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Catholic college contingents head to the March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 45th annual March for Life will take place in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19, and hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend. Many of the marchers will be students from Catholic universities, who will, in some cases, skip class to march for an end to abortion.

Here are some of the schools that will be well-represented at Friday’s march:

Nearby Christendom College, cancels all scheduled classes on the day of the March for Life, so that all students and faculty are able to attend. Christendom is located in Front Royal, Virginia, about an 80 minute drive from the National Mall. Christendom students have attended each March for Life since the school’s founding in 1977.

Franciscan University of Steubenville, which also cancels day classes on the day of the March, will send roughly a quarter of its student body--about 500 students--to the March for Life this year. In a press release, the school said that they will be sending eight busses on the five-hour journey to DC, with additional students and alumni making the trek on their own.

The University of Notre Dame likely is the winner of the sheer numbers game. The school says it is preparing to bring over 1,000 people from the greater Notre Dame community--including students from nearby St. Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, graduate students, and faculty--to Washington, D.C. for the March. In 2017, there were about 700 Notre Dame students at the March.

North Dakota’s University of Mary, which led the marchers at the 2017 March for Life, also will send a contingent of students on the two-day drive from Bismarck to the nation’s capital. In 2016, the group from North Dakota was trapped in the snow for over 16 hours, which resulted in a “snow Mass” that went viral on the internet. About 145 students, faculty, and staff will attend this year’s march.

On the other end of the travel spectrum is the Catholic University of America, whose students will only have to take a short metro ride to go to the March for Life. CUA plays host to the Vigil for Life Mass on the eve of the March for Life, and thousands of people descend upon its campus each year in the lead-up to the March. In order to successfully handle the influx of pilgrims, the school has a pro-life hospitality ministry, staffed by student volunteers.

Trump issues statement promoting religious liberty

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- US President Donald Trump issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 16, 2018, as “religious freedom day.” This date was chosen as it is the 223rd anniversary of Virginia’s enactment of the Statute for Religious Freedom.

In his proclamation, Trump said that “Faith is embedded in the history, spirit, and soul of our Nation,” and that the day was intended to celebrate the religious diversity in America. Trump spoke of how the nation's forefathers came to what is now the US “seeking refuge from religious persecution” and believing that “freedom is not a gift from the government, but a sacred right from Almighty God.”

He noted that in 1786, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, which said that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” This bill would inspire the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Trump touched on his efforts to preserve religious freedom in the United States, and said that it was “unfortunate” that past policies had infringed on this right. The president said that he attempted to address this issue with an executive order early in his presidency, and that “No American – whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner – should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.”

The president said that the United States is the “paramount champion” for religious freedom worldwide, and that the U.S. will keep fighting against extremism, acts of terror, and violence against people due to their religious beliefs.

He condemned the “genocide waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” against religious minorities in the region, such as the Yazidi, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Additionally, Trump said that “we will be undeterred” in efforts to put into place policies that promote religious freedom worldwide and to ensure that people are not persecuted for their beliefs.

“Faith breathes life and hope into our world. We must diligently guard, preserve, and cherish this unalienable right,” said Trump.

Here's the newest basilica in North America

Arlington, Va., Jan 16, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- St. Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria, the first permanent Catholic parish in Virginia, has a new name and a new designation for the new year. It was announced Sunday that the Holy See had decreed the building to be a minor basilica, and the church will now be known as “The Basilica of Saint Mary.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington announced during the 8:30 a.m. Mass Jan. 14 that he had recently received a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments which decreed that the building would be a minor basilica. The parishioners broke into applause at the news.

The Basilica of Saint Mary is located in Alexandria, Va., fewer than 10 miles south of Arlington.



“Within our Catholic Church, this is indeed a great news, and it’s a very thorough process,” Burbidge said. Burbidge joked that the pastor of St. Mary’s, Fr. Edward Hathaway, inquired about the process to pursue the title “about three minutes” after he was named Bishop of Arlington last year.

“We are overjoyed and humbled by the recognition of St. Mary’s as one of the major churches in the world,” said Fr. Hathaway.

The designation of the building as a basilica means that the parish “has a special relationship with the Holy See,” and Burbidge emphasized that this was a “great honor” for the church. St. Mary’s was chosen due to its importance in the community, its history as a parish, and its significance in the history of the United States.

The Basilica of Saint Mary is the 84th basilica in the United States, and the first in the Diocese of Arlington. Throughout the world there are just under 1,800 minor basilicas, and there are four major basilicas in Rome.

The parish was founded in 1795, a time when Catholicism was heavily restricted in Virginia, with Catholics barred from voting or holding public office. The first donor to the church was George Washington, who was not Catholic; though his close aide, Col. John Fitzgerald, was. The president gave the parish the equivalent of $1,200 today.

The church moved to its current location in 1810, and the current building was dedicated in 1827. The site of the original church is now the parish's cemetery.

Now that St. Mary’s has been recognized as a minor basilica, it will be outfitted with an umbraculum, a canopy of yellow and red silk; a tintinnabulum, a bell mounted on a pole which is used when the Pope visits a basilica; and the display of the papal symbol of the keys of St. Peter.

As a basilica, St. Mary's has a new seal, which includes the umbraculum and the papal keys. It has adopted the motto Omnes cum Petro ad Jesum per Mariam, or “All with Peter to Jesus through Mary.”

 

Three signs indicate that a church has been designated as a basilica: an ombrellino (umbrella), tintinnabulum (bell to alert the Pope’s arrival) and the display of the Papal Symbol on church furnishings. More about @stmaryoldtown, now #StMaryBasilica! https://t.co/UtGIeZWGTt pic.twitter.com/Bw6ZOWV5Ir

— Diocese of Arlington (@arlingtonchurch) January 15, 2018


 

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and a parishioner of St. Mary’s, appeared on EWTN’s “Morning Glory” radio program on Tuesday to discuss what this means for his home parish.

According to Pecknold, the historical significance of a basilica is that it is where an emperor would sit. Nowadays, given the relative lack of emperors, the designation of a basilica is more of a symbol of a church’s connection to Rome.

“It shows our special connection to the See of St. Peter,” said Pecknold. He said the process began about a year ago, and that the Vatican moved remarkably fast in making its decision.

“It was exactly a year from the beginning of our application to the end – of a great result,” said Pecknold. “We were absolutely thrilled that the Vatican worked so quickly. I think our case was strong,” he added.

The Basilica of Saint Mary will celebrate its 220th anniversary in 2020.

Award to pro-abortion politician a matter of protocol, Vatican says

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The conferral of the Vatican’s Order of St. Gregory the Great to Dutch politician and pro-abortion activist Liliane Ploumen was part of an ordinary diplomatic exchange of honorific titles, and does not mean that the Vatican supports Ploumen’s abortion campaigns, a Vatican spokesperson explained Jan. 15.
 
Responding to requests of clarification, Paloma Garcia-Ovejero, deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, said that “the honorific of the St. Gregory the Great Pontifical Order that Liliane Ploumen, then Minister for Development received in June 2017, during the visit of the Dutch Royals to the Holy Father, is part of the diplomatic praxis of the exchange of decorations among delegations during official visits between heads of state and government to the Vatican.”
 
Garcia-Ovejero said that the decoration “cannot be by any way considered an endorsement to the pro-abortion and birth control politics advocated by Mrs. Ploumen.”
 
Liliane Ploumen, a Dutch politician, served as Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation from Nov. 5, 2012 to Oct. 26, 2017.
 
In that capacity, she was part of a delegation of the Dutch monarchy that visited Pope Francis on June 22.
 
On that occasion, the Vatican returned the Dutch Royal Family a stick belonging to William I, Prince of Orange, that had previously been lost in the Jesuit Catalan archives.

The stick – in fact a scepter – depicts the coat of arms of William of Orange. The stick was used by Louis of Nassau, the brother of William of Orange, during the 1574 Mookerheyde battle in 1574. It was lost, came into the hand of a Spanish general and eventually the superior of the Jesuits. Eventually, it got lost in the Catalan archives.
 
The occasion included an exchange of honorary titles, an element of diplomatic praxis that usually grabs no headlines.
 
Diplomatic visits to the Vatican are highly choreographed affairs.
 
During an official state visit to the Vatican, the most solemn kind of diplomatic meeting, protocol dictates that a solemn procession from St. Peter’s Square, into the Vatican, to the Cortile San Damaso, which accesses the Apostolic Palace.
 
The procession is greeted by three blasts of trumpets, and then the delegation enters the Apostolic Palace and walks through the rooms.
 
There is even a specific protocol for walking through Apostolic Palace. The procession toward the Papal Library, where the meeting takes place, is led by a Swiss Guard sergeant, follow by 6 Sediari Pontifici, ceremonial servants, in the case of head of state and 8 Sediari Pontifici for monarchs.
 
These details explain that a royal family enjoys a sort of “right of precedence” in Vatican protocol, and for that reason the visit of a Royal Family is a serious and solemn event.
 
The visit of the King William Alexander and Queen Maxima was not an official state visit, but a mere audience, and so an exchange of honorifics would not ordinarily to take place. However, the presence of the royal family, and the solemnity of returning of the Dutch stick, might have suggested to the Secretariat of State a protocol designed to highlight the audience, including the conferral of honors, a Vatican source explained to CNA.  
  
In some cases, the Vatican can ask not to proceed with an exchange of awards or honors, especially when some of the members of the other delegations can be controversial, a source close to the Vatican diplomatic service told CNA Jan. 15.
 
However, the exchange of decorations took place during the Dutch visit.
 
The presence of Ploumen in the Dutch delegation has sparked controversies because she is an abortion advocate.

In 2017, Ploumen launched an international campaign to support abortion, designed to counter the Trump administration’s decision to cut off funds for NGOs that facilitate abortion. Ploumen’s organization, named “She Decides,” collected nearly $400 million.
 
However, news of her award did not grab any headlines until Ploumen herself showed off the medal in a recent interview to the Dutch television BNR.

In the interview, the Dutch politician presented the decoration as a personal award, and said that while her the pro-abortion campaign ““was not mentioned” as the reason for the decoration, but, she said, “the Vatican knows that I founded ‘She decides’, but this did not prevent them from awarding me.”

“It is interesting,” she added.  

The honorific was apparently given without significant previous consultation. In a statement released Jan. 15, Cardinal Wilhelm Ejik, Archbishop of Utrecht and Primate of the Netherlands, stressed that he “was not involved” in the process that decided “to give the decoration of Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order St. Gregory the Great, which the former minister Ploumen received last year.”

Cardinal Ejik said that he had not initially been aware that the decoration had been given to the minister.
 
Established in 1831, the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great is one of the five orders of knighthood of the Holy See, and can be bestowed to Catholic men and women, but also – in rare cases – to non Catholics. The honor is a recognition of personal service to the Holy See and to the Church.

In Chile, Pope says Beatitudes aren't 'cheap words', but sources of hope

Santiago, Chile, Jan 16, 2018 / 06:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On his first full day in Chile, Pope Francis told Catholics in the country that the Beatitudes aren't just a simple piece of advice from someone who purports to know everything, but are a source of hope which impels people to leave their comfort zone and follow the path given by Jesus.

“The Beatitudes are not the fruit of a hypercritical attitude or the 'cheap words' of those who think they know it all yet are unwilling to commit themselves to anything or anyone,” the Pope said Jan. 16.

People with this attitude, he said, “end up preventing any chance of generating processes of change and reconstruction in our communities and in our lives.”

The Beatitudes, then, “are born of a merciful heart that never loses hope. A heart that experiences hope as a new day, a casting out of inertia, a shaking off of weariness and negativity,” he said.

By proclaiming blessings to the poor, grieving, afflicted, patient and merciful, Jesus casts out “the inertia which paralyzes those who no longer have faith in the transforming power of God our Father and in their brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable and outcast.”

The Beatitudes, he said, are the fruit of Jesus' encounter with people, who saw in him “the echo of their longings and aspirations,” and found in him the “horizon towards which we are called and challenged to set out.”

Pope Francis spoke during his homily for Mass at O'Higgins Park in Santiago on his first full day in Chile. He is currently in the first step of a two-country visit to South America, which will also include a stop in Peru.

He will visit various cities in Chile, including Temuco and Iquique, and on Jan. 18 will travel to Peru, where he will visit Lima, Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo.

In his homily for Mass, Pope Francis focused on the day's Gospel reading from Matthew in which Jesus speaks on the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes, he said, are not the product of the “prophets of doom who seek only to spread dismay,” and nor do they come from “those mirages that promise happiness with a single 'click,' in the blink of an eye.”

Rather, the Beatitudes “are born of the compassionate heart of Jesus, which encounters the hearts of men and women seeking and yearning for a life of happiness,” he said, noting that these are men and women who know what it means to suffer and who appreciate “the confusion and pain of having the earth shake beneath their feet” or seeing their life's work washed away.

Chileans themselves know from personal experience how to rebuild and start anew, he said, adding: “How much you know about getting up again after so many falls! That is the heart to which Jesus speaks; that is the heart for which the Beatitudes are meant!”

Francis said the Beatitudes represent a “new day” for all those who look to the future and dream, and who allow themselves to be moved and sent forth by the Holy Spirit.

Contrary to “the resignation that like a negative undercurrent undermines our deepest relationships and divides us,” Jesus provides a more positive message, telling the people that “blessed are those who work for reconciliation. Blessed are those ready to dirty their hands so that others can live in peace.”

“Do you want to be blessed? Do you want to be happy? Blessed are those who work so that others can be happy. Do you want peace?” he asked. “Then work for peace.”

Peace, the Pope added, is sown by closeness and by “coming out of our homes and looking at peoples’ faces...This is the only way we must forge a future of peace, to weave a fabric that will not unravel.”

A true peacemaker, he said, “knows that it is often necessary to overcome great or subtle faults and ambitions born of the desire for power and to gain a name for oneself, the desire to be important at the cost of others.”

Quoting Chilean Saint Alberto Hurtado, he said a good peace-maker knows that “it is very good not to do wrong, but very bad not to do good.”

He closed his homily asking that Mary would help all to both live and desire the Beatitudes “so that on every corner of this city we will hear, like a gentle whisper: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

How one Hawaiian Catholic family got ready for the missile that never came

Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan 16, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It started out as a regular Saturday morning for most Hawaiians, including Dallas and Monica Carter and their five children.

Monica was getting breakfast ready for the kids before a busy day when the warning blared across smartphone screens throughout the island:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

It was the same kind of warnings Hawaiians are used to receiving for tsunamis and hurricanes - the kind of warning they’re used to heeding.

“That was quite terrifying, of course,” Dallas Carter, a theology lecturer for the Diocese of Honolulu, told CNA. Immediately, Dallas and Monica sprang into action, albeit in different ways.

Looking back, “it was a great dynamic to see how we reacted together but in different ways to the same crisis,” he said.

Dallas said he had four thoughts once he had processed the alert. The first was: “Oh (no) I haven’t gone to confession yet!” It was Saturday, and the family often goes on Sundays before Mass.

“Number two was, ok, how do I do this perfect contrition thing? Number three was we have to get the kids praying rosary, and number four was ‘where’s my whiskey,’” he recalled.

Soon after the initial warning, Dallas ran to the neighbors to see if they had gotten the same alert, and checked on some elderly neighbors while formulating a possible plan to get his family to the shelter of his concrete classroom.

When he ran back inside the house, he found that his wife had placed the family’s Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in the middle of the breakfast table, and all of the kids were praying the rosary. She had not long ago read a story about Jesuits in Hiroshima who were spared during the atomic bomb, and was inspired to start praying the rosary in part because of their story.

“My wife did probably the more important thing and she prayed,” he said.

“She said we can try to get to the classroom, but if the bomb hits, we’re goners, but what we can do is pray,” Dallas recalled. “The best possibility (of surviving) isn’t my concrete classroom, the best possibility is that the Blessed Mother provide us a miracle.”

Mariah, 11, the eldest of the Carter siblings, was awakened by her nine-year-old brother who ran into her room telling her there about the bomb threat.

“I remember thinking what’s going on? I literally just wanted to pray, I wanted to pray,” Mariah told CNA.

“I concentrated so hard on the rosary, I was like ‘come on Mary I know you can do this,’” she said.

Dallas said his 9 year-old son kept asking if they were going to die, and he wasn’t sure how to answer, objectively.

“That’s the first time in our lives that my kid asked me that, and I didn’t know what to say,” he said. Dallas and Monica tried to comfort their son by telling him it was an adventure that the whole family was on together.

After a few minutes, the family caught a glimmer of hope amidst the initial terror when Dallas called to check in on his parents, who were skeptical of the alert in the first place. Because they don’t have smartphones, they weren’t used to receiving alerts in that way, and thought it somehow must have been a fluke.

Furthermore, the missile sirens, which were tested on a monthly basis on the island, had not gone off at all, another sign that perhaps not all was as dire as it seemed.  

Desperate for news, Dallas ran to his truck to turn on the radio. Instead of hearing static, or more warnings, he heard a football game and talk radio - nothing out of the ordinary.

The family started to breath a little easier, but they would wait - along with the rest of the island - for another 30 minutes before they got the official all-clear. They would later learn that the false message was an error on the part of an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.  

After that, most of the rest of their plans for the day fell through - its hard to go about your business after thinking your obliteration imminent.

The next day was Sunday, and his family’s parish was packed, a phenomenon he has personally dubbed the #MissileConversions. The pews were filled, and the line for confession was out the door. Friends from throughout the island said their parishes were the same.

Even though the crisis was a false alarm, Dallas said he and his family joined the confession line anyway, as a way of giving thanks for being able to go to confession again.

In his homily, the priest tried to bring a little levity to the grave situation that had caused so many to fill the pews out of a strange mix of subsequent fear and gratitude, Dallas said.

“He said you know that bible verse where it says Jesus will come again like a thief in the night? Well it looks like he almost came like a thief in the morning,” Dallas recalled.

Afterward Mass, the whole parish community had a barbeque at the beach.

“Yesterday’s beach session with friends and family was just the right amount of post-missile scare therapy,” he said.  

The harrowing experience also taught Dallas a few things in terms of material, and more importantly, spiritual, preparation.

Materially, he said, he found his hand-held radio and placed it in a prominent place on his desk, so that he wouldn’t have to run out to his truck in an emergency situation.

Spiritually, he said he learned: “Don’t play around with grace. Be in the state of grace, be prepared,” he said.

“And it doesn’t mean to get on your knees and don’t take shelter, but have the spiritual part ready. Don’t forget to recourse to the greatest resource we have in situations like that, which is prayer, especially to the Blessed Mother who isn’t going to let her children suffer and go through something that isn’t the will of God,” he said.

On a lighter note, he said he also learned: “Have the whiskey more readily available. I’d have the rosary in one hand and my favorite whiskey in the other.”

 

Meet the spiritual powerhouses of the pro-life movement

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2018 / 02:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Walk along in the March for Life and you may see them: a swarm of women – many of them young – dressed in long blue habits, white veils blowing in the breeze.

They are the Sisters of Life and they have  a message for women and for the pro-life movement: “You are not alone.”

“We really see ourselves primarily as a spiritual entity that intercedes for and upholds the work of the pro-life movement,” explained Sr. Mary Elizabeth, SV, Vicar General of the Sisters of Life.

She also said she hopes that the pro-life movement knows that they can depend upon the Sisters’ prayers and support: “They are not alone and they have a family of Sisters who love them very much and are praying for them daily.”

Joseph Zwilling, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of New York, where the Sisters of Life were founded, said he believes the Sisters of Life have already made a tremendous impact on the culture since their founding. “It’s about 25 years later and the Sisters of Life are growing, they’re thriving and they’re everywhere” he told CNA.

“Help Wanted: Sisters of Life”

While it may be impossible to quantify the full impact of the Sisters’ prayers and efforts, Zwilling said, “I truly believe that they have helped through their prayer, through their example, they’ve helped to change people’s minds and hearts about this issue.”

“I think that in the long run that’s going to be their greatest contribution.”

The Sisters’ journey began in 1990 with a newspaper column by then-Cardinal John O’Connor of New York. “This really was the brainchild of Cardinal O’Connor,” Zwilling said.

In the 1990s Cardinal O'Connor was a prominent leader in the pro-life movement in the Church and in the country, and saw the issue of abortion as one of the most pressing need of the time. Before acting, the cardinal reflected on the long history within the Church of the Holy Spirit giving life to religious communities able to meet these these challenges.

Cardinal O’Connor suggested  in his column that it was time for another order able to respond to the challenges of abortion. The piece was titled simply: "Help Wanted: Sisters of Life.”

Eight sisters answered the call, formally founding a community on June 1, 1991. During this time, they lived temporarily with the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate in the Bronx, praying, fasting, attending Eucharistic adoration, and discerning their vocations.

Sr. Josamarie, SV, was one of these first women to join the Sisters of Life. “None of us had been religious sisters before,” she said of herself and the other seven women who were part of the initial novice class. Moreover, God “called us from various things” – the young women had such backgrounds as scientists, college professors, and librarians.

As the sisters prepared themselves for a life of prayer and ministry to the most vulnerable in society, Cardinal O’Connor also introduced the Sisters of Life to members of the pro-life movement, including Mother Teresa.

Today, the order is thriving, with more than 100 Sisters, whose average age is mid-30s.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth joined the Sisters of Life in 1993 after graduating from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, having heard the cardinal talk on campus during her junior year. Already involved in pro-life activism, Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained that she “wanted to be part of the solution, offering other options to women” who felt like they had no options and turned to abortion out of desperation.

A Life of Prayer

The foundation of the Sisters of Life ministry and daily life is prayer and contemplation, explained Sister Mary Elizabeth. “Our spirituality is Eucharistic-centered and Marian,” she told CNA. In each of their convents, the Sisters participate in Mass and spend a Holy Hour in Eucharistic adoration daily. In addition, the sisters gather together to pray the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day.

As part of the group’s Marian focus, the Sisters of Life also pray a rosary together “to support the works of the pro-life movement in our country and throughout the world each day.”

The Sisters of Life also draw upon the example of Mary in their spirituality, and from there, the way they engage other aspects of their lives: “A deep part of our spiritual life is living out a spiritual maternity, and so we take Mary as our model.” Sister Mary Elizabeth said the sisters’ goal is to carry Christ’s presence with them and to echo Mary’s “yes” to life and to Christ.



The Sisters of Life from The Sisters of Life on Vimeo.

One of the examples of Mary’s maternity they seek to emulate is her decision to journey forth and visit her cousin, Elizabeth, after the Annunciation. “Just as at the Visitation the presence of Jesus in Mary radiated out” and filled her cousin with joy, Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, “so we can have the same life and power dwelling within us and radiating out from us to touch all those women that we encounter every day who are pregnant and in need and hopefully them with joy and with hope.”

The sisters also seek to bring the example of Mary’s receptivity and welcome into the way they treat people – by recognizing the unique dignity of every person. When sisters encounter someone, Sr. Mary Elizabeth said, “we’re not in a rush, we’re not in a hurry.” This patience and attention, she continued, is “deeply rooted in our belief that every human person is created as a unique manifestation of God.”

“It’s a way we live out our spiritual maternity,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth noted.

As a contemplative and apostolic order, however, their prayer life does not stop at the sanctuary doors, but carries over into their ministry, too. “Our prayer kind of fuels our apostolic efforts, and then our apostolate brings us back to prayer,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth noted. “We can bring all those people we are working with to the Lord throughout the day.”

A Mission to Save Lives

The ministry of the Sisters of Life’s apostolate is focused upon the defense of human life at all stages. Sisters in each of the convents participate in a range of missions, from ministry with women facing crisis pregnancies or regret after an abortion to study of bioethics and theology.

At the center of the Sisters of Life’s apostolate is the Holy Respite Mission, a sanctuary in the Upper West Side of Manhattan for pregnant women in crisis situations to come and live with the sisters, join in the community and prayer life of the sisters, and stay until they are ready to go back into the world after the birth of their child. Women typically stay with the sisters between six months and a year.

Just a few blocks uptown lies the sisters’ Visitation Mission, which offers “practical support and compassion to women who are pregnant and find themselves in a crisis,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth explained. “Most of the women that come to us have been abandoned by everyone and are unsure of what they’re going to do.” The Sisters of Life serve around 1,000 women each year.  

The sisters, along with a crew of volunteer lay helpers called the Co-Workers of Life, provide women with the practical support they need. “We provide everything,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth elaborated, from physical needs like diapers, bottles, strollers, cribs, baby clothes, and maternity clothes, to other forms of aid like helping women find safe housing, moving help, navigating challenges with college administrators or employers, writing resumes, and finding jobs.

In addition, some Co-Workers of Life open their homes as a safe space for women in crisis and offer their friendship and support. Even simple gestures like talking or texting with expectant mothers can be an immense help for women with few other sources of support.

“They’re being pressured into having an abortion by their family, by their friends, by the medical community, their employers – it’s really outrageous,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth said. “They just need someone who’s supporting them and encouraging them in their decision to keep their child.”

Another important service the Sisters of Life provide is hope and healing outreach to women who have had abortions. “From the beginning, Cardinal O’Connor was very sensitive to those who had suffered the wounds of abortion,” explained Sr. Josamarie. Many women, she continued, feel pressured into abortion and then are left to suffer through the emotions alone afterwards.

Sisters provide opportunities to “work through” feelings of grief, anger and other emotions by counseling women, as well as offering specialized retreats where women also have access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, in addition to someone who will listen to them as they process their experience.

“It’s our experience that women hold this secret and don’t speak about it to others,” Sr. Mary Elizabeth added on the experience of post-abortive women. “It’s a tremendous burden that they handle alone.”

Finally, the sisters engage in a range of outreach and evangelization activities through their retreat center in Stamford, Conn., and their presence at pro-life and Catholic events such as World Youth Day, the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the Walk For Life in San Francisco. These activities compliment the education work the sisters do through their pro-life library, their support of the Respect Life/Family Life Office for the Archdiocese of New York, research in their House of Studies in Maryland, and talks on college campuses and in parishes.

With their lives dedicated to the defense of life every day of the year, the Sisters aim to revitalize a love for life in the world.

Their hope, Sister Mary Elizabeth said, is to be “a spiritual force that generates a new culture of life within the minds of hearts of men and women across the world.”

If the thousands of lives they touch every year are any indication, they are well on their way.

This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 27, 2017.

Florida lawmakers consider mandatory ‘marriage prep’ guide

Tallahassee, Fla., Jan 16, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill presented to the Florida House of Representatives on Jan. 8 would require couples to review a state-published “Healthy Marriage Guide” before tying the knot.

“The statistics have been staggering over the years for divorces and kind of the subsequent problems that go along with that, like children who don’t have families that are put together,” said Republican Representative, Clay Yarborough, according to CBS 47.

Yarborough introduced the bill to the state House days after Republican Kelli Stargel introduced a version of it to the Senate.

The legislation would establish the Marriage Education Committee, who will be appointed by Florida’s Senate president, state speaker of the house, and the state’s governor. The six-person committee would develop the guide, serving a maximum term of one year.

Couples would be required to read the guide as a prerequisite for a marriage license. The guide would cover communication skills, fiscal control, conflict management, spousal abuse, and parenting responsibilities.

Additionally, the guide would offer marital advice and resources for extra premarital education or for potentially failing marriages.

The legislation’s supporters say that money for the project will be funded by private sources, but the financial backers have not been clearly identified.

If passed, the act would take effect in July 1, 2018.

What Eminem has to say about post-abortion regret

Denver, Colo., Jan 15, 2018 / 02:37 pm (CNA).- After an abortion,men and women can experience deep feelings of sadness and emptiness, suicidal thoughts, dreams of the aborted child, trouble with intimacy and difficulty bonding with future children, according to an expert in the field.

Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel and the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, told CNA Jan. 11  these experiences are “a big secret” nobody wants to address, which sometimes prevents women and men who have been involved in an abortion from talking about their difficulties.

“There's a lot involved there,” she said, explaining that many abortion clinics and post-abortion websites will tell women that having an abortion was a good thing, but minimize adverse reactions by saying “we understand you might be feeling bad.”

However, Thorn –  a certified trauma counselor and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life – said that despite apparent reassurances that feelings of sadness and regret are no big deal, the reality is that post-abortion, men and women both are “haunted by this experience.”

According to a recent report from the Guttmacher Institute, some 56 million abortions were performed globally each year between 2010-2014, with 25 percent of all pregnancies during those years ending in abortion.

The highest number of abortions took place in developing nations, as well as many eastern European countries. While the number of annual abortions in developed nations dropped significantly during the years of the study, it rose in underdeveloped nations, mostly due to population growth, according to the study.

But despite the relative silence on the post-abortive experience, some celebrities have spoken out about the profound pain and regret they feel over past abortions, some of which took place years ago.

Among the high-profile personalities who've addressed the issue are Eminem, Sinead O'Connor, Nicki Minaj, Kid Rock, and Kenny Rogers.

In his new album “Revival,” released Dec. 15, 2017, Eminem includes a song called “River,” telling the story of a man who had an affair with a woman, and the couple’s choice to end a pregnancy through abortion.

The chorus of the song talks about the pain he feels, and his desire for forgiveness from the “sins” of his past: “I've been a liar, been a thief/Been a lover, been a cheat/All my sins need holy water, feel it washing over me/Well, little one/I don't want to admit to something/If all it's gonna cause is pain/The truth and my lies now are falling like the rain/So let the river run.”

Later, in the last verse of the song, he speaks to both the woman and the baby, saying: “I made you terminate my baby/This love triangle left us in a wreck, tangled/What else can I say? It was fun for a while/Bet I really woulda loved your smile/ Didn't really wanna abort, but – it/What's one more lie, to tell our unborn child?”

Similarly, in her 2012 track “Autobiography,” Nicki Minaj refers to an abortion she had at 16. In the song, she asks her child for forgiveness, saying “I'm trapped in my conscience/I adhered to the nonsense, listened to people who told me I wasn't ready for you.”

“But how the – would they know what I was ready to do? And of course it wasn't your fault (no)/It's like I feel you the air, I hear you saying 'Mommy don't cry, can't you see I'm right here?' (yes)/ I gotta let you know what you mean to me, when I'm sleeping, I see you in my dreams with me.”

In his song “Abortion,” released in 2000, Kid Rock talks about the grief of a father after an abortion that is so great he contemplates suicide, saying “I've never heard you cry I've never seen you whine...I must die to get to you...where's my gun...”

Kenny Rogers released the song “Water and Bridges” in 2006, in which he sings about decisions that are “much too late to change.../How a father could have held his son/If I could undo what's been done/But I guess everyone is living/With water and bridges.”

Thorn said Sinead O'Connor was the first artist she ever heard sing about abortion in her 1990 track “My Special Child,” which talks about the sadness she experienced after she had an abortion after a relationship broke down.  

Each of the sentiments expressed by these artists “are common experiences,” Thorn said, explaining that men and women can have different reactions to abortion based on their biology and experiences of pregnancy.  

For women between the ages of 11-19, Thorn noted that their brains haven't finished developing, and they operate mostly out of the amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain. Many young women who have abortions, then, “make this decision out of fear.”

A woman's brain can't fully process trauma until 25, when the corpus callosum, which is “the linker between the right brain and left brain,” becomes fully active, Thorn said, explaining that in the early years of her pro-life work, she couldn't understand why most of her calls were from women around 25 years old.

“I thought that was the weirdest thing in the world,” she said, noting that it wasn't until several years later when she learned more about brain research that she understood women were calling “because now they can process it.”

For the woman who's had an abortion and is struggling with the decision, “we have to remember that she's a mother who lost her child in a traumatic and unnatural fashion,” Thorn said. “Society says abortion is a simple medical procedure, but we don't talk about what really happens.”

In terms of biology, Thorn said pregnant women go through something called “microchimerism,” in which cells from the child pass to the mother. And in cases of abortion or miscarriage, women carry more cells from those children than children they give birth to.

“These cells are part of biological knowledge, someone's missing,” she said, explaining that the feelings could come up at any time, even years later, but at a certain point there is a “trigger-incident', and I'm suddenly aware that that abortion was an offending event.”

The sense of loss that comes after is enormous, she said. And while globally abortion is discussed as something that “solves a problem” as simple as a fixing a bunion, “it's much, much deeper, and that knowledge of the cells makes a difference.”

“The sadness, this sense of responsibility, 'I did this.' Those are all parts of her experience,” Thorn said, adding that many times a woman will have a second or third abortion because “she's compelled to get pregnant again. It's a biological thing. She started the cycle of pregnancy and all the changes that go with it, and didn't finish it.”

And it's not just women. Men also have a biological experience, she said, and can tell that a woman is pregnant before she herself knows “because our scent changes...at four weeks we smell different.”

If the woman is with her partner during pregnancy, his body also undergoes “the whole raft of changes, hormonal and other things.” Men, she said, frequently experience “couvade,” also called “sympathy pregnancy,” in which they have some of same symptoms as the expectant mother.

As the end of the pregnancy gets nearer, the man's hormones “go crazy,” Thorn said. “His testosterone drops, his estrogen goes up, he gets more of a bonding hormone and he gets a nursing hormone for at least six weeks. We don't talk about that. But those are real, physiological changes.”

She said there are many men who would have tried to stop the abortion of their child if they'd had the chance. “They would have put their life in front of a car, and they grieve deeply, deeply.”

There are the men who wanted the abortion and later regret it, there are men who wanted to keep the baby but were told it wasn’t not their decision, and there are men who were never told about a pregnancy and didn't find out until years after the abortion and are “blown out of the water,” Thorn said.

“For men, in a sense the grief for men is difficult because they're told that they should have no feelings about this. It's her body, it's her life, it's none of your business, so he doesn't have a place to turn,” she added.

In the end, “they turn to drugs, they turn to pornography because they swore they'll never touch a woman again, depression, all kinds of things.”

She said it's important for men to have a voice in the discussion because “biologically they are changed by the pregnancy, there's a physiological thing going on here. He can't control that, that's biology. God is turning him into a father.”

Suicide is also frequent and strong temptation for both men and women post-abortion, she said, recalling stories she's heard of men with seemingly perfect lives who jumped from bridges and no one understood why until a friend or relative revealed that there had been an abortion that the man “had never recovered from.”

Thorn said that just a few years ago in Milwaukee there was a murder-suicide prompted by an abortion in which a man killed his girlfriend and then killed himself after she had an abortion he did not want.

Many men who would have tried to stop the abortion of their child but couldn't do it at times confess to having “violent thoughts” because “they couldn't protect” their baby, Thorn said. “It's this sense of male impotence, not sexual impotence, but that men are protectors, and they really struggle with that.”

Women, especially during the teen years, “are ten times more likely to attempt suicide after an abortion in the months that follow, that first six to eight months,” Thorn said. “That tells you the depth of the woundedness.”

After those first months, “denial kicks in,” she said, noting that while women will say they are doing fine, “they're emotionally very numb.”

Commitment also becomes an issue for men and women after abortions, she said, explaining that “only about 30 percent of couples survive abortions as a couple.”

If they move on to another relationship, they often won't tell their partners about feelings of betrayal or regret, “and that's going to be an intimacy killer in the bedroom, because she doesn't trust men – the one she was with forced her to have an abortion – and he doesn't women, it was his fiance that had his child aborted, so this is a huge wound.”

Women suffering from an abortion loss will often go into a “shut-down” phase, she said, noting that it is these women who become staunch defenders of abortion, and are the loudest voices arguing that it’s a woman's right.

“That's another way to cope,” she said. Pointing to various stories of people who have left the abortion industry, Thorn noted that “almost all of them had their own abortions first or during that time. It's a way to cope with what they've done; I need it, other women must need it, so I'm going to protect that right.”

“It's a very incredibly deep sadness and women never forget. They have the biology that makes it impossible to forget, it's always a part of them,” she said, adding that in her experience, the people who have found help and healed from past abortions “never support abortion again.”

Abortion can also affect parenting and one's relationship with future children, because women who don't heal after an abortion “don't bond very well in a different pregnancy. They're very over protective, but sometimes they're emotionally distant from their child.”

Fathers, on the other hand, “are overly committed to the child and become enmeshed, they really sort of take the role of the mother and push the mother away.”

Other family members, such as siblings or cousins, are also affected by abortion, she said, noting that she has met many people who grew up with a strong sensation that they should have had a brother or sister, and only later found out that an abortion had taken place.

In her view, Thorn said there is not enough discussion or awareness about the effects of abortion “because it's an uncomfortable piece, because there are so many abortions and people do not want to talk about it.”

“But what we're seeing in these songs is people are finding a way to tell their story to somebody in hopes that somebody's listening, and that's part of the healing process, is an opportunity to tell the story,” she said.

The fact that so many songs are being sung about the topic is “an indication that people are looking for a way to speak the truth about what happened,” she said, “and that's a way to do it if that's your talent and your gift.”

 

If you or someone you know is suffering after abortion, confidential non-judgmental help is available:

Call Project Rachel's national toll-free number: 888-456-HOPE(-4673) or visit HopeAfterAbortion.org.

Spanish-speakers may visit EsperanzaPosaborto.org”

Help is also available for men at http://menandabortion.info/

 

 

A look at world's 50 most anti-Christian countries

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2018 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There are more than 215 million persecuted Christians worldwide according to the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors USA's annual ranking of the 50 worst countries for violence and persecution against Christians.

The report found that one in twelve Christians worldwide are victims of violent persecution. Open Doors USA cites the spread of radical Islam and increasing religious nationalism as the two major drivers of global Christian persecution.

North Korea tops the list of worst offenders, as it has for the past 16 years. Although the communist North Korean government claims to provide freedom of religion in its constitution, no one can be openly Christian within the atheist state without facing arrest, re-education in a labor camp, or, in some cases, execution.

Despite the danger, Open Doors USA finds that there has been tremendous growth in underground Christianity in North Korea in the last two decades. The report estimates that there might be up to 300,000 Christians living clandestinely in North Korea.

Afghanistan comes in a close second in this year’s World Watch List ranking. Afghan citizens in this 99 percent Muslim country are banned from becoming Christian. Open Doors USA reports that underground Christians in Afghanistan have been killed by their own family members, who viewed the Christian conversion as a shameful apostasy.

Islamic oppression continues to be a growing concern for many Christians around the world. For eight of the top ten countries on the World Watch List, Islamic extremism is the primary cause of Christian persecution.

Islamic militancy has been on the rise in Somalia, where Christians, if discovered, are often martyred. Christians in Egypt, India, Libya, and Kazakhstan also experienced increased persecution since last year’s report.

Pakistani Christians experienced the most documented violence according to the report. Islamic militants in Pakistan specifically target Christians. A suicide bomb on Easter Sunday 2016 killed 74 people and injured hundreds more.

In addition to the spread of radical Islam, the report identified a rise in religious nationalism and intense persecution in central Asia as major trends in the persecution of Christians. Hindu nationalism has increased in India and Nepal, as has Buddhist nationalism in Burma and Sri Lanka. And persecution of Christians in central Asian nations, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, is intensifying under nationalist, pro-Islamic governments.

Also included on the list were Mexico and Colombia, where organized crime and corruption were cited as the source of Christian persecution.

Open Doors USA documented that 3,066 Christians were killed; 1,252 were abducted; 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List.

The World Watch List includes specific prayers requests for each of the top 50 countries, recalling Open Doors USA's founder Brother Andrew’s faith in the power of prayer to aid those who are suffering afar: “Our prayers can go where we cannot … There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”