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Archive of August 8, 2011

Father C. John McCloskey reflects on lessons learned from 30 years of priesthood

Rome, Italy, Aug 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

He is one of the most popular and recognizable priests in the U.S. and beyond – and this month Father C. John McCloskey chalks up three decades in the priesthood.

“These 30 years have been magnificent,” he told CNA Aug. 5, adding, “what could possibly be better than being a priest?!”

“Through God’s grace so many Masses celebrated, confessions heard, baptisms, weddings, people brought in to the Church and, happily, God has used me as an instrument in spite of myself to bring dozens of vocations to the priesthood, religious life and to the new ecclesial movements, and all this with my evident faults and human failings.”

Fr. McCloskey’s road to the priesthood, though, certainly wasn't a conventional clerical tale. A graduate in economics from Columbia University in New York he worked for Citibank and Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before being ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1981.
  
Since then he’s gone on to become a best-selling author and popular religious commentator on both television and radio, most notably with EWTN.

He is perhaps best known, though, for guiding into the Catholic Church such notable figures as Robert Novak, Judge Robert Bork, Senator Sam Brownback, General Josiah Bunting and Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who died earlier this year.

“(Those conversions) had nothing to do with me. I’m just an instrument. It’s God who gives the grace. I’m just an instrument who hangs in there till they say ‘yes’” he humbly asserted at an anniversary party held in his honor last month in his hometown of Washington D.C. 

Three decades of priestly ministry has also given him is a keen eye for the challenges facing priests in 2011. “What are those challenges facing priests today?” he asks rhetorically.

“I would say in one sense the same as always - to put the spiritual and ascetical life always first and not let oneself be absorbed the business of pastoral work.”

“I think also the priest must have must make a special effort to live fraternity with his fellow priests who are, in a certain sense, his real family. Time spent with them is mutually beneficial and helps to fight off the loneliness or selfishness that can creep in through the years.”

Fr. McCloskey says he is personally thankful for his “dozens of priest friends who are truly brothers” and who help him in his “walk to holiness with their encouragement and correction when needed.”

Currently based in Chicago, Fr. McCloskey keeps links with his hometown where he is a Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. Among many other projects, he is presently working on a book making the case for Catholic liberal arts education. 

Over the years he has also given spiritual direction to dozens of priests – a crucial requirement in the interior life of a cleric he says.

“The priest should have a regular confessor and spiritual director and, if possible, identify himself with a particular spirituality in the Church, whether it’s ancient or new, that helps to keep him spiritually fit and energized for his pastoral duties and to deeply appreciate the universality of the Church.”

He also recommends to those priests who seek his advice that they take good care of their physical and psychological health making sure they “find time for measured rest and recreation.”

“The priest is celebrator of the sacraments, preacher of the Word and, as evangelizer, a fisher of men.”

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Seminarian 'raised up from death' twice over

Bloomfield, Conn., Aug 8, 2011 (CNA) - Seminarian Norbert Tibeau is convinced that the thing that could have killed him is the very thing that saved his life.

Now he is trying to figure out why.

"I like to think it is so the work of God can manifest itself in me," said Tibeau in French on June 24 at St. Thomas Seminary, where he has been recuperating from surgery on an aneurysm, or widening portion of an artery, in his brain. Mathieu Isaac, a native of Haiti who now is studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Hartford, translated.

Tibeau, 28, was studying to be a Montfort Missionary in Haiti when headaches that he had suffered since 2001 became stronger, lasted longer and were more debilitating, eventually impairing his vision or forcing him to bed in pain. After he underwent an MRI in Port-au-Prince in 2008, doctors thought Tibeau had a tumor in his pituitary gland.

Enter Dr. Michael R. Page, a doctor who specializes in emergency medicine at Holland Hospital in western Michigan, who first met Tibeau in December 2009 on a parish medical mission to Haiti. One of the seminary’s superiors approached Dr. Page and said, "We have a seminarian who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Could you help?"

Dr. Page said that he knew further testing would be needed and that no Haitian hospitals had the required equipment. He called friends at Partners in Health, the international medical organization. Through Partners in Health, Tibeau traveled to the nearby Dominican Republic, which had equipment capable of generating images of blood vessels, so that doctors could decide how to treat him.

The testing saved his life in more ways than one.

He was in the Dominican Republic when the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, hit Haiti. All nine of his seminary classmates were killed when the underground parking lot they were in collapsed. A seminarian from Peru, who had gone to Haiti for some time off with other seminarians, also died.

Shortly thereafter, Tibeau learned that the scans from that trip showed that he had an aneurysm near his pituitary gland and optic nerve that could kill him or leave him neurologically ravaged.

That left the problem of finding and funding the expensive surgery Tibeau needed, Dr. Page said.

"You’re kind of left with: What do you do now? So, you pray about it," Dr. Page said. One day at Mass, he was inspired to approach the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with a fund-raising idea.

He quickly learned that a group of Catholic bishops from the United States was heading to Haiti to assess humanitarian and religious needs. Online, he found the cell phone number for Oblate Father Andrew Small, director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America, and called him to try to set up a meeting between Tibeau and the visiting bishops.

"I just figured it was worth a call," Dr. Page recalled with a laugh. It worked, and the bishops met the seminarian and heard his story.

"They said, ‘Let’s see what we could do to help.’ They indicated their ability to help financially, but we still needed some medical organization to take his case," he added.

Eventually, Partners in Health located a neurosurgeon who was willing to donate his skills at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Yale Medical Group and medical device manufacturers also donated.

Dr. Ketan R. Bulsara, an associate professor of neurosurgery at Yale, is one of very few doctors in the United States who specialize in endovascular neurosurgery and skull base microsurgery.

In a telephone interview on July 8, he recalled hearing "about the plight of this young Haitian priest and the devastating story of the seminary being wiped out by the earthquake, and [that] the only reason he had survived was because he himself was getting really bad news of a different [type] … that he had this almost inoperable aneurysm.

"The more I read about what Tibeau had gone through and about his problem," Dr. Bulsara said, "I don’t know if there was a way that I wouldn’t be able to help or try to do something for him."

Tibeau was transported to this country by Right to Health Care, a division of Partners in Health.

On April 26, Dr. Bulsara inserted a catheter into an artery in Tibeau’s thigh, and, with the help of real-time X-rays, snaked a platinum coil through the seminarian’s body to the base of the skull and into the aneurysm, blocking off the blood flow.

Without treatment, the surgeon said, the risk of the aneurysm’s bleeding over the course of five years would be 50 percent. Of those that do bleed, 60 to 70 percent of patients die or are left with devastating impairments, he added.

Tibeau recalled awakening after the surgery, which he had been told could be dangerous.

"I felt like a newborn," he said. "I live again. I am raised up from death."

Three days later, he was welcomed to St. Thomas Seminary. Father Small had told Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford earlier about Tibeau’s scheduled surgery, and the invitation to stay at the seminary was extended.

"He’s been doing any number of things, like helping with the retired priests and serving Mass on a regular basis," said Msgr. Gerard G. Schmitz, rector of the seminary.

Tibeau spent some days with the Montfort priests in Litchfield, and, more recently, visited New York City and went to Boston for Fourth of July fireworks.

He said he is grateful to the archbishop, Msgr. Schmitz and the seminarians for the welcome he has received. He described Mr. Isaac, his translator, as "my brother."

He will return within weeks to Haiti, where he will be ordained a transitional deacon, after a final follow-up appointment in New Haven. After six months, he will be ordained to the priesthood and be assigned to a parish in Haiti.

His ministry will be one of example.

"My life is not a fiction. It’s a real experience with God. By this experience, I can testify [about] what God can and could do."

Dr. Page visited Tibeau on July 4 and 5 in Bloomfield as he made his way back to Michigan from Haiti. Describing himself as "a link in a chain" of people who helped Tibeau, he said his role in the seminarian’s life has strengthened his faith.

"For me, the thing I’m blessed with is being able to be part of this and saying, ‘Wow. Look how faithful God is,’" he said.

Printed with permission from The Catholic Transcript, newspaper from the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.

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Spanish cardinal: Abandonment of God leads to self-destruction

Valencia, Spain, Aug 8, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) - The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Antonio Canizares, recently warned of the danger of turning from God.

“The main problem facing Europe is not economic, as serious as that is, but rather the abandonment of God which leads to self-destruction.”
 
During a summer course sponsored by the St. Vincent the Martyr University in Valencia, Spain on the present and future of Europe, Cardinal Canizares delivered a speech titled, “Christians in Democracy.”
 
He encouraged believers to strive to overcome “the moral breakdown we are experiencing” and to recover “a society based on unconditional ethical foundations.”
 
He underscored the responsibility Christians have to engage in “a new evangelization,” which in his judgment is “the best service we can offer for our society to change and overcome this crisis.”
 
The present-day situation, the cardinal said, is “not merely a structural or economic crisis, but rather a crisis of mankind, a breakdown of humanity, a moral breakdown, spending beyond our limits and pursuing enjoyment at all costs, pleasure for pleasure’s sake, even if that means destroying someone else. 

“This situation needs to be overcome,” he said.
 
Cardinal Canizares defended the “identity” of Europe,” whose foundations “were Greek philosophy, Roman law and the Christian faith.”  European identity is “inseparable from the dignity of the human person as the basis of all order and of everything about the culture that characterized us,” he said.

“Without the human person no society has a future, without the dignity of the human person, no order has a future,” the cardinal added.
 
Cardinal Canizares said that nonetheless he is “hopeful” of the future, and he called for “renewed conversion to Jesus Christ,” beginning with the members of the Church, “which will usher in a great future for Europe.”
 
World Youth Day

Cardinal Canizares also mentioned Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to Spain for World Youth Day. “The Holy Father bringing together more than a million young people from all over the world is an event of great hope,” he said.
 
“The Holy Father comes to give Jesus Christ to young people and to tell them to rise up and walk, to begin to overcome the profound crisis that that is knocking them down,” especially the young people in Spain, where youth unemployment is widespread.
 
“The Pope is coming to tell them that they can change things and that they can have better future if they open themselves to what Jesus Christ means, because he means truth, love, respect for others, the common good, not being afraid and being free,” the cardinal said.

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Mexican bishop discusses his leadership of two pro-abortion organizations

Lima, Peru, Aug 8, 2011 (CNA) - The controversy surrounding Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo, Mexico has intensified after comments he made in support of the decriminalization of abortion.
 
The website LifeSiteNews.com published a report on Aug. 3 revealing that the bishop heads two human rights organizations that openly promote the reversal of pro-life legislation enacted in a majority of Mexican states.
 
In explaining his leadership role in the two organizations that support the decriminalization of abortion, Bishop Vera said, “What is debated here in Mexico is the penalization or depenalization of abortion.  That’s another thing. The penalization (of abortion) is the persecution of people who have abortions.”
 
Since January 28, 2011, Bishop Vera has been president of the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Center for Human Rights in the Mexican state of Chiapas, where several years ago he served as coadjutor bishop for the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz. He is also the founder of the Fray Juan de Larios Diocesan Center for Human Rights, located in the Diocese of Saltillo.
 
Both groups belong to a network of organizations that uphold abortion as a fundamental human right. The network openly supported the legalization of abortion in Mexico City in 2007.
 
The two groups led by Bishop Vera are also signers of a document published in June 2008 opposing constitutional reform in the state of Jalisco that enshrined the right to life from the moment of conception. The Jalisco State Congress adopted the reform in July 2009.
 
In 2011, the Fray Juan de Larios Diocesan Center also signed a report prepared by the U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner on “access to justice for women who are victims of violence, female killings, sexual violence, disappearances and the sex trade.”  It also condemned the lack of access to legal abortion in cases of rape in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. 
 
Bishop Vera told LifeSiteNews.com that abortion “is the murder of a child in the womb of his mother,” but that in his opinion to support depenalization is not the same as being pro-abortion.
 
CNA attempted to confirm the bishop’s statements to LifeSiteNews.com, but Maria Eugenia Arriaga, the director of communications for the Diocese of Saltillo, said they would not give any interviews “to people who distort our information.”
 
Asked whether Bishop Vera directed her to refuse any requests for interviews, Arriaga said she made the decision herself in consultation with her staff.  She made no mention of whether or not she consulted the bishop.
 
Bishop Vera has previously refused interview requests by CNA regarding his support of the same-sex ministry, the San Elredo Community. He recently accused the news agency of “distorting” his words and his pastoral work.
 
The community has come under fire for promoting events that are in opposition to the Church's teachings on homosexuality.

CNA contacted Jorge Gomez, the director of communication for the Fray Bartolome de la Casas Center for Human Rights, who said, “Our stance is that we are against the criminalization (penalization) of women who make this difficult decision (to have an abortion).”
 
Asked whether the center supports abortion, Gomez responded: “That’s not what this discussion is about for us.  For us the issue isn’t whether we are for or against abortion, because we don’t get involved in that discussion.”
 
Gomez went on to state that until recently the center was under the direction of Bishop Samuel Ruiz, the late bishop emeritus of San Cristobal de las Casas and the emblematic leader of “Indian liberation theology.”
 
He said the center is a “lay” organization that defends social and political rights, “especially of the indigenous,” and that Bishop Raul Vera is the current director.
 
CNA also contacted the Fran Juan de Larios Center for Human Rights in the Diocese of Saltillo but its spokesperson refused to grant an interview.
 
Problems in the Diocese of Saltillo

The first time the Diocese of Saltillo refused to speak with CNA was in March of this year, after the agency reported that Bishop Raul Vera Lopez promoted the 4th Forum on Sexual, Family and Religious Diversity, which was organized by the San Elredo Community.
 
The forum publicly promoted gay activism, sexual activity between homosexuals and adoption by homosexual couples. Bishop Vera presided at the event’s opening ceremony.
 
In an interview with CNA the spiritual director of San Elredo, Father Roberto Coogan, who is also a member of the diocesan pastoral council, highlighted Bishop Vera’s support for the community and questioned the teachings of the Church on homosexuality.
 
“The only response the Catechism offers (to homosexuals) is to tell them to be celibate,” but “that is not sufficient,” Coogan said.
 
CNA also published comments from various pro-family groups in Saltillo expressing their concern about the activities of the San Elredo Community that are in opposition to the teachings of the Church.

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US bishops' spokesperson rips Health and Human Services for interfering in religion

Washington D.C., Aug 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - U.S. bishops' spokesperson Sr. Mary Ann Walsh blasted the Department of Health and Human Services for interfering in the work of religious hospitals that want to opt out of providing free contraceptives.

Government “must not stick its proverbial camel's nose under the church tent,” Sr. Walsh said in an Aug. 8 Huffington Post editorial. “Now, however, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has gone beyond nuzzling its nose where it does not belong.”

“It has plunked itself right in the middle of the sanctuary. It is trying to define what a religion does and does not do.”

Walsh's remarks come in the wake of the department's Aug. 1 announcement that new health care plans must cover contraceptives and sterilizations under regulations for preventive care created in response to the 2010 health care legislation.

Sr. Walsh said that although the mandate provides an exemption for religious employers –  which is at least “a tacit acknowledgment that this violates the Constitution's cherished respect for religious liberty” – there is still “a catch.”

“The church agency can only claim exemption if it primarily serves people of its own faith,” she explained. “It also must meet other requirements, such as employing mostly people of its own faith.”

What this means, Sr. Walsh said, is that the department “is setting itself up to determine what constitutes church ministry and who Jesus meant when he referred to serving 'the least of my brethren.'”

The spokeswoman noted that Catholic hospitals, charities and educational institutions provide about $30 billion worth of service annually in the country, and that no one “presents a baptismal certificate at the emergency room.”

“The hungry do not recite the Creed to get groceries at the food pantry,” she added. “Students can pursue learning at The Catholic University of America, Villanova or any other Catholic college without passing a catechism admissions test.”

“The commitment to serve those in need, the sick, the hungry, the uneducated, is intrinsic to Catholicism,” she underscored.

Sr. Walsh added that Catholic hospitals admit about 5.6 million people annually, “one out of every six persons seeking hospital care in the United States,” with Catholic Charities serving more than 9 million people a year.

“No federal rule says the church must limit its service to Catholics if it is to be true to its teaching,” she said, adding that the department “doesn't get the parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped the stranger simply because he was in need.”

Sr. Walsh also noted that Catholic colleges and universities teach 850,000 students annually which include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics “and members of any other religious or irreligious group you can name.”

She added that for the time being, the department has “given itself wiggle room” by saying that the public in the next two months can suggest an “alternative” definition of a “religious employer.”

“That's good because health care reform ought to increase access to basic care, not push religious groups to either violate their principles or abandon service to those in need whatever their religious beliefs.”

“Meanwhile, the sanctuary is getting crowded. It is time,” she added, for the department “to remove itself.”

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