Albuquerque, N.M., Jul 30, 2010 (CNA) - The sound of drums boomed in the background as Sr. Kateri Mitchell spoke to CNA on Wednesday about the opening of the 71st Annual Tekakwitha Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She described the gathering of nearly 800 Native Americans from around the country as an opportunity for “evangelization” among the tribes.
Sr. Kateri, who is executive director of the conference and is of the Mohawk tribe, also noted that the event is intended to renew efforts in prayer for the canonization cause of the conference's patroness, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
“The vision and the purpose of the conference is that of evangelization among the Native American Catholics and also to promote the canonization of our patroness Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha,” Sr. Kateri said, adding that the event also gathers “people together to learn about one another's cultures because we have so many tribes throughout the country – over 500 tribes – and there are Catholics in many of the tribes.”
The annual event is being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico this year and lasts from July 28 – Aug. 1. The conference draws adults and youth of all ages from multiple tribes around the U.S. for a series of workshops, talks, worship, activities and “a lot of prayer time,” Sr. Kateri explained.
“We come together to learn about one another's tribal traditions, our customs, and just to share our rituals, our prayers styles, to share our music, to share our own tribal ways and also seeing one another in our own tribal dresses which are so different and distinct from one another.”
Speakers, presiders, and workshop leaders include a variety Native American Catholic clergy, artists, doctors and teachers. Also attending the gathering is Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Potawatomi tribe, who serves as the Episcopal Moderator of the event.
“The conference gives us opportunity to come together on a spiritual level, to meet once a year, to share all of our traditions and to share ourselves with one another,” Sr. Kateri said. “It just shows how generous our Creator God is to share with a group of people in such a rich way and to have such diversity.”
“The uniqueness of our conference is that it is family oriented,” she added. “We especially try to reach out to our youth.”
Commenting on the canonization process of Bl. Kateri, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, Sr. Kateri said, “we continue to pray – we know that one of the healings or potential miracles is being reviewed and so we keep praying that that will be the first class miracle that's required.”
Washington D.C., Jul 30, 2010 (CNA) - Attorneys representing the Catholic League and Ignatius Press have filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit alleging that the California public university system has refused credit for classes that are taught from a religious perspective. The university has defended its standards’ neutrality, contending that the refused courses were sub par.
The brief, filed by the California-based Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), alleges government censorship of faith-based high school curricula and discrimination against religious students. The university system’s policy would in effect prevent private Catholic and other religious high schools from teaching courses according to their religious traditions, PJI attorneys claim.
In August 2005 the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and six Calvary Chapel students filed a lawsuit against the University of California. The students challenged the university’s refusal of credit for several of their classes, a refusal which required them to take remedial classes.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the university in the case, which is named ACSI v. Stearns.
"The ACSI decision represents yet another appalling case where the Ninth Circuit has approved blatant government discrimination against religious students," charged Brad Dacus, PJI president. "We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will accept review of this case in order to restore the basic rights of Christian, Catholic, and Jewish high schools to teach their religious values without hindrance,"
For its part, the University of California argued that its standards are neutral and are intended to ensure that incoming students are “conversant with substantive content and methods of inquiry at the level required for UC students.”
In a backgrounder at its website, the University of California said it approved 43 courses at Calvary Chapel as college prep courses. Certain courses were not approved for “a number of reasons.”
A literature course was rejected because it used an anthology as its only common assigned reading, violating the university system’s requirement that students read at least some assigned works in their entirety as part of classroom instruction.
Other rejected courses used textbooks that the university system thought did not meet standards because “their substantive content or teaching of skills was insufficient for a college preparatory course.”
Some rejected classes relied on textbooks from Christian publishers such as Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, according to USA Today.
“The question the University addresses in reviewing these texts is not whether they have religious content, but whether they provide adequate instruction in the relevant subject matter, reflecting knowledge generally accepted in the scientific and educational communities and with which a student at the university level should be conversant,” the university’s backgrounder stated.
Textbooks and courses are evaluated according to whether their use promotes “the type of analytic and critical thinking skills necessary for success at the University of California,” it added.
Sydney, Australia, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA) - Prayer is more than talking to God, but more specifically the opening of our heart and mind to God, Cardinal George Pell wrote in a reflection on prayer for his weekly newspaper column.
In an essay in The Sunday Telegraph of Sydney, the cardinal emphasized that prayer “is not someone talking to himself.” While most people think of prayer as “talking to God,” Cardinal Pell noted that words can be “a cover or a distraction, while our mind races along elsewhere.”
“More accurately prayer is opening our heart and mind to God, that Mystery of Love, Creator of the universe, who exists outside space and time,” wrote the Archbishop of Sydney.
He went on to show how people can encounter God in “the strangest ways,” recounting how a woman without any religious allegiance told him she sometimes goes to Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral simply to sit quietly.
Cardinal Pell also told a story from Caryll Houselander, an English poet who was “a master of the spiritual life.” At the request of a doctor, once a week Houselander visited a young woman affected by a terrible nervous disease, attacks of St. Vitius’ dance and violent palpitations.
“She was only getting worse, and had no religion. Her vague notions of God frightened and upset her,” the cardinal wrote.
Houselander gave the woman a rosary, not telling her to recite the customary prayers but to use her own prayers or say nothing at all.
“More importantly the young woman was told to imagine that she was holding onto God,” Pell continued. He reported that from then on the ailing woman began to improve, escaping much of her suffering and “blossoming into an expansive and loving person.”
The prelate’s column also noted that women traditionally tend to be more religious than men, but he worried this could be different in contemporary Australia where natural sex differences are ignored and women are urged to achieve like men.
“It would be a pity if fewer and fewer women were encouraging their husbands and sons to pray,” he commented.
Cardinal Pell recalled that Jesus taught His disciples the “Our Father” when they asked him how to pray. He reported that his future columns in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph will examine “this most famous prayer.”
Washington D.C., Jul 30, 2010 (CNA) - On Thursday Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) were scheduled to introduce legislation which would establish a permanent government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding for abortion. Pro-life leaders praised the comprehensiveness of the proposal.
The legislation, titled the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” also codifies conscience protections for health care providers who do not want to participate in an abortion.
At present, many funding restrictions such as the Hyde Amendment to the Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill must be re-approved by Congress each year. It is also uncertain whether President Barack Obama’s executive order which restricts abortion funds in the 2010 health care legislation will be effective.
In a March interview with Catholic News Agency, Rep. Lipinski had urged action to pass statutory laws to restrict abortion funding in the new health care law.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life Action, said that the Smith-Lipinski bill will “comprehensively end” taxpayer-funded abortion.
“Congress can act now and fix this problem once and for all, and we are urging our grassroots activists across the nation to contact their representatives and support this sensible legislation,” she commented.
The Family Research Council (FRC) said the bill was particularly important in light of the federal health care law which it believes will fund and subsidize abortion, and also in light of efforts to open military bases to abortion.
FRC Action senior vice president Tom McClusky charged that President Obama and congressional leaders have repeatedly attempted to “eviscerate” agreed limits on federal funding of abortion.
“We applaud Congressman Smith and numerous Members on both sides of the aisle for responding to the concerns of the American people by introducing a measure that applies an abortion funding ban across the federal government,” McClusky commented. “The American people, regardless of their views of abortion's legality, should not be forced to pay for someone's abortion.”
“We applaud all the Democrats and Republicans cosponsoring the Smith abortion funding ban, and urge all Americans to support this commonsense effort to restore government funding neutrality on abortion,” he continued.
A recent memo from the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service found that the health care legislation passed earlier this year did not specifically exclude abortion funding from high-risk insurance pools established by the law.
On Thursday the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new regulation which clearly prohibits the state high-risk pools from covering elective abortions.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Nobody could lead the Church without the assistance of God, said Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday. After seeing a film highlighting important moments in his ministry and the life of the Church from the last five years, the Pope observed that the Church is young and full of variety and that the role of the Successor of Peter is making the unity within it concrete and visible.
The Holy Father watched the movie "Five Years: Pope Benedict XVI," produced by the Bavarian public broadcasting company Bayerischer Rundfunk, on Thursday evening at Castel Gandolfo. On Friday morning, the Vatican released his commentary made immediately after the screening.
Having taken in the images from the first five years of his pontificate, Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation to all who were involved in making the film, which was an "extraordinary spiritual journey" that affords the possibility of "reliving and seeing again" the most important moments in the Church and his ministry since his election.
"For me personally, it was very moving to see some moments, especially those in which the Lord put the Petrine service on my shoulders, a weight that no one could carry by himself with solely his own strength, but can carry only because the Lord carries us and carries me," said the Pope.
He went on to point out that the movie sheds light on the "richness of the life of the Church, the multiplicity of cultures, of charisms, of different gifts that live in the Church and how, in this multiplicity and great diversity, the same, one Church always lives ... "
Through the film, he continued, one can see the mandate of the Successor of Peter "to express the unity of this historical diversity, and make it visible, concrete."
"We've seen," Pope Benedict said, "that the Church also today, even though it suffers so much, as we know, is still a joyful Church, it is not an aged Church, but ... young and that (in it) the faith creates joy."
For this reason, he said, he found the inclusion of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the soundtrack "a beautiful idea," because the Ode to Joy "expresses how, behind all of history, we are already redeemed."
Of the final frames of the film which highlight his devotion to Mary, he said that it is she who can "teach us humility, obedience and the joy that God is with us."
Madrid, Spain, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA) - Caritas Spain recently approved a donation of $167,700 for farming aid in Peru in order to boost child nutrition in the South American country. The money is part of an aid package totaling $537,384 for projects in countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
According to the Efe news agency, Caritas announced the aid package “will be distributed between Angola, Mozambique, Kyrgyzstan, Cambodia and Peru.”
“Half of the amount, $272,934 will be used for nutrition and education programs in Angola and Mozambique. In the latter country, two projects will be carried out: the construction of a multi-purpose center that will offer health care, and the rehabilitation of the Catholic University of Pemba,” Efe reported.
“Another $64,500 will be to help those displaced by the recent outbreak of violence in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.” The remaining $32,250 will be used “for a healthcare program for the poor in Cambodia.”
Quito, Ecuador, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA) - The Technological University of Loja in Ecuador announced that the 2010 Idente Mission titled, “Disciples and Missionaries of Christ, Let’s Evangelize Ecuador,” will bring young missionaries from around the country together August 13-21.
According to organizers, the purpose of the Idente Mission is to combine the spreading of the faith with service to the community according to the Lord’s mandate: “Go throughout the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.”
“Filled with the love of God, which is expressed concretely in love of neighbor, the mission is based on two main objectives: to evangelize and to serve. The young missionaries share their lives with people they encounter on mission,” organizers said. They bring the people the “joy of the gospel” and put “their knowledge at the service of human and spiritual development of their brethren who are most in need,” organizers said.
“Keeping in mind that the first mission territory is one’s own self,” they added, the young missionaries “enter into a process of comprehensive formation, which synthesizes excellence in their profession with a commitment to the community.”
More information can be found at: http://www.utpl.edu.ec/misionidenteecuador/
Vatican City, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Friday, the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI's prayer intentions for the month of August. In his intentions, the Pontiff is praying that those in serious financial need or require housing will be assisted.
Pope Benedict's general prayer intention is: "That those who are without work or homes or who are otherwise in serious need may find understanding and welcome, as well as concrete help in overcoming their difficulties."
His mission intention is: "That the Church may be a 'home' for all people, ready to open her doors to any who are suffering from racial or religious discrimination, hunger or wars forcing them to emigrate to other countries."
Mexico City, Mexico, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA/Europa Press) - Local authorities have reported that a priest, Fr. Carlos Salvador Wotto, was found dead at the parish of Our Lady of the Snows in Oaxaca, Mexico. Signs of torture were evident on the priest’s body.
The 83-year-old Fr. Wotto was found bound and gagged inside his office. He had a bag over his head and cigarette burns on various parts of his body. Authorities have not ruled out that Fr. Wotto died from asphyxiation nor that the motive was robbery.
José Barragán, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Antequera confirmed that the priest’s body showed signs of torture. However, Barragán would release no further details. “We must wait until the investigation is concluded. Any commentary would be irresponsible.”
“We are all shocked,” he told the Mexican daily, La Jornada.
Several parishioners reported that they were waiting for the priest to arrive to celebrate the 6 p.m. Mass at the parish, which is located in the heart of the city. When the priest did not show up, they went to his office to search for him. It was there that they found his body.
A woman, who asked not to be identified, swore that shortly after 5 p.m. someone showed up at the priest's office to give him a jello dessert. When the person knocked, Fr. Wotto responded through the closed door and asked that the dessert be left outside his office.
Birmingham, England, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The biography written as part of Cardinal John Henry Newman's cause for canonization will be released at a conference in Birmingham, England this September. The day before the Pope's arrival in the city, several leading biographers will examine the "extraordinary man of God" and his beatification.
The International Convention Centre of Birmingham will be the venue of the Sept. 18 all-day conference, "J. H. Newman by his Biographers," announced through local Church's website for the papal visit.
The event, they say, "is an important opportunity to hear four world-class Newman scholars and biographers talk about the man, the message and his enduring significance."
Fr. Ian Ker of Oxford University and Dr. Sheridan Gilley of Durham University as well as Fr. Michael Lang from the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship will be speaking. The fourth and final speaker is Fr. Keith Beaumont of the Oratory of France, the author of "Blessed John Henry Newman, the Authorized Beatification Biography."
Fr. Beaumont's work, produced as an essential part of the examination process into Cardinal Newman's cause for sainthood, will be officially launched during the conference.
According to organizers, participants in the Saturday conference on Cardinal Newman will have the opportunity for "extended discussions" with Fr. Beaumont and the other three speakers at different times throughout the day.
At the close of the conference, a "Newman exhibition" will be inaugurated at the Birmingham Museum by the city's mayor and, in the late-cardinal's honor, "The Dream of Gerontius" will also be performed that evening in the Birmingham Town Hall.
The music of "Gerontius," which premiered in the same venue 110 years ago, was composed by Sir Edward Elgar and the text was taken from a poem written by Cardinal Newman about a man's death, judgment and arrival in purgatory. It will be performed by the Birmingham's Ex Cathedra choir and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment which plays Baroque, Classical and early Romantic music on original instruments.
Barcelona, Spain, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA) - The president of Professionals for Ethics (PPE) in Catalonia, Ramon Novella, denounced the government of the Spanish region because it “wants to give carte blanche to the abortion business and to the contraception sector” through the implementation of a commission on maternal care and reproductive health.
Novella’s denunciation refers to the government of Catalonia's creation of an advisory committee on maternal care, paying special attention to emotional, sexual and reproductive health.
Novella indicated that the new committee will facilitate the enactment of Spain’s new abortion law. Members of the commission include: the Association for Family Planning of Catalonia and Balears, the Catalonian Society for Contraception and the Bioethics Advisory Committee of Catalonia. The administration will also be appointing various individuals to the commission.
“The commission doesn’t reflect the plurality of society because it doesn’t include representatives of parents nor from entities that work in defense of life, the family and pregnant women. Neither does it mention groups which promote natural methods of controlling fertility,” Novella added.
He declared that, faced with this situation, the PPE will present claims which ask, among other things, that the words “reproductive and sexual health” be removed because they are terms “used as a pretext to justify abortion and the distribution of contraceptives.”
Novella concluded by calling on families and associations to mobilize and fight to modify this project.
Rome, Italy, Jul 30, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - An interview with former Swiss Guard Joseph Schmidt, was released this week in which he addressed the meaning behind his 15 years of service in the mid-20th century. Schmidt, who also highlighted the history of the office, died the same day the interview aired.
The television news agency, Rome Reports, released the "Farewell to a Swiss Guard who served three popes: his last interview" on Wednesday, the day Joseph Schmidt died.
In the interview, he explained that the Swiss Guard was formed in 1506 by 189 soldiers sent by the Swiss government to Rome to protect Pope Julius II when he left the Vatican premises. As the video's narrator pointed out, they have been there ever since.
Schmidt himself served among their ranks for 15 years. He explained that, "For almost 8 years, I served Pius XII, then John XXIII and in the later years it was Paul VI.” Schmidt was made lieutenant by the time of his discharge.
Highlighting the major duties of the Swiss Guard in service to the Pope, he detailed that “First of all, they have to guard the Pope’s apartment, night and day. Secondly, they have to perform ‘extraordinary services’ which are private and public audiences with the pope."
According to the guards' website, little has changed in 500 years: "Changes are subject to the ways in which the mission is accomplished, the people, the guardsmen who are called upon and ... the environment in which they move."
One change, recalled Schmidt, is that back when he served, the longest trip the Pope ever took was to his summer villa at Castel Gandolfo.
Putting that information in perspective, Pope Benedict XVI, at 83 years of age, has already taken airplanes to Cyprus, Malta and Turin this year and is scheduled to travel to the U.K. and Spain yet this fall. His July 4 trip to Sulmona, Italy alone, at just over 100 miles from Rome, takes on another significance in that light.
Speaking of the personal experiences of the guards, who must be Catholic to enter into the Pope's service, Schmidt said that some still have complete conversions.
"Guarding the Vicar of Christ is something priceless,” he said.
“All of us have trained in the Swiss army, which is no walk in the park. Plus, in the Swiss Guard, there’s a different tone; the training and discipline are very rigorous, but naturally in a healthy way.”
In a show of their strength and solidarity, on May 6 of next year, 700 Swiss Guards will arrive in the Vatican having marched from Switzerland, more than 400 miles to the north, according to Rome Reports. On that day in 1527, nearly 150 guards were killed in the "Sack of Rome" as they defended Pope Clement VII.
May 6 is also the day that new guards are sworn into the service of the Pope.