of those in need, expressed by the fearless air-attack teams and smoke jumpers battling fires deep in the California forest.

Picking up where “Planes” left off, the sequel finds Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook), the humble cropduster-turned-racing-champion central to the first movie, an international celebrity. Life is good, until an accident reveals a deadly secret: Dusty’s gearbox is failing.

For a racer, this spells doom. Unless Dusty slows down, he may never fly again.

An opportunity to switch gears and careers arises in Piston Peak National Park. There an elite firefighting crew, led by veteran rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voice of Ed Harris), is dedicated to protecting the forest — and the tourists who frequent a new hotel, the Grand Fusel Lodge.

Assisting Dusty in his training regimen are Lil’ Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), a love-struck “super-scooper” aircraft (which carries water or flame retardant), and Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), a heavy-lift helicopter who serves as the park’s resident sage.

When a major fire burns out of control and threatens the hotel, Dusty is put to the ultimate test and witnesses true heroism in action.

Some of the nail-biting action scenes in “Planes: Fire & Rescue” may be a bit intense for the youngest viewers. Additionally, a few double entendres may raise concerns for parents. While these one-liners are likely to pass at well above kids’ heads, their slightly incongruous presence precludes endorsement for all.

Adults, on the other hand, will appreciate the cameo voices and inside jokes. As one depressed car says to a hotel bartender, “She left me for a hybrid. I didn’t even hear him coming.”

The film contains a few perilous situations and some mildly suggestive humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Catholic leaders urge help for migrant kids crossing U.S. border

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A Latin America expert for Catholic Relief Services, the head of the bishops’ migration committee and the president of a Catholic college in Michigan were among those urging the government toward humanitarian responses to a surge of children and families crossing the U.S. border from Central America.

Among their recommendations were: fully funding a requested federal appropriation for services to deal with the influx of people; investigating and working to address the root causes of emigration from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala; and creating a program so people may seek permission to come to the United States without having to make the treacherous and illegal journey. Such programs have been successful in Iraq, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union.

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs July 16, Richard Jones, the CRS deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said his agency has seen the numbers of unaccompanied youth fleeing Central America double yearly since 2011.

“We have seen the homicide rates grow, forced displacement increase and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels battle over who controls the routes through Central America,” he said in written testimony. “In El Salvador and Honduras, there are more gang members than police.”

He gave the example of four boys who were killed and dismembered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, last month because they refused to be drug couriers.

“Two of the four were brothers, one age 10, the other age 6,” Jones said.

Violence in El Salvador also has increased since March 2013, when a truce negotiated between gangs unraveled, Jones said. And since the election of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren earlier this year, he said, “violent deaths have risen to 13 per day or over 70 homicides (per) 100,000 people — nearly double what they were at the same time the previous year.”

In Guatemala City, that nation’s capital, the homicide rate is 116 per 100,000 people, he said, noting that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, in just the past six months, more than 600 unaccompanied children from that city were apprehended in the United States.

He went on to discuss the various social factors complicating the raw violence, and to describe some of the programs CRS and other organizations are providing to try to address the problems at the core and keep families intact in their home countries, with education, skills and ways of improving their situations.

He mentioned various ways the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are trying to address their problems, including how to protect people who are returned there after being deported by the United States and Mexico. The efforts are inadequate, he said.

Jones gave several specific recommendations for ways the U.S. can best direct resources to the countries.

Among them, investing in community-based programs focused on security, job creation and violence prevention; including trying to better understand the local conditions causing people to flee.

In a July 17 letter to members of Congress, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, who heads the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly support supplemental funding requested by President Barack Obama to take care of the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors and 36,000 families that have come into the country since October.

He said they also oppose changes to current laws “that would roll back protections for these children that were enacted as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.”

Bishop Elizondo said that “this vulnerable group is fleeing violence from organized criminal networks. Many are likely to be eligible for a variety of forms of immigration relief, including asylum and various visas. Sending these vulnerable children back to their persecutors without a meaningful immigration hearing would severely decrease their opportunity for legal protection and possibly lead to their bodily harm or even death. We would oppose the repeal of key provisions of these laws in the supplemental appropriations bill or any other legislative vehicle.”

He also opposed placing families into detention facilities, and encouraged increasing funding for community-based alternatives to detention, as well as increased funding for legal representation and for the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with caring for the children.

Bishop Elizondo also asked for funding to address the reasons why people flee their homelands and to support a program for orderly departure in the region.

“Such programs have worked successfully in Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and other locations around the globe,” he said. “The United States and countries in the region could accept a number of children and youth each year, consistent with the best interest of the child standard. Such a program would ensure that children are protected and our international obligations are met while sparing children the dangers of a migration journey.”

And at Marygrove College in Detroit, President David J. Fike called the situation a humanitarian refugee crisis that warrants a different kind of response than has been happening.

“This shouldn’t be a debate,” he said July 17. “The fleeing of vulnerable women, children, and young adults we are witnessing has all of the classic markings of what the world has seen in war-torn regions over and over again, war-torn regions in which unprotected, threatened civilians will take extreme measures to reach a safe haven.

“The only difference in this instance,” he said, “is that the threat to vulnerable civilians is not from standing armies engaged in traditional combat or even organized guerrilla warfare. In this instance, the threat is from brutally violent gangs, extortionists, and narco-traffickers operating with impunity in widespread areas of extreme lawlessness.”

Fike said at a news conference at the Catholic college that the situation calls for a charitable and humanitarian response, yet political leaders and news media debate whether to do that.

“Our elected leaders are all-too-frequently characterizing this situation as being the result of our broken immigration system, or as being the result of our lack of comprehensive immigration reform, or as being the result of some sort of mass psychosis afflicting mothers in specific parts of this hemisphere who are spontaneously deciding to send their children on extraordinarily life-threatening journeys to far off lands,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Fike, said his personal passion on the topic comes from his time spent in Central America and his friendship with some of the University of Central America faculty and staff who were murdered during the El Salvador civil war.

“I’ve seen and understand the results of dehumanization and I don’t like it … it’s painful, it denies our better selves, it makes us smaller and meaner as a country,” he said.

He said he is frustrated by the lack of moral leadership and called on Obama to recognize the migrants as refugees. He said he would marshal the resources of Marygrove to help in any way possible, and encouraged other higher education administrators to do the same.

 

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Catholics at AIDS meeting remember colleagues killed on jet shot down over Ukraine

By

Catholic News Service

MELBOURNE, Australia — Catholics involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS took a few moments July 21 to remember their friends and colleagues who perished in the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Malaysian youths gather in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, July 18 for a candlelight vigil for passengers and crew of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when the plane went down July 17 in eastern Ukraine. (CNS photo/Azhar Rahim, EPA)

Malaysian youths gather in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, July 18 for a candlelight vigil for passengers and crew of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when the plane went down July 17 in eastern Ukraine. (CNS photo/Azhar Rahim, EPA)

At least six AIDS officials were among the 298 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. They were headed to the biennial International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, where some 14,000 researchers, activists, caregivers, politicians and people living with HIV gathered July 20-25.

Catholic AIDS workers participated in a memorial Mass July 21 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Melbourne, with Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide as main celebrant.

Archbishop Wilson called the MH17 incident “a terrible tragedy for the people and their families and a shock to the worldwide community of people who have dedicated their lives to fighting HIV and AIDS.”

At the opening of the main AIDS gathering July 20, delegates paused for a moment of silence to remember their colleagues.

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, a special adviser on HIV and AIDS to Caritas Internationalis, called the loss of his colleagues “a difficult shock” to the AIDS community. The plane crash killed at least 28 Australians, among them Sacred Heart Sister Philomene Tiernan, a teacher at the Kincoppal-Rose Bay School in Sydney.

Msgr. Vitillo was in Ukraine a week before coming to the Australia conference to study the response of the Catholic Church there to HIV and AIDS. He said the violence in Ukraine has had other negative effects on the struggle against HIV and AIDS.

“Church workers there are concerned about the many people displaced by the recent fighting who have lost their access to antiretroviral drugs. There are areas where no government is in control, and that means health needs go unmet,” he said.

“The United Nations prefers to call them fragile states, but I call them failed states. We have the same problem today with access to treatment in the Central African Republic. And in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, people are being deprived of their access to both HIV-related drugs as well as children’s vaccines and medicines for tuberculosis. The supplies all have to go through the capital of Sudan, but they don’t get shared with contested areas,” Msgr. Vitillo said.

 

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Pope calls for prayers as Iraqi militants expel Christians from Mosul

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As the last Iraqi Christians in Mosul fled the city, Pope Francis urgently called for prayers, dialogue and peace.

“Violence isn’t overcome with violence. Violence is conquered with peace” the pope said before leading thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square in a moment of silent prayer July 20.

An Iraqi man carrying a cross and a Quran attends Mass at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad July 20. Pope Francis called for prayers, dialogue, and peace, as the last Iraqi Christians flee the Iraqi city of Mosul. (CNS photo/Ahmed Malik, Reuters)

An Iraqi man carrying a cross and a Quran attends Mass at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad July 20. Pope Francis called for prayers, dialogue, and peace, as the last Iraqi Christians flee the Iraqi city of Mosul. (CNS photo/Ahmed Malik, Reuters)

“Our brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are chased away,” he said, as he assured Christians in all of Iraq and the Middle East of his “constant prayers.”

The pope’s plea came as the last Christian families living in Mosul were forced from the city after facing increasing threats, violence and intimidation.

The Islamic State group, which has taken control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, was threatening to kill any Christians who did not convert to Islam or pay a tax, Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told Vatican Radio.

The militants in Mosul also burned to the ground the building housing the Syriac bishop’s office, residence and library, and everything inside, he said July 19.

Islamic State fighters “have already threatened that if they don’t convert to Islam, all Christians will be murdered. It’s terrible! This is a disgrace for the whole international community,” he told the radio.

The international community must immediately halt all aid to the Islamic State group, he said.

“Whom are they getting their weapons from? From these extremist nations in the (Persian) Gulf, with the approval of Western political leaders because they need their oil.”

The patriarch said the world community must uphold human rights and the freedom of religion.

“We are in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon: We Christians weren’t imported, we’ve been here for millennia and, therefore, we have the right to be treated as human beings and citizens of these countries,” he said.

Patriarch Younan spoke with Pope Francis by telephone July 20 while visiting Rome and told him of the “disastrous” situation in Mosul.

The pope said “he was following closely and with anxiety the plight of Christians” in Mosul, the patriarch told Catholic News Service.

During their nine-minute phone conversation, the patriarch begged the pope “to continue intensifying efforts with the powerful of this world” and to warn them “that it is a mass purification based on religion which is underway in the province of Ninevah,” whose capital is Mosul.

“What a shame for the silence of the so-called civilized world” in response to the tragedy, the patriarch told CNS via email.

The Syriac patriarch was in Rome with Syriac Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul and Syriac Catholic Archbishop Ephrem Yousif Mansoor Abba of Baghdad, to meet with Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister, and explain the plight of Christians in Mosul and surrounding areas.

The patriarch proposed that the Vatican call on its diplomatic corps members to urge their respective governments to take “appropriate measures in order to prevent further killing and abusing of Christians and other minorities in the name of a religion.”

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul told the Vatican’s Fides news agency that Islamic State fighters took possession of a Syrian Catholic monastery outside of Mosul, near Qaraqosh, July 20.

Earlier, militants occupied Mosul’s Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox cathedrals, removed the crosses at the front of the buildings and replaced them with the Islamic state’s black flag. Tombs and other places of worship were reported to have been desecrated, too.

Militants singled out homes belonging to Christians and marked them in red paint with the letter “N,” for “Nazarat,” which means Christian, as well as “Property of ISIS,” the Islamic State group, said Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop of Baghdad.

“Our worst fears have come true and we don’t know what to do,” he told Aid to the Church in Need.

Those who fled their homes with whatever possessions they could carry were then stripped of everything they owned by the militants at the city’s checkpoints, said Archbishop Jean Sleiman, the Latin-rite bishop of Baghdad.

The militants took people’s belongings, money, personal items “even their cars, leaving them with nothing and forcing them to walk miles under the sun to get to the first Christian villages outside the city where they’re welcomed,” he told SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako told AsiaNews that any dialogue with the extremists seemed impossible.

The militants are like “a wall” as they only repeat: “Between us there is nothing but a sword,” the patriarch said. He added that “there is no one of authority to face,” so people “don’t know where they come from and what they really want.”

Patriarch Sako said that as late as the end of June, 35,000 Christians had lived in Mosul, and more than 60,000 lived there before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But now, “for the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

“Iraq is heading towards a humanitarian, cultural and historical disaster,” he said in an open letter to Iraqis and the world July 17.

“It is shameful that Christians are being rejected, expelled and diminished” from a land they have shared together with their Muslim fellow citizens for 1400 years, the patriarch wrote.

He urged Muslims who support the Islamic State “to reconsider their strategy and respect the unarmed innocent people of all ethnicities, religions and sects.” He asked Iraqi Christians to be rational, “calculate their options well,” to come together in solidarity and be patient as they prayed “until the storm passes.”

Syriac Catholic Father Nizar Semaan of Mosul told Fides that world leaders must do something concrete, like “include these groups in the list of terrorist organizations” as well as “make public the names of the countries and forces that finance them.”

He said intelligence agencies and some governments “know where certain weapons and money that keep these groups going come from. It would be enough to stop the flow for a month, and these groups would not have any more force.”

Also, Sunni leaders and followers must help isolate the jihadist groups and declare a religious ruling against them, which “would certainly have a significant effect,” the priest said.

Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.

 

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Caritas official launching appeal for Gaza residents, more than 80,000 displaced

July 18th, 2014 Posted in Featured, International News

By

Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The head of Caritas in Jerusalem said he would launch an international appeal to help with the Gaza Strip and would not wait until the end of Israeli-Hamas hostilities, as he had done in the past.

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires toward the Gaza Strip July 18. Pope Francis telephoned Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas July 18, urging all sides to end hostilities and build peace. (CNS photo/Nir Elias, Reuters)

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires toward the Gaza Strip July 18. Pope Francis telephoned Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas July 18, urging all sides to end hostilities and build peace. (CNS photo/Nir Elias, Reuters)

Father Raed Abusahlia, general director of Caritas Jerusalem, said July 18 that more than 80,000 Palestinians had been displaced and 1,250 homes have been completely demolished in Israeli airstrikes and the invasion of Gaza in July. He said 80 percent of the Gaza Strip was without electricity and 90 percent of people did not have drinkable water.

“Families are leaving everything behind and they don’t know what they will be coming back to,” he told Catholic News Service. “It is very difficult. There will be a lot of work to do afterward.”

Israeli launched a ground offensive in Gaza July 17, and in an email to Father Abusahlia that night, Amin Sabbagh, Gaza Caritas staff coordinator, wrote: “We are facing heavy attack from the sea, from the air and from land. There are lots of explosions everywhere, and people are afraid. Children are scared and women are crying. The situation is impossible. We pray that the Lord brings his peace upon us.”

“This needs to stop on both sides,” Father Abusahlia said. “We would have liked Hamas to have accepted the (Israeli-proposed) cease-fire,” but Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, also wants “the lifting of the blockade and an opening of the crossings from both Israel and Egypt.”

“They don’t want just a cease-fire,” the priest said. Referring to the seven-year Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip, he added, “1.7 million people in Gaza should not remain in the biggest prison.”

The priest said Gazans need hospital supplies. He said Caritas medical staff had been volunteering at local hospitals as well as helping where they could from their homes with the use of first aid kits distributed by Caritas after the fighting in 2012.

Despite calls by Hamas not to leave their homes, thousands of people in 14 targeted quarters heeded Israeli warnings and evacuated and were being sheltered in U.N. school buildings. Some Palestinians remained in their homes, fearing theft in tough economic times.

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem said the school at Holy Family Parish in Gaza had been opened to those fleeing their homes.

Bishop Shomali urged Palestinian and Israeli political leaders to accept Pope Francis’ call for an immediate cease-fire.

“Many innocent people have been killed. The human pride is terrible, and the result is the loss of innocent people,” Bishop Shomali said. “We need an immediate cease-fire both on southern Israel and in Gaza. People are afraid, tired, they don’t sleep.”

In Jerusalem, Matthew McGarry, country representative for Catholic Relief Services, told CNS he was in regular contact with staff in Gaza. He said they told him that although militants had been launching missiles in Israel from civilian areas, many people have also been killed by Israeli airstrikes in areas where there are no launch sites.

A young CRS intern and her family were killed while sitting in their house, he said.

“She was just a young woman trying to improve her situation,” he said. “As with everything, it is not one way or the other. Certainly there are launch sites in civilian areas, but innocent civilians are being killed in their homes.”

He said CRS was working to procure nonfood items for Gazan residents for a time when staffers could distribute them.

“It has been terrible. People are fasting for the month of Ramadan, they are not eating or drinking during the day and they have only a few hours of sleep with the airstrikes and the drones flying overhead,” said McGarry. “It is very frightening, frustrating and disappointing. Clearly this latest round of hostilities is more intense. The indiscriminate targeting of civilians is unacceptable, whoever is doing it.”

Dr. Issa Tarazi, executive director of Near East Council of Churches Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, told Catholic News Service July 18: “There is shooting everywhere, bomb strikes and airstrikes. There are explosions all around. Nobody can move.

“Gaza is so crowded; everywhere you shoot, there are people. We have experience with this, and we don’t want it to be repeated,” he said.

In a post on the Spanish website of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, Father Jorge Hernandez, parish priest in Gaza, said he had shared the translated message of support from Pope Francis with this parish and other Christians.

“Dear brother, I am with you and the sisters and the entire Catholic community. I accompany you with my prayers and closeness. May Jesus bless you and the Virgin Mary protect you,” Pope Francis wrote in Spanish to his fellow Argentine priest.

Father Hernandez, who asked for prayers, spoke of visiting his parishioners, where he saw “terrible moments of fear, confusion, stress, crying, but always, always, always at the end of their stories is the profound confidence in … praising God.”

 

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Francis prays for victims of downed Malaysian jet, urges peace in Ukraine

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY —Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when it came down in eastern Ukraine.

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash July 17 in Grabovo, Ukraine. It is believed all 295 people aboard died in the crash. (CNS photo/Maxim Zmeyev, Reuters)

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash July 17 in Grabovo, Ukraine. It is believed all 295 people aboard died in the crash. (CNS photo/Maxim Zmeyev, Reuters)

According to Australian news reports, as many as 108 of those who died July 17 were on their way to Melbourne for the International AIDS Conference. Also killed was Sacred Heart Sister Philomene Tiernan, a member of the staff at Kincoppal-Rose Bay School, a Catholic girls’ school in Sydney.

“The Holy Father, Francis, has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions,” said a statement July 18 from the Vatican press office. “The pope raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”

Given the ongoing tensions between Ukraine, Ukrainian separatists and Russia, and reports that the plane was flying at 33,000 feet, it was widely believed the plane was shot down.

Regarding the death of Sister Tiernan, the school principal sent a message to parents confirming the news and saying, “this has come as an enormous shock to me and our school community.”

“I heard from Phil yesterday morning,” when the nun was still in France, wrote the principal, Hilary Johnston-Croke. “She told me that she had left Joigny, where she had been attending a retreat,” and had gone to Paris to venerate the remains of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, “which was a very special moment for her.”

“We are devastated by the loss of such a wonderfully kind, wise and compassionate woman who was greatly loved by us all. She was a great friend and mentor to me personally,” the principal said.

The Archdiocese of Sydney announced that a special memorial Mass for all of the victims would be celebrated July 20 in St. Mary’s Cathedral. Australia’s governor general and prime minister were scheduled to attend the Mass.

In Melbourne, as representatives of faith-based groups caring for people with HIV/AIDS held a pre-conference to the international AIDS meeting, they began their work with prayers for the victims.

The White House press office released a statement July 17 offering the country’s condolences to the victims and their families.

“It is critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible,” the White House statement said. “We urge all concerned — Russia, the pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine — to support an immediate cease-fire in order to ensure safe and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators and in order to facilitate the recovery of remains.”

 

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Pope urges Israeli, Palestinian leaders to end Holy Land conflict

July 18th, 2014 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Expressing his serious concerns over the escalating violence in the Holy Land, Pope Francis telephoned Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urging all sides to end hostilities and build peace.

Palestinians look at a destroyed building in Gaza City shortly after an airstrike by Israeli Defense Forces July 17. Caritas Jerusalem officials say Gaza civilians are paying the price for the Israeli-Hamas conflict. (CNS photo/Oliver Weiken, EPA)

Palestinians look at a destroyed building in Gaza City shortly after an airstrike by Israeli Defense Forces July 17. Caritas Jerusalem officials say Gaza civilians are paying the price for the Israeli-Hamas conflict. (CNS photo/Oliver Weiken, EPA)

The morning after Israel launched a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the pope personally telephoned the two leaders July 18 to express “his very serious concerns about the current situation of conflict.”

Phoning Peres at 10 in the morning and Abbas at 11:30 Rome time, the pope told the leaders that the conflict was creating “numerous victims and was giving way to a state of serious humanitarian emergency,” the Vatican said in a written statement July 18.

The pope told the two presidents, whom the pope “considers to be men of peace and who want peace,” that constant prayer was needed.

He also urged them to “work hard at making sure all interested parties and those who have political responsibilities on the local and international levels dedicate themselves to bring an end to all hostilities, striving to foster a truce, peace and a reconciliation of hearts,” the Vatican said.

The pope assured the two leaders of his “constant prayers” as well as the prayers of the whole church “for peace in the Holy Land.”

Meanwhile, the pope also assured the parish priest of the Holy Family Church, the only Catholic parish in Gaza, of his prayers.

One of the pope’s secretaries sent an email around 7 p.m. July 17 to Father Jorge Hernandez, an Argentine priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word.

According to the Vatican, the brief message said, “I accompany you all with my prayers. May the Holy Virgin keep watch over you.”

Holy Family Parish had been holding eucharistic adoration and celebrated a special Mass “to implore forgiveness, justice and peace for all,” according to Vatican Radio.

The priest has opened the parish school to “numerous families” who fled their homes in bombed neighborhoods, according to Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news service. The families “didn’t sleep a wink all night because of the bombing,” a Brazilian nun, identified only as Sister Laudis, told Fides.

“The houses were shaking, the children were crying,” said the nun who said she had spoken with Father Hernandez after leaving Gaza July 17 for Beit Jalla, a village near Bethlehem.

 

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Catholic Relief adviser: Filipinos found shelter before typhoon struck

July 17th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized

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MANILA, Philippines — An emergency adviser for Catholic Relief Services said many Filipinos learned from Typhoon Haiyan and willingly went to shelters before Typhoon Rammasun struck.

“People realized, ‘Oh yes, we are staying in a risky area. We’re staying in a tent or shelter that’s not very sturdy,’” said Elizabeth Tromans, the Manila-based regional emergency adviser for Catholic Relief Services. “And I think people were quite willing to go into the safe areas that had been identified.”

Residents walk amid debris and mud  July 17 brought by Typhoon Rammasun, locally named Glenda, in a coastal village in Batangas, south of Manila. Catholic Relief Services teams were fanning out to affected areas after Typhoon Rammasun propelled its way across the northern half of the Philippines, leaving at least 40 people dead and destroying more than 26,000 houses. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

Residents walk amid debris and mud July 17 brought by Typhoon Rammasun, locally named Glenda, in a coastal village in Batangas, south of Manila. Catholic Relief Services teams were fanning out to affected areas after Typhoon Rammasun propelled its way across the northern half of the Philippines, leaving at least 40 people dead and destroying more than 26,000 houses. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

CRS teams were fanning out to affected areas in mid-July after Typhoon Rammasun propelled its way across the northern half of the Philippines, leaving at least 40 people dead and destroying more than 26,000 houses.

Tromans said the agency was assessing the Bicol region, about 250 miles southeast of Manila, where Rammasun first made landfall. She said CRS’ local partners had reported people had been moved into evacuation centers.

“And then for Quezon (province), we’re struggling to get more information. We haven’t been able to get in touch with people there. We’re thinking some of the cellphone (towers) are down,” she told Catholic News Service July 17.

Rammasun was the most powerful storm to slam the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan cut a path of destruction across the central part of the country last November, killing 6,300 people.

Rammasun affected more than a million people with winds that peaked at 115 miles per hour, knocking out power in 13 provinces and three cities. Broken trees littered streets and crumpled cars beneath them in the Manila capital region. Four of the capital region’s 16 cities and several provinces experienced floods.

Several calls to Caritas Philippines officials were not answered.

Tromans said CRS made storm preparations a day before Rammasun was expected to touch land. She said it “seemed like it was much easier” for her colleagues to move people out to evacuation centers this time around, compared to how “difficult” it was before Haiyan struck.

Parts of Samar province, just south of Bicol, were also affected by Rammasun. Haiyan’s first target was Eastern Samar, and Tromans said CRS was especially paying attention to the rebuilding efforts in the Haiyan-devastated areas.

“This is a reminder that typhoon season and monsoon season is upon us. … We are looking at those still in makeshift shelters and really trying to prioritize those within our shelter projects … looking at the infrastructure … and really keeping the training going on ‘building back better.’

“We’re really trying to prioritize those most at risk ahead of the storm season,” she said.

 

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