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Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2015 / 04:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Supreme Court has continued its trend of decisions stopping enforcement of a federal contraception mandate against religious employers with moral objections.

On April 15, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an order barring the federal government from enforcing the mandate against Catholic Charities affiliates, Catholic schools and social service organizations in the dioceses of Erie and Pittsburgh.

“Every time a religious plaintiff has gone to the Supreme Court for protection from the government’s discriminatory mandate the Court has protected them,” Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said April 17.

“How many times must the government lose in court before it gets the message?” she added. “For years now the government has been claiming that places like Catholic Charities and the Little Sisters of the Poor are not ‘religious employers’ worthy of an exemption. That argument has always been absurd.”

The plaintiffs in the case have objected to a Department of Health and Human Services rule mandating insurance coverage of sterilization procedures and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortions.

The organizations said they cannot help employees acquire the objectionable drugs and procedures without violating their religious beliefs.

Alito’s court order requires the government to brief the court on why it should be able to fine the objecting organizations, according to the Becket Fund.

Windham noted that the court has sided with plaintiffs against the HHS mandate in four previous cases. Other plaintiffs which have prevailed against the mandate include institutions and businesses such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, Wheaton College, the University of Notre Dame and Hobby Lobby.

“The federal bureaucracy has lots of options for distributing contraceptives – they don’t need to coerce nuns and priests to do it for them,” said Windham, whose organization has represented the Little Sisters of the Poor and other challengers of the mandate.

On April 24, the Supreme Court is expected to consider a similar case involving the Nashville, Tenn.-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, and several Catholic charities in Tennessee and Michigan.


Erbil, Iraq, Apr 18, 2015 / 02:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A car bomb explosion in front of the American consulate in what is considered the safest city in Iraq has left many unnerved and anxious, praying that nothing else will penetrate the stronghold.

“Certainly, everyone will be very concerned about this situation. We hope nothing more comes. We hope this refuge remains solid and strong, safe. This is what we hope because we have nowhere else to go,” Fr. Behnam Benoka told CNA from Erbil April 17.

Fr. Benoka is a priest from Bartella, a small Christian city near Mosul. He is currently the vice rector of the Catholic seminary of Ankawa, and has founded several field hospitals that serve refugees in camps outside of Ankawa, Erbil.

Ankawa is a Christian city in the governorate of Kurdish capital Erbil, where more than 70,000 Christians fled after their villages came under attack by the Islamic State (ISIS) last June.

Until now Erbil has been considered the safest city in Iraq, and attacks there have been relatively rare.

However, after yesterday’s car bombing in front of the U.S. consulate and near the hub of the Erbil diocese killed 3 and left 14 wounded, many are growing increasingly concerned about their safety.

Reuters news agency reports that the blast, which the Islamic State claimed responsibility for, was followed by gunfire and a cloud of dark smoke. It is believed that that the consulate was the main target.

The last major attack in Erbil took place in November when a suicide care bomber detonated himself outside the governor's office, killing five. That attack was also claimed by the Islamic State.

“This attack in front of the American consulate and near the Catholic bishopric of Erbil may cause the people some serious unease as they think and rethink what to do, where to go, what will happen, if there's anything more to come,” Fr. Benoka said.

It’s not just the local people who are worried, but many who come from other cities to work in Erbil and help refugees are also concerned, including both governmental and non-governmental organizations, the priest explained.

“We hope the evil stops here. We hope there's nothing more,” he said.

After beginning their bloody campaign last summer, ISIS forces have since established a caliphate and have persecuted non-Sunnis in its territory, which extends across swaths of Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has forced more than 1.2 million Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims from their homes in Iraq, under threat of death or heavy fines if they do not convert.

Last August Fr. Benoka was the recipient of a phone call from Pope Francis, who called the priest after receiving his letter detailing the plight of the Christians persecuted by ISIS.

Fr. Benoka told CNA afterward that he was “shocked” to receive the call, which lasted 3 minutes, and thought it had been a joke. However, he soon realized it wasn’t a prank, because he recognized the Pope’s voice from being in an audience with him prior.

The Pope, the priest recalled, “said he was very sorry for everything that was happening to us and he said, 'Know that I am with you in prayer always. I never forget you.’”

He said that Francis told him, “I've personally sent Cardinal Filoni to check on the situation there for me. Tell everyone that Pope Francis called you. I never forget you and I’ll never leave you.”

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, visited Erbil as Pope Francis' personal envoy from Aug. 12-20, 2014. He returned during Holy Week this year as a sign of Francis’ love and solidarity.

When asked whether or not he planned to stay in Iraq after this latest attack, Fr. Benoka said, “I'll be here as long as the people are. I'll move with the people. As long as they're here, I'll be here.”


Blessed James Oldo
4/19/2015 12:00:00 AM
James Oldo experienced a radical conversion that led him to become a Franciscan tertiary, and later a priest. He was born in 1364 into a rich family in Lodi, Italy. He married at a young age, and he and his wife both led a very self-indulgent lifesyle. One day, a traveling reproduction of the Holy Sepulchre came to thier town. As a joke, James lay down on it to compare his height to Christ's. As soon as he laid down on it, he was instantly converted, and became a tertiary soon after. At first, his mother and wife were opposed to the change they saw in him, but soon they grew attracted to his new ways and became tertiaries as well. The family turned their mansion into a chapel and worked with the sick and with prisoners. When James’ wife died, he became a priest. His acts of penance were so severe that his bishop had to order him to eat at least three times a week. He was a celebrated preacher, who inspired many to enter the religious life. He also prophesied wars and his own death. He died at the age of 40 in 1404. When his body was moved seven years after his death, it was found incorrupt.

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