Archive of September 19, 2009

Papal Nuncio opens school year at Benedictine College

Kansas City, Kan., Sep 19, 2009 (CNA) - Benedictine College is a gem among Catholic institutions of higher learning in the U.S. In its guide to "Choosing a Catholic College," the Cardinal Newman Society said of Benedictine, "All the elements of a vibrant Catholic spiritual life are present at BC . . . While many Catholic colleges have de-emphasized their ties to religious orders, Benedictine College celebrates its Benedictine Heritage."

Those are distinctions which haven’t gone unnoticed on high. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, made the same observations when he celebrated the school’s opening Mass and Convocation on September 1.

Bishop Robert W. Finn, Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and recently installed Omaha Archbishop George Lucas joined other bishops and numerous priests and religious alumni of Benedictine in opening the school year. The entire Freshmen class and hundreds of upper-classmen and women packed the Abbey Church to overflowing and welcomed the Nuncio displaying exuberant school spirit.

In his homily, Archbishop Sambi gave an extensive reflection on the role of Catholic Colleges as "places of encounter with the Word, with the Good News, with Jesus Christ." The Archbishop taught on Pope Benedict’s vision of the "liberating mission of a Catholic education, especially within societies where a secularist ideology separates truth and faith," and of the Holy Father’s "desire to see that [the Church’s] schools at all levels maintain a strong Catholic identity."

"Ultimately," Archbishop Sambi said, "the success of Catholic education is something that cannot be measured in standardized tests or with academic statistics. Its success, according to Pope Benedict, rests in its ability to integrate faith and intellectual formation. . . Today, we pray in thanksgiving for one institution in particular: Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas."

Archbishop Sambi turned to praise Benedictine saying the college "celebrates a vibrant sacramental life and supports an active pastoral ministry. Confession, spiritual direction, Eucharistic adoration, retreats and campus ministry activities are readily available." The Nuncio noted that 30 graduates have entered the seminary or discerned a vocation to religious life since 2000 and a new Benedictine novice has entered the Abbey each year since 2000.

"This, again, is the hope of the Church, as stated in the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae," he said.

The Nuncio also reflected on the specific Benedictine charism of the school with its emphasis on prayer, work and peace. "Just as this ‘indwelling of the Holy Trinity’ this ‘coming upon us’ of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, brings peace to the soul, so too the Lord’s ‘indwelling’ on the campus of Benedictine College nurtures the faith and promotes the sure path to peace, now, as he has done for over 150 years," Archbishop Sambi said.

Per tradition, the Freshmen at Benedictine wear a beanie with the school colors during the first week of school. They are able to remove it at convocation when they become "full members" of the community. Straying from his prepared homily, Archbishop Sambi said, "I would like to tell you that I am a little jealous – because your cap is better than mine." At the convocation, following Mass, the Nuncio was presented with his very own Benedictine beanie which he proudly wore.

Archbishop Sambi was also keynote speaker at the convocation held in the school’s student center. Sister Anne Shepard, Prioress of the Benedictines of Mount Saint Scholastica led the opening prayer for the convocation and Abbot Barnabas Senecal sang the benediction. President Stephen D. Minnis introduced the Nuncio. Shepard, Senecal and Minnis are themselves graduates of Benedictine.

In his Convocation Address, Archbishop Sambi spoke of his lengthy prior service in the Holy Land, including eight years as Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Palestine. The Holy Land "is not a foreign place for us," he said. It is "the privileged place where the Mystery of Salvation unfolded. For Christians, it is the Land of the patriarchs and the Prophets as well as that of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and the birthplace of the Church."

The Nuncio gave vivid descriptions of his personal experience of the Holy Places. "Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, reading the Gospel and meditating upon the mysteries of faith that are manifested in this these holy places, brings one to an even more personal encounter with the Lord, to a depth of one’s faith, and to a truly Christian perspective of life, so that one can see life, clearly and with joy, as a gift and a mission."

He then turned his attention to the plight of Christians in the Holy Land who now represent only two percent of the population. The absence of real prospects for peace, economic instability, unemployment and poor access to housing are among the reasons Christians leave, Archbishop Sambi said. In addition, "The Israeli control on Palestinian youth makes them feel like prisoners in their own land," he said.

The Nuncio urged Benedictine students to support Christians in the Holy Land by praying for them, encouraging pilgrimages and assisting them materially. But, "the greatest help that we can give to the Christian community, which would also benefit Jews and Moslems, is that of political pressure on the parties in conflict for a stable peace, accomplished by establishing two states – one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians, both living as neighbors with a spirit of collaboration," he said.

Following the convocation, students posed for pictures with bishops from their home dioceses and all then joined the Nuncio for lunch.

Follow link for the complete texts of Archbishop Sambi’s homily and Convocation Address and for more pictures from the event.

Printed with permission from The Catholic Key, newspaper for the Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph.


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Young Chicago woman runs half marathon to enter convent

Chicago, Ill., Sep 19, 2009 (CNA) - A young woman has completed a Chicago half-marathon in a fundraising campaign to help eliminate her personal debt so she can enter religious life.

Alicia Torres, a 2007 graduate of Loyola University Chicago, began “The Nun Run” campaign with the support of friends. She and five companions ran the 13.1-mile Chicago Half Marathon on September 13 to raise funds to help pay down her debt.

In a Thursday e-mail interview with CNA, Torres said she plans to be a part of a new Franciscan community at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angles in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park neighborhood. The community is under obedience to Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Francis George and will be under the oversight of Fr. Bob Lombardo, CFR.

“It is a great joy and honor for me to be part of this beautiful work for God,” she said.

Torres said the Chicago Half Marathon went “tremendously well” despite an ankle injury two weeks prior to the race.

“This was my first distance run since freshman year of high school when I ran cross country. I was able to finish 13.1 miles on Sunday in 2:40:03 (Thanks be to God!).”

Though “extremely exhausted,” Torres said it was motivating for her to offer a specific intention for each mile.

She reported that she has raised at least $28,000, not including donations sent to the Laboure Society within the past two weeks. The Laboure Society, an organization dedicated to eliminating debt for prospective entrants to religious life or the priesthood, is helping the young woman.

According to Torres, her initial debt of $94,000 was due to some “very bad interest rates,” adding that she works full time and has paid down over $12,000 of her debt with her own money. Torres presently works for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Respect Life Office.

Her “very positive” interactions with the media have assisted her cause. The Chicago Tribune’s Manya Brashear was “such a delight” and spent nearly six hours with her and her community, Torres told CNA. The Catholic New World, where her friend Joyce Duriga is an editor, has also been helpful as has radio host Drew Mariani.

Torres reported that the first day she was on Mariani’s show she received about $4,500 in donations.

She said she was “absolutely shocked” to be interviewed for the National Public Radio show “All Things Considered.”

“I had wanted to pursue a career in journalism before I became serious about God's call and will for me, and so all of this just proves God is not outdone in generosity,” said Torres.

She told CNA that a “vocal minority” has doubted the authenticity of her mission, an attitude which she attributed to a lack of understanding of the nature of religious life and how it differs from the life of a lay person working with the poor.

“I am humbled by the support of absolute strangers,” she added. “I've had several checks for hundreds and even $1,000 from people I don't even know. An anonymous donor sent $10,000 to help me. As I said, God is just not outdone in generosity.”

Torres said she has been invited to be a guest speaker at a local Catholic elementary school for an all school assembly, where she will participate with the schoolchildren in their school's Fun-Run.

“My vocation to religious life is not just for me,” she told CNA. Though her vocation is her path to holiness, she said it is also for “God's people.”

“It is so beautiful to see so many--married couples, families and single people, priests and religious--come together to support, encourage, and above all pray for me! I am honored. And I owe it all to our Lord Jesus Christ through the intercession of His Mother Mary.”

Writing on her website, Torres explained that her vocation was nurtured through her faith life and her family. She and her siblings were homeschooled for some of their education and the focus of their family activities was St. Benedict’s Chapel. Torres said her mother would lead the children in daily prayers for vocations.

She described her parish priest Fr. Damien as a great influence and also praised the “motherly spirit” of Sr. Marie-Jean of Immaculate Heart of Mary School.

After college, her correspondence with a priest named Fr. Mercer and the invitation of Fr. Lombardo helped lead her to commit to religious life.

“I’ve finally been quiet enough to hear what God has been whispering in my heart for years, and now that I have experienced that Joy that only comes from God, I know there is nothing else that could complete me other than giving myself fully to my Beloved.”

Torres’ website is at

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Florida high school officials’ prayer did not violate court order, judge rules

Pensacola, Fla., Sep 19, 2009 (CNA) - A judge ruled on Thursday that a rural Florida panhandle high school principal and athletic director did not violate a federal court order barring prayer at school events.

Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman could have faced up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines if convicted of violating a 2008 settlement the Santa Rosa County District had reached in the lawsuit.

During a luncheon to honor those who contributed toward the public school's athletic Field House, Principal Lay reportedly asked Freeman to offer a blessing for the meal. Students were not present at the time of the blessing.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charged that the action constituted a violation of a previous court order and accused Lay and Freeman of contempt of court.

Last year the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District, charging that some of the teachers and administration endorsed religion. The school district did not fight the suit but consented to an order fashioned by the ACLU.

In a lengthy Thursday speech, Judge Casey Rogers said she did not believe the two men intended to violate her order barring prayer from school-sponsored events. She accepted that Lay had made a mistake by asking Freeman to offer the prayer because praying had been done at the school for 20 years. She also ruled that Freeman was only following the orders of his superior.

The judge also noted that Lay had followed the court order at previous events and had not offered prayers in settings when he had typically offered prayers in the past.

However, Judge Rogers admonished Lay and said his responsibility as a principal was to ensure the order was followed.

“At the time the school board admitted liability, your school was at the center of the controversy. You said that you agreed these actions had to stop and you agreed to the injunction. You had a responsibility to this court, to the school board and to the citizens of Santa Rosa County as the highest-ranking official at that school,” the judge said, according to the Miami Herald.

Judge Rodgers also questioned videotaped comments Lay had made. Lay, who is also a Baptist church deacon, told a crowd at a church rally for the school that he could not “park my religion and leave it in the school parking lot like I do my Jeep. It will ooze out of me.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Hensel had argued that the two defendants read and accepted the court order and knew that praying at the lunch meeting on school property was an obvious violation of the court agreement, the Miami Herald says.

Responding to the decision in remarks to supporters outside the Pensacola Federal Court House, Ray said: “Above all I want to thank my chief counsel, God our Father.”

Supporters had also packed the federal courtroom. Some students from the high school made T-shirts with the image of a potato chip that read “Lay’s Supportive Patriots.”

Congressional leaders, including the chair of the bipartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus, had spoken on the floor of the U.S. House in support of Lay and Freeman. More than 60 members of Congress, including local U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, also sent a letter of support to Lay and Freeman.

“The tradition of offering prayer in America has become so interwoven into our nation’s spiritual heritage, that to charge someone criminally for engaging in such an innocent practice would astonish the men who founded this country on religious freedom,” their letter read.

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit dedicated to religious freedom issues, helped represent the school officials. Its founder, Mathew D. Staver, commented on the decision.

“It is ridiculous that these men even had to think twice about blessing a meal,” Staver said. “To criminalize the prayer conflicts with our Nation’s founding and guiding principles and goes directly against our constitutionally protected rights. It is fitting that on National Constitution Day, our religious freedoms are preserved so that people – regardless of their employment – are free to say a meal blessing.”

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Following debate, two bishops affirm ‘strong support’ for Christopher West

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 19, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg have issued a statement affirming their “strong support” for the “important work” of the Theology of the Body Institute, saying its founder Christopher West has a “charism” to popularize the work of Pope John Paul II.

The cardinal, who is Archbishop of Philadelphia, is chairman of the institute’s episcopal advisory board. Bishop Rhoades heads the diocese that West lives in.

Their August 10 statement, released on September 17, reported that West is in communication with them as his local ordinaries and has their blessing.

“We are convinced that John Paul II's Theology of the Body is a treasure for the Church, indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time,” the two prelates wrote.

"Yet, its scholarly language needs to be 'translated' into more accessible categories if the average person is to benefit from it,” they continued. "To do this is the specific mission of the Theology of the Body Institute, and we believe that Christopher West, the Institute's popular lecturer and spokesman, has been given a particular charism to carry out this mission."

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades said the Theology of the Body Institute’s programs, courses and materials show “strong fidelity” to the teaching of the Church and to the thought of Pope John Paul II.

Referring to “recent discussions,” the two bishops said they were happy to express their “full confidence” in West, saying he continues to show “Great responsibility and openness” in listening to and considering observations and reflections on his work.

West’s May interview with ABC, which he claimed “sensationalized” his views, sparked a controversy about the truth and the propriety of West’s approach to teaching Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Theologian David S. Schindler was critical of West, saying he sometimes shows a “dangerous imprudence.” Writer Alice von Hildebrand charged that West’s presentations are irreverent and insensitive to the “tremendous dangers” of concupiscence.

West was defended by other Catholic thinkers like Janet Smith, who said criticisms were unfair and based on “out of context” examples. In Smith’s view, West’s work is a response to “the sexually wounded and confused.”

Christopher West, writing in a brief Friday entry on his Twitter page, thanked Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades for their support.

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