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Want to change the world? It starts with joy, Archbishop Chaput says

Napa, Calif., Jul 27, 2017 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a world that can sometimes seem disheartening, Christians have a path to the future in lives of joy and love, Archbishop Chaput said Thursday.

While Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, “we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy that’s our birthright by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

“If we cling to that joy, if we cling to God, then all things are possible,” he added. “The only way to create new life in a culture is to live our lives joyfully and fruitfully, as individuals ruled by convictions greater than ourselves and shared with people we know and love. It’s a path that’s very simple and very hard at the same time. But it’s the only way to make a revolution that matters.”

Archbishop Chaput spoke July 27 at the Napa Institute conference in Napa, Calif. The institute aims to help Catholic leaders face the challenges of contemporary America.

“When young people ask me how to change the world,” he said, “I tell them to love each other, get married, stay faithful to one another, have lots of children, and raise those children to be men and women of Christian character. Faith is a seed. It doesn’t flower overnight. It takes time and love and effort.”

“The future belongs to people with children, not with things. Things rust and break,” the archbishop continued. “But every child is a universe of possibility that reaches into eternity, connecting our memories and our hopes in a sign of God’s love across the generations. That’s what matters. The soul of a child is forever.”

In the face of the many challenges of today, he pointed to an idea from St. Augustine: “it’s no use whining about the times, because we are the times.”

“It’s through us that God acts in society and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is carried forward. So we need to own that mission. And only when we do, will anything change for the better,” the archbishop said.

“This isn’t a time to retreat from the world. We need to engage the world and convert it,” he added, saying “we have every reason to trust in God and find in him our hope.” The archbishop encouraged his audience to read and pray over Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium.”

Reflecting on the temptation to give up, Archbishop Chaput said this is “always easier than fighting for what we believe and living what we know to be true.”

“Cowardice solves the problem of conflict – at least in the short run. But it abandons the many thousands of great young Catholic lay and clergy leaders who are already part of our landscape,” he said. “I know many of them. And they look to us for example and support.”

While Catholics could react to this situation with “a well-crafted strategic plan,” the archbishop said there is no “quick fix” for cultures, which are more like living organisms than corporations or math problems.

Prayer was also a focus of his remarks. Reflecting on the “hellish” aspect to modern life that people fill with “discord, confusion and noise,” he recommended Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book “The Power of Silence.” He encouraged his audience to “turn off the noise that cocoons us in consumer anxieties and appetites.”

“If we don’t pray, we can’t know and love God,” Archbishop Chaput said.

He endorsed reading the Bible as an antidote to the noise of life. Reading the Bible, as well as history, biography, and great novels, is an antidote to “chronic stupidity and a conditioning by mass media that have no sympathy for the things we believe.”

Archbishop Chaput suggested that the modern world is not much different from the Athens that St. Paul visited. The city was “full of idols,” where everyone “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” There, St. Paul disputed with Jews, devout persons, philosophers, and other residents.

The Acts of the Apostles show “the perpetual newness of the Gospel,” the archbishop said.

“They’re also a portrait of courage as St. Paul, Christianity’s greatest missionary, preaches the Gospel in the sophisticated heart of Athens,” he continued. Despite mockery and condemnation, St. Paul persists and “understands that his audience has a fundamental hunger for the godly that hasn’t been fed, and he refuses to be quiet or afraid.”

Even after seeming failure, he had planted a seed of faith that would grow into “a Church with deep roots.”

The archbishop cited Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John: “When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth . . . and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

“The words of the Gospel remind us that the future is God’s, and we should trust in the Holy Spirit who leads us in a spirit of truth. We don’t need to fear the future. We don’t need to know it before its time. What we do need is to have confidence in the Lord and to give our hearts to the Father who loves us. The future is in his hands.”

 

Transgender military ban applauded for respecting biology, the common good

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that persons identifying as transgender could not serve in the U.S. military, theologians and bioethics experts voiced support for the policy change.

Those who identify as transgender are “people made in God's image, and they deserve our compassion, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, but that doesn't mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation,” said Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Pecknold told CNA that the policy change was the “right decision” that replaced the previous “very bad policy.”

On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he would revoke a rule from late in President Obama’s second term allowing persons identifying as transgender to serve in the U.S. military. Those wishing to join the military who openly identified as transgender could be accepted provided they were proven “stable” in their gender identity for at least 18 months.

With the new administration, however, new Defense Secretary James Mattis delayed the implementation of that policy until Jan. 1, 2018.

Then on Wednesday, President Trump announced that the policy would be undone. In a series of tweets, he stated that the new government policy would be to disallow “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” saying that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

“It is unfortunate that the president did not have the political sense to let this decision be made at the appropriate level, and in the appropriate way, but it is nevertheless the right decision,” Pecknold said.

The estimates of the number of openly transgender persons currently in the U.S. military are unclear. RAND Corporation, in a 2016 assessment of the implications of allowing openly-transgender persons to serve, said that “it is difficult to estimate the number of transgender personnel in the military due to current policies and a lack of empirical data.”

However, using estimates and data from surveys, they reported “a midrange estimate of around 2,450 transgender personnel in the active component (out of a total number of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members) and 1,510 in the Selected Reserve.”

Last August, a report by a psychiatry professor and a biostatistician at Johns Hopkins University published in the New Atlantis found that claims of gender identity being independent of biological sex were not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence, as well as claims giving validity to the feeling of “a man trapped in a woman’s body.”

In addition, the report said, persons identifying as transgender have a suicide rate of 41 percent, versus the rate of 5 percent for the overall population.

Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, who researches and writes about marriage and bioethics at the Heritage Foundation, explained why the new course of action by the Trump administration is a measure protecting a vulnerable population from the challenges of combat.

“People who identify as transgender suffer a host of mental health and social problems – including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse – at higher rates than the general population,” he said in an article for the Daily Signal. It would be “reckless” to put them in a combat situation, he said.

Instead, good policy would respect the human dignity of all persons, which means helping them to accept the body that God gave them and not upholding their belief that they are a member of the opposite sex, Pecknold said.

“Pope Francis is famous for his stress upon dialogue, and his non-judgmental approach with respect to the dignity of every person,” he said. “But the Holy Father has also been crystal clear that ‘gender theory’ represents a burning threat to humanity, starkly describing it as a ‘global ideological war on marriage’.”

“The Holy Father admits that we can distinguish between sex and gender, but we cannot separate them,” Pecknold said, citing the Pope’s ecology encyclical Laudato Si.

“It makes much more therapeutic sense to help the mind conform to biological realities than to deform the body in order to fit a disordered mental picture.”

There are also practical concerns that are addressed by not letting persons identifying as transgender serve in the military, Anderson said.

For instance, “the privacy of service members must not be infringed,” he said, and this privacy could be challenged by persons of one biological sex, who identify as a member of the opposite sex, living in single-sex barracks and using single-sex showers and bathrooms.

“Given the nature of military living quarters, it is unclear where soldiers who identify as transgender could be housed,” he wrote.

Allowing openly-transgender persons into the military could also pose a challenge to the religious freedom and conscience rights of military chaplains, officers, and doctors, Anderson said.

“Unless and until military leaders are able to find a way to respect all of these provisions, there will remain good reasons why the military will be unable to accommodate people who identify as transgender,” he said.

Trump’s announcement was met with much outrage and opposition on Wednesday and Thursday, but this is actually evidence of an almost universal disdain for natural limits set by God, argued William Patenaude, who blogs at CatholicEcology.net.

“Like it or not, the rejection of modern realities like gender theory, with its malleable understanding of the human person, is part of what Pope Francis’s concept of Integral Ecology includes,” he said in an article.

Pope Francis, in his ecology encyclical Laudato Si, wrote that “the acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

“Gender theory” rejects this belief in the natural limits of our bodies, he said, but so does today’s lifestyle of excess and pollution that leads to environmental degradation.

“The laws of nature and natural law are equally fixed and render equally severe consequences when ignoring them,” Patenaude said.

“And so the planet and its people suffer, all because we reject what our first parents learned in Eden. Quite often the word ‘no,’ is meant to protect us,” he said.

 

Ohio Catholic parish hosts camp to empower refugee women

Toledo, Ohio, Jul 27, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Together is partnering with a Toledo Catholic parish to create a summer camp for women and children refugees – providing education, opportunities for networking, and information about American culture.

“The purpose of the summer camp is to educate women and children, to empower women to develop physical and language skills, and to provide cultural education and assimilation to their new country,” Corinne Dehabey from U.S. Together told CNA July 26.

“They also learn about all of the education, cultural, and sports activities available in their new community.”

U.S. Together was established in 2003 in response to the needs of immigrants in the central Ohio area. Teaming up with Christ the King Parish in Toledo and serving two dozen refugee families, the two will launch the summer camp for the first time this year.

Christ the King Parish began working with immigrants after Middle School students heard current pastor Father Bill Rose give a homily about the affects of the war in Syria. In 2015, students collected 20 laundry baskets full of cleaning supplies, food, and the basic necessities for immigrating families.

Both Christ the King Parish and U.S. Together aim to serve anyone regardless of gender, religion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the summer program is limited to refugee children and mothers.

According to Cindy Robert, a volunteer and religion teacher at the parish, many of the women and children from Muslim countries have not experienced the diversity of ethnicities and religions in the U.S. A major aspect of the organization and the camp is getting refugee families to mingle with the community to experience culture outside of their social norm.

“We have been able to see them as individuals, and the longer we have the camp, the more they have come out of their shells, and we see their different personalities.”

Women and children will attend the five week summer camp three days a week for free. The summer camp will include a trip down the Maumee River, swimming lessons, art classes, and a visit to the Toledo Zoo.

Attending activities from 10-3 p.m. each day, refugees are also able to practice English, participate in local leisure activities, given transportation information, and helped with obtaining documents like library cards.

Although policies put in place by the Trump administration have influenced the process for migrants and split some families apart, Cindy said Toledo has experienced an openness to immigrants, noting how unique individuals have been seen and not as “just a 'bloc' of refugees.”

“Personally, I have been able to have some good, long conversations with various refugees and they are able to ask me questions about life here, about grammar, about my children, etc. It's opened my world a great deal!”

Statement claims radical feminist group bombed Mexico bishops' conference

Mexico City, Mexico, Jul 27, 2017 / 01:02 pm (CNA).- An online statement purporting to be from a radical feminist group has claimed responsibility for the explosive set off at the Mexican Bishops' Conference earlier this week.

On Tuesday, a small homemade explosive detonated at the Mexican Bishops' Conference (CEM) in Mexico City. No one was injured, and the building incurred little damage.

On Wednesday, a group calling itself the “Informal Feminist Command for Anti-Authoritarian Action” claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted on Contra Info, an international website that claims it is run by “anarchists, anti-authoritarians and libertarians.”

The statement says Feminist Command was responsible for the bomb, which was intended as retaliation “For every torture and murder in the name of your God! For every child defiled by pedophiles!”

While Contra Info has posted previous stories about Feminist Command’s actions in Mexico, the group’s existence is unconfirmed, according to the AP.  

Aramando Cavazos, the bishop conference’s press office director, explained in a statement Tuesday that “the pertinent investigations are taking place, as apparently this is not the first case occurring in that area of Mexico City,” he said.

Mexico has seen a slew of violence against priests in recent months, including numerous stabbings and murders. Earlier this month, Fr. Luis López Villa was found bound and stabbed to death in his room. He was the 18th priest to be murdered in Mexico in the last six years.

 

Our Lady of Czestochowa to receive a new crown

Czestochowa, Poland, Jul 27, 2017 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Three hundred years ago this September the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa was crowned Queen and Protector of Poland by Clement XI.

Nearly 200 years after that, in 1909, the golden, bejeweled crowns of the image – one for Mary and one for the Christ Child– were stolen, along with a pearl "robe" also belonging to the image.

Following the theft, Our Lady was crowned again by St. Pius X in 1910, and later again by St. John Paul II in 2005, but the original crowns were never recovered.

Now, in honor of the 300th anniversary of the first coronation and as a gift to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the original crowns have been replicated in gold diadems created by an Italian artist and goldsmith renowned for his religious art.

The new crowns, which were blessed by Pope Francis May 17 at the Vatican, will be unveiled during a ceremony in Czestochowa July 28, the first anniversary of Pope Francis' visit to the sanctuary during World Youth Day in Poland.

The crowning itself, the culmination of Poland’s Jubilee Year celebrations, will take place Sept. 8, the 300th anniversary of the first canonical coronation of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the feast of the Nativity of Mary.

The artist of the new diadems, Michele Affidato, was chosen by the Pauline Fathers in charge of the Jasna Góra sanctuary for his skill and expertise in sacred art.

In the course of his work he has made many religious pieces, including golden reliquaries, and has met St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.

He is based in the town of Crotone, in the southernmost region of Italy, which is along the sea and home to a “sister” shrine to Czestochowa called Our Lady of Capocolonna, also called the “Black Madonna.”

This shrine was dedicated as a “sister” shrine during the process of creating the new crowns and an image of Our Lady of Capocolonna was gifted to the Jasna Góra sanctuary.

Though it is uncertain exactly when the shrine in Crotone was built, it is believed it was constructed sometime between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, one popular narrative saying it originated with the Greeks, a theory supported by the fact that the shrine is in the same area as an ancient Greek temple to the goddess Hera. Now, only a single column of the temple remains, called Capo Colonna.

More than 94 percent of Poland’s population being Catholic, the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also called the “Black Madonna,” has a significant meaning for Poles and is highly venerated throughout Europe.

The 2017 Jubilee Year was established through resolutions of the Polish government in December 2016, one resolution stating that “the image of the Mother of God at Jasna Góra is… one of the most important religious and material national treasures.”

Although the truly first crowning of the image as Queen and Protector of Poland was done by King John II Casimir in 1652, its first canonical coronation was by Clement XI in 1717 and is the one being honored this year.

A canonical coronation is a pious institutional act, wherein the Pope, through a bull, designates a crown or stellar halo be added to a Marian image under a specific devotional title in a particular area or diocese. The crowning of Our Lady of Czestochowa in 1717 was the first such coronation to take place outside Rome. 

Former Senator Sam Brownback tapped for religious freedom ambassador

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2017 / 08:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas (R) on Wednesday was nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Dr. Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, hailed the choice as “excellent.”

Farr explained that “because of his experience,” Brownback “fully meets the two qualifications critical for this position: first, a vigorous understanding of the meaning and value of religious freedom for all, and the ability to communicate that understanding, both as a universal moral value and as a political institution that can serve the interests of every society.”

The religious freedom ambassador position was created through the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. That law established the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department, which is tasked with “promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy,” as the office states.

The ambassador is charged with monitoring religious freedom abuses worldwide, meeting with religious leaders around the globe, and discussing with foreign governments how they could better respect the freedom of religious minorities to practice their faith publicly without harassment or state action.

Rabbi David Saperstein, the previous ambassador, served during the second term of the Obama administration and was a “model” for the position, former congressman Frank Wolf told CNA recently. Most notably on his watch, the State Department declared that genocide was taking place against Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State.

The position is vital, religious freedom advocates say, because countries where freedom of religion is respected also see fewer acts of terror and extremism, and enjoy stronger civil and human rights than other countries where religious freedom is not respected.

Now Brownback will look to continue progress made within the State Department in this area. The agency has historically not viewed promoting religious freedom as a priority in U.S. foreign relations, although according to Saperstein the office has made strides in the last two years particularly in advocating for prisoners of conscience.

Brownback “has the experience, gravitas, and bureaucratic skill to sell this understanding” of the importance of religious freedom, Dr. Farr said, “and to build a successful policy, within a resistant bureaucracy at the Department of State and a largely indifferent political class.”

Other religious freedom advocates applauded the selection of Brownback for the position. Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, said that Brownback’s record on defending religious freedom during his time in the Senate proves his qualification.

“As a U.S. Senator, Brownback was a passionate defender of the rights of all people to worship freely, and courageously confronted offenses against human dignity in trouble spots such as North Korea, Iraq, China, Sudan, Vietnam, and Egypt,” Ferguson said.

His nomination comes at a crucial time, she said, “given the global instability caused by the severe religious persecution that 77 percent of the world’s population live under.”

Brownback converted to Catholicism in 2002, after years of being a mainline Protestant and then an evangelical.

Before serving as Governor of Kansas, Brownback was a U.S. senator from 1996 until 2010. He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When he retired from the Senate in 2010, Brownback was hailed in the chamber as someone “known around the world as a champion of religious freedom.” The senator introduced resolutions or bills defending human rights abroad and shaming human rights abusers.

In 2010, he introduced a measure “condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities” and calling for the release of the “Baha’i Seven,” seven Baha’i leaders held captive by the state for their religious beliefs.

In 2008, Brownback introduced a resolution calling for a Jewish cemetery in Lithuania to be protected against planned construction projects, and insisted that it “should not be further desecrated.”

He also introduced a resolution that year welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to the United States and honoring “the unique insights his moral and spiritual reflections bring to the world stage.”

Brownback spoke out against persecution of religious minorities in Russia in a 2005 resolution that called on “the government of the Russian Federation to ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities and end the harassment of unregistered religious groups.”

He also called for a “National Weekend of Prayer and Reflection for the people of Darfur, Sudan” in July of 2005, a year after the U.S. declared genocide was taking place there at the hands of the government and militia groups. Brownback introduced a concurrent resolution in the Senate declaring that genocide was taking place there.

Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), who wrote the administration in April asking them to nominate an international religious freedom ambassador, emphasized the importance of the ambassador position.

“As anti-religious freedom regimes expand around the world, the United States should clearly speak out for human rights, including religious liberty,” he stated on Wednesday.

 

Ohio bishops: Replace death penalty with mercy, conversion

Columbus, Ohio, Jul 27, 2017 / 06:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders in Ohio stressed the need to replace the death penalty with mercy and spiritual conversion, following the execution of convicted child murderer Ronald Phillips.

“The Catholic Church believes that the death penalty is an unnecessary and systemically flawed form of punishment,” the Ohio Catholic Conference said in a statement.

“The Catholic bishops of Ohio sought mercy for Mr. Phillips because of the belief that spiritual conversion is possible and that all life – even that of the worst offender – has value and dignity.”

“May his soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace,” the conference said.

The July 26 execution was the first in Ohio since a botched 2014 execution. Phillips, 43, was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, the Associated Press reports. He was convicted for the 1993 rape and killing of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's daughter.

He gave his final statement ten minutes before his death.

“Sheila Marie didn't deserve what I did to her,” Phillips said, telling the girl’s family “I’m sorry you had to live so long with my actions.”

Phillips had spent much of the morning praying, kneeling and reading the Bible. Ohio Gov. John Kasich had rejected clemency in 2016, citing “the extremely brutal nature of the offense committed against an innocent 3-year-old child.”

The Ohio Catholic Conference previously cited Pope Francis' address to Congress in which he had called for an end to the death penalty.

Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said her organization was “deeply saddened” by the resumption of the executions.

“Our prayers are with the victim, her family and all those who were asked to participate in Ronald Phillips’ execution,” she said.

“Ronald Phillips committed a horrific crime, but through the grace of God's transformational love became a person who asked for forgiveness and journeyed with others from anger and hate to repentance,” Clifton continued. “Today’s execution highlights the need for mercy and reconciliation in our justice system.”

She called on Ohio to reconsider the 26 other scheduled executions.

Other opponents include the group Ohioans to Stop Executions, which had delivered over 27,500 signatures to Gov. Kasich asking him to postpone the state’s executions, including that of Phillips. The group sought better safeguards to prevent sentencing innocent people to death and endorsed 56 recommendations the Ohio Supreme Court’s death penalty task force made to the state legislature, Cleveland.com reports.

European pharmaceutical companies have barred the sale of their drugs for the purpose of executions, causing difficulties for Ohio state officials in charge of executions. Officials say they have enough of the drugs to carry out three executions.

Executions had been halted following the January 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire, in which he was seen clenching his fists, trying to sit up, gasping for breath and choking as the drugs took a record 26 minutes to kill him.
 
The execution used an untested drug cocktail that included the sedative midazolam and the morphine derivative hydromorphone. In a letter to Gov. Kasich, 17 former corrections officials and administrators had warned of possible errors in the use of midazolam, warning that a disturbing execution could traumatize corrections officials.

McGuire was condemned for the 1989 murder of a woman and her unborn child. In the months before his execution, he had returned to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was an attendee at the prison’s weekly Masses for inmates. At the Mass before his execution, he was a recipient of the anointing of the sick and dying, and received spiritual direction.

Since capital punishment resumed in Ohio in 1999, 54 people have been executed.

Priest horrified at exorcist film showings in abandoned church

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jul 27, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Irish priest has decried a film festival's plans to screen two horror films in an abandoned church next month.

The Belfast Film Festival plans to show two horror movies – The Exorcist and The Omen – at Holy Rosary Church in Belfast, a landmark church that has been abandoned since 1980 and is no longer owned by the Catholic Church.  

Local parish priest Fr. Patrick McCafferty told the Belfast Telegraph that the plan was a “cheap stunt” and disrespectful to what once had been a sacred place.

“What is their motivation for showing those types of films in what was once a sacred building that will have such special memories of spiritual occasions for lots of people,” he said.

“Should they not be sensitive to the fact that many people in that area have fond associations and is sacred to the memories of many people that were baptized or married or buried there?” the priest added.

The old church is currently set to be renovated into an Italian restaurant, with with Fr. McCafferty said he has “no problem.”

“...but the screening of horror films in there is another matter entirely,” he told Ireland's The Times.
 
The Exorcist (1973), based on William Peter Blatty's novel by the same name, is the horror movie famous for levitating beds, spinning heads and pea-green soup.

The book and film portray the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her exorcism by two Catholic priests. Blatty said he drew inspiration from a 1949 Washington Post story about a Jesuit priest’s successful exorcism of a 14-year-old boy in Mount Ranier, Maryland.

While the U.S. bishops have previously said that the film stands on “shaky ground” theologically, Catholic film critics have said that for the most part, it tries to portray a real exorcism as authentically as possible.

It won two Oscars in 1974 for best sound and best writing and is one of the 20 highest-grossing films of all time. After the film's release, interest in exorcism skyrocketed in pop culture, sparking a subgenre of films surrounding the topics of exorcism and spiritual warfare.  
 
The other film to be shown, The Omen, is a 1976 British-American that tells the story of the son of an American diplomat who is marked with the sign of the Devil and is the Antichrist.
 
In 2006, attempts to film a remake of The Omen were disrupted on location in Croatia, with sets vandalized and burnt down. The producers blamed the Catholic Church for the disruptions, saying they had decried the film and sparked the outrage.
 
Catholic reviews of The Omen tend to urge caution, as the film can be seen as depicting evil in a victorious light.
 
Fr. Cafferty said he hasn’t seen either film, though he is familiar with their controversial content.
 
“They are not the sort of films that I would choose to watch myself. People have told me about the films and I would have seen bits about The Exorcist – I just don't understand why anyone would like to see it in a church,” he said.
 
A spokesperson for the film festival has defended the decision, saying that the abandoned church would enhance the audience's viewing experience, and cited that the church has been defunct for almost 40 years.

“Belfast Film Festival is well known for its site-specific special events,” said the spokesperson told the BBC, citing its 2015 screening of Jaws on Portrush beach as one example.

“The locations chosen add an extra dimension to the screening, and we think the stone cold surroundings of an abandoned church will make for a suitably chilling viewing experience for The Exorcist.”

“Many people will have their own personal reasons for disliking The Exorcist, and we respect their right to that opinion, but the truth is that it was one of the most widely acclaimed films of the 1970s, nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture,” the spokesperson added.

The screenings of The Exorcist and The Omen, to be shown on Aug. 19 and 20 respectively, have already sold out, according to The Times.

Families of Iran's prisoners beg Congress to advocate for their release

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Family members of American citizens imprisoned in Iran pleaded with members of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for their safe release.

“Please help me bring my father and brother home. I am losing my entire family. We are simply running out of time,” Babak Namazi, who has both a brother and a father in Iranian prisons, told members of the House Subcommittee on North Africa and the Middle East in a July 25 hearing.

Family members of four prisoners in Iran testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the subcommittee in the hearing “Held for Ransom: The Families of Iran’s Hostages Speak Out,” pleading for Iran to release their loved ones in custody.

Bob Levinson, who formerly worked for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the longest-missing of the four, and is the “longest-held hostage in American history,” according to his son Douglas who testified on Tuesday.

Three days after his father went missing, an Iranian news outlet reported that he was “in the hands” of state officers. Yet “Iran has repeatedly changed their story,” Douglas Levinson said. “Iran is responsible, and they know exactly where he is.”

On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution, H. Res. 317, which called on Iran to unconditionally release the Americans who are being detained for political reasons. It also calls on President Donald Trump to prioritize their release.

Currently, there are four Americans (three citizens, one legal permanent resident) who are being detained by the state because of alleged spying or working with a hostile foreign government: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Xiyue Wang, and Nizar Zakka.

Robert Levinson has been missing from Iran’s Kish Island since 2007, and despite its commitment to his safe return to the U.S., “the regime has not remotely fulfilled its commitments to help bring him home,” Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated on Wednesday.

“Iran continues to engage in the despicable practice of detaining foreigners on fabricated criminal charges,” he said, and according to former political prisoners there are reports of “electric shock, forced drug withdrawal, whippings, and solitary confinement.”

“We stand in solidarity with these Americans and their families as we call for their release,” Royce said.

Iran holds many political and religious prisoners, including political dissidents and members of religious minorities. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has labeled Iran a “country of particular concern” as one of the countries with the worst records of protecting religious freedom.

The commission noted in its most recent annual report that the number of religious prisoners has increased since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.

Iran held Pastor Sayeed Abedini in custody from 2012 until January 2016 when he was released in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. A Christian pastor who became an American citizen, Abedini worked with house churches in Iran and was arrested after working at an orphanage for allegedly threatening Iranian national security.

Religious freedom advocates claimed he was arrested by the state because of his Christian faith. During his time in prison there were reports of his torture and abuse suffered at the hands of the regime.

The three witnesses who testified on Tuesday expressed serious concern for their loved ones in Iran.

Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak was arrested in Iran in October of 2015 and whose father Baquer was detained in February of 2016 during a trip to Iran where he tried to see his son, told of how both have suffered while in prison, including while in solitary confinement.

His 81-year-old father has a “severe heart condition that requires medication and may shortly require a pacemaker,” Namazi said, and “has been twice been hospitalized for a week at a time” in recent months.

“It is obvious that his condition, both physical and mental, is rapidly deteriorating. My father’s prison sentence is a death sentence,” Namazi said.

Meanwhile, his brother has suffered in “horrific” conditions, he said, including prolonged isolation and regular beatings and tazings.

Omar Zakka testified about his father Nazir who has been imprisoned in Iran for two years. Nazir, who has suffered physical abuse in prison, is currently on a hunger strike, Omar said.

“All of this pain and suffering has led my dad to this ongoing hunger strike; he told me the other day that we do not put our heads down for anyone,” Omar said.

“My dad said that he would rather die for his cause than live with injustice and what they are doing to him. In fact, he said this phrase to us, in Arabic, that translates to ‘liberty or death’.”

Douglas Levinson said his father, due to his long absence, has missed several of his children’s weddings and graduations, and has never met five of his grandchildren.

“We need Bob Levinson, we need my father back now,” Douglas said on Tuesday. “It’s been 10 years. He’s missed so much.”

 

As vote looms, here's what bishops think about Trump's border wall

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Congress prepares to vote on whether to fund the further construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have been outspoken against such a policy.

“While countries have a duty to ensure that immigration is orderly and safe, this responsibility can never serve as a pretext to build walls and shut the door to migrants and refugees,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas said in his July 18 pastoral letter on migration, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away.”

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” the bishop wrote, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”

The House will reportedly vote this week on approving $1.6 billion in funding for construction of a wall along part the U.S.-Mexico border, as requested by President Donald Trump in his FY 2018 budget proposal.

Trump had campaigned for president by repeatedly promising to build a wall on the border. Around 700 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long border is already fenced.

In a January executive order on immigration, President Trump stated:

“It is the policy of the executive branch to…secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.”

He also called for the allocation of federal funding “for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall along the southern border” and to “project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall.”

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border, however, said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas said he was “disheartened” by the President’s request.

“This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm's way,” he said.

“Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers,” he said. “Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted after the executive order was issued: “Walls only impede and put at risk the poor and children, because those who have resources always find other options.”

The Mexican bishops’ conference responded as well to the call for the further construction of the wall. In their Jan. 26 statement “Value and Respect for Migrants,” they expressed “pain and rejection” at the announcement and said that the wall would interfere in the multi-cultural societies that have developed where there are cities directly across the border from each other.

“We express our pain and rejection over the construction of this wall, and we respectfully invite you to reflect more deeply about the ways security, development, growth in employment, and other measures, necessary and just, can be procured without causing further harm to those already suffering, the poorest and most vulnerable,” the conference stated.

For over 20 years, the statement added, the bishops in dioceses including both borders have worked to achieve “the best care for the faithful that live in the sister countries, properly seen as a single city (from a faith perspective); communities of faith served by two dioceses (such as Matamoros and Brownsville, or Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, for example).”

“What pains us foremost is that many people who live out their family relationships, their faith, work or friendships will be shut out even more by this inhuman interference,” the conference said.

The bishops also said that the U.S. has a right to enforce its own border, but that “a rigorous and intense application of the law” would “create alarm and fear among immigrants, breaking up families without further consideration.”

President Trump requested $1.6 billion for a wall in his FY 2018 budget request. He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to spend $100 million of existing appropriations on “border security, fencing and infrastructure.”

Tom Homan, director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, told reporters on June 28 that “the border wall is one tool to help control the border,” among other actions like the presence of border patrol agents and law enforcement.

When asked by a reporter after a July 7 bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto if he still wanted Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall, President Trump responded “absolutely.”

Bishop Seitz explained in his pastoral letter “When Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away” that the construction of a border fence poses harm to migrants in forcing them to cross the border in more dangerous areas.

“The burning sands of our desert are an unmarked grave for too many migrants who have died attempting to cross,” he wrote. “Increased militarization and more walls will only make this journey even more dangerous.”

And, he said, walls that separate cities directly across the border from each other – like El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – interfere in the societies there and separate loved ones.

“Misguided policies and walls are widening the divide between us and our sister city of Ciudad Juárez,” he said. “I am pastor of a diocese divided by walls and checkpoints that separate individuals from loved ones.”

Pope Francis said Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border in February 2016 at Ciudad Juárez. He asked all those in attendance to pray for “the gift of tears” amidst the hardships of migrants and their “exploitation.”

“Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts,” Pope Francis said at the Feb. 17 Mass. “No more death! No more exploitation!”