Archive of October 12, 2008

Lawsuit claims California college threatened to expel students who prayed

Alameda County, Calif., Oct 12, 2008 (CNA) - Two students filed a federal lawsuit this past Monday against the publicly-funded College of Alameda alleging that school officials at the California school threatened to expel them for praying.

The events prompting the lawsuit took place in December, 2007, a press release from the Pacific Justice Institute reports.

That month, student Kandy Kyriacou visited an instructor to give her a Christmas gift. Kyriacou found the instructor alone in her shared office. When the instructor indicated she was ill, Kyriacou offered to pray for her.

The instructor bowed her head and Kyriacou began to pray. They were then interrupted by another faculty member, Derek Piazza, who entered the room and said “You can’t be doing that here!”

Kyriacou left to join her friend and fellow student Ojoma Omaga. Piazza followed Kyriacou and repeated his rebuke. The students related that they were surprised by his intimidating behavior.

Three days before Christmas, both students received letters notifying them of the college’s retroactive “intent to suspend” them. While school policy requires such letters to state factual bases for the charges, the letter only vaguely accused the students of “disruptive or insulting behavior, willful disobedience . . . persistent abuse of college employees.”

An administrative hearing reportedly found Kyriacou’s prayer worthy of discipline and threatened suspension or expulsion for further infractions.

The students turned to the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) for assistance. PJI attorneys attempted to resolve the situation through demand letters, but the college did not respond.

PJI local affiliate attorneys Steven N. H. Wood and Christopher Schweickert made a final demand that college officials rescind disciplinary letters and acknowledge the students’ right to pray, but the college refused. On Monday, Wood, Schweickert, and PJI staff attorneys filed a federal lawsuit.

"It's outrageous," PJI President Brad Dacus stated. "Since when does praying for a sick teacher to get well - with her consent - earn a suspension? This is not just a constitutional violation; it is a complete lack of common sense. These students were not looking for a fight, but since the school to this day insists that it can expel them if they pray again, we will have to resolve it in federal court."

CNA spoke with Dacus in a Friday interview. Dacus said there had been no further progress on the case since the Monday filing.

“We’re starting the long litigation process,” he said.

“Defending the rights of students to pray in public places or in colleges or universities is the most fundamental protection of the free exercise of religion that we can imagine.

“These student’s rights were clearly violated, and they must be vindicated in the court of law,” Dacus told CNA.

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Catholic hospital to remove window said to depict image of Virgin Mary

Springfield, Ill., Oct 12, 2008 (CNA) - Mercy Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, has announced plans to remove a window in a building which some claim displays an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Hundreds have visited just to see the window.

After its removal, the window will be further evaluated and observed for any changes in the image between its panes of glass.

According to Fox News, hundreds of people have visited Mercy Medical Center to see the second-story office window since the image was first noticed on September 30.

“The Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS) will also explore options for appropriate display of the window but is not likely to reach any decision about its display until the conclusion of the evaluation and observation period,” Mark M. Fulco, an SPHS executive, said in an SPHS press release.

The press release reports that Bishop of Springfield Timothy McDonnell agrees with the plan.

“There has been a tremendous outpouring of prayer and attention focused on the window. We ask, as Bishop McDonnell has requested, that attention now be placed on prayers for the people in the hospital as well as the sick and infirmed throughout our world,” Fulco remarked.

Describing Mercy Medical Center as a “busy hospital and medical center,” Fulco said it “respects the cultural and religious beliefs of the community” but is focused primarily on caring for patients.

“Removal of the window is not only a prudent decision at this point but is necessary for returning to normal operations,” said Fulco, who reported that a glass expert says the image in the window indicates an “unusual but not unknown occurrence.”

“While the scientists seek an explanation of what physically occurred with the window, it is undeniable that the image within the panes of glass is unique,” Fulco continued.

Sister Kathleen Sullivan, RSM, who is Senior Vice President of Mission at SPHS, commented on the window image:

“The image has certainly focused people’s attention on the reality that the real importance of these events is the way our community came together in reverence and peace at a time when faced by so many challenges within our community and the world around us. It has resulted in a positive effect on people’s lives as well as Mercy Medical Center as it continues to be a transforming, healing presence within the communities it serves.”

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Pope canonizes four, including India's first female saint

Vatican City, Oct 12, 2008 (CNA) - This morning, pilgrims from around the world gathered in St. Peter’s Square as the Holy Father canonized four saints. In his homily, the Pontiff recalled the lives and virtues of Gaetano Errico (1791-1860), Sr. Maria Bernarda (Verena) Butler (1848-1924), Sr. Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception (1910-1946), and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran (1832- 1869).

Addressing the crowd in his homily, the Pontiff spoke of the lives of the newly canonized saints. He began with St. Gaetano Errico, an Italian teacher whose life was changed when St. Alphonsus Liguori appeared to him asking him to found the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary.

The Holy Father spoke of St. Gaetano's dedication to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. "How many wounded souls did he heal by this sacrament! How many people did he bring to reconcile themselves with God through the Sacrament of forgiveness! Thus, St. Gaetano Errico became an expert in the 'science' of forgiveness, and taught it to his missionaries, urging them: 'God, who does not want the death of the sinner, he is always more merciful than his ministers; for this reason, be as merciful as you can be, because you will find mercy with God'."

Pope Benedict then recounted the life of the first modern Swiss woman to be canonized, St. Maria Bernarda Butler.

Born in 1848, St. Maria Bernarda Butler had a very early experience of deep love from the Lord. At the age of 19, Maria entered the Capuchin Maria-Hilf convent and was named mother superior only four years later.

At the age of 40, Maria received her missionary vocation and traveled to Ecuador and Colombia to establish a convent to spread her love for the Eucharist and to teach and care for children.

India’s first saint was also canonized this morning. St. Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception was born in Kerala, India in 1910 and died in 1946. Benedict XVI noted that her short life was marked with "extreme physical and spiritual suffering."

"This exceptional woman," he continued, "was convinced that her cross was  the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father."

"May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise."

The Holy Father then spoke of the young Ecuadorian woman Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán and her generous acceptance of the Lord’s will. After receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, ¨she clearly felt in her heart, the call to live a life of holiness and surrender to God." The Pope emphasized her passionate love for Jesus and her simplicity saying that this young saint ¨offers us a path of Christian perfection attainable for all the faithful."

"Dear brothers and sisters," the Pontiff concluded, "let us thank the Lord for the gift of holiness that shines today in the Church with singular beauty." Jesus calls each of us to follow their example for encouragement, their teachings to "guide and comfort us," and their intercession to "support us in our daily struggles, so that we too may come to share with them in the joy of the eternal banquet in heaven."

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Holy Father urges the faithful to pray for Christians in India and Iraq

Vatican City, Oct 12, 2008 (CNA) - Following the canonization Mass for four new saints, Pope Benedict XVI greeted the pilgrims present inviting them to rejoice in the saints canonized today and to pray for the victims of religious persecution in India, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Directing his words toward English-speaking pilgrims, in particular the Official Delegation from India and those who came to celebrate the canonization of Saint Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Benedict recalled Alphonsa’s heroic virtues of patience, fortitude and perseverance. In the midst of deep suffering, he explained, they remind us “that God always provides the strength we need to overcome every trial.”


Addressing the violence against Christians in India, the Pope continued, “As the Christian faithful of India give thanks to God for their first native daughter to be presented for public veneration, I wish to assure them of my prayers during this difficult time.¨


He went on, ¨I urge the perpetrators of violence to renounce these acts and join with their brothers and sisters to work together in building a civilization of love. God bless you all!”

Turning to address the Italian-speaking pilgrims, Pope Benedict recounted that October is the month of the Rosary. He appealed to his audience to pray for the people of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and for Christians in Iraq and India. He concluded by invoking the protection of Mary, Queen of Saints, over the work of the synod of bishops.  

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