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

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

 “Let us never forget that mercy is the keystone of the life of faith, and concrete way with which we give visibility to the Resurrection of Jesus,” the Pope said April 23.

Mercy, he said, is understood as a true awareness of “the mystery” that the Church is living, particularly during the Easter season.

Not only is mercy understood in various ways such as through the senses, intuition and reason, but we can also become aware of it through an act of mercy that we personally experience, he said, adding that “this opens the door of the mind to better understand the mystery of God and of our personal existence.”

“It makes us understand that violence, resentment and revenge have no meaning, and the first victim is whoever lives these sentiments, because it deprives them of their own dignity,” he said.

Additionally, mercy also allows us to open the door of our hearts and draw close to those who are “alone and marginalized,” recognizing those in need and finding the right words to say to comfort them.

“Mercy warms the heart and makes it sensitive to the needs of our brothers with sharing and participation,” Francis said, explaining that in the end, mercy “commits everyone to being instruments of justice, reconciliation and peace.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his Sunday Regina Coeli address on Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. The Regina Coeli is traditionally prayed instead of the Angelus throughout the liturgical Easter season.

In his brief speech, the Pope noted now the Sunday after Easter in the past was referred to as “in albis,” meaning “in white,” as a reminder of the white garments worn by those who had come into the Church on Easter Sunday.

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

Francis then pointed to how the Sunday after Easter was later designated as Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope Saint John Paul II during the Jubilee year 2000.

“It was a beautiful institution!” he said, noting that his own Extraordinary Jubilee for Mercy concluded just a few months ago, on the Nov. 20, 2016, Solemnity of Christ the King.

In wake of the Jubilee, Divine Mercy Sunday “invites us to take up with strength the grace that comes from the mercy of God,” he said, noting that in the day’s Gospel from John, Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room, and gives them the message: “As the Father has sent me, so I also send you.”

After saying this, Jesus then entrusts them with a special task, telling them “receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”

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

Francis said this commission is a visible sign of Christ’s mercy, which brings both peace of heart and the joy of a renewed encounter with the Lord.

He closed his address praying that Mary, the Mother of Mercy, would “help us to believe and live all of this with joy,” and led pilgrims in praying the Regina Coeli.

The Pope then greeted pilgrims from various countries around the world, giving a special shout-out to Spain, where yesterday the priest Fr. Luis Antonio Rosa Ormières was proclaimed a Blessed, and to all youth who had been confirmed or are currently candidates for Confirmation.

He then thanked everyone who sent him messages wishing him a happy Easter before asking for prayers and giving his blessing.

This film shows how mercy can transform your life

Bridgeport, Conn., Apr 23, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA).- Personal stories about God’s mercy at work in the world today are the focus of a recent Catholic-produced documentary on Divine Mercy.

“These testimonies remind us that Divine Mercy is not just a devotion or theological concept – it is alive, it is present, and it is a force that can transform the world,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson.

The one-hour film “The Face of Mercy” depicts mercy as the antidote to evil even in great difficulty. Narrated by actor Jim Caviezel, the film interweaves history, theology, and testimonials about the importance of mercy in people’s lives.

Testimonies come from Immaculée Ilibagiza, who forgave those who murdered her family in the Rwandan genocide; a New York police officer who works for peace despite having been shot and paralyzed from the waist down; a young widow who forgave the killer of her husband; a baseball player who became a priest; and a former NFL linebacker who now shares Christ’s mercy with the homeless.

The film was produced by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order with 1.9 million members worldwide.

Anderson said the film “highlights the sort of transformations that are possible in individual lives that embrace the way of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

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

More information is available at faceofmercyfilm.com.

 

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

Virginia bishops welcome commutation of prisoner's death sentence

Richmond, Va., Apr 22, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Virginia welcomed a decision by the governor to commute a prisoner’s death sentence on the grounds that false information was presented during his sentencing.

“We are all children of the same merciful, loving God, and he alone has dominion over all life,” the bishops said April 20.

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington said they welcomed the decision to commute the death sentence “because we have a profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday commuted the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz, 38, to life without parole. He was scheduled to be executed April 25.

The governor had denied his petition for a pardon, but said that the sentencing phase was “terribly flawed and unfair.” He said false information about Teleguz was presented during sentencing, including another alleged murder and mob ties.

“In this case, we now know that the jury acted on false information, and that it was driven by passions and fears raised – not from actual evidence introduced at trial – but from inference,” McAuliffe said.

Teleguz was convicted for the 2001 murder of Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, who was the mother of their 23-month-old son. She was stabbed to death in her apartment.

Prosecutors said that Teleguz was angered by an order to pay child support, hired two men to kill the woman for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania to her Harrisonburg, Va. Apartment.

Teleguz’s lawyers have contended that he is innocent. DNA evidence implicated Michael Hetrick as the murderer. He and two others then implicated Teleguz, Richmond’s CBS 6 reports.

The Catholic bishops voiced their “deep sorrow” and prayers for all victims of violence and their loved ones.

“Likewise, we continue to pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion for all those who commit acts of violence,” they said.

The bishops prayed that God would give the grace “to work together for justice, peace and respect for all life in our communities and our Commonwealth.”

 

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

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

“The memory of these heroic witnesses, old and new, confirms us in the knowledge that the Church is a Church of martyrs… they have received the grace of confessing Jesus until the end, until death,” the Pope said April 22.

He said that if we look well into history, the root cause of every persecution is “the hatred the prince of this world has toward those who have been saved and redeemed by Jesus with his death and with his Resurrection.”

Pointing to Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid! The world will hate you, but know that before you, it hated me,” from the Gospel passage read at the liturgy, Francis said the use of the word “hatred” is both strong and frightening.

“He, who is the master of love, who liked so much to speak of love, speaks of hatred,” he said, noting that Jesus “always wanted to call things by their name.”

Jesus has chosen and redeemed us as “a free gift of his love,” he said, adding that through this love, we have been saved from “the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world.”

“And the origin of hatred is this: that we are saved by Jesus, and the prince of this world doesn’t want it, he hates us and provokes persecution, which since the time of Jesus and the early Church continues until our days.”

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

The collection was initially gathered after the Jubilee of 2000. A year ahead of the jubilee, Pope John Paul II established the “New Martyrs” commission to study and investigate modern cases of martyrdom in preparation for the event.

As a result, the commission gathered some 12,000 dossiers of martyrs and witnesses of the faith from around the world.

To commemorate the heroic witness of those who had given their lives for Christ, John Paul II in 2002 had a large icon made and placed in the basilica of St. Bartholomew, which sits on the main altar to this day.

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

Benedict XVI visited the basilica in April 2008, making Pope Francis the third pontiff to set foot in the basilica, and to keep the papal tradition of honoring new martyrs.

In his homily, Pope Francis lamented the fact that “many Christian communities are objects of persecution!”

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

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

Pope Francis then paused for a moment and deviated from his prepared text. He recalled an encounter he had with a Muslim man he met during his 2016 trip to Lesbos who, along with his three children, had fled his village after his wife, who was a Christian, was killed by extremists.

When the militants came to their home and asked what their religion was, the woman said she was Christian, and, when she refused to throw down a crucifix she that was hanging on the wall, she was killed in front of her family.

This woman, Francis said, is “another crown” that can be added to the rest of the martyrs honored in St. Bartholomew, because “she is looking at us from heaven.”

Pope Francis closed his homily saying the ability to remember the many modern-day martyrs inside a basilica filled with their relics is “a great gift,” because “the living heritage of the martyrs today gives us peace and unity.”

“These ones teach us that, with the strength of love, with meekness, one can fight against tyranny, violence and war and can realize peace with patience,” he said, and prayed, asking that each person present might be a worthy witness of the Gospel and the love of God.

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

First was Karl Schneider, son of Paul Schneider, a pastor of the Reformed Church who was killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 because he defied Nazism as “irreconcilable with the words of the Bible.”

In his brief reflection, Schneider said his father had been “strongly opposed every temptation to politically influence the Church.”

“All of us, even today, make too many compromises,” he said, “but my father stayed faithful only to the Lord and to the faith. He was a pastor and a spiritual guide. Even in the concentration camp!”

Despite the torture and suffering his he endured, Schneider’s father shouted out from his cell, offering words of comfort and hope from the Bible to the other prisoners.

Recalling words spoken by his elderly mother before her death, Schneider said his mother said her husband “was chosen to announce the Gospel and this is my consolation.” As his son, Schneider said he “I feel this consolation until today.”

Next was Roselyne, sister of Fr. Jacques Hamal, the 85-year-old priest who was murdered by two young ISIS sympathizers in Rouen, France in July 2016.

Speaking to the congregation, Roselyne said that in his old age Fr. Hamal had been fragile, but “he was also strong. Strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people, whoever it was, and – I am certain – also for his killers.”

His death, she said, “is in line with the life of a priest, which was one of a life given: a life offered to the Lord, when he said ‘yes’ at the moment of his ordination, a life of service to the Gospel, a life given for the church and her people, above all the poorest.

She pointed to the “paradox” that while alive her brother never wanted to be “at the center,” but that after his death, “has given a testimony for the entire world, the greatness of which we cannot measure.”

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

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

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

In his reflection, Hernandez said the only crime of his friend was that of “dreaming of a world of peace.”

“William never ceased teaching peace, but rather, his commitment has broken the chain of violence,” he said, recalling how Quijano had always insisted that ending violence begins with the youth, and so dedicated himself to working with children.

Hernandez said his friend “never spoke of repression or revenge against the gangs, but insisted on the need for a change in mentality.”

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

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

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

Self-described feminists from both sides of the abortion debate opened a panel discussion this month, continuing a conversation that started when pro-life participants were barred from formal co-sponsorship of the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year.

While there were no easy answers from any of the participants, the women discussed what it means to be a feminist, what it truly means to be pro-life, and how pro-life activists and feminists can work together – even when they may not see eye-to-eye on abortion.

For Aimee Murphy, a pro-life activist and feminist, abortion is directly opposed to the stated aims of feminism.

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

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

Murphy and other panelists discussed whether one can be both pro-life and feminist during an April 10 event at The Catholic University of America. The panel was hosted by The Institute for Human Ecology and was formulated partially in response to backlash earlier this year on pro-life participation in the Women’s March on Washington.

Also speaking were Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists; Megan Klein-Hattori, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts; Robin Marty, pro-choice speaker, activist, and author; Pamela Merritt, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a pro-choice activist organization; and Cessilye Smith, from Doulas for Life.

Murphy told the crowd that her pro-life activism and her feminist upbringing in California were intrinsically linked. “I was a feminist before I was pro-life, and I’m honestly pro-life because I’m a feminist.”

Her feminist views were challenged and evolved when she was 16: after being raped by an on-again, off-again boyfriend, she was afraid she was pregnant. Initially, she considered abortion, but then her assailant cornered her and told her she must have an abortion – and if she didn’t, he might kill her and then himself.

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

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

The realization made her think more deeply about other aspects of feminism, such as the relationship between society’s views of menstruation, pregnancy or childbirth and the marginalization of some groups of people, such as both women and the unborn.

“If the male body is seen as the norm, pregnancy is seen as a disease condition. If the male body is seen as the norm, those of us with wombs will continue to be marginalized.”

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

Cessilye Smith of Doulas for Life emphasized that there are different varieties of feminism and voiced concern that by making the “barbaric procedure” of abortion “a pillar of feminism,” there is a risk of forgetting the core tenet of feminism: equality.

“As pro-life feminists, we simply extend that equality to the fetus which is just at a different stage of human development,” Smith said.

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

Pro-choice activist Robin Marty said that while she supports the ability to choose abortion, she also wants to help remove obstacles for women who want to parent.

Marty added that she is willing to work with anyone – regardless of their position on abortion – to help create solutions like day care programs, housing for parents on campus, and improved welfare support so that women don’t feel forced into having abortions.

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

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

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

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

“We can allow abortion to be the issue that polarizes and divides women, or not,” said Professor Megan Klein-Hattori. While she believes that abortion is “central to mainstream feminist politics,” she also granted that “feminists have always come from amazingly different standpoints.”

Klein-Hattori lamented how polarization over abortion has overshadowed the “common roots” of feminists in seeking to address “the problematic conditions faced by women living in a system in which wage labor and individual achievement are placed in conflict with reproduction, motherhood, and nurturance.”  

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

“Allowing abortion to polarize hurts these broader feminist politics,” she stressed.

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists agreed. “Labels are killing us, labels are dividing us, labels are polarizing us,” she said.

“It’s not pro-choice when we feel we don’t have a choice,” she commented. “That a woman ever has to choose violence for her child is awful.”

Instead, she hopes that women of all beliefs can work together to “make abortion unthinkable” and remove the economic and social obstacles to parenthood faced by many women with unplanned pregnancies. “There are so many places where we can work together,” she said.

 

 

Why Russia's new ban on Jehovah's Witnesses is so troubling

Moscow, Russia, Apr 21, 2017 / 08:01 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- The Jehovah's Witnesses have been banned as an extremist group in a Thursday Supreme Court decision that observers feared signaled a further step back for religious liberty.

“For Jehovah's Witnesses, this is going to be a frightening time,” Lorcan Price, ADF International legal counsel in Strasbourg, told CNA April 21.

“It effectively means that holding their beliefs and manifesting them is tantamount to a criminal act in Russia. They risk new levels of persecution by the Russian authorities.”

Price saw the move as continuing the reversal of positive trends in post-Soviet Russia.

“What we're seeing really is the slide back into the type of attitude that characterized the worst of oppression in the 20th century by the Soviet regime in Russia,” he added. “It’s obviously very sad and disheartening to see that happening again.”

Russia's Justice Ministry in March ordered that the Jehovah's Witnesses denomination be liquidated and disbanded. Judges ordered the closure of the denomination’s Russian headquarters and almost 400 local chapters. The denomination’s property would also be seized.

The denomination's lawyer, Viktor Zhenkov, said the group would appeal the court ruling upholding the order.

“We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia,” Zhenkov told the New York Times.

Russia has duties under the European Court of Human Rights to protect freedom of worship and belief.

The Russian Orthodox Church is predominant in Russia, and some of its members have pushed to outlaw or curb the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, also holds the denomination under deep suspicion.

Svetlana Borisova, who represented the Justice Ministry in the Supreme Court, charged that the denomination’s members had shown “signs of extremist activity that represent a threat to the rights of citizens, social order and the security of society.”

Price said the ruling was “very disappointing and shocking,” but not surprising given negative trends.

“Last year in particular the government adopted some very draconian and far-reaching legislation that has severely disrupted the right of worship and freedom of belief in Russia,” he said.
 
Anti-terrorism measures have given Russian police powers to disrupt private worship services, to arrest and detain individuals handing out unapproved religious materials, and to outlay any publish preaching without prior approval from Russian authorities.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered intense persecution under the Soviet era until the fall of communism in 1991. A 2002 anti-extremism law and a broader definition of extremism in 2006 once again put legal pressure on the denomination

Price said an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights could produce a positive response, but Russia has “a long history of ignoring decisions” from that court, which relies on diplomatic pressure to enforce its decisions.

“For Christians and minority faiths in Russia this is a frightening time,” he said. “Obviously we hope that people will pray for them.”

“What we hope is ultimately the Russian government will take notice of international condemnation and reverse these policies.”

Catholic leaders urge extreme caution for new Netflix series

Denver, Colo., Apr 21, 2017 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- It’s only been out for a few weeks, but that’s enough time for “13 Reasons Why” to have become the latest teenage Netflix binge craze.

Based on the 2007 young adult novel by the same name, “13 Reasons Why” follows the story of Hannah Baker, a troubled 17 year old who took her own life.

But instead of leaving the typical note, Hannah leaves 13 cassette tapes, explaining the 13 reasons why she took her life - and each of these “reasons” is a person, who either did something to Hannah, or didn’t do enough, according to her.

The creators of the Netflix original series insisted in a follow-up video that 13 Reasons was meant to be helpful - to bring up important conversations about serious topics like suicide, bullying and assault, and to get viewers talking about solutions to suicidal thoughts.

However, suicide prevention groups and youth leaders have raised concerns because the show is particularly popular among a teenage audience, and teenagers are a vulnerable population.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. Studies show that publicized suicides may also trigger a ripple effect of additional suicides within communities.

The show has also faced backlash from mental health experts, who say it fails to follow several of the “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” a list of guidelines for media outlets developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists. Experts advise against sensational headlines or describing a suicide in graphic detail, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or “copycat” suicides.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a U.S. non-profit suicide prevention group, has also said that the show may do “more harm than good.”

Life Teen, an international youth ministry program, released a video and a written message to young people, warning them of possible triggers in the show and of the inadequate ways it addresses suicide and mental health.

In her message to young people before they watch the show, Life Teen’s Leah Murphy warned against the way the show portrays Hannah’s suicide as simply the fault of those around her.

“Nowhere in the series is mental illness explicitly discussed or dealt with and the audience is left having been told that the people around Hannah Baker are responsible for her death because of their actions or lack thereof,” she wrote.

“While bullying, not saying anything when you see depressive or suicidal signs, and sexual assault are serious issues and can drive people to suicide, the reality is that suicide is rarely something avoided by good sentiments alone. It’s been reported that 90% of all suicides are committed by people who experience diagnosable mental illnesses. The vast majority of suicides can be traced to actual health issues, not just bullying or traumatic events. These health issues, actual, mental illnesses require a lot more than the presence of a good friend or the absence of any serious issues or struggles - they require serious, professional help.”

The fact that these aren’t addressed in any straightforward manner in the series is a problem, Murphy said, because Hannah ends up being portrayed as a kind of “heroic martyr” who leaves a lesson and a legacy behind.

Murphy urged anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts to reach out and seek help.

Someone who commits suicide “doesn’t become a hero, gain control, and acquire any power by identifying the people around them as reasons for their suicide,” Murphy wrote.

“Suicide will always be incredibly hurtful to countless individuals, but most tragically hurtful to the person who takes his or her own life - a life that was mean to continue, that was full of meaning, purpose, and infinite worth.”

Chelsea Voboril, the director of religious education at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Smithville, Missouri, told CNA that she watched the show and addressed it with her youth group. She was troubled that most of her teens thought the 13 reasons Hannah gave were legitimate reasons to end her life.

Voboril said they were able to discuss how Hannah never approached her parents or a doctor or psychologist about the loneliness and hurt she was experiencing. Voboril was also able to discuss mental health and culpability for sins with her youth group, who asked if everyone who commits suicide goes to hell.

When watching these kinds of shows, Voboril said she tries to take the approach of finding the “wheat in the weeds” or finding the good among the bad - something she’s borrowed from Catholic speaker Christopher West.

The show attempted to have a moral compass, Voboril said, and its “wheat” includes good messages: “Rape is wrong, suicide causes pain, everybody is bearing a cross,” she noted.

“But the weeds are dangerous. And subtle. Sex outside of marriage, turning to substance abuse, free will being limited by others actions or circumstances, let alone the huge issue around how to talk about suicide in a safe yet poignant manner.”

At the end of the discussion, Voboril said she begged her students to watch it with a parent or other adult, if they were going to continue watching.

But “(for) persons whose consciences may not be well formed or who can be triggered by any of the big issues, I would hope that they avoid it.”

Owen Stockden, a spokesman for Living Works, which specializes in suicide intervention trainings, told CNA that one of his biggest concerns with “13 Reasons” was the portrayal of inadequate and unhelpful responses from the adults in the show, particularly the school counselor and teachers.

“In the show, Hannah’s guidance counsellor has a very ineffective response to her thoughts of suicide,” Stockden told CNA.

“As an organization, we train many guidance counsellors and teachers around the world to respond compassionately and effectively to thoughts of suicide. There is always more to be done, and a recent study...suggests that schools would benefit from increased suicide intervention training for staff, but in the vast majority of cases, teachers and counsellors are alert and sensitive to the needs of their students,” he said.

“It would be tragic if 13 Reasons Why led young people to believe that their concerns would be ignored if they approached a responsible adult.”

Having a popular show discussing the issue of suicide provides the potential for helpful conversations and the addressing of important issues, “but only if it is discussed in a thoughtful and responsible way,” Stockden added.

For Catholic screenwriter and associate professor Barbara Nicolosi, another issue with the show is that none of the characters have a sense of or ever mention a transcendent or loving God, something that she says her own students lack.

“The show wants to attribute all the problems of youth to social media and bullying, but refuses to consider that those things are just symptoms themselves.  The loss of faith, the (loss of the) conviction of a loving personal God, the loss of a sense of eternity, all of these things make suicide a logical response to suffering. Our kids are not dumb,” she told CNA.

Nicolosi said she saw the value in the anti-bullying messages of the show, but she also worries it could lend power to suicide.

“...I am worried that the character of Hannah does seem to have some power in wreaking revenge on her persecutors through her suicide. In the end, I think the show is close to a wash in terms of whether it will do good or harm,” she said.    

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic psychologist with St. Raphael Counseling in Denver, has read the book and seen several episodes of “13 Reasons Why.”

Because of the mature content on several levels - language, sexuality, topics of suicide and rape - he said he would be hesitant to recommend either the show or the book to anyone other than mentally healthy adults.

He also said that there were several things that the story gets right - namely, that people you may not expect in your life could be at risk for suicide, and the devastating impact suicide can have on the people in your life.

However, where the story goes wrong is that it tends to romanticize the idea of suicide and fails to adequately address the impact mental health played in Hannah’s decision to end her life.

Dr. Langley said he also worried that the show went too far in suggesting that the people in Hannah’s life were at fault for her suicide. Bullying, rape and assault are terrible things to have happen to someone, and there is some benefit to showing that your actions “can harm and influence other people.”

“To some degree we all have responsibility to other people, but in some ways the show goes too far, and makes it sound like we have responsibility for the other person. We’re responsible to the people in our lives, to treat them well. But the people who hurt (Hannah) were not responsible for her choosing to commit suicide.”

“Most people who commit suicide - almost everyone has a severe mental health problem. And the show does not portray this girl as having severe mental health problems in the way that somebody who is contemplating suicide almost always has,” he said.

Warning signs for suicide include severe, ongoing depression and social isolation. A suicidal person may mention something about wanting to end their life, or start giving away their belongings as sentimental gifts. Another warning sign includes a deeply depressed person who is all of a sudden very happy, brought about by a sudden sense of freedom if they have decided on suicide.

The show’s ultimate message is that the solution to teen suicide is that everyone needs to treat the people in their lives better, which is a positive message but does not go far enough in addressing mental health issues, Dr. Langley said.

One of the most important things adults can do, Dr. Langley said, it to talk to the children in their lives about this show and about suicide and other issues.

“I think that especially with teenagers, they are exposed to so much in today’s culture, that it’s our job as parents and educators about those things and to provide real, accurate information and to provide them with the truth,” he said.

Often adults can worry that they will over-expose their children to heavy issues by having these conversations, but for the most part, the internet and social media and the culture at large have already done that, Dr. Langley noted.

“So as parents and educators, we’re not overexposing them by talking about the issues, we’re going to help them process it and discern the truth in it. And I think it is really valuable to talk with teenagers about mental health issues.”

One thing that was “starkly missing” from the book and the T.V. show, Dr. Langley said, was Hannah’s parents, who seemed loving but at the same time were largely unaware of Hannah’s experiences at school and her interior experiences.  

“So it’s so important for parents to play a really active role in their kids’ lives, even though a teenager’s number one priority is to individuate from mom and dad, which is healthy, you still have to be involved and talk with them and let them know that you care and that you’re invested in them. Don’t be those absent parents that Hannah’s parents appeared to be in the show.”

If you think you or a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask for help from someone you can trust and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours everyday). For Catholic counseling, contact your local priest, diocese or your local branch of Catholic Charities.

India bishops slam 'brutal' disruption of Good Friday service

Rome, Italy, Apr 21, 2017 / 10:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- India's Catholic bishops have strongly condemned a violent police disruption of a Good Friday service at a small parish in the south of the country.

The Dhalit Catholic community in the village of Sogandi was holding a liturgy for the Passion of the Lord April 14 when they were disrupted by the Tehsildar – local tax and revenue officers – as well as police during the Veneration of the Cross and distribution of Holy Communion.

“The Catholic Church in India is very distressed and saddened by the happenings in Sogandi, Tamil Nadu, on Good Friday, a day very sacred to Christians everywhere,” the April 19 press release stated.

“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expresses its full solidarity with the people of Sogandi and condemns in very strong terms the brutal action of the Tehsildar.”

The statement, signed by the secretary general of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX, said that they are proud of their country and the major part of the Hindu community has always treated them with respect and goodwill.

However, recently, fundamentalist forces have disturbed “the traditional peace and harmony” of the country, they said.

The bishops expressed concern at rising intolerance in India toward people of all religions from “fundamentalist fringe” groups, calling on the government to ensure that everyone in the country continue to feel safe and “enjoy the basic right to worship freely and without fear.”

Concern about religious intolerance has grown across India particularly since the May 2014 election of Narendra Modi as prime minister, which saw a spike in the number of attacks against Christians and Muslims.

After Modi took office the country saw a sharp rise in attacks against people and property, most of them perpetrated by the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS, or the “the Sangh.”

The group, which has been described as “fundamentalist” and “violent,” sits on the right-wing and has no official, legal registration in India. However they maintain strong ties with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi has been criticized for his silence regarding the mostly small-scale attacks, which have continued to take place.

The event in Sogandi on Good Friday was only the latest in a string of escalating anti-Christian incidents in the village, Bishop A. Neethinathan of Chingleput wrote in a report April 19.

The Catholic parish there, under the patronage of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, was erected in 2007. It has 125 families, who also make up the population of the village.

In order to help foster strong Marian devotion, when the parish was built 10 years ago, the priest also developed a portion of a nearby hill into a little grotto with a covering and a statue of Our Lady.

The grotto and other public religious symbols have been at the center of the clashes between the Christian village and a nearby Hindu village, also of a different caste identity. The Hindu village is known to have temples and houses erected on the other side of the same hill, Bishop Neethinathan stated.

On April 14, the parish gathered at the grotto at 3 PM to celebrate the Lord’s Passion service. Many police were stationed around the area throughout the service, the bishop’s report states.

As the service continued, the local Tehsildar disrupted the Veneration of the Cross and the distribution of Holy Communion, not allowing them to finish.

The disturbance and subsequent disorder resulted in reactions from some of those present. Most of the local men, as well as some priests, have been booked for serious offences by the police, Bishop Neethinathan wrote.

The following day, April 15, the revenue department bulldozed large ditches around the area, preventing access.

It is believed that the recent incidents are the result of planned and systematic operations by anti-Christian Hindutva and anti-Dhalit caste fundamentalists, including pressure on the police and revenue departments.

Other recent actions include the demolition and removal from the hill Dec. 31, 2016 of many of the statues and crosses of the parish by more than 500 police officers “under the pretext of illegal occupation,” according to Bishop Neethinathan. The statues were not returned until April 19.

In February, every stone and boulder on the hill was found marked with the Hindu symbol and the Palm Sunday procession, though able to conclude, was also interrupted by objections and disturbances.

In Missouri, a court decision means lower health standards for abortion clinics

Jefferson City, Mo., Apr 21, 2017 / 08:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Stronger medical standards for abortion clinics were thrown out in Missouri by a federal judge who cited a Supreme Court decision on a similar law in Texas.

The Missouri law required abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers. The clinics’ doctors were also required to have hospital privileges.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs of the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City said April 19 that “relief should be prompt, given the needs of women seeking abortions and the need for available clinics to serve their needs.” He cited the 5-3 ruling of the 2016 Supreme Court decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said he would appeal the decision, the St. Louis Dispatch reports.

“Today a federal court struck down large portions of Missouri law that protect the health and safety of women who seek to obtain an abortion,” he said. “Missouri has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of women undergoing medical procedures in state-licensed medical facilities.”

The surgical center standards, implemented for abortion clinics in 2007, include wide halls and doorways that can accommodate emergency personnel and equipment; separate male and female changing rooms for personnel; and a recovery room with space for at least four beds with sufficient clearance around each bed.

The law was credited for closing some abortion clinics in the state that could not meet the surgical standards.

There had been only one abortion provider in the state before the judge’s decision.

Now, Planned Parenthood has said it would start to restore abortion services in Columbia and Kansas City. It plans to begin performing the procedures in Joplin and Springfield.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling said that the Texas law under consideration placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion and posed a “substantial obstacle” to that right without showing the benefit of regulation.

At the time of the decision, Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the court “rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety.”

Cardinal Cupich praises governor's pledge to veto abortion funding

Chicago, Ill., Apr 21, 2017 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A promise from the governor of Illinois to veto an abortion funding bill drew the gratitude of Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who called it a “principled stand.”

“Abortion is a controversial issue in this country, but using public money to provide abortions should not be,” the cardinal said April 19. “The federal government prohibits the practice, and polls show a substantial segment of the American public reject it.”

Governor Bruce Rauner had pledged to veto Illinois House Bill 40. The legislation would fund elective abortions throughout pregnancy for any reason through the Medicaid and employee health insurance programs. It would also make a symbolic commitment to maintain legal abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the decisions mandating legal abortion nationwide.

A spokesperson said last week the governor is committed to protecting current abortion law but recognizes the “sharp divisions of opinion” on taxpayer funding of abortion, the Associated Press reports.

“I thank him for this principled stand,” Cardinal Cupich said of the governor. “I pray that this divisive issue will be put behind us and our government officials will now concentrate on the many difficult challenges facing Illinois.”

He stressed the importance of unity in seeking a budget “that serves all our people” and pledged help for this effort.

Gov. Rauner, a Republican, actively campaigned as a supporter of legal abortion. He and his wife are listed as $50,000 sponsors of a Planned Parenthood of Illinois fundraiser next week marking the abortion organization’s 100th anniversary, the Chicago Tribune reports.