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Pope Francis: Discover the beauty of prayer in adoration

Vatican City, Aug 18, 2019 / 05:25 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that prayer in adoration of God and service to others spreads the fire of God’s love, changing the world one heart at a time.

“I invite everyone to discover the beauty of the prayer of adoration and to exercise it often,” Pope Francis said Aug. 18.

Adoration of God in prayer is necessary to allow the fire of love that Jesus brought to the earth to envelop our entire existence, the pope explained.

In his Angelus address, the pope reflected upon this Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which Jesus says to his disciples, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

“These words are intended to help the disciples to abandon any attitude of laziness, apathy, indifference and closure to welcome the fire of God's love; that love which, as Saint Paul reminds us, ‘has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,’” Pope Francis said.

“Jesus reveals to his friends, and also to us, his most ardent desire: to bring to earth the fire of the Father's love, which kindles life and through which man is saved,” he said.

The Gospel is a limitless fire that saves and changes the world beginning with a change inside the heart of each person, Francis said. For this, he explained, it is necessary to adore God and serve others.

“It is a question of not living in a hypocritical way, but of being willing to pay the price for coherent choices - this is the attitude that each of us should look for in life: consistency - paying the price to be consistent with the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.

“It is good to say that we are Christians, but above all we must be Christians in concrete situations, bearing witness to the Gospel which is essentially love for God and for our brothers,” he said.

Pope Francis pointed to the example of communities and groups of young people who dedicate their summers to service to others. The pope said that he admires those who devote themselves to the service of the sick, the poor, and people with disabilities.

“To live according to the spirit of the Gospel it is necessary that, in the face of ever new needs that are looming in the world, there are disciples of Christ who know how to respond with new initiatives of charity,” he said.

“May Mary Most Holy help us to let our hearts be purified by the fire brought by Jesus and to spread it with our lives through decisive and courageous choices,” Pope Francis said.

'Remember Me' - Should Catholics talk to their dead loved ones? 

Denver, Colo., Aug 18, 2019 / 04:57 am (CNA).- In the 2017 Disney-Pixar movie “Coco,” the main character, Miguel, accidentally passes over into the land of the dead on Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) while trying to reconcile his love of music with his family’s ban on it.

There, he learns that the dead can only visit their loved ones on that holiday if they can prove there is a photo of them on their family’s “ofrenda”, an altar with photos of loved ones, colorful decorations, and the favorite foods, drinks and mementos of the deceased.

“We've put their photos on the ofrenda so their spirits can cross over. That is very important! If we don't put them up, they can't come!” Miguel’s abuelita explains.

While in the land of the dead, Miguel bumps into his own deceased family members, and learns his true family history.

Though Miguel’s experience is fictional, it is not uncommon for grieving loved ones to experience what psychologists call “After Death Communication,” in which the bereaved believe that they see, hear the voices of, or even smell their dead loved ones.

These experiences, sometimes called “bereavement hallucinations,” can be healing and comforting for those who grieve, multiple studies have found.

But Catholics should proceed with caution when “communicating” with the dead, two Catholic psychologists told CNA, and they should ground their communications in prayer.

Dana Nygaard is a Catholic and a licensed professional counselor who speaks to grief groups and counsels clients through loss. Nygaard told CNA that because many Catholics misunderstand what happens to souls after death, she urges caution when talking about what it means to talk to dead loved ones.

“If they're speaking to a loved one, how are they doing that? Is it through saying, ‘Hey grandma, I think you're up there in heaven with God. I really hope you pray and look over me.’ Okay, well that sounds fine,” she said.

“Or...are they going to a psychic or a medium? Is this necromancy? How were they doing this?  I think that's an important question,” Nygaard said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “all forms of divination are to be rejected” which includes the “conjuring up the dead.”

However, the Church encourages Catholics to pray for the dead as one of the spiritual works of mercy.

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead,” the Catechism states.

“Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

“Prayer, prayer, prayer,” Nygaard said, noting that because Catholics do not know the state of the souls of their loved ones when they die, it is important to pray for them after their death, as prayers can help the souls in purgatory get to heaven faster.

The Liturgy of the Hours, a set of prayers said periodically throughout the day by priests, religious and some lay Catholics, includes a special Office of the Dead, a set of prayers said specifically for those who have died.

Nygaard told CNA that she often encourages Catholics who are grieving a loss to ask for the intercessory prayers of saints already canonized by the Church, which means that they are assured to be with God in heaven.

“Maybe it was that my great-grandmother was really close to St. Anne. I'm going to ask St. Anne, ‘Would you please look after my sweet great grandmother? I pray she's there with you in heaven.’ I've known people also to pray, ‘God, I'm asking you, do I need to keep praying for my father?’” she said.

Nygaard said that those she counsels through grief will sometimes, after a period of prayer, feel a deep sense of peace that their loved one is in heaven.

Dr. Chris Stravitsch is a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist, as well as the president and founder of Rejoice Counseling Apostolate, a group of Catholic counselors. Stravitsch told CNA that in addition to prayer, he counsels his clients to prepare for their first year of grief, which can often be the most difficult.

“There are a lot of ‘firsts’ to pass through: the first Christmas without him or her; their first birthday without them present; the first wedding anniversary alone; etc. I counsel people to prepare for these occasions in advance because we know it will be painful and difficult,” he said.

He said he tells his clients to plan in advance how and with whom they will spend these difficult days, and how they will remember their loved ones at those times.

“It’s helpful to surround yourself with other loved ones who understand your loss, while also setting aside a little time to be alone in prayer and reminiscing,” he said.

“These are meaningful days to attend Mass, so that you can cling to Christ and receive His consolation. Visiting the gravesite or a place where you have a special memory can also be meaningful, whether that is done alone or with the support of others,” he said.

“Furthermore, be sure to tell stories and talk about your deceased loved ones,” he added. “We need to continue coming together at various times to remember them in a spirit of love and prayer. This is a balm for the brokenhearted.”

Stravitsch said it is important for Catholics to remember that death and grief are painful things to experience, and that Jesus himself wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.

“(Jesus) wants to be with us and share our grief,” he said. This means Catholics should be sensitive towards those who are grieving, and avoid well-intentioned but unhelpful comments such as: “It was God’s will”; “It was their time to go”; “They’re in a better place now”; or “There’s a reason for everything”; Stravitsch said.

“Simply saying, ‘I’m sorry’, giving a warm embrace, sharing a tear, and remaining at their side as long as needed can be far more consoling,” he said.

Checking back in after the funeral has passed, and continuing to talk about the deceased with those who are grieving are other ways Catholics can show compassion, he said.

Both Nygaard and Stravitsch said that they have found that clients are usually deeply comforted by the Church’s teaching on the communion of saints and the promise of everlasting life for all souls who are united with God.

“In the Catholic Church, like we have the mystical body of Christ. And we know that the souls in heaven are surrounding the altar during communion,” she said.

“What I have found is that normally brings a great sense of peace,” to the bereaved, she said. “It's not just me sitting there when I go up for communion...we're mystically connected and that we can ask for the intercession of the saints,” which means any soul that is in heaven with God.

In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul recalls those already in heaven, and says that the faithful are surrounded “by so great a cloud of witnesses.”

“When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.’ All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together,’” the Catechism states.

These teachings are a “great consolation for the bereaved,” Stravitsch said. 

“Not only is there the hope of being reunited with our loved ones after death, but there is the reality of remaining mysteriously connected with them even today. Whether we are interceding for them as we pray for the repose of their soul or we are asking for their prayers, there is a sense that we are within reach of one another,” he added.

“The bonds of true love are not destroyed in death but are made ever stronger. The Church recognizes this in a unique way when we celebrate All Souls Day and we call to mind our deceased loved ones. We are united in Christ.”

 

Catholic aid agency to US government: Don't cut foreign aid funding

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services is speaking out against a potential reassignment of U.S. funds that Congress appropriated for foreign assistance programs, which aid agencies say could mean a loss of between $2 billion and $4 billion they would otherwise use for humanitarian efforts.

The Office of Management and Budget requested the temporary hold on the funding last week, asking for an “accounting” of all funding that has not yet been officially designated for specific purposes.

The letter identified 10 areas of aid to which the funding hold would apply, including development assistance, global health, contributions to international organizations, international narcotics control and peacekeeping activities, the New York Times reported.

Though the funding freeze was lifted Aug. 9, aid groups still worry that the administration may send Congress a budget that pulls billions of dollars in foreign assistance, Politico reports.

“Local churches and Catholic Relief Services partner with the U.S. government to reduce poverty, alleviate suffering, and foster peace around the world,” CRS said.

“Rescinding some of these and other international poverty-reducing funds will limit the United States’ ability to support poor and vulnerable communities, respond to global health challenges, address root causes of forced migration, and advance international religious freedom, global security, and peacekeeping.”

A cut of $4 billion from the aid budget represents 0.08% of the expected federal budget of $4.5 trillion. Still, CRS says, the funding makes a significant difference to their operations abroad.

“We urge the Administration not to rescind foreign assistance funds. We urge Congress to reject any rescissions that target poverty-reducing and peacebuilding accounts and require the Administration to obligate previously appropriated funds. The conflicts and crises today are dire. U.S. moral and financial leadership is necessary,” CRS concluded.

'Overwhelmed with graces': Walking across America for life

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A three-month journey from California to Washington, DC, came to an end August 13, as 23 walkers of this summer’s Crossroads Pro-Life Walks made it to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

Crossroads Pro-Life Walks began in 1995, and have expanded from the United States to Spain, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. This summer, there were two walks crossing the United States--the “Southern” walk, which started in Santa Monica, and the “Central” walk, which began in San Francisco. Both walks ended in DC.

Victoria Bliss, a 19-year-old from Virginia, was one of the participants on this year’s Central walk. Bliss said the experience, while full of challenges, was one that strengthened her faith and inspired her to continue doing pro-life work.

“I’ve always been passionately pro-life, and attended the Marches and 40 Days for Life, but I really wanted to do something bigger and commit my whole summer to the pro-life mission, truly going out into the streets and spreading the gospel of life.” 

She told CNA that participating in Crossroads this summer was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream. As a child, past Crossroads walkers spoke regularly at her church following their arrival in DC. 

According to Crossroads Pro-Life Walks VP Martha Nolan, about 1,500 walkers worldwide have completed their journeys, averaging 40 to 60 miles per day, while visiting churches, pregnancy centers, and convents along the way.

Nolan told CNA that they drive “a little bit” when they fall behind. Previously, walkers would carry on by day and night, but after a tragic accidental death in 2012, the day’s walk now stops at sunset. 

Bliss told CNA that, in addition to the spiritual battles one sometimes faces on a pilgrimage, her group experienced logistical and physical struggles as well. One walker fell very ill and had to leave after three weeks, and their RV broke down numerous times.

Despite this, Bliss said “the Holy Spirit brought good out of every situation, and there was never a time when our team even thought about giving up. We were overwhelmed with graces, every second of every day.”

“There were a few threatening times when we got screamed at or chased,” she told CNA. “A couple of times cars swerved into the shoulder and we had to leap out of the way, but our guardian angels were clearly with us.”

There were also many joys that came along the 12-week journey. For Bliss, the biggest was encountering people each day along the route, many of whom broke down in tears when they saw their pro-life teeshirts. 

“We saw Jesus in so many people,” she said. “I came to realize how beautiful people are, no matter how broken, and how much they need us to radiate God’s joy and peace to them.” 

The route was dotted with what Bliss described as “Divine Providence instances,” such as abortion clinics being unexpectedly closed following the group’s prayer vigil. 

“One time, we had been praying all four mysteries of the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and as we did the final Sign of the Cross, the lights in the clinic turned off,” she recounted.

Each day on Crossroads, the walkers attended Mass, offered “constant rosaries” when they as they went, and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. 

Bliss said that the experience helped her to fall in love with Christ “more than ever before,” and that she witnessed the power of the rosary. 

Now that her walk has ended, Bliss said that she hopes to continue mission work, including becoming a trained sidewalk counselor outside of abortion clinics. But most of all, she hopes to continue the momentum she started this summer.

“Standing up for the unborn is the thing I have always been the most passionate about and I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the evil of abortion, and change hearts by portraying the truth with love.”

Hong Kong student leader: Catholics should take 'major role' in peaceful protests

Hong Kong, China, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- The acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students told CNA this week that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government, amid fears of a crackdown by Chinese authorities.

"For this movement, it's a great chance for the Catholics and [Protestant] Christians to cooperate with each other," Edwin Chow, a student studying Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, told CNA.

"It's a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal...so that's why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, or strengths, our power becomes stronger."

Hundreds of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong have been demonstrating against the government's plans to allow extraditions to mainland China, where Communist courts would try alleged criminals— a plan which as of June has been indefinitely suspended.

Since the bill’s suspension, the protestors have also spoken out against an excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which have led to injuries.

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

As the protests have continued, he said some participants became "more aggressive, more radical." Chow said he thinks the protests have become more radical because even after two marches in June saw more than a million marchers, the government has still not answered the protestors' demands.

Many of the protestors began to take action such as try to break into the legislative council building, or clash with police out of frustration.

"I think the Christian groups and the Catholic groups should participate more in the protests, to take a more major role, because I think nowadays the protests become more radical, and people get very emotional, I think,” Chow commented.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down. Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again."

The threat of the extradition bill should be important to Catholics, Chow said, because they are afraid that if it is reintroduced and passes, it will severely affect religious freedom, giving the Chinese government additional license to arrest Christians and transfer them to mainland China if they commit “crimes” against the mainland.

He cited a case in 2001 where Hong Kongers brought bibles to mainland China, and the Chinese government arrested them.

"The Chinese government is suppressing the Church in mainland China, and so we are worried that when we have communication with the mainland Church, maybe one day the Chinese government will also arrest the Hong Kong people to suppress Hong Kong people," he said.

Though the extradition bill has been withdrawn, the situation in Hong Kong is not over. Demonstrators are calling for the proposal to be definitively withdrawn, and some are demanding Lam’s resignation.

Chow said more than 160,000 students, teachers, and alumni signed a petition against the extradition bill.

The federation had been concerned about the extradition bill since May, and so they started to raise public awareness of the issue by handing out leaflets in early June, Chow said. 

The group also organized prayer meetings and Masses near the protest sites in the beginning of June, when the larger protests started.

Chow said the clergy have been very supportive. The Federation invited bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen to celebrate Mass on June 16, in front of the government headquarters.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has also been very active in going to the protest sites, supporting the young people, and vocally supporting the protestors. Bishop Ha took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after one rally.

"Other ordinary Catholics, some of the older Catholics, they also join in our activities. So you can see that not only the teenagers are supporting, participating in the whole protest, but the older people, some adults...they also join, they also support the whole protest."

Henry Au, an entrepreneur who serves on the board of directors for the Irish Chamber of Commerce for Hong Hong, is one such older Catholic who has been supporting the movement. He told CNA that although he had only attended two or three of the actual marches, he has been trying to materially support the protestors however he can.

He said older Catholics are less likely to go and march in the street, but they are still able to assist by providing funds to hold Masses and buy protection gear for the protestors.

He said the police will often seize protesters' cell phones and use the photos on them as evidence against them, and telecom companies are helping the government to trace phone numbers. To guard against this, he said older Catholics have bought the protestors portable WiFi hotspots so they can connect without being traced.

"We don't say the kids are always right...but you shouldn't be using bullets, or even plastic bullets, to shoot their heads," Au said. "They way they are treating the younger generation is totally unacceptable."

He said the protestors have, on the whole, been peaceful and not destructive. On Sept. 1, the students will have to go back to school, he said, so it remains to be seen whether the protests will continue after the summer break ends.

Chow said last week some protestors found that there were undercover policemen within the crowds. The government may use this strategy to create a "sense of terror" so that the protestors no longer trust each other and are divided, he said. 

Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of Asia News, told EWTN News Nightly that Catholic youth are “totally involved” in the protest against the extradition law. He said older people might be less inclined to take part in the protests because of threats of violence.

“These two requests are the main requests of the movement [that] is doing all these demonstrations in Hong Kong,” Cervellera said.

The Chinese government has influenced the government of Hong Kong, Cervellera said, refusing to allow full democracy in the territory and trying to control the education system, which has negatively affected Hong Kong’s economy.

Hong Kong has total freedom of worship and evangelization, Cervellera said, because for the past 50 years it has been a “liberal society” where the decisions of the dioceses are not subject to government control.

“Our fear is that if this extradition law goes into effect, this could destroy the possibility of priests in Hong Kong, faithful in Hong Kong, who can help the Church in China. Because in this way, the help brought by the Catholics in Hong Kong to China could be considered as a criminal case.”

Cardinal Tong invited Catholics in Hong Kong to take part in a Eucharistic celebration for the well-being of the territory on Friday, August 23 at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

There are some 581,000 Catholics in Hong Kong, or about 8% of the population.

Hongkongers currently have significantly more freedoms than Chinese living on the mainland, including access to uncensored internet. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, allowing it its own legislature and economic system.

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

Canadian man receives assisted death after funding cut for in-home care

Vancouver, Canada, Aug 16, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The family of a Canadian man who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is urging the country’s government to change the way it treats patients with the disease after he received a “medically-assisted death” following years of struggle to find adequate care. 

Sean Tagert, 41, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease, in March of 2013. In October 2017, he suffered cardiac arrest, and was subsequently placed on a ventilator. His illness robbed him of the ability to move his body, eat, or speak, and he communicated via an eye-gaze computer. His mental acuity was unaffected. 

At that time, Tagert’s doctors recommended 24-hour in-home care, which is typical for a person who uses a ventilator full time. Vancouver Coastal Health, Tagert’s regional health authority, only initially offered 15.5 hours of care a day. Eventually, after much effort, they increased their offer to 20 hours a day--which still meant that Tagert had to pay $263.50 each day for the remaining four hours of required care. 

Tagert and his family continued to fight for coverage of a full day’s care, to no avail. 

“Hey everyone. I've been quiet lately because I'm just done, worn-out,” wrote Tagert in a July 25 post on his Facebook page. 

“So last Friday I officially submitted my Medically assisted death paperwork, with lawyers and doctors, everything in proper order. It's been over a month since I submitted my appeal to the Vancouver Coastal Health patient care quality department. They didn't even respond.”

Tagert went on to explain that earlier in the day, two Vancouver Coastal Health officials came to his home, and had refused to talk to him when they realized he was recording the conversation. Eventually, they told his mother that they were there to cut his funding for care hours. 

“Welcome to the great Canadian Healthcare system people,” said Tagert. 

On August 6, he received a “medically-assisted death” and passed away. In Canada, patients over the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness are able to apply for a “medically-assisted death.” The lethal medication can either be self-administered, or, as it is in the vast majority of cases in the country, administered by a doctor. 

Full funding for the procedure is available, and is advertised in hospitals around Canada.

“We would ask, on Sean's behalf, that the government recognize the serious problems in its treatment of ALS patients and their families, and find real solutions for those already suffering unimaginably,” reads a post on his Facebook page announcing his passing. 

The post outlined the difficulties he endured to remain in his own home.  

“Ensuring consistent care was a constant struggle and source of stress for Sean as a patient,” said the post. 

“While he succeeded, with the help of many, in piecing together a suitable care facility in his own home (including an expensive saliva-suction machine, needed to prevent him from choking, obtained with the help of donations raised online), gaining the 24-hour care he required was extremely difficult, especially as the provincial government refused to fully fund home care.” 

Going to a nursing home was not an option, said the post, as the facilities in his province “would have offered vastly inferior care while separating him from his family, and likely would have hastened his death.”  Tagert had partial custody of his 11-year-old son, Aidan. 

“Above all else Sean was devoted to his son,” said the post.

“Sean often said that Aidan was his reason for living, and had a close relationship with him right to the end.” 

Since Tagert’s death, Canadian commentators and palliative care physicians have called for changes in the way the country’s health system handles patients with complicated health needs. 

“No one should have to feel death is the only option due to lack of care,” Dr. Leonie Herx, a palliative care physician from Toronto, said on Twitter. 

Herx pointed out the paradox that presently, Canadians have a “right” to medically-assisted dying, but not to palliative and disability care. 

“We must do better for vulnerable Canadians,” she said. 

The ALS Society of Canada was unavailable to comment specifically on Tagert’s case, but CNA was provided with a statement from CEO Tammy Moore saying “People living with ALS must have access to the appropriate personal care supports and palliative care to meet their needs.” 

Medically-assisted death is fully funded in the Canadian healthcare system.

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

Iraqi church formerly defaced by ISIS rededicated on Assumption feast

Qaraqosh, Iraq, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:23 am (CNA).- An Iraqi church damaged and defaced by the Islamic State in 2014 was rededicated Thursday for the parish’s celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The Syriac Catholic Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah in the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh welcomed Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul, priests, and the local Catholic community to celebrate the solemnity.

Archbishop Mouche rededicated the church's altar, which had been burned by the Islamic State. After renonvations and rebuilding, the interior of the church, once charred black by fire, has been painted white.

“All these people do not see the community reborn only as stones, but as faith around Christ who is celebrated in the Resurrection. So the Resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of the community itself that goes on. Our community has about 800 families,” Fr. George Jahola told Vatican News in an interview published Aug. 15.

Five years ago on the August Feast of the Transfiguration, the Islamic State devastated the city of Qaraqosh in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains causing Christians to flee the region.

“In 2014 we left our churches and our homes. The city had about 50,000 Christian inhabitants,” Fr. Jahola said.

Now the Christian population in the city has been reduced to half of what it was. About 26,000 Christians have returned to Qaraqosh, Jahola explained.

During their occupation, the Islamic State desecrated the churches in Qaraqosh, in some cases writing battle instructions on church walls. St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church was turned into a bomb factory and used as storage for supplies of deadly chemicals to make powerful explosives. The church of the Immaculate Conception was used as an indoor shooting range with mannequins as targets, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

The Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah was charred black and its bell tower was demolished. “But we never stopped imagining how beautiful our church would be, once fixed,” Fr. Jahola said.

 

À Qaraqosh, l’évêque Mgr Petros Moiche a consacré le nouvel autel de l’église Mar Behnam et Sarah. Elle avait été incendiée par les djihadistes. Une impressionnante rénovation a été menée, signe de la victoire de la vie sur la destruction. #15aout #Irak pic.twitter.com/wgYfrY1jM2

— Fraternité en Irak (@FraterniteIrak) August 15, 2019  

Christmas Mass was celebrated in the church in Dec. 2018 during the church's reconstruction. The bell tower was rebuilt in 2019.

“We started the reconstruction project even before the liberation of the city, in the Nineveh Plains, when we were refugees,” he said. “We have worked to rebuild houses and communities as believers, because this is the sense of belonging both to a parish and to a community.”

ISIS was driven from Mosul in 2017, and the last remaining town of the original caliphate in Syria fell earlier this year. However many Christians who fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 have not returned to their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh region.

Although the territorial ISIS caliphate is gone, security threats to Christians and Yazidis in the region remain. There are up to 15,000 ISIS fighters estimated to have remained in Iraq, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan – since the first century.

“What we have learned from the Gospel, from the Lord, is to be instruments of peace, and also to live peace,” Fr. Jahola said.

“We try in every way to realize it here, where the majority is Muslim, where there is still someone who still bears hatred. We truly believe in this, in forgiveness and in leaving the past behind to continue towards the future,” he said.

A Catholic group wants to honor Ireland’s oldest grandparents

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 16, 2019 / 12:04 am (CNA).- In anticipation of the Irish National Grandparents Pilgrimage, a Catholic group has launched a search for the oldest grandparents in Ireland.

The Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA) has issued an invitation for the oldest grandparents and longest married couple to attend the 17th annual pilgrimage.

“Please help us find the longest married couple in Ireland and the oldest grandparents to come celebrate with us and be honoured at our annual national grandparents pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock,” the organization said, according to Irish news.

On September 8, thousands of grandparents from all over Ireland will travel to Knock Shrine in County Mayo. The event draws over 10,000 attendees each year.

The deadline for entries into the grandparent search is August 30. According to Irish News, participants may email their submission to [email protected]

The national shrine has been a destination for pilgrims since 1879, when 15 townspeople witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ - as the Lamb of God - on the south gable of the town church, which was named St. John the Evangelist. For a period of about two hours, a crowd gathered to adore the apparition and to pray the rosary. Despite the rainstorm, the ground around the gable did not get wet.

The shrine began hosting the National Grandparents Pilgrimage in 2007.

The CGA was formed two years later to manage the pilgrimage. It has a goal of providing grandparents in the country with the encouragement to support their families. Both the pilgrimage and the organization were founded by Catherine Wiley.

“This association grew out of our Grandparents Pilgrimages, where thousands of grandparents gathered in recent years, united by the same goal to do the very best we can for our children and grandchildren,” the organization says on its website.

“Grandparents’ vital contribution to the family, the Church and society was never as important as now,” it adds.