San Antonio, Texas, Nov 9, 2008 (CNA) - A San Antonio couple is pushing for a true renewal of the Sacrament of Marriage in the Catholic Church through an educational ministry called “Covenant of Love.” The program strives to help couples achieve a joy-filled marriage with Christ at the center.
After serving as directors of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Austin, Greg and Julie Alexander moved to San Antonio to assist their Family Life Office and to expand their marriage preparation programs.
Highlighting those programs is the Alexanders’ marriage and education enrichment ministry, the ‘Covenant of Love.”
“Covenant of Love offers fun, fellowship and education and involves people of various ages and stages of marriage,” Greg explained.
Julie added, “Couples are in need of renewal and are searching for that greater understanding. People are ignorant of their vocation of how to be in a joy-filled marriage. We are working at offering a sense of goodness with God at the center.”
The Alexanders describe some of the phone calls they receive for assistance from couples as “intense,” with pornography and infidelity emerging as symbols of the need for help.
“We support and acknowledge the challenges to married couples in helping them understand the design of marriage,” said Julie. “Society does not give any thought to what God intended.”
Greg stressed the surprised reactions from many adults who have taken part in the program. “We have had couples who have attended parochial schools and Catholic colleges who said, ‘I have not heard any of this stuff!’ It is not being filtered down to the laity. The only catechesis they get is a 20-minute homily at their weekly Mass.”
The couple says that their ultimate goal is for true renewal in marriage in the church, with every one of the 179 parishes in the archdiocese having a Covenant of Love Ministry to serve as an umbrella, with subministries underneath.
A Marriage Ministry team at each location consists of a lead couple and a core team of four to five other couples who take part in training sessions with the Alexanders. The team serves to identify host activities, such as information events that could be held several times a year.
The program also includes an in-depth study of what it means to have a Christ-centered marriage. The couples meet once a month and discuss key topics like healing and forgiveness, prayer, communication, and awareness of the other’s needs. They promote the catechism and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body as essential tools for building a better marriage.
“It is the continuing education that must be done,” said Greg. “Marriage and family life is in a crisis. We must devote time and attention towards marriage, as the family is the foundation of society. There is great excitement as we take on this task. It is something that needs to be done.”
Julie continued, “There is such a critical need for this. Programs such as ACTS, That Man is You, and ENDOW help men and women grow individually, but Covenant of Love brings it all together for the couples of live out God’s call for marriage.”
She cited statistics indicating that 4,600 abortions are performed each day, while a similar number of divorces also take place daily, about 3,600.
“Society cannot survive without strong, sustainable families. It is self destruction,” she said.
The couple says a major factor that contributes to not living out marriage in a healthy way is ignorance of the church’s teachings on contraception.
“With contraception, Satan comes into the marriage,” said Greg, “The church got it right with Humanae Vitae, and I love the fact that some bishops are beginning to mandate Natural Family Planning (NFP) in their dioceses. Contraception is an evil in itself. We fail to understand why we need to practice NFP. We need to understand the beauty of chastity in the first place. We need to understand that contraception cuts off a conduit for God to infuse grace. We are cutting ourselves off from the grace we need.”
When couples are having problems getting along, the Alexanders said, the first question they ask them is, “Are you contracepting?”
“We can come together to give life, or come together to reject it,” Julie said. “When the latter happens, we feel like we’re being used. We feel like that, but we don’t understand why. Couples want to know about NFP, as we have huge issues with sexuality.”
Currently, 20 churches in the archdioceses of Denver, Kansas City, Atlanta and Detroit, as well as the dioceses of Rockford, Ill., and Cheyenne, Wyoming, are on board with Covenant of Love programs, and the Alexanders are planning a “Covenant of Love – Taking to the Streets National Tour” set to begin next March to promote the effort natiownwide.
“San Antonio is definitely home now,” Greg concluded, but added, “We are literally taking it to the streets.”
Printed with permission from Today’s Catholic, newspaper for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas.
Denver, Colo., Nov 9, 2008 (CNA) - Vatican expert John Allen has written an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama discussing how the U.S. government and the Vatican may best interact under an Obama administration. Warning him not to repeat the Vatican-snubbing mistakes of the Clinton administration, Allen advised the future president that enormous good may result from U.S.-Vatican cooperation.
Writing in his column for the National Catholic Reporter, Allen said it is clear the Vatican and the Obama White House will have “deep differences” over issues such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, Allen said these points must not obscure “basic political realities.”
While the United States is strong in terms of “hard power” like military and economic might, Allen noted the Vatican is a global actor in terms of “soft power,” being able to motivate people on the basis of ideas and religion.
Citing Obama’s narrow loss among white Catholics, Allen indicated that good relations with the Vatican could be “smart politics” for his party. Further, the Vatican has a “centuries-old” diplomatic tradition of dealing with governments which disagree with the Church on certain matters.
“Vatican diplomacy typically strives to keep lines of communication open and to seek common ground. In other words, they’ll want to do business with you where they can,” Allen wrote.
Further, the Vatican is eager for good relations with the U.S. regardless of its government, admiring its “robust religiosity” and believing the nation is positioned to be the Vatican’s “most natural ally” in promoting religious freedom and human dignity worldwide.
Allen claimed that Obama’s policy positions on many points dovetail both with the diplomatic interests of the Vatican and with Catholic social teaching. He cited immigration, economic justice, peace, and environmental protection as obvious examples of convergence.
Vatican journalist John Allen also offered a cautionary tale concerning the treatment of Vatican ambassador Ray Flynn and Pope John Paul II under the Clinton administration.
“During the lead-up to the U.N. conference on population in Cairo in 1994, Pope John Paul II called Flynn to the Vatican on a Saturday morning to personally request a telephone conversation with President Clinton. Flynn relayed the request urgently to the White House that afternoon, and got no response,” he wrote.
After placing more failed calls, Flynn then flew to Washington where he was forced to wait outside Clinton’s office over a two day period.
“Finally,” Allen continued, “he was admitted to the White House’s pre-Cairo war room, where he was told by Assistant Secretary of State Timothy Wirth that ‘nobody is getting a chance to lobby the president on this one.’ Dumbfounded, Flynn explained that the Bishop of Rome is not a lobbyist, and that it would be seen as a profound act of disrespect if the president wouldn’t even get on the phone. After almost a week, Clinton finally agreed to take the pope’s call.”
These events showed the Clinton administration’s “basic disinterest” about the Vatican, which sometimes bordered on hostility.
“The result was that the U.S.-Vatican relationship during the Clinton years was more often defined by predictable differences than by imaginative areas of common purpose,” Allen’s open letter concluded, advising Obama even to initiate a conversation with the papacy himself.
“My advice is to get on the phone if the Pope calls,” Allen advised. “Better yet, initiate the conversation yourself. You might be surprised about where it goes.”
Vatican City, Nov 9, 2008 (CNA) - Presiding over the recitation of the Sunday Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI commemorated the Feast of the Dedication of Rome’s Lateran Basilica. Calling Christians the ‘living stones’ of a ‘spiritual building,’ he reminded the faithful that God wants to build in the world a community that “worships him in spirit and truth.”
The Basilica, called the “mother and head of all churches of the City and the World,” was built after the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan, which in 313 granted Christians freedom to practice their religion. The same emperor, the Holy Father recalled, “gave Pope Miltiades the old property of the family of the Laterans and built the Basilica, Baptistery and the residence of the Bishop of Rome, where the Popes lived until the Avignon period.”
The Holy Father also explained that although the church was originally opened in 324 and was dedicated to the Most Holy Savior, the names of Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, for whom the basilica is commonly named, were added only after the sixth century.
“This anniversary at first interested only the city of Rome; then, in 1565, it was extended to the Churches of the Roman rite. By honoring the Basilica, one intends to express love and veneration for the Roman Church, which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch affirms, ‘presides over the charity’ of the entire Catholic communion.”
The Holy Father noted that the readings for this solemnity recall an essential truth: “the temple of bricks is a symbol of the living Church, the Christian community, which the Apostles Peter and Paul already, in their letters, were understanding as a ‘spiritual building,’ constructed by God with the ‘living stones,’ which are the Christians, over the unique foundation, which is Jesus Christ, called the ‘cornerstone.’”
“The beauty and harmony of churches, destined to render praise to God, invites us, limited and sinners, to form a ‘cosmos,’ a well-ordered edifice, in communion with Jesus, who is the true Holy of Holies,” said the Pontiff.
He noted that this union happens in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesìa,” that is, the community of baptized, “meet again united to hear the Word of God and feed on the Body and Blood of Christ.”
Pope Benedict recounted the importance of the material building in which communities gather “to celebrate the praises of God.”
“Every community has the duty to guard with care its own sacred building, which constitutes a precious religious and historical patrimony. Let us invoke the intercession of Most Holy Mary to help us become, like her, a ‘house of God,’ a living temple of love,” the Holy Father continued.
After the Marian prayer of the Angelus, Benedict XVI recalled that today is the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “when Nazi fury against Jews broke loose in Germany.” He prayed for the victims and invited Christians to demonstrate “profound solidarity with the Hebrew world.”
The Pope also mentioned the armed encounters in the region of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “It is estimated that there are more than 1.5 million refugees,” he said, renewing his appeal to all to collaborate to restore peace in that land.
Finally, the Holy Father recalled that today’s Italian celebration of Thanksgiving, drawing attention to the problem of famine, “made more dramatic by the rise in prices of some basic food commodities. He prayed for the rural world, “especially for farmers in the developing world,” and said: “Who helps the poor helps Christ himself.”
Pittsburgh, Pa., Nov 9, 2008 (CNA) - The Most Rev. Stefan Soroka, the highest-ranking leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States, will hold a service at Pennsylvania State University on Sunday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian Famine inflicted by Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin to wipe out Catholic Ukrainians.
Archbishop Soroka, metropolitan archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, will celebrate a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy -- the Ukrainian rite Mass -- at 1:30 p.m. at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center.
The event will commemorate the "Holodomor," the famine in which several million Ukrainians died due to Soviet confiscation of their crops. The surviving Catholics were then forced to join the Orthodox Church, with the Ukrainian Catholic rite being forced underground until the fall of the Soviet Union.
The liturgy on Sunday will be in the Ukrainian language and the responses will be sung by a 30- member male choir from Philadelphia-area Ukrainian Catholic churches. An academic program on the famine will follow the service.
Ukrainian Catholics are one of 21 Eastern Rites united with the universal Catholic Church. There are some 300,000 Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S., divided among 400 parishes. Archbishop Soroka oversees Ukrainian dioceses in Philadelphia, Chicago, Stamford (Conn.) and Parma (Ohio).
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has become an independent nation where Ukrainian Catholics have regained legal protection. Nevertheless, their relationship with the Orthodox majority remains tense, especially because Catholics have demanded the return of churches and properties confiscated by the Soviet government and given to the Orthodox. While the government has been responsive to the Vatican's request to return at least the minimum amount of properties to allow the Ukrainian Catholics to worship and to nurture the growing number of vocations, the two branches of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine fiercely oppose any agreement.
Baltimore, Md., Nov 9, 2008 (CNA) - Since the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States, several Catholic commentators have speculated on how the original agenda of the annual Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will change.
According to bishops involved in the organization of the three-day meeting, which starts this Monday, the agenda, including a public discussion of abortion and politics, is fully on track.
Speculation that the agenda might change came late last week when several prominent Catholic commentators argued that the bishops had "lost authority" by speaking out strongly against Catholics voting for pro-abortion politicians, like Sen. Barack Obama and other mostly Democratic candidates, who were elected to office last Tuesday.
On Friday, Religion News Service reported that the USCCB “has scuttled plans to discuss abortion and politics next week in Baltimore,” citing the bishops' spokeswoman, Sister Mary Ann Walsh. RNS also quoted Sister Walsh saying that the agenda had yet to be finalized.
Moreover, according to the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen Jr., “some analysts, especially those of a more liberal bent, are spinning the election of Barak Obama as a ‘repudiation’ of what they see as an overly strident and partisan tone from the bishops, especially on abortion. A few ardently pro-life Catholics, meanwhile, actually believe that what they call ‘silence and treachery’ from the bishops on abortion helped pave the way for Obama’s success.”
On Friday, Peter Steinfels argued in his regular New York Times column that "anyone constructing a list of the big losers on Tuesday would probably include the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops."
Steinfels served as editor of “Commonweal” magazine before landing a job at The New York Times in 1988 and still frequently contributes to the magazine that he and his wife, former editor Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, have helped shape since 1964.
During the election season, Commonweal's blog openly wooed Catholics to vote for Obama and harshly criticized bishops who took a strong stand on life and family issues.
Steinfels supported his assertion that the bishops were “defeated” on the grounds that nominal Catholics voted 52 percent to 45 percent for Obama.
“Will that fact be candidly addressed when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meets next week in Baltimore?,” he asked, suggesting that the bishops should “change strategy.”
A similar suggestion was made by Fr. Thomas Reese S.J. of Georgetown University in an article published by the Dallas Morning News on Sunday.
Quoting the same figure of nominal Catholics voting for Obama, Reese said that “Episcopal authority took a major hit during the election,” and argued that “(the) division between the vocal, partisan bishops and the silent, nonpartisan bishops will be a major issue at the Baltimore meeting.”
“This argument," Reese continued, “will take place behind closed doors lest the bishops scandalize the faithful with their divisions.”
Reese also came up with his own list of proposals, which would essentially require the bishops to remain silent about the evil of abortion and concentrate on practical political engagement for “reducing abortions,” as promised by Barack Obama.
“Why am I not surprised?" joked one bishop about Reese’s comments, speaking on a condition of anonymity to CNA.
"Fr. Reese is a mainstream media darling, but the truth is that he has very little knowledge of what goes on (in the episcopate) and far less influence,” he added.
Another bishop who requested anonymity, confirmed to CNA that the bishops will not drop the issue of abortion or hold the conversation behind closed doors. On the contrary, they will discuss it on no less than three occasions: “in our regional groups, in executive session, and in the public session.”
The sessions open to the media will take place on Monday, November 10, from 9:00 a.m. to mid-afternoon, and Tuesday, November 11, from 9:00 a.m. until mid-afternoon. The rest of the meeting will be for breakout sessions, executive sessions, and prayer and reflection.
Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland entered into greater details of how the USCCB meeting will proceed.
“At this year’s fall assembly we bishops will hear an address from our President, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. We shall also elect a USCCB secretary and chairs-elect of the Committees on National Collections, Cultural Diversity, Doctrine, Pro-Life Activities and Communications. In addition we will vote on the revised Grail Psalter for use in the United States, the translation of the Proper of the Seasons and the Order for the Blessing of a Child in a Womb.”
In this weekend’s column on the Catholic Sentinel, Archbishop Vlazny also revealed that the bishops will also “hear a report from Bishop Gerald Kicanas about the work of our Priority Task Forces. These priorities are strengthening marriage, faith formation and sacramental practice, life and dignity of the human persons, cultural diversity in the church, and promoting vocations to priesthood and religious life.”
Archbishop Vlazny is himself a member of the task force on the faith formation and sacramental practice.
“We plan to set aside time to discuss practical and pastoral implications of political support for abortion, an issue that remains problematic for us and our people,” he confirmed.
“The mission of our Conference calls all of us bishops to act collaboratively and consistently on the important issues which confront the church and society. Furthermore it helps us foster communion with the church in other nations under the leadership of the Holy Father,” Archbishop Vlazny said.
Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, also offered a different vision on how to interpret the current circumstances from a Catholic perspective.
“In our present political climate it would be very easy to somehow link our courage and hopefulness to the outcome of political endeavors. It would be easy to position our hope in some kind of political strategy and call for greater courage in fostering that particular strategy.”
“The fact that whatever kind of kingdom we manage to build here will always be an imperfect kingdom helps us keep our focus on that in which and for which we ultimately hope, a kingdom of God in eternity,” he said.