St. Paul, Minn., Mar 24, 2011 (CNA) - A sign in the bathroom of Tim and Nicole Roach’s home in Faribault, Minn. reads, “Gratitude, Always Remember to Count Your Blessings.”
“It should say, ‘August, wash your hands and brush your teeth,’” joked Nicole, referring to her 9-year-old son.
The sign has come in handy recently as the family, which belongs to Divine Mercy in Faribault, continues to struggle with Tim’s unemployment, which began in July 2009 when he was laid off of his job as an electrician. And, the couple had to take an even harder look at the concept of gratitude when a huge blessing unexpectedly appeared recently, then vanished in a matter of seconds.
In mid February, Tim, got a call from his local union with the news every laid off worker longs to hear — a job offer.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. Tim’s unemployment benefits were about to run out. He could hardly believe what the voice on the other end was presenting to him — an offer to be a job foreman for at least 11 months, with a salary of $65,000 to $70,000 a year.
Perfect, Tim thought. Then came the bad news — he would be working on construction of a new Planned Parenthood Clinic in St. Paul on University Avenue. The highest of highs became the lowest of lows as he quickly turned down the offer.
“The roller coaster started going downhill,” said Tim, 38. “He [union rep] wasn’t really sure if there were going to be abortions there. He kind of sidestepped that, I think, to try to entice me to say yes. But, I said, ‘Wait a minute. It’s a Planned Parenthood.’”
Facing financial fears
And, just like that, Tim went back to being unemployed with no immediate prospects — and his unemployment benefits set to run out sometime this month. Fortunately, his wife, Nicole, 37, has a full-time job as a media specialist for Akin Road Elementary School in Farmington. Still, things are tight financially for the family, which also includes 11-year-old Adeline.
Though Tim was quick to turn down the offer — the phone conversation lasted only about a minute — Nicole was slower to embrace his decision, mainly because she works with the family budget and has dealt with the financial stress of Tim’s lengthy unemployment.
“The first thing I wanted to do was justify (taking the job),” she said, when Tim called her moments after he turned it down. “It’s just a clinic. No, it isn’t.
“Through this whole process, our faith has deepened,” she said. “We feel like it was a test of our faith. We chose to stand by our faith.”
To some outside observers, this is another important way of being pro-life. Perhaps, not as direct as picketing an abortion clinic, it, nonetheless, sends a message about the sanctity of human life, says Sharon Wilson, respect life coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life.
Decision inspires homily
“What struck me most is that he turned it down immediately,” she said. “He had within himself that sort of moral upbringing that had him immediately recognize that this was not the right thing to do (take the job).”
Shortly after making his decision, Tim’s story was sent out via e-mail. It landed on the computer of Father Erik Lundgren, associate pastor of Divine Mercy, who parlayed it into one of his homilies. In the Gospel reading for that Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples that they can’t serve both God and money.
”I just thought it was an inspiring example to everyone in our parish, in the zeal that’s necessary for us Catholics to take into the pro-life debate, the pro-life struggle,” Father Lundgren said. “It’s inspiring to me as a priest. Here at Divine Mercy, the words, ‘Jesus, I trust in you’ are written on our baptismal font, and that’s what it’s all about.”
That’s the kind of trust the Roach family is taking up as Tim continues to look for a job. Ultimately, his goal is to start up his own company, but he will need to earn and save money to make that happen. In the meantime, he is eager to take any work he can find. One asset that both he and Nicole have is a sense of peace that wasn’t there just a few months ago.
“In the last six months, we’ve learned to take our fears and worries and give them to God,” Nicole said. “It’s really changed me and my faith. I feel like I’m proud to be a Catholic and proud to take a stand against abortion.”
Printed with permission from The Catholic Spirit, newspaper for the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2011 (CNA) - The Catholic Association of Latino Leaders opened its newest chapter in Washington, D.C. on March 23, with a ceremony at the Vatican's embassy to the United States.
Washington, D.C.'s Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl presided at the commissioning ceremony, which also featured remarks from Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and U.S. papal nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi. Archbishop Gomez was among the association's founding members at its beginning in 2007.
As an organization of the lay faithful, the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders has a twofold focus on strengthening Latino Catholics' faith lives, and influencing the direction of American society in keeping with Catholic social and moral teachings.
The association’s president and CEO, Robert Aguirre, took the opportunity to explain the organization's purpose to attendees at the opening ceremony.
“First and foremost, CALL is about taking the individual responsibility to transform our lives through spiritual renewal and growth,” said Aguirre.
“Second, it is about fulfilling our individual and collective responsibility to speak out and speak strongly on the important issues of our time.”
“Today, more than ever,” he reflected, “we are challenged on issues that strike to the very heart of respect for human life, human dignity, and social justice.”
Aguirre explained that the group’s foundational document is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' 1998 pastoral statement, “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics.” He summarized the document as a call for a “renewal” of Catholic action “in our public life and our institutions.”
He stated that the association “seeks to meet this challenge, and fulfill our responsibility, in several ways” – beginning with the formation of local chapters focused on prayer and planning, and continuing with analysis and advocacy on social questions from a Catholic perspective.
Aguirre concluded his remarks by recalling a saying of Archbishop Gomez. “Our beloved founder and Episcopal Moderator,” he recalled, “once wrote: 'Justice in society begins in the human heart.'”
“CALL’s mission and purpose is no different,” Aguirre said. “In begins in our hearts.”
“Our prayer tonight is that, together, we will grow in our discipleship to be leaven in the world, salt of the earth, and a light to our nation.”
The association's Washington, D.C. chapter is its eighth, following the establishment of branches in Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Miami, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and San Antonio. In addition to its new Washington, D.C. chapter, the association is also working to form a branch in New York.
Denver, Colo., Mar 24, 2011 (CNA) - “Love Wins,” a new book by prominent evangelical pastor Rob Bell, was creating controversy weeks before it was released on March 15, for its non-traditional proposals about eternal salvation and God's judgment. Now, Catholic and evangelical voices are calling for clarity in discussing the issues it raises.
Bell's latest work – subtitled “A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” – was promoted through a video that provocatively asked whether Gandhi, and the majority of the human race, had been eternally condemned by God for their lack of Christian faith.
While the book raises more questions than it answers, some reviewers have interpreted it as an argument for universal salvation, a position most evangelicals would regard as not biblical. Bell also suggests that there could be an opportunity for faith and repentance after death, and that God's condemnation of some individuals may not be final.
The Catholic Church denies the possibility of either post-mortem repentance or a temporary hell, and most Catholic theologians have regarded universal salvation as an impossibility. Pope John Paul II wrote that the “silence of the Church” was “the only appropriate position” on the question of whether any particular person was saved or lost.
Bell also speculates that some non-Christians may reach salvation through a type of implicit or unconscious relationship to Christ. The Catholic Church accepts this notion as a possibility, in instances where individuals have failed to receive the Gospel message by no fault of their own.
John Michael Talbot, a Catholic recording artist with close ties to the evangelical world, told CNA that all Christians must be careful in approaching the subject of death, judgment, and the afterlife – particularly those who rely upon “scripture alone,” without the Church's definitive teaching authority.
Talbot, who left evangelicalism and founded a Franciscan brotherhood, described many contemporary evangelicals as feeling “a hunger for something less legalistic, more mystical and intellectually rich,” than the “rather shallow answers” they are often given in response to questions about salvation and judgment.
But Talbot said Bell, and other like-minded evangelicals, “lack the full set of tools to find those deeper answers” – which Catholics are given through “sacred scripture, apostolic tradition, and the magisterium, or teaching authority, of the church.”
He indicated that Catholic teachings on salvation could provide more definitive answers to the kinds of questions that led Bell to write “Love Wins.”
“Those who have never had the good news of Jesus written on their hearts by the Spirit are only responsible for what they know,” Talbot said, paraphrasing what the Second Vatican Council taught in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
“Therefore,” he stated, “those who are not Christians may be saved.”
But he pointed out that this possibility “does not negate the need to proclaim that Jesus alone is the fullness of God's revelation to humanity, and opens the doorway to salvation.”
Talbot said that the Catholic understanding of salvation portrays God's character more accurately than the common Evangelical teaching that assumes all non-Christians are damned.
Catholic teaching on salvation, he said, “is like a rich oil painting of Jesus, as compared to a black and white line drawing or even a cartoon. It has the basics found in the line drawing, but with subtle colors, shades, and hues not found in the other approach.”
But Talbot concurred with Bell's evangelical critics in rejecting the notion of universal salvation.
“The mystery of iniquity is that some will actually choose to turn from God for eternity,” he said. “This seems inconceivable to most of us, but scripture and tradition says that some will.”
Dr. Douglas Groothuis, an evangelical philosopher and apologist who teaches at the non-denominational Denver Seminary, gave CNA his perspective on several subjects where Bell takes an unconventional turn in “Love Wins.”
“Some evangelicals hold that while salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, some in the New Covenant era may be saved by Christ without having known of the Gospel as such, if they fulfill certain conditions.” But, Groothuis said, “others deny this.”
Many evangelicals are committed to the principle of salvation by “faith alone,” which teaches that no human act other than believing in Christ has any bearing on one's salvation.
But Groothuis said “most evangelicals” would accept the possibility of God making a “final offer” of salvation to individuals at the threshold of death. Catholic teaching holds that this could occur, although it is impossible to know whether or not it actually happens.
“Love Wins” also contains a passage in which Bell expresses anxiety for the fate of those who die suddenly and unexpectedly, without having become Christians. He indicates that the notion of an immediate and final judgment after death makes God turn from “kind and compassionate” to “cruel and relentless, in the blink of an eye.”
But Groothuis said that this issue of death and judgment required a clearer understanding of God's providence, a subject on which evangelicals largely concur with the Catholic Church.
According to Catholic teaching, God has complete sovereignty over the beginning and end of life, and complete foreknowledge of human decisions. From these principles, it can be inferred that no one dies “before his time,” meaning that all those who die are either prepared to face God and be saved – or else, would never have chosen to be saved even if given additional time.
Groothuis agreed with this traditional understanding of God's providence, and said it could help both evangelicals and Catholics to understand the logic of an irrevocable judgment immediately after death – because, he indicated, every person is either prepared to face the judgment, or would never have prepared themselves in any case.
“God is sovereign over life and death, “ he stated. “Nothing surprises God.”
Lima, Peru, Mar 24, 2011 (CNA) - The Constitutional Court of Peru ruled that the Bible and the crucifix do not violate the secular nature of the the country.
On March 22 the court ruled against a lawsuit filed by Peruvian lawyer Jorge Manuel Linares Bustamante, who demanded that crucifixes and Bibles be removed from courtrooms.
Constitutional Court Justice Gerardo Eto Cruz explained to CNA on March 23 that said the presence of crucifixes and Bibles in public places does not violate the religious freedom of persons.
In its ruling the court explained that “the presence of religious symbols such as the crucifix or the Bible that have historically or traditionally been present in public areas such as the offices and courtrooms of the justice system does not affect religious freedom or the principle of the secular nature of the state.”
“We have a non-sectarian or secular state as a rule, but the Constitution itself established in article 50 that within this regime of independence the state has with the Church, the Church is truly a part of the historical, cultural and moral heritage of Peru,” Justice Eto Cruz said.
“Historically, nobody in his right mind can deny that Spain’s presence in Latin America came through its language and religious heritage. This is part of our cultural formation,” he added.
The religious symbols in a courtroom do not amount to an endorsement of religion, but rather they signify the historical and cultural connection of these symbols to the state as such, Eto Cruz said.
The Peruvian ruling comes only days after the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg allowed crucifixes in public classrooms in Italy.
Eto Cruz said the rulings by both courts were very similar.
Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Mar 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Reports from Ivory Coast indicate that the embattled West African nation is on the brink of civil war, with outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo recruiting thousands of young people to fight on his behalf against domestic and international backers of his rival, president-elect Alassane Ouattara.
The United Nations said on March 24 that the violence had already claimed 462 lives – 52 of them during the past week alone – and forced 500,000 people from their homes.
Church sources in Ivory Coast, who were not identified for security reasons, told Fides news agency that the country's administrative and economic capital Abidjan was engulfed in violence. They said the country was “sliding into civil war,” and that attempts at mediation were running into difficulty.
“The religious leaders of Ivory Coast are trying to mediate,” said one source within the local church, “but it seems difficult to contact the two parties. Communication difficulties also hamper the process of finding a common position among the religious representatives.”
While attempting to serve as peacemakers, religious groups have also feared for their own safety. A Franciscan convent sustained structural damage from heavy artillery on March 21, while supporters of Laurent Gbagbo have reportedly burned a number of Muslim mosques.
Gbagbo, a Catholic, has refused to give up the country's presidency despite losing to the Muslim candidate Ouattara in Ivory Coast's November 2010 election. The Catholic Church in Ivory Coast has insisted that the country's conflict is not religious in nature and should not lead to sectarian violence.
A religious sister of the Congregation of the Holy Family, Sister Rosaria, offered Fides a vivid description of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Abidjan.
“Rounds are fired suddenly, when you least expect it,” she said. “The exodus of the population continues. There are people dying of starvation because food and medical supplies are scarce. Add to that the effects of heat on the physically debilitated.”
Sister Rosaria lamented the effects of an economic embargo designed to force Gbagbo to step down from power, saying it was “impossible to watch people dying simply because they have no medicine.”
“The pharmacies are closed and the embargo that was imposed aggravates the situation. The people are tired of not having anything.”
“It is the poor who are paying the price for everyone,” she said. “The smallest pay in the struggle for power.”
“I saw an eight year old girl taken to the dispensary with her brains hanging out of her head. How can we stop this massacre?”
Rinaldo Depagne, a Senior Analyst for West Africa at the International Crisis Group, told Vatican Radio that the situation in Adibjan was “deteriorating very quickly.” He said large numbers of young people loyal to Gbagbo were being persuaded to leave behind their jobs and join his army.
“You've got groups fighting for Gbagbo, groups fighting for Ouattara – and apparently, groups that don't obey any regular chain of commands or orders,” said Depagne. “Many civilians' lives are at stake.”
“It's very difficult to say it's a civil war or not. But we are on the brink of something very, very nasty in Ivory Coast, if nothing is done – especially to stop Mr. Gbagbo acting like he is acting.”
Depagne wants the European Union to join forces with the Economic Community of West African States, to intervene and protect Ivorian civilians. Although large portions of the country have not seen violence, no resolution appears forthcoming in the conflict over the presidency.
So far, international attempts at both mediation and intervention have failed. Gbagbo's “Young Patriots” consider themselves to be fighting a defensive war against U.N. peacekeeping forces who back Ouattara as the election winner – and against the president-elect's own native supporters, known as the “Republican Forces.”
While the economic sanctions against Laurent Gbagbo have caused serious problems for ordinary citizens, Depagne said the measures also had “a very strong effect” on Gbagbo himself.
“In March, he only paid 70 percent of the civil servants and soldiers,” said Depagne. “He's not in a very comfortable situation. The fact that he asked young people to join the army is a clear clue that he has no more money to pay for a regular army, and has to fill the gap with inexperienced young people.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 24, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata, Argentina recently explained that the defense of the unborn is supported by both science and the faith.
He added that faith teaches us that “the Son of God became man in the womb of Mary and shared in our humanity.”
The archbishop emphasized the right to life during his program “Keys to a Better World” on March 19.
He also referred to the celebration of the Day of the Unborn Child on March 25, when Catholics commemorate the Solemnity of the Annunciation and “the mystery of the incarnation.” This truth of the faith makes it possible for Catholics to rescue and regain “a rational truth, a natural truth that is clearly apparent to the consciences of every person of good will.”
“From the moment of conception, that is, from the first instant of the personal existence of a human being, a life is present that has incomparable value and cannot be suppressed,” the archbishop said. “This is a natural truth that is ratified by the revelation of God and is expressed in the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’,” he added.
Science also supports this truth by demonstrating that from the union of an egg and a sperm a new person is created, infused with an immortal soul by God, he said.
“For this reason human life has an irrepressible value. It’s not about feelings, but scientific reason. Our feelings ought to flow from the truth of this reason.”
Archbishop Aguer underscored the importance of reflecting on the meaning of life and “the immense possibilities that are destroyed when an unborn human life is not allowed develop.”
New York City, N.Y., Mar 24, 2011 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume on the life of Jesus Christ debuted in the number 10 slot on the March 27 New York Times Bestseller List in the hardcover nonfiction category.
“Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week” discusses the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, from his entrance into Jerusalem to his Resurrection and appearances to his disciples and other followers. It is the second volume in a planned three-book series.
Mark Brumley, president of the book’s publisher Ignatius Press, said Ignatius was “delighted” the book became an instant bestseller.
“It means that many people across the country are discovering Pope Benedict’s insights into the life of Jesus Christ,” he said. “In this way, more and more people will encounter the real Jesus, which was the Holy Father’s goal in writing the book.”
Brumley expressed hope that the book could become the number one seller in America.
The book also ranked as the 29th best-selling work on the Times’ e-Book Nonfiction category.
Protestant scholar Dr. Craig A. Evans of Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, Canada, said the book was “a remarkable achievement.”
“It’s the best book I’ve read on Jesus in years. This is a book that I think all Christians should read, be they Protestant or Catholic.”
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Distinguished Research Professor of Religion and Theology at Bard College in New York, said the Pope aimed to unify theology and critical history in response to the failure of critical scholarship during the last century.
“And he’s accomplished something that no one else has achieved in the modern study of Scripture.”
Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretariat for doctrine, said the book fulfills Pope Benedict’s “ardent desire” to be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and to believe in him.”