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Christmas cash for the homeless: The legacy of one Denver priest continues

Denver, Colo., Dec 14, 2017 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It was a chilly Thursday in December, with a dusting of snow on the ground. But that didn’t stop hundreds of poor and homeless people from packing the Denver Cathedral for what the pastor calls “the greatest day of the year” for the parish.

It was the Father Woody Christmas cash giveaway, the annual event when the cathedral hosts a prayer service and gives $20 - in the form of two $10 bills - to all of the poor and the homeless who attend.

The idea behind the two bills? It gives the recipients the option of giving one of the bills away.

“I got kind of a crabby e-mail about this event, saying ‘Why are you giving the homeless money, they’re just going to spend it on alcohol or drugs,’” Fr. Ron Cattany, pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of Immaculate Conception in Denver, told CNA.

“And I responded back with a line from Father Woody: ‘Everybody needs a little cash in their pocket at Christmas,’” he said.

It gives them a sense of dignity, and a sense of generosity, he added.

“What’s beautiful is that sometimes what you’ll see here...is one of the guys will come up and say, ‘Today’s my birthday, will you give me a bunch of (McDonald’s) cards so I can take my buddies out to lunch on my birthday?’ And of course you do that because even from where they are, they’re giving and sharing with other people,” Cattany said.

The event all started 28 years ago, when an endowment fund was set up in honor and in the spirit of Monsignor Charles B. Woodrich - better known as Fr. Woody - a Denver priest renowned for his generous spirit and can-do attitude.

During his time as a priest, he established school lunch programs for poor children, opened up the doors of his parish to the homeless during cold winter nights (most famously during the blizzard of ‘82), and would routinely give his friends on the street the coats off his back and the cash in his pockets. Today, the name Father Woody is synonymous with charity in the Denver community.

The attendees of the Father Woody giveaway often line up outside the cathedral for hours before the event begins.

On Thursday, they filled the pews to standing room only, and attended a prayer service before receiving their cash, along with hugs and greetings of ‘Merry Christmas’ from numerous volunteers from the Christ in the City program, Regis University’s Father Woody program, and several other groups and private volunteers.

“It’s so cool to be here with so many people who experience homelessness, and so many of them we can call our friends, and to know that God loves them the same and that they are so welcome here,” Emma Rashilla, a missionary with Christ in the City, told CNA.

“These are the people who are usually on the outside looking in, and now they’re on the inside, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Catholic or Christian,” or have no faith, all are welcome, Fr. Cattany added.

After they receive their money and McDonald’s gift cards, hot chocolate, new socks and homemade hats are waiting for them outside.

“It shows the real meaning of giving, of sharing gifts and showing your emotional and spiritual awareness of the real reason for Christmas which is that Christ is born that day,” Kevin, one of the attendees, told CNA.

“When you don’t have much to give, you don’t feel so jolly, but when someone gives you something, it makes you feel more generous,” he added.

“It’s people getting together and seeing old friends, (I feel) highly favored and blessed,” said Wilma, another attendee.  

Odalis Hernandez, a senior at Regis University who was helping hand out colorful, homemade knit hats from the students in the university’s Father Woody program, said she was inspired to start helping people after seeing a movie about Fr. Woody.

“It’s something that I wouldn’t have done without the inspiration of someone like that,” she said.  

Lovey Shipp, a spunky nonagenarian who worked as Father Woody’s secretary for several years before he passed away in 1991, still cherishes the many “Father Woody-isms” that she remembers. She has participated in every cash giveaway since its official beginning 28 years ago.

“Father Woody used to say, ‘service is the rent you pay for the space you take up,’” she told CNA.

“He taught people with money how to give. It’s not yours, it’s by God’s grace that you have it, you could be one of the homeless if he saw fit to do so,” she said.

She encouraged anyone who desires to help the homeless this season to “keep an open mind and have your heart match. That’s what Father Woody did.”

“Just give,” she added. “Give from the heart. And smile!”

 

 

Israeli extremist sentenced for arson attack on Holy Land church

Jerusalem, Dec 14, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An arson attack on the church complex at the site of Christ’s multiplication of loaves and fish on the Sea of Galilee has resulted in prison time for the perpetrator.

Yinon Reuveni, 23, was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 50,000 shekels ($14,200) Dec. 12, Agence France Presse reports. He had been convicted in July of aggravated arson and two counts of criminal conspiracy.

He is from Baladim, an illegal Israeli outpost in the West Bank near Kokhav HaShahar. He is reported to be a Jewish extremist. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that when he was indicted for the attack, his charge sheet stated that “Reuveni has extremist views. He sees Christians as idol worshippers and their destruction as a mitzvah.”

Reuveni’s lawyer contended that the sentence was too harsh and he planned to appeal.

The arsonist started a fire at the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, located 120 miles north of Jerusalem, on June 18, 2015. The church is built on the site where Christ fed the 5,000 through the multiplication of loaves and fishes. It is joined to a Benedictine monastery. As a result of the arson, a monk and a staff member were hospitalized and treated for smoke inhalation.

Two rooms were badly damaged. The fire did extensive damage to the monastery, the church entrance, an office for pilgrims, and a book storage room. The church was closed until February; with fire damage was estimated at $1 million. The Israeli government contributed almost $400,000 for repairs.

Hebrew-language graffiti at the site read “all idols will be smashed”. According to The Times of Israel, the graffiti is a quote from the “Aleinu” prayer, which is prayed three times each day in Jewish services.

At the time of the attack, Catholic leaders and the Israeli president and prime minister condemned the incident.

Fr. Peter Vasko, OFM, president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, said: “Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have visited here, have prayed here, have had Mass at this Holy Site. In many ways it was a haven of peace and tranquility which has now been disfigured by misguided zealots who have no respect for the religious beliefs of others.”

Various Jewish extremists have engaged in vandalism and assaults against Palestinian and Arab Israelis and Christian and Muslim sites.

The Church of the Multiplication had been vandalized in April the same year, when Jewish extremists destroyed crosses in the monastery’s outdoor prayer area, and threw stones at worshippers.

The present Church of the Multiplication was built in the 20th century, though a church was built on the site by at least the mid-fourth century. The present church includes mosaic floors from the fifth century, which were not destroyed in the arson.

The Benedictine monastery attached to the church was founded in the 20th century. The current building was opened in 2012, including a private oratory for the monks which was financed with support from the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Keep internet neutral, U.S. bishops say

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, the Federal Communication Commission voted to repeal net neutrality regulations, which the U.S. bishops have called essential to fair use of the internet by for nonprofits and individuals.

“Without open internet principles which prohibit paid prioritization, we might be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the internet,” said Bishop Christopher Coyne, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Communications.

“Non-profit communities, both religious and secular, cannot afford to pay to compete with profitable commercialized content.”

The bishop’s statement was released on Nov. 28, after the FCC announced a proposal to repeal the protections, which were created in 2015. The rule was officially repealed on Dec. 14.

Net neutrality rules require internet service providers, like Comcast or AT&T, to provide equal access to the internet. This means internet providers cannot block, slow down, or charge for content from particular websites or web-based services.

For example, in 2007 Comcast was accused of providing slower internet service to subscribers who were using peer-to-peer file-sharing services. People using BitTorrent, which is a file-sharing network, claimed they had slower or blocked access when uploading files.

Net neutrality advocates have expressed concern that content providers who pay more money will be given better access to internet users, placing smaller companies and nonprofits at a disadvantage.

Bishop Coyne argued that fair access to the internet is critical for the Church to fulfill its mission in the modern world.

“Strong net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function and connect with our members, essential to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology, and necessary for any organization that seeks to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded and over-commercialized media environment,” he wrote

Dioceses, schools, parishes, and other religious institutions, must have access to high speed internet to not only to communicate internally, but also to spread the Gospel through media, he said.  

Strong internet protections help the Church “to share religious and spiritual teachings, to promote activities online, and to engage people – particularly younger persons – in our ministries,” he said.  
According to NPR, the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, said the regulations prevented companies from improving the internet by stifling investments, but net-neutrality advocates have said that ending the regulations will give too much power to internet providers.

“I have heard from innovators, worried that we are standing up a 'mother-may-I' regime, where the broadband provider becomes arbiter of acceptable online business models,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, according to NPR.

 

Ohio bill one step closer to prohibiting Down syndrome abortions

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 14, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, the Ohio State Senate passed a bill that would penalize doctors who perform abortions, if the abortion is chosen “in whole or in part,” because the unborn child has received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The bill, which passed the Senate 20-12, will now be sent to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has 10 days to sign the bill into law. The governor’s office noted that Kasich has called the measure “appropriate,” but has not yet confirmed that the governor will sign the bill.

Proponents of the law are optimistic that Kasich will approve the measure, given that the Republican governor has passed over a dozen laws which have limited abortion protections or funding in the past six years.

The law would charge physicians with a fourth-degree felony, and the potential of a revoked medical license, if they perform an abortion wholly or partially motivated by Down syndrome. Mothers would not face charges.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused when an individual’s DNA contains an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. Also known as trisomy-21, Down syndrome is a relatively common genetic disorder, affecting around one in 700 babies born in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has risen dramatically in recent decades, thanks to modern resources and healthcare. A 2011 study found that people with Down syndrome report high levels of happiness and personal satisfaction, as do their siblings and other family members.  

However, data from a 2012 study have shown that 75 percent of women who are pregnant with a child who has received a Down syndrome diagnosis will terminate the pregnancy.

While the measure has caused some backlash from advocates for abortion, who wore shirts with the message “Stop the Bans” during the vote on Wednesday, pro-life groups in the state have applauded the bill as a victory.

“Every Ohioan deserves the right to life, no matter how many chromosomes they have,” said Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, according to Reuters.

Because it is unclear how the motivating factors for abortion can be proven, there will likely be some legal challenges to the bill if it Governor Kasich approves it. The ACLU has opposed the bill, calling it unconstitutional.

Similar measures were passed in Indiana and North Dakota, but the Indiana law was revoked by a U.S. District Judge in September after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU. The North Dakota law has not faced legal challenges.

MLK's niece: Pro-life work continues my uncle's legacy

Rome, Italy, Dec 14, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and longtime pro-life advocate, has it in her blood to fight for the causes she believes in, one of which is to promote “civil rights” for the unborn.

King, 66, grew up in the heat of the civil rights battle led by her uncle, and surrounded by the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Eager to stand for a cause she believed would liberate women, she joined the budding “pro-choice” movement at a young age.

But after experiencing the crushing physical and emotional effects of two abortions, and receiving what she believes was a prophetic intervention from her grandfather, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., she had a change of heart. She became pro-life and committed herself to carrying forward what she feels is a mission to defend the rights of the unborn.

King spoke to a small group of journalists, including CNA, after arriving in Rome for a Dec. 11-13 conference organized by the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs, titled “Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World.”

The event drew a swath of representatives from various NGOs around the world, including non-Catholics, to discuss how Catholic-inspired organizations can help safeguard core Christian values and ensure that a proper integral human development is achieved in the context of a rapidly changing global society.

King was present on behalf of her project “Civil Rights for the Unborn,” which she directs in partnership with Priests for Life. She is also in charge of Priests for Life’s African-American outreach branch, and is involved with various other pro-life entities, including Rachel's Vineyard.

On the last day of the gathering, King had the chance to meet Pope Francis, who often cites her uncle in his speeches.

She told CNA that she was honored to meet the Pope, and when she told him that she was related to Martin Luther King Jr., his face lit up and “he seemed very happy.”

She was also moved by the fact that Pope Francis asked her to pray for him, saying it was “a delightful moment,” and that she was “very blessed to of course do that. I do pray for him and for all who are in authority, that we can live a peaceful life.”

Although King is Protestant, she is a firm believer in working with the Catholic Church, which she sees as a “natural ally.” She said that she is inspired by the Pope’s spontaneous spirit, engagement with everyone he meets, and defense of life at all stages.

Francis, she said, “doesn't take one issue and make that his issue, he seems to be able to connect it and see that it all belongs together...I appreciate his work.”

“The Catholics were very supportive of the civil rights movement (of the) 20th century,” she said, adding that her uncle and father both “worked very closely with the Catholic community.”

When it comes to her own advocacy, life issues have always hit home for King, whose parents in 1950 became pregnant with her before they were married.

At the time, The Negro Project launched by Margaret Sanger in 1939 was continuing to gain steam. Among other things, the project worked to promote contraception and abortion in the black community.

King said her parents had considered getting an abortion until her grandfather, Martin Luther King Sr., “prophetically” intervened. Though they didn't have ultrasound machines at the time, King said her grandfather had strongly rejected the claim that the fetus was “just a lump of flesh.” He said that the baby was a granddaughter whom he had seen in a dream three years prior.

After hearing Martin Luther King Sr. describe how his granddaughter would look, Alveda King’s parents decided against the abortion and she was born in 1951.

Despite hearing this story many times in her youth, King took a different path after her father and uncle died. She had been married, divorced, and no longer had the support system she once did, so when the pro-choice women’s movement began to grow, “I joined it because I'm a freedom fighter.”

However, she said, following the birth of her first child, she was coerced into having two abortions. When she became pregnant again, and was planning to have another abortion, her grandfather gave her the same message he had given her mother: “That's not a lump of flesh, that's my great-grandchild.”

She decided to keep the baby. Seeing her baby's heartbeat on the sonogram confirmed that decision.

“I heard with new ears,” she said, explaining that her uncle's words, “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,” began to take on a new meaning in her mind.

“He also said the Negro cannot win if he's willing to sacrifice the future of his children for immediate comfort and safety,” she said, and recounted how, after being “born again” in 1983, she immediately began advocating for life.

In addition to her famous family ties, King had a career in law, was a college professor and served in the Georgia State House of Representatives. In law classes she taught, King said she would bring up the abortion issue and make the argument that “a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body, but the baby's not her body. Where's the lawyer for the baby?”

“It began to rock everything,” she said, explaining that she began to face resistance from Sanger's Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, which had been re-named as “Planned Parenthood.” The organization objected to her pro-life views, arguing that her uncle had received the group’s “Maggie Award” in 1966.

However, King said that Martin Luther King Jr. had never supported the organization's agenda. He declined to attend the award ceremony, she noted. It was his wife and secretary – both of whom were more sympathetic to the cause at the time – who attended and wrote a thank you note to the group instead.

“Martin Luther King Jr. never accepted the agenda of Planned Parenthood,” Alveda King said. “They lie. They lie today. They put their abortion mills on or near streets that are named after Martin Luther King, and they want to attach that to the civil rights movement of the 20th century, (but) it doesn't belong.”

Part of why the Negro Project grew as fast as it did, she said, is that it funded scholarships and grants for the black community that were tied to support for the abortion movement.

Additionally, the organization promoted abstinence, while also handing out condoms and advertising abortions, she said.

“If you tell a kid…yeah, be abstinent, but let's give you Cosmo magazine with teens having sex and let's give you free condoms, then they knew they were going to get all those abortions,” she said.

“So that's how you ended up with a whole culture of abortion-minded people. It was slick, very slick. Evil.”

She added that the target group was initially the black community, “then it became the Latinos and then...the Caucasians with the money became a big target because they could pay.”

King said that if her uncle were alive today, she has no doubt that he would be adamantly pro-life. And while she works most directly with the African-American community in the United States, “its not just a black and white issue, its a human issue.”

“With one blood God made all people. Regardless of our color...we all bleed red,” she said. “So where's the lawyer for the little ones, where's the lawyer for the sick or the elderly?”

Looking ahead, King is encouraged by the millennial generation, whom she sees as being able to speak to modern society in a direct, passionate, and fresh way.

“The millennials get it,” she said, adding that “the (pro-life) fight has had a shot in the arm (from) millennials.”

She also noted the importance of fertility awareness and care for post-abortive women, two issues that she would like to see receiving more attention.

Several movie stars from her youth “went to their death” with the regret of abortion, she said, giving the example of singer Kenny Rogers, whose music voices regret over an abortion he and a former girlfriend decided to have.

Despite obstacles, King is hopeful that the level of awareness and resistance in the United States could indicate a turning point on the issue of abortion.

“Do I believe there's going to be an end to the barbaric practices of killing our weakest, which are the babies and the sick, elderly and poor? I do,” she said, pointing to the March for Life events held across the globe, often filled with young people.

These events show the strength of the pro-life community, she said. “The world is taking note.”