Holy See to be ‘hacked’ by first Vatican hackathon

March 4, 2018 by  
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Vatican, March 2, 2018: A “hackathon” is a hacking marathon: a collaborative computer programming event in which a group works under a tight deadline to find software or programming approaches to real-world problems.

On March 8-11, the Vatican will host its first hackathon, VHacks. 120 young adult programmers, graphic designers, project managers, and others from around the world will spend 36 hours “hacking” together over the course of three days.

The Vatican hackathon aims to help leaders develop technological approaches to the needs of social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and migrants and refugees.

Jakub Florkiewicz, co-chairman of VHacks and a student at Harvard Business School, told CNA via email that the hackathon’s mission is “to inspire young people around the world to collaborate across divisions and to use technology to address social issues.”

“We think that technology could improve the scale and efficiency of those organizations which offer support and help to those in need.”

He pointed out that the Church is often at the forefront of helping people in remote places. Because churches “have the world’s most extensive distribution network,” he said, this “can be leveraged to do good.”

The event is being organized by a group of Harvard and MIT students, the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, and OPTIC, a global think-tank working on ethical issues related to disruptive technologies.

Co-organizers are the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Migrants and Refugee section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. The event has also gained some big-name tech partners, including Google, Microsoft, and Italian telecommunications company TIM.

Inspiration for the event came, in part, from a remark from Pope Francis in a first-ever papal “Ted Talk” video published last year. He said: “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.”

Participants come from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, and Florkiewicz said he is excited “to see how we will be at the forefront of cross-faith collaboration, with representatives of all the world’s major religions, working together to solve problems we all care about.”

One of the event’s missions is to: “Encourage value-based institutions to embrace technology to further their missions.”

“We want to see religion as a binding force, uniting in goodness towards others, not dividing,” Florkiewicz stated.

– cna

‘God did this’- How a 22 year-old Texan began a Catholic school for Uganda’s deaf children

March 2, 2018 by  
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Uganda, March 1, 2018: Rannah Evetts had always wanted to go to Africa. She has no explanation for it, other than that God had planted a deep love of everything Africa in her heart for as long as she can remember.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I would say I was going to Africa, and I didn’t really understand why, and my mom would just call me her little African child because that’s all I would talk about,” Rannah recalled.

Today, Rannah is living out her childhood dream, having founded a Catholic school for deaf children in Uganda at the age of 21.

But it came to fruition in a way she could never have imagined.

Evetts loved to talk about Africa as a little girl. But there was a lot she did not talk about – the sexual abuse she was experiencing and the traumatic consequences she suffered silently for years: depression, suicidal thoughts, self hate and despair.

“Through a lot of hurt and pain that God worked through me,” Evetts told CNA.

Desperately seeking happiness in high school, she threw herself into the party scene, looking for relief.

“I wanted to be happy, I was so tired of hating myself and being miserable, and so when I was a junior in high school I started partying a whole lot…and I quickly realized this isn’t making me happy, I’m just suffering more and more,” she said.

Looking for answers, Evetts started attending different churches with friends and family on the weekends.

Having never been baptized, she bounced around non-denominational Christian churches for a while, but did not feel like she had found the truth until she began looking into the Catholic faith.

“When I was a senior I started RCIA…and through all of that, I gave up drinking, no more parties, I was reading the Bible all the time, and realizing that I just want Jesus. He has to be the cure, because I knew that the world wasn’t,” she said.

When she was baptized at the end of her senior year, Evetts said she felt the presence of Christ, in an indescribable way, in her heart. She felt God calling her to an unfolding mission that would piece together seemingly unconnected parts of her life, including her love for Africa, and her knowledge of American Sign Language.

“It’s hard to explain the real presence that I experienced of Christ inside of me when I did get baptized…and receiving the Eucharist, receiving him in the flesh, I gave up everything, that’s when he opened up the door and said ‘This is what I want you to do and this is why.’”

At her high school in Texas, the only classes offered to fulfill language requirements were Spanish or ASL. Evetts said she joined the sign language class because it was required, she thought it was “cool”, and her sister had taken the same class.

“It was just a requirement, I did not think ever one time that I would do anything with it,” she said, and she even considered dropping the class.

But by her senior year, and as she experienced a conversion, she said God began to pull on her heart through her sign language class, especially when she completed a project on deafness in Uganda.

She learned that the deaf in Uganda are often misunderstood and often mistreated, considered sinners or even cursed. She said that the deaf are often outcast out of malice or because of a lack of resources.

“I relate to the deaf people here because they are outcasted, they’re seen as cursed, they’re seen as sinners, and so they’re shut away from the world kind of, they’re living in this darkness and this silence,” she said.

“And God pulled me to give what he gave me after all of my years of darkness and hating myself and feeling like I had no friends and nobody to talk to, of wanting to die, feeling like I had no purpose in life – all of those things I was struggling with after being sexually abused, God took them and he transforms everything and he said, ‘These I’m turning into graces.’ And with the deaf people here that’s what he did,” she said.

After high school graduation, Evetts flew to Uganda for the first time to work for seven months for an established school for the deaf in the capital city of Kampala. Through that experience, she met a priest in a village in northern Uganda, in an area with hundreds of deaf children and no resources for them.

“I basically just walked back to the sacristy and I was like, ‘Hi Father, I’m Rannah, can I talk to you?’” she recalled.

The initial meeting sparked a conversation that continued for more than a year and a half, while Evetts, the priest, and the local bishop discerned h starting a school for the deaf.

In 2016, Evetts moved to the village for five months to get used to living in the area and adjust to the culture, and to see if her dream could become a reality. By September 2016, the local bishop gave her permission to use an old catechesis building, “and basically he just said ‘begin.’”

By February 2017, the St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf opened its doors for the first time. St. Francis was chosen as the patron because he personally developed a sign language to preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic faith to Martin, a deaf man.

“We are here to promote the education and welfare of the Deaf in the West Nile region,” the school’s mission statement says on their website.

“Most importantly we are here to fulfill a deeper meaning behind Christ’s “Eph’phatha” in Mark’s Gospel: ‘… and looking up to heaven, he [Jesus] sighed, and said to him, “Eph’phatha,” that is, ‘be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.’”

“The deaf are often outcasts in Ugandan society; isolated, deprived of their rights, and looked down upon by hearing people. They are more exposed to being raped, abused, and neglected by society. They are often thought of as stupid, cursed, and many parents still think it is a waste of money to send them to school,” the statement continues.

“We are here to break this cultural stigma, provide quality education, and give our Deaf students the most precious thing in this world: Jesus Christ.”

Evetts said she was most moved by her love for God to give language to those who otherwise could not speak.

“I didn’t think I would do anything with [sign language], but it’s like everyday [God] reveals more and more why I’m doing what I’m doing,” she said.

“I knew I wanted to evangelize, I knew I wanted to share the word of God with people and what he did in my life. It’s so huge what he did for me, that you can’t not share that with people! I’m a convert and I’m on fire, you know? It’s like, ‘no, I’ve been to the other side, trust me!’”

But it hasn’t been easy. The school is open to children ages 3-14, and the age range brings a variety of needs. When they first arrive, most of the children have no way of communicating their needs, their thoughts, their experiences, pain or ideas.

“All of a sudden they’re being thrown into this and they have no idea what’s going on, so we have kids who are trying to run away, a lot of our kids just cried seeing me because they’ve never seen whatever I am, and the everyday challenge of bringing them a language…it was incredibly difficult,” Evetts said.

It also came with times of personal darkness and challenge for Evetts, who was the only foreigner in her village, the only woman living at the parish, and the only person from her culture in the area. She would also often feel overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility on her shoulders.

“I have a lot of thanks to give to my mom, because I would tell her ‘I want to come home Mom, because I don’t know what I’m doing,’ and she would stick with me and pray with me,” she said.

She was also still struggling with anxiety attacks and the painful healing of the abuse in her past.

“I want to tell you this because…it shows God’s goodness, because there were days when I couldn’t do this. I’m 22 years old and I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m the leader of all of this thing and I’m working in another country and having my own problems… that I’m dealing with and alone in that silence with God,” Evetts said.

There were several weeks at a time where she felt like she was literally unable to get out of bed in the morning.

“But I want to share that with you because it shows that God did this. You say ‘yes’ to God and he does it, he fulfills it, because this is his school and this is his mission,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but he’s here and he’s got this all under control.”

The transformation she and the staff began seeing in the students throughout the year was incredible, she said.

Children came to them having been raped, abused or neglected because of their disability, and were transformed in personality and behavior as they started acquiring a language.

At the beginning of the year, many parents reluctantly sent their children to the boarding school, believing it impossible to educate a deaf child. But on the night after the first term ended, and the children went home for the first time, parents started calling the school in amazement.

“They were like, ‘there’s stuff written in [their notebooks]! There’s grades!’ And then their kids are signing all this stuff to their parents, and these parents are like ‘we don’t know what our kids are saying but they know stuff, and they’re talking with their hands!’”

“And so they’re really seeing the evidence of this works, so its a real encouragement for the parents,” Evetts said.

The school has just begun its second year, with 50 students enrolled. It was recently licensed, and the plan is to eventually find enough land to build a boarding school for more than 300 nursery and primary school deaf students in the area.

Evetts said the way the local community has embraced the school with love has been encouraging. As the only white person in the area, Evetts said it automatically brings her a lot of attention, which in turn lets her bring that attention to her work with deaf children.

“God uses that, then I get to explain about sign language and about deafness and how awesome it is. We’re walking around town, playing games with the students, using sign language, and people just gawk and stare–like what? White people know this language too?” Evetts said. “This year I’ve had volunteers come and it’s more people knowing sign language and giving it attention, and Caritas is now helping sponsor our school, so it’s just been growing and I see that the community has really taken us on, and it really has been great.”

Evetts said the most rewarding part of the experience has been how God has used her ‘yes’ and the ‘yes’ of her staff members to transform lives and to do something that they would be unable to accomplish without him.

“The closer you get to God in his silence, that’s where he reveals himself, that’s his language,” she said. “And not only that, he reveals you to you–he draws that out of you, and I really learned that the closer I came to him, he just showed me – ‘this is why I put this desire in you, and this is how I’m going to use your sufferings or your vices and this is how I’m going to transform it.’”

“It was all him.”

– cna

Galilee gardener finds 700-Y-O ring bearing image of St. Nicholas

February 27, 2018 by  
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Israel, February 27, 2018: A worker in the Jezreel Valley community of Moshav Yogev discovered a 700-year-old bronze ring, bearing the image of a bald man with a staff next to him, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday. The IAA said the engraving is probably the image of St. Nicholas, an early Greek Bishop known for giving gifts to the needy. The saint eventually became the prototype for the legend of Santa Claus.

The ring, discovered by Dekel Ben-Shitrit, a 26-year-old gardener while performing landscaping work in the garden of a private home in Moshav Yogev, dates to the Mamluk Period (12-15th century) and probably belonged to a pilgrim who had traveled to Galilee along the main road.

“I rubbed it slightly, and saw it was carved with a human image inside a frame,” said Ben-Shitrit.

According to Yana Tchekhanovetz, an IAA archaeologist specializing in the Byzantine period, the icon of St. Nicholas was a common patron saint for Christian pilgrims who traveled to the Land of Israel from all over the Byzantine Empire, including from Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, and present-day Russia. The travelers believed he would protect them from harm during the journey.

“This special ring is amazingly well preserved and will contribute a great deal to science,” Tchekhanovetz said. “On preliminary examination, this seems to be St. Nicholas holding a bishop’s crook — his hallmark. It is probable that the ring belonged to a pilgrim who sought the protection of St. Nicholas on his travels.”

The IAA said that Ben-Shitrit will receive a good citizenship certificate for handing the finding to archeology officials. .

“By doing this, he has enriched and deepened archaeological understanding of the past that belongs to all of us,” said Nir Distelfeld, the Israel Antiquities Authority anti-theft inspector.

– christian post

This couple gave up everything to help Sudanese refugees in Uganda

February 25, 2018 by  
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Uganda, February 24, 2018: Selling everything and moving to Uganda to work with refugees is not likely on many people’s to-do list. In fact, it’s probably the last thing most would consider, especially young couples hoping to start a family.

But it’s exactly what Rachel and Rich Mastrogiacomo did last year.

Their story began when a series of devastating events and realizations would lead the couple to the edge of a war zone in the heart of east Africa, bring them face to face with abject poverty and eventually lead them to the recent adoption of their new daughter.

Though seeds were planted in both of their lives much earlier, the story began when the two got married in 2014. Like any other couple, they were excited about their new life together and eager to start a family.

However, their initial enthusiasm was quickly replaced by pangs of sadness and disappointment as the couple slowly began to realize, after months of trying to become pregnant, that they were facing infertility.

This pain was sharpened in 2017, when three foster children living with the couple were unexpectedly returned to their birth mother.

It was after this that Rachel and Rich began to feel an inkling that they were being called to something specific – something they would discover through a process of prayer and radical openness to God’s will and the signs that he provided along the way.

Shortly after their foster children were reunited with their biological mother, Rachel and Rich attended a healing Mass. At the end, as Rachel was praying, a woman tapped her on shoulder, and told her, “I heard Jesus say, ‘She will be a mother to many.’ You’re healed.”

Around the same time, Rich – who says he never has dreams – said he had a very vivid dream of his wife standing on brownish-reddish dirt with trees all around. In the dream, Rich said Rachel was holding a baby and was surrounded by children, and as he looked at her, she smiled at him with a peaceful expression.

After the dream, Rich began to research South Sudan, and came across multiple articles detailing the horrors of the country’s ongoing conflict and the millions who, having fled war and famine in their homeland, are now living as refugees in neighboring countries. Uganda in particular has been one of the main refugee destinations.

Rich began emailing bishops in the area, and immediately got a response from Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki of Arua, in northern Uganda, saying Rich’s email was an “answer to prayer,” as he had more than a million Sudanese refugees in his diocese and had been praying for lay missionaries to come from America.

The contact with Bishop Odoki – whose diocese sits closely along borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan – was seen as providential by Rachel and Rich, because ever since she was 10-years-old, Rachel had a special love for Sudan – she told CNA that her father put an image of starving Sudanese children her age on the refrigerator in hopes of fostering a sense of gratitude in her.

The image stuck with Rachel and was in many ways the spark of her desire to be a missionary, and when they got married, both Rachel and Rich felt a strong call to live a missionary life.

When Bishop Odoki said he wanted them to come and serve for a month-long “trial run,” the choice was obvious. The couple sold everything and went to Arua in the spring of 2017 with the Family Missions Company.

“There are no words to describe the intense human suffering that we saw among the refugees,” Rachel told CNA Feb. 22.

“It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, unlike slum poverty. Never have we seen such a vast amount of people living in such poor conditions,” she continued.

South Sudan has been split by a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years. The conflict has so far prompted some 4 million citizens to flee the country in search of peace, food and work. In August 2017, shortly before Rachel and Rich traveled to Uganda, the African nation had taken in their one-millionth refugee, and the number has continued to climb.

Roughly 85 percent of the refugee settlements Rachel and Rich served are made up of women and children, they said, and while many humanitarian organizations on the ground try to help meet basic needs, “the overall need is absolutely overwhelming.”

They specifically visited the Palorinya refugee settlement in Uganda’s Moyo region, which is the second biggest camp in northern Uganda and as of November 2017 housed some 185,000 refugees, according to Reuters.

While in Arua, Rachel and Rich were able to tour the diocese and participate in the centenary celebration of Moyo Catholic parish, which is the first parish of the diocese of Arua. They also spent time visiting orphans, schoolchildren and youth in prison, and distributed both gifts and donations.

“[We] just loved on the kids,” Rachel said, and recalled what she said is one of her favorite memories of the trip. As they were visiting a school, Rachel and Rich entered one classroom and the children immediately began singing: “The Lord is calling you. You are welcome to lead us all into His kingdom.”

The song “touched our hearts deeply,” she said, explaining that throughout the entire month “we experienced the joy of the Gospel in a fresh and new way. The faith of the people is vibrant; God is their treasure.”

While the basic needs of those living in the camps are many, Rachel said that spiritually speaking, “the greatest need we found was the need to be heard.”

“Pope Francis speaks about a ministry of listening, and this concept came alive for us while we were in the refugee camps,” she said, explaining that when they eventually return to Uganda, they plan to help with spiritual formation, since general catechesis and sacramental preparation are often lacking.

“The people are hungry for more than just food; they truly are hungry for God,” she said.

As the month drew to a close, Rachel said she, her husband and Bishop Odoki all experienced an “overwhelming confirmation” that God was inviting the couple to serve there as full time lay missionaries and live as spiritual parents to the many children and orphans in need.

So while they already see Uganda as their new home, Rachel and Rich headed back to the United States to get things in order. But the story doesn’t end there.

Just three days after returning to the U.S., Rich got a phone call from a lawyer who helps facilitate private adoption, saying a woman had selected him and Rachel to adopt her baby.

“The phone call came out of left field, when we least expected it! Truly, it was wild,” Rachel said.

Rich and Rachel had been in touch with the lawyer several years before, but hadn’t spoken to her since.

However, she had saved their profile, and as the mother was looking through the stack of possible adoptive parents for her unborn child, she was “moved” when she saw Rachel and Rich’s profile and wanted to know more about them.

According to Rachel, when it was explained to the mother that the couple were missionaries living in Uganda, “it struck a deep chord,” as the woman herself was an orphan who had been adopted from Guatemala.

The mother had initially scheduled an abortion during the time that Rachel and Rich were in Uganda, but decided against it and reached out to a crisis pregnancy center. When she heard about Rachel and Rich, she wanted her unborn daughter to be with them, as she had fond memories of the Catholic nuns who raised her until she was adopted.

“We always felt open to adoption, but trusted that God would make it happen in His time,” Rachel said. “It’s a blessing to have received this unbelievable gift when we least expected it; God’s fingerprints are all over it.”

The little girl, who Rachel and Rich named Chiara Maria de Guadalupe Mastrogiacomo, was born Feb. 18.

Both Rachel and Rich were present when their daughter was born. “We wept tears of joy and continue to do so. She has taken our breath away,” Rachel said, adding, “truly, God has turned our mourning into dancing!”

Once the adoption is finalized and little Chiara Maria gets her passport, Rachel and Rich will return to Uganda with their new daughter and continue to serve as lay missionaries in the Arua diocese under the guidance of Bishop Odoki.

While they will wait for Odoki to give them instructions when they arrive, Rachel said she believes they will travel to the refugee settlements in order to provide catechesis, sacramental preparation and trauma counseling.

Rachel, who graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, holds degrees in theology and religious education, while Rich holds a graduate degree in theology.

Overall, Rachel said she sees their role as a “funnel of resources” from the U.S. to help this particular group and to raise awareness and funds to address the current humanitarian crisis in the area, which is “one of the most serious in the world right now.”

Pope Francis himself recently put a spotlight on the crisis by declaring Feb. 23, the Friday of the first full week of Lent, as a day of prayer and fasting for the DRC, South Sudan and Syria, all three of which have been ravaged by internal conflict for years.

Though they can cease being missionaries at any time, Rachel said she and Rich feel that their call to be missionaries is a “lifelong vocation,” and don’t see themselves leaving it.

“Pope Francis dreams of a poor Church for the poor and a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything; this has become our dream,” she said. “We want to give everything for Christ in the disguise of the poor and marginalized of society. We want to be on the margins, with the marginalized.”

“That is where Jesus is,” she said, adding, “we cannot wait to return and see see how the Lord will work.”

– cna

Young US adults are not tying the knot, recent study shows

February 23, 2018 by  
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United States, February 18, 2018: According to a recent study, wedding bells are not ringing for the majority of younger adults in the United States, while marriage rates for older adults have increased over the past 50 years.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Family Studies, showed that only 48.6 percent of adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18-64 are currently married – marking an all-time low, according to the most recent census data from IPUMS-USA.

“The short-term fluctuation in the number of new marriages and divorces is closely related to changes in the economy and other factors,” stated Wendy Wang, a director of research at IFS.

“In the long run, with the passing of older generations, we are heading to an age when marriage will no longer be the institution that a majority of adults live in,” Wang continued.

According to the research, there are a number of different factors playing into this decline. More couples are marrying later, or have decided to live with their significant other instead of getting married. Additionally, the number of never-married adults in this age group rose from 26 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2016.

The study also found that individuals who are under the age of 35 and those without a college education are more prone to staying unmarried.

“Marriage remains the norm for those with a college education,” Wang noted.

In addition, the decline in marriage for young adults was seen across the board, from varying racial and ethnic groups, and included both men and women.

One positive trend from the decline pointed to a lower divorce rate, which reached a record low of 2.1 million in 2016. For those adults who are married, the chance of divorce is now lower.

“Although a smaller share of adults is married today, among those who are married, the good news is that their likelihood of divorce is also lower,” Wang said.

On the other hand, marriage for adults in their retired years, 65 and older, is seeing a slight increase, rising from 36 percent to 45 percent in 2016.

Factors such as longer life expectancies, particularly among men, were a major contributor in the increase of marriage for older adults. While older men previously outnumbered women among married adults in their age group, the gap has become more narrow in recent years. Today, for every 100 married men above the age of 65, there are 80 married women – compared to 64 women in 1960.

The study also noted that the divorce rate among this age group has roughly remained the same – around 3 new divorces per 1,000 married adults since 2008.

In the future, Wang is predicting that the gap between married and non-married younger adults will most likely continue to grow.

“The gap between married adults and those who are not married, aligning with the class divide in the U.S., is likely to deepen in the near future.”

– cna

Billy Graham dies at 99

February 22, 2018 by  
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U.S., February 21, 2018: Billy Graham died Wednesday at the age of 99. The world renowned evangelist, who has been listed on Gallup’s most admired list 61 times since 1955 — more than any other person — passed away peacefully at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, after struggling with various health problems linked to his advanced age.

In a statement to The Christian Post, Will Graham, the grandson of Billy Graham (whose full name is William Franklin Graham Jr.) and the son of Franklin Graham, said:

“My grandfather once said, ‘One day you’ll hear that Billy Graham has died. Don’t you believe it. On that day I’ll be more alive than ever before! I’ve just changed addresses.’ My friends, today my grandfather moved from the land of the dead to the land of the living,” Will Graham declared.

“We mourn that he is no longer with us physically here on earth, but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. My grandfather invested his entire life in sharing the promise of eternity through Jesus Christ, and today he had the opportunity to realize that hope himself, kneeling before his Savior and hearing the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ My family appreciates your prayers now and in the days ahead.”

Last week, Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, gave an update on her father’s health during a conference at Moody Bible Institute.

“I’m not sure he knows that I’m here. He doesn’t track like he used to, but his mind is still clear,” she said.

“He can’t see; he has a hard time seeing because of macular degeneration,” she continued. “He’s fairly deaf, I have to use a microphone and he wears a headset for me to speak to him. He’s not mobile.”

Since Billy Graham preached his last sermon on Nov. 7, 2013, for “My Hope America With Billy Graham,” a nationwide movement to expose Americans to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, he appeared to have let go of life and be more ready than ever to go to Heaven, his family observed.

“On November 7, he (Billy Graham) finished his race and up until that time, God had protected his health and gave him supernatural strength, and now, the only thing left is for him to come home,” said Will Graham to Assist News in December 2013. “God has removed his hand of protection and old age has set in.”

Meanwhile, Franklin Graham told The Christian Post that he had “never seen him (Billy Graham) this weak in all of my life, so I know he’d appreciate your prayers.”

Despite his weakened state, Graham was working on a book up until the time of his death. Graham’s last book was published in October 2013 and titled, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation. In total, Graham had written 32 books, including his autobiography Just As I Am (1997), Nearing Home (2011), and Angels: God’s Secret Agents (1975), which sold 1 million copies within 90 days.

Billy Graham was born Nov. 7, 1918, in Charlotte, N.C., and raised on a dairy farm. He graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. – home of the Billy Graham Center Museum and where he met his wife, Ruth McCue Bell, the daughter of a missionary surgeon to China. They were married for over 60 years until Ruth’s death in 2007.

Graham, a Southern Baptist, has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association estimates that he has preached live to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, and hundreds of millions of more people through television, video, film and webcasts. He has led hundreds of thousands of individuals to make personal decisions to commit their lives to Jesus Christ, according to BGEA.

He is also known as the “pastor to presidents,” having met every U.S. president since World War II through Barack Obama. For his 95th birthday celebration, President Bill Clinton was among the 700 guests that included Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch and Rick Warren. And for the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., in 2007, three former U.S. presidents came to share the momentous event with him: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

“Every life Billy Graham ever touched – including people who never became president, never spoke at a crusade – is better because he was a good and faithful servant of the two most important commandments (to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself),” said Clinton in his speech during the dedication ceremony on May 31, 2007.

Clinton, who has shared that he attended Graham’s 1959 Little Rock, Ark., crusade, also had said during the 2007 dedication ceremony, “When he (Graham) prays with you in the Oval Office or the upstairs of the White House, you feel that he’s praying for you, not the president.”

For Graham’s 95th birthday in 2013, several megachurch pastors gave tributes to the evangelist during interviews with The Christian Post at the Resurgence conference.

Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, had told CP that Billy Graham was among his mentors.

“One of the things that a lot of people don’t know about Billy Graham is that he was also an encouragers to pastors,” Warren shared. “One time in Amsterdam he brought in 12,000 evangelists from all around the world. I had written a Bible study methods and Billy had brought a book for every one of those evangelists and had me come in and teach it.

“He was first and foremost an encourager,” Warren remembers fondly.

Billy Graham is survived by his five children – Virginia, Anne Morrow, Ruth Bell, William Franklin, III, and Nelson Edman – 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.

– christian post

Rocket launch prompts talk of living on Mars – what’s a Catholic to think?

February 14, 2018 by  
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Italy, February 14, 2018: A major rocket launch by entrepreneur Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, on Feb. 6 has been hailed as a major step toward cheaper and more frequent spaceflight – and the eventual population of Mars.

In the face of such unexplored terrain, how should Catholics respond?

While “this kind of expansion is in its infancy, and full exploration of space is a long way off… this is the time to start thinking about and planning for these things,” Jesuit Br. Robert Macke told CNA.

Curator of the meteorite collection at the Vatican Observatory, and holding a PhD in physics, Br. Macke said technological progressions such as the SpaceX rocket do not change how we relate to God, but “as with any new development in technology or the way things are done, the main question for persons of faith regards how it is to be used.”

The question we need to ask is if the technology is being used “in a way that is just, and compatible with moral theology and ethics,” he said, raising the importance of Catholic social teaching in the future of space travel.

While it is still too early to see how it will be used, “one aspect to keep an eye on is whether such technology, accessible to the private sector, further divides the rich and the poor; those who can go to and exploit the resources of space, and those who will never have that chance.”

According to the SpaceX website, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket by a factor of two. It lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 6 at 3:45 p.m. ET and has the capacity to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lbs) – a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel, the website says.

The rocket carried and released into orbit a Tesla Roadster, complete with a mannequin driver called “Starman,” decked out in astronaut gear.

The luxury sports car is worth $100,000, and according to the website whereisroadster.com – which is tracking the convertible’s up-to-the-second location – on Feb. 13 at 5:50:14 it was 1,245,8587 miles from earth (and quickly increasing).

The same website tracks that at that time, the car had exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty 231.4 times “while driving around the Sun” at a speed of approximately 55,479 miles/hour.

The development of commercial enterprises, such as the Falcon Heavy, is a necessary first step to “widespread space travel and colonization,” Br. Macke said, but he stressed that whether they are on earth or Mars, human nature remains the same.

“As more people are in space, they will not cease to be people. They will form a complex society with all of the good and bad aspects of any modern culture,” he said. This includes good things, such as economic growth and new technologies.

But it could also have some negative consequences, he noted, especially environmental ones.

“As we have learned from the age of exploration on Earth, when we introduce invasive species in a new environment, they often take over and overwhelm the area. Microbes and bacteria that hitch a ride on spacecraft may become invasive on Mars or other planets, and if there is any native life, it may be overwhelmed and lost.”

Governmental space programs have protocols in place to minimize the number of microbes and other earth-based contaminants that could reach other planets on spacecraft, he said, and there are international laws in place to which private corporations must adhere.

But increasing the amount of space travel will also increase the risk of contamination. For example, the Tesla Roadster wasn’t fully sterilized, Macke said. Because it won’t land on Mars, it is not subject to the same laws.

– cna

Catholic skater Yuna Kim lights the Olympic torch

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under lead story, newsletter-lead

South Korea, February 9, 2018: Catholic Olympic gold-medalist Yuna Kim lit the torch at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 9.

The Korean skating sensation has long expressed a desire to use her public role to share the light of Christ by witnessing to her Catholic faith in international competitions and performances.

Kim was honored as the final torch bearer to light the Olympic cauldron for this year’s games, after two athletes from the inter-Korean women’s hockey team, one skater from North Korea and another from the South, passed the flame along.

After making the sign of the cross as she stepped onto the ice to win gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record-breaking score, Kim teamed up with Korean bishops for a national rosary campaign. Kim was seen wearing a rosary ring, which her fans had previously mistaken for an engagement ring, during her silver-medal performance at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The Olympian converted to the Catholic faith alongside her mother in 2008 after they came in contact with local nuns and Catholic organizations through her personal physician – also a Catholic – who was treating her for knee injuries.

At her baptism, Kim took the name “Stella” after Mary, Star of the Sea, and told a diocesan paper that during the baptismal rite she “felt an enormous consolation in my heart” and promised God to continue to “pray always,” especially before competitions.

Kim has also been active in using her position as an opportunity for charitable works, volunteering and donating funds to Catholic Hospitals, universities, and other charitable organizations, and working alongside the Catholic bishops in Korea as a spokeswoman for Catholic charities in Seoul.

In 2012, Kim donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Salesian of Don Bosco to help support the missionary brothers in South Sudan and to establish Catholic Schools throughout the war-torn country, meeting with Salesian brothers in Seoul to personally deliver the gift.

She told Korean press that while visiting Africa in 2011 she “felt the need to help out children there,” and wanted “to offer what little support I can” to those in Africa.

Kim is now retired from competitive skating, but the 27-year-old has served as an ambassador for the 2018 Winter Olympics in her home country of Korea. She delivered the original presentation to the International Olympic Committee seven years ago, pitching South Korea as a potential host country, and has been present at most of the official events leading up to the games. She delivered a speech to the United Nations in 2017 advocating for the “Olympic truce” resolution.

Pope Francis said earlier this week that he is praying for the people of the Korean Peninsula during the Olympic games, “The traditional Olympic truce this year becomes especially important: delegations from the two Koreas will march together under a single flag and compete as one team. This fact gives hope for a world in which conflicts can be resolved peacefully through dialogue and mutual respect.”

– cna

Colosseum to be lit red for persecuted Christians

February 8, 2018 by  
Filed under lead story, newsletter-lead

Roman, February 7, 2018: The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution.

Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lighted, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.

The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.

Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”

“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”

Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said.

Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”

The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.

“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.

China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”

The Middle East is a major focus for the report.

“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”

The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.

Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.

ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syrian and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.

– cna

In Lenten message, pope evokes end-times to describe ‘great tribulation’

February 6, 2018 by  
Filed under lead story, newsletter-lead

Vatican, February 6, 2018: Describing a world marked by signs of “the end of time,” including false prophets and cold hearts, Pope Francis on Tuesday urged Catholics to use Lent to counteract this “great tribulation” through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

In his annual message for Lent, released by the Vatican on Tuesday, Francis quoted a line from Christ in the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.”

Those words, the pope said, come as Jesus is describing the end-times, in which “false prophets would lead people astray, and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many.”

Those false prophets, Francis said, come either in the form of “snake charmers,” “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go,” or “charlatans,” “who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.”

In either case, he said, the false prophets lead people to mistake false sources of happiness for real ones – which, he said, is a strategy typical of the devil.

“In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is ‘a liar and the father of lies,’ has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth,” the pope said.

“How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness!” he said. “How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests!”

“How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many more are ensnared in a thoroughly “virtual” existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless!” the pope said.

In addition to deceit, Francis said hearts grown cold to the practice of charity are also a sign of the great tribulation.

“In his description of hell, Dante Alighieri pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice in frozen and loveless isolation,” he said.

The pope said lust for wealth is the usual form a cold heart takes.

“More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, ‘the root of all evil’,” he said.

“All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own ‘certainties’: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations,” he said.

The consequences of a cold heart, Francis said, extend to both the earth and to violence.

“The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest,” he said. “The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration. The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing his praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.”

In response, Francis extolled the merits of prayer, giving alms and fasting.

“I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself,” he said. “When we give alms, we share in God’s providential care for each of his children.”

“Fasting wakes us up,” the pope said. “It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”

Pope Francis also recommended the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, in which at least one church is open for 24 consecutive hours in each diocese around the world for both Eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, described the message as “prophetic” in a Vatican news conference on Tuesday morning.

Responding to a question about the pope’s references to violence in the message, Turkson said during the news conference that his office is trying to promote a broader vision of non-violence.

“I’d say, step by step, non-violence has to be more than rhetoric against war and physical violence, but a project of promoting the dignity of the person,” he said.

“When a person doesn’t have enough to eat, that’s a form of violence. Where there’s exclusion and inequality in a city, that’s a form of violence. When there’s not respect for the dignity of the person, that’s violence,” he said.

Lent this year begins on Feb. 14 and runs through March 29, Holy Thursday. Easter in 2018 falls on April 1.

– crux now

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