Fr. Peter West

Pilgrims seek victory over Russia’s culture of death

Fr. Peter West
By Fr. Peter West
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June 12, 2012 (Zenit.org) – As I write this, a small band of pro-life missionaries is driving through the vast desolate plains of Siberia, on a historic pilgrimage across Asia and Europe.

On June 14, the pilgrims left the port city of Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast of Russia with a replica of the famous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The icon will be venerated by tens of thousands across eight time zones in Russia, and eventually will zigzag across Europe to Fatima, Portugal and, hopefully, will even come to the United States in the spring of 2013.

What would motivate a small band of believers to undertake this long and potentially dangerous journey in what is being called the “From Ocean to Ocean International Campaign in Defense of Life?” The pilgrimage of the icon, led by a coalition of Catholic and Orthodox leaders including Lech and Ewa Kowaleski of Human Life International (HLI) Poland, is intended both as a response to nearly a century of legalized abortion in Russia, and for victory over the culture of death throughout the world. The pilgrims believe that this victory for life will take place through the powerful intercession of Mary, the Mother of God.

Scripture and Church history are full of precedents for this extraordinary event. In the Book of Joshua, we read that the Jews carried the Ark of the Covenant into battle (cf. Joshua 3, 3-6). In the Mother of Christ, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Church has long carried on the Old Testament tradition of carrying the Ark into battle. Indeed, several Fathers of the Church, as the original scholars of the Old Testament, help us understand why Mary is known to the Church as the Ark of the New Covenant. Saint Ambrose, for example, wrote:

The Ark contained the Tablets of the Law; Mary contained in her womb the heir of the Testament. The Ark bore the Law; Mary bore the Gospel. The Ark made the voice of God heard; Mary gave us the very Word of God. The Ark shone forth with the purest gold; Mary shone forth both inwardly and outwardly with the splendor of her virginity. The gold which adorned the Ark came from the interior of the earth; the gold with which Mary shone forth came from the mines of Heaven. (Serm. xlii. 6, Int. Opp., S. Ambrosii)

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Throughout history, the faithful have called on the Blessed Virgin Mary in time of battle to win great victories against overwhelming odds.

In 1571, when the Bishop of Mexico heard that Europe was threatened with an invasion from the Turkish Navy, he sent a replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Pope Pius V. The Pope gave the image to Admiral Andrea Doria, who carried it into battle on one of the lead ships at Lepanto. On October 7, 1571, Christian forces defeated the much larger Turkish Navy and saved Europe from invasion.

In 1812, Russian forces carried the icon of “The Reigning Mother of God” into battle as they drove Napoleon and his invading army out of Russia. Just over a century later, on March 1, 1917, a pious Russian widow named Eudocia received a revelation from the Blessed Virgin Mary to look for the icon, which had been lost for many years. The next day, at the same time that Tsar Nicholas of Russia abdicated his throne, the icon was found, having been hidden in a basement in the village of Kolomenskoye, just outside Moscow. Many people began to venerate the icon and miraculous healings began to occur, even as the October Revolution was launched against the ruling Tsars of Russia. The Mother of God told her that if the icon was marched around the Kremlin seven times it would not fall. Tragically, her requests went unheeded. The Bolsheviks captured the Kremlin, marking the onset of Russia’s century of darkness.

The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa has a fascinating history of its own. Tradition holds that St. Luke the Evangelist himself “wrote” the icon of what has now become known as “Our Lady of Czestochowa” on a cypress table made by Jesus Himself. The Icon was damaged by anti-Catholic, Hussite raiders in 1430 who slashed it and attempted to burn it, so much so that today she is referred to as the “Black Madonna.” In a sense, the icon is a symbol of Poland herself, scarred but persevering in faith.

Our Lady has interceded for the Polish people many times in her history. Just a relatively recent example, from May 1-7, 1979, many Poles held what became known as “The Siege of Jericho.” At the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa they prayed continuous rosaries for the intention that the Communist government would relax its restrictions on the visit of Pope John Paul II to his native land. On May 7, the Polish government unexpectedly relented and dropped the major obstacles that were preventing the Pope’s visit. Blessed Pope John Paul lit a fire with his bold proclamation of the Gospel “behind enemy lines.” The Pope’s visit set in motion the most remarkable peaceful revolution of the century, eventually bringing down Communism in the Soviet Union and all of Eastern Europe.

Russia again finds herself facing enormous difficulties today—difficulties of her own making. In 1920, Russia was the first country to legalize abortion for any reason. Josef Stalin again outlawed abortion in 1936, not because he respected human life, but he saw that it was weakening his nation and decimating the population of Russia along with war, the various purges and the starvation of millions. Abortion was legalized again after his death in 1954. The number of babies lost again skyrocketed, peaking in 1964 with 5.6 million abortions performed. Abortion remains the primary means of birth control in Russia, although the rate is falling (still at a very high rate of just under 40% of all pregnancies ending in abortion in 2010).

But now, Russia knows she has a problem. Her population continues to decline at an alarming rate. The total fertility rate of Russian women hit a historic low in 1999 of 1.16. By 2010, it had risen slightly to 1.59. Even President Vladmir Putin has encouraged Russian families to have more children by offering economic incentives, but these policies are having little effect.

Against this backdrop of demographic collapse, a faithful few are turning their eyes to the Mother of God. This is fitting since Blessed Pope John Paul’s monumental encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which he called “central to the whole Magisterium of my Pontificate,” and which closes with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary for victory over the culture of death.

Our Lady under her title of Our Lady of Czestochowa is venerated both in the East and the West. The icon arrived in Vladivostok on June 11 and was venerated in several churches, including the main Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Enthusiastic crowds have accompanied the Blessed Virgin asking for her prayers, and have also attended the pro-life conferences that are taking place as part of the pilgrimage.

A prayer before the icon was offered by Archpriest Aleksandr Talko, the head of the Department of Church Charities and Social Services. He said, “For all of the days of the stay of the Czestochowa icon in Vladivostok, there will be prayers before the miraculous icon requesting the Mother of God to strengthen family ties.”

The fact that Russian Orthodox leaders are working together with Roman Catholics to coordinate the historic pilgrimage through Europe and Asia is no small feat. We pray that our shared devotion to the Blessed Mother may be an occasion for the building of mutual respect, and for collaboration in other such efforts for the promotion of faith, life and the family in the future.

Please pray with us that God will bless the efforts of this tiny band of missionaries and that Our Blessed Mother will awaken the people in every place she visits, to be open to life and a respect marriage and family life.

Visit the website of the From Ocean to Ocean International Campaign for the Defense of Life for more information on the progress of this historic pilgrimage.

Father Peter West is vice president for missions for Human Life International, the world’s largest pro-life organization, which is coordinating the From Ocean to Ocean pilgrimage of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This article was originally posted on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.

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David Bereit of 40 Days for Life, on the right.
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All one fight: Why the leader of 40 Days for Life says he may become active in the fight for marriage

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By Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Just eight years ago, 40 Days for Life was founded as a pro-life Christian ministry. This year, it reached 252 cities in 19 countries.

Now, says founder and National Director David Bereit, he's discerning whether to expand his personal activism to marriage.

"The various moral issues we confront in our culture today are all intrinsically connected," Bereit told LifeSiteNews at Saturday's March for Marriage. “When you look at the various factors that lead to the breakdown of nations and civilizations, they are moral factors," Bereit said. "It's the devaluing of human life, it's the abandonment of religious belief and practice, it's immorality -- the increase thereof – and it's the breakdown of the family."

"They're all tied into this moving away from God, and America was founded as a nation with Christian principles and ideals that used to say 'In God We Trust.' And the further we've turned away from that, the more we have fallen,” he said. "I believe that with man, turning the tide in our culture is not possible, but with God, all things are possible."

Bereit stressed that his attendance at the March for Marriage, as well as his ongoing process of discernment, was representative only of his own circumstances -- not those of 40 Days for Life, which remains an abortion-focused ministry.

Bereit did not shy away from questions that are often raised about what President Barack Obama called America's “tragic” history.

"America was built on Judeo-Christians principles,“ he said. “There are still fallen people that make up our churches and our communities."

"The question is, will people of faith and conscience turn back to God and do their very best to align themselves with the principles that formed our nation and made our nation such a great place in history?"

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The third annual March for Marriage, which was organized by the National Organization for Marriage and exclusively livestreamed by LifeSiteNews, drew thousands of people, mostly minorities, just three days before what is being billed as the definitive U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the issue of same-sex "marriage."  

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‘Persecution plain and simple’:  Franklin Graham fundraises for Oregon bakers after GoFundMe shuts them down

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By Ben Johnson

BOONE, NC, April 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – First, they were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual “marriage” ceremony. Then, a rival business owner convinced GoFundMe.com to stop Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein from raising money to pay the fine on the grounds that, since their religious beliefs violate state law, they are common criminals.

Now, one of the nation's most well-known Christian ministers and philanthropists is coming to their aid.

An administrative law judge fined the Oregon bakers, proprietors of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, $135,000 to pay for the emotional suffering of Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer – a lesbian couple who say they feel the Kleins “mentally raped” them.

The Kleins have since closed their Portland-area business and lost substantial income. After hearing of the fine on Friday, Melissa said the amount would financially crush them.

The family opened a GoFundMe page and, within hours, they collected more than $109,000.

Then Lisa Watson, the co-owner of Cupcake Jones in Portland, began lobbying the website to banish the couple's appeal.

“The amount of money they have raised in a matter of a few hours by thousands of anonymous cowards is disgusting,” Watson wrote on Facebook. She added that the website's “terms of service address hate speech, bigotry, criminal activity, and sexism among other things in their campaign.”

GoFundMe then suspended the Kleins' fundraising.

“While a different campaign was recently permitted for a pizzeria in Indiana, no laws were violated and the campaign remained live,” GoFundMe said in a statement. “However, the subjects of the 'Support Sweet Cakes By Melissa' campaign have been formally charged by local authorities and found to be in violation of Oregon state law concerning discriminatory acts. Accordingly, the campaign has been disabled.”

The day after the announcement Watson, who operates her business with husband Peter Shanky, posted a photo of her 2015 Equality Advocate Award “for outstanding leadership to advanced lived equality for all LGBTQ Oregonians.”

The Kleins hope the website will reconsider. “We have told GoFundMe that the money is simply going to be used to help our family, and there is no legitimate breach of their terms and conditions,” the Kleins wrote on Facebook.

That's when the Reverend Franklin Graham and his ministry Samaritan's Purse stepped in, allowing those who wish to alleviate the couple's suffering to donate on its website.

"The fund was created to help persecuted Christians in the U.S., including Aaron and Melissa Klein,” an employee at Samaritan's Purse told LifeSiteNews today. “It was only activated over the weekend and the organization has not yet announced any numbers. Currently, Samaritan's Purse is focused on the earthquake in Nepal and providing relief supplies to people impacted by the disaster.”

Graham praised the Kleins' steadfastness in the face of legal challenges. “They have taken a stand for the Word of God, and they should not have to stand alone,” the ministry's founder and president Franklin Graham said. “I believe that Christians across our nation will rally around Aaron and Melissa and their five children. Please pray for Aaron and Melissa, and pray for our nation. When our judges are punishing Christians for practicing what they believe, that’s persecution, plain and simple.”

“God bless Reverend Franklin Graham,” AFR Talk radio host Bryan Fischer said today. 

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The Kleins will still receive the money raised by GoFundMe, in addition to any supplemental funds raised by Graham's international charitable ministry.

Conservative author Dan Calabrese wrote that “Melissa's Sweet Cakes will not have to go into bankruptcy and the family won't personally be ruined. And what a disappointment that must be to the gay mafia, whose agenda is to intimidate all gay marriage opponents into not just silence but compliance, for fear of just such” an outcome.

Christians have risen to the challenge before. Memories Pizza raised more than $840,000 after the Indiana pizzeria was harassed into closing its doors for saying it would cater a same-sex “wedding.”

Calabrese warns that these victories may lead to more intense anti-Christian persecution.

“When put in an untenable position like this, Christians and others who support their right to operate their business as they see fit will come to their aid. So the gay mafia will take it up a notch, attempting to intimidate the fundraising organizations from cooperating with the effort,” he said.

If that fails, “Maybe they can persuade friendly Democrat lawmakers (or terrified Republicans) to legislate them out of business.”

Readers can donate to the Klein family here.

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Opposition to same-sex ‘marriage’ – a deeper love

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By John-Henry Westen

April 27, 2015 (CNSNews.com) -- Same-sex “marriage” – the legal recognition of same-sex relationships – is one of the most contentious issues in America. Laws, constitutional interpretation, and the future of religious liberty may well rest on what nine justices decide two months from now.

Many observers seem to believe that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of redefining marriage. And while many on all sides of the debate, especially those who are undecided, believe this will bring cultural peace, evidence around the world points in the exact opposite direction.

Rather than settle animosity and ease cultural tensions, the advent of same-sex “marriage” will lead to the repression of religious freedom and determination to root out dissent to the gay rights doctrine. At LifeSiteNews, we have watched this play out for nearly two decades in 17 countries around the world – and America is next.

A prime example is Canada. Same-sex “marriage” passed in 2005. Similar to European countries which have done so, there has been a relentless pursuit of the minds of children against the wishes of their parents. Schools, both public and private, were first mandated by law to have gay-straight alliance clubs under the auspices of anti-bullying. Then, sex-education, teaching the normalcy of homosexual sex, was given to children without parents being permitted to opt their children out of the classes.

We have arrived at this state of affairs because of the silence of Christian pulpits on sexual matters, and the concomitant shouting from every secular pulpit, screen and book. Even the current discussion around same-sex “marriage” in the United States reveals a grave reluctance to speak about the heart of the issue – homosexual sex. Rather, arguments are made about the goodness of natural marriage, about its benefit to children, and its unchangeable character.

From reporting on the subject every day for so many years, we knew that the struggle for same-sex “marriage” has very little to do with marriage. In fact, until just recently, gay activists didn’t even want to be “married” to each other. Most had no interest in the constraints that such a formalized union would entail in terms of exclusive partnership.

However, the leaders among the activists convinced the movement that they must attain marriage as a societal stamp of approval to homosexual behavior. And, frankly, they have largely succeeded.

Today, in many of the nations where same-sex “marriage” is law, opposition to it is seen as akin to racism. It is seen falsely as an animosity against someone for who they are—an unwillingness to recognize the human dignity of a class of persons due to an immutable characteristic.

However, that false perception is due to a purposeful agenda to conflate animosity against homosexual sex acts with animosity against persons who experience same-sex attraction. The ancient Christian teaching to “love the sinner and hate the sin” is an impermissible distinction in the minds of some. It is, however, the key to understanding the majority of the opposition to same-sex “marriage.”

The plain truth of the matter is that opposition to same-sex “marriage” is rooted not in hatred and bigotry, but just the opposite – in love. Like parents who do not allow children to behave dangerously without lovingly correcting them, opponents of same-sex relationships are hoping to save people with same-sex attractions from severe physical, psychological, and spiritual harm.

Just as, out of love and concern for their children’s welfare, parents must correct and discipline, despite the protests they may get in return, any true believer in marriage, natural law and science must lovingly correct their fellow man.

In other nations, the perception that opposition to same-sex “marriage” is based upon bigotry has led to laws that violate religious liberty, parental rights and freedom of speech. This is why those who oppose same-sex “marriage” must present their reasoning as based on love and concern for the welfare of those in homosexual relationships, in addition to concerns for children and society itself. And there is ample evidence on which to base that concern in the numerous studies showing the grave harm of homosexual sex to both body and psyche.

When I’ve spoken of these findings at conferences around the world, some have questioned if the researchers who showed these harms weren’t themselves biased by anti-gay sentiment. And so I’ve taken to carrying with me on my phone the quotes of the late Canadian gay activist Gens Hellquist, whose testimony proves the harms of gay sex better than any study ever could.

Speaking a year after the passage of same-sex “marriage” into law, Hellquist was seeking more healthcare dollars for the LGBT community. "We have one of the poorest health statuses in this country,” he said. “Health issues affecting queer Canadians include lower life expectancy than the average Canadian, suicide, higher rates of substance abuse, depression, inadequate access to care and HIV/AIDS."

"There are all kinds of health issues that are endemic to our community,” he added. “We have higher rates of anal cancer in the gay male community, lesbians have higher rates of breast cancer.”

He concluded: “Now that we can get married everyone assumes that we don't have any issues any more. A lot of the deaths that occur in our community are hidden, we don't see them. Those of us who are working on the front lines see them and I'm tired of watching my community die."

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Pastors and preachers must take up this call to speak the truth in love, for without this approach, the public will be led to believe that those opposed to same-sex “marriage” are indeed haters needing to be stopped with the force of law. Love is the most powerful force in any argument, and gay “marriage” pushers have used it very effectively. As Hilary Clinton tweeted as she fought religious freedom laws in Indiana: “We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT”

The truth is that those who oppose same-sex “marriage” are showing a deeper love, as any parent does when instilling difficult discipline. We have enough love and concern for those with same-sex attraction to warn them not to engage in behaviors proven to be very harmful. We won’t encourage people to enter into such harmful behaviors by redefining marriage to encourage it, nor will we allow our children to be indoctrinated into regarding it as a healthy and safe alternative lifestyle.

We have failed so far to get this message of love out to the public. I will not be surprised if the Supreme Court approves of same-sex “marriage” – and I will be even less surprised to see a subsequent  crackdown on religious freedom, as already seen in states like California and Colorado.

Pope Benedict XVI predicted it a decade ago. Observing the international trends, the then-Cardinal said “very soon it will not be possible to state that homosexuality, as the Catholic Church teaches, is an objective disorder in the structuring of human existence.”

Reprinted with permission from CNS News

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