Archive of February 21, 2010

Catholic Church shows ‘robust’ growth in U.S. membership, new report says

Washington D.C., Feb 21, 2010 (CNA) - The Catholic Church’s membership in the United States grew at the “robust” rate of about 1.5 percent in 2008, according to National Council of Churches’ (NCC) new 2010 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

A slight loss in Catholic membership in the U.S. was reported in the 2009 Yearbook, but the NCC said the latest figure shows “robust growth.” The figures come from 2008 statistics. The growth outpaces the estimated U.S. population growth rate in 2008, listed as 0.9 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

There are now an estimated 68.1 million Catholics in the United States.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose members are known as Mormons, grew 1.7 percent to almost 5.9 million members. The Assemblies of God grew 1.3 percent to about 2.9 million.

Other denominations lost membership. The Presbyterian Church (USA) shrank 3.3 percent and now has about 2.9 million members. American Baptist Churches in the USA decreased two percent to 1.4 million, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 1.9 percent of its membership, which now stands at 4.7 million.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination after Catholics, lost 0.24 percent of its membership and now stands at 16.2 million. It also declined in membership in the year prior.

Membership figures reported in the 2010 Yearbook were collected by the churches in 2008 and reported to the Yearbook in 2009. Eleven of the 25 largest churches did not report updated figures.

The Yearbook shows a decline in reported membership of almost all mainline Protestant denominations.

Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the NCC Yearbook, said that some observers have seen an “increasing secularization” in American society that has a disproportionate impact on “liberal religious groups.”

However, she was cautious about attributing causes of membership decline.

"American society as a whole has not experienced the kind and rate of secularization so clearly demonstrated during the last quarter century in Western Europe,” Lindner commented. “Indeed, American church membership trends have defied gravity particularly where the Pentecostal experience is included."

She also noted that the largest plurality of immigrants to the U.S. in the last 50 years have been Christian.

The Yearbook also discusses church financial trends. The almost 45 million members of the 64 churches submitting financial income reports showed contributions of almost $36 billion, $26 million lower than the previous year’s figure.

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Pro-life doctors challenge proposed New Zealand abortion guidelines

Aukland, New Zealand, Feb 21, 2010 (CNA) - Pro-life doctors have gone to court to challenge new medical guidelines that require doctors to advise patients who have doubts about continuing a pregnancy that abortion is one of their options.

One of the doctors challenging the guidelines is believed to be Mary English, who is a General Practitioner from Wellington and the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Bill English. According to The New Zealand Herald, Dr. English is a Catholic whose opposition to abortion is widely known. She and her husband have six children.

The doctors filed an application in the country’s High Court concerning the New Zealand Medical Council guidelines, which are titled “Beliefs and Medical Practice.”

The current guidelines note that the law allows doctors to conscientiously refuse to provide a service or give advice on contraception, sterilization or “other reproductive health services.”

The proposed guideline reads:

"While the council recognizes that you are entitled to hold your own beliefs, it remains your responsibility to ensure that a pregnant woman who comes to you for medical care and expresses doubt about continuing with the pregnancy is provided with or is offered access to objective information or assistance to enable her to make informed decisions on all available options for her pregnancy, including termination."

According to The New Zealand Herald, the final version of the document is not available. A spokesman for the Medical Council said changes have been made since the release of the draft but the final text cannot be provided because of the ongoing court action.

The case marks the first time the issue of personal beliefs and abortion has been addressed in Medical Council guidelines. The action follows a similar move in Britain.

Guidelines also cover areas where spiritual, cultural or religious beliefs could conflict with what the Council considers to be patients’ rights. The rules say doctors should set aside their own beliefs where necessary and must make the care of the patient their first concern.

Under New Zealand law, abortions can be performed only if two certifying consultants agree certain factors are present. According to the Herald, these factors include cases of incest or if the mental or physical well-being of the mother or unborn child is at risk.

The country’s Abortion Supervisory Committee appoints the consultants who authorize abortions to take place. Pro-life groups and a High Court judge have questioned the legality of many of these authorized abortions.

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Church to commemorate life of woman with troubled childhood

CNA STAFF, Feb 21, 2010 (CNA) - On Thursday, February 25, the Church will celebrate the life of Blessed Maria Adeodata Pisani, a 19th century candidate for sainthood who lived a serene and quiet life of faith after a tumultuous youth. She was born in Naples, Italy, on December 29, 1806, and was given the name Maria Teresa at baptism.

Maria Teresa's father was an alcoholic and her mother abandoned the marriage, leaving the girl to be cared for by her father's mother. After her grandmother’s death, the 10-year-old was sent to a boarding school until she was 17.

In her youth, Maria Teresa declined several marriage proposals, preferring to lead a quiet life of prayer. She joined the Benedictine Community in St. Peter’s Monastery in 1828, and took the name Maria Adeodata, making her solemn profession two years later.

Her fellow nuns and many people outside the cloister benefited from her acts of charity and saintly life. She looked after the chapel and was a porter, which kept her close to the poor who came seeking help. Maria Adeodata wrote various works, most notably“The mystical garden of the soul that loves Jesus and Mary,” which is a collection of her personal reflections written between 1835 and 1843.

Maria Adeodata also suffered from heart problems. On Feb. 25, 1855, at the age of 48 and in poor health, she dragged herself to the chapel for Mass, against her nurse’s advice. After receiving Communion she had to be carried back to bed, where she died soon afterward. She had a simple funeral and was buried in the monastery’s crypt the following day.

She was beatified by John Paul II in 2001.

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U.S. team beats Brazil in first match of priest/seminarian soccer tournament

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2010 (CNA) - Saturday morning on the artificial turf of the Knights of Columbus soccer field at the Pontifical Oratory of St. Peter, the Pontifical North American College of Rome's soccer team emerged victorious as they played against the formidable Brazilian College. This was the first game of many to be played as part of the 2010 Clericus Cup, a joint Church and Center for Italian Sport-sponsored tournament between 16 teams representing seminaries from all over the world.

Stalwart defenses characterized game play, and as the end of the match approached, both teams remained scoreless. However, with five minutes to play, the "North American Martyrs" struck gold with a header from close range. The goal was celebrated raucously by more than 20 other priests and seminarians from the North American College (NAC) in attendance, including those dressed as Captain America, Uncle Sam and Batman, who gave their team a decided home field advantage with cheers and chants throughout the match.

Despite the momentary advantage, however, the game was far from over as the obviously exhausted Brazilians were able to muster up a final effort with less than a minute to go.  They knocked one in and tied the score at 1-1.

With a draw at the end of regulation, the referees called for a shoot-out to break the deadlock. In the intense exchange of penalty kicks that ensued, the Americans managed to tally up three goals to the Brazilians' two, with a fifth and final Brazilian opportunity remaining to tie up the count and send the game into a second shoot-out. Taking the end of the match into his own hands, the U.S. goalie came up with an enormous third save and sealed the victory.

When asked what this win meant for the NAC, Carmelo, a second-year seminarian in Theology, said that "it was just another victory, but more than anything, it's being able to come out here and have a good time with the other guys and make friends with the guys from the other colleges and seminaries here in Rome."

Another NAC seminarian, Stephen Vrazel, who led cheers throughout the game in an Uncle Sam costume, said "it was a really great game, lot of fun to watch, we've got a really solid team."  He added that "it's always fun to see men of faith together playing each other for a good challenge. It was really entertaining, we had a good time, and it was all for the Lord."

This year's tournament marks the fourth year of the Clericus Cup soccer championship, called by some Church's World Cup as it draws seminarians and priests from all over the globe.  Last year, the tournament involved 386 athletes from 69 countries.

"Redemptoris Mater" is the team to beat this year, having taken two of the three previous trophies, the second of which came in 2009 when they downed the North American Martyrs squad in the championship game 0-1.

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Cloistered nun tells of life in Alaska monastery

Anchorage, Alaska, Feb 21, 2010 (CNA) - On a recent snowy morning, Blessed Sacrament Monastery in Anchorage looked especially quiet. There were no cars in the parking lot, and only a small sign on the building gave evidence of the Catholic cloister.  But inside the hushed monastery, live a handful of cloistered nuns who are about the work of saving the world.

They are members of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a cloistered religious order that was first established in 1807 in France by Blessed Mary Magdalene of the Incarnation. The order operates 85 monasteries worldwide — all are dedicated to the perpetual adoration of the Eucharistic Christ.

Focused on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, each nun spends her life praying and sacrificing for the good of the church and the salvation of souls.

In a rare interview, the superior of the Alaska monastery Mother Maria de la Milagrosa spoke with the Catholic Anchor about the tremendous but largely unseen life inside a cloistered monastery.

Speaking in her native Spanish and with the aid of an interpreter, she gave the interview from behind a metal grille in a visiting room near the monastery’s chapel.

Living only for God

Motivated by the love of God, the nuns are “planting the seed for the good of souls,” Mother Maria explained. In that quiet work, rising like farmers before the rest of the world for long days, they trust God to yield a harvest which they might never see in their lifetimes.

“It is a life of faith,” in the sequestered world of the monastery, Mother Maria continued. “We don’t see the fruits, but we believe the Word of God that he will draw them out.”

Speaking of the nuns’ mostly hidden existence, Mother Maria called it a “testimony that God is here and we live only for him.”

“It is possible to live only for God,” she stressed.

Mother Maria, 67, has done just that. She entered the cloistered religious order more than 50 years ago, at age 15.

But with a sleight frame, lively, dark eyes and a generous smile that hints of some hidden, happy secret, Mother Maria radiates youthful joy.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico to the Veytia family, she was the youngest of three children, all girls. Her parents named her, Paz, which means, “peace.”

But just years before her birth, Paz’s world had been anything but peaceful.

Beginning in the 1800s, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, anticlericalism was rampant in Mexican politics. Secular forces saw the Catholic Church’s property as a means of wealth. So in 1857, a constitution was adopted attacking the church’s property rights. And when anticlerical Freemasons took control of the country in 1917, other anticlerical edicts — similar to those pushed in the French Revolution — were instituted. The church was forbidden to teach and regulate its own church matters, priests were prohibited from voting, religious orders were outlawed and religious were not permitted to wear their habits in public. Priests were killed for celebrating the sacraments and altars were desecrated.

The Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Guadalajara were dispersed to their families’ homes and hidden. The monastery was robbed.

While the violence had waned by the early 1940s when Paz was born, the church still had no legal corporate existence, no schools and no monasteries, and members of religious orders were still prohibited from wearing their traditional clothing.

So separated from their floor-length, white habits, veils and red, pinafore-like scapulars, the un-cloistered nuns wore street clothes, all in black.

The monochrome was too somber for little Paz. “I didn’t like nuns,” Mother Maria recalled.

But she had an aunt in the order, part of the contingent that had moved to greater freedom in San Francisco. The two corresponded occasionally, and the young Paz asked for prayers to help her determine life’s path.

Her two sisters had joined the monastery as well.

And then in the mystery of a call from God, Mother Maria said she was drawn to the religious life.

“A vocation is a gift from God,” she said. “It is so great, one cannot explain it.”

The desire to “give your body and soul for the Lord. It’s very strong,” she added. “One tries to put it off, but the Lord insists.”

At 15, Paz needed her parents’ permission to enter the monastery. Her mother agreed more easily than her father. On her birthday, he asked Paz what she wanted as a present, even suggesting a nice trip.

“No, I want permission,” she responded with resolve.

He cried as he signed his consent for his last daughter to enter religious life, she recalled.

In 1960, Paz made her first profession in the reestablished monastery in Guadalajara. There, in 1963, she professed her final vows and spent the next 28 years.

Pumping for graces

In 1985, at the invitation of then Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley and the urging of a group of laity in Anchorage, Mother Maria traveled north with a small group of fellow nuns to establish a monastery in Alaska.

With her arms mimicking the motion of an oil pump, the cheerful Mother Maria explained that the congregation’s special mission in the resource-rich state is “to pump the grace for all the archdiocese” and “to testify to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.”

The religious order locates its monasteries in cities in order to provide people access to the Blessed Sacrament for veneration. So, the Anchorage monastery’s chapel is open to the public every day, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., for Eucharistic adoration. Visitors kneel adoring Christ in the consecrated host, exposed in a large, bronze monstrance, while in another section of the chapel, the nuns take turns in adoration from behind the cloister grille.

But even while performing daily chores or praying elsewhere in the monastery the nuns strive to continually focus on the Blessed Sacrament.

“I like to always stay before the Blessed Sacrament in my mind or body,” explained Mother Maria.

That means constant communication with God every day — while she is waking at 5:15 a.m., reciting the Divine Office and rosary with the congregation, resting in her cell, and reading the pope’s statements in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Mother Maria believes those outside the monastery walls can pray in a similar way.

“Think of God and want what he wants,” she urged. “God is center” at the monastery, she added, but “we all have the same center – God.”

The activity of prayer

The constant prayer of the cloistered nuns is critical activity for the church and the world, Mother Maria said.

She noted St. Paul’s teaching that each member of the Body of Christ has a mission.

“The function of the foot cannot be the hand’s,” Mother Maria said.

While the “active,” uncloistered religious have a mission to serve God’s people, she said, the “activity” of the cloistered religious is prayer and sacrifice for the church and the world.

However, she observed, that after the Second Vatican Council, which encouraged visible engagement with the world, the cloistered Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration were criticized by some for not broadening their mission outside the monastery.

But the nuns maintained their focus, Mother Maria explained, because, as Pope Paul VI stressed, prayer and sacrifice are the power behind all good action.

The current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI has echoed that principle in recent days.

In a Feb. 2 homily during the 14th annual Day of Consecrated Life, he said, “In reality, the closer we come to God … the more useful one is to others.”

The Pope added: “Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially of those who are far from God.”

Speaking in particular of those living in cloistered communities, the Pope said they live with God, “taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.

“It is not that we are rejecting the world,” explained Mother Maria of the separation the monastery grille represents. “We love the world.”

In the silence behind the grille, these cloistered nuns can continue their constant prayer for unknown persons they love so well — souls who themselves are distracted and rushing to work along busy Lake Otis Parkway, just around the corner.

Printed with permission from


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Lent provides time to renew fight against temptation, teaches Benedict XVI

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2010 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the significance of Lent in his words before the Angelus on Sunday at the Vatican.  Today’s Gospel, he said, illustrates how Lent provides time for "a long retreat" in which we can rebuild in order to face the temptations of the devil.

The Holy Father outlined Luke's Gospel account in which Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, walked out into the desert where he was tempted by the devil over the course of 40 days.

The temptations were not just an "incident" along the path, said the Pope, but "the consequence of Jesus' decision to follow the mission entrusted to him by the Father.”

"Christ came to the world to free us from sin and from the ambiguous attraction of planning our lives apart from God."  The Pope added, that he didn't do it with "sonorous proclamations, but by fighting first hand against the Tempter, up to the Cross."

"This example is valid for everyone," the Pope observed, "the world improves starting with ourselves, changing, with the grace of God, that which isn't going right in our lives."

Referring back to the Gospel, Pope Benedict pointed out that when Jesus fights Satan's temptations to material needs, power and pride by using Sacred Scripture, "He puts the only true criteria, obedience to the will of God, before human criteria."

"This is also a fundamental teaching for us," reflected the Holy Father, "if we carry in our minds and hearts the Word of God, (and) this enters into our lives, we can repel every type of trick from the Tempter.

"Lent," he concluded, "is like a long retreat, during which to reenter into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, and to defeat the temptation of the Evil One."

We can use this time of "spiritual competition," to "live together with Jesus, not with pride or presumption, rather using the weapons of faith, prayer, listening to the Word of God and penance."

"In this way we can arrive to the celebration of Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism."

The Holy Father will begin Lenten spiritual exercises in the Vatican "Redemptoris Mater" chapel with a series of meditations offered by Salesian Fr. Enrico dal Covolo on "Lessons from God and The Church on the Priestly Vocation" beginning Sunday afternoon and continuing until Saturday, Feb. 27.

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