Barcelona, Spain, Aug 17, 2017 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The secretary general of the Spanish Bishops Conference voiced prayers for victims after a van sped into a crowd of people in the Las Ramblas tourist area of Barcelona, killing several and inj… […]
Reykjavik, Iceland, Aug 16, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent article from CBS News proclaims that “few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.”
The operative word here is “births.”
Has Iceland discovered, through some groundbreaking technology and research, a cure to the chromosomal abnormality? No.
How do you “disappear Down syndrome” then, as one of the article’s taglines states?
You “disappear” people with Down syndrome.
“Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference,” tweeted actress Patricia Heaton, who has been outspoken about her pro-life beliefs.
“There is nothing to celebrate in Iceland’s ‘eradication’ of babies born with Down syndrome through abortion,” stressed Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a network of 1,800 pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women and connect them with resources throughout the country.
“These are precious human beings hand-crafted in the image of God, and no government or person on earth has the authority to rob persons with Down syndrome of their lives,” Godsey told CNA. “Down syndrome is not a death sentence, and it is monstrous to suggest otherwise.”
Every pregnant woman in Iceland is given an option of a prenatal test that can detect Down syndrome with 85 percent accuracy. “Nearly 100 percent” of pregnancies that tested positive for Down syndrome were aborted, CBS reports.
While prenatal testing is not required in Iceland, healthcare providers tell every pregnant woman that the test is an option. The country, which has a population of 330,000, usually sees only one or two children a year born with Down syndrome – often the result, the article reports, of faulty testing.
Other countries “aren’t lagging too far behind” in Down syndrome abortion rates, the article states. “The United States has an estimated (abortion) rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it’s 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015).”
The CBS article included some discussion of the ethical dilemmas that prenatal screening and abortion of babies with Down syndrome present.
Geneticist Kari Stefansson said for the piece, “My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society – that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.”
But when asked what this means for society, he cautioned: “It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling. And I don’t think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable…You’re having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision,” he said.
The article also admits that while people born with Down syndrome are at risk for various other health problems, many people with Down syndrome also live full and healthy lives, and are able to live independently or semi-independently, hold jobs, and have relationships.
“Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”
Perhaps the best argument against the eradication of Down syndrome is Augusta, the cute little seven-year-old pink-clad girl peering out from the pages of the CBS article. Her mother, Thordis Ingadottir, took the test when she was pregnant with Augusta, but it failed to detect Down syndrome.
Now, Ingadottir has become an advocate for people with Down syndrome.
“I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That’s my dream,” Ingadottir told CBS. “Isn’t that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?”
Godsey told CNA that parents whose children have Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities need love and support – not abortion.
“(These parents)…deserve love and support that will benefit their growing families, and abortion fails categorically to deliver on its false promises to benefit families, individuals and society as a whole,” he said.
Godsey added that almost anyone who knows someone with Down syndrome would be completely against its elimination.
“As anyone who knows a person with Down syndrome can tell you, these beautiful people are an absolute joy to their families and communities. The world grows exponentially poorer as we kill innocent babies for the ‘crime’ of failing to match up to our self-aggrandizing expectations.”
The joy of life with a family member who has Down syndrome was celebrated CBS in a different article, published to mark World Down Syndrome Day in 2015. It was a column by Marguerite (Maggie) Reardon, a senior writer at CNET, about when she found out her daughter would be born with Down syndrome.
For a long time, she considered abortion, though her husband was against it. What changed her mind was the day she found a community of other people with Down syndrome and parents of children with Down syndrome.
She’s still an exhausted, stressed out parent, she wrote, but that’s not because her child has Down syndrome. It’s because she has two little kids who keep her busy.
“It’s true my daughter has some developmental delays. And she receives a bevy of therapies through Early Intervention to help keep her on track,” she said.
“But she’s also wonderful. She has a twinkle in her eye and an infectious grin that makes even the most miserable looking people on the subway smile when she stares them down. When she puts her head on my shoulder as I rock her to sleep each night, my heart melts no matter what kind of day I’ve had.”
“I do think she is more special than other children, but it’s not because she has Down syndrome. It’s because I’m a completely biased and doting mother who thinks no one could possibly be as adorable, bright or funny as my own child,” she wrote. “And her name is Margot.”
Glasgow, Scotland, Aug 15, 2017 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism are on the rise in Scotland, and a leading Catholic spokesman has said the government must take more specific action to combat the trend.
“Were any… […]
Funchal, Portugal, Aug 15, 2017 / 11:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A tree fell on a crowd taking part in the largest religious festival in Portugal’s Madeira region on Tuesday, killing 12 persons and injuring 52, according to local press reports.
The 200 year-old tree fell on the crowd at Nossa Senhora do Monte parish in Funchal, the capital of Portugal’s autonomous region of Madeira, an archipelago in the Atlantic ocean, Aug. 15.
The faithful were preparing to celebrate a procession in honor of Madeira’s patronness, Our Lady of Monte. Bishop Antonio José Cavaco Carrilho of Funchal said Mass before the procession, which was cancelled.
The Portuguese government is providing medical support to the victims.
Madeira has declared three days of mourning in light of the tragedy.
Archbishop Jorge Ferreira da Costa Ortiga of Braga tweeted, saying, “Faith is not life insurance, but a secure life. My prayers are for the victims of Funchal and for their families.”
— D. Jorge Ortiga (@djorgeortiga) August 15, 2017
Athens, Greece, Aug 15, 2017 / 03:03 am (Church Pop).- Every year, on the Orthodox feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, a monastery on a Greek island experiences a miracle – dozens of snakes come to ‘venerate’ an icon of Mary.
In a phenomenon that has reportedly been happening for hundreds of years, black snakes begin appearing on the Greek island of Kefalonia between Aug. 5 and Aug. 15, the days when the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the dormition of the Theotokos (Mother of God).
According to tradition, the miracle of the snakes began in 1705, when nuns of the monastery were about to be attacked by pirates.
Legend has it that the nuns prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary, asking her that she turn them into snakes to avoid capture. Other versions say that the nuns prayed that the monastery be infested with snakes so as to scare away the pirates. Either way it happened, they were spared.
Since then, the small black snakes, known as European Cat Snakes, appear every year just before the feast, and make their way to the walls and entryways of the Church to ‘venerate’ the silver icon of Mary known as the Panagia Fidoussa, or the Virgin of the Snakes.
The snakes’ patterning can produce a small black cross on their head, and they have a forked tongue, adding to the legend that these snakes are marked by the sign of the Cross.
In recent years, the faithful have taken to transporting snakes to the church in jars and bags, to protect them from being run over by unwitting motorists.
The usually-aggressive snakes are reportedly docile and calm during these days, when they are welcome in the church for Mass and prayers, and disappear from the island completely after the feast until the next year.
Reportedly, the only years the snakes have not appeared on the island were during World War II, and in 1953, the year of a massive earthquake. Locals now take the lack of the snake’s appearance as a bad omen.
Every year, the island celebrates the Theotokos and the miracle with a Snake Festival.
Glasgow, Scotland, Aug 13, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Workers building a three-mile tunnel under the streets of Glasgow, Scotland have a special patron, and a statue of her sits just outside the train that carries them underground each day.
Rome, Italy, Aug 12, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One hundred years ago, at the height of a cultural about-face in Russia, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal, predicting and encouraging prayer for Russia’s conversion.
Years later, a well-known and beloved Russian Orthodox icon known as Our Lady of Kazan, commonly referred to as “the protection of Russia,” would become tied to the site of the Fatima apparitions, where Mary predicted that “the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
Looking back into Russia’s history, it’s clear that that the Virgin Mary has had a very strong cultural influence in the country – from its religion to its art and architecture.
In fact, before the revolutions of 1917 which overthrew the Russian Empire and led to the establishment of the Soviet Union, Russia was colloquially known as the “house of Mary,” since there were more shrines and churches dedicated to Our Lady than in any other country at the time.
According to veteran Vatican analyst Robert Moynihan, who has an extensive knowledge of Russian culture, the majority of Russian icons depict Mary with the child Jesus.
An icon, he explained, “is a sacramental, as it were, which allows the reality of the person depicted to be perceived in prayer and in meditation.”
“(So) in looking at these icons the Russian people are communing with the Virgin Mary, and they have a profound relationship on a spiritual level with Mary.”
And there are unarguably far more varieties of icons depicting the Virgin Mary in Russian iconography than any other figure. Most Russian icons depicting Mary are divided into four broad groups: the Eleusa (The Tenderness), the Odigitria (The Guide), the Oranta (The Sign), and the Akathist (The Hymn).
Many of the world’s most famous icons today are images of Mary found to be miraculous, including the Vladimir, Smolensk, Kazan and Cz?stochowa images.
Aside from Poland’s Cz?stochowa icon, each of these are from or are currently found in Russia.
Our Lady of Kazan is by far one of the most famous images in Russian Orthodoxy, and it has a unique history linking it to the Catholic Church and to the Fatima apparitions.
The icon itself dates back to at least 1569, when it was found in the town of Kazan, located roughly 500 miles east of Moscow. At the time, the area was caught in a conflict between the Volga Tatars and the Tsardom of Russia
According to tradition, one night a little girl had a dream in which Our Lady appeared to her and told her to go to the ruins of a church that had been burnt down, and “there you will find my image.”
The child’s mother refused to let her go out, arguing that it was too dangerous. However, after having the dream for two more consecutive nights in a row, Our Lady said she would become upset if the girl didn’t go.
So the next morning, the child’s mother accompanied her to the church, where they saw a golden light amid the ashes. When they brushed the soot away, they saw that they were holding an image of Mary and the Child Jesus, and that it was glowing.
As they were holding it, a blind man in the area was said to have regained his sight, and the image became known as a miraculous icon. Word of the event spread and eventually reached the tsar in Moscow, who asked that the image be brought to the capital.
“Over the centuries the icon became known as the ‘protection of Russia,’” Moynihan said, explaining that whenever Russia would engage in war, the tsar would call the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the patriarch would then lift the icon in front of the army and pray for Russia’s protection, and although the country suffered great loss, “Russia was never conquered.”
The icon was eventually placed in Moscow’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, which sat directly across the street from the Kremlin.
However, in 1918, after the Bolsheviks came to power, the icon was taken from the church and sold to an art dealer in Warsaw, and it end up in the possession of an English nobleman who hung the image on the wall of his house in London.
Years later, in 1950, a Russian Orthodox bishop happened to be visiting the house and recognized the image, telling the owner he was in possession of “the protection of Russia.”
After his death, the icon was purchased from the estate by the Blue Army of Fatima – an international organization dedicated to spreading Our Lady of Fatima’s message – in the 1960s, and in the 1970s a chapel was built to house the icon at the Fatima shrine in Portugal.
So the Kazan image ironically ended up in the same place from which Our Lady in 1917 asked the three shepherd children to pray for Russia, asked that it be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, and predicted that it would be converted.
When St. John Paul II was elected Bishop of Rome in 1978, he had wanted to return the icon to Russia, but it was impossible while the country was under communist rule.
So when the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, within a few days the Polish Pope called the Vatican’s ambassador to Portugal and asked that the Kazan icon be brought to him in Rome, so that he could carry it back to Russia.
Moynihan, who had already developed a strong interest in Russia at that point, began to become curious about the image as plans for a papal trip to Russia fell through.
At one point he asked St. John Paul’s secretary if the story about Our Lady of Kazan was true, and in response was told that it was in fact true, and he was invited to come see the image for himself in his apartment.
“I stood in front of the icon on the mantle piece in the Pope’s study, and I felt a sense of vertigo,” Moynihan said, “because looking at the eyes of the icon, I felt that Mary was both tender and severe, and was both present and distant, and was both in time and out of time.”
However, the Russian Orthodox Church did not want to icon to be returned during a papal visit for fear that it would seem like a triumphant return for the Catholic Church, and not for the Orthodox.
In the end, the icon was handed over in 2004, by Cardinal Walter Kasper, then the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then the Archbishop of Washington, who traveled to Moscow and placed it in the hands of Patriarch Alexey II.
Moynihan reflected on the icon’s importance for the Russian people.
“It seems to me that there is a profound veneration in Russia for eternal things, for the eternal motherhood of Mary, and that this is still percolating in the dusty soil of the communist ideology,” he said.
Describing it as kind of “holy grace that is attached to the icon of Kazan,” he said this grace “is still working its way through the history of Russia,” and thanks in part to St. John Paul II, “this story is still not finished.”
Munich, Germany, Aug 11, 2017 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church in Germany is “spiritually impoverished and in decline, yet rich in material means.”
That is the diagnosis of Anian Christoph Wimmer, editor of Catholic News Agency’s German edition.
Writing in the U.K. Catholic Herald Aug 10, Wimmer said the Church in Germany at present suffers from an unhealthy combination of “dwindling spiritual influence and major financial clout.”
“On the one hand, the official figures paint a stark picture of continuing decline in terms of Church membership, Mass attendance and participation in the sacraments,” he said. “On the other hand, the German Church is enormously wealthy and continues to wield significant influence both at home and abroad, not least in the Vatican.”
According to the German Bishops’ Conference, 160,000 Catholics left the Church in 2016, while only 2,574 converted. The number of priests fell by 200 to 13,856. The numbers of people receiving the sacraments of confirmation and marriage is also in decline. Although the bishops’ conference does not count the number of confessions, Wimmer said the sacrament has “to all intents and purposes disappeared from many, if not most, parishes.”
While one might expect the Church to use its wealth to evangelize secular society, Wimmer commented, “this is the one thing that appears to elude the Church in Germany, so flush with money: its core business of spreading the Gospel and watching over the sheep, helping a growing flock better to know, love and serve God.”
The numbers of Germans at Sunday Mass in the 1950s and 1960s were stable at 11.5-11.7 million per year, attendance dropped to 2.5 million in 2015. The overall population of Catholics in Germany is 23.8 million.
The Church is one of the largest employers in Germany and the churches can still be maintained is because of its financial wealth. Germany’s tax system means that registered Catholics pay eight or nine percent of their income tax to the Church. This totaled almost $7.1 billion in 2016, a record.
The tax helps fund the salaries of bishops, which often exceed $11,700 per month, as well as educational institutions and other activities, like hospitals, schools and meals on wheels activities. The tax also funds the Church’s large network of charities, which give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and assistance each year, at home and abroad.
“Thanks to the booming German economy, the departure of many thousands of Catholics every year has not (yet) put a dent in the ecclesial coffers,” said Wimmer.
Church attendance is lowest in historically Catholic regions along the Rhine, with the dioceses of Aachen and Speyer reporting only 7.8 percent of Catholics attending Sunday Mass. Mass attendance is high in diaspora communities in former East Germany, Saxony or Thuringia, where attendance is closer to 20 percent. Some parts of Bavaria, Pope Benedict XVI’s home, also show “signs of life.”
“The faith has evaporated,” Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, Archbishop emeritus of Munich and Freising, told Wimmer.
Would-be reformers have many proposals.
“Some propose that the Church tax should be abolished. They seem to assume that if money will not solve the problem, then the absence of it will,” said Wimmer, who suggested that this idea has some merit but is rarely thought through.
Another proposed solution is “an appeal for more heterodoxy” and advocacy to abolish priestly celibacy, admit women to the priesthood, and other changes.
Instead, Wimmer endorsed the recommendation of Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, who spoke about true renewal on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation:
“The first and foremost step on this path is the daily struggle for sanctity, listening to God’s Word and being prepared to start the reform of the Church with oneself. For that is what reformation means: renewal from within the faith, restoration of the Image of Christ, which is imprinted in us in baptism and confirmation,” the bishop said.
“Where that is granted to us, by the grace of God, where this succeeds, we will also make the people of our time once again curious about the faith that carries us. And then we will also be able to bear witness to the hope that fulfills us.”
Belfast, Northern Ireland, Aug 10, 2017 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Recent changes in U.K. politics have meant a renewed push against Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws, advocates say.
“It is so incredibly important to lobby for life at thi… […]