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Godspeed, Jahi McMath

Finally on the evening of January 9, after 28 days without treatment following a diagnosis of “brain death” in an Oakland, CA hospital, thirteen-year-old Jani McMath is showing signs of improvement. 

The teen suffered cardiac arrest and other complications December 9, after what was expected to be a routine surgery to treat sleep apnea.  Medical staff at Oakland Children’s Hospital and an independent pediatric neurologist from Stanford University said that she lacked brain activity, and she was declared legally dead.  Although Jahi was still on a ventilator, the hospital refused to provide nutritional support since she was, in their estimation, a “dead body.”  Douglas Straus, the lawyer representing the hospital, wrote in a letter to the girl’s family, “Performing medical procedures on the body of a deceased human being is simply not something Children’s Hospital can do or ask its staff to assist in doing.

The weeks since Jahi’s surgery have brought confusion and legal wrangling:

  • Christopher Dolan, the lawyer for Jahi’s mother Nailah Winkfield, tried to negotiate a transfer to a long-term care facility; but Children’s Hospital refused to permit a visiting doctor to insert the tracheal tube and feeding tube which would assist her during the difficult transfer. 
  • The First District Court of Appeals refused to order the hospital to insert the tubes, ruling that the issue should first go to the lower court judge who had ordered the hospital to keep the girl on a ventilator until January 7, pending the family's appeal.  
  • Bobby Schindler, brother of Terri Schindler Schiavo, whose life was ended in 2005 when her husband had her feeding tube removed after years in what was called a persistent vegetative state, offered to help in locating a suitable facility for Jahi’s long-term care.

Finally on January 8, the family was able to arrange a transfer.  Children’s Hospital Oakland released Jahi to the coroner, who in turn released her to another unnamed center.

Now at the new location, reported to be a Catholic care facility, Jahi seems to be improving.  She has had the two surgeries she needed, to insert a feeding tube and a tracheal tube to replace the ventilator.

According to a report in LifeSiteNews, Dr. Paul Byrne, who examined Jahi while she was still a patient at Children’s Hospital, said at the time that she was alive—despite the hospital’s insistence that Jahi was “brain dead.”  In the state of California, loss of brain activity is equated with legal death; but Dr. Byrne reported that her heart was beating on its own, her organs were functioning and she was responding to family members with purposeful movements.  He was certain that she was healing from her tonsillectomy—and healing, Dr. Byrne noted, happens only in a living person.

Although the family prefers to keep the name of the new facility confidential, Jahi’s uncle Omari Sealy told CBS News that since Jahi’s transfer, the Catholic care facility has “been very welcoming with open arms.  They have beliefs just like ours.”

Christopher Dolan, the family’s attorney, offers a stark warning, however.  Despite apparent improvements since her transfer, Dolan worries that Jahi’s body may be beyond the point of saving, after the long lack of treatment in Oakland. 

Please keep Jahi McMath and her family in your prayers. 

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – January 9, 2014

Talking about the "things that matter most" on January 

4:00 – Kresta Comments

4:40 – The Forest of Assassins
The Forest of Assassins is a great read, a novel as good as the best journalism, with vivid and accurate details driving a tale of danger and deception and betrayal during the Vietnam War. This book doesn't just feel researched, it feels lived. Whether tightening the suspense – our protagonist, Navy Lieutenant Hank Dillon eyeball to eyeball with a VC soldier and watching for the skin to whiten on the man’s finger curled around the trigger of his AK-47 – or describing the oppressive heat of an innocent afternoon on the Mekong Delta, David Forsmark and Timothy Imholt make you believe every word of it. Dave joins us.

5:00 – Why I Don’t Call Myself a Gay Christian
Daniel Mattson is a Roman Catholic, living with a homosexual inclination and committed to chastity. But he does not identify as “gay.” Rather, he says “I live with same-sex attraction.” He refuses to identify as gay because the label “gay” does not accurately describe who (or what) he is. More fundamentally, he refuses to use that label because he desires to be faithful to the theological anthropology of the Church. Dan joins us today.

5:40 – Challenges to the HHS “Contraception Mandate” Continue: Why and Where Do They Stand?A number of cases challenging the HHS co-called contraception mandate were heard and ruled on over the last two weeks. We talk to Rob Muise of the American Freedom Law Center and Erin Mersino of the Thomas More Law Center who are handling many of these cases.

New York Times Misunderstands the Little Sisters of the Poor

The most telling part of the editorial was its concluding paragraph, which reads (in full, with one interpolation by me): “like the cases of the private employers [such as Hobby Lobby], the suit by the nuns’ group boils down to an unjustified attempt by an employer to impose its religious views on workers.”
One could probably develop an entire course on what is wrong with this country’s liberal elite’s understanding, and valuation, of religious liberty out of that one sentence.
–Professor Gerard V. Bradley
Notre Dame School of Law
Gerard V. Bradley

Professor Gerry Bradley, noted scholar in the fields of constitutional law as well as law and religion, took issue with the New York Times’ report last Friday on the Obama Administration’s legal memorandum affirming its opposition to the complaint by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  The Sisters contend that they should not be forced to facilitate free distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients to any of their employees who might desire them.  “Among its many, many mistakes,” he writes of the NY Times' report:
“…are these three: First, even though the folks who run Hobby Lobby and other complaining for-profit companies are admirable people who also deserve relief from the HHS mandate, it is a dull mind indeed which can see no relevant difference between the Little Sisters of the Poor and a huge commercial chain store; two, employees are not made to accept, or to have “imposed” upon them, any religious view by dint of being expected to pay for their own abortifacient or contraceptive drugs; third, there is no basis for the Times’ imposition of “impose” upon the Little Sisters.
The Sisters’ tiny outfit does not belong to them. They do not make others endure or suffer for their — the Sisters, as “employer” — views by keeping alive the mission and purpose of the organization itself, as the Catholic charity that it is. That character (or charism, one might say) is the common property of everyone associated with it, from the Little Sister who is in authority to the Little Sister who scrubs the floors — and to everyone in between.  The identity and meaning of the entire outfit is shared by all who choose to join it; it is wholly a collaboration among all who toil therein for the purpose of serving those most in need.
Read the full article here.

Jesuits Dismiss One of Their Own

Fr. John Dear
dismissed from Jesuit order

A Jesuit priest who is well known for pacifism and civil disobedience has been dismissed by his religious order.

The Jesuit order has called Fr. John Dear, who has been arrested some 75 times for civil disobedience actions across the country during his 32 years as a Jesuit, “obstinately disobedient to the lawful order of Superiors in a grave matter."  Among the issues which Father Dear, a National Catholic Reporter columnist, has protested are U.S. policies on Latin America, nuclear weapons development, and the cooperation of Jesuit educational institutions with American military recruiting programs such as the ROTC.

According to a report in the National Catholic Reporter, the dismissal also raises the specter of Pope Francis, the first head of the Catholic church to belong to the Jesuit order, having to confirm the dismissal of one of the order's members.
Fr. George Murphy, rector of the order's community in Berkeley, Calif., called Father Dear "a fine man."  He said, "I think he was a little impulsive and I suspect he's still got a bit of that in him—but he's just got a keen sense of justice and a desire for peace in the world."
Father Dear, while no longer a member of the Jesuit order, is still an ordained priest.  However, he will be unable to serve in any public ministry until a diocesan bishop grants him faculties to minister in a particular diocese.   Father Dear says, in a column today announcing his dismissal from the Jesuits, said that he does not know whether any U.S. bishops will welcome him into their diocese, and he is unsure if he will remain a priest.
The National Catholic Reporter has the full story.

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – January 7

Talking about the "things that matter most" on January 7

4:00 – 6:00 – The “Lists” of 2013

Top ten lists. Everybody loves lists and this time of year is rife with lists. Today we talk about some list topics of interest to Catholics and ask you to participate. John Allen joins us on the most under-reported Catholic stories of 2013. Steven Greydanus looks at the best films of 2013. Al reviews the best and worst of reporting on Pope Francis. And we ask what content might be on the “top Catholic stories of the year” when we do this segment in January of 2015. 

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" – January 6

Talking about the "things that matter most" on January 6

Best of Kresta due to Michigan’s “Snowmageddon”  - Al snowed in

4:00 – Education in Virtue
The Disciple of Christ- Education in Virtue is a Christian curriculum structured on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas regarding the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It aims to provide a consistent structure and systematic instruction for youth to learn about the virtues so that they can form the habits and dispositions necessary to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.  This curriculum emphasizes Christian discipleship as indispensable toward human flourishing and the quest for joy.  It has been developed in response to the call for a New Evangelization, firmly conveying the reality that happiness is found in a life of holiness. The genesis of the project, Sr. John Dominic of the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, is here to discuss it

4:40 – Kresta Comments

5:00 – Reflections on the Christian Life: How Our Story is
God’s Story
In our hearts, we know that every event in our lives is providential and that each of us plays a critical role in the unfolding of the story God has written. We believe that God's will is anchored deep within our soul, and so too is the desire to know it and to live it. Acclaimed Catholic author Anthony Esolen claims that the story of your life has already been written and can be discovered by considering the life and person of Jesus. Only in God does the world possess meaning, and therefore, only in relation to God, are our lives genuine stories. He is here to discuss his proposition.

A Gay Man Agrees With Phil Robertson

The author of this guest post has asked that we not use his real name.  Living in an environment in which merely supporting the Biblical worldview could bring charges of “homophobia”, he fears the effect it would have on his career and his social relationships.  Let’s just call him “Bob”.
Here is his story.

*     *     *     *     *
I am “gay” and I agree with Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.
If free speech and equal rights actually do exist, then I would hope that people will not try to silence what I am about to say.
It goes like this: I am “gay” and I agree 100% with Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.
He has my support, and more importantly he has my prayers. Every single person (including myself) out there needs to further wake up to the magnitude of what is happening, and realize that “a prayer is worth more than a posting”, and that we need to pray first and foremost before anything else. Pray for what? Pray that people will wake the heck up, and see that they are being lied to and that there is more to the story…but I am not talking about Duck Dynasty or Phil Robertson, I am talking about the topic of homosexuality.
In short, the culture of this day tries to have it both ways. They promote the idea that “I define me”, which is fine – it is accurate to say we can choose to embrace any particular identity. However, the culture also promotes the idea that just because you experience a certain type of attractions, you must self-identify in a particular way (if you want to be honest with yourself, that is). The culture closes the door on people even being able to become aware that the attractions we experience are not the same thing as the identities we choose to embrace. That is, the culture of this day lies to us by not differentiating our non-specifically chosen sexual attractions, from the specific choice that we make when we embrace an identity as our own. One more time, because it is THAT important, the culture says that “being gay” (or “being straight”) is “who you are”, when in reality, it is not who you are, unless you make it who you are, by specifically choosing to wholeheartedly self-identify and define yourself in that way.
What does this all boil down to? The matter of elevating the conversation.
Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty spoke about homosexual behaviour, but is there a bigger question to look at?
When Pope Francis talked about not judging gay people, it seemed as though it was the first time the media was exposed to the idea that the attractions we experience are not the same thing as the way we specifically choose to self-identify and define ourselves. Whether Catholic or Christian non-Catholic such as Phil Robertson, as Christians we are taught to self-identify not according to any single facet of our being, whether it be sexuality or otherwise. Why? The reason is simple… we are more that our sexualities.
This short video will help explain what that means a little better…(more article below the video)

A Matter of Identity
To self-identify and define ourselves according to our sexualities is not a way in which we can reflect the fullness of who we are. To self-identify according to one facet of our beings (in this case, our sexualities) is to self-identify in a reductionist fashion – we reduce ourselves and our sense of purpose to be tied to our reductionist self-concept. Rather than self-identifying and defining ourselves according to one facet of our beings, or less than the fullness of our beings (in this case our sexualities), we as Christians are called to self-identify and define ourselves first and foremost according tothe fullness of our beings – as persons – persons who are equal in dignity and worth in the eyes of God. That is, we are called to self-identify and to identify others not according to our sexualities, but rather as persons – persons who are all beloved children of God (regardless of one’s attractions or the life-journey one has taken thus far).
God’s love is for all persons, and this is a truth I discovered in the Catholic Church – in the last place the world taught that I should even look! Amidst a world that was telling me that the Catholic Church could never love someone like me, it was in there that I found the greatest love. It was in there that I was invited to uninhibitedly pursue a greater degree of truth about myself. I never received that invitation from anywhere outside the Church. With people loving me enough to walk with me on my journey, I came to realize on my own terms that serving Christ meant to be open to the virtue of chastity (different than celibacy). I came to further understand that, as the virtue of chastity is a Christian virtue, all true Christians should have zero problem with affirming people into growing further in the virtue of chastity. This matters because the whole mess of today has less to do with “who is gay”, “who is straight”, or what anyone thinks about that, and more to do with who upholds the idea that we should be open to growing in the virtue of chastity? That is where we should concentrate our energy. That is why I stand in support of Phil Robertson – even if he doesn’t stand for the virtue of chastity in all areas, he also doesn’t pander to the drones of the world who have bought the idea that one can uphold the virtue of chastity while self-identifying according to their sexuality, or while pursuing sexual acts (fantasy or physical) that are designed for mere gratification (even if it is mutually agreed-upon objectification).
Our Voices Have Been Silenced
Anyway, when I say “I’m gay”, I begrudgingly use that word knowing full well that people will think that I am someone who might be marching in a gay pride parade, and who is saying “being gay is who I am, and I want the world to know, so I can feel good about myself.” However, I will not be doing that – not for any reason of shame (I harbor no shame or guilt), but rather because I simply specifically choose to not self-identify and define myself in that way. Persons and groups who will try to silence persons like us will inform the public that we are the ones who are being dishonest with ourselves (dishonest about what, I don’t know, because we are perfectly honest with ourselves about the existence of our attractions). The fact of the matter is, doing that is the best strategy the entire pro-gay movement has, because if people like me were actually given a voice or were taken seriously, we would blow the lid off of the lies they are promoting. Thankfully, more and more people are “coming out” of “coming out”. In other words, more and more people are sick of being lied to. I know I am.
Pray, Pray, Pray
The fact of the matter is that we all have room to learn on this topic – correction: we all have lots to learn. However, unless we start asking bigger questions, we will remain entrenched in cyclical arguments with each other that will get us nowhere. Wait a minute – that is actually not entirely true. It is true that we will not get anywhere positive, but we will certainly earn a deficit. Why? Because engaging in that cycle immobilizes the good people of the world in arguments that will be relatively fruitless (relying on ourselves rather than trusting God). I would invite all people of the Christian world to enter fervent prayer (for hearts to be opened to growing in understanding of this topic), and I also invite everyone to elevate the conversation by using clarified language. Think about it – not clarifying our use of language leads to ambiguity in communication. Do we not owe it to ourselves to clarify our speech if we have any regard to truth and pursuing greater self-honesty? I think we do, and thus I think clarifying the way in which we speak is an absolute necessity – especially in this time and age. Further, clarifying how we speak about this shines a light on the falsehood that is promoted by our culture that just because I experience x, that means I am x (this falsehood is of course the cornerstone of the movement itself).
Square Watermelons?

With that, I invite you to into a learning journey; an uninhibited learning journey, where you are free to peruse all sources, not just the kinds that might “suit my motives”. I invite you into this knowing full well that this invitation will not be given by “the other guys”. It cannot be given by the other guys, because uninhibited questioning, leads to the discovery of the unanswerable questions…and with regards to homosexuality and the social movement that is sweeping the globe. It does not take long to reveal the ugly truth – the truth that identity embraced means a heck of a lot more to the movement than simply being honest about the existence of one’s attractions. We know this already on account of the insistence that our young people embrace the gay “identity” as “who they are”, so they can grow into this type of identity.

However, to embrace an identity is far beyond the matter of simply being honest with oneself about the existence of one’s attractions. Furthermore, to embrace a reductionist identity is to place limiting parameters on yourself and your self-concept. At this point I am always reminded of those “square” watermelons that are on those “Meanwhile in Japan” memes. Really, they are just watermelons that have grown into the parameters that have been placed around them. Embracing any form of identity has a similar effect. The watermelon becomes a square watermelon once those parameters are put in place. Likewise, we grow into the parameters we place onto ourselves, every time we wholeheartedly embrace any type of identity as our own.
Imposing Shame onto Christians
Regardless, along your learning journey, I just hope that you will include more than one point of view and will fairly evaluate other sources, despite the public push to have one voice speak for all of us. Clearly nowhere else in life is like that, and neither is this. Yet it is strange how the world invites questioning at all levels, except for this. Hmm… I trust you will be able to draw your own conclusions about that – but mine are that there is a serious investment in having people self-identify according to their sexuality. We know today, that the targeting is due to the reality that the Catholic Church (and many other Christian Churches at the moment) will never affirm people into becoming invested in those sorts of identities. This movement has been masterfully designed to draw people away from the Catholic Church and Christianity in general, and of course to impose shame on young people on account of their faith association. It is actually quite genius – the culture has found a way to shame children for being Catholic, and then turn against them against the faith of their family… and it is working. However, this tactic is a house of cards that today is starting to collapse because of people like you who have started to ask questions, instead of simply blindly accepting the message of our culture today. You deserve more than to be indoctrinated – but the culture of this day apparently begs to differ.
Haters Gonna Hate
It should be of no surprise that I won’t share my name here. There will be backlash because there always is, anytime something counter-cultural is introduced that shines a light on the falsehoods being presented as truths. But know this: I, and persons like me, are among you, and we have been silenced. We have been threatened with intimidation tactics to keep our mouths shut. That by the way, is what tolerance they speak of, actually looks like. Our stories are greeted with protest, and the message is effectively sent (amongst the crowds of people who think they are doing a good thing) that what we have to say is not welcome. In other words, people rally around the idea that only they can be heard, and it is done in the name of free speech and equality. Sounds like equality alright – equality for people who are illogical and one-sided. However, we know that what we have to say – if we present it with true humility as an invitation to grow in deeper understanding of what is really going on, we can turn this world on its head. Be it known I speak this without intending an anti-activist approach or revolution, but rather with an illumination into the hearts of humankind, provided by God., in His time.
Will you stand up for equality and share our voices? We hope you do.
I don’t even have to convince you who is telling you the truth and who is lying to you. I respect you enough to invite you to ask questions, while the “other guys” will not. There are a series of questions below that any person should not be threatened by…yet I know they are not well-received by the world at large. The point is: Ask questions about what is being taught, and you will know who is being threatened by those questions. How? They will steer you away from those questions, or out rightly attack you in some form or fashion. Where questions are unwelcome and where the uninhibited pursuit of truth is unwelcome, let that be a red flag to you. Regardless of whether your are ready to start this journey or not, what you and I both must acknowledge at this point in time is that “that which is not-specifically chosen” needs to be considered distinct from “that which is specifically chosen”, and thus attractions need to be considered distinct from the identities we choose to embrace. I invite you to consider who upholds that truth and who does not. Furthermore, once again I invite you to see how that invitation will not be given by all sides.
Phil Robertson, I am “gay” (describing my attractions), and you have my support 100%. Here is why:
Unchaste sexual sin (in whatever form – including opposite sex), is sin, and it is destructive to family, individuals, and to our hearts and souls. We have to look beyond the short-sightedness of our day, to see that the openness to grow in the virtue of chastity provides the foundation for the greatest probability of having healthy, stable parents, which in turn is better off for the children (secular studies support this all the way to the bank). And the better off the children, the better off our world will be. Forget the focus on toys this Christmas, rather make your priority being fully present and “in the room” when with your children. All the distractions of our world will never replace the stability of a home, but stability of the home starts with and is amplified by the desire to be chaste. The thing is, the desire to be chaste will draw a person to eventually not want to live in an unchaste way anymore. You can try, but once you realize you are trying to satisfy longings that are diametrically opposed to one another, the fantasy comes crashin’ down.
This is why what Phil Robertson brought up is so important – it is a chance to discuss the greater question of the openness to the virtue of chastity. Persons pursuing same-sex relationships and engaging in homosexual unchaste activity, just as persons engaging in opposite-sex relationship and heterosexual unchaste activity, are all guilty of the same sin – the closedness to the virtue of chastity. So, even though the world want’s you to think this is a “gay thing” and that “gay people” are being attacked, don’t fall for it. It’s an everyone thing. The reality is the authentic Christian Churches “punish”all people in the same way, with the invitation to pursue a life of self-mastery (chastity) in all areas of life. The only way I can see it being a “punishment” is if I went back in time to my old life, where I was one of those people who self-identified and defined myself according to my sexuality. I was invested in that identity, just as how so many others are of this day. But because I was invested in that identity, so much so as to define “who I was” according to my sexuality, I could not conceive of the idea that chaste living could be anything less than a cruel punishment. Today I see it as just the opposite, but God first had to open my heart to receive the desire to be chaste – and it has brought inner peace and joy beyond what I ever before knew was possible!
See, like Phil Robertson, I too turned to Christ, and he received me where I was in life – in a state where I thought not even He could love me (Christ, not Phil). And He (Christ again) has given me the desire to grow in that virtue. I understand first-hand that you cannot simply “talk with someone” and change their mind about chastity – rather you have to rely on God, which means to pray for His graces to do what He is calling you to do in His time. Phil stood up for what he believes in, and he has taken the fall without denying Christ. I hope that I might have that much courage if I were in his shoes, when facing the “tolerance” of our world today. However, at least people are starting to ask questions, and his losses will not be in vain but will rather act towards the journey to greater truth for many people – maybe even you. For that reason I repeat again: despite the attractions I have been permitted by God, Phil Robertson, I am with you 100%, and GOD BLESS YOU and GOD BLESS AMERICA!
- Your Brother in Christ

This article appeared originally at the website Pursuit of Truth.  Click here for more information.

Two Americans Among Eight Experts Invited to Vatican Peace Conference

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Two Americans are among the key political experts invited by the Vatican for a January 13 conference aimed at promoting a cease-fire in Syria, the protection of Christians there, and a transitional and unified government.
The two U.S. participants in the one-day meeting are economist and advisor Jeffrey Sachs, who is active in the world fight against poverty and hunger, and Thomas Walsh, international president of the Universal Peace Federation and a U.S. expert in interreligious peace building and security.
The title for the workshop is “Syria: With a death toll of 126,000 and 300,000 orphans in 36 months of war, can we remain indifferent?”
Jeffrey Sachs
The Vatican meeting, which is sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, will precede major peace talks scheduled for January 22 in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition forces.  The Vatican will seek to propose “a cease-fire to make humanitarian aid possible” in Syria; an end to “persecutions against Christians to encourage interreligious dialogue; a transitional authority to organize elections (and) a unified national government also responsible for the military sector and security;” as well as an end to human trafficking and prostitution in the war-torn nation.
Thomas Walsh
An eight-page program prepared by the Pontifical Academy gave a brief background of the Syrian conflict.  It said U.S. calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down “put the U.S. in effective opposition to the United Nations’ peace initiative” put forth in early 2012. 
According to the booklet, “Russia argued that America’s insistence on Assad’s immediate departure was an impediment to peace. In this, perhaps Russia was right.”  However, it continued, while Russia backed UN peace initiatives, it also–along with Iran–“supplied more and more sophisticated weapons to the regime” as the U.S. and other countries financed the rebels.
The workshop program also outlined Pope Francis' calls, prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace in the region. 
Opening remarks at the workshop will be delivered by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. 
Other experts and leaders invited by the Vatican to participate, in addition to Americans Sachs and Walsh, include:
·       Tony Blair, founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and official envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East:  the U.N., European Union, Russia and the United States.
·       Former Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a major figure in Egypt’s revolution against ousted Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi.
·       Pyotr Stegny, a former diplomat and expert in Russian diplomacy and foreign policy in the Middle East.
·       Joseph Maila, a Lebanese expert on the Middle East, Islam and politics.
·       Miguel Angel Moratinos, a Spanish diplomat and member of congress who served seven years as the European Union special representative for the Middle East peace process.
·       Thierry de Montbrial, a French economist and expert in international relations.

According to a report from Radio Vaticana,
With the upcoming "Geneva II" talks, the "resumption of the U.N. peace process, this time with the U.S. and Russia on the same side to prevent violence, might succeed in keeping al-Qaida at bay—a shared interest—and finding a pragmatic long-term solution for Syria's complex internal divisions."

Meanwhile, a two-person delegation representing the Syrian government delivered a letter for Pope Francis from Assad. The letter was delivered Dec. 28 when the Syrians met at the Vatican with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican foreign minister, and gave a ‘message’ to the Pope.
The January talks in Geneva are a follow-up to a meeting in June 2012 when international parties proposed a peace plan calling for a transitional government body in an effort to end a civil war that began in March 2011.

Catholic News Service reports that the conflict between Assad's government and rebel forces has killed more than 100,000 people, driven 2 million refugees out of Syria and displaced more than 4 million inside the country.

The Naked Woman in Cologne Cathedral and Her American Paparazzi Connection

By Kathy Schiffer
On Christmas Day, as the 10 a.m. high Mass got underway in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, a young woman in the front row stripped off her coat, exposing her naked body, rushed to the sanctuary and climbed atop the great altar.  Painted across the screaming woman’s bare chest were the words “I AM GOD.”
Josephine Witt, the protestor, was a 20-year-old philosophy student and a member of the feminist anarchist group FEMEN.  Before Cardinal Joachim Meisner could begin the prayers of the Mass, she was quickly apprehended by ushers and guards and by angry worshippers, and whisked away to a waiting police car.  In videos of the disturbance, one man can be seen throwing his coat over Ms. Witt’s exposed breasts before she is dragged from the cathedral.  Another man, an elderly worshipper near the front pew, steps out to slap the screaming woman’s face before returning to his seat.
I’ve written about FEMEN before.  The group, which had its beginnings in 2008, has protested in support of issues including abortion and gay marriage, and opposing Islamism and sharia law.  Their radical viewpoints frequently bring them into conflict with religion.
This time, FEMEN’s objection is with regard to abortion rights.  In an interview with German journalist Fabian Reinbold published in the German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Witt said:
“I do not consider myself to be God—which, of course, was a provocation.  You should show that we are all responsible for our actions on earth—that no one can forbid any woman to make decisions about their own bodies. This is exactly what Cardinal Joachim Meisner has done, however, by refusing to permit abortions. This is an unworldly approach, which fights against the Femen.”
Challenged by Reinbold to explain why FEMEN protested in a Catholic Church, and why it engages in shock protests which are considered by some to be vulgar, Witt explained:
“We act not against believers, but against the institution [of the Church] and people like [Cardinal] Meisner, which they use to oppress women.”
Witt asserted that FEMEN objects to Cardinal Meisner’s and the Catholic Church’s attitude toward “abortion and pedophilia”—as though the Church opposed the first, but supported the second.
*     *     *     *     *
There are two things which irritate me about the whole shameful event—besides the exhibitionist freak show itself.
  • First is that the media, obviously cued in advance about the FEMEN protest, were standing ready to capture the protest on film, but no one in the media offices had the personal fortitude to warn authorities or to take any action to prevent the sacrilege within Germany’s largest cathedral.  FEMEN’s stunts are designed for maximum publicity; and the organization had invited the largest media outlets to ensure that the world would hear the story. The Express, Cologne’s largest newspaper, had a reporter and photographer present.  A cameraman from Hans Paul Media, one of the world’s largest paparazzi organizations, had already photographed Josephine Witt fully clothed in her pew; he now waited in the south wing of the cathedral for the Mass to be interrupted, so that he could capture the bold protest as it happened.
  • And secondly, I am irritated by the reports that German police are seeking the man who slapped the protester—presumably to slap an assault charge on him.  Is it not possible, I wonder, that a woman who charges the altar—stripping naked in front of God and small children, and screaming obscenities—is a hostile invader?  Didn’t the Catholic worshippers have the right to protect themselves, their elderly archbishop, and their Church?
By the way, Hans Paul—the head of the paparazzi company which staked out the cathedral to catch Witt’s indecent stunt on film—has ties to America.  A German-born photo lab technician, Paul’s career has included early work on a steamship, in a Venezuelan steel factory, in an Israeli kibbutz, and in a copper mine in Israel’s Negev Desert.  He once hitchhiked across the United States; and in 1998, he established residency in Los Angeles, where he photographed Hollywood stars and other celebrities.  He now lives in Sydney, Australia, but his agency employs photographers worldwide.

Bishop Pates Embarks on Fact-Finding Mission to Middle East

Bishop Richard E. Pates

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa will depart January 6, 2014 on a two-week fact-finding mission in the Middle East. 

Bishop Pates, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, has a special concern for Syria and the Holy Land, and plans to show support for the local Church and the relief work of Catholic agencies in the region.  He echoed the words of Pope Francis in his Urbi et Orbi message, particularly addressing the violence faced in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Holy Land.

“Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance,” Pope Francis said. “Let us never lose the courage of prayer!  The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world.  And I also invite non-believers to desire peace with that yearning that makes the heart grow: all united, either by prayer or by desire.  But all of us, for peace.”

Bishop Pates continued, “As I prepare to make a solidarity visit to the Middle East in support of the local Church caught in the midst of regional conflicts, I recall in a special way our Holy Father’s Urbi et Orbi Christmas message in which he invoked the ‘Prince of Peace’ to lead people to give up their arms and ‘undertake the path of dialogue.  In addition to a special concern for the Church and People of Syria, Egypt, Israel and Palestine, we remain deeply concerned for South Sudan, the Central African Republic and all places that do not know God’s peace.”

In Israel and Palestine, he will attend a meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land. The Holy Land Coordination consists of representatives of Catholic bishops’ conferences of Europe, North America, and South Africa. The group will hold sessions and make visits:
•  To understand the social, political and ecclesial realities of the Holy Land
•  To advocate more effectively for justice and peace
•  To support the efforts of the local Church especially through the work of Catholic agencies
•  To support the mission of the Apostolic Nuncio especially regarding fundamental and basic agreements.

*     *     *     *

More information on the work of the Committee on International Justice and Peace can be found at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/global-issues/middle-east/israel-palestine/index.cfm
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