Anchorage, Alaska, Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - Imagine the chance to hike thousands of miles along the same mythical forests as King Arthur, follow the same trail that Richard the Lion Heart took as he went off to battle in the Crusade and retrace the same steps of Saints Joan of Arc and Francis of Assisi.
Connie and Mark Meehleis of Anchorage have followed these legends three different times, the latest in 2006. They followed the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James from Namur, Belgium to Santiago, Spain.
The Camino is a pilgrimage tradition that dates back to medieval times when pilgrims retraced St. James the Great’s last journey from Jerusalem to his final resting place in Santiago.
The European Union estimates that close to 200,000 people will make the trip this year from all over the world — many of those being young college-age students backpacking across Europe. While Mark and Connie are well past their college years, they have young hearts in their retiree bodies. Unlike many of their fellow middle-age counterparts, the Meehleis chose to walk roughly 16 miles a day as pilgrims — rather than stroll along a golf course or lay on the beach.
"Our primary purpose (for making the trip) was to be closer to God, to enhance our spiritual and interior life and appreciate the history and heritage of our Catholic faith," the couple said during a recent visit with Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz and staff from the archdiocese.
The couple made a conscious effort to approach their backpacking trip as pilgrims and to imitate the lives of the apostles. That meant living simply, taking only two changes of clothes, food, water and guidebooks, packed tightly into two 20-30 pound backpacks.
"It made life much simpler, and required us to live on faith," Connie said. "Life becomes much simpler, your concerns become simple questions like where will I lay my head, where will I eat?"
The couple said the experience of simple life and the solitude of the trail helped them develop an interior life. "I call it walk therapy," Mark said. "You’re out walking, getting the blood moving — you get better conversations with one another."
Faith on the trail
Those conversations with other pilgrims were opportunities to share the faith. The couple said most of the people they encountered on the trail were doing it for adventure and not for spiritual reasons.
Mark had one opportunity to share his faith when he met a Frenchman named Renee. Renee, like Mark, experienced trouble with his feet swelling and blistering after many long days on the trial. The two men helped bandage each other’s feet at night.
"We even were helping support one another physically when we came into one town at the end of the day," Mark recalled.
Besides camaraderie found along the trail, the couple also experienced the rich historical heritage of the Catholic Church on a daily basis. "Every day you would always see some historic church or monastery from miles away," Mark said. "It was amazing to see a steeple off in the distance, knowing that pilgrims four hundred years ago saw that same landmark."
Traditionally, monasteries offered pilgrims refuge at night. That tradition continues today in the form of refugios, places where volunteers open their homes, businesses or churches to tired pilgrims at night.
This time around, the couple took two weeks out of their trip to help lodge other pilgrims at a refugio in Bercianos del Real Camino, Spain. The chance to offer hospitality to fellow pilgrims was an experience that required a bit of faith, because of the different languages and not knowing who would show up at night. The couple woke up early to clean the 400-year old rectory and fret about the evening meal. "Then we would pray that God would send an angel to help us cook," Mark said. Their prayers were always answered — they always had someone who knew their way around a kitchen. During their stay, they sampled various cooking styles, including German, Dutch and Hungarian.
The trail’s end
The Camino offers many different trails for pilgrims, but all end at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the final resting place of Saint James the Greater.
After walking 2,300 kilometers (1,426 miles) over 106 days and wearing out two pairs of hiking boots across France and Spain, the Meehleis’ finally reached the end of their journey. Following tradition, they hugged a huge statue of St. James, said a prayer of thanksgiving and went to a special Mass. They were tired, but transformed.
"It was such a joyous, spiritual event that helped strengthen our mind, body and spirit," Connie said.
So after three long walks across Europe, does this mean that Connie and Mark plan to trade in their hiking boots and water bottles for beach sandals and mimosas? "Pray for us as we prepare to walk the ‘La Via Franciegena’ from Canterbury to Rome in 2009!" they said.
The original story can be found at: http://www.catholicanchor.org/local.html
Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - A Kenyan court found yesterday that an American priest, whose death was originally ruled to be suicide, was actually murdered, contrary to an FBI finding. The court has ordered a new police investigation into his death.
Fr. John Kaiser, a 67 year-old priest originally from Perham, Minnesota worked in Kenya for 35 years and was well known as an advocate for human rights.
It has been speculated that he was killed because he accused some of Kenya's most powerful politicians of being responsible for political violence in 1991-92 that was carried out under the guise of tribal fighting. He also helped teenage girls pursue cases of rape against a former powerful Cabinet member.
His body was found on August 24, 2000 on the side of a busy highway between the town of Naivasha and Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. His shotgun was found by his side, and his pickup truck was 33 feet away in a ditch, according to the AP.
Police at the scene initially said they believed he was slain and that it was made to look like a suicide.
At the request of the Kenyan government, an FBI team was sent to investigate his death and concluded that Fr. Kaiser had committed suicide.
The FBI report stated that because Fr. Kaiser suffered from depression he more than likely killed himself. However, the FBI acknowledged that their 80-plus page brief, filed in April of 2001, was not a substitute for a well-planned investigation.
Senior Principal Magistrate Maureen Odero, who presided over the inquest into the missionary’s death, described the FBI's work as "seriously flawed." But she said that based on the evidence she could not clearly identify who killed Kaiser.
The late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Kaiser's colleagues all rejected the FBI findings. The clergymen that worked with Kaiser said that he had been living in constant fear for his life and have called for a full investigation.
"The court totally rejects the FBI report and in particular the court rejects the conclusion and findings therein indicating that Father Kaiser took his own life," said Odero. "Based on the evidence before this inquest, the court concludes that Father Kaiser met his death as result of culpable homicide."
Saginaw, Mich., Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - A group of seminarians has joined the YouTube phenomenon and posted three one-minute videos on the Church’s teachings about contraception.
The videos, entitled "NFP vs. Contraception", are a take on the popular Mac-PC commercials.
The three videos have already had nearly 9,000 views combined. According to Nielson/NetRatings, the website has nearly 20 million visitors per month, with the dominant age group being 12 to 17 year-olds.
The actors are seminarians for the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, Dan Kogut and Jeremy Meuser.
Kogut, who mimics the cool Mac personality in the popular commercials, plays the part of “NFP” and represents the Catholic position on sex, sexuality and natural family planning. Meuser impersonates the PC personality as “Contraception”. Eddie Dwyer, a seminarian for the Diocese of Saginaw, wrote the three skits.
The seminarians decided to make the videos while at the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska, this summer.
“Eddie definitely had evangelization in mind with the skits, but we also just thought it would be fun to do and that people might get a kick out of it,” Kogut told CNA.
The seminarians’ videos join hundreds of other pro-life videos are posted on YouTube.
Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has launched a new ad campaign in the region’s movie theaters to promote the benefits of a Catholic school education.
The 30-second commercials have been running on 264 movie theater screens, along with trailers of upcoming films, since July 6, reported The Associated Press.
The $120,000 effort is an expansion of a marketing campaign the archdiocese launched during Catholic Schools Week in January, archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said.
The objective is to boost enrollment, which has dropped significantly over the past six years. The number of elementary school students has dropped from 78,921 students to 62,559, while high school enrollment declined from 23,249 to 20,749.
The archdiocese has used banner ads on buses and print and radio ads for its ad campaigns, but this is the first time its ads are projected on the silver screen.
Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - Responding to the collapse of the 35 West bridge in Minneapolis during yesterday’s rush hour, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is holding a prayer service for the victims of the disaster.
The prayer service is open to anyone who would like to come and pray for the victims. There will be two prayer services in the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis service will be held at St. Olaf Catholic Church downtown and the St. Paul service will be at the Cathedral of St. Paul both at noon on Thursday, August 2, 2007.
The archdiocese says prayers of thanks also will be offered for survivors and rescuers.
Local News Station KARE has reported that at least four people are confirmed dead, over 60 injured and 20 missing after an eight-lane bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River just after 6:00 p.m. yesterday.
Due to construction on the bridge, only two lanes were open at the time, which officials think will help limit the death toll from the disaster. Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said inspectors are examining the bridge - both the collapsed portion and what is still standing - to ensure its stability before recovery workers will be allowed back into the scene.
Staten Island, N.Y., Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - Abortion clinics nationwide should be required to post a sign stating that women cannot be forced into having an abortion, say the founders of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, the nation's largest network of women hurt by abortion.
Co-founders Georgette Forney and Janet Morana, believe the law should be based on a newly adopted measure in Arkansas, which requires abortion businesses to post a sign stating that women cannot be forced to have an abortion.
"I can't tell you how many women I know who've been pressured into aborting by a boyfriend, husband, or parent," said Forney.
"This Arkansas statute is really just a gentle reminder to women that no one has the right to threaten or intimidate us into terminating our children,” she continued. “Everyone in every state should support this type of legislation. After all, how could someone who says he's pro-choice oppose a law that tells a woman she has a choice?"
Janet Morana said the law is needed because abortion clinics have a financial interest in women having abortions and would not post such a sign on their own.
Lisbon, Portugal, Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - A significant number of doctors in Portugal have been exercising conscientious objection and refusing to perform abortions since the law authorizing abortions became effective July 15.
Portugal passed its abortion law, following a Feb. 11 referendum in which 59.3 percent of the votes were in favor of decriminalizing the procedure. The law allows for abortion up to 10 weeks gestation, or 16 weeks in cases of rape, and up to 24 weeks if the fetus has congenital malformation or an incurable disease.
According to IPS, very few women have been availing themselves of their right to abortions since mid-July because many doctors in public hospitals refuse to perform them.
This is contributing to delays in hospitals all over the country, where women are on waiting lists for mandatory counseling appointments. They must also have an ultrasound examination to determine gestational age, before being given a date for the procedure, which may be another15 days later, reported IPS.
The Health Ministry has acknowledged that doctors' recourse to conscientious objection has left the state with its hands tied. Its only remaining option, it says, is to contract doctors from outside its hospital system.
Vasco Freire, the head of Médicos pela Escolha (Doctors for Choice), told IPS that many of his colleagues refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds. "But in many cases, their conscientious objection is limited to state hospitals and does not apply in private medicine."
To comply with the law, the National Health Service estimates it will need to spend some eight million dollars a year, to provide between 17,000 and 18,000 abortions.
Reactions to the new law vary from one region of the country to another. In Madeira, the very religious North Atlantic archipelago, citizens are upset about the imposition of the abortion law.
Madeira's regional secretary for Social Affairs, Francisco Jardim Ramos, said July 15 that Lisbon "cannot behave like a colonial power and impose on this autonomous region a law that 64 percent of (Madeira's) population rejected in the referendum."
In response, Health Minister António Correia de Campos said women from Madeira, who want an abortion, could come to the mainland, so long as the autonomous community paid for their travel. Jardim Ramos replied that the central government ought to bear those costs.
London, England, Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - The president of the Committee on Marriage and the Family of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Bishop John Hine, expressed his “special concern” for a law that “would make cohabitation equivalent to marriage,” giving them “legal recognition, with their corresponding rights and titles.”
Bishop Hine said the law has to do with “financial consequences” for cohabiting couples when they separate and that it creates one set of rules for them that are completely distinct from the rules that are applies for married couples who divorce. The bishop stressed that the State “has the duty to promote, uphold and safeguard marriage as the basis of family life, the best and most stable environment for bringing up children”.
“Couples who live together and who deliberately choose not to marry neglect the responsibilities and duties of marriage, therefore, they should also be exempt from the legal benefits,” he explained.
For this reason, he emphasized, it is not acceptable to “make cohabitation equivalent to marriage” by establishing that those who have lived together for a certain length of time should receive legal recognition.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - In a reflection for the upcoming August 4 feast of the Cure d’Ars, who is also called St. John Vianney, Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz said this week that the first requirement of a parish priest is to be “an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ, because only a priest in love with the Lord can renew a parish.”
Delivery his remarks on local radio, Archbishop Arancedo said, “If I were asked which is the most important task of all the ones carried out by priests … I would say it is being a pastor, at the risk of sounding biased,” and he acknowledged, “I have a particular appreciation and esteem for this priestly ministry.”
“In the parish,” he continued, “a priest lives the mission of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, in a full and concrete way,” through which shines forth “the entire ecclesial dimension of the person and ministry of the pastor.”
In referring to priests as father, the archbishop said, the term acquires “all of its spiritual meaning and value.” He noted that the recent CELAM document from Aparecida looks to the pastor first and foremost in addressing the issue of parish renewal, saying he should be “an arduous missionary who yearns constantly to seek out the lost and is not content with mere administration.”
After noting that priests are entrusted with a parish to be “its own pastor,” Archbishop Arancedo said that that “means that we have an example of pastoral care in our parish priests.” “This relationship involves us and commits us as living members of the same community,” he went on. For this reason, “it’s not a one-way street that goes from the pastor to the faithful, but rather that other relationship of the faithful to their pastor is also needed,” he said. “They have been ordained at your service, they need your presence and collaboration,” the archbishop stated.
Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 2, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, called on the faithful this week to imitate St. Juan Diego, “a model layman we should all follow,” who became a symbol of unity for two nations that seemed irreconcilable, “with distinct cultures and diverse religions.”
During a Mass commemorating the fifth anniversary of the canonization of the 16th century Aztec convert, Cardinal Rivera said, “Juan Diego is the symbol of that unity. There we discover the mysteries of the Kingdom, that mystery of God who is One amidst great diversity; and there couldn’t have been more diversity than at that moment: between an oppressed nation and a triumphant nation.”
Likewise, the cardinal pointed out that Juan Diego represents the Church, “which was coming into being on our continent, that Church which is built not only on the word, but also around the bishop, because where there is no bishop there can be no Church.”
“Juan Diego,” he went on, “was a humble and simple Indian who continually nourished himself with the sacraments of the Church and gloried in the baptism he had received from the friars.” Nevertheless, the cardinal pointed out, Juan Diego was not only nourished by prayer, “he also changed his life,” he left his land and his family to bring the gospel to his Mexican brothers and sisters.
“We praise and glorify God our Father because He desired to choose a humble and simple Indian,” Cardinal Rivera stated, highlighting the qualities of the saint, because God prefers the humble.
Lastly, Cardinal Rivera urged believers to have faith in order to overcome adverse situations, as “when it seems there is no hope, the new sun appears in the womb of Holy Maria of Guadalupe, and therefore those rays of light come forth from her body, because there is the true sun of justice: Christ Jesus.”