Archive of January 14, 2009

Pope explores St. Paul's teaching on the Church as Bride of Christ

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - More than 4,000 people gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall to hear Pope Benedict XVI deliver his continuing series of teachings on St. Paul, which today focused on the Apostle’s teaching about Christ as the head of the Church and the Church as his Bride.

As he began his Wednesday general audience, Pope Benedict explained that his reflections would focus on St. Paul’s “twin” letters of Colossians and Ephesians, which are “very close in their manner of expression, vocabulary, and exposition."

Similar in language, they are unique in developing the theme of Christ as "head" or kephalé of the Church. The Pope said that Christ “guides and is responsible for the Christian community as its leader and its Lord… The Church is subject to Him, both to follow His superior guidance and to receive all of the life that emanates from Him.”

Pope Benedict explained that Christ is considered as head of the heavenly powers and of the entire cosmos. Paul, he expounded, “says that God places Christ above every principality and power. His words assure us that Christ is above every hostile power, so that if we are close to him we have nothing to fear."

In the context of the entire cosmos being subject to Christ, the Holy Father referred to the depiction of Christ as "Pantocrator," shown enthroned over the world, on a rainbow. This depiction, the Pope said, "indicates His equality with God at Whose right hand He sits, and hence also His unrivalled role as the guide of human destinies.”

"Such a vision," he added, "can only be conceived by the Church, not in the sense that she wishes unduly to appropriate that which is not hers, but in another, dual, sense: both in that the Church recognizes that in any case Christ is greater than herself, because His lordship extends beyond her confines, and in that only the Church, and not the cosmos, is defined as the Body of Christ. This means we must give positive consideration to worldly things, because Christ recapitulates them in Himself, and at the same time we must fully live our specific ecclesial identity, which is the closest to the identity of Christ Himself."

Another aspect of the Apostle‘s two Letters is "the concept of mystery," "the inscrutable divine plan for the destiny of mankind, of peoples and of the world,” he said. It is for this reason that one “finds fulfillment in Christ,” the Holy Father noted.

Finally, the Holy Father touched on the recurring theme of "the Church as the bride of Christ.” According to St. Paul, the Pope said, Christ has "won" his bride, the Church, by giving his life for her, “the greatest possible demonstration of love."

“What greater sign of love could there be than this,” he remarked. Christ “is concerned for her beauty; not just the beauty acquired through Baptism, but also the beauty that must grow every day through a life of irreproachable moral behavior, without spot or blemish.”

"From here to the shared experience of Christian marriage is but a short step," he observed. “And in fact it is not clear what the initial point of reference was for the author of the Letter: whether the Christ-Church relationship provided a light in which to consider the union of man and woman; or whether experience of conjugal union was the light in which to examine the relations between Christ and the Church.”

"These two Letters are a great catechesis, from them we can learn how to be good Christians," Pope Benedict concluded.

"If we begin to understand that the cosmos is the mark of Christ, we understand what our relationship with the cosmos is, what problems are involved in its conservation. We learn to see it using reason, but a reason moved by love, respect and humility. If we remember that the Church is the Body of Christ, that Christ gave Himself for her, then we learn to live with Christ in mutual love, a love that unites us to God and brings us to see the image of Christ in others. Let us ask the Lord to help us meditate well on Sacred Scripture, his Word, and to really learn to live well.”

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Percentage of young people who say they are Catholic drops drastically in Spain

Madrid, Spain, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) -

A study by the University of Madrid professor Pedro Gonzalez has revealed that the percentage of young people aged 15-24 who call themselves Catholic dropped from 77 to 49 percent during the last decade and that almost half of them say religion classes were practically useless.

According to the study, the drop is the result of the Church’s positions on issues such as homosexual “marriage,” abortion or euthanasia, which are positions considered “unpopular” by young people.

Likewise, 79% think the Church is too rich and 82% think the Church’s teachings on sexual matters are outdated. However, half of all young people say the Church helps the poor and needy through institutions such as Caritas.

Regarding religion classes, almost half of all young people said they were completely useless. Thirty six percent thought they were somewhat or very helpful, while 10% said they did not take the classes.

However, 43% of young people aged 15-24 expressed their desire to be married by the Church, while 22% would choose civil marriage, and only 16% would choose cohabitation.

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Church in Iran faces challenge of making faith an ‘authentic spiritual experience’

Rome, Italy, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - In an interview with Vatican Radio, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Tehran, Bishop Ramzi Garmou, said the Church in Iran faces the challenge of “helping the faithful move from a sociological and ethnic faith passed on by their parents to a faith that is an authentic spiritual experience, a testimony of life, above all a gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“This step,” he explained, “is necessary and we seek to do so with encounters, meetings, preaching.”  “The other challenge is that of working for the unity of Christians,” he said.  Division “is a scandal for us Christians,” he added.  “We must do everything possible so that Christians can live in communion so that their testimony will be more credible before others. We should also convince ourselves that, while we are a small minority, God can do great works through us,” the bishop said.

 Bishop Garmou also noted that the importance of a Church is “not in its visibility, in its visible grandeur, but in the quality of its faith and in the testimony of its faithful.”

“In the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Christians are recognized officially as a religious minority.  Therefore we have the freedom to worship and to impart Christian formation on our faithful within our Churches.  Our Churches are open for worship and for Christian formation,” the bishop said.  Christians number some 10,000 in Iran out of a population of 70 million, most of whom are Muslim.

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U.S. Bishops’ pro-life office corrects ‘misleading’ FOCA novena message

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Officials at the Pro-life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have issued statements seeking to correct “misleading” information provided in a widely-circulated announcement for a novena to stop FOCA.

The officials insisted that the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would not pass immediately after President-elect Obama takes office, but they reaffirmed that the possible coercion of pro-life medical institutions and changes to abortion funding restrictions are real concerns.

The novena announcement in question, which did not originate with the USCCB, asks Catholics to pray to stop FOCA, legislation designed to protect abortion rights even if the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade is overturned. The novena was to start on January 11.

One variant of the novena announcement begins by warning “If you are opposed to abortion then there is bad news on the horizon.”

Information with this novena announcement claims that FOCA is “set to be signed if Congress passes it on January 21-22 of 2009.” It claims that all hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, will be forced by FOCA to perform abortions on request.

The novena announcement says informed consent laws and parental notification laws will be eliminated and claims that partial birth abortions will be legalized. Further, it warns that all U.S. taxpayers will be funding abortions if FOCA passes.

The anonymous novena announcement writer then speculates:

“Perhaps most importantly the government will now have control in the issue of abortion. This could result in a future amendment that would force women by law to have abortions in certain situations (rape, Down syndrome babies, etc) and could even regulate how many children women are allowed to have.”

In a Friday email to those with questions about the novena, Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-life Activities, stated “this novena item is misleading in any number of ways.”

“Of course there is no possibility of FOCA being passed this month,” he stated. He also denied a rumor that, upon taking office, President-elect Obama could enact FOCA simply by executive order.

“There may or may not be presidential orders in the first few days of the Administration to reverse President Bush's policies on stem cell research” and the Mexico City Policy, which forbids funding for international organizations which perform or promote abortions.

“We are fairly sure that our opponents will try for various less ambitious efforts before they try for FOCA, including possible attacks on some of the pro-life riders contained in appropriations bills that must be renewed by the first week of March,” Doerflinger explained, noting that the Prevention First Act which mandates contraception coverage is of concern to the Secretariat.

He said a postcard produced for pro-lifers by the Secretariat emphasizes that FOCA is one of many threats. The postcard urges Congress to oppose FOCA, “any similar measure, AND to retain current policies that prevent government funding and promotion of abortion.”

Doerflinger did warn that if abortion rights advocates succeed in lesser efforts, such as overturning the Hyde Amendment or a similar “longstanding funding rider” prohibiting abortion funding, “they will probably be emboldened to go for bigger goals.”

The novena announcement’s contention that women could be forced to undergo abortions, Doerflinger said, is “very strange.” He said such laws would “presumably” be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.

“But even FOCA itself is expressed throughout in terms of the woman's freedom of choice over pregnancy, birth and abortion, so such a pro-coercion amendment would have to say the exact opposite of what the text of the bill now says.”

However, he added, coercion of pro-life health care providers under FOCA is “indeed a legitimate and grave concern.”

“FOCA itself would not directly force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, but could be used to invalidate the laws that currently prevent others (including governmental bodies) from exerting such pressure,” Doerflinger explained.

FOCA’s provision that government may not “discriminate” against the exercise of the abortion right in providing public benefits, information and services, he added, “seems to insist that all health programs that involve women of childbearing age must cover abortion to the same extent that they cover childbirth.”

“That mandate would be used to nullify or undermine conscience clauses within those programs, to create new ‘basic benefits’ mandates that pro-life providers cannot provide in good conscience.”

“The effect would be to push Catholic and other pro-life providers increasingly out of public health programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, etc., making it impossible for them to survive.”

“We have to remember that FOCA is a very unusual kind of statute.  It does not require or prohibit actions on the part of private individuals.  It is a law about what kinds of laws you are allowed to have.  It is a statute written to do the kind of thing that Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution ordinarily do -- but it is even more extreme than the Supreme Court's own decisions,” Doerflinger wrote.

“In that sense, it is indeed a power grab on the part of Congress, telling all 50 states what laws they are not allowed to enact,” Doerflinger argued.

“But we also need to be careful that we don't make charges we can't back up.  FOCA is radical enough to be frightening without doing that!”

Tom Grenchik, Executive Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-life Activities, also sent a Friday e-mail to the diocesan Pro-Life Directors and Catholic conferences of U.S. states asking that they correct the false information conveyed in the novena announcement should they come across it.

Grenchik further noted the prayer resources on the Pro-life Secretariat web site at , explaining that January 22 shall be observed as “a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life.”

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Archbishop disappointed with Indian court decision about presecuted Christians

Orissa, India, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Following an examination of anti-Christian atrocities in Orissa, a recent Indian Supreme Court ruling has scaled back police protection and has given no clear guidelines concerning victim compensation. The decision prompted Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath to express his “deep disappointment.”

Since 2007, Hindu extremists have engaged in anti-Christian persecution by killing many, destroying houses and churches, and driving thousands from their homes. The violence has concentrated in India’s Orissa state, whose Catholic bishops have warned of a “master plan” to wipe out Christianity.

Archbishop Cheenath’s report contradicts Indian newspaper stories that claimed the Court had set out clear demands for improved security and compensation for victims. He reported that newspapers had mistaken the court’s “unspecific” rulings for arguments made during the hearing outlining the Church’s case, Aid to the Church in Need News says.

“When I read through the court papers, I was terribly disappointed. What the newspapers had reported just wasn't there,” Archbishop Cheenath told ACN News on Monday.

The archbishop had argued for an increase and an extension of high-level police protection and better compensation for Christians who lost homes in the violence of Christmas 2007 and August 2008.

According to the archbishop, the court agreed to continue the central government-sponsored “rapid police protection” but scaled back its extent.

Archbishop Cheenath said Christians in Orissa’s Kandhamal District were still too afraid to go home and were struggling to secure basic necessities with existing government compensation. He had toured the district over the weekend, which until recently had been too unsafe for such a visit.

Families made homeless in the attack had received 10,000 rupees ($205) in government aid to rebuild their homes, with 40,000 rupees ($818) promised to follow. The archbishop reported that people were spending all their aid money on basic provisions lost in the violence.

“There is still great fear among the people, including the local administrators [government officials] who realize that it's still difficult and that the people should not be forced to leave the refugee camps and return to their villages,” Archbishop Cheenath said.

The archbishop said he will continue his legal efforts and has begun to collect evidence to be submitted in a month to underline the grave security and financial needs of the affected people.

According to the archbishop, fixed plans about rebuilding homes, churches, and other destroyed buildings cannot be expected until after the next round of elections this coming March.

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Catholic bloggers respond to Kmiec criticism

Denver, Colo., Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Several leading Catholic bloggers have responded to Doug Kmiec’s criticism of “right-wing Catholic bloggers” whom he characterized as “online tormenters” who personally attacked him, distorted his position, and potentially poisoned the relationship between the Holy See and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Kmiec, a law professor and a prominent pro-life Catholic supporter of the pro-abortion rights President-elect Obama, had written his essay “A Tangled Web: The Election & the Blogosphere” for Commonweal Magazine. In it, he assailed the “right-wing Catholic blogosphere” for its alleged coarseness and lack of civility.

 “A hate-filled blogosphere,” argued Kmiec, “feeds a politics of odium, misleading people of faith and good will, diminishing and at times obliterating our ability to know one another.”

“Unless the sore losers of November 4 manage to poison the well, the Holy See and the Obama administration should be working more closely together in service to others than any administration in modern memory,” he commented.

“Sadly, neighbor-love is not what has overwhelmed my in-box since my Obama endorsement,” his Commonweal Magazine essay continued. “Instead, right-wing blogs and their readers have launched missiles of hate, delivering ad hominem invective of an astonishing vehemence and crassness.”

Brian Saint-Paul, editor of Crisis Magazine and, was highly critical of Kmiec’s endorsement of President-elect Obama. He responded to Kmiec’s essay in a Tuesday e-mail to CNA.

“While I strongly disagreed with Dr. Kmiec's support for Barack Obama, I have also been sorry to see the personal abuse he's received from fellow Catholics as a result,” he wrote. “If those in the Church can't disagree without resorting to playground insults, we're a sad example to the rest of the world.”

“Having said that, I hope Dr. Kmiec doesn't use the immaturity of some of his critics as a reason to avoid the more legitimate concerns of others. There is a conversation that needs to take place here, and it will require thick skins all around.”

Thomas Peters, who runs the blog “American Papist,” was critical of Kmiec’s comments.

“Blog culture is not homogenous. Kmiec ought to be specific when he says he is being attacked by ‘the blogosphere.’ It's like saying ‘the press’ is attacking you, and then proceeding to only mention things said by the National Enquirer,” he told CNA in a Tuesday e-mail.

In his experience, Peters said, incivility, hate and falsehood are not serious problems on Catholic blogs. According to Peters, Kmiec's treatment by leading bloggers, was extremely well-behaved “considering the gravity and intensity of what is at stake here (once again, lest we forget - the lives of millions of unborn children).”

“I've written almost 100 articles that mention Kmiec and I would challenge him to find something I wrote that is not a fair criticism.”

Peters suggested Kmiec is engaging in misdirection.

“He has attempted to move the debate away from the original argument in question (specifically Obama's record on life issues) into the realm of the character assassination he feels he has been subjected to.”

“Kmiec constantly points out the vitriolic or silly criticisms he has received, while almost wholly ignoring the substantive disagreements that many prominent members of the pro-life movement have raised in response to his arguments. It shouldn't be surprising that he fares well when he matches himself up against this army of straw men, or in this case, these nameless, faceless ‘bloggers’.”

“When someone stops debating and begins merely describing what is happening, I tend to think he has run out of real arguments,” Peters told CNA.

“Kmiec was the face of Catholic Obama support,” Peters continued, claiming that Kmiec’s pro-Obama arguments were disseminated among Catholics by Obama supporters in “a coordinated, well-financed campaign.”

“Because of these facts, I would say his arguments were singled out for criticism, because they became the arguments for supporting Obama while desiring to be a faithful Catholic.”

Peters was dismissive of the idea that bloggers could “poison” relations between the Holy See and the Obama administration.

“I think that would be giving the blogosphere way too much pull. I think Kmiec is here preparing an escape hatch should Obama-Vatican relations sour. Such formless entities as the ‘right-wing blogosphere’ can be blamed if there is ever a break-down.

“If Kmiec trusts the Vatican so much, shouldn't he trust them to be able to pick out substance from fluff?

“There will always be shrill voices in the blogosphere, but just because they are typing doesn't mean everyone is reading or agreeing with them. The best commentary and blogs float to the top, and Kmiec prefers diving into the depths of comment boxes to find mean comments rather than engaging in a rigorous debate with the surface dwellers,” Peters charged.

Mark Shea, a Catholic apologist and commentator who blogs at “Catholic and Enjoying It!” explained his take on the situation to CNA on Tuesday, saying he was “extremely dubious” that blogging can poison relations between the Holy See and the incoming Obama administration.

He suggested that Kmiec received singular criticism because of his unique position.

“It's not like there was a huge field of one-time pro-life Catholic leaders who suddenly turned about and started making excuses for Obama's pro-abortion zeal,” Shea told CNA. “He was one of the most prominent alleged pro-life Catholic voices out there banging the drum for Obama, a man who has pledged to sign the single most destructive act of pro-abortion legislation in American history. What did he expect?”

Shea thought that Kmiec’s essay “exploits” the rough-and-tumble nature of blog culture in order to “play the hearts and flowers card.”

“Blog culture is, I will be blunt, quite nasty at times.  It's characterized by a sort of frontier, libertarian streak of ‘I'll say whatever the hell I want and you can't stop me.’”

“James Joyce once described the Church as ‘Here comes everybody.’ The Internet is ‘Here comes everybody--without the guidance or protection of the Holy Spirit,’” Shea added.

“So I have little doubt that Kmiec could easily point to any number of crude, hurtful, untrue and nasty attacks on himself, his family, and even his parakeet. That's life everywhere in the blogosphere, not just among right wing Catholics,” he continued. “Things are tough all over.”

“I'm not interested in hearing Kmiec moan about how mean people from the bottom of the barrel were to him,” Shea told CNA. “I’m interested in hearing his responses to the very intelligent critiques of his position that were offered by a number of very respectable and honorable Catholics.”

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First Lady Laura Bush praises Catholic education in school visit

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Mrs. Laura Bush on Tuesday visited Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland in her last school visit as First Lady. Noting the upcoming celebration of National Catholic Schools Week, she praised the history of Catholic schools in the United States and congratulated Little Flower for being chosen as a Blue Ribbon School.

Her audience included school faculty, students, and the Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl.

“This is my last school visit as First Lady of the United States, and I wanted to end my school visit with a terrific school like Little Flower,” Mrs. Bush said during her 10 a.m. remarks, in which she also referenced her career as a teacher and school librarian.

The First Lady said that National Schools Week, observed from Jan. 25 – 31, is “the week that everybody in the United States can thank our Catholic schools for the great work that you do all over our country and all over the world, really.”

“It's also a time for us to talk to our leaders about the importance of Catholic education,” she continued.

“Catholic schools have a very long history in the United States,” Mrs. Bush continued. “Many of the very first schools in our country for the first little boys and girls that lived in the United States were Catholic schools. 

“You have a long history of both academics and also of making sure American children in Catholic schools learn the values that are important to all of us and that are important to the people of the United States.”

She added that National Schools Week is an opportunity for her to thank everybody involved in Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Washington, and also an opportunity to convey thanks on behalf of President Bush.

“Catholic schools have a special commitment in inner cities,” the First Lady remarked. “Many Catholic schools in the United States are taking as a special mission their responsibility to educate disadvantaged students, and I want to give you my special thanks for that and my encouragement to continue that important mission in our inner cities.”

Mrs. Bush then congratulated the school for being awarded the Blue Ribbon last year.

“Have you all seen that great big blue ribbon right here in your hallway?  Did you know that only 50 non-public schools in all of the United States were chosen as Blue Ribbon Schools?  So that's a really wonderful accomplishment,” she commented.

The award, she said, means that students at Little Flower are really learning and succeeding “in every way.”

“I want to give you special congratulations to the teachers, to the administration, to the faculty, but especially to the students at Little Flower School.  I want to applaud you,” she said.

“Congratulations on being such smart kids.”

The First Lady reported that in the Archdiocese of Washington about 97 percent of children who go to Catholic schools go on to higher education.

“And that's a very, very good record and very good statistic,” she said.

Mrs. Bush closed her remarks by thanking Archbishop Wuerl, school principal Sister Rosemaron Rynn, and the students in her audience.

Since Little Flower School opened in 1953, it has been staffed by members of the Congregation of the Sisters of Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Their motherhouse is in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Today there are six IHM sisters on the faculty of Little Flower. According to the school’s web site, it offers an “excellent” academic program that is “imbued and enlivened by the gospel message which inspires all to live the values of our Catholic faith.”

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Brazil’s Ministry of Health finances abortion documentary

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Brazil’s Ministry of Health, led by Jose Gomes Temporao, has given some $40,000 for an abortion documentary entitled, “The End of Silence,” which promotes the practice and defends its legalization in Brazil.

According to the newspaper Globo, two thousand copies of the film will be distributed to schools and feminist organizations in February. The documentary shows cases of women who are seeking an abortion and who defend its legalization.

In response, Bishop Augusto Dias Duarte, Auxiliary of Rio de Janeiro and a member of the Brazilian bishops’ Committee on Life and the Family, expressed his disagreement with the film promoted by the Ministry.  “I don’t think it is correct, from an ethical point of view, to finance a film that defends the personal positions of the health minister with public funds,” he said.

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Locals show indifference toward 'Atheist Bus' campaign in Spain

Madrid, Spain, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Although some are claiming that “religious intolerance” has been the main enemy of the atheist bus ad campaign launched Monday in Spain, indifference seems to be more of an enemy, the newspaper La Gaceta reports.

La Gaceta, which covered the first day of the ad campaign launched by the Union of Atheists and Freethinkers” of Spain, says that despite “so much publicity and so much ink spilled in the media,” most Spaniards reacted with indifference to the ads. The ads read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

“So much noise, and yet the ads will only be seen on two of the almost 100 lines that the Barcelona Metropolitan Transit System operates,” the newspaper observed.

“Yesterday,” the report continued, “residents in Barcelona generally showed indifference to the campaign, even though every newspaper, radio and television station, both in Catalonia and in Madrid, covered it in recent days.”

“At bus stops, most travelers were not aware of the ads that were created by the atheist association, and the few people that did have some knowledge showed total indifference and only wanted the bus to travel as quickly as possible in order to get around,” La Gaceta said.

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Spokesman for Archdiocese of Mexico encourages laity to participate in politics

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, Father Hugo Valdemar, encouraged the faithful this week to organize in order to defend Christian doctrine in public life, and he suggested that a new political party could be formed inspired by Catholic values.

“Forming a new political party would have an even greater impact, since as laypeople you have no impediment to participating in the public or political life of the country, even declaring yourselves to be openly Catholic,” Father Valdemar said.  “Constitutionally there is nothing that prohibits this,” he told reporters.

He went on to praise the recent protests in support of human life and the family, noting they have not been violent or radical and that it is not uncommon to hear shouts of “Long live Christ the King” at such events.  The phrase was a rallying cry during the Cristero persecution of early 20th century.

“Today we are not physically persecuted, but we are persecuted ideologically, because those who defend these precepts are called religious ‘kooks’ and suffer discrimination,” Father Valdemar said.

“These protests are not a call to arms but rather a call to defend and affirm the faith, because nobody is seeking to start an antagonistic movement when what the country needs is peace and reconciliation,” the priest said.

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Prayer for Christian unity draws from experience of divided Korea

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Catholics around the world will begin a week of prayer for Christian unity this coming Sunday using a passage from Ezekiel that resonates with the experience of the local Church divided between North and South Korea.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an annual celebration that is held every January 18- 25, and is promoted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The overall theme for 2009 comes from Ezekiel 37:17 which reads, "That they may become one in your hand."

The week of prayer has a text for reflection and prayer associated with each day of the week, and organizers say that this year’s texts come from "the experience of the churches in Korea." The Church in Korea, which was divided by the break between the North and the South in 1948, identifies with the prophet Ezekiel, "who also lived in a tragically divided nation and longed for the unity of his people," organizers explain.

The materials for the week of prayer and for the rest of 2009 have been jointly prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

Each day of the week will have a different theme:

January 18: Christian communities face to face with old and new divisions.

January 19: Christians face to face with war and violence.

January 20: Christians face to face with economic injustice and poverty.

January 21: Christians face to face with ecological crisis.

January 22: Christians face to face with discrimination and social prejudice.

January 23: Christians face to face with disease and suffering.

January 24: Christians face to face with a plurality of religions.

January 25: Christian proclamation of hope in a world of separation.

Although the traditional period for celebrating this week of prayer is in the month of January, in the Southern Hemisphere, churches sometimes seek other periods such as around the time of Pentecost. This time is also symbolically significant for the unity of the Church and was suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926.

In the basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 25, Feast of the Conversion of the Apostle Paul, Benedict XVI will close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by presiding at the celebration of Vespers.

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Benedict XVI receives relics of St. Therese’s parents, offers prayers for families

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - Today, after his weekly general audience, the Holy Father gave a special greeting to pilgrims from Lisieux, France and also asked the Lord to bless the Sixth World Meeting of Families.


The French faithful journeyed to Rome with relics of the saintly French couple, Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, who were beatified on October 19, 2008.


After his special greeting to the French pilgrims, Pope Benedict offered prayers for the “Sixth World Meeting of Families, which is currently taking place in Mexico City.”


"May this important ecclesial event,” he prayed, "be a further expression of the beauty and importance of the family, infusing everyone with new energy to support this irreplaceable and fundamental cell of society and of the Church."

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Catholic teen only graduate of Alaskan Christian high school

Fairbanks, Alaska, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - A World Youth Day 2008 attendee was the only person in her class to graduate from a small Alaska high school.

Marchelle Renner was the only 2009 graduate of North Pole Christian School, which she attended since kindergarten.

Her final year marked the first time Renner was in a class of one.

“She’s awesome, and we’re totally proud of her,” said Renner’s mother, Rochelle, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Eielson Church of Christ Minister Kevin Knight spoke during the graduation ceremony, giving Renner advice for her future.

Using American Express advertisements in which celebrities say their cards have given them things like freedom and independence, Knight told Renner, “You have something better than an American Express card — you have the God of the universe.”

Renner delivered her own reflections at the ceremony, saying that the most important thing she has learned was to think of God not only in the bad times, but also to remember Him in the good times.

She also noted the most memorable moments in her life, such as her five mission trips to Mexico.

“It’s seeing the children and the love they have for God, even though they don’t have much else,” Renner said.

She plans to take a sixth trip in January, the Daily News Miner reports.

Renner’s father Mark described his daughter as adventurous and determined. He said he saw her take charge in a thoughtful and caring way during her trip to World Youth Day in Australia.

“We’re so blessed to have her as a daughter,” he said.

Renner, who graduated a semester early, said she plans to work and save for college. She wants to study secondary music education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks but is unsure whether to become a music teacher or a youth minister.

According to a post from Renner at a Catholic social network, she loves playing sports, especially soccer, and enjoys snowboarding, paintballing, playing guitar and singing.

She also writes about her habit of going “to lots of church stuff,” going four-wheeling, hanging out with friends and picking on her brothers.

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New survey shows Protestants’ loyalty flagging

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) - A new survey of denominational loyalty reports that churchgoing Catholics are significantly less likely than churchgoing Protestants to change denominations.

Six out of ten active Catholics would only consider attending a Catholic church, while about 30 percent would prefer attending a Catholic church but would consider others, the survey says. Eleven percent of churchgoing Catholics reportedly do not show a specific preference for attending a Catholic church.

By contrast, only 16 percent of Protestant churchgoers will only consider attending a church of their present denomination. About 51 percent express a preference for one denomination, while 33 percent do not have any preference for a specific denomination.

Phoenix-based Ellison Research released the results of the poll on Monday.

“The good news for the Catholic church is that six out of ten Catholics will not even consider attending church in any other denomination, which is far higher than for Protestants. The bad news, of course, is that four out of ten active Catholics would at least be open to another denomination, even though most would prefer to remain in the Catholic Church,” commented Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research.

The survey of a representative sample of 1,007 American adults included 471 respondents who regularly attend worship services at a church broadly considered to be in the Christian tradition, categorized into Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, and Orthodox.

Respondents who attend worship services at least once a month were first asked the specific denomination of the church they attend most often. This distinguished “Southern Baptist” from “Free Will Baptist,” for example.

The respondents were then asked what role that denomination would play if they could no longer attend their current church, in the case it closed or the respondent moved.

Sellers explained that there may be additional factors affecting the difference between Catholic and Protestant denominational loyalty.

“It’s not as though there are two hundred different Roman Catholic denominations,” he said.  “On the Protestant side, there are scores of different denominations, with some of them fairly similar in practice and theology. 

“The story of this research is that many Protestants may not see a lot of difference among some of these denominations,” Sellers said. 

For comparison, Ellison Research asked Americans about their loyalty to certain brands in more than 32 categories of products and services. Respondents expressed between about 10 to 20 percent exclusive loyalty to brands like automobiles or toothpaste, while between about 60 to 70 percent reported a brand preference.

Respondents were especially loyal to toothpaste, with 22 percent saying they use one brand exclusively.

“It may not be lack of loyalty so much as it is the presence of so many options that is causing Protestants to be about as loyal to a brand of toothpaste or bathroom tissue as they are to their church denomination,” Sellers remarked.

Among all churchgoing respondents, three out of ten said they would only consider attending one denomination, while 44 percent said they have one preferred denomination but would also consider others. Eleven percent reported a small number of denominations they would consider.

According to the survey results, denominational loyalty does not vary significantly by gender, household income, age, or type of community. It does vary by race or ethnicity and by region of the United States.

Hispanic churchgoers, who are majority Catholic, are the most intensely loyal to their denomination. African-Americans reportedly have the least denominational loyalty.

Denominational loyalty is highest in the Northeast U.S., where Catholicism is more common than elsewhere in the country. Such loyalty is lowest in the South, where Catholicism is less common.

People who report attending a non-denominational church, the Ellison Research survey says, are actually more committed to remaining non-denominational than churchgoers in Protestant denominations are to staying within their denomination. About 29 percent of non-denominational churchgoers will only consider a non-denominational church, while 32 percent express a preference for a non-denominational church.

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Democratic Catholic leader arrested on prostitution-related charges

Dublin, Ohio, Jan 14, 2009 (CNA) -

The former director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for the governor of Ohio was arrested Wednesday for his involvement in an online prostitution ring.  Eric McFadden, who has also formerly served as the president of the organization Catholics for Faithful Citizenship and spokesperson for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, will face seven prostitution-related charges tomorrow in court.


Eric McFadden, 46, the former head of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, was arrested this morning and faces two counts of promoting prostitution, two counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor, two counts of pandering obscenity involving a nude minor and one count of compelling prostitution, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien told the Springfield News-Sun.


The News-Sun also quoted Keith Daily, Governor Strickland’s press secretary who described the situation as “very sad, shocking and appalling.”


McFadden’s faith outreach has not been limited to the Ohio governor’s office.  In 2004, McFadden worked for Catholics for Kerry and in 2005, served as the president for the organization, Catholics for Faithful Citizenship.  In 2006, he was a spokesperson for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and more recently, he was Hillary Clinton’s lead Catholic outreach organizer as the State Faith & Values Outreach Director during the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. 


According to NBC 4 in Columbus, Ohio, detectives suspect McFadden was involved in a “hooker-review” site that led to the creation of a Brewery District brothel.


Police also believe that McFadden is a man they have been tracking who posts under the name “Toby.” Authorities have been searching for him over the past two months after busting a prostitution ring on Craigslist.


McFadden used complex encoded postings on Craigslist that would look like useless or corrupted data, in which he would embed the information of the woman available, the type of sex interaction she would be willing to perform and the place to meet her. Paradoxically, McFadden's code name in his transactions was "mcfaddencatholic."


CNA obtained copies of the postings, but since they contain names that may be real and actual addresses in the Columbus, OH area, they will not be made public.


Police also note that on McFadden’s online posts, he claimed to be the “guru” of prostitution in Columbus, Ohio.  He wrote reviews on prostitution services as well as advice on how not to get caught, reports NBC 4.


McFadden is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow.


Upon hearing of the arrest, the organization, Catholic Democrats reacted saying that it is “sad news” that a “committed Catholic Democrat” has been arrested under such accusations.


McFadden who has been a supporter of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama described his Catholic outreach in 2007 to PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly as giving “a voice to Catholics so they can stand up and say, ‘I am a Catholic Democrat, and I’m proud and these are the principles that I believe in.’”


Additionally, he was a member of the Knights of Columbus and reached the 4th order.  Last year, he penned a letter to the Knights of Columbus asserting that Supreme Knight Carl Anderson was leading Catholics astray by suggesting that Catholics could not vote for pro-abortion candidates. 


“Carl Anderson should resign as Supreme Knight so the good work of the Knights of Columbus can continue without the stain of partisan politics," he wrote.


In 2008 McFadden also conducted an interview with Pepperdine University professor Doug Kmiec regarding his support for the pro-choice president-elect Barack Obama.


Other associates of McFadden could not be reached for immediate comment.

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