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How the Pope's Paraguay trip inspired a children's charity

Asunción, Paraguay, Aug 17, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of Pope Francis' 2015 trip to Paraguay, a local charity was founded in order to help feed dozens of children whose parents struggle to make ends meet.

The “Pope Francis Children's Dining Hall” belonging to the Virgin of the Rosary Parish in the Diocese of Villarrica del Espíritu Santo in Paraguay, marked their first anniversary feeding almost 100 children of people who work part-time; and they hope to have many more anniversaries, giving love and care to the littlest ones.

Both the creation of the dining hall on Aug. 8, 2016, and its name are the fruit of Pope Francis' visit to Paraguay in July 2015, a tour in which he also visited Ecuador and Peru.

“Two years ago we had Pope Francis' visit which was very moving for many people. Because of  his  closeness to the people, we wanted to put his name on the dining hall,” parish priest Fr. Claudio Figueredo told CNA.

“The pope with the children is even seen on the logo and we always keep him in our prayers, for his ministry.”

The dining hall is located in the rural town of Natalicio Talavera with a population of about 7,000 and lies 112 miles from Asuncion. Some people work in “changas” – sporadic jobs – and mostly in the country's main crop, sugar cane.

“We started at zero. We had the house, but not pots, plates or utensils. Everything was borrowed. We started out with a stove and the first day five children came,” the priest said.

“There was a lot of leftover food. But already on the second day 30 children came and from there we steadily have between 60 and 90 children.”

Fr. Figueredo said that they began with the weekly lunches and two days with snacks. Today they are able to provide lunch and snacks every day and they also take care of the children while their parents work.

The children and adolescents cared for range from 1 to 15 years of age and their conditions include  malnutrition, respiratory illnesses, loneliness, and teen pregnancy; and so the social work provides medical care, catechesis, recreational activities and food assistance for families.

“The dining hall is a place where (the children) meet each other and feel good. We do everything possible to take care of their needs,” the priest said.

Fr. Figueredo, who belongs to the Saint Michael the Archangel Congregation of Polish missionaries, came to Peru in 1976. He explained that the dining hall is sustained by donations from the faithful, other organizations and the Secretariat for Social Action of the government of Paraguay.

The house where the Pope Francis Children's Dining Hall is provided has been equipped little by little with what it needs to function. On other occasions contributions even come for recreation such as a portable pool used in summer or a projector for use throughout the year.

Fr. Figueredo explained that other income that helps pay for expenses is the sale of baked goods that they make in the same facility every afternoon.

“We struggle every day. Our parish is very poor. Every day it's hard to have what's needed, but by the grace of God and Providence, we never lack,” he told CNA.

With that enthusiasm and faith in God, the priest said that they are already thinking of developing some craft projects for the children they serve there, “something which could help them develop their talents.”

The Virgin of the Rosary Parish also supports the Virgin of the Rosary Home, where 12 elderly reside, as well as the Saint Anthony of Padua Soup Kitchen in Doctor Botrell town.

An Indian woman became a nun...because of elephants?

Orissa, India, Aug 17, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nine years ago, Christians in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, India suffered the worst attacks against Christians in modern times in the country.

Around 100 people lost their lives and more than 56,000 lost their homes and places of worship in a series of violent riots by Hindu militants that lasted for several months.

But since the devastation, the local area has seen an “unprecedented” increase in religious vocations, including Sr. Alanza Nayak, who became the first woman from her area to join the order of the Sisters of the Destitute.  

Sr. Nayak told Matters India that she decided to dedicate her life to God through the poor and needy after she heard “how a herd of elephants meted out justice to the victims of Kandhamal anti-Christian violence.”

A tenth-grader at the time of the attacks, Sr. Nayak said she remembers escaping to the nearby forest so she wouldn’t be killed.

A year after the attacks, a herd of elephants came back to the village and destroyed the farms and houses of those who had persecuted the Christians.

“I was convinced it was the powerful hand of God toward helpless Christians,” Sister Nayak told Matters India. The animals were later referred to as “Christian elephants,” she added.

After completing her candidacy, postulancy and novitiate with the order, Sr. Nayak took her first profession on October 5, 2016, at Jagadhri, a village in Haryana. She is now a member in the Provincial House, Delhi.

On January 26, more than 3,000 people from Sr. Nayak’s village of Mandubadi, honored her with a special Mass and festivities.

Her mother told Matters India that she was “extremely fortunate” that God has called her daughter for “His purpose.”

Sister Janet, who accompanied Sister Alanza at the thanksgiving Mass, said that while materially poor, the people of the area are “rich in faith, brotherhood and unity.”

The congregation of Sisters of Destitute was founded on March 19, 1927, by Fr. Varghese Payyapilly, a priest of Ernakulum archdiocese. It has 1,700 members who live in 200 communities spread over six provinces.

The violence against Christians in the Kandhamal district has been religiously motivated. It started after the August 2008 killing of a highly revered Hindu monk and World Hindu Council leader, Laxshmanananda Saraswati, and four of his aides.

Despite evidence that Maoists, not Christians, were responsible for Saraswati's murder, Hindu militants seeking revenge used swords, firearms, kerosene, and even acid against the Christians in the area in a series of riots that continued for several months.

While the intensity of the violence has subsided since the 2008 attacks, violence against Christians in Kandhamal has continued.

In July 2015, Crux reported on two unconfirmed reports of two Christians who were shot to death by local police in the district while they were on a hilltop, seeking out a better mobile phone signal to call their children, just one example of the ongoing hatred of Christians in the district.  

Rev. Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest who heads the Odisha Forum for Social Action, told Crux that such violence is common in a place where the social elites are upper-caste Hindus and the Christians are largely lower-class “untouchables” and members of indigenous tribes.

“There’s a double hatred,” Singh said. “Because Christians are from the lowest caste, they’re untouchable, and because they’re Christians they’re seen as anti-national … they’re treated worse than dogs.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 7, 2017.

Theologian Pia de Solenni appointed Orange County chancellor

Orange, Calif., Aug 16, 2017 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Moral theologian and cultural analyst Dr. Pia de Solenni has been appointed chancellor for the Diocese of Orange in California, effective Aug. 28.

“Pia is an inspirational and well-respected theologian and has proven herself a thoughtful and humble leader within our Church,” said Bishop Kevin Vann in a statement announcing the appointment.

“We are blessed as a Diocese to benefit from her expertise, passion, and faith. I look forward to the many gifts that she will continue to bring to bear in service to the people of Orange.”

As chancellor – the diocese’s highest senior lay position – de Solenni will be the head administrator and secretary of the Curia, official archivist and record keeper, and aid in protecting the integrity of the faith. She will help support the administrative and ministry efforts of the bishop, and will advise the bishop on various writings and questions involving doctrine and dogma affecting the Church’s local work.

Currently, de Solenni serves as a theological consultant to the Office of the Bishop, as well as associate dean of the Augustine Institute’s satellite campus at the Christ Cathedral in Orange. She holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.

An expert on moral issues pertaining to bioethics, culture, and women’s issues, she has given commentary for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, as well as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, among others.

With more than 1.3 million Catholics, the Diocese of Orange is the 12th largest diocese in the United States.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve the Diocese of Orange as Chancellor. I am very grateful to Bishop Vann for his confidence in me and for giving me this opportunity,” de Solenni said.

 

Shock and grief after mudslide in Sierra Leone kills hundreds

Freetown, Sierra Leone, Aug 16, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A massive mudslide in Sierra Leone’s capital city has left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, with relief agencies hurrying to respond.

“There are people whose entire families have gone missing. There is a real sense of despair. Right now, people are in a complete state of shock,” said Idalia Amaya, deputy head of programs and emergency response coordinator for Catholic Relief Services.

“The devastation is like nothing we’ve seen before. Entire neighborhoods have been washed away,” she added.

More than 600 people are missing and at least 300 are dead after a massive mudslide early Monday morning in Freetown. Some bodies were swept into the sea. The death toll has overwhelmed some mortuaries.

Thousands more people have lost their homes, as well as family members.

“I ran away from the house, leaving behind my family,” a grieving survivor, Fatmata Kamara told The Associated Press. “I am the only one that has survived, as my house and dozens of others were covered with mud and boulders.”

Heavy rains appeared to have triggered the disaster on the hillside.

Rescuers dug in the thick mud with their bare hands to try to find survivors.

An estimated 9,000 people were affected.

Abdul Nasir, program coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, described the disaster: “A river of mud came out of nowhere and swallowed entire communities, just wiped them away.”

“We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss,” he warned.

To provide immediate aid, Catholic Relief Services will give food, water, and mattresses to survivors. The agency will support the government and religious leaders by providing dignified burials for the deceased, including burial teams and grave diggers.

The teams’ members took part in Catholic Relief Services’ Ebola response in 2014.

Amaya, the CRS emergency response coordinator, reflected on the situation in the country.

“People here have already experienced so much trauma having lived through war and then Ebola, and now this,” she said. “But at the same time, people from Sierra Leone are incredibly resilient and I know that with the proper support they will overcome this latest tragedy.”

Pope prays for victims, rescue workers of Sierra Leone mudslide

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2017 / 07:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With hundreds dead and nearly 600 more still missing as a result of a giant mudslide that ravished Sierra Leone's capital, Pope Francis has prayed for the victims, their families and rescue workers providing relief to those affected.

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time,” read an Aug. 16 telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

Addressed to Freetown's Archbishop Charles Edward Tamba, the telegram relayed the Pope's sympathies, and assured of his prayer for all who have died.

The telegram comes two days after a flooding and a large mudslide killed some 400 people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown Monday, and have left some 600 still missing.

According to BBC, a mass burial of victims that had been scheduled for Wednesday in order to free up space in mortuaries has been delayed as the “chaotic” disaster continues to unfold.

Flooding is not uncommon in the overcrowded town of one million, leaving those who live in unsafe, makeshift housing especially at risk during natural disasters. However, Monday's slide is thought to be the worst incident in the past two decades.

At least 100 houses were wiped out when a hillside in Regent, a mountain town some 15 miles east of Freetown, collapsed, submerging entire buildings and taking people with them.

Bodies have continued to be retrieved from the mud and rubble, but efforts to identify them are proving difficult in the chaos.

In his telegram, the Pope not only offered his prayers for the victims, but he also extended “divine blessings of strength and consolation” upon their families.

Francis also expressed his “prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”

Archbishop Gomez: Make Oscar Romero's mission your own

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 16, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 100th birthday of Blessed Oscar Romero was a time for Los Angelenos to reflect on the martyred Salvadoran bishop's virtues and how his vision can be made a reality today.

“One hundred years after his birth, Blessed Oscar Romero still inspires us for his humility and courage – for his love for the poor and his witness of solidarity and service to others, even to the point of laying down his life,” Archbishop Jose Gomez said at an Aug. 13 Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral marking the centenary of Romero’s birth.

“Our brother, Blessed Oscar, had a vision for a new society – the society that God wants – a society in which God’s gifts are shared by everyone, and not only the few,” he continued. “We want to carry that vision forward in our own times, and in our own society.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador was born Aug. 15, 1917.

Amid El Salvador’s bloody civil war, the archbishop preached the importance of Christian love. At a time when government-aligned death squads would kill and abduct opponents of the government, he was a strong critic of government violence against the poor, human rights violations, and corruption, despite many death threats.

He was assassinated March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador. Right-wing death squads are suspected in his death.

Pope Francis declared Archbishop Romero a martyr in February 2015, then beatified him in May 2015.

There were three relics of the slain archbishop at the Mass in Los Angeles: the microphone he used to celebrate Mass at the San Salvador cathedral; an autographed photograph he gave to a woman religious who assisted him and was present the day he was murdered; and a piece of cloth with his blood from the day he was assassinated. Many Salvadorans were in attendance.

Archbishop Gomez told the congregation: “we want to ask this great saint to help all of us to live with new faith, new hope and new love.”

“We ask him to intercede for us – to give us courage to continue his project, his ‘revolution of love’,” the archbishop continued, saying that Romero “walked in the company of Jesus and in the company of his people.” He served his people “with a pastor’s love, with a father’s love”

“God gives each of us a mission. It is not just for bishops, like Monseñor Romero,” said the Los Angeles archbishop. “Each one of us, in our own way, is called to build the Kingdom of God.”

Archbishop Gomez cited Romero’s own words: “Let each one of you, in your own vocation – nun, married person, bishop, priest, high-school or university student, workman, laborer, market woman – each one in your own place live the faith intensely and feel that in your surroundings you are a true microphone of God.”

The archbishop emphasized the need for “total confidence in God” despite times of troubles and trials, as in the Gospels when the apostles were at sea in a powerful storm. Even when they saw Jesus approaching on the water, they think he is a ghost.

“We can get anxious about our future or worrying about the things in our lives, that we can think that God is not there for us. But he is,” said Archbishop Gomez. St. Peter was fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but began to sink when he thought about his human limitations and the storms around him.

Despite the struggles and challenges Romero faced, he kept his eyes on Jesus Christ.

“Let us carry the Gospel message of love and mercy, truth and justice into every corner of our world,” said the archbishop. He invoked the patron of El Salvador, Our Lady of Peace, asking that she guide her children “to know the freedom, justice and peace that Blessed Oscar Romero gave his life for.”

The archbishop voiced prayers for those in El Salvador who suffer violence, and those who live in poverty throughout Central America and Latin America, especially for those in Venezuela.

Iceland is 'eradicating' Down syndrome…by aborting everyone who has it

Reykjavik, Iceland, Aug 16, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent article from CBS News proclaims that “few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.”

The operative word here is “births.”

Has Iceland discovered, through some groundbreaking technology and research, a cure to the chromosomal abnormality? No.

How do you “disappear Down syndrome” then, as one of the article’s taglines states?

You “disappear” people with Down syndrome.

“Iceland isn't actually eliminating Down syndrome. They're just killing everybody that has it. Big difference,” tweeted actress Patricia Heaton, who has been outspoken about her pro-life beliefs.

“There is nothing to celebrate in Iceland's ‘eradication’ of babies born with Down syndrome through abortion,” stressed Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a network of 1,800 pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women and connect them with resources throughout the country.

“These are precious human beings hand-crafted in the image of God, and no government or person on earth has the authority to rob persons with Down syndrome of their lives,” Godsey told CNA. “Down syndrome is not a death sentence, and it is monstrous to suggest otherwise.”

Every pregnant woman in Iceland is given an option of a prenatal test that can detect Down syndrome with 85 percent accuracy. “Nearly 100 percent” of pregnancies that tested positive for Down syndrome were aborted, CBS reports.

While prenatal testing is not required in Iceland, healthcare providers tell every pregnant woman that the test is an option. The country, which has a population of 330,000, usually sees only one or two children a year born with Down syndrome – often the result, the article reports, of faulty testing.  

Other countries “aren't lagging too far behind” in Down syndrome abortion rates, the article states. “The United States has an estimated (abortion) rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it's 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015).”

The CBS article included some discussion of the ethical dilemmas that prenatal screening and abortion of babies with Down syndrome present.

Geneticist Kari Stefansson said for the piece, “My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society – that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.”

But when asked what this means for society, he cautioned: “It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling. And I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable…You're having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”

“I don't think there's anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision,” he said.

The article also admits that while people born with Down syndrome are at risk for various other health problems, many people with Down syndrome also live full and healthy lives, and are able to live independently or semi-independently, hold jobs, and have relationships.

“Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”

Perhaps the best argument against the eradication of Down syndrome is Augusta, the cute little seven-year-old pink-clad girl peering out from the pages of the CBS article. Her mother, Thordis Ingadottir, took the test when she was pregnant with Augusta, but it failed to detect Down syndrome.

Now, Ingadottir has become an advocate for people with Down syndrome.

“I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That's my dream,” Ingadottir told CBS. “Isn't that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?”

Godsey told CNA that parents whose children have Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities need love and support – not abortion.

“(These parents)...deserve love and support that will benefit their growing families, and abortion fails categorically to deliver on its false promises to benefit families, individuals and society as a whole,” he said.  

Godsey added that almost anyone who knows someone with Down syndrome would be completely against its elimination.

“As anyone who knows a person with Down syndrome can tell you, these beautiful people are an absolute joy to their families and communities. The world grows exponentially poorer as we kill innocent babies for the ‘crime’ of failing to match up to our self-aggrandizing expectations.”

The joy of life with a family member who has Down syndrome was celebrated CBS in a different article, published to mark World Down Syndrome Day in 2015. It was a column by Marguerite (Maggie) Reardon, a senior writer at CNET, about when she found out her daughter would be born with Down syndrome.  

For a long time, she considered abortion, though her husband was against it. What changed her mind was the day she found a community of other people with Down syndrome and parents of children with Down syndrome.

She’s still an exhausted, stressed out parent, she wrote, but that’s not because her child has Down syndrome. It’s because she has two little kids who keep her busy.

“It's true my daughter has some developmental delays. And she receives a bevy of therapies through Early Intervention to help keep her on track,” she said.

“But she's also wonderful. She has a twinkle in her eye and an infectious grin that makes even the most miserable looking people on the subway smile when she stares them down. When she puts her head on my shoulder as I rock her to sleep each night, my heart melts no matter what kind of day I've had.”

“I do think she is more special than other children, but it's not because she has Down syndrome. It's because I'm a completely biased and doting mother who thinks no one could possibly be as adorable, bright or funny as my own child,” she wrote. “And her name is Margot.”

 

US State Department recognizes ISIS genocide in religious freedom report

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom advocates were heartened by the State Department recognizing in its annual religious freedom report released Tuesday the genocide of Christians by the Islamic State.

“As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and even death,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated at the Aug. 15 release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom report.

“Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled,” he said. “ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

The annual State Department report is mandated by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which created the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department and worked to make promoting religious freedom a part of U.S. foreign policy.

The 2016 report makes explicit reference to the “genocide” of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims at the hands of the Islamic State, or “Daesh.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry had said in March of 2016 that “in my judgement, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

In 2014, Islamic State militants conquered large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria, forcing religious and ethnic minorities in the region to stay and convert to Islam, leave, or die.

Reports documented that Islamic State committed mass killings of Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and others, as well as enslaving women and children. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians partnered to release a massive report documenting Islamic State atrocities committed against Christians.

As Islamic State has been driven from towns in northern Iraq, the inhabitants have returned to find their homes vandalized and their churches desecrated or destroyed.

“America’s promotion of international religious freedom demands standing up for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” the preface to the State Department’s report stated.

Tillerson added that in addition to Christians being targeted for genocide in Iraq and Syria, they have also been targeted by Islamic State militants in Egypt.

“The protection of these groups – and others subject to violent extremism – is a human rights priority for the Trump administration,” he said.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., welcomed Tillerson’s statement as an even more forceful pronouncement of genocide than was made by the previous administration.

Tillerson, Shea said, “forcefully clarified that ISIS has the ‘specific intent’ of destroying the Christian community, along with the other two minorities.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the author of the update to the original International Religious Freedom Act, also praised Tillerson for specifically recognizing the atrocities committed against minorities under Islamic State.

“I want to commend Secretary Tillerson for focusing on those who have been victims of genocide,” he said. “These groups are looking for help and leadership, and I am proud that after eight years of denial and foot dragging, this report positions the United States to become a world leader in helping those who need it most.”

Tillerson, in his remarks unveiling the report on Tuesday, also focused on the persecution of minorities in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Pakistan, Sudan, and Bahrain.

In Iran, for instance, 20 persons were executed by the state in 2016 for apostasy charges including “waging war against God,” he said. Baha'i leaders are still imprisoned for their religious beliefs in the country, where the state religion is Ja’afari Shia Islam.

In Turkey, religious minorities have seen their rights infringed upon by the government, which has also imprisoned Pastor Andrew Brunson who should be released, Tillerson said.

“Turkey continues to unjustly imprison Dr. Andrew Brunson without charges, and I appreciate Secretary Tillerson reminding the world of this. It is important for America to be clear about the human rights abuses happening around the world,” Sen. Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

Tillerson also named Saudi Arabia as a violator of human rights and religious freedom, as punishments like prison and lashings are given to persons for charges of apostasy, atheism, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam.

“We urge Saudi Arabia to embrace greater degrees of religious freedom for all of its citizens,” Tillerson stated to the U.S. ally.

China is another well-known human rights violator, torturing and detaining thousands of citizens for their religious beliefs, including Uyghur Muslims and the members of Falun Gong, Tillerson said.

However, the secretary did not also mention that Christians are persecuted by the government there. State-sanctioned destruction of churches, or removing crosses from churches, has become commonplace in some provinces, and state officials have hampered parents from bringing their children to church.

In addition, the Vatican and the Chinese government have been working on an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the state-sanctioned Church, although critics like Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, say the atheistic government will continue to meddle in the elections of bishops.

Smith said the report “rightly shows that China’s religious freedom conditions are among the world’s worst.”

“The Chinese government is an equal opportunity abuser of the rights of Protestants, Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners – all who face imprisonment and torture for practicing their faith,” he said.

Calling the report “a step in the right direction,” he also commended the reporting on other countries, such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Nigeria. and Syria, “with individuals who simply want to worship in peace being beaten, jailed, tortured or worse.”

“The more difficult step will be to place these countries or non-state actors like ISIS and Boko Haram on the U.S. blacklist of severe religious freedom violators,” he said.

This would include updating the “Countries of Particular Concern” list, which is comprised of countries the State Department deems where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place and the government is either the instigator, actively complicit, or is powerless to stop the abuses.

The creation of the list was mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act as a way to hold violators of religious freedom accountable. Actions can be legally taken against such countries if the State Department places them on the CPC list, like imposing sanctions.

With the rise of non-state terror groups like Islamic State and Boko Haram, Smith’s bill created the “Entities of Particular Concern” designation for violators of religious freedom that are not themselves states and who are active in multiple countries.

The State Department currently has designated China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs.

Pakistan does not occupy a place on the list despite leading the world in the number of prison sentences for blasphemy, which can carry a death sentence.

Also, Tillerson did not mention Russia in his remarks, despite the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission that advises the State Department, asking that it be added to the CPC list as one of the worst violators of religious freedom.

In its annual report earlier this year, the commission pointed to the criminalization of certain non-sanctioned religious beliefs in the Russian mainland, and the treatment of minorities in the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula as serious abuses that merited Russia’s place on the CPC list. Recently, Russia’s supreme court rejected an appeal of the outlawing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the Trump administration’s selection earlier this summer of an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, who is charged with monitoring abuses of freedom of religion abroad and promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy.

President Donald Trump nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a former U.S. Senator, for the position. Lankford expressed his desire that Brownback be confirmed for the position soon.

'Forgive them' – powerful words from father of Charlottesville victim

Charlottesville, Va., Aug 15, 2017 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia involving white supremacy groups and counter-protesters, the father of the woman who was killed after the rally spoke out against hatred and offered a different message: forgiveness and love.

“I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, 'Forgive them. They don't know what they're doing,'” Mark Heyer said Monday, according to USA Today.

“I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this,” he said.

Mark Heyer is the father of Heather Heyer, the 32 year-old woman who was fatally hit by a car after the “Unite the Right” rally near the University of Virginia on Saturday. The rally drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, who were protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the park downtown.

Heather was among the group of counter-protesters who were standing against the Unite the Right rally, which also included various religious leaders and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Heather grew up near Charlottesville and was a paralegal at Miller Law Group. The law firm called Heather an “irreplaceable asset,” and noted her “big heart for people.” She was known in her community for standing up for the marginalized in society.

“She was a strong woman who had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone, and she tried to stand up for that,” her father said.

“With her, it wasn’t lip service. It was real… it was something that she wanted to share with everyone,” he continued, saying “she had more courage than I did.”

Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, also noted her daughter’s passion for others, saying that “it was important to her to speak up for people who were not being heard.”

The driver of the car that hit Heather is 20-year old James Alex Fields, who is now facing multiple charges including a hit and run, second-degree murder, and counts of malicious wounding. He drove his car into several other cars while crowds of people were crossing the streets after the rally, injuring dozens of people. A total of 19 victims were hospitalized.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice issued a joint statement on Sunday, condemning the “evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

They also prayed for Heather, and two other victims who were Virginia State troopers, saying “let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.”

While devastated with the loss of his daughter, Mark Heyer hopes that her death will cause bigger waves of change.

“I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people's hearts.”

New Texas law axes insurance coverage for elective abortion

Austin, Texas, Aug 15, 2017 / 02:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law in Texas removes elective abortion coverage from the standard package of health insurance benefits offered in many plans, a move that pro-life advocates hailed as a victory for those who do not want to subsidize abortion.

“As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” said Governor Greg Abbott upon signing House Bill 214 into law on Tuesday.

“This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.”

Under the new law, elective abortions will not be covered in standard private or state employee health insurance plans, nor in public plans subsidized by the Affordable Care Act.

Abortions deemed to be necessary in cases of medical emergency will still be covered in standard plans, and optional separate coverage for elective abortions may be purchased by those who are interested.

“This isn’t about who can get an abortion. It is about who is forced to pay for an abortion,” said Rep. John Smithee, lead author of the bill.

The law was signed during a special legislative session. It had been approved by the House in a 95-51 vote last week, and by the Senate in a 20-10 vote on Sunday.

More than half of U.S. states limit coverage of abortion under the Affordable Care Act.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, denounced the law, saying it will negatively impact women who “need” abortions.

Another bill signed into law by Abbott on Tuesday requires doctors and health care offices to report additional details about abortion complications.

State Sen. Donna Campbell said during a debate on the legislation last month that “collecting this data is important to guarantee best medical practices.”