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'Overwhelmed with graces': Walking across America for life

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A three-month journey from California to Washington, DC, came to an end August 13, as 23 walkers of this summer’s Crossroads Pro-Life Walks made it to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

Crossroads Pro-Life Walks began in 1995, and have expanded from the United States to Spain, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. This summer, there were two walks crossing the United States--the “Southern” walk, which started in Santa Monica, and the “Central” walk, which began in San Francisco. Both walks ended in DC.

Victoria Bliss, a 19-year-old from Virginia, was one of the participants on this year’s Central walk. Bliss said the experience, while full of challenges, was one that strengthened her faith and inspired her to continue doing pro-life work.

“I’ve always been passionately pro-life, and attended the Marches and 40 Days for Life, but I really wanted to do something bigger and commit my whole summer to the pro-life mission, truly going out into the streets and spreading the gospel of life.” 

She told CNA that participating in Crossroads this summer was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream. As a child, past Crossroads walkers spoke regularly at her church following their arrival in DC. 

According to Crossroads Pro-Life Walks VP Martha Nolan, about 1,500 walkers worldwide have completed their journeys, averaging 40 to 60 miles per day, while visiting churches, pregnancy centers, and convents along the way.

Nolan told CNA that they drive “a little bit” when they fall behind. Previously, walkers would carry on by day and night, but after a tragic accidental death in 2012, the day’s walk now stops at sunset. 

Bliss told CNA that, in addition to the spiritual battles one sometimes faces on a pilgrimage, her group experienced logistical and physical struggles as well. One walker fell very ill and had to leave after three weeks, and their RV broke down numerous times.

Despite this, Bliss said “the Holy Spirit brought good out of every situation, and there was never a time when our team even thought about giving up. We were overwhelmed with graces, every second of every day.”

“There were a few threatening times when we got screamed at or chased,” she told CNA. “A couple of times cars swerved into the shoulder and we had to leap out of the way, but our guardian angels were clearly with us.”

There were also many joys that came along the 12-week journey. For Bliss, the biggest was encountering people each day along the route, many of whom broke down in tears when they saw their pro-life teeshirts. 

“We saw Jesus in so many people,” she said. “I came to realize how beautiful people are, no matter how broken, and how much they need us to radiate God’s joy and peace to them.” 

The route was dotted with what Bliss described as “Divine Providence instances,” such as abortion clinics being unexpectedly closed following the group’s prayer vigil. 

“One time, we had been praying all four mysteries of the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and as we did the final Sign of the Cross, the lights in the clinic turned off,” she recounted.

Each day on Crossroads, the walkers attended Mass, offered “constant rosaries” when they as they went, and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. 

Bliss said that the experience helped her to fall in love with Christ “more than ever before,” and that she witnessed the power of the rosary. 

Now that her walk has ended, Bliss said that she hopes to continue mission work, including becoming a trained sidewalk counselor outside of abortion clinics. But most of all, she hopes to continue the momentum she started this summer.

“Standing up for the unborn is the thing I have always been the most passionate about and I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the evil of abortion, and change hearts by portraying the truth with love.”

When it is dark, praying communities give us eyes to see the sacred at work

Simply Spirit: I owe my learning to the women and men with whom I have walked and am walking. Their solidarity helps me to first accept and then join together to alleviate the wounds of our world.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Playing with fire

Scripture for Life: Unless we are zombies, life is going to present us with conflicts. Today's Scriptures call us to discern how grace and God's Spirit are at play in the conflicts that come our way. 

El Paso response to violence called an 'outpouring of love'

"El Paso, you have inspired us," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told the crowd. "We have watched in awe at the outpouring of compassion of this community."

Hong Kong student leader: Catholics should take 'major role' in peaceful protests

Hong Kong, China, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- The acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students told CNA this week that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government, amid fears of a crackdown by Chinese authorities.

"For this movement, it's a great chance for the Catholics and [Protestant] Christians to cooperate with each other," Edwin Chow, a student studying Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, told CNA.

"It's a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal...so that's why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, or strengths, our power becomes stronger."

Hundreds of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong have been demonstrating against the government's plans to allow extraditions to mainland China, where Communist courts would try alleged criminals— a plan which as of June has been indefinitely suspended.

Since the bill’s suspension, the protestors have also spoken out against an excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which have led to injuries.

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

As the protests have continued, he said some participants became "more aggressive, more radical." Chow said he thinks the protests have become more radical because even after two marches in June saw more than a million marchers, the government has still not answered the protestors' demands.

Many of the protestors began to take action such as try to break into the legislative council building, or clash with police out of frustration.

"I think the Christian groups and the Catholic groups should participate more in the protests, to take a more major role, because I think nowadays the protests become more radical, and people get very emotional, I think,” Chow commented.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down. Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again."

The threat of the extradition bill should be important to Catholics, Chow said, because they are afraid that if it is reintroduced and passes, it will severely affect religious freedom, giving the Chinese government additional license to arrest Christians and transfer them to mainland China if they commit “crimes” against the mainland.

He cited a case in 2001 where Hong Kongers brought bibles to mainland China, and the Chinese government arrested them.

"The Chinese government is suppressing the Church in mainland China, and so we are worried that when we have communication with the mainland Church, maybe one day the Chinese government will also arrest the Hong Kong people to suppress Hong Kong people," he said.

Though the extradition bill has been withdrawn, the situation in Hong Kong is not over. Demonstrators are calling for the proposal to be definitively withdrawn, and some are demanding Lam’s resignation.

Chow said more than 160,000 students, teachers, and alumni signed a petition against the extradition bill.

The federation had been concerned about the extradition bill since May, and so they started to raise public awareness of the issue by handing out leaflets in early June, Chow said. 

The group also organized prayer meetings and Masses near the protest sites in the beginning of June, when the larger protests started.

Chow said the clergy have been very supportive. The Federation invited bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen to celebrate Mass on June 16, in front of the government headquarters.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has also been very active in going to the protest sites, supporting the young people, and vocally supporting the protestors. Bishop Ha took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after one rally.

"Other ordinary Catholics, some of the older Catholics, they also join in our activities. So you can see that not only the teenagers are supporting, participating in the whole protest, but the older people, some adults...they also join, they also support the whole protest."

Henry Au, an entrepreneur who serves on the board of directors for the Irish Chamber of Commerce for Hong Hong, is one such older Catholic who has been supporting the movement. He told CNA that although he had only attended two or three of the actual marches, he has been trying to materially support the protestors however he can.

He said older Catholics are less likely to go and march in the street, but they are still able to assist by providing funds to hold Masses and buy protection gear for the protestors.

He said the police will often seize protesters' cell phones and use the photos on them as evidence against them, and telecom companies are helping the government to trace phone numbers. To guard against this, he said older Catholics have bought the protestors portable WiFi hotspots so they can connect without being traced.

"We don't say the kids are always right...but you shouldn't be using bullets, or even plastic bullets, to shoot their heads," Au said. "They way they are treating the younger generation is totally unacceptable."

He said the protestors have, on the whole, been peaceful and not destructive. On Sept. 1, the students will have to go back to school, he said, so it remains to be seen whether the protests will continue after the summer break ends.

Chow said last week some protestors found that there were undercover policemen within the crowds. The government may use this strategy to create a "sense of terror" so that the protestors no longer trust each other and are divided, he said. 

Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of Asia News, told EWTN News Nightly that Catholic youth are “totally involved” in the protest against the extradition law. He said older people might be less inclined to take part in the protests because of threats of violence.

“These two requests are the main requests of the movement [that] is doing all these demonstrations in Hong Kong,” Cervellera said.

The Chinese government has influenced the government of Hong Kong, Cervellera said, refusing to allow full democracy in the territory and trying to control the education system, which has negatively affected Hong Kong’s economy.

Hong Kong has total freedom of worship and evangelization, Cervellera said, because for the past 50 years it has been a “liberal society” where the decisions of the dioceses are not subject to government control.

“Our fear is that if this extradition law goes into effect, this could destroy the possibility of priests in Hong Kong, faithful in Hong Kong, who can help the Church in China. Because in this way, the help brought by the Catholics in Hong Kong to China could be considered as a criminal case.”

Cardinal Tong invited Catholics in Hong Kong to take part in a Eucharistic celebration for the well-being of the territory on Friday, August 23 at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

There are some 581,000 Catholics in Hong Kong, or about 8% of the population.

Hongkongers currently have significantly more freedoms than Chinese living on the mainland, including access to uncensored internet. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, allowing it its own legislature and economic system.

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

Canadian man receives assisted death after funding cut for in-home care

Vancouver, Canada, Aug 16, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The family of a Canadian man who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is urging the country’s government to change the way it treats patients with the disease after he received a “medically-assisted death” following years of struggle to find adequate care. 

Sean Tagert, 41, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease, in March of 2013. In October 2017, he suffered cardiac arrest, and was subsequently placed on a ventilator. His illness robbed him of the ability to move his body, eat, or speak, and he communicated via an eye-gaze computer. His mental acuity was unaffected. 

At that time, Tagert’s doctors recommended 24-hour in-home care, which is typical for a person who uses a ventilator full time. Vancouver Coastal Health, Tagert’s regional health authority, only initially offered 15.5 hours of care a day. Eventually, after much effort, they increased their offer to 20 hours a day--which still meant that Tagert had to pay $263.50 each day for the remaining four hours of required care. 

Tagert and his family continued to fight for coverage of a full day’s care, to no avail. 

“Hey everyone. I've been quiet lately because I'm just done, worn-out,” wrote Tagert in a July 25 post on his Facebook page. 

“So last Friday I officially submitted my Medically assisted death paperwork, with lawyers and doctors, everything in proper order. It's been over a month since I submitted my appeal to the Vancouver Coastal Health patient care quality department. They didn't even respond.”

Tagert went on to explain that earlier in the day, two Vancouver Coastal Health officials came to his home, and had refused to talk to him when they realized he was recording the conversation. Eventually, they told his mother that they were there to cut his funding for care hours. 

“Welcome to the great Canadian Healthcare system people,” said Tagert. 

On August 6, he received a “medically-assisted death” and passed away. In Canada, patients over the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness are able to apply for a “medically-assisted death.” The lethal medication can either be self-administered, or, as it is in the vast majority of cases in the country, administered by a doctor. 

Full funding for the procedure is available, and is advertised in hospitals around Canada.

“We would ask, on Sean's behalf, that the government recognize the serious problems in its treatment of ALS patients and their families, and find real solutions for those already suffering unimaginably,” reads a post on his Facebook page announcing his passing. 

The post outlined the difficulties he endured to remain in his own home.  

“Ensuring consistent care was a constant struggle and source of stress for Sean as a patient,” said the post. 

“While he succeeded, with the help of many, in piecing together a suitable care facility in his own home (including an expensive saliva-suction machine, needed to prevent him from choking, obtained with the help of donations raised online), gaining the 24-hour care he required was extremely difficult, especially as the provincial government refused to fully fund home care.” 

Going to a nursing home was not an option, said the post, as the facilities in his province “would have offered vastly inferior care while separating him from his family, and likely would have hastened his death.”  Tagert had partial custody of his 11-year-old son, Aidan. 

“Above all else Sean was devoted to his son,” said the post.

“Sean often said that Aidan was his reason for living, and had a close relationship with him right to the end.” 

Since Tagert’s death, Canadian commentators and palliative care physicians have called for changes in the way the country’s health system handles patients with complicated health needs. 

“No one should have to feel death is the only option due to lack of care,” Dr. Leonie Herx, a palliative care physician from Toronto, said on Twitter. 

Herx pointed out the paradox that presently, Canadians have a “right” to medically-assisted dying, but not to palliative and disability care. 

“We must do better for vulnerable Canadians,” she said. 

The ALS Society of Canada was unavailable to comment specifically on Tagert’s case, but CNA was provided with a statement from CEO Tammy Moore saying “People living with ALS must have access to the appropriate personal care supports and palliative care to meet their needs.” 

Medically-assisted death is fully funded in the Canadian healthcare system.

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

Truck drives into line of Jewish demonstrators protesting ICE in Rhode Island

A truck attempted to barrel through a group of Jewish protesters who were demonstrating outside a detention center in Rhode Island.

Attorneys say allegation against South Carolina bishop 'provably false'

Attorneys for Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston released a statement Aug. 14 saying that the allegations of sexual abuse of a minor levied against him are "provably false."