Archive of July 17, 2010

Catholic couple takes faith on the road

Providence, R.I., Jul 17, 2010 (CNA) - “Many people define themselves by their job,” says Ann Coakley. “We believe that it is most important to define ourselves first and foremost as children of God, and that jobs are only a means of service and providing for our basic needs.”

Paul and Ann Coakley wanted to start their life together with as little debt as possible, so Paul took a job with a trucking company shortly before their wedding. They decided that it would be a great way to pay off their student loans, spend time together and see the country. Being on the road has been a great blessing to the Coakleys.

Paul began driving a truck in January of 2008. Ann joined him on the road after their wedding that May, and they have been traveling together ever since.

“To us it has been like a two year honeymoon! We get to be together all the time,” she said. “We’ve driven through 40 states while trucking and have made several trips up into Canada. We stop at museums, wander around small towns and go camping or kayaking whenever we have the chance. There have been mornings when we’ve woken up and seen that snow has fallen on the Mojave Desert or flowers are popping out of the melting snow in Vermont.”

Thanks to trucking, Ann and Paul have been able to see all of New England. They even stopped at Rhode Island’s one and only truck stop.

“Paul and I love driving through New England not only because of the beautiful foliage, but also because of how picturesque each town and farm is,” Ann said. “We’ve rolled through tiny frost- covered New England towns early in the morning and always roll down our windows to breath in the scent of chimney smoke and brewing Green Mountain coffee at little diners and coffee shops.”

Before trucking Paul and Ann were able to attend daily Mass on a regular basis. They would go to adoration together and join other young people for prayer groups. But once they started trucking it was really only possible to attend Sunday Mass.

“We’ve really missed those things, especially being part of a community,” she said. “Now, there are times when we’ve had to walk five miles to get to church because of where we have to park our truck. During the summer we’ve come into Mass hot and sticky from walking from a truck stop. Rainy or snowy days always keep things interesting.”

Ann explained that going to a different parish each Sunday can be fun. They have gone to large stone cathedrals and small, white New England clapboard churches. They have heard amazing homilies and have had strangers welcome them with open arms.

“We’ve spent the last two Christmases on the road and were blessed by the warmth and familiarity of Christmas Mass,” she shared. “It is a beautiful thing to be able to go anywhere and experience something as familiar as the Liturgy of the Mass and to be able to appreciate the uniqueness of each parish at the same time.”

When Ann first joined Paul, she explained that she was nervous about many aspects of life on the road. “There seemed to be so many unknowns when it came to trucking,” she said. “The life of a trucker was a mystery to me, but once I was there with Paul things worked out much better than I expected- except that even after two years on the road it can still be frustrating trying to find a place to pull over an 18-wheeler when you need to use the bathroom.”

The couple explained that they haul loads of almost anything and everything anywhere.

“The coolest load we’ve ever had was delivering a truck full of castings of dinosaur bones to a museum that was opening in San Antonio, Texas,” Ann said. “The people that worked at the museum were so excited that as each crate was unloaded they would unpack them immediately and lay out the bones to look at.”

Their two-year-long trucking honeymoon has allowed them to live simply so that they could pay off their student loans quickly, but now God is leading them in a different and exciting direction. Paul and Ann will be finishing trucking soon and beginning to help her parents with their small Catholic publishing company, Precious Life Books.

“My mom, Susan Andrews Brindle, and her sisters, Miriam Andrews Lademan and Joan Andrews Bell, have written and illustrated a Seven Sacrament series for children and many stories of the faith,” she explained. “I was blessed to be able to help my mom illustrate our most recent title, ‘The Most Beautiful Thing in the World.’ It is the retelling of a story written over a hundred years ago about an angel sent to earth to find the most beautiful thing in the world.

Ann explained that the books are beautifully illustrated and written in parable form. They are bi-lingual and tri-lingual, making wonderful tools for catechizing around the world.

“Paul and I are very excited to have an opportunity to travel this summer to conferences and bookstores to help get these powerful books into the hands of children and their families,” she added. “As the trucking chapter of our life is coming to a close, we are very excited to see what new adventures God has in store for us in the next chapter of our marriage.”

Printed with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.

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Bishop Gassis working for peace in Sudan as crucial vote nears

CNA STAFF, Jul 17, 2010 (CNA) - As the war-torn country of Sudan moves past its recent elections and towards a crucial vote that will decide if the south splits from the northern region, Bishop Macram Gassis is continuing his tireless efforts to promote peace.

Bishop Macram Gassis of Sudan was the subject of a recent National Catholic Register piece that spoke about the prelate's efforts since his appointment in the 1980s within the conflict-ridden country.

As leader of the El Obeid diocese, where Catholics make up only 1.6 percent of the population, Bishop Gassis has faced countless struggles in securing peace and religious freedom for the area's non-Muslim inhabitants.

In 1998, the African prelate started the Bishop Gassis Relief Fund with the aim of bringing food, clothing, shelter, medical attention and evangelization to the people of Sudan.

“I can bear witness to more than 20 years of religious persecution, enslavement, rape, torture, starvation and murder of my people at the hands of the Sudanese government,” wrote the bishop in a statement on the relief fund's website.

Without hesitation, Bishop Gassis added, “the Sudanese government has bombed churches, schools, hospitals and refugee centers. For over 20 years, the Catholic Church has provided the people with the basics needed to preserve life and to find Christ.” Even more disturbingly, Bishop Gassis said that the government “has tortured and killed its own citizens including catechists, teachers and priests. I can tell you that the Sudanese government supports the selling of Christians and non-Muslims as slaves.”

Among the many initiatives his relief fund has engaged in over the years, this bishops' charitable efforts include hospitals, assistance to refugees, schools and digging wells to provide drinkable water.

Speaking to the Register, Bishop Gassis stated that his“vision has been to give hope to people who lived in isolation and continual war.”

“When people live in a battlefield, they are living in insecurity. The Church joined them and gave them strength and hope,” he said. “We gave them a vision: The war is an evil, but we can get something good from the war.”

“We managed to go to areas that the government would have blocked in peacetime. We were able to do good during a period of isolation and uncertainty. This is the grace.”

As Bishop Gassis welcomes coadjutor Bishop Michael Didi Adgum Mangoria, who was appointed on May 29 of this year, his country is moving into unprecedented political territory. After a tumultuous election, Sudan faces a critical referendum vote this upcoming January that will determine whether or not the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – the rebel movement in the south – breaks off from the Khartoum-based Islamic government in the north.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement Act (CPA) of 2005, both groups entered into a temporary power-sharing deal that has ended nearly 20 years of civil war.

Bishop Gassis told NCR that whatever the outcome of the referendum vote, he is grateful for the appointment of Bishop Michael Didi Adgum Mangoria, though he plans to stay involved in the diocese, despite his health concerns.

“It’s about time for someone who is young,” the bishop said. “I will be there to help him. I’ll be the father who brings the food to the family. He can shepherd the diocese, and I will take care to be the breadwinner for ongoing projects.”

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Additional Notre Dame official to be questioned about selective treatment of ND 88

South Bend, Ind., Jul 17, 2010 (CNA) - In the ongoing court hearings for the protesters arrested during demonstrations against President Obama’s appearance at the University of Notre Dame, a deposition of a university official will further investigate claims of selective treatment of protesters.

In a pre-trial hearing Judge Michael Scopelitis of St. Joseph County Criminal Court ruled that attorneys with the Thomas More Society may take a deposition from the former director of residential life at the university. The official’s duties included the direct supervision of the campus police and the campus’ protest policies.

The deposition is intended to reveal whether homosexual activists and anti-military protesters were treated more leniently than the pro-life protesters known as the “ND 88.” The protesters’ lawyers have argued that there was selective enforcement of the trespass law, saying this “viewpoint discrimination” violated the defendants’ constitutional rights, the Thomas More Society reports in a press release.

Notre Dame’s campus security chief was deposed last month to discuss the arrests.

Among the ND 88 were political activist and former ambassador Alan Keyes, Norma McCorvey of the landmark Roe v. Wade case, and Fr. Norman Weslin. Demonstrators prayed the Rosary and sang hymns on campus in response to Notre Dame’s invitation of President Barack Obama to deliver the 2009 commencement address and to receive an honorary degree.

According to the Thomas More Society, topics of inquiry could include reports that the former residential life director, a strong pro-lifer, was fired last month. The society says he appears to remain employed at the university in another role.

The prosecutor in the cases has asked Judge Scopelitis to require that all the defendants return to South Bend for each and every hearing leading up to their trials. He has also asked to try defendants together in groups. Tom Dixon, special counsel for the Thomas More Society and lead defender for the ND 88, opposed both motions. ND 88 attorneys have renewed their request for the “global” dismissal of all charges against all defendants.

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University of Illinois students express support for fired professor

Peoria, Ill., Jul 17, 2010 (CNA) - Since the news of Dr. Kenneth Howell’s dismissal from the University of Illinois became public, students have been voicing their support for the professor and making efforts to bring him back to the university in the fall.

Howell was terminated this spring from his teaching position at the university for explaining in his Introduction to Catholicism class that the Catholic Church opposed homosexual behavior because it violates natural law.

An anonymous student complained that Howell’s statements were “hate speech.” Howell was subsequently fired, however, he maintains that he was simply presenting Catholic teaching in a class on Catholic thought.

The decision has received substantial media coverage, and the university has announced that it will have a faculty committee review the dismissal. The Diocese of Peoria has also announced that it will meet with officials from the university on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, students from the university and around the country have rallied around Howell in support and defense, trying to raise awareness of his situation. 

University of Illinois student Kristin DeSutter said that Howell “doesn’t deserve” to be fired for his teaching.

DeSutter was a student in the Introduction to Catholicism class this spring where Howell made the statements that resulted in his dismissal. She said that she was shocked when she heard that Howell was fired.

“He was a wonderful professor,” she told CNA. “He was very fair.”

Howell always stressed that while the students were in a class on Catholic thought, they would never be graded on their personal beliefs, DeSutter explained. “He made that very clear.”

Furthermore, the class was always open to debate and disagreement, DeSutter continued. “He wanted us to ask questions,” she said, explaining that Howell was always respectful of different opinions.

As an example, DeSutter described the final exam essay, in which students were asked to write a for-and-against analysis of homosexual behavior. Howell specifically told students that they would receive a poor grade if they only argued against it, she said. In the final exam, as in the class as a whole, he wanted his students to understand how to conduct a thorough moral analysis of a given topic, she explained.

Trisha Tan took classes with Howell at the Institute of Catholic Thought in 2008-2009. Now, Tan is helping organize a “Save Dr. Ken” group on Facebook. The group, which has almost 5,000 members, provides regular updates on Howell’s situation, as well as ways for interested individuals to help.

Tan told CNA that she considered the professor's case to be one worth fighting for.

“It’s an issue of academic freedom,” she said. “This is a professor who was terminated for doing what he was hired to do.”

“He’s an astounding teacher,” she added, noting that Howell was always “very clear” about making distinctions between class material and personal opinions.

In addition to assisting with the administration of the Facebook page, Tan told CNA that she is helping with an alumni campaign to cease donations to the school unless Howell is allowed to return to his teaching position.

Tan said that she knew many alumni from the university who were interested in helping Howell. She and others have encouraged them to call the university’s fundraising offices and explain that they will not make any more donations to the university until the professor is reinstated.

So far, the campaign has been met with positive responses from alumni, she said.

Eli Lazar, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, is also working to raise awareness about Howell’s dismissal.

“A lot of students were upset about it,” he told CNA. Students wanted a tangible way to respond to the situation and help Howell, he said.

Lazar and a group of university students have been distributing fliers both on campus and in downtown Chicago. Keeping people informed is especially important in summertime, when many students have left campus, he said.

In addition to the fliers, he and his peers have written chalk messages on the university's “Quad” to direct people to the Facebook page.

Furthermore, Lazar told CNA there has been a call to boycott Department of Religion classes this fall if Dr. Howell is not reinstated. The classes offered by the department are often elective, so students are not required to take them.

“It’s our way of showing the university that we as students don’t want a censored version of life,” he explained. “We want to study real life.”

So far, efforts have met with positive responses, Lazar continued.

“The support has been overwhelming,” he said, explaining that he has received the support of a wide variety of students, including Muslims and atheists, but has not yet seen any opposition to Howell’s reinstatement.

Response from the university administration has also been encouraging, he said. The administration has responded to emails, and the chancellor has called for a faculty committee to review the case.

Lazar said that he is hopeful that university officials will listen to the voices of the students and reinstate Howell. “I’m very confident,” he said.

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Nuncio to Iraq named Holy See's UN observer

Vatican City, Jul 17, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt was appointed as the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations on Saturday. He comes into the role from years of diplomatic corps experience, including his most recent post as Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan.

The Indian-born prelate takes the place of Italian Archbishop Celestino Migliore who was made Apostolic Nuncio to Poland on June 30 after nearly eight years of service as the Vatican's leading diplomat to the UN.

Archbishop Chullikatt has previously served as a Papal representative to the UN as well as in various diplomatic capacities in Honduras, Southern Africa and the Philippines, after entering the Holy See's diplomatic corps in 1988.

The prelate also served as first secretary in the Department for Relations between States in the Vatican Secretariat of State before being named Nuncio to both Iraq and Jordan in April 2006.

He speaks English, French, Spanish and Italian.

The archbishop was ordained a priest in 1978 in the Archdiocese of Verapoly, India and has doctorate in Canon Law.

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Holy Father appoints new South Korean military ordinary

Vatican City, Jul 17, 2010 (CNA) - On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI appointed a member of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.), Fr. Francis Xavier Yu Soo-il, to the post of Korean military ordinary. He will be in charge of the pastoral care of soldiers in South Korea, where military service is mandatory for all men.

With the appointment, Fr. Yu Soo-il will become the first Franciscan bishop in Korea, and just the second religious to be made bishop in the nation after his Jesuit predecessor, Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon.

Student of patrology at the Franciscan's International College of St. Anthony in Rome, Fr. John Hack Jun Oh, O.F.M., who knows the bishop-elect, explained the significance of his appointment to CNA.

In a country where the population is ten percent Catholic and all men are required to serve in the military, he said that the role of the military ordinary is "very important." He was pleasantly "surprised" that it would be Fr. Yu Soo-il to take on the position.

Fr. Oh explained that seminarians are not exempt from the obligation to complete nearly two years of military service. Often, he said, after they have completed two or three years in the seminary, they take a "break" to fulfill their duty as Korean citizens. Religious brothers are also expected to do so.

The bishop-elect brings extensive experience to the role. He has been serving as vicar in the Franciscan house of formation in Seoul, South Korea, where he is also the spiritual assistant and guardian of the O.F.M. community.

He has also been the province's general counsel to Rome, president of the Korean Conference of Major Superiors and O.F.M.'s Korean provincial.

Military ordinariates are Church juridictions in which the bishop, or military ordinary, is assisted by a chaplain corps in providing pastoral care to soldiers and other military personnel.

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Purification of Church from 'serious sins' a long process, says Fr. Lombardi

Vatican City, Jul 17, 2010 (CNA) - Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said Saturday that the new norms on sexual abuse are an "important step," but, he warned, law "is not everything" in the battle against serious sins. He observed that the Church's path to a "purer and more evangelical witness" will not be short.

Fr. Lombardi reflected on the effects of the updates to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) norms concerning the "most serious" sins on his weekly Vatican Television editorial "Octava dies." The details of the updates were released during a press briefing he gave on Thursday with CDF promoter of justice, Msgr. Charles Scicluna.

In his editorial, the Vatican spokesman said that with the publication of the norms, "the Church has taken an important step in addressing the question (of sexual abuse) with responses that will be lasting and have a profound impact.

"Clear and well-known laws are an essential guide for any large community, such as the Catholic Church, which must have its own common rules." These rules remain autonomous from those of the many countries in which they exist, he explained, adding that "the just civil laws must obviously be respected and put into practice by men of the Church, as by every citizen, also for the crimes of abuse."

Highlighting some of the standout elements of the quite extensive updates to canonical procedures, he said that the modifications enable "faster and more effective" trials and greater assistance due to the presence of lay experts on ecclesiastical tribunals. They also increase the statute of limitations and officially consider abusing those with "a limited use of reason" and the possession of pedophile pornography as among the gravest of sins, he outlined.

But, while "law is necessary" to combating sexual abuses within the Church, "it is not everything," Fr. Lombardi pointed out.

Change must come about through "commitment to education, the formation of clergy and staff who work in institutions linked to the Church, information and prevention, dialogue with and personal care for the victims," he said, noting that it is a “huge area in which the Church has mobilized itself, as urged for by the Pope, in many countries.

"For its part, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith continues to work to give aid to local bishops in formulating coherent and effective guidelines,” Fr. Lombardi  underscored. “The new law is important, but we know well that our commitment to a purer and more evangelical witness must be a long road."

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US gives $23 million to push new Kenyan constitution, charges Rep. Smith

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Despite the U.S. Embassy to Kenya’s claim that the U.S. government is neutral in the Kenyan constitutional referendum, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) charged that the Obama administration has given over $23 million to push the new legislation. The proposed constitution has faced criticism for creating an opening to legalize abortion and for recognizing Muslim courts.

On July 12, the U.S. Embassy to Kenya argued in a statement that “some leaders” are being divisive and spreading “categorically” false claims that the U.S. Embassy is “providing funding to Members of Parliament to support the ‘yes’ campaign.”

Although the embassy denied the U.S. is funding Members of Parliament, Congressman Smith stated that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been supporting non-government groups specifically to encourage votes for the proposed constitution.

“There is no doubt that the Obama Administration is funding the ‘yes’ campaign in Kenya,” Rep. Smith commented in July 14 statement, charging that the administration has “crossed the line.”

“Directly supporting efforts to register ‘yes’ voters and ‘get out the yes vote’ means the U.S. government is running a political campaign in Kenya,” the congressman continued. “U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to support one side or the other.”

Rep. Smith further claimed on July 16 that Donald Gambatesa, Inspector General (IG) for USAID, provided information showing that the U.S. government is spending over $23 million for activities in Kenya to influence the voter approval on the new constitution. The representative said that changes within the new document include overturning Kenya’s only current exception for abortion: the life of the mother being at risk.

As a Ranking Member of the Africa and Global Health Subcommittee, Rep. Smith and U.S. lawmakers recently received a chart listing recipients of USAID-funded activities related to the proposed constitution and a summary of their agreements.

Although previous estimates indicated that $2 million was being spent – later updated to $11 million – the congressman reported that the figure identified by the IG’s office now exceeds $23 million.

“The Obama Administration should not be spending $23 million in American tax dollars on the specific “Yes” campaign, pushing a determined outcome on the proposed constitution in Kenya,” Rep. Smith said. “The U.S. government can be supportive of the process, helping to secure a free and fair referendum. But we must respect the Kenyan people and let them decide for themselves. U.S. dollars should not be used to tell the Kenyan people how to vote.”

Rep. Smith outlined examples of where U.S. taxpayer funds are going, saying that two organizations received over $150,000 to “contribute to an ‘overrepresentation’ of the YES voters,” while five organizations have been tasked with registering a total of 100,000 citizens “for a YES vote” at the referendum, the congressman's office reported.

An almost $98,000 grant to the Provincial Peace Forum, Eastern Province was made to “gain buy-in for the new proposed constitution by educating the professional elite” and by securing their commitment “to use their influence to ensure people register and vote YES.” Another $91,000 grant to the Central Organization of Trade Unions, Kenya (COTU) was to be used to marshal “a coalition of pro-constitution individuals, institutions and organizations.”

A $56,953 grant to the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA) was to be used for “one of a series of activities that aim to contribute to an ‘overrepresentation’ of the YES voters at the next referendum” and a $37,000 grant to Christian Community Services funded “one of a series of activities aimed at facilitating registration of approximately 20,000 … for a YES vote at the next referendum.”

Additionally, said Rep. Smith, “U.S. tax dollar monies are flying out the door to pro-abortion groups committed to overturning pro-life laws in Kenya.” 

The congressman pointed to the Kenyan Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya), which as a member of the Kenyan Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (RHRA), is committed to  decriminalization of abortion in the country and increasing its availability.

Rep. Smith also said that the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review in Kenya, which drafted the abortion-related provisions in the proposed constitution, received over $180,000 of U.S. taxpayer funds for office equipment and networking services.

The African Woman and Child Features Service, non-governmental organization that works to increase media coverage about abortion and “comprehensive reproductive health rights” in Kenya, he added, is receiving almost $157,000 for constitution-related activities.

Development Alternatives, Inc. which is receiving almost $3 million as a grant recipient, advised USAID in 2000 that USAID/Kenya would benefit by promoting civil society organizations' “efforts to eventually legalize abortion in Kenya.”

“We should be embracing the health and welfare of both mothers and children in African while respecting sovereign pro-life laws,” Rep. Smith said.“Instead, the Obama Administration is trying to change Kenya’s existing restriction on abortion through the referendum.” 

“Such actions constitute a violation of U.S. law and is an affront to both the pro-life people of Kenya and the U.S., an overwhelming majority of whom do not support abortion, and in the case of the U.S. – do not want their tax dollars to pay for abortion activities.”

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