Archive of December 18, 2008

Seminary of Archdiocese of Boston doubles enrollment

Boston, Mass., Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - Eighty-seven seminarians are now enrolled at the Archdiocese of Boston’s St. John’s Seminary, more than doubling the number of seminarians who were studying there just two years ago.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley resisted calls to close the troubled archdiocese’s seminary, making its preservation a priority of his tenure, Michael Paulson writes in the Boston Globe. The cardinal has encouraged bishops from New England and elsewhere to send their seminarians to Boston to prepare for the priesthood.

"When I arrived, the enrollment was way down, and there was a lot of pressure on me from some of the pastors to close the seminary," Cardinal O'Malley said to the Boston Globe. "I told the priests, we have to give it one good try to see whether we can save the seminary, because once we close it, we'll never get it back, and for New England, with the large Catholic population that we have here, the presence of our own seminary is very important."

Though many of the seminarians will return to serve their home dioceses, church officials said that the increased enrollment will encourage prospective priests.

"Two years ago, when I went down to visit, you were in a hall all by yourself as a visitor, and now you have to call ahead to make sure there's a guest room available," Rev. Dan White, director of vocations and seminarians for the diocese of Burlington, told the Boston Globe.

"When those seminarians talk about the good experience they had, that's the best advertisement for other dioceses sending men there."

Though the seminary has a greater proportion of American-born students than other seminaries, its percentage of foreign-born seminarians is increasing. St. John’s Seminary also benefits from students from the Neocatechumenal Way, an international Catholic movement.

Enrollment at St. John’s was hard hit after its reputation suffered significantly from the sexual abuse crisis. According to the Boston Globe, many of the Boston-area priests who sexually abused minors had graduated from the seminary.

Seminary Rector Arthur Kennedy said he hopes to continue to increase the size of the seminary class to as many as 125 men.

Other bishops have praised the seminary’s reform.

"In the Northeast there are so many Roman Catholics, and St. John's Seminary has a noble tradition, and it's very worthwhile to be able to have our own seminary with a fine and reputable formation program," said Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester told the Boston Globe.

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Minnesota Catholic Conference announces ‘Immigration Sunday’

Minneapolis, Minn., Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - The Minnesota Catholic Conference has announced that January 4 will be "Immigration Sunday" for Catholic parishes in the state as part of an effort to raise awareness about the hardships and injustices facing immigrants.

The conference’s Tuesday announcement was timed to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on the Swift and Co. meatpacking plant in Worthington, Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports.

Consequences from the raid have had a "devastating impact" on immigrant families and rural communities, the conference said.

Sister Anna Marie Reha, director of the Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of New Ulm, told the Star Tribune that January 4 was chosen because it coincides with the Feast of the Epiphany.

"That feast celebrates the unity of being one human family. This is a chance to recognize and celebrate the gifts and benefits immigrants share with us," she remarked.

Bishop of Winona Bernard Harrington said the conference hopes that the day will make people aware that "immigration policy is outdated and the system is broken."

The bishop noted that immigrants are often detained without being able to contact their children.

"We need to be aware of the hardships and injustices happening right here in our own community," he told the Star Tribune.

Kevin Appleby, director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Immigration Sunday activities are not intended to advocate for specific actions.

"That's something that the politicians need to take care of," he commented. "There are Catholics on both political sides of the immigration issues, but I think all Catholics agree that we want this solved in a compassionate way."

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Wherever youth seek answers, the Church must be there, Holy Father teaches

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - For the celebration of Vatican Television’s 25th anniversary, the Holy Father met with the station’s staff, contributors and advisors.  After thanking them for their service to the Church, Pope Benedict emphasized that new ways must be found to spread the Word of God to the youth in places where they look for answers and meaning for their lives.


In his address to them, Benedict XVI noted that thanks to their work, the faithful are able to “participate in ceremonies and events of the Vatican and the other places visited by the Pope in carrying out his ministry." 


While Vatican Television (CTV) reaches many Catholics, people from other religions also tune in.  The Holy Father noted that by offering footage of events at the Vatican to major international television stations, “you assist the proper and timely dissemination of information on life and the teaching of the Church in today's world, at the service of the dignity of the human being, of justice, and of dialogue and peace."


The Pontiff also praised CTV’s footage of liturgical ceremonies, noting that covering these events is important as the “liturgy is truly the apex of the Church's life, the time and place of a profound relationship with God.”


Broadcasting these Liturgies “is an arduous and noble task,” he continued.  Though viewers are unable to be physically present, they are able to participate spiritually when they watch TV.


The work of CTV is necessary because the Church’s message must remain present “within the ‘great Areopagus’ of the mass media, as John Paul II said.”  The Church cannot be “a foreigner to the places where a great many youth navigate in search of answers and meaning for their lives, you have to seek paths to spread, in new ways, the voices and images of hope through the electronic network that envelops our planet in an increasingly encompassing web."


Concluding his address, the Pope exhorted the CTV employees to “carry on” and reminded them that it is through their work that “many people can feel closer to the heart of the Church.”

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Ambassadors should help adjust the world to God’s order, Pope says

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - Ten new ambassadors to the Vatican from all parts of the world were received by Pope Benedict in an audience on Thursday. Speaking to the group in French, the Pope explained that their role is to help the world obtain true justice by helping it become "adjusted to God's plan and His order."

The new diplomats hail from Malawi, Sweden, Sierra Leon, Iceland, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Belize, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Bahrain and the Fiji Islands. Before receiving a country-specific written message from the Holy Father, the group was addressed in French.

The Pope began his thoughts by observing that the assembled group comes from diverse corners of the world and saying that this diversity "gives me cause to thank God for His creative love and for the multiplicity of His gifts, which never cease to surprise humanity."

Diversity, Pope Benedict noted, can cause fear at times, "which is why it is not to be wondered at if human beings prefer the monotony of uniformity." In fact, he said, "some political-economic systems, claiming pagan or religious origins, have afflicted humanity for too long, attempting to render it the same through demagogy and violence. Those systems have reduced and continue to reduce the human being to a wretched slavery at the service of a single ideology or of an inhuman and pseudo-scientific economy."

This observation naturally led the Benedict XVI to turn to the realm of politics. "We all know that there is no single political model. ... Each country has a characteristic genius and some 'demons,' and each progresses along a path, which is at times painful but its own, toward a future that seems bright."

While urging each country to cultivate their own unique gifts to "enrich others," Pope Benedict also called on the countries to "purify its 'demons', bringing them under control so that they might defend the greatness of human dignity."

Turning then to the ambassadors’ role, Benedict XVI emphasized that one of the essential aspects of the duties as ambassador is "the search for and promotion of peace."

Peace means "not just a political or military situation without conflict; rather it is the sum of conditions that allow concord among all and the personal development of each. ... Since Christ calls the peacemakers 'children of God' ... your mission ... is noble and elevated," the Pope told the new diplomats.

"True peace," he explained, "is not possible unless justice reigns ... which does not just refer to the social or even ethical spheres. It does not just refer to what is equitable or in conformity with the law. The Hebrew etymology of the word refers to what 'is adjusted'. God's justice is shown in the justness that puts all things in their place, all things in order, so that the world might be adjusted to God's plan and His order."

"The noble mission of the ambassador," the Pope concluded, "therefore consists in employing your art so that all 'might be adjusted', so that the nation you serve might live not only in peace with others but also in accordance with the justice that it shows in the equity and solidarity of its international relationships and in which its citizens, enjoying peace, might live their beliefs freely and serenely and thus achieve God's 'justness'."

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Hundreds attend celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - Seven hundred members of the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona participated in a procession earlier this month to honor the patroness of their diocese, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

One woman in particular, Maria Molina has a special love for Our Lady.

Just about a year ago, Molina was going to lose her house.

“I bought a house by myself and I had to refinance it and I just couldn’t make it,” the single mother of two boys said. “I went to different banks, and no one could help me.”

But then, someone did. On Dec. 11, Molina received a call from Bank of America. The next day, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, she signed the papers.

“She’s always by me. She gives me energy, she gives me a job,” Molina said. “We’re healthy. We’re poor, but healthy.”

Molina joined an estimated 700 Catholics who processed from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish to St. Mary’s Basilica Dec. 7 for the third annual “Honor Your Mother” celebration. The event, which was organized by Mary’s Ministries, also kicked off the Phoenix Diocese’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of this diocese. She is our mother,” Molina said. “As Catholics, we need to honor her — not just one day, but every day.”

Following the procession, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted concelebrated an outdoor Mass with several other priests, including Holy Cross Father John Herman. The pastor of St. John Vianney in Goodyear gave the bilingual homily.

He recounted the story of St. Juan Diego, to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared. The Blessed Mother asked him to build a church for her, but the local bishop was only convinced after Juan Diego revealed the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his tilma.

“The woman in that picture was an expectant mother with the child Jesus in her womb,” he said. “She reminds us today, in a quiet but very real way, of the dignity of human life and of the dignity of every human person.”

“In this time when there’s a real possibility of a universal right to abortion, we’re reminded of our call as Catholic Christians to take a stand for life,” Fr. Herman said of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would outlaw any “obstacles” to abortion at will.

Yet the priest also recognized that human dignity must be defended outside the womb as well.

“We know our immigrant brothers and sisters have been under attack in many ways,” he said. “We are called to stand for — to stand with — these brothers and sisters. They too are made in the image and likeness of God.”

The event helped many Mexican Catholics reconnect with their cultural heritage, said Carmen Reyes, a parishioner at Sacred Heart.

“She has a love for us and we give her thanks for that love,” she said. Reyes added it was a joy to celebrate the feast day with the bishop, who “is a person who understands our history and the history of our people.”

But, as Guillermina Vazquez of Immaculate Heart said, Our Lady of Guadalupe isn’t just for Mexicans.

“She is for everyone. We need to do a better job of inviting the Anglos,” she said. “They too can be united in this celebration. This way, the people of God can be one.”

In fact, that was one of Bishop Olmsted’s hopes when the ­diocesan-wide celebration began three years ago. Unfortunately, the numbers have been dwindling.

“Committed Catholics need to motivate other Catholics,” said Mercy Lopez of Mary’s Ministries. “We don’t have that motivation yet. But in the end, we are one Church.”

Reyes Ruiz, also of Mary’s Ministries, sees the tide turning.

“More parishes are starting to get involved,” he said, adding that he’d like to see the number of participants grow to 20,000. “Mary can be the one to pull us together.”

Ruiz noted the widespread devotion to Our Lady, underscoring the thousands that turn out for the annual Rosary Sunday celebration.

“She continues to guide us to her Son,” he said. “No other religion honors her as we do."


Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper from the Diocese of Phoenix.

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Bishop of El Paso presides at funeral of unborn child

El Paso, Texas, Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - The body of an aborted or stillborn boy about 17 to 18 weeks old was buried in El Paso on Tuesday, with Bishop of El Paso Armando X. Ochoa presiding at the service.

The child’s body had been found at a wastewater treatment plant. Authorities do not know how the body came to be there, the El Paso Times reports.

After his body was discovered, the child was named John Andrew Rudy.

John’s body was placed in a 24-inch white casket adorned with flowers and a plush teddy bear.

He was laid to rest in Mount Carmel Cemetery's Babyland.

Bishop Ochoa explained that the diocese had asked the medical examiner’s office for his body to give him a proper burial.

"They said the 'specimen' was in a bottle at the morgue," the bishop said, according to the El Paso Times. “They said they don't bury any child under six grams."

"We reverence life, and you and I know there's an embodied soul there," he remarked, asking for prayers for the baby’s unknown parents.

About fifty people from El Paso and Las Cruces, the Knights of Columbus in full regalia and a military chaplain joined the bishop at the funeral. A limousine was also used.

Passersby reportedly stopped to ask whether someone important was being buried.

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Rick Warren selection for opening prayer causes a stir

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - Pro-life Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, it was reported on Wednesday. Negative reactions from homosexual activists prompted the president-elect to defend his selection.

Some pro-life individuals have also criticized Rev. Warren’s cooperation with Obama, a staunch advocate of abortion rights.

Rev. Warren, the head of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, hosted Obama at a presidential candidates’ forum at his church earlier this year. He also authored the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Some praised Obama’s decision as evidence of his willingness to reach out to those who disagree with him.

“It makes a whole lot of sense,” said David Brody of CBN News. “Even though Warren and Obama disagree on the life issue, they do see eye to eye on many social justice issues.

“This move is also classic Obama because it is a signal to religious conservatives that he’s willing to bring in both sides to the faith discussion in this country. Obama has never shied away from that.”

However, some homosexual groups were outraged over the selection of Rev. Warren because of his support for California’s Proposition 8, which overturned a court decision that imposed same-sex marriage on the state.

Joe Solmonese, President of the homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign, wrote a letter to Obama calling the selection of Warren “a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.” Characterizing the successful passage of Proposition 8 as “the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years,” Solmonese claimed that inviting Warren has tarnished the view that “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table.”

Characterizing homosexual activism as a “fight for basic equality and fairness,” Solmonese tried to link Warren with Focus on the Family head James Dobson and. He also said Warren played the role of “general” in “the cultural war against LGBT Americans.”

Arguing that Obama’s selection makes homosexuals feel a “deep level of disrespect,” Solmonese urged the president-elect to reconsider having Warren offer the invocation.

The reaction to the selection of Warren contrasts with homosexual activists’ positive reaction to the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s choice to allow a homosexual band to march in the Inaugural Parade.

On December 10, the committee announced that the Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LGBA) would march in the Inaugural Parade.  In a press release, the committee noted it would be the first time an “openly LGBT group” would participate.

On Thursday, Obama defended Rev. Warren’s place at the Presidential Inauguration. He said that Americans need to “come together” and reasserted that dialogue was an aim of his campaign.

A “wide range of viewpoints” will be present at the inauguration, Obama said.

The president-elect noted that he had been invited to speak at Rev. Warren’s church despite their disagreements.

Obama also characterized himself as a “fierce advocate for equality” for gays and lesbians and said he will remain so.

Rev. Warren’s participation was also challenged by some pro-life individuals. CBN’s David Brody said he had received many letters that “absolutely rip” Warren.

“Let me just say that pro-lifers are NOT happy with Warren at all,” Brody said.

Offering his own opinion, Brody said:

“While I understand the justifiable concern coming from pro-lifers and liberals, the bottom line is this: why can’t a pro-life pastor pray for a pro-choice candidate? Are politics and past prejudices clouding our judgment here? Warren isn’t up there to speak out against homosexuality or push the pro-life issue. Sometimes we all get caught up so much in demonizing the other side that we don’t see the forest from the trees.”

“Just because Rick Warren supports Proposition 8 doesn’t mean his prayer for Obama isn’t sincere. Just because Warren prays for Obama at his inauguration doesn’t mean he marginalizes the pro-life agenda,” Brody argued.

Rev. Warren will not be the only clergyman at the January 20 inauguration. Civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery will deliver the benediction to close the inauguration ceremony.

Rev. Warren’s invocation will follow a call to order and welcoming remarks by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. The invocation will be followed by a performance from Aretha Franklin.

During the inauguration, Associate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will swear in former Sen. Joseph Biden as the United States’ first Catholic vice-president.

Obama himself will be sworn in by John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Musical performers at the inauguration will include the United States Marine Band, the United States Navy Band “Sea Chanters,” cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman. Poet Elizabeth Alexander will also present a poem.

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Social justice groups meet with Obama team, Catholic bishops express doubt

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2008 (CNA) - President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team held an hour and 15 minute meeting on Tuesday with just over a dozen social justice groups that presented what they see as the concerns of Catholics. In response, some Catholic bishops and commentators have told CNA that they don’t believe these groups’ concerns resonate with those of the Church.

The discussion between the Obama transition team and the different representatives touched on international development and trade, health care reform, reducing abortions, immigration, domestic policy and poverty reduction, and the environment.

The meeting of the 14 different organizations was organized by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the lobbying group “Network,” which describes itself as "a progressive voice within the Catholic community" that lobbies Congress on justice and peace issues.

Sr. Simone Campbell, director of Network, told the National Catholic Reporter that the meeting was called to "acknowledge the work that some of the Catholic groups had done in the Catholic community during the election and to begin to develop relationships for ‘post-Jan. 20,’ when the new administration takes over after Obama’s inauguration."

James Salt, Organizing Director of Catholics United, explained to CNA that Catholics United participated in the meeting by highlighting "key policies that are important to Catholics.

"Specifically we want the new administration to take seriously its commitment to reduce abortions in America. People of goodwill from both sides of the conversation can agree that 1 million abortions a year are 1 million abortions too many. We wanted to make sure that the Obama administration knew this was one of our highest priorities."

Yet, when Salt was asked if Catholics United planned to hold Obama accountable for his pledge to work to reduce abortions, he was cautious. "We're hopeful that the Obama administration is with us on abortion reduction. We were not there to make asks, but rather to build consensus around real solutions."

Salt also added that no one raised the issue of Obama overturning the Mexico City Policy, which prevents American aid from going to those who counsel women on the availability of abortion.

Alexia Kelley, Executive Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, informed CNA that there are "many efforts underway and planned" to show support for the incoming administration as well as to challenge it to keep its abortion reducing commitment.

Additionally, Kelley mentioned that the topics of how to help the poor, homeless, children and the sick during these times of economic hardship were also raised.

Both Salt and Kelley confirmed to CNA that there was no one officially representing the Catholic Church present at the meeting, although they thought that an Obama team representative had met with key bishops at the USCCB.

Bishop Thomas Wenski, a member of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, reacted to the meeting by saying, "while the Obama transition team is free to meet with anyone they wish…the fact is that the only ones who speak for the Catholic Church are the bishops.

"If the transition team wished to telegraph a message that their intention is to marginalize the bishops then there is reason for some serious concern regarding the relationship between the future Obama administration and this nation's 60 million Catholics," Wenski said.

Catholic scholar and author George Weigel expressed his doubts about the meeting’s make up. "If the Obama transition team thinks that meeting with the refugees from the Catholic revolution that never was is a way to open a dialogue with the Catholic Church in the United States, they're far less clever than I think they are. This strikes me as simply a pay-off to people who, from the Obama campaign's point of view, helped with the ground game in 2008."

The proof of the social justice groups’ commitment to promoting Catholic concerns will be in "how these ‘Platform for the Common Good’ folks help the rest of the Catholic Church defeat the Freedom of Choice Act and maintain the Bush administration's AIDS and malaria-reduction initiatives in Africa, which has helped millions more poor people than any of these groups has ever managed to do," Weigel explained to CNA.

Bishop of Madison Robert Morlino also added that the transition team must do more to dialogue with the Catholic Church. "Recognizing the stark contrast between the positions on abortion of the President-elect and the teachings of the Catholic Church, it would be a mistake for the President-elect's transition team to pretend that this meeting satisfied his promise of dialoguing with the Catholic community," he said.

The bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, also weighed-in on the meeting by addressing what a Catholic organization should be emphasizing. He told CNA that “Being 'right' on any number of other issues will never outweigh the taking of human life through abortion. It would be my hope that any group calling themselves 'Catholic' would make this message abundantly clear, and express grave concern over the possibilities that the new administration may increase funding for abortions with public money or even erode conscience protections for Catholic hospitals and healthcare workers."

Finally, Brian Burch, who heads a group of four lay Catholic organizations in the political, legal, research and educational fields, also expressed misgivings about the ability of the social justice consortium to rein in Obama’s policies.

"We are pleased to hear that the Obama transition team is interested in talking with Catholics, but caution that such conversations must be weighed against his reported plans on abortion policy, including his Cabinet selections thus far. Specifically, we remain concerned that the new Administration is composed of leading abortion advocates who are preparing to overturn a large number of existing pro-life laws, while proving hundreds of millions of new taxpayer dollars for abortion.

"The fact that transition officials are consulting a select group of Catholic organizations who supported Obama's candidacy is not surprising. Whether these groups, some of whom claim to adhere to Catholic teaching, are able to hold him accountable on the issue of life, remains doubtful."

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