CNA STAFF, Aug 30, 2009 (CNA) - This Saturday, the Church will celebrate the feast day of Mother Teresa, a universal symbol of God's merciful and preferential love for the poor and forgotten.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, the youngest of three children. She attended a youth group called Sodality, run by a Jesuit priest at her parish, and her involvement opened her to the call of service as a missionary nun.
She joined the Sisters of Loretto at age 17 and was sent to Calcutta where she taught at a high school. She contracted Tuberculosis and was sent to rest in Darjeeling. It was on the train to Darjeeling that she received her calling - what she called "an order" from God to leave the convent and work and live among the poor. At this point she did not know that she was to found an order of nuns, or even exactly where she was to serve. "I knew where I belonged, but I did not know how to get there," she said once, recalling the moment on the train.
Confirmation of the calling came when the Vatican granted her permission to leave the Sisters of Loretto and fulfill her calling under the Archbshop of Calcutta. She started working in the slums, teaching poor children, and treating the sick in their homes. She was joined a year later by some of her former students and together they took in men, women, and children who were dying in the gutters along the streets and cared for them.
In 1950 the Missionaries of Charity were born as a congregation of the Diocese of Calcutta and in 1952 the government granted them a house from which to continue their service among Calcutta's forgotten.
The congregation very quickly grew from a single house for the dying and unwanted to nearly 500 around the world. Mother Teresa set up homes for AIDS sufferers, for prostitutes, for battered women, and orphanages for poor children.
She often said that the poorest of the poor were those who had no one to care for them and no one who knew them. And she often remarked with sadness and desolation of milliions of souls in the developed world whose spiritual poverty and loneliness was such an immense cause of suffering.
She was a fierce defender of the unborn saying: "If you hear of some woman who does not want to keep her child and wants to have an abortion, try to persuade her to bring him to me. I will love that child, seeing in him the sign of God's love."
Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997 and was beatified only six years later, on October 19, 2003.
Mother Teresa once said, "A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace." She also said, "give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness."
Chicago, Ill., Aug 30, 2009 (CNA) - Working to promote the dignity of human life has become more difficult in the past year but those doing the work — particularly diocesan pro-life directors — must not get discouraged. They must persevere.
That was the message conveyed by Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali and echoed by Cardinal George at an annual conference for pro-life directors sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Respect Life Office hosted this year’s event held Aug. 10-13 at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel in downtown Chicago.
“Your work of respecting, protecting, loving and serving life is often misunderstood in today’s culture. Yet it is work that is desperately needed,” Cardinal Rigali told attendees during the homily at Mass on Aug. 10. The cardinal serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-life Activities.
Citing the witness of St. Lawrence, who was martyred for the faith in the mid-200s and whose feast was commemorated Aug. 11, Cardinal Rigali told attendees that they too must exhibit joy in the face of adversity.
“We too, dear friends, must remember to remain cheerful witnesses to the truth about human life,” no matter what suffering may be involved, he said.
The pro-life directors must turn to Christ and prayer to remain persistent and enthusiastic in the face of increasing resistance to the church’s message, he said.
“In a world where Christian values are so often challenged and repudiated, we encounter increasing hostility in our efforts to uphold and guard these values. This is especially true in your pro-life work,” he said.
The Catholic teaching on life continues to meet with more resistance than other church teachings.
“Those of us in the pro-life movement know how the attacks against life have increased rapidly in the past year. There are greater challenges in the effort to restore legal protection for the unborn as we deal with an administration and Congress that supports socalled abortion rights.”
But we must not lose heart in the face of opposition, Cardinal Rigali said, because these values are rooted in God and his love for all human beings.
“We go forward in the name of the Lord, Jesus. And life will be victorious.”
More than 90 people representing 43 dioceses attended the conference. They listened to lectures and panels on topics such as physician-assisted suicide, abortion reduction and youth and priest outreach.
The conference is a time for those who work in the pro-life community to learn the latest developments in the ever-changing arena of sanctity of life issues.
Larry and Marge Theriault of Glenview said they try to attend this conference every year because they always get so much out of it.
“Being among all of these beautiful people is a blessing,” said Marge Theriault. “It would just be awful to miss this.”
The couple chairs the right-to-life committee for the Knights of Columbus Illinois State Council. Even though she and her husband have been working in the pro-life movement since 1969, Marge said they keep returning to this conference because “there is always more to learn.”
During the conference, the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-life Activities awarded the “People of Life” award to Vicki Thorn, founder of the national post-abortion healing program Project Rachel, Sister Hanna Klaus, developer of the Teen STAR international pregnancy prevention program, and to Virginia McCaskey, matriarch of the Chicago Bears’ family. McCaskey is well known for her philanthropy, which includes support of the archdiocese’s Chastity Education Initiative.
While she rarely accepts personal awards for her philanthropic work, the mother and grandmother told attendees, “I accept this on behalf of all the little old ladies who sent [FOCA] post cards, and write checks, and pray rosaries, and listen to Relevant Radio and who usually struggle to get to daily Mass.”
She also encouraged attendees to keep up the work that they do. “I salute you,” she said.
Printed with permission from the Catholic New World, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2009 (CNA) - Critics of a "Condom Olympics" event held by the Miss Universe beauty pageant say the event is "counterproductive" and promotes pornography and promiscuity. An event organizer made a confused defense of the event, saying that abstinence is not the "right message" for women like those who have been trafficked or drugged.
The event was held in Nassau in the Bahamas three days before the Miss Universe pageant on Sunday.
Produced by Population Services International (PSI), the "Condom Olympics" featured beauty queens who played various condom games. In one event, the contestants "tested the limits of condom breakage by filling condoms with water and blowing them with air until they burst."
Marshall Stowell, director of communications at PSI, told CNSNews.com that the pageant contestants were put through the exact same training that PSI uses in countries around the world.
"Many times we use games or situations that are friendly to young people, and also friendly to people who are illiterate or of low literacy so that we can deliver life-saving messages in a way so that they understand it."
He claimed that the point of the games is to teach participants the "proper technique" for condom use, because HIV prevention requires "correct and consistent condom use."
Though he granted that abstinence is the only perfect method to avoid HIV, he commented to CNSNews.com:
"But if you’re dealing with women that are, for instance, sex workers, that are extremely poor, very uneducated, and have either been trafficked or drugged or in the sex industry – abstinence is not the right message for them."
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, criticized the event and reported that PSI was founded by pornographer Phil Harvey.
"They are using young women to promote products for PSI and for the pornography industry," she told CNSNews.com. "They’re using women to display – publicly display – sex related objects, and in essence it becomes like a product endorsement as well."
Wright said the young women’s parents should be "quite concerned." She also wondered whether they are "mature enough" to realize that they are being used to promote an activity that may lead people to be more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
She charged that the event was a "horrible reflection" on the Miss Universe pageant.
Alyssa Cordova of the conservative Claire Booth Luce Policy Institute told CNSNews.com that the "Olympics" seemed "quite counterproductive" to the seriousness of HIV.
She said that American culture is "notorious for making light of sexual issues," accusing feminism of promoting sexually promiscuous behavior and condemning and ridiculing those who abstain from sex until marriage.
The Miss Universe pageant, which is owned by Donald Trump, chose Miss Venezuela, 18-year-old Stefania Fernandez, from among 84 contestants as its newest Miss Universe last Sunday, CNSNews.com reports.
According to Human Life International, condom failure rates can run into the low double digits.
Rimini, Italy, Aug 30, 2009 (CNA) - Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl A. Anderson addressed the Meeting for Friendship Among the Peoples in Rimini, Italy on Friday afternoon. There, he exhorted charitable groups to cooperate in building a “civilization of love” and to follow in the footsteps of Knights of Columbus founder Michael J. McGivney.
Over 700,000 people were expected to attend the week-long meeting, which was organized by the Communion and Liberation movement.
Saying that greed, the “worst of human nature,” has been diagnosed as a large part of the economic crisis, he said:
“Many lost sight of the importance of unity – of communion – with their neighbors. And we must look to the best of humanity – to generosity, solidarity, and communion – with our neighbor as the prescription.”
Citing love of neighbor as the key to a sustainable economy, he urged the audience to replace the motivation of Cain, the first fratricide, with the motivation of the Good Samaritan in “every aspect of our lives,” especially business relationships.
Anderson noted the example of Knights of Columbus founder, the Venerable Servant of God Fr. Michael J. McGivney. He discussed one case where the priest personally helped a teenage boy stay with his widowed mother and his family.
“Only Father McGivney’s help saved young Alfred from being wrested from his mother and siblings, and put in a state institution. And let’s not forget that the state that ran those institutions was quite hostile to the Catholic Church,” he remarked.
He then listed the accomplishments of the Knights of Columbus’ charitable endeavors, their fight against anti-Catholic and anti-black bigotry, their pro-life work in support of pregnant mothers and protection for the unborn, and their work in serving both Catholic and non-Catholic troops in the U.S. military.
Anderson recounted how the Knights began to run sports fields for children in Rome who did not have other sports facilities. During the Great Depression, the organization ran job boards to help those who were out of work.
He also mentioned the Knights’ work with the Special Olympics, founded by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
“On a weekly basis, our members cook meals for the homeless, help provide for the needs of those with intellectual disabilities, support women in crisis pregnancies, and the children they bring into the world.”
Noting the Knights’ recent summit on volunteerism as a response to the economic crisis, Anderson urged Catholic groups to “exponentially multiply the good that we do by working together with other groups.”
Cooperation with other beneficent organizations, he said, is an excellent model for Catholic movements as they seek to “transform the world by encouraging people to say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ.”
“Nowhere is the face of our Church more attractive than in our open embrace of our neighbor,” Anderson emphasized. “Each encounter with those in need is actually an opportunity to create a civilization of love, one person, one act at a time.”
The Knights of Columbus, a lay Catholic fraternal organization, has more than 1.78 million members worldwide. Last year, the organization and its members contributed more than $150 million and almost 69 million volunteer hours to charitable causes.
Its website is at http://www.kofc.org
Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2009 (CNA) - In his private letter to Pope Benedict XVI, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said he “fell short” as a faithful Catholic. According to excerpts read at his funeral, the late Senator wrote before his death that though he had “fallen short,” he had always believed in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The letter, reportedly six pages long, was hand-delivered by President Barack Obama to the Holy Father last July. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, an archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., revealed some of the letter’s contents late on Saturday at Sen. Kennedy’s graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery.
The abridged version read by the cardinal, who is a friend of the Kennedy family, began: “Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am deeply grateful to him.”
“I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our Church and inspire our world during these challenging times.”
In the letter, Sen. Kennedy asked the Pope “with deep humility” to “pray for me as my own health declines.”
“I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and, although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me, the Senator explained. “I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.”
The Senator also wrote about the Catholic faith of both of his parents.
“That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours,” he wrote.
In the letter, Sen. Kennedy also described how he had tried to connect his faith with his political actions.
“I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator.”
“I also want you to know that even though I am ill,” the letter continued, “I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life.”
In the excerpts read by Cardinal McCarrick, the letter makes no reference to the senator’s political positions that contradicted core Catholic teachings such as the sanctity of human life from conception and the sanctity of marriage. Over time, Sen. Kennedy became an advocate of legalized abortion, embryonic stem cell research and same sex “marriage.”
Regarding proposed health care reform, Sen. Kennedy wrote: “I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.”
On a more personal level, the Senator recognized in his letter that “I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.”
“I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”
Cardinal McCarrick also read during the Rite of Committal the response to the Senator’s letter from a Vatican official, who confirmed that “the Holy Father has read the letter which you entrusted to President Barack Obama” and informed the Senator that “His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God our merciful Father.”
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 30, 2009 (CNA) - At Sunday’s Angelus prayer in the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo’s apostolic palace, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the previous week’s liturgical memorial of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo and model and patron of Christian mothers.
“Much is recounted about her in her son’s autobiography ‘The Confessions,’ a masterpiece among the most read works of all time,” Pope Benedict said. “There, we understand that St. Augustine imbibed the name of Jesus with maternal milk and was educated in the Christian religion by his mother, the principles of which remained impressed on him even in the years of spiritual and moral wavering.”
Monica, Benedict XVI explained, never stopped praying for her son and his conversion and she had the consolation of seeing him return to the faith and receiving baptism. The Pope added, “God heard the prayers of this holy mother, to whom the Bishop of Tagaste said: ‘It is impossible that a child of so many tears should go lost.’ In truth, St. Augustine does not only convert, but decides to embrace the monastic life and back in Africa, and himself establishes a community of monks.”
“The final spiritual conversations between him and his mother in the quiet of a house in Ostia, in anticipation of departure for Africa, are moving and edifying,” the Holy Father explained. “By then St. Monica had become for this her child ‘more than a mother, the source of his Christianity.’ Her lone desire had been for years the conversion of Augustine, who then was positively oriented toward a life of consecration to God’s service.”
She could only die content, the Pontiff said, on August 27, 387, 56 years old, after having asked her children to not worry about her burial, but to remember her, where ever they were, at the altar of the Lord. St. Augustine repeated that his mother had “twice given birth” to him.
Pope Benedict continued: “The history of Christendom has numerous examples of holy parents and authentic Christian families, who accompanied the life of generous priests and pastors of the Church.”
He recounted Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianen, who both came from families of saints, and spouses Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, who lived from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century and were beatified by Pope John Paul II in October 2001 on the twentieth anniversary of his Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris consortio.”
“This document,” the Pope expounded, “in addition to illustrating the value of marriage and the responsibilities of the family, calls spouses to a particular task on the way of holiness that, drawing grace and strength from the Sacrament of Matrimony, they follow their entire life.”
“When spouses dedicate themselves generously to the education of children, guiding them and orienting them to discover the design of God’s love, they prepare that fertile spiritual terrain where vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life spring and mature.
Pope Benedict concluded his Angelus message by asking the faithful to seek the intercession of St. John Mary Vianney and the Blessed Virgin Mary in this Year for Priests.
Addressing English-speaking pilgrims and visitors after the Angelus, he singled out the first year seminarians from the Pontifical North American College.
“May your time here at Castel Gandolfo and in Rome deepen your integral understanding of our faith and strengthen in you the desire to be consistent in word and deed, following the heart and mind of our Lord. Upon each of you present and your families, I invoke God’s blessing of peace and joy!”