Thursday, 16 August 2012

"Free Syrian Army" Killing Christians, Burning Churches

Video Posted August 14, 2012
A NUN who has been superior at a Syrian monastery for the past 18 years has warned that media coverage of ongoing violence in that country has been “partial and untrue”. It is “a fake”, Mother Agnes Mariam said, which “hides atrocities committed in the name of liberty and democracy”.

Superior of the Melkite Greek Catholic monastery of St James the Mutilated in Qara, in Syria’s diocese of Homs, which is in full communion with Rome, she left Ireland yesterday after a three-day visit during which she met representatives of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Maynooth.

She told The Irish Times she was in Ireland “not to advocate for the (Assad) regime but for the facts”. Most news reports from Syria were “forged, with only one side emphasised”, she said. This also applied to the UN, whose reports were “one-sided and not worthy of that organisation”.

UN observers in Syria had been “moderate with the rebels and covered for them in taking back positions after the withdrawal of heavy equipment, as seen so tragically in Homs”, she said.

When it was put to her this suggested the whole world was out of step except for Syria, Russia and China, she protested: “No, no, there are 20 countries, including some in Latin America” of the same view.

The reason the media was being denied easy access to Syria currently was because in the Libyan conflict journalists placed electronic devices for Nato in rooms used at press conferences in that country, she said. “So Syria didn’t want journalists,” she said.

Christians make up about 10 per cent of Syria’s population, dispersed throughout the country, she said. The Assad regime “does not favour Christians”, she said. “It is a secular regime based on equality for all, even though in the constitution it says the Koran is the source of legislation.”

But “Christians are less put aside [in Syria] than in other Islamic countries, for example Saudi Arabia,” she said. “The social fabric of Syria is very diverse, so Christians live in peace.”

The “Arab insurrection” under way in that country included “sectarian factions which promote fundamentalist Islam, which is not genuine Islam”, she said.

The majority of Muslims in Syria are moderate and open to other cultural and interfaith elements, she said. “Wahhabism (a fundamentalist branch of Islam) is not open,” she added.

Christians in Syria were “doubtful about the future if the project to topple the regime succeeded”. The alternative was “a religious sectarian state where all minorities would feel threatened and discriminated against”, she said.

There was “a need to end the violence”, she said. “The West and Gulf states must not give finance to armed insurrectionists who are sectarian terrorists, most of whom are from al-Qaeda, according to a report presented to the German parliament,” she said.

“We don’t want to be invaded, as in Aleppo, by mercenaries, some of whom think they are fighting Israel. They bring terror, destruction, fear and nobody protects the civilians,” she said. There were “very few Syrians among the rebels”, she said. “Mercenaries should go home,” she said.

What she and others sought in Syria was “reform, no violence, no foreign intervention.” She hoped for “a new, third way, a new social pact where the right to auto determination without outside interference” would be respected.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Historian: We're Winning in Effort to Clear Pius XII's Name

Every Time We Do More Research, We Find a Diamond'

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JUNE 21, 2012 ( After six years of untiring research that has uncovered 76,000 pages of original material, plus multiple eyewitness accounts and testimonies from prominent international scholars, Gary Krupp is confident the besmirching of Pope Pius XII's reputation is coming to an end.

"We're definitely winning, absolutely no question," Krupp tells me on a visit to Rome this week. "Every time we do more research, we find a diamond. It's incredible, but there's nothing on the other side because there's no documented foundation for any of their accusations."

Krupp, the founder of the Pave The Way Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between world religions, is well known for being one of the most passionate defenders of Pius XII's reputation for heroism in his relations with the Jewish people.

As a Jew from New York who grew up, like many others of his generation, with an indoctrinated hatred of the wartime Pope for his alleged anti-Semitism and unwillingness to help Jews during the Holocaust, his anger at realizing this was all a lie, and his willingness to reveal the truth, is both heartfelt and compelling.

Now he and his team of researchers have uncovered more documented evidence that Pave the Way believes should act as incontrovertible proof to any serious historian that Pius XII did all he could to protect and defend Jews before, during and after the Second World War. All the documentation can be viewed on the organization's Web site:

Some of these documents show that Pius XII favored the creation of a Jewish state as far back as 1917. In further recent discoveries, Pave the Way has come across a letter written by Cardinal Pacelli in 1939 in which he attempted to obtain visas to enter Brazil for 200,000 Jews who remained in Germany after Kristallnacht.

"He wasn't able to obtain the visas, but he tried," says Krupp. "The point is, he didn't do it from the safety of Washington DC or London. He did it while surrounded by hostile forces, and infiltrated by spies, and yet he still managed to save more Jews than all the other world leaders combined."

Further letters reveal how, through his nephew Carlo Pacelli, Pius XII helped prevent the arrest of Roman Jews in 1943, giving an estimated 12,000 of them the chance to seek refuge in Church monasteries, convents, and the homes of Italian Catholics. "All these archival records show how he personally helped save Jewish people," says Krupp, adding emphatically in his broad New York accent: "Anti-Semites don't do that!"

Other ground-breaking discoveries show how the Pope was not just a target for assassination by Hitler (Pave the Way has a copy of a letter Pius wrote to cardinals expecting to be killed and giving them instructions to form a government in exile), but that he and his secretary were also named in a German report as co-conspirators in the Valkyre assassination attempt on the Fuhrer in July 1944.  

Pave the Way has combed through copies of the New York Times and Palestine Post from 1939 to 1958 to find any evidence of animosity toward the Jews. "There's not one negative article. Not one," Krupp says, adding that a French friend of theirs also went through French Communist and Socialist papers from that time, and similarly came up with nothing negative.

Krupp points out a "fantastic letter" from the American ambassador to Germany, reporting on 3rd March 1939 on the new Pope's election on 2nd March. The ambassador recalls in the letter meeting Cardinal Pacelli in 1937, and wanting to visit the Sistine Chapel, but he wasn't able to as the Cardinal had kept him in his office for three solid hours, talking about National Socialism and Hitler. "In the letter it says: "While his views against Hitler were well known to me, I had no idea of the extremity of his views,'" Krupp recounts.

Like many, Krupp is convinced the smearing of Pius's reputation was due to an elaborate misinformation campaign by the Soviets and, in particular, the film "The Deputy," which was widely performed after the Pontiff's death. The play, which spread what's become known as the "Black Legend" of Pius XII, is still being performed today, currently in Munich and even in an American university – something that greatly irritates Krupp given the dean of the university is allowing it on grounds of "academic freedom."

What makes him so unstinting in his desire to uncover the truth is his firm belief that history must be accurate. "People die with history," Krupp says, "so it's absolutely essential people realize that history is a sacred thing – you must get it right because people kill one another on perceived history." He says anti-Pius historians are "historical revisionists," and makes no apology for calling them "liars" instead of scholars.

He is particularly indignant with Rome's Jewish community and those who persistently propagate the Black Legend in the face of the contrary evidence. "All of Rome's Jewish community despises Pius XII, when a few short few years ago they erected a monument in his honor because he saved all of their lives," says Krupp (the monument, erected in 1946, is no longer there). "You have air in your lungs today because he saved your lives," he says in pointed words directed at them, "and yet you despise him? This is a sin. This is a Jewish sin." Krupp frequently stresses that one of the worst character flaws a Jew can have is ingratitude, and notes that the Hebrew word for Jew is actually based on the word gratitude.

He believes if any of the community were willing to look at the documents, they would change their minds. "Anyone who refuses to look at documents and the proof is a fool," he says. "This is especially obnoxious to me, as this community is alive because of his actions, very provably alive – everyone from the era said so," Krupps argues.

He also says he has come to discover the enemies of Pope Pius XII tend to be "ultra-left wing Jews and Catholics" with an agenda to destroy the Pope's reputation because he "typified the conservative, traditional Church."

But what about the regular accusations one hears made against Pius? Krupp bats away each of them away with ease.

On why Pius didn't lay down his life as a martyr: "Why didn't General Patten do the same thing? Why didn't Roosevelt do the same thing? Don't forget the Vatican is two entities, head of the Catholic Church and also a government. It would be the worst thing one can do, especially when he could do the good that he did alive. Being dead would be no good at all."

On the claim no Nazis were excommunicated: "They were -- I love this one. The German bishops said anyone who joined the 'Hitler Party,' who wore the uniform or flew the flag were excommunicated and a priest couldn't attend their funeral if any of them died."

On the accusation that Pius XII helped Nazi war criminals flee to South America after the war: "No, it was exactly the opposite according to Bishop Hudal himself [Hudal was a Nazi collaborator in Rome]; just read his [Hudal's] autobiography."

On the claim that Pius authorized forced baptisms of Jewish infants: "Nonsense. In fact he forbade it. There were some … You had some overzealous nuns and others who did this, but he forbade it. He forbade it because he had a great love and respect for Judaism, starting from his childhood. His closest friend was a Jewish orthodox boy, Guido Mendes."

Krupp recognizes "Nostra Aetate," the Second Vatican Council declaration considered by many to have transformed Jewish-Catholic relations, as "one of the most important events in Jewish-Christian relations." It's arguable whether his invaluable efforts to clear Pius XII's name would have taken place had it not been for that document, but Krupp began working on the Pius issue after receiving a papal knighthood, seeing it would "open things up to do wonderful things between Jews and Catholics."

I'm interested to know if he himself ever considered becoming a Catholic? "No, never," he says. "If someone gave me a million dollars, I wouldn't. This is the way I am supposed to be. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do as a Jew not as a Catholic."

He says he has a "huge love and respect for the Church" because he "looks at the bottom line" and sees there's "no greater provider in the world for health care, education or charity." Indeed, he was delighted and honored to be invited this year to receive an honorary doctorate and deliver the commencement address at St. Thomas Aquinas College, Orangeburg, New York.

"I feel my brothers and sisters are in the Church, but I would never consider converting," he says. "I'm very proud to be Jewish, and I think this is the path God meant for me to take."


Saturday, 31 March 2012

Landmark Anniversary for Relations Between UK and Holy See

Her Majesty's Ambassador Speaks About Vatican's Diplomatic Importance
By Ann Schneible
ROME, MARCH 30, 2012 ( The Venerable English College, in association with the British Embassy to the Holy See, today hosted a Colloquium to celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See, as well as the 30th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II's pastoral visit to the United Kingdom in 1982. The Colloquium, titled "Britain and the Holy See: A Celebration of 1982 and the Wider Relationship," focused on the significance of the 1982 papal visit, the ecumenical relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church, and finally the historical diplomatic relationship between Britain and the Holy See.

Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Holy See, His Excellency Nigel Baker, spoke with ZENIT about the significance of the 1982 papal visit, the relationship between the Holy See and Britain, and the importance of the Holy See in international diplomacy.

ZENIT: We heard about Blessed John Paul II's 1982 visit to the United Kingdom. How does this visit continue to influence diplomatic relations between England and the Holy See?

Baker: I was struck listening to the Cardinals, Archbishop, and bishop today when they were talking about the impact of the 1982 visit. And at points they were comparing 1982 with now, and how things have moved on since then. Two things particularly. One, the qualitative difference now from then and preceding 1982, and the ecumenical relationship: how things have developed extraordinarily between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church and the other denominations, and indeed the way the Catholic Church, Catholics in Britain, are perceived in the country, as to before that first papal visit. It seems to me a crucial area of difference, and something which the visit of 1982 helped to make happen. The other was the difference in the way the British government perceives the relationship with the Holy See. The fact of the 1982 visit was, of course, important. But it's important to know that was a pastoral visit, unlike the visit of Pope Benedict the XVI, which was a State visit. The impact of the visit of 1982 helped the British government of the time understand that here was this global organization which the government itself should engage with and take seriously, both for its global role and also for its role within the United Kingdom itself. I think two things that 1982 visit really helped to develop in terms of Britain and the Holy See.

ZENIT: What contribution does the Holy See make to international diplomacy?

Baker: You may have seen that there was a significant visit by British government delegation in February: seven British government ministers came. Why do seven British government ministers come to the Holy See? We don't normally have delegations of seven ministers going to countries. The answer is that there is an extremely wide agenda of action and activity between Britain and the Holy See which really shows the importance of the Holy See in the international diplomatic affairs. I'll touch on just some of the main issues they were talking about which will answer your question: climate change (the engagement of the global Catholic Church in the protection of creation); disarmament, the constant calls for peace (I would particularly focus on small-arms trade, which of course is a great killer of people, across particularly the developing world); development, and looking ahead to Rio; and the role of the global Church in education, in healthcare, not in working on the ground but in the policies behind that sort of activity; the middle East, and the important role of Christianity in the Middle East, and the engagement in the Holy See in what is now an absolute focus of the British government. I could mention many other issues, but I think that, in itself, just shows why the British government is constantly engaging with the Holy See on a very wide waterfront, because, of the Holy See’s importance, and the role of the global Catholic Church in issues which are of fundamental importance in the world today.

ZENIT: What is the role of the Holy See in fortifying religious freedom in England?

Baker: It's a very interesting issue. It's something the British government ministers had the chance to talk about during their visit in February. I think I would be cautious about using the term "religious freedom" when, say, talking about a country like the United Kingdom. Everybody is, of course, absolutely free to worship, to engage in worship, to practice, to express their views. The balancing act that, say, the British government has to manage, and indeed the British courts have to manage, is that they are representative of a society in which there are many Christians (probably a majority Christian society of different denominations), Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, people of no religion, who come at a loss of these ethical… in very different directions. So there is a very difficult balance to be struck. Now, there are some big issues where a response, say, to a particular decision by a court, is striking against freedom of conscience, and the individual looking at his or her religious beliefs to be able to act according to those beliefs. In broad terms, government is extremely sympathetic to arguments of that sort. But, of course, the complexities of the issues when one applies aspects of the law of the land, other issues of rights – be they human rights, be the equality issues – in which the question of individual conscience is also mixed up. We talk to the Holy See, we engage with the Holy See a lot. We talk internationally, we talk over at the United Nations about some of these issues as well when applied more globally. There are incredibly complex ones. For me, the importance is, that there's a constant dialogue, constant understanding and respect for the positions of others, including members of the Catholic faith. So that decisions impacting, particularly when it comes to the law, are not taken hastily, are taken with all the evidence available, and that there is a clear hearing for all views before a decision is reached.

ZENIT: Why was the Venerable English College chosen as the venue for this Colloquium?

Baker: There's a strong partnership between the embassy and the College, as many of my pre-Reformation predecessors were actually officers of the College, and lived in the College during there residence in Rome as Ambassadors. It's also a year of celebration for the College; it's their 650thanniversary as a foundation and, it's important to note, as a Royal foundation. And I'm very keen to highlight that historical link. There are other British colleges here in Rome as well: there's the Scottish College; the Pontifical Irish College (which looks to the Republic of Ireland but also to Northern Ireland, some of its seminarians are from Northern Ireland); the Beta College, for more mature seminarians, many of whom are British. And I think that relationship between the colleges, who are providing an extraordinary service to the United Kingdom. Training young men to engage in pastoral ministry in the United Kingdom is something which the embassy should celebrate as well. So there's that historical relationship, there’s of course the national relationship, and also the celebratory relationship, all of which we wanted to mark by coming together for this conference.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

St Nicholas Owen (March 22) was tortured horribly but did not give up any compromising information

Coughton Court, where St Nicholas built a priest hole
Coughton Court, where St Nicholas built a priest hole

The carpenter who kept hundreds of fugitives alive

Nicholas Owen (c 1550-1606) was one of four sons of Walter Owen, a carpenter who lived in Oxford. Inheriting his father’s skill, he came to specialise in the construction of concealed priest-holes in country houses. Many Catholics on the run owed their lives to him.
“I verily think,” noted Fr John Gerard, “that no one can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard.
“He was the immediate occasion of saving many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular, which had been lost and forfeited many times over if the priests had been taken in their houses.”
Owen is first encountered in 1581 in connection with the martyrdom of Edmund Campion, whose servant he may have been. At all events, he maintained Campion’s innocence of treason with such force that he himself was imprisoned.
He must have been tough to survive the appalling conditions, which killed one of his fellow prisoners. Yet he was a small man who walked with a pronounced limp after a pack horse fell on top of him and broke his leg.
From 1586 Owen was in the service of Fr Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Provincial, with whom he travelled extensively, staying at Catholic houses where he constructed supremely well-disguised hiding places.
A few authentic examples survive: for example, at Sawston Hall near Cambridge, Huddington Court in Worcestershire and Coughton Court in Warwickshire.
To maintain security Owen would never discuss this work. While constructing a priest-hole he would ostentatiously engage in repairs in some other part of the house during the day, and work on his hiding places at night.
In 1594 Owen accompanied another priest, Fr Gerard, to London, to help him with the purchase of a house. While in town, however, they were betrayed by a servant of the Wiseman family, for whom Owen had constructed a refuge at Broadoaks in Essex.
The authorities, aware that Owen was a repository of many secrets of recusant life, tortured him most horribly, but without extracting any compromising information. After his release he helped Fr Gerard escape from the Tower of London by means of a rope strung across the moat.
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 again made Owen a wanted man. With three other Jesuits he took refuge at Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire. When the house was raided, 100 men were employed to search for them, but failed to find the priest-hole.
After eight days the starving Owen slipped out of the hiding place unobserved and tried to pass himself off to his captors as a priest in order to save Fr Garnet.
The ruse failed, and Owen was mercilessly tortured in the Tower, until on March 22 1606 his entrails burst out when he was on the rack, and he expired.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Forgerygate: Ignoring Arpaio's report is a scandal in itself

by: Jeffrey T. Kuhner
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Is President Obama’s birth certificate a forgery? Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., believes it is. He recently held a press conference in Phoenix to discuss the findings of a new 10-page report. Mr. Arpaio’s investigators have come to a stunning conclusion: The long-form birth certificate Mr. Obama released last year is a “computer-generated forgery.”

With the exception of The Washington Times, however, no major U.S. media outlet reported this bombshell story. The liberal press corps is desperately trying to suppress any discussion of Forgerygate — potentially one of the biggest scandals in American history. The media class is betraying its fundamental mission to pursue the truth.

“Based on all of the evidence presented and investigated, I cannot in good faith report to you that these documents are authentic,” Sheriff Arpaio said. “My investigators believe that the long-form birth certificate was manufactured electronically and that it did not originate in paper format as claimed by the White House.”

The Washington Times story, written by Stephen Dinan, points out that Mr. Arpaio has called for Congress to investigate the matter. Think about this: A high-profile sheriff orders a team of former law enforcement officials to examine whether the president is truly a natural born citizen and that he has the constitutional and legal right to occupy the White House. Their official report is that Mr. Obama’s documents are shoddy and he likely engaged in deliberate fraud. And yet, most of the American press corps doesn’t believe this is an important news story? The liberal media has become rotten to the core.

Ironically, the foreign press reported widely on the story. For example, Pravda — that’s right, the former official organ of the Soviet Communist Party — did an extensive analysis of Mr. Arpaio’s findings. The article by Dianna Cotter asks the obvious question: What are U.S. journalists afraid of?

The answer is that the issue strikes at the heart of Mr. Obama’s administration: If his presidency is illegal, then all of his accomplishments — the stimulus, Obamacare, the contraceptive mandate, the government takeover of the auto sector and appointments to the Supreme Court — are illegitimate as well. The scandal would trigger a constitutional crisis.

Following Mr. Obama’s surprise news conference last year, when he unveiled the long-form certificate, the media insisted that the controversy was settled once and for all. The "birthers" supposedly had been silenced. Mr. Arpaio’s report, however, changes that. The issue has been resuscitated — except in the eyes of the mainstream media.

A prominent sheriff says he has damning evidence that Mr. Obama probably lied to the public. The international media believes it’s a big deal; many Americans agree. They want to get to the bottom of it. Yet, the liberal hacks at the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC can do nothing more than yawn.

Contrast this with their treatment of President George W. Bush. Throughout the Bush years it was open season: routine comparisons to Adolf Hitler, charges of being a war criminal, calls for impeachment, trumped-up scandals like the Valerie Plame affair, investigations into the partying habits of his teenage daughters, stories about Mr. Bush’s drinking as a younger man, his National Guard service and mediocre college grades — journalists left no stone unturned, no questions unanswered, no topic was beyond the pale.

Not with Mr. Obama. In fact, the opposite is true: Almost everything pertinent is not to be touched. He is the least-vetted president in modern memory. During the 2008 campaign, the liberal media deliberately propped up Mr. Obama. They suppressed vital information about his radical past and deep ties to virulent revolutionary leftists — the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Derrick Bell, Saul Alinsky and Edward Said. For all of their differences, they share one value in common: hatred for traditional America.

To this day, Mr. Obama’s college transcripts, undergraduate thesis and health records remain sealed. We know little about his years in Indonesia as a young boy; his overseas trips to countries like Pakistan in the 1980s; his relationship with his mother and Muslim stepfather; and his time spent as a “community organizer” in Chicago. In short, the president’s past is clouded in mystery. This is not conspiracy-mongering, but objective fact. Americans have a right to know who their commander-in-chief really is. Instead, the media wants to bury any debate or inquiry into Mr. Obama’s background.

Whether you believe Mr. Obama’s long-form birth certificate is a forgery or not, Mr. Arpaio should be applauded. He has done our nation a huge service. He is asking the press corps to look into an issue of the highest importance: Has the president committed a monstrous hoax and fraud upon the American people? In particular, the sheriff’s team has identified a supposed “person of interest” who they believe played a pivotal role in Forgerygate. The media must follow up on the story. If it is false, then Mr. Arpaio will be rightly humiliated and publicly discredited. But if — and I stress if — it is true, then the press will have unearthed a scandal that will shake this country to its very foundations. Either way, it’s time the media did their job and stop acting like Mr. Obama’s poodles.  

Jeffrey T. Kuhner  is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Father Felix Varela

A Cuban priest and patriot has been recognized as fulfilling the conditions for receiving the title "venerable" and there's a possibility Benedict XVI will bestow the honor while he visit Cuba from March 26 to 29.

Father Felix Varela was recognized for heroic virtue earlier this month by a commission of cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for Saints' Causes.

The general postulator of Father Varela’s cause, La Salle Brother Rodolfo Meoli, was clearly pleased with the positive conclusion of the canonical process.

“With the approval of the Commission of Cardinals and Bishops, and after the Pope’s consent, the Congregation for Saints' Causes will issue the Decree super virtutibus, on the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Felix Varela, which will promote him to Venerable.”

“The Commission of Cardinals and Bishops pronounced itself after the decision of the Theological Commission, expressed on December 13 of last year, which recognized in Father Varela the practice of virtues to a heroic degree,” continued Brother Meoli.

And he explained that “the same day in which the Pope authorizes Cardinal Amato to sign the Decree, the news will be made known to the public by L’Osservatore Romano, probably together with other causes brought to the Holy Father.” This could happen in concomitance with Benedict XVI’s pastoral visit to Cuba.

Felix Varela

Father Varela is considered one of the fathers of the Cuban nation. Born in Havana in 1788, he was ordained a priest at age 23. At 24 he was appointed professor of philosophy, physics and ethics in the capital’s seminary. Here he established the country’s first laboratory of physics and chemistry.

In the history of Cuban culture Father Varela occupies a pre-eminent place for his contribution to the development of the national culture and for his patriotism and his virtue. He was a professor, educator and model of piety for his disciples. In 1821, at 33, he was sent as a representative of Cuba to the Courts of Madrid.

His three initiatives in Spain were: a government for the overseas provinces, independence and the abolition of slavery.

In Madrid he organized a group with representatives of some other overseas provinces, to improve the defense of common rights.

His proposals were not approved and, with the re-establishment of monarchical absolutism, he left Spain in 1823. Unable to return to Cuba, he went, in self-imposed exile, to New York, where he continued his battle.

He built churches and schools, and evangelized the poor and immigrants, helping in their integration. He died in the United States in February of 1853. His body rests in the Great Hall of the University of Havana.

In 1981 the Cuban government created the Felix Varela Order, the country’s highest decoration.