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Why pray after tragedy? This Sandy Hook mother has an answer

Newtown, Conn., Jul 21, 2016 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Some people have difficulty seeing the point of prayer in times of trouble. But for Magnificat magazine columnist Jennifer Hubbard, prayer got her through one of the worst times of her life.

“We’re all going to face trials, we’re all going to face tragedies,” Hubbard said. “My tragedy was my daughter being murdered. Someone else’s tragedy could be the doctor who says the cancer is no longer treatable.”

“When you are intimate with that darkness, prayer turns your attention to God in allowing this peace to settle on your soul, despite whatever chaos is circling around you,” she told CNA.

Hubbard and her family know times of tragedy, indeed.

Her daughter, Catherine Violet, was one of the 20 children and six adults killed by a solo gunman in the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Catherine was eight when she was killed.

For Jennifer, the prayers of others meant the world to her and her husband.

“There’s no way, I believe, that we as a family, we as a community, could have walked through the darkness without the prayers of so many,” she said. “There were many days that were just very dark.”

She suggested that people who have problems praying sometime struggle with the fact that there is not something physical or material they can do or give.

“They feel like prayer is not enough,” she said.

Hubbard said otherwise. As she sees it, prayer prepares people “to focus on God, and the love that he has for us, versus the trial and tribulation.”

“I truly believe that if you do nothing else in the course of a day, if you spend your time praying, you’ve done more than you can ever imagine,” she added.

“You’re praying with the trust that your prayer is going to be answered, but you’re also praying with the understanding that God’s will is going to be best,” Hubbard said.

The answer to prayer is not always what one expects.

During the attack on Sandy Hook, Hubbard and her husband waited at the firehouse with other families of staff and students, waiting news about their loved ones.

“My prayer, when we were waiting for Catherine, was ‘bring her home, bring her home, dear God, keep her safe and bring her home’,” she recounted. “Yes, the prayer was ‘bring her back to the firehouse’ and that didn’t happen. Time continues to march forward – I see that my prayer was answered, over and over again.”

“Catherine’s home. He answered my prayer,” Hubbard added. “And in answering my prayer and bringing her home, there’s the hope and understanding that I’ll see her again.”

For Hubbard, sincere prayer expresses a hope that something will change. For the one who prays, she said, there is beauty in that the change is in a person’s heart.

“Prayer and hope go hand in hand,” she said. “Prayer is this ongoing deep rooted relationship and dialogue with the only one who can provide direction and meaning and peace to our lives.”

Hubbard warned there is a danger in not praying.

“When we don’t listen to God, when we take matters into our own hands or look for the answer that we want Him to respond with, I think that’s dangerous,” she said. “When we don’t listen to God, we are just belligerent. We are putting ourselves above God. By not listening to God, by taking matters into our own hands, we feel like we’ve got this.”

People try and take a situation into their own hands, but make a “horrible mess.”
Hubbard’s son Freddie turns 12 at the end of July. He was also at Sandy Hook four years ago. She and her husband aim to help their son grow up with a sense of normalcy.

“I call him my brave one. He could have died,” Hubbard said. “He has taught us so much about love and its purpose.”

The Hubbard family has launched the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation. It supports actions like an animal sanctuary in Newtown, due to Catherine’s love for animals.

“For me, building a sanctuary is one of these things that I believe God has truly placed in front of me, Hubbard said.

She said anyone who believes that God has put them on earth for a specific purpose has to pray.

“Without prayer, without listening to God, or (without) just surrendering whatever you have that’s holding you back from seeing that purpose and that passion, you’re lost,” she warned.

“Prayer is a response to knowing that God has something in store for you.”

Republican Party takes anti-porn stance – but is it hypocritical?

Cleveland, Ohio, Jul 20, 2016 / 02:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It merited only one paragraph in the 2016 GOP platform, but the party’s stand against pornography is drawing commendation from all sides, not only conservatives and Catholics.

“I would argue, surprisingly, that this is the most progressive piece in the platform,” Gail Dines, a professor of sociology at Wheelock College and founder of Culture Reframed, a group that educates about “pornography as a public health crisis in the digital age,” told CNA.

The 2016 GOP platform calls pornography a “menace” and a “public health crisis” that especially hurts children – language not used in the 2012 platform. It further acknowledges the link between child pornography and human trafficking, which the 2012 platform also noted.

The U.S. Catholic bishops already warned of the danger of pornography in a pastoral response issued in November, “Create In Me a Clean Heart.” They called porn a “grave sin against human dignity” and noted its recent “exponential” proliferation thanks to the internet.

“Everyone, in some way, is affected by increased pornography use in society. We all suffer negative consequences from its distorted view of the human person and sexuality,” the bishops wrote.

They pointed to such consequences as the moral degradation of persons involved in the making and selling of porn, the objectification of women and children, human trafficking, wrecked marriages, and widespread addiction.

Others are speaking out against pornography, however, and they may not be Catholic or even conservative.

Dines said that “pornography is a public health crisis of the digital age.” She said the anti-porn stance “is in keeping with the 40 years of empirical research that we have that pornography has enormous social, psychological, cognitive, and sexual effects.”

“It’s a bipartisan issue,” the National Center on Sexual Exploitation stated to CNA.

They noted that “since 2011, at least 24 studies have found that pornography has negative impacts on the brain, including decreased brain matter, as well as reduced impulse control and decision-making ability.”

Other consequences of porn use, they added, include “increased verbal and physical aggression, the incidence and severity of rape perpetrated by batters, acceptance of rape myths, risky sexual behaviors among adolescents, behaviors associated with higher incidence of STIs, and increased cases of sexual dysfunction.”

Yet, as Dines noted, “there’s a backlash against defining porn as a public health issue,” partly because some just don’t understand just how much of a problem it poses.

Studies have reported the average age of children first viewing pornography is right at the start of the teenage years, she said. “I think it’s been a mass abdication of responsibility on the part of adults who refuse to understand how pornography is harming our children. And we better get going on this, because it’s only going to get worse.”

Although the GOP laudably included this matter in its platform, it also showed “hypocrisy” in nominating a presidential candidate who has made statements of a “misogynist,” Dines said.

Trump has shown “distaste and disregard for women,” she reflected, pointing specifically to his controversial statements about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton.

“There is, absolutely, hypocrisy here, which makes those of us in the feminist anti-porn world somewhat cynical,” Dines continued.

There needs to be bipartisanship on this issue, she added, noting that Democrats “have been very quiet on this.”

“This is going to take enormous courage on the part of the politicians to go up against this multi-billion dollar industry,” she said.

Pope Francis to meet Holocaust survivors during Auschwitz visit

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2016 / 01:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Though rumors have been floating for some time, the Vatican confirmed that the Pope will meet with 10 Holocaust survivors during his upcoming visit to Auschwitz while in Poland for World Youth Day.

After arriving to Auschwitz and passing under the arch of the main entrance on foot, Francis will be taken by car to Block 11, where he will be welcomed by Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, as well as the 10 survivors.

The Pope “will individually meet” with each of the survivors, “the last of whom will be given a candle,” Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists July 20.

One of the survivors, he noted, is 101 years old and is hosting a group of pilgrims who are traveling to Krakow to participate in WYD.

In addition to the survivors, Francis will also meet with 25 “Righteous among the Nations” from all over the world. The phrase is an honorific title bestowed by the State of Israel on non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews during the Nazi extermination.

An example of one of these people is Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist, spy, Nazi party member and protagonist of the award-winning film “Schindler’s List” who is estimated to have saved the lives of some 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

Fr. Lombardi spoke to journalists during a July 20 news briefing on the Pope’s July 27-31 trip to Poland, during which he is scheduled to visit Poland’s historic shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and Krakow’s Shrine of Divine Mercy in addition to his visit to Auschwitz and the WYD events.

In his comments to journalists, Fr. Lombardi confirmed that Pope Francis will not give a speech at Auschwitz, nor will he celebrate a public Mass. Instead, he will say Mass in private, and will sit in silence in the death camp where an estimated 1 million people lost their lives.

“At Auschwitz the Pope won’t say anything, but will have a moment of silent pain, of compassion, of tears.”

He noted how two martyr Saints were among those who died in the camp: St. Maximillian Kolbe, who was killed after offering to take the place of another man condemned to death, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein.

“It’s interesting,” the spokesman said, that July 29 marks the day of the Pope’s visit to Auschwitz, but is also the day of “the condemnation to death of Kolbe; it’s the 75th anniversary of the day in which he was condemned to death.”

After praying in silence at Block 11, Pope Francis will then sign the Book of Honor at the camp, “and these will be the only words that we’ll have from the Pope at Auschwitz,” Fr. Lombardi said, explaining that the visit is expected to last “a few hours.”

Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, president of the Polish bishop's conference, told CNA that Francis' decision to remain in silence at Auschwitz is deeply meaningful.

“In the world there are two very parallel places. The first is the Wailing Wall and the second is the wailing place. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the wailing place in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the German Nazi concentration camp,” he said.

The Pope’s decision to toss his speech, then, “shows that the Pope has this in his heart: wailing in the place where so many victims perished.”

To do this “is very important for the Jewish people,” as well as for Poles, many of whom lost family members in the camp, he said, noting that his own grandfather was a prisoner who escaped, and that Poland’s Prime Minister lost some of her family there.

“So personally I feel very linked and I am very grateful personally that the Holy Father is going to visit the death camp.”

Again referring to the Pope’s silence, Fr. Rytel-Andrianik noted that Poland’s chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, “said that this is a very good thing because after the death of his sons, Aaron (from the Bible) was in silence.”

“There is an expression in the Bible “vayidom Aharon” (the silence of Aaron) so he was in silence. And the Holy Father will do the same thing in Auschwitz.”

According to Fr. Lombardi, Pope Francis is expected to give “a demanding speech” to youth during the WYD Via Crucis, which he will attend the evening of July 29 after having visited Auschwitz that morning.
He will stay in the archbishop’s residence of Krakow throughout the trip, appearing each night from the balcony to greet pilgrims gathered below. The act is an imitation of St. John Paul II, who did the same each time he visited as Pope.

Catholic News Service places former OSV president at the helm

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2016 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic News Service has named Greg Erlandson, former president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, as its new director and editor-in-chief.

The appointment was announced Wednesday by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) General Secretary Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield.

"Greg brings a remarkable combination of management expertise, journalism skills and demonstrated service to the Church at the national and international level. I am confident he will prove to be an important resource to the clients of CNS," Msgr. Bransfield said.

Erlandson has been with Indiana-based Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) since 1989, and has spent 16 years as its president and publisher.

He began his career at the National Catholic Register, where he served as an editor, before becoming a correspondent for the CNS Rome Bureau in 1986. He also served for a brief time in the Washington, D.C. offices of CNS before leaving to join OSV in 1989.

“I am proud to return to Catholic News Service and I'm grateful for being able to continue to serve the church as a Catholic journalist,” Erlandson told CNA.

“Sound Catholic reporting and analysis is needed today more than ever.”

Catholic News Agency’s editor-in-chief Marianne Medlin called the appointment “wonderful news.”

“Greg is tremendously respected across the Catholic media world and brings with him a wealth of insight and decades of experience. I am truly thrilled to see what's in store for CNS under his leadership,” she said.   

Erlandson was appointed twice as a consultant to the USCCB Committee on Communications, and served as a consultor for the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He also was a member of the Vatican Media Committee that eventually led to the creation of the Holy See's new Secretariat for Communications.

He has also served as president of the Catholic Press Association (CPA) from 2011-2013, and in 2015 received the St. Francis DeSales Award for outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism from the CPA. He was also recently inducted into the Association of Catholic Publishers Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement.

His appointment as director of CNS comes after the former director, Tony Spence, was asked to step down in April following a series of controversial tweets. Spence had served as director of CNS since 2004.

Erlandson graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in English literature, and attended U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

According to the USCCB, Erlandson in his new position will oversee a staff of over 25 journalists and about a dozen correspondents around the world.

Pope Francis is ready for World Youth Day – are you?

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2016 / 09:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Even though World Youth Day doesn't start until next week, thousands of pilgrims from throughout the world are already descending on Krakow ahead of the official event.

In a July 19 video message Pope Francis sent his greetings to the youth of Poland and the world who will attend the largest recurring gathering of youth in the Catholic Church.

“I look forward to meeting the young people from throughout the world gathered in Kraków and having the opportunity to meet the beloved Polish nation,” he said.

“My entire visit will be inspired by Mercy during this Jubilee Year, and by the grateful and blessed memory of Saint John Paul II, who instituted the World Youth Days and was the guide of the Polish people in its recent historic journey towards freedom.”

St. John Paul II, who was from Poland, established World Youth Day in 1985; the first event was held in Rome in 1986. Since then it has occurred in various cities throughout the world, typically every three years.

Krakow and the rest of Poland are important places of pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It was in a convent chapel in Krakow where St. Faustina of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy received visions and messages from Jesus about his divine mercy, which she would compile in a diary that would become the book “Diary of St. Faustina: Divine Mercy in my Soul.” Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Krakow July 30.

In his video message, Pope Francis thanked the pilgrims for their preparation for the trip and for their prayers, and said he is looking forward to seeing pilgrims from throughout the world.

“I am very anxious to meet you and to offer the world a new sign of harmony, a mosaic of different faces, from many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus, who is the Face of Mercy.”

He also had a particular greeting for the Polish youth upon his first visit as Pope to their country.

“For me, it is a great gift of the Lord to visit you. You are a nation that throughout its history has experienced so many trials, some particularly difficult, and has persevered through the power of faith, upheld by the maternal hands of the Virgin Mary. I am certain that my pilgrimage to the shrine of Czestochowa will immerse me in this proven faith and do me so much good,” he said.

During his visit, the Pope will also symbolically present families at the event with copies of Amoris laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on love in the family.

“The moral and spiritual ‘health’ of a nation is seen in its families. That is why Saint John Paul II showed such great concern for engaged couples, young married couples and families. Continue along this road!” the Pope said.

World Youth Day officially kicks off July 25 and lasts through July 31, with Pope Francis arriving July 27. It will be Pope Francis’ second World Youth Day during his pontificate.

The Pope closed his video by asking pilgrims to continue to pray for the event.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I send you this message as a pledge of my affection. Let us keep close to one another in prayer. I look forward to seeing you in Poland!”