May 31

We needed the occasion, to remember in America, and with our friends abroad, what greatness is.

We needed it to celebrate honor, duty, service and sacrifice in such a year as this. It fell just about halfway through this contentious, dishonorable, politically charged and pivotal election year, so it would be nice if it were more of an opportunity to re-ground ourselves in what we just celebrated, than to let the day go by as a wonderful recall of noble heroism embodied in countless acts of virtue, of ‘grace under pressure’, impulsively carried out to serve or save another without hesitation or concern that it may be a final act in the life of that hero, who only thought they were doing the right thing.

‘The right thing’ has become a political calculus these days, ‘right’ being as redefined as so many other terms in our shared social life, as if there were no moral compass and objective natural law of what we ought to do and what we can’t not know, apart from the dictates of the culture of relativism as manifested in media, law and politics.

Everywhere I turned and looked on Memorial Day weekend seemed more filled than ever with witnesses to greatness in acts of goodness, displays of loving gratitude, celebrations of appreciation for the ultimate act of service for a single other person, groups of others, or countless populations of others, sometimes in a split-second decision to take that action, out of the impulse to protect and to save.

Here are two examples.

On my radio program, I had the opportunity to feature three individuals in two wars. Adam Makos told me about the story of Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, two great friends and Navy pilots in the Korean War, a story that fills the pages of Makos’ book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice.

“On December 4th, 1950, the Korean War had turned very dire. We had 10,000 U.S. Marines surrounded by 100,000 Chinese communist troops at a place called the Chosin Reservoir, way up in northern North Korea. Men like Tom and Jesse would fly [from their nearby naval carrier ships] to give air support to the Marines. They would drop bombs and strafe, and that’s when Jesse Brown was shot down. He was hit by a bullet from the ground, from a Chinese soldier, and he crash-landed in the only place he could — on the side of a North Korean mountain.”

Brown’s wingman, Tom Hudner, witnessed what happened, and then saw smoke rising from the nose of Jesse’s plane, which lay 13 miles behind enemy lines. Hudner said, “I’m going in.” All the other pilots remained silent.

Makos continued, “Tom knew his friend was about to die, and he was willing to give his own life to try to change that. With his wheels up, Tom circled around and came to a skidding, screeching stop alongside of Jesse’s plane. Tom got out into that deep snow and set out to try to save his friend’s life. It had never happened before; it has never happened since.”

Among the many extraordinary lessons in this story is the transcendent nature of friendship, human dignity and faith. Discrimination in society over race, religion, background and economic class falls away in war, the great and terrible equalizer. It is life lived at its absolute essence, informed by a powerful transcendent belief, that emerges in all the accounts of war heroes.

That was personified in the service and witness of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, Marine Chaplain who served in the Vietnam War and lost his life in the most extraordinary acts of ministering to dying men during a firefight that exposed him to mortal danger. I featured his story on that Memorial Day program as well, but it barely scratched the surface of a profoundly deep belief in and dedication to the care of others, body and soul, who are in front of you in whatever circumstances you’re in, and theses were dire.

The whole account is in The Grunt Padre, the fuller account of Fr. Capodanno’s service and sacrifice in detail, during his time in Vietnam 1966-1967. Christ Stefanick does a good job summarizing it in this video.

Some snips:

He knew that where the fighting was thickest, is where a chaplain might be needed the most.

One marine said

“He just gave me a look like ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be okay’.” Then the gas started getting lobbed, and Fr. Capodanno refused to take the Marine’s gas mask. “He said ‘no, you need it more than I do’. At that moment, he was just gone from my view.”

A marine was hit with shrapnel. When Fr. Capdanno got to him, “a bubble of peace descended around him. All he heard was his voice: ‘God is with us all this day. Someone will be here soon to help you.’ Fr. Capodanno was always able to see the crisis of the moment from an eternal perspective…Capodanno didn’t survive that day. He was running to minister to a medic who was shot, just yards from the machine gunner who had targeted him. He was shot 27 times in the back. He died in a field in Vietnam with that medic.

The excerpt from The Grunt Padre about that final assault is profound. It’s what Corporal Ray Harton recalls in a powerful testimony of Fr. Capodanno’s final minutes. Harton was hit repeatedly in the battle after “the carnage started”.

I don’t know how long I lay there. I found myself getting weaker and could see the North Vietnamese soldiers moving in on us…I thought everyone else was dead. I prayed to God, for I knew I was bleeding to death…I expected a bullet or bayonet at any moment. As I closed my eyes, someone touched me. When I opened my eyes, he looked directly at me. It was Father Capodanno. Everything got still: no noise, no firing, no screaming. A peace came over me that is unexplainable to this day. In a quiet and calm voice, he cupped the back of my head and said, “Stay quiet, Marine. You will be OK. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”

As Stefanick notes, Fr. Capodanno didn’t survive the day. But his service and witness are beyond extraordinary.

And so were those told by others throughout the Memorial Day weekend, in so many ways and places, from the Mall of Washington events honoring service members in different wars, to tributes published and broadcast in so many outlets. Many note that it’s a memorial held beyond US borders.

Like this one in Cambridge, England.

And this one in France.

Taking it all in, allowing ourselves to be filled with gratitude for so many individuals who so nobly gave everything they had for another human being, and inspiration that these countless stories are being continued in so many ways today in battles to save endangered populations from extinction, villages and towns and refugee camps from assault and violence, and the most vulnerable human beings from enslavement, trafficking, torture and death, we should be filled with hope.

And that each of us has the power of greatness within us to serve the common good, and the responsibility to do what’s in our reach each day, without looking for a savior in politics. The sooner we do, the less we’ll believe that making America great, or ‘getting’ hope and change, relies on a politician or someone running for political office.

It relies on each and all of us.

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May 25

At least a third of them turned against abortion.

What caused that?

This.

When faced with the reality of the abortion procedure, many people who are pro-choice change their minds instantly. A video put out by Live Action shows former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levantino describing and showing the process of a second-trimester (13-24 weeks of pregnancy) surgical abortion procedure. Dr. Levantino has preformed over 1,200 abortions and explains in detail how babies are ripped apart limb by limb in these procedures.

It’s a roughly 4 minute video, with the procedure part done in medical animation instead of graphic photos, plainly and simply stating the facts and showing what’s done in an abortion.

Live Action approached people on the street and asked them if they were pro-choice. To those that said yes, even up to the point of birth, they showed Dr. Levatino’s video of the procedure. After watching the video, the people who claimed to be pro-choice changed their minds on the spot. They admitted they were unaware of how developed babies are at this point in pregnancy and described the video as “inhumane.”

Live Action President Lila Rose told me on radio Wednesday that many people who identify as ‘pro-choice’ and accept the abortion movement’s language and rhetoric about rights and women’s health don’t really know what abortion is or does, they just don’t know what this is about. Until they see it so clearly explained. “It’s a medical narrative they see in the video, precisely accurate, done in medical animation, with Dr. Levatino explaining,” she told me. “They make the emotional and mental connection when they see the video.” A connection they never made before, never having had the opportunity or occasion to learn the truth.

“We’re strategically getting in front of people and showing them the truth, with authority and gravity, in a huge effort to educate people about abortion” Lila told me. The project assumes the best about people, that they believe what they do based on misconceptions about the topic and issues and realities. Giving them that benefit of the doubt, and the opportunity on a hand held video device to see a brief video for their consideration, the Live Action team found that most people took the occasion to watch it and respond. In the short time it’s been posted, over 43 million people have viewed it online, and over two hundred on the sidewalks of Los Angeles where the team showed people passing by. Which is why the link above shows both the video of the procedure, and the video of reactions to having seen it.

There have been almost a million views of that ‘man on the street’ video, Lila said.

“Abortionists have worked for decades to keep women in the dark about how developed their preborn children in the womb are and what abortion procedures actually entail for both the mother and the child,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action.  “The more people learn about abortion, the more they see how barbaric and inhumane it is — whether the abortion is committed by depriving a preborn child of nutrients for days until she dies, or by ripping her limbs apart while she’s still alive, or by injecting her with a drug to induce cardiac arrest.”

Almost half of the pro-choice women polled — 46 percent — felt that the medical animations should be shown to high school sex education classes, and 39 percent felt that pregnant women considering abortion should watch them.

This is extraordinary.

“Pro-choice women told us that young people and women considering abortion should have access to these facts about abortion, not just to the pro-abortion spin that seems to dominate media, entertainment, and politics today.  The Internet allows us to spread the truth about abortion faster and farther than ever before, and the fact that these videos have already been viewed over 42 million times to become the most-watched pro-life videos in history proves it,” said Rose.

Under the post of the ‘man on the street’ reaction video, NRO said

America’s views on life are changing for the better as science and technology reveal the fascinating stages of life babies progress through from the moment of conception. Videos like this one are helping to change the debate and show uninformed individuals what it is they actually profess to believe in when they say they support pro-choice policies.

This will be a major topic in the presidential election and other government seats up for election in November, and Lila Rose and others are working to meet with each of the candidates and their campaign staff to ask more specific questions than ‘Where do you stand on abortion?’ They and their organizations and followers are eager to hear the responses.

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May 19

Their lives depend on the West knowing their names, their plight.

As unimaginable as it is that a Christian mother of five has spent seven years in prison in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy for taking water from a well in a hot field while berry picking and considered an infidel, corrupting it…she remains imprisoned and in isolation, for her safety from threat of death inside the prison and certainly outside it, if she were to be released in the increasingly hostile environment there.

How bad is it? This bad. The American Center for Law and Justice, which drove a social media campaign along with the inside legal proceedings, to free Pastor Nadarkhani. ACLJ is now working on freeing Asia Bibi in a nearly impossibly complex Pakistani legal, cultural and religious-based penal system.

International human rights organizations have taken up her cause as a just one, and an emblematic case that puts a human face and name and humanity and dignity on the ‘issue’ of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. The UN conference I recently attended on international religious freedom, genocide, and atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, continued for two more days at a different venue where Asia Bibi’s daughter (who speaks no English) gave a very powerful testimony in her silent witness of tears and her very presence.

What can we do? Pray for Asia Bibi, her family, and the countless other victims of persecution and death for their faith. Support Aid the the Church in Need, which is supporting individuals, families and groups in dire need. They’re on the ground there, able to direct relief where it’s most desperately needed. Call on elected representatives who either ignore theses cases, or relegate them to lower priority status while they negotiate with nations that are or could be involved in the fate of these people.

Add the cause of Fr. Tom to those prayers and efforts. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is reportedly alive, well, and possibly soon to be released.

Father Tom was seized March 4 after a militant group stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by Bl. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Aden in the country’s south west. Four sisters of the religious congregation and 12 lay people were killed in the attack on the facility.

According to an eyewitness report recounted by Aleteia, Father Tom was residing on campus because the church in town where he was based had been sacked and burned last September. The Salesian priest “heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts,” the account noted. However, “he had no time to consume the large Host, so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved it in the water.” The letter reported that a neighbor saw the terrorists put the priest into their car. “They did not find any trace of Father anywhere.”

During Holy Week, unconfirmed stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to crucify the priest on Good Friday. Pope Francis appealed for Father Uzhunnalil’s release last month.

In its most recent statement, issued May 5, the Salesians said the situation was “still uncertain” but added there were “deep and heartfelt prayers” for Father Tom in the hope he could soon “continue the valuable service” he was carrying out at the Yemeni mission.

As we go about our daily work, business, leisure activities and distractions, these and countless other prisoners and hostages and victims of persecution are going through a martyrdom simply for their faith. Twitter campaigns and other social media activism have kept some of them alive, by keeping their names and stories before people in power who can do something for them and populations of people whose names we don’t know and faces we don’t see, whose stories are lost in the inhumanity of grabbing them from their homes, destroying their papers, seizing their properties, and sentencing them to anonymous torture and brutality. ‘The world must act’ said more than one of the UN conference participants. Being aware and committed is, at minimum, the beginning of an end to these crimes against humanity.

If #WeAreN2016 and #FreeAsiaBibi can do anything like the Twitter campaign for Pastor Nadarkhani, there’s more hope than those suffering now can imagine.

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May 16

Supreme Court Justices’ unanimous ruling favors the nuns.

It was sort of a non-decision, but all eight justices jointly agreed to vacate lower court rulings, call on both sides to work things out better (which was really a directive to government lawyers), and bring sanity to a long, unnecessary and costly ordeal that has run through the court system across the country over a federally mandated contraceptive delivery scheme that already exempted major corporations and millions of Americans.

Enough already. So said the ruling, in so many words.

The parties, the court said, should have another opportunity to work out a way to deliver contraceptives that doesn’t violate the religious objections of the Little Sisters and their co-plaintiffs.

Most important, the Supreme Court took away the administration’s tool for bullying: The government, it said, “may not impose taxes or penalties” on those who refuse to authorize their plans to provide the contested coverage.

It was so targeted against Catholic and other Christian groups, it had to be reconsidered.

“The Little Sisters won, but what this unanimous ruling shows is that there was never a need for anyone to lose,” said (Becket Fund for Religious Liberty legal counsel Mark) Rienzi. “The government will still be able to meet its goal of providing these free services to women who want them—not just for those with religious plans—but for the tens of millions in exempted corporate and government plans.”

The government always had that ability, was already doing it in those already exempted, and never needed to choose this controversial challenge to religious liberty in America.

…the opinion is an obvious rebuke to the Obama administration — and rightly so. The Obama administration has shown no compunction about using the full force of the federal government to coerce a group of nuns into violating their religious vows. But following oral arguments in March, the Court requested supplemental briefs from both parties addressing whether the government could provide contraception coverage without entangling religious nonprofits, and the government grudgingly admitted that it was possible. According to the Court, the “substantial clarification and refinement” of the parties’ positions suggests that a compromise satisfactory to both sides is possible.

If not for the government’s obstinacy, that would have been possible long ago. HHS had already exempted an enormous number of employers from the mandate, among them large corporations — Exxon, Pepsi, and Visa — and government entities, including New York City and the U.S. military. Tens of millions of American employees have insurance plans exempted from the mandate. Yet the Obama administration has insisted on foisting its fiat on nuns, archdioceses, Christian colleges, and the like. The liberals on the Court could have sanctioned this contemptible imposition. A 4–4 split would have left the lower courts’ rulings in place, and three of the four courts had ruled against the Little Sisters or their co-plaintiffs. The Court’s willingness to vacate those decisions suggests that, despite its left-leaning majority, this Court is not entirely hostile to religious liberty. This is, recall, largely the same Court that ruled unanimously against the Obama administration in Hosanna-Tabor when the federal government claimed for itself the power to determine who is and is not a “minister.” (Emphasis added)

Hosanna-Tabor was decided unanimously on January 11, 2012. Nine days before the federal government turned around and claimed for itself again the power to determine what a religious ministry, institution and employer was, and what it could and must do. It took four years and four months, and one fewer justice, for the Supreme Court unanimously to rule again in favor of this fundamental freedom protected by law.

In the nearly six months left before the presidential election, the parties’ and candidates’ views of religious freedom will play a more important role in debates, townhalls, and campaigns, as they should.

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May 11

He claims to have a mandate. So do they.

As the New York Times reports it, GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump claims he has ‘a “mandate” from his supporters to run as a fiery populist outsider’ instead of embracing “a traditional, mellower and more inclusive approach” that some party leaders advocate. He got this far being provocative, and he’s not changing course now, he says, according to the Times.

Such behavior, rhetoric, and the determination to keep doing more of the same now that he has virtually wrapped up the nomination, has left many conservatives wondering and asking ‘What to do?‘ Kathryn Lopez notes the angst, and offers sobering considerations.

What ails us is a disordered view of what politics is about. We seem to have a bipartisan problem of looking for a savior in a president — it’s the stuff both of Barack Obama’s “We are the ones we have been waiting for” campaign and of Republicans (and now even some Democrats) idolizing the memory of Ronald Reagan. So take a deep breath, everyone — whomever you do or don’t support this presidential-election season. The presidency is vitally important, of course. But not in the ways we’ve been tending to think. Donald Trump didn’t start the fire, and there was never going to be a perfect presidential candidate who could put it out. That’s our work — the work of good citizenship.

Which is exactly the point Stephen White makes in his new book Red, White, Blue and Catholic.

It’s a perennial question: Can Christians be good citizens? The author of the second century “Letter to Diognetus” addressed this question. Three centuries later, St. Augustine wrote City of God largely in response to the same question. In American history, the question has been asked more specifically of Catholics, for a variety of reasons. At its heart, the question is about the nature and scope of the political good: Is the good of the political community compatible with Christian claims about the nature and destiny of the human person? Catholics should relish the chance to address that question because it gets to the very heart of the faith.

Which is living what’s known as ‘the social gospel’, the respect for human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. All of which can be helped or hindered by social policy made through the political process.

White continues:

I think one danger which arises from our politics of permanent crisis is the temptation to think that if we could just get people to vote the right way, and therefore have the right people in government, everything would take care of itself. Needless to say, having the “right people” winning elections is hardly a sufficient condition for a flourishing republic. The health of the republic depends upon our being a people possessed of certain virtues. The cultivation of those virtues — those habits which enable us to live our freedom well — is primarily the work of civil society. Government can help a little, and hinder a lot. But most of the work of forming citizens falls to families, schools, churches, businesses, and so on.

Which gets to what has become a struggle for people trying to get on with living out the  mandate of forming and serving a just and virtuous society. And that’s where the politics of passion gets mixed up with anger, and prudence becomes more necessary. In

This divorce between principle and prudence has made false political idealism seem attractive. It has also made prudence one of the most difficult virtues to understand and to defend in our current political climate. But if we want a just society, we must begin by recovering the right understanding of prudence. There is perhaps no better way to begin such a recovery than by studying the patron saint of statesmen, Thomas More.

The article notes that in More’s work Utopia, he explores “with great subtlety and wit the dangerous dynamics of anger and political idealism.” It’s a good study for our particular season. Having a character suggest that ‘politics is impervious to truth’, More makes his central point:

Don’t give up the ship in a storm because you cannot hold back the winds . . . Instead, by an indirect approach, you must strive and struggle as best you can to handle everything tactfully—and thus what you cannot turn to good, you may at least make as little bad as possible. For it is impossible to make everything good unless all men are good, and that I don’t quite expect to see for quite a few years yet.

How well this lesson transcends the times, and how apt it has become yet again.

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May 04

Against all conventional wisdom, he has become the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president.

But the only consistency in this wild political season has been its unpredictability, in both parties. This has been an election cycle far out of the bounds of political models and establishment control and certainly, conventional wisdom. Very different winds have been blowing in America since the early GOP campaigns launched last year and over a dozen candidates joined the crowded field by early 2016. Who would have thought back then that it would wind up like this.

That unforeseen force of nature has caught up American Democrats since Hillary Clinton began what was supposed to be an easy stride to the convention podium this summer to accept the Democratic nomination for president, only to be outshone in popularity by longtime Democratic Socialist Senate veteran Bernie Sanders. She may well be the inevitable candidate, but it’s May and she’s not there yet. That’s remarkable.

It has been a bruising, belligerent, demeaning, undignified and uninspiring battle to date. Conventional wisdom had Ohio and/or Florida as always pivotal in putting candidates over the top. This time, all the states played a key role, but it was Indiana that handed Donald Trump the decisive win that, suddenly, turned him into the inevitable GOP candidate for presidency. It also knocked Sen. Ted Cruz out of the race all of a sudden.

Here’s the New York Times early analysis, one of the few outlets swift to offer anything more than a placeholder paragraph or two until they could process what just happened. Essentially, it shows a matchup of two unpopular candidates, another remarkable reality in this year’s election. Donald Trump packed stadiums and arenas and picked up momentum on ‘the Trump Train’ as time went on, but for all those primary victories, he continually polled behind Clinton in a general election matchup. Until the night of the Indiana primary.

The Times story doesn’t report this, but one of the latest polls showed Trump about even in that faceoff. The bigger story is that polls and predictions haven’t meant much this year, as people at the grassroots defied them again and again. The Times article had to fill the analysis with something, so it resorted to conventional wisdom. Which makes no sense. People reacted. We have become a reactionary nation, visceral and impulsive and driven by emotion. How voting polls show one thing in people registering to vote for the first time or first time in a long time, longer lines at many polling places, reflecting engaged citizens, while popularity polls show the ‘unlikeability’ factor rather high for the now presumptive GOP and Democratic candidate, is beyond reason and virtually beyond precedent.

I recently heard former Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry on a news show, asked for his opinion on Trump. He said: “We have never had anyone on the political stage who is as talented at selling a brand as Donald Trump. Now selling a brand is different from managing a country, so we’ll see.”

We’ll see whether and how the tone, tenor, content and character change in this new stage of Election 2016. And we’ll be watching, and listening, closely.

 

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May 03

Faith groups are attacked, Christians specifically targeted for elimination.

World leaders, governments, international organizations and human rights champions have risen the threat and awareness level in recent months over crises that have been occurring for years out of sight and largely off public radar. Now there’s a new urgency, and some leading voices are asking if it’s coming in time to make a difference.

That’s only one concern expressed at last weekend’s International Congress on Religious Freedom in New York, a three day event that opened Thursday with a U.N. conference sponsored by the Vatican’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities.

Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

That, I can vouch for, having attended all of it.

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding today in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq have lost their lives, entire communities have been displaced or wiped out, while neighboring communities or nations have strained to accept millions of people fleeing years of war and terrorism. We face the very real prospect of the extinction of many of the communities indigenous to the region.

Anderson gave background and findings of a nearly 300 page report his organization and In Defense of Christians submitted to the State Department and Congress in March, documenting atrocities and extensive evidence of genocide in the region.

And it showed that terms like ‘religious cleansing’, or ‘crimes against humanity’ are by themselves inadequate to describe both the magnitude of the tragedy and the clear intent of the perpetrators. The State Department’s declaration of genocide on March 17th marked only the second time that such a determination had been made by the U.S. government while the crime is occurring.

And then he added

Isis and the victims we interviewed agreed on one thing, many of those targeted were targeted because of their Christian faith…Our recent fact-finding mission to Iraq found evidence of (atrocities including) murder, slavery, property confiscation and expulsion. Many of the incidents have not been previously reported. But based on what we learned, it is our impression that what we know today is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Anderson was only the first of the speakers, and his testimony set the tone for a powerful, intensive, collaborative witness to what Pope Francis calls a “third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing”, which he called genocide, adding “I insist on the word”.

In Rome, the Trevi Fountain was lit red, in commemoration of Christian martyrdom, and mass execution of other religious minorities, to call the Western world to attention. Sitting through the UN conference on it, hearing powerful testimony, expert reports and stunning witness, I hope and pray it worked. The event in New York certainly seemed to mark a turning point.

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Apr 19

And that was that.

I have devoted radio show hours to this topic regularly over the years, more so in the past couple of years and especially these past months. Always feeling, however, that it’s not enough, considering what’s going on in the world of persecution, massacre and genocide of Christians and other religious minorities, especially by ISIS. The terrorist group has also targeted other Muslims. Yet ‘the international community’ seemed not to be doing anything of consequence to stop it.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been a somewhat regular guest on the program and we’ve focused mainly on the latest update on the Genocide Resolution bill he sponsored. Over the months, he reported the bi-partisan bill was gaining greater support but still needed more. Finally, in mid-March, the House unanimously passed it, 393-0.

In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

The State Department initially said Secretary Kerry needed more time to study the situation before making any designation, although the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians presented a preponderance of evidence in their joint report, leading to one conclusion. The KofC launched an ad and a campaign to spread awareness about the genocide and engage people, citizens, organizations and members of government, in working to stop it.

Surprising nearly everyone (and likely some in the administration), Secretary Kerry came out a day later and publicly declared that what’s happening in the Middle East is, indeed, genocide.

“I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands. Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslim minorities, and others, including Sunni Muslim communities who have suffered grievous harm, remain an essential part of the Middle East’s rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. They now have new cause for hope.

Or so it seemed in the moment. Scholar George Weigel puts framework around the picture.

The new thing, and the welcome thing, in Secretary Kerry’s statement was the mention of Christians as targets of genocide.

That statement would not have happened without the relentless, persistent work of human rights campaigner Nina Shea, who has lobbied for redress for persecuted Christians in the Middle East with a tenacity that deserves the highest respect. It wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, who introduced the House resolution that passed on March 14 while Father (Douglas) Bazi (persecuted victim of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Erbil) looked on from the House gallery. And the Kerry statement wouldn’t have happened without the prod of a report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” prepared by the Knights of Columbus and the organization “In Defense of Christians:” a remarkably detailed account of anti-Christian persecution, destruction, and slaughter that was addressed to the Secretary of State and contained a legal brief arguing that the “G-word” should be invoked and the matter referred to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and the Security Council of the United Nations.

Father Bazi was aware that merely saying the “G-word” would change nothing on the ground for his people. But he welcomed the congressional resolution and the administration’s action because it called this ongoing atrocity by its proper name and would thus give his people hope that someone knew, and someone cared.

At minimum, passing the resolution and making the declaration would do that. But for crying out loud, it had to have carried some more weight in terms of aid, relief, action of some sort, one could reasonably expect.

One would have been heartbroken to have heard Nina Shea respond to that question on my radio program Monday that no, it had not changed anything. In fact, she said, on his visit two weeks ago to Baghdad, Sec. Kerry did not bring it up.

Why the silence? What difference, after all, did it make to declare that genocide was happening to populations of people at this time, this very moment?

…according to George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, there’s a sense that the declaration was the last the world will hear about it.

“It was like, ‘Okay, we’re done for the day. Let’s move on,’” Marlin said at a talk this week. “The question is what happens next.

“The Christian world, the Catholics in the United States, the bishops, have to bang the pots and pans loudly enough and say, ‘We are outraged by this. What is the West going to do?’” Marlin said…

“The first thing is humanitarian aid, which is very important, and to recognize that Christians are not going into the international camps,” he said, referring to a statement he made in his talk, that Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria fear the camps because of potential harassment from Islamic radicals in those camps.

Nina Shea told me on radio Monday that there’s been a “reckless disregard” for Christians in the UN refugee camps, who have been camping out near churches still remaining, for shelter against the ongoing persecution even in those camps.

This is unacceptable. If the government won’t act, the people who put them in office have to call them out on this humanitarian crisis. And meanwhile, do something else. Contact IDF, KofC, CNEWA, Aid to the Church in Need, Restore Ninevah Now, and Iraqi Christian Relief Council, among others, and let those in the path of genocide know help is on the way.

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Apr 17

Cost-benefit ratio, all things considered.

Politics being at least as much about perceptions as reality, the calculated risk Sanders took by leaving the campaign trail just ahead of the New York primary for a whirlwind trip to Rome for a Vatican conference on economy and social justice probably paid off in the media coverage and the sense of gravitas it may have given the Democratic Socialist who has admired Pope Francis for years and quoted Catholic Social Teaching for decades.

Politico reports

his appearance at a Vatican conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of an encyclical by Pope John Paul II to mark the end of the Cold War signaled his arrival as a globally respected voice on inequality and economic injustice, providing him with a stature that he couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of his long-shot presidential campaign. His message in the Eternal City was essentially the same stump speech Sanders delivers back home, only now it warrants a crush of foreign media attention, and puts the small-state senator in company with a pontiff he’s admired from afar for several years.

Saying it warranted a crush of foreign media attention creates that perception, merited or unmerited, as well as the much larger idea that Sanders is in the same league as Pope Francis. Then there’s this line:

In Rome, standing beside adviser Jeffrey Sachs — who helped arrange the trip — Sanders told reporters his interest in the pope’s politics is entwined with his policy thinking…

Popes don’t  have or ‘do’ politics. Their words, teachings and writings are cited by politicians though, and always selectively. The Politico piece notes the Vatican “is still starkly at odds with many Democrats”, but played up Sanders’ citations of Francis in campaign speeches.

The Pope was on his way to Greece and reportedly, there would be no meeting with Sanders and other participants of this gathering hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s encyclical, Centesimus Annus, a gathering that included Bolivian President Evo Morales, another Democratic Socialist. But somehow, Sanders’ and Francis’ paths crossed.

The BBC reports the pope strongly discouraged anyone from reading politics into the encounter.

Pope Francis says a brief meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders just “good manners” and not political interference.

They met early in the lobby of the Pope’s residence before he left to meet migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos.

“If anyone thinks that greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that he look for a psychiatrist,” Pope Francis added.

If anyone reading that reporting knows how unlikely it would have been that it was a chance encounter, it’s clear that someone, somehow arranged it. The fact that Sen. and Mrs. Sanders were staying at the Casa Santa Marta inside the Vatican walls was itself, interesting. As the BBC notes, it’s “the same guest house where the Pope lives.”He had been in the the Vatican to attend a conference on economy and social justice and stayed at the same guest house where the Pope lives.

For his part Mr Sanders said it was an “honour” to meet him.

“I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history,” he told Associated Press news agency.

“I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed,” Mr Sanders added.

Scholars at the Acton Institute suggest that, with Sen. Sanders’ interest in papal teachings on social justice, he should learn some lessons from Vatican documents and some papal teachings he cites.

At a very superficial first glance, and as Sanders himself has claimed, the Catholic Church would seem to support the candidate’s passionate quest for greater income equality and social harmony. Yet even his own supporters are blissfully unaware of what socialism is, and the nefarious means, as defined by the Italian theorist Antonio Grasmci, needed to achieve such objectives: the negation of private property, the traditional family and organized religion, especially Christianity. While socialists rarely mention these obstacles anymore, their overcoming remains necessary to achieve the socialist vision of a completely egalitarian society.

But the whole trip was rushed, as the Politico piece points out.

Everything about the trip was a hurried affair, from the questions raised about who exactly invited him to the finishing touches he put on the speech during his dead-of-night charter flight to Rome from New York.

Very little got reported about that. And only slightly more on what his rival, Hillary Clinton, was doing while Sanders was on his Vatican trip.

Just when we think this campaign season can’t get curiouser.

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Apr 06

The leading candidate in both parties don’t know how to talk about life.

Shouldn’t that disqualify them?

Alas, abortion and what’s referred to as ‘the question of when life begins’ (as if it’s uncertain and therefore debatable) has played into elections for decades now. It certainly will for the rest of this election year. How candidates respond to specific questions relating to abortion, rights, and human life reveal a lot about their ideology or lack of a well-formed belief system, their adherence to talking points or lack of a base of knowledge about the topic. Any version of those is revealing.

So when Hillary Clinton was asked by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press when and whether an unborn child gets constitutional rights, I recalled having heard that question put almost that same way to candidate Barack Obama in the Saddleback Civil Forum by Pastor Rick Warren.

When Warren asked when life and human rights begin, McCain’s succinct reply, “At conception,” and mention of his pro-life voting track record were greeted with some of the loudest applause of the evening.

Obama’s pro-choice stance and flippant language were not.

“Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective,” Obama said, “answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade.”

…a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops…called the comment a “dodge that wasn’t even intellectually respectable.”

Clinton’s response to Todd was very close to Obama’s back in 2008.

“Well, under our laws currently, that is not something that exists,” Clinton answered. “The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support.”

(So, wait a minute…What’s the difference between an unborn person not having any constitutional rights, and doing everything possible in some instances to help a mother carrying a child to make sure the child will be health with appropriate medical support? The elasticity of the semantics of political ideology, and dishonesty of the culture of relativism.)

Following that appearance on Meet the Press, Clinton was asked for clarification on The View by Co-Host Paula Varis.

VIEW HOST: You said, ‘the unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights.’ And my question is at what point does someone have constitutional rights? And are you saying that a child, on its due date, just hours before its delivery still has no constitutional rights?

HILLARY CLINTON: Under our law, that is the case. I support Roe v. Wade because I think is important statement about the importance of a woman making this most difficult decision with consultation by whom she chooses… and under the law, and certainly under that decision, that is the way we structure it.

That default “that is the way we structure it” talking point response is almost the same as Donald Trump responding to MSNBC’s Chris Matthew’s question about punishing women who get abortions if the law changes, by saying ‘yes, there should be some punishment.’ Both are responses made under the pressure of the moment to pry out the candidates’ most deeply held beliefs about human life. But one had talking points and an entire industry prepping and propping her, while the other hadn’t thought it through well or for long and had virtually no prep.

However, both responses tell us a lot. Human life is a relative idea, protection of the most vulnerable young human beings is strategically embedded in political ideology more than inherently so in a mother’s womb, and facts not only don’t determine a candidate’s well formed positions on first principles, they actually get in the way of those positions when candidates don’t seek to be well informed and grounded in science, maternal/fetal medicine and fundamental morality.

Both Clinton and Trump have been exposed and made more vulnerable by questions relating to abortion. No doubt Clinton will be drilled by her camp, and Trump will do whatever he does to prepare for facing challenges to his views and beliefs.

But this is an issue central to Election 2016, and it’s going to remain so through November, and beyond.

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