Phoenix, Ariz., Jun 11, 2011 (CNA) - As more and more refugees from Iraq are relocated to Arizona, Msgr. Felix Shabi has a happy problem: his community of Chaldean Catholics continues to grow steadily.
About 600 families belong to Mar Abraham Parish in Scottsdale and Holy Family Mission in Phoenix. Msgr. Shabi said many others live in the East Valley and Tucson.
Last November, after a brutal attack on the Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad left 58 dead, local Roman Catholics began reaching out to their Eastern-rite brothers and sisters here in the Valley.
That’s something Fr. Mike Straley wholeheartedly supports. As a longtime member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, an organization that supports Christians in the Holy Land, he understands the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
“The Diocese of Phoenix is getting big enough to where we need to talk more about what it means to be Catholic,” Fr. Straley said. The word “Catholic,” he explained, means universal and refers to the universality of the Church.
Julie Nackard, area councilor of the Western Lieutenancy for the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in Phoenix, met with Msgr. Shabi in March at the request of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. The bishop urged the Knights to broaden their definition of the Holy Land to include Iraq.
After hearing about the needs of the Chaldean community, Nackard spoke with fellow members about reaching out to local Iraqi Catholics. In April, the group gathered at Mar Abraham to pray the rosary and listen to a short presentation by Msgr. Shabi.
On May 17, Fr. Straley, Nackard and other members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre enjoyed a dinner with Emmanuel III Cardinal Delly, patriarch of Babylon, who was visiting from Baghdad.
Representatives from the local Byzantine Catholic Church, including Bishop Gerald Dino, the Right Reverend Archimandrite Wes Izer and Fr. Stephen Washko, as well as representatives of the Knights of Columbus from nearby St. Patrick Parish were also in attendance.
On May 18, Msgr. Shabi concelebrated a Mass for members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and spoke at the group’s annual dinner and business meeting at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
“We are a Church of martyrs,” Msgr. Shabi said. “We trace our roots to the apostle Thomas, the one who evangelized our country.”
Explaining that tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homeland in the face of ongoing persecution, he spoke of the traumatized, orphaned children who belong to his Phoenix mission.
“One girl, she was in her mother’s arms when a bomb went off,” Msgr. Shabi said. The child’s father was killed in a separate attack a year later. The girl and her two siblings now reside with their grandmother in Phoenix.
“Martyrdom is a gift, but not everyone is meant to receive it,” Msgr. Shabi said. “Our patriarch has begged people to stay, but young families are leaving because they fear for their children’s lives.”
Experts say more than half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the violence plaguing the country since the ouster of Sadaam Hussein. Msgr. Shabi said his homeland’s instability has allowed terrorists from neighboring countries to enter and target Christians.
“One Christian was decapitated last week,” he told the crowd, describing horrifying photos of the dismembered body circulated on the Internet. He also told of another incident in which the Chaldean bishop of Mosul was killed.
“They collected his blood in a glass vase, saying that an infidel’s blood should not desecrate what they claim is Islamic soil,” Msgr. Shabi said.
For years, many in the Phoenix Diocese were unaware of the presence of Eastern-rite Catholics. After a series of articles in The Catholic Sun spotlighted the hardships endured by Chaldean Catholics, readers responded.
Brian C. McNeil, an Iraq War veteran who served two tours, was one of those inspired to help. He contacted Msgr. Shabi and set up a meeting.
“After serving in Iraq, it bothers me to know that many people, including many Christians, had to abandon their homes and flee to other places because of extremists committed to driving them away. While the Kurdish region of Iraq has become a refuge for some, many have sought homes in the United States and around the world as an answer to the persecution in places like Baghdad and Mosul, which has become all too common,” McNeil said.
McNeil came up with a plan to help the Chaldean community in the Valley after he and his son Ezekiel visited Msgr. Shabi on a Saturday during religious education activities at the Holy Family Mission. Soon after, the McNeil family, who are parishioners at Ss. Simon and Jude and whose children attend the parish school, organized a raffle to raise money for the religious education program at the Chaldean church.
“With the support of Fr. Lankeit, Sr. Raphael [Quinn, IBVM], a good friend Don Cardon, and many others, the raffle and other activities will have raised more than $1,000 to help the faith formation of these children in our diocese,” McNeil said. “More importantly, it has helped raised the awareness of the needs of these brothers and sisters in Christ, both here and in Iraq.”
On May 19, in a first-ever for the Phoenix Diocese, Bishop Olmsted met with the Chaldean patriarch.
Emmanuel III Cardinal Delly, 84, named patriarch of Babylon in 2003, has steadfastly endured as the Christian population of Iraq dwindles. Once estimated at 1.4 million, today there are fewer than 500,000. When the Oct. 31 massacre took place in Baghdad, for example, a church that in previous years might have held 500 worshippers, just 60 faithful were in attendance.
Bishop Olmsted and Cardinal Delly discussed their years in Rome as they sampled homemade Iraqi pastries and sipped tea. Both men had spent more than a dozen years each living and working in the Eternal City.
Bishop Olmsted paid tribute to the patriarch’s unflinching courage in the face of ongoing persecution of Christians in his homeland. He told Cardinal Delly he hoped to visit Iraq one day.
As a member of the USCCB’s committee on ecumenical and interfaith relations for the United States, Bishop Olmsted said the commission wanted to visit a region characterized by interfaith and ecumenical cooperation.
“One of the things we proposed to do was to go to Syria and Iraq,” the bishop said. “In those countries, because of persecution, they’ve had to stick together and overcome sometimes some longstanding differences or misunderstandings. We felt we could learn a lot from them.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix, Ariz.
New Haven, Conn., Jun 11, 2011 (CNA) - The Knights of Columbus has announced that charitable donations and volunteer service hours by its members set new all-time records in 2010, with over $154.6 million and 70 million volunteer hours dedicated to serving the Church and communities in need.
“The Knights of Columbus significantly expanded its outreach to those in need last year, and will continue to do because of the economic problems facing so many people in our communities,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said. “Despite the fact that the economy has also created hardship for many of our own members, Knights have stepped up as never before to meet the needs of their neighbors. We have taken very seriously the fact that we are our brother’s keeper.”
Anderson announced the results of the Knights’ Annual Survey of Fraternal Activity for 2010. The $154.6 million given exceeds the previous year’s total by more than $3 million. It includes over $29 million donated by the Supreme Council and $125.5 million in contributions from the organization’s state and local affiliates.
Sixty percent of the contributions went to community-level projects, including youth activities. Large donations included a $1 million distribution to Food for Families program and $1 million for a relief effort in cooperation with Project Medishare to give prosthetics to Haitian children who lost limbs in the devastating January 2010 earthquake.
Volunteer hours increased by almost 800,000 over the 2009 total. Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics, and the Global Wheelchair mission particularly benefited from Knights of Columbus volunteers.
Members of the fraternal order also made 428,000 blood donations during 2010.
Over the past decade, the Knights of Columbus has donated $1.406 billion to charity and has provided more than 653 million hours of volunteer service.
The organization was founded by Fr. Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Conn. in 1882. It is now the world’s largest lay Catholic organization, with 1.8 million members throughout North and Central America, the Philippines, the Caribbean and Poland.
Rome, Italy, Jun 11, 2011 (CNA) - Christian monks once saved the cultural treasures of the western world from barbarian invasions, and now a major four-day conference in Rome is examining how modern culture affects monasticism.
“We’ve invited scholars from around the world to share around the theme of monasticism and culture – the effects of monasticism of culture and the effect of culture on monastic life,” Father Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., told CNA June 10.
The conference at the Sant’ Anselmo Benedictine University in Rome is titled “Monasticism between Culture and Cultures” and runs from June 8 to 11.
The word “monasticism” actually comes from the Greek word for ‘dwelling alone’ and has come to denote the mode of life in seclusion from the world, under religious vows and subject to a fixed rule. It emerged in the deserts of northern Africa in the earliest centuries of Christianity.
“A monk is cut off from the world so he can deeply join the world in spirit and in prayer,” explained Fr. Driscoll, who joined the Benedictine Abbey at Mount Angel in Oregon back in 1973, at the age of 22.
“The solitude of a monk and the intensity of the monk’s life apart from the world are precisely done for the world, and to give witness to the world, and in unity with the world.”
The conference is looking at every aspect of monastic life – past, present and future.
For his own presentation, Fr. Driscoll drew upon the life and work of a 20th century Italian priest and monk, Don Divo Barsotti. He was a diocesan priest in Florence but went on to found a community called the Figli di Dio - or Sons of God – on the belief that monastic ideals could be applied to ordinary lay life.
“He wanted to share monastic spirituality with lay people and to really let them think of themselves as a sort of living an interior monastic life in the world.”
“He says that monasticism is nothing less than the Christian life intensely lived and lived,” Fr. Driscoll said.
Given that the work of Don Divo Barsotti is currently little known outside Italy, Fr. Driscoll said this week’s international conference presents an ideal opportunity to change that situation. He hopes that many more lay people will now attempt to live a spirit of monasticism.
“Being cut off from the world is an attitude of being absorbed in Christ and then being united to the world by means of that absorption in Christ - because he is united to the world.”
Vatican City, Jun 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI welcomed over 2,000 gypsies to the Vatican June 11. They are converging on Rome this weekend to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bl. Zefirino Giménez Malla.
Known as “El Pelé,” Bl. Zefirino was a gypsy who gave his life to defend a priest during the Spanish Civil War. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of his martyrdom.
“Blessed Zefirino invites you to follow his example and shows you the way: the dedication to prayer and the Rosary in particular, love for the Eucharist and the other sacraments, the observance of the commandments, honesty, charity and generosity toward others, especially the poor,” the Pope told the pilgrims.
The delegation was drawn from 20 European countries and included seven different gypsy communities: the Roma, the Sinti, the Manouches, Kalé, Zingari, Yenish, Romanichals and Travellers.
During the audience several of the pilgrims told Pope Benedict of the persecution that gypsies had faced throughout the 20th century. This included the testimony of Austrian-born Ceija Stojka.
Stojka recalled how only six of her 200-strong family survived Nazi persecution during the Second World War. She herself, at only age nine, was deported to the Nazi camps at Auschwitz, then Ravensbrück and then to Bergen-Belsen.
“The European consciousness cannot forget all the pain,” the Pope said in response.“Never again will your people be subjected to harassment, rejection and contempt. For your part, always seek justice, the rule of law, reconciliation and try to never be the cause of another’s suffering.”
One of the key organizers of today’s event has been the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Its president, Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, says the Church would like to remind society of its responsibility towards gypsies – and vice versa.
“As the Holy Father is keen to emphasize, the Church has the mission to be hospitable and to help Christians to overcome any feeling of mistrust, fear, or worse, rejection of the Gypsies,” he told Vatican Radio before the audience.
“In addition, she advocates the authentic integration of this people and tries to help them integrate into the society, while maintaining their cultural identity. The Church shall not, then, cease to remind that they too are called to assume their proper responsibilities.”
He also noted the apostolic fruits that are emerging from this approach.
“For example, a few months ago the Holy Father nominated the first gypsy Bishop in India, and there are two vicars general, 25 priests and 30 religious nuns.” The Pope also noted this reality.
Pope Benedict concluded his remarks on June 11 by saying: “Trust and listen to these your brothers and sisters, and together they offer a consistent and joyful proclamation of God's love for the Gypsy people, like all people!”
London, England, Jun 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - England’s top Catholic and Anglican clergy have gone head-to-head in a public war of words over the U.K. government’s policies on welfare, education and health.
In the June 8 edition of the English left-wing political journal New Statesman, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams accused the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government of causing “anxiety and anger” in implementing health, welfare and education reforms for which “no one voted.”
The Anglican archbishop also accused ministers of encouraging a “quiet resurgence of the seductive language of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor” in pursuing “punitive” action against “alleged abuses” in the welfare system.
And he reserved particular scorn for the London government’s plans to move power away from the state to lower level institutions - a policy the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron calls his “Big Society” - labeling it nothing more than a “painfully stale slogan.”
The Anglican leader’s public comments contrasted sharply, though, with those of Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster.
He used a speech to Catholic charities in London on June 9 – only a day after Archbishop William’s attack - to suggest that the Big Society could actually lead to “greater solidarity” and release “energy for local initiative and enterprise.” He referred to a poll recently taken at a recent conference organized by the Catholic Church to discuss the issue.
When conference attendees were asked whether or not they thought the “Big Society” was “a cover for cuts,” Archbishop Nichols reported that the "overwhelming majority said no. They felt there was a genuine moral agenda here.”
He warned, however, that “the growth of subsidiarity cannot be achieved simply by the withdrawal of the state” but “requires intelligent capacity building to reduce dependency, and the creation of conditions for the sustained flourishing of local initiative.”
Archbishop Nichols also praised David Cameron for his recent comments in praise of marriage and the family.
“The overwhelming evidence of the correlation between family instability and the outcomes for children in education, health and employment speaks for itself,” the Catholic archbishop said.
“It was good to see in his latest remarks a specific reference to marriage as a social institution which deserves and needs support.”
Meanwhile, the Catholic politician behind the U.K. government’s plans for welfare reform, Iain Duncan MP, also joined in the attack upon Archbishop Rowan Williams. He dubbed Williams’ remarks “unbalanced and unfair.”
“If a churchman can't endorse the idea of community and the voluntary sector, doing what is necessary to help people out of their difficulties, then I wonder who will?”