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How a college mission trip inspired a coffee business

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Jul 24, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA).- When Matt Hohler was in college in 2010, he was a reluctant Catholic - and not a coffee drinker. 

That year, his mom gave him a trip to a college Catholic conference as a Christmas gift. It was a conference with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, which annually draws several thousands of college students seeking to know more about their faith. 

Hohler was not thrilled. 

“I remember being a bit sour about it,” he told CNA. “I remember thinking I don’t really wanna go, I thought it wasn’t cool.” 

But he went anyway, had a great time, and came back with a pull on his heart to go on a FOCUS mission trip to Honduras, “even though I remember not even knowing where Honduras was at the time,” he recalled. 

He signed up for the trip, and the week he spent with FOCUS teaching catechesis in Honduras “was mind-bending to say the least.” 

What struck him most was the Honduras people’s extreme generosity amidst the experience of extreme poverty. 

“They just gave everything they had, and they had nothing,” Hohler said.

That fascination with Honduras and desire to help those in need continued to grow, and eventually Hohler returned for a year to volunteer as an English teacher, a job he found through a connection from the trip. 

That year, he came home for Christmas break and was hanging out at grandma’s house before the rest of the family arrived.  

While they waited, Hohler’s grandmother pulled him into a hallway, where there had been a statue of the Virgin Mary for as long as Hohler could remember. 

“She said, ‘There have been times in our lives where I swear we didn’t have enough money, and we put money under the statue of Mary, and we’d come back and there would be more money than before,’” Hohler recalled. 

She told him to always remember to put God first, and handed her grandson $1,000 with simple instructions: “Go do something good with it.” 

When he returned to Honduras, the search for that “something good” led Hohler to Sr. Maria, a Catholic nun who has dedicated her life to serving her community near Lake Yojoa, Honduras. Her nutrition-focused organization, Casa de Angeles, provides 100+ children at risk of malnutrition with lunches every day throughout the school year. 

As Hohler spent time with Sr. Maria and the children, he realized that many of the kids’ impoverished families were coffee farmers, who were still making insufficient wages despite promises of markups after their coffee gained labels like “organic” and “fair-trade.” (He also started to drink, and love, coffee.)

Hohler, along with like-minded friend Robert Durrette, decided to do what they could to get a fairer wage for small-scale coffee farmers in Central and South America. And that’s how coffee start-up Levanta Coffee began. 

Taken from the Spanish reflexive verb “levantarse,” Levanta means to wake up, but it can also mean to rise up. 

“By waking up each morning with a cup of Levanta Coffee, you’re giving hard-working coffee farmers from Honduras and Peru the opportunity to lift themselves up economically,” the businesses’ Kickstarter page explains. 

The business model of Levanta cuts out nearly all of the middlemen involved in the process of most coffee sales – including fair trade coffee – that takes away from the profits that actually end up in farmers’ hands. 

“We too used to think that ‘Fair Trade’ was the best way to support small scale farmers. We sipped our coffee believing we were helping farmers like Daniel and Rosa earn a good living. Problem is, that just wasn't true,” Hohler and Durette explain on their Kickstarter. 

“‘Fair trade’ offers 20 cents more per pound of coffee, but very little of that extra money actually makes it back to small-scale farmers. Although they had been promised higher prices and better returns on their hard work, many coffee farmers are still struggling to put food on the table. In the best-case scenario, farmers might get a few hundred extra dollars per year. This translates into an income of $2,000-$4,000 a year for the average farmer who is often providing for a family of 4-6 people,” they noted. 

The Levanta model will provide a 50 percent higher payment that will end up directly in the hands of the small-scale coffee farmers in both Honduras and Peru, where the pair has launched their startup. 

“Essentially what we’re doing is taking a page out of what a lot of humanitarian aid is doing now, in terms of direct transfers. Rather than investing in aid in terms of professionals or food, or whatever it be, a lot of studies have found that just by giving them more cash and allowing them to make their own decisions, it’s actually allowing for more and more development,” Hohler explained.

In exchange, Levanta Coffee asks their farmers to share their personal stories with coffee drinkers around the world. 

Co-founder Robert Durrette said he believes “the stories of the farmers we have partnered with is crucial to sparking change in the coffee industry. You will learn about their hardships and struggles, but also their successes – all while we deliver you better coffee.”

“It gives you the opportunity to look at the coffee you drink in a more personal way, and you’ll know exactly how this is being impactful,” Hohler said. “We’ll be following up year after year, making sure it’s the right model, being really transparent and really inviting people into this story so they can experience it.” 

The pair launched their Kickstarter on July 18th, and have already seen great results, with $32,348 of their $35,000 goal having been raised at the time this article was written. If they make their stretch goal of $50,000, they can partner with a third coffee producer. 

It hasn’t always been easy – Hohler said he was questioned by several well-meaning friends and family about when he would “get a real job.” But he’s stuck to his decision, saying that he feels it’s a call from God to put his faith into action. 

“The thing I wanted to do with my faith was to show it through action, and be an example of my faith in the way that I live, creating good in the way I live my life rather than telling someone what they should be doing,” he said. 

“Evangelization through action is what I wanted to do.” 

Learn more about Levanta Coffee, and the coffee farmers involved, on their Kickstarter page or by following them on Instagram or Facebook.

Francis prays for Charlie Gard, as his parents end legal battle

Vatican City, Jul 24, 2017 / 04:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a US neurologist determined that an experimental therapy could no longer potentially be of aid to a British baby born with a disabling medical condition, his parents have given up a legal challenge to take him to the US for the treatment.

British and European courts had sided with English hospital officials who sought to bar Charlie Gard's parents from seeking treatment overseas.

Greg Burke, the Holy See press officer, said July 24 that “Pope Francis is praying for Charlie and his parents and feels especially close to them at this time of immense suffering. The Holy Father asks that we join in prayer that they may find God’s consolation and love.”

Charlie Gard, aged 11 months, is believed to suffer from a rare genetic condition called mitochondrial depletion syndrome, which causes progressive muscle weakness. The disorder is believed to affect fewer than 20 children worldwide. Charlie has been in intensive care since October 2016. He has suffered significant brain damage due to the disease and is currently fed through a tube. He breathes with an artificial ventilator and is unable to move.

His parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, had wanted to keep him on life support and transport him to the United States in order to try an experimental treatment. They raised more than $1.6 million to help seek his treatment in the US.

However, their decision was challenged in court by hospitals and an attorney appointed to represent Charlie. The parents appealed a High Court decision, and their appeal to the U.K.’s Supreme Court was rejected.

The efforts to keep Charlie's parents from seeking overseas treatment were based on deep ethical errors, a Catholic expert in medical ethics told CNA earlier this year. Dr. Melissa Moschella said the hospital's effort represented a “quality of life” ethic that says human life is valuable only if it meets certain capacities, and that it is moreover a violation of parental rights.

A neurologist in the US, Dr. Michio Hirano, had been willing to offer Gard nucleoside bypass therapy, while acknowledging it would not necessarily heal him. But after seeing a new MRI scan this week, Hirano declined to offer the therapy.

According to the Guardian, Connie said, “All our efforts are for [Charlie], we only want to give him a chance at life. There’s one simple reason for Charlie’s muscular deterioration [and] that was time,” noting the lengthy decisions from the courts of London which restricted Charlie from the U.S. treatment.

The representative for Charlie’s parents, Grant Armstrong said, “For Charlie, it’s too late, time has run out, irreversible muscular damage has been done and the treatment can no longer be a success.”

The child's life support is expected to be pulled in the next few days.

His parents now wish to establish a charity to research and combat mitochondrial depletion syndrome.

UK porn sites to ban access for users under 18 years old

London, England, Jul 24, 2017 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As part of an increasing government crackdown on internet pornography, U.K. porn sites will soon require users to provide proof of being at least 18 years old.

The proposal to move all pornographic websites behind an age-verification wall is slated to take place in April 2018 as part of the Digital Economy Act, promoted by parliament member Matt Hancock.

While details of the ban are still under discussion, the proposal could require credit card details for porn access, as U.K. consumers generally have to be 18 years of age or older to own a card. The age-verification software will likely be similar to gambling websites, and failure to comply could lead to heavy fines for porn sites.  

In her customary opening-of-parliament speech in 2016, Queen Elizabeth II referenced the bill, which also aims to reduce email spam and telemarketing calls for citizens as well as promote the testing and use of driverless cars in the U.K.

Supporters of the legislation say that one in five children in the country aged 11-17 had been exposed to pornographic images online that had shocked or upset them, the BBC reported.

While the proposal has drawn criticism for potentially being both a threat to personal privacy and an ultimately ineffective move, its proponents call it a crucial step in the right direction.

“Protecting children from exposure, including accidental exposure, to adult content is incredibly important, given the effect it can have on young people,” said Will Gardner, chief executive of internet safety charity Childnet, according to the Telegraph.

“Steps like this help restrict access,” he said.

Archbishop Gomez calls on Congress to pass Dream Act

Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 24, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Too many young people are threatened with deportation because their parents brought them to the U.S. without documentation, and Congress needs to pass the Dream Act to help them, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has said.

The proposed legislation “would permanently lift the threat of deportation that right now hangs over the heads of more than one million young people who were brought to this country illegally or are living in the homes of undocumented parents,” Archbishop Gomez said July 21.

“We are talking about people who have grown up in this country since they were young children. America is all they know,” he said. They are presently in “limbo”, without any legal status even as they work, go to college, and serve in the armed forces.

“It is long past time for us to welcome these young immigrants as citizens and give them the opportunities they need to flourish and to help our country grow. A just and compassionate society cannot continue to punish innocent children for the mistakes of their parents.”

The archbishop spoke the day after the introduction of the Dream Act of 2017 by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The bill would grant permanent legal status to over 1 million young people who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 18, provided they meet certain criteria. These criteria include enrolling in college, joining the military, or finding jobs. Applicants must have lived in the U.S. for four years. Its name derives from the acronym Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.

The proposal would make permanent the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was implemented by executive order in 2012 by President Barack Obama, who cited lack of action from Congress.

Archbishop Gomez emphasized the situation of those who would benefit from the legislation.

“Under this legislation, these young men and women would now have the chance to earn permanent residency status and eventually to seek citizenship in our country,” he said. “This is the right thing to do and the compassionate thing to do.”

“In my experience, these are good kids who want to use their lives to make a difference in our country. These young men and women want to share the American dream,” he continued. “They exemplify what is best about the immigrant spirit that makes our country exceptional.”

Archbishop Gomez pledged his support and that of the Catholic community in Los Angeles, praying that leaders in Washington would enact the bill quickly. He prayed that the legislation would mark the start of “a more comprehensive reform” of the U.S. immigration system that protects national borders, that “enables us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow” and that provides “a compassionate solution” for the undocumented who are “forced to live in the shadows of our society.”

The attorneys general of 20 states urged President Donald Trump to maintain the DACA program. In a July 21 letter to the president, they said it represents a “success story” for the more than 750,000 people registered for it.

Registration for the program requires the submission of an application, passing a background check, and applying for a work permit. The attorneys general said recipients of DACA status benefit from a 42 percent boost in hourly wages, which gives them purchasing power that benefits everyone.

Rescinding DACA would have “severe” consequences both for the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries, their families, their employers, and their schools. If the program ends, the attorneys general said, there would be lost tax revenue and billions in turnover costs for businesses. They said DACA has helped young people report crime to police without fear of deportation.

The attorneys general cited “a number of troubling incidents” that raise concerns over whether Department of Homeland Security agents are adhering to DACA guidelines and to public assurances from the Trump administration that individuals eligible for DACA are not being targeted.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had been a vocal critic of DACA. White House officials suggested the president would not support the act, the Washington Post reports. At the same time the president recently told reporters aboard Air Force One that ending DACA is “a decision that’s very, very hard to make.”

A version of the Dream Act was first introduced in 2001 but has never passed both chambers in the same session. One version passed the House of Representatives in 2010 and passed the Senate in 2013 as part of a larger immigration bill.

In a June 29 letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, attorneys general from Texas and nine other states demanded the Trump administration end the DACA policy. The letter threatened to amend a lawsuit against another deportation deferral program in order to target the policy, Politico reports.

Nation's capital remembers former US Opus Dei head

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2017 / 11:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic figures from Washington, D.C. are remembering the legacy of Fr. Arne Panula, former U.S. vicar of Opus Dei, and a beloved leader, mentor and friend of many throughout the city.

“Father Arne Panula is greatly identified with our Archdiocesan Catholic Information Center where he carried out a quiet, effective, evangelizing ministry that touched many including a large number of young professionals,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl Washington D.C. in a statement to CNA.  

“Both his erudition and spirituality were inviting qualities that helped so many others come to a deeper knowledge and love of the Lord. His priestly presence will be greatly missed.”

Cardinal Wuerl presided over Fr. Panula’s funeral Mass on Saturday, July 22 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Fr. Panula passed away at his Washington, D. C. home on July 19, 2017 after a long battle with cancer.

Born in Duluth, Minn., Fr. Panula graduated from Harvard University in 1967, before traveling to Rome to study Theology. While there, he lived with St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of the personal prelature Opus Dei.

Fr. Panula was ordained a priest in 1973 before serving as chaplain of The Heights School in Washington, D.C. He later served as the U.S. vicar of Opus Dei from 1998-2002.

Starting in 2007, Fr. Panula became the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center includes a bookstore and chapel, offering Mass, adoration, confession and spiritual direction, as well as talks from Catholic speakers.

Under Fr. Panula’s guidance, in 2013 the center began offering an educational fellowship, the Leonine Forum, to help young professionals learn more about the Church’s Social Teaching and service.

Members of Washington D.C.’s Catholic community remembered the priest for his influence in their lives. The Embassy of Poland also mourned his death, linking to his obituary and posting a picture of Fr. Panula giving an opening blessing at an event.

Chad Pecknold, theology professor at The Catholic University of America and leader of several Leonine Forum sessions, remembered the priest on Twitter: “Fr. Arne Panula died today. A hero of the Faith, I'm proud to have called him friend & Father. May God's perpetual light shine upon him. RIP.”

Leonine Fellow and communications professional Elise Italiano commented on social media that Fr. Panula “treated Washington elite, the homeless at his doorstep, and many in between with equal dignity and compassion.”

Another Leonine Fellow, Catherine Szeltner, host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, recalled that “Fr. Arne Panula was a man whose eyes were piercing – but his kindness – even more so. It was an honor to know you. Requiem aeternam.”

George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, noted that Fr. Panula served as a spiritual director to many from all walks of life, many of whom had colorful and difficult journeys to the faith.

Weigel, who is a frequent speaker at the Catholic Information Center, said that Fr. Panula helped turn the center into a “vibrant” source of authentic Catholic life and evangelization amid a city associated more with House of Cards than the House of the Lord.

“He was a man deeply in love with the gift of the priesthood, who was, I would also say, completely unclerical. He fully understood that sanctity is not limited to the sanctuary, that everyone is called by baptism to be a saint and he helped people do that,” Weigel added.

“He was really one of the most remarkable priests I have met.”

 

NFP: It's not just a Catholic thing anymore

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2017 / 03:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For some, it was a health-conscious decision. For others, it was environmental. For still others, it was faith-based.

But no matter the reason, more and more women are ditching the pill and opting for fertility awareness methods as a natural way to achieve or delay pregnancy.

“In the US, there does seem to be an increase in the interest in fertility tracking and understanding the signs and symptoms of our bodies to plan and prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.

“Our work has shown that simple fertility awareness messages are extremely attractive to a wide range of women and can address their family planning needs,” Jennings told CNA.

July 23-29 is national Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, coinciding with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which laid out the Church’s long-understood teachings on the sanctity of human sexuality.  

The Catholic Church has always taught that contraception is immoral, because it divorces procreation from the sexual act. However, the Church approves of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, which allow couples to remain open to life.

Through Natural Family Planning, a woman learns to understand her body’s natural monthly cycle. By tracking the signs of her own fertility each day, she is able to determine when she is fertile and infertile. Decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity can then be made, based upon this knowledge, and the couple’s desire to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.

While NFP is sometimes mistaken for the primitive “calendar method” of generations past, it is actually an umbrella term for a collection of modern fertility awareness methods. Carefully evaluating each woman’s individual body and cycle, modern methods are rooted in science and are 99.6 percent effective when used correctly – a number that competes with the pill, according to the Couple to Couple League, a group that promotes Natural Family Planning.

Additionally, these methods are free from the host of side effects and health risks accompanying hormonal contraception. They don’t pollute the environment. And they can even help women identify underlying health problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.

And Catholics are not alone in their use of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM). Increasingly, they are being joined by women of various faiths and no faiths at all, as the benefits of natural methods draw new awareness.

In recent years, many Evangelicals and other Protestants have started to find fault with artificial birth control, and are turning to natural fertility-based methods instead.

“All women – Protestant, Catholic, Atheists, and nones – can appreciate this hormone free (and conscience free) alternative to chemical contraception,” said Chelsen Vicari, the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an article last year.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the University of Utah found that more women, religious or not, are seeking alternatives to hormonal birth control without turning to surgery. And a 2015 study from the University of Iowa found that more than 1 in 5 women would be open to using fertility monitoring instead of the pill if they knew how it worked.

Methods for understanding fertility are also on the rise, and thanks to the help of modern technology and research, women are able to re-think the long list of side effects that can accompany hormonal contraception, such as depression, increased risk for stroke, and reported lower quality of life.

“Specifically in the app world, the use of fertility apps to track cycles or plan/prevent pregnancy is increasing exponentially,” Jennings said, noting that there are more than 1,000 fertility apps available on Apple and Google Play stores.

However, Jennings did warn that some of the apps have been proven to be inaccurate or “make claims that are either unsubstantiated or misleading, making it difficult for women to know which apps are most likely to meet their needs.”

Among the most well-respected fertility apps is Kindara. Launched in 2012, the iOS app offers charting tools to help women track when they are fertile by highlighting the ovulation period of a woman’s monthly cycle.

“Over the past couple of decades, fertility awareness has been studied a lot. We know scientifically, based on evidence now, that it does work, and it works very well if you use it correctly,” says Lauren Risberg, the Content Lead for Kindara.

Another fertility app, Natural Cycles, was started by a nuclear physicist in Sweden and was recently approved by the European Union as a certified method of birth control.

The growing interest in fertility awareness also comes at a time of concern over false expectations of reliability with artificial birth control.

New statistics released this month indicate that more than half (51%) of the abortions performed in the UK last year were due to failed contraception from the pill, implants or patches.

In an interview with the Telegraph, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said that by encouraging women to use contraception, “you give them the sense that they can control their fertility.”

“Our data shows that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone,” Furedi stressed.

In contrast, Church teaching surrounding Natural Family Planning emphasizes an openness to life, steering away from the notion that women control their fertility and instead empowering them with the knowledge to understand their bodies and cooperate with them to the fullest possible extent.

Emphasizing the gift of fertility and the ability to be co-creators with God to bring about a new human life, the Church teaches that couples should only avoid pregnancy through NFP when they have a just reason to do so.

With fertility awareness continuing to grow in popularity, the medical community would do well to pay attention, Jennings told CNA.

“Significant numbers of women worldwide don’t use birth control due to fears of side effects, negative beliefs about contraception, and because they don’t think they need it at the time,” she said.

“We believe the reproductive health community must take women's concerns seriously – and also take seriously evidence-based methods that rely on people knowing their own fertility.”

 

Deaths in smuggler's truck 'completely senseless,' Texas archbishop says

San Antonio, Texas, Jul 23, 2017 / 09:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The deaths of at least nine people due to heat in an alleged immigrant smuggler’s truck parked in San Antonio are an occasion for tears, prayers, and action to end such situations, the local archbishop has said.

“There are no words to convey the sadness, despair, and yes, even anger, we feel today at learning of the completely senseless deaths of nine people who died as human smuggling or trafficking victims from heat exhaustion and suffocation in San Antonio overnight,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said July 23. “This is an incomprehensible tragedy.”

The San Antonio archbishop voiced prayers for the about 30 adults and children hospitalized with serious injuries due to heat.

“We pray for these victims and all victims of human smuggling and trafficking; that this monstrous form of modern slavery will come to a quick and final end,” he said. “God cries seeing this reality and many other situations such as this across our country and around the world.”

One U.S. official told the Associated Press that 17 of those rescued were being treated for injuries considered life-threatening.

The victims were found in a tractor trailer parked outside a San Antonio Walmart late Saturday or early Sunday. Someone from the truck approached a Walmart employee asking for water. The employee gave the person water and then called police. Authorities found eight people dead, and a ninth died at the hospital.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said the victims were ““very hot to the touch.”

“So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water,” he said.

James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida, was taken into custody but officials would not say whether he was the alleged driver.

Initial interviews with survivors suggest more than 100 people may have been in the back of the 18-wheeler at one point, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan. There were 39 in the truck when rescuers arrived, with the rest believed to have escaped or found rides to their next destination.

Homan said it was unlikely the truck was used to carry immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexican consul general in San Antonio said Mexican nationals were among the survivors and those who died. At least two Guatemalans were on the abandoned trailer, Guatemala’s foreign ministry said.

For Archbishop Gustavo-Siller, the deaths are a “clarion call” for everyone, including churches, law enforcement, elected officials, civic orgaizations and others to prioritize immigration issues and “truly work together in new ways which have eluded us in the past for common sense solutions.”
 
“No more delays! No more victims!” he said.

The Texas Catholic Conference said the bishops of Texas joined Archbishop Garcia-Siller in offering their sincerest condolences to the families of the migrants. They also prayed for healings of the survivors among those who were human smuggling or trafficking victims.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin stated July 24 that the US bishops are heartbroken by the news: " I also note our continued concern and prayers for the several other individuals identified, including school-aged children, who are reported to have life-threatening injuries."

"The loss of lives is tragic and avoidable," added Bishop Vasquez, who chairs the US bishops' migration committee. "We condemn this terrible human exploitation that occurred and continues to happen in our country ...  We together mourn for the lives lost and offer our prayers for these individuals and their families."

In 2003, 19 immigrants locked inside a truck rig died in Victoria, Texas. It was one of the deadliest smuggling-related incidents in recent history.

 

Updated 13:47 MDT, July 24, to include a statement by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin.

This boy invited Pope Francis on a pilgrimage – and here's how he responded

Loreto, Italy, Jul 23, 2017 / 03:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nine-year-old Andrea is an Italian boy who joined 130 children last month for a “Pilgrimage of Joy” to the Marian Shrine of Loreto, Italy.

He was so moved by the experience that he wrote a letter about it to Pope Francis, inviting the Pope to accompany him and the other children for another pilgrimage next year.

And the Pope offered a surprising response, leaving the door open to the possibility in a letter of reply.

“Thanks for the invitation you have made me to go on a pilgrimage with you, being with children is for me the greatest joy. A proverb says: 'Never say never.' Therefore let us entrust this dream into the hands of Providence,” the Pope wrote.

Andrea’s letter to Pope Francis was sent on behalf of himself and the 130 other children who traveled to the Marian Shrine of Loreto from June 22-26. The letter was reprinted by several Italian media outlets.

The pilgrimage was organized by the Rome-Lazio chapter of the National Italian Union of Transportation of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines (UNITALSI) with the goal of teaching young children the importance of prayer and closeness to God, while at the same time allowing them to play, have fun, and make new friends.

“We are more than 130 children, and many are sick, others in wheelchairs and others are going alone and are accompanied by some nuns,” Andrea said in his letter, adding that they are praying for the Pope every day.

Andrea also included a group photo of all the children, and asked for the Holy Father’s blessing.

Pope Francis responded saying that “it was so nice to receive your letter and to hear about the enriching adventure you experienced with UNITALSI during the Pilgrimage of Joy to Loreto for children.”

“Thanks also for the group photo you sent me, where I could see that there are a lot of you, and you all look so nice. As I was looking at each face in the photograph, I was praying to Our Lady of Loreto for you, and I blessed you straight from the heart, along with your parents, volunteers, priests and the UNITALSI leaders,” the Pope said in his reply.

 

 

Pope: the choice between good, evil is one we all have to make

Vatican City, Jul 23, 2017 / 05:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said good and evil are often entwined, and that as sinners, we can't label any one group or institution as bad, since we all face temptation and have the ability to choose which path to follow.

“The Lord, who is wisdom incarnate, today helps us to understand that good and evil cannot identify with definite territories or determined groups of people,” the Pope said July 23.

Jesus tells us that “the line between good and evil passes through the heart of every person. We are all sinners,” he said, and asked for anyone who is not a sinner to raise their hand – which no one did.
 
“We are all sinners!” he said, explaining that with his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ “has freed us from the slavery of sin and gives us the grace of walking in a new life.”

Pope Francis spoke to the crowd of pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday Angelus address, which this week focused on the day's Gospel passage from Matthew, in which an enemy secretly plants weeds alongside the wheat in a master's field.

The image, he said, shows us the good seed that is planted in the world by God, but also the bad seed planted by the devil in order to corrupt the good.

It not only speaks of the problem of evil, but also it also refers to God's patience in the master, who allows the weeds to grow alongside the wheat, so that the harvest is not lost.

“With this image, Jesus tells us that in this world good and evil are totally entwined, that it's impossible to separate them and weed out all the evil,” Pope Francis said, adding that “only God can do this, and he will do it in the final judgment.”

Instead, the parable represents “the field of the freedom of Christians,” who must make the difficult discernment between good and evil, choosing which one to follow.

This, the Pope said, involves trusting God and joining two seemingly contradictory attitudes: “decision and patience.”

Francis explained that “decision” in this case means “wanting to be good grain, with all of it's strengths, and so to distance yourself from evil and it's seductions.”

On the other hand, patience means “preferring a Church that is the leaven of the dough, which is not afraid to dirty her hands washing the feet of her children, rather than a Church of the 'pure,' which pretends to judge before it's time who is in the Kingdom of God and who is not,” he said.

Both of these attitudes are necessary, he said, stressing that no one is perfect, but we are all sinners who have been redeemed by Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.

Thanks to our baptism, Jesus has also given us the Sacrament of Confession, “ because we always need to be forgiven for our sins,” Francis said, adding that “to always look at the evil that is outside of us means not wanting to recognize the sin that is also within us.”

Jesus also teaches us a different way of looking at the world and observing reality, he said. In reflecting on the parable, we are invited to learn God's timing and to see with his eyes, rather than focusing on our own, narrow vision.

“Thanks to the beneficial influence of an anxious waiting, what were weeds or seemed like weeds, can become a product of good,” he said, adding that this is “the prospect of hope!”

Pope Francis closed his address praying that Mary would intercede in helping us to observe in the world around us “not only dirtiness and evil, but also the good and beautiful; to expose the work of Satan, but above all to trust in the action of God who renders history fruitful.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, he voiced his sadness over “serious tensions and violence” in Jerusalem over the weekend, which have left seven people dead.

The deaths were the result of protests that were prompted by the placement of metal detectors at the entrance to the compound housing al-Aqsa mosque in the city, and have prompted world leaders to call for restraint on either side before the situation boils over.

Pope Francis invited pilgrims to join him in praying for a deescalation of the violence, and that “the Lord inspires in all proposals of reconciliation and peace.”

Duterte's bloody war on drugs slammed as 'social cleansing'

Washington D.C., Jul 23, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and government officials are guilty of “social cleansing” under the guise of a war on drugs, advocates testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

“Duterte and other high officials of the land, having had to find a particular section of Philippine society worthy of elimination, have effectively put in place a de facto social cleansing policy whereby police and vigilantes are not only encouraged, but rewarded and forced to commit extrajudicial killings,” witness Ellecer Carlos told members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday.

The hearing on “The Human Rights Consequences of the War on Drugs in the Philippines” featured Carlos and two other witnesses from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They testified on reports of extralegal killings in the Philippines as part of President Duterte’s “Operation Plan Tokhang,” the war on drugs.

The witnesses alleged that high-ranking officials in the Philippine government are complicit in human rights abuses where police officers and vigilantes, who may be working for and paid by the police, track down and kill those involved in the drug trade, with evidence present of other abuses like torture.

The targets are disproportionately poor people. “The vast majority of victims of drug-related killings come from the poorest segments of Philippine society,” Matthew Wells, senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International, stated in his written testimony before the commission.

Heads of poor families may be involved in the drug trade as a way to escape poverty, Wells said, or some may use methamphetamines to help stay awake and energized on a long work day. “The death of a breadwinner often puts families in a more precarious position, at times compounded by police officers stealing from them during crime scene investigations,” Wells said.

President Duterte ran for office on a platform of taking strong action against the drug trade in the country, making shocking statements to underline his commitment to action.

“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor,” the BBC reported him saying. Duterte was previously the mayor of the city of Davao, where he made a name for himself as the “death squad mayor.”

“You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I'd kill you,” he said while running for president. “I'll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

Duterte was elected president in May of 2016. Since then “his rhetoric quickly became all too real” in the war on drugs, Wells stated in his testimony before the commission.

Police officers and vigilantes had killed over 7,000 persons in the drug trade from July, 2016 through January, 2017, according to numbers provided by the Philippine National Police.

While the authorities kept statistics for the first few months of the spike in drug-related deaths, they stopped providing transparency, Wells said. According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, there have been “blatant inconsistencies and a deliberate attempt to conceal the magnitude of the killings” in the war on drugs, Carlos said.

The killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes were among the worst human rights problems in the country, the State Department noted in its most recent human rights report.

On Tuesday, Wells described how police officers are paid under-the-table for “encounters” with drug traffickers where “offenders are killed,” and that there is a pay scale for killing drug sellers and users. Vigilantes are also handed hit lists of suspects in the drug trade by police. They carry out the killings for the police, offering them some mode of cover.

Many of the killings are made at night, through home invasions or drive-by shootings. The “modus operandi” of the police is to barge in the door of a home of a suspect at night; in the encounter, the suspect is shot but the police can use the cover of darkness to claim that the suspect was the initial aggressor, Phelim Kine, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said.

More and more citizens have begun sleeping in the streets to be witnesses, taking video of the incidents to ensure that the truth is documented.

A Reuters investigation had uncovered “payments for killings” by police to vigilantes, and showed significant evidence that a “license to kill” had been granted from high levels of government, Wells said.

All this has been an “economy of murder created by the war on drugs, with the police at the center,” Wells said. And there is “scant accountability,” he said, as there have been no convictions of police officers in drug killings and the family members of those killed “face obstacle after obstacle” in seeking justice.

The testimony of a survivor of an extralegal killing, 29 year-old Efren Morillo, was also submitted to the record. Morillo is the lead petitioner before the Philippine Supreme Court in the first case against Operation Plan Tokhang.

Morillo described being at a friend’s house when five men and two women in civilian clothes arrived, armed with guns. They detained five members of the group and accused them of selling illegal drugs. Morillo recognized some of the men as police officers in civilian clothes. The armed men then shot the five civilians.

The Philippine bishops have been outspoken against the increase in killings, referring to it as a “reign of terror” in a Jan. 30 pastoral letter.

“If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem, if we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths,” the bishops said.

“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong,” they said. “A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.”

Duterte, however, responded to the letter by saying “You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them,” while adding that “if you want to go to heaven, then go to them. Now, if you want to end drugs ... I will go to hell, come join me.”

Duterte has also “openly threatened human rights defenders” and “attacked the media and lawyers who have represented the families of extrajudicial killings,” Carlos said on Tuesday.  

Catholic priests have also offered their churches as “sanctuaries” for those who believe they are on the police hit lists, the Guardian reported in February.