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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Christian clerk fights on as Sixth Circuit orders her to issue gay ‘marriage’ licenses

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By Dustin Siggins

ROWAN COUNTY, KY, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A federal appeals court has ordered Christian clerk Kim Davis to provide same-sex “marriage” licenses, but she’s refusing to give in.

Davis, a Democrat, says that her Christian beliefs will not allow her to issue licenses for same-sex “marriages.” Despite pressure from Democrat Gov. Steve Beshear, a lawsuit from the ACLU, and two federal court rulings, Davis has refused to issue any licenses while the matter is still working its way through the courts.

However, the Sixth District Court of Appeals said Davis must issue the licenses.

While critics say Davis must follow the law as a public employee, she says the First Amendment protects her decision even as a government worker. In addition to being sued by the ACLU, she has pro-actively taken her case to court.

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Beshear told all government employees that "you can continue to have your own personal beliefs, but, you’re also taking an oath to fulfill the duties prescribed by law, and if you are at that point to where your personal convictions tell you that you simply cannot fulfill your duties that you were elected to do, then obviously an honorable course to take is to resign and let someone else step in who feels that they can fulfill those duties.”

The initial court decision against Davis was stayed 10 days ago. Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, whose organization represents Davis, told CNN that they might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and are hoping the high court would issue a stay of the Sixth Circuit ruling in the interim.

A poll of Kentucky voters that was released last month found that 50 percent of the state backs natural marriage, while only 37 percent supported its redefinition. 

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Christians at Duke U refuse to read lesbian porn novel assignment

Steve Weatherbe
By Steve Weatherbe

DURHAM, NC, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Christian freshmen at Duke University are refusing to read an assigned graphic novel depicting masturbation and homosexual intercourse. The university says the assignment was optional and won’t discipline the holdouts.

Brian Grasso emerged as the spokesperson for the dissenters after he posted his decision on the Class of 2019’s closed Facebook page. Opponents have done their best to mock and deride the holdouts as ignoramuses who don’t belong at Duke, but Grasso has addressed all their jibes, first to Duke’s student paper and then in an op-ed in the Washington Post, intelligently and engagingly.

The book at issue is Fun Home, a fictional depiction by lesbian artist Alison Bechdel of growing up with a homosexual, suicidal dad and discovering sex with other girls. “After researching the book’s content and reading a portion of it, I chose to opt out of the assignment,” Grasso told Post readers, explaining he was not opposed to learning about homosexuality any more than he would be with the ideas of “Freud, Marx or Darwin,” though he might find them immoral too.

“But in the Bible,” he went on, “Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. ‘But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,’ he says in Matthew 5:28-29. ‘If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.’” He then cited St. Paul to support his argument.

Grasso knew Christians would be in the minority at Duke, he admitted, but what surprised him was that Duke would blithely assign something so obviously offensive to this minority. “Duke did not seem to have people like me in mind. It was like Duke didn’t know we existed, which surprises me.”

But Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization devoted to promoting American Catholic orthodoxy at Catholic universities, isn’t surprised. “American society has been moving away from Christian values or even neutrality, especially at secular institutions but even at Catholic and other Christian schools,” Reilly told LifeSiteNews. He urged Catholic and other Christian parents and high school students to choose their universities carefully.

Other freshmen have supported Grasso: Bianca d’Souza said the novel’s ideas were important but the salacious content unnecessary and offensive. Jeffrey Wubbenhorst wrote, “”The nature of ‘Fun Home’ means that the content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic content.”

But others from the class of 2019 responded, “Reading the book will allow you to open your mind to a new perspective and to examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar.”

In the same vein students wrote the Duke student newspaper Chronicle, mocking the dissenters with references to a Dr. Seuss children’s book. “Mermaid Warrior,” for example, wrote, “I’m sure there are people who think Cat in the Hat sends bad messages. That’s a big problem I have with complaints like these, ‘I shouldn’t be expected to read stuff I disagree with!’ It’s like, guess what, there’s no way to find something that everyone will agree with.”

But Grasso makes clear his issue isn’t with disagreeable ideas at all. “I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex. My beliefs extend to pop culture and even Renaissance art depicting sex.”

Inevitably, Duke itself weighed in. The book was selected for summer reading by the freshman class, explained Duke’s vice president or public affairs, Michael Schoenfeld, “because it is a unique and moving book that transcends genres and explores issues that students are likely to confront.”

After touting its artistic value and noting that a Broadway adaptation won the Best Musical award for 2015, he noted that the book was not a requirement and there would be no examination or grading. He expressed the hope that Duke’s 1,750 freshmen would arrive with open minds willing to “explore new ideas.”

But for all that, Schoenfeld did not explore the issues raised by Grasso: morality, pornography and the sexualization of relations.

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Aborted babies’ hands too disturbing? Solution: chop them off before shipping the bodies

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By John Jalsevac
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August 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - As if we needed more evidence that many of those in the abortion industry know perfectly well what they are doing, along comes the latest undercover video from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

The video includes disturbing undercover footage of a conversation with Cate Dyer, the CEO of StemExpress, a biomedical firm that acquires the bodies of aborted babies from Planned Parenthood clinics.

During that conversation Dyer infamously jokes with an undercover investigator about the need to warn lab techs ahead of time when a fully “intact” aborted baby's cadaver is being shipped to them.

But there it is: that hand, in all of its beauty, and its horror. Beautiful, as every hand is beautiful. Horrific, in that it is attached to a dismembered arm, yanked out of its socket, and swimming in a pool of the baby’s intestines and other body parts, to be bartered over and sold. 

“If you have intact cases, which we’ve done a lot, we sometimes ship those back to our lab in its entirety,” she says. "Tell the lab it's coming, so they don't open the box and" scream. "Their lab techs freak out and have meltdowns."

"Academic labs cannot fly like that, they are just not capable," Dyer adds condescendingly. "It's almost like they don't want to know where it comes from. I can see that."

But don’t worry, Dyer makes it clear she knows exactly where fetal tissue comes from, and isn't bothered in the least.  However, she agrees with a joke made by the undercover investigator, that if you’re going to be shipping the intact body of an aborted baby, it would be best to always make sure that the “eyes are closed.”

But surely the saddest part of the conversation comes when Dyer reveals how some of those squeamish lab techs manage to get around their natural repugnance at receiving little, perfectly-formed babies’ bodies in the mail, which they will then slice and dice – all in the name of “medical progress,” of course.

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She says that she often receives instructions from scientists who experiment on aborted babies that, "We need limbs, but no hands and feet need to be attached."

A curious request, no? But then again, there is something especially pesky about those tiny hands and feet, isn’t there?

Human hands are, after all, a true marvel of nature – so far surpassing in dexterity the appendages of any other mammal, the unparalleled tools that have enabled human beings to build empires, create art of breathtaking beauty, and to express themselves in myriad different ways. So marvelous, in fact, that Isaac Newton is reported to have said, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”

Not only are hands and feet useful, but they knit human beings together in intimacy: lovers will hold or squeeze their beloved's hands, and friends will soothe their friends in time of sorrow by taking their hands. And then there is the case of new parents, who will go into raptures over the hands and feet of their newborn babies, and speak, using the foolish language of love, of wanting to “eat” them. Mothers will shower their newborn babies’ feet with kisses, and tickle them, and will study and fall in love with every dimple, every crease.

Perhaps that is why so many people found the fifth (or was it the sixth? I’m losing track of the horrors) video so disturbing: that footage inside the lab, when the man behind the camera uses his tweezers to delicately lift up a dismembered arm, with the hand still attached.

That arm, it is true, would not have been half so disturbing, were it not for the hand. But there it is: that hand, in all of its beauty, and its horror. Beautiful, as every hand is beautiful. Horrific, in that it is attached to a dismembered arm, yanked out of its socket, and swimming in a pool of the baby’s intestines and other body parts, to be bartered over and sold. 

Before this, we have heard the lab techs on camera identifying the baby as a twin, at about 20-weeks gestation. In other words, a baby on the very verge of viability.

But no mother will gaze in raptures at those hands and those feet. Instead, Planned Parenthood will discuss how much they can “get” for each "specimen." And perhaps Cate Dyer will instruct her staff to cut off the hands or the feet before shipping the limbs to those too-tender-hearted lab techs who might “freak out” and “have a meltdown” at being forced to see too much of the truth.

But what does it say about us, and our politicians, that the videos with those pesky hands and feet are out there circulating, watched by millions, and yet we are not “freaking out” or having any meltdowns?

Instead, our politicians are dismissing the video as being "highly edited," as if David Daleiden of CMP is a CGI wizard who can conjure up dismembered limbs at will, and even though even Planned Parenthood has never denied the existence of those dismembered arms and legs, but has only implausibly denied that they are illegally "profiting" from the sale of the appendages - as if illegally profiting from the sale is somehow worse than the fact that they have dismembered the babies in the first place. 

If the dismembered hands and feet aren't enough to awaken our consciences, and to force our politicians to stop the massacre, what will be? I fear the answer to that question. 

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