Archive of January 29, 2011

Haitians in Kansas City offer prayers for all who suffer

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 29, 2011 (CNA) - Some 50 Catholic Haitian-Americans came to pray on the Jan. 12 anniversary of the earthquake that devastated their already devastated home island nation.

But they didn’t come to pray only for themselves and Haiti.

“We want to bring everything to the altar,” said Vesnel Francois, leader of the community that organized the special Mass at St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City Mo., as he also lead prayers for recent victims of disasters all over the world — 2001 terrorist attack victims, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami victims, the 2005 victims of Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 victims of the Indonesian tsunami, and the 2011 victims of flooding in Queensland, Australia, which was happening as they prayed.

If there is one thing that the people of Haiti understand, he said, it is suffering.

“The purpose is to remember we are all connected,” Francois said. “Today, we pay tribute to those who are suffering not only in Haiti, but to all who have died in disasters that happen at any time.”

The Mass they celebrated that evening was a symbolic funeral, even though there is yet no end to the suffering in Haiti.

An empty casket, loaned by Passantino Brothers Funeral Home, was draped in a Haitian flag, then covered with a white burial cloth, symbolizing all the some 250,000 who died within seconds of the earthquake, and in the year following from diseases including a cholera epidemic.

“In solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Haiti who died, and in solidarity with all who are still suffering with the lack of basic necessities, we offer our Eucharistic prayer,” said Benedictine Father Brendan Helbing, associate pastor of the parish, as he blessed the casket.

In his homily, he reminded the congregation that came through snow on a bitterly cold Wednesday night, that the celebration was more about life than death.

Telling a fable of Death, “born female and fully grown millions of years ago,” Father Helbing spoke of how Death lived a lonely life, watching everything die that she touched, until one day she saw a man on a cross, his eyes calling her forward.

“Death touched his cheek, and like all before him, he closed his eyes and became lifeless and cold,” Father Brendan said.

Death watched the man being taken down from the cross, cradled in his mother’s arms, then taken to a tomb in a cave.

Just before a huge stone was rolled to seal the cave, Death slipped inside.

On the following Sunday, some women went to the cave to attend the body. Neither the man, nor Death was inside, Father Brendan said.

“Since that Sunday, all who look at Death through the eyes of faith now look at it differently,” he said. “They know that love is life, and Death is the doorway to eternal life.”

Following the Mass, Francois told The Catholic Key that the situation in Haiti one year later is just as desperate as it was a year ago, despite a massive outpouring of support from around the world.

Hundreds of thousands are homeless, living in tent cities or in shelters built of whatever material they can find. Preventable diseases are rampant, Francois said, and there is virtually no government infrastructure to direct relief efforts.

“We failed to take advantage of this moment to unite the country and to use the ‘reset’ button to build something better,” Francois said. “Because of the lack of leadership, the humanitarian efforts around the world have had little effect. People are still fighting to survive.”

Francois said that Haiti’s problem isn’t just poverty.

“It is a matter of trust and leadership,” he said. “That is why we turn to the church. The church doesn’t have to do business as usual. We need to put faith in action, and we believe we can go through this and progress.

“We need your help, but nothing replaces your prayer to give strength to men, women and children, who are living everyday in uncertainty,” he said.

Vesnel Francois has co-founded the Lambdi Group to help parishes in the United States directly assist parishes in Haiti and provide other relief to Haiti. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Printed with permission from The Catholic Key, newspaper for the Diocese of Kansas City, Mo.

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Papal adviser finds holes in new study on abortion and mental health

Rome, Italy, Jan 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new study concluding that women who have abortions are not at risk for later psychological problems used questionable methodology, comments Dr. Carlo Bellieni, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 27 published the study, “Induced First-Trimester Abortion and Risk of Mental Disorder.” The study was compiled by Danish researchers.

It concludes that the possibility of a woman visiting a psychiatrist for the first time before or after having an abortion is nearly equal, while a woman who gives birth is far more likely to seek first-time psychiatric help.

Bellieni, an Italian neonatal doctor who monitors research on bioethical issues, told CNA Jan. 28 that the conclusions of this latest study are misleading.

He criticized the researchers’ methods, saying that “psychiatric first-contact” does not necessarily mean that all women were diagnosed as having a confirmed psychiatric problem.

Regarding sample selection, he noted the authors’ report that the girls and women in the study population, as well as their parents, were classified as having a mental disorder “if they had records of inpatient or outpatient contact at psychiatric facilities in Denmark for any mental disorder.”

According to Bellieni, researchers should have studied only women “who made first-time contact with a mental health professional and received a diagnoses.”

“Going to the psychiatrist doesn't mean they have a mental disorder,” he said. “You can go to the psychiatrist for a million things. Clearly you can have doubts, states of anxiety, sadness, you might not be happy, but that doesn't mean a person has a mental illness.”

For this new study, researchers used medical records of 365,500 Danish women between the years 1995 to 2007. Of these women, 84,620 aborted their pregnancies and 280,930 gave birth. Researchers compared the numbers of those making first-time visits to mental health professionals in the year after their abortion or live birth with those who had sought help up to nine months prior.

The rates of those seeking care following an abortion were no different than in the period preceding the abortion, according to Trine Munk-Olsen and her associates at the National Center for Register-Based Research at Aarhus University, Denmark.

The paper also shows that one percent of women sought help for possible mental disorders in the nine months before the abortion, while 1.5 percent did so in the 12 months that followed.

On the other hand, 0.3 percent of women who gave live birth visited a psychiatrist for the first time in the nine months before birth compared to an average of 0.7 percent in the year that followed. More detailed analysis showed a sharp spike of “risk of first contact” with psychiatrists from these women in the time just after the baby was born.

Using these numbers researchers reported that women show no greater risk of psychological disorders after an abortion while women who give birth do.

“The risk of a psychiatric contact did not differ significantly before and after abortion, but the risk after childbirth was significantly greater than the risk before childbirth,” the study announced.

Dr. Bellieni said these conclusions seem to contradict some of the results of the study. In his view, the study's authors should have discussed the one-and-a-half times increase in the number of first psychiatric visits among women who had abortions.

He also pointed out that while the study discloses the difference in levels of first contact between the two groups, it does not highlight and discuss the reasons women who abort seek psychiatric help at more than two times the rate of the women who give live birth.

It also does not account for women who “hid” their abortions and did not seek help, he added.

There is a stigma to seeking psychiatric help following an abortion in countries where the procedure is legal, noted the doctor.

“You have no right to complain about sickness after an abortion, they say, because it is a 'right' and a 'normal thing,’” he said. “So to say that you are sick after an abortion is heresy in a Western country."

The study does acknowledge the possibility that women who had had abortions and not sought help may have been underestimated in its results.

In addition, while studying “first-time” contact with mental health professionals, researchers excluded those women who may have had prior contact or on-going mental health care.

Bellieni said these categories of women should have been included in the study’s sample population. The authors themselves recognize this limit to their study.

While the results tout the near-equal “risk of psychiatric contact” in women who seek help before and after the abortion, he said that there are more interesting patterns for study in the data.

Women who had abortions, for example, sought help at nearly the same rate for the entire 21 months included in the study, including the six-month period before their pregnancy.

The study was based on the premise that abortions were carried out within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

“I can understand that women who will seek abortions go [to a psychiatrist] when they learn they are pregnant, but it is obscure why they begin going in the few months before they knew,” Bellieni continued.

“It is unusual that healthy women, who had no previously recorded psychiatric visits, might seek help before the occurrence of the ‘traumatic event’ - in this case learning of a pregnancy.

“The authors should have explained this point,” Bellieni said.

There are other aspects that merit further examination in this regard, according to the doctor.

It is important to highlight that the rate of women who gave birth and sought “first contact” with mental health professionals, while spiking in the month after birth, decreased by at least one-half in the two months that followed.

Bellieni explained the numbers: “We all know that after a childbirth there is a depression. It is very common: post-partum depression. It is clear — but it ceases, it decreases with time while depression after abortion may not.”

He cited a 2005 paper published by the journal BMC Medicine that studied psychological responses of women who had miscarriages and those who had abortions up to five years after the event. It found that women how had miscarried responded with higher “anxiety scores” in the first six months, while women who aborted demonstrated prolonged psychological ailments.

Bellieni noted that researchers for the just-published Danish study also did not explore another particularly noteworthy finding in their study.

Women who sought first-time psychiatric help following an abortion were 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed for possible personality and behavior disorders than in the year prior to having the abortion, he said.

While the just-published Danish study has gained high visibility for being published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Bellieni said, “it deserves more careful discussion.”

“We have to consider it with respect, of course. But together with the respect we also have to make our critiques,” he added.

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'Lost Valentine' TV movie promotes Catholic values, says priest

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new made-for-TV movie by Hallmark and a faith-based film company in time for Valentine's Day promotes “tremendous” Catholic values, a priest involved with the production said.

The president of Paulist Productions, Fr. Eric Andrews, praised the film to CNA for having what he called “poignant moments” where “faith and trust in God's promises are put to the test and not found wanting.”

“The Lost Valentine,” airing on CBS this Sunday, Jan. 30 at 9 Eastern time, features actress Jennifer Love Hewitt of Ghost Whisperer fame, as well as veteran performer and recent pop culture phenomenon Betty White.

The story is based on the book by James Michael Pratt and follows Caroline Thomas –  played by White – an elderly woman who's Navy pilot husband disappeared after leaving to fight in World War II several decades earlier.

The day he left, a young, pregnant Caroline saw him off at a train station and gave him her parting gift of a homemade valentine. Many years later, she still hasn't seen her missing husband and continues to visit the train station to honor him on the same day every year. Enter Jennifer Love Hewitt's character Susan Allison, a cynical reporter who's been assigned to cover a feature story on Caroline's unwavering love for her husband and devotion to her marital vows. The two develop a deep friendship that leads to startling discoveries.

Although Fr. Andrews said the movie doesn't have as much overt religious content as the book, “there are tremendous Catholic and general faith values in the movie.” 

“We learn of the Christ-like, self-sacrificial love of the lost Navy pilot. We witness Betty White character's fidelity to the sacrament of Marriage, through the way she shares her marital love with those around her: family, friends, and in a special way war veterans.”

“The movie makes a strong case for those traditional values of service to God, country, and neighbor that are so needed in our world today,” he added.

Producer for Paulist Productions Barbara Gangi recalled bringing the story to Hallmark Hall of Fame over four years ago.

“Because of the valentine theme and strong, faith-based values, I felt this was the perfect home for this movie,” she said in a Jan. 27 interview. She said that Hallmark “loved it immediately” but that most film projects take a lot of time to put together the legal aspects and casting. 

“Once Betty White and Jennifer Love Hewitt came on board, everything moved very quickly,” she said, adding that the film was shot in 25 days in and around Atlanta. Gangi noted that the production quality “is equal to a theatrical film.”

Gangi also remembered how everyone in the cast and crew were deeply “involved emotionally in this movie.”

“It was a labor of love for all of us for many different reasons.  It's not often we have the opportunity to tell a meaningful story like this.”

Gangi noted that Betty White was particularly drawn to the enduring love aspect of the film and related this story to the devotion she has to her late husband, Allen Ludden. 

“She never remarried and has remained faithful to that powerful love to this day,” Gangi said. “She was reminded of him everyday when we were filming and spoke of him often.”
The film also held significance for Hewitt, who's “middle name is Love,” Gangi said, adding that the actress's mother was on the set in Atlanta and told Gangi that when she was pregnant with Jennifer, her due date was Valentine's Day.  

“That's one of the reasons she gave her this name,” Gangi said. “Valentine's Day and love in general have always been strong themes for Jennifer, who calls 'The Lost Valentine' the best love story she ever read.”

Gangi said that what initially attracted her to the narrative was its “strong” Christian values. “This is a tale of enduring love, the sanctity of marriage and the willingness to sacrifice your life for another human being.” 

The movie is also an homage to the military, she added.

“We had the full cooperation from the Department of the Navy.  In fact, the men in the Naval honor guard who appear in this film are actual officers in the Navy. The veterans who are shown, including one elderly gentleman who served with Patton, are all real vets,” Gangi said.

Fr. Andrews described “The Lost Valentine” as fitting perfectly into Paulist Production's mission “to be leaven in Hollywood.”

Since 1961, he explained, “we have been, as our Founder Paulist Father Ellwood 'Bud' Kieser used to say, 'Serving the Church by serving those outside the Church.'”

“This pre-evangelization calls us to produce content in all media platforms that lifts the human spirit and invites the viewer to know God and follow Him.” 

The ultimate goal of the production company, he said, is to encourage “those in the media to tell stories that are inspirational, spiritual, and life-giving” and to “find projects that reach a young adult audience, “many of whom are leaving the Church.”

He praised the upcoming movie as “a great story of a Catholic family whose faith and trust in God's love triumphs over loss and adversity.  It's a story that can connect to a general audience, regardless of faith background.”

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High stakes and hopes for Egypt's Christians in historic protests

Cairo, Egypt, Jan 29, 2011 (CNA) - As clashes between anti-government protesters and Egyptian police intensified on Jan. 28, some Coptic Orthodox Christians disregarded their church's call for peaceful non-involvement – in hopes that the possible abdication of President Hosni Mubarak could advance the cause of their freedom.

Professor Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, specializes in Islamic affairs and has been monitoring the Egyptian situation closely. He told CNA that many Coptic Christians were joining with Muslims to express their frustration with three decades of authoritarian rule.

“The different statements that called for today's demonstrations were calling on participants to come 'from the mosques and the churches,' to go to public squares,” Professor Shahin explained. “We have seen evidence that some Copts have been participating in the demonstrations.”

The protesters, he said, “need an end to corruption. They need the rule of law. They call for freedoms, and dignity – for social justice, and of course, for democracy.”

Officially, however, “the Egyptian Church is taking a separate side – it's not really participating, or encouraging its members to participate in the events.”

The unprecedented protests have brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians into the streets since Jan. 25, prompting President Mubarak to deploy security forces and shut down the means of communication – including internet access, text messaging and phone service – within the country.

At least 26 people have already been reported dead, although some government troops have allegedly refused to act against protesters. As of Jan. 28, the president was holding his ground, while acknowledging a number of economic and political grievances and demanding the resignation of his cabinet.

“This is an uprising calling for profound changes,” Shahin said. “It has narrowed down the options for the Egyptian regime: either change, or leave.”

Professor Shahin mentioned a number of statements coming from officials of the Coptic Church –including its leader, Pope Shenouda III – asking Copts not to participate in the demonstrations. They were urged, instead, to attend church services and pray for the peace and the well-being of their country.

But for many Coptic Christians, the prospect of a future without Mubarak – notwithstanding the uncertainty about who would replace him – held more appeal than the Coptic Pope's call for restraint.

“If President Mubarak is removed, and these uprisings lead to the establishment of a true democratic system, then I think everyone will benefit,” Shahin stated. “It would ensure a fair representation of the Copts within the political structures and the state.”

“But we're still really far from being there,” he acknowledged.

Egyptian Christians want their rights and legal status to be handled by what Shahin called “real governing institutions” – the judiciary and legislature – instead of the frequently brutal and corrupt state security apparatus. They want the right to build new churches, and an end to discriminatory policies that leave them socially, politically, and economically marginalized.

Shahin believes most Egyptians want to grant these rights to the Coptic Christians. President Mubarak, however, has not been inclined to do so.

“Mubarak doesn't want to appear weak – because Pope Shenouda is a very strong and highly political figure. He doesn't want to give any concession to him. He's been at war with the Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, so he doesn't want to appear – in front of a majority Muslim population – as giving concessions to Copts, while cracking down on Islamists.”

It's not clear whether the protesters can achieve their goal of ousting Mubarak, or how they will move forward if they succeed. “It's difficult to anticipate where this is going,” Shahin reflected. “It all depends on the public, and how steadfast they will be in continuing with the protests and demonstrations.”

The two most likely outcomes, Shahin predicted, were “someone from the military taking power – either directly or indirectly –  or a transitional unity government.”

“In terms of names,” he said, “I can think of 10 or 15 people who can successfully head a transitional government – one that would prepare the groundwork for a true and meaningful change, and a democratic transition.”

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Vatican official hopes talks with Egypt's Muslims will continue

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Following an Egyptian institution's decision to freeze inter-religious talks with the Vatican earlier this month, the head of the Pope's department for interfaith dialogue has voiced his assurance that the Holy See is still planning to attend their next scheduled meeting.

The Vatican official’s comments were unrelated to the massive civil unrest which has erupted in the country.

Relations between the Holy See and Egypt, and also between the Catholic Church and Islam, have had a rocky month and the Vatican is still trying to understand the cause.

During speeches highlighting a need for greater religious freedom earlier this month the Pope made reference to Egypt among other nations where attacks have taken place against Christians. He called the bombing attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt last New Year's Eve “yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt ... effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.”

The nation recalled its ambassador to the Holy See to clarify the Pope's meaning and shortly after, on Jan. 20, leaders at Cairo's Al Azhar University made the decision to freeze ongoing colloquia with the Vatican. Al Azhar is an important research center for Sunni Islam and the one of the Vatican's key points of reference for the Muslim world.

In comments to world media outlets, a spokesperson for the university's Islamic Research Academy alleged that Pope Benedict had interfered in the nation's affairs.

No official indication of suspension has been acknowledged by the Vatican. After hearing of the news, Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said that the Church continued in a position of “openness and readiness to dialogue” and was still seeking information on the freeze.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the president of the Vatican Congregation for Inter-religious Dialogue, told L'Osservatore Romano that despite confusion over the reasons for the apparent suspension, the Holy See hopes dialogue will continue.

Speaking for the Catholic Church's delegation in a Jan. 29 interview, he said they “would like to understand well” the motivations that led to the freeze.

“I think an attentive reading of the words of Benedict XVI’s 2011 message for World Day of Peace and his speech to the Diplomatic Corps on January 10 would help dispel the misunderstandings,” he said.

He said that the Pope referred simply to “universal values and therefore, in speaking of the effective enforcement of rights and freedoms of the human person, he did not interfere in any way in matters which are not within his competence.”

He defended the Pope's will to maintain open channels with Islam to bring about increased mutual understanding and joint action for “social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for the benefit of all mankind.”

Since the first day of his nearly six-year pontificate, Benedict XVI has shown appreciation for the Church's relations with Islam and other religions, said Cardinal Tauran. “I never found the least contempt for Islam in the words of Benedict XVI,” he added.

Cardinal Tauran hoped for a return to talks, emphasizing that it is “more necessary than ever” for the world's religions to promote love and peace.

“If we want progress in dialogue, we must first of all find the time to sit down and talk person-to-person and not through the newspapers.”

He hoped that readers of the Pope's addresses would see his intention to create “schools of prayer and fellowship” among believers.

As for relations with Al Azhar, with whom the Holy See holds talks twice a year, the cardinal hoped that their meetings will continue. For the Vatican, he said, the next scheduled appointment in February and all others are “still valid.”

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South Africa's Catholics praying for ill Nelson Mandela

Durban, South Africa, Jan 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Former South African president Nelson Mandela is in the prayers of the country's Catholic Church following his hospitalization for a severe illness.

Nelson Mandela, 92, was being treated for an acute respiratory infection at Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital this week. He was released on Jan. 28 and is now recovering at his nearby home.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa told Fides news that Catholics throughout southern Africa are praying for the ex-president's “speedy recovery” and for his family.

Speaking on behalf of Catholics in Botswana and Swaziland as well as his native South Africa, Cardinal Napier said that Mandela “means different things to different people.”

“To his family he is a veritable patriarch who stands for and is an example of the virtues of a truly great and loving Father, who cares for all near and dear to him.

“To the nation, he is a great and inspiring leader,” said Cardinal Napier.

He called Mandela a “true icon” of the reconciliation and unity he championed in post-apartheid South Africa.

He became the first president elected by vote of all South Africans, bringing to an end more than 40 years of the legal racial segregation known as apartheid.

“To the international community, he is a unique African and global statesman who rose above personal, tribal, race and party interests in order to lead the South African nation through a difficult transition from apartheid to democracy,” continued the cardinal.
He used the opportunity to send a message to Mandela himself. He concluded the message with the Xhosa word for fathers: “Tata, you are in our prayers.”

Mandela is expected to make a full recovery.

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