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Pope Francis comforts sister of French priest slain last year

Vatican City, Apr 24, 2017 / 10:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Saturday comforted the sister of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest who was killed by ISIS sympathizers while celebrating Mass in Normandy, France last summer.

According to the Associated Press, the Pope gripped the hands of Roselyne Hamel and spoke quietly to her during an April 22 liturgy honoring the “new martyrs” of the 20th and 21st centuries in the Basilica of St Bartholomew on Rome’s Tiber Island.

Fr. Hamel was killed July 26, 2016 while celebrating Mass after two armed gunmen stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy. The assailants entered the church and took the priest and four others hostage. Local law enforcement reported that the priest’s throat was slit in the attack, and that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police. The attackers were identified as Islamist extremists.

Pope Francis issued a statement at the time decrying the “absurd violence.” He later said during a Mass in September at the Vatican in honor of Fr. Hamel that the slain priest “is blessed now,” according to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen who was there. The Pope referred to the priest as “an example of courage” because “he emptied himself to serve others, to build brotherhood among men.”

Last October, the French diocese of Rouen officially began an inquiry into the beatification of Fr. Hamel after the Pope waived the traditional five-year waiting period.

At the service Saturday, Roselyne shared with the congregation how her brother was “strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people, whoever it was, and – I am certain – also for his killers.” She said that his death was a witness for the whole world, and continued the ‘yes’ with which he had given his life in service to Christ at the moment of his ordination.

Catholics speak out against execution of two more Arkansas inmates

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 24, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Arkansas prepares to conduct the first double execution in the U.S. since 2000, Catholics prayed for all involved in the execution and the victims of the capital crimes. “All of the actions around these executions in Arkansas display the flaws of the death penalty,” said Catholic Mobilizing Network in a statement to CNA April 24.  

“Both Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are in poor health, raising the risk of complications likely to occur with the lethal injection protocol. Kenneth Williams, set to be executed on Thursday, has an outstanding intellectual disability case as well,” the organization said. Voicing prayers for both the victims and those involved in the scheduled executions, the group noted that both “Jones and Williams have taken responsibility for their crimes,” and said that this action “should be met with mercy.”

“This forces you to ask the question, why so much energy, expense and focus on vengeance? This is an opportunity to stand for the dignity of all life,” the group said. Arkansas is set to execute two men – Jack Jones and Marcel Williams – on Monday evening, after a federal district judge on Friday denied their request to have their executions stopped and the state Supreme Court on Monday afternoon denied them a stay of execution.

Jones and Williams, scheduled to be executed on Monday evening, claimed that the state’s use of the sedative Midazolam could fail to achieve the intended effect of rendering them unconscious before the next two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, were administered. If this happened, the inmates said they could experience excruciating pain during their death.

The state had originally planned to execute eight inmates in 10 days before their supply of the drug Midazolam – used in their three-step lethal injection protocol – expired, but several of the executions have been stayed. Inmates challenged the state’s use of Midazolam, claiming that there was a significant risk that the drug would not work as intended, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed their claim.

Meanwhile, a Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin had halted the state’s use of vecuronium bromide in executions, after the medical supplier of vecuronium claimed that the state bought the drug from them and was deceptive about its planned use. The manufacturer of vecuronium had opposed its use in executions.

The state Supreme Court vacated Griffin’s ruling, however, and commissioned an investigation into whether he had violated the code of conduct for judges after he had participated in a rally against the planned executions on the same day he issued his decision. Griffin was also barred from hearing future death penalty cases.

One of the inmates, Ledell Lee, was executed on Thursday, April 20 after the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay of execution. Of the two set to be executed on Monday evening, Jones was convicted for the 1995 murder of Mary Phillips and the attempted killing of her daughter, while Williams was convicted for the 1994 killing of Stacey Errickson.

A report by the Fair Punishment Project claimed that Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had been physically abused by his father as a child, had been sexually abused by strangers, and had twice attempted suicide before the 1995 killing. Marcel Williams, the report claimed, had been physically and sexually abused as a child, and had been pimped out by his mother to strangers for lodging and food stamps.

Kenneth Williams is also scheduled to be executed by Arkansas on Thursday. He has asked the state Supreme Court to halt his execution based on his claim of intellectual disability. He reportedly has an IQ score of 70, “squarely within the intellectual disability range,” according to the Fair Punishment Project.

Other inmates have had their executions halted. After the state’s parole board recommended clemency for Jason McGehee, convicted in the 1996 killing of John Melbourne, Jr., his execution was suspended by a federal district court because of a 30-day period for public comment before the board officially made its recommendation to the governor. McGehee’s scheduled execution fell within that 30-day period.

Two other inmates, Bruce Ward and Don Davis, saw their executions halted by the state Supreme Court as the U.S. Supreme Court considers another case, McWilliams v. Dunn, involving a prisoner’s request for a mental competency evaluation by an expert not selected by the state. The Court held oral arguments in the case on Monday. Stacey Johnson was granted a stay of execution by the state Supreme Court for a hearing on DNA evidence in his case.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock has already spoken out against the scheduled executions. He wrote Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 1 to ask for the eight death sentences to be commuted to life without parole. “Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death,” Bishop Taylor wrote. “Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means.”

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, also called for the sentences to be commuted to life imprisonment. “Indeed, serious criminal activity must be met with appropriate punishment,” he wrote. He cited Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae which said that death sentences should not be served for punishment “except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” The U.S. has “maximum security prisons” which “can neutralize an incarcerated person’s threat to the general public,” he added.

The planned executions follow a commutation of a Virginia inmate’s death sentence to life without parole by Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who said that false information had been presented against Ivan Teleguz, 38, during the sentencing for a 2001 murder. The state’s bishops had praised the commutation “because we have a profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death.”  

University meets harsh criticism for Plan B in vending machine

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2017 / 04:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A California university came under fire for dispensing Plan B contraceptive pill in a vending machine, with one critic calling the move inadequate in meeting the real needs of women.

“Colleges and universities should be offering pregnant and parenting students options of housing, financial aid, diaper decks, and childcare instead of handing over abortion drugs,” said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life. “No woman should be forced to choose between the life of her child and her education,” she told CNA.

A study room at the University of California Davis recently installed a “Wellness To Go” vending machine that includes Plan B among other items such as condoms, tampons, pregnancy tests and Advil. The move has been met with mixed reactions from students, with one calling it a “great thing for women,” according to CNN affiliate KTXL.

However, another student slammed the development as promoting recklessness and irresponsibility among UC Davis attendees.    “It is promoting like 'Oh hey, go and have unsafe sex because then you have a backup option and it's gonna be cheaper than if you just wanna go to a drug store,'” Jordan Herrera told the affiliate.

Students for life coordinates a Pregnant on Campus Initiative, which provides resources for students who are pregnant and do not wish to undergo an abortion.   

Plan B has been the source of religious freedom troubles for pharmacists and drugstore owners who consciously object to dispensing the pills. Greg Stormans and his family, who have been operating a small grocery store and pharmacy for the past four generations, had no idea they would be at the center of a firestorm in 2007, when the Washington Pharmacy Commission began to require pharmacies to dispense the abortion-inducing drugs Plan B and ella and make conscience-based referrals illegal. In July 2007, the Stormans filed a lawsuit against Washington state to stop enforcement of the newly passed regulations. The legal battle continues to this day. In July 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision to suspend the regulations.

Previously, Stormans would have been allowed to refer customers elsewhere if they requested Plan B or ella. However, the new Washington law requires Stormans to offer the drugs himself, becoming the first state in the country to prohibit customer referrals for religious reasons. Since the lawsuit began, Stormans said that his family has received numerous threats. In addition, their business saw a drop in sales by 30 percent, and as a result, they were forced to take a pay cut and reduce staff by 10 percent.

Mercy is key to the life of faith, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2017 / 04:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Divine Mercy Sunday Pope Francis said mercy is essential in living the Christian life, because it not only allows us to understand ourselves and God better, but it also prompts us to recognize and help those in need.  

“Let us never forget that mercy is the keystone of the life of faith, and concrete way with which we give visibility to the Resurrection of Jesus,” the Pope said April 23. Mercy, he said, is understood as a true awareness of “the mystery” that the Church is living, particularly during the Easter season.

Not only is mercy understood in various ways such as through the senses, intuition and reason, but we can also become aware of it through an act of mercy that we personally experience, he said, adding that “this opens the door of the mind to better understand the mystery of God and of our personal existence.” “It makes us understand that violence, resentment and revenge have no meaning, and the first victim is whoever lives these sentiments, because it deprives them of their own dignity,” he said.

Additionally, mercy also allows us to open the door of our hearts and draw close to those who are “alone and marginalized,” recognizing those in need and finding the right words to say to comfort them. “Mercy warms the heart and makes it sensitive to the needs of our brothers with sharing and participation,” Francis said, explaining that in the end, mercy “commits everyone to being instruments of justice, reconciliation and peace.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his Sunday Regina Coeli address on Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. The Regina Coeli is traditionally prayed instead of the Angelus throughout the liturgical Easter season. In his brief speech, the Pope noted now the Sunday after Easter in the past was referred to as “in albis,” meaning “in white,” as a reminder of the white garments worn by those who had come into the Church on Easter Sunday.

In the time after Easter, he said, Sunday takes on “an even more illuminating” aspect, especially considering the previous traditional custom in which the garment would be worn by the person for the entire week after their baptism until the following Sunday, when they began their new life in Christ and the Church.

Francis then pointed to how the Sunday after Easter was later designated as Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope Saint John Paul II during the Jubilee year 2000. “It was a beautiful institution!” he said, noting that his own Extraordinary Jubilee for Mercy concluded just a few months ago, on the Nov. 20, 2016, Solemnity of Christ the King.

In wake of the Jubilee, Divine Mercy Sunday “invites us to take up with strength the grace that comes from the mercy of God,” he said, noting that in the day’s Gospel from John, Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room, and gives them the message: “As the Father has sent me, so I also send you.” After saying this, Jesus then entrusts them with a special task, telling them “receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”

“This is the meaning of the mercy that is presented to us on the day of the Resurrection of Jesus as forgiveness of sins,” Pope Francis said, explaining that the Risen Christ gave his Church as a first task “his same mission of bringing to all the concrete announcement of forgiveness.”

Francis said this commission is a visible sign of Christ’s mercy, which brings both peace of heart and the joy of a renewed encounter with the Lord. He closed his address praying that Mary, the Mother of Mercy, would “help us to believe and live all of this with joy,” and led pilgrims in praying the Regina Coeli.

The Pope then greeted pilgrims from various countries around the world, giving a special shout-out to Spain, where yesterday the priest Fr. Luis Antonio Rosa Ormières was proclaimed a Blessed, and to all youth who had been confirmed or are currently candidates for Confirmation. He then thanked everyone who sent him messages wishing him a happy Easter before asking for prayers and giving his blessing.

This film shows how mercy can transform your life

Bridgeport, Conn., Apr 23, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA).- Personal stories about God’s mercy at work in the world today are the focus of a recent Catholic-produced documentary on Divine Mercy. “These testimonies remind us that Divine Mercy is not just a devotion or theological concept – it is alive, it is present, and it is a force that can transform the world,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson.

The one-hour film “The Face of Mercy” depicts mercy as the antidote to evil even in great difficulty. Narrated by actor Jim Caviezel, the film interweaves history, theology, and testimonials about the importance of mercy in people’s lives. Testimonies come from Immaculée Ilibagiza, who forgave those who murdered her family in the Rwandan genocide; a New York police officer who works for peace despite having been shot and paralyzed from the waist down; a young widow who forgave the killer of her husband; a baseball player who became a priest; and a former NFL linebacker who now shares Christ’s mercy with the homeless.

The film was produced by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order with 1.9 million members worldwide. Anderson said the film “highlights the sort of transformations that are possible in individual lives that embrace the way of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

The film is available at Amazon.com, the Ignatius Press website, and the Knights of Columbus site Knights Gear. More information is available at faceofmercyfilm.com.  

This article was originally published on CNA Nov. 17, 2016.

Christians are the most widely targeted religious group in the world

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When it comes to religious persecution, Christians are the most widely targeted community, said a new report released this week. But despite oppression and threat of violence, the faithful “should not be afraid,” said a Pakistani archbishop.

Pakistan’s Christians have made vital contributions to the country’s history and must not refrain from professing their faith in the midst of the current persecution, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, OFM of Lahore, Pakistan. “Even under discrimination or some violent actions,” Christians should take courage, he said, citing the words of Jesus that “people will hate you on account of My name.” “You are not guilty, but because you are Christians and because you are following the Gospel values…being honest, being more responsible, being more dutiful, more charitable,” he said of Pakistan’s Christians, violence and harassment will follow.

Archbishop Shaw spoke with CNA at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. at the April 20 release of the new report “Under Caesar’s Sword.” The archbishop leads the largest Catholic diocese in Pakistan, with around 500,000 members. “Under Caesar’s Sword” documents not only the persecution of Christians around the world, but how they choose to respond to persecution.

“Christians are the most widely targeted religious community,” the report explained, “suffering terrible persecution globally.” There are three common responses of Christian communities to violence or harassment, the report noted: “survival,” “strategies of association,” and “confrontation,” which is “the least common response.”

Survival would entail communities choosing to remain where they are in the face of persecution, as minorities have in Iraq and Syria, and either gathering covertly for worship as underground churches do in China, or maintaining a tenuous relationship with regimes in power.

Communities utilizing “association” would develop relationships with other non-governmental organizations or international bodies like the United Nations, or would strengthen their social ties in their country through social services or practicing forgiveness. Examples of this course of action would be Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt, who acted to protect each other’s churches and mosques from vandalism and violence in 2011. Another example was in 1996 when, “anticipating martyrdom, Christian de Chergé, leader of the ‘Tibhirine Monks’ of Algeria who were martyred in 1996 during the uprising, wrote a letter to his would-be killers, forgiving them and inviting them to a future of living together in freedom.”

“Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent and, with very few exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism,” the report stated. Christians in Pakistan, Archbishop Shaw explained, helped build and unify the country when it was founded in 1947, especially through the health and social sectors and the educational institutions which formed some of the country’s present-day leaders, including the prime minister and the speaker of the National Assembly.

However, following the nationalization of the country’s schools in 1972, Pakistan became “more Islamized” and Christians were marginalized more and more, the archbishop said. They currently only make up around two percent of the country’s population. Their marginalization includes infringements upon their rights and mob violence.

Acts of terror against Christians have also increased, with a suicide bomber killing 72 and injuring 340 last year in an attack on a Christian celebration of Easter Sunday at a park in Lahore.

Additionally, anti-blasphemy laws have resulted in 40 persons on death row or serving life in prison, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The laws, which do not require evidence for an accusation and which carry the harshest of penalties, have been used to harass Christians. Mob violence is utilized to pressure the government and the courts to issue or uphold harsh sentences for Christians for alleged crimes. Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was convicted in 2010 for alleged blasphemy but the country’s Supreme Court suspended her death sentence and her case is still in question, Archbishop Shaw said.

Today, Christians don’t count as a full person according to the country’s witnessing law, which requires the testimony of two Christian men to equal that of one Muslim man when witnessing to a crime. Women are also considered below men, as four Christian women would have to testify to count as a full witness.

New textbooks in schools have also circulated which contain “hate material,” the archbishop said, which prevents a “harmonious society” from growing.

Archbishop Shaw said he tells Christians “you were born in Pakistan, so God has a special purpose for you to be born in Pakistan,” saying their presence there is no accident. Christians should not back away from the public square, he insisted, but should be “assertive enough to profess your faith in a very dignified way.” He exhorted them “not to fight,” in response to violence, “but that does not mean that you let people kill you. You have to be courageous to approach people in a very assertive way to share your values in being human and being a Christian.”

Christians should seek to grow in knowledge of their faith and their “religious traditions,” he said, and should share their faith with others through interreligious dialogue. This last part is key, he said, because if Christians and Muslims can have a “roundtable” to learn each other’s religious values, then they can find common ground.

Some of the worst persecution of Christians occurs in countries where they are isolated and which are largely closed off to outside research, the report said, countries like North Korea, Eritrea, Somalia, and Yemen. Christians worldwide should seek to implement these practices of dialogue, bridge-building with other members of society, and non-violence, the report said.

“The benefits of these strategies may seem short-term and modest, but from the standpoint of those persecuted, the strategies reflect a kind of divine logic, one rooted not only in hope for reward and fulfillment in the life to come but also in the conviction that should these communities remain true to their faith, there will come a day when the persecuting regime or militant group may pass away and the church spring up and branch out with vigor, as it has done so often in history before,” the report stated, citing the early Christians’ faith amidst the persecutions by the Roman Empire.

“Those who wish to act in solidarity with persecuted Christians can imitate their creative and faithful pragmatism,” the report concluded.

Pope dedicates videomessage to Italian educator

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a video message to a festival organised to promote books and reading, which is taking place in Milan from 19 to 23 April.

The videomessage is dedicated to Don Lorenzo Milani, the prior of Barbiana, and writer of many works including “letter to a professor”.

The Italian priest is also being remembered at the event entitled “Time for Books”.

In the videomessage the Holy Father describes Don Milani as a believer, in love with the Church even though he was hurt, and a passionate educator with a vision for  school life.

He goes on to say that “going to school means opening the mind and heart to reality, to the richness of its aspects, its dimensions.”

The Pope adds that Don Milani displayed a spiritual restlessness, fueled by love for Christ, the Gospel, the Church, society, and school, which he increasingly dreamed of as a "field hospital" to help the wounded, and to help make the lives of the marginalized and discarded better.”

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Regina Caeli: With Mercy violence and rancor have no sense

(Vatican Radio) In his Angelus address in a sunny St Peter’s Square, Pope France recalled the Church tradition of calling the first Sunday after Easter “in albis”, an expression he said, meant to recall the rite of those who had received baptism in white on the Easter Vigil. The Pope went on to say that  in the Jubilee of Year of 2000, St. John Paul II established that this particular Sunday was to be dedicated to Divine Mercy.

Listen to our report:

In the last months, the Holy Father said, “we have concluded the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and this Sunday invites us to resume the grace that comes from the mercy of God.”

Drawing inspiration from the  Gospel reading of the day, the Holy Father  reminded those present of Jesus’ words, "receive the Holy Spirit. Those to whom you will forgive sins will be forgiven ".

Here is the sense of the mercy, the forgiving of sins, noted Pope Francis, “that occurs on the day of the resurrection of Jesus.”

The Risen Jesus, he continued  has sent to his Church, as a first task, his own mission to bring to everyone the concrete announcement of forgiveness.

This visible sign of his mercy brings with him the peace of heart and the joy of a renewed encounter with the Lord.

Mercy said the Pope, makes us realize that violence, rancor, and revenge have no sense.

Mercy also opens the door of the heart and allows us to express our closeness, above all to those who are alone and marginalized.

Mercy, in short, said Pope Francis is everyone committed to being instruments of justice, reconciliation and peace. Let us never forget that mercy, he concluded, is the keystone in the life of faith, and the concrete form in which we give visibility to the resurrection of Jesus.

Following the recitation of the Regina Caeli, the Holy Father remembered the Beatification in Oviedo, Spain on Saturday of Father Luis Antonio Rosa Ormières an educator who lived in the nineteenth century, and founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Guardian Angel.

The Pope also greeted Polish pilgrims on the Feast of Divine Mercy and thanked Caritas Poland for their support of so many families in Syria.

 

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Who conquers the devil's hatred? God's new martyrs, Pope says

Rome, Italy, Apr 22, 2017 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The devil’s hatred for Christ and for our redemption is the root cause of all persecution since the beginnings of the Church, Pope Francis said at a special liturgy that focused on modern martyrs.

“The memory of these heroic witnesses, old and new, confirms us in the knowledge that the Church is a Church of martyrs… they have received the grace of confessing Jesus until the end, until death,” the Pope said April 22. He said that if we look well into history, the root cause of every persecution is “the hatred the prince of this world has toward those who have been saved and redeemed by Jesus with his death and with his Resurrection.”

Pointing to Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid! The world will hate you, but know that before you, it hated me,” from the Gospel passage read at the liturgy, Francis said the use of the word “hatred” is both strong and frightening. “He, who is the master of love, who liked so much to speak of love, speaks of hatred,” he said, noting that Jesus “always wanted to call things by their name.”

Jesus has chosen and redeemed us as “a free gift of his love,” he said, adding that through this love, we have been saved from “the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world.” “And the origin of hatred is this: that we are saved by Jesus, and the prince of this world doesn’t want it, he hates us and provokes persecution, which since the time of Jesus and the early Church continues until our days.”

Pope Francis offered his reflections during a special April 22 liturgy honoring the “new martyrs” of the 20th and 21st centuries in the Basilica of St Bartholomew on Rome’s Tiber Island. Overseen by the Community of Sant’Egidio, the basilica was founded at the end of the 10th century and contains a vast number of relics belonging to 20th century martyrs. The collection was initially gathered after the Jubilee of 2000.

A year ahead of the jubilee, Pope John Paul II established the “New Martyrs” commission to study and investigate modern cases of martyrdom in preparation for the event. As a result, the commission gathered some 12,000 dossiers of martyrs and witnesses of the faith from around the world. To commemorate the heroic witness of those who had given their lives for Christ, John Paul II in 2002 had a large icon made and placed in the basilica of St. Bartholomew, which sits on the main altar to this day.

In addition to the icon, various relics and items belonging to the martyrs have been placed in each of the basilica’s side chapels, and are divided by either specific points in history, such as the “new martyrs of Nazism,” or geographical locations, including Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and Europe.  

Benedict XVI visited the basilica in April 2008, making Pope Francis the third pontiff to set foot in the basilica, and to keep the papal tradition of honoring new martyrs. In his homily, Pope Francis lamented the fact that “many Christian communities are objects of persecution!” However, he noted that often in difficult moments, people call for “heroes.”

The Church today also needs the heroic witness of martyrs and saints, he said, explaining that this includes “the saints of everyday life,” who move forward with coherency, but also those who “have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses until the end, until death.”

“All of them are the living blood of the Church. They are the witnesses who carry the Church forward,” he said. By demonstrating with their lives that Jesus is alive and risen, they also “attest with the coherency of their lives and with the strength of the Holy Spirit that they have received this gift.”

Pope Francis then paused for a moment and deviated from his prepared text. He recalled an encounter he had with a Muslim man he met during his 2016 trip to Lesbos who, along with his three children, had fled his village after his wife, who was a Christian, was killed by extremists. When the militants came to their home and asked what their religion was, the woman said she was Christian, and, when she refused to throw down a crucifix she that was hanging on the wall, she was killed in front of her family. This woman, Francis said, is “another crown” that can be added to the rest of the martyrs honored in St. Bartholomew, because “she is looking at us from heaven.”

Pope Francis closed his homily saying the ability to remember the many modern-day martyrs inside a basilica filled with their relics is “a great gift,” because “the living heritage of the martyrs today gives us peace and unity.” “These ones teach us that, with the strength of love, with meekness, one can fight against tyranny, violence and war and can realize peace with patience,” he said, and prayed, asking that each person present might be a worthy witness of the Gospel and the love of God.

Before giving his homily, Pope Francis heard the testimonies of three people who were relatives or friends of modern-day martyrs.

First was Karl Schneider, son of Paul Schneider, a pastor of the Reformed Church who was killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 because he defied Nazism as “irreconcilable with the words of the Bible.” In his brief reflection, Schneider said his father had been “strongly opposed every temptation to politically influence the Church.” “All of us, even today, make too many compromises,” he said, “but my father stayed faithful only to the Lord and to the faith. He was a pastor and a spiritual guide. Even in the concentration camp!”

Despite the torture and suffering his he endured, Schneider’s father shouted out from his cell, offering words of comfort and hope from the Bible to the other prisoners. Recalling words spoken by his elderly mother before her death, Schneider said his mother said her husband “was chosen to announce the Gospel and this is my consolation.” As his son, Schneider said he “I feel this consolation until today.”

Next was Roselyne, sister of Fr. Jacques Hamal, the 85-year-old priest who was murdered by two young ISIS sympathizers in Rouen, France in July 2016. Speaking to the congregation, Roselyne said that in his old age Fr. Hamal had been fragile, but “he was also strong. Strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people, whoever it was, and – I am certain – also for his killers.”

His death, she said, “is in line with the life of a priest, which was one of a life given: a life offered to the Lord, when he said ‘yes’ at the moment of his ordination, a life of service to the Gospel, a life given for the church and her people, above all the poorest. She pointed to the “paradox” that while alive her brother never wanted to be “at the center,” but that after his death, “has given a testimony for the entire world, the greatness of which we cannot measure.”

After her brother died, Roselyne said the reaction of the community was strong. Rather than wanting revenge, there was a desire for “love and forgiveness,” she said, explaining that even Muslims who wanted to show solidarity with Christians came to visit the parish for Sunday Masses in a show of support.

Despite her loss, Roselyne said “it’s a great comfort to see how many new encounters, how much solidarity, how much love have been generated by the witness of Jacques,” and prayed that his sacrifice would “bring fruits, so that the men and women of our time can find the path to living together in peace.”

Finally, a man named Francisco Hernandez gave a brief reflection on his friend William Quijano, killed in El Salvador in 2009 because of his work with youth that sought to promote peace and draw them away from the violence of criminal gangs. In his reflection, Hernandez said the only crime of his friend was that of “dreaming of a world of peace.”

“William never ceased teaching peace, but rather, his commitment has broken the chain of violence,” he said, recalling how Quijano had always insisted that ending violence begins with the youth, and so dedicated himself to working with children. Hernandez said his friend “never spoke of repression or revenge against the gangs, but insisted on the need for a change in mentality.”

“In every existential periphery, William bore witness to his hope in a different world, founding himself on the Gospel and the most human virtues, on the centrality of closeness,” he said, adding: “this is the greatest gift of that the small life of William Alfredo Quijano Zetino, my friend.”

Feminists and pro-lifers can join forces – and why they should

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2017 / 06:12 am (CNA).- On a Monday evening in Washington, D.C., well over a hundred women – and a few men too – gathered together to take up some of the most intense questions from earlier in 2017: Can feminists be pro-life? Can pro-life activists be feminists?

Self-described feminists from both sides of the abortion debate opened a panel discussion this month, continuing a conversation that started when pro-life participants were barred from formal co-sponsorship of the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year. While there were no easy answers from any of the participants, the women discussed what it means to be a feminist, what it truly means to be pro-life, and how pro-life activists and feminists can work together – even when they may not see eye-to-eye on abortion.

For Aimee Murphy, a pro-life activist and feminist, abortion is directly opposed to the stated aims of feminism. “It is the ultimate in ‘might makes right’ mentality. It is contrary to nondiscrimination,” she said, arguing that abortion discriminates on the basis of age, sex and ability. “If feminism is truly the support of the equality of human beings, then my question is actually: Is it possible to be pro-choice and feminist?”

Murphy is the founder and executive director of Rehumanize International – formerly known as Life Matters Journal – in Pittsburgh. The organization is an education and advocacy group dedicated to promoting a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death.

Murphy and other panelists discussed whether one can be both pro-life and feminist during an April 10 event at The Catholic University of America. The panel was hosted by The Institute for Human Ecology and was formulated partially in response to backlash earlier this year on pro-life participation in the Women’s March on Washington. Also speaking were Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists; Megan Klein-Hattori, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts; Robin Marty, pro-choice speaker, activist, and author; Pamela Merritt, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a pro-choice activist organization; and Cessilye Smith, from Doulas for Life.

Murphy told the crowd that her pro-life activism and her feminist upbringing in California were intrinsically linked. “I was a feminist before I was pro-life, and I’m honestly pro-life because I’m a feminist.” Her feminist views were challenged and evolved when she was 16: after being raped by an on-again, off-again boyfriend, she was afraid she was pregnant. Initially, she considered abortion, but then her assailant cornered her and told her she must have an abortion – and if she didn’t, he might kill her and then himself.

After that conversation, Murphy said, “everything changed. I decided that I couldn’t perpetuate the cycle of violence and oppression. I had to be better, I had to choose nonviolence.”  She realized she had to oppose violent forms of oppression – including abortion.

“I realized that if all humans truly are equal, regardless of sex or race or any other circumstance, then that equality must be something inherent in us: part of our essence, not a consequence of circumstances,” she commented.

The realization made her think more deeply about other aspects of feminism, such as the relationship between society’s views of menstruation, pregnancy or childbirth and the marginalization of some groups of people, such as both women and the unborn. “If the male body is seen as the norm, pregnancy is seen as a disease condition. If the male body is seen as the norm, those of us with wombs will continue to be marginalized.”

These understandings, she said, have further influenced other, more stereotypically feminist positions such as paid family leave and empowering nonviolent birth choices.

Cessilye Smith of Doulas for Life emphasized that there are different varieties of feminism and voiced concern that by making the “barbaric procedure” of abortion “a pillar of feminism,” there is a risk of forgetting the core tenet of feminism: equality. “As pro-life feminists, we simply extend that equality to the fetus which is just at a different stage of human development,” Smith said.

She added that a feminist perspective can also bring greater focus to the pro-life movement. “In order to be pro-life we need to be consistent, and with that consistency comes a genuine interest in all of humanity,” she said, arguing that cuts to programs that support women facing unplanned pregnancies call into question “how ‘pro-life’ we really are.”

Pro-choice activist Robin Marty said that while she supports the ability to choose abortion, she also wants to help remove obstacles for women who want to parent. Marty added that she is willing to work with anyone – regardless of their position on abortion – to help create solutions like day care programs, housing for parents on campus, and improved welfare support so that women don’t feel forced into having abortions.

Not all panelists agreed, however, that it was possible to be both a feminist and against abortion. Abortion advocate Pamela Merritt charged that the pro-life movement “seeks to deny women access to abortion, birth control, fertility treatments, give employers the right to deny coverage for the full spectrum of reproductive health care, and defund reproductive health care providers.” To her, these pro-life actions are contrary to the goals of feminism.

“Feminism is an action agenda to secure the social, economic and political equality of women,” Merritt argued. “It is possible to support, find comfort, and feel empowered by parts of feminism without being feminist. It is not possible to support the pro-life movement and be a feminist.”

But Merritt still acknowledged that pro-life activists and feminists can find common ground. “We can still work together,” she said, noting that she works with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in Missouri to help provide aid to women in need.

For other members of the panel, the question was not whether feminism can include pro-life voices, but whether abortion is distracting from the work women can do together.

“We can allow abortion to be the issue that polarizes and divides women, or not,” said Professor Megan Klein-Hattori. While she believes that abortion is “central to mainstream feminist politics,” she also granted that “feminists have always come from amazingly different standpoints.” Klein-Hattori lamented how polarization over abortion has overshadowed the “common roots” of feminists in seeking to address “the problematic conditions faced by women living in a system in which wage labor and individual achievement are placed in conflict with reproduction, motherhood, and nurturance.”  

“There are many feminist politics that pro-choice and anti-abortion feminists share, ones that move us closer to having control over all elements of our lives, to being respected by loved ones and community, and to not being second-class citizens.” “Allowing abortion to polarize hurts these broader feminist politics,” she stressed.

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists agreed. “Labels are killing us, labels are dividing us, labels are polarizing us,” she said. “It’s not pro-choice when we feel we don’t have a choice,” she commented. “That a woman ever has to choose violence for her child is awful.” Instead, she hopes that women of all beliefs can work together to “make abortion unthinkable” and remove the economic and social obstacles to parenthood faced by many women with unplanned pregnancies. “There are so many places where we can work together,” she said.