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Archive of August 7, 2009

FOCUS adds 12 new universities to national campus outreach

Denver, Colo., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has added 12 new universities to its campus outreach for the 2009-2010 school year, bringing its total number of campus missionary teams to 45.

FOCUS missionaries are sent in teams of four or more to college campuses at the invitation of the local bishop and with the support of the local Newman Center or campus ministry. The missionaries are all recent college graduates who devote at least two years of their lives to serve their peers.

According to FOCUS, the missionaries seek to build friendships and mentor younger students in the three “core areas” of sobriety, chastity and excellence. Their activities include Bible study, one-on-one discipleship and large group social events.

New campus outreach efforts have begun at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Drake University in Iowa; Eastern Illinois University, Charleston; Minnesota State University, Mankato; Missouri State University, Springfield; and New York University.

Other new outreach efforts are at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Montclair State University in New Jersey; University of Connecticut, Storrs; University of Florida, Gainesville; University of Kentucky, Lexington; and University of South Dakota, Vermillion.

"Though we continue to grow, our mission is still the same," FOCUS founder Curtis Martin said in a press release. "Student by student, we are calling young people back to God with an eye toward developing strong, faithful leaders who will turn our culture back to Jesus Christ and the Church He founded."

Founded in 1998 with four missionaries, FOCUS now has more than 200 missionaries in 25 states. The organization reports that since its founding 162 men and 44 women have entered the priesthood and/or religious life as a result of their involvement in FOCUS. In 2008-2009, 18 women and 18 men committed themselves to religious life or seminary.

The FOCUS website is at http://www.focusonline.org

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IRS approves exemption for pro-life group after ‘prejudicial’ investigation

Chicago, Ill., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - Following allegations that the Coalition for Life of Iowa’s approval as a tax exempt organization was being withheld by officials who wanted the group to refrain from protesting at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, the Internal Revenue Service has granted tax exempt status to the pro-life group.

The IRS had reportedly sought “details” about the content of Coalition for Life members’ prayers at a Planned Parenthood facility. The IRS had also demanded that it refrain both from activities that could be construed as protesting or picketing by police and from activities that could be seen as confrontational or harassing by abortion-seeking clients.

The IRS also insisted that “every member of the board of directors of the Coalition sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, that they will not picket or protest or organize others to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood,” reported the Thomas More Society, the Chicago-based public interest law firm which made the legal challenge on behalf of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based group.

The Thomas More Society characterized the IRS’ questions as “prejudicial” and threatened legal action.

On Tuesday the Thomas More Society received an official “Determination Letter” from the IRS granting tax exempt status to the Coalition for Life of Iowa. The letter confirmed the group is a 501(c)(3) public charity, to which donations are fully tax deductable.

Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said the action was a “great victory” for the pro-life group and for all non-profits.

“The IRS must operate within the constraints of law, and it cannot condition the grant of tax exempt status on the forfeiture or surrender of First Amendment rights on the part of any non-profit group or individual American citizens,” Brejcha commented in a press release. “We join the Coalition for Life of Iowa in the celebration of its victory and remain prepared to defend advocates for life against government abuse or threats – no matter however, wherever, or whenever they may suffer such abuse or threats.”

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Michigan Catholic Conference says state budget cuts will heavily impact the poor

Lansing, Mich., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - At a time when economic stress is moving state and local governments to reduce spending, the Michigan Catholic Conference has criticized state legislators’ budget balancing proposals which cut social programs. The Conference argues such cuts will hurt the most vulnerable Michigan residents.

“Our message to the public and the Legislature is ‘enough is enough’, the state can no longer continue to tear apart the state’s social safety net to resolve the budget deficit,” Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) Vice President for Public Policy Paul A. Long said in a statement. “It is our common understanding that the moral strength of a society depends on the assistance it provides its most vulnerable population, and we hope the Legislature would share that position as well.”

The MCC was one of 27 social service advocacy organizations that sent a letter to the governor and all legislators, saying a “shared pain” approach to balancing the state’s $1.8 billion budget deficit was a moral and legislative failure.

According to the coalition of social service advocates, over half of the $304 million budget cuts included in an executive order came from the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human Services, two departments primarily responsible for ensuring “critical human services” to Michigan’s low-income children and families.

Michigan League for Human Services President and C.E.O. Sharon Parks said the proposed cuts were “simply too harmful” to low-income families. “We cannot balance Michigan’s budget on the backs of poor families – we need to paint a brighter future for our kids.”

The coalition noted that other proposals would freeze the full implementation of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which affects the working poor. Another budget cut under consideration would cut $330 million from the Department of Human Services budget, 29.4 percent of its total.

The MCC said some of the “more alarming” cuts included reductions in grants to poor families, a reduction for children’s clothing allowance from $88 to $43 per child, cuts in child day care programs, and cuts to Supplemental Security Income.

According to a statement from the MCC, about 10 percent of all families in Michigan and nearly one in five children are in poverty, while many other families are in an “economically precarious” position.

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Massachusetts Knights awarded for organizing prom for special needs students

Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - At Wednesday’s awards session in Phoenix, a Massachusetts Knight’s council was awarded the Order’s 2009 Community Activities Award for their efforts in organizing a prom for 75 special needs students in and around the Pembroke, Massachusetts area.

CNA spoke with council’s Grand Knight, Kevin McKenna, who explained that for the past two years, he and his council have put together a prom night for 75 local special needs students to not only give them an opportunity to dress up and celebrate, but also to help teach the community about different disabilities children face.

McKenna and his wife, Hope, explained to CNA that they were motivated to organize the dance after realizing that other students and parents didn’t seem comfortable around their autistic daughter while she was in middle school.

McKenna presented the idea to his council, Council 6267, then spoke with other councils in the area to obtain resources, donations and volunteers. 

The council received donations from restaurants, formal wear stores and a strong response from those interested in helping out. A variety of community members have had a hand in the event: National Honor Society students looking for service hours, women from Bingo nights, other councils and the Rotary Club. 

McKenna explained that since the prom draws in so many community members, it serves an additional purpose: not only is it fun for the students, but it also eases the intimidation some people feel when encountering someone with a disability.

“We’ve tried to make a difference in the community around us as well as for the children who come to the prom,” he said. 

“It’s amazing, he added, “you go there and see the expressions on the faces of the students and they’re having a great time.” 

Parents of the students are also invited, but are treated into a sit-down pasta dinner instead of a dance.  Hope McKenna explained that the dinner gives the parents time to relax and also to talk to other parents about children with similar disabilities and share information about doctors or other resources.

Kevin McKenna also issued a challenge to his brother Knights, asking them to consider organizing a similar event: “I’d like to challenge every other council in the United States and Canada to make a difference in these children’s lives.”  “And we can point them in the right direction so they can make a difference in the lives of God’s special children and young adults,” he added.

In addition to the Community Award, the Knights also honored councils for their church and council related activities. 

The 2009 Church Activities Award was presented to St. Joseph’s of Lino Lakes Council 9905 for spearheading a restoration project of a neglected church built in 1897.  While initial estimates for repairing the church were more than $830,000, with the help of more than 40 Knights, their families, community members and parishioners, the council replaced the interior walls and the roof, refurbished pews, restored stained glass and installed plumbing for less than $150,000.

The Knights also handed out the 2009 Council Activities Award to Council 12791 from northeastern Virginia for creating the “McGivney Vision Program”.

Named after the Order’s founder, it was designed to provide both spiritual and financial support to members in need of assistance due to unemployment, family heath issues or other financial burdens. The program also provides business networking and career support.

When annual dues statements were sent out, members were encouraged to donate additional money to the program, which to date has netted $10,000 to assist fellow Knights in need.

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Bella actor invites everyone to Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival

Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - The famous actor Eduardo Verastegui is inviting Catholics to attend the Guadalupe Festival on Saturday, August 8, at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

The festival is being sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and is the first of its kind. In addition to the Knights, the Diocese of Phoenix, the Archdiocese of Mexico City and the Institute for Guadalupe Studies are co-sponsoring the event. Festival goers will be able to enjoy music, dance and prayer that is all dedicated to celebrating the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all of America.

In addition to Verastegui, who is known for his pro-life movie "Bella," the event will also be attended by author Immaculee Ilibagiza, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, and Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix.

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Mexican bishops accept apology for police raid on church

Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - The secretary general of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Jose Leopoldo Gonzalez, said Thursday that the Church in Mexico has accepted the apology of police officials for conducting a raid during Mass at the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Diocese of Apatzingan.

On August 1, police raided the parish in order to capture several drug lords. After protests by the Mexican bishops, police officials apologized to Bishop Miguel Patino of Apatzingan.

The statement signed by Bishop Gonzalez said the raid on the Church showed “a lack of respect for the Catholic faith and its sacraments.”  However, the bishops accepted the apology and reiterated their commitment to help in the fight against organized crime.

“The Church and her bishops will never obstruct justice as some, either out of ignorance or malice, have suggested,” the statement indicated.

“We reiterate that no Catholic church is or ever will be a place where any kind of criminality will be shielded under any pretext,” the bishops said.

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Families survive hardships of cancer thanks to Gloria's Angels

Seattle, Wash., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - CNA recently published a story about Gloria Strauss, a young girl whose struggle with cancer and her reliance on her Catholic faith during her illness is leading people to the faith.

Her short life also inspired the creation of an organization to reach out to families with a loved one facing a chronic illness. Today, we take a look at the stories of two families who have been touched by the efforts of Gloria’s Angels.

Gloria’s story begins with her being diagnosed at the age of six with a form of cancer called Neuroblastoma.

Amazingly, she witnessed to her Catholic faith constantly during her struggle with the disease.

Her father, Doug, told CNA that Gloria had a beautiful gift: she was able to draw people to Christ through her cancer.  “She taught us all how to carry a cross.  Her gift to us was her living example of her commitment to a relationship with God through constant prayer.  She always said, “Yes.”

“From shots to sickness it always began and ended with the sign of the cross,” Doug continued.  “Often doctors would have to stand and wait as she made the sign of the cross and prayed. Amazing to watch!”

It wasn’t just her actions that drew people to Christ. Doug recalled how everyone spoke of Gloria’s presence.  “She had this presence that allowed people to want to be with her and pray for her.”  Even at the age of seven, “she knew her calling to bring people to God through her cancer.” 

After Gloria passed away on September 21, 2007, the Strausses, together with Seattle businessman Bob Turner, founded Gloria’s Angels to assist families in caring for their loved ones who are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.

Matt Miller was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the end of February 2008, leading him and his wife KyAnne to ask the Lord for assistance. 

When they first met with Gloria’s Angels, it was at a time when the family “couldn’t keep all the balls up in the air anymore,” KyAnne told CNA.  With five children between the ages 26 and 6, including one with Autism, it was difficult for the Millers to keep up with meals, yard work, babysitting and chores around the house. 

Gloria’s Angels stepped in to help the family optimize their ability to care for Matt. 

“First off, they organized a meeting with our family and friends that were on an email group I had set up,” KyAnne explained.  “They presented a template in a Power Point presentation” which “showed different areas of service that we needed including, yard work, housecleaning, meals, babysitting and especially prayer.”

“Within a very short period of time we had three meals a week being delivered, our yard and hedge whipped into shape, landscaping done by a man we didn't even know. It did Matt a world of good to see the yard looking so great. There were groceries delivered and babysitting outings that our kids thoroughly enjoyed,” she continued.  “We had the Rosary being said for us by people we didn't even know.”

“Matt and I both feel Gloria's Angels is a blessing to the community. Our last year would have been so much harder to bear without them. All our family and friends who worked so faithfully and generously with Gloria's Angels felt blessed as well,” said KyAnne.

Matt Miller is now in remission and is planning on helping families through Gloria’s Angels in the future.  “God truly heard our prayer that first day.... He prepared the way and sent us Gloria's Angels to see us through. May He continue to bless them!”

Another family who has benefited from the care of Gloria’s Angels is the Cardenas family. 

Ron and Chrissy Cardenas’ four-year old daughter, Cora, had just been diagnosed with cancer and was preparing for surgery to have her left kidney removed along with the tumor.  Following the operation, their daughter would then undergo chemotherapy treatments.  Chrissy explains, “our whole world was turned upside down.  We were in and out of the hospital for weeks.”

Through the help of Gloria’s Angels, the Cardenas were able to spend time with Cora, while a coordinator organized volunteers into support teams in charge of meals, yard maintenance, housekeeping services and family care.  Additionally, a fundraiser was organized which attracted over 250 people and raised over $10,000. 

“This was the most challenging time of our lives. To be connected with an organization who understood our situation, hesitation and needs better than we did and provided a working model to organize our loving family and friends to best serve us was a direct answer to prayers,” Chrissy said.

“This experience was an education in life and love.  We are forever grateful to Gloria's Angels and all of our family and friends.  My regret is that I did not have the pleasure of meeting Gloria Strauss personally.  She is an extraordinary little lady I have come to know through the Angels and inspiration she has served to many.  We think of her often, her photo is displayed in our home as a constant reminder there are angels among us.”

Cora Cardenas has now completed her chemo treatments and her cancer is in remission.

“We have created something truly revolutionary – capturing all of the goodness people have to offer, harnessing it in an efficient and effective way, and preventing any unwanted outcomes for those who serve,” explained Bob Turner.

“Some of our teams are as large as 65 people, all coming together for months at a time to serve the family and lift burdens from them.  The shower of blessings is amazing, and often, because of our approach, no one person gets burned out or overwhelmed by it,” explained Turner.

Gloria’s Angels has already begun work in the Washington area, but plans to branch out across the United States.  The organization has already served 26 families.

For more information about Gloria’s Angels, or the upcoming book on Gloria, visit: www.gloriasangels.org

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Our Lady of Guadalupe ‘completely beyond' scientific explanation, says researcher

Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - Researcher and physicist Dr. Aldofo Orozco told participants at the International Marian Congress on Our Lady of Guadalupe that there is no scientific explanation for the 478 years of high quality-preservation of the Tilma or for the miracles that have occurred to ensure its preservation.

Dr. Orozco began his talk by confirming that the conservation of the Tilma, the cloak of St. Juan Diego on which Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared 478 years ago, “is completely beyond any scientific explanation.”

“All the cloths similar to the Tilma that have been placed in the salty and humid environment around the Basilica have lasted no more than ten years,” he explained.  One painting of the miraculous image, created in 1789, was on display in a church near the basilica where the Tilma was placed.  “This painting was made with the best techniques of its time, the copy was beautiful and made with a fabric very similar to that of the Tilma. Also, the image was protected with a glass since it was first placed there.”

However, eight years later, the copy of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was thrown away because the colors were fading and threads were breaking.  In contrast, Orozco said, “the original Tilma was exposed for approximately 116 years without any kind of protection, receiving all the infrared and ultraviolet radiation from the tens of thousands of candles near it and exposed to the humid and salty air around the temple.”

Dr. Orozco then discussed the Tilma’s fabric.  He noted that “one of the most bizarre characteristics of the cloth is that the back side is rough and coarse, but the front side is ‘as soft as the most pure silk, as noted by painters and scientists in 1666, and confirmed one century later in 1751 by the Mexican painter, Miguel Cabrera.”

Following an analysis of some of the fibers in 1946, it was concluded that the fibers came from the Agave plant, however, noted Dr. Orozco, the researchers couldn’t figure out which of the 175 Agave species the Tilma was made from.  Years later, in 1975, “the famous Mexican researcher Ernesto Sodi Pallares said that the species of the agave was Agave popotule Zacc,” Orozco explained, “but we don’t know how he reached this conclusion.”

Before concluding his presentation, Dr. Orozco made mention of two miracles associated with the Tilma. 

The first occurred in 1785 when a worker accidentally spilled a 50 percent nitric acid solvent on the right side of the cloth.  “Besides any natural explanation, the acid has not destroyed the fabric of the cloth, indeed it has not even destroyed the colored parts of the image,” Orozco said.

The second miracle was the explosion of a bomb near the Tilma in 1921.  Dr. Orozco recalled that the explosion broke the marble floor and widows 150 meters from the explosion, but “unexpectedly, neither the Tilma nor the normal glass that protected the Tilma was damaged or broken.”  The only damage near it was a brass crucifix that was twisted by the blast.

He continued, “There are no explanations why the shockwave that broke windows 150 meters afar did not destroy the normal glass that protected the image. Some people said that the Son by means of the brass crucifix protected the image of His Mother. The real fact is that we don’t have a natural explanation for this event.”

Dr. Orozco thanked the audience for listening to his presentation and closed by reassuring them that “Our Lady visited Mexico 478 years ago, but she remains there to give Her Love, Her Mercy and Her Care to anyone who needs it, and to bring Her Son, Jesus Christ to everyone who receives Him.”

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Mexicans debate legal reform to protect State of Queretaro from abortion

Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - Beginning on Monday, August 10, some 50 organizations will participate in the first public debate in the Mexican state of Queretaro on the prohibition of abortion, possibly resulting in a reform of the state constitution.

Among those expected to participate are the Knights of Columbus, the Association of Catholic Psychologists, as well as other pro-life groups.

The president of state legislature’s Constitutional Committee, Marco Antonio Leon Hernandez, said it was important for citizens to be allowed to voice their opinion on an issue as delicate as abortion.

“Let’s listen to all those who want to come and speak and present us with documents or send us emails or call us on the phone, and with all of that information will be able to discuss how to proceed with this constitutional reform,” he said.

The proposal currently under consideration would grant legal protection in Queretaro to human life from conception to natural death.

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Basque bishop prays abortion reform will fail in Spain

Madrid, Spain, Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Miguel Asurmendi of Vitoria, Spain said Thursday that new norms for schools issued by officials in the Basque region have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of students taking religion classes and that if steps aren’t taken, “classes on Catholic morality will disappear from public schools and Basque schools.”

During a Mass on Thursday, the bishop prayed for “the gift of overcoming the grave crisis of moral conscience in the Basque and Spanish societies which is affecting the right to life, to religious and moral education and to work.”

He also mentioned the reform of the country’s abortion law, which will be put to a vote in Parliament in the coming months. He said the most troubling aspect of the reform is that it makes abortion a right that must be protected by the state. The proposed abortion reform, Bishop Asurmendi said, is “a venomous source of immorality and injustice that tarnishes the entire bill.”

Bishop Asurmendi criticized the measure for assisting pregnant women in “the destruction of their children, instead of protecting maternity and the family in order to prevent women from becoming victims of abortion.”

“Abortion is a clear sign of the crisis of moral conscience in our society. Those who carry out an abortion and those who collaborate are excommunicated,” he noted.

The bishop also addressed the new decree on education approved in the Basque region, saying it is responsible for “the drastic decline” in the number of students taking religion classes.

The result of this decline, he said, has been an increase in juvenile violence, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual activity. The bishop added that Catholic religion classes “constitute an essential, valid method for the proper education of young people.”

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Phoenix bishop emphasizes importance of humility in life of St. Juan Diego

Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 7, 2009 (CNA) - Nearly 1,500 people gathered this morning in Phoenix, Arizona to celebrate a Votive Mass of St. Juan Diego for the second day of the International Marian Congress.  Bishop Thomas Olmsted, the principal celebrant of the Mass, spoke to the participants about the Mexican saint, stressing his deep humility in accepting the will of the Father.

 

The Phoenix bishop reflected on Friday’s Gospel from the Book of Matthew in which Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

 

The bishop noted that Juan Diego would have rejoiced in Jesus’ words.  “From his own life experience and that of his native people in central Mexico, he was keenly aware of the stark contrast between the yoke of slavery and the yoke of being a beloved son.  He had gratefully embraced the yoke of being a child of God in Baptism, and he desired to do his heavenly Father’s will at all times.”

 

At the same time, Juan Diego “knew that God’s way is so different from our human ways that it is tempting to think our human ways are better, especially when we do not initially understand what God is asking or what obedience requires.”  The Mexican saint understood that it is only through “perseverance and grace” that one receives the humility to accept God’s plan.

 

“The humble have ‘no other gods,’ no false idols, nothing that their heart desires more than a loving communion with the Lord and fellowship with all the saints,” Bishop Olmsted explained. “Because he knew how to ‘conduct his affairs with humility,’ Juan Diego was ready to put aside his own affairs when a higher calling or more important mission beckoned.”

 

“Of course,” the bishop continued, “that is what happened when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him on Tepeyac hill in December of 1531, and asked him to be her chosen messenger to take a message to the Bishop of Mexico.  To carry out that mission, Juan Diego needed both the grace of perseverance and the virtue of humility.”

 

St. Juan Diego “was not eager to draw attention to himself but delighted in drawing attention to the beauty of God and to his mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe.  When he showed the bishop his tilma, not only did the Virgin Mary’s image appear on its surface but also the beauty and frangrance of roses that he had picked on Tepeyac hill.”

 

“Like a child,” said the bishop, Juan Diego “was grateful to call God his Father and to call the Blessed Virgin Mary his Mother. 

 

The bishop then concluded by acknowledging that “it takes a long time for most of us to realize our true stature before the Lord.  But, from time to time, God lifts up a saintly person…and invites us to hear Him say with Jesus, the Son of Mary, ‘I give you praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed the to the childlike.’

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