Wakefield, R.I., Jul 16, 2011 (CNA) - Every year, teams of young adults from around the country hit the road, armed with suitcases, sleeping bags, and hearts burning for Christ. Each team leads retreats six days a week, and when not on retreat, they share their faith whenever and wherever possible.
After nine months traveling around the United States in a van, including a recent visit to Rhode Island, these young people are tired from their travels, but spiritually energized.
When NET (National Evangelization Team) began in 1981, Mark Berchem, NET founder and executive director had no idea that it would grow to 10 teams in the United States and be replicated in Australia, Canada, Ireland and Uganda.
“We were just trying to share with young people the tremendous difference it makes in one's life to know, love and serve Christ,” he said.
According to NET Ministries, in an average nine-month season, each NET team, composed of young adults ages 18-28, will travel 20,000 miles, serve 7 to 8 dioceses, facilitate close to 150 retreats, stay in 125 host homes, and reach 8,500 young people with the Gospel.
Many team members develop lifelong habits of prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, and ongoing service in the church, Berchem explained. Most describe serving with NET as the best and hardest year of their life.
“What makes NET successful is the combination of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, having team members who are willing to serve generously, and holding up to them the high calling of following Christ,” he explained. “Teaching the retreat skills is easy. Living a radical Christian life is difficult, but attractive to young people.”
With a busy ministry schedule, the NET van is home sweet home.
“Put any group of people into a van for a year and you will see many challenges and potentially great growth,” Berchem said. “Different personalities rub the rough edges off of one another. You have to learn how to respect, forgive, honor and serve one another or it will be a long year.”
Joseph Moreno, 27, of California, said that traveling in the van was the best investment and time of fellowship for his team.
“You get to know each other really quickly when you drive in a van together,” he said.
After an 8-hour drive from Virginia, Moreno and his fellow teammates reached the Diocese of Providence to offer a retreat at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Wakefield, and live with local host families for a week.
“We had our No Obligation Day while in Rhode Island and needless to say, being so close to the beach made our Californians very excited,” the team explained.
The Castro family of Narragansett hosted three of the NET girls this year, their second time hosting a NET team.
“It is an awesome experience to meet new people, invite them to be part of our family life and show them around South County including visits to Iggys and Brickleys,” said Diane Castro. “The fondest memories of hosting Netters are enjoying home cooked meals with them and the evening jam sessions with the host families and NET team. We look forward to hosting more teams in the future.”
The Craig family from St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Wakefield, said that it felt like the young missionaries were a part of the family.
“It was an enjoyable and fulfilling experience meeting a group of faith-filled young people,” said Tina Craig. “It is extraordinary that after seven months traveling in a van and sleeping on floors, they are so cheerful and never complain.”
Dan Mahoney, 24, knows first hand how powerful the experience of NET is and he was happy to share what he learned with his parish. Mahoney first learned of NET in the third grade when his parents hosted a team at a U.S. naval base in Germany. Mahoney served as a team leader for NET from 2007-2008.
“I absolutely loved NET,” he said. “It was nice to truly be a missionary. You give up the comforts that you get used to and when you just have a backpack, sleeping bag and suitcase you learn what you truly need. You get a lot closer to God and rely on him and your teammates in hard times. My prayer life changed 1,000 percent.”
Returning home from NET was difficult, Mahoney explained, remembering the challenge of adjusting back into everyday life.
“You go from such a group of positive people where everybody is striving for that same goal of growing holier,” he shared. “To come back into the world where that’s not always what’s going on was hard. I have to make sure I set that prayer time for me. Even that means waking up 45 minutes early. It has to be a priority.”
Dan’s mother, Carol Mahoney said that NET challenged her son to be a leader in his faith.
“Some people join the military, some go to NET,” she said. “In some ways, it’s the same-you get up at 5 a.m. and off you go. We were excited when he said he wanted to do NET. It was the greatest thing in the world for him.”
Teammates learn what it means to truly love and to truly be loved. And most often, it is not the ministry skills that the young people notice on a NET retreat, but the love that the team members have for one another. According to NET, about 15 percent of NET team members seriously discern a religious vocation after serving.
“Over 50 NET alumni have been ordained as priests, over 30 are living as religious sisters, and dozens are currently in the seminary or religious formation,” said Berchem. “Of course, the vast majority pursues the vocation of marriage and enters into strong Catholic marriages where many would say, ‘I learned to love on NET.’”
Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.
New York City, N.Y., Jul 16, 2011 (CNA) - The Vatican congratulated South Sudan, the world's newest country, for its admission to the United Nations on July 14.
In a statement greeting representatives of the new country, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations said that Pope Benedict XVI “invoked the Almighty’s abundant blessings on the people and the government of the new nation and wished that is may advance in the path of peace freedom and development.”
“The path from civil war to democracy needs to be well disciplined and based on justice and truth,” the Vatican's permanent U.N. mission said in its remarks to the South Sudanese. The Vatican delegation was led by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt.
If these values prevail, they said, “the long journey that has cost the lives of people, long sufferings, poverty and humiliations can become a walk of peace, liberty and development.”
South Sudan became independent on July 9, an achievement that followed two decades of struggle which killed or displaced over six million people.
The Vatican representatives also stated that forgiveness and national reconciliation are “essential for durable peace” for the republic and the region.
“The most urgent need of the new state,” they noted, “is settling the refugees, migrants and internally displaced citizens moving from other parts of the country, estimated to be around 300,000.”
Church organizations such as Misereor and Caritas are currently providing humanitarian aid among these populations.
The Vatican representatives indicated that the Church would play a “vital” role in establishing a sustainable peace for the new republic. The country faces a lack of development and still needs to work out border and migration issues with northern Sudan.
In his own remarks to the South Sudanese representatives, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the country should deal with these issues “as soon as possible.”
“It is imperative that you resolve outstanding differences with the same pragmatism and leadership that you have each shown so far,” Ki-moon said. “South and North share a common destiny — they must see a future as true partners, not rivals.”
Ki-moon promised the help of the United Nations, the African Union and international non-governmental organizations in fostering a healthy relationship between the separated countries.
This international commitment to help the new republic “will be essential” to peace, justice and opportunity, the secretary general said.
Sacramento, Calif., Jul 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The California governor has signed into law a bill that will not simply require a “gay history” curriculum. It requires a form of “indoctrination” that will label Christianity as being intolerant and bigoted, one critic says.
“The bill is not about teaching gay history. That’s what the sponsors of the bill are portraying it as. That is not the language of the bill. That is not what it does, that’s not the intent,” William B. May, head of the San Francisco-based Catholics for the Common Good, told CNA on July 15.
While the history of the gay rights movement would be covered in history books as history, he said, the bill’s curriculum standards require “bringing to the attention of students the sexuality of people in history and social studies, who happen to be gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual.”
“It also has the effect of making sure that they are portrayed in a good light,” May continued. “It’s really an indoctrination bill that is being totally misrepresented by the politicians and by the media.”
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on July 14 after it passed the Democrat-controlled legislature on a largely party-line vote.
“We’re disappointed that the governor signed it,” May said. “It’s a troubling precedent for politicians to dictate what’s in textbooks.”
Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, the bill’s author, said that teaching gay history in public schools will teach students to be more accepting of gays and lesbians.
“We should not be afraid to teach our children of the broad diversity of human experience,” Sen. Leno said, according to Fox News. “It's not going away, it's always been with us. We have different kinds of people, who are, under law, to be treated equally. Why would we not want to teach our children this?”
He compared opponents to those who criticized curriculum requirements for ethnic and women’s studies.
However, May warned that the curriculum requirements will have adverse effects on groups that disapprove of homosexual behavior.
“This bill will contribute to Christianity coming under attack in the classroom as being intolerant, bigoted, and standing in the way of progress,” he told CNA. “This is part of a broader agenda to redefine love, relationships, marriage and family.”
He noted the related public debate about bullying, which he called “a serious problem” that “needs to be dealt with directly.”
He rejected the claim that curriculum requirements would reduce bullying.
“It’s absurd to think that teaching about the sexual characteristics or sexual orientation of people in history is going to have any bearing on that,” he continued.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has also criticized the bill. In a July 5 column, he called it “another example of the government interfering with parents’ rights to be their children's primary educators.”
The bill could have national effects. Because of California’s size and influence, many textbook publishers adjust their products to meet California curriculum standards.
May said the bill’s passage into law is “just one more wake-up call for the need to organize.”
He pointed out that Catholics for the Common Good has launched projects like Stand with Children, a marriage advocacy program.
It is also organizing a program called Faith in Action, which consists of small formation and support groups for “not just defending marriage and family, but promoting it.”
Moscow, Russia, Jul 16, 2011 (CNA) - The Russian government has enacted a law requiring abortion ads to carry health warnings about the procedure. Lawmakers say that the ads presently mislead the public by creating the impression that abortion is a simple surgery with no health risks.
The new amendments require that warnings about the dangers, including loss of fertility, should occupy at minimum 10 percent of each advertisement, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reports.
President Dimitry Medvedev signed the bill into law on July 14.
Russia has one of the world’s highest abortion rates. More than one million women have abortions every year. In 2007 there were 1.5 million abortions, a number almost equal to the number of children born.
Parliament member Viktor Zvagelsky said the Russian abortion situation was “depressing,” RIA said.
Besides the human costs involved, the high abortion rate also contributes to a worsening demographic crisis.
Russia’s population dropped from 145 million in 2002 to under 143 million, the 2010 census found. The death rate continues to exceed the birth rate despite government efforts to encourage Russians to have more children.
The United Nations predicts that by 2050 Russia’s population will have declined to 116 million, a decrease of almost 20 percent. It says overcoming racism and taking in more migrants could help the country boost its population, Reuters reports.
Health experts say key factors in Russia’s population decline are poor diet, heavy drinking by men, a heroin abuse-related HIV/AIDS epidemic and a high number of violent deaths.
The Orthodox Church has increasing influence and has called for tougher restrictions on abortion.
The parliament may soon pass a new bill that could limit access to abortion procedures and toughen punishments for doctors who carry out illegal abortions. It would also allow mothers of newborns who are unwilling or unable to keep their babies to leave them anonymously in special adoption centers.
The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to legalize abortion on demand in 1920. Joseph Stalin outlawed abortion from 1936 until his death in 1954 to try to boost the birth rate.
The communist Soviet Union encouraged new births with prizes and money, but Russia’s population has steadily declined since the USSR’s breakup in 1991.
Vatican City, Jul 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has issued a statement noting that Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang, the latest bishop to be illicitly ordained in China, will face excommunication.
“The Reverend Joseph Huang Bingzhang, having been ordained without papal mandate and hence illicitly, has incurred the sanctions laid down by canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law,” the Vatican said in its July 16 statement.
“Consequently, the Holy See does not recognize him as Bishop of the Diocese of Shantou, and he lacks authority to govern the Catholic community of the Diocese.”
Canon 1382 of the Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law states both a bishop who “without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person as Bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”
Fr. Huang Bingzhang’s ordination as bishop of Shantou in China’s southern Guangdong province took place July 14.
According to UCA News, the ceremony took place in Shantou City’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral before an estimated congregation of 1,000. Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyin, the president of the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was the main celebrant.
The Vatican statement recalled that Fr. Huang Bingzhang had previously been “asked on numerous occasions not to accept episcopal ordination.” The Diocese of Shantou currently has a Vatican-approved bishop.
The statement noted that the Vatican “had knowledge of the fact that some Bishops, contacted by the civil authorities, had expressed their unwillingness to take part in an illicit ordination and also offered various forms of resistance, yet were reportedly obliged to take part in the ordination.”
The Vatican praised the resistance, adding that “(e)qual appreciation is also due to those priests, consecrated persons and members of the faithful who have defended their pastors, accompanying them by their prayers at this difficult time and sharing in their deep suffering.”
The July 14 ceremony is the third illicit ordination in nine months following one in Chendge diocese in November last year and another in Leshan last month. The Vatican recently excommunicated Fr. Paul Lei Shiyin, who was illicitly ordained as bishop of Leshan. They also warned other Catholic clerics who participated in the ordination that they also could face excommunication.
The backdrop to all these events is the continuing attempt by China’s communist regime to control all aspects of Chinese life, including the Catholic Church. The Chinese government created and continues to run the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.
The Vatican then emphasized the “right of Chinese Catholics to be able to act freely, following their consciences and remaining faithful to the Successor of Peter and in communion with the universal Church.
“The Holy Father, having learned of these events, once again deplores the manner in which the Church in China is being treated and hopes that the present difficulties can be overcome as soon as possible,” the statement concluded.