Wichita, Kan., Mar 28, 2009 (CNA) - Every morning during Lent – Monday through Saturday – teams of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Wichita, Kansas students gather in the school’s auditorium for their spiritual workout. This Lent marks the God Squad’s fifth anniversary.
Initiated by Father Jarrod Lies, the school’s chaplain, the squad’s intent is “to take the training for spiritual life as seriously as music, sports or other things.” He based the idea on 1 Timothy, 4:7, which encourages us to “train yourself for devotion, for while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future.”
Because Fr. Lies is so involved in sports at the high school, he adopted sports terms for the God Squad’s activities. There are “coaches” (chaplain and teachers) who assist in organizing and arranging God Squad events, and “captains” (students who facilitate small groups) who lead prayers and discussion.
Sunday is referred to as “game day,” and the “arena” or “court” is free will. “Studying the playbook” means meditation on scripture. Other translations include “doin’ ropes” (praying the Rosary), “scrimmage (daily Mass) and “huddles” (student led discussion groups).
Team designations carry metaphors as well.
To be on the varsity team, a student must attend “training days” (daily activities) 80 percent of the time. Junior varsity members must participate 50 percent of the time, and C-team members participate without specific accountability. It’s even possible to “letter” in God Squad. Winning a Liturgy and Spirituality letter signifies that the student has made the varsity squad two consecutive years.
Senior Rachel Stanley, a captain, has been on the God Squad for four years. She does it “because it makes such an impact on me and my spiritual life,” she explained. “It would be beneficial to continue while I had the opportunity.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Advance, newspaper from the Diocese of Wichita.
New Haven, Conn., Mar 28, 2009 (CNA) - The poor reporting which inflamed controversy over Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on condom use in African HIV prevention missed his “larger message,” Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson has charged. He claimed the media have created a sound bite “gotcha” game in which reporters and commentators uncritically accepted the opinions of papal critics.
The controversy also reflects a “fundamental difference” in philosophies, Anderson added. While the Pope believes that people are capable of doing the right thing, Anderson argues his critics do not.
Writing in his recent column “AIDS, Africa and Pope Benedict,” Anderson defended the accuracy of the Pope’s comments that reliance on condoms to combat the spread of AIDS risks “worsening the crisis.”
He cited a recent UNAIDS study which said “there are no definite examples yet of generalized epidemics that have been turned back by prevention programs based primarily on condom promotion.”
Anderson also cited a 2004 study of AIDS trends in Africa conducted by the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, which is headed by Dr. Edward C. Green. The study reported that behavior change is necessary to decrease HIV infection rates, but there has been “relatively little” promotion of behavior change relative to promotion of condom use.
“What the researchers mean by ‘primary behavior change’ is both abstinence and being faithful to one’s partner,” Anderson wrote.
In a recent interview with National Review Online, however, Dr. Green noted that the Pope’s comments presented monogamy as the best answer to AIDS, rather than abstinence.
In Green’s interview, cited by Anderson, the researcher also said that HIV rates tend to go up where condoms are readily available, possibly because condom users take more risks than they might otherwise.
Turning to critics of the Pope, Anderson argued many of them assume that “people cannot help themselves when it comes to having sex, and that advocating for better and more moral behavior is futile.”
“Many Africans who I know personally think otherwise,” he said.
Again citing the 2004 Harvard report, Anderson said that the HIV rate in the Karamoja region of northeast Uganda had fallen to less than 2 percent compared with the rate of 30 percent in other regions.
“Interestingly,” Anderson wrote, “it is the area of Uganda where people have one of the lowest levels of condom use (about 3%), but also the lowest level of men and women reporting multiple sexual partners (less than 2%).”
Anderson then criticized the use of “isolated sound bites” in media reports on Pope Benedict.
“First at Regensberg, again at La Sapienza University in Rome, then in the controversy over Bishop Williamson, and now in Africa, the pope’s actual message was ignored as critics took his words out of context – or ignored their clear meaning,” he said.
He then repeated Pope Benedict’s actual comments on HIV/AIDS in Africa:
“If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a two-fold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality… and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering… And these are the factors that bring visible progress.”
Anderson then commented that the pope’s “larger message” about the need for building a “true ‘civilization of love’” in Africa was “nearly ignored altogether.”
“Critics and commentators who professed shock at the Pope’s remarks could have called Dr. Green. They could have read the UN and Harvard studies. But instead, they assumed that Benedict was wrong. The Pope and all of us deserve better.”
Hanoi, Vietnam, Mar 28, 2009 (CNA) - After “highly spirited” protests and reports of Vietnamese authorities’ interference with their legal representation, a Hanoi appellate court on Friday rejected the appeal of eight Catholic parishioners convicted of disturbing public order and damaging property during demonstrations seeking the return of confiscated church land.
The charges against the defendants stemmed from protests at Thai Ha Church, where they joined hundreds of Catholic protesters seeking the return of 14 acres of church land confiscated by the Vietnamese government.
In December 2008 seven of the eight Catholics, who at the time ranged in age from 21 to 63, were convicted of damaging public property during the protests, while Marie Nguyen Thi Nhi was charged with causing a social disturbance for playing a gong and praying at Thai Ha. The property that was allegedly damaged by the Catholics reportedly amounted to around $200 in value.
Seven parishioners were given administrative probation of up to two years and suspended jail terms of 12 to 15 months, minus time already spent in custody. An eighth was given a warning.
They appealed their convictions, arguing that they committed no crime and were exercising their right to free speech.
On Friday appellate court president Nguyen Quoc Hoi ruled that there was no ground for their appeal. Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA the court president charged that the defendants' behavior was “dangerous for society, causing serious consequences... undermining the great national unity.”
The Catholic defendants’ principal lawyer Le Tran Luat was absent, reportedly because of government interference.
“The time period leading up to the trial has been marked by a crescendo of harassment and intimidation by Vietnamese authorities against Le Tran Luat,” Fr. An Dang told CNA, explaining that the actions included “detention, searches, interrogation, phone threats, banning him from travelling to Hanoi, as well as taking away from him his license to practice. Besides all this, the state media is carrying out a smear campaign against him as a person and a servant of the public.”
He reported that state-run media outlets have carried articles accusing the lawyer of using false documents, employing non-attorneys to work as lawyers and also failing to pay taxes.
“The Catholic defendants have obviously been deprived of their right to legal representation in accordance with due process,” Fr. An Dang charged, adding that two other lawyers defended seven of the defendants, while Nguyen Thi Nhi had to defend herself because Le Tran Luat was her only advocate.
At 6 a.m. following a morning Mass on the day of the trial, thousands of Thai Ha parishioners had marched about 7.5 miles from their church to the court house, singing and praying loudly.
They were joined by thousands of parishioners at Ha Dong in their demonstration before hundreds of anti-riot police equipped with batons, stun guns, and trained dogs.
The protesters held placards criticizing the trial. Some signs read “Justice, truth” and others read “You are innocent.”
Armed police reportedly raided homes in Ha Dong neighborhoods the day before the trial. Some people were held in custody while others were expelled from the area.
“Residents were warned not to allow anyone who had not registered with police to stay during the night at their homes or face severe punishment for their ‘not cooperating’," Fr. An Dang told CNA.
The night before the trial, Vietnamese television station VTV1 accused the Redemptorist order of instigating the eight parishioners to commit disorderly conduct. The station questioned why the priests had not yet been arrested.
Other state media outlets have made similar reports in what Fr. An Dang characterized as “a concerted effort to limit the number of Catholics whose attendance is foreseeable.”
Catholics have complained that the 2008 trial was itself an attempt by the government to prevent protests concerning officials’ property disputes with the Catholic Church.
Houston, Texas, Mar 28, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, on Friday became the first American cardinal to publicly criticize the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to be this year's commencement speaker and to award him with an honorary law degree.
In his weekly "A Shepherd's Message" in the Texas Catholic Herald, Cardinal DiNardo expresses his disappointment with Notre Dame's decision.
Cardinal DiNardo begins his column by commenting on Pope Benedict's recent letter explaining his decision to lift the excommunications of the four bishops ordained by the schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Praising the Pope's call for internal peace in the Church, the Cardinal says that "vigorous and heartfelt discussion, even debate, needs to be placed in the arms of charity for effectiveness."
"In light of what I wrote above," the cardinal says in the final part of his column, "I want to venture a comment on the recently released statement of the University of Notre Dame; that statement noted that the President has accepted an invitation to give the Commencement Address this year as well as receive an Honorary Law Degree."
“I find the invitation very disappointing,” Cardinal DiNardo writes.
"Though I can understand the desire by a university to have the prestige of a commencement address by the President of the United States, the fundamental moral issue of the inestimable worth of the human person from conception to natural death is a principle that soaks all our lives as Catholics, and all our efforts at formation, especially education at Catholic places of higher learning."
According to Cardinal DiNardo, “the President has made clear by word and deed that he will promote abortion and will remove even those limited sanctions that control this act of violence against the human person. The Bishops of the United States published a document a few years ago asking all Catholic universities to avoid giving a platform or an award to those politicians or public figures who promote the taking of unborn human life. Even given the dignity of Office of the President, this offer is still providing a platform and an award for a public figure who has been candid on his pro-abortion views."
"Particularly troubling, he continues, is the Honorary Law Degree since it recognizes that the person is a 'Teacher,' in this case of the Law. I think that this decision requires charitable but vigorous critique.
Cardinal DiNardo was also joined by fellow Texas bishop Gregory Aymond, who also spoke about the scandal on Friday.
"In my opinion,” writes the Bishop of Austin, “it is very clear that in this case the University of Notre Dame does not live up to its Catholic identity in giving this award and their leadership needs our prayerful support.”
Counting Bishop Aymond and Cardinal DiNardo, four U.S. bishops have criticized Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama.
This past Tuesday, Bishop John D'Arcy, the bishop of the diocese that Notre Dame is located in, announced that he would not be attending Obama's commencement and suggested that the university was choosing “prestige over truth.” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix spoke out against the invitation on Friday, saying that Notre Dame was committing “a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States.”