Archive of December 6, 2008

Preparing mangers and souls during Advent

Anchorage, Alaska, Dec 6, 2008 (CNA) -

During the four weeks of Advent, Catholics in Alaska and around the world are preparing both little manger cribs and their eternal souls for the coming of Christ — one straw of hay and one prayer at a time.


Advent, meaning “to come to” in Latin, is the period before Christmas in which, according to the Catholic Catechism, the faithful anticipate the commemoration of Christ’s birth and “renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”


Like St. John the Baptist, expectant Catholics cultivate the desire that “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)


Joy and penitence


The Advent wreath symbolizes the season’s mix of joy and penitence. Made of evergreens bound to a circle of wire, the wreath holds four equally spaced candles, three purple and one rose-colored.


The wreath’s circular shape symbolizes eternity; the greenery represents hope. The purple candles signify penance and the rose candle, joy. Together they represent Advent’s four weeks and the four ages between the time of Adam and Eve and Christ’s birth.  Traditionally, prayers are recited as the candles are progressively lit across the weeks.


Some Catholic families build a “Jesse Tree” to show how Old Testament events are a part of salvation history, which culminates in Christ’s birth. Onto the tree’s branches are incrementally placed the names of Jesus’ ancestors, in faith or family line, such as Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, David, Mary and others.


Meanwhile, the popular Advent calendar — which can be purchased or made from paper or cloth — usually displays a Christmas-themed scene with 24 “windows” that open to a picture, Bible verse or piece of candy. One window is opened each day, beginning Dec. 1.


The Crèche


Other Advent displays, for the home include, a small nativity scene or crèche. The crèche — first arranged by St. Francis of Assisi — is a tiny model of Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. Models represent the Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the stable animals, the Magi, angels and shepherds.


Rosemarie Henn, long-time parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla, recalled that as children, she and her brothers and sisters would place a piece of straw inside Jesus’ empty manger crib for each secret, good deed done during the day. The goal was to build a “soft bed” for the little Jesus who arrived at Christmas.


Another popular custom, in which whole parishes often participate, involves the crèche’s Magi figurines. They start their journey to the nativity scene from some distance within the house or the church. Incrementally, they are moved toward the crèche, until they “arrive” on the eve of Epiphany, 12 days after Christ’s birth.


Reclaiming tradition


Despite the frenzied commercialism of Christmastime, area families seem eager to prayerfully engage Advent.


“I think it’s coming back,” said Karen Hay, manager of the Bread of Life Catholic store in Eagle River, adding that Advent wreaths, candles and calendars are selling fast this year.


“Preparing for the coming of the Christ Child can be a disorganized time,” Henn admitted, but added that, “Parents can choose to make it a time of blessing.”

“It is up to parents to use tradition and symbols to instill in their children the awesome wonder of the gift of the Incarnate Word,” she explained.


Brother John Mary Ignatius, of the Congregation Saint John in Belgium, agreed that it is work for families to develop the prayerful joy and penitence proper to the “second most incredible event in the history of humanity,” after Easter.


Brother John will be in the Anchorage Archdiocese in December, where he plans to give three public talks about how Christians can prepare for Advent.


In a phone interview with the Anchor, he said families that light a candle in front of an icon of Mary, read “one little verse” of the Bible and ask, “Jesus, Savior of the world, come into my heart” can bring peace into their homes and prepare for Christ’s coming.

Brother John also suggested that the faithful “be a beggar of the presence of Mary,” and ask her how to receive the Christ Child whom she held and clothed and fed.


Brother John suggested that the faithful model Christ who makes himself a gift at Christmas. To this end, children could make their beds everyday or take out the trash without being asked.


Of her childhood, Henn recalled, “We made an extra effort to be kind to each other and offer annoying behavior from a sibling up in place of our own transgressions,” and they made little sacrifices, “like giving a sibling an extra turn to sled down the hill, or carrying in an extra armload of wood.”


Together as a family


Brother John also said the faithful can “adopt” a poor family during Advent or volunteer at church or in the local soup kitchen. These gestures are important he said because “we can’t tell a Christian family from a pagan family except that we love one another.”

As a part of the “joyful penance” of Advent, Brother John also suggested a fast, for example, eating two smaller than normal meals once or twice a week. He said such a fast is designed to “purify the body in order to allow it to fly unto God.”


A ‘massive discovery’


All of Advent’s symbols, activities, prayers and almsgiving help Catholics acknowledge and prepare their souls for a massive discovery, Brother John said.


“We have a Savior,” he reflected — one who saves mankind from “eternal death, from evil, from our own misery.”


And ultimately, “Christ is coming back in glory,” he said. “It is a joy and privilege to await him day in and day out.”


Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper from the Diocese of Anchorage.


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Colorado church shootings of 2007 not classified as hate crimes

Colorado Springs, Colo., Dec 6, 2008 (CNA) - As the anniversary of the 2007 Colorado shootings at a youth missionary dormitory and a prominent megachurch approaches, CNA has learned that the homicidal incidents were not classified as hate crimes in state and federal reports.

The perpetrator, 25-year-old Matthew Murray, posted heated anti-Christian remarks on the internet during the 12 hours between the two attacks he carried out, which killed four and wounded three.

The exclusion of the incident from state and national hate crime reports calls into question the reliability of hate crime statistics and the consistency of “hate crimes” classifications.

Murray’s series of fatal shootings began early on the morning of December 9, 2007, when he arrived at the Youth With A Mission Training Center in the Denver suburb of Arvada, according to the Associated Press. He had been a trainee at the center in 2002 but was asked to leave the missionary organization.

That December night, some five years later, Murray asked persons at the center if he could wait for a ride. After about half an hour he was asked to leave the center by Tiffany Johnson, 26. After she escorted Murray through the door, he drew a gun and fired, fatally wounding Johnson and Philip Crouse, 24.

The automatic door locked Murray out of the building. Four students returning to the center saw Murray banging on the door, but he left when he saw them.

Later that day, Murray drove to New Life Church in Colorado Springs where he opened fire on Sunday worshippers leaving the evangelical church’s parking lot. According to, his attack fatally wounded two sisters, Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachel, 16. Murray’s shots also wounded their father, David Works, as well as two other churchgoers, Larry Bourbonnais and Judy Purcell.

Many churchgoers hid inside New Life Church as Murray entered the building, apparently prepared to kill more people.

However, he was disabled by an armed security guard who shot him. Soon after, Murray committed suicide by shooting himself.

In between the attacks in Arvada and Colorado Springs, Murray, who had been raised in a strict Christian home, posted anti-Christian comments on the internet blaming Christians for the attacks.

“You Christians brought this on yourselves” he wrote on a forum for former Pentecostals and fundamentalists. “All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”

“Christian America… this is YOUR Columbine!” he said, according to the Rocky Mountain News, referring to the 1998 high school shootings in Jefferson County, Colorado.

Murray’s other remarks blamed Christianity for hate, hypocrisy, lies, and sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

The web page of the Colorado Bureau of Investigations’ (CBI) 2007 Hate Crime Report, which is part of its Crime in Colorado Report, did not report Murray’s attacks as hate crimes.

The CBI web site cites the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting definition of a hate crime, which is:

“A criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnicity/national origin, or sexual orientation.”

Lance Clem, Public Information Officer for CBI, spoke with CNA in a phone interview about the state hate crimes report.

Clem told CNA that local agencies reported the shootings as homicides but did not report them as hate crimes, explaining that the data CBI uses comes from local agencies.

“They are voluntarily reported, so there is a good chance that they will be updated later,” he said.

“There are some things about the Crime in Colorado report that are very incomplete,” he explained. “The only reason why it’s of value to anybody is that it shows trends.”

“It’s not complete enough for us to do a comprehensive report on a lot of different elements.”

Clem added that the CBI collects the information on its own initiative, using a part time-employee whose work begins in January and is done “by about May or June.”

“There’s no incentive or disincentive” for local agencies to send data in, he continued. “They either do it, or they don’t.”

Clem confirmed that the CBI hate crimes statistics are used by the FBI in its national hate crime statistics. National statistics would therefore report the killings at the Youth With A Mission center and New Life Church as homicides and not as hate crimes.

However, he added that it is possible that the crimes were catalogued as hate crimes in local agencies’ databases but the information was never sent on to the CBI.

“It’s very, very common for those numbers to have big discrepancies,” he said of crime statistics.

“It’s really up to local law enforcement. Sometimes they’ll just report it as a median case and leave it at that, which doesn’t fully represent what’s going on.

“Local agencies will tell you that hate crimes are kind of difficult to prove, because you have to establish a real motive.

“There is some difficulty at the local level making that decision. Every chief and sheriff I know takes it very seriously, but they are difficult cases to prove,” Clem told CNA.

He added that if an agency did incorrectly report an incident, it would need to re-submit the correct incident report.

CNA also spoke about the church shootings with Sergeant Richard Duvall of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Intelligence Unit.

Sergeant Duvall explained that his position in the department is to evaluate a crime if it is flagged as a potential hate crime to determine whether it fits the definition.

“This particular case was never flagged and never came to me,” he said, noting that the case’s generating officer, the main case agent and the investigations division were among a number of people at the police department who would have been involved in deciding whether or not to flag a crime for review.

To flag a case as a hate crime, Duvall explained, an investigator has to show that it was motivated by bias against one of the relevant categories.

He suggested possible reasons why the Murray case was not categorized as a hate crime, saying “I think that the general feeling [at the department] was that it was not so much bias but retaliation.”

Investigators had found Murray had belonged to YWAM and other organizations in the past, but had been held back from missionary trips.

According to the Denver Post, YWAM had offices at New Life Church, while CNN reported that Murray’s parents donated to the church.

Duvall explained the questions investigators have to consider in classifying a case.

“Was he talking out of retaliatory anger, because he had been shunned by the group? Was he acting out of vengeance or out of bias? Motive can be hard to determine.

“It depends how much was left behind. You have to be able to substantiate that bias against religion was a factor. It could have been, but I don’t know if you could substantiate it.”

The FBI’s 2007 Hate Crimes Statistics list 3,870 race-based hate crimes, 1,400 religion-based, 1,265 crimes based on sexual orientation and 1,007 based on ethnicity or national origin.

Broken down by anti-religious bias, 969 reported crimes were anti-Jewish, 130 were anti-Other religion, 115 were anti-Muslim, 61 were anti-Catholic, and 57 were anti-Protestant.

Among all reported hate crimes, only nine were instances of murder and non-negligent manslaughter.

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Breakaway U.S. Episcopalians to form new Anglican branch

Chicago, Ill., Dec 6, 2008 (CNA) - U.S. conservative Anglican leaders on Wednesday presented the constitution and laws for a new organization intended to replace the Episcopal Church as the American branch of the Anglican Communion.

The move by the Common Cause Partnership continues the controversy in the Episcopal Church regarding issues such as the uniqueness of Christ in salvation, the authority of Scripture and sexual ethics. The ordination of openly homosexual V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire has also played a significant role in the debate.

The Common Cause Partnership’s new constitution was presented at an evangelical church in Wheaton, Illinois. It declares the Bible to be the "final authority and unchangeable standard." It makes no ruling regarding the ordination of women to the Episcopal priesthood.

"The public release of our draft constitution is an important concrete step toward the goal of a biblical, missionary and united Anglican Church in North America," said Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of Common Cause Partnership.

Duncan, who was deposed by bishops of the Episcopal Church in September, will be the group’s first Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America.

According to The Guardian, the leaders of the organization represent 100,000 Anglicans. The partnership’s new constitution follows last June’s Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem where leaders announced their intentions to defend and advance "authentic Anglicanism."

The Anglican Communion has about 77 million members worldwide.

Some Episcopal commentators doubted the significance of the meeting.

"I do not think Wednesday's event is as big a deal as the organizers think it is," Reverend Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts told the Guardian. "Yet another threatened line in the sand."

The new organization has been accused of being the first province to be drawn according to theological and not geographic boundaries.

"While claiming more conservative tradition on human sexuality and biblical interpretation, their approach is radical and contrary to church polity," Douglas said.

The new denomination includes the Episcopal Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Fort Worth, Texas; Quincy, Illinois; and San Joaquin, California.

Not all parishes and Episcopalians in those dioceses have agreed to leave the Episcopal Church, but the new denomination includes dozens of breakaway parishes in the U.S. and Canada, and is to absorb other splinter groups.

Faith J.H. McDonnell, Religious Liberty Director at the ecumenical Institution on Religion and Democracy, commented on the new constitution:

"Some liberals in the Episcopal Church are undermining their own talking points by the spitefulness with which they are being delivered. If the proposed new Anglican Church of North America were so insignificant, their response would be dismissive but gracious. Instead, a mean-spirited hostility has broken out.

"Ultimately, this is not a schismatic movement," McDonnell continued. "While disaffected groups have split from the Episcopal Church in the past, the fact that many of these groups are now unifying is unprecedented. The stated intent is to remain within the Anglican Communion.

She also argued that more than one Anglican province occupying a single geographic area is "not completely new," saying "the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe exists alongside both the Convocation of American Churches in Europe and the Old Catholic Church, which are both in communion with Canterbury."

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Hillary Clinton likely to continue pro-abortion advocacy as Secretary of State

, Dec 6, 2008 (CNA) - President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Sen. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State has caused concern among pro-life leaders due to her past international advocacy for permissive abortion laws. Her appointment could foreshadow changes in U.S. policy at the U.N. concerning the rights of the unborn.

According to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Critics claim that Sen. Clinton, who was First Lady during her husband Bill Clinton’s presidency, had a major voice in the U.N. social policy of the Clinton administration. Her influence, encompassing several major U.N. conferences, included her participation at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

There, Sen. Clinton coined the phrase "women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights." The slogan became a rallying cry for a right to abortion.

Sen. Clinton’s work with former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, the Undersecretary for Global Affairs in the Clinton State Department, sought to broaden access to abortion.

Wirth, who headed the U.S. delegation at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, was accused of telling Egyptian security officials that a particular pro-life activist was a terrorist, resulting in his arrest and detention.

Rep. Chris Smith reportedly intervened to secure the activist’s release.

"Hillary would promote her husband’s agenda at the United Nations to make abortion a fundamental human right worldwide," Jeanne Head, a pro-life advocate and attendee at the Beijing conference, told C-FAM. "Hillary would promote her husband’s agenda at the United Nations to make abortion a fundamental human right worldwide."

Pro-life leaders have also voiced concern about Susan E. Rice, Obama’s nominee for ambassador to the U.N. As President Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Rice worked closely with Wirth. She has been praised by abortion advocates such as Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, but her published work reportedly shows no open support of abortion.

Specific U.N.-related policy changes under an Obama administration could include the promotion of "universal access to reproductive health" as a goal under the Millennium Development (MDG) Goal 5, though no such target was agreed to by the U.N. member states when the goals were voted on in 2000.

Sen. Clinton, as Obama’s Secretary of State, is also expected to promote abortion at global conferences such as "Beijing plus 15" scheduled for 2010. In 2009, the "Cairo plus 15" conference will be held to review the International Conference on Population and Development which took place 15 years ago.

President-elect Obama has appointed abortion advocates to other prominent positions. Ellen Moran of the pro-abortion rights Emily’s List was chosen as his communications director, while former NARAL Pro-choice America legal director Dawn Johnsen was appointed to be a member of Obama’s transition team.

Obama appears to be "peppering abortion proponents throughout his Administration," Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America, told C-FAM.

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Bishops of Los Angeles issue letter reassuring gays in the wake of Prop. 8

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 6, 2008 (CNA) - The bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, led by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, issued a letter to homosexual Catholics on Friday seeking to ensure them that the Church’s support for Proposition 8 was not meant to diminish their dignity or their membership in the Church. The true aim of the Church’s support, the bishops write, was to “preserve the ordered relationship between man and woman created by God.”

The pastoral letter, which was printed in the archdiocesan paper The Tidings, is written to all homosexual members of the Church as well as the rest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. According to the bishops, its purpose is to offer reassurance to gays amidst the fallout surrounding Prop. 8’s success that they are “cherished members of the Catholic Church, and that we value you as equal and active members of the Body of Christ.”

The letter then states the reason that the Church supported Prop. 8 was to “resist a legal redefinition of marriage.” “Our support for Proposition 8,” the bishops say, “was in defense of the longstanding institution of marriage understood as the life-long relationship of a man and a woman ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of their children.”

But the bishops also state that they are “disappointed that the ballot information about Proposition 8 stated that the purpose of the initiative was ‘to ban gay marriage’" and that “from the very beginning, this was not our purpose.”

Citing the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the sacred writings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Los Angeles bishops then make their case for marriage as being universally understood to be between one man and one woman.

“Thus, our faith communities and their sacred writings are in agreement about the application of the term ‘marriage.’ And there are other faith communities which, in their own sacred writings, concur with this understanding. Our faith communities have never understood this term to be applied to other types of relationships between people,” the bishops say.

“These sacred writings and traditions, spanning thousands of years, support the fundamental truth that God created the human family as male and female, sending them forth to be fruitful and multiply. This is the understanding of marriage which has prevailed throughout human history, and has been enacted in the laws of peoples, nations, races and religions everywhere. It is this truth that is at the heart of Proposition 8.”

Addressing the purpose of Prop. 8, the Catholic bishops write that it “was not crafted as a concern for civil rights but as an effort to resist a redefinition of marriage.

“‘Marriage’ is not a merely religious concept, but is so fundamental to human experience that it cannot be redefined legally,” the bishops stress.

The bishops of Los Angeles then address homosexual Catholics’ concerns that the Church’s support for Prop. 8 contained a message about their place within the Church. “Your intrinsic value as human beings and as brothers and sisters continues without change. If we had ever thought that the intent of this proposition was to harm you or anyone in the State of California, we would not have supported it. We are personally grateful for the witness and service of so many dedicated and generous homosexual Catholics. We pledge our commitment to safeguard your dignity.”

Perhaps as a way of offering evidence of this concern, the bishops go on to point out that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles began spiritual and pastoral outreach to homosexuals over 20 years ago.

As the letter nears its conclusion the bishops also express their sadness that “some people who opposed Proposition 8 have employed hurtful and accusatory language, and even threatening actions, against those who voted for Proposition 8.” According to the bishops, these strategies “obscure the basic matter at issue: the preservation of the ordered relationship between man and woman created by God.”

The Catholic leaders of Los Angeles close their pastoral letter by stating their commitment to “find ways to eliminate discrimination against homosexual persons, and to help guarantee the basic rights which belong to each of us.”

The full letter can be read at:

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