Archive of November 26, 2009

Author encourages Alaska Catholics to boldly share the faith

Anchorage, Alaska, Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - While many Catholics might find the idea of evangelization intimidating and a bit scary, it doesn’t have to be, says Catholic author and apologist Mark Shea. “We have this great magnet called the Blessed Sacrament that draws people (to the church),” he told a crowd at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage earlier this month.

Shea said he hoped Catholics attending his Anchorage talk would realize that spreading the Gospel is a matter of allowing the Holy Spirit to work through them as instruments of evangelization.

Shea was in Alaska as a guest speaker for the Anchorage Archdiocese’s deacon retreat. He also spoke to young adults at the Anchorage Theology and Brew about how he journeyed from being an Evangelical Christian to eventually embracing the fullness of the Catholic Church.

“As a Catholic, the Holy Spirit is in charge … and is the chief evangelizer,” he said. “We are just reporting what has already been handed down.”

Often times, that simply means inviting people to Mass or different events. Other times, it means sharing personal stories of faith. The most important thing is to remain open to the promptings of God, Shea said.

All desire happiness

People all over the world are desperately searching for happiness, Shea pointed out.

“We are creatures and we are made to worship,” he said. “The population is divided between those who worship God and those who worship something else.”

The problem for those who worship something else is that they have an inability to satiate their thirst and desires, Shea said.

“You can never get enough of what you want if it is disordered,” he added. “If you seek your happiness in a disordered way, that is not God — it is sin.”

The good news of the Catholic Church is that is offers a holistic approach to spiritual longing by nourishing both the body and the spirit, Shea said.

“We have an embodied faith,” he said, adding that the reason we have sacraments is that Jesus came to save both body and soul.

And that underscores again the importance of inviting people to liturgy and Mass. Shea shared a story about how he invited a co-worker who was an atheist to Mass. He did not preach or try to convert, but simply invited her to come with him every Sunday. Eventually, the woman began to attend Mass even without him and became Catholic.

Connect to other Christian churches

Evangelization is not just for non-Christians, however, it is important to work with the various Christian denominations as well, Shea said.

“We are discovering again our lives as missionaries in the world,” he said of Catholics. “And we’ve seen this especially in the pro-life movement.”

A powerful way to spark conversation and heal divisions between Christian denominations is to focus on common goals. The pro-life movement is a prime example of this, he said.

“This is one of the profound ways that Christians are coming from all walks of life, recognizing the commonalities that we have,” Shea said. As an example, he pointed to the annual “40 Days for Life” prayer vigil in which Christians from all backgrounds pray in front of abortion clinics across the country.

Working together on common causes is a great way to begin the conversation and recognize the strengths both sides have, he said.

“Catholics tend to look across the fence, so to speak, and say wistfully, ‘I wish I knew the Bible as well as Evangelicals did,” Shea said. “Evangelicals look across the fence and wish they could be more mystical and prayerful like Catholics.”

These are great starting points for discussions. And the conversations don’t require gifted orators or skilled debaters. All that is needed is access to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and teachings of the magisterium.

Don't water it down

While it is important to share commonalities and similarities, it is also crucial not to water down the faith, Shea cautioned.

“The mission of the church is to proclaim the church and not to compromise,” he said.

That’s especially true when it comes to young people, he noted. It is important that the message is challenging and that hard questions are tackled head on.

He pointed to Pope John Paul II as an example of a successful evangelizer who did not water down the message for young people.

“John Paul II understood that the task of youth is heroism,” Shea explained. “He gave youth the good news that God is calling us to something that is so hard, so heroic that is it worth dying for.”

And the youth responded, Shea added, pointing to the large crowds the late pontiff attracted at various World Youth Days — crowds that were among the largest youth gatherings ever seen on earth.

People are responding to the challenge and call of the Gospel. A population the size of Tallahassee, Florida enters the Catholic Church each year in the United States, Shea noted. These people came because they were invited to something that challenged and fed them spiritually. They came, he added, because others answered the call to be evangelists.

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African dioceses assist Angolan refugees, appeal for help

Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - In what is being called a “blatant act of revenge,” over 40,000 Angolan citizens have been expelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the neighboring Republic of Congo throughout the last few weeks, and have been aided by local Catholic dioceses.  

According to the international pastoral charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Angolans have recently been expelled from the two Congos in what appears to be retaliative act.  Two years ago, Angola began to expel Congolese refugees living illegally within its borders. However, the recent expulsion of the Angolans is different as it is directed against all Angolans, even those living legally in the countries.

Fr. Andrzej Halemba and Fr. Ulrich Kny of ACN visited the refugee camps recently and have reported “unimaginable suffering” and “appalling conditions.” The governments of the two Congos have allegedly been ruthless in their expulsion methods, often arriving unannounced and ordering the Angolans to leave immediately, without family members or possessions.

Refugees are reported to travel sometimes as many as 500-600 miles on foot, including the sick, the elderly and young children. Pregnant women have had to deliver by the roadside and many people arrive at the camps having eaten nothing for days.

The two Angolan dioceses of  Uíje and Mbanza have been faced with the challenge of helping thousands of refugees, some in dire condition. Five reception camps have been set up in Damba,  Northern Angola, where refugees have been able to find food and shelter, despite the tents being flooded by heavy thunderstorms. Refugees have also been assisted by four Franciscan Capuchins and four Sisters of Mercy, who have opened up their convent.

“The sisters are helping as much as they can,” reported Fr. Halemba. “They are taking people in, distributing food, utensils, nappies, medicines and clothing; they are making sure that the refugees are vaccinated against tetanus, polio and other diseases and trying to provide spiritual and psychological support to the suffering.”

Though the sisters and parish volunteers are caring for hundreds of people every day, the numbers are increasing daily as well. The bishops of the two Angolan dioceses have urgently appealed to ACN for assistance, and the charity is looking for generous donations from its benefactors.

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CNN chooses young Filipino Catholic as 'Hero of the Year'

Atlanta, Ga., Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - CNN has chosen a young Filipino Catholic as the winner of the their annual prize, “Hero of the Year.”  Efren Penaflorida, 28, is the head of an organization which seeks to prevent impoverished children from involvement with crime through education.

The son of a motorcycle-taxi driver and a homemaker, Efren grew up near a landfill in the city of Cavite southwest of Manila. He decided at a young age that he would not join the local gangs, as did most of his friends, and would overcome poverty by getting an education.

At the age of 16, he promised to help other children make the same choice, and subsequently created a program which offered tutoring and books to kids who live on the street and in poor neighborhoods.

His organization, Dynamic Teen Co., is made up of volunteers and has improved the reading and writing skills as well as the health of some 1,500 children.  Efren has become one of the models of the Asian Youth Day organized by the Catholic Church in the Philippines.

According to Bishop Joel Baylon of the Bishops’ Committee on Youth, Efren is an inspiring model for young people who demonstrates that they too can make a difference in their daily lives.

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Sioux Falls cathedral renovation project points to the divine

Sioux Falls, S.D., Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - The Cathedral of St. Joseph in Sioux Falls, S.D is undergoing a three-year makeover  to restore the it to the original vision of the architect, to create an endowment for its future maintenance and to bring the 90-year old electrical system up to code.

The restoration  aspires to bring the Cathedral closer to the artistic vision of the original architect. Though the stained glass and much of the elaborate work on the ceiling is original and beautiful, the plaster around the windows is deteriorating, there are eight layers of paint inside the church which are peeling off, and the floor needs some work.

The current restoration of St. Joseph's Cathedral will solve the problem of the antiquated electrical system, as well as the inadequate sound system.

“We have a gem here that needs some attention,” remarks Bishop Swain on the website for the Cathedral's restoration. “Those who came before us built this with great vision, with tenacity, with patience, and with sacrifice at a time when this was a relatively small community, not the great city it is now. We have the responsibility to honor them and what they did, I think, by caring for what they gave us and passing it on to those yet to come.”

Bishop Swain, who is continuing some of the restoration work begun by Bishop Robert Carlson in 1998, has a very personal understanding of the importance of a cathedral as a spiritual home within a diocese. He recounted the following story in the official brochure about the renovation.

“I am keenly aware of the fact that this is a treasure that we could lose. I was rector of the St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison, WI when it was set on fire by an arsonist. To experience standing on the street as these brave firefighters were trying to put this fire to rest, then to have the building gone with a sudden whoosh—I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It motivates me because I know what the loss of a cathedral means to a diocese. Suddenly there wasn’t a place to come for special events, to ordain priests, to celebrate enduring marriages, and to bless the oils in the same way that the Cathedral allows,” Bishop Swain wrote.

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Laity must bear witness to Christ, says Cardinal Bertone

Assisi, Italy, Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - During a Mass this week in Assisi celebrating the 10th anniversary of the reopening of the Basilica of St. Francis, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, reminded the Catholic laity that they must bear “concrete witness that Christ the King, the liberator and savior of every man and all mankind.”

During the Mass celebrated on Sunday, Cardinal Bertone said the laity, in light of their baptism, are called to bear witness to Christ and help the poor and marginalized feel closeness to Him.

The cardinal added that the royalty of Christ, “passed on to you through the Cross, continues to be made manifest to the world today through the community of the redeemed,” that is, through Christians.

For this reason, the laity have the task of “working for the promotion of the human person, animating the temporal realities with the gospel spirit and thus bearing concrete witness that Christ the King is the liberator and savior of every man and all mankind.”

“To serve and to reign, says an ancient formula used for catechetical teaching. Christ the King has reigned on the wood of the cross, after giving an example to the disciples with the washing of the feet.  St. Francis reigned loving 'sister poverty,' dressing only in a habit and animated by a sincere love for his Lord and for the poor,” the cardinal said.

“We, dear brothers and sisters, should follow our path of faith to share, on the day of our death, the same crown of glory,” he added.

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Reported hate crimes against U.S. Catholics up by nearly 25 percent

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - New FBI statistics on hate crimes show a nine percent increase in crimes against religious groups in 2008 and an almost 25 percent increase in reported hate crimes against Catholics.

Last year there were 1,519 incidents classified as hate crimes based on a victim’s religion, USA Today reports. Anti-Jewish attacks made up nearly two of every six incidents, but there were 75 such crimes against Catholics. This is an increase from 61 in 2007.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights told USA Today that he had never seen the country so culturally divided and polarized.

Speaking in more detail with CNA, he remarked that increased outspokenness among Catholic bishops and laity may have caused some retaliation.

“Lay Catholics are following the energy from the bishops who are becoming more vocal than they have been,” he commented.

In Donohue’s view, same-sex “marriage,” abortion, and protections conscientious objections are particular issues of public controversy.

“Proposition 8 in California last November led to violence against Catholics – many who were Latinos,” Donohue commented, referring to the successful California ballot measure which restored the definition of marriage to being between a man and a woman.

“You have to accept that there are some nasty things done, but you can't let that scare you. They want to intimidate people of faith.”

Donohue said he thinks the culture is “at a turning point.”

“I see no way around it than to continue speaking out.”

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Massachusetts priest and sister honored for service to black Catholics

Boston, Mass., Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - A priest and a religious sister of Massachusetts have been honored for their service to the black Catholic community.

On Nov. 21 Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley presented the Bishop James Augustine Healy Award to Fr. Russell Best, former pastor of St. John-St. Hugh Church in Boston and former chaplain for the Division of Youth Services, Matignon High School and Cathedral High School.

The award which bears Bishop Healy’s name honors him as the first African-American bishop in the United States. The bishop, who lived from 1830 to 1900, was the second bishop of Portland, Maine and a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Healy Award is presented to an individual who has exemplified strong, effective leadership and service in the black Catholic community, the Boston Pilot reports.

Also honored was Sr. Mary Hart, RGS. She received the Robert L. Ruffin Award for helping young people in the Roxbury area receive a quality education though the after school program she developed at St. Phillip-St. Francis Parish in Roxbury. She is now engaged in similar service at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Roxbury.

The award’s namesake, Robert Leo Ruffin, was a prominent black Catholic from Boston and one of the main supporters of the first Black Catholic Congress held in Washington, D.C. in 1889.

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EU commission strikes down British religious freedom exemptions from anti-discrimination law

London, England, Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - The European Union has compelled the British government to remove religious freedom exemptions from an anti-discrimination bill. The move will forbid church bodies from declining to employ homosexual staff.

The National Secular Society had argued that the exemptions went further than was permitted under an EU directive and created “illegal discrimination against homosexuals,” the Observer reports.

The EU commission agreed, ruling that the exemptions are “broader than that permitted by the directive.”

The British government must now redraft anti-discrimination laws. The new proposals would allow religious organizations to decline to employ homosexuals only if their job involves actively promoting or practicing a religion.

The prior law allowed religious groups to refuse to employ homosexuals “so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers.”

Homosexual activist Peter Tatchell claimed that the ruling was “a significant victory for gay equality” and a “serious setback” for religious employers who had been granted exemption. According to the Guardian, he said the move was a “big embarrassment” for the British government, which he claimed has “consistently sought to appease religious homophobes.”

The Christian charity, Care was critical of the decision, the Guardian says.

“If evangelical churches cannot be sure that they can employ practicing evangelicals with respect to sexual ethics, how will they be able to continue?” the organization asked.

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Proclaim Christ and promote reconciliation, Pope Benedict urges Vietnamese Catholics

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - The Holy Father has sent a message to Vietnamese Catholics who recently opened their Jubilee Year marking the 350th anniversary of Catholic vicariates in the country.  In the text, made public today, the Pope encouraged evangelization and the promotion of reconciliation.


In his letter, addressed to the Vietnamese bishop’s conference, the Pope remarked that the opening of the year coincided with the feast of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs.  He expressed hope that their courageous example “may help the People of God in Vietnam to intensify their charity, increase their hope and consolidate their faith, which daily life sometimes tests very harshly."


The Holy Father likewise recalled how the opening celebrations took place at So-Kien in the archdiocese of Hanoi, location of the first apostolic vicariate in Vietnam, and expressed the hope that this site may become "the center for a profound evangelization which brings Vietnamese society the Gospel values of charity, truth, justice and rectitude. Such values, if lived following Christ, take on a new dimension which surpasses their traditional moral sense, because they are anchored in God Who desires the good and happiness of all creatures."


"The Jubilee Year," he wrote, "is a time of grace in which to reconcile ourselves with God and our fellow man. To this end, we should recognize past and present errors committed against brothers in the faith and against fellow countrymen, and ask for forgiveness. At the same time, it would be appropriate to commit to increasing and enriching ecclesial communion, and to building a more just, united, equal society through authentic dialogue, mutual respect and healthy collaboration. The Jubilee is also a special time given to us to renew the announcement of the Gospel to everyone, and to become, to an ever greater degree, a Church of communion and mission."


The Holy Father concluded the message by assuring the religious and Catholic laity in the country that they are “ever present in my thoughts and daily prayers.”  Turning to the bishops, he encouraged them "to bear witness with courage and perseverance to the greatness of God and the beauty of life in Christ."


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Association in favor of crucifixes in schools to march on St. Peter's square

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - This Sunday, an Association called "Piccola Chiesa" a Movement for Family Love, is planning a march on St. Peter's square in Rome in protest of the recent European legislation barring the crucifix from being displayed in Italian public schools.  The event is being organized as a way to reaffirm the crucifix as "a sign of faith and universal fraternity and a symbol of Italian, and European, art and culture."

The Roman diocesan newspaper, Roma Sette, has announced that the initiative is being carried out to show support for "the love of the cross."  Members of the group will be walking across the heart of Rome to the Vatican doorstep in protest of legislation passed by the EU Human Rights Court on November 3rd of this year. 

Italian national Soile Lautsi originally took the issue to the Strasbourg-based court saying that crucifixes in classrooms infringed on her right to give her kids a secular education.  Widespread debate has swept the country since the court ruled in her favor.

Among the most popular arguments against the measure is that it removes a an important part of the 'Italian identity.' 

The march will begin nearly a mile from St. Peter's at the Church of Santa Maria of Vallicella and will have protesters arriving at the square in time to participate in Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus.

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Downtown Chicago Nativity Scene to be dedicated Saturday

Chicago, Ill., Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) -

The Chicago Nativity Scene will be dedicated in Daly Plaza in downtown on Saturday, Nov. 28 at 11 a.m., organizers have announced. The tradition was born in controversy in the 1980s when the city ordered its display permit revoked and the display itself to be destroyed.

The life-sized crèche has been an annual tradition at the plaza since 1985, Nativity Scene Committee co-chair Terrance Hodges said in a press release. He reported that it is the “sole religious expression of Christmas” on a government plaza in downtown Chicago.

A group of volunteer tradesmen known as The God Squad will erect the scene and install the lighting. They have done so for the past 23 years.

R. Stephen Lesniewski of Immaculate Conception Parish on Chicago’s southwest side will bless the crèche. Other members of the clergy will offer prayers.

Children in attendance will place the Infant Jesus in the manger. Display organizers said this marks “the continued return of the Christ Child to His rightful place in the hearts of the Chicago community.”

The bell choir from Santa Maria del Popolo Catholic Church in Mundelein, Illinois will perform and Christmas hymns will be sung.

Until 1985 the City of Chicago had erected a Nativity Scene in the lobby of City Hall each year during the Christmas season, a history of the display written by Terrence Hodges says.

In October 1985 Sylvia Neil, the Midwest Legal Director for the American Jewish Congress, asked the city not allow the Nativity Scene. The American Jewish Congress sued the city and initially lost, but won the appeal in a 1987 decision at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

City attorney Judson Miner did not appeal the decision. According to Hodges, he told backers of the display that it violated the separation of church and state and that it was “time to get rid of that thing.”

A group decided to erect the Nativity Scene in Daley Plaza across the street and secured a permit from the Public Building Commission to place a small Nativity Scene. The Commission, under pressure from the American Jewish Congress, reversed its decision to issue the permit and ordered county employees to demolish the Nativity Scene.

The demolition, which was broadcast on prime time television, caused protest from around the world.

In 1989 a federal judge ruled that the Public Building Commission could not discriminate against all forms of religious expression and allowed the Nativity Scene. Opposing the decision were the American Jewish Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Atheists and various signatories of a petition.

The Nativity Scene will remain in Daley Plaza throughout the Christmas season.

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International Theological Commission to discuss ‘theological methodology’ at plenary session

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2009 (CNA) - The International Theological Commission is scheduled to celebrate the first plenary session of its new five-year term Nov. 30 – Dec. 4.  During the session, the commission will decide which questions will be discussed over the new term.


The commission is presided over by Cardinal William Joseph Levada and will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.


According to a communiqué published by the commission, members will also discuss "the important question of theological methodology," which was also a topic examined “during the last five-year term.”


Members of the International Theological Commission will also be invited to participate in a Mass celebrated by the Holy Father at the Apostolic Palace.

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