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Another Christian youth is accused over blasphemy law in Pakistan

Lahore, Pakistan, May 28, 2015 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Tension and fear have gripped the Christian community in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city, after a Muslim mob attacked the community on Sunday when a young Christian man was accused of blasphemy.

The city's archbishop, Sebastian Shaw, has credited local authorities with containing the mob and diverting the worst of the possible violence.

On May 24, Humayun Faisal Masih was burning newspapers in Sanda, a Christian district in Lahore's northwest. Muslim onlookers accused him of blasphemy, alleging that some of the pages contained verses of the Quran.

Masih, who is mentally ill, was detained by police, and in the evening a mob gathered, wishing to lynch him. He was kept safe by police, and the angry mob went about attacking Christian homes and places of worship, including St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Doors, windows, and electric meters were broken, and goods were looted, according to Legal Evangelical Association Development, a Pakistani minority rights group. The crowd blocked traffic, setting tires on fire and throwing stones at Christian homes.

A local Christian told CNA May 27 that “some angry Muslims, some armed with guns, ransacked churches and attacked Christian residences and houses pelting stones … which is a horrific and gruesome scene of violence against the innocent women, children, and elderly.”

He lamented the role that “ignorance, illiteracy, religious fanaticism, and greed” play in such eruptions of mob violence in Pakistan.

Local Christians were warned of impending violence by police, and many fled the area before the attack began.

Police were forced to use teargas on the mob, as several officers were attacked and injured.

The local source told CNA that “the situation today has come under control and over 150 Muslim people have been charged for violence, and Humayun Masih is also taken into police custody. The town is coming back to normalcy, but the fear and mental trauma will linger for years.”

Archbishop Shaw was appreciative of the authorities' efforts to contain the violence.
“ I immediately requested help from some Muslim leaders and local politicians,”  he told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. “Thanks to their intervention, the police succeeded in dispersing the crowd by midnight. It is the first time the government has succeeded in acting in time to save both the people and their homes.”

He credited the effectiveness of the police response to his close contacts with officials since two Lahore churches were attacked in March, saying, “Since then I have maintained close relations with politicians and representatives of the local Muslim community. It was their support that has enabled us to avert the worst."

Archbishop Shaw lamented the impact that accusation of blasphemy have on the community at large: “When a Muslim is accused of blasphemy, it is just that individual who pays the consequences. But if a Christian is accused, the entire Christian community is held responsible.”

Pakistan's state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim. The nation has adopted blasphemy laws which impose strict punishment – typically the death penalty – on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Mental illnesses such as Masih's also do not constitute a mitigating factor under the blasphemy laws.

Dr. Shahid Mobeen, a professor of Islamic history and thought at the Pontifical Lateran University, told Aid to the Church in Need that the blasphemy law also “takes no account of the intention on the part of the accused. In order to be convicted it is sufficient to drop a copy of the  Quran or accidentally tread on a page of a newspaper on which are printed verses of the Quran … and yet only five percent of Pakistanis even understand Arabic – consequently 95 percent of the population could easily commit blasphemy without even realizing it.”

Moreover, Pakistan's literacy rate is  estimated to be around 60 percent – meaning 40 percent of Pakistanis could burn a newspaper which they cannot know contains Quranic verses.

The blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute minorities: while non-Muslims constitute only three percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

In November 2014, a Christian couple, Shahzad and Shama Masih, were burned alive by a mob after they were accused of desecrating the Quran. Shama was burning some of her recently deceased father-in-law's things, and her employer noticed, and alleged that some of the burnt pages were from the Quran.

The month prior, the Lahore High Court rejected the appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who has been sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws. According to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, some 25 mullahs were present at the court “to apply pressure and push for the sentence … to be upheld.”

In May 2014, a lawyer defending a professor accused of blasphemy was shot dead in Multan.

In 2012, a teenaged Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, who has Down syndrome, was arrested under the blasphemy laws, and released on bail. She and her family had to be relocated because of threats against them.

And in 2011, two politicians – Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic – were assassinated for opposing the blasphemy laws.

The Lahore Archdiocesan National Peace and Justice Commission and other human rights advocacy groups have condemned the recent violence in Lahore, and hope peace will prevail in the region.

What does four decades as a priest look like? One bishop shares his story

Bismarck, N.D., May 28, 2015 / 03:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On his 40th anniversary as a priest, Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck says he has a deeper understanding of his own vocation than when he was first ordained.

“My vocation is who I am and it is not just what I do at times. I think I understand much better now that I am a priest forever,” he told CNA in a recent interview. “This is a tremendous grace which gives me much consolation every day, but it is the daily challenge to me to be who I have been called to be in every way.”

His comments came after priests from the Diocese of Bismarck gathered along with loved ones on May 20 to mark jubilee anniversaries ranging from 10 to 60 years with Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.

For Bishop Kagan, the strongest memory in 40 years of priesthood remains his ordination day in 1975, which came with an “exhortation to become what I celebrate at the altar of God.”

“I don’t think I am there yet, but by God’s mercy and grace I keep trying,” he added.

He says the best part of being a priest “has always been celebrating our Church’s liturgies, especially the liturgies of the Most Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.”

Having served as Bishop of Bismarck since 2011, he said his favorite part of that role is two-fold: ordaining priests and administering the Sacrament of Confirmation.

“These give me such great hope and my own faith is always renewed at these times.”

In the time since his ordination, he’s seen many changes in the Church but “perhaps the most dramatic” was the introduction of face-to-face confession and the wide availability of the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism to the laity. Even now, he says he is “seeing and experiencing the good fruits of these changes.”

For the young men preparing for the priesthood in the seminaries, Bishop Kagan advised them not to “second guess God’s choice of you” but to “(h)umbly accept it and enter completely into priestly formation.”

“It does not end with Ordination, your priestly formation goes with you into the priesthood.  Enjoy it now and keep it fresh and vital as it will stand you in good stead as a priest,” he said.

Fr. John Paul Gardner, a priest celebrating his 10th anniversary in the diocese, had similar advice for seminarians.

Echoing Bishop Kagan, Fr. Gardner encouraged them to “spend every single day praying for the grace necessary to fulfill the call of Christ” and to ask the Blessed Mother for her help.

“If we hesitate in that, (that’s where) the devil is lurking,” he warned, “and that’s where scandal’s going to occur, so it’s really essential to say ‘yes’ to Jesus wholeheartedly.”

Born nine months after John Paul II’s election and ordained just two months after the pope’s death, Fr. Gardner said the saint has always been “one of my heroes.” The strongest memory he has as a priest is being in St. Peter’s Square when his namesake was declared a saint April 27, 2014.

“Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be like him,” Fr. Gardner said, “so just to be there when there were so many people – that was a pretty big highlight of my life.”

One thing Fr. Gardner has learned in his time as a priest is just how indispensable the family is in the life of the Church. The committed love of a husband and wife and their children is “so essential,” he reflected.

“If there’s no family, it’s so difficult, I would say maybe impossible in my experience, for the Church to exist,” he said. “Families are the Church.”

Fr. Gardner said his parents’ example in raising their nine children helped him discover his vocation to the priesthood.

“I had a mom and a dad who worked through all their difficulties with prayer, with a sense of humor. All of us kids in some way – in some deep way – benefitted from that,” he said.

Like Bishop Kagan, Fr. Gardner said “by far” his favorite part of being a priest is the privilege of celebrating the Holy Mass.

“Raising the host and chalice to the Heavenly Father, offering him our Lord Jesus in union with the Holy Spirit – there’s no doubt that’s what I live and breathe for.”

The other priests celebrating special anniversaries in the diocese were Monsignor Gerald Walsh (60 years); Fr. Stephen Kranz (60 years); Fr. John Pfiefer (50 years); Fr. George Pruys (40 years); Fr. John Gurthie (25 years); Fr. Johnson Kuriappilly (25 years); Fr. Boniface Muggli (25 years); Fr. Manuel Silva Cely (10 years); and Fr. Paul Eberle (10 years).
 

For the Vatican bank, a new direction means profitability

Vatican City, May 28, 2015 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican Bank’s net profits in 2014 jumped to $75.5 million from only $3.2 million the previous year, reflecting a change in its financial management and investments.
 
The Institute for Religious Works (IOR), known informally as the 'Vatican bank', released its third annual report on May 25. The report registered a massive increase in net profits.

This increase may be attributed both to a sharp rise in the bank’s net trading income and to a decline of its extraordinary operating expenses, like the costs of hiring external consultants to monitor and screen the IOR accounts.
 
The increase in net profit is also a result of the financial policy now underway that is aimed at generating more profits. According to the IOR, there will be “a shift by the IOR’s clients away from term deposits and toward asset management solutions, confirming a long-term trend.”
 
Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, president of the IOR’s Board of Superintendents, said that “the main focus is fundamentally improving our overall client service standards and further professionalizing our asset management services.”
 
The IOR “has mostly worked with term deposits, which generate a low, but safe, profit,” an inside source who has observed the works of the IOR told CNA May 25.
 
The source said that since 2008, “the need to generate more revenues has caused a shift in the Institute’s investment plan, following a path that the Vatican economic reform accelerated.”

The IOR assets under management have grown from $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion, while client deposits have decreased from about $3.5 billion to under $2.3 billion. Combined with assets under custody, the Vatican Bank was overseeing $6.5 billion in assets at the close of 2014.

In July 2014 Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, announced a major reform of the Vatican economy. He said that the reform needs to be effective and able “to generate revenues.” According to the goals of this reform, the management of Vatican assets are to be transferred to a new body, the Vatican Asset Management, which has yet to be established.
 
In the meantime, the IOR has carried forward its commitment to reform. De Franssu stressed that “the long-term, strategic plan of the Institute revolves around two key objectives: putting the interests of the clients first by offering appropriate and improved services and by (lessening the risk) of the activities of the Institute.”
 
De Franssu added that "all this is done within the strong regulatory framework now in place in the Vatican and in close cooperation with the Authority for Financial Information, the Holy See regulator."
 
The 2014 profit will allow the bank to turn over almost $60 million to the Holy See for charitable purposes at the discretion of the Pope, pending the approval of the IOR cardinals’ commission.
In 2013, despite its small profit, the Vatican Bank turned over to the Holy See almost $59 million, drawing from its reserves.

The Vatican bank says it has progressed in screening its accounts. According to its report, the IOR ended relationships with more than 3,100 of almost 20,000 clients since May 2013. Most of these were dormant accounts. In 550 of these cases, client relationships were ended because the IOR did not find an acceptable client profile.
 
According to the IOR statement, Pope Francis asked the Vatican bank “to continue to serve with prudence and to provide specialized financial services to the Catholic Church worldwide, thereby assisting him in his mission as universal pastor.

“To that extent the IOR’s management had been tasked to finalize a plan for the future of the Institute accordingly, which has subsequently been developed in 2014,” the IOR said.
 
The IOR has also worked to adhere to Vatican regulatory standards including those of the Authority for Financial Information, the Vatican financial watchdog, whose regulation on supervision of Vatican entities carrying out professional financial activities took force on Jan. 13, 2015.

These regulatory efforts are an outcome of a years-long commitment. In July 2012 the Council of Europe’s anti-money-laundering committee Moneyval found the Vatican “compliant” or “largely compliant” on nine of its 16 key areas for combating terrorist financing and money laundering.
 
The Moneyval report indicated that the Vatican bank's security standards surpass those required by Vatican law and that Vatican legislation on secrecy is compliant with international standards. The report also praised the high level of Vatican engagement in international cooperation.
 
“The Holy See has come a long way in a very short period of time,” the Moneyval report said, adding that “many of the building blocks” of rules to counter money laundering and terrorism financing are now formally in place.

Documentary follows JPII's footprints across the Western Hemisphere

New Haven, Conn., May 27, 2015 / 11:05 pm (CNA).- During his time as Pope, Saint John Paul II visited the American continent 22 times, traveling everywhere from Boston to Bolivia in an effort to unite the Western Hemisphere in faith.

The Polish Pope's American endeavors are now being featured in a new documentary with rare footage of his trips to North and South America, highlighting how his presence played a weighty role in shaping their modern day history.

The film was produced by the Knights of Columbus.

“John Paul II brought a great renewal of confidence, excitement and joy to Christian life that was manifested in such events as the canonization of St. Juan Diego in Mexico City and the World Youth Days in Buenos Aires, Denver and Toronto,” stated Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a press release.

“He also issued a renewed call for human dignity, the gospel of life, respect for indigenous people, and a commitment to the poor throughout Latin America and North America,” Anderson continued.

In light of John Paul II's impact on North and South America, EWTN Global Catholic Network partnered with various PBS stations to bring the life of John Paul II to television screens across the U.S.

The documentary, “John Paul II in America: Uniting a Continent,” debuted on PBS April 3, to honor the 10-year anniversary of the Pope's death. EWTN and CatholicTV of Boston aired the show later in April across the United States.

Honing in on John Paul II's imprint on the American continents, the documentary travels from Argentina to Alaska, following the late Holy Father's steps around the Western Hemisphere. The footage exemplifies how the beloved Pope touched a whole generation of Catholics, drawing monumental crowds in America and gaining admiration from the youth.

The documentary also probes into the phenomenon of the “JPII generation” and how John Paul II, asking the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, inspired the entire world with his dedication to the gospel of life.

The Pope's relationship with both North and South America are analyzed throughout the film by Catholic thinkers such as George Weigel and former Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson are also featured in the documentary.

Cuban-American actor and director Andy Garcia narrates throughout the film.

For more information about the film, including broadcast times and the DVD release, visit www.kofc.org/jpiifilm.
 

Is 'Charlie Charlie' a harmless game? Exorcist says absolutely not

Lima, Peru, May 27, 2015 / 04:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A game that purports to invoke a Mexican demon – known as “Charlie, Charlie” and considered to be a simplified version of the Ouija board – has gone viral on social media among young people, prompting one exorcist to warn of its dangers.   

The game, which has gained significant traction online in recent days, involves a pair of pencils or pens, a sheet of paper, and the invocation of a spirit named “Charlie.”

Scores of short video clips, posted mostly by teens, show players shrieking and running out of view when the pencil apparently moves on its own and points to a “yes” or a “no” after they say a phrase inviting the demon.   

Spanish exorcist Jose Antonio Fortea told CNA that the so-called #CharlieCharlieChallenge involves the very real, occult practice of “calling on spirits.”

In an interview May 27, he warned that “some spirits who are at the root of that practice will harass some of those who play the game.” Even though the priest thinks that players “won't be possessed” necessarily, the spirit that has been invoked “will stay around for a while.”

Fr. Fortea also warned that playing the game “will result in other spirits beginning to enter into even more frequent communication.”

“And so then the person really can suffer much worse consequences from the demons,” he said.

Catholic experts have noted that occult activity and the resulting need for exorcisms has reached a critical level worldwide.

The International Association of Exorcists (AIE) met for their 12th annual conference in Rome last October. According to AIE spokesperson Dr. Valter Cascioli, an increasing number of bishops and cardinals asked to participate in the conference due to an increase in demonic activity.

“It's becoming a pastoral emergency,” Cascioli told CNA. “At the moment the number of disturbances of extraordinary demonic activity is on the rise.”

The rise in demonic activity can be attributed to a decreasing faith among individuals, coupled with an increase in curiosity and participation in occult activity such as Ouija boards and seances, Cascioli said.