Virgil Dechant, long-serving KofC Supreme Knight, dies at 89

February 16, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2020 / 06:55 pm (CNA).- The longest serving Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus died Saturday at 89.

Virgil Dechant was Supreme Knight from 1977 to 2000. He died in his sleep Feb. 15.

“God has called home a good man and one of the Knights’ great leaders,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a Feb. 16 statement.

“Virgil Dechant used to say that his goal was to leave the Knights better than he found it, and in myriad ways, he accomplished that. He leaves a lasting legacy and an excellent example of what it means to be a Knight and a fraternalist,” Anderson added.

The Knights of Columbus say Dechant was instrumental in helping to grow the Knights of Columbus, and fostering the organization’s collaboration with the Vatican during the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II.

Dechant “forged a close relationship with the Vatican during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, leading the Order to sponsor numerous renovation projects – including of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, and working with the pope to promote the faith in Eastern Europe, which was then behind the iron curtain,” the Knights of Columbus said in a press release.

He also “oversaw tremendous growth in the Order’s membership as well as in its assets and insurance business, while also opening the Order to greater involvement by the wives and families of its members,” according to the statement.

Dechant was a Kansas native who farmed, sold farm equipment, and owned a car dealership before he began working for the Knights of Columbus as Supreme Secretary in 1967. He became Supreme Knight ten years later.

In recognition of his committment to the pro-life movement, Dechant received the National Right to Life Award in 1998. He was also the recipient of several Vatican honors,

In 2005, he escorted President George W. Bush to the funeral of Pope St. John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 

In 2012, Anderson said that his predecessor “was the model of Catholic fraternalism for an entire generation.”

Dechant is survived by his wife Ann, four children, and the couple’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

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Pope Francis: God’s law brings freedom

February 16, 2020 CNA Daily News 5

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2020 / 06:26 am (CNA).- God gives the grace both to follow his law exteriorly and to accept it in one’s heart, which is what gives true freedom from passion and sin, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday.

“L… […]

Hong Kong, Singapore cancel public Masses amid coronavirus

February 15, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Hong Kong, China, Feb 15, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- All public Masses in Hong Kong are canceled through Feb. 28 amid the threat of the spreading of coronavirus.

Cardinal John Tong Hon, apostolic administrator and bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, announced Feb. 13 that all public Masses from Feb. 15-28 would be suspended.

The Archdiocese of Singapore has taken a similar step, suspending all public Masses from Feb. 15 until further notice.

Hong Kong is home to around 500,000 Catholics out of a total population of over 7 million, while in Singapore Catholics make up 300,000 of the city-state’s 5.6 million people.

“The Church, being a member of society, has the duty to maintain public hygiene and promote the common good. Therefore, Parish Priests, the other parish clergy and the faithful are to strictly comply,” Tong said, adding that follow-up measures would be announced before Feb. 28.

Tong encouraged the faithful to watch Sunday Mass online, make a spiritual Communion, reflect on the Sunday liturgical text, read the Bible, or say the rosary each Sunday.

He also suggested that the faithful watch ferial Masses online, or make or Lenten devotions or spiritual exercises, such as the rosary, the Angelus, and daily prayer.

“Parish churches and affiliated chapels are to remain open to the faithful for personal prayers and visits to the Blessed Sacrament,” Tong said.

“Parish churches may also arrange for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament daily or on specific days, so that individual members of the faithful may take part and pray that the coronavirus infections will be contained as soon as possible.”

Tong added that all other Church-related activities, with the exception of weddings and funerals, are to be suspended as well.

In Singapore, Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye wrote in a Feb. 14 pastoral letter that “the cancellation of Masses does not mean that Catholics can excuse themselves from fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Day of the Lord holy.”

“They should try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio,” he added. He asked that people please check the archdiocesan website for the broadcast’s time.

“Following the broadcast of the Mass will help you to receive the Lord spiritually,” he said. “You can also gather as a family for the Liturgy of the Word by spending time in prayer, reading the Word of God of the Sunday Liturgy and interceding for the world that this Covid-19 virus will be contained and eradicated. Even if you cannot gather together as a family to worship, you should individually spend at least half an hour in quiet time to pray and especially read the Word of God.”

Originating in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, the new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

As of Feb. 13, authorities worldwide have diagnosed more than 63,000 cases of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 1,300 people have died. Most of the reported cases are in China, but it has spread to over two dozen countries worldwide.

In Hong Kong, there are at least 50 cases of the disease and one death reported. As of Friday, Singapore has recorded 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19, TodayOnline reports, with 17 discharged from hospital and six in intensive care.

Several countries, including Italy, have suspended flights from Hong Kong, which has an open border with mainland China.

Hong Kong last week issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering from mainland China, NPR reports. The city has set up a large number of mass quarantine camps to isolate victims, many in residential areas, which have led to protests.

The New York Times reports that about 7,000 medical workers in Hong Kong have gone on strike, demanding that Hong Kong fully close the border with the mainland.

Schools in Hong Kong remain closed until March 16 and the government has given its 176,000 government employees the option of working from home until Feb. 23.

The Vatican has sent between 600,000 to 700,000 face masks to three provinces in China since Jan. 27, according to the Global Times. Pope Francis prayed for people infected by the coronavirus during his Sunday Angelus prayer on Jan. 26.

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‘No different from the rest of us’- Priests and mental health care

February 15, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Denver, Colo., Feb 15, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- After the suicide of a Missouri priest last month, psychologists talked with CNA about the issues priests can face when they need help with caring for their mental heatlh.

Fr. Evan Harkins of Kansas City took his own life in late January, leaving parishioners and friends across the country mourning the beloved priest.

Shortly after Harkin’s death, Bishop Vann Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph said the priest had a “sunny” personality, but had begun to struggle with anxiety and his physical health.

The bishop said the priest’s decision to end his life might have been connected to his medication.

He said Harkins had developed serious stomach and gastrointestinal issues, which seemed to cause him anxiety.

“He was given a prescription drug to deal with the anxiety and was experiencing some of the extreme negative side effects of this drug including terrible nightmares, among other things,” Johnston explained.

Though the factors leading to his death are no doubt comlicated, the priest’s death has begun a discussion about the mental health needs of priests, and the stigmas that surround them.

Dr. Melinda Moore is a Licensed Psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University and has studied Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS).

Moore told CNA that suicide prevention steps are incredibly important. She pointed to studies that show how a single individual’s suicide can have a devastating effect that ripples throughout the community.

“We’ve got 48,000 Americans who are dying by suicide every year. … [These are] Americans who are killing themselves and leaving entire families, networks, communities devastated by their deaths. We know that for every person who dies by suicide, there are 135 people exposed. Out of those 135, forty-eight people will be seriously impacted by the death.”

“What we know is these people who are impacted significantly, they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and another study showed suicide attempt. So not only are these 40,000 Americans killing themselves every year, they’re leaving all this collateral damage that amounts to over 2 million people every year,” she said.

Suicide among priests, and pastors of other Christian denominations, occurs more commonly than expected, Moore said. However, she said religious leaders often face stigmas about seeking psychological help.

“Priests are no different from the rest of us. The difference is that priests and other clergy oftentimes are idealized and held to a standard where they feel like they can’t ask for help. They are the individuals that other people come to for help, and so they themselves feel like they can’t seek help.”

Moore said suicide is not always tied to mental illness. But she said people who commit suicide often encounter three feelings – not belonging, being a burden to others, and the sense that that could carry out lethal self-harm.

“They oftentimes feel like they’re a burden, and then they also sometimes feel like they no longer belong to a community that they once belonged to … It’s like they really feel like people would be better off if they weren’t alive, that they are a burden to their loved ones, ” Moore said.

“Lastly, there’s this thing called acquired capability to enact lethal self-harm. It’s sort of a fearlessness in the face of death. It actually takes a lot of courage to kill yourself,” she added.

Dr. Christina Lynch was director of psychological services at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver from 2007 until she retired about a month ago. Lynch is still a supervising psychologist for the seminary, and is an advisor for the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (CPA), which she previously served as president.

Lynch told CNA that stigmas among priests regarding psychology differ depending on several factors, like location, age, and community. She said counseling may be looked down upon by older generations, noting that millennials are more sympathetic to it.

Lynch also said a sense of shame about getting psychological help may worsen if the priest or seminarian does not view the therapy setting as confidential or safe.

Shame among priests about seeking help gets worse among priests if mental health care is not supported by the bishop or laity. Lynch applauded the decision of Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, who announced in December that he was taking a leave of absence to focus on mental health.

Lynch also said the laity have a unique opportunity to support priests, even through simple actions like inviting them over to dinner.

“If they don’t have support from their bishop, they feel shame or they don’t want to go to counseling. So the support they received from the bishop is really important. I’m sure you read the article by Bishop Conley. I’ve heard from so many priests since then that this just gave them courage.”

“The laity have a role to play with the parish priest. They need to be praying for them, be friends with them. A lot of times laity are afraid to be really friends with their priests … They need to be attentive to their priests and make sure they’re supporting them … The more support a priest is going to get from everybody instead of criticism, the better it is going to be for them.”

Dr. Cynthia Hunt, a Catholic psychologist, is a board advisor for the Catholic Medical Association and has also served as Chief of the Department of Psychiatry at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

Hunt said that stigmas about mental therapy are pervasive among clergy. She highlighted several reasons why priests might consider therapy a difficult process to access.

“There seems to be a shame surrounding the very human need for assistance in the mental health realm,” she said.

“Some difficulties which might bar priests from accessing therapy include their desire for more privacy (not wanting to sit in a waiting room), issues of shame, as noted above, as well as the desire to ‘work things out on their own’.”

“Priests may consider their depression or anxiety a ‘flaw’ in their character. They also may not recognize the severity of their symptoms or realize that there is treatment,” Hunt added.

Hunt said that anxiety and depression can be as common among priests as it is among the general population. She said hereditary traits may contribute to a priest’s emotional issues, and addictions, like alcohol abuse, can exacerbate the problems.

The psychologist highlighted the options that priests can take to address these concerns.

“Priests may obtain therapy from a variety of disciplines including Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Marriage Family Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other licensed professional counselors. The type of therapy can be tailored to the needs of the priest to include but not limited to psychodynamic Therapy, trauma-informed therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and affirmation therapy,” she said.

While rural areas may face a lack of counselors, Hunt noted, there has been an increase in telemedicine, where priests can access therapy through video-platforms.

Hunt said psychological healing is best addressed through a holistic approach – a combination of biological, psychological, social and spiritual efforts. She said that while medication is not always necessary, it can be helpful, especially when coupled with counseling.

However, she added that some medications, like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), have an occasional side effect, and people may continue to have recurring anxiety and depression throughout their life.

“SSRIs improve many symptoms of anxiety and depression through their biochemical action on neurotransmitters such as serotonin and others … With more balance again in the neurotransmitter system, many symptoms improve including but not limited to panic, chronic anxiety levels, low mood, sleep or appetite issues, fatigue, lack of enjoyment of things once enjoyed and suicidal thinking,” she said.

“As with all medications, there can be side effects. In the case of SSRIs these tend to be quite mild and short-lived such as nausea and headache. There are very rare but serious effects which can include increased agitation, restlessness or suicidal thinking.”

In order to address the possibility of suicide among priests, Dr. Moore told CNA that dioceses should focus strongly on education regarding suicide awareness and suicide prevention methods.

She said the topic should be addressed at the pulpit, and dioceses should also make more resources available, including the suicide hotline number and health care professionals.  She also said priests should educate themselves through books designed to address their needs. Hunt mentioned “Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors” by Karen Mason.

For her part, Moore applauded initiatives the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky has begun to support suicide prevention and mental health. She the dioceses has provided resources and sought to be more sympathetic to the deceased and their families.

“[I am] very pleased that the Diocese of Lexington, which is led by Bishop John Stowe, has been very much an ally in putting out messages around being attuned and being sensitive to people who are in crisis …  but then also those people who’ve lost a loved one to suicide, making sure that the loved one who died is not demonized, and that the loved ones are provided resources.”

Father Anthony Sciarappa, the parochial vicar of Holy Spirit Parish of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, told CNA about his experience with therapy and mental health. He said, during his first year of seminary, he struggled with anxiety and depression.

“We had lots of events as seminarians where we put on our seminary uniform and we were supposed to meet with people, talk with people and all that was overwhelming. I would be physically, like, ill and sick, just paralyzed with that.”

“I have been suffering from anxiety and depression and I thought that’s just how everyone lives and that was just normal,” he said.

Sciarrappa’s bishop lived at the seminary where he studied. About six months into Scriarappa’s formation, the bishop, having spoken with the seminary faculty, encouraged the young seminarian to enter into therapy.

“When the bishop told me, I think I just started crying and his office right there, because it was just so overwhelming to be faced with the fact that I do need help,” he said.

It was a difficult concept to grasp, he noted, because therapy and mental illness were not topics typically discussed during his childhood. He said, among other stigmas, he considered therapy to be a tool for crazy people.

“I didn’t know anybody who had done this before. It wasn’t something that was ever just talked about in my circles growing up,” he said.

He went to a therapist for about three years. He went back to counseling during major seminary in Washington D.C. He described therapy as both a difficult and valuable process.

During counseling, Sciarappa said, he had to work through “core wounds” and the issues affected by habits learned during childhood. He said, “going through that is really hard work.”

“There were so many days I’d be exhausted after everything, but once [I brought] those things into the light I could make more sense of my life.”

It got easier as he progressed through the process, Sciarappa  noted, stating that he began to acknowledge the fruits of therapy and witness its impact on his health. He said, because of therapy, he learned the tools and skills to cope with depression and anxiety. He said it helped to better understand himself and what to expect from these kinds of struggles 

“It was like mechanisms and how to cope and strategies,” he said. “Now we see what’s going on with the problem and why that’s going on. For me, finding out why I struggled with this then helped me deal with it more and more.”

When asked about how to best priests can maintain mental health, Sciarappa stressed the importance of outside support, including spiritual direction, close friendships, and a priest support group to which he belongs.

The priestly support group meets once a month at one of the member’s rectories. At each meeting, there are two moderators, one a trained therapist, to help the team keep on track.

He said the group discusses personal struggles, like loneliness, but also struggles particular to priests, including the clerical abuse scandals, and priest relocation. Sciarappa said it is significant to have peers to confide in. It is not appropriate to be as open with parishioners, he added, noting it is nevertheless valuable to have community among the laity. 

“It’s so important to have a brother priest so he can talk honestly about stuff, about difficulties, about insecurities,” he said. “I’m not going to spill my guts out to the random parishioner– that would be unhealthy for them and for me.”

“I think it’s [valuable to have] supportive, close friends, priests, laypeople. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I’ll talk about different things in those different circles or talk about them in different ways, but that way nothing that is going on stays in the darkness.”
Sciarappa  said it’s difficult to enter into these suffering places, recognizing one’s need for help and therapy. However, he said the experience has also given him more empathy and allowed him to truly experience the grace of God.

“It’s given me tools where I can recognize it in other people. The big thing … it’s made me a more empathetic person,” he said.

“Going through that suffering and having Christ redeem it and heal me more and more, when I speak to people about hope, when I speak to people [about] how healing can happen, I can speak about it from a place of experience. It’s not theoretical, I really mean it. And that’s going to change the way you preach. That’s going to change the way you talk to people.”

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Australian bishops: religious discrimination bill has merit, but flaws should be fixed

February 14, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Canberra, Australia, Feb 14, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Australia’s Catholic bishops have welcomed changes to a proposed religious discrimination bill to protect religious believers and institutions from discrimination and needless legal action, but they said more work is necessary for an Australia-wide law.

“The draft laws are an important way to help people of faith and the organizations they establish as communities of faith to manifest their religious belief in the service of others,” Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement, said in his Jan. 31 submission to the Australian government on behalf of the bishops’ conference.

The bishops offered suggested changes but said they support the intent of the legislation because of their concern “to ensure that the rights of Catholics and other people who have a religious faith or none are not discriminated against because of their beliefs or activities.”

Australia’s ruling Liberal-National Coalition government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also wants to ensure that groups which reject same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status. The bill’s provisions also aim to stop employers from policing employees’ expression of their religious views in their spare time.

The Catholic bishops of Australia had criticized the first version of the bill, saying it did not go far enough to protect religious freedom, a “crucial component of a free society.” They said this freedom includes worship but also public expression of beliefs in charitable work, hospitals, social services, education, and engagement in public life.

They faulted the second draft, in part, because it gives weaker protections to religious employees of small business than to employees of large companies, and no protections whatever to government employees.

Allowing religious discrimination to avoid “unjustifiable financial hardship” to employers, they said, would render religious freedom not a universal human right but “something which depends on where a person works.” The provision would allow boycotts, sponsorship withdrawals and similar pressure to create such financial hardships on employers that would then be used to justify discrimination against a religious employee.

Stronger federal protections are needed for healthcare workers and institutions with conscientious objections, the bishops said, especially in states or territories that do not recognize this “universal human right.”

“Catholic healthcare agencies decline to provide some particular services because of their religious ethos, but where services are offered they serve all people equally,” the bishops said, citing the record of Catholic institutions in the country.

More than 60% of Australians profess a religious faith and more than 20% are Catholic. The Catholic Church provides about 10% of the country’s health care services and is the largest non-government grouping of hospitals and elder services and community care services. Its social services help more than 450,000 Australians annually, while 1,700 schools educate 760,000 students and two Catholic universities serve 46,000 students.

Australia’s many organizations run by religious communities need assurance that they can continue to operate in accordance with their beliefs, the bishops said. The legislation has a complicated task to ensure it does not unintentionally curtail religious freedom, such as by requiring a religious organization to “employ a person who was opposed to its religious and ethical beliefs.”

“Religious schools, health services and welfare agencies need to be able to hire staff who support their religious mission and to set employee conduct stand,” said Australia’s bishops. They said it is “alarming” that some political parties seek to amend legislation to ensure that proposed protections will have “little effect” in their state. They backed a universally applicable law.

The bishops faulted the current law’s treatment of religious objections simply as exceptions or exemptions, which wrongly give the impression that “religious freedom rights are somehow subordinate to other concerns.” They praised the proposed legislation for putting forward “a positive expression of the right to religious freedom.”

Michael Stead, an assistant bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and chair of its religious freedom reference group, has also praised the bill but called for changes.

The Anglican Church sees the second draft as a “significant improvement.” However, it suggested that the bill’s definition of a religious body was “very clumsy” and should be defined as “a body which has the purpose of advancing religion” regardless of whether it is a charity. This would be a more satisfying way to determine which religious bodies may still prefer staff of the same religion.

At the same time, Stead said the definition is still limited to non-profit entities and would not protect commercial service providers such as Christians who bake cakes, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.

The Australian Human Rights Commission, a government-funded but independent NGO, has said that while it supports the prohibition of religious discrimination, it objected that its provisions “provide protection to religious belief or activity at the expense of other rights.” The bill is not an appropriate way to apply international human rights law and its provisions limit other human rights in a way that is “unnecessary and disproportionate or otherwise inconsistent with international law.”

The commission backed religious protections in employment decisions only where it is an “inhterent requirement of the job,” like a religious minister. Where religious bodies provide a public service with government funding it should be done “in a non-discriminatory way.”

Ed Santow, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, said the bill does not protect “the entire community equally.” The exemptions are too broad and protect “the right to religion for some at the expense of religious equality of others,” he objected.

Stead, the Anglican bishop, said there are precedents for many religious protections. He said criticisms of protections of religious speech put forward by the Australian Human Rights Commission and LGBT advocacy groups were “so extreme as to be laughable.”

“The kind of ‘right to be a bigot’ cited in some submissions is not the reason why religious communities are asking for these protections,” he said. “We want them to ensure religious people are not going to lose their job, be excluded from courses or professional bodies merely because of expressing religious beliefs.”

Stead characterized the proposal as “a sensible balance between the right of freedom of religion with other rights.”

The Australian Medical Association said the bill would allow some doctors to suffer employment discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Dr. Chris Moy, chair of the association’s ethics and medical-legal committee, said current law allows doctors to conscientiously object, including to matters like contraception provision, but changes could allow them to “just walk away” from patients.

Ghassan Kassisieh, legal director of the LGBT group Equality Australia, characterized protections for religious organizations as a “blanket exemption” in elder care, hospitals and charity services. He objected that the bill would ban only statements which “seriously intimidate,” while the current law bans “when degrading or humiliating things are said in the workplace, or in schools or during the provision of services.”

For Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, the proposal would ensure that people “can’t be the subject of a discrimination act complaint for the mere statement of religious belief.” Employer conduct codes cannot constrain employees from making “non-malicious non-vilifying statements of religious belief in their spare time.”

“People of religion would, I think, rightly consider saying what they believe is a necessary part of their religiosity,” he said, according to The Guardian.

The proposed legislation follows controversy over the treatment of Israel Folau, a devout Christian and professional rugby star, who was fired by Rugby Australia in May 2019 after a post on Instagram. The post listed “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” above the statement “Hell awaits you.”

Folau cited the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, saying he was expressing a Biblical idea. Upholding his religious beliefs, he said, “should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club or country.”

Some religious group opposed protections.

“We don’t discriminate and don’t believe others should have the right to discriminate or, in fact, engage in any bigotry in the name of religion,” said Bronwyn Pike, chief executive of the Uniting Church’s Victoria and Tasmania community services group Uniting Vic.Tas.

Pike told SBS News the bill is “a stalking horse for people who want to promulgate homophobic and misogynist views in the name of religion.”

There are strong signs that the opposition is unlikely to support the government’s bill, The Guardian reports.

In November, opposition leader Anthony Albanese told the Labor caucus, “we support freedom of religion but we don’t support increasing discrimination in other areas.”

However, Porter has claimed there are a variety of views inside the Labor Party. He said suggested changes can’t detract from the bill’s central purpose “to protect Australians of religion from real world circumstances … which detract from their ability to be free from discrimination based on their religion.”

In the United States, a strong push against religious freedom protections has drawn millions of dollars in grants to university programs, legal groups, and LGBT and pro-abortion rights groups. Catholic adoption agencies in some states have been shut down or barred from taxpayer funds because they cannot in good conscience place children with same-sex couples. Lawsuits and legal complaints have targeted professionals in the wedding industry whose religious beliefs bar them from serving same-sex ceremonies.

There have been few U.S. proposals to protect employees from hostile employment action based on their religious statements outside of work.

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