REFUGEE, MIGRANT TRAGEDIES CONTINUE. HUNDREDS DIE AT SEA – POPE TO JESUIT REFUGEE CENTER: “I WAS A STRANGER AND YOU INVITED ME IN” – SAY A FERVENT PRAYER FOR THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR….AND A PRAYER FOR NUNS WHO DIED IN EARTHQUAKE

PAPAL TWEETS:

April 18: We pray for the earthquake victims in Ecuador and Japan. May God and all our brothers and sisters give them help and support.

April 19: The royal road to peace is to see others not as enemies to be opposed but as brothers and sisters to be embraced.

REFUGEE, MIGRANT TRAGEDIES CONTINUE. HUNDREDS DIE AT SEA

Just two days after Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos to meet with refugees fleeing their native countries because of war, violence and poverty, hundreds more died in an attempt to reach the shores of Europe.

Hundreds of refugees are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe, one year after a similar tragedy, Italy’s president confirmed Monday. Italian President Sergio Mattarella said during a prize ceremony in Rome on Monday that Europe faced “yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean in which, it seems, several hundred people have died.” His comments are the first official remarks on a recent incident that had previously been denied by Italian authorities. Italy’s foreign minister also confirmed the tragedy on Monday but said that details were still scarce. (Washington Post)

Just over a week ago, over a period of four days, the Italy navy rescued as many as 6,000 migrants attempting a dangerous sea crossing to Europe. Italy should have more assistance from allies, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Friday. It estimates that more than 40 boats crammed with migrants, many fleeing wars in the Middle East and Africa, have been rescued as they struggled to reach the coasts of Sicily and Calabria. (photo: telegraph uk)

migrants telegraph

Syrian, Iraqi refugees arrive Lesbos:

syrian iraq migrants arrive lesbos

POPE TO JESUIT REFUGEE CENTER: “I WAS A STRANGER AND YOU INVITED ME IN”

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday delivered a video message to the administration, staff, volunteers, and guests of the Centro Astalli, a welcome center for refugees in Rome, which is operated by the Society of Jesus through the Jesuit Refugee Service in Italy. The Centro Astalli is marking the 35th anniversary of its founding. Following is the Pope’s message to his Jesuit confreres:

Dear refugees, volunteers, workers and friends of the Centro Astalli,

During this year of Mercy, we’re marking the 35th anniversary of Jesuit Service for refugees in Italy, an activity that has been above all a walk together, as one people. And this is beautiful and just!

We must continue with courage: “I was a stranger and you invited me in” cfr Mt 25,35

I was a stranger… Each one of you refugees who knock on our doors has the face of God and is the body of Christ. Your experience of pain and hope reminds us that we are all strangers and pilgrims on this Earth, welcomed by someone with generosity and without any merit. Whosoever has fled his own land due to oppression, war, nature defaced by pollution and by desertification, or the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources, as you have, is a brother with whom we share bread, homes and life.

Too many times you have not been welcomed: forgive the closure and indifference of our society that fears the change in lifestyle and mentality that your presence asks for. Treated as a burden, a problem, a cost, instead you are a gift. You are the testament to how our gracious and merciful God can transform the pain and injustice that you suffer into a love for all. For, each one of you can be a bridge that unites distant peoples, which makes the meeting of different cultures and religions possible, a road to rediscover our common humanity.

…and you invited me in. I was a stranger and you invited me in. Yes, the Centro Astalli is a concrete, daily example of this welcome, born of the prophetic vision of Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ. It was his dying wish, [expressed] at a refugee center in Asia. Thanks to you all, women and men, lay and religious, workers and volunteers, because in fact you show that if we walk together we are less afraid. I encourage you to continue. 35 years is only the beginning of a journey that is ever more necessary, the only way for a reconciled co-existence. Always be witnesses of the beauty of this encounter. Help our society to listen to the voice of refugees.

Continue to walk with courage by their side, go with them and be guided by them: the refugees know the roads that lead to peace because they know the acrid odor of war.

SAY A FERVENT PRAYER FOR LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR….

(From the BECKET FUND) – WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tomorrow, April 20, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. EST, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will hold a press call to discuss the briefs being submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Little Sisters of the Poor case in Zubik v. Burwell. Both the Little Sisters of the Poor and the government will file briefs, due by 3:00 p.m. EST, in response to the supplemental briefs filed last week (Available here) to answer the Court’s question whether the government has other ways to distribute contraceptives without forcing the nuns to violate their faith.

Less than a week after the Supreme Court heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Court made an almost unprecedented move asking both sides to provide additional arguments about whether the government could find ways to distribute contraceptives without the involvement of religious non-profits and their health plans.

Currently the government exempts 1 in 3 Americans from this regulation. It also exempts large corporations such as Exxon, Visa and even the government’s own Military family plan. A total of 100 million Americans are exempt.

…AND FOR NUNS WHO DIED IN EARTHQUAKE

Six members of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, including a young nun from Northern Ireland, are among the dead in the strongest earthquake to strike Ecuador since 1979.

Sister Clare Theresa Crockett, 33, of Londonderry, died while leading children to safety in a school at Playa Prieta, where she was teaching the youngsters to play the guitar, according to the Spain-based order.

Her body was found under rubble April 18, about 36 hours after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the Pacific Coast region of the country. Five Ecuadorean postulants also died in the collapse.

The order identified them by their first names: Jazmina, Maria Augusta, Maira, Valeria and Catalina.

The six women were among at least 272 people who died in the massive earthquake that struck communities in the northern part of the country. Authorities reported that nearly 3,000 people were injured and that an unknown number of buildings were destroyed or damaged.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ relief and development agency, was partnering with local relief organizations to determine how best to respond in the communities most affected by the temblor. Water, food and emergency shelter are the biggest needs, the agency said on its website. (CNS)

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SUPREME COURT ASKS FOR ADDITIONAL BRIEFS IN LITTLE SISTERS CASE

SUPREME COURT ASKS FOR ADDITIONAL BRIEFS IN LITTLE SISTERS CASE

Court asks both sides for alternatives to current government scheme

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Less than a week after it heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the U.S. Supreme Court took the unusual step of asking for additional information, telling both sides to discuss alternative ways to avoid forcing religious women to provide services against their faith.

“This is an excellent development. Clearly the Supreme Court understood the Sisters’ concern that the government’s current scheme forces them to violate their religion,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “We look forward to offering alternatives that protect the Little Sisters’ religious liberty while allowing the government to meet its stated goals.”

Becket Fund

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a 175-year-old religious order of women who serve the elderly poor, have asked the Supreme Court for protection from a government mandate that already exempts 1 in 3 Americans, large corporations like Chevron, Exxon, and Pepsi, and the U.S. military. The High Court must decide whether the government can force the Little Sisters of the Poor to comply with this mandate and provide services that violate their faith, even though these same services could easily be offered through the government exchanges.

LITTLE SISTERS POOR

The Supreme Court today asked both the government and the Little Sisters of the Poor to file additional briefs by next month.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious ministries. (Transcript available here). A decision is expected in June.

 

BREAKING: FROM THE BECKET FUND FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

BREAKING: FROM THE BECKET FUND FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Moments ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a 175-year-old religious order of women who care for the elderly poor. The Little Sisters have asked the Supreme Court for protection from a government mandate that is forcing them to provide services against their beliefs.

Little Sister gives landmark statement following Supreme Court hearing

The following statement can be attributed to Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor:

LITTLE SISTERS POOR

“Hello, my name is Sister Loraine Marie Clare. The Lord has given me a beautiful calling; that of being a Little Sister of the Poor.

We Little Sisters of the Poor are a group of women who make religious vows to God. We dedicate ourselves to serving the elderly poor regardless of race or religion, offering them a home where they are welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to Himself.  We have done this for more than 175 years.

But now we find ourselves in a situation where the government is requiring us to include services in our religious health care plan that violate some of our deepest held religious beliefs as Little Sisters.

We don’t understand why the government is doing this when there is an easy solution that doesn’t involve us—it can provide these services on the exchanges.  It’s also hard to understand why the government is doing this when 1/3 of all Americans aren’t even covered by this mandate, and large corporations like Exxon, Visa, and Pepsi are fully exempt, yet the government threatens us with fines of 70 million dollars per year if we don’t comply.

It is a privilege for us to care for the most vulnerable members of our society; serving them, comforting them, being a loving and healing presence in their lives; just being a “Little Sister to them” is our joy.  All we ask, is that we can continue to do this work.

After hearing the argument today, we are hopeful for a positive outcome.  We will continue to trust God because–as our Mother Foundress St. Jeanne Jugan said: “God will help us, the work is His”.

Thank you and God bless.”

THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR TELL THEIR STORIES

THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR TELL THEIR STORIES

(FROM THE BECKET FUND) WASHINGTON, D.C. – What does it mean to be a Little Sister of the Poor? Their stories are now told in a new video series featuring nine Little Sisters answering a simple question: “What do you love about being a Little Sister of the Poor?” These heartwarming stories of humble service to the elderly poor can be told in nine one-minute videos: Meet the Little Sisters (Videos)

Originally from India, Sister Georgia says, “As a Little Sister… I can be more joyful, more outgoing, and more of myself. And the residents they see me, they’re very happy, because they forget their sickness.” (all photos are from Becket Fund)

little sisters  4

The mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor is to, as our foundress St. Jeanne Jugan showed to us, is to really care for everyone with great love and respect,” says Sister Veronica. “Our work is to uphold the value of human life, the dignity of every human person.”

Little sisters 1

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a group of religious women who have vowed to care for the elderly poor as if they were Christ himself. Currently the federal government is trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide services against their religious beliefs even though these same services could easily be offered through the government exchanges.

little sisters   3

The Little Sisters of the Poor have received widespread support in their case, including from a diverse coalition of religious leaders representing Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, Catholic, Protestant, and other faiths as well as over 200 Democratic and Republican Members of Congress. More than 40 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Little Sisters (view full list).

Little sisters  2

The Little Sisters’ case, along with several other religious ministries in Zubik v. Burwell, will be heard March 23.  For more information about their case, visit www.thelittlesistersofthepoor.com.

 

R.I.P. JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA: THE VOICE OF A CONSTITUTIONAL GIANT IS SILENCED

I ran into Justice Scalia once, almost literally.

On the Sunday following the 9-11 attacks, Santa Susanna, the church for American and English-speaking Catholics in Rome, celebrated Mass in memory of the victims of that tragic day. The church was packed and it was only afterwards, as we were filing out of the church, I was on the steps and almost bumped into one of the visitors – Justice Scalia. We spoke only briefly and I learned that he had been in Italy on vacation but was unable to return to the States because of the 5 days of travel bans, airport closings, etc. Many people wanted to talk to him and, even though a real conversation was not possible, he smiled graciously and shook a lot of hands. He was waiting to hear word on the possibility of travel resuming to the U.S. that very day, and so was anxious to return to his hotel.

(I hope you have been following the extraordinary papal trip to Mexico at ewtn.com, on TV, via Facebook and all social media. My only post today is this piece on Justice Scalia and religious freedom, although I’ve been preparing for my appearance this afternoon on “At Home with Jim and Joy” when I’ll bring you the words of Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on marriage, the family and the sacredness of life.)

R.I.P. JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA: THE VOICE OF A CONSTITUTIONAL GIANT IS SILENCED

When I learned Saturday night of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, I was filled with shock and dismay, shock at what appears to have been a premature death, and dismay because the Supreme Court – and the American people by extension – had just lost a great voice for reason, a voice of moderation, a powerful voice for conservative values.

My very first thought, a nanosecond after reading the news headlines, was, “Oh my heavens, what will become of religious freedom in America – the main voice for supporting this Constitutional right was just silenced!”

ANTONIN SCALIA

I immediately thought of the Little Sisters of the Poor because this order of Catholic nuns and other non-profits have been forced to ask the Court for relief due to the government’s refusal to exempt them from a regulation (part of the so-called HHS Mandate and Obamacare) that makes them choose between their faith—which prohibits them from providing contraceptives—and continuing to pursue their religious mission of serving the elderly poor.

Because SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) now has 8 members and they are equally divided into liberal (4) and conservative camps (4) the extremely important decisions facing the justices this year on religious freedom could end up in a tie, a “hung jury,” so to speak.

(A little history: The Constitution itself does not mandate 9 members: Article III, Section 1 only says: “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.”

(There haven’t always been 9 justices on the court. The U.S. Constitution, as we see, established the Supreme Court but left it to Congress to decide how many justices should make up the court. The Judiciary Act of 1789 set the number at 6: a chief justice and 5 associate justices. “The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at 8 (28 U. S. C. §1).” In 1869, Congress raised the number of justices to 9, where it has stood ever since.)

One of the hot button cases before the Court is Zubik v Burwell (Zubik is Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh): One website that studies SCOTUS wrote: “In Zubik, a host of religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, have asked the court to block a requirement by the Obama administration that they sign a form asking for a religious exemption for providing mandatory contraception coverage in their insurance plans for employees that’s required by the Affordable Care Act. Virtually all of the lower courts have ruled against the nuns and the other organizations, declaring that signing a piece of paper isn’t much of a burden on religious liberty. So a tied Supreme Court vote is likely to result in a victory for the Obama administration. Nuns lose.”

And that is why I got the chills when I heard of Justice Scalia’s death.

EWTN is one of the dozens of organizations, institutions, universities and colleges who are suing, along with the Little Sisters of the Poor, for the right to exercise freedom of religion in the face of the HHS Mandate.

Pope Francis, by the way, is aware of their case. If you remember, he paid an impromptu visit on the Sisters in Washington, D.C. on September 23 during his U.S. trip.

On July 23, 2015 I posted a story from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, as it defends the Sisters and many others: The headline was LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR APPEAL TO SUPREME COURT, Forced to choose faith or massive fines, nuns seek relief.

On January 11, 2016, I posted another story from the Becket Fund:

RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO SUPREME COURT: PROTECT THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty) A diverse coalition of religious leaders representing Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, Catholic, Protestant, and other faiths will be joined by over 200 Democratic and Republican Members of Congress in filing friend-of-the-court briefs at the United States Supreme Court today on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor (view full list).  The briefs are being filed in Zubik v. Burwell, in which the High Court will decide whether the Little Sisters of the Poor and other ministries can be forced to change their healthcare plans to offer drugs that violate their religious beliefs when those same drugs could be made available through the healthcare exchanges.

“It’s easy to support religious freedom for the majority,” said Dr. Ossama Bahloul, Imam of The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “But the test of America’s commitment to religious diversity and freedom comes when we show we’ll defend minorities and those with whom we do not fully agree.”

“We have great admiration for the Little Sisters who are standing up not just for themselves and the elderly poor they serve but for the rights of all people of faith, including Jews,” said Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin. “Their courage is an example to all of us.” Rabbi Rocklin is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.

“We stand with the Little Sisters because America’s proudest moments have come when the many have joined to defend the rights of the few, and we know too well the real cost when our government ignores its promises and puts expediency above principle,” said Pastor Robert Soto of the Lipan Apache Tribe in Texas.

“We are overjoyed and deeply grateful for the diverse outpouring of support we have received from such a variety of people and groups,” said Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We have been serving the elderly poor for over 175 years and are simply asking the government to allow us to continue our life’s work without being forced to choose between our faith and millions in government fines.”

I am emphasizing the Little Sisters of the Poor case because it is emblematic of what is happening in our country vis-à-vis freedom of religion, that is, attempts to abridge, change, or undermine what our original U.S. Constitution says about religious freedom:

FIRST AMENDMENT: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Justice Scalia’s was a voice that clearly, forcefully defended that right.

And now, we wait with bated breath.

President Obama has the right to nominate a new justice. However, President Obama undid DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, so there’s no reason to think he might name a justice who would protect religious freedom.

Oremus!

RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO SUPREME COURT: PROTECT THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

Some very positive news from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty:

RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO SUPREME COURT: PROTECT THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

WASHINGTON, D.C.— A diverse coalition of religious leaders representing Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, Catholic, Protestant, and other faiths will be joined by over 200 Democratic and Republican Members of Congress in filing friend-of-the-court briefs at the United States Supreme Court today on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor (view full list).  The briefs are being filed in Zubik v. Burwell, in which the High Court will decide whether the Little Sisters of the Poor and other ministries can be forced to change their healthcare plans to offer drugs that violate their religious beliefs when those same drugs could be made available through the healthcare exchanges.

“It’s easy to support religious freedom for the majority,” said Dr. Ossama Bahloul, Imam of The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.  “But the test of America’s commitment to religious diversity and freedom comes when we show we’ll defend minorities and those with whom we do not fully agree.”

“We have great admiration for the Little Sisters who are standing up not just for themselves and the elderly poor they serve but for the rights of all people of faith, including Jews,” said Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin. “Their courage is an example to all of us.” Rabbi Rocklin is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.

“We stand with the Little Sisters because America’s proudest moments have come when the many have joined to defend the rights of the few, and we know too well the real cost when our government ignores its promises and puts expediency above principle,” said Pastor Robert Soto of the Lipan Apache Tribe in Texas.

“We are overjoyed and deeply grateful for the diverse outpouring of support we have received from such a variety of people and groups,” said Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We have been serving the elderly poor for over 175 years and are simply asking the government to allow us to continue our life’s work without being forced to choose between our faith and millions in government fines.”

 

POPE PAYS BRIEF VISIT TO LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

Let’s see if this gets coverage in the secular media!

POPE PAYS BRIEF VISIT TO LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

by MATT HADRO/CNA/EWTN NEWS 09/2372015

POPE -  LITTLE SISTErS OF THE POOR

Pope Francis converses Sept. 23 with Sister Marie Mathilde, a 102-year-old member of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s community in Washington, D.C. – Courtesy Little Sisters of the Poor

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis paid a short visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor community in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to support them in their court case over the contraception mandate, the Vatican’s spokesman revealed.

It was a “short visit that was not in the program,” Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said at an evening press conference during the papal visit to the nation’s capital.

“This is a sign, obviously, of support for them” in their court case, he affirmed.

The sisters had filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration for its 2012 mandate that employers provide insurance coverage for birth control, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions employee health plans. The sisters have maintained that to provide this coverage would violate their religious beliefs.

After the Obama administration modified the rules as an “accommodation” for objecting organizations, the sisters held that even under the revised rules they would have to violate their consciences.

The majority of a three-judge panel for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the Little Sisters of the Poor did not establish that the mandate was a “substantial burden” on their free exercise of religion, and thus ruled they still had to abide by the mandate.

“The Holy Father spoke to each of us individually, from the youngest postulant to our centenarian, and then he spoke to all us about the importance of our ministry to the elderly,” Sister Constance Veit, communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said following the visit. “We were deeply moved by his encouraging words.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in their court challenge against the mandate, said in a email statement, “Today, after Mass at the Basilica, the Pope made an unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor where he spoke to each of the Sisters privately and encouraged them in their vocation to serve the elderly and the poor. Earlier in the day, at the White House, the Pope expressed his support for religious liberty when he stated: [we] all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

‘An Important Meaning’

The papal visit was not on the official schedule for Pope Francis’ Washington visit, which included Wednesday visits to the White House, a midday prayer service with the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and the canonization mass for St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

It was a “little addition to the program, but I think it has an important meaning,” Father Lombardi said.

He added that the visit “is connected” to “the words that the Pope has said in support of the position of the bishops of the United States in the speech to President Obama and also in the speech to the bishops.”

Pope Francis, with President Obama at the White House, called religious freedom “one of America’s most precious possessions” and had hearkened to the U.S. bishops’ defense of religious freedom. “All are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it,” he had said.

In response to the news of the visit with the sisters, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, said that he was “so pleased” to hear of the visit.

“As you know the last thing the Little Sisters of the Poor want to do is sue somebody. They don’t want to sue in court,” he insisted. “They simply want to serve people who are poor and elderly, and they want to do it in a way that doesn’t conflict with their beliefs.”

The archbishop had previously warned against “interpreting freedom of religion in a very narrow way” in the press conference, and emphasized that religion is not something practiced just for an hour on Sunday but something lived out. To prove his point, he used the Little Sisters as an example.

Added Archbishop Kurtz, “We need to make room within our nation for people who have deeply held religious beliefs not to be forced to do that.”