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In Cairo, a Christmas season tinged with sorrow

Cairo, Egypt, Jan 13, 2018 / 04:02 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- Marian Nabil Habib recently observed the first anniversary of what she refers to as “the martyrdom of my father.”

Nabil Habib was 48; he was among the 29 people who died Dec. 11, 2016, in a suicide attack claimed by ISIS. The targets were worshippers at St. Peter and St. Paul's Coptic Church in Cairo, also known as El-Botroseya Church.

Marian, who is 15, tells her story, with some of the details of that dark day gleaned from the church’s security cameras:

“That day was a watershed in my life and the life of my family. I always feared that I would lose one of my family members and then it turned out to be my father, who was a good friend to me. I will never forget the details of that day.

“We live in an apartment in the compound of St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where El-Botroseya Church is located. My father worked as a guard of the church. I celebrated my birthday two days before the attack and I exchanged laughs and jokes with my dad that day. Then, the day before the attack, my father did not seem normal. He came back repeatedly to our apartment to check on my younger brother, Fadi, who is two years-old.

“That Saturday evening, the suicide bomber had come to the church and asked dad about religious books, saying that he wanted to know more about Christianity; a deacon overheard the conversation and told the young man to come back the next morning at 10 am.

“On Sunday morning, as soon as my father saw the young man he recognized him; the bomber was quickly making his way to the women’s pews, looking confused. My father got on the phone with my uncle to tell him about the man, but quickly ended the call to give chase. Next, the suicide bomber blew himself up.

“Just a few minutes before the explosion, my father had asked me to go to our apartment and prepare a cup of tea for him. When I heard the explosion, I thought that the kettle had exploded. But soon there was thick smoke and bricks fell from the kitchen walls. I rushed outside and found people running in all directions, screaming hysterically. There was a scene of complete destruction, but I still I did not know what had happened.

“I asked about my father but nobody knew where he was. I continued looking for him; then, at the entrance of the church, I found my father lying on the ground and bleeding heavily from his head. I took off my jacket for his head to rest on. There were wounds across his entire body; his hand looked shattered; my hair got wet with his blood.

“He was still alive and, looking me in the eyes, he told me to take care of my younger sister and brother; and he gave me the keys to the church gate and to our apartment. I will always remember his smile right before he died.

“Before all this happened I had worried for a long time that I would lose something precious. Losing my dad put me in a state of shock for more than a month and a psychiatrist visited me. Finally, it was God's mercy, his consolation, which helped me recover.

“I feel great comfort from God and I also got support from the Church, my friends, and many of people around us; there also has been great interest from people from other countries and international bodies that visit us to this day.

“I do not feel scared now – but I still long for my father and my little brother needs his hugs; we miss him very much. I do not want to leave my country and the place where my father served and lived his whole life. All my memories of my father are here.

“Despite the pain, my life has changed for better: I feel stronger than before and I care more about my studies than ever before – the future no longer frightens me. I have joined the church choir, which gives me inner peace, because it is one of the things that bring me closer to God.

“My message to all those who suffer, and who might read my words: do not be afraid. God is great and I ask everyone to pray for all people facing violence and hatred; we must pray for peace around the world.”

 

Engy Magdy writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)

How inmates at a Chilean women's prison are preparing for the Pope

Santiago, Chile, Jan 13, 2018 / 04:00 am (ACI Prensa).- As Pope Francis prepares to visit Chile next week, the inmates at San Joaquin Women's Penitentiary Center in Santiago are cleaning, decorating, and preparing for what they believe is a providential papal visit.

The Pope will visit the prison on Jan. 16, making a 40-minute stop to meet with the women there.

Ever since the Holy Father's visit was confirmed, the 620 women incarcerated in the prison – serving sentences for drug trafficking, homicide, robbery or other crimes – have been planning for the encounter.

“People are suffering here, there's a lot of pain, and that the Pope would come and remember us means that God has remembered us,” said inmate Nelly Dominguez. “I believe it's the providence of God, nothing less.”

Dominguez is serving a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. “For me, this visit is a before-and-after,” she told ACI Prensa. “Not just in my life but in the lives of all the people here.”

“I am in the process of changing, I'm working on my spiritual life, I intend to change,” she said.

“I think good things are coming for Chile,” she added, describing the Pope's upcoming visit as “a very great blessing from God.”

Dominguez and the prison's other inmates are making the paper decorations for the garlands that will decorate the gymnasium where the Pope will meet with the prisoners. They are constructing 7,000 paper doves and 5,000 flowers.

As part of the program, the prison choir will perform a song composed by the inmates. Entitled “Shepherd who smells of the sheep,” the song talks about life in the prison, and the pain and hopes of the women.

Sister Nelly León, a member of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd, works in the prison. She told ACI Prensa that the time of preparation is one of “a lot of joy, festivity and gladness. It's a second Advent for us.”

The religious sister said her community has created worksheets entitled “From Forgiveness to Peace” to help the prison population spiritually prepare.

The inmates “feel a special connection with Jesus who welcomes them,” Sister León said. She compared the Pope traveling through Chile and stopping at the prison with Jesus stopping to encounter people at various moments of his earthly life, such as Martha and Mary, the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Veronica during the Way of the Cross.

Sister León will deliver a welcome speech to Pope Francis. She said the first thing she will do is thank the pontiff for “showing his concern for incarcerated women, because he has shown his concern for the poorest of the poor, and because his presence dignifies the lives of people in prison.”

Staff members at the women's prison agreed that the encounter will be special for everyone involved.

Petty Officer Alicia Contreras, who participates in the prison ministry, said she thinks the visit with renew the faith of all those who participate.

Chile's national police chief, Jaime Rojas, expressed his hope that the visit will reinforce the country’s commitment to reintegrating released prisoners back into society through education, work and spiritual support. He added that he hopes the visit will “shake up the consciences of Chileans.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Catholics lament Trump's 'regrettable' comments on migrants

Washington D.C., Jan 12, 2018 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- Fr. Martins Emeh is a Nigerian who has been living in the United States for the past 20 years.

As a Catholic and a migrant, he told CNA that U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent remarks disparaging poor countries were “lamentable.”

On Thursday, during a meeting with lawmakers about solutions for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, Trump reportedly said he would not want more migrants coming to the United States from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries.

“Why are we having all these people from s---hole countries come here?” Trump said, according to reports from the Washington Post.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.” Sen. Richard Durbin, who attended the meeting, later told the Washington Post that its initial report was accurate.

Many Catholics, including Catholics who are migrants themselves, or those who have worked with migrants from these countries, said that they found the comments troublesome.

“Reports of recent disparaging remarks about African countries and Haiti have aroused great concern,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

“All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and comments that denigrate nations and peoples violate that fundamental truth and cause real pain to our neighbors...As a vigorous debate continues over the future of immigration, we must always be sure to avoid language that can dehumanize our brothers and sisters,” the bishops said.

Fr. Emeh, parochial vicar of Epiphany of the Lord parish in Katy, Texas and a Nigerian who has lived in the U.S. for the past 20 years, called the president’s comments “lamentable.”

“(T)he President, who should be the moral voice of the country, has turned out to be the divider-in-chief,” he told CNA.

Emeh said that the president’s comments show a lack of understanding of the continent of Africa, which is comprised of more than 50 countries, as well as a harsh dismissal of the poor.

“Trump isn’t Catholic so he probably doesn’t understand some of Catholic social justice teaching, but you don’t even have to be Catholic to appreciate social justice, the preferential option for the poor,” Emeh told CNA.

“The poor need our help,” he said, noting that the Statue of Liberty itself welcomes migrants to America with the quote: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

“I believe there’s a reason why that was engraved on the Statue of Liberty, that’s what this country is about,” he said. “A lot of the people who came here, including Trump’s (ancestors), to escape what he calls these ‘s---hole countries.’ His ancestors came here fleeing one, and now Trump doesn’t think that other people should have the same opportunity.”

Trump’s comments come amidst intense political debate over the status of various protected groups of migrants in the United States. These include DACA recipients and those with Temporary Protected Status, such as migrants from Haiti and El Salvador who came to the United States legally, fleeing natural disasters and violent political situations in their own countries.

David Quinn is a Catholic missionary from Hastings, Neb. who has lived in Haiti since the spring of 2015. Quinn told CNA that in his experience, Haitians who migrate to the United States come looking for work and want to contribute to society.

He added that the president’s reported comments were inhumane, especially in light of Catholic social teaching.

“We’re all brothers and sisters, and to say (those things) is to really reject part of our humanity, to reject our brothers and sisters. It’s just terrible,” he said.

Bill Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA that the president’s comments go against what Pope Francis has asked of Catholics when it comes to the issue of migration.

“The Holy Father has asked us to gaze into every migrant’s face and see Christ in their face,” he said.

He echoed Quinn’s sentiments that on the whole, migrants are hardworking people who want to contribute to society.

“We’ve seen immigrants and refugees come into this country, and 90 percent of the refugees that we resettle are working within nine months,” he said. “There are a variety of types of work in this country available to these people, and the immigrants and refugees that come in start working right away.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said in statements posted to his social media accounts that DACA youth, which includes about 700,000 young people, represent the “best and the brightest” of the immigrants to the U.S.

“On Tuesday, the President suggested that he would sign whatever Congress brought him on the issue of DACA and a broader immigration reform. When he met with the bipartisan leaders to discuss their negotiations yesterday he brought with him some of the most hardline of the immigration restrictionists – people from FAIR and Numbers USA. His remarks laid bare the true motivations of those that want to close our nation to immigrants and hopefully these remarks have discredited the restrictionists' position,” he said.

“So now is the time for Congress to move ahead – to give a path to residency and citizenship to DACA recipients as well as to TPS beneficiaries, and to bring about comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes those irregular migrants already in the country and addresses border security in a rational way and provides an avenue for work-based visas when the labor market requires workers that cannot be found in the country,” he added.

Several other Catholic leaders spoke out against the president’s reported sentiments on their social media pages.

Obianuju Ekeocha, an international pro-life speaker and founder of Culture of Life Africa, said that people from the poor countries that the president reportedly disparaged understand the “inestimable worth and dignity” of every human being.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a tweet that migrants “made America great. We continue to be enriched by the gifts they bring to our shores,” he said.

Fr. Emeh added that while the president’s comments are discouraging, Christians and people of goodwill should not lose hope.

“We can’t give up. The president gets four or maybe eight years to do what he wants to do, but as preachers of the Gospel, we continue to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“Jesus Christ wasn’t hanging out with just the rich, he looked to the poor, to the sick and the dying, those in need of help, and that’s where our focus should be. And as long as I live, that’s the Gospel I’ll continue to preach and live.”

 

Bill to aid victims of child pornography passes US Senate committee

Washington D.C., Jan 12, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The damaging effects of child pornography are undoubtedly incalculable, but a bipartisan bill has been introduced to bring its victims financial restitution and means for emotional healing.

The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 11.

“Child pornography leaves in its wake a trail of tragedy and shattered life. While public policy may never eradicate this evil altogether, it can at least alleviate the suffering of its victims,” read a Jan. 10 op-ed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Dr. David Corwin published in the Daily Herald.

Hatch, former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill Nov. 16, 2017 alongside Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Corwin is president-elect of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

Titled the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act, the bill is named out of respect for the victims of the some of the most widely circulated child pornography series in the world.

“Child pornography is different than other crimes in the way it continuously hurts victims,” Hatch said. “Victims of this insidious crime deserve assistance tailored to how often the offense imposes harm, especially when images are trafficked on the internet. The Amy, Vicky, and Andy Act will provide meaningful assistance for victims to help them recover and reclaim their lives.”

Feinstein said that “the sexual abuse and exploitation of children is one of the most heinous crimes and child-pornography victims are affected for the rest of their lives. Our bill makes it easier for these victims to secure restitution from those that produce and traffic child pornography.”

Unlike a bill passed over two decades ago which requires restitution for victims of sexual abuse, this new bill seeks healing for reoccurring damages of child pornography victims, which may worsen due to the explicit material being shared on the internet.

According to the op-ed, a recent study has shown that 70 percent of adults who are victims of child pornography are afraid of being recognized by someone who has viewed the images of their sexual abuse. An estimated 30 percent have reported having been recognized.

“Few could name a more traumatic experience than being sexually abused during childhood. But photographs or video of that abuse circulating on the Internet can turn a victim’s life into a never-ending nightmare,” said Hatch and Corwin.

“The Supreme Court itself has acknowledged that ‘every viewing of child pornography is a repetition of the victim’s abuse.’”

Under the bill, victims of child pornography trafficking would receive from each defendant between $3,000 and one percent of their total losses as restitution.

Victims of child pornography production could receive a single compensatory payment of $35,000.

Perpetrators would be fined up to $17,000 for possession, $35,000 for distribution, and $50,000 for production crimes.

“The ongoing nature of child pornography’s harm means that its victims can require lifelong treatment to address their chronic distress,” Hatch and Corwin said, noting the money could fund the physiological aid that may be necessary for healing.

Child pornography victims would have the same access to images depicting them as do defendants, so as to facilitate victim identification, forensic analysis, and treatment.

Although the bill is still in its early stages, the victims after whom the bill is named have expressed gratitude for its introduction, and have called on Congress to advance it.

“I’m lucky, and so is Vicky and Amy and so many other mostly silent victims out there, to have you on our side and everyone else in the Senate,” said Andy, one of the victims.

“This bill is an important and needed step in the process of healing and making those who have harmed so many accountable for the damage done. We are thankful for the efforts of all who have brought this to this point and urge Congress to go the last mile to make this happen,” wrote Vicky and her husband.

Churches attacked in Chile ahead of Pope's visit

Santiago, Chile, Jan 12, 2018 / 02:42 pm (ACI Prensa).- Just days before Pope Francis' visit to Chile, three Catholic churches in the capital of Santiago were attacked by unknown assailants.  

A fourth church – Christ the Poor Man Shrine – was targeted by a bomb threat and was subsequently investigated by a bomb squad.

Hours before, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in the Estación Central district was fire bombed. The arsonists fled the scene, leaving behind messages against the Holy Father's visit to the country.

“Pope Francis, the next bombs will be in your cassock,” said a pamphlet left behind.

The community of priests that live at Saint Elizabeth's and the neighbors immediately worked to extinguish the fire, which damaged the entrance doors and several windows.

Two other chapels in the city also suffered damage, including broken windows and doors.

At some of the churches, pamphlets were left behind, saying, “We will never submit to the dominion they want to exercise over our bodies, our ideas and actions because we were born free to decide the path we want to take…We are attacking with the fire of battle, making your disgusting morals explode.”

The pamphlets also called for “autonomy and resistance” in the Mapuche conflict. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group in the country. Many of them live in the region of Araucania, which Pope Francis will visit during his trip.

Chile incorporated Araucania by military conquest between 1861 and 1883, resulting in a major rift between the government and the Mapuche people. The tension continues to this day, with Mapuche communities calling for the return of ancestral lands, respect for their cultural identity, and in some cases, autonomy.

“This was a cowardly act. I'm upset, pained, because this is a poor community, a struggling community: these are people who don't know the consequence of what they're doing,” the parochial vicar Fr. Marcelo Cabezas lamented.

“On the other hand, if there are attacks, it's because we're having an impact as Catholics,” he said.

No one was injured in any of the attacks. Police investigators are on location to determine if the attacks were related.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Mahmud Aleuy, visited the damaged churches and said the Government of Chile will prosecute the offenders when found.

The Archdiocese of Santiago released a statement saying, “We are deeply pained by these incidents, which contradict the spirit of peace that animates the Pope's visit to the country.”

“With humility and serenity we call on those who have committed these acts, which we consider in no way to represent the feeling of the vast majority of the population, to reflect on the need that exists for respect and tolerance among all, to build a homeland of brothers.”

Later in the morning, a group of protestors stormed the apostolic nunciature, before the police arrived and evicted them from the building.

Roxana Miranda, head of wrote a group that protests high mortgage rates, took responsibility for the nunciature protest in a Twitter statement. She said the group was protesting the cost of the papal visit.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.