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Nigerian priest liberated after four days in captivity

Benin City, Nigeria, Apr 23, 2018 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Fr. Edwin Omoregbe, who had been kidnapped last week in Nigeria's Edo state, was released on Sunday.

“With great joy in our heart, we want to inform you all that our priest, Rev. Fr. Edwin Omorogbe has been released from the hands of kidnappers,” read an April 22 statement from the Archdiocese of Benin City, according to the Guardian of Lagos.

“We thank you all for your prayers and pray that God continue to grant all our heart desires,” the statement continued.

Fr. Omorogbe, a parish priest at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Benin City, was abducted April 18 by unidentified gunmen near Egba, on the way from Uromi to Benin City. He was released in the afternoon of April 22. The local Catholic community had been praying for his release.

Babatunde Kokumo, the Edo State commissioner of police, and others led a search and rescue campaign for Omorogbe in the bushes of the Uhumwonde Local Government Area after his kidnapping.

The motive behind the kidnapping and the parties responsible are unknown.

Fr. Omoregbe was ordained a priest in 2003, and has studied in Canada.

Several priests and religious have been abducted in southern Nigeria in recent months.

Six women religious were held for two months before they were released by a police operation in January. They had been taken from Iguoriakhi near Uromi, also in Edo state.

An Italian missionary priest, Fr. Maurizio Pallù, was kidnapped in Edo state for a week in October 2017.

In Imo state, Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo was kidnapped and killed in September of the same year.

Italy grants Alfie Evans citizenship in hopes of transfer to Rome

London, England, Apr 23, 2018 / 10:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday a hospitalized British child at the center of a heated legal battle was granted Italian citizenship, part of an effort to delay shutting off his life-support, and to transfer him to a Roman hospital for additional treatment and medical evaluation.

Two-year-old Alfie Evans suffers from an unidentified degenerative neurological condition and has been under continuous hospitalization since December 2016.

On Monday the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) refused to intervene in what has been a highly sensitive and complicated case, paving the way for Alder Hey Children's Hospital, where Evans has been receiving care, to shut off the infant's life support.

After receiving the ruling from the ECHR Monday morning, the hospital scheduled Evans to be taken off life support later that day. However, according to Italian daily Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops, Evans' parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, were able to receive a last minute delay in order to clarify an aspect of the sentence.

Crowds of protesters lined the streets in front of the hospital Monday as they waited for the ruling, while Tom sent intermittent Facebook live posts from inside the hospital.

According to the BBC, some 200 protesters attempted to storm the hospital at one point, but were stopped by police, and backed off to the opposite side of the road.

In the meantime, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano and Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti granted citizenship to Evans, in hopes that being an Italian citizen will allow the child to be transferred to Italy immediately.

The decision comes less than one week after Alfie's father, Tom, came to the Vatican to make a personal appeal to Pope Francis on his son's behalf. In a private audience with the pope before his Wednesday general audience April 18, Tom Evans plead for asylum in Italy for his family, so that Alfie can be moved to the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome to receive treatment.

Pope Francis has made several appeals for Alfie, asking in his April 15 Regina Coeli address for people to pray for Alfie and others “who live, at times for a long period, in a serious state of illness, medically assisted for their basic needs.”

The pope also recently tweeted about Alfie, saying it was his “sincere hope that everything necessary may be done in order to continue compassionately accompanying little Alfie Evans, and that the deep suffering of his parents may be heard.”

Debate surrounding the case flared up when in February the court ruled that Alder Hey Children's Hospital could legally stop treatment for Alfie against his parent’s wishes. The hospital has argued that continuing treatment is not in his best interest.

Despite Tom and Kate's desire to take their son to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, several judges ruled in the hospital's favor. The case has since drawn international attention.

 

Francis shares a sweet treat with Rome's poor for feast of St. George

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2018 / 04:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- I-scream, you-scream, Pope Francis screamed... 'gelato!' on the feast of his patron saint, George, offering some 3,000 ice creams to homeless individuals served in Caritas soup kitchens and shelters around Rome.

Every year the pope's “onomastico,” or name-day, is celebrated as an official holiday in the Vatican. Under Francis, whose baptismal name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the feast is that of St. George, since Jorge is the Spanish equivalent.

And with temperatures in Rome finally starting to warm up, Francis decided to cool things down for Monday's feast, asking the papal almoner's office to provide the gelato to the poor and needy served by Catholic charitable organization, Caritas.

The papal almoner is Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, who can often be seen mingling with the poor around St. Peter's Basilica.

However, the pope himself is also known to be a gelato lover, his favorite flavor being dolce de leche, according to the Vatican cookbook. An Argentine classic, dolce de leche is essentially the Latin American version of caramel, but richer.

In the past, other papal gelato favorites included classic Italian flavor 'cassata Siciliana' for retired pontiff Benedict XVI, which is made with chocolate, strawberry and mango ice cream. John Paul II, on the other hand, reportedly indulged in 'marron glacé' gelato from Rome's Gelateria Giolitti, which is ice cream flavored with candied chestnuts.

In addition to Monday's sweet treat, Pope Francis often makes similar gestures for Rome's poor, homeless, and sick, whether it's a trip to the circus, a tour of the Vatican museums or a pizza party lunch on his birthday.

In the past he has also taken homeless to the beach during the hot summer months, and with temperatures this year expected to exceed the burning weather of 2017, it's possible another outing will take place in the coming months.

Could a California bill ban Christian teaching on homosexuality?

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 22, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A proposed law in California could have a chilling effect on free speech, warn critics who fear that it could ban efforts to explain and promote Christian teaching on sexual morality.

“The broad reach of AB 2942 leaves even simple religious speech on same-sex attraction or activities open to legal action and impinges on the basic human right of freedom of religion,” said the California Catholic Conference in a statement.

Assembly Bill 2943, which passed through the California State Assembly on Thursday, would make any transaction relating to practice to change someone’s sexual orientation unlawful. The bill now will go to the California State Senate.

AB 2943 seeks to amend the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CRLA), a law that protects consumers from sellers who are mischaracterizing their product or service.

The bill would ban advertising or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts. It defines such efforts as “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

The inclusion of “efforts to change behaviors” as a banned activity has led some critics to fear that the bill could be used to prohibit the promotion of Christian sexual morality - through books, counseling, or teaching.

The California Catholic Conference (CCC) has voiced opposition to the bill, and released a letter on its website urging Californians to contact their legislators to prevent it from becoming law.

The conference is concerned that the bill’s definitions are too broad, and seek to prevent adults from making decisions for themselves.

“AB 2943 would take something completely intangible - ‘sexual orientation change efforts’ – and add it to the CRLA,” the conference said.

Further, given that conversion therapy is already illegal for people under the age of 18 in the state, the California Catholic Conference questioned, “why would proponents wish to take away the freedom of adults to seek counselling” for issues regarding sexual orientation or behavior.

These concerns were echoed by Bill May of the Marriage Reality Movement, who told CNA that he feels the bill is “absurd” and inhibits the ability of people spreading “the Gospel’s universal call for repentance and changes in behavior.” May believes that if the bill were to become law, it could result in legal issues for preachers who discuss sexuality.

“Passage would lead to more harassment and possible legal challenges against preaching, literature, conferences and organizations that address sexual morality," said May.

 

Pope Francis to new priests: Be like Jesus the Good Shepherd

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2018 / 05:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis ordained 16 men to the priesthood, reminding them to be like Jesus the Good Shepherd in the way they serve the members of their spiritual flock and minister to those who are lost and searching for God.

“Always have before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to seek and save what was lost,” the pope said in a homily before the ordination of 16 priests during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica April 22.

“Conscious of having been chosen among men and elected in their favor to attend to the things of God, exercise in gladness and sincere charity the priestly work of Christ,” he continued, “solely intent on pleasing God and not yourselves or human beings, [or] other interests.”

The priestly ordination coincided with “Good Shepherd Sunday” and the 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

The new priests, who have been studying for the priesthood at different seminaries in the diocese of Rome, come from countries around the world, including Madagascar, Vietnam, Myanmar, Colombia, and San Salvador.

As in the past, for his homily Pope Francis used the “ritual homily” from the Italian edition of the “Pontificale Romano,” the Latin Catholic liturgical book containing rites performed by bishops, for the ordination of priests, adding a few of his own thoughts to the text.

Reflecting on the Sacrament of Penance in particular, Francis urged the men about to be ordained to “not get tired of being merciful. Think of your sins, your miseries that Jesus forgives. Be merciful.”

It is “through your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect,” he noted, “because it is joined to the sacrifice of Christ, which for your hands, in the name of the whole Church, is offered bloodlessly on the altar in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries.”

He pointed out to the 16 men that in their priestly ministries they will be participants “in the mission of Christ, the only Master,” and advised them to read and meditate tirelessly on the Word of God “to teach what you have learned in faith, to live what you have taught.”

“[May] your teaching, joy and support to the faithful of Christ be the fragrance of your life,” he continued, “that with word and example you can build the House of God which is the Church.”

Following Mass, Pope Francis led pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in praying the Regina Coeli, the traditional prayer for Easter.

In his message after the prayer, the pope drew attention to the current situation in Nicaragua, where there have been violent clashes between police and people participating in anti-government protests, resulting in at least 25 deaths, according to the Guardian.

“I express my closeness in prayer to that beloved country, and I join the Bishops in asking that all violence cease, [that they] avoid useless bloodshed and [that] open questions be resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility,” he said.

Francis also reflected briefly on the day’s Gospel, where Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep,” stating that the words of Jesus in this passage cannot be reduced to an emotional suggestion.

They have a concrete effect, he said: “Jesus heals through his being a shepherd who gives life. Jesus says to each one: ‘your life is so valuable to me, that to save it I offer all of myself.’”

Noting that Jesus also says, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” the pope said shows us that Jesus desires a personal relationship with each person, one which reflects “the same intimate relationship of love between Him and the Father.”

“He is attentive to each of us, knows our heart deeply: he knows our strengths and our faults, the projects we have achieved and the hopes that have been disappointed. But he accepts us as we are, he leads us with love,” he said, and in turn, “we are called to know Jesus.”