CNA STAFF, Sep 6, 2009 (CNA) - St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit missionary in Colombia worked tirelessly to evangelize and care for Africans who were being sold as slaves. Though he could not put an end to slavery, he baptized and ministered the sacraments to over 300,000. The Church will celebrate his feast day on September 9.
Born in Catalonia, Spain in 1581, Peter Claver joined the Jesuits at the age of 20. While studying philosophy, Peter befriended St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, the college's doorkeeper, who persuaded him to set out for the Americas to spread the Word of God in the missions.
He arrived in Cartagena, Colombia in 1610, and worked among the African slaves for 44 years, until his death.
The approximately 1000 slaves which arrived each month made Cartagena one of the major ports through which slaves from Africa were sold into the New World, despite the prohibition of the Church and repeated condemnations of the Pope. The missionaries there could only hope to alleviate the suffering of the slaves.
Claver did so with heroic commitment, caring for each of the slaves who arrived on the ships, suffering from the trauma of the voyage they had just completed and trembling with fear for what lay ahead. Claver defended them, showed them kindness, cared for them in sickness and won their confidence.
He trained interpreters as catechists, in order to teach the faith to the slaves in their many different tongues. He baptized and ministered the sacraments to over 300,000.
He is quoted as saying: “To love God as He ought to be loved, we must be detached from all temporal love. We must love nothing but Him, or if we love anything else, we must love it only for His sake.”
The upper class of Cartagena, along with the slave merchants and even some of his superiors were opposed to his ministry and denounced him for defiling the Sacraments to creatures who "almost didn’t have souls." However, he persisted in his work among the slaves amid the humiliations and persecutions and lived a rigorous life of prayer and fasting until the day he died September 8, 1654.
St. Peter was canonized on January 16, 1888 by Pope Leo XIII and in 1896, he was proclaimed Patron of all the Catholic missions among people of African descent.
Anchorage, Alaska, Sep 6, 2009 (CNA) - Many start as strippers. Some "work" out of a car, a club or by way of the Internet. And since they’re not walking the streets of Anchorage, they don’t consider themselves prostitutes. They see themselves as "sex workers." But despite the varied settings and nuanced terms, it’s still commercial sexual exploitation, said Nancy Cole of Mary Magdalene Home Alaska, in an interview with the Anchor.
Cole directs the ecumenical Christian, nonprofit organization that provides "a network of care" to women leaving prostitution and sexual exploitation — a monumental task in Anchorage, where the oldest "profession" in the world is thriving.
Old and new problems
"There’s always been a prostitution problem in Anchorage. Period," Cole explained.
According to Sgt. Kathy Lacey, head of the Vice Unit for the Anchorage Police Department (APD), city law enforcement makes well over 300 arrests each year for prostitution.
And now, prostitution is moving stealthily into cyberspace. Cole spoke of one teen girl whose pimp had recently advertised her and others in personal ads on Craig’s List. She told Cole that men who like the profiles "just order us."
"It’s a new kind of pimping," Cole said.
Then there’s sex trafficking – in which a person is induced into prostitution or is maintained there by force, fraud or coercion. According to federal law, this includes prostituting girls under age 18, regardless of their willingness.
Sometimes, these girls and women are brought into an area by sex traffickers. As a result, Mary Magdalene has worked with women from Russia, Mexico and South America.
But five years ago, when the FBI began ferreting out networks in Alaska that prey on foreign-born women, it started uncovering a number of domestic sex trafficking networks, Anchorage FBI special agent Jolene Goeden told the Anchor.
The so-called "escort" service run by Don Webster (aka, Jerry Starr) is one example, said Goeden. After "years" of investigation by the FBI, Webster was charged with and convicted of multiple counts of sex trafficking. In April, Webster was ordered to pay an unprecedented $3.6 million in restitution to 11 women he had coerced to prostitute.
Beyond Webster, Goeden said she was not at liberty to disclose the "hard numbers" on the FBI’s sex trafficking cases in Anchorage, but only that "we have active cases right now."
Meanwhile, from Mary Magdalene Home’s office in Anchorage, Cole said her group provides counseling and social service referrals to 50 to 60 sexually exploited women at any one time – through a "rotating door," she explained. "It’s a massive amount of people that need help."
No place to run
"There really is absolutely nothing in Anchorage for the woman at two o’clock in the morning who says ‘I need to get out, I want to get out,’ — there’s absolutely no place for her to go," Goeden explained.
Often those caught by authorities are cited and released with a ticket and a court date. But Goeden added that "in order to get a woman clean enough — off of drugs and alcohol — sometimes, jail is the only option we have."
Meanwhile, Lacey said the APD helps connect each arrested woman to what she needs to get off the street, including drug and alcohol treatment, work and housing. But most of the women won’t immediately accept the help.
"They don’t trust us because we’re arresting them," Lacey said. Sometimes, "their trafficker or their pimp has literally physically beat it into them" that the law is the enemy. For some, the life of prostitution is "all they’ve known."
Enter Mary Magdalene Home Alaska. Founded in 1998, the group aims to help sexually exploited women transform their lives "spiritually, mentally and physically." It is named after St. Mary Magdalene, the penitent sinner and devout follower of Jesus. Clients range in age from 18 to late fifties.
"As Christians, we believe that people can and do change," Cole explained.
For many women, that starts in voluntary group meetings with Mary Magdalene Home volunteer case workers who visit Hiland Mountain Correctional Center each week. After prison, women are invited to attend a support group outside, while Mary Magdalene workers help them find a "safe, secure" place to live – which is especially difficult for a penniless woman and ex-convict.
"Our primary concern and problem in Anchorage is when women come out of jail, they have nowhere, zero housing that they can go into," Cole said.
The area’s few shelters pose dangers and few beds for women, she explained. Many end up "couch surfing." Some of those go back into the business "just to eat."
But after 11 years, Mary Magdalene Home Alaska has raised enough funds to purchase a safe home for these women. Cole said the home — opened in April in a "nice, residential neighborhood" in East Anchorage — accommodates up to seven women at a time. Transitioning to self-sufficiency, women may stay for as little as three months and up to 18 months or a "little further" in special circumstances.
Within the first 30 days of arriving, she must have a job or be actively looking for a job and performing 20 hours of volunteer work a week. To her ability, each contributes a "household support fee" to foster the responsibility of living in community with others.
"The women there are working so hard, they’re getting jobs," Cole stressed. Meanwhile, in a "family environment," Mary Magdalene Home helps them secure bus passes, finish school, build job skills and find a permanent home. One woman, in her early thirties, is, for the first time, earning a driver’s license, Cole said.
Facing the trauma
On top of life’s normal challenges, these sexually exploited women deal with "all the trauma they’ve been through," Cole explained.
That includes childhood abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic abuse, life on the street and mental health and drug and alcohol problems.
Many are mothers trying to regain custody of their children in the state’s charge — or mourning the loss of children.
"A lot of the women who come through are having to deal with the grief and loss of having had abortions," Cole explained. "Having had so many different losses in their life it’s now, if they don’t get out, they get dead, pretty basically. It’s that bad."
‘They’re our ladies’
So, in addition to arranging outside help to heal those wounds, Mary Magdalene Home offers in-house spiritual guidance and soon, a regular Bible study and prayer service.
Sister Lorene Griffin, an Ursuline sister and retired psychologist, volunteers as Mary Magdalen’s spiritual and psychological director. She counsels women about their way of thinking, "what freedom means" and how to make good choices. And a caseworker reviews with a woman her sexual and drug and alcohol histories to identify what triggers relapses.
"It doesn’t matter what they’ve done or where they’ve been," Cole explained. "They come into our office, they’re treated with respect."
She added: "They’re our ladies. They’re women who are choosing to change their lives (and they) need people to care."
As Christians, she explained, "you offer love and support. We recognize there’s more to a person than just their physical injuries and their emotional abuse."
"They’re women who are really hungry for God," Cole observed. The first thing that shuts down with most abused people is spiritually, it is also often the last thing that comes back, she added.
Mary Magdalene’s prescription: "Just love them back to God, I guess is what you say."
For more information on Mary Magdalene Home Alaska, visit mmhalaska.org.
Warsaw, Poland, Sep 6, 2009 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of Poland have issued a document on the value of healthy families and pro-family policies. At one point, they clearly warn Catholic politicians that they risk excommunication if they voice support for or acceptance of abortion.
The 100-page document, titled “To Serve the Truth about Marriage and Family,” is a compilation of Catholic doctrine on the value of family life. It was drafted by the bishops’ Council for Family Issues. Polskie Radio reports that the document discusses the duties of society towards the family as a crucial, fundamental part of a healthy society.
Discussing the duties of Catholic politicians specifically, the document said it is “absolutely not true” that a politician or government member “has to, or can, act against his conscience.”
“When it comes to God's law, everybody is equal, politicians included,” the Polish bishops said.
The bishops said that anyone who publicly contradicts fundamental moral values, such as the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill,” by voicing support or acceptance of abortion should be immediately excommunicated, Polskie Radio says.
Fr. Andrzej Rebacz, head of the bishops’ Council for Family Affairs and the National Chaplain for Families, commented on the document. He cited Pope John Paul II’s warning about “very strong, organized attacks on marriage and the family” and said these attacks could destroy the “Christian spirit” of Europe.
“These attacks include promotion of sex education at schools,” he added. “We have to remember who was the first to introduce the idea of sex education.”
Fr. Rebacz charged that sex education was developed by the Hungarian György Lukács, whom he described as a “communist ideologue.” The priest said Lukács thought promiscuity was the best method to fight the institution of marriage, “in order to fight Christianity.”
Last year Polish Health Minister Ewa Kopacz, a self-described Catholic, was reported to have arranged an abortion for a 14-year-old. Catholic groups protested and brought up the question of whether she should be excommunicated.
Phoenix, Ariz., Sep 6, 2009 (CNA) - Three churches have filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix, charging that its noise ordinance which prohibits the ringing of their church bells is unconstitutional and suppresses a long American tradition. One pastor was sentenced to jail for violating the ordinance, which allows an exception for ice cream trucks but not for churches.
St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish, First Christian Church, and Christ the King Liturgical Charismatic Church have challenged the ordinance in a lawsuit filed by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).
Christ the King Church joined the lawsuit after its pastor, Bishop Rick Painter, was sentenced for ringing his church’s bells as a way of praising God. He was given a suspended sentence of ten days in jail and three years’ probation on June 3.
“The church bells chime a short, ancient melody of praise to God no louder than an average conversation,” Bishop Stanley explained. “It’s true that people can hear the bells at that low level. After all, bells are meant to be heard. But the city’s problematic ordinance is being used to inconsistently single out the peaceful sound of this time-honored expression of worship while allowing exceptions for others.”
A judge has issued an order restricting chimes at the church to no more than 60 decibels for two minutes on Sundays and specific religious holidays.
An ADF statement reports that the bells at Bishop Painter’s church normally chime every hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Their volume has been registered as emitting 67 decibels at the nearest property line. By comparison, a whisper is 30 decibels and a normal conversation runs from 60 to 70 decibels.
Under an exception to the ordinance, ice cream trucks are allowed to emit sounds of up to 70 decibels at a distance of 50 feet.
In August, after a neighbor complained about the bells, city officials told St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish that ringing its bells could be considered in violation of the same noise ordinance. The officials included two representatives from the Phoenix city prosecutor’s office and two city police officers.
St. Mark has rung its bells for the last 20 years. Christians have used church bells since at least the early middle ages.
ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley explained the suit, saying that churches shouldn’t be published “for exercising their faith publicly.”
He charged that the law is “unconstitutionally vague” and has been abused to silence a form of worship that has “peacefully sounded through the streets of our nation since its founding.”
“No one should be sentenced to jail and probation for doing what churches have traditionally done throughout history, especially when the sound of the church’s bells does not exceed the noise level that the law allows for ice cream trucks,” Stanley said.
The suit seeks to ensure that the churches can ring their bells without fear of future prosecution and criminal penalties.
Rome, Italy, Sep 6, 2009 (CNA) - At the conclusion of Sunday’s Papal Mass in Viterbo, Italy, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the theme chosen for his pastoral visit: “Confirm your brothers.” These are the words, he recalled, that Jesus said to St. Peter at the Last Supper, entrusting Peter and his successors with the task of being “Pastor of all his Church.”
Pope Benedict explained that throughout the ages, the Viterbo diocese has been a sign of affection and communion with the Successor of Peter. “I was able to take notice,” he shared, “while visiting the Palace of the Popes and especially, the hall of the ‘Conclave.’”
Benedict XVI added that the area was the birthplace of St. Leo the Great, “who rendered a great service to truth in charity, by way of an assiduous exercise of the word, as testified by St. Leo’s Sermons and by his Letters.”
Viterbo has a history of being the home of the Roman Pontiffs for the second half of the thirteenth century, as five popes were elected and four were buried in the city. In addition, 50 popes have visited there, most recently, the Servant of God John Paul II, 25 years ago.
Pope Benedict explained that he wants to stress the spiritual value of these numbers. “Viterbo,” he said, “is rightly called ‘City of Popes,’ and this constitutes for you, her residents, a reason to live and to testify to the Christian faith, the same faith for which the holy martyrs Valentine and Hilary, whose relics are contained in the cathedral and the first of a long line of saints, martyrs and blessed from your land.”
Returning to the theme of his visit, the Pope reflected on how the exhortation to confirm his brothers is an invitation of the Lord that is “today directed to me with particular intensity.”
“Pray, dear brothers and sisters, so that I might always complete with fidelity and love the mission of Pastor of all Christ’s sheep. For my part, I assure constant prayer for your diocese so that the diverse expressions, a symbolic representation of which I was able to admire on the new doors of the cathedral, tend to fuller unity and fraternal communion, indispensible conditions for offering the world an effective evangelical testimony.”
After the Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict XVI extended greetings to the participants of the International Congress “Man and Religions,” which is taking place in Krakow, Poland, with the theme, “Faiths and culture in dialogue.”
The Pontiff said: “Representatives of various religions, invited by the Archdiocese of Krakow and the St. Egidio Community, are gathered to reflect and pray in favor of peace, 50 years after the start of the Second World War.
"We cannot forget the dramatic facts which initiated one of the most terrible conflicts of history, causing millions of deaths and much suffering for the beloved Polish people, a conflict which witnessed the tragedy of the Holocaust and the extermination of other innocents. The memory of these events moves us to pray for the victims and for those who still bear wounds on the body and in their heart. May it serve as an example for all to not repeat such barbarity and to intensify efforts to construct in our time, still marked by conflict, a lasting peace, transmitting to new generations a culture and lifestyle of love, solidarity and respect for others.”
Madison, Wis., Sep 6, 2009 (CNA) - The burial of Senator Ted Kennedy was, for some Catholics, a source of scandal. But in his recent column, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin explains why, despite the late senator's public and private misdeeds, the reaction of some Catholics to the senator's passing is sinful.
Bishop Morlino begins his weekly column in the Madison Catholic Herald by explaining that a recent period of rest allowed him to watch much of the televised coverage of Senator Kennedy's burial and reflect on the reaction to the senator's life.
Drawing on a growing awareness of his own mortality, the bishop said that he had acquired a better understanding of what Senator Kennedy must have gone through as he neared his last days.
In the legislative arena, Bishop Morlino said there can be “no doubt that Senator Kennedy’s accomplishments as the 'Lion of the Senate' were intended to help the most poor and downtrodden in our society.”
On the other hand, the bishop stated, there was also “a disconnect” in his life between his strong exercise of pro-life leadership in helping the poor and his “leadership against the pro-life cause relative to the abortion of our tiniest brothers and sisters, embryonic stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, and so on.”
This sort of moral equivocation presents Catholics in the U.S. with a challenge to “bridge that disconnect and pull that whole seamless garment of the defense of life together, rather than rending that garment in twain and choosing one, while almost, or actually, excluding the other. The social teaching of the Church and her pro-life stance surely are interwoven as a seamless garment,” Morlino said.
At one point, it appeared that Senator Kennedy sensed that the political stars were aligning in a way that would juxtapose the right to life of the unborn and care for the poor and disabled which would ultimately test his faith.
Senator Kennedy, Bishop Morlino recalled, convened a meeting of priests and high-level theologians a good number of years ago to address the issue of Catholic political leadership and their votes with regard to abortion.
“Obviously, the very convening of this meeting showed that he took his Catholicism seriously and did not consider himself to be an accomplished theologian,” the Wisconsin bishop commented.
“Sadly, that meeting simply became another occasion for the development by theologians of the 'two-conscience' approach to the faith for Catholic political leaders— that is the approach which says, 'privately I’m opposed to abortion, but in the public arena there are other conflicting responsibilities which allow me to vote in favor of legal abortion.'”
“No matter how many theologians get together, the two-conscience theory is irreparably flawed and wrong, and no one can make it otherwise,” Morlino stated.
“But if Senator Kennedy was given this advice and this approach, this 'catechesis' — false though it is — by prominent theologians, it could at least be said that there was some ground for confusion and ambiguity in his own practice about these matters. The priests and theologians who counseled Senator Kennedy are not free of blame for causing the confusion and the ambiguity through false catechesis,” wrote the bishop.
Recounting his letter to Pope Benedict and the regular presence of priests around him in his final weeks, Bishop Morlino said that “it would be more reasonable than not to believe that he had made a good confession.”
When it comes to the issue of Senator Kennedy being given a Catholic burial, Bishop Morlino noted that he was glad that it was celebrated in “a subdued fashion.” The proclamation of “God’s Mercy was powerful, the prayer for forgiveness of his past sins was clearly offered, and all of this in a subdued way because of his long-standing and public holding of pro-abortion and other stances which have been a scandal in the literal sense,” Morlino wrote.
However, the Bishop of Madison said that he is afraid that “for not a few Catholics, the funeral rites for Senator Kennedy were a source of scandal — that is, quite literally, led them into sin.”
Summarizing the reactions of some Catholics and pro-life supporters, Bishop Morlino repeated some of the questions he heard: “'how on earth could Teddy Kennedy be buried from the Church?' There have also been expressions from some, that 'whatever happens in Church, Senator Kennedy will now face justice, which will lead him inside the gates of Hell.'”
But it is “sinful to enjoy the thought that someone might be in Hell,” Bishop Morlino warned, noting that this belief is an ancient Christian truth.
“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit worked powerfully through history so that Hell could be avoided by the proper exercise of human freedom, and to take delight in the perceived foiling of God’s plan is wrong,” he added.
Any reaction that finds joy in a person's possible damnation is wrong because the Church believes and has taught from the beginning that “Jesus died precisely so that sins might be forgiven. His body was broken and His blood was shed so that sins might be forgiven, so that there might be mercy,” Morlino explained.
“The death of Senator Kennedy,” the bishop observed, “has called forth at least an apparent rejection of mercy on the part of not a few Catholics. On the cross of Christ, God’s justice came into conflict with God’s mercy. God’s justice was fully satisfied, but mercy triumphed in the conflict, according to the teaching of Pope Benedict.”
“Without denying any misdeeds on the part of Senator Kennedy, the Church, seeking to reflect the face of Christ, proclaimed God’s mercy for the whole world to see in a subdued but unmistakable way. It was more than appropriate,” Bishop Morlino concluded.