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For former abortion workers, kindness changes hearts

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2018 / 12:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Myra Neyer used to work a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood Baltimore. Today, she has left the abortion industry and is a pro-life advocate.

Instrumental to her conversion and decision to leave was a 40 Days for Life sidewalk counselor who gave her a rosary when she asked for one. She says this sidewalk counselor was far kinder than other protestors who had been outside her clinic.

“You don’t know where we’re coming from,” said Neyer. “Just be gentle.”

Neyer spoke at a Jan. 18 press conference in Washington, D.C. held by “And Then There Were None,” a nonprofit group that helps abortion clinic workers leave the industry.
 
The organization was founded by Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left her job in 2009. Through monetary assistance, emotional, social and spiritual support, and help in finding a new job, Johnson said the organization has helped more than 400 people leave the abortion industry, including seven physicians.

Johnson said that the “overwhelming majority” of And Then There Were None’s clients were completely unaware that they were applying to work in an abortion clinic. The former clinic workers echoed this statement.

One woman said that she did not know her clinic performed abortions until two weeks into her employment, when she was told she was going to assist with a surgical procedure - which turned out to be an abortion.

“Former clinic workers are the biggest threat to Planned Parenthood,” said Johnson, explaining that when one worker leaves a clinic, oftentimes their colleagues follow. Several of the women present at the Jan. 18 event had five or six colleagues leave the abortion industry after they had decided to quit.

When a clinic worker contacts And Then There Were None seeking to leave the abortion industry, they are assigned a client manager, who becomes their main contact and support during their transition. Throughout the year, there are retreats for former clinic workers to come together and assist each other in the healing process.

“These are normal women,” said Johnson, “that were caught up in something that is not normal.” She said that it was important for pro-lifers to remember that the people working in abortion clinics are humans and should not be dehumanized.

Johnson stressed that it is important for pro-life demonstrators to be kind to clinic employees and to avoid hostility and harassment. She credits a sidewalk counselor at her former clinic for helping her leave the industry.

She suggested that sidewalk counselors have some sort of job bank resource to help provide potential employment options for clinic workers who choose to leave the industry.

More information about And Then There Were None can be found at the group’s website.

Nigerian bishops deplore dehumanizing trends of violence

Abuja, Nigeria, Jan 18, 2018 / 09:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nigeria's bishops challenged government authorities Tuesday to resolve the country’s violent disputes, especially after recent attacks by Fulani herdsmen have resulted in over 100 deaths just this year.

A Jan. 16 statement from the Nigerian bishops' conference focused on clashes between herdsmen and farmers; a spate of kidnappings; and the large number of internally displaced persons and refugees.

“The recent mass slaughter of unarmed citizens by these armed herdsmen in some communities in Benue, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba States has caused national shock, grief and outcry” read the statement.
 
“We believe that, if there is some degree of political will, our public authorities can take adequate steps to put an end to these human tragedies.”

Signed by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos and Bishop William Avenya of Gboko, the president and secteary of the Nigerian bishops' conference, respectively, the statement also urged officials to attend to increased kidnappings causing fear among citizens and humanitarian issues occurring in refugee camps.

On Jan. 11, thousands of Nigerians gathered in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, to mourn the death of 73 people. The deaths were a result of suspected Fulani herdsman who have raided nearby farming communities with automatic rifles since the beginning of the year.

Additionally, at least 55 people were killed by the nomadic herdsman in the neighboring state of Taraba. However, the violence has not ended and the death toll is likely to rise.

Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has increased in recent years since climate issues have pushed herders further south. The bishops understood the herdsmen's concern “to save their livestock and economy” but condemned the “massacres of innocent people” that have resulted.

“Our perilous situation calls for more security consciousness,” the statement read, and the bishops urged authorities to take measures to disarm and unmask the criminals responsible for the attacks.  

They maintained that “a better alternative to open grazing should be sought rather than introducing 'grazing colonies' in the country. Government should rather encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in line with international best practice.”

“Farmers and herdsmen have a lot to contribute to the socio economic prosperity of our nation. A more enduring strategy must be worked out for their peaceful co-existence and mutual respect,” the bishops wrote.

Without government intervention, the bishops are worried the conflict would breed situations of long term violence, and that farmers would have to result to self-defense, creating a state of anarchy.

“This will, no doubt, lead to the complete breakdown of law and order in the country,” wrote the bishops. “It is wiser and easier to prevent a war than to stop it after it has broken out,” they later added.

The bishops, though, applauded the government’s successful efforts to remove one terrorist group, but were also saddened by the incidents of kidnapping and the lack of police efforts to prevent such widespread crimes.

“While thanking God and the federal government for the successes so far recorded in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists in the north east, we are appalled by the repeated occurrence of other ugly incidents,” read the message.

Recent kidnappings from have seeded fear among Nigeria’s citizens, the bishops said, noting that no individual “no matter how old, sacred or highly placed” has been safe from the humiliating attacks.  

An Italian priest, who had been missionary in Nigeria for three years, was kidnapped in October 2017. He was taken while driving in Benin City, the capital of Edo, a southern state of the country. Likewise, six religious women were taken last November from their convent near Benin City.

All the mentioned parties have been released, but the bishops expressed frustrations that “communities should be better policed” considering the monthly allowance set aside by the Federal Republican of Nigeria for security forces.

Two American and two Canadian citizens were kidnapped in Kaduna state Jan. 17. The kidnappers shot and killed two police escorts in the incident, according to the BBC.

The bishops also encouraged more policing of refugee camps, which have reportedly become hubs of sexual harassment.

Due to political unrest, Cameroonians have fled their country and taken residence in refugee camps within the states of Taraba and Banue. Many of these places are in need of basic necessities, sanitation, and medical supplies, the bishops wrote.

The government should provide additional support to the National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, they said, but also urged people to aid integration of these struggling communities.

In conclusion, the bishops called on all of Nigeria to participate in actions of peace, forgiveness, and mutual dialogue.

“We, therefore, urge all aggrieved parties to seek reconciliation through dialogue and mutual forgiveness. Above all, we passionately appeal to them to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Pope stops popemobile to help police officer thrown from horse

Iquique, Chile, Jan 18, 2018 / 05:27 pm (ACI Prensa).- Pope Francis stopped the ‘popemobile’ today in the streets of Iquique, Chile today, after seeing a police officer thrown from her horse as the vehicle passed her by.

#FranciscoEnChile | Este fue el momento que una carabinera cae de su caballo cuando transitaba el papamóvil detrás de ella. pic.twitter.com/mKFSeIkhBB

— Ahora Noticias (@ahoranoticiasAN) January 18, 2018 The Pope was traveling in the open car after celebrating Mass, when the horse carrying mounted officer Ana Belén Aguilera Casas reared onto its hind legs, and slightly clipped the popemobile, throwing Casas to the pavement.

Casas, who is a member of the Caribineros police corps, was cared for by several colleagues and the Holy Father, who dismounted from his vehicle after it stopped.

Accompanied by his security detail, the pope hurried to where Casas sat on the pavement.

An ambulance arrived shortly thereafter to give Casas medical attention.

#FranciscoEnChile | Este fue el momento que una carabinera cae de su caballo cuando transitaba el papamóvil detrás de ella. pic.twitter.com/mKFSeIkhBB

— Ahora Noticias (@ahoranoticiasAN) January 18, 2018 This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Guam archbishop denies allegations of rape, sexual abuse

Hagatna, Guam, Jan 18, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An embattled archbishop in Guam has denied an allegation that he raped his nephew nearly 20 years ago, when his accuser was a teen.

Mark Apuron, nephew of Guam’s Archbishop Anthony Apuron, filed a lawsuit Jan. 10, claiming that his uncle raped him in a Church bathroom in 1989 or 1990. This is the fifth lawsuit to accuse the archbishop of sexual abuse of minors during his time as a pastor and bishop.
 
“God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one,” wrote Archbishop Apuron in a Jan. 18 statement, according to Guam Pacific Daily News.

“All of these allegations have been mentored and promoted by the same source and this one seems particularly timed to influence the verdict of the Vatican trial conducted by the Holy See, as a last resort out of fear that I may be exonerated,” he continued.

In addition to this claim, Apuron faces four other accusations from former altar boys, who charged the archbishop with abuse in the 1970s when he served as a parish priest in Agat. The first allegations against the archbishop were made public in May 2016.  Mark’s attorney, David Lujan, said that his client was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family about the alleged abuse until recently.

Pope Francis relieved Apuron of his pastoral and administrative authority in 2016 and he was replaced by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, formerly of Detroit. In October of that year, Apuron’s canonical trial at the Vatican began, which could dismiss him from the clerical state. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a canon lawyer, was appointed by Pope Francis as the trial’s presiding judge.

Byrnes has told reporters that the Vatican reached a decision in the case in October 2017, though no information regarding the trial’s outcome has been released.  

Byrnes, who is empowered by the Vatican to oversee the Archdiocese of Agana but has not yet formally succeeded Apuron, has since implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that Byrnes said will “help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese.”

Byrnes adopted in February 2017 the US bishops' conference's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

Apuron, who is currently recovering from a surgery, wrote that he hopes the truth will come out and that he will continue to pray for his accusers.

"As the Church in Guam is being destroyed by people who have only their power agenda at heart, may God have mercy on us all and save His Church from the powers of darkness," Apuron wrote. "I pray that the truth may prevail; I pray for my accusers: fill them with what they desire; as for me, when I awake, I will be satisfied with Your face, oh Lord (Ps. 17,15)".

The Archdiocese of Agaña is currently a defendant in 96 sexual abuse lawsuits, involving Apuron, 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor, and a Boy Scout leader. Most of the lawsuits were filed after 2016, when Guam’s territorial legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.

 

Pray against 'powers of darkness,' Cardinal Dolan tells pro-life marchers

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2018 / 04:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the fight against abortion, it is crucial to recognize the reality of evil and the importance of prayer, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said on the eve of the annual March for Life.

The power of evil in the world, he said, is “stronger than any in creation save one, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who called Himself ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’”

“That’s why we come to this place of prayer to commence our project, a home the powers of darkness are scared of, a house where Mary is our Mother, where Jesus dwells, and where we are with family,” he said. “We come to admit realistically that there are powers of darkness in a culture Pope Francis calls ‘throwaway’ and St. John Paul termed ‘of death.’”

Cardinal Dolan delivered the homily at the Jan. 18 Mass of the Vigil for Life, which took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The Vigil for Life is held each year on the night before the March for Life, an annual event on or near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

The march routinely draws hundreds of thousands from across the country to witness to the dignity of every human life.

In his homily, Cardinal Dolan said that observers of the march – now in its 45th year – have compared it to the “peaceful yet so effective protests for civil rights organized by the prophetic pastor,” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“(L)ike the Reverend Martin Luther King, our prayers and witness are about civil rights, the civil right to life and to equal protection under the law, guaranteed by our constitution, for the most fragile, marginalized, and threatened – the tiny, innocent baby in the womb,” he said.

“Like Pastor King, our belief in the dignity of the human person and sacredness of all human life propels us to concern for human life wherever, whenever, and however it is threatened, from racial antagonism to justice for immigrants, from the war torn to the hungry.”

The cardinal pointed to the March for Life as a means of advocating for the unborn and showing that “millions, mostly young people, share a passion for a belief that the little baby has civil rights.” It is important for the nation’s lawmakers to see the strength of the pro-life movement, he said.

“Our elected representatives, executive and legislative, and the judiciary they appoint, need to see, and hear, and feel the grassroots power and sincere voices of millions who lack the cash of the abortion industry, who can’t find many in Hollywood to support them, who can’t seem to get a hearing on campus, and who are told not to even consider running for office in some states.”

The lawmakers need to hear “that we’re not going to give up, that reason and the grand American tradition enshrined in our foundational documents are on our side, and that our love for babies, their struggling moms and dads, and our passion for a society to assist and protect all vulnerable life will keep us at it,” he said.

He also noted that the march is a powerful way “to fight the temptation we must admit – the temptation to discouragement.” With the message of the pro-life movement ridiculed and harassed by much of the media, academia, entertainment industry and one of the two major political parties, the fight can at times feel lonely, he said.

Cardinal Dolan said that in his home state of New York, abortion is legal until birth and can be funded with taxpayer dollars, while those with conscientious objections can find their jobs threatened.

“What a paradox and heavenly sign that the Sisters of Life were founded in such a pro-abortion state!”

Despite challenges, the pro-life movement has reason for hope, the cardinal said.

He encouraged those present to be “apostles of life, apostles armed not with money, not with hate or destructive words, but armed, as our Holy Father exhorts, with love and joy.”

New HHS department created to protect religious freedom

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2018 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will work to ensure the protection of religious freedom and conscience rights for Americans, government officials announced Thursday.

“The state should not force people to go against their integrated view of humanity,” said the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, Roger Severino, at a Jan. 18 press conference.

This new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which falls under the HHS Office for Civil Rights, will focus on the enforcement of existing laws on rights of conscience and religious freedom. It will also provide an outlet to field Americans’ complaints of any discrimination they have experienced in the field of healthcare.

For examples, doctors or nurses who have been forced to participate in an abortion or an assisted suicide that violates their moral convictions will be able to file a complaint directly on the HHS website.

Sarah Hellwege, a nurse-midwife, spoke at the press conference announcing the new division. She said that she experienced discrimination in an interview process because of her membership in a pro-life medical association.

The number of these types of conscience complaints to HHS has increased dramatically since President Donald Trump’s election. Ten complaints were filed with HHS during the eight years of the Obama administration, whereas there have been 34 since November 2016.

Severino told EWTN News Nightly that he attributes this surge in complaints to “pent up demand” and that this new division has been established “to assess complaints, see which ones are meritorious, and to vindicate the interests of justice as the law requires.”

Also speaking at today’s announcement was Montse Alvarado, the Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who explained to CNA what this new division will mean for Catholic healthcare professionals across the country.

“For the past 10 years we have had attacks on conscience that manifested themselves particularly for the Catholic community in the area of healthcare and healthcare providers with individuals and institutions,” she said.

“Because Catholics play such a large role, they finally will have a place to bring their grievances to try to solve things and bring common sense solutions that are so important without having to resort to litigation. And if they do need to litigate them, they will have a partner in this division.”

Several other government officials and religious figures spoke at the press conference announcing the new division.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy noted a concern from his state of California, where a new law forces pregnancy centers to provide information about local abortion providers. This Supreme Court will hear this case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, this year.

Representatives from HHS cited President Trump’s executive order last May as an impetus for the new HHS division. The executive order called on all executive departments and agencies to “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech” to the extent permitted by law. The order specifically requested that the Secretary of Health and Human Services address conscience-based objections.

Earlier this week, President Trump recognized National Religious Freedom Day, saying in a Jan. 16 proclamation, “No American – whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner – should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.”

When asked by EWTN News Nightly about the likelihood of the new department surviving in future administrations, Severino responded, “It would be very difficult to undo the division. This is a foundational civil right. Everybody should be in favor of civil rights for all and that includes our first civil right, which is our right to free expression of religion and conscience. This is enforced through our laws that have been passed by bipartisan congresses and presidents in both parties that have been with us for decades. Those are not going to go away and we have to enforce those laws fully.”

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will enforce existing protection statutes over which the Office of Civil Rights already has authority. This includes the Weldon Amendment, which stipulates that states receiving federal funds cannot discriminate against health plans that do not cover or pay for abortions. The division will also enforce Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act on assisted suicide.

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions,” said Severino in a press release.

For Americans who are concerned that they have experienced a violation of their conscience rights, Severino told CNA, “We are going to make it as user-friendly as possible, so that people know that the doors are open and that every complaint will be treated appropriately and given the attention it deserves and then those that require enforcement will be handled appropriately.”

“We encourage anyone who believes that their conscience rights have been violated in a healthcare context to reach out to us. They are free to file a complaint. To get more information from our website, just google ‘Office for Civil Rights HHS’ and just add the word ‘conscience.’”

 

Arkansas bishop skips pro-life march over death penalty concerns

Little Rock, Ark., Jan 18, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock has said he will not attend the local March for Life because its keynote speaker opposed Catholic appeals for clemency for prisoners on death row.
 
The march’s keynote speaker Attorney General Leslie Rutledge “has good anti-abortion credentials but otherwise is decidedly not an appropriate pro-life speaker,” said Bishop Taylor’s Jan. 17 letter, addressed to the people of the diocese. The bishop charged that Rutledge “worked tirelessly to secure the execution of four criminals who posed no further threat to society.”
 
“You will recall that the Diocese of Little Rock was very vocal in appealing for clemency for these four men, but we were opposed at every turn by Attorney General Rutledge,” the bishop continued. “For this reason, I asked Arkansas Right to Life to choose a more appropriate keynote speaker, indicating that I could not participate in what was supposed to be a pro-life event otherwise. But Arkansas Right to Life has refused to do so.”
 
Bishop Taylor encouraged Catholics to attend one two Masses for Life to be held Jan. 21 at the Little Rock Cathedral.
 
Catholic bishops have always taken part in the march and have led prayers, though the event is organized by Arkansas Right to Life. Bishop Andrew J. McDonald of Little Rock, who retired in 2000 and passed away in 2014, supported the establishment of the local March for Life 40 years ago, the diocesan newspaper Arkansas Catholic reports.
 
Arkansas Right to Life sent CNA a Jan. 17 statement saying the march would go on as planned.
 
“Arkansas Right to Life is a single-issue organization dedicated to seeking protection for the lives of innocent unborn children,” it said, voicing hope that everyone who shares its views will “support and attend the march, regardless of their views on other issues in which Arkansas Right to Life does not take a stand.”
 
Bishop Taylor’s letter said he looked forward to seeing as many people possible at the cathedral “as we pray for an end to abortion in this country and that all human life may be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death.”
 
He said the Church teaches “a consistent ethic of life in which human life and human dignity must be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between.”
 
“This means, among other things, that all lives have inherent God-given dignity. Even people who have been sentenced to death possess this dignity, which is why capital punishment must be abolished,” he said.
 
At Little Rock’s 2017 Mass for Life, Taylor wrote that “it is important for us to remember on this right to life weekend that the right to life is a seamless garment encompassing all of life, from the first moment of conception to natural death, and that any violation of human life and human dignity is contrary to our faith and must be actively opposed.”

In 2013, he testified against the death penalty before Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee, saying “no one will be fully secure until we reject everything that threatens human life or degrades human dignity. Jesus' teaching about the sanctity of life is a seamless garment.”

The term “seamless garment” was popularized by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who advocated that abortion be treated as one issue among others which threaten the dignity of human life, including the treatment of immigrants and the elderly, the death penalty and nuclear proliferation.
 
Bernadin’s view has sometimes been criticized for appearing to diverge from the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II, who said in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae that “among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable.”
 
The state of Arkansas had initially planned to execute eight inmates before the end of April 2017. Three of the prisoners received stays of execution from the Arkansas Supreme Court, while one received a preliminary injunction from federal district court, the Death Penalty Information Center says.
 
In a March 1, 2017 letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Bishop Taylor had asked the governor to commute eight death sentences to life without parole.
 
“Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death,” the bishop said.

 

Indigenous Peruvian seminarian eager to see Pope Francis

Lima, Peru, Jan 18, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Demetrio Sanchez, a 20-year-old indigenous Peruvian seminarian, is eager to see Pope Francis when he visits Puerto Maldonado on Thursday.

Sanchez is studying to become a priest serving Peru’s outlying indigenous communities.

“I want to be a priest. That's why I came here to Puerto Maldonado to have an experience of how the priestly vocation is lived out, and to see if I could go on to be a priest, since right now there are no priests [in my village]. That's why I want to become  a priest,” Sanchez told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency.  

Since he began his formation “my life has changed a lot,”  Sanchez added.

It takes Sanchez three days by river and roads to travel from his community of Tangoshiaria to Saint John Marie Vianney Seminary, where he studies.

“It certainly is a long journey, but of course when he was invited to come to the seminary he came with high hopes,” said Fr.  Carlos Alberto Castillo Flores, the seminary’s rector.

Sanchez is motivated by the witness of the life of Bishop David Martinez, the Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Maldonado, “who had worked in his area, where Demetrio is from,” Castillo said.

“Perhaps motivated by his example and seeing the need for priests--there are no priests now in his community--he felt inspired to come here to the seminary and hopes to become a priest, God willing, in the future,” he said.

Sanchez told ACI Prensa that priests “come to preach the Word of God  or evangelize, teach that we are all children of God, as Christians.” In addition, they support the needy and show “how to live in the family,” he added

Sanchez studies at a minor seminary, where students study philosophy before beginning theology at a major seminary.  The minor seminary is “basically to instill in them the desire to embrace priestly life,” Castillo explained.  

Sanchez does not hide his enthusiasm for the Pope’s visit to Puerto Maldonado on Jan. 19.

“I really want to see the pope,” he said, since “a pope is a holy father, a messenger who seeks Christian unity, he's a teacher. That's why I want to see a pope, who is the head of the Church.”

Castillo has praised Sanchez’ pastoral initiative. When he was on on vacation “he held a Liturgy of the Word, there in his community (…) and he came back here with great enthusiasm saying: 'Father, I called together my community. My community participated in Liturgy of the Word.' This was in his own dialect, Ashaninka-Matsigenka, and he's very motivated.”

Pope Francis is visiting Peru from Jan. 18-21. Thursday he will travel to the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado, where Sanchez studies.

There are about 332,000 indigenous Peruvians living in the country’s Amazon region, of which 29,000 are within the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado.

 

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

 

On Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, a ten-year-old girl dares to dream again

Mosul, Iraq, Jan 18, 2018 / 02:24 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- Ten-year old Helda Khalid Jacob Hindi, a fifth-grader, is not at a loss for words. She is passionate about her life, her future, and that of her loved ones. Helda and her family—mom, dad and a younger brother—recently moved back to Qaraqosh on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains after spending three years in exile in Kurdistan.

She remembers vividly the night of Aug. 6, 2014, when ISIS overran her town and Christian families had to flee overnight.

She says: “Alarm bells rang out in our streets – we had to escape the living hell of violence and terrorism. I went along, crying, with no hope of ever returning to my town, my school; with no hope of ever seeing my friends again. We had no idea how long we would be displaced from our beloved city. The days passed and we lived in torment and tragedy until we got used to it.”

Eventually a new school was built for displaced children and Helda and her family began a new life. She remembers: “I was sad, clinging to hope of returning to my old school; but I made new friends. And today, by God’s grace, we have returned to our town and I am back in my old school among my old friends.”

Life in exile has been hard, perhaps particularly for a proud girl like Helda, who says: “we felt humiliated when we were receiving humanitarian aid, because we didn’t think that the day would come when we would become like beggars, oppressed people, with no power or strength.”

“We had only God and we never stopped believing in his power and his mercy for all those hurting in Iraq and around the world. Whenever we approach him in prayer and faith, we feel joy and confidence without end. My family, friends and relatives never felt that God was far away from us. As far as I can see into the past, God has been with me always. God is with me everywhere and I make sure to always keep nearby some pictures of Jesus Christ and a Bible.”

Helda proclaims she has her own ideas about her country. She explains: “Sometimes I want to stay in Iraq because it is my home, my beloved country. Sometimes I want to leave, especially when I see photographs and videos of terrorism striking innocent civilians. My heart cannot bear those horrifying scenes, but when I feel scared, I ask God to save me.”

“Frankly I'm not really sure about my future here in Iraq. I would want to go abroad with my family if we have to continue suffering war and persecution; how long it will take for us to finally be safe and secure? My message to the West is to do as much as possible to support Christians in Iraq because they are close to extinction. Help us. Have compassion, and you will be rewarded by the one who is in heaven.”

“Stop oppressing poor people. We want stability and peace. Let's work together and pray together for peace and love – for all of us.”

Helda insists: “I have a beautiful dream in life. My hobbies are painting, music, singing, and I like acting a lot, but my ambition is – with the help of God – to become a dentist, to serve my community and my country, wherever I may end up living.”

She adds, however: “I do not know where to start because things are still so unsettled. What will be next for us? It’s so hard to tell right now…”

 

 

Ragheb Elias Karash 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 this OneLife LA speaker is 'made for greater'

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 18, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Karen Gaffney has swum the English Channel, is the president of a global non-profit, and has an honorary doctorate.  She’ll share her story in Los Angeles this Saturday, at an annual event designed to celebrate human dignity.
 
She’ll also share the obstacles she’s had to overcome.

“You see, I have Down syndrome, and most of the general public thinks that’s a bad thing. Even the medical community, who should know better, sometimes says it’s a bad thing,” Gaffney told the National Catholic Register in a recent interview.

“They want to screen us out before we are born, because they don’t think we are ‘made for greater.’ I don’t think they have the right to do that,” Gaffney added.

Gaffney will speak at OneLife LA, a Jan. 20 walk and celebration sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  She’ll be joined by actress Patricia Heaton, Bishop Robert Barron, and evangelist Damon Owens.

Beginning in downtown LA, the event will start with a mile-long walk, leading to music, food, and speakers at Los Angeles Historical State Park.

Gaffney told the National Catholic Register that she hopes participants will walk away with an understanding that all lives are made for greatness, even lives with disabilities.

“I will be happy if people come away from the event wanting to learn more about Down syndrome and wanting to talk more about Down syndrome ... I want people to show by their actions that all lives really do matter,” she said

Gaffney found out she had Down syndrome when she was 6 years old. Her parents told her she would face challenges but not impossible obstacles.

“Yes, it is hard to live with Down syndrome, but isn’t it hard to live with any kind of disability?”

She explained the difference faith has made in her life.  “It was my junior year at St. Mary’s, and all the classes were getting very hard for me … Then in a religion class, I remember the teacher talking about how we live our lives, and she said that all lives are a gift from God, and what we do with our lives is our gift back to God.”

Gaffney is the founder of a non-profit group advocating for social inclusion of people with Down syndrome, called the Karen Gaffney Foundation.

She speaks often about the dangers prenatal tests pose to babies with Down syndrome.

“I always tell them that the prenatal-testing industry targets Down syndrome because it is the easiest test for them. If you can count to 27, you can evaluate the test!” she said.

Prenatal testing for Down syndrome made headlines last summer, when CBS News reported a dramatic decrease in the Down syndrome population of Iceland due to an increase in abortions.

“Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion,” tweeted CBS News in August.

Actress Patricia Heaton tweeted in response, “Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.”

According to CBS News, 80-85 percent of pregnant women in Iceland take a prenatal test, and nearly 100 percent of women carrying a child with Down syndrome undergo an abortion.

When asked about the recent news, Gaffney said she was disappointed in some of the reports by CBS, but was also thankful for positive news coverage about people with Down syndrome.

“This summer, I read a story about a 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome who is a good open-water swimmer like me,” she said, noting how the boy and his father saw two young girls being pulled out to sea in Italy.

“They both dove in, and each one swam for one of the girls; they reached them and were able to bring them to safety, just as the lifeguards got there…Now, I wonder what the mother of that little girl thinks when she hears from someone in the medical community who says Down syndrome is ‘not compatible with life.’”