Indialantic, Fla., Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - Beth Burwell wrestled with the question of whether she could forego having a husband or children.
The answer came to her while visiting a Bronx, N.Y., convent where nuns help single mothers with unwanted pregnancies.
"I held a little girl who had been born at the convent, and I welled up with tears recognizing this little girl might not have been," the 22-year-old from Satellite Beach said in an e-mail. "But God called a group of wonderful women to sacrifice their own marriages and children so that they could help this little girl's mother to say 'yes' to life, 'yes' to motherhood, 'yes' to this precious gift."
Burwell, a University of Central Florida graduate, left a week ago to join the convent of the Sisters of Life and dedicate her life to the Roman Catholic religious order. She was one of five parishioners of Holy Name of Jesus Church in Indialantic, ranging in age from 18 to 34, to enter religious life in recent months, defying a national trend that has seen the ranks of the Catholic Church in the United States grow thinner and grayer.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in 1965 there were 58,132 priests serving 46.6 million U.S. Catholics -- or about one for every 802 parishioners -- compared to 43,302 priests serving 64.3 million Catholics -- one per 1,485 -- in 2004.
Convents have fared just as badly, raising questions about who will staff the Catholic schools and hospitals that had traditionally been their domain.
"The crisis is still ongoing," said the Rev. David Page, the 75-year-old pastor of Holy Name. "It's a crisis in many places and there are many more priests over 70 than under 40. It's a big concern. If that trend continues, how will people receive the sacrament? There is a tremendous need."
Holy Name, on State Road A1A just south of the Eau Gallie Causeway in unincorporated Indialantic, has become an anomaly of sorts. In addition to the five parishioners who plan to take vows, another three entered religious life in recent years.
"It's very unusual, especially for one parish to see this happen," said Page, a native of Ireland.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C., called the news "astounding." But she also said vocations seem to be cyclical.
"After World War II, there was a spike in vocations," she said, adding that, by the Vietnam War, people were questioning everything, including religion and the church. That's when she said the priest shortage worsened.
Two other Brevard County Catholic churches also boast a new seminarian each, but none has reached Holy Name's numbers. Holy Name credits a successful teen program and youth ministry that sometimes sees a standing-room-only crowd at the Sunday night teen mass.
Bishop Thomas Wenski, of the Orlando diocese, earlier this year called on all area parishes to set up vocation committees to work with young people who may be considering religious life.
The Rev. Miguel Gonzalez, vocation director for the Orlando Diocese, said the church invites high school students to visit seminaries, encourages youth groups and works to make the option known to youth.
The required vows
In addition to a vow of celibacy, those who choose religious life will be taking vows of poverty and obedience to their superiors. They may be able to request certain assignments within their respective orders but, in many cases, they must be willing to accept anything.
After spending nine years as a student at Holy Name of Jesus School during the 1980s, Julie Winkeljohn said she gave some thought to becoming a nun. But it wasn't until years later, while attending Mississippi State University, that she seriously considered turning her life over to God.
"That's when I really started growing into my faith," said Winkeljohn, who entered the novitiate for the Daughters of St. Paul after spending two years studying in the convent. "I got involved with the Catholic Student Association. I went on retreats and then went on a mission trip to Mexico and just started really owning my own faith."
The 32-year-old Satellite High graduate thought long and hard about giving up the prospects of a husband and children to enter service.
"It is a sacrifice, but the way I look at it is not so much what I am giving up but rather what I have," she said.
'It was his calling'
Richardson, the only Brevard County high school graduate from this past May to enter the seminary, said he started thinking seriously about the priesthood while in the 10th grade at Satellite High.
Reading a biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola cemented his decision.
"It really touched me how this man could change with such heroic charity for the people and for God," Richardson said from the St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami.
Richardson's mother, Alina, said she wasn't surprised by her son's choice.
"He was a very serious child. I told him he was born old," she said. "He used to say he wanted to be president. So for one of his birthdays we took him to the White House. Now, it's like, 'Wow! We're going to have a priest in the family.' It was his calling."
Richardson hopes to one day be ordained a parish priest in the diocese where he was raised.
Page credits God with calling five of his parishioners to service, but also gives kudos to a fervent youth ministry, as well as a prayerful community.
"We have a chapel for adoration that's open 24 hours a day, and there's always at least two people praying in the chapel," he said. "A lot of people believe that adoration of the Lord leads to vocations."
Winklejohn agreed, saying God deserves the credit.
"It's definitely a movement of the spirit," she said.
Vatican City, Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - This morning, in the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo, the Holy Father Benedict XVI received the president of Israel, Shimon Peres in an audience. The Pope encouraged the president to take advantage of the present favorable conditions to resolve the conflict which has lasted for 60 years.
Pope Benedict expressed hope that given the recent renewal of contact between Israel and Palestine and the international conference scheduled for next November that the long-lasting crisis can be resolved.
He called on the Israelis and Palestinians to “make every effort to respond to the expectations of their peoples, sorely tried by a crisis that has lasted for 60 years and that continues to inflict mourning and destruction.”
On Wednesday, Peres told the AP that recent meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the flurry of diplomatic activity in the Middle East could be the most promising developments yet in efforts to bring peace to the region.
During the his visit to the Vatican, President Peres also renewed an invitation for the Holy Father to visit the Holy Land, but the Vatican said that while Pope Benedict wants to visit, “this will only be possible when there is lasting peace or at least a solid truce between Israelis and Palestinians.”
A meeting was also held between the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Israeli president. Their conversation centered around the continuing relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See, particularly in regard to property taxes that the Israeli government levies on the Church, which is one of the major land owners in the region.
Kolkata, India, Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - It was still dark, almost an hour before sunrise on Sept. 5, but the freshly decorated white marble tomb of Blessed Teresa gleamed as the feast day of the saintly nun began.
According to UCA News, activities began early in the morning with the arrival of more than 150 women, men and children from slum areas where Blessed Teresa had begun her mission among "the poorest of the poor."
The program of activities that day marked the 10th death anniversary of the world-renowned nun, who lived in this eastern Indian city formerly called Calcutta. Her tomb sits inside the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) congregation that she started in 1950.
The tomb, adorned with flowers and the words "Happy Feast, Mother" formed with yellow marigold petals, was lit up by the glow of candles held by people who came for the morning program.
Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta led the 6 a.m. Mass in the motherhouse chapel with 12 priests. The chapel was crowded with MC novices, all in white, professed nuns in their blue-bordered white saris, Religious brothers, priests and people of various religions.
The archbishop asked the congregation to meditate on the words Blessed Teresa spoke or wrote. "They were very simple," but revealed a person of great depth, he added.
After the Mass, the MC novices walked down to the courtyard and sang "Happy Feast Day, Mother, and may God make you a saint" before a huge picture of Blessed Teresa. The picture had been displayed at St. Peter's Square when Pope John Paul II beatified the nun on Oct. 19, 2003, at the Vatican.
Sister Nirmala Joshi, Blessed Teresa's successor, told the gathering she was "overwhelmed with joy" and "a great feeling of gratitude for what God has given to each one of us, especially in Kolkata," through Blessed Teresa.
She wanted all to "pray to Mother to instill in us love for God and all his children, especially the neglected, poor and those who have nowhere to go."
In an August interview with UCA News, Sister Nirmala said the Vatican has cleared most formalities for declaring the MC founder a saint. All that is required is "one more miracle" through Blessed Teresa's intercession, she added.
When a reporter asked Sister Nirmala if everyone experiences the "crisis of faith" revealed in a recently published book of Blessed Teresa's private letters, she answered in the negative.
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a collection of some of the nun's letters to confessors, has stirred controversy.
"Only those of an advanced level of spirituality" experience this, Sister Nirmala said, calling it a sign of being close to God. It is like being close "to the sun and so blinded by the brilliance," she explained.
At the tomb, people continued to pray. Harihar Sahu, who was born blind and a Hindu but later became a Protestant, sang his own composition at the tomb. The nuns said he regularly visits on her birthday and feast day.
Also seen around the tomb were people from Motijhil, the slum area where Mother Teresa began her work. One of them, Polly Ghosh Roy, told UCA News she believes the saintly nun is still with them.
The MC nuns prepared for the feast with a special novena, nine days of prayers, and daily Mass at the tomb starting Aug. 27. The archdiocese celebrated Mass in English and in Bengali at Blessed Teresa's Christ the King Parish.
Beijing, China, Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - The hope for reconciliation between the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Vatican seems to be dimming as the government-run church claims that it will ordain new bishops to lead 40 vacant Chinese dioceses.
According to the China Daily, a senior CCPA says that out of China's 97 dioceses, 40 do not have bishops while another 30 are headed by elderly church officials.
Liu Bainian, the vice-president of the government church said, "Many of the current bishops are old, with 30 of them above 80 years old," and that “[w]e are in dire need of bishops."
Liu blamed the shortage on the Vatican's long-time opposition to China's practice of appointing its own bishops. He said the country could no longer wait for the decades-old
rift to heal before making new appointments.
"While Chinese Catholics want to select those with good religious knowledge and love toward the country and the people, the Vatican wants those who oppose the Communist Party," he said.
The appointing of bishops is one of the major sources of conflict between the Vatican and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which have been at odds since the Association was founded in 1957.
The government sees appointments by the Vatican as the Church meddling in their internal affairs, whereas the Church sees the issue from the exact opposite perspective. Liu commented, "Diplomatic factors should not be considered a precondition for religious affairs."
The threat of consecrating new bishops comes in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent attempts at reconciling the “underground” and “official” Chinese churches with his letter to the Church in China this past June.
Paris, France, Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - French President Nicholas Sarkozy has urged all French teachers to participate in a renaissance of the French education system, which he believes should include the instruction of religion.
"I am convinced that we should not leave the issue of religion at the school door," Sarkozy wrote in a letter to educators, which was made public Sept. 4.
The French president underlined that he was not advocating for proselytizing or teaching within a theological framework. However, he clearly stated his belief that religion and spirituality are significant to the human person.
"The spiritual and the sacred always accompany human experiences. They are the source of all civilization,” he said. “One can open up easily to others and one can dialogue more easily with people of other religions when one understands their religion.”
The president urged teachers to go beyond teaching content and assist young people in character development. Their responsibility, he said, is to "guide and to protect the spirit and the sensibilities that are not yet completely formed, that have not yet attained maturity, which are searching, which are still fragile and vulnerable."
Sarkozy said the educational reform must include "rewarding the good, punishing the faults, cultivating an admiration of that which is good, just, beautiful, great, true and profound and [cultivating] a detestation of that which is bad, unjust, ugly, insignificant, untrue, superficial and mediocre. That is how a teacher renders his service to a child in his care."
He also called on educators to help cultivate in young people an appreciation for culture and to instill the virtue of patriotism so that children will grow to be responsible citizens.
The president concluded by echoing the Catholic teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children. He urged parents to be actively involved in their children’s education and promised to make quality education more accessible.
, Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - A coalition of concerned citizens gathered on the steps of New York City Hall to express their concerns regarding the opening of a new school, designed to immerse students in the Islamic culture.
Citizens are concerned because the new Khalil Gibran International Academy has three fundamentalist imams on its board of advisors as well as other people with connections to militant Islamic organizations. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is reportedly affiliated to the school.
According to a press release issued by the Thomsas More Law Center, federal prosecutors have listed the CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in an ongoing case against the Holy Land Foundation, which is alleged to have provided material support to foreign terrorists. News media also report that FBI wiretaps have placed the current executive director of CAIR at a meeting of alleged Hamas leaders several years ago.
The citizen coalition is asking city officials for full disclosure regarding the new school.
“We want to know what the curriculum is, what textbooks are being used, who the teachers are, and what groups affiliated with the school, like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, will have access to the children,” said Brian Rooney, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, which is acting on behalf of citizens.
“The Law Center will continue to use the courts to get information on the school that the city has refused to provide,” said Rooney. “This lack of response to our request for information strongly suggests that the school cannot meet state education standards. Moreover, it continues to raise suspicions that the Khalil Gibran International Academy is an anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-Jewish propaganda center operating as a public school.”
Rooney said the Law Center will also monitor the school in order to ensure that it comports with state and federal law.
Citizens are concerned that the city is setting up “a segregated, separate but equal public school system: one for Islam and another for everyone else,” he added.
Madison, Wis., Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - Newly proposed legislation in Wisconsin could force doctors to act against their conscience and give emergency contraception to rape victims, says Pro-Life Wisconsin.
The advocacy group, which includes pro-life physicians, will present their arguments Thursday before a public hearing committee on two bills that would force every Wisconsin hospital, regardless of religious affiliation, to provide an alleged victim of sexual assault emergency contraception immediately upon her request.
Wisconsin law currently protects the right of hospitals to refuse to participate in morally objectionable practices such as abortion and sterilization.
Pro-Life Wisconsin’s primary opposition to the State Capitol on Senate Bill SB 129 and the companion Assembly Bill (AB) 377 is based on the effect of emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, which causes a pre-implantation chemical abortion.
“There is no truthful person educated in medicine that would deny the possibility that ‘emergency contraception’ may prevent the embryo from implanting in the womb,” said Dr. Amy Schueckler, a licensed obstetrician and gynecologist from Green Bay.
“Individuals and institutions have a right to follow their conscience and not be forced by the state to provide treatments that may result in the death of an already conceived human being,” said Dr. James Linn, a Milwaukee-area hospital chairman of obstetrics and gynecology.
The draft legislation does not require a hospital “to provide emergency contraception to a victim who is pregnant, as indicated by a test for pregnancy.” However, a standard pregnancy test cannot accurately determine fertilization; it can only determine implantation.
“Forcing doctors to immediately provide medication to patients based solely upon their request is simply bad medicine,” said Matt Sande, director of legislation for Pro-Life Wisconsin. In the case of emergency contraception, such a policy could contradict a physician’s medical judgment as EC could be medically inadvisable for the patient.
Sydney, Australia, Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - Australian Supreme Court Justice George Palmer has composed the music for the World Youth Day 2008 closing Mass with Pope Benedict XVI at Randwick Racecourse.
He titled the mass Benedictus qui venit, from the Latin liturgy "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord", to honor Pope Benedict, who will make his first visit to Australia for World Youth Day in July.
In comments to the Sydney Morning Herald Palmer said, "This is a youth Mass, but it has to be suitable for everyday Sunday use, so it has to be happy, uplifting and full of energy.”
"George's mass is full of life and optimism but it is very profound," said Fr. Peter Williams, the director of liturgy for World Youth Day.
Palmer is a judge in the equity division of the NSW Supreme Court. He has written classical music for his own pleasure for many years. He urgently wanted to hear his music played when his father was dying in 2001 and his own hearing suddenly deteriorated. He now has only "a quarter of an ear".
This led to an ABC recording, coverage by ABC-TV's Australian Story in 2004, and a stream of requests for his music.
Justice Palmer was one of five composers recommended to submit ideas for World Youth Day. After assessment by a panel of peers, Cardinal George Pell made the final decision.
"I couldn't imagine anything more exciting than a multitude of people singing together and sharing the whole experience with the spirit that music engenders," Justice Palmer said. "That is the biggest hit of energy."
Vatican City, Sep 6, 2007 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI addressed bishops from the Episcopal Conferences of Laos and Cambodia today as they concluded their visit to the Holy See. He called them to maintain their Catholic identity while respecting the traditions of the culture in which they live.
The Pope remarked, “You carry out your ministry at the service of the Church in often-difficult conditions and in a great variety of situations. Be sure that you have my fraternal support and the support of the Universal Church in your service to the people of God."
The pontiff also drew particular attention to one facet of ministry in Laos and Cambodia: "the announcement of the Christian faith within a particular culture." He recalled how "the recent celebration of the 450th anniversary of the presence of the Church in Cambodia was an occasion for the faithful to gain a deeper awareness of the long history of Christians in the region."
Though the strong majority of people in both Cambodia and Laos identify as Buddhist, "In truth, the Christian faith is not foreign to your peoples. 'Jesus is the Good News for the men and women of every time and place in their search for the meaning of existence and for the truth of their own humanity,' and in her announcement to all peoples the Church does not wish to impose herself but to bear witness to her respect for human beings and for the society in which she lives.”
The Pope emphasized the importance of Catholics respecting the traditions and cultures of others while expressing one’s own Catholic identity, “This identity must be expressed, primarily, through an authentic spiritual experience based on accepting the Word of God and on the Sacraments of the Church."
Another area of significance addressed by the Pope was, "the formation of the faithful, above all that of religious and of catechists" whose "role in vitalizing Christian communities is of great importance." Moreover, "with a solidly-founded Christian faith, they can establish authentic dialogue with members of other religions so as to cooperate in developing your countries and in promoting the common good."
In closing, Pope Benedict addressed how "the resolute commitment of the Christian community in favor of the least privileged is also a specific sign of the authenticity of its faith. The Church's social activities ... enjoy the appreciation of the population and of the authorities" because "they eloquently highlight God's love for all human beings with distinction."
"It is very important that the Church's charitable work maintains all of its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance."