Miami, Fla., Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - Self-described as “a home to filmmakers who have chosen to use this medium to express and share a message of hope, struggle, triumph and Love to the world,” the John Paul II International Film Festival held its first awards ceremony on Saturday night, in Florida.
The festival took place on the Miami campus of Florida International University on Nov. 7, where guests were welcomed by a live band and a spread of wine, coffee and desserts.
Speaking to a packed room, the festival's co-director and coordinator Laura Alvarado explained, “Most festivals do not open their awards ceremonies to the community, but we have said from the beginning that this is the 'People's Festival.' For this reason, the community is most welcome in it's attendance.”
The brand new film festival was hosted by the non-profit 7eventhDay Media, Inc., and was created in response to the late Pontiff's apostolic “Letter to Artists.” A statement on the festival's website said that, “in 1999 the late Pope John Paul II challenged artists to respond to the world's need for Truth, Love and Peace through the use of art. With the coming generations, it is becoming more and more apparent that the world hungers for meaning – for a reminder of what we are meant to do on this earth.”
According to festival organizers, there is “a strong demand for films that promote life, love and strong family values,” which was evidenced by the more than 100 submissions to this year's event.
Five awards were presented Saturday night to filmmakers of feature, short and documentary films.
“The Reel Rose Awards are presented to the films this year which exceptionally provided provocative story telling, high artistic technique, and truthful filmmaking,” said co-director and film coordinator Frank Brennan, before announcing the winners.
In addition to the Reel Rose Awards, other categories for competition included People's Choice and the film that best personified the Festival's 2009 theme, “Faith through the Storm.” The latter honor went to a documentary titled “The Water Project,” which followed a non-profit group that traveled to the Dominican Republic and installed an aqueduct for a community that had never seen running water.
When the JP2 crew first began working on this festival back in late January of 2009, we would never have thought we'd be putting together such a huge project in nine months, festival organizers told CNA.
More information about the festival can be found at: http://www.jp2filmfestival.com/index.html.
Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - Critics have accused proposed municipal and county legislation in Maryland of singling out pro-life pregnancy resource centers with regulations critics say are intended to harass and discredit the charities. The laws could be part of a new strategy that uses local lawmakers, rather than state or national legislators.
The concerns center upon two proposed laws for the city of Baltimore and Montgomery County.
The Montgomery County proposal would require pregnancy resource centers to provide to clients a written disclaimer in English and Spanish saying that the information that the pregnancy center provides is “not intended to be medical advice or to establish a doctor-patient relationship.” The disclaimer would also say the client should consult with a health care provider before proceeding on “a course of action regarding the client’s pregnancy.”
Violation of the law would be punished as a Class A civil violation, with fines of up to $500 for a first-time violation and up to $750 per day for repeat violations. The law will be voted upon in December.
“The bill singles out pregnancy resource centers only because of their pro-life mission,” the Maryland Catholic Conference said in a press release. “If approved, the Montgomery County regulation would impose government-compelled speech on a non-profit organization that does not receive government funding simply because the organization declines to provide or refer for abortion.”
One of the Montgomery County Council members sponsoring the bill, Duchy Trachtenberg, is a past president of Maryland National Organization for Women.
She also served as an advisor on “women’s issues” to Howard Dean during his 2004 effort to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. Dean, a former governor of Vermont, was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009.
Similar legislation before the Baltimore City Council requires pregnancy centers to provide a list of services they do not provide, like abortion and contraception, or face a daily fine.
The Conference reports that the regulation does not apply to “family planning” clinics, which are funded by the county, or to abortion clinics.
The city bill has passed committee and will be voted upon by the full city council on Nov. 16.
CNA spoke about the proposals in a Thursday interview with Mary Sullivan, Communications Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
She characterized the legislation as a bill promoted by NARAL and Planned Parenthood to “single out pro-life charities for harassment in an attempt to discredit them.”
“Just imagine being a vulnerable woman in need. You don’t have a lot of material resources and you may have been abandoned by your support system. You’re going to one of these charitable organizations and you’re being told, essentially, ‘we’re not the people you should come to, we’re unreliable.’”
Fines punishing violation of the laws would also burden the privately-funded charities, she said.
Sullivan told CNA that in 2008 a bill was filed in the Maryland Legislature that would have required pregnancy centers that don’t provide or refer for abortions or contraceptives to tell clients that the center is not required to provide them with “factually accurate” information.
The proposal never made it out of committee.
The law before the Baltimore City Council was filed in Oct. 2009, Sullivan reported, charging that supporters are “shopping the bill around” to local jurisdictions.
She said NARAL’s claims that pregnancy centers mislead women or provide them with inaccurate information are based on their own investigation in which they sent interns into pregnancy centers to find out information.
“Unfortunately some local lawmakers are considering that investigation to be a reliable source of information,” added Sullivan. “In fact it’s not. The only reliable sources are the actual women served by these centers. All of these women say they received excellent, competent care.”
In hearings for the proposals NARAL and Planned Parenthood were unable to provide “a single real woman” who claimed to have been misled, she reported.
Noting that Montgomery County itself is adjacent to Washington, D.C., CNA asked Sullivan about the possible national implications of these efforts. Sullivan replied that she understands similar legislation has been introduced in other states.
While not identical, the bills all intend to discredit the centers, she charged.
To Sullivan’s knowledge, the other attempts were made at the state level. The Maryland proposals mark the first attempts at local legislation of pregnancy resource centers.
She noted that Planned Parenthood and NARAL have promoted the legislation on their websites and have encouraged their supporters to back the measures.
“If they’re successful here they will try in other places, certainly,” Sullivan told CNA.
Portland, Maine, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - Opponents of Question 1, the Maine ballot initiative which vetoed the state legislature’s recognition of same-sex “marriages,” are encouraging their supporters to file IRS complaints against churches. In response, the Alliance Defense Fund has attacked such suits as “frivolous” and offered its help to targeted churches.
Question 1 passed by 53 to 47 percent, with significant support from the Catholic Diocese of Portland.
Scott Fish, Communications Director of Stand for Marriage Maine, told CNA the day after the vote that Catholic support was “very crucial” to the outcome.
“The Yes on 1 campaign, had much support from Catholics statewide, working hand-in-hand with Evangelical churches throughout Maine, as well as other denominations,” Fish said.
Upset by the results, Maine Marriage Equality is calling on same-sex “marriage” supporters to file complaints with the IRS about churches that supported the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Erik Stanley, Senior Legal Counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, criticized the complainants to the IRS.
“This is an all-too-obvious attempt to use the IRS to intimidate pastors and churches as a means of punishment and to get them to be quiet,” he said in a press release. “We encourage the churches of Maine not to be intimidated and to contact us if they are contacted by the IRS.”
“Pastors and churches have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. They can encourage their congregations to take a stand for marriage and can directly support legislative issues like Question 1 without running afoul of IRS rules,” he continued.
Stanley charged that groups that want to “redefine” marriage are “intentionally threatening” churches’ tax-exempt status to promote “fear, intimidation and disinformation to silence their voice.”
“ADF will stand with these churches to defend their right to free speech and religious expression against these baseless scare tactics,” he stated.
The ADF says that support of the kind which churches showed for Question 1 is “almost always allowable” by the IRS.
Some religious groups, such as one calling itself Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, opposed Question 1. No IRS complaints against them have been reported.
Shenyang, China, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - Chinese researchers claim to have found a 17 percent increased breast cancer risk among women who have had induced abortions.
Peng Xing and other researchers in the Department of Oncology at the First Affiliated Hospital of China Medical University enrolled in their study 1,417 patients diagnosed with breast cancer and 1,587 women without a prior breast cancer.
The researchers’ findings indicated that induced abortion increased a woman’s risk of breast cancer by a “statistically significant” rate of 17 percent.
According to the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer (CABC), U.S. researchers have said that Chinese studies on a link between abortion and breast cancer exclude “report bias” because abortion isn’t stigmatized in China and Chinese women are considered reliable reporters for their abortions.
The CABC said a Turkish study published earlier this year reported a 66 percent increased breast cancer risk among women who have had abortions.
Karen Malec, CABC president, said the Chinese and Turkish studies are relevant to the debate in the U.S. over government-funded abortion.
“Government-funded abortion means more dead American women from breast cancer," she charged.
The CABC claimed that both studies show “honest research” in contrast to U.S. and Western governmental agencies or organizations that the coalition believes are “tethered to abortion ideology and politics.”
Dallas, Texas, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - A Texas woman in need of a kidney has received one from her parish priest. She has called the donation a “holy kidney,” while he says the gift of his kidney is an attempt to follow Christ’s life-giving example.
Carrie Gehling, who has lost both legs to diabetes and has suffered four heart attacks, needed a kidney transplant after years of dialysis. Her medical history made her a high-risk candidate and she needed to find a live donor herself, the Dallas Morning News reports.
The 45-year-old Gehling turned to her pastor at St. Rita Catholic Church, Msgr. Mark Seitz.
Msgr. Seitz, thinking about where his parishioner could find a donor, said he thought to himself 'Why not me?'
Testing proved he was an acceptable match. Gehling, hearing he would be her donor, said she would call the gift her “holy kidney.”
A spokesman for the Dallas parish said the Tuesday morning transplant went well and both patients were recovering.
Msgr. Seitz, who is 55, told the Dallas Morning News he considers the organ donation a manifestation of his priestly duties.
“We follow the model of one who literally gave his life for us. If he can lay down his life, I can give away a kidney."
An essay written by Msgr. Seitz said that he has known Gehling for more than six years.
“I have greatly admired her courage in dealing with her diabetes and all the many effects of this terrible disease. Through the many daily trials and sufferings and limitations, the hours of dialysis; through all the difficulties she has continued to fight. Not only this, but she has continued to love God, to trust in His goodness and to reach out to others in love. Who could fail to be inspired by this witness of Faith?”
The priest recounted how he, Gehling and her mother had traveled to a shrine named San Juan de los Lagos on the Texas/Mexico border.
“Many answers to prayers have been associated with this holy place,” Msgr. Seitz explained. “We made a day trip in the airplane owned by one of our parishioners and we celebrated Mass there. Little did I know that less than a year following that pilgrimage that I would end up being part of the answer to her prayer.”
But it wasn't always smooth sailing for Gehling, who told the Dallas Morning News that she lost her faith for a time after her father died of a heart attack when she was 20.
"Then one day, I woke up and thought, 'What in the world is wrong with you?'" she said. "If my father had lived after that heart attack, he would have been a vegetable. What the Lord did was for the best.
"There's only one way to put it: Thy will be done."
Before the operation, she said people who did not think she would make it don’t know her.
“There’s more in life that I want to accomplish,” she said.
Parishioners at St. Rita’s held a special rosary service the night before the transplant.
On Thursday afternoon Msgr. Seitz posted an entry at the patient journal site CaringBridge.org. He said he is disconnected from all his tubes and is feeling “a bit more human each day.”
Prayers had “buoyed him up” and had given him peace during the operation.
“It gives me great joy to know that Carrie is doing great. She says that she is feeling better that she has in 15 years.
“I told her I expected that. She didn't receive any second rate kidney!”
Gehling made an entry eight minutes later, saying “There are no words to say thank you. How do you say thank you to a man that has given one a new life?”
Vatican City, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - Catholics in the war-torn Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq received good news on Friday when Pope Benedict approved Fr. Emil Shimoun Nona as the new Archbishop of Mosul. The archbishop-elect will replace Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was kidnapped by militants last February and found dead two weeks later.
The Vatican's press office announced today that the Holy Father “gave his assent to the canonical election by the Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Church of Fr. Emil Shimoun Nona.”
Archbishop-elect Nona, 42, was born in Alqosh, Iraq on November 1, 1967. He entered the Chaldean Patriarchal Seminary in 1985 and was ordained priest on January 11, 1991 in Baghdad.
His pastoral experience includes serving as the parochial vicar at Alqosh from 1993 to 1997 and then as pastor until 2000.
After his seven years in the parish, Archbishop-elect Nona was sent to study at the Pontifical Lateran University, where he earned a doctorate in theology. At present he is an official for the Archdiocese of Alqosh and a professor of Anthropology at Babel College. He is also speaks Arabic, Italian, Chaldean and English.
Archbishop-elect Nona will be serving 18,200 lay Catholics, 16 priests, 1 permanent deacon and 10 religious.
Rome, Italy, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - A young Muslim writer named Randa Ghazy has written an article entitled, “I, a Muslim, Defend the Crucifix,” in which she expresses her opposition to a ruling by the EU Human Rights Court that ordered all crucifixes be taken down in classrooms across Italy. The article will appear in the December edition of the magazine Mondo e Missione, a publication of the Pontifical Institute Missioni Estere.
“One of the most beautiful memories of my childhood and adolescence was of Father Bruno,” she writes. “I would often go to the oratory with my little brother and the sisters would treat us with great kindness and care.”
Ghazy recalls as well that “Father Bruno made us truly laugh. When it was time for Mass, my brother and I would run off to play ping pong and eat candy. Every day Father Bruno would ask us to stay with the other kids who were there in the church, which we embarrassingly declined to do.”
“One day, Father said to us, ‘Why don’t you come and say your prayers?’ And so we did. During Mass my brother and I slowly recited prayers from the Koran. So the crucifix, all the different kinds that I remember (from grade school to college) was always a symbol of security for me, a projection of the greatness of the heart of Christ, and in some way, of Father Bruno.”
For this reason, Ghazy says, “I support and encourage every possible debate between Muslim and Christian citizens, all discussion about the secularity of the State, but with respect for the great models of humility that each one can find in his past and his experiences.”
“I turn off the television so I don’t see the continuous verbal assaults, I remember Father Bruno and I smile, thinking about those two little Muslims who looked at each other in that beautiful church. I almost feel nostalgia for the 90s,” she writes.
The young Muslim writer was born in 1987 in the Italian region of Lombardy to Egyptian parents. She has written three books, the first when she was only 15, entitled, “Dreaming of Palestine.” The book is about the friendship shared by a group of young people in the occupied territories.
Her second book, “Bloody Trial,” was published in 2005. In 2007 she wrote, “Today I'm Not Going to Kill Anyone: Short Stories of a Young Muslim Who is Not a Terrorist.”
Vatican City, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - The Vatican announced today that the Pontifical Gregorian University will host an upcoming event to discuss the responsibilities of Catholic universities.
The event, titled “The Catholic University in post-modern societies” will be held at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University from Nov. 16-20, and is presented by the International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC).
The Federation is known for it's contribution to the Apostolic Constitution “Ex corde Ecclesiae,” which was approved by the late Pope John Paul II in 1990. The document outlines the essentials that a Catholic university must have in order to “guarantee a Christian presence in the academic world, in the face of the great problems of society and culture.”
During today's press conference, Pedro Nel Medina Varon, adjunct secretary general of FIUC, discussed the three main responsibilities that the Catholic university has.
The first is “preserving the Catholic tradition,” he said, explaining that this means preserving “the reflection that the Christian community has been developing for the last two thousand years concerning the most profound questions about life and the human condition, as well as the beliefs and values transmitted by the gospel.” Varon went on to say that the second purpose of the Catholic university “is the integral education of the person.” The third purpose, he stated, is “service to the Church, and the preservation of the Catholic intellectual tradition through the integral education of the person.”
Some of the other themes to be discussed during the upcoming event are: the Catholic university in dialogue with cultures and religions, the Catholic university and the Christian intellectual tradition, the political and social responsibility of the Catholic university and the future of the Catholic university.
Rome, Italy, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - Members of the European Bishops’ Committee on the Media began their plenary assembly on Thursday at the Vatican, during which they will meet with representatives of Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and a young Swiss expert in order to learn more about the internet and how to use the new technologies.
Some 20 bishops together with the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, and other experts from the bishops’ conferences of Europe, are attending the sessions.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Josip Bozanic, vice president of the European Bishops’ Committee on the Media, said the theme of the gathering denotes two key aspects: “The internet is not only a recipient that brings together diverse cultures. The internet is culture. The internet produces culture. And so it seems obvious to ask questions about the relationship that exists between this ‘new culture’ and the so-called ‘traditional’ cultures.”
The cardinal said the Church has had her own communication for two thousand years and that therefore the question about the implications the Church’s presence on the internet has for her mission is a legitimate one. “How has the internet become a part of the ordinary ministry of our dioceses?” he asked.
The Church needs to have an online presence because she must communicate the Good News, the cardinal continued, saying that the internet provides a window into how the “anthropological model of tomorrow” is being constructed.
Among those addressing the bishops will be a Swiss expert who will give them a crash-course on the secrets of the internet and of online piracy, in order to give them a better perspective on what experts call Web 2.0, the interactive dimension of the online world.
Bogotá, Colombia, Nov 13, 2009 (CNA) - Following threats of war by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez against Colombia, the diocesan newspaper in Cucuta, Colombia reported this week on a soccer game for peace, which Colombian and Venezuelan priests will play at a field on the border between the two countries.
Bishop Jaime Prieto Amaya of Cucuta said the purpose of the game is to bring together Colombians and Venezuelans, “as sister nations,” to “share in prayer and sport, and in a festive environment to reiterate to the world that here we are brothers and sisters, that nothing and nobody can separate us from the love we have for each other.”
The players will wear white jerseys as “a sign of purity and of the dignity of the children of God, in order to affirm that there is no room for armed confrontation in the hearts of those who love peace.”