Rome, Italy, Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) - As the October 11 canonization of Fr. Damien de Veuster approaches, an art teacher is leading a small group from Hawaii to Rome to present Pope Benedict XVI with a portrait of the saint painted by an artist paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS.
Fr. Damien, a hero to Hawaiians, ministered to a major leper colony on Molokai where he contracted and eventually succumbed to leprosy in the late nineteenth century.
The late artist Peggy Chun had created the artwork with the help of schoolchildren at Holy Trinity School in Honolulu. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had affected her to the point where she could only move her eyes.
Shelly Mecum, an art teacher at the school and a friend of Peggy, spoke with CNA from Rome in a Thursday phone interview about the portrait and its creator.
She described Peggy as an “invincible artist” who wouldn’t let ALS stop her from creating.
“When she couldn’t paint with her left hand, she used her right. When she couldn’t paint with her right, she used her mouth.”
According to Mecum, ALS completely “entombs” its victims.
“That’s what Peggy said it felt like, being buried alive in your own body.”
Despite her crippling symptoms, which led to her death on Nov. 19, 2008, Peggy used an ERICA eye response computer to communicate. She also used a device that would read her brainwaves.
“She was the first brainwave artist on the planet,” Mecum told CNA.
Peggy painted her portrait of Fr. Damien, titled “The Damien,” by directing others. She trained her apprentices in her brushstroke “just like Renaissance artists.” The work is part painting and part mosaic.
She spent 18 months giving directions week by week to paint the 50,000 quarter-inch squares that would be used in the eight-foot by four-foot painting.
She was assisted by 142 children from Holy Trinity school over a period of 18 months. The students, who ranged in age from 5 to 13, understood themselves as “Peggy’s hands.”
“Peggy completely composed this painting,” Mecum explained, saying she chose the posture of the saint based upon photographs. He is in a posture of blessing and is depicted half in shadow to represent the “darkness” of faith.
The artist also conceived the idea of placing handprints rising up from below his image as if in supplication.
In the portrait the figure of Bl. Damien is holding the handprint of Peggy herself, while the other handprints are from her family and her caregivers. The island of Molokai is in background.
Mecum explained that Peggy wanted the painting to change from left to right from starry night to the brightness of day to represent the hope that God was extending.
The back of the painting bears 142 handprints by the students in place of their signatures. Mecum added that the children who assisted Peggy “put all their healing and all their love into those squares of water paper.”
The saint is shown holding a rosary in his hand. Mecum told CNA that the mosaic squares used to depict the rosary were painted in colors that Peggy did not own.
When Mecum told Peggy the squares had just showed up in the classroom, she replied “Heaven is painting.”
“Then we knew we were going to complete this painting,” Mecum said.
“She really wondered if this painting was planted in her heart when she was a little girl,” Mecum said of Peggy, explaining that as a child the future artist saw a mosaic of the saint during a yearlong European tour with her parents.
“At that time, it was frozen in her heart and forevermore after that she thought it was such a dignified way to present a saint.”
Pope Benedict XVI will be given the painting in an Oct. 14 audience with Mecum, fellow teacher Christine Matsukawa, and two students. The group will also attend the canonization of Fr. Damien.
Mecum credited the Holy Spirit with inspiring the trip. When the school’s students wondered what would happen to the painting when it was finished, Matsukawa said “out of the blue” that it would be given to the Pope.
Mecum then went to Peggy with the idea.
“Peggy, would you like the painting to be given to the Pope?” she asked.
After a long pause, Peggy started to cry. This caused Mecum to wonder if she did not want to give the painting away.
Then Peggy spelled out in reply the phrase: “That would be the greatest honor of my life – Yes!”
The provincial of Fr. Damien’s order said he thought there could be no more magnificent and appropriate gift.
“I made a really serious promise that I would bring Peggy and find a way to present her painting to the Pope,” Mecum told CNA.
Though Peggy died before she could go to Rome, her friends’ prayers for help in their travels were “so soundly answered” three weeks after their planning began.
“We petitioned the Virgin Mary to secure transportation and tickets, and within weeks we had secured transportation,” Mecum said.
Delta Airlines donated tickets, while Best Western provided hotel accommodations.
Mecum reported that Denver-based philanthropist John Saeman, whom she called “one of our big heroes,” helped secure a papal audience through his contacts with Vatican officials. The audience will take place after Wednesday’s General Audience.
Two children, Lorrin Baptista and Mark Giron, were chosen to represent Holy Trinity School.
Lorrin met Peggy, Mecum said, and had to study the “courage” of Fr. Damien. She was inspired to convert to Catholicism and chose Damien as her patron.
Mark Giron had come to the school after Peggy had died and didn’t help with the painting. However, he learned of her work and felt a “burning desire” to go to Rome.
The two students are “really awed” to be participating in the audience and the canonization, Mecum told CNA.
Peggy Chun’s website, which sells prints of her paintings, is located at http://PeggyChun.com
Chennai, India, Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) - Over 2.5 million people have been forced from their homes by heavy rains and flooding in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in South India. Caritas India says it fears the worst is still to come, with more rains in the forecast threatening to overflow river banks and dams.
With the Krishna River inundated, over 50 villages have been completely submerged or marooned in Andhra Pradesh. The famous temple town of Mantralayam has been under ten feet of water for more than a day, Caritas Internationalis reports.
Rescue operations are difficult because some towns are completely inaccessible.
Ambrose Christy, South Zonal Manager for Caritas India, said they have never experienced anything like the disaster before.
“It is the worst flooding in 100 years,” he reported. “The situation could become even more severe as the rains get worst. If the Krishna River bursts its banks, millions more will be forced from their homes and a huge area of land will be underwater.”
Christy stated that Caritas is able to provide immediate relief to those who have been forced from their homes. At present relief is focused on providing food, medical supplies, drinking water and safety.
“It’s too early to make assessments of damage to homes and livelihoods.”
With the involvement of Caritas, some affected villages have been involved in disaster preparedness. These communities’ teams were effective in quickly moving the vulnerable to safety.
“Caritas local partners immediately began providing hot meals to people who had lost their homes,” Christy added.
Caritas diocesan partners in Kurnool district distributed food packets and water for 1,000 people on Sunday. They are planning to set up relief camps.
Caritas partners in Krishna and Guntur districts plan to distribute rice and oil in remote areas.
Relief operations have been started in Karnatka state by the Bellary Diocese Development Society and Seva Sangama Development Society of Gulbarga Diocese. Caritas is supporting their effort.
Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) - White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is erroneously claiming that the Hyde Amendment which restricts federal funding for abortions will apply to federal health care reform legislation, the National Right to Life Committee has charged.
At a Wednesday press briefing at the White House, Cybercast News Service reporter Fred Lucas asked Gibbs whether a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was right to say that health care reform proposals have not met the president’s promise to bar the use of federal funds for abortion.
“Well, I don't want to get me in trouble at church, but I would mention there's a law that precludes the use of federal funds for abortion that isn't going to be changed in these health care bills,” Gibbs responded.
Lucas noted several proposed amendments that would explicitly bar abortions, to which Gibbs replied:
“Again, there’s a fairly well documented federal law that prevents it.”
Commenting in a press release, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) called Gibbs’ statement “highly misleading.”
The NRLC, presuming that Gibbs referred to the Hyde Amendment, said the provision applies only to funds appropriated through the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill.
“Neither the Hyde Amendment nor any other existing restriction will govern the provisions of the pending health care bills that are the focus of the abortion-related concerns,” the NRLC reported.
The proposed bills contain a nationwide government-run insurance program and premium subsidy programs to help tens of millions of Americans purchase health coverage.
None of the funds for the public plan and spent by the premium subsidy programs would be appropriated through the annual appropriations bill and would therefore be outside the scope of the Hyde Amendment. The NRLC said this analysis has been confirmed by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.
According to the NRLC, under the Capps Amendment to H.R. 3200 the public plan would be explicitly authorized to cover elective abortions.
The NRLC described the suggestion that the public plan could pay for abortions with private funds as “a myth” and ‘a political hoax.”
“As a matter of law, all of the funds that would be spent by the public plan, on abortions and everything else, would be federal funds,” the pro-life group said. “In other words, the public plan would engage in direct federal funding of elective abortion.”
Amman, Jordan, Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) - The Vicar of Jordan, Most Rev. Selim Sayegh, spoke to CNA in Amman last week about the tensions in the Middle East as well as the diminishing number of Christians in the area. He noted that Catholics can assist those struggling in the region by praying for peace because “true peace comes from the Lord,” not Obama, or Israeli/Palestinian leaders.
Sayegh, who has served Jordan as an auxiliary bishop for 27 years, addressed the plight of Christians in the Middle East, particularly the ones living in Iraq. He noted that the while the situation isn’t desperate, less Christians are living in the area than is considered ideal.
“Why,” the bishop asked, are not only Christians but also Muslims leaving the area? “All of them, they are looking for peace…they want peace for their children,” he answered.
“Once peace is established into these countries...no one would think about leaving.”
He zeroed in on Iraq asking why anyone would leave – it’s “one of the richest countries in the world,” however “there is no hope.”
When Iraqi Christians leave, they go to Jordan or Syria, the vicar explained. But, “for the most part, the Christians don’t intend to become established in Jordan,” but they only “stay until they can obtain a visa to the United States, Europe or Australia.”
“It’s a very sad situation,” the bishop lamented, explaining that many of the Iraqis were educated, economically well-off people in their country, but when they leave, all of a sudden, “poof, and they have nothing.”
Bishop Sayegh said that Catholics around the world can help improve the situation in the Middle East not only by being “good citizens,” but also by praying for peace.
“Pray for peace because true peace comes from the Lord, it doesn’t come from Obama or from Netanyahu or from Abu Mazen,” but rather from the “Lord of peace,” the bishop remarked.
Reflecting on Christians’ role in the peace process, Bishop Sayegh said that they have their place, but that they are called to play a role by living out the faith. “That’s why every day in our churches we pray for peace,” since God is the only one who is “able to change the hearts” and to “arrive at peace” in the region.
Rome, Italy, Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) -
Pope Benedict XVI attended a concert on Thursday evening as part of commemorations for the 70th anniversary of World War II. The Holy Father prayed that "the recollection of those sad events be a warning, especially to the new generations, never to yield to the temptation of war," and pointed to the ecumenical movement as a means to held build a civilization of peace.
The concert, which was titled "Young People Against War (1939-2009)" took place yesterday evening in the Auditorium on Rome's Via della Conciliazione.
The musical celebration was played by the "InterRegionales Jugendsinfonie Orchester" and conducted by Jochem Hochstenbach. The programme included compositions by Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelsshon-Bartholdy and texts by Johan Wolfgang Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Paul Celan and Berthold Brecht, as well as two poems by children imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, read by Michelle Breedt and Klaus Maria Brandauer.
Organizations that helped put the event together included the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism, the German embassy to the Holy See and the European "KulturForum" of Mainau.
Following the concert, Pope Benedict said that it was a joy for him to participate in the event and that the universal language of music is able to "encourage young people to build the future of the world together, drawing inspiration from the values of peace and the brotherhood of man."
Turning to the fact that it was the tragedy of World War II that occassioned the concert, the Pope called it "a terrible page of history steeped in violence and inhumanity which caused the death of millions of people, leaving the winners divided and Europe to be rebuilt. The war, instigated by National Socialism, affected many innocent peoples in Europe and on other continents, while with the drama of the Shoah it particularly affected the Jewish people, who were victims of a planned extermination."
And yet, the Pontiff noted, "calls for reason and peace were not lacking from many sides. Here in Rome, the heartfelt cry of my venerated predecessor Pius XII rang out. In his radio message of 24 August 1939 - on the very eve of the outbreak of war - he decisively proclaimed: 'nothing is lost with peace. Everything may be lost with war'. ... May the recollection of those sad events be a warning, especially to the new generations, never to yield to the temptation of war."
Pope Benedict then went on to mention the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, "an eloquent symbol of the end of the totalitarian Communist regimes of Eastern Europe," he said. "Europe and the entire world thirst for freedom and peace. Together we must build true civilisation, not founded on force but on the 'fruit of our victory over ourselves, over the powers of injustice, selfishness and hatred which can even go so far as to disfigure man.'"
"The ecumenical movement," he concluded, "can help to build [this civilization], working together with the Jews and with all believers. May God bless us and grant humankind the gift of peace."
Vatican City, Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) - The Vatican offered its appreciation today for President Barack Obama’s work for peace on the international level, following the announcement that the president the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told L’Osservatore Romano that President Obama’s reception of the award “is greeted with appreciation by the Vatican” due to his efforts “to promote peace in the international arena, particularly in the recent effort in favor of the nuclear disarmament."
Fr. Lombardi also said that he hopes that the honor “may generate the expected results for the future of humanity.”
Reacting to the award, President Obama stated that it isn’t necessarily “a recognition of my own accomplishments,” but rather a “call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”
Fox News reported that the award committee chose the President due to his work to reduce nuclear weapons, his commitment to easing tensions with the Middle East and his dedication to cooperation.
The chairman of the Norwegian committee charged with choosing the peace prize recipient, Thorbjoern Jagland, said that although the president’s initiatives have yet to bear fruit, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
In his statement today, the president also said he does not feel that he deserves “to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize.”
Previous winners of the award include Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Theodore Roosevelt, Elie Wiesel and Jimmy Carter.
Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) - A new survey shows that a majority of Americans continue to oppose same-sex “marriage” and consider homosexual behavior immoral. However, opponents of same-sex “marriage” may have become more favorable towards allowing legal arrangements for homosexual couples.
The Washington, D.C.-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported that 53 percent of Americans say they are opposed to same-sex “marriage,” with only 39 percent saying they favor legal recognition for the practice.
While only 30 percent of regularly churchgoing non-Hispanic white Catholics favored same-sex “marriage,” 54 percent of those who attend less than weekly expressed support for it. Because regular churchgoers are a minority among Catholics, 45 percent of all non-Hispanic white Catholics favor same-sex “marriage” and only 43 percent are opposed.
White evangelicals and black Protestants are most opposed to same-sex “marriage,” the poll says. Hispanics are opposed by a margin of 49 to 45 percent.
Those in the 18-29 age demographic were most supportive of same-sex “marriage,” with 58 percent favoring it and 37 percent opposing. A majority of all other age groups are opposed, though 38 percent in the 30-49 demographic supported legal recognition of the practice.
According to the Pew survey, College graduates slightly favored same-sex “marriage.” By region, the East and the West are split on the issue while opposition is strongest in the Midwest and the South.
Measured by political affiliation, only self-described liberal Democrats favor same-sex marriage, but did so by a margin of 72 to 24 percent. Independents are almost evenly split, while conservative or moderate Democrats shared about the same opposition to the practice as moderate or liberal Republicans. Conservative Republicans are overwhelmingly against the practice, by 81 percent to 14 percent.
About half of Pew respondents said that homosexual behavior is morally wrong, with nine percent saying it is acceptable and 35 percent saying it is not a moral issue.
Only five percent of non-Hispanic churchgoing Catholics said the behavior is morally acceptable, while 53 percent said it is morally wrong. Thirty percent said it is “not a moral issue.” Among all Catholic respondents, 39 percent recognized the behavior as morally wrong while 12 percent deemed it morally acceptable and 41 percent said it is “not a moral issue.”
On the topic of legal arrangements for homosexuals, about 57 percent of Pew respondents favored “allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples,” while 37 percent said they are opposed. Opponents of same-sex “marriage” have become more likely to favor such arrangements, increasing from 24 to 30 percent.
While the Pew Forum characterized this response as support for civil unions, the question was broad enough to encompass many other kinds of legal arrangements.
The Pew survey of 4,013 Americans age 18 or older was conducted in August 2009. The survey claims a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
Vatican City, Oct 9, 2009 (CNA) - Yesterday and today at the ongoing Synod for Africa, bishops raised issues of concern that ranged from how to deal with polygamy to asking sister Churches in developed countries to persuade their governments to stop trying to impose “ideologies that are foreign to Africa.”
Bishop Evaristus Thatoho Bitsoane of Lesotho took the floor on Thursday afternoon to explain how his local Church can fulfill the synod's theme. “The Church in Lesotho, like many other local Churches of Africa is involved in the area of health, education and in the service of the poor. Lesotho is about fifty percent Catholic and the Church has the majority of schools in the country. From these numbers one would hope that Catholic principles would prevail in the running of the country,” he explained.
But this is not the case, Bishop Bitsoane continued, “On the contrary, people embrace anything that will enable them to have bread on the table even if it is opposed to the teaching of the Church.”
Pointing out that Lesotho is just one of many countries of Africa who have signed the Maputo Protocol, he said that even though “the services of our Catholic hospitals are appreciated by many, we are afraid that many abortions will be performed in private hospitals.”
“What the Church of Lesotho needs urgently in order to continue her service to the poor,” Bishop Bitsoane stated, “is for the sister Churches of the developed world to influence their governments not to impose ideologies that are foreign to Africa.”
The Synod Fathers also reflected on how to bring the values of the Gospel to African cultures that are rooted in pagan practices.
Bishop Matthew Kwasi Gyamfi of Sunyani, Ghana said on Friday morning that, "In some parts of Africa because of the culture and tradition of the people before the Church was introduced, many African women find themselves in polygamous marriages through no fault of theirs.”
According to Bishop Gyamfi, this situation means that “many of the women attending church are denied the Sacraments of Initiation, Reconciliation and Marriage.”
The bishop pointed out that this treatment is unjust and has damaging effects for those women who were “first wives with children” of polygamous marriages. “The Church needs to address this painful and unpleasant situation in Africa by giving some special privileges to women, who have been the first wives with children and through no fault of their own have become victims of polygamous marriages, to receive the Sacraments of Initiation and others,” he said.
If these “sorely tried women” are allowed to receive the Sacraments, Bishop Gyamfi said that they will be able to “share in the peace and reconciliation offered by the compassion and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ Who came to call sinners and not the self righteous.”
The Synod for Africa began at the Vatican on October 4 and will conclude on October 25.