Shipping bill could cut aid to millions, Catholic leaders warn

Leaders of Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on the Senate to defeat a legislative provision that could reduce the number of U.S. food aid recipients by up to 2 million.

“According to the Administration this proposed change would increase the costs of shipping international food aid commodities by at least $75 million annually and result in at least two million people worldwide losing access to life sustaining U.S. food,” stated a May 28 letter to leading members of a Senate commerce committee.

The letter was signed by Catholic Relief Services president Dr. Carolyn Woo and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the U.S. bishops’ conference. It was addressed to Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the committee.

The letter discussed Section 318 of H.R. 4005, which mandates that the percentage of food aid to be delivered on U.S. flag-bearing ships must increase from 50 percent to 75 percent. Woo and Bishop Pates argued that the change would hike shipping costs and result in far fewer recipients of food aid.

“We know that using U.S. flagged vessels to transport international food aid is much more expensive than using vessels flagged by other nations,” they said.

Their letter cited Pope Francis’ December call to end the “scandal of hunger and the irresponsible use of the world's resources,” and stated that global “food aid programs are a key component to answering the pope’s call to help the hungry and we implore you to make the best use of these resources by not increasing cargo preference requirements on them.”

Legal challenge to abortion drug mandate draws allies

Foes of federal rules requiring free insurance coverage of abortion-causing drugs and devices have filed legal briefs in support of a lawsuit representing dozens of Southern Baptist and other Christian organizations.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and other Southern Baptist leaders said in an amicus brief that the HHS mandate “imposes a substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion.

It forces Southern Baptist individuals or ministries into “an impossible choice” requiring them “to either violate conscience or the law,” the brief states.

Their amicus brief explained that Southern Baptists and other Christians “cannot distribute abortion-inducing drugs and devices either directly or indirectly” without violating their faith.

The Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires most U.S. employers to provide insurance coverage for some abortion drugs, sterilization and contraception. Many Christian organizations do not qualify for the narrow exemption from the mandate, despite their religious and moral objections to providing the coverage.

Bishop: Broken laws — not immigrants — must change

The desperation of many immigrants who have no choice but to break existing U.S. laws shows the need for comprehensive immigration reform, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ migration efforts.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Migration, told CNA that while some migrants break U.S. immigration laws to enter and work in the country, their worth as “my brothers and sisters” is not diminished.

“There are many things that are lawful that are immoral,” he noted, adding that simply because an action “is unlawful doesn't mean it is immoral.”The bishop explained that a wide array of circumstances place people in a situation where they are forced to break the law in order to provide for their families, and that this situation calls for a change in the laws to reflect what is moral and just.

Bishop Elizondo spoke to CNA after a May 29 Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill. The Mass was held by a group of bishops from across the U.S. who had come to speak up about the importance of reforming current immigration policies.

Lawmakers and leaders of faith, business and labor groups were invited to the Mass, which was offered for immigrants and their families who have been separated from one another as a result of current U.S. immigration policy.

“When laws fail to advance the common good, they can and they should be changed,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who delivered the homily.

Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, he explained that laws “must take into account both human dignity and the national interest.” Current U.S. immigration laws are “ill adapted” to the challenges of today, the archbishop said.

Report calls for action amid Planned Parenthood ‘abuses, law-breaking’

Releasing a report detailing six years of undercover investigations at Planned Parenthood, a pro-life group has called for a formal investigation and an end to taxpayer funding of the organization.

“When I first began to go undercover in these facilities in 2007, I thought I would find illegal and harmful activity,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action. “But even I had no idea of the huge, company-wide commitment to abortion at any cost — the fraud, the lies, the cover-ups.”

Rose founded Live Action in an attempt to expose abuses within Planned Parenthood clinics. Over the past six years, the group has sent staff members or volunteers with hidden cameras to document illegal or corrupt activity within clinics.

Live Action’s new report provides a summary of the information gathered during these undercover investigations throughout the U.S. Among these findings, the report says, are false advertising and fraud, employee failure to report cases of sexual abuse or statutory rape, “noncommittal response” about supporting children who survive abortion attempts, agreement to perform sex-selective abortions and the acceptance of donations earmarked for the abortion of racial minorities.

“Planned Parenthood has proven itself a negligent and untrustworthy caretaker of the health of our nation’s women and children,” the report stated, adding that in its cooperation with sex-selective abortion, sex trafficking, and child sexual abuse, “this abortion corporation represents a clear and present danger to the American people.”

Proposed Nicea ecumenical meeting 'nice' idea, Vatican spokesman says

In response to media reports that Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I will meet for an ecumenical gathering in Nicea in 2025, the Vatican’s spokesman said that such a meeting would be a positive encounter.

Father Federico Lombardi told CNA that a meeting between the two leaders “is a nice proposal from Bartholomew, just as his proposal for an encounter on the 50th anniversary meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras I was.”

Fr. Lombardi said that there are no further details at this time, but if Bartholemew I says the two have spoken about it, then “it’s something they’ve just spoken about amongst themselves at this point.”

“I wish good things for ecumenism,” Fr. Lombardi added.

Such a meeting would mark the significance of the Council of Nicea of A.D. 325, where the first ecumenical council was held and the Nicene Creed was established.

Filipinos from Holy Land voice excitement for pope's visit

A small Filipino community in Israel has expressed their joy that Pope Francis will travel to their country next January, stating they hope his presence will bring peace and restore divisions.

“We are blessed that he will go to our place. We are so happy, absolutely blessed,” Mercy Agosta told CNA May 25, adding that “It’s also a blessing for us because for Filipinos it’s hard to go to Rome.”‚Ä®‚Ä®

Originally hailing from Isabela, Philippines, Agosta has been living in Tel Aviv, Israel for 11 years and was present in Bethlehem’s Manger Square along with the organization “Pilgrimage for a Cause” to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis during his three day trip to the Holy Land.‚Ä®‚Ä®

Leading their first trip in 1997, “Pilgrimage for a Cause” was established by Filipina domestic workers and organizes Christmas pilgrimages to Bethlehem each year through their parish, St. Anthony in Tel Aviv.