1. Pope demands access for food aid to famine-struck S. Sudan.

By Associated Press, February 22, 2017, 6:11 AM

Pope Francis is demanding concrete action to get food aid to famine victims in South Sudan, saying words aren’t enough to prevent millions from being condemned to death by hunger.

Francis’ appeal Wednesday came a day after South Sudan President Salva Kiir promised “unimpeded access” for all aid organizations to reach the hungry. South Sudan has repeatedly promised such access but with little effect.

Francis said: “At this time it’s more necessary than ever for everyone to not just stop with words, but to take concrete action so that food aid can reach suffering populations.”

The U.N. earlier this week declared a famine in parts of oil-rich Unity state, saying more than 100,000 people are affected and that 1 million more are on the brink of starvation.


2. Without doctrine, Catholic morality is untethered.

By Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2017

Too often, we Catholics are not taught the linkages between our doctrinal claims and our moral claims, be those moral claims about matters of social justice or sexual morality or personal conduct. Our dogma is siloed, as it were, from our morality, and the different parts of Christian morality are often as not siloed from one another. This facilitates the cafeteria Catholicism on both the left and the right, but it does something worse. Untethered from their roots in doctrinal beliefs, our religion is the more easily reduced to morals and, in a vibrant, commercial, alluring culture like our own, those morals are unlikely to withstand the whirlwind.


3. Battle Begins to Defund Planned Parenthood: Congress’ defunding of the abortion giant is enmeshed with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

By Peter Jesserer Smith, National Catholic Register, February 22, 2017

Congress has taken its first step toward disentangling federal funds from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortion, as well as contraceptive family-planning services.

But removing Planned Parenthood’s biggest source of funding — Medicaid reimbursement — is tied up with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans have yet to coalesce around a repeal-and-replace strategy.


4. Religious Freedom for Me but Not for Thee?

By Paul Crookston, National Review Online, February 21, 2017, 12:22 PM

A conflict is brewing at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over how the country’s largest protestant denomination will approach religious freedom. The SBC’s International Mission Board (IMB) and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) are both facing criticism for signing onto an amicus brief that supported the rights of a Muslim group in New Jersey to build a place of worship. But more lurks underneath the surface. 

[S]ome Southern Baptists question whether their efforts should support religious freedom as a universal, sacred right. Pastor Dean Haun resigned his position with the IMB over the amicus brief, and he told the Baptist and Reflector, “I want no part in supporting a false religion, even if it is in the name of religious freedom.”

This is a mistake. The IMB’s amicus brief was politically sound, and received support from a diverse group including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the National Association of Evangelicals. Moreover, the court ruled in the Muslim group’s favor, which is good news for liberty per se, and for those of other faiths. If “religious freedom for me but not for thee” becomes the SBC’s standard, then the ERLC would morph into the lowest kind of political operation: one that lobbies for special treatment.

America’s enshrinement of religious freedom is as exceptional as it is valuable. Unfortunately, many on the left snidely put “religious liberty” into scare quotes, arguing that it’s time to put florists out of business in order to assert the state’s absolute right to legislate progressive morality. These strident opponents of robust religious freedom would receive a political victory if Southern Baptists descended into infighting about whether the First Amendment applies to Muslims


5. Vatican, Al-Azhar team up to counter religious justification for violence.

By Elise Harris, Crux, February 21, 2017

On February 21 the Vatican announced that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will travel to Cairo to participate in a special seminar at the Al-Azhar University.

He will be joined by the council’s secretary, Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, and the head of their Office for Islam, Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, to discuss the theme “The role of al-Azhar al-Sharif and of the Vatican in countering the phenomena of fanaticism, extremism and violence in the name of religion.”

Currently Ahmed al Tayyeb, the Imam of al Azhar is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority of the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious al-Azhar University attached to it.

Al Tayyeb paid a visit to the Vatican May 23 for a meeting with Pope Francis, which marked a major step in thawing relations between the al-Azhar institution and the Holy See, which were strained in 2011 with claims that Pope Benedict XVI had “interfered” in Egypt’s internal affairs by condemning a bomb attack on a church in Alexandria during the time of Coptic Christmas.

In their February 21 communique, the Vatican also announced that from February 21-25 the annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel will take place in Dakar, Senegal.

The 5-day meeting will be attended by various representatives from the Holy See, including the new dicastery’s secretary, Monsignor Giampietro Dal Toso, who will participate as an observer, and the Vatican ambassador to Senegal, Archbishop Michael Wallace Banach.

According to the communique, discussion will focus largely on projects awaiting funding. In 2016 alone 43 projects in 6 countries were financed for a grand total of $550,000. Since the foundation’s beginning until 2015, they have financed roughly 3,200 projects in the Sahel region, for a total of more than $37,000,000.


6. Archbishop Chaput’s Hope-Filled Advice for Catholics in Secular America.

By Father C. John McCloskey, National Catholic Register, February 20, 2017

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput has written a new book intended to help Catholics navigate the journey to our heavenly home.

Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World is an insightful exploration of how the America of the early 21st century differs from the past, not just in degree, but in kind. Like the more fully neo-paganized nations of Europe that most of our ancestors hailed from, we live in a society in moral free fall, facing critical challenges to right living and the pursuit of justice in such areas as economics, education, the handing on of the faith, marriage, sexual behavior and “gender identity,” the decline of family and community, and, of course, glaring human life issues like abortion and euthanasia.

Americans traditionally have been a forward-looking, optimistic people, but Archbishop Chaput opens his book with an acute corrective: “Christians have many good reasons for hope. Optimism is another matter. Optimism assumes that, sooner or later, things will naturally turn out for the better. Hope has no such illusions.” As people of hope, Catholics are called to be leaven in the dough of a culture resistant to rising. In the Church’s long, 2,000-year history are many failures and missed opportunities to chasten us, but also many examples of nations pulled back from the brink of destruction and many improbable conversions.