Springfield, Ill., May 6, 2011 (CNA) - Catholics in Illinois are fighting to protect their religious rights as a new civil unions law in the state could shut down Catholic adoption and foster care programs.
“We still need a change in Illinois law to give us some protection in providing foster care and adoption services in the state,” Illinois Catholic Conference head Robert Gilligan told CNA.
“We're trying to motivate legislators to act and letting people know we're serious about this.”
A press conference was held in Springfield on May 4 with leaders from the Catholic conference and Illinois' Catholic Charities to raise awareness on the issue and “send a clear message to the citizens of the state,” Gilligan said.
On June 1, Illinois is slated to implement a civil unions law, which will give legal rights and recognition to same-sex or unmarried opposite-sex couples.
In an effort to allow faith-based organizations to continue operating according to their beliefs, local congressmen proposed recent legislation to protect the groups' religious liberty.
However, the measure – titled SB 1123 – was defeated by a one-vote margin when it came before state senators on April 13. The rejection of the bill could cause public funding to be stripped from groups who believe that children should be given homes with one married, heterosexual couple or one single individual.
Gilligan said via phone on May 5 that he believes the legislation could be minimally amended and pass through without difficulty.
He explained that the bill had two provisions, one allowing religious groups to refer same-sex or cohabitating couples to secular agencies and one that would allow for county clerks to charge fees to couples seeking a civil unions license.
Gilligan said that one of the lawmakers who voted against the bill later expressed confusion over the fee aspect of the legislation, which could easily be changed.
“We now believe we have the votes to pass this,” he said.
“There's been no action” so far by state legislators, he added. “By going public with this we wanted to make sure people know we're being clear as possible.”
The threat of a Catholic adoption program shutdown in Illinois is being taken seriously by the local faith community, given recent forced closures in Washington, D.C. and in England and Wales.
Last February, Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. halted its foster care and adoption services after it was deemed ineligible for public funding over its stance against the district's same-sex “marriage” law.
Catholic adoption programs in England and Wales faced a similar fate. Last August, a local commission ruled that the last remaining agency, Catholic Care, was not justified in its refusal to place children with same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs.
“They're really hurting the children – at the end of the day, that's who is really getting hurt,” Gilligan told CNA in a previous interview on April 17.
“If we have layoffs, that will be painful, but the real losers – if we can't continue providing this care – are the children.”
Gilligan explained that the state of Illinois has a history of dependence on faith-based organizations.
“It's a shame that the state of Illinois can't recognize that valuable contribution that we have been providing to the citizens of Illinois even before the Department of Children and Family services was established,” he said.
Gilligan recalled that in the 1990s “the department was in disarray, so the state turned to Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and many good private agencies to help them.”
The state went from having 46,000 children in the foster care system in 1997 to 16,000 today.
“The reason that is, is because the private agencies stepped up to the plate and they cooperated with the state to provide adoptive homes for children that were lingering in foster care far too long,” Gilligan said.
The conference director called it a “tragedy” that the same religious principles held by faith-based agencies that were so helpful to the state in the past could now be rejected under the new civil unions law.
Guatemala City, Guatemala, May 6, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian Morales of Guatemala is urging citizens to “vote in a serious, free, conscientious and well-informed way” in the upcoming presidential elections.
The archbishop said voters should not make up their minds on candidates based solely on television ads and sound bites. “We need to learn about their lives and their examples – and above all – about what they have done for our country, about the past history of each candidate for the president and their staffs,” he said in a statement released May 2.
The presidential and congressional elections will be held September 11.
“To abstain from voting of out of fear of making a mistake borders on indifference and social irresponsibility,” the bishop said. Deliberately casting an invalid vote “is even worse,” he added, “because it puts the responsibility in someone else’s hands.”
“We must be consistent with what we believe today,” the archbishop continued. “May the Holy Spirit enlighten us so we might fulfill our duties. Let us discern with seriousness and prayer how and for whom to vote in the next general elections,” he said.
Among the candidates running for president is Sandra Torres, the ex-wife of Guatemala’s present leader. The couple recently divorced so Torres could seek the office.
The country's constitution prohibits immediate family members from running for an office currently held by a relative.
Guatemala’s Federation for the Defense of Life and the Family called the divorce “a mockery of the family.”
The country's bishops stated that “the institution of marriage, as the foundation of the family and society, must not be subjugated to other interests. Therefore, the indissolubility of marriage, even in troubled marriages, is not negotiable.”
Denver, Colo., May 6, 2011 (CNA) -
Christ in the City, a missionary ministry for young adults, is preparing to launch a year-long program for Catholics to serve the poor in Denver, Colorado.
“We found out that it was as powerful as mission trips overseas for the transformation of the lives of the missionaries themselves,” said Dr. Jonathan Reyes, president of Catholic Charities in Denver and co-founder of Christ in the City.
The program – beginning in August of this year – will teach young, Catholic adults what it means to be a missionary in the U.S., while focusing on the spiritual, intellectual and charitable formation of the participants.
With new training and formation, Christ in the City hopes participants will take what they learn and return to their own cities to serve the poor in their home states.
“Why it's different from a lot of programs is that it's intensely formative for the missionaries themselves,” Reyes told CNA.
“There is a lot of investment in their spiritual life, there's a lot of investment in their intellectual life. So it's the formation to take back, to be capable of doing this kind of work in any number of other places.”
Program director Yvonne Noggle noted that Christ in the City “serves people from the beginning of life to the end of life.”
She added that the charitable formation can include serving in a crisis pregnancy center with new or expecting mothers, working in a homeless shelter with the poor and hungry, or assisting Denver's Little Sisters of the Poor in caring for the elderly.
Reyes views the pilot program in 2010 as a success, saying that of the 45 students that participated, “pretty much all of them went back to their own communities and got involved.”
“The impact wasn't just here, but it was back where they had come from,” Reyes said. “So it isn't 'missionaries come have a nice experience,' its 'missionaries come have a nice experience and be trained to be able to do this in other places.' It doesn't end in a year, our goal is that it perdures in the missionaries themselves for the rest of their lives.”
Christ in the City hopes to repeat that success as it expands by offering an opportunity to its participants to live and serve in Denver for either a semester or a full year beginning Aug. 1.
“We're looking for college-aged Catholics between 19 and 25 years old,” said Noggle, adding that participants can be current students or recent graduates. “We've had people from Minnesota, New York, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kansas, and all over, come to serve here.”
The missionaries' will be provided with food, shelter, and plenty of work assisting the poor in Denver. They will also be educated in service and leadership with classes, and will have an opportunity to immerse themselves into their Catholic faith and spirituality.
In a world full of distractions, Noggle says that Christ in the City offers something valuable to its participants: “two weeks or one year to devote their entire life to Christ.”
Christ in the City is still accepting applications for the semester and year long program, although Noggle said their roster “is nearly full.”
For more information, visit: http://www.christinthecitymissionaries.com
Vatican City, May 6, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the sixth anniversary of his election as Pope on May 5, at a concert featuring works of sacred classical music from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano offered the afternoon concert, featuring the orchestra and choir of the Opera Theatre of Rome in a performance of Antonio Vivaldi's “Credo” and Gioachino Rossini's “Stabat Mater.”
Pope Benedict said the “splendid execution of the two works of art,” conducted by Jesus Lopez Cobos and Roberto Gabbiani, gave him a “moment of musical elevation” to mark another year as Pope.
This year, the original date of the Pope's 2005 election – April 19 – coincided with Holy Week, forcing the celebration to be pushed back until Easter celebrations and the beatification of Bl. John Paul II had concluded.
After the performance, Pope Benedict offered his own reflections on the theme of Vivaldi's “Credo,” a musical setting of the Nicene Creed by the 18th century priest and composer.
“'I Believe' and 'Amen' are the words that begin and end the 'Credo,'” he noted, before going on to discuss the “much deeper meaning” of the expression of faith.
“Christian faith doesn't say 'I believe in something' but rather 'I believe in Someone,' – in God, who has revealed himself in Jesus.”
He observed that the personal language of the Latin verb “credo,” meaning “I believe,” emphasizes that
Jesus reveals not only “the true meaning of the world,” but also the deepest truth about “the entire person who is on a journey toward him.”
Pope Benedict, who is himself a classically trained pianist, said that Vivaldi and Rossini were “great musicians, of whom Italy – which celebrates 150 years of political unification – should feel proud.”
He asked those in attendance at the concert to remember his “ministry in the vineyard of the Lord” in their personal prayers.
Rome, Italy, May 6, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Jose Ignacio Munilla Aguirre of San Sebastian, Spain told CNA that he hopes the canonization of Blessed John Paul II “will happen soon.”
“St. Theresa of Lisieux said, ‘I will spend my eternity showering roses upon the earth,’ and John Paul II is also doing this,” Bishop Munilla Aguirre stated.
Regarding the call to make the new blessed the patron saint of young people, Bishop Munilla Aguirre noted that it would be difficult to make John Paul II the patron saint of one single cause.
“I would say that St. John Bosco and John Paul II could be the two most important historical figures in youth ministry in the Church,” the bishop added. “Both could perfectly be the patrons of youth ministry,” as “even the elderly rejoiced at seeing the Pope with young people.”
Bishop Munilla Aguirre said Blessed John Paul II played a huge role in his priestly formation. The late Pope's beatification is “a reaffirmation of what the Church taught me,” the bishop said.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the perfect balance
The Spanish bishop recalled that the Popes “do not personally lead the Church, but rather it is the Holy Spirit who does so through them.”
“Some say that John Paul II was a Pope to be seen, and that Benedict XVI is a Pope to be read. The two complement each other, from a powerful charism to a more intellectual reflection.”
Bishop Munilla Aguirre explained that “a charism does not consist of your natural qualities,” but rather, it is when “God uses you as an instrument.”
He noted that Benedict XVI, in a culture that is increasingly secularized, is pushing back against the dictatorship of relativism.
“This is a very great gift” and “it is what the Church needs right now."
Vatican City, May 6, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI met with 34 new Swiss Guard recruits on May 6 and offered words of wisdom and encouragement before the swearing-in ceremony.
“The time that you will spend in the 'Eternal City' will be an exceptional moment in your lives,” the Pope told the new guards.
“Live it with a spirit of sincere fraternity, mutually helping one another to live an exemplary Christian life that corresponds to your faith and your unique mission in the Church.”
The Pope also expressed “profound gratitude” for the guards' willingness to be “at the disposition of Peter's Successor and to thus contribute to guaranteeing the necessary order and security within Vatican City.”
On the evening of May 6 in the courtyard of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the new recruits will be sworn in as members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard in front of members of the Roman Curia, diplomatic representatives, and civil and religious authorities from Switzerland.
Earlier this year, the Swiss Guard commemorated more than five centuries of being the Pope's sworn protectors.
In 1506, around 150 Swiss soldiers first entered the Vatican by request of then-Pope Julius II. The group has remained present to this day and is now the oldest standing army in the world.
During his remarks, Pope Benedict referred to the “infamous Sack of Rome” in 1527 “during which the Swiss Guards valiantly defended the Pope, even giving their lives for him.”
The “memory of that earthly pillage makes us reflect that there exists the threat of an even more dangerous pillage, one that can be called a spiritual attack,” he noted.
“In today's social context, many youth run the risk of falling into a progressive impoverishment of the soul because they are chasing after the ideals and perspectives of a superficial life that only seeks to fulfill material needs and demands.”
“Act so that your time in Rome,” the pontiff added, “be a propitious time for you to make the most of the innumerable possibilities that this city offers in order to give an ever more solid and profound meaning to your lives.”
“Take advantage of the opportunities offered you to widen your cultural, linguistic, and above all spiritual horizons.”
The Pope concluded by expressing hope that the new recruits be deeply affected by their “meaningful presence at the heart of Christianity, where crowds of faithful are constantly arriving to meet Peter's Successor and to visit the tombs of the Apostles.”
May the work of the Swiss Guard “arouse more and more in each of you, the purpose of intensifying the spiritual dimension of your lives,” he added, “as well as the intention of deepening your Christian faith, joyfully bearing witness to it by the coherent conduct of your lives.”
Lima, Peru, May 6, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Cristobal Bialasik of Oruro, Bolivia charged that a dissident group is seeking to “confuse and divide” Bolivians with ideas contrary to the Catholic Church's teachings.
On April 29 the Bolivian daily La Patria published an article by the group Somos Iglesia (We are Church). The dissidents demanded that the Diocese of Oruro ordain to the diaconate six “brothers belonging to a prophetic and liberating Church.”
The bishop responded, slamming the group for promoting dissent along with others “who do not have the support of the Church,” such as theologian Hans Kung and Catholics for a Free Choice.
The bishop also stressed that the diaconate is not “a promotion, an award or a prize, but rather a vocation.” Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said, “(i)t is solely the Church’s responsibility and right to call a person to receive ordination.”
“According to my research,” he told CNA, Somos Iglesia “promotes everything that is against the teachings of the Church. They promote the ordination of women and homosexuals, they promote abortion and contraception.”
The dissident group “has not consulted with me or come to see me. They have arbitrarily made the decision to publish an article that contradicts the entire spirit of the Diocese of Oruro’s pastoral ministry,” the bishop said.
Providence, R.I., May 6, 2011 (CNA) - Chaplain Col. Robert L. Marciano was relaxing Sunday night at the rectory of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Mapleville, R.I. when he received a text message from a friend in the military that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in a daring operation in Pakistan led by U.S. Navy SEALs.
Immediately, thoughts flooded back to the pastor of those difficult days following the 9/11 attacks when he and other military chaplains would suit up and wade through the destruction at the Pentagon to offer prayers for the dead as the remains of the 184 victims there were recovered.
“It was a dark time. When we first arrived and saw the damage, it was still smoldering,” recalls Father Marciano, who initially served three weeks as a chaplain at the Pentagon following the terrorist attacks.
He would return to the Pentagon from 2006-2010 to serve as chief of chaplains for the U.S. Air National Guard. He now serves as state command chaplain for the Rhode Island National Guard.
“I certainly feel for the families. The mastermind behind the carnage has been brought to justice.”
Although he admits it is difficult to rejoice when someone is dead, Father Marciano believes that the United States’ relentless pursuit of bin Laden, who he called “the chief criminal of the world,” will send a strong message to terrorists that they will pay a price for the harm they do to others.
“It was done right, and in this case, there was no other alternative,” he said. “You can run and you can hide, but our intelligence forces are going to get you.”
Fr. Marciano said he never doubted that bin Laden, who was captured and killed May 1 by U.S. forces in a residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan after being in hiding for nearly 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, would one day be found.
“He was elusive and he was protected by that culture—which considers him a hero—but it was only a matter of time,” he said. “Justice had to be done. It’s a huge chapter that was still open.”
“We all pray for a day when there will be peace.”
Printed with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.