Archive of August 7, 2011

St. Teresa Benedicta, Jewish convert and martyr, celebrated August 9

Denver, Colo., Aug 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On August 9 the Catholic Church remembers St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as St. Edith Stein. St. Teresa converted from Judaism to Catholicism in the course of her work as a philosopher, and later entered the Carmelite Order. She died in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in 1942.

Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891 – a date that coincided with her family's celebration of Yom Kippur, the Jewish “day of atonement.” Edith's father died when she was just two years old, and she gave up the practice of her Jewish faith as an adolescent.

As a young woman with profound intellectual gifts, Edith gravitated toward the study of philosophy and became a pupil of the renowned professor Edmund Husserl in 1913. Through her studies, the non-religious Edith met several Christians whose intellectual and spiritual lives she admired.

After earning her degree with the highest honors from Gottingen University in 1915, she served as a nurse in an Austrian field hospital during World War I. She returned to academic work in 1916, earning her doctorate after writing a highly-regarded thesis on the phenomenon of empathy. She remained interested in the idea of religious commitment, but had not yet made such a commitment herself.

In 1921, while visiting friends, Edith spent an entire night reading the autobiography of the 16th century Carmelite nun St. Teresa of Avila. “When I had finished the book,” she later recalled, “I said to myself: This is the truth.” She was baptized into the Catholic Church on the first day of January, 1922.

Edith intended to join the Carmelites immediately after her conversion, but would ultimately have to wait another 11 years before taking this step. Instead, she taught at a Dominican school, and gave numerous public lectures on women's issues. She spent 1931 writing a study of St. Thomas Aquinas, and took a university teaching position in 1932.

In 1933, the rise of Nazism, combined with Edith's Jewish ethnicity, put an end to her teaching career. After a painful parting with her mother, who did not understand her Christian conversion, she entered a Carmelite convent in 1934, taking the name “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross” as a symbol of her acceptance of suffering.

“I felt,” she wrote, “that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take upon themselves on everybody's behalf.” She saw it as her vocation “to intercede with God for everyone,” but she prayed especially for the Jews of Germany whose tragic fate was becoming clear.

“I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death,” she wrote in 1939, “so that the Lord will be accepted by his people and that his kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.”

After completing her final work, a study of St. John of the Cross entitled “The Science of the Cross,” Teresa Benedicta was arrested along with her sister Rosa (who had also become a Catholic), and the members of her religious community, on August 7, 1942. The arrests came in retaliation against a protest letter by the Dutch Bishops, decrying the Nazi treatment of Jews.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. Blessed John Paul II canonized her in 1998, and proclaimed her a co-patroness of Europe the next year.

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Polish seminarians studying in Mississippi diocese

Biloxi, Miss., Aug 7, 2011 (CNA) - Among the men studying for the priesthood in the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi are two Polish seminarians, both of whom are spending part of their summer training in local parishes.

Adam Urbaniak, 25, is assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Pascagoula and Piotr Kmiecik, 33, is assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Dedeaux.

Adam Urbaniak

Urbaniak, a native of Gniezno and the youngest of three children born to Kaximiem and Bozena Urbaniak, broke up with his girlfriend of two-and-a-half years to enter the seminary.

"I had a very good pastor who sacrificed himself for people and for God and it was something amazing for me, to sacrifice your life for others," said Urbaniak, who added that he also was influenced by the first Polish-born Pope, Blessed John Paul II, who was beatified in May.

“I remember that I went to take a vacation close to the Baltic Sea and I was still thinking, ‘Should I stay with my girlfriend and create a family or should I go to the seminary to be a priest?’ It was a very hard decision for me, but I remember that I met a very old man at the Baltic Sea and he told me that he had a beautiful family and was a great husband and father, but that his vocation was to be a priest. He was in the seminary and he left the seminary to be with his girlfriend. And he still had this feeling that he had made a mistake. He should have been a priest. I had the same feeling.”

But, unlike the old man by the sea, Urbaniak followed his heart and ended the relationship with his girlfriend to begin building upon his relationship with God.

“God was calling me to the priesthood,” he said.

“I loved my girlfriend very, very much, so it was very difficult. But I decided after that conversation (with the old man) to go to the seminary to see if this is my vocation or not.”-

He broke the news to her the day before he left for the seminary.

“It wasn’t easy for her. It was the same as if I had found another girl,”  he said.

“That time was very, very difficult for us.”

However, as the old saying goes, time heals all wounds and, in time, his girlfriend grew to understand and accept his decision.

Urbaniak spent four years in the Polish seminary and is currently in his first year at Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan.

Of his decision to study for the Diocese of Biloxi, Urbaniak said, “It was God’s plan.”

Urbaniak had the opportunity to visit several American dioceses, including the Diocese of Memphis and the Diocese of Venice, Fla.

“I wanted to go the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, but God’s plan was different,” he said.

“I didn’t go to Bridgeport because I wanted to take a trip to the Diocese of Biloxi.”

During his time in this diocese, Urbaniak spent some time at Holy Family Parish in Pass Christian.

“I met a family there and I spoke with them for several days after each Mass and they told me about their difficulties after Hurricane Katrina,” he said.

“They told me that they didn’t have a house and that they needed priests (in the Diocese of Biloxi). We have a lot of priests in this diocese, but many of them will be retiring soon. That brought to mind my home country of Poland when my pastor was working in Belarus. He told me that he had to close several churches because they didn’t have priests. I didn’t want that to happen here, so I chose this diocese.”

Urbaniak said he is “very happy” in Mississippi and loves the people, and

he has learned a lot from Sacred Heart pastor Father Mike Kelleher.

“Father Mike is an excellent priest,” he said. “Father Mike wants to be with people and that’s what I like, so I’m really happy to be assigned here. It’s a perfect fit.”

Soon, Urbaniak will return to Poland to visit his family. He said it’s been hard being away from his family.

“It was hard to explain my decision to them, especially my mother because she is very, very ill. She has Parkinson’s disease. So, it’s hard on me as well to be far away from her,” he said.

“But, we have a lot of opportunities to speak with our friends and families in different countries. We have Skype, which is what I use. But it can still be difficult, especially during the holiday like Christmas.”

However, Urbaniak said the people here have made it hurt a lot less.

“I really feel like I’m at home,” he said.

“Sacred Heart is like my home parish in Poland and I’m very, very happy here. The people are so, so nice and that’s what makes me feel better.”

Piotr Kmiecik

Piotr (pronounced Peter) Kmiecik hails from Lindow, which is located in south Poland, very close to Czestochowa.

“Czestochowa is like a spiritual capital of Poland,” he said.

“It is known for the famous Pauline Monastery of Jasna Gora, which is home of the Black Madonna, a very famous painting and shrine to the Virgin Mary.”

Kmiecik is an only child.

“My mother is a widow and shares a house with her sister Anna. Anna has one son also, my cousin Luke, who I love and treat like my younger brother. My mother, Maria, came from a large family – three brothers and three sisters,” he said. “We all stick together in good and bad. We help each other when needed. I thank God each day for such a wonderful family.”

Kmiecik said his childhood was like that of any young boy, describing himself as “fun-loving and sometimes mischievous.”

“Everything changed when I became an altar boy at St. Joseph Church,” he said. “The pastor was a great example to me and I began to think about my future. I remember praying to God for guidance and, each year, the thoughts of priesthood were stronger. I have traveled many roads in this direction. Finally, in 2009, I joined Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary. I don’t have anyone or anything in particular that influenced my decision. Deep inside I know that God is calling me.”

When he arrived in the United States in 2009 to begin his studies, Kmiecik had not heard of the Diocese of Biloxi. However, after meeting with Father Dennis Carver, diocesan director of vocations, Kmiecik became curious and decided to pay a visit to South Mississippi.

“Holy Family Parish was the first parish I visited. I fell in love with it,” he said. “Choosing Biloxi was easy. The parishioners surrounded me with so much love. Father  Carver is wonderful, very open and honest and all of that strengthened my decision. I believe that God has helped me to find my place in Mississippi.

Kmiecik said life in the seminary is very organized.

“There is time for work, time to study, time to pray and time to rest,” he said.

“We seminarians are all different. For some, it’s hard to be so regimented. For me personally, it’s very convenient. I have adapted to it and I love it. I am a very happy seminarian.”

Kmiecik said he truly enjoys being in Mississippi.

“It’s beautiful, sunny and warm. I love warm weather. I also enjoy delicious food. I especially enjoy seafood. It’s good and it’s healthy,” he said.

“Being so close to the Gulf of Mexico helps too. I love to sit at the shore and watch the water, listen to the wind and think about my life.”

But what he enjoys most are the people.

“I love the people,” he said. “They are so kind, open and joyous despite their hard lives and their struggles. I truly hope that one day I will fully share and hopefully help them in their everyday experiences.”

In addition to Urbaniak and Kmiecik, Deacon Bartosz Kunat is also studying for the Diocese of Biloxi.

Kunat, who is assigned to Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral this summer, will be ordained in December, making him the first Polish priest in the history of the Diocese of Biloxi.

Printed with permission from Gulf Pine Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi.

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Witnesses describe Sudan's ethnic cleansing in emergency hearing

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2011 (CNA) - Witnesses told a House of Representatives subcommittee on Aug. 4 that the Sudanese border state of South Kordofan is descending into racial and religious violence, as the world looks on.

“The Nuba people fear that we will be forgotten, that the world will stand idly by while mass killings continue without redress,” said Anglican bishop Reverend Andudu Adam Elnail, of Sudan's Episcopal Diocese of Kadulgi, in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

“Our hope,” Rev. Elnail said, “is that the United States will lead the international community in taking prompt, effective action to protect tens of thousands of displaced people, including an untold number of civilians being killed house-to-house and bombed by their own government.”

South Kordofan lies just north of the partially undefined border between Sudan and the newly-established Republic of South Sudan, which became independent on July 9. In recent months, a 2005 plan for South Kordofan's self-determination has given way to violence that some observers say is meant to “Arabize” the region, by terrorizing its Black African population.

Brad Phillips, Sudan country director for the Christian organization Voice of the Martyrs, explained the historical roots of the current violence in his testimony before the subcommittee. He recalled that South Kordofan's Nuba Mountains region already lost around 500,000 people – “roughly half its population” – between 1990 and 2005, during Sudan's second civil war.

During that war, many residents of the Nuba Mountains supported the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, an insurgency that later evolved into South Sudan's autonomous government. But with the Republic of South Sudan now fully independent, Khartoum's opponents in the Nuba Mountains find themselves at the mercy of a government that has not forgotten their disloyalty.

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who convened Thursday's hearing, presented the subcommittee with a clear picture of the disparity between insurgents in the Nuba Mountains, and their opponents in the Khartoum government.

“Some are trying to down play the overwhelming responsibility of the Sudanese government for the devastation taking place in Southern Kordofan by referring to the refusal of the SPLM-North to lay down their arms to negotiate with Khartoum,” Smith said. “But there is no moral equivalence between the SPLM-North’s actions and those of the government.”

“SPLM-North members are not bombing people indiscriminately, driving Arabs off their lands and out of their homes nor going door-to-door to identify their perceived enemies and execute them,” the congressman pointed out. “The Government of Sudan’s military forces are.”

Thus, while some members of the liberation movement have achieved their independence, others continue to suffer under the government they fought against.

“While we celebrate with South Sudan on its independence from the murderous regime in Khartoum, we must not forget that many marginalized groups in the north were not given the same guarantees as the south,” Phillips noted.

“Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Nuba people were guaranteed a free election, followed by a popular consultation, whereby elected leaders would interview their constituents and determine what the people wanted with regard to their political future.”

“As of today, the popular consultation has not taken place. Moreover, Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir publicly stated in April this year that if the (governing) National Congress Party cannot get its way with the ballot box, it will use 'the ammo box.'”

Al-Bashir's government has not hesitated to reach for its ammunition against South Kordofan. Phillips recalled that the National Congress Party's troops “attacked and sacked the capital of Kadulgi” on June 6, then “launched a campaign of terror from the skies” against residents.

Kadulgi's Anglican bishop testified to the devastation the Khartoum government was inflicting on the capital.

“I hear almost every day new reports from the Nuba Mountains of the Sudan Armed Forces indiscriminately bombing civilians, including children and women and old people, in places not known to be near military installations. I see photos of the people maimed and killed in these bombing raids.”

“To me, these people are not numbers and statistics. They are my neighbors, my friends, local business leaders, and members of my congregation.”

Phillips, who was in the Nuba Mountains in early July, recalled interviewing residents who had fled Kadulgi, “all of whom shared the same basic story” of Sudan Armed Forces troops conducting house-to-house searches. They were looking, he said, for anyone who identified as a Nuba citizen, a Christian, or a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

“Anyone fitting this description was either killed on the spot or arrested and never seen again,” Phillips testified.

“Fortunately, a few thousand residents obtained shelter at the UNMIS compound. But the compound soon filled, and I heard many stories and accounts of people being killed at the gates of the UNMIS compound while U.N. soldiers stood by.”

Rev. Elnail likewise stated that there was “a need for effective peacekeeping forces with a real mandate to actually keep the peace, and not just stand by while mass murder occurs house-to-house, around the clock.”

In light of such violence, Rev. Elnail said, the United States must continue to employ diplomatic pressure and other forms of leverage against the Khartoum government.

“The United States cannot begin to consider normalizing ties with Sudan, and should not de-list Sudan as a sponsor of terrorism or approve this outlaw nation’s access to international financing and debt relief,” he told the subcommittee. “Those individuals and groups most responsible for the mass atrocities should be designated and sanctioned.”

Phillips went so far as to call for a “no-fly” zone over South Kordofan, “to stop the bombing campaign and allow humanitarian access so that relief flights back into the region may resume.”

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Pope urges Syrian government to respect its citizens

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI used his Sunday Angelus address to call for peace in Syria and to urge the government there to respect “the legitimate aspirations” of its citizens.

“I renew an urgent appeal to the Syrian Authority and population, for peaceful coexistence to be restored as soon as possible and for an adequate response to the legitimate aspirations of the citizens, respecting their dignity and for the benefit of regional stability,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome August 7.

The Pope’s comments come on the day that reports suggest at least 38 people were killed in a dawn raid by the Syrian army upon the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.

Dozens of tanks and armored vehicles bombarded the city which has been the scene of frequent protests in recent months. In total, anti-government activists claim that over 1650 civilians have now been killed since their uprising began in mid-March.

Defending this morning’s attacks, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said “to deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state, which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians,” the Syrian state news agency Sana reports him saying to the Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour. President Assad also added that “Syria is on the path to reform.”

The Pope said he was “following with great concern the dramatic and growing violence in Syria, which has caused numerous deaths and severe suffering,” and he invited “the Catholic faithful to pray that efforts for reconciliation prevail over division and hatred.”

Pope Benedict’s plea for peace joins that of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who phoned President Assad yesterday to urge him to stop using military force against civilians. Ban “expressed his strong concern and that of the international community at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days,” a UN spokesman explained.

The Pope also made an appeal for peace in Libya where, he said, “the force of arms has not resolved the situation.”

“I urge International organizations and those who have political and military responsibilities to revive with conviction and determination the search for a peace plan for the country, through negotiation and dialogue.”

Yesterday, Libyan rebels claimed to have launched a new offensive to capture several key towns in the west of the country in a bid to capture the capital city of Tripoli and topple the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

“Our destination is Tripoli but we cannot jump directly to Tripoli. We go one by one,” rebel commander Colonel Jumma Ibrahim told the AP news agency.

The latest offensive is being seen as an attempt to break the military stalemate between both sides with Colonel Gaddafi still controlling must of the west of the country.

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