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Pope Francis leads Hail Mary for victims of earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Pope Francis prayed for victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria during his general audience on Feb. 8, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2023 / 02:56 am (CNA).

Pope Francis concluded his public audience on Wednesday with a prayer for the intercession of the Virgin Mary for the thousands of victims of a deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

“Let’s pray together so that these brothers and sisters can move forward from this tragedy. And we pray that Our Lady will protect them,” the pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Feb. 8.

He then led pilgrims at the event in praying a Hail Mary for all those affected.

A series of large earthquakes in parts of Turkey and Syria Feb. 6 have created massive destruction and killed an estimated 9,600 people, according to the latest available estimates reported by Reuters early Wednesday morning.

“With deep feeling I pray for them and express my closeness to these peoples, to the families of the victims, and to all those who suffer because of this devastating natural disaster,” the pope said.

“I thank all those who are working to bring assistance and encouragement to them,” he added, “and solidarity to those areas, in part already tormented by a long war.”

On Monday, a “deeply saddened” Pope Francis sent “heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss” in telegrams addressed to the apostolic nuncios of Turkey and Syria after the earthquake.

Francis’ topic for his Feb. 8 general audience address was his Jan. 31-Feb. 5 visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which he called a “long-desired journey.”

The trip fulfilled “two ‘dreams,’” he said: “To visit the Congolese people, custodians of an immense country, the green heart of Africa and second in the world along with Amazonia. A land rich in resources and bloodied by a war that never ends, because there is always someone to feed the fire.”

“And,” he added, “to visit the South Sudanese people, in a pilgrimage of peace together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator General of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields: we went together to bear witness that it is possible and a duty to collaborate in diversity, especially if one shares faith in Christ.”

Synod on Synodality: Europe’s Continental Assembly in Prague discusses tensions in the Church

Synod on Synodality logo / Courtesy USCCB

Prague, Czech Republic, Feb 7, 2023 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

Two hundred delegates — including 65 women and 46 bishops — are meeting this week in the capital of the Czech Republic for the last stage of regional discussions in the Synod on Synodality. 

On Tuesday, the second day of discussion, participants were asked to identify “substantial tensions,” questions, and issues that should be addressed by the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October.

The delegates broke up into small discussion groups based on language, nation, and vocation and then presented their conclusions in front of the entire assembly.

One of the French-speaking groups brought up the tension of the role of women in the Church in light of the changing role of women in society as a whole and “in relation to the messages of justice that we want to proclaim outside the Church.”

A young woman said that her German-language group discussed the importance of youth involvement and “the inclusion of all people who are on the fringes of Church,” offering up the example of how a group of young people carrying a rainbow flag at the World Youth Day in Panama were insulted on the street.

The moderator urged presenters to be as transparent as possible about tensions that emerged in group discussions. Time was also allowed for individuals to come up and address the assembly at the end.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the president of the Irish bishops’ conference, spoke about the creative tension between synodality and the hierarchy in the communion of the Church.

“One of the challenges facing a synodal Church is learning how to foster that deeper communion in Christ between the people of God, the bishops, and the pope,” he said. “Synodality should seek to affirm and enhance the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, not diminish it.”

“This is Christ’s Church, not ours to create at will to our specifications,” Martin added.

Italian-language groups noted that they perceived a tension between doctrine and pastoral care and a “tension between truth and mercy.”

While other groups repeated that they also perceived a tension between “truth and mercy,” one English-language group representative highlighted how the truth found in Jesus Christ creates communion and unites believers in the Church.

Quoting Benedict XVI’s encyclical on charity in truth, Caritas in Veritate, she said that truth “is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion.”

She added: “The fundamental truth of Jesus Christ may seem to be in tension with mercy and pastoral concern, but the fundamental truth of Jesus Christ is a moment of grace and mercy in and of itself because mercy leads to the truth, the truth that the Gospel is love. And the Gospel is what humanity needs in order to experience joy and peace.”

What’s happening in Prague this week

Prague is known as “the golden city of 100 spires.” The capital is one of Europe’s best-preserved cities, having largely escaped the bombs of World War II. Its centuries-old architecture reveals the centrality of Christianity in the European city’s history, from its skyline filled with church spires and steeples to the many statues of saints adorning its iconic Charles Bridge.

But like many European countries, the practice of the Catholic faith has dwindled today with only 20% of Catholics in the Czech Republic saying that they attend Mass weekly, according to recently published data.

In his opening address Monday, Archbishop Jan Graubner of Prague reflected on the title of the synod working document that is serving as a launching point for the week’s discussions, “Enlarge the space of your tent.”

“If we are talking about a tent that reminds us of the journey of Israel across the desert, then let us recall that God himself was the safe guide of the Israelites. He made them feel safe. He was the good Father who takes care of his children while also educating them through severe punishment,” Graubner said.

“From the consultations I had, I got the impression that many people simply state their opinions but hardly ever listen to the voice of the Lord, namely, the voice of he who called us to his works, who revealed to us his plan of the kingdom of God — the plan mentioned in the Bible. His word is not just to be studied or meditated upon. It should be put to good use,” he told the synod participants.

The European Continental Assembly is one of seven synod continental assemblies occurring across the globe in February and March.

The European assembly is split into two parts. In the first part Feb. 5-9, laypeople and clerics together represented their countries in livestreamed discussions of what priorities and themes should be taken up in the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome this fall. 

Among the participants are three of the organizers of Germany’s “synodal way”: Irme Stetter-Karp, the president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics; Thomas Söding, its vice president; and Bishop Georg Bätzing, who has served as the president of the synodal path since 2020.

A final document will be debated and approved on Feb. 9 based on 39 country presentations and working group discussions in the first half of the week. 

Following these discussions, a second private meeting among 35 bishops, the presidents of each of Europe’s bishops’ conferences, will collectively review the document, listen to speeches by each of the bishops, and produce a second final document.

Each day of the synod includes Mass and moments of prayer between speeches, often accompanied by recordings of hymns or worship music submitted by different countries. 

Cardinal Marc Ouellet offered Mass on Feb. 7 and preached on the sacrament of marriage between one man and one woman made in the image of God. 

Ukrainians Greek Catholics led evening prayer on Tuesday night as the delegates from across Europe prayed for peace on their continent.

Delegations representing the Catholic communities in Ukraine and Russia are both taking part in the European Synodal Assembly.

Archbishop Paolo Pezzi and Father Stephan Lipke, SJ, traveled from Moscow to participate in the assembly. Two delegations are representing Ukraine — Archbishop Martin Kmetec is among the representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and three bishops are also listed as representing Latin Catholics in Ukraine.

The European delegates were also united in prayer for the victims of the earthquake in southern Turkey and northern Syria. 

Father Antonio Ammirati, the spokesman for the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences organizing the assembly, read aloud a declaration on the earthquake by the participants in the assembly on Tuesday afternoon.

“The death toll is still on the rise and the destruction, and the suffering of the population have profoundly affected and touched our souls,” he said.

“With great sympathy, the Churches in Europe are close to the populations afflicted by the earthquake, renewing our prayers, and assisting in every possible way to deal with the emergency.”

Canadian man says hospital staff ‘pressured’ him to euthanize his wife

Richard Leskun says he was pressured repeatedly to put a do-not-resuscitate order on his wife Marilynn at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. Then staff offered to euthanize her. / Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

Vancouver, Canada, Feb 7, 2023 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

Richard Leskun remained at his wife Marilynn’s side nearly 24 hours a day after she was admitted to Abbotsford Regional Hospital, the result of a fall from her wheelchair. 

Over the next several days Leskun found himself not only caring for his 71-year-old wife but also fending off efforts by medical staff to let her die, before they offered to do the job themselves. 

The Sunshine Coast widower is sounding the alarm over what he says is a shocking and dangerous bias in the medical system toward the promotion of death for sick and elderly patients.

Leskun, 75, made the charge after he said medical staff at the Abbotsford hospital “pressured” and “badgered” him to allow his wife of 50 years, Marilynn, to die, and then suggested that he let her be euthanized.

Already fragile from the debilitating effects of dementia, Marilynn, 71, had entered the hospital after falling from her wheelchair and breaking vertebrae in her neck.

As Marilynn Leskun’s condition deteriorated, her husband Richard was asked if he would agree to medical staff euthanizing her. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic
As Marilynn Leskun’s condition deteriorated, her husband Richard was asked if he would agree to medical staff euthanizing her. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

Leskun, who was a member of St. James Parish in Abbotsford at the time and now lives in Secret Cove, told The B.C. Catholic in an interview that over the course of eight days staff asked him five times whether they could place a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) designation on his wife.

He said he strongly objected each time and also made his pro-life views known at a family conference with hospital staff.

“At that meeting, I was very clear: I’m a Catholic and I’m absolutely against medically assisted dying,” he recalled saying. “I’m against euthanasia. I want my wife to live. I want her to continue living. We’ve had a good life for 10 years, even though she has dementia. I was very clear.”

As his wife’s condition continued to deteriorate, a hospitalist — a specialist physician assigned to the case — asked Leskun if he would agree to medical staff euthanizing Marilynn.

“The hospitalist is the one who came to me, quite late in the evening, on the night before she died,” Leskun said. “I was absolutely worn, frazzled, completely worn out. I was there every day, almost 24/7, and he said to me, ‘You know, I have written orders for medically assisted dying.’

“I was probably too tired to jump down his throat or whatever. I said no, for sure. I was too tired to feel anything. But I was saying no, absolutely not.” Hours later, when it was clear to him that Marilynn was dying, he told a nurse he would finally agree to a DNR order.

“The nurse said to me, and this shocked me, the nurse said, ‘Oh, it’s OK, the doctor has already put a DNR on,’” Leskun said. “And this was done without my approval. I never gave consent until that moment. [But] she said, ‘It’s already on there. It’s already on the chart.’”

Marilynn Rita Marie Leskun died soon after, in the early morning of Dec. 8, 2018. She was survived by her husband and their two adult children.

Marilynn Leskun with her son and daughter. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic
Marilynn Leskun with her son and daughter. Courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

Leskun, a retired accountant, wanted to share his experiences after reading The B.C. Catholic’s reports on its investigation into the pro-Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) policies of the Fraser Health Authority, under whose jurisdiction the Abbotsford hospital falls.

He said he is concerned for the welfare of other families whose loved ones may end up in hospital in an era when assisted suicide is being offered in every Fraser Health facility, including hospices.

“Now that the health system offers both death and life, you must speak strongly and clearly if you want life,” he said. “Ensure that your primary care doctor believes in your principles and is willing to act powerfully to negotiate for the care you need.”

The Church teaches that assisted suicide is immoral in all circumstance but does not have formal teaching regarding DNRs. Rather, a patient or a patient’s legally designated decision-maker can decide on its application in light of the patient’s medical condition and life circumstances.

Leskun said he is not bitter over what happened and did not launch a formal complaint but did convene a “debriefing” meeting with seven members of the hospital medical staff on March 5, 2019, at which he laid out his concerns.

“I remember one comment that the hospitalist in charge of Marilynn’s care made to me: ‘Mr. Leskun, we have to look at the big picture.’ I did not know what he meant by that, but it shows how little he valued her individual life,” he said.

Leskun said he now has a clearer idea of what that doctor’s comment meant: that the state-run medical system has its own utilitarian ethics centered on how best to use its limited funds and other medical resources.

“Institutional ethics are appropriate for institutions but are often in conflict with individual ethics,” Leskun said. “I cannot fault the individual doctors for the ‘sins’ of the institution.”

The B.C. Catholic asked the Fraser Health Authority a series of questions related to the Leskun case but did not receive answers before deadline.

Canada’s leading anti-MAiD activist, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says Leskun’s story is all-too-typical these days.

“We have received multiple calls from people with exactly the same story,” Schadenberg told The B.C. Catholic. “It’s the constant badgering about MAiD or euthanasia.”

He said he is currently trying to help a woman who wants information on what legal provisions exist to force medical staff to stop asking for MAiD approval.

Schadenberg said it is wrong for health care staff to pester someone to agree to a DNR order and then secretly override their wishes. “People have the right in law to decide,” he said. “We shouldn’t be badgered.”

The situation points to a large and growing problem, he said. “When the culture will not respect our values and beliefs, then we have a serious problem. Then it stops being about my needs but what the state believes is important.”

Schadenberg said human life is being devalued across Canada, and although troubling incidents took place before the legalization of MAiD in 2016, the situation has worsened since.

“Today, it seems that the concept of wanting treatment is coming, to some medical staff, to be seen as absurd — that you actually want treatment and not death,” he said. “You’re now being seen as terrible for wanting to be treated. You’re costing the system. Everything turns upside down once you start killing.”

Leskun said he believes there is an effort to lead people toward MAiD in some circumstances. “I believe it is at a point when the system figures that there is too much cost and effort. I believe that the system has a motivation towards moving those kinds of people towards medically assisted dying.”

That realization greatly upset him. “I initially wanted to get back at the system, but I no longer want to do that,” he said.

“I just want to make sure that people are aware that they have to be very careful when they are getting care that they speak for themselves and that they understand that the system, I think, has a leaning towards getting rid of the bad cases, the hard cases, the expensive cases. And they have to be aware of that.

“It seems to me that MAiD is being made out to be a noble choice — good for society, for everybody, for yourself, it’s the noblest thing you could do,” he said.

The Fraser Health Authority says it has enacted programs to help its staff cope with the emotional and moral distress that can result from participation in the provision of assisted suicide.

Dixon Tam, a senior consultant with the authority’s communications and public affairs office, said in an email that, since the legalization of Medical Assistance in Dying in 2016, Fraser Health has encouraged “staff to access support and resources as required, such as reaching out to their manager, as well as accessing internal and external employee counseling services.”

The authority also facilitates “discussions with staff members to explain their right to conscientiously object and not participate in the direct provision of medically assisted deaths, while ensuring that eligible patients have access to this service,” he said.

Tam’s statements were in answer to a series of questions sent to his office by The B.C. Catholic after the authority gave the newspaper previously secret documents showing that implementation of MAiD sparked staff opposition and discomfort throughout the system. The B.C. Catholic reported on these concerns in its Jan. 23 edition.

That story was the latest in a series that began in March 2021 after several FHA patients complained they were pestered about agreeing to MAiD. A similar complaint was made public by Sunshine Coast resident Richard Leskun.

Tam said the health authority provides MAiD “as an end-of-life option in a manner that is safe, respectful, and supportive of patients, families, and providers“ and that the authority “created a number of initiatives to assist our staff in understanding the [2016] legislation in order to best support our patients.”

They include: “An ethics debriefing tool for staff to be used both before and after a MAiD provision,” providing “specific MAiD education to staff across Fraser Health, as well as education specially tailored to specific staff, such as those who work in hospice care,” and establishing “community of practice MAiD sessions, including one facilitated by the regulatory College of Nurses (now known as BC College of Nurses and Midwives).”

Tam rejected the idea that internal opposition to MAiD has contributed to current staff shortages in B.C.’s health care system.

The federal government, which wants to extend euthanasia eligibility to include people whose sole condition is a mental disorder, announced this week it will delay implementation of the provision until March 17, 2024.

“Fraser Health is working to prepare for this new legislation to ensure we are able to support our staff, while also ensuring eligible Canadians have access to information regarding legal options that are available to address their intolerable suffering,” Tam said.

Meantime, the B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is scheduled to hold a written inquiry on Feb. 9 into The B.C. Catholic’s quest to uncover yet more hidden information from secret meetings of Fraser Health’s board of directors.

This article was originally published in The B.C. Catholic, a weekly publication serving the Catholic community in British Columbia.

Dictatorship in Nicaragua sentences seven more clergy and laity to 10 years in prison

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 7, 2023 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

In a new attack on the Catholic Church, the Nicaraguan dictatorship led by President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, sentenced three priests, a deacon, two seminarians, and a layman from the Diocese of Matagalpa to 10 years in prison. 

According to reports from the local newspaper La Prensa and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), the sentence was issued on Feb. 6 by Judge Nadia Tardencilla of the Second Criminal Trial District.

The sentence consists of five years for the crime of “conspiracy to undermine national security and sovereignty” and five years for “spreading fake news” with an additional 800 days monetary fine based on the convicted person’s daily salary.

The convicted priests are Ramiro Reynaldo Tijerino Chávez, 50, rector of the John Paul II University; Sadiel Antonio Eugarrios Cano, 35, former vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral; and José Luis Díaz Cruz, 33, current vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral.

Also sentenced were Deacon Raúl Antonio Vega González, 27; seminarians Darvin Esteylin Leiva Mendoza, 19, and Melkin Antonio Centeno Sequeira, 23; and photographer Sergio José Cárdenas Flores, 32.

The seven were found guilty on Jan. 27 and were awaiting sentencing. In a separate trial, Father Oscar Benavidez was also found guilty of the same charges and sentenced Feb. 4 to 10 years in prison.

The regime announced Jan. 10 that the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, who has been under house arrest since Aug. 19, 2022, will stand trial accused of conspiracy. The prelate has not yet been sentenced.

The CENIDH charged that the sentence issued against these seven men is “a new legal aberration” that also “disqualified them for life from holding public office and popular election.”

“We at the CENIDH condemn these perverse actions of the regime that violate human rights. We demand immediate freedom for them and all political prisoners,” the organization added.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Statue of Mary untouched in earthquake that demolished cathedral in Turkey

Image of the Virgin Mary in the rubble of the Cathedral of Alexandria in Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023. / Credit: Facebook Antuan Ilgit SJ

CNA Newsroom, Feb 7, 2023 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

A statue of the Virgin Mary was untouched after the collapse of a Catholic cathedral in an earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday, inflicting heavy damage with a death toll already exceeding 6,000 and leaving thousands more injured.

The image of Our Lady was unharmed in the quake that brought down Annunciation Cathedral in the city of Alexandretta in the Turkish province of Hatay. The cathedral was the main church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia.

On Facebook, Father Antuan Ilgit, a Turkish Jesuit priest, asked the faithful to “pray for us and for the people. It was a powerful earthquake. We don’t have definite news yet. However, our cathedral is no more!”

“Thank God we, our sisters, and our collaborators are well and we’re trying to take in those who come to stay with us,” he added.

In a subsequent Facebook post, the priest commented that “the collapse of the cathedral is shocking; just yesterday I celebrated Mass there, on Sunday!”

“Now the living stones that need attention are here, and with the help of God we will be able to rebuild everything,” Ilgit said.

“We are all in the refectory, which is more accessible, where we also celebrated Mass! I brought the image of the Madonna from the cathedral; this image will be our strength and with her we will face everything,” he said.

“We continue to trust in God and in his holy providence. It’s raining, it’s cold, and the tremors are very strong. We feel your closeness and count on it. We also hold beloved Syria in our hearts. May the Lord keep us in his love and be gracious to us!” the priest concluded.

In the early hours of Monday, Feb. 6, a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. A few hours later, at around 1:30 p.m. local time, a second 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck central Turkey, bringing down more buildings.

Turkey is located in one of the most active seismic zones in the world.

The Turkish government has declared a level 4 state of emergency and has requested international assistance after more than a thousand buildings in various provinces in southern Turkey and northern Syria were demolished by the strong earthquake.

The Turkish government has also decreed seven days of mourning for the tragedy.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, sent a message to those affected by the earthquake. “On behalf of the Church in Italy,” he said, “I express my deep condolences and closeness to the population tested by this tragic event, assuring prayers for the victims, their families, and the injured.”

He also hoped that “the machinery of international solidarity will be put into operation immediately to ensure a speedy reconstruction.”

The Italian bishops pledged 500,000 euros in aid for victims in both countries and noted that in Syria, “the earthquake afflicts a country already torn by war and where more than 80% of the population lives in poverty.”

The number of victims in Turkey and Syria continues to rise as the rubble is removed.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Guess who’s coming to the State of the Union? Pro-life hero and target of Biden Justice Department Mark Houck

Mark Houck talks to reporters outside the U.S. District courthouse in Philadelphia with his lawyers, Peter Breen (left), Brian McMonagle (right), and Andrew Bath (background) following his acquittal on two charges of violating the FACE Act, Jan. 30, 2023. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Boston, Mass., Feb 7, 2023 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

While several Democrats are showing off their commitment to removing restrictions on abortion by inviting pro-abortion guests to attend President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, one Republican is making a statement in support of life with his invitation.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry invited pro-life advocate and recently exonerated Catholic father of seven Mark Houck to be his guest. 

“Mark Houck and his family are innocent victims of the radical left’s reprehensible abuse of power, which systematically seeks to destroy the lives of hardworking Americans whose only ‘crimes’ are using their God-given constitutional rights to protect their families, faith, and way of life,” Perry told The Daily Signal Feb. 7.

Houck recently fought charges in federal court of violating two counts of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, known as the FACE Act. His trial and subsequent acquittal followed his early morning arrest by the FBI in September 2022, which made national headlines. It also led many federal lawmakers to criticize the Department of Justice for excessive use of force in order to intimidate pro-lifers.

Perry said that Biden has “weaponized” the federal government “against anyone who thwarts his radical, leftist agenda.”

“He should see the faces of some of those Americans who have been relentlessly and unjustifiably persecuted by the same government sworn to protect their freedoms,” he concluded.

Houck told the outlet that he will be attending with his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, and is honored to be asked by Perry.

“We hope our presence with members of Congress will continue to raise awareness about the injustice that was rendered against my family and others in recent months,” Houck said.

Tuesday is Biden’s first State of the Union Address following the June Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Following the defeat of Roe, Houck’s acquittal in Philadelphia federal court marks another major political blow to the Biden administration’s pro-abortion agenda, which includes the prosecution of several pro-life advocates under the FACE Act.

“We pray for the opportunity to meet with those who need to hear our story and for the eventual opportunity to testify before the Judiciary Committee about our reckless experience with the Department of Justice,” Houck concluded.

Democrats invite pro-abortion guests to State of the Union

null / Wikipedia

Boston, Mass., Feb 7, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Several Democratic congressmen have invited pro-abortion activists as their guests for President Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address Tuesday night to highlight their commitment to removing restrictions on abortion.

Jill Biden has also included an abortion activist as one of her guests to sit in the First Lady’s box.

Tuesday is Biden’s first State of the Union Address following the June Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide.

As abortion becomes increasingly more difficult to procure in many states — and much easier to access in others — pro-abortion politicians are digging their heels in on the issue while pro-life advocates are doubling down on the humanity of the unborn.

And not all the guests coming tonight are advocates of abortion. One high-profile advocate for the unborn, pro-life advocate Mark Houck, will be attending at the invitation of a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania.

Sen. Ed Markey

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, is bringing abortion rights advocate Kate Dineen, a Massachusetts woman who traveled out of state to legally procure an abortion in Maryland. 

Dineen was pregnant past the legal stage to get an abortion in Massachusetts when her son suffered a devastating stroke in her womb, according to the Patch.

Markey said that he is bringing Dineen to “highlight the importance of codifying abortion rights into law” and the “urgent need to go further” in removing legal, economic, or geographical restrictions to abortion. 

Rep. Katherine Clark

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, has invited Boston abortion doctor Cheryl Hamlin as her guest Tuesday night.

Hamlin, who works at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, spent time working at an abortion center in Jackson, Mississippi, which was the focal point of the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Hamlin worked at the Jackson abortion clinic to perform abortions that local doctors refused to perform, taking her motivation from the 2016 election of former President Donald Trump, who was staunchly pro-life, WGBH reported.

Clark said that she invited Hamlin to highlight the Democratic Party’s “commitment to reproductive freedom” and standing against the “MAGA Majority’s assault on women’s health and rights.”

Rep. Madeleine Dean

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pennsylvania, will be joined by Kelsey Leigh, an abortion activist from the state who herself has had an abortion. 

According to Dean, Leigh had an abortion at 22 weeks, after it was discovered that her child had “severe fetal anomalies.” 

Dean said she wanted to make it clear by inviting Leigh that “abortion care is health care.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Anabely Lopes, a Florida woman who traveled out of state to procure an abortion of her child after genetic testing identified “a deadly fetal anomaly,” will be joining Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, the congresswoman announced Monday.

Wasserman Schultz said that Lopes is “a victim of extreme MAGA Republican policies that focus on Florida culture war distractions and attacking women and minorities.” 

In a tweet Monday, Wasserman Schultz said that Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ “abortion ban forced my #SOTU guest Anabely Lopes to leave FLA for the procedure when genetic tests revealed a deadly fetal anomaly,” adding that President Joe Biden and the House Democrats “defend women’s rights.”

First Lady Jill Biden

The First Lady, Jill Biden, invited a host of guests to the State of the Union to sit in the First Lady’s box, including Amanda and Josh Zurawski of Austin, Texas.

Amanda Zurawski was pregnant in 2022 and her water prematurely broke at 18 weeks. She subsequently developed sepsis and almost died because of a failure to treat her in a time-appropriate manner, the AP reported.

The couple’s daughter was delivered stillborn, according to TODAY.

Catholic aid agencies respond after devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria

A Syrian woman and her children warm by a stove at an emergency shelter in the center of the city of Maarat Misrin, in the rebel-held northern part of the northwestern Idlib province Feb. 7, 2023, one day after a deadly earthquake hit Syria and Turkey. / Photo by ABDULAZIZ KETAZ/AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 7, 2023 / 12:50 pm (CNA).

Catholic aid agencies worldwide are coordinating and sending aid after a series of massive earthquakes shook parts of Turkey and Syria, leaving continued devastation in their wake. 

According to the latest available estimates as of midday Tuesday, the 7.8-magnitude quake ​​has left at least 6,200 people dead in Turkey and Syria, the New York Times reported. In Syria, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, countless buildings collapsed Feb. 6, including several Catholic churches, reported ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language partner agency.

Nikki Gamer, a spokesperson for the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services, told CNA that CRS is supporting local church partners in Turkey and Syria, including Caritas Turkey and Caritas Syria, but coordination remains difficult. CRS is raising funds via a banner on its website. 

“Many of our partner staff are personally affected by the destruction,” Gamer told CNA. 

“Telecommunications are disrupted and transportation is impaired, complicating relief efforts and attempts to identify and account for family members. Snow, sleet, and freezing temperatures are in the forecast, so priority needs include safe shelter, warm clothes, and hot meals. Our partners have begun to offer that support and will continue to assess and address the needs in the weeks to come.”

The Catholic humanitarian organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is readying an emergency aid program, spokesman Joop Koopman told CNA. Their current focus is on the provision of blankets, milk for infants, and medical supplies, he said. In addition, engineers are inspecting houses making sure families can safely return to their homes, while many shelter in churches and church buildings. 

“We will have more information in the next couple of days,” Koopman told CNA. 

In Syria, many cities and towns with a significant Christian population, such as Aleppo, Homs, Lattakia, and Hama, suffered major damage. In Aleppo, several UNESCO World Heritage sites were damaged, including the citadel of the old city. 

Witnesses to the tragedy said the earthquake and its aftermath were, though brief, just as traumatic as the war. 

“If you ask the people of Aleppo about the war they lived through, they express their feelings of pain, fear, despair about the future, loss of safety, etc. They use many different expressions to express the 12-year war. But if you ask them about the earthquake that they were exposed to, the answer is just one word: horror,” Sister Annie Demerjian, a Catholic religious sister who lives and works in the city, told Aid to the Church in Need. 

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo said they are hosting at least 50 people at the bishopry, while Bishop Ephraim Maalouli, the Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Aleppo, Alexandretta, and their Dependencies, said they had already sheltered nearly 1,600 people at various churches in the city since the disaster. 

Other Catholic groups are responding mightily to the many people in need. The Franciscans in Aleppo are currently hosting and feeding some 2,000 people at their convent, according to Father Massimo Fusarelli, minister general for the Order of Friars Minor.

Among those killed in Aleppo was Father Imad Daher, a priest of the Greek Melkite Catholic Parish of Our Lady. Daher died when the residence of the former archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, collapsed. Jeanbart narrowly escaped and is currently being treated for his wounds in a hospital, though he is said to be stable, ACN said in a statement Monday. Another Christian man who was in the building at the time also died, the organization said.

Court rules pro-life group owes nearly $1 million in fines for Planned Parenthood protests

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Denver, Colo., Feb 7, 2023 / 12:23 pm (CNA).

A Planned Parenthood affiliate has won a legal judgment of almost $1 million against a pro-life group that gathered outside of a Spokane abortion clinic.

The group, which calls itself the Church at Planned Parenthood, must pay $110,000 in civil damages to Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho and another $850,000 in legal fees to the abortion provider, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Feb. 3.

A Spokane County judge ruled in December that the church repeatedly violated state law by “willfully or recklessly” disrupting the normal functioning of a health care facility, including by making noise that “unreasonably disturbs the peace within the facility.”

Judge Tim Fennessy of Spokane County Superior Court agreed with Planned Parenthood’s evidence that the church held 22 services in violation of state law and fined the church $5,000 for each day of a violation. He agreed that the violations put patients at increased risk of physical and mental health problems, the news site Crosscut reported.

Among the critics of the ruling was Esther Ripplinger, executive director of the pro-life group Human Life of Washington, who addressed the decision in Feb. 7 remarks in an interview with CNA.

“What we’re seeing is an attack on pro-life, period,” said Ripplinger, whose organization is the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee. “It’s an attack on life and it’s unfair. And it’s singled out. These are just trumped-up charges and I hope that they fight it to the fullest extent of the law.”

“These are people who engage and mobilize other people who believe that abortion is wrong, and so they have the right to do that, to assemble together on public property,” Ripplinger said. “Absolutely no laws were broken here. This is really just a witch hunt against the organizers and against what they believe, and it’s not fair.”

Pastor Ken Peters, a co-founder of the church, denied allegations of harassment and obstruction to reproductive care. He characterized the events as peaceful and nondisruptive.

“Literally, we were singing, praying, and preaching. That’s what we got sued for. We were doing it after hours when we got sued,” he told Spokane CBS affiliate KREM2 News. He said that insurance will pay for legal fees, and the church’s future events and rallies will go forward.

Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said its arguments in the case were “content-neutral.” The clinic saw the protests’ impact on patients and abortion providers. “They did not feel safe,” he said.

Dillon said the group tried to “tiptoe around the law” despite previous court orders.

The Church at Planned Parenthood launched in 2019 as a “church plant” outside the abortion facility. Its website says the church meets only once a month and that the gathering is “not a protest” but “a worship service at the gates of hell.” It characterizes its actions as “non-confrontational spiritual warfare” in the “revival spirit” of Wesley and Whitefield, an apparent reference to John Wesley and George Whitefield, leaders of the Methodist and evangelical Christian movements of the 18th century.

The church says it preaches the Gospel outdoors and “unifies the True Church confronting the Evil of our Day.” Its actions show “repentance for America’s sin.”

The Church at Planned Parenthood has the support of at least nine Washington state churches. It also has controversial links.

It was founded by Covenant Church of Spokane, then pastored by former state Rep. Matt Shea, who now heads On Fire Ministries in Spokane, the newspaper The Spokesman-Review reported.

Shea was suspended from the Washington State House Republican Caucus after a December 2019 report that accused him of “engaging in an act of domestic terrorism” for planning, promoting, and engaging in political violence against the U.S. government from 2014–2016, according to CNN. The incidents included support for the Bundy Ranch standoff against FBI agents in a conflict over grazing rights.

Ripplinger, however, said church attendees are respectful of the law. She told CNA she had attended one Church at Planned Parenthood event several years ago.

“I saw firsthand that this group abides by the law,” she said. “They are on public property and very courteous to anyone. They meet in the evenings after hours, so there’s no disruption to the business whatsoever. I saw that firsthand. They’re extremely polite to pedestrians.”

According to Ripplinger, the gathering she saw had crowd control practices in place to ensure compliance with rules.

The Church at Planned Parenthood initially met on a sidewalk and strip of grass alongside the south wall of the abortion clinic. A court order in September 2020 said the church could only gather across the street, but Planned Parenthood said this order was routinely violated, according to KXLY News. In September 2021, a judge barred the church and its members from gathering anywhere within 35 feet of the clinic and from making noise between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Before the legal action and internal splits, the church drew as many as 500 attendees.

Father Darrin Connall, vicar general for the Diocese of Spokane, told CNA he thought the fines seemed “excessive and punitive,” though he was unfamiliar with what laws were broken.

He questioned whether the Church at Planned Parenthood had the best approach.

“The Christian world isn’t united on the best way to protest the taking of unborn human life, so I can’t say if Catholics would be united with their approach or not,” the priest said. “But we certainly would have obeyed the law and if the law needed to be changed, [we’d] work to change the law through the system, rather than rather than breaking it.”

“We in the diocese organize peaceful protests in support of human life regularly,” the vicar general said.

Connall, who is also rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, said a group of parishioners goes to an abortion clinic once a week and prays the rosary outside while obeying the law.

He said the Catholic Church would emphasize prayer, “begging God to bring about a deeper and greater respect for the sanctity of all human life.”

He also noted Catholic Bishop of Spokane Thomas Daly’s launch of the annual Walk for Life Northwest in downtown Spokane, now in its seventh year. According to Connall, this is a time “for people to come together for a public witness to what we believe about life in a very public way.”

Bishop Daly addressed the Walk for Life Northwest in Spokane on Jan. 22. About 2,000 people attended the event, the Spokane diocese newspaper Inland Catholic reported.

Tennessee governor to increase funding for crisis pregnancy centers to $100 million

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Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2023 / 10:47 am (CNA).

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced plans at his annual State of the State address Monday to expand support for crisis pregnancy centers in the state to $100 million.

Abortion has been illegal in Tennessee for all stages of pregnancy since a ban went into effect in the state in August 2022. On Monday night, Lee, a Republican, proposed strengthening support for women and families through a list of expanded social welfare programs.

“Pro-life is much more than defending the lives of the unborn. It’s not a matter of politics; this is about human dignity,” Lee said.

In addition to increased funding for crisis pregnancy centers, Lee also proposed widening Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women and parents, asking the federal government to cover the cost of diapers for Medicaid recipients, and granting additional paid parental leave time for state employees.

“There was a significant shift in this country last year when it comes to protecting the lives of the unborn,” Lee said, referring to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. “We now all have an opportunity, a moral obligation, to support strong Tennessee families.”

To take effect the governor’s proposed budget must be passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, which is majority Republican in both houses.

“If approved, Tennessee will be the first Medicaid program in the nation to implement this kind of support. That’s pro-life. That’s pro-family,” Lee said.

Crisis pregnancy centers typically offer pregnant women and families free resources and baby materials.

Pregnancy Resource Center, a Tennessee nonprofit medical clinic that operates two crisis pregnancy centers and a mobile clinic, offers “pregnancy testing, ultrasound exams, STD testing, and holistic wraparound care to women, men, and families in need,” according to CEO Valerie Millsapps.

Millsapps told CNA that she’s “grateful” the governor and state Assembly “are committed to serving moms and dads in need.”

“These are exciting times for Tennesseans,” Millsapps said. “It is clear that our governor and state leaders are prioritizing moms and families in the same way we have for decades.”

Millsapps also noted that the governor’s proposals are “just the beginning of what our state can do to foster environments where families flourish.”