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Irish midwives and nurses join doctors in abortion bill protest

Dublin, Ireland, Dec 10, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A pro-life association of nurses and midwives in the Republic of Ireland is joining a growing number of concerned voices who say that many Irish medical professionals are unwilling to take part in abortions, and that the country is ill-prepared to begin offering abortion services starting Jan. 1, 2019.

“As nurses and midwives we echo the concerns of obstetricians and gynaecologists in relation to the rush to introduce abortion provision...We are the unheard voices in the health service,” a Dec. 10 statement from the group Nurses & Midwives 4 Life Ireland reads.  

“We have not been consulted and we will be directly impacted by the new legislation. We are worried about the impact this bill will have and the safety of women when we have not had any guidance from our professional body or our union.”

The group is reacting to a bill in Ireland’s legislature to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018, which would permit abortion services throughout the country. It passed the Irish House (Dáil Éireann) on Dec. 5 and is before the Senate (Seanad) for debate this week.

The bill was introduced after voters repealed the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in a referendum vote in May. The amendment had established legal protection for the unborn, and paved the way for the country to legalize abortion.

The legislation, introduced by Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, would establish that abortions performed early in pregnancy would ordinarily be undertaken by general practitioners. It would require pro-life healthcare professionals to provide abortion referrals, though not to perform them.

Some 500 nurses and midwives have signed a petition calling on Harris to consult Nurses & Midwives 4 Life and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization, and to support freedom of conscience amendments for the new law.


At least 640 general practitioners in Ireland signed a petition in November objecting to the obligation of referring patients to other doctors for abortions. A March survey of Irish healthcare professionals found that that nearly 70 percent of general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions.

At the general meeting of the Irish College of General Practitioners last week, a group of GPs walked out in the middle of the meeting out in protest, saying the government had not listened to their concerns.

Some doctors have called for an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out” system for doctors regarding abortion services. Harris has criticized the “opt-in” approach, which is supported by the National Association of General Practitioners. In June, the group of 2,000 practitioners unanimously voted in favor of the “opt-in” method.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said Dec. 10 that “like any new service [abortion] is not going to be a case of just flicking a switch and one day there is no service and the next day it’s [100%] available.”

“It will have to be rolled out, it will have to be phased in, but we’re confident it will be available in January,” Varadkar was quoted as saying in The Independent.

“It may not be available in every single hospital and every single place, but the service will be available,” he said.

Varadkar stated in June that Catholic hospitals would not be allowed to opt out of performing abortions under the new law, though individual doctors would be.

Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin on Dec. 10 urged doctors, nurses, teachers and pharmaceutical workers to resist the new law, and to disobey it if necessary, The Independent reports. Doran encouraged doctors, nurses and midwives who oppose abortion to unite in opposition to the proposed new laws.

In October the Irish bishops called the draft bill “an affront to conscience,” noting that although the bill allows doctors and nurses to opt out of performing abortions, it nonetheless requires them to refer refer the patient to a doctor or nurse who will perform the procedure.

The Irish bishops issued another statement last week that reaffirmed their stance, saying that the abortion bill cannot be supported in good conscience.

The bishops noted that the bill proposes abortions undertaken in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy will generally be chemically induced.

“This presumes that pharmacists, whether in hospitals or in private practice, will routinely stock and dispense drugs whose specific purpose is to end human life. No provision is made for pharmacists to opt out on the grounds of conscientious objection,” the bishops wrote.

 

In Canada, Catholic school district explains conduct code amid lawsuit

Calgary, Canada, Dec 10, 2018 / 05:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid continuing legal pressure against Catholic institutions in Canada, the Calgary Catholic School District faces a lawsuit from a former principal who has said she was pushed out due to discrimination on religious, marital, and anti-LGBT grounds.

School officials said they are committed to providing “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments for all,” but did not comment on the complaints due to privacy concerns.

“Our school, and student groups within our school, address a number of diversity and justice issues – including issues associated with sexual orientation and gender identity,” Tania Van Brunt, a school district spokesperson, told the Canadian news station CTV Calgary.

“We do so in a comprehensive manner that involves the entire school community,” she continued. “We have many student groups that support safe and caring environments through their activities and demonstrate an understanding and respect for the sanctity of human life and respect for the human person which includes, but not limited to, ethnic and racial backgrounds, abilities or disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.”

Like the public schools, the Calgary Catholic School District is funded by the Alberta government. It follows Alberta requirements, with bishops responsible for monitoring the schools’ Catholic identity.
While the public schools were traditionally Protestant, they have secularized in recent generations.

Barb Hamilton, a longtime teacher and vice-principal in the school district, served as principal from 2015-2017 at St. Joseph Elementary Junior High School.

She has filed two human rights complaints charging that the school district refused her employment on the grounds of marital status, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.

“Their perspective is I resigned and my perspective is I wasn’t given a choice,” Hamilton said. She has charged that staff in Catholic schools suffer from a sense of fear and there is an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

The school district’s employment contract of 2017, titled “A Catholic Leader’s Covenant,” includes objectives such as to know, serve and love God.

“Our evaluations, our leadership quality standards, is an element of Catholicism and faith, and that’s who we are,” Van Brunt told CTV. “In all of our contracts are professional growth plans.”

The expectations include weekly Sunday Mass attendance and “following and modelling to others, both in and out of school, a lifestyle and deportment in harmony with the practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church.”

After Hamilton left St. Joseph she returned to teaching but is now on leave from her position.

While she was principal, she filed an affidavit saying she was aware of 10 students in grades 8 and 9 at the school believed to self-identify as LGBTQ and had intentionally hurt themselves. Hamilton said this self-harm was believed to be a response to anti-LGBTQ insults or to family members who had said “they would go to hell if they were gay.”

She has said she didn’t see any changes from the school board after she sought help. She wanted to go public to help others facing similar situations, saying, “I don’t think silence contributes constructive solutions to the problem.”

Her allegations are part of an ongoing legal case concerning LGBT advocacy Gay-Straight Alliance student clubs in Alberta schools.

Macewan University professor Kris Wells said the Catholic schools’ contract is “so vague, almost as vague as to be meaningless without specific examples.”

“It’s a form of discrimination if you’re not applying this covenant equitably to everyone who violates it,” she said.

David Eggen, Minister of Education for Alberta, has not read the contract but said knows that such contracts do exist in the province, CTV reports. Faith-based schools are governed by the government’s mandatory curriculum and the School Act. If schools are compliant with that they are doing their job, he said.

However, in January 2016 Eggen announced new mandatory policies for all schools in the province requiring them to recognize a student’s right to self-identify their gender and gender expression. Schools must establishment Gay-Straight Alliances at any school where a student requests one, and school supervisory employees were advised to “anticipate, support and value staff diversity, including diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”

The policy barring schools from informing parents if their child joins such a club presently faces a court challenge.

Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary, who retired in 2017, gave a critical reaction to the policies at the time of their release. He said they violated legal precedents such as a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that protected the rights of a Catholic school in Quebec to teach from a Catholic viewpoint.

The court ruling said that “to tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith undermines the liberty of the members of its community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school.”

“(I)t amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about Catholicism in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding of Catholicism,” the court continued in a decision that protected parents’ rights to transmit the Catholic faith to their children and to guide their religious upbringing.

Catholic or other Christian institutions have faced increasing legal and political pressures in Canada.

At Trinity Western University in British Columbia, foes of a conduct code took it to Canada’s Supreme Court, arguing its demand that students promise to abstain from sex or face expulsion. The court ruled that the conduct code was degrading. It is now optional to sign.

In June 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that law societies in the country could deny licensing to a proposed Christian law school at Trinity Western University because the school adheres to Biblical teaching on sexuality.

Requirements added to Canada’s summer jobs program earlier this year required participating organizations to support the government’s pro-abortion rights view and other views on controversial matters in order to receive public funding. While those requirements appeared to be dropped in new rules issued Dec. 7, these still drew criticism from various Christian and pro-life groups who worried they were too vague and could still create problems and exclude groups that previous rules did not.

Last year, a Saskatchewan judge ruled that Catholic schools in that province will not receive taxpayer funding for non-Catholic students, claiming that to do so would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the state’s duty of religious neutrality and equality rights. In June that decision was put on hold pending appeal.

LA archdiocese to press charges against sisters accused of embezzlement

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 10, 2018 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will file a criminal complaint against religious sisters who have been accused of embezzling from a Catholic school at which they had worked for more than a decade.

Sr. Mary Margaret Kreuper, CSJ and Sr. Lana Chang, CSJ, who both retired this year from St. James Catholic School in Torrance, are alleged to have misappropriated nearly $500,000 from the school.

They are suspected of using the money for gambling, trips, and other personal expenses.

While the archdiocese initially said that it would not press charges in the case, an archdiocesan spokesman told CNA Monday afternoon that the archdiocese will become a “complaining party” in the case.

Kim Westerman, a spokesperson for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, told CNA Monday that canonical restrictions have been imposed on the sisters, and a formal canonical process “will be determined when the criminal aspect of the case is completed.”

Westerman told CNA that the sisters’ alleged embezzlement was not known before their retirements from the school was announced, and that the congregation has no record of either sister being accused of financial misconduct in the past.

A Nov. 28 letter from St. James Parish pastor Msgr. Michael Meyers announced that after an internal investigation discovered the embezzlement, the sisters’ congregation “has agreed to arrange for full restitution for the benefit of the School of the funds that are found to have been misappropriated and is imposing appropriate penalties and sanctions on each of the Sisters in accordance with the policies of the Order.”

In his letter, Meyers wrote that “the Archdiocese does not wish to pursue criminal proceedings against the Sisters but instead plans to have the Archdiocese, the School and the Order address the situation internally through the investigation, restitution and sanctions on the Sisters.”

Despite the theft, “no student or program at St. James has suffered any loss of educational resources, opportunities, or innovations. In sum, the education of your children has not and will not be affected by these events,” Meyers wrote.

He added that the sisters felt “deep remorse” for their actions and asked for forgiveness.

Meyers told parents last week that the sisters' theft went undetected because they took money destined for a reserve fund, and did not immediately attract the attention of auditors and other officials.

St. James School's 2016 enrollment was 325 students, according to an archdiocesan directory.

Some parents at the school alleged that the sisters often took gambling trips to Las Vegas. Krueper has a P.O. Box and a prior address in Las Vegas, according to The Beach Reporter.

Marge Graf, an archdiocesan attorney, told St. James School parents that the sisters “had a pattern of going on trips, we do know they had a pattern of going to casinos, and the reality is, they used the account as their personal account,” The Beach Reporter noted.

The sisters are members of the Los Angeles Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cardondelet. Though they are commonly referred to as “nuns,” that term is reserved in the Church to consecrated women living in contemplative monasteries. Kreuper and Chang are more properly referred to as “religious sisters.”

Lori Barr, a former principal of St. Paul School in Santa Fe Springs, California, was sentenced in 2015 to 180 days in county jail for stealing $64,000 from the school, which is owned and operated by the Los Angeles archdiocese. Barr was discovered to have made charges on the school’s American Express card, making purchases from Disneyland, Tiffany & Co, United Airlines, and Victoria’s Secret, among others.

Barr paid restitution to the archdiocese before she was sentenced, and apologized to school and diocesan officials.

It has not yet been announced what charges Krueper and Chang will face.

Nineteen Algerian martyrs beatified

Oran, Algeria, Dec 10, 2018 / 03:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions, who were martyred in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, were beatified Saturday during a Mass in Oran.

AFP reported that some 1,200 people attended the Dec. 8 ceremony at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross. Among them were relatives and friends of the beatified. The beatification was celebrated by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Blessed Claverie and his companions were killed during the Algerian Civil War by Islamists.

Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers noted the “thousands of victims of the Algerian civil war,” calling them anonymous heroes.

“We did not want a beatification between Christians, because these brothers and sisters died among tens and tens of thousands of Algerian” Muslims, he stated.

Algeria's population is almost entirely Muslim.

Relatives of those beatified were received by Muslim dignitaries at the Ibn Badis Grand Mosque, where Mostapha Jaber, an imam, said, “We Muslims associate this event with much joy.”

“These Christian martyrs killed during this national tragedy ... had a good mission -- (they were) determined to spread peace.”

The pope had authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to recognize the martyrdoms in January.

Blessed Claverie was a French Algerian, and Bishop of Oran from 1981 until his Aug. 1, 1996 martyrdom.

His companions are: Brother Henri Vergès, Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond, Sister Esther Paniagua Alonso, Sister Caridad Álvarez Martín, Fr. Jean Chevillard, Fr. Alain Dieulangard, Fr. Charles Deckers, Fr. Christian Chessel, Sister Angèle-Marie Littlejohn, Sister Bibiane Leclercq, Sister Odette Prévost, Brother Luc Dochier, Brother Christian de Chergé, Brother Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Brother Bruno Lemarchand, Brother Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.

The best known of Bl. Claverie's companions are the seven monks of Tibhirine, who were kidnapped from their Trappist priory in March 1996. They were kept as a bartering chip to procure the release of several imprisoned members of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, and were killed in May. Their story was dramatized in the 2010 French film Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

After the death of the monks of Tibhirine, Claverie knew his life was in serious danger. A bomb exploded at the entrance of his chancery Aug. 1, 1996, killing him and an aide, Mohamed Bouchikhi.

In a pastoral letter last month, Bishop Desfarges called the beatification “a grace for our Church,” urging the local Church “to love as they did in the freedom that the Holy Spirit gives” because the martyrs “go before us on the path of witness that our Church is called to give in this land of Algeria, which from the first century has been watered with the blood of the martyrs.”

Archbishop Desfarges said that the martyrs' lives “were given to God and to the people to whom love had united them.” He encouraged the faithful to pray to them “asking for the grace of fidelity for our Church in its mission.”

Finally, the Archbishop of Algiers invited the faithful to live this “time of witnessing” through interreligious dialogue.

“The witness of the Catholic Church is not a witness against another's religion, but a witness that the love of Christ poured out in our hearts calls us to live a love for everyone, without distinction, even enemies,” he concluded.

US Supreme Court won't hear case of states defunding Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2018 / 02:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from states which were seeking to terminate Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood, meaning that these contracts will remain.

Kansas and Louisiana had attempted to block Medicaid funds from being used for preventative care services provided by Planned Parenthood. A lower court ruled that this policy violated federal law, and the states were attempting to appeal this decision.

By deciding not to hear the case, the court has not cast a judgement on the questions contained in the appeals.

Only three judges – Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch – voted to grant certiorari. This is one short of the four needed.

Voting against certiorari were newly-confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In his dissent, Thomas wrote that he thought his colleagues on the bench were trying to avoid any cases involving Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider. This case in particular did not involve abortion, but concerned other services provided by Planned Parenthood.

"What explains the court’s refusal to do its job here?” asked Thomas, adding, "I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named 'Planned Parenthood.'”

Thomas was furious with the court’s denial of certiorari, saying: “But these cases are not about abortion rights,” but rather “about private rights of action under the Medicaid Act.”

“Resolving the question presented here would not even affect Planned Parenthood’s ability to challenge the States’ decisions; it concerns only the rights of individual Medicaid patients to bring their own suits. Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty.”

Former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson told CNA that she did not agree with the court’s decision.

“States should have every right to divert funding away from the nation's largest abortion provider and towards health centers that provide true healthcare to patients, not one that promotes abortion above all else,” Johnson said.

She also pointed out that Planned Parenthood has done fewer and fewer preventative services in recent years. Between 2009 and 2016, the number of breast cancer screenings done by the organization dropped by 61 percent, she said.

"Other cancer screenings have dropped by 64 percent during the same time. And forget about prenatal services and adoption referrals. Those services are barely offered, if at all at some Planned Parenthoods,” added Johnson.

Johnson told CNA she believes states should instead fund federal qualified healthcare clinics, which “outnumber Planned Parenthood nearly 20-to-1 and sees ten times the number of patients that Planned Parenthood does every year.”

Pope Francis: Everyone must help promote human rights

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Everyone should, according to his or her specific gifts, fight to protect the fundamental rights of individuals, Pope Francis said Monday in a message to an international gathering on the topic.

“Each person is therefore called to contribute with courage and determination, in the specificity of their role, to the respect of the fundamental rights of every person,” the pope wrote Dec. 10.

“Especially [the rights] of those [who are] ‘invisible:’ of many who are hungry and thirsty, who are naked, sick, a stranger or imprisoned, who live on the margins of society or are discarded.”

“This need for justice and solidarity,” he pointed out, “has a special significance for us Christians, because the Gospel itself invites us to turn our gaze to the least of our brothers and sisters, to be moved to compassion and to concretely commit ourselves to alleviate their suffering.”

Pope Francis’ message was sent to the international conference “Human Rights in the Contemporary World: Achievements, Omissions, Negations,” taking place in Rome Dec. 10-11 at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Held on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the conference included a keynote by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, given Dec. 10, and panels by international experts in the field of human rights.

Also present at the conference were members of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps and representatives of the United Nations, Council of Europe, the bishops’ Justice and Peace commission, the academic world, and civil society.

“I wish, on this occasion,” the pope wrote, “to address a heartfelt appeal to those with institutional responsibilities, asking them to place human rights at the center of all policies, including those of development cooperation, even when this means going against the current.”

On the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “an in-depth reflection on the foundation and respect for human rights in the contemporary world seems opportune,” he said, adding that he hopes it will herald in a “renewed commitment to the defense of human dignity, with special attention to the most vulnerable members of the community.”

He noted that contemporary society continues to fall short of upholding and protecting the equal dignity of all human beings as it should, with many injustices continuing in the world today, including that of great disparity in wealth, with one part of society living “in opulence” and another “disowned, despised, or trampled.”

He listed, in particular, “the unborn children who are denied the right to come into the world,” “those who do not have access to the indispensable means for a dignified life,” those without access to education or just work, those forced into slavery or inhuman conditions, those subjected to torture “or who are denied the opportunity to redeem themselves,” and the victims of “forced disappearance” and their families.

“My thoughts,” he said, “also go to all those who live in a climate dominated by suspicion and contempt, which are the subject of acts of intolerance, discrimination and violence because of their racial, ethnic, national or religious affiliation.”

Pope Francis also recalled those who suffer violations of their fundamental rights due to armed conflicts “while unscrupulous merchants of death are enriched at the price of their brothers’ and sisters’ blood.”

“In the face of these serious phenomena, we are all called upon [to help],” he said.

Indian bishop resigns amid complaints of misuse of funds, attempted marriage

Kadapa, India, Dec 10, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis accepted Monday the resignation of Bishop Prasad Gallela from the pastoral government of the Diocese of Cuddapah, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Gallala was in August the object of a criminal complaint for allegedly using diocesan funds to maintain an alleged “wife” and adult son.

Bishop emeritus of Guntur, Bali Gali, was named temporary apostolic administrator sede vacante of the diocese.  

In a statement Dec. 10, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi and secretary general of the Indian bishops’ conference, said, “We thank Bishop Prasad Gallela for his dedicated services to the Church in Cuddapah and the Church in India, and we entrust him to the intercession of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles.”  

Gallela, 56, has consistently denied the charges of embezzlement or that he has a concubine or child. According to UCA News, Gallela maintains that the woman and 18-year-old man identified by the petitioners are the wife and son of his deceased brother, for whom his family cares.

The bishop had been summoned to appear before Lok Adalat, a government-approved forum for settling pending court cases, Aug. 18. The outcome of the court case is unclear.

A Dec. 10 announcement from the Vatican provided no explanation for the bishop’s resignation, stating only that “the Holy Father Francis accepted the resignation from the pastoral government of the Diocese of Cuddapah (India), presented by Msgr. Prasad Gallela.”

Two lay members of Gallela’s diocese brought charges against him in June, including accusations of money laundering, misappropriation of diocesan funds, corruption, and cheating civil and religious authorities, according to UCA News.

They also claim to have documents proving his attempted marriage to a woman, and that he bought properties for her and their son using millions of Indian rupees (tens of thousands of US dollars) from donations and other public funds.

UCA News reported in August that Fr. A.X.J. Bosco, who works for the rights of low-caste Indians, claimed the allegations were several years old and connected with an ongoing caste fight within the Church in India. He also drew a connection with the allegations and the April 2016 kidnapping and assault of Gallela.

About the documents supporting the allegations, Bosco said they needed to be verified by competent authorities.

Gallela said the allegations were false and told UCA News he thinks those accusing him are the same people who kidnapped him. “They are high-caste people and have the power, means and money. Everybody is afraid to talk against them,” he said.

Gallela was ordained a priest in 1989. He has been the bishop of the Diocese of Cuddapah since March 1, 2008. Cuddapah, a suffragan diocese of Hyderabad, has around 134,000 Catholics.

Did angels really carry the Holy House of Mary to Loreto, Italy?

Loreto, Italy, Dec 10, 2018 / 10:25 am (CNA).- What do Galileo, Mozart, Descartes, Cervantes, and St. Therese of Lisieux have in common? They all traveled hundreds of miles to step inside the Virgin Mary’s house, which is preserved inside a basilica in the small Italian town of Loreto.

Catholic pilgrims have flocked to the Holy House of Loreto since the 14th century to stand inside the walls where tradition holds the Virgin Mary was born, raised, and greeted by the Angel Gabriel.

In other words, if it is actually the house of Nazareth, it is where the “Word became Flesh” at the Annunciation, a point on which the history of the humanity turned.

There is an often repeated story that angels carried the Holy House from Palestine to Italy. While modern listeners may doubt the legend’s veracity, historic documents have vindicated the beliefs of pious pilgrims over the centuries - with an ironic twist.

Tradition holds that the Holy House arrived in Loreto on Dec. 10, 1294 after a miraculous rescue from the Holy Land as the Crusaders were driven out of Palestine at the end of the 13th century.

In 1900, the pope’s physician, Joseph Lapponi, discovered documents in the Vatican archive, stating that in the 13th century a noble Byzantine family, the Angeli family, rescued “materials” from “Our Lady’s House” from Muslim invaders and then had them transported to Italy for the building of a shrine.

The name Angeli means “angels” in both Greek and Latin.

Further historic diplomatic correspondences, not published until 1985, discuss the “holy stones taken away from the House of Our Lady, Mother of God.” In the fall of 1294, “holy stones” were included in the dowry of Ithamar Angeli for her marriage to Philip II of Anjou, son of King Charles II of Naples.

A coin minted by a member of the Angeli family was also found in the foundation of the house in Loreto. In Italy, coins were often inserted into a building’s foundation to indicate who was responsible for its construction.

Excavations in both Nazareth and Loreto found similar materials at both sites. The stones that make up the lower part of the walls of the Holy House in Loreto appear to have been finished with a technique particular to the Nabataeans, which was also widespread in Palestine. There are inscriptions in syncopated Greek characters with contiguous Hebrew letters that read “O Jesus Christ, Son of God,” written in the same style inscribed in the Grotto in Nazareth.

Archaeologists also confirmed a tradition of Loreto that third century Christians had transformed Mary’s house in Nazareth into a place of worship by building a synagogue-style church around the house. A 7th century bishop who traveled to Nazareth noted a church built at the house where Annunciation took place.

From St. Francis de Sales to St. Louis de Montfort, many saints visited the Holy House of Loreto over the centuries. St. Charles Borromeo made four pilgrimages in 1566, 1572, 1579, and 1583.

St. John Paul II called the Holy House of Loreto the “foremost shrine of international import dedicated to the Blessed Virgin” in 1993.

The victory over the Turks at Lepanto was attributed to the Virgin of Loreto by St. Pius V, leading both General Marcantonio Colonna and John of Austria to make pilgrimages to the shrine in 1571 and 1576 respectively.

Christopher Columbus made a vow to the Madonna of Loreto in 1493 when he and his crew were caught in a storm during their return journey from the Americas. He later sent a sailor to Loreto on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving on behalf of the entire crew.

Queen Christina of Sweden offered her royal crown and sceptre to the Virgin Mary in Loreto in 1655 after her conversion from the Lutheran faith to Catholicism.

Napoleon plundered the shrine and its treasury on Feb. 13, 1797, taking with him precious jewels and other gifts offered to the Virgin Mary by European aristocracy, including several French monarchs, over the centuries. Yet, the object of real value in the eyes of pilgrims, the Holy House of Mary, was left unharmed.

In a homily in 1995, Saint Pope John Paul II called the Holy House of Loreto, “the house of all God’s adopted children.” He continued:

“The threads of the history of the whole of humankind are tied anew in that house. It is the Shrine of the House of Nazareth, to which the Church that is in Italy is tied by providence, that the latter rediscovers a quickening reminder of the mystery of the Incarnation, thanks to which each man is called ot the dignity of the Son of God.”

Catholic elected as leader of Germany’s largest party

Munich, Germany, Dec 10, 2018 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was named the new leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at a special party conference December 7.

 

A practicing Catholic, Kramp-Karrenbauer - known as AKK in the German press - was seen as the preferred choice of German chancellor and outgoing CDU leader Angela Merkel.

 

A married mother of three, Kramp-Karrenbauer previously served as secretary general of the party and minister-president of the western German region of Saarland. She defeated Friedrich Merz, a former member of the European Parliament and Bundestag, winning a run-off ballot with 517 of 1,001 potential votes.

 

As head of the CDU, Kramp-Karrenbauer is now widely regarded as a possible chancellor-in-waiting behind Merkel, who has said she will step down at the end of her current term in 2021.

 

Broadly seen as economically liberal, many political commentators have dubbed Kramp-Karrenbauer “mini-Merkel” and she is widely considered to be a continuity candidate with the current chancellor, who led the party from 2000-2018.

 

Kramp-Karrenbauer is known for her traditional social views, and has previously drawn attention for her outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage and gay adoption. As head of the Saarland region, she warned that same-sex marriage could create a legal precedent for recognizing incesuous and polygamous unions.

 

“If we open up this definition [of marriage] to become a long-term responsible partnership between two adults, then other demands can't be ruled out, such as a marriage between close relatives or between more than two people," she argued in 2015.

 

Same-sex marriage became legal in Germany in 2017.

 

While often characterized as a “staunch” or “devout” Catholic, Kramp-Karrenbauer has been a vocal supporter of female ordination in the Church. Earlier this year, she told the weekly newspaper Die Zeit that “It is very clear: women have to take positions of leadership in the Church,” eventually including women-priests but beginning with the “more realistic goal” of a female diaconate.

 

As the largest economy in the European Union, Germany politics plays a crucial role in the direction of the continent, with the German chancellor functioning as a de facto leader for the union. As Merkel’s acknowledged preferred successor, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s views on a range of policy issues will be scrutinized by leaders across the EU.

 

On the politically sensitive topic of mass-migration to the Europe, Merkel’s open-door policy to migrants in 2015 was widely seen as out of step with broader European policy, making Germany a beacon nation for refugees and economic migrants alike, and putting pressure on neighbouring countries.

 

Kramp-Karrenbauer has called for a more forward-looking debate on the subject of immigration and mass-migration.

 

In November, she told German television station NTV that she did not want to see a “backward-looking discussion” or “eternal debate about what was done right or wrong in the autumn of 2015.” Instead, she said, she wanted to see an “honest” discussion about the current effects of years of migration “uncontrolled and without integration.”

Site of Baptism of the Lord nears reopening as landmines cleared

Jerusalem, Dec 10, 2018 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Churches at the site along the banks of the Jordan river where Jesus is believed to have been baptized could reopen within a year, following progress on a project to clear thousands of landmines and other ordinance from the location.

 

In a statement released December 9, the Israeli government and international anti-landmine workers praised the progress of efforts to clear explosives from the holy site.

 

Located about 10 km east of the city of Jericho, the site is held to be the location of Christ’s baptism by St. John the Baptist, as recorded in the New Testament, and is considered one of the holiest places for Christians in the Holy Land. It is also widely held to be the location where the Israelites crossed the river Jordan following the 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. It is also believed to be the place where the prophet Elijah was taken bodily up into Heaven.

 

While pilgrims have been able to visit a small area along the river bank, a wider zone of 250 acres, which includes churches of several different Christian denominations, has been off-limits for nearly 50 years.

 

Around 3,000 anti-tank landmines were laid by the Israeli military during its conflict with Jordanian forces during the Six Day War in 1967. The area, officially evacuated by the Israeli government in 1970, includes a Catholic chapel belonging to the Franciscans, Greek and Ethiopian Orthodox monasteries, and Greek, Romanian, Syrian, Russian, and Coptic Orthodox churches.

 

Work to clear the site began in March, 2018, and is being conducted by the HALO Trust, an international anti-landmine charity, the Israeli defense ministry, and the private company 4CI.

 

The area around the two monasteries and the Franciscan chapel has been cleared according to a spokesman for the HALO Trust, who told CNA that the work was completed using armoured excavators, as well as a manual clearance team using metal detectors and magnometers.

 

James Cowan, CEO of HALO, released a statement praising the efforts, and committing the organization to completing the project.

 

“This Christmas, the HALO Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the Baptism Site of landmines and other remnants of war. Thanks to the dedication of our demining team and the generosity of the Israeli government and Christians, Jews and Muslims worldwide, we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches,” Cowan said.

 

“In the coming weeks we will also complete the Russian churchyard.  But we cannot stall in our mission to clear every church. HALO still needs at least $300,000 if we are to restore all the churches to their rightful purpose of peaceful worship and reflection.”

 

So far HALO has raised over $500,000 from the public donations to help fund the clearance, and the government of Israel has contributed an additional $535,000.

 

Marcel Aviv, Director of the Israeli National Mine Action Authority called the announcement “very exciting and long-awaited.”

 

“The de-mining of the Baptism Site - a place so significant to so many - is such a unique and wonderful opportunity. The cleaning and releasing of this land, and the ability to return them to their religious guardians, is a project we take great pride in," he said.

 

During the clearance efforts, a team of Georgian HALO deminers were the first people to enter the Ethiopian and Franciscan churches in over 50 years.  According to HALO, religious items, crockery and cutlery, and even a supply of beer were among items recovered and handed back to Church authorities in Jerusalem.

 

Five churches that belong to the Coptic, Greek, Russian, Romanian and Syrian orthodox churches are still believed to be booby-trapped, as is a plot of land belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Church.

 

The project is expected to take a further eight months to a year to complete, at which time the buildings will be returned to Church authorities.