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Archive of February 7, 2010

Church honors patron of Sudan, St. Josephine Bakhita

CNA STAFF, Feb 7, 2010 (CNA) - On Monday, February 8, the Church will commemorate the life of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian Sister who kidnapped and sold into slavery in Sudan.

Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869, in a small village in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was kidnapped while working in the fields with her family and subsequently sold into slavery. Her captors asked for her name but she was too terrified to remember so they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate” in Arabic.

Retrospectively, Bakhita was very fortunate, but the first years of her life do not necessarily attest to it. She was tortured by her various owners who branded her, beat and cut her. In her biography she notes one particularly terrifying moment when one of her masters cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to ensure that the scars remained.  “I felt I was going to die any moment, especially when they rubbed me in with the salt,” Bakhita wrote.

She bore her suffering valiantly though she did not know Christ or the redemptive nature of suffering. She also had a certain awe for the world and its creator. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: 'Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?' And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage.”

After being sold a total of five times, Bakhita was purchased by Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.  Two years later, he took Bakhita to Italy to work as a nanny for his colleague, Augusto Michieli.  He, in turn, sent Bakhita to accompany his daughter to a school in Venice run by the Canossian Sisters.

Bakhita felt called to learn more about the Church, and was baptized with the name “Josephine Margaret.” In the meantime, Michieli wanted to take Josephine and his daughter back to Sudan, but Josephine refused to return. 

The disagreement escalated and was taken to the Italian courts where it was ruled that Josephine could stay in Italy because she was a free woman.  Slavery was not recognized in Italy and it had also been illegal in Sudan since before Josephine had been born.

Josephine remained in Italy and decided to enter Canossians in 1893. She made her profession in 1896 and was sent to Northern Italy, where she dedicated her life to assisting her community and teaching others to love God.

She was known for her smile, gentleness and holiness. She even went on record saying, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”

St. Josephine was beatified in 1992 and canonized shortly after on October 2000 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first person to be canonized from Sudan and is the patron saint of the country.

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Coalition seeks repeal of Klan-era ban on religious garb in Oregon schools

Eugene, Ore., Feb 7, 2010 (CNA) - Religious freedom advocates have asked the Oregon legislature for an immediate repeal of a decades-old law that bars Oregon teachers from wearing religious dress in public schools. The law, originally an anti-Catholic measure, was implemented with the support of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

Current Oregon law bars religious Jews from wearing yarmulkes, religious Sikhs from wearing turbans, and religious Muslim women from wearing a headscarf.

According to the Oregonian, the law was designed to prevent priests and nuns from wearing their clerics and habits in the classroom. It was part of a bill that barred Japanese-Americans from owning property in the state.

A coalition of interfaith civil rights and bar association organizations, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, sent a letter to state legislative leaders asking for the repeal of the law.

“It is amazing that Oregon, of all places, would want to keep religious minorities from getting a fair shot at public school jobs,” Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director at the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund, said in a press release. “Why should anyone care if Mr. Singh wears a turban while teaching physics class?”

The law was upheld in a 1986 Oregon Supreme Court decision. The Oregonian reports that the court sided with the Eugene School District when it fired a Sikh teacher for wearing a turban, as is required by her faith.

The Oregon ACLU is leading supporters of the ban on religious clothing. They have argued that allowing religious clothing could lead to the indoctrination of children.

Oregon ACLU director David Fidanque has told the Oregonian that repealing the law could endanger the “religious neutrality” of public schools.

He reported his organization has received many complaints charging that some schools do too much to promote Christianity. Fidanque also voiced concern that lifting the ban on religious dress could lead some teachers to wear Jesus T-shirts or take other steps to evangelize at school.

Rassbach was critical of the ACLU affiliate’s support for the ban.

“You wouldn’t think that the ACLU would be channeling the Klan. But sadly the ACLU is doing everything it can to keep religious Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, and Catholics from being public school teachers.”

Oregon is one of three states that forbid public school teachers from wearing religious dress in the classroom.

Other laws backed by the Klan in Oregon included a 1922 law which required children to attend public schools, threatening the existence of Catholic parochial schools. A Catholic religious order helped launch legal challenges to the law, which was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1925 ruling Pierce v. Society of Sisters.

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Cincinnati archbishop holds video conference with high school students

Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb 7, 2010 (CNA) - The new Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis Schnurr on Thursday held a video conference with nine Cincinnati-area Catholic high schools. He took questions from students in the archdiocese’s widest test of the technology yet.

The 61-year-old Archbishop Schnurr conducted the event while seated among two dozen La Salle High School seniors in the school’s media library. The Cincinnati Inquirer reports that small real-time images of students at the other schools appeared on a web page that was projected onto a wall’s large white screen.

The technology, an internet videoconferencing service that costs about $400 per month, generally worked throughout the event. Those schools with technical difficulties had their students text message or phone their comments.

Students reported that some questions were prepared or refined by adults.

Responding to one question, the archbishop explained that his first priorities are to spread Jesus’ teachings and to get youth more involved in the Church.

La Salle senior Andrew Engel voiced concern that many parishes don’t have youth ministries.

Archbishop Schnurr said that parishes should incorporate young people into their councils and committees.

"But I also encourage young people not to stand back and wait to be invited," he said. "Step forward and say you want to be part of this."

Students asked about just war ethics, whether the archbishop was concerned about losing Catholics to large non-denominational Protestant churches, and what he planned to do to bring more young people into the priesthood.

Other questions concerned falling Catholic school enrollments and how to increase pay for Catholic school teachers.

The archbishop reported that lay people such as financial professionals, attorneys, business owners and doctors are offering him help to find better ways to funds schools and teacher’s salaries.

"Over the years our schools have become out of range for some families who live in poverty," he said. "Our schools are there to present the teachings of Christ to everyone."

Archbishop Schnurr, who owns an iPhone, added that the Catholic Church should deliver Christ’s teaching in new ways, using technology. He encouraged churches and schools to promote a “culture of vocations’ so youth can hear God’s call.

"This is venturing into a whole area of communications that is new to me," the archbishop said of the video conference. "But I think it's good."

He told the Cincinnati Inquirer the technology may be a valuable communication method for the archdiocese, which covers 19 Ohio counties with 114 schools and almost 45,000 students.

David Volk, La Salle’s technology director, said that Archbishop Schnurr could hold “fireside chats” with parishioners without leaving his office.

"I wouldn't say this is cutting-edge technology, but it's pretty awesome for a high school to do," he remarked.

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God's grace makes it possible for weak men to answer 'divine call,' declares Pope

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2010 (CNA) -

Pope Benedict XVI tailored his message before the Sunday Angelus around the "divine call" of the Lord presented in today's Liturgy. The Holy Father taught that through the examples of Isaiah, Peter and Paul man can realize his "call," regardless of the limitations.

First, said the Pope, there is Isaiah, who responds "Here I am Lord, send me!" after being fearful and feeling undeserving before the Lord. Then, there is Simon Peter and the other disciples who cast their nets at the bidding of Jesus and find fish where there were none. When the "overabundant catch" is landed, Simon Peter tells the Lord, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man," but the Lord invites him and the others to leave everything and follow him as "fishers of men."

Paul is also struck by his unworthiness to be called an apostle because of his history of Christian persecution, but he recognizes the changes that have taken place in him due to the grace of God, the Holy Father pointed out. With the grace of God, St. Paul dedicated himself to preaching the Gospel, despite his limitations, the Pope said.

"In these three experiences we see how the true encounter with God brings man to recognize his own poverty and inadequacy, his own limits and sin. "But," said Pope Benedict, "regardless of the fragility, the Lord, rich in mercy and forgiveness, transforms the life of man and he calls him to follow him."

The humilty of these three witnesses in Sunday's Liturgy "invites all who have received the gift of the divine vocation to not concentrate on their own limits, but to keep a fixed gaze on the Lord and on his surprising mercy, to convert their hearts and continue, with joy, to 'give up everything' for Him," Benedict XVI taught.

The Lord sees the heart of man, and makes "intrepid apostles and announcers of salvation" of weak and poor, but faithful, men.

In conclusion, noting the occasion of the Year for Priests, the Holy Father prayed to "the Patron of Masses" to send workers that know how to respond to the Lord's invitation to follow him with generosity, "not trusting in their own strength, opening themselves to the action of His grace."

"In particular," he finished, "I invite all priests to revive their generous availability to respond each day to the call of the Lord with the same humility and faith of Isaiah, Peter and Paul."

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Benedict XVI joins Italy in celebrating National Day for Life

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2010 (CNA) - Following the recitation of the Angelus on a crisp, clear winter day in Vatican City, Pope Benedict expressed his solidarity with the Italian bishops in celebrating the "National Day for Life." The Holy Father reiterated his call for integral human development in the fight against poverty.

The "National Day for Life" is celebrated throughout Italy on the first Sunday of February. Pope Benedict XVI joined in the Day's 2010 observation as he dedicated his post-Angelus message to the cause.

Referring to the current global economic crisis, he pointed out that "mechanisms" that hurt and offend life have become increasingly dramatic these days, "producing poverty and strong social inequalities" and "striking the weakest and most defenseless."

This climate, he continued, leads us to recognize the need to work for the promotion of "an integral human development to overcome indigence and need, this above all reminds us that the goal of man is not well-being, but God himself, and that human existence must be defended and promoted in every one of its stages."

"In fact, no one," emphasized the Holy Father, "is the owner of his own life, but we are all called to protect and respect it, from the moment of conception to its natural passing."

Pope Benedict XVI closed by expressing his appreciation for all people who work directly with children, the sick and elderly. He also said that he hopes the initiative will succeed and offered his encouragement to those engaged in supporting life and the family.

One of the events that took place in preparation for the 32nd annual Day for Life in Italy was the Italian-language release of the award-winning film "Bella" on Jan. 26.

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