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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For Hillary Clinton, abortion access trumps religious liberty

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By Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- For Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, apparently abortion trumps religious liberty.

It may have gotten bipartisan support in the House of Representatives last night, but a spokesperson for the Democratic Party's leading presidential candidate says a resolution protecting religious liberty in the District of Columbia "overrule[s] the democratic process" and hurts women.

The vote, which saw three Democrats join the GOP majority and 13 Republicans stand with Democrats, was meant to protect pro-life and religious organizations in the District from the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA).

RHNDA was signed by the mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, in January, and makes it illegal for any employer, including religious and pro-life organizations, to use a person's belief or actions about abortion in employment considerations. It also requires employers to provide abortion coverage.

The resolution now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to fail due to the Senate being on recess. Under existing federal law, the measure has 30 legislative days to be disapproved by Congress and President Obama. If this does not happen, it becomes law.

The 30-day window ends on Saturday. President Obama promised a veto of the resolution on Thursday, even though RHNDA was opposed by former District mayor Vincent Gray. According to Gray, while he "applaud[s] the goals of this legislation," the former mayor believes RHNDA could violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment under the law.

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The statement by the Clinton campaign left no doubt that she stood with Obama and a majority of Democratic legislators. Spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri told CNN, "Hillary Clinton has fought for women and families and their right to access the full range of reproductive health care without interference from politicians or employers."

"Hillary will fight to make it easier, not more difficult, for women and families to get ahead and ensure that women are not discriminated against for personal medical decisions."

The remarks come a week after Clinton took criticism for saying that "religious beliefs" critical of "reproductive rights" must "be changed."

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” she told the Women in the World Summit on April 23.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper," said Clinton in her speech. "Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will."

“Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed,” said the candidate.

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Social conservatives may be funding the destruction of marriage: corporate watchdog

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By Dustin Siggins

May 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- With over $55 million in annual revenue, the Human Rights Campaign may be America's most powerful LGBT activist group. And according to a conservative corporate watchdog, that's in part because social conservatives are funding it.

"Conservatives would be surprised to know that many of the dollars they spend every day are helping fund an agenda that seeks to destroy traditional marriage and undermine religious freedoms," said 2nd Vote National Outreach Director Robert Kuykendall. "Even when they purchase a beverage from a company like Coca-cola or Starbucks, their dollar is going to support HRC's liberal agenda to redefine marriage."

Less than 18 months old, 2nd Vote has graded hundreds of corporations on six issues -- corporate welfare, the environment, education, support for the Second Amendment, abortion, and as of two weeks ago, same-sex "marriage." Using their "scoring" system, 2nd Vote ranks corporations on their direct or indirect involvement with these hot-button public policy and cultural issues.

And according to them, some of America's favorite corporations are making the radical HRC agenda possible.

"HRC is the largest LGBT lobbying organization in the United States with reported revenues of over $55 million," Kuykendall told LifeSiteNews. "The redefinition of marriage and the undermining of religious freedom are major components of HRC’s policy agenda. To fund their policy goals, HRC has enlisted the help of many major corporations that we do business with every day to help fund. Over a third of the contributions received by HRC are listed as 'Corporate/Foundation Grants.'" 

Why should conservatives care about corporate donors to HRC? Kuykendall says the organization is both politically influential and publicly deceptive. "Last election cycle, HRC spent around a million dollars on electioneering activities and in support of liberal candidates willing to push their legislative agenda. HRC is responsible for spreading much of the misinformation regarding [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] laws and has also mischaracterized the protections provided by these laws."

"HRC organized a massive grassroots campaign in support of the legal battle to overturn state laws protecting marriage and influence the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges," said Kuykendall.

Marriage isn't the only issue on which conservatives may be at odds with HRC's corporate backers. "2nd Vote’s research into other issues such as life, the environment, and the 2nd Amendment shows that many of the companies supporting HRC have taken liberal stands on other issues as well,” he said. “For example, Apple, Citigroup, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola are Platinum Partners, the highest level of HRC’s National Corporate Partners, that have also funded the liberal Center for American Progress [CAP]."

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"Bank of America, Google, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, PepsiCo, and Morgan Stanley are also HRC Corporate Partners that have funded CAP. Furthermore, all of these companies signed the amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn state marriage laws."

In Indiana, the state's religious liberty law was modified because of corporate pressure led by Tim Cook, Apple's gay CEO. Kuykendall says conservatives should not give up, though he acknowledges that "for too long, conservatives have let liberals and groups like HRC bully companies into not just going along with their agenda, but actively funding and promoting it."

"However, conservatives have also proven their ability to mobilize and use their dollars in support of traditional values as we’ve seen through the fundraising campaigns for the pizza parlor and wedding cake makers who have been attacked by liberals for their beliefs. Conservatives need to turn the tables on the left, and groups like HRC, and motivate companies to stop funding the liberal agenda through the power of their shopping habits."

Only nine companies have ranks of "five" or "four" on 2nd Vote's ranking system, indicating a pro-marriage perspective. They are outnumbered more than 10 to 1 by organizations that support redefining marriage.

Concerned citizens can download the app on 2nd Vote's website. The full list of corporation scores can be found here.

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Fr. Mark Hodges

First graders exposed to book about transgender boy—without parental notification

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By Fr. Mark Hodges

KITTERY POINT, ME, May 1, 2015, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Parents at one Maine school are upset that children as young as six were exposed to a book promoting transgender issues, in the name of "acceptance."

Parents were not only not consulted, they were never even notified of their children's exposure to transgenderism.

Horace Mitchell Primary School read the book I Am Jazz to first-grade students. The book is about a boy who identifies as a girl from the age of two, "with a boy's body and a girl's brain." He eventually finds a doctor who tells his parents, "Jazz is transgender."

Parents began to inquire about what was being taught at Horace Mitchell Primary after children came home with questions about their own sex and wondering if they, too, might be transgender.

One mother, upset that teachers would broach the subject of transgenderism with her little boy, said the primary school ignored her complaint. "I feel like my thoughts, feelings and beliefs were completely ignored...My right as a parent to allow or not allow this discussion with my child was taken from me," she told Hannity.com.

"When I spoke with the principal he was very cold about it," the mother continued. "It's amazing how thoughtless the school has been with this whole thing."

Only after Sean Hannity made national inquiries did Horace Mitchell Primary School suggest that teachers should have told parents ahead of time.

Allyn Hutton, the superintendent of the local district, said she supported reading the book but admitted that parents should have been given advance warning about the subject matter. "We have a practice of – if a topic is considered sensitive – parents should be informed. In this situation, that didn't happen," she said. "We understand that toleration is tolerating people of all opinions."

Horace Mitchell Primary School sent an e-mail, after the fact, to concerned parents, including a link to a blog post of the school's guidance counselor, explaining their motivation was "cultivating respect."

"Some may think primary school students are too young to worry about addressing issues surrounding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students. Not so, experts say,” the school's guidance counselor wrote. “It’s never too early to begin teaching children about respecting differences."

Homosexual activists say they support the teaching of transgenderism to first-graders, with or without parental notification. "The staff of Mitchell School is...shedding a light on [LGBTQ] issues,” said a column in Gay Star News.

The LGBT puublication goes even further, advocating homosexual propaganda be commonplace in elementary schools across the country. "LGBTQ issues should never be classified as a 'sensitive subject,' [because] there is nothing sensitive about the way we are born. Blonde hair, brown hair, gay, straight or somewhere in-between."

Brian Camenker of MassResistance commented on the infiltration of homosexual propaganda in children's schools. "We deal with parents and teachers a lot, and the idea that teachers would do this is unconscionable. It's like the people that promote this stuff are evil. It's demonic. You can't imagine adults that would do this to other people's children, and do it with such anger, and such vitrol.”

Camenker emphasized that this is “not an isolated incident with just one, rogue teacher. This happens because the whole administrative hierarchy buys into it.”

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“The new generation of educators is very, very frightening,” he said.

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