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Mike Pence to meet Pope Francis in Vatican next week

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Vatican next week to meet with Pope Francis.

Pence’s office confirmed with CNA on Thursday that the Vice President is scheduled to be received by the Pope during his overseas trip next week. No details have yet been released about the topics that might be discussed at the meeting.

The Vice President’s visit comes immediately after the U.S. religious freedom ambassador traveled to Vatican City for the launch of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, held on Tuesday at the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich.

Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was present at Tuesday’s opening session of the initiative, which was described by Ambassador Gingrich as “a dialogue designed to promote peace, religious freedom, and interreligious harmony” between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

It was inspired, she said, by the 2019 document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” a joint statement of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi that was signed in the United Arab Emirates.

That document, in part, stated that “[t]he pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

Cardinal Miguel Ayuso, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, was present at the gathering, according to Gingrich’s remarks.

“It’s fitting that your discussions should take place at the Pontifical Gregorian University,” Gingrich said, citing St. John Henry Newman that a Catholic university should “aid in the discernment of truth.”

Quoting Pope Francis, Gingrich stated the questions that could be considered by the initiative: “‘How do we look after each other?  ‘How do we nourish a fraternity which is not theoretical, but translates into authentic fraternity?’ And ‘how can religions be channels of fraternity, rather than barriers of separation?’”

In her remarks at the launch, Gingrich thanked Pastor Bob Roberts of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, Imam Mohammad Magid of All Dulles Area Muslim Society, and Rabbi David Saperstein, the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador from 2014 to 2017, “for making this gathering possible.”

During Brownback’s trip, he and Ambassador Gingrich also met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States.

Italian bishops promote Catholic-Jewish dialogue as antisemitic speech increases

Rome, Italy, Jan 16, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Catholic Church in Italy marked its 31st annual Day of Jewish-Christian Religious Dialogue with a discussion between Rome’s chief rabbi and a Catholic priest who is a professor of the Old Testament.

Riccardo Di Segni and Fr. Luca Mazzinghi spoke on the Song of Songs from the Jewish and Christian perspectives Jan. 16 at the Pontifical Lateran University and organized by the Vicariate of Rome.

While the theme of the discussion is not strictly “Christian-Jewish dialogue,” the event is an exercise in dialogue, which is important, Fr. Mazzinghi told CNA.

Fr. Mazzinghi, who teaches on the Old Testament at the Pontifical Gregorian University, has years of experience with inter-religious dialogue with Jews.

“As a Christian, I feel the need for dialogue with Judaism, because Judaism is a part, if I may say, of my DNA,” he said.

“If you are a Christian, you should feel a closeness to Judaism, because it is your roots.”

“The [Catholic] relationship with Judaism is not like the relationship with other religions, with Islam, for example, or Hinduism, Buddhism,” he said. “It’s a very particular relationship, because the God of the Bible is the same.”

Antisemitic attacks and speech, especially online, are on the rise in Italy, where the Jewish community numbers 30,000.  

The Center of Contemporary Jewish Documents’ Observatory on Anti-Jewish Prejudice, which is based in Milan, recorded 190 antisemitic acts between January and September 2019, up from 2018 and 2017.

The group defines antisemitic episodes as intentional acts of violence or physical attack, threats, discrimination, insults, writings, or graffiti directed against Jewish persons, organizations, or properties, and in which there is evidence of antisemitic motivation or content.

In Italy, the number of violent antisemitic attacks are lower than in other parts of Europe, but prejudice and the number of verbal attacks against Jewish people, mostly online, are rising, the Observatory found.

An example is the 2018 theft in Rome of twenty bronze-capped cobblestones, commemorating members of two Italian Jewish families who were deported during the Holocaust.

“We should be very careful about antisemitism, because it is a very real danger, it’s a reality,” Fr. Mazzinghi said.

“On this I need to be very clear: A Christian cannot be an antisemite in any way.”

“Pope Francis has also repeated this many times: If you are an antisemite you cannot be a Christian. For me, this is clear. In any case, antisemitic acts put me outside the Christian faith.”

In May 2019, Pope Francis told an international group dedicated to Jewish-Catholic dialogue “to work together in building a climate not only of tolerance but also of respect between religions.”

“We share a rich spiritual patrimony that can and must be ever more esteemed and appreciated as we grow in mutual understanding, fraternity and shared commitment on behalf of others,” he said.

Fr. Mazzinghi explained that “in the past, Christians, not only in the Catholic Church, but Christians in general, have often behaved as antisemites.”

St. John Paul II called the Jewish people the “elder brothers” of Catholics, Fr. Mazzinghi said, noting that “if Jews are my brothers, I cannot be against Jews in any way.”

“Dialogue, I believe, helps both to understand that the other is not an enemy.”

School threatens suspension for student's 'Virginity Rocks' sweatshirt

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 16, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- School administrators in Wentzville, Missouri, threatened to suspend a seventh grade student if he returned to school wearing a sweatshirt printed with the slogan “Virginity Rocks.” 

The student, 13-year-old Londyn Piglowski, received the sweatshirt as a birthday gift from a classmate. 

Local news station KMOV4 reported Thursday that Piglowski  was pulled out of social studies class and taken to the principal’s office after wearing the shirt to school. The principal instructed him to either remove the shirt or turn it inside out.

“He said it was a little bit borderline for the school and he told me to take it off or flip it inside or else they would have to take action," said Piglowski to KMOV4.

“I didn’t think this was bad so whenever they told me to take it off I was like, ‘why am I taking this off because it’s a positive message?’”

Piglowski removed the shirt, and his parents say the Wentzville School District threatened to suspend him from class if he showed up to school wearing the shirt again. He says his friend, who owns the same shirt, did not get in trouble when he wore it to school. 

His parents have said their son’s treatment for wearing a shirt that advocated virginity was inconsistent with other school policies.

“They teach sex ed," said Todd Piglowski, Londyn’s father. “How can you teach it but then say hey let’s not have it on a sweatshirt?"

The Wentzville School District has a dress code which prohibits clothing which advocates “immoral, sexual, or violent behavior.” 

The school defended the decision to make Piglowski change clothing. In a statement, the school said that the shirt was “potentially disruptive to the educational environment.” 

“We routinely have conversations with students around attire that may be inappropriate and by and large, our students and families work with our staff to address any concerns,” said the statement. 

Piglowski is not the first student who has been reprimanded over wearing a pro-virginity shirt. 

“Virginity rocks” shirts have been sold for over a decade by various Christian organizations to promote responsible sexual activity.

In 2008, students at Albemarle High School in Virginia reported that they were told by officials to stop wearing the shirts. The students were wearing them in an attempt to promote abstinence. The school district denied that the students were ever told what to wear.

Six years later, a student at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas was asked to change out of her “virginity rocks” shirt. The student, Chloe Rubiano, an eighth grader, said it was one of her favorite shirts, and that she had bought it at a Christian festival. 

In Rubiano’s case, the school vice principal said that while she agreed with the message on the shirt, she did not think it was appropriate for school as “it opens up too many doors for conversations."

Piglowski’s shirt came via the website of YouTube personality Danny Duncan, who sells clothing items with the slogan on them. Duncan, who makes skateboard and prank videos, started selling the apparel in 2018, and has said he designed the shirts to be tongue-in-cheek, but also with a positive message.

Since Duncan, who has nearly 3.5 million subscribers, began selling merchandise with the phrase to a more secular audience, increasing numbers of students have reported punishments. 

In 2018, a 17-year-old at Roseburg High School in Oregon was forced to go home and change after he came to school wearing a Virginity Rocks shirt from Duncan’s apparel line. He went home and changed into another Duncan shirt--one that made a sexual innuendo. That shirt was allowed to be worn. 

The district superintendent defended the decision to prohibit the Virginity Rocks shirt, saying that the school “would have made the same decision if the student had been wearing a T-shirt that said sex rocks or smoke more pot.” 

In October 2019, a student at Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High School in Chetek, Wisconsin, was suspended for a day after he came to school wearing one of Duncan’s virginity rocks sweatshirts. 

The student, sophomore Thorn Willsui, was suspended after he refused to take off the sweatshirt or turn it inside out.

Tabernacle retrieved intact from church destroyed by earthquake in Puerto Rico

Ponce, Puerto Rico, Jan 16, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Precariously resting on the edge of an altar leaning forward from the impact of the earthquake that struck Puerto Rico, a tabernacle was retrieved intact from a church in Puerto Rico and brought to safety.

In the early hours of Jan. 7, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the island, the last of a series of quakes that began Dec. 28. The earthquake left one dead, various people injured, serious damage to the infrastructure, and a power outage on the island. A state of emergency was declared.

 

Previo a otros temblores durante la mañana, fieles rescatan el Sagrario junto al párroco. Esto en la Parroquia Inmaculada Con emoción de Guayanilla que quedó destruida tras el fuerte temblor registrado en el sur de Puerto Rico esta madrugada. pic.twitter.com/lyWPYnWgpS

— El Visitante PR (@elvisitantepr) January 7, 2020  

Local Catholic media El Visitante, who had journalists on site, explained to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner, that the tabernacle was rescued from Immaculate Conception church in Guayanilla which completely collapsed from aftershocks. The town lies 8 miles west of Ponce, the epicenter of the earthquake.

El Visitante said the rescue of the tabernacle, and the Eucharist within it, took place at dawn, minutes before an aftershock left the church in ruins. “As if the tremor was waiting for the Eucharist to leave in order to continue the destruction.”

 

Templo de la Parroquia Inmaculada Concepción de Guayanilla se destruyó a causa del fuerte temblor registrado esta madrugada. Favor mantener la calma, orar y prepararse los 365 días. pic.twitter.com/ni9WqiV61w

— El Visitante PR (@elvisitantepr) January 7, 2020  

The tabernacle was in a chapel “in the left nave of the church. The early morning tremor destroyed the chapel, making the altar tilt forward. The tabernacle didn't fall to the ground. It was almost suspended in the air lightly held up on the leaning altar.”

The tabernacle was rescued by the pastor Fr. Melvin Díaz and Fr. Orlando Rivera along with the faithful. Rivera used to work at the church but now lives  in Peñuelas, a town near Guayanilla.

El Visitante of Puerto Rico said the hosts “had spilled inside the tabernacle” but were gathered up by Fr. Rivera while Fr. Melvin retrieved “the large Host used for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.”

“The faithful took the tabernacle and went out in procession over the rubble. The faithful with the tabernacle, Fr. Orlando with the ciborium and Fr. Melvin with the large Sacred Host. They went to the rectory a few steps from the parish to protect the Blessed Sacrament with all the dignity it deserves,”

“They were the heroes of the Eucharist,” El Visitante concluded.

 

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

Tenn governor to sign bill protecting faith-based adoption agencies

Nashville, Tenn., Jan 15, 2020 / 08:34 pm (CNA).- Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Jan. 15 that he intends to sign into law a bill to protect adoption organizations which place children based on the belief in marriage as a union between a man and woman.

The state Senate approved HB 836 on the first day of the 2020 legislative session, Jan. 15, after the House approved it last April. Tennessee has several Catholic Charities agencies that handle adoption cases.

The bill would protect adoption agencies that follow their religious convictions in declining to place children with same-sex couples. Declined applicants would be unable to sue an agency for damages in such a situation, the Associated Press reports.

Although religious adoption agencies in Tennessee have not been prevented from acting out of their moral convictions, the bill comes at a time when Catholic agencies in other states have been shut down or denied access to funding for declining to place children with same-sex couples.

The AP reports that to date, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan have all enacted similar protections for adoption agencies to the one being considered in Tennessee. In March 2019, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel settled with the ACLU and required all adoption agencies to match children with qualified same-sex couples in order to receive state funding.

Senator Paul Rose, Republican sponsor of the bill in the Senate, noted that the Trump administration last year proposed a federal rule change to protect faith-based foster care agencies.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced during Nov. 2019 that it would change its enforcement of previous regulations and propose a new rule, allowing faith-based adoption agencies to continue receiving federal funding while not having to match children with same-sex couples against their religious mission.

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) praised the change at the time.