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Bishop of Fort Worth asks for prayers for Synagogue hostage situation involving alleged Al Qaeda terrorist

Breaking News / CNA

Fort Worth, Texas, Jan 15, 2022 / 20:53 pm (CNA).

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, made an urgent request to Catholics to pray for those involved in a hostage situation that was developing at a synagogue in nearby Colleyville on Saturday.

"Please pray for the safety of the hostages, their families, this congregation, for the members of law enforcement, and for the peaceful surrender of the perpetrator(s) of this crime," said Bishop Olson in a brief message posted on his Twitter account while the hostage situation was still developing. 

A man took hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas during a service that was being live streamed on Facebook on Saturday, Jan. 15. The ranting man, claiming to be Aafia Siddiqui's brother, interrupted the ceremony and took four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, demanding either to release Siddiqui or allow him to talk to her. 

At 5:00 PM local time, the man released one hostage, and after more than eleven hours of tense negotiations, an FBI rescue team flown from Quantico freed the remaining hostages unharmed and killed the kidnaper.

At 9:30 PM local time, a loud bang followed by a short blast of rapid gunfire was heard. Three minutes later, Texas governor Greg Abbott tweeted: “Prayers answered.  All hostages are out alive and safe."    

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lived in the Boston area before returning to Pakistan, is a controversial figure. She is regarded by U.S. intelligence as a dangerous terrorist with deep Al Qaeda connections who plotted against U.S. military forces in Afghanistan; but she is seen as a national hero by Pakistan, who has repeatedly requested her release.

A mother of three and the only woman sentenced for terrorists actions in connection with 9/11, Siddiqui has been jailed at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison in Fort Worth since 2008 when she was convicted and sentenced on charges involving assault and firing of a weapon at U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. The Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who defends Siddiqui's innocence, announced in July 2021 that she had been attacked by another inmate and was in solitary confinement.

During the standoff, Saddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, had released a statement saying that "We want to verify that the perpetrator is NOT Dr. Aafia's brother who is a respected architect and member of the community. Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr. Aafia and her family," calling the suspect's actions "heinous and wrong."  

Aafia has one brother and one sister.

The press covering the live negotiations involving the FBI, local police, and a SWAT team were operating from Good Shepherd Catholic Church, which provided access to a warm area, restrooms, coffee and food.

In a follow-up tweet, Bishop Olson said “thanks be to God for their safety. Thank you to the parishioners of @goodshepherd_tx and their pastor Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, for their assistance and charitable support for first responders and families of hostages”.

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller also thanked the Catholic parish for its support during the crisis. "I am Christian, I am a believer and I immediately activated a prayer network," Miller told the press.

Cardinal Dolan laments attacks on houses of worship in Religious Freedom Day message

Remains of statues vandalized at Our Lady of Mercy parish in New York City, July17, 2021. Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 15, 2022 / 12:47 pm (CNA).

Attacking houses of worship and religious art is akin to attacking the community who prays there, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York ahead of Religious Freedom Day, observed Jan. 16. 

“For nearly two years, the U.S. bishops have noticed a disturbing trend of Catholic churches being vandalized and statues being smashed,” said Dolan in a statement released Jan. 14 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan is the chairman of the USCCB’s religious liberty committee. 

“We are not alone. Our friends from other faith groups experience these outbursts too, and for some communities, they occur far more frequently,” he said. 

“An attack on a house of worship is certainly an assault on the particular community that gathers there. It is also an attack on the founding principle of America as a place where all people can practice their faith freely,” said Dolan. “And it is an attack on the human spirit, which yearns to know the truth about God and how to act in light of the truth.”

Dolan praised the “great tradition of religious freedom” in the United States, which has “allowed beauty to flourish,” for the benefit of all.  

Religious Freedom Day commemorates the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, "to protect the right of individual conscience and religious exercise and to prohibit the compulsory support of any church."

Dolan said in his statement that “Diverse religious communities have built beautiful houses of worship, adorned with stained glass, statues, and symbols of faith, in earthly reflection of the glory and majesty of God.” 

“In the midst of a popular culture that too often caters to our basest appetites, sacred art and architecture calls all of us to think about ultimate things. All Americans benefit from these religious displays.” 

Religious art, said Dolan, “reminds us that we live most fully when we direct our lives toward our Creator and our neighbors.” The destruction of this art and other sacred things, he explained, “degrades our life together and harms the common good.”

Recently, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, was defaced by a vandal. In response to the vandalism, and in honor of National Religious Freedom Day, the shrine will be hosting a rosary on Jan. 16. In the statement, Dolan  encouraged all Catholics to join in and pray the rosary on Sunday, “as we pray that all religious communities would be free to worship without fear and to continue to bless this great country.” 

“On this National Religious Freedom Day, let us resolve to promote religious freedom for all people, and to honor the place of the sacred both in our lives and our landscapes,” he said.

Pope Francis: The Holy Spirit reforms the Church through the saints

Pope Francis at the general audience on April 25, 2018. / Shutterstock/CNA

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Saturday that it takes saints to reform the Church and for this each Catholic is called to a deeper “second conversion.”

“It is the Holy Spirit who forms and reforms the Church and does so through the Word of God and through the saints, who put the Word into practice in their lives,” Pope Francis said Jan. 15.

In an audience with the religious order founded by Saint Cajetan, the pope underlined that “reform must begin with oneself.”

A 16th century contemporary of Martin Luther, Cajetan sought to reform the Catholic Church, especially the clergy, but from within the Church itself.

Pope Francis said that when Saint Cajetan “came to Rome to work in the papal curia, he noticed the unfortunately widespread spiritual and moral degradation.”

“And while he carried out his office work, he frequented the oratory of Divine Love, cultivating prayer and spiritual formation; and then he went to a hospital to assist the sick. This is the way: to begin with oneself to live the Gospel more deeply and coherently,” the pope said.

“All the saints show us this way. They are the true reformers of the Church,” he said.

Pope Francis underlined that every saint is “a plan of the Father to reflect and incarnate, at a specific moment in history, an aspect of the Gospel.”

Cajetan and a small group of like-minded priests founded the Congregation of Clerics Regular, which became known as the Theatines, in 1524.

The community of priests sought to save souls primarily through living moral lives, through sacred studies, through preaching, and through tending to the sick and the poor.

Like many saints, Cajetan had a “vocation without a vocation,” or what could also be called “a second conversion,” the pope said.

“It is about the passage from an already good and esteemed life to a holy life, full of that ‘more’ that comes from the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

“This breakthrough is what makes not only the personal life of that man or woman grow, but also the life of the Church. This is what, in a certain sense, reforms it by purifying it and bringing out its evangelical beauty.”

The Theatine order became known as strong Catholic reformers even before the Protestant Reformation had fully taken hold.

“Saint Cajetan evangelized Rome, Venice, Naples, and he did so above all through the witness of life and the works of mercy, practicing the great ‘protocol’ that Jesus left us with the parable of the final judgment, Matthew 25,” Pope Francis said.

In 1527, the house of the Theatine order in Rome was sacked by troops of Emperor Charles V, and the members fled to Venice.

At the age of 42, Cajetan founded a hospital for "incurables" in Venice, and worked to comfort and heal the sick during times of plague.

In 1533, the pope sent Cajetan to Naples, where he founded another oratory. The corresponding church, San Paolo Maggiore, became an important hub of Catholic reformation.

While in Naples, Cajetan also founded a charitable nonprofit bank designed to protect the poor from usury - or lending money at exorbitant rates of interest. Eventually, the bank became the Bank of Naples.

Cajetan became dangerously sick and offered his sufferings for the conversion of the people of Naples. He died on August 6th 1547, the feast of the Transfiguration, and is buried in the San Paolo Maggiore Basilica in Naples.

Today the Theatines are present in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Italy. The order met with the pope at the Apostolic Palace as it conducts its 164th General Chapter.

“I encourage you to move forward ... with docility to the Holy Spirit, without rigid schemes … but firmly established in the essential things: prayer, adoration, common life, fraternal charity, poverty and service to the poor,” Pope Francis said.

“All this with an apostolic heart, with the good evangelical eagerness to seek first of all the Kingdom of God.”

Pro-life congressional leaders praise pledge to oppose federal abortion funding

The US Capitol / Nicholas Haro/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

One hundred and eighty one members of the House of Representatives signed a letter praising the pro-life leadership of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as promising to vote against any appropriations bill that does not include a prohibition of the use of federal funds for abortion. 

“Thank you for the consistent pro-life leadership you have shown even as House and Senate Democrats have demonstrated their plan to use Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Appropriations legislation to strip out longstanding pro-life protections that have been in place for decades,” the House members wrote in a letter. The letter was led by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, and Jim Banks (R-IN), who leads the Republican Study Committee.  

“For decades, federal appropriations legislation has included language to protect taxpayer money from funding and facilitating the killing of children alive but not yet born,” they said. “The most famous of these protections, the Hyde Amendment, prevents direct taxpayer funding of abortion through programs like Medicaid.” 

The Hyde Amendment is a rider to appropriations bills. It has received consistent bipartisan support since it was first written in 1976. 


“Abortion is not health care unless one construes the precious life of an unborn child to be analogous to a tumor to be excised or a disease to be vanquished—pregnancy is not a disease,” said Smith. “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize abortion nor should anyone or any entity be coerced against their conscience to perform or facilitate the killing of an unborn child.”

Banks concurred, saying that removing the Hyde Amendment would be both “wrong and unpopular.”

“But today’s Democrat party only caters to their far-left base who demand the government provide taxpayer-funded abortions up until the point of birth,” he said. “Pro-life conservatives stand united against their radical agenda.”

In 2016, the Democratic National Committee’s official party platform called, for the first time, for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment. 

“Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for abortion domestically or internationally,” said the letter. 

“The consciences of health care providers who do not want to participate in abortion should be respected. Funding should not go to international organizations that are complicit in forced abortion and involuntary sterilization,” referring to what is commonly known as the “Mexico City Policy.”

As president, Donald Trump (R) expanded the Mexico City Policy. When President Joe Biden (D) was inaugurated, he repealed the policy in the first days of his presidency, similar to what his Democratic predecessors Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did during their presidencies. 

The letter called for “all longstanding pro-life provisions to be retained” in the appropriation bills, noting that the majority of Americans are opposed to the use of taxpayer funding to pay for abortions. 

The lawmakers quoted then-Senator Biden, who, in a 1994 letter to one of his constituents, wrote “those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them.” 

Biden repeatedly voted for and voiced public support for the Hyde Amendment throughout his time serving as a member of the Senate. In 2019, over a 24-hour period, Biden announced that he no longer supported the Hyde Amendment.

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