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Posted on 05/25/2018 00:10 AM (CNA Daily News)
Managua, Nicaragua, May 24, 2018 / 05:10 pm (ACI Prensa).- Nicaragua's bishops urged president Daniel Ortega Tuesday to comply with a recommendation that he investigate April's violence in order to facilitate talks between the opposition and his government.
The Nicaraguan bishops' conference's May 22 letter encouraged Ortega to create “a mechanism of international investigation of the acts of violence which occurred, with guarantees of autonomy and independence to ensure the right to the truth and duly identify those responsible.”
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Nicaragua May 17-21 to document human rights violations in four cities and to issue recommendations.
The commission found that since protests began April 18, there were at least 76 deaths and 868 injured, the vast majority “in the context of the protests.” Five of those injured “remain in the hospital in critical condition.” In addition, “438 people were arrested, including students, civilians, men and women human rights advocates and journalists.”
A priest of the Diocese of Matagalpa was wounded by shrapnel May 15 while trying to separate protestors and security forces, the AP reported.
In their letter the bishops stated that “only by fulfilling this recommendation of the IACHR” will the stakeholders be able “to continue making progress toward a good outcome to the national dialogue.”
They also stressed that agreeing to this “becomes imperative for the well being of the nation” and so that the talks produce “fruitful results of truth, justice, freedom and true and lasting peace for all Nicaraguans.”
Finally, the bishops offered their disposition "to collaborate in the path to peace, with justice.”
“We respectfully greet you, imploring the light of the Holy Spirit for you and the intercession of the Virgin Mary so that you can make the best decisions,” they concluded.
On the same day, May 22, the bishop's conference charged in a statement that bishops and priests are being discredited by attacks orchestrated by the government and that they have been receiving death threats through “anonymous social media” posts.
The bishops stated that Nicaragua is currently going through “one of the worst crises in its history after the blatant crackdown by the government, which is trying to evade its responsibility as the main actor in the various attacks.”
Talks to overcome several weeks of anti-government protests and riots in Nicaragua which have been met harshly by security forces began May 16 under the mediation of the Catholic Church.
Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests have only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.
Demonstrators have called for freedom of expression, an end to violent repression, and for Ortega to step down from office. The Church in the country was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.
Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.
He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.
Posted on 05/24/2018 23:30 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington D.C., May 24, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States is in need of another great awakening and religious revival, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas told the crowd at Thursday morning’s 14th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.
In his keynote address May 24, Naumann bemoaned the state of culture in the United States, and said it is necessary to re-embrace truth, as well as the living Christ.
Additional speakers at the event in Washington, D.C., included Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
Naumann expressed concern over the “large number of Millennials” who either do not believe in God at all, or who instead consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious.” The archbishop said this new mentality of a non-religious spiritualism is akin to “a new paganism,” where the God of revelation has been transformed into a god or gods who are created to re-inforce individual desires.
“Our culture is indeed experiencing a crisis of faith that leads to a denial of truth,” said Naumann. “Once the relationship between man and God is severed, man becomes just a highly developed organism.”
Without this relationship with God, humans are simply objects with a value determined only by how useful they can be to others, explained Naumann, who is the incoming chairman of the US bishops' pro-life committee.
A lack of relationship with God leads to hedonism, with “the pursuit of pleasure becoming the highest goal,” with people seeking to avoid suffering and death at all costs, he said. This further leads to a mentality that it is “acceptable to eliminate the one suffering,” whether it be someone who is elderly, unborn, or otherwise sick and unable to be cured effectively.
It is necessary to have a personal encounter with Christ in order to be able to live a virtuous life as Catholics, said Naumann.
“Without this personal encounter, our dogma and doctrine makes no sense,” he said.
The world has been plagued with sin since the Garden of Eden, but “God’s response to humanity’s rebellion is mercy,” and Christ rescued humanity when he became “one with us in all things but sin.”
“Like a special operations soldier dropped behind enemy lines, Jesus entered fully into our humanity, enduring unspeakable suffering because of our sin.”
Naumann ended his keynote with a call for the crowd of well over 1,000 people present to be “missionary disciples” who spread the word of the Risen Christ to everyone, particularly people on the peripheries of society.
“We are called to renew our nation, not primarily by enacting laws, but by announcing the joy and hope of the Gospel of Jesus to individuals in desperate need of its good news. It is our task to reclaim our culture one mind, one heart, one soul at a time.”
In his remarks at the prayer breakfast, Ryan emphasized the importance of Catholic social teaching, while Brownback discussed religious freedom as a “God-given right.”
Posted on 05/24/2018 23:02 PM (CNA Daily News)
San Bernardino, Calif., May 24, 2018 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A state appellate court on Wednesday denied a request for an immediate stay of a ruling which said California's assisted suicide law was wrongly passed in a special legislative session.
The May 23 decision by California's 4th District Court of Appeal did give the state attorney general, Xavier Becerra, more time to provide arguments as to why the lower court's ruling should be overruled.
Judge Daniel Ottolia of the Riverside County Superior Court had ruled May 15 that lawmakers had unconstitutionally passed the law in a 2015 special session of the legislature dedicated to health care funding.
Ottolia's ruling was welcomed by the California Catholic Conference, whose executive director, Ned Dolejsi, said May 18 that “Our opposition to assisted suicide is no secret, but this legislation was also opposed by a broad coalition of doctors, nurses, seniors and the disabled community, who fought this bill for many, many reasons.”
“Health care professionals … questioned why the state was embracing doctor-assisted suicide as the standard of care for people who needed respect and support,” he said. “Others were offended at the way Medi-Cal patients - often refused coverage for palliative care – were offered coverage for lethal prescriptions instead.”
Dolejsi also noted that “At an oversight hearing in January to review the implementation of the End-of-Life Option Act, even though presented with clear evidence of poor data collection and other implementation uncertainties, legislators openly discussed ways that physician-assisted suicide could be expanded – especially to poor and minority communities.”
Under the law, lethal prescriptions may be given to adults who are able to make medical decisions if their attending physician and a consulting physician have diagnosed a terminal disease expected to end in death within six months.
The initial legislative effort to pass an assisted suicide bill failed in committee during the 2015 regular season. It was subsequently passed during a special legislative session later the same year which was called to address state health care funding shortages.
Opponents of the law have charged that it was rushed through the special session and lacks safeguards against abuse, such as an adequate definition of terminal illness.
In the first six months after the law took effect, 111 people in California committed assisted suicide under its provisions. Assisted suicide has also been legally sanctioned in Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.
Posted on 05/24/2018 22:15 PM (CNA Daily News)
Denver, Colo., May 24, 2018 / 03:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A video that frames a Colorado women’s clinic as a bogus, sub-par healthcare provider is libelous, said the clinic’s directors and lawyer, who are demanding that it be corrected.
Last week, Attorney Michael J. Norton issued a cease and desist letter on behalf of Marisol Health, a network of women’s health care clinics in Denver created by Catholic Charities of Colorado.
The letter demands the removal of the clinic’s image and name from a video that suggests it is among crisis pregnancy centers that do not provide medically trained staff or accurate medical information.
“Marisol Health is justifiably proud of the services it provides to women and families and is thus disturbed by the false representations about Marisol Health in a ProgressNow video entitled ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’...with the description ‘Crisis pregnancy centers masquerade as medical facilities,’” Norton wrote in the letter.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Norton said that “Having reviewed the video and having significant knowledge about Marisol and the comprehensive, quality, professional healthcare services that Marisol Health provides, we found...great offense with that video, and we found it to be extremely defamatory, misleading and misrepresentative [of Marisol].”
The video, created about a year ago by progressive advocacy group ProgressNow, has been posted to the group’s facebook page, viewed more than 130,000 times, and republished by numerous affiliates of the organization.
The video tells the story of 40-year-old Aubrey, an art teacher who recalls her unexpected pregnancy in college. At high risk because of a seizure disorder, Aubrey says in the video that she was referred to an unspecified crisis pregnancy center that lacked any trained medical professionals besides an ultrasound tech.
“I felt like they were really playing on my emotions and as I was walking out they handed me a bible,” Aubrey said in the video.
“The fact that they sent me to some crisis pregnancy center where there was no medical staff, that really bothers me, it really concerns me,” she added. “You had a political motivation or maybe a religious one that you felt was more important than my health.”
Footage in the video shows four different pregnancy centers around Colorado, including the building and name of Marisol Health, which was founded in 2016 - years after Aubrey’s pregnancy. It also includes text that states that crisis pregnancy center staff “rarely have any medical training” and that they “often lie or refuse to provide accurate information.”
At the press conference, Jan McIntosh, vice president of Marisol Services, said it was “outrageous” and “deceptive” to include Marisol in the video and to imply that it does not provide comprehensive health care with licensed medical professionals.
“Marisol Health is a network of clinics that are fully equipped to provide women with comprehensive health care and help them make informed decisions about their reproductive health,” she said. “With Marisol’s special partnership with Bella [Natural Women’s Care], we have fully licensed medical professionals who assist women in need with life-affirming medical care.”
Marisol Health. Credit: Marisol Health.
Among the services provided at Marisol are comprehensive OB/GYN and prenatal care, fertility awareness and infertility care, STD testing, counseling, ultrasounds, and mental health services.
Care is provided regardless of a woman’s ability to pay, McIntosh noted. According to Marisol, 45 percent of their patients have no income or an income of less than $15,000 a year, while 76 percent are on Medicaid or are without insurance.
“We want to take back the true meaning of reproductive care for women,” McIntosh added. “Marisol Health has what women deserve, a clinic that is staffed by licensed medical professionals and offers compassionate care.”
Dede Chism is the co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care and Family Wellness, which partners with Marisol Health.
She said that both Bella and Marisol “exist to fill the need for dignified, life-affirming healthcare, providing a broad scope of comprehensive obstetric and gynecological health care.”
The need for this kind of care is great among women of all religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, Chism said, citing the 5,000-plus patients that have come to Bella in the past three and half years since they opened their doors.
“Across the lifespan of women from early adolescence through menopause, as a staff of board-certified and board-eligible physicians, midwives, nurse practitioners, certified ultrasonographers, registered nurses, we focus on the highest standards, cutting edge research that actually takes place within our facilities, and scientific methods that are both natural and cooperate with a woman’s body,” she said.
Chism invited anyone with doubts about Marisol or Bella’s quality of care to visit the clinics and see for themselves and “experience what is health care is all about.”
Norton said as of May 23 he had not received a response from ProgressNow regarding his May 17 cease and desist letter, and added that he is prepared to continue to prosecute ProgressNow in order to repair any damage caused to Marisol and Bella by the video.
Earlier this month, Marisol also responded to billboards in Denver that warned against crisis pregnancy centers, calling them “Fake Health Centers.” The billboards, in English and Spanish, were sponsored by the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), a group also associated with the creation of the ProgressNow video, which it has embedded on its website.
A representative from COLOR told Fox News in Denver that they considered the crisis pregnancy clinics fake because they do not offer “abortion care” in their facilities and often lack trained medical professionals.
The video from ProgressNow also comes at a time when the Supreme Court is deciding a case called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, which will decide whether a California law mandating that pro-life pregnancy centers post information about abortion is a violation of the First Amendment and free speech rights.
Similar laws, such as one in Baltimore, have been struck down in courts as unconstitutional.
Posted on 05/24/2018 21:36 PM (CNA Daily News)
Philadelphia, Pa., May 24, 2018 / 02:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an effort to highlight the voices of young people ahead of the Synod on Youth this fall, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is periodically offering his column space in the diocesan newspaper to young adults over the next four months.
“With a synod of the world’s bishops focusing on young people scheduled for this October, hearing directly from the young and those engaged in guiding them can be a great resource,” he wrote.
The 2018 Synod will take place this October. Bishops from around the world will meet to discuss the theme, “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
In preparation for the gathering, the Vatican sent out a survey asking young people around the world about their experiences and beliefs. In March, 315 young adults were invited to the Vatican for a pre-synod gathering. They released a document summarizing their discussions at the end of the meeting.
Since Archbishop Chaput decided to open his column to young adults earlier this month, he has shared the comments of two young people: Regina Luczyszyn, a 26-year-old graduate from Temple University Law School who is currently engaged, and Brother Bryan Kerns, a 29 year-old seminarian who will be ordained this summer.
Last week, Luczyszyn reflected on the need for young adults to be accompanied by faithful mentors. In a world marked by confusion, she said, many people bear wounds from a damaged past, so guides are necessary to help navigate the way.
“Finding Christ in the darkness isn’t always an easy journey,” she said. “Christ gave us the answer by showing us the importance of mentorship and discipleship – a model the Church needs to revive if she expects young adults to follow Christ.”
She highlighted chastity as one issue in which mentorship would be helpful, particularly in guiding questions during dating about appropriate boundaries and ways to express love in virtue.
Luczyszyn suggested that priests, religious, and laity can all be mentors to help navigate young adults through these trails. Just as Christ spent three years forming his disciples, she said the Church must accompany her members by “strengthening them, loving them, and teaching them.”
This week, Brother Kerns reflected on the Church’s need to for strong witnesses, leading the Church towards the value of silence and rest. When the world is overwhelmed by noise, he said, people are unable to truly know themselves.
“The world is drowning in noise – the young in particular. And the noise is not the worst problem; it’s a symptom of our failure to understand our nature. We use noise as an antidote to our restlessness, when what we really need is rest.”
He said the Church needs to evaluate how young adults can be encouraged make silence in their lives to face the burdens of this world and rely on the Church for silent strength. Brother Kern said the answer is not another document or program – although those things may be helpful – but witnesses willing to lead by example.
“Our world, our Church, and especially our young people, need witnesses. Witnesses who prove irrefutably, through their words and actions, that Jesus Christ dwells with quiet fire in their hearts.”
Posted on 05/24/2018 19:38 PM (CNA Daily News)
Abuja, Nigeria, May 24, 2018 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics from across Nigeria participated in peaceful protests on Tuesday, calling for greater government protection following a recent attack at a Catholic Church that left 19 dead.
Thousands of people in 54 cities across Nigeria participated in protests May 22, corresponding with the burial of two priests and 17 parishioners killed by Fulani herdsmen, who opened fire at a daily Mass on April 24. The herdsmen then flooded the streets, attacking pedestrians and setting fires to some 50 homes.
White caskets of those killed in the attacks were carried through the streets of the Benue state’s capital city, Makurdi, near Saint Ignatius Church, where the attack took place. Christians in other cities carried signs on the same day to proclaim the sacredness of life and a greater need for government aid.
The state of Benue shut down operations May 22 to honor those who died, Nigeria’s PM news reported. Several dozen bishops attended the burials and spoke at rallies across the nation.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, spoke at a requiem Mass in Ayatu, Benue, according to local media. He questioned, “If we are not safe in our place of worship centers, where else can we be safe?”
Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia spoke at a peaceful protest in Abia state. In his speech, local media reported, he decried a lack of respect for life within the nation.
“Life has lost its meaning in Nigeria. And I wonder our fate if the government continues to fail in their core responsibility of providing adequate security of lives and properties in Nigeria,” he said.
“The Catholic Church in Abia state is in prayer solidarity with our brothers in Benue. The Government must do [what is necessary] to save Nigerians from herdsmen and Boko Haram attacks.”
Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Makurdi, where the attack took place, particularly criticized Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, according to Deutsche Welle.
“[President Buhari] should wake up to his responsibilities. He was elected as a president for the people of this country, not for any particular group, not for any tribe,” he said, noting Buhari is the president of “a nation with about 200 million people, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and pagans.”
Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has increased in recent years, as climate issues have pushed herders further south. By mid-January this year, more than 100 deaths had been attributed to the herdsmen.
The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria voiced grave concern about the violence in a January statement. They recognized the challenges faced by the herdsman, but expressed the need for better alternatives to open grazing.
“Government should rather encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in line with international best practice,” the bishops said.
“Farmers and herdsmen have a lot to contribute to the socio-economic prosperity of our nation. A more enduring strategy must be worked out for their peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.”
Posted on 05/24/2018 18:08 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, May 24, 2018 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a closed-door speech to Italian bishops on Monday, Pope Francis spoke about the number and quality of seminary candidates, including concerns about their sexual orientation.
At the start of his May 21 audience with Italian bishops, Pope Francis voiced three areas of concern for the Church in Italy, the first of which was the lack of vocations.
Francis' brief remarks on his concerns, which also touched on evangelical poverty and transparency and the incorporation of Italian dioceses, were televised; however, his discussion with the bishops afterward was not.
In his public remarks on vocations, Pope Francis lamented the culture of the provisional, of relativism, and of the dictatorship of money, which hinder young people from discerning consecrated life. He also proposed that Italian dioceses with an abundance of vocations lend some of their priests to those Italian dioceses lacking in priests.
But in the discussion that followed the pope told the bishops to care more for the quality of seminary candidates than the quantity. Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, president of the Italian bishops' conference, confirmed Francis' comments about homosexuality in a May 24 press conference.
The Pope touched on the topic of homosexuality, particularly when it comes to individuals with “deep-seated tendencies” or who practice “homosexual acts”, yet who want to enter the seminary.
In these cases, “if you have even the slightest doubt it's better not to let them enter,” Francis said, according to Vatican Insider, because these acts or deep-seated tendencies can lead to scandals and can compromise the life of the seminary, as well as the man himself and his future priesthood.
Pope Francis' comments were made during the opening May 21 session of the 71st general assembly of the Italian bishops' conference.
However, the pope's statements on the issue of homosexuality and the seminary reflect the Church's teaching on the topic.
In the 2016 edition of the Congregation for Clergy's ratio on priestly formation, the dicastery had written that “in relation to people with homosexual tendencies who approach seminaries, or who discover this situation in the course of formation, in coherence with her own magisterium, 'the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.'”
The ratio quoted from the Congregation for Catholic Education's 2005 instruction “Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.”
The instruction noted that those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the gay culture “find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
It distinguished those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies from those “with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem - for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded.”
Men with transitory homosexual tendencies could be admitted to seminary, the congregation wrote, though “such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”
The instruction drew, in turn, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a 1985 memo from the Congregation for Catholic Education, and a 2002 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Though Pope Francis has not addressed the topic publicly, he alluded to problems of homosexuality in seminary formation during a recent meeting with Chilean bishops.
In a letter written to the bishops which was leaked to Chilean media, the pope issued a sharp correction of his brother prelates for a systematic cover-up of clerical abuse in the country.
One footnote in the letter noted how abuses were not limited to just one person or group, but was rather the result of a fractured seminary process.
In the case of many abusers in Chile, Francis noted how problems had been detected while they were in seminary or the novitiate, but rather than expelling these individuals, some bishops or superiors “sent priests suspected of active homosexuality to these educational institutions.”
Posted on 05/24/2018 12:29 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, May 24, 2018 / 05:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking about St. Pope John XXIII’s encyclical on establishing universal peace, Pacem in terris, Pope Francis said that even 55 years after its publication, the document still stands as “a permanent commitment” to peace.
Even if the way war is carried out has changed since the time when the encyclical was written, and today there appears to be more violence and conflict than in the past, St. John XXIII’s reflections “remain valid,” he said.
In an interview published May 24 in “L’Eco di Bergamo,” a newspaper of the northern Italian town of Bergamo, Francis said he is concerned about the ways violence occurs, not only with weapons, but with “mechanisms of oppression.”
Imbalances linked to the “reckless exploitation of men and of the resources of nature” are a cause for concern today, he continued, underlining that peace cannot only “be linked to the absence of war,” but must involve the “integral development of people and populations.”
The job of the Church is not to “make governments change,” he said, but to bring the “logic of the Gospel into the thinking and gestures” of those who govern.
It must be understood that “the commitment for social groups and states is to live relationships of justice and solidarity that cannot be just words.” Instead, “every form of selfishness, individualism, group interest” must be overcome at all levels of society.
The pope granted the interview for the occasion of a visit of St. John XXIII’s remains to the Diocese of Bergamo.
Exposed for veneration at an altar inside St. Peter’s Basilica, the saint’s body has returned to his home diocese May 24-June 10 to mark the 55th anniversary of his death and the publication of the encyclical Pacem in Terris.
This visit is “a gift and an occasion” for a new journey of faith, the pope said. Especially for the elderly, poor, and sick, or anyone else who may not be able to visit St. Peter’s Basilica to venerate the saint.
St. John XXIII, he said, was “a man, a saint who did not know a contrary word, who did not like words like crusades or proselytism and who instead always sought what unites, who trusted in God and in man in his image.”
The ‘Good Pope,’ Francis said, believed that the Church is called to serve all people, “not only Catholics,” and to “defend above all and everywhere the rights of the human person…aware that the pope must build bridges.”
St. John XXIII also invites people “to look at what really matters,” he said, noting how his predecessor would keep a crucifix hanging opposite his bed so that it was the first thing he would see when he woke in the mornings.
The saint knew that “Christianity is not an ideal to follow, a philosophy to adhere to or a moral to be applied,” but “an encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us recognize in the flesh of brothers and sisters his very presence,” Pope Francis stated, encouraging people to serve the poor and sick – anyone who cannot give anything in return.
The story of St. John XXIII is filled with examples of “these gestures of closeness” with people who suffered, whether they were Catholics, Orthodox, or Jews, he said.
In the interview Francis also spoke about the future of Christianity, stating that identifying Christianity with Western culture in an absolute fashion “no longer makes sense” and that the future of Christianity will be “more concretely Catholic, universal, fully ecclesial,” and respectful of other cultures – for example in Africa, Asia and Latin America – or else risk “irrelevance.”
Posted on 05/24/2018 12:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington D.C., May 24, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. House of Representatives has passed prison reform legislation that would integrate faith-based programs into federal prisons to help prisoners prepare to successfully reenter society.
The First Step Act was authored by Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and has the goal of incentivizing prisoner participation in vocational and rehabilitative programs. Lawmakers approved the bipartisan legislation by a 360-59 vote on May 22.
“I'm thrilled to see such bipartisan support for the First Step Act,” said James Ackerman, president of Prison Fellowship, the largest prison ministry in the United States.
“We have a duty as a society,” continued Ackerman, “to implement a more restorative approach to criminal justice -- one where people become healthier and more productive citizens when they return to society after serving time in prison then when they went into prison.”
The First Step Act calls for the implementation of individualized risk assessment interviews in federal prisons to better address each inmate’s personal needs, Prison Fellowship Vice President Craig DeRoche explained to CNA.
“For one person it, it might be addiction, for another it might be anger management and other issues to work through while they are incarcerated so that when they leave they are transformed and better suited for employability and success," said DeRoche.
This has proven successful at the state level in places like Texas, where it has “reduced expense and it has transformed lives in restored families and healing communities,” according to DeRoche.
Prison Fellowship operates in 428 prisons throughout the country. Their staff have seen many prisoners lives transformed by their faith-based programming.
Tiheba Williams-Bain previously served time in a federal prison in Texas. She explained to CNA that the skill-building and faith-based programming that she participated in positively impacted her life.
“I took advantage of every opportunity that was accorded to me while I was in prison to help me get better,” said Williams-Bain.
“It helped me navigate through the system, as well as my own self-doubt and insecurities that I had about myself,” she continued.
Williams-Bain added that rehabilitation requires more than programs available, saying “it comes from the mindset of the person that utilizes the programs.”
Prison Fellowship Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Craig DeRoche said that it was only through Christ that he was able to recover from 29 years of addiction.
He said that is why he believes it is significant that the First Step Act “affirmatively states that faith-based programs will be welcomed into the prisons as a solution.”
“No person is beyond Christ's touch and healing grace and offer of redemption,” said DeRoche.
“It doesn't matter if it is a non-violent criminal or a low-level or a violent criminal that has done horrible things, we've seen that Christ can make a person new again,” he continued.
The First Step Act will likely face opposition from both sides in the Senate, but it has President Donald Trump’s support.
At the White House Prison Reform Summit on May 18, President Trump said, “At the heart of our prison reform agenda is expanding prison work and the programs so that inmates can reenter society with the skills to get a job. We also want more mental health services so released inmates can cope with the challenges of life on the outside.”
The president continued, “Get a bill to my desk. I will sign it.”
Posted on 05/24/2018 07:29 AM (CNA Daily News)
Denver, Colo., May 24, 2018 / 12:29 am (CNA).- Abriana Chilelli is a Catholic mother of four children who lives in Denver, Colo.
Every day on their daily route to school, she and her kids would drive by a strip club downtown that featured a parked van with pornographic images of two women.
While disturbed by the images, especially on behalf of her children, Chilelli initially believed she would not be able to do anything to change it.
“The van was parked on the club’s private parking lot, but was directly facing the street passing by. It infuriated me when I saw it, but we live in a city and society which I assumed would not be offended by the image,” Chilelli told CNA.
“So, I figured what could I possibly do on a city level to get it taken down?” she continued.
However, the images on the van continued to bother Chilelli. She tried distracting her kids every time they passed by the strip club, but eventually they noticed the overt poster of two women “engaged in an obviously sexual act.”
“I got mad – furious – that my children, residents of this city, have an offensive image directed at their eye level every day that advertises the objectification of women and uses women’s bodies to advertise pornography,” Chilelli said.
Motivated to make a change, she began to research city zoning codes and found a few that she believed the strip club might be violating. She called the police non-emergency line to file a report against the club, but the police officer told her that the poster was “not violating public indecency laws in regards to clothing.”
Chilelli did not stop there, however. She took her complaints to her city councilman, who then passed her along to another councilman. Eventually, she received a response saying that the issue was being investigated.
“I expected the councilman to echo what the police officer initially told me over the phone,” she said.
But a few weeks later, Chilelli received news that the city’s Community Planning and Development Zoning board “found the club’s billboard to be out of compliance with Denver Zoning Code,” and was issuing a formal notice to the strip club.
A few days later, the van with the pornographic images was gone.
Looking back on the experience, Chilelli reflected on the need for Catholics to speak up “to proclaim what is true, good and beautiful.”
“It’s important to speak up about issues like these…I often lament the immorality of our culture at large, which for me often ends in just that – lamenting,” Chilelli said, noting that to simply “wish away the problem…doesn’t actually help.”
“I am quick to forget that I also exist in these public spaces – that my opinion and understanding about the truth of the body also exists in this public sphere we all exist together in, and that my rights as a citizen to not have to view offensive images should also be respected by our city, state, and federal codes and laws,” she continued.
Chilelli hopes that others will be encouraged by the idea that just one voice can promote change.
“[The experience] helped me realize that we can impact and affect change, despite how insurmountable the degradation of the culture seems,” she said.
Chilelli added that this particular issue was especially important to speak out against because of the confusion fostered by a culture that believes the body is for sexual gratification, exploitation, and consumption.
“I want to encourage others to not passively accept the lies our culture tells us about our bodies, to not passively accept the lies our culture tries to teach our children about their bodies.”
She particularly called upon Catholics to share the truths of their faith, which she sees as a logical response to much of the world’s confusion.
“What I do think is important is that Catholics speak the language of the culture and do their best to identify areas where our culture is seeking truth, so we can speak the Gospel message to our very confused society, bringing light to what is so very dark about our culture’s understanding of the body and human sexuality.”
Editor’s note: Chilelli is related to CNA’s editor-in-chief, JD Flynn, who was not involved in the reporting or editing of this article.