Honolulu, Hawaii, Feb 27, 2010 (CNA) - “The church is on fire.” The word spread quickly over Molokai by phone the night of Feb. 11, but not quick enough to save the 73-year-old St. Sophia Church in Kaunakakai.
A firefighter at the Maui County Fire Station, which is within eyesight of the church a few hundred yards away, told longtime parishioner Rose Brito they got the call at 10:42 p.m.
Brito, who lives “a stone’s throw” from the church, said she got the call herself a few minutes later from Sacred Hearts Sister Jessie Kai who also lives close by.
Brito got out of bed, alerted the ambulance driver next door, and then ran over to join the growing group of people gathered along Kaunakakai’s main street to watch the firefighters hose down the now-smoldering wooden structure.
Sister Jessie also called the pastor, Sacred Hearts Father Clyde Guerreiro, who lives 10 miles away in Kamalo. He jumped into his pickup and joined the crowd.
The church was going to be demolished later this year to make way for the building of a new one. Still, sad thoughts went through Brito’s mind as she looked at the charred structure illuminated in the dark night by the firefighters’ floodlamps.
“I was thinking, that is where my [six] kids were baptized and confirmed,” she said. “A lot of memories burned down with the church.”
The disaster also drew out a humorous sigh or two, Brito said.
“Now we have a lot of ashes for Ash Wednesday,” one parishioner told her.
Father Guerreiro’s first concern was the Blessed Sacrament still in the tabernacle. At first the firefighters only allowed the priest to enter the charred church for about “30 seconds” to look around, but later on Friday they let him retrieve the consecrated hosts.
Fire inspectors came over by ferry from Maui on Friday and worked on the site “all day,” said Father Guerreiro, but left without “a clear idea of what happened.”
They told the pastor that the fire’s cause could have been electrical, the votive candles that remain lit around the clock, or arson.
The insurance company was scheduled to make its own inspection on Tuesday, Feb. 16, Father Guerreiro said.
According to Marlene R. De Costa, diocesan director of real estate, the church and its contents were insured for $300,000.
Things could have been worse.
The fire gutted the church, but left its walls and steeple standing. Untouched were the rectory and the carport modified for children’s religious education classes, each standing a few feet from the church.
Father Guerreiro called the fire “surgical” in nature.
The flames even spared the sacristy, a room attached to the back of the church that stores the materials needed to celebrate Mass.
“It’s amazing how the sacristy is intact,” Father Guerreiro said on Feb. 12. “The liturgical books, holy oils are intact, the vestments are intact.”
Also unaffected was the building next door, the former Stanley’s coffee shop, which the parish bought recently for a possible gift shop and museum. It is now called the Damien Center.
Brito said the fire could have been disastrous for Kaunakakai.
Most of the buildings on the town’s main street are older wooden structures, she said, and everything could have gone up in flames. But there was no wind that night, she said, and the firefighters got there in time.
Molokai’s main church
St. Sophia Church is the main church of the St. Damien Parish, which encompasses all of topside Molokai. The parish has three other churches — St. Vincent Ferrer in Maunaloa on the west side, and on the east side, Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Kaluaaha and St. Joseph in Kamalo. Masses are no longer celebrated in the tiny Kamalo church.
The parish has about 300 families. Four out of five Molokai parishioners went to Mass at St. Sophia. The 1,852-square-foot church held about 120 people, according to Father Guerreiro, but about 265 showed up on any given weekend, divided between two Masses. The overflow stood outside.
The church was not yet cool before the pastor received three offers from other places to use their facilities. At an emergency meeting of the pastoral council the evening after the fire, it was decided to use the Molokai Oceanside Health and Wellness Center (the former Pau Hana Inn).
Meanwhile, the rectory, which contains the parish offices but is not a residence, was still roped off by the fire inspectors and out of bounds.
“I am working out of my home and my truck,” said Father Guerreiro, who has some experience with destroyed churches as the vicar of Kauai following Hurricane Iniki in 1992. “Weekday liturgies will be at the Damien Center.”
The parish was planning to raze St. Sophia later this year to make way for the building of a new $3 million church and parish center. The parish has so far raised $1.4 million for the new structure which has been in the planning for more than a decade.
Father Guerreiro said the fire will probably speed up the process. It may also spur donations for the new church which will be named after St. Damien.
“A lady on the street, whom I didn’t know, slipped me $20,” the pastor said.
St. Sophia was built in 1937 on the site of an earlier smaller chapel. It was said to be named to honor Sophie Cooke, who donated $1,000 to build it, a large sum in those days.
Printed with permission from the Hawaii Catholic Herald.
Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2010 (CNA) - In his fourth and most likely final book on Mother Angelica, noted author and EWTN news anchor Raymond Arroyo highlights some of the devotions and prayers of the 86-year-old nun, many of which are borne from her personal sufferings.
In an exclusive interview with CNA, Arroyo spoke about his motivation behind writing the new book and detailed some of the lesser known facts surrounding Mother Angelica's early life, including her painful disability and being raised in an impoverished, broken home. Mother Angelica, he said, is “no stranger to pain.”
“The Prayers and Personal Devotions of Mother Angelica,” is set to be released on March 2 and contains not only meditations and prayers written by Mother Angelica but traditional favorites of hers as well. According to Arroyo, readers will be able to “'listen in' on her private, and very human, conversations with God.”
Explaining how he came up with idea for his latest book, Arroyo said, “When I read these prayers, both those composed by her and the time tested variety, I thought: people should really see this. Taken as a whole these prayers give readers a marvelous example of how we are to approach God. And if anyone knows how to speak to God and listen to His promptings, it is Mother Angelica. It's a real treasure of a book.”
In addition to founding EWTN, a non-profit, multi-million dollar Catholic media company, Mother Angelica heads a flourishing convent in Alabama, that attracts thousands of tourists every year.
“Mother Angelica has affected the lives of literally millions and millions of people around the world,” Arroyo continued. “And one of the hallmarks of her life has been this constant prayer that she maintains even in the midst of business and personal trials. It is truly the foundation of all she has done and of the great fruit she is responsible for.”
Discussing the nun's troubled childhood, Arroyo told CNA that “Mother Angelica's father abandoned her at five. Her birth mother had emotional problems and was probably manically depressed. They were very poor and worked hard to keep themselves clothed and fed. So this girl tasted pain early on. Angelica was also born with a spinal defect. She had repeated back surgeries and for years walked with the help of braces and crutches.”
“She was no stranger to pain, and in this new book there are prayers she composed specifically for those suffering or in pain,” explained Arroyo. “Mother was always very attentive to those who were suffering – probably because she intimately knew what they were going through, and the spiritual power of suffering.”
“These prayers are so practical that I think they'll have wide appeal. There are prayers to say when in a financial crisis, prayers for easing a transition in your life, prayers for drawing us closer to God's Will. The diversity of the prayers here and their beauty is striking.”
Arroyo also mentioned that a section of the book deals expressly with a difficult time in Mother Angelica's adult life.
“One of the unique features of this book is the Dark Night of The Soul prayer diary. Mother went through a very difficult period in the 1984. She lost her birth mother and her network was on shaky financial footing. In the depth of darkness she writes these very stark, impassioned pleas to God – searching for answers and light. I think people will be touched by this. And more, it will give them hope when they encounter their own darkness and remind them that darkness is sometimes permitted by God as a path to greater light.”
Arroyo, who has worked alongside Mother Angelica at EWTN, spoke on what he finds to be most inspiring about the nun. “Her deep faith is clearly the most inspiring thing about her life,” he reflected. “She was never distracted from God, no matter the circumstances. Mother went through hell to raise this beacon of hope for so many (EWTN). In the biography people can see the effects of her faith and the challenges she overcame – but with this book they have an opportunity to experience the foundation of her life: her spirituality and the actual prayers she uttered.”
Arroyo's previous three books on the life and work of Mother Angelica have all made the New York Times bestseller list. When asked about his upcoming book, the author said “In some ways I think this book could be the most successful of the canon.”
“It is the fourth book in my Mother Angelica cycle (as I like to call it) and likely the last. It seemed right to offer readers something that was practical and uplifting, like the woman herself.”
Commenting on his previous works on the nun, Arroyo explained that “The biography covered the details of her life, the 'Little Book of Life Lessons' contained some of her spiritual wisdom, 'The Private and Pithy Lessons From The Scriptures' was a collection of her Bible lessons, and this book is the last word on her prayer life – more than a prayer book it is an intimate spiritual portrait of Mother. The whole collection can be read independently or as a whole.”
“For those who have read the biography, I think this book will deepen the experience and prolong the spiritual effects,” he added. “ At least that's what I hope.”
“I thought people should have this deeply personal reminder of a woman who is so dear to the world,” Arroyo concluded. “When you read this book, you will hear a woman worshiping God, begging Him for light, jubilating and suffering. We all go through those seasons and Mother Angelica provides a powerful spiritual example that I think we can all benefit from.”
New York City, N.Y., Feb 27, 2010 (CNA) - Pro-life supporters from around the world will “give a witness to life” on Monday in New York when they protest at the annual U.N. Conference on the Status of Women. The yearly gathering will be attended by delegates who made a strong push for international abortion rights 15 years ago at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women.
“On Monday morning, 6,000 radical feminists will descend on New York City,” Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) told CNA. “They are also celebrating what they call Beijing +15, which is the 15th anniversary of the huge women’s conference in Beijing during the Clinton years." Ruse noted that Hillary Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Beijing conference, and that “they tried mightily to get an explicit international right to abortion.”
However, a coalition of pro-lifers from around the world who worked closely with the Vatican and Muslim countries defeated the abortion provision.
“But they’ve never given up,” Ruse said. Throughout the last 15 years, the pro-abortion lobby has tried again and again to make legalized abortion an international priority. It is expected that Monday's conference will see another attempt to do the same.
However, on Monday, “they will be met by a determined group, a small group but a determined group, of pro-lifers from the United States, Europe, Africa, Latin America,” said Ruse. “And we will be there to give witness to life and family as it is properly understood.”
Ruse also told CNA that the group “Catholics for Free Choice” will be at the conference and that they will be circulating a petition calling on Christians “to complain to the government of Nicaragua,” a government which has just eliminated all legal forms of abortion in their country.
“But we will be there to meet them too,” Ruse added.
Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2010 (CNA) - At a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) addressed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the international promotion of abortion. Calling unborn children the most at-risk minority today, he said abortion is a form of child mortality.
“Pregnancy is not a disease. The child in the womb is neither a tumor nor a parasite to be destroyed,” he said at the Feb. 25 hearing on the International Affairs Budget for 2011.
Rep. Smith voiced concern that the Global Health Initiative (GHI) Consultation Document listed unintended pregnancy between HIV and tropical disease, seeming to relegate it to the status of a disease.
The Congressman also commented on the Obama administration's elimination of the Mexico City Policy, saying that non-government organization partners of the initiative may seek to integrate abortion with “the many necessary and noble undertakings funded by the GHI.”
He asked the Obama administration to consider the views of those who see abortion as “violence against children” that poses significant risks both to women and to children later born to those women.
“Safe abortion,” he said, is “the ultimate oxymoron.”
“Child dismemberment, forced premature expulsion from the womb by chemicals like misoprostol, deliberate child starvation by RU486, can never, ever be construed to be benign, compassionate or safe.”
He cited the United Nations’ fourth Millennium Development Goal, which advocates the reduction of child mortality.
“Abortion is child mortality,” he commented. “Secretary Clinton, the most persecuted and at risk minority in the world today are unborn children.”
Rep. Smith cited studies showing an increased risk of breast cancer among post-abortive women and a “clear link” between abortion and mental illness in women.
Other studies show a significant association between abortion and subsequent premature births.
“Preterm birth is the leading cause of infant mortality in the industrialized world after congenital anomalies,” he added, listing several ailments and diseases to which preterm infants are more prone.
The Congressman also cited the document which came out of the 1994 Cairo meeting of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The document says governments should help women avoid abortion and also reiterates the primacy of national sovereignty on abortion.
He then warned against U.N. treaty implementations and some U.N. organizations that are pressuring nations to “legalize, facilitate, and expand” access to abortion.
Rather, Rep. Smith advised, access to proper maternal care, skilled birth attendants and safe clinics should be promoted.
He closed his comments by condemning China’s forced abortion policy for women who become pregnant without government authorization.
“Silence in the face of massive crimes against women in China… shouldn’t be an option.”
Secretary Clinton listened to Rep. Smith's comments but did not respond.
Manila, Philippines, Feb 27, 2010 (CNA) - Facing high temperatures and a lack of rain, Filipinos have increased their prayers that God resolve their country’s water crisis. The Archbishop of Manila has written a prayer to ask for rain that is to be inserted in to the daily and Sunday Prayers of the Faithful at Mass.
Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales’ action was a prayerful response to government authorities’ warning that the country is facing drought and water shortages because of the El Niño climate phenomenon.
“Our relief will come from nature. And so we implore the Master of all creation, God, our Father, at whose command the winds and the seas obey, to send us rain and ease drought,” Cardinal Rosales commented, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“Let us together storm heavens with our supplication, that God’s mercy be upon us and send us the rain we need,” he added.
The prayer he ordered to be recited after Communion before the Post-Communion prayer begins:
“God our loving Father, creator of our earth and of the universe, and all the wondrous elements of nature that sustain your living creatures, we humbly ask you to send us the rain that our country needs so badly at this time, to irrigate our fields, to stave off a power shortage, to provide water for our bodily health, and to refresh our parched lands.
“At your command the wind and the seas obey, raise your hand Almighty God to send us so that crisis may be averted.”
The prayer asks God to teach the faithful to be wise stewards of creation and asks for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Rose of Lima, and Filipino protomartyr St. Lorenzo Ruiz.
Cardinal Rosales is the third prelate in the country to order the prayer, after Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu and Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad. The order is called an “Oratio Imperata.”
In May last year the cardinal ordered the recitation of a prayer asking for the end of the H1N1 virus threat.
Geneva, Switzerland, Feb 27, 2010 (CNA) - Four theologians began discussions in Geneva, Switzerland this week to define the guidelines of a new project promoted from within the Conference of European Churches. The initiative hopes to study how the different Churches understand unity.
According to a statement released by the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the project is investigating church unity as it relates to church identity at the theological, theoretical level as well as in church practices.
The four theologians taking part in the discussion are British Anglican Dr. Paul M. Collins from the University of Chichester, German Catholic Dr. Myriam Wijlens from University of Erfurt, Finnish Dr. Minna Hietamaki from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and Orthodox Dr. Viorel Ionita from the CEC's Churches in Dialogue Commission.
The project originated with these four theologians last October in Crete at the World Council of Churches Plenary Commission on Faith and Order, according to the statement. It is connected with the network on "Ecclesiological Investigations."
The first meeting of the four theologians was hosted by the CEC's Churches in Dialogue Commission (CiD) in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 22.
In what Dr. Ionita called a "very dynamic and constructive" meeting, the participants discussed aims, working methodology, partners and timing. Each of the theologians also presented a paper on unity from his or her respective theological tradition.
"The four theological traditions represented were presented in a complementary way and we hope that in the future other theological traditions could be included such as those from a free-church background," Dr. Ionita stated at the conclusion of the first session.
Meetings for this study on unity will continue until Sept. 2012 and will be highlighted by European and international presentations in several forums including the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion.
A comprehensive publication offering "all of the findings" along the course of the study will be published at their conclusion "in order to promote the search for the Church unity worldwide," reads the CEC's statement.
Founded in 1959, the Conference of European Churches offers a forum for dialogue for 120 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Catholic Churches and 40 associated organizations representing every country in Europe who seek to pursue understanding, grow in fellowship and make a common contribution to the mission of the Church, to the safeguarding of life and the well-being of all humankind.
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2010 (CNA) - Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi reflected on current anti-Christian persecution in his recent appearance on a weekly television show. Religious minorities, he said, suffer because of the "hate and violence" that religious extremism generates.
Thinking of recent examples of anti-Christian acts, particularly in Iraq and India, Fr. Lombardi reflected, "Again, in these days, violence against Christians is rekindled."
His comments came during his weekly editorial on the Vatican Television Center show "Octava Dies."
Fr. Lombardi reported that in the past he was shown flyers that were being "systematically” distributed to individual houses in Mosul. The flyers contained "terrible threats" meant to convince Christians to abandon the city.
"The recent brutal homicides confirm the same systematic strategy, against which the local authorities don't seem capable of bringing effective remedies," he said.
"How will the Christian community be able to survive in these conditions?" he asked.
The Christians of Mosul, he said, are a part of the local community and culture and are a "vital component" of the region’s history.
Thus, he observed, "It is not hate of the West or of the foreign, but against the Christian community."
"Religious fundamentalism generates hate and violence, and the religious minorities - and Christianity is a minority in many parts of the world - pay for it," said Fr. Lombardi. He noted other cases of anti-Christian violence in some Indian states, Pakistan and parts of Asia and Africa.
Commenting on calls for international mobilization against these acts and citing "many forces" in the Western world that seek to "contest and demolish" the presence of Christians and their influence even where Christianity is, or historically has been, the majority.
"Is it realistic to expect an earnest defense where it is a minority and doesn't count much from the point of view of political or economic interests?" Fr. Lombardi asked.
Regardless, he said, "Christians - mindful of the fate of their Teacher - cannot be astonished at being persecuted, but justice and rights should be valid everywhere also for them."
Vatican Television Center's "Octava Dies" program offers weekly insights into activities, events and issues concerning Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican and the global Church.