1. State Department names 10 countries as worst religious freedom offenders.

By Christine Rousselle, Catholic News Agency, January 4, 2018, 4:02 PM

The State Department on Thursday unveiled its list of countries designated as the worst offenders against religious liberty. Advocates of religious freedom applauded the list, but said that several additional countries should have been added.

The countries of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were labeled as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) in the State Department’s report. The 10 countries on the CPC list are unchanged from last year.

In addition, Pakistan was placed on a “Special Watch List,” which is a new category below that of Countries of Particular Concern.

A country is labeled as a CPC after it engages in “systemic, ongoing, [and] egregious” violations of religious liberty. The “Special Watch List” is for countries that “engage in or tolerate severe violations” of religious liberty, but not to the extent of a CPC.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government commission created in 1998 to study religious liberty around the world, praised the inclusion of the 10 CPC counties, but said that several others should have been added.

The commission had recommended that Russia, Vietnam, Syria, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic be added, and that Pakistan should have been included on the list of CPCs, rather than the lower designation of “Special Watch List.”


2. Commentary: A Catholic moment in US politics?

By Michelle La Rosa, Catholic News Agency, January 5, 2018, 2:51 AM

This election season comes at a time of broad dissatisfaction with America’s major political parties. Harvard’s Institute of Politics recently found that only 29% of young Americans age 18-29 had a strong party affiliation.

It’s always tough to predict what will happen in politics. But since Catholics make up roughly 1 in 4 U.S. voters, they have a chance to shape the trajectory of existing and new political parties over the next few years.

And in fact, Catholics have a duty to shape the political landscape. The US bishops have repeatedly taught that Catholics should take an active role in the political process; discouraging blind partisanship, and encouraging that, “our participation should help transform the party to which we belong.”

In order to do this, we first have to understand what the Church teaches about politics. What exactly is the nature and purpose of the state? Catholics on both sides of the aisle often claim that their party’s view of government embodies the vision of Christ. But is that true?

The bishops have clarified that it is not the Church’s role to tell people whom to vote for at the ballot box. Rather, the Church talks about issues and principles. To understand what the Church teaches about the issues – from abortion to migration – and to exercise the prudential judgment necessary to turn those ideas into policies, we must first understand the foundational principles. John Paul II describes the Church’s social teaching as “an indispensable and ideal orientation,” a viewpoint, and a framework on which to build.

As we enter into what is certain to be a heated election year, why not make it a (belated) New Years Resolution to learn more about Catholic social teaching? Centesimus Annus is a great place to start. So is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. To catechists, teachers, and members of the clergy: Why not resolve to teach the Church’s social doctrines more frequently, to help equip Catholics as they prepare to vote?

Educating ourselves on these issues can help us be better citizens, and better Catholics. In the words of Pope Francis: “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”


3. Bishop Barron: Don’t water down Christianity.

By Joe Slama, Catholic News Agency, January 4, 2018

Speaking to some 8,000 people at a Catholic leadership conference, Bishop Robert Barron said on Tuesday that trust in the risen Christ should give us the courage to preach the truth boldly.

“Through the Holy Spirit, the ascended, risen Christ commands his mystical Body the Church to do what he did, and to say what he said. That’s it…that’s the task of the Church to the present day.”

Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, is also the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and host of the award-winning “Catholicism” documentary.

In bringing the message of heaven to earth, Catholics should be careful not to water down the Gospel or fall for bland and uninspiring half-truths, he said.

He recalled an encounter that he had with Biblical scholar Scott Hahn, who remarked that “there is no historical basis for the claim that St. Francis said, ‘Preach always, and when necessary, use words.’”

While indeed “our whole life should be a kind of preaching,” Barron said, the statement attributed to St. Francis can become a problem when it is “used as a justification for a kind of pastoral reductionism,” for example, the idea that “what it all really comes down to is taking care of the poor.”

While caring for the poor is important, Barron said, this work “in and of itself can never be evangelically sufficient.”

“This is not the time for anti-intellectualism in our Church! We have lots of young people, you know them, they’re your friends and colleagues, who are leaving the Church for intellectual reasons,” Barron said.