Little Rock, Ark., Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) - Spring-like weather greeted the nearly 1,700 Catholics who arrived in downtown Little Rock from across the diocese Jan. 17 for the annual Mass for Life at the Statehouse Convention Center and the March for Life, which followed.
Couples and families were joined by Catholic youth participating in the annual Weekend Extravaganza at the Mass. Afterwards, they walked from the convention center to the starting point for the march only a block away from the Cathedral of St. Andrew. There they joined several thousand others from different faith groups.
"This is the second year we have participated," said Ignacio Alvarez, a member of St. Edward Church in Little Rock. "We brought all our children, four, so they can learn that we have to respect life. As Catholics we have the responsibility to tell others what life signifies and defend life."
Judy Timmerman, a member of St. Jude Church in Jacksonville, said she always attends the Mass for Life. She said before she joined the Catholic Church, she was pro-choice but then had a conversion experience.
"We believe in the sanctity of life, and that life begins at conception," she said. "So many people don't seem to understand that. And I had someone close to me who has had several abortions."
Alex Glennon, a member of St. Raphael Church in Springdale and a junior at Rogers High School, said she attended the Mass for Life and March for Life for the first time in 2009.
"I hope to be able to change peoples' minds on abortion to where they don't make the decision of killing," she said.
Glennon said she and her father had talked someone they knew out of considering an abortion and to put the baby up for adoption instead.
"A child should not pay for people's mistakes," she said.
"It is important to be here because my wife had an abortion in 1990," said Jose Galvan, a member of St. Edward Church in Texarkana. "I hope everyone tries to hold on to their children because there is no other life than what God gives us. God gives us life, God takes it away from us when he wants. Never stop loving your children."
During the Mass, more than 100 people lined up to take red roses to the altar during the offertory in memory of children who died. The Book of Innocents was presented by Ashley and Jared Hess, members of St. Peter Church in Wynne who lost a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2008.
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor spoke about the culture of life and the culture of death. Bishop Taylor recalled that while he was in high school, a girl who, because she was pregnant and not married, went to Kansas, stayed with an aunt and gave her baby up for adoption. Others also went to Kansas, but to get abortions. A year later the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
"Prior to 1973 we lived in a country that protected children with laws prohibiting abortion -- giving people legal incentives to do the right thing, despite whatever predicament they were in," the bishop said. "But now our laws give people incentives to do the wrong thing. Most of those who get abortions do not intend murder, they are just scared and it is easy to be seduced into thinking that since it is legal it cannot be all that bad. But it is. Every abortion leaves one dead and one wounded: both are victims. The child is dead and the mother has been violated, scarred for life."
The bishop also urged people to do what they can to make sure that the health care reform excludes government or employer-mandated funding for abortion and include conscience protection for health care providers, plans and employers.
"Genuine health care reform must be affordable and must protect the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, especially the poor and vulnerable -- including immigrants," he said. "And I very much encourage you to contact our legislators and let them know that your support depends on the bill not advancing a pro-abortion agenda in any way."
After Mass, marchers, estimated by some at between 4,000 and 5,000, walked up Capitol Avenue to the steps of the state capitol, and the rally began.
Three women shared their personal stories on abortion and how they were healed.
The Rev. Pat Odom, pastor of the Marysville and Dumas United Methodist churches, spoke about the need for healing after an abortion and how she achieved it through Project Rachel, the post-abortion ministry of the Diocese of Little Rock.
"God took away my shame," she said. "He used a process that began shortly after the birth of my first child."
She spoke about the thrill of holding her first child in her arms, but she had terminated two untimely pregnancies before the child was born.
"Project Rachel is for Catholics, for non-Catholics and even for those who don't yet believe in the Creator of all God's children," she said.
Printed with permission from the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock.
Port au Prince, Haiti, Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) - Father Augustin Almy, a diocesan priest who was in the Port-au-Prince seminary at the time of its collapse on January 12, spoke to CNA this week sharing the story of his survival and describing the devastation in Haiti following the earthquake.
Speaking to CNA outside the remains of the seminary this week, Fr. Almy explained that at the time of the earthquake, he was in his second-floor room of the seminary watching television. “Suddenly I heard a noise...then I saw the walls coming down as the whole house began to collapse.”
“After about five or six minutes there was silence. I got out and saw that the seminary was completely destroyed. I tried to get back in but it was impossible. The seminarians were scared, and I realized I had escaped death,” the priest said.
Fr. Almy noted that there “are still some seminarians missing, but we can tell from the smell coming from inside that they have died.” Also, he continued, “we cannot find a professor of canon law and have not been able to access his room to see if he is dead or alive.”
Not only did the seminary collapse, but “the chapel was totally destroyed and we cannot celebrate Mass there. We have to celebrate outside.”
Speaking about the immediate needs they have, Father Almy said it was urgent that “the few possessions that remain be secured. Looters are coming from all over and they don’t realize that the seminary is not disappearing. We have to continue forward despite the catastrophe.”
“We also need to recover the bodies of the deceased out of respect and to prevent the spread of disease. Friends are helping us with food and water,” but “we are without power,” the priest said.
Biloxi, Miss., Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) - An American volunteer in Haiti has stepped up to the challenge of helping the country cope with the aftermath of the massive earthquake that flattened the city of Port-au-Prince last week. Elissa Kergosien, of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, returned to Haiti just before the earthquake hit and feels herself to be “in the center of God's will.”
Kergosien, a recent college graduate, was interviewed by the Diocese of Biloxi's Gulf Pine Catholic just days before the 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.
She told the newspaper that her decision to spend a year at the Louverture Cleary School as a volunteer teacher wasn't a difficult one. Her parents had involved their family in missionary work for a long time, from countries in Eastern Europe to the Dominican Republic.
Though she had worked with the poor before, “It was still kind of shocking to see the poverty that exists in Haiti. It was shocking to see all the malnourished children in the neighborhood surrounding the school. They’re happy children, but they have bloated stomachs and it was shocking to know that it’s just a 90-minute plane ride from Miami and people are dying from malnutrition.”
During a brief visit to the U.S., Elissa spoke at her home parish and raised $1,500 for the school in Haiti. “It’s a school that completely supported by U.S. parishes and donations and it’s doing incredible work in Haiti,” she said. “It’s raising up a generation of leaders in Haiti who are going to help to rebuild the country. These are children who are dedicated to staying in the country and using what they’ve gained at this school to become leaders in government or become doctors to help their country.”
And on January 10, Elissa Kergosien boarded the plane to return to Haiti for the spring semester. On January 12, the infamous earthquake hit the country. Kergosien’s parents, who still reside in Bay St. Louis, found out about the quake on the ABC News website.
Her mother told the Gulf Pine Catholic, “I called Patrick Moynihan (the President of The Haitian Project, which runs the Louverture Cleary School) and he told me that he had spoken to Elissa just prior to my call and that the school buildings had not collapsed, and no one was killed. A few children were injured, but no life threatening injuries.”
The subsequent aftershocks knocked out all communication with the school. A day later, a missionary from an organization nearby stopped by the school and offered internet access to Kergosien. She was able to send an email to her family, and has kept the outside world updated as to the status of the school and country.
Elissa’s family is just happy to know that she is doing all right and that she “has made the instant transition from teacher to relief worker and has adjusted well.” “They are doing a very good work and we should not worry. She says she is where she is supposed to be and that we are to trust that she is in God's hands and all will be well,” Carolyn Kergosien said.
For more information abou The Haitian Project, visit: http://haitianproject.org/
Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) - Speaking to Catholic News Agency, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) has repeated his opposition to funding abortion in the proposed health care bill. Though not confident his amendment will be in the draft of the final bill, he said further negotiation is needed. He believes he has enough votes to affect the final outcome.
The Congressman added that he appreciates the dedication of those willing to “stand up for life” at the March for Life on Friday, the anniversary of the pro-abortion rights Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
In a Friday interview, CNA asked Rep. Stupak if he was confident the Stupak-Pitts Amendment would be included in the health care legislation.
“Am I confident? No. It will not be in the draft of the final bill,” he replied. “We will have to negotiate.”
Rep. Stupak explained that if there is negotiation on the funding provisions of the bill, the Stupak Amendment will be germane to the discussion.
However, if the negotiations are focused on insurance reform and consumer protection, “there may not be an opportunity to insert the Stupak Amendment into the legislation.”
Stupak told CNA he believes he has enough votes to affect the outcome of health care legislation.
The congressman then described the debate leading to the first vote on the Stupak Amendment, adding that it had been important to “hold the line.”
“I was confident we’d have the votes if we held the line on the Hyde language in the Stupak Amendment,” he continued, referring to the Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion funding.
“Not everybody was as confident as me.”
Rep. Stupak insisted that pro-lifers were “absolutely not” imposing their values on others with the proposal.
He noted that 55 percent of the newly elected members of Congress opposed public funding for abortion or for insurance policies that provide abortion coverage. He also cited strong public opposition to such funding.
“Most Americans agree with me.”
About 24 of the 64 other Democratic supporters of the Stupak Amendment were pro-choice, he told CNA.
He accused abortion funding proponents themselves of trying to “impose their values against the wishes of the American people.”
Before his amendment, he said, both the House and Senate health care bills required enrollees to pay one dollar per month for “reproductive rights,” which included abortion services.
“That was a mandate, you had to do it. If anyone was imposing their moral viewpoint it was the pro-choice side,” Rep. Stupak insisted.
In the course of his interview with CNA, Stupak also discussed his pro-life convictions.
Support for the right to life has “always been my position,” he said.
He explained that most legislators from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula favor the right to life whether they are Democrats or Republicans. “It’s just who we are up here,” he said.
Asked about his Catholic upbringing, Rep. Stupak said his father was in seminary but left six months short of being ordained to the priesthood.
“I went to Catholic school, my wife went to Catholic school, our sons went to Catholic schools. There’s always been a certain Catholic influence in our families. Both my wife and I have been very strong.”
He added that the U.S. Catholic bishops have been “great to work with” on the pro-life issue.
CNA noted that the March for Life was taking place in Washington, D.C. and asked the Congressman if he would like to address the participants.
“I appreciate their dedication and their willingness to stand up for life,” he replied. “And I certainly appreciate all their help and support and prayers as we fought this amendment on the House floor and we continue to fight this amendment. We must keep the policy as it is, no funding on abortion.”
Spokane, Wash., Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) - The U.S. Supreme Court has said it will hear a case concerning whether the Washington Secretary of State may release the names and addresses of the more than 138,000 people who signed a pro-marriage petition in the state. The case could affect attempts to organize protest and intimidation on the internet.
Protect Marriage Washington led the state initiative Referendum 71, which failed to pass in the 2009 election. It would have preserved the unique place of marriage by rescinding the state legislature’s expansion of homosexual domestic partnership benefits.
Proponents of Ref. 71 have said that the availability of personal information on the internet has led to the “harassment and intimidation” of those who support traditional marriage. A press release said supporters have been subject to death threats, physical violence, and property damage because of laws requiring the publication of the information on the internet.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case that seeks to protect the rights of citizens who support a traditional definition of marriage to speak freely and without fear,” said the lead counsel for Protect Marriage, James Bopp, Jr. of the Indiana law firm Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom.
“No citizen should ever worry that they will be threatened or injured because they have exercised their right to engage in the political process.”
Bopp argued that the First Amendment protects citizens from being required to disclose their identity when they are engaged in political speech. He noted that the Supreme Court stayed the release of the names in 2009, saying this indicated the high court recognizes the importance of the case.
Front Royal, Va., Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) - Students at Christendom College have launched a fundraising effort for victims of the Haitian earthquake, pledging their support to a mission on the Haitian border.
The funds will be directed to the St. Francis of Assisi Mission in Banica in the Dominican Republic. Funds will be used to purchase relief supplies, such as blankets, food, water and medical supplies.
The mission is sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington and has been the destination of many mission trips from Christendom. According to the college, the student Outreach Club is leading the donation drive.
“Though the devastation of this earthquake has created serious obstacles for countless people, it has also created an opportunity—an opportunity to act in a spirit of service and charity,” explained Sarah Miranda, a senior at Christendom who is president of Outreach. "These people are battling hunger and hopelessness caused by the deaths of loved ones and the deprivation of their basic necessities: food, water, shelter, and clothing."
Also noting the essential role of prayer, Miranda said a donation would help an effort that can “turn despair into hope.”
Brian Gallagher, another Christendom senior, said he had an “incredible experience” in a 2008 visit to Haiti.
“I saw their poverty firsthand and even visited a medical clinic,” Gallagher commented. “They needed our help before the earthquake and now their needs are only rising. We must act out of charity to help those less fortunate. This is an amazing opportunity for us to come together and make a little sacrifice that could save lives."
The Outreach Club will host an on-campus fundraising concert featuring country, folk and Irish music.
More information on Christendom College’s relief effort is available at http://www.christendom.edu/haiti.
Vatican City, Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) -
In his message for the 44th World Day for Social Communications, Pope Benedict calls for priests to "make astute use" of available technology in becoming a presence as community leaders on the web. However, he urges them to remain "less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart."
The 2010 World Day for Social Communications will take place on May 16 under the theme "The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word." The Holy Father’s message was released today.
The aim of this year's message is to draw attention to the possibilities for priestly ministry offered within the "important and sensitive pastoral area of digital communications."
For every priest, states the Holy Father in the message, fulfilling the fundamental priority of building up God's communion "necessarily involves using new communications technologies."
"Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word."
Pope Benedict emphasizes that "broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis" can be opened up in cyberspace with the presence of priests, living out their traditional role as community leaders in the world of digital communication.
With proper formation on how to use these technologies appropriately and competently, "shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord" priests have the opportunity to "introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ."
"Yet," cautions the Holy Father, "priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ."
With their wisdom and preparation, he continues, priests' presence online "will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a 'soul' to the fabric of communications that makes up the 'Web’."
"A pastoral presence in the world of digital communications, precisely because it brings us into contact with the followers of other religions, non-believers and people of every culture, requires sensitivity to those who do not believe, the disheartened and those who have a deep, unarticulated desire for enduring truth and the absolute."
The Pope reiterates the essential quality of the priest's spiritual life and solid grounding in faith to his ministry through new technologies at the end of the message, saying that he "must always bear in mind that the ultimate fruitfulness of their ministry comes from Christ himself, encountered and listened to in prayer; proclaimed in preaching and lived witness; and known, loved and celebrated in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation."
The message ends with a renewed invitation to the clergy, "to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new "agorà" (gathering place) which the current media are opening up."
Vatican City, Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) -
The Press Office of the Holy See has released the content of two letters written by Pope Benedict XVI to leaders in Haiti following the country’s devastating earthquake. In the notes, the Holy Father expressed the solidarity of the Church with the people of Haiti and the intention of Church institutions to do everything in their power to create a “better future.”
In separate letters sent on Jan. 16 to the President of Haiti, Rene Preval, and the president of the Haitian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Archbishop of Cap-Haitien Louis Kebreau, the Holy Father transmitted his "fervent prayer for all of the people touched by this dreadful catastrophe" and assured the presence of the Catholic Church in providing continued assistance to the tragedy’s victims.
He expressed his prayer that God take the deceased into "the peace of his Kingdom," especially Archbishop Serge Miot "who shared the fate of so many of his faithful." The Pontiff also asked for consolation for the families of victims, "who, often, haven't been able to give a decent burial to their disappeared loved ones."
The Holy Father hailed the quick response of the international community in coming to the aid of the Haitian people and assured President Preval of the Catholic Church's intentions to stay beside those affected by the disaster and to do everything possible to help give them a “better future.”
In the letter to the archbishop, the Pope also pledged the continued presence of the Catholic Church in providing emergency aid and "patient" reconstruction in devastated areas. He then entrusted the hearts of the people to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, that she direct them to choose solidarity over isolation.
Vatican City, Jan 23, 2010 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the election of the new Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church in a letter on January 22. In it, the Holy Father expressed his prayer that the new leader have the "inner strength to consolidate the unity and spiritual growth of the Serbian Orthodox Church."
The Pope began his letter by praying that the Lord grant the new Patriarch “abundant gifts of grace and wisdom for the fulfillment of (his) high responsibilities in the service of the Church” and the people entrusted to him.
The 80-year-old Irinej Gavrilovica, previously Bishop of Nis, became the 45th Serbian Patriarch when he was enthroned on Saturday in Belgrade in the first act of a two-part ceremony, the second is to take place in Pec, Kosovo.
On his first day as the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church he reaffirmed the Church's rejection of a divided Serbia and Kosovo.
Serbia and Kosovo have been at odds since the latter declared independence in 2008.
According to a BBC report, upon his installment he said "Our first duty as a Church is to safeguard our Kosovo, a holy and martyred land, to help our state to defend it from those who wish to seize it."
"Kosovo is our holy land, our Jerusalem."
He asked if they would be allowed to visit the relics of the Church as they completed the ceremony in Pec.
"Without them, Serbia is not Serbia, without Kosovo it is deprived of its heart and soul."
In his letter, the Pope remembered fondly the previous leader of the Serbian Church, Patriarch Pavle, whom he called "a great pastor and spiritual father," in maintaining the unity of the Church and making "many gestures of openness to the Catholic Church."
Patriarch Pavle had died in November of 2009 at the age of 95.
The Pope finished his message to the new Patriarch with a prayer "that the Lord will grant Your Holiness the inner strength to consolidate the unity and spiritual growth of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as to build up the fraternal bonds with other Churches and ecclesial communities."