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Holy See affirms enduring importance of UN human rights declaration

New York City, N.Y., Dec 10, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven decades after its proclamation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still being hailed as “a great triumph achieved at a tremendous cost,” in the words of St John Paul II.

The landmark declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris Dec. 10, 1948. It includes a preamble and 30 articles that provide for individual freedoms, denounce torture and slavery, and affirm the equal dignity of all people.

The Vatican’s diplomatic representative to the United Nations recently praised the declaration, saying the anniversary presented an opportunity to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” but also warned that parts of the world are experiencing the consequences of failing to uphold those rights.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, offered his reflections at a Dec. 4 conference commemorating the document’s 70th anniversary.

Since Auza was in Katowice, Poland for another conference, his remarks were read by Msgr. Tomasz Grysa. The conference was jointly hosted by the Holy See and Alliance Defending Freedom International at the UN headquarters in New York.

He said the then-recent atrocities of the Holocaust and two World Wars had “revealed that there are some actions so wicked that no one can or will justify them, and certain fundamental values that no one will dispute.”

Archbishop Auza hearkened back to St. John Paul II’s praise for the declaration, which he offered a year after being elected Bishop of Rome.

“When Pope John Paul II spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979, he called [the declaration] the 'fundamental document,' the 'basic inspiration and cornerstone of the United Nations Organization,' and a 'milestone on the long and difficult path of the moral progress,'” Auza wrote.

“After the horrors of the first half of [the 20th] century, it was obvious that human progress could not be measured only by scientific and technological advances, since even those could become weapons against the innocent,” Auza wrote, affirming that “human progress” includes ethical development as well.

Auza noted that the preamble of the UN charter affirms “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,” but does not specify what rights are to be upheld. The Commission on Human Rights later elaborated both political and civil human rights in the declaration, making them “practical” so as to guide action.

“[The rights] were framed not only in relation to the State but also to various mediating institutes like the family, human community, and religious groups, since human beings are persons in solidarity and fraternity rather than isolated individuals,” Auza wrote.

The original declaration itself did not contain any enforcement mechanisms per se, but later agreements such as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sought to incorporate human rights principles into the legal systems of individual nations. The United States ratified that covenant in 1992.

On the occasion of the declaration’s 70th anniversary, Azua highlighted three of the document’s “fundamental presuppositions” that he said “are perhaps not as widely and deeply appreciated today as they were by the framers and the delegates who voted for its adoption” because of cultural changes since the 1940s.

He spoke of the document’s universality, which he characterized as an attempt to formulate rights that would be valid regardless of time, place, and culture, which presumes that there exist universal human rights rooted in human nature. This ties into the document’s objectivity, Azua said; if human nature is objectively the same everywhere, then this prevents the universality of the rights “to be denied for cultural, political, social, philosophical or religious reasons.”

“Human rights are premised on the existence of a nature objectively shared by all members of the human race by the very fact of their humanity,” the archbishop wrote.

“From that nature flows human dignity, which refers to the intrinsic worth of the person, no matter one’s circumstances, no matter how young or old, rich or poor, strong or vulnerable, healthy or sick, wanted or undesired, economically productive or incapacitated, politically influential or insignificant.”

In other words, this recognition presupposes that all human beings are equal in value.

Finally, Auza highlighted the unity of the declaration— the importance of applying all the rights listed, rather than picking and choosing which rights to honor “piecemeal, according to trends or selective choices”— as an important element that was highlighted by Benedict XVI in 2008.

“The Declaration, [Pope Benedict] was saying, is not, and cannot be allowed to become, a menu of rights from which one can choose according to personal, national, or international taste,” Auza wrote.

To this point, Auza highlighted some of the notable instances of human rights violations in the world today.

For example, an estimated one in ten children will be subjected to child labor, and “tens of millions are ensnared by various forms of so-called modern slavery.”

Article 18 of the declaration upholds the freedom of “thought, conscience, and religion,” but “in so many places changing one’s religion or even practising one’s faith is still a death sentence or a reason to be discriminated against.”

Many countries, such as Sudan, have laws that criminalize apostasy, or converting from the state religion, usually Islam.

Auza noted that Pope Francis has spoken out against the reinterpretation of some rights over the years that conflict with each other, leading to, among others things, a breakdown of the family.

“Human rights in general, and the Universal Declaration in particular, were not meant to be used as weapons to advance political, economic, military or cultural agendas contrary to the fundamental human rights,” he wrote.

Can Americans today afford to have kids?

Washington D.C., Dec 9, 2018 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- When Alicia Hernon realized she was pregnant with her eighth child, her first reaction was to start crying.

“I thought, ‘Our car is too small, our house is too small, we’re going to have to move’,” she said.

But while the process was a difficult one, she and her husband Mike were able to make ends meet and went on to welcome two more children into their family.

And it was worth it, the Hernons told CNA.

While raising children has required financial sacrifices, Alicia said, “I know we have become better people because of that.”

The Hernons are far from alone in wondering how they will be able to afford children. In fact, the vast majority of Americans raising children are facing financial difficulties, according to the 2018 American Family Survey, released last week.

Of those who have children at home, 73 percent say they worry about being able to pay at least one monthly bill, and 44 percent have faced an economic crisis in the last year – being unable to pay an important bill or going without food, medical care or housing due to financial difficulty, the survey found.

For both men and women who do not currently have children, the cost of raising a child was the top consideration in deciding whether to become parents, ranking ahead of current relationship status, desire to raise a child of one’s own, and difficulty of balancing family and career.

Anthony Granado, director of the Office of Domestic Social Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while the data may seem surprising, it is consistent with other recent studies on the economy and American families.

He pointed to a 2017 study by the Federal Reserve showing that 40 percent of Americans would not be able to come up with $400 for an emergency expense, without borrowing from someone or selling a possession.

While the economy has turned around since the Great Recession, Granado told CNA, this doesn’t show the whole picture.

“If you’re only looking at GDP as your sense of economic progress in the country, you’re missing how the unemployed, underemployed and poor people are faring in the country,” he said.

Although unemployment rates are at historic lows, Granado said, many of the jobs that have been created have been low-wage or part time jobs, with few to no benefits.

And while there has been an uptick in overall U.S. wages, the largest wage growth has come for the top 10 percent of Americans, he said, while those with lower incomes have seen their wages increase at a slower rate than the cost of living.

Recent data from the Department of Labor indicates that the cost of living in the United States is increasing at its fastest pace in a decade. Soaring costs of college tuition have left many graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and increasing housing, health care and child care costs in many parts of the country compound financial struggles.

“Therefore, you have in effect a loss of wages, a loss of buying power. This is clearly affecting families…average and lower income people are not doing as well,” Granado said.

“If you don’t have the economic means or the benefits through your employer to help provide those things, people are definitely going to be dis-incentivized to have children, which is a bad thing, because we want to promote flourishing families.”

Family structure may also be playing a role in financial well-being, as marriage rates have declined in recent years.

“Marriage is definitely associated with greater financial stability for families,” said Dr. Scott Stanley, research professor and co‑director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver.

This is partly because “those with better resources are much more likely to marry than those with less,” but the nature of marriage is also relevant, he told CNA.

A February report from the Institute for Family Studies – where Stanley serves as a senior fellow – found that only 50 percent of children in the U.S. are currently being raised by both their married biological parents throughout childhood.

Of the other 50 percent, nearly half are being raised by just one parent. The IFS report also highlighted the “abundant evidence” that children fare better when both of their biological, married parents raise them throughout childhood.

“Married couples have usually formed a much clearer commitment to a future together than cohabiting, non-married couples,” Stanley said. “Having a future together reinforces approaching money (and life) as a team. Hence, the greater commitment to a future makes it more likely that a couple will manage money effectively and develop assets for the future.”

In addressing the complex causes of financial insecurity, there is no silver bullet, Granado said.

“Everyone has a role to play in the common good,” he explained. This includes individuals, families, organizations, companies, and government.

“There is a definite positive, proactive role for the government, the public authority,” Granado said. “This has been a hallmark of Church social teaching for centuries.”

This does not mean that the Church advocates for a state-centered society, he clarified – there is a need for charitable acts and individual responsibility.

“But at the end of the day, even if you look at the numbers Catholic Charities has across the country, there are so many people [in need], they are not able to help everybody, they just don’t have those resources,” he said.

“So long as people are not making the wages necessary to care for themselves and their families, there has to be something there to assist them.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been calling on the federal government to address wages and other factors causing families to struggle, Granado said.

“We’ve been looking at things like affordable housing, access to nutrition programs, labor questions, criminal justice reform.”

The Hernons – who today have 10 kids and run The Messy Family project and podcast – offered suggestions for those who want to have children but are concerned about their financial situation.

They cautioned against allowing materialism and the allure of Pinterest-perfect purchases to blur the lines between wants and needs.

Kids can share bedrooms, clothes and toys, and a 16-year-old does not need their own car, Alicia said. Shopping at thrift stores and making gifts instead of buying them are other creative ways that families can save money, she added.

As the kids get older, they also contribute, the Hernons said. By the time their kids reach their mid-teens, they pay for their own cell phones, non-essential clothes and video games. This not only eases the financial burden on the family, but also teaches the children hard work, responsibility, and wise money management.

Families may need to forego expensive vacations and opt for simple birthday celebrations, such as a water balloon fight in the backyard rather than an expensive party, the Hernons said. But ultimately, these sacrifices are what make parents into better people.

They advised couples to discuss finances before marriage to make sure they are on the same page about their goals. They also recommended living on a single income when a couple is first married, so one parent can more easily stop working or cut back on hours once children are born.

Trusting God is also critical, they said.

“One of the things I’ve found is that saying yes to God’s gift of life has always come with blessings,” Mike reflected.

Ultimately, he said, the Church must remind society of the true value of children and family life.

“I think that we [as a culture] have lost a real sense of the joys of family life, in that we are seeing the financial burden first, rather than the joy in it,” he said. “As Catholics, we need to do a more effective job of sharing and celebrating the joy of family life.”

 

Pope Francis: Advent demands conversion, recognizing our mistakes

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2018 / 06:46 am (CNA).- Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, Pope Francis said Sunday, but this season also requires a “journey of conversion.”

“To prepare the way for the Lord who comes, it is necessary to take into account the demands of conversion,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Dec. 9.

Conversion requires changing your attitude, Francis explained. “It leads to humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, and defaults.”

The pope focused on the invitation of St. John the Baptist, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance as a voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

“The Baptist invited the people of his time to conversion with force, vigor, and severity,” Francis said. “Yet he knew how to listen, he knew how to perform gestures of tenderness, gestures of forgiveness towards the multitude of men and women who came to him to confess their sins and be baptized.”

“Even today, the disciples of Jesus are called to be his humble, but courageous witnesses to rekindle hope,” the pope said.

The pope suggested that each person asks, “How can I change something in my attitude to prepare the way for the Lord?” 

One necessary step is “making concrete gestures of reconciliation with our brothers, asking for forgiveness of our faults,” he explained. “The Lord helps us in this, if we have good will.”

Christians are called to help people understand that “despite everything, the kingdom of God continues to be built day by day with the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to prepare the way of the Lord day by day, beginning with ourselves,” Pope Francis prayed.

Is time running out for Ohio's 'heartbeat abortion' bill?

Cincinnati, Ohio, Dec 8, 2018 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate have delayed a key vote on a bill to bar abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable. Given Gov. John Kasich’s promise to veto the bill, the delay has raised questions about whether an override vote will be possible before the close of the legislative session.

On Dec. 6, the Ohio Senate’s Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee chairman Sen. David Burke said there were several amendments to the bill and more time was needed to study them.

“Based on the short timeline that we received the bill from the House, we wanted to make sure people had ample time to testify,” said the Senate’s Republican spokesman John Fortney, according to the news website Cleveland.com.

The committee vote would have advanced the bill to the Senate floor. While the legislative session officially ends Dec. 31, leading lawmakers have said they are likely to finish by Dec. 19 or sooner.

If H.B. 258 becomes law, it would ban abortions at around six weeks into pregnancy, once a baby’s heartbeat is detectable. The law allows exceptions to prevent a woman’s death or bodily impairment, or in cases of medical emergency.

The bill’s text makes clear that a pregnant woman who undergoes an abortion is not considered in violation of the law. Rather, it allows her to take civil action against the abortion doctor involved if it is proven he or she broke the law, on grounds related to the “wrongful death of the unborn child.”

An doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the law would commit a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, the New York Times reports. The bill requires state inspections of abortion facilities to ensure their compliance with reporting requirements. It also establishes more ways to promote adoption.

Kasich has a strong pro-life record, signing into law at least 18 abortion regulations or restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban. The heartbeat bill is the only one he has vetoed, doing so in 2016. He is about to leave office in January for governor-elect Mark DeWine, a Republican who supports the legislation.

The governor would have ten days from a bill’s passage to veto, excluding Sundays. In the event of a veto, lawmakers would have to return to the capitol to override the veto with a three-fifths vote in each chamber.

While legislators did not have support to override the governor’s veto of a 2016 bill, this year the Ohio House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 60-38, exactly the number of votes needed to override. The Senate would need 20 votes to override a veto.

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof said Senate Republicans support the bill and he anticipated that it will be passed “at some point.” There are 24 Republicans currently in the Ohio Senate.

However, some lawmakers travel out of state for the holidays and may not return to vote. Many also hold that lawmakers should rarely override a governor’s veto, Cleveland.com reports.

While Kasich has supported pro-life legislation, he has joined critics of the bill who say it contradicts current Supreme Court precedent on abortion.

Backers of the legislation have said it is specially designed to pass Supreme Court scrutiny.

David F. Forte, a law professor at Cleveland-Marshall School of Law at Cleveland State University, in written remarks to the Senate committee said the bill will give the Supreme Court “an opportunity to modify its abortion jurisprudence so that Congress and the states may protect those unborn children who are virtually certain to be born,” Cleveland.com reports.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, a supporter of the bill, cited the Supreme Court’s repeated support for racial segregation before striking it down. She said she hoped the treatment of unborn babies by the Supreme Court would prove “as successful for the unborn as it was for the African American.”

Bill opponent Sen. Charleta Tavares asked several bill backers who spoke to the committee about whether the government would support women and children with services like housing, employment and Medicaid.

Ellen Schleckman, a medical student focusing on obstetrics and gynecology, said the proposed legislation would harm a doctor’s ability to give best care to patients and result in fewer doctors wanting to practice medicine in the state.

Despite questions about the bill’s future, it still could become law.

“It would be up to the members, obviously, but if it was passed theoretically next week, I think it would come back (for a veto override) before the end of the year,” Fortney said, noting this final vote would take place after Christmas.

Ohio law currently bars abortion 20 weeks or more after conception, based on when an unborn child can feel pain. Pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is considering a legal challenge to that law.

The Ohio Catholic Conference on Nov. 15 said it supports “the life-affirming intent of this legislation,” but stopped short of endorsement. The conference said it will continue to assist efforts to resolve “differences related to specific language and strategies.”

“In the end, the Catholic Conference of Ohio desires passage of legislation that can withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save lives,” the Catholic conference said.

 

On feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis points to Mary’s trust in God

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2018 / 08:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to imitate Mary’s deep trust and openness to God when faced with serious problems.

“Today we look at the beauty of Our Lady, who was born and lived without sin, always docile and transparent with God. This does not mean that life was easy for her. Living with God does not magically solve problems,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 8.

Pope Francis highlighted Mary’s radical trust at the moment of the Annunciation found in her response to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

“Why not start your days like this? It would be nice to say every morning: ‘Here I am, Lord, today your will be done in me,” Pope Francis said, noting that the Angelus prayer provides an opportunity to repeat Mary’s words.

After the Annunciation, the angel departed and Mary’s “problems began immediately,” he said.

Mary knew that “she would become the Mother of God, but the angel had not explained it to others,” Francis explained. “Think of her irregular situation according to the law, the torment of St. Joseph, the skipped life plans, what the people would say …”

“The angel leaves the Virgin alone in a difficult situation … And she trusts,” he said. “We ask the Immaculate to have the grace to live like this.”

The pope expressed joy at the beatification of the Bishop Peter Claverie and 18 martyred companions, who were proclaimed blessed in Algeria on the feast day. 

“Their courageous testimony is a source of hope for the Algerian Catholic community and a seed of dialogue for the whole of society,” Francis said.

Pope Francis later prayed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, venerating the Byzantine icon, “Salus Populi Romani,” inside.

The Holy Father then offered a bouquet of flowers at the foot of the Column of the Immaculate Conception in the piazza below Rome’s Spanish Steps.

Standing beneath the nineteenth-century Marian monument, Pope Francis entrusted all priests, religious, and Catholic families to the care of the Immaculate Mother.

“O Mother of Jesus, one last thing I ask you, in this time of Advent, thinking of the days when you and Joseph were anxious about the imminent birth of your child, worried because there was a census and you had to leave your country, Nazareth, and go to Bethlehem,” Pope Francis prayed.

“You know what it means to bring life into your lap and feel indifference, rejection, and sometimes contempt. This is why I ask you to stay close to the families that are living today in Rome, in Italy, in the whole world live in similar situations, so that they are not abandoned.”

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St. John Mary Vianney, Priest (Memorial)