Pennsylvania Democrat Commissioner Arrested For Raping 15-Year-Old Boy – Then Released on Bail

A Pennsylvania Democrat Commissioner was arrested and charged last week for raping a 15-year-old boy back in 2017. 50-year-old Marvin Smith reportedly lured the teen into his car in Philadelphia in August 2017. According to reports, Smith told the juvenile he would give him a ride home, however, he drove the boy to a remote…

Source: Pennsylvania Democrat Commissioner Arrested For Raping 15-Year-Old Boy – Then Released on Bail

For those who suffer religious persecution

Pope’s January prayer intention
Pope Francis dedicates his first prayer message of 2022 to combating religious discrimination and persecution, reminding us that religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship, but is tied to fraternity.

By Vatican News staff reporter

“How can we allow that in this society, which is so civilized, there are people who are persecuted simply because they publicly profess their faith?” asks Pope Francis in the video for his monthly prayer intention for January 2022.

“How is it possible that many religious minorities currently suffer discrimination or persecution?”

The January prayer intention marks the beginning of the seventh year of the Pope Video, a ministry of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

In his message released on Tuesday, the Holy Father says that persecuting people simply because they publicly profess their faith is “inhuman” and “insane.”

A worldwide phenomenon

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, which is supporting this month’s message, notes in its annual “Religious Freedom in the World” report that worldwide, religious freedom is violated in one out of every three countries, comprising around two-thirds of the total world population.

More than 646 million Christians, ACN reports, live in countries that do not respect religious freedom.

Recognizing others as brothers and sisters

Pope Francis emphasizes that “religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship,” but “makes us appreciate others in their differences and recognize them as true brothers and sisters.”

Even substantial differences, such as religious differences, should “not obscure the great unity of being brothers and sisters.”

“Let us choose the path of fraternity. Because either we are brothers and sisters, or we all lose.”

During this first month of 2022, Pope Francis invites us to pray “that those who suffer discrimination and suffer religious persecution, may find in the societies in which they live the rights and dignity that comes from being brothers and sisters.”

Why was Jesus late? (Lazarus)

Jesus waited for two additional days, timing His arrival to resurrect Lazarus to take place exactly on the fourth day after Lazarus’ death (11:17). But why?

The answer may lie in a Jewish tradition that can be traced back to the time of Jesus. The soul of a deceased person was believed to linger behind, hovering over the dead body for three days, desperately trying to get back inside the body.

“Berei and R. Pappi, R. Joshua of Sikhnin in the name of R. Levi: ‘For the first three days after death the soul floats above the body, thinking that it will return to the body. When the soul sees the body, that the appearance of the face has changed, it leaves the body and goes its way.’” (Jerusalem Talmud, Yebamot 16:3)

In a fairly recent discovery of an ancient stone, found in the same geographic location where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were also found, there is an intriguing phrase that can be translated as: “In three days, live, I, Gabriel, command you” (Gabriel’s Revelation Stone, Israel Museum). While the resurrection of Lazarus is surely not the event described here, the discovery shows that the idea of resurrection within three days was not a foreign concept to the ancient Jews.

Jesus waited for two more days, timing his arrival in such a way that he got to Bethany on the fourth day – when resurrection was no longer possible! When Lazarus was finally resurrected a very important point emerged

Teenage Adaeze’s in hurting forced same-sex marriage struggles for freedom

By Alfred AJAYI

AT 16, she had an unintended pregnancy for a man, who fled. She was then left with bearing a child out of wedlock and with no man to take responsibility, a condition that is culturally prohibited among many Igbo families in Nigeria’s Southeast.

For her family, that was a “shame” and to untangle themselves from what they considered a social stigma, she had to be forcibly married off, brushing aside her rights. A desperate search for a suitor ensued and it was a woman that appeared to marry her.

The Woman-Husband culture

Adaeze Ifeanyi (not her real name), who hails from Osile village in Enugwu-Ukwu, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, shed tears as she recounted how her ‘marriage’ to a 60-year-old woman, Ngozi Okonkwo, was sealed.

“The man who made me pregnant did not come. So, my people arranged for an alternative just to ensure that the baby in the womb has a father,” she said, sobbing.

Since Igbo culture forbids girls from giving birth in their fathers’ houses, Adaeze was ‘married’ to Ms. Okonkwo, who was desperately in need of a baby boy to perpetuate her father’s name and linage. Her anticipation was that the pregnant teenager would give birth to a baby boy, but the hope failed.

“I gave birth to a baby girl and she was very angry with me,” Adaeze said.

However, the woman-husband gave her a second chance. Adaeze won the struggle to find a man of her choice to impregnate her after her woman-husband had arranged an 80-year-old man.

Again, a girl and they were kicked out

“I gave birth again and it was a baby girl,” Adaeze said.

This woman got mad and asked me to leave her house. She no longer caters to me and the two girls. I now make peanuts to make ends meet.”

Adaeze said her situation had affected her sense of her self-worth and pride.

She regularly fights social stigma, especially from her peers, and is now considering leaving the community, she said.

“I am always an object of scorn among my friends. They said I am a small girl who is marrying an old woman. I feel ashamed in their midst. I must leave that place before Christmas.”

She is now 19 and desperate to put the marriage behind her.

In addition to social stigma, her safety is a matter of concern.

The woman-husband, Ms. Okonkwo,  has reported her to the community’s vigilante group after she tried to chalk out a new path for herself. Ironically, that became her way of getting help. But she fears the woman could become more desperate in forcing her to stay in the marriage and keep birthing children even in most torrid conditions.

Ms. Okonkwo was contacted to comment on this report. After describing the story to her by phone, she said, “I am not in the mood to talk now. I will call you later.” She did not call back, nor did she answer repeated calls to her phone for several days.

Hope glimmering

Luckily, her case is being handled by a Non-Governmental Organization, Safenest Organization, which fights against domestic violence and child abuse.

In an interview with the director of the organization, Mrs. Oluchukwu Chukwuenyem, the activist narrated how her organisation became aware of Adaeze’s case and decided to help.

Mrs Oluchukwu Chukwuenyem
Mrs Oluchukwu Chukwuenyem, Director Safenest Organization, handling the case of same sex marriage

“The woman marrying the girl reported her to the vigilante group in the town for misconduct,” Mrs. Chukwuenyem said.

“They interacted with the girl and got concerned about her case. So, they decided to get human rights activists involved. The Chief security called me and we are on the matter now.”

Mrs. Chukwuenyem said that Adaeze’s case bothers on rights violations, which “must be seen to a logical conclusion.”

“I have spoken with the victim, the woman-husband, Ms. Ngozi (Okonkwo) and she insisted that the girl must stay in the marriage. I have also gone to see the traditional ruler of Enugwu-Ukwu. He said the culture of the community does not recognize such a relationship. In fact, for him, there is no marriage between the two of them. He has also asked me to write a comprehensive letter on the situation development,” she said.

Adaeze, with credit passes in her O-level subjects, looks to a glorious future as a seamstress and the Director Safenest Organisation assured that “no stone would be left unturned in assisting her,” though she prefers that Adaeze goes back to school.

“A very beautiful girl at her prime, she is being traumatized, but we are working to get her justice. The first thing is taking her out of that exploitative relationship,” she said.

Not a one-off problem

Stories like that of Adaeze reverberate across various communities of Anambra State, particularly the remote and educationally disadvantaged ones, primarily driven by cultural sentiments.

The Coordinator, Child Protection Network of Nigeria, CPN, Anambra State Chapter, and Executive Director, Victorian Clarion Foundation, Mrs. Uju Onyendilefu, gave further insight.

Mrs Uju Onyendilefu
Mrs Uju Onyendilefu, Co-ordinator, Child Protection Network, Anambra State

“In so many areas where we have had our interventions, we discover that people prefer that the woman who is childless should go and marry a younger girl that will come and give birth on her behalf in order to inherit the family resources,” Mrs. Onyendilefu said.

A publication by Evelyn Nwachukwu Urama on May 13, 2019, entitled “The Values and Usefulness of Same-Sex Marriages Among the Females in Igbo Culture in the Continuity of Lineage or Posterity” explains that same-sex marriage among women in Igboland is used to bridge the gap created by the challenges of the socially and culturally constructed gender roles with the aim of “male daughters” and “female husbands” becoming sons and husbands to wives for procreation and continuity of the family’s lineage.”

The ordeals of Adaeze are a reflection of the realities faced by teenage wives in such relationships. They are indirectly in biological relationships with other men who did not pay their bride prices.

She said girls entangled in such relationships are vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. “Remember it involves having to sleep with different men with different health issues.”

However, an Igbo cultural leader, Chief Matthias Ameke, said the “woman-husband” practice was not conventional.

“In Igbo culture, a lady of marriage age who is not married is permitted to bring in a man to impregnate her and she keeps her father’s family name on, but becoming a husband to another woman,”  Chief Ameke said. “It happens in some communities but it cannot be said to be cultural to Ndigbo.”

Good laws, poor implementation

There are pieces of legislation and international conventions that not only prohibit child marriage but stipulate sanctions for offenders and reliefs for the victims.

For instance, section 23 of the Child Rights Law of Anambra State 2004 categorically states that “No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.

According to section 25, any person who marries, a child, or to whom a child is betrothed or who promotes the marriage of a child or who betroths a child commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to a fine of 500,000 (five hundred thousand naira) or imprisonment for a term of five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Similarly, section 16 of the State Violence Against Persons Prohibition, (VAPP) Law criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse. This is described as a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards any person, including repeated acts of insults, name-calling or ridicule, threats to cause emotional pain, which some of the teenage girls go through.

In addition, the Nigerian constitution in its section 41 sub-section 1b states that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly – no person shall be held in slavery or servitude.

Apart from local laws, there are international conventions that protect every child from being forced into any form of relationship including marriage.

One of such is the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, ratified by Nigeria. The convention is informed by four core principles which are: non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival, and development as well as respect for the views of the child.

A clear inference here is that any marriage tied against the will and without the consent of the girl child is a violation of these core principles.

A child protection expert, Mr. Emeka Ejide, further stressed the nullity of such practice.

“The issue of a child or a woman getting betrothed to a woman is in peculiarity called a repugnancy doctrine and such repugnancy law to the extent of its existence should be discarded because it is against equity, natural justice, and good conscience.

“So, it cannot pass the test of time in any court. The other time, Nigeria said no to same-sex marriage. So, whether it is male to male or female to female, it is out of the law,”  Mr. Ejide said.

Mrs Nkoli Ebede
Co-ordinator, Rule of Law and Anti Corruption Legal Aid Committee, Anambra State, Mrs Nkoli Ebede

It is expected that the Child Protection Network, CPN, Anambra State, will take steps in getting justice for the victim. However, the Co-ordinator of the Ruler of Law and Anti Corruption Legal Aid Committee, Barr. Nkoli Ebede, noted that prosecuting the case will be easier if all necessary information is made available to the network.

“If the matter is given to me, we can take action in her favour as long as those in possession of facts about this matter will avail us,” Barr. Ebede said.

Multiple activists interviewed for this report called for conscious and committed efforts towards ending child marriage, especially the culture that permits a woman to marry a fellow woman, through education and sensitization across communities.

The child protection expert, Sir Ejide: “When a law is enacted, it is left for the government to disseminate that law to all nooks and crannies of the society. Then, it behooves us as child protection experts and network organizations to sensitize the populace on the provisions of such laws such as the Child’s Right Law of Anambra State 2004, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law 2017, and the Disability Rights Law.”

“Having those laws in vernacular will sustain the language and enhance better understanding. But, the interpretation must be approved as carrying the original meaning of those laws. It will make the laws popular and further simplify for the understanding of everyone,” Sir Ejide added.

For the Coordinator, Child Protection Network, Mrs Onyendilefu, breaking the culture of silence will go a long way in combating the practice of child and forced marriage.

While Safenest organization is making effort to sever the illegal relationship, the case of Adaeze is a clarion call for the government, public-spirited individuals, and other NGOs like the CPN, to do anything within their sphere of influence to give her a new lease of life, she said.

Palestinians: We Are Proud of Terrorists

Last year, Abbas paid the family of a Palestinian terrorist who murdered two Jews 30,000 Jordanian dinars ($42,000). By rewarding the family of al-Halabi and other terrorists who carried out attacks or murdered Jews, Abbas is also stating that he, too,

Source: Palestinians: We Are Proud of Terrorists

The Power of Jesus’ Name

When I converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism, I made a lot of theological changes in my life. I expected this, but I didn’t expect that I would be making a lot of sociological changes, too. Every group has its own subculture, and that includes religions. Language is one of the biggest differences. How we talk about our faith, how we pray, and how we refer to God all differ. All this had to change for me when I became Catholic.

One thing I immediately noticed is the hesitation among Catholics to say the name Jesus. In my Evangelical world we referred to Jesus on a regular basis. But Catholics were different. They usually didn’t talk about Jesus directly, and even when they did they would often refer to him as “Our Lord” or “Christ.” I later found that this was a cultural tradition that originates from a reverence for the name of Jesus. In the same way you wouldn’t talk about the president by his first name, Catholics didn’t refer to the Lord by his name.

Although the intentions are good, this reticence to use the name of Jesus has its drawbacks—for the name of Jesus has power. We see this clearly in the New Testament. Consider Acts 4:5-12:

On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set [Peter and John] in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

When arrested for healing a man, Peter and John are asked by the authorities, “By what name did you do this?” They understood that names had power, and they wanted to know what name had the power to heal. Peter boldly tells them that it is the name of Jesus that healed the man. But then Peter goes further: he tells them that salvation itself comes from this name. In fact, under no other name may one be saved. Salvation is intimately bound up with the name of Jesus.

Catholics historically have understood the great power of this name. In the Middle Ages, a great devotion to the Holy Name developed. Many Catholics embraced this devotion, but perhaps none more so than St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He tirelessly promoted the holy name of Jesus, writing,

The name of Jesus is light, and food, and medicine. It is light, when it is preached to us; it is food, when we think upon it; it is the medicine that soothes our pains when we invoke it… For when I pronounce this name, I bring before my mind the man, who, by excellence, is meek and humble of heart, benign, sober, chaste, merciful, and filled with everything that is good and holy, nay, who is the very God almighty—whose example heals me, and whose assistance strengthens me. I say all this, when I say Jesus.

Devotion to the name of Jesus can be seen in the liturgy as well. Traditionally, a priest (and altar servers) will bow when the name of Jesus is pronounced during the Mass. This demonstrates the great reverence we should have for this powerful name.

Why does this name have such power? In our modern world, we don’t think much of names. They are functional, but not much else. But in the ancient world, it was understood that a name fundamentally represented the person, and knowing a person’s name gave you some level of control over that person—the ability to call on that person. This is why, when asked by Moses for his name, God simply responds, “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14). Unlike the pagan gods, the one true God was not at the beck and call of men. He was in total control.

Yet with the Incarnation, we see God humbling himself to take on a name. Now, in a sense, he is at our beck and call. Christ tells us, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14, emphasis added). God didn’t become a generic “man,” but a specific man: Jesus of Nazareth. By doing so, he infused the name Jesus with divine power.

The name of Jesus is intimately tied to salvation. Peter said it is the only name by which we can be saved. In fact, the name means “Yahweh is salvation.” Thus, it has a central role in evangelization. Many of us, however, avoid the name of Jesus when talking to others. We are afraid that if we drop that name too much, we’ll look like a religious nut. We’re afraid we’ll be lumped in as one of “those people.” Yet we need to reclaim the name of Jesus and use it when talking to others about Catholicism.

Using the name of Jesus reminds others of an important point: converting (or reverting) to Catholicism is not simply a matter of accepting a set of doctrines. Instead it is fundamentally about giving your life to a person, Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Using the name of Jesus makes this “encounter with a person” tangible. Nothing is more personal than someone’s name.

Further, when talking with Evangelicals using the name of Jesus can have a practical effect. When you speak that name you are talking their language. I’ve noticed this when I use the name of Jesus when describing my Catholic faith. I might say, “Jesus forgave my sins in Confession,” or, “The highlight of my week is when I receive Jesus on Sunday mornings at Mass.” This isn’t what they expect of a Catholic! By making clear that I have a relationship with Jesus, Evangelicals come to see that Catholicism isn’t an alien religion consisting mostly of rules and men with funny hats. This breaks barriers for them to learn more about the Catholic faith.

Invoking the name of Jesus has power—power we can’t always see or fully understand. As St. Paul wrote, “[E]very one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). If we desire for our loved ones to be saved, we need them to understand the power of that name. Ultimately, in fact, all peoples will acknowledge the power of the name of Jesus:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:9-10, emphasis added).

Let us do our part to bring that name into every corner of our lives, so that one day all our loved ones may acknowledge—and experience—its saving power.

Charity and ‘Abortion-Tainted’ COVID-19 Vaccines

Is it disingenuous to object to COVID vaccines because of their connection to abortion?

As vaccine mandates pop up in the United States and around the world, some Catholics continue to object to receiving them because of their connection to abortion.

blue and white plastic bottle

One criticism of individuals who refuse to comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates because of the use of cell lines derived from aborted babies—most notably the HEK-293 cell line, reproduced over time from a culture allegedly from an abortion that took place in a Dutch research lab in the 1970s—is that many other common medicines and products have been tested with HEK cell lines. One hospital in Arkansas required staff members who were seeking an exemption from vaccine mandates to attest that they also do not use other products that have been developed or tested on HEK-293 cell lines. A local news article says:

On the hospital’s form is a list of many typical medications. including aspirin, many antacids and numerous cold & flu medications, that were developed or tested using fetal cell lines . . . “We feel that if you request an exemption then attesting to that form really should follow,” he explained, adding that he feels many who seek this exemption are using the religious exemption as a way to hide behind being hesitant.

The critics of conscientious Catholics who seek an exemption from vaccine mandates are basically saying: “If you’re really against taking COVID-19 vaccines because they were tested on HEK cell lines, then you should also be against taking any other product that has been tested in a similar way like aspirin or Tylenol. If you don’t do that, then your objection to being vaccinated against COVID-19 seems rooted another reason (like concern about vaccine safety), rather than a sincerely held moral or religious belief.”

In response, defenders of the religiously based vaccine exemptions have said there is a morally relevant distinction between the HEK testing that was done on other commonly used products and what was done on COVID-19 vaccines. Consider aspirin, which Bayer patented in 1899 and was derived from salicylic acid in the bark of willow of trees. The argument says that even if aspirin was tested with HEK-293 cell lines decades after it was patented, those unethical experiments had nothing to do with aspirin coming becoming commercially available to the general public. COVID-19 vaccines, however, were immediately tested on HEK cells before they could be given to the public.

clear plastic bottle on blue textile

Though it isn’t explicitly stated in most of the critics’ writings, their argument seems to hinge on this distinction: it is wrong to use a drug whose commercial existence depends on HEK cell testing. Aspirin presumably would still be on the shelves for headache treatment even if no HEK cell tests were done on it. COVID-19 vaccines, however, would not be commercially available if it had not been for HEK cell tests. So, the critic says, because the HEK-293 testing on COVID-19 vaccines was essential to their being commercially available, those vaccines are “morally tainted.”

On the one hand, this distinction has some merit. Imagine that a researcher tries to discover if Drug X can be used for a new purpose Y. The researcher takes part in an unethical experiment using Drug X and discovers that Drug X cannot be used for new purpose Y. Well, it would not be immoral to use Drug X for its original purpose even though an unethical scientist tried to see if the drug could be used for a different purpose. If this is essentially what happened with HEK cell testing involving drugs like Tylenol and aspirin, then there does seem to be a relevant difference between those products and many COVID-19 vaccines.

On the other hand, let’s return to the assumption that seems to lie under these arguments: it is wrong to use a drug whose commercial existence depends on HEK cell testing. The problem with this distinction is that a drug’s commercial existence depends on more than just testing done during its development. It could depend on HEK cell testing that proves that the drug is still safe and effective. HEK cells have been used to investigate the mechanisms involved in Tylenol’s potential to cause liver cell death. It could also depend on HEK cell testing that updates dosage requirements or shows that a previously approved drug can be safely used for a new purpose (like treating COVID-19). For example, recent research with HEK cells has shown that aspirin and ivermectin could be used in future anti-cancer treatments.

So what lessons can we draw from this controversy?

First, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has made it clear that Catholics do not sin if they receive the Covid-19 vaccine, nor do they sin if they conscientiously refuse to get vaccinated—though they, like all of us, should still take appropriate steps to not infect vulnerable people to dangerous diseases.

Second, those who conscientiously refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 are not necessarily inconsistent if their objection is based on using products whose commercial existence depends on unethical cell line testing rather than products for which testing was done afterward and has no effect on their commercial availability. As a result, those who are critical of conscientious objectors should be charitable in assessing their arguments and not merely write them off as putting on a disingenuous cover for a more general anti-vaccine position.

Third, conscientious objectors to COVID-19 vaccines should be humble in their position as well and recognize that HEK testing can be responsible for many more drugs and treatments being commercially available than they realize. There is, in fact, a significant gap in our knowledge of what drugs are depend on HEK testing in this specific way that hopefully others can remedy in the future.

Until then, Catholics who disagree on prudential questions related to the use of COVID-19 vaccines should strive to understand one another in charity and work together to promote treatments that are ethical and effective.