Blue Flower

POPE SIMPLIFIES PROCESS FOR MARRIAGE ANNULMENTS

Pope Francis has radically reformed the process for annulling marriages overhauling 300 years of church practice by creating a new fast-track annulment and doing away with an automatic appeal that often slowed the process down. The move, which came a week after he said he was letting all rank-and-file priests grant absolution to women who have had abortions, is further evidence of his desire to make the church more responsive to the needs of ordinary faithful members. The new law on annulments comes into effect on December 8, the start of Francis's Holy Year of Mercy, a yearlong jubilee during which the pope hopes to emphasize the merciful side of the church. It will speed up and simplify the annulment process by placing the onus squarely on bishops around the world to determine when a fundamental flaw has made a marriage invalid.

A Catholic needs a church annulment to remarry in the church, and a divorced Catholic who remarries civilly without one is considered an adulterer living in sin and is forbidden from receiving Communion. The Communion issue is at the centre of debate at the upcoming synod of bishops, a three-week meeting that gets underway this month. Progressive bishops favour a process by which these Catholics could eventually have access to the sacrament if they repent; conservatives say there can be no such wriggle room and that church teaching is clear that a marriage is indissoluble. Catholics have long complained that it can take years to get an annulment, if they can get one at all. Costs can reach into the hundreds or thousands of dollars for legal and tribunal fees, though some dioceses have waived their fees.

"With this fundamental law, Francis has now launched the true start of his reform," said Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, the head of the Roman Rota, the church's marriage court. "He is putting the poor at the centre — that is the divorced, remarried who have been held at arms' length — and asking for bishops to have a true change of heart."  Reasons for granting annulments vary, including that the couple never intended the marriage to last or that one spouse didn't want children. The new law also says that "lack of faith" can also be grounds for an annulment, conforming to the belief of Francis and Pope Benedict XVI before him that a sacramental marriage celebrated without the faith isn't really a marriage at all. Francis' biggest reform involves the new fast-track procedure, which will be handled by the local bishop and can be used when both spouses request an annulment or don't oppose it.

Previously, most people seeking annulments needed to go before a three-judge panel unless a regional bishop's conference gave a bishop permission to hear the case himself or to appoint one judge to handle it. The new law makes that an immediate option, meaning annulments should be easier to obtain in dioceses that don't have enough priests to make up a three-judge panel, which is especially common in poor countries.  The fast-track procedure can also be used when other proof makes a more drawn-out investigation unnecessary, such as medical records indicating that the wife had an abortion, that one spouse hid infertility or some other grave contagious disease from the other, or that violence was used to coerce a spouse into marriage. The law calls for the process to be completed within 45 days. The longer, regular process should take no more than a year.

Another reform is the removal of the appeal that automatically took place after the first decision was made, even if neither spouse wanted it. An appeal is still possible if one of the sides requests it. In the document announcing the new law, Francis insisted that marriages remain indissoluble unions and that the new regulations aren't meant to help dissolve them. Rather, he said, the reform is aimed at speeding up and simplifying the process so that the faithful can find justice. "It is a democratizing move focused on easing the course of reintegration into the church for women, in particular," said Candida Moss, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. "His actions are propelled by compassion and pragmatism: He recognizes the dangers of spousal abuse and the reality that many modern marriages are undertaken without full consideration."

Significantly, the reform places much more importance on the local bishop in handling marriage cases thus reducing the need for recourse to the Vatican's own courts. The reform, which was the result of a year-long study by canonists, is the second major initiative Francis has taken in as many weeks. The first was the change in rules about granting absolution for abortions. Already, some conservatives have criticized Francis' abortion initiative as running the risk that some might misinterpret it as a softening on the church's opposition to abortion. Conservatives have also warned that simplifying the annulment procedure could imply the church is making it easier for couples to essentially get a divorce." Francis has long called for the church to be less legalistic and more merciful and understanding of the needs of its flock.

Source: Religion News Service

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MUSLIMS CONVERTING IN DROVES AT BERLIN CHURCH

Mohammed Ali Zonoobi bends his head as holy water is poured over his black hair. "Will you break away from Satan and his evil deeds?" Gottfried Martens asks the Iranian refugee.  "Yes," Zonoobi replies. Spreading his hands in blessing, Martens then baptizes the man "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." Mohammed is now Martin — no longer Muslim, but Christian. Zonoobi, a carpenter from the Iranian city of Shiraz, arrived in Germany with his wife and two children five months ago. He is one of hundreds of mostly Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity at the evangelical Trinity Church in Berlin. Like Zonoobi, most say true belief prompted their embrace of Christianity. But there's no overlooking the fact that the decision will also greatly boost their chances of winning asylum by allowing them to claim they would face persecution if sent home.

Martens recognizes that some convert in order to improve their chances of staying in Germany . However many, he said, are so taken by the Christian message that it changes their lives. He estimates that only about 10% of converts do not return to church after being baptised. "I know there are people coming here because they have hope regarding their asylum," Martens said. "I am inviting them to join us because I know that whoever comes here will not leave unchanged." Being Christian alone does not help an applicant." But in Afghanistan and Iran, for example, conversion to Christianity by a Muslim could be punished by death or imprisonment, and it is therefore unlikely that Germany would deport converted Iranian and Afghan refugees back home. None will admit to converting in order to help their asylum chances. To do so could result in rejection of their bid and deportation as Christian converts.

Several candidates for baptism would not give their names out of fear of repercussions for their families back home. One young Iranian woman said she believed most people had joined the church to improve their chances for asylum. Congregation member Vesam Heydari initially applied for asylum in Norway and converted there in 2009. But his case was rejected because the Norwegian authorities did not believe he would be persecuted as a Christian in Iran, so he moved to Germany to seek refugee status here, and is awaiting a decision. He criticized many other Iranian church members, saying they were making it much harder for "real, persecuted Christians" like himself to get approved for asylum. "The majority of Iranians are not converting out of belief," Heydari said. "They only want to stay in Germany."

Meanwhile, Martens has seen his congregation swell from 150 to more than 600 in just 2 years — with a seemingly unending flow of new refugees finding their way to his congregation. Some come from cities  far away having found out by word-of-mouth that Martens not only baptizes Muslims after a three-month "crash course" in Christianity, but also helps them with asylum pleas. Other Christian communities have also reported growing numbers of Iranians converting to Christianity. There are no exact numbers but they are a tiny minority compared to the country's overall 4 million Muslims. But at least for Berlin, Martens describes the number of conversions as nothing short of a "miracle." And he says he has at least another 80 people — mostly refugees from Iran and a few Afghans — waiting to be baptized.

Germany is witnessing an unprecedented surge of asylum-seekers, with the number of migrants expected to reach 800,000 this year, a fourfold increase on last year. While refugees from  Syria will almost definitely be receiving asylum status, the situation is more complicated for those from Iran or Afghanistan, which are seen as more stable. In recent years, roughly 40-50% from those two countries have been allowed to stay, although many getting only temporary permission to remain. Zonoobi said he had attended secret religious services in Iran ever since friends introduced him to the Bible at age 18. He decided to flee to Germany after several Christian friends were arrested for practicing their religion. For Zonoobi and his wife Afsaneh — who since her baptism goes by the name of Katarina — the christening marks a new beginning. "Now we are free and can be ourselves," she said. 

Source: Intercessors Network

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BANGLADESH: DANGER LOOMS FOR CHURCH

In 1947, India was partitioned and Pakistan was established as a homeland for Muslims. In 1971, Bengali-dominated secular-leaning East Pakistan secured independence from Punjabi- and Pashto-dominated Islamic-leaning West Pakistan in a Liberation War that cost Bangladeshis up to three million lives. While Pakistan subsequently Islamised, Bangladesh progressed as a secular democracy. The population being 90 percent Muslim, Bangladesh was never going to be immune from the global trend of Islamic radicalisation. Since the 1980s, masses of Muslims have been radicalised through Bangladesh's vast networks of mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools).  On 7 Oct 2001 the US commenced post 9/11 bombing raids on Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan. Fundamentalist clerics portrayed the war as a War on Islam, fuelling rage.

When Bangladeshis went to the polls later that month, they threw out the secular government and voted in the pro-Pakistan, pro-Islam, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), to rule in coalition with some very radical Islamic groups. The result has been polarisation as secularists struggle against a rising tide of Islamic zeal. In August this year a pro-secular, anti-Islamist Bangladeshi blogger was hacked to death. It was the fourth such attack in six months. Ansar Bangla (also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team), a banned terrorist organisation that is alleged to have links to Islamic State, has claimed responsibility. On Monday 28 September an Italian aid worker, Cesare Tavella, was assassinated in Dhaka's diplomatic precinct. This veterinary surgeon had been working with the Dutch church-run charity OCCI, which works to improve hygiene and alleviate poverty and food insecurity in rural Bangladesh.

Then on Saturday 3 October, Japanese farmer Kunio Hoshi (coincidentally, a recent convert to Islam) was assassinated in Mahiganj Village, Rangpur District, in northern Bangladesh. The assassinations were virtually identical in that the victim was shot multiple times at close range by two gunmen who were then whisked away by a third person on a motorbike. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for both assassinations, warning, 'There will continue to be a series of ongoing security operations against nationals of crusader coalition countries . . . they will not have safety of a livelihood in Muslim lands.' The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is rejecting claims that IS has made inroads into Bangladesh, preferring to blame her political opposition in the BNP. This is even though in September 2014 a British man of Bangladeshi origin was arrested in Dhaka and charged with recruiting Bangladeshis for IS.

More IS recruiters have been arrested this year, including Sakhawatul Kabir, who was subsequently identified as the IS regional commander of operations in Bangladesh. Released in February 2015, issue 7 of Dabiq (the official IS magazine) includes an article lambasting Japanese policy and exhorting 'soldiers and patrons of the Khilafah everywhere' to target 'Japanese citizens and interests -- wherever they may be found.' If IS is indeed seeking to recruit and raise its profile in Bangladesh, then danger looms for the Church. Just as 'nationals of crusader coalition countries' are easy targets because they are easily identifiable, the same is true of Christians. Christians are already known to the radicalised masses, who despise them as infidels, kafir (unclean) and apostates deserving death; and they gather together in homes and easily identifiable churches. We must be vigilant in prayer for the Church in Bangladesh.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* the Lord of hosts will surround and protect his precious people.

* the rule of law will prevail in Bangladesh; may there be unity -- as distinct from politicisation or appeasement -- in the face of escalating Islamic violence and threat. Pray for Prime Minister (Ms) Sheikh Hasina (Awami League) and for the Opposition leader (Ms) Khaleda Zia (BNP), 'the warring widows'.

* the God of salvation, the hope of all the earth, will intervene in Bangladesh to bring peace to this troubled country.

Source: by Elizabeth Kendal Religious Liberty Monitoring

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IRAQ: YAZIDIS FIND HEALING AND SALVATION IN CHRIST

As the world began to see the degree of savagery unleashed on Yazidis in Iraq a year ago, few could imagine what part it would play in hundreds of people putting their faith in Christ. Many Yazidis fled to Erbil and Dohuk, enabling Christian ministries aiding refugees in those areas to reach this people group that previously had been inaccessible. One Yazidi religious leader was suspicious of a ministry that provided aid to Yazidis along with the message of salvation through faith in Christ, the Iraqi director of the organization said. “He didn't like us helping people or entering their homes to evangelize, and he reported us to the local security police to stop our operations in the area he lives in. We were asked by the local police to stop, and we did.”

Soon after, the Yazidi leader fell ill. His fellow Yazidis told him that many of them who had gotten sick had been healed after Christians came to pray for them. “He asked for us to pray for him, and we did, and the Lord healed him the same week, after he thought he was dying,” the director said. “The last time we were there, he was standing surrounded by all his followers and telling everyone about how Jesus healed him, and after I gave a speech to the group and did an invitation to Christ, we counted 136 people who surrendered their lives to Christ.” This indigenous ministry began visiting sick refugees with a large van equipped as a mobile medical clinic. Three volunteer doctors, five volunteer nurses, five church members, one psychologist and one dentist have served 2,500 refugees - about 50 to 80 per day.

One refugee from the Yazidi community was on the verge of death due to lack of medicine for his diabetes. The mobile medical van personnel found him just in time. “We provided insulin for him, which made his condition completely stable, and after we presented Christ to him, he expressed great interest and accepted the Lord Jesus.” The Yazidi's wife, daughters and their husbands also put their faith in Christ. Other Yazidi leaders have objected to the evangelization efforts, calling it an exploitation of desperate refugees. Christian Aid Mission's Middle East director said the Yazidi leaders' complaints overreach. “If we want to place blame for Yazidis turning to Christ, I think we can blame the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit is giving them an interest - the Yazidis are asking for New Testaments and the gospel. These are not being forced on them.”

Source: Christian Aid Mission

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RUSSIA ADOPTS STRAIGHT PRIDE FLAG

The party of Russian president Vladimir Putin has released a flag for straight pride which celebrates real families, offering a counterpoint to the homomania gripping many other developed nations. The flag, based on a design used by French traditional-marriage advocacy group La Manif Pour Tous, is enhanced by the addition of a third child to the depicted ‘traditional family’. The change is in line with Russian government policy, which is attempting to turn-around the declining birthrate by encouraging Russian mothers to have more children as an alternative to mass immigration. Russian politician Aleksey Lisovenko, said of the design: “This is our answer to same sex marriages, this mockery of the very concept of family. We must prevent gay fever in our country and support traditional values”. Lisovenko said that the design was created in cooperation with ‘allies’ in France and was a symbol of friendship.

The movement is popular in France – with its marches having attracted half a million walkers in recent years. The Russian flag was officially launched during the nationwide celebrations of St Peter and St Fevronia, who in the Orthodox church are the patron saints of marriage. Widely celebrated in Russia until the Red Terror of 1917, the holiday was re-instituted in 2008 as the Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness and stands as an Orthodox equivalent of St. Valentines day. This is not the only initiative launched by the Russian government in recent years to promote the growth of traditional families. The ‘Mother Russia’ programme launched in 2006, paid a £22,000 bonus to mothers having their second child. The state has even funded concerts for young couples playing well known love ballads to help get them in the mood to start families. The programmes are considered a success within Russia.

Source: Intercessors Network

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SAME JUDGE WHO JAILED KENTUCKY CLERK KIM DAVIS ORDERS HER RELEASE

Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses citing her Christian faith, and was sent to jail as a result, has now been released. District Judge David Bunning who ordered her release was the same judge who had ordered her to jail without bail the week before. Hundreds of Davis supporters rallied outside the Carter County Detention Centre as she was released. She appeared in good spirits and showing incredible resilience. Even so, there are some who think she should back down. "I respect the fact that this lady doesn't agree, but she's also a government employee," Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, said. "She's not running a church—I wouldn't force this on a church—but in terms of her responsibility, I think she has to comply." Davis' legal team says she's committed both to following her conscience—and keeping her job.

"She has no intention of stepping down because she loves her people and loves her job," attorney Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, said. Her attorneys are asking that the government accommodate her beliefs by simply removing her name and title from marriage certificates. "This accommodation would cost the tax payers nothing—you change the form and amend the statute," Staver said. Meanwhile, among conservatives, there's growing outrage over Davis' imprisonment. “Gavin Newsome in San Francisco as mayor performed same-sex weddings even though it was illegal. Did he ever get put in jail? He most certainly did not," GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee noted. "You have Barack Obama and Eric Holder," the former Arkansas governor continued. "When Holder was attorney general, he ignored the rulings of DOMA. Did they get put in jail for ignoring the law? They most certainly did not."

Source: Breitbart.com

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PRAYING FOR THE CANADIAN ELECTION

Canadian’s are going to the polls today (Monday 19th October) in a Federal election which will determine who rules in Canada for the next 5 years. The three main parties are pretty well equally split which could result in a minority government, or a coalition. The current conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is unpopular in the media. The Conservatives under Harper are the only party of substance that is not in favour of abortion, doctor assisted suicide and the legalisation of marijuana. Canada has been very supportive of Israel through Harper, however this would change drastically with any other party. At the moment the most likely result would be a minority government, not the most effective as they can be voted down at any moment by the majority. Please pray for God’s mercy on Canada and for His wisdom to guide the people of Canada in their voting.

Source: International Prayer Council

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