Archive of September 21, 2007

Mother carries on late daughter’s legacy to help the poor in Dominican Republic

Convent Station, N.J., Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - Eileen Specchio, a professor at the College of St. Elizabeth, traveled to the Dominican Republic last month to lead an enthusiastic team of nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students on a mission trip to care for the health needs of the island nation’s desperately poor people.

One of Specchio’s daughters, Emily, was way ahead of the team of 65 people, at least in spirit.

The people shouted, “Emily’s madre” (Emily’s mother)  said Specchio, director of St. Elizabeth’s undergraduate nursing program, who brought the team to run the San Miguel clinic of the Randolph-based Foundation for Peace organization, by helping patients manage chronic diseases and by promoting good health practices among the people.

There’s a reason for the wild reaction to Specchio and her team, who from Aug. 4 to 9, treated workers on sugar plantations like her younger daughter Emily, who had twice had done mission work in this poor area. In this place where living is primitive, she captured the hearts of the locals and they, in turn, also touched her heart. 

Sadly, Emily would never return as she died unexpectedly of a ruptured cerebral aneurysm at the age of 21.  Her death occurred on May 15, 2006, two days after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business from the Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

“Kids ran up to me right away, exclaiming that Emily’s sister was back.  It was incredible,” Emily’s 26-year-old sister Kate, who went with their mother and aunt on last month’s trip, wrote in an Internet blog on a web site for a charity established in her memory, The Emily C. Specchio Foundation.

Over five days, the team that signed up for CSE’s new nursing serving leadership program treated about 3,000 thankful patients. Emily had asked her mother to accompany her on these trips, but she declined because she didn’t speak Spanish. Today, the professor has turned a mother’s unimaginable grief into assisting the world’s poor, in a sense extending her hands in place of her daughter’s compassionate hands that can no longer reach out.

Emily’s spirit was ahead of Specchio and Katie, a doctoral student in toxicology at Duke University, Durham, N.C., when they traveled to the Dominican Republic in August 2006.  They both were touched by a photo of Emily displayed in a local church. The faith community held a service for the beloved girl they called “Emily Special.”   Afterwards, they clamored to meet Specchio and Kate.

Specchio and Kate returned to the country in August with the team from CSE and from the School of Nursing at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. They ran clinics on the plantations, called “batays,” traveling to these isolated areas, where workers don’t get around to visit doctors, she said.

“They (team members) were shocked to see how needy the people are. The animals are malnourished. Children play in mud contaminated with feces. It was hot. There wasn’t any air conditioning,” Specchio said. “But everyone wanted to offer his or her skills to help. They wanted to give more,” she said.

The team set up primitive clinics by Western standards. They fashioned examination rooms from sheets. They used instruments not much more sophisticated than blood pressure cuffs. They also went out to visit homes, some which housed 17 people, Specchio said.

Team members assessed patients and distributed donated medications, including antibiotics, vitamins and aspirin. They referred serious cases to the Foundation for Peace.

The team also put together PowerPoint computer slide presentations on what Specchio called “basic stuff” such as hygiene and sanitation. They taught people how to cook meat and bury fecal matter. Members of the team, some of whom hailed from countries such as China and Haiti, delivered these presentations in English and Spanish. Some members even conversed in Creole, another local language, she said.

“To promote good health, they distributed health kits with items as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste,” Specchio said.

“They (team members) offered hope to the Dominican people that there are people who care about them,” said Specchio, a parishioner of St. Lawrence the Martyr, Chester, N.J.

That caring came through the nursing service leadership program, which fits neatly with the Catholic university’s mission of service learning and social justice.  The trip replaces the college’s course on community nursing needed for a bachelor’s degree in nursing and also provides nurses “contact hour” credits they need for continuing education or for license renewal, she said.

Now Specchio looks to the future of the program. She hopes to create a blueprint for other nursing programs to replicate.  That way, steady streams of nursing teams could travel to Dominican Republic to provide continuous care to help patients manage chronic illnesses. Teams also could educate locals on critical health issues such as HIV transmission, domestic violence, chronic illnesses, record keeping and hygiene, she said.

One CSE nursing student energized by the trip, 29-year-old Jonathan Esposito said the primitive conditions there gave him the experience using hands-on “rudimentary” diagnostic techniques not used in the United States.

“We accomplished our goal to serve the people,” said Esposito who admitted being shocked by the impoverished conditions there.  “It was symbiotic relationship. We went down to provide aid, but we came back with the gratitude of the people,” he said.

Perhaps Emily was smiling down on the team, her mother and sister Kate, who wrote in her blog after the trip, “Being in the Dominican Republic makes me feel closer to Emily. It feels good to continue her legacy there and keep her dream alive.”

The original story can be found here

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Catholic Charities USA Issues New Emergency Assistance Grants to Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City and Brooklyn

Alexandria, Va., Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - To help local Catholic Charities agencies with their recovery efforts from recent disasters in their communities, Catholic Charities USA's Office of Disaster Response has issued two new emergency assistance grants of $10,000 each to Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City and Brooklyn-Queens.

Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City will provide long-term case management services to victims of recent flooding caused by severe storms in four counties of western Oklahoma: Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, and Kingfisher.  The agency's case managers will staff the Disaster Recovery Center in all counties and will follow up with personal and telephone outreach. The agency will also work with community leaders to set up long-term recovery centers.

Catholic Charities USA, which has been commissioned by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to represent the Catholic community in times of domestic disaster, responds with emergency and long-term assistance as needed.  Its Disaster Response Office connects the Church's social service agencies and disaster planning offices across the nation.  The funding for these emergency grants comes from Catholic Charities USA's General Disaster Relief Fund.

To contribute to Catholic Charities USA's Disaster Response Fund
Call (800) 919-9338

Send checks to
Catholic Charities USA
Disaster Response
PO Box 7068, Merrifield, VA 22116-7068

Catholic Charities USA is unable to accept contributions of food, clothing, blankets and other relief supplies. Its federal ID number is 53-0196620.

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Amnesty organizes worldwide protest against Nicaragua’s sodomy law

Managua, Nicaragua, Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - Amnesty International has expanded its mission to gay rights issues and has demanded that Nicaragua to repeal its sodomy law.

Last week, Amnesty International, through its affiliates, orchestrated international protests outside Nicaraguan embassies and consulates in Germany, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Mexico, Paraguay, Sweden and Taiwan, demanding the repeal of Nicaragua's sodomy ban, reported

"Article 204 contradicts numerous provisions in international human rights law," said an Amnesty press release. It added that Nicaragua's law, "clearly violates all these articles as well as the provisions of other human rights instruments that Nicaragua has ratified on sodomy."

Nicaragua criminalized sodomy in 1992 under Article 204 of Nicaragua's criminal code. Nicaragua remains one of the last Latin American countries to criminalize homosexual behavior.

The predominantly Catholic nation passed a total ban on abortion in 2006. It has since been the target of mounting pressure from the United Nations and pro-abortion nations to overturn its abortion legislation.

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New Jersey attacks religious freedom of Methodist campground

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - The state of New Jersey denied the tax-exempt status of part of a Methodist campground because it has refused to host same-sex ceremonies. Ocean Grove Camp Ground in New Jersey was founded and has been privately owned by a Methodist organization since 1870.

According to the New York Times, the state commissioner of environmental protection declined to recertify a boardwalk pavilion as tax-exempt because the campground would not allow a lesbian couple to have their civil union ceremony there. The lesbian couple has filed a civil rights complaint with the state against the campground association.

Association leaders point to the United Methodist Church's official prohibition against same-sex unions on church property.
"The state ruled that the boardwalk pavilion no longer met the tax-exempt requirement as a place fully open to the public, which is inaccurate,” said Mark Tooley of United Methodist Action. "Contrary to New Jersey's assertions, the Ocean Grove Camp Ground Association has not limited the use of its boardwalk pavilion to any person, rather it has prohibited some behavior, according to the principles of the United Methodist Church.”

"The New Jersey government is now interfering with the camp association's religious liberty by revoking its green space tax exemption,” he said in a press release. “This tax exemption had previously been renewed year after year without objection. Now suddenly it has become endangered in a vindictive political attack unrelated to environmental protection or green space."

The administrator of the Camp Meeting Association, Scott Hoffman, said in a written statement that the Camp Meeting is reviewing the letter sent by the state. “However, it is worth noting that over 99 percent of the Camp Meeting’s land was recertified as tax-exempt,” he said.

In a letter sent to the state last week arguing that the tax-exempt status of the pavilion, should be retained, Michael Behrens, the association’s lawyer, said that the use of the open-air pavilion had not changed since it was first included in the tax-exempt program 18 years ago.

The pavilion, which is used largely for Sunday church services and youth ministry programs, has also been a place where people out for a walk are welcome to sit and relax.

“But never was the general public granted unfettered right to use the pavilion in any way it chooses (e.g., to reserve it for an exclusive use such as a civil union ceremony),” Behrens wrote. 

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Lebanese bishop launches energetic call to halt destruction of country

Rome, Italy, Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - Maronite Bishop Bechara Rai of Byblos (Lebanon) has strongly condemned the recent attack in Beirut that took the lives of nine people, including Antoine Ghanem, a Christian lawmaker, who was going to take part in the presidential elections next week in Parliament.

Bishop Rai said those responsible for the deaths of the nine people in Beirut “are seeking to eliminate, as much as possible, those who make up the majority that opposes Hezbollah.  The killings in the last two years have targeted the members of the majority. So they are trying to eliminate votes before election day,” he said.

“Those who desire an unstable Lebanon” are behind the attacks, he went on, noting that “in our country, we pay for a regional conflict that exists but that is situated in an international strategy.  We don’t have to pay for others,” he said.

“Each time it seems we are advancing a little bit, with the hope of getting out of this hell of terrorism, everything starts all over again,” the bishop stated.  “The people and the whole country are paying the highest price, because these people are not doing any good for Lebanon: neither for the people nor for the State.”

Bishop Rai stressed that the Lebanese people no longer want suffer under the current political situation.  “We are seeing social disintegration, economic and political disintegration. And this is a hemorrhage. People are down and out at every level and emigration continues,” he said.

Bishop Rai exhorted the Lebanese to “pacify their hearts and keep their faith in order to rebuild unity.  But the greatest call is not to the people,” he went on, “but to the leaders and politicians, to stop the destruction of the country.”

Father Paul Karam, the director of the Pontifical Missionary Works of Lebanon, warned that the “enemies of Lebanon do not want to see a strong president who is able to achieve consensus.  They don’t want a peaceful and democratic country.  As Christians, we should not be afraid or lose hope in the efforts of the international community and Europe.”

The Lebanese parliament is divided in two: a majority composed of Christians, the Druze and anti-Syrian Sunnis; and an opposition dominated by Hezbollah.  After the latest attack, eight members of the majority have now been killed in the last two years.

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Dominican center in Spain offers therapy to young people involved in gangs and their parents

Valencia, Fla., Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - The “Oikos” Center in Valencia, operated by the Dominicans, is offering therapy to families whose children have become involved in gangs, such as the “Latin Kings.”


The Oikos Center has a team of psychologists, teachers and lawyers to care of the dozens of teens and young people ages 12 and up who belong to the “Latin Kings,” a gang found mostly in Latin America, with some groups in Eastern Europe and Spain as well.  “Most of our kids are boys, although there are some girls too,” said the Center director, Inocencia Rincon.


The main objective of the therapy, which lasts between six months and two years, is to “get the kids to abandon these kinds of groups.”  It also “delves into the reasons behind which young people join these gangs and tries to keep them relapsing,” Rincon explained.


Because they feel marginalized and are often left alone at home while both parents are working, young people “see the gangs as a place to socialize, to feel safe and to air their frustrations, often through criminal acts,” Rincon continued.  In fact, she said, parents often turn to Oikos when social workers give them an ultimatum that they must do something to help their kids.


“Experience tells us that the help of a team of mediators brings out hidden feelings so they can be better expressed and in the end, in most cases, both the young people involved in gangs and the parents in crisis find a way out of the gangs or a way to reconcile,” Rincon stated.


Oikos also provides services for couples in crisis, parents with children battling educational problems or depression.

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Spanish archbishop denounces attempts to “monopolize knowledge”

Madrid, Spain, Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Agustin-Garcia Gasco of Valencia this week denounced attempts to “monopolize knowledge” by certain social groups.


In his discourse inaugurating the new academic year at the St. Vincent Martyr Catholic University of Valencia, the archbishop pointed out that “the human person is the center of social life and only ways of organizing that respect his true dignity and freedom will contribute decisively to the common good of our society and to the deepening of true democracy.”


During the Eucharist prior to the ceremony, Archbishop Garcia-Gasco said, “The Church lends her specific and enriching contribution with the Catholic University,” which “should aim to form strong and responsible persons capable of making free and just choices.”


The Catholic nature of a university does not come from the mere name, he went on, but rather depends on the professors and the “human and spiritual climate that is created in the university community.”


Catholic professors, the archbishop stressed, must receive professional training and seek to make their own the virtue of “intellectual charity.”


If we do not educate our students in the knowledge of the truth, in the end, they will not be able to distinguish between good and evil,” he stated.

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Experts propose endowment for small businesses in post-Castro Cuba

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - A Cuban-American think tank has asked the US government, the European Union and private companies to create a special fund of $300 million to aid small businesses in the eventual post-Castro Cuba.

The Cuba Study Group hopes to continue an initiative launched in 1989, when President George Bush signed the bill, Support for Democracy in Eastern Europe, which helped to create a viable private sector in Hungary and Poland and provided funding to small businesses in those countries.

“We know that the current restrictions in law both in the United States and Cuba make the implementation of this project impossible right now,” Tomas Bilbao told the CubaNews agency.

Bilbao said it is important that there is preparation “to help the Cuban people and put options on the table.  We think it is important to announce this initiative at this time.”  He said that his organization would “work with US officials to encourage the creation of this fund.  What is clear, however, is that this project cannot be implemented until significant reforms take place in Cuba.”

Carlos Saladrigas, co-director of the think-tank, said pressure on Raul Castro to resolve the economic problems of the Church could accelerate eventual fundamental changes in Havana.  “I hope the Cuban government implements economic reform within the next two years, precisely allowing the startup of small businesses,” Saladrigas said.

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Melbourne’s 328 Catholic schools asked to cut ties with Amnesty

Melbourne, Australia, Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - Amnesty International’s abortion reversal is causing a reaction that is larger than the group may have believed possible. The head of the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne, Australia, Mr. Stephen Elder, has urged all 328 of the archdiocese’s schools to sever their connections to the human rights group.

Elder’s letter called on schools to "convey their disappointment" to AI, because they decided earlier this year to abandon their long-standing neutral position on abortion and to begin lobbying governments that ban abortion to decriminalize it.

The move was reaffirmed at the organization's International Council Meeting in Mexico City last month, which was attended by more than 400 international delegates.

Elder said that his office made repeated attempts to contact Amnesty over the issue to raise its "serious concerns about the policy". However, despite their efforts to discuss the new stance the talks proved fruitless.

"Abortion is a fundamental denial of the dignity of the human person and a breach of the human rights of the child," Mr. Elder said in a statement.

Amnesty’s policy change is seen by many as a betrayal of its founding, since it was a Catholic layman, Peter Benenson who established the group in 1961. Up until this past month, Amnesty International maintained a position of neutrality on abortion, saying that the issue was outside its mandate.

One school that has withdrawn its support from AI, emphasized this point by founding a new human rights group called the Benenson Society so that they could continue to carry out the original vision of the founder.  For more on this story click here.  

Maria Kirkwood, assistant director of religious education and pastoral care in the Melbourne archdiocese also weighed in on the sudden policy shift; "It's an organization we would encourage schools to support, which is why this is so disappointing."

"But this particular issue is a very significant one for the Catholic Church and it is impossible for the Catholic Church to continue to support Amnesty with a policy of this nature in place."

Indeed, this past Tuesday, CNA reported that the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson, called on Amnesty International to reverse its stance, which he described as deeply regrettable.

Days later, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco also condemned the switch saying that it helped to erode the human consciences.

A spokeswoman for Amnesty International confirmed it had already received letters from individual schools, withdrawing their support from the organization because of its new position.

Amnesty has also expanded its mission to include homosexual “rights” for more on this see today’s story here.

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Catholic trustees vote to allow HPV vaccine in schools

Toronto, Canada, Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - An increasing number of Catholic school boards across Ontario are voting in favor of allowing public health nurses to administer the controversial HPV vaccine in their schools despite the bishops’ warning against it, reports The Globe and Mail.

In a memo distributed to Catholic school boards last week, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that, while parents have the "right and responsibility" to decide whether their daughters be vaccinated, more research and public education into the program is required.

"The bishops of Ontario regret its introduction without further opportunity for thorough study," the statement said.

In March, the federal government announced a $300-million funding package to be shared by provinces that agreed to add HPV to their free school-based vaccination programs. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease, which leads to cervical cancer. The vaccination program would be for young female students. In Ontario, it would be administered to Grade 8 girls.

The announcement stunned public health officials because it came well before the Canadian Immunization Committee had reported back on whether the vaccine should be publicly funded.

The drug, marketed by Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. under the name Gardasil, has show in trials to provide nearly full immunity to four types of the virus.

According to the Globe and Mail, several boards referred to the bishops’ letter when debating the issue recently, including the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, which voted unanimously to delay the program pending more details from the Ministry of Health.

The main concerns voiced by opponents of the vaccination program are that vaccinating the girls assumes that they will have pre-marital sex and that the immunizations could encourage promiscuity by eliminating HPV as a potential deterrent for having sex.

Nonetheless, trustees at the Toronto Catholic District School Board voted 9-3 in favor of the HPV vaccine in its schools. The board also voted in favor of sending home a package to parents that includes the bishops' letter and a cover letter that says the schools are simply a venue for the vaccination, and allowing their use does not necessarily reflect the board's moral views.

The board also agreed to lobby other levels of government to expand the free vaccination program to all eligible women.

On Tuesday, the Halton Catholic District School Board in a close vote, (4-3) decided against banning a public health professional from administering the vaccine at their schools.

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US Bishops Urge Elected Officials To Support DREAM Act

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - The United States bishops are calling on Congress to vote in favor of the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act would provide young people, who were brought by their parents to the United States at an early age and have undocumented status, a way to regularize their status and obtain permanent residency. It also would allow states to give them eligibility for in-state tuition.

In a Sept. 19 statement, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando urged elected officials to “resist the voices of dissension and fear this time and vote for the DREAM Act.”

”As a provider of education to thousands of children and young adults nationwide, the Catholic Church has witnessed the suffering of young persons who, through no fault of their own, reside in an undocumented status and are denied access to legal status in this country and an opportunity to continue their education,” said Bishop Wenski, a consultant to the bishops’ Committee on Migration.

The DREAM Act, he said, would give these young people an opportunity to meet their potential and to fully contribute to our society.

“This is not only good for them but good for our country,” he added. “By investing in these young people, our nation will receive the benefits for years to come. It is also the right and moral thing to do.”

“These children are in an undocumented status not because their own choice or decision [but because] … they were dependent on their parents,” said the bishop in his appeal. “The United States is the only country and home many of them know.”

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Rotary Club criticized for supporting pro-abortion groups and promoting population control

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2007 (CNA) - The Rotary Club is an organization that is most often associated with its drive to end polio. However, in a new report on the group, Life Decisions International (LDI) exposes what it claims are ties to pro-abortion and population control programs.

In his recent report titled, “Rotary’s Dance With Death: Population Control Agenda and Ties to Pro-abortion Groups Eclipse Good Works,” the President of LDI, Douglas R. Scott, Jr., stated, “It would be impossible for any person with an intact conscience to turn a blind eye to Rotary's ungodly associations and population control programs. One may offer up any excuse or justification he or she desires, but there is no way that anyone who truly cares about human life, born and pre-born, could be associated with Rotary International. No way whatsoever."

The report, which is featured in the Summer 2007 edition of LDI’s Special Reports, begins by outlining Rotary's beginnings in 1905.  In 1943, Rotary adopted its famous "Four-Way Test” which consists of four questions that business people should apply to everything they "think, say or do":

Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build good will and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

While the report praises Rotary Clubs for their goal of eliminating Polio, it strongly opposes their positions on population control and abortion.

Scott points out the contradiction posed by the clubs’goals saying, "with one hand Rotary Clubs are helping save the lives of children by inoculating them against polio. With the other hand Rotary Clubs are working with population control agencies to advance the Culture of Death.”

"This is no different than a hospital that commits abortions on one floor and has an advanced prenatal unit on another. It's another example of society's schizophrenia when it comes to how we treat preborn human life," said Scott.

LDI’s president also gives round on this by looking at Rotary’s ties to pro-abortion and pro-population control agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

"Rotary had an admirable start," Scott said. "But one need only apply its own Four-Way Test to see the group has lost its way."

The report may be accessed on LDI's website:


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