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The sign of the cross is our badge, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 18, 2018 / 03:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that to make the sign of the cross is to mark ourselves as Christians, and that it is something we should do often to remind ourselves that we belong to God.

“The cross is the badge that shows who we are: our speaking, thinking, looking, working [are] under the sign of the cross, that is, the love of Jesus, to the end,” the pope said April 18.

“Making the sign of the cross when we wake up, before meals, before a danger, to defend against evil, [at] night before sleep means to tell ourselves and others who we belong to, who we want to be.”

Pope Francis spoke about the sign of the cross during the weekly Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Reflecting on the sacrament of Baptism, he offered the suggestion of keeping a small dish of holy water at home, so that, “every time we come back or go out, making the sign of the cross with that water, we remember that we are baptized.”

“In fact, what happens in the celebration of Baptism arouses a spiritual dynamic that passes through the whole life of the baptized; it is the beginning of a process that allows one to live united to Christ in the Church,” Francis stated.

He explained that it is good for us to increase our understanding of the gift we received on the day of our Baptism, in order “to renew the commitment to respond to it in the condition in which we find ourselves today.”

For this reason, the pope explained the process of the Baptismal Rite, which he said begins with the welcoming rite, when the priest or other celebrant asks what name is of the person to be baptized.

This, Francis pointed out, is like when we meet someone for the first time and we immediately introduce ourselves in order to remove “anonymity.”

“God calls each one by name, loving us individually, in the concreteness of our history,” he said, explaining that in a Baptism we use the person’s individual name because God’s call is “personal” and not a “copy and paste” situation.

“In fact, Christian life is interwoven with a series of calls and answers: God continues to pronounce our name over the years, making his call to conform to his Son Jesus resound in a thousand ways,” he said.

“So, the name is important!” he continued, urging parents to choose the name of their child carefully, even before the child is born.

Francis also noted the importance the sign of the cross plays in the Baptismal Rite, like in the Baptism of children, when the parents and godparents express the desire for the sacrament on behalf of the child, demonstrating it through the sign of the cross traced on the forehead of the child.

“The sign of the cross expresses the seal of Christ on the one who is about to belong to him and signifies the grace of redemption that Christ has acquired for us through his cross,” he said, quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

He also explained the way adult catechumens are marked with a cross, on each of the senses.

They are crossed with the following words, he said: “Receive the sign of the cross on your ears to hear the voice of the Lord; On the eyes to see the splendor of the face of God; On the mouth, to answer the word of God; On the chest, because Christ dwells through faith in your hearts; On the shoulders, to support the gentle yoke of Christ.”

“Christians become the extent to which the cross is imprinted in us as an ‘Easter’ mark, making visible, even outwardly, the Christian way of facing life,” he said.

For opposing gay marriage, she's facing death threats and million-dollar lawsuits

New York City, N.Y., Apr 18, 2018 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Barronelle Stutzman took a stand for her Christian beliefs nearly five years ago, she never imagined that she would eventually be appealing to the US Supreme Court to defend her decision.

But that’s exactly what happened.

“This was never on my bucket list,” Barronelle told CNA.

The 72-year-old grandmother is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and is currently involved in a lawsuit involving a customer of nearly 10 years, Rob Ingersoll.

Barronelle knew Rob was gay from the beginning. “It was never an issue,” she said. She enjoyed working with him, and said he would pick out creative vases and containers, and would come in with flower requests for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions.

“I loved doing arrangements for Rob, because I got to think outside of the box, and do something special for him.”

But when Rob came in and told Barronelle that he had gotten engaged to his boyfriend, she took him by the hand and explained that she believed marriage to be a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so she could not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Initially, Rob said that he understood and asked if she could recommend another florist, which she did.

Later, however, his partner posted a message on social media about Barronelle declining to take part in the wedding, and it went viral. Soon, she was informed that she was being sued by the Washington State attorney general and the ACLU. Today, more than four years later, Barronelle is waiting to hear whether the US Supreme Court will take her case.

And while the actual damages being sought by the couple are only around $7 – the mileage cost of driving to another florist – Barronelle could be responsible for more than $1 million in legal fees to nearly a dozen ACLU lawyers opposing her in the case.

Barronelle, who is Southern Baptist, spoke at a panel discussion in New York City last November, hosted by ADF International, the global branch of the non-profit legal group that is representing her in court.

“Because I have a belief that is marriage is between one man and a woman, we could possibly lose everything we own, everything we’ve saved for our kids and grandkids,” Barronelle said.

She explained that while the decision to decline a same-sex wedding was difficult, it was the only way she could stay true to her beliefs. For her, weddings are much more than simply a job – they’re a deeply personal labor of love, and she pours her heart and soul into her work.

“I spend months – sometimes years – with the bride and groom. I get to know them personally, what they want to convey, what the bride wants, what her vision is. There’s so much personal involvement in this.”

At the wedding, Barronelle will often help greet guests and calm nervous parents. “When we get the bride down the aisle, then I know I’ve done my job,” she said.

With floral arrangements for weddings being such a personal endeavor, she knew that she would be betraying her relationship with Christ if she participated in a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Over the last four-and-a-half years, Barronelle has received an outpouring of support – customers coming in to offer a kind word or a hug, strangers telling her they are praying for her family, and messages of encouragement from 68 countries.

But she’s also received death threats. She’s had to install a security system and change her route to work.

“Even today, we're very aware of people who come in who might do us harm,” she said.

Also hard, she said, has been losing her relationship with Rob. She said she misses him and harbors no anger against him.

“I can tell you that if Rob walked into my store today, I would hug him, catch up on his life, and I would wait on him for another 10 years if he’d let me.”

She also has a message for her fellow Americans: stand up for religious freedom, before it’s too late.

“Don’t think this cannot happen to you,” she said. “I never thought that we would have a government that would come in and tell you what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create – and if you don’t do it, you’ll be totally destroyed.”

“If we don’t stand now, there will be nothing to stand for.”

 

An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Nov. 3, 2017.

Australian nun briefly detained in Philippines for political activism

Manila, Philippines, Apr 17, 2018 / 07:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Australian nun was arrested and briefly detained earlier this week in the Philippines as the government cracks down on foreign human rights activists in the country.

Sister Patricia Fox was arrested April 16 by immigration authorities at her convent, where she serves as the Philippine superior of the international Catholic congregation Sisters of Our Lady of Sion. She has been working primarily with the rural poor in the country for the past 27 years.

Fox was held for 22 hours by authorities before being released, after “no probable cause” was found for her arrest and she was proven to be a legally documented alien with a missionary visa, according to UCA News. There is still a pending further investigation of her activities to determine whether she should be deported.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ news outlet (CBCP News) reported that they were told Fox was arrested for being an “undesirable alien” for participating in regional farmer protests.

The Philippines’ Intelligence services (NICA) have also charged Fox with participating in anti-government rallies. The organization claims it has a photo of the nun with a clenched fist holding a sign that says “Stop Killing Farmers”, according to Newsweek.

Immigration law in the Philippines stipulates that participating in rallies and political activities is a violation of the right to stay in the country.

Jobert Pahilga, Fox’s lawyer, denied these claims in a statement and said that she “has done nothing wrong or illegal that would warrant her arrest, detention and possible deportation.”

He said that his client was traveling to Tagum City to gather data on human rights violations against farmers in the area.

Fox said that she has stood in solidarity with the rural poor during rallies, but not as a political action.

“I would call it religious because we are called to stand beside the poor,” she told CBCP News. “I haven’t joined partisan political rallies but I have been active in human rights issues.”

Several human rights and Church leaders have denounced the arrest of the nun, including Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

Pabillo told UCA news that Fox’s arrest was a "form of persecution and harassment” and that the nun "is too old to run from the government or from whatever allegations they are accusing her of."

"This is political," Pabillo added. "The government is trying to intimidate individuals and groups who are in pursuit of social justice for the oppressed and the poor.”

Fox is among several foreign human rights activists who have been arrested or barred from re-entering the Philippines in a recent crackdown on foreigners by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

“There’s no martial law yet but they are already going after people who oppose them,” Pabillo told CBCP News.

Fox will remain in the Philippines for the forthcoming investigation.

Documentary highlights life of religious sister who died in Ecuador earthquake

Guayaquil, Ecuador, Apr 17, 2018 / 06:40 pm (ACI Prensa).- A new documentary film entitled “All or Nothing” tells the story of Sister Clare Crockett, a religious sister who died in the earthquake that took place in 2016 in Ecuador.

The film which is available in Spanish, English and Italian, is “the true story of a sister who gave everything to God, holding nothing back,” her community says.

April 16 marked the second anniversary of the earthquake that struck Manabí Province in Ecuador, in which 262 people died and more than 2,500 were injured.

Sister Clare Crockett of the Siervas del Hogar de la Madre (Sisters of the Home of the Mother) was killed when the community’s building in Playa Prieta, Ecuador, collapsed in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

Four aspirants and one resident youth also died in the quake.

The Siervas del Hogar de la Madre have now released the film “All or Nothing: Sister Clare Crockett,” which tells the story of the 33-year-old religious sister, who had been a rising actress when she left her career to pursue God’s calling.

This documentary film shows more than 15 years of Sister Clare's life – a life which the sisters say “goes straight to our hearts as a call, to ask ourselves what are we ourselves giving or not giving to God.”

Originally from Ireland, Sister Clare wanted to be an actress. By age 18, she lived a life of partying and alcohol.

One day, a friend asked if she wanted to go on a free trip to Spain. The trip turned out to be a 10-day pilgrimage.

“I tried to get out of it, but my name was already on the ticket, so I had to go. I now see that it was Our Lady’s way of bringing me back home, back to her and her Son,” she said, according to EWTN. “I was not a very happy camper. Nevertheless, it was on that pilgrimage that Our Lord gave me the grace to see how He had died for me on the Cross. After I had received that grace, I knew that I had to change.”

“I knew that I had to leave everything and follow Him. I knew with great clarity that He was asking me to trust in Him, to put my life in His hands and to have faith,” she said. “It never ceases to amaze me how Our Lord works in the souls, how He can totally transform one’s life and capture one’s heart.”
Sister Clare went on to become the voice of Lucy on the long-running EWTN children’s television series “Hi Lucy.”

The distribution of the documentary film “All or Nothing” is free and is scheduled to be shown in Ireland, Canada, the United States, England, Italy, Singapore, the Philippines, Colombia, Spain, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Chile, Latvia, Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.

Viewers interested in scheduling a screening can visit https://www.sisterclare.com/multimedia/film/request?view=form

 

Film shows Salesians' work to rescue girls from prostitution in Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone, Apr 17, 2018 / 04:23 pm (ACI Prensa).- In Sierra Leone, Salesian missionaries are working to extract girls working as prostitutes from their lifestyle, providing them with shelter and helping them to be reunited with family members or placed in adoptive homes.

In 2016, Salesian missionaries working in Freetown realized there was a large number of girls who were selling their bodies to get food.

“The youngest was 9 years old, and the oldest 17. Then the idea came up of creating a shelter as an alternative environment for them to help them get out of prostitution. They sell their bodies to earn $1.80 to $2.50 a day to pay for school because a lot of them go to school just like any other child,” Fr. Jorge Mario Crisafulli explained.

The Salesian priest is the director of their Don Bosco Fambul Center for the Protection of Minors. He recently visited several European cities to present “Love,” a short Spanish language documentary which shows the suffering of girls forced to prostitute themselves and who are rescued from the streets.

The priest has spent 23 years in Africa, and has been in Sierra Leone for three years.

“We have nine programs to help boys and girls living in difficult or emergency situations. Programs for those who have been abused, for Ebola orphans, and even a telephone hotline to take calls from children in a crisis. We are also present in the main prison in Freetown.” The Salesians also have “a bus used to reach out to children who live on the street and prostitute themselves,” he told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency during his brief visit to Rome.

Thanks to their tireless work they have already succeeded in getting 146 girls out of prostitution, although “to just save one, all the effort would be worth it.”

There are many orphans in Sierra Leone, owing to the country's 1991-2002 civil war as well as a 2014 Ebola outbreak, and many have turned to prostitution as a way to support themselves.

Fr. Crisafulli said that  they have already reached out to more than 900 girls who live in this type of slavery.

“I always tell all the the social workers and the Salesians that they mustn't forget that we are a Salesian community, that we are the Church and we are living out  the Salesian charism, which is to help the most vulnerable … Sierra Leone is a country that has suffered a lot, and our mission goes beyond what an NGO does; we are convinced that we are a religious community, doing a mission confided by the Holy Spirit to Don Bosco,” he said.

“I also tell the girls to not think they are trash or bad, as many people tell them, but that they are children of God. We absorb the pain, we travel the streets, and give that pain over to Jesus.”

“The love that we offer is that of transforming the pain of the cross into redemption,” he said.

That is what is shown in “Love,” a short documentary that tells the story of Aminata, one of those underage girls who succeeded in getting out of prostitution and has turned her life around.

The documentary seeks to make that reality known and to show how reintegration into society  is possible for these minors.  

“You don't need prostitute yourself to eat, you don't need to prostitute yourself to get an education, what you need to do is to look for a merciful hand which has no other interest than to do good and help,” Fr. Crisafulli emphasized.

“The social workers do a great job of listening,” he said, “so the girls are able to tell what they have gone through on the streets and why they are prostituting themselves and that is already liberating.”

“Then you have to heal the profound traumas that each one of them has. But it is also a spiritual work. Many of them have told me, 'God had forgotten me' or 'God doesn't love me.' Our work also consists in telling them that that's not true, that God still loves them,”  Fr. Crisafulli said.

It is important “to invite them to dream and find something to motivate them to get out of prostitution: going back to school, finishing high school, having a small business, or returning to their families,” he explained.

“It's true these are not all success stories, because six of them have gone back to the streets, but we don't throw in the towel. Our intention is never to give up, until we see them out of prostitution.”