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Get serious about human rights for people with Down syndrome, Vatican tells UN

New York City, N.Y., Mar 21, 2018 / 05:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The promotion of targeted abortion and other practices mean U.N. member states and agencies are not serious about protecting people with Down syndrome, the Holy See’s representative to the United Nations has said.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza on March 20 decried “the eugenic trend of ending the lives of the unborn who show some form of imperfection.”

Despite international conventions protecting the disabled, including their right to life, “so many members of the international community stand on the sidelines as the vast majority of those diagnosed with Trisomy-21 have their lives ended before they’re even born,” the archbishop said in a side event at the U.N. in New York City.

“Rather than stop it, some in the international community are abetting it,” he charged.

He cited a U.N. Human Rights Committee member who said during an official meeting that if a woman is told her unborn child has Down syndrome or some other permanent handicap, “it should be possible for her to resort to abortion to avoid the handicap as a preventive measure.” Defending those with disabilities, this committee member said, “does not mean that we have to accept to let a disabled fetus live.”

“Is such a position consistent with the U.N.’s concern to leave no one behind and to protect the rights of those with disabilities?” the archbishop asked.

Archbishop Auza heads the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, which sponsored a side event to for World Down Syndrome Day ahead of its March 21 observance.

The side event, held during the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, considered questions such as “Are girls and boys with Down Syndrome being left behind?” and whether homes, rural villages and cities have room for those with Down syndrome.

Auza cited then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s March 21, 2012 remarks reaffirming that people with Down syndrome are entitled to full human rights and freedoms.

“Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down Syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others,” Ban said. “Let us build an inclusive society for all.”

According to Archbishop Auza, Pope Francis has countered eugenic trends targeting the unborn by advocating authentic love.

“(N)ot that false, saccharine and sanctimonious love, but that which is true, concrete and respectful,” the Pope said in Oct. 21, 2017 remarks. “To the extent that one is accepted and loved, included in the community and supported in looking to the future with confidence, the true path of life evolves and one experiences enduring happiness.”

Archbishop Auza cited a U.S. television show’s claim that Iceland was on the verge of “eliminating” Down syndrome, meaning the elimination of people with Down syndrome. The show said 100 percent of parents of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome chose abortion. This is almost the case in other countries, a phenomenon which some critics have called “genocide.”

“Here at the United Nations there is much sincere talk and normally passionate action to fight against any form of discrimination,” Auza said, specifically citing work to end discrimination against women and the disabled. The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he noted, seeks to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities,” including those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

“But as firm as these commitments are in principle, in practice many states, U.N. agencies and members of civil society tolerate gross violations of these commitments,” he lamented. “The international community says that it wants to leave no one behind and to defend the rights and equality of women and girls, for example, but then refuses to do anything when data show that the youngest girls are being systematically discriminated against in the womb, as in the case of sex selective abortion.”

The archbishop cited studies that indicate up to 160 million unborn girls have been targeted for abortion.

“The inconsistency, however, is even more pronounced when we turn to what is happening with those prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome,” he said.

The Holy See’s permanent observer mission co-sponsored the event with the Pujols Family Foundation, the Center for Family and Human Rights, the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, and the film “Summer in the Forest,” which will be released soon.

How one organization helps the Church welcome Catholics with disabilities

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2018 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Around 14 million Catholics in the U.S. are living with a disability.

Since 1982, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) has been working to make sure those Catholics they are welcomed as members of the Church and have opportunities to participate in the faith.

“The goal of NCPD is to ensure that people with any disability…can actively and meaningfully participate in the faith by using their gifts and interests,” said Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

“By virtue of baptism, everyone belongs to the body of Christ, and our work is to make sure that we are doing that with the proper attitude and spirit to make sure everyone can feel at home in their parishes,” she told CNA.

The organization works in in a variety of ways to “affirm the dignity of every person,” Benton said.

For example, they support people with Down syndrome by supporting campaigns that fight against discriminatory legislation, such as disability-selective abortions, while also working with individuals with Down syndrome as they prepare for sacraments and take an active part in the their faith.

“We remind church communities that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are agents of evangelization and people gifted in their own right,” Benton said.

Founded in light of the 1978 document, “Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops of People with Disabilities,” the group has been promoting the pastoral guidelines for individuals with disabilities, particularly through access to the sacraments and Church life.

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability is a collaborative organization made up of various councils to serve people who live with physical, intellectual, sensory, mental or emotional disabilities. They also partner with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop Kurtz serves as their episcopal moderator.

“We work very closely with the bishops and the offices at the USCCB,” Benton said, noting that the bishops currently do not have a disabilities office, so the NCPD plays a huge role in this area.

One of the organization’s primary tasks is working closely with publishers to provide resources for catechists and leaders who are working directly in faith formation, but they also are involved in a number of different councils and speaking engagements around the nation.

The ministry provides catechesis, resources, spirituality and awareness building tools, trainings, conferences, and ministry models to dioceses throughout the country, and additionally offers online tools such as YouTube training videos.

“We are really set up to support the people in the dioceses, and even directly in parishes, to provide the support, resources, and training that the church might need,” Benton said.

She noted that the NCPD played a major role in the revision to the “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments,” which now aids priests, catechists and Church leaders in preparing the proper reception of the sacraments for individuals with disabilities.

While primarily ministering in the U.S., the disability resource group also works internationally with the Vatican and other groups. Esther Garcia, the outreach director for organization, said that she works with minorities, such as Asian, African, and Hispanic groups within the Church.

“The NCPD is working to ensure we are meeting the needs of families with disabilities in the Hispanic community,” Garcia said.

“We are all children of God…and it is our responsibility as a Church to provide resources and ways to ensure that [those with disabilities] have ways to receive the sacraments,” Garcia continued.

Moving forward, Benton told CNA that they are currently working on an app for sacramental preparation and Mass attendance for people with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

“We are always trying to develop resources that can easily be made available.”


Boko Haram frees most schoolgirls abducted last month

Kano, Nigeria, Mar 21, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, terrorist group Boko Haram returned at least 76 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped in a raid last month.

More than 30 girls are still missing, some of whom are allegedly still being held, while others have reportedly died, possibly of thirst, according to reports from the New York Times.

On Feb. 19th, Boko Haram raided a girls’ technical school in Dapchi, a small town in northeastern Nigeria. Witnesses said the militants stormed the school and herded 110 students into trucks and drove away.

Father Maurice Kwairanga, who coordinates the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) for the Nigerian Diocese of Yola, told CNA last month that in the wake of the kidnapping, “deep sorrow has descended on the once sleepy…town” of Dapchi.

Residents of Dapchi told the New York Times that they were “very, very happy” for the return of so many of the schoolgirls.

They added that when the militants dropped off the girls, they gathered several residents around them to warn them that the girls should not be allowed to return to school.

Of the girls still being held by the militants, sources told the New York Times that one of them, Leah Sherubu, is a Christian who has refused orders to convert to Islam.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group based in northeastern Nigeria. The group launched an uprising in 2009 hoping to impose strict sharia law on the country. It has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, targeting security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. In 2015, the group pledged allegiance to ISIS.

The group has carried out numerous attacks, suicide bombings, and kidnappings in recent years, including a 2014 raid during which militants abducted 276 schoolgirls. Of those girls, dozens have been freed, though more than 100 are still missing.

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari said on Twitter that the recent release of the Dapchi girls came as a result of “backchannel” negotiations and that no ransom was paid.

The government has faced harsh criticism in the wake of the Dapchi kidnapping, and Fr. Kwairanga told CNA last month that while Buhari campaigned on a platform of eradicating terrorism, confidence in the government is “waning.”

According to the New York Times, advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls expressed relief at the return of the Dapchi girls, but added that they want the negotiations surrounding their release investigated.

The latest group of freed Chibok girls were released in May in exchange for as many as six suspected militants who were not identified, though some reports say the militants were high-ranking commanders in Boko Haram. There are also rumors of a large ransom paid, which critics fear could encourage more kidnappings.

Pope Francis has assured Nigerians of his prayers and recently met with a Boko Haram abduction survivor in a private audience. Nigerian Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme has also urged the world to pray the rosary for an end to Boko Haram’s violence.


Sacraments are the best spiritual armor – Bishop Olmsted

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 21, 2018 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a Lenten reflection, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said spiritual war needs spiritual amor, and the best armor is accessed through the sacraments.

"The sacraments, then, are the armor of choice in this spiritual war," he wrote in a March 20 column at the Catholic Sun.

“Through them, Jesus continues to heal, to forgive, to strengthen and to sustain us in our fight against the devil and his minions."

He said this spiritual war is a crucial battle, where the devil and his demons are determined to attack the souls of the faithful. Pointing to the ideology of secular culture, he said the devil's hostility can be seen in society's view on sin, heaven, hell, and repentance.

"This spiritual war against the devil and his minions has crucial consequences in our daily life with an outcome that determines our eternal destiny. The devil does all in his power to destroy the work of God in us."

This is a great and dramatic battle for souls, he said, and it needs the help of a God who encounters Christians in the present with living sacraments. But Catholics must be willing to embrace sacramental grace with the proper disposition, he said.

Taken from the Latin term sacramentum, he said the word originally referred to an oath Roman citizens would swear upon entering the military. He said, as soldiers, the men promised to defend the empire from from whatever force threatened it.

Likewise, Christ promised to accompany his Church, he said. "In a distinct way, he fulfills this promise through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. So, whenever a sacrament is celebrated, Christ is there to fight along our side for our salvation."

However, he said the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of Catholics, who should receive these rites with repentance and faith.

"A sacrament can be validly given and received but still may not be fruitful. Sadly, it is an outcome that seems to be widespread today."

“Repentance from any attachment to sin is essential to conduct one’s life in harmony with the purpose of the Sacraments, i.e. to increase divine life within us. Therefore, renunciation of sin and the devil is essential for receiving the true spiritual values of the Sacraments.”

And where faith is strong there is transformation, but where faith is dismal the fruits will be vague, he said.

"When we participate with sincere faith in prayer and the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of Scripture and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we do so with greater awareness and expectations of encountering the living God, an encounter that changes us for the better."

Bishop Olmsted expressed hope that Catholics may finish this Lenten season with spiritual fruit and a freedom from evil.

"During Holy Week we will be reminded of the battle that our Lord waged and is still waging in us members of his Mystical Body. May this season of Lent be a time to free our spiritual life from the evil one. And may the fruits of the great spiritual struggle - sacrifice, prayer, fasting and the witness of our faith - hasten the coming of the Kingdom of God."

Bishop, five priests arrested in Brazil, accused of embezzling Church funds

Brasilia, Brazil, Mar 21, 2018 / 01:58 pm (ACI Prensa).- A Catholic bishop, five priests and other administrative officials in the Brazilian state of Goiás have been arrested on accusations of embezzling more than two million reales (about $600,000) from the Catholic Church.

Bishop José Ronaldo of the Diocese of Formosa was among those arrested March 19, as part of operation “Caiaphas.” Among other findings, the operation discovered 70,000 reales (about $21,000) in cash in a cabinet with a false bottom. The cabinet belonged to Fr. Epitácio Cardoso Pereira, in the Planaltina township.

In wake of these developments, Pope Francis on March 21 appointed the Archbishop of Uberaba, Paulo Mendes Peixoto, as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

According to prosecutors, the embezzled money comes from tithes, donations, stipends for baptisms and weddings from churches. Authorities said the diversion of money has been going on since 2015 when the bishop took possession of the Diocese of Formosa.

Judge Fernando Oliveira Samuel said that the money “was systematically diverted by order of José Ronaldo and also approved by the rest of the clerics.”

According to authorities, legal wiretaps suggested that Bishop Ronaldo and four other priests purchased a ranch to raise livestock and a store where lottery tickets are sold.

“In addition to that, it is possible that the vehicles acquired by the diocese were intended for Fr. Moacyr Santana’s personal use in the city of Posse,” the judge added.

The public prosecutor in charge of the case, Douglas Chegury, said that similar irregularities occurred when Bishop Ronaldo was in the Diocese of Janauba.

Authorities began investigating the current case in December 2017 when members of the faithful complained that monthly expenses for the bishop’s residence had gone from 5,000 reales ($1,520) to 35,000 reales ($10,600) since Bishop Ronaldo assumed the diocese.

Consequently, the local faithful requested an open disclosure of the diocesan accounts. When the bishop refused, they said they would boycott church collections until the measure was taken.

Bishop Ronaldo claimed at the time that there were  "no improprieties" and that he did not take any of the money collected.

ACI Digital, the Portuguese language sister agency of CNA, repeatedly sought the reaction of the Diocese of Formosa but did not receive a response by press time.

The Secretary General of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Leonardo Steiner, issued a press release March 20 stating that “In face of the jailing of the bishop of the Diocese of Formosa in Goiás State, the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference expresses its solidarity with the clergy and faithful of the diocese, reminding the brother bishop that justice is to abandon oneself, trusting in the merciful will of God.”

“The truth of the facts must be established with justice and transparency, considering the good of the particular church and the bishop,” the conference said.

The bishops of Brazil asked ”all the faithful of the Church to remain united in prayer to be true witnesses to the Gospel.”


Analysis: What led to, and what will follow, ‘Lettergate’

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 01:17 pm (CNA).- A new chapter for Vatican media and communications began Apr. 30, 2015, when Pope Francis established a commission of five members to analyze and implement the suggestions of a report from a Vatican Committee for Communication, which itself had been established in July 2014.
The commission, whose establishment was seen by some as a rejection of the previous committee, was chaired by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, who at the time was still director of Vatican Television. The members were Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, and then-Msgr. Paul Tighe, who was Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Social Communication, and Paolo Nusiner, who came from the board of the Italian episcopal conference newspaper Avvenire.
Msgr. Tighe was – along with Msgr. Ruiz – the only member of the original committee chaired by Lord Christopher Patten, which had drafted a reform proposal after a series of meetings with the staff of the Vatican media departments.
Then, the story is well known: Msgr. Tighe was promoted adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council of Culture and ordained a bishop, Msgr. Ruiz became second-in-command at the Secretariat for Communications, while Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò was appointed prefect.

This morning, Vigano’s resignation as prefect was accepted; he will now serve as a consultor to the secretariat.
In this moment of crisis, many eyes are nowfixed on Bishop Tighe.

Vatican observers note that Tighe was received in a private audience by Pope Francis March 15, two days after the “Vatican lettergate” – as it was eventually dubbed – had exploded. Other Vatican insiders told CNA that Bishop Tighe is scheduled for another meeting with Pope Francis March 26.
Are these clues that Bishop Tighe will become the dicastery’s prefect?
On the plus side, he has been a part of the reform project since the beginning, he understands the adjustments that have been made, and he is a bishop, which gives him a status Msgr. Viganò did not have.
On the other hand, should he be called to carry on a reform that he helped to design, he will be called to ride very difficult waves.
Msgr. Viganò used to say that every reform faces resistance. In the case of the Vatican media reform, it seemed there was something more. Sources told CNA that the first leak about the doctoring of Benedict XVI’s letter came from inside the Secretariat for the Communication- this could be a sign of real internal discord.
From the time a commission was established to analyze and carry on the Patten Report, it was already clear that an internal struggle might take place: the commission had no representatives of Vatican Radio, the Vatican media department most touched by the reform. And neither were the Holy See Press Office, L’Osservatore Romano and the Vatican Publishing House represented. It is noteworthy that Gian Maria Vian, editor of L’Osservatore Romano, was a member of the Lord Patten committee, but not the subsequent commission.
The reform was carried forward, and led to the launch of the new Vatican News website, along with the Vatican media department that absorbed audio/video responsibilities previously entrusted to the L’Osservatore Romano Photo Service and to Vatican Television, while Vatican Radio ceased its legal existence and was absorbed in the Vatican News department, with a special label for Italian broadcasting called Radio Vaticana Italia.
In 2015, the motu proprio L’attuale contesto comunicativo established the Secretariat for Communication, and on Sep. 22, 2016 the statues of the new secretariat were finally published.
The statutes divided the Secretariat for Communication into five ‘directions,’ or departments: the general affairs department; the editorial direction; the technological direction; the pastoral-theological direction; and the direction of the Holy See Press Office.
The five directions were part of the Lord Patten proposal, as he explained in a lecture delivered May 28, 2015.
However, internal discussion about how to carry out the reform was open-ended.
Since the first Vatileaks scandal, back in 2012, discussion about communications issues have been intense within the Vatican. During the Vatileaks scandal, the Vatican decided to hire an advisor for communications within the Secretariat of State, American Greg Burke.
Communication strategy was important to cardinals during meeting preceding the conclave that elected Pope Francis.  

This is the reason why cardinals in conclave chose for a “change of narrative,” according to a Wall Street Journal report based on conversation with four different cardinals. When Pope Francis’ started his reform plan, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company was engaged to propose a new Vatican media strategy.
But the discussion was not just technical. It also entailed the philosophy behind the Vatican’s communication strategy, and on that front, many questions remain unanswered.
Angelo Scelzo, a long term Vatican official who ended his career as deputy Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, and for years was an official of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, explained well the issues at stake.
In 2014, Scelzo wrote a book tracing back 50 years of Vatican communications, starting with the Second Vatican Council’s Inter Mirifica, its decree on social communications.

In the book, “La Penna di Pietro,” Scelzo explained that “as any good means and tools of communications, Vatican media had always relied on an editorial perspective. This editorial line was not put together in a marketing office, but emerged from the documents that, mostly from the Second Vatican Council onward, supported the development of Vatican media as well as shaped its character.”
All of these issues loom behind “Lettergate.” The new prefect – whether Bishop Tighe or not – will be called to solve them.

Pope Francis, however, seems to want to keep the discussion alive: Msgr. Viganò is not gone, he remains part of the Secretariat for Communication as an assessor. How much he will influence is yet to be assessed. Certainly, his presence there will be a signal for his successor that the Pope’s intended reform must be carried forward.


Pro-life Democrat Lipinski survives primary challenge

Chicago, Ill., Mar 21, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats, narrowly won the Democratic primary election Tuesday night for Illinois’ 3rd District. Lipinski’s challenger, NARAL-backed Marie Newman, made her opposition to Lipinski’s pro-life views a central part of her campaign.

While media outlets called the race for Lipinski several hours after polls closed March 20, Newman initially refused to concede, even going as far to say that she hoped her opponent had a “very painful evening.” On Wednesday morning, however, Newman posted a message on her Facebook page acknowledging that she had lost the election and that she would continue to press Lipinski further to the left.

“Since we started our campaign, Dan Lipinski has moved his position on healthcare, a path to citizenship, and the need for a fair minimum wage. We put him on notice that we expect better for all of the people in our district,” said Newman.

“I plan on continuing to hold him accountable so that every person in our district has access, opportunity, and equal rights.”

The race was notable for the amount of outside money spent to primary a sitting member of Congress in an extremely safe Democratic seat. An estimated $2.5 million was spent on various campaign ads and mailings, with about two-thirds of that money supporting Newman’s campaign. Lipinski was hammered in attack ads for his opposition to Obamacare, as well as his support of pro-life legislation and for defunding Planned Parenthood.

Despite Lipinski’s moderate tendencies, Democrats For Life of America Executive Director Kristen Day took issue with the claim that was a “conservative” or a bad Democrat. In a published statement, Day said that Lipinski’s victory was a “win for the Big Tent Democratic Party,” and that the race was an effort to expunge pro-life Democrats from the party.

“His [voting] record says otherwise, with an 88 percent party-loyalty rating and solid lifetime records with labor, education, and environmental groups,” said Day.

“The race was not about Dan’s record on traditional Democratic values. It was, plain and simple, about abortion and an effort to ‘purify’ the Democratic Party of pro-life voices.”

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said March 21, “We are thrilled with Congressman Lipinski’s victory over Marie Newman and the abortion industry which is increasingly pushing the Democratic Party left on abortion. Dan Lipinski is a pro-life hero of legendary courage and integrity … It was an honor and a privilege for our team to support him and we look forward to continuing to work with him in Congress.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee initially declined to endorse Lipinski, but changed their minds about two weeks ago. House Democrats announced Wednesday after the race was called that Lipinski had their full support for the general election.

Lipinski was first elected to Congress in 2004, after his father retired from the seat. This election was his most significant primary challenge.

He is expected to win the general election in November by a wide margin.

Ultimatum for Catholic college CFO raises questions about university policy, guns

Miami, Fla., Mar 21, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Having been given an ultimatum, chief financial officer of St. Thomas University in Florida Anita Britt resigned last week after being told she had to choose between her CFO position and her membership on the board of a company that manufactures guns.

Britt sits on the board of American Outdoor Brands, the parent company of Smith & Wesson, which manufactures guns including the AR-15, the weapon that was used to kill 17 students in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting last month. Britt joined the board on Feb. 6, a month after beginning her position at the university.

Originally, Britt was told that her position at the Catholic school and her membership on American Outdoor Brands’ board did not conflict.

“Ms. Britt’s position with American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer and... does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas,” Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale, president of St. Thomas University, initially said in a letter reported on by the Miami Herald.

However, after additional pressure due to the recent shooting, Casale backtracked from his initial stance and presented Britt with the choice of either staying on as CFO and resigning from American Outdoor Brands board, or leaving the university. Britt resigned from St. Thomas March 13.

Casale told the Miami Herald that he changed his original position regarding Britt because “it has become clear that many of the sensible and reasonable solutions to this gun epidemic, which have been discussed previously, were becoming less and less clear.”

“I came to the conclusion that St. Thomas was being associated with gun violence and that was not an image I thought was good for the university,” he added.

Professor Brian Scarnecchia, a professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Florida told CNA that while St. Thomas University is free to make personnel decisions, Britt’s position on the board of American Outdoor Brands does not conflict with Church social teaching.

“The president of St. Thomas University had it right the first time. There is no inherent conflict in working for a Catholic institution of high education and being on the board of a firearms manufacturing company. Both provide morally neutral products and services,” Scarnecchia said.

“A Catholic can work for a firearms company in good faith. A Catholic could not work for Planned Parenthood or Playboy magazine in good faith. The difference is that a firearm is a neutral product, but the principal products and services of Planned Parenthood and Playboy are not,” he added.

“I say a firearm is a neutral product because it has no inherently bad or good purpose. A firearm may be used for home defense, recreational target shooting, hunting or murder,” he said, whereas pornography and contraceptives can only be used for evil.

The university’s position about Britt raised questions about others affiliated with the university.

Victor Mendelson, who sits on the board of St. Thomas University, is the co-president of HEICO, a company that builds technology and components for military aircraft, drones, and weapons systems.

St. Thomas University did not respond to questions about Mendelson’s position or about whether it had investigated the standings, in light of Catholic social teaching, of other companies and institutions represented among their board members.

Casale himself previously served as board secretary to a nonprofit housing corporation that, during his time on the board, partnered with Miami’s Pride Center to develop an LGBT-focused housing complex.

Neither the archdiocese nor the university responded to questions about whether faculty members teaching theology have received the ecclesiastical mandatum required by Pope St. John Paul II's Ex corde ecclesiae. The mandatum is an acknowledgment by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is teaching within the full communion of the Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese of Miami, which sponsors St. Thomas University, told CNA that Archbishop Thomas Wenski “permits (per bylaws) the Board of Directors (of St. Thomas) to pursue their responsibilities and provide direction for the university’s success.”
“Decisions made by STU’s president,  Msgr. Franklyn Casale, and the university’s board members are made autonomously, permitting them to function within the realm of their positions,” Mary Ross Agosta, communications director for the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA.

African youth bring zeal to pre-synod gathering

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 11:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Several young people from across Africa have voiced their excitement at being able to participate in the Vatican's pre-synod meeting, which they say will give them a chance to be heard and will provide the courage to confront the challenges they face at home.

For Nigerian youth Vincent Paul Nneji, being able to participate in the pre-synod meeting in Rome makes him “feel more part of the Church.”

“I feel that my voice is very loud now, because we get to meet one on one with the Pope and we get to tell him how we feel about the faith that we've always believed in since we're born, so I feel very good and very, very energetic to go back and give more to society.”

The March 19-24 pre-synod meeting is in preparation for the October Synod of Bishops on “Young people, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Nneji is one of some 300 young people from around the world participating in the event, 31 of whom come from Africa.

CNA was able to speak with youth from Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe about their expectations for the meeting, the challenges they face at home, and what problems they want the Church to be aware of when it comes to young people.

There was a nearly unanimous recognition that young people in Africa tend to take on a lot of responsibility at an early age, and lack older role models who are able to help steer them in the right direction amid political and societal instability.

According to Nneji, “at a young age we tend to be adults [in Nigeria]. We don't have a choice but to be adults because we have so many challenges and less people to help us.”

“So here we want to talk about the challenges and how [the Church] can help us, feel our pain and feel empathetic with us, and try to connect with us even when we're far away,” he said, explaining that the biggest challenges youth face in the country are social injustice and unemployment.

In Nigeria, “an average youth has to feed, has to be financially secured to a large extent, has to feel a sense of security in order to profess his or her faith,” he said, “so that is a major challenge, because we have issues of bad governance and bad leadership, and we are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

“We're supposed to be the ones to take up the mantle of leadership in society and even in the Church,” he said, noting that there is often also a lack of role models in the Church itself.

Nneji said he wants to bring these challenges to the attention of the Pope and the synod committee so they can find ways to “help us to do better, even amid all the challenges; to do better and still be a youth.”

Tendai Karombo, a 26-year-old youth from Zimbabwe, said she wants the Church in her country to have greater appreciation for young people, many of whom become caregivers for their elderly parents as early as 12-15 years old.

“When we come to Church we do not get that respect … We are then sidelined to minor things, we cannot do a lot, we are viewed as weak, [so] we cannot do so many things,” she said.

“I [would] hope and appreciate if the Church can also see that strength in us, make us responsible, and we can save so many souls,” she said.

For Karombo, it's not so much about the individual countries as it is about learning what challenges youth face on a global level and confronting them together.

“I believe we can discuss and come up with a way that is universal to help everyone out,” she said.

“If I were living in Europe with all those challenges, how would I react to them? Maybe that way, in understanding each other, we will have a way forward in addressing the challenges,” she said.

Tinyiko Joan Ndaba, a woman from South Africa who works to raise awareness about human trafficking, told CNA a major problem she wants to address is human trafficking, and she feels a responsibility to share the knowledge she had gained about the phenomenon with her peers.

Ndaba said she learned about trafficking through workshops with the Combating Trafficking in Persons branch of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Talitha Kum anti-trafficking organization.

After starting a group with Talitha Kum to help raise awareness in parishes, Ndaba said “we noticed that people do not know about this,” so they made their campaign public, “because if people in our churches don't know, it means the public doesn't know about this.”

Trafficking, she said, is “so sad, it is inhumane,” and it “takes away from the communities; I imagine myself in that situation, and thinking how much I would have lost if I was a victim of slavery, so it’s better to prevent it before it happens to anyone else.”

Ndaba said she knows of at least one instance when a young woman in the process of being trafficked was able to realize what was happening and get out of the situation thanks to a workshop they led at her school.

“One group cannot do anything, but we need to community to carry this out, because this is a social issue,” she said, voicing her hope that young people at the pre-synodal meeting “can really contribute toward the growth of our different communities that we come from.”

Nneji also voiced hope that the youth in attendance would be able to address their challenges and find a clear way forward.

“We want to be part of decision-making, [and] the Church has given us an opportunity in the pre-synod, so this conference … is a wonderful opportunity to see ourselves and know where we are; know our strengths and our weaknesses, manage them together and see how we can help the Church and society.”

Texas bishops call for prayers to heal community after bombings

Austin, Texas, Mar 21, 2018 / 10:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of central Texas have encouraged prayers for healing in a community reeling from a string of bombings over the last month.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin issued a joint statement on Tuesday urging prayers for the victims of the serial bombings as well as prayers for law enforcement officials.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families and friends of all those affected by the package explosions which have taken place this month in Austin and San Antonio,” said the bishops.

In recent weeks, two people were killed and half a dozen were injured in a series of explosions throughout Austin and in a FedEx distribution facility near San Antonio.

Suspected bomber Mark Anthony Conditt was confronted by police early on Wednesday morning, and drove off in a car before he detonated one of his own bombs, killing himself in the process, according to officials. His motive for the bombings remains unknown and police are continuing to investigate.

Police have warned that there may be additional bombs and have urged the public to remain watchful and alert.

In their message Tuesday, the bishops urged the community to remain strong, and to not be divided by fear. They voiced hope that prayer could serve as a uniting force in the face of terror.

“The randomness of these attacks and their increasing frequency are perhaps meant by their perpetrator to spread fear and cause division in our communities,” they said.

“However, as we have seen time and time again, tragedies such as these strengthen our bonds and bring our communities together in prayer and recognition of the sanctity and preciousness of life.”